Fr. Jason Weber continues the chronicle of his adventures as a missionary in Bánica.
The Last American Mission Trip of the Summer
One of the last mission groups of the summer came from All Saints Church in Manassas to run a Vacation Bible School in the village of Hato Viejo (the parish of Bánica serves about 20 villages in the local area- I hope to visit them all at least once a month). Hato Viejo is one of the larger villages with perhaps 800 people, give or take. They have a weekly Mass, although not a Sunday Mass (there are at least three other chapels that serve larger communities than Hato Viejo). A lively group of children representing a large variety of ages from about 3 or 4 to 15 or 16 joined us to participate in the songs, games, teachings, and activities that were prepared for them. Each morning upon arrival part of our group would walk about the village to pick up some of the little ones and walk with them to the chapel.
One morning we were a little later than usual and as we were pulling up we could see from a distance about 30 children milling about outside the chapel a little like carpenter bees or perhaps like sheep without a shepherd- at least that’s how they appeared to me and deeply moved my heart. When they saw us they gave such a heartfelt cheer and cries of delight that it sustained our joy throughout the day. It was particularly welcome because the previous day had some frustrations- some of the older kids had become a bit of a disruption, and it was at times difficult to keep the attention of the children. Yet their cry of delight as we pulled up reminded us of what ought to be a firm foundation for life: the joy of being loved.
Coloring Sheets and Crayons. The most popular activity in the Vacation Bible School was probably the coloring sheets. We discovered this on the second day and afterwards incorporated coloring sheets into the catechesis that we gave each day. It wasn’t just popular among the small children. On the first day when we had allotted 15 minutes for coloring, the teenage boys considered it quite an affront that we would make them stop before they had finished beautifully filling in the images of Christ so that they could proudly show us their work. I’ve always heard coloring sheets joked about in the midst of poor catechesis, but they were able to take home with them a beautiful and tangible reminder of the lesson from that day.
We also acted out a number of scenes from the scriptures. One of the scenes selected was about prayer and how to pray from Luke 18:9-14. It is the story of two men who went to pray in the temple: one a tax collector, the other a proud Pharisee. This is an important lesson in humility and respect before God and others that particularly applies to Hato Viejo as machismo remains a powerful aspect of the culture.
Some of the leaders of the Bible school were acting out a skit while the group leader was writing a song to be sung at the end. She, (the group leader who wrote the song in about 4 or 5 minutes) thought nothing of it, but I was amazed. She did this for all the skits! (I’m not including her name because I think she’d prefer that I not mention who she is). Even now, I remember the words to the song about prayer, and how we should pray with hearts that are humble, generous, and loving. As I’ve gone to pray, the song still rings joyfully in my heart. It was written for the children, but the most profound truths are often taught in the simplest of ways.
- For Maria and her family. Maria Decena is a very bright little girl with malformed bones. Through the generosity of folks in the Arlington Diocese, she and her family are moving to Bánica so that she can attend the parish school.
- For all of the children who will begin classes shortly.
Vocabulary Lesson: Traffic Jam– I’ve discovered that, like Route 66, you can hit traffic at any hour of the day along the main thoroughfare of Sabana Cruz (one town over from Bánica, and part of the parish of Bánica). Granted, unlike route 66, the traffic is bovine in nature and these cows don’t seem to care whether or not you’re in a hurry. They saunter along, (or sometimes just sit down), in the middle of the road, not worried at all about what the day may bring.
Seeing the teenage boys intently working on coloring sheets, the shouts of glee when the children saw us, as well as some of the quick tempers when something was not to their liking, are all examples of the unguarded nature of life in the villages. Many people in the villages are dependent upon the rain so that the crops grow. There is no real protection from living in the heat and basic necessities are at times barely met. Hence, life is quite simple, and in its simplicity everything quickly appears on the surface through the actions and words of the people. This is beautiful and moving when the children joyfully welcome the lessons and affection that the group brings, (and gladly give their affection as well). It is also beautiful to see the great hospitality that the people practice. At the same time, the uglier side of human nature, frustration and anger resulting in disputes, bubbles up to the surface very quickly. There are no obstacles for the children nor for the adults to simply express what they are thinking or feeling, or to act in a certain way simply to get what they want.
The unguarded nature of life here perhaps brings about both the greatest joys in preaching the gospel as well as a great challenge. The challenge is obvious: how do we teach them to cherish and guard the word of God so that it takes root within us? The joy is in how easily and willingly children and adults trust and follow the missionaries or the priest. The difficulty is in how to change that willingness to listen into the practice of virtue and formation in Christ in a stable and lasting manner. The Word of God must become woven into the rhythms of life thereby transforming every aspect of life. There are certainly some individuals who respond to the gospel at a deep level rather quickly, but for most, the reception of the Gospel takes place through the constant care and knowledge of God’s love communicated day in and day out. To put this another way, the same kids who imitate me by kneeling at my side in a prayer of thanksgiving after Mass may also be the ones who lie in order to obtain a lollipop. The task then is to teach these children to seek the Lord who satisfies the deepest cravings of our hearts, and that lollipops and other material things will always leave them hungry.