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Monday, February 11, 2013
‘We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway.’
These simple words of universal wonder that open Carly Simon’s classic 1972 song, ‘Anticipation,’ come to mind as I and nine of my Providence and Swedish colleagues prepare for our humanitarian journey. We are heading into the Alta Verapaz department of Guatemala to install ventilated stoves in the homes of the residents of Chioya and hopefully reduce the volume of acute respiratory infections in these rural, impoverished communities. Each of the members of our team has come to this decisive moment by a uniquely forged path and each faces unique questions of personal uncertainty as we prepare to leave behind our families, many of our creature comforts, much of our facility with language and most of our vanity to share in this international exchange of service, culture and, hopefully, friendship. How will we be received? How open will each of us be to what we experience? What sensory sensations await us? How will we emotionally absorb and, more importantly, leverage afterward what we are about to share?
If our final orientation meeting was any indication, I think we all approach our respective departures with certain presumptions about what to expect from our experience. Some of us surfaced impressions that may or may not be accurate. Some expressed confidence from observations gathered during past missions. Some of us conveyed concerns rooted in anxiety of the unfamiliar. I think all of us began to more immediately appreciate the meaningful nature of our impending work, particularly once we were formally missioned by several Sisters of Providence, whose reputation in providing care to the poor and vulnerable around the world dates back over 150 years. Together, we read and sang as the Sisters prayed for our success and safe travel. I found myself surprisingly moved, tears welling in my eyes, reflecting upon their legacy of sacrifice in service to others and pondering how I will feel on the other side of this adventure.
Many of us have had the honor of serving on international missions through different nonprofits and churches. Several years ago, I participated in the construction of Deborah’s House, one of the first transitional shelters built in Tijuana for women and their children escaping abusive homes. There are people living in apartments I wired myself, God help them. The work was exhausting, the circumstances dire, the elements unwelcoming and the poverty overwhelming. I remember coming home one week later and embracing my family in tears of gratitude and grief, forever changed by what I had learned about another dramatically different culture, about egregious inequities in distribution of resources, about the best and the worst in human behavior and about life itself.
Today, I’m optimistic. I’m excited to make myself useful outside of my usual comfort zone. I’m interested in making new friends. I’m looking forward to learning different ways of living and communicating. I’m overjoyed at having the privilege to visit a part of the world that has never before beckoned to me. And at the end our time together, I’m hoping that my team will feel we have made a difference and that a difference is engendered in each of us we can carry forward as we return to our lives and communities.
At this moment, I have no idea of what’s in store for us. But it would be impossible for me not to think about it without a great, thrilling sense of hope.
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