"Not so easily was I remade as made. He spoke and all things were made. But while he made me simply and at once by a word, he has in the remaking of me said many words, and worked wonders and suffered much." (St. Bernard)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Go Slowly!

When you imagine the jungle, I bet you imagine this.

Yep! You guessed correctly! Welcome to our home!

One of my favorite things to do is to work with different families in their fields (fincas): swinging machetes and drinking chicha! It truly has allowed our relationship with the people to deepen. They are extremely grateful and often surprised when we ask if we can help them work.

The other day, we went to San Pedro to work on the chapel. However, when we arrived we found that there was no one there to work. So, instead of turning around and going home, we seized the opportunity and went to Pedro's finca where he was working. Pedro is the catequista for San Pedro. His son Walter guided us there. We walked for about 25 minutes in thick jungle, through swamp and creeks, climbing over and under fallen trees, all the while machete in hand. Finally, we arrived. Pedro greeted us with a slightly confused look: 'Why are you guys here?' 'Well, since we are not working on the chapel, we wanted to help you in your finca,' we responded. He got a kick out of that. His laugh is so contagious. Joy is contagious! So, he showed us quickly what to do: cut down almost all the grown up jungle, except what he was farming. Within this thick grownup jungle are the sproutlings of cafe, cocoa, and guayusa trees. These we could not cut. We were all thinking the same thing: 'How do we tell these plants apart?' I had no idea how to differentiate them. But, Pedro gave some helpful advice... 'Go slowly.' Uhmmmm... yeah!

Before beginning, I tried to study some of those I knew: shape of the leaves, texture of the stalk and trunk, and how they felt. Then, I began to swing the machete. It was painstakingly slow. I just wanted to plow through it, hacking away at everything I saw. Just take it out, and ask questions later. But, I went slow, really trying to be careful. Of course, there were the obvious plants I could cut, but then there were the ones that looked identical to the ones we wanted to keep. Then, there were the unwanted ones that grew among the good ones, wrapping around them and choking them.

There is so much to take away from my experience with working in the field, cleaning out the jungle. We cleaned because the plants that they desire to bear fruit will not grow well or at all if they have to compete for space and nutrients. So, we cut down the unwanted plants, the weeds. There were a lot more weeds.

In my life, I still have a lot that I need to rid myself of. And sometimes it seems there is more bad than good. Yet, despite having so many sins and temptations in our lives, we can be cleaned. It will take time, and dedication and perseverance. Do not fear! First, we must recognize our sins, those weeds, those things we need to cut out of our lives. We might ask: 'How do they influence us? Do they bear bad fruits? What is our attitude? Is it God's will?'

Of course, there are those obvious weeds and thorns that keep us from living holy lives. We see them clearly for what they are and quickly cut them out. But, often, there are many things that we do and have in our daily life that may appear to be good for us, but in actuality are not, because they do not bring us closer to God. They may be similar in appearance to the good things the Lord desires in us and for us and those we want, but really are not the will of God, and so are only distractions and harmful. It could be devastating if we continue to grow and nourish that which is not from Him, and at harvest time the fruit we bear is terribly bitter or even poisonous. Do not despair! It takes commitment, practicing everyday as you ask the Holy Spirit to come and help you to recognize your sins and those areas you can improve on. And don't forget to permit Him to show you the blessings of your day. This will help to remind you that the Son did not come to condemn you, but came that you might be saved through Him. (See Jn. 3:17)

Also, no matter how hard I tried to only cut out the weeds, occasionally some plant we wanted got hacked. It is the same with the sin in our life. Even after ridding ourselves of our sin and repenting, sometimes good will go along with it. 'If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.' And essentially this is the consequence of sin. This is its desire. We know. We believe that our God is Mercy and Justice. There will be justice to all of the incredibly terrible things done in this world, and we better believe that we shall receive justice for every bad action, thought and word we have given. Let's offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Beg God to be merciful to us and all people, to teach us how to see the virtues within us that need to grow, that are from Him and direct us to Him; and to recognize the sins, temptations, and near occasions to sin so as to cut them out. May we not fear of cutting off some of that good. "Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." (Jn. 15:2) For, if it gets us closer to our Heavenly Father, then nothing else could be better for us.

Now, it is your turn. Are you tired of being comfortable, always talking so as to maintain peace, but never getting out there and making mistakes? Pope Francis says: 'I prefer a thousand times over a Church of accidents than a sick Church.' If you are not making mistakes, if you are not pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone in to areas where you have never been, areas where you have no idea what you are doing for the Gospel, then how can you permit the Lord to really work in you and through you? How can you say you trust in the Holy Spirit? "So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Cor. 12:9) Permit the Lord to be strong in you! Don't be a bystander or ,worse, hide in your house staying cozy, playing it safe, and never facing head-on your destiny. For you were made for Greatness! Christian recognize your dignity! Dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness, creature into Creator, man into God!

Monday, September 15, 2014

'I have never known a hungry missionary.'

"Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves." - Philippians 2:3

This continues to be the greatest blessing I receive from the people here in Ahuano and Ecuador, that so many of them regard me and my fellow missionaries as more important than themselves. Families who do not have much, will give to us in abundance, the first portion and often more than anyone else. My friend Klever, from Quito, seeks first the Kingdom of God, longing to be a missionary and preach the Gospel, before he worries about himself. Last year, I recall, when I first came to Quito to begin language school, I met Klever. He gave up his whole day off from work to help me find a place to live for the month. And just two weeks ago, Klever came to Ahuano to spend a week of his vacation evangelizing the people of the jungle and helping us with work projects. He has a heart for souls!

Every week we go to Chonta Punta to visit with families and put on a prayer service in the evening. We always stay with the catechist, Mr. Kloffit, and his family. They welcome us with open arms, and they always provide food for us, mounds of food. As Mr. Frank Summers says to people who worry about not getting enough food in missions: 'I have never known a hungry missionary.' That is the truth! As you see often in the Old Testament, hospitality and generosity, and giving of what you have to others who need it more, is what God is asking of us. Like Abraham who welcomed strangers into his home to rest and to eat. (Gen. 18:1-10) Jesus says: 'For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.'

GLORY STORY! I have another glory story I would like to share. Yesterday, while I was in Quito, I was able to visit with Rebecca. She is doing so well; Her light shines so bright. She doesn't care about the things of the world. Often she doesn't have enough money to pay rent, or to eat lunch, but as she tells me over and over: 'No importa!' These things do not matter to her. Her trust is in the Lord, whose love is better than life. Every time I see her, I realize there is so much I am holding on to, those things that I still need to give over to him. Yesterday, after we prayed together, she pulled me aside to tell me: 'Ryan, I have forgiven an enemy of mine!' I was so ecstatic, overwhelmed with joy. 'Praise God!!' What a huge grace! She told me she called this person, talked to them for a bit, and forgave them. Now they are friends! She said all that weight has been lifted off her shoulders. She was dancing with joy. Now, Rebecca has become a shining witness, a true disciple of Christ, bringing the message of the freedom she received from Christ to others. And it is already working on the hearts of her co-workers.

We are hearing testimonies upon testimonies. More and more, the people are sharing with us and others what God has worked in their lives. 'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.' (Evangelization of the Modern World - Pope Paul VI)

The people of Community San Pedro removing rocks from the river for the new chapel
The missionary men of Ahuano working on the chapel in San Pedro
We bring the message of the Gospel, so that others may be healed and freed from the lies of the world. The devil tells you lies 'to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you.' (Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta) We bring the message of our own freedom in Christ, free to live not for ourselves, but for Him. For the 'freedom' of the world is to live as I desire, as I want, to please myself, self-gratifying. This is not freedom at all, but our own self-destruction and certain death forever. There can be no fruits by this way of life. Bearing fruit propagates life, as the Lord says: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.' (Jn. 12:24) And this fruit comes from a 'dying' to ourselves, sacrificing our lives for another, a letting go of preserving ourselves in this life. Jesus promises: 'Whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.' (Jn. 12:25) I have so much to be thankful for: my salvation, all of you my benefactors and prayer warriors, the lessons our Father is teaching me, His desire for me, and the strength He gives me to persevere each day... and so much more!

PRAYER REQUEST! Please pray for this family. Angel, the foreman of the chapel project, informed us last night, that his little 5 month old girl, Marcia, is in the hospital. She began having seizures this past Saturday. Padre Walter did an emergency baptism on Sunday. The doctors don't know what is happening and they fear she may die. Please pray for her miraculous healing, and for Angel and his wife to put their trust in the Lord, and to know His peace.

Me with Marcia (Mom), Angel (Dad) and wawa Mishel

Matt with Mishel

FUELING the MISSIONARY IMPULSE! In just a couple of months Family Missions Company is hosting a Mission Conference in Lafayette, LA. Last year was a huge success, and this year is looking to be equally blessed. Please pray about going to this conference to be more about Pope Francis' impetus for missions in the Church, how FMC is responding and our part!
Click here to watch the video.      Fueling the Missionary Impulse

I love each of you. Your peace is in Christ!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Proclaim Christ!

The Church is ALIVE!! Our Lord is ALIVE!!! With tremendous zeal, let's respond to The Great Commission from our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Church is alive because we 'go and make disciples of all nations'. We do this with joy, inculturating and incarnating into the very lives of the poor, in those whom we serve. Please check out this video!

Consider attending this exciting event. Certainly, you will be animated and ready, unable to contain yourself, and unable to keep from speaking the incredible joy from the Lord that wells up from within you! May your joy be complete!

Friday, June 20, 2014

What is it you seek?

"Yet the world and its enticements are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever." 1 John 2:17

For as long as the world has been around, even it, is passing away. How incredible is the love of our God and Creator that all we have to do, is His will, and we shall remain forever. Is it so difficult to do His will? 

As I read the book, Abandonment to Divine Providence, I am beginning to understand more the simplicity of doing His Holy will. He has a plan for us in each moment wherever we are in our state of life, from the most difficult to the most joyful to the most mundane. It is in every moment, most especially in the countless monotonous moments, where we must persevere in seeking to do His Holy will. And 'if we do our part, God will do the rest.' 

What is it we seek? Holiness! For us to become holy, to find this treasure, we don't have to go far. We just have to accept in each moment His will and renounce our own, all for His glory! This should be easy if we say we believe that God is our Father. Because, then we trust that He will take care of us as a good father would. Now, if in each moment you are doing the will of God with a grateful heart, even if you are sweeping the floor or waiting in a very long line, then holiness is yours. 'What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us.'

This last part I absolutely love. I have been trying more and more to enter into each moment imagining it is the holiest moment of my life. This has brought me so much joy in many occasions, especially when I was struggling to maintain focus or enduring some difficulty. Notice from 1 John 2:17, that the world, or any pleasures, will not remain. These things only want to distract you by attempting to make you comfortable. Just reading Acts of the Apostles, and any of the New Testament letters will quickly convince you that the early Apostles and Christians did not seek comfort, but sought to do the will of God. This often led them to suffering. How else shall we be purified by our God who is a consuming fire, if not through suffering? By accepting all that happens to us, trusting in His Holy design and permitting Him to use us as He wills all for His glory, we shall remain forever.

May you be blessed by this song from Matt Maher which the group of missionaries from St. Ignatius in Mobile introduced to me:

Matt Maher - Lord, I Need You

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Nuestra Señora de Buen Suceso

Let me tell you about how God gave a special gift to His faithful missionaries...

From the beginning of the Stephen F. Austin mission trip, many of the people from SFA were asking us if we were going to Nuestra Señora de Buen Suceso. We, the FMC missionaries, had never heard of this. Our Lady of Good Success is a Marian apparition deemed 'worthy of belief'. Throughout the trip, some of them would talk about it. Yet, we had no plans of going there, because, once again, we had never heard of it. When the last day of the trip came we were in Quito for our pilgrimage to visit some of the sites special to Quito. I received a phone call from a former FMC missionary, Francisco, who lives in Quito. He told me he was coming into Quito with a group of missionaries from Stuebenville Univiversity who were in Ecuador for a medical mission. He wanted to meet up. Rachel and I met with him and talked for a bit, briefly sharing the Lord's work in our missions. It then occurred to me to ask him: 'Do you know where Nuestra Señora de Buen Suceso is?' He said: 'Yes. And actually our group is going there at 3pm today, if your group of missionaries want to come?'

YES!! Rachel and I were in shock, jumping for joy, so excited for the gift the Holy Spirit was granting His faithful missionaries. We didn’t tell the SFA group where we were going, we wanted to be a surprise. At 3pm, we arrived at the church, La Inmaculada Concepción. It is not just a church, it is a convent for the Conceptionists sisters. It was then that I realized what an incredible miracle this gift was from the Holy Spirit. The chances of us getting to go was next to nothing. The Conceptionists are a cloistered order. The nuns do not leave and outsiders are not permitted to see the nuns, and access to the convent is only granted to the public 3 times per year. Jesus was giving a special treat! When we entered, Mother Superior was waiting for us. She led us through the convent ringing a bell. This was to alert the other nuns to hide themselves because outsiders were approaching. The sanctity of that place was tangible, the rich silence permeating. We learned that in 1610, our blessed Mother appeared to Madre Mariana Francisca de Jesus Torres and asked her to make a statue of her with the child Jesus. The statue is now located in a beautiful chapel which we saw. As we entered the chapel, the silence was transformed in a crescendo of delicate prayers. The hidden nuns were singing, praising the Lord!

Then, we were led into a small room where we could see the body of Madre Mariana Francisca de Jesus Torres. She died in 1635, and her body is incorruptible! Our Lord permits this as a reminder of our hope in eternal life, sometimes preserving the ones who persevered in faith here on earth. In total, there are nine incorruptible sisters. What an incredible gift... I have never experienced such a holy place!

I felt that our Blessed Mother was with us, guiding us and providing us with affirmations for a job well-done preaching the Gospel in the jungles of Ecuador. All of the missionaries were transformed by that holy place. Please keep them, the sisters, in your prayers, as they are continuously attacked by the government who wants to take their convent away from them. But, as our Blessed Mother said in her prophecies, that shall never come to pass. Such is the power of God that ‘the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against’ (Mt. 16:18) the Church.

Altar in the chapel of the convent

The statue that Madre Mariana was instructed to have made by our Blessed Mother

A painting of the apparition of Mary to Madre Mariana

Imagine some nuns in their habits slam dunking

Praying over a little with cancer

'Speak a lot with God and little with creatures and you will have a lot of peace.'

Confessional booths

The courtyard of the convent

Padre Lucas Maria... My short encounter with him has me convinced that his love for Jesus is so intimate

A plaque indicating the place where the president Gabriel Moreno was martyred by masons. This was prophesied by our Blessed Mother.

For an interesting read on the history of Mary's appearance to Madre Mariana Francisca de Jesus Torres and the fulfillment of certain prophecies see the website: http://www.olrl.org/prophecy/goodsuccess.shtml