I’ve moved!!

Dearest friends and followers,

Thanks for accompanying me throughout my journey at the Finca via this blog. If you wish to continue following my blog – I’ve moved! Click the link below and click the “follow” button on the left side of the new page to keep getting email updates.

https://joyandthirst.wordpress.com/

abrazos,
Jenna

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Being faithful to the story

Early in my time at the Finca, I wrote this snippet as part of an Advent reflection:

“So I’m waiting this Advent, waiting without the false hope that all pain and suffering will vanish away, but that Christ will dwell with us in a very real way in the pain and suffering. And maybe that is the only guarantee that we are given as missionaries – the only promise we really need in order to continue serving and loving. Not that all will be well always or that mission…will unravel and take root unhindered, but that Christ will always dwell with us, in our hearts and in the faces and hearts of those whom we call brothers, sisters, and friends.”

Except I didn’t realize that this singular and ostensibly simple takeaway would come to define much of my journey at the Finca. Staying true to the story of Emmanuel, God with us, came naturally in times of contagious laughter over a shared meal with my community of Santa Teresita, or in dancing/singing to the Frozen soundtrack with my girls, or in learning how to make tortillas with the house tías, or in yelling and laughing as loud as possible on the campo while running barefoot in the rain during girls’ soccer, …the list goes on. However, being faithful to this story of God-with-us, seemed an unlikely theme at other times – in the recurring moments of deep loneliness, helplessness in the midst of suffering, and feelings of frustrating inadequacies.

I also didn’t realize that in moments of anger, sadness, and loneliness in the face of the innocent suffering of our kids or community, my faith continued to instinctively return to a Santa-element of God not unlike a concept of Multiple Therapeutic Deism wherein God watches over us from Heaven and then the good people go to Heaven (or the kids on the “nice list” get presents). Perhaps not so extreme, but in moments of bewilderment and frustration I would go to the peace garden at night and just wonder…

Okay God, I came to the Finca to serve these kids as a missionary. I am convinced that You have called me here. Yet there is so much brokenness and suffering in the lives of so many around us and even within our own community. But if I and all of my fellow missionaries continue to be faithful to You and to serve You with love, I believe that You will bring some healing and good to this Finca community…

In late May, my fellow missionaries and I returned to our respective homes unexpectedly due to a security incident in the area of Trujillo where we were living. The kids are all safe and continue to live with their house parents at the Finca. The missionaries are also all safe and back in the US and many of us are in the process of transitioning to new cities, finding jobs, and remembering how to integrate into American culture and society. As you might imagine, this was not part of the initial plan. When I left for Guatemala and later for Honduras a little over a year ago, I said goodbye to my family and friends as I embarked on a journey to serve as a missionary for 27 months.

Yet there I was back on my couch 17 months early with no plans. I was filled with sadness, anger, and confusion. Hadn’t I said “yes” to being a missionary at the Finca for two years?! Embarrassingly, these overwhelming emotions often misplaced solely as anger occupied my thoughts for longer than I’d like to admit.

It wasn’t until I found myself hiking through the giant redwoods of Northern California that I could plumb the depths of that quiet and gentle, center of stillness that had been so evasive. Finally as I followed the winding trails between century-old redwoods, I reflected on my short, but experience-filled journey of living and serving at the Finca with new eyes and open heart. Images emerged as I read over old journals and recalled many meaningful memories and relationships that had defined my life at the Finca. I walked and prayed slowly with these memories, from the laughter-filled moments with radiant kids to the more lonely moments of darkness and growth. I saw these images anew in thanksgiving and trust rather than expectation and outcome. And memory after memory led me to the same end – I must be faithful to the story of Emmanuel.

And maybe that is the only guarantee that we are given as missionaries – the only promise we really need in order to continue serving and loving. Not that all will be well always or that mission…will unravel and take root unhindered, but that Christ will always dwell with us.

 There is no other guarantee. There is no insurance plan. There is no “if I do X, all immediate suffering and injury will cease to exist.” There is only the promise and truth of a story containing all other stories. And when we are truly faithful to this story of Emmanuel, God-with-us, I think we are freed from all other cheap and fleeting substitutes. Evil is never willed by an all-powerful and all-loving God, and experiences of loneliness and helplessness in the face of structural sin reveal not a reality of abandonment, but rather something quite different.

It’s true – I was called to the Finca, but it didn’t mean that everything I touched and all that I did would come to fruition before my eyes. In fact, I learned significantly more when the very opposite seemed to occur. While a part of me still longs to hold onto that rosy vision of seeds sown in toil bearing fruit one day after we are all gone, it seems that the joyous freedom and Christian hope that comes from the story of Emmanuel cannot necessarily be dependent on outcome. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is not actually about me or anything that I do. Rather it has everything to do with God. It has everything to do with an Incarnate God who humbled himself to share in our humanity, who was born an infant child to a young virgin, who walked and suffered amongst us, and redeemed all out of perfect love. That is hope – Love has already conquered over death.

And this is Emmanuel. Let us always be faithful to this story: God-with-us.

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It’s been an incredible journey, thanks for accompanying me on this blog.

Finally, I would be remiss if I ended this blog without a highlight reel of just a few of the people I am deeply thankful for…

To the kids at the Finca:

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your love of bunny-ears still fascinates me.

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group photos also a specialty. (photo credit: Brooke)

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photo credit: Brooke

You have changed me in a way I still cannot describe. Thanks for allowing me to walk with you and share some life with you. Thanks for the times you called me ballena, for the times you challenged my overly innocent and optimistic ways, for the times you looked at me like the basic gringa that I am and taught me elementary life skills. Thanks also for the quick instances of vulnerability… when you grabbed my hand when no one was looking, told me about your life passions and fears, and shared the tiniest bit of our burdens together.

To the community of Santa Teresita:

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I couldn’t imagine a more dedicated, inspiring, and beautiful group of people to have shared this past year with. Thanks for never settling, for the emergency cakes and 3 liter cokes, for the heart-to-hearts, for your daily witnesses of simply being missionaries, for night prayer in the courtyard, for the water/food fights, for the coronas, for the sunset swims, for your relentless support in everything, and for the craziest, most ridiculous moments, too.

To Honduras

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photo credit: Brooke

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You taught me to point with my lips and to speak campesino. But really your incredible generosity and hospitality can only be likened to the hospitality Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. When I walked into your homes, a wide-eyed foreigner, you offered me your only chair and the food you were saving for dinner. When I was a foreigner, you eventually stopped calling me chinita and welcomed me into your lives without hesitation. You (mostly) didn’t flinch at my Spanish mumblings and loved me as your own with open arms. And those wide-open stretches of natural beauty beyond the winding dirt roads to San Pedro Sula, the gentle and rhythmic ripples of ocean water that would meet my sandy feet on a morning walk, and those lush forests full of secret swimming holes?

Gahhh, I’ll be back someday.

Señor mío y Dios mío // channeling our inner Thomas

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Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio

Poor “doubting Thomas.” Ever since we got our hands on those soft cover, cartoon-illustrated children’s bibles, we’ve had the privilege of knowing the basic storyline of salvation, …right? Even the overzealous consumerist market that insists on putting out chocolate santas in November and pastel eggs in February knows (perhaps with the one caveat of jumping the gun on their months) – salvation history of Christ born, crucified, and resurrected. Yet general images and conversations of Thomas conjure up only thoughts of incredulity and pitiful skeptics. Here we are in 2015 feeling like we’ve got a grip on the basics of the story and wonder how he could have ever been so slow to believe. We think about how Thomas had spoken with and accompanied Jesus and how we, ourselves, have never walked the dirt roads of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. And yet we still believe and have faith. What’s up with Thomas?

Recently I’ve been reflecting with Thomas. Perhaps not in a realm of unbelief, but more so on Thomas’ desire to know and recognize Jesus despite the seeming improbabilities. I’ve come to realize that I spend a lot of the day, perhaps not actively doubting but inactively believing in the salvific kind of this-changes-EVERYTHING-reality® of Christ resurrected. Sleep-walking through laudes again, I wonder, “God, would it not just be better for me to have slept-in another couple of hours in order to be more joyful when the sun is up?” Or the dreadful minutes leading up to a meeting I wonder, “God, do meetings really need to be part of the missionary life? Will this meeting actually make your love known in the Finca?” Walking to a house at the request of an upset and anxious house tía in the midst of fighting kids, I say a quick semblance of a prayer, “Dear God, this will probably be terrible…but please make your love present in the quickest and easiest way possible.” Or at other times I really just wonder, “God, where are you in all of this? Can you possibly be present in all of this hurt and suffering?”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas puts his hand into the side of Jesus, and with this quick foolproof test of hard, scientific evidence, Thomas believes. More importantly, Thomas recognizes His God in all certainty and experience. In the latin, recognoscere means to “know again.” Thus it’s not that Thomas never believed, and it’s not that we have never experienced the feeling of being so deeply held in the loving hand of our God in moments where the veil between heaven and earth seems momentarily blurred. It’s just that these mountaintop moments are precisely that – special moments of grace, of being deeply aware of God’s love outside of the everyday banal details of routine. These are the moments we desperately cling to in the longer more overwhelmingly hot and arid days of being in the desert (perhaps literally and spiritually). Thus we must re-cognize, we must be reminded of the presence of Christ all around us.

We perform this practice of remembering at each moment of consecration in the Holy Mass when we proclaim together, “Señor mío y Dios mío!” My Lord and My God! Wide-eyed and reawakened to the memory of ultimate self-gift, we recognize together with Thomas, Christ in the breaking of the bread. We know Him again in and as the Eucharist.

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artist, Jerzy Duda Gracz

The call to be constantly awake and grateful for Grace in our lives then, is precisely this. To go about our daily routines with open eyes and ready hearts to see and recognize Christ in our community, in a personal story shared over a good cup of tea (or bad internet), in the glorious beauty found in nature, in both the incredible blessings and constant trials — to recognize and to proclaim repeatedly throughout each day, “Señor mío y Dios mío!” Our soft cover childhood Bibles point us to the basic storyline of Jesus, but the continual story of salvation – birth, death, and resurrection – is unraveling before us both alive on the mountaintop and in the desert of all deserts.

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” – CS Lewis

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journal entry 4/11
Today, Jimena’s special ed. teacher came to the Finca to work with her for three hours (on a Saturday). She was a garifuna grandmother of short stature and appeared to be weighed down by her many bags. One of her eyes was white and cloudy and she wore glasses that she had attached an elastic band across the back to function like swimmer goggles. I waved at her as she walked towards me from the car. She walked slowly, but with purpose, and handed me her handwritten, scribbly notes of a plan and sat down to work with Jimena.

After the session, she seemed pretty sure that she was not needed here. “I work with kids who really have special needs…kids who are deaf, blind, dyslexic, aggressive…you know? She is not like that. Jimena is really quite smart and can read some words.” I told her I would relay the information to the bosses and agreed that Jimena was pretty darn smart. The teacher touched my arm and quietly continued, “you know what she really needs is lots of love. She needs someone to be there for her and give her lots of hugs, someone to tell her she is special and that she is loved, you know?” It took me off guard because I was expecting her to rattle off some teaching techniques and suggestions. And part of me was thinking – yeah, no shit, Sherlock – but I was also extremely thankful for the reminder.
“Señor mío y Dios mío!”

We always worry and wonder why some of our kids are so rebellious or having repeated behavioral problems. So we answer with detailed and researched proposal after proposal. We type up necessary plans full of activities and psychological things and place our hope in them, but really in the grand scheme of things there is a lot of truth to what she said. Each of our kids truly just yearns to be loved in order to really know and remember that they were first loved into being.

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Easter Day rainbow seen outside of the cathedral (or the best Sarita commercial you’ve ever seen)

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river in pico bonito national park

visitors, green tortillas, and more whales

Turns out it’s super hard to follow a post on failure. Is it weird to write about the little successes that followed? Is it overwhelming and depressing to keep writing about failure?! Thankfully, I was incredibly blessed to have my first visitor to the Finca in March.

When Anna hopped off the back of our busito onto Finca property, my two worlds (that of everything pre-Finca and now present at the Finca) collided. It’s a strange experience to be reunited and feel as though I am simply continuing a conversation just recently left behind despite the fact that my surrounding realities, everyday responsibilities, and working-language have drastically changed. And as reminiscent stories from Notre Dame, recent updates from old friends, and nostalgic smells of my favorite cookies pre-Finca mixed into the milieu of our Finca sala I began to feel more integrated and rooted in myself and who I am (who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming). *Thanks to all those who wrote letters, sent Finca-gold in the form of chocolate and tapatio, and sent along much-needed prayers and encouragement. Though I miss the old times dearly, I realized that I had changed in small ways just as everyone from “back home” had too. Such is life, but the opportunity to share the blessings of my life here at the Finca was truly, truly a gift. There are so many moments of grace that have become “normal” to my life at the Finca. Perhaps too normal. Though moments of grace seem to fill our days, I hope that they never go unnoticed. Thanks, Anna for allowing me to notice again these incredible blessings in my life with new eyes to see and be thankful.

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Because there are certain joys and blessings of my life here at the Finca that just can’t be fully captured in blogs, letters, or via FaceTime…

  1. Standing on the flatbed of a truck with the wind (and low-hanging branches, if you’re not careful) rushing past your face with the older girls of the Finca on our way to Mass in Trujillo as the older girls look at me and point to a family of cows and say, “hey look at those smelly cows! Say hi to your family Jenna, I think they miss you.” And repeat as we pass the other cows farther down the street, the goats, and the occasional pig.
  1. Running from house to house with green tortilla dough in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, only to see the horrified and shocked faces of the local house parents and the kids. “Guacala!” (Honduran phrase for…”disgusting” “gag me” “gross”) they all say while laughing and shaking their heads at the weird gringo traditions we bring to the Finca. All this, only to later see five of the girls come to our fogón wanting to help me make the tortillas and cook them. And then ensues the rhythmic, *clap clap, clap clap of kids making tortillas and occasionally making fun of my tortillas because they look like calzones (underwear).IMG_9113
  1. Walking across the campo and be startled by Suri, from our oldest girls’ house, yell from literally the opposite end of the Finca, “HEYYY BALLENA, HEY VOS! YOU’RE A BALLENONA (somehow a normal whale wasn’t big enough, so Suri has made a distinction to call me an even larger/fatter whale)!” Later on, Anna and I scoured the beaches for seashells and sea glass for an art project Suri was making for the school.IMG_9082
  1. It is nearly impossible to explain the moments of hilarity, joy, and solidarity that are shared within the missionary community. Our sala, though run-down and oftentimes super unorganized, is a sacred place of fellowship. It’s where we all meet for community meetings. It’s where a couple of us will stay up late at night discussing current challenges, moments of grace, and life’s greatest questions. It’s where we grow together as a community of faith in what is undoubtedly the most difficult moments of our lives and in the most beautiful, too.IMG_9038
  1. Unexpectedly jumping into the ocean for a swim with our youngest girls on an especially hot day. I may not have had any clean/dry clothes to wear afterwards, but we all wanted to go swimming – so we did. Sometimes the girls decide it’s a good idea to all hang onto the missionaries when the tide is higher than normal and have water battles. So we did that too.
  1. Sitting over lunch at our middle girls’ house, we had all planned to teach Anna made up words under the guise that they were “Honduran slang.” Despite the fact that all of the girls were laughing through the whole thing and getting all embarrassed, Anna believed them – every last made up Honduran slang word.

bring on the failure

I swear we had a plan going into that house. All I wanted was for the girls in the house to do their chores, get ready for the day, and do a short team-building activity. Sure, I knew it would be difficult, but I thought if we presented the options with enthusiasm and made it known that we weren’t just joking around, the girls would respond positively.

“n’ombe, ballena! No eres mi tía!” they yelled.

*Translation: “n’ombe” – slang for “no way,” short for, “no hombre” or “no man”
“ballena” – whale, …happens to rhyme with Jenna.
“no eres me tía” – “you’re not my aunt (house mom of the house)”

Plan failed.
Somehow I’m still standing there trying to get the girls to do their chores while they run around both sides of the house whispering in each others’ ears and giggling as children do (because it’s not obvious that they’re laughing at you if they’re whispering and only shooting quick side glances in your direction every so often). And perhaps any other person would have been more chipper and able to coax these girls into not chasing the chickens around the whole property or throwing the rake into the bushes anymore.
Not me.

When our time was finally up at the house, I walked back with a fellow missionary to our house. With just the sound of the waves crashing and the rain against the sheet metal roofs in the background, we walked back in silence. Thoughts of frustration, anger, and disappointment filled my mind as I considered all the other jobs that I could be doing pretty darn competently at that moment. I was just so tired of that feeling of everything going wrong, that feeling of failure. I didn’t want to go back to a meeting in which I would report what happened only for someone to tell me what I did terribly wrong and everything I should have done differently. Not to say that I was always great at everything I ever did before coming to the Finca, but I haven’t ever failed as much as I do now.

As we reached the house, Natalie let out a sigh and said, “I just wish I could give each one of them a huge hug because I know so much of this is because they are missing out on the love of their mothers.”
Damn. And in that moment pure sarcasm escaped my mouth, “ha! that’s funny because I was just thinking that I wanted to punch all of them in the face.” And we walked into the house.

Sure this was an especially low moment, but I’m keeping this blog honest. At the Finca, I’m slowly learning how to fail, and how to fail often. And each time I am met with criticism or disgruntled kid-faces (“n’ombe!!”) when I have to be the mala person and enforce the “terrible social work rules,” a part of me is dying. The part of me that yearns so much to be well-liked, to be acknowledged as a rockstar social worker, to be encouraged and validated by positive affirmation – is dying. Perhaps this is a necessary death. In welcoming a multitude of failures into my life (be it at my job, with my Spanish, or in loving my community), I’m learning that a love that must be earned isn’t really genuine love at all. That in fact through these daily failures, I am coming to see myself more as I truly am – broken and desperately dependent on a God who loves me recklessly without concern for success nor failure, but simply because God is love.

There are times when pulling myself up by my bootstraps or just working through it to succeed…won’t work. Whether it’s the power going out in the middle of the day or all of the decision-making power being outside of my control, I can’t always make things better. And this is a very humbling fact, my friends. Yet it seems that what matters and validates or invalidates me are not these disappointing outcomes or changes (nor the amount of shiny awards or impressive lines on a CV). In fact, I’ve come to understand that there is absolutely no earning or meriting to be had here. In sending God’s only son to be crucified for us, God has called us, redeemed us, and given us eternal life. Christ died for me in all of my brokenness and shortcomings – and the beauty rests in realizing that absolutely nothing could ever come close to meriting this perfect, self-giving love. All that remains then is complete surrender and trust in God.

There is nothing here for the earning because truly all that’s worth having is already gift.
So bring on the failure.

“A true act of love, unlike imaginary love, is hard and forbidding. Imaginary love yearns for an immediate heroic act that is achieved quickly and seen by everyone. People may actually reach a point where they are willing to sacrifice their lives, as long as the ordeal doesn’t last too long, is quickly over – just like on the stage, with the public watching and admiring. A true act of love, on the other hand, requires hard work and patience, and, for some, it is a whole way of life. But I predict that at the very moment when you see despairingly that, despite all your efforts, you have not only failed to come closer to your goal but, indeed, seem even farther from it than ever – at that very moment, you will have achieved your goal and will recognize the miraculous power of our Lord, who has always loved you and has secretly guided you all along.” – Dostoevsky

snapshots of our lives

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A common sight on the way to Mass in Trujillo each Sunday.

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Some of our kids and neighbor kids receiving their First Communion during Christmas Eve Mass.

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The best kind of New Year’s Eve party!

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Turns out, a big thing in Honduran good-bye parties is to put on “obras” (or skits, in this case). So this one time, we said goodbye to two of our Franciscan sisters, and there was no better way to do it than for some Finca kids to dress up in Franciscan habits and tell various jokes. You might not be able to tell, but I’m actually dressed as a Finca kid.

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Picture taken from Pico Bonito National Park where we missionaries went on retreat for 3 days during January. Here’s a link to a video for a better look into the weekend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CESKK2ykYQ8&feature=youtu.be

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Missionaries crossing what some may call “the bridge of death.”

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Missionaries on retreat with Padre Paul from Wisconsin!

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Lookin’ fancy for the quince!

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misioneras and the quinceañero

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not super sure what happened here…

note: a real blogpost is coming soon…

we three kings

Happy Feast of the Epiphany! Today we celebrate the journey of the Magi. The three kings, who in the midst of their kingly lives, were prompted by a deep desire to leave everything and set out for that bright star. They traveled with their particular gifts in hand guided by the star and eventually fell prostrate at the sight of the infant Jesus, adored Him, and offered Him their gifts.

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:10-11).

At the Finca del Niño*, I’ve felt like I’ve been on a similar journey, leading me constantly towards Christ in the kids, fellow missionaries, and Franciscan sisters around me. And while the journey as a new missionary and a social worker has been filled with moments of true sorrow and difficulty, I am continually surprised by the enduring moments of joy and grace that continue to strengthen me on this journey towards self-gift. We are never guaranteed an easy camino, but like the three kings, we can only respond to the small promptings of our hearts by the Holy Spirit to continue following that star, wherever it may lead.

And as I look up to see the starry night sky enveloping the distant mountains and blending into the horizon across the Trujillo Bay, I see this epiphany story come to life in our mission. Here we are 11 missionaries in total, everyone with their busy, separate jobs (and some more!), and we’ve begun praying for more missionaries – for those back home who might be awakening to this kindling of the heart. We pray that those potential missionaries might be open to receiving this small desire for the missionary life like a precious seed planted and sown by the Holy Spirit. We are praying that, like the magi, those future missionaries may be filled with the spirit of courage and love in order to leave the comforts of home behind, and travel with gifts and talents in hand towards Christ born today among us (especially in the radiant and beautiful children we work with each and every day).

Well in truth, we are also praying that everyone, in their own particularities of vocation and gift, might respond generously today to the promptings of the heart towards self-gift – that we might all journey towards the Christ star in our lives regardless of whether that is in the workplace, in the classroom, in the home, or at the Finca.

Peace,
Jenna

P.S. I would be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have about being a Finca missionary. You can reach me by email: jennaahn2010@gmail.com

*The Finca del Niño is an orphanage in rural Honduras that provides the thirty-two kids in our care with family-style homes, healthcare, K-9 education, psychological therapy, and a strong spiritual life within the Catholic tradition. The clinic and our school are also open to serving the surrounding Honduran communities. Missionaries live in an intentional Christian community and play a role in all of these functions, be it as teachers (like Bobby), as social workers (like Jenna), as nurses, as psychologists, or even as an accountant. The minimal commitment for a missionary is two years. All of these activities are viewed through the lenses of our pillars of service, simplicity, spirituality, and community. For more information, I’d encourage you to check out our website at http://www.farmofthechild.org