Dear Friends and Family!
Greetings from San Cristobal de las Casas! We have been here for almost a month and a half, yet it feels like much longer! This week we are approaching our sixth week at “Instituto Jovel,” our language school where we spend 4+ hours a day learning Spanish one-on-one with three different teachers. We’ve adjusted more or less to the routine here in San Cristobal, and usually spend our afternoons studying and doing homework, buying produce at the local markets, and watching shows in Spanish to increase our vocabulary! The school offers extra activities, including “Club de Conversacion,” where a group of students from the school gather at a local café and speak Spanish with each other with the help of one of the teachers. We have found that this, along with simply speaking with the people around us during bus rides, at restaurants, or the local bookstore, has helped increase our speaking abilities, poco a poco (little by little). Please continue to pray for the growth of our language skills so that we may be able to better serve the Orthodox communities in the future.
We have also had the opportunity to attend liturgies at a few churches here in the southern state of Mexico. On one Sunday, we were amazed to have witnessed two marriage ceremonies and ten baptisms! It was truly a day to remember. The community of San Caralampio (St. Haralambos) welcomed and treated us with great hospitality, including inviting us after for a meal. A day in the life of a priest here is very labor intensive. On top of conducting the needed sacraments in each village they visit, they also tend to their flocks in any capacity necessary from confession and spiritual counseling, to physical needs as well. Unfortunately, most communities only see a priest about once a month or every other month due to the large number of churches, 100-125, compared to the number of clergy that serve them, 5 local priest. Please continue to pray for the leaders in the local communities that may have been called into the priesthood, as well as for the current priests, and seminarians at the seminary of St. Andrew in Aguacate, Guatemala.
In recent events, the five-year memorial of Fr. Andrés Girón was celebrated at the end of February on the southeast coast of Guatemala, where Fr. Andres resided. Many of the local priests and communities gathered together to honor their beloved hero and father in Christ, who brought thousands of indigenous people to Orthodoxy in Guatemala and Southern Mexico.
As we approach the beginning of Lent, we are reminded by the Gospel readings during triodion, to constantly be in preparation. The Holy Days of our church calendar are an annual reminder “to keep us from forgetting events that are vital to our salvation and the abundant life that God wants us to have,” (Introducing the Orthodox Church, Its Faith and Life by Anthony M. Coniaris). Our fellow missionaries Jesse Brandow and Jennifer Rice, have spent much of their time producing and updating the “Calendario Ortodoxo,” a compilation of the daily readings and saints of the day for three-month periods at a time. It is an extremely useful tool for the communities here, as it is written in simple language, and even includes the fast rule for the day. This book, along with other resources for catechists, will assist in continuing education for lay people, lay leaders and ultimately, future clergy.
Although we are not fully working in the mission field, we are learning so much about the language and way of life in Central America. Part of being a missionary, especially during the first year, is simply observing and adapting to the life of the people you are serving. It would be impossible to relate to the people and to serve them without our adapting to the culture and the language. Our experience so far has been quite an adjustment, but we are grateful for all of your prayers and support. We are also thankful for our fellow missionaries Jesse and Jennifer, for welcoming us and helping us adjust to the life here. The body of Christ is at work throughout the world to do God’s will, and that is extremely present here!
As we prepare to meet our Risen Lord let us “sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the Church, [...] let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber,” (Joel 2:12-26, Daily readings for March 6th). We wish everyone a blessed Lenten journey! Gloria a Dios!