Greetings family and friends in Christ,
The transitions continue! We made the move to the village of Aguacate in Guatemala back in June. It was a blessing, and no coincidence, we entered into the mission field just in time to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. Everyone here has made us feel like family since we have arrived and we are grateful to call it our new home! We have more or less adjusted to village life and have also plugged into the roles and routines of the seminary. Aguacate (fun fact: means Avocado in Spanish) is a small village in the Highlands of Guatemala, about forty-five minutes to an hour from the Mexican border, depending on what kind of transportation you use. It is home to the Annunciation Cathedral, which is also connected to St. Andrew’s Seminary and a medical clinic dedicated to Fr. Andrés Girón of blessed memory.
As you may have noticed in past blog posts and on social media, the community here is very vibrant and faithful. It has been a wonderful blessing to be a part of an Orthodox community again since while studying in Mexico we did not have a nearby Orthodox Church. Every Sunday, the Cathedral is full for the celebration of the Liturgy, and the faithful actively participate with their congregational singing, making a joyful noise. Communion usually takes anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour, depending on how many priests are present. During the week, the Seminary holds both matins (6am) and vespers (5pm) services. We have also traveled with Archimandrite Evangelos (vicar of Guatemala), the seminarians, and the other missionaries to many communities to celebrate their feast days, as well as witness sacraments like weddings, baptisms, and chrismations. The Liturgical and sacramental life here is very active!
The clinic here also plays a huge role in the village. Throughout the week, people come in for dental check-ups and medical consultations and care. There is a full-time doctor and a dentist that serve here for a year as a part of their medical residency. I often walk by and catch a friendly greeting from the patients waiting to be seen. This November a medical team of thirteen people through OCMC will be serving here at the clinic! Each year about two medical teams volunteer at the clinic to help serve the medical needs of the people. We are excited to be here for our first mission team as long-term missionaries!
Recently, Thomas has been teaching a class on “The Economy of the Son of God.” Although a difficult subject to teach, especially in a second language, he is using resources such as Saint Athanasius’ On the Incarnation that luckily has already been translated into Spanish! He recently started teaching a class on The Holy Spirit and is preparing his next class on Pastoral Care. The seminarians are eager to learn more about the rich and profound theological tradition of the Orthodox Church, and especially enjoy all of the literature Thomas has provided for them.
I have been working on metering and teaching many of the church’s hymns to both the choir and seminarians. We have been focusing on the hymns that are frequently sung throughout the year, such as the eight Apolotikia or resurrectional hymns that are sung on Sundays, hymns for major feasts and saints, and hymns for sacraments. This will be very useful when God-willing the seminarians one day become priests and need to know the basics of the musical tradition. In addition, I have been planning and preparing for a children’s ministry program here in the village. Every Sunday, when I watch the communion line go by, I think, “wow! I’ve never seen so many children in one place before!” As the village continues to grow and more and more families become baptized and chrismated, I pray that we can help solidify the foundation of Orthodoxy to help build up future leaders of The Church!
Not only is there frequent traveling to local communities but there have also been other activities happening outside of the village. Many catechetical retreats are held throughout the year for the leaders of all the Orthodox communities, varying between eight to ten in Guatemala and four to six in Mexico. The catechists (local leaders in each community) gather at the meetings to hear talks and presentations made by the local priests here as well as the seminarians and missionaries. It is a great way for Fr. Evangelos to check in with the community leaders and help strengthen and deepen their Orthodox faith. They are even required to take an exam! Some of the topics we heard at the recent retreats include, church leadership, preaching, church history, and saints of the church. On the second day of the retreat, Liturgy is held where more learning can be done, and of course they are able to worship together and partake of Holy Communion. It really is a fruitful and meaningful ministry.
In addition to our transitions and events in the field, we have some exciting news to share! A new family member and missionary is on its way, “baby Manuel” coming in March 2020! We will keep you posted on more updates, but please keep us in your prayers for a healthy pregnancy and as we adjust to this exciting new chapter in our lives. Also pray for the priests here that they may be able to carry out the many tasks of their communities and that the future leaders and seminarians are strengthened and continue to grow in their faith and knowledge of the Church. We wish everyone a blessed Liturgical New Year and look forward to sharing more updates in the future from the field.