The Savior, Part 1: Breaking

Note: The next several posts are snapshots of my life as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in Belize City from 1994-1996. I started writing about a summer trip to El Salvador with two other JVs. We were supposed to volunteer with my friend’s literacy program in Suchitoto. We were supposed to stay one to two months. But I couldn’t stay. The moment our bus pulled to a stop at a San Salvador terminal, fear gripped my chest and didn’t let go until we departed three days later. I’ve never understood what happened to me, what I felt, why I cried until we were back in Guatemala en route to Belize. And I think a deep shame over not being able to stick it out, not living up to my vision for myself and my work, has kept me all these years from holding those three days up to the light. I think the light up to this point has been a bare bulb in a windowless room. But last week I woke to the words “My heroes are Archbishop Oscar Romero…,” and I knew it was time to unscrew the bulb, so to speak, and rather than try to hold that experience in my hands, to instead light a candle and hold it up to the walls of that time, exploring it as I would ancient cave drawings, as a seeker. What do I see? How did it get here? What does it mean? 

Fall 1994. I am twenty-two years old, a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) living and working in Belize City. My boss was a Sister of Charity (or maybe she was a Sister of Mercy) from the U.S. We are supposed to share an office in the corner of the parish hall of Saint Ignatius Catholic Church. The office walls are made of cinder block painted the greenish-blue of swimming pools with cut out slats for natural light and fresh air high along the two outside walls. The cut outs angle toward the ground, I think to protect against theft (I have been warned to lock my bicycle, lock the parish hall door behind me, keep valuables away from the window, lest a stray hand reach in and snatch them), but they function more like escape chutes for any sunlight that happens to find itself trapped in here with me.

I direct a program started by Sister Eileen to train lay people throughout Belize to assist with parish duties. There are not enough priests to visit the elderly and infirm, to give communion, to hold prayer meetings, or run youth programs, and so the diocese relies on non-clergy to keep the church alive. I am a believer in living simply, keeping faith, building community, and doing justice, the four tenets of the Jesuit Volunteer program. It’s why I came, why I’ve gotten my college loans deferred for two years instead of immediately joining the work force; this is how I want to live, not necessarily in Belize or working for the church, but simply, doing justice, keeping faith, building community.

My heroes are Archbishop Oscar Romero, Jean Donovan, and the Maryknoll sisters murdered with her. I didn’t come here to die, and yet I know that being here will break me open in ways I’ve not imagined, ways I would not choose but will ultimately thank for making me who I am.

Published in: on January 28, 2015 at 2:05 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i’m anxiously awaiting the next posts.

  2. Thanks, Norty. I’m anxiously writing it. 😉

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