Editor's note: Kirsten Rotz is participating in an internship with Global Sisters Report while volunteering in Honduras. She is a VIDES volunteer from Idaho who is serving with the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Her blogs will appear in GSR for the next several weeks.
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk 16:15-18)
A few weeks ago, we heard these words from Jesus to the disciples just before he ascended into heaven. As I sat in the chapel reading his words, my mind fading in and out of focus on the coming week, lesson plans, and the meditation at hand, my attention snapped back to and connected to Jesus’ message.
In May 2013, I fell in love with Central America. After my graduation from Carroll College, I had the opportunity to be immersed in the Guatemalan culture for two weeks with a group of fellow students, faculty and staff. We learned about the people and culture, volunteered and encountered the church and her people on a totally different level. The experience planted a seed of desire to deepen that experience.
A little over a year later, my desires to travel and serve started to deepen and evolve. I realized that I wanted an experience that would challenge me. I wanted to master Spanish – a language I only had a base knowledge of – be exposed to a new culture, and grow in my faith. The time frame was also important. In my mind, an extended period of time would give me time to assimilate into a community, forge new relationships, and truly add to that desire to grow.
Through the Catholic Volunteer Network I stumbled upon VIDES+USA. VIDES is a volunteer and placement program run by the Salesian sisters, one of the most well established women religious communities in the world. The program asks that each volunteer complete a formation and service camp prior to departing and a re-entry retreat after returning. This way, they support us volunteers in solidarity and prayer while equipping us to properly understand the lives we may be leading once we join the sisters.
VIDES connected me with Escuela Maria Mazzarello, an elementary school, in San Pedro Sula, where I live and work. It is a large, industrial, gang-ridden and dynamic city. The school is run by the Salesian sisters. I teach English and PE, but before and after school, I am with the 25 girls who live with us during the school week. My responsibilities include helping them get ready for school in the morning, monitoring afternoon recreation, coaching basketball and sleeping in the dormitory alongside them. As much as it sounds like a mass-nannying job, I'm part of a team of sisters and volunteers who are much like “las mamás” of the girls — helping to raise them right. Our community is comprised of eight sisters, three pre-aspirant volunteers and myself.
While it is much improved now, I realized pretty quickly that my Spanish was weak! All of a sudden, having the vocabulary of a 7-year-old came as a shock. Knowing the gist of the rules of the language only gets you so far. That being said, I suffered. I struggled to understand; I struggled to communicate.
So I lived a very, very quiet life. Not only because I struggled to communicate, but I know it was trying for the sisters to have to explain and dumb-down everything; so more often than not, they chose not to actually talk to me.
However, by taking the focus off of speaking, I learned how strong my observation skills were becoming. In order to understand what was happening, I lived a half-step behind everyone around me so that I could figure out what was going on. But after a while, I realized that through talking less and observing more, I was also learning to listen. Gradually, through lots of trial and error, my Spanish was improving, simply by taking a little extra time to focus on what was being said around me.
There's a quote by Mother Teresa:
“The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”
I'm here, giving my time in service. So I guess I thought I could skip right to peace. But that's not how it works. I was sent directly back to the beginning, Do Not Pass Go; Do Not Collect $200. In quieting my mouth, my mind and my heart gradually followed suit. And I learned to listen to God in ways that I haven't before. And I'm falling in love with the beauty in spite of the broken-ness of this country, and most of all, its people. And, it's much easier to serve when you truly love who you're serving. Something about that brings great peace.
Jesus’ words to the disciples spoke to my heart because I was reminded that I’m not just giving my time in service. I am one of Jesus’ disciples, too. He has sent me to go do his work. In the struggle to find my voice, I’m learning to listen to his voice. Though I don’t know if I’ve driven out any demons in others, every day I discover another little pocket of unconditional love for the children I work with who come from impossible situations. I am, in fact, speaking in a new language, and, miraculously, I haven’t (yet) contracted any strange illnesses from the food or environment. While I haven’t picked up any snakes, I have both given and received hugs that communicate love and peace.
Jesus says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Follow me for the next few weeks to hear about my opportunities to love and be loved by Honduras and those I am encountering.
[Kirsten Rotz is participating in an internship with Global Sisters Report while volunteering in Honduras. She is a VIDES volunteer from Idaho who is serving with the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In addition to teaching English and PE in their school, she helps care for 30 girls who live with them during the week.]