Flexibility, bravery and steadfastness

Johanna Ramos and her children place flowers on a cross on the slopes of the Casita Volcano in Nicaragua Oct. 30, 2008. The cross marks the site where Ramos believes her parents and two sisters were buried in 1998 by a mudslide caused by Hurricane Mitch. In the background, the bare scar, right, on the mountain shows where the mudslide began. (CNS photo / Paul Jeffrey)

How brave are sisters?

Going through Customs anywhere can be stressful. Going through Customs trying to enter certain countries can be even harder. Trying to do it with a contingent of 43 Americans would put anyone to the test.

But there was Dominican Sister of Hope Debbie Blow, trying to enter Nicaragua with 43 members of The North Country Mission of Hope, a direct ministerial response to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Mitch on impoverished Nicaraguan villages. Blow founded the mission in 1998.

The Customs official had seized the supply of medicines Blow was bringing to Nicaragua, and he wanted a bribe to give them back. But she was having none of it, and refused – insisting the man give her back the medicines gratis.

“These are for your children,” she insisted.

The man gave in, Blow got the medicine, and the 59th trip Mission of Hope had made to Nicaragua in 17 years was under way. [You can follow the trip via their tweets at #MOH59.]

Of course, the inconvenience with the Nicaraguan official came after a long journey from northeast New York state, including last-minute arrangements to take a bus to Newark after a flight was canceled. All of this came after similar travel problems experienced by the advance team.

But Blow is used to it: She’s dealt with airlines canceling seats, a bus breaking down 10 miles from Newark Airport, and being part of a group stranded with a group in Chicago.

“One of the key words of the mission is ‘flexibility,’” Blow told the Press-Republican, laughing.

The other key is being there to help, not just take over: Blow and her team recognized early on that direct, long-term assistance was vital in order to improve the lives of the people. Working hand-in-hand with local community leaders, she and others work to empower the people to help themselves.

This trip will install a playground in the remote mountain community of Solano, install water filters for 118 families, and construct 10 homes to replace crude shacks where families are living.

They want to stay

Aid to the Church in Need has the story of Sr. Houda Fadoul, a Syrian-Catholic nun who presides over a congregation of women religious near Nebek, Syria. Nebek a city of around 50,000 inhabitants, is 50 miles north-east of Damascus and about the same distance south the ancient Christian center of Homs. There are about 120 Catholic families there, served by one Syrian-Catholic parish and one Melkite parish.

Though Nebek has stayed largely under government control since the civil war broke out in 2011, the threat of war is always looming:

“The jihadists are not far away,” Fadoul told Aid to the Church. “We Christians are scared of them. But so are the Muslims of Nebek. After all, the jihadists also kill Muslims. No one wants them here. In Nebek, the Christians and Muslims are like family.”

Some 90 Christian houses were destroyed or damaged during the battles late last year, the story says:

“The jihadists thought that the government would spare them if they attacked in the Christian district. But that was not the case. There was fierce fighting here. However, the Christian district lies unprotected on a hill. And so the Christian houses were hit especially hard. The people hid for weeks in cellars.”

Fouda’s most pressing need is to find housing for those whose homes were destroyed in the fighting. But there is also the matter of keeping faith alive:

“The Christians here are very brave. They celebrated a large Mass of Thanksgiving after the most recent battles. The destroyed houses are one thing. They don’t consider that so important. Instead, they thanked God for the fact that they are still alive. We have to help the people regain their hope and faith that they can have a future in Syria. If not, we will lose them.”

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]