We just made it (back) to Honduras after two weeks of language school and our brains are something consistent with the bean mash they serve with most meals in this part of the world. The bus ride back to Honduras was filled with obstacles. We started at 3 a.m. waiting on our Antiguan front porch for a van to Guatemala City to arrive. At about 3:45 a.m. our host came running out of her house quite angry with the poor soul on the other end of the phone who woke her up. He explained that he had gotten lost.
Slowly our van drove up and just as soon as we got our bags packed, the driver got lost again leaving Antigua – a feat rivaling the turning of iron into gold since Antigua is possibly the easiest city in the world to navigate given the huge volcano sitting exactly south of the city and it being possible to walk across in about 30 minutes. We made it to Guatemala City with about 20 minutes to spare most of which were spent convincing the bus company that they could and would drop us off in Comayagua. After 14 hours, we made it. But why?
It’s true that Jennie and I don’t get asked this question very often, but I’m pretty sure it’s on most people’s minds when they hear our plan. In this day of internet donations, crappy job market, and an economy that sometimes feels more like North Shore swells in the winter (and don’t even get me started on the healthcare system), it seems crazy to drop everything and head to the third world to teach the Catholic faith. I mean Honduras is a Catholic country, right? Couldn’t we just write a check and post our good deeds on Facebook?
The Holy Father, aka Il Papa Grande, has made it very clear that Jesus called us all to give more of ourselves to the poor.
If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14).
This has two immediate effects: 1) the poor are restored to dignity as persons, 2) and the missionary learns more about what it really means to be human.
And to answer the question: We simply want to be a part of it.
This morning, I packed up my backpack and Jose and I trotted off to school. Inside a beautiful garden courtyard, I met my teacher Erika. We sat all morning in our little classroom, which was two chairs, a table and a whiteboard in a little hut along a path in the garden. For five hours she taught me Spanish verbs, grammar and vocabulary. By the time we played a little game of memory with Jose and one other foreign student, my brain was fried. After hours of trying to relearn every word you know and use in a simple conversation, I was spent.
However, school is lovely! It’s quite helpful to sit and chat all day with a teacher, and Erika is patient with my blunders and helpful with my questions. I love the magic of learning a language; it’s amazing to discover to you know the meaning of a word when before it was just a unrecognizable sound. It’s like seeing a new place for the first time, and you almost feel giddy at the progress of any new vocabulary you can pick up.
The week promises to be quite fun, with a few educational field trips sprinkled in between lessons in our cozy hut. I was promised homework as well, and you know you’re an old lady when you don’t mind the idea. Otherwise, today brought back memories of meeting by the lockers after school, especially when Jose walked me home from school. But he refused to carry my books! I’m going to ignore him during first period tomorrow in retribution.
At 7 a.m., our friend and missionary brother Joe delivered us to a bus stop along the road in Comayagua and sent us on our way to our language school in Antigua, Guatemala. Yesterday’s adventure included a 14-hour long bus ride through the Honduran and Guatemalan countryside on a surprisingly comfortable bus. Passing away a full day on a bus is not easy, but somehow we managed. In true Jing fashion, I spent the majority of my time during the ride sleeping. In true José fashion, he spent a good portion of the time on the road trying to prevent me from sleeping.
The trip passed with relatively few issues, but we did have a few adventures in an otherwise monotonous day. Noteworthy was our success in maneuvering through bus transfers, including a rather nerve-racking moment when our bus handlers took our passports and walked away. Turns out they were just walking them to our new driver, but it’s a little disconcerting when traveling through a new city and a man just takes your passport and goes off into a crowded station with it. Crossing the border from Honduras to Guatemala also gave us a bit of a “I’m not sure what to do now” moment when we left the Honduras immigration station to discover our bus was missing. Turns out you have to stroll down the road a bit to the Guatemala immigration station where the bus is waiting for you, but how would we know that? I suppose all those directions in Español that the bus attendant gave previously might have addressed that small detail. Lucky for us it was only a second before we spotted someone from our bus and managed to very covertly chase her down and follow her along to the other station.
We arrived in the beautiful city of Antigua at 9 p.m., where a gracious local who happened to catch a shuttle with us offered us a ride to our lodging and delivered us there intact. Our lovely host, a kind Guatemalan woman who speaks no English, showed us to a comfortable room and we were able to rest. Today’s adventures included mass at a local church, an walking exploration of the city, home cooked meals from our host with a sampling of cafe’s and random snacks in between, leaving me presently so full that I can barely walk. The weather is beautiful here, the city is muy interesante, and our school adventure begins tomorrow. All this goes to show how loving a God we have. Despite being sojourners in a foreign land, He has blessed our steps along the way.
Every time I move I run through the sad gamut of saying goodbye to people I love spending time with on a regular basis. This week I finished my time at a job I loved, and said a rather heartbreaking goodbye to the people I work with. As I went to my last karate class, I thought about the many nights I spent at the dojo and how kind and patient my teacher and classmates were with me. Even now, hubby, roomie and I are preparing our last dinner in our house together.
These days are never easy for me; I hate goodbyes, and often try to pretend that I’ll be back again next week. As I prepare myself to leave a place, all I can think about is how much I’ll miss the people that I’ll be separated from. But I’m reminded that these “lasts” are an offering, part of the sacrifice required when you’re searching for God’s will in your life.
I remind myself that my goodbyes are symbolic of hellos, of the yes that I’m saying to a life laid out for me by a God who loves me. And I try to remember that saying goodbye eventually gives way to happy reunions, which I look forward to every time I think of my friends.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays to everyone!
This year has been a fun-filled roller coaster, and the next promises more of the same. Our journey starts soon, and we want to share our plans with you. And encourage you to help if you’d like.
This year, Joey and I will be exiting the military and embarking on a new career journey! We’ll be traveling to Honduras for a few months of missionary work. Following that, we’ll head to Chicago for a few months to study computer programming and web development at an intensive computer coding school. Upon graduation, we’ll start new jobs!
Telling our family and friends has prompted a number of questions, so I’ve developed a Frequently Asked Questions for you!
Why are you getting out of the military? Don’t you want to stay in for 10 more years and retire?
The military gave us a great start in our careers. It helped one of us pay for school and gave us a great financial base to leap from. We’ve both loved our experiences and friends that we’ve made, but we have so many things we want to do! And some of those things are not possible while we’re in the military. In addition, Joey’s Navy opportunities will tend toward the management end for the rest of his career, and that’s not really his cup of tea. Well neither is tea for that matter, as you know he’s more of a coffee guy. Ten years is a long time in a job you don’t like, and rather than suffer through, we’d prefer to try something else.
Why Honduras? What will you do there?
We’ve been members of a missionary organization called the Missioners of Christ for more than 15 years, and their mission is based in Comayagua, Honduras. We’ve felt a calling to be more involved with the mission, and specifically to support the mission with our time. We’ll be spending a few weeks there this time, practicing our Spanish, working on their website and promotional materials, and working on bringing fresh and delicious Honduran coffee to the States as a fundraising project for the mission. We’ll also be helping our friend Myrna build up a physical therapy program called Beata Margarita for physically disabled youth and young adult patients in Comayagua.
What will you do after Honduras?
We’ve been thinking about a new career path for the past few years, and we’ve finally settled on one that we’re both passionate about. We’ll be studying computer programming and web development at an intensive programming school in Chicago called Dev Bootcamp. We’ll learn a programming language called Ruby, which is used by companies big and small to build internet-based programs. If it sounds super nerdy, that’s because it is. But at this stage in our lives we have no trouble embracing our obsession for the internet and all nerdy things. We believe there are many good and necessary things we can do in this career field, and we’re excited to get started.
Why Chicago? Won’t you FREEZE TO DEATH THERE (emphasis MINE)?
We applied to several programming schools, and the first to accept us was in Chicago. So to Chicago we’ll go! It was an unexpected choice, but we are so excited to see what the city has to offer! Indeed, we might eventually freeze to death there, but our initial experience of the city will be in the summer of this year, giving us just enough time to truly fall in love with the place before cursing the frigid temperatures that promise to come with the dawning of September. Everyone knows that Jennie has the cold tolerance of a tropical bird, but I have been promised a coat that reaches the ground come wintertime.
What happens after you graduate from your school?
This is the big mystery lottery of the year. Who knows? We’ll have to find jobs somewhere to support the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, which includes eating and having a place for our cat to sleep. After school we’ll apply to the great wide world to find ourselves some employment, and then go to wherever we feel called. It is likely that we’ll stay in Chicago for a while, as we’ll have the most career connections there upon graduation.
Why all this change? Why not just stay in the military for a few more years and retire?
Again, these life changes are all about chasing our dreams. We’ve wanted to serve the mission more extensively for years, but the kind of time commitment we want to make is not possible while we’re tied to the military. We want to try a new career, have more control over our location, and work on things that we love. We’re carefully planning for retirement in other ways, and therefore haven’t felt the need to rely on a military retirement. Moreover, we try really hard to make sure we’re listening to the Lord when he calls us to something, no matter how uprooting or unexpected that calling might be. Looking back, I can just as easily say that joining the military ten years ago was just as unexpected. That leap of faith took us around the world, so who know where we’ll go next?
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