First-time Visit Leaves Lasting Memories

Reflections by Jody Jones, Group Leader from Blessed Sacrament Church, West Fargo, ND. About a year and a half ago I went to my first organizational meeting at Blessed Sacrament Church for a trip to Chimbote, Peru. I was a little apprehensive about going so far away; after all I had never been out of the country, except for Canada.  But after discussing it with my husband, John, we both decided we should move forward and go on a mission trip to Peru. I volunteered to be the leader of this group and on June 28, 2015 we left Fargo for Chimbote. There were 21 of us in the group from several parishes around the diocese and a few from Minneapolis. I was not sure what I was getting into. People had told me about the poverty, the smells, the dirt and dust. Yes, I did find all of that but I also found pure joy! Joy in the people I met, regardless of the poverty, and joy in myself for making a leap of faith and going. How often have we heard, I grew up poor but I didn’t know it or even though we had no money growing up, we were rich in so many other ways? I could never have imagined really feeling this way until I went to Chimbote. The people were poor, very poor; but rich in so many ways. They were grateful for everything they had or were given. I have listened to many missionaries speak of the poverty and going into an area to help but never have I heard so many people say we are there to help the people help themselves. I was so impressed with the structure of the mission and ACAF. They have a network of teachers, social workers, accountants, fundraisers, and attorneys to help the locals try to get out of poverty. They will provide small business loans to people who can present a business plan for something to help them get out of poverty. The ACAF listened to the people and have started trade schools for the people. We visited the cosmetology school, the sewing school, and the computer repair school. They are also beginning to train people in the construction trade so they can be employed to build the homes the ACAF is beginning to construct. It will then give them the opportunity to find work with other construction companies.
While we were there we helped build three wooden homes out of new materials that ACAF is assessing due to its durability. It was an exciting time for everyone! We were all excited about building the homes and helping three families have a better life but one of the things the ACAF leaders kept telling us was we needed to allow the families and the workers assigned to the homes to do the majority of the building. What joy I saw as I watched the families pitch in and help build the homes.  The home I worked on had a family of five ready to move in as soon as we finished.  The mother was so excited and willing to work. I think she grabbed the first paintbrush and had a room finished before we knew what was happening. These homes no longer had dirt floors and estera walls. They were made with concrete floors, wooden walls and a fiberboard-corrugated roof. Each of the families received two new full size beds, a dresser a table and 6 chairs and a gas stove, similar to one of our gas barbeque grills. When we arrived on the last day for the blessing of the homes the new homeowners had cleaned everything, made the beds, and decorated the homes with pictures of their children. The DRE from Blessed Sacrament, Lucy Elshaug, went with us and we decided it would be a great way to help our children understand what happens when they give their alms during Lent. We told them we would use the money they donated to purchase things for the children in Chimbote. The children raised about $500 and we used the money to buy Bible story books and supplies for the children who go to school at the Mission. The Mission has a daycare, preschool, and kindergarten program plus they also have the sacramental preparation programs. While we did not have a chance to put the books into the children’s hands, we know that they will be put into the library and be used often by many people.
We may not have presented the books and supplies to the children and their teachers; we did have a carnival for the children. We all were there playing games, face painting, and painting fingernails. Kari Novak and her daughters went through their nail polishes and donated many different colors and nail stickers so we could paint nails during the carnival. I believe this was one of the best activities we had that afternoon. We had both little girls and women getting their nails done. Again, the joy on everyone’s face made us all happy. I was also privileged to help in one of the soup kitchens that ACAF has in place.  What an eye opening experience! I work in a soup kitchen at Blessed Sacrament.  When we arrived in the kitchen, the first thing we were told was the people who received food from the soup kitchen came in with bowls and pails to pick up the food and take home for their families. There was no place for them to eat in the kitchen. The goal was to continue to maintain the family and allow everyone to sit at their table and eat a family meal. Rice is a staple, just as bread is at home. It is served at every meal so everyone had a big bowl of rice to take home plus stew or rich gravy for on top. The day I was there, the cook made a thick rich gravy with chicken and vegetables in it. I spent the morning with Lucy Elshaug and Fr. Joe Barrett cutting up a very large pumpkin and carrots. Lucy spent the morning shelling peas.  Most of this food was used for the meal the next day. Every member of the family received an orange for dessert the day we worked. No cakes or cookies just vitamin rich healthy food. The trip to Chimbote was so enjoyable that both my husband and I came home and decided we needed to start immediately start planning another trip and this time try to take some young people from Blessed Sacrament to go back to Chimbote in two years. The trip to Chimbote was such a blessing to us.

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