The confessions of a former shopoholic continue as I return to Belize for a second year this fall. Earlier posts tell tales from my first year in Belize as a volunteer teacher at Mt. Carmel High School in Benque Viejo del Carmen from 2004-2005. I will return to Belize this fall to work as a missionary on San Pedro, the "La Isla bonita" of Madonna's dreams and my home for the next year!

Monday, July 03, 2006

What now?

So it's been a while since I've written... For some reason posting lots of pictures seems to be an acceptable substitute for genuine communication but I realize that people probably miss all my witty and profound musings on life so I thought I'd at least let people know what I'm up to these days.

Well, it all started on the Ruta Maya this year when Marybeth and I were talking about the Camino pilgramige in Spain. It's a 500 mile walk that many of our extremely holy friends have done (examples: Miriam Bianchi, Fr. Mark Wendling, Carrie Giebel, Shirly McClaine.... or something like that) and it comes highly recommended. We said to ourselves, why not go home, work like crazy for a month to save the money and then just jet off to Spain and do it? Well, wouldn't you know our friend Kathryn in Canada was thinking the exact same thing. The moral of the story is that tommorrow I'm flying to Madrid to rendevous with Marybeth and Kathryn for our 500 mile adventure.

I'll try to post pictures and any anecdotes that I think might be of interest here so if you find yourself with nothing to do check in and you can see how I'm scandalizing an entirely new culture. Also, please know that I'll be praying for all who read this and I hope you keep me in your prayers also. I'm always amazed to see who actually reads my blog, I'm consantly (ok, like once a month) running into people who tell me they've been reading my blog and are praying for me and the kids in Belize-- it's so edifying. The other week I was at an ordination of an FUS grad and Bernard was a household name amongst all the Franuniv people-- they had all read about him and were praying for him. Prayer is just amazing!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The National Catholic Youth Conference

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Ali, Georgia, Kiesha and Juanelo "bash it up Church-style"

For those who don't speak Creole, they mean "party at Church!"

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Natalie, Courtney and Angele at one of Belize's best kept

secrets:  "Moonclusters" coffee shop... 

You'd swear you're in the states here!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The San Pedro Youth Group waiting for the water taxi.

The day in Guatemala:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Guatemalan girls doing morning chores.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I had to climb up these crazy steps (yes, it's even higher than it looks!)

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

to enjoy this view!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Fr. Dan and Fr. Mark... when Catholic Priests visit ancient

Sacred Mayan temples, it's taking ecumenism to a new level...

The Youth Jamboree:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

One look at this sign and I knew I wasn't in Kansas

 (or Hilton Head) anymore!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The San Pedro Youth Group and our world-class banner!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Natalie and Delfina playing "Cathphrase"

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Playing "Catchphrase" with youth from all over Belize!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Samira and Natalie performing the "pick pocketers" skit for the crowd.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Winning prizes at the Youth Jamboree.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

aren't my youth groupers cool?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Questions kids ask...

These past few weeks have just been, for lack of a better word, neat. Now, we (as in Anne Grejdus and I) have decided that "neat" doesn't say it all the way n.e.a.t. does, which stands for "necessary, enriching, (self) actualizing times"... So when I say "neat", that's what I mean. Yes, live in Belize long enough and you too will start inventing your own language.

So, there are many neat moments that I want to post about, ranging from Easter to the Youth Jamboree to my latest visit to Benque, but time is just not abundant enough, so I'm going to stick to a story and a prayer request.

Amaroo is a twelve year old boy who goes to a Seventh day Adventist school and hangs out at our Youth Group events sometimes. He's a cute kid and is really interested in spiritual things. His parents sell jewelry outside the Church so we see him alot. He came and sat with me in Church before the Easter Vigil started and we had the following conversation:

Amaroo: "What's this for?" (holding up his candle).
Me: "It's to represent the light of Christ comming into the world".
Amaroo: "Who's that?" (pointint to Jesus)
Me: "It's Jesus".
Amaroo: "Why is he up there?"
Me: "It's a statue to remind us that Jesus died on the cross".
Amaroo: "Why did Jesus die on the cross?"
Me: "Because he loves you".
Amaroo: "Where do babies come from?"
Me: "A man and a woman... wait a minute. You can ask your mom and dad that question!"

I guess he figured since he had me on a roll about Jesus he could sneak in some real trick questions...

Tomorrow we're taking some kids to the National Catholic Charismatic conference where Ali, Courtney and I will be giving talks on Dating, Additions and Sexuality. Keep us and the youth attending in your prayers!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Image hosting by Photobucket

So, I find this exciting.  My friend Cathleen just alerted me to the fact that the newest American Girl doll is from Belize.  I was intrigued and went to the website to learn that the newest American Girl doll was basically modeled after me.  Check this out:  "With her first step off the airplane and into bright tropical sunlight, Jess McConnell begins an adventure.  She and her parents are spending five months at an archeological dig of ancient Maya ruins in the Central American country of Belize.  It's Jess's first time out of the United States. It's her first time being home-schooled..."  (ok, minus the whole archeological dig part.)   I mean, a homeschooled girl who lives in Belize?  You know, for the first time in my life, I'm feeling normal.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

a lot can happen in a few weeks...

So, I’ve gotten into the habit of publishing all these cultural anecdotes while neglecting to keep you informed of the amazing things happening out here on the rock… Sorry, it’s just easier to write cute stories than try to put into words ALL of the amazing stuff that God is doing here! Anyways, I will try to summarize the last couple weeks the best I can…

Ali and I spent February 14 traveling from one end of the country to the other (Ladyville to Orange Walk… a whole 50 minutes apart) to give chastity talks at two different schools. I decided that I want to teach in Ladyville forever because it’s ALL CREOLE and let’s just be honest, I may be a white preppy girl from Hilton Head but inside, there’s a Creole sistah just dying to be set free. Maybe dreadlocks would help? Anyways, the school in Ladyville was secular, they were hosting “self esteem week” and thought maybe we could help. The cool thing about this school was that first of all, in the middle of our talk they brought us a beverage tray with water and coffee on it (I felt like a real speaker! That’s never happened before!) and that the kids were honestly hearing this stuff for the first time. To stand in front of a group of tough looking high school freshmen and watch their faces as you tell them that they are beautiful and deserve respect for who they are, not for their bodies is just incredible! The part that kills me is when we tell them that they don’t have to have the same lives that their parents do (you’ve all heard me rail on the family structure here, it’s dismal—the typical family is a woman with several kids and several fathers). I ask them, “what would Belize be like if people lived differently, if they were faithfully married to one person and everyone had a mother and father at home?” They know. The looks on their faces say it all!

Ali, Ann and I went into the mainland to join a bunch of Mt. Carmel teachers (and Fr. Mark) for La Ruta Maya a few weeks ago. La Ruta Maya is that crazy 170 mile canoe race that goes from Cayo (the district where Benque is) all the way down the Mopan river to Belize City. Ann and Ali were in a boat with Anne Grejdus, Campus Minister at Mt. Carmel. Myself, Dinorah, Cathleen and Mr. Daniel Juan were support crew for the girls boat and for Fr. Mark’s boat who also had two teachers- Marybeth and Zach- rowing in his boat. All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. The two teams did fabulously well, Fr. Mark, Marybeth and Zach finished seventh in their division (but fourth on the first day… man, that was exciting) and in terms of grounds crew, having all that experience just makes such a difference. I mean, it was my second time camping ever and I felt like an eagle scout, getting to the site, whipping out my machete and clearing land for hammocks… Oh wait, that was Mr. Daniel Juan. Well, at least I was able to handle all injuries and illnesses that came up with a cool, collected bedside manner. Oh, wait, nope, that was Cathleen. We even had a masseuse on staff who could give everyone backrubs… and that was definitely not me, it was Dinorah. However, I did carry a clipboard and drive off-limits, one of the rectory trucks. The most fun, really.

As I posted earlier, the Thursday after La Ruta Maya we received a call about Bernard, a boy that Ali had in her first form class last year who had been wanting to become Catholic after she had him in Religion class. He is a great kid, just a joy to be around. However he’s struggling right now and he attempted to kill himself by taking poison. The story is that he instantly regretted it and actually got on a bicycle and rode from Esperanza to San Ignacio to get to the hospital there (It’s 25 minutes by car!) so he could get help. That night Fr. Dan heard his first confession and gave him First Communion and then they took him to Belize City so that he could receive dialysis treatments which would give him a better chance. Ali and I went into Belize city to visit him on that Friday and it did not look good. This poison works in a horrible way, it basically burns you from the inside out and can take up to three weeks to take effect. Sitting with Bernard, his mother and grandmother was just brutal, I think it was one of the hardest days I’ve spent in Belize… and I wasn’t ever even his teacher! Anyways, what really inspired me was that night when I checked my e-mail I realized how many people were praying for him! Now, three weeks later, it looks like Bernard’s going to be fine. The doctors are stunned, they actually had his mother bring in what was left of the poison because his recovery is so incredible that they wanted to make sure he had actually consumed “real” stuff. So, praise God, and keep praying for Bernard’s emotional recovery.

We were blessed with an UNBELIZABLE group of missionaries from the lovely Franciscan University of Steubenville who were on their spring break last week. Along with them was Fr. Scott Ardinger, a priest from Pennsylvania who blessed us with his presence all week and heard about a million confessions… Move over St. John Vianney… Anyways, the missionaries led a Born in the Spirit retreat for the first three days they were here and then assisted us with work at the schools, Lifeteen and led the Confirmation retreat on Saturday. The work that they did was incredible, I think it was one of the most highly scheduled mission trips ever! However, more than that, THEY were just incredible. They were met the challenges of the heat, the bugs, the occasional digestion problems and the uncertainty of an unfamiliar culture head on! The San Pedranos LOVED them, they were ready to do anything to help us that week, from leading music to visiting kids at school to crazy skits to hanging out with the thugs. They basically took our mission here from the speed of dial-up to DSL in a matter of one week! Their visit was incredible for me, personally, because just a year ago Ali and I were sitting on a dock praying about coming out here, wondering what could be done to evangelize “temptation island”. In the past year we’ve had many moments of wondering if we were crazy, if God had really called us here, if we were fighting a losing battle against the sometimes overwhelming presence of evil here. However, the last week really showed us that there is SO MUCH to hope for.

One of the lay ministers who is also a fisherman gives an analogy about sin. He describes how he used to go out on the sea for several days in a row and as the fish were caught, they’d pile them up on the boat. Now, at first the stench of the fish was overwhelming and no one wants to go near it. However, as time passes you get used to it and as the boat fills up more and more you don’t notice the smell at all. It isn’t until you get back on land that you realize that the whole world doesn’t smell like fish! San Pedro is a lot like that boat full of fish… many people here have just never heard of any other way to live. I was reading a meditation on evangelization a couple weeks ago which said that we can be absolutely certain that all those we meet are in need of hearing the good news of the Gospel. It’s true, really. We think, “oh, this person’s too far gone, Christ is irrelevant to them”. Or, on San Pedro, it’s easy to think that the whole island is a lost cause. What I have been reminded of in the past couple weeks is that there is no lost cause. Christ is thirsting for the souls of the San Pedranos who are totally entrenched in sin just as much as he thirsts for the souls of the holiest Church ladies who pray the rosary after 8:00 mass every morning. And although sometimes I wonder why in the world he picked us to do it, we can be confident that when we share the message of Christ, those whom we share it with are in need of hearing it. Really, this is good news! While I was in Benque a couple weeks ago I dropped in on one of the book discussions that Fr. Mark’s been leading every week on G.K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man. We were discussing the mystery of salvation and how the fact that someone actually loved us enough to die for us is really a dream come true (I forget if those are Fr. Mark’s words or G.K.’s… brilliant either way, really.) I mean, the notion that Jesus loves us gets really cliché really fast in this world and it’s easy to just get used to the idea that yeah, JesuslovesmethisIknow… sigh… But really, at the heart of our Faith is this incredible truth and to see people come to understand this and really be transformed by it… Well, it makes my job the best in the world!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

american culture

First of all, thank you for all the prayers that were sent up for Bernard. He appears to be having a miraculous recovery, so much so that the doctors actually tested the poison he took to make sure it wasn't just a dud batch. He seems to be recovering both physically and spiritually. Continue to pray for him and his family!

We just had a fabulous week with a group of missionaries from Franciscan University of Steubenville (hail, steubenville, alma mater...) and I will be posting an update about both that an La Ruta Maya soon (although I'm hesitant to write about that simply because last years post was so darn good, this year will not be nearly as interesting). However, once more I have a cultural anecdote to share which will probably brighten any American's day. This also demonstrates just how most San Pedranos see Americans.

I was talking to my Standard Two (second grade) First communion class about their upcomming culture day at the Primary School.
"What culture are you doing?" I asked them.
"American, miss". They replied.
"Oh, American? What will you do for that?" I said.
In all seriousness, they answered, "swing your partner, d0si-do to dance, miss".
"Oh," I replied. "and how will you dress like americans?" I inquired.
"In two piece bathing suits and sunglasses, miss".

Yes folks, this is how a second grader on San Pedro sees American life. Interesting.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

please pray!

Sorry to overshadow the light-hearted anecdote listed below, but I have an urgent appeal for prayers. A student that my friend Ali taught last year at Mt. Carmel High School attempted suicide this morning and is now in very serious condition. He’s being taken to Belize City right now, hopefully the hospital there is more advanced and will be able to help him. His name is Bernard, he’s in second form (a sophomore) right now and is just an awesome kid—it’s a joy to be in his presence. He was able to receive his first communion and make his first confession this afternoon. Please pray for him!