Monthly Archives: February 2019

It is easy to give to those you love . . .

Maryknoll Lay Missioner Mike Garr in Kenya reflects on loving one’s neighbor.

MTI MGarr

“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)

by Mike Garr

I vividly remember my parents regularly preparing food for families from our small town in Michigan who were suffering from an illness or death. These acts of kindness sculpted me into acting alike. I enjoyed the warm feelings, accolades and the perception they produced for me. But, inside I maintained a mental score as to what those recipients “should” do for me in return.

Several years ago, I was going through an extremely painful conflict as my 27-year marriage and family, “pride and joy” crumbled. I was consumed with anxiety, hate, revenge, and uncertainty. During this period, the words of my Just Faith Ministries small group facilitator struck me: “It is easy to give to those you love, but difficult to those you don’t love or even know, to those who could not give in return.”

Sister Betty’s words, with the help of the Holy Spirit, encouraged me to give it a try. I began to volunteer with those on the periphery of society, those I thought were not worthy. I found it a challenge to give from my “self-accomplished” resources to these foreigners. And without even realizing it, I was being healed and growing in my care and concern for these people. Since then, I have joined the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, and now serve those who are destitute in Mombasa, Kenya.

Love your enemies… The evening security guard for the building where I live in Mombasa is named John. Since John speaks in his mother tongue, we have a difficult time understanding one another but we can communicate through our actions. I prepare his nightly dinner, we greet each other, he disposes of my trash, we move along together. 

One night, John came to me and requested some money. A few days later, he returned it. I said,  “Thank you, just keep it,” as I did not expect him to return the money. A few weeks later, as I was delivering his meal, he began demanding more money and coffee. I did not concede and our relationship became distant. I felt I was in the right and I resented his lack of gratitude and demands for more. My resentment began to grow, even as I knew I am called to love him and reconcile. 

I was bothered by this conflict for several days until I finally realized that what I need to do is show him love. I decided to begin greeting him with genuine hospitality and gradually, we began to laugh again. Wouldn’t you know it, some time later, as I was walking down an aisle at the grocery store, I looked up and spotted a large display of coffee on sale. I bought it, wrapped it with ribbon and some cash, and placed it under my Christmas tree for him.

Mike Garr is a teacher-mentor in the catering department of Mombasa, Kenya’s Marianist Technical Institute, which serves underprivileged youth.

From Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, Scripture Reflection for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 24, 2019.

A true gift

Maria Montello publishes children’s book in Cambodia

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In an effort to raise consciousness in Cambodia about the gifts of children with disabilities, Maria Montello has translated and published a story she wrote some time ago called The Gift. It is beautifully illustrated with watercolors by Cambodian Huyno El and was published in both Khmer and English by Jesuit Service Cambodia.

The book is set in the Cambodian countryside, where a carpenter, Saroun, wishes for a child who will help make his life easier. His wife bears him a son but dies during the child’s birth. Born prematurely, his son has developmental disabilities. Saroun learns a profound life lesson when his son provides the opportunity for others to be generous. His son teaches him and his community about love. His son is a gift.

26_troubles_WebJesuit Service has printed 3,000 copies of The Gift and has been distributing it in its schools and libraries in Cambodia. It has also been distributed and promoted by nongovernmental organizations and a UNICEF/Ministry of Education inclusive-education initiative in Cambodian public schools. 

Maria narrates a seven-minute video version in English that is posted on YouTube.

Maria, a Maryknoll lay missioner who teaches philosophy and critical thinking at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, says, “We come to mission thinking that we’ll bear gifts. Quickly we realize that those we’ve come to help are the true gift-givers.”

Unlike almost all else she has written, Maria says, the story “flowed out one morning, almost without volition. I thought, and I still hold, that I did not write the story. It was written in my heart — from somewhere else.”

According to Maria, “The story is about many things—compassion, generosity, hope. Most obviously, though, it is about disability. The topic is especially important for Cambodia, a country where people with disabilities are invisible and neglected, and disability is misunderstood.

44_boy_playing_Web2“Disabled people were bad in a previous life, some Buddhists believe, and are suffering the life due them for those actions. This fatalistic notion persists here, even though we know that view of karma is flawed.” Other prevalent notions include that a disabled child’s parents must have been cursed by an enemy. These notions, Maria says, have tragic implications for how people with disabilities are treated. “At best, they’re looked down on as objects of pity. At worst, as blameworthy and scorned.”

The book reflects Maria’s belief that it is friendship and love that will break down barriers and stop people from discriminating. In a recent radio interview on Cambodia’s Voices of Persons with Disabilities station, she said to listeners, “It is easy to hate a gay person, except when your best friend tells you he is gay.  It is easy to exclude foreigners except when your favorite study friend is an exchange student. It is easy to discriminate against someone with a disability until your sister has an accident and injures her brain.”

Illustrations by Huyno El, courtesy of Maria Montello

A canga special

Kathy Bond makes new friends in João Pessoa, Brazil.

Kathy Bond leads a women's group in exercises at the Garden of Hope center in João Pessoa, Brazil.

Kathy Bond leads a women’s group in exercises at the Garden of Hope center in João Pessoa, Brazil.

By Kathy Bond

After eight years in São Paulo, our family recently returned to João Pessoa, a coastal capital at the most eastern point of the Americas, to reopen the presence of Maryknoll Lay Missioners here. In order to reconnect with partners and explore ministry possibilities, my husband, Flávio, and I are visiting several communities.

I was delighted to reconnect with Elaine, a community leader who had participated in a course I facilitated 10 years ago with Maryknoll Sister Mercy Mtaita in the community where Maryknoll Father Frank Hidgon ministered. Elaine is now coordinating an association called Women Center’s Garden of Hope. She invited me to come and see in what ways I could collaborate.             

At our first gathering, the women decided that they would like to start with activities to reduce stress and anxiety, a common complaint among many women in the periphery of Brazil. We decided to come together for some yoga, breathing exercises, and sharing on mental health challenges.

When they asked me what they needed for our gatherings, I mentioned that a canga, the ever-present Balinese cloth sarong that Brazilians mainly use at the beach, would be helpful for some of the exercises.

When I returned for our next group and was catching my motorcycle ride from the bus stop to the Garden of Hope center, a woman who owns a tiny clothing store shouted out to me, “I don’t know what you’re doing  here in the neighborhood, but keep it up.  I’ve never sold so many cangas in 24 hours!”

I joked that I should be getting a special price for my canga. She didn’t laugh, but on my return to catch the bus home she had one waiting for me.

Kathy Bond has been a Maryknoll lay missioner since 1993.
Photo by Flávio Rocha, Kathy’s husband and also a Maryknoll lay missioner.

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