Friday, November 16, 2018

Fr. Casper and Return to Valoka

I returned to Valoka last Sunday, but this time I traveled with the Caritas Sisters, their candidates, the dormitory ladies, and Father Casper a Salesian Father who is originally from India, but resides now in Rabaul. We started from the school at 6 am with the dorm ladies altogether in the back of a truck decorated with pink balloons. The Sisters, Father, the candidates and I followed behind in the school bus. 

We sang along the way. What a beautiful sight we were that Sunday morning. Again, we traveled down that beautifully awful pothole road at about 10 miles an hour.  

We made it to the church where we were warmly welcomed by the MSC Sisters with refreshments before mass. The mass was celebrated by Fr Casper and Father Joseph, a priest from Uganda who has a very welcoming positive personality- very warm. The church was packed and both the church choir and the dorm ladies sang their assigned music. The church choir sang a beautiful rendition of “I believe”. I was told that it is an African version, which would make sense having an African parish priest. 

The night before, the Assembly of God (AOG) Church was celebrating their 50th anniversary in Kimbe. They were celebrating in a park nearby on microphones loud enough to hear from my place. I had to be part of the action, so I went to listen to their music. When I arrived, I was immediately surrounded by my AOG Caritas students- a welcoming sight to see. The preacher was white and preached in Pidgin, but I’ve heard several in my lifetime to know what he was saying, even though I didn’t understand every word. But I was thinking- why can’t our priests preach like that. Then surprise, surprise, God seemed to answer my question, because when Fr Casper said the homily on Sunday morning, he really engaged the congregation and especially the students. He also preached in Pidgin, but again, though I didn’t understand every word, I understood the message. Our dorm students danced up the aisle for the offertory. Very nice!
After mass, the young people and parents gathered around and a few groups danced to music in honor of their guests - and again I had a front row seat along with the Sisters and students. After the dance celebration, Sr Florentina and Fr Casper spoke on living a religious vocation. An interesting concept during their speeches and expressed by the parents who stayed to listen, especially for large families, was to ‘sacrifice’ one of their sons and daughters to the religious life. So that was a word or question I had stuck in the back of my mind and I’ll address that word later in this blog. Now back to the fun stuff.  

After the vocation talk, we went inside where we were served a delicious buffet of food made by the MSC Sisters and the friendly conversation continued inside while the dancing including our ladies continued outside. Our students were enjoying themselves. 

After lunch, it was time to say goodbye- our students left - riding in the back of the truck - this time without the pink balloons. We followed close behind, saying our Thank you’s and goodbyes to the MSC Sisters and Fr Joseph and the remaining congregation. 

Fr Casper stayed with us on Monday and celebrated the 6:30 am mass in our chapel. Then our classes were reduced to 30 minutes so we could end the day with an inspirational talk by Fr Casper. 

He also had a separate meeting with the teaching staff on the proper way to discipline- Salesian style. The secret is punishment vs consequences and the positive approach to discipline. A very interesting concept. Instead of yelling at students for doing something against the rules, you almost apologize for having to discipline them. ‘I’m sorry, my daughter, but you leave me no choice but to discipline you, I so wish I didn’t have to do it, but sorry, you leave me no choice.’ Something like that - I think I’m a natural at that, but it will take practice. 

That night, I talked to Fr Casper about the word ‘sacrifice’ mentioned earlier. He said he didn’t like that word either, but thought of it more as discernment of God’s calling and/or God’s grace to be chosen for the religious life. The ‘sacrifice’ is not having a family of your own, but gaining so much more in the long run. I also mentioned my visit to the AOG church the night before and asking why we don’t have priests that preach like they do, but then he came along and preached like they did and with positive enthusiasm. He said that homilies are not stressed in the Seminary the way it should be, but he is trying wherever he is assigned to teach others to open up. Everyone enjoyed his positive personality and wished he could become our school priest. But, sadly, he left early Tuesday morning for Port Moresby for a meeting, then back to Rabaul. We all hope he visits us again soon. 

On a sad note, my two fellow missionaries, Ron and Karen, left Kimbe and returned to the United States. My ‘wontoks’ (we speak the same language) and community left me behind. A new Bishop will be announced soon, therefore, Bishop Bill is letting all his staff go in anticipation of the new Bishop wanting to pick his own staff. Because I teach at Caritas, I’m not considered part of his staff, but my mission is still his responsibility. Thank goodness, because I like it here and I’m not ready to leave yet. I feel sort of numb since they left and now my only ‘wontok’ is Bishop Bill. 

The good news is that another Lay-Mission-Helper teacher will arrive next year (hopefully in January - depending on visa). Her name is Maria Luisa Garcia. She is currently in formation classes in Los Angeles and will be commissioned on her birthday (Dec 9, 2018) as I was commissioned last year on my birthday (Dec 10). She is exactly one day older than me... how is that for a coincidence! I am looking forward to having another ‘wontok’ here soon. 

My school year is winding down fast. One more week of instruction, one week of final exams and the last week I’ll call ‘play-week’ a week of closing school activities. A class party, a school Christmas event and competition and a recognition day as the last day for students. (Nov 30). The last day for staff is December 7. Then my sister, Debbie comes to PNG for Christmas on Dec 16 and that will be another blog altogether. Stay tuned. 

I thank you again for your prayers and support. You are in my prayers.  Happy Thanksgiving. Please feel free to comment and leave a message.  God bless you all. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Road To Valoka

Term three has ended and I had a free week off and no real plans. I wasn’t looking forward to a week alone, but surprises were in store. The week started on Sunday when I was finally able to get Sr. Benedict, one of the first PNG Sisters of Caritas, out of the convent. She finally got the permission she needed to go swimming on Sunday and from her happy dance and ear to ear smile, she was looking forward to it. We planned to swim and have a mumu lunch at the Franciscan Retreat House with Sr. Benedict, the candidates, my fellow missionaries, the MSC Sisters and the Brothers.

But, sadly, it was not meant to be as planned- it rained throughout the night and into the morning and not the quick thunderstorm that comes, blows its fury and leaves, oh no, it had to be the California downpour that goes on forever.

I walked to church in the rain not very happy with God – Sr. Benedict’s one day off and it just had to rain? Really? We all decided to wait till noon. The mumu was ready despite the rain- so instead of gathering on the beach (at the retreat house) - we ate at the convent at the Diocese - not my choice of venue. It finally decided to stop raining and we all piled in the truck and went swimming anyway. It was for a short time before nightfall, but Sr. Benedict was very happy and that’s what counted.

It was probably a good thing that I didn’t go away for the week. I adopted a kitten and named it Kimbe. That same Sunday evening, trying to avoid the security dog, one of the Sister candidates picked Kimbe up. Scared, Kimbe jumped down onto the rocks below and hurt itself. I had to carry it inside. It was injured- could not walk and was crying like a kitten. For the majority of the week, I had to baby it -bring the food and water to him and very delicately, pick it up and lay it down on a tray to do its business- the poor thing was crying the whole time. I could find no veterinarian anywhere in Kimbe and was told that cats are resilient and have 9 lives. By the end of the week, it was walking again - slowly - carefully. If a cat has 9 lives, I think this kitten is on life number 4. It is almost running again- I think I can breathe again.

But it was my week off and if I didn’t get out of Kimbe, I might be on life 4 myself! At last, Sr. Bernadette invited me for an overnight trip to Valoka and I happily said yes and thank you! On Thursday after morning Mass, I had breakfast with Sr. Mary Agnes and her niece, my grade 11 student, Veronica. I was then escorted to the public motor vehicle (pmv) and I was on my way.
Valoka is so close to Kimbe but yet so far down a road so full of potholes and uneven pavement and still flooded from recent rains. The lurch of the public motor vehicle (usually vans that pack people inside - the original Uber without bottled water or a/c or comfort) made my stomach queazy with the stop and go as the driver tried avoiding whatever is or is not on the road. The ocean peaked every so often through the abundance of trees and bush houses built on stilts along the way. We made it to the convent situated conveniently next to the church and across the street from the Catholic hospital. Electric poles were piled in a neat bundle along the tree line waiting for their turn to be wired and attached to the village. The village apparently has been waiting for about two years- or the job will be finished within two years - not sure which, but it still means no electricity. The town generators come on every night between 6  - 9 pm and anything that needs electricity must be done within that 3 hour time period.

Sr. Bernadette, Sr. Anita and Sr. Martha warmly welcomed me with fresh ripe mangoes from their own tree. Yum! Behind their newer convent is an older cookhouse left behind by the German Sisters and filled with antiques. It would make a really nice museum- but the roof needs to be fixed and the building could be used again.
Sr. Bernadette and I walked the quiet roadway where a car every so often broke the unique sounds of the countryside- trees swaying in the breeze, ocean waves lapping against the shore, birds singing their daily tune and insects buzzing away. We visited families she knew and met many school children along the way.
Fr. Joe, an African priest from Ghana, welcomed me on Friday and offered Sr. Bernadette and I a ride back to Kimbe. The decision was easy - either Fr. Joe or a PMV - so I gave up the idea of swimming in the ocean across the street and took the ride home instead. Fr. Joe is delightful, open and warm and navigated that horrible road rather well. We visited Hoskins Secondary School on the way where Fr. Joe said Mass for the 10th and 12th Grade students taking their final exams the next week.

Saturday, we went to the small village of Dagi where we celebrated the feast day of Archangel Michael. We had Mass in the cutest church I’ve seen yet here in The Kimbe area. The Mass had dancing participants up the aisle, followed by a celebration of dance, songs, a mumu lunch (yum) and all the trimmings and other festivities. Sr. Bernadette was surrounded, like always, by extended family that I enjoyed meeting. We were given a place of honor to sit up on the announcer’s platform. All in all, an enjoyable day.

I am now currently teaching during term 4 which is heading fast toward my own long holiday in December when my twin sister, Debbie, will join me. Please pray for safety as we journey forward.

Bishop Bill is expected back at the end of October. Thank you for all your prayers- it seems he is recovering well from his stroke.

Now I say so-long until my next blog. Thank you for your continued support and prayers. Please know that I am praying for you in return.

Love and God bless from PNG.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Independence Day (PNG)

September 16 is PNG’s 43rd birthday- Happy Birthday PNG and Happy Independence Day. The people are just as patriotic as in the States, but it’s hard not to say ‘Happy 4th. It’s not the fourth and it’s not America. September 16 also marks my 6 month anniversary since I arrived in PNG.

The town of Kimbe is so colorful with flags waving from stores, from cars and trucks and from people’s hair. They wore colorful clothes or traditional outfits, danced up the aisle at church and had a parade of people and vehicles cruise up and down the streets of Kimbe.  Unfortunately, there were no fireworks at night to mark the occasion.

The children were especially adorable dressed in Independence Day clothing. Our Caritas students marched this morning at 6am in a school parade - I guess the students wore their school uniforms. I didn’t go watch them, got up a little later and went to church instead.
September 17 is Monday and a holiday due to Independence Day on Sunday. Unlike the US, all the stores are closed- I guess they don’t capitalize on Independence Day sales so it is very quiet in town.

Term three ends next week, then we have a week vacation and term four begins in October. We had finals last week and have a day off for Independence Day on Monday and a short day next Friday. So it will be a short week and then a week off. Yeah! I’m not sure what to do for my week off. I wanted to go back to Rabaul, but might save my money for when Debbie (my sister) visits.

After term four ends in Nov/Dec, then it will be summer break. For those who may not know, our seasons are switched - summertime in the US is wintertime here and wintertime in the US is summertime here. So Christmas is during the summer and therefore, school break is during the summer also.

Debbie is coming to visit me in Dec/Jan and I’m starting to plan our agenda. We are planning to maybe go to the Highlands and maybe to Rabaul- depending on schedules, travel warnings and budget. It will be nice to have her visit no matter what we do.

Thank you again for your prayers and support. As I am phasing out of my honeymoon phase of mission, I really need your prayers as I encounter ordinary life here in Kimbe. After six months, I am still struggling with the language and really want to break out and join a group or two to become more acquainted with the people of PNG. (Beyond the Sisters, the staff and students and church)

I will continue to pray for you as you hopefully pray for me and my mission. Please leave a comment with suggestions or ideas on what you would like me to write about and I’ll do my best to write about it.  Or just say hello...

Thank you and God bless

Monday, August 6, 2018

Technical Day

Welcome to Caritas Technical Secondary School First Technical Day - Open House in Kimbe, PNG, July 29, 2018

The day showcased the Technical skills of our students, or I should say, the potential skills. It did not magically happen. The first Caritas Technical Secondary School in PNG is in the Capital city of Port Moresby (POM for short) and they just completed their 26th year while Kimbe is only 2 years old and this was our first. The students really didn’t have a real idea what they were doing. A video presentation was given to them of the POM Technical Day held a few weeks earlier and two teachers were flown in from POM to help teach the Technical skills in one week- then the students were supposed to practice.

They learned such skills as how to set a table, how to decorate a table, napkin folding, cake decorating, fruit carving, floral arrangement and dress me up. Then competitions were held to find the best students and then they performed such tasks on stage in front of their peers and parents and, of course, the judges.

Dress me up was the most interesting. There was one bolt of fabric and using only pins, they were to pin it on the student model in less than 15 minutes. They were beautiful. Not sure who won the competitions, but it really didn’t matter, what mattered was that both parents and fellow students were amazed to see such activities on stage.

Besides the competitions, we also had our student choir, dance group, drama, and my favorite part was the Queen walk, students representing their village by wearing and describing their tribal outfits. I was in charge of drama and my grade 11 students put on a play called ‘Love Letter to the World’ about St. Mother Teresa’s life. It was good and Brother Boniface wrote an original song, but in the future, the drama will be a comedy. It would seem more fitting for an open house. 

We held this event in our brand new gymnasium that is still not complete - but worked well for our venue. The first two weeks of term 3 were set aside for Technical Day activities and no real academics were taught. Some teachers tried, but soon gave up because the students’ minds were on their activities. I just decided to make my activities fun while still teaching the English language- just not using their textbooks. I had each class write a fourth verse of their Caritas hymn to represent their individual classes. And had them find words using each letter in CARITAS that would describe their class. Then had them design something around the words.  I just thought of the first two weeks as play weeks. Each class displayed their class projects around the perimeter of the gym.

Overall the day was successful because the parents and students were amazed. Many never saw a production like it and I’m sure these same parents will promote Caritas to potential students and our school will grow. Now it’s back to academics.

One sad note, Bishop Bill had a relapse of his stoke and had to be airlifted to POM. From there, he will be airlifted to Australia, then back to America for a complete recovery. I want him to return - I have 2 and1/2 years left...  Please keep him in your prayers.

Thank you again for your prayers and support. I pray for you in return. Please comment and let me know about you.

God bless.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pilgrimage to Rabaul

I just returned from an amazing 6 day pilgrimage to Rabaul. Karen and I were invited to join Sr Bernadette for her 50th year jubilee of her MSA novitiate community Sisters. Ron was invited to but did not come. We left on the 4th of July with Ron taking us to Ullamona to meet the boat. We stayed overnight in an old convent. No electricity and no running water. There was a youth retreat there also and they were singing beautifully in many of the 800 languages that represent PNG.

The next morning we got on a dinghy at 4:30 am and took off. There were 11 adults and one child. We stopped at an island for some fish and another island to meet Sr Bernadette’s mother then off to Rabaul. The water was choppy and wet and the dinghy so uncomfortable, but we made it. We were met by Fr Paul who showed us Rabaul and it was clean. Very nice.

Sr Bernadette is the niece of the Cardinal of PNG, so we stayed at his family residence in Rabaul and met his family. His home was somewhat modern by PNG standards and somewhat comfortable. His family lives in their own homes on his property and their homes would be considered primitive vs American houses, but located in a beautiful spot near the ocean with lush vegetation and the family were very charming.

Friday we went to the Sisters of Mercy 50 year jubilee of their novitiate community. It began with a Mass, then lunch, then speeches and then dances and boy did those Sisters have fun.

Saturday we went on our pilgrimage to celebrate the Feast of Blessed Peter To Rot - he was a catechist who was martyred for his faith in the 40's. We saw the cave where he got the holy water for baptisms and we visited his burial site. Again we began with a Mass and lunch and dances. Also there were at least 5,000 youth there for a youth conference. The church is located on a hill so we watched as the youth streamed into the church property from 3 different directions. The numbers were incredible. One group from  Kimbe walked all the way to Rabaul from Ullamona.  It took us 5-6 hours to get to Rabaul, it took them 3-4 days and they were going to walk back. There were three of our students among them and they enjoyed the walk. They have a very enthusiastic Polish priest who walked with them.

Sunday, Fr Paul took us to the cathedral where he officiated Mass and then we walked around the  grounds. After Mass, we joined the MSA Sisters for prayers and lunch. Delightful.  Fr Paul took us to the hot springs located beneath an active volcano that still has steam coming out its top. The place was very remote and not many people who lived there all their lives have ever visited.

Fr Paul described the difference between the tribal system, the clan, the family from his perspective.  He enjoyed explaining his culture and his laugh was infectious, especially when we brought up a few customs from the past (for example: eating missionaries - before we left America, some people were worried about us becoming victims to that particular custom.) He assured us that it is in the past. I'm glad to hear that.

Monday we got up to catch the boat at 4 am, but no boat. No boat at 5 am , or 6 or 7,8,9,10 or 11. By 12 noon the water was already too rough- so we cancelled. I didn't mind, we had an in-service training that week- so I called Sr Florentina and let her know. I had a relaxing Monday at the Cardinals residence with his family (lots of children).  Their uncle even called from Rome to make sure we were well taken care of. Can you imagine??

We got home today after getting up at 4 am again and leaving before daylight. Beautiful! Got back to Kimbe in time for in-service training on Wednesday and went to a staff retreat on Friday at a local hotel with lunch and a swimming pool. How nice. Term three started on Monday, July 16.

Bishop Bill was in LA in July and had the opportunity to meet my sister Debbie and my priest, Fr Michael, of St Bartholomew church. I'm so glad they met. We look forward to having the Bishop return to Kimbe on or around July 25. 

At Caritas Technical Secondary School, we are busy putting together a Technical day open house on July 29. It will be held in our new gymnasium on a real stage. My class will be doing a drama called "Love Letter to the World ' - a story of Mother Teresa. It will be a musical play.

God bless every one of you and know you are in my prayers. Please comment- I'd love to read words of encouragement, questions you might have or friendly suggestions are encouraged too. Ok - Bye till next time...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Vocation Talks

There is a shortage of religious around the world and it is the same here in Kimbe. There are not enough Priests or religious for the entire parish

The Caritas Sisters want to share their message of a religious vocation with all the young women of the Diocese of Kimbe. They started at the Cathedral and the turnout was big. A video was shown followed by personal testimonies from the Sisters. Did you know that Sister Sara wanted 10 children before becoming a Sister- now she has 213+.

May 19 - A royal wedding was taking place in England and since I didn't have a TV to watch the event, I was trying to find an alternative. I was even thinking of crashing on the Bishop's couch - since he was in America- and watch it there. (Bishop, if you are reading this, it was only a thought), but God is truly awesome and a better offer came along.

Early Sunday morning (5:30 am PNG time) at about the same time as the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan, I traveled with the Sisters two hours away to the village of Salango. The countryside of PNG is really beautiful with its palm trees, rivers, lakes and mountains in the background. We passed grass huts, houses on stilts, and small villages of huts similar to what we saw traveling on the water with the Bishop when we first arrived.

We arrived at the church. Prince Harry and Meghan might have gotten married in front of millions, but we were also given a celebrity welcome. Fr Gabriel met us and we were escorted to our seats. Fr Gabriel was very passionate in his sermon on this Pentecostal Sunday- something we don't see in Kimbe where he is very soft spoken. We were all a little surprised to hear his passionate homily. It was wonderful.  I didn't know every word he said - 90% was in Pidgin, but I heard his message perfectly. Strange how that is...

After mass, the Sisters invited all the young ladies starting in the 9th grade up to the age of 30 to hear their vocation speech.

In the meantime, I was surrounded by children who smiled, their eyes wide and friendly. Some wanted to touch me, my hair and some even wanted to hug me. Sister Lamaro was just as popular with her camera and friendly personality. She took pictures and they loved it. I felt a little like a celebrity in that village of PNG. 

What made this trip so special is that it is the home village of our own Brother Boniface. His Aunties and nephew and nieces wanted their pictures taken and I showed them to him on Tuesday morning. I guess there are nine villages with the church in the middle. I didn't visit his actual village, but only the church. I guess I need to take another trip soon with him and my fellow missionaries.

We made it back to Kimbe despite a tire that was threatening to blow at any minute. Traveling with the Sisters was a nice experience- all to do the Lords' work. We had egg and cheese sandwiches in the morning and Korean noodles soup for lunch. They sang their morning prayers comfortably in Korean - I didn't mind - I prayed along with them. They slept on the way home.  

The next Sunday, we traveled beyond Salango to the town of Biala. The priest didn't know we were coming, but welcomed us. There were only a handful of people when we arrived, but was again packed when mass began. They danced up the aisle with the Holy Bible before the gospel was read and again for the offertory. Beautiful! 

Biala is located near the ocean. After the vocational talk, we went to the international school and picked up some of our traveling companions at their staff house. It was a house I had in mind before I arrived in Kimbe. Beautiful vegetation surrounded each house with a porch and pathways leading to the school and a nice view of the ocean. Sister Sara said that sometime in the future the housing at Caritas will be similar. (Sigh - someday) We ended our day with lunch at a Korean friend’s who happens to own a grocery store in that town.

The only downside to the trip was the transportation. The school bus was not working right so the Sisters asked a District School Official to take us. He rented a land cruiser and took his family who sat up front. The car was big enough but the seats in back were so uncomfortable and the roads were full of potholes. So we were jostled around and arrived home aching and exhausted. But, the journey was successful and the company delightful. I'm now ready for my next adventure. God, we pray for more young people to join the religious community in PNG.

A vocation Saturday was held on June 8 at Caritas Technical Secondary School for all interested girls from Kimbe, Solanga and Biala and about 60 girls attended. Ten came from Biala and stayed overnight. Hopefully a few may pursue a vocation with the Sisters.

Today, June 23, the Provincial Mother of the Caritas Convent is coming from Korea to visit the Sisters in Kimbe. There are three lovely PNG candidates who are interested in becoming a Sister and the Provincial Mother will help decide their future. Their names are Ester, Ada and Rose - please keep them in your prayers as they continue to discern their futures.

Thank you again for your support and prayers for my mission. God is helping me enjoy my mission here and I am lucky and blessed to be surrounded by supportive people here in Kimbe, from my church, and around the world. I pray for you daily.

God bless till my next message. Bye.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

National Catholic Teachers' Day

National Catholic Teachers’ Day celebrating St. John Baptist De La Salle, the Patron Saint of teachers, is on May 15. The Diocese celebrated the day on Friday May 18th.  Our staff were given special yellow t-shirts to commentate the special day. 

Mass was to begin at 8am at the cathedral. We were to meet at 7:30 in the staff room and walk over together. At 5 minutes to 8 - we were still in the staff room and the cathedral is at least a 15 minute walk. No one was in any hurry, but my American mind is going crazy because mass begins in 5 minutes and no one was going anywhere. Finally, the school bus pulls up (small 12 passenger van in the US) and takes a few teachers and half of the school choir who were going with us to sing their designated songs. The bus dropped us off and went back for the second half.

Everyone from Caritas showed up, as well as students and teachers from other schools, but no priest. Evidently, the priest assigned forgot and was not even in the area. The parish priests already said the 6:30 mass, someone from another sub-parish was called and we had to wait for his arrival. The 8 am mass began at around 9:15 - normal PNG time. His message was very good despite his late arrival.

After mass, we headed back to the school where the students had special plans in store for us. I was escorted to my home room where my students presented me with my first merriblouse- a dress and undercloth typical of what women of PNG wear in this day and age. The merriblouse is really pretty with purple flowers on white fabric. The undercloth was a purple lap lap. 

We were escorted by our students to the chapel for a variety of dances from each class.  The day included gifts presented to the teachers by their students. Each homeroom provided food for their class matron and students and my class did not disappoint. Chicken and rice, sausages, fried sago, fruit and chocolate cake for dessert. Yum!

The day ended with another cake presented to us by Sister Sara. Nice!

All in all, it was a wonderful day and I'm already looking forward to celebrating it again next year.

Thank you to all for your support and prayers for my mission. I feel lucky to work with a great staff and wonderful students. I pray for you daily too. God bless until the next message.

Fr. Casper and Return to Valoka

I returned to Valoka last Sunday, but this time I traveled with the Caritas Sisters, their candidates, the dormitory ladies, and Fath...