Monday, March 22, 2010

I realize that this is a personal post, but it is a description of how our Guatemala Mission came to be.

I am going to be an audience member for the 3/27 A taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and recieved an email regarding the topic of what people have on their "list" of things to do before they die. I am responding to that with my story, what I want to do before I die:

I am a youth coodinator at the Greenbank United Church in Greenbank Ontario, Canada. Working with youth has always been a passion and an integral part of my life. Even as a teenager, I was leading teens, teaching Sunday School etc. I have always wanted to be able to provide a place for youth to come, where they can have good clean fun, no pressures for drugs, alcohol, sex etc. That they can have an oppertunity to be "real" with who they are, and get to know themselves better while making meaningful and deep relationships with others. What I found working with them, listening to them, and identifying with them, was that they were looking for "goals" or projects. Youth ministry seems to be becoming "task-oriented". Now, Greenbank is a very small town of about 150 families, one church, one store, one bakery, one small school (130 kids), one little community hall; so finding goals and projects to help others in the community was never really that hard, because we all grew up together, knowing each other and knowing when someone needed a helping hand. But, what I found with the teens was that they were looking for broader, bigger things, things that would take them beyond our little town. I, myself, as a teen, had always dreamed of participating in Third World Mission work, but small towns often limit dreams.

Last year, the teens and I set a goal to go to Biloxi, Mississippi to work with Habitat for Humanity Gulf Coast, in an effort to help re-build communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina over 4 years ago. So, a team of 12 teens from our small town piled into 2 vans and drove 1100 miles down to Mississippi and worked in the sweltering August heat (110degrees, 100% humidity) for a week building a home for a family still recovering from the devestation of Hurricane Katrina.

Let me tell you why this trip was so much more than we anticipated…although our intentions were to go and build homes, we built relationships, and bettered ourselves along the way. This experience was life changing, in the sense that we were able to experience how others lived, how others suffered, how a group of people with different backgrounds, and some who are complete strangers can come together for a common goal, for a greater good to make a difference in a community that isn’t even ours. And yet, after volunteering our time, it will be forever be a part of our history. These teenagers are individuals, who are not afraid to charter unfamiliar territories. They coordinated the heavy lifting of an entire roof of trusses, 2x4’s, and 2x6’s, comforted other volunteers who suffered heat exhaustion. They moved scaffolding, helped educate each other on the difference and the use for several different kinds of nails, screws, power tools and saws. They were a part of building a roof, building a deck and building a shed and other important tasks. They each took on a leadership roll for our team, began projects from scratch, assembled a teams to help and saw it through to the finish. All for a family that they never met.

So, I will admit that I underestimated these youth. When we first arrived at camp, we finished our orientation, I had left to go and sign some papers, when I came back for supper, do you know who was in the kitchen helping to serve the other volunteers their dinner? Our team. Our team, worked hard all day at the job site, came home to work hard serving each other and other volunteers. They did it all week long. They amazed me everyday with their compassion and care for one another. Their willingness to overcome their own personal fears to help and support others.

They impeccably represented themselves, their Church, thier community, this province, this country – and that is a tall order! It was very obvious that our supporters made a sound investment in Habitat for Humanity, AND at the same time, invested in our Youth, in our community, and they WILL go on to do good work, in our community here at home. Even though this was a mission that benefited a community over 1100miles from home, I believe that it had an even greater impact here on our local community, and through our youth we will see these benefits for years to come.

On our long, grueling drive home from Mississippi, a conversation took place in the van that I was driving, about how this could just be the tip of the iceberg for us. That this kind of work is so important, perhaps we should do this again, more often? I remember driving, and thinking back to my dream as a teenager, to have the oppertunity to do third world mission work, and I had an "Ah-Ha" moment. I realized that the only reason I wasn't doing third world work, was....ME! I was the only thing standing in my way. Sure, there are other responsibilities, other limitations, but all of that can be overcome, with dedication, determination and drive. So, upon arriving home, a series of events unfolded to bring me into the Loving Arms Caritable Organization, an organization that works primarily with children and youth in remote, indiginous Guatemala. I pledged to go with Loving Arms this April on a Mission Trip, and when word spread through our little town, I was met with support, interest and desire to participate. Within a few weeks, we had established a team of 15, both youth and adults to embark on our communities very first Third World Mission Trip. Our goals are to teach self-sustainment, and build confidence, and efficiency within their communities. Our intentions are NOT to change the indiginous culture, but to support it and support them in maintaining their culture. We leave on April 30, and will be there for 10 days. These are some of the things that we will be doing:

· Leading 150 women in hygiene and empowerment seminars
· Painting classrooms in a local school
· Holding a soup kitchens where 1000 women and children will be fed a hot meal
· Organizing soccer and hockey games for children
· Assisting in both medical and dental clinics
· Furnishing 8 sponsored homes, including building beds, shelving units, and building brick stoves
· Building a junglegym/playground for the local school
· Launching an agricultural program involving pigs, where fenced in areas will be built
· Hosting a clothing distribution program where children will be fitted for shoes for school
· Their bean and pea harvest will be ready for picking, so we will be aiding in the hand picking of their ripe crops

You asked, what are the things that you want to accomplish before you die? And for me there are many. There are places that I want to travel, certain career accomplishments I want to acheive, and material things that I would like to buy one day. Ask me if they are high on the priority list, and I will tell you that they are there, but they aren't the things that create passion and joy in my life. What creates passion and joy for me, is providing oppertunities, for others to learn, grow and challenge themselves to know themselves, love themselves, and by extension honor their neighbors both far and wide. What I realized coming home from Mississippi, is that small town or not, your dreams can be as big as you ALLOW them to be. We are our own boundary keepers. If we can have the courage to dream, somewhere inside is the courage to follow through with those dreams. My life purpose or goal is to fortify the courage and strenth upon our youth's journey. I commit to support, love and nurture their talents, gifts and purpose for the greater good of humanity. Simply, what I want to do before I die - make a difference.

Thank you for the oppertunity to share.


Juli Conard

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