Explanation of the Situation
Core Mission Narrative from the U.S.: Central Kentucky
PART A – STAGE I LOCAL GROUP’S STORY
Before “globalization” came to our village in south-central Mexico, everybody was poor, but we all helped each other, prayed, celebrated the feast days and were happy. Life was very hard, but we all suffered the same and trusted God to be with us always
Our children went to the village primary school and some even went to the secondary. Then they helped the family earn a living. After a while, people started buying TV’s, mostly because it was a novelty and very interesting to see how other people lived and what they had. It was very entertaining for us who worked so hard and had so little. We didn’t have electricity in our village, but the families bought rechargeable car batteries for power to run them. Many people came to watch the TV’s, mostly the young
Soon there were many other new things people wanted but could not afford. Some bought these strange new things and foods and became dissatisfied with the way they had lived before, especially with all the hard work which only gave them a hard life. Others could no longer feed and clothe their families because the prices of everything kept going higher and higher
People became worried, and unrest spread especially among the younger able-bodied men who decided to venture abroad, seeking better pay for their employment. These sent money back to their families, so that inspired many others – even couples and women- to seek a better life. This was very sad for those left in the village, as well as for those leaving because family unity is very important, and this separation was almost like death.
But a better life was worth it, so that gave us hope for the future, and courage to leave. Before we knew it, we started thinking of leaving our village also, and migrating to the U.S. If others migrated to the U.S. and survived, why not us? We too would send US money back to our “old ones” and all of us could buy the things that made life a little easier and keep us alive.
Of course, we were afraid because we had heard stories of some unfortunate ones, but that would not be our luck. We had been “enlightened” by those who went ahead of us to the States! All we thought about were the big US dollars we would earn to help our families, and that made all the sacrifices worth it.
Still, it was much more difficult than we had dreamed. Getting across the border was terrible, but we made it without being caught by the Immigration. None of us had the money, papers or the time to come over legally, so we had to take our chances. Even now, we can be deported if we are caught, but we can always try again. When your belly is crying for food, you do anything.
In the US, we could not understand much less speak the English. In the shops, we had to find what we wanted, because we could not ask for it. But that was difficult also, because what the picture on the can showed wasn’t necessarily what was in it. For example, a can with a picture of golden fried chicken turned out to be a can of shortening; and what could be in a can with a picture of a beautiful baby on it?? It was so strange! So few of the foods we knew were sold in these shops. We had to learn to eat new things, and learn new ways of doing things. No words are big enough to describe our loneliness, how desperately we missed our families, our village, our traditions, and our food, everything we had known and loved. We had to scatter and go anywhere we could to find work. So we are in Texas, California, Florida, and here in Kentucky – all spread out! And it is very difficult to make friends with the Anglos. How can we talk with each other? How do you know who is friendly and who will turn you away?
One man we know saved his money and bought a car for $200.00 so he could get to his job. The police got him and put him in jail the following week just because his car broke down, he thought. Then a friend explained to him that he didn’t have a license, and that he was driving on the wrong side of the street. “But in my village, you don’t need a license, and you drive wherever there is room on the street”, he answered. Well, now he knows that it is not like that in the States.
It was very hard when the weather turned cold. We had no warm clothes because in our village it is always warm. Some friends told us to go to the Social Service Office for help, but we were told we had to have certain papers which we didn’t have. No one told us how to get these papers and we were afraid to ask since we might get deported for not having them. We finally got some warm clothes from an “Alleluia” Church. Those people were very friendly and wanted us to come to their Church.
And that’s another thing. We looked everywhere for a Catholic Church. When we finally found one, no one there could speak Spanish, and everything was in English.
We came a few times to Mass, but it was not the same. We didn’t know what they were saying nor did we know any of the hymns. It was very sad for us and very discouraging because our Religion and our customs mean so much to us. Then one day we found a Church that had a Spanish Mass once a week and we were glad!
STAGE 2 UNDERSTANDING WHAT HAS CHANGED
Families in the village have become very dependent on the money coming in from their relatives in the States for food and services. For those in the States, some are more fortunate than others, depending on the fairness of employers, the ability to find and keep their jobs, their ability to find and take advantage of learning opportunities in their situations, and the amount of support they find among friends, religious, civic or social institutions and their own sense of rugged determination to make a go of their new situation. Those left at home as well as the migrants know that the whole world has changed for them – some for the better and some for the worse, but it will never again be the same for anyone.
Although their faith, culture, traditions and strong family values are most important to each of them, they realize that just staying alive takes priority. With the rise of secularism on both sides of the border brought about by the media, stressful lives and the failure of the church and society to provide meaningful assistance in their great hungers and needs, trying to stay faithful to their spiritual values becomes more and more difficult. Those with strong incentives and support have brought the riches of their heritage to bear much fruit for themselves and their new land, whereas those with greater burdens have fallen by the wayside, abandoning what they cherished for the tangible present needs.
STAGE 3 EVALUATING THE IMPACT OF THESE CHANGES ON LOCAL PEOPLE
This group of migrants decided to be positive about their lot, doing the best they could and hope for better days ahead. They are happy to have the opportunity of being here. Even though it is often very difficult, it is not as devastatingly hard as it was there in Mexico. Here, one works very hard but is rewarded with enough money to make a living for self and the family. Here, chances are good for improving as one learns more English and the ways of the people. Their children are taught in the local schools and become better assimilated into the culture. Through them the parents are also helped in many ways to become good and productive people who hopefully will become, one day, citizens of this new country – and many have already done so. Little by little, they say, things are getting better for most of them. The Anglos in the area seem to be more accepting and supportive of them than before. Some are trying to learn a few Spanish expressions themselves, something that was unheard of just a few years ago. This is a very hopeful sign also
STAGE 4 REFLECTIONS OF THE LOCAL PERSONS’ EXPERIENCES
Most in the group feel all right about the changes in general and surely would not want to go back to live in their old village again. They are hopeful and happy, especially for their children and for the help they can give those “back home”. These are perceived as big blessings for which they are grateful, and which bring them a great sense of peace and wellbeing for all concerned. Yet there are many struggles also. First is the language barrier which keeps them isolated and apart from everyone and everything, and which sometimes gets them “in trouble” without even knowing why. Not having the skills to earn a better living or to live meaningfully with their neighbors or to participate in activities of the school or community or church. They miss their large extended family and feel separated from them, their village and friends. And how they long for the feast day celebrations and prayers! Even though they have a weekly Spanish Mass here, there was no mention of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration or at Christmas time, their beautiful custom of the Posadas, and Lent went by with nothing special for them to pray about in their language. Such is the case for all the other feasts of the Liturgical Year – no services with their particular traditions or in their language
They fear that their children will lose these wonderful traditions that strengthen, nourish and support their Faith. They can’t expect the Anglo church leaders to know these traditions and yet, they themselves aren’t organized or skilled enough to carry them out, so the struggle remains.
PART B MISSIONARY’S INSIGHTS AND VIEWS
The most difficult aspect of my ministry with the migrants is dealing with the dehumanization of peoples – placing money, gains and greed before human needs, compassion and the well-being of “those left behind”. The same is also true of the lack of care for the earth and the environment. Everyone and everything becomes disposable and made to serve “those at the top” who only seem interested in “maximizing gains” at whatever expense to all of creation.
On the positive side of globalization, many good things are possible, making it a mixed bag of blessings and curses. The following are some promising developments;
a) The poor are organizing and finding their voices.
b) The poor are starting to demand their rights and to find alternative solutions to some of their problems.
c) New technologies, resources, discoveries, attitudes, etc. give promise of good things ahead if channeled rightly.
d) New awareness, new questions and new solutions are being shared by many small groups all over the world.
So I do have and do share much hope and joy in the midst of all the pain and sorrow. The mystery of Death and Resurrection seem to be so much with us in these times of ours
These global changes have made me realize that one cannot simply catechize without befriending peoples in their needs, hearing their stories and offering them loving support. I see this as very consistent with Gospel values because Jesus also attended to peoples’ needs along with offering them the Good News. This understanding brings me much peace, and I am happy and grateful for the small role I am still able to play in the Church’s outreach to God’s people.
STAGE 2 IMAGINING THE FUTURE OF MISSION
Missionaries these days must address a wide range of needs to be credible as proclaimers of the Reign of God. Many new immigrants, refugees, migrants and our own very poor have been seriously disillusioned or traumatized in various ways and tend to stay marginalized more so than their predecessors who came when life in the USA was simpler. It seems to me that the missionary’s primary duty is to organize the parish into a caring Community of Faith that reaches out to the newcomers and assimilates them into the life of the parish. This can take many forms, but foremost among them must be a serious attempt to become as fluent as possible with the “new” language, and to teach English to the new arrivals, since communication is so vital. Along with language, one must remember that traditions, customs and foods hold a group together. These must be understood, respected and incorporated meaningfully into the liturgical and social life of the parish when and where appropriate, always with the newcomers deeply involved in the planning and in the celebrations. These events give meaning and affirmation and are real signs of acceptance and welcome into the larger community.
Since the Proclaimed Word takes deep roots when it is evident in the life of the community, it is mandatory that provisions be made for adequate housing, health care, job training and placement, food, clothing and budgeting assistance, outreach to the elderly and infirm, child care, education for the adults, youth and children, legal aid and prison ministry be as important as preaching, catechizing and worship.
The missionaries of the future (as of the past) must be totally imbued with the Spirit of Jesus, have great love, respect and understanding for the people, their culture, language, needs and their sensitivities. They must be willing always to be in dialogue, to listen as well as to proclaim, to lead as well as to follow, to be strong as well as to be vulnerable.
The physical and emotional needs of the people must be met along with the spiritual where possible. Missionaries of the future must do what the early Church did – inspire many new “disciples of equals” to continue the ministry of Christ in their own localities and traditions and not be so totally controlled by “Rome.” Each “place” has its own needs as well as its own beauty and grace, for God was there before any missionary ever arrived there.
My advice to someone preparing for mission today would be to go with a great heart full of love, compassion and joy. These are sure signs of the presence of God – the NAMASTE – the greeting to the God already there. Then, make that wonderful God ever more visible in the lives of all concerned, through the love, care and well-being of all in the community.