Making mission rounds of hope

|| By Rick Dixon, MKLM

A California native describes a typical day in his life as a missioner in El Salvador

As the sun rises here in El Salvador, where I am serving as a Maryknoll lay missioner, I’m already late. It’s six o’clock; I’m supposed to be up at 5:30. Too much fried yucca last night and the resulting stomachache kept me awake until almost midnight.

I crawl out of bed and plug in the coffee pot. Then I light the candle on the altar in the front room. I live alone and the front room of my house is empty, except for two chairs. The place has echoes of a real stone chapel, like the hermitage in Italy in the mountains between Spello and Assisi where I once stayed for 40 days.

I go back to the kitchen, pour my coffee and take it into the front room, where I kneel on my exercise mat in front of the candle and a Salvadoran crucifix. I remain in silence for an hour. Filtering through the window are the voices of women calling out “pan France” and “tortillas de arroz”.

(French bread and rice tortillas). I offer their words as prayerful intercessions for all those who sell bread in the streets. I read the Gospel for today, July 3, the feast of St. Thomas. The Scripture tells the familiar story of the apostle who was unable to believe in the Resurrection until he touched the marks of the nails in Jesus’ body. I humbly recognize my faith is still challenged by the wounds in my own life.

José sews a leather Bible cover for Dixon, who is helping the boy have a brighter future. (Courtesy of R. Dixon/El Salvador)

After prayer, I put dirty clothes to soak in a bucket of soapy water and put myself into the shower. After a bowl of granola with a banana and milk, I spend an hour writing in my journal, a practice I started to better understand the world and how it relates to my own inner life.

At 8:30 I head out for my ministry in La Esperanza, a village whose name means “hope.” It’s on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador, where I live. I stop at Lillian’s house. She is a 46-year-old grandmother, who seven months earlier lost her left lower leg to diabetes.

She is in our small Christian base community and told me she wanted to learn to read the Bible, so I started literacy classes with her. Under her zinc-tin roof we work for an hour. I am delighted with her progress.

At 10 a.m. I go to the chapel where I work with three students who often need help with their English homework. Today they have no homework so we play “Go Fish” in English with vocabulary words relating to human emotions—happy, sad, afraid, angry. Frequently when I ask the kids how they are doing (in Spanish), they use their English vocabulary to respond.

We end class at 11:30, and I walk to Eva’s house to leave material for her husband, Augustine, who is in charge of one of the small base communities in La Esperanza. Last Sunday Augustine, a handyman, had to work and was unable to attend a formation meeting for the coordinators of these communities so I picked up the material for him.

At noon I’m back home, but I forgot to put beans to soak the night before and have nothing for lunch, so I go to a favorite lunch spot in front of Cojutepeque’s prison and have a piece of fried liver, two corn tortillas, and a tamarind juice drink. Passing the prison, I see the police leading a dozen young men in handcuffs toward the entrance.

The majority of those men can’t be more than 20 years old. They will be crowded into a structure built for 300 inmates but currently holding 1,200. Many of them were unable to find jobs and committed crimes to care for their families.

I stop at a bookstore to make photocopies for my afternoon class. Back home, I make a few phone calls to organize for an upcoming Friends Across Borders experience, a short-term immersion organized by the Maryknoll Lay Missioners to enable U.S. residents to glimpse overseas mission. (See related story, page 44.) I organize a folder for the group’s ID insurance cards and try to download the cards, but I keep getting a pop-up saying the file has been permanently damaged. I curse the world of technology.

By 3 p.m. I’m back in La Esperanza with a group of eight kids. We study English for an hour and then work on literacy skills. I give them copies of page 21 in the book I am using. It provides practice with the sounds da, de, di, do and du. Most of the kids are learning to be literacy promoters in their families. Almost half the adults in La Esperanza cannot read or write.

I make a point to ask José for his help this Saturday. I’m sewing leather to make a Bible cover and want to get José involved. He is only 10 but because of his difficult home life, he could easily be lured into gang life in a few years. He gets only one meal a day at home. His father pressures him to look for odd jobs like helping people carry corn to the mill, fixing leaky roofs or searching for scrap metal. José often comes to the chapel when the other kids are studying, but he is usually too stressed to study. He tells me he’ll give me a hand on Saturday.

I hope so. It will be a chance to give him a few pieces of fruit and another invitation to help out.

I’m home at 5:30 p.m. I make some rice for dinner and turn on the computer to check what time the Los Angeles Angels are playing. I then settle into writing this, remembering I forgot to wash the clothes I put to soak this morning.

Before bed, I kneel before the crucifix and a portrait of El Salvador’s martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero. My evening prayer is filled with images of faith and hope.

(Featured Image: Rick Dixon helps Lillian learn to read as her grandchild listens. Courtesy of R. Dixon/El Salvador)

Rick Dixon, from Orange, Calif., has been serving as a lay missioner in El Salvador since 2012.

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