Mission work helps see beauty of life, even when tired

March 10, 2015

EL SALVADOR — Paul Espanan, through the Office of Missions, shares his experience at a recent mission in El Salvador with the Texas Catholic Herald:

When things don't go as expected, the distraction can prevent us from seeing the good that is about to come. The same is true for our mission in life, with small miracles happening before our eyes every day, with our distractions robbing us of the clarity of thought to see.

As a member of an eight-day Helping Hands Medical Missions team serving the poor of El Salvador, there are many small miracles to be seen, but some of the real miracles also happen within our souls. Many people in both the U.S. and El Salvador have done so many small things with great love to make our time in El Salvador possible: fundraising, preparing supplies and medicines for shipment, organizing a ground support network, logistics and evangelization to name a few. Just being part of this effort changes our hearts and gives us a clear view of what is needed most in our world. 

We provide medical clinics, prescription medication, surgery, eyewear and the love of God to many of the needy, but we learn that our smiles and willingness to love also provide healing. We know that if we don't have the words, smiles always translate, and they definitely do.

After daily Mass, the first part of our mission involves door-to-door visits. We form ourselves into nine groups and begin to visit homes. Of the approximately 85 homes we visited, only one turned us away. 

As we announced ourselves and our mission, our reception is very warm. As chairs are gathered, we are invited to sit down. We ask what we might pray for with them and they pour out their difficulties. We listen with compassion and open hearts and pray with love. In one very meager home with a tin roof and dirt floor, we are introduced to a 92-year-old man who was once the sacristan at a church who can no longer make the short journey due to his weakened state. 

The family smiles as we are offered chairs and circle them around fresh bean hulls that are piled up on the dirt floor. As we gather back together and tell the stories of our visits, our hearts sing of God's love. Many things have truly inspired us, and we are ready for the week ahead.

During our daily clinics we become absorbed in serving everyone. We have the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the church next to us, and we take time out to personally thank Christ for the opportunity of the mission. The cause, the mission, keeps us fresh and strong. And it is so very worth it. 

When we begin to feel tired there is always a humorous or uplifting moment. We recognize these moments as God's grace, helping us. He always provides, especially on mission. 

I am convinced that every day we spend on mission is pre-ordained. Each evening, our practice is to share our experiences of the day every with each other. One evening our Ob/Gyn shares her day with us. Everything she planned at the hospital that day had been canceled. 

She explained that she wound up getting to deliver four babies and it was a fabulous day for her. The next morning, my plans change and I am reminded that I need to be open to whatever comes my way. It is just not about me or us. I am rewarded for staying flexible. I have the opportunity to take everyone's temperature to speed up triage. As I take everyone's temperature I gain an appreciation for the people. Some have very high fevers and are likely infected with the Chikungunya virus. 

Many people have contracted this virus, even the local parish priest and some of our hosts. The pain of the virus is debilitating. 

As I measure one high temperature of an elderly man, I cannot imagine what it would be like to sit waiting for hours in the heat with a temperature of 101.7. Any discomfort with the heat that I experience is trivialized by this man's perseverance.

Later we are able to give a man with Parkinson's a deluxe chair walker. He is so happy and he takes off walking. I work in our pharmacy counting and splitting pills. I realize how much we are needed as we fill prescriptions for un-diagnosed diabetes, parasites and high blood pressure. That day alone we made a difference in the lives of about 475 people. For the week, we saw nearly 2,400 people, performed 32 surgeries, dispensed more than 500 pairs of glasses and delivered nine babies.

All of the mission team inspires me incredibly as we reflect Christ's light to one another and serve long hours. The local youth working with us have especially reflected this light. Their entire way of being heartens us that there is hope for the next generation. The team's generosity takes many forms and provides opportunities to share our faith. 

Intense gratitude for the team, the opportunity to serve, and for the beautiful people of El Salvador wells up in me many times during the mission and to this day. We have done small things with great love in the name of Christ and have truly encountered our Lord. It really is that simple.

For more information on missions, visit hhmm.org. To read further details on the mission to El Salvador visit https://www.facebook.com/HHMMES. The author's mission blog is found at originalredfishman.blogspot.com.