Gehlen Catholic Mission Honduras
Student Mission Trip
On Wednesday, April 5th, 2006, Gehlen Catholic
Schools celebrated the 7th send-off ceremony for Gehlen Catholic Mission
Honduras ‘Changing Lives.’ The entire student population, kindergarten through
seniors attended along with a gym full of teachers, staff, guests, and Honduras
veterans. Seventeen students from four high schools, along with six adult
chaperones, would become the next mission team into the third poorest country in
the western hemisphere. (Click here to go directly to the
The soul should always stand
ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.
~ Emily Dickinson
participating in the
send-off on April 5, 2006
For nearly two months the students, faculty, and staff of
Gehlen, and the student mission group from Heelan High School in Sioux City,
along with the surrounding community of Le Mars, had collected many of the
items that would go into the 46 bags that would be taken into Honduras;
everything from soap and shampoo to flip-flops and blankets. These items were
pre-destined for an orphanage and the people (Xicaque) of Montana de la Flor
(the Flower Mountains).
Chaperones on this year’s trip were Carolyn Bickford and
Deb Loutsch from Le Mars, Francis Seivert from Elkton, SD, Jeff Neary from
Merrill, Linda Reichle from Alton, and Rick Tomy from Cedar Rapids. Seniors on
this year’s team were Greta Johnson, Le Mars Community High School; Christin
Tomy and Brittney Tegels, Cedar Rapids Xavier High School; Ashley Wenzel,
Kingsley Pierson High School; and Courtney Criner, Erin Hatting, Kelli Langel,
Marcia Langel, Brandon Loutsch, John Ludwig, Kristie McDermott, Andy Neary,
Alicia Sitzmann, B.J. Sitzmann, Jami Sitzmann, Nick Swalve from Gehlen. The
lone junior on the team was Thomas Henrich from Gehlen. The Gehlen team would
be met in Honduras by many trusted friends including David Castro, Sister Fatima
Carcamo, Sister Juanita Polak, Tacha Alverado, Julio, Dona Dilcia, Dona Emelda,
Oscar, Oliver, Delia, Francisco Torres, Cristobal Diaz, and Angel Paz.
After overnighting in Omaha, the team of twenty-three left
for Tegucigalpa early Thursday morning April 6th, and their mission
would begin. Carolyn Bickford said, “All were anxious and excited to get into
their mission work because of the importance of bringing water to the village of
El Esfuerzo.” Bickford, on her second straight mission team as student leader,
was thrilled with the idea of going back to Honduras.
Each year the Gehlen team locates in the small village of
El Guante, located about an hour and a half north of the capitol city of
Tegucialpa. Once in El Guante, the team jumped headlong into their work when
they attended a celebration dedicating two new guitars to the parish church of
San Rafael. The parish, long attended by all mission teams from Gehlen,
welcomed the Le Mars group with open arms. Father Adelberto Palma Gomez, the
only priest for roughly 150 churches, was the main celebrant for this pre-Holy
Week celebration. The parish members were delighted by the new guitars donated
by the Gehlen group.
Gehlen team members
Adalberto Gomez and San Rafael Parish
with two new guitars.
No act of
kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
The mission program from Gehlen includes a major work
project, involvement in many Holy Week church services, along with special
events like visiting the orphanage ‘Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos.’ The orphanage
holds approximately 650 children. At the orphanage the student team was allowed
to bring toys and played for hours with the children. Richard Seivert, director
of Gehlen Mission Honduras, commented that these student trips wouldn’t be the
same without a visit to Nuestros Hermanos. He said the student missioners come
away with a totally different outlook on the plight and conditions faced by the
poor of the world – a valuable lesson learned.
with children from
Nuestros Hermanos Orphanage.
The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.
~ Mark Twain
A special feature of the past two missions has been the
donation of books to the Riecken Foundation library. Team members commented
that it is a joy to bring Spanish books to the little children of Honduras and
be given the opportunity to read to and with them.
The major work project this year involved bringing fresh,
potable water to each home in the village of El Esfuerzo. Before this project,
paid for by Le Mars Rotary, District Rotary, and International Rotary monies,
the villagers carried water from a common, open water source. The goal was to
improve the quality of life and health in the village of El Esfuerzo. Even
though four days were planned for the completion of this project, this energetic
and hard-working high school mission team completed the project in two days.
This student team dug 2,000 meters worth of trenches and laid pipe to every
single village home. At the conclusion of the project, a short impromptu
celebration was held between students and villagers. Francis Seivert, team
leader, thanked the villagers for allowing the team to work with them. The
village leader then gave an emotional speech thanking the mission team for
bringing water to each home. He stated that he and all the village members were
amazed that American students would help them do something that their own
government would not provide for them.
New pipe laid in the
In the right light, at the
right time, everything is extraordinary.
Because the mission team was able to finish the water
project in El Esfuerzo in only two days, they were able to begin another water
project in the village of Las Majaditas. Even though the team did not complete
this project, also paid for by Rotary money, they gave the village a needed
boost of human labor towards eventual completion.
Missioners help the
Las Majaditas dig the trenches
for their new water system.
your heart, learn with your mind, love with your actions.
~ Mother Teresa
Once again the Gehlen team was honored to participate in
many of the Holy Week celebrations of largely Roman Catholic Honduras, beginning
on Palm Sunday with the procession in El Guante. The annual celebration involves
dozens of villagers and goes from the outskirts of town to San Rafael parish
church. Andy Neary, senior at Gehlen, said, “It was a very special experience
riding the donkey in the role of Jesus to lead the procession.”
Other Holy Week activities for the Gehlen team included
Holy Thursday and the solemn ceremony of the washing of the feet of the
apostles. Later that evening the men and boys participated in the ‘Clanging of
the Chains,’ an ancient ritual of the Catholic church symbolizing Jesus’ journey
to Calvary. Good Friday found our team participating in the Stations of the
Cross. These Stations are set up at various houses within the village of El
Guante. The procession began at the edge of town and processed from home to
home honoring each Station. It was a special experience for Jeff Neary, who
played the role of Jesus in this most holy of ceremonies within the Catholic
church. Jeff said, “Our Honduran brothers and sisters made the Passion of
Christ come alive in their reenactment of the Stations of the Cross on Good
Friday. I was very humbled to be permitted to play the part of Christ in the
procession and to lead members of the small community of El Guante in their very
personal celebration of Christ's death and his gift of eternal life in the
resurrection. It was for me, a personal spiritual experience unlike any other I
have ever experienced.” That afternoon members of the team participated in the
reading of the Passion at San Rafael Church. Later that evening the girls and
women of the team got to be part of another ancient ritual, ‘The March of the
Sorrowful Mothers,’ through the village of El Guante.
Jeff Neary portrays
in the Good Friday procession.
are God's opportunities.
Each day for the missioners began around 6 a.m. when they
were called to breakfast. All meals were typical Honduran meals so the team
would have a true feeling of the culture. Students then did their assigned
chores for the day, like filling water bottles, sweeping the compound, and
burning the trash. The team would be traveling to the work site by 7. When
they returned to the compound five or six hours later, lunch again would consist
of typical Honduran food, such as tortillas, rice, fresh fruit, and refried
beans. The team members also spent many afternoons doing projects like sorting
medicines and supplies to be used by Gehlen’s annual medical mission each
January. Each missioner is required to do his/her laundry at a pila (an outdoor
water tank and washboard), washing each item of clothing individually by hand.
Because El Guante gets water only twice a week, water is precious. Therefore,
everyone is extremely careful with the amount of water used for laundry,
showering, and cleaning. After supper the team would get together for the daily
‘San Rafael Junta,’ the nickname given to their nightly reflection meeting.
Oftentimes, these meetings were emotional and very revealing – lives were
An awesome highlight of this year’s student trip was the
historic meeting between the Gehlen students and chaperones with the Xicaque of
Montana de la Flor (a very remote and isolated ethnic group of Honduras). The
Xicaque speak Tolupan, a language that is over 5,000 years old and predates the
Mayan civilization. Cultural anthropology ties them directly to the
southernmost Sioux of the United States, the Hokon. The 4-hour trip to the
mountain was one of the roughest rides ever experienced by any team member.
Upon their arrival, the team was met by about 60 – 70 indigenous Xicaque. As
the team prepared to greet the Xicaque, the team was somewhat overwhelmed by the
immensity of what was actually occurring. Many team members later said that
they definitely had not been prepared for this first-time encounter with such a
wonderful people, feeling like they had entered another world from hundreds of
years ago. Student team leader Carolyn Bickford said, “I’ll never be able to
truly explain to anyone what I felt like that morning on the mountain. I can
find no words to express that feeling to anyone, including my own team
members.” Jeff Neary added that the experience of meeting the Xicaque was like
being part of a National Geographic expedition. A small ceremony was held to
thank the Xicaque for allowing the Gehlen team to visit their village. After
distributing many of the items (shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, flip-flops,
vitamins, blankets, clothes, and toys) the team brought from the United States,
Chief Julio allowed the team members to take pictures of the Xicaque. The team
returned to El Guante that night, dazed and forever changed. The hope of the
Gehlen Mission Program is that this is the first step toward a lasting
relationship with the Xicaque.
Xicaque women and
connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection
gives birth to a new sense of belonging.
~ Deepak Chopra
The Gehlen team returned to their homes late Holy Saturday
evening. The theme of this year’s student trip was ‘Do You See Jesus In Me.’
Or as we put it in Spanish, ‘¿Reconocen a Jesus en mi?’ Each missioner, touched
by the experience of nine days in Honduras, was changed - many forever. Each
missioner encourages others to get involved in helping others around the world.
Each missioner when commenting on their just completed trip used the word
‘incredible.’ Each missioner was sad to leave the wonderful people of Honduras
– we will never forget you and we will pray for you – we see Jesus in you, and
we hope you saw Jesus in us.
Click above to browse the April 2006 Trip Photo Album...
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