My New Life Project: San José Café

I am excited to announce a new, major project I am beginning: opening a non-profit coffee shop in Newville, Pennsylvania supporting the mission in Honduras!   I ask for your prayers and support as my family and I embark upon this new endeavor.

After finishing my two-year commitment in Honduras as a missionary last November, I have been actively praying and seeking the next step in my life, specifically, what my personal long-term life project could be supporting this mission I’ve fallen madly in love with in Honduras.  In November, at a wedding in Florida, my plan was to return to Florida and use my masters degrees to find a full-time industrial engineering position.  Speaking with my engineering friends at the wedding, it looked like there were several opportunities to find a solid job and my friends were willing to put in a good word for me at their companies.  After the wedding, I went up to Pennsylvania – for what I thought would be a short visit – to be with my parents for the holidays.

So, why am I still in rural Pennsylvania over four months later instead of my beloved, warm, sunny Florida? Because of my own conversion after these past two years… after meeting Hondurans with “big dreams” for their life but they couldn’t pursue them because they needed to stay and support their family.  God has asked me to stay here in PA for a while to support my parents… my cousin, like a sister to me, is 7 months pregnant with her son, André, and I am excited to be here for her and the rest of my family as well.

Praying about why I wanted an engineering position in Florida, the deeper reason was to begin to build my savings to support my future wife and kids (not to mention I just really enjoy industrial engineering) and to financially support the mission in Honduras.  However, timing is everything – right now I’m still single, and God needed me to stay up north for now… plus it makes a lot more sense fully devoting my time to a project for Honduras rather than simply supporting it financially and working on it little by little.

I was recently hired at my new local parish part-time as Young Adult Minister and will be devoting the rest of my time toward starting this coffee shop, San Jose Café.  Please message me (nick.higgins@missioners.org) if you would like to share your talents toward this project (for instance, I am looking for a plumber, electrician, or general contractor) or if you would like to financially support this project (one-time or monthly donations).  I returned to Honduras for a short visit last month and met with my good Honduran friends, Cesar, Diana, and Katy to begin planning… it appears this project has been years in the making, and I am excited to see what our Lord has in store!

 

Today, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, I ask for your prayers for my future spouse if I am called to holy matrimony, for my family, and for this coffee shop “San Jose Cafe”.  Know you are in my prayers.  The name of the café is in honor of St. Joseph, the Worker… trusting in his powerful intercession, that through this project dignity will be restored to all workers involved, providing a good, living wage and fighting injustice in the developing world. St. Joseph the Worker, Husband of Mary, Terror of Demons, and Protector of Virgins, pray for us!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

The Explorers, Chapter 1 “Great Gramps’ Journal”

I wrote my first novel!  It will be published and available on-line for purchase this month. Here is the first chapter. Young adult fiction.

2

Chapter 1: “Great Gramps’ Journal”

I awoke with a start, my heart racing.

Breathe, Jeff, I thought, wiping the tears from my eyes. That would never happen.  I took a deep breath, letting my mind catch up with reality, and rose from my bed.

Dragging my weary body to the window, I rubbed my face and looked out at the new day.  The sky was laced with clouds of purple and pink, calming to the eye, the Appalachians aglow beneath the morning rays of the sun.  The grass was a vibrant green, wet with dew, and some birds were enjoying a morning bath in the fountain.

Continuing downstairs, I saw my mom sitting in the living room.

“Good morning, Mom,” I said, heading to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” she responded, taking a sip of her coffee as she proceeded perusing the Current Columns.  Both of us kept the conversation short, not desiring to break the precious silence of morning quite yet.

I grasped my favorite mug from the cupboard—a gift my grandparents had brought over from Ireland—and poured the freshly brewed coffee.  The coffee was a dark roast from Brazil, fairly-traded and rainforest-friendly, of course. Taking my coffee to the back porch, I climbed up onto the large oak rail, and watched the sun continue to rise over the mountains. Our house was situated near the edge of town, where the great forest began, leading up over the mountains out of sight.

After finishing my coffee, I returned to my room, stopping at the threshold. The memory of the dream came rushing back me. I decided to peek into my one-year-older brother’s room next door; to no surprise on my account, Zach was sleeping, and he would probably continue doing so until noon.

Look. He’s fine.  I shook my head, as if to shake the thoughts out, and hopped in the shower, the warm, gentle water draining away the lingering pieces of my dream.

I dressed, combed my short, dark blonde hair, put on my Casio watch, and placed my wooden Celtic cross tied to a string—also a gift from Ireland—around my neck, and returned downstairs. I heard something sizzling in the kitchen and smelled the sweet welcoming of breakfast.

“Hey, Jeff, can you please set the table for me?” My mom said, moving the pan to the counter top, “Breakfast is ready.”

“Woohoo!”  I loved breakfast.  I loved lunch and dinner, too.  Pulling out two square plates, two forks, and our new lemon and lime salt and pepper shakers—not from Ireland, but my mom enjoyed thrift shopping in style—and placing them in the breakfast nook, I took a seat.

“How is it?” My mom asked me over the plates of fluffy omelets with the perfect amount of spinach, green onion, and salty bits of ham.  Her words fell to deaf ears as I was lost in the savory depths of my breakfast plate.

“Huh?”

“Your breakfast, Jeff.”

“Oh! It’s… perfect, Mom.”

Finishing eating, I cleaned up the dishes. “It’s about ten o’clock.  I’m gonna head over to Michele’s,” I said, giving my mom a big hug and reaching down to give her a kiss on the head (I was now a few inches taller than her).

“Sure.  Be back for dinner.”

I quickly made a sandwich, grabbed an apple and a baggie of pretzels, and filled up my water bottle.  Packing everything away in my satchel, I slung it over my shoulder, and made the short trek to Michele’s house—two houses down the block, to be exact.

I rang the doorbell and Michele stuck her head out the front window, her long mahogany locks hanging down.

“Hi! One sec!” she said, disappearing back inside.  I heard more movement, a slight thump! …crash! …and then the door opened.

“Hey,” she said, tying her hair up in a ponytail.

“How are you?” I gave a slight smile, my eyebrows narrowing in curiosity.

“I’m fine… just need to handle… uhh… a quick situation.  And you?”

“I’m great.” I smiled.

“Let me grab my things.”

I sat down on her porch and waited, watching a lizard eat a bug while pondering what the crash could have been.  Michele shortly reappeared wearing her backpack.  She gave me a big smile, the usual excitement of adventure lighting up her eyes, saying, “Let’s go!”

After getting Michele, we always ventured into the woods across the street to go exploring.  This had been a routine of ours since we were two or three feet shorter and our parents had first allowed us to go off on our own.  We were recent high school graduates, and we were even more recently beginning to date each other.  We had decided to stay and help our families with the family businesses and save up for our future rather than go off to college.  To our excitement, our parents agreed to give us an “extended” summer off before beginning work.

 

The great pine trees towered above us, along with the occasional oak or sycamore tree. Michele and I walked along a trail that we had just finished after a week of clipping thorn-infested vines and low branches where the brushwood thickened.  We had the blood and scratches to show for it, but ultimately the vines lost the battle.

At the end of the trail, there was an opening where we had begun to build a shelter.  So far, we had completed the frame and the base; we estimated it would take a few more weeks until we finished.  I walked over to the pile of lumber and picked up several pieces, while Michele retrieved the hammer and nails.

Around midday, we decided to stop for lunch—my apple had disappeared within the first hour.  I sat on the edge of the shelter base while Michele found a small boulder nearby.

“Mmm… can I have a bite?” Michele asked, eyeing my colorful pastrami sandwich.

“Wait—yours looks good too…,” I said, eyeing her chicken salad sandwich.  Looking up at each other, then back at the sandwiches, we swapped them.

Michele took a generous bite, stopping in mid-chew, and slowly set the sandwich back down as if the pastrami had turned sour.

“What’s up? Is the sandwich bad?” I asked.

“No, the sandwich is fine.  It’s nothing.”  She swallowed and proceeded to finish the bite, when her eyes darted again.

“C’mon, Michele.  What are you looking at?” I turned around.

“I saw something over there.”  She pointed up to the edge of the shelter frame.

“I’ll go take a look.” As I started to get up, a large black snake slithered over the future windowsill.  Michele stood up and quickly backed away.  I sighed with a small chuckle, picking up the creature.

“It’s just Shadow,” I said, as the creature curled its tail, brushing the hairs on my arm with his rare, midnight-black scales following in line.  Shadow was a gift from a friend at school.  My mom would not let me keep him in the house, so I released him into the woods, but he seemed to like the shelter. His emerald eyes glimmered in the offered light.

“I wish he’d stop scaring me like that,” Michele squirmed, a worried look on her face.

I set Shadow back on the windowsill and he disappeared under the shelter.  “It’s ok.  Most people aren’t used to having a snake around.” I wrapped my arms around Michele to comfort her.

She sighed, patting my arm in thanks but her body was still tense.

“Here’s your sandwich.” I took her sandwich and handed it back to her playfully.

“Gross! You touched Shadow with that hand!”

“What are you talking about? Snakes are clean.”  With that, Michele smirked at me, taking another big bite of my sandwich.

~~~

The next few weeks passed rather quickly as we hurried to finish the shelter.  After the building stage was complete, all that remained were the final touches inside; Michele decorated with a few things from her house, while I built some furniture.

As I finished nailing together the table, Michele grabbed a tablecloth.  We brushed the dust of the table, grabbed each end of the cloth and flung it over. As the cloth drifted down into place, we both fell into the two new wooden chairs at each end, slouching with a sigh and a smile, looking around our creation.

Two long wooden benches ran along the sides of the main room—one had a built-in storage area underneath that was our kind-of-safe box, locked with a golden lock—with the table and chairs at the center.  There were also a few windows, some shelves with decorative items, and a trap door—covered by a rug, of course—that led under and out of the shelter.

At the entrance of the structure, some steps lead up to a large door with a handcrafted knob which my father had helped me with.  On the side, there was an attached ladder leading up to a small open cache on roof—to be used as a storage area—with a window the width and shape of a bowling ball on the far side.

“Now for the final touch,” Michele said, taking a vase with freshly cut pink roses clipped from her backyard—they were her favorite flower—and placing them in the center of the table.  She loved gardening, especially working with flowers of all varieties. Sitting back down, she said, “Nice chair.  Did your Da teach you to make this?”

“Yeah, he did. But the engravings are my original little touch.” I said.  My father was a carpenter, as was his father and his father’s father. When my great grandparents came over from Ireland in their late twenties with their children through Ellis Island, my Great Gramps had to leave carpentry to find a job that would be able support his family.  He was, however, able to pass the trade onto my grandfather, who then taught my father.  My grandfather was the last of the McKeller line to still have the Irish accent, but we liked to keep a little tradition by calling my father “Da”.  My grandparents recently retired and frequently visited Ireland and other places around the world, while my Great Gramps, on the other hand, never returned to Ireland, mentioning something about not wanting to travel farther than the gas station.

 

The next morning I was the first to awake in the house.  It was still fairly early, so I vacillated between getting off my lazy behind and staying in the comfort of the covers.  I decided and arose from my bed, happy with myself for successfully tackling the first challenge of the day.  I washed my face and went outside for a walk, jotting down a note in the dim light for my parents.

Brewnston Town was a small, quaint town situated in a valley in the Appalachians; the town was quiet in the early hours.   I reached the town square and sat down on a bench.  A few robins and blue jays were bouncing around in the brightening sky and a pair of squirrels were chasing each other through the trees. I was enjoying the morning calm, when a man’s voice broke the silence, “Hey, Jeff!”

I turned around.  It was the baker, a jovial man in his mid-thirties with a big heart, on his way to open the bakery.  He was a heavyset African American man, married, with four children.

“Hello, Mr. Stevens!” I called back.  As he was about to round the corner, an idea popped into my head, Hmm… I could really go for a donut.

“Mr. Stevens! Wait up!”

Following him to the bakery, I waited patiently as he opened the shop, prepared the massive frying vat, and mixed the dough.  Waiting in the café area, I watched a pair of squirrels bickering on the windowsill.  I wondered if it was the same pair I saw in the trees and what they were bickering about.

“Enjoying the last of the summer, Jeff?” Mr. Steven said, handing me a box of half-dozen donuts.

“Yes, sir, I think Michele and I might go to the lake today,” I replied, paying him.

“Sounds like a good plan.”

“How’s your family?”

“They’re doing well. My wife is home with the kids—my oldest starts at Brewnston High next year! Can you believe it? Here ya go, Jeff.” Mr. Stevens smiled, handing me the change.

“That’s good to hear, Mr. Stevens. Have a good day.” I said, returning home.

Both of my parents were awake, sitting with their paper and coffee like every other weekend morning.  I doled out the donuts.

“Thank you, my son.” Da said, sticking his head over the “World News” section.

“Anything good in the paper, Da?”

“Hmm… not today.  Unless this article on bullfrog racing in Cambodia might interest you…?”

“I’m good.”

“Your loss.” He grinned, biting into the donut.

After disappearing into the kitchen to find the second half of my breakfast—granola, yogurt, toast, an orange, and one more donut to top it off—I returned to excuse myself for the day.

“Well, I’m gonna go over to Michele’s.”

“No, you’re not,” my mom said.

“Huh?”

“…not like that. Come here.” She gave a slight grin, touching my face. “You have donut on your face.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I ended the conversation with a roll of the eyes and started up the stairs.

“I saw that—and please take out the trash before you go.” Her grin widened.

As I was coming back downstairs with my things for the day, the phone rang.  I went to get it, but my mom beat me to it.

“Hello?” she said, “…Yes. Why?”

“Oh no….” Her voice shook.  “We’ll be right there!”

“What is it?” I said.

She looked at me, calling out to Da in the other room, “Adam, it’s your grandfather—he’s had a heart attack.  The ambulance is taking him to Ellington.”

We were in the car in less than a minute and raced to the hospital in Ellington, a neighboring town slightly larger than Brewnston Town.  I noticed on the way that the clear sky had developed some rather gray clouds.

 

The waiting room was full of very different people with very different lives.  A young Hispanic woman sat in a chair in the corner of the room, rocking her baby boy, while her daughter sat next to her playing with her mother’s long hair.  A white-haired Asian man sat in another corner with his reading glasses at the tip of his nose, reading a news magazine, and two teenagers—one with several tattoos and another with several earrings—were watching the television.  Then, an old woman came in through the entrance and went up to the front desk window where she was given her forms.  Trying to sign them with great difficulty, she kept saying, “Where are my glasses?  I can’t see without my glasses.”

Another old woman, rather short and plump and wearing a very red sundress, had entered behind her, joining her at the window.  She thumbed through her purse and pulled out a pair of glasses.

“Here, Deloris.  They’re right here.”

Ecstatic, Deloris took the glasses with her frail hands, slipped them on, and started filling out the forms.  The other woman went over to a bench by the television.  She seemed very fidgety, tightly holding her purse (which was also red) between her legs.  Unable to get comfortable, I presume, she got up and moved to a wooden rocking chair, only to get up again and move to a large cushioned chair saying loud enough for all of us to hear, “These chairs are terribly uncomfortable.”  Finally, she stayed put, but could not sit still, and then, with a deep sigh, succumbed to the chair.

I was staring at a picture of an apple when the nurse finally came out.

“He has asked to see you, Jeff.”

Following the nurse to my great grandfather’s room, I stepped inside.  There he was, the patriarch of our family, a man who had accomplished much in his life, a man who had sacrificed much… lying down in his hospital bed, helpless and weak.  My parents were sitting next to him, tears in Da’s eyes.

Getting up, Da offered me his seat, patting me on the back. My parents exited, leaving me with Great Gramps.

“Hey, Great Gramps.  You hangin’ in there?”

“I’m tryin’, but I’m v’ary weak,” he softly retorted in his humble, fading voice. After a slight pause, he continued, “I ‘ave sometin’ far you.”  He reached into the drawer next to the hospital bed and pulled out a leather-bound journal, worn with time.  It looked as if the journal had the weight of several bricks; he mustered all the strength he had left to lift it up.  “ ‘ere. Take it.”

“Thank you.” I smiled with gratitude, taking it quickly to relieve him.

He looked up at me, his eyes suddenly lighting up with a youthfulness and sense of adventure, and he gave me a great, big smile.

Looking down at the journal, I was about to open it when I heard that sound which no one ever wants to hear coming from the heart monitor.

“No… Great Gramps! …Doctor! I need a doctor! Come quickly!”

Honduras, Year 3: Life Outside the Mission House

“Mr. Bilbo, where are you off to?” – “Can’t stop! I’m already late!” – “Late for what?” – “I’m going on an adventure!” – Bilbo yelled back to the other hobbit as he ran off after the others (See clip: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).  This was the morning after Bilbo had just firmly said “no” to being offered an adventure of a lifetime by Gandalf (the wizard) and the dwarves, preferring the comfort of his hobbit hole – he simply woke up with a new perspective.

A few weeks ago, after receiving a nudge from leadership in my mission community in a very… unexpected… but very good direction, I decided to move out of the mission house.  I am now an “external” missionary – I work at the mission house during the day, but live outside with a little more flexibility in my schedule for personal projects and endeavors.

Moving day, the Franciscans (CFRs) generously took me to my new apartment complex in downtown Comayagua.  Setting down my things in the apartment, I stood (simply put) in the face of a change I was not quite ready for – it felt like getting pushed into a cold pool right before you are about to jump in – so I just left.  I left my things and retreated to the one place that is always nearby, the one place that I can always collect my thoughts and feel safe wherever I am in the world… my Father’s house.

20180911_171411(1).jpg

Walking to the adoration chapel in the Cathedral, I brought everything to the Lord.  It’s too quick, Lord… I am not ready.  It’s dark now… I don’t know the way back to the apartment.  I am just not ready.  The same Franciscan priest was finishing 5pm Mass – afterwards I asked him to take me back to the mission house.  Knowing my weaknesses, the Lord let me rest in His Mercy.

Finding one of my Honduran mission brothers back at the house, we decided to watch The Hobbit in the comfort of the sofa-chairs in the upstairs library.  The Lord, knowing me intimately, likes to uniquely speak to me through movies. (In the mentioned scene above) I was convicted: I was Bilbo running to the comfort of my mission house hobbit hole.  The next morning, it was time for a new adventure.

Thus begins Year 3 of my commitment to the beautiful people of Honduras as I transition out of the mission house.  It’s my first time living on my own in a foreign country (let’s just say I’m getting a lot closer to my guardian angel), among other new challenges, yet, as I learned many years ago, I know I am never truly “on my own” and in fact, rather than fear, I feel an overwhelming excitement and joy stepping out as the Father carries me.  I ask for your prayers at this crossroads in my life, as leadership has challenged me to take my commitment to the Honduran people to the next level… a need for permanent, long-term change that will radically impact the lives of the poor.  Please pray for me to be docile to the Lord’s Will, that I may make the most of these last two months before returning to the States.

Please also pray for Don Chema and Doña Ada, an older married couple I have known for some time now but finally had the chance to visit their boys’ home last week.  Their love (and the grace from the sacrament) radiated like a wild fire as they welcomed me into their humble home, sharing what the Lord had done in their lives and their hopes for the future when the money comes…  They had lived at a much larger orphanage for over 10 years, raising many young boys into the men they are now.  Recently, they left to start their own boys’ home inviting 6 youth (age 12 to 18) from impoverished families to live with them and their own 2 boys… providing a place of refuge and opportunity, living together in a life of prayer and discipline, working on their studies and preparing for their future… These boys as well as boys from the larger orphanage are the ones who I have been getting to know now for 2 years attending our weekly Hombres de Cristo program.  Come Holy Spirit, help these young men COME ALIVE and step into the manhood you are calling them to… that they may become the radiant light that is You to light up the darkness in this country. AMEN.

P.S. Here are pics from my little apartment including a view of a soccer court… don’t worry, there’s an elevator.

 


P.S.S. One of the perks of living on my own: cooking fun things for myself in the evenings.  The lychee fruit is in season now 🙂 It’s from Asia, but turns out really popular in Honduras. Who knew?

 

God bless you.

Muscle

Ranger, our year-old Rottweiler-Labrador-and-something-else paced back and forth in our front yard as we destroyed his domain, cleaning up his trash and chopping overgrown weeds that had flourished in our absence away on mission in the mountains – bugs, dust, and everything else flying everywhere. Suddenly, Ranger saw an opportunity of a lifetime: the outer gate was left wide open.  Running for it, he bolted through the opening out into the vast field next to the mission complex.  Leaping and bounding, every muscle in his little body flexed and contracted, unleashing his full strength as he thundered around the field.

Last week we had a men’s mission with several postulants of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs) from New York, 2 CFR priests, 2 Diocesan seminarians from Florida, and our male missionaries.  For this particular mission, Fr. Balthazar, a good friend of the Missioners asked us to focus on encouraging young people in the mountain villages of his parish community in their vocation.  Responding to the call, the Lord called together two teams of several mature, grown men who have decided to surrender their lives to the Lord…giving some talks in broken Spanish on vocation, but speaking volumes just by presence and testimony.

20180614_145628

The Lord came in power, as we “unleashed our full strength”… we truly felt united with the apostles going out to the farthest ends of the world to proclaim the Good News… we had an international team from Ireland, Czech Republic, Mexico, Canada, Honduras and the US showing the beauty of our Church fully alive… we worked together as one unit, one Body, each man playing his part.  I trust this mission bared MUCH FRUIT… one of the fruits the Lord showed me was one young Honduran man from the mountain village sharing with me after our visit that he feels called to seminary… to be clear, these villages have Mass once a year and have never had any religious vocations out of their community… praise God for this young man’s ‘yes’!

“The glory of God is man fully alive” – Saint Irenaeus

20180612_132506

…I say it again, THE GLORY OF GOD IS MAN FULLY ALIVE!!… Jesus, let them feel our FULL MASCULINE STRENGTH UNLEASHED that is YOUR STRENGTH… to bring as many souls as we can with us to Heaven.  Send us out as you did the apostles to SET THIS EARTH ON FIRE for love of you. 

At times I feel like Ranger, trapped behind the gate, but this past week it felt great to stretch my muscles… preaching the Gospel to all ends of the earth.  I am nothing. Jesus is everything.  All glory to Him!

To finish with a few prayer requests…please pray for the soul of Henri Gerardo, one of the teenage boys (13) from a local orphanage I work with on a weekly basis passed away suddenly from cancer.  It was truly a difficult time for me and the communities involved.  I trust he is now in heaven interceding for us! Here is his picture and a picture of the AMAZING image of our Lady that he carved some time before his death…

Also, just a few weeks before, we had another mountain mission with FOCUS Varsity…where some strong men…and many strong women (literally)… came to share the Gospel of Christ through sports and the arts.  That week, our community bought property in the mountains… a project years in the works where we hope to begin to build our own retreat center…. PRAISE GOD! Jesus, this Mission in Yours… uses it to radically change this culture for your glory.  Please pray for this project (and let us know if you can help!)

Finally, please pray for our neighboring country, Nicaragua, with many close friends of ours going through the greatest suffering of their lives… it is a very dire situation where nearly 200 have been killed in the political violence including several children and families as well as threats and acts of violence toward the Catholic church… they need our prayers more than ever.

P.S. For those of you still wondering about Ranger, don’t worry, he came back to the house shortly after making a few laps around the field.

God bless you.

-Nick

Beauty in the Darkness: Kenya, Africa

We walked in a single line through the narrow path between shacks of the Nairobi slum– two African Missionaries of Charity Brothers in front and another in back for protection– dodging mud puddles, trash that covered the street, and the low-hanging tin roofs.  None of us carried a backpack – to avoid tempting someone who might want it.  One of the African Brothers held my hand at one point (a common custom among African men) as a sign of protection.  It was overcast, adding to the gloom of the day.

Stopping in one area of the slum, we came across another Brother who was meeting with a group of people: a man and a woman who were property owners in the area – the Brothers were hoping to build another school – and one or two other men who we later found out were gang leaders (smiling and shaking our hands as we stopped in, of course).  The gang leaders imposed their presence requiring approval of any business transactions (with compensation, of course), yet they would also protect the Brothers and their property upon completing the deal.

Continuing our walk to the edge of the slum, we saw a little girl selling some almonds.  Contrasted against such trash, mud, and suffering, beauty and innocence radiate all the brighter.  Her eyes lit up seeing the Brothers, shaking each of our hands and giving a big smile…another smaller child nearby was laughing and playing.

Making one last stop, we were walking down another narrow pathway when the Brother I was following suddenly disappeared into small alcove… it was a woman’s house.  Ducking to avoid hitting my head, and turning my body to the side to fit through the narrow space, I climbed down into the house.  It was a simple one-room house; no kitchen, no bathroom, just a couch, some blankets on the ground, and a bed.  The group of us grown men all entering the house took up the rest of the space.  Newspaper covered the dirt floor, catching the mud we were all dragging in.  Several women were in the house, greeting each of us.  One woman was on the bed, very sick with HIV (a very common disease in the slums).  The Brothers decided to pray for her; I sensed the power of God fill the room, engulfing the “dark hole” with light and peace.

“Bring me into the dark holes of the poor. Come, carry me, I cannot go alone.” – Jesus to St. Teresa of Calcutta

This “mission within the mission” God called Cesar (another Missioner of Christ) and I to Kenya, Africa to serve with Missionaries of Charity  – a mission very necessary for my soul, refreshing it as I took a step outside of my “world of mission” in Honduras…and received a fresh set of eyes, falling in love again with Christ in the poor, hidden in the great darkness of Africa.  We served with the MC Fathers (one of whom was a former Missioner of Christ in Honduras before becoming a priest), MC Brothers, and MC Sisters in the slums of Nairobi and in some smaller towns outside the city (Isiolo and Marsabit).

map of kenya

Near the end of our time in Africa, the Lord decided to have another grown man hold my hand. A man named Ali lived with the MC Fathers.  He grew up in the slums, just outside the MC Father’s mission house.  As many of the poor there turn to drugs to take away the pain of hunger (physical hunger and interior hunger) – they found him on the streets, addicted to glue. As good fathers, the MC Fathers decided to take him into their home.  He can no longer feed himself (he’s maybe in his later 30’s) and struggles to walk. The Sunday before leaving Africa, I had the blessing of getting to walk with him to Mass.  He took my hand and the hand of one of the other postulants as we made our way through the mud and trash of the slum to get to Mass, everyone in the neighborhood saying hello to Ali as we walked.

Later that day, that moment of holding a man’s hand came up in prayer as I was holding a rosary bracelet… such awkwardness, but why?  The Healer wanted to come right there into my own wounds and darkness and bring healing and light.  Often, when holding a rosary, I sense our Lady’s presence in prayer holding my hand, but this time I sensed St. Joseph holding my hand.  Not some kind of awkward encounter that is a constant battle in our cultures against masculinity, but rather a Father’s healing touch.  St. Joseph took my hand in confidence and gentleness… Jesus was taking my hand in each of these men, teaching me to BE NOT AFRAID to trust Him and others again.  Like walking through a slum, he teaches us to BE NOT AFRAID to walk through the darkness in our own hearts where even greater dangers lie.  The Healer comes bringing His Light and Truth.  Growing accustomed to darkness, the blinding light hurts, but the Healer comes to penetrate the darkness.

20180425_062251Finally, praise God, I successfully overcame the temptation to watch several movies on my 10 hour flight back across the Atlantic and decided to write this blog… #reallifeisbetterthanthemovies

“The Western “suburban” male (and many females) is addicted to entertainment, which acts as a catharsis (emotional release) for his inner need to live a life of drama, of battle, and dedication to a cause.” – Three Marks of Manhood, G. C. Dilsaver

Thank you for reading. I pray, you too may GO OUTSIDE and encounter Christ in the poorest of the poor.

-Nick

Dust to Dust

It’s summer time here in Honduras.  Summer or “dry season” goes from around March to May – the rest of the year they call winter, or “rainy season”.  Summer brings the scorching heat of the sun, dust… everywhere, and strong winds that blow the dust everywhere.  It truly brings our Lenten experience to life, constantly reminding us “You are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19), stripped of worldly comforts here on mission as we learn to give our all in love for God and for man.  Just finishing my desert journey as we prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday, I would like to look back and share with you some of the “oasis” moments where the Lord refreshed my soul in the midst of a sinus infection from the dust (twice), a foot problem that was exaggerated every time I had to climb up a mountain, and other interior battles against Satan tempting me in the desert, on 4 back-to-back missions.

The first (and perhaps most powerful) “oasis” occurred on our first mission at the end of February just after Ash Wednesday.  It was our first-ever “Family mission” where members of our mission community in the States came to Honduras with one of their oldest children (~14 years old).  There was so much light… so much power… as the Lord called together both US and Honduran families to serve alongside one another on mission, not just for some retreat or “get together” (which are great and necessary), but rather, to serve as one Body, one living force on the front lines of the New Evangelization with one purpose: to redeem the Domestic Church and to bring healing to other families in need. I was overwhelmed with a deep joy having so many members I know and love come visit us, as the Lord came in POWER that week… from the Grand Opening of our new physical therapy clinic (which two of the Honduran missionaries will now run as full-time therapists having recently graduated) where the families who the program have impacted shared their deep gratitude through tears; to visiting Volcán (my favorite local mountain village), bringing the message of Hope to broken families  (for instance, visiting Catholics who don’t really go to church and then seeing them come to our program…such a gift!) and holding a program in the evening with the adults while putting on a carnival for the kids. Despite the exhaustion of mission, the Lord refreshed my soul with these relationships, strengthening me to give all the more… a hug or compassionate conversation from the Missioners “moms”, an encouraging word of wisdom from the Missioners “dads” as we fought together on the front lines, an explosive joy radiating from the Missioners “kids” reminding us all of the thrill of adventure of life with Christ.  God reminded me why I am still serving here in Honduras, bringing healing time and time again through our community, through family.

“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” – Matthew 12:49-50

The highlight of the next two missions was getting to serve twice in a mountain town called San Luis with one of the newest priests for our diocese and former Missioner, Padre Cristian.

This man was Jesus to me time and time again, a true friend and companion serving alongside me, refreshing my soul… It’s so evident how much grace the Lord gives to his beloved newly ordained sons. He had a true hospitality and compassion for everyone he served (including me…e.g., sitting in the bed of the truck so I could sit inside when I was sick) as well as a humility and confidence on mission (e.g., visiting homes with him while he humbly admitted his age/lack of experience yet sharing the deep wisdom of the church teaching to those in need.

The fourth and final mission was the “grand finale” of my battle in the desert… a mission that called for the most sacrifice yet: sleeping on the church floor with cockroaches (I alone killed like 12 big ones… haha), eating beans and tortillas for every meal, cold showers or no showers to name a few ‘sacrificios’ (sacrifices)… (these are ironically my favorite type of mission because they always kick my butt in a good way).

20180320_09132220180320_091533

The oasis for me this time came through the men we served.  In a fatherless culture where men are so often lost to drugs, sex, and alcohol… that was the reality in the villages of the area we were visiting. Yet, we were reminded of the saving power and mercy of Christ with three Honduran villagers who had recently had their conversion (just within the last year…beautiful!)…one man (29) who had been wrapped up in alcohol and other vices, was now married/involved in the church guiding us to visit homes with his 4-year old daughter; another man decided to get married after 15 years living with his wife “in fornication” was now a leader in the church, full of joy, always smiling; a third guy (25) left his vices about a year ago and was now actively involved in the church – he personally expressed to me his overwhelming joy at having us visit his village… it is a true gratitude that is hard to explain… simply put, it was Christ himself, present in this poor, humble man looking back at me with a huge smile and saying “thank you!”.

Smelly, sick and dirty from so much dust, exhausted from back to back missions… all of it a true humility check stripping me of my own strengths and self-reliance, reminding me of my own poverty, reminding me I am dust and to dust I will return and that I can do nothing without Our Lord… yet filling me with of joy and peace knowing I gave my all.  That’s what mission is all about.  Thanks Jesus 🙂

-Nick

Gratitude

We have hit the ground running here at the mission house preparing for the new year of mission, immersed in meetings and just catching up with “the locals”.  THANK YOU everyone for your support this past year of 2017!  In appreciation, I would like share with you a quick recap of what Our Lord has been up to this past year (if you haven’t been following my blogs, this is a good “catch up” blog post).  Also, as we prepare for a new year, I am still in need of financial support and prayer support.  Please prayerfully consider supporting me with a monthly donation, a one-time donation, or signing to be a part of my prayer team if you have not already done so.

A highlight of this past year has definitely been my experience with our local ministries. I live with several young adults from Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, and the States here at the mission house in the city of Comayagua, and each of us have a main local ministry we are in charge of.  Being an evangelization-based mission, most of our ministries focus on relationship building.  My main ministry this past year was teaching English to seminarians. It was a massive blessing getting to know these young men as we grew in fraternity and laughed at our mistakes (in good humor) trying to cross the formidable barrier of learning a language.  This ministry allows us to build relationship with these God-willing future priests, building them up as the men of God they are and encouraging them in their studies.

23319216_10107393295518362_1270640040924443071_n

I also served with our Becas (“scholarship”) program where we tutor young children (age 6 – 15) from our neighborhood who are in financial need. ***If you would like to support one of these children, click here.  Every Wednesday afternoon, I met with Emerson (9) helping him with his math homework or other tasks just getting to know him and a few other children.  Saturdays we do various social work projects with the children (e.g., visiting the elderly, cleaning up trash on the grounds). This year, I’ll be continuing to serve with these little ones.

Finally, a third ministry I served with – one I have fallen in love with the most and am excited to say is going to be my main ministry for this new year – is Hombres de Cristo (“Men of Christ”).  This is a ministry for mostly teenage young men who live in local orphanages or in our neighborhood.   We provide spiritual and human formation at our weekly meetings as well as retreats, socials and other events, working alongside the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.  Throughout the week, I would also visit with some of the guys at their house (“home visits”) getting to know them, their family, and the reality of their lives (e.g., from trying to pass their high school classes, to getting mugged, struggling to find work to survive when there are so few jobs, or fighting the temptation to leave their church and family for vices on the streets).

20171111_152549

Praise God for His many blessings this past year! I look forward for the great plans Our Lord has in store for this upcoming year and I hope you can continue to join me on this journey!

EXCITING NEWS: I am excited to announce an opportunity I have been blessed with this April.  I will be traveling to Kenya, Africa with Cesar, one of the Honduran missionaries, to serve with former Missioner, Fr. Juan Pablo with the Fathers of Charity (affiliated with St. Mother Teresa’s order) and the poorest of the poor whom they serve in Kenya. My financial goal for this upcoming year is: $3,500.00.  Funds will go toward room and board in Honduras as well as flights including this trip.  Every little bit helps! May God bless you abundantly for your generosity.

PRAYER REQUEST: Please continue to pray for peace in Honduras. Thanks be to God things have greatly calmed down since the political conflict (i.e., we are good to go for another “normal year of mission”! we weren’t sure if we’d have to cancel missions/etc.)… the prayers are working!

In Christ through Mary,

-Nick