Guatemalan mission trip opens eyes to face of Jesus

The house was constructed of discarded boards, with tin for a roof and cloth draping for a door. It was perhaps the poorest home Allison Condon had ever entered.

"There was no floor, just this bumpy ground beneath your feet. But it was home to a family with five kids, two ducks, five chickens, a cat, two dogs, and an outpouring of love," said Condon, a nursing student member of St. John Parish at Creighton University in Omaha.

Condon was among 25 IXIM missionaries from the Archdiocese of Omaha who traveled to Huehuetenango, Guatemala, for a July 12-24 mission trip.

She joined fellow students, educators, a homemaker, architect, medical professionals, computer experts and retail sales associates for the 14th mission trip of IXIM (pronounced ee-SHEEM), which was established in 2004 as a collaboration between the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Huehuetenango.

Some had been to the mountainous diocese before, but for Condon and several others, it was a first-time experience of a third-world nation.

"I went thinking it would be something great to put on my resume but left with my eyes opened to what’s important. We have everything compared to the people I met, yet they are so rich in spirit," Condon said.

Father Damian Zuerlein, an IXIM leader and pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Omaha, said the missionaries also were impressed with the sense of community.

"The women laughing with one another in the kitchen as they prepared meals, others sincerely caring for their neighbors – the community is what matters most and our missionaries recognized it right away and felt a sense of longing for that same kind of fellowship," Father Zuerlein said.

The missionaries focused on education and medical care, setting up clinics for basic health screenings at each of the three communities they visited, and visiting with teachers and principals. Some missionaries also helped plant a garden in one community, and others offered fluoride treatments to school children.

All of the missionaries could spend a night or two with a host family and work alongside them, getting a taste of daily life in Guatemala, said Mark Zimmer, director of IXIM.

Tracy Ortgies, a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion and of the leadership team, said the trip reinforces the fact that everyone is a brother or sister in Christ.

"You see the face of Jesus there," he said.

It also opens eyes to the other side of the immigration story, he said.

"Many of these families have nothing but the desire to make life better for their loved ones, and that is a driving factor in why so many make the perilous journey to the United States to look for work," Ortgies said.

For the people of Huehuetenango, the missionaries’ yearly return reinforces their faith and brings them hope, Father Zuerlein said.

The first year the missionaries went to San Miguel, one of four villages they often return to each year, they encountered a Catholic school that was ready to close. The villagers thought the missionaries had come to finalize the school’s closure, Father Zuerlein said.

"We talked with them about how important the school is, and provided just a minimal amount of financial support, and today that school is thriving," he said. "The very fact that we were there, cared about them, the teachers and the staff, it changed their attitude and now you see a real pride in them."

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