IXIM mission trip a family affair

For three members of the Dethlefs family, taking part in this summer’s IXIM: Spirit of Solidarity mission trip to San Miguel Acatán, Guatemala, was about more than cultural awareness.
They witnessed the commitment to faith and family of the people there, and experienced their love and hospitality amidst their poverty. They also saw each other – and their own faith – in a new light. 
“The shared experience has also strengthened our family bonds,” said Omaha-area physician Hans Dethlefs, who, with his wife, Andrea, and their 25-year-old daughter Allison, participated in the archdiocese’s 15th annual IXIM (pronounced ee-sheem) mission trip June 21 through July 2.
“Whenever you step outside your comfort zone as a family, you learn more about one another,” he said.
Members of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, the Dethlefs and their daughter, who lives in Indianapolis, were among 22 people – including five family groups – who made this year’s trip, said Mark Zimmer, IXIM director.
“From personal experience, having first made this trip without my wife,” he said, “it was difficult to explain the impact it had on me – that I changed somehow. But when you share it together, it’s a deep emotional and spiritual experience.” 
A partnership between the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Huehuetenango, IXIM is a response to St. Pope John Paul II’s call for solidarity between wealthy and developing nations, Zimmer said.
It helps people in Guatemala through clean water projects, medical care and other assistance. The annual visits, correspondence, prayer and financial support also build relationships among the missionaries and Guatemalan people.
Such service isn’t new to the Dethlefs.
From 1997 to 2000, Hans and Andrea worked in Honduras for the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (now Unbound), Hans in charge of health care and Andrea teaching English, while raising two young children and giving birth to their third.
Having gone on an IXIM trip five years ago, Andrea is now part of the project’s leadership team, so Hans was eager to share the experience and better understand his wife’s work with the project.
“And it was an opportunity to see our daughter Allison in a challenging environment,” Hans said.
Allison, who studied Spanish in college and served two years as a missionary in Bolivia, was an interpreter with the IXIM trip. “It was fun to see her interact and bridge the gap between cultures, and see her thrive in that situation,” her father said. 
Allison said she was inspired by seeing her mother and father in action. Hans, a doctor with OneWorld Community Health Centers in Omaha, helped operate a medical clinic where he examined and treated about 100 people. Andrea served on the education team and taught lessons in the community’s school.
All the IXIM missionaries were welcomed into the villagers’ homes and lives, with many residents giving up their beds to make their visitors comfortable.
 “You can tell that faith is very important to these people,” Andrea said. “Each home has an altar and a cross, and pictures of saints on the walls.
Faith is central to their culture, which is inspiring, Hans said.
“They turn to God in the midst of their challenges instead of living in despair,” he said.  “They are very happy and faithful people with a strong hope – a gift we were given just by being able to share time with them.”
“I came back with a deeper gratitude for what we have and a commitment to pursue a more active faith,” Hans said.
Andrea said her family was especially touched by their contact with the Disciples of the Good Shepherd, a group of consecrated women who live together, teach and provide pastoral care in the villages.
Allison said she and her family plan to financially sponsor one member of that group, and write to her and support her through prayer.
“It’s a good way for our family to continue to support IXIM,” she said.
Allison said she returned from the IXIM trip with a “transformed sense of joy and a deeper connection to my faith.”
“It’s a joy found in God (that) is deeper than happiness,” she said. “It’s a recognition that God is present in all things, even in the most challenging circumstances.”
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