Photographs by Eric Miller
- “… after 2 days in Guatemala being aware that I was not going to be having that tourist experience I no longer cared about LRX, or credits, or school, or even home at all. I wanted to help the people I was in the graces of, and that is all that mattered. Fixing that roof for the casa on the school grounds was more rewarding than passing any class…”
- “I think the trip was truly life-changing. The students are still talking about it and wishing they could adopt the orphans that they fell in love with. They are even sharing it with their teachers who are passing along glowing comments to me about the changed students.”
- “ I was wondering if you could give me some additional information on the orphanage we visited, SAN FRANCISCO DE ASÍS. I really enjoyed my time there and would like to keep contact … my stories and pictures with my family they were asking questions that I was unsure of and am curious myself. The orphanage, is it an orphanage just for kids to stay or are there actual adoptions? … I would also love to be involved in another trip like this sometime in the future…”
- “Yesterday and today have been real hard …it is as if we have a void in our hearts. … the experience we shared with you and those in Guatemala was with no doubt a life-changing one and we hope that it won’t be the last.”
- “I took many photographs documenting my trip and I hope that even a shred of that joy can be transferred to the audience viewing my photos. And from that joy hopefully more study abroad trips can become more like mission trips and less sight seeing.”
This was the year that Hermana Angela finally said yes to rehabilitating the casita and La Roche College was just the group for the job. It must have seemed to the 12 students, their own nun – Sister Elena – and Prof. Jane Arnold as if nothing would ever be organized and nothing would ever be accomplished. They were wrong because of Angela’s yes and because of the money that La Roche infused into San Bernardino and mostly because of the greatness that is God. The casita, once home to Padre Justi, pending sainthood you know, had been falling apart for years. Now it was occupied by 5 out of town Guatemala girls earning their schooling at Collegio plus one Waynesburg University volunteer, LeAnn,
in town teaching English for a whole year. As we say in Pittsburgh, “The casita needed fixed.” The pattern is becoming familiar. At first is seemed the Franciscans didn’t know or care that we came and the orphans were too engrossed in movie night to give us more than a cursory greeting – inauspicious beginnings to be sure. Plans, carefully emailed, discussed on multiple Skypes and reviewed, failed to survie first contact with reality. People were cold at night. Showers were cold. Rooms were crowed and, of course, God worked his magic. Jenna was the first to surrender her heart to the
missions. For her it was working with the pre-schoolers at San Bernardino. For others it was the orphans at the Hogar. Surely Oneal enjoyed his rock-star status on the basketball court and the roofing crew gave their all, making new friendships with Luis and his men. We truly visited the poor, the lame, the widowed and the dying. We worshiped the Lord in the colonial era church as well as the chapels located at the two Franciscan communities. I was especially moved by visiting the sick. Sister Elena clearly
has a heart for the poor and lame, making her way to visit a boy in serious need of motorized transport. Sister Elena even made contact with the former Hogar resident Yaclene, whom her mother has supported for nearly a decade through the St. Richard Mission Group. I was pleased by the calm assurance of Ella and Doria, travel veterans from Burundi. I was touched by the rock ribbed faith of Jayln and Deanna. Amber and Julia put to voice their wish to come back with other groups. Kayla was ministering to me with my new physical needs and Eric was clearly in love with this mission and his vocation of photographer. Nicole had the bounce of the youthful athlete and seemed always to be smiling. Fr. Tom Gillespie, a four time visitor to these missions, was – as always – a blessing.
Then there was Jane, Prof. Arnold these days. I loved her as my student. I loved her as my employee. I loved her in Guatemala and I love her smile in this photo.
I save perhaps the very best for the last. That would be Adella. Adella was afraid (please check all that apply) of being kidnapped, of insects, of intestinal parasites, of exotic diseases, and so forth and so on. I only have photos of Adella in
the group and this side shot at the market. Being my usual self I teased her endlessly about her phobias. She not only took it, soon she began to reward me with big smiles. She asked if I would tutor her in calculus and I was touched.
At evening sharing I confessed that I was surprised that I needed a refresher course in the greatness of God. As I spoke to person after person I began to know
the depth and beauty of each, more than I suspected was there. Somehow I had forgotten, as I so often do, that God don’t make no junk. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Is it any surprise that His children from La Roche are precious?
People figured out the showers which were, in point of fact, warm. The schedule was full to the brim and everyone was
exhausted. Cement was patched. Paint was applied. “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters!” and give glory under new roof! We fed the hungry, visited the sick, sheltered the homeless and comforted widows and orphans. Mass was celebrated and prayers were prayed.
I was acutely aware that my time is coming to an end. In the beginning I ran these mountains to stay fit. I can no longer walk between the Hogar and Colegio without extreme pain. I take great comfort in knowing that I have played my part and, more importantly, that others will carry on. Study the hands and faces of the people in these photos. When I can no longer even make the trip perhaps it will be one of them, maybe the most unlikely of them, who takes my place. God has a great sense of humor and none of these people is on this earth by accident. Of course they’re nice. They’re from La Roche.