This is not to tell you every detail of my experience or all of my stories, this is for me :)
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” - 1 Corinthians 16:13
To Guyana, thank you.
I’m no one of significance. I’m a sophomore Journalism student at a Jesuit University in California called Loyola Marymount University. I grew up in the city I still live in and rarely go outside my comfort zone. I’m 20 years old, I’m a Christian, and I’m pretty lost. I wish I had it all figured out, but I don’t.
Guyana, this year has been hard. It’s been hard for me and it’s been hard for my friends. We’ve seen heartache and heartbreak in many of its forms and while we’ve seen the highs, too, it’s hard not to think about the mountains that we had to climb in order to get there. I’ve been tried, tested, and hurt. If I’m going to be transparent, I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore and I’ve started questioning myself more than I used to.
On September 21, 2017, I saw a post on a Facebook page about this program that I had heard of before but had never partaken in. It’s called the Ignacio Companions program. This type of program isn’t unique to LMU, but the IC program is something that makes LMU unique. Run by the always-inspiring Samii Hartman, LMU’s Campus Ministry sends 7 trips comprised of students and faculty each year to different countries. After an application and an interview, I was lucky enough to learn that I would be sent to you. It was my school’s first time traveling to you, so it was going to be new for all of us. You didn’t disappoint. You inspired, uplifted, and moved.
”’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” - Jeremiah 29:11
Getting to you was harder than I anticipated. The overnight plane ride was hard on all of us, it felt like we didn't sleep at at all. My team started reflecting each night once we got to you on March 3rd, but the first night, my mind wouldn’t stop. I remember thinking about how much pain I was physically feeling. After those hours of traveling, my stomach hurt, my ankles were swollen, and I was exhausted. The trip already had felt so long and I wasn’t feeling completely unified with Christ, a feeling that shakes me more than anything. I was afraid of how much sleep I was going to get, how I would connect with others, and if I actually deserved to experience you and your glory. I was excited to grow, to be without my phone, and to engulf myself in something new, but I was scared. I didn’t want to waste a single moment.
“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” - Psalm 23:1
Guyana, even though I was scared, you made me feel so thankful for that day and every day I was about to encounter. I was excited to see what you had in store for me and my peers, but little did I know.
You immediately made me feel like I was home. There’s something really special about God’s timing, and I really felt Him in Mass on that Sunday in St. Joseph Diamond Church. We talked about the Samaritan woman, one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It’s not my favorite for any particular reason, it just simply keeps coming back to me. When I’m at school, I go to a bible study once a week called Greek Light. I could talk about it forever, but just know that Greek Light has helped shaped my college experience in the most beautiful way. During one of my first meetings, we talked about the Samaritan woman and how Jesus revealed himself for the first time to her. I then proceeded to discuss her at two different Greek Light retreats, one in October and one in February, at Mass with you, and the week after I came back to the United States in my small group. Guyana, I didn’t expect to walk into St. Joseph’s and have a moment that hit me so hard, but I absolutely did. John 4! I couldn’t believe it. I always find myself in awe of His work, including everything He’s doing with your people. Being able to spend time with a youth group, play games, and immediately find common ground and connection was so incredible. I hadn’t laughed like that in months.
That Sunday night, we talked about eleven of the most important words. Thank you, please forgive me, I forgive you, and I love you. I reflected on how thankful I was for everyone who took time out of their lives to hang out with us, the people who generously prepared our meals, and for all the feelings I was feeling: at peace, patient, and reflective. I wanted to be forgiven of my moments of ignorance, whether I noticed them or not and I wanted to forgive the bugs for biting me. I wanted to tell you that I loved you already. I love the communities, my group, and I love you, Guyana.
“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” - Philippians 4:13
You didn’t prepare me for what was going to happen next. That’s when you showed us Lethem and St. Ignatius. I spend my first day in St. Ignatius in awe of your beauty. The red dirt, the beautiful rocks, and river. The St. Ignatius Catholic Church. I didn’t expect to have a slow day, but it was still a day spent well. We skipped rocks, went to Brazil, and John played music for a while. I’m not sure what’s better, hearing “A Part of Me” in a Jesuit residence on a cultural immersion trip or hearing Ben Barlow singing it at the Fonda.
That day, we met with more locals and the church youth group. We sat in a circle, introduced ourselves, and played games. It was another day of laughing harder than I had in months. Spending time with your people eating delicious food, listening to music, and watching the stars is something I’ll never forget. I will also never forget the beautiful dances and songs they shared with us during the talent show. I still think about Gairy’s poem, “Who Am I?”, every day.
Speaking of the stars, we need to talk about your stars. I have been in my own little Los Angeles bubble for my whole life. The most stars I’ve ever seen at one time was in Ohio, which still doesn’t have as many as your sky. I grew up believing that Los Angeles was the best city in the world, but that day I realized that not only was I extremely closed minded, but that I need to leave my comfort-zone and bubble much more often than I do. I don’t know if there are a lot of other schools other than LMU that could have been as perfect of a match for me, but staying in Los Angeles might not have been the best for me and it might not be the forever home I so desperately wanted it to be. Sitting under your stars and listening to my favorite worship song kept reminding me about how connected we are. I will remember that happiness and love forever.
I thought I had hit my peak, but you continued to surprise me. We met the St. Ignatius tushao. Guyana, I thought your problems were different than mine. I thought that we were concerned about different issues and had different goals for the future of our nations, but I was wrong. When the tushao got the call about one of her people who hadn’t had water for four days, I was reminded about how lucky I am, but when I saw the poster on the wall, I was shocked. It was a list of goals for St. Ignatius, which included issues like mental health awareness, gender equality, and rights for the LGBT+ community. We’re facing the same hardships at home. I came to you thinking we were different, but we are not as different as people make us out to be.
That’s when we drove to the Kumu village and were welcomed with open arms. I don’t know what to say other than wow. I loved the dances, the dot on my forehead, and the children. I loved the smoke that cleansed us, the mangos, and the cassava. I will always remember the wind in my hair in the back of the truck with the locals and sharing the feeling of the waterfall on our backs. Guyana, I will always remember the Kumu people who spent time with us, being able to teach girls some new jump rope tricks, and making bracelets. I don’t know why I didn’t anticipate it, but I never expected God to have such a beautiful hidden treasure. That’s exactly what Kumu is. There is so much more to the world than I had ever expected.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” - Romans 8:28
Guyana, that night during our reflection, I had to reflect on what trust means to me. Everyone in our group picked different words, but trust was mine. I am a trusting person. I’m an open book and I’m always willing to share my story with others. However, when someone breaks my trust (intentional or not) it hurts me, very, very deeply and it’s really hard for me to let them back in or trust them again. So it’s difficult. I’m unsure if it’s a good or bad thing. When I was in St. Ignatius, I started struggling a lot with not only feeling disunified with God but trusting Him. I knew He was there, but I couldn’t find Him. I was scared He was abandoning me when I wanted Him most. I saw Him in Jonathan and I loved hearing his story and sharing his birthday with him, but I couldn’t help but feel jealous of him and the people around me. I have lived my life without God and those years are not years I ever want to repeat. I know that He doesn’t just abandon people, but there were many times that I felt like I was being left behind or not living up to the expectations of those around me. Never did I ever think I would feel that way, especially not on a faith-based service trip, yet there I was. I was trying to find God in everything, as I always do, but I was lost and confused. Guyana, that’s when you surprised me yet again. You showed me Baitoon.
Guyana, Baitoon! The home of some of my favorite memories and another day I will never forget. Out of everything we saw, Baitoon has had made the deepest impression on me and continues to shape me. Spending time with their village of 398, attending Mass, and sharing meals felt a little extra special with Baitoon. The time they took to teach us about their community, their history, and their culture was remarkable. They taught us about their farms, local doctors, and even taught us how to spin cotton. While all of this was lovely, the best part was the children.
They were amazing. A few of them were immediately comfortable with us, so they started climbing on us while we were sitting down and fighting to sit on our laps. Guyana. My heart was full. I love children. I love spending time with kids and getting to know them and laughing with them, so being able to do that with the kids in Baitoon was one of my absolute favorite memories. It might not be the time I laughed the hardest or the most beautiful, but it was the purest and most happy. I was honored to have their affection because developing relationships like that is so fulfilling to me. It was a dream. I loved loving on them. But as you know, Baitoon was not all rainbows.
“Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” - Corinthians 13:4-8
Guyana, Baitoon also destroyed me. I hate to admit it, but thinking about Baitoon has made me emotional more than once (or twice) since we’ve gotten back. During the tour of their primary school, the woman who runs the school kept expressing to me about how they’ve been praying for people to come to their village and teach. They need English teachers, so she kept saying that I would be perfect for it since I’m studying journalism. When I was there, it made me laugh and I was flattered, but as soon as I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I still cannot stop thinking about it. My poor friends never hear the end of it, but I feel like I need to come back. I know how unrealistic it is and I don’t know how I would be able to pull it off, but a part of me feels called to come back. For everything, but for Baitoon.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD you God will be with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9
The next day was a wave of the same emotions, but deeper. High highs, low lows.
On our way to Karasabai, we had to stop to do some maintenance on the truck. While this wasn’t an exciting or significant moment, there was something about the conversations that were happening, the trees around us, and the love I was feeling. Laying in the bed of the truck with Daryn and John, talking about anything and everything so far away from home was perfect. I remember saying out loud “this is a moment I’m going to remember forever” and taking a picture. But, as you know, those feelings of happiness weren’t permanent.
Being on the back of the truck was one of my favorite feelings, but that was taken away when I got hurt. While I tried to be strong, the pain felt like it was too much. That’s when I got selfish. I was hurt, so I got to sit in the front seat of the truck. I needed special treatment and I wanted someone to ask me how I was doing. I got too much in my head. I started making mistakes. I asked someone if they would sit in the back for me, I stopped being intentional with my words, and stopped considering others when making decisions. I was angry and sad, feeling like a victim of the world. Do not get me wrong, Karasabai was beautiful and visiting Tiger Pond was really fun. The Sister’s hearty welcome and delicious food was unparalleled and spending time at their primary school was a blast. I was in awe when Father Ramesh led Mass and was humbled by the cassava factory. There were a lot of amazing moments, but I spent a lot of my energy actively trying to avoid my pain. I kept praying that God would reveal Himself to me. I stared at the stars and felt nothing. I couldn’t stop thinking about what my life would be like if I wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t participate in the reflection that night. I felt nothing. No part of me felt grateful. I cried for two hours, fell asleep in my hammock with tears still running down my face, and woke up with a headache and swollen eyes. I looked at my Hydroflask’s “God is greater than the highs and lows” stickers and felt abandoned. This felt like a new low.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” - Isaiah 41:10
And then it was Friday. Mario led Mass. I held back tears. I made an apology that felt really important, but I'm not sure if it was. I kept looking for God. Being the youngest in our group, I got to cut our breakfast cake, but I couldn’t eat it. I had to turn Sister down. I felt alone. I held a one-day-old kitten, felt something positive, and hoped it would get better. Chris asked me how I was and I started crying again. I felt empty. It didn’t start getting better yet.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” - Psalm 46:1
When we started driving back to St. Ignatius, I started feeling better. I loved Karasabai, but I was ready to continue our journey. It didn’t start getting better for a while. The conversations went well, I was grateful for my friends, but I was still in pain. Then, we got in a car accident.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” - Proverbs 3:5-6
We blamed a lot of people and pretty much anything for the accident. We blamed the roads, the dirt, Joel, Ronnie, the tires, and you, Guyana. But now I’m just thankful that we’re all okay. We popped a tire, but we had an extra one. We were all really shaken up (Priscilla had to hold my hand the whole way home), but we were okay. I cried again (three times), but after I calmed down, things got better. I thanked God, that for the first time, no one was in the bed of the truck during that drive. We said goodbye to St. Ignatius, flew back to Georgetown, and spent our last few hours eating ice cream and playing coup.
That’s when we reflected on who we are. Guyana, I feel like you know me. I am not perfect. I get anxiety, I get depressed, and I have moments where I’m not as considerate as I could be.
Towards the end of our trip, we were each given two pieces of cloth filled with our memories. I tied one to my backpack, but the other was to leave with you. I wasn’t sure where I was going to tie it, but after a while, I decided to leave it on Joel’s truck. The epitome of God is greater than the highs and lows. That truck saw the best and worst of me.
On Saturday, we woke up with our bags already packed. We bought some souvenirs, had our final reflection, and shared things we love about each other. Mrs. Selby had graciously sent us Rosary beads and we were each given a bracelet. We drove to the airport and took off.
We said good-bye.
“A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” - Ecclesiastes 1:4
When I got back, I turned a lot of my emotions around. While I was still feeling the pain from the truck, I just kept reminding myself that if I hadn’t gotten hurt, someone might have been in the back of the truck when we got in the accident. While I was having a hard time moving around, I just kept reminding myself that God needed me to get hurt to keep others safe and maybe He just wanted me to make sure that I was actually feeling Him, even if it wasn’t comfortable.
Coming back was hard, I still have moments where I get sad and frustrated, but there have been a lot of beautiful things, too. I’ve gone to Campus Ministry every day and feel great about my place on campus. I started going to Mass every week and started asking some of my Catholic friends out to coffee to talk about their faith. I’ve been more present, happier, and I decided to really engulf myself in my faith over Easter Break. There’s something about being on a Catholic school campus when no one’s around during Holy Week. It’s a little extra special. Mass on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all really, really nice. I have a lot of questions, I have a lot of worries, but I have a lot of hope. I could go on forever about how beautiful the Easter Vigil was. I don't know why God started leading me of this path and was definitely taken off guard, but He did it at the perfect time. I'm forever in awe and I'm forever thankful for you, Him, and Sacred Heart Chapel.
Guyana, at first I was scared because I thought we were different, but now I rejoiced because we are actually so similar. You washed away all of my anxieties. The next time I have an opportunity like the one you gave me, I’m going to take it and run even farther. I’ve learned a lot about myself while I was with you and since I’ve been home, and even though a part of me still wishes I was still physically with you, my heart is. Life is full of experiences that prepare you for the next ones, which makes me more and more excited for what my future holds.
To Guyana, you challenged me, you hurt me, but you accepted me in every form. You broke me in ways I hadn’t been broken, but you healed me in ways I didn’t expect and didn't know I needed. I will always cherish you and everything you’ve given me for the rest of my life and I promise that I’ll never stop telling people about how great you are. Because of you, I am a better person who will lead an even better life. I would much rather be someone who lives a life full of highs and lows than a person who says no because she’s scared of feeling something. I can’t ask you for anything more. I no longer feel nothing.
To Guyana, thank you. I miss you every day, I love you, and I hope to see you soon. I really hope I see you soon.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.” - Ecclesiastes 3:11-12