American Martyrs and St. Patrick's Catholic Church
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Jason Obergfell’s Reflection

Christmas 2018

Dear Friends,

 

Merry Christmas! Advent has come and gone, and now we celebrate Jesus presence among us. This is a special time when we become more cognizant of the importance of relationships with the people in our lives. We are often so busy with work and our daily routines that our relationships are taken for granted. I have typically written my newsletters in a similar way, focusing on the work itself and not talking about the people involved. I thought that this would be a good time to focus on the lives of some of the people that I collaborate with, because each of us is more than what we do.

 

Families in the Field

The person that I’ve worked with the longest in mission is a Bolivian named Braulio.

He and  his two brothers, Jaime and Jorge, started a small Bolivian not-for-profit (Suma Jayma)  dedicated to addressing water and basic sanitation needs before I came to Bolivia. Braulio and  his wife, Basilia, have four children: twin boys that are in college, a teenage girl that is in high school, and a young daughter that is only 7 years old. Their youngest daughter, Holly, was a   surprise . . . and so was her twin sister. Holly and Rosie were born a few months early, and Rosie only survived about one month. Life can sometimes be short in Bolivia, whether it is due  to the quality of medical care or your access to it. Holly and Rosie were lucky enough to be in a  hospital, but it is hard to know how much the quality of treatment affected Rosie’s chances of survival.

 

Yet life has kept moving forward for their family. In recent years, life has been challenging economically for Braulio’s family. It can be hard to obtain enough funding for projects to be economically sustainable as a small not-for-profit based in Bolivia. In the midst of a challenging economic reality, Braulio and Basilia found out that their house was infested with termites. They had to move the entire family into two rooms and tear out all of the wood in the rest of the house. Luckily, many of the structural parts of their house were made of bricks and concrete. Nevertheless, it is a tall order to repair a termite-infested home in the midst of economic problems. In September of 2018, Jaime (Braulio’s brother) was denied renewal of his United States visa. He was pursuing renewal in order to accept an invitation and present Suma Jayma’s work at the Water Engineers for the Americas (WEFTA) annual donor event. WEFTA is a U.S.-based not-for-profit that has collaborated with Suma Jayma for many years. Denial of the visa renewal meant Jaime couldn’t attend. Luckily, I was able to attend and present for Suma Jayma instead. In October, Braulio experienced a Bell’s Palsy attack – a very scary experience. Again, luckily, Braulio has almost fully recovered.

 

In the midst of such challenging lives, Braulio and Jaime have remained committed to serving fellow Bolivians and keeping Suma Jayma’s mission alive. Their commitment and the importance of the work they do were reasons that I spent a significant amount of time this year developing an updated “business plan” for Suma Jayma and seeking funding for their work. I am happy to say that these efforts were successful, and we are now beginning a 2-year project to serve 175 families per year by providing wells with hand pumps in rural Bolivia. This work will also provide Suma Jayma with a stable workload that creates economic stability for the families of Braulio, Jaime, and Jorge. Your donations have made these things possible, because they have made it economically possible for me to be in mission in Bolivia. Thank You!

 

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with . . . the worries of life . . .” Luke 21:34

For many people, the time around the holidays can be one of anxiety or even sadness, rather than a time of joyful celebration. The Gospel passage above can sometimes sum up our Christmas experience (and if we aren’t careful, maybe sum up the rest of our year, too). One of the reasons that our hearts can be weighted down by the worries of life is that we lose track of what is most important in life. We can start to become influenced more by worldly values than by Godly values. We can forget that there is an underlying purpose to our existence. Jesus came to the world to refocus our attention and implore us to “Love one another” and

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” When we embrace this simple message, we find that our hearts are less weighted down by the worries of life. Our hearts are instead filled with the joy of God’s spirit alive within us. “Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let every heart prepare Him room.

 

 “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things . . .

” Luke 21:36

We all have the potential to encounter the Kingdom of God in our midst, but it starts by having faith. Jesus said it many times throughout the Gospels, “Your faith has healed you.” These words are for us, too. I am sure that you are like me when you are feeling vulnerable and weighted down by worries. We feel a desperate need for love and compassion from others. We not only need solutions to our problems, but also healing in our spirit. We aren’t alone. That is what everyone needs. The first step is having faith that loving and compassionate responses to the problems in our lives could work. After that, we would find that we are not only able to solve problems but be healed as well. But we need to keep alert at all times and pray for the strength to escape all the worries of life that keep us from loving others.

 

This year in particular, I had been feeling weighted down in my heart by the worries of life and the distance from my family as Christmas approached. I decided to help with our parish’s Christmas mission in the poorest neighborhoods of our parish. Our first effort was to go door-to-door to spread the Christmas message and invite people to the parish’s Christmas activities. All of us had to fight the fear of growling dogs roaming the streets of these barrios; however, we were received warmly by the strangers we encountered behind the doors. In one instance, a young indigenous man answered the door. He said that his family didn’t do much of anything for Christmas. I encouraged him to take advantage of having his family in the same house, describing how I was far from family at Christmas. I was touched by his compassionate response. I could tell that he was speaking from a place beyond his own worries of life when he said, “That must be really hard. I hope that you have a Merry Christmas and don’t feel alone.” I don’t know if that man will be at Christmas mass, but his heart has surely “prepared Him room.” His response was in stark contrast to a shop owner I recently encountered in downtown Cochabamba. A young indigenous boy was playing outside the open doorway to her shop. I was at the counter making a purchase, and the woman shouted, “GET OUT! Sucios! [dirty ones]” The young boy was clearly playing and not even entering her shop. “Ever since this indio president got elected . . .” she continued. I was shocked and stung by her hatred and cut her commentary short. As I left, the best thing I could think to say was, “Jesus was born in a manger and was dirty, too. That is something you should reflect on this Christmas.

 

I was recently reminded of my own childhood when I watched a new documentary about Fred Rogers. Rather than what seems to be a growing predisposition towards demonizing the stranger at our door, Mister Rogers taught us about love and asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” We’ve all watched the Christmas movie classics hundreds of times. This year, I encourage you to prepare for a new year and give yourself the gift of watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” instead.

 

There was no room at the inn

There is one more family story to be shared at Christmas time. A vulnerable family from another land seeks refuge, knocking on doors. They are denied repeatedly, maybe because of fear or maybe just because of the inconvenience. They were told there was no room for them, even in their situation of great need. The family finds refuge in a stable, and the greatest gift to the world was born in a manger. The Christmas season is a time to reflect on our deepest Christian values and ask ourselves if we are prepared to offer a loving response to the Jesus in our midst. The ironic thing is that the gift is being offered to us. We just have to choose to receive it. There was no room at the inn a few thousand years ago. Do we open the door to our hearts now?

 

Wishing you the joy of an open heart,

Jason
 

Please help support my mission effort and share this newsletter with others.

 To donate, please send a check to “Jason Obergfell” with “Mission Trust” noted in the memo portion to:

 

Fay Obergfell / 1457 South Smith Road / Lexington, IN 47138