This week I am bubbling over with joy and pride!
I am also wiped out with exhaustion.
In June my principal asked me what charity I thought would be a good one for the children of St. Francis of Assisi School (a charity case itself!) to support; one they could relate to. I can only say now, in hind-sight, that it was God who made me say the first thing that popped into my thoughts: Fr. Mark Mlay’s orphanage in Tanzania. At first I didn’t know why that was the first name I thought of, but now I do. God is like that for us. We can’t see God’s long-range plan, but we don’t need to. That is where faith and trust come in. Always!
After watching an adorable video on the website, I pitched the orphanage to my principal who simple shrugged with complete surrender and said, “I think it is an obvious fit. This year’s charity is Fr. Mark’s orphanage.”
It’s been several years since I’ve seen Fr. Mark and worked with him in Florida. I admit that I didn’t really know that much about the school and the religious order of sisters (Adorer Missionary Sisters of the Poor) he founded, but I had heard about the good work he had begun from a dear friend who actually visited the school’s site while in Africa (thanks, Glynda!). So, I reached out, sent an e-mail, and two days later (after pulling off the side of Highway 84) spent over 30 minutes talking with this gentle priest about his work in Tanzania, and mine in New Mexico. I told him about our school and our plan to raise money for his orphanage. He was humbled and filled with gratitude, as is his nature.
How are the children of St. Francis supporting orphans in Tanzania? Well, every Thursday is “Dress Down for a Cause” day. Students can bring in a dollar and wear something other than their uniforms. Last year we sent our donations to Food for the Poor to help build schools and clinics in Haiti. This year our collection will go to the Sisters in Tanzania who run Fr. Mark’s school and clinic. Their goal is to help lift 600 orphans out of the cycle of poverty through education. They currently support 140 children with another 40 expected in the coming year. It is estimated that there are 3.3 million orphans in Tanzania alone. This is mostly due to HIV and AIDS. Earlier this year they opened a High School and now need to build more dormitories for all of the newly accepted children and teens.
Although I knew Fr. Mark would welcome our meager support, I was unprepared for what happened next. My principal asked me if I thought Fr. Mark would come to New Mexico for a visit with our students. I said I’d ask, and he said yes. Just like that. Wow!
So, Tuesday (9-27-16) afternoon at dismissal I jumped in my car, and made the 3 1/2 hour drive down to Albuquerque to pick up Fr. Mark. After a late night dinner at Jinja’s in Santa Fe (THANKS, MICKY!!!) we drove to Lumberton, avoiding deer, elk and (thank goodness!) skunks along the way. The next day Fr. Mark was welcomed into our school with a Cowboy Breakfast: eggs, pancakes, and sausage. [Of course, I had my homemade yogurt and fruit; you know what a hippie I am. Not a Cowboy bone in this ol’ body!]
After prayer and Fr. Mark’s PowerPoint presentation on his vision, his ministry, the plight of the orphans in Tanzania, and how our donations help, my group of 1st & 2nd graders took him on a tour of our school, playground, church, and my garden. Since I had shared with the kids my garden and my “magic” purple beans 3 weeks ago, the kids were very excited to introduce Fr. Mark to this amazing “delicacy!” I introduced him to Frank, the foreman of our own newly funded project: New volunteer-teacher housing. (They talked shop while I attended to some disciplinary problems with 3 of my students!)
Back to the Main Building, where I let Fr. Mark go to explore our grounds & visit with the other classes at his own pace. Thanks to Ms. Maria Montoya, our cook, Fr. Mark was introduced to Apache-style Fry-bread for lunch! YUM!!! On our trip back to Dulce/Lumberton from the airport, Fr. Mark asked me about cultural/regional foods and I talked about the varieties of Fry-bread amongst the Native Peoples. Ms. Maria’s is made of flour, water, and a bit of yeast. It isn’t often that we allow “fried” anything at school, so we all indulged in, & enjoyed this staple food of the Southwest alongside a hearty beef stew!
After lunch Fr. Mark enjoyed some meditative time alone in our beautiful 100 year-old church. How I wish I could have joined him for a few moments of peace. In the afternoon we were able to celebrate mass (we have no priest!), and then afterwards we celebrated Fr. Mark’s visit back in the cafeteria with juice, cake, and cookies. More YUM thanks to Ms. Maria (love her!)!!!!
How I wish Fr. Mark’s visit could have been longer. I would have loved showing him more of the beauty of this landscape, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and her people, and some of the unique regional tourist attractions, but….. His trip was short for many reasons outside my control.
Thanks, Fr. Mark for the visit to our little community! Thanks for the important work that you do! And thank you, God for creating in Fr. Mark’s heart a place where your love may grow and grow!
Yep. Bubbling over with joy, and pride in the students of my school.
I recently led a morning meditation with our school where I mentioned how St. Teresa of Kolkata used to say, “Not everyone can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love. Fr. Mark is certainly doing great things, and with much love. The students of St. Francis of Assisi School are doing something small, but, OH, with such great love!
My only disappointment? Realizing after he left that we took no pictures. I suppose I was focused more on him, the kids, and enjoying his visit to remember technology or selfies. Oh, well…. It is all lovingly etched in my memory!