Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Gracious Welcome at The Lord's Ranch

This is a panoramic shot of The Lord's Ranch nestled in among the desert brush and clusters of mountains.
Following our directions we rounded the curves
until we finally saw the ranch in the distance.

Heading west in search of The Lord's Ranch we crossed the Texas/New Mexico border where there was a large welcome sign informing travelers that they were entering the "Land of Enchantment".  Even though (to the untrained eye) it just looked like a desert full of tumbleweed sandwiched between some mountains, we knew there was something more to be discovered!
The Lord's Ranch (LR) is one square mile of open desert land.  On the property there is an assortment of animals and buildings: a multipurpose center, homes occupied by members of the LR community, some small hermitages, a larger retreat house, barns, workshops, etc..  Dirt roads connect the points of interest, but it's more fun to walk through the desert vegetation...if one is willing to risk getting stabbed by the enormous thorns that are seemingly invisible until they're slicing through the bottom of your shoe and lodging themselves deep within your foot.

 
When we finally arrived we jumped out of the car for a quick photo by the front gate....
well, we actually had to take several before we got one that wasn't all blurry...
I think everyone was way too excited to stand still!! 

After receiving a mini-tour and meeting some of the amazing folks that live here at the ranch we were shown the building where we would be living.  Our gracious hosts had prepared four separate rooms for our kids, but they insisted on being together.  So, our first task was to rearrange things a bit so that Jack and Michael could be together in one small room and Katelyn and Anna could share another.

The next task was to organize the few belongings that we own...which obviously didn't take long.


Although we all felt really happy to have arrived, there was a certain restlessness that said, "Ugghh, here we go again."

We found our peace knowing that after a short time this new place would feel like home.

When we lived in Peru there was always someone outside of the bathroom door doing the "potty dance" while s/he waited their turn.

Here, we're super spoiled because there are so many toilets that we could all go to the bathroom at the same time if we needed to!



The kitchen in the multipurpose building where we're living is amazing too!  Not only does it have a refrigerator, hot running water and an enormous stove, but there is a whole shelf full of pots and pans to choose from and drawers full of utensil options.  Shortly after we arrived Katelyn set to the task of learning how to make homemade tortillas like the locals and Chris is trying his hand at some authentic Tex-Mex recipes.


The list of blessings just continues on and on.  Before arriving we assumed that we would have to hand wash our clothes.  To our delight, there is a machine that will do that for us. There isn't a dryer, but that's no big deal. We just hang out clothes on the chairs in the large gathering room.  The air here in the desert is so dry that it sucks the moisture right out of the clothes and they're ready in no time!


Jack and Michael were super pumped to learn that there are several young kids that live on the ranch. After two days they were already asking if they could "go play with their friends".

There are also some older kids here, but they're typically occupied by their responsibilities: school, work, chores, etc.  As such, Katelyn, Anna, Chris and I have been spending a lot of our free time together playing games and just hanging out, which is exactly what we need!

On the first morning, when I awoke to an incredibly beautiful
sunrise, it didn't occur to me to take a picture...I just sat in awe and
enjoyed it.  Following Murphy's Law, it seems like the mornings
when I thought to grab the camera the sunrise was on the beautiful
side of normal (like this one).  The days I didn't have it, the sky was a
breathtaking masterpiece...oh well, you've seen pretty sunrises I'm sure!

The day after we arrived I awoke early for prayer and was awestruck by the beautiful sunrise.

It was so captivating and such a perfectly peaceful atmosphere for prayer that I have set the alarm for the same time everyday since then.  Only once in three weeks were the clouds too thick to see the radiance of the rising ball of fire.

Chris, who has historically preferred to sleep in a bit, adjusted his schedule so that he too can enjoy the enchanting desert sunrises with me during morning prayer, which has been wonderful for our friendship!

Since the desert stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction, we're able to watch the sun set each night as well.

It's often little things in life, like this, that help to remind us of God's grandeur and immeasurable love!

Days after arriving at The Lord's Ranch and getting all settled in we began participating in their various ministries.

Each Wednesday night LR hosts a prayer meeting for both English and Spanish speakers in El Paso, Texas. It starts with praise and worship, which we've been able to help with, followed by a gospel teaching, small group discussions and then fellowship.  Since we're all fluent in Spanish we've been able to jump right in without skipping a beat.


This is a photo we took of Juarez from atop the hill where The Lord's Ranch food bank is located. 

There are 35 volunteers that work together to run the food bank.
In the mid 1960s Fr. Rick Thomas, S.J. raised the funds to purchase a large piece of property atop a hill in the middle of Juarez where they would build a cluster of buildings: a chapel, food bank, dentist office, and primary school.  This photo shows the food bank where hundreds of pounds of food are received through donations each day, sorted, packed and prepared for pick-up by poor families that participate in the spiritual formation programs offered throughout the week.




Fridays are a special day at the food bank because sacks full of basic staples (rice, beans, oil, carrots,  cabbage, tortillas) are prepared for the poor in the neighborhood that are unable to leave their homes.




We help out every Friday and have gotten to know many of the volunteers as well as the food recipients.




After all the food is prepared it's divided up into the delivery routes.


Before anyone leaves, all the volunteers circle-up and pray together for protection against any evil spirits who are prowling about "seeking the ruin of souls", as well as for our docility to the Holy Spirit who desires to use us to bring the Good News of our salvation to the most downtrodden.



Jack is a super big help getting the sacks loaded into the vans.  It's amazing because when we entered missions he was just a little boy and now he's a wonderfully competent young man - who's almost as tall as me!



At each home we spend time visiting and praying with the family.  It's nice because each group of volunteers visits the same group of families for five or six consecutive weeks, which has given us a chance to get to know each other.



The most important thing that we can share is the message of Jesus' love.  We always do that with our words; however, there are also times when His love manifests itself in more tangible ways. For example,  Michael wanted me to give this woman his gloves because it was freezing cold and she didn't have any.  The same day Anna received this drawing of Jesus as a Thank You gift from a woman who is both mute and physically disabled. When Anna accepted the drawing the young woman lit up like the sun and couldn't stop smiling. Without a doubt, it was Jesus Himself that was smiling at us!


Each Friday we're able to visit between five and seven homes.  As we've gotten to know the folks we feel more comfortable engaging in meaningful conversation, singing praise together and sharing the gospel in a way that they can relate.  We try hard to remain docile to the Spirit so each family the specific message that the Lord has for them that day.


As I mentioned, the food bank is in Juarez, Mexico which means that we have to cross the border going there and coming back.

Going to Mexico for our ministries in the morning is quick and easy because the U.S. Border Patrol doesn't seem to care who is leaving and the Mexicans don't seem to care much about us coming in.

However, on the way back home we often have to wait for over an hour as the security officers interrogate each person, conduct background checks if/when needed, vehicles are searched, and the police dogs sniff the cars in search of contraband: drugs, weapons, etc.  Despite the delay, we have not encountered any violence at the border.  The officers on both sides are friendly and helpful.



Another well established ministry in Juarez is a house of spiritual formation in an extremely poor neighborhood.

Each Saturday morning a local priest joyfully celebrates Holy Mass.  Nobody is concerned about how long Mass lasts, so the priest includes a tremendous amount of educational insights and explanations to help the community grow in their faith, but also in their understanding of the teachings of the church.  Most Saturdays the priest uses a 4-foot tall puppet character to help explain Jesus' teachings.  He's really funny and obviously loves what the Lord has called him to do.  He is a huge blessing to everyone!

After Mass there are volunteer catechists who teach formational classes for all ages of youth and there are breakout sessions for the adults.  While these classes are going on some of the women in the neighborhood work together to prepare a hot lunch for all the attendees. Fr. Rick Thomas understood the importance of sharing scripture, but he also understood the need to help relieve peopl's physical suffering.  As such, it was always important to him that the people who attend the programming at Las Alitas get fed.

After lunch the soccer games begin on the beautiful field covered in donated astroturf.

The kids are accustomed to playing soccer on dirt fields that are covered in garbage debris and surrounded by chained attack dogs and thorney bushes that both pop balls instantly.  To play on the astroturf field is such a special treat that many of them choose not to eat lunch (even though they're really hungry) so that they have more time to enjoy the nice field.

This isn't the prison we went to, it's just a stock photo of a mexican prison
that looks kind of like the one we go to.  I wasn't allowed to take any photos.

Another LR ministry that has been in place for over 50 years is at the prison in Juarez.

Volunteers gather ahead of time to pray intensely for the prisoners for almost an hour straight. Then, as Fr. Thomas taught them, they prepare lunch for the inmates: a hot cinnamon drink made with holy water and meat sandwiches seasoned with holy salt.  There are countless testimonies of the instantaneous effect these sacramentals have had on the recipients over the years.  The volunteers have witnessed incredible conversions and are thus committed to this important ministry.  It has become one of my favorites as well!

Although The Lord's Ranch doesn't own any refugee shelters, many of their volunteers help those fleeing dangerous situations in other countries to connect with loved ones here that have taken on the legal responsibility of housing them and bring them before a court of law whereby they can present their case.  Although we have learned that most applicants are denied and deported, it has been an incredible experience to bring these people Jesus' love at such a difficult time in their lives.
The primary reason for us coming out to the middle of the desert was to learn how to live a more balanced missionary life.

One of the requirements that FMC has for their missionaries is that they set aside a 2-3 hour chunks of time every other week for individual, focused prayer.  These "Desert Days", as they're called, are a big factor in maintaining our interior peace amidst the chaos of living and serving amidst total dysfunction and discouraging destitution.

Historically we haven't had the opportunity to do our Desert Days in the desert, but here at the Lord's Ranch we do.  It's helping us to understand why Jesus went out to the desert to pray.  It's so peaceful and serene.

We've also made time in our schedule for sleep, simple, healthy meals, family prayer and praise/worship.  It may seem silly to include this, but our experience has been that when the mission gets hectic, these are often the first things to get eliminated from our routine.

Another important aspect of our family life that can't be sacrificed is the kids' schooling. We've recently switched to an online homeschooling program that we're testing out to see if it would be a good fit in our next long-term post. Although there are some mixed reviews, overall the kids seem to like it.


Our time here in the "Land of Enchantment" has been inspirational, insightful and formational all at the same time.  The amazing LR missionaries who have been serving the poor joyfully for over five decades are teaching us how to give a lot without giving it all.  They're willing to be vulnerable and speak into the mistakes they've made so that we can learn to do better.  They've welcomed us like family and do everything they can to ensure that our time here is super blessed.  
WOW - THANK YOU JESUS!


We'd love to hear from you via email:
carmodyfamilyonmissions@gmail.com

If the Holy Spirit in nudging you to support us financially so that we can 
continue serving those in most need, please visit either:

or
call Family Missions Company at (337) 893 - 6111.

Thank you and God Bless!
In HIM, Karen Carmody

Friday, January 18, 2019

Carmody Family Christmas by Anna

Christmas was very different this year than any other year.



While we were still going to school in Louisiana my brothers' school had a little garage sale where the kids could buy Christmas presents for their family members.  So the boys were super excited to buy each of us $0.50 - $1 early Christmas gifts. Board games are one of my family's favorite things, so the boys lucked out on finding some new games for us to take with us to New Mexico. My Christmas gift from Michael was a friendship bracelet with someone else's name on it...how cute is that!! My mom got a half used bottle of vanilla body spray. The boys garage sale Christmas gifts were a funny addition to our Christmas celebration.





My grandparents sent us some Christmas decorations, which were really exciting to open and hang up for a while.  I'm really blessed by decorating for Christmas and other holidays.





We were able to bring some of the decorations to Mexico City to brighten our hotel room, which made it feel more like Christmas without having a real Christmas tree.





Decorating for Christmas was something everyone got excited to do together.



Katelyn's art teacher taught her how to make some fun new Christmas decorations out of paper, including a Christmas tree - yippee!!

With our hearts full of Christmas joy we were ready to go and share that joy with others.


Our biggest ministry in Mexico City was talking and sharing God's love with the people on the street. That happens to be my favorite ministry. It's my favorite ministry because lots of the people on the street have never been shown love and they're always so excited and open to hearing about God's love.

This man is from Juarez. Which is where I knew we would be going soon. As soon as I sat down by him he said, "I saw you over there smiling joyfully, and then I saw your cross and I knew that was why you were smiling so big."
These little boys approached me to ask me for money. I told them I had nothing and that they could search me if they wanted.  Then the man said to the little kids, "She doesn't have money, but she has something even better which is the love of Jesus in her heart." That made me so happy. Then I noticed a scapular the boy in the red shirt was wearing. I told him I had one too and asked him if he knew what it meant, which turned into a conversation about Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was all so beautifully blessed. Thank God!

We were blessed to be able to share God's love with many other people on the streets. We used a kids' spanish picture bible to tell people the story of Jesus' birth.  Katelyn really enjoyed reading to the kids.

For Christmas we made up bags to give to some of these street people, as a little gift for Christmas.


The family in this picture was especially excited when my mom showed them some of the things in the bag. The dad was so excited to have toilet paper and wet-wipes to keep themselves clean.  Both of the parents expressed gratitude to be able to meet their kids basic needs.  My mom later told me that the dad said, "We go to Mass every Sunday and my kids can feel Jesus' love there. At Christmas time my kids like to get presents, but they know that the gift of Jesus' love and his birth are way more valuable." It was so beautiful to hear of such a Christ centered Christmas spirit.


This man was in the subway begging for money. Family Missions Company's rule is that we don't give people money, but instead we go with them to get what they need. We asked this man if he would like us to buy him a meal. He was so week he almost couldn't stand up to go with us. We bought him tacos and prayed with him.  Lots of people stopped to watch us. Sometimes I wonder if God calls us to help someone so it will impact someone passing by. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, "We are simply a pencil in God's hands."

Although Christmas was very different for us this year it was unique and special in its own ways.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Our Lady of Guadalupe pilgrimage by Chris


When we think about some of the greatest missionaries that ever lived, St. Paul comes to mind....along with St. Frances Xavier....you may have your favorite, like St. Isaac Jogues or St. Jean de Brebeuf.  I have another that I will add to the list, Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Up until 1531, the Spanish missionaries in Mexico had made little advancement in the spread of Christianity to the local population.  All of that would change, starting in December of 1531.  Within a generation, thanks to the appearance or Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe, almost the entirety of Mexico was converted to Christianity.  Viva, Our Lady of Guadalupe, super missionary!  We felt called to take a pilgrimage to visit Our Lady, so we booked bus tickets down to Mexico City from my sister-in-law's house in Texas and 30 hours later, we arrived to begin our pilgrimage.  But first, for those who are not familiar with the Marian apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe...

Here is the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, compliments of "Catholic Online":

An elder Mexican man makes his way to Mass in the early morning twilight of December 9, 1531. He is a peasant, a simple farmer and laborer, and he has no education. Born under Aztec rule, he is a convert to Catholicism, and each step he takes this morning is a step into history.
Jack & Michael with a bas-relief
sculpture  of St. Juan Diego

The morning quiet is broken by a strange music that he will later describe as the beautiful sound of birds. Diverting his path to investigate the sound, Juan Diego comes face to face with a radiant apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Juan Diego is 57 years old. He has just encountered the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill, the site of a former Aztec Temple. His wife has died two years earlier, and he lives with his elder uncle, scratching his living from the earth as a humble peasant farmer. Why should this unlearned, man be chosen by Our Lady to carry a message to the Bishop? Perhaps because she would find none other as humble as Juan Diego.

Juan Diego is dazzled by the incredible beauty and miraculous nature of Our Lady's appearance. She appears as a native princess to him, and her words sound more beautiful than the sweetest music ever made.

Our Lady calms the startled traveler, and assures him of who she is. She instructs Juan Diego to visit his bishop and ask that a temple be built on the site of her appearance, so that she will have a place to hear petitions and to heal the suffering of the Mexican people. "Now go and put forth your best effort," Our Lady instructs.

Visibly shaken, Juan Diego approaches the Bishop who is initially very skeptical of his account. What did this peasant truly want? Does he merely seek attention? Notoriety? Money? Or is he possessed by demons? Has Juan Diego been tricked by the Devil?

The Bishop patiently listens to Juan Diego's accounts and dismisses him. The humble farmer has failed.
We climbed up to the top of Tepeyac Hill where a church has been built, just how Mary requested

Juan Diego begins to doubt himself. He returns to Tepeyac Hill where he hopes for some conformation of what he's experienced. Indeed, Our Lady does not disappoint, for she appears again, as radiant as before. Juan Diego tells Our Lady what she already knows, that the Bishop did not believe him. She instructs him to return the next morning and ask again.

The Bishop is beside himself. Why did this peasant insist on telling this story? How could he know if the peasant was lying or perhaps insane? At their second meeting, the Bishop asks for a sign. Juan Diego makes a promise he won't keep, saying he will return the very next morning with a sign from Our Lady.

But that evening, Juan Diego returns home to find his uncle, Juan Bernadino, who is 68 years old, and suddenly, terribly ill. The illness is known to the people there and it brings a burning fever so hot, it's almost always fatal. Juan Diego cannot leave his uncle's bedside to keep his pledge to the Bishop. He spends two days with his uncle, trying to save him. When it becomes apparent his uncle is about to die, he leaves to find a priest who can prepare him for death.

Frightened and saddened, Juan Diego sets off in a great hurry, time is running out, and Juan Diego is afraid his uncle will die without a last confession. On the road, in his way, Our Lady appears for a third time. Upset and afraid, Juan explains himself. Our Lady replies, "Am I not your mother? ... Are you not in the crossing of my arms?" she asks.

Shamed by the admonishment, but emboldened by Our Lady's presence, Juan Diego asks for the sign he promised to the Bishop. He knows he is wrong to doubt Our Lady. Juan Diego is instructed to climb to the top of Tepeyac Hill where he will find flowers. He is to pick the flowers there, which are unlike any he has seen before, and he is to keep them hidden in his tilma until he reaches the Bishop.

Juan Diego is skeptical again. It's December, what flowers could grow on the summit of the hill in this cold?  Nevertheless, he obeys and atop the hill he finds a great number of flowering roses which he picks and hastily gathers into his cloak.

For the third time, Juan Diego is ushered in to see the Bishop. The skeptical cleric has waited for two days to see what sign Our Lady has for him. Juan opens his tilma, letting the roses cascade to the floor. But more than the roses, both men are astonished to see what is painted on his humble tilma - an exquisite image of Our Lady.
Here is the actual tilma of St. Juan Diego
that is almost 500 years old although it
should have faded after 30 years

In the image, she stands as she appeared, a native princess with high cheekbones. Her head is bowed and her hands are folded in prayer to God. On her blue cloak, the stars are arranged as they appeared in the morning darkness at the hour of her first apparition.

Under her feet, is a great crescent moon, a symbol of the old Aztec religion. The message is clear, she is more powerful than the Aztec gods, yet she herself is not God.

At the same time Our Lady is appearing to Juan Diego, and directing him to cut the flowers on Tepeyac Hill, she also appears to his uncle, Juan Bernadino who believes he is about to die. As soon as she appears, the fever stops and Juan Bernadino feels well again. She tells Juan Bernadino, she wants to be known as "Santa Maria, de Guadalupe."

Our Lady of Guadalupe did not appear again, for her mission was complete. The temple was built and remains there today, in what is now a suburb of Mexico City. Juan Diego's tilma, woven from cactus fibers, with a shelf-life of just 30 years at best, remains miraculously preserved.

The symbolism of Our Lady's dress is obvious to over eight million Native Mexicans, whom all speak different languages. She is brighter than the sun, more powerful than any Aztec god, yet she is not a god herself, and she prays to one greater than her. Her gown is adorned with stars in the correct position as in the night sky, and the gold fringe of her cloak mirrors the surrounding countryside. Millions of natives will convert at the news of what has happened. Millions more will make pilgrimages over the next five centuries to see the miraculous tilma, and to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Great miracles continue to occur, even today.

The grounds at the site are absolutely beautiful
On October 12, 1945, Pope Pius XII, decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be "Patroness of all the Americas." Her feast day is December 12, and it is a Holy Day of Obligation in Mexico.

Our Lady of Guadalupe had this to say to Juan Diego:

"Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth. It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes."
We were able to attend Mass on the 4th Sunday of Advent with thousands of other pilgrims.
There is mass just about every hour of the day at the large church which houses the tilma.

Our family really enjoyed our pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  All of us were moved to tears the first time we came face-to-face with the tilma of St. Juan Diego that has the original image of Our Lady on it.  It was very powerful!  With over 10 million pilgrims visiting each year, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Marian apparition site in the world.  I want to thank my brother Knights of Columbus at Fr. Saylor Council #3774 which helped to make this pilgrimage possible through their generous donation to our family.  I hope all of you have the chance to go and visit Our Lady of Guadalupe at some point in your life.

We would seriously love to hear from you via email:

carmodyfamilyonmissions@gmail.com

If the Holy Spirit in nudging you to support us financially so that we can continue serving all those that the Lord calls us to serve, please either:


or

call Family Missions Company at (337) 893 - 6111 to make other arrangements.