Reviews & Reflections

2017

September 2017

As my first time to do missionary work, i was honored by working at St. Theresa Development Center. I was really touched by the kids and there courage, they taught me to never give up and be a fighter always, because despite all what they have gone through, they know how to give love and appreciation. St. Theresa is a rehabilitation center that includes all aspects to take them into a healing process. 

Father Makarios and Mama are doing an amazing job for these kids, helping them become strong ladies and gentlemen..thank you for sacrificing your time and effort to make other people's lives better, you really are an inspiration to the kids and to the volunteers as well.

Thank you St Theresa Center for this amazing and one of a kind lifetime experience.September 2017
 
Coucla Barsoum . 20 years . Egypt

 

August /September 2017

Giving money is good giving time is better but giving a chance of life like the one offered by St.Therese is miraculous. It is a gift given from god through your thoughts your actions and your love to the kids. The kids are showered with kindness yet "tough love" giving them the opportunity to move on to a better tougher independent adult.  
Although they're living under a small roof with many obstacles you managed to give them what they need and with a big heart. A warm hearted home is what you offered and you definitely succeeded. Keep up the amazing job you're doing and god bless you.

Michael Eskander, 22years
Egypt

Welcome to Saint Theresa Development centre ... Feel at home ... Thank you 
The minute you step there that's how the kids will welcome you . Feel at home , It is a real home and a second family.  
For the 3rd year this year I come and join the mission , the first year I came I didn't know that a part of my heart will be left there and that I will go again and again . Saint Theresa has truly stolen my heart and I totally believe in their mission. As I said it to the kids they taught me how to forgive and how to forget and how to love people unconditionally with a pure heart. And I know that because of them I have changed am not the same person anymore ...
 
Mourad Barsoum 
Alexandria,Egypt

July 2017
 
Karl and myself returned to the wonderful project of St. Therese Centre in July 2017. We chose to give our time, skills and energy to this Centre again mainly because we believe that Fr Mak and Mama Chahira are doing a genuine job in helping to shape Kenya's future generations. One of the greatest joys was meeting kids from two years ago that have transformed themselves into young ladies and gents. 
 
It was yet another fantastic opportunity to challenge ourselves, meet new people, volunteers and kids with different lifestyles, perspectives and experiences. 
 
Thank you to Fr Mak and the kids for the enjoyable and rewarding experience that we will cherish forever. You are our second family. It was all that we hoped for and more. We might have left but once again, we did not say a final goodbye. We will come back in the near future.
 
Claire, Malta

 2016:

St. Therese is LOVE

The theme of love was the epitome of our trip to Kenya. In celebration of our new life together in marriage, we set course for Kenya for an incredible experience—one we will never forget.

We experienced love in the beauty of the colours and landscapes, love in the beauty of life on Safari seeing wildlife in their true nature and the ultimate feeling of overwhelming love in every grain of grass, every brick, every plant, and every person at St. Therese Development Centre. That place was a vision and experience of true love.

Upon our arrival at the Center we received the most heart-warming welcoming from the children and youth. We sat together, ate together, danced together, played together and learned from each other, all the while making everything into one big playful game.

The love of the children and youth is one that we will never forget. Each one has no fear of looking into your eyes and loving you regardless of knowing you. They are so full of life, energy and faith. They are so grateful for their lives, and work together as brothers and sisters in everything they do. They are the true example of what we should all strive to be.

The leaders, volunteers, staff and especially Mama and Fr. Makarios were an endless source of energy and love. Their dedication to selflessly serving others with unwavering faith and love and without judgment is something truly incredible. They are all fulfilling their true purpose, which in my opinion shows no greater love for God.

Our time at St. Therese was very brief, but we have remained there in spirit and will return again one day. We are so grateful to have experienced the love of St. Therese Development Center and will forever keep it in our hearts and prayers. May God bless you always.

All our love,

Alessandra & Cherif


My story with St. Therese Center starts in 2011, when I joined the first missionary group that helped build the cornerstone and plant the first seeds on that land in Naivasha. What I didn't know when I left that first time, is that a piece of my heart was captured by that Center, that mission. Before the children were even admitted to St. Therese, I had fallen in love with the purpose itself of the mission, the noble humanitarian cause behind it, the unconditional help it was offering to those vulnerable children and the true love & commitment behind each and every one in charge of the mission. I found myself mesmerized and coming back again & again, until I decided - in January 2015 - to stay and serve there, fulltime, for a whole year.

What I can honestly say about St. Therese is that it's a true safe haven for those children, genuinely aiming to rescue and protect them from what they've gone through, and offering them counselling and rehabilitation in order for them to regain their strength, courage and self-confidence; all for the sake of charity and wanting nothing back in return, unlike so many NGOs working with hidden agendas. In other words, St. Therese is the true meaning of a MISSION. Everyone helping there is doing it out of their true hearts and good wills. Every donation or help given out is purely for the well-being of those children.

My stay with the kids there taught me more than I could ever imagine. I became a stronger and better person thanks to them. As painful as their experiences have been, they are still able to smile and get through life with a lot of faith and courage. I owe that life lesson to them. I also learned so much from Father Makarios, my mentor and Godfather, from Chahira, the motherly heart of the mission, and all the volunteers from different backgrounds who I met throughout. I can undoubtedly say that the warm and loving atmosphere found at the Center made it feel like home to me, a place where I felt productive, helping tirelessly and giving my all without limits.
I may have left the Center now, but near or far, I know for a fact that this is where my heart belongs; and I will stay forever devoted and committed to helping out, for as long as the mission lives...and I encourage everyone with a genuine will to help to get a taste of such a life changing experience.

Cherine, Egypt


2015:

My experiences in St. Therese Development Centre are among the best in my life. I had the opportunity to meet the children and work with other volunteers under the direction of Fr. Makarios and Canadian Hearts & Hands to help the mission.

Having the opportunity to travel to Kenya and do this type of work is something I will cherish forever. The children have shown me that there is more to life than our own day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. No matter how bad things get, never forget to be grateful for the things you have and the people around you that care about you.

I want to thank Fr. Mak and everyone at Canadian Hearts & Hands who have made possible for myself and for others to be part of something so special and so close to my heart. Hope to get back there soon.

Mark, Canada


Looking back, it was not the safari at Masai Mara/Serengeti - truly the New 7th Wonder of the World. It was not hiking through Hells Gate that challenged every muscle in our body. Nor was it Lake Naivasha, boating past the hippos, flamingos' and other inhabitants.

Was it the culture shock of Nairobi? Reliving 'Lion King' 'Tomb Raiders' and 'Out of Africa? Seeing the elephants, gazelles, cheetahs, impalas, lions, living interdependent, within their habitat? The extra stopover to see the pyramids, bazaars and sights of Cairo?

It was .....being completely at peace with nature in the Rift Valley. Where the cool mountain breeze blows through the 22 acres of St. Theresa's school, clinic, green houses, farm, boarding and guest houses. Where the zebras and giraffes peek over the fence to keep an eye on you.

.....Living in total humility. Eating, playing and praying with the ones we had come to serve.

.....The warm embrace of the children, who despite the pain they had endured, some from the very people they trusted, were able to open their arms to welcome us.

.....The volunteers from all over the world (11 when we were there) who make repeat visits, if only to be with the kids, one last time.

So how did we enhance their lives? If truth be told, they enhanced ours. It's a wholesome feeling, very satisfying, an adrenaline rush, an all-time high - it's priceless!

Leslie, Canada


Visiting St. Therese Development Centre was undoubtedly one of the best decisions of our life. Upon our arrival and first meeting with the kids we got a message. They shouted: "Welcome to St. Therese Development Centre! Feel at home!" And what a home!

Fr. Mak, and all volunteers strive so hard and do their utmost to not only take good care of the kids, but also of one another. Never have Karl and I been so thankful and appreciative in our lives until we came here. A month of being selfless, humble and understanding. A fulfilling month where you get the privilege to do little things for free and get so much smiles, satisfaction and joy in return. A month where you learn that you do not live in a world of your own.

We would like to encourage all those who have the opportunity or time, to visit this centre. Unconsciously, whilst helping those in need and helping shape future generations, you will be inspired, you are given hope, faith, inner peace and real love.

St. Therese Development Centre was the most outstanding magical adventure we have ever had and if possible, we will return in a heartbeat.

Carl & Claire, Malta


2014:

In October, I had the pleasure of volunteering for two weeks at the St. Therese Development Center in Kenya, East Africa. The St. Therese Development Center is the first and only rehabilitation center in Kenya that provides a program for sexually and physically abused children. The goal of the Center is to improve the quality of life, of sexually and physically abused children by restoring their dignity and self-esteem and promoting their social advancement in society.

This was a journey seeking healing and cultivating forgiveness, a journey of bringing back hope, rebuilding trust and restoring self-esteem and confidence. It was a journey in pursuit of justice.

On Thanksgiving Day, I joined the children for a Thanksgiving Dinner. Each child thanked God for different reasons. The young girl thanked God for healing her.

Every child at the center has a sad story behind them, a story of injustice and betrayal. In spite of their unfair experiences, the children at the Center are always smiling, full of joyful laughter, friendly spirit and a strong determination to achieve their dreams.

Francis, Canada


"Coming to St. Therese Center, I expected to meet very vulnerable kids in need of special treatment, and I was not sure if I was capable enough to deal with them appropriately.

Surprisingly, hey turned out to be just like any other kids, maybe even stronger because of what hey have been through.

 The love & care they receive at the Center are clearly reflected in their wide smiles. It amazed me how much trust they have in their caretakers and the feelings of safety & security they carry.

 Also their ability to forgive and forget is simply unbelievable. They are just full of faith and hope.

 And so, I can surely say that those kids have inspired me in so many ways. In their words: "I'm no longer the same".

 Cherine Chart, 27 years old, Alexandria, Egypt


 "I'm no longer the same "

That's a sentence from a song the kids used to sing , and it's really amazing because after spending about 5 weeks in the center with the kids , definitely i'm no longer the same .They changed me alot , they gave me hope , strength, faith , inner peace and real love .

The kids are really strong despite what happened to them . Each one of them has something special that makes him a " star " .

They are small kids with big experiences . I loved how they are full of hope , they never gave up their lives instead they have goals and i wish they can achieve them all . They are an inspiration for the world.

Seeing them happy and smiling turned up to be one of my favorite things in the world . The center became my second home and the kids my big family, when I'm here i feel fulfilled . I'm sure that I'll come back soon because this center is made of pure love , that's why you can always see god's blessings in every step .

Mirna Eldelgawy , 19 years old, Alexandria, Egypt


It has always been a dream of mine to help kids in need, and the Canadian hearts and hands center in Naivasha-Kenya happened to be the perfect place. Never have I been this thankful and appreciative in my life until I came here. Watching or even hearing about people around the world helping kids is a completely different feeling and perspective that actually helping them face to face. It made me grow so much from the inside into a character I thought I would never have. It brought me a feeling of fulfillness and satisfaction that never touched my heart to this extent.

I wish these 5 weeks were longer as it was a life time experience that I cannot and will not ever forget. I am surely confident that God will direct my paths back here sometime in the future. I realized that the kids here actually teach you so much more than you expect to teach them. I also never expected to get this attached to them.

They're part of my family now and forever and I loved every second I spent with them. They are so talented and have such strong wills, it's crazy! Each one of them affected me in a way that the feeling is indescribable and can't be put into words. All I can say is that I'm no longer the same and will surely change some things when I'm back home. This whole thing was eye-opening and I will dearly miss waking up to their beautiful faces and looking into their innocent and pure eyes. I will never understand how inspite all they have been through they still have that glittery white smile on their faces.

It just means that they are truly gifted and blessed by the Lord.

Rita Youssef, Dubai, Emirates


I miss everyone there, hope to come back again.

The first day I came it was very hard for me to accept what happened to the kids.

But later I've learned that all that sympathy that you feel for an abused child who suffers without a good mom or dad, doesn't help him they need acts they need hope they need love, don't turn your face away once you've seen it, don't judge other people without knowing the true story behind their actions ... When God made people he made them all the same but I think life marks people.

I remember father telling that those kids are normal kids, but now I know from all of my heart that they aren't normal kids they are 45 heroes, 45 heroes that survived from everything they have been through by faith in God, faith for a good life, by love in their hearts. This centre help the kids more than you can imagine.

 George Adel, 20 years, Alexandria, Egypt


 Sainte Therese is not just a centre for kids who have suffered in their life. It's a place where we feel surrounded by love, tenderness and happiness. It's HOME, a second family. Missionaries go there planning to entertain, help and serve the kids but what actually happens is that the kids themselves helped us.

They showed us unconditional love, trust and hope! They helped us to grow, to be grateful for what we have, to appreciate God's blessings in our life, and above all they taught us how to really love and forgive. In five weeks, I've experienced new things, met new people and seen life from a very different side, and this very short period of time changed me and my whole life and made me PROUDLY saying " I'm No Longer The Same ".

Nancy, 19 years Alexandria, Egypt


Being surrounded by happiness, joy, laughter, hope, humbleness, innocence, and a massive amount of pure love for five weeks was an indescribable experience that isn't easily put into words. To start with, I grew and expanded as a human being, a Christian and a student.

The kids taught me more than any book could have. The rawness of every emotion I received from them, introduced me to a new side of openness and honesty. The way they handle life's trauma and tragedy taught me strength. The pureness of their hatred-free soul taught me forgiveness. The amount of joy they get when they do the simplest of things they love like dancing and playing football, taught me simplicity and appreciation.

Their ambition, dedication and strive towards the absence of evil in this world taught me hope. Lastly, observing them everyday for five weeks taught me love. Therefore giving out every single ounce of love I have to the kids and watching the colors of their aura change from one bright color to another taught me that delivering love is just as fulfilling as receiving it. In other words, serving these kids brought me one step closer to understanding God's love for us.

For love is big, meaningful and full of promises. And this center is nothing but love.

Rita Sebeh, Cairo, Egypt


Visiting an African country to work with children in a different environment, culture and traditions was my lifelong dream. Finally on 1st August 2014, after some bumps in the road, I landed in Kenya and was on my way to St. Therese Development & Rehabilitation Centre in Naivasha. This year 14 volunteers from Malta, Egypt, Canada, Czech Republic and Slovakia came together to organise 4 weeks holidays for the children.

 The days were always full from morning to night, and we organised games, crafts and non-formal education for the children; we helped with the daily routine of food preparation and cleaning; and we also helped in any farming projects and manual jobs which needed to be done.

I was also helping in the clinic from a physiotherapy point of view, where I was offering my services to children and staff who needed physiotherapy intervention. The day's work was ended with a daily reflective-prayer and some socialising time we the rest of the volunteers.

At the centre we were all welcomed and taken care of so much, I found a new family and home in another continent. I learned and received so much from the children and all the other volunteers I shared this experience with.

Throughout this month, I was living the Dream. The happiness and harmony filled my life; the smiles and laughter of the children who are so strong and brave gives you the courage and the energy to keep on going. More than ever, you realise that life can be lived in a simple way and all the problems we face in our daily modern commercial life, are so trivial.

The children sing this one particular song:

I'm no longer the same, You changed my life, you've given me a new name, I'm no longer the same!

and I must say that these words do not only apply to the children living there, but also to all those who set foot in St. Therese Centre.

Claire Falzon, 27 years, Malta


My experience in St Theresa Development Centre was a very positive one. No words can describe this experience except the words of St Francis of Assisi: "for it is in giving that we receive".

As from the first day I arrived here, I felt at home and welcomed. The children are amazing. They shared God's love with their smiles and simplicity. It was great working with the other volunteers from all over the world! This helped me to learn more about different cultures and religions, and to make new friendships.

I'm sure that it was God's will for me, and the other volunteers to be in Naivasha during this Summer. Heartfelt thanks goes to Fr Makarios and Mama Chahira, the volunteers, the children, and God for His abundant Love."

Kathleen, Malta


2013:

I remember sitting with one of the youngest girls, Hannah, at the side of the soccer field while all of the other kids were having a competition. For an hour we engaged in an intense conversation—Hannah speaking only Swahili, and I speaking only English—about (I think) which players on the field were fastest, strongest, oldest etc. To be perfectly honest we could have been talking about entirely different things, but the conversation never faltered and we both worked very hard to communicate our thoughts to one another. The bond I felt with Hannah after that conversation will never fade. From that day forward, we couldn't get enough of each other, and we made these unusual non-sensical conversations a part of our daily routines.

I realized that I gained than I ever could have expected. I do hope that during my six weeks I was able to make some kind of impact, either by building a relationship that made a child happy for a time, or perhaps by teaching something new to the kids. But the truth is, I learned more about life, love, family, and myself from the children at the center than they could have ever learned from me. They have changed my life and inspired me in ways I cannot adequately put into words. I am a better person for having known both the children and the staff, and I am truly lucky and forever grateful to have had this opportunity to volunteer at St. Therese Development Center.

The life that St. Therese gives these children is full of fun, happiness, laughs, and intense friendships. These children are being cared for by a group of individuals who are some of the greatest people and role models I have ever met in my life. The kind of love I witnessed at St. Therese was so powerful that at times it could be almost overwhelming, as it was something I'd never experienced anywhere before. From this realization, I learned a lot about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I wanted to treat others, and just how important it is to love and care for others selflessly. St. Therese is truly making better lives for children who have experienced unthinkable suffering in their pasts. The center is not simply providing a temporary shelter to keep the children safe. St. Therese is a place that these children can call home, where they are becoming better, stronger people with bright futures.

Alie,Canada


2012:

Now, I am definitely more comfortable in my surroundings and as you can tell, I LOVE IT HERE! I feel genuinely happy and like I belong. It's helped me to realize that this is something I can do, for the rest of my life.

How amazing the kids are and how attached I am to them. Some of the kids, especially the older girls, call me their sister. It took them a while, to completely be comfortable with me but I think that the trust between us, has slowly but definitely built. All the kids are so lovable. They all have such strong personalities. They love to sing and dance (which they all are, so amazing at) and are so affectionate and accepting. I have so many stories about them that I could go on forever. I've never felt so genuinely loved, by a group of people, even the staff, who accept me for who I am, over such a short period of time. Just the thought of leaving, upsets me.

I have already extended my stay twice, when I was only supposed to be here for 6 weeks. I would never want the kids to feel like someone else is abandoning them.

Melissa, Canada, 20 years old.


Kenya 2005

Happiness

hap-py /háppee/ adj. 1. feeling joy and contentment with what you have and are given.

We search for a lot of things in our lives. Generally, we know what we are looking for. But there are times when the search is prompted merely by a feeling of missing something. And sometimes, some people cross the ocean and fly to a continent on the other side of the world in hopes of finding an answer, a missing puzzle piece or a treasure.

I found something beautiful in the mountains of Kenya. It revealed itself to me slowly. Only through time did it speak to me in a language I understood. The language was the people of Nzaikoni and what it spoke to me about was the meaning of happiness.

The people of Nzaikoni have so little and yet they are happy. Families live in brick houses the size of small bedrooms. They own small patches of land to grow vegetables and herd livestock for food or selling. Their clothing is simple, usually full of stitches and worn-in creases. Their primary means of transportation is man-powered- their legs. There is no electricity or running water. This seems like a formula for a life of hardship and despair, but instead it is a perfect chemistry for a simple life lived with a beautiful spirit.

I came to Nzaikoni, wanting so much to help in any way I could. But the youth, the priests and the elderly helped me in more ways than I can express and in ways that will reveal themselves in time. Most importantly, it helped me see the beauty and importance of appreciating what you have. I asked one of the youths I was working with if he was happy and, if so, what it was that made him happy. His reply was startlingly simple and honest: he was happy because he was given life.

Here in North America, there is a common saying of "keeping up with the Joneses". We always want more than what we already have. The young man I was speaking with was aware of how life could be in the city, what comforts a big house with furniture could bring. He read textbooks explaining the riches of first-world countries and heard stories of how grand life could be. But instead of looking at what he didn't have, he loved what he did have.

In Nzaikoni, I experienced a life stripped of materialism but one that was richer in so many other ways. With the little that people had, they still offered everything they could without expecting anything in return. They offered their food, their time, and their love. They embraced life and never wanted more than what it had to offer. The people of Nzaikoni are wise teachers and I have learned one of their greatest lessons.

Frances Bacani


Kenya 2005

The Real Mission

Kenya 2005 was a great experience for me; an experience that gave me a whole new appreciation for the things I am given in life. The Kenyans opened my eyes to the way they work for their families, want success and stay close to God.

During my stay in Kenya, I observed the youth over there work for everything they are given and do not ask for anything. I was speaking with some of the youth and they were telling me how they work in the land that their family owns. They were saying that whenever something needed to be done, they got up and did it, never needing to be asked. They started working the fields at age ten and some of them even earlier, around eight.

The only thing they all really wanted is to have success and make money to send to their families. As I was teaching English classes over there, they asked us to teach them how to write resumes. They also asked us to teach them how to write proper essays so that they can do well in university. There were two English classes a day around twice or three times a week. Excited to learn, they wrote every single thing we wrote on the board down in their notes. Even though they knew some of the stuff we taught them, they still sat down quietly listening to every one of our words.

The meeting spot for the youth, believe it or not was the church. We lived in a house right next to the church and literally every day you found youth just hanging around the church, planning out what they wanted to do for the day, heading over to the market, and back to church. They all attended mass every Sunday, and some of them attended mass every morning without their parents before school just to pray for a safe day.

The Kenyans really opened my eyes to doing work around the house, working hard for success, and staying close to God. I pray that I can use what I've learned over there, and apply it here in Canada. The real mission is to come back home and use the things you've learned so that you can show your family members and the people that surround you that there are many different ways of life and that thanking God for every sunrise is a reality, even for young children.

Mark

 


 

Nzaikoni 2005

Teaching here in Nzaikoni has been an unforgettable experience. I had the opportunity to teach First-Aid. Teaching life skills like CPR and AR brings me gratification knowing that the people I taught could save a family or friend or family member's life. At first I taught Math to the youth here in Nzaikoni, but it turned out that they were much more advanced in that subject that I was and I didn't have the appropriate materials to further their knowledge. I think that God has set it up this way. I hope that no one I have ever taught has to go through the experience of performing CPR on someone, but maybe God knows that they will need to someday.

​Regardless of the reason, I am very satisfied knowing that I taught people on the other side of the world skills they could use one day to save someone's life. All of this I thank God for; He gave me the opportunity to do all these things.

Michael Barr


Kenya 2005

Permanent Scars

The funny thing about scars is that they are often misunderstood. Most people find them uncomfortable, or at the very least, an inconvenience. Scars are a reminder if pain; a moment of suffering permanently etched on skin. They remind the bearer of a time they probably do not want to reminisce. But I have always seen scars in a different light. They are not just marks of being hurt, but also marks of being healed. A scar is the body's way of repairing a wound, the result of a recuperating process. Scars, therefore, bear a dual nature: the proof of injury and the evidence of recovery.

I guess that's how I would describe my experience. After a month, I can say that I've been scarred for life. I hate to sound like a cliché, but the truth is I will never be the same again. The person who writes these words is not the same person who arrived here four weeks ago. Since coming to Nzaikoni and living a portion of the reality that people here experience, I definitely realize my scars. I came with a desire to heal the afflictions of others; I leave realizing that I am just as wounded, albeit differently, as the people I have come to serve.

In hearing the stories of the people here, one can see the deep struggle that affects them. Poverty, poor healthcare, insecurity; we are all familiar with the litany of problems. So often we do not see the trees for the forest. Flooded with statistics and data, one forgets the human cost, the human face of the problem. The one thing that I have learned from the people we have worked with is that behind the issue lies a person, and until you know the person, you can't solve the problem.

In living with this community, one sees and hears the sad truth of human existence. I have seen people who eke out a meagre living from a patch of land no bigger than my back yard, trying to support a family of eight. I have met many whose educations have been halted by insufficient funds; brilliant young minds yearning to be applied yet remain hidden for lack of money. I have seen older siblings take care of younger ones because their parents have died of disease. It becomes like a relief commercial that won't go away. I wish sometimes that I could turn my head, but my heart forces me to look. To close one's eyes to the darkness does not make it go away- it just makes it twice as dark. I would like to simply return to my comfortable existence in Canada, but the voice of God within calls me to compassion. Compassion in it's very basic definition- to suffer with someone, to share someone else's pain. Therein lies the difference between pity and compassion; the former is content to sigh and think of solutions, the latter actually shares in the suffering of his neighbour.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches His disciples that "...if someone asks you to walk a mile, walk with them a second mile." I am reminded of these words every time I walk with the senior youth of Nzaikoni. Whether it is a six-mile walk to the dam for a day of games, or just to the market five minutes away, I always cherish the opportunity to talk candidly with one of them. What I love about them is that they are so open to sharing. To these people, I am not a foreigner; I am just a neighbour born somewhere else. They speak to me like they would to a brother. They joke around with me like they were my cousins. They speak to me of joys and sorrows, of hopes and dreams, of fears and ambitions. In our conversations, we share ourselves and discover each other's wounds; the scars we so often try to hide. We share the marks of our individual passion, carrying our crosses together.

In His resurrection, Christ the Lord did not remove His wounds. On the contrary, he shows them to His disciples, inviting them to place their finger on the marks of the nails. I too feel called to do the same. Like Thomas, Christ invites all of us to place our hand on His side, so that in doing so, we may learn true compassion. In essence, what Christ is saying is that He understands our pain, and even in His glorified body, He is still connected to the suffering of His Church. Jesus invites us to see the scars of our brother and sisters, to put our hands on their wounds; to let them put their hands on ours.

This is what I carry with me as I leave this place for now. I leave bearing with me the woundedness of these people: the problems they have to deal with, the lives they must live and the uncertain future that they try to face. They, in turn, bear my woundedness: my pre-conceived notions, my closed and rigid mentality, the misplaced priorities and a heart that doesn't always appreciate what it has been given. We bear each other up; thus, we become each other's healer, teacher and friend. Every one of us sees Christ in the face of the other and so we live the true meaning of what it is to be the Church.

In a few hours, I will return home, and I know well enough that at some point experience turns into memory, but the scars will always remain with me. Nothing can erase the indelible marks of Nzaikoni on the very fibre of my being. I will be thousands of miles from my beloved brethren yet we will continue to be the balm of each other's bruises. I know that the breadth of earthly miles means nothing, for when we gather at the altar of the Eucharist we all eat at the same table, united by one bread and drinking from the same cup; one in the same Lord.

Louis Deblois


Kenya 2005

The Eye of the Beholder

Many people say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; I am fortunate to have learned that true beauty is not something to be seen; rather it is something to be experienced through all other aspects of life. Beauty is to be experienced in the comfort of holding a child you have no relation to, in giving water to children who are exhausted and parched from a long day of work and schooling, and it is to be experienced when visiting families, which are living in a state we would find unsuitable.

While in Africa, our mission brought us upon a slum that, although unappealing to the eye, was more beautiful than one can put into words. As we approached the slum I was anxious to know what awaited us. Would we be welcomed or would the residents be hostile and feel as if we were intruding? At first I was uneasy due to the fact that our group was not prepared for what we were about to encounter. At first glance, the slum appeared lifeless; there were little houses made from whatever scraps of wood could be found, and garbage was piled on the ground. It wasn't until we approached a small church that our group was able to fully experience one of the most beautiful moments Africa could have ever offered us. As we turned a corner we were welcomed by a group of small children who couldn't help but be interested in our presence. The children managed to find a way to get everyone to love them, whether is was by grabbing two people and swinging between their arms, or by having someone spin them around, or simply by holding their hand and walking with them. The moment was one from God to tell each of us to really take a look at what we valued and really ask ourselves if it was worth valuing.

If I were granted one wish, it would be that everyone would get the privilege of experiencing something so incredible. An experience such as this teaches you not to have preconceptions because most of the time these preconceptions turn out to be misconceptions. I am sure that before our mission to Africa many of us had our own doubts and concerns, but I guarantee you that upon our return not one of us would be hesitant in calling it home.

Bridgette McIsaac


Mexico 2004

Still There

Mexico- a trip that, as long as I live, I will never forget. Because I had never been on a trip of this kind before, I left Toronto expecting everything and nothing at the same time. I left my family at Pearson International Airport and joined my new family on the plane. I was so nervous. There were so many questions running through my head. Then I looked at all these people proudly wearing the Canadian Hearts and Hands shirts standing around me and I was reassured. These were the people who were going to be the shoulders I would cry on and the people I would laugh with over the next three weeks- they became the family I needed.

As we met more and more people we added onto our family. There were the kids at the centers we worked at, who showed up everyday, always with excitement in their eyes. There were the leaders at these centers who brought smiles and words of encouragement. there were the leaders who brought lunch to us everyday, even though we brought our own. There was the family who gave up their house so that we could live in it for the three weeks of our stay. There were so many people who touched us and whom we came to love that I don't have enough room to mention them all here. They have all become part of our family. Leaving Mexico was especially hard because we were leaving pieces of our heart with each of these people.

One day towards the end of the trip, the catechist from the center I was working at was giving us a ride to San Antonio de Padua Church. Louie was sitting up at the front having a conversation with him, sometimes translating the conversation for us. He translated one statement that stuck in my head. "You coming to Mexico is what touches us the most," he translated. "You could have just sent money, but you coming yourselves shows us that you love us and care about us and that is what I thank you for right now." This simple statement was the most fulfilling combination of words I have ever heard. I went to Mexico to help the people and his words showed me that I had accomplished this simple goal.

Piedras Negras, Mexico- A missionary trip that I will never forget, simply because part of me is still there.

Samantha Doedens


Mexico 2004

Find Your Sunrise

You hear about this kind of thing through other people- this person knows someone who went on this kind of trip to Africa or another place that needs help. But when it comes to going down yourself, and leaving everything you're used to for weeks of hard work, it's a whole different story.

Everyday, we woke up at around 7:30 am to get in an early morning of work in order to beat the heat, but there was so much work to be done that it didn't make much of a difference. But today we had a different experience. Father Makarios was in charge of the table saw, cutting all of the wood. He was cutting wood all day to get the tables we were building done. At the end of the day, as he wiped the sweat from his eyes, he found that there were little pieces of wood under his eyelid that scratched his eye. The group became quite concerned for him, but Fr. Makarios took it easy, telling everyone not to worry. However, we couldn't help but worry. Finally, we convinced him to see a doctor. Everything went well; he ended up wearing an eye patch.

The point of the story is that the doctor did not let us pay for the check up. The doctors and others like him there did not let us pay for anything when it came to medical issues or injuries. Sam got dehydrated and a doctor came to see her and he refused to take money. I had to get my teeth fixed because of an accident and the dentist didn't allow us to pay. It's amazing because in a country like Canada, every customer is the best customer for you because they're paying you money. But in Mexico, where money is actually needed, they wouldn't accept it from us. We went there to proclaim the Word of the Lord, but I felt as if they proclaimed it to us with all of the things they did for us. These examples are some of the MANY ways in which they treated us like royalty. How could they be so thankful to people they don't even know? Because they believe and they trust. And that's what we were taught to do, but in a country like Canada which is a country of diversity and peace, you will never see someone go up to another person and give them food or just say hi If they did, they would probably get a dirty look. But over here in Mexico it was a natural thing. I'm just so thankful for all of the people that made our experience what it was. God bless them and all of their families.

So when it is you that leaves everything for a period of time to help someone else, it's like seeing the sunrise come out from behind a ton of mountains- picture perfect. I'm not saying to go to Mexico to find your sunrise. You could help the next person you see as they wait for their sunrise.

Mark


 

Mexico 2004

Living Pages of Scripture

The day seemed endlessly tedious. Between the moving of debris, the construction of innumerable tables, the heat and the thirst, my head had begun to ache severely. At about four o'clock, we made our way to San Antonio, to join the rest of the group who had been sanding chairs all day, sitting in the noxious fumes of paint stripper and thinner. I am no stranger to hard work; after all this is my second mission trip. This year the task seemed more monumental. Last year, we were new to this; working on whatever had to be done, in whatever way we could have done it. This year we had deadlines, goals and a definite result that we needed to accomplish. It was nearing the end of the first week of our mission and so far it was looking like we would never finish. I had started to think, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't complete our work.

As we walked into the small courtyard behind the church, I saw the faces of my fellow missionaries. These brave persons, half-filled with faithful determination and half-mad with divine inspiration. That must be the reason, why else would we be here? Who would be crazy enough to do this? We knew what awaited us. But if not for the prompting of a Higher Power, we would not be here.

I smile, as I realize the blessed company of which I am a part. We all went against our innate human instinct to flee from pain. I knew then, that each one here has made a commitment to embrace the cross of Jesus and truly live the words of the Gospel. Each of them are living, breathing pages of Scripture animated by the breath of God. In realizing this, I received the strength I sorely needed. This would not be the last time that I would drink from the well of their inspiration. I am indeed fortunate to have such persons in my life. I am grateful to all of them, each in a special way for adding new dimensions to my relationship with God. My faith is not just stronger; it is deeper, broader and richer because of their example.

Moved by this heart warming epiphany, I turn my face towards the Almighty and in the depths of my being proclaim my humble gratitude:

Praised and blessed are You, O Lord, our God.

Be praised and blessed for parched throats that yearn for water;

for calloused hands that ache from labour without rest;

for hunger that weakens the body;

for isolation in a multitude of voices;

for the midday heat that burns the flesh.

Thank you,

for all the things that remind us of how weak we truly are.

For everything that turns our hearts to You, our loving Father,

because we have nowhere else to turn to.

Thank you for reminding us that we need You always.

Remove from us,

our pride,

our selfishness,

our self-interest,

the walls that we have built around ourselves

that keep us from loving fully.

Help us to open ourselves to Your grace.

Thank you for the things that make us mindful of our brothers and sisters;

for the privilege of carrying their cross with them.

Thank you for the redemptive grace of suffering;

which teaches humility, charity, compassion and love.

Thank you for the grace of walking with You,

in the tattered shoes of our brothers and sisters.

Amen.

Louie Deblois

 


 

Mexico 2004

Rosary​

​Picture the scene: A group of thirteen missionaries in Piedras Negras, Mexico takes time off from missionary duties on a Sunday evening to have some fun at the fair. As they shop, play, and explore, a thunderstorm brews. It doesn't take long before they and others are forced to seek shelter under one of the tents. They stand and watch the rain pour down, and begin to wonder how long it would take before the storm would pass so that they could make the trip back to their "home" – a house that was left to them by its owner for the duration of their stay. The mode of transportation for the group is a 23-year-old blue pickup truck, and since the cab can only fit the driver and two passengers, the majority of the group would be exposed outside in the back of the truck. The house is a thirty-minute drive away. Now, you're probably thinking: "So, what's the big deal? So they'll get a little wet on the way home." It isn't getting wet that they are concerned about (as some of the members were already drenched due to their antics in the rain during the wait). Even though the lightning appears to be a safe distance away, it's the knowledge that it could strike anywhere and at anytime that concerns them, especially since most of them would not be protected. What would normally be a slightly uncomfortable yet pleasant ride through the evening air was turning into a ride filled with uncertainty. After spending some time considering different options a decision is made, and the group heads for home.

​As they sit in the truck and the truck begins to move, there is complete silence. Then, four words are spoken: "Let's pray the rosary." So they begin to pray. During prayer, the rain subsides. The voice of the one leading the rosary is a strong and calming presence, despite the fact that it would increase in intensity and pleading with every flash of lightning (which was so bright, it was as if every flash was a flash of daylight), roar of thunder, or bump in the road. It is strong and calming because it acknowledges each group member's anxiety and comforts their fears at the same time. The group's responses during each prayer also give him the strength he needs to continue. Thirty minutes later they arrive home safely, without a single drop of rain falling on them, and with the lightning still a good distance away.

* * *

​I know what you must be thinking now: "That was a coincidence - they got lucky, timed it pretty well and managed to leave just as the storm calmed down." But it was no coincidence. It was also no coincidence that the last words of the rosary were spoken just as the truck pulled up to the gate of the house. As one of the ten in the back of that truck, I know what that was; it was the power of prayer that got us home, and the guiding hand of the One who watches over those that acknowledge His presence.

So, what does this incident have to do with my missionary experience as a whole? I was there for two weeks; how was this incident the most significant thing to happen to me? Why would I even consider this to be an important event? I'll tell you why. Because I realized that I'm not alone when it comes to having doubts, fears and anxieties about events in my life. Because it made me aware of the fact that there is a guiding presence in my life despite the crosses I carry. Because I'm slowly learning to accept my crosses and believe that things are happening for a reason. Because I truly became conscious of how powerful prayer could be, and I am able to see it more clearly in the people I interacted with during the trip, now that I've had the chance to reflect. Because, in thirty short minutes, what could have been a dangerous experience and what felt like a big deal turned out to be a small occurrence in the grand scheme of things.

​Ok, so I know what you're going to say next: "You've been a Catholic all your life; you've been taught to pray daily. What took you so long to realize this?" In response, I ask you this: Have you realized this yet? Do you think you're at the point where you could say that you would have been completely aware of the power of prayer if you were in the same type of situation as our group in the truck? The simple fact of the matter is, if we were completely sure of our faith and truly praying as we were taught, then we wouldn't need to pray anymore. Faith is a life-long journey, and prayer is a life-long activity. These revelations did not come to me overnight, nor am I anywhere near accepting them wholeheartedly. But what happened that night is a sign to me that my faith is in need of a "tune-up," so to speak, as well as encouraging me to think about the role of prayer in my life.

​Since that time I realized I was wrong in thinking my prayers and actions during weekend masses are enough. Where is prayer during the other five days of the week? Why am I not taking that time to speak to God and ask for his guidance in all of my actions? During a group evaluation near the end of the trip, I stated that I was disappointed since I only attended four masses during the mission. I felt that I didn't have enough time to pray with the people because we didn't attend as many masses as we had in the previous mission. What I failed to notice was that their prayers for us were in every meal they provided, every "thank you," every smile, and every gesture of friendship. Our prayers for them were in every wall we painted, every class we taught, every item we donated, and every game we played. Attending mass every weekend is not only important but it's also not enough; it's what we do in-between each mass we attend that counts as well.

"So," you ask, "how does the story end?"

* * *

​After another unforgettable mission, the group returns to the comforts and chaos of home. Days pass, and as they reflect and reminisce about the experience, one group member begins to think that it's finally time to make prayer a regular part of her everyday life. She decides to stop berating herself for not doing this sooner; it's time to focus on the present. So she picks up a rosary and for the next thirty minutes, she prays: for herself, her family and friends, her brothers and sisters in Mexico, and the people in the blue truck who helped strengthen her faith.

Shirley Khalil


Memories

Going with Canadian Hearts and Hands on the mission to Mexico was something I will never forget. I was very nervous and excited to go to Mexico. One part of me really wanted to go and help the people and teach English, the other part was scared of the unknown and being so far from my family and friends.

Experiencing the generosity and love of the people in Mexico was the most amazing experience. Those people had so little, yet could still offer food and drinks to us. Living in their community really made me realize different privileges I have and many things that I take for granted. I am so glad I went on this trip; the memories will last forever.

Kathleen Spadafora


Mexico 2003

Piano Teacher​

I never considered myself a piano teacher. I tried it once, and it didn't quite "fit" for me. Something was missing. I expected too much out of my abilities, as well as what was expected from my student. That led to many disappointments; for my student, who relied on me, and for myself, since I was unable to carry out what was asked of me. So when I was asked by Padre Juan to give a few basic lessons to one of his choir members, I accepted, but in the back of my mind I prepared for another disappointment. Not only was I being asked to do something I didn't think I was good at, but to also do it in a language I didn't even know. Little did I know how things where about to change when Abel, who is just eighteen years old, and I sat down at the organ for the first time.

Since he is already a guitar player, I knew that he wasn't completely starting from scratch. I just needed to teach him the proper names of the notes, and to show him where they were on thekeyboard. From there, we started looking at their hymns in order for me to show him some simple ways of accompanying them.

What amazed me from that first lesson on was how quickly he took in the few things I showed him and really worked at them until he understood. After about an hour or so of instruction, he would ask me to leave so he could practice. He practiced for at least an hour, sometimes two, playing the same things over and over again until he could play them correctly. I would listen to him from wherever I was around the church, and couldn't believe that someone so young could have the amount of dedication and patience that he did. I don't think I was the only one who thought that way either; over the course of two weeks, everyone else in the group had commented on how willing and able he was to practice, and Padre Juan even went so far as to refer to Abel as my "disciple".

The lessons continued, and we were able to go through several more hymns before the two weeks were over. As his "final exam", I requested that he play one or two hymns that he felt most comfortable with at our last mass together. He agreed, playing two of them, and came through with flying colours. After mass, both he and I were unable to hold back tears as he whispered "thank you" and gave me a hug. As we stood there, I suddenly realized what I was missing from my previous attempt at teaching.

In our city, and the society we live in, the old cliché "it's the little things that count the most" doesn't mean anything anymore. We are in constant competition with ourselves and each other to: be better than anyone else; to learn the most; to be proud of our abilities and what we have - to the point where everyone else has to know, or they're not worth having. Eventually, we enter a vicious cycle where nothing we do or say or have is good enough anymore because someone else always has the one thing we seem to be missing. We've thrown humility right out the window by not stopping to appreciate what we have been given, as well as taking for granted the resources that are so easily available to us. If I'm in need of brush-up lessons, all I need is forty dollars an hour and my old piano teacher is a phone call away. No piano to practice on? Fine; I could buy one, rent one or go to a friend's house. Tired of practicing after fifteen minutes? Then I'll stop; I probably don't need it anyway because I'm that good. All these attitudes of mine were stripped away as I realized that I had just given someone one of the simplest things that I could give; one small tool that opened up a world of possibility. And I didn't necessarily need all my years of training and a music degree to do it.

That small tool was taken with passion and pure appreciation. There was no expectation on his part from me; just enough knowledge that he could develop later on his own. Since that day, he hasn't stopped playing the organ at mass. One of the things he said to me was that he had waited for years for the opportunity to learn how to play the keyboard and that he was grateful for the little that I had given him, even though he had to wait for someone to fly thousands of miles so that he could have it. He went on to say that, when he has kids, he will tell them that he learned how to play from a Canadian.

As for me, looking back over two weeks, I became conscious of the fact that I learned how to strip away the layers of expectation I placed on myself, and to just be there in the moment and give what was needed to make a difference. This point was really driven home when I noticed that I had gone from having a translator constantly at my side to being able to communicate with him almost completely on my own, turning to someone only when I couldn't say what I needed through small gestures, illustrations, and the limited vocabulary I had. I really saw how I have taken for granted both my abilities and the modes of communication that are available to me as I live my life here.

I can honestly say that I don't know who learned more from whom. I know that Abel will always be appreciative of what I did for him, but I will also be eternally grateful for the way he reminded me that being a true musician is not about being the most able at playing an instrument or having years of training to back it up. It's about being honest enough and simple enough to reach out and communicate with your entire being and a pure heart. As a token of appreciation, Abel gave me a small rosary, which now hangs off the zipper of my guitar case as a reminder.

Shirley Khalil

 


 

Mexico 2003

The Mission That Gave to Us

After experiencing World Youth Day 2002 with a group of other youth from our parish, we decided to share our Catholic faith with a different culture by visiting Piedras Negras, Mexico through a missionary trip. With great faith and determination, eleven of us joined together to raise funds for our trip. We received continued support and donations from our parish community.

In preparation for our trip, we met various times to plan, meditate and pray for the success of our mission. After these meetings we decided to give into the notion that we would give everything and expect nothing. We didn't know where we were going to stay, what we were going to do, how we were going to do it; but we knew why we were going. We were going to share the Word and work of God as His disciples. Together, we would give of ourselves unselfishly in order to receive His continued grace.

On August 4th 2003, our dream became a reality. The eleven of us set off on a journey that would unexpectedly change our lives. Looking back, we can now see that from the moment we left Toronto, we were held in the palms of God's hands. No matter how much we planned and prepared for our mission, God has already set His plan into motion.

We left as eleven, and as eleven overcame many obstacles that could have become grave situations. Our group experienced life and death situations, financial setbacks, physical exhaustion, emotional stress, unnaturally high temperatures and language barriers. Yet our spirits were always kindled and uplifted by the people we coexisted with for two weeks. We never imagined that complete strangers would touch and impact us so deeply with their strong faith, love and unending generosity.

A constant thought we had in our midst was whether or not we would leave a lasting impression on the people of Piedras Negras. Instead they touched us. They sketched their faith, devotion and love in our hearts.

God has just begun painting His masterpiece in Piedras Negras and our souls.

Kelly and Margarita DaPonte

 


 

Mexico 2003

The Blue Pick-up Truck

It was a cold morning on the eighteenth of August when we left Piedras Negras. I sat on the floor of Jose's van, half asleep and half awake, listening to the news on the radio. We reached Eagle Pass within about forty-five minutes, with little delay at the border. Thank God. As we packed our luggage from the pick-up truck to the van taking us to San Antonio, a few of us began to cry. I held back my tears. It was not easy, but I did it. Before we left, I told Juan Manuel "I won't cry because I will see you again. God will see to it that our paths will cross again in the future." He smiled in agreement and embraced me. Juan Manuel is the seminarian that assisted Father Juan Alberto at the parish. We used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together; I in English and he in Spanish. I missed that already. As I was boarding the van, Father Isaac asked me to check the pick-up truck one last time just to make sure that nothing was left behind.

​As I walked back and saw the truck, I realized what I would be leaving. The memories that were in that truck, the lessons learned, the experience of it all. For me at least, the truck was a focal point. As soon as I saw that truck, that 1989 blue Chevy that was part of most of out experiences, I could not help but weep. I stood there, crying, filled with all the emotion that this trip accumulated. I savoured that moment as both a beginning and an end. Here was the culmination of two weeks of work, and yet we all knew that our work has just begun.

​This was the same truck that took us to the centres. The image of children running beside that truck touching our hands as we passed by flashed in my mind. These children thought the world of us and we thought the same of them. Our hearts sank at the thought of leaving these children, with whom we shared so much of ourselves. I remember their names and what they mean to me. Lesley, who had a sparkle in her eyes and always played with my cross. Oscar, who told me that he would remember me always because of the rosary I gave him. Cynthia, and the way she kicked that soccer ball like a young Mia Hamm. Many more names and even more faces. And now, even more tears.

​This was the truck that took us to the hardware store to buy materials. I remembered the hard work that each of us put into the sacristy. How I admired each of my fellow missionaries for their effort. From mixing cement to making the rounds for water, each bore their cross with the patience of a saint. In the two weeks that we all worked, I do not remember asking for water. Somebody was always there to offer his or her glass. I remember the bond I have with them and how we were all brought closer together. I looked up momentarily, and whispered to the amber coloured dawn, "Thank You." That was all I could say. Words seemed useless now, when all I felt was raw emotion.

​I remembered Juan Manuel, Sara, Fermin and Padre Juan. They taught me so much about giving of one's self and not counting the cost. Sara loaned us that truck and Juan Manuel, Fermin or Padre Juan drove us anywhere we needed to be. The truck was a symbol of their selfless love. They gave us everything we needed and in turn taught us that to empty one's self is to make room for the grace of God. Yet more tears.

​I walked back into the van and I sat there in silence all the way to San Antonio. I was still in tears. I felt someone's comforting hand on my shoulder. I didn't know who it was but it didn't matter. They all would've done it. Someone just did it first. As I looked out into the rising sun, I knew that my heart would be forever tied to the land and its people. With that I whispered a silent "Amen."

Louie Deblois

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