Read on for the 'comings and goings' from the volunteers in Arbolito and Monte Sinai! They share about Christmas & New Years in the communities, as well as school vacation, carnaval, and the 6-month retreat.
The last 4 months have been a time of celebration, laughter, tears, home-sickness, manifesting love, deeper connections, and growth. So much has happened in these months and it all seems to be going by so fast. It is hard to believe that we are already in our 8th month of the Ecuador/RdC experience. “Where does the time go?” That is the question that we are constantly asking ourselves especially now. Looking back at the last couple of months, we begin to realize how intentional we have really been with our time... Trying to make the most out of our holidays with our beloved neighbors. Making special time for each other as community in order to grow. Doing our best to be in every moment as opposed to going through the motions and just letting the days pass us by. Our time here with each other and our neighbors is sacred to us. We recognize that these are really once in a lifetime moments to share with each other and with the community so we do our best to remind each other of that and really live that moment. This holiday season has been a unique one and one that we will go on to remember for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, there is no doubt that we have lived these moments to the fullest and we have grown in love through each one of these moments.
From Monte Sinai: Christmas and New Years were the most festive holidays that we have had so far! Christmas was a whole month-long celebration. Most of our neighbors started their preparations for Jesus' birthday on the first day of December. Novenas were one of the most beautiful celebrations. Novenas are a Christmas prayer tradition in which we travel from house to house for 9 days in imitation of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to birth the niño, Jesùs. Each night the children dress-up like Mary and Joseph, and we pray, sing, and eat a snack. Christmas was more than a one day event but a season of celebration of Jesus’s birth and we as a community, were so lucky to have taken a part in that celebration with many different neighbors.
It was so refreshing and purifying not to have to worry about the materialistic part of Christmas and to focus on the spirit of generosity and being in the presence of the ones you love. This morning was filled with smiles, laughs, surprises, and good company. After we shared the love among one another, it was time to head out into the community of Monte Sinai and spread the Christmas joy to others. How? Through Christmas caroling of course! We brought out the ukes, our Christmas hats, and our beautiful voices. We went neighbor to neighbor alternating between Christmas jams in Spanish and English. We even brought some fruit cake to share with others as well! We were a hit and many of the neighbors we sang to, sang along with us. It was such a Christmas spirit filled moment for all of us.
From Arbolito: The Christmas season was a very busy time for the volunteers in the Arbolito Community. All of the volunteers were a part of the “posada” through our local parish which is the portrayal of the biblical story of Christ’s birth. We all went to practice for this posada multiple nights during the weeks leading up to the event. This was a great time for the volunteers to learn about some Ecuadorian Christmas traditions and to spend time getting to know more of our parish community. During this time the volunteers also attended a Rostro de Cristo Christmas party where each community presented a skit to all the staff. The Arbolito volunteers did a dance to “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias. After Christmas, all of the volunteers took time to travel to different destinations in Ecuador before coming back together as a community for New Years.
Cont'd from Arbolito: After traveling to Banos, Quito and Cuenca the volunteers came back together to celebrate New Year’s. The volunteers started by going to Mass together on New Year’s Eve and then we all went to Pastora’s house to share a big meal together. We then went back to our house to prepare to burn our “monigote or año viejo” at midnight. We burned ours with some of the neighbors on our street and then we watched and heard many loud fireworks. After the burning of our doll, we walked around the community together to wish some of our neighbors a Happy New Year.
From Monte Sinai: We cannot explain to you the absolute madness of New Years Eve here. We all went out to explore the neighborhood to see what everyone else was doing before the new year began. Along the way, many of us were invited into a neighbors house to share in their scrumptious dinner. All of the volunteers met up in front of the Rostro house right before midnight to start 2016 off by burning our monagote. The party started at 12:00pm! Monte Sinai had monagotes burning left and right, fire works popping off in all directions! People were screaming, dancing in the streets, and the streets were all aflame with these huge fires and people of all ages were playing with different types of fun little fireworks.
It is custom at exactly 12:00pm to light on fire a piñata-like paper mache figure (monigotes) in the shape of any character, cartoon or well-known person. Burning the año viejos (“old years” as they might also be called) is a sign of good luck that the upcoming year will be better than the last. We burned Woody (from Toy Story) and put fireworks inside so that when it burned sparks and sounds of explosions were flying left and right. The kids down the street got a kick out our monagote and all of the little fireworks that we brought out with us. Before the night was over, our last stop was at our neighbor, Monica's house. She welcomed all of us with open arms, a lot of excitement and a delicious midnight dinner for all of us. The hospitality that we experienced that night was on a whole other level and we were so very grateful for all of it. This had to have been one of the best New Years experiences that many of us have had in a long time.
From Arbolito: At the end of January the academic school year ended. The volunteer who works at Nuevo Mundo will now be taking some time to visit his other communitymates worksites and will be working at Manos. Manos will continue program through “summer” vacation but will be changing it up a bit. The volunteers who work at Manos have come up with an education rotation to enforce some of the things the children have learned throughout the school year. They will be going over things like reading, language, science, math, English and geography. Semillas is not having program during vacation but the Parish is putting together a two week summer vacation camp for kids in Arbolito. This camp will have different activities that the kids will participate in daily. Some of these activities include, cooking class, dance, painting, theatre, and drawing. The volunteers who work at Semilla’s will be helping out with this and after the camp they will be using their free time to visit some of the families of the children who attend Semillas regularly.
(Before and After)
6-Month Retreat with Jimmy
The first week of February we had our 6 month retreat in Manta with Jimmy Menkhaus as our leader and it was absolutely amazing. The retreat was such an great opportunity for us to have some time to refocus, re-energize, and just figure out where we were at spiritually at this point of time in this experience. The beach environment was beautiful and relaxing. Jimmy Menkhaus did an awesome job of guiding each one of us in the right direction on this retreat. His presence was calming and he always knew exactly what to say to help us in spiritual direction. Many of us were reminded of the reasons why we chose Rostro de Cristo in the first place and why we have continued to be so dedicated to the mission of RdC. We came out of this retreat with a fresh vision, new energy, and a great eagerness to return to our neighbors.
The 6 month retreat was also a great pre-preparation to the actual preparation of the Lenten season which is where we are all at now. This Lenten season is like no other for many of us. There is such a strong significance to all of our actions during this Lent because of the experience that we are currently in. The Monte Sinai community has put some very deep thought into what it is that Lent means to us and what we can do to ensure that we make the most out of it. The focus is to bring ourselves closer to God, mend broken relationships, and try to sacrifice/ give what we can to understand and live a simpler life as our neighbors do. The actions necessary to do that looks a little different for everyone in the RdC community. After much reflection and a few discussions, we decided to take advantage of our “community” lifestyle and do weekly community challenges for Lent. These challenges have been decided and are discussed at the beginning of the week in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This is a great opportunity to live in solidarity with one another, work on our relationships as a community, and to hold each other lovingly accountable throughout the Lenten season. Each of us continue to maintain our own personal Lenten challenges along the way as well. We really hope that this Lenten season will allow us to better understand the sacrifices that Jesus made for us and where we stand in our relationships with God and the people in our lives. We are all really looking forward to Pascua and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus as a community and with everyone around us.