testimonials

stories from our missionaries, choose one and share in their experience

Roy's Story… By Mary Ellen Willburn

TIN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, MAY WE GO FORTH DEPENDING ON GOD, REMEMBERING THE DIGNITY OF THE PERSON, SERVING THEM IN HUMILITY, AS PRIEST, PROPHET AND KING.*

While Linda was packing for the trip, her neighbor Carol magically appeared in the hallway. They were accustomed to entering each others home without knocking." Thank you, Lord, for the blessing she has been to Roy and me during these many years of his struggle with multiple sclerosis, she silently prayed. Having just had lunch with her, Linda wondered what did Carol forget to tell me. "Linda, I think you need to take Roy with you on this S.O.S. mission trip," Carol quietly asserted. Linda agreed and told her, "I will take him with me in my heart."

"No, I mean you need to take his ashes," Carol precisely stated.

You see, Roy and Linda participated for years in S.O.S. as support —offering 24-hour prayer vigils, helping with supplies, and listening to the stories as the missionary teams returned from ministering to the indigenous Mayan people in the mountainous Quiché area of Guatemala. Roy longed to go but it just was not possible with his affliction. Carol knew this so well as Roy had confided in her many times. So, in amongst the needed necessities, a Ziploc bag of Roy's ashes was tucked into Linda's carry-on luggage. As the team flew the next morning from Houston to Guatemala City, Linda thought —"You are the stupidest woman in the world. How will you ever do this?"

The first day of the mission began like all days for S.O.S. –team prayer before breakfast. Reciting the Hail Mary together, Linda for the first time in her life personally felt "full of grace". Why, she wondered? Following breakfast, she shared with her co-missionaries, Fr. Gerry and David who were all part of the Family Spirituality team, about Roy's ashes. Fr. Gerry, a lifelong Maryknoll missionary, responded calmly, you know, Linda, let's just see what happens." That's faith for you! she thought.

In the Family Spirituality class, Maya leaders of the Chicabracán community come for teachings to be passed on to their families since weekly Mass is not available to them. Gathering in the simple old adobe San Gabriel Church lined with rustic hand made pews in front of a tiny altar flanked with pictures of Jesus and Mary and adorned with bouquets of flowers, each person told their personal story. So much physical, emotional, and psychological suffering had occurred as a result of the 36-year civil war where 200,000 of the Maya people were killed. Translating from English to Spanish to Maya Quiché and then back again, took time. Finally, Linda 's turn came. She began her story about Roy but as emotions took over, she lowered her head and continued, tears flowing down her cheeks. When she looked up, all eyes were wet, too. She had left out the part about the ashes! Fr. Gerry at this moment, pulling over a chair and having Linda sit in it, gathered everyone around to pray. Translations continued until Linda felt they were no longer needed as what words could not say were being translated through eyes and body language. Everyone came forward. Hugs and kisses were flowing. Recognizing this was a gift from God, Linda felt healed for Roy and hoped the brown-eyed, black-haired, brown-skinned Mayas felt healed too. The lesson of the day, Day of the Dead, was taught. At the conclusion of it, Fr. Gerry told the Maya about Roy's ashes and Linda's wishes to disperse them but the final decision was theirs.

Early the next morning, the Family Spirituality Team along with S.O.S. co-founders Connie and Ernest gathered at the back of the church. Soon the Maya leaders arrived. Taking Linda by the hand, no words uttered, they led her to the altar and pointed to a tile next to the altar. All the S.O.S. team was shocked and overwhelmed as it became clear what the Mayas wanted to do. An honor was being bestowed on a perfect stranger to be laid to rest on Maya holy soil. The honor crossed cultures. The Maya were honored to be asked. But this honor was birthed slowly.

Many S.O.S. teams had come and gone, planting roots, which gradually deepened the trust, the hope, and the security the Mayans felt towards S.O.S. The word, "unbelievable" was uttered repeatedly. Roy's ashes were not the important thing here but rather the love for the Mayan people became paramount. While waiting for the class on Lazarus rising from the tomb to begin, Linda quietly sat in a pew. As she stared at the altar, the word ROY was visible on a box sitting on the altar**. She knew none of S.O.S. had brought the box. She was touched that one of the Mayans had done this, found out how to spell Roy's name and placed his name in prayer upon the altar. Fr. Gerry, upon becoming aware of her excitement, threw up his hands, and exclaimed, "Father God, we know this is what you want us to do. We need no other signs."

The funeral for Roy began on the third morning after the Maya removed the tile. Linda gently poured his ashes into the earthen square. Not unlike our funerals in the USA, several people approached the remains, men in their Sunday best shirt and pants, women clad in their indigenous lacy blouses tucked into vibrant patterned skirts, matching shawls wrapped around their shoulders or neatly folded on their heads. They all knelt in prayer before the remains, then offered loving gestures, kind words in Quiché or Spanish to Linda. Tears flowed once again. The ceremony ended with men and women speaking about their own sufferings and Ernest talking about Roy and expressing what an honor and gift they had given the S.O.S. team.

Reflecting over this unbelievable occurrence, Carol was the key-the messenger God sent. Linda responded, like Mary who was full of grace, with a "yes". Fr. Gerry in talking to the Maya people and understanding so well their pain enabled them to give the best of gifts —dignity and honor to another. The team prayer was enacted full scale on this S.O.S. March 2006 missionary trip. Priest, prophet and king were at work.

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, MAY WE GO FORTH DEPENDING ON GOD, REMEMBERING THE DIGNITY OF THE PERSON, SERVING THEM IN HUMILITY, AS PRIEST, PROPHET, AND KING.

* S.O.S. prayer by Catherine Lonick Bindas

** ROY box was a shoe box made from Spain… just the Holy Spirit can explain how it arrived in Chicabracán.

 

 

testimonials...


Stories from Travel Team members and their unexpected, sometimes heart-wrenching encounters with Christ while on mission. Choose one and share in their experience.

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