Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Staying thankful – and healthy – on mission

By Valerie Ellis
Current missioner in Cochabamba, Bolivia
Franciscan Mission Service


This post is about my health. Now before you get all squeamish, even though this is regarding the stomach and all sordid details, I promise to leave out the gross ones.

It starts with amoebas. Yes, they are little creatures living in your stomach, but I assure you that this is not the gross part.

“What’s the big deal about amoebas?” you ask. “I heard they were really common in Bolivia.”
Yes, they are. It is not as common to get them twice in three weeks. At which point your stomach turns into a breeding ground for bacteria. Then, you walk around all the time with an “inchado,” or bloated stomach.

These are the symptoms I will leave you with for now, as I promised not to get graphic.

Just picture this – you’re following your doctor’s orders, which means following a super strict diet, and then you find out you have developed gastritis. Which is caused by citrus fruits and vegetables. Which you have been consuming an unusually large quantity of, because you are only allowed to eat certain proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

The road has not been fun. However, I have been able to maintain a healthy outlook on this, if only through the sheer grace of God. Here’s what I am thankful for:
  • I am able to seek medical attention. Sadly, most of the population of Bolivia simply does not have the resources to do so.
  • I have stopped eating all junk/things that caused damage to my stomach before: cake, cookies, and any added sugar; dairy especially including cheese; and any added preservatives.
  • I have started working out on a regular basis. This not only helps my stomach process food, but it also helps my sanity!
  • I have learned a lot about what the people of Bolivia go through on a daily basis. This is accompaniment and solidarity in the strongest sense.
And now, since I have focused so much on food and would like to alleviate the mood, I leave you with my favorite silly song about food cravings:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Beauty in the Potential


By Sr. Sara P. Marks, OSF
Director of Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia



Spring is upon us, spring—the great season of possibility. Spring the season of planting, the time of first fruits, the time that reminds us of brighter and warmer days, the time that leads us to hope. This potential that spring holds is nowhere more evident to me than on Red Hill Farm. As I look out upon the readied fields I imagine the transformation that will occur in the coming weeks. The brown that dominates the landscape will soon be leafy and green. Hands will work diligently to rid the beds of weeds to give life to the crop.

One summer, while working the farm, we were in the midst of harvesting the squash. One of the seasonal farmers plucked an oddly shaped yellow squash from the bush like vine announcing, “Look at this one!” Quickly another yelled, “Eat it!” None of us were accustomed to eating squash raw—sauté it in butter and garlic right? But the farm manager, in sharing that there was nothing wrong with raw squash, walked over and took a bite. Soon the oddly shaped yellow squash was being passed around the community of dirt-covered farm hands, each partaking of its goodness. Was this not Eucharist? The breaking, blessing, and sharing of the “fruit of the Earth and work of human hands”?

My time on the farm was a time of great transformation in my life. Never had God’s creation been so obvious to me, the distinctive nature of each plant speaking of the Gospel message of truth—peace, humility, and patience. It is for this reason that as we as a congregation set out to create a new volunteer program that we include Red Hill Farm as a ministry site. As Franciscans we hold deep reverence for the Earth and all creation. This home of ours is total gift from God and it is ours for which to care and share. Red Hill Farm is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) owned by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Community Supported Agriculture allows community members to connect with a local farm and support their local food economy. 


Pope John XXIII, the Pope who called on the Second Vatican Council, a man who understood with great courage the concept of potentiality, says, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” The Sisters of St. Francis believe deeply in “consulting our hopes”. This is why we have made the effort to bring Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain to reality.

I share my story to encourage others to consider an alternative way. Can you see the potential in these fields? Can you see yourself as the farm hand with earth-stained hands harvesting what the land yields? A Franciscan Volunteer will be placed on Red Hill Farm to work with the Farm Manager, Lilley, and the full-time farmer, Dylan along with other seasonal workers. If you see potential beauty in these fields please feel free to contact us to start the process of becoming a Franciscan Volunteer. We are taking applications now to fill volunteer slots for September of this year! No Risk, No Gain!

To learn more about serving at Red Hill Farm with Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain, email Sr. Sara at smarks@osfphila.org.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Physical health and mental health as a volunteer


Megan Davison


Exercise taught me that nothing is insurmountable. Trust me, that lesson carried me through the majority of my 2 years of service.

I vividly recall standing in the doorway of the Brothers house, shoes tied and my iPod charged and ready. I remember exhaling as the street lights came on and running down Indiana Avenue towards Lake Michigan. Those after-dinner runs on the south side of Chicago were absolutely pivotal in my experience as a Lasallian Volunteer. Day after day, night after night, I settled into a pace, ran down the streets as a transplant in my new neighborhood, and out of nowhere, the daily run was the most important part of my day.

The correlation between physical health and mental health truly became apparent to me in my first year as a Lasallian Volunteer. Exercise enabled me to clear my mind at the end of a trying day, demanded that I prioritize my self-care during the service year, and pushed me-from running 1-2 miles to 10-12. 

My first real test? Running a ½ marathon for Lasallian Volunteers. Annually, LV’s run in a different city every year to raise money for the program that supports our infrastructure. That infrastructure allows Lasallian Volunteers to receive support from their local community and national community of staff, De La Salle Christian Brothers, and colleagues.

The Annual LVs Run stemmed from a few volunteers running the Chicago Marathon to raise money for the program they were a part of to becoming a weekend-long event filled with community, friend-raising, and celebrating our fundraising goal.

To date, the race has raised several hundred thousand dollars to honor the work of the Lasallian Volunteers and ensure that future volunteers are able to have the same faith-filled experiences. 

To me, fundraising was the easy part. It was trusting in the training that was difficult. Some days, it is so easy to write off the run you had planned, in favor of doing something else, anything else!

But the effects of running and training spilled over into other parts of my life. I was able to prioritize work at my service site, feel well-rested after a weekend in community, and have confidence in myself that wasn’t exactly bubbling to the surface. Especially living on a stipend, running is a very inexpensive way to get a great workout and see the city that you are living in.

In my second year of service, I had the pleasure of working with several Lasallian Volunteers in planning the annual run. We each had a tangible role and our success was contagious! We raised over $85,000 in one year and I still look on that experience fondly.

Today, those fellow LV’s are my closest friends.  The best part? After my service year concluded, I signed up for my first marathon and ran it last fall. Every training run I thought back to my nights running after community dinner, planning the annual run, and where it’s taken me since.

I leave it all on the trail and always remember, nothing is insurmountable.