The municipality of General Cepeda has about 50 small villages called ranchos that belong to it. Some are within walking distance of the "town". Some are almost an hour drive away. There is only one priest to take care of the town and the surrounding ranchos. It is impossible for the priest to visit all 50 each Sunday for Mass. Since most of the people in the ranchos do not have cars, they do not get to attend Sunday Mass. This is what saddens me the most.
The Family Missions Company missionaries along with some of the parish's lay ministers try to bring communion to several of the ranchos each Sunday, but are not able to get to all 50 in a week much less each Sunday. When a group visits for a short term mission, more ranchos can be reached. So each evening our large group (over 60) broke up into smaller groups and drove out to some of the surrounding ranchos that hadn't been visited in awhile.
At each rancho, we sing Spanish praise songs, give testimonies about how God has worked in our lives, read from the bible, a missionary gives a teaching, and then we pray with and over the people. This is one of my favorite things to do on mission. It is what strengthened my my faith the most on the last mission trip to General Cepeda and again on this trip. The faith of these people is so humbling. They have very little material goods and many times not even the necessities like food and water, but are so grateful to God for what little they do have.
The first evening, we visited one of the far off ranchos to host a communion service. We piled about 20 people into a large van and drove almost an hour. We felt like we were literally sent to the "ends of the Earth" to preach the gospel. When we arrived, we went out knocking door to door inviting the people to the chapel. We ended up with a full house that night.
Another evening we traveled to a rancho that was mostly Jehovah's Witnesses. Out of 115 families only 11 were Catholic. We had only 4 women with their children show up for our prayer service. At first, I was saddened by this, but after hearing some of their prayers and stories, I was truly in awe of these four women's faith. Living day after day amongst people telling you that your Jesus is not Lord has to be incredibly difficult, yet these women persevere in their faith. They came to pray and worship in the midst of persecution by their neighbors.
I later learned that when FMC first visited the Jehovah's Witness rancho, there were only 1 1/2 Catholic families amongst the Jehovah's Witnesses. I was even more in awe of those women from that rancho. The faith and witness of that first family, that one mother of that other family, and the missionaries that visited must have been powerful. It gave me so much hope especially with all that is happening in our own country today. We must continue to be the light to others. We must persevere and spread the Good News to those in our own families and communities. It is our duty as Christians to share our lives and testimonies with others.
On one of the evenings, Father John, a retired priest that was on mission with us, accompanied our group to a rancho and offered Confession and celebrated Mass at the beautiful chapel there. It was Travis's turn to share his testimony. We were all so grateful that there was one man that had attended Mass that evening. Most of the time the chapels are only filled with women and children. Very few men attend. It takes a lot of courage for the men to come to the chapel with the women and children. Afterwards, Travis was able to thank him and to encourage him to keep coming. Pray for those few men that occasionally show up to keep coming and to be examples to the other men in their villages.
On our last evening, Travis and I and a few of the missionaries were invited to join a family bible study at someone's home instead of going on a chapel visit. There were three Mexican couples that were there that evening. Even with the language barrier, we were able to understand that they had a lot of the same worries as we American parents had. They were very worried about how to keep their kids on the right path. I thought about all the things in our community that we have to help keep kids off the streets---church youth groups, school clubs, scouting, etc., but more importantly the access we have to materials and people to help us educate ourselves and our children in the faith. It saddened me to hear their worries, but also blessed me to know that these families were so determined to be different, to be the change their community needed. Pray for them and their families and for the other families in their community to follow their lead.
As I look back at my week in General Cepeda and our rancho visits, I realize that being Catholic in my community is easy, because I am surrounded by so many others that share my belief and help to lift me up. I also have three wonderful priests in my community that help me grow in my faith. I have the Sacraments of the Church readily available to give me the graces I need to continue on my journey with God. I have access to my Bible, Catechism, and many other excellent books and resources out there to help my on my journey. I wonder if I would have the strength and courage to continue on like these people without all these things.
Would I remain faithful without the spiritual support that surrounds me? I pray for that kind of strength and courage---that kind of faith.
Thanksgiving Mission Trip, Part 3