March/April 2008

Immersion Experience in Belize Reveals Wealth of Spirit

03-08thomas Photo

Dorothy Thomas, SCN, (left) embraces new homeowner Sandra Reid.

Among the poor of Belize, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and organizations with which they collaborate are working to build healthy communities. Diane Jones, vice president of healthy communities for Catholic Health Initiatives and executive director of Global Health Initiatives, accompanied members of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth on a recent immersion trip to the Central American country.

“This experience gave me a much better understanding of the global ministry of building healthy communities and the type of work our market-based organizations and participating congregations are doing abroad,” said Jones. “We spent time in Belize City and in Las Flores, a village outside the capital city of Belmopan. It was truly inspiring to see the work being done and meet the people doing it.”

Jones was part of a group of 14 who traveled to Belize, led by Luke Boiarski, SCN, and Nancy Gerth, SCN. They gathered at the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s Motherhouse in Nazareth, Ky., on January 19 for a weekend orientation to the immersion experience. “The group included people from different backgrounds – including farmers, a teacher, a priest, a nurse who had served in Vietnam and a grandmother,” said Jones. “The missioning service held in the chapel at the Motherhouse was a very powerful experience for all of us.”

When the group arrived in Belize on January 21, they were struck by the “stunning contrast of beauty and stark need,” as Sisters Luke and Nancy wrote in a blog that chronicled the experience. The group stayed at the Starfish Center, which is operated by Hand in Hand Ministries, a Christian ministry based in Louisville, Ky., that works to provide child care, education and homes for the poor of Belize City. In fact, the immersion group’s main task during their week in Belize was the building of a home.

While the house is simple, with no plumbing or electrical wiring, it is very precious to Sandra Reid and her family. “Those people who do the practical work to build the house are the sweetest brothers and sisters I have ever met,” Sandra wrote in a letter of thanks. “They work in unity which is strength, in the rain and sun. This is the most beautiful gift I ever received, a home that is built with love, laughter and hard work.”

The group also visited several other ministry programs. “We visited a day care center run by Hand in Hand Ministries, where the nurse is a Sister of Charity of Nazareth who cares for children affected by HIV/AIDS,” said Jones. “We also visited Lucky Strike, a small town north of Belize City, where Hand in Hand Ministries supports a school and provides a lunch that is the only meal many of the children have each day.”

After Sandra’s house was finished, the group spent a day in Las Flores. “Most people in Las Flores are refugees from violence in Honduras and Guatemala,” said Jones. “The community is very rural and like a large, extended family, where most are poor, but everyone is welcome. It was a contrast to Belize City, which is more urban and challenged by crime and overcrowding.”

More than half of the population of Las Flores is under the age of 15, and three sisters who live there work to meet their educational needs. They also teach cooking and sewing skills to the women of the community. “The women make rosary beads to help raise funds to build a modest library,” said Jones. “One of the women gave us a gift of five sets of rosary beads that she had made. That is just one example of how generous and faith-filled the people of Las Flores are.”

The spirit of the people she met is Jones’ most vivid impression of all that she saw in Belize. “The immersion experience was very humbling, and just as rewarding.” she said “It will help us as we work to find new ways to help sustain the global ministries of Catholic Health Initiatives, our facilities and our participating congregations.”