Tuesday, December 10, 2013 | By: Jake

Your Help

It has without a doubt been way too long since I have last posted on this blog, and for that, I sincerely apologize. During my time in Nicaragua, I had quite a bit of time for reflection. As many of you know, I was enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame until I dropped out in January and switched over to study theology at the University instead.

When I arrived in Nicaragua, I met a very sweet woman named Lily, who was studying business at a college in downtown Managua. We spoke back and forth for a while about what I wanted to do with my life, and she was shocked to find out that I had left the business school. "Why would you ever leave!? You can do such great things!"

...to which I responded in a "this should be common knowledge" tone: "Um...because business is evil."

However, after much talk with Lily and my time at New Hope Children's Foundation, I came to learn that business is not evil, that business can actually help you do a lot. While I was at New Hope, I helped them with their social media and marketing strategies, and it really helped bring in a lot more donations.

After I arrived back in the States in August, I drove up to Notre Dame with my wonderful grandmother and re-enrolled at the Mendoza College of Business. Obviously, this journey has a lot more depth to it, but that's the basics of it. I've grown very passionate in my studies this semester...so much so that I even gave a presentation at the University entitled Why Business IS a Force for Good and NOT a "Necessary Evil".

Back in my freshman year, I helped start a microfinance institution here at Notre Dame with a few other students. For my first two years, we were a team of 6-10 students and welcomed any and all to be part of our team. However, this past semester, we have changed drastically. We're now a team of 30 students that require applications and interviews for all associates (with about a 35% acceptance rate).

Our team works to provide loans to low-income individuals in the South Bend community and help them bring develop financial independence. Our main goal is to be an organization that brings people out of poverty, in contrast with helping them manage poverty. We have already given out eight loans this past semester that have all either been paid back or are on their original set payback periods.

This organization is my main priority at the University, and we are currently in need of funds. We just started our winter campaign and are hoping to raise $8,500 by January. As of now, we are 49% of the way there, which is why I'm asking you for your help. Most college microfinance institutions struggle with finding clients and have an overwhelming amount of money...for us, we have clients calling in daily, and we have to turn them down due to a lack of funds.

I'm asking you to please consider making a donation to the Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion. We've put together numerous packages such as a signed book by famous Notre Dame President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh (who currently holds the world record for the most honorary doctorates!), and your gift would mean so much to the team. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to email or call me.

You can donate by visiting our fundraising site or by going to our website at jiffi.org!

Deeply grateful,
Friday, July 19, 2013 | By: Jake

Pizza Night

The other night we had the opportunity to try a pizza recipe from Kayla's grandma with all of the kids!

At the end of it, I was even able to make a video of the night:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | By: Jake


Back in March for my Spring Break, I went on a pilgrimage with Notre Dame's Campus Ministry. Below is the continued reflection of my journey:

After seeing a glimpse of the life of Jerome, we made our way through the streets of Bethlehem, walking past numerous different family-owned shops, seeing some pretty intricate carvings along the way...

My favorite part about walking through Bethlehem was seeing the shop-owners struggle to determine your nationality. "Hola? Hello? Konichi wa?" They would continue attempting to say hi in different languages until they would get a glance from us, but after they tried speaking Chinese to me...an obvious American...I think they realized that they were not going to sell me anything.

We made our way to the Milk Grotto, where it is said that a drop of Mary's breast milk dropped on a rock, turning the whole Grotto a powdery white. If you haven't heard of it, don't worry...I'm pretty sure none of the students on the pilgrimage had any idea what it was until we got there.

Apparently, people come here and take some powder off the walls of the Grotto, mix it with milk or water and drink it, hoping that either they become fertile or that close friends become fertile. In all honesty, even though there is a small room with many different testimonies of the "Grotto powder" leading a woman to have a child, I'm still not too comfortable with this idea...and for the most part, it creeped me out. 

Because of this, I didn't spend too much time within the Grotto...I continued walking through and stumbled upon a chapel where one of our leaders said "Perpetual Adoration" would be going on. For some reason, I just understood this as "Eucharistic Adoration", which happens at Notre Dame every weekday. 

For those who are unaware, Catholics believe that during Mass, the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Christ. This is one of their core beliefs, and many students at Notre Dame go to Eucharistic Adoration, which is praying and adoring the Eucharist. 

But when I turned the corner, I realized what she meant by "Perpetual". Before me, a Sister of the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament knelt before the Eucharist. These Sisters adore the Eucharist 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With "shift changes", the Sisters spend about two minutes praying together, before the first sister leaves, assuring that the Eucharist is perpetually adored. 

Not attaining to the Catholic belief on the Eucharist, this was obviously quite the interesting experience for me. If the Eucharist does not actually become the Body and Blood of Christ, then this order makes almost makes no sense, other than for the fact of continual prayer occurring in a chapel. 

I sat down quite confused and started to journal, but within 20 seconds, it was time to move to our next site.
Friday, July 12, 2013 | By: Jake

That Weird White Kid: My Son, Max

Down here in Nicaragua, dogs are not really seen as pets...

There are very few, if any, shelters, so you have numerous dogs running through the streets all the time. There are no leashes, as dogs rarely leave their house, recognizing their house as the only place that they will get food. If you were to take the dog for a walk, or take the dog to a vet, or even buy the dog a bone...you'd be seen as pretty odd.

Allow me to interest you to Max:

I know, I know...he isn't the cutest dog in the world. Max is one of those dogs that I like to describe as "cute in an ugly kind of way." Max is from the United States and was brought over to help keep the kids occupied, as well as to help newer children adjust to the new lifestyle here at New Hope. However, Max has yet to live up to his expectations. Most of the kids run around like crazy, jumping on top of each other and wrestling each other...so obviously, Max gets a little hyper, which just makes all of the kids absolutely terrified of him.

Still, Max does a pretty good job of barking whenever there is a new visitor, so I guess he's useful for something. When I first got here, Max smelled absolutely awful, and he just kind of seemed to be around. My interactions with Max were limited to taking a few pictures of him every now and then.

However, for the past two and half weeks or so, Max and I have been pretty inseparable...

Two weeks ago, I gave Max a bath...probably his first bath in at least a year....I'm not going to lie and say that he smells like roses and cherries, but at least he doesn't smell bad anymore. And because he didn't smell bad anymore, I started letting Max sit next to me when we were sitting around in the living room.

But, being the first person that has given Max even a little bit of attention in quite a while, he has gotten a little attached. As you can see in the picture above, the high school stands fairly large in the center of our buildings. To the left of the high school is the children's home, and to the right of the high school is the mission center, where I have all of my things and where I sleep when I'm not sleeping at the children's home with Frankie and Leo.

Since the kids are currently on break from school, there's really no organized activities on this week, so clearly, I had a duty to start Boot Camp with the kids. On Monday, we ran back and forth down the street for quite some time, and by the end of it, you could say that I was a little drenched with sweat. 

Anyway, I took the girls back to the children's home and then walked back to the mission center to shower. I walked to my room, shut the door, got my towel and everything, and then started hearing a noise by the door. I opened my door to find Max outside scratching it...this might not seem like a big deal, but Max never goes in the mission center. Furthermore, the mission center has 14 different rooms...and my door was closed.

Either I really had some body odor, or Max really wanted to find me....or most likely, both. Now, Max follows me absolutely everywhere I go...to my room, to the kitchen, to the dining room, to the backyard, to the field...and because I actually pick him up and pet him, the people here have started referring to Max as "my son".

Like father, like son!
In fact, whenever Max does anything bad...chews up a diaper, has a toy in his mouth, jumps on a kid...I'm always blamed. "Jake, your son is causing trouble again!" "Jake, do you know how to teach your dog manners?" The list goes on and on...

I just gave Max a second bath today, and now I'm wondering how he's going to be after I leave...as I'm leaving in less than three weeks! The director down here said that she's thinking about trying to find a family for Max that actually takes care of its pets...which, as I said, is quite rare down here. And sadly, el gringo raro can't really help out with this problem. Although I love Max, Notre Dame does not allow dogs in our dorms.

Regardless, Max is still an awesome dog, and as long as I keep taking care of him as much as I am, I'll still be seen as quite odd for treating the dog like a son...but I think I'm okay with that. :)
Thursday, July 11, 2013 | By: Jake

This Heavenly Look

Back in March for my Spring Break, I went on a pilgrimage with Notre Dame's Campus Ministry. Below is the continued reflection of my journey:

First of all, I'm realizing that I could be posting a lot more pictures than I currently am for all of these posts, so I'll see how that goes with this post. Also, my lovely grandmother keeps nagging me about how I need to post more about Jerusalem, or just post more in general...so I'll work on that as well. :)

After we left the Church of the Nativity, we went around to the backside, where we stumbled upon The Church of St. Catherine.

The courtyard outside of the entrance that connected with the Church of the Nativity gave the place somewhat of a Hogwarts-feel to it, which I thought was particularly cool.

Needless to say, I was so excited to finally walk in a church that didn't look all doom-and-gloom. Light from the huge windows along the upper part of the walls gave the church this heavenly look. However, I will say that I was fairly disappointed by the lack of a 24/7 choir singing Alleluia...that would have been a lot cooler. The sight of that huge organ at the back of the church made me almost want to start learning how to play the organ.

But just when I thought the church was as good as it could get, I noticed Brett, one of the chaperones, walk down a stairway on the side of the isle. Beneath the Church of St. Catherine is where Jerome, the famous theologian and a saint within the Catholic Church, translated the Bible into Latin.

Underneath the church, there were many different types of chapels, altars, and Jerome's original "office". Sadly, we could not go into the office as a visiting tour group was celebrating mass in the space. However, we did get to see Jerome's original tomb, shown in the last picture above, where he was originally buried, before his remains were moved to Rome.

I thought of what it would be like to have been Jerome, to have been composing so many different theological works, biblical translations, gospel commentaries....all within feet of where Christ, the One of which all of Jerome's works revolved around, was born.

One of my favorite parts of this "underground" house was a pathway in the back that led directly to the place of Christ's birth. Currently, it is blocked off by a wall for conducting traffic, as well as for security reasons (the pathway connects the Church of the Nativity to the Church of St. Catherine). However, small holes appear in the wall, where you can look through and see all of the pilgrims venerating the birth site.

Lastly, I snapped a photo of this "cross gate" blocking off a portion of a cave, which greatly reminded me of the cross at Notre Dame that I see as the perfect place of peace and silence, other than the Grotto. I originally didn't have a picture of it. However, being honored to take a close friend's engagement photos back in May, I now have a photo of it!

Seeing the connections between Notre Dame and Jerusalem, such as this one, continually remind me that although Christ walked in the flesh in the Holy Land, we are just as close to Christ where we are right now as I was while in Bethlehem. The same "spiritual reawakening" that I experienced in Bethlehem while in Jerome's cave can be experienced at my home in Chicago, my school in Indiana, or even down here in Nicaragua. 
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 | By: Jake

That Weird White Kid: Walking Around Barefoot

I've been here for exactly six weeks now, and I'm definitely starting to be "defined" in this culture. There are a few different things that set me apart as "El Gringo Raro", which I like to translate as "that weird white kid".

Gringo basically means "white person" and, in some cultures, is seen as quite the derogatory term, but here, it pretty much is just a matter of fact. You are a white person; therefore, you are a gringo. No different than saying that you are a woman or a man. And while no one actually calls me el gringo raro to my face, most people have difficulty pronouncing my name. The "j" sound is difficult for many people, so my name comes out more like "Yake" or with the sound of the "j" as in Jacques...so I wouldn't be surprised if I was, instead, referred to in conversation like this:

My little bro, Zach, barefoot at the beach
"You know...Yake! El gringo raro!"

Anyways, why I'm that weird white kid:

Now I know that walking around the streets of Chicago barefoot is definitely not encouraged, but would it be all that weird to see a person carrying their flip-flips in one hand, walking around barefoot on a gorgeous and sunny day? 

At Notre Dame, I'm pretty sure that I'm already pegged as "That Barefoot Kid" because although some people walk around barefoot on the quad, there are very few, if any besides me, that are comfortable with getting coffee in Starbuck's with no shoes on. Plus, giving every tour with no shoes on, I've already been called "The Barefoot Tour Guide", and of course, it's definitely a weird thing to do. However, I'm quite fond of the name. People think it's crazy, but there's also people that think it's cool.

But down here? Walking around barefoot is like walking around in your underwear during a blizzard. People, old ladies in particular (who usually love me!), have no problem with stopping to scold me for not wearing shoes. ¡Dónde están tus zapatos! is an often-heard phrase for me.

The other day, we had an evangelization outreach night at a park down the street. If you want to evangelize in the US, you usually would have to get a permit, find a tent company, etc. Down here, you just walk down to an open area, set up a 15-foot stage six feet in the air, bring all your instruments, a dozen stereo speakers, some kids dressed as clowns, and you're good to go. No need to worry about filling out forms or advertising....or more importantly, no need to worry about "disturbing the peace" fines.

Honestly, a few clowns and dozens of kids will show up.
Anyway, we were walking over to this park from the orphanage, which was about three quarters of a mile away, and when the pastor's wife noticed that I was wearing sandals instead of shoes, she laughed. "¿Estás llevando tus chinelas?" she asked. I looked at her confused, and then found out that chinelas was the word for sandals.

After we got to the park, the pastor realized that he forgot a cord so I had to run back to the orphanage and grab it for him. Now, I already get enough weird looks from people in the street solely because I'm white. So you can imagine the weird looks I got when they saw a gringo running down the street with sandals on.

On the way back to the park, finding it too hard to run with sandals, I decided to take them off and just hold them in my hand as I ran down the street barefoot. As I ran past one group of teenagers from my English class, they all started laughing. I shouted to them in Spanish, "What? You've never seen a white kid running while carrying his sandals?"

In return, I got some really weird looks. One of my better students informed me of what was so funny: having just learned the word for sandals, I accidentally mispronounced it as chileans. In other words, I told my students that I was a white kid running down the street, carrying all of my "people from Chile".

They continually ask me where all of my Chileans are now when I see them outside of class. 

Although things may be easier with shoes on, I'd just rather not wear them. :)
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | By: Jake

Starting to Get the Hang of Things

Nap time has only been going on for five minutes and all four of the kids are already sleeping. All eyes closed. No talking. Peace.

They each have their own stuffed animal. They each have the blanket they want. Each in their respective beds.

The windows are open, but the curtains are shut. The breeze flows in while the sun stays out.

And, of course, they have been bribed with being able to eat mangoes if they all go to sleep well, but hey...they're sleeping.

In the morning, the boys now get to listen to music on my phone if they actually get out of bed and take showers without complaining or being lazy. And now, we look at the "News in Pictures" every morning, but only if they get up fast enough. Surprisingly, we get ready much quicker.

When the kids aren't in school, we usually just let them play around, but recently, we've been trying to do a few more structured activities like relay races, leap frog, and musical chairs, which occupies them a lot better.

Playing Musical Chairs in the Backyard
In our Spanish class, Josh (the other volunteer) bought pizza for the winning team (we've been playing a review game fairly often over the past few weeks). And last week, I promised the class that I'd buy pizza for anyone that got an A on their exam that they have this week.

Most of the students know me now, and always ask me where my coffee is...pretty sad that even if by Nicaraguan standards, I'm still seen as the coffee addict. This morning, I was able to preach to all 300 students about my three milestones, and since I knew most of their names, I was able to make it interactive and more engaging. Thank God for that!

For dinner, I've been helping the cook prepare all of the food (which also means that I get to eat a bunch of stuff as I prepare...the mangos here are amazing). And in addition to learning how to cut mangos, make fruit juices, and fry bananas, I've been able to have some really fruitful conversations in Spanish. The cook knows very little English, which has allowed me to really get better at communicating in Spanish.

Usually, when we go to church on Sunday nights (the Spanish-speaking church), I have absolutely no idea what is being said, but yesterday, I actually was able to recognize most of the songs. And for the first time, I actually understood the entire sermon, which is awesome because now I actually understand what's going on!

I've had a lot of free time during my time here, but recently I've started trying with the marketing for New Hope Children's Foundation. Right now, I'm starting a facebook page for them where I'll be putting up pictures of all of the kids, and hopefully, will be able to start filming some videos! Be sure to like the page! Although, I will warn that over the next week, I'll be putting up a lot of pictures.

And finally, at night, when I put the boys to bed, we have exactly 15 minutes for them to get changed into their pajamas, and any time left over is used for reading them a story. Every night, we seem to have more and more time to read. :) thankfully, we have some longer books here, which allows most nights to end with somewhat of a "cliffhanger" which gives them more motivation for getting changed faster the following night. Like tonight, we will finally find out if Winnie the Pooh actually saw a Heffalump or if it was just a dream. And after reading, we've started praying together, which has proved really fruitful.

And after the whole day is over, I've made time for prayer, journaling, and reading, which has been more than a blessing.

All in all, I'm definitely starting to get the hang of things here. :)
Friday, June 28, 2013 | By: Jake

Wait...This is It?

Back in March for my Spring Break, I went on a pilgrimage with Notre Dame's Campus Ministry. Below is the continued reflection of my journey:

Entrance to the Church of the Nativity
Upon entering into the Church of the Nativity, the believed site of the birth of Christ,  I thought back to February of 2012, when I first heard of Notre Dame Campus Ministry's pilgrimage to the Holy Land...

I remember seeing "Church of the Nativity" as one of the locations that students would be traveling to and quickly searched the Internet to learn more. 

"They actually know the spot where it happened?" I remember thinking. I mean, I knew there was a spot where it happened, but the fact that the location was known? That there was a spot where millions of pilgrims went to every year to observe that event? Looking back, it seems kind of stupid to think that there wouldn't be a place marking Christ's birth, but at the time, it just seemed so surreal...lie we're talking about Christ...we're talking about God.

And now, here I was, walking through the door to the Church of the Nativity, the place where God became man. 

Surely, I was going to have a moment here.

Inside the Church of the Nativity from the Back
Church of the Nativity from the Front
Wait...this is it?

It's not that I was expecting the Buckingham Palace or anything, but the place just seemed so bare, so empty...but emptiness paired with peace. While my eyes saw nothing of importance, there was no doubt that something important was here.

We walked over to the back part of the church where we had group prayer. Surrounding a circular table, we all read the Pilgrim's Prayer. I noticed people walking by and just staring us, and realizing that they probably didn't speak English, we probably looked like we were doing some witchcraft over the table or something.

The front of the church was a bit more decorative, where the altar was. We walked towards it and noticed a line along the front right of the church. It wasn't too bad, about a 15 minute wait, which I thought was pretty good. However, as we got closer and I could see down the stairs (the altar was built over the believed site of Christ's birth), I quickly realized that the line was going fast because pilgrims only had 5-10 seconds at the site.

The altar above the place of Christ's birth
I walked down the stairs, only three people ahead of me, and realized that in less than a minute I would be directly on that spot. I tried to "prepare" for my moment, telling myself that this was huge. This was where it all started!

And then the moment came...I knelt down, said a short prayer, and got up...all in about 15 seconds.

The Hole in the Center where you can touch where Christ was born
Well...that was...different than I thought it would be.

I was expecting to break down crying, and instead I was just confused. I just wasn't feeling anything. Well, if I'm not having any emotional response, surely no one else is, I remember thinking as I walked back up the steps...running right into my friend, Anastasia, who told me with watery eyes, "Jake, this is the place. Like this is the place where God was in the flesh." You could say that I was a bit jealous of her...

God, why aren't you letting me have my moment?

But then I began thinking...why did God have such a generic site? I mean, if God wanted to, he could have chosen a site that would be known for thousands of years to come, but instead, he just chose random cave. (Side note: we learned Christ was actually born in a cave....not a stable. Sorry to ruin your nativity scenes.) This was the place where Emmanuel was born, where God was with us. But now that Christ has resurrected, he isn't with us more here than he is back in the US. He's everywhere.

Although we revere this location as the birth of Christ, so that we have a place to remember, we shouldn't respect this location anymore than any other location. We shouldn't be holy just in a church...we should be holy everywhere we go. If I would feel odd cussing in a place like the Church of the Nativity, maybe I should question why I don't feel odd cussing anywhere else.

Steven Furtick, one of my favorite pastors, recently said "Don't let your expectations affect what God wants you to experience." 

I don't think that applies anywhere more than here. If I would have had my "moment" at the a church of the Nativity, I wouldn't have been able to focus on this greater truth:

I need to act the same everywhere as I would here.
Friday, June 21, 2013 | By: Jake

Considering Abandoning the Faith?

Doubt...yeah, that's always been such a fun thing to deal with. 

It's not something that's new...it's always been around. And as I mentioned in that milestone, doubt is probably something I struggle with the most.

These constant periods of 1-3 days when we lose faith in God, when we want to do something our way, when we would rather sin, rather lift ourselves up than others up, rather lift ourselves up than Him up. Why can't I just go make a bunch of money and spend it all on myself? Why can't I just do what I want to do? These thoughts usually stem from the self, as all sin does.

When something like this happens, you want help. You want to return to the faith, and you want to be convinced. Yet at the same time, you don't want to ruin anyone else's faith by talking to them. However, eventually, you get around to it, you attend a church service, a bible study, a devotional...and you find faith in God...doubt is frequent, but pretty simple to overcome.

However, I wouldn't describe the past two weeks as a doubting of the faith as much as an abandoning of the faith. It wasn't that I was mad at God and didn't want to deal with something. It wasn't that I had some selfish thing that Christ wouldn't approve of.

It wasn't that I hated a part of Christianity.

The problem was that I realized how much I loved it. I realized how much I would miss if I ever left the faith. 

That sense of community? Of people constantly praying over you? Holding you accountable? That's hard to find outside of the church. 

That sense of unity? Like when I went to Passion in January with 65,000 other college students that I didn't know and praised the same God? When I meet a random person on a plane who shares the faith and suddenly we can talk about anything? 

That sense of belonging? Being a part of something bigger than yourself? Knowing that some guy-in-the-sky has your back? 

That sense of security? Knowing that you don't have to worry about anything? That you won't have to fear anything?

Community...Unity...Belonging...Security...so many wonderful things, but if I'm only a Christian because of these benefits, only a Christian because it's what I grew up with, only a Christian because that's what my friends are, than something is wrong, and I'm not being real and honest. 

I need to be a Christian because I believe in Christ. Yes. It is that simple. 

Anyway, suggestions for people considering abandoning the faith?

1. Get your thoughts out.
Have a journal. Record your voice. Start a Word document. You need to get your thoughts out, or you are not going to be able to process anything, nor be able to see how you've changed day to day.

2. Talk to people about it.
Sometimes, getting your thoughts out in a journal is not enough because you are still the only one that knows. Finally making the decision to tell someone your thoughts makes an unbelievable difference. It takes the weight of your shoulders...it doesn't have to be a Christian, it doesn't have to be an agnostic, it doesn't have to be an atheist. And in reality, it's more important to tell people of different backgrounds in a situation like this. 

3. Ask for prayers.
This one seems kind of one-sided and definitely more on the "this will convince you of Christianity" side, but you're doubting...you're not sure if you are a Christian, and you don't just want to be told reasons why you should be. Asking for prayers, if God exists, can have enormous effects. And if God doesn't exist, it has almost no effect...meaning...it only pulls you towards faith if faith is true.

4. Don't fake it.
This is probably the worst thing that you can do. Don't "pray" with others if you are not actually praying. Don't lead worship if you're just playing it like any other song. Don't attend church services if you're just going to sit there and say "I don't believe any of this" to yourself the whole time. Don't pretend that you have faith when you don't. That's like being a lukewarm Christian...God wants you hot and fully in the faith or cold and fully out of the faith. And this one makes sense by secular standards as well...

5. Take a frickin' break.
Lastly, take a day off. This one obviously helped me out the most. I stopped praying, stopped reading the Bible, stopped worshipping, stopped thinking about God, stopping pondering religion and atheism...all of it. And as my wonderful great aunt suggested, whenever a thought about any of that comes into a play, start singing a song and get the thought of your head.

I was in a position where I felt like I was trapped inside a box called Christianity, that I was tricking myself into believing something that I didn't believe in so I wouldn't have to go outside that box, so I wouldn't have to be open-minded...

But as that same aunt said, believing in Christ does not put you in a box, it's what frees you. Christ is freedom.

And I wasn't feeling free...I was seeing church as an obligation...and that's the complete opposite of what Christ wants.

I'm glad to be back.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | By: Jake

My Hands Are Dirty

I walk back to my room in the dark of the night after another evening devotional with the kids and other volunteers, slowly making my way amidst the dense fog. I pass through the gated door to my room...the rain still trickling from the gutter as I quietly sing "Grace Like Rain". But although my mouth confesses the feelings of grace, I feel far from it.

The pastor's voice still ringing in my head...

"It's like we're putting on a happy face when we are actually struggling....you know what I mean, Jake?" 

Coincidence? Conviction?

Yet another day goes by full of laziness, and even if the girls were not constantly declaring,"Jake siempre está cansado." (Jake is always tired), it would have been fairly easy to tell that I wasn't getting enough sleep.

It's not that I was too busy or staying up too late. It's that I couldn't sleep. I was up night after night thinking.

After tossing and turning in my bed for an hour or so, I finally turn on my laptop to read some blogs and ease my mind. The computer starts up and my desktop picture shows:

The Cross...Love...Titus 3:3-7...words that continually pierce my heart.

But now they pierce in a different way...

It's not like I wasn't prepared for any of this...it started back in May when that same good friend pictured above spoke of words we all needed to hear:
"Putting on [a] face is like putting on shoes. We think it's helping. We think others can't see our dirty and gross looking feet. But they are still there. They don't go away because we wear shoes."
Then, that other woman of God gave some amazing advice:
"I think it starts with this: no more hiding. I need to be honest about myself and the places where I fall short with myself and the community that I am investing in. This way, transformation can happen in my heart and I can continue to grow."
And finally, just shortly before the "piercing" changed, a guest blogger proclaimed the truth:
"On a given Sunday, when the depression was suffocating, [my wife] armed herself with honesty and went to church... 
 'If people ask me how I am doing, I’m going to tell them,' [she said.] 
She answered each, 'How are you?' with a candid, 'Not well. I’m depressed. Will you pray for me?'"

Again and again, we're told to be real, present, candid with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, we continually act like nothing is wrong...we resist vulnerability. It affects our pride. It can ruin our image. It can ruin our identity. It can ruin our reputation.

I closed my laptop, confused and angered by the sight of the picture.

It pierced in a different way...because I didn't believe it anymore. 
I couldn't go to sleep...because I didn't believe it anymore.
I couldn't find peace...because I didn't believe it anymore.

I couldn't bring myself to find faith in the Cross, in Christ, in Church...I just didn't have faith...

But what was worse was that I kept the secret inside. Again and again, the opportunity presented itself for me to confide in someone, for me to open up, for me to be vulnerable.

But I still resisted...because that's what we do. We like doing things our way.

And the following morning, after another night of little sleep, I open my laptop to see a different picture:

A call to present our dirty hands, to present our real selves. So yes, my hands are dirty, and for the past week and a half, I have struggled with my belief in God, but I finally opened up. I finally reached out...I stopped telling lies.

And since I´m trying not to tell lies...

I can´t honestly say that my faith has fully returned, but since I opened up to one person, it's gotten amazingly better.

And as I open up my Bible this morning, truth springs forth...

And tomorrow morning, I plan to go to morning prayer for the first time in quite a while. Yeah, it's at 5am, but I have my dear sister in Christ's words in the back of my head...and I know I'll get up.

Your continual prayers are immensely appreciated.
Friday, June 14, 2013 | By: Jake

Bowing Down

Back in March for my Spring Break, I went on a pilgrimage with Notre Dame's Campus Ministry. Below is the continued reflection of my journey:

Our talk with Abu Jacobs and the graduate from Notre Dame was very intriguing, and made me aware of how ignorant I was of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although it was meant to be more of a dialogue,  I think that we were so ignorant of the whole situation that we just wanted to keep hearing more...without really being able to add any new points to the conversation.

One thing that did make me happy was that these two Palestinian Catholics did not want Palestine to control the territory of the Holy Land either. All they were seeking was peace, and in their eyes, the conflict wouldn't be any better if the roles just reversed. (For those quite unfamiliar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I strongly encourage Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers.) in addition to this, he talked about the use of humor when trying to ease the conflict, which I think is definitely true.

We finished up our conversation and then were on our way to the Church of the Nativity, seen by many as the place of Christ's birth. As we walked towards the Church, we stopped at a local shop to get falafel, which was absolutely delicious and a lot better than the Middle Eastern restaurant by Notre Dame (no offense to them!). We sat outside the Church of the Nativity, sitting on the side of the street, as we watched tour after tour group go through the small door to the Church. 

Although no one is exactly sure that this is the spot where Christ was born, we do know that Christians have seen this as the site for more than 1600 years, which makes it pretty cool. This is the same site where Jerome translated the Bible and that billions of Christians have travelled to. 

When I first applied to go on the pilgrimage, the Church of the Nativity was one of my main interests. I saw so many photos of people placing their hands through a dark hole, said to be the exact spot where Jesus was born. Again and again, I had pictured myself having some deep, spiritual experience at this spot. I was prepared to have my mind blown.

As we got closer, I realized just how small this "small door" to the Church was. Apparently, back then, people used to go through the giant church doors on their horses. They ended up making the doors smaller and smaller, and now it's so small, that you actually have to bow down in order to get through it. It's clearly obvious that there is no way to get a horse through the door now, but what's also cool is the humility that this symbolizes. You're entering into a holy space and we are all inferior to Christ.

It was pretty awesome seeing hundreds of tourists and pilgrims run through, all bowing down and showing respect to the Creator and as our pilgrimage group walked through, I, too, bowed down to the Almighty...
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | By: Jake

A Typical Day

My most often asked question has so far been "What exactly are you doing down there?"

So a typical day...

I wake up to the sound of my alarm blaring, and usually hit the snooze and let it wake up a little closer to 5:00am. It sounds awful, but my body is mainly adjusted to Notre Dame's time zone, meaning that it's really only like 6:45am....which I guess, to some, may still be awful, but it really hasn't been too bad. The other volunteer, Josh, and I share a room at the mission center, but one of us also needs to spend the night in the boy's room, where Leo and Frankie (the two boys) live. We've been switching off every week, so this week, I'm back in the mission center.

Leo (left) and Frankie (right) being goofballs

5:00 am
I walk over to the main house in the peace and quiet of the morning, usually accompanied by the heavy fog that makes the place look like the set for a scary movie, which always gives me a good laugh. After arriving at the main house, we have morning prayer and spend some time talking about the coming day and anything different that´s going on at the school or with the kids.

I head back over to the mission center to shower and get ready for the day or I wake up Leo and Frankie and get them ready for the day, which involves giving them showers, picking their clothes, getting them dressed....all while they would rather be jumping on top of me instead of getting ready.

I walk across the street to the school for a small devotional, bible study, and prayer with the other teachers in the school. This is completely in Spanish, and it´s probably the most difficult to understand, as there are no kids in the room...meaning no need to talk slow or speak in basic terms.

I teach the 6th graders English with Josh...this week, my goal has been to learn all of the kids' names. When you know names, you can write names on the board, which fortunately, gets you a lot more respect. :)

I go to the kitchen back at the house to eat breakfast with all of the kids and some other staff. This morning, we had pancakes :) A wonderful and pleasant surprise! After breakfast, I usually have a lot of free time where I can catch up on emails, get some reading done, follow up on some friends' blogs, etc.

We head over to the 5th grader´s classroom to teach English. Because this is the second class, I´m always a bit more prepared, and thankfully, already have all of the student´s name memorized. Needless to say, they are pretty well-behaved.

Recess! A very early morning recess...when I play very intense basketball with the students (which helps with getting to know the kids). When I'm not playing basketball, I can usually be found sleeping on the couch at the main house. :)

Some of the kids playing basketball at a park we went to last Friday
We now head over to the secondary school to teach English 1 to the high-schoolers. This class was a little bit harder to get started...in the early days, this was mainly just them talking with Josh and I assigning some work. However, the past week and a half, we have had things pretty organized...playing games, having a pop quiz, etc. It's starting to actually feel like a high-school classroom. Sadly, I still have yet to remember anyone's name.

Some more free time...

Lunch with the kids :)

Emily eating her spaghetti :) One of my favorite lunches so far

Nap time...which some days I absolutely fall in love with...and other days, I absolutely abhor. As soon as the kids are sleeping, I feel like my duties change from "teacher" to "older brother". With school officially being over for the day, there's kind of no organized activities other than dinner in the evening. This time is usually spent blogging, reading, hanging out with the kids when they wake up (they can wake up anytime between 1:30pm and 3:30pm), taking a shower, taking pictures, helping out with the maintenance guy, etc.

This picture sums up the Joy of a typical evening
Most of the schoolnight evenings are spent helping out with homework, some devotional, and some worship. Most of the weekends are spent watching movies with the kids...or moreso, me falling asleep as they watch the movie.
Saturday, June 8, 2013 | By: Jake

Tugged on His Garment

Back in March for my Spring Break, I went on a pilgrimage with Notre Dame's Campus Ministry. Below is the continued reflection of my journey:

As we walked up a small staircase, I heard the noise of what sounded to me like the Muslim Call to Prayer. Quite the opposite, when I actually found that it was the pre-service hymn to the Melkite Catholic Mass that we would be attending.

The giant doors to the church were open wide and the music blared out, informing everyone that Mass was about to start. As we walked in, everyone had huge smiles on their faces, and the pastor of the church, Abu Jacobs, warmly welcomed us in. Fr. Brad, one of our trip leaders, was surprised to be given the invitation to concelebrate the Mass with Abu. The pastor informed the rest of the Church that we had travelled to their church from Notre Dame in the United States, which led the whole church to warmly welcome us with large smiles.

I had attended a Byzantine Catholic Church over by Notre Dame with some other pilgrims, so I was thankfully already somewhat familiar with the way that Eastern Churches have Mass. However, the one back by Notre Dame spoke English, whereas this Church spoke Arabic. It was definitely interesting to participate in a Christian service in a language that most people associate with another religion, which just once again proved my ignorance.

However, because Fr. Brad was concelebrating with Abu, the Mass was in half English, which definitely helped me with being able to follow along. For those of you that have never been to a Byzantine or Melkite Catholic Mass, they are a little bit different than Roman Catholic Masses. And for those of you that think the Roman Catholic Mass is too ritualistic, I would encourage you to attend a Melkite or Byzantine Catholic Mass. 

I, personally, am not too big of a fan of the numerous rituals. However, even with all of these rituals, I still saw a sense of community vastly different than Masses in the United States. One of the biggest things was the overwhelming sense of informality paired along with the sense of the importance of what was occurring. When the pastor went up to read the Gospel, he followed behind a group of children ranging from two years old up to about thirteen years old. Little kids just walking down the main aisle with candles that were swinging back and forth like crazy.

When Abu gave his Homily, a little two year old kept walking up to him. Instead of a parent rushing up to grab the kid (as I think would be the most common response in America, they let him be). The child walked up to Abu and tugged on his garment. Expecting Abu to politely ignore him and continue on with the message, he stopped his Homily and shook the child's hand. This informality helped make everyone a lot more comfortable, especially with the awkward language barrier that occurred at times. 

However, as I said before, this was paired with the idea that the Mass was something very important. As the gifts were carried forward and the Eucharist occurred, I witnessed many devoted Christians firmly showing their belief that they actually saw the bread and blood as the literal Body and Blood of Christ. Although I do not share this belief and therefore do not participate in the Eucharist, I was greatly impressed by the seriousness of the ritual. I didn't get this same feeling back at home in America, and when I speak to many Catholics, even in my own hall, they seem to be shocked with the belief of transubstantiation. 

And aside from the uneasiness that I felt when I saw a parent give her son a cookie like he was a dog after he carried the candles up the aisle, the experience was overall, not too bad.

Afterwards, Abu invited us, along with the entire parish, inside a small building next door for coffee and fellowship. This was another key difference that I saw with the churches in the Holy Land...these parishes were actually like families. They all knew what was going on in the other lives, they were all catching up with each other, and most importantly, this time lasted for a good twenty minutes.

Shortly afterwards, we met a parishioner of the church who actually went to Notre Dame and got his Master's at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where I now study, which was really cool. Abu and the Notre Dame alum invited us to talk afterwards about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.