By Sr. Andrea Koverman, SC
Hola from Guatemala! Thanks to my community, I’m in the middle of a four-week Spanish immersion program in Antigua, Guatemala. I’m getting seven hours of individual instruction a day and boarding with a native resident, trying to get a good start on learning America’s second language. I studied French in school, but realized Spanish would have been much more practical as soon as I started teaching and the migrant population that came to South Carolina during the harvest season began staying in the area. Besides teaching in “migrant school” during several summers, the Spanish-speaking students became a growing part of our regular student body. The need to be able to converse, even minimally in Spanish has grown increasingly obvious ever since. The students I taught in El Paso during formation, the women and children of Proyecto Santo Nino, in Anapra, Mexico, the immigrants settling in Cincinnati from Central America, and the issue of immigration reform as an area of focus where I work (the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center) all are compelling reasons for taking the plunge here in Guatemala.
In addition to learning to hablar Española, this experience has given me another opportunity, one that I wasn’t expecting. Working like a maniac before I left so that my absence would be as unproblematic as possible, I didn’t have too much time to reflect on what I was entering into until I finally plopped my frazzled self down in my window seat on the airplane, took a deep breath or two, and said a quick prayer for the safe keeping of all those I was leaving behind and a safe journey for myself.
As I began to relax, I thought about how much I love flying. I never fail to be amazed as I am lifted off of the ground and up into the friendly skies, but that is only part of what I love about it. As the plane ascends and reaches cruising altitude, I almost always have a sharpened sense of God’s presence there with me. Maybe it’s something left over from childhood when I thought God lived up in the sky in a place called heaven, but when I’m up in the heavens too, it’s easy for me to imagine that I’m a little closer to my creator. Looking out the window, I watched intently as I rose above the airport and surrounding neighborhood, and the city and urban sprawl began shrinking into a blur. Things look quite different from this elevated vantage point. I smiled to think that maybe I was seeing the world the way that God does. And suddenly, there it was: an invitation to try to do just that as I took up temporary residence in unfamiliar territory.
To see as God sees, to love as God loves, to be merciful and forgiving as God is merciful and forgiving is challenging because, as Isaiah tells us, God’s ways are not our ways. We have to recognize and actively choose not to act out of pride, ego, or woundedness in order to align our hearts with God’s. Not an easy task, and one I am constantly working on, but it’s what we are called to. Looking out the window again, I didn’t see my city, my state, my country. I saw God’s world--without the artificial man-made borders and barricades that serve political and economic purposes, but not those of God. The higher we went, the easier it was to see that we were created and meant to live interdependently within the bounty and diversity of all humanity and nature. It was so beautifully obvious looking down at all the water and vegetation, that God has given us everything we need to thrive; there is no scarcity to fear as long as we cooperate and share resources with one another.
I am determined to spend my month looking at Guatemala and its people through God’s eyes, to be conscious that each new person I meet is my sister or brother. It is an incredibly beautiful county, in which nearly every building is draped in a luxurious blanket of vibrant flora, and the markets are packed with baskets of more fruits and vegetables than I can name. Like it is in the U.S., it’s hard to understand how anyone could go hungry in this land of plenty. But, for many, especially the indigenous people, life is characterized by the extreme poverty, discrimination, and violence that have prompted them to flee in desperation to the States. I recognize my own vulnerability in witnessing theirs, and by looking into their faces, realize how deeply responsible we are for one another. I know that I will look at the immigrants and other people I encounter when I’m back in Cincinnati with a vision that is a little sharper than it was before I came, and hopefully, a little more in the same way that God looks upon us all, with compassion, concern, and love.