A letter from YAV Whitney Palmer in Guatemala
March 16, 2010
Email: Whitney Palmer
Dear Family and Friends,
First, I want to apologize to everyone for not staying in better contact. It is easy to get caught up in my life here and forget about the importance of informing everyone back home what I am doing. I do try to update my blog more often than I send out emails, but I am not always successful at that either. I have also tried sending postcards home, but I only know of one that found its destination (although I always receive my mail). I want to thank everyone for all your support this year, despite my lack of communication.
The past six months have been a whirlwind of activity. When I think back to September, when I arrived, it feels like ages ago, but when I think I have already been here for six months, I realize how quickly the time has passed.
As most of you know, I have been working with Pastoral de la Mujer in the Catholic diocese here in San Marcos. Our main objective is to empower women and help them realize their value and potential as women, and as human beings. We stress the equality of men and women, in all aspects of life and work. We do this by working in every parish in thedepartment of San Marcos (which is like a state) through workshops with the women. We also have an education program in order to instill values and self-confidence into young women, and men.
Sometimes, it is hard not to get frustrated and discouraged while doing a longer term mission. I often get overwhelmed with the needs I see every day. The needs are so large, and Pastoral de la Mujer hardly makes a dent in fixing the problems facing women every day. Then my impact in that chip is even smaller. I see countless other problems in the country, that I don’t even begin to touch. And I feel confused about my purpose, about my role here in Guatemala. Sometimes I fear I am becoming immune to the injustice and pain that surrounds me every day. I no longer recognize that there is trash on the ground around me, I don’t think twice about stepping over someone passed out on the sidewalk. I am used to hearing stories of people with no jobs, no money, and little prospects. I came here because I wanted to understand the situation of Guatemalans better, I wanted to walk in solidarity with the marginalized, because that is what God calls us to do. Yet some days I can’t help but think I could be doing this better.
But doing this better is not the point of my year in accompaniment. The point is to allow myself to be here. I should allow myself to live completely in the moment every day, enjoying the presence of others and the presence of God. In reality, all I can do is receive, which Henry Nouwen taught me in his book, Gracias. When I receive with an open heart, I can allow others to become aware of their gifts. The role of missionaries is not to “save” someone else, or build churches and schools, but to allow others to recognize the gifts that God has given them, and allow them to claim the good news of the gospel for themselves. A missionary must work with gratitude in order to receive the gifts of those we are serving, and allow them to feel a part of a community, not as an object of someone else’s generosity.
I also find I am more dependent here on others than I ever have been in my life. Even when I was little I was very independent, and that independence has grown drastically over the years. Here I rely on people to explain cultural and language differences to me in detail. I rely on people to be patient with me as I slowly speak Spanish, probably full of grammatical mistakes. I rely on the woman I live with to buy my food and pay my bills. I rely on people to take care of me, which is difficult and humbling at the same time.
While I sometimes feel that I am just hanging out here in Guatemala, I remember God sent each of us to live in this world, and God sent us here to live and work together in community. Sometimes I feel isolated and alone, but other times I feel surrounded by the love and generosity of both Guatemalans and those of you in the States.
So when I feel overwhelmed by my inability to make change, I have to remember that true giving is not in the giving of gifts, but the giving of self, which is immensely more difficult. As a very wise man told me a few days ago, I cannot change Guatemala in a week, month, or even a year, but I can allow Guatemala to change me.
Paz y Amor,