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One Ear at a Time

Brandon and his host family

Editor’s Note: The following is part of our daily holiday series celebrating “The Shared World.” New missioner Brandon talks about an experience that lead him to Franciscan Mission Service and his mission call. 

I walked up a very steep hill along an ever-narrowing pathway towards what would be my home for the next eight weeks in Limonco, a village in the Sierras of Mexico. I recall quite clearly walking up to this small wooden house with open windows, a tin roof, an open fire stove, no indoor plumbing, and a single room for six people thinking, “This is not going to be easy.”

I was a part of an indigenous outreach program associated with my university doing a full survey of the community and research the economic, education, and health status.  But, it became very clear to me as my new family welcomed me that my first goal was to somehow feel comfortable in a situation that was completely outside of anything I had ever experienced.

There were only two rooms inside the home: the kitchen and the living space.  To give me privacy, they hung a laundry rope from one end of the room to the other and hung a bed sheet over it.  My bed was a wooden plank roughly six feet long and three feet wide with a blanket.  The shower was outside of my room and it consisted of a hanging plastic sheet, again for privacy, and two five gallon empty buckets.  Home sweet home!

I write this story because that initial shock of having to live in those kinds of conditions lasted so briefly that it almost didn’t matter. All of the other memories I have pertaining to my time in Limonco have nothing to do with my conditions, but only the generosity shown to me from a group of people who had no obligation to take me in.

I jumped in as quickly as I could with chores around the house while each step I took was ridiculed from my lack of these basic skills.  They usually let me struggle for a while so they could laugh at me a bit and then teach the proper way to do things.

I tried my hand at making tortillas where I was politely asked to leave; to quote the matriarch, “You just don’t get it.”  Of course, she said it with an ingratiating smile that made my failure a little less embarrassing.  I was decent at shucking corn, which soon became my main job, and the father would sit next to me and push the largest pile of corn stalks toward me with a wordless smile.

Brandon shucking corn

Brandon shucking corn

By the end of my time, I was taking part in planting corn, picking pimientos, and even a couple family arguments. Every day and night I felt like a true part of the family, regardless if we could not find the words to communicate perfectly.

In this time of Advent, finding the true meaning of a shared world is not difficult for me.  I had originally planned to go to Guatemala for my school project, but fate had a different plan and placed me in a location I was not fully prepared for. With so little time to educate myself on the area, I basically had to rely on this family that had never met me and, a week before, had never even heard of me.

However, they quickly readied themselves for my arrival, probably having no idea what obstacles to expect.  Some barriers seem insurmountable at first, but kindness and appreciation for the opportunities we have always make the hurdles less imposing.

I have my Limonco family to thank for opening up their house and their hearts and demonstrating how we are all one family.  I have had a lot influences in my life that have led me to where I am today, but this family defines what a shared world is to me.  Simply judging their living conditions, it would look as if they have very little to give, but they gave me kindness, gratitude, friendship and most importantly family.

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Brandon Newland is very pleased to be joining FMS to help serve communities around the world. He taught English as a second language in Korea for many years before returning to school to pursue his dream of helping the marginalized and impoverished. He has recently received his master's in international studies with a focus on community development, and looks forward to learning more on his journey. Brandon currently serves in Savannah la Mar, Jamaica.