By Kathy Werly
Article written for The Shepherd’s Call-May 2017
Heard this before? Seat belts securely fastened. Trays and seatbacks in their full upright position. Carryon luggage completely stowed under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin. All electronic devices powered off. Ready for takeoff! This drill will probably sound familiar to the eight members of the 2017 Good Shepherd Delegation going to El Buen Pastor in El Salvador from June 6-14. It’s a nonstop flight from Atlanta to San Salvador, but in about three hours things won’t look or sound so familiar.
Familiar or not, this trip doesn’t lack enthusiasm. “I can’t wait!” “I believe I will like everything!” “I’m extremely excited for this trip.” “I look forward to immersing myself in their culture.” Those are the sentiments expressed by four of the travelers: Matthew Garr, Angelica Perez, Brian Cummings, and Morgan Fisch. With such optimism, they are bound to have a good trip!
Matthew is in his junior year at Bishop Miege High School where he participates in National Honor Society, Science Club, and Scholar’s Bowl. He already has something in common with the youth of El Buen Pastor. He plays soccer and is a big soccer fan. His team is called Sporting Blue Valley. The Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona and player Lionel Messi are favorites. During the summer he coaches children’s soccer camps. His soccer abilities will make him a big hit at El Buen Pastor. He expects that this trip will not only broaden his worldview, but it will also help him grow in faith.
Angelica attends Donnelly College and works in the business office there. She is a step ahead of the other delegates because her parents are from El Salvador, and she has visited the country twice. She is anxious to return because, at ages six and eight, she was too young to understand her surroundings. Back then, all she wanted to do was play. She’ll have a chance to do that and a whole lot more. She anticipates that she will be meeting and talking to new people. That shouldn’t be a problem because she speaks Spanish. With her Spanish speaking ability, Angelica will quickly connect with the Salvadorans.
On the other hand, Brian doesn’t speak Spanish and is hoping to make a connection through slacklining. Slacklining is the “activity or sport of balancing on a rope or strip of webbing that is fixed high above the ground but not stretched so as to be taut.” Rock climbers practice this sport and Brian likes to go rock climbing in his spare time. Of course, the slackline doesn’t need to be high above the ground to provide a challenge. The slackline won’t take up a lot of room in his suitcase and should be a great conversation starter. Brian has two jobs and is a senior at Shawnee Mission Northwest. He hopes this trip gives him an opportunity for self-discovery.
Morgan Fisch has two big events on her calendar this spring-traveling to El Buen Pastor and graduating from Kansas State University. She likes traveling, running, and clay throwing, which is the art of creating pottery with a potter’s wheel. With regard to this trip, she is looking at the practical side of things-hot weather and a lot of walking. She’s also expecting a lot of smiling and nodding particularly if the Spanish she studied in school doesn’t come back. She thinks that getting out of her comfort zone will be meaningful and she is looking forward to a “great cultural and spiritual experience.”
In addition to the enthusiasm on this particular trip, there is a definite “Mom” theme. Even though she heard about the trips to El Salvador, Morgan is taking this trip with her mother Annemarie Gremminger because her mom suggested it. Another mom, Jackie Spicer says, “After thirty years of hearing, learning, and supporting “ El Buen Pastor and “sending her daughter several times;” she thought it must be her turn to go. This time she is the one going. Maureen Guth is mother of “forever 22” son Tyler Deeds. It is his connection to the El Buen Pastor community that is calling her to go. As organizer, motivator, and guide, Teresa Aley sort of “mothers” everyone on this trip.
Annemarie Gremminger works with computer systems, and she has been interested in El Buen Pastor for a long time. She didn’t travel there because she didn’t think she had anything to offer. Then she read a quote from Ita Ford, one of the nuns who was killed in El Salvador, and changed her mind. “I have no solutions to the situation but I will walk with you, search with you, and be with you.” That was the incentive Annemarie needed. As a volunteer Annemarie helps to teach English to non-English speaking parishioners. Now, she will get a taste of what it is like to be in their shoes. Like her daughter, she is looking forward to seeing the countryside and meeting the people; but she is also considering some practical aspects-the heat and the language. She’s hoping that smiling, nodding, listening, and gesturing will get her through.
Looking ahead to when the trip is over and she has returned home, Jackie Spicer wants to compare and contrast her trip with the several trips her daughter has taken. Jackie is eager to personally witness the places and people she has only heard about. Here, she is paraprofessional educator at the kindergarten and preschool levels. Ask her about the latest toys and she will probably know them. She sings in the choir and “really enjoys the opportunity to offer sung prayers.” One practical wish she has for this trip is that the mosquitoes will leave her alone. Her words sum up her hopes for this journey: “understanding, talking, walking, visiting, and sharing with the community.”
Now that she has retired from Johnson County Government, Maureen Guth is even more involved with volunteer activities including chairing a group at the Kansas City Irish Festival, serving as secretary on the board of her former sorority, reading for the Audio Reader Network, and overseeing The Tyler Deeds Memorial Fund at Good Shepherd. She and her husband are sports fans and attend all the KU men’s basketball home games.
Maureen writes, “I cannot adequately describe what this three-way connection means to me: Tyler-Buen Pastor people-me!” Tyler, her son, made the trip to El Buen Pastor about twenty years ago when he was in his teens. He formed an instant connection with the people there and they with him. When he died too young at age 22, a mural was painted at El Buen Pastor that depicts Oscar Romero, Rutilio Grande, and Tyler. As you can see, Tyler is in very good company. Maureen is looking forward to touching that wall.
Teresa Aley is retired and is glad to have more time to hang out with her family and friends. She and her husband Bob have six adult children and fourteen grandchildren. She spends a great deal of her volunteer time with the El Salvador Ministry at Good Shepherd. That’s a bit of an understatement. Even though she would object, she could be called the heart and soul of that ministry. She is looking forward to accompanying this delegation of first time travelers because she knows how life changing this trip is. Each trip is unique because the delegates are different and the Salvadorans they meet change, too. Teresa says that this trip should be a “celebratory visit” because this is the 30th year of the El Buen Pastor-Good Shepherd relationship. She is also grateful for and inspired by the tremendous support of the parish.
Time for the return flight. The drill will still be familiar, but there will be changes. What was unfamiliar in El Salvador has become familiar. What was routine at home might be different now. There might even be subtle changes within our delegation. We’ll find out at a debriefing in June when the delegation has an opportunity to share the experience. For now, we wish them a safe and meaningful journey!