From the 19th to the 26th of November, we were blessed to host our first retreat group in Mount Sinai. Our retreatants, hailing from Saint Jon Paul II Highschool in Cape Cod, MA, spent their Thanksgiving break learning more about the lives of our neighbors and the volunteer experience in Ecuador. Returning for their second Rostro retreat in Ecuador, the retreatants were able to live out a week mirroring our lives as volunteers. For most of the week, students from St. John Paul II followed us to our worksites and experienced the joys and challenges of each different job placement. Neighbor visits too, looked slightly different for this group. We emphasized micro group sessions of 2 or 3 retreatants per visit, which allowed them to engage more personally with our neighbors in Sinai than whole-group sessions might. We hope to be able to incorporate more micro group time in upcoming retreats whenever possible.
During their stay, students witnessed both the beautiful yet difficult reality that our neighbors must navigate. Listening to neighbors’ testimonies alongside retreatants was exciting, as we were able to share in retreatants’ joy of encountering Christ through our neighbors.
As the volunteer leader (Genesis), I was excited yet nervous to share my home with this new group of people. Sitting in on nightly reflections gave me an inside look into each student’s journey and six new perspectives on my neighbors and my own life in Sinai. It was heartening to see young men and women being changed by this place and embarking on the rest of their lives with the knowledge that there the “other” living on the margins of society, is not so different from them. Hearing students express an interest in doing a year of service was a beautiful experience that made me excited to see where God’s voice would call each next. The students were a wonderful first retreat group; their openness and genuine interest in the lives of our neighbors has made me and my community excited about sharing this wonderful place with other retreat groups!
It is exasperating being face to face with injustice and feeling so useless. Though I may never prevent these injustices from happening, walking among my friends in Sinai has allowed me to observe and admire the complexities of living on the margins. Our neighbors are incredible role models; they teach me everyday how to be a more caring person. Through their example of how they treat their children, friends, and even gringos like us, our friends in Sinai approach life with open hearts and generous souls. Many times they are tragically imbedded in confusing, frustrating systems of injustice. Here, at the margins of global society, deep suffering is met with deep joy, and their carino is mingled with a yearning to feel God’s kingdom made real. People living in Sinai are in a prolonged advent, waiting, for Christ incarnate in their brothers and sisters both near and far to help bring justice to this world.