by Taiga Guterres, Punta Gorda, Belize 15, Retreat Minister, St. Peter Claver Parish. Loyola Marymount University 15.
Originally posted on the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Jesuit Volunteer Reflects blog.
I thought I was here to accompany others.
I stood there, sweat dripping down the side of my face. Twenty teachers and principals sitting in front of me under a thatched roof. Some intently listening to the words I had prepared and others picking the dirt off their nails.
“Good morning everyone!”
My voice shook a little. I cleared my throat. “My name is Taiga and—”
I didn’t get past my name without the sudden chatter of disbelief that my name is the Belizean Kriol name for “jaguar.”
It was the first retreat I was leading for adults, all of whom were older than me. I was nervous. I thought to myself, “What am I doing here?” I was born, raised, and educated in Los Angeles. I had entered the Church just six months prior through my university’s RCIA program, and here I was in a different country, a different community, and a different culture in charge of directing and leading spiritual retreats and walking with others through their sacraments.
The chatter died down.
“Today’s retreat is themed around companionship.”
Companionship. Derived from the Latin words to “break bread with.” Coming out of my JVC International Orientation, I felt so pumped to enter into the role of a Jesuit Volunteer. I left energized with a mentality that I am not here to “help” anybody. I am not here to change another country’s systems or values. I am here to learn from the people. I am here to be both with and for them. I am here to accompany them.
Some days are great. Some days I feel as if I’m learning the soul of the people: Mayan culture and spirituality, Kriol phrases that the kids teach me (although from them it’s usually the bad words), Garifuna heritage and drumming, conversations about how the lunar cycle affects planting different roots and vegetables– and other days I ask myself what the hell I’m doing here.
Some days I want to be a part of this world, and other days I want to be so far removed from everybody. There are times where I don’t have the strength to be present to others. There are times where I don’t have the faith to see God in all things. True accompaniment is not easy and to be honest, I don’t think I truly know what it is yet.
But I’m finding that this journey has been more about learning what accompaniment is. Even through all of my personal insecurities, even through my loneliness, even through my doubts and failures to be present, I’m invited and welcomed to be with another’s family on Christmas, I’m invited to break bread with coworkers for dinner, I’m invited into the lives and homes of people here. My community here has proven to be with me even when life is a cold and broken hallelujah.
I thought I was here to accompany, but I’m finding myself constantly moved by the ways these people, too, have accompanied me.