Steve Sheehan

VOTF Survivor Support working group leader Steve Sheehan was one of 16 travelers who visited The Farm near Louisville, KY on their way to a service mission in Managua, Nicaragua. The group was made up of survivors and survivor supporters. What follows is Steve's personal journal of this trip and the story of one community helping another.

It began, quite simply, when I read an email from Susan Archibald back around June 2005. A more accurate placement of the time is not possible as, at the time, I had no premonition of the importance of the message.

Susan is the president of The Healing Alliance which is located at The Farm, in the Pewee Valley outside Louisville, Kentucky. The Healing Alliance is the new designation of an organization formed in the early 1990s to bring together survivors of sexual abuse by clergy under its original name, The Linkup. Its mission is to provide a means for survivors, who generally feel very alone when memories of abuse arise, to link up with others similarly abused and to realize that they are not alone but have been victimized and abandoned by members of the Church into which they were born and which they loved and trusted until their abuse occurred.

The message, as I recall, stated that The Healing Alliance, under the aegis of Hand-in-Hand Ministries (HHM) of Louisville, was to participate in a mission to Managua, Nicaragua, in September of this year. HHM supports missions in several areas where it brings relief services to the poorest of the poor. The concept is that survivors of sexual abuse, who have endured suffering during their lives (and still do, at various levels, e.g., physical, spiritual, emotional), may find that volunteering to help others who exist in abject poverty with very limited possibilities of bettering their lives could offer survivors a valuable therapeutic situation.

After mulling this over and assessing my own situation, schedule and membership in the Survivor Support Working Group of the Voice of the Faithful, I felt that this was an opportunity to support the survivors as well as participate in a worthwhile endeavor myself. I could, in some small way, give back to the world (and to God) some of what I had received in my life.

I then contacted Sue and asked if I could join the group. Fortunately there was still space available and my application was accepted. With the subsequent approval of my family, friends, personal physician and the Passport Agency of the United States government, I was about to embark on what has turned out to be, I believe, a life-changing adventure the impact of which on my perspective of my life I had no way of predicting.

Daily while I was in country and continuing now that I am back home, I thank God for giving me this wonderful opportunity and allowing me at this late stage in my life to participate in such a spiritually and physically uplifting mission.

What I gave to this trip dwindles to utter insignificance when compared to what I received. The friendships I made with the other members of our group, our in-country partners and especially
the love I was able to give to and receive from the children with whom we worked, played, and whom we served will remain with me as long as I live and beyond.

Friday, September 9, 2005.

It begins!

I board my plane at Logan Airport and, following a slight delay in departure. (This was caused by the plane preceding us having killed a bird while taking off and depositing its remains on the runway necessitating a clean-up of that runway and rerouting our craft to another.) Eventually, we were on our way!

After a change of planes in Cincinnati. I arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, to be met by my friend Sue Archibald whom I have known since the clergy abuse horror was uncovered by the Boston Globe in 2002.

Enroute to our destination, we stopped by the headquarters of Hand-in-Hand Ministries where I met Mary Helen Thompson who was to be the leader of the group on this immersion trip. We picked up several boxes of school and medical supplies to bring with us to Managua.

On to The Farm! What a delightful place. Having been a city boy for most of my life, I hadn’t seen so much grass in one place, except in a cemetery, and I’d just as soon delay seeing a cemetery again for a considerable period of time. I was provided a very nice room (named Calendula) in a Bed and Breakfast operated by Foxhollow Clinic and Spa. The Healing Alliance leases office and activity center space on this property, an old farm of some 1300 acres.

The main building of the B&B is called Manor House and consists of the office, a conference room, living room, five bedrooms and the dining room where I took my morning meals. My room was in an adjunct building known as the Guest House.

Sue then took me on a guided tour of the property which included her offices (where I could use a computer to communicate with the outside world), her activity center, and two gardens cared for by Jeannie Wills of Battle Creek, MI, whom I had met at the VOTF Convocation in Indianapolis earlier this year.

Sue and Jeannie took me to dinner at a nice Irish pub in the neighboring town of La Grange, where I was able to enjoy both a large glass of Guinness Stout and a fine plate of Bangers and Mash.

A late evening walk around the grounds brought me in sight of a family of deer grazing in the gloaming, omething I haven’t seen since I was in Germany some forty years ago.

Saturday, September 10, 2005.

Fell asleep reading last night which resulted in awakening circa 3:30 am. This results from a habit of only sleeping four and a half to five hours each night. Read some more and then made some tea to get my blood circulating again. Couldn’t find any cream or I would have made coffee.

Took an early morning walk to meditate and talk with God about this experience. I made sure to thank Him profusely for this wonderful opportunity. During my walk I encountered the same (?) deer that I saw last night. I could really get used to this place. A far cry from Commonwealth Avenue, I’ll tell you!

Off to the breakfast buffet at Manor House. It turned out, however, that I was the only guest that day so the chef, Matt, prepared a custom breakfast for me – haven’t eaten a full breakfast like that since the last time I was in the hospital.

Spent the morning walking around, taking pictures, talking with Jeannie as she gardened and cleaned the Activity Center. Sue came in and we moved donated items , which had been stored in the center, down to the Guest House where we would pack them that evening.

There was a troop of Boy Scouts who arrived to service the walking trails at the Spa as a means of earning merit badges. We managed to attach ourselves to them for lunch on the patio, courtesy of Matt.

Amy Peterson arrived from Milwaukee where she works for the archdiocese as Victim Assistance Coordinator. Amy was to become a working partner for the following week and a special friend forever. Sue, Amy and I bicycled over to the Spa, a distance of about a half mile over the hills and through the woods. Not too bad going over as the general trend was downhill. Coming back, however, took a lot of praying and a couple of hours for my legs to recover. At the Spa we visited a corral and paddock area housing a number of beautiful horses that are available for the visitors to The Farm. The spa also has a large swimming pool and massage facilities.

Our group, from the Healing Alliance, with some family members present, gathered for a cookout on the patio and had the opportunity to meet each other in a social setting before leaving for Central America. Each had the opportunity to tell, recorded by Sue on videotape, his or her reasons for participating in this adventure. After our stomachs were full and our thirst assuaged, we retired to the Guest House to finish packing the donated goods and our personal belongings and to get a good night’s sleep preparatory to our early departure.

Sunday, September 11, 2005.

Rising early, I took a last stroll around the grounds. Through the morning mist behind Manor House, I saw again my family of deer who dropped by, perhaps, to wish me safe journey.

After a hearty breakfast with Sue, Jeannie, Amy and Jim McGann, Matt Turner arrived to take us to the airport where we joined the remaining members of the group and managed, after some confusion, to check in for a very pleasant flight to Houston where we were to meet Mike Coode whom I had met at Indianapolis in July. The change in time zones must have adversely affected my brain and I ended up waiting at the wrong gate and missed his arrival. I finally found Mike and we all had something to eat before our plane to Managua departed at 4:04 local time.

Arrived Managua circa 7:30 where we were met by Mark Thessing, the coordinator for HHM for Central America. Mark lives and works primarily in Belize city, but came to assist the new Managua coordinator, Ed Dunsworth, who had been on the job less than a month. Mark, I was to learn, had originally come to Central America as a Jesuit Volunteer and later decided to return with HHM. He has been there in that capacity for the past five years.

A bus and truck had been arranged to transport us and our luggage to our place of residence, a small hotel named La Posada de Maria la Gorda (the House of Fat Maria), which would be our base of operations. I was assigned to a large room that I shared with Jim McGann; Vince Grenough, VOTF coordinator for the Louisville area; and Ken Kleibert.

We had a late evening orientation meeting to outline our schedule for the next six days, facilities available, and safety precautions both personal and work-related, to make our stay enjoyable and satisfying. We all had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and become better acquainted.

Our schedule.

Monday and Tuesday - The Center is operated by Fr. (Msgr) Luiz Pena. Here he runs a pre-school as well as a food kitchen (feeding the several hundred children who live in the garbage dump at La Chureca) and is creating a new day-care center for local families before the children advance to the pre-school.

Wednesday - A trip to the city of Leon, former capital of Nicaragua, where we would visit first the oldest cathedral in Central America and then on to Jacinta y Francisco, an orphanage that Fr Pena helped to create some eight years ago.

Thursday and Friday - at Centro Pan y Amor (The Center for Bread and Love) a primary and secondary school operated by Charlotte Somarriba. This was also coordinated by Fr. Pena

Friday evening we would have dinner at a local restaurant with our in-country partners and then on Saturday we were invited by Charlotte and her husband (Leonardo) to visit their beach house overlooking the Pacific ocean for a cookout and some swimming.

Finally off to bed as we would be on a rather hectic schedule beginning the next morning as you will see.

Monday, September 12, 2005.

There’s an old song that goes, “Up in the morning’, out on the job, work like the devil for my pay.” There are some things wrong with this line!

I believe that I was up and out each day long before the morning came to pay a social call. I think that if there were work to be done, Lucifer could get someone to do it for him, and the last thing a volunteer wants to believe is that he’s being paid what he’s worth!

At any rate, Sue and I (and occasionally others) were up before the crack of dawn for a half hour fast walk around a local park to get the day started.

Morning prayer/reflection at 7 o’clock followed by breakfast and then onto the bus to get to our work site at Escuela-Comedor John F. Cordisco, the preschool and dining room operated by Fr. Pena and his assistant, Giocondo. Our two-day objectives here were:

  • to remove a window, frame and install an air conditioner, reframe and cut down the window to fit and reinstall in the office building.
  • To assemble an outside store room, attached to the office, from concrete slabs, mix (by hand) and pour a concrete floor for the room, and pour a concrete walkway to connect the preschool with the new day-care center,
  • and to replace the existing office door with a new, larger door which required ripping out and resizing the door jamb.

All this had to be done between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p. m. , even though power tools could not be used until after 1:00 p.m. This is due to the fact that the electric company turned off the current during that period due to a failed contract negotiation with the city government of Managua.

Not only did we accomplish our mission, but also found time to be with, talk to and love the children who gave us so much love in return!

We also met and spoke with a woman who is a dentist and volunteers one day a week (Monday) to be at the center to provide free dental care. She has recently taken a new well-paying (by local standards) job where she made it a requirement for her to accept the position that she be free on Monday to fulfill her commitment to the children.

I took lots of picture of the children which I was able to share immediately on the screen of my digital camera. They loved this and I very quickly had many new friends. I had my picture taken with a small boy named Jonathon who really captured my heart. These are the things that made the whole trip worthwhile.

Mary Helen and Mark spent most of the day attempting to retrieve medical supplies that had been confiscated at the airport upon our arrival yesterday. They were able to recover about half what we had brought. For some reason customs kept the rest. Life in Central America is not always easy!

We returned to Fat Maria’s for a couple of hours rest before supper. The temperature had exceeded 100 degrees with high humidity during our work period and we were quite exhausted as we weren’t used to that heat.

About 8’oclock we assembled in the parking area where it was relatively cool for our evening wrap-up session where we each recounted what we had accomplished and how we felt as a result of what we did and our expectations for the remainder of the trip. We drew names from a hat (Mark’s) to choose our “prayer partner” for the week. This is an exercise in which each of us has one person to pray for and observe during the week. During our final wrap-up we would discuss our observations with our partners on a one-to-one basis. Several members chose not to participate.

Only one computer available at the hotel and we couldn’t get it to function. Incommunicado at last!

What a wonderful day! My heart sings, “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est!”

Some much needed sleep.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Up before 5:00 a.m. Shortly after, Ricardo, the night clerk, presented me with a cup of hot, black coffee to get the blood flowing again.

Sue and I were the only fast walkers out in the park at 6:00. Must be the military training!

After breakfast we returned to the preschool to finish the jobs we started the day before. We finished just on time as we were committed to a visit to the garbage dump at La Chureca at 3 o’clock. When we were getting ready to board the bus, all the children came to see us off and kept shouting, “Manana, manana!” Heartbrokenly we had to tell them, “No mas manana, no more tomorrow!” They cried and we cried. There were lots of hugs going around. How I wish I could have stayed! There are tears in my eyes as I type this story over two weeks since that day.

And we left the pre-school.

And so we arrived at La Chureca.

I feel as though I have truly experienced Hell on Earth! In my wildest dreams, in my most outrageous flights of fancy, in my most dismal imaginations, I could never have constructed the sight that I encountered as we entered the dump on our motor coach.

It is difficult even to write about it!

Before we left the bus, the stench was sickening. It was so bad that several of the group remained on the bus. I knew that I had to get off and experience this firsthand although I really would have like to be somewhere else. I have many pictures of La Chureca, and each one is worth more than a thousand words. There was truck after truck dumping garbage on top of garbage. No landfill here! There were people young and old. There were children and toddlers, there were horses and cattle grazing, there were dogs and donkeys. There were flocks of vultures, all trying to wrest from each other whatever it was that they sought to extract from the heaps of rotting refuse.

As each truck drew up to its assigned area to drop its load, the trash pickers, animals and vultures descended on it in a picking frenzy, all wallowing in the already picked-over garbage that remained underfoot. The humans sort out recyclable materials which they sell to the middlemen who live just outside the gate and who make the most money, paying the pickers only two or three dollars a day for their efforts.

A more appalling sight my mind cannot conceive!

We saw the homes in which the La Chureca residents live, in tight communities within the confines of the dump itself. Sparse, tiny hovels, with no privacy, electricity or running water or sanitation.

I was told that some five years ago there were over 500 children to be seen among the scavengers in the dump. We saw only 50 to 60 on our trip. The difference in the numbers is due mainly to the work of Fr. Pena to get these children to his center where they are fed at least one nutritious meal each day, to enroll them in the schools he has established and to get them out of the dump.

Fr. Pena has also started what he calls an “alternative economy” for the dump residents. The children are sent out early morning to pick up recyclable material that is put out on days other than normal trash pick-up. They then sell directly to the recycling company and get more income for their effort. In these ways, he promotes better earnings for the families, better nutrition for the children, and an opportunity for education at least to the secondary school level, in order to raise their standard of living.

Here is where the love is. Here is where the caring is. Here is where God thrives!

Ubi caritas….

Back to the Fat One. After a quick shower and change of clothes we paid a short visit to the National Museum for a cultural respite. Our young woman guide spoke rather good English and provided a nice tour. The museum has only been open for seven years and recently relocated to its present site, so it remains quite sparse, but with many interesting artifacts spanning some 10,000 years of history.

After our communal supper, some of the more adventurous of us wandered a few blocks from the hotel and found a small cantina named “Marguerita Bar.” The lights were not working so we drank Victoria Beer, the national brand, by candlelight. The only other occupant was an already inebriated person named Carlos. Subsequent to making the mistake of buying Carlos a beer, he joined our tables and on learning that I had purchased his drink announced to the group that he thought I looked like Beethoven!

My friends developed several theories to account for this announcement.

  • Carlos thought that I look like a picture he had seen of Beethoven.
  • Carlos thought that I look like Beethoven would look if he were still alive.
  • Carlos thought that I look like Beethoven does now!
  • Carlos was thinking of the movie!

Needless to say that for the rest of the week, the name belonged to me!

After a few Victorias we wended our weary way home and another good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The weather continues to be excellent, even though the temperature remains above 90. Prior to breakfast (and after our walk), we spent some time making sandwiches for lunch as we were to be on the road today and would not have meals available.

After breakfast we boarded our bus and headed north to the city of Leon. The trip was quite enjoyable although it took well over an hour. For the first time since we arrived, we drove through some of the upscale section of Managua, past the government offices, the first class hotels, shops, casinos and residences of the Nicaraguan rich and famous. The countryside was quite beautiful and the distant volcanoes had a charm all their own.

When we arrived in Leon we were surprised to find the streets clogged with people until we realized that this was the first day of a two-day Independence celebration.

Our first stop was a visit to what I was told is the oldest cathedral in Central America. On the outside, the building was old and weather beaten, but the interior was well preserved and quite beautiful. Many good photo-ops especially from the top of the roof from which we could see the entire city and, in the distance, a range of ten volcanoes, four of which are still active. We also observed a marching band performing in the cathedral square.

On to Casa Jacinta y Francisco, our destination for the day. This is a lovely, small orphanage run by the Missionary Sisters of Mercy of Mother Theresa, under the tutelage of Fr. Pena and supported, at least in part, by HHM. It is run by a diminutive, almost elfin, nun, Sister Maria Christo. Her heart is at least as big as the rest of her is tiny. Sister Christo started the orphanage in 1997, with the help of Fr. Pena. Beginning with ten boys, it has grown to accommodate 47 boys and seven girls. An additional building was recently added to meet this demand. Several classrooms, which appeared well-kept, were seen from the outside. Unfortunately, the school portion was closed for the holiday.

We distributed clothing, games, toys and medicines and then spent the rest of the day playing and being with the children who were all very polite and most appreciative of our visit. I took many pictures, as usual, and showed them to the children. We all had a great time. A small group, both boys and girls, not interested in sports spent most of the time learning embroidery from one of the women in our group, Shannon Age.

As the time came to leave, we hated to go and the children were following our bus out the gate, wanting us to stay. Just as in all the places we visited we found that our time to be with the children was much too short. Eternity might not have been long enough!

After supper, Sue and I, accompanied by our guide, Larry, discovered, of all things, a liquor store, where we were able to purchase a very lovely bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, which we took back to Maria Gorda’s. Still feeling a little hungry and in search of something to go with the wine, we inquired about ordering a pizza and we were informed by our hosts that we had our choice of Dominos or Pizza Hut! We settled on the latter and had a very enjoyable evening.

Thursday, September 15, 2005.

Off again to a new work site.

This time it was Centro Pan y Amor (The center for Bread and Love). Our hostess was Charlotte Somarriba who gave us a tour of the facility and introduced us to Patricia, a medical doctor and resident at the school. A small complex houses the primary school, office and dining facility. Across the street is the secondary school with a teachers’ room and two classrooms, at present. The building adjoins an old abandoned soap factory. Negotiations are underway to purchase the factory and enlarge the school, adding vocational training to the curriculum and using products and services from the vocational school to help make the school self-sufficient.

We had three primary objectives:

  • To create in one space a computer training room with built-in desk and shelf space as well as electrical hook-ups.
  • In the secondary school we were to clean and paint the old concrete block walls to brighten the area and make it more presentable. The national colors, white and blue, had been selected.
  • A few of the group volunteered to teach English to the students to improve their conversation skills.

I ended up on the paint detail and spent the better part of two days climbing up and down an extension ladder with my paint brush trying to get more paint on the walls than I did on myself. Some success was noted, primarily by me. My paint partner was Amy Peterson who held the ladder for me as I painted and then I held it for her as our roles reversed. I learned just how difficult it is to paint concrete blocks with all the nooks and crannies there are.

It was extremely hot in the confined spaces and exhaustion was always right around the corner. Lots of rest breaks and gallons of bottled water kept us going.

That evening, we left for the town of Masaya where we were to participate in some form of cultural entertainment, but when we got there the place we were to visit was closed. The alternative suggested to us was to continue on to a town named Katarina, where there was a very nice cantina overlooking a volcanic crater lake across from the city of Granada, the third largest city in Nicaragua. Alongside the cantina were a few shops where we were able to purchase some souvenirs. Mariachis entertained us at the cantina and we all had a good time. At an adjoining table, a few locals asked us where we were from. They seemed non-plused when I said, “Boston,” but they immediately brightened when I mentioned the Red Sox! They turned out to be Yankee haters, as are most good people.

We were back to Fat Maria’s close to midnight and sleep came very quickly.

Friday, September 16, 2005.

No one up before breakfast this morning except Sue and I who never miss our morning walk. The night before wore them out and did them in. It was very obvious who comprised the hard core!

Back to Pan y Amor to finish what we started. Yesterday we had painted the upper half of the walls white and today we finished the bottom half in blue. Due to the way the concrete soaked up the paint, the original amount provided was insufficient and we had to purchase more. All in all we did a remarkably good job and felt quite self-satisfied. The computer room I found unbelievable! As soon as electricity is brought into the room the place will be ready to go!

A great tragedy befell me that afternoon as we were leaving, which I did not realize until the following day. I had lost from my camera case the CompactFlash card that contained all the pictures I had taken at The Farm and at the first work site in Managua. I now have a call out to other members of the group to provide me with copies of their pictures so that I may create a comprehensive CD album of our trip to share with everyone there. A search conducted at the secondary school has failed to locate the card.

When we left we were taken on a drive through the “Chinese Market” to view the homes where some of Charlotte’s students live. It is hardly imaginable. This is an area that was once the center of the business district of Managua. It was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1972 and was abandoned. A new business center was built in another part of the city. The abandoned area became home to many poor and homeless citizens who exist there in the worst of conditions. I was told that, on the average, a robbery occurs in this area every seven minutes. We had already been advised never to come to this part of town under any circumstances. There is apparently some historical reason for this area to be called the “Chinese Market” but I never understood what it was.

After I quick trip back to Maria la Gorda for a shower and change of clothes, we were off to spend a pleasant evening of dinner, drinks and conversation with our in-country partners, Mark, Larry, the Dunsworths, Charlotte and her husband, Patricia, Giacondo and, of course, Monsignor Pena. We were taken to a lovely up-scale restaurant on the outskirts of town, El Oasis., where I had the pleasure of sitting between Mark and my great new friend, Fr. Pena. We were seated in a private, thatch-roofed room off the main dining area and treated royally. Not being an adventurous eater, especially in foreign lands, I settled for pollo asado (broiled chicken) for my main course. Finding that it was not possible to order single drinks of rum and coke, Mark and I were forced (this was a real arm-twister) to purchase and share a bottle of Flor de Cana, a very lovely 12 year old native rum. We were to be chided by Fr. Pena for not finishing off the bottle before we left. We were, however, able to take the remaining liquid back to the hotel for late night post-prandials. The ubiquitous mariachis provided superb entertainment for us throughout the evening

Saturday, September 17, 2005.

A brisk walk with Sue, our last in Managua.

An early start for a personal day, our mission of labor having been completes. We began with a visit to a local coffee shop where we were able to purchase numerous bags of Nicaraguan coffee to bring back to the States. Following that, we were escorted to and through a major tourist shopping area about four acres in size. There we purchased many souvenirs and encountered many situations that were made difficult by our lack of knowledge of both local custom and local language. I quickly realized that my Spanish phrase book was great for telling me what questions to ask, but could not tell me how to interpret the answers! With some help from Larry and Mark I managed to survive.

After a brief stop at a large, clean convenience store (ala Cumberland Farms) where we were able to buy some snacks and beverages, we were off to the Costazur on the Pacific coast for an afternoon of cookouts, swimming, and general relaxation at the beach house owned by our new friends, Charlotte and her husband, Leonardo. This is a small but beautiful house on a fairly large bit of land on a small cliff overlooking the ocean. There is a stairway leading down to a large, private beach where I was able to go diving into the magnificent surf until I realized that my ego was writing checks that my body couldn’t cash, and I had to retreat quite quickly to keep from a dangerous exhaustion.

Back upstairs to the house we went, to a large swimming pool that satisfied my continuing desire for aquatic pleasure. A hearty meal, good conversation, lots of sunshine (and a little more Flor de Cana) made for a most enjoyable afternoon. A truly marvelous way to end our experience in Nicaragua.

We returned to the hotel close quite late and finished packing for our return trip as we faced an early departure the next day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005.

An early morning (4 o’clock) wake-up call precluded our morning walk as we had a light meal and boarded our bus for our final ride to the airport. All of our in-country partners showed up to see us off and there were many fond, but sad, farewells as we waited to check in for our flight. I made Monsignor Pena promise to visit Boston, but promises, we all know, are made to be broken, although I greatly appreciated his acceptance and we will miss each other.

A good in-flight movie, “The Interpreter,” made the time pass quickly and before we knew it we were landing at Houston. It was hard to realize we were back on American soil until I had to face the customs officials. We had a very short layover before boarding our final flight to Louisville, just having time for a brief lunch.

Sue had booked me into Manor House for my final night at The Farm where I got a good night’s sleep following an evening of pizza and conversation with Jim McGann and Jeannie Wills.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Enjoyed a full, leisurely breakfast at Manor House and spent much of the morning walking around The Farm reading, meditating, and repacking items I had left at the activity center. When Sue arrived, I borrowed office space and reconnected to the Internet to see what I had missed while I was away.

Sue arranged for Paige to take me to the airport. We got an early start and Paige took me on a lovely tour of Louisville, visiting the up-scale part of the city as well as the downtown area, which is in the process of revitalization. I did not get to see much of the city on my way down, and this was my first visit to Kentucky.

I arrived back at 1777 Commonwealth Avenue around 10:30 p.m., totally exhausted but thoroughly energized as incongruous as that my sound.

This trip may well be the best thing that I have ever done in my entire life. It has certainly provided me with a lifetime of memories, many new friends in our immersion group and a whole new extended family of Nicaraguan children whom I will always love and never forget.

I have had a richly rewarding and spiritually uplifting experience that will remain with me forever. I only hope that someday I might be able to repeat this journey.

This is truly as good as it gets!

Steve’s journal includes two appendices – a layout of The Farm and some information about the Foxhollow Clinic and Spa. Email if you would like to see these.

.[Note: Steve reports with immense relief that he found his missing photo chip. We will post one or two photos on the web site and in an upcoming issue of In the Vineyard.]

Sue Archibald, Director, The Healing Alliance

My hope in organizing this trip was for our group of clergy abuse survivors and supporters to discover healing through helping others. Although I didn’t know what to expect, I was hopeful that the week spent in Managua would be life-changing for me and the other survivors who made the journey. Looking back, I can say my life will never be the same.

While we were busy hammering, nailing, painting and digging in our volunteer projects, we had the chance to encounter quite a few poor kids. What struck me was that most of the kids seemed very happy--- more so than most of the kids I meet in the US. It seemed hard to believe that those Nicaraguan children could be smiling and laughing when they have so little and have suffered so much. It made me think that too often we equate happiness and success with having “things”--- cars, fancy houses, big bank accounts. Maybe there is something more valuable?

The trip to Nicaragua really put my abuse and healing in context. As I look to continue to repair the wounds of clergy sexual abuse, I’ll remember that the most valuable treasures are those found in friendships, community, and connecting and sharing with those in need.

Vince Grenough

About the Nicaragua trip: there are so many things to pick from, but I will focus on one - the people who could be living on "easy street" like Ed and Barbara, and Charlotte, and Mark and so many other people we met there who have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others who are less fortunate. They inspire me to do more, to give more, to work more, to pray more. They are following the example of Jesus by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and all the other things that make peoples' lives a little better. God bless them all.

Jeannie Wills

" The simplicity of the peoples' joyful spirit": If I had to condense my heart- felt experience of our trip to Nicaragua to one phrase, this is what I would say. Whereever we went, whatever activity/task we participated in, we were welcomed with open, smiling eyes. These people who have so very little according to our standards, were so willing to allow us into their world - we, who are so burdened with having so much. This spirit lesson will continue to impact my daily life as I strive to embrace it's beauty.