April 2006 Trip


Xicaque child

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Gehlen Catholic Mission Honduras
'Changing Lives'
Student Mission Trip
April 2006

On Wednesday, April 5th, 2006, Gehlen Catholic Schools celebrated the 7th send-off ceremony for Gehlen Catholic Mission Honduras ‘Changing Lives.’  The entire student population, kindergarten through seniors attended along with a gym full of teachers, staff, guests, and Honduras veterans.  Seventeen students from four high schools, along with six adult chaperones, would become the next mission team into the third poorest country in the western hemisphere.  (Click here to go directly to the Photo Album.)

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. 
                ~ Emily Dickinson


Students participating in the
send-off on April 5, 2006

For nearly two months the students, faculty, and staff of Gehlen, and the student mission group from Heelan High School in Sioux City,  along with the surrounding community of Le Mars, had collected many  of the items that would go into the 46 bags that would be taken into Honduras; everything from soap and shampoo to flip-flops and blankets.  These items were pre-destined for an orphanage and the people (Xicaque) of Montana de la Flor (the Flower Mountains).

 Chaperones on this year’s trip were Carolyn Bickford and Deb Loutsch from Le Mars, Francis Seivert from Elkton, SD, Jeff Neary from Merrill, Linda Reichle from Alton, and Rick Tomy from Cedar Rapids.  Seniors on this year’s team were Greta Johnson, Le Mars Community High School; Christin Tomy and Brittney Tegels, Cedar Rapids Xavier High School; Ashley Wenzel, Kingsley Pierson High School; and Courtney Criner, Erin Hatting, Kelli Langel, Marcia Langel, Brandon Loutsch, John Ludwig, Kristie McDermott, Andy Neary, Alicia Sitzmann, B.J. Sitzmann, Jami Sitzmann, Nick Swalve from Gehlen.  The lone junior on the team was Thomas Henrich from Gehlen.  The Gehlen team would be met in Honduras by many trusted friends including David Castro, Sister Fatima Carcamo, Sister Juanita Polak, Tacha Alverado, Julio, Dona Dilcia, Dona Emelda, Oscar, Oliver, Delia, Francisco Torres, Cristobal Diaz, and Angel Paz.

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After overnighting in Omaha, the team of twenty-three left for Tegucigalpa early Thursday morning April 6th, and their mission would begin.  Carolyn Bickford said, “All were anxious and excited to get into their mission work because of the importance of bringing water to the village of El Esfuerzo.”  Bickford, on her second straight mission team as student leader, was thrilled with the idea of going back to Honduras.

 Each year the Gehlen team locates in the small village of El Guante, located about an hour and a half north of the capitol city of Tegucialpa.  Once in El Guante, the team jumped headlong into their work when they attended a celebration dedicating two new guitars to the parish church of San Rafael.  The parish, long attended by all mission teams from Gehlen, welcomed the Le Mars group with open arms.  Father Adelberto Palma Gomez, the only priest for roughly 150 churches, was the main celebrant for this pre-Holy Week celebration.  The parish members were delighted by the new guitars donated by the Gehlen group.

Gehlen team members present Fr.   
Adalberto Gomez and San Rafael Parish   
with two new guitars.     

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
                                            ~ Aesop

The mission program from Gehlen includes a major work project, involvement in many Holy Week church services, along with special events like visiting the orphanage ‘Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos.’  The orphanage holds approximately 650 children.  At the orphanage the student team was allowed to bring toys and played for hours with the children.  Richard Seivert, director of Gehlen Mission Honduras, commented that these student trips wouldn’t be the same without a visit to Nuestros Hermanos.  He said the student missioners come away with a totally different outlook on the plight and conditions faced by the poor of the world – a valuable lesson learned.

Missioners interact with children from    
Nuestros Hermanos Orphanage.

The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.
                                            ~ Mark Twain

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A special feature of the past two missions has been the donation of books to the Riecken Foundation library.  Team members commented that it is a joy to bring Spanish books to the little children of Honduras and be given the opportunity to read to and with them.

 The major work project this year involved bringing fresh, potable water to each home in the village of El Esfuerzo.  Before this project, paid for by Le Mars Rotary, District Rotary, and International Rotary monies, the villagers carried water from a common, open water source.  The goal was to improve the quality of life and health in the village of El Esfuerzo.  Even though four days were planned for the completion of this project, this energetic and hard-working high school mission team completed the project in two days.  This student team dug 2,000 meters worth of trenches and laid pipe to every single village home.  At the conclusion of the project, a short impromptu celebration was held between students and villagers.  Francis Seivert, team leader, thanked the villagers for allowing the team to work with them.  The village leader then gave an emotional speech thanking the mission team for bringing water to each home.  He stated that he and all the village members were amazed that American students would help them do something that their own government would not provide for them.

    New pipe laid in the village of
      El Esfuerzo


In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.  
                          ~Aaron Rose


Because the mission team was able to finish the water project in El Esfuerzo in only two days, they were able to begin another water project in the village of Las Majaditas.  Even though the team did not complete this project, also paid for by Rotary money, they gave the village a needed boost of human labor towards eventual completion.

    Missioners help the inhabitants of
     Las Majaditas dig the trenches
      for their new water system.

Listen with your heart, learn with your mind, love with your actions.
                                   ~ Mother Teresa

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Once again the Gehlen team was honored to participate in many of the Holy Week celebrations of largely Roman Catholic Honduras, beginning on Palm Sunday with the procession in El Guante. The annual celebration involves dozens of villagers and goes from the outskirts of town to San Rafael parish church.  Andy Neary, senior at Gehlen, said, “It was a very special experience riding the donkey in the role of Jesus to lead the procession.”

Other Holy Week activities for the Gehlen team included Holy Thursday and the solemn ceremony of the washing of the feet of the apostles.  Later that evening the men and boys  participated in the ‘Clanging of the Chains,’ an ancient ritual of the Catholic church symbolizing Jesus’ journey to Calvary.  Good Friday found our team participating in the Stations of the Cross.  These Stations are set up at various houses within the village of El Guante.  The procession began at the edge of town and processed from home to home honoring each Station.  It was a special experience for Jeff Neary, who played the role of Jesus in this most holy of ceremonies within the Catholic church.  Jeff said, “Our Honduran brothers and sisters made the Passion of Christ come alive in their reenactment of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.  I was very humbled to be permitted to play the part of Christ in the procession and to lead members of the small community of El Guante in their very personal celebration of Christ's death and his gift of eternal life in the resurrection.  It was for me, a personal spiritual experience unlike any other I have ever experienced.”  That afternoon members of the team participated in the reading of the Passion at San Rafael Church.  Later that evening the girls and women of the team got to be part of another ancient ritual, ‘The March of the Sorrowful Mothers,’ through the village of El Guante.

   Jeff Neary portrays Jesus
    in the Good Friday procession.

Our prayers are God's opportunities.

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Each day for the missioners began around 6 a.m. when they were called to breakfast.  All meals were typical Honduran meals so the team would have a true feeling of the culture.  Students then did their assigned chores for the day, like filling water bottles, sweeping the compound, and burning the trash.  The team would be traveling to the work site by 7.  When they returned to the compound five or six hours later, lunch again would consist of typical Honduran food, such as tortillas, rice, fresh fruit, and refried beans.  The team members also spent many afternoons doing projects like sorting medicines and supplies to be used by Gehlen’s annual medical mission each January.  Each missioner is required to do his/her laundry at a pila (an outdoor water tank and washboard), washing each item of clothing individually by hand.  Because El Guante gets water only twice a week, water is precious.  Therefore, everyone is extremely careful with the amount of water used for laundry, showering, and cleaning.  After supper the team would get together for the daily ‘San Rafael Junta,’ the nickname given to their nightly reflection meeting.  Oftentimes, these meetings were emotional and very revealing – lives were changing.

 An awesome highlight of this year’s student trip was the historic meeting between the Gehlen students and chaperones with the Xicaque of Montana de la Flor (a very remote and isolated ethnic group of Honduras).  The Xicaque speak Tolupan, a language that is over 5,000 years old and predates the Mayan civilization.  Cultural anthropology ties them directly to the southernmost Sioux of the United States, the Hokon.  The 4-hour trip to the mountain was one of the roughest rides ever experienced by any team member.  Upon their arrival, the team was met by about 60 – 70 indigenous Xicaque.  As the team prepared to greet the Xicaque, the team was somewhat overwhelmed by the immensity of what was actually occurring.  Many team members later said that they definitely had not been prepared for this first-time encounter with such a wonderful people, feeling like they had entered another world from hundreds of years ago.  Student team leader Carolyn Bickford said, “I’ll never be able to truly explain to anyone what I felt like that morning on the mountain.  I can find no words to express that feeling to anyone, including my own team members.”  Jeff Neary added that the experience of meeting the Xicaque was like being part of a National Geographic expedition.  A small ceremony was held to thank the Xicaque for allowing the Gehlen team to visit their village.  After distributing many of the items (shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, flip-flops, vitamins, blankets, clothes, and toys) the team brought from the United States, Chief Julio allowed the team members to take pictures of the Xicaque.  The team returned to El Guante that night, dazed and forever changed.  The hope of the Gehlen Mission Program is that this is the first step toward a lasting relationship with the Xicaque.

Xicaque women and child      

Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.
                            ~ Deepak Chopra

The Gehlen team returned to their homes late Holy Saturday evening.  The theme of this year’s student trip was ‘Do You See Jesus In Me.’  Or as we put it in Spanish, ‘¿Reconocen a Jesus en mi?’  Each missioner, touched by the experience of nine days in Honduras, was changed - many forever.  Each missioner encourages others to get involved in helping others around the world. Each missioner when commenting on their just completed trip used the word ‘incredible.’  Each missioner was sad to leave the wonderful people of Honduras – we will never forget you and we will pray for you – we see Jesus in you, and we hope you saw Jesus in us.

Click above to browse the April 2006 Trip Photo Album...


Click this link to watch a Flash movie of this trip.

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                        Gehlen Catholic School          Phone: 712-546-4181 or 712-540-3062
709 Plymouth St. NE           Fax: 712-546-9384    
                                                              Le Mars, IA 51031             E-mail:  or