Mission Possible, by Kevin Burg

On June 4, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Tim Broyles

Kevin, Conor and Chase with their Host Family in San Antonio Palopo.

First off I would like to give a shout out to my family. I know I haven’t been able to communicate with you guys so far but I’m doing great and having an awesome experience. Dad, I want to wish you a happy belated 50th birthday. Congratulations, you’re officially old now. Last Friday, on May 31st, before our home stays over the weekend, we visited the San Lucas Mission, which gave us an example of the positive the Catholic community in the United States can have in Latin America. 

It is very rare for a parish or diocese in the United States to successfully extend into countries in the Latin American region. But the San Lucas Mission, originally established by Franciscan and Dominican Missionaries in the 1500’s, which in 1962 was given over to the care of the  Diocese of New Ulm, in the great state of Minnesota, did just that. At that time, the young priest,  Father Greg Schaffer, answered a call for a need in Latin America by choosing to help the people of Guatemala. He was sent to San Lucas Toliman, a small village on the shore of Lake Atitlán, and fell in love with the people’s way of life. He was inspired to be a friend to the poor and marginalized of the small town, and for the next 49 years, was a loud voice for many of the voiceless Guatemalans that were faced with injustice each and every day.

Fr. Greg Schaffer

However, Father Greg wasn’t focused on just directly helping the people; he wanted to be in solidarity with them. He once said, “Solidarity isn’t pushing the poor or dragging them with you, it is walking with them.” Solidarity was and is a key to the mission he created and is the only way Americans can truly help the poor. Even though he passed away almost exactly a year ago, his beliefs and the creation of the San Lucas Mission inspired our group to believe there is more we can do beyond this trip.

When the San Lucas Mission was taken over by Father Greg, he generated four pillars for the mission based on Catholic Social Teaching. They are dignity of the human being, desire for the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity. These four principles work together as one to form the foundation on which the mission was created. The way the mission acts on these beliefs is by creating projects around San Lucas Tolimán to benefit the citizens of the village. 

These little plants are actually coffee plants that will be GIVEN to poor coffee growers in San Lucas Toliman. When they bear fruit, the mission buys back their produce at a rate one-quarter higher than the market prices.

The four projects that we visited were the women’s center, a hospital, a reforestation center, and a coffee project. We toured each project as a group and learned how they were benefiting the common good of the community.

A couple other kids will focus specifically on a project and the project’s effects. As a whole, they are able to satisfy all four pillars of the San Lucas Mission by creating short term care (the hospital and the women’s center) and long term sustainability, both economically (coffee project) and in nature (reforestation). The projects, funded by donations and run largely by volunteers, provide great opportunity to the Guatemalans in San Lucas Toliman who otherwise would lack the chance to better their lives.

After traveling on the back of a pickup truck around the village of San Lucas Tolimán to tour projects, we headed back to the mission’s headquarters to meet with Lauren, one of the long term workers there. Along with a brief history of the San Lucas Mission and the teachings of Father Greg, she talked a little about why she was called to step outside of her comfort zone and work almost permanently in a poor, small village in Guatemala. Lauren told us that immediately out of college; she had a tough time deciding what direction she wanted her life to go in. She worked two part-time jobs at Macy’s and bartending, struggling to figure out what her calling was. 

Finally, she found her vocation in the form of helping the poor in a place most people automatically deem insignificant. While running the mission, she has begun a Masters in International Public Service at DePaul University, and will be returning to the Sates this December to continue that program. “But,” she says, “after I finish my program, I will be returning to Latin America. That much I know.” Her story resonated greatly with many of the kids in our group. It was tangible evidence that someone raised very similarly to ourselves was able to find peace in her life by simply being a voice for the voiceless. In addition, she gave us a great piece of advice that we can apply to the remainder of our immersion experience and future immersions that we may do. Lauren told us how important it is to learn to listen. As Americans, we can be wired to assume our way of life is superior. But we should not impose our beliefs and understand the Guatemalans can teach us more than we can ever imagine. Altogether, Lauren’s insight on listening and her perspective on why what she does is important gave us all a new meaning to the trip and refocused us on a way we can translate our new-found knowledge into action like Lauren, and Father Greg before her. Their work sets a precedent that if we put our mind to something, anything is possible.

Finally, if anyone is interested in learning more about what the mission does for the people of Guatemala, you can visit their website at www.sanlucasmission.org or their Facebook page.




Kevin Burg


4 Responses to Mission Possible, by Kevin Burg

  1. Sarah AstaBurg says:

    It’s wonderful to hear from you and read your post. My goodness, what a multi-faceted experience you’re all getting! Looking forward to hearing more stories soon. Enjoy the rest of your time there. Lots of love, Mom

  2. Charlie and Pat Burg says:

    You are all truly,” Men For Others,” and beyond awesome.

    Proud Grandparents,
    Charlie & Pat Burg

  3. Nancy Brim says:

    Hey Kevin,
    Thanks for all the details of the Mission, an overview of its wonderful work and purpose and the info about Lauren. You enlighten us about the importance of what is going on there. Knowing you and your perspective makes it all the more impactful for us.
    Enjoy this learning experience and see you soon!
    Nancy & Isaac

  4. Uncle Joe says:

    Great post Kevin….perhaps referring to you father as “OLD” was a little strong…
    “Aging Gracefully” is a bit more sensitve….Kudos to Father Schaffer!
    I look forward to more details and pictures. Safe Travels
    Love Uncle Joe

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