Claire and John’s Wedding

This gallery contains 14 photos.

It was awesome! It is for good reason that Scripture portays the culmination of human history as a wedding feast. Here is a gallery of images from Claire and John’s wedding.   Advertisements

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Reclaiming the Shire

James practicing his newly-acquired skill of standing up by himself

A less-than-100% Peter with Mom

It has now been two weeks and David and I are getting settled into our life back in East Lansing. I LOVE the fall and clean crisp air.  Great for running, biking and walking. This is not Dili, to be sure.

After a car purchase (seduced by the look of luxury) which involved much anxiety (the mechanics said it was a black hole of repair bills) we swapped the hole, plus a $500 fee for a 2003 Saturn and we are now driving a car worthy of our station. It was a lesson in humility, which I  thought I would not need having just returned from the poorest country in Asia.  Sigh. Things fall apart. (Isn’t that the title of a book?)

Meeting Peter and James has been the BEST.  I cannot believe how much I love being a grandma. Unfortunately, I brought a cold with me from the plane ride and gave it to both sweet boys.  Not a great gift. Nevertheless, their faces were full of smiles and delight, and they have truly stolen our hearts. No one will ever mix up these twins, Peter with brown hair and eyes and an intense gaze and charming smile, James with blond hair, blue eyes and a jovial laugh and  ready smile. Peter works hard at moving his  body into new places, and James spends more energy creating new sounds, bababa and then a screech which seems to get a response from everybody. He remains surprised at his own power.

Our first weekend back at St. Thomas Aquinas I was privileged to do a mission appeal for the Canossians.  I spoke at three masses and heard three different homilies on the parable of the talents.  Amazing how much can be drawn from one parable! I do believe the Lord worked in this appeal as one deacon said he had never seen so much money put in the basket.  Besides the direct collection, the Canossians will receive 5% of the total giving for the weekend, which could be a substantial amount.  We are very pleased to assist those marvelous sisters in this way, as they struggle to serve the people of Timor-Leste.

The last of the beautiful leaves on the front tree

Our East Lansing home

With moving back into our house, raking leaves and meeting friends, life is very full.  Thanksgiving weekend will soon be here, followed by a wedding shower and then a wedding (I am making the cake!). I do not anticipate any boring moments. Our plan is to eventually move to South Bend to be close to our children, grandchildren and a delightful community of Catholics. Naturally, we regret leaving friends of so many years in this area, but the drive is only 2.5 hours and we are sure to make it many times. God is so very good and we are so very blessed.  [posted by Rory]

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November 1, 2011

A long-awaited day arrives...

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Goodbye, Timor

Rory's calendar showing just one day remaining...

David:   I hate saying goodbyes, especially those that have a finality about them. John Paul told Sr. Guilhermina that he didn’t want to come to the airport because it was too hard to say goodbye.  I understand.

Saying goodbye to Jill, David, and Bill (sitting), Catherina and Rob, and Julie (standing)

John Paul and Rory

Our final days in Dili were full of activity. We finished exams on Friday and then pushed hard to get them marked. There was the multilayered task of finding a good home for much of what we had acquired  and brought – the printer, books, dvds, lamps, magazines, batteries, the remaining food, clothes we were not bringing back. The materials we had developed over a year of classes had to be copied to various flash drives. We had several farewell occasions with our expat friends, including a session at the Dili Club watching the Rugby World Cup with many of the resident Kiwis. There were goodbyes to be made at our two Bible studies  and at church on our last Sunday.

Our "Last Supper" in Timor with the Comoro sisters

We had a final time with the Canossian sisters at Balide and Comoro, always generous with their hospitality and gratitude. We tried to squeeze in a meal with the sisters at Becora but it couldn’t be done. It was John Paul’s seventh birthday on Sunday at Balide, a happy coincidence since we have a particular fondness for him. We promised to let him stay with us when he comes to school in America. The Comoro sisters hosted us for our “last supper” on Monday. They performed a song for us which is posted on the music page. It was moving to realize how much we had become a part of this place.

The birthday party for the school coincided with our last day.

Providentially, we had an unexpected and rousing send-off at school, though that may have been just the way it felt to us. Monday happened to be a school holiday, the eighth birthday of IPDC.

Part of the birthday entertainment was this traditional dance depicting activities related to preparing rice.

John Bosco singing for the students

After a school-wide Mass [sound clips posted on the music page], we shared the spotlight and felt like celebrities as we were asked to speak and have our pictures taken with our students. It was an emotionally moving time, surrounded by now familiar faces with names that didn’t seem nearly so alien. Their beautiful smiles were much in evidence as Rory passed out English New Testaments and advice to the best students.

Certainly some of the hardest goodbyes were at the airport. We immensely respect Sr. Guilhermina, Sr. Aurora, and Sr. Zinya and think of them as friends. Over the past year we have had many conversations with them about the challenges that confront the school and the Timorese people. We consider it a high honor to have shared in their work. Though it could never be characterized as easy, it has been an experience, an education, that we wouldn’t trade for anything.

Saying goodbye at the airport: Sr. Francesca, Sr. Zinya, Sr. Guilhermina, and Sr. Aurora

Rory:     As I took my first run since Perth, I was overwhelmed with the blessings we have received in this past eventful year. That I had such health as to run, such beauty to run in, such support to get this far (physically, spiritually and socially) and with the anticipation of meeting not only my wonderful children, their spouses, and our dear friends, but the addition of two blessings from heaven, Peter and James Hoipkemier. Well, it is almost beyond words. It is beyond words, but we must yet acknowledge the grace we have received and acknowledge the support you have given and the love we have felt this past year.

Saying goodbye to Brian

Our final moments in Dili were filled with friends and Canossians. Two dinner parties, much laughter and song and the giving of gifts (“Can we fit this into our 20kg limit?”). Friends took me to coffee, came over for final goodbyes and to wish us well. Four sisters were at the airport to see us off and to have final photos. Each goodbye raised the question of change, love, heavenly treasures and that which moths can eat and time will rust.

Rosa and her family

Mistina and Louise

Joachim and Magnus

At these moments one realizes fully that life is about love, acceptance and change. It is about taking what we have been given and passing it along, using the gifts the Lord has given, showing who He is through our gifts, not stepping back but always up, keeping our eyes open, seeing the invisible people, being present to children, forgiving ourselves our failures and the failures of others, taking oneself lightly (GKC) even as one lifts up the crosses placed upon us and realizing that He who took up His cross is ultimately bearing the weight of the world on His shoulders.

Looking very much forward to meeting again!

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Sister Acts

Celebrating Sr. Juliana's birthday. Can you spot Rory?

As we near the end of our time here, normal experiences acquire a poignancy that we might not otherwise notice. Sr. Juliana’s birthday celebration is an example. It was a grand occasion, every one of the nearly fifty Canossian sisters in Dili was invited to the feast. We were given several days’ notice, in itself an indication of its importance. For us it served a second purpose, an apt farewell memory of this marvelous community.

The guest of honor, Sr. Juliana, the Provincial of Timor-Leste

Master Chef Sr. Guilhermina with her fish

The Canossians know how to throw a party!

We think Sr. Guilhermina and the Balide sisters should open a restaurant or catering business

The evening's entertainment included the Comoro's imitation of the school drum corps.

The Final Act consisted of lots of dancing and laughing

The logistics for staging such an event would challenge any parish back home. The food was spectacular, including a roasted pig and an enormous fish prepared by Sr. Guilhermina, an accomplished feast-giver. After the meal, the tables and chairs were pulled back, setting the stage for the entertainment. Each of the three communities had prepared something as a gift for Sr. Juliana. It began with great hilarity as the Comoro sisters came marching in, mimicking the Canossian school’s drum corps, in uniform, performing the roles of majorette, flag twirlers, and drummers. These formal presentations were followed by a time of community dancing, in which virtually all joined in, a great twirling, circling, laughing throng.

It was an evening that Magdalene, with her joyful spirit, would have relished. For us, it was a providential gift to add to our memories of our year with the Sisters in Timor.  [posted by David]

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Mad dogs, Englishmen and Expats

Carpe Diem! Notice the low angle of the sun and the glistening faces.

Top of the hill. The hikers refreshing at the Australian war memorial and coffee shop.

None of the above have the sense to get out of the noon-day sun. On Saturday I completed my third “Dili walk” with a group of hearty, slightly insane, and interesting foreigners, mostly from downunder, who think that fun is walking for 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning, first straight uphill, along a ridge, enjoying lovely ocean views and then back down to Dili. The catch is the incredible heat that starts at about 8 am.  We began Saturday’s adventure at 6:15 am to enjoy a few minutes of simply hot before the “oh-my-goodness” hot set in. If I was sensible, I would have done these walks in the cooler temperatures of 3 months ago, but that did not happen. And, as I decided that I must experience the best of what Dili has to offer, I said yes to every invitation of the last weeks.  All slightly tortuous, but still with a strange modicum of pleasure. 

A cashew. Question: where is the part that you eat? Now you see why they are soooo expensive.

 The greatest pleasures of Dili, without question, are the people here. The expats are ALL very interesting.  The common understanding is that the only people who come to Dili are “missionaries, mercenaries and misfits”.  I would concur with that sentiment after my time here. Regardless of their motivation, they are all interesting and many rise to the level of inspiring. I would not, however, include the UN workers in this category, who are overpaid, underworked and love to drive their muscular cars around town in a big hurry.  (My apologies to Caroline, who is a lovely Catholic woman working for the UN).

Our walks allow for different conversations depending on which group one happens to reside with for any stretch of the climb or descent (these walks are mostly uphill or downhill). Today I met Eddie and Andrew, both Aussies working with the Australian Police, Lisa, who provides teaching support for families of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, Bruce, setting up a curriculum for auto mechanics, Chris, supporting the hundreds of NGOs in Timor, and John and Jordan, a father and son with Missionary Aviation Fellowship. The group organizer, Natalie, works with a leprosy mission and the other American, Mistina, teaches at an international school. No shortage of conversational topics at any time.

Seemingly everyone loves having their picture taken.

I learned that one can walk up the hundreds of steps to Christo Rey three times a day and still be overweight, but very fit. I heard a man say that he only appreciated the meaning of children when he had his own and his regret that he had not had them sooner and more of them. I learned that Australia has a booming economy on the surface, but underneath are many hidden issues masked by government control.  I learned that over 10,000 houses have been bulldozed in Christchurch as the result of the earthquake and that employment there is a very dicey proposition (or should I say shakey?). I found that a level 10 homeschooler in Dili is happy to be here and wants to join a group of old people walking in the sun (what planet is this?).  And, most significantly, I have seen a few of the hundreds of Australian and Kiwi volunteers who have given up their cushy lives to serve the people of Timor-Leste with anything they have to offer. Truly a good day all around.   [posted by Rory]

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Growing Pains or Worse?

Local business on the beach front in Dili

I have been interested in development issues ever since high school. A huge book for me was The Ugly American. I went off to Northwestern University in 1968 with the idea of entering the Foreign Service. I was determined to change the way that the US related to the rest of the world. That dream didn’t happen, but the idealistic impulse and strong interest have remained.

One of many vendors along the road to school. Most are more upscale, sporting a bamboo structure and table. The produce is sold by the "pile", usually 50 cents or a dollar. Looking them over by handling them is frowned upon. Bad tomatoes are positioned to hide their defects.

Timor is an amazing place to work if you are interested in development, because there is so much of it going on. The world’s heart was captured by the Timorese struggle for independence. In its aftermath nearly $8 billion in aid has been spent in a country with one million people. Rory and I joke that there is more development per capita here than anywhere else in the world. We were told by somebody in a position to know that there are over 400 NGOs! A local study stated that much of that money has been spent on the salaries of relatively short-term consultants. Unfortunately, from our vantage point, though done with good intentions, much of the spending appears to be ineffectual. It hasn’t accomplished what it was meant to accomplish. Development is complicated, as they say.

Our Turkish baker hard at work. Great artisan whole wheat bread is available Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays

Among the complications is systemic corruption. Among Asian countries Timor was ranked as one of the worst. Even the prime minister has been implicated, to no effect. To be fair, it is a major fact of life in many other places and seems to haunt all nation-building efforts. We hear about it in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though money is not the primary cause, it is certainly fuel thrown on the fire. In Timor’s case, besides the international aid, there is oil money. This tap, comprising 95% of the government’s budget, was opened up further this summer in an effort to make more of a difference. One difficulty is that there just isn’t the capacity to handle all of those dollars. Institutionally, these are relatively huge contracts that need to be awarded, monitored, and enforced competently and justly. Transparent, above-board government just isn’t happening.

Selling coral like this is prohibited. We wondered who would buy it. It gives you something of an idea of what we see when we snorkel.

Another glaring need for which there is no easy solution is the lack of technical and production capacity. Our friend, Andrew, explained the exorbitant costs of road-building by pointing to the fact that there were only one or two contractors capable of doing the job. China solves this lack of local talent by importing Chinese workers to build the several major buildings they have given to Timor. Needless to say, this fact is not lost on young male Timorese, 40% of whom are unemployed. President Ramos-Horta wants a natural gas processing facility built on the south coast. Very few of those jobs could be done by Timorese. As with other projects, they would be given to foreigners brought in to do the work.

The soy sauce section at Kmanek, the most together grocery that caters to the ethnic Chinese

If you don't buy fresh fish on the beach, you go to Kmanek and buy them like this: frozen and whole.

More from Kmanek.

Another complication is the tension between the values and structures of traditional culture and the requirements of a modern economy. This is clearly seen in the form of nepotism and tribalism. The lack of competence due to nepotism is a common theme in stories we are told about the bureaucracy. It isn’t that there are no qualified people for these positions. The related issue of tribalism was the underlying cause of the trauma of 2006-2008 in which dozens of people died and 150,000 were displaced. One of Rory’s top students told her about “failing” a university entrance exam because he was not part of the “in” group. I wondered if it was just sour grapes, but the details about the incident were suspicious and ominous. The pervasive cultural assumption here is that one’s connections are more important than competence and performance. This attitude is frustratingly obvious in our students and is a fact of life that they must face as they make their way.

Rory with her Saturday hiking buddies. They often begin at first light to avoid the sun.

A final pressure that I will mention is the heightened expectation following independence. Here in Dili the hopeful signs of growth and building are everywhere. The reclaiming of burned out homes has extended even into our neighborhood. Mobile phones are common, a problem in our classrooms. Relatively rich high schoolers with motorcycles make the school road quite dangerous. Western fashion has made inroads with the girls. The first mall is nearly complete. This apparent prosperity is just a thin veneer, unfortunately. The reality is that the critical needs of nutrition and food security, adequate health care, competent education, and lack of water, electricity, and roads, especially in the districts, have not been addressed. We think that the real ticking time bomb is the high level of youth unemployment. We have been told that as long as the UN and the Australians are here, the earlier violence will not be repeated. That is hardly reassuring for the healthy long-term development of Timor.

An ant colony. The dark patches on the tree, including the trails, are the structure that they built.

Timor recently attracted attention with a reported 10% growth in GDP, one of the best in Asia. I am unmoved. We know too much. There is much more to the story. I firmly believe that a nation’s health and prospects are not adequately represented by growth rates and economic data. [posted by David]

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