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And He said:

"My child, I am your God
Ive been with you right from the start
So give your all, and follow me
Faithfully set foot upon the sea."

And I will, so soon I depart
Because it was written, right:
A Cross, My Heart

VII. Stacka Guardian Angels Blo Mi

I started off my blog by comparing my reception of my Smith Fellowship to the annunciation to Mary by Gabriel the archangel. I also referenced how I see God working in my life the most in other people. I did not know it at the time, but this was very foreshadowing of my journey in the Solomon Islands.

I have always loved the one story about two people walking and leaving footprints in the sand. The two people would be the narrator and Jesus.  At the end of his life, the narrator turns around and gazes upon the trail of footprints in the sand, and he notices that at the roughest moments of his life, there is only one set of footprints. He questions Jesus, saying, “Jesus, it appears that at my hardest hour, I walked alone.” Jesus in turn says, “my child, it is then that I carried you.”

Although I left for the Solomon Islands alone, I never was truly alone. Daniel and Tommy both reminded me of this before I left, insisting that no matter where I go to church, it is the same Eucharist, the same Body of Christ. But my travels have led me to feel this sense of companionship even outside of the most Holy mass.

A good friend of mine, Brooke, has this saying that I remember her telling me by the salad bar in Raymond Hall. It goes something like this: “strangers are just friends that I haven’t met yet!” Boy, is this true.

If you ask me about my takeaways from the Solomon Islands, I will simply say: “it was really warm.” But there is a further nuance to this statement: it is really warm in temperature, almost always 85°F+ with a 100% humidity rating, but the welcome I received every single day was also extremely warm and inviting. Strangers smile at strangers. Strangers talk to strangers. Stranger befriend strangers. 

I got to see this from my very first day, and as you have probably read, I have had STACKA guardian angels to guide my way. 

I was so moved that, as a way to remember them better, I wrote a song with Junior David and Billy, and it goes a little something like this:

“A shadow of a cloud that doesn’t exist

Shrouded in His love, in the palm of His fist

Smiles as warm as my skin is kissed

By the sun in the sky, over all of His kids, and,

Chorus:

Bae mi remembam iu

Bae mi remembam iu

You might not think its true

But I will remember you

Wake up to the bell of the angelus 

Walking down the hill, “rafle oka, Everest”

Back up for some toast, and some tea and bread

We want to go fishing but lo BECS instead

Junior David’s in class, filling his head

While Jeffrey’s up in Form 6 trying his best

Seba’s got some wings tatted on his chest

While Billy’s shouting “af-tai” from behind his desk, 

Chorus

Trying to catch a bus back to Holy Cross

But everybody got the same idea as us

Traffic’s a lot, but the joy is too

Never know if they’ll charge three or two

The bus is full, but there’s room in the back

Wheres Peter the Rock? I think he’s still in class!

Get off at central, and we see our friends

Brendan is up to his shenanigans 

Chorus

Araiv cam lo church mi jes cam fo check          

If teite longo dea bata noma yet    

Wan swing go lo FQ checkim base lo dea,

Eppaleans trae alert coz seba watch lo dea

Chorus 

Bridge: 

I will never forget the joy of laughter

Even the days are smaller and shorter

But in my mind live the joys of laughter

And the days that I will remember.

Chorus

If you want some mango, just climb a tree

But none will be sweet as Max, brata blo mi

If you want a kick, no need for betel nut

‘Cuz Raphael and the boys are number one                                                                         

Amos, Augustine, Sami, Brian, Libo

Selo, Sisters, Sebas, stacka guardian angel

I want to take the time to thank you all

Especially the most beloved Archbishop 

Chorus

A shadow of a cloud that doesn’t exist

It is shrouded in a joy that will be missed, 

And words cannot even describe the gist

But the memories will not blow away like the mist”

These strangers became my guardians, but more importantly, my friends. Some took time for me to clearly see God working vibrantly in the relationships (I mean this in the best of ways!!), but some took merely a few seconds, which was beneficial because it was often, with these friends, that I never crossed paths with them again. 

The first of such was taking the bus back to World Youth Day after having gone back to Bishop’s place to refresh and rest after walking the 12 miles to the Nazareth Apostolic Center two days before. I was alone and trying to catch a bus in the right direction, and I was proud of the fact that I knew the name of the final destination of my journey, but the bus conductors in the morning were not so much impressed, as I ended up getting on the wrong bus and ending up right back at Central Market. At this point, the 9AM soccer game that I was supposed to play in was unattainable. Having been humbled, I took it as a sign to rest a little bit more, and try again in the evening. So that’s exactly what I did. I regrouped, did my research (I asked Brian how he did it the day before), and set out yet again, armed with a new confidence of information. I wasn’t just headed for NAC. No, I was headed for TENARU!! I walked over to where Brian said he caught the bus, only to be directed back to where I tried to catch the bus earlier in the morning.  “This is it.” I thought. “I will never make it back to World Youth Day; my personal heaven on earth!” But, in my desperation and loneliness, I remember wishing to have one of my guardian angels with me. Seba, Jeffrey, Junior David, Billy… anyone…. they would know what to do! It was then that I did what Everesto always encourages me to do: ASAP! Always Say A Prayer! My prayer was simple, because I knew exactly what I needed; I needed a guardian angel. And you know what, brothers and sisters, just as Everesto says “GAP!” God Always Provides! 

Here I was, glimmering with sweat, heart on the brink of complete desperation, and the only word on my lips was “Tenaru.” It was then that a hand of a stranger grabbed me, and asked “iu go lo Tenaru?”, to which an astonished me nodded. This man half-dragged me to the front of the bus line and practically shoved me into a bus that definitely wasn’t his. He would be collecting no fare from me. He was just helping a confused friend in need.

Sometimes God needs to whack us over the head with a truth, and then take His thumb and forefinger and pluck our tiny bodies up off the ground and redirect us to the way He wants for us. He does this with the people we bump into in our lives. Sometimes we are the pluckee, but that means that sometimes we have to be the plucker. Grab that person nearest to you that is calling out helplessly, my brothers and sisters, and please, for the love of God Almighty, half-drag and then practically throw them into the nearest bus that is heading towards heaven, knowing full well that you will get no thanks or compensation for your deed.

Stretching with Holy Cross Team B, after finally making it back to WYD!
They gave me the great honor of being captain for the last game!

Now, I almost missed my flight from Brisbane to Sydney. I knew that it would be a tight window in American Time to land, go through customs, switch airports, check my bag, go through security again and then find my gate. But I forgot that my first flight was Solomon Airlines, which meant it ran on Solomon Time. We landed about 20 minutes late, but I had made friends with this guy sitting next to me, Wayne, and he said to me, “don’t you worry, mate, we will get you on that flight!” (He’s an Australian, in case you couldn’t tell!). He blocked the aisle for me so that I could grab my bag and go, and luckily, my bag was one of the first to come out in the baggage claim. I breezed through customs, but only after a brief hiccup, where I gave the customs lady my declaration sheet, and she stuffed it in the middle of the pile (ummmm, who does that, I’m sorry??) while asking me for my passport ticket. When I gave her my ticket, she said “we don’t seem to have a declaration sheet from you, so you’ll be seeing quarantine now…” Keeping my cool at this point (would have been completely uncool if that happened), I just waited as she realized her mistake. She started asking me questions as she flipped through hundreds of declaration sheets, and when she asked “were you working in the Solomons?” I decided to name drop. “No, but I did volunteer work with the bishop…” “Go right on through, you are clear. Just found your sheet!” Hey, hey, maybe I should name drop Bishop more often in Australia!

I made it to the bus just fine, and Wayne waved me goodbye. Right before the doors closed, a Polynesian woman sat down in the seat right next to me. “Are you from the Solomon’s?” I asked her. She said no, she was from PNG, but she too was headed to Sydney. 

Knowing the Papua New Guinea people speak a Pijin similar to Solomon Pijin, I started to story with her, and learned her name: Nerrie. She was just old enough to be my grandmother, and it was her first time in Australia. We both hopped off the bus together, with the intent to walk over to our gate as travel buddies. 

When we finally made it through the doors of the domestic airport check in, I told Nerrie, “Mi havem wanfala basket blo mi fo check, bae mi kam back lo 3 mins.” I hustled over to the machine and through my bag on the belt, ready to check myself in. However, the machine had other plans, as it was too close to my flight to auto check my bag. I flashed Nerrie two big thumbs up as she waited patiently for me at the start of the security line. Jo, the assistant lady, helped me force the bag to be checked, and she sent me on my way to rejoin Nerrie. However, Qantas Airlines had other plans, as while I was removed from internet connection, they decided to start weighing carry-on bags!!! Mine was like 1 lb over, and the lady was NOT having it. Having been so used to the friendly smiles and accomodation in the Solomons, this interaction was absolutely foreign to me. I tried to explain that, yes, my flight started boarding 5 mins ago, and that I literally just sent my other bag way, so I had no way of repacking, and I would have to wait in line, but all I was met with is “that’s our new policy, sir!”

I turned to Nerrie, who was still patiently watching this all unfold, and I said “Nerrie, iu nomoa wait fo mi. Iu go lo flight blo mifala!” And turned to walk back to stand in line to check my bag. It was at this very moment, standing in line, that I, for the first time in my life, was at my wits end. I was in complete freakout mode. There was literally no way for me to get this bag and myself to Sydney…. and as I am spiraling out of control and hyperventilating and not forming sentences to the very kind desk workers, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that will forever shape me and how I engage with the world.

Who was still there, standing by the beginning of the security line, off to the side?

Nerrie.

“You have gotta be s…”

I waved frantically, and she saw me, because she had never taken her eye off of me. I waved her onward, mouthing “IU GO!” And do you know what this woman did?

She smiled. She gave me the thumbs up. And she stayed.

She was silently saying, “I am with you,” from about 100 yards away.*

All of a sudden, I was not blabbering, I stopped hyperventilating. I regained my composure, and sorted everything out with the desk guy. 

You see, Nerrie was the direct cause of this calmness, and all at once, I was reminded of every lesson I had learned about the Solomon way of companionship and presence. I had to pull my crap together, because I was not just fighting to get myself on that flight, but now Nerrie too. If I let myself down, I would be okay, and able to figure out an alternate plan. But I don’t know if Nerrie would have had the same luxury. It is because if this that I think she was an angel. Like a real life, sent by God for that mission, angel.

We ended up making it through security swiftly, and as we bolted up the stairs, I remember thinking “Nerrie said her flight is a few minutes after mine, so they are probably different gates,” and so, in a very restrained voice, I whispered very pointedly to Nerrie, “mi think flaet blo iu, hem lo long glowing board. Maybe twenty tufala. Taggio tumas fo waiting fo mi. Saef travel.” and then I took off running for my gate. I still pray that she understood what I said and found her flight, and that she knew that I did not just ditch her for no reason. 

My gate was literally the farthest one from the stairs, and as I turned the corner, the board read “flight closed,” but the flight attendants were still outside going over the list of late passengers. I checked in with one of them, and as the two of us walked down the hallway to the plane, I turned to her and joked: “I hope your day is going better than mine!” 

God responded: “what do you mean, you made your flight!”

Boy, I felt like a real dumdum. Literally my first foray into the developed world, and I had already forgotten every freak-doggin’ thing I had learned over the past 6 weeks in the Solomons.

Me, when I briefly forgot every lesson I had learned. (Giphy.com)

But… this was just God calling my name, His lost sheep, just as He saw me thinking about to wander. I didn’t even know I was going to wander, but He called my name, and I responded, snapping back to enlightenment in His Joyful presence.

I ain’t even embarrassed to admit that I sat down in my seat, buckled up, and cried over Nerrie throughout the entire safety demonstration. 

I think that is a perfectly fine reaction to encountering an angel in the flesh.

Evaristo told me on my last full day in the Solomons that the major difference between the three persons of God is the names we ascribe to each; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In a way, we are all God too, as we were all made in His image. And just as the three persons of God, we all have a unique name that He calls us by (unless you are searching for Ryan McIntyre on Facebook… STACKA Ryan McIntyre’s on Facebook! Peep my modelling career, my musical side… there is a Ryan McIntyre for everyone! If you want to connect with the one who wrote this article, you gotta search ‘Ryan McIntyre Boston,’ and I’m the first one that shows up =P). When He calls, we most certainly recognize the voice of our shepard, and come running back towards Him. He can call to us either in personal prayer, or even through interactions such as the ones I had with Nerrie and the flight attendant, where He spoke directly to me via the flight attendant. 

It was when He spoke to me that last time that one of the last pieces of the Solomon Island puzzle fell into place for me, and revealed the beginning of what was written across my heart: “You are mine, so live with love, and love with JOY, my child.”

The airport goodbye crew! (Left to Right): David Junior, Augustine, Samson, Evaristo, and Raphael.
These three waited with me right up until I was all the way through security. I love these brothers, and the Solomon Way! (Augustine, Samson, and Evaristo).

*”I am with you,” comes from a short story of a similar nature in Bob Goff’s book, Love Does.

iv. “Super” – A short reflection

Two Studs: Mr. Me and Jeffrey

If you could have any super power in the world, what would it be?

My answer growing up was always the control of time. Why? Because then I could literally control everything, and I could achieve anything that the other super powers had to offer. My parents always thought I would be a lawyer, because of answers like that.

But what wise young me didn’t realize was that we do in fact control time. Sure, we can’t time travel, but time is not something that drags us through it. It is an asset for us, but only if we can see it as such. Time is our perception of how we engage with the world… we made time, and therefor we can control it.

Too often, though, we find ourselves chasing a fleeting spare moment, always seeming to run just out of time as we rush through our busy lives. Time seems to control us.

I remember reading a reflection by a Solomon Islander in one of their newspapers there on their relationship with time. One line that stuck out to me read: “Here in the Solomon Islands, we control time, we do not let it control us.” Having experienced this aspect of their culture by arriving late, yet still early, for multiple sporting event and almost missing my connecting flight home, I would definitely say that the Solomon Islanders control time.

As a byproduct of this control, the Solomon Islanders would appear to the outside world to be some of the most calm souls on this planet. I think this is because they waste little time dwelling on the past or the future, but rather exist simply in the present, as well as beyond time. Outside the Solomon Islander, we are so good about dwelling on our past injuries, picking at scabs and not allowing them to heal. We are also amazing at 5 year and 10 year plans, constantly chasing “happiness” and “perfection,” saying things like, “I will be happy when…” or, “my life will be perfect when…”. The Solomon Islanders constantly chase Joy, in the form of eternal union with Christ. They value people and their stories rather than events and meetings and deadlines. They have a complete faith in GAP, as Evaristo would say: “God Always Provides.”

You know, its funny, that G.A.P. in the moments when you leave a gap for God to provide for you. When we make plans, God laughs, because He knows that what He has planned for us is either what we are planning, or beyond our wildest dreams. But when we make space and time for God to work in our lives, He cries tears of Joy… tears not unlike the Father of the prodigal son. These tears rain down on us in the form of His grace, brightening us and giving life to everything around us. By taking back control of time, we can begin to live in the present, in the presence of the Joy of our Lord, and the graces that splash down all around us. The Solomon Islanders have the dopest super power.

VI. An Open Letter to Mr. Jonathan Bellion

Dear Mr. Jon Bellion,

As an artist, human, and child of God, you have touched my life in some pretty awesome ways. What I love most about you is the profound joy that you exude in the ways that you make music, present yourself to your fans, and they way you approach faith and your life.

But I am writing to you, Mr. Bellion, not just to tell you about how good you are, but to let you know of the impact that the fruits of your joy are having on the world around you. You see, I am currently a few thousand miles from Long Island, in a place called the Solomon Islands. I am about four weeks through a six week program, where I am living with the local Archbishop (and fellow Long Islander) and teaching at a nearby secondary school. My college, Providence College, sends up to ten students abroad each year to experience the vibrance of the Dominican tradition, and be immersed in the various blends of the Catholic faith and native cultures of the foreign country. I even used (and cited!) some of your song lyrics in my lengthy application letters—I hope that is okay with you!

I absolutely loved the first two and a half weeks of learning and becoming acclimated in the Solomon Islands! I started to make many great friends, dove headfirst into a deeper devotion to prayer, and began learning how to control a classroom full of 13-year-olds. Part of my second week saw me traveling to a very isolated section of the Solomon Islands, on the island of Makira, to partake in the confirmation masses for 200+ soldiers for Christ. When I arrived back, I started to finally settle in to the daily routine in Honiara, consisting of morning mass, riding the bus with some of my students to school, teaching math, and then walking back to hang around with the hundreds of kids that frequented Holy Cross Cathedral before evening prayer, dinner, and bed.

However, as I settled into this routine, I think I fell into a bit of a rut and got too comfortable with my surroundings, which made me start to feel a little weird about my whole experience so far. I say this because I got pretty sick for a few days at the end of my third week, and maybe it was the fever, but maybe also it was an inappropriate anticipation that was starting to grow in my mind as it sought to run free from the present moment, but I started to lose hope in why I was here in the Solomons. Why did I even come to the Solomon Islands? How do I compare to the other Smith Fellows? Why don’t I have all the answers already?

But then the all to familiar words came into my head: “Maybe I don’t know… but maybe, that is okay… I guess if I knew tomorrow, I guess I wouldn’t need faith, I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace, I guess if I knew His plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God…”

Mr. Bellion, I had forgotten the key to joy: gratitude for the current moment. You know you have it when you never want the moment to end… when you never want the bus that you are in to reach the foot of the hill at Holy Cross Cathedral. There were plenty of times after school where I could not wait for the bus to stop at Central Market beneath Holy Cross, where the traffic was backed up so much, I was sharing sweat with my neighbor, and falling asleep against the window. One time in particular, when I was sick, I think I prayed for the bus to drop me off right at the Bishop’s house, so that I would have an uninterrupted walk to the bathroom.

But, now, Mr. Bellion, my prayers sound like this:

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be here.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be here now.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be here now, with
your people.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be here now, with your
people, and your joy.
Amen.

God used your music, Mr. Jon Bellion, to spark this shift in my perspective. You see, right before I got sick, I was lounging on Bishop’s deck, the social hub of all the youth of Holy Cross Cathedral [because of the perfect layout for storying, the impeccably breathtaking view of the Iron Bottom Sound, and the ever-flowing “lemon,” a drink that seems to keep the Solomon Islands running (maybe I’ll use the “Solomon Islands runs on Lemon” joke tomorrow, and no one will laugh, because they don’t know what Dunkin is…{sorry for all the brackets})] and was sharing music with a great musician and year 10 student, Junior David, and his year 12, good friend—and now a very important and beloved guardian angel blo mi—Jefferey. After adding a few of their songs to my favorites playlist, I showed them a song or two from an Australian guitarist, Jacob Lee, before finally showing them a few of your songs. I simply love your piece, “Hand of God – Outro,” and per my usual procedure before I show anyone that song, I made them listen to a healthy portion of your The Human Condition album to fully prime them for the end of “Hand of God – Outro.” Well, one of those songs, “New York Soul – Pt. ii,” instantly became Jefferey’s favorite song of all time, to the point that he will walk around the courts after school with a speaker dangling around his neck, playing it on repeat for the whole of Honiara to hear.

Okay, now fast-forwarding through my sickness, and landing on my post-bedridden-doubts, enter: World Youth Day?

The youth of a few local parishes took it upon themselves to develop, orchestrate, and enjoy their own World Youth Day, a week chock-full of sports, food, talks, sleeping under the stars, and most importantly, prayer. This year will be the first ever, modelled after a similar design of Bishop’s at his last parish in Malaita. The youths have been preparing for months now, where they have hosted numerous logistics meetings, massive clean-ups, and intense training sessions (for the athletic events!). One such training event was a friendly soccer match between the Holy Cross Cathedral team (my team!) and the Tenagi parish team. The abbreviated match went well, although I did not partake as I was still resting from my illness, and after we all caught a bus back to Holy Cross. But this was no ordinary bus.

Friendly Soccer Match at Tenagi

It was the same idea with the buses we take on the way to school, except instead of fitting 15, this one had space for about 24. I think we squeezed 30 into it. My guardian angel, Jefferey, pulled out the speaker, and gave me a wink. I knew what he wanted, and with the dwindling 5% on my phone, I played “New York Soul – Pt.ii.” He then caught my attention and said, “stand up and dance.” In almost any other circumstance, in any other moving vehicle, in any other country, I would have just laughed and stayed seated. But there was no buckle keeping my butt on the seat. Even if there was, very little could keep me in my seat after standing in the middle of the field after the match with close to 100 male catholic youths (students, colleagues, coaches, catechists, random children…) holding hands, praying, praising, and planning for the week to come. These guys were mostly my age, but more importantly, because of the past few weeks, were brothers in Christ. So yes, I stood up and did a little dance, got a few laughs, and sat down after a few seconds. But then Jefferey said, “dance and sing the words!” You best believe that I got right back up in my seat and finished off the song! But my dear friend Jefferey was not satisfied with just listening to the song one time, Mr. Bellion.

The entire ride home, we must have listened to your song about 8 times, with the guys smacking the seats to hold the beat for me while I belted out your words at the top of my lungs. Every time I reached your line “My joy lies in the Son, and you should jump on that,” I made a point to really annunciate my English for the guys, for which I was met with a thunderous wave of whoops and cheers at the reference to Jesus as the greatest source of joy. Any close friend of mine would know that this* was absolutely me experiencing a moment greater than I could even hope to conceive for myself.

Back of the Bus crew!

~ ~ ~

In today’s homily, Bishop Chris preached about humility. The issue with the doubts floating through my head was that “I” was quite literally at the center of all of them. I was asking the completely wrong questions.

The current moment isn’t about me, just as it isn’t about you either. It’s all about God, all the time. As His providence plays out before our eyes, we need to faithfully glorify Him in how we exist in His moment, because they are His gifts to us. Because we are His beloved children, we can share in His joy each and every moment if we chose to.

Instead, I should have been asking for guidance in how to be grateful for the opportunity, what I can learn from it, and how I can love those around me with it.

I learned this lesson as we grew closer to the Cathedral. I didn’t want to get out of that bus, for fear of leaving that moment of pure joy and unexpected adoration. But here’s the thing: speakers are portable, so the party doesn’t have to end, and so too are memories, which can act as sparks to ignite future flames. Sure, I will probably never have another moment or experience quite like the one I had tonight. “But maybe that’s okay,” because I can have faith that God is leading me through to many other unimaginably memorable moments, as I follow Jesus on the pathway to His Kingdom. The path is definitely not straight—mainly because I am “Human”—, but that is why I have the church, the sacraments, my brothers and sisters, and the ingredients that made up the memories such as the one I just had.

Now I pray for traffic, because it gives you more time to spend with the lessons and the joy in the current moment. Everything is okay when you are present; it is then that you are in the “Hand of God.” And we can know this because Jesus wrote it on a cross, and across our hearts. And now I know a part of what He wrote is: “you, my beloved child, are mine.”

God Bless,

A brother in Christ

*I was singing to Bellion after a soccer match at the top of my lungs, feeling completely accepted by a community as we all were praising Our Lord with an evergreen joy.

Me, enjoying a mango, Solomon Style

iii. “Joy” – A short reflection

“Maxi! Iu how?”

“Mi alright. How are you?”

Mi not alright! My insides were saying, but my mouth replied, “Mi gud. Mi just need to run lo haus this taem.”

As I speed-walked past the many Solomon Islanders milling about the Central Market, mentally doubled over in pain, I could not help but to smile at everyone I made eye contact with, peppering the streets with the customary “aftanoon… aftanoon…” as I navigated my way ever closer to the liberation of Bishop’s house at the crest of the hill. The bus ride and the traffic were uneventful for everyone but me, so I needed to attend to that.

Flash backwards a few days, and you would find me lying prostrate on my bed, defeated by an illness that ransacked my system, causing me to purge and start anew. I recovered after a long day of discomfort, only to be humbled again two days later, right after Sunday mass. I was not my best self by any stretch, requiring the assistance of the stacka guardian angels blo mi, to even do simple things such as eat and take the medicine my mother sent with me (thanks be to God for my mother!).

Feeling a little like Lazarus on Monday morning, I went to school to prefect a few exams, as it was the start of the student’s exam week. But part of the way through the second exam, I realized I was not Lazarus, but rather Ryan, and that I was not fully well yet, so on the journey home after the exam had ended, I was in pain.

So, here in the story is where I get off the bus and run into Maxi on my way to sweet, sweet liberation. But here’s the thing. Despite the internal pain and suffering, I meant every degree of the warmth of my smile when I greeted people. Every “aftanoon” was backed by a genuine well-wishing that the recipient was having a good afternoon. Every interaction was fueled by joy.

This experience provided tangible evidence for the differentiation between happiness and joy in my life.

Happiness – a mood; a sensation that is fleeting, whimsical, and ever-changing.

Joy – a disposition; a state of being that permanently dictates the actions in your life.

Happiness – a loaf of bread, or a fish.

Joy – friendship with Jesus.

Happiness – for yourself.

Joy – for Jesus, Others, and Yourself.

Happiness is a stream that runs over its bed only when it rains, while joy is an eternal spring powerful enough to soak the surrounding lands.

I thought that I was faking joy when I was forcing the smile on my face despite the pain, but I found that the smile came easily, which betrayed that I was truly happy in spirit, despite the bodily pain. There was only one cause for my joy: I was where He needed me to be.

ii. “Water” – A short reflection

Those gaps in the rocks appear to be small river mouths along Makira
Wainoni Bay from a canoe
Wainoni Bay Mission Station from a canoe
Margret helping me clear the water out of the canoe
Mr. Me, navigating the bay
Our 6 person boat, and the hospitality of the villagers

Water has been on my mind a lot recently, and it really started on my boat ride over from Kirakira to Wainoni. As our 6 person boat bounced over the waves under the command of Fr. Pateliesio, and we sped past the various streams connecting the ocean to the middle of the island under the dense trees, my mind was drawn to a quote from the first page of Bob Goff’s most recent book Everybody, Always, which read “we’re rivers, not reservoirs.” What Bob means here is that we are not meant to collect and save up the love and the graces that God has given us, but rather we should work to advance that love throughout the land around us, weaving through obstacles and reaching the thirsty and the dry lands that the ocean cannot reach, to nurture the soils that will feed the many. If we act as reservoirs, we might provide love and grace for those who we want—just the neighbors we like—but that is not what Jesus does, or what God calls us to do. God’s love is just like the ocean in how deep, boundless and reckless it pounds on every shore in the same manner, eating away at the walls of rock or reef that we might have formed around our hearts to keep Him out.

We, too, are called to love recklessly and to spread His love and joy beyond simply immediate neighbors we surround ourselves with. We are called to love indiscriminately and unconditionally, as to get back to our source of joy—God’s love—we must run our love continuously. A river that runs from one side of Makira to fill the pipes of the Wainoni Marist Highschool on the other coast cannot one day decide to dry up at that one bend where there is an lonely tree (that drops too many coconuts in the river) and still expect to reach Wainoni Bay. That’s not how rivers work, and that’s not how we should operate either.

The rivers of Makira were fed the great gift of energy in the form of water from the ocean as they seek out their final destination on the other side of the island, where they will enter back into union with the ocean. So, too, are we fed the greatest gifts of energy in the form of love, grace, and joy from God as we seek out our final destination on the other side of death, where we will enter back into union with God. We must return these gifts in full to God, and to do that, we must learn to run continuously as a river does, leaping over rocks, carving through stone valleys, and spreading life as we find our way back to God. For many people, the ocean gives life, and the ocean is life. If God’s love is the ocean, then let us be His soldiers throughout the His lands.

i. “Poupou” – A short reflection

In the Solomon Islands, there is a fruit that they call poupou. To my eyes, its bright orange flesh looks just like cantaloupe. When I first bit into it, I expected the familiar taste of cantaloupe to explode on my taste buds, but I was, unsurprisingly, let down by the invasion of a new flavor into my life. I despised poupou because it let me down time and time again. This cycle of me being let down by the poupou continued until Bishop gave words to this lesson, as he said, “it looks a lot like cantaloupe, doesn’t it?” Up until that moment, I was not aware of the biases and the prejudices that tainted my taste buds each time that I opened my mouth to take a bite of the poupou. Once I realized that I was anticipating the flavor and not participating in the new experience, I started to grow a liking for this new fruit.

The Solomon Island culture IS the poupou, and the American culture IS the cantaloupe. From a safe distance, it all looks the same. Houses, cars, commerce, recreation, churches, people. But if you sink your teeth into the Solomon Island culture and expect everything to be the same as American culture, you will be surprised to find just how different it is, and you might be a little taken aback by it. BUT, that is only true if you expect to taste America in you interactions with the Solomon Islanders. I was fortunate enough to have been prepped by a few great mentors before coming to the Solomons, which allowed me to experience their culture as it is, and fully participate without anticipating too much. If you keep trying to experience new things in old light, you will consistently be let down. Be present, be open, be vulnerable. You will love every moment of your day.

Evaristo at the altar, accompanied by a few other dancers, during Mass

V. Doi nasi ala iesu

Before I get into this next post, I just want to express the sincerest of apologies to my mother. Yes, mom, I am still alive, and no, I did not have any connection to the outside world, apart from a few texts that came through once I got back to Honiara from some friends because apparently they don’t charge me for incoming text messages on the emergency data plan. The school’s wifi has been down as well. I have loved every moment of it.

Words – a speaker’s attempt to share an idea, emotion, or experience with a listener.

I could try to describe for you, my dear reader, the sensation of landing in a prop plane on a grass runway on Makira, praying that it did not rain the night before, seeing children running along the runway as they tried to keep pace with the plane, walking a few paces before hopping into the truck that would deliver us to the local church.

Our plane on the runway in Kirakira

I could try to describe for you, my dear reader, feeling like a rag doll at the mercy of the storm that relentlessly pommeled our small craft as we journeyed on a turbulent ocean along the coast of Makira from Kirakira to Wainoni Bay, or the bamboo stick marching band that kept the time for the angelic choir of the youth of Wainoni Marist Highschool as they welcomed Bishop and myself on the shore of their boarding school, sheepishly shaking our hands as they had not yet experienced my goofy dance moves that would be on display later that night in front of the entire school.

I could try to describe for you, my dear reader, the welcoming embrace of this Catholic community, as I witnessed the confirmation of just over 150 new soldier for Christ, and how a few boys named George, Francis, and Michael (and friends) led me on an expedition to a village over an hour away (picture: chickens and young naked kids darting across the narrow path that winds through the woods, pig grazing next to leaf hut houses, and the many friendly—yet confused—smiles and waves that had probably seen very few people with arms as pale as mine in their village), where my guides scaled a tree and prepared for me a fresh coconut by prying it open with their teeth and shattering the shell with a rock, or the students’ thirst for knowledge when they showed up to an impromptu late night math class on angles that I offered to help teach for Mr. Solomon (both his real name, and a perfect descriptor of how embodying Mr. Solomon is of the welcoming nature of the Solomon Islands).

I could try to relay the emotion I felt when we traveled—captained by an ex Olympics Runner named Primo Higa—further down the coast of Makira to Nahuhu, an extremely isolated village, where I barely survived a warrior welcome with both of my eyeballs still in my head, where our facilities consisted of a beautiful leaf hut, a sleeping mat, and a hole (felt just like camping), and where I witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit descending upon 49 more soldiers of Christ.

I could try to relay the emotion I felt when we were greeted yet again by the students in Wainoni Bay as if we were friends from childhood, how Josephine and her friend walked alongside me begging for a story from Nahuhu, and how George waited with teary eyes at the end of the hand shaking line when we were departing, unable to hold himself together as he collapsed into Bishop’s arms and the Spirit moved him to sob and heave pure tears of sadness that his Bishop had spent the last few days with him and was now departing.

I cannot express in words how it felt to hold Jesus in my arms as He sobbed in my arms in the appearance of a boy named George.

I could try to relay the emotion I felt when I showed up to the Epalle students futsal championship game against White River an hour late (but yet was still early, because “Solomon time”), shared sweat with almost every other human on the bleacher steps I was sitting, witnessed the Epalle players win a gritty game that was delayed for 20 minutes because the White River fans streamed out to the parking lot to fight my students (none of my students left the arena, there was not fighting on their part, don’t worry), was made an integral part of their celebration and subsequent impromptu bbq, acting as their security as we escorted the student athletes on a flat bed delivery truck from the stadium back to the school, through mobs of angry White River students hurling large rocks at the truck throughout the city, and how the Epalle players cheered so loud on the way to Epalle that I am pretty sure all of Honiara knew which school had just won.

I could try to describe for you, my dear reader, how the Spirit worked overtime on Pentecost Sunday to fill the Cathedral and the surrounding property with people who traveled long distances to celebrate with their brothers and sisters in Christ, how the Spirit compelled the youth of Tangare (led by Junior David and Everesto) to sing and dance so beautifully at mass at the various processions with their shields, axes, grass skirts, and lava-lavas, and how the Spirit brought together the Catholic and the Salvation Army communities for a joint prayer service later in the day, where the Catholics tried to sing with the Salvation Army’s brass band, but was a little off of their timing.

I could try to describe for you, my dear reader, what I experienced as I stood on the bed of the back of Bishop’s truck as we wound our way along the edge of Guadacanal on our return from Visale—a  parish which is home to a vocational school, a large group of DMI sisters, and a beautiful beach with a reef which put the Great Barrier Reef to shame (yes, I would know)—with grassy mountains and coconut trees towering on my right, waves pounding the reef just feet from the road on the left, and a warm sea breeze enveloping my soon-to-be-tanned upper body, accompanied by two young men from North Malaita and hundreds of greetings from the leaf houses and betel nut stands that peppered the side of the road, but words would not do justice for that glimpse of paradise.

I could try to describe for you the joy with which Everesto talks about saying hello to Jesus in the morning at daily mass, or how joyful Peter the Rock is when he talks about where he has seen Jesus acting in his life. But, if I tried, I would miss a lot.

Those words trigger within me the truth that my heart knows that surrounds them. But for you, my dear reader, they trigger mere fabrications of your own mind, a gathering of your own twists and turns that you have experienced throughout your life as your eyes and your brain try to translate my words into your imagination. You see, you have all the words in front of you, but they don’t strike the same chords for you as they do for me (much like the Holy Cross choir that tried to sing along with the Salvation Army brass band). You don’t yet know the melody for which to experience these words I have written, because you have not experienced yet the exact moments that I have.

This is much like Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of God. As God, He has complete knowledge of heaven and the power of love, and the Bible has all His words that we have written down. These words are just words to us until we put them into action, until we truly experience them for ourselves. What good is saying “I love you” if the person you are saying them to does not feel loved? What good is telling someone a little bit about heaven when you can just show them? Yes, we should still know what Jesus said and taught us, but we also need to be conscious of how He said them and taught them. He said the words with his mouth, but He spoke them with a cross: His heart.

I keep trying to skip to the end of the sentence that was written across my heart in anticipation, instead of reading along with Jesus, as He walks me through the phonetics of my life experiences. Yes, I have the words in front of me, but only He knows how to read them, and at what pace and which volume. Everesto, a Malaitian and strong brother in Christ, would say that I need to doi nasi ala iesu – “Hold strong on to Jesus.”

Doi nasi ala iesu, my friends.