For we, which now behold these present days, Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

Spring has arrived in Texas and we are all feeling that distinctive enchantment which includes even the everyday objects around us. Those of you from colder climes may be laughing, but three days without sunshine makes us melancholy. Were I decades younger, I would be admiring someone from afar. Speaking of afar, after a year’s hiatus, the Owen Project will be in Honduras again this summer. Health concerns kept me away last year, leaving a moral and spiritual hole in 2019. When I looked into the abyss, near death,  I saw that the media torrent in which we live exhausts us, rendering us numb and insensate. According to the line  from  Shakespeare’s  sonnet 106  above, therefore, we may have neither the eyes to wonder nor the tongues to praise. We see too much, or too little of value. All the clamoring for attention: how I long for the moral clarity, the effortless piety of being in Honduras.

We will be in Siguatepeque early in June, luxuriously accommodated at the Zari Hotel. Six or seven graduating seniors from our high school will be with us. I’ll include pictures of these adventurous souls next time. We will deploy 100 XO laptops in the rural schools outside of Siguatepeque. This will be our ninth summer in Honduras. Time passes.

With thanks,

Mark

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For Where Two Or Three Are Gathered Together…

I now see what Saint Matthew may have meant when he wrote about the promise of miracles when good people gather together. As a younger man I thought I understood anything I read in a book, including the Scriptures, and that this purely imaginative knowledge was the ultimate truth. How foolish and overblown this seems today. I feel like a child, learning all over again, looking at the world with fresh eyes. Perhaps this explains some of the deep joy I feel in these quite humble schools in Honduras. I’m supposed to be the teacher, but in truth I am the student. I trace the wonder and excitement not only on faces of these beautiful students, but on those of Natalia, Thong, Kaelin, Brian, Presley, Brooke and Hannah as well.

Enough of this wordy introduction to what everyone wants to see- pictures. Enjoy!

Well I don’t have those pictures so I’ll post this long after I wrote it.

With Christmas wishes,

Mark

 

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In Blackbeard’s Footsteps

In the past few decades scholars have reassessed the reputations of buccaneers and pirates in the Caribbean islands. In addition to being cutthroats they were also involved in small experiments in freedom and democracy. Long before the American Revolution these adventurous spirits longed to live free or die. Next year the Owen Project will be deploying XOs in Nevis. Nevis is the island next to Saint Kitts and was named by Columbus, who thought the mist clinging to its dominating volcano was snow. The devastating hurricane last summer in the Caribbean left Nevis relatively intact, though its schools and infrastructure are primitive and basic. Schools there are similar to those in Honduras and Guatemala, built out of cinder blocks with windows open to the elements. We hope to join with an association of homeowners to purchase enough XOs to cover an entire grade level throughout the entire island. This is the kind of deployment favored by One Laptop Per Child because it maximizes the educational impact of introducing computers into the national curriculum.

We plan to invite graduating seniors from the high school where I teach to join us. Visiting the island last year we noticed a strange phenomenon. Though a tropical paradise, complete with beaches and palm trees, there is a sense of fragility, of quiet calm before some violence- violence here being frequent storms. This was the inspiration for our decision to bring the Owen Project to this island. Following in Captain Blood’s footsteps, we hope to be a modern experiment in intellectual freedom and democracy.

With holiday wishes,

Mark

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Ahaseurus

There is an old legend of a man from Jerusalem who lived on the route that Jesus took on the way to Golgotha. This man, named Ahaseurus, had seen many criminals pass by on their way to crucifiction, so he took no notice of Jesus as he fell for a third time on his doorstep. He nudged the prostrate Jesus who said, “ Because you have not allowed me to rest, so too you will never rest.” At that moment Ahaseurus became immortal. Jesus appeared to him in a dream and told him that he would wander the world as a witness to the miraculous events of those times. To those faithful people who recognized him, he could give an account of that first Good Friday and reassure them that miracles do happen for those who have eyes to see. Throughout the Middle Ages Christians sought for this man in the faces of strangers, travelers and pilgrims.

I mention this story because we met this man at a kindergarten we visited in the foothills outside of Siguatepeque. I can’t describe the impact that a room full of beaming, beautiful and expectant faces can have on a heart that is open and willing to receive. All that was good, true and loving in us was called to the surface. There was simply no room for mean-spiritedness, selfishness or self-absorption.

Carried away by these emotions, I moved to the back of the classroom and was approached by an older Honduran man who was not introduced to us earlier. He proceeded to tell that he had heard of us and the story of Owen’s death and our response to it. He conveyed that he sometimes prayed for Owen’s soul and that he wanted to meet Sally and I. I can’t tell you how humbled I was by this simple and profound expression of compassion. Just as mysteriously, this man left without ceremony, but I hope to remember him for the rest of my life.

His appearance proved to be prophetic because he prepared us for an afternoon visit to the special needs school in Siguatepeque. Most of these students are deaf and unable to speak. They use facial expressions, body language and gestures to convey what their words cannot. Mostly they convey joy and happiness. Did I mention that they are the world’s best huggers? Such trust and openness! Presley, Hannah, Brian, Thong, Brooke and Kaelin found it hard to tear themselves away.

I’ll end here with some pictures which will mock my attempts to convey in words what can only be experienced directly.

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Saint John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross was a Spanish mystic who chronicled what he called the “ dark night of the soul.” I have known these nights, but I wonder if there are other stages of a soul’s journey that correspond to more pleasant times of day. When we arrived in San Pedro Sula safely and without lost bags or any delays, I felt a rush of gratitude and happiness that matched the vibrant green of the countryside. The experience reminded me of Saturday mornings when I was a child. The air itself tasted sweet and the sunlight was golden and magical. Borrowing from Saint John, can there be a bright morning of the soul? If so, then I have known these as well. I wonder too if I am effected by the childlike excitement of our latest and largest contingent of students. I trust that they are posting plenty of pictures. However evocative those images, there is some element of direct experience that cannot be captured by pictures or words. You have to see their faces and feel the force of their emotions.

We piled into a Forestry Service van and soon left the sweltering lowlands, climbing into the fantastically-forested mountains. The temperature fell, dark clouds gathered and the sky opened up. The rain was so fierce that we feared flooded roadways. After weeks of baking heat in Texas, we enjoyed the chill in the air and arrived safely.

Monday morning after breakfast at Dona Mercedes’, we left for our first school. Some of us rode in the back of a pickup, while others stayed safely in a van. I am going to try to add some pictures here. Sally has reminded me that no one wants to read my purple prose.

 

I’m going to sign off now so that I can post this.

With care,

Mark

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The Man Who Planted Computers

There is a beautiful short story by Jean Giono called, ” The Man Who Planted Trees.” In it a peasant living in Provence early in the 20th century loses an only child and is emptied out by grief. He becomes a shepherd and moves to a part of Southern France that has been deforested and desolate since Roman times. He takes on the mission of replanting trees in this high desert- one acorn at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time. After decades of patient labor and magnificent generosity, he revives the ancient forest and water returns to the streams and springs, and animals return to the trees. With Christ-like devotion this simple man changes the world.

For obvious reasons this story resonates with Sally and I. We recognize what it feels like to be emptied by grief, and also how broken hearts are fertile ground for quiet service. In Siguatepeque our principal partner Oscar Ochoa Mendoza is a forester, a man who plants trees. For the past 8 years we have also joined him and many others in planting computers in schools in the mountains around Siguatepeque. We hope that these digital seeds have spread some measure of excitement, joy and curiosity to these children- one life at a time, one class at a time, one village at a time.

Mark

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Proust in Central America

IMG_0646IMG_6383IMG_7129IMG_1461FullSizeRender3A1E300E-96AD-445F-BFF9-3CA7D2EB2556It is the time of the year to start dreaming of summer vacation, and for me this means a trip to Honduras. Six of my students, all graduating seniors, will be with us this trip. I’m including their photos above. I was particularly moved by these young people because they came to me to ask if they could join our mission before I had mentioned anything  about going to Honduras. With continuing wonder, Sally and I have become observers of a project that seems to draw loving people into its orbit.   I’ve asked them to view some of our old posts to get a sense of what it might be like in a mountain school surrounded by smiling children. Reviewing these posts myself, I felt like Marcel Proust, overcome by recollections of the past, overcome by a beguiling nostalgia, an enchantment.

It was not the taste of a petite madeleine dipped in tea that I sought in the memories evoked by those posts; it was that quiet joy, that moral clarity, that sense of ethical purpose. I remember a film entitled ” The Hurt Locker” which involved the adventures of a munitions expert in Baghdad who defuses bombs for the military. After his tour ends in Iraq, he returns home to his wife and child. He goes shopping for breakfast cereal and is overwhelmed by the bright lights. the muzak playing and the sheer number of choices offered in the cereal aisle. In the next frame he is back in Iraq risking his life. I think I understand him. In Baghdad his life is simple and full of life and death importance. Most days I feel like I’m in the cereal aisle of moral choices, confused and ill at ease. It seems quaint  and naive to try to love your neighbor as yourself here in Texas. This is never the case in Honduras . Some day I’ll bring some of that confidence back home.

A final note: I’ll identify those handsome folks who are about to find out  what I was struggling to convey earlier. In the order of their photos: Tong Vu, who will be attending Blinn College; Brian Cash, also attending Blinn College; Kaelin Casey, who will attend Concordia College ; Brooke Mueller, who will attend Texas A&M; Hannah Patek, is bound for Texas Tech University; and Presley Carter, will be at the University of Texas in Austin. I feel a father’s pride in all of them.

More later,

Mark

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Apocatastasis

The theologian Origen created the idea of apocatastasis, which means in the Greek that at the end of time everything will be as it was in the beginning. For Origen this meant that history is moving to the perfection that existed when the universe was an idea in the mind of God. I was reminded of this when we rode into the mountains after a heavy downpour on our way to Santa Rosita. This was the very first school we visited seven years ago. Below are the words I read to the gathered parents, students and village elders.

” There is a saying in my country that once you leave home you can never return.But every time we come back here it feels like coming home. I remember the old mud and wattle school and the desks set up outside under the trees.  I remember the looks of wonder in the eyes of you parents, a look of gratitude for prayers answered. I remember the looks of understanding and compassion in all of your eyes when we told you of our son and why we were here. I remember the looks of excitement and enthusiasm on your young faces and those of pride on the faces of your parent’s. My favorite memory of all is when we walked to the swimming hole in the rain, each child carrying a laptop, stopping under porches when the rain grew heavy.  Each year when we come back, we see more confidence, more understanding and more aspiration.  Today I see faces of children who will find the talents that God gave them and share them with the world.  Truly these memories are touched by grace.

Too often it is easy to think that the world is only filled with struggle and war, with poverty and oppression.  But I see here something miraculous, something magical, something that confirms what is best in human beings, wherever they live, whatever language they speak.  There is something hopeful and resilient here, something beautiful and holy. To those who say that miracles never happen, I say what about Santa Rosita!”

Here are some photos:

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Stand and Deliver

There is a wonderful tradition in Honduras of giving impromptu speeches at important events. I’m sure there are some basic conventions, but to an outsider they appear spontaneous and authentic. Everyone can participate, if they are willing. At the beginning of each school visit and at the end there are a round of these speeches given by teachers, parents, students, administrators and someone from our group. Linda is our first choice, not only because of her fluent Spanish, but because she seems to know our minds and hearts and give a view of these to the villagers. Sometimes I will ask her to say something specific, something that needs saying at that moment. This year I wrote speeches for particular schools and Linda translated them as I spoke. A word to the wise: google translate does not pick up nuance or connotative meanings. I tried using this application on these speeches with laughable results. My editor( read Sally) has warned me that I am dangerously close to bombast in these posts, so I will simply reproduce the speeches as presented. After this I will include another collection of pictures. The first text was read at the Special School in Siguatepeque. I’ll enter the second tomorrow.

” My favorite place in all the world is my house in Seguin. This is because my wife lives there and, for a time, my son did as well.  My house is filled with love and openness, with caring and compassion.  It is a place where you can leave the cares and frustrations of the world behind and enter the Kingdom of God.  On the best of days, I wonder why the world cannot be like my house, filled with acceptance and idealism.

My second favorite place in the world is this school, because it feels like my house. I am a teacher and in my profession there are often very selfless and committed people, but I have rarely seen teachers like yours; their every movement and word seems full of caring and authentic concern.  I can see something miraculous in your eyes as well, you students; I see such vulnerability and trust, such openness, enthusiasm and curiosity. Jesus said that only those who can become as children will enter the Kingdom of God. You have helped me to understand these mysterious words.

I miss my son very very much. He was a beautiful soul. Thankfully, so is his mother. Thankfully, too, I sometimes catch a glimpse of the light of his eyes in yours. It is a very beautiful memory. Thank you all. We hope that you will enjoy these computers, and that they will empower your creativity and wonder. There is much in the world that is wonderful. You have some of that magic here, and we hope you find more in your futures.”

Here are more pictures:

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The Heart Has Its Reasons That Reason Cannot Know

 

Pascal anticipated the world we live in today, a world where we live too much in our heads. Our hearts and bodies are ready with their wisdom, but we cannot hear them. I thought of this when we all arrived at the Zari Hotel in Siguatepeque long after midnight. Our minds were exhausted but our hearts were full and our bodies knew what to do. Even our Forestry Ministry driver, Raul, seemed caught up in our comfortable transition. Freed from the tyranny of thinking, I could look on in wonder at our gathered group and feel the miracle of our shared love and commitment, the many years we had been in exactly this same situation. All those experiences shifted into a single frame and made the very air itself seem somehow deepened and full of magic. The faces of these people I know so well seemed to shine from within because I was in the presence of saints. Sometimes in a pleasant dream I will walk through a familiar place but the experience is charged with some powerful symbolic significance, as if nothing was as it seemed and that everything was to be cherished as full of meaning and wonder. I have yet to wake up from this dream of Honduras. I floated through breakfast the next morning and on into the trip into the mountains to visit our first school. It is very rainy and humid this time of year and this serves to intensify all the aromas of rural Siguatepeque. You can literally smell the fertility of the mountainsides, the saturated dark earth, the profusion of leafy green and the many flowering shrubs, trees and flowers. Most beguiling are the scents of the  tropical fruits, fruits on trees and displayed on roadside stands. Surely Eden smells like this!!   Arriving at the school, we soon saw the faces of excited and expectant children, lined up before us like precious fruit. I can’t express the impact of these faces, so full of curiosity and anticipation. It is humbling and inspiring at the same time, making our hearts open like flowers. I woke up from this pleasant dream three hours later, after we had completed all of our lessons and the children were exploring in a room full of laughter and gasps of surprise and amazement. I’ll stop now and let you see the pictures which will make my words seem shallow and unnecessary.

 

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