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A rather special honeymoon



Marist voluntary workers involved with the NGO SED

16/09/2008: Spain

Here we have Beatriz Zandio, 30 years old, a neurologist and Rodrigo Espinedo, 35 years old, a teacher in our Marist school of Pamplona. They were married in the summer of 2007 and decided to go to Chad to spend a year as Marist voluntary workers involved with the NGO SED. They stayed at the District House in Accra, Ghana, before returning to Spain, and they have agreed to an interview.

It is not exactly normal for a newlywed couple to opt for a year of missionary work of this calibre…
In our case, the concern to help the neediest came from a distance; both of us have been involved in the work of SED. As a couple we also decided to commit ourselves in a specific way, at a time when our family and our work situation allowed us. We offered our services to the Iberian Province and the Brothers decided on the place and the work.

There were many possibilities… why Chad?
Certainly: we could have gone anywhere. But the words of Brother Samuel, the Provincial, were very clear: You are a gift for the Province; and a gift is made to those with the greatest need”. He suggested we should go to Chad and we accepted.

Where do your Marist links come from?
Rodrigo is a teacher in the Marist school of Santa María de Real of Pamplona and is involved in the provincial mission teams. Beatriz grew up in the Marist faith youth groups. We both identify with the features of Marist spirituality, with its style and charism.

You land in Chad: is it a cultural, linguistic shock…?
The first and greatest shock was the situation of poverty throughout the country; we hadn’t imagined it to be like this. Day after day we have tried to adapt ourselves to that reality, to the lack of resources… The cultural differences have been rather an enriching element.

When you arrived there were Marists in Koumra and in Sarh. Did you go there with the intention of becoming integrated in one of those communities?
We were very open to any possibility, but we wanted to collaborate closely with the Brothers. We lived in Sarh, forming a community with Carlos and Blaise, the first Chadian Marist. When Carlos had to return to Spain and Blaise went to Koumra, we continued to live in the Brothers’ house.

The Marist community of Koumra is more than 100 km from Sarh. What relationship did you have?
A great deal and it was very good. In spite of the distance, we tried to visit the Brothers twice a month, when work permitted. The visits were reciprocal; filled with family joy and… sausage

And what happens when a couple like you is integrated in a Marist community?
I believe that we all benefited. With the Brothers we have shared our prayer life, community meetings, the preparation and application of budgets. And now we continue doing this as a couple.

Your specific work in Sarh…
Rodrigo has collaborated with the bishopric in the preparation of cooperative projects between the Diocese and Spain; Beatriz has worked as a doctor in the diocesan hospital, specializing in HIV/AIDS

Efficacy or witness?
Both, without a doubt. We have tried to work as though the result of our work depends on us; with our feet on the ground and with passion. Knowing, however that it is in the hands of God. We believe that attentive and simple presence is in itself a value and in this way we have shared the realities of the diocese, with our neighbours, in our work…

Much is spoken of readiness for the mission; what has that meant for you?
Both in the bishopric and in the hospital we had a work schedule, but we have tried to be open and available to any need, whether it be public health for Beatriz or of the bishopric or of the Brothers in the case of Rodrigo.

What do you think of the Chadian people, of the local church?
The Chadian people are welcoming, their character stamped by their hardships, reserved. Greatly influenced by their ancestral traditions, resignation, fatalism… The church is still very young (our diocese was founded 52 years ago) and it is also filled with young people; little by little there are vocations to the religious life. They have the difficult task of sowing the Gospel while respecting the traditional culture, which is sometimes opposed to it.

You have given a year of your lives. You must have received something in exchange...
In itself the year has been a grace, a gift. We have been made welcome, received affection. We have felt like members of a great family in the diocese of Sarh. We return with the feeling that the reality of what we knew has widened, and we have a new perspective on it.

Joys and difficulties experienced in this year of cooperation?
In the work the difficulties come from the lack of material resources, infrastructures, communications… For Rodrigo a little difficulty has been the language; for Beatriz the lack of essential medicines.
As for joy, there have been many reasons for celebration: projects that succeed… a patient who gets well… A daily joy was the Eucharist with the missionaries and sharing our daily life with them.

How do you see the future of the country, of the Church and of the Marist work in Chad?
We see the future of the country as being uncertain, mainly through political uncertainty. The church is young and built on hope; maybe it needs time to grow, to deepen and to immerse society in the values of the Gospel. We believe that the Marist work in Chad is very necessary, both in education and in pastoral work, and it should continue to create Marist schools in the country. The Brothers are looking at the possibility of opening a school in Koumra.

You are not the first voluntary workers, and certainly not the last. Would you recommend the experience?
Yes, without a doubt; we would encourage other possible volunteers to work in Chad, side by side with the Brothers. To prepare themselves and to specify the missionary concerns although they might seem to be contradictory.

Within a few days, back again in Spain. And what now?
Starting from now, the joy of meeting up with people: Rodrigo returns to school and Beatriz will look for work. We feel the challenge to share the experiences of this year and this newly discovered reality. We will try to stay in contact with Chad and collaborate with the Marist District of western Africa.

What part of the gospel did you find inspiring when you were living this experience?
The story of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a hymn to closeness, the seduction of Jesus message and conversion. He who drinks of this water will never thirst.

And from Marcellin?
Do good quietly.

Interviewed by: Bro. José M. Ferre - August 2008

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