You are bread”: Jesse Brandow, Missionary to Guatemala

Author: 
Jesse Brandow (SVOTS 2013)

Standing with a parish community in Todos Santos, GuatemalaStanding with a parish community in Todos Santos, Guatemala​"Remember: you are bread." During my time at St. Vladimir's Seminary, Fr. Chad Hatfield closed a lenten reflection with this exhortation. I only understood his words after seminary when I experienced the hunger of the crowds that surround Christ. As an SVS alumnus, I work in Guatemala where thousands of Maya Indians have converted to the Orthodox Church. Every day feels like the feeding of the five thousand. People cry out for nourishment from Christ—for comfort and support, for teaching, for healthcare—and then they look to me in their hunger. So I offer myself as bread to the people of Guatemala, nourishing them in their times of need.

Preaching during Fr Antonio's wakePreaching during Fr Antonio's wake​The first moment of need came immediately after I arrived in Guatemala in April of 2015. After touching down, I received word that Fr. Antonio Patá—one of the six Guatemalan priests—had fallen gravely ill. Only one year before, the people had lost Fr. Andres Girón who guided them into Orthodoxy. Now I arrived in Guatemala right as a new wave of sorrow fell upon the mission. Exhausted from my own transition to a foreign culture, I felt like I was empty and had only crumbs to offer to the people. So I prayed to God to multiply my small offering of solidarity as I accompanied the priests and spent time in the parishes.

With Fr. Antonio (in wheelchair) and his family two months before his deathWith Fr. Antonio (in wheelchair) and his family two months before his deathOur sorrow deepened on July 19th when Fr. Antonio passed away. Thousands gathered to mourn and these people often were drawn to me because they could tell I came from abroad (few Guatemalans stand over six feet tall!). During the wake, one person clung to me and cried into my shoulder. Another collapsed on the floor in front of me, wailing, "Fr. Andres left us and now Fr. Antonio too!" What could I offer to them? When I stood before the crowds to preach at the wake, I described how parishes throughout the world had answered our requests for prayer: in Egypt, Japan, the USA, and more. "You are not alone in the Church," I said to them. My own words helped me realize how God was multiplying what I offered in Guatemala. My presence meant more to the people than just myself. The people were drawn to me because I had become a symbol of the mystery of the entire Church, a visual testimony of our fellowship in Christ. That mystery of Christ was the bread that nourished these crowds when I spoke.

Standing with the parish community in Nueva Concepcion on the Pacific CoastStanding with the parish community in Nueva Concepcion on the Pacific CoastAfter the funeral, I shifted my energies towards teaching. Initially, I spent time in the parishes in the coastal areas of Guatemala, giving catechetical talks and leading reader's services. In September, however, I moved to the mountainous areas to live in a village called Aguacate. Here I mentor a group of pre-seminarians, leading them in daily services, giving talks on liturgics and theology, and preparing Spanish resources. These printed resources are powerful because they reach so many communities, not only in Guatemala but even in other countries. When I prepared new books for Vespers and Matins, I received requests for copies from people in North American and even Europe. It is amazing to see how God multiplies our offerings!

A child in Pinula, Guatemala, receives icons of ChristA child in Pinula, Guatemala, receives icons of Christ​Finally, the need for healthcare has shaped my time in Guatemala. During the summer, I translated for two mission teams that assisted with medical clinics here. In Aguacate I continue to translate for visiting doctors and health care professionals who volunteer in our clinic. I also teach English to the local woman who will become the clinic administrator. We need someone who can translate directly from English to Chuj (the local Maya language) and she agreed to take this role. Local people like the clinic administrator will be further examples of the feeding of the five thousand. I humbly offer them what I can, and they will multiply that offering in their own lives as they nourish thousands of others throughout Guatemala.

​"Remember," Fr. Chad says, "you are bread." God calls each of us to see the world's hunger for Him, whether in Guatemala or another country. He calls us to become the nourishment that the world seeks. Although we usually offer mere crumbs, God multiplies what we give and spreads His nourishing bread throughout the earth.

Download Jesse's latest project, a Spanish prayer book that includes daily vespers, daily matins (greatly shortened because of pastoral concerns), a few selected hymns, personal prayers for various occasions, and a preparation for confession.
Digital Version
Print Version

​To follow news from the mission in Guatemala, you can "like" Jesse's missionary page.  Jesse works in Guatemala through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), the pan-Orthodox missions organization endorsed by the Assembly of Bishops. To learn more, visit www.OCMC.org.

Thousands of people attend the opening ceremony for the Orthodox clinic in AguacateThousands of people attend the opening ceremony for the Orthodox clinic in Aguacate

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Spanish Prayer Book for Digital Use (PDF)536.31 KB
Spanish Prayer Book for Printing, Double Sided (PDF)538.23 KB