There is an advantage to traveling to countries
outside the United States if one is astute enough to be aware of their
surroundings. The most unique learning for me has been the difference
in media and message. My first realization of this difference came when
I was 16 and made my first trip to Haiti. There, we read the newspaper
"Le Monde" which came from France. There was a great difference in the reporting,
particularly when mention was made of the United States or its involvement
with other nations. I realized as a teenager that it was very possible
that, through our media sources, we were not getting the whole truth
about what was going on in the world; that we were only hearing what was
happening from a US point of view.
Living through the Vietnam era and all the "gates"(Watergate, Iran-gate,
etc.), I came even further in my understanding of the difference between real
and hype, between good reporting and that which sells papers and books.
From the first time I visited Refugio in 1993, I realized that I was entering the
real world, not the world I was used to. It was in Refugio that I had
to face the fact that I had no idea what was going on in Central and
South America; that I was being told one thing by my government and
by the media, but that the evidence was clear that what I was being told was
not what was real. At Refugio, everyone lives on the same level.
All of us work, all of us play, all of us share our resources and talents.
None of us has to tell our stories, none of us is subject to rejection
of self, and none of us has to be like anyone else. The beauty of
Refugio is that I may come and Juanita may come, and Juan may come
with different stories and backgrounds and learn from each other in
a safe, relatively comfortable environment.
I realize better now why the daily newspaper has a comic
strip page. The real world is not very positive, no matter where you
are from. We need the comic strip page to realive the stress.
Coming to Refugio, for me, is not a negative experience and I don't
believe that Refugio is built on negative energy or on negativity.
For me, it is a place built on Reality. It is a place where we hear
a lot of negative things, but we try not to let them dominate our
every thought and action. Refugio is a place to confront those
things and to do what we can to better the persons who step
into this reality from wherever they may come, and from whatever
their experience of that negativity is. For some it is political
oppression, for some economic oppression or repression, for some it
is a search for self and identity, for others it is a means of working
off sins of the past or present. We all come for different reasons,
but we all need to confront the things that have caused our negativity, that
thing we might best call "reality."
I have periodically been upset by (that may be too strong) some
of the art work on the buildings of Refugio. But I realize that
those words and works of art were done by persons whose experience
is not my experience; those who know all too well the meaning of those
pictures and words on the walls, whose realities I have not experienced as a
middle class Caucasian from the United States. If I were to write on a
wall, "Long live the Democrats! They have helped my people!" somehow
it would not have the same effect. I have not been persecuted because
of my beliefs or stances on issues. My brothers and sisters who have been
at Refugio have. I live in a country where I could write the above
on a wall, or I could tell the Republicans where to go and no one would
punish me for what I said, only for what I did, if I defaced a building
or public property. Our lives in the US are so different from those
of persons of other countries, the ones who come seeking asylum or freedom.
We too often take it all for granted.
My roommate has told me that when I enter the gates of Refugio, my
whole countenance changes. She tells me that my facial expression changes,
my voice changes, I have new energy, and I smile more. I've never
bothered to check to see if that is only her perception because I
know that what she says is true. I consider Refugio to be the most
spiritual place I have ever found. It is not a religious place but
it is very spiritual.
The first time I visited, I felt the spirit of the people who had been there.
I know to some it sounds crazy but I could see the people, particularly
as they huddled in The Mesquite Grove by Casa Dos. The spirit(s)
is there in many ways - it is in Dolly's Place, it is by the Pond,
it is under El Buen Arbol, it is with the animals, it is in the kitchen.
It is everywhere on the grounds of Refugio if one can be open to feel,
sense and hear it.
As a Christian, I appreciate the eclectic character of Refugio. I
can appreciate the part of it that is based on Catholic Worker concepts.
I also resonate with the philosophy of Gandhi and Pio's Gurujii and the
Nipponzan Myohoji monks. It has been a wonderful stretch for me to
learn more about those who have been in the struggle for peace and
justice, for the poor and downtrodden, for those who are the voiceless in an
oral society. It has been a call to growth in openness for me, one
who was raised to believe that Protestantism, particularly United Methodism
is the best form and practice of religion for me. Through Refugio and
through other involvements, I have learned much about the value of many
religions and the similarities we have that often we don't realize.
I know that if I were not open to the spirit, if I were looking for
"God" or for "Jesus" at Refugio, I might be disappointed. It's not that they
are not there. They certainly are! But one cannot come to Refugio
expecting to have a religious experience which will lead them NECESSARILY
to Christianity. I can say with out any reservations that they will learn
many facets of Christianity and that may be where they come out if
they are looking for a RELIGION. And they will certainly find a Spirit,
maybe even the Spirit Woman. But it can only happen if the person is
open to that and not expectant of a Christian camp experience.
Refugio is much too open and responsible for that. Each person will
have her/his own experience and can name it what they want.
There is a beauty about Refugio that cannot be expressed in words. It's a beauty that comes from the hundreds of persons who have lived inside its gates, who have rested and recovered there, who have begun a new life there, who have volunteered there, and who will still come there. It comes from the animals and the trees and the birds, the rodents, and even the snakes. It's in the pond and the willows, the banana trees and the cactus, the anacuas and the loquats, the ebony and the mesquite. Actually it is everywhere if one has eyes to see and ears to hear.