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Coffee with Warren: Mike affirms vision for better future

Our long-time coffee companion Mike MacDonald was in town the other day and joined me for cups of memory together. I knew I was in for a real treat the moment he started telling me about a visionary experience he’d had in southern Mexico.
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Mike MacDonald explains how Albertans are reaching out to the marginalized of La Montaña through Mission Mexico. Photos: top Warren Harbeck, bottom Mike MacDonald

Our long-time coffee companion Mike MacDonald was in town the other day and joined me for cups of memory together. I knew I was in for a real treat the moment he started telling me about a visionary experience he’d had in southern Mexico.

He was visiting the small village of Alcamani, Guerrero, about a five-and-a-half-hour drive over treacherous roads from Tlapa, where he resides, he told me. (See accompanying photo.) Ethnically, the villagers are Tlapaneco (Me’phaa), one of the indigenous peoples of the region. Most of the community is school-age children, but if they want to attend school beyond the primary grades, they either have to take a daily 90-minute walk to one of two neighbouring villages, or live away from home weekdays in a government-run hostel.

Access to health care is an issue in Alcamani, too, Mike said. For example, there is one woman who was struggling with painful vision, but is reluctant to leave the village to seek medical attention. And thus it was that Mike came to the rescue with just the right eyedrops. Ah, Mike, the man of vision! In other situations, he might have come with the good news of an academic bursary or economic opportunities for one of the poorest regions in the country.

So, just what is it that takes Mike to that area, so far away from his beloved Alberta? Mike is the onsite co-ordinator for Mission Mexico, a humanitarian outreach of the Catholic Diocese of Calgary committed to affirming hope among the historically marginalized people of the mountainous region of La Montaña. This is not a pity-project, but a compassionate vision-affirming journey with our less-fortunate brothers and sisters who desire to see better days. It is based on Jesus’ words, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing” (Matthew 25:35-36).

Mike was in Cochrane this past weekend to speak at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where Mission Mexico was founded 22 years ago. The eyedrops he provided to the woman in Alcamani symbolize in a very small way the heartfelt spirit behind Mission Mexico’s commitment not only to health, but to school construction, literacy, housing, micro-economic self-help projects, and bursaries for young people who long to pursue higher education.

Many in the Cochrane-Calgary area, both Catholic and others, have been faithfully underwriting this outreach, sometimes with no more than a loonie a week, a tradition initiated by Mission Mexico’s founder, Fr. Fred Monk, then pastor of St. Mary’s Church. See my column for July 9, 2020, on Father Fred being awarded the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal for founding Mission Mexico, credit for which he was quick to share not only with Mike, but with Mission Mexico’s earlier onsite co-ordinators Leslie Davies, of Cochrane, and Patricia Gasca, of Mexico.

Mike is a former Calgary school teacher who has spent most of his life in southern Mexico assisting in humanitarian and human rights initiatives on behalf of the marginalized. You might enjoy a look at his blog (mike-mmex.blogspot.com). Thanks for the inspiring coffee chat, Mike.

© 2022 Warren Harbeck

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