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By Al Stilley
“Mission of Grace 2019” from the Southside to Myanmar was so successful last month that St. Mark Catholic School Principal Rusty Albertson plans on a second mission next summer.
Albertson also announced that steps are under way to bring two Catholic sisters from Myanmar in January to assist teachers at St. Mark school – the foundation of a proposed exchange program.
Albertson, his wife Julie and daughter Grace, a San Damiano scholarship junior at Marian University, made the trip June 12-26 to Myanmar (formerly Burma).
“This is the type of program that could grow,” said Albertson who pointed out there are 170 pupils at St. Mark from Myanmar. “In order for us to provide for the needs of 40 percent of our students, we need to be in partnership with them.”
Albertson also explained the goal of the inaugural mission: “We went there not to teach them; we were there to learn from them.”
Appropriately, Grace said, “The goal was to build sustainable relationships.”
By the way, the mission was not named for Albertson’s daughter, but it was suggested by Myanmar native and St. Mark parishioner Ambrose Kap Chin who accompanied them on the mission trip.
Here’s what they learned: the people are friendly and selfless regardless of economic status, welcoming, hard-working, and passionate about their faith.
Albertson repeated that he wanted to go to Myanmar and experience the varied Burmese culture firsthand so he can relate better to them at St. Mark.
“We met proud people; they would give you something out of kindness,” Albertson said. “Honestly, the trip for me personally makes me want to go back and learn more. It lit a spark. After we came home, I realize that I need to be a truthful ambassador to others about what we saw over there.”
The Albertsons and Chin departed from Chicago on June 12 to Seoul, Korea and then to Yangon in southern Myanmar before returning to the U.S. on June 26. They stayed in Yangon for a day and then went to rural Kalaymyo, a “vibrant Catholic community,” where they headquartered for most of their journeys.
Shortly after their arrival, Chin’s family and friends honored him with a dinner of thanksgiving. Only one member of his family, a sister, Angela Dim, is on the Southside as a teaching assistant at St. Mark. She is hopeful of joining them for Mission of Grace 2020.
They also became reacquainted with Bishop Felix Lian who visited St. Mark school last year and invited the Albertsons to Myanmar.
“When we arrived, my wife asked him if he believed that we would take him up on his offer this soon,” Albertson recalled.
Albertson said their journey by car on a narrow pathway to Tidem as “precarious,” and the mountains at Tonzang as “beautiful” and bringing him closer to God. Albertson also ate beef tongue which he said tasted like a pork loin.
“The children in schools there are like our children here,” Albertson said. “They are happy, they are learning about the faith. Being an educator and a parent, we saw the most unabashed and pure children. I texted our teachers that their pre-k’s are just like ours, except they take longer naps.”
Albertson added, “We felt their friendliness and experienced their hospitality consistently.”
However, the Albertsons emphasized that meeting the Burmese overseas will enable them to relate to parishioners at St. Mark.
“By going over there, the biggest thing I learned is that there is so much we don’t know about them,” Grace said. “We will always be in a learning process here. It is interesting to see the differences and similarities, and it should spark a conversation. Being there with them was eye-opening because we could begin to understand our own ignorance. We gained knowledge and perspective.”
Their trip was somewhat “guarded” because they did not experience all of Myanmar.
“We didn’t experience any hardship; we didn’t see it,” Grace said. “While we are saying these positive things about their lives, people do experience awful things in the country that we are not really qualified to speak about.”
Albertson is awaiting two teacher aides from Myanmar to arrive here in January with hopes of sending a teacher from St. Mark to Myanmar. And the family is eager to return to Myanmar for “Mission of Grace 2020.”