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Acadiana Lifestyle

Give And Never Count The Cost

09/15/2017 07:00AM ● By Robert Frey

New Iberia Families Become Missionaries 

By Anne B. Minvielle

Although there are many people of myriad churches who know the words of Mark 1, 17, “Come, follow me,” few are given the opportunity to set their compass for following a path that will take them on a mission.  That mission is not a general one for a group of Acadiana teens and adults who have chosen a path of service to those in the impoverished and remote villages of Guatemala.  

What began as a unique opportunity to travel to a different part of the world, and perhaps enjoy the satisfaction of helping others, has become a true mission…a vocation to go out into the world, to share good news through service to those in need. Both teens and adults in the area of New Iberia have experienced the sacrifices and joys of participation in La Mision Encontrandome con Cristo, or Encountering with Christ.   

This mission was founded in 2006 by Rev. Robert-Joel Cruz, a diocesan Catholic priest in Montegut, in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodeaux. The Fangue family of New Iberia, Julie and David and their children, Nicole, Matthew and Morgan, heard about the mission from Ryan Durand, a local teen who wanted to go on a mission and investigated possibilities on the Internet and learned about Fr. Cruz’s efforts.  Nicole Fangue learned of Durand’s experience and, in 2008, as a sophomore in high school, decided she wanted to share in the mission, and her father decided that rather than allowing her to go alone, he would go with her, thus beginning a family tradition.

Julie Fangue says that Fr. Cruz’s first formation as a priest was as a missionary in the Philippines.  He came to Louisiana to study at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

He is now serving as a parish priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Montegut.  Julie adds that he has an office at the Vatican and meets with the pope, who gifted the mission with a special chalice.  Fr. Robert chose Guatemala as a mission site because of a chance meeting with a director of a student exchange program, who is now the director of the mission in Guatemala. “Through that chance mission, Fr. Robert was able to found the Guatemala mission in 2006, when a small group from the Houma area made the trip.  It started out very small with people from his parish going to a village about 3 hours from Guatemala City,” she explains.  

Fr. Cruz accompanies a mission group every summer for 10 days. David Fangue says that now over 80 missionaries are involved and there is a waiting list of 70 who wish to follow the path.  Daughter Nicole says that hearing Durand’s stories of his experiences made her want to be a part of the mission.  “Pictures of the children really touched my heart.  I wanted to experience these people who had nothing materially, but were more happy than people here who have much more,” she says.  

The missionaries work in the areas of Estancia Grande, Alta Verapaz and Santa Maria Cahabon, according to Julie. Missionaries fly into Guatemala City.  David Fangue describes the main projects the teams work on each summer. “The mission provides life saving water by installing collection and filtration systems.” Julie adds that before missionaries established washing stations, villagers spent hours each day hiking to retrieve water. The washing stations, or “pilas,” promote hygiene.  The new systems protect villagers from common illnesses that can potentially kill children. 

The mission provides each household in the villages in which they work with solar panels that give battery power and lighting.  Instead of cooking over fires in their homes, villagers are provided with wood burning stoves with chimneys, and smoke is ventilated out of homes. According to Julie, “We especially enjoy the day that we distribute goods to the families.  These include live chickens, citrus trees, hygiene products and tools.” 

Julie explains the spiritual philosophy of each of the projects.  “We do the projects, but our main goal is ministry of presence.  We want the people of the village to know that they are not forgotten,” 

The mission realizes that education is central to overcoming poverty.  It has established a scholarship program for youth who are committed to a successful life and to provide for their communities.  The mission pays for the education of selected students from Guatemala.  David Fangue adds, “They, in turn, promise to join the mission and donate 200 hours of community service.”

The O’Briens are another New Iberia family that is active within the mission group.  Dr. Kurt O’Brien, wife Donna and daughters Mallory and Grace have found a unique family purpose and solidarity through the work in Guatemala.  Donna explains that Dr. O’Brien does not go to provide medical care for the missions, but to work along with other missionaries in doing manual labor.  He does, however, go each year with medical supplies to be used should the missionaries themselves become ill. Dr. O’Brien began his missionary service as a result of his daughter’s interest. 

“When Mallory said she wanted to go, I thought that it was a great thing for a teenager to want to do, but I didn’t want her to go without a parent, so Kurt went with her.” Many families end up on the mission yearly, often adding different or additional family members as the spirit of the work continues.  

According to Donna, their daughter Mallory went on her first mission in the ninth grade.  When she returned, she explained to her mother the impact of the experience. She said, “Mama, I’ll never complain again.  These people have nothing and are so happy.” That observation seems to be common among the teen missionaries.

The O’Briens have been missionaries 5 times.  Donna says,” It was a life changing experience.  Every child should have to do this.  The struggles of these people and their seeing their spirituality and faith served to strengthen us.”

The missionaries themselves learn sacrifice. Mission base in June of 2017 was a cinder block building and teen Grace Landry observes, “It is even hotter there than here.” She adds that it is not easy to reach villagers.  “The villagers are spread out.  This year, we drove one hour and then hiked from 30 minutes to an hour.”

The reality of going to remote places is important to the mission. Julie Fangue explains, “Fr. Robert always wanted to go out to the poorest of the poor, and no one ever took the time to go to one village that actually had the highest infant mortality rate.”

Donna O’Brien adds, “Kurt remembered one man in a home who said it was the first time anyone had come to visit and minister to them.  That is what Fr. Robert means by ministry of presence.  We remind them that they are not alone in their needs.”

Faith Migues, 16 years old, is another local teen who has followed the mission path. She reflects on her experience and says, “We have interpreters, but the language barrier allows us to feel their emotions. These days with such faithful people served to really strengthen my own faith.  We grow spiritually.  Every day we have Mass, celebrated by Fr. Robert.  We have Adoration, the Rosary and prayer services.  We all take part in the Catholic services daily.”  The mission is a Catholic Faith Mission, though missionaries are not required to be Catholic, but must participate in all activities.  

It is important to note that the missionaries are required to pay their own way to Guatemala, to sell raffle tickets, and to raise $350 to cover the cost of the projects. 100 percent of all donations go to the poor rather than to missionaries’ expenses.

Mission founder Fr. Robert-Joel Cruz is a busy diocesan priest, with many ministries in addition to the Guatemala mission. He is happy to answer questions about the service of the missionaries and ways the public can become involved through donations and prayers.  Not everyone can actually travel the path to Guatemala, but anyone can support the mission in some way.  

For more information on La Mision Encontrandome con Cristo, write to 1113 Highway 55, Montegut LA 70377 or call 985-594-5856. For computer information, 

E mail The mission is a charitable organization with a federal tax ID, and all donations are tax deductible. 

News of the mission should be reassurance that the spirit of such missionaries as St. Teresa of Calcutta lives on.  As she once said. “Never be afraid of giving.  There is a deep joy in giving, since what we receive is much more than what we give.”

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