Spreading God’s message

Former Manistee resident serves as missioner in El Salvador

MANISTEE – Sooner or later everyone reaches that proverbial crossroads in life where they must decide which path to follow.

Former Manistee resident Nan Tyrolt remembers exactly when she pulled up to the stoplight at that intersection and struggled to determine which direction to take with her life before the light turned green. Tyrolt had spent several years in Manistee as the owner of M & M Records and as a youth minister at St. Joseph Church. However, she realized the time had come to step on the accelerator and move on to the next chapter of her life.

Former Manistee resident Nan Tyrolt is shown feeding baby Wendy as a missioner in El Salvador. She is working at the St. Vincent de Paul Children’s Home. (Courtesy photo)

“My sister and her husband are general contractors in Florida, and at that time in 2007 the housing business was booming,” said Tyrolt. “So they asked me to come down and be their bookkeeper/accountant. Of course, we all know what happened to the housing market in 2007-08, and they ended up closing their business.

“The lease was up on the house I was renting when they closed, and at that time I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Tyrolt said she was in a unique position in her life of being virtually able to do anything that she wanted. There wasn’t anything holding her back, but the big question mark lingering in her head was: “What do I do?”

“When I was in grade school I used to talk about being a missionary,” said Tyrolt. “I thought, I have no reason not to do it as nothing is holding me back, and I don’t even have a gold fish to flush down the toilet if I left. So, I went on a five-week road trip retreat, and during that time I was praying and asking ‘what do you want me to do? I have been doing my own thing all these years, and I will do anything.’”

It was then that those thoughts of her youth came back to her and the thought of helping others through missionary work. She went on the Internet and began to Google what was available in mission work through the Catholic Church. As her fingers danced across the keyboard it provided the answer to that nagging, unanswered question that had been on her mind for so long.

“Initially, I was looking for something domestically in the United States and in one of my searches I came across Maryknoll, which is one of the first Catholic mission organizations formed in the United States,” said Tyrolt. “I didn’t know they had lay missioners, which are people that take religious vows to help others. We have couples with or without children, and we have single men and women that are missioners.”

Starting the process

Tyrolt said she filled out and application and was invited to a four-day discernment weekend in Osning, N.Y. to the Maryknoll headquarters for an interview process to see if she would qualify for the program.

“I felt this was where I was in life, so I started the application process which is very intense,” said Tyrolt. “After I passed that, they invited me to New York for a three-month orientation where they actually see if you can do it. At the end of that three months they have a commitment ceremony, and part of that is you sign a 3 1/2 year contract to remain with them.”

The big question at that time was where she would serve as a missioner. Maryknoll basically serves three primary areas that are Latin America, Asia and Africa, but missioners are able to only go where there are openings.

“I felt with my personality I was more set for Latin America,” said Tyrolt. “ I was thinking Brazil, Bolivia or Peru and to show you what I good sense of humor God has, my comment was ‘at least I am not going to El Salvador.’ Of course, when they released the regions that were available for that year the only Latin American country that was open was El Salvador.”

It was a soul searching couple of days for Tyrolt. She struggled whether to follow her dream, or take the easy road and back out because it was to a country mired in violence where she wasn’t particularly interested in living.

“I thought, this is where I put my money where my mouth was and go wherever I was supposed to go, or I could chicken out,” said Tyrolt. “So, I decided to go, and that is how it came to be. You don’t necessarily get your first choice, but they will not send you where you feel you absolutely can’t live.

“They want you to thrive in your ministry, and they don’t want you to suffer it out. So you have to write an essay about what your skills, abilities, and talents are and the hopes that you have for that area.”

Maryknoll placed Tyrolt in San Salvador which is the capital of El Salvador. It is a small country only the size of Massachusetts, but is comprised of 14 departments that are equivalent to our version of states.

Needing a sense of humor

Tyrolt’s wonderful sense of humor comes out when she talks about first coming to San Salvador and the cultural challenges she faced in those first few days and weeks.

“When I arrived in January 2010, I didn’t speak Spanish and lived with a host family that didn’t speak English,” she said with a laugh.”The first three weeks were so challenging I didn’t even leave my room without my little translation book because I couldn’t even say breakfast. I knew the words for table, arm, tree and hello.

“The family and I would eat in silence every day because I was too timid to try, and the family didn’t have the energy to try a conversation.”

However, the first five months in any area under the Maryknoll program are dedicated to language school if you need it. Tyrolt jumped at the chance and spent 20 weeks in language school to learn how to communicate. The result worked wonders for her and the host family.

“They are very close now, and I call them mother and father, and they call me daughter,” said Tyrolt.

Once she had the language down, it was time to move out on her own and select her ministry. Tyrolt had already focused in on that for quite some time and, was ready to hit the ground running.

“I knew that I wanted to work with children and babies,” said Tyrolt. “One of the challenges with children is gangs are a huge issue there, and if you can work with organizations or programs that give them options to being on the streets, it helps them from being lured into a gang.”

Tyrolt chose two ministries with the first one being in the Saint Vincent de Paul Children’s Home which is one of the 50 orphanages in the country. They handle children from birth to12 or 13 years of age, but Tyrolt said the image of orphanage is different in El Salvador than the United States.

“The thing that is different is there is really a high percentage, and I don’t remember if it is 85 or 90 percent of the children living there have at least one parent living or both,” said Tyrolt. “They are referred to as social or economic orphans. In many instances it is abuse or neglect which has caused the children to be moved from the home.”

Sad stories

She said the stories are often very sad in nature where the parents may be involved in gangs, have alcohol problems, or the husband has just left and the mother can’t care for the children on her own.

“The sad thing about our kids is they aren’t in a nuclear family, but I will say for the vast majority of them the life they have in the orphanage is better,” said Tyrolt. “They receive food, bathing, a clean bed, medical attention and an education.

“We have 160 kids where I work, but we used to have 350 kids that went up to the age of 16. I work in the baby ward, and when they first come in they go to the infirmary for a two- to three-week process to be checked for parasites or anything else that might be wrong with them.”

Tyrolt said the children are divided into various groups starting with newborns and working right on up. She said, in her section, she deals with 7-month old children on up to 18 months in age and they presently have 11 of them that she personally cares for on a daily basis.

“It is bathing, dressing, feeding, kissing boo-boos, breaking up fights, changing cloth diapers for 11 kids,” said Tyrolt. “You feed them all, put in for a nap, wash all the diapers by hand, wolf down lunch and start over again.”

She said sometimes there are certain children that fall through the cracks that tug at her heart. One of those cases was a boy named Julio who turned 7 on June 10, and suffers from cerebral palsy. He has between a mild and moderate case of it, but because of the time constraints on the staff no one had time to give him help.

“He doesn’t get the special treatment he needs, and has been in a crib for seven years,” said Tyrolt. “Julio was eating food from a bottle, and at first I thought he had mental challenges as well because he was lethargic and wouldn’t play with the kids.”

When completed the houses are very simple in nature, but an improvement over what the impoverished people had been living in up to that time. (Courtesy photo)

Tyrolt began playing with him and suddenly he was responding by dragging himself across the floor to play. One day as she was eating lunch she began breaking off small pieces of vegetables and he was eating and loving it. She talked to the sister at the orphanage about taking Julio under her wing, and the results have been nothing short of incredible.

“He now says eight words and is communicating, standing in his crib and bouncing,” said Tyrolt. “He pulls himself up a plastic slide and is also pulling himself into a sitting position. He is a totally different kid, and it isn’t like I have any special training in education, it is just he wasn’t getting the attention he needed to stimulate him.”

Next month Julio is going to start at a private school, the Salvadorian Institute for the Rehabilitation of Invalids. The school has different programs for different disabilities, and one of them is for children with cerebral palsy. However, it costs money and she has been raising funds for his schooling.

“The orphanage is funded by the government and they pay the staff, crew, medical, maintenance and utilities in the building,” said Tyrolt. “Anything above and beyond that has to come from charity. If people go on our website at Maryknoll.org or mklm.org and then follow the link to Latin America they can find out information on me and how to make a donation.”

Second ministry

Tyrolt’s second ministry is she serves as youth pastoral agent for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. It is a huge parish that includes more than 40,000 people including 300 youth. The children are served through six primary youth ministries that include pastoral care, evangelization, catechesis (including confirmation prep), praise and worship, chorus and social/cultural.

“It is a very poor and gang riddled area, and one of the most dangerous areas in San Salvador,” said Tyrolt. “When the youth group go anywhere they have to wear the same shirts and bright yellow bandanas to show who we are. We have to be careful where we go and if our kids walk into the wrong neighborhood they could get shot.”

She said, despite those challenges, they still do wonderful things through the youth ministry. The key is to provide them with safe options to joining gangs which is often a hard task in such a poverty ridden country. Many children are lured into gangs at an extremely young age by the promise of money.

“Our youth group we have at the general parish is the most amazing thing,” said Tyrolt. “We try and give them after-school programs like soccer and just anywhere kids can go to be safe, as the gangs recruit kids as young as 6 and 7 years of age,” said Tyrolt. “The whole point is getting them to become the young Catholic Christians of tomorrow.”

It includes visiting the poor and bringing them rice, beans and flour. Another important task they perform is having the youth build houses for the poor. The simple housing is constructed in about three weeks time, complete with concrete floor, and they are painted inside and out. Material called wonderboard is used in the construction and the simple homes are weather, water and earthquake resistant.

Tyrolt said life in El Salvador is not as difficult as it may sound and she is coping well. Something that has eased the separation from her family is being able to keep in touch via the Internet and Skype.

“Technology makes the world smaller and makes it so much easier to stay in touch,” said Tyrolt. “I Skype with nephews and nieces so when I come back they remember me. It has also made it easier for my parents to see me and know that I am ok.”

She said her father and sister have visited her in the past 18 months in El Salvador. However, something that weighs on her mind is what direction to take when she reaches the next crossroad in her life.

“My parents will be 80 and 81 when I finish my first contract, and that will largely impact my decision on what I am going to do,” said Tyrolt.

However, until that time she will continue to make a positive impact on the lives of those she touches in San Salvador. By the smile on her face and the twinkle in her eye as she describes her life there it is obvious she has found her niche in life.

“It takes about a year to make headway, but at this point in time I feel it is where I want to be at this stage,” said Tyrolt.

And those who benefit from her ministry couldn’t be happier with that news.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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