A San Lucas Love Story

Written by Angelina Capozzi

Twenty-year-old Kadence Bran De Leon grew up in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. She was used to her life in a small town, yet she felt something was missing. Something deep down was pulling her away from Minnesota.

Almost 3,000 miles from Minnesota was the bright and colorful town of San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala.

Kadence was experiencing the same sort of pull as her mother, Sarah, did 20 years before.

In the 1990s, Kadence’s mother, Sarah Fogal, was a young girl growing up in Minnesota. She went to college but made a life-changing decision to leave college to travel. She had Thailand picked out for her first adventure. At the last minute, she changed her plans and went to Guatemala.

In San Lucas, Sarah found a beautiful town full of friendly people. Everywhere she went people would greet her with smiling faces saying “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” and “How are you?” She loved walking around just to see the people. She spent her days working at the San Lucas Mission. Sarah fell in love with the town but she also fell in love with a man who later became her husband.

Oscar Bran De Leon was raised in San Lucas Toliman. His father worked as a carpenter and volcano tour guide for Fr. Greg Schaffer for 12 years. Fr. Greg made an impact on everyone he met as he started the San Lucas Mission in 1963.

Oscar didn’t work for Fr. Greg but was always close with everyone at the Mission. Growing up, Oscar was the life of the party. He would yell to friends in the streets, create nicknames for everyone, and always had a joke to tell. He is a hard worker who wore many hats; some days he would do woodwork, other days carpentry, sometimes knocking down wasp nests in the fields. He was also a brilliant artist who frequently made sketches. For fun, Oscar would go to the park to play basketball with his friends.

One basketball game, in particular, changed Oscar’s his life forever.

In 1998 at the park in San Lucas, Sarah was watching the locals play basketball. One, in particular, caught her eye. Oscar was still learning English, and Sarah hardly knew any Spanish, but the two fell in love instantly. They spent the next month getting to know each other in San Lucas and were engaged within three months.

Sarah’s parents were shocked to hear the news that their little girl who was only gone for a few months was now engaged. Sarah spent three months alone in Minnesota after she left Guatemala, and filed for a fiancé visa.

Sarah and Oscar wrote letters every day when they were apart. Kadence reads the letters between her parents with tears in her eyes. Kadence felt the love Sarah and Oscar shared was strong and beautiful.

Sarah and Oscar got married in the U.S. in 1999. In 2005 they had a big wedding in Guatemala where they were married by Fr. Greg. Kadence was only two years old at the time and it was her first time in the town of San Lucas. Her brother Gabriel was four.

Oscar had to adjust to life in Minnesota. With English as his second language, he still managed to work three jobs in the States and finish school. He landed a job working for a mechanical engineering company. Sarah was a stay-at-home mom up until she went to school to be a paralegal.

Oscar acted in a reserved manner while in the States. Only when he visited his home in Guatemala was he fully himself. The family visited San Lucas together when they could but it was extremely expensive to travel back and forth.

Kadence graduated in 2021 with both her high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree. She earned a 3.9 GPA in high school and a 4.0 in college the same year. She says she is a perfectionist and overachiever. She works extremely hard at whatever she is doing. Her drive to be the best is unmatched. Not only did she achieve two degrees at once but she also played tennis, was on the student council, performed in theater, and participated in the speech debate team. Her work overload was more than most. She was not sure of her next step and felt something was still missing.

Kadence worked for a big corporation after finishing school, but she didn’t enjoy her job. Her mom, Sarah, suggested she look into being a Long-Term Volunteer with the San Lucas Mission. At the time Kadence did not speak Spanish. She took a class in school but was not a fluent speaker. She decided she would go and try it out.

In 2022, Kadence and her dad flew to Guatemala where she reconnected with her family. While he was there, he translated conversations and brought her to the Mission. At the end of the week, it was time for him to leave. That’s when she realized it was all real. She was crippled with fear and anxiety at the fact that she would be there for three months without knowing the language.

Kadence started working as a Long-Term Volunteer and making friends at the Mission. She was living with her relatives in Guatemala but was terrified of conversations with them. She didn’t fully understand the language. Her grandfather would give her lessons by pointing to things and having her say the word in Spanish although he spoke zero English.

Kadence called her mom crying that she couldn’t do it. She was scared and felt all alone because she couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. She didn’t leave her room sometimes because she was scared to run into family and not be able to communicate with them. She decided to give it her all for three months and then make a final decision.

When groups visit the San Lucas Mission, they meet the Long-Term Volunteers and Mission staff. The volunteers and staff arrange activities and provide guidance for visitors during their stay. As a Long-Term Volunteer at the Mission, Kadence exhibits a warm and positive presence that shines. She is always smiling and ready to talk to anyone. She goes with the groups and translates as if she has been speaking the language her entire life. Not many people know that she only learned the language a few months ago. She connects with the people there as she shares their stories. She is kind and personable. She is exactly what the Mission is looking for in its staff.

In March of 2023, Kadence was promoted to Volunteer Coordinator. Her plans of staying a few months shifted now to over a year. She found the community that Sarah, her mom, found years ago–this bright and vibrant, community of friendly faces. Kadence found the missing piece she was looking for over 3,000 miles from where she grew up. She found it in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala.

The Friends of San Lucas Visitor Program provides life-changing opportunities to build relationships, experience another culture, and discover the transformative work of Mission. Kadence is one of thousands of visitors and volunteers who is benefiting from the chance to experience a different way of life. Your gifts play a critical role in touching and transforming the lives of U.S. visitors and Guatemalans alike. Please, if you are able, make a donation today. Your gift will be doubled, this week only!