Looking Ahead

He [John the Baptizer] announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals…” (Mark 1:7, CEB)

The introduction to Dave’s sermon this past Sunday focused on the movie White Christmas. Apparently, Dave seems to think White Christmas is the greatest Christmas movie of all time. He lauded over the crooner acting, the painfully obvious love story, and even the sappy ending where everything came together. It doesn’t quite stand the test of time to me.

My favorite Christmas movie isn’t actually a movie, it’s a TV special. A Charlie Brown Christmas is the one “movie” I watch every year. It could be the nostalgia-driven simple charlie-brown-xmas-5552 (1).jpganimation. It could be my identification with both Charlie Brown’s tug-of-war between pessimism and optimism as well as Linus’ calm and supportive demeanor.  It could be how the story builds to the heights of Linus’ proclaiming the story of the Shepherds from the Gospel of Luke for all the world to hear.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I HAVE to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. I’m pretty sure I put a stipulation about it in my wedding vows…(not really.)

If you can’t remember, the special closes with a flourish. Surrounded by classmates and friends, a spontaneous choir erupts in the classic Christmas carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” A fitting benediction hymn to a perfect show.

And while there are no angels in Mark’s opening verses, his introduction to the mission and ministry of Jesus, he does have a herald. The author did put someone there to trumpet the coming of God’s presence in the world.

John the Baptizer not only laid the groundwork for Jesus’ ministry, he declared the coming of God’s agent. He pointed in the direction of Jesus and said, “Look. Here is the one we are waiting for. Here is the one we expect.”

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This is one of the lessons from John and from A Charlie Brown Christmas, we are simply heralds. We are to point to the one greater than us. We point to the place hope, peace, joy, and love find their source and their truest expression, Christ.

Maybe this Advent we should live, “Hark, the Herald Christians Sing.”

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Holding on for More

Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. (Mark 13:35-36)

It happens invariably at the worst moment. I’m rushing to make a meeting. I’m late for a class with a professor I know takes attendance seriously. I’m trying to dash home before the winter storm hits. I’m hungry and attempting to tamp my hanger (hungry-anger) down. I’m sitting in the office, hoping the doctor will come soon and tell me everything will be alright. I’m furiously completing an already late assignment.

Then a combine pulls out in front of me, or I hit a red light when there are no cars around me, or I get a flat tire, or I see the red lights flashing and hear the roar of the oncoming train, or I find out the doctor had a particularly busy morning and would be even later than she already is, or someone knocks my office door and asks for a minute of my time.

uros-jovicic-322314.jpgIt’s then I’m forced to wait. I get to sit there on standby, expecting the world couldn’t get any worse than it is right then.

Is there anything worse than waiting? Who really likes lines? Who likes delayed flights?  Who likes that feeling of powerlessness you get when you aren’t in control of time?

Maybe that’s the real thing, when we are forced to wait we are confronted with the reality that we are not in control. We don’t have all the power. We don’t hold it all in the palm of our hands.

No one likes to wait, which is why Advent is important. Advent, this mysterious season we are in now which leads us to Christmas, is a training ground for waiting.

jon-tyson-195064.jpgWe are waiting for Christ, whose first advent (his birth) we will celebrate in less than 3 weeks, will come again in his second advent. We are waiting for Christ to bring those four astonishingly simple and painstakingly difficult words: hope, peace, joy, and love. We are waiting for God’s dream for this world to come true.

While the world around us rushes on ahead to Christmas (and has been since before Halloween!), we in the Church remind ourselves we are still waiting, waiting for God’s kingdom and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In this season, it’s okay to spend a little time waiting, because we are waiting for the Lord.

Sitting at the Right Hand

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (Matt. 25:34)

Last week was Thanksgiving. If your week was anything like mine, it was hectic: traveling miles; cooking food; visiting relatives; listening to stories; enduring periods of awkward silence.

andrik-langfield-petrides-408218.jpgHopefully, you took time, whether structured or not, to take a step back and offer a word of thanks to God for those things in your life which cause you to sigh with satisfaction. You might have even said “thank you” for those difficult things which caused you to grow.

Often, what I hear people say is along the lines of, “Thank you, God, for all the blessings you gave me.” A simple prayer of thanksgiving, but sometimes I think we become blasé about that powerful word, “blessing.”

With good intentions, I’m sure, we call ourselves blessed for any number of things: health, family, security, comfort, etc. Without having the words to offer our thanksgiving in a different way, we fall back and call ourselves “blessed” until the word comes to mean anything that is good in our lives.

This is far from what Jesus called blessed. Here, at the end of his 2nd great sermon on a mount, King Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. He puts the sheep at his right hand and declares them blessed. Though earlier in this gospel, Jesus declared nine times what makes one blessed (Matt. 5:1-12), here blessing has a little different flavor.

Jesus declares the righteous blessed because they DID things. They took action. They fed hungry people. They offered drinks to thirsty people. They gave room to the homeless. They gave clothes to the shivering. They visited the sick. They went to those in prison.

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Here, Christ tells the sheep they are not blessed because of the things they have, however good they might seem to be, but because they took care of “the least of these.” Being blessed looks a whole lot different to Jesus than us.

Luke Powery once said, “In the middle ages, when someone sneezed you said, ‘God bless you,’ fearing that they may have the plague. This phrase we hear so regularly developed historically as a way to ward off fear of evil, disease, and death…May we never take that one word—’blessed’—for granted or make it a virtual wonder sapped of meaning. Instead, may we use it to call forth the promised blessing of God on his people. God bless you.”

FCC Goes to Nicaragua: Final Day

29 October 2017

I did not write a journal for this day, so this entry comes written after more than two weeks distance from the day. I will do my best to recall through my own memory and through recollection by looking at pictures. I think it will still give a full explanation and description of the day.

This was our last day in Nicaragua. The original plan for the trip was to come back this day, but there was a little bit of mix up in the planning. The persons in Nicaragua thought we weren’t going to leave until the 30th and thus planned for us to join a Nicaraguan church, Moravian to be specific, for worship. After talking it over with the rest of the group, we made the decision to stay the extra day and join the the Moravian congregation for worship. Upon experiencing the day, it was the correct decision.

After our normal morning of eating a home cooked meal, Magyolene and Armando picked us up at the hotel at 10am and the group departed for the church. It wasn’t too far from a drive and it gave us the ability to again look upon the city of Managua. It actually has a lot of the same amenities as we do here in U.S.: fast-food restaurants, gas-stations, TGI Fridays, Malls, etc. Of course, we also saw great swaths of poverty being the “veneer” of modernity, it was a stark contrast between the two.

26647344469_cc7d07c2a8_z.jpgWhen we got to the church, a worship service was just finishing up. Apparently, this church is bilingual in that they have different services in different languages. Each Sunday they have a worship led in English, but we weren’t going to be able to attend that service because it was at 4pm in the afternoon! We would be attending a worship led in Spanish at 11am.

We milled about in the courtyard of the church. It seemed to have several buildings: one specifically for worship (the sanctuary if you will), another for Sunday school (yes, they have Sunday school too!), and another building we didn’t go into. In the courtyard, there were people with a table full of different kinds of bread and even breakfast food. Magyolene told us many people buy breakfast there. I purchased a couple pastries stuffed with coconut. It was delicious but sweet!

After hanging out in the warm sun, we were invited to an English speaking Sunday school class. There were about 14 of us total, 7 from the U.S. and 7 from the church. The Sunday school teacher, Raquel, led a lesson on the story of the greatest commandment from Matthew. This was great because that was actually the assigned gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. I did not know this church would follow the same set of readings we do at FCC! It makes sense upon reflection though, because the Moravian church sits on the National Council of Churches just like the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) does.

It was an interesting lesson. Raquel didn’t lead the group in a discussion so much as offer her own interpretation of the Scripture. Indeed it felt as if she gave an impassioned sermon to a small congregation. Imploring us to step out and faith and declare our love for God, we needed to keep our focus there which inevitably would lead us to share that love with our neighbors. It was a lesson and sermon which would have been right at home in Burlington.37507589194_a6ee3ecc55_z.jpg

After Sunday school, we made our way into the Sanctuary. Magyolene told us to be prepared for a 2-hour long service, about twice the length of our worship services at FCC. It did have the feel of a longer service. There was a ton of singing and most of the singing came from the congregation! You could feel the joy reverberating from the cement brick walls. We even sang some songs we sing in the U.S. like “This is the Day” and the “Gloria Patri.” I was also asked to come to the pulpit and speak a bit about our group and what they were doing here. I thanked the congregation for having us and CIEETS for opening our eyes to God’s Spirit in Nicaragua. It was heartening to join them in worship.

We actually left right before the sermon, after we were there in worship for over an hour! We left early to go to lunch because Jairo needed to leave soon for Matagalpa. He was to speak at a gathering of Christians celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So we left for lunch at a pizza joint! It was there we gave each other gifts, laughed and cried, and said our farewells to Jairo. He left an indelible mark on my life.24552562158_21eea09fd6_z.jpg

After lunch, most of us went back to the Masaya market. I actually didn’t do much shopping. Instead, I grabbed a freshly prepared fruit smoothie, sat down at a table, and both read and wrote. Gradually, more and more of my compatriots joined me. We reminisced about our time, told funny stories, and just enjoyed being together with Magyolene one final afternoon.

As we were heading our way to the van, we noticed some dark clouds rolling in. This didn’t bode well for our final activity: going to see an active volcano with visible lava. As it came to pass, we did not see the volcano. Instead, a massive downpour stymied our plans. The rain came down in buckets four about 3 hours. We even stopped our van at one point because it was too dangerous. This put a little damper on our final evening.

We turned back towards Managua, eventually making it to our destination, a seafood restaurant right by the lake. There we enjoyed our final meal together. It was definitely bittersweet. I think the group was tired as well; at least I was tired. It was a long week, full of sites, experiences, and most importantly people. We built relationships, tore down preconceived notions, and exposed ourselves to new ideas.

This was a trip I won’t soon forget. It affected both my life and my faith. I hope these journals helped you.

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FCC Goes to Nicaragua: Day 6

28 October 2017

Saturday was a bit of good and a bit of somber. we were given more time in the morning to relax. Our first item on the agenda was a visit with the students of CIEETS. Before that, though, we had a nice time eating breakfast together in the courtyard of our hotel. The two women who work at the hotel we were staying at were fantastic. They were always warm towards us, which seems to be the way most Nicaraguans are. I wondered if it was because we were foreigners, but seeing the way everyone interacts with each other, I think not.

Magyolene came and picked us up at the hotel to walk to the University. IT was only a quick jaunt and the weather was great.The walk itself put us in a good mood and cast a positive light for the rest of the morning.

The University itself was buzzing with activity. The tranquil and serene scene we witnessed earlier in the week was replaced with the normal activity of a carnival or fair. Music was playing, students young and old were milling about, and the energy was palpable. W head a moment or two before our room was ready, so we soaked in the scene.

Once the room was ready, we joined a mix of students for a program. We introduced ourselves, what we did before we got to the school, and how long it took us to get there. It was interesting to hear the variances in distances traveled for the students. The times IMG_3936.jpgranged form 20 minutes to 4 hours. The “things we did” were the same, mostly. People are people no matter where they are. Still have to shower. Still have to eat. Still have to do laundry. Still pray.

We then were presented with a bit more of what CIEETS does on the theological school side. On Tuesday we heard about the social side and now we got the faith side. This isn’t’ to say we only discussed the ethereal and strictly spiritual, praxis (or action) was front and center to implementing theological education. Repeatedly we were told theology impacts what you do and what you do impacts your theology. This is true no matter where we are too.

CIEETS has different sections of the theological school which focus on different things. They have a degree program which trains people with theological education, but they also have a licensing program for pastors. The theological education requires the IMG_3933.jpgattendees to have a formal high school education with diploma while the license does not.

CIEETS hosts several different types of events as well. They host debates where professors, pastors, and interested parties gather to talk about the intersection of faith and everyday life. Recently, they have had a series around birth control that lasted months. The program culminated in participants writing proposals for their local context. CIEETS also launched a virtual education program where they could teach and learn via the internet. It was interesting to hear how they develop leaders and engage faith topics with the wider community.

After that discussion we moved into a different phase of the morning. We were given prompts to start a conversation between the students and us, the visitors. While most followed the prompts, what resulted was more like persons giving testimony. Time after time I heard stories of God’s movement, the impact of the Church, and how important friends in Christ are. It was amazing to hear some of our people, people from FCC, tell IMG_3940.jpgtheir stories to strangers. Even though I’m their pastor and we’d been traveling together for almost a week, I was moved to tears hearing about life, faith, and God from my “flock.”

Lunch came next. While came next. While it was good to be at the table together, this was my least favorite meal in terms of taste and flavor. We were fed yucca, slaw, and pork rinds. Not that great, but I suppose it was important to try. They were feeding us after all!

We said goodbye to our new friends and hiked back to the hotel for some more rest time. We then piled into the van to travel to the city of Masaya. Once there, we went to the famous Masaya Market. Full of vendors, the market was housed in what looked like an old stone castle. It was impressive to wander around and look at all the different items for sale: t-shirts, sandals, art, purses, leather goods, etc. There was more than i can even remember. We spent about an hour meandering around before heading out for Granada, another city, and dinner.

Granada apparently was a colonial town and you could definitely see it in the architecture. As beautiful as the Cathedral in Matagalpa was, the on in Granada was more impressive. The sheer massive size, the meticulous cleanliness, and even the frescoes on the ceiling gave you a sense of reverence. Majestic is the world which comes to mind. We even got to town during a Mass. The Cardinal preached and his booming voice was heard even outside the church.

Dinner, the reason we went to Granada, was next. Magyolene took us to O’Sheas, an Irish pub in Nicaragua. It was a little taste of home in that I had a cheeseburger and fries. It was much different than “gallo-pinto.” It left us wanting Iowa, but we had one more day. I was looking forward to it as well because we would be worshipping at a Moravian Church in the morning. Sleep came well that night.

Dozing Off and Waking Up

As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ (Matthew 25:5-6)

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was have friends over to stay the night. We would play video games and board games, watch movies, eat pizza. We would do all sorts of fun things. I did get a bit of a reputation through these sleepovers, one which was certainly earned. I acquired the reputation of always being the first one to fall asleep.

It did not matter what we were doing, I would always fall asleep first. It got so bad my friends started planning to do things after I fell asleep; they would plan activities not including me because they knew they would be up. They would do this even if they were coming over to my house!

Even to this day, drinking coffee at night has no effect. I still struggle with staying awake deep into the evening. I have no doubt I would be among the first to fall asleep of those waiting for the groom to come back. I most definitely wouldn’t make it to midnight. Even a young Will couldn’t do that. zoltan-tasi-215195.jpg

There are surely things which lull us asleep these days; those things which cause our eyes to droop and forget to “keep awake” with eyes of faith: security, privilege, comfort, distance, convenience. All these things can contribute to people of faith falling asleep to the needs of those around us.

We look at the state of the world and become discouraged. We retreat into our enclaves or, even worse, leave people to their own devices. It’s almost as if we take a sleeping pill, hoping to forget for awhile the fact that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. It’s better to just wait for Christ to fix all these problems.

I think, whether we like it or not, we all fall asleep at some point, especially when there are whole industries dedicated to lull us into a dream-like state. Jesus’ declaration of “keep awake” acts as that early morning phone call from the hotel staff.

Keep awake, beloved. Don’t be discouraged. Though it seems to be the darkest part of the night, there is still hope. The light of Christ still shines through us. Trim your wicks, and get to work.

FCC Goes to Nicaragua: Day 5

27 October 2017

It was a traveling day. The schedule didn’t have much on it and so we leisurely made our way back to Managua with several stops along the way. But before we even left San Ramón, I got my first true taste of the insect life in Nicaragua.

Unbeknownst to me, our truck had to have been parked over on an ant hill because who I made my way to get in, the ground started moving and I started to feel bites on my ankles. My shoes were completely covered. The ants started to cling their way up my legs on the inside of my jeans. I literally had ants in my pants! It wasn’t fun, for those sucker’s bite is strong. Even after we got started traveling, we stopped because ants were continuing to bite Jairo. I can’t imagine having to deal with that day in and day out. Hopefully, a resistance to their venom is developed over time.

We eventually made our way to Matagalpa. Once there, we took a brief tour of CIEETS facilities in the town. There were about 8 classrooms with 24 desks in each. The building houses both a university and a school for pastors, similar to the facility in Managua, butIMG_3894.jpg on a smaller scale. It was interesting to see what it is like to go to seminary in Nicaragua. Kind of similar, but much older desks and no air conditioning. That would have made it difficult for me to listen to the professors! I’m sure, though, the students are used to the climate, unlike me.

After a quick jaunt across town, we stopped at St. Peter Cathedral, an impressively white Cathedral in Matagalpa. I found out that it was built in the 1600s, though you couldn’t tell by looking at the condition of the building. Interesting to me was the fact that the building was open to the public, Anyone, including our group, could go into the church and mill about. there were people in the pews, enclaves, and aisles praying. It was impactful to see people who took their faith seriously enough and are devoted enough to come to the church to pray in the middle of the day; not simply for Mass or to confess, but to pray. What a witness!

IMG_3912.jpgNext to the church was a Park. I’d like to say I went into the park to sit, people watch, start conversations, buy from a vendor or something else, but I went in because Magyolene told me the park and free WiFi. It’d been over 48 hours since I’d last been able to access the internet and like a fly to a light, so too did I buzz around that park searching for a workable signal. The extreme distance between those whose heads were bowed in prayer in the Cathedral and my head bowed to look at my phone was not lost on me. Habits, they say, are hard to break.

Such as it is, our trip continued on. Once everyone returned to the front steps of the Cathedral, we left in pursuit of some refreshments. We happened upon or were taken to (take your pick) a little smoothie shop inside the courtyard of a hostel. Each of us got a smoothie and enjoyed downtime simply eating and conversing with one another. Some tried to read the newspaper in Spanish and it was there we learned 6 people died as a result of the flooding we experienced. Indeed it brought home the reality of how the rain that came 2 days before truly was life and death. I prayed a quick blessing upon those persons, knowing I wouldn’t soon forget them.

The next stop on our winding path towards Managua was an organic coffee plant which dread, roasted and packed organic coffee to be sold. It was an impressive facility. we saw IMG_3916.jpgrows and rows of coffee beans laying out on black plastic tarps, drying out in the sun. It was also set against mountain vistas where the cascara berry, the fruits which produces the coffee bean, were invariably grown.

We went inside the facility to watch a demonstration on how the bears are roasted only to find out the power was out. I asked Magyolene if this was common because it seems like quite a hindrance to production and could be annoying. Magyolene told me what I knew to be true, it was remarkably common. So no show for us, though we did see the machines and the end result. In 2 days we saw the entire process of what it takes to produce coffee. It gave me a new perspective on something we generally take for granted.

We left the plant bound for Managua with our only stop along the way, planned anyway, a lunch. Jairo did make several stops on the road to help us have the “full” experience. We stopped at roadside vendors, three to be exact. The first was a fish stand with freshly caught fish from the laguna. I can still smell them from here. The vendor “cleaned” the fish of flies by sampling dunking them in water. Short story even shorter, we didn’t buy any fish.

The next two spots we stopped at were similar in that both vendors shoved 5 foot long wooden dowels with parrots on them into the truck window. That was disconcerting enough, what with parrots’ propensity to bite me, but then the last vendor also had iguanas. Now, I know iguanas are generally harmless to humans, they do not eat human flesh, but when Jairo grabbed two by the tail, tried to give them to me, and attempted to put them into my lap, I had a bit of a freak out. I think I held it together okay, but ho-boy was that an experience. Thanks, Jairo.

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Carrying a 100 lb. bag of coffee

Lunch was next. We stopped at a little buffet. I continued to enjoy “gallo pinto” or rice and beans, the staple in Nicaraguan diets. Not everyone in the group felt the same way. That was okay though because no one was really used to eating rice and beans with every meal. For some, it’s all they have. Even the choice of NOT eating rice and beans was a poignant reminder of our privilege in the United States.

 

We eventually made it back to our hotel in Managua. We unloaded, got our room assignments, and had a relaxing rest of the evening full of more shared time and conversation debriefing all we saw and how it affected us.

Tomorrow’s plan was to spend time with students at CIEETS. I hoped to glean from them a bit more about how God is moving through the Church here. I remarked that maybe it will help me be more aware how God is moving in Burlington already.

FCC Goes to Nicaragua: Day 4

26 October 2017

I noticed a pattern on the trip: each day, though not busy nor jam-packed, seemed full. This day was no different because the day’s plan was simply to visit two communities CIEETS worked with. So, up the mountain we went again, but this time we made our way to a farm owned by a man named Antonio.

While we were heading up there, we stopped at a school. Jairo got out of the car, told us he’d be a minute, and then left us alone. There we sat for about 2 minutes before some of the kids in the school got enough courage to come near. Joel and Rick Mellinger produced a soccer ball and gave it to a couple of young boys. The ball was intended for all the school to play with. We tried to make this known, but once the boys got the ball they were off and playing. It was a treat to see the joy on their young faces. More kids started to gather by the truck and we had a ball trying to speak with them. I think they were as fascinated with us as we were with them!

Jairo eventually came back after speaking with the school’s administrator. Apparently, CIEETS does some work with the school and he was simply checking in to see how things were going. We were learning slowly and surely just how broad the organization works within the country.

Once at the village, we were welcomed into a biggish building, at least big for the kind of buildings more common there in the mountains. The room had about 10 desks in a semicircle with a whiteboard on the wall. It was a school but not a school for children. It was in this room that CIEETS, specifically Magyolene, taught classes to the local farmers. They learned how to make their farms more sustainable, who to diversify crops, how to make organic insecticide, and how to put nutrients back into the ground among other things. We literally sat where those amazing women and mean learned to change their lives. It was a wonderful experience.

After a brief introduction, we were taken to Antonio’s personal farm. There he shows us the system to husk, clean, and dry the coffee bean. Apparently, after the cascara fruit (the fruit from which the coffee bean is produced) is harvested, it is stripped of its shell. The IMG_3868.jpgfruit is then composted while the bean is taken to soak for 24 hours. After that, it is washed then laid out in the sun to dry. Antonio himself was the one to create his system.  He built it with help from others in the community.

The star of the show, though, was the mill created for removing the bean from the shell. It was a crank system, but Antonio retrofitted a bike to pedal the machine to work instead of a hand crank. It looked ingenious.

As the tour went on, Antonio showed us the various crops he cultivated. In addition to coffee plants, he also grew plantains, cacao, oranges, beans, and rice. The beans and rice were mostly for his family’s consumption. We were then given the choice to either stay or work in the field. I chose to work.

I was assigned to help Antonio plant new coffee plants. He grew some starters in plastic gardening bags, but it was time to put them in the soil. He showed me how to do it: dig a hole about 2 feet deep and a foot in diameter, remove the plastic while keeping the starter soil together, put the plant in the ground, put the soil back, and then loosen some more soil around the plant. Presto, you’ve just learned how to plant a coffee plant.

I went around for about 1 hour planting these plants. At the end, I was sweaty and dirty. I then went and picked cascara fruit from coffee plants with the rest of the group. I was IMG_3869.jpgonly there briefly until it was back up the hill we climbed. Antonio took us to the mill. There, Antonio gave Rick M. and I the chance to try out the bike. I took that thing like a champ. We were a part, if however briefly and inefficiently, of the coffee making system. If nothing else, we learned how much more work it takes to produce our cup o joe.

Then there were the oranges. Antonio grew oranges on his farm too. Now, the rind itself wasn’t orange like what we find at HyVee or Fareway. The orange Antonio gave me to eat was green on the outside. I assumed it was going to be sour. It wasn’t in the slightest. It was the best piece of citrus I’ve ever tasted. It was sweet. It was icy. It was how oranges are supposed to taste.

I was happy right there, but then we were shepherded towards Antonio’s kitchen. His wife prepared lunch for us. All the food we ate Antonio grew right there on his farm: rice, beans, potatoes, and chicken. I don’t know how they flavor everything, but I wanted to bring it home. And again, out of what we would consider squalor, we were fed. Antonio and his family treated us as honored guests by opening their home to strangers. How many of us would do that back in the United States? I think, if nothing else, that was something we all took back.

After lunch, we traveled to another community CIEETS worked with in the past. Again we were welcomed as honored guests by being asked to sit on a porch and drink some IMG_3886.jpgPepsi as a group. For about 20 minutes we lived the leisurely pas as we sat and simply talked with one another. When we romanticize the majority world, usually it includes this attitude towards time; they never seem to be in a hurry. Even if we strip away the rose colored glasses, it’s still true.

We then found out the porch we were sitting on actually was a new building constructed to house the community’s seed bank. CIEETS and Lutheran World Relief provided the zinc roof and storage containers while the community built the structure themselves. We were told how 28 farmers participated in the bank by being leased 1 seed and at harvest time bringing 2 back (this loaning program would happen at much larger scale). This way, the project grew and the community becomes more secure. The goal of the seed bank was to become more self-sufficient and not rely on outside sources, like real banks. Using the newly created seed bank, the farmers are now able to put their income into different places: education, new crops, tools, etc.

What stuck out to me about this particular community was the leader happened to be a woman. She was the one who had the knowledge and lead the project. I was pleased with this because empowering women lifts economic success and lifts the whole community. As Beyonce says, “who runs the world? Girls.”

After the women gathered said farewell to Magyolene, we headed back down the mountain. Our day, at least in terms of visiting sites, was done. We headed back to our hostel, where we would remain for the rest of the day.

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Once there, one of the employees, José, gave us a tour of the Hostel grounds. He showed us their three main attractions: an orchid house, a frog house, and a butterfly house. My favorite was the frog house. I held one of those green frogs with blue legs and red eyes. It was funky. Id’ seen such things on TV or in a National Geographic, but I’d never thought I’d get to hold one!

After the tour, we sort of settled down for the evening. Games of chess were played, cards were dealt, even conversations across languages were attempted. It gave us a good chance to reflect upon all we had seen the past 2 days. Jeff Erickson thought we should take time together after the trip to sort of decompress and discuss all we had seen.

We needed to work through some questions. What’s next? What do we want to do? What is God calling us to do? Good questions which helped me maintain the reason for coming: to see the ways God was already working in Nicaragua, learn from it, and see if we could get on board too.

FCC Goes to Nicaragua: Day 3 (Part 2)

When I last wrote, Pedro welcomed us into his village where about 200 souls live in 30 families. We were quickly ushered into what we found out was Pedro’s home. We met some of his family: nieces, nephews, and cousins. He took us into a room full of tables and plastic chairs, the sort you’d have for the family reunion. We found the tables set for we were about to be served lunch. We dined on scrumptious soup chocked full of maize dumplings and chicken. Basically, we were served the Nicaraguan version of chick and dumplings. They filled us up and gave us so much that no one could finish their bowl. 

I do have to comment on where we were eating. Pedro’s home was a 3 room stone building with dirt floors and a zinc (think tin) roof. 2 years ago the community installed electricity, but it wasn’t working right then, a harbinger of further fun for us. Pedro’s home was simple and clean, but we would be hard-pressed to call it anything other than a shack. But out of his scarcity, he provided us with abundance, a parable if I’ve ever heard of one.

My mind immediately went to “The Widow’s Might.” Pedro was extremely proud to serve us. Larry Levinson said he could see Pedro beaming through the wooden slots dividing rooms. What we could learn, even still. 

After lunch, we were shown the results of the work CIEETS did with the people of El Porvenir. The work centered around water. The community did not have access to clean water 3 years ago; now, through the work of CIEETS partnering with the community and Lutheran World Relief, they have water for laundry, showers, and special spigots for drinking & cooking. This last kind of water is metered. 6 families are assigned to a spigot and they share the cost. 

Then they took us to see the filter system for the drinking water. They, Magyolne, Pedro, and Eugenio (another local farmer), explained the system to be a rock and sand filter. The water, which comes from a spring, is run through progressively smaller rocks, then through sand, and then comes out clean. They also treat the water with “chloro” which I assumed meant chlorine. 

The most impressive part of the system actually was Pedro and Eugenio, as well as others in the community, were trained on how to run and fix the system. They do not rely on outsiders to help with it anymore. What’s else, the community was the one who built it in the first place. The whole system and story were impressive. 

After making our way back to the road, we returned to the village. The town put together a surprise for Magyolene because this was to be her last time in the community. She was completing a 4-year term with Global Ministries. The town wanted to thank her for being part of the community and working with them. She was instrumental in helping the water project was implemented. 

A whole service was put together with several speakers, prayer, and even music! One could tell the love this community had for Magyolene, even across the language difference. Every speaker spoke profusely and passionately about her. The band played love songs directed just for her. Even when the rain started pounding on the Zinc roof, the service went on full of joy and love. 

Once the service concluded after about 45 minutes, we hustled back to the trucks. The rain was really coming down in buckets and we didn’t want to be trapped in the village, though I’m sure we would have been welcomed with open arms. Either way, it was time to get going. 

Now we get to the stressful part. I don’t know quite how to describe our experience coming back down the mountain. It was a cross between mud-sledding, white water IMG_3855.jpgrafting, and going down a rollercoaster. Another way to put it would be to liken it to rappelling down a mountain in a 4×4 truck. 

There were times we slid our way down while perpendicular to the road. Other times we forged freshly made rivers by waterfalls which weren’t there on the way up. And we saw, without a doubt, water flowing uphill. The rain was so powerful the laws of gravity didn’t apply. 

The ride lasted a lot longer than we wanted for our bodies were shaken and stirred every which way. I don’t know how the truck survived because it took on boulder after boulder. Clank. Clank. Clank

We did survive, though. Jairo guided us down the mountain through the monsoon. But when we got to the bridge which connected us to the town where our hostel resided, we found quite a scene.

The first time we passed, the bridge itself was going through construction and so was out. In its place, a detour was created where we rove over a sandbagged land bridge. It was no problem in the morning, but after the rain…well now I know what a flash flood looks like. 

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The river busted through the sandbags and turned into a raging torrent. No one could get through; not motorcycles, not trucks, not cars, not buses, not walkers. No one. It was a scene out of a documentary or a news story. And the rain still came down.

We waited with the locals for the water to go down. That part was great because we conversed with persons we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, but we didn’t actually know how long our with would be. We tried to make the most of it while we could.IMG_3865.jpg

The water did recede after some time and we all piled back into our trucks to ford the river. We made it and went on as darkness fell upon San Ramón. As we drove to our hostel, we began noticing that there were no lights on in the town. We wondered if the storm knocked out power to the region. Did this mean our accommodations would have power at all?

After another trek up a rocky, bumpy, and muddy road, with fog rolling in no less, we made it. Our fears, or hopes, were confirmed. No power. We each selected a bed, women in one dorm style room and men in another, unpacked, and then made our way to the covered patio for dinner by candlelight.

In fact, the entire evening was by candlelight: dinner, cards, conversation, even our devotion. Personally, I enjoyed the return to a non-technological time. There was no TV to drone over, no phone to break conversation, no lights to prolong an otherwise fine evening. It was the perfect close to a hectic day. We were able to relax in the moment and enjoy being together. It was also another instance of living the reality of the people we were visiting for this must be a common thing for them.

We went to bed with full hearts grateful for the hospitality shown, the community experienced, and the grace of God given to us by those people who welcomed us with open arms. We slept with expectation for another day visiting sites to see the work CIEETS does in the community.

FCC Goes to Nicaragua: Day 3 (Part 1)

26 October 2017

I wrote the entry for the 25th of October during the morning of the 26th because the 25th was just a doozy of a day. It was commented by Rick Mellinger that we’d gone through every type of drama possible yesterday and that 45 minutes of it were the most stressful of his life. Though Rick is sometimes prone to hyperbole, I wouldn’t necessarily argue with him.

Let’s start at the beginning of the day. I think that’s important. Each of us woke early because we were to leave at 5 am out of Managua towards the mountains. Our day was intended to be a day where we experience the land and communities CIEETS does work in. Everyone was ready to go, but we experienced how time is a little different in Latin America. Our second driver, Jairo the Executive Director of CIEETS, was late. It wasn’t too big of a deal, it was just something us Americans weren’t used to. But he eventually showed up with his patented smile. We quickly threw our packed bags into a plastic tarp to protect from forecasted rain, and we were off.

The trip itself out of Managua was interesting. We saw how many people travel to the city for work and school. Managua is a city of about 2 million, but I’m sure it swells each IMG_3788.jpgday with people coming in for various reasons. One of the reasons CIEETS works in rural areas is to help those communities become self-sustaining so they do not HAVE to migrate to the city for a hope of prosperity. We caught a glimpse of this migratory pattern.

The trip was pretty smooth to Matalgalpa, the regional capital or center. It’s a city of about 200,000. We stopped for a delicious breakfast there at a buffet. You can’t go wrong with rice and beans plus fajita meat for breakfast! This was needed, at least for me, because I’d been up for 4 hours with no food. But after this stop, our travels started to become a bit rougher as we were surely making our way up into the mountains.

Mountain roads can be treacherous in the United States. One wrong turn and you’re off into a ravine. I can remember becoming car sick when traveling through the rocky IMG_3815.jpgmountains as a child. The mountain roads in Nicaragua are more dangerous: there are no guardrails and the roads themselves are not paved. Jairo and I roughly translated the type of road to “gravel,” but even that word doesn’t do the peril justice. They were a sort of dirt and rock hybrid littered with potholes and the occasional boulder. The grade was as extreme if not more than anything you’d find in the U.S. too. Add in the fact that the forecasted rain came to fruition and you had a dangerous cocktail.

The fact was, though, these conditions were and are the ones people live through every day. We drove past metal shanty after stone hut where the buildings, homes for sure, all blended together. Joel Mellinger said, “It almost made you forget people live there.” This memory slip would be important for him and the rest of us a few short hours later.

We eventually made it to our morning spot, Finca Esperanza Verde, a kind of eco-lodge/resort with trails to hike, coffee fields to see, and vistas to take in. IT was a wonderful way to take in the land and experience it. We hiked a bit, highlighted by three things: 1) a look-out tower where the view took your breath away. Pictures do not do it justice. 2) We were shown a wild 3-toed sloth. 3) we made our way to a waterfall at least IMG_3845.jpg30 feet tall. During our whole time at Finca Esperanza Verde, we were led by a joyful man named Pedro who wound up being more important for our day than I initially thought.

Magyolene told us we were going to go to a little town called El Porvenir for the afternoon. So we packed into the 4×4 trucks and headed back the way we came. Eventually, we took another fork in the road and were led to even more perilous roads! At one point, the only thing between the truck and a drop-off where we couldn’t see the bottom was a barbed wire fen e. Oh, and it was still raining, an important theme in the events of the day. At one point the incline was so steep and the road so muddy, Jairo had all the occupants of the truck get out because he couldn’t get up the mountain. The wheels kept spinning. We must have got stuck next to a home because a family of a mother and several children turned out to see what all the commotion was.

We got out and watched as Jairo attempted for about 5 minutes to get up the mountain. After struggling and struggling, he backed up to a semi-level spot, got a running start, made it over the hump, barely.

Once Jairo’s truck disappeared around the mountainous bend, we hiked our way up there. Much to our surprise, the town was right there. We got stuck at the last turn. But we made our way forward to find Pedro waiting for us. El Porvenir was his home. He walks to and from Finca Esperanza Verde each day for work. A dangerous 1 hour trip for us by truck was only an 8-minute walk for Pedro.

To be continued…