24 October 2017
I said yesterday was day 1 of our trip, but I was wrong. Today was the REAL first day of the trip. Today was a bit of baptism by fire into the cultural context in which our mission partner, CIEETS, does work as well as learning a bit more about the vision and mission of CIEETS. It was, as I predicted, an eye-opening and heart filled day.
After a delicious homemade breakfast with eggs & ham, fruit, rice & beans, coffee, and orange juice, our group traveled to the University where CIEETS is housed. Actually, the University itself grew out of CIEETS as those pastors whom CIEETS trained asked for classes outside of the traditional realm of theology. The grounds, though, were lush with green flora, impeccably cleaned by hard-working stewards, and fabulously decorated with beautifully painted murals. We eventually found our room for the day, where Jairo and other leaders in CIEETS waited for us to arrive.
After hellos were given, seats were found, and introductions were made, Jairo began our session. He first told us about the modern history of Nicaragua: how things came to be the way they are. He spun stories of grand revolutions, the U.S. overreaching, Nicaragua backsliding, and, eventually, a semi-return to prosperity. I say semi-return because Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Central America and the Caribbean after Haiti. Jairo said he felt the government focuses mostly on aid or handouts to combat the poverty. CIEETS, however, has a different strategy for working with those in poverty.
After a presentation led by Project Director Tania, the thing I most came away with was the focus on doing WITH instead of doing FOR. CIEETS was impacted by the Liberation theology movement which came out of Latin America in the middle of the 20th century. Liberation theology focuses on the context of those needing liberation, specifically expressed in Latin America, and then moves to how the Bible impacts that context.
Liberation theology argues God is (and by extension the Church should) always working towards the liberation of oppressed peoples. CIEETS looks at the context of those with whom they work, listens to the community’s hopes, dreams, wants, and needs, and then helps the community devise and implement a plan of action. They have a “holistic” approach to the people where they focus not only on the spiritual needs of people but also their physical and emotional needs because they all impact one another. CIEETS is about helping communities be “better” by developing leaders, (both in the community and pastors) to enable sustainable growth.
A saying that really hit home came from Jairo, “It is one thing to read the Bible in the midst of abundance; it is another to read it in the midst of need.” This saying launched us into a conversation with a group of about 15-20 leaders at CIEETS surrounding the article, “Mission Work Isn’t a Cinderella story” by Ellen Sherby, the Coordinator for Equipping for Mission Involvement for Presbyterian World Mission. In the article, Sherby told us, through the story of her and her Honduran husband’s family (Sherby is from the U.S.) and how they couldn’t’ fully understand each other’s context; how we need to walk with empathy with each other. We know we can’t truly walk in each other’s shoes, but that should bring us humility and a better vision of the graceful and challenging relationships living out God’s mission brings.
The conversation surrounding the article was fantastic; it lasted for about 2 1/2 hours! Our leader and translator, Tracey, did her best getting across what we were saying to hour hosts and what our hosts were saying to us, but there were times we got frustrated with the language barrier. We wanted to be able to communicate clearly, but also understand each other better; we wanted to live out the principles we were discussing! Tania said it best, “it’s about getting to know [people] and seeing them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.” That’s what we were trying to do with them, that’s what CIEETS is trying to do in Nicaragua, and that’s what we hope to learn to take back to Iowa.
We stayed at CIEETS and had lunch. We dispersed amongst the gathered community to further get to know each other. He got to hear and share stories about our lives: who we are, what we do, how we live, what our families are like. It was a lovely lunch. I like to imagine the heavenly banquet isn’t too far from strangers getting to know one another over rice and beans. After lunch, we said our goodbyes and left for the hotel.
That early evening, we got a brief tour of Managua which culminated in a visit to a park with replicas of Cathedrals throughout Nicaragua as well as “Old Managua” which was destroyed in an earthquake in the 70s. It was cool to see the varying styles of architecture.
We closed the day with a typical dinner of rice, beans, avocado, and cheese at the hotel. We then moved onto our devotion time spent together in prayer and conversation. Debriefing the first day took awhile, but that was okay. We needed it. Our Wednesday was to begin early as we were leaving for the mountains to see how CIEETS puts their vision into practice in the local community. Sleep came quick.