Friday, June 29, 2012

Mission Moment

Nicaragua is up to bat again for Global Ministries' weekly prayer -- you can read it here or below.

June 22, 2012

Prayers for Nicaragua: Mark 5:21-43

Most Holy God, we thank you for your healing touch in so many lives, for those you raise up, and those who reach out to touch you.  There are so many in this world, both near and far, who need to be made whole.  There are places where it is hard to see life, people who have been suffering too long.  

Most Beloved God, we lift up to you the people of the Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua, we thank you for their faithful service to you, their work serving the least and reaching the lost.  We thank you for the ways that your liberating Spirit moves through them to empower so many to reach out for their healing, to rise up and live abundantly.

We pray for the church as they receive visiting Disciples and UCC groups this summer.  We ask the eyes and ears of delegations be opened, that they might learn and grow, and know the healing and empowering touch of your Spirit.  Help them, and us, to work to restore wholeness.  In Jesus’ name we pray.


Mission Stewardship Moment from Nicaragua:

This year La Misión Cristiana is blessed to host more than eight groups from Disciples and UCC churches. Building relationships with other churches has been a part of La Misión’s DNA since its founding and they are excited to show Nicaraguan hospitality to so many North American sisters and brothers this year. For us, some of the best moments of these visits come in the gaps between the events on the official schedule. Jokes, laughter, stories about family, questions about food or songs, the accumulation of small bits of shared time, over the course of a week sometimes grows into friendship.

Shared worship services are also powerful moments. In one worship service last year, a rousing praise song was given an unexpected jolt by the sudden disappearance of light and the electric sound system. (Power outages are not uncommon here.) But like an a capella closing to a rock song, the congregation didn’t miss a beat and kept singing in the dark amidst a forest of cell phones and quickly-lit candles.

More recently, the pastor of one of the visiting groups was asked to preach at a local church, with Laura Jean translating the sermon into Spanish. Now you might think that such a set-up is a recipe for miscommunication or puzzlement, but the sermon touched a universal nerve, preaching how God calls us to do the uncomfortable and the difficult even when we think we are not up to the task. God asks us to go out into the “deep water.” As it happened, the denominational president, Rolando Boniche, was in attendance for that service and he later told the group that the message of the sermon reached him just at the moment when he needed the uplift.

There are so many ways we might fail to connect with our fellow humans. Language barriers confound us, national borders separate us, and the hassles of everyday life distract us. Speaking as parents of small children, we know how easy it can be to not to look beyond the crisis of the moment. It is good to remember in the midst of all that, that connection is indeed possible and there are churches everywhere willing to head out into that deep water and find what God has in store for us there.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Good Intentions

As I was writing that last blog post about life in the countryside, I kept turning over in my head a blog post written by a friend of ours titled "To Hell With Good Intentions." It's smart, eloquent and challenging.  I'll just quote part of it, but the whole thing is good.
For all of us who go to Nicaragua – or indeed, any place poorer than where we are from: India, Mexico, Appalachia, Detroit – our first instinct is to fix it. Whether we will admit it or not, the very first thing we do when confronted with a terrible situation is to furiously work through possible responses to that problem in our mind until we hit upon the “magic” solution.

I know this because I do it all the time. Even after ten years of living in Nicaragua, I still do it. I go to Nueva Vida, the neighborhood created by Hurricane Mitch resettlement, and with everything I see, I work through scenarios to “fix” what is “wrong” in Nicaragua.
I do it too.  I think this instinct is a mixture of good intentions and a subconscious desire to recreate something safe and well-understood amidst the chaos of a different culture.  But I have noticed, after having lived here almost 2 years, that most of my first impressions were untrustworthy.

For me the process cultural acclimatization started out like this: first I encounter something new and unusual.  Cold showers? What's up with all the trash in the streets?  Even more mundane things like, why do they only sell cookies in "wasteful" individual-sized packaging?  My first reaction is to see these things as an irritation (and maybe not even consciously). Or maybe the result of Nicaragua's poverty, and hence, a problem to be fixed.

In fact, it's remarkably easy to pin these differences on poverty because, well, Nicaragua is a poor country and the very real problems of poverty are visible.  But with time you start to realize that many of those "problems" are subtly mixed together with differences in culture and it can be difficult to tease them apart. There are actually really obvious reasons for many of those initial differences I saw.  For example, they individually wrap the cookies because food goes stale much, much faster here than in more temperate climes -- it would actually be much more wasteful to do it the way I wanted to!

I don't mean to minimize the problems that Nicaragua faces, just to say that poor campesinos don't necessarily look at their packed dirt floor and plastic chairs and see a problem to solved.  It's just part of the culture.  I've heard many folks tell us how they prefer the country lifestyle to the more "affluent, western" version they could find in Managua.  Poverty doesn't encompass who they are.  Another section of the post also stuck with me:
When I first came to Nicaragua, I thought I was coming to help Nicaraguans. I was sorely mistaken. None of us are needed here. No matter what my skills are, Nicaraguans are capable of doing everything I will do here, and in most cases, do it better, faster and more efficiently. So what is it exactly that I do?
It's an unsettling perspective, but it kinda fits with our experience here.  In fact, when we first got here we were a bit of a liability.  We spoke Spanish poorly, we didn't know the culture, customs, history or our way around the city.  The folks from the church basically took us in like we were war orphans.

OK, maybe not thaaat bad, but I think it is only now, after a year and half in Nicaragua, that we are starting to pull our weight.  We both bring skills to our work, but they are not unknown skills.  We might not be needed, but I know that the church is happy to have us and the many visiting congregations as partners in their work.  It's a reminder that when we work together in partnerships we can accomplish more.