Friday, December 24, 2010

Four Month Check-In

On Sunday we're heading home to the U.S. to spend a week with my parents in California.  The plan is to spend Christmas here with the church, and then fly on the 26th to see family.  At any rate, we've been in Nicaragua for four months and it seems to us that we've reached the end of the beginning.  Our plan was to concentrate on language learning for the first few months and when we return in January our official jobs will swing to motion.

So now seems like a pretty good time to take stock of our situation (ps I stole this post idea from Kristine).
  • We've all improved radically in our ability to speak and understand Spanish.  But of course no matter how much we've improved it is a little daunting to think of how much more there is to learn.  It's like we've climbed a long way up the side of a mountain and can see a beautiful view, but the top of the mountain is still lost in the clouds.  One thing about me is that I tend to be a hard on myself when I make a mistake (even though making mistakes is how you learn), so in addition to Spanish I am learning a little bit of patience and resiliency.
  • I have entirely lost any squeamishness I once had about smashing giant cockroaches.
  • We have traveled around a big chunk of the country, visited dozens of churches and met some really amazing people.  The hospitality and friendliness of the church members has been tremendous and humbling.  We still feel a little overmuch like 'honored guests' when we visit churches and we're looking forward to actually beginning the work and being a little bit more useful.
  • The culture shock we felt for the first few weeks has gradually faded into normalcy.  Different foods, different furniture, different music, different modes of interaction, the constant stream of street vendors by our door, trash dumped in the streets and later burned, broken sewage pipes, the lack of hot water, crazy taxi drivers, the churn and chaos of Managua -- these are all little things by themselves, but when we first arrived they added up to a lot.  Little by little all these things have come to seem (sort of) normal.  (Although I'm still amazed when I see an entire family of 4 or 5 perched on a motorcycle, often with a small infant wedged in there somehow.)

    It also helps that our house is now mostly set up.  We have tables and stuff to sit on and bookshelves and a TV that gets 3 fuzzy channels and reliable internet.  We have a car (a tremendous privilege in a poor country, and hence also a responsibility) so we don't have to rely on taxis for all our chores.  Supposedly a big burst of reverse culture shock is awaiting us when we get back to the states... we shall see!
  • Fresh tortillas brought daily to our door are pretty awesome.  Also fresh produce, fireworks, pirated videos, shoe and electronics repairmen, and almost anything you might want seems to pass by at least weekly.
  • We are very thankful that Quinn seems to be thriving and happy and well-adjusted.  Just this week she seemed to take a big jump forward in her Spanish skills which is exciting to watch take hold.
  • Nicaragua is a beautiful country -- the land of lakes and volcanoes -- and we've been lucky enough to see some of it.  We've visited at least part of the neo-tropical rain forests of the north and east, as well as the dryer parts of the west (which reminded me strongly of central California).  We've driven to the lip of an active volcano and hung out in the colonial cities of Granada and León.  And we've hit the beach!
All in all, it has been an amazing 4 months.  Some parts have been difficult, but they have been more than made up for by everything else that has been beautiful, enlightening, exciting, surprising.  We're looking forward to a relaxing time in California and also to coming back for more in the new year.  ¡Que tengan una Feliz Navidad y un prospero año nuevo!


El domingo vamos a los EE.UU para pasar una semana con mis padres en California.  El plan es celebrar la Navidad aqui con la Misión y luego volar el 26 a visitar la familia.  De todas maneras, hemos estado en Nicaragua por cuatro meses y nos parece llegamos el final del principio.  Nuestro plan era concentrarnos en aprender la lengua por los primeros meses y cuando regresemos en Enero nuestros trabajos oficiales van a comenzar.

Así que, ahora es un buen momento para reflexionar en nuestra situación (ps le robé esta idea de Kristine).
  • Todos de nosotros hemos mejorado mucho en nuestra habilidad de hablar y entender Español.  Por supuesto la cantidad de Español que todavía tenemos que aprender es inmensa.  Es como hemos subido un gran distancia hacia el pico de la montaña y podemos mirar una vista linda, pero el pico todavía esta arriba en las nubes.  Una cosa sobre yo es que estoy duro a mi mismo cuando cometa un error (aunque cometiendo errores es la manera de aprender), así ademas de aprender Español estoy aprendiendo un poco de paciencia y resistencia.
  • He perdido cualquier remilgo que tuve sobre aplastar cucarachas gigantes
  • Hemos viajado por gran parte del país, visitado docenas de iglesias y conocido mucha gente maravillosa.  La hospitalidad y amistad de la gente ha sido enorme y humillante.  Todavía nos sentimos un poco demasiado como "invitados de honor" y esperamos a empezar el trabajo y estar un poco más útil.
  • El "choque cultural" que sentíamos durante las primeras semanas se ha desvanecido, poco a poco, a la normalidad.  Comidas diferentes, muebles diferentes, música diferente, diferentes modos de interacción, el flujo constante de vendedores por la puerta, la basura botada en la calle y luego quemada, rotos tubos de aguas residuales, la falta de agua caliente, taxistas locos, la circulación y el caos de Managua -- en isolación cada uno era pequeño, pero cuando llegamos aqui, estas cosas sumaron a mucho.  Poco a poco todo de estas cosas han llegado a parecer (casi) normal.  (Aunque, todavía me sorprende cuando vea una familia entera de 4 o 5 encima de una motocicleta, a veces con un bebe pequeña.)

    También es bueno que nuestra casa está preparada ahora.  Contamos con mesas y sillas y libreros y un TV que recibe 3 canales borrosos y internet confiable.  Tenemos un carro por lo no tenemos usar taxis por todo de los quehaceres.  Supuestadamente, un "choque cultural inverso" nos espera cuando vayamos a los Estados... vamos a ver!
  • Las tortillas frescas que pasan diariamente frente de nuestra puerta son asombrosos. También los vegetales frescos, fuegos artificiales, videos piratas, reparadores de calzado y electrónica, y casi cualquier cosa es posible que desee va a pasar por lo menos una vez por semana.
  • Agradecemos mucho que Quinn parece ser prospera, feliz y bien ajustado.  Esta semana ella adelantó en su nivel de español, cual es emociante a ver.
  • Nicaragua es un país hermoso -- la tierra de lagos y volcánes -- y hemos tenido suerte de ver algo de ella.  Hemos visitado un poquito de los bosques humedos del norte y este, y también los partes secos del oeste (que me recordaba del centro de California).  Hemos manejado a la orilla de un volcán activo y pasado tiempo en las ciudades coloniales de Granada y León.  ¡Y también visitamos a la playa!
En todo, los cuatro meses eran maravilloso.  Algunos partes han sido dificiles, pero las cosas hermosos, emociantes sorprendentes han compensado.  Esperamos a descansar en California y también regresar por más en el año que viene.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Favorite "New" Christmas Song

As you might imagine, the most popular Christmas songs on the radio here in Nicaragua are not exactly the English language classics I'm accustomed to. Actually, a lot of them *are*, which is pretty funny. But, there's one with a super catchy tune that I finally looked up on the Internet, called Campanas de Belén, Bells of Bethlehem. It seems to be one of the songs that's always playing on the radio.

It really caught my notice when a group of kids started singing it at the end of a mini-presentation in church on Sunday -- I think before that, I hadn't paid any attention to what the words were. The lyrics are here if you read Spanish (there's one more verse in the lyrics than in the version I posted above). I'm not actually 100% sure of the translation, but there are some nice lines.

The refrain means "Bethlehem, bells of Bethlehem, which the angels ring, what news do you bring us?"

The first verse says "Little shepherd, herding your flock, where are you going?" And the response is "I'm going to bring cheese, butter, and wine (to Jesus)." The closing verse (rough translation) says "walking at midnight the path that the little shepherd walked to bring [gifts] to the child, just like I bring my heart to God." The original is more poetic, but you get the idea.

So, it's lovely in content and not only in style, it turns out. Hooray for new Christmas songs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Baby Santas

Yesterday was the Pastorela at Quinn's school. We didn't know exactly what this would entail, but it turns out it's basically a traditional Christmas pageant. With some extra things. The older kids did the pageant roles (Mary, Joseph, 3 Kings, shepherds, angels, etc.), but the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes combined forces to sing a Spanish version of "Jingle Bells" (same tune, but as far as I could tell the words did not involve bells). And they did this all wearing teeny tiny Santa suits. It was overwhelmingly cute!

Here's our girl backstage -- she was very interested in the shepherds in the row behind.

And the grand moment when she took the stage:

Yeah, she's in the front row, on the left, with her face obscured by the microphone.

I went around the side to get a better angle.

I know she looks tiny here, but they had her standing next to a kindergartener. Some of the other front row kids are almost as small (but she is the youngest student in the school).

She was pretty pleased with herself.

The more traditional Christmas pageant was next.

And I think the name "Pastorela" comes from the tradition of having little kids dress up as shepherds (pastores in Spanish). This is also really cute, it turns out. The pageant had a few unexpected twists, including a troupe of belly dancers in Pharaoh's court.

There was a singing number and a dance after the pageant finished. I think these were 3rd or 4th graders.

I thought this was so cute, because the first half of the dance, the girls were on one side, and the boys on the other, and they were all groovin', pretty confident in their moves. But then when the part came where they couple up, they all hesitated -- they knew what they had to do but were pretty embarrassed to actually take the hands of the child of the opposite gender.

It was a very fun cultural experience -- we heard a lot of nice Nicaraguan Christmas music and it definitely helped us get in the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Advent to US!

Today brought two awesome packages in the mail: one was an "Advent Calendar" from our awesome friend Elise. It is in parentheses because in her family, an Advent Calendar is not some silly little thing with chocolate or ornaments behind tiny doors. No, it is a little wrapped present for each of the days from December 1 to December 24! SO fun. :) And our family is fortunate enough to be a recipient of her creativity and generosity. The wrapped presents, in my experience (seeing it at her house as kids, and having in for our house in the last couple years), always contain segments of a puzzle -- a contiguous section of the puzzle, but not the whole thing, would be the wrapped gift for many of the days.

Anyway, international shipping being what it is (and my brain being a little slow, also, and our lives being busy, also), even though we were sent this package before Thanksgiving, we got it on day 14 of Advent. Quinn is super excited about the Advent Presents, and so are we all. Amy and Tim vetoed my plan to open 14 of the presents, but we did open at least 5 this evening. Quinn had a knack for selecting the ones that were puzzle pieces, and Amy and I got so excited that we now have 4/5 of a beautiful penguin puzzle on our coffee table. Fitting, since Elise is currently on an Antarctica cruise, where she works as a scientist studying penguins.

The second package was a sweet box full of stars from University Christian Church in Fort Worth, TX -- a Disciples congregation that supports us in many ways. The worshipers at The Source, their Sunday evening (emergent, I think) service decorated/ created stars at a prayer station, and sent them to us as an expression of connection and encouragement. Great to feel the love from friends and church family.

All in all, a good day. Tune in tomorrow for photos from Quinn's first school performance. Is it Santa, Baby? No, it's Baby Santa!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cristo Rey

This photo is of one of the most striking scenes in Managua.

The statue is of Jesus Christ standing atop the world and although the Rotonda (traffic circle) that contains it is officially called Santo Domingo most everyone refers to it as Cristo Rey (Christ the King).  Towering behind the statue is one of the numerous re-election advertisements for Daniel Ortega's Sandinista government (elections will be next year).  ¡Viva la Revolución!  The billboard is four-sided and one of the other sides gives the FSLN re-election motto: Cristiana, Socialista, Solidaria -- Christian, Socialist, in Solidarity.

It is interesting to me that the Sandinista campaign explicitly connects socialism and Christianity and love and revolution -- and of course it probably hasn't been lost on anyone that they made the sign taller than the statue.  To add to the mix, the signs that can be glimpsed at the bottom of the photo are anti-Halloween protests (the photo is from October).  The push and pull of politics and religion on display here could fill up 3 or 4 graduate theses (or sermons).  (Of course, we have a similar push and pull in the U.S., but it is interesting to see it play out in a different culture.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

3:52 down, 11:08 to go

Well, here's a little bit of our allotted "15 minutes of fame." It's up on the Global Ministries website.

Laura Jean Torgerson and Timothy Donaghy - Nicaragua from United Church of Christ on Vimeo.

It's interesting to get this glimpse of ourselves from June, when we only knew Nicaragua and La Misión Cristiana second-hand. I don't really enjoy seeing myself on video, but I'm glad nothing we said or thought then has turned out to be blatantly untrue. I remain incredibly grateful for the gifts of the churches that are supporting our work here.

Friday, December 10, 2010


On Wednesday (a national holiday), we got the chance to visit the beach with some of our friends from the church, and verify for ourselves that Nicaragua does indeed have a Pacific coast.

It was a beautiful day, and we went pretty early in the morning, when it was not yet too hot.
Quinn and her pals (ages 3 and 5) spent most of their time digging and playing in the sand.

But Quinn eventually decided she wanted to "swim," so off they ventured.

It turns out that "swmming" meant sitting on Daddy's lap in very shallow water.

Sadly, even this was not enough caution to prevent the ocean from attacking her-- this one is after the Big Wave that very rudely got water and sand up her nose.

We hung out in a sweet little restaurant with shade and bathrooms. Tim caught the elusive Laura Jean on camera.

There were a number of beach-side restaurants to choose from. All in all, it was an idyllic day.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Día del Pastor / Pastor Appreciation Day

So, my last post was about the big Nicaraguan celebration of the Catholic feast day on December 8 celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Since it's (a) a Catholic celebration of (b) a doctrinal point in which most (all?) Protestants differ from Catholics, the Protestant churches here eschew the holiday. La Misión Cristiana celebrates Día del Pastor (I think that is best translated Pastor Appreciation Day) on December 8th. We heard from the pastors at the regional lunch on Monday that different congregations celebrate according to whatever they have on their schedule.

This evening we were invited to the Seventh Church to share in their celebration of their five pastors. As always in this church, the music was phenomenal. It's encouraging to have been to enough services by now to recognize tunes and at least some of the words. I also seemed to have improved in my Spanish enough to get more words (still not all...) in the praying and preaching. The service was much like any other, with praise music, an offering, and a sermon. The extra bits were: a time where all five pastors stood up front and were greeted (mostly with hugs and words of gratitude) by everyone present, presentation of gifts (they looked like a nice supply of basic food, wrapped with cellophane and pretty bows, in a large sturdy plastic container of a very useful size), and having the pastors stand at the front holding hands in a circle while the congregation held hands in rows and prayed for them. A layperson preached, which is very common in the churches of La Misión Cristiana (the senior pastor of this church estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the members preach). She had the pastors come up and sit in the front row, and had a wide variety of reflections from various Biblical passages and words of encouragement about the role of pastors, as well as the ministry of all believers.

Another really cool thing about this evening was that we had visited this church before, shortly after arriving in Nicaragua. It was our first church visit, about 3 and a half months ago. They recently put in a new tile floor and expanded the sanctuary. It was just lovely to see such a tangible sign of their growth. They have also been through many stages of planning and then building more space ever since they started their after-school program for neighborhood kids years ago. They just can't keep their expansion up with the demand -- I think they have close to 300 kids (divided into two groups on opposite schedules), and would have more if they had room for them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

La Griteria

Spanish for "the yelling." This is the night before what might be Catholic Nicaragua's most favorite holiday, La Purísima, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. There have been fireworks going off in the streets for the last nine days, but tonight is the big night.

Tim calls it the Supergroup of holidays, since we've noticed features of four major American holidays: Independence Day, Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Christmas. We spent a little time after dinner strolling around our neighborhood and observing the festivities. Before dinner we had noticed lines of people at the doorways of certain houses. It turns out that some houses have statues of Mary, often lit up or decorated -- one was in a really pretty flowering tree with a little spotlight shining on it. Groups of people (we saw a lot of what looked like extended families), some more organized than others, go from house to house. When they get to the house, they either go in or stand outside and sing songs addressed to Mary. The one we heard most often invoked "Sweet Mary" to "hear my voice" as the people in the house were handing out sweets. Some of the more organized groups had rhythm instruments, and lots of people had noisemakers.

In addition to the groups walking around singing (caroling), using noisemakers (a lot like NYE in the US), and getting sweets at houses (trick or treat, anyone?), there are also people, mostly boys and young men, setting off firecrackers and fireworks.

All in all, it's an exciting night. It seems that all Protestants avoid the holiday (or "are supposed to") because it's Catholic, and, well, centered on Mary, which remains a sticky doctrinal point. So, instead of the Immaculate Conception, the Protestant churches (at least, La Misión Cristiana) have Pastor's Appreciation Day tomorrow. I think I overheard two stories -- one of a man who was raised Protestant, whose Catholic cousins took pity on him when he was young and snuck him out for fireworks and sweets. The second was a pastor's wife who I assume was raised Catholic -- she was suggesting that the pastors' lunch we went to on Monday as part of the "Pastor's Day" celebrations should have a piñata next year. An older pastor jokingly responded that she was now feeling the cost of what it means to be a Protestant in this society.

Río San Juan

This past month a long simmering conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over the San Juan river, which marks their mutual border, came to a mini-boil. The story seems to have been reported in the U.S. but mainly as a goofy (and incorrect) piece claiming that an error in Google Maps caused an accidental invasion of Costa Rica by Nicaragua. The actual story seems to be that both countries do, in fact, lay claim to the same tiny parcel of land.

Anyway, we were in Costa Rica during the peak of the controversy and have been back in Nicaragua since, so it has been interesting to watch the reactions. On the Nica side, the event seems to have at least briefly united all political factions -- from President Ortega to the opposition newspaper La Prensa. Bumper stickers claiming the Río es Nica have sprouted all over Managua. Others say this is just a bit of pre-election saber-rattling, both by Ortega and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. There is a large population of Nicaraguans who work in Costa Rica and some fear that the tensions could lead to anti-Nica sentiments across the border.

Thankfully, it seems unlikely that the situation will escalate too much further -- not least because Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948.

Anyway, if you're like me and interested in the geography-nerd details I recommend this post from Ogle Earth which has lots of maps and tentatively concludes that Costa Rica is in the right. Global Voices also has two interesting summaries here and here.


El mes pasado un conflicto entre Costa Rica y Nicaragua sobre el río San Juan, que marca su frontera común, llegó a un mini-hervir. La historia parece haber sido reportados en los EE.UU., pero principalmente como un tonto (y errónea) historis que alegue que un error en Google Maps causado una invasión accidental de Costa Rica con Nicaragua. La historia real parece ser que los dos países, de hecho, reclaman a la misma parcela pequeña de tierra.

Estábamos en Costa Rica durante el pico de la controversia y hemos estado en Nicaragua desde ese momento, y ha sido interesante ver las reacciones. Por el lado de Nica, el evento parece haber unidos a todas las facciones políticas - del presidente Ortega al diario opositor La Prensa. Otros dicen que esto es sólo un poco de ruido de sables
antes de las elecciones, tanto por Ortega y el presidente costarricense Laura Chinchilla. Hay una gran población de nicaragüenses que trabajan en Costa Rica y algunos temen que las tensiones podrían causar los sentimientos anti-Nica al otro lado de la frontera.

Afortunadamente, parece poco probable que la situación se intensificará mucho más - no menos importante, porque Costa Rica abolió su ejército en 1948.

De todos modos, si eres como yo y estás interesado en los detalles nerd-geografía, recomiendo este post de Ogle Earth que tiene un montón de mapas y tentativamente concluye que Costa Rica está en la derecha. Global Voices también cuenta con dos interesantes resúmenes aquí y aquí.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Heading Out

We're leaving Managua shortly for a trip to El Sauce, in "the West," near Leon. It's the fourth and final training on church governance that I am assisting the church's national Department of Theology with. We're driving there today before it gets dark, doing the day-long training tomorrow, visiting another church and project Monday morning, and should be back in Managua Monday afternoon. I'll have to post Sunday's thoughts on Monday.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Better Angels

One of the articles I read with my Spanish conversation teacher this week was about angels. It was a pretty strange article; I think it was trying to be balanced and provide a variety of perspectives, but the final effect (to me) was sort of incoherent and unresolved. The author talked with four of five people about angels. At least two of the interviewees (if my Spanish reading comprehension skills did not let me down) were "angelologists" (both ladies) They also interviewed a Catholic priest and an evangelical pastor (both men). So there were a variety of perspectives on what angels are like and to what extent people interact with them. At least one of the angelologists offers courses to help people connect with their own personal angels, and had opinions about the colors, odors, and types of music that can be used to help attract angels. It all sounded a bit loopy to me-- both the priest and the pastor seemed to be laughing at the ideas that the angelologists espoused.

My instructor did point out, when we were discussing the topic, that angels don't really show up in the New Testament, except around the birth of Jesus and the book of Revelation (and she did not seem to think too highly of the book of Revelation).

But I was thinking about the basic meaning of angel, a "messenger" (often, of God). And yes, some shiny, possibly winged, airborne, singing angels show up in the Christmas story. (And they sure do look pretty in the Christmas pageant.) But I finally got around to reading the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday. And it occurs to me that John the Baptist, with his message of repentance, like all the prophets, is also an angel. It's harder to hear the message "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (especially when John gets to shouting about the "brood of vipers") than "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy." But that is a message of God, as well. I like to talk about how repentance has as its root the idea of turning, changing direction. "Turn around, the kingdom of God has come near." Shift your attention. Look at what's important. See how God's kingdom has come near.

In my conversation class, we also talked about the very popular cartoon image of a miniature "good angel" and "bad angel" sitting on someone's shoulders and encouraging good or bad behavior. This is what we mean (I think) when we talk about "listening to our better angels." The world is so full of messages and messengers -- and it is up to us to discern which ones to listen to, to pay attention to.

So, here's a bit of confession. While I was "trying to think of something to write about" this evening, I spent a lot of time doing online window-shopping, thinking about Stuff for myself and my friends and family. I did say in my first Advent post that one of the reasons I wanted to blog through Advent was because I felt myself getting pulled in by the commercial, materialistic bits of Christmas. So, perhaps the buying-things websites are playing the role of the little red guy with horns in this moment. So I give thanks for my personal "better angels" on the internet: Fidelia's Sisters, the Vanderbilt Divinity Lectionary, and, lately, the Advent Blog Tour. And especially, a song I heard for the first time today from the people behind the SALT project.

And now I will take the advice of my interior "better angels" and get myself to bed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In a Nutshell

So, by way of further introduction to La Misión Cristiana, the church we are working with here in Nicaragua, here is their brief self-description. I first read this (in Spanish) a couple weeks after we arrived, as part of a project proposal for the theological education project for pastors I will be helping to lead over a two-year span (2011-2012). I almost fell out of my chair, I liked it so much.

Today, I translated this "brief profile of the organization" as part of another project proposal, for starting a dairy operation on a church-owned farm. Since at least one of the groups of people who are helping with this project speak English but no Spanish, we were asked to translate the proposal. And, as a fringe benefit, I now get to share with you all these words that I found so inspiring.

"The Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua began in the 1960s as a movement of ministry to prisoners, calling itself in those years "The Christian Mission in the Jails." Its founders were Rev. Marcelino Dávila Castillo who was a pastor in the Assemblies of God, and Rev. Antonio Martinez who first belonged to the Church of the Nazarene. The first church was founded in the Acahualinca neighborhood in 1959. The second church was founded in Barrio José Dolores Estrada in 1972.

The Convention Association of Christian Mission Churches obtained its official recognition on October 19th, 1983. Currently, the Association consists of 51 churches organized at the national level. The churches that belong to the Association are part of the pentecostal movement. The Christian Mission Church has been marked since its beginning as a church committed to addressing social problems and very open to relationships with other churches. Throughout its history, the Association has participated in the founding of various Christian organizations at the national level, with the goal of strengthening ecumenical relationships and supporting the development of churches and their communities.

These organizations include: CEPAD (Evangelical Council for Aid and Development), CIEETS (Interchurch Center of Theological and Social Studies), and UENIC (Evangelical University of Nicaragua). The Christian Mission Church also is a member of CLAI (the Latin American Council of Churches), and has maintained relationships of exchange and sister/brotherhood with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), The Brethren, the United Church of Christ (especially the New York Conference), and with the Christian Pentecostal Church of Cuba.

The Christian Mission Church has as its mission the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, proclaimed by Jesus and the first Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit. This preaching is done in words and deeds, so that the gospel may be seen and heard through the testimony of the church, and its commitments to the values of the Kingdom of God: justice, solidarity, equality and respect for diversity. The vision of the Christian Mission Church is to encourage and support social transformation, incarnating the gospel as good news for the most vulnerable sectors of society: the poor, the sick, women, children, and people excluded from our socio-economic systems."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Of Partnerships and Previews

Over a year ago, when we were starting to think and pray about working for Global Ministries, I did some Internet Research (yes, this is a theme in my life ;) ) looking for La Misión Cristiana, hoping to find any information about who the people of this church were and what they were about. They do not, you might not be surprised to find, have much in the way of a web presence. But I did find this video on the website of the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ.

The video is from a trip some of the staff from the New York Conference made in August 2007 to visit La Misión Cristiana and re-affirm their partnership. I watched this video quite a few times in the months leading up to our arrival, as I wondered what our experience here would be like. As things turned out, we arrived almost exactly three years after the trip in this slide show. Now that we've been here a little over 3 months, watching the video again to write this blog post was almost funny, because we now know many of the faces and places featured.

So, for those of you who are wishing for a tangible glimpse of our life and work here, this is a pretty good introduction. We have been to almost all of the churches and projects in the video, and even the Masaya Volcano! :) Doña Pilar, who was featured in the 7th Church portion of the video, is the current national president and one of my favorite people ever. Tim will be doing some teaching at the school run by the 2nd church, and I have already participated in a training at the Emmanuel Center, and that will be the location for what I currently think of as my main project -- a comprehensive series of workshops to enhance theological education of pastors. And we just realized today that Ruth, the young woman who is the current secretary in the national office, is the daughter of Raul Davila Castro, who was the president when this presentation was made. We discovered this today when she gave us an invitation to her wedding (which will be in the 7th church!).

I intend to post a fuller report of our trip to visit the cattle farm in Waslala, but we were also chuckling in recognition of his description of the roads, and when we realized that we stayed at the same hotel in Waslala.

This partnership with the New York Conference, and the video produced as a result, was helpful to us as we prepared to come here to serve, and I hope it will also be helpful to you, whether it might be a "preview" for a visit (personal, mission trip, or people-to-people pilgrimage -- we like them all!) or simply a chance to connect with us and La Misión Cristiana virtually.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent Wreaths

Ask and you shall receive! Marty, this one's for you. :)

So, in divinity school I had a professor whose specialty was the history of Christian worship. And he told us that the most basic meaning behind the candles on the Advent wreath is ... 1,2,3,4. It started out as simply counting down (up?) to Christmas, marking the time. And of course, the Christ candle for Christmas works very well with all the "Jesus the Light of the World" imagery.

But that professor also liked to talk about how symbols "aren't like stop signs," that is, they are not limited to one single meaning. And meanings get added in layers over time ... this is probably true about most of the things that happen in church (and many things that have nothing to do with church).

When I was growing up, both my dad's Catholic and my mom's Disciples churches had themes for each week of Advent, and included lighting the Advent wreath as part of each Sunday's worship. The themes were, in order: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Joy, the third Sunday, went with the pink candle, and the white Christ candle was in the middle. In my mom's church, a different family lit the Advent Wreath each week, and read some Scripture, a prayer, and a brief reflection on the meaning of the particular week. I remember my mom getting a little stressed about people lighting the candles in the correct order. (You have to start with the purple candle that's across from the pink candle to get to the pink one at the right time.)

We also often had an Advent wreath at home -- subsequent Internet research suggests to me that we were participating in a Catholic movement to integrate the faith into the homes of Catholic families. Another way to say that is that my dad brought a booklet home from his church and my mom liked the idea so she got a wreath, and we lit the candles at dinner during Advent sometimes. This scheme (3 purple candles and one pink on the outside, white in the middle) has roots in the time when Advent was a small fast, a time of reflection and penitence, a sort of echo of Lent -- hence the color purple. The pink candle and Joy, however, represent a disruption of the fast, a celebration. (Not unlike Sundays being little Easters during Lent.)

When I was serving as a pastor at Cleveland Park Congregational UCC, I did some research to put together liturgy for our wreath-lighting that was consistent with the New England Congregational tradition of the four candles representing: Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy. In this scheme, the outer candles would all be the same color. Purple is certainly appropriate, but blue, red, or even white are also possibilities. The aforementioned internet research suggested that most places where this tradition is preserved (insofar as it is discussed online) are Unitarian churches. I also discovered another scheme for the candles that I liked: Prophets, Bethlehem, the Shepherds, and the Angels. There are actually a lot of possibilities.

I think that whatever the significance attributed to each of the candles, it's a challenge to make the themes of Advent fresh in some way each year at the same time as you preserve ancient tradition. Because I have some fond memories of Advent wreaths, and, ahem, have done perhaps too much internet research, and because a few years ago I found an Advent wreath on sale at my favorite fair trade store, we have one, and some years, I have imposed dinner table Advent wreath lighting on my family. The candles are all purple, which I decided, based on, yes, my internet research (as well as that divinity school education!) was theologically sound.

We have the Advent wreath and candles here with us in Nicaragua, and I like the opportunity to celebrate Advent a little, to have a simple ritual that's part of our home life that Quinn can relate to. Her favorite part, of course, is blowing out the candle, probably because of all the recent blowing out of birthday candles (she got to blow out the birthday candles on her cake on 3 occasions this year). My plan is to do it just once a week during Advent (the candles last longer that way :) ), and we actually remembered to on Sunday, when Advent began. It is nice to have a little bit of home and family tradition in the midst of so many changes and differences. So, to sum up: I have spent really a lot of time researching Advent wreaths on the internet, and I like them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What is Advent?

If you want to do a serious research project on this question, you would start with the Wikipedia article on Advent, which is actually a pretty good introduction.

Advent is a season in the church year, a time to spiritually prepare for Christ coming into the world. It varies in length, because there are always four Sundays in Advent, and Christmas, being a fixed date, can be any day of the week. (By my calculations, this year, because December 25th falls on a Saturday, the Advent season is one day less than the longest it could possibly be -- if Christmas fell on a Sunday.)

Advent also marks the beginning of the church year and the lectionary cycle.

The gospel text for Sunday (yesterday) is about the second coming of Christ. The key verses are Matthew 24:42 and 24:44: "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." and "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." Every year, the beginning of the church year is marked by looking forward to the end (yes, The End), which, in the Biblical story, is the return of Christ. It's always interesting to me the way a very long timeline lines up with a yearly cycle -- in order to prepare our hearts (once again, this year) for the coming of Christ (in the manger), we are encouraged to PREPARE for the Second Coming of Christ. We look forward to the coming of Christ in a unique way at the same time as we prepare to welcome the child in the manger according to the cyclical remembrance.

Perhaps the most important part of this text and the larger Advent focus is the repetition of admonitions -- Keep Awake, Be Ready, Prepare. Because Light, Love, Redemption and Salvation both came in a unique way, on a long timeline, and reappear in our lives in a cyclical way. So we need to be awake, ready, prepared for Christ to appear -- in the face of a stranger, the love of a friend, a transformational glimpse of beauty, a new challenge that brings us life, or an ordinary miracle, like the birth of a new baby.

I hope that I am ready, and can prepare my heart this Advent and beyond, to receive the Light wherever it appears.

In La Misión Cristiana, the church we are working with here, as far as I know, Advent is not an important season in their church year. They don't follow the traditional Western liturgical calendar (and I hope to learn more about the theological, historical, and cultural reasons behind that). I do, however, see them as open, awake, prepared, ready to see and respond to the ways that God enters the world. Some of those ways are familiar to me, and others less so. I expect that this will be just one of many ways that we will learn more from these brothers and sisters than we could ever hope to teach.

Just Do It

I think I am resolving to try to blog every day this Advent. The idea came to me when I couldn't sleep last night, and in the clear light of day, it still seems like it could be a good idea. Let me see if I can try to explain why I feel moved to do this.

1) We are having an amazing experience here in Nicaragua. But the way I see our role as missionaries, our experience becomes much more worthwhile when we are able to share it with all our friends and family back home, especially those in our "families of faith," the Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ. People in the pews of those denominations have been supporting the work of Global Ministries in building relationships with this church and other partners around the world for a very long time. Just as important as getting to know the people of La Misión Cristiana (Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua) is allowing church members in the United States to get to know them, too. By this logic, the more we blog, the better, so any reason is a good one. :)

2) I've been inspired my two really impressive women bloggers, both mothers. One is my cousin (okay, technically cousin-in-law, but I claim her), who despite having not only one child the same age as mine, and at least as rowdy, but also a baby whose age is still counted in months, and having spent a lot of time caring for both these children all by herself when her husband is on deployment, still manages to blog every day. The other person is someone I've never met, but I found her blog, Momastery, through a link posted by a friend on Facebook, and found her writing and the comments very inspiring. Both of these blogs have seemed to me like "places" where a real sense of community exists online.

3) It doesn't feel like Advent to me! Yes, there are Christmas lights and decorations up everywhere here in Managua, but the temperature is still liable to hit 90 on any given day, most schools just let out for summer vacation, and although our partner church here has many wonderful characteristics, they do not celebrate the liturgical calendar to which I am accustomed, and definitely don't light the candles on the Advent wreath each week to count up to Christmas. So, I want to try in my blogging to pay attention to the lectionary texts (the Bible passages that many churches read in worship each week) to get myself ready for Christmas, spiritually, together with many churches and Christians all over the world and through history.

4) I'm finding myself really pulled into the materialistic aspect of Christmas preparations, i.e. presents! -- that is, making lists of things I want and think Quinn might want and doing online shopping... so I'm seeking a little balance.

5) I love the lectionary, and I miss preaching. So, I want to write more. Don't worry, folks -- it won't be all Bible, all the time, but I would like to devote some attention to the Bible texts that lead us into Christmas.

6) Tim said last night, as we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath "I know it's the first Sunday of Advent, but I don't really know what that means." And I realize that I have more to learn about it as well. So, I would like to address that a bit as well.

I'm also posting this on my personal blog, and I may end up posting over there some days, if I run out of ideas that are directly connected to our life and ministry here in Nicaragua. My ideas I wrote down last night while not sleeping include: Quinn's theological inquiries (aka "doozies"), a slightly overdue report on our trip to a church-owned farm near Waslala, the history of Advent, stuff I want for Christmas and the Nicaraguan cultural celebrations that lead up to La Purisima on December 8th. So, stay tuned!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The tourist visas we received when we arrived in Nicaragua only gave us 90 days and until we apply for residency we'll have to cross the border into Costa Rica to get another 90 days when we cross back. This time we decided to take a few days and see some of Costa Rica's famed natural parks -- specifically the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

It took us about a day to cross the border and make our way up to Monteverde. The park is super-touristed (at least during the dry season) but somewhat difficult to reach on public transportation. Supposedly this is to protect the reserve by making it harder for tourists to day-trip up from the beach. Anyway, the cloud forest is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and since we came in the off-season we mostly had the trails to ourselves.

Here's Quinn setting off down the trails.

Capuchin monkeys visited us at our hotel.

The cloud forest felt to me like a cross between a low-land tropical rainforest (like in the Amazon) and the misty coastal redwoods of California. Although we didn't see many mega-fauna, every tree was covered in moss and epiphytes and every plant seemed like it could be its own species. Everywhere you turned your head your eyes took in tremendous levels of visual detail and living abundance. A one point we actually disturbed a rabble (or some other collective noun) of giant butterflies. Photos just don't do it justice.
Also, it turns out that its pretty wet in the cloud forest. We got soaked, which was kind of cool since it was the first time we had felt cold in months. Unfortunately, the rain finally finished off our poor, abused camera, so we don't have pictures after the first day. In addition to hiking we also did a canopy tour, although the kind where you walk along bridges through the treetops, not the kind with zip cords and helmets and adrenaline. (For an example, check out this photo from flickr.)

The three days we spent there seemed far too few to really appreciate how beautiful it is. Monteverde is also home to a group of American Quakers who settled there in the 1950s to avoid the Korean War draft, and who were also instrumental in the far-sighted plan to protect the forest in a nature reserve.

Thanksgiving in Managua

Happy Thanksgiving all! It was a little strange to be in a foreign culture for the American-est of holidays (our Nicaraguan friends were a little bemused by our descriptions of the holiday) and I think we were a little homesick and missing family and friends back home. But we definitely have a lot to be thankful for, not the least being the delicious feast that Amy and Laura Jean prepared (I did the shopping and chopped some stuff!).

¡Felíz Día de Acción de Gracias a todos! Fue un poco extraño estar en una cultura extranjera por esta más norteamericano de las fiestas (nuestras amigos nicaraguenses estaban un poco divertidos por nuestras descripciónes del día) y creo que estabamos nostálgico y les extrañamos a la familia y nuestros amigos. Pero definitivamente tenemos mucho que agradecer, no menos importante es el banquete delicioso que Amy y Laura Jean se prepararon (hice lo compras y corté algunas cosas!).

Complete with pecan pie. PIIIIIIEE! / Completo con pastel de pecanas.

Anyway, we're back in Managua after 3 very busy weeks of travel and guests and parties and work (followed immediately by getting sick... of course). So I'm going to try to post a bunch of pictures of what we've been up to. Enjoy!

De todos modos, hemos regresado a Managua despúes de 3 semanas de viajes y huespedes y fiestas y trabajos (despúes de cual, nos enfermamos... por supuesto). Así voy a postar muchos fotos de nuestros aventuras.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Todo Cambia

This past week we traveled to Costa Rica to renew our visas; this coming week my sister is coming to visit and then we're traveling again. So much to do, so little time to blog! In lieu of words and pictures, I'll just post this song -- "Todo Cambia" -- by the late Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa. I first heard it at a presentation about the impacts of climate change in Nicaragua (such a good idea to include music in technical presentations!), and I thought it was lovely. Enjoy!

Cambia lo superficial, cambia también lo profundo,
cambia el modo de pensar, cambia todo en este mundo;
cambia el clima con los años, cambia el pastor, su rebaño
y así como todo cambia que yo cambie no es extraño.

Cambia el más fino brillante de mano en mano su brillo.
Cambia el nido, el pajarillo. Cambia el sentir un amante.
Cambia el rumbo el caminante, aunque esto le cause daño.
Y así como todo cambia, que yo cambie no es extraño.

Cambia, todo cambia, cambia, todo cambia.

Cambia el sol en su carrera, cuando la noche subsiste,
Cambia la planta y se viste de verde en la primavera.
Cambia el pelaje la fiera. Cambia el cabello del anciano.
y así como todo cambia, que yo cambie no es extraño.

Pero no cambia mi amor por más lejos que me encuentre.
Ni el recuerdo, ni el dolor, de mi pueblo, de mi gente.
Y lo que cambió ayer tendrá que cambiar mañana,
así como cambio yo en esta tierra lejana.


The superficial changes, and also the profound changes.
The way of thinking changes, everything in this world changes.
The climate changes with the years, the pastor changes and her flock.
And as everything changes, it is not strange that I change.

The finest diamond changes its brightness from hand to hand.
The nest changes, the bird. A lover changes his feelings.
The walker changes direction, even if it causes her harm.
And as everything changes, it is not strange that I change.

Change, everything changes. Change, everything changes.

The sun in its course changes, when the night remains.
The plant changes and wears green in the springtime.
The wild beast changes its fur. The old one changes his hair.
And as everything changes, it is not strange that I change.

But my love doesn't change no matter how far away I am.
Nor the memory nor the pain, of my village, of my people.
And what changed yesterday will have to change tomorrow
As I change in this far off land.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Quinn Settles In

Many people have asked how Quinn is doing, so we thought it was time for an update for her many fans.

She did have some trouble our first couple weeks, mainly because a) she was frustrated that everyone spoke Spanish (she would yell at us when we spoke Spanish to other people) and b) she didn't have many kids to hang out with. But it did not take long before she accepted that all of our new friends speak Spanish. At first she asked every time we met someone, "Does this friend speak Spanish?" but just yesterday she was talking about her cousin Grace and said "She's my friend. But she doesn't speak Spanish."

Watching her start to learn Spanish has been really quite amazing. I still expect that sometime in this first year, she will be rattling it off while I am still struggling to form sentences and learn verb forms. The first thing she mastered was "¿Como se llama?" that is "What's your name?" and she would proudly ask each taxi driver, sometimes even remembering to respond correctly "Me llamo Quinn." A few weeks after we got here, she was explaining to me that "¡Que linda!" (how pretty) meant something like "Nice to meet you." -- because almost everyone who met her for the first time had the same response. Just a couple weeks ago, she told me "Enrique" means girl and "Pa" means "boy," only to decide that she had it backwards. Luis Enrique and Paula Elena are friends in her class, so I think that is the origin of those Quinn-spanish terms. Perhaps the most interesting thing is how we don't really know how much Spanish she knows, because she always speaks English with us but at school her interaction with her classmates is in Spanish.

Which brings us to... school! Perhaps the biggest development since our arrival in Nicaragua is that Quinn has started school. She's in preschool at a colegio that goes all the way through high school, and all the kids wear uniforms (this was the case in all the preschools we visited, whether or not they were part of a larger school). Every Friday, though, the preschool and kindergarten kids get to wear whatever they want, which Quinn really enjoys. Yesterday she chose a purple shirt and red shorts -- both of which she put on by herself, with great pride -- backwards. Here are the obligatory first day of school shots:

Yesterday was also the day she got her first report card! The "grades" were "Achieved," "In Development," and "Not Achieved." We were surprised to see some of the things she can do -- like name shapes in Spanish. We were not at all suprised that she sometimes has trouble following directions (not that she doesn't understand, but that she's sometimes willful). The teacher said "We know she's still a baby, she has lots of time to reach these goals." Her teachers, Teacher Tanya and Teacher Rosita (which usually comes out "Teacher'Sita" when Quinn says it), are warm and loving, and look out for Quinn a little extra since she's still adjusting to the language and is the youngest student in the class. They can do this because she is one of only seven kids in her class.

In her free time, now that her parents got some wheels, Quinn has been venturing outside Managua to see some of the sights. A couple weeks ago, we went to Volcan Masaya, about a 20 minute drive south of Managua. You can drive up to the lip of the crater and climb stairs to a high point and look down into the smoking crater. Quinn was very excited about "the tall mountain." Dora the Explorer, one of her current cartoon idols, has lots of adventures, and they frequently involve tall mountains (or, you know, going to the highest hill). So, Quinn was very excited about having an adventure that involved climbing a tall mountain. She took issue, however, with our description of a volcano as a tall mountain with a hole in the top. Because we were able to climb up high and look down at the crater, she kept talking about how "the tall mountain doesn't have a hole at the top."

Climbing the mountain

Yay volcano!

For those of you who might have concerns about her hygiene or comfort, she is the only member of our household who regularly gets a hot bath.

Yes, this does involve boiling water. :)

And, to wrap up this Quinn update, here are some of her latest dance moves:

We think she's feeling at home here.


If you read any guidebook on Nicaragua they paint a pretty fearsome picture of Managua, the capital city and our new home.  They toss around phrases like "difficult," "little-loved" and "disturbing," and suggest that you leave immediately from the airport for more tourist-friendly places like Granada.  Do not pass go, do not spend a night in Managua.

(Although, I recently picked up a copy of the Rough Guide to California and found that my hometown of Fresno was described as "almost classic in its ugliness."  So... thanks a lot, jerks!  I think we can conclude that guidebook authors are generally snobs and shills for the tourism industry.)

I will say that I did find Managua a little intimidating for the first week or so that we were here.  It is strange to remember that time because so much that struck me as strange now seems normal.  Such is culture shock, I guess.

It is true that Managua is a difficult city to visit.  It sprawls like L.A. so you can't really rely on walking to get around.  Unlike most tourist meccas, it utterly lacks a quaint city center, since old downtown Managua was leveled by a catastrophic earthquake in 1972 and never really rebuilt.  In the difficult years following the earthquake, the city spilled outward in a flood of barrios, streets and rotundas, bound only by the lake to the north.  There have been several attempts to manufacture shiny new city centers with hotels and shopping malls, now strung like pearls along the road to Masaya.  Useful places, but they don't exactly give the city much flavor.

To add to the initial visitor's confusion, the city is almost completely lacking in street names, street signs and house numbers.  This has given rise to a Cartesian system for giving directions that actually works quite smoothly once you're oriented.  Addresses for houses and business will be relative to some well-known landmark (or, in some cases, former landmark), then e.g. two blocks abajo (meaning west toward the setting sun), one block al lago (meaning north to the lake).

Virtually all of the houses here present a closed face to street -- windows with bars and walls topped with barbed wire.  Partly this is a response to crime (although in terms of violent crime, Nicaragua is currently the safest country in C.A.) and partly architectural style.  This can seem closed-off and unwelcoming, until you realize that virtually everyone is out on the street anyway.

All of which is to say, we're not here because Managua is a tropical vacation paradise.  Managua is a beautiful city because of the amazing people we've met.  And really, the greatness of a city like New York (for example) goes far beyond the handful of tourist attractions in Manhattan.  Managua is a little like that -- its bulk and energy and history are what makes it impressive.

And there are definitely specific aspects of the city that are growing on me.  For example, I love how mixed-use the neighborhoods are.  Two doors down from our house we have a pulperia (a small grocery store run out of a family's home) and we're a short walk from a natural medicine center, dentists, cyber-cafes, schools, restaurants, pharmacies.  To say nothing of the vendors who come down our street daily with fresh fruit and tortillas.

Anyway, that's our brief tour and initial impressions of our new city.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

(What's that got to do with) The Price of Beans

For a lot of people living in Nicaragua, the past few months have been a little rough.  This rainy season has been unusually wet and the level of Lake Managua has risen to its highest level in many decades -- higher even than levels after the infamous Hurricane Mitch.  This has spelled disaster for hundreds of families living along the lakeshore who have been flooded out of the homes and are currently living in government-provided housing. 

Sadly, nearly 70 people have died as a result of the rains and the flooding, including 5 Red Cross workers who were caught in a flash flood crossing a river.

The rains have also helped to destroy a good portion of the local harvest of red beans -- a staple food for virtually every Nicaraguan (and us!).  The bad harvest, combined with a controversial sale of red beans to El Salvador, has caused the market price to double in the past few weeks and has put beans out of reach for some poorer families.  President Ortega even got himself in hot water when he suggested that people substitute green peas in traditional Nica dishes (blasphemy!).

For me, its been another reminder that many, many people in this world live perched on the brink and for them disaster doesn't always come in the form of a (telegenic, dramatic) earthquake or tsunami, but rather from a small flexing of market forces that wealthier people probably don't even notice.  Anyway, the past few weeks have been hot and dry and reportedly the lake level is going back down again; hopefully those families will be able to return home soon and cook some dinner.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've been trying to learn some Nica music for guitar, and this is where people tell me to start. This song is called "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita," which someone described to me as Nicaragua's Second National Anthem.

He estado tratando de aprender algo musica Nica para guitarra, y aqui es donde la gente me dice para comenzar. Esta canción se llama "Nicaragua, Nicaraguita" que alguien me describió como el segundo Himno Nacional de Nicaragua.

The singer/songwriter is Carlos Mejía Godoy, who is similarly one of the most famous and beloved of Nicaragua's musicians. His music is often associated with the 1979 revolution and the Sandinista government of the 1980s, and indeed this 1983 performance is from the middle of the Contra war.

El cantante y compositor es Carlos Mejía Godoy, que es igualmente uno de los más famosos y queridos de los músicos de Nicaragua. A menudo, su música es asociada con la revolución de 1979 y el gobierno de las sandinistas de los 80s, y de hecho este rendimiento de 1983 es de la mitad de la guerra de las Contras.

Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita,
la flor mas linda de mi querer,
abonada con la bendita,
Nicaraguita, sangre de Diriangén.

Ay Nicaragua sos mas dulcita,
que la mielita de Tamagas,
pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas.
pero ahora que ya sos libre,
Nicaraguita, yo te quiero mucho mas.


Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita
the most beautiful flower of my love
fertilized with the blessed blood of Diriangén.

Ay Nicaragua, you are sweeter than the honey of Tamagas,
but now that you are free, Nicaraguita, I love you even more,
but now that you are free, Nicaraguita, I love you even more.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Día de la Biblia

Two weeks ago, we celebrated la Día de la Biblia, which is a national day to commemorate the 441st anniversary of the publication of la Reina-Valera. La Reina-Valera was the first important translation of the Bible into Spanish, and still the most commonly used in the churches we have visited here so far (although it has been updated a few times). (You can think of it as analogous to the King James Bible in English.) La Misión Cristiana celebrated the day with a parade and a worship service that brought together folks from most of the local Managuan churches.

Hace dos semanas, celebramos la Día de la Biblia, que es un día nacional para conmemorar el 441o anniversario de la publicación de la Reina-Valera. La Reina-Valera era el primero traducción importante de la Biblia al Español, y todavía es lo más común version usado en las iglesias que hemos visitado. (Podés pensar de esto cómo un análogo de la Biblía King James en ingles.) La Misión Cristiana celebró el día con un desfile y un culto que reunió la gente de las iglesias locales de Managua.

They dressed up a truck with balloons and palm branches and a giant cardboard Bible to serve as a float for the parade.

Una camioneta se vistió con globos y palmas y un gigante Biblia de cartón para servir cómo un floatador para el desfile.

The day was rainy and wet, and we all stood around in the drizzle waiting for people to gather.

El día estaba lluvioso, y todos estaban en pie en la llovizna y estaban esperando para que la gente se reuna.

Nick Green -- who is serving as a Global Ministries intern in El Salvador -- was also in town and we got to meet and hang out with him a little bit. Nick has visited La Misión Cristiana in Nicaragua several times with the South Idaho region of the Disciples, so we heard lots of good stories from him.

Nick Green -- quien desempeña como un intern de Ministerios Globales en El Salvador -- también estaba en Managua y le conocíamos y pasamos un poco de tiempo con él. Nick ha visitado La Misión Cristiana muchas veces con la región del sur de Idaho de los Discipulos, y por eso escuchamos muchos buenas historias de él.

The other local churches showed up in big buses, and they each had color-coded t-shirts.

Las otras iglesias llegaron en buses y cada llevó camisas de su proprio color.

Eventually, the parade got under way. We walked about 20 blocks from the 7th church to the 3rd church. The kids led the march with lots of songs and chants, and people came out of their houses to watch us pass by.

Finalmente, el desfile se puso en marcha. Caminamos 20 cuadras de la septima iglesia a la tercera iglesia. Los jovenes encabezó la marcha con canciónes y cantos, y la gente salió de sus cases para ver.

Eventually, we ended up at the 3rd church for a long, rousing worship service. They had set up a tent that didn't quite hold everyone, but by that point the rains had nearly stopped, and by the end the sun was out.

Finalmente, terminamos a la tercera para un culto largo y entusiasto. Había una tienda en cual la gente casi cupo, pero por eso momento las lluvias habían acabado y el sol había aparecido.

Note from Laura Jean: In some of my preparatory reading, I came across the idea that the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in recent decades can be thought of as the Protestant Reformation finally reaching Latin America. This huge parade and celebration of the Reina-Valera translation certainly gave the feeling that the Reformation is alive and well.

Nota de Laura Jean: me encontré con la idea que la creciencia rápido de pentecostalismo en las últimas decadas se puede considerar como la reforma protestante llegando finalmente a America Latina. Por cierto, este desfile grande y la celebracion de la Reina-Valera nos dieron la impresión de la reformación esta vivo.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More Church

I wanted to add to Laura Jean's last post on the amazing welcome we've received here, by talking a little about the churches we've visited and the people we've met.

For me, the music has been the key to every church we've been to (which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me). Each service is a little like a rock concert ... and I mean that in the best possible way. Everyone knows the songs and sings, claps, stomps, sways along with hands in the air. The music is loud and energetic -- usually drums, guitar and/or keyboards, all fully amped -- and (unlike most U.S. churches that I've seen) there are usually 10-12 songs in the course of a worship service. In almost every service the music has given me that surge of excitement that comes from a powerful shared experience -- even when I only partially understood the words being sung.

The churches of La Misión Cristiana are small, usually 30-150 people, and rooted in their respective neighborhood communities. The denomination is Pentecostal -- a brand of faith that has grown rapidly in (previously, largely Catholic) Latin America over the past few decades, and which places a special emphasis on the personal, emotional experience of God via the Holy Spirit. Each church has a minister, but it is the church members who seem to handle much of the song leading and preaching -- indeed one pastor told us that 70% of his members preach from time to time. This makes sense because the pastors only stay in one church for 3 (sometimes 6) years before being shuffled around. In other words, the "leadership" may come and go, but the church remains the same.

La Misión Cristiana also has a strong focus on social justice. One church we've visited a couple of times has classes and events for the neighborhood kids virtually every night of the week, in addition to providing some basic services to a very poor community. They are currently thinking about how they might expand their physical classroom space, since that what is currently limiting the number of kids they can work with. The space they have now is simple (think concrete block rooms stuffed with plastic chairs), but they do amazing things with it.

Anyway, those are some of my first impressions. So far, we haven't visited any churches more than an hour from Managua, and as everyone likes to tell us, the churches outside the capital are somewhat different (we shall see!). I know both of us are excited to get beyond introductions and start the work we will do here with the awesome people we've met.

Our next post will have some pictures from last weekend's Día de la Biblia celebration to mark the 441st anniversary of the first Spanish translation of the Bible.

[[ Apologies for the slow posting of late, but we've run into a few technical difficulties. The internet service we currently have is very fast, but is basically unusable during the evenings (i.e. when we most want to use it). It operates over the cell network and when that network is saturated we get zilch. This week we're trying out the competing company and it seems to be much more reliable. Also: Quinn dropped our digital camera and broke it, and it took us quite while to find a place that could fix it. It works now, except for the flash, so... no night-time pictures for the time being. ]]


Quiero añadir al ultimo post de Laura Jean sobre el bienvenido tremendo que hemos recibido aquí, para hablar un poco de las iglesias que hemos visitado y la gente que hemos conocido.

Para mí, la musica es la llave de cada iglesia que hemos visitado (que no debe sorpresar nadie que me conoce). Cada culto es un poco como un concierto de rock ... y quiero decir que en la mejor manera posible. Todas las personas saben las canciones y cantan, aplauden, pisan, con manos al cielo. La musica es fuerte y energetico -- tipico tambores, guitarra y/o piano electrico, todo con mucho amplificación -- y (a differencia a la mayoria de iglesias de los EE.UU) por lo general hay 10 a 12 canciones en un culto. En casi cada culto la musica me ha dado una ola de emoción que resulta de una experiencia poderosa y compartido -- incluso cuando yo sólo entendí un parte de las palabras que se cantan.

Las iglesias de la Misión Cristiana son pequeño, por lo general 30-150 personas, y tienen raíces en sus comunidades respectivas. La denominación es pentecostal -- una marca de fe que ha crecido rapidamente en America Latina (anteriormente, en gran parte Catholica) en las decadas anteriores, y la cual pone un especial enfasís en un experiencia de Dios personal y emocional, a traves del Espíritu Santo. Cada iglesia tiene un ministro, pero los miembros están encargados de la predicacion y la direcion de los canciones -- de hecho, un pastor nos dijo que 70% of los miembros de sus iglesia predican de vez en cuando. Esto tiene sentido porque los pastores sólo se quedan en una iglesia por 3 (a veces 6) años antes de mover. En otras palabras, el "liderazgo" puede aparecer y desaparecer, pero la iglesia sigue siendo la misma.

La Misión Cristiana también tiene un enfoque fuerte en la justicia social. Una iglesia que hemos visitado tiene clases y eventos para los niños del barrio prácticamente todas las noches de la semana, además de proveer servicios basicos a una comunidad muy pobre. Actualmente, están pensando en cómo poder ampliar el espacio disponible para las aulas, ya que está limitando el numero de niños que pueden trabajar. El actual espacio es sencillo (aulas de concreto rellenos de sillas de plastico), pero ellos hacen cosas increibles con el.

De todos modos, esas son algunas de mis primeras impresiónes. Hasta ahora, no hemos visitados ningunas iglesias más de un hora de Managua, y todas las personas nos dijeron que las iglesia fuera de la capital son differentes (lo veremos!). Sé que los dos estamos muy contentos de ir más allá de la introducción y empezar el trabajo que va a hacer aquí con la gente increíble que he conocido.

Nuestro próximo post hay algunas fotos del último fin de semana de Día de la Biblia celebración para conmemorar el 441o aniversario de la primera traducción española de la Biblia.

[[Disculpas por el lento escribiendo de la tarde, pero nos hemos encontrado algunas dificultades técnicas. El servicio de Internet que tenemos actualmente es muy rápido, pero es básicamente inservible durante la noche (es decir, cuando más queremos usarlo). Opera sobre la red celular y cuando esa red se satura tenemos nada de nada. Esta semana estamos tratando la otra empresa de internet y parece ser mucho más fiable. También: Quinn cayó nuestra cámara y lo partió, y nos llevó bastante tiempo encontrar un lugar que podía arreglarlo. Actúa ahora, excepto para el flash, así que ... no hay fotos de la noche - por el momento. ]]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

¡Bienvenidos y Dios les bendiga!

In our first four weeks here, we have visited 8 of the 10 congregations in the Managua area. Each church has greeted us warmly, and every time we (or any other visitors) are introduced in the service, everyone waves and says together "Bienvenidos y Dios les bendiga!" ("Welcome and may God bless you!") For me, it is a powerful moment of welcome each time. The welcome continues in the many warm handshakes and personal greetings, the delicious home-cooked meals we are served after almost every service, the offer of every pastor that "we are at your service for anything you need while you are settling in," the hopes so many have expressed for our time here.

I told people, before we came here, that I was anticipating that we would be receiving a lot of hospitality. Even though it's not surprising, the experience of this welcome continues to be humbling and amazing. All this love makes the immense adjustment easier, and worthwhile.

I have certainly had moments of doubt -- when my two year old daughter had heat rash for the first week after we arrived. As I continue to struggle to learn Spanish -- we went to a training for Sunday School teachers at one church last weekend, I sat in a group's heated discussion and thought I was following the thread reasonably well until someone clued me in that some members of the group were disagreeing with the methodology being presented -- a detail that I had not previously noticed. As I looked at photos from my nephew's first birthday party and wished I could have been there.

But these small doubts are swept away in the love and faith of the people of the church. They love us and believe in us, without even knowing us. Every time we meet another leader of the church, they tell us how they see our presence here as a blessing. They are convinced that together, we will accomplish a great work in this place. In this hot place where everyone speaks Spanish that is far from our families. This place to which God has called us -- and the place where God has provided us with welcome after welcome. We have been truly welcomed, and truly blessed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Here are some pictures from our first couple of weeks in Managua.

Aquí están algunas fotos de nuestras primeras semanas en Managua.

Quinn found a fun playground at the vista overlooking the Laguna de Tiscapa in downtown Managua.

Quinn encontró un patio de recreo divertido al mirador de la Laguna de Tiscapa en el centro de Managua.

Our backyard.
Nuestro jardín.

Laundry, drying in the sun.

Ropa, secando al sol.

Amy checking email on our brand-new dining room table.

Amy lee sus correos electrónicos en nuestra nueva mesa del comedor.

Laura Jean and Quinn show off their stylish raincoats after returning from some puddle stomping.

Laura Jean y Quinn muestran sus impermeables (¿Están de moda, no?) después de jugando en los charcos.

Quinn's latest game is to layout clothes for her animals to wear. You can also see a little of our (still sparse) living room.

Ahora, el juego preferido de Quinn es poner la ropa en el piso para sus animales. Puede ver también un poco de nuestra sala de estar - hay todavía pocos muebles.

Dinner at home, including the traditional Nicaraguan dish of gallo pinto (beans and rice).

Cena en la casa, que incluye la comida tipica gallo pinto (frijoles y arroz).

Us at the mirador overlooking the Laguna de Tiscapa.

Tim, Quinn, y Laura Jean en el mirador de la Laguna de Tiscapa.

The laguna has a canopy tour where you can ride along on a zip cord and look at the trees. It looked fun, but we didn't try it.

Hay un "canopy tour" donde se puede andar en "zip line" y mirar los árboles. Parecía divertido, pero no lo tratamos.

The laguna used to be the site of the former dictator Somoza's lavish mansion (and torture chambers). After the revolution they knocked it down and erected this giant statue of Sandino, who now overlooks the city.

La laguna estaba el lugar de la lujosa mansión del ex dictador Somoza (y cámaras de tortura). Después de la revolución, lo tiró al suelo y levantaron esta estatua gigante de Sandino, que ahora domina la ciudad.

A view of downtown Managua and Lago Xolotlán behind.
Una vista del centro de Managua y Lago Xolotlan detrás.