Friday, December 30, 2011

Texas delegation (July/August 2011)

When English speakers are learning Spanish, there are a lot of aspects of the language that can be confusing. One of these is the fact that Spanish uses two different words where English only uses "to know." We use the same word to say "I know how to do long division" or "I know that guy." Saber (know-how) refers more to knowledge of facts, whereas conocer has to do with familiarity.

We received a very special delegation at the end of July/ beginning of August. Of course, all the groups that visit are special to us, but we really enjoyed helping to host a group that was moving from *knowing about* (saber) La Misión Cristiana and our work with them to really *getting to know* first-hand (conocer) the reality of Nicaragua and the church itself.

University Christian Church in Fort Worth, TX began to learn about the work that Global Ministries supports in Nicaragua because they met us when we spent a weekend with them in May 2010 as part of our preparation for going overseas. When we applied to serve with Global Ministries, they were in the middle of an interesting and challenging process, where they wanted to send new missionaries but needed extra funds to be able to support them. So they were seeking candidates and funds at the same time for ten positions the board had identified as the top priorities around the world. We were the first applicants who found a good fit with one of these positions -- and UCC in Fort Worth was the first church that identified some income from their endowed funds that could support Global Ministries sending a missionary somewhere in the world.

So, shortly after UCC called Global Ministries to share that they were ready to give the funds, we got a call to come in for the interview. And not too long after that, La Misión got the call saying that, if they were willing, they would be receiving us as missionaries. La Misión voted to receive us at their annual General Assembly in March.

When we spent the training weekend in May with UCC, we found out about yet another connection. In 2006, a Disciples minister from Texas had visited Nicaragua, and seen the infamous dump, La Chureca, where families lived in the mounds of trash, eking an existence out of looking for food and things that could be sold. It was a dangerous, unsanitary place for kids and adults alike. She was really depressed about the situation. When she got back to the US, she found out about a project called "Out of the Dump/ Project Chacocente" that was helping move families to a place where they could start new lives, farming small plots of land and living in a community. The project has also opened a school and a lending library in that community, further enriching the lives of the community members.

Rev. Laurie told this story at a youth conference in Texas as an example of how God is working even in situations that seem hopeless. Katie, a young woman who is a member of UCC (and now a college student) was inspired to organize a trip to Nicaragua to work with Chacocente. So she, with the support of Cyndy Twedell (the pastor at UCC who works most with mission, and spent a lot of time with us during our visit there last year) and Pastor Laurie, planned a mission trip that took place just a a few weeks ago. They spent the first part of the week building a classroom at Project Chacocente. They wrapped up their time there by taking some of the families to the beach.

They spent about 3 days with us and La Misión, staying at Centro Emmanuel, the church's training/ hospitality/ conference center in Ticuantepe, a small town just south of Managua.
They met with Rev. Rolando Boniche, the president of the church, and learned from him about some of the history of the church and its current work.
They helped with building a new house for the caretaker at Centro Emmanuel, a somewhat overdue project. (The church administrator said it was only by the grace of God that the old house had stayed standing long enough to be torn down.)

The group also got to experience a bit of Nicaraguan countryside and culture, visiting the Volcan Masaya:

the Catarina mirador:

as well as the traditional craft market in Masaya.

The Sunday night of their visit, they worshipped at the First Christian Mission Church in the Acahualinca neighborhood (not far from La Chureca, one of the many poor neighborhoods in Managua where La Misión churches are found). That was a powerful experience of welcome and unity across cultures for both the congregation and the visiting group. The electricity went on and off throughout the service, but the energy stayed high throughout. (It was also my first time translating a sermon from Spanish into English!)

We enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the UCC congregation better -- they were a great group, very flexible, hard-working, and open to new experiences and perspectives -- and they had a lot of fun together. Most of all, it was exciting for us to facilitate their introduction to Nicaragua and La Misión Cristiana.

Quinn loved "our friends from Texas," probably helped by the fact that they brought her presents -- a sweet little stuffed horse and book about a cowgirl that became instant favorites, as well as lots of stickers. :)

It was nice for her to spend time with a large group of English speakers who were interested in talking to and playing with her.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So Who Won?

Following up on my earlier post, Nicaragua's national elections were held on November 6th. So who won?

The short answer is that Daniel Ortega and the FSLN won a resounding victory with 62% of the vote and 63 seats in the National Assembly.  Opposition candidate Fabio Gadea and the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) won 31% of the vote and 27 seats.  Former president Arnoldo Alemán wasn't really a factor, pulling only 6%.

The long answer very much depends on who you read or talk to.  Gadea has refused to recognize the results, explicitly saying that he won the vote and that Ortega committed a massive fraud.  Gadea's coalition mates, the breakaway Sandinista group MRS, have called Ortega a dictator and the opposition newspapers, such as La Prensa, have loudly denounced him.  However, a planned protest march fizzled.

The opposition points to a number of irregularities to make their case.  In some cases observers from the opposition parties and third-party groups were refused access to the polling places.  The election authorities have also not published precinct-by-precinct election results which would allow for a more comprehensive audit.  There were also accusations that the government was selectively delaying requests for new ID cards, which are required to vote.  (Update: More Ortega criticism here from Envio.)

Such irregularities, along with the experience of past elections, open the door to the idea that the incumbents were cooking the books.  The PLI is claiming that 450,000 to 500,000 votes were stolen although they haven't offered much in the way of proof to back their claims.  The good government group Ética y Transparencia published a statistical analysis claiming Ortega stole 150,000 votes -- a serious charge, but not one that would have reversed Ortega's 800,000 vote margin of victory.

In their defense, the Sandinistas point to a number of independent polls showing Ortega surging in the weeks before the election.  A series of CID-Gallup polls showed steadily increasing support for Ortega and a final poll by Nicaragua's most respected pollster gave Ortega 58%.  Sandinista supporters have also responded to the charges of irregularities in the election process.

I haven't dug deep enough to know how consequential these irregularities are, although my sense from the (unrepresentative sample of) people I've talked to is that, while there may have been some problems they didn't affect the outcome.  Ortega won the election, and he won by implementing popular programs and riding the crest of a growing economy.

Which is not to say that the problems with the electoral process aren't real and troubling.  Of the three official international observing teams (from the EU, the Organization of American States and the Latin American Council of Election Experts) both the EU and OAS reports detailed numerous structural and process problems with the elections.  But the words of the head of the EU observation mission seem to sum up the uncertainty fairly well: "as to whether or not Daniel Ortega won, he won. Beyond that I won’t say."

[PS -- If you're looking for English language reporting on Nicaragua you should check out the new Nicaragua Dispatch (which leans anti-Ortega) or the Nicaragua Network (which leans left).]

Monday, December 19, 2011

Catchy Christmas Carol

We may have mentioned before that life in Nicaragua can be rather, well, loud.  For example, the Catholic Church down the street practices a daily advent celebration that involves blasting Christmas carols over their loudspeakers.  At 3 or 4 in the morning.  For 30 to 40 minutes.  Accompanied by fireworks.  Every day until Christmas.

Now I am not at my best at 3 a.m. and, in the moment, I am not generally very appreciative of these full-volume, pre-dawn serenades.  Un-charitable thoughts have been known to flit through my sleep-fogged brain.  However, one of this morning's songs was so INSANELY catchy that I've been humming it constantly ever since.  Maybe the fact of hearing it while half-asleep helps to burn it deeper into your synapses?  Laura Jean helped me track it down this morning -- apparently it's a very popular children's carol about traveling to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus:
The lyrics can be found here.  Now the catchy song is in your head too -- you're welcome!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mission Moment

This Sunday the Global Ministries weekly prayer comes to Nicaragua and la Misión Cristiana.  You can read the mission moment on the website and below:

Pray for Nicaragua on Sunday, December 18, 2011

Prayers for Nicaragua: Luke 1:26–38

Our God of unexpected blessings and perplexing good news, we thank you for your servant Mary.  We thank you for her “yes” to your invitation to give birth to Jesus our Savior.  We pray that you would give us the courage to respond with a “yes” when you send us unexpected messengers and perplexing tasks.

We praise you for your wondrous ways, for calling a young woman from Nazareth to be the mother of Your Son.  We praise you for calling forth leaders for your church from all parts of the world and all walks of life.  We pray for the leaders you have called and are calling to lead the Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua.

You have called women and men, from the country and the cities, young and old.  All hunger to know more about you and your Word.  We pray for the church’s program of ministerial formation.  Guide the Department of Theology and the facilitators as they plan, travel, and teach.  Give the students patience, perseverance, and resources to continue.  Equip and empower these servants of yours to be a light to Nicaragua, and to the world.  Ever remind us that with you, nothing is impossible.  Amen.

Mission Stewardship Moment from Nicaragua:
Nicaragua is a country where formal educational opportunities rarely keep pace with people’s thirst for knowledge. Knowing this, La Misión Cristiana has long worked to provide first-rate theological training to their pastors and lay leadership.  So it was an exciting moment when in August of this year the church kicked off a two-year project in theological education.

The project began with nine churches in the capital of Managua.  Very quickly, the offering of a weekly two-hour theology class attracted more interested people than could be accommodated!  Relying on the expertise of several members who are current or former theology students at the Evangelical University of Nicaragua, the project organized five weekly classes, each one serving a pair of churches.  Before our daughter Maya was born, Laura Jean was teaching two of the five groups (with Tim’s assistance).  The first few topics included a history of Pentecostalism, the World of the Old Testament, and a seminar on the Church Confronting the Problem of Violence.

The project is now expanding into the other regions of Nicaragua.  In the rural regions, where churches are far-flung and transportation is difficult, the project has planned a series of meetings where the students and teachers gather together for 4-5 days of intensive study.  Last weekend, Laura Jean co-taught a four-day course for students from the seven churches in the Western region and the project will soon extend to the South, East and North as well.  Support from Global Ministries is critical in buying materials and paying for the transportation that bring people together to do this good work.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Doing It Right

We're back in Nicaragua after a great trip to the U.S. (more on which soon). As we get deeper into the projects that we work on with la Misión Cristiana, we've been thinking a little about what it is that we do and how we do it.  To give an example of what I mean, here's an interesting article by Charles Kenny titled "Haiti Doesn't Need Your Old T-Shirt" about the unintended consequences of (some) charity and development work.
Here's the trouble with dumping stuff we don't want on people in need: What they need is rarely the stuff we don't want. And even when they do need that kind of stuff, there are much better ways for them to get it than for a Western NGO to gather donations at a suburban warehouse, ship everything off to Africa or South America, and then try to distribute it to remote areas. World Vision, for example, spends 58 cents per shirt on shipping, warehousing, and distributing them, according to data reported by the blog Aid Watch -- well within the range of what a secondhand shirt costs in a developing country. Bringing in shirts from outside also hurts the local economy: Garth Frazer of the University of Toronto estimates that increased used-clothing imports accounted for about half of the decline in apparel industry employment in Africa between 1981 and 2000. Want to really help a Zambian? Give him a shirt made in Zambia.
Now, our work with Global Ministries doesn't involve t-shirts and is only partially about development work per se, but it's worth asking if we aren't making similar mistakes by emphasizing our priorities and interests instead of listening closer to our Nicaraguan friends.  I hope not, but it is always good to self-examine.

Of course, we all know about the bad old way of doing missions.  Missionary (and development) work used to be a offshoot of colonialism, the system of economic and military domination of poor countries by the rich ones that still echoes around the world today.  In support of empire, churches from the global north were encouraged to pick up the white man's burden, and in turn adopted an attitude of superiority towards their brothers and sisters across the globe.  But just knowing about the wrong way doesn't automatically make it easier do it right.

Global Ministries has adopted an explicitly anti-colonial way of doing overseas ministry and I think they have a really good model for how people and churches from the global north can build links with folks in the global south.  The Spanish word we use to describe the heart of our work is acompañamiento (accompaniment), which implies not leading and not following, but walking together and sharing the road and the struggles.

In a sense, the idea is to move beyond that old adage about teaching a woman to fish.  To mangle the metaphor, a step beyond "teaching" would be working with the fisherfolk to build a self-sustaining, local fishing school, all the while trying not to destroy the local fishing economy or the fishery ecosystem.

The way it works is that la Misión Cristiana sets the priorities, designs the projects (often with our input) and makes the decisions.  American churches can provide resources by giving to Global Ministries (who then passes that money through to various local partners around the world) and by going on people-to-people pilgrimages where groups can visit the local partners to learn and work together.  So far we have been lucky to have several groups visit Nicaragua and in 2012 la Misión will be hosting six (!) groups from the U.S. and one from Puerto Rico.  With so many great projects starting up and so many groups visiting, it should be a very exciting year!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rains and Floods

For more than a week now, all of Central America has been smacked by tropical storms dumping heavy rainfall and causing dangerous flooding in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  Where we are in Managua we haven't seen too many strong downpours but it does seem like it's been raining for days. This post from Global Voices rounds up a bunch of videos of raging rivers and flooded houses from all around Central America.

We've heard news from several Misión Cristiana churches outside of Managua who have seen serious flooding and other problems.  The past two weekends, we had planned to visit churches in San Juan de Limay and El Sauce, but both trips were canceled because washed out bridges and surging rivers made the roads impassable.  There have been some deaths reported, as well as many displaced families and a lot of damage.  Even more worrisome is the risk of families losing their fall bean harvest.

Nicaragua, of course, has a long history with extreme weather.  Hurricanes Mitch (1998) and Felix (2007) are still fresh in people's memory.  Mitch had an especially tragic impact, leading to 3,800 deaths in Nicaragua alone -- 2,000 from a enormous mudslide that basically buried several villages.  These rain storms are nowhere near as catastrophic, but it makes you think...  A recent study ranked Nicaragua 4th on the list of countries most at risk from climate change, mostly due to the risk of extreme weather events.

In Managua, the main danger is the rising level of Lake Xolotlán.  Much of the northwestern part of the country drains into the lake, so torrential downpours in faraway mountain towns end up doing double damage as rising waters flood the Managua neighborhoods along the lake's edge.  La Prensa has some video of the encroaching water in the Acahualinca neighborhood, where the First Church of la Misión Cristiana is located and does its work.  Last year, a similar rise in the level of the lake displaced hundreds of families, and some predict that this year may set a record for highest recorded lake level.

Disaster response has long been one of la Misión's ministries and folks are already talking about how the church should respond to the pastoral needs of its members and their communities, once the problems are known.  If the crop losses turn out to be bad, the food security project may need to be re-tooled and expanded.  But for now, we're waiting to hear news and keeping our umbrellas ready.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Streetcorner Lawyers

Since Maya was born, we've spent quite a few hours at various government agencies getting all her papers in order so that we can travel to the U.S. next week.  For example:
  1. We had to go to the Managua city government to get her Nicaraguan birth certificate.
  2. With that in hand, we went to the U.S. Embassy to apply for her U.S. passport and Consular Report of Birth Abroad.
  3. Following that we went to the Nica immigration office to apply for her Nica passport.
  4. And finally we returned today to apply for her exit visa, which is required for all children leaving the country (except tourists) as an anti-child trafficking measure.
Good times, good times!  Every time we go to the Nica immigration office there is always a big group of people at the gates shouting abogado! abogado! -- which is Spanish for "lawyer."  Until today we hadn't needed the services of these streetcorner lawyers, and had been kind of hoping to avoid such complications.  But for the exit visa we had to submit a lawyer-signed and notarized letter from Maya's parents (i.e. us) with the details about her trip out of the country.  So... across the street we went to a little sidewalk tent where a real live lawyer had set up shop with a copy machine and three old manual typewriters.
Ten minutes later we had our official document to submit in exchange for Maya's exit visa.  Just another little example of how things are done a little differently down here.  Bureaucracies, it seems, are kind of universal all around the world and the main difference we've seen here in Nicaragua is that you often have to go to 3 or 4 different buildings to collect all the various pieces of paper you need.  No one-stop shopping.  In such a situation, you can imagine suddenly feeling the need to have an abogado on your side.

When we return to Nicaragua we'll likely be spending more time in the immigration office as we apply for residency, but for now, we seem to have emerged unscathed with all the needed stamps and papers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thoughts on the November Elections

Next month, Nicaraguans will go to the polls for their national elections.  I thought I should write a little something about current Nica politics, although be warned that this is just one gringo's opinion and I am nowhere near an expert on this topic.  Like in the U.S., Nicaraguan politics is highly polarized, so I'm going to try to set the scene without prejudicing one side over the other.  And it's pretty complicated no matter how you slice it.  If I screw something up, let me know.

Today, as for the last 32 years, the central figure in Nicaraguan politics is President Daniel Ortega.  The former guerrilla leader led Nicaragua during the 1980s, along with a number of other Sandinista comandantes, before losing the 1990 elections to Violeta Chamorro.  After 16 years of neoliberal administrations, Ortega was again elected president in 2006.  His party, the FSLN or the Sandinista National Liberation Front, remains the largest single party in Nicaragua although they no longer have majority support.  Ortega was elected in 2006 with 38% of the vote, with the remainder split between a number of opposition candidates.  That victory resulted from a controversial pact with the opposition PLC (Constitutional Liberal Party), which lowered the threshold for avoiding a run-off from 45% to 35%.

My guess is that most Americans' views of Ortega anti-correlate with their views of his 1980s nemesis, Ronald Reagan. I'm going to leave discussion of the 1979 revolution, the Contra War and U.S. intervention for another post, but the Ortega of today is not really the same guy as he was back then.  The FSLN platform is still nominally socialist but it seems to have made its peace with private enterprise and has turned its focus to poverty reduction programs instead.  (For example, this article on Nicaragua's free trade zones.)  The FSLN has hopped on the micro-credit bandwagon, (a big about-face from their disastrous agriculture programs of the '80s) and even manages to play well with the U.S. on anti-drug trafficking initiatives.

Ortega has also made a show of reaching out to former enemies, including former Contra leaders.  His fiercest internal critic from the 1980s, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, is now a supporter.  (This may have something to do with Ortega's much publicized return to the Catholic Church.)  He's also changed his personal style.  No longer the mini-Fidel in army fatigues and giant glasses, he now appears clean-shaven and pink-shirted in all the re-election propaganda.  The campaign is relentlessly cheerful, talking about "love", "people power" and "the common good."  The main slogan is "Christian, Socialist, in Solidarity."  Their most popular bumper sticker is a play on Messi's iconic Barcelona jersey which can be seen plastered on the back of virtually every taxi and bus in Managua.  They also have a really catchy theme song and video.

The opposition case against Ortega is that he's corrupt and dragging the country into a dictatorship.  Ortega maintains close relationships with Castro, Qaddafi (until quite recently, I guess) and most especially Hugo Chavez, from whom Nicaragua receives millions in foreign aid.  For a defender of the poor, Ortega lives pretty high on the hog, a fact that has led to harsh criticism from former Sandinistas, many of whom bolted the party to form the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

What's more, the current constitution explicitly forbids the re-election of a sitting president, although the Ortega-appointed Supreme Court invalidated that section, clearing the way for his candidacy.  The 2008 municipal elections were also widely seen to have been stolen by the FSLN, leading to fears that this election will be as well.  This shows that even the fear of potential corruption can be corrupting, as Sandinista supporters will turn out to vote, but opposition supporters may not bother. The main daily newspaper, La Prensa, presses these arguments against Ortega daily.

Right now it seems likely that Ortega will win, perhaps with as much as 45% of the vote.  Part of this is that the numerous opposition parties were unable to coalesce around a single candidate.  One of those candidates is Arnoldo Alemán (PLC) -- himself a former president who was jailed for corruption and embezzlement and later freed (some estimate that he stole as much as $100 million from the government coffers).  Alemán retains some support but is seen as unelectable, which has led many to rally around Fabio Gadea (PLI) as the best option for beating Ortega.  But Alemán has refused calls to drop out and may end up taking enough of the liberal vote to sink Gadea's chances.

In a lot of ways, Ortega seems to have the wind at his back.  Nicaragua has avoided the drugs and violence that have plagued other Central American countries and has weathered the global recession better than most (although it is still a poor country, everything is relative).  And I've heard more than one die-hard opposition supporter actually praise his anti-poverty programs. But we shall see in November how it all plays out.

Friday, September 30, 2011

You Cannot Buy the Sun

This beautiful song and video -- "Latinoamérica" from the Puerto Rican band Calle 13 -- have been going round and round in my head for the past few days.  I love the different visual styles in the video, from the animation to the street murals to the scenes of everyday life in the diversity that is Latin America.  I haven't translated all of the verses, but the chorus says this:
You cannot buy the wind
You cannot buy the sun
You cannot buy the rain
You cannot buy the heat.

You cannot buy the clouds
You cannot buy the colors
You cannot buy my happiness
You cannot buy my pains.
The spoken intro confused me the first time I heard it.  I got a few words, but why was I not understanding this guy's accent?  Turns out he's speaking Quechua and I am a dope.  Anyway, hope you enjoy it! (via Spanish for Social Change.)

More Maya

Maya is now 2.5 weeks old and has been quite busy!

As Marty says, taking passport photos for infants is pretty easy, but there's still something a little absurd about it.  I mean the photo above will represent her until she's five years old!  So far we've been successful in getting her official birth certificate from the city government, and we went to the U.S. Embassy to apply for her U.S. passport (3 weeks processing time). 

Since she was born here, she's officially a dual Nica-U.S. citizen, and getting her Nica passport is on today's to-do list.  We're planning a "baby tour" to the states in November and it turns out that she'll need both for leaving and entering the country.
So far we've been amazed at how much Maya looks like newborn baby Quinn.  Here she posed with a picture of Quinn taken the day she was born.  Two peas!

Speaking of Quinn, she's totally excited to be the big sister.  She's adapting very well to the change and is constantly washing her hands so she can "hold the baby."  Her hands have never been so clean and Maya is getting lots and lots of good hugs.  Win win. 

Last weekend we put in a brief appearance at la Misión's annual Día de la Biblia celebration (see here for photos from last year).  Both Quinn and Maya got to wear their new dresses, although Maya basically slept through the whole thing.

We have been extremely lucky to have had family visiting us during this time.  Having a slew of people to play with Quinn and read her books has definitely helped with the transition.  Here's my sister Jessica holding her new niece.  Aunt Holly also came down to visit us for a few weeks, and although she had to go back before Maya arrived, she was super-helpful and we had a lot of fun.

Here's my Mom and Quinn hanging out with Maya and teaching her some new life skills.

My Dad, plus a yawning baby

Hanging out in the backyard

I love hugs!  Just recently, Maya has started exiting that initial "sleepy baby" phase.  Her eyes are open a lot more now and she's looking around and starting to make sense of the world.  She seems pretty excited for anyone to hold her, and has even made friends with a toy owl.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's a Girl!

We welcomed Maya Rowan into the world at 1:40 am on Monday, September 12th. She weighed 3600 grams (7 lb 15 oz) and measured 51 cm (20 inches) long. She came quickly -- we checked into the hospital after 10 pm, not really suspecting we would be holding our baby in fewer than 4 hours. Both Laura Jean and Maya are doing well.

Maya's middle name, Rowan, means "little red one," and she certainly started life out living up to that name. :)

Big Sister Quinn came to visit in the hospital. First family photo with Maya!

Heading home from the hospital Monday evening.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We're Having a Baby!

So, someone gently pointed out to me a few months ago that we haven't mentioned a word about the coming addition to our family on this blog. I'm not sure if this will be news for many of our faithful readers, but I am in the final weeks of what has been a fairly smooth pregnancy. The due date is September 8th, but of course babies come on their own schedules. Quinn arrived 8 days "late," and even then was induced.

We're planning to have the baby at the Hospital Metropolitano, just a few kilometers from our house. We've each been to the ER there once with illnesses that inevitably appear on the weekend. On our first visit, we were struck by how it's like walking into the United States -- it looks just like a nice hospital there. And the maternity wing looks a lot like the one at the hospital in Virginia where I gave birth to Quinn.

Quinn is quite excited about her new brother or sister (we're waiting to be surprised by the sex at the birth), and becoming a Big Sister. She's been a little stressed in the last month or so by the fact that I can't pick her up anymore. A couple nights ago, she said "I'm so excited you're going to be able to carry me soon!" She also likes to talk about what the baby will be like when it comes -- we got a huge stack of big-sister-themed books from my awesome cousin, and she has really enjoyed those. Also thanks to those books, she has determined that she prefers the word "womb" to "uterus." Can't say I disagree! :)

We're looking forward to meeting this new person. I'm doing fine, just large and sweating a little more than normal, but I'm starting to feel ready to not be pregnant anymore. We've just started this theology program in the churches, and I am hoping to get to teach about 5 classes (2 down!) before other people have to start covering for me, but I'm also aware that my preferences on the baby's arrival date don't really count for anything. ;)

The baby will be eligible for Nicaraguan as well as U.S. citizenship. Tim, Quinn, and I are still working on getting everything we need to get our Nicaraguan residency -- we got some bad information about a couple of the pieces of paperwork (and in general, a comprehensive list of what we actually need is sadly lacking). It's nice to know we won't have to go through all that again for the new kid.

My doctor tells us she expects the baby to come early rather than late, so we'll see. We've got family with us now and will have various members here for the next four weeks, so we're feeling ready. :) Stay tuned --we will be sure to post the news once our new baby arrives!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

San Juan del Sur

While we were in El Salvador, my cousin Jamie and his girlfriend Ariane came to Nicaragua for a vacation. They went to an ecolodge on one of the Isletas de Granada, tiny islands in Lake Nicaragua. When we came back, we all met up in San Juan del Sur, a beach town that I've been wanting to visit since we got here. Visits from family and friends always give us a nice chance to take advantage of some of the cool stuff we just don't get to otherwise.

Tim, Jamie and Ariane took surfing lessons

while Quinn and I collected shells, watched crabs, played in the waves, and tried not to get *too* much sun.

(That last effort wasn't really successful, despite hiding from the sun in the middle of the day.) We all got the chance to relax in hammocks and eat some good food as well.

For Quinn (and me!) one of the highlights was the pool at the place we stayed. It had a nice large shallow section that was just the right height for Quinn to stand with her neck and head out of the water. She bounced and danced around, delighting in all the things she could do in the water because, as she said, "I'm big now!" I just enjoyed the neutral buoyancy of the water. :)

Ariane had to go back on the Friday, but Jamie stayed with us through Monday, getting a little glimpse of our daily life in Managua, entertaining Quinn during a big planning meeting for the ministerial formation project, and even helping Tim teach English right before heading off to the airport! He also cooked really great meals for us and read Quinn a lot of books (future visitors, be inspired! ;) ).

El Salvador

Our friend Nick Green just finished his term as a Global Ministries missionary in El Salvador and is heading back to the States to start his studies at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. He wrote a lovely post about the "hermandad" that is developing between La Iglesia Misión Cristiana, the church we work with here in Nicaragua, and the Lutheran Church of El Salvador, the church he worked with there.

It was really fun for us to have a role in this developing relationship.  Last month, we went for a very quick visit -- driving to San Salvador on a Saturday, spending two full days getting to know some of the churches and their projects, as well as a bit of Salvadoran history, and then driving back to Managua on that Tuesday.

The highlights were:
Tim, Quinn, and I, along with Sonia and Claudina representing La Misión Cristiana, worshipped with the Ríos de Agua Viva (Rivers of Living Water) Lutheran Church in San Salvador. I was invited to preach (my second sermon in Spanish!)

...and Nick and I both assisted Pastor Vilma in communion.

The service was very different than La Misión worship services (no electric guitars) -- it had a liturgy that felt very similar to U.S. Lutheran churches I've been to. But the one thing that was just like many of the congregations here is that it was over half children and youth.

In the afternoon, we visited an agricultural project outside of the city.  The church and project there are both called Fe y Esperanza (Faith and Hope), and they're in the first year of a new initiative called La Mayordomía de la Creación (Stewardship of Creation).
A group of campesinos and church folks is working with an agronomist to learn techniques for growing food organically without chemicals.

We spent a lot of time learning about and looking at organic fertilizer,
which does involve a lot of cow poop!
They have some special mixtures for making organic fertilizer, and they sent us home with a couple bottles. I am very grateful the bottles did not open in the back of the car on the way home!!

It was exciting to see a motivated, informed group of people working together to educate themselves and grow lots of great food.

We were inspired for our own work with the Nicaraguan church's agricultural projects, and to give more thought to integrating our food security projects with the one Tim is developing on care for the environment.

We also visited the chapel where Oscar Romero was assassinated.

It was a powerful experience for me -- I have wanted to visit El Salvador ever since I took a class on liberation theology in college.

My professor had been a journalist in El Salvador during the civil war, and I found Oscar Romero and the liberation theology movement very inspiring.

The church also runs a house called Casa Esperanza, where they support people in a variety of ways. Every day, they provide lunch for people who live on the street -- a scene that was remarkably similar to soup kitchens and lunch programs we've visited or volunteered at in the States. We met the small group of single mothers who cook for the lunch program and are housed there. We visited the tiny medical clinic and very nice classrooms where they hold their after-school programs. Quinn and I really liked the wooden toys and the books in the room for the smallest kids. The church also trains young people in the traditional painting style and we got to see some Salvadoran artesania being made.

We, Global Ministries missionaries and representatives of La Misión, were received with warm hospitality by the Lutheran church.  We look forward to more opportunities for developing this friendship between two churches that have been long-standing Global Ministries partners meeting critical needs in their respective countries.

Quinn was a trooper on the loooong car ride.  She memorized two of her picture books on the way (after having them read to her what seemed like a dozen times). She also enjoyed our time in El Salvador, especially seeing her buddy Nick again, staying at the "hotel" (the Casa Concordia guesthouse) and making friends with Alma, who manages the guesthouse.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Soy Migrante

I wanted to share this video by the Nicaraguan singer Moisés Gadea.  It's a song about migrant workers and the video has some nice shots of day-to-day Nicaraguan life.  (Via Josh Berman.)  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Down on the Finca

For a few years now, la Misión Cristiana has been developing a farm it owns in the northern region of Nicaragua, near a community called Kusulí.  The grand plan is to transform the farm into a small dairy operation that will provide jobs, food and some cash inflow, both for the church and local families.  But it has been a slow process.

This March a small work group from the Southern Idaho region of the Disciples of Christ visited to help la Misión advance a little further toward that goal.  I've already blogged about an earlier preparatory trip with Santiago (a.k.a. Jim Piper) and Nick Green to visit the farm -- this time they came back with reinforcements: David, Michael and Marisol (visiting with Nick from the Lutheran Church of El Salvador) -- along with Sonia, Ruth, Anita, Edgar, Hector and Doña Pilar representing la Misión.

We headed out to the farm for a solid week of work and ended up having a fun time.  Our task was to tear down the old, existing milking barn and build a bigger and better one in its place.  With the help of two expert carpenters (both local church members) we managed to raise the roof on the milking barn, although the concrete floor, the cistern and the water line from the local spring were completed after we headed home.  In its current state, all the farm needs now are the cows!

As I mentioned before, the northern region of Nicaragua is extraordinarily beautiful and very hard to get to.  However, between the time of our previous trip and this one, electricity had very nearly come to the farm (thanks to a local hydroelectric project).  The road was now lined with street lights and although it hadn't been turned on yet, there was a cable connecting the farm house to the grid.  It was kind of cool to see the actual march of progress.  Anyway, here are some photos.

The hill behind the farm affords a spectacular view of the northlands.

We got to ride around on top of trucks!  Here's Ruth, Marisol, Nick and some local kids helping transport sand and rocks.

"Emerald green like none I have seen, apart from dreams ... that escape me..."

The forest mists in the morning, while we dry our clothes in the sun.

Our fearless leaders!

The local chainsaw maestro was hired to create a feeding trough directly from a tree trunk.

Michael and others shifting a ton of river rocks (which will later make up the foundation of the dairy floor)

Santiago returning from a visit to the other part of the church's property.

Mixing cement.

The two carpenters did amazing work and all without most of the tools we would have on hand in the states.  Here he is carving a joint in the wood ... with a machete! Totally hardcore.

Revdo. Orlando in front of the (mostly) finished dairy roof.