Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day -33: The Full Circle of Partnership

The book of Ephesians 4:1-17 describes the church's call to unity this way:
"Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love."
This passage was part of a bible study that we led recently with some of our colleagues here at the Inter-Church Center for Theological and Social Studies (CIEETS). The passage led us into a rich dialogue of reflection on what the "ligaments" are that join and knit together the various programs of CIEETS, and has led us to reflect on what those "ligaments" might be that bind U.S. churches to those here in Nicaragua.

Thanks to the work of CIEETS, dozens of rural Nicaragua's most impoverished communities now have access to clean water, improved sanitation, a more reliable food supply, better nutrition, and organic farming methods that help conserve the soil and protect the environment. Thanks to CIEETS, thousands of women and men are reading the Bible together, learning about the importance of social issues for the church, and awakening to the power of women doing theology (who have for so long had theology "done to" them). Thanks to CIEETS, many Nicaraguan Protestant churches have trained pastors and leaders committed to improving life for their communities and their country.

CIEETS organizes its work in two areas: the theological faculty (FEET) and the area for sustainable development and the environment (AMAD). At first glance, these might seem like wildly different areas of focus, but on closer inspection the overlap offers much fertile ground.  In last week's meeting, agronomists and theologians alike described their shared vision of and commitment to social justice that is integrated with Christian faith.

We were invited to facilitate this dialogue to help discover ways the two branches can work together to strengthen the entire institution.  We were asked to facilitate primarily because my work is in theological education and Tim's is in sustainable development and environmental education.  Last year we co-taught a class on Ecology and Theology (in the FEET), and in that course we took the undergraduate theology students to visit one of the AMAD projects, a concrete example of development projects that care for the environment and for people.

Before we closed, they had created a list of 8 concrete things they can do to help each other and learn from each other, starting next month and into the future.  This kind of work is more gritty than glamorous, but it is important for the optimal functioning of the whole.

The Ephesians passage, and the focus on organizational unity took me back to the first Bible study I was ever asked to lead in Nicaragua, in the fall of 2010, in El Sauce, in the Western region.  In preparation for the Christian Mission Church elections in March 2011, our friend Carlos was giving trainings in the rural regions to pastors and delegates on the church by-laws, focusing on the requirements laid out for elected leaders.  I prepared a brief reflection and questions for discussion on the same passage from Ephesians, focusing on the by-laws as the "ligaments" that hold the congregations and the national church together.

What I remember most about that visit was the feeling of fumbling.  I was still learning Spanish, and put hours into writing 4 or 5 questions that I hoped would be intelligible.  Speaking was hard, and trying to understand rural dialects for the first time even harder.  I fumbled as I took Quinn (age 3) to the latrine at night with a flashlight.  Neither the child nor the flashlight fell in, but it was not pretty. And Carlos laughed (not unkindly) as he read one of the questions I had written, which betrayed my total ignorance of a lively internal debate about the nature of spiritual gifts.

Despite that fumbling, we were welcomed with love from the beginning, and have learned so much from La Misión Cristiana and CIEETS.  As we come to the end of our time in Nicaragua, and prepare to travel to U.S. churches sharing stories of our time here, I realize that the work of Global Ministries is also a powerful "ligament" in the body of the global church. Our presence here is a powerful reminder to our Nicaraguan partners that the UCC and Disciples value and support their work. Our presence in North American congregations will share the good news of what other parts of "the body" are doing in other parts of the world.  In my mind, it "completes the circle," of being in relationship across borders.

PS - Over a decade ago, a teaching pastor and mentor of mine gave me a volume of The Gospel in Solentiname, and those dialogues by campesinos on a remote archipelago about the gospel readings were my first introduction to Nicaragua. They were compiled by Ernesto Cardenal, a priest and leader in the liberation theology movement and the Nicaraguan revolution.  We made the pilgrimage to Solentiname last weekend, and it is lovely to see how it has been developed as a tourist destination enough to generate income for the community, while still preserving the lush natural environment.  Another circle completed!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Day -36: More faces

Laura Jean and Pastora Celia Manzanares, during our recent trip to the Northern Regional Assembly. Celia is currently pastor of the Eighth Church in La Colonia, although she and her husband may soon be moved to another church in the 3-year rotation that comes after every national assembly. La Colonia was the church that hosted the theological classes for that region so we got to know Celia and her family really well during our visits. In particular Quinn and her grandson, Cristian, are thick as thieves. Her she is showing off her diploma for completing the 2-year course on ministerial formation.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day -39: Quincho

Tonight we're crossing another thing off our fun list! We're going to see Carlos Mejía Godoy perform! You can think of Godoy as the Bob Dylan of Nicaragua, author of a distinctive style of music, the bard of the 1979 revolution and still a hard-working performer at age 70. He usually plays a few times a week but we've never gotten around to seeing him live. The song below is "Quincho Barrilete" an ode to the indomitable youth of Nicaragua, and a song that I will for the rest of my life associate with our boss, Felix Ortiz. He knows why.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day -40: La Musica

Last month we went to Rosa Grande for one of La Misión Cristiana's regional assemblies. Most nights after dinner a bunch of the more musically-inclined pastors would sit around and play. It was a real treat to listen to. I've been blogging a bit about the music that is used in the worship services, but those songs are mostly from Managua churches. In the campo it's an entirely different musical culture and a different set of shared songs. Here they are planning an accordion plus several variants of guitar (the big bass guitar is called a guitarón). The video is a bit dark, but the sound comes through nicely.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day -41: Bucket Lists

Laura Jean tells me that I am not allowed to use the term "bucket list" to describe the long list of things we want to do before we leave the country because that list is for things to do before you kick the bucket. And she's right that finishing up our time in Nicaragua is not remotely like dying. For one thing, we know the exact date: 41 days from today. However, a good friend did once tell me that "leaving Nicaragua is a little like grieving" and that seems about right.

It feels like we are marching through a long list of last things. Every time we visit a church or a community we are conscious that we probably won't be back soon (I won't say never) and that we are saying goodbye to friends and places. In January we attended regional assemblies in San Juan de Limay and Rosa Grande, and those may well be our last big multi-day trips to el campo, which has been such a part of our work rhythm here. More frantically, those remaining 41 days are already filled up with meetings and finalizing projects and a long list of "must dos" that seems to accelerate as we get closer to the date.

This weekend we took a few days to cross something off our "fun list" and visited the Islands of Solentiname, an archipelago of some 30 islands located in the far south of Lake Nicaragua where it drains out into the Río San Juan. The islands have an incredible cultural history: in the 1960s father Ernesto Cardenal helped organize a community there around the principles of liberation theology, and also fostered a remarkable renaissance of painters and artesans who still live and work there. The remoteness of the islands has also preserved its remarkable biodiversity. The only power on the islands comes from solar panels and there are birds everywhere. It was a great trip, although too short, as everything seems to be these days. (Pics hopefully coming soon.)

Thing I Will Miss About Nicaragua: the natural beauty of the country is remarkable and you don't have to go far outside of Managua to find it. Of course there are beautiful things everywhere you go, but I will miss the tropical forests, the surging greenery everywhere you look, the birds, even the bugs (I guess).