Archive for January, 2015

Library Lessons

January 21, 2015

I started a new job just after Christmas, a second job to supplement my job at Community of Faith, so I am now officially a tentmaker. The wisdom of church thinkers tells us that this is a new direction for churches to go in, to move away from full time clergy, especially in smaller or more rural churches. It can help a church’s bottom line to not be paying a pastor a full time salary; and it can be helpful to the pastor as well, because it forces him or her to keep very good boundaries between the church and the rest of life. And if you’ve ever worked as a part-time pastor you know there really isn’t such a thing, especially if you’re not good at keeping boundaries, and many pastors who are paid a part-time salary end up working around the clock anyway. However, juggling the hours I work at my “other job” with the duties I am entrusted with at the church is already proving to be tricky; but so far the COF leadership has been understanding, and I am hopeful that as time goes along things will settle into place.

My second job is at a local library in the community next door to Covington, a small town called Newport. Working at the library has always been a dream of mine, mainly because I love books and I love to read and I love libraries. I started going to the library as a young child and had my own library card as soon as I was old enough; and I loved the library in my home town because it was one of those big marble buildings with card catalogues running up the middle of it. To get to the juvenile section you had to take an elevator which opened on both sides– something I had never seen before– and it was part of the whole library experience for me. Even today when I imagine a library from a scene in a book, that is the library I imagine.

Libraries of today are something more than they were when I was a child, though. The libraries I’ve been involved with, both here and in Knoxville, are more like community centers than they used to be. The Newport Library (and all of the area libraries, as far as I know) is about more than just books, although we have plenty of those. The Newport Library also has craft classes, story time for children, a children’s area with toys and coloring pages and special reading nook, and a program for teens that includes a book club, after school time, and lock-ins; there are computers that anyone can come in and use, for free, all day long if they want to and we’re not that busy. All types of people come to the library, too, and we don’t turn anyone away (unless they give us a problem.) We welcome all people who come through our doors and do the best we can to treat each person with the same friendly manner. It’s a welcoming place, obviously a place where people want to come, a place where people fee welcome and at home.

I find this striking because of the contrast with most churches today. Most churches aren’t centers of the community anymore and we have to work very hard to find ways to be relevant in people’s lives. 50 or 60 years ago the thinking was “if you build it they will come,” and they did come, for many years. But that isn’t working for us any more, and while the reasons are complex the contrast with the library is telling.

So what can we learn from our library neighbors?

For one thing, the library is open more than one hour per week. The library has regular hours when it is open, when patrons can come and get books or use the computer or whatever they need to do there, and multiple staff people on hand to help patrons when they need help. Churches, on the other hand, are rarely open unless there is an event for the members of the church; occasionally it will be open for “outsiders” but often only to fundraise or “to get people interested in us” or for a scheduled event. Most churches, while they may be staffed during week days, keep their doors locked, afraid of danger to the building and staff if strangers were to wander in.

And what would churches have to offer people who might wander in? Libraries have books to check out, computers to use, craft classes, story time and youth activities. They have basic office equipment such as fax machines and copiers and charge a minimal fee for their services. They have clean, modern meeting spaces that are easily accessible and easy to reserve. Churches have… big open rooms designed for a special purpose (worship.) Maybe a room where children could play– if the building were open. Office equipment that is protected and usually outdated, Wi-Fi that isn’t reliable. Special furnishings that are uncomfortable to sit on and are also protected and revered.

The library feels like a place of abundance.  The library has funding of course, from taxes, but must fight for that funding each year as budgets are cut and funds are diverted to other projects; and yet, the library finds a way to make its programs happen. The church often feels like a place of scarcity, fearful of spending, fearful of trying anything new, fearful of failure. Is this how God wants us to present ourselves to the world?

Libraries are often bustling with activity because they’ve identified their purpose in the community and they are focused on following through on it. Churches can take a lesson from this by finding a purpose that opens them to the community and the abundant life that God intends for God’s people.

Guest blogger, Justin Sundberg, Mission Co-Worker in Nicaragua

January 15, 2015

During the week I spent in Nicaragua I had the great pleasure of meeting Justin Sundberg, who along with his wife Rev. Renee Sundberg is a mission co-worker for CEPAD in Nicaragua. CEPAD (Council of Evangelical Churches of Nicaragua) is an organization that “works to improve the lives of impoverished communities by promoting justice and peace.”  (https://www.presbyteriansundberg_couple1_medium250mission.org/ministries/missionconnections/sundberg-justin-and-renee) Today I am sharing, with his permission, a blog he shared with the Equal Exchange Delegation that I was a part of last week. You can also find out more about Justin and Renee’s ministry at the above link.

Nica pic sundberg family sundberg children

DECEMBER 2014 – QUAKES (OF EARTH AND HEARTS)                                                    

“[I have spoken] foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock”  (Matthew 7:24-25).

Huge laminate pieces of our roof pried loose and rattled our house.  “There goes last month’s roof repair!” I thought.  “Or maybe a tree limb,” I continued thinking, “fell on our roof and is sliding destructively downward.”  My exhausted brain could not comprehend the noise that woke two of our sleeping children.  But nothing fell from above.  Instead, from below, a 7.4 earthquake rocked our home for nearly a minute.  It spared our lives.  And belongings.  In fact, its only impact was the racing of my imagination as the metal and mortar that held our house in place bounced and jostled our floors and doors.

But another sort of earthquake struck me much more powerfully exactly two weeks later.   It emanated from Catalina, a determined young woman. She had been just a few feet away from me when she spoke with radiant hope for her community and her words registered 8.0 on my heart’s Richter scale.

How did this slight but steely 17-year-old shake me up so much?  She stirred me to think about the passion and love Jesus has for us, and how the God who loves me, who keenly loves us all, sees possibility in each of us, and who relentlessly, though gently, pursues us.  Catalina incarnates this for her community.  And for me.

Catalina lives in a country where instability is not just seismic.  Poverty keeps Catalina and the people of her community dwelling in instability.  Her schooling finished in the 6th grade.  To get this far she had been very fortunate.  Going to secondary school, however, was impossible.  Her two options were over two hours away, one via a dangerous road and the other an expensive journey beyond her reach.  But rather than bemoan her loss of opportunity, with humble determination she described a new future she longs to create for her younger friends and family, one where secondary school is a viable option.

Catalina signed up to be a community volunteer and leader who will soon begin training with the Council of Protestant Churches (CEPAD).  CEPAD is our host development organization and is a relentless pursuer and partner of people in need.  In January we embark on a five-year partnership and development cycle with over 40 new communities, filled with people like Catalina, throughout Nicaragua.

Thank you for entrusting us to facilitate relationships between churches and universities in the United States with communities like Catalina’s throughout rural Nicaragua.  Thank you for your regular financial support, for praying for us, for corresponding with us.  We have been inspired by you and find strength in you and we count on your continued friendship and support. 

You are vital and vibrant partners in our work with CEPAD, a humble yet very faithful and effective group of impassioned Nicaraguans committed to small-scale and sustainable change.  We invite you to come to Nicaragua and glimpse CEPAD in action.  Or if a deeper, “hands on and we’re in it together” relationship with CEPAD or one of its beneficiary communities interests you, let’s plan an initial scouting trip of your own with whatever U.S. community is important to you (family, church, business, university).

Let me continue Catalina’s story because she surely will send aftershocks of energy and vision to her community in 2015 and beyond. As I mentioned, Catalina, along with one other youth from Santa Josefina, Nicaragua, a village of 203 people, will soon begin to receive CEPAD’s specialized training.  This training will inform and shape the counsel and support they yearn to give their fellow youth.  They will gain concrete skills to address addictive or abusive behaviors and the effects inflicted on them.  With a skilled friend like Catalina, troubled youth will find freedom to dream like Catalina dreams.  It was clear as we listened to Catalina that she is ready to snatch every opportunity to help ensure that education and other childhood needs are in place for her community.

I want to extract the juice out of CEPAD,” Catalina said.  Another way to render her inspiring statement,“quiero sacar el jugo,” would be, “I want to squeeze every drop [out of this training opportunity].”  She hungers to better the lot of younger community members.

And her appetite for repainting the landscape of the lives of her community members gave me hunger, too.  Hunger to dive more into my work of accompanying all who want to learn about Nicaragua and to learn from her peoples.

Life often rockets us from one challenging moment to another.  Resignation tempts us in the face of life’s unrelenting hurdles.   And to give up in the wake of hardship is often our habitual response.

But not for Catalina.  She has her neighbors and friends in mind.  And she especially has the children of her village blazoned on her heart.

Hope is nimble.  And hope persists even under the most trying of life circumstances.  Catalina reminds me of this.   As do many of you reading this letter.  Your lives and friendship have inspired us.  And some of you, whom we’re just getting to know, have been a friend to CEPAD or one of the communities it has served for a long time now.  Thank you.  And Merry Christmas.

May you know gentle tremors of wonder, courage and hope this season.  And may Catalina’s “squeezing the juice” conviction stir hope in you.  We look forward to your continued partnership on this journey.

Renée and Justin

Nicaragua, Day 2

January 4, 2015

Today was a long and busy day, full of new sights, sounds and smells.

First of all, today we ate all of our meals here at Nehemiah house. The food was quite good, nothing exotic; breakfast was eggs scrambled with ham, rice and beans, today and fruit. The pineapple was the best I’ve had, sweeter and more delicate flavored that what we get in the states. The banana was good, too, nice and sweet and very flavorful. Lunch and dinner were similar- some sort of rice and maybe beans, a meat, veggies and salad.

Our day started with a visit to a local protestant worship service. I really enjoyed it, though it was very different than what I’m used to. It was similar to the contemporary services I’ve been to, beginning with lots of music and praise songs, moving from shooter songs to highly energetic ones. The energy of the worshippers was very high by the conclusion of that part of the service, and people were ready for the message. The speaker gave a sermon about setting goals for yourself in the new year and trusting that God will help you to achieve them. At the end was an altar call, and a good portion of the congregation went forward. Then the service was over, and everyone left Pitt quickly. It was wonderful yt? To see the emotionon everyone’s faces and feel the spirit moving among us all. At on point an older woman can over to me, laid hands on me and prayed. I don’t know what the prayer was but it was totally spontaneous and felt very loving, and I was very touched by her action.

After our return to the compound we had a lecture from a  history professor, sc ex-pat named Aynn. Ann has lived in Nicaragua for about 30 years and has witnessed the political and social upheavals that have happened during that time. Her talk was very interesting and enlightening and have a perspective current that what you might hear elsewhere. To a great extent history is percieved differently depending on the culture that is doing the remembering.

After lunch e had some down time, and then did some sightseeing. Oine of the most profound moments for me was when e visited the remains of the president’ s mansion.on a lower portico on the back of the house was an exhibit about one of the heroes of Nicaraguan history, a man called Sandina. The guide explained to us about the exhibit, and suddenly some of the history lesson from yesterdsy came alive.

We then went to a park along Lake Nicaragua, which is at this point a dead lake. They are working t to clean it up but it will be a long process. It was fun to be mingling with local people, setting them together as couples and families and friends. They was also a model of Managua showing how it like ed before the 1972 earthquake which devastated the country. We finished out the day by going to a plaza in town ever they old cathedral was; the cathedral and the plaza were still decorated with Christmas lights, and the main street of town was lined with nativity scenes. More about that later.

Tomorrow we go to the fund a, the coffee co-open in the country whet we will stay in homes for a couple of days. I won’t be able to write until we get back, but did have lots to share by then. So until then, Dios la bondego, God be with you.

Fair Trade?

January 3, 2015

This week I’m visiting Nicaragua as part of a Fair Trade/ Equal Exchange delegation. Our purpose is to learn more about the Fair Trade/Equal Exchange program, as well as experience a culture different than our own.

I”ve spent today getting here and trying to get acclimated, in more ways than one. The travel wasn’t too bad, even though it’s not as easy and fun as it once was (so I hear); but I love it because I never cease to be amazed at the miracle of flight. To be above the clouds, to see our world from a new perspective, and then just to imagine that this huge machine can overcome gravity enough to become airborne, to me it is truly amazing.

I have already been reminded how lucky but spoiled I am as a middle class American. The cab that picked me up was a stereotypical example of what you’d expect–wired together in places, wrenches in place of window rollers, a backdoor that had to be opened from the outside. But the driver was very nice, and even though neither of us spoke the other’s language it was fine. Weaving in and out of traffic, lots of honking, I was in good hands!

And then there is the heat. And even though it’s dry–they’re in drought conditions in this part of the country–the humidity was intense. And very little air conditioning. Even with the breeze it seemed incredibly hot to me. And I’m told that December and January are the coolest months! Believe it or bot, I’m already missing that chilly northern KY winter. 😉

There has been a lot of discussion on the internet and other places about what it means to be privileged. I’m the first to admit that I have privileges in my own country that others don’t have by virtue of my race and background. I grew up in a stable family, one that valued education for girls as well as boys, and created for me a solid background that has enabled me to do and become, for the most part, what I dreamed of doing and being.

And so it’s with some trepidation that I’m here, not because I’m afraid of what I might see our how I might be changed, but because my privilege is allowing me to be here, to peek into the lives of strangers. I will put them out, I will use their resources and in a very real way my learning will come at their expense, especially when we stay with a family in the country. But my hope is to bring something of myself to the table, if only friendship and peace. To make as fair a trade as possible between my world and this one.