Archive for February, 2015

Nicaragua Adventures, Part 2

February 25, 2015

Yesterday three members of Community of Faith PC, plus about 4 members of the Madisonville (KY) Disciples of Christ Church left Kentucky headed for Nicaragua. COF has been involved with ministry projects in Nicaragua for about 15 years and the Madisonville church has partnered with us for many of those years. This year they have taken donations from COF and the Madisonville church which will be divided amongst a sewing cooperative, a theological school, and will fund 2 water projects and partially fund a third. The group will be working on the water projects through CEPAD (Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua) and visiting with their Nica contacts. Please keep our travelers in your prayers as they spend this time away from home, serving others who are in need.

Because of their travels, I thought I’d share a little bit more about my Nica trip. In my last trip blog I wrote about our first day in the country– going to church, hearing some Nica history, and seeing parts of Managua. Today I want to tell you about our visit toDSCN3105 the coffee coop just north DSCN3112of Dipilto, a community called Las Manos (the hands). Very close to the Honduran border, Las Manos is a small community of coffee growers nestled in the mountainous area of Nicaragua. Our trip began on Monday morning with the loading of our sleeping mats to the top of the bus we would take on our trip. As we set out we were all excited to see an Equal Exchange coffee producer on the way and then meet the folks who would host our homestays.  

Our first stop was a gas station at Sebaco, to stretch our legs and get snacks. There were lots of people selling things, that day mostly hand-made hammocks, which a few of my trip mates purchased. We also sampled a local snack called “cuajada”, a type of cheese often served with tortillas, honey and nuts. It had a mild, salty flavor and was quite tasty. Our next stop was at the Prodecoop hotel at Esteli. Prodecoop is the secondary coop that Equal Exchange buys its coffee from in Nicaragua. As we drove up we could see fields of cofDSCN3134fee seeds drying in the sun, and women and men raking them around to help them dry. At the hotel we had a nice meal and spent some time learning about Prodecoop and its partner coop farms. It was quite hot, which makes it a great climate for processing coffee seeds.

At the end of the day we arrived at Las Manos, the coffee finca we were to visit. It was cool and had been raining, but it felt good to be out of the muggy Managuan air. We met with some of the leaders of the coop and the families we were to stay with, at the school that they are able to provide for their DSCN3159children because of the coop’s success. The people were friendly and welcomed us warmly and seemed glad to see us and be able to share their stories with us. Groups of us stayed in different homes, each belonging to a member of the coop. I wondered how we were perceived– did they feel we were invading their space? If they did, they certainly didn’t show it– even when we fumbled to communicate with each other, even when we sat at their table and ate their food– which was delicious, by the way (or que rico, as our translator Katherine told us they say in Nicaragua!)

In the morning we went to pick coffee. Picking coffee berries (not beans, as we usually say) isn’t difficult, but is very labor intensive, as the coffee is picked by hand in order to get only the ripest berries and avoid damaging the trees. We were given baskets to wear around our waists, like the DSCN3215regular pickers do, and off we went. The terrain was

DSCN3206 steep as we walked to our picking spot and even steeper as we went up to find trees to pick from. Green berries are not at all ripe, and neither are bright red berries– only the darkest red are ready to be picked.

The coffee finca Las Manos, being a Fair Trade associate, uses sustainable and organic methods to manage the landscape and the soil, and in growing the coffee trees. The use chemicals as little as possible in the growth process, and surround the trees with other native plants for protection and shade. The coffee farmers in the area have also developed a terracing system of the steep terrain that follows the contours of the land, rather than flattening it out. They

DSCN3171are, however, facing a disease called roya, or rust– a disease that withers the leaves of the trees with a red fungus and keeps them from growing and producing berries. Roya used to be found only in the lower elevations of plantings, but the elevation at which the rojo is invading is rising. This seriously affects the small farmers that practice organic farming because they can’t use the chemicals to fight the rojo. However, there are some new organic methods being developed that will hopefully help the farmers.

Another difficulty they are facing, along with other coffee growers, is climate change. In Nicaragua, climate change is causing the growing season of coffee berries to change, because the rainy season has shifted. For generations coffee growing season has been May- October, and picking season has  been from November until January. As we have done in the US, they have structured their school schedules around picking season; now picking season really doesn’t begin until late December or early January. Where past Equal Exchange visits have happened at the end of picking season  (beginning of January), and most of the trees had been picked (except for a few for the visitors to pick), this year when we were there most of the trees were full of green berries. Picking season this year was a good two months behind. this throws off getting it to market and can effect the price they are able to get for their  coffee.

There is more for me  to share, so stay tuned!

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What is the Heart of Our Church?

February 21, 2015

Last Sunday we at Community of Faith had a worship service that included answering some questions that will hopefully lead us forward into finding our purpose in this decade of the 21st century. This worship/ discussion was the idea of myself, the adult Sunday school class, and the session. I decided to combine the discussion with the worship service because I wanted our discussions to be grounded in our worship of God and Jesus Christ, and so that we could feel the work of the Holy Spirit among us through prayer and song as we moved along.

It was a cold Sunday, though not as cold as I had feared; and we had a crowd of about 35 or 40 people come for this event. Including a covered dish lunch helped matters, I’m sure!  Woven into our usual call to worship and prayer of confession were presentations by Jim Berry and Bill Lindsay, who as members of the Adult Sunday school class were able to give some background as to what we were doing. The adult Sunday school class has been doing a study called “1001 Worshiping Communities”– a study designed to help churches think outside their walls and their usual ways of being church, meeting Jesus Christ in Word and sacrament in ways that strengthen the body of Christ in healthy ways. The class has also been stepping outside of the class for some experience in the larger community: we’ve helped at the Health Fair for an urban Cincinnati church’s summer youth program; we’ve visited and worshiped with Common Ground, the protestant collegiate ministry on the Xavier University campus; and we’ve helped Union Presbyterian several times at the Cornerstone Project in Covington, helping serve a meal to homeless and working poor.

I also presented some thoughts about what it means to seek our purpose as a congregation– to find that thing that we are here for, that thing that gives us hope and life, our call to ministry as a congregation. Theologian Frederick Beuchner says “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  And if you haven’t read any Beuchner, I highly recommend his writing. He has a deep understanding of life and a wit to match.)

Instead of a sermon, we had three questions to answer, with three time slots in which to answer them. I have compiled the information into a list as follows:

Answers to Heart of the Church Discussion Questions

  • Q 1. What are our strengths as a congregation in the 21st century?
  • Technologically oriented for an older congregation
  • Inviting, willing greeters/ Accepting, “open”
  • Consistent attenders
  • Pastor
  • Loyalty of leadership
  • Social meetings
  • Open to new ideas
  • Idea generation (come up with ideas then hand them off)
  • Music and worship- more contemporary
  • Lot of mission work (3)
  • Well connected with presbytery
  • Similar age/ wisdom/ experience
  • Good cooks
  • Mechanical ability—Bicycle shop
  • Educated (2)
  • Musicians, musically talented (2)
  • There is a desire to do something beyond our walls
  • Respond well when a need is expressed/ caring support
  • Ability/ Willingness to work together to overcome obstacles
  • General Friendliness/ welcoming

Q 2  What breaks your heart in our community?

  • Poverty, homelessness (3)
  • Heroin epidemic/ drugs (5)/ bouncing in and out of rehab
  • Unchurched/ people not going to church
  • Violence (2)
  • Racial tension (2)
  • Lonely old people
  • Lack of compassion
  • Lack of ecumenism (2)
  • Broken families
  • Kids have little hope, general hopelessness
  • Child abuse (2) (and adult)
  • Animal abuse
  • Lack of food and clothes
  • Waste of resources (2)
  • Difference between those who are really in need and those who scam the system
  • Q  3 How do we connect our strengths to the needs of the community
  • Invite others to church
  • Start programs for families
  • Find a way to take music/ worship outside (2)
  • Visit nursing homes, etc.
  • Warm place for the day?
  • Planning and communication
  • Use of resources
  • Budgeting priorities (maintaining size of building)
  • Access the neighborhood needs/ hook up and ask agencies what they need (2)
  • Bring folks from Fairhaven/ cold shelter to our building for food and warm place until they can go back
  • Connect with Boys/ Girls club—how can we support
  • VBS (2)
  • More interfaith projects
  • City Heights—provide a place to play
  • Exploit relationship with museum
  • Be more active with cornerstone project

This is just a raw list of answers, but I hope they can help us in our discernment process, as we explore our purpose as a church in the 21st century.

So what are our next steps? Probably more questions, to help narrow down a purpose; it is neither too broad nor too narrow, but is clear and actionable. For example, if our purpose at COF was “to ensure, in the name of Jesus Christ, that sick people in our community and in the world have access to health care, comfort, and support” (just an example, not a suggestion!) then we would focus our ministries on health related issues. I envision more questions, more prayer, more discussion in the weeks and months to come, and I am excited by the possibilities that are before us.

God of purpose, open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that are all around us. Give us hope that we might be your hands, feet and heart in our communities, in whatever way you direct us to do so. bring to us the ideas, the help and support we will need to carry out the plans you have for us. Amen.

Meditation on Mark 1:29-39

February 7, 2015

My sister’s head blew a gasket.

Dizzy and sick she laid in the car as my parents

Rushed her to the hospital.

Up was down and down was up disoriented to say the least.

From her hospital bed she looked up at me

As I said to her, “how are you”; “I’m ok” she said and fell asleep.

The hospital room quiet except for the beep beep beep

Of the machines. My dad, chit-chatting about nothing

As he nervously waited in the darkened room

For healing of his youngest daughter.

My brother and sister and me,

Together, a rarity, gathered around Terry, waiting for news.

 

In the house they told him about her, how the fever had kept her in bed for days;

Family gathered ‘round, waiting for news.

Nervous chatter and worried tears flooded the room.

He reached out and took her hand and said, “get up”, and she

Got up and started to serve them.

Fever, like a ghost, vanished, gone, as if it never had been.

Nameless, she was, but important to the man

Because of her humanity.

 

Terry, beloved sister, recovered. A hole in her head to ease

The pressure from the bleeding in her brain.

Going home, going back to work, she soldiers on, wondering, what now?

She says to me, “a life changing experience

is supposed to change your life

And mine is still the same.

I am meant for more and yet

What I am supposed to do now eludes me.”

Life changes, moving home, new job

Medication, family, love.

 

In our own ways we all live out this question:

What do we do with ourselves?

How do we make a life

Sharply focused

In a world of blurred lines and fuzzy edges.

Jesus came to serve and save the lost.

Simon’s mother in law served Simon and Jesus.

Terry serves people who need housing.

Serving is living in the great world, giving ourselves to others,

Sharpening the focus on something other than

Ourselves and the things that would distract us

From our neighbor

Who needs

Us.

Nicaraguan Adventures

February 4, 2015

Before I get too far from my trip to Nicaragua, I want to write some more and show some pictures of my time there. The pictures here are from the first day, when we had all arrived and started our adventure. The first day was a Sunday, and we spent the day going to church, hearing a lecture on Nicaraguan history, and exploring Managua.

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The courtyard of Nehemiah House, the CEPAD facility where we stayed in Managua. Even though it was hot when I was there, there was always a breeze in the courtyard, making it the most pleasant place to be day and night.

After breakfast we went into Managua to worship at Iglesia Verbo, a Pentecostal-style Protestant church. The worship was in Spanish but we were fortunate that they had a translator and earbuds so we could understand the sermon. The music began with slower, softer praise songs, and built in intensity and volume as the song time went on. Included in the song set was an old Michael W. Smith song that I remembered from the 1990s (but sadly, can’t remember the name of now.)

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In the afternoon we heard a lecture on Nicaraguan history from a ex-patriot, Professor Aynn Setright, from the university in Managua. Professor Setright gave us a great deal of information about Nicaraguan history from the eyes of someone who has lived in the country since the 1980s– before, during and after the revolution.

After lunch we toured Managua, which is a much different city than the large cities I’ve been to in the United States. For one thing, the buildings are not tall, probably due to the earthquake in the 1970s that did a great deal of damage.

We visited a place called Tiscapa lagoon, which offers wonderful views of the city and Lake Managua. Tiscapa lagoon was formed by a volcanic eruption and has become a lake. On a cliff overlooking the lagoon are the ruins of the original Presidential Palace, which was severely damaged in the earthquake. The palace was splendid in its day, but we did learn that in the basement on the back of the palace were dungeon rooms where political prisoners were held and tortured in the early 20th century. On the grounds of the palace is a large silhouette statue of Sandino, one of the heroes of Nicaraguan history. On the grounds is also one of the large gold “trees” which line the streets of Nicaragua, ostensibly to beautify it. The statues are lighted at night and were very costly to build and maintain; one of our guides called “la cucarachas”, the cockroaches, which is pretty indicative of how many Managuans feel about the sculptures!

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We also went to the Salvadore Allende Pier which is on the shore of Lake Managua. The Pier is beautiful and boasts a model of Nicaragua before the earthquake of the 70s that can be walked through. There is an airplane that was used by one of the past leaders of Nicaragua which can be toured as well. Lake Managua is a dead lake because of lack of pollution controls over the years, so the water was very grey and nasty looking, even on a sunny day. But according to one of our guides the country is working to clean it up so it can be used for recreation. Even so, the pier is a place that Managuans gather, walk around, drink a beer or eat some ice cream, and socialize.

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At the end of the day we visited the main square in Managua and walked up the main street. At the square we saw the great Managua cathedral that had sustained too much damage to be used or even entered. There were street performers and food carts, and with Christmas decorations up it was a very festive atmosphere. Walking up the main street we saw the nativity scenes that lined the street, each one sponsored by a different government agency. Many of them had Christmas music playing, songs like “Jingle Bells” (which was very odd to hear in English in a Spanish speaking tropical country!)

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DSCN3091Our trip wasn’t only about sightseeing, however. Stay tuned for more of my Nicaraguan Adventure!