We Let This Happen

July 24, 2015

Don’t tell me you’re shocked. Don’t tell me you’re surprised that this has happened again. Really. Because I won’t believe you.

Last night a middle-aged white man, same age as my husband, walked into a crowded movie theater and started shooting. Today, two people are dead, including the shooter, and more injured. The “silver lining” to this episode, I suppose, is that he didn’t have a large automatic weapon– reports say he had a handgun– or the death toll and injury list would be much higher.

But, really, are we surprised that this has happened again? How can we be, after Chattanooga, after Charleston, after Newtown, after Aurora. After all of the mass shootings that have happened over the last 20 years or so. After so many seemingly random acts of violence we as a nation have endured.

We lament over these events: why has this happened again?

We ignore the fact that it happens because we let it happen.

We let it happen any time a weapon gets into the hands of someone who has bad intent and/ or poor mental health and/ or an axe to grind. We let it happen any time we say “guns don’t kill people” or “the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” and that becomes the end of the argument. We let it happen whenever we fan the flames of dissatisfaction in people who feel disenfranchised yet retain the actual power to make something like this happen. We let it happen when laws that are supposed to empower are used against us to instill fear and distrust.

We allow this to happen when we are fed by fear and distrust of our fellow human beings and we lap it up like mother’s milk.

We allow it to happen when we forget that the golden rule is neither “him who has the gold makes the rules” nor “do unto others– then split!” but is “do to others as you would have others do to you.”

We make it happen when we don’t educate our children, when we fill their minds with our own fears and our own skewed version of what is. When we allow our children to become steeped in the violent culture that surrounds us, a culture that devalues human life and dehumanizes the “other.” When we become so involved with our own lives that we forget to pay attention to the least of these.

So no, don’t tell me you’re surprised, or shocked that this has happened again. Angry, I’ll take, because maybe if we become truly angry we will take some action, we will take to the streets, we will raise our voices to the rooftops, not in lament but with a righteous fury crying out “No more!”

When a Terrorist Looks Like Me

June 19, 2015

My heart is heavy as I write this, as I’m sure it is for many of you out there.

I am an average person living a nice life in Northern Kentucky. I have a great spouse, two cats who keep me constantly entertained, two good jobs that pay my bills, two great kids (even if they do live in other states :)). I am priviledged to serve a small congregation of Presbyterians in Covington and be able to bring, on a regular basis, God’s word to them and to you who read my posts.

And as most of you know, I’m white.

I’m also appalled at the events of Wednesday night, when a young white man entered an historic black congregation, sat through a prayer meeting with them for an hour, and then stood up and started shooting, killing 9 people in attendance.

No, I’m more than appalled, I’m sickened. Furious. Deeply saddened.

To some, this may seem like one more mass shooting. To others, it’s a hate crime– or even worse, an act of terrorism.

And I must say, I have to agree. According to reports, the shooter went there with bad intent– “to shoot black people.” If that’s not a hate crime, if that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.

Terrorism doesn’t have to be jihad. It only has to inspire terror.

I can only imagine the terror those people felt when someone they welcomed into their midst and treated as a neighbor pulled out a gun and began to shoot. The terror of a 5 year old girl who played dead in order to survive.

That’s what terrorists do– they make people afraid and they do so intentionally and with bad intent. But when we think of “terrorist”, we white American folk, we tend to think “Muslim jihad” or “black gang member”, ISIS or Al Quida.

We don’t think KKK. We don’t think Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Aryan Nations. We don’t think “fresh faced white American kid.”

I would call any mass killing, like the ones in Denver and Newtown, terrorism, based on the fact that they did inspire terror in thier victims. However, this to me fits the definition more closely because of the location and the victims chosen. In many ways it’s not unlike the bombing of the church in Birmingham in the 60s. We didn’t know what to do then. And we don’t know what to do now.

What do we do when the terrorist looks like us? It isn’t enough to call him deranged or mentally ill, unless we want to assign those labels to those who join ISIS or Al Quida. But we’re quick to make excuses when the terrorist looks like us. Instead, we need to look ourselves in the eye and admit that white culture breeds hatred sometimes, that Christian culture breeds hatred sometimes, just as other cultures do.

Our God is a God of justice, peace and compassion; but our God also speaks out of the whirlwind when we get things wrong, with a fierce righteousness that we can’t even begin to approach. If we can’t look at ourselves, at our white selves, and see where we are wrong and where we are complicit and where we are silent in the face of the racism and violence that goes with it, that exists in this country in the 21st century, then what kind of Christians are we? And how are we different than the ones who committ terrorist acts? I don’t know about you, but a whirlwind of shame with God’s voice coming out of it wouldn’t surprise me. (And I don’t mean the next hurricane or tornado or other natural disaster.)

Let us white folks, us white Christians, not be blind and silent anymore. Let us look at Dylann Roof and see him for what he is, and call him what he is, saying it outloud: He is a terrorist who looks like us.

Tiny Dancer

May 3, 2015

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.         -Psalm 149:1-3

My congregation  is mostly elderly but has a couple of young families with children. One of the children, Peyton, is high energy and sometimes a challenge to keep interested in what’s happening in church. She’s just one of those kids who seems to need to move all the time!

Lately, her mom has been singing in the choir, and I’ve noticed that when they are practicing on Sunday morning or singing the anthem during worship, Peyton just loves to move with the music. The choir practices in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, and Peyton will climb the steps to the chancel and dance around, moving in time to the music. Today I had put down an alphabet mat to help us with keeping still during the children’s time, and Peyton used it to dance on  while the choir was singing. No choreography or special movements, just joyfully moving the way she felt the music call her to move. What a wonderful way to express the joy she felt while hearing our choir sing– to me it is the essence of liturgical dance. She was expressing herself to the music and expressing the joy she felt in hearing it.

We don’t always have to sit still and quiet in church– even us Presbyterians! Often the music makes me want to dance as well, and I often sway to the music as we sing. We try to have quiet moments too, which gives us a chance to reflect, to pray and to feel the presence of God with us in worship. But sometimes it is good to move! And I’m so glad that Peyton can express her joy in this way.

A New Day in the PCUSA

March 18, 2015

Yesterday came a watershed moment in the history of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The history of the PCUSA, like any organization, like any Christian denomination, has its share of good moments and bad ones. Fundamentalism divided the church in the early 20th century. We were too long coming to the party during the Civil Rights era. And we were dragged our feet in opening leadership positions– and ordination– to women. To be honest, we still struggle with these issues (and they aren’t the only things we struggle with.)

In recent years we’ve been struggling with the issue of homosexuality in the church– how do we incorporate the LGBT community into our ministries, do we reach out to them, do we allow them to be ordained, do we allow them to marry. The General Assembly, followed by a majority of presbyteries, in 2010 changed the language of our Book of Order– part 2 of our Form of Government– to allow for ordination LGBT people. The 2012 GA wrestled with a change in our church government’s language around marriage; and at the 2014 GA voted to make the change. Since it was a change in the Book of Order, each presbytery has to vote on the change; and yesterday the number of presbyteries approving the change reached the total number needed to pass.

The General Assembly had already passed an Authoritative Interpretation allowing teaching elders (ministers) to follow their conscience regarding the marriage of same-gender couples in states where it is legal to do so. However, changing the Book of Order is similar to amending the constitution– it make the change more permanent and more broad. It’s important to know that no minister can be compelled to perform a same-gender ceremony any more than a minister can be compelled to perform a ceremony for any couple that they do not feel should be married; and sessions still have jurisdiction over the building and property and may deny any couple the opportunity to use church property for weddings as they see fit.

This change has been a long time coming to the PCUSA, as it has in the larger society. And as in the larger society there are those who are jubilant at the change and those who are disappointed. As a human being I believe that this is a good thing, a step forward for the PCUSA and society in general. As a minister I will happily perform ceremonies for anyone asking to be married, as long as they seem to be sincere (and once my state allows it.) However, as a minister I also realize that there are probably people in my congregation who will be upset and who will disagree, and I am called minister to them as well.

And this, I believe, is where we must redouble our efforts to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to reaffirm our need to “walk humbly with God.” For it is to the glory of God, and not ourselves, that we do what we do.

For more information, see the Presbyterian Outlook.

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!

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!

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