Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Commissioning of a Delegation

Below are the words from Pastor Jim Wallace of Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines.  Their delegation of 7 persons will be here on Friday.  The text is his sermon for the commissioning of this group. 

I asked for permission to share here within my blog as well as Alish's blog (we reach different audiences)and Jim graciously said yes.  He has summed up beautifully the vision and intent of the Our Sister Parish mission which is the relationship between several Iowa churches, the Pastoral Team and the communities we serve.

Thank you Jim.

Commissioning Message/Service for El Salvador Mission Trip 2011

            One of the great impulses of the Church is to go out into the world. There’s a kind of restlessness about the faith that just doesn’t allow Christian people to stay home. Christians go out into the world.
            You hear that, of course, in the Great Commission. And Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28).
Heaven and earth belong to Jesus and so off to the nations disciples go.

Christ’s great ambassador, St. Paul, saw the Christian faith as something to share and spread. He would go and start churches, then drop by and check with the faithful to see how they were getting along and encourage them. St. Paul never stayed home. He was constantly on the go.
You might remember the maps on your Sunday school room of Paul’s missionary journeys. Going here and there, doubling back, crossing over and under, the lines and connections of his travels looked like a pile of spaghetti. 
Well, on Friday of next week seven members of Central Presbyterian church will get up and go by boarding a plane and heading to El Salvador. For a couple of us it will be a return visit from 2008. Over the last three years a number of other Central members have spent time in El Salvador on their own or with another group.
Our Presbytery, the Presbytery of Des Moines, has had a relationship with a small faith community in Berlin, El Salvador for 20 years. Many of our churches in the Presbytery have made trips to El Salvador, some churches numerous times, forming partnerships with the cantons or villages in the area.
Since the trip in 2008 our church has helped support the Pastoral House in Berlin, El Salvador. This is the place where people in the community come for help and where delegations stay as they visit and establish relationships with various cantons. The pastoral team is also in touch the leaders in the villages surrounding Berlin. And so, it is an important, even crucial, component of ministry in that community and region.
Part of our trip will be to spend time with the Salvadorians who staff the Pastoral House, so as to strengthen our relationship with them. The little bit of money that we send each month to the Pastoral House helps pay for water and electricity and simple upkeep so they don’t have to struggle as hard to meet those expenses. In turn they can concentrate on doing ministry in the community and villages that surround Berlin. Besides spending time at the Pastoral House, we have been invited into their homes—a great honor.
We will go and see some of the important places from El Salvador’ horrific and heroic past. We will go to the place where the six Jesuit priests were murdered at the University of Central America, a turning point in their bloody civil war and U.S. support of the brutal Salvadorian army that waged a war against its own people.  
We will see the humble home of martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero, who began his career in a church structure that was closely aligned with the powerful and the wealthy, all in the name of stability and order. Romero was picked because it was thought he would not rock the boat. But he had a conversion of sorts and began to side with the poor instead of the powerful and began to preach about social justice and liberation. And for that he was killed, as he stood behind the altar, breaking bread during Mass.
We will spend time in villages and at various projects supported by other churches. There will be a dedication mass to celebrate a new cooperative that was the project of the Pastoral Team, a small village, the University of Central America, and the government of El Salvador.
We will visit some marginalized schools. We will see where the coffee you purchase is produced and processed.
We are taking some things that will be helpful. We have a bag full of school supplies, a couple bags of used eye glasses, a kit donated by an optometrist to test eyes, some basic medicines—all to be donated and left with the Pastoral House.
Now less you think this is a luxury sightseeing trip, let me assure you it is not. There will be no air-conditioning. This is a country in poverty. Accommodations include flushing a toilet and taking a shower by taking a bucket of water and pouring it down the stool or over your head.
When groups go to El Salvador they don’t go there with a “top down” model of wealthy North Americans doing something for the poor Salvadorians. As much as is possible, delegations go to El Salvador with the intent to “be with” instead of “do for.” Delegations go to understand that country’s troubled and sometimes horrific history, the social and economic forces that have contributed to systemic poverty, and, as much as is possible (for people who will return to warm showers, soft beds and an abundance of food), to live day to day and to share life with the poor.
Now this idea of “being with” instead of “doing for,” of relationship building instead of building something is a difficult concept for North Americans because out of our abundance of resources and power we are accustomed to taking on the role of superior fixer, the knight in shining armor.
As a writer on short term missions (somewhat) jokingly suggests, “having an engineer on your mission team can be a mixed blessing. Engineers are trained to diagnose and repair problems; it is part of their professional DNA. They will typically go to a service site and immediately begin to calculate the most efficient approach to the tasks at hand… [but that] won’t always work in another culture, and it may even be offensive.”[1]
One enterprising pastor in another setting got around this problem by having a wall that people could work whenever they would come on a mission trip. He has no idea what the wall is for or if it will ever be done, but it takes care of the problem of visiting teams needing to do something tangible. Then, once they get that out of their system, he says the real mission takes place—meeting and building relationships with the men in the community who need long-term training and social services in order to survive.[2]  
And delegations don’t go with the idea they are taking God to these people; God is already there, among the people. Dean Brackley, an American born Jesuit priest, who moved to El Salvador after the six priests were killed, writes about the importance of not going with the idea of taking God to people, but discovering that God is already there, among the people. He says:

If we allow them to share their suffering with us, they communicate some of their hope to us as well. The smile that seems to have no foundation in the facts is not phony; the spirit of fiesta is not an escape but a recognition that something else is going on in the world besides injustice and destruction. The poor smile because they suspect that this something is more powerful than the injustice. When insist on sharing their tortilla with a visiting gringo, we recognize there is something going on in the world that is more wonderful than we dared to imagine.[3] 

            So, we go, but not with a “top down” model. We don’t go to fix or bring God. We go to “be with,” strengthen relationships, discover what God is doing.
            In one of the great passages of the New Testament, St. Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross...”
            “Let the same mind be in you,” Paul says. Don’t grasp power. Don’t cling to position. Be like Christ who emptied himself in order to be with us, to share in our experience, our pain our, sorrow, our joy, our humanity. He could have hung on to his position and power as Lord of all, but he didn’t. Literally in every sense of the word, Christ set that asides in order to be with us, to be one of us.
            And by implication that’s how Christians go into the world. That’s how Christians do their mission work. Not from a place of superiority, but humility. Not from the mindset that we have the money, we have the power, we have what you need and we are here to give it to you. Our attitude should be like Christ who set all claim to privilege aside and emptied himself in order to be with us, to share with us, to enter our experience and our humanity. And so we go, as best we can, following that example, not to “do for” but “to be with” and to “share in.”
            When you approach such a trip as this in that way, you open the possibility of learning, experiencing, sharing, growing. I have already mentioned Bishop Romero. In the midst of the struggle against poverty and threat and violence and death, he is reported to have said these inspiring words:

It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capability.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.”

I hope our delegation from Central comes back with at least a little bit more faith like that, faith that sees the kingdom of God not as some far off ideal, some utopian someday. But the kingdom that we are called to work for and live for and strive for, not just in our hearts, but a kingdom of justice for all God’s children.  Amen.

[1] Misguided Missions: Ten Worst Practices, by Mark Wm. Radecke in Christian Century May 18, 2010.
[2] Ibid. Adapted.
[3] As quoted in Misguided Missions: Ten Worst Practices, by Mark Wm. Radecke in Christian Century May 18, 2010.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is what it is all about

Sometimes my heart gets very heavy.  Sometimes it seems we lose sight of where we need to be going.  There are issues and problems, grief and sorrow: things both within and beyond our control.  But then something happens to bring it all back into focus.  Thank you God!
Yesterday, we went back out to visit La Llanes –if you remember, La Llanes is that little community comprised of 20 families who are actually all one big extended family!

And if you remember – a week or so ago, all of us went through our ‘closets’ and came up with BAGS of clothing.  I later learned that it wasn’t just Blanca, Idalia, Cecilia and I that went through our closets – but all of their families did as well. And since we didn’t have much clothing for children – I went out and bought some.   We ended up with a good amount! 

So yesterday we went out to deliver.  We asked the Leadership Committee to meet us at the community ‘center’ at 3 and the community to be there about 4.  The idea was that all the clothing would be spread out and the Committee, using the census we had, would divvy up the goods.  This is because they know the relative sizes of people.  They started with one article of clothing for each person.  They bagged up by family (using tape to put the names on the bags).  After everyone got one item they went through the list again.  And again, and again.  I’m not sure how many rounds they were able to make, but it looked like everyone got several new (slightly used) pieces of clothing. 
Blanca explaining the process

She found a knit hat and loved it!

This did not come out of MY closet. 
And I don't think this ended up in his bag!

When the families showed up a little later we had more of surprise.  Alisha’s church sends her a little money now and again to be used at her discretion.  She decided she wanted to get a little toy for each child.  Prior to going out to La Llanes, we stopped at a little store that has such goods.  We went by the census and chose items depending upon age and gender.  The average price of the toys was about $2 each.  We got dolls, cars/trucks, little badminton sets, jump-ropes, etc.  Things that would hopefully last more than a week.

As the families received their bags of clothing, Alisha handed out toys.  We had a couple extra children who were not on the list – but luckily, Alisha’s parents had brought down a bag of stuffed animals so we were prepared!   And it all worked out well!  There were lots of smiles.  Alisha and I were not sure the children would know how to use the badminton set, so we gave a little demonstration.  I’m happy to announce that I did quite well!  I love that game. 
The vehicles were quite popular!

Look mom!!

Kinda like Christmas

We finished up and prepared to leave.  Of course, there were people who wanted to say a few words; expressing thankfulness and reminding us that we would always be welcomed there – with or without gifts!  They would be waiting with open arms. 
What we did yesterday was truly a ‘band-aid’ in that it will not solve anything nor make the realities of their poverty change.  But beyond the physical gifts – I saw and deeply felt a much larger gift.

We have only been there a few times – but since the very first visit, I felt a warmth and friendliness.  And it almost feels like family.  Maybe because they are one large extended family – and overall, a close family – and that carries over to how they treat others.  We are welcomed.  We are offered coffee (good, strong, residue at the bottom of the plastic cup coffee!!) and we are offered a place to sit and rest a bit. We are invited in.  And not just their homes.  But I think we are also in their hearts.  I know they are in mine.

I was humbly reminded why we are here.  Why we chose to do what we are doing. 

The parked truck is always a piece of playground equipment

Very cute and very fat babe!

THIS is how coffee should always be prepared!

Home made Capiruchi

Sod walls

Some final words

Doves at my feet

Gramma and my fat little baby

Every family received a "Trinity" bear!

Good and strong coffee!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Busy, Busy week!

See Alisha's blog if you want LOTS of details about the week with her family!!  The link is to the right!

What a fabulous week we shared with Alisha’s family!  In many ways they were similar to all delegations in that we visited the historical sites in San Salvador, a massacre site, communities, etc.  But this ‘delegation’ was also very different.  This was family.  We had a little more flexibility with our agenda.  For example – they wanted to see some of the ruins so we did that.  We visited El Mozote to hear the testimony of that massacre, but we also visited Rio de los Bueyes to hear several ex-combatants speak of life for them during the war and the massacre that took place near there.  Incredible.  After that horrific account, we went to a local ‘pool’ for lunch.  I don’t think I’d take a regular delegation there – too rustic. It was hard to get to – lots of ‘ducking’ in the back of the pick-up truck!  And once we were finally there, there was no place to sit, it was very buggy and the water was a bit skuzzy … but I’m sure glad we went.  I thought it was pretty cool!  We dipped our feet anyway and had scores of little fish nibbling on our feet!
We visited our Don Justo Coffee with Dignity farm and got a real complete explanation of how the coffee goes from seedling to our cup.  We visited the lagoon inside the crater of Alegria and then had time to visit the actual town of Alegria – exploring the church, shops, park and beauty of this little town and even enjoyed a cup of coffee (or hot chocolate) from a vendor in the street.
The family even got to ‘help out’ delivering fertilizer: going to Mercedes Umaña to make the purchase, then they sat on top of the pooh in the back of the big truck on the way back to Berlin and then to San Francisco and then enjoyed visiting with the people while it was distributed. 
They WALKED the two miles down then up to San Francisco the next day.  We visited three families – 3 families who are being supported by their church with high school scholarships.  We enjoyed the hospitality of a cup of coffee and some pan dulce before we made the walk back to the Pastoral House.  We probably walked 5 miles that day.  UP and down lots of ‘streets’ and paths. 
They spent a morning with Alisha in her school.  Four times in each of the 9 classes they sang and did the movements to Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes, handed out stickers and pencils and had a time to visit with the students.  We visited the homes of the Pastoral Team members in Alejandria.
At the beginning of the week we ate at a new place in San Salvador called the Secret Garden (I won’t take a ‘real’ delegation there because it was way too expensive!!) and at the end of the week we enjoyed taking the Pastoral Team out to dinner in Alegria at their new favorite place with most of us getting huge shrimp which we ‘wore’ quite well as you have to eat it with your hands!  Yum.
It was a very good week.  And it really did fly.

A sad thing – 2 nights before they left – I got called down from the office – I had been working on their final budget (I give a summary of the actual costs vs the budgeted amounts) as well as a spreadsheet for the purchases that Compañeros made of Blanca’s Bags and crafts for the Latino Fest this year.  When I went back up about 45 minutes later – there was a puddle of water on my desk near the computer and in two spots on the floor.  The roof was not leaking and I had NO water in my office (nothing on my desk except a sealed bottle of water that was intact).  We have NO idea where the water came from.
There was no evident water on the laptop … but … when I moved the laptop – there was water under it.  And when I lifted the laptop, water dripped from it.  I have a fan under my laptop to keep it cool.  It essentially sucked up the water on the desk and forced it into the laptop from the bottom.
Matt, Alisha and I dried it as best we could.  Matt un-did the little doors, we gently sopped up the water … Alisha had a can of air … then we set it out to dry over night … taking out the battery, etc.  Bottom line is … it never returned to functioning.  I have a dead laptop.  Alisha’s mom took it back with her – Mike is going to putter with it to see if he can repair it.  If not, I have a friend who knows how and has the equipment to extract the data from the hard-drive.  And Mike can buy another laptop for me and bring it down when he and his church come down the beginning of July.
In the meantime I do have my little net-book that I bought last year for traveling and for my work trips back home.  I hate the keyboard (keys stick and don’t always type what I click!!) but it’s better than nothing.  But ALL of my documents, templates, pictures, reports, etc. are gone.  Hopefully not forever.
I’m hoping I don’t have to buy another laptop.  But if I do … such is life.
It really is a mystery as to how the water got in here.  No roof leak – no wet windows – no water glass in my room … The Pastoral Team said it was a ‘water ghost’ -  I have a guess that it was totally accidental and that someone feels too bad about it to ‘fess up.’  I’m trying not to make a huge deal of it here so no one feels worse than they probably already do …
There are definitely larger tragedies in life!!!  I will keep it all in perspective.