Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Canton Tragedy

We got news this morning that at about 3 a.m. this morning, a man left his house – went back and burned it to the ground and then killed himself.  He left behind his wife and 4 children aged 13, 12, 6 and 5.  The youngest one is a girl.

I can’t even imagine what would cause someone to do that.  What turmoil he must have been going through.

So now the woman must pick up the pieces as best she can and care for her children. 

When we found out, we had a quick mini-meeting to figure out what we could do.  We know that the woman will need everything.  Blanca had to go to Santiago de MarĂ­a to get some medicines for her father.  She said they would take advantage of being there to look for clothing for the children.  There are several second-hand stores there.  I offered to drive so I could hlep.  I asked if we could go to the bank first (there is an ATM).  I wanted to help out but I had very little cash on hand here. 

We managed to get about 4 outfits for each child.  We don’t know the size of the woman yet – but for her we will all scrounge our own closets.  After the clothing shopping, we needed some food-stuffs.  I dropped the ladies off and while I was trying to find a place to park, I drove by a place that sells hammocks.  So thank you ATM - I decided to get a couple of those for the family. 

We’ll be going down to San Felipe shortly.

Blanca and Idalia are out looking for blankets.  We have towels we can give and a variety of kitchen goods.  We also have some bags of food to bring. 

We’ll have more information after we come back.
Such hardship.
Please offer up many prayers for this family!


Monday, February 27, 2012


I’m thinking about this season of Lent.  And sacrifice.  And the ultimate sacrifice that was made for us.  And what that means for us -

Christ walked in solidarity with the poor.  As Christians, we are called to follow that same path: to love the poor and work for justice.  I know there is way more to it than that – but just this ‘little’ piece of it is big enough for the moment.  More than I can handle even.

So how do we do that exactly?  What does loving the poor look like?  What does seeking justice look like?  When I really ponder, it just seems SO big and overwhelming. It seems impossible to really be effective as an individual. 

But then … what is the definition of effective?  Does it need to be quantified?

I’ve been pondering a lot lately.  It has been weighing heavily – thinking about my first world reality … and the ‘3rd world’ reality I’ve been living in for the past 3+ years.  (For the record, I don’t like the label ‘3rd world’ because it seems so demeaning – ‘developing’? not much better).

Knowing that I’ll eventually go back to my first world reality has my head a bit concerned.  The fact that I even have the freedom to move freely between both worlds is something I cannot take for granted. 

I do not want to fall back into a life without consciousness. 

I do not want to forget the dirty children – dirty not for lack of love!  But for lack of water to consume let alone bathe.

I do not want to forget the sweat rolling down the faces and backs of men working in the fields trying to grow enough for his family to eat.  And the knowledge that his little plot of land probably isn’t even his … he probably has to pay his rent with corn … A crop which he may or may not even be able to harvest: the weather might not cooperate … the soil is useless without fertilizer which he cannot afford … a plague of bugs?  All these things he has to contend with.

I do not want to forget the women.  Where cooking involves carrying up to 50 pounds of firewood on their heads from who knows where, who knows how far, back to their homes.  Where making a tortilla involves corn taken off the cob by hand, cooking it for a few hours in her home with the heat and the smoke from the fire filling her house. Then grinding this corn - often on a rock slab with another hand held rock.  Kneading it into masa – a dough –  with just enough water so she can roll it into a ball, then pat, pat, pat it between her hands to the proper shape and thickness and then slapping it onto the comal – her clay griddle – which is sitting on that fire … on the ‘stove’ in her home which is creating all that heat and smoke.  And all that is causing a myriad of respiratory problems for her and her family – with virtually no resources for medical care to bring relief.

I won’t get into the process of laundry … well … maybe a little.  Someone in the family has to fetch water from a faraway stream or other water source.  They potentially have to walk at least an half hour with a 50 pound cantaro (water jug) on their head. This jug is only about 4 gallons – so depending upon the size of the family – they may need several trips to the water source for cooking, drinking, laundry and bathing.  No wonder the children are dirty!!!

I do not want to forget the families who struggle just to survive.  Working very hard – doing the simple every day chores at home, in the fields, doing random temporary jobs like digging ditches or road repair for a couple dollars. 

I do not want to forget the man on the Pan American highway … scraggly long hair, wrapped in a scuzzy blanket with naked legs and bare feet – walking to who knows where.  God only knows how he survives.

And I get to go back to my first world reality. 
Oh my God don’t let me ever forget.

Thanks to Radio Free Babylon for giving me permission to include this 'cartoon' in my blog.  Check them out on facebook - search them and 'like' - - - if you like ...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kidney Failure

Over the last few years I've heard of so many deaths due to kidney failure.  It seemed so common and I often wondered why it was such a deadly phenomenon here.  I ran across an article recently and wanted to share it here.  The credits go to:
Associated Press writer Filadelfo Aleman reported this story in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, and Michael Weissenstein reported from Mexico City. AP writers Marcos Aleman in Bajo Lempa, El Salvador, and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

The article (in part) is here below:

A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else. Scientists say they have received reports of the phenomenon as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama.

Last year it reached the point where El Salvador's health minister, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, appealed for international help, saying the epidemic was undermining health systems. "This is a disease that comes with no warning, and when they find it, it's too late,"

Many of the victims were manual laborers or worked in sugar cane fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Patients, local doctors and activists say they believe the culprit lurks among the agricultural chemicals workers have used for years with virtually none of the protections required in more developed countries. But a growing body of evidence supports a more complicated and counterintuitive hypothesis.

The roots of the epidemic, scientists say, appear to lie in the grueling nature of the work performed by its victims, including construction workers, miners and others who labor hour after hour without enough water in blazing temperatures, pushing their bodies through repeated bouts of extreme dehydration and heat stress for years on end. Many start as young as 10. The punishing routine appears to be a key part of some previously unknown trigger of chronic kidney disease, which is normally caused by diabetes and high-blood pressure, maladies absent in most of the patients in Central America.

In Nicaragua, the number of annual deaths from chronic kidney disease more than doubled in a decade, from 466 in 2000 to 1,047 in 2010, according to the Pan American Health Organization, a regional arm of the World Health Organization.

In El Salvador, the agency reported a similar jump, from 1,282 in 2000 to 2,181 in 2010.

Despite the growing consensus among international experts, Elsy Brizuela, a doctor who works with an El Salvadoran project to treat workers and research the epidemic, discounts the dehydration theory and insists "the common factor is exposure to herbicides and poisons."

End of article.

So here we have a major killer.  And from previous posts you have heard a little about the health care resources here - access to and limitations of.  I don't know what the solution is.  It would take the cooperation of many: big business, little business, governmental regulations in place and enforced for safety and accountability, the health care system, individual as well as company owned farming practices...

I just can't imagine changes happening any time soon.  And in the meantime, thousands are suffering and dying a painful death.

Can I have prayers for the people please?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don Justo Coffee with Dignity

I was recently asked to write a little ditty for our Don Justo Coffee with Dignity coordinator in Iowa.  I think I’d like to share it with you.  For those of you who know the coffee and already enjoy it but are not ‘in the loop’ of emails when it comes time to order, it might encourage you to drink more. 

For those of you who do NOT know the project – maybe it will motivate you to investigate and start purchasing and enjoying it yourself.

Briefly –Don Justo Coffee with Dignity is a project in support of the work of the Pastoral House – it is “fairly traded” – we cannot say we are a Fair Trade product because we are not actually certified as fair trade.   We do, however, follow the international standards of fair trade.  And take it a step beyond perhaps. 

Don Justo Coffee with Dignity is organic.  The producer receives more than the going rate for fair trade coffee.  In addition to the fair payment, the producer does not pay for bags, labels, shipping, etc.  The producer pays their workers more than the average price per pound than other coffee farms on the mountain.   There is only one modestly paid middle man (well – a married couple actually) who coordinate the promotion and sales in Iowa.  The proceeds from sales – after all those things are paid by the project (the bags, labels, shipping, etc.) come back to El Salvador to support community projects here.  In the past, those projects have included the purchase of water collection tanks for families, repair of community water tanks, fertilizer purchases, roof reparation for schools, community centers, and churches, food packets for a couple of groups of old folks, chair purchases for 4 different community leadership groups, donations to church committees for food and/or travel to church events, financial assistance for funeral expenses for several families throughout the year, roofing or heavy plastic to help ‘leak-proof’ a few homes, etc.

Our little slogan is:  It is not just a cup of coffee … it is a JUST cup of coffee.

Here is an excerpt from the most recent message sent to some of our clients.

“This is a new year – and we are already off and running in good directions.  Every New Year the Pastoral Team gathers to evaluate the old year and think about the new.  Always we think of ways to improve upon what we are trying to do.  None of us are perfect – and mission is an ever-evolving effort.  Thank God we are not stagnant!  And thank God we are not alone!  Thank God we have Him to guide us.  We pray for wisdom to hear His will for us: and how He sees our call to help build His kingdom.  After that we pray for strength to follow through!

This year we will be focusing on new efforts.  Not that the old efforts were bad mind you.    But we are concerned about the youth.  And work.  There simply is none. You would be saddened to hear how many young people only complete up to 4th or 6th grade because it is just too far to have to walk to 7th grade – literally, it could be a 5 mile walk.  The youth who are lucky enough to succeed in obtaining a high school diploma often end up back in the fields with their cumas (like a curved machete).

So we want to focus more on self-development within the communities.  It is beautiful to give a tangible gift (a new church, a community house, fertilizer, a new fence for this or that, etc.) – but we would like to take advantage of all the different trainings and workshops that are being provided by NGO’s like InterVida, ProComes and ProVida.  With the training that some groups have, we want to encourage them to form again, become organized and begin to think about how they can put into practice what they have learned.  And if they can organize themselves – to then present us with a solicitude so we can then present that to their partner church who just might be able to support them with some start-up materials – which is the biggest hurdle.  The idea is – if a trained group can obtain start up materials – they can produce goods to sell and become self-sustaining in time.  We are hoping to help form mini-cooperatives.

So what does all this have to do with you – our beloved Don Justo coffee drinkers - and especially those of you who help promote it within your churches or businesses and friends? 

There are communities that we work with and support that DO NOT have a partner church to help them. 

You know that every time you buy yourself a pound of Don Justo – the proceeds from that purchase end up back here at the Pastoral House.  With those funds we are able to help out with the random needs of those un-partnered communities.  Their needs are actually greater than those who have partners – for obvious reasons. 

So drink up.  Your cup of coffee may be helping a youth group or women’s group with start-up funds for hammock making … or candy making … or a mini-bakery … or natural medicines … or … let your imagination soar.   It may not make people rich – but it will be cooperative work in groups – creating a little bit of income for their families and helping provide a little dignity and self-worth as these humble people see that they can begin to provide for themselves.  Sometimes all it takes is a wee bit of funds and a gentle push of encouragement.

Thank you for doing your part – helping with the funds by drinking and supporting Don Justo.  We will do our part by giving that gentle push of not just encouragement – but advice on how to begin and maintain such an endeavor.

Here in faith and with hope,
Kathy and the Pastoral Team”

If you want to order some please email Betty and Maurice at

They are the most delightful people you will ever meet and will do all they can to get some coffee to you!  They live in central Iowa, but they can ship to other states.  And if you want to get your church involved in supporting this, they can arrange a visit to your mission committee - or those who would be interested in becoming involved.  Several churches have a coffee kiosk in their foyers for their congregation members to make purchases easily! 

Drinking coffee is a really easy way to support mission.