Friday, March 24, 2006

week one

About 45 minutes from the city of Santo Domingo lies a Caribbean oasis known as Eco Village. EV is situated in the middle of a poor section of Boca Chica characterized by tiny tiendas, rocky dirt roads, and motos. The physical dichotomy (wealth vs. poverty) has not been lost on any of my cohort as we have worshipped, prayed, learned, and played together for the past 5 days. We are sleeping in simple but clean villas (with bunkbeds) and having our meals prepared for us during this training (and enjoying swimming for a brief period each day).

Our discussion of bonding with the local cultures where we serve today seemed especially ironic given our living situation right now. Nevertheless, God has given us this beautiful place to learn and grow and become a community of spiritual support for one another for a purpose, and I believe that purpose is being fulfilled. There are 3 families with small children, one married couple, and 8 single women here for this training, and our experiences and stories are as diverse as the countries to which we are headed in the near future: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, China, Guatemala, Rwanda, Mozambique, and Nicaragua.

Our training thus far has been conducted by FH staff from the DR, Bolivia, Peru, and Korea. Most of it has taken place in a small conference room with green tables and (hard) chairs. Aside from the mosquitos, the chairs are actually the only uncomfortable thing about this place.

Yesterday we had our first “cultural excursion” into a Dominican market place. Having been in the DR before, I can’t say I experienced anything unusual, but the story of our lunchtime adventure is worth retelling. As we walked around the old city, we approached a street vendor looking for advice about a lunch location. He directed us to a local guia, who led us on a 5-block trek to what wound up being a very expensive looking restaurant, complete with tablecloths and wineglasses on the tables. Needless to say, I and the 2 other girls I was with were very uncomfortable with the idea of eating in this kind of establishment, so we bid farewell to our guide and began our own search for some local comida. About 6 blocks later, we noticed a hole-in-the-wall sort of dive and ducked inside to see what sort of place it was. It turns out we had discovered an Indian restaurant and bar in the middle of the city with only two tables and one other customer. After a quick look at the menu ($5-6/lunch), we decided to try it out. Our waitress approached us, and we quickly learned that she spoke only Spanish, but we managed just fine. It struck the 3 of us as quite odd, however, that we had come all this way to the DR and were eating falafel and kabobs!

After 4 hours in the sun, I was quite tired, but it was nice to get out of “the compound” and explore a bit. Everything has been going well so far, and I am so encouraged to be spending so much relational quality time with likeminded people who are about to embark on similar mission-oriented work. I am also excited that I had a chance to reconnect with 2 of my close FHI/DR staff friends from previous short-term trips—Martires and Victor. Even after a year, they are as warm and friendly as always.

I have very limited internet access here, but please know that I am blessed, and look forward to sharing more stories face to face when I return. Meanwhile, enjoy the picture...this was my cohort in Phoenix last week.

Friday, March 17, 2006

answered prayer y travel plans

Well, the paperwork is filled out, the insurance orientation(s) are over, and we're winding down the HR sessions here in PHX. It's been a great two days in sunny Arizona, and our little cohort (there's 7 of us, with 2 families joining us in the DR) has bonded nicely after sitting in the "Asia Room" here at the FH HQ for 6 hours a day and sharing hotel rooms, fundraising stories, encouragement, and meals with one another.

One huge answered prayer from yesterday is that my church has increased its monthly support enough to almost completely cover my budget--so my May 2nd departure is virtually guaranteed! All I can say is, God is amazing!

Tomorrow morning our cohort journeys to the Dominican Republic where we will be staying in Eco Village, Boca Chica (for the geography buffs, that's on the southeastern coast of Hispaniola). Please pray for safe travel and rest for all of us, as the more emotionally and intellectually challenging portion of our training is yet to come.

I'll post updates here from there as I'm able. Dios le bendiga!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

safely in Phoenix

Just a quick note to say that I'm safely in Phoenix and resting before things get started tonight (my day started at 4am, as I had a 6:30am flight out of SA).

On my flight this morning I was reading a magazine article about worship, and all the qualities for which we can praise God. Today's quality was "God as provider". I almost cried on the plane. Despite my worries and fears, this is what I most need to praise God for right now.

For the pray-ers among my readers, please pray that God would provide my remaining funding by April 1st. That is my deadline to be able to leave May 2nd as planned.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


"How do you know when you have served people enough? Certainly it is not when all the pain is gone. It will never be gone."- Jon Parker

What a profound and appropriate quote for today from my friend Jon, one of many spiritual mentors from college. This is a question that I struggle with on a regular basis. As a serving person, I am constantly aware that there is always more hurt, more pain, more need, more [ ] in the world. And I am frequently driven to despair (as this picture from a mission trip last year demonstrates) that I cannot do more to meet those not only share in the pain of others, but to "do justice" on their behalf.

I have always felt a special connection to these words in Jeremiah..:"seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you...for in its welfare you will find your welfare". For the last 18 years, San Antonio has been the place in which I have found my welfare. But God has laid a burden upon my heart for another city--Managua--and I am ready to follow Him there to seek its welfare too.

Today is my last day in San Antonio for almost a month--and when I return (April 8th), the days I have left here will truly be numbered. May my heart always be overflowing with the love of Christ that I might bear a truly life-giving message of hope for people in pain wherever I am.

Monday, March 13, 2006

the more things change...

"Never trust a country with high walls and tinted windows."
-Thomas Friedman, NY Times (1995)
Pop quiz: Was Friedman talking about Haiti or the U.S.?
Essay Question: Systematically describe the similarities and differences (if any) between the way wealthy people in developing nations and developed nations have treated their poorest citizens over the last 10 years.

time flies...

Me and Amy-cita! (A former roommate and fellow TU alum)

Karen, me, and Sherry. Squeezing together on Karen's couch.

Yes, I am just now getting around to posting photos from January. (In fact, these are from New Year's Eve!) I will try to be more prompt in the future.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

happy birthday, josh

After lunch with my brother (now 19!) at the Olive Garden last Saturday. Boy was it bright out there...

my adorable nephew

Friday, March 10, 2006

quilts sobre nicaragua

One of several quilts featured on the Sojourner's website this month designed by Lee Porter as part of his work with the Global Education Fund. The quilts portray scenes from Nicaragua.

sustainability: listening trumps logic

Last night I went to a lecture at the Witte Museum entitled: "Sustainable Cities, Storylines, and Post-Katrina New Orleans" given by Steven Moore of the Sustainable Design program at UT Austin. Moore spent quite a bit of time delineating between various forms of logic governing the sustainability debate. To wit:

Inductive: moving from specific criteria (cf
LEEDS) of successful cities to general principles that could be applied elsewhere
Deductive: moving from general
principles (eg. social equity, economic development, and environmental protection) to specific courses of action
Abductive: developing explanatory conclusions, looking locally and forward, not just at the what the experts say, but what the people want through identifying the most compelling storyline in a community about its hopes for the future

My favorite quotes from the evening:

"The value/sustainability of a city cannot be measured only by economic output or natural resources. The value/sustainability of a city can be measured most fully by the people whose stories are embedded within it. " -Steven Moore

"Have you noticed that the people who are most passionate about rebuilding New Orleans comes from its poorest parts? " -
John McDermott, Philosophy Professor at A&M

“This is a political disaster that created a natural disaster” -Steven Moore

"Let's just get to work and see what happens." -New Orleans resident and restaurant owner Willy Mae

Thursday, March 09, 2006


a freshly painted canvas
for all the world to see
the colors still drying
and the texture yet to be

air heavy with humidity
keeps the moisture close at hand
an avalanche of precipitation
held at bay by a fragile fan

what will become of these tender hues
when the flood breaks through the dam
what will remain of this work of art
if you do not remember who i am

-pjn 3/9/06

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

much needed reprieve

In a dim hallowed space
I bow my head and bend my knee
Seeking solace in the silence
As I lift up this plea

What else can I do?
Trying to be faithful to this call
I have exhausted my energy
And surrendered my all

Let my worried heart be calm
Let my anxious striving cease
As my mind swirls with doubt
I need nothing more than peace

Sounds of rushing water
Quench my barren soul
This familiar garden a sanctuary
From the world’s growing toll

-pjn 3/8/06

Monday, March 06, 2006

lessons from a Bahá’í friend

For the last 2 years I have led a small group Bible study for college women at my alma mater. The group is tightly knit, chatty, intellectually curious, and motivated to grow spiritually. Four of the girls are Christians. One of them is Bahá’í. This combination has produced rich discussion, in-depth study, real-world applications, and many moments of shared laughter and experience. Yesterday was another perfect example.

After some fun catching up on the events of the week, we turned to our study. We have been going through the "I Am" statements of Jesus this semester, and our text for the afternoon was John 14:1-14. Immediately upon opening to the passage, one of the girls remarked, "Oh, this is a controversial one." I nodded, and we proceeded to read the Scripture. When we were done, my Bahá’í friend N. asked, "So what exactly is controversial about that?" I pointed out v.6, in which Jesus states, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." What fascinated me was that, in the context of the passage, these words by Jesus did not stand out as controversial or an exclusive claim to N. To her, they seemed to be less about defining who is saved and how and more about living in a way that will lead one toward God. It was a learning experience for me to hear how someone outside the Christian tradition interprets those words.

N. also shared during our time together that March 2-19th is an annual fast (sunrise to sunset) in the Bahá’í tradition and that she has kept that discipline every year since she was 15. I was quite impressed and I told her so. Listening to her talk about the blessing she receives from this time of intentional withholding of physical nourishment from herself made me desire more of that kind of spiritual discipline in my own life.

N. is a radiant, deep, loving, thoughtful, joyful, and disciplined person of faith. She may not share all of my Christian beliefs, but I certainly feel blessed to know and learn from her.

Friday, March 03, 2006

making room

Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles is attracting quite a bit of attention for his Lenten remarks earlier this week, as they relate to the current immigration bill debate on Capitol Hill. Here, some excerpts from his Ash Wednesday proclamation:
"So many of us live amid so much clutter, so much noise. We travel through life at breakneck speed. Lent is the time to empty ourselves not only of the seemingly never-ending stuff, sound and speed in our lives, but also of our pettiness, our prejudice, our anxiety, our fear. It is an opportunity to make room, not only for God, but for those who come our way. How open is our door to those who come to us? Is there room enough in our hearts and our homes for those in need?

...In recent months and in different parts of the world, we have seen the escalation of strong sentiments against immigrants. These sentiments appear to be mounting in our own country as well. How might our various Lenten practices such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, our effort to empty ourselves so as to make room for God, relate to the complex reality of immigration, especially in the face of increasing hostility toward immigrants?

...To the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is clear. As his disciples, we are called to attend to the last, littlest, lowest and least in society and in the Church.
Do I have room for God? My neighbor? The stranger? They are one and the same.
"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Lev 19:33-34)

"...Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matt 25:37-40)
"Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge it, Lord...It is ruinous; repair it, Lord." -St. Augustine

Thursday, March 02, 2006

looking back and inching forward

This is how I spent my first few minutes in the Dominican Republic the last time I was there (July '05).

In just about two weeks I am returning to that beautiful country for some field training with Food for the Hungry staff. But before I go, I have to...

* Buy international health insurance (surprisingly cheap for 3 weeks)
* Write a will (done, but wow was it ever thought-provoking)
* Designate power of attorney (thank you, c.t.!)
* Get some shots (yippee)
* Finish a 250 page homework assignment (5 pages to go!)

...among other things.

by rook or by crook, i bring you brooks

Actually, this is totally legal (and has nothing to do with chess). Since I am paying for my TimesSelect subscription, I thought I would pass along today's highlights. Below, a summary of David Brooks' checklist for a good college education (and some personal comments).

"1. Read Reinhold Niebuhr. Religion is a crucial driving force of this century, and Niebuhr is the wisest guide. Alan Wolfe of Boston College notes, if everyone read Niebuhr, "The devout would learn that public piety corrupts private faith and that faith must play a prophetic role in society. The atheists would learn that some people who believe in God are really, really smart." [Thank you, Dr. Gibson! Check! -ed]

2. Read Plato's "Gorgias." It teaches that the worldly honors that one may win by being a good speaker ... can all too easily erode one's devotion to truth — a devotion that is critical to our integrity as persons. [Hmmm. I don't remember Dr. Heil assigning this one in Philosophy, and my speech comm classes on rhetoric never included this. -ed]

3. Take a course on ancient Greece. "No habit is so important to acquire," Aristotle wrote, as the ability "to delight in fine characters and noble actions." [Does working in the Classics Dept. count? -ed]

4. Learn a foreign language. [Claro que si!-ed]

5. Spend a year abroad. Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland says, "All evidence suggests this, more than any other, is a transforming experience for students that lasts a lifetime." [Ok, so a semester in DC is not really "abroad", but it was a transforming experience.-ed]

6. Take a course in neuroscience. In the next 50 years, half the explanations you hear for human behavior are going to involve brain structure and function. You've got to know which are serious and which are cockamamie.[Wow. I don't think Trinity even offered a class like that. And if they did, it was upper division for pre-med people. -ed]

7. Take statistics. Later in's handy to know what a standard deviation is. [Check. But you know what they say...there's lies, damn lies, and then there's statistics. -ed]

8. Forget about your career for once in your life." [Um, I think I've got this one covered. -ed]

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

o heart of my heart

O heart of my heart
From a midsummer night’s dream
Your form once a mystery
Now too interwoven with mine to part

Where did you learn to listen with your heart?
Broken glass mixed in a cautious laugh
Silent terror caught in a bated breath
Clouds stirring in the eyes of a photograph

Like a caged bird finally set free
By the music of your heart
You unlock so many gates
that oft imprison me

Where did you learn to love with your soul?
To look beyond what meets the eye
To cherish my inmost parts
Every imperfection, large and small

O heart of my heart
Your tenderness makes me soar
Every time I hear your gentle voice
I love you more and more

-pjn 2/28/06