Thursday, December 27, 2007

on turning 30

It was another memorable birthday in Nicaragua, between my roommate's house decorating, pancake breakfast with 2 other dear friends (Beth and Alan, thank you!), a couple of long-distance phone calls, and several adventures (including seeing a new view of the gorgeous crater lake Laguna de Apoyo, visiting an old relic railroad tunnel, and hitting my first pinata--I guess the kid within never really grows up!) in the little community of Diriomito outside of Masaya, the heart of Nicaraguan artesania and folklore, where my Nica friend Johanna's family lives.

Other than the dates on the calendar, however, it's hard to believe that this year marks my entrance into a third decade of life. At one time the college years were supposed to be time when you "found yourself"--though nowadays it seems like it has expanded to include all of the 20-somethings. For better or worse in my case, however, I seem to be no closer to that all-elusive "settling down" than I was 10 years ago. And for all my many adventures following God's call here in Nicaragua, for all of the wonderful friendships I have made and wonders of creation I have seen, all of which have stretched and grown me in ways I can scarcely begin to explain, some of my most personal dreams still seem tantalizingly far from reach.

As 2007 comes to a close (and with it, half of my time in this country), in my heart there is a sense that time is passing---and a burning question arises: what will I do with the time I have left? And another--for what purpose have I truly been brought to this place? And will I fulfill it?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

quoting henri

I was flipping through a book before lending it to a friend, and I came across a passage that expresses my heart perfectly. So I give it to you as a gift.

"I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know the people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them."
-Henri Nouwen, in Gracias, A Latin American Journal
Thinking about this in the context of Advent, I am reminded of how Christ is the definition of incarnational ministry...that God loves us so much that He was not content to remain in heaven or save us in some surgically clean way...but that Christ was born into all of the messiness of fallen creation, that He knows us by name, but not from afar...but rather from having walked our very streets, from having physically touched, from listening, suffering, eating, crying....yes, this is the miracle of Christmas.
God IS with us. Aleluia.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

la boda en selva negra

All I can say is, look at the pictures. It was beautiful, touching, and made me long for my own.

Monday, December 17, 2007

christmas in managua

Alicia, Laura, and I on the evening of a Christmas concert we went to at the national theater downtown last week
The Christmas tree of lights and the old Cathedral in Managua's old center

It's hard to tell, but that's a poster of the virgin Mary hanging in front of the Cathedral

Saturday, December 15, 2007

top 10 reasons...

It's official-- in Nicaragua, walking on the street is definitely preferable to the sidewalk. At least in residential neighborhoods. Which is where me, Andrea, and my good friends Beth & Alan were paseando last night picking up fritanga food on our way to their house for dinner.

Below, I give you me and Alan's hot-of-the-press list of the top 10 reasons to walk on the street rather than the sidewalk.

1. At any given moment, the sidewalk ends.

2. Sidewalks here have more potholes and other "gringo traps" than the roads.

3. People at night sit out on the "porch" which in many cases IS the sidewalk, making it impassable.

4. Walking on the sidewalk makes one much more susceptible to be scared out of one's wits by a guard dog who thinks you are too close to their property.

5. Speaking of dogs, they frequently leave their um, tracks, on the sidewalks.

6. In some cases sidewalks are actually the extension of someone's tile driveway, which when slick with water can cause one to lose their balance and/or drop everything they are carrying.

7. There is more light on the road, which makes it safer.

8. You can more easily hail down a taxi if you are already standing on the street.

9. You have a better, less obstructed view of what's happening around you from the street.

10. Hmmm. Well, I seem to have forgotten this last one. Too much good fritanga food, I guess. (Ah, of course, the sidewalks also are often the homes of food vendors, like the one pictured above.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

aventura, carazo style

I don't what it is about the 1st weekend in December, but so far here in Nicaragua, it has meant LOTS of adventure. A year ago this week I was enjoying the Rio Tuma, high in the mountains of Matagalpa, and getting horseback riding lessons (the hard way!). This year I was in another brisk autumn-like climate, only much closer to home--in the hills of Carazo, just southwest of Managua. (How further south = more cold is a mystery for the climatologists--not me.)

The reason for the trip? My new Nica friend Wendy (for whom I am writing part of this post in Spanish) was celebrating her birthday and invited me to her hometown for the weekend. Nos reunimos en Jinotepe, y pasabamos una hora buscando comida y otros preparativos for the fiesta that night. La parte mas chistosa fue cuando fuimos a la casa de la senora que iba a preparar el queque, y ni habia recordado que tenia que hacerlo! ("Es un show completo," dice Wendy.) After struggling through the crowds in the market, we took the bus from Jinotepe down the road to Santa Teresa. Wendy's house is just off the carretera, and it a cute little green bungalow that her step-dad designed and constructed all by himself! Estaba muy impresionada con todas las plantas y flores que tenian--de veras es como un paraiso alli! Wendy's parents were just adorable, and they welcomed me with open arms-and told me lots of stories about their community history (the whole area apparently used to be a coffee producing region). After a delicious lunch we went back to Jinotepe to pick up the bendito cake that almost didn't get made for the occasion and searched in vain for an icechest because there was no light (apparently the transformer had blown out a few days earlier, and since friday was a holiday, well...). That night a small group of Wendy's friends and I celebrated by eating Wendy's favorite dish (a Nica version of chop suey), singing, and telling stories. I was really excited at bed time because I got to wear long sleeves and pants!

La manana seguiente es donde realmente empieza la aventura completa. The next morning Wendy wanted to take me to visit her abuela, who lives a rural area about 45 minutes away. So we boarded a bus and headed into the middle of the campo, where most of Wendy's mom's family lives. After a round of introductions and some soda (Nica etique rule #1: never show up empty-handed at someone's house. Rule #2: whenever possible, bring Coca-cola.), Wendy and I headed out with some of the cousins down to the river. It should have taken about an hour, but when we got there, the muchachos told us that the water looked too low and we should follow them to another much more fun place with more water to play in. "Siganos!" decian...2 horas despues...todavia estuvimos caminando a traves de palos, piedras, agua, y quien sabe que mas...

Just when I was completely without hope that we would ever arrive, we did. We ate our ham sandwiches and the little bit of Coke that remained, and then it was playtime. We had a great time sitting in the waterfalls, navigating the slippery rocks, and enjoying the cool air. and Wendy and I took a ton of photos...

Eventually, we headed back up the hill and through the fields and forests through which we had come--thankfully though it was long, the return trip was not nearly as long as the viaje to arrive. Wendy's abuela had made us a delicious chicken and yucca soup, rice, and platanos, which we wolfed down, only to realize we had missed the last bus of the day, and would have to wait for a taxi to pass. Esperamos el taxi por un rato, llego un muchacho con raspados, que comimos con mucho animo, y aunque no queriamos caminar ni una vara mas, fuimos caminando hasta que llego un taxi que nos llevo a la Teresa, the closest town. We got a microbus from where the taxi left us to the entrance where the highway is, then another micro 2 km until we were 4 blocks from the house. Midway through this last stage, it started to pour. Wendy and I were both laughing, it was so comical. All this walking, all this way, rendidas estabamos, y comenzo a llover...que clase de dia tuvimos, hasta el fin!

We took shelter under a bus stop landing until it stopped, reached the house, where we showered, dried off, and chatted into the night. Then, at 5am this morning, I awoke to make the return trip to Managua in order to be at the office by 8am!
Whew! I am exhausted just thinking about it. Tanta diversion, tanta actividad, tanta platica...pero todo lo disfrute, y doy gracias a wendy y su familia por hospedarme, por compartir sus vidas conmigo, y por ayudarme a sentir muy en casa! Decimos en ingles, "la amistad es como un arbol de refugio, y me senti eso mucho este fin de semana. Hasta la proxima!

What a wonderful thing it is to have new friends to make special memories with.
p.s. the link to the photo album is below. ;-)

field of dreams--or maybe just trigo

Taken in Carazo, one of the few places in Nicaragua where one can actually wear long sleeves without sweating at this time of year.
(In honor of "Best Shot Monday", inspired by my dear friend Dawn)
See the complete album.
The tale of the weekend's adventures soon to come.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

speaking of photos...

At a recent women's conference in Chinandega, this group of girls did a dance like what might have been done in the OT
Nicaragua's next generation

Such bright buildings!

kids love photos

I was recently on a work trip visiting a number of schools and it's a universal fact that if you pull out a camera, kids will flock to you and ask you to take their picture. And then, of course, they will want to see it. :-)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

joy and suffering

"Living as we do in a world that suffers so much, two opposing possibilities can easily tempt us: either to turn our backs and live oblivious to the pain or to allow the pain to overwhelm us and despair to take up residence in our hearts. The truly faithful option is to face the pain and live joyfully in the midst of it. Those who suffer most remind us of how tragic and arrogant it would be for us to lose hope on behalf of people who have not lost theirs. They are teachers of joy."

- Joyce Hollyday, Then Your Light Shall Rise
[Photo: La Chureca, Managua]

Sunday, December 02, 2007

what great things?

"I just felt like the Lord wanted me to encourage you, that He has great things in store for you. Great things."

Those were the words of a young north american woman holding a baby who approached me during worship this morning at church. I did not know her, nor had I ever seen her before.

It came at an apt moment, as I have been thinking lately that while life is busy here, sometimes I wonder if I am truly seeing what it is God wants me to be doing. I am half-way through my commitment here, and I feel like time has disappeared so fast, and my biggest fear is that these 3 years will go by and I will have missed some profound or essential part of the reason God called me here...some door left unopened, some window that I never had the vision to notice.

More than ever, I need sight for the eyes of my heart and ears attuned to a Voice that often seems crowded out by my own. And, as the Advent season begins, more than ever I need to experience Emmanuel anew in my soul.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

shadows and hope

Standing in a university auditorium with 40 Nicaraguan Christian college students singing their familiar praise choruses this weekend, I felt some things I haven't felt in some time. Community. Connection to the Scriptures. Passion. Like a part of my soul was reawakening...

One of my friends had invited me to the 1st Annual Congress of CECNIC, the network of Christian college students--imagine a Latin American version of InterVarsity, and you've got it. With a combination of dynamic teaching, worship, fellowship, celebration, and some evaluation and planning for the coming year, it was a full 2 days.

During those two days, I was filled with nostalgia, remembering the very special and beautiful time my 4 years in the college fellowship experience of growth and community that I had never experienced before or since. I found myself wondering if perhaps God would open a door for me to pour out the love I have always felt for college students, but here, in Nicaragua. I recalled my own heart's desires during those years, just to be listened to, to be invested in, to be cared for. To my great delight, my connections with the students came naturally, with an immediate warmth and depth to conversations that I could scarcely have imagined. And with at least two of them, I sense a real opportunity to be part of their lives in the year to come.

Sometimes God gives us gifts that He knows we have longed for, but been too afraid to hope for, or too caught up in the shadows of doubt and cynicism to even know to ask for. This is what happened to me this weekend. God gave me an incredible gift---a new reason to hope, a renewed sense of purpose, a new vision for the kinds of relationships He has brought me all this way to build.

Lord, help me step out of the shadows and live fully in the light of Your hope, so that I can approach all my tasks and relationships with Your love instead of fear and doubt...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

t-day at the volcano

My dear Mennonite friends Beth and Alan here in Managua invited Andrea and I to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with their family (Beth's side) who came to town from Kansas this week. Afterwards, what else but a trip to the infamous Volcan Masaya to enjoy a view of the setting sun...and the smoke~!
We had a wonderful time, but I couldn't help but feel a pang of homesickness in the midst of the occasion, wishing for an opportunity to share my daily life--and the wonders of Nicaragua--personally with my own friends and family too.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thinking about you tonight.

Monday, November 19, 2007

accion de gracias

Every couple of weeks here in Nicaragua there is this international roundtable of folks working in cross-cultural ministry and development who get together to rub shoulders, encourage one another, and take on a particular topic. Last week the topic was short-term teams, and part of the discussion turned to the impact that these kinds of short overseas experiences really have in the long term on participant's lives.

Some things I hear a lot here, and that I am sure I said at one time myself following some initial intense exposure to poverty is, "Wow, they are so poor, but they seem so happy." And/or, "I really should be more grateful for the things I have." Both perfectly reasonable responses...which I do not want to degrade or minimize in any way as first steps in the journey of recognizing the true global situation in which we live--where just the very hecho of being born in the USA gives you a better quality of life than 90+% of the world's population.

BUT, I want to say that while initially these 2 statements seem fine, I believe if people who witness the suffering of others never move past those observations to ask themselves some deeper questions like, "why ARE these people poor?", "on what basis do they maintain their happiness?", "does the fact that they manage to present a smile and joyous hospitality minimize the gravity of the injustices and harship that characterize their daily lives?", "does their ability to be happy reduce my responsibility to help change these kinds of situations in the world?"....

Thus, in this season of thanksgiving, I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage all of us--myself included--to not just be grateful for what we have--but to DO something--to take action--to alleviate the suffering of someone close to us. Maybe the problems of Nicaragua, or Africa, or Indonesia, are too big and too far away for you to even begin to contemplate a response. But you all have a neighbor, a friend, a coworker, a family member, someone for whom your thanksgiving could take concrete form, and make a real difference.

Change has to start somewhere.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Okay, so it was a weeknight (Thursday), but the young Nica singer-songwriter Moises Gadea was playing at Ruta Maya, and it was not be missed (even if it did mean staying up til 11:30pm).
Moises comes from a famous musically talented family, and is the husband of another Nica musical living legend, Katia Cardenal.
Moises' music is acoustic, folksy, full of references to Nicaraguan culture and social justice issues. He has a poet's heart (and the long hair to match!), and a beautiful voice...and I highly recommend his music if you can find it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

what a dream reveals

I've had one of those weeks where I wondered what on earth I am doing here, whether anyone actually cares about who I am and what I do, and whether or not I am actually making any difference in anyone's life.

Now that that's out there, here's my dream from last night: I dreamt I had taken a special fertility pill that made me pregnant, and I had just found out. I think I was happy. Then suddenly I was in Phoenix, househunting with my old friends Dawn and Brie. I think we were having a good time. They were taking me around to see houses that were former crime scenes or formerly involved in legal disputes of various kinds. Right before I woke up we were going to see a 2 bedroom that had formerly belonged to one of their ex-boyfriends. I don't remember how I felt about that.

That is all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

news and notes

I suppose you could encounter most of this with a thorough google news search, but here's a little of what's happening around the nation...

***The penal code was just approved by the National Assembly, which included provisions outlawing sodomy and therapeutic abortion, as well as some addiction-inducing drugs. Oh yeah, and it lowered the money-laundering sentence to 7 years, while drug dealers get 10. There's a whole lot more that could be said about that, but, well, I can't really write about it. Let's just say the country's most famous money-launderer is benefiting big time from this legal change.

***Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez had a rhetorical showdown with the Spaniards at a recent regional conference in Chile.

***While I am personally blessed to live in area of town not affected by power outages, they continue in many areas of Managua and across the country (2-6 hours daily)--but there is word that December may bring an end to all of that.

***The other day I went to visit some schools in Chinandega with representatives of the public health department to witness the distribution of some donated medicine, and learned that many private Christian schools have not received this medicine (anti-parasite), which was sufficient for all 6-12 year old children in the country.

***Speaking of showdowns, closer to home, President Ortega has been in a verbal tit-for-tat with the Mayor of Managua for his (Ortega's) supposed interference in the election of the new vice-mayor. What is interesting is that this represents a rare open air intra-party conflict.

***The price of everything from beans to milk to tomatoes to gasoline is going up, up, up. I'm still eating, obviously, but thank God I don't have a car--I would be broke.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

culto, cultura, cultivar [esther #3]

"The kind of God we worship affects the kind of culture we create." -Darrow Miller

The words culto (worship in Spanish), cultura, and cultivar come from the same root in Latin--linking worship, culture, and care of the earth in a single breath.

Do we believe the gods are capricious, that they need to be appeased to send blessing, or do we believe in a just, holy deity? If it is the former, it is likely we will build a society where bribes and corruption become acceptable ways to "get things done."

Do we believe that the earth and humanity itself was created by loving Hands, to be tended, nurtured, and developed, or do we believe the physical world has no value, for it will eventually be destroyed? If it is the latter, it is likely the physical realm will become of secondary importance--that the earth and human bodies themselves will be exploited for selfish gain.

Do we believe both men and women reflect in equal measure the character of the god we worship? Or do we actually believe god is more like one gender than the other? If the latter, it is inevitable that one gender will become exalted and the other despised.

For a long time I have heard God only referred to as father. Only in the last several years have I heard any mention of the mother-heart of the God I worship. Now I'm no "radical feminist", but if one never acknowledges the Source of femininity as equally divinely inspired as masculinity, what exactly are we teaching about this Trinitarian being whom we adore? Is God a man? No. Neither is God a woman. The fact is, God transcends our biological categories--the apostle Paul himself argued that in Christ there is neither male nor female, "for all are one in Christ Jesus." If one truly believes this, there is no longer any room for superiority or inferiority on the basis of gender--all are equal bearers of the image of God, and all have been given an important role in the cultivation of the earth, the development of culture.

Is it possible, though, to simultaneously maintain the idea of "equality of being" with "diversity of function" without falling into simple stereotypes or superiority complexes? Isn't it true that both men AND women are both nurturers AND providers? And isn't it true that both genders are called upon to both these essential functions at various points in life? Absolutely. The problem is that throughout history the function of provider has been exalted and the function of nurturer has been dismissed.

The true development of nations will require the proper honor be given to the nurturing roles in a society; if not, the generation to come may have nothing but material prosperity--and perhaps not even that. [to be continued]

Monday, November 12, 2007

just some photos

In the midst of all its recent suffering and pain, here are some pictures that remind me of the beauty of Nicaragua (taken this weekend while playing tourist with a visitor from our US office).

The isletas of Granada, with Mombacho Volcano in the background

Andrea and I at Masaya volcano

Classic architecture in Granada

Thursday, November 08, 2007

the power of story [esther part #2]

"When women’s work of caring is rendered invisible by society, a social feminicide is in process.” –Ivy George, Gordon College

What is the root of this feminide, this pervasive sexism that has dominated our world for so long?

One might give many answers to this question, but the one most compelling to me is the cultural story, the meta-narrative that forms a society's values and on which their social order is constructed. In Korea, for example, one creation fable explains that women come the gods' relations with bears. "Oh, no one actually believes that anymore," you might say. Except that to this day in Korea, there exists a saying: namjob yobi, which means "men are honored, women are despised". Whether or not anyone believes the fable, the values represented by that story (that women are somehow less than fully human) are still reflected in the language and attitudes of the people. Closer to home in Latin America, the Virgin Mary is frequently lifted up for her piety, or submission to the will of God; from this, a distorted cultural story is formed--to be saintly like Mary, women should accept their fate as Mary did; the more suffering they endure, the more they become like the Virgin herself. And in North America? Well, one only has to turn on the television to see how the current meta-narrative tells everyone that their value is based on their production--the amount of money they have, the size of their car/house, etc. A value that a majority of men and women now embrace without even thinking of what that implies for the value of work that does not "produce anything". How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh she doesn't work; she's just a mom."

Thus, the transformation of society requires much more than money, education, infrastructure, investment and/or employment opportunities. It requires telling a different story.

A story of a Creator God who is both one and community, whose very nature is just AND compassionate, whose own character demonstrates the high value of mututal service, submission, and sacrifice; who designed men and women equally in the image of the Divine, with distinct characteristics that only together reflect the fullness and the glory of the Trinity. A story of a God who called both men AND women to equally important roles the wholistic development and stewardship of the earth--which is about much more than the creation of wealth--but in fact is a call to pursue the reconciliation of all things.

Without a cultural story that celebrates the dignity, beauty, and value of both male and female, this kind of transformational and wholistic development will be impossible.

[to be continued...]

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

the disappearance of women [esther part #1]

Either women are crushed or they are made to disappear.

Either women are "different" (and therefore inferior) and subject to all kinds of misery--from being abandoned as children to being denied equal educational opportunity to drinking the water used to wash their husbands' feet during a wedding ceremony to much more unspeakable horrors--or they are "the same" (and therefore equal), but only insofar as they adapt to the male-dominated culture, where the trump cards are strength, money, and/or sexual prowess.

Either women are inferior--and therefore crushed--or they are "the same"--and therefore disappear.

Around the world and in Nicaragua, whether by brute violence or subtle denial, the beautiful, compassionate, nurturing, protective feminine is being devalued, dismissed, and destroyed.

Such depth of pain demands tears and repentance...and so much more.

[to be continued]

Sunday, November 04, 2007

back from costa rica

In case you've been wondering where I've been, I spent the last week in Costa Rica at a conference called Raising Up Esther, the essence of which was about women's role in the development of nations, and how the lie of male superiority has been a major cause of the poverty many nations continue to struggle with. More on the content of the workshops as the week goes on.
Elizabeth (my Nica friend from Somotillo) and I traveled by bus to San Jose and stayed in a mission guesthouse outside the city with some awesome people around the world, including these other 3 ladies pictured here, who all work with the Community Health Evangelism program that we use in Nicaragua as well.

A beautiful Costa Rican sunrise from my balcony window (it was crisp and cool the entire week, and I gladly made use of my limited supply of long sleeves and pants while I was there).

One morning I got to play tourist, and headed downtown where I saw the old national theater, and was enchanted by this beautiful marble flute-player statue in front.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

highs and lows

High #1: My roommate and I took the GRE today, and I am thrilled to no longer be studying words like celerity and reliving the horrors of high school geometry. Hopefully the results in 6 weeks will at least provide me a decent shot at admission to the Masters program I am hoping to attend.

High #2: A delicious celebratory lunch at Ola Verde, a fabulous trendy restaurant where I ate some great beef and vegetables, a la china.

High #3: Tomorrow morning I leave for a week-long conference in Costa Rica with an awesome Nicaraguan woman named Elizabeth.

Low #1: I am getting up at 3:30am to take a 10 hours bus ride to San Jose tomorrow.

Low #2: Elizabeth hails from Somotillo, one of the communities most severely hit by the leptospiros epidemic, and she told me how she visited some of the rural areas where the people are very depressed, not to mention "consternada" (judged) now as their community is being called "dirty."

Low #3: The leptospirosis cases have risen from 311 to over 500 in the last 2 days. The hospitals are full. There is a shortage of the needed medicines to treat the symptoms, never mind address the root causes (infected animals and their droppings, contaminated soil and wells, etc.)

It's hard to not be excited about a trip to Costa Rica, but my heart is heavy with the national crises affecting so many of my friends and co-laborers here right now, and I wish there was something more I could do to help. Truly, I think helplessness is the absolute worst possible feeling that exists.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

como si fuera poco

"It's like we're reliving the 7 plagues," someone commented today, and truthfully, the recent series of disasters here in Nicaragua is of a magnitude that rivals the old biblical story in Exodus.

First, as anyone who follows this blog or Nicaraguan current events knows, Hurricane Felix hit the Atlantic Coast with a vengeance in early September. The short term crisis is being handled, but thousands of people remain without homes or an independent food source to sustain them when the aid runs out, never mind resources for medicine, school, etc.

Then, of course, the rain did not stop. The government statistics say that in some parts of the country, it rained 52 days straight. (In fact, I think we've had one 24 hour period without rain in the last 2 months.) The ground became saturated, laundry became impossible to dry, the streets turned to rivers, and on the Pacific side, large portions of already planted seed was lost due to flooding. Last week, the Rio Grande in Matagalpa rose above its banks and flooded a whole section of the mountainous region's capital city, leaving a muddy mess, and hundreds more homeless people in its wake.

Then, 3 days ago, an outbreak of leptospirosis was reported in the northwestern region of the country, Chinandega. One young man died in a rural community called El Ojoche, one of the very first places I visited as part of my work here--and a place where I have friends---within 48 hours the whole region was quarantined by the health department as more than 50 potential cases were identified--mostly youth or young adult men--who were then brought to nearby hospitals, given antibiotics, etc.

Today I was up in the capital of Chinandega doing a couple of interviews for future stories I will be writing, and there was another big storm. Later I found out, through a health educator who visited Ojoche today, COMO SI FUERA POCO (as if all of this wasn't enough), that two nights ago a tornado had passed through--and took their entire harvest with it. All of their basic grains and beans for the next 6 months that had been harvested. Gone. Months and months of labor, lost in one night.

Houses, roads, harvests, forests--dessimated. Women, men, children--homeless.

What can I even say in the face of so much destruction and tragedy?

This country and its people need the support of the international community now more than ever--money, medicines, and especially seeds to replant the fertile ground of this beautiful land. But more than all of that that, they (we) need to find that place deep within where the most important seed--the seed of esperanza--still lives, despite the despair that is closing in on all sides.

Esperanza that can only come from God.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

rainy weekend

That's basically what it looked like all day Saturday in Poneloya, the beach near Leon where I, my two roommates, and friend Anne spent the weekend. We're at the tail end of the rainy season here, and it has been a doozy. As if the damage caused by Hurricane Felix wasn't enough, the entire Pacific region has taken a beating over the last two weeks, and now there is concern that the country could be facing a serious food insecurity problem for the coming year due to the destruction of so much of this period's harvest. Even my coworkers with middle class incomes have been telling me that prices on basic foodstuffs are rising quite rapidly, to the point where many people already cannot afford to buy beans for every day consumption.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

vision of community

My deepest and truest experience of community in my nearly 30 years of life is still the 6 months following my senior year of college when I shared a house with 4 other amazing young women on E. Ridgewood. Cooking meals together, throwing parties together, pooling our resources to share the costs of life based on means...I think it was during that time that the dream of incarnational neighborhood ministry was first planted in my mind--and this perhaps idealist notion of moving into a poorer neighborhood with a group of friends just to be a living witness to the love and truth of the gospel, in community, though shelved for a time in the recesses of my mind, has never really disappeared.

In fact, lately this vision has only grown stronger as I get glimpses of this very same model lived out my Nica brothers and sisters. Take Daniel and Darling, for example. Both successful educators by profession, they decided to move into a poor rural neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Managua, where they began a church as well as a school for the community. The primary school classrooms are literally 5 steps from the very house where this couple lives. There is no dividing 'life' and 'ministry' for them; they are one and the same. Their commitment is to the development of this entire community, and they have made it clear with their money, their time, where they chose to raise their children, and how they embrace the teachers and staff of their school as their own family.

There is messiness and beauty in this arrangement, as there is in any authentic expression of community.

But sometimes I think Christians in my culture look only for the beauty while trying to avoid the mess. And so when money and circumstances permit, many move to better, nicer communities--frequently under the auspices of perfectly understandable motives--safety, security and quality education for their children, higher property values, etc.
But here is the question that haunts me: if we truly believe that all of us are God's children and equally valuable and loved in His eyes, why would we ever leave some of God's creation to suffer or just 'make due', while we pursue our version of the abundant life? How have some of us arrived at this place where writing a check is all that is required of us to be faithful to the example of Jesus--who gave without ceasing, but didn't even have a bank account? Isn't the real giving found in relationships--where the natural exchange of resources, ideas, encouragement, and hope--takes place in all of its fullness?

And so as I ponder this vision of community, I am watching, waiting, hoping, praying that God will allow me to live out this messy calling (either with friends or my own family) one day soon.

the storm still rages

I know we're all under compassion fatigue, but it bears noting that while the hurricane season appears to be over, the cleanup and recovery process has really only just begun on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast.

From an article in the Central American University magazine Envio published recently (excerpted, and translated from Spanish).

"400 thousand hectares of forest devastated. And the yucca, rice, plantains, fruits, everything ruined, almost everything lost. The animales surely dead and those who survived, without their habitat. What are they going to eat for these next few week, months, in the year to come? What are they going to sell, with what are they going to buy salt, oil, soap, clothes, medicine? How are they going to pay the costs of school for their children? From a social reproduction standpoint, Hurricane Felix destroyed the economic equilibrium between the needs of the community, the resources of the forest, and the relationship between them, which translates into the material goods and symbols that Bilwi (the city) obtains. One does not even dare to speak of an incertain future, for the primary worries are still in the present.

Said one man, 'the worst is yet to come. We are campesinos and if we do not begin to plant we will not eat." The gravest reality is not clearing the way to the land, which could take more than a week. The most serious issue is that they don't have seeds to begin the planting cycle. With the forest devastated, more than ever their lives depend on clearing the way to their gardens, obtaining seeds to plant, avoiding what would be a second tragedy--brushfires when the rainy season ends.

Looking at the map of the area, with the exception of the work of the World Food Program to bring food to all of the affected communities, the aid has followed and continues to follow the route of the institutions who already work in certain territories. In this way, the communities least attended before the hurricane, continue to be so afterwards."

Monday, October 15, 2007

clownin' around

There's very little I haven't seen on a Nicaraguan bus, but one of the more colorful oddities are the clowns. Yes, I said clowns. With all the festive garb you would expect, and slightly scary painted faces, two clowns boarded my bus back to Managua on Sunday afternoon with a brief (and hardly intelligible--for me, a not-native-Spanish-speaker) stand up routine. Still, for their effort (and courage--would I EVER board a bus as a clown? Hmmm. Let me think.), I rewarded them with a small donation. And in return, one of them gave me a big smile for this photo.

The incident was all the more amusing because just 12 hours earlier my roommate and I had been discussing with our cab driver her clown-related fears. Maybe don't look too closely at this photo, A. :-)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

dia de la raza

In Nicaragua, as in many Latin American countries, October 12th (what in the US is called Columbus day) is celebrated as Dia de la Raza (day of the race). I missed the party Friday morning due to a site visit to a school where we work, but here is a taste of the cultural celebration held in my office to commemorate and celebrate our intercultural ministry.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

my friend, fatima

I had no real agenda when I went to see her on Tuesday. And maybe in some countries that would be considered 'inefficient' or 'wasting time.' But not here. One of the highest honors one can give in this generous and hospitable culture (where everyone has more time than money) is a personal visit.

And so I showed up at Fatima's doorstep Tuesday morning with nothing but a copy of our latest magazine, which featured a story about our work in her community and some beautiful photos of Fatima in front of her house---and some apples for us and her two boys to snack on. We talked about all kinds of things--the incredible amount of rain we have been getting lately and its effect on her community (all the roads are dirt and the majority have become small rivers in the last week), the fungus-like thing on her son's ear (they were headed to the clinic later this week to get it checked out), her patio garden (the compost for which was soaked by the rain and she will have to start the process again), her attempts to keep the peace with another group of leaders recently elected in the community, the merits of fruit beverages over soda, my trip to the States, the difference in the pace of life one finds in the two cultures,her older son's aversion to his shoes, and of course the magazine. She was excited to see her friend Rosa on the cover, but with typical self-depreciation, took one look at her photo and said, "que gordita".

Eventually it was time for me to go, and even though it was drizzling out and her kids were no doubt ready for lunch, she insisted on walking me out to a safe place to catch a cab (about a 20 minute walk from where she lives). Along the way her younger son entertained us with small playdough creations and jumping over puddles (which made his mom just a little nervous--"que no te caigas!').

And when we finally reached the calle pavimentada, we hugged, she thanked me for my visit, and I got into the cab.

And I thought, this is friendship.

Monday, October 08, 2007

recordando che

Today marks the 40th anniversary of controversial guerrilla fighter Che Guevara's death. For those unfamiliar with Latin American history, Che is an icon, his black beret with single star still a common sight on t-shirts, murals, etc., and his revolutionary ideals the inspiration for much of the leftist political activity in places like Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Central America.

"Born Ernesto Guevara in the Argentinian city of Rosario in 1928, Che trained as a doctor before being caught up in the political conflicts sweeping Latin America. His conversion to revolutionary Marxism began after he traveled across the region in 1952 and 1953, and was shocked at the economic disparities in the region. His life changed dramatically when he met Fidel Castro and his brother Raul in Mexico in 1955, and became convinced that violence was the only way to overturn an unjust social order. He quickly joined the Castros' armed uprising against the then Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. After their revolution triumphed in January 1959, Guevara was appointed Cuba's supreme prosecutor, in charge of the trials and executions of hundreds of people linked to the previous regime. He later held the posts of industry minister and governor of Cuba's central bank, when he advocated nationalising private businesses. He dreamed of a classless society where wages would be made unnecessary and money abolished. In his spare time, he wrote books about the theory and practice of guerilla warfare. Growing restless and not content to rest on his laurels in Cuba, Guevara sought to spread revolution around the world, travelling in 1965 to the Congo with a group of Cuban revolutionaries to join up with Marxist guerillas there. In late 1966 he set off once more, this time to start a new anti-US guerilla movement in the jungles of eastern Bolivia, hoping to create "two, three, many Vietnams" in Latin America. But after 11 months at the head of a small band of rebels who failed to find mass support, he was captured by US-backed Bolivian soldiers on October 9 1967. He was shot in a schoolroom the following day, and his bullet-ridden corpse was put on display in a laundry, eyes wide open. He was 39. " Source Article

Sunday, October 07, 2007

cramming coffee cake concert

that about sums up my saturday. since andrea had her camera and i didn't, check out her blog for the photos.

today i (1) went to an english-speaking church with my new roommate alicia, (2) ate a tuna melt for lunch, (3) grocery shopped (twice--once in the air-conditioned la Union, and later in the local market), (4) studied alegra (GRE countdown: 21 days), (5) read some newspaper articles in Spanish about the increasing incidence of HIV in northwest Nicaragua and the latest spin on who's got the political power around here, (6) looked at a co-worker's photos of the damage caused by Hurricane Felix and felt sad and overwhelemed, (7) watched some Grey's (my one pop culture weakness), and (8) waited for an email that never came.

i'm tired and a little sad tonight. not the best way to start the week, but hopefully a good night's sleep will help.

hasta luego.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

with new eyes

Some stream-of-conscienceness ranblings on my time in the States...

In Texas it didn't take long for me to note how incredibly big everything is--from streets (5 lanes on one side of the highway? are you kidding me?) to houses to cars to shopping malls. It took slightly longer to realize that unlike Managua, there are hardly any taxis on the streets, and barely a bus to be found. I found myself a little lonely when I drove around the city alone running errands--even the radio seemed like poor company when I had grown accustomed to a variety of personalities sharing my daily bus route, as well as a pleasant cacophony of voices, music, and traffic related sounds. I missed my daily walks, but greatly enjoyed my opportunites to drink Dr. Pepper. I found myself overwhelmed by suburbia. I missed my daily coffee with my roommate, but greatly enjoyed pancakes and breakfast tacos--both much better in TX than any version I have made here. My jaw dropped to the floor the first time I paid $8 for lunch (that would be 3 very large and delicious lunches in Nicaragua), but within just 2 weeks I found myself succombing to my largely dormant and/or minimal materialistic tendencies (and quietly justifying it--"well, I mean, I DO need new clothes that actually fit"). On Sunday I realized how much I missed the gentle but powerful liturgy when we closed our worship service with a version of the doxology and the kyrie.

And as I traveled across Managua via taxi for the first time in 2 weeks last night, I saw this city with new eyes--and sharp pangs of sadness descended into my spirit as I realized that living among the poor for so long had desensitized me to its everyday manifestations--brought clearly into focus again for me by the 11 year old girl washing windshields at 7pm on the north highway that takes me home....what does it say about me that it took a 2 week saturation in the middle class wealth of my north american world to reawaken my mind to the every day struggles that 90% of the people I know here are facing?

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Monday, October 01, 2007

there and back again

I had a wonderful time reconnecting with old friends back in Texas (and Phoenix!) over the last 13 days--and just want to say thank you to all of you for the overwhelming shower of love, support, encouragement, and hospitality you poured out over me...I am refreshed, inspired, grateful, and beyond blessed to have friends like y'all.

But, it is good to be back in my own living room, sharing life with my wonderful roommate, and gearing up for the return to "normal" life here.

More reflections on the trip manana.

p.s. Thanks, Texas, for giving me a glimpse of autumn again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

texas or bust

In about 10 hours, I will be on a plane to the great State of Texas for the first time in 17 months. So don't expect much blogging until I return to Nicaragua October 1st...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

at the bisou bisou

Andrea and I were pretty psyched to try out this cute new restaurant, Bisou Bisou, on the southern edge of Managua yesterday--our first crepes in a LONG while (check out A's banana and nutella below, yum!). The menu also boasted other delectable looking temptations like bread bowl soups, salads, and all manner of coffee bevs. Unfortunately, I think it will be another long while before we go back, because of the prices. And, though it's hard to see much of the ambiance in these pics, the place was adorable. Wooden tables, fresh-cut flowers, wrought iron candelabra on the wall, black and white photos of sweet kisses, etc. If it weren't for the reggaeton club music blasting into the air, I might have thought I had left the country.
And speaking of leaving the country, I will be in the great State of Texas in about 2 days for a 2 week visit, so if you'd like to get together at some point (or even if you don't or can't), drop me a comment. I love hearing from you!

(I had the spinach and cheese crepe, which was also delicious but not nearly as mouthwatering as this one.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

dias patrias

Feliz Dias Patrias, Nicaragua!
For the one or two history buffs reading, today Nicaraguans celebrate their victory in the battle of San Jacinto against the forces of American William Walker, who temporarily took over the country (and even tried to make English the official language for a while!) in the 1850s. Tomorrow Nicas and all of Central America celebrates their independence from Spain, won in 1821.
(Pictured above: my coworker Hultner's daughter dressed in traditional Nica clothing for a school celebration this week.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

driving in the rain [yes, it's scary]

My most hair-raising experience in Managua in months came today, mid-afternoon when I drove Andrea and I's new roommate Alicia through several flooded city streets en route to the airport to pick up her luggage, which arrived a day late. Given that it was her first Nica downpour, she had to record the moment.
I know, it looks like the water covered the engine, but really it just reached the top of the tires. But I was still pretty freaked out. Some parts of life in Managua just never become ordinary. Streets that become rivers is one of them.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

dr. francisco

You may remember that Andrea and I have these awesome neighbors, the Gutierrez family. Francisco and Alicia, in case you've forgotten, live across the street from us, and they and their 3 college age kids have been a continuous and tangible expression of God's grace in my life since my very first week in Nicaragua. Francisco is a doctor--a pediatrician by specialty--but now directs one of the most prominent Nicaraguan NGOs nationwide, Accion Medica Cristiana (Christian Medical Action). He's running a multi-million dollar integrated health and agricultural development operation serving impoverished communities all over the eastern coast of Nicaragua, as well as rural areas in central Nicaragua...but in his heart, he's a dad. A teacher. A leader with a servant's heart and an analytical mind.
This week has been a busy one for Francisco, as he has been involved in the international coordination of disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Felix. One night this week, Alicia told us, he came home at 8pm, ate, took a nap, and went back to work at midnight--and did not come home until 6am. So when he came over earlier tonight (the first we'd seen of him since before the hurricane), and invited us over to watch a news analysis program which featured him and a representative of the United Nations speaking with a prominent Nica tv journalist, we were excited, to say the least.
Watching the interview and talking with him afterwards about the situation on the north Atlantic Coast, I see once again how Francisco is using his knowledge, his values, his mind, his heart, every ability he has been given, not only for the raising of his amazing kids, but for the raising up of his own pueblo. His life speaks, not only to me, but to hundreds, maybe thousands, of his own people.
It's hard to convey his depth, intelligence, love, and commitment in words. But if you could meet Francisco face to face, I think you would see what I see. And I believe you would be as inspired as I am.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

felix update [8:36am Friday]

Hurricane Felix hit the northeast corner of Nicaragua, in the area near Puerto Cabezas (or Bilwi, as it is called by the indigenous locals) early Tuesday morning. (For those unfamiliar with the geography of Nicaragua, this is the opposite side of the country from Managua, where I live. We got a lot of rain in the last 2 days, but nothing else.)

The government's first official preliminary report is out this morning and the news is not good:
-18,477 people evacuated
-39 deaths
-105 missing
-18 injuries
-90 rescued
-7,795 houses destroyed
-8,848 homes partially damaged
--no potable water is currently available due to the contamination of almost all local wells
-access to the area is limited due to rushing rivers filled with tree branches and other debris
-there is a continued risk of mudslides and flooding in certain parts of north and central Nicaragua

At least 70,000 people were affected by this storm. (And there are still whole communities that have not been reached due to limited access via road and river.)

Medical teams, food and water have already been sent to the region, but there will be needs for weeks to come. I encourage all of you to monitor the FH website in the next couple of days for information on how you can contribute to the relief effort, should you feel so inclined.

In addition, information about the storm and its aftermath is being continuously updated locally here (in English):

Gracias por tus oraciones y ayuda.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

saturday in managua

En camino on the bus to lunch on Saturday afternoon
Pita, hummus, salad, and later, some really delicious ravioli and panini at one of our new favorite restaurants, Ola Verde (Green Wave) !

Out on the streets of Los Robles, the trendy neighborhood where we ate lunch