Monday, March 26, 2007

a promise in the desert

It's real dry (and dusty) these days in Nicaragua. So dry that I'm dehydrated before I even realize it. And when I start to drink a glass of water, I can't believe how thirsty I let myself become.

I suppose that is a metaphor for my spiritual life as well. If you read my newsletters, you know I've mentioned on a couple of occasions how much I am longing to find a small group community within a local Nica church in which to be nurtured and grow. Lately, the instances in which I have experienced anything resembling community have been like an oasis in a desert. A few minutes on the phone with a friend from home. An email from a sister in Christ. An act of service from a stranger. A moment of shared laughter and meaningful conversation. And each time I wonder how I survived so long without this water for the soul.

Tonight God's Word spoke a promise into my desert.

"As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth, and making it bud and is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty but will...achieve the purpose for which I sent it... You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace...Instead of the thornbrush will grow the pine tree and instead of the briers the myrtle will grow." (Isaiah 55:10-13, selected)

So, dear reader, if you are a praying person, please pray I will be looking for the pine tree and the myrtle...

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Formerly in this space was a political post that I have been asked to remove due to concerns over its effect on my safety and therelationship of the current government with my organization.

If you never saw it, and would like to know what the fuss is about, email me.

That is all.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

recent photos

Where natural beauty and poverty a la vez

Volcan Cristobal and the shoreline

Me, Junieth, and our mandarin
(see post below for more on Junieth)

A child in El Limonal, where the FH team worked last week

Saturday, March 17, 2007

a moment with junieth

The first time I saw her, she was carrying her 18 month old on her hip while writing on a notepad. When I got closer, I realized she was recording the names and ages of each individual who was receiving anti-parasite medicine. This medicine was a donation from the FH team who worked most of this past week in El Limonal, an impoverished community of 250 families just west of Chinandega, located between a cemetery and the city dump.

Junieth is a young mom with a lot of responsibility, but that didn’t stop her from giving up her day Thursday to help in the administration/medicine distribution process. After lunch, I joined Junieth, Ivania, and Fatima (the community leader, another young Christian mom) as they walked along the dusty streets of the community and offered the medicine to each family.

The process went something like this:

“Buenas—andamos deparasitando. Quieres recibir la medicina?” (Good afternnon—we are de-parasiting the community? Would you like some medicine?)

If we received a yes response, we would take down the names and ages of each person in the house and give them appropriate medicine (the dosage information was given to us by a doctor beforehand).

We worked in pairs--Junieth and I on one side of each street and Fatima and Ivania on the other, with the medicine cart between us. At a lull in the process, we stood under the shade of one of the neighborhood’s many trees and I asked Junieth, “So why are you doing this? Are you part of Fatima’s women’s health group?”

No,” she answered. “But she’s my friend and I wanted to support her.”

Are you part of the same church?”

No. I believe in God, but I don’t really belong to a church.”


“Well, you know, there are a lot of hypocrites.”

Yes, I know. There are a lot of people in the world who say one thing and do another. Is there something in particular that concerns you?”

Well,” she said quietly, “I like to dance. And I like to have fun. And I feel like if I were to go to the church, they would judge me for that.”

Oh. But Fatima, she is not like that, is she?”

No, but many other people are. I wish I could go, but I just can’t.”

We began to walk again in silence. What could I say? It’s true that there are many legalistic evangelical churches in Nicaragua, and Limonal is no exception.

Lord, give me something to encourage this woman with such a heart of service that she would walk around in the oppressive heat of the afternoon just to help her friend.

Junieth, did you know that Jesus’ first miracle in the Bible was turning water into wine at a wedding?”

Yes, I have heard that.”

Well, Jesus was someone who loved to have fun, who had a heart full of joy, and loved being around people just like you who like to dance and enjoy life. So I hope you will try not to worry so much what other people think of you and remember that Christ loves you just as you are.”

I looked cautiously into her eyes. For just a second, I thought I saw the weight of life lift from her countenance and the light of understanding and hope take hold.

And then it was gone.

Later we would joke and take pictures and I would share my mandarin with her. But that singular moment—a moment when I saw the pain in her soul—would stay with me into the night.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

awful alfredo

Maybe it's the heat--or that I have no one to cook for with Andrea out of town with a team--but tonight I had no desire to make anything on the stove. Not even scrambled eggs.

So yes, I succmbed to the temptation of Chicken Alfredo, Healthy Choice microwave dinner style (first time in 11 months in Nicaragua).

To no avail. It was watery, lacking flavor, and...well, awful.

Moral of the story: no matter how tired or culturally stressed out I am, I will never buy microwave meals here again.

The chocolate treat from a local bakery, however, was delightful.

That is all.

p.s. I'm leaving town to visit the FH team in Chinandega tomorrow morning, so happy early St. Patrick's Day if I don't get a chance to post something along the lines of how the Irish saved civilization that day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

old song, new meaning

"I look behind my ears for the green
Even my sweat smells clean
Glare off the white hurts my eyes.
Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head

I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.
My life is part of the global life
I'd found myself becoming more immobile
When I'd think a little girl in the world can't do anything.
A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring
-Indigo Girls

Sunday, March 11, 2007

sal y luz

Sal y luz is the name of the women’s ministry in the City of God church in Chichigalpa pastored by a dynamic young couple named David and Judith. Salt and light are much needed in this sugar and rum producing area of northwestern Nicaragua.

Although the Ingenio San Antonio (the local sugar mill, founded in 1898, run by one of the most powerful families in Nicaragua) provides jobs to a large percentage of the people in the area, these positions are mostly seasonal. In addition, the mill has been publicly criticized for its poor working conditions, which have caused numerous health problems in the area over the years. According to various associations of former plant workers, more than 2,000 people have died from chronic renal failure, while thousands more continue suffering from exposure to and intake of contaminated water caused by the pesticides used in the sugar fields. Judith tells me that she only drinks purified water now, because she was diagnosed with the disease several years ago.

In addition to its complicated health situation, Chichigalpa struggles in other ways.

(1) Many of the neighborhoods—even older ones—do not have paved roads. There is just no money.

(2) The local health center is just now constructing a pregnancy ward so that women do not have to travel 30-45 minutes to Chinandega or Leon to give birth—but where the equipment for the building will come from is still up in the air.

(3) The community has a volunteer-only fire department with 50 year old vehicles and insufficient resources to even feed the firemen lunch. Pastor David, who has developed a strong relationship with the Chief, went to local businesspeople and asked for donations. Through his efforts, not only do the firemen not have to worry about food, they have also received a computer from his church, which they now use in their office.

Both the fire chief and the Mayor are now good friends with David and Judith, thanks to their wonderful community oriented mindset. But not everyone is on board with their vision. “The other churches here say it’s locura (crazy),” Judith tells me.

For example, Friday night (a traditional night for evangelical church services here), Judith was invited to speak at a public celebration for International Women’s Day in the community’s central park. The event, organized by the mayor’s office, was attended by many students, community members, and a large delegation from David and Judith’s church (the only one present), many proudly wearing shirts that said, “La violencia contra la mujer es contra la imagen de Dios” (Violence against women is violence against the image of God.) Judith gave a compelling (and well received) biblically based message about the value of women in the eyes of Christ, after which she led us in a candle-light only minute of silence in honor of all the women who have died due to violence.

Yes, I thought to myself, as I stared at the flickering flame in Judith's hand, this is what Jesus meant when He called the church to be sal y luz.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

inefficiency matters

In Nicaragua, time is spent, not kept.

The duration of things like getting to work are lengthened when the bus driver stops for anyone on the side of the road who hails him down. Lunch in most places only begins to be prepared once you order it. Paying bills at the bank involves standing in a long line and watching banking cashiers triple count money and make small talk with one another.

This is not an "efficient" culture. Sometimes that’s okay with me. Take Tuesday for example. I mentioned traveling to Chichigalpa—a 2 hour bus ride from Managua. I left early in the morning, had 3 hours of meetings with folks there, and then another 2 hour trip home. Of the traditional 8 hour work day, less than half was “productive” by US cultural standards. But was I frustrated? No. Mildly annoyed? Not even a little bit.

Tuesday, however, stands in stark contrast to Wednesday. All I wanted to do was print some invitations for the upcoming dedication of the new multi-purpose campus of the Nehemiah Center. But the color printer was not cooperating. Every time I tried to load the paper, it loaded incorrectly, causing the system to freeze up, and requiring a shut down/restart of my computer. Even after a defrag and the best attempts by a coworker to resolve the issue, 5:30pm came and went, and the beautiful invites remained locked in electronic form on my hard drive. I spent all day trying to accomplish one thing. And I did not accomplish it. Of the 8 hour workday, perhaps 1 hour was “productive”. Was I frustrated? Absolutely. Annoyed? That’s putting it mildly.

Why is it that the inefficiency involved in 4 hours of travel in one day barely caused me to bat an eyelash, but the inefficiency and time wasted by not finding a solution to a computer problem that wound up being resolved today in under 2 hours was enough to bring me to tears?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

in the land of sugar and rum

Chichigalpa, that is. As the home of Nicaragua’s best rum (no, I have not tried it) and a major sugar processing plant (not to mention their beautiful view of Volcan San Cristobal), you might think that the population of 70,000+ is doing pretty well.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth, as I found out during my visit to the area today. But let me first share the simultaneously humorous, frustrating, and long story of my arrival in the community.

The first thing you should know is that I (in a rare moment of unpreparedness) did not have the cell phone # of Pastor David (with whom I was supposed to meet at 10am) with me. So, I did the next best thing--I tried to think back to my last visit and visualize where his church and house were located. Thankfully, their church Ciudad de Dios is fairly well known in the area, and I arrived at the church doorstep without incident. However, the church was locked and no one was around. I asked next door, and they directed me to a pulperia down the road where supposedly someone knew David. So I walked 2 blocks, bought some bread, and inquired again. No luck.

Feeling a little uncertain but still determined, I headed down the street in the direction I thought their house was located. Along the way, several people asked me if I was lost, and tried to help me. Finally I decided the easiest thing to do would be to head toward the fire department, because I remembered that their house was right around the corner.

Sure enough, I reached the fire department and wandered down the street trying to remember what color their house was. No dice. I had no clue. None. At the corner were 3 women in aprons selling freshly cut fruit, so I asked for what felt like the 100th time if anyone knew David or Judith. One of the older women, Juliana, seemed to think she did, so we walked down the street, but upon reaching the house, one of the neighbors said, “Oh, they’ve moved. Now they are living over by Carmelita’s bakery.”

[Insert serious incredulity here. Since when do people move without telling you?]

Fortunately, this bakery is a landmark and I was able to get a second taxi to take me there. Of course, parked right in front was their car, and David standing on his porch looking slightly surprised and perplexed. By this point, you see, it was 11am, and David had given up all hope that I was coming. But I prefer to think that rather than feeling frustrated, he found me resourceful, in that I managed to find his new home without his help.

And now (briefly) on to the purpose of my visit. Pastor David is one of 7 in the Chinandega department initiating HIV/AIDS training and outreach with the support of the Nehemiah Center. I was there to talk to him more about that, learn more about the community, and meet some of the youth leaders implementing this program. Because of my late arrival, the plan changed a bit and he took me over to the local Centro de Salud, where I met with a few doctors and staff to learn about the services offered and limitations of the facility. After the health center visit, David, Judith and I drove to Chinandega city so that I could visit with their adolescent and youth leaders who were participating in a training there and talk to them about the HIV/AIDs programming they have done. Both women spoke animatedly about their ministry—but I will save the rest of the details of this trip for another post, as this one is so long I doubt anyone is still reading. : )

Monday, March 05, 2007

advance copy

I never took a journalism class in my life, but in some ways I feel like I have been preparing to be a writer since I was a child. I began scribbling verse into a spiral notebook at the age of 10--a practice that eventually evolved into a semi-regular journal keeping habit. The blank page has always been the canvas on which I paint best my emotions and experiences with the nuanced hues of word choice, sentence structure, and punctuation.

In addition to being my personal escape from the pain and hardship doled out whimsically by this fallen world, writing became my most highly prized academic and later professional skill. I have always said, give me that 15 page final paper any day before a 3 hour comprehensive exam.

These days in Nicaragua, I find there are never enough words to paint the faces, colors, animals, streets, hands, shacks, feet, fruit, and hearts I see every day. At times I find my craft lacking texture, and even the photos I take seem like little more than the one-dimensional representations of life that they are. And I wonder, what am I possibly contributing with this simple skill of crafting sentences? And I worry, am I truly honoring God with this talent?

Despite all of this internal struggle, I keep writing. Putting my heart on my sleeve, sharing in the joys and sorrows of Nicaraguans all over this country, listening to tales of loss and love, despair and hope, struggle and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Believing that every story has value--because every person has value in the eyes of the One who made us and loves us. Knowing that my words alone may never justly portray the complexity nor the beauty within them.

But trying nonetheless.