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.