Wednesday, January 31, 2007

his name is israel

Remember the starfish story? The one about the girl who walks along the beach throwing starfish back into the water trying to “make a difference to that one”? To be honest, some days here in Nicaragua, I don’t feel I’m making a difference to anyone. I don’t have a lot of "starfish stories" to tell. But maybe tonight I do.

You see, I left a friend’s house pretty late after a dinner party and being a weeknight, the streets were almost empty, I spent 10 minutes unsuccessfully trying to hail down a cab (they all had male passengers or were headed the opposite direction from my house).

Until Israel came along. After negotiating my fare and getting in, I begin my usual round of questions. “So how much longer do you have to work tonight?” “What part of Managua are you from?” “Do you have a family?”

Come to find out, Israel is 23, finished secondary school, but can’t afford to go to the university, although he would like to, and has been a cabdriver now for about a year. Tonight he probably thought he was done for the night, until he agreed to take me across town, the opposite direction from his wife.

Are you Christian?” I ask.

“Yes,” he replies. “I belong to the Assembly of God church. I’ve gone there all my life.”

I tell him I am Christian too, and try to explain as simply as I can what Presbyterian means.

Israel asks me about why I am in his country, whether I like it here, and marvels at the traveling I tell him I’ve done. He speaks animatedly about his pastor and the new school they are hoping to start, frequently looking at me through the rearview mirror with a genuine smile. I can tell he is enjoying himself, even though it’s late and he is probably exhausted.

What a blessing to meet a brother in the faith,” I say. Suddenly I feel guilty for negotiating what amounts to 15 cents off my fare. Right before we arrive at my house, I pull another bill out of my purse.

Thank you so much, Israel, for your spirit of service. I want to give your family and your church a small offering.” I hand him an extra 20 cordobas (about $1), which he accepts with grateful surprise.

“Muchas gracias, Pamela, oiga.” (People say “oiga” for emphasis when they want to make sure you’ve heard what they’ve said.) “Buenas noches. Hasta la proxima vez.” (Good night, until the next time).

As I unlock the porch door, my heart breaks and my eyes water thinking about how many other bright, talented, and hard-working young men are barely scraping by in this country of 5 million. But maybe, just maybe, I gave Israel a little bit of hope and encouragement tonight to persevere and not give up on his future.

Maybe, just maybe, I made a difference to that one.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

day trip to diriamba

The sleepy little pueblo of Diriamba 45 minutes from Managua is best known for its 2 week festival each January honoring its patron saint, San Sebastian, which is less about the aforementioned saint and more about Nicaragua's indigenous heritage and resistance to Spanish colonial rule. This resistance (in true Nica style) is cloaked in poetry, wit, music, and dance and takes the form of a now famous street play known as El Gueguense. Below, some of the colorful sights on the streets of Diriamba this past Saturday.

Friday, January 26, 2007

rediscovering the kitchen's secrets

In my parent’s house growing up, it was my father who did the majority of the cooking; after a long day’s work, he would roll up the sleeves of his collared shirt, don a pair of shorts, and begin any number of artful combinations of vegetables, legumes, spices, and rice. On Saturdays, it was a sure bet that by the time I woke up, there would be a bowl of dough rising on the counter. My dad never worked in a restaurant a day of his life, but he is definitely a chef.

From childhood through my college years, I never gave much thought to cooking. And as I grew older, I increasingly looked for the quickest meal option available, whether that was tuna and miracle whip, raw carrots with hummus, or a Bill Miller’s or Taco Cabana drive-through stop after work. On a few special occasions, I would be brave enough to try my hand at baking desserts or simple casseroles. Most of the time, though, I was just too tired and I lacked the motivation to cook for myself.

I don’t know if it’s being in Nicaragua, having a roommate, or missing some of the tasty dishes of my adolescence and young adulthood back in San Antonio, but over the last 9 months, the kitchen has become a place where I find comfort and joy, whether I am just making a simple pasta dish for Andrea and I, or hosting an 8-person dinner party.

My cooking influences are many and varied. From my dad’s kitchen: potato, cauliflower, and peas curry, and spaghetti sauce; from memories of Main Street Pizza: a version of chicken cacciatore; from recipes gifted to me from Beth H: banana and pumpkin bread; from memories of beloved Tex-Mex food: Spanish rice and potato and egg tacos; from my grandpa’s kitchen, an eggplant, zucchini, and tomato stirfry; from Nicaraguan friends, arroz con leche. And then of course, there are the concoctions that have come to me as I stare into the refrigerator—like a ground beef, potato and pea casserole, or a curried chicken, broccoli, and carrot dish.

My kitchen has become one of my few sanctuaries here in Managua—a place where I can relax, create something beautiful (and hopefully delicious), and practice the gift of hospitality. A place that--through the aromas of cinnamon baking, onions sizzling, or coffee brewing—reminds me that I am not so far from the people and places I love, that somewhere north of here, you also are sitting down at a table not unlike mine, sipping a cup o’Joe, reading the paper, or enjoying a meal cooked with love.

Monday, January 22, 2007

13 long, incredible days

I’m sorry for my long absence from the blogging world.

For the last two weeks, every waking moment of my life (some of which I wish I had spent sleeping) was dedicated to Jordan, Emily, and Prof. Jeff, a delegation from Trinity Christian College who came down to help the Nehemiah Center film, edit, and produce a video on church transformation and community impact (for course credit).

I know what you are thinking—how on earth is it possible to do all of that in 13 days? Well, this was no ordinary trio. These incredibly talented, dedicated, and servant-hearted young people endured a grueling 16 hour day schedule for the majority of their 2-week trip, which included a day of orientation, 6 days of travel to 4 communities to film interviews with pastors and community members, as well as other material needed for the video, 4 days of editing, and a day and a half of semi-vacation.

As part of the coordination team for this project (which included me, 2 Nicaraguans, and another international staff member), I had the privilege of witnessing interview after interview where pastors and their wives shared how their marriages and ministries had been transformed by the ministry of the Nehemiah Center. Mothers and fathers sincerely grateful for the community outreach programs churches had started as a result of the expansion of their worldview. Children being attended to in a wholistic way through well-thought out after school programs. Community leaders (including firemen and even a mayor!) expressing their support for these churches who had become their allies in meeting critical social needs. Couples describing the healing and restoration made possible by the ministry of the pastoral association coordinated by the Nehemiah Center.

The final product (burned to DVD at midnight last night), a video of just over 16 minutes, is a remarkable combination of these testimonies, which will be used in the future, not only to illustrate past ministry impact but also to encourage the future involvement of new pastors and churches in the Nehemiah Center’s programs.

Even though I am exhausted, it was an incredibly rewarding experience, not only hearing the community stories (those of you who get my newsletter will read some of them next week) but spending time with los muchachos, as Hultner and I affectionately nicknamed them (even Jeff was younger than us!). So many unforgettable experiences shared in such a short time…we worked, played, ate, rode public transportation, told stories, and talked sports, politics, faith, music, history, and culture until the wee hours of the morning in my living room (our editing home base). By last night, we were practically roommates (sorry about the shower, Jordan!). And while I am happy to have my ordinary life back, I was actually a little sad to see them go at 5:45am this morning when they headed to the airport.

A huge, public “Gracias” to Jordan, Emily, and Jeff! And, as we say in Nicaragua, “nos vemos!” (Until we see each other again…)

Monday, January 08, 2007

things i see every day

With the official change of government from current President Bolanos to recently elected Daniel Ortega just over a day away, there is lots of evaluating going on in the press of how (in)effective Bolanos was, and what (if anything) Ortega will be able to do to improve the economic situation of the country. In keeping with their responsibility as journalists, photographers from one Nicaragua's principal dailies, El Nuevo Diario set out to capture the human face of poverty here in Managua.

What is in these photos is nothing new for me. I see the faces of children, women, and men like the ones portrayed almost every day as I travel by bus from home to office, walk to the supermarket, or visit communities where we work. What is striking to me in this moment is how normal it all becomes.

How the sound of women's voices wandering the streets of my neighborhood with tortillas, fruit, or plants begins to blend in with the dull roar from the main street a block away.

How the children who board the bus with a plastic container filled with beans (a makeshift musical instrument) intending to sing to passengers for a couple of coins becomes something from which I simply avert my eyes.

How unremarkable it becomes to see men with nothing but a horse and cart share the highway with SUVs and 18-wheelers, looking for something they can transport to earn a living.

How one's sense of powerlessness dulls one's senses to ugly realities too painful to contemplate...

Friday, January 05, 2007

a future not our own

Five days into the new year, I have finished my first book of 2007, and would like to share with you a poem contained therein by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 during Mass because he spoke out against human rights abuses. It provides a good frame for thinking about life, ministry, the past, and the future. Maybe sometime down the road I will also post some reflections about the book too. But for now, I give you "A Future Not Our Own".

It helps, now and then, to step back
And take the long view
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts
It is beyond our vision

We accomplish in our life time only a tiny fraction of
The magnificent enterprise that is God’s work
Nothing we do is complete
Which is another way of saying
That the kingdom always lies beyond us

No statement says all that could be said
No prayer fully expresses our faith
No confession brings perfection
No set of goals and objectives includes everything

This is what we are about
We plant seeds that one day will grow
We water seeds already planted,
Knowing that they hold future promise
We lay foundations that will need further development
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities

We cannot do everything
And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that
This enables us to do something,
And to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results
We are prophets of a future not our own.

And here's one other quote (sorry, couldn't help myself)

“God, the good King, is present—working from the inside. The King is in the kingdom, and the kingdom is among us here and now—for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The King is present in the mess and chaos of everyday life on earth, bringing healing, sight, perception, liberation, wholeness, wholesomeness, movement, health, fullness, liberation, fullness, nourishment, sanity, and balance. The incursion of the kingdom of God has begun. We are under a gentle, compassionate assault by a kingdom of peace and healing and forgiveness, and life." -Brian McLaren