Monday, June 9, 2014

They Say Half the Fun Is Getting There??? Travelling to Nicaragua

So we arrived at the Sioux Falls Airport on May 27 at 10am, eager to start our adventure.
 Nine of us, raring to go to, ready to serve.

Sometimes God has other ideas.

It was going so well until we got to Denver.   This was the first of 2 connecting flights.  We got into Denver - ahead of time!  Really - about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

So how did we leave 2 hours behind schedule?

Houston had some bad weather.  Really, really bad weather.  They called a ground stop just as we were getting read to take off.  So we sat on the runway.  The pilot tried to reassure all the anxious passengers - if we couldn't take off for Houston, no one else could, so the connecting flights would most likely be delayed as well.

No, our flight wasn't.  It left Houston on time - 15 minutes before we landed.  The airport was a zoo - we weren't the only ones stranded there.

The airline had our boarding passes for the rebooked flight ready for us when we got off the plane.  I have to say United was on top of things.  The downside was that the flight wasn't for 24 hours.

After waiting in a long line for customer service just to make sure we had not other options and there was no earlier flight to Managua, we resigned ourselves to an overnight stay in Houston.  I contacted a few local colleagues to see if there was someplace in Houston where we could volunteer the next day and we headed for our hotel. (BTW - travel insurance is worth it!  Our hotel and meals were paid for.)

The next morning Josh O. gave an amazing devotional.  I love having someone else do the devotional - it's so nice to be able to just receive the Word!  He reminded us that even when we don't know what's going to happen or why, we need to just listen to what God is telling us.  Words we very much needed to hear that morning.

After several calls to several places my local colleagues had recommended for service work, we discovered that you can't just drop in and serve at most places in Houston.  We came to serve and we couldn't!  So disappointing.  So we decided to follow Josh's devotional and listen to what God was telling us to do - which was team building.

So we headed off to downtown Houston to the local aquarium, where we bonded over the novel experience of feeding sting rays.

Group building...

                                                        and serving some fishy snacks to the sting-rays!

We hustled back to the airport to make sure we got there in plenty of time.  We didn't want to miss our flight again!


Finally, we boarded and the flight took off on time.  Amazing cloud formations bid us adieu as we flew away from the States.  Finally we saw the lights of Managua.

The weary travelers received a warm welcome from Mike, the synod missionary, Helen, Maria and Luis.  Mario brought the bus around and we loaded up and headed for the retreat center.

We gathered on the veranda for our evening devotion.  We had felt so rushed in the morning and Josh's devotion was so perfect for us that we asked him to give it again.  

We needed to be reminded once more to slow down, and listen to what God was saying in, with and through the journey we were about to begin,

Nicaragua and Me

I was in Nicaragua on a mission trip from May 27 to June 4.

It was an amazing experience.

And I'm still processing it.  It may just be a good thing that I was not able to blog the trip each day while I was there.  I could have written each day's experiences and been done.  This way, I have to think about it, reflect on it and ponder on what it means for my life and my faith.

So I'm blogging now.

This a view from the plane after we left our day-late connecting flight in Houston.  The clouds formations were amazing from the top.

This is a view of Managua from the air as we landed.

We stayed in Managua at the Iglesia Luterana Fe y Esperanza's retreat center in Cedro Galen.  Don't let 'retreat center' fool you.  This is a working farm which also is the youth camp.  Delegations from the States stay there, as well as the local pastors when they come in for training.  It's rustic - it's a camp

We traveled in the western part of the country.  I can't figure out how to mark this picture, but Managua is on the smallest of the large lakes.  We also traveled to the villages in the north, past the bumps that is a range of active volcanoes almost to where the massive mountain ranges begin.

That gets the details of what I was doing in Nicaragua out of the way.  This is a post on what I learned about me - specifically my body - on this trip.

First, Nicaragua is very hot.  It was in the mid to upper 90's during the day and the coolest it got at night was a brisk 77.  And it was humid.  Very humid.  So humid that when you dry off from the shower, you're still wet humid.  Hair doesn't dry humid (my hair was wet for about 4 days solid!).

Which means sweat - a lot!  I hate sweat.  I hate things that make me sweat.  But I loved Nicaragua.  Because it taught me something about sweat (it taught me a lot of things, but we'll get to those!):  the body needs to sweat.

After a few days I noticed that I felt good - really good.  My skin was softer.  My joints didn't ache.  I did have some problems with my bad knee on the steeper climbs, but I felt good.  Sweating out all the toxins was good for me.

And I drank a lot of water.  I drank more water in one day that I sometimes do in a week.  That's not to say I'm drinking a lot of soda or tea.  I'm just not normally thirsty.  Drinking water is good for me too.  I hadn't realized how dehydrated I normally am.  It made me feel better.

The food was plain - simple but delicious.  Every meal we had rice and beans, but those were seasoned expertly.  We had corn tortillas -handmade from just corn, nothing else.  In the villages the meat was fresh - my daughter observed that the chicken we had for dinner probably was roaming the yard that morning - and consumed in small quantities.  The eggs were fresh from under the hen.  My digestive system worked better than it has in a long time.

Lots of water, plain fresh food, exercise and sweat - there's nothing new here.  I know that these are good for me.  But it took Nicaragua for me to actually experience how good.

The Lutheran church in Nicaragua does holistic ministry - caring for body and soul, human and creation.   They take very seriously the inter-connectedness of all creation and the fact that we are embodied beings.  When we were leaving El Rodeito and our host families, I prayed that God would bless Pastors Gerzan and Emperatris and bless their ministries.  Pastor Gerzan asked me to pray for their health too - because without health, nothing goes well.

We say that too - if you don't got you heath, you don't got anything.  But how often is that only lip service.  We say we value health, and then pursue an unhealthy lifestyle.  At least I know I am guilty of this!

I realized that I need to confess my lack of care for the body God has given me.  I get too wrapped up in the mental and spiritual aspects of life, and ignore the physical.  But the physical is God's good creation, a gift to us to care for and enjoy.  This is part of the stewardship of creation which God entrusted to us humans back in the garden.  

How will this work out in the coming days and weeks?  I don't know.  It's hard to change habits, to alter your lifestyle.  This lesson from Nicaragua is one I want to hold on to - to let it seep into my being and change me.  

I really liked feeling good!

PS - my plantar fasciitis pain was completely gone while in Nicaragua.  I give part credit to my orthoheel flip flops and the Keen sandals and hiking shoes I wore on the trip.  But I also noticed that I did very little walking on concrete or asphalt or other hard surfaces.  Most of the walking I did was on hard packed earth.  Another thing to ponder.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pentecost Sunday: Finding Pentecost in Nicaragua

Readings for this Sunday: Acts 2:1-21 and John 14:16-21

Can you imagine being a visitor to Jerusalem that day?

Far from home, in a land with a strange language - one you don’t know very well or not at all perhaps?

You’ve been struggling all week to communicate.  You mime your needs.  You speak slowly, hesitantly one word, maybe two.  You rely on the others in your group who knows the language better than you to say what you need to say.

Then suddenly you hear someone speaking in your language from the middle of a crowd.  

It’s irresistible - with relief you are drawn to the crowd, delighted to hear words you actually understand.

Suddenly you notice the Phrygian standing next to you nodding his head in agreement with the speaker.  Clearly he understands what the speaker is saying in your language.  

So does the Mede on the other side of you.  You turn to ask her a question, but she doesn’t understand you.  Neither does the Phrygian, although they both seem to understand the speaker.  

How can this be?

Slowly you realize that each of you is hearing your own native language coming from the mouth of a speaker speaking his native language!

A miracle.

Would it make you pay attention to the speaker and what he was saying?

Or would you try to find any other rational explanation for what was happening?

There were some in the crowd that morning that looked for other explanations - they are drunk, speaking gibberish, making a commotion.  

Others stopped and looked at each other - what does this mean that we each hear in our own language  about God’s mighty acts of power?  Is this of God?  Are we eye-witnesses to God’s power coming again?

How hard is it for us to recognize the Spirit blowing in our midst?  To recognize God’s power in our lives?

Sometimes we have to get totally out of our comfort zone, like a visitor to a strange land, to be able to see God in our lives.

I struggled last week with not understanding Spanish.  I caught a few words here or there, read road signs.   I struggled to remember newly learned Spanish words, often coming up with long forgotten high-school German instead.

Out in the villages, with my host family, I couldn’t understand a single word.  And apparently, I’m not very good at mime.  Thankfully, Tristyn studied a phrase book on the way down, and was much better at picking up the language.  She communicated to the host family for me.  Mike, the missionary, and some of the local youth from the central church, translated for us.  But still, I felt so left out not understanding the language, painfully aware I was a stranger.

Sunday afternoon, the local folks gathered at Pastor Gerzan’s house for worship.  We gathered with them.  There was a simple altar in the central living space of the house.  The room was dimly lit with a candle and a single light bulb.  The light streaming in through the open doors began to fade as a storm moved in. As the wind picked up, we closed the doors, shutting out most of available light.  

The wind blew and the rain poured as we began worship.  Those gathered began to sing.  Since I didn’t have a hymn book and wouldn’t have been able to read it even if I had, I close my eyes and listened to the singing.  And through sound of the wind and the rain and the Spanish singing, I heard peace, comfort, grace.

The Holy Spirit was blowing in that place.  The Spirit was speaking in words too deep for understanding (Romans 8:26   Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.), yet my soul responded with joy.

We read the Word of God, in Spanish, and in English.  Pastor Gerzan preached, Mike interpreted.  Pastor Gerzan invited me to preach a bit, and Mike interpreted for me.

We prayed together, in Spanish and in English.  Mike doesn’t translate prayers, but we knew that the Father of us all understood the prayers even if we didn’t and that somehow those prayers were the prayers of our hearts too.

Then came the Lord’s Prayer.  And we prayed:

Padre nuestro que estas en los cielos
Santificado sea Tu Nombre...

Our Father who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name…

Spanish and English mingling as one.

It was Pentecost.

It was holy.

The Spirit was blowing.

The Holy Spirit blew that long ago day through the upper room, fire and wind filling the disciples souls.  Bringing power to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen to simple men and women.
The Spirit blew them right out into the street, into the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem.  Blew their words into the hearts of 3000 people who did indeed call on the name of the Lord and were saved and baptized.

The Spirit blew last Sunday in a house in Nicaragua,   hovering over us, wrapping us in the communion of saints.  We were no longer orphans but hermanos y hermanas, brothers and sisters - in Jesus.

That Spirit still blows today, filling us with fire and wind and God’s power.  And the Spirit comes gently in the night giving us dreams and visions of the world the way God created it to be.  And the Spirit bubbles up in us and around us in the most unlikely of places, making God known to us and giving us the words to prophesy - to speak God’s words of grace and love to others.

Friday, June 6, 2014

If we build it, will they come?

If you build it, they will come….

Remember that line from Field of Dreams?  A man has a vision.  It captivates him, he cannot let it go – or rather, it will not let him go.  It propels him on a journey, with much hardship and the danger of losing all he has.  Ultimately, he realizes his vision, builds his baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of nowhere, and they indeed come - from everywhere, inexplicably drawn, a line of cars that fades off into the horizon.

If you build it, they will come…

For a long time, we in the church have acted as if that’s our mission statement.  And so we built. We build a new education wing. We remodeled the sanctuary, in some cases enlarging it, sometimes building a new sanctuary and converting the old one into an attractive multipurpose room. We built bigger and better churches, with well laid out brightly lighted parking lots.

Because, if you build it, they will come…

We continued to build. We built program after program. Small groups. Praise bands. Youth events with  fun and faith intermingled.  We built bigger and better VBS programs. We built programs catered to newlyweds, young families, families with teens, divorce people, addicted people, elderly folks, men’s groups, women’s groups – – – you name it, we built a group for it.

If you build it, they will come…

And they did.

Fast-forward 20, 30 years. The new sanctuary is only partially full. Rooms in the education wing of been converted from classrooms to storage. The small groups dwindled and died out. The youth events got smaller and smaller, until now there’s just a few youth, when they don’t have something else that conflicts with it.

And we long for those days – where we built it, they came.

So we think maybe we don’t understand what “it” is today. We deliberate, and we talk, and we look around at our culture, and we say, “If only we had ….” And we flock to seminars with new programs, new ways of doing things, new ideas all promising to teach us what that elusive “it” is. 

So we can build “it,” and they will come…

But they don’t come.

We don’t understand why. Most of us in the church, in the pews on Sunday morning, are old enough to remember those glory days but when all we had to do was open our doors, or announce a new program, and people came. We remember those days when Sunday was sacred, and church attendance was almost mandatory, even if you personally didn’t really believe one way or another.  We remember how going to church, or Wednesday evening Bible study, or the women’s circle, was an important social event in our lives. It was a way of connecting the world around us, with our community, with our friends, with our families.

On the other hand, we do understand why. We ourselves are busy, overscheduled. We’re tired on Sunday mornings.  We understand the effort it takes to drag ourselves out of bed and go to worship. We understand the lure of other activities – there’s so much more to do on Sundays, be it catching up on work-work or housework, going to the kids games, watching the little sports on TV or maybe relaxing with a little shopping, taking a trip to see scattered family, or a weekend vacation.  We have so many places to be, so many things to do, so many people to see. 

They don’t come – and we assign all kinds of reasons for it, and we lament the dwindling numbers in our pews, the empty Sunday school classrooms, and the lack of younger people at women circles.  They don’t come – and we talk about how faith plays less and less of a role in our country, how people just don’t believe anymore.

They don’t come – and we continue to look for that elusive “it” that we can build, so that they will again come…

Maybe we need to consider that we have the direction wrong.

Maybe we need to consider that instead of expecting “them” to come to us, we need to think about going to them.

After all, Jesus told us to “go” and “baptize and teach” and “make disciples.” 

So what if we changed our paradigm?

What if instead of building it, so that they will come – we go, and build.

We go, and listen. We go, and build relationships, getting to know the people and the community where God placed us.

We go, and learn.  We go, and take what we’ve learned about the people around us, and what their hopes and their dreams and their fears are, and what particular needs of our community is and found ways to be Jesus to them, to meet them where they are, to serve them, to heal them, to love them.

What if instead telling them all the reasons (very good reasons!) why they should come, we go and show them the difference that believing in God makes in our lives.

Go and show.  Go and teach.  Go and make disciples. 

What if that day on the hillside, in those final moments on earth with his disciples, Jesus was giving us a vision?  A vision that captivated those first believers on that hillside.  A vision that so captivates them that they could not let it go – or rather, it would not let them go.  It propels them on a journey, of hardship and danger and losing all they had, with confrontations with rulers and beatings and prison and sometimes even death.  Ultimately, this vision is so grand so captivating, that the people they encounter are inexplicably drawn to it and then they go off on their own journey…, a line of witnesses that extends across the world, through the centuries, to us today.

I wonder if the Great Commission isn’t as much of a “to do” list as a promise: “go,” and if you go, I go with you, to empower you, to teach you to love with God’s love, so that through you, I will “make disciples.”

I think there’s a reason that Jesus didn’t promise, “If you build it, they will come…”