Monday, July 15, 2013

Joining Hands in July

Dear friends,

I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying the longer and lovely days of summer. Here, the Salvadoran rainy season is in full swing. I missed the first showers this year while traveling on Mission Interpretation Assignment throughout the United States, but have gotten to experience several awe-inspiring thunderstorms, and even an earthquake, since I have been back in San Salvador for this month of July. It is amazing to me how after three years in El Salvador I have come to equate these wild and unsettling natural phenomena with a sense of being en casa, at home.

I have been incredibly blessed in my travels this year to enjoy the warm hospitality of strangers-become-friends, and to be welcomed with such enthusiasm in Presbyterian congregations around the US. In sharing the stories of our partners in El Salvador, I am reminded of how unlikely it seems that we could receive a message of inspiration and hope in the example of communities in a country with a recent history so wrought with conflict, violence and political and social crisis. But our Crucified and Risen Lord certainly has a way of lifting up the least of these.

As you well know, the harsh, daily reality for many Salvadoran families is one of hunger and undernourishment  Numerous families are not able to consistently provide enough healthy and nutritious food for their children to grow and thrive in all the ways God intends. Having suffered a nearly 15-year civil war, devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, international relief aid has been poured into El Salvador for decades. And while relief aid has contributed to the saving of many lives, it has also contributed to a culture of hand-outs and short-term projects that have not allowed or encouraged communities to truly develop sustainably and on their own terms. 

Our work with the Joining Hands Network, however, strives to do just that. By emphasizing accompaniment, empowerment and sustainable development, we are seeing communities be transformed from the inside out. So, when leaders from a local community approached our Network soliciting a donation of animals for a hen and chicken project, rather than simply offer to buy the animals for them, we invited them to visit and learn from the experience of some of our Joining Hands partners in another community.  In the village of El Tigre, Ahuachapán they met with women who have organized themselves into cooperatives to work together to create
a sustainable, healthy and local food system: one group raises laying hens and incubates eggs, another makes organic chicken feed, and another manages an organic greenhouse garden that benefits not only the one hundred and fifty associates of the cooperatives but also their communities at large! Joining Hands offers them support with additional training and by facilitating connections with other communities to share this model of cooperation and community development with others.

After this eye-opening experience listening to and learning from peers – strangers who have now become sisters in this struggle against hunger – women from the first community formed groups and began to make a plan to incubate eggs in order to raise enough chickens and hens to carry out a similar initiative to benefit their community. Joining Hands has come alongside them to support with training, to help secure a small, homemade, 60-egg incubator, and to accompany them as they grow this program and invite more local women to join in.

Not only are these women addressing the issues of hunger and undernourishment  but their efforts are strengthening the social fabric of their community as well. The local pastor has shared with us that as a result of family feuds and neighborhood grudges, previously there were women in the community who barley exchanged words and would not look each other in the eyes. Now, those same women are working side-by-side to transform their community, and through it all, they themselves are being transformed. What a testament to God’s reconciling love and power to make all things new!

I continue to marvel at and give thanks for the many ways that God is moving in our midst in El Salvador. Thanks to your generous and continued support, the Joining Hands ministry is able to spread the message of God’s unfailing justice, grace and love, and God’s desire for fullness of life for all of God’s people. I am grateful for your prayers that help sustain me in my work, and invite your ongoing partnership in God’s mission with the people of El Salvador. ¡Muchas gracias!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

¡Feliz Año 2013!

Dear friends:


I send warm and sunny greetings from San Salvador after returning from a fabulous visit with family and friends in the Vancouver/Portland area over the holidays. Some of the highlights include several merry gatherings with good food and great conversation, celebrating Christmas Eve service at Northminster Presbyterian Church in the company of my parents and all three siblings, a weekend spent laughing and reminiscing with my beloved grandparents, a Sabbath from all things technological (didn't turn on the computer for two whole weeks!), and even a little SNOW. Pretty much everything one could hope for when "home" for the holidays. I hope your Christmas celebrations were also as joyful and your New Year as filled with hope!

Above, I have included a link to the 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study. What began as a simple prayer calendar to pray for foreign missionaries on designated days  has grown and expanded to the current resource for daily devotions as well as deepening one's knowledge and understanding of where and how Presbyterian World Mission is contributing to God's work throughout God's Creation. Today, January 17, 2013, we lift up God's mission in El Salvador and I would ask you to join us in prayers for peace in the midst of violence, hope and empowerment in the face of helplessness, compassion where indifference has reigned, and that as co-workers with God we might remove the chains of oppression and break the yoke of injustice (Isaiah 58:6). We read last week, in Isaiah 42, the great prophecy of the Lord's Servant: I, the Lord, have called you an given you power to see that justice is done on the earth. Through you I will make a covenant with my peoples; through you I will bring light to the nations. You will open the eyes of the blind and set free those who sit in dark prisons. May we all heed this call to be the servants of a just and loving God whose deepest desire is that all would enjoy the peace and plenty of God's kingdom; may we be the answer to the prayer  on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Here is a glimpse of what I was up to in 2012...

Marching with community members
 in protest of the construction of a
new Walmart that threatens the local
environment  and economies.
Doing the "Chicken Dance" with
folks from the community of
San Isidro,Usulután thanks to members
of a delegation from Long Island Presbytery.
and here is a bit about my Mission Interpretation Travel in 2013.

Making delicious corn pancakes
riguas in the community
of El Tinteral.
At the end of every three year term of mission service, as Mission Co-Workers we are asked to spend several months in the U.S. visiting churches to share about the ways we have been participating in God’s mission in our part of the world. This means I have the blessed task of preparing for a season of visits to churches, presbyteries, and other groups in 2013 before returning for another term of service with Joining Hands Against Hunger in El Salvador. I plan to be based in Vancouver, WA from April through mid-June, after participating in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days event in Washington, D.C. April 5-8, and in Southern California throughout the months of August and September. It has been a joy to get to know you and build relationships through letters and online communications, and I would love to visit in person if you would consider inviting me.

If you are interested in having me come share with your congregation, presbytery, community organization, etc., please let me know as soon as possible so I can begin to work out a schedule. I hope to coordinate visits on a “first come, first served” basis, while also trying to be a good steward of time, money, and fuel by grouping visits together geographically. If you know of other churches or interested groups in your area, presbytery or synod, I would appreciate your help in making connections!

I am eager to share about my role in Presbyterian World Mission and the wonders God is doing in Central America, particularly in El Salvador. I love to participate in worship leadership—preaching, giving a “minute” for mission or a children’s message, leading a Bible study or Sunday school class. When possible, it is best to have space other than or in addition to Sunday morning worship to share with greater depth and focus, and give a fuller picture of what God is doing through Joining Hands in El Salvador, and mid-week engagements are excellent as well. I am happy to work with you in planning topics and format(s) that best suit your community’s interests and situation, for example:
·         Sunday school (any age group)
·         Special event (potluck or otherwise)
·         Youth group
·         Bible study
·         Men’s or women’s groups
·         Prayer breakfast
·         Campus ministry
·         Mission committee meeting
·         Presbytery or synod meeting
·         Church camp or vacation Bible school

A note on expenses:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pays my salary while I’m on interpretation assignment, so I neither need nor expect any kind of honorarium. My food, lodging, and travel expenses are not covered, however, and I will need your support in meeting those needs. The specifics can be discussed as we plan, but please know that I will try to group visits by region and share the cost of airfare or car rental among several churches or organizations whenever possible. I am also happy to work with you if you have frequent flyer miles to donate for airfare, a borrowed car , bike, metro pass, etc. available for transportation within the area. If you would like to invite me but cannot provide for my travel, please consider working with other churches or groups in your area to combine activities in the same week and share costs. If that is not possible, let me know and I will look for other ways to cover those expenses.

Thank you for your faithfulness in supporting me with your prayers, notes, and financial gifts; they are truly essential in sustaining me and making my ministry possible. I look forward to the opportunity to share with many of you in person this year!