Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What's Next?

This is a good, fair, and frequent question! We returned to the US on December 15 and spent a wonderful first few weeks in Kansas, Texas, and California with family. We are now staying on with MCC until the end of February to do a Storytelling tour with MCC East Coast, Central States, and West Coast. Email us if you would like more details! We are very happy for the opportunity to travel and share with lots of churches, friends, and family as we transition.

And then . . . we're not sure. We have most of our belongings in Kansas; family in California, Pennsylvania, DC, Kansas, Texas; a California teaching credential we are not sure we want to use; generous offers from eager grandparents; and a new little Thrush due to arrive in late June. No jobs, car, house, or health insurance mean freedom to make intentional choices and embark on a new, fresh journey! Right?!?!

In the meantime, we really are enjoying this time together. We have many homes, plenty to eat, and kind, generous friends and family everywhere we go. We invite your prayers in this time of transition. Thanks for your support. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Wrapping up: Despedidas

Despedidas . . . good-byes. Four years, countless rich relationships, many different ways to say goodbye.

Saying goodbye to our favorite places:
Views from the Mombacho volcano, a favorite place for the hiking and beautiful views. We went with the MCC team for the last time in November for our team meeting fun day.

Swimming for the last time in the Laguna de Apoyo (volcanic crater lake).

Saying goodbye to the MCC team:
We have been part of a really great team, including lots of cool new people that we wish we had time to get to know better. Not everyone is in this picture (taken at Alan's 31st birthday celebration)--see the post "visitors" for a picture of the whole team.
A couple of highlights from the last few weeks included the Thanksgiving potluck (above) and an advent service (improvised advent wreath below), both at the MCC office.

Saying goodbye to our church family:
From our culto acción de gracias (a good-bye service).

Simon enjoys this last time with his friends from church.

With our good friend Norma, who has taught us so much about Christian community over the last four years, at her new house.

Saying goodbye to great neighbors:
These have been the hardest goodbyes! We´ve tried to savor all of these last times with the kids and adults on our street.
Our next door neighbors and friends Javier and Reyna (below, with Alan) took us out for an evening out on the town! Their mom, whom Simon calls "Mimi"--grandma, watched all the kids, and we went to see the National Folkloric Dance troupe (above) and then out for typical food.
Don Orlando and Doña Anita (above) in their pulperia, consistently providing good food and conversation to the community. Don Orlando and Alan have also watched many baseball games together over the years.

December was full of special community events. As always, we had the festivities for the Purisima on December 7 (see posts from December 2008 and 2009). For the Dia de Guadalupe (December 12), our neighbors set up tents and tables and provided lunch for around 400 people. As part of the celebration, the kids and parents who have participated in the library had a special farewell tribute and song for us. Later in the day, several neighbors chipped in to buy pizza. We sat around our living room one last time, chatting and sharing memories.

Saying goodbye to colleagues and friends:
We visited Estelí to say good-bye to some good friends--the Castillo family (above) and the Perez family (below Simon exchanges a final fist bump with Maykol).

Issela (on the left) and I worked closely together for two years, and all the family members have become very special to us. They made us our favorite soup (chicken meatball soup) a few days before leaving.
We took a trip out to Boaco in our last week to say goodbye to Marlene (right) and family. We went with Yolanda (center, in the white), long-time MCC worker, good friend, and care-giver for Simon.
We also had a party with the youth group from the Santa Rosa BIC church at Adam and Marisa´s new house. Many of them have participated in exchanges over the years. They are a dynamic, energetic group with a great vision.

We invited numbers of past participants in exchanges from all over Nicaragua to come to MCC to reconnect, share their experiences, and say goodbye. It reminded me of all I have loved about my job--seeing a diverse group of energetic, creative young people learning and serving together.

While we obviously have had many wonderful times at the end, this stands out as a highlight. Alan´s colleagues and students (above) planned an all-day outing to the beautiful Catarina community overlooking a crater lake. They shared songs, Scripture, memories, good food, and tools that they learned from Alan and are now incorporating into their own work.

The last night . . . we enjoyed receiving last visits and calls from our very closest friends. Here Simon enjoys the last time with his "tias"--Issela and Cecibel.

We feel unbelievably blessed for this time!

Wrapping up: Graduation

On December 4, the Baptist Seminary held graduation ceremonies for the certificate programs in Christian Education and Chaplaincy, the high school degree completion program for pastors, and the BA in Theology. Each year, the BA graduates choose to dedicate their graduation to a person who has been influential in their development. This year, it was Alan. Since he has developed deep relationships with many of them over the last couple years, it was especially meaningful to be able to participate in this celebration of their accomplishments. On a side note, we also had the privilege to share some special music using the brand new grand piano from the conservatory!
Alan with his colleagues/advisors, Dr. Jerjes Ruiz (Director of the Humanities Institute at the Polytechnic University) and Yeni Bolufer (Seminary Dean).
Some of Alan's students proudly displaying their diplomas.
Simon patiently waits and reads his book during the ceremony (this is a little misleading . . . he spent lots of time playing outside with other kids).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wrapping up: Handing off the work

A large part of the last few months has been figuring out how to pass along what we've learned in the past four years and make a healthy transition to those who are continuing the work as we leave. When we arrived, we both began in new positions where no one had been working before us. We have thoroughly enjoyed our work, so here at the end we live with a lingering sense of sadness mixed with deep gratitude for all of our rich experiences.

For Alan, the hand-off has involved preparing binders and course packs of all his syllabi, activities, readings, etc. for his classes. Since no one is yet assigned to work in his position, he left this wealth of information with his Nicaraguan and Cuban colleagues at the seminary.

In November, we spent 10 days with Lloyd and Goldie Kuhns, who will be coming to Nicaragua in March to work with Connecting Peoples and assistance in the MCC office. It was a very full time of traveling to churches and partners, visiting volunteers and families, and trying to explain to them all what I would do differently the next time! Lloyd lived in Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the 1970s, they served with MCC in Brazil, they both speak Spanish, and they are warm relational people who will do a fantastic job. Below, Lloyd gets to know some Nicaraguan young people who have participated in exchanges.

Another element of our lives here in Nicaragua has been the process of gradually building up (with the help of many of you!) a community lending library. Over the past year, Angela (MCC rep) and I have worked with a group of Nicaraguan educators to develop the idea of a mobile library system. Then in August, Marisa Clymer Shank arrived with great experiences and abilities to continue this work. Marisa and I spent a lot of time together in September, visiting other library projects, including this rural mobile library, below. If you are interested in continuing to follow the wonderful things that are happening with the books from our library, here is a link to Adam and Marisa's blog.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Always listening

We live in a rich, diverse auditory environment. Airplanes, traffic, horses, loud music, ambulatory sales people, and neighbors talking, arguing, and singing converge to produce our daily soundtrack. Almost-21-month-old Simon is soaking it all in. Take the following example.

We don't listen to or sing Justin Bieber in our house. But that didn't prevent Simon breaking into a chorus of "Baby, baby, baby, oh, like baby, baby, baby, etc." the other night while preparing for bed. His surprisingly good pitch enabled me to recognize it from our bus rides and cranked-up radios of our neighbors. The boy has been paying attention! The video doesn't quite capture it (as usual, we came too late with the camera and missed the moment), but is still cute.

A more touching demonstration of Simon's listening ability manifested itself a couple times in the past week. We were sitting inside playing (once at our house, once at a neighbor's) when suddenly Simon stopped and said, "She's sad" and "cries." I had not even noticed the strains of a child's cry from another house on the block. Simon, however, heard and identified the emotion. Is this how our children begin to teach us? I want to take time to listen carefully and notice people's emotions like Simon does. May we all continue to grow into compassionate, loving people!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Catching up: Visitors

The last few months have been full of visiting! Visits for work, visits for fun, visits with family and friends. Lots of good times sitting around tables and living rooms, chatting with people.

In June, we received a visit from a church youth group in Maple Grove, OH. They served and learned together with Nicaraguan young people and experienced the richness and awkwardness of visiting their new Nicaraguan friends and their families in their homes. There was also time for fun and craziness like the new hairstyles that both the Nicaraguan and North American guys decided to model.
I had the opportunity to visit Rebeca (one of the IVEP participants--now in Winnipeg) and her family.
In July, my cousin Phil and his wife Mary came down from Honduras, where they were doing cross-cultural study through Fresno MB Biblical Seminary. We also enjoyed another visit from my brother Peter (here Simon, Peter, and Philip are enjoying a little fly-catching). I went out to Chontales to visit Consuelo (YAMEN participant now in Santa Cruz, Bolivia) and her family and church. Our own BIC church here in Monseñor Lezcano also received visitors from the North (Mechanicsburg BIC) who stayed in their homes and accompanied our church´s construction process. Ana and Annali, two Goshen College students, stayed in our home, and we went together to visit two IVEP participants and their families.

In August, we enjoyed a couple days with Sarah and Alvaro, down from Honduras. (How did we not take any pictures?!) We visited a couple of Alan´s students in Ciudad Sandino. For several weeks during the summer, we hosted Pamela, who was back in Nicaragua doing intense field research in the Northern region of Nicaragua and then transcribed her notes in our house while we discussed the world´s problems and solutions. We received three new MCC SALT/YAMEN volunteers (Christa, Sarah, and Sandy) and 2 new MCC couples (Adam/Marisa and Liz/Nate)--and have been enjoying lots of visits with all of them! This is our new team picture (thanks, Christa!):In September, Mom came to visit for a couple weeks. Dad joined in at the end. Then Alan´s sister Emily came.In the two days between the parental and sibling visits, I used my very broken Portuguese with a Learning Tour from Brasil.

Of course, we also have our regular visits and visitors. For example, every Saturday, Cecibel and Hania (and Hazel--not pictured) come to visit and practice English. Simon and I also take frequent visits to our original host family who lives just a couple blocks away to see their cat, climb their steps, and have some good conversation in the garden.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Catching up: Haiti

There are some great things that have been going on the last number of months that we haven´t been blogging about. In July, a group of 7 Nicaraguans and 2 Costa Ricans headed to Haiti to work and learn alongside Haitians as part of MCC´s long-term disaster relief efforts. All but one had never traveled in an airplane before, so the trip itself was full of learning and new experiences. I enjoyed the time of orientation with them beforehand, hearing them reflect about their experiences receiving help and recovering from trauma after disasters (for some of them, this included the earthquake that destroyed Managuan in 1972). These personal experiences formed a strong and unique foundation of empathy, respect, and a desire to encourage their Haitian brothers and sisters. They had concerns about differences in food, language, and religion, but went with open minds and very willing hands. Seth and Sarah Hays also have a great post about the trip, with different pictures.

Some of my favorite reflections from group members as they returned:

-One thoughtful pastor reflecting on the unresolved tension that he felt as he realized that the God in Nicaragua prohibits some things (like card playing) that their God allows. Yet they worshiped together, and it really seemed to be the same God.

-One young lady talked about the contrast of being among rubble, talking with Haitian families, one week, then at a hotel in Managua at a conference the next week. She was wrestling with how to live with that knowledge and guilt that she had plenty to eat and they did not.

-Part of their work was in Desarmes, working with environmental re-construction (reforestation). One man from the countryside in Nicaragua shared with urgency his realization that if Nicaragua continues on their current path with unsustainable agricultural practices and everyone migrating to the cities, they will end up in a very similar situation.

-Another pastor shared that he went to Haiti with a lot of voices from radio preachers in his head about how God was punishing the Haitians for their pact with the Devil, etc. (similar to comments from preachers about many different parts of the world struck by natural disasters). He said that as he learned about the political, economic, and religious context from Haitians themselves he realized: "It´s not God . . . it´s the government!"

The trip was difficult and wonderful for all of the participants from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The challenge for all of us who are involved in these kinds of exchanges is how we continue to apply what we have learned, allowing God to use these experiences to continually mold us into more compassionately active people in our contexts.

These photos are all from Issela Medina:
With Pancha Moreno (she was the MCC Connecting Peoples Coordinator in Haiti--since she is Colombian, she was able to do the direct Spanish/Creole translating) and Pastor Yvone Georges.

Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, and Haitians planting trees and playing music together

Worshiping together at Assamble de la Grace, a Mennonite congregation outside Port-Au-Prince.

The whole group outside Assemblée de la Grace´s church with pastor Yvone and a church deacon.

WAL participants Juana, Elvis, and Kimberly hold children at Assemblée de la Grace´s orphanage.