Monday, November 19, 2007

Photos from last few days

We brought cards and pictures from the children at Foundry for the kids at Hialeah - and they made cards for us to take back to the kids at Foundry. Here they are showing off their cards.

Lucian with a Hialeah church member, leading the kids in song.

This is the area surrounding Hialeah church.

Stephen and Rebecca talking with the kids before we left.

One of the kids showing off his puppet handiwork.

Here we are after the Bible school in front of Hialeah. Lots of people had left by this time - we estimated that we must have had at least 150 kids coming and going.

Our interpreter Jimmy, and Catalina who organized much of our trip are on the far left. The rest are the team with some of the Methodist pastors in Nicaragua. We had dinner with them one night. There are 13 Methodist churches total in Nicaragua - all quite small and in poor communities.

I believe these monkeys are native to Nicaragua - but not to where we saw them. We took a boat tour on our last day around these small volcanic islands near Granada. Some are just big enough for a house and a small yard. Most have been bought by wealthy folks - and there are some beautiful homes. One island was only occupied by trees...and three or four of these monkeys. They were brought there by someone on one of the neighboring islands. We were told that they are fed by that neighbor (I think I heard that he's a veterinarian), passing tourists - and the mango trees on the island.

Our team with Pastor Elmer at the volcanic lake. Lucian, Rebecca and I went swimming. From left to right: Sarah, Stephen, Yadira, Fred, Elmer, Lynn, Rebecca, Jana, Lucian.

Closing comments

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I’m writing here on the plane home and am just starting to process. I am a person who needs time alone and space before I can really think and feel. Luckily, there’s nobody sitting next to me.

This morning, one team member was sharing about how the poverty of all the children in Hialeah affected him – and how hard it was then to enjoy our luxurious day and meal at the volcanic lake the next day. I then wondered why it hadn’t really bothered me when we were there or at the lake the next day. I dug into my nutritious and delicious meal of fish, rice, french fries and vegetables, with bottled water and beer and enjoyed it. And I didn’t think at all of the desperation of the food distribution at the church the day before. I honestly didn’t think of the little girl that was trying to get some water for her little brother – and who I didn’t give any to because we didn’t have any cups and I didn’t want her to drink out of my water bottle and start a stampede with all the other kids who were thirsty and most likely had no source of clean drinking water. All after we had just had Bible school and done an activity and skit about the Good Samaritan and that when people are thirsty, we should give them water.

I thought of a few reasons why I wasn't bothered:

1) My natural instinct when I am overwhelmed or when I have not had any time to myself, is to withdraw or avoid.

2) I suspect that I’m a little burned out in general. I sometimes find Washington overwhelming in need…and causes…and feel “cause fatigue”. Just at our church – we have so many ministries for so many things – all very important and all very needed. And I just have to remind myself of all the wonderful people in the world, and all they are doing on behalf of those in need. I don’t have to, nor can I, nor should I, try to do it all myself. As we’ve kept saying on this trip – we each have different gifts.

3) Through different living and traveling experiences abroad and in the U.S., I’ve seen different kinds and levels of poverty. Upon reflection, I think that has led me to become a bit cavalier (or sometimes fatigued) to the point of losing some capacity for compassion. Sad but true that I wasn't shocked at all seeing the conditions people were living in.

This trip and those kids have really humbled me. I'm comforted in knowing that I do have respect for and think of those living in poverty as my equals. But it’s easy for me to confuse pity with compassion. Pity for those in poverty (I'm thinking of material, but I suppose it applies to emotional or spiritual poverty as well) feels paternalistic to me. I don’t want to “feel sorry” for people – because that is taking away their power. But it is something else entirely to be compassionate and empathetic.

[Disclaimer: I'm not saying that one shouldn't be shocked, angry or depressed by poverty or feel bad for people - people just experience things differently. I'm left wondering if my sense of justice isn't jaded because I wasn't more emotionally affected.]

Today, Monday, November 19

Going back to work this morning. I want to post some last photos. I'm not sure how long I'll keep this blog up - but at least for a little while. We plan to do a short presentation in church and a longer one after. I hope to post our presentation/photos from that, so those of you not in Washington can share with us.

In closing - I'd like to say it was a challenging and very rich experience. These type of short-term mission trips are as much or even more about helping us grow and learn, as it is about helping the people in whatever country. Growing and learning is a worthy goal, and I think my team members would agree with me in saying that God stretched and grew all of us. Our hosts did a fantastic job of setting up meetings with many organizations, to give us a good overall view of the work being done in many areas. So many thanks to all of them.

Our specific trip was meant to help build longer term relationships - and I think we have accomplished that. I'm excited to see the fruits of this trip!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some quick parting photos and thoughts

Well, we are getting ready to leave for the airport. It has been a very intense and busy week. The stress of dealing with 130 children in poverty is something we reflected on this morning - and that we'll all continue to process. I have to go now - but will write more later. I had hoped to upload some pictures - but it's not working. Hope to finish up in Miami - if not, when we get home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Photos from Volcano Masaya and Shopping

These pictures are from yesterday. The sign is from an organization we visited - the Consumer Protection Association of Masaya. I found it fascinating. Most of the complaints they work on seem to be focused on the major utilities - and most of the problems seem to be related to corruption, both high and low level. That was our one meeting, then we went shopping. We bought several things to sell in the Foundry auction - one of the major fundraisers for Volunteers in Mission. Foundry members - we've got some great stuff!! We went to the "new" market and the "old" market. One geared more towards locals, one more towards higher-end tourists. I didn't read the history of the "old" market - but in the mural picture - it's on the far right, inside the castle looking building.
After that we went to the Volcano Masaya - which is actively steaming. The last eruption was in 2001 I think - and the warnings we got on park information said that if it should get under your car. I was thinking molten lava - and that I wouldn't want to be on the ground - but I guess the problem really would be rocks and ash flying through the air. It was really incredible - I'd never been to an active volcano before. And it was really nice to get a little hike in - I've been missing my workouts and walking.

Bible School Day 1

Photos finally! We moved hotels today and are staying the one we had originally planned for (before we had to cancel our trip to San Francisco Libre) and behold the wireless connection!

The first is of the group this morning before heading out. The second is of Lucian with the kids at Hialeah United Methodist Church. It was a total madhouse - but really fun. Hialeah is a community church - and the community definitely showed up for the American show. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see everything else that was going on. Stephen planned all these activities (God bless him) and there were 4 activities going on simultaneously. Lucian and I had the "making a wooden toy" station. They were little kits - so the kids went home with a toy. Lynn and Yadira led a "tooth brush demo" - along the lines of when you're at the dentist and they ask you how you brush your teeth. Fred and Jana had a game going with kids outside - involving a big, blow up globe/ball...geography and throwing a large object all in one game. And they also did coloring/prayer/scripture lesson with Rebecca and Stephen. I understand that the toothbrush and scripture got we didn't have space to split those groups. Holy toothbrush!

All in all it was a really busy and hectic day and I think we're all exhausted. We could certainly use your prayers for continued patience with each other, with our hosts, the children and situations beyond our control.

Right after the Bible school - we met with Hialeah church members. Pastor Elmer suggested that as a next step that both our congreations form a committee to stay in touch. They've already identified 4 people, representative of their congregation. One woman, one man, and two youth - one girl and one boy. Their church has a lot of programs - they offered 8 scholarships to high school/university students of $50-$80 dollars each.
[We're right now practicing for tomorrow's bead activity with women...Lynn sends a shout out to her sister Lahn - who has been good at commenting on the blog!]
I'd like to end with a thank you for the life of my Aunt Kathleen, my Dad's sister. She passed away last week of pancreatic cancer. She was such a lovely person with such a lovely laugh. Her memorial service was today in Denver. I'm sorry that I won't get to hear all the stories and the memories of her at her service. But I felt okay about traveling this week as she and my Uncle Sid traveled a lot in their retirement all around the world - and I know she found a lot of joy in that. I've been thinking about my family and our group has been praying for them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Nov 12

Sorry - but I can't seem to upload any photos. Might just be the connection.

This is really a post of just regurgitating what we saw/heard/did today from my notes, so it might be a little "in the weeds" for the recreational reader. I’m also a little tired to be doing a whole lot of reflection. I will say that it has been nice that Yadira built in time for us to pray and have devotions – which I often don’t make time for in my daily life. Tomorrow we’re going shopping in Masaya market for tourist stuff – and buying items that we’ll sell at our auction fundraiser at church. We’re also visiting a volcano and one organization. We had a really full day today so my brain is a little fried. AND our trusted guide and interpreter, Marcos, LIED about the weather. It did rain, when he said it wouldn't. [I’m just putting that down because I threatened to blog about him.]

Today was a great and very full day. Miguel and Nan spent the day with us. We first visited the Los Caracolitos (little snails) school. The enrollment is around 85 kids, ranging in age from 7-15, with basic education classes for adults at night. Most of the kids work in the market that’s nearby, the school is free and doesn’t require uniforms. They go half days and it is an accelerated primary school in 3 years. When they finish, those that can manage, go on to 6th grade. Some of the kids are teenagers who never went to school and are playing catch up. The school director, Alicia, has been running the school in various locations for the last 13 years. I think they’ve been at their present location, thanks to Nan and Miguel’s support, for the last 5-6 years and have been slowly improving the school. We had some very basic classes and sharing with the kids. Was born from census in community about what needs were. Started providing lunches and breakfasts when at evangelical church. Teachers paid $40 mo – and . Other pre-school in area run by Catholic church and charge 40 cordobas. $200 month for food. Looking for sponsors to help kids go to secondary school. Currently have 4 teachers. 18 months to get a teaching diploma – which they would all be interested in doing, but they don’t have the resources.

We also got to hear about the organization, Mujer y Comunidad, that we had planned to visit in San Francisco Libre. Dr. Rosa Silva (MD) spoke with us about her work in the women’s clinic. They offer birth control and pap smears, among many other things, all having to do with women’s health. What I found really impressive was how much they cooperate with so many other organizations, including the Ministry of Health.

Foundry made a contribution from our Mission budget of $1850, specifically to buy birth control, as that was what was identified as the greatest need by Mujer y Comunidad. That should fund a one year supply of birth control pills for 300 women. They used to get most of their birth control donations from the UN – but about a year ago, that all dried up. Nan attributed that largely to prevailing U.S. policies against family planning and their influence in the UN. The other medical donations we brought from CrossLink International had a total value of $5210 and Foundry paid $352 for pre-natal vitamins and toothbrushes.

An attorney, Sandra Welasca Melendez, who works on domestic abuse cases for Mujer y Comunidad, also spoke with us. She told us of two specific cases, and shared about the legal system in general.

Our last stop was at Centro de Mujeres Acahual. Acahual is an indigenous word, meaning Land of Sunflowers. What a lovely name. The area where we visited was near the town dump of 55 years – which they pointed out is a curse but also provides employment for many people. The Center’s main objective is to give attention to the women in the community. They work hard not to overlap services with other NGOs – and see the main health threats as diabetes, hypertension, and cervical cancer. Nan pointed out earlier that HPV (human papilloma virus) is a serious threat – and both this clinic and Mujer y Comunidad provide or have arrangements to refer women to the public women’s hospital for procedures to prevent cervical cancer. The Center doesn’t receive any government donations. We talked quite a bit about HIV and AIDS as well – but I’ll be honest – I was snoozing through this whole presentation because it was right after a very filling lunch and I was exhausted. I promise to write more and get more info from other trip members for our trip report!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Arrival at last!

No pictures for tonight - I have to spend some time downloading photos. Will post some tomorrow. We actually have internet/computers at the hotel - so I should be able to post something every day.

Today, we did finally arrive and the planes were fully functional, at least as far as we know. The weather is really pleasant - in the 80s probably. Lucian (our group member who arrived on Wednesday) greeted us at the hotel in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and a Panama hat - and we knew we'd arrived. We had fish, rice and cooked vegetables for lunch - excellent - and had a fantastic dinner of rice and beans, a dish with rice, chicken, raisins?, and spices (I'll have to get the name) and made from scratch, chocolate cake! (Thanks Millie!)

We've spent today getting acquainted with some of those people who have been working with our trip leader over the last several months to plan our itinerary.

Nan met us at the plane. Nan and Miguel are in ministry here in Nicaragua (I hope to learn tomorrow more about all they do) and have visited Foundry to speak about Nicaragua. We also met Catalina, one of the main organizers of our trip, Marcos - our interpreter/guide, our driver (who's name is slipping my mind because I don't have it written down) and Ron and Millie. Ron gave us a great overview of Nicaraguan history and the current political/economic situation - and spoke a bit about CAFTA-DR (Central American/Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement). I'm sitting here thinking that I've really got to start taking notes because I'm having a hard time remembering even overall themes, much less specifics. Ron did talk about the successes, which were many, of the Sandinistas when they were in power, as well as some shortfalls of that government.

Ron and his wife, Millie spent some time in Washington, and went to Foundry while living there. They, and their adorable 2 yr old son, graciously hosted us for dinner tonight. We brought grits as a gift.

Yes, you read that right. Millie is a transplanted and true Southerner...and the woman needs her grits. We were so glad that we could be the grit-givers.

Some issues we talked about today are the recent law in Nicaragua, that doesn't allow abortions of any kind - even in order to save the woman's life - and what a dire effect that has had on women's health. We've also talked about just how people make it by here - as some statistics we saw put unemployment/underemployment at 50%. Nicaragua is the poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti (according to stats I've seen) and one can't help but wonder how people put food on the table.

What a blessing it is to be getting to know all my group and all our new friends in Nicaragua!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Romans 12: 4-8 - Many Gifts!

The verses that we chose as a theme for this trip are Romans 12: 4-8. Paul speaks about how we are all one body in Christ - and that we each have different gifts according to the grace given us. (Note: I can only reference it thanks to the Gideons and their hotel Bibles. My Bible's in my suitcase at the airport!) Indeed, our team has many gifts and I've already seen them in action.

Lynn Kim has demonstrated her prowness in negotiation - at the very ugly scene at the gate counter, at the re-ticketing counter, and for taxis as well. I'm following her at the airport. (Top pic: Lynn's on the right - she and Yadira are diplomatically talking up the re-ticketing agent).

Stephen has shown his incredible organizational talents. We learned today that he has a personalized binder with all his trip materials...and highlighted portions of what he's responsible for to boot! (He's in front on the plane picture...expressing his love for American Airlines).

The last is a photo of us suffering for Volunteers in Mission at sunset at South Beach. (Left to right, Stephen, Rebecca, Fred, Yadira, Jana).

We are very disappointed to be missing out on our planned activities in Nicaragua today - and we'll also unfortunately be missing the church service tomorrow at Hiahleah United Methodist Church in Managua. Foundry supports the pastor there. Luckily - we do have one team member already in Nicaragua. Lucian Caspar went down on Wednesday (not sure if he was on American Airelines ;-), so he has been there to represent us. I believe that now our activities meant for yesterday will be done tomorrow. Our team has been taking all the changes in stride - one gift God seems to have blessed all of us with is a good sense of humor!

Here's the door on the American Airlines plane. EVERYBODY got on the plane...full, mind you...and then they couldn't shut the door.

By the way...there was a little nervous laughter from the group around the discussing of photos on the blog. It was suggested that there be prior approval of photos before posting was allowed. So it will most likely be some nature, some group shots, mechanical devices like airplane doors, or only extremely flattering photos up here.
I haven't totally figured out the posting of photos either. Will try a few more.

Still...uh...mission trip working in Miami

Saturday, 1:45 pm
Nope – we’re not in Nicaragua yet. In fact, we haven’t yet left Miami. Apparently, the karma of VIM is to be flexible and we are proving we are VIM-worthy.

We are now offloading for the second time. The first plane had mechanical problems – we had mostly loaded and then had to unload. The good news was that they had another plane for us waiting. So we had about another hour wait while they got that plane ready. Started loading on that plane at 12:30. Now we’ve been waiting on the new plane for over an hour – and they’ve realized that the front door won’t shut! I've got pictures to prove it :-) More to come…

Friday, November 9, 2007

Night Before

Of course, it’s 10:30 p.m. the night before the trip and I’m still packing. So this post won’t be long…

Members of the VIM trip are:

Yadira Almodóvar, Fred Beamer, Lucian Caspar, Sarah Cook, Lynn Kim, Jana Meyer, Stephen Roberts, and Rebecca Shoaf

Our fearless trip leader, Yadira, has done a fantastic job!