Call to Worship: (Find a volunteer who would like to read)
“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.”
ONE: Lord make us instruments of your peace
MANY: Where there is hatred let us sow love
ONE: Where there is injury, pardon
MANY: Where there is doubt, faith
ONE: Where there is despair, hope
MANY: Where there is darkness, light
ONE: Where there is sadness, joy
MANY: Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console
ONE: To be understood as to understand
MANY: To be loved as to love
ONE: For it is in giving that we receive
MANY: It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
ALL: It is in dying that we are born to eternal life
Invocation Prayer: Katie Obiedzinski (written by Erin Lade & Katie Obiedzinski)
Let us pray:
Loving God, as we reflect on our time in Nicaragua, we are filled with gratitude for the loving hearts we witnessed. We ask that you continue to shine your light on the leaders, staff, teachers, and students who work with our partners in Nicaragua. Guide them as they work together to live lives of love and connection. We ask, too, that you open our hearts to love as they love, to love as you love. Amen
Opening Scripture: Carol Angle
Romans 12:4-7: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them!
Sermon: (Each reader should introduce yourself)
Can you briefly introduce the context for your journal? Maybe give context for the group journal process in general, also give context for the hike?
“Why do I like coming to Nicaragua? Looking across the morning’s view I remembered. Not only the gorgeous landscape, but the social world it encompassed. But I also know that view could make anything gorgeous-closer in those lives seem hard-basic, even barely housing, no guarantee of running water, poverty. I know I shouldn’t think this-but that’s why I like coming here, the gap between my lifestyles. Is it weird that I’m slightly envious? Yes, probably. Because the same forces that make my life feel frantic and non-stop have also impoverished these lives-unchecked capitalism U.S. policy-except I get to enjoy the spoils (even if ambivalently like eating an entire bag of jelly beans in one sitting-in the end (it makes) you feel gross). I think I like coming here because the folks who walked away from these spoils-or who have chosen to share them-gives me hope-for myself too.”
On Monday morning rode to the Jubilee House Community, where Christ Church delegations had stayed for the prior four years. Jubilee House is an intentional community, formerly from North Carolina, that moved to Nicaragua 20 years ago to help desperately poor people recover from the effects of a disastrous hurricane. We sat in a circle and listened as Becca, one of the community members, described the ongoing Jubilee House development work in agriculture and health care.
“At the Jubilee House clinic, Becca described some items and services they needed just “fell into their hands”, like a portable ultrasound. The timing was uncanny. I wondered was it just a coincidence? Or a God thing? What is the likelihood that I would visit the Jubilee House to see my college’s name and find out that they funded the first doctor at the clinic? Or that I would find out upon my return that my freshman year roommate discovered her life’s calling visiting the Jubilee House during our junior year? When I got home, I reached out to Amber, to express my gratitude for her service and dedication, now knowing what it takes to make this commitment and knowing I could not do the same. Thirty years later, she continues on her life’s work and I am so proud of her and the many role models we met in Nicaragua who do the same. These are selfless women (mostly) who have dedicated their lives to serving others in need. It’s just so impressive and their sacrifice, leadership, and commitment go so largely unrecognized. Today we celebrate those around us who give selflessly.”
Philippians 4:8 Finally beloved, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if anything is excellence or worthy of praise, think about these things.
On Tuesday we made our first of two visits to Inhijambia, the outreach program for street children. At the Phase One building we met four adolescent boys who had moved up through the Inhijambia program to become peer counselors. These young men were thoughtful and articulate. Each one introduced himself and shared his story. They all said that of the many gifts they had received from Inhijambia, the greatest one was simple kindness.
“Today we met four boys at Inhijambia, Kevin, Bayardo, Zekieve and Felix. This was the first time they had opened up and told their personal life stories. The amount of courage it must have taken those boys to speak about their lives to a group of strangers is incredible. Seeing how young they were and dealing with addictions and gangs, made me feel for them, cry for them, for we are the same age and there was an instant connection. I feel lucky and grateful for the love and support I have at home, especially both my parents that love me unconditionally and so do much for my well-being. I thank God for being where I am and hope more boys can go through this program to feel the same as me. For feeling lost can only last until you have the courage to ask for help.”
Inhijambia staff members then escorted us to the place where many of the street children had come from: Managua’s enormous and infamous covered market. Inside the market, our first stop was a public library where Inhijambia gives literacy lessons to street people. About 20 literacy students were gathered there to greet us. Their appearance shocked us.
“I have had the privilege to travel all over the world and visited many lesser developed countries- Thailand, China, Vietnam, Bolivia, India-but I realize now that it was mainly as a tourist. I visited local markets in every country but none had the same impact as the market in Managua. When we walked into the library I was initially quite warmed by the applause we received. As I looked at the distorted faces, the splotches of bald spots on some heads, the dirty bodies and sullen eyes I was overcome with a feeling of nausea. It was just too powerful a picture. And when I shook some of their hands I was truly upset with myself that my first reaction was that I wished I had my hand sanitizer. What kind of person am I that my reaction is so self-centered? These people truly have nothing and I am so privileged. They could clap and show joy, which at least made me smile. I could feel God’s love was present. There truly were some light hearted moments, like when I observed a woman in the market wearing a Spring Lake 5K tee shirt. Good chance it came on a Peaceworks container. I must try a lot harder to show compassion and empathy and share more than just the financial resources with which I have been blessed.”
Matthew 25 ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The eco-hotel supports an education and therapy program for local children with disabilities. On Wednesday we visited the program, which was called Los Pipitos. In a small, attractive building that had been renovated in 2014 with funds from Christ Church, we met the teacher, the physical therapist, and the children themselves. Most of these children had either cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.
“I had no idea what to expect when we got off the plane last Saturday having the least experience with the trip. I felt optimistic-about the idea I could make differences in the lives of the people here who were struggling. Passing the absolutely devastating poverty and experiencing the past couple of days, I realized how naïve my aspirations were. Today, seeing Los Pipitos, I had the same feeling of helplessness in the big picture. Despite the awesome efforts of the very hard working teachers and therapists, I wanted to give the kids all the help they deserved. I played soccer with Hernando, and I wished he had the equipment that could give him the ability to support himself. I wanted to have the adorable little baby to have somewhere safe to nap in. Then I started to draw with Valerie and I began to see a connection between us through Art. Most of the kids couldn’t understand my Spanish, but being able to draw with them and smile at their drawings helped to form a relationship, in my opinion, that was deeper than verbal communication. Valerie smiled as she showed me a picture she drew of me, braid and all. When I too drew a portrait of her, princess crown and all, the smile on her face was so bright. I had been learning this the entire trip, but I think this is when I realized that just a smile on a kid’s face was helping in the big picture. There’s always more we can do, but sharing our happiness is a good start.
Katie Obiedzinski: Within minutes of entering Los Pipitos, a boy named Eliaso ran up to us with a toy camera in his hands. Eliaso didn’t know who we were or why we were at his school but that didn’t matter. We were there and we were there to play with him. Throughout the staff’s presentation, the boy in the blue shirt with a great big smile went from person to person taking ”pictures.” He’d disappear every now and then, usually returning with a new treasure in his hands to show us- a xylophone, a ball. After the presentation I looked for this happy boy and found him playing with blocks. With his boundless energy the block play didn’t last long-he was soon off to play with a basketball. Bouncing, throwing, and kicking – it didn’t matter that we weren’t speaking the same language, it only mattered that we were there together. We played the same game over and over-uno, dos, tres, arriba! and I’m not sure whose smile was bigger. The same happened with Jorge, an 18 year old whose eyes sparkled when he smiled. Again we connected with a basketball- the same one Eliaso left behind when his eyes spotted something new – dribbling the ball over and over. We didn’t have to talk; we just shared that ball, smiles, and lots of high-fives. I won’t forget these special boys, just as I won’t forget Leo at the horse farm, the boy with the tattoos at the market library; I felt the same spark at Los Pipitos today. These connections have changed me and they won’t be forgotten for a long long time. They are with me at home, in my classroom, everywhere. And a basketball? I won’t be looking at a basketball the same way again.
Jay Lawson: (Read by Caroline)
We spent Thursday morning in the town of Masaya, visiting a women’s empowerment program called Axayacatl. The leaders of the program welcomed us and we learned that domestic violence is common, and that the laws against it are not always enforced. We learned that for desperate women victims of violence, the best helpers are other women who have escaped an abuser and can lead by example.
This is a journal entry by Jay Lawson:
The hospitality (of the women at Axayactl) was more than gracious. It was time to leave, but there was this one question I just had to ask. During the entire presentation, mounted on the wall, she stared at me with a wry whimsical smile…there was no question she was a witch. She was clearly on her way up. Mounted on her broom, she headed for the sky. I sensed the answer to my question, I wanted to hear it for myself. “So tell me about the witch.” Our hosts smiled and shared that in their advocacy for endangered women they had been called “witches” by their opponents. Witches are to be reckoned with. They decided to wear the mantle. In an extremely odd way, that was a Jesus thing to do. And we are called to be like this counter cultural Jesus, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to follow him. It is the only effective strategy that ultimately offers hope, justice, and life to all! …The Gospel is not just counter-cultural, it enters into culture, identifies with culture, and through the cross, redeems culture. After all, culture is one of God’s best intentions. And so our “Witches” they identify with the poor, the disadvantaged, the imperiled, those lost on the very edges of society. They reach out hoping to grab a hand before it plunges into despair.
After a morning of learning about domestic violence, we had a relaxing midday meal at a thatch-roofed restaurant high above a beautiful, unspoiled crater lake.
While eating lunch overlooking the Crater Lake, I heard playing John Lennon’s beautiful anthem of peace. The song, “Imagine.” And imagine I did. I imagined a world of peace, with no hurt. A world where human life is valued as the miracle it is. Imagining a day when women’s suffering in Nicaragua is eliminated. A day when they no longer live in fear, or are driven to suicide as the only escape. Well, that day will come. Not tomorrow, not next year, maybe not even in our generation. But the momentum has begun thanks to the Axayacatl organization. Through their grass roots effort they are empowering these women to stand up for themselves against abuse. They are educating them and teaching them to be financially and socially self sufficient. The women are learning the basic skills of agriculture, raising live stock and legal representation. The basic skills to function independently, but within the woman’s cooperative support structure. Today we witnessed Christ Church in action. We saw the fruits of our donations, efforts, and support. Our community, from miles away is literally helping to save women’s lives through the Axayacatl organization. This is news to me. But for Christ Church this has been a journey. One to be proud of. One that must continue! So although I’ll always imagine, I’ll never stop praying. Through God’s grace Ill pray that these women find peace in their lives and in their hearts. And as John Lennon sang, “We will someday live as one.”
Hebrews 11:1 – “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
On Friday we went back to Inhijambia, this time to their Phase Two day program for girls. The girls had prepared an elaborate welcome for us, with demonstrations of crafts, singing, and traditional folk dancing. Then Mirna Sanchez, the program director, led us to a quiet, private meeting room that had been constructed with funds from Christ Church. One by one, the girls of Phase Two entered the room, sat down beside Mirna, and told us the heartbreaking stories of their former lives as street children. Mirna explained that for the girls this was a form of therapy: telling their past was a way of owning it.
As my departure drew closer, I asked myself, “Why was I travelling to an impoverished country with strangers where you risk malaria and contaminated water?” What concerned me most, however, was my inability to speak or understand Spanish. This trip was definitely out of my comfort zone. But I quickly realized, as the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words. Our mere presence at the various organizations showed our concern and love for others. I didn’t need to be fluent in Spanish, a simple smile, hug, and respects were good enough. On Monday when we visited Jubilee House I was drawn to the quotes and remarks scribbled on the outside wall. One said, “Do everything you can, and then do more.” This quote has guided me throughout this journey. And I leave asking myself, Can I do more? Each day has left a permanent mark on my mind and on my heart. However, the visit yesterday to Inhijambia has scarred me for life. The pain and suffering those young girls endured is sickening and unbelievable. It broke my heart. I thank God for Mama Mirna and pray that she and her selfless staff have the strength they need to continue their mission of reaching for the moon. I leave here with a greater awareness of the suffering many of the most vulnerable go through. I am thankful for new friends and for the work of Christ Church.
Dan Ocone: I first travelled to Nicaragua with a PeaceWorks delegation 5 years ago and I thought I would come away revolted and depressed by the poverty I would witness. This did not happen. To the contrary, I felt inspired. This trip was the same. Yes, we witnessed many painful situations. But the organizations we visited are run and staffed by Nicaraguans, who, though they themselves are poor by our standards, devote their energies and resources to improving the lives of their worse-off neighbors. I imagine I am more grateful for the opportunity to aid and be inspired by them, than they are for my modest help! Our partners all make a real difference in many lives. Conditions in Nicaragua have improved since my last visit, and I am only optimistic for the future of the country. Thank you for the time we shared together, the love, and laughter, and new friends. We pray we keep in mind our experiences as we go forward in life. May they keep us aware of our global community.
1 Corinthians 13:13
And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity.
Benediction: Marilyn Devroye
Let us pray:
May there be peace within
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities of faith
May you use these gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given you
May you be content
Let this presence settle into your bones
And allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love! Amen