Leaving Your Comfort Zone

DSC_3384For ten days in January, 15 people from McMinnville, Oregon travelled to La Pimienta, an isolated village in Nicaragua.  Our age range was 13 – 77.  We  partnered with an amazing health ministry called AMOS (A Ministry of Sharing).  AMOS works with 32 isolated communities to provide basic, sustainable  health care.

AMOS only helps if  requested by the community and only after the community elects a health committee and health promoter to work with the staff.   The model is intended to build upon the capacity of the local community to improve their own health.

The church I serve and travelled with (First Baptist McMinnville), has made a financial commitment to provide the essential capital necessary for the local leaders to do their work.  For $6800 for each of four years, we provide the community with a dependable revenue stream sufficient to provide: a basic pharmacy for 400 people, a stipend for the health promoter and funding to bring in AMOS medical staff each month to supplement the work of the community

For the  past five years we’ve sent a team from the church to work under the guidance of local leaders.  This year we built and installed 39 bio-sand water filters and did health screenings and home visits.  Dr. Marcy a pediatrician, has visited the village four times and has seen a significant improvement in the health of the children.

It is amazing how God leverages the humble efforts of village leaders, with AMOS staff and a modest size church in Oregon, to bring about a synergy that saves lives and offers hope.

I go for selfish reasons.  Yes, my/our efforts help some.  But we who go are inspired by the hope of the villagers who work towards a better tomorrow for the sake of their children.  If they can do so much with so little, how can we not return to our relatively affluent communities and work for the common good?

It is amazing what happens when we leave our comfort zone and make new friends and face new challenges in a place like La Pimienta.  God has a way of expanding our hearts and imaginations as to what is possible.

Easter People in a Good Friday World

Good Friday is a symbol for the darkness in our world.  On Good Friday we who strive to walk in the way of Jesus, reflect upon his death upon the cross.   The cross was a means of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to keep the occupied territories in check.  

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the fragile stability in occupied Israel.  The religious authorities were threatened by his popularity and heretical ideas.  The Romans simply wanted to keep order and to that end put Jesus to death.

Good Friday remains a symbol for the violence of our own time.   Like Jesus we live in a world which readily turns to violence to resolve differences.  Now in our eleventh year of a protracted war in Afghanistan and with the painful memory from a war of choice in Iraq, we may wonder if the violence will ever end.

Someone said, ‘we are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’.   Good Friday and Easter,  asks us to remember that God’s love is more powerful than the forces of darkness.  More powerful than the Empire, the narrowness of religious leaders, more powerful than the indifference of the crowd. 

To be an ‘Easter people’, is stance, a posture, a way of leaning into the world, believing ( sometimes against all odds ), that  love expressed through forgiveness, reconciliation and  non-violence….will  ultimately have the final word.

I recently returned from Nicaragua.  My first visit was in 1988 when that nation was at war with Contra rebels (financed by the CIA).   I saw a people traumatized by the indiscriminate violence that accompany every war.   I visited a twelve year old boy in a hospital named Samuel, who had been paralyzed by a snipers bullet.

Yet on this most recent visit, I saw a nation being restored to hope.  Still with great poverty and need, yet slowly rebuilding toward a better future.  I saw people of faith working to bring health care into the most remote villages.   I visited families in the village of La Pimienta, that now have clean water due to the children and adults of McMinnville First Baptist who collected their coins to purchase bio-sand water filters for each home.  There is great beauty in such humble expressions of solidarity.

Long after the violence of any given moment in history has ended, people of good will, people of Easter, continue to believe in the restorative power of love.  Two thousand years ago, hate and violence were overcome.   Two thousand years later, this Good News continues to be lived out all around the world.   Darkness is giving way to the Light.

* Thanks to Colin Stapp (cwstapp.wordpress.com) for providing the photo of a cross, which stands as a hopeful witness in Nicaragua.

Tourist or Pilgrim?

                                                                                            

It has been said that being a pilgrim is different from being a tourist.  A tourist visits a place with a limited purpose for a limited amount of time.   We may go to rest, play or learn something new.  Being a tourist is wonderful but it has its limits.

Contrast this with being on pilgrimage.   A pilgrim travels with an openess to begin changed, to being stretched.  A pilgrim knows that there is always a price to pay.  The price of moving outside one’s comfort zone, of being surprised in ways both pleasant and challenging.  

The tourist goes to be comfortable.  The pilgrim expects to be uncomfortable for the sake of a greater good.

This past week I was on pilgrimage to Nicaragua with a group (pictured above*) from First Baptist and Chemeketa Community College www.chemeketa.edu .  We travelled to the village of La Pimienta, an isolated community in the region of Chinandega, near the Honduran border.   There our team worked with the local health committee to provide health screenings,  testing of water samples and repair of water filters.

Sure we helped some.  But in return we received so much.   We were inspired by the hospitality and loving embrace of the La Pimienta community.   We came as strangers and left as friends.

For some of us it was an opportunity to reflect upon the impact of faith on daily life.  Many of us were deeply moved by how foundational faith is to the meeting the challenges that confront the leaders and people of La Pimienta.  

 In the midst of staggering poverty and a harsh climate the people persevere, they continue to work for a better tomorrow for the sake of their children.  Their faith both sustains and inspires them to continue.  In partnership with AMOS a ministry of health www.amoshealthandhope.org the people of La Pimienta have hope.  

Such a witness inspires me.  I find myself looking at the context of my own life with fresh eyes.  If the people of La Pimienta can persevere when they have so little, then how can I not persevere when I/we have so much?  How can I not work for the cause of health and hope in my own community?

None of us who were on pilgrimage to Nicaragua returned the same.   We were challenged both physically, emotionally and spiritually.  From these moments of challenge will come lessons and blessings that otherwise would not have been ours.

This Holy Week each of us is invited to go on an interior pilgrimage where we open ourselves to the guiding of God’s Spirit.   A reading of Matthew 26 – 28 will remind us of Jesus’ final week.   With the openness of a pilgrim we may find God breaking open our heart, mind and imagination in some surprising ways.

I wish you well on the pilgrim way.  Wherever the path may lead.

*Thanks to Colin Stapp for providing the photo: cwstapp.wordpress.com