The Road to Managua and Emmaus

I’ve been travelling to Managua for 30 years. That’s two pant sizes and a full head of hair ago. I continue to return, because Managua is a place of meeting for me.

In that poor, scattered city, I continually meet remarkable people.  Such as  Guillermo, who meets me at the airport with a warm smile and friendly banter; Dr. Woo who goes about her work as a physician, in a calm, caring manner; Juan Carlos, quietly ensuring that the cement is poured and projects completed.  I think too of Marissa from the States, who is volunteering for a year and has fallen in love with the people and culture of this beautiful and sometimes, tragic land.

For thirty years, as a pastor, I’ve been travelling to Nicaragua to support public health initiatives, most recently through AMOS: Health and Hope.  AMOS http://amoshealth.org is a faith based, community health care model, which empowers local communities, to leverage their wisdom and resources, for the purpose of improving their overall health.

Mother and children in the village of Apantillo

AMOS accompanies 70,000 of our most vulnerable neighbors, in 22 underserved rural communities and one urban clinic.  We train  local health care workers and committees, to immunize their children, provide clean water and monitor the health of those pregnant and with infants.

In these vulnerable communities, in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it is beautiful to see communities empowered to grow in health and hope. The good news, arises from the talent and commitment of neighbors watching out for one another.

In truth, I receive much more than anything I give.  The people of Nicaragua, remind me of two truths:  That we need Faith and we need each other.  That together, there is no challenge we can’t overcome.

In the Gospel of Luke 24, a story is told of the afternoon of Easter.  Two travelers are walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus.  They are talking about events of the day.  Rumors circulate that Jesus’ broken body had been stolen. They are distraught, hopeless.

As they walk, a stranger joins them and opens their eyes and hearts to a new possibility, that all is not lost. That hope remains.

That evening, they invite their new companion to join them for supper.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him (as Jesus); and he vanished from their sight.

People of faith, like me, tell this story 2000 years later, because it has legs.  It offers a timeless story of God’s initiative into the common place moments of life …  sharing a conversation and meal.

The road to Managua and Emmaus, remind me of a profound and simple truth.  That companions enter our lives, sometimes but for a moment.  To remind us that we do not walk alone.   To bless us and be on their way.

I’m just days back from my most recent visit to Nicaragua.  As before, I’ve met remarkable people.  People who open my eyes and expand my heart.  I’m nothing, if not grateful to my fellow travelers.

Rise Up in Love

In my tradition Lent begins today. A six week season leading up to Easter.  A time to slow down and listen for the ways in which that great mystery we call ‘Spirit’ is speaking into our lives.  Sometimes the Spirit guides with a nudge, sometimes a slap upside the head.  Even so, we often miss the cues.

Many of us are over stimulated and over scheduled.  Certain politicians foster anxiety and division by telling us whom to fear.  In the wake of such busyness and noise…how do we tune in to the ways in which God speaks?  Is there a way to get in sync with God’s eternal rhythm?

Last week I went on a spiritual pilgrimage to Nicaragua.  Our team of ten spent ten days living in Apontillo, a rural, isolated village in the District of Matagalpa.  Our team worked alongside local leaders installing 40 water filters and staffing a health fair where we screened for anemia in children.   We fell in love with the people.

We were hosted by AMOS: Health and Hope  http://www.amoshealth.org/ a faith-based mission that empowers communities to develop best practices to ensure basic health care for all.  Ada Luz serves as AMOS’ Health Promoter for her community. She is the only accessible health provider for her community of 1300.

On Mondays and Fridays she sees up to 40 patients who may walk three hours to see her.  The other days she walks the mountainous terrain to visit those pregnant, newborns or those in poor health.  She’s always on call for an emergency.

It was humbling and inspiring to see how Ada Luz with the support of her community take care of each other.  A sense that ‘we are in this together’.

Such a witness is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22: 34 – 40, in response to a question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus responds: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  This is the first and greatest commandment, And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In Apontillo we had fewer distractions…no cell reception, no WiFi, no politicians and  cable news chumming the waters of fear.  Rather, we had time to listen, pray, reflect on Scripture and be inspired by the humble service of people like Ada Luz.

Now back in the ‘real world’,  I want to hold onto what I learned and the neighborly rhythm we experienced in Nicaragua.  I want to spend less time being fearful and more time being generous.  Less time excluding and more time including. To hold onto the eternal truth that what  truly matters is ‘love’.

photo-nica-team-2017
Nicaragua Mission Team with village friends and Ada Luz (in center wearing white).

Maybe like me, you are a follower of Christ.  Maybe not.  But we all need time to slow down.  To look around and know that we’re not really all that different.

For me the Season of Lent reminds us to be mindful, to focus on what truly matters.  To put into practice that which Jesus says is foundational for how to live and be.

Public Health as a Human Right

We live in a world with a profound discrepancy between those with enough and those with little. AMOS is a faith based public health ministry that believes that access to good health care is a fundamental human right. We serve in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. AMOS has a dual meaning, it means A Ministry of Sharing and refers to Amos the Biblical prophet who said:

‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’

AMOS serves in 22 rural communities and one urban clinic. Collectively we walk alongside 11,069 individuals. AMOS uses a community empowering model where each community commits to electing a health committee and a health promoter. They work with their local community to ensure basic health care and sanitation practices. The health promoter is trained in basic care of wounds and illnesses and with the health committee walk alongside community members to teach disease prevention and promote overall health. During the week they dispense a pharmacy in a clinic and make house calls, providing prenatal care and follow-up care.

AMOS photo

Health Committees and Promoters assist people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, anemia. Anemic children if left untreated after age two can result in permanent damage to the brain. By screening and treating children for anemia we ensure that each child can grow to their full potential.

Since 2010 1,121 water filters have been installed in 19 communities. As a result the dysentery rate has dropped dramatically resulting in fewer childhood deaths and healthier children spending more time in school.

AMOS simply provides a community based health model, training and ongoing support. This model empowers communities to work collaboratively for the common good. AMOS also looks for ways to collaborate with the Nicaraguan government and NGO’s to maximize efforts to improve health care.

I recently attended a board meeting and learned of efforts to respond to the Zika virus. Soon the rainy season will come and the mosquitoes will spread with the disease. AMOS is working with community leaders to educate people about this complex and devastating disease.

The needs are great and sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming. AMOS knows that heath and hope are found when ordinary people like us work together for the common good. If you’d like to know more about AMOS go to http://www.amoshealth.org If you’d like to donate online: amoshealth.org/donate

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.