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.

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