Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Greetings from Costa Rica in this Advent season.
Yes, Advent has begun. There is a part of me that wishes Advent would come when the activities of the old year have come to an end so there would be more time to enjoy this season. And yet, this is the way God comes to us, the new breaking in amidst the old. The new liturgical year starts before the `calendar year has come to an end. While the world focuses on year-end reports, God is doing something new. This Advent, may we prepare for our part in what God is doing.
Now that December is here, the rains have pretty much stopped in Costa Rica. We are enjoying cooler temperatures, including chilly mornings. Increased winds mark the change of seasons. I am glad to report that the drought in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America eased during the last couple of months, with rainfall close to normal levels. On our farm, the cattle are gaining back the weight they lost. Several calves have been born in recent weeks. My husband, Javier, is currently in Nicaragua working on the irrigation system on our farm.
At the Latin American Biblical University (UBL), we are very much caught up in year-end activities. I have turned in my final grades, but there is still lots to do. I am also accompanying students who are working on the proposals for their bachelor’s theses. Some of our students will be staying over the Christmas holiday in order to advance on their theses. I ask your special prayers for those who will be spending Christmas far away from their families in Peru, Haiti, Chile, Honduras and El Salvador. The professors are also rewriting our course syllabi so we can submit them before the end of the year for government approval as part of the process of offering our bachelor’s degrees in Biblical sciences and theological sciences on-line. Our last official day of work at the UBL will be December 12. That day we are taking a staff outing to the beach in Puntarenas. Javier will be back in Costa Rica by then so he will be able to join in the fun.
On December 18, Javier and I will travel to Portland, Oregon, where we will be spending Christmas with our daughter, Tamara. By the way, she turns 22 on December 15. This will be Javier’s first visit to the Portland area. We will have a vehicle, so we will be able to visit folks in Portland and beyond. Drop me an e-mail message if you would like to see us and I will send you my US phone number. We are coming back to Costa Rica on December 29. This will give me a chance to rest for a few days before the work of the new year begins.
As we look forward to being together as a family for Christmas, I think of the thousands and thousands of families that have been separated by the pressures that have pushed some family members to immigrate looking for safety and opportunities for work. Many other families in the United States have been separated by the deportation of one or more family members. Under the Obama administration, more than two million people have been deported. No statistics have been kept on how many of those deported have left behind children in the United States. The executive order announced by President Obama on November 20 means that millions of children in the United States will be able to celebrate Christmas this year without the fear that one or both of their parents might be deported. I hope this will be a first step toward comprehensive immigration reform.
This month I would like to introduce you to Mireya Baltodano, who is currently serving as the vice rector of the UBL. Mireya told me she began teaching officially at what was then the Latin American Biblical Seminary (SBL) in 1991, but prior to that time she had taught courses in psychology and English. Even earlier, the youth choir she directed from her church had developed a relationship with the seminary choir. Though both of her parents are from Nicaragua, she grew up mostly in Costa Rica. Her father’s work with Evangelism in Depth also took the family to Guatemala, Bolivia and Peru, so early on Mireya developed a Latin American and ecumenical vision. After growing up as a pastor’s child, she never aspired to any ecclesiastical leadership, but she is glad to be a part of equipping church leaders with her specialization in psychology and gender studies. Her work as academic dean, a position she held for eight years, allowed her to combine her academic and administrative skills. Now, as vice rector, she is working hard to build relationships between the UBL and institutions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The results of her efforts have been gratifying as more people express interest in the UBL. Mireya is glad to be a part of a leadership team that works together well.
Mireya asks that you continue to pray that the UBL will respond to the needs of the churches throughout Latin America. She is currently working on projects to offer leadership training in two denominations. Mireya also asks for prayers for her health. She has been having trouble with the muscles in her right leg, which causes her a lot of pain and limits her mobility. She is currently receiving physical therapy. She hopes to be able to walk well again.
As vacation time approaches, my reading time turns to fiction. During my trip to the US in May, I was given a copy of Saving the World by Julia Alvarez. This novel tells the stories of two women whose lives are separated by nearly two hundred years. Each woman is involved with a man who is out to make the world better in some way. Alma Huebner, like Alvarez herself, is originally from the Dominican Republic, but living and writing novels in the United States. Alma is researching the life of Isabel Sendales y Gomez, a Spanish woman who accompanied the Royal Expedition of the Vaccine to Latin America in the first decade of the 19th century. The expedition, which really took place, was led by Don Francisco Balmis. At the time, people were inoculated against smallpox by introducing pus from a patient with the disease under the skin. The only way to carry the virus across the ocean was with live carriers. Balmis took a group of orphan boys and Isabel, her face already scarred by smallpox, went along to care for them. Alma’s own husband becomes involved in a plan to build a clinic in a remote community in the Dominican Republic. The clinic project does not turn out as planned. Novelists like Alvarez help us to take a hard look at our good intentions to bring about change and the consequences those efforts can have in the lives of others.
As my first full year at the UBL comes to an end, I am very thankful for the way you have accompanied me and my colleagues with your prayers, messages of encouragement and financial gifts. With your help, both the UBL and Presbyterian World Mission can face the challenges of the new year and continue to witness to God’s love for the world. May you be filled with joy and renewed strength this Christmas.