Dear companions in mission,
Greetings from Costa Rica.
October is the height of the rainy season here in the Central Valley. We are still somewhat behind what in the past has been the normal level of rainfall, but it is raining enough to drench me frequently as I walk the four blocks from the Latin American University (UBL) back to my house in the afternoons after a day in the office or in the evenings after class. There has been localized flooding around the country with accompanying landslides and fallen trees. The good news coming from Nicaragua is that the drought seems to be coming to an end. Rain is falling in most of the country. Farmers are hoping to be able to harvest corn and bean from the second planting of season. The pastures of our farm are recovering. Though my husband, Javier, had to sell off some of our cattle in September, we hope the remaining animals will start gaining weight.
Here at the UBL, the fourth bimester of classes came to an end on October 3. In our last history class, the students shared a bit of what they had learned as they worked on their final papers. Francisco was struck by how structures put in place during the colonial era in Central America to control the indigenous populations still affect relations between ethnic groups today. Luis Carlos discovered the prophetic voice of Bartolome de las Casas, a sixteenth-century bishop who denounced the abuses committed by the Spanish against the indigenous populations. Danitiza is working on the history of the churches in Liberia, the country established by the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century for freed African Americans. Carlos has discovered that his church, the Apostolic Church of the Faith in Jesus Christ, was and has been part of the broader Pentecostal movement. Ana is looking at the conquest in Peru through the lens of what happened to the women of the Inca royal family. Herold, also from Peru, is exploring how different groups have evangelized his people, the Yanesha. I feel very privileged to be part of their learning process as they reclaim aspects of their past and envision how they would like the church to be in the future.
Several of our students have returned to their home countries. Some, like Karina from Peru, have finished their theses for their degrees. Most, however, hope to finish their degrees once they are back in their own contexts. We know that the demands of their work in the churches and their families will make this very difficult. We try to accompany them from afar. I ask your prayers for Adrian and Isai, who returned to Peru, and for Harold, who returned to the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua.
Though I will not be teaching a class in the new bimester, we are continuing the task of redesigning our courses to put them on-line. The process is advancing. As a team we are learning as we go. Some days the process is exciting and other days it is simply tedious. Pray with us that we might keep focused on the women and men throughout Latin America and beyond who will have access to theological education once our programs have been approved by the government and are offered on-line.
In September, another group of eleven students from the United States arrived on campus. They are participating in the semester program on social change in Central America offered by the Center for Global Education of Augsburg College. As I did for another group in March, I am teaching a course on Latin American liberation theology. I find it very challenging to teach a theology course to undergraduates, most of who are unchurched and have very little knowledge about religions or Christianity. They are teaching me a great deal about their experiences and world views as young people who have grown up in the United States. They will be presenting their final projects on October 17. I look forward to how they articulate what they have learned during their month in Costa Rica.
From October 18 through 24, Javier and I will be in El Salvador attending a gathering of Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Co-workers who serve throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. I am very much looking forward to spending time with colleagues, many of whom I haven’t seen for several years. My friend, singer/songwriter and peace activist David LaMotte, will be our keynote speaker as we reflect on sources of hope for the work that we do.
My brother, Gary and I, will visit our father and his wife in Colorado Springs during the first week of November. I am glad to report that my father is doing quite well and is back to most of his usual activities, though he does tire easily, which is not surprising for someone who is 83. I am looking forward to some good family time. Thank you for your prayers for my father’s health.
After a week back in Costa Rica, I will be on my way to Hungary on November 15 for the first meeting of this round of the Reformed-Pentecostal dialogue. I feel very honored to have been chosen by the World Communion of Reformed Churches to be part of their team. This round of the dialogue is focused on mission. My husband, Javier, is Pentecostal, so our daily life is a form of dialogue between our two traditions. I am looking forward to what I can share and what I will learn in this international dialogue process. Please pray for this gathering.
One of the blessings of being on the editorial committee of the UBL is that I have been working closely with Damaris Alvarez, the person in charge of layout and design for UBL publications. She is one of the people who work behind the scenes to make possible our work in theological education. Damaris has been at the UBL for nearly twenty years. This year she earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and publicity from the University of Costa Rica. She told me that her favorite part of the job is working on layout for books. She reads each book carefully to get to know the thought of the author before she chooses the images and works on the design. Thus, working on UBL publications has been a form of continuing education that has changed her way of thinking.
Damaris lives in Sabanilla, close to the UBL. Her son, Ernesto, is studying business administration at the University of Costa Rica. She attends an independent church called “Grace Community”, pastored by one of her nephews in a poor barrio in Alajuelita. Her nieces and nephew also run a school in the same neighborhood called Love at Work International Christian School. Damaris asks for prayers for this school and its ministry to the children in Alajuelita.
October 12 through 19 is Food Week of Action, so I pulled Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals off of my book shelf. As I read the first part of the book, I was struck over and over again by the wastefulness in terms of energy and food calories of the agro-industrial complex based on corn. Pollan communicates the economics of corn production in clear, accessible prose. Corn is heavily subsidized in the US, yet the free trade agreements the US pressured the Central American countries and Mexico to sign don’t allow those governments to subsidize farmers. As a result, local producers here can’t compete with the cheap imports coming from the US. Pollan’s book also shows how grass-fed cattle can be raised in a way that is ecological sustainable. This is what we try to do on our farm. Whereas industrial agriculture accounts for nearly one-quarter of the greenhouse gasses released into the air every year, agroecological systems actually capture carbon. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about the future of food and the future of the planet. For more information on Food Week of Action, you can visit http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/hunger/food-week-action-and-world-food-day/
As the PC(USA) mission co-workers gather in El Salvador, one of the topics of discussion will be funding for our work in mission. In the PC(USA), we think of mission as the task of the whole church, something that all of us do together whether we are in Central America, the United States or elsewhere in the world. I am very grateful to those of you who have contributed to my support either as individuals or through your churches. However, it is not yet enough to sustain my salary or our work in the region. If you or your church have not made a donation in some time, please consider doing so before this year is over. Above all, please keep the UBL community in your prayers as we dream of a different future.