Dear Companions in Mission,
Every morning the singing of the yigüirros awakens me. Yigüirros, known in English as clay-colored robins, are the national bird of Costa Rica. At this time of year they are busy mating and building nests. The Costa Ricans say that the song of the yigüirros brings the rains. Already we have had some rain here in San Jose. The days are hot and muggy now. We are hoping that the rains will be abundant this year in Central America, but weather experts are predicting another year of drought. My husband, Javier Torrez, has been busy planting drought-resistance grasses on our farm in Nicaragua. Like farmers throughout the region, we are looking for ways to keep producing food as weather conditions change.
The end of April marks the end of our first term at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). Some of our students taking classes on campus have found the switch from an eight-week term with two classes to a fifteen-week term with four classes a bit of a challenge, but final papers are slowly coming in for the history of Christianity course. The students working at a distance in Honduras and Ecuador are lagging a bit further behind in their work as they juggle studies with full-time ministry, but most are on their way to finishing the course well. My goal is to have my grades turned in before I leave Costa Rica on May 14.
Some UBL students are finishing their studies. On April 22, we held a graduation service for seven students. Beauvais Mervilus is returning to Haiti after finishing both a bachelor’s degree and a licentiate degree in Biblical studies. Michel Monterrosa, who finished her bachelor’s degree in theology last year, has returned to El Salvador. She has taken a position in the communications office of the Episcopal Church of El Salvador while she finishes her licentiate thesis and prepares for ordination as a priest. Macoy Torres and Juver Rimari from Peru are busy finishing their bachelor’s theses so they can start licentiate studies next term. I ask your prayers for these students. I especially ask you to pray for Danitza Chirinos, a Peruvian student who is working on children as participants in God’s mission. She is finding the process of writing a bachelor’s thesis to be very challenging. Her time at the UBL comes to an end on May 31.
The new term begins on May 11. We are expecting students from Peru, Nicaragua and Cuba to join those students already on campus and those who live in Costa Rica. We have also been registering distance students in Peru, Honduras, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and the United States.
In November, the National University here recognized my doctoral degree, a prerequisite for teaching at a university here in Costa Rica. In February, the UBL submitted a request to the government agency that regulates private university education to have me named officially as a professor. This request has not yet been granted, so I ask your prayers that this process might move forward.
As in most countries around the world, May 1 is a national holiday here in Costa Rica to celebrate workers. Javier and I are planning to walk in the annual march with a group of migrant workers organized by the migrant ministry of the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica. Rev. Geraldine Alvarez, a UBL student from Nicaragua, directs this ministry. There are more than 400,000 Nicaraguans living and working here in Costa Rica.
To commemorate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, our students have organized a series of events for May 11 – 15 that include information sessions, film presentations and liturgical celebrations. At the UBL we are committed to working against discrimination in all of its forms.
Our daughter, Tamara Torrez-Koll, will be graduating from Reed College in Portland, Oregon on May 18. We are excited to be part of this celebration and spending some time with Tamara as she begins to think about next steps. Javier and I will be flying to the US on May 14. Javier will be returning to Nicaragua on May 22. We appreciate your prayers for our graduate, as jobs are scarce.
After Javier leaves, I begin my sojourn sharing about mission with churches in the United States. On May 24, I will celebrate Pentecost with the folks at First Presbyterian Church in Quincy, Washington. From Washington I will fly to Louisville for a week of training and meetings with colleagues. On May 29, I will fly to Colorado Springs. My father’s home there will be my base of operations for two months. The folks at First Presbyterian Church of Raton New, Mexico will be my hosts for the last Sunday in May. I am looking forward to seeing many friends and making new friends during my time in the US. Please be in touch if you would like to explore the possibility of a visit. I will send an update on my plans before the beginning of June.
John Alexander Mackay (1889-1983) was an important figure in Protestant missionary work in Latin America in the early part of the twentieth century. His writings continue to influence theological thought in Protestant circles throughout the continent. Several UBL students have written theses on Mackay. The Hand and the Road: The Life and Times of John A. Mackay by John Mackay Metzger recounts Mackay’s life from his boyhood in Scotland through his time as president of Princeton Theological Seminary. Though Metzger locates Mackay’s work and thought within the historical movements of his time, this is a biography by a loving grandson rather than a historian. The extensive quotes from Mackay’s own writings, including his diaries, give insight to the piety that drove and sustained Mackay’s vision. I have been struck by how someone whose faith was initially nurtured in the sectarian environment of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland became a leading proponent of ecumenism. I invite you to learn more about Protestant mission in Latin America and the ecumenical movement by reading this book.
At the end of April, Blanca Aida Rivas Rodas returned to campus to receive her diploma for her licentiate degree. Blanca is a Presbyterian from the town of Amapala on Isla del Tigre off the Pacific coast of Honduras. I met her shortly after she started her studies at the UBL in 2008. When I came to live in Costa Rica in September of 2013, Blanca was finishing her thesis and preparing to return to Honduras. I asked her what her time at the UBL had meant to her. She told me that as a person who lives with a physical disability, she experienced liberation as she studied theology. She learned that she is made in the image of and likeness of God, not a God who is perfect, but a God who also has disabilities. This new image of God has helped her take control of her own life. She dreams of opening a center to accompany people with disabilities and their families in theological reflection as well as practical projects. In the meantime, she is teaching some classes in a Bible institute. She would love to be ordained as a pastor, but thus far the Presbyterian Church of Honduras has not offered her that possibility. Blanca asks you to pray that she might find a job in which she can use what she has learned. She also asks from prayers for Honduras, that the violence and corruption might be overcome.
As you may have read, Presbyterian World Mission is facing a budget shortfall for the next several years. Since giving to the central offices of the denomination is going down, Presbyterian World Mission now depends on designated gifts to support the work mission co-workers like myself do with our mission partners around the world. If every church and individual who receives my prayer letter were to give $75 a year, my salary and support would be covered. I know several of you give much more than this amount, for which I am very grateful. If you haven’t given to Presbyterian World Mission, please consider doing so. Below is the link to my webpage at Presbyterian World Mission in your would like to give online. Most of all, I am grateful for your prayers that accompany me through these uncertain times as Presbyterian World Mission searches for ways to continue serving with our mission partners like the Latin American Biblical University.
May you be filled with resurrection hope during this Eastertide.