Dear companions in mission,
Every morning the yiguirros start singing about 3:30 AM. The yiguirro, also known as the clay-colored thrush, is the national bird of Costa Rica. The birds, of course, are busy trying to find mates, but the Costa Ricans say the yiguirros are calling the rains. We are at the height of the dry season here. Two years of low rainfall has taken a toll. At the end of March, I had the chance to travel east from San Jose, where I saw fields of coffee trees that have dried up for lack of rain. The singing of the yiguirros fills people with hope, not only that the yiguirros as a species will continue, but also that the rains this year will be abundant. (If you would like to hear what I hear every morning, I invite you to type “yiguirro Costa Rica” in the youtube.com)
Ever since I came to Central America more than three decades ago, I have been struck by how we celebrate Easter here before the rains come, before there are any signs of renewed life. On Maundy Thursday this year, Javier and I attended a service at the Lutheran church in memory of various martyrs: Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago, Oscar Romero of El Salvador thirty-six years ago and Berta Caceres of Honduras in March of 2016. During all the years I have worked in Central America, people who defend human rights have often paid for their courage with their lives. Yet Easter comes, and with it the promise that death does not have the last word. The struggle for life continues.
We continue to be very busy here at the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). Our first semester of the year ends on April 29, so I hope the students in my mission class are busy writing their final research papers. I have six students attending classes and an additional four distance students. All of us are learning how to use the on-line platform. I am excited about gaining new skills and about the possibilities the platform offers for interaction among students in different locations. However, this semester has also been a reality check as to the limitations many of our students face as they try to study theology. A student in Peru wrote to tell me why he has not been able to do the work for the mission course on the platform. He serves a small church in a poor barrio. At most, the church is able to offer him a meager offering now and then. To support himself, he takes whatever day jobs he can get, which of course cuts into his time for studying. He pays for internet access when he can, but he doesn’t always have the money. In addition, he is working with an old computer that is failing. It is clear to us that simply putting our programs on-line will not guarantee access for all who want to study. We will be developing a proposal for digital inclusion to address these and other situations. We have heard that the approval process for our on-line programs in moving forward, so we hope to be offering our bachelor’s programs on-line stating in January.
My major task this month is to finish editing the two volumes, one in English and one in Spanish, that came out of the consultation on revitalization movements that was held here in January. I am enjoying the process, but I just need to find enough hours to finish it. The books should be available as e-books by the summer. Watch for more information.
On April 16, I will be leading a Saturday morning course on “God and Climate Change” as part of a cycle of courses the UBL is offering on theology and society. We claim to honor God as creator of the world, yet we are destroying the capacity of the earth to support life. What does climate change mean for the way we understand our relationship to God and to the earth? I hope for a lively discussion and perhaps some new directions for the UBL.
Javier, my husband, spent March here in Costa Rica with me. This month he is planning a quick trip to the farm in Nicaragua to check on the animals. From April 20 to May 20, he will be participating in a workshop at the Department for Ecumenical Research that combines social analysis and theological reflection.
My plans for the summer in the United States are moving forward. I will be flying to Colorado Springs on May 12 to start my three-month sojourn to share about the work of Presbyterian World Mission and the UBL. Among other stops, I will be serving as a Missionary Advisory Delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Portland from June 17 to 25. I am looking forward to representing my colleagues in this way as well as to seeing many friends. If you have any questions about my travel plans or availability, please write. I will send an update in my next prayer letter, hopefully at the beginning of May.
It is a delight to have Irene Aramayo Arias from Bolivia here on campus. Irene’s parents, Eunice Arias and Luis Aramayo, served as United Methodist missionaries in Guatemala for a couple of years while I was there. I first met Irene when she was working on her bachelor’s degree in theology here at the UBL. She tells me that she didn’t want to study theology, but her mother convinced her to take classes at the branch of the UBL in Ecuador, where the family was living at the time. After she finished her bachelor’s degree and her course work for her licenciate degree, Irene moved back to Cochabamba, Bolivia and worked in a children’s ministry. After that project closed, she worked as a cashier in a supermarket until she was offered a job teaching Christian education in a Methodist school. During the five years she worked with adolescents there, she was able to put into practice much that she had learned at the UBL. She told me her studies have helped her grow as a person and in her relationship with God. In October of last year, some special scholarship money was made available that allowed the UBL to invite Irene to come back to campus to write her licenciate thesis. Irene is writing about the theological and pastoral challenges diverse types of families present to the church. Though she has come to the end of her scholarship, her family is helping her cover her costs here so she can finish.
Irene shared three prayer concerns with me. She welcomes your prayers in helping her reach the successful completion of her thesis in the coming months. Secondly, she asks for you to pray for people who work with adolescents inside and outside of the church. Finally, she invites you to keep praying for alternative theological programs like those offered by the Latin American Biblical University.
Paul Jeffrey is a photojournalist who reports around the world for the United Methodist Church. I met Paul more than thirty years ago on my first trip to Nicaragua. He has been a good friend and colleague ever since. Now Paul has collaborated with Chris Herlinger on a new book, Food Fight: Struggling for Justice in a Hungry World, to encourage people to get involved in efforts to overcome the causes of hunger. As Herlinger says in the introduction, “It is not God’s will or hopelessly insurmountable problems that get in the way of solving the problem of hunger. These are human-caused problems, with human-based solutions.” Herlinger’s brief and very readable text explains how hunger affects people in Pakistan, Kenya and the Gran Chaco, as well as the United States. Though there are photographs of children in refugee camps, most of the pictures show people working together to overcoming the problems in their communities. The captions place each photograph in context. This would be a great book for an adult Sunday school class or a youth group to study. Discussion questions are included at the end. This book inspires both hope and action.
I am very thankful for all who through their giving make it possible for me to serve in mission here in Costa Rica. Though I am not yet fully supported by designated gifts, I thank you for bringing me closer to that goal than I have ever been during my years of mission service. I ask your prayers for the staff of Presbyterian World Mission in Louisville as decisions will be made this month on the budget for the next two years. These decisions will determine how many mission co-workers will be able to continue in service. The strong response from churches and individuals in recent months makes me hopeful, but only ongoing giving will make our mission efforts sustainable. I hope I can count on your continuing support.
In resurrection hope,