June 29, 2015

“When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”

-Mary Oliver

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June 22, 2015

Jennyfer Interview: Service as Worship

Every year as a part of our Culture of Peace course, we ask our students to interview a leader in the Catholic Church.  From your cultural context, this may not seem very significant, but in the Nicaraguan context, this is an important and sometimes difficult assignment.  While there is a growing ecumenical movement and both Protestants and Catholics believe in and serve the same God, there continues to be many conflicts between the two groups.  So where do we start as we try to promote a culture of peace?  By talking to one another.  We have seen relationships flourish from this small assignment.

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This year Jennyfer, a student in her fourth year at the Baptist Seminary shared a touching encounter that she was able to have with a nun, Rosa, from her local community.  We wanted to share this interview with you in order to promote a conversation of tolerance and acceptance of “the other.”  As you read this, please reflect on who “the other” is in your own story.

Jennyfer began her reflection by stating the importance of making time for conversation and dialogue. Through her interview she was able to create a relationship with another woman, whom she had never spoke to before even though they practically live next door to one another.  By talking, the women were able to share their passions and vision for a better community and they realized that their dreams were very much in common.  “We are both very passionate about the role of our faith communities in strengthening our neighborhood and I am excited to work with Rosa in order to make this a collaborative effort in both of our churches.”

“Rosa is a very special leader.  She is focused on ways in which the church should be working to improve our community.  Her example is one that we need to follow as protestant leaders.”  Furthermore, Jennyfer felt very  challenged through her interactions with Rosa.  “The focus she has on the community is a true inspiration.  Rosa showed me that it is important to implement spiritual and social aspects of the faith in order to share the good news of God's kingdom with others.” 

Both women expressed their hope that their own Catholic and Protestant churches can learn to cooperate with one another as brothers and sisters and not as rivals, that the churches will be able to practice ecumenical partnership and at the very least learn to show respect and not work against one another.

Jennyfer closed her reflection by saying, “I am very thankful for this assignment because without it I would never have had the opportunity to meet this wonderful friend.  I now see the importance of partnering with those who are different from me, to build friendships and live out my calling.”

Oftentimes we become too comfortable with our understanding of God; we interpret different as negative.  We encourage you to take a step away from your norm, in order to think deeply and live deeply into the faith you have.

June 16, 2015

Not Your Ordinary Hike

While Cassie and I visited southern Mexico we were gifted the opportunity to join a Mayan community in its celebration of the Creator God the night before good Friday.  We left San Cristobal de Las Casas a little before nightfall and headed to a mountain top considered sacred by the community.  In the dark and through the rain we trooped through pasture, over barbed wire, through dung and eventually reached the peak.  Soon we were joined by many more who had made the journey in order to keep vigil until sunrise the next morning.  Through many candles, much prayer, reflection and the sharing of food we joined the community in celebration that night.  Following the evening Elena asked that we write a reflection that she could then share with the community about our evening of worship with them.  We thought that bits and pieces of this letter may be helpful for our community and therefore wanted to post the following excerpt of our reflection with the Mayan community:

While worshiping with your community I felt very blessed to see another perspective of praise and adoration for the Creator of our world. This experience helped me to see the beauty that exists in the world around us and also challenged me to be even more open to the ways in which people express their love for God, the world around them and the people within their community.  I will be forever indebted to you and your community for giving me this gift and for creating in me the ensuing conversations and thoughts that this experience has created. To see the passion and the traditions of another world of which I know and understand so little, and yet to see and experience love, grace and devotion through this experience was one of the most beautiful cultural experiences I have ever had in my life.

I also felt a deep sense of sadness for the ways in which people around the world continue to struggle with the effects and realities of domination and imperialism which were and continue to be made in the name of God.  The expression of faith we witnessed and participated in was a beautiful one and one that unfortunately the majority of the Christian world would not appreciate.  The religious leaders would be upset and would be critical of what was done and what was not done.  Instead, of being thankful for lives filled with mystery, with devotion, with love and respect for the Creator, church leaders would be dissatisfied and hell bent on the instruction of proper orthodoxy.  I wish that all the world could not only be thankful for this expression of faith, but that they could also allow people to express their faith in their own ways without being critical because of the fact that the expression is something either uncomfortable for them, or because of the fact that they cannot see something outside of what they understand and know to be a true expression of faith to the living God.

We all are under some form of oppression whether we realize it or not.  People groups who have historically claimed power suffer from the consequences of not being able to rejoice in the beauty of the other because doing so would force them to loose their status of privilege.  Likewise, people who do not have power are continually controlled by the people who do.  I was struck by the fact that your community is very concerned about the ways in which the Catholic church and its traditions and beliefs are of great concern for them.  I understand that many of them are devout Catholics and have respect for the ways in which they seek to live into this faith, and also remain true to their cultural heritage and beliefs.  Hopefully, we can all move forward in our devotion and love and find the place to which we have been called.

Blessings and Peace

*While we would have loved to share photos with you of this evening, the Mayan culture asks that photographs are not taken during their religious ceremonies.

June 8, 2015

Learning a Second Language

I (Cassie) always had two goals in the back of my head, one was to run a marathon and the second to learn another language.  These goals were always present, but I never thought that they were things that I would actually do.  But back in 2009, I ran my first marathon alongside my brother, which was the best thing ever!  Now this goal has transformed into me wanting to complete a marathon in each decade of my life.  I have nine more years to run my second one.  My second goal was to learn another language.  It is becoming more and more of a reality after living in Nicaragua for three years.  I thought it would be doable, something I could finish and check off my list just like the marathon, but wow, it is so very different, it is a lifelong process.

There are some people out there who have a natural knack for language learning.  I have seen some individuals come down for one year, live with a Nicaraguan family, immerse themselves in all things Spanish and leave quite fluent.  And then there is me!  After one year, I was alright.  After three years, I am doing good.  But I still have so much more to learn in order to call myself fluent.

Just the other day I was asked last minute to translate a public health talk for one of the doctor’s at Accion Medica Cristiana.  It was two hours of really hard work, there were a few medical terms that I had no idea how to translate, but in the end, it went okay.  I was able to see that this daily practice of studying and immersing myself in Spanish is paying off.  It is easy to focus on everything I still do not know, but each day it gets a bit better.  I continue to remind myself that it is a process, nothing that I will ever master.

I know that some of our friends and family are interested in improving their second-language skills.  We have been emailing our experiences and suggestions back and forth, but I thought it would be helpful to share a few different tips that have helped me in my language learning. 

1. Remember that it is a lifelong process.  Different from a marathon, you will never “arrive” at the finish line.

2. Immersion is key!  One aspect that was very beneficial for our learning, was that we lived with a Nicaraguan family for our first six months here.  While it was challenging at times, it was incredibly helpful in our language acquisition, building our cultural knowledge as well as developing friendships.  Not everyone can move to another country for five years, but you can find ways to make this work for you.  Come down for a month and take classes, or find ways to immerse yourself with others in your local community who speak a different language than you do.

3. Say “yes” and put yourself out there.  I have been asked to give workshops, teach classes and lead activities that I would have never said “yes” to in the past.  My perfectionist side tells me that my Spanish is not where it should be in order to fulfill these types of roles, but I have said “yes” (often because I did not have a choice) and in the end, this has allowed me to continue to improve my skills.

4. Find a teacher.  I met my Spanish teacher Mayela in November of 2011 and we have faithfully met every week since then.  She is excellent in her knowledge of the language and its grammatical rules, she is patient with me and she is also my friend.  We usually spend most of the hour chatting and catching up on life, while sipping a cup of coffee, but we are practicing and that is only helping me to get better.  Mayela does offer Spanish classes via Skype if you are interested.

5. Surround yourself with the language.  When you get a chance, watch movies in Spanish, listen to the radio in Spanish, read the newspaper in Spanish.  Attend a Spanish speaking church service on a regular basis.  Each activity will help you to learn a new vocabulary word or hear sentence structure in a different way.  Also, try to think in Spanish.  Tell yourself a story in Spanish, either in your head or out loud.  It will always assist you in continuing the language acquisition process.

5. Find ways to incorporate language study in your day to day life.  I use a variety of resources for my language studies.  They range from workbooks, my favorite being the Practice Makes Perfect series, to flashcards either homemade or this set that my brother gave me, online resources such as El Blog para Aprender Espanol (they have weekly assignments and correct them for free!), listening to the language learning Podcasts (see previous post here), studying a new word each day (e-mailed to me) and writing in Spanish.  Some learning methods work better for others.  But pick one or two things and stick with it. 

To give you an idea as to how I incorporate study into my day, I generally wake up and read a Biblical passage in Spanish, I then hop onto my elliptical and watch the news in Spanish which is followed by a bus commute where I listen to a Spanish learning podcast.  During my workday, my work is generally in Spanish and I am interacting with my co-workers in Spanish.  We always take a half-hour at lunch to connect.  Sometimes during my workday, I pull out a Practice Makes Perfect workbook and try to complete a page or two.  If I have the energy and a bus seat on my commute home, I will flip through flash cards or read a Spanish novel.  While I am home cooking at night, I try to put on some Spanish music.  In addition, I have conversations with my neighbors, people in public and friends throughout my day in Spanish.  I am very intentional and yes, it can be very exhausting.

6. Keep talking.  There are days when I come home from work absolutely exhausted, but I know that it is important to interact with my neighbors, build our friendships and use my Spanish.  Sometimes I allow myself a break and other times I keep on going.

I hope that these ideas are helpful for you.  Remember that it is a long process, probably one of the most difficult things you will ever do, but also one of the most rewarding.  Be encouraged and keep going in your language learning journey.