Credits

from the previous post: I have to say that I know a few colleagues who pack themselves, who have very few people to help them in saying goodbye and hello. I may have just transferred the world’s smallest balance from one bank to another, but I tell you, I think I am the richest woman in the world.

Heartfelt thank yous to all of the following:

My lay leader, Diane: what a team we made, our great minds thinking, if not always alike, in ways that certainly ran in sync. Your goodbye was nearly my very public undoing.

The C family: laymember Betsy, who was a co-visionary of mine and her husband Tim, who has been the go-to guy to pray for me when I’m crying too hard to do it myself.

The other C family, our neighbors and dear friends. No one could have been a better gift to have sharing a back yard. We miss you so much.

Their friend who I am glad to also count as mine, Glenn. You said goodbye quite well, my friend, and I’ll hang with you and Rob any time.

Amber and Tim, who we were just getting to know and adored spending time with this past year. Keep the faith alive for the young clergy women, m’dear, and the two of you will love visiting us in Montpelier. It’s like Berkley. Except smaller. and much, much colder.

Jeff, for surprising me by arriving and being the missing link between my seminary days, my neighboring Lutherans and my blogging secret identity!

Ted, who arrived too late to move boxes, but still managed to slip  gift into one of them, to ease the unpacking process. Kitchen stuff, indeed.

Megan, Steve, and the little one(s), for being them, and for walking this journey with us. Sister-preacher, ain’t no mountain (or mountain range) high enough, nor a Conference boundary deep enough to keep us apart.

Ru, Jim, Crystal, and Jim, family and as good as family from out of town– I needed you Sunday because you were there for me without having to at the same time say goodbye to me. Thanks. And Ru, as always, the neck felt great.

Lissa. There are no goodbyes for us, and you know that. You only didn’t get lumped in with the family above because we were saying goodbye in a way. This time I’m moving away from you, but we’ve been here before. Distance, schmistnce.

Mom and Dad Clark, who we also felt that we were near for too short a time. You make all those stories about evil inlaws laughable.

Rachael and Jon, with the most open homestead/hotel in all of Vermont, for putting Benji up for a week, and all of us up on a school night.

Mama, unpacker (and work-skipper extraordinaire.

alright, now who did I miss? I mean, I miss you all, but, you know what I mean.

Home Sweet Home

Sorry for the delay– had a little trouble finding the keyboard in the move, and I wasn’t about to blog using the clicky-on-screen thing. ick.

First of all, Sunday’s farewell service was wonderful. The liturgy I found online (thank you, Mennonites!) was much better than that thing in the UM book of Worship, and then the lunch was packed with people from the church and the community. Back at the house, 18 adults (and five kids) helped us pack up the last few boxes and then laugh the night away in bittersweet time together.

I had on a pretty good game face all day and night, too. A little misty, but no tears.

Likewise in the morning, when I had a few visitors (laymember B and Lutheran colleague A) and returned stuff to a few ‘forgettful’ friends (yeah right, M and L, I know you just wanted to see me again). Misty, but kept the tears in. Mostly anyway.

I have to say that I know a few colleagues who pack themselves, who have very few people to help them in saying goodbye and hello. I may have just transferred the world’s smallest balance from one bank to another, but I tell you, I think I am the richest woman in the world.

Enough of that, or I’ll get misty again.

So all that tear-less mistiness had to go somewhere, and the drive from Albany to Montpelier (well, Warren, actually) on Monday, much later than I’d hoped, was a pretty blurry one. I was missing my buddies something awful.

Still am.

Anyway, the move in was Tuesday morning, and my Mom stayed for Tuesday and Wednesday (because she couldn’t leave me alone without a car, since my battery went kaput Tuesday night in the grocery store parking lot–love VT; about six people offered to try to jump-start the car/stay with me until my ride came. A day and a new battery later, and all is well). In that two day time, we got a lot of unpacking done, and the place already feels like a home. Another week or so, and I’ll have enough floor space that people could comes stay overnight, so make your reservations now!

I’ve met a few more members of the Montpelier church and the secretary, who I already adore (she gave me a big hug!). Ari is loving her new school (although she had to take a day off due to a fever), and Benji is working hard and loving it in his new school as well. The local family members (my mother and his sister and brother in law) are glad to have us so close.

But the best part is that, much as we miss our NY friends, we don’t miss NY. Nope, it is good to be back home in the Green Mountain State. Can’t wait to get those green plates on my car! I got in a long discussion in the grocery checkout line about whether or not one should use a bluetooth headset for one’s phone while driving; I was cheerily greeted by a friendly postal worker (going postal makes no sense in VT!), and I feel the freshness (okay and the chill) in the air. Of course, I’ve also had near misses with about 18 pedestrians– Vermonters have such faith in the law that one yield to pedestrians that they (or, uh, we) sort of stop looking for cars. Even so, it feels right. Wish I could have brought my NY buds up here with me, and all would be complete.

Between the feeling of peace and the insane manual labor of sorting through boxes, hanging shades (that was about the toughest thing ever!), and chasing an excited if off-routine toddler, I’m sleeping better than I have in… well, given how dark and quiet it is here, I’m sleeping better than I have since I last lived in Vermont, count it, eleven years ago.

The Exile has returned.

The joy of the Methodist Itineracy

Friends, as my box count feature suggests, I’m about to preach my last sermon, attend my last church luncheon, and pack my last few boxes while saying fond goodbyes to loved ones in the NY capital region.

I’ll catch up with you in a few days from my new place, and then hopefully be back into deep theological reflection. Or posting pretty pictures, whatever this blog is actually about!

Airplane over the eastern United States (8/11, 8:07 p.m.)

( transcribed journal entry from 8/11, 8:07 p.m. )

Our flight out of Miami was delayed an hour and a half, so my hopes of driving home tonight and surprising Benji are pretty much dashed.

I do want to say that this trip has been helpful in terms of perspective. First of all, I haven’t thought about or worried about my impending move to Montpelier for a week– I haven;t been preoccupied with concern about how to address their financial problems. I have a little distance (and a little reminder of what financial problems can *really* look like), and I think it might actually help me deal with it in a more non-anxious way.

Additionally, my concerns about the relative squalor of our apartment have all but evaporated [transcriber's note: ha!]. It has running water and a bathroom–two in fact!– so the rest is icing on the cake.

And saying goodbye to my dear friends and family a hemisphere away for an unknown number of years, that has helped with the idea of saying goodbye to my friends and church family in the Albany area. At least we’ll all still be on the same continent, and with the technology and transportation to communicate and visit.

Still, I don’t want to think of this as my last trip to Guasmo. It may be my last trip for a while– a few years, perhaps, but I really want to go back now and then with members of my family and/or people from the churches I serve. In addition to seeing the people I care about here, there’s so much to be learned as well. Perhaps we could also sponsor the education of one or more kids in my family in the interim.

Thoughts for sermon fodder from this trip:

The power of a small group, a grassroots dream–meshes with the subversive mustard seeds passage/sermon from a few weeks ago. What Adopta Una Familia has done in a few years with relatively little resources.

The power of a dream, a vision, both in terms of getting it done, and in terms of César’s quote about the dreams of the poor.

The preferential option for the poor, and their lack of opportunities, especially Andres and his options–or lack thereof–for jobs in his future.

The interconnectedness of our lives, the people we meet, how one positive change in a community can spiral outward in ripples of change (i.e. roads and water).

Right now, there’s a beautiful sunset out my plane window. Below me, through the patchy clouds, small clusters of light reveal communities with stories to share, relationships to build, people to cherish. What staggering beauty!  What love there is in the world. Sometimes, the squalor of the barrio and the persistence of love in it is the most hopeful thing I know.

Plane on route, Guayaquil to Miami (8/11, 10:53 a.m.)

( transcribed journal entry from 8/11/08, 10:53 a.m. )

I’m doing okay on the plane– a few tears at take off, and I blew some kisses toward Guasmo Sur behind us. I’m even okay with the idea of not coming back for a couple of years. I think communication will be much improved between my family and I in the interim, especially with the new computers in Mi Cometa and the possibility of video conferencing, which seems to have made it to the barrio. But I definitely want to go back someday in the not-too-distant-future, maybe with my husband or with people from my churches. The great thing about coming with so many people from the reunion groups is hearing from them that even after 5 or 7 or 10 years they are welcomed back as if they never left.

President Rafael Correa (right) accepts a ceremonial staff, as Pres Hugo Chavez looks on, one day before Correa's 2007 inauguration.

President Rafael Correa (rt) accepts a ceremonial staff, as Chavez looks on, one day before Correa's 2007 inauguration.

On the plane, Paula (another participant) and I met a man named Fransisco, who is from Guayaquil, but has lived in the U.S. on a visa for about 8 years between college and working in Florida. His family is from the “good” part of Guayaquil, and is relatively wealthy–or was. His father owned a company that President Correa is shutting down.

Fransisco has a very different view of Correa his proposed new constitution. He says the constitution will legalize abortion and homosexuality, which he opposes (but sounds important to me, though). Additionally, he says it’s a communist power-grab, like Chavez in Venezuela, and that it will take money and power from the wealthy and kick out foreign businesses under the guise of helping the poor, but the money will never get to them and the promises for services will never be met. I suppose that remains to be seen, but at the very least it has sown a seed of doubt in my mind, especially given that Correa recently shut down a lot of the news going out of Ecuador. That is often a precursor to someone solidifying his (or I suppose her) own power and/or declaring himself President for life. Fransisco thinks the poor are being brainwashed and duped into voting yes on the constitution, which promises to help them but won’t. He praised our project and our efforts, but encouraged us to use our relationships with the folks in Guasmo to tell them another side of the story. It’s enough for me to at least ask Erica (program leader/founder) what she thinks, if only because Ecuador’s having essentially a communist or anti-capitalist president in the spirit of his friend and ally, Chavez, allied with Venezuela against Columbia and by extension the U.S., might effect the relative ease with which volunteers such as ourselves enter and exit the country.

[edited to add: is it bad that looking at that photo again, I want to add a new caption? Chavez: "Wow, dude, when *I* was inagurated, the staff they gave me was only *this* big."]

Plane on tarmac, Guayaquil International Airport, Ecuador (8/11, 9:15 a.m.)

[the housing crisis nearing resolution, we return to the Ecuador journal posts]

( transcribed journal entry from 8/11/08, 9:15 a.m. )

Last night’s program was pretty good. The drama the kids put on was much improved over last year (we could even hear them most of the time!)– a cute story similar to Solomon’s, where a couple of girls are fighting over a doll and one is willing to let it go so as not to hurt it. Then, two traditional dance numbers for two different age groups.

Following the dance performances, we had the presentation of the backpacks/school supplies for the kids in the tutoring program. José, the six year old in my house, was asking when he could get his backpack. Unfortunately, there are only fifty or so kids in the tutoring program each year, and so far my family’s kids haven’t received scholarships for it. I know there’s no way to help everybody, but it always seems more unfair when it’s your kids who don’t get the backpacks.

The other thing that is breaking my heart is Andres [see sermon transcript from 8/17]. He’s sweeter than ever and such a gentle, artistic soul. He tried his hand at working this past year at the port, but it didn’t work out for him. The thought of that gentle spirit broken by such hard labor just kills me; it eats me up inside. I wish I could fix it for him, and for his family, too. I hate not being able to make everything ok.

Laughter and hugs with the elusive Cris

Anyway, after the program, we had a brief goodbye on the soccer field– not at all like last year’s despedida. A few tears, but not bad (for me in fact that’s really good!). We all went back to the house and the little ones went to bed. I stayed up late again with Andres, Carlos, Diego, Liz, Eddy and the other Carlos (Eddy’s cousin) for una ronda de los gatchos (well, that’s what it sounds like, anyway), another round of jokes. About halfway through our joke-telling, Cristian walked by on his way home and we convinced him to stay and tell jokes with us. And so I got to hang out with my best buddy from last year, if only for a little while. And boy did we get one another laughing, and once again, I was quite proud of all those Spanish classes as I translated line-for-line for Liz.

Eventually, the crowd thinned down, but I stayed up a little longer with my bros, Andres and Cris, who switched from jokes to their ‘real life’ experience with ghosts, something for which I’m glad my language barrier left me a little out of the loop!

I finally dragged myself off to bed. I did most of my crying a couple of nights ago, so I went to sleep pretty well. Fortunately, I had packed my bags yesterday afternoon, because I slept right through my watch-alarm.

Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.

Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.

A quick breakfast and some goodbyes to the sleeping ones, whom I kissed on the cheeks. Little dear José woke up and hugged me tightly, not letting go until I had to pry him off so I could leave for the bus at Mi Cometa. Andres, Carols (my ever-faithful bodyguard), Eddy and Mami Isabel accompanied me to the bus, where we all put our arms around each other and shed no small amount of tears. Andres was saying over and over, “mi hermana, mi hermana, mi sister,” in both languages.

All too soon, I was on the bus (with a bloody toe because someone stepped on me!), and we were blowing kisses to one another, waving furiously as the bus pulled away, until we turned a corner and they were gone–again–from my sight.

Can you see them waving to me through the stupid window reflection?

Can you see them waving to me through the stupid window reflection?

Upon arrival at the airport, we discovered that my traveling buddy, D, was indeed not on the bus; his family got the time wrong! He arrived at the airport about a half hour behind us, having been driven by his family– they pushed the car out of the living room, where they park it so it doesn’t get stolen, and had to push it down the road a bit to get it to start, but they managed to drive him to the airport. I felt a bit bad because I hadn’t seen him all morning and I didn’t think he’d responded to roll call, but I was so busy waving at my family, I didn’t speak up. Like me, D has a little girl to get home to, otherwise, I’d have envied him the extra time in the barrio.

Best friends, part II

I’m a pacifist, people!

I resist violence, seek a third way, turn the other cheek. I think ‘just war’ is an oxymoron (as war is neither filled with justice nor limited to ‘just’ war), and that even violence done in self defense or in defense of the powerless does harm to God’s body (which may or may not be a necessary evil in a broken world).

And yet, there is something so endearing about how many of you are prepared to ride into battle on my behalf, whether against an individual or a system. I’ve had offers for frying-pan attacks, physical assault, and two separate offers by two separate engineers (watch out for those guys; they may seem quiet and geeky, but they have access to people with nuclear devices!) for cruise missiles and/or carpet bombs unleashed over the state of Vermont, which I think might defeat the purpose of trying to move there, though I can’t be sure.

I must respectfully decline the offers of violence, but your intensions are noted!

However, I can’t risk you doing harm to my new landlord and lady, who are currently reviewing a credit check and plan to hand Husband the keys to a lead-paint-free, energy-efficient house later this week.

I have the best friends in the world.

In a training program for new pastors (and anyone else who’s interested) that my Conference offers called “Tending the Fire,” we do this exercise where we examine our support network. How many people do we have in our network? How many are *not* church members or colleagues, so we can vent about work? How many are *not* family so we can complain about our familial dysfunction? How many live within a half hour’s drive and will be at our doorstep in a moment when we need them?

Typically, we end up with a short list of people who are the universal, good-for-any-venting, easily accessible friends. In fact, at the time I did this, I had one. One person who was neither family nor church member/clergy, and lived within a close enough distance to be at my door when I needed her. And that was because she had recently left the United Methodist Church and become non-religious, something which ironically qualifies my best friend from college L to be my best all-around friend.

But in addition to L, I have a support network that rivals anyone I know. Some are clergy, some are laity, some don’t set foot in a church. Male, female, old, young, related and dear friends. They are the best people in the world, and they love me, and when whatever mess in my life hits the fan, they are there for me.

Which brings us to today.

My housing in Montpelier fell through in a bad way– I think the proper military definition is FUBAR. My husband arrived at the apartment in Montpelier last night to get the keys and move in some minimal stuff (so he could start work this morning). He found that the promised maintenance, including clearing the house of lead paint, had not been done. We had not signed a lease, nor had we made any written agreement about the work to be done prior to our moving in; we have nothing on paper, nor does the landlord. Husband spent about two hours in the apartment, mostly on the phone with me. Then he put his stuff back in the car, left the keys and the unsigned lease in the mailbox, and drove to his sister’s house.

And so the moving van arrives here in six and a half days, but to where it drives with its merry load is anyone’s bloody guess.

I have spent the morning calling said landlord (who thinks he’s owed at least a deposit/half a month’s rent), cancelling the electricity and cable set ups scheduled for today, issuing stop-payments on the rental check on the off chance the landlord wants to try to laugh his way to the bank with my church’s $3850, and calling realtor after realtor and landlord/lady after landlord/lady in Montpelier.

But I haven’t done it alone.

This went down last night at about 9:30. By 9:45, while I was still on the phone crying to my mom, neighbor (and soon-to-be former congregant) M was at my back door with comfort, er, food, and helping herself to my internet so she could research apartments. Aforementioned college best friend L soon joined her in the online search from her apartment 40 minutes north. Meanwhile, my mom and my in-laws ran interference with my husband, calming him down and helping him prioritize while his sister and brother in law calmly packed his car back up and escorted him on a midnight drive back to their house. This morning, my inbox loaded with housing leads from M and L and notes of encouragement from friends and strangers via the internet, I was contacted by seminary friend M, who took me out to a sanity-saving lunch and drink (that’s Starbucks chai latte, folks, so don’t get excited!), while my sister in Seneca offered to organize my leads into a convenient chart. My sister in law is talking with a contact of hers at a landlord-tenant advocacy group to see what our rights and responsibilities are for the failed lease. My in laws are poised to do kid duty if I should need to make another trip up to Montpelier in the next couple of days to nail down a new place (but I hope that one of the four appointments I made for Husband this afternoon is satisfactory and we’ll be un-homeless again in a day or so), and they are 1. paying for full time rather than half time daycare this week and 2. picking Ari up from daycare today and bringing her home for dinner, whereupon they will help me pack the kitchen and the basement.

(pastors, take a moment to thank God if you live in a parsonage, and laity, remind people of this nightmare should anyone suggest that a housing allowance is actually ‘easier’)

Just now, I’m thanking God for my friends and family, the greatest support team I’ve ever seen.

[Edited to ad: and I'm thanking God for a three bedroom house, for $1200 plus utilities, in Montpelier proper, that was built in 1980 and therefore has absolutely no lead paint. The application and the deposit are in the landlady's hands, and she's just going to do a background check and the place should be ours.]

Sermon (transcript): Perchance to Dream

Yet again bummed that my sermon today wasn’t recorded. This time I just flat-out forgot to put in a CD and so did my sound guy. For the record I also flat-out forgot to put on makeup (and, in case you were wondering, so did my sound guy).

So I’ll do my best from-memory reconstruction.

“Perchance to Dream”

I began with an overview of the history of Mi Cometa and Adopta Una Familia, which I will do in list form.

- began as a twofold vision from people on two continents. what would become the Mi Cometa community center started as a program nearly two decades ago to attempt to provide services to Guasmo Sur, the 400,000-person barrio.

- most of the residents are squatters; they came from the country and found a square of land and built what passes for a home on that land.

- what would become Adopta Una Familia began ten years ago, when a young woman did a little stint in the peace corps in Guasmo. The people on the plane with her bet she wouldn’t last a week in the roughest part of the city. Ten years have passed and she’s been back every year.

Mi Cometa (my kite), the community center

Mi Cometa ('my kite'), the community center

At the dedication of Mi Cometa, the community center, César Cardenas, the president of Mi Cometa (and the only man on staff, since the program seeks to empower young women by providing examples of women in leadership positions), said: “The dreams of the poor are the most powerful dreams, because we have the world to gain and nothing to lose.”

The dreams of the poor. That’s what these programs are about. The dream of providing education and medicine to a community. The dream of building bathrooms and houses, of helping people live with privacy, dignity, hope, and peace. They are dreams that have been years– decades– in the making, but this year, on the tenth anniversary of Adopta Una Familia, the community center was completed. We fit about three hundred people in the large community room for the dedication. Downstairs, there’s a computer lab, a kitchen, a library, dormitories for volunteers, space used by a tutoring program, a music program, what we hope will be a health clinic and a local radio station.The fulfillment of a dream a decade old.

After ten years of involvement in the community as well, the local residents and the North American volunteers had been putting pressure on InterAgua, the water company (here I shared about the building of the sewers and the paving of the streets, described in an earlier post). Along with large scale changes like the community center, advocating for paved streets, and witnessing (as I did last week) the first garbage pick up rather than burning trash in the streets, the project is about the little things, or at least big things in little places, making the world of difference in the life of one person or family. I told the story of Luis, also mentioned in that previous entry, and the house that allows him to live and die in dignity.

But, I said, the true story of Adopta Una Familia is the people. I want you to meet Andres. He’s my brother, or the brother in my host family. Andres met me off my bus when we pulled into the barrio, and greeted me with all the love and affection of a brother as if I’d been gone a couple of days rather than a year. Andres insists on calling me “sister” in English, and in Spanish, “hermanita” a diminutive, affectionate form akin to “little sis,” although I’ve got at least a decade on him. In this photo, Andres is flashing his muscles for a young North American woman who attended last year, in the hopes that she might come back next year. He was sad not to see her. He carries a torch for her, you might say. In the way that, for example, Berlin is burning a torch just now.

Last year, I think I shared with you how my heart broke for the little girls in my family, Raysa and Alba, now eleven and ten. Every woman in their family has been a mother by the age of fifteen– it’s just what happens there– and last year I was overcome with the desire to take them home with me, to somehow rectify the disparity between the opportunities and education and nutrition and choice about when and how they become mothers that will face these girls, compared to the opportunities my own daughter will have. What broke my heart into a million pieces was the realization that I was not there to save them, that we are not meant to ride in on our valiant chargers and deliver people from their circumstances as if we were the saviors of the world when that position has already been filled.

I’d forgotten that. The deep helplessness. The true heartbreak of being utterly unable to do anything about it. A bit of emotional amnesia on my part. I wasn’t quite prepared.

I expected to still be broken-hearted about my girls, but the one who broke my heart this year is Andres.

Andres is nineteen, and, as his father died five years or so ago, he’s the man of the house. When he’s not acting macho to impress a North American chica, he’s actually incredibly shy, very sensitive, sweet, devoted to his family, and I know because he considers me part of it. He’s a tender soul, an artist. He makes jewelry. He draws. He expresses himself in words that seem beautiful and carefully chosen and that I might recognize, if my Spanish were better, as poetry.

Men in Guasmo Sur do two things. They work in construction, and they work at the shipping port. Noble professions, but purely physical ones, and the only dreams, the only opportunities available. At nineteen, Andres tried his hand at construction and at the work of the ship yard.

It didn’t take.

He’s not a wimp; he’s a strong young man as you can see. But he’s not a carpenter. He’s a different sort of craftsman. If he could just get in to the city, perhaps, he could sell jewelry or cook or study some more, but then he’d be using part of what he earned to buy bus fare and that would sort of defeat the purpose. So he doesn’t work right now.

But the part that breaks my heart is that this is not a long term solution. Sooner or later, the man of the house with six other children still living at home, Andres will have to face the music. He will have to work. He will have to work in construction or at the port. And it will break him. That beautiful boy. That gentle soul. My dear brother.

Now, I’ve been showing this picture to every single girl I know, hoping one of them would want to bring Andres to the states with them– just marry the kid and get him to a better place and a better set of opportunities. I know INS tends to frown on that, but look at him! What a sweetheart! I’d do it myself, but Benji already told me no (husband, from the audience, amid the laughter of the congregation: “no. no. no.”).

But the thing is, that’s not necessarily his dream. He loves his family, and I bet it’d break him just as surely to be ripped from them as it would to devote himself to hard physical labor. It’s not for me to fix Andres or his life or his dreams. The dreams of the poor are the most powerful dreams in the world– not ours– because they– not us, they– have the world to gain and nothing to lose.

I’m always convicted by the Beatitudes as they appear in Luke. You know that they’re in the Gospels more than once, right? They’re in Matthew, too, but they read differently. In Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…” Luke is far more blunt. In Luke, Jesus says “blessed are the Poor. Blessed are the Hungry. Blessed are those who Mourn.” None of these lofty theological ideas. Jesus in Luke gives the kingdom to the poor. To Andres, to Raysa, to Luis, not to you and I.

Now of course there’s a great theological and biblical debate about which one Jesus actually said, whether Matthew tones it down or Luke ratchets it up, whether Matthew decided that Jesus’ preference for the poor would mean the Gospel would never translate to the wealthy, or Luke decided that the movement should address physical hunger before spiritual hunger, or whether Jesus in fact said both on two separate days. The fact remains that if we take Luke’s Gospel seriously, then it becomes clear that the Gospel is not for us. It is not for us in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. It is not for us in our middle class privilege– we who don’t see ourselves as wealthy, and yet we certainly are, in body and often in spirit. The Gospel, the kingdom, belongs to the poor, not the poor in spirit, to those who hunger not for righteousness, but for good solid food, to those who thirst not for justice but for potable water, to those who mourn not with the large and small suffering that we all must face, but with the deep despair of helplessness and broken or un-dreamed dreams.

And our question becomes, what is the Gospel for us then? What is our role, our place in a kingdom that is for the poor and the hungry, when we are neither? Andres knows poverty in a way I have never and will never know it. He knows hunger like I never will– I bought him and his family lunch one day, and watched as he finished everything on his plate, and mine, and his sisters’ plates, and his brothers’ plates. He is hungry. And he mourns– at least here, I feel like I can stand in solidarity with him, since I am a pretty big crier! But my grief, even for his experience, is not as far-reaching as his, I bet.

Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.

Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.

How do I participate in God’s blessing for Andres and his community? How do I dream his dream? How do we, from our place of privilege, truly bear witness to the dreams of the poor? What is the role of the church, steeped as it is in American middle class privilege, when it comes to God blessing the poor and the hungry and the thirsty?

I confess that I don’t know. That’s the power of this experience, the humility of being broken and powerless to do anything and not even knowing how to think about who we are and what God is calling us to do. All I know is that I love Andres and Raysa and Luis and their families and the community. I grieve with them and try to hear their dreams. I may never be able to find a young woman to marry Andres, and even if I could, I don’t know that I would, since that might not be his dream, and might not be the way to let God bless him. Instead, we bear witness, we mourn together, we hunger and thirst as best we can together. We pray that we can be somehow part of the dream coming true, somehow part of God’s blessing for the poor and the hungry and the broken, unfolding in the world.

Outside the Casa de Mera, Guayaquil, Ecuador (8/10, 6:25 p.m.)

( transcribed entry from 8/10/08, 6:25 p.m. )

After a pancake breakfast (which I cooked!) this morning, we had church service on the soccer field, the highlight of which was a beautiful solo of Amazing Grace, sung by North American teen K. I was also honored to be able to serve communion to about half of the participants and Ecuadorians.

We proceeded to the Mi Cometa community center for a ribbon cutting and dedication, which was very moving. With a few brief speeches, the Ecuadorian leadership of Mi Cometa, with Erica, the North American pastor/founder of the project, cut the red ribbon on the metal gate and ushered us inside. We went in up to the brand new– today!– finished community room.

looking into the Mi Cometa community room a day earlier.

Looking into the Mi Cometa community room a day earlier.

What a difference a day makes!

What a difference a day makes!

There were several speeches, including a great one from César, one of the heads of Mi Cometa, who spoke of the power of dreams, of what has been accomplished, and what is still to be dreamed. “The dreams of the poor,” César said, “are the most powerful dreams, because we have the world to gain, and nothing to lose.”

We were also addressed by the economic minister and political adviser under Ecuadorian President Correa. Between plugs for the proposed new constitution (which sounds pretty good if they can actually do it– lower the voting age from 18 to 16, free public education through high school, and a universal understanding of citizenship “because no person should ever be considered illegal”) the minister praised Mi Cometa, and its commitment to justice, the poor, and the equitable use of natural and human resources.

Following the cake and coffee reception, we came back to the house for a great honor. I baptized Angela’s new, 18-day-old son, Kenyon Ezekiel. Bonnie was the godmother and Andres the godfather. That took up most of the afternoon, and not we are waiting on the evening program and official farewell, and maybe a few more rounds of jokes before bed. I can’t believe this is the last night already.

Kenyon Ezekiel with his godparents, grandmother, and parents.

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