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Ven y ve!

July 20, 2009 | posted by under , , | Comments (21)

“Come and see.”  The text of our greeting to the MWC assembly on Wednesday, July 15, for what it’s worth.  The English version is below.

El texto de nuestro saludo a la asemblea del CMM, de esta miercoles, el 15 de julio, por lo que vale.  La versión traducida sigue.

¡Hermanas y hermanos!  ¡Que bueno es a vernos todos juntos!  Por varios meses, para muchos de nosotros, esta semana ha sido solo un sueño – quizas un sueño malo para los encargados con las logísticas – pero en tal manera estamos juntados acá de las ciudades más grandes del mundo, y las casas por senderos polvorosos, de las montañas, desiertos, costas, y llanos.  Nuestros historias y contextos son diversos. Venimos de familias con raíces menonita bien profundas, y comunidades en cuales los demonios de drogas y alcohol poseen demasiados.  Venimos de culturas religiosas y sociedades desencantadas con la religión.  Pero unimos juntos porque nuestra visión – nuestra pasión – es singular: seguir juntos en vida y muerte, por el poder del Espíritu Santo, los caminos de Jesucristo, nuestro salvador y el único hijo del Creador, nuestro Dios.  Me da alegría que nosotros, aunque somos muchos, podemos juntarnos alrededor de este centro, a pesar de gran diferencias en nuestros hábitos de vivir y alabar (son lo mismo, ¿no?)

Y han sido mucha razón para gozarse en camino hasta acá en bicicleta tras de los seis meses pasados.  Salimos de nuestro pueblito de Harrisonburg, Virginia en los Estados Unidos en la lluvia el 6 de enero, sin fijarnos ni en que lleva la semana, sin decir los 12,000 kilómetros enseguidos.  Sí planeamos el viaje; hicemos investigación, juntamos equipos y provisiones, y contactamos iglesias y organizaciones en los países por la ruta para aprender de y compartir con nuestros anfitriones.  Pero nada de eso nos preparó para recibir la hospitalidad increíble de gente única por toda la ruta.

De veras, aunque llevamos una carpa todas las casi 8,000 millas, se nos preguntó por que.  Solo la armamos dos veces; los otros 182 noches, nos hospedaron anabautistas, católicos, y evangélicos, restauranteros y bicitaxistas, arquitectas y estancieros, en casas, colegios, y hospitales, parroquias y salones comunitarios.  Estar recibidos como invitados no anticipados en tantas lugares, vez tras vez ha sido una experiencia abromada y que nos hizo sentir más humilde.  Através de lo, creo que hemos visto un poquito de que Jesús quiso decir cuando dijo “les aseguro que todo el que por mi causa y la del evangelio haya dejado casa, hermanos, hermanas, madre, padre, hijos, o terrenos, recibirá cien veces más ahora en este tiempo (casas, hermanos, hermanas, madres, hijos, y terrenos, aunque con persecuciones); y en la edad venidera, la vida eterna.”  Y por eso, nos regocijamos.

Pero nuestro viaje también ha sido una causa para lamentarnos, como si estuviéramos descubriendo el tamaño de una herida auto-infligido en el cuerpo de Cristo.  Posiblemente porque parecimos (con razón) ser bien vulnerables, andando en bici, nuestros anfitriones y gente que encontremos nos daban consejos del camino adelante.  Casi sin excepción, los consejos estaban malos.  “Hay mala gente allá.  No les van a recibir,” nos decían, “les van a robar.  Van a enfermarse.”  Pero en esos lugares maldichosos, se nos hospedarían como antes.  Nuestra experiencia nos dijo a buscar con esperanza y expectativa lo bueno en las personas.  Para nosotros, esta quiso ser vulnerables a recibir de otras lo que el Espíritu Santo podría proveer por medio de ellos hecho en el imagen de Dios.

Cruzamos la frontera estadounidense-méxicana en los principios de febrero, durante una época de violencia elevada entre los militares y narcotraficantes allá.  El invierno en el norte también es una temporada cuando los migrantes tratan hacer el viaje duro por los desiertos para entrar a los Estados Unidos, y estábamos quedando con unos de ellos en una casa migrante de los católicos en Nuevo Laredo.  No fijábamos de la situación enseguida, y por eso preguntamos a nuestros compañeros de cuarto que acabaron de pasar la región.  Como siempre, había varios consejos, la mayoría mala.  Un hombre nos dijo, “en serio, espero que lleguen a Monterrey vivos.”

Así, con estas consejos llenando nuestros mentes, salimos por la lluvia otra vez, mirando cada movilidad con más sospecha.  Fue mediodía y estábamos solos en la carretera cuando un van blanco nos acercó y manejó despacio – a 20 kph – al lado de Jon.  Nuestros mentes estuvieron volando.  Todavía manejando, el conductor bajó la ventana y dió la mano, con un cartón de pizza.  “¿Quieres una pizza?” preguntó.  “¿Porque no?” respondió Jon, y allá, en camino, le dió la pizza y seguió, dejándonos a disfrutar una pizza entera y calientita en el medio del desierto lluvioso.  Era deliciosa, pero más parecía un señal de Dios, quitando nuestros preocupaciones como la neblina y causándonos a notar que había más razón para esperar que temer.

Esta senario se repitió con tan frecuencia – aunque no siempre con tantas pizzas y drama – y con bastante consistencia que me causó pensar en cuando los discípulos estaban encontrando a Jesús por la primera vez.  Cuando oyó de esta Jesús de Nazaret, Natanael pregunta, “De Nazaret?!  Acaso de allí puede salir algo bueno?”  Filipe, el evangelista, solo dice, “Ven y ve.”

Parece que sea así.  Tenemos que venir y ver.  Tan fácilmente nos encontramos al lado de Nathanael, creyendo y repitiendo las malas noticias oyemos de otra gente y otros lugares, sin permitirles un chance a ser diferente.  Encontramos muchas reputaciones de cada área, pero lo más resistente llegó ser también lo más doloroso.  Frecuentemente se nos oirían de personas que pertenecen a las iglesias evangélicas comentarios como, “católicos no leen la Biblia, yo leo la Biblia,” o preguntas como, “Eres Católico, o Cristiano?” (Interesantemente, lo casi nunca fue al revés, aunque muchas veces quedamos con católicos.)

Estos divisiones con tanto inflamación ciertamente no son por el camino de Cristo; porque aunque somos de confesiones muy diferentes, somos de una fe, de un solo cuerpo.  Seguir a Jesucristo requiere esperar por y buscar activamente lo bueno que es dentro de cada uno de nosotros.  Encontrar a Jesús Christo entre nosotros requiere dejar prejuicios y formar ojos y oídos que miran y escuchan con amor, no juicio.   Así como aprendimos de otro par de viajeros unos días después del resurrección de Jesús, si estamos dispuestos abrir nuestros ojos y corazones, damos cuenta que Jesús esta con nosotros, caminando con nosotros, enseñándonos, partiendo pan con nosotros.

Así, con nuestro corazón ardido, paramos antes de ustedes.  Juntos con ustedes y muchos y muchas más, seguimos el camino de Jesucristo.  Ha sido un viaje larga a este punto para todos, y seguro que es un camino largo al fin.  Caminemos juntos con ojos abiertos, compartiendo historias de fieldád y esparciendo historias de esperanza.  ¡Vamos, andando, caminando con alegría!

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Somebody help me sing …

July 20, 2009 | posted by under , , | Comments (3)

… my God is good – oh!  ey e-ey my God is good – oh!

During the Global Youth Summit, each of the five worship services was led by a different continental delegation.  On Saturday, July 11, the African delegates called us to worship with this song.

Picture this….the ride into Asunción

July 19, 2009 | posted by under , , , | Comments (5)

Filadelfia to Asuncion, PY

Filadelfia to Asuncion, PY

July 5-8, 2009

Asuncion and Global Youth Summit

Asuncion and Global Youth Summit

July 9-12, 2009

Asunción 2009! We’ve arrived!

July 10, 2009 | posted by under , , , | Comments (38)

A bit after noon yesterday, under a grey sky reminiscent of our first days of biking in Virginia, we rolled into Colegio Gutenberg, where the Global Youth Summit will take place this weekend as a part of the Mennonite World Conference Assembly here in Asunción.  We were accompanied by two youth from a Mennonite church here in Asunción for the last 10 miles or so, and after arriving, being greeted by folks, and reenacting our arrival for the MWC photographer, we began to settle into the campus which is now filling with young adults from all around the globe.

Among the many new faces from Paraguay, Cambodia, and everywhere in between, it’s been wonderful to also see people we left weeks or months ago, from Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, and several from the United States, including the EMU cross-cultural.  We had an informal service last night for those who arrived early, but the summit begins in earnest in 20 minutes, at 9:00; being a part of this incredibly diverse gathering is an exciting opportunity and I look forward to the many interactions and conversations which will come out of it (and already are!).  At the same time, it’s rather surreal to actually be here.  We left Harrisonburg just over 6 months ago, and have traveled though 12 countries and more than 12,000 kilometers (around 7,750 miles), spent time in many places and with many people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs; we’ve been through many seasons and climates, and now we’re here, among many others, also representing many experiences, cultures, and congregations.  May God be glorified in these days – in our interactions, conversations, worship, meals, and recreation!

Galletas de Huevo

July 5, 2009 | posted by under , | Comments (3)

Our last night in Bolivia was spent with the Redekop family on Colonia El Palmar, a Low German-speaking Mennonite colony 100 kilometers from the Bolivia-Paraguay border.  We had a very pleasant – albeit short – time with the family of eight; we hope that they are sharing the same sentiments.  Suffice it to say that the visit was a bit of an intercultural experience (picture two sweaty, dirty guys in spandex walking their bikes down a dirt driveway at dusk to meet a family that knows hard work well, but knows it in overalls and cape dresses), but also that we found common ground quite quickly.  (“You read about us in a Mennonite newsletter from Canada? No way!”  The article was several months old, and they had just been talking about us recently, they said, and thought we must not be coming.  Go figure.)

For breakfast, they shared coffee, fresh milk from their dairy cows, bread, and galletas de huevo – or filled egg cookies – with us before we all began our day’s work.  They were more than willing to share the recipe for the cookies with me, and we had a good time translating the handwritten card from German into Spanish.  Though traditionally eaten for breakfast in the Redekop family, I would imagine that these cookies could be put on a dessert table without much complaint.

Galletas de Huevo (gayehtas de wayvo)
from the Redekop family, in the Bolivian Chaco

4 c sugar
1 c heavy cream
1 1/2 c milk
2 c butter
2 T vanilla
2 T baking soda
3 t baking powder
6 eggs
flour & sesame seeds to taste

Place on baking sheets in 3″ circles and bake (at 350F-ish for 10ish minutes? They weren’t sure. Until lightly browned).

Cookie Filling

2 c milk
1 c sugar
1/2 c butter
1 t salt
1 t vanilla

Add cocoa to taste, if desired.  Cook for 10 minutes in a saucepan; should thicken to a spreadable consistency.

Spread an ample layer (5mm) of creamy cookie spread on the bottom of one galleta and top with a second galleta to create a galleta sandwich.  Makes one tubfull. :)

Filadelfia, Paraguay

July 4, 2009 | posted by under , , | Comments (4)

I am glad, on this fourth of July evening, to be resting in the City of Brotherly Love.  After a truly spectacular week of biking – riding 550 miles in 6 days, staying with a “traditional” Mennonite family on a colony in Bolivia, seeing incredible wildlife (including a toucan, several armadillos, & flocks of parrots) and unique flora, eating empanadas and staying the night with the Paraguayan customs officials, and riding with a young woman from Filadelfia 90 miles into town today – it feels wonderful to rest again, here in the home of the Klassens in Fernheim Colony, in the center of the Great Paraguayan Chaco.

It seems serendipitous that, on the day the USA celebrates its independence, we would be reminded by our host town’s name of the undergirding importance of love, over all.  We, it seems, are not so independent after all; and maybe that shouldn’t even be our goal.  Life seems much richer as it is given freely and shared with others; exclusion and self-preservation may be the way of the nations, but it doesn’t seem like the way of Life.

That said, we had delicious asado – barbequed steak & pork – and ice cream made with milk from the colony’s dairy today for supper with the Klassens.  It reminded me of celebrating the fourth with family and friends in what feels like a parallel world back home, where the hamburgers, homemade ice cream, and fireworks all seem to point, not to our individual autonomy, but to our community.  We, when we live well, live as if we need each other.

Nine days!

June 30, 2009 | posted by under , , , | Comments (9)

It’s hard to believe after nearly 6 months of traversing the American macrocontinent that in nine days we’ll be rolling into Asunción, the day before the Global Youth Summit begins on July 10.  In order to make this journey manageable, I’ve taken it day by day and section by section.  Now, with the end of our ride very much on the horizon (not literally, yet; though much of the chaco is flat), there are many thoughts, large and small, running through my head.  More on those may come later; for now, a bit on our time in Santa Cruz.

We had a wonderful extended weekend in Santa Cruz spending time with the two Mennonite churches in the city and with MCC Bolivia, which has its headquarters and much of its present work there as well.  Saturday evening, we were able to get together with some of the youth who are planning to attend the youth summit and world conference assembly for an interesting and lively time of fellowship and discussion on the theme of the summit, which will be “service: live the difference.”  Their final fundraiser for their trip was a meal the next day after church, which we (and many from both churches) gladly joined them for.  I didn’t hear how much was raised, but it surely seemed like a (delicious) success to me.

It’s amazing to think of all the people who have been making preparations to be a part of this assembly.  By this point, the first of many trails from around the world are no doubt beginning to converge on Asunción to prepare for the swarms which will follow.  More incredible yet, we who will be in attendance will only be representatives of diverse Anabaptist congregations from many disparate communities around the globe; and we Anabaptists, only one of many confessions of faith in the same triune God, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.  I can only imagine, that, as one of the youth on Saturday – a YAMENera from Zimbabwe, who was at Assembly 14 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – said, of the assembly, “it must be a little taste of what heaven will be like.”

In order to make the assembly more financially accessible to all, registration is based on a fair share principle, where fees are pro-rated according to basic costs of living in one’s home country.  Beyond that, there are travel funds to assist delegates who have been chosen by their church conferences as representatives to the general assembly and youth summit (for North American readers, in this context, church conferencesrefers to members of the MWC – MCUSA and MCCanada would each be such a conference).  For those of you who have browsed this site or spoken with us, you know that helping raise money for the global youth travel fund is part of the goal of this bike ride; for those who haven’t, you’ve been informed. :)

We tend not to make solicitations, but several times throughout our journey churches have spontaneously taken offerings for our trip expenses, which has both surprised and humbled us.  Our expenses largely being covered (and being relatively low), these offerings have been designated for the global youth travel fund.  On one occasion about two and a half months ago, a small church gave us what they called “a small gift,” lavishing us with US$50.  I couldn’t help but think what it would be like if each of the 939 Mennonite churches in the USA were to contribute $50 to help youth from around the world attend the gathering in Asunción.  That $50,000 alone would easily cover the fund’s remaining goal as of last January of $30,000 (the most recent data I have); and that doesn’t even begin to include Mennonite congregations outside the United States, or Brethren in Christ churches anywhere.

Whatever your accounting of $50 is – whether it’s your dream, your bank account or your pocket change – big things are easily achieved with the contributions of many.  If you’d like to make a donation – in any amount – to the global youth travel fund, click here or on the icon on the left sidebar of this (or any) page.

Meanwhile, back on the Altiplano…

June 20, 2009 | posted by under , , | Comments (6)

Altiplano: (high plain) An extensive plain that sits at around 11,000 feet above sea level and occupies parts of Chile, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the altiplano is the largest high plateau in the world except for that of the Himalayas in Tibet (Wikipedia).

Besides pondering how many pounds of dirt and rock were underneath our wheels as we rode through this high plain, these past three weeks bring so many rich and varied experiences to mind that I am at a loss as to how to tie them all together, so I will call upon the help of the three photo albums that we just posted to supplement the small tidbits I will leave you with below, in more or less of a chronological order.

  • While in Cusco, we had the privilege of staying with Shultz Family, missionaries there with EMM who are closely tied with the Mennonite church in Cusco as well as PROMESA, a Mennonite affiliated bilingual school begun in 2005.  Looking back on it, our time with the Shultz´s was, I think, one of our most comfortable long term stays on this trip.  By the time we left (8 days later), I essentially felt like a member of the Shultz family, and was continually amazed by the quality of the home cooked food that came out of their kitchen.  The hospitality didn´t end when we left either, as we were sent off with 4 sandwiches, 6 homemade bagels, trail mix, dried apples, 8 peppermint patties, and a variety of fresh fruits.  Lars and I talked about how our experience with the Shultz Family provided us with an excellent example of how to be hospitable to others in our own homes when we return to the US.
  • Almost three days of riding outside of Cusco, along the northern shores of Lake Titicaca, we had the good fortune to stumble upon a local government capacitation initiative to teach women from the outskirts of Puno how to naturally dye alpaca yarn to use in knitting various handmade clothing articles to see in the artisan markets in Puno and elsewhere.  It was wonderful to see all of the colors, to chat with the women, and to share with them the excitement of learning a new skill.  They also shared with us some wonderful potatoes (baked in the earth), which we dipped into two delicious sauces, one which was also made of earth (see a theme here?).  We left this roadside capacitation project full of hope for these women and more sure than ever that the best way to encounter interactions like this is by traveling slowly, by bicycle.
  • Leaving Puno, we encountered our first paro, or strike.  This strike was a nationwide initiative to call attention to deals the Peruvian government was making with international corporations in the selva, or rain forest portion of Peru that gave the corporations basically free reign over the land, with little regard or consultation to the people actually living there.  We encountered people demonstrating, making speeches, and many sparkling shards of broken glass and rocks on the road, which made for nice traffic-free riding
  • Arriving in the tiny town of Acora after dodging glass shards and spending our last few minutes of daylight, we sought out the local parish, but were disappointed to find no one there.  A few minutes later a priest came running up to the door, hurrying us inside, telling us we were crazy for being out here in this cold, doing what we were doing.  Many cups of coca tea and pieces of bread with fried eggs later, we learned that Victor, a German priest that had lived in Altiplano for many years, was not your typical Catholic priest.  He was living way out in the campo, helping the farmers to manage their crops and livestock in ways that made sense, were inexpensive, and provided better yields in an already harsh environment.  Victor was one of those people that it was just easy to connect with, and we thoroughly enjoyed talking to him before we retired to our cozy room for the evening, only to have Victor knock on the door and gift us each with some German chocolate sent by his mother.  It was delicious, but even more so for the generosity involved.
  • Fast-forwarding to the more recent, after memories of fiery sunsets over Lake Titicaca (yes, our camera batteries DID run out right at that moment), seeing friends in La Paz, and an exhilarating descent into the Cochabamba Valley, we arrived in downtown Cochabamba, where we were met by Natalia, an SPI participant who offered to host us after hearing about our trip.  Our stay with them has been a blessing, especially since I have been battling a rather fierce GI bug for the last few days.  However, I can report that things are improving, and that I am well hydrated after 1.5 L of Mandarin Gatorade, 2 L of sugar/salt water, and a variety of soups and broths made by our wonderful hosts.

So what is to be taken from each of these experiences?

Notice the people around you.  Open your house to them. Teach them something new.  Provide them with new work. Stand with them in injustices.   Usher them in from the cold.  Live with them out in the sticks. Give them part of your mother´s care package.  Care for them when they are ill.

These are lessons that I have learned from the past three weeks, but only because I was on the receiving end of almost all of them.  May I (we) have the courage of employ such practices in our own lives, so that others may be on the receiving end of God´s provision.

The Andes, visually

June 20, 2009 | posted by under , , | Comments (4)

Cusco, Peru & surroundings

Cusco, Peru & surroundings

May 31-June 8, 2009

Cusco to Puno, PE

Cusco to Puno, Perú

June 8-10, 2009

Puno, PE to La Paz, BO

Puno, Perú to La Paz,Bolivia

June 11-13, 2009

La Paz to Cochabamba, BO

La Paz to Cochabamba,Bolivia

June 14-17, 2009

Futher up and further in

May 30, 2009 | posted by under , , | Comments (8)

I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise,
that formed the creatures with a word, and then pronounced them Good.
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed where’er I turn my eye,
if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky!

The Peruvian Andes.  I really hesitate to write this entry, because I haven’t the faintest clue how.  The past week has been such a sensory, holy experience, that I’ve long resigned myself to – at best - sharing a shadow of these days.

Rather than write, I would much rather step you through the frames of our photos and invite you to a 6:30 supper of potato soup and avacado in the dark of the new moon on the dry western slopes of the Andes, under a sky scattered with ancient light, after which a psalm from the lectionary echoed what the stars sang, “proclaiming [God's] faithfulness at night.”

I’d even prefer to let the letters of this text blur and to climb with you through the pampa alpine meadows, where alpaca graze and the light scent of juniper fills the chill air, which puts hats over ears and sleeves on cold arms.

But you’re not here with me, so my job here is a bit harder.  For now, I’ll try to focus on just one theme from the week, one that has been accentuated for me by spending the better part of a month in the desert:  water.

Western Peru lies in the rain shadow of the Andes, so while east of the mountains lies “the lungs of the world,” where the dense jungle of the Amazon River basin converts a sizeable amount of carbon dioxide into oxygen, hardly anything grows to the west without heavy irrigation and soil fortification.  As we climbed the western slope, however, we began to see the ecosystem diversify, as more cacti were able to survive and various grasses began to appear.  Finally, as we neared the crest of that first ridge, I heard a strange, glad sound.  Looking to my right, there was water, flowing from the earth, around the grasses and over the embankment to the side of the road.  As we descended into the valley and continued deeper into the mountains, this image of water laughing to itself as it overflowed roadside aquaducts became something expected and normal, as did rich green pastures and an abundance of all types of life, as a result.  These springs and glacial waters became streams, which fed into lakes and rivers, which we followed through 1000 foot gorges as they headed north and east, toward the headwaters of the Amazon.  Many towns and villages take advantage of this running water, and create their own reservoirs in the hills above, providing natural water pressure.

As I mentioned earlier, this picture contrasts strongly with the situation in Peru’s coastal region.  While there two weeks ago, we learned that Lima, where one in three Peruvians live, receives less than one inch of rainfall per year.  Because other sources of water are precious few and there is high “water stress” for the 8.5 million Limeños, the Peruvian government is in the process of completing an extensive aquaduct and purification system designed to pipe water from the Andes to the coast for irrigation and human consumption.

Now, this is not inherently bad - people have to drink, after all; but it does raise for us the issue of responsible water consumption.  There have been predictions that in the next century, wars will be fought over water rights (though they’re already playing roles in places like Darfur, and the courtrooms of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama); people live and die over access to clean drinking water (an important distinction, which Jon and I have been feeling in the form of 6L bags of water we purify and drink each day).  How do we, who exhort each other to “pray for peace, and act for peace” on nice white and green flags (at least in the US & Canada), live humbly and love our global neighbors in this regard?

Think about daily water usage and ways to conserve and appreciate it.  Maybe you could put bricks in your toilet to reduce flush volume, or follow the infamous addage, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” (you’re free to define ‘mellow’ however you’d like!).  Maybe a timer while taking a shower would be helpful, or turning off the water while lathering.  If you water your lawn, think about times when you’ll lose least to evaporation, or just leave the watering to the rain.  Maybe a self-imposed water tax would be appropriate, levying a certain rate per gallon from your water bill and giving the amount to an appropriate organization of your choice.  If you’re really adventurous, you could do what some good friends in Camden, New Jersey have done and remove the U-joints from your bathroom sink and use the water to flush your toilet!

Be creative! Whatever you decide, use it as a reminder to give thanks, to remember those whose basic needs are not met, and to imagine a world where everyone has the water they need, for as followers of Christ, we are not bound by laws and regulations, but by Love.  Together, praying and acting for peace in small ways, we will be like the streams and rivers which over time carve mountains and bring life and refreshment to the land.

Let justice roll down like a mighty river,
and righteousness like a never-failing stream.
-Amos 5:24

Oh, and another reflection from the week: alpaca is delicious. :-)