Ireland – Let’s Go!

We’ve been making plans – seems like ages – for the next great golf trip! Three couples taking off soon and I make the fourth golfer in the group.  I love my men friends but am a little wishy-washy when the girls are discussing cooking classes and hikes and the like. But this is Ireland, the country of memorable, famous, and challenging golf courses.  I’m delighted to know I’ll be having my caddy along to carry my bag, hand me my club, clean my club, and most of all, point me in the direction of the pin.

We’ll be playing some of the well-known courses – Doonbeg, Lahinch, Ballybunion, Tralee, Waterville, Olde Head. Is that enough for two weeks? We’ll spend two days at Doonbeg, four days in Killlarney, two nights in Knsale and three nights in Dublin.

Dublin promises to be fun for the six of us as we visit the Book of Kells,Jameson, St, Stephens Green, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Staying along the River Liffey, we hope to catch a glimpse of this beautiful city before heading through the countryside of southern Ireland.

I’m prepared for all kinds of weather – sun (please, God), wind, rain, and fog. It’s one of those climates where they say you can have four seasons in one day.  I’ll try to post from all of our destinations, typing fast trying to highlight the trip. Come along and travel with us.

Reflecting God’s Love

Guest Writer Karen Riddell blogs about Friday & Saturday

At the church service commissioning us, the children’s choir sang, “Small deeds done with great conviction; each one wisely planned; touched by truth and beauty; guided by the hand of God. I may never be like Noah, and build a mighty ark, but I can light one candle to drive away the dark….I can give the gift of love to people one by one.” And that has truly been fulfilled. We have had a week of hundreds, no probably thousands of small deeds, each one done with great conviction, each one wisely planned, and each one carefully and lovingly delivered by God.

Our events Friday were events of hospitality and service. We began the day with a breakfast for the wives of local pastors and leading women in the nearby churches. We were excited to have a third opportunity for connection with the women from one of the two churches we painted. We sang together, “I Want to Follow Jesus” in English and Spanish. In our time together we blessed them and they blessed us.

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Next we welcomed the teachers from a school we visited last year for a few hours of lunch and fellowship. Along with bags filled with supplies and new uniform shirts, we pampered them with manicures and shoulder massages. The men loved playing ping-pong and pool, many for the first time.

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Before our evening event, we gathered on the shaded porch of the house where the missionary leaders live to hear more about Murray’s personal journey, which was highly inspiring. She also shared with us how the $28,400 profit from our fundraising art auction is carefully being used to significantly further the mission of Piñas de Paz.

Our final hospitality event was hosting the families of the farmers and staff that run Piñas de Paz. As Marcia described in her post, we came together through fun games, dancing and sharing a meal. The children loved the glow sticks and blinking rings!

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Saturday started early with a breakfast for local widows who arrived standing in the back of open air trucks. For those of us returning, it was our joy to reunite with some of the dear women we had become close to last year.

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Following the breakfast we headed off on the bus to Granada. We quickly toured a cigar-making shop and took a boat ride to feed the monkeys on an island. Next we headed to the art gallery to express our appreciation to the gallery owner who graciously donated the 43 pieces of art for our auction, and then proceeded to the local market where we purchased items to sell at the church gift shop (and yes, we managed to add a little extra fuel to the Nicaraguan economy during these stops!).

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On the way back to the farm, our bus encountered a truck heading in the other direction. Unfortunately it was only a one-lane road with trees and brush sloping upward on either side. Edging as far as possible to the sides, the vehicles began to climb the sloping sides and tip toward the center-and each other-until they were actually touching. We feared we were stuck, so we began leaning all our weight to the outer edges! Miraculously the two parted by inches and very slowly passed each other! Murray said in all her time in Nicaragua, she had never seen such a close call!

When we arrived back at the farm we were greeted by a fabulous dinner feast served in traditional, decorative clay pots-the equivalent of our Thanksgiving meal! And we were also treated to a special dance by our dear staff members wearing local costumes. It was the first time they had ever done this, but it was wonderful.

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Throughout the week we felt inspired to follow up on specific needs we encountered. For example as we mentioned earlier in this blog we are funding the deaf student Ellison’s transportation and tuition. We made plans to take turns reaching out to him monthly. We also decided to send additional food and supplies to the eight homes we visited. We are funding 100 chairs for the hospital. We are getting medicine and counseling for a few individuals who are sick and suffering. We are sending supplies to the “flower lady.” We are funding a vacation bible study for the wives’ ministry at one of the churches we painted. And finally, we funded a year of college fees for the daughter of a staff member. We are also going to investigate potential surgical solutions for a child we met who has a facial deformity. All of these good works were possible because of the generosity of supporters, travelers and the power of the US dollar.

As we boarded the bus for the airport in the dark, Sunday morning hours, we said our goodbyes to Piñas de Paz. We went to create connections and reflect God’s love to those we came in contact with. This objective makes our trip an unusual mission trip – less about work with our hands, more about work with our hearts. We learned that we are the only group that Piñas de Paz hosts that focuses on forging relationships in this way. The hospitality we extend to the deaf children, the teachers, the widows, the pastors wives, the hospital patients and families, lots of children, and others weaves unique threads into the overall fabric of the Piñas de Paz mission to support and contribute to their rural, impoverished community. Although we did do some impressive work with paintbrushes and rollers, our best work was done with our praying voices, our hugging arms, and our loving hearts.

Early Departure

Two of us must make an early departure to return home. We’re glad that we have stayed as long as possible to be with our farm families for their gathering with our group.  They arrive with their beautiful children for a few hours of fellowship and dinner. We throw the frisbees and beach balls and  the dog outruns all of us. We blow bubbles and catch them to see how long we can keep them in the air. We play “Pop the Balloon” and laugh and act ridiculous. (Going to suggest this at our next Sunday School party:)  We hold the babies so the mothers can enjoy their pizza dinner. 

We celebrate with these twelve families who have made a commitment to come to work on the farm for a chance of a better lifestyle for their familiies. The men are learning English. One by by, they stand to introcude themselves. The are so proud to say, “My Name is___________.  Then they continue to tell us through the translator how many years they have been at the farm and the opportunity to be part of the program with Robbie and Murray. Some work the fields. Some are gardeners, cooks, and guards.Their lives have changed. They give God the glory. To leave a job making one dollar a day to $14 a day is a big pay raise. They are grateful. We are touched and celebrate with them. Unfortunately there is not time to clean up before departing.

The bumpy ride to the hotel is almost comical as we bounce our way to the interstate.  It’s Friday night and people are walking along the dirt roads. Young men and women, arm in arm. Young boys on bicycles. As we move closer to town, the city is alive with street vendors. I try to take it all in before our dusty car (and feet) pull into a luxurious hotel. Its always a bit of a shock to transition back to my way of life. Good water pressure, 400-count sheets, down comforters welcome me back. And I want to cry.

I think it’s part of a mission trip. We go to help. We go to try to make a change for good. We go for many reasons, all of them worthy, but coming up short in so many ways. Maybe it’s the early departure, but once you go on a mission trip, any departure seems way too soon. I haven’t done enough. I needed more time to make a difference. I wish I had learned more Spanish. One more big hug from a smiling child.  One more morning devotional with my sisters.

But depart we must. I remember the words of the missionary I sat by on the way to Nicaragua. It’s not what you do on a mission trip. It’s what you do when you go home.  And I must ask myself if I will take an early departure from my compassion? Will I depart from morning devotionals? Will I depart from praise and worship just because i don’t have a mountain of pineapples to view as the sun comes up? Will I be too busy for meaningful conversations and time for quieit prayer? 

I suppose this is one time a delayed departure might be welcome. 

  

 

Touching Hearts with Hope

Blogger Karen Riddell writes about our day. The photo was taken in the library of the deaf school.

 Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares The Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This was the scripture painted above a multi-colored cross that greeted us as we entered the chapel at the school for the deaf children. This positive message of optimism inspired by faith radiated from the bright, smiling faces of the children and the teachers. They were happy to see us again. We reconnected with hugs over scrumptious donuts and coffee. We toured the school, learned about how it was founded and how it has grown, and we delivered greatly-appreciated supplies to the teachers. We got to know each other better, prayed for each other, and we sang to them: “May The Lord bless you and keep you,” off-key at points perhaps, but heartfelt from start to finish.

While there were many moments of connection today, without question one of the most special involved a 15 year-old boy named Ellison we had met the previous day during our time with the deaf school children at the farm. From the moment he got off the bus to the time the children left on Wednesday he blessed each person he encountered with a broad smile. Although he could not communicate with us very well, Ellison managed to convey infectious happiness. A teacher at some point confided to one of our leaders that Ellison has a very lengthy commute to school that, coupled with the cost of the monthly fees, has become too much of a financial burden for his family. As a group we decided to donate the money to fund the next year of Ellison’s education and transportation. Today, when he learned about the funding, he managed to beam even brighter. It was a beautiful example of God’s promise in Jeremiah of a plan for a future.

Next, we headed to the local hospital. It is hard to imagine a place like this unless you have experienced something similar. The only fledgling air conditioning is in the two intensive care wards–all of the other wards are open air and stifling hot, and all of the rooms are over-crowded with very sick patients patients and worried family members. We were told the daily ER receives 800 patients a day but only has plastic chairs for 250. We saw many broken chairs kept upright by rope tied to a pipe or neighboring chair. 

Many patients are receiving chemo, many are experiencing long waits for test results, many are in pain from illness and injury and the conditions are far, far from anything we will ever encounter for our health needs. We visited bed by bed, learning about each patient, delivering fans, toiletries, crosses and prayers. We also visited the long term shelter across the way, where patients can live and receive treatment over long period of time. These patients cook over a fire in a fenced-in, dirt area. They sleep in a filthy, concrete room of cots. There are two outhouses for everyone there. In the hospital and in the shelter we shared God’s promise in Jeremiah for hope. 

We ended our day at an evening worship service at one of the church’s we painted at the start of the week. It was so special to praise and sing together-joining our voices and our hearts–in thanksgiving and fellowship. 

It is clear that The Lord has had a plan for our days here to be full of hope and goodness, and we are grateful. 

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

  Sometimes a bouquet appears in the least likely places. Today the women in Nicaragua made home visits to the women in the community.  This enterprising woman, with an ill husband, children to feed, and a small store to run also is a “sharecropper” on the piece of spartan land where she grows a few vegetables and raises chickens. Her smile was bright and her hospitality delightful. 
The flowers are made with the tops of plastic bottles. She cuts and shapes them and paints them assorted colors. She says she can’t sell them because no one can buy such things with their hard to earn money. As we were leaving she pulled some off the wall and gave them to us. 

Each of our groups had similar experiences. Too many to tell on this full day of events. But I must tell you Leslie brought Carrie Underwood with her to devotional a this morning and we lined up across the plateau overlooking the mountains and worshipped singing How Great Though Art. Moving to say the least. Leslie shared her clinging crosses and suggested we might try to return home more like Jesus than ourselves. Food for thought. 

Pray for us tomorrow. We visit the hospital and see sights that will cling to our hearts for a long time. We’ll take washcloths and love. We’ll probably cry. 

Heart Labor

One of our teammates described our work before we left the states. Labor of our hearts as we experience our first day in this glorious land of our God. Hearts are touched today as we have labored beside the Nicaraguan people to improve their homes and their churches.

But our morning was rich in preparation as Nancy reminded us that we were to be the reflection of God in our work. She brought a mirror and challenged us to not look at ourselves so much, but to be a light that shines for God’s glory. How do we do that? We demonstrate mercy and forgiveness to the poor, the needy, and the marginalized. We sing “This Little Light of Mine” and I think as I sing, “Oh, God, my light is so very little. I pray that the spark can ignite as i work this week.”

And so we divided ourselves into two groups and headed out into the countryside to work alongside the poor, the needy, and the marginalized. We took our little lights and began the task of painting part of a church, and a new home for the pastor and his wife of a second church. Interesting, Charlotte said they put the roof on the parsonage last year. This year they will get to move in. This year one family will no longer have their bed and hot plate in the back of the church. This year a young mother can have a place to call home. A place where the baby can take a nap. A place where a table can be set and maybe a picture hung. This year will be better.

It’s amazing how much work 18 women can get done. From 9 in the morning until 3, we painted walls, beams, trim, doors, baseboards (ouch!) and anything else that called for turquoise or white, a standard color for churches in the country. 

Did we make their life better?  Maybe. I sat by a missionary on the plane coming down and he said it’s really not so much about the work we do, but the friendships that are formed and the mindset we bring home with us. I like to think I made a new friend today in this lovely pastor’s wife. I like to think that the one-on-one conversation we had through our translator will be remembered long after the paint has dried.

I wish I could do more.

 

A Child’s Birth

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Rembrandt’s Nativity

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

 

The powerful silence of Christmas morning says “Peace, I am here.” I smile and rest in that knowledge. Somehow, the world rests as well. Even as the day comes alive, people are kinder, quieter with the knowledge that today something is different. I feel it. Maybe because I believe it. I believe that peace begins with me. I believe angels sing and stars dance. I believe in Wise Men and a virgin birth. I believe Jesus is the coming of God to earth. Today is Christmas and I welcome it and I reread the story:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)

“Christmas is saying ‘yes’ to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying “yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying…But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.”(Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak)

Savior who has been born to us,

              Draw us to you this day and all days! Thank you for coming, walking with me, standing by my side, and returning for me one day. Amen

And just in case you want to hear again the beautiful song performed at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, here is my favorite Advent song for you.

Glenn Rudolph’s ‘The Dream Isaiah Saw‘ was commissioned by the Bach Choir of Pittsburg in memory of the victims of the attacks on American targets September 11th, 2001 and refers to the prophet Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 2:1-5) of God’s creation restored to peace and harmony through the word of the Lord from Jerusalem . Rudolph’s text is from a poem written in 1994 by Thomas H. Troeger which presents a panoramic view of a Messianic Kingdom in which:

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgement the Lord will ordain.

Rudolph finished composing the work on September 30th 2001. Although it’s often sung as an Advent or Christmas song I’ve chosen to post it here as it was originally intended – a plea for peace and a song of remembrance. It’s sung here by the Georgia Boy Choir.

Video Source: The Georgia Boy Choir – The Dream Isaiah Saw – YouTube Uploaded by GeorgiaBoyChoir on Dec 28, 2010

Lyrics: The Dream Isaiah Saw

Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
blood will not darken the earth that God made.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgement the Lord will ordain.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.