Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dia de Colombianidad

It truly is a beautiful thing to live in a country with such rich and passionate cultural heritage. The primary school hosted a "Dia de Colombianidad" which incorporated music, food, traditional clothing, dance, history and culture for all the different regions of Colombia. It was a wonderful, project-based opportunity for the kids to learn more about their own history, culture, and traditions. Our two were the only North Americans participating, but all the teachers said they fit in just perfectly as "100% Colombians." At this point, they are learning more Latin American history and culture than they are learning about US history and culture.

For Abby, this was the pay-back for a whole year in uniforms. The girls got to go to school in fancy dress-up, instructed to put flowers in their hair and wear make-up.

For Andy, it was a pretty unhappy day.

(but I still got a little smile)

He worked very hard to contribute to his "regional booth." He went early to help set up, he brought in food and made signs. But, generally anything that is going to draw unnecessary attention to him makes him angry. Add this to the immobility he suffers from on crutches contrasted with the fact that most of his friends were running around, dancing, and having a good time, he was not so happy. Still, he has mentioned several times about the things he learned, and I know he has a solid respect for the culture within which he is living.

Don't you just wish you could do this?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Privileged Faith

I believe in prayer. I think I always have. And while most of my life I have prayed in silence or through song, I did spend a good amount of 2009 learning how to pray with words too. I have always felt that it is a profound and sincere way to offer support within a community, to release stress and re-focus one’s energy, and to come to a more grounded sense of living.

However, I have felt incredibly uncomfortable when I have been in circumstances where people have asked for specific interventions from God. If there was a continuum of those who give all credit for our actions to human agency and those who give all credit to the “will of God,” I would have been well over on the human agency side. I believe that people have choices, they make decisions, sometimes good ones and sometimes bad, but they are of their own doing, not of God’s. And when there IS divine intervention, it is not a response to one person’s private petition, but rather, a way of putting things right with the universe, the way they “should be.” In the same way, I do not believe that God punishes us because of the choices we have made, or that human suffering as a result of natural disaster, disease, or untimely death is purposely driven by God.

In Colombia there is a common phrase that people use in conversations: “Si Dios quiere.” This is a phrase that has irritated me greatly because it is used in very common contexts like, “Yes, I will make it to this meeting, if God wants.” Or, “Yes, I will complete that task tonight, if God wants.” In my most skeptical moments, I felt like it is a written-in cop-out. No matter what the outcome, they had God to blame if things did not work out for them. This is a theological phenomenon that happens a lot here in Colombia and I would venture to say in many parts of Latin America. And it rubbed me the wrong way.

For example, I have had many people who share testimonies with me that say that because they are people of such profound faith, God has sent them angels and has saved them from murder and kidnapping attempts. They don’t think that any of their actions have resulted in their safety, only their prayers. Or, I have heard that God condoned a massacre because most of the people killed were Catholics and he was punishing them for their faith. I do not believe that God gives “preferential protection” to save some of us over others. There is nothing that confirms for me that God will protect one family over another because of their prayers. I think it is a harmful and very judgemental assumption to make.

When the pastor here was talking to me about a threatened family we were working with, he said with complete sincerity, “We’ll see if God can keep them alive this weekend.” This made me pause to think.

The families that come to our church for help...

They cannot call the police for protection when someone is trying to harm them.

They cannot get basic health care for their children when they are abused, much less any legal processes that might help them recuperate.

They have been shot at, just leaving the house to try and buy milk for their children for breakfast.

They have lost contact with their extended families, their friends, their communities.

They are often living in substandard conditions, without secure shelter, food, or a comfortable place to rest.

They must change their physical appearance just to leave the house, hoping that they will not be recognized by their perpetrators.

They do not receive help from the government, nor recognition for what they have lost.

They do not have the luxury of picking up a telephone and calling a friend for help, as many of these calls are monitored and will potentially put them in harms way.

So the question for me becomes, what is left?

I realize now, that my perspective on what is appropriate or not appropriate to ask for in prayer was based on my ability and my understanding of what it is like to live a privileged life. Never, in the history of my Grandparents, my parents, my own life, nor what I can imagine of my childrens’ lives could we conceive of a time or space where there was nothing left but prayer.

This has changed me. I don’t think I will start asking God to do for me what in reality I can do for myself, but it has helped me to understand that we pray based on what we have, what we feel we can control in life and what we can’t.

And so today we surrounded a mourning mother, who does not have many options in life. I took her hand. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I let the words of the prayer swirl around me. Several of us were all praying at the same time.

We cannot protect her children.
We cannot find her husband for her.
We cannot erase the images she has in her mind of torture and trauma.
We cannot give her a safe place to live.
We cannot give her any guarantee that she will be alive tomorrow.

So we pray.

And she leaves us feeling a little bit stronger, a little less sorrowful, and a little more hopeful for the next few hours to come. And that is all. she. has.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

MCC Colombia Kids

When we arrived, this was the crew of MCC kids living in Colombia.

And here they are today.

Blessed be.


Years ago, when our children were babies, we used to dream with these folks about going to live together in Latin America. We shared the dream of expanding our horizons, of instilling the values of peace, justice, and respect for others. We wanted to go, but we were scared to go at it alone, to leave our community and the friendships that sustained us. But, we also knew that MCC would not likely place two families together, and that our friendship may impede our ability to integrate within the community within which we were placed. And we feared the ways these experience can change relationships. I find it profound how even then, we knew what a big leap this would be.

Ten years later, with a strong nudge from Aaron, the five of us decided to go. What a blessing it was when we heard from MCC that there were others going to Colombia at the same time we we were. While we did not have any history with them, to know that there would be other children to accompany ours and other adults who were intentionally taking this on as reflection of their commitment to justice was a significant help.

We almost felt giddy as we anticipated getting to know Neil, Elizabeth, Greg, Susanne, Caleb, and Ascher. It is strange to get to know new people, knowing that it is very likely that your relationship will be significant. Just sharing the process of vulnerability, adventure, and culture shock brings you together.

Caleb, Ascher, Lydia, Andy, and Abby have shared many games, sports, books, movies, special snacks, stories of difficult teachers and embarrassing moments in Spanish, homesickness, boring parent meetings, yearning for familiar celebrations (Halloween, birthdays, etc), learning about poverty and desperation, facing extreme contrasts in life, strange foods (learning to love them), and so. much. more.

Aaron and I really wanted to do this when our kids were in "middle childhood." We wanted this to be an experience that they would remember, treasure, and would form them as adults. Some argue that after 8 years old, this experience is just too hard for kids to adjust...that the difficulties far outweigh the benefits. I don't agree. While this has definitely been the hardest experience our children have ever had, it has most definitely been the most rewarding, and I would not change that for anything.

So now, one year early, Caleb and Ascher, Susanne, and Greg are going home, and we have spent the last few weeks saying goodbye. The goodbyes have been so very sad, but not because of lost time together. We have settled into different routines, different schools, different churches here.

But the companionship that will be lost between our children is something we mourn.

And the gratitude for what we have shared remains.

Thank you to the Walker-Wilson family for taking this leap with us.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Semana Santa, 2011

This year for Semana Santa we had a lovely "stay-cation" in Bogota, spending a lot of quality time together, getting to know our sweet puppy Mia, and sharing some good times with friends here in Bogota.

Day 1
We had a farewell picnic for MCCer Shalom Wiebe. We had a fabulous picnic, which included some gymnastics practice and boating.

Day 2
We took the whole family outside of Bogota to a small club where Lydia takes swimming lessons. This time most everyone got to go for a swim.

Day 3
Family outing to one of our favorite parks, Parque de Chico for some frisbee and romp time. There was a cook drizzle so we warmed up with hot chocolate, walked to explore another park, and ate out for lunch.

Day 4
Just outside of the city there is a children's park called "Multiparque." We took off there to meet our friends Becky, Nevin, Carter, and Alana for some fun together.

Day 5
I had to work, so Aaron and the kids hung out and played with Mia at the park, getting her socialized with other dogs.

Day 6
Thursday was a "Festivo" so that meant ciclovia was open. We convinced Aaron to rent a bike, and invited our friends to explore the city with us on bikes. We were surprised how far we could go without many complaints from the kids. It was a glorious day!

Day 7
Our country director came over with her family for a Good Friday lunch together and to color eggs with some of the neighbor kids.

Day 8
We met Elizabeth and Neil and took off with snacks and raincoats for a hike in Sopo. They came back for a sleepover at our house.

Day 9
Easter Sunday and Abby's Birthday celebrated with crepes and too many chocolate eggs, followed by church and a much-needed nap.

Day 10
Back to the reality of school and work;

I am grateful.