Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Church as a Refuge

Here's an interesting article about religion trends in the U.S.

Education and Religion

I'm especially intrigued by the last paragraph:

"Religious congregations may be one of the few institutional sectors less educated Americans can turn to for social, economic, and emotional support in the face of today’s tough times, yet it appears that increasingly few of them are choosing to do so."

While we in the U.S. turn away from the church when the going gets tough, many people here in Colombia seek refuge in the church, knowing that it is the only safe and secure resource for them to turn to. It reminds me of the situation in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. At least in Pearlington, it seems that those who were connected to a church fared better than those who weren't part of a church. I have no scientific basis for this, but I would like to think it's true!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Pastor's Life in Uraba

Another cheater is the latest accompanier report I submitted. I've been fascinated by the life of the pastor here in Uraba, especially with the tremendous challenges they face. As I think about my vocation and possible future in the pulpit, I'm humbled by these servant leaders. We in the PC(USA) world could maybe learn a thing or two from them!

A pastor’s life in Urabá.
From Urabá-based accompaniers Becca Weaver and Kelsey White, received 21st August, 2011.

We’ve had the opportunity to spend time with three pastors here in Urabá, and while we’ve noticed that each has their own style of ministry and unique needs in their congregations, the pastors here share a few common traits. During our time with these pastors, we’ve come to learn what the demands are like for these faithful servants who lead the churches in Colombia.

One thing they share in common is a willingness to set aside their personal comfort by living in manses next to the churches. This practice seems to be waning in the U.S., but the churches here each have a residence for the pastor that is located on the church property or very close by. While this offers a convenient location for the pastors to live, it can often lead to the loss of privacy as church members stop by at all hours of the day. Some of the churches also have Compassion projects with the joyful noise of children learning and playing often disrupting any hope for peace and quiet.

The pastors also share the reality of having few financial resources to support their positions. One pastor shared with us his monthly salary, roughly equivalent to $400 US. But he was quick to interject that the church also provides him and his family with a safe home, which he would probably not have otherwise and he is very grateful for it. For those who serve as Lay Pastors, there is no pension plan in their contract and the prospect of retiring comfortably someday seems a near impossibility for them.

Then there are the demands of the job. Although each of these churches has very active lay leaders who serve on Session and as deacons, the pastors here in Urabá are expected to be “Jacks of all trades” as they go about leading their congregations. They are expected to preach, teach, counsel, serve as administrators and community organizers as well as provide pastoral care.
These expectations sound a lot like those of solo pastors in small, rural churches in the U.S. But in addition to these challenges, pastors here in Urabá are faced with the reality of life in Colombia. They serve in a nation that is immersed in violence, poverty, injustice and corruption, each presenting added challenges to the job of ministry. Many pastors are “wounded healers” as they themselves have been affected by violence and injustice.

Learning about the lives of these pastors has been a humbling experience. Their jobs are demanding and the compensation for the work doesn’t sound enticing, but they continue to serve with love and humility. The churches here are blessed with these servant leaders who carry on with their jobs knowing that God is very much at work here in Urabá. Please hold them in your prayers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

30 Years

I'm going to take a break from the Colombia topics to write about this day in history. If you look up significant events that have happened on August 22nd, you'll find some interesting gems.

In 1848 the U.S. annexed New Mexico.

In 1864, the Red Cross was formed (Holla, Erin!).

In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt became the first U.S. President to ride in an automobile.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI arrived in Bogotá, Colombia. It was the first time a pope had visited Latin America (sorry, had to give a shoutout to Colombia).

In 1981, Micheal Weaver and Donna Kenady said their vows of marriage.

Did you not find that last one in your Google search? Well, I think it should have shown up. It was a pretty big event, you know.

Happy 30th anniversary to my parents! I wish I could be there to celebrate them in person, but a shout out from 3000 miles away will have to suffice. Cheers and blessings to you both!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Each week we've been here in Colombia, we've had unique experiences which have given us the opportunity to understand the various facets of ministry and life here. Our first week in El Tres we spent a lot of time at the church, getting to know the pastor and his family and enjoying time with the kids at the Compassion project. Our second week, in Curralao, we spent a lot of time out in the town, making pastoral house calls to various members of the church. This past week in Carepa, we had significantly more down time than the previous two weeks, however, we did have the opportunity to dialogue about the politics and life here in Colombia.

We spoke with a regional facilitator for the Compassion project for several hours today, which was one of the most insightful conversations we’ve had thus far. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this guy is a kindred spirit, one who views the world through a lens not too different from my own.

He’s a feminist living in a machismo culture. He earns major points for that. He recognizes the limitations of the culture he lives in and he’s working to set things right so women can enjoy equal rights. He hopes that his work with the Compassion projects is one step in the right direction, empowering the girls who attend as well as the women who teach at the projects. Each day he goes to work, he thinks about how he can continue working toward social justice, thinking about his wife and daughter as motivation. He mentioned that this attitude carries over into his home life where he strives to co-parent with his wife and he even cooks dinner 4 nights a week. At this point in the conversation I wished I were more fluent in Spanish so that I could express to him how much I admire what he is doing at work and at home. I also wanted to tell him that his egalitarian approach to home life is something I hope for in my marriage someday, but I didn’t know how to say it without being awkward.

From there, our conversation became a mosaic of topics, ranging from music to politics to tattoos. He brought up homosexuality and wanted to hear our opinion about the matter, but we were interrupted by lunch and were unable to continue. I would love to have heard his insight on that subject.

One of my biggest struggles while here in Colombia is trying to suppress my judgement against the machismo culture. It’s hard. But having conversations like the one with this man, shows me that there is hope thanks to the few who are working to change the system.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the Map

We're in Carepa this week, a city that's actually on a map!

View Larger Map

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Displaced Ones

When I had learned that there are currently more internally displaced people in Colombia than in any other country, I was very confused. Why don't we hear about that in the news? Darfur has gotten a lot of media coverage, yet we in the U.S. rarely hear about the situation in Colombia. I still don't have answers concerning the ignorance of the U.S.

The situation here in Colombia has been grim for several decades. There has been an internal dispute raging between the liberal and conservative parties, which was fueled by the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948. Much blood was shed as a result when 180,000 people were killed and since then there have been waves of tumultuous times, with uprisings in violence. One of the worst times was 16 years ago, when many people were forced off their land. They have been displaced ever since, trying to rebuild their lives from scratch, with few resources to work with.

The churches here in Urabá primarily serve people who are displaced. They were forced off their land 16 years ago, and put into ghettos where they have tried to start over. Very few have been able to find stable work and the ones who can find work are faced with very little job security. We have met many women who are the head of their households after being abandoned, widowed or divorced from their husbands. This presents an extra challenge as they try to support their families with very few options for work.

Listening the stories of these displaced people has been heartbreaking. Many have invited us into our homes, and wind up opening up their hearts to share their stories. We've heard some pretty graphic stories and have sat with people as they cry. One of the frustrating things for us is not being able to do anything for them. Sure, we can become advocates when we return home, but as we sit with them and listen to their stories, we can only offer them words of hope and our comforting presence. At time this feels so futile.

Plantain, Bananas and Pigs

We're getting ready to head out to the third church of our month, in Carepa which is south of where we've been up until now. Here are a few pictures of our journey so far...

Packing plantains at the farm.

We toured the banana farm/processing plant in El Tres. Most of these bananas go to Chiquita, but other companies buy them as well.

The kids at the Compassion school love to sing songs to us.

We've met a lot of pigs on this trip. The church in Curralao raises them and sell them to earn money for their new sanctuary.

The young people of the church are very active!

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Norms

We've now been in Colombia for two weeks. Time has flown by! Kelsey and I were reflecting on some of the things that seemed so peculiar when we arrived, but now they seem like our norms. Here are a few things we came up with:

On the public buses, you don't pay when you get on. Instead, there's a guy who rides on the bus and collects the fare. You don't even need exact change because he'll take your large bill and come back with change after everyone has paid. I'm so used to buses in the U.S. that require exact change and if you don't have it you get yelled at!

Cold showers actually feel good now. The water is lukewarm and very refreshing after being out in the heat all day. I do miss water pressure, but I've found the bucket baths to be quite nice.

In between towns, there are national army soldiers stationed at certain checkpoints. When we first arrived, it was unnerving to see men with AK-47s on the side of the road, but now it doesn't seem so weird.

When we’re introduced to a class of children, we’re usually asked to sing them a song. The first day we did this, it felt awkward and goofy. Now it just seems normal.

The lack of doors on bedrooms was hard to get used to, but we’ve learned how to be discreet and know when to change clothes and whatnot. Yesterday we were napping in the house in Curralao and had several people just peek in at us. There are fewer boundaries than we have in the States but now it doesn’t feel so weird.

Being exposed to a new and exotic fruit has become another norm. At first we were so amazed by all the odd fruits we’ve been exposed to, but now they’re all just plain fruits.

Counting Bibles in the worship service has now become normal to us. The first week we giggled really hard when the Clerk of Session got up at the pulpit and had everyone who brought a Bible raise it in the air. After counting Bibles they have people stand up and recite a passage of Scripture from memory. They certainly put us Presbies in the U.S. To shame with our lack of discipline when it comes to bring Bibles to church and memorizing scripture. Yesterday when they did this during church, it just seemed like routine.

Lounging in hammocks. At first we were really uncomfortable just laying back in a hammock in the middle of the patio or room, especially when we had visitors. But now we take the opportunity and chance we get!

Things that we are not used to:

Being called “Gringa!” on the street and being stared at by everyone.

Being told horrendous stories about how people became displaced.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I've now preached twice here in Colombia, and it looks like I'll have two more opportunities. Normally I would be intimidated by the task, not really wanting to preach and my first response would be “no thank you.” But when I signed up for this trip, I made it my goal to serve in any way I was needed. I realized it would be weird for a seminary student, a pastor in training, to decline the request to preach, and so I agreed. As soon as we started meeting the residents here and were able to hear their stories, I actually got excited to preach. I have an opportunity to give them a message of hope, something they are thirsty for as they carry out their lives as displaced people.

Preaching here is very different from what I’m accustomed to in my home context. The biggest challenge is that I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m blessed by Kelsey who is very skilled in Spanish and is able to interpret the message for me. The first week when we preached in El Tres, I was thrown off by having to pause after every sentence to allow her to interpret. It felt very disjointed and at several places I lost my train of thought. In a different situation I might have considered that sermon an epic fail, but somehow I was okay with how it went. I preached on 1 Peter 1:1-9 about living hope. My hope for that sermon was that the Spirit somehow spoke through it and gave the congregation a message of hope and encouragement.

This week I wrote out a manuscript which I was going to try to avoid, but I resigned to it after realizing the interpretation element was going to be a challenge. I was hoping to let the “Espiritu muevete,” which is the custom for preachers here in Urabá. But even the Holy Spirit seemed to be struggling that first week with having to move through two languages. So, I used a manuscript, which I found great comfort and familiarity in, and the sermon was much more fluid this week.

Each Sunday we find ourselves at a different church, which makes it a bit easier because I can use the same sermon for all four weeks. Normally I wouldn’t dare do such a thing, since I like to think that each context and location deserves a fresh message. But here I have limited time for sermon preparation and I don’t have access to any commentaries, so I’m going to stick to one sermon.

May the Spirit continue to move as we preach this message about living hope.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Minding your own business in El Tres

I´m going to cheat a little bit with this blog post by using our Accomanier Report from our time in El Tres. If you´d like to subscribe to the reports, go to and click on the tab to the right.

In El Tres, no such thing as "minding your own business".
From Urabá-based accompaniers Becca Weaver and Kelsey White, received 11th August, 2011.

"It is tempting to say that what you do with [the] time you save is your own business. Briefly stated, however, the Christian position is that there´s no such thing as your own business." -Frederick Buechner

At the Presbyterian church in El Tres, Colombia, there really is no such thing as one´s own business. This fact became apparent as we were led by the pastor into the swept-dirt yard of the church. Behind the sanctuary, he gestured toward a series of rooms with concrete floors and cinderblock walls. "The pastoral residence!" he announced. A few more steps, another broad gesture with his arms. "And our project for children, sponsored by Compassion International." Two open-air classrooms bustled with dark-headed children as young staff members taught lessons and pored over paperwork.

For the past several days, we have been staying with the pastor and his family in this small town north of the city of Apartadó. They have been amazingly hospitable--especially considering that they themselves are displaced persons and do not own their own home. Despite the lack of material resources, we have been welcomed with open arms, invited like sisters into their home and made a part of their family. The church members here are mostly (at least 80%) people who have been displaced from their homes and land, most for a decade or more, due to violence perpetrated by guerrilla forces, paramilitaries, and/or the national army. They work together here in true community, caring for one another and especially for the children of El Tres and surrounding areas. Here in rural Colombia, as the pastor told us today, "Your life is not your own," in any number of ways.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the small parcel of land where the men of the church (and some of the women, too) grow plantains for export as a way to support the activities of the church, including the children's project. Plantains and bananas are the crops here--the way that most people make their living is by working on the bananeros or plataneros. The church members rotate responsibilities on the parcela to ensure that someone is always working to maintain the plantain crop. Yesterday we helped the pastor put together cardboard boxes provided by the export company--folding, labeling, and stacking them in preparation for this week´s harvest, which was packed and shipped early this morning. Today we visited a working banana farm and saw the process of harvesting and packing bananas for export. Please remember, the next time you eat a banana, that it most likely came from the sweat of these humble, hard-working Colombians.

Our brothers and sisters in Colombia share more than resources. They share a collective experience of violence and displacement that continues to affect their daily lives in ways both obvious and subtle. They share a frustration that comes from feeling that their voices go continually unheard by those in power. They share a level of material need that surpasses any we have ever experienced. When asked what he would want church members and elected officials in the United States to know about Colombia, one hermano responded, "Tell them that there is an entire church in Colombia where we are all desplazados, and that we need some kind of help." Let us also tell of a church strong in faith, determination, and love for one another, where there´s no such thing as your own business because your survival depends on community.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Impressions of El Tres

At our training in March, we were told about the three different Presbyteries in Colombia and we were given a description of the conditions at each. We were told that Uraba was a bit more rustic, a bit more rural than the other two and if we were going to serve as accompaniers there, we should expect camping-like conditions. I figured I could handle that, after living in Mississippi without running water in my trailer for almost a year. Just how rustic could it be?

While we camping folk like to romanticize the idea of "roughing it," I've discovered there's nothing romantic about it here in Uraba. It's simply their way of life. We are staying with the pastor and his family in the manse which is connected to the sanctuary. They have been blessed with a beautiful home, one that is much nicer than most in this area and they are certainly grateful for it. There is no running water in the region and while there is well water, they make use of their rain-water cisterns more. They have a crafty device that catches the water from the roof (similar to gutters) and dumps it in the cistern in the backyard. There aren't any sinks indoors, but there is a big sink in the backyard where all of the dishes and laundry are done. There are two outhouses there as well, which double as showers. For the first two days here, Kelsey and I were a bit confused as to how we shower, but it turns out there is a drain in the floor of each stall and the bucket of water is the source of water for bathing. I'm still not sure I'm doing it correctly, but I guess I feel clean when all is said and done. Privacy is rare in this household, since the doors are just curtains. After this experience, I promise to never make fun of anyone who uses a curtain for a door. Turns out they work quite well!

Our first day here has been very laid back. Literally. There is a lot of time spent in hammocks. The pastor seems to want us to rest from our journey before showing us the ropes of his ministry, which we are looking forward to!

The Day in Food

We're still waiting for our ride to El Tres, so I'll give you a bonus post! Here is a documentation of the food we've been eating. Here at the apartment, we have a woman who prepares our meals in the kitchen at the school. It's been wonderful to experience the local cuisine.


Breakfast day 1: eggs with toast and cafe con leche. Delicioso!

Lunch day 1: soup with tripas, salad, rice and juice.

Dinner day 1: Chicken with rice, potatoes, one green bean, fried bananas and juice.

New Spanish word in my vocabulary: Tripas
Dictionary Definition: Pig intestines.
Contextual definition: The first "unusual" food I've eaten in Colombia. Kelsey was nice enough to wait until I was done eating it to tell me what it was. It was rubbery, but not too shabby!

The Day in Pictures

Today is day 3 in Apartado and we're about to embark on our journey around the Presbytery. Today we head to El Tres (good luck finding that on the map) where we will stay for 6 days. We're not sure if we'll have internet or not, so I thought I would post some pictures of what our time here has looked like.

View of San Jose, Costa Rica. I think this was my 3rd, or maybe 9th flight of the journey. I lost count.

Here's the view from our hotel in Medellin. We stayed in a bustling neighborhood with lots of restaurants and cafes.

My colleague Kelsey and I on the tiny plane flying to Apartado!

Our wonderful apartment in Apartado - a queen sized bed, a bunk bed, couch, table and our own bathroom. Very classy!

We spent the morning yesterday at the private school that is connected to the Presbyterian Church in Apartado. We got to work with three classes, trying to teach them a little bit of English. We taught one class the Noah's Arky Arky song, another the Istanbul Energizer and the third He's Got the Whole World. It was pretty hilarious since we didn't know what we were doing, but thanks to YouTube, I think the kids had fun.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Loco de la Señora del Reloj

We have safely arrived in Apartado! I wrote a post on Tuesday when were traveling and so I'm just now posting about our travels. I promise the rest of my posts won't include so much detail. It was a long evening in Medellin and I think this post was a result of anxiety and boredom. More to come on our experience here in Apartado.

Today was a long journey, but now we're enjoying the comfort of a hotel room in Medellin. Last night Kelsey and I flew into Miami. I arrived at 5pm and spent my time reading, doing Rosetta Stone and people watching. Kelsey arrived at midnight and we enjoyed some catching up time and sharing tales of our day’s journey. The ticket counter for TACA said it would be open at 1:15am, so we killed time in the lobby, looking forward to finding a cozy spot to sleep near our gate. 1:15 came and went, still no employees at the counter. So we waited. And waited. Finally at 3:30am we were able to check in, check our bags and head through security, looking forward to the glorious carpet that awaited us.

Our gate was deserted which meant we got our choice of sleeping space. I was so tired I laid down and fell asleep pretty much right away. But the blessed sleep was short lived because I woke up an hour later, freezing cold. I guess the Miami airport turns up the AC at 5 am. Not ideal when you’ve packed for a trip expecting 90ºF and 90% humidity. In addition to the cold, there were some pretty annoying announcements on the intercom. Elevator music and CNN were our constant audio soundtracks, but we also got a very helpful time update every 15 minutes saying "The current local time is..." That clock lady was aggravating to say the least. Unable to sleep, Kelsey and I opted for the food court which had hot beverages. We discovered some padded benches that looked comfy. At this point we were so tired we didn’t care if the food court employees were scowling at us, so we each took a bench and got one more hour of sleep.

7:15am came around and it was time to head to our gate. We boarded with no problems and I fell asleep as soon as I had my seatbelt buckled. 2 more glorious hours of sleep. We landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, boarded a bus on the jetway like celebrities and rode to the terminal, only to go right back on a bus to another plane heading toward Medellin. At this point I was tired but not sleepy, so I opted to watch the in flight movie. My head was full of anxieties like worrying I wouldn’t get through customs or that my bag didn’t make it to Colombia. Fortunately it was a quick flight and we were in Colombia by 1:30pm. I fumbled through my explanation of why I was visiting Colombia and got my Visa. Victory! I was sort of flattered at how the customs agent was patient with my broken Spanish. Amazing how in the U.S. we’re so impatient with people who don’t speak English. Here I’ve felt very encouraged by our hosts, taxi drivers and that customs agent.

We were met at baggage claim by our new friend, Maria (not her real name) who is a member of the Iglesia Presbyteriana de Colombia here in Medellin. She has been a gracious host and was very helpful in getting our flight changed from today to tomorrow. We would have been so lost without her! She then took us to a hotel where we would stay for the night and we had dinner at the restaurant across the street. Not a bad way to end the day! I was so tired I could barely focus on our conversation and I certainly didn’t have the energy to try and speak Spanish to her. I hope tomorrow will be different after I’ve had a full night of sleep on an actual bed!

I've made a vow to stop complaining once we leave Medellin - pretty sure the waambulance doesn't make calls to Apartado.

New word in my Spanish vocabulary: Proximo
Dictionary definition: “Next”
Contextual definition: If the woman at the ticket counter yells “Proximo” at you, it means it is your turn, you idiot. Pay attention and stop making her angry. It’s 3:15 am and she’s not pleased about being at work right now.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Prayers for Colombia

I'm sitting in the Houston airport, waiting for my flight to Miami. I just received an email from a friend asking what she can pray for regarding this trip - I thought I'd post my request in hopes of building a community of folks praying not only for my trip specifically, but also for Colombia. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (the organization I'm participating with) has a weekly prayer suggestion for us to unite in prayer on Thursday nights at 8pm Colombian time (same as U.S. Central time). I thought I'd post the devotional for the first Thursday of the month if you want to incorporate it into your devotional time this week. Here are the details:

Pray weekly with and for Colombia

Join our sisters and brothers in Colombia in weekly prayers for peace.
Religious People, Priests, and Spiritual Leaders Committed to a Humanitarian Accord and Negotiated End to the Conflict in Colombia

We invite all Christians and citizens of faith to hold times of prayer, symbolic religious observances, and/or vigils for humanitarian exchange, truth and justice as a way out of Colombia's civil war.


Take a moment for prayer every Thursday at 8:00pm (9:00pm Eastern time,


Let us pray:

That Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe would facilitate and guarantee conditions for the liberation of Captain Pablo Emilio Moncayo, Private Josué Daniel Calvo Sánchez, and the remains of Major Julián Ernesto Guevara, a unilateral commitment made by the FARC guerrillas.
That the government and the FARC guerrillas would be willing to diligently undertake a humanitarian exchange that would make possible the freedom of 22 members of the armed forces and the political prisoners, as has been done in the past.

Biblical illumination: Ecclesiastes 8:8-9

"No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death; weapons are no use in such a war, nor does wickedness deliver those who practice it. All this I observed, applying my mind to all that is done under the sun, while one person exercises authority over another to the other's hurt."

I realize that these prayer requests might seem a bit odd, but hopefully I'll be able to illuminate you readers on Uribe and FARC and ELN and other buzz words that are important in Colombia.