Monday, January 25, 2010

Nicaragua and Honduras -- Final Blog

"Remember Me"

By Michael Cooper-White, president

Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

As our ten-day pilgrimage in Nicaragua and Honduras draws to a close, I reflect back on these intense days in two countries that continue to be home to many of the world's poorest.  Among the manifold highlights of the trip for me have been devotions led each day by one of the seven seminarians who are my traveling companions.  On Saturday, following a few hours enjoying one of Nicaragua's beautiful Pacific coast beaches, second-year seminarian Cassandra Lamb led us in reflection on the Gospel story where a sinful woman of the city approaches Jesus to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.  Concluding by consensus that a major theme of the story is extending hospitality, one by one, my companions shared ways in which we have been offered extraordinary hospitality in the course of our Central American sojourn.

Everywhere we went, but especially in the "home-stays" where we were hosted in humble campesino village huts without electricity or running water, at each meal we guests were fed first.  At the remote community of El Rodeito in northwest Nicaragua near the Honduran border, the community killed a chicken to enrich our meal, thereby exercising the Nicaraguan equivalent of the biblical killing the fatted calf.  In several homes, the hosts gave up their beds and slept in hammocks or perhaps outside on the rough dirt floor so that we could enjoy the most comfortable accommodations they had to offer.  As my companions shared how the journey had begun to affect them, they concluded that their ministries will be marked by a high level of Christian hospitality, giving particular attention to welcoming strangers, leading congregations in extending hospitality to immigrants and others who are different. 

Time after time, those among whom we visited spoke with gratitude for what they have received by way of a larger global Lutheran hospitality network named the Lutheran World Federation.  In ways small but significant, the "Federacion" has brought a measure of hope and some improvement among people who fall into a category the United Nations regards as 'extreme poverty.'  For people who live on just a few dollars a month, learning a new skill, a way to engage in more productive farming practices, or a craft that enables the production of small goods for sale -- all part of the LWF's emphasis on "capacitation" or skill-building and leadership development -- makes all the difference in the world.  One of LWF's particular gifts in many communities has been the provision of both basic materials and training so that people dig and maintain their own wells.  As one of our hosts told me as he drew water into a bucket for my morning shower (warmer than you would think after warming in the sun a few moments!), "water is life, without it we die." 

As Cassandra and her colleagues have discovered, after a journey like this, one will never read some scripture lessons the same as before.  Biblical images of water, primitive non-technological agricultural practices, planting and harvesting and so on, take on new meaning when one reads them after having returned to conditions not much changed in the twenty centuries since the Lord wandered about among the poor and forgotten of the earth.
Just as in his last hours Jesus exhorted his friends to "remember me," so in all our departures our hosts told us they will remember us, and expressed the hope we will remember them too.  Perhaps that lies at the heart of Christian hospitality, that simple act of remembering.  So, yes, Rigoberto, Luisa, CrisAlicia, Virginia, Victor and all the rest -- we will remember you.  And we are changed and grateful people knowing that as you say your prayers when you lie down to rest after another long day's hard work in the hot Honduran or Nicaraguan sun, you will remember us also.
From Managua, Nicaragua
January 24, 2010
Michael Cooper-White

Friday, January 22, 2010


CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010

ELCA Wittenberg Center to Move, Establishes New Staffing Arrangement
by *John Brooks, ELCA News Service

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Wittenberg (Germany) Center will move its offices to another location in the German city and employ the Rev. Scott A. Moore to be part-time coordinator who will also represent the ELCA in the observance of the "Luther Decade."
     The future viability of the center was in doubt this past October when it was announced that the center's two directors, the Rev. Stephen E. and Dr. Jean Godsall-Myers, would end their service at the center Nov. 30, 2009.  The decision was the result of "harsh budget realities," said the Rev. Robert O. Smith, continental desk director for Europe and the Middle East, ELCA Global Mission.

     A proposal for the center's future was accepted by an advisory committee for the center.  The Rev. Moore, an ELCA pastor and 1997 graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, has been named the center's coordinator and ELCA Luther Decade representative.  He recently completed a six-year call with ELCA Global Mission when he served as pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Lutherstadt Eisleben, Germany.  He will soon begin doctoral studies in Germany.
     "I'm very excited to be in this place at this time. It's something I'm eager to do," said Moore in a phone interview with the ELCA News Service. "It's extremely important for our German partners that we have a presence there among them in these historic Luther sites, especially in Wittenberg."
     Moore, who lives in nearby Ehrfurt, will serve 10 hours per week at the center and visit Wittenberg at least every two weeks.  Among his duties he will facilitate relationships with German church partners and institutions in Wittenberg, promote the center, maintain donor relationships, assist and coordinate activities for visiting groups, and engage in strategic planning.

     "It's good to have an (ELCA) presence in Germany in this decade as we have the opportunity to reflect for ourselves about our heritage and our future," Moore added.  The Wittenberg center is one of four ELCA designated international learning centers, along with the Gettysburg Seminary’s Luther Institute in Washington, DC, the International Center in Bethlehem, Palestine, and the International Center in Mexico City, Mexico.

     The Luther Decade, launched in Wittenberg in 2008, is a significant component of the Wittenberg Center's mission. The decade includes a series of events and observances leading to 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
     The new plan calls for the Wittenberg Center to move into a newly renovated space at Colleg (correct) Wittenberg, a facility primarily for study-abroad programs of North American college and universities. Colleg Wittenberg has guest rooms and space for group seminars.
     Haug added that the ELCA churchwide organization will be working to connect the center with other expressions of the church, including congregations, colleges and universities, and seminaries.
     Renate Skirl, administrative assistant for the Wittenberg Center, will end her service on April 1 and join Christian Tours, Europe, Smith wrote in the Wittenberg Center proposal.  Christian Tours will provide a separate entrance and sign for the ELCA Wittenberg Center, and will maintain various ELCA resources at the center, he wrote.  "As ELCA groups utilize the Colleg Wittenberg and the services of Christian Tours, they will have full access to these resources," Smith wrote.




CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010



(Pittsburgh, Penna.)  Dr. Edward Sites, a trustee of the Gettysburg Seminary Endowment Foundation, and former chair of the Seminary’s Board of Directors, assisted in the emergency rescue of 53 orphans from the massive destruction in Haiti’s recent earthquake.

Sites, a scholar and retired lead administrator of the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, said “I participated in the core group that planned the extremely complex and eventually successful emergency flight to Haiti to bring a planeload of orphans from Haiti to Pittsburgh.”  Sites was on the plane with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and others who eventually received help from the White House to advance through the red tape to get clearance for the 53 very young Haitians.  Sites added “it was a very stressful, exhausting and yet exhilarating effort with many stories to tell.”



Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Intense Long Day in Tegucigalpa

Post #3 From  Tegucigalpa, by Michael Cooper-White

"You are living letters for us," declared a valiant woman named Noemi who directs the Latin American Council of Churches'human rights program in Honduras.  She was referring to a program of the World Council of Churches that goes beyond sending letters or emails and dispatches a delegatiion within days of an outbreak of human rights violations in any corner of the globe.  Looking around our circle of seven Gettysburg seminarians, I saw looks of wonder and awe that our very presence seemed to make such a difference.

Seven meetings is intense on any day anywhere.  The nature of our visits demands even more than the usual concentration from both speakers and listeners, as we pause after every few sentences to translate from Spanish into English or vice versa.  But both our "viajeros" and hosts take the challenge in good stride, committed to share and learn as much as possible in the brief time we have together.

For me, the day's most stimulating meeting was our first, held at a labor union where there are weekly gatherings of the "resistance" movement's leadership, who launched concerted efforts after last summer's military coup to restore the nation to a state of respect for the constitution and democratic convictions.  It is never easy to hear harsh critique of one's own government, but the spokesman for the Honduran Resistance Movement expressed the conviction that either tacitly or overtly the U.S. government lent support for the coup that deposed the democratically elected president and installed a puppet of the army and police forces.

In one way or another, all the groups we visited are involved in the struggle to protect and defend human rights.  One of our hosts spoke of threatening phone calls received by his wife in just the past couple of days.  Leaders of a youth resistance movement talked of anti-coup demonstrations at which an old woman was brutally beaten, and of other instances where corpses were found after resistance movement participants were "disappeared" at the hands of the ruling regime.  Despite  the resistance forces' commitment to non-violence, the toll of torture, murder and disappearances mounts daily.

While most of the day's meetings would be regarded by some as "political" in nature, we were reminded by the president and two other ordained ministers of the Honduran Christian Lutheran Church that their holistic mission is deeply pastoral, theological and one of service to the "least of these" throughout this Central American nation where a young church has established over a dozen congregations and mission outposts.  In this land where both the Roman Catholic cardinal and pastors of evangelical and Pentecostal mega-churches have publicly sided with the perpetrators of the military coup, the Lutherans may be the church to watch as its influence and impact in proclaiming the Gospel grows in stunning measure day by day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday in Tegucigalpa

Post #2 Gettysburg's Central American Travel Seminar
From Honduras, by Michael Cooper-White
At the end of yesterday’s long journey, which brought us north from Nicaragua to Honduras’capital city of Tegucigalpa, second year seminarian Jason Felici led our group of pilgrims in evening devotions.  Reflecting on the ELCA Global Mission "accompaniment" approach to work in other lands, group members shared how warmly and graciously our Central American sisters and brothers have invited us to walk beside them, stay overnight in their humble homes, and join in worship services, including two outdoors, the largest--in a remote village called Carbonera teeming with children--under a giant mango tree.

Jason’s devotions and the group’s reflection echoed themes shared early in our visit by Nicaragua’s Lutheran bishop, the Rev. Dr. Victoria Cortez.  In the course of a lengthy conversation our first full day in country, the bishop talked about her church’s commitment to go where few others are willing to go.  In Central America’s poorest country, the Lutheran Church of Faith and Hope (ILFE) intentionally engages in outreach among those most denied an abundant life.  Unlike many of the Pentecostal churches that tell the poor their very poverty is God’s will, to which they should humbly resign themselves, ILFE proclaims the biblical message that God desires an abundant life for all.  Going beyond proclamation, ILFE helps put in place means whereby individuals and communities can improve their situations.  ILFE is the only church in Nicaragua with the courage to boldly address the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS.

Our "home-stays" in the Somoto community seem to have been among the highlights thus far for our eight-member delegation, all of whom face the typical hardships of Central American travel in good spirits and with much humor.  All our travelers are in good health as we now settle in for two fascinating days among another community of God’s faithful--the Christian Lutheran Church of Honduras.  Despite recent high tensions surrounding the deposing of Honduras’ duly elected president, our border-crossing was uneventful, and the teeming Tegucigalpa metropolis seemed a place of "business as usual" as we arrived on an ordinary summer Monday evening. 

Our long list of Tuesday appointments begins with a visit to one of the almost-daily gatherings of the "Frente de Resistencia Nacional" or National Resistance Front, a coalition of many groups that formed to protest last year’s military coup, and now persists in promoting the respect of law and honoring of democratic principles.  As time and internet access allow, the next blog entry will provide readers with a report on those and other conversations and connections

Saturday, January 16, 2010

From Managua

Its January, which means J-term, and travel seminars away from the Gettysburg Seminary campus. Here is a series, we hope, of posts from Seminary President Michael Cooper-White, who has a group of seminarians in central America for ten days. Here is his first post:

After a journey of nearly 12 hours, which began with a 2:00 a.m. departure from the LTSG campus, our group of eight arrived at the Hotel of Fat Maria (the actual name) in Nicaragua´s capital city of Managua. Following a short time of room check-in and rest, our local hosts offered a fascinating ¨coyuntura¨or orientation session on realities of Nicaraguan society and the work carried out by local Lutherans. Our primary guide and traveling companion for the next ten days is Ms. Annie Bjerke, an ELCA missionary from Minnesota stationed here, who regularly hosts groups like that made up of our J-term study tour pilgrims. Offering a comprehensive assessment of the current state of affairs in this poorest Central American country was Mr. Edgar Sanchez, staff person for the Lutheran World Federation, who works primarily in economic development and relief projects throughout the northwestern portion of the country.

According to Sanchez, following inconclusive election results some months ago, accompanied by post-voting widespread allegations of corruption and irregularities in the contest, the Nicaraguan government is paralyzed--unable to move ahead in filling many key posts until the matter of who will actually govern gets resolved. Due to the current instability, plus the present Sandinista regime´s cozying up to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, many governments, international commercial enterprises and lending agencies have put a freeze on funds flowing into Nicaragua. As always occurs in times of such dire circumstances (with currently upwards of half the working age population either unemployed or hustiling to make a few Cordobas as street vendors and the like), it is the poorest of the poor who suffer most. Tomorrow afternoon, we head north to the town of Somoto, where our visits and ¨homestays¨will be among some of those most on the margins in this suffering land. But even as

Nicaraguans themselves struggle to keep hope alive of a brighter future, in this land that has itself been devastated by earthquake and Hurricane Mitch some years ago, there is a special measure of solidarity with and prayers for the huddled hurting, grieving masses in Latin America´s poorest country of Haiti.

One of the student pilgrims serves each day as group chaplain. In his end-of-a-long-day devotions tonight, LTSG seminarian Tormod Svensson read from Matthew 25, reminding us that it indeed in those who suffer most among us that we are most likely to catch glimpses of Jesus.

From Managua . . .

Michael Cooper-White