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

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