The Outreach Foundation connects Presbyterians and others with people, projects and partnerships around the world, fostering relationships that build the capacity of the church in the U.S. and around the world for participation in God's mission. We believe that the good news of Jesus Christ should be shared in word and deed with all the peoples of the world.
Women’s group facilitating lesson 2 on heart wounds and healing pain
Advanced trainees at the completion of training: 5 women, 10 men, together with Sudanese-Americans and Kenyan, Sudanese and American facilitators. Great group!
New group of initial trainees began a 4-day training with 15 women and 13 men
by Frank Dimmock
Greetings from hot Gambella. We completed the advanced trauma healing training on Sunday evening and prepared for the second group (initial TH training) beginning on Monday morning. The rains have not interrupted our trainings under the ‘training tree’ on the church compound. Participation has been good and trainees have been submitting their reports and end-of-training tests.
The new group is larger and represent three from each of the six refugee camps as well as several from local parishes. This group will practice facilitating a healing session where testimonies of trauma will be given. We continue to connect with other agencies who are working in the camps, though we were denied permission to enter the camps on this visit. We will continue to address the universal, and complex trauma in the camps. Thank you for your prayers and support to this effort.
Blessings and Salaam alekum,
Frank, for the visiting group (David Paduil, Jacob Gatkuoth, and Thaddeus Gichana)
Frank and Thaddeus presenting the TOF Program to help “Rebuild Hope in South Sudan”
Some of the trainees in the advanced trauma healing training
by Frank Dimmock
We have successfully completed the second day of advanced trauma healing training with Nuer refugees from the 6 camps in Gambella. These are trainees who conducted and reported on 40 ‘healing group’ sessions in the camps since their initial training in 2018. They reached more than 450 refugees among the 36 congregations and community members of the camps. Each of the sessions included 10+ hours of group work and additional individual support. The 12 trainees who are receiving the advanced training will now be helping to train others in facilitating ‘healing groups.’ This is a priority program of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan that The Outreach Foundation has supported since 2017.
All the trainees are excited about the translation and publication of the trauma healing materials in the Nuer language. They are also eager to get Bibles in their language and are excited about the work in the 18 preschools supported by Outreach Foundation. We are looking forward to a busy day of worship and learning tomorrow.
Greetings from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. This was our first day here and it has been a national religious (Muslim) holiday - Eid. All offices that we had planned to visit were closed. We were able to follow up on lost luggage and meet many friends who were waiting to see us. Now we must squeeze 4 ‘official’ visits into our only full day here!
We will visit the South Sudan embassy, the Refugee Office here, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ethiopian partner church (EECMY) head office.
Over the last ten months, I have had the pleasure of coordinating a project of The Outreach Foundation that has brought together an intergenerational group of mission and worship leaders from a variety of Presbyterian and Reformed congregations and ministry contexts around the United States. The focus of our interaction has been around these questions:
How are worship and mission interrelated in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition?
What can we learn from the reflection and practices of Presbyterian/Reformed churches in other countries?
What specific practices may help our congregations embody that interrelation in our own contexts?
The project has been made possible through funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. through the Vital Worship program of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The grant gave us the opportunity to read and discuss related books, hear from practitioners from around the world and come together in Franklin, TN. In addition, some of us were able to gather in Fraijanes, Costa Rica from March 14 to 19 to interact with a great group of leaders from 11 Latin American Countries in addition to Kenya and Nepal.
Below are some of the reflections from the participants:
Hilary Ritchie- Minister of Worship and the Arts at Hope Church in Richfield, MN.
I am so grateful to have been able to build relationships with the people on our team and in Costa Rica and across Latin America. We cannot underestimate the value of relationships, even though relationships are not particularly measurable. For instance, we spent Sunday evening at the home of one of the members of Shalom Church. We spent the evening sharing stories and songs, praying for each other, and enjoying food together. There was a deep spirit of love and fellowship during that time, despite (or maybe because of) our differences in language and country of origin. The Holy Spirit was at work knitting together the body of Christ in ways deeper than, but not excluding, language or cultural customs.
As a musician, I also valued the opportunity to make relationships with the other musicians on the trip. Music is a great bridge for relationships, and I was honored to be able to play alongside the musicians I met in Costa Rica. In particular, I was able to share songs with one of our Brazilian friends. I hope to use his songs in my church here in the United States!
In addition to the relationships made, I was deeply inspired and challenged by the ministries we heard about. Many of the pastors who presented during the summit come from places of unimaginable pain and violence. These pastors do not flee from evil, but run into it head on, knowing that only the power of God could conquer the forces of darkness. What struck me time and time again was the way that the pastors are not content to remain in their churches. They are active, going out into their communities to bring the Good News to those who need to hear it most. As a worship minister, I often conceive of my work as taking place within the sanctuary, so there is not the same kind of impulse to move outward. I let our missions pastor take care of that. Hearing these pastors talk, though, I realize that I cannot be content to remain in the sanctuary. I, too, need to move out and love those hurting in our community, so they might experience the healing that Jesus gives. Then they might find a home in our sanctuary. And even if not in ours, we will join together to worship in the new heavens and new earth.
Finally, the way that Shalom Church funds their ministry gave me a new way to think about supporting our ministry. This visit was particularly good timing because our church is in the beginning stages of a building campaign. We are thinking about how to best use our property for the good of the community. The way that Shalom built businesses to fund their ministries in the community helped me see that my church could do something similar so that we could have a flourishing ministry in our city.
We must do the work that needs to be done for the good of God’s kingdom, not the good of our particular church. Like Shalom, I hope that my church can be motivated by one vision: to see God’s kingdom come in our community.
Branden Hubbell- Director of the Leadership Institute Program at Kingdom Story Ministries. Tacoma, WA
I have been exceedingly blessed by the opportunity to go to Costa Rica with the Outreach Foundation. It was my first time in Costa Rica and the experience was more than I can include in one reflection. I was overwhelmed by the relational aspect of the culture. Their willingness to receive us, their hospitality, and their devotion to Jesus have all changed me forever.
I came back to my home in Tacoma, WA with a different set of eyes. I saw down in Costa Rica the fruit of what it means to serve practically in our cities. In America, we have government services that help keep our streets clean and trash picked up, but down there it is a different story, as it is in much of the world. But even in America, those services can’t get to everything. In my own home town, I am seeing places I have traveled by often with new eyes. I am seeing the brokenness, the places that need the love of Jesus. Simple things like picking up the trash that is left behind. It doesn’t compare to other places, but it is still garbage that should be picked up. Not a single church in my area does garbage clean-up in the city. My own ministry is going to begin to change that. It will be a part of our regular discipleship process that you will learn the city, the places where it is broken, and learn practical ways to help express God’s love to the world. It doesn’t take special gifting or lots of training, just a willing and obedient heart.
Jesus tells us that if we are faithful with a little, God will entrust us to be faithful with much. I have always had grand ideas about helping our city, yet some of the simplest and easiest ways to help eluded me because of the blind spots I have due to my culture. I kept striving to hopefully show God that I could be faithful with much, but I wasn’t being faithful with the few, the simple, and the easy. So much can be learned from simply picking up trash: faith, humility, obedience, love, joy, surrender, the list goes on.
Most of the Pastors at the conference were in cities where gang violence, prostitution, and drug trafficking are the norms of everyday life. Where people in their cities and congregations are dying every day because of the above problems. Yet, in the darkness, God called each one of those pastors, to love and to serve in places where the people of those cities believe there is no hope. They were faithful with the small things as they started in the city and God blessed them with a transformed city. Story after story of entire cities transformed by the Love of Jesus. I learned that God not only wants to transform the individual, but He also wants to transform the city. God bless you, may God meet you in the depth of your heart to draw out the champion He created in you.
Rev. Roy Palavacini- Ethnomusicologist with ample experience among indigenous populations and urban contexts in Europe, the United States and Latin America and was ordained by the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Thinking about our consultation on “Worshiping Missionally” plus “La Cumbre de Servidores” I have some reflections or lessons learned.
How easily we strangers, can get together as brothers and sisters. In other words, become family as Jesus said In Mt 12:46-50. I believe this is part of our missional journey to recognize new family. Different than I am, but real family because we worship the same God.
In relation to the musical worship. It was extremely nice to see and feel that everybody considers their own musical language, genre, or style the most appropriate way to worship God and desires to share it others. However, finally, we came to understand that every way, every music, every cultural, social, or ethnic expression is the “appropriate way to worship God through music” in its own context or amongst the presence of people that sees it as their own.
In relation to our conversation and reflections about worship and mission, we realized that every mission or missionary work must be done in the context of worship. With every action, deed or what we do as an expression of God’s mission, what we must look for is what Jesus said to the woman at the well, that God seeks those who worship in spirit and truth. It looks like that is the ultimate goal of God’s mission.
God is still in control of everything.
Personally, I can say that it was a divine providence, which took me to that event. God had prepared some needed encounters with people that I needed to meet, see and start to mend a broken relationship.
I thank the Lord of the mission, who deserves all worship for taking me to this Consultation and Summit. I am also grateful to The Outreach Foundation.
We are truly grateful to Shalom Teaching Ministries for having hosted this meaningful consultation of Worship and Mission in the context of their Servant-Leaders Summit and to Dr. Bill Dyrness (Dean Emeritus of the School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary) for having shared some very helpful theological and historical considerations that helped frame our time together.
Outside of the Buganamana church sanctuary built with local labor supported by First Presbyterian Church, Nashville (nearly completed)
Present for our Sunday worship were (R to L) Rev. Julie Kandema (Vice President of the EPR), Rev. Joseph Ndagiro (moderator of Gisenyi Presbytery), and Rev. Dr. and Mrs Pascal Bataringaya (President of the EPR)
Inside sanctuary with congregants, including members from their 3 prayerhouses
Receiving a gift from the congregation (Rev. Ndagiro & Rev. Bataringaya)
Photo from the rear of the church
by Frank Dimmock
After the FPC Nashville group left for the airport, Saturday afternoon, the Outreach team drove together with the EPR vice president to Gisenyi in the northern part of the Western Province. We arrived very late, but rested in a wonderful convent guesthouse that the church had arranged. It was on the shore of Lake Kivu just across from the city of Goma, D.R.C..
We were excited to see the new Buganamana sanctuary and worship with them. The sanctuary is beautiful and they were SO joyous! They have about 700 members in regular attendance and many had worked hard to carry building materials and help in the construction. Rev. Ndagiro, Presbytery moderator, preached the sermon from John 11:25 Jesus as the resurrection and the life. He explained that this verse is the theme of the Presbytery for 2019. He called on members to listen and learn about Jesus, trust in Him, and serve by helping others. Following the sermon, the pastor reported to members and guests the progress on the construction. They only remain with gutters, rain collection tanks, landscaping, and toilets outside, and benches and furnishings inside. The EPR President and Presbytery moderator presented a gift to the Outreach team and Ebralie presented a Bible, and pledge for more Bibles, to the church. We were blessed. Imana Ishimwe (Praise God)
We had a wonderful lunch with the church leaders, then began our journey back to Kigale.
The EPR has about 400,000 members in 7 Presbyteries, with 212 congregations served by 120 active pastors. They are training evangelists (80) who will serve in many rural congregations and prayer houses.
God is good and it is a blessing to see how He is working through our friends here to grow His Kingdom.
Outreach group with the President of the EPR, Reverend Doctor Pascal Bataringaya and the Vice President, Reverend Julie Kandema
by Erika Shapiro, for the team
Friday, Day Seven.
Our alarms went off before the sun came up this morning, and we eagerly greeted our driver for an absolutely incredible experience in God’s creation. We picked up Ebralie’s sister Mary and Pastor Julius as we headed for Akegera National Park. Our bus, which became our home for the day, was well-equipped for our journey with big window seats for everyone, plenty of seat belts, and even room to stand up for a better view in the park. Driving to the park gave us a great picture of daily life in Rwanda, as we traveled through the busy city of Kigali and then into the countryside. We witnessed the hustle and bustle of the city as we drove through town, and then as the topography changed to accommodate Rwanda’s rich agricultural backbone, we saw workers of all ages in the fields, tending to their growing crops. The rural area is so beautiful, and the people work so hard to yield fertile crops in this land of 1000 hills.
After a three hour drive, we arrived at Akegera National Park, where we added our wonderful tour guide, Sam, to our adventure. We were amazed at what we saw! It is such a unique, humbling, and rich experience to see animals, both big and small, thriving in their natural habitat. Our six hour drive through the park was incredible. We saw many beautiful species of birds, impalas, zebras, and baboons. Many of the baboons had babies with them and it was a treat to see them caring for their young. We were excited about a picnic lunch at Hippo Beach, but as we arrived and were enjoying watching the hippos and crocodiles in the lake, we got word that we might experience a rare elephant sighting if we headed out quickly. We hopped back in the bus for peanut butter sandwiches on the road and much to our delight were soon in position to see a big group of elephants, old and young! We were so close to them we could hear them eating the grass! It was delightful to watch them. At one point, another elephant walked out from the bushes to greet the rest of them, and the elephants locked trunks as a welcoming gesture. They are such intelligent, magnificent creatures. From there we saw animals that live on the plains...many Cape buffalo, warthogs, giraffes, and water bucks. Sam was very helpful and taught us many fun facts about the animals and how their special characteristics help them to hunt or to hide. God is so creative! Though our list of sightings was long, it was not inclusive of all of the animals that live in the park. What a gift to have shared this experience together! Not only did we get a front row seat to God’s handiwork, we also got to spend concentrated time together in a uniquely beautiful setting. Ada and Parish even learned some new Kinyarwandan words from Pastor Julius while we drove!
After our journey, we had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant. The President of the EPR, Reverend Doctor Pascal Bataringaya and the Vice President, Reverend Julie Kandema, made time in their busy schedules to invite us to enjoy a meal with them. They are so very gracious, and we are very thankful for the time we had with them around the table. They truly love the Lord and press on faithfully in His Kingdom work here in Rwanda. Even as they work hard to grow and sustain the church and its calling here in their beautiful Africa, they consistently express deep gratitude for our prayers and partnership from the United States. Their beautiful hospitality has spoken powerfully to us this week, and their commitment to hearing God’s call and taking action in their communities has inspired us. We are so grateful for their willingness to share ideas with us and to hear ours. The Lord has, is, and will continue to be faithful. What a treasure it was today to see his fingerprints in His wild creation and on His beautiful people.
A new Outreach Foundation member, Frank, joined our team last night. We met him at breakfast and peppered him with questions, mostly related to his family of 10. He spoke of his wife’s ‘big heart’ and a home of 8 kiddos. His story is beautiful and inspiring and the way he answers God’s call was a real treat to listen to.
We hopped in two cars just a few minutes after our scheduled departure time and headed for Remera, a countryside village. The drive there took us out of Kigali in a way we had yet to travel and we passed through some very busy intersections where a passive driver might find themselves stuck all day. We passed the bus hub and food markets and a million motorcycles and a zillion walkers. There was so much movement.
As we rounded the curve we began to climb one of the thousand hills you find here in Rwanda, and we saw rice patties and a river that leads to the Nile and we saw more hills in the distance. It was green and beautiful. We found ourselves going up and down these hills until we turned onto a dirt road. There were a few signs pointing us to the Presbyterian church and I think we passed 3 churches en route to the Presbyterian hospital, which was our destination. We arrived at the hospital to find a bunch of youth cutting up cabbage outside of a kitchen that consisted of about 5 fires with pots on top. That group of youth is called the Dorcas group. It consists of a lot of young people who come to the hospital about once a month to share the word of God and to share a meal with the patients. At this hospital, they have what is called a guardianship program where the patients have to have someone come along with them to cook for them, with the guardian’s own pots and pans. The hospital does not provide food, nor the utensils for feeding. So maybe you can understand how meaningful it is to have this amazing, mature group of Sunday school kids between the ages of 11-18, serving a meal to these patients. We did our best to jump in to be a part. Tinsley cut the cabbage. Kendall helped with the potatoes. Parish and Ada started making friendship bracelets, and taught many a youth how to make them. Sort of out of nowhere, it began to pour down rain. Go figure the one day I forget my rain jacket and/or long sleeve shirt, the sky opens up. Once the potatoes were finished, we filled the room with friendship bracelets and singing and dancing together with this group of young people. There was for sure a language barrier, but joy and dancing and singing are universal. Eventually, we took part in a chapel service for the patients. One of the boys from the Dorcas group preached the word. It was on the story in the Bible about the storm on the boat while Jesus slept which required the disciples to wake Jesus up to get him to intervene. This young man encouraged us, knowing that we will all have storms in life, by inviting us to wake Jesus up to intervene in our storms. He was so poised and mature. More dancing and singing followed. Afterwards, we helped serve the meal to the pediatric patients parents; and based on the size of the pot, the portion size was determined, which was a little bit awkward.
We quickly ate a delicious lunch together and then headed to a meeting that was happening at the Presbyterian church in town. We met up with a group of about 30 PCUSA peacemakers and an even larger group of Remera-n locals. The locals were a part of a Light Group which means that with some training and much forgiveness, this group is made up of both perpetrators and survivors of the genocide. They sit next to each other, they eat together, they celebrate the weddings of each other’s kids. One of the survivors spoke of the pain and difficulty involved in forgiving the man who stood in front of her genuinely apologizing for killing her husband and her child. Each of the members of the group had a story like that one, from either the forgiven or the forgiver. I felt speechless. I still sort of feel speechless. It is almost too beautiful and painful for my brain and heart to process. The wounds are deep but the reconciliation is deeper. What an amazing picture of God’s grace.
We visited the Pastors Genocide memorial afterwards where 41 Presbyterian pastors are buried and we heard horror stories about the genocide. The call of both Rwandans and visitors to remember the genocide is a hard call but also they (and we would now too) would argue that it is the only possible way to prevent the ugliest evil ever from happening again. We must remember. Gratefully, Parish, Ada, and Pastor Julius (a really dear human that has accompanied us for much of our time here) engaged the school kiddos outside which gave us a small little decompressor post remembering.
We headed back to Kigali for dinner out and then a sweet family time where we debriefed our surprises and the ways in which we saw God today. Most spoke of all of the laughing that happened today. What a gift it is to be here together, laughing our way through the highs and the lows.
We were treated to a nice morning of sleeping in after a wonderful welcoming dinner at the Kicukiro church the previous night. Our breakfast consisted of fruit, eggs, and our newfound favorite, African Donuts! What a delight! Decked in scrubs and a childlike excitement, our day began!
We traveled to a mother and son's home next to the ITETERO School. There, we learned to dust with homemade brooms, till the dirt, and plant beans alongside members of the Kanombe and Kicukiro congregations. The planting was a meaningful experience for the group. We haphazardly threw the beans into the soil, hoping that it would sprout into something good. When we finished, the group gathered inside the family's home and the mother shared her story. The woman's son was diagnosed with schizophrenia 9 years ago and the mother struggles to provide. She told us that she never thought that so many people would show up and care for her. Our work in her yard seemed to be a small feat, and gratitude simply for our presence there was a touching reminder for what being a brother or sister in Christ truly means. We must reach out and make connections in our community and beyond, showing everyone the love and grace that Christ extends to them.
We then met in the worship center to pray, eat a snack, and exchange ideas on how to improve the youth program in the church. We were intrigued to see that the churches in Rwanda face similar problems to ours in the US. They shared that the youth seems to be distracted from their pursuit of a Godly lifestyle by social media and that their choir groups have become exclusive. The leaders of the youth openly asked for help to get the youth more involved. Erika, Tinsley, and Parish told the church about the mentorship between youth and children that occurs at FPC Nashville. The youth get more engaged in the community and the children gain a Christ-filled leader to look up to. The leaders appreciated our input and we had some great takeaways as well!
Next, we had lunch at the beautiful home of Chantelle, one of the church officials. She provided a delicious meal and welcomed us so graciously. We sang some songs and had conversations with Peter, one of the youth leaders. He has a true talent of caring for children, and it certainly showed when he played with Ada and Parish! He serves his church well and we will pray for his youth community to grow in number and in faith. After finishing our meal, Pastor Dennis presented us with gifts. Ada and Parish were given dresses and the rest of us were given shirts. These lovely garments were handmade by a teacher at the ITETERO special needs school. She has a spirit full of giving and we were blessed to receive her gifts. We have been struck by the abundance of generosity in Rwanda. Each person that we meet welcomes us with open arms and a full plate!
After a full day, we were thankful for an unexpected evening of rest. We played cards and blew bubbles while some went on a run. After dinner, we sat down for our nightly family time to debrief the day and explore our journaling prompt. Delving into the hidden parts of our hearts with God-loving women is such a valuable experience; hearing the wisdom of the moms and the wonder of the children displays the beautiful path that God leads us on in our faith journey. The opportunity to create a closer community within our group was a fun and needed time.
Day 4 of the Rwanda mission trip was a joy! We have been blessed by the past days and are excited for the days to come!
My face hurts from smiling so much today! We enjoyed an unintentionally late start this morning as the jet lag and packed days of fun caught up to us (and the mosquito net covered beds are just so comfortable!). Breakfast was so delicious with passion fruit, breads, eggs, veggies, and even peanut butter to go on our mini bananas!
Feeling refreshed, we enjoyed the ride through beautiful Kigali to the Itetero school for special needs children. The singing and dancing of these sweet children and their parents was so heart warming and free. They even dusted off our feet as a way to symbolize rest for our weariness. The life and light in the hearts of these twenty children, their parents, and their two teachers was so precious as we got to color and make bracelets with them. We heard stories of progress and hope in their lives through the Itetero school and their staff of teachers and a temporary physiotherapist.
In connecting buildings, we got to spend some time with some students studying at the vocational school. They showed us some of the clothes they had made (even their own uniforms!!). The hair stylists were also very impressive. We were then treated to lovely songs, a traditional dance routine, and a skit! Even though the language barrier is sometimes a challenge, it was beautiful to see messages of unity and the power of community that was clearly displayed in each of these artistic offerings.
For lunch we got to meet with Elder Margaret and her family. We got to enjoy a time of worship in the living room of their beautiful home. They were kind enough to sing songs in English that we knew! We even got to learn a few new English worship songs! Lunch was so delicious: Green soup, purple yams, beef on a stick, rice, fresh pineapple and watermelon were just some of the yummy things on our plates. Elder Margaret and her family were so generous and hospitable as we talked and took pictures of their beautiful house and the view from their front porch that overlooked the breathtaking Kigalian hillsides.
We enjoyed some rest time back at the guest house for the last part of the afternoon, and for dinner, we got to see the Kicukiro church with Pastor Julius. There was yet again a beautiful and kind community to welcome us and share a meal with us. There was so much joy shared over worship and traditional dance, and they generously bestowed gorgeous hand-crafted gifts to each of us. What an amazing cloud of witnesses!
From the singing and the dancing and the feet washing and the sweet advice and the smiles and the pictures and the crafts and the skits and the beautiful clothing and hair styles at the vocational school, God's faithfulness is so evident. We are getting better at some key Kinyarwandan phrases, and everyone is so kind and patient and gracious. The warm welcome and embrace of every community we get to meet is such a beautiful image of the grace and peace and utter joy of God's kingdom.
A team of travelers from First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood enjoyed a rich time with Outreach partners in Mexico in February. Below is a trip journal written by team members with interesting details about their week.
Mexico Mission, Xpujil, Campeche
by Israel Flores
Thank God for the opportunity to serve you on this "short-term vision trip” with our friends of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and The Outreach Foundation.
Jesus showed us the greatest example of humility when he left his throne of glory and came to live in our midst. On this trip to Xpujil Campeche, we left our comforts, our daily activities, and our comfort, with the only goal of serving our God and neighbor.
It was a blessing to be welcomed and directed by the local group that humbly guided and taught us to develop join them in the work. It was also a joy to see everyone work without hearing any complaints about it, the weather, comfort, fatigue, food, etc. Our only longing to serve our God went beyond any language or culture barrier.
To Him be the Glory and the honor for all the centuries, Amen.
Israel is a member at Fuente de Vida Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California since 1990. He used to part of the leadership of the Hispanic youth movement of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii (PCUSA). He both and ordained deacon and now an elder.
by Christina Yew
This was our first full day in Xpujil, Mexico.
It was no problem waking up early. We’d gone to bed early, tired from a full day of travel. I’d rested well. Roosters were crowing right outside our bedroom window and coffee was promised at 6:30. I actually felt utterly and completely at peace as I woke up. My first thought was, “Ok, God, it’s your day. What’s it going to be like?” I have often struggled to surrender to God and trust in Him, and yet, here, in an absolutely foreign place, I found myself doing so without conscious effort.
I was sharing a room with Jourdan and Maddie. Eleanor and Lily have an adjoining room in the cinder block house. The walls are painted bright pink. There is a sink next to a small table where we put our toiletries. We don’t drink this water but do use it to wash our hands. We also have a small bathroom with a shower. The water comes from a cistern like the ones we will build. It is obvious that great care has been taken to make this house clean and comfortable. The beds are incredibly cozy, and fans keep the room cool.
The work today was hard. There’s a cement mixer, the kind that can be towed behind a truck. Our main job is to fill buckets with gravel or sand to dump into the mixer. So, we each fill one or two buckets each cycle. I don’t lift the buckets. The gravel is about forty pounds. The sand is heavier. But a fellow worker will carry it and add it to the mix along with cement powder and water. Then the local men, who have done this many, many times, pour it into the area cleared and framed for the cistern floor. Today we poured floors at four houses. There are seventeen cycles of cement for each floor, so we each filled about eighty buckets today. The work is very satisfying. There’s a point each cycle when all the buckets are full and we feel very accomplished, and then again when we load the truck after finishing a house.
The work goes in cycles, so there is time that everyone is busy and time that we are waiting around, chatting, getting to know each other better. We learn a lot about our hosts by watching them interact. No one has to do anything they are not comfortable with. It’s a case of many hands make light work. My son, Nathan, tends to push himself, but it’s been nice to see some of the other men helping him out. Honestly, the local guys would be fine without us, but it is hard and repetitive, and it feels good to be able to make their work lighter. We are also here to get to know them, get to know the other team members, and to encourage each other. It’s also a witness to the neighbors that live here. They are very interested in us, sometimes staring and waving as they walk by.
Each cistern floor takes a couple of hours. When we finish we go to a different house. My favorite house was the one that came at the end of the day when the sun was setting and there was a nice breeze. Everyone sort of perked up and laughed a lot.
After a delicious chicken dinner we walked all around Xpujil, buying ice cream bars and getting a feel for the town. There are a lot of people out and about and many greet Todd or stop him to talk. The feeling of peace that I woke with this morning stayed with me all day, even while learning how to do work that I’d never tried before, with people I’ve never worked with before, some of whom I’ve never met and don’t speak their language. The whole day felt like a gift and I am so grateful.
“God’s provisions for the things he calls us to do is always abundant when we look to him in faith, when we trust him instead of relying on our own strengths, plans, abilities and provisions.” - On Mission by Patric Knaak p. 61
by Nathan Yew
On the first day of work we woke up to a fine American breakfast of pancakes and bacon, all ready for us to devour. After the delicious meal we piled into the cars and drove about 15 minutes to the next town over.
When we arrived the local workers were already hard at work at another site, so we figured out our duties while we waited. The jobs were pretty simple, mostly just filling buckets with sand and gravel and pouring them into the concrete mixer, so it gave us time to rest.
After the first floor was completed we drove to the next house and got a better look at the town. Thick forest grew right up to the edge of town, and chickens wandered about (yes, crossing the road). It was cool to see God’s creation so intertwined with daily life, much more so than back home. After the second house, we headed back to the compound for lunch, which was some delicious chicken. We learned that other meat was not usually present, and that chicken was usually a once-a-week deal, which to me illustrated the hospitality of our hosts. After lunch we had a little time to get some rest, so I swung around in a hammock (which was surprisingly comfortable) until it was time to go. After our rest time we drove back to the work site for another pour. All in all we got four pours done before dinner, which was more amazing chicken.
After dinner we decided to get a better look at Xpujil. Right next to the compound was a small convenience store, where we found chips, coke, and some ice cream. Venturing down the block we found a bar (that looked a lot like a restaurant) that Todd recommended we didn’t attend. It was a reminder to us that we were outsiders, and that we needed to respect the cultures there, and one of those was that the Presbyterians in Xpujil don’t drink. Further down the road we found more convenience stores mingled with homes. Several houses had some kind of business in front of it, whether it was a small convenience store or a restaurant. After finding the ice cream we set out for at one of the stores, we headed back to the compound for a good night’s sleep.
by Phillip Olive
In the morning, after another good breakfast, we visited Chicanná, a nearby Mayan ruin complex. As an architect from Los Angeles, I love touring the ancient cliff dwellings and pueblos of the American Southwest and I enjoyed this in a similar way. These structures are grander statements but getting a sense of the movements of people long gone, no less God’s creation, no less valuable to him – that sticks with me. It makes the temporal expanse of God’s involvement with mankind more tangible and more humbling. And, these buildings remind me that all effort that is merely human will crumble. I can’t place my ultimate hope in my country or my job, but in Christ alone.
The work was tough and hot but it was enjoyable to leave behind the agendas and ambitions of life at home. I didn’t have to drive or cook. I didn’t have phone calls or emails to return. Well, maybe a few emails. To exist in a space where only a few things are required of me is a blessing. This work isn’t forever, nor is the heat. The work is important and worthy of our love and energy. Traveling so far to reach Xpujil and finding men and women living lives as valuable as mine. Jesus knows all of our names and addresses, and every language. He draws near to us. I am reminded of a feeling that I have felt many times, especially while traveling - a desire to live in more than one city at once. To wonder at the way that God experiences humans and locations as only he is able, being omnipresent and omniscient. He loves, watches, and sustains every human with exquisite care at the same time, in every place. Amazing!
Today was Maddie’s birthday and it was quite a spectacle! When Nathan found out that it was going to be Maddie’s birthday a few days ago, he began trying to figure out how to get the ingredients to make a cake happen. It was fun to watch his joy in trying to surprise her and to go above and beyond on behalf of another, in a different country, with a different oven and unfamiliarly-sized sticks of butter. Argel’s sister and her husband traveled 4 hours from another part of Mexico with 5 other musicians to visit with him and to eat, play, sing, and worship with us. Maddie was serenaded royally! The musicians’ joy in the Lord was evident in their playing and in their interactions with each other. So refreshing after a hard day’s work. They had 5 more hours of driving to reach their next destination, but they stayed with Argel late into the night. The people in our lives are worth it and a gift from God. Victor’s quiet strength and leadership made me miss my Grandpa. Encarnación’s sweet kindness made me miss my Grandma, but I am happy that their children and grandchildren still have them.
by Jourdan Allison Turner
By this time in the trip, we have been on the job sites for two days. We know the expectations, the work to be done, the goals. Our work this week is mostly filling buckets with sand and gravel. Bucket after bucket, day after day. I don't normally like routine but the routine of our work in Mexico is a gift and a pleasure. There isn’t anxiety about what the day ahead holds, or if we’ll be able to do the job. We know what the day holds, we know the job, we are finding our rhythm. The routine allows space for teamwork, conversations, and connection across cultural differences and language barriers. We will wake up early, share meals together, work hard, piece together bits of conversation as we can in Spanish, we will laugh, learn. The day will leave all of us - ages 13 to 74 - feeling tired, but accomplished, content. It is also a gift to just be a cog in the wheel of someone else’s vision and project. We are not the bosses, the saviors, the main focus…we are simply workers, alongside other workers doing our part. It is beautiful and humble to simply assist in a good work, not to give ourselves credit for it, just to show up, do what we’re told and be of service. By the end of this day we will be knit together anew and differently with one another and with God.
by Thomas Clark
The fourth day began as usual with the cock crowing at twenty to five a.m. Then it was strangely quiet until crowing at five, and then quiet again until crowing at six. Or is it simply that the constant noise is the new normal and I only notice the really loud racket?
Breakfast was wonderful. The meals are delicious and the selection changes each day. This morning they added black beans and fried plantain to the usual American breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and flap jacks, toast and jam. Yummy. Our hosts are amazing.
The work schedule changed a bit, so we had free time after breakfast until ten for reading and conversation. Everyone is in good spirits and is ready for the work to begin. At ten we headed to the work site for our daily assignment. All the digging and rebar preparation for the cisterns was completed before our arrival. Then we participated in the pouring of the floor, and the first level of the circular wall. Today we will help with the second and final level of the wall. The vertical forms for the wall were set up before we got there, so it remained only to prepare the concrete and pour it between the inside and outside forms. The local work crew is fast and efficient, so a lot gets done while we aren't there.
We arrived and started filling the plastic buckets with sand and gravel. These go into the gas powered mixer with water and cement to make the concrete for the cistern. When fully mixed, the concrete is dumped into wheel barrows and carried to the cistern. The wheel barrow is hoisted up manually by two workers and poured into the gap between inside and outside forms. They must lift the barrow higher for the second level, so it is not filled as high as previously, and more trips are required.
Our help consists of filling the buckets with sand and gravel. Some of our men are strong enough to carry the filled buckets to the mixer. Some of us just fill buckets. The first day the local workers showed us that they do that work twice as fast and twice as efficiently. They are young, strong, and experienced. Over the four days they allowed us to fit in more and more into the work routine. This was greatly aided by the casual conversations and friendships initiated by our two Mexican born teammates from LA, Israel and Argel. We interact with the local workers as best we can, but there is a language barrier for the rest of us. In particular, Israel often operates the mixer and is constantly interacting with the workers, and a couple of the ladies poke around inside the forms of the cistern filled with concrete with a long stick to ensure that there are no air pockets in the walls. And now we can address workers by name, as Israel knows them all.
After work we return to the house to shower and change for dinner. We have a reservation at a local restaurant for the evening meal, but must carry our own resin chairs. We arrive at a hamburguesa stand that is run by one of Todd's sisters-in-law and her daughter. The eleven of us overwhelm the available seating, hence the need for chairs. Also interesting is the local version of hamburger: bun with meat patty and slices of ham and cheese, topped with hot dogs and grilled onions, plus a side of french fries. Very filling. The shack has an enviable location, across the street from the community center.
We have really been well taken care of by Todd and his family. They are all really friendly and sweet. I sense that it's some sacrifice on their part, but it's not noticeable. They are just really nice. It's been a great pleasure and much joy of life. Looking forward to Sunday.
by Maddie Mitchellweiler
It’s day four of our trip, and I continue to be amazed by how richly balanced our time here in Xpujil is. Work, rest, exploration, play…there somehow seems to be space each day to do it all! The tireless local team had to work on a few of the more technical pieces of the cistern this morning, so we start the day off exploring yet another ruin site. I still can’t fully wrap my mind around how ancient these structures are. The people that inhabited these spaces also had rhythms of work, rest, exploration, play. It sure is mind-stretching just to be around ancient things.
We get to the work site a little before the local team, so of course we take the chance to do some group photos by the cistern ready for its second layer. I remember seeing photos of cisterns at this stage before we came on the trip, and now here we are standing before one we helped create! It’s such a joy to be even a small part of the process. Three days of work and already the experience has become such a rhythm. And in the rhythm, we all have a part to play. Filling buckets, lifting buckets, mixing concrete, pushing wheelbarrows, lifting wheelbarrows, mixing out air bubbles. There are only a few parts I can play in these rhythms, but it’s a gift even to accept my own limits, and to watch someone else who is differently capable step in to do what they can. Todd keeps encouraging us to see all the parts of this work as gift. From the gravity that helps you fill the sand bucket, to the muscles of your friends that enable them to lift wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete - all of these things are gifts given by God. At times, I’ve gotten caught up in the gifts I don’t have. My own arms are barely strong enough to shuffle one of the full buckets to a better spot on the pile, let alone lift it over my head to carry to the mixer. But as I look around in the moments of rest when I can’t be working, I see the beauty of other gifts all around me. The shared smiles, small conversations, and moments of laughter that keep the work light even with the heavy loads. These too, are gifts from God to further the common good of our work together.
As the workday comes to a close, gorgeous light settles over our final site and the air starts to cool. Earlier in the day, we had found a discarded pair of work boots in the sand. One of our teammates, Israel, now starts to arrange some other objects around to create a character passed out in the pile. All of us, LA travelers and locals, get a good laugh over how all-too-resonant we feel with this make believe guy sprawled out in exhaustion. All of this, truly, is a gift. The work, yes. But also the fellowship that happens along with the work, the connections we make that don’t seem to happen as easily behind desks planning things on computers and over email. I begin to wonder how we could cultivate the richness of these gifts back home, in our own congregation, within our own programs and ministries. Those are questions I’ll keep asking, and listening for creative answers. But for now, I’m just grateful for and soaking in the gift of these rhythms, these days. La obra..