Read by her daughter AnnaLisa Nash at the Sister Parish 25th Anniversary Celebration in Minneapolis, MN on November 15, 2013
Greetings to all gathered on this very special occasion!
My heart is with you as I grieve not being with at this important event, but I am happy that Faith/Journey in Faith from West Fargo is well represented. Our Sister Parish has an hermanamiento [sister parish linkage] with Tierra Nueva Uno outside Guatemala City. I’m especially pleased that my daughter, AnnaLisa, is present to deliver my greetings and thoughts. Her sister parish experiences in Guatemala during high school shaped her faith immeasurably and provided for her a global perspective that gives direction to her life to this day.
I often talk about the “pea brain vision” that was the seed to grow Sister Parish, and it came out of a chance meeting of Richard Fenske and me. We participated in a national social ministry event, and there we shared our very similar personal experiences in Central America and Mexico. Fuel for the fire came from the Spirit of God that burned in our hearts as a result of our encounters with many marginalized and oppressed people who suffered at the hand of injustice. We met the Lord through those we had come in touch with, not unlike those on the Road to Emmaus when Jesus walked with them. You will remember the story: while meeting and sharing scripture with Jesus on the road, the men said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn?” when they talked about their walk with Jesus. Dick and I both felt that kind of deep burning inside which came from our separate walks with materially poor – but spiritually rich – folks who shared the scripture with us, helping us to see Jesus in new and powerful ways.
Both Dick and I were imperfect people with little knowledge about starting a movement, which I believe Sister Parish is becoming. We were blind to so much, but as time moved along, more of this vision was revealed to us through those who joined us. Our only expertise was talking about our stories of personal change. We simply invited people to “come and see”, believing with our whole hearts that in the ways we were transformed spiritually, others would also become benefactors through their experiences.
Not only was the vision a “pea brained” one, but it was a lopsided vision, too. What drove the Sister Parish vision in the beginning was the hope that others from the United States living comfortably with a solid financial base would experience the kinds of things we had experienced, and then perhaps lead others into the vision. We saw it as a way to raise awareness among people from the United States so they would ask difficult questions within their faith communities and raise questions with political leaders and lawmakers to begin working for systemic change. We never considered how important the relationships would be to those who lived their daily lives on the edge of survival. In reality, our walking together with the materially poor gave dignity to them, and together we were transformed into something NEW.
Richard Fenske died quite suddenly in 2003. I shared a scripture at his memorial service from Isaiah 43:19: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Dick caught the vision and saw the “something” that would begin to make things new; newness of mind, newness of heart, newness of life – all that being created by building relationships and walking side by side as people offering dignity and love to each other. And not only did Dick and I sense something new was happening, but others did as well.
We called together the first Board of Directors who became passionate about the vision, and then gathered a group of people who made the first delegation visit in 1989 to UPAVIM. And it continued to move forward under the floundering leadership, new staff, and new delegations.
Sister Parish was new in many senses, though in many ways it was not so new. For through time immemorial, walking in relationship with others, with the earth, with God has been the way to build bridges and create the NEW. Twenty-five years later, we are still making the NEW while building on the former, on those relationships built over many years.
In April of this year I traveled with some of the Sister Parish Board and staff and others on a delegation to El Salvador and Guatemala. I attended with them the Southern Assembly in a town Dick and I first visited right after the community members made the long, dangerous and death defying journey from exile to repatriate in their own country. There was no infrastructure then, and elected leadership in the community was dreaming dreams about their new life. Thousands made the trip back to their homeland of El Salvador – hundreds died in the process. But there they were, all these years later, with an amazing infrastructure, including schools, beautiful spaces of worship, gardens, farms, beauty shops, a newspaper and radio station, restaurants and much more. Their vision prevailed and they had every right to be proud of how they came so far in their dream of wholeness in community and a better life for their families, their children.
At the close of the southern assembly I shared the story of my receiving a typical Salvadoran cross from members of Faith and Hope refugee camp inhabitants. That was back in 1984, and when the cross was placed in my hand by a young girl, the Director of the Camp asked each of us to carry their voices with the cross and tell others how Christ was still being crucified daily in their tiny country. For the 29 years that followed, I most often brought that cross with me as I told the stories that changed my life, and shared about the lives of these very people and how difficult their journey was.
I’d thrown that cross into my suitcase as an afterthought, just as I left on the trip to El Salvador and Guatemala this past April. As I recounted my story to the people with that cross in hand at the southern assembly, and especially to the people from Guarjila, the tears began to flow in the crowd. When I finished my story, the leader of the community, Carlos, said how important it was for them to know that their stories had been shared over all those years, and they knew it was the solidarity, and the accompaniment of their Sister Parish and others that kept giving them the energy and courage to keep moving forward with their dreams for a safe place to live to raise their children, and to worship their God amidst their daily struggle to live in hope and to survive.
Carlos affirmed to me in new and fresh ways what Sister Parish is all about. God made something new in the beginning, God continued the growth, and continues to make things new daily – in their lives, in our lives together in the Christ that gave us the good news of the gospel!
Again from Isaiah: “I am about to do a new thing! Do you not perceive it?” Let’s each in our own ways and on our own faith journeys continue to wait and watch for the NEW, let us keep renewing and making new the things of Sister Parish – and then live in that promise from Revelation 21:5: “Behold I DO make all things new!”
God bless each of your callings and your wanderings, your hard times and your good times, your times of doubt and your times of belief. God will shape them all into something new, if you perceive it to be so.
Have a great celebration, and keep it going for the years ahead!
Con muchos abrazos,
Co-founder, Sister Parish, Inc.