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by Nancy Wiens
I, along with seven fellow travelers, recently participated in the Open Delegation to Guatemala and El Salvador. It was a joyful and educational trip that exposed me to people and experiences that would not have been open to me in any other way. A consistent thread running through this delegation was how people came together to form what I lovingly call “pop-up” communities — generous, kind and loving folks who surrounded us from Day One and who shared their lives and their stories with us wherever we went, throughout the trip. I feel blessed to have experienced these loving encounters.
My memories include…
- Traveling with kind, hopeful and joy-filled fellow delegates.
- Experiencing delicious home-cooked meals and open conversations with the many hosts who took care of us throughout our journey.
- Being ‘in community’ with delegates and Southern representatives and exchanging stories during late-night gab sessions.
- Making music, thanks to Greg and his mandolin and all the strong and vibrant voices of our community.
- Meeting Luis’ parents in Antigua as well as Luis’ activist friend Javier Gramajo, and hearing viewpoints about how two generations have experienced conflict and activism.
- Learning and contributing during small-group planning sessions at the Southern Encounter.
- Touring a variety of Sister Parish communities (Chontala, Guarjila, Tierra Nueva Dos) including the brand-new Sister Parish community of ACOMUJERZA, and witnessing a multitude of projects and initiatives to create better lives for themselves and their children.
- Conducting a 4-station Solidarity Walk at Iximche Mayan ruins (including a Mayan ceremony by Otto), Chontola, Tierra Nueva Dos and Jon Cortina Museum in Guarjila.
- Sharing faith and personal stories at a heartfelt Sunday service led by Pastor Diego at Ruth and Nohemi.
- Learning the history of Radio Sumpul in Guarjila and being on air (interview and songs).
- Bouncing around in the open back of a pick-up truck and swimming with friends in the Sumpul River.
- Celebrating and laughing at an evening picnic and song “throw-down” (English vs. Spanish) up at mirador El Alto near Los Ranchos. What a view, and what a joyful time.
by Tom Pouliot
Nancy Wiens, the chair of the board of Sister Parish, brought a meditation to our fall board meeting in 2015. In the meditation she offered the following quote from Pope Francis:
“When God comes, he always calls us out of our house. We are visited so that we can visit others; we are encountered so as to encounter others; we receive love in order to give love.”
She also brought an article, written July 1, 2015, by Thomas J Eggleston in the Houston Catholic Worker that discussed what Pope Francis meant by a culture of encounter. A lively discussion ensued about how this related to our work and our lives in Sister Parish. At the end, Nancy suggested that we declare The Year of Encounter as the theme for Sister Parish in 2016. In addition, it was agreed that the culminating event for the year would be a Southern Encounter to be hosted in Guatemala.
Invitations went out from the northern board to the Sister Parish community in the United States to join members of the board and representatives from the Sister Parish linkages in Guatemala and El Salvador for the Southern Encounter. Four board members, Nancy Wiens, Mike Spellman, Luis Cuyun and Tom Pouliot, along with staff member David Ericson, joined Karen Hupchick and Greg Huang-Dale (former board member) to form the delegation from the United States.
“Interpersonal encounter in the Christian sense is thus both active and relational—it occurs between two or more persons or between a person and God. An encounter between two people is a graced experience in which one realizes a strange paradox: the seemingly contradictory human situation of the utter connectedness within which we live in solidarity with each other and at the same time the wild otherness which makes us our own beings living in solitude.
As many of us had done with other delegations, we allowed ourselves to enter into the sacred space of encounter. From across many parts of Guatemala, from areas around El Salvador and from various places in the United States, we came together in Guatemala City to start our journey of encounter and walking with each other. And walk we did. Over the course of 10 days we walked in many places, with many people, in many ways.
We walked the first day with Javier who was instrumental in peaceful protests in Guatemala City that helped bring down president Otto Perez Molina in 2015. Javier shared the philosophies, the solidarity, and the spirit hopefulness that brought so many people together.
The second day, on our way to Chichicastenango and Chontalá, we stopped at the archaeological site Iximchē, where we walked with the spirits of people who walked the space for hundreds of years. Here Don Otto performed ceremony calling on the ancestors to bring health to our encounter. In this sacred place we spent time in ice breakers getting to know the people we would be spending the next days with in meetings, in prayer, at meals and in informal times.
We were welcomed at our home for a few days, Ruth y Nohemi by Pastor Diego, where we were fed and where we heard a brief history about the area. Using Ruth y Nohemi as a base, we travelled the short distance to Chontalá where we were again welcomed with introductions, with dance and song, and with food. Our walk in solidarity took us through the streets of Chontalá as we sang songs and read passages describing the joys of encounter and solidarity.
In Chontalá we also conducted the business portion of our encounter. The business of Sister Parish is to come to know each other, so while we talked some, most of us listened as we discussed the joys of Sister Parish as well as the risks and challenges involved in maintaining a healthy organization.
Informal times of the encounter were every bit as important as the more formal times. In those less formal times we worked to break down the barriers of language and culture. There were times of intense joy and times of intense pain as we talked, laughed and shared our lives.
While in Guatemala we were blessed to walk the streets of Tierra Nueva 1 & 2, and to meet the people and hear the history of those communities. We shared a wonderful meal together, sang songs and felt yet another encounter with the sacred.
Our time in Guatemala was relatively short, but the connections that were made through this encounter were life changing. These “graced experiences” allowed us to strengthen interpersonal relationships as well as the corporate relationships to the Sister Parish organization. We are blessed with committed people who will travel hours in busses to join together in this blessed encounter.
From Guatemala, the group from the United States, together with Clementina from Tierra Nueva 2, and staff members Brian Tyler (Guatemala) and Julieta Borja (El Salvador) next set off to Guarjila, El Salvador.
In Guarjila we walked through the community learning the reality of El Salvador and of Guarjila. We saw and heard the pride of new projects and of projects that have been an important part of the region for many years. Most importantly, we lived in the homes of people we came to know better and now call friends.
There were more meetings in Guarjila – more times to listen to the voices calling us to deep encounter. At the same time, there were those moments of deep spiritual calling as we toured the museum in memory of Father Jon Cortina, and there were moments of laughter and joy as we shared food, sang and played games at El Alto.
This picture of the Southern Encounter is not meant to be a travelogue or a recitation of every detail, but rather to give some feeling of what it was like to step out away from home and take a chance to be open to the living spirit. If you have been on a Sister Parish delegation at some time then you probably know the feelings of love, joy, pain and hope that was in this encounter.
Many things from this encounter, this solidarity walk of 10 days, will stay in my heart as long as I live. I will hold within me the joys and pains discussed late into the night. I will hear the musical background of Greg playing his mandolin throughout the trip. I will relive the moments of walking through Guatemala and El Salvador with people I had never met but now call beloved friends.
In the Eggleston article on encounter he says:
“The Culture of Encounter places value on mystery. To see the world through the lens of encounter is to realize the presence of God all around us and that we are connected to each other through ties both visible and invisible…The Culture of Encounter moves us to walk the journey of our lives tenderly holding each other’s hands knowing all the while that it is Christ who is our veiled and shining companion.”
This is the essence of the Southern Encounter every bit as much as it is the essence of Sister Parish.
From Christ Episcopal Church Sister Parish Commitee:
Here are some pictures of our solidarity labyrinth walk. As we walk the labyrinth towards the center, we are reminded of our search for God. As we walk back out from the center, we are reminded to bring God into our world. Don’t you agree that this is a powerful symbol of how to live our lives? Blessings and peace to all of you!
Every January at Trinity Episcopal Church (Newtown, CT) each committee contributes a summary of the previous year’s activities to the Church’s Annual Report. This summary of our first south-to-north delegation from San José La Montaña, in the department of Chalatenango, El Salvador, appeared in abbreviated form in our most recent report.
Companion Parish’s biggest project in 2016 was to bring a delegation from San José La Montaña to share with us in worship and cultural exchange. This South-to-North visit was one of our goals from the time we began this relationship at the end of 2013, and was the culmination of three years of work. We are particularly gratified that we were able to bring them because they never got the chance to travel north when they were paired with a previous church. Honoring this commitment that we made to them during our first visit to El Salvador in the spring of 2014 was a great joy.
We learned a great deal from the delegates, but the process of arranging the delegations was an education in itself. Arranging visas for the delegates required much work throughout 2016, especially coordinating letters of invitation not just from Trinity but also from Pat Llodra of the Board of Selectmen in Newtown and Senator Blumenthal’s office in Hartford. The committee invited six delegates to apply for visas but the US Embassy rejected 5 of the 6 applicants, 4 of them without explanation. Two other members of San José La Montaña’s Sister Parish committee already had visas for their family to travel and thus could fill out the delegation. So in the end we could welcome three residents of San José La Montaña plus an employee of Sister Parish, Inc., who accompanied the delegation as a translator and guide.
The delegation took place over the last 10 days of October, and activities included worship with us on two Sundays, a meeting with our Outreach Commission to compare the ministries that our two churches have undertaken, and consultation with Pastor Kathie on the place of women in the Episcopal church. They participated in one of Adult Formation’s Basics of the Faith classes to discuss with the rest of the class the question, “What is God Calling You to Do?” They shared a primer on our labyrinth and its use, after which all participants walked the labyrinth, meeting in the center to pray together. They participated in the Chapel On The Green service with the homeless in New Haven, after which they distributed food and socks. The delegates also enjoyed seeing the youth’s Great Pumpkin Challenge Halloween fundraiser for local youth to attend camp. The discussions taking place during and around those chances to worship, study, reflect, and serve gave both guests and hosts a better understanding of the formal structure and priorities of each other’s churches and helped strengthen our relationship by emphasizing its foundation in walking the path of faith together.
Delegates had also expressed an interest in meetings with social service agencies and politicians in the Danbury area. They particularly enjoyed a presentation by the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury about domestic violence, a topic which two of the delegates have worked on in El Salvador. They also visited the Danbury office of Family and Children’s Aid. They talked about local issues with Pat Llodra of Newtown, and a candidate running to represent Danbury in the state legislature.
Delegates also enjoyed a number of formal and informal cultural activities, hiking in Litchfield County, touring Manhattan, visiting the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, and a barbecue dinner and social gathering at Sue Roman’s house that many parishioners attended. The delegates also received a visit from professor José Gonzalez, a literature professor from the US Coast Guard Academy whose family emigrated from El Salvador to the US when he was a child. They discussed his family’s experience in both countries and their lives in contemporary in San José La Montaña. Dr. Gonzalez presented a book of his poetry and the delegates presented a book telling the stories of women from their region of El Salvador. Two members of the delegation had worked on that book.
San José is very committed to education and youth development, and the delegates, one of whom is a school principal, enjoyed the chance to compare their education system with ours. They visited Newtown High School, where Michelle Toby arranged for them to talk with some classes; the newly rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary School, where principal Tim Napolitano led a tour; and Trinity’s church school classes, where the children eagerly told them what is on their minds these days.
On the final evening of the visit, we sat together over dinner and discussed how we would like our relationship to proceed in the coming year. We agreed that it should include more frequent communication, even though the internet connection in San José is not always reliable, especially during their rainy season (roughly our winter months). We have since established a group texting circle so that members of both communities can easily and quickly exchange greetings, share news, and make prayer requests. Sister Parish established a closed Facebook group for much the same purpose, and we would like to expand that so that more of the both communities can remain in touch with each other.
We also started to discuss the idea of taking on a joint project to help the youth of San José La Montaña by establishing a scholarship program to help students who make it as far as university to pay their bills. That discussion will continue in 2017.
The Companion Parish committee would like to thank everyone who helped make the delegation a success by hosting our guests in their homes, presenting or facilitating discussions, visiting with them at various activities, and generally opening our community and our hearts to them. And we would like to invite all interested parishioners to continue to stay in touch with the people of San José La Montaña through letter writing, Bible study, and other shared activities that our two committees are collaborating on for the coming year.
Tierra Nueva I Delegation to West Fargo, North Dakota – Dec 1-8, 2016
by Peggy Bernard
We welcomed Brian Tyler, Aura Lemus Lorenzana, Aura Esquivel Gomez and Cynthia Trujillo Waight de Rodriguez to West Fargo/Fargo, North Dakota on December 1, 2016. We met them at Hector International Airport in Fargo at 9:30pm. We brought them to Faith Lutheran Church to meet their host families and to visit about their day. They thought it was VERY cold here. The wind was bad and the temps were around 30 degrees F. It continued to get much colder throughout the week they were here.
We were busy every day they were here, of course! Each woman stayed in a different host home, where the hosts couldn’t speak Spanish and the women don’t speak English. It was challenging at times, but we made it through. They visited the state capital in Bismarck, ND and had to drive home in a “white out” blizzard. The roads were closing right behind them, but God got them back to Fargo safely!
They visited a couple museums, attended a Christmas concert with 750 college students in the choir, went Curling (ask Cynthia and Aura Esquivel about that), met the people that wrote letters for them to the embassy so they could get their Visa’s, and went to Bonanzaville (an historic city) where they rode in a sleigh pulled by Belgian horses, saw some old homes and an old school house. We traveled to Casselton to RDO to see the huge farm equipment we use here and then to the Fire hall to play on the Firetrucks and have supper and a meeting.
We also took them to Churches United, a place for the homeless. We got a tour of the facility and learned how the homeless are cared for in our COLD weather. They provide small apartments for families and single men and women. We served about 50 people their noon meal and ate with them. It was a wonderful experience.
Danilo Martinez-Rivera took us to NDSU (college) where he works as an agronomist and gave us a tour of how they test seeds that the farmers plant in our area. He also told us his story of how he came to the United States from El Salvador.
All in all we had a very nice week. We were all exhausted (well, speaking for myself anyway)!! I am anxious to see my friends again soon!
Del 27 de septiembre al 6 de octubre, tres personas de San Antonio Los Ranchos visitaron su hermanamiento, la Primera Iglesia Luterana de Duluth. Marcela Murcia compartió estas palabras con la congregación de Duluth. Ver más fotos de la delegación.
Démosle gracias a Dios por todos los días, por los tantos beneficios que recibimos de Él, especialmente la solidaridad que nos brindan los hermanos de la iglesia Luterana de Duluth, por permitirnos nosotras venir aquí con los gastos pagados a compartir y conocer experiencias y también a los que compartieron su casa con nosotras.
También darle la gracias a Dios por todos los momentos difíciles que hemos pasado porque al recordarlos vemos la presencia de Dios en cada uno de ellos, cuando nos han abatido los problemas, las enfermedades, la pobreza absoluta, las tentaciones, la guerra que sufrimos, Dios ha estado siempre con nosotros. Al correr el tiempo a lo largo de los años, estos momentos difíciles nos parece que fue un sueño, porque al ver tantos logros alcanzados, podemos decir que con alegría que Dios ha estado grande con nosotros.
En la vida de una persona para que se llame vida tiene que tener muchos ingredientes, pues si no, no se le puede llamar vida. Estos son algunos de los ingredientes: enfermedades, desesperaciones, dudas, cansancio, trabajo, desprecios. En fin, muchas cosas, que a veces pensamos que son negativas, pero tienen que pasar. Pero también pasan muchas cosas bonitas como: salud, trabajo, alimentos, alegría, la familia, amistad, paciencia, fortaleza, cariño, solidaridad y sobre todo mucho amor.
From September 27-October 6, 2016, three women from San Antonio Los Ranchos, El Salvador traveled to visit their partner church First Lutheran Church in Duluth. Marcela Murcía shared these words during the worship service. See more photos on our Flickr site.
Let us give thanks to God for each day, for all of the gifts we receive from God, especially the solidarity that our brothers and sisters at First Lutheran in Duluth have shown us, for making it possible for us to come here expenses paid and spend time with you and have new experiences, and we also thank those who shared their homes with us.
We also give thanks to God for all of the difficult moments we have gone through because when we look back on them we see the presence of God in each one, when our problems have defeated us, sickness, absolute poverty, temptation, the suffering of the war; God has always been with us. As time goes on, years later, these difficult moments seem like a dream to us, because when we see all the achievements we have reached, we can say with joy that God has been great to us.
In the life of a person, for it to be called a life, there have to be many ingredients. If not, then it cannot be called life. These are some of the ingredients: sickness, hopelessness, doubts, exhaustion, work, disrespect. In the end, many things that we think of as negative, but these things have to happen. But there are also many wonderful things that happen like: health, work, food, joy, family, friendship, patience, strength, affection, solidarity, and above all, a lot of love.
by Mike Spellman
In a world that seems to be spinning out of control with so many people engaging in ethnic, cultural, religious or national hatreds, one special group is doing what it can to engage in the active pursuit of peace, love, justice, and respect for others. That’s Sister Parish.
I serve on the Sister Parish Board of Directors because their program of two-way international travel to Central America brings me into direct contact with people whose lives I could otherwise never have imagined. I’ve discovered that more can be accomplished over a Guatemalan farmer’s kitchen table than around the negotiating table.
When the privileged and the oppressed walk side by side in solidarity, both are enlightened and empowered. Differences evaporate. Solutions are discovered. And friendship and love triumph. I’m glad that in my own small way, through service on the Sister Parish Board, I’ve been able to slow the spinning just enough to matter.
Sister Parish is looking for new people to join our wonderful Board of Directors team. If you are interested or can recommend someone in your community, please contact Carrie Stengel for more information.
Originally published in the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi bulletin.
As part of our “Summer of Mission and Mercy,” five parishioners took time out of their summer last month to journey to Guatemala to bring good tidings to our “sister parish” in a remote village called Las Margaritas II. This special linkage was formed with the village in 1993 and since then, representatives of our parish have been traveling there to live, work, pray, and play with this community. Although the purpose of our relationship with Las Margaritas II is not to provide relief but to open our minds and transform our hearts through the experience of cultural immersion and solidarity, this particular visit by parishioners Liz and Ayden Mosler, Jim Mong, Drew Begin, and Kyle Solomon also offered opportunities to work on the building project of a new village Catholic church. It’s very difficult to convey in words and images the transformation that happens when we move out of our comfort zones and meet another “brother” and “sister” in faith, but the following reflections capture some of this.
This experience was beyond anything that I could have imagined and the fact that I was able to share it with my son Ayden makes it even more meaningful. This was a journey like no other I’ve been on before. We spent countless hours together building the church, making tortillas, carrying water, preparing meals, playing games with the children, tie-dying shirts & bandanas, playing soccer, shucking and grinding corn, laughing, crying, sharing stories and worshiping. Although we live in two very different worlds, we are all God’s children and we all have the same basic needs and desires. This trip helped me to understand that on a deeper level.
This trip was fantastic! The people of Las Margaritas II are probably the most content and loving people I have ever met, and throughout the trip, we all had at least 2 children hanging out with us. My favorite part in the village was just hanging out with my host family, who were so giving and wonderful. This trip was the best, and I think that all teens should do something like this. It really opens your eyes.
I have recently returned from my fourth visit to our sister parish. Each time I grow ever closer to my Guatemalan family. Their struggle has become my struggle. They continue to rise above the fray of our material world that has bound me for so long. They have taught me that God and family is all we really need for happiness and fulfillment. I am forever grateful.
The trip was an amazing experience for me. It was my first time out of the country and it was absolutely life-changing. The sights we saw were breathtaking, but more importantly the people were all so loving.When we arrived in Las Margaritas II, I immediately felt as if I was meant to be there.
Ricardo Choc from Las Margaritas II
When they came here to visit us it was such a pleasure. So much time had passed since the last visit and they were not able to come for awhile. But the time came and we were reunited. It was one of the best delegations we have had together. Playing soccer together, the trip to the Laguna Lachua nature reserve, and when they helped us with the construction, the whole community was able to share with our brothers and sisters. Thanks to our brothers and sisters for the donation they gave to the construction project as well. We will always have them in our hearts and minds and we await the next time we are able to share with them the joy of our partnership.
Last summer, we hosted a delegation from our Sister Parish in Tierra Nueva II in Guatemala. We spend ten days together sharing our journey of faith and friendship, and one of our days together always includes the celebration of mass at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis. This incredible service integrates elements of Native American spirituality and ritual, and our delegates – many of whom are indigenous people themselves – are very moved by it.
Recently, one of our delegates – Maria – sent some notes and gifts to her host families and others at SJA, and a gift to Deacon Joe at Gichitwaa Kateri. It had been clear when we were there that María, a woman with indigenous roots herself, felt a connection with the people of Gichitwaa Kateri.
I decided to catch Deacon Joe after mass to deliver his gift. I arrived as mass was being celebrated, so I lurked out in the hallway so as not to disturb anyone. Having only visited the church twice before, I did not feel familiar enough with the Ojibwe language or rituals of the mass to participate. But lurking in the hall as an outsider did not last. The people of Gichitwaa Kateri are so welcoming that I was greeted with the water blessing, communion and tobacco ritual right out in the hallway! An elderly parish member came out to offer me a sign of peace, a hug, and to hook her elbow with mine to lead me into the sacred space of her church. She cleared a spot for me to sit with her and the other elderly women of the church. She shared her hymnal with me and encouraged me to sing with her, in Ojibwe! When she complimented me on the beautiful Guatemalan cloth I carried, I told her it was a gift from Maria in Guatemala. She immediately insisted that I present the gift to the entire parish at the end of mass and flagged down Father Mike Tegeder. I did my best to convey María’s heartfelt message:
For: the Lakota church of Minneapolis Minnesota,
From: Maria Eufemia Contreras Alvarez
My brother, continue professing the faith in the living God that loves every living thing and that created us for love and that cares for each of us. Blessings and greetings to all. God bless you and guard you always and the same for all around you.
The whole room of parishioners was overwhelmed with gratitude and love. The gift of the cloth was draped over the pulpit (see picture). I was embraced by the parish with hugs and thanks, and I left feeling like María’s act of kindness, all the way from Guatemala, had helped bring me closer to my own neighbors and brothers and sisters right here in Minneapolis. Our Sister Parish relationship changes so many people, in so many unexpected ways – bringing us all closer together in the love of God and one another.