Our Blog

This blog is a place for our staff, members and supporters to share news and reflections about Sister Parish.  You can sign up for our e-news to receive updates or contact us to submit a piece of your own.  See blog archives.

Blog en español.

Posted in Español, General

Fryeburg Academy visits Guatemala with Sister Parish

From May 24-June 2, a group of 8 students and 2 teachers from Fryeburg Academy visited Guatemala with Sister Parish.  Long-time Sister Parish member and former Board member Greg Huang-Dale facilitated the connection and participated in the delegation.

The students had the opportunity to learn from long-time Sister Parish members like Otto and Basilia from San Andres Itzapa, UPAVIM, and two youth groups from Tierra Nueva II.

We are so grateful to everyone who participated in making this delegation such a powerful experience.  We hope to see Fryeburg Academy again in the near future.

Youth exchange with Tierra Nueva II.

Learning new games, like the dragon game pictured here, during the youth exchange with Tierra Nueva II.

Visit to Iximche Mayan historical and archaeological site.

Meeting up with Sister Parish members at Iximche.

Visit to the National Police Archives.

Learning about nahuales at the Pop Wuj art gallery.

Visit to the Pop Wuj art gallery in Chichicastenango.

Learning about permaculture alternatives with the Campesino Committee of the Highlands.

Visit with UPAVIM school and craft area.

Hiking the Pacaya volcano.

Riding horses on Pacaya volcano hike.

Visit with Ruth and Naomi Cooperative in Chichicastenango.

Learning about natural dying techniques from a cooperative in San Juan la Laguna.

On the way to do volunteer work with Mayan Families.

Posted in Delegations, Guatemala, North to South | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Would you consider spending some time to be energized and changed by this organization (again)?

On joining the Sister Parish Board of Directors
By Tom Pouliot

As I write this, the Sister Parish board of directors is meeting in Minneapolis. This is the first meeting in four years that I have not attended. It is a bitter sweet time for me thinking about all that is going on right now. I have come to respect and admire the people who serve on the board, and I’ve also come to love and cherish those communities that are a part of Sister Parish. I have also come to realize what a privilege and responsibility it is to be part of a group that oversees this amazing organization.

My journey with Sister Parish started in 2000 when members of my church community, Wallingford United Methodist Church (WUMC) in Seattle, invited me to go on the first delegation to Guarjila, El Salvador. It was for me, as it is for many, a life changing experience.

Soon after our April 2000 delegation, the board of directors contacted WUMC and asked us to host their fall meeting. We were blessed to have 12 people come to our community to do the work of Sister Parish. During that time we shared meals, had amazing conversations, worshiped together, and watched the work of Sister Parish being done.

Tom with hosts in partner community Guarjila on one of the early delegations.

Soon after that board meeting I was asked to consider joining the board. As my life was already pretty full with work, other volunteer commitments and raising a family, I said no thank you. It wasn’t a knee-jerk answer; it took a lot of thought and prayer. Perhaps you’ve been there before – where adding one more commitment to your already full plate does not make sense.

Sister Parish had a northern advisory board (NAB) in my early years with the organization. I flew around the country and met with folks from the various communities involved in Sister Parish. Those were wonderful meetings and the people I met in those gatherings are still friends. The board of directors would often be meeting at the same time as those NAB meetings and I would have a chance to visit with board members. The question of my joining the board would often come up and it just didn’t ever seem to be the right time.

In 2013 I was approached about board membership again. I had just finished three years of full-time work and full-time college, my son was through with his own college studies and life had calmed down to a manageable frenzy. This time the answer that came out was “yes,” I will join the board for the three years that was asked of me. That yes, like the one in 2000 that started me on the Sister Parish road, has made a huge difference in my life.
Being on the board of Sister Parish exposed me to the great heart of the organization while at the same time allowing me to participate in the business of Sister Parish. There are so many good people who have served and are serving on the board. I owe them a huge thank you for their stewardship and commitment. At the same time, I thank God for the privilege of being able to meet, live with, share bread with and worship with so many people involved in Sister Parish.

My first board meeting was a phone conference and I felt a little lost. To tell the truth, it was hard to make a connection with these disembodied voices on the call. That soon changed. In April of 2013 First United Methodist Church of Downers Grove (FUMCDG) in Illinois agreed to host the board. I was excited to meet up with other board members as well as to meet the good people of FUMCDG. While much of our time was spent on budgets and other business of Sister Parish, we also had the opportunity to be with our host families, attend an all-church potluck and worship with FUMCDG. It was an amazing time that solidified my decision to be a part of the Sister Parish board.

Tom with members of the board and the FUMC in Decorah during the April 2017 Board meeting.

Since that first meeting in Downers Grove, I’ve had the honor of being at board meetings hosted by Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, CT; First Lutheran Church in Duluth, MN; Danville Congregational Church in Danville, CA; Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo, ND; and First United Methodist Church in Decorah, IA. Each one holds special memories for me and I treasure the time spent with amazing people at meals, at play and at worship.

Each board meeting we Skype with folks in Guatemala and El Salvador. My love for the staff and volunteers in the south has grown with each conversation we’ve had. The blessings I’ve received by being on the board extended south when I traveled to the Southern Encounter in the fall of 2016. Meeting with Sister Parish staff and representatives from all of the southern communities in Guatemala and El Salvador was another life changing experience that continues to live in my heart and gives me hope.

Sister Parish Open Delegation, with members from El Salvador, Guatemala and the U.S., visits the Mayan archaeological and sacred site Iximche.

I ended up spending an extra year on the board of Sister Parish. It was not a burden because of the amazing people I worked with on the board. Because of my time on the board of Sister Parish I’ve come to see what an honor and privilege it is to serve. I’ve also come to see how important it is to have someone representing our church community on the board and was excited to introduce another member of WUMC to the board.

You may have been asked to be on the board of Sister Parish at some time. You may have been wondering if you could or should be a part of the board. I know many of you are crazy busy with life and all that it entails. The truth is, that that craziness is probably not that much different than those serving on the board now. Board members are parents of young children, serve on other boards, volunteer at other organizations, have jobs and work as activists for various causes. I will not tell you board membership is a trivial commitment, but I will tell you that my experience is that the benefits outweigh any burdens.

Sister Parish needs board members to continue the great work that has been done over all these years. I ask you to look around your own Sister Parish church community. Does your group have representation on the board? Would you consider spending some time to be energized and changed by this organization (again)? Certainly your experience may be different, but I would suggest that the cost of time on the board is returned in a multitude of ways.

Posted in United States | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating 30 years – Marshmallow challenges, strategic planning and potluck fun

 – by Nancy Wiens, Sister Parish board of directors (May 11, 2018)

Marshmallow Challenge, anyone?  Building a structurally-sound tower out of spaghetti, marshmallows and tape was the first order of business during a team-building exercise at the board’s April two-day meeting in Minneapolis, MN.  By attempting experimental build techniques, observing successes (and failures!) and then using our learning to make refinements, we created innovative Eiffel-tower-like structures.







Throughout the meeting we applied that same spirit of “create>refine>improve” as we assessed challenges and explored strategies and actions that will guide Sister Parish into the future. The board’s role is to support the Executive Director and staff in leading the organization; assessing and upholding our mission and vision; and discussing topics around our organization’s well-being and growth.

The meeting was hosted by Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Community, which enjoys a 24-year hermanamiento with Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Tierra Nueva Dos, Guatemala. The SJA community provided meeting space, host families, childcare facilities for meeting attendees’ babies, meals, fellowship, worship and prayer.

The well-attended potluck gathering on Saturday night attracted local Sister Parish friends as well as those from Sister Parish communities in Rochester, Decorah and West Fargo.  We heard updates from former board members and moving stories about the long-term impact of Sister Parish from co-founder Vicki Schmidt.

This was a meeting at which it felt like the past, present and future came together.  As we discussed how the mission and vision of the Sister Parish organization continue to sustain us and carry us forward, the nearby babies were a visible reminder of our future. We were also able to benefit from the words and stories of former and current board members and delegates as well as co-founder Vicki, who reminded us that the need for and benefits of Sister Parish are the same today as they were 30 years ago.

I, along with the entire board, extend an open hand and warm invitation to anyone who may be interested in serving on the board of directors of Sister Parish.  We are currently looking for people to join us and support our mission of connecting communities across borders. If you want to learn more about this opportunity, contact Carrie at ed@sisterparish.org.



Posted in United States | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The joy of connecting: San Andres Itzapa visits Christ Church

This post was written by members of Christ Episcopal Church in Blacksburg, Virginia, for publication in their church newsletter to share the delegation with the wider congregation and invite more people to join Sister Parish.

A great big thank you to everyone that made this delegation possible! Thanks to the members of this congregation that participated in welcoming our guests to Blacksburg in so many ways. Our guests enjoyed meeting, praying and celebrating with so many of you at worship, forum and the delightful Sunday fiesta. Thanks to those that said “Yes” to hosting delegates as overnight guests in their homes, offering amazing hospitality. Thank you to those who hosted evening meals and fellowship for the delegation. Thanks to those that allowed us to visit their farms and show off the agriculture of our area.

Preparation began over a year before our delegation traveled to Blacksburg. An invitation was sent to our sister parish, identifying dates and number of guests we were prepared to host. The committee San Andres Itzapa needed to identify travelers. We needed to raise sufficient funds in addition to our annual scholarship funds and linkage fees. The fund raising included money from the Outreach committee’s grant process and other activities during that year. Letters of support needed to be requested. Thank to Elizabeth Malbon for organizing this! We sent letters from our Rector Scott West, as well as from Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, Representative Griffith, Mayor Hager-Smith and Virginia delegate Chris Hurst to the US Embassy as part of the Visa application process.

Abbreviated agenda follows, each day included reflection time with Sister Parish guide, Brian Tyler.

Wednesday- arrive Washington, DC, pick up at airport (thanks to our van driver John Perry), transport to lodging at Epiphany mission center

Thursday- Tour of National Cathedral with Latino Missioner, Rev. Sara Beth Goodwin and docent, Dora Currea, followed by visit to National Museum of the American Indian.

Friday- Drive to Blacksburg with stops for lunch and at the Roanoke Star. Arrive at Christ Church for welcome by Rector Scott West and Vice Mayor Susan Anderson. Meet and go home with their host families (and translators for 1st night) Hosts: Ini & Bob Beckman (Libby Calvera), Peggy Layne& Ed Champion, Helen McCarty & Stephen Eubank (Lynn Talbot) *North-South delegation member Lissa Grunert comes home to Blacksburg from Colorado!

Saturday- “Farm Day” visit and enjoy the hospitality of Phil& Torsten Sponenberg’ goat farm, Bill Sembello & Irene Lamb’s 3 Birds Berry Farm, Native at VT Indigenous Garden(Mae Hay & Sam Cook) Evening meal and hospitality at Carrie & Gary Kirk’s home

Sunday- 9:30 Forum presented by delegates from San Andres Itzapa & Christ Church Sister Parish Committee members past and present, 10:30 Eucharist including use of some gifts from SanAndresItzapa, 12- All parish potluck with music by Kat Mills and dance provided by delegates 2pm International street fair , Evening meal and hospitality at home of Kimberley Homer

Monday/ Tuesday- day and overnight stay at Phoebe Needles center includes hike, bilingual prayer (thanks Sharon), reflection and conversation about future of our Sister Parish relationship (guided by Brian Tyler). Amazing camp food organized by Sharon Harrell. Closing prayers at St. Peter’s Callaway. Visit to the Valley Interfaith Child Care Center (thanks to Jeanne Roper) and Blacksburg Public Library Evening meal, reflections, memories of past delegations at home of Dave and Jeanne Roper.

Wednesday/Thursday- Tour of church and ringing of bell with Rev Scott West. Delicious Spring fling luncheon (thanks to Judy Kirwan and Carol Fox for extending the invitation for this final blessing!) Drive back to DC and stay at Epiphany Mission Center overnight. Up and out by 5am for early Thursday flight.

Reflections on this delegation were very positive; this one is from Ini and Bob Beckman:
“The wonderful memory of seeing a Guatemalan couple step out of the car that dropped them off at our home I will never forget! … It was like a picture out of a picture book.  And we were responsible for the earthly needs of these two people for the few days they were our guest. And more than earthly needs alone. They enjoyed every plate of food that was set before them. They also heartily ate the breakfasts and the evening snacks. He had fire in his eyes which twinkled. Even his hands took the words from his mouth and his heart and presented them to the world. The second morning at breakfast time she stood up spontaneously and asked if she could say the blessing. It became a long blessing…! It was said in Spanish of course, which neither Bob or I understand. The connectedness we felt was straightforward and brought me joy: we are all children of the One Heavenly Father. Twice at night we made a fire. We drank a small glass of kefir that especially Otto enjoyed very much. He cleaned it out with his finger– something I would do, too–.Husband Bob’s few Spanish words which he had picked up over fifty years ago in Mexico saved the day, and toward the end of the five days made a simple conversation possible. Thank you, Otto and Basilia, for a lovely time of friendship!”

Please consider joining in this exciting ministry. We will be looking for members of the congregation to write letters to our sister parish, to act as prayer partners and to add their energy to this committee.

Posted in Delegations, South to North, United States | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

First Lutheran Church in Duluth hosts immigration forum

In April, the First Lutheran Church in Duluth, linked with the community of San Antonio Los Ranchos in El Salvador for 20 years, organized a forum on immigration.

That day, the pastor’s sermon related to the passage, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”.

At the forum, the group reflected on Bible verses related to the theme of welcoming the stranger.  The group heard from Danilo Martinez, who had been invited to speak and share his story of immigrating from Central America, as well as his current knowledge about the factors influencing migration from Central America today.  The group closed with time for questions and comments from the audience.

First Lutheran’s partner community in El Salvador, founded by returning refugees near the end of the war, has been heavily impacted by migration in the past few decades.

Posted in Education and Advocacy, United States | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

St Joan of Arc participates in vigil and calls for action on immigration

The article below about the vigil was originally posted on St Joan of Arc’s site. In addition to participating in the monthly vigils St Joan of Arc has also participated in calls to action regarding the recent policies to forcibly separate families at the border.

On June 12, approximately 80 people gathered at the Whipple Federal Building for the monthly vigil by the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration. Together, we prayed for those who are trapped in our broken immigration and detention systems.

Detainees are brought to this building for immigration court, and many of them are removed in shackles, placed in a van, and taken to the airport about 5 minutes away to be deported. The stories we continue to hear – from families who are separated from one another; from a local business owner who has been in this country for decades, but is undocumented and is now separated from his citizen children; from people of faith who are heartbroken at what is being done in our name – it is all a tragedy, and it is a bizarre and cruel substitute for a lack of a comprehensive immigration policy.

Thanks to all who were there (especially choir members who came and sang their hearts out at 7:30 in the morning, and members of our Welcome the Stranger ministry, whose leadership and witness stories are so powerful). Your presence and your prayers are a gift of solidarity in this perilous time.

We pray for all those who are suffering, and for those who stand with the immigrants, the refugee and the asylee. We pray for all who work for needed change. We pray for our leaders and for those who work in the Whipple Building, that their hearts may be softened and their humanity may prevail. We pray for our loved ones in Tierra Nueva Dos and all those around the world whose lives have been so brutalized by our nation’s trade and immigration policies. And we pray for those who gathered this morning, that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be God’s love, mercy and compassion to our weary world.


Posted in Education and Advocacy, General, United States | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

St. Thomas Lutheran Church visits Chichipate

We were thrilled to accompany St. Thomas Lutheran Church on their visit to Chichipate in eastern Guatemala March 10-18.  The delegation was a powerful time to reconnect and spend time together in a truly beautiful place. Thank you to all who made the delegation possible!

A visit to Lake Izabal.

Enjoying time at Lake Izabal together.

Learning about beekeeping.

Learning about beekeeping.

Participating in a Mayan ceremony with the Chichipate community.

Visiting schools in the area.

Learning how to make tortillas.

Still learning how to make tortillas.

Posted in Delegations, Guatemala, North to South | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Week traditions – annual sawdust carpets

Inspired by the beautiful sawdust carpets made in Guatemala during Lent, numerous communities in the North make an annual carpet for Easter.

The church in Fryeburg, Maine makes the carpet inside the fellowship hall on Palm Sunday and members walk through it on Easter.

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community braved winter weather this year to make their annual carpet with the theme, “Heart of flesh”.

Posted in United States | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘Cada experiencia fue nueva para nosotros’ – delegados de Tierra Nueva II comparten sus experiencias


Entrevista con Pedro Uz y Olga Alegria
Delegados en la delegación a St. Joan of Arc en Minneapolis, Minnesota
9 al 19 de febrero de 2018

Entrevista por Carrie Stengel

¿Qué les gustó?
Olga: Me gustó todo. Llevo todo en mi mente, lo que vivimos allí. Cada parte que recorrí, tengo en mi memoria. Nunca se me va a olvidar, porque nunca lo volveremos a vivir.

Pedro: me gustó todo, desde la bienvenida. Aquí a veces nos olvidamos de abrazarnos, pero allí nos abrazaron. Me gustó su amor. Nunca olvidaré esto. Una hermana me dijo, “mi español no es muy bueno”, pero solo con su risa, lo pasamos bien juntos. Todo fue excelente con las familias y los hermanos allí.

Cada experiencia fue nueva para nosotros. La misa, por ejemplo, nunca había visto una misa así. Cada momento, cada detalle, lo tengo en mi memoria. No tengo más palabras, solo gracias.

Pedro y Olga conocen a su familia hospedadora para el primer fin de semana.

¿Qué actividades fueron las más impactantes?
Pedro: La actividad de Panes y Pescados Móviles fue muy impactante. Fuimos a distribuir comida a personas necesitadas. A veces uno piensa que todos tienen trabajo alla. No sabemos cómo viven las personas.  No hay dólares. Hay un Sueño Americano. Pero no todo es color de rosa. Sin trabajo, allí uno se queda perdido.

Olga: Para mí, me impacta ver cómo toman el tiempo de llevar chocolate a la gente en la calle en este gran frío (con Panes y Pescados Móviles). Dan su tiempo para coordinar y organizar todo y luego repartir la comida. Es difícil para mí dar tiempo.

Preparando para repartir comida con Panes y Pescados Moviles.

Pedro: La misa indígena también fue muy impactante. Me recordó de mi cultura. A veces me olvido de dónde soy.  Me recordó de dónde soy, quién soy.

La otra cosa bonita es que ahora con Olga, nos conocemos mejor. Nuestra amistad es más fuerte Es muy bonito.

Olga, Pedro y miembros de Sta. Juana de Arco y de Gichitwaa Kateri.

Olga: Y trajimos algo de allí, de los niños de NAZ (Northside Achievement Zone, una organización que trabaja con familias de bajos ingresos para que sus hijos salgan adelante en la escuela). Lo expusimos con los becados en nuestra comunidad. Les dijimos a los jóvenes que tienen que seguir estudiando, que tienen que ser alguien en esta vida. Los papas de los becados estuvieron de acuerdo con nosotros. La educación es importante para seguir luchando, para llegar a la universidad, para ser personas. Traje un poco de todo.

La presentacion con NAZ en el norte de Minneapolis.

¿Qué aprendieron durante la delegación?
Pedro: Aprendí de las palabras de mi familia hospedadora: “Muchas veces nos acoplamos al trabajo, y no vemos las personas alrededor, si están bien, si necesitan algo”. Y los hermanos con sus sonrisas, el carino, no piensan solo en ellos mismos. Me encierro mucho en mi trabajo. No veo a mis compañeros.  Me cuesta escuchar. Me quedé con esto. Cuando llegué, descansé un poco.  Ahora me abro más.

Olga: Lo que vi en Sta Juana, lo tengo en mi mente. Aprendí que hay muchas personas de diferentes culturas, personas de diferentes religiones, que se respetan.  Qué bonito si todas las personas fueran así. Nuestra ciudad sería diferente.

También aprendí a apreciar más a mi familia porque la extrañaba mucho.

Aprendí que a veces nos encerramos en la iglesia y hablamos de Dios, pero no vemos un Dios en nuestros hermanos.  Me impresiono que luchen por los demás. Aprendí que ver a la otra persona es importante para entender sus necesidades. Tal vez no me di cuenta de los demás, ni de mis vecinos. Hoy veo a mis vecinos y las personas necesitadas. Lo que aprendí es no ignorar esto.

Pedro: Todo fue excelente. Para cada programa, hubo un reflexión después. Cada programa tenía una pequeña enseñanza.

Retiro con miembros de Sta. Juana de Arco.

Posted in Delegaciones, Español, Guatemala, sur al norte, United States | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“Each experience was new for us” – Tierra Nueva II delegates on their visit to St. Joan of Arc


Interview with Olga Alegria and Pedro Uz
Delegates to St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, Minnesota
February 9-19, 2018

Interview By Carrie Stengel

What did you like about the delegation?

Olga: I liked everything.  I hold everything in my head, everything we experienced there.  Every place we went, I have my memories.  I will never forget, because we will never have this experience again.

Pedro: I liked everything, starting with the welcome.  Here, sometimes we forget to hug each other, but there every other minute they were giving us hugs.  I liked the affection and care they gave us.  I will never forget that.  One person told me, “My Spanish isn’t very good,” but just with her laugh, we had a wonderful time together.  Everything was excellent with our host families and with our brothers and sisters there.

Each experience was new for us.  The mass, for example, I had never seen a mass like that.  Every moment, every detail, I will hold in my memory.  I have no more words except thank you.

Pedro and Olga meet their host family for the first weekend.

What were the most powerful experiences?

Pedro:  The activity with Mobile Loaves was very powerful.  We went to give out food to people in need.  Sometimes we think that everyone there has work.  We don’t know how people are really doing.  There are no dollars.  There is an American Dream.  But not everything is perfect.  Without work, one is lost there.

Olga: It was very powerful for me to see how people give their time to go and bring hot chocolate to people in the street in that extreme cold (with Mobile Loaves).  They give their time to coordinate and organize everything and then to go and hand out the food.  It is hard for me to give my time like that.

Preparing to go out in the Mobile Loaves truck.

Pedro: The indigenous mass (at Gichitwaa Kateri Catholic Church) was also very powerful.  It made me remember my culture.  Sometimes I forget where I come from.  The experience there made me remember where I come from, who I am.

The other wonderful thing about the trip is that Olga and I know each other better now.  Our friendship is stronger.  This is really nice.

Olga and Pedro with members of St. Joan of Arc and members of Gichitwaa Kateri.

Olga: And we brought something from there to our community, from the children at NAZ (Northside Achievement Zone, an organization that works with the whole family so that children excel in school).  We presented what we had learned with the scholarship students in Tierra Nueva II.  We told the youth that they need to keep studying, that they can be somebody in this life.  The students’ parents agreed with us.  Education is important and they should keep trying even if it is hard, so that they can go to university, and be somebody.  I brought something back from all the activities on the delegation.

A talk with NAZ in North Minneapolis.

What did you learn during the delegation? About yourselves or about your sister community?

Pedro: I learned a phrase from my host family, “A lot of the time, we focus only on our work, without seeing the people around us, if they are okay, if they need something.”  And our brothers and sisters at St. Joan of Arc, with their smiles and affection, they are not thinking only about themselves.  I close myself up in my work a lot.  I don’t see my friends around me.  It is hard for me to listen.  I learned that.  When I came back, I rested a little.  Now I am more open.

Olga: What I saw at St. Joan of Arc, I carry in my mind.  I learned that there are people from different cultures, different religions that respect each other.  How nice would it be if all people were like that. Our city would be different.

I also learned to appreciate my family even more because I really missed them.

I learned that sometimes we shut ourselves up in church and talk about God, but we don’t see God in our brothers and sisters.  I was so impressed by the way that St Joan of Arc works for others.  I learned that seeing the other person is important to be able to understand their needs.  I didn’t realize what others needed, not even my neighbors.  Now, I see my neighbors and the people in need. I learned that it is important not to ignore that.

Pedro:  Everything was excellent.  For each activity, there was a reflection after.  Each program had something to teach us.

Retreat with members of the Sister Parish committee.

Posted in Delegations, Guatemala, South to North, United States | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment