This is a letter from Rev. Renee and Justin Sundberg who serve as PCUSA Mission Co-Workers in Nicaragua. The Church in the World Committee supports their ministry and the ministry of the organization they work with, CEPAD. Highland Presbyterian Church’s Nicaragua Mission Team does mission in partnership with a community in Mirazul, Nicaragua, which is facilitated through CEPAD. Take a look at more dispatches from the Sundbergs and learn more about their work in Nicaragua.
From January 17 to 24 in 2015, a delegation of 14 people from Highland Presbyterian Church will travel to Nicaragua. They will spend several days with CEPAD in Managua, Nicaragua and several days with our friends and our partner community in Mirazul, Nicaragua.
DECEMBER 2014 – QUAKES (OF EARTH AND HEARTS)
“[I have spoken] foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
Huge laminate pieces of our roof pried loose and rattled our house. “There goes last month’s roof repair!” I thought. “Or maybe a tree limb,” I continued thinking, “fell on our roof and is sliding destructively downward.” My exhausted brain could not comprehend the noise that woke two of our sleeping children. But nothing fell from above. Instead, from below, a 7.4 earthquake rocked our home for nearly a minute. It spared our lives. And belongings. In fact, its only impact was the racing of my imagination as the metal and mortar that held our house in place bounced and jostled our floors and doors.
But another sort of earthquake struck me much more powerfully exactly two weeks later. It emanated from Catalina, a determined young woman. She had been just a few feet away from me when she spoke with radiant hope for her community and her words registered 8.0 on my heart’s Richter scale.
How did this slight but steely 17-year-old shake me up so much? She stirred me to think about the passion and love Jesus has for us, and how the God who loves me, who keenly loves us all, sees possibility in each of us, and who relentlessly, though gently, pursues us. Catalina incarnates this for her community. And for me.
Catalina lives in a country where instability is not just seismic. Poverty keeps Catalina and the people of her community dwelling in instability. Her schooling finished in the 6th grade. To get this far she had been very fortunate. Going to secondary school, however, was impossible. Her two options were over two hours away, one via a dangerous road and the other an expensive journey beyond her reach. But rather than bemoan her loss of opportunity, with humble determination she described a new future she longs to create for her younger friends and family, one where secondary school is a viable option.
Catalina signed up to be a community volunteer and leader who will soon begin training with the Council of Protestant Churches (CEPAD). CEPAD is our host development organization and is a relentless pursuer and partner of people in need. In January we embark on a five-year partnership and development cycle with over 40 new communities, filled with people like Catalina, throughout Nicaragua.
Thank you for entrusting us to facilitate relationships between churches and universities in the United States with communities like Catalina’s throughout rural Nicaragua. Thank you for the many ways you support us. Thank you for your regular financial support, for praying for us, for corresponding with us. We have been inspired by you and find strength in you and we count on your continued friendship and support.
You are vital and vibrant partners in our work with CEPAD, a humble yet very faithful and effective group of impassioned Nicaraguans committed to small-scale and sustainable change. We invite you to come to Nicaragua and glimpse CEPAD in action. Or if a deeper, “hands on and we’re in it together” relationship with CEPAD or one of its beneficiary communities interests you, let’s plan an initial scouting trip of your own with whatever U.S. community is important to you (family, church, business, university).
Let me continue Catalina’s story because she surely will send aftershocks of energy and vision to her community in 2015 and beyond. As I mentioned, Catalina, along with one other youth from Santa Josefina, Nicaragua, a village of 203 people, will soon begin to receive CEPAD’s specialized training. This training will inform and shape the counsel and support they yearn to give their fellow youth. They will gain concrete skills to address addictive or abusive behaviors and the effects inflicted on them. With a skilled friend like Catalina, troubled youth will find freedom to dream like Catalina dreams. It was clear as we listened to Catalina that she is ready to snatch every opportunity to help ensure that education and other childhood needs are in place for her community.
“I want to extract the juice out of CEPAD,” Catalina said. Another way to render her inspiring statement,“quiero sacar el jugo,” would be, “I want to squeeze every drop [out of this training opportunity].” She hungers to better the lot of younger community members.
And her appetite for repainting the landscape of the lives of her community members gave me hunger, too. Hunger to dive more into my work of accompanying all who want to learn about Nicaragua and to learn from her peoples.
Life often rockets us from one challenging moment to another. Resignation tempts us in the face of life’s unrelenting hurdles. And to give up in the wake of hardship is often our habitual response.
But not for Catalina. She has her neighbors and friends in mind. And she especially has the children of her village blazoned on her heart.
Hope is nimble. And hope persists even under the most trying of life circumstances. Catalina reminds me of this. As do many of you reading this letter. Your lives and friendship have inspired us. And some of you, whom we’re just getting to know, have been a friend to CEPAD or one of the communities it has served for a long time now. Thank you. And Merry Christmas.
May you know gentle tremors of wonder, courage and hope this season. And may Catalina’s “squeezing the juice” conviction stir hope in you. We look forward to your continued partnership on this journey.
Renée and Justin Sundberg