Mission Co-Worker Update: “SCRABBLING”

The Church in the World Committee of Highland Presbyterian Church discerned last year to support Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Co-Workers Justin and Renee Sundberg. The Sundbergs serve in Managua, Nicaragua with CEPAD (The Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua). CEPAD is also a mission partner who facilitates our Nicaragua Mission Team’s (also known as the NUTS) ongoing covenant with the community in Mirazul, Nicaragua. When the team travels to Nicaragua, Justin is one of the people from CEPAD who guides, teaches, and supports our teams on the ground in Nicaragua. Justin and Renée share occasional updates about their with work in Nicaragua as Mission Co-Workers. Here is their most recent update.


Romans 8:26    “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”


“Scrambling,” describes our recent story well.   Our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters scramble too, though with much more toil.  Thank you for making it possible for us to live and work with these wonderful, but toiling Nicaraguans, to serve as a bridge of relationship with you.  Even on our most ragged and run-down days, we are carried by your love and support and thank God for you.  Thank you so much for sharing so generously in our ministry.


But it’s, “Scrabbling,” not Scrambling, that is on my mind.   I played a game of Scrabble yesterday image001 with our eldest son, Jack.  And then today some friends shared their approach to Scrabble — memorizing as many two or three-letter words as possible, even if they cannot recall their definitions.    This Scrabble strategy is an apt metaphor for us.  We piece each day together with words and growing relationships we don´t always fully comprehend.   There are times, to be sure, when our contributions are more elegant or strategic, but we usually feel a sense of accomplishment when we can participate in life even in the simplest of ways.


In our recent quarterly letters, we have not shared much about us personally.  Many of you have asked to hear more about how our kids are doing and how Renée’s health is.   Here is a brief update followed by a story which we hope underscores our gratitude for you and demonstrates some of what we are doing together, by God´s grace.


Renée’s dad has Alzheimer’s and since we arrived in Nicaragua last June, it has progressed.  Recalling most words is a struggle.  He has gotten lost and can no longer do much around the house.  It has been difficult for Renée’s mom not to have us nearby.


image002Autumn, Jack, Cassie and Ethan.  They deserve more than a group mention.  Each is thriving and struggling, each finding new words to include in their multilingual, multicultural puzzle.  Sometimes they feel stymied, waiting to draw a “vowel” from the Scrabble game of life so that they can make another play.  But more often, their creativity keeps them constantly on the move and discovering interesting new words.


Renée recovered from the elusive illnesses that plagued her during our initial four months.  After an early winter respite, the fever, fatigue, joint and back pain returned in the last few weeks.  She quickly returned to medical appointments and testing which ruled out several severe conditions.  Whew!  Next stop:  A visit with an orthopedic, a rheumatologist and a naturopath.   In spite of everything, she began regular Spanish language classes in January and is a fearless learner.  All along she had been jumping in at every chance to use her growing Spanish.  Additionally, she’s found joy in having new friends ask her to facilitate Bible studies and prayer groups.


In the lead-up to Christmas, it became clear that I, Justin, could benefit from counseling.  Trying to ensure that everything in our family and at work always goes according to plan was taking a toll on me.   In fact, my attempts to control family outcomes, not surprisingly, were having the opposite effect!  Last week I had my fifth visit with a counselor.  With her help and with the conviction that God wants to help me let go a little, things have improved.


In addition to a God who deeply loves us and the friendship and support we have from you, there are two other constants in our days:  Dust and Wind.  Dust coats every imaginable surface.  Wind rips away the screens on our home.  After three months of dust and wind, we await two more months until the rains return to refresh this land and give it its desperately needed bounty.


Much of Nicaragua suffers drought during this time of the year.  Recently I visited La Joya, a rural community two hours northeast of Managua.  La Joya community leaders showed us their four polluted and virtually dried-up water sources.  It is heartening to know that this community of 765 will soon have ample water thanks to CEPAD, our local host organization for whom we are working in partnership with Presbyterian World Mission.  Your relationship with us, the encouragement you give, your prayers, and the sharing of your financial resources all ensure that CEPAD continues strong.  So you can smile, too, along with this community, over their forthcoming vital new water supply!


Just as in La Joya, the tens of thousands living in the 41 communities in which CEPAD works tend to have deep faith lives and trust in Jesus, the great thirst quencher, who helps keep their dispositions generally hopeful, even with what we would call profound challenges to their health and wellbeing.  Our role as mission co-workers is to bring together Nicaraguans and North Americans in life’s maze of words and world experiences, each with unique gifts and deficits, creating space to better see Jesus’ work of personal and community renewal.

Our role as mission co-workers is to bring together Nicaraguans and North Americans in life’s maze of words and world experiences, each with unique gifts and deficits, creating space to better see Jesus’ work of personal and community renewal.

One student who participated on a recent visit from a North American team epitomizes our gratitude for the role we play as mission co-workers.  She is in her final year at a prestigious college.  At a reunion with her teammates after her CEPAD-facilitated trip to Nicaragua, she shared the shocking news that for the first time in her life, she went to a class and was totally uninterested in it.  A chaplain at the school quipped, “That’s nearly an indicator of the End Times!”   You see, this young adult, who loves school and learning, had discovered something new, something life-changing, that gave her an expanded vista.  What a poignant moment, just prior to entering the workforce, to have a changed heart and worldview!


Thank you for helping to substantially alter the lives not just of Nicaraguans, but also the lives of North Americans who visit.  We invite you to pray with us for Nicaragua, CEPAD and the North Americans in relationship to them.  If you like to write, but haven’t been able to do so since we left, would you consider sending us a note to let us know how you are?  And might you, if you have not already, join us by sharing of your financial resources in support of all of this?


May the Lord bless and keep you as you steward the tiles in your reach, knowing that you are in the hands of the One who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

With much love,

Justin and Renée


Please keep Justin and Renée and their family in prayer as they continue to serve in Nicaragua. To learn more about how you can get involved with their ministry or the partnership of the Nicaragua Mission Team with CEPAD, contact Matt Nickel at matt.nickel@hpclouisville.org

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