Sunday, February 23, 2014

Final reflections on Bogota: It changed me

     From James Pearson

So I've agreed to write a blog, not positive what that is, but the Mission trip to Columbia is the topic. Most members of our group heard about my questioning why not just send the funds? What are the security misnomers,what projects are we facing, how do we accomplish this work without tools, how will a lasting relationship be so lasting, how will the language barrier effect our Mission?                                     

     The above questions have answers.  The funding enabled twelve members of the Medford Grace Parish to travel and stay together, pray together and reflect daily together. It allowed our Parish to purchase appliances, construction materials,religious vestments and needed church related items for the Devine Savior Parish. 

       Security is a concern where ever you are, even little old Medford. We witnessed what measures are taken, for this long politically unbalanced culture, but experienced no situations that would suggest not returning. 

      The projects included installation of a washing machine space that included a complete structure to house the equipment, plumbing, electrical and paint. Plumbing upgrades for water purification, electrical upgrades in the lower Chapel, furniture painting, dog grooming, minor hand tool replacement,  general cleaning and future contractor services.              
                   Now onto the relationship issue. Let's begin with the members of Devine Savior.
Padre  Jose, Oliva, Aracely, Carmen, Lina, Clemencia, Hector, Julio and an assortment of young children daily.  There was some apprehension on both sides the first couple of days, but that seemed to dissipate quickly. By Tuesday, everyone seem to realize we were there for each other (overwhelming as it may have seemed). Devine Savior provided wonderful friendship and meals everyday.

    Now onto the Mission team, 12 people that had minimal knowledge of one another have spent eight days expressing many feelings  of what needed to be and was done, working, eating, praying and sharing together. Pretty amazing experience. The long term relationships have a good chance at surviving.

     And finally the language barrier, Grace was extremely fortunate to have an unbelievable compliment of Spanish speaking team members (Molly, Elli, Emily, Eva, Steve, Kate, Katherine and Noah). But the charades made for fun on both sides.

     Thank you for allowing this mission to happen, Maria performed a great deal of self sacrifice to make this happen, and if you have future plans on returning, please include me. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday in Bogota: From God With Love

From Emily Benjamin

En Español:

 Christo te ama. Y los niños que viven aquí se aman. Todos los niños nos saludan con abrazos, todos los días. Ellos nos abrazan muchos tiempos en el día. Un chico que tiene tres años y que se llama Simón, me dice <<quiero tú>>, y esperó a la puerta para mi. Él le encantan los abrazos. Él durmió en mis brazos. Una chica que tienen nueve años y que se llama Daniela, me dice <<te quiero>> antes de darme un abrazo. Ella le encantan los abrazos. Después de solo cinco días, ella sabe que me quiso. Los niños que viven aquí son muy enamorados y todos les gustan los abrazos. Estoy triste para decir adiós, pero también, estoy lista para ir a mi casa.
 In English:

Christ loves you. And the kids who live here love you. All of the kids greet us with hugs, everyday. They hug us multiple times a day. A 3-year-old boy named Simón said to me, "I want you," and waited at the door for me to come in. He loves hugs. He slept in my arms. A 9-year-old girl named Daniela said to me, "I love you," before hugging me. After only 5 days, she knew that she loved me. The kids that live here are very loving and love hugs. I am sad to say goodbye, but I am also ready to go home.

Friday in Bogota: We came as strangers, we leave as friends

From Maria Fenn

Today was our last day in the neighborhood of San Rafael.  I am going to try and reflect on why I feel that this community is an extension of the community at Grace. 

As you have already heard the food they prepared for us was delicious, but the smiles it was served with were worth more. The caring attention that was paid to try to learn what each of us liked or disliked was heartwarming. Padre Noah likes “mucho café”, Molly is a vegetarian, Ruth Ann, Brenda, and Emily like smaller portions, Maria is a diabetic.

Each day we were greeted off the van at the door with rounds of hugs and handshakes and wonderful greetings of “Buenos Dias”. More than the words were the smiles of genuine happiness that we had arrived for another day.

We attended three services at Divine Savior. Most of the service was in Spanish and I understood very little of it. But, I understood when it was time to share the peace.  Everyone walked around and shared signs of the peace. More than the greetings  were the huge smiles that they were given with.

At the end of very day we were again given a snack before we departed for the day. Talk around the tables was about what was accomplished and what still needed to be done. But always there was thanks for what had been completed that day. More than the grateful words were the smiles worn on the faces of those offering their thanks.

Our last day in San Rafael.  The morning rush was over, and we were winding down the projects.  The afternoon had begun and the strain of having to say good bye was showing on a lot of those smiling faces.  Chairs were arranged in the large salon and food was brought in. One by one we gathered in this space where we had gathered to meet just six short days ago. Padre Jose began the gathering with a game of pass the stuffed animal (a game all could understand) and it kind of broke the tension that had been gathering.  
Then came the time for both sides to express their thanks for this experience.  Jose, Noah and Eva all spoke very eloquently as the first of the tears started to flow. Individual people were then invited to share their experience of the week.  Gifts were exchanged and then we danced and ate and had a visit with the Bishop. As the evening wound down people started to say good bye to each other.  Contact information was shared and photos were taken.  Hugs and handshakes abounded along with plenty of tears. But through the tears were the smiles. Smiles of deep gratitude for having been given the chance to get to know one another  in this shared mission of love and kindness.

Bogota Mission Trip Blog – Friday/Viernes, Feb 21, 2014
Offered with thanksgiving by Kathryn Benjamin

Today we completed our assorted projects at the Parroquia El Divino Salvador – Church of the Divine Savior.  The physical and tangible ones included installing a washing machine (carried down many, many uneven tile stairs), and a stove top; repairing, replacing and upgrading wiring and lighting throughout the building; fixing and replacing parts of the water filtration system in the kitchen; painting dressers; and plenty of window washing, dusting, and sweeping, along with playing with the children every afternoon.  The intangible ones included coming together as a worship community, building friendships, and communicating across language barriers (our hosts were very patient with our varying degrees of Spanish skills). 
Sharing the commonality of our order of worship reminded me of attending church with my grandmother when I was a young adult: I had “taken a break” from regular worship in my 20s, and yet every time I visited my grandmother and went to church with her, I immediately felt “at home” – it is a gift of our Book of Common Prayer, and one which we all – Grace Church missioners and the congregation at Divine Savior – experienced and appreciated this week.  And, much as we say at the end of our Sunday worship service, “The worship is ended, the service begins!” so, too, the work of this mission trip has only just begun.

I invite you, the readers, to continue to engage us in conversation about our experience, what it means to be “on mission” – which is a unique and evolving experience for each of us.

I will end with a poem/reflection on an image that made a strong impression on me:

Why is there razor wire
on the wall of the church yard?

It coils there,
in stark contrast
to the silent and magnificent beauty
of the mountains, not so far away,
and the welcoming church family

Is there razor wire
around my heart?
Or is it only barbed wire?
Or a thorn bush,
disguised with roses?

How tender is my heart,
Mi Corazon,
that it needs such a deadly defense?

When will the razor wire come down? 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday in Bogota: Continuing out work, deepening friendships

February 20

Buenas tardes, Grace Church Family:

A short note from the Church of the Divine Savior parish in Bogota. Our work is progressing, sometimes with slight difficulty and other times smoothly. All hands are on deck each day—we arrive here at 9am, have a “coffee break,” then a short prayer service and next it is “hi-ho” off to our assignments! The ladies of the church make us a wonderful lunch each day. Today it was chicken broth, spaghetti with red sauce and chicken, plus Italian bread. The folks here have embraced us with much love, even though in many ways we have disrupted their daily routine.  Some of us have even had a small amount of tutoring in Spanish- I wish I had more! 

Hasta luego,
Ruthanne Pearson 

From Steve Viggiani:

Thursday night in Bogata – tired after another long but wonderful day at the Divine Savior.  Under Jim Pearson’s direction, we’ve spent a full day+ re-wiring the chapel in the basement of the church – it was slow going but by day’s end we were almost done.  Meanwhile, Ellie, Molly, Emily and Eva were painting the inside of the shelter we’ve built off the back patio to house the church’s new washing machine – everything looks great and the washer will be installed tomorrow!  
I could list a half dozen other major projects that we’ve undertaken here, but I must say, as satisfying as it’s been to lend a hand here, the real reward has been getting to know Father Jose and the Divine Savior community – tremendous people who have welcomed us so warmly, and who are doing such important work in their community.  It’s been a privilege working alongside them  -- and a daily treat to enjoy their hospitality, complete with wonderful home-cooked meals and lots of coffee and hot chocolate!  
Tomorrow, Friday, is our last day at Divine Savior – truly seems like we’ve just arrived but  it will be great to get back to Boston too – save some snow for us!    

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday in Bogota: Discovering many possibilities for partnership

From Kate Woodward:

19 February

Today I spent the day with Padre Ted. Although the only plan I had was to meet with Padre Javier to discuss irrigation, I had the most pleasant opportunity to get to know Ted, and Wilson (Ted’s dog) as well.
I came to Grace after Ted had already gone and other than when he came to Grace for visits, I didn't have a dedicated time to get to know him. I feel it was a blessing as he is committed to his work here.

After lunch, Ted and I met with Padre Javier, who it turns out is also a PhD student, a human rights lawyer, and the priest for the community in Facativo (“Faca” for short). Faca is a small, rural community of very poor people outside of Bogota. Padre Javier is trying to use the land belonging to the church to start a community farm that will provide not only food for the people, but a sustainable income for the community. One of the crops that would provide income is a tree called a “tomato tree.” Ted described it as an apple tree that has a tomato-like fruit instead of apples. The Colombians make a juice of the fruit that they love to drink.  If the community could grow the trees and sell the fruit, they could have the income, but they require water. The church land currently does not have sufficient water to sustain agriculture, except for potatoes and other vegetables that require less water.

It seemed strange that there wasn't enough water since on either side of the church land were farms that appeared to be doing well. We started by talking about things like how much rain was received, where was the water table, and other things engineers need to know.

We then started discussing several of the traditional water supply options that might be available. Unfortunately, trying to dig a well using a drill rig was not going to work. A drill rig couldn't get to the site for a reasonable amount of money (I saw pictures of the bishop’s truck stuck trying to get to the church). The aqueduct that provides water to the neighbors’ farm was too far away to construct a spur.

During this discussion, I realized that although it might appear logical to assume that water could be found near the surface of the valley, the aquifer had probably shifted over geologic time. If we could determine where the aquifer layers were by looking at geologic maps, we might be more successful at finding possible locations for digging a well. Water could then be pumped (yes, they have electricity!) to tanks for storage and then gravity feed to the farm.

Now you might wonder how we would dig a well without a drill rig. Ted has a group that he is forming from within the Bogota area that he is going to use to possibly dig trenches for laying pipe for the water. They could dig the well—relatively free labor.

A plan was coming together!

We decided to start with providing water for the tomato trees. This could provide a source of income for the community, along with hope and a sense of purpose. I will go back to Boston and find geologic maps so that we can locate possible locations for the well. I suggested that we might confirm the locations using a technology like ground penetrating radar, since we could bring that to the site. We will coordinate with Ted, who will take care of figuring out the costs involved and coordinate the activities in preparation for the August date.

Padre Javier seemed truly happy that there was at least a plan to help his community get the irrigation water it needs.

And yes, Wilson is a sweet puppy who provides a friend for Ted to come home to. 

Tuesday in Bogota: Playing Games, Building Relationships

From Elianna Viggiani

Today was our second day working at the Divine Savior. From the moment we entered the doors, I could tell that our group felt more comfortable along with the church members. We were greeted with rolls and coffee and put to work. I found the work was more organized than the day before and jobs were given to all the members in our group. I spent the morning sorting through piles of children’s books. I was surprised to find that many of them were written in English, at least half. We then placed the books back on the shelves which we had cleaned prior to the sorting. I spent the rest of the morning outside helping with the construction work. I had no prior experience, but with the help of some group members, I caught on quickly. In the afternoon, I was greeted by the children I had met the day before. Many of them came up to hug me, and seemed comfortable around us. A boy who I had met the day before ran to show me his artwork; I had previously told him that I loved to draw. I helped him finish the piece, and his smile was priceless. The kids then spent time playing with my IPhone, Angry Birds seemed to be a big hit. We also played soccer and games inside.

After most of the kids left, I had time to bond with a girl named Daniela and her younger sister, Vanessa. Daniela showed me her English notebook and her math notebook, and we spent a lot of time talking about her school and family. It was sometimes hard to follow what she said because she spoke so fast, and I felt frustrated when I did not know exactly what she was saying, however, we were able to hold small conversations. She taught me the word, cookie in Spanish, along with many of the animles.

From Molly Fenn:
Today was a fun day. In the morning we did some more construction (I won’t write much about this because I can’t use power tools, so I didn't help much with the construction.) I washed lots of windows, cleaned lots of chairs, pretty much a lot of cleaning. But, what I really want to write about is the people here. In the afternoons, about 10 children come every day to eat lunch and play for an afterschool program. They range in age from Vanessa who is 5 to Julio who is 15. These kids are amazing. They are nice and sweet, they love to play and laugh, and I truly enjoy all the time I spend with them, even if that time is spent throwing a paper airplane back and forth for hours. I also became fast friends with one of the youth here, Lina. She is sixteen and is graduating high school this year (they don’t go to school for as long as we do in the states) She really wants to be a lawyer, and her brother is in school to be an architect. I had the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood with Lina, and it is a different perspective walking around with someone who has lived there for a long time. She taught me a lot about the culture here, and I told her about the differences between Bogota and Boston.

For example, in Bogota there are stray dogs everywhere, car NEVER stop for you when you try to cross the street, and every schools has uniforms. I met some of her friends on our walk and they were just as nice and friendly, but very surprised that I spoke Spanish.  What I am trying to say here, with my stories about these kids and their lives, is that they aren’t any different than the youth in America. They have dreams and wishes and friends and boyfriends. I am not really sure what I expected, but what I realized is that all of these kids remind me of kids I know back home, if not myself.  I am not good at building things, or knowing how to say tools in Spanish, but I have always been a people person. I love connecting with the people here, speaking Spanish, I feel like I am making a difference even if it isn’t something you can see. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Monday: Losing Nothing (?) in Translation

Today we began our work at Divine Savior.  We were welcomed with the offering of coffee, hot chocolate and fresh rolls.   Then it was off to do what we came here to do. 

As I watched several of our group tasked with building an outside shelter for the washing machine we will be installing, I witnessed the first challenge ... A language barrier.

Amongst our group we have three young ladies and a few adults who can speak Spanish, but  I don’t think anyone was prepared  to translate  a chuck key for a drill,  lead anchors, level, and flashing to the clerk at the local hardware store.   The clerk was very patient and worked with us, and we were able to purchase all.  The flashing needed to be delivered, and one hour later, we found out we had ordered corrugated sheeting.  Oh well, 4 out of 5 is not bad.

The church we have partnered with offers elderly care and after school care for children from 5 years of age up to 12 years.   Our young teens were wonderful with the children.  Watching them teach the younger ones English while the younger children would relay it back in in Spanish, to playing musical chairs.  It became crystal clear to me we do share the same language.  The language of opening oneself up to friendship.

I am looking forward to what tomorrow will bring,

Brenda Pearson

Grace Church Mission to Bogota: El Segunda Dia!

Following our morning activities of settling in and familiarizing ourselves with the space and work for the week, I heard small voices laughing and chattering near the main entrance to the church. I peeked my head around the corner toward the sound and was delighted to see the smiles and curious faces of children. I had learned that part of the ministry of the Church of the Divine Savior is to provide lunch, snacks and a safe space for children from the community to gather every day after school, and even the potential language difficulties were not enough to prevent me from feeling less than enthusiastic to interact with these young ones. In the bit of mission work I've had experience with, especially trips I took to Mexico in high school, my favorite part has always been interacting with the families- especially the children- who make up the community.

There was nothing extravagant or particularly well-organized about the time I spent sitting with the children and three fellow young people from Grace: we simply sat with them, played games like tic-tac-toe and the infamous Minecraft on one of our phones, asked questions about school and activities, and laughed and ate candy. Even in our occasional stumbles over language, we were able to share some of the essential and most beautiful facets of being human: expressing curiosity, smiling, hugging, and playing.

It was a beautiful and whimsical encounter with God and community, especially when considering how much of the world perceives Colombia as a place too dangerous or foreign to be characterized by such everyday acts of human kindness. I am grateful beyond words for the Spirit ever so present across socioeconomic background, cultures, continents, and ways of being. What a gift to be in relationship with this hospitable community.

Eva Englert

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday in Bogota: Lots of Church!

Greetings Grace Church,

            Today we travelled to Divine Savior to meet the congregation for the first time.  When we arrived we were welcomed with some food and beverages, and were told that we may want to eat something as the service would be very long. Felt a little like being at Grace, although I speak almost no Spanish, smiles seemed to be communication enough. Father Jose asked for someone to read one of the lessons in English during the service. I found myself volunteering. Huh? I have never read at Grace, not once in the 12 or so years I have attended. After volunteering I started to panic, until I read over what the reading was to be. It was about how we have to cross over the lines of jealousy and work together doing Gods work. And it is all Gods work. Sometimes we forget, or get caught up in arguing about who’s right or wrong, or focus so intently on having it our way that we don’t see that, it is all Gods work. He is giving us the tools to do all the things that need to get done. So back to my panic. I looked up a couple of times while reading and even though most of the congregation didn't know what I was saying they were listening. It was just a matter of being present with them. Gods work? I think so…..


Sunday/Domingo February 16, 2014 in Bogota
Kathryn Benjamin’s reflections on our experiences today.

We are so grateful not to be in the midst of a new foot of snow!  Instead, we admire the green grass and leaves on the trees as we take our 45 minute van ride to church.  There is a ridge of mountains near us on one side, they surge upwards, lush and green (there is a ring of mountains around Bogota, but the morning is foggy and hazy, so we can’t see all the way across the expanse of city to the other ridge of mountains).

The women of the church welcomed us with coffee and rolls before the service, to help fortify us as the service would be 3 hours long.  The coffee with milk/café con leche is sweet – like melted coffee ice cream.  

In the church, we are seated up front on padded benches perpendicular to the pews, so everyone can see us and we can see everyone.  The church is packed: there are perhaps 30 pews (15 on each side of the aisle), filled with women, men and children.  While the community may not be rich financially, they are rich with locally grown flowers – there were six arrangements: two behind the altar, two in front of the altar, one in front of the lectern, and one in back at a statue – abundant with well over 100 roses and many chrysanthemums.  I wonder if Grace could expand its flower garden and enjoy our own abundance of the gifts of the earth and our tending. 

The order of service is familiar – it is the same as ours, just in Spanish.  We have prayer books to follow along.  Maria reads one of the lessons in English, Noah reads to Gospel in English, and Ted repeats his sermon in English, each after the Spanish version is delivered.

The music for the service is all recorded and amplified with four speakers.  The volume makes the music very present, tangible, but not oppressive; it is an integral part of the worship experience.  The congregation sings, and sometimes we can pick up the refrain and sing along, too. And there are many occasions for clapping along, which help to rouse me when I begin to get sleepy, and in general adds to the spirit of the worship.  We wonder about conducting a service like this at Grace sometime!

The liturgy of the word and communion seem to be the warm-up for the truly important part of the Sunday morning worship: the healing prayers that are offered afterwards.   Father Jose offers a long, heart-felt general prayer preparing us to offer up our problems and needs and concerns, about health or money or anything else, to God/Senor.  Nearly everyone lines up in the center aisle to receive a laying-on-of-hands blessing.  Some are “slain in the spirit,” attended to by the ushers who catch them and lower them gently to the floor.  The people are so open to experiencing God’s spirit.

Episcopal Cathedral in Bogota
Later in the afternoon we worship again at the Cathedral, just a few blocks away from our hotel.  The service is conducted in English, and attracts people who were born in o English speaking countries (e.g. the US and India) and those who enjoy this way of practicing English.  While it is a comfort to understand all that is said, I miss hearing “Senor” – the Spanish reference to God or Lord, which sounds so special and reverent.

We gather at the hotel afterwards to reflect on the day and to prepare for tomorrow.  There were many other experiences and observations that I will leave for others to share.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gathering at Atlanta...

We had our first time of gathering, praying and reflecting together in the Atlanta airport.  We got out of Boston just before the big storm hit, and changed planes in Atlanta for Bogota.  We spent some time sitting on the floor in the terminal, led by Eva, discussing our hopes and prayers for our trip and our Christian ministry and witness. We are excited.  We are blessed.  And ready to encounter God through others and service.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Getting Ready for Mission to Bogota!

Twelve members of the Grace Episcopal Church, Medford community will be traveling to Bogota, Columbia February 15-23 to take the next step in establishing deep relationship and partnership with Episcopal churches in that area.  The team includes Maria and Molly Fenn, Brenda, Jim and Ruthanne Pearson, Steve and Ellie Viggianni, Kate Woodward, Eva Englert, Katherine and Emily Benjamin and me.  The Rev. Ted Gaiser, who currently serves as a missionary in the Diocese of Colombia, and who also served for several years as a Deacon at Grace Church about six years ago, has helped to build this connection and will be hosting us in Bogota.  Grace Church has been supporting Ted’s work in Colombia the last several years.  Maria Fenn is leading us on this trip, and has done incredible work pulling everything together for us to go. 

We will be working with the Church of the Divine Savior, which is a thriving community just outside the Bogota city proper. The building that houses the church is also home to a few fairly new outreach projects in their community. The projects we will help with are building rehab, supplies and possible set-up of after school space and some general work in the elder care service the parish is already providing. We are hoping to build upon the work already started in this parish and continue to work with them in the future to assure the success of these programs. This truly is an exciting moment to grow the work and connections we have already begun in Colombia!

I hope that you will keep our team in your prayers while we are away.  A different team member will be blogging each day, and you will be able to read about our journey here.