A year spent learning how to give

“We are learning what we’re capable of,” said Selenia Ordóñez. She and I share an anniversary: Ordóñez and her Presbyterian Women’s team began running a retreat center ministry the same week I was installed as a mission co-worker with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. For the past year, we have both been learning what we’re capable of.

My job description is “facilitator for theological education and leadership development” within the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. The focus of my first year, although not explicit, has been education and development of the concept of partnership. I see my work as empowering and highlighting the capabilities of the Honduran church and sub-groups, such as the Presbyterian Women, youth groups, lay pastors, and theological students.

During a recent visit, the Presbytery of Carlisle and the Honduran church took a day out of their schedule of home construction to receive training from a local organization on intercultural and international partnership, and to start a process to assess and renew their bilateral relationship. I confess that some of our participants started out skeptical that this training was of any practical value — admittedly, its value was less tangible than building a home from cinderblocks.

A mixed group of Honduran and North American volunteers worked on a home construction project in Puente Jalan, near Guaimaca, Honduras.

Inspired by the training in partnership and mutual concern, the week ended with a Honduran-led initiative that has never happened before: A leader in one of the Honduran congregations gathered volunteers and workmen to join in partnership with the North American volunteer construction crew in building the home of a member of a different congregation. Local presbytery leaders are now encouraged to practice this demonstration of mutuality and partnership more intentionally in their own communities.

Women’s retreat leaders washed the feet of participants at Centro de Retiros Villa de Gracia in January.

In March, the Presbyterian Women of Honduras learned that the U.S.-Honduras partnership has met its goal of raising $189,500 to complete the purchase of the retreat center property that they have been running. The Presbyterian Women of the PC(USA) gave $100,000 from one of their grant programs. The Presbyterian Women of Honduras contributed $520.77 to date. This discrepancy brings to mind the story of the widow’s mite in the gospel of Luke. “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others.’” But I don’t believe this story in Luke is really about money and economic class. It comes at the end of a lengthy critique of the Temple system that creates inequality, and a warning from Jesus against the traditions of the scribes and other Temple leaders.

Our old ways of worshiping, of maintaining our connection to God, of supporting the activities of the Temple, are not truly just and good. We must examine our traditions and live into a new way of connecting to God that is not entirely financial and unequal. It is telling, I think, that Jesus does not call us all to be like the widow, but he does warn us all against being like the scribes. This story calls us all, rich and poor, to live into a new way of relating to God, to the church, and to ourselves.

This is what the Presbyterian Women of Honduras are doing as they manage a ministry of the church. They are doing so without the direct oversight of a male pastor. They are making decisions for the retreat center based on their understanding of hospitality, mission and ministry. They are seeing and valuing the gifts of ministry that they can contribute, rather than seeing only what they lack. We are transforming our concept of partnership from one of “giver and receiver” to one of mutual work and mutual contribution. Together, we are learning what we’re capable of.

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Tecun Uman, Guatemala: Stay with us a little longer

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At Albergue Jesus El Buen Pastor, Tapachula, Chiapas.

“What gives you hope? What gives you strength?” we asked a man who runs a shelter for migrants at the Guatemalan border. He looked down and smiled, and he paused for a few seconds. Then he paraphrased scripture.

Ya es tarde, casi la noche. Quédate con nosotros.

It’s late, almost evening. Stay with us, the two asked Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And when Jesus stayed and broke bread with them, their eyes were open, and they recognized him.

“It is a spiritual conviction,” the man said, “that gives me hope.”

As we crossed another border, into Guatemala, we have traveled more than 2,500 miles in four days, on plane, bus and foot. As we walked across the bridge between Chiapas and Guatemala, looking to the right and left, I saw migrants crossing the river by foot, raft, or even bicycle. Migrants traveling to the United States to attempt dangerous illegal crossings take weeks to travel the distance, and often hop a train called la Bestia (the Beast) that amputated the limbs of many we saw in shelters today.

Many in our group of travelers, including me, named a reason for our trip as finding “the root causes” of migration, as though migration is a problem to be solved. But it is the barriers to migration—the injustices, the evils, the walls and the wastelands—that must be solved.

What the aid workers and migrants we met today taught me is that, like Jesus and his friends on the way to Emmaus, we humans are created to be migrants. And in the faces of migrants, we find God.

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