From South Africa to Southern Florida

From South Africa to Southern Florida

To: My Hyde Park United Methodist Family

 

I am writing to thank you for the way you continue to make God’s Love Real in the lives of so many, including me!  The end of my three-year term of service in Cape Town, South Africa serving with the Bishop Michel Hansrod and with Alan Storey at Central Methodist Mission is coming to an end.  Yet, I am so happy to announce that I will be returning to my home state after fourteen years!

 

I joined Hyde Park in 1999.  In 2004, fourteen years ago, I left for seminary at Duke Divinity School.  After graduation, I was offered a one-year fellowship to look at religion and race which led me to Jackson, Mississippi.  So much of my journey every step of the way has felt like monumental amounts of learning and I am so, so grateful for every post I have served from Jackson, to Gulfport, to Charlotte, to Cape Town.

 

I will be flying into Tampa on May 29 to prepare for my next appointment which will be in Miami Florida serving Killian Pines UMC and with District Superintendent, Cynthia Dee Weems in her office.  I am very much looking forward to leading my own congregation and to the gifts and challenges this next chapter will hold.

 

I want to thank you so, so much for the prayers, for allowing me to share stories when I have traveled home, and for the financial support you have provided that afforded me this possibility to serve alongside our brothers and sisters in Cape Town, South Africa.  May your generosity be multiplied a hundred-fold in the world around us in the same way it has been multiplied in my life.  Please know that I am so, so grateful to be…

 

With you on the journey,

The Rev. Michelle Shrader

www.withyouonthejourney.wordpress.com

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

So our work here is done and we have headed to Managua to begin our journey home to our loved ones.  We will spend one more evening enjoying, breaking bread, having devotions and recapping this week which has flown by way too fast.

We have learned so much here, about ourselves, about each other, about working as a team, and about the people here.  We know that family is so much more than blood relatives.  We are all part of the greater family of God and we are so grateful.  We appreciate that having things is not what defines happiness and that living in a home with dirt floors doesn’t mean you don’t sweep daily.  We have learned to take a good look at what we take for granted – clean water, enough healthy food for your family, access to good health care and social services, the importance of an education. And that tears can’t fix anything – only hard work and continued dedication can do that.

So many things have sent us into peals of laughter.  When foul weather headed towards the construction site they joked that they would all be safe since they had Glenn with them – tall enough to be a human lightening rod.  At one point on the Rhino Rally – our primary means of transportation with an open back and bench seating along the side – a sudden, unexpected stop meant Stephanie was thrown forward and we had a four human pile, where we remained for quite a few minutes because we were laughing too hard to recover.  But that was just indicative of this entire week – we were always there to catch each other.

We have memories etched in our minds.  People doing their first-ever devotional – and hitting it out of the park!  Watching people step out of their comfort zone and pray aloud for the first time. The generosity of the Nicaraguan people with whom we worked who, having so little, still shared their food with us.  The infectious smiles of the children and their joy in singing their hearts out.  Seeing families be almost as excited for the gift of the box it came in as they were about the filters inside.  The young mothers nodding their head as we shared new information.  And Dr. Medina thanking us, time and time again, for the time we spend working for and with his people.  The pride in the voice of the little boy who shouted out to us as we walked the barrio, “Hello, my friends. How are you.”  We believe we are making a difference in Marañonal – it feels like a hand up, not a hand out.

We made rubber glove balloons and have a new appreciation for Miss Hawaiian Punch and Bozo the Clown.  We know how to adapt – while one group has no basketball, they used a soccer ball instead, another had no soccer ball, and used a basketball.  And we can tell you that what has been said for years is true, the chicken crossed the road just to get to the other side.

Goodbyes were sad because we know that the workers of El Ayudante are our family now.  We will miss so much – we already do.  The morning quiet time, the love we have felt here, the new friends we have made, both on the team and on the ground, and recapping the day together in the dim lights of the ranchero – with our quiet voices somehow always being audible even over the blaring music of the nearby Pentecostals.

Sometimes our tasks mean pushing ourselves through the uncomfortableness, doing the unfamiliar, and participating when we would rather not, because we are here not as individuals.  We came as a team who help and encourage each other through the tough times.  We were there to lighten each other’s load.  We shed tears together – but we shed as many tears for joy as for sadness.  We had crazy moments together, and we laughed when we felt moved – even if we were in the midst of praying.   And we leave here as family.

Since this country has an election this Sunday, there were often times when trucks would drive through the streets, blaring music and shouting through bull horns.  Each time we heard music some of us danced down the street – much to the amusement of the local residents.  I would like to think they were laughing joyfully with us, and not at us, as we adopted the attitude of “Why walk when you can dance!”  But there was one time when the tune was a familiar one.  We were standing in the courtyard area of a home, having just delivered a filter to the homeowner. She said she is all alone and asked that we pray for her health as she is not well.  Then Vicki called our attention to the song in the distance, Chris Tomlins’s “God of This City” – Greater things are yet to come, Greater things area still to be done in this city…..  We believe that to be so.

I wish all of you could have been with us every night to hear our stories.  This blog could have gone on daily for pages and pages, but even then it would be impossible to capture everything, and it shouldn’t try to.  This is so much more than a trip – it is part of our spiritual journey, and can’t be fully captured in words.  And it’s sometimes hard for us to put into words what this week has meant to, and done to, each of us.  For me, the answer to “How was your trip?” is always, “Life changing”, for it affects me profoundly each year.  Many of us will be back next year, and anyone who feels called can do this. Is God calling you?

 

Compassion and Dedication

Compassion and Dedication

Today started with the water filtration team accompanying Dr. Medina and our medical personnel on a house call – or perhaps a “community call” would be a better description.  We ventured out to an area quite farther away where health problems are of great concern.  Using a simple table as the intake, triage, and examining area, the medical team spent a few hours seeing, diagnosing, and treating ailments as they were able.

The water filtration team did not know until yesterday that we would be accompanying them, and that Doctor Medina had an added activity for us.  You see, Dr. Medina knew that, as an ice-breaker activity this week at the clinic we had taught local women how to turn a t-shirt into a tote bag, and he thought it would be a wonderful idea for us to do the same with the 10 people in this community to whom we would be delivering the filters.  While we were happy to oblige, we had not planned on this and did not quite have enough shirts.  But that was no problem!  So now there are some tote bags in this community that, yesterday, were missionary’s t-shirts! Oh, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that one of the families was represented by the father, not the mother as was the usual, but he eagerly joined in – and so did Omar, our bus driver, Oliver, our translator, and, not to be outdone, Dr. Medina himself!

We had two teams educating this week.  One worked with the kids at the HCN, and the other, affectionately known as “Team Preggo”, taught pregnancy classes to expectant mothers in the nearby barrios.  A highly abbreviated course in “What to Expect When Expecting”, we covered such things as body changes during pregnancy, how to care for oneself when pregnant, labor and delivery, and newborn care and breast feeding.  Many of these women were not on their first pregnancy, yet they all seemed to appreciate the education that they had not been afforded prior to the birth of their other children.

In two days of classes we taught almost 30 women, many of whom brought their small children with them.  At one point as Lissa taught some breathing exercises, one little girl stood behind her mother and imitated everything Lissa did.  The conditions weren’t ideal.  We taught the classes on an outdoor porch and at one point the rain was pounding so hard it made it hard to talk and almost impossible to hear.  But whether it was the noise of the pounding rain, the blaring of speakers from trucks selling their wares, or the lilting of the children’s voices as the sang together while they colored, we raised our voices or took a short break and carried on.

Like young pregnant women at home, they were attentive and interested, oohed and ahead at the pictures of babies at each stage of pregnancy, and at times blushed and giggled when discussing uncomfortable topics.  But we know we made a difference.  At one point Lissa consulted the doctor – who had requested this program – and asked if there was anything we should change.  He adamantly said no and thanked us for what we were doing.  And this was especially brought home by our translator – Yordanka.  She has been our translator for 3 years, so she has heard the lessons.  What she did not know when she was with us last year is that she, herself, was pregnant.  Now the mom of a beautiful baby boy, Odsyll, she told us how much she appreciated what we had taught her.  She assured us, “You gave — so much!”

This year at El Ayudante they have a different theme each month for the children of the HCN.  This month it was compassion, so that was the theme of our education piece.  All the activities tied together to culminate in a visit to a local nursing home.  The meaning of compassion was reinforced in ways such as making a “hand of compassion” – an outline of a hand on a wooden stick on which they wrote one word representing compassion on each finger.  The children were highly entertained when the adults did a hilarious re-enactment of The Good Samaritan.  In an attempt to bring home the idea of just how important compassionate people are, the Good Samaritan was labeled a super hero and thanks to one of our faithful supporters back home, Vicki Castells, and her creative sewing talents, each child was given a cape of their own to decorate with words and picture illustrating the theme.

The culmination of the week was a visit to the local nursing home where the children could put their understanding of compassion into play.  They had prepared gift bags for each of the residents and learned two songs with which to entertain them.  These gift bags consisted of such things as cookies which the children had baked earlier in the week, a coloring book, beaded crosses that the children had strung and a laminated copy of the Lord’s prayer in Spanish.

As we walked in to the inner courtyard you could see some of the children were uncomfortable.  Many residents, most in wheelchairs, were already seated around the perimeter of the area.  The children stayed close together and then gathered on a raised area to sing.   While they were happy to sing, they were apprehensive when told they would go in small groups, along with an adult, and speak to the residents.  One young girl was close to tears and did not want to participate.  She told me that she was scared, and I assured her that sometimes adults are, too.  So she wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and we walked to a nearby resident.  I told her to just say hello, tell him she had a gift for him, and that God loves him.  She needed a little prompting, and she hid slightly behind me when he reached out with his deformed hand, but I grasped his hand and spoke a few words and we moved on.  I suggested we walk to the back of the courtyard to one man who was sitting alone, and she was not happy when someone beat us to him.  After that she grabbed my hand and aggressively looked for someone else to whom she could share a few words – and her words were few – and this small gift.  We had been told to stay in the courtyard area, but she saw a gentleman in the distance with his walker.  When I told her that we were to remain here, she stood still and held her ground until her reached us.  Nobody was going to beat her to it this time!  His smile was radiant and he grabbed me for a hug.  When I told him that the gift was from the children, he smiled at her – and she beamed right back!

As we arrived back at El Ayudante we thought it would be a good idea to debrief with the children and get their reaction to their visit.  With shouts of “sharing”, “compassion”, and “giving”, they talked about the infirmities of some of the residents and the long discussion some of the boys had had with a man who explained that he could only see shadows.  But I think one little girl summed it up best when she told us that one of the residents had said to her group, “You children are angels sent from God”.

As anticipated, the house was completed today.  It went right down to the wire as the doors were delivered, on a horse drawn cart, at the last minute.  Estebana beamed as she accepted ownership of her brightly colored house and much of the community joined us, as we once again stood together with our family from Marañonal and dedicated her new home.

Civil Conversations Project Continues Aug. 2

Civil Conversations Project Continues Aug. 2

We expected last night’s attendance at The Civil Conversations Project to be one of our smaller meetings due to the July 4th holiday.

It was one of our largest groups of attendees to date.

We expected to be able to hear the pre-selected “On Being” podcast segments meant to guide our discussion.

Multiple technological issues resulted in our instead building our discussion far more around each attendee’s philosophies and experiences.

We expected that, following The Portico Café’s 7 p.m. closing time, our discussion would take place in an environment of peace and quiet.

A fierce thunderstorm and The Portico’s (10-minute false) fire alarm meant altering our expectations yet again.

We persevered. Quiet was restored. The conversation carried on. And the voices of both new and regular attendees were heard.

While we all agreed on a major overarching point or two regarding “The Evolution of the Science – Religion Debate,” we each had different perspectives and experiences to offer with regard to our individual beliefs. This included sharing on and noting the impact each of our own upbringings, work, and life experiences has had on how we think today.

We listened to, heard, and learned from each other with dignity, grace, and mutual respect.

It was a wholly imperfect, yet perfectly made, evening.

The Civil Conversations Project continues 6:30 – 8 p.m Wednesday, Aug. 2. in The Portico Cafe meeting room. The podcast we will be discussing can be accessed here. All are welcome to join us with or without listening in advance.

For more information, please contact Michelle Schumacher (813.363.3970).

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