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.

Building a Home and Relationships

Building a Home and Relationships

It was such an honor to once again be able to walk with women through the streets of Rubén Darío today and be invited into their homes so we could share with them this gift of clean water.  But I cannot help but feel a deep sense of humility that in every home into which we were invited, we saw tears of joy for the gifts that we brought.  We were doing what we were called her to do, and the gift itself, in the scope of our lives, is a small one.  But to them it was potentially life-changing. We stood in these humble homes having the residents look at us through tears and, without exception, when asked what they wanted us to pray for them, they said they prayed for us – that we should be blessed as we have blessed them.  That they would ask for blessings for US, when they themselves have so little was overwhelming to me.  It showed me again that their priorities are in the right place, as they don’t quantify their blessings by the things they have.  And at one home a small boy appeared at the door just as we were about to pray for the family.  We invited him in to join us and, as he took our hands, he closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side with the most peaceful expression I had ever seen.  I had no doubt that he was filled with the Spirit as his faced glowed like the face of God.

After delivering many filters within the community, we returned to Dr. Medina’s clinic to deliver one more.  As we were standing on the porch, a bunch of children appeared in the street, clearly returning from school.  They saw us standing there and came running over to say hello and we recognized them as children from the HCN at El Ayudante.  They said hello and giggled and then ran off to play.  A few moments later we all circled around the woman who was to receive the filter and started to hold hands.  The children saw this and came running back to join in prayer with us.  As we prayed in English, Oliver translated what we said into Spanish, and these sweet young children of God repeated everything he said.  It was truly one of the best moments our day.

We are truly made to feel like family here.  This is evidenced from the comfort of El Ayudante, to the homes in the barrios, to the community in which we have built a new house.  While we bring grapes to share with the children, they provided our workers with Coke and homemade sweet bread.  With a slightly crispy, sugary outside, these treats are like communion between friends – made with love, by love and for love.

This year our construction team was tasked with building a home for Estebana, a grandmother in her 70’s who will share her home with her daughter and two grandchildren.  One of the first lessons our team had to learn, however, was not how to dig a hole or wield a hammer, but how to pronounce the name of the community in which they will be working this week.  Much to the delight of the residents (and with much amusing frustration amongst ourselves each evening), we are still not sure that any of us correctly pronounce Marañonal (and my guess is that most of you readers just made a valiant attempt to do so!)

Our first contribution to the construction involved moving dirt.  With no wheel barrows available, dirt was moved one bucketful at a time until the hole created became a playground for the children.  What child can resist jumping into a big hole and then climbing out just to repeat – over and over again.  To the amazement of our team, not only did they enjoy climbing in and out of the hole, one boy also climbed a near-by tree.  It was not the climbing that was amazing, but the fact that he used the barbed-wire fence for assistance – and he did it all bare footed!

Often the local Nicaraguan men did the house building while our missioners, in the interest of building relationships, spent time playing with the children.  Kicking a ball around the street and sitting on a man’s large foot, riding along as he walks, are both universally enjoyable to kids.  And like kids everywhere, they were delighted to don the baseball caps we had carried with us.

We have just one day left to finish this house, but we know it will get done, as the entire project has been accomplished so far with the barest of supplies, efficiency not being in great supply this week.  Not only was there no wheelbarrow, there were only three buckets and two trowels (which are used to place the mortar between the blocks). Yesterday’s work had to end early as they didn’t have enough cinder blocks, and the roof was just delivered at the end of the day today.  In a place that we affectionately say “runs on Nica-time”, we have yet to have a house not be completed on time. So we have complete faith that, by tomorrow this house, a simple 16 by 16 one-room structure with two doors and two windows, will be completed so that tomorrow afternoon we can dedicate the house and present to Estebana and her family our housewarming gift – a new Bible that bears the signature of each member of this team.

This evening we ended our day at the Pacific Ocean.   Although the surf was pounding making it too risky  for swimming in the waning sunlight, this was our opportunity to enjoy a meal at a Nicaraguan restaurant while also enjoying a spectacular view from a black sand beach. In such a setting, as in all the lush landscape of this country, it is easy to feel the presence of God.

From Clinics to Chickens

From Clinics to Chickens

Today’s forecast was for 100% chance of rain, but we awoke to sunny skies.  But even with the forecast amended to indicate rain later in the day, we splintered again into various work groups – we had work to do – work that would be accomplished with or without a cooling shower.

Two members of our team, a doctor and a pharmacist, have spent their week working at Dr. Medina’s clinic in Rubén Darío.  The clinic is not like anything you would see in the states.  The “waiting room” is an open air porch on the back of the facility with a few wooden benches on which the patients wait their turn.  The clinic serves the three surrounding barrios (neighborhoods) in which approximately 3000 people.  Dr. Medina is the primary physician for all of these people and his clinic is also a teaching clinic for the local medical school.  The modest brick structure includes a pharmacy – one simple room with minimal supplies.  We were actually pleasantly surprised to see medicine on the shelves, as there have been years when there was none.

The examining rooms offer little privacy as they are partitioned with partial walls and to say supplies are limited would be an understatement.  There is little thought to sterilization as the supplies that they do have are shared.  Unlike our experience with medical services at home, there are no gloves, no clean sleeve to place over the thermometer, no sinks in the examining rooms, and no clean white paper sheet to pull up over the examining table between patients.  The examining table itself is often not much more than a wooden table or metal table with little to no padding, and surely no little pillow for one’s comfort.   When Dr. Medina gave us a tour of his clinic, he indicated a new intake area that has been carved out of the corner of one room, but this room has yet to be used as they have not yet figured out how to connect electricity to it.  We can assume that electricity would be for lights, because it most definitely is not for computers, as those don’t exist in this clinic.  All of the records are written by hand.

But that doesn’t deter Dr. Medina from taking care of this community.  Somehow, regardless of the lack of supplies and resources, they get it done, and get it done well. Considering their lack of supplies and sanitation, our pharmacist was actually surprised at how healthy the people are here as compared to her expectations.  Perhaps this is due to their internal constitution and fortitude, or perhaps they keep going because they have to.  When you live in these conditions and need something done, you have to get up and do it.  Life is not easy here, and perhaps that, by necessity, gives them strength.  This is not to say that they are in good health.  Kidney problems are rampant here because of the lack of clean drinking water.  But they don’t lie down and complain – they keep pushing on through.

This doctor is rather like the old time country doctor, only he covers a larger territory with far more people.  There is no question that he is not only dedicated to his patients but, even if he doesn’t know each of their names, he does seem to really know each one of them.  Prescription renewal here is an arduous, labor-intensive process and chronic care medicine is filled with only a one month supply.  At one point there was some confusion regarding one patient’s prescription refill as it was nowhere in his chart.  Dr. Medina had only to look at the patient and he immediately identified and listed each of his medications.   The members of our team offered what supportive assistance they could.  Clearly spending time at a clinic like this would give any of us a new appreciation for all that we have, not only in terms of sanitary conditions and modern medical technology, but the most basic of health care needs, clean water.

Four years ago while working with a local community, an idea was born in an attempt to help them to be more self-sufficient.  What good does it do to provide a new home for a family if there is no food to eat or means by which to support themselves?  Thus began the birth of our gardening project. The thought was that if we assisted a community with tools and supplies to plant gardens, perhaps they could not only feed their families, but potentially sell the yield to provide an income for their family.

Realizing that this would take a long-term commitment and continuous assistance and guidance, we have partnered with a church in Illinois that has had success in this area.  Working through them and assisting in the financing of local support, some members of our team toured these gardens in two different communities were pleased to report that they are now beginning to see success in this endeavor.  In addition to this, an opportunity was given to two communities to raise chickens – one for the eggs and one for the meat.  Felix, who is raising the egg-laying chickens, now owns 114 chickens who are laying 105 eggs every day, and in less than a year he has almost reached our ultimate goal, self-sufficiency.

It is our prayer that perhaps one day these food producing families can sell their wares to the local organizations that feed hungry families.  This goal cannot be reached until one huge obstacle is overcome – transportation.  With no means by which to get the goods to market, there is no way to fully succeed.  Felix has a son who uses his motorcycle to deliver eggs for him.  But this has only limited success – not just because using a motorcycle for delivering eggs can be limiting, but because half the year here it is the rainy season, making it not only impractical much of the time, but impossible due to road conditions.  We pray that with continued support, hard work, and dedication we will be able to assist with a long term solution to this not un-surmountable obstacle.  We are a pretty dedicated bunch – and obstacles are slow us down, but they will not stop us from doing our best to make this dream a reality.

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