” In response to a world of violence, oppression and war, the first word that Christians have to say is church” – John Howard Yoder
This quote above is one that Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, Area Director of Latin America and Caribbean for MCC, shared with us during one of our orientation sessions while discussing MCC’s preferential option for churches and SEED in particular’s focus on working with local churches. It’s something I’ve been mulling around since Daryl said it at the beginning of the week, because I’m not sure the first word out of my mouth in response to the violence I see (be it structural or direct) is church. It’s probably more like…resistance, organization, speaking the truth, presence. And yet isn’t that what church is supposed to be? I haven’t really seen it yet, but in some ways deciding to spend the next two years working for an organization led by the church, through local churches is my way of experimenting and seeing if I can come to see church as an adequate answer to oppression.
After the second day of orientation the moment where I could really make anyone understand what my life is right now passed. How do I explain the sudden importance of seven people who were near strangers to me a week ago? How to describe the mix of frustration, elation and hilarity in getting to speak Spanish most of the day and totally falling on my face (linguistically) more than half the time? I can tell you that “chistes”, or jokes, have played a major role in helping our group bond. One of the Seed-ers, Carolina, is particularly adept in this area and we (Estado-Unidenses) return the favor as much as we can by stumbling through translations of blond jokes and figuring both cultures have “that’s what she said” jokes. Music, also, has been absolutely key. Two nights after an epic bluegrass jam ( Juan on the Mandolin he literally JUST learned a few chords on, Will on banjo, Leonel and I on guitar and a whole chorus belting) singing “Swing low”, “I’ll fly Away”, “Wagon Wheel” and others nearly the whole group went to a typical Nicaraguan concert. The main singer was also the all-around entertainer and told dozens of jokes (only about 4 of which I caught, he spoke so fast! But here’s one example: How do you say, in Chinese, ” The gorilla swimming in a resort town in Mexico?” answer: King Kong en Cancun) which was also a meaningful bonding experience. We are getting to know each other through jokes, music and the everyday routines, but this week has also been the shortest of introductions to topics we will be discussing together for the next two years. Questions of cultural differences, theology, oppression and justice all take on a slightly different tone when discussing them with friends from such different backgrounds.
Something I know I will continue to struggle with for the next two years is the question of privileged. One our touristy day today we visited some of the 300 and something islands off the coast of Granada. When I say “coast” please understand that these are Islands in Latin America’s second largest lake, the only lake in the world with fresh-water sharks. Many of these Islands are owned by rich expatriates and corporate bosses. we passed one Island with a water-fall-pool and luxurious mansion on it which we were told cost about $150,000. Can you imagine? This is Nicaragua’s national treasure and yet I’m fairly confident if I followed an expected life trajectory I could afford one of these Islands within 20 or so years. It was interesting, also, because I’m currently still reading “The Help” and was reminded of it as we passed two Islands, one with a mansion on it and the other with a very small, simple, hovelish house, the help. What does all of this mean about the choices I make? The way I choose to live?
Tomorrow we fly to Colombia. I will be living with Elizabeth, an MCC employee who spent the past week with us and feels like part of the group, and her cousin. I’m looking forward to getting to know the group more, to having one on one language study, and running in the city! Until next time, peace out!