Archives For Guatemala Toilet Project

IMG_2133Today is World Toilet Day, a globally recognized occasion to direct the attention of pampered, fat-a#$#@ like you and me to the lack of sanitation in the developing world.

Not only is not having a pot to p@## in a lack of dignity even America’s poorest can’t imagine, lack of sanitation brings with it systemic health and socio-economic effects.

World Toilet Day has been celebrated by the UN, NGO’s and the philanthropic community since 2001 with a campaign that- I’m quoting here- ‘mixes humor with serious facts to help people resonate with a problem most otherwise ignore.’

Ignore.

Because from a fundraiser’s perspective, toilets aren’t as sexy as a kid with flies in his eyes or buying a playground for him.

And from a funder’s perspective toilets are just, well, ICK.

I know today, November 19, is World Toilet Day.

I’m just surprised- cr!% in my pants shocked- that UMCOR knows its World Toilet Day.

That’s UMCOR as in United Methodist Committee on Relief, the social service arm of the United Methodist Church, the mainoldline denomination in which I toil for love of Jesus.

For the past 30 months, I, and many of my congregants, have literally worked like c@#$ to raise the money and provide much of the hands-on labor to install one complete sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama, Guatemala.

We did so primarily because the leaders of the community themselves identified sanitation as the number one transformative step we could help them take towards an empowered future.

We did so also because 2.5 billion people in the world don’t have access to sanitation.

Not only does that lead to a 9/11 everyday of bacteria-related fatalities, it’s the main obstacle to girls staying in school once they hit puberty (think about it).

Probably, you DO have to think about it because YOU DON’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT TAKING A S#$% any day much less everyday.

Toilets are something we take for granted which means it’s not easy to raise money or awareness about someone else’s need for them.

Not to mention a giant Victorian taboo about talking about s#$% stands in the way.

Over the past 2 years we’ve raised over $100,000 off-budget. We’ve also sent more volunteers to help install the sanitation system than most Methodist churches have in worship on a Sunday.

We did so through…drumroll…’mixing humor with serious facts.’

A series of short videos of a guy in a collar (me~ fully clothed) on or near one of my church’s 37(!!) toilets. In each video I tried to playfully point out that getting upset about taboos like talking about doodie in church is pretty unJesusy when he died naked and most of the people he claims to prefer literally live in, play in and eat food washed in doodie every day.

I was told by the denominational powers-that-be that the word ‘toilet’ is inappropriate in church and in church communications. If you want more of that story please call (703) 768-1114.

Truth be told, the broohaha probably helped us raise more money and I was fine with that until I got this email last week from UMCOR, one of the agencies of the denominational powers-that-be.

Telling me today is World Toilet Day and asking me- I s@#$ you not- to learn more by watching a video.

Of a church employee (a pastor?).

At a toilet.

Talking about the importance of toilets.

Even if we think it’s impolite to talk about.

Toilets.

I don’t think I’m being vain by pointing out the similarities (i.e., stealing) in approach. This UMCOR video is the Gary Busey to my Nick Nolte, the Rutger Hauer to my Anthony Hopkins, or even if it’s the reverse the resemblance is there.

I like to think of myself as a trend-setter, but even I can’t make ‘toilet’ an appropriate word in church if it truly is/was a vulgar, ‘grievous’ offense. Anyways, all the crap was worth it because come January, when our mission team arrives, the project will be complete and we’ll be just an inch closer to new creation.

Since it’s World Toilet Day, why not give to Aldersgate’s Guatemala Toilet Project here. Every wee little bit helps, so do you doodie.

And to celebrate Word Toilet Day, here’s a never-published and not-so-amazing (I was told to delete all the old ones) video my kid did for the project in ’13.

 

IMG_3916-768x1024Here’s a homily written by friend, congregant and seminary student Jimmy Owsley (above…no that’s not me). He wrote this sermon for our evening worship in Guatemala during our mission there in July.

His text was Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:3- ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

 

What do you think it means to be poor in spirit?

According to Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 5, “To be poor in spirit is to be contentedly poor, willing to be emptied of worldly wealth.”

Putting it another way “The poor in spirit have accepted the loss of all things, most importantly the loss of self, so that they may follow Christ,” says German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I’d like to start this sermon off with the premise that he Sermon on the Mount demands our whole allegiance. If Scripture is our authority then we don’t get to pick and choose which verses we want to follow and which ones we don’t. And this is one of the most comprehensive segments Jesus’ teaching that we have available.

Furthermore, when Jesus instructs in the Sermon on the Mount, he is not speaking of merely spiritual realities. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven, he speaks of a present physical kingdom, the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament which the Messiah was to bring about. This is why the early Christians could say “Jesus is Lord” in direct contradiction to “Caesar is Lord.” It was kind of a big deal. In orthodox Christian belief, this kingdom an already-but not yet reality that Christian are called to live into. This is a paradigm in which the realities of heaven and earth collide.

So when Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, he is not saying that they will be blessed in spirit sometime later, such as when they die. And he’s not saying that being poor in spirit has nothing to do with earthly wealth. “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” he says.

Rather, the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who would renounce all earthly gains. This is why Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

And when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he is saying those who are poor in spirit are blessed now, in this life. They are the partakers of the kingdom of Heaven. Those who have emptied themselves, who seek not their own gain but live according to the principles of the kingdom of God, that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” these people have God’s peace in their hearts. For these are the ones who, as Jesus says elsewhere, have lost their life that they may find it. How contrary to our “American Dream”?

So he says do not store up treasures on earth, but rather store up treasures in heaven. In other words store up treasures based on the principles of God’s kingdom, where poverty, simplicity, justice, meekness, and mercy are valued. Leave behind the values of the kingdoms of this world.

Indeed, every earthly gain can be lost. But it is our relationships with others, established through loving service of God and neighbor, which are the stuff of heaven. Only our relationships with God and with neighbor can bring us the overwhelming peace that comes with the kingdom of God. This kind of peace requires renouncing the false securities that this world has to offer: “There is no way to peace along the way of safety,” says Bonhoeffer “For peace must be dared. It is itself the great venture and can never be safe.”

If you are poor in spirit, if you sacrifice your own wealth and aspirations and live on mission for God in this world as you are meant to do, “Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness,” God will take care of you, Jesus says. But if you strive first and foremost for your own security, then your heart is not with him in his kingdom for “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“For this reason” Jesus says “do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on…” And of course, all of us doubt this. How can we not worry about providing for ourselves? And even for our families?

But Jesus anticipates this. “O you of little faith,” he replies. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?

So what would it mean to live at peace? To follow Jesus commands not to worry? To not be pursuing that next highest paying job, a successful career, or that dream of more comfortable house? What would it mean to live wholeheartedly for the purposes of God, relying on each other and trusting that, if we live according to principles of His kingdom which are vastly different and most often contradictory the principles of our earthly kingdoms, that if we trust and follow God will provide?

This week we all will experience God’s kingdom in some way. I trust that you are here, not to check off a box or fill in that volunteer line on your resumes. You are here in good faith because you feel some calling to serve God by serving your neighbor. You feel the pull to live out your faith, and you have renounced a chunk of your valuable time and resources to be here this week.

This may feel like a mountaintop experience for some of you, or a break from reality in some way. And it is a break from our normal everyday American reality. You might wonder how to live so simply and meaningfully in your everyday life when you return.

I encourage you to soak in the principles of the Sermon on the Mount this week, and to fully enjoy the extent to which you will be able to give of yourself. Please also be thinking about ways in which you might reorient you everyday life around these principles. What would it be like to really live according to the beatitudes day in and day out?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tikkun Olam is a Jewish theological concept that refers to God’s commitment to repair the world.

On Friday morning our team of about 30 returned from Chuicutama, Guatemala, an indigenous village about 11K feet up in the Highlands. Over the past few years my church has been committed to providing a complete sanitation system for the 400+ residents of Chuicutama.

In addition, we’ve constructed a community center in the village where volunteer teams like ours can stay to service the neighboring communities and where medical volunteers from North American can come to train indigenous women to provide themselves healthcare.

Ministry has few tangible results to which you can point. I’m grateful that due to the generosity and hard work of many of you we’ve made an impactful differences in the lives of the people in Chuicutama.

This work I believe is one way important way we’ve embodied tikkun olam as a community.

In December/January when the dry season has come the final sewage lines will be added to the system bringing the multiyear project to a close. It should be a cool celebration to experience. If you’re interested in joining our winter team to share in that moment just let me know. 

For my sermon on Sunday I walked people through images from the week’s work. If you’d like to listen to it, you can below. Or you can download the free mobile app.

If you’d like to read my introductory and concluding comments, you can here: Tikkun Olam Romans 4 Sermon

Here’s the slideshow that went with the sermon: Toilet Project Slideshow

Here are some images from the week:

James Matthews, Ron Good and I digging the ditch for the main sewer line.

IMG_3896

Our ladies sorting rocks and sifting sand for the septic tank’s filtration system. IMG_3891

First Manhole (10 ft down)IMG_3897

First Community Street’s Sewer Line
IMG_3903

Jimmy Owsley digging and digging and digging…IMG_3916

200 lb sewer pipesIMG_3904

Mainline about 1/5 of the way dug 🙁

IMG_3906IMG_3952

The hard work leads to high jinks:

This picture, I think, captures just how invested every member of the community is in this project. It’s something we’re doing with them not for them. IMG_5519

Lorenzo, a member of the community, received a needful wage from our fundraising for the Toilet Project.

IMG_5123IMG_3948

Carrying the sewage pipes a 4-man affair

IMG_5110My brother-in-law, who quit his job and sold his stuff about 16 months to volunteer full-time in Guatemala, overseeing the Toilet Project.

IMG_5107Community Septic System. The Community Center was the first building in the village tied into the system.

IMG_4567IMG_4553The completed Community Center where our team this week lived and ate.

IMG_4566IMG_4862IMG_4552IMG_4554IMG_4555

 

Miguel, the leader of Chuicutama, thanks Aldersgate for all their work and partnership (the power went out our last night so it’s dark):

394705_268204743284233_733312341_nIt’s not uncommon for parents to send their youth on mission trips hoping the experience will impart some life-lesson in gratitude.

Parents often send their youth to places like Guatemala, hoping their son or daughter will return home feeling fortunate for the ‘blessings’ they have in their own life. Parents’ motivation for funding a mission trip frequently isn’t religious at all; they just want their kids to come home realizing they shouldn’t complain about what model Xbox they have because at least they have shelter, food and water.

I don’t doubt that when my boys are teenagers and themselves being consumed by materialism I’ll have those same motivations in shipping them off to some desperate, developing nation.

At the same time, the motivation to ‘teach our kids how fortunate they are’ has always rubbed me the wrong way.

After all, aren’t we essentially using someone’s poor kid to teach our rich kid a lesson?

That’s not mission; it’s not service. That’s, really, just another form of consumerism.

We’re sending them off to a place of poverty because there’s nothing we can buy in the store that will teach them that particular lesson.

Here’s what else I think and I only realize this because I didn’t send my kids off on a mission trip I happen to be here in Guatemala with them:

When we want our kids to come away from mission feeling fortunate for what they have, we tip our hats to the fact that having is really what’s important to us.

Seeing this place through Gabriel’s and Alexander’s eyes has taught me an important lesson. The poor, indigenous Mayans with whom we’ll serve this week- they don’t know they’re ‘poor.’ They don’t think of themselves as poor.

And neither does Gabriel. Nor does Alexander

They’re just people to them. 541013_10200197862772183_68837880_n

Seeing this place through their eyes has shows me how poverty is a category we impose on them because we’ve allowed materialism to call the shots in how we define ‘riches’ or ‘happiness.’

Gabriel and Alexander don’t notice that none of these kids have a Wii and they don’t feel badly that they don’t.

They don’t show compassion to them because it doesn’t occur to him that they should be pitied.

Instead Gabriel has been perfectly content to play in the dirt, broken bits of plastic making just as good an Ironman toy as a $10 one from Target. Their homes are just their homes, that their floor is mud and ours hardwood is of no consequence to him.

Parents often want their kids to return from a place like Guatemala realizing that they should be content with what they have. I’ve never heard a parent say they want their child to return realizing that a full, rich life can be had apart from having.

But it can be. That’s what my boys teach me here, and it’s taught me that until you’re hit with this realization you can never see ‘poor‘ people as…people.

And if you can’t see them as people your act of charity isn’t Christian precisely because it’s neither relational nor incarnational.

I’ve been coming to Guatemala for over a decade to do projects like these for people like this but, seeing them through Gabriel’s eyes, it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time.

‘Inodoro’ is Spanish for…find out for yourself.

My friends Ben and Lupe at Highland Support Project did me a huge, inconvenient favor by putting together this video from Chuicutama, Guatemala.

Take a look at the situation in the village and how we’re empowering and partnering with the members of the community to change their lives in an urgent and needful way.

After you’re done watching, click here and give us your money.

Give till it hurts. It’s Lent after all. ‘Tis the season of suffering and sacrifice.

 

 

JanetThe overlap between art and faith coincides at a number of points.

Both rely upon tradition and discipline to think about the things which matter.

Both use symbolics to make a prophetic point about the world as it is beneath our pretensions.

In both art and faith, the debate between what is sacred (or just appropriate) and profane is continuous.

In fact, I would argue the ongoing power and relevance of both art and faith is due to their ability to blur the line of convention and provoke just such a conversation.

Recently, some have raised the question of the appropriateness of the word ‘toilet’ in a sacred setting.

Is the word itself profane?

Or does context- how and to what end it’s used, say raising money for an indigenous community- determine it’s propriety?

Can an ordinarily ‘profane’ word become ‘sacred?’

Janet Laisch, an art historian and church member, picks it up from here.
Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968il_340x270.545836925_2ejm

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain from 1964 above is displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) as a replacement for his original from 1917. After his brother’s death during WWI, Duchamp moved from Paris to NYC and helped form the Society of Independent Artists as a way for emerging artists to exhibit their work without censor. In preparation for the first show, Duchamp purchased a mass produced plumbing object from the Mott Hardware store, signed it using his alter ego R. Mutt short for Richard Mutt and dated it 1917.  Duchamp categorized this entry as sculpture and paid the required $6 fee only to have it rejected and “lost” or destroyed. The controversy that ensued became part of the object’s meaning and eventually the impetus for Duchamp to recreate it and have it displayed permanently at the SF MOMA.

The following is a direct quote from a 1917 periodical: “The Richard Mutt Case,” from The Blind Man, May 1917:

cover_280px_blindman-2

 

“They say any artist paying six dollars may exhibit.” Mr. Richard Mutt sent in a fountain.

Without discussion this article disappeared and never was exhibited. What were the grounds for refusing Mr. Mutt’s fountain:

 1 Some contended it was immoral, vulgar.

 2 Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing.

Now Mr. Mutt’s fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bathtub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers’ show windows. Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object. As for plumbing, that is absurd. The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.”

tumblr_m4lm2zMLfw1r1m3d3o1_1280

Creating art during WWI when most objects were mass produced and easily replaceable, Duchamp asked: should art still be hand-made, one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable, unique?

Should art be visually pleasing?

Must art require impressive technical skill?

What is art?

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

Through the use of only minimally manipulated mundane ready-made objects, Duchamp sought to move away from the established definition that art should showcase the visual and technical skill of the artist and instead made art about a concept. The idea the object conveys is the more permanent nature of the art(ifact) as long as it has a vehicle for communicating its message. The object itself will eventually disappear much like Duchamp felt after his own brother’s death during WWI.

The idea once created remains a part of history as long as it is remembered either by creating a replacement or by communicating about it. For this work, Duchamp chose the plumbing object, displayed it at 90 degrees and signed it in black and called it sculpture.  Applying a title not associated with its original use may change it very drastically.

The very title—Fountain—transforms the way I view this ready-made object.

Duchamp wanted people to reconsider it– that is why he provided it with a new name. He wants us to free associate using the plumbing object and title to form new ideas and think about society in a new way.

dscf8101-e1346028842788il_340x270-1.545836925_2ejm

 

For example, we find it absurd to drink water from Duchamp’s Fountain or vile and revolting.

Hopefully we are angry enough that we don’t want anyone to drink non potable water.

segregation-drinking-fountain

It is a loaded image because it reminds me of really vile behavior and oppression when different standards were not recognized as evil.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

We don’t have to agree that this object is art or that Duchamp is brilliant.

I hope we can agree that these people are beautiful, one-of-a kind, unique, and irreplaceable.

When it comes to ‘toilets’ and getting toilets and clean water to children like these, the question is not between the sacred and profane.

It’s a question of what is holy.

To give to the Guatemala Toilet Project, click here.

guatemalan-children

 

Here’s the latest- flu bug- installment for the Guatemala Toilet Project.

You can do your doodie by giving today. Every a wee little bit helps.

So much of what I do as a pastor is ephemeral.

It’s hard to step away from the pulpit and know if a sermon will survive any longer than the moment that’s just passed. It’s difficult to sit by a hospital bed and discern if you’ve been anything more than simply kind, if you’ve been helpful. Or true. I do believe in measuring. I believe numbers matter because people matter to God, but I also know that in ministry there are not as many quantifiables as some would like to pretend. Still fewer are the tangible outcomes produced by ministry.

One of them, however, is the mission work made possible in part by my congregation, and thus in part, by me.

I hope it sounds neither sentimental nor self-interested that I find a great sense of fulfillment in knowing that I had a small role to play in the Community/Clinic getting built in Chikisis, Guatemala over 2012-2013.

Not only will the center house service teams in a region of the Highlands otherwise too remote to help, it will serve as a gathering spot of indigenous women in the region to receive medical training and o

ther empowerment skills.

Here are some photos taken by our most recent team of the center as well as some photos of digging the central sewage lines for the community- part of our larger Guatemala Toilet Project in Chikisis.

fnHVf_AWswRoaitS9AmyiwvxgGK2utXzxlJspg4clZsuJFp3IYyRlyqlNbjQkI1E0ElXaFOAQlA-R2qGz5oI8UHRp2RSrAQttd6-KZgcGKwEhTaNgJGzgE-tLVKGUWAXoCqTzIx-BteD0bSG87xRbA5oUjwg2xfShJW48wQE1lcAT7d3zaHAWLSLvQrQEkx7ZhEJeTAyisghuMQR9SG6BNQa5EdidSkr4X8eSEumPz0BC0Q8p81_8jnfBXZ1wb6VfcFeSXbZ-1THmQa2u8kTpfMxSoWFYCdChMrHqH0VZe4fYLKcV8C-CVJpJv6uyyDcCaScGhrzgg64jvT6sHyv-75wOZKunc-Hks_Pc4VE-dZaqpuzv-tumSEelPS51BQMYAEqSjKUSOoj8muqj9VIPhBgpCzvyUf3VsJBluLy7Z9XTUyGRD5bphKfDd8rGgbzL74SZLosSYH5ARuca8U3b3F2c

1533912_788137987868343_1539293862_nMany of you helped fund or build the Community Center in Chuicutama, Guatemala.

Our Christmas mission team lodged there this December while working on our Sanitation Project. Now, you can see the community center being used as it was intended: to train and empower indigenous women in the Highlands.

 

9The women of Pixan are Mayan women from the Highlands of Guatemala being trained by Highland Support Project to to compete in the global marketplace.

These are the same women helped and empowered through our other projects such as stove-building, women’s circles and the sanitation project.

You can check out the video below and then go to their storeto purchase a life-changing project yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got a bunch of new blog followers since we started the project so couldn’t resist posting the video again.

Anyways…

Here’s some photos of our ongoing project in Chuicutama, Guatemala. Thanks to all of you who’ve supported our work. And we invite you to continue supporting us.

Pictures in chronological order

Construction and completed pictures of phase 1 – construction of Treatment Plant

photo descriptions in order:

building forms for pouring roof of septic tankbuilding filter tank

installing man hole in street

connecting community center to system

finished filter tank, water inlet manifold, canal

treatment plant from bellow

finished man hole in street

treatment plant from above finished

good view

019-rs

025-rs

028-rs

030-rs045-rs

 

052-rs

063-rs

066-rs

 

004-rs

_DSC0359Penelope Norton is a former youth, now friend, who interns with our partner Highland Support Project in Guatemala. This is from her blog, an important reflection on how culture objectifies women. As Penelope points out, we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think machismo attitudes don’t play themselves out in a variety of societal ways; we’re kidding ourselves too if we think our own culture is immune to such abuse.

It didn’t hurt, but I could still feel where his hand had landed harshly on my backside. For several hours after I could feel the outline of every finger not due to pain, but because of how gross I felt. Thinking back to the few moments before it had happened it all made sense. I was waiting at the only light there is on my 15 minute walk to work. When it turned green I proceeded to walk across the street and as a couple was about to cross my path I slowed down. They were looking at me for what seemed like more than the average amount of time. I only seemed to notice it looking back on the scene. As I slowed, out of my peripherals I noticed a boy oddly close to me and once I slowed he veered away from me and down the street I was crossing. A block later I heard hurried foot steps behind me and then a firm smack. I immediately wheeled around amidst a stream of curses (I’m embarrassed to say)and by the time I had made a one/eighty to face my accoster he was already scuttling away and had made it at least 5 feet. The maybe 17 year old boy in a school uniform, the same boy from the block before, was retreating as fast as he had come on.

I had known it would be coming. If I had read into the events that happened right before the slap that was heard through Xela (not really); the couple watching him follow closely behind me, me turning on him right before he had planned to slap me while I was crossing the street I would have realized it was coming. I have been here four months and I’m honestly surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. There are many American, European, and Canadian women in Xela working for non-profits or here to go to Spanish school. We stick out like soar thumbs and due to our light skin, blue eyes, and golden hair we’re targeted. We’re new, exciting, something men here don’t see everyday. We’re something to brag about, “I touched agringa‘s ass today!” I have made many girlfriends here and they all have the same story to tell, all seeming to have the same reaction, dumb-founded stairs, silence, and sometimes even tears. I had mentally prepared myself for this moment, for when it was my turn. I had decided from the beginning that I could not stare dumbly. I told myself from very early on, “Penelope, you will take every precaution to be safe here, but something like being slapped, pinched, or grabbed will happen to you. You can either let it happen or you can do something about it.” I had given myself this pep-talk every time I had heard one of my girl-friend’s most recent stories.

Within my family I am known for my “take-no-prisoners” mentality and I hope it never fades. I was mentally ready. I turned around ready to do I don’t know what, but found him already several feet away. Metal water bottle in one hand and tupperware container full of my breakfast (yogurt and fruit) in the other. With him already out of arms reach, making it unable to grab him by the collar and shake him I did all I could and chucked my breakfast at him. Store owners watching. The boy’s eyes widened and I think he was literally dumb-founded. Unfortunately missing, my rage had not given me the clarity to aim (you can be sure something I will be practicing) and the unusual weight and balance to the tupperware throwing me off. He kept retreating and I proceeded to walk after him, metal water bottle raised yelling at him the whole way till he was in full sprint and around the corner. I am sure this was not his first rodeo, but I am confident that this was the first time he had ever received this sort of reaction. Ashamed and embarrassed of what he had just done to me I went and retrieved my breakfast which had luckily not broken open, but was lying sadly in a dirty puddle.

I think about all the women that are sexually accosted on a much greater level. How, what happened to me was really just child’s play, but still made me feel disgusting and low. Why is that women are the ones that feel embarrassed after something like this happens? We did nothing wrong!

Guatemala lives under macho rule. Women don’t have much to any say, constantly belittled, daughters don’t usually receive the same treatment as sons, wives don’t find themselves partners in their marriage, but just an object conquered; expected to clean, cook, and bear children. Within this macho culture women are raised to be passive and to obey men. Women are constantly berated with more than your average cat call (a simple whistle just won’t cut it); heads hanging out of windows, targets of obscene sexual comments, and as I have experienced being touched inappropriately and without permission. This is normal. Sometimes I feel like the women have bought into it here, but really its all they know.

I only hear the stories of the other Western women that are here as I don’t have many opportunity to have these conversations with Guatemalan women. I assume that they have similar and worse stories. In reality, us “white girls” have a little protection. If a Guatemalan women is touched, raped, goes missing its rare for justice to be served. There is little weight put on their lives. Heads would role if this happened to a “white girl”. They rather not go through the trouble.

In Mayan culture God is made up of both feminine and masculine energy. When Mayan priests begin their prayers they first recognize the feminine energy, second the masculine. It was with the invasion of the Spanish and the male dominated culture they brought with them that the traditional gender role views slowly began to shift. While Mayan culture’s appreciation of both female and male energies equally remains it suffered a greater blow. Guatemala has been heavily wounded by violence. The civil war left deep scars and Guatemalan women are especially exposed. In Guatemala more women (per capita) are murdered than anywhere else in the world (2009), and the murders, the so-called “femicidios”, are characterized by raw brutality and hatred towards women. Women find themselves the punching bags to drunk, stressed, depressed men.

While the appreciation for women within Mayan culture has suffered it is still a breath of fresh air to get out of town and walk through the dirt paths of the Mayan communities.

The need for education is great. The need for a rise in women’s self-esteem is desperate. We work every day through women circle meetings to praise women. Teach them their not worthless. They are more than a body who’s soul purpose is reproduction. I am proud of our work in the communities. We have seen differences in pride and self-esteem which will in turn change the view of how things should be in the home and the rest of the community.

Things are changing, but not fast enough and not on a large enough scale. Never the less I am proud of the progress we are making.

*For family and friends that read my blog I want you to know that I am not in danger. I am extremely careful. I walk no where on my own after dark. When I notice men on the sidewalk I move to the street and visa versa. I am very aware of my surroundings. If anything this experience has strengthened my vigilance. Please do not be worried. I promise I am more than alright.

IMG_0516I spent the last week in the Highlands of Guatemala, working on a sewage system for a Maya village in the mountains. I’ve heard it before but the numbers still have the power to shock:

75% of the children in the Highlands under 7 years old are critically malnourished.

Hearing that stat my first thought, perhaps oddly, was peace.

The scriptures declare that God’s vision and promise to us is shalom, which is usually translated as “peace.”

It’s meaning, however, is much richer than what is conveyed by our English word.

Shalom means wholeness, healing, justice, and righteousness, equality, unity, freedom, and community. Shalom is a vision of all people whole, well, and one, and of all nature whole, well, and one.

According to United Methodist Bishops it is “the sum total of moral and spiritual qualities in a community whose life is in harmony with God’s good creation.” They specifically relate Jesus’ ministry to the gift of shalom and affirm, “New Testament faith presupposes a radical break between the follies, or much so-called conventional wisdom about power and security, on the one hand, and the transcendent wisdom of shalom, on the other.”

The book of Revelation imagines the completion of human history and the full realization of God’s redemptive purpose for the world in terms of “a new heaven and a new earth.” Its visionary author, John of Patmos, described when God would be with and among human beings.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’ [Revelation 21:1-3].

John seems to have in mind the words of Isaiah:

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind… I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.  No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; …They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well…

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord [Isaiah 65: 17-25].

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nOne can only imagine how these words must sound to the millions in our world today who labor to build houses for others, but whose earnings enable them only to live in homes of scrap metal and cardboard.

Who work fields owned by others, the harvest of which is shipped to another, wealthier land while they most scavenge for food in landfills.

Whose children will die with bloated bellies before they see adulthood.

The gospel of the Kingdom of God, the gospel that proclaims the promise of shalom, is surely good news for the poor.

But what is it for us? Is it message one of woe?

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep [Luke 6:21-25].

It need not be.  Matthew 25: 31-46 is typically identified as “the judgment of the nations” or “the last judgment.” It speaks of “the Son of Man” coming in glory with the angels, sitting on his throne with all the nations gathered before him.

It is judgment because it envisions sheep being divided from goats. The sheep will go to the right, the goats to the left. To those on his right, the King says,

““Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  But those on the left: “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  

And what was the difference between the sheep and the goats, those who gained entrance to the kingdom and those shut out?  Simply, their response to the poor and oppressed determined the judgment.

Of course, the judge first expressed the matter in terms of their response to his need.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”   Both the saved and the damned professed ignorance.  ““Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?”  

His response:

““Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

Is it a mistake to suggest that our salvation hinges on our response to the crises like the aforementioned stat?

 

 

IMG_0516As you might know, I just returned from the Highlands of Guatemala, a place whose staggering beauty is rivaled only by its systemic poverty.

Making the transition back to home from a place where clean water and a flushing toilet are literally a PIPE DREAM always leaves me feeling……?

Indicted?

And why would that be?

Probably because, despite what Glenn Beck would have us think, the biblical witness is clear—from the exodus, through the Hebrew prophets, to Jesus himself—that God acts for and calls us to liberation of the oppressed.

Theologians call it God’s ‘preferential option for the poor.’ Meaning, God attends particularly to the plight of the poor, the most vulnerable, and exploited and expects his people to do the same. To this we might add now that effectively responding to the needs of the poor and oppressed is a moral priority for those who seek to live in faithful relation to God.

Further elaborating this point, is a piece written by Dr. Barry Penn Hollar, with whom I collaborated on a Christian Ethics book a few years ago:

The story of the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt is central to this claim.  The exodus was and remains the fundamental, identity-shaping experience of the Jewish people.  It is the focus the Passover festival, which to this day roots Jewish identity in the experience of liberation by the almighty hand of God.  We who are Christians remember that it was in the context of the Passover festival that Jesus began the festival that is our fundamental, identity-shaping experience: the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.

At the center of the Exodus memory is an insight about the very character of God: God’s compassionate sharing of the experience of oppression.  “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters,” God says [Exodus 3:7].   This is not a detached and disengaged awareness. Rather, God says, “I know their suffering.”  The Hebrew word “to know” is used with reference to sexual intercourse or intimacy.  It implies a sharing of the experience to which it refers. God knows and shares their suffering. Moreover, it is an awareness that leads to action.

The verse continues: “I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.”

This portrayal of God as one who shares the suffering of the poor and oppressed and acts to deliver them is consistent throughout the Old Testament.

Amos, Isaiah, and Micah were noteworthy for their insistence that injustice and oppression was a religious issue or a matter rendering the peoples’ relationship to God faithless and their worship inauthentic.

Consider these words from Isaiah:

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow [Isaiah 1: 15-17].

And listen to Amos:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream [Amos 5:21-24].

Finally, consider Micah:

 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’  He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:6-8]?

Let’s be honest:

Can we consider the statistics of the world’s poverty, the global reach of our national influence, the degree to which the international economy is organized for our benefit, and doubt that these words apply to us?

Is all our worship, then, no matter how sincere and doctrinally proper, a sham?

When we stand to praise God—lifting our hands and our voices in air-conditioned sanctuaries with cushioned pews, dressed in finery that has been produced by women’s hands in factories whose conditions are unknown to us—does God, in fact, despise it all?

Despise us?

However you answer, you have to at least admit: there’s sufficient cause to wonder.

 

Below are two images of the Clinic/Community Center we built in December in Chuicutama. The finishing work is set to be done once the rainy season is over. The other images show the septic system which we built last week (it’s across the street and down the hill from the Center) which will be the first building linked into the system.

You can give to this project here: Guatemala Toilet Project.

IMG_0621

 

Digging septic tank foundation. Check out the guns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting block over rebar. Check out the guns.IMG_0538

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tying the wire onto rebar before pouring concrete forms.

IMG_0569

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrying wood down for concrete forms. Check out the guns.

IMG_0572

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the community currently uses for toilets- pit latrines that fill into the ground and, once they’re filled, the toilet is moved to another location of their yard.IMG_0505

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0596

 

 

Pouring cement into form after 2nd level of septic tank. Check out the guns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My brother-in-law, Mikey, making sure we’ve actually dug the adjoining tank foundation on the correct side.IMG_0533

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeannie mortaring. IMG_0526

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0525

 

 

Paul watching my brother-in-law do all the work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0522

 

Bending rebar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0521

 

Bending rebar. They did about a million of these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leveling the corner blocks.IMG_0519

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0506

 

Day 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0739

IMG_0743

IMG_0511

 

 

Day 4- Septic Tank ready for roof/lid once it’s dry.

 

 

 

 

 

Clinic/Community Center waiting finishing.

 

 

 

IMG_0513

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nI just got back from Guatemala with a mission team from Aldersgate. We worked on the first stage of our Toilet Project, building a large septic tank to which the homes in Chicutama (CHEE-COO-TA-MA)will eventually connect.

If you would like contribute to the project: Guatemala Toilet Project.

Here’s my brother-in-law, Mike Keller, explaining the project:

The Fruit of Our Labor

Jason Micheli —  July 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

Last July, a mission team from my church raised the funds and constructed a kitchen for an elementary school in the mountain village of Chikisis, Guatemala. Previously, women cooked lunch for the children over an open fire indoors. To add to the ill health from the smoke, for many of the children in Chikisis this is the only or the only nutritious meal of their day.

This July we started a multiyear sanitation project in a neighboring village, but before we left we hiked up to Chikisis to check out the finished kitchen. Thank you to all of you whose generosity makes projects like this transformative in others’ lives.

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nI tell our service teams in Guatemala over and over again that the real project we’ve come for isn’t tangible. It’s relational.

When it comes to poverty and mission, listening is more important than lugging bricks and mortar.

Here’s a piece from a book on Christian Ethics I wrote with Dr. Barry Penn Hollar a while back:

While statistics on poverty are informative and useful, they do not enable us to understand what it’s like to be poor, what it’s like to live on less than 2 dollars or even a single dollar a day.

Since the poor are often illiterate and typically spend nearly all their waking hours struggling to survive they are unlikely to give expression to their experience in memoirs, fictional stories, or poems.

It is a challenge for us to hear their voices because, among the many burdens that abject poverty imposes, the destruction of the human capacity to give voice to one’s sorrow, the capacity to connect with other human beings through self-expression, may be among the most devastating.

A project of the World Bank called Voices of the Poor attempts to overcome this significant gap in our understanding. It has “collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves.”

It is based on the conviction that “poor people are the true poverty experts.”

Among the revelations of this study was that “poverty is multidimensional and complex… Poverty is voicelessness. It’s powerlessness. It’s insecurity and humiliation.”    I encourage you to go to the website and read as much as you can.  Here I can offer only few of the things poor people themselves have to say:

“Poverty is like living in jail, living under bondage, waiting to be free” — Jamaica

“Poverty is lack of freedom, enslaved by crushing daily burden, by depression and fear of what the future will bring.” — Georgia

“If you want to do something and have no power to do it, it is talauchi (poverty).” — Nigeria

“Lack of work worries me. My children were hungry and I told them the rice is cooking, until they fell asleep from hunger.” — an older man from Bedsa, Egypt.

“A better life for me is to be healthy, peaceful and live in love without hunger. Love is more than anything. Money has no value in the absence of love.” — a poor older woman in Ethiopia

“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.” — a woman from Uganda

“For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” — a blind woman from Tiraspol, Moldova

Garbage

Which should point out how unwittingly destructive it can be for white-faced volunteers  to show up to a developing nation and treat people like they’re ‘poor.’

 

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nWe just got back from Guatemala, working on the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to learn more and/or support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:

    Guatemala Toilet Project.

Before we left a few asked me: Shouldn’t we focus on helping the poor here at home?

As though we have to choose between them.

I bristle whenever anyone asks a question like that.

First, as I like to say, Christians, not just doctors, are without borders.

Second, as I’ve frequently whined, unless you’re talking about Indian Reservations (which you’re likely not) there’s no real comparison between poverty in the developing world and the poor in the United States.

Even the poorest of the poor here can walk into a gas station and get a glass of clean water.

That’s the exception in most places.

For example:

In his book Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice, Daniel Groody has summarized an array of statistical data in compiling a snapshot of the world as if it were a “global village of 100 people.”

In that village “the resources are unevenly distributed.”

The richest person in the village has as much as the poorest 57 taken together.

Fifty do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry some or all of the time, and 30 suffer malnutrition.

Forty do not have access to adequate sanitation.

31 people live in substandard housing.

31 do not have electricity; 18 are unable to read.

15 do not have access to safe drinking water.

Only 16 people have access to the internet.

Only 12 own an automobile.

Three are immigrating.

And only two have a college education.

Overall, 19 struggle to survive on one dollar per day or less.

48 struggle to live on two dollars a day or less.

In brief, as the World Bank describes it, two thirds of the planet lives in poverty.

Groody also shares some startling statistics about what he calls “our collective spending patterns as a human family in relationship to basic human needs.”

According to these figures, the world spent as much money on fragrances as all of Africa and the Middle East spent on education in 2005. The world spends almost as much money on toys and games as the poorest one-fifth of the world’s population earns in a year. The United States and Europe spent nearly ninety times as much on luxury items as the amount of money that would be needed to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for those in our global village who do not have these necessities now.   Moreover, it is sobering to consider that the world spends nearly four times as much on alcohol as on international development aid.

Every hour more than 1,200 children die of preventable diseases, which is the equivalent of three tsunamis each month.

Yet even the smallest reductions in military expenditures could dramatically affect human development.

For one day’s military spending, we could virtually eliminate malaria in Africa.

For what we spend in two days on the military, we could provide the health care services necessary to prevent the deaths of three million infants a year.

For less than a week’s military spending, we could educate each of the 140 million children in developing countries who have never attended schools.

 

Dishonest Wealth

Jason Micheli —  July 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nWe’re heading home from our week here in Guatemala, working on the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to learn more and/or support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:

    Guatemala Toilet Project.

As part of our week, we’re reflecting on the bible’s commandments about Jubilee. You can think of Jubilee as scripture’s   economic policy. Jesus unveiled his own Gospel in terms of Jubilee in Luke 4, his first sermon.

A fifth component to the Jubilee command in Leviticus 25 is that every fiftieth year all property that had been lost through hardships or lawsuits or debts would be redistributed to its original owners. Naturally it strikes many as seditious even to mention the word ‘redistribution’ in Church. It sounds like a political term.

And it is political.

Just not in the way people would expect.

In Jesus’ day, to be a wealthy Jew in a land occupied by Roman invaders meant that in all likelihood your wealth was ill-gotten. Odds were that a wealthy Jew in Jesus’ day was a collaborator, against his people, with the Roman invaders.

This is why tax collectors were despised in first century Israel. Caesar hired Jews to collect excessive taxes from their fellow Jews- taxes that went to pay for the Roman army occupying their land and crucifying those who protested- and Rome encouraged those tax collectors to raise the rate and skim off the top for their own gain.

An analogy would be the US military hiring Iraqis to collect taxes from fellow Iraqis to pay for US military personnel. You can imagine how popular that would be in Iraq.

So when the rich young man approaches Jesus asking about spiritual matters (eternal life) we should be suspicious immediately about how he’s earned his wealth. And we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus turns his spiritual yearning into a question about riches.

Jesus’ instruction to him ‘Go, sell all you own and give it to the poor, and then follow me’ should be heard as an echo of the Jubilee command.

He’s telling the rich man that for salvation to be made available to him then he must give back to the poor the wealth he has taken from the poor.

The rich man refuses, walking away weeping.

In the very next chapter, Jesus encounters Zaccheus, a tax collector. He and the rich, young man are meant to contrast with one another.

Luke describes Zaccheus as a little man but you can be sure he was a big shot, making a fortune off the backs of his oppressed fellow citizens. Zaccheus, though, is transformed by the grace shown to him by Christ. Though despised, Jesus wants to eat at his house for dinner. Such unexpected grace prompts Zaccheus to return his ill-gotten wealth to the poor, a response that provokes Jesus to declare: ‘Today salvation has come to your house.’

What’s this mean?

 Are we to indict ourselves for the wealth we have and enjoy?

Are we to give everything away, examine what we have that’s been by another’s disadvantage or just feel guilty and pray for forgiveness?

Maybe none of the above.

I think we’re to realize that if Jesus’ Gospel isn’t simply an otherworldly, spiritual message but a message about righting the wrongs in our present world and living graciously towards the poor, then whatever ‘salvation’ means it has to mean more than our soul’s escape from this world.

Jubilee, the rich young man, Zaccheus: they all remind us that salvation is about more than going to heaven after we die. Salvation isn’t in the future. It’s not something that happens one day.

Jesus says ‘Today, salvation has come to your house.’

Today.

In the present.

Our salvation has to include our willingness to put our wealth into the practice of compassion.

Salvation is realizing, like Zaccheus, that oftentimes our wealth stands in the way of what God wants to do in the world and with us.

Salvation is participating with our whole selves- our hearts, souls, hands, feet and RICHES- in what God is doing through Jesus Christ.

Like Zaccheus, we are to feel so transformed by the grace shown to us in Christ, we’re ready to give our everything to his service.

Does some of our wealth come from unjust systems?

Of course, maybe even a lot it.

And part of any Christian’s discipleship is discerning those complexities and choosing to live in an alternative way.

This is why mission is as much a means of grace for the doer as it is for the receiver.  Part of what mission does is to lead you to places you never would have gone were it not for Jesus, and to introduce you to people you never would have met were it not for him.

 Mission here in Guatemala exposes you to the fact that such economic injustices aren’t abstract ‘systems.’ They’re not reducable to soundbites or political slogans.

They have faces and names that belong to people who are members with you in the Body of Christ.

Your salvation depends on you learning to see in them a greater value than the value you place in your riches.