A letter from Chenoa Stock in the United States (transitioning to Bolivia)
September 8, 2010
Transition from East to South
After living the five of the past six years of my life in Southeast Asia, I have returned to the West. As happy as I am to make the transition, I still find myself yearning for the natural detox of the oppressive humidity, for the surrounding beauty of palm trees and the beach, or thinking that just maybe my trishaw driver will relieve me from the task of driving and deliver me to yoga class. But, alas, this is the way of transition. The journey from one chapter of life, carrying with you and learning from all of its joys and struggles, to the next.
And it is from within this transition that I write, inviting you to join me on the journey to the next chapter. I have decided to jump from my comfort of living in the East, with its humid climate, mostly sea level landscape and a culture I knew and (mostly) understood, to the South of the Americas, to Bolivia, with its cool to very cold climate, an altitude of 12,600 feet and an entirely new culture to discover and explore. It is here I have been called to serve as the Companionship Facilitator for the Bolivian network of the Presbyterian Church’s Joining Hands program.
The Joining Hands for Life Network (Uniendo Manos Por la Vida – UMAVIDA in Spanish) is a countrywide network whose diverse membership includes faith-based and secular organizations, urban and rural area peoples as well as vulnerable peoples, including those of indigenous descent, women and youth. Throughout its development in the past 10 years as a Joining Hands Network, the members of UMAVIDA have struggled alongside their country people to speak out against the environmental impacts created by mining practices that have been a part of the country for the past 500 years. Much of these impacts are focused around the contamination of primary sources of water for the country. Due to this, UMAVIDA has created the campaign, “El Agua Dulce Vale Mas Que El Oro” (Clean Water Is More Valuable Than Gold). The focus of the campaign is to research and make public the contamination and degradation of surface and subsurface sources of fresh water by extractive, industrial and other activities. The campaign’s focus is to not only raise awareness of the problem, but to equip the people to take action, to effectively lobby the government to enforce the regulations that already exist and to enact new and tougher regulations on the mining industry. This is a very complex issue and one I am only just beginning to research and study, but one I am excited to join and accompany.
But it is not only my excitement that will sustain me, but the exciting times of the country also. The newly re-elected, first indigenous, Bolivian president, Evo Morales, began his second term in January by signing a new constitution. It is one which calls for a “New Bolivia,” granting rights to the indigenous majority and new responsibilities of the State to the Bolivian people as well as a strong environmental emphasis on the environment and conserving Pachamama, a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes, translated as “Mother Earth/Land/World.”
It seems I had an intuition my path would take me toward a deeper understanding of Pachamama, because I had signed up for a course, “Immersion in a New Cosmology,” before knowing about this position. And upon reflection, it has affirmed my call to Bolivia. “Immersion in a New Cosmology” was an intense 16-day course held on Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, which focused on the interconnectedness of nature and humans and our need to recover our identity with the Earth and Universe before they are destroyed. We are called to use our creativity, where our deepest Self meets the Earth’s needs, to bridge the gap of radical discontinuity between our human developed systems and that which is other-than-human in order to take action and align our lives within the Earth’s capacity. It was a time for reflection on our history as a species and a Universe, to mourn for the Earth’s degradation as well as provide hope in learning about the many evolving sustainable options around the world and the strong, advocating voices behind them, attempting to recover the sacredness of the Whole, together as human and other-than-human. This can only be done in community and collaboration. As the late historian of culture, Thomas Berry, said, “Nothing is itself without everything else.” This is what I hope to achieve a deeper understanding of and connection to while working with UMAVIDA.
And it is this idea of collaboration that brings about a new facet to my position as Companionship Facilitator in Bolivia. UMAVIDA is partnered with two U.S. presbyteries (a collection of Presbyterian churches in a region), based in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, with whom they have been working on the water campaign over these past years. It is to be a campaign of mutual partnership, which is based more around accompaniment, advocacy, education and support, as opposed to financial contributions. Part of my role will be to continue to help develop this partnership and campaign by being the bridge of communication between the networks as well as to support and accompany any action that manifests from their ideas and interactions.
My first interaction with our U.S. partners will take place in October, when I travel to San Francisco and Portland to visit the active partner churches of the presbyteries as well as to speak in those churches that are not involved in order to rally support and interest for the campaign and partnership in Bolivia. This will be a time for meeting and learning about the U.S. network, for brainstorming ideas to help bring a clearer focus to the campaign and our future partnered actions and advocacy and for planning exchange visits for the networks in order to continue to develop the understanding and mutual transformation that occurs from these partnerships.
I look forward to heading out west, but in the meantime I have based myself in Pittsburgh, Pa., reading about Bolivia and water issues and attempting to get as much of a foundation of Spanish as possible, as that will be the working language for the network. I do have some time, though, so if you would like to contact me about arranging a time for me to speak in your church, I would be very willing to try to work something out.
But if you are unable to do that and would still like to provide support, you could think about sending a contribution by check, made out to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), earmarking it with my name and my Extra Commitment Number (ECO) number, E200335. You can also go online to PC(USA) Mission and use this number to make a contribution. [You can alway give online. Go the Give box in the left column of the page. —Ed.] If your congregation or presbytery would like to designate a specific portion of their mission support to my work, they can earmark the check with my name and my Directed Mission Support number (DMS), D5057547. (Individual contributions should not use this number.)
Checks can be mailed to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Any support, whether it’s financial or prayers or words, is greatly appreciated. Please email if you have any questions.
I hope I can be in touch with some of you as I continue my transition time in the States these next few months. If you would rather not receive the newsletters of this next chapter of life, please let me know. I will not be offended, as I understand the overload of information these days. If you would rather have it sent to another email address, please let me know that also, because I am updating my address book.
But to everyone, I hope this finds you all well and enjoying the transition of season that is upon us.
Thank you for all of your support throughout my time in Sri Lanka. May we all be blessed with new adventures and growth as we continue on in the journey.
Joining Hands – UMAVIDA
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 125