A letter from Chenoa Stock in Bolivia
Renewed on the Journey
“This will be a season of struggle, but it will also be a season of discovery and triumph, because, ultimately, Lent is a journey toward freedom—freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities hold over us, and freedom for new life, new beginnings, and Easter-living” (d365 daily Lenten devotional).
Well, my Lenten season definitely began as a season of struggle as I was diagnosed with salmonella the day after Ash Wednesday. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon among the expatriates in Bolivia, but that did not make the weakness and discomfort any more enjoyable. The obligatory time to rest and slow down did help me simplify my life, movements and diet to begin my Lenten journey, and also made me appreciate the feeling of being completely healthy and renewed a couple of weeks later. Triumph over sickness. Freedom from pain. This also is Lent: not to be viewed only as a time to ‘give up’ the distracting things in our lives, but also a time of renewal and discovery—renewing who we are individually and in relation to God’s Creation and all in it.
In February UMAVIDA, the Bolivian Joining Hands Network, held its General Assembly for the 10 institutions/denominations that comprise it. As I look back on it now, it was symbolic of a pre-Lenten gathering. We struggled through miscommunications, decision-making, and having all voices heard, but we also were able to work through many of these issues and come together to recommit ourselves to our shared mission for water rights and environmental justice.
Our first day was spent reflecting on spirituality and how, as a network, we must incorporate it more deeply into our mission by working together with a common consciousness of our goals. We spoke of the spirit as union between heart and mind and how this unity helps us build a social, cultural and ecological life where all are able to ‘live well,’ a phrase that is spoken throughout many sectors and cultures here to represent the final livelihood goal for all Bolivian populations.
During this Assembly we also reflected on ecumenism and the significance it plays in our network—one that is made up of grassroot community groups, institutions, and three Protestant denominations. Sarah Henken, the Andean Regional Liaison for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), led us in a devotional on ecumenism, using the passage from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (NRSV).
As we listened to this devotion and spent time discerning “What is our institution’s identity?” “What are our strengths?” “What skills do we bring to the network?” we began to recognize the many connections among us and where our strength could complement our weakness. We ended this devotional by creating a ‘red,’ the Spanish word used for both ‘web’ and ‘network.’ We intentionally took about 30 minutes to weave our threads together. We helped those who were domestically challenged in weaving, we blended colors that perhaps otherwise may not have been placed together, we encouraged those who were bending over on the ground to weave the final threads, and most important, we laughed, smiled and enjoyed being together in such a close-‘knit’ community working toward the same goal.
We may have struggled to have our voice heard or our idea chosen, but in those three days we were also renewed as individual institutions and denominations, as well as recommitted as a network to move forward together on our shared goals of environmental justice and human dignity.
But, as we know, this search for ‘new life,’ whether we recognize Lent or not, is only stronger when our ‘red,’ our web, our network, runs far and wide. I would like to thank each of you for your prayers for our mission here, your financial support in sustaining this mission, and your multiple modes of communication with me, whether that be through email, snail mail, etc., which encourage me daily. Please know that the work UMAVIDA is carrying out is partially funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering, which will be taken this Palm Sunday (April 13) or Easter Sunday (April 20), depending on your congregation and can also be given throughout the year. When you contribute to this, or to my own sending and support account, you are helping to support our ongoing work. We could not continue on this Lenten journey of struggle for and renewal of life without you.
Let us journey together in this struggle. Let us put our fears and insecurities behind us, stand up for the truth we believe needs to be heard, and set out on that search for freedom for new beginnings of justice for all. May we be renewed in our individual and collective mission for God’s Creation, and may that renewal open our hearts and make us more effective in our call for 'Easter living.'
Peace be with you on your journey,
For more info:
- Joining Hands program: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/joininghands/
- Joining Hands Bolivia—UMAVIDA profile: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/hunger/bolivia/
- Presbyterian work in Bolivia: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/global/bolivia/
- Chenoa Stock profile, funding, past newsletters