A letter from Elisabeth Cook in the U.S., on Interpretation Assignment from Costa Rica
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Walk toward trouble. That was the theme of the sermon I heard last evening. And it has been ringing in my ears ever since. It seems contradictory—trouble is something we move away from—at least most of us, most of the time. But it seems that in the Gospels Jesus was continually walking toward trouble—into messy issues, uncomfortable places, difficult discussions, dangerous commitments, subversive actions. He was unconcerned with contamination, law breaking, or even offending the powerful. He just kept walking. And talking. And doing. And getting into more and more trouble.
At the Latin American Biblical University we are all about trouble. And I realize today that we learn from the challenges around us, and especially from our students, that trouble is something we must embrace and walk toward, walk with. Trouble is the opportunity to live out God’s call to justice and life.
As Aníbal defended his master’s thesis on the parable of the Good Samaritan this past August, I reflected on his country, his context, and his struggles. Coming from a farming (campesino) community in Colombia, and committed to justice and peace for his country and people, Aníbal seems to always be looking for trouble. His country is troubled by the violence engendered by drug trafficking, inequality and injustice, the trouble of exclusion and marginalization experienced by the laborers who provide food for the tables of the wealthy. Aníbal’s reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan focuses on the complexity of the world we live in, the violent economic and social logic that makes the road on which we travel a troubled and dangerous place to be. The parable calls for all of us not only to be Samaritans, but to walk the troubled violent roads with those who are vulnerable. Aníbal is back in Colombia now, walking toward trouble in his troubled country.
The past several months have been a whirlwind of work at UBL. We finally received approval for the changes in our bachelor’s degree programs presented more than a year ago. Now we are ready to request permission to officially offer these programs online. We are blessed to have an online education specialist working with us now. Edgar Salgado is the grandson of Isaías García, a Puerto Rican evangelist who came to Costa Rica in the mid ’40s. I later learned that Isaías actually worked throughout Central America with my father in evangelistic campaigns. A phone call one day connected me to Edgar, who was looking for consulting opportunities in online education. One thing led to another, and Edgar, who has decades of experience in public universities and recently completed a Ph.D. dissertation on online education in Costa Rica, has energized our efforts toward offering online bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Along with teaching, doing my “Dean” work and coordinating UBL’s online education program, I had the opportunity this past term to offer a continuing education seminar on the subject of Masculinity, Identity and the Bible. A group of 42 participants of varied backgrounds and interests gathered two Saturdays to explore what it means to be a man in Costa Rica today, and what the Bible might have to say about masculinity. This course is one of a series we have developed at UBL concerning issues that are not openly discussed in many churches and seminary contexts in Costa Rica. It is a challenge and a very real part of UBL’s mission to explore the troubled waters of our societies with courses on subjects such as sexual diversity, human trafficking, and violence.
I ask your prayers for UBL students and graduates in the Huancayo region of Perú, where UBL has a partnership with the San Pablo Methodist Seminary. Several seminary students came to Costa Rica during 2014-2015 to finish their degree programs, looking toward having an accredited university degree. Noemí returned to Perú with a significant portion of her thesis still to be written. Her quiet unassuming manner in class revealed little of the struggles she has already gone through in her life. Her course work revealed her to be a deep thinker who is not afraid of walking into trouble! Returning to Huancayo has meant poor—if any—access to the Internet, and little time for study as she works to support herself and contribute to the family income. I pray she will be able to return to Costa Rica to finish her degree program and continue to serve her people and church in Perú.
I am writing to you from Berkeley, California, where I will be based until the beginning of December. This past week I was privileged to accompany Rachel Yates, PC(USA) church support associate, on various church visits, and to contribute to hosting an open session at a presbytery meeting. I look forward to my travels during these months, to getting to know the faithful congregations who are walking into trouble daily through their ministries at home and abroad.
I’m so thankful that you are my partners in troublemaking! Your prayers sustain me and your financial support makes my ministry possible. If you are just learning about my ministry, please consider becoming part of my support network. Thank you for your prayers, your correspondence and your gifts. They remind me each day that God has called me as part of a community of the faithful and that we are bound together in complicity with God’s Reign.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66, 67
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