A letter from Chenoa Stock serving in Bolivia
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“I’m here to stir the pot for myself” is how one delegation member replied to an orientation question about what brought participants to Bolivia. From July 22 to July 29, UMAVIDA had the honor of hosting four faithful Presbyterians on an “open” Joining Hands Reflection/Action Trip – a trip that invites any US church member or individual to join, as opposed to it being closed and for a single congregation/presbytery. Our group ranged from the Arizona/Mexican border to Virginia. Only one person had been to Bolivia before, others had heard my presentations when I visited their churches on Interpretation Assignment (IA), and one was simply interested in learning about the church’s work on environmental issues. So, this indeed was going to be a pot-stirring visit. They were there together to “question [their] faith,” as one participant framed it – how they live it and what they can learn about it while being present with our UMAVIDA Bolivian partners.
It was no doubt a whirlwind week, as we celebrated the Pachamama (the indigenous term for Mother Earth) and God’s Creation, surrounded by Lake Titicaca and the Andes Mountains, and visited the skirts of the melted glacier, Chacaltaya, to witness the negative effects of climate change on this once-majestic mountain that used to be a ski resort. We traveled to our partners in Oruro and learned about how the lack of government control and implementation of environmental laws on mining operators allows waste to flow downstream from the mine to communities, contaminating the water and causing health issues, loss of crops, and death of livestock. Don Roman and Doña Cristina are members of one of those communities, Machacamarca. They spoke to us of the long distances they travel to collect clean water, the migration of their families to the city or abroad, and the slow and imminent death of their cattle and sheep. Our network partner, CEPA (Center for Ecology and Andean People), continues its environmental justice struggle for these and many other communities by working to pass the Water Law Bill, a legal framework that would provide a clearer definition around the protection and use of water through improved standards and controls.
We wrapped up our week with a visit to another partner, the Foundation for Community Axion, which supports communities in learning about and assuring family food security. This is accomplished through the building of greenhouses from scratch with chosen beneficiaries and the subsequent planting and maintenance of the greenhouses’ plants and vegetables by the beneficiary. This, in turn, creates a self-sufficiency that so many in Bolivian urban areas lack.
We learned about the process and benefits of this urban, agricultural initiative by visiting the greenhouses with their owners. Don Luis explained to our group that he no longer has to shop at the local market and can save money for other family expenses, all the while teaching his children about plant growth, food security, and pride in caring for something that you took part in from start to finish. He is ready and willing to cover his land with greenhouses and continue to grow his plants and vegetables – and to learn more.
Our visits during this week were transformative journeys from despair to hope, from experiencing the negative effects of “development’ to true life and progress.
It could be that our Faithful Four left with more questions than answers. I am confident, though, that their questions will lead them to look around their communities, think about where issues similar to the ones they witnessed are also present around them, and consider how to address those global issues at the local level and find that same hope amidst the despair and greatness of it all.
Being part of Joining Hands, I too, carry those same questions about the bigger global issues, the systems that perpetuate injustice and poverty and how we can address them by searching and struggling for hopeful alternatives. I am lucky enough to have a collegial network that allows for communal reflection on these deeper issues. This is sometimes simply through virtual calls or emails, but every so often we are given the chance to gather together in one place to share, reflect, and discern together our role and mission as the Joining Hands family.
I was blessed to take part in this global gathering with our UMAVIDA network coordinator, Hivlin Siles, August 13-20 in Peru. We gathered among network coordinators and facilitators, Presbyterian Hunger Program staff, and colleagues to share our strengths and challenges as Joining Hands, discuss our campaign focus around the three global issues (Extractives/Environment, Food/Land and Trade), and dream and plan for our future work. We were an intimate group, with six of the eight networks represented, which allowed us to share openly and get to know each other more deeply throughout the week. We listened to our sister network in Peru share its campaign for environmental health and visited the lead smelter that is the principle cause of the local community’s suffering, contamination, and illnesses. This intentional time to share, discuss, question, and learn from each other is priceless and necessary to build a global movement. An email thread is nothing compared to standing in the same space and being present with God’s justice workers from around the world.
I left Peru with the hope of sharing the advocacy work of UMAVIDA’s sister Joining Hands networks, and with the hope of sharing the importance of this mission and family. I want to encourage UMAVIDA to continue efforts to care for God’s Creation and search for environmental justice, amidst our struggles and transitions. We are not alone on the journey.
After our delegation visit and the Joining Hands Gathering, I am again reminded that UMAVIDA is a part of something much greater than itself. We are connected to a mission that involves and is accompanied by you, as well as our colleagues and partners around the world, all working to bring justice and life-giving hope to God’s Kingdom here on Earth.
It has been a life-giving couple of months for me, both professionally and personally. Amidst these work events of solidarity and learning, José and I joyfully share that we will be bringing a new life into the world in January 2018. We are of course very excited for our growing family and look forward to how this little one teaches and forces us to ‘stir the pot,’ just as Jesus calls us to do every day in our daily lives.
For how else can one move from contamination to growth, from desolation to hope, without faith in God’s life-giving love and justice?
Thank you for being a part of that life-giving mission through your support, financial contributions and accompaniment. We could not continue to search for alternatives to live in a more just world and Kingdom without you.
Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,
What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.
After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.
Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.
Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.
In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?
Jose Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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Tags: climate change, food security, joining hands, mining, umavida, Water Law Bill
Tags: Chenoa Stock
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