A letter from Chenoa Stock serving in Bolivia
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As I write this we are just entering into Holy Week. We are walking the final path of Lent—a path of reflection and meditation that, through its darkness and discoveries, leads us toward an Easter of transformation and renewal.
I want to take this time to reflect on the “faces of Jesus” I met during my past year in ministry as Companionship Facilitator for the Bolivia Joining Hands Network, UMAVIDA (Joining Hands for Life), and your mission co-worker through Presbyterian World Mission. I have recently completed my fourth year, accompanying communities struggling for environmental justice and searching for the Easter hope of new beginnings.
“…Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem” Luke 9:51b.
Accompanying us on this struggle during the year were two faces of support in our office. We were graced by the presence of two women who were volunteers through different organizations (Swiss Co-Mundo and the Mennonite Central Committee) and worked with UMAVIDA in the areas of communication, training, and activity implementation. Their commitment brought new energy and engagement to the office and especially to the youth with whom we work. They worked with many old and new youth faces—faces of curiosity, interest, and passion to carry out our Photo Contest and the Exhibition, where youth portray their reality of environmental injustice and contamination in their regions through three to five photos.
They led the youth training workshops on climate change leading up to our Youth Congress in Lima, Peru, in December, where the COP+20 talks (UN talks that occur each year to reach a conclusion around the international issue of climate change) and a People’s Summit were also taking place. During this time shared together with our Bolivian youth, a delegation of Presbyterian congregation members, and Peruvian youth, I was swept away by the faces of commitment, strength, and dedication. We came together to walk with others from around the world and proclaim our concern for God’s Creation and the exploitation of it by those with power. I will not forget the faces of our youth presenting in one of the People’s Summit sessions about the effects of climate change on indigenous communities. I won’t forget the broken language yet rich interactions and conversations between Presbyterian members and Bolivian youth. I couldn’t forget the thousands of people marching in the street—dancing, singing, and chanting for climate justice.
But our work this year has not just been with youth. The faces of knowledge and expertise have been with us as well, as we have continued to support communities affected by mining contamination in Oruro, Bolivia. These faces were found in the writing of the Universal Periodic Review on the Kori Kollo mining contamination case for the UN Human Rights Council, on which we have been working with our UMAVIDA partner organization in Oruro, CEPA (Center for Ecology and Andean People) for years. Through the mission of Joining Hands we recognize that to create a systemic change our justice work must go beyond the national realm and find connections with the international. With the knowledge and wisdom of our international alliances AIDA (Interamerican Association in the Defense of the Environment) and Earth Justice (a non-profit law firm in San Francisco) and our U.S. presbytery partners in San Francisco and Oregon, we were able to submit a report about the environmental violations occurring in Bolivia and bring our case to this international level. Dr. Fernando Serrano, a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at St. Louis University, has been another face of knowledge for our work with our global partners in Oruro. With him we have held workshops with the community members affected by mining contamination and have begun the elaboration of a plan to carry out a human health study for the basins principally affected in Oruro in order to attain more evidence to take to the government and authorities and continue on in our campaign for environmental justice for God’s Creation.
Along these same lines, the faces of partnership and solidarity have been present and strong throughout this year. We hosted a delegation from our U.S. presbytery partners of San Francisco and Cascades (Oregon) that was life-giving for our mission and affirming of our partnership together to feel called to give voice to the voiceless and to walk together for environmental justice, not only in Bolivia but in the U.S. as well. We were able to listen and share stories with the UMAVIDA partner organizations and affirm that our stories and lives are interconnected through our faith and our commitment to speak out for justice for God’s people.
I also had the chance to briefly meet with students studying abroad from Davidson University, where I met faces of confusion and questioning, but of energy, awareness, and interest to learn and understand as well.
In October I had the pleasure of spending a week with my fellow mission co-workers in El Salvador for a retreat. There I met so many old and new faces of encouragement, of wisdom, and of faith. It was a time for us to gather, reflect and meditate on the mission of the church and the role we play in growing and deepening it as the body of Christ. I could not be more proud of the community with whom I work and the mission that we embody as we go out, live, and share that work.
My year concluded in the U.S., traveling and presenting to a variety of congregations in different settings, where I met many faces of love for God’s mission and church. It was a joy to share about the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Bolivia and our engagement in one of Presbyterian World Mission’s Critical Global Initiatives: to address root causes of poverty. I cannot thank those churches that hosted me enough for their warm reception, caring hearts, listening ears, and giving souls. I was filled with inspiration to return to Bolivia and continue on in our mission for environmental justice, with all of its joys and sufferings, as we are so much aware of during this time of Lent.
As I look toward the year to come and the hope it brings, I would ask that you continue your support through finances, learning, and advocacy, and keep UMAVIDA in your prayers as we face a time of transition and restructuring. All of these faces I have encountered this past year and all of the consciousness, interconnectedness, and profound love of neighbor I have felt in each one of them is what gives me strength each day to continue on in the struggle.
I celebrate in the joys of the year, such as finally receiving permanent residency and getting engaged to my Bolivian beau. But those celebrations are all a part of the bigger revelation that we—each and every face we are and gift we possess—are all part of this Lenten and Easter story of engaging in life-giving actions that triumph over injustice and lead to transformation and resurrection.
In this Lenten/Easter season, I leave you with these words of Kennon Callahan:
Hope is stronger than memory.
Salvation is stronger than sin.
Forgiveness is stronger than bitterness.
Reconciliation is stronger than hatred.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Resurrection is stronger than crucifixion.
The open tomb is stronger than the bloodied cross.
The risen Lord is stronger than the dead Jesus.
Easter is stronger than Good Friday.
Hope is stronger than memory.
We are the Easter people.
We are the people of hope.
We are the people of the open tomb, the risen Lord, and new life in Christ.
Peace and renewal as you embody the face of Jesus and the resurrection spirit wherever you are in the world.
For more information:
Joining Hands Program: https://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: www.pcusa.org/chenoa-stock
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 53
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