U-C: What I See

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Prayer for CPT volunteers in Baghdad


I have just received word that four volunteers with Christian Peacemaker Teams, one of whom is a long-termer currently assigned to the Iraq team, were kidnapped on November 26th.

For more information, check out www.cpt.org.

Many of you know that I have often asked for prayers for our soldiers, and for Iraqi civilians as well, who are in harms way. Today, please take a few moments to hold these CPT volunteers in prayer.

I continue to believe that the nonviolent witness of volunteers with CPT and its sister organizations around the world are the baby steps we must take toward a world community committed to living in peace. Imagine the kind of world we could help to create as hundreds of thousands of us commit to take the same risks for nonviolent peacebuilding that we currently expect from our soldiers.

Pray for Peace,


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ritual in a Time of War


I need to share a dilemma.

I'm sitting in the Atlanta Airport, in a big, round atrium with restaurants and comfortable chairs - just outside the security checkpoint to go out to the terminals. I've grown accustomed to sitting here and catching up on email as I wait for a flight, and I just had an experience this afternoon that I've learned from experience is a ritual here.

Someone just yelled out, "Let's here it for our troops," and began to clap. Then, as lot's of the folks around me stood to cheer and clap, a woman led a long line of men and women dressed in fatigues through the atrium and they headed for the security area.

I've seen this happen at least half a dozen times now (just this afternoon it's happened twice in less than an hour), and I always feel my stomach twist into knots as I try to decide how to respond. Each time, I feel an urge to clap myself - in an effort to let these young men and women (and most of them look like they're about eighteen or twenty years old) know that I appreciate the hard choices that they've made and the sacrifice that they and their families are making.

On the other hand, what does clapping mean? Am I suggesting support for a war that I believe to have been misguided from the beginning? If I clap, (by the way, it's happening again right now. The same woman leading the group, the same man yelling to whip up our support) am I affirming a commitment to using our military might to respond to our unfocused fear of the "other" out there who is out to get us?

As a Christian, I do believe that we are called to put our faith in one place, to find our security in one place, and that is in the radical love of Jesus Christ.

So what exactly does it mean to "support our troops and oppose the war?" I confess that I've tried standing and clapping, which felt like a violation of my core convictions. I've tried sitting and clapping halfheartedly, which felt like the worst kind of namby-pambyism where I couldn't make up my own mind. I tried sitting and watching, which felt like a betrayal of my belief that there is that of God in every person, and that these folks have made different choices but still deserve my support for showing the courage of their convictions, or maybe because I've inherited a responsibility to "be patriotic" even when I disagree so strongly with what our country is doing.

I've watched others to see how they respond, too. Some are genuinely enthusiastic, but many have expressions on their faces that strike me as ambivalent as my own. A few pay no attention whatsoever.

This afternoon, a tall, blond young guy with army duffels asked me to watch his gear for him while he went to get a bite to eat. When he came back, we had a brief conversation. He's been working as a contractor for the Navy and the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past five months, and he's headed home for a quick break with his family for thanksgiving. When I asked about his family, he said that his fiance has broken off their relationship because she didn't want to put up with the uncertainty of it all. I responded that I was sorry, and that I would keep him in my prayers, and that the hidden cost of the war is far too high.

"The hardest thing," he said to me, "is that after five months over there, I can't see where this is going anyway. About the best we can hope for is another South Korea, and it feels like that's at least ten years away."

We are in desperate need of the kind of "outside the box" thinking that Jesus offered when he encountered fear and prejudice and insecurity. We are in pretty desperate need of leaders, both in the church and in our government, who are willing to ask hard questions about what would lead us into the kind of security that comes when we act as good neighbors to one another and stand against hate and fear and violence.

So I don't know. What would it look like to genuinely support the troops?

Please pray for the people of Iraq, and for our soldiers, and for their families whose lives have been turned upside down, and for our political leaders, and for all of us, that we might have the courage to ask ourselves hard questions about how we'll live our faith in Jesus Christ.


Saturday, November 12, 2005


Many of you have heard me speak of all that I have learned from Jim Corbett, who was a mentor to me and to so many others. Most of what I understand about how "the Church must be Church" has been a gift from Jim. His last book is finally published, due mostly to the tireless commitment of Jim's friend and mine, Daniel Baker.

Jim's book is not easy, and the better one understands his thinking the more difficult the book's message becomes. I especially recommend this book to those who love the land, and who are committed to protecting God's creation.

What follows is an email promo, and it includes information about how to buy the book.

Please, buy it. Read it over and over again, slowly and with care. (I'm on my fourth reading in the last six months.) Write with your own ideas about it. Let me know what you think.



The posthumous publication of Sanctuary for All Life: The Cowbalah of Jim Corbett is now available in a beautiful edition from the always provocative and visionary Howling Dog Press.

Jim Corbett is renowned as the co-founder of the sanctuary movement and author of Goatwalking. Here in this book from the last decade of his life, completed on his deathbed, Corbett expands upon his work in human rights into what he terms "earth rights."

Speaking from his experience as a "cowman" and "practical mystic" in the wildlands of the desert Southwest, he ranges widely across a philosophical and religious landscape. As both a deep thinker and uncompromising activist, the profundity of his thought and life become evident in this prophetic vision of a "Peaceable Kingdom".

This 328 page book is a homegrown labor of love. It begins with a foreword by Jim's compadre in the sanctuary movement, Fr. Ricardo Elford, and a preface by the renowned Quaker peace poet, David Ray. Daniel Baker, who worked with Corbett during the final decade of his life, provides a richly textured introduction to the work. Corbett's Letelier-Moffit address affords a reflective transition between the sanctuary movement and his earth rights work. The main text, which Corbett playfully called "Cowbalah", is followed by his extensive obituary in The New York Times. The cover art is painted by Jim's cousin, Virginia Moyer, an award winning water colorist, who integrates a portrait of Corbett sitting on his bull with a cosmic-like tree of life.

¨ Jim Corbett was one of the few completely original, prophetic thinkers I have had the honor to know personally… Sanctuary for All Life is the most cohesive vision of Jim's domain of care-giving, and the one which feels most like those conversations out in the desert heat among kindred souls long ago. - Gary Nabhan, author of Coming Home to Eat and Cultures of Habitat

¨ Sanctuary for All Life may well be one of the most pragmatic and profound stories of human-earth healing to emanate from the American landscape in the past two decades. - Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham, University of Toronto, co-authors of The Green Bible

¨ In this brilliant book of high wisdom, Jim has shown us the way to redeem the land and restore our soul as a covenant people. -- John Fife, Co-founder with Jim Corbett of the sanctuary movement, retired pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church

¨ Sanctuary for All Life is an extraordinary work, a Walden for today’s West. - Nathan F. Sayre, University of California-Berkeley, author of The New Ranch Handbook

¨ As a child of the Civil Rights movement, I had almost given up on a concrete manifestation of the “beloved community” until I read Jim Corbett’s new book. Sanctuary of All Life is an accessible and passionate call for the spiritual and moral reclamation of an interspecies community that is “beloved” in the best sense of the word. - Barbara A. Holmes, V.P. of Academic Affairs/Dean, Professor of Ethics and African American Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary

¨ Jim Corbett's life and work will inspire anyone who tilts towards the knight errantry of compassion, healing and peace between land and people in the new century. Sanctuary for All Life provides a prophetic vision for those of us engaged in the particular errantry of the 'radical center'. - Courtney White, Co-Founder of "The Quivira Coalition"

¨ Its uniqueness in crossing the usual boundaries of ecology, spirituality, Bible, rabbinic exegesis, and "theology/anti-theology" will probably not make it easy….. But it is worth the try because of the remarkable range and depth of wisdom displayed throughout." - Norman Gottwald, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, New York Theological Seminary

Proceeds from the sale of this book go to Jim Corbett's widow, Pat, and the Cascabel Hermitage Association, a non-profit which he helped found. A few hardback copies of Goatwalking are also available.

Contact Daniel Baker, 6146 N. Canyon Rd., Benson, AZ 85602, (520) 212-2473, danielfb6146@yahoo.com. Cost is $24.95; $2.50 for shipping. Make checks payable to CHA.


¨ Tradition has it that Torah reveals Herself in no-man’s land in order to be accessible to all the peoples. …One needn’t know why torah comes out of wildlands in order to go out to look and listen. However, to hear and do torah as wildland stewardship, which is where and how the reign of the Peaceable Kingdom can begin to take root in a human homeland, civilized humanity does need to become desegregated; mutual bonding into the wildland community must naturalize our presence.

¨ Cease to eat anything defiled by violence; make your table the high altar of your daily religion; serve nothing that is produced by harming the land and its life or by any kind of cruelty; then the rest follows.

¨ ...high wisdom is rooted in wildland stillness. One must cease searching for human guidance and listen to the earth. If ungrounded in eremitic wisdom, even altruistic love disorients, guiding its practitioner toward an ethic of self-sacrifice that denatures cocreativity. If ungrounded in wisdom and lovingkindness, a nature-centered ethic also disorients, degenerating into adversarial politics. And politics, if ungrounded in wisdom, lovingkindness, and a Nature-affirming morality, degenerates into a violent struggle to take directive control.

¨ I avoid eating anyone I haven’t known and cherished.

¨ If our bedrock reality is all-inclusive communion, then God is Nature, but not the object nature invented to relegate the sacred to an imagined realm out beyond the sky. If communion is reality’s bedrock, then God is also Love, but not just the nurturing love of a mother. Natural communion includes the devouring love of the wolf.

¨ I don’t intend to argue here against personal, political, or cultural efforts to reduce the violence, but I do want to emphasize that active allegiance to the Peaceable Kingdom begins with land redemption that lays the foundation for a covenant community’s practice of true justice. In exile where we belong to no wildland community, we remain inextricably entangled in technocratic civilization’s global war of conquest, which means we can only choose to reduce the damage. No amount of resistance to our warmaking way of living will institute and cultivate a way to live peacefully, in community with untamed life. The fundamental obligation of the community that gives its allegiance to the Peaceable Kingdom is to redeem a home in the land where it can walk the covenanted way.

¨ The task at hand is not to abandon or deconstruct civil society but to establish our civilization on a foundation of justice.

¨ Whatever our addictions and enslavements, there’s still hope for humanity, not because we’re likely to become self-sacrificing saints but because our greatest joy and fullest liberty comes from cocreativity. As active communion, power redeems.

¨ Prophetic revelation always moves toward redemptive transformation, not an idealistic expurgation or a dualistic extermination of evil.

¨ The ability to live by fitting into Nature rather than a human hierarchy is still the foundation of freedom, because freedom is personal cocreativity that is born of harmonious wholeness.

¨ For me, personally, allegiance to the Peaceable Kingdom is guided by torah that is written on the heart and is enacted as cocreative communion that includes everyone, regardless of religion or even species.

¨ …one’s life is the offering (which inner wisdom knows as the real meaning of prayer).

¨ [T]he restoration of the earth as a human homeland, not the mystic’s escape to heavenly bliss… requires that humanity learn to see 'that of God' in every other.

¨ …Instead of wanting to go to heaven, the practical mystic wants heaven to come down to earth.

¨ Whether wildland-nurtured communion is best centered for us by a cow, goat, buffalo, mescal, or mesquite is a matter of exploration rather than argument--and unideologically inclusive, in any case.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Call to Prayer and Solidarity for Bolivia - November 15, 2005

Dear Joining Hands Colleagues,

A week ago the Joining Hands representatives from Newark and San Francisco Presbyteries returned from a visit with our partners in Bolivia. Among the many things that we learned on the trip was about the deep concern that many Bolivians have over the presence of US military in Paraguay, a fact that is having a profound effect on Bolivian efforts to govern themselves through a more just democracy. We were asked by our colleagues of the Joining Hands for Life Network inBolivia to voice their concerns to the church and the nation.

Following through with this pledge, this week San Francisco Presbytery adopted a resolution calling for a day of Prayer and Solidarity on November 15. Now we ask you, as members of the extended family of the Joining Hands networks, to join us in this action.

What can you do?

  • Join us in personal or group prayer on Tuesday, November 15 at 1 PM EST.
  • Get your own Presbytery to adopt a similar resolution - whether or not you can make it by November 15.
  • Write a letter to to your local newspaper expressing your concern and calling for the US government to explain their intentions in SouthAmerica.
  • Send Press packets to your local media on the subject (contact our Presbytery for more information.)
  • Hold a prayer rally and invite the press.
  • Contact your congress people and demand to know what is going on in Paraguay and South America.
  • Tell you congregations about your concern and ask people to join in the effort.

Thank you for your partnership.

Brad Hestir

Joining Hands

Presbytery of San Francisco

A Call from our Sisters and Brothers in Bolivia


One Sunday afternoon in late October, I found myself in a gymnasium in the center of the large, metropolitan city of La Paz, at thirteen thousand feet in the Andean Mountains of Bolivia. There were more than three hundred of us gathered to worship: men wearing business suits, kids of all ages, and indigenous women wearing traditional weavings and the little bowler hats for which Bolivians are famous. The worship service was organized by our partners in the “Joining Hands for Life” network (UMAVIDA) – which is made up of the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist denominations together with five other grassroots community organizations.

What made this particular worship service unique was the presence of a delegation of Presbyterians from San Francisco. They were there because their Presbytery has made a serious commitment to accompany the people of the UMAVIDA network. During the service, our partners placed before God the things that concern them most: their commitment to the fledgling democratic reforms that the people of Bolivia are demanding, the creation of an “ecotheology” that will guide the Bolivian people as they try to defend the beauty and resource of God’s creation in this fragile country, and their grave concern that neoliberal economic policies (what we in the U.S. call “free trade”) are destroying the ability of most Bolivians to survive.

These are hardly issues that most Presbyterians in the United States would lift up as the primary concerns of our faith. Yet our Bolivian sisters and brothers are beseeching us to respond. Why? Because they understand the fundamental ways in which our lives are connected, not just as members of one Christian family, but as members of an increasingly inter-connected global community.

As our delegation traveled for the week following that worship event, we were hosted by each of the partner organizations from UMAVIDA. We visited with extremely poor families that are receiving “micro-loans,” credit that is designed to support their small businesses and provide for their children. We met with teenage and young adult leaders who, in addition to providing positive activities for youth in their neighborhoods, are teaching their generation to be leaders in the political process and to impact the media and become opinion shapers in their country. On one evening, we attended a public rally hosted by UMAVIDA in which hundreds of people from poor communities in the city of El Alto crowded into a conference room to listen to local professors speak on the intricacies of the presidential election, constitutional reform, the loss of Bolivia’s control over it’s greatest commodity (natural gas), and the destruction of the environment.

Everywhere we went, the request of the Bolivian people was the same: help us to stand against the economic interests that would plunder our country, help us to bring a dignified life to our people. More pointedly, we were told of the presence of more than 16,000 U.S. troops currently stationed just across the border of Paraguay, and the serious concern of every Bolivian with whom we spoke that they represent the very real threat of a U.S. invasion if the people of Bolivia commit to economic or political policies that don’t favor the perceived interests of the U.S. government or multinational business community.

Our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in San Francisco are leading all of us into a new kind of partnership in which we join partners in places like Bolivia and shoulder our fair share of the work of creating a global community. They have called for an international day of prayer to celebrate our accompaniment with Bolivians. On November 15th, UMAVIDA’s member organizations will join Presbyterians across the United States to pray for their people.

My prayer on that day will be that this be a first step, a commitment to the hard work of educating ourselves to extend Christ’s love across borders. Perhaps for some of us, this will begin a journey with the people of Bolivia and other countries around the world in which Christians are imploring their sisters and brothers in the global north to join them.

At the end of that wonderful worship service that began our time in Bolivia, there was a succession of bands that performed the traditional music of the Andean people with guitars and drums and flutes and pan pipes. It was lively and vibrant, and eventually all of us joined the costumed dancers and we twirled and circled and laughed (and gasped for air at thirteen thousand feet) as the music went on for almost an hour. This is an invitation into joy – the kind of joy that only can be experienced when we commit to walk with one another in moments of challenge and difficulty as well.

On November 15, please join with your family - in La Paz, Santa Cruz, Oruro, El Alto and San Francisco - to ask for God’s care and protection for the people of Bolivia, and to pray that God’s guidance might compel us into ever-deeper relationships with our sisters and brothers there.

Let the journey begin,


(See the following entry for information on how you can support San Francisco and Joining Hands for Life's effort.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kuichi Reflection from Peru

“My life has been powerfully changed,” says Idivia.

We’re gathered in a small, one room house with a blue tarp for a roof, walls made of woven matt and particle board, and a dirt floor. The wind is blowing against the little house, which sits on a high bluff on the edge of a reclaimed garbage dump that overlooks the beach and the Pacific Ocean. It would be considered the high rent district in any U.S. city. Here, though, the women have squatted the land, putting up small houses made of whatever material they can scrounge and trying to make a life for their families.

The sewing machine in one corner of the room is powered by an electrical cord strung from someone’s house much farther down the hill, on the side toward the city of Lima that spreads out for miles into the distance. There are five women standing in a little clump behind the sewing machine, beside a table displaying piles and piles of their beautiful products. The rest of us, a delegation of about a dozen, barely fit in the room. We’re seated on narrow planks propped on buckets and pieces of bricks. Beginning with Idivia, each of the women shares her story.

“This has helped me to have a new vision for what my work means,” Priscilla proclaims. “We set our own wages and hours.”

“That’s right,” says Sylvia. “Before, I worked twelve hour shifts sewing in a factory, but I didn’t make enough money to support my family and I was never home with my kids. Now we say, we can do anything when we want it badly enough.”

Ruth, who informs us that she is in charge of quality control for the group, agrees with Sylvia. “It’s true that we can do anything,” she says, “but we needed capacitation (training) to make it happen.”

Then Janita chimes in, “I only studied for one year, and I didn’t know the first thing about sewing. My husband works in a factory, but it’s not enough to support our family.” She tells our group that she has one child in elementary school and another that is a baby.

As the women serve us crackers and soda that we pass around the little room, they explain that they spend time sewing together in the little house each afternoon. It gives them a chance to share stories with one another – the same kind of support and story telling that I see in women’s circles back home, but that I experience most often when folks live in conditions where they genuinely need one another to survive.

“Staying together to do the sewing also keeps our work consistent and helps us to keep the quality high,” explains one of the women. All are active in churches, though it appears that each comes from a different religious tradition and from different parts of the country. “We think that our diversity is part of what makes our group strong,” one woman proclaims, and I think of all the management seminars in the United States where well-educated consultants share the very same wisdom.

As everyone else crowds around the table to purchase products, I probe deeper with Sylvia about her household economy. She shares that the average wage in Lima is about 120 soles per week (equal to about thirty-five dollars because the sol is about 3.3 to the dollar). Her husband makes as much as 35 soles (roughly ten dollars) per day in the construction trade, but there often is no work so his salary is not consistent. In order to feed her family (they have five kids), Sylvia figures she needs about 20 soles per day. That means that it costs more than a week’s wage just to provide the most basic of diets for her family. On top of that, she spends thirty soles a month for the electricity that she “borrows” from a neighbor, thirty sols every three weeks for the small tank of gas that she cooks with, ten soles per week for transportation, and about three sols per day for each of her three children who are old enough to attend school (for things like books, computer use to do school assignments at the local internet cafe, etc.). “My work here in the cooperative is the difference between surviving and not surviving,” she says matter-of-factly.

These women are one small part of the “fair trade corridor” that Joining Hands Against Poverty is resourcing in several communities in Peru. Their primary market is provided by the folks back in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, who sold more than $80,000 worth of goods to folks in the U.S. last year and assured that almost all of the profits were returned directly to the artisans themselves back in Peru. In fact, it was folks like the women in the “Kuichi” cooperative up there on the hill on the outskirts of Lima who provided all of the beautiful commissioner bags for the General Assembly where I was elected moderator in Richmond last year.

Later, Conrado (who is the coordinator for the Network in Peru) explains to our group that providing a direct, “fair-trade” corridor through which the artisans can move their crafts is a very real way that we can create alternatives to the “free trade” agreements against which small businesses and artisans simply can’t compete.

I find myself agreeing with him, but anxious about the responsibility that places on the “Church” (meaning the broad, global family of faith) to imagine an entirely different economic paradigm. Efforts, like those of Joining Hands, that are partnering Presbyterians in St. Louis with women like Sylvia, Janita, Idivia, Ruth and Priscilla are like small cairns marking a hiking path on a fog enshrouded mountain. We can see the marker we’re standing beside, and maybe even the next one, but we can’t see a lot further into the distance yet. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Traveler there is no path, the road is made by walking.”

It’s hard to imagine exactly what a genuinely sustainable global community looks like, but these women can certainly name the principles upon which it will be founded. They want enough money to feed their kids, and they’re hoping for a good education so that their children might be able to get a better job and get a step ahead of where they, themselves have gotten. They’d like to be able to enjoy one another’s company, because they clearly value the support they get from one another. Like the women I’ve gotten to know in Mexico and Guatemala, and the ones I visited in the Congo, they use the word “dignified” a lot.

“We want una vida digna,” they say. Come to think of it, that’s the fundamental hope of most folks I know in the U.S. as well, though our notions of what we actually need for that life of dignity have been corrupted by living in the heart of the consumer culture.

Here’s the surprising news for most of us in the global north, though. These women know that joy and laughter and fun can’t be purchased, but they are available to all of us. As everyone else left that little house perched on the side of the hill, I couldn’t tear myself away. In just a few minutes, we had gotten to telling jokes and sharing belly laughs with one another, and I could have been with the women I’ve known for years in similar communities in northern Mexico or with shy Mayan women with broad smiles in the highlands of Guatemala.

In just a few moments, with a smile and a shared language that wasn’t entirely about the ability to speak Spanish, the women were poking fun at me and making the same slightly off-color jokes that work everywhere in Latin America. As I walked down the steep hill with Sylvia and Ruth trailing behind, I turned around to model the new bag I had just purchased that was slung over my shoulder. “What do you think,” I asked with a big smile? “Looks great,” one of them responded. Then as I turned around and continued down the hill, the other added, “Looks better from this angle,” and they burst into laughter. Shared moments of humor are intimate moments of community that lift us up and last a lifetime.

Gifts from God, for the people of God. And the best news is, we’re all invited.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Case study from La Oroya, Peru on creating global community


At just above twelve thousand feet above sea level - near the pass between Lima and Huancayo - there is a small, mining city called “La Oroya.” The community reminds me of the copper mining communities of southern Arizona and Northern Sonora with its narrow, twisting roads that follow the river up the tight valley toward the mountain pass. The houses are bunched tightly together, and it has the distinctive feel of a proud, hardworking people who stoically take on dangerous jobs to provide for their families.

In this particular community there is a metal smelter that has been around for many years. Though it was only purchased by a U.S. company called “Doe Run” in the last decade, the technology in the smelter dates to the early part of the last century. Health problems are endemic and life threatening, as they often are in mining communities, and Doe Run now admits that the operation it owns is the primary source of environmental contamination in the community.

The most worrisome of those health problems for local residents is the extremely high lead content that has been discovered in their children’s bloodstreams. A recent Health Ministry study from the government of Peru showed that 99.9% of the children tested had lead poisoning, a condition which causes mental retardation, hyperactivity, kidney and liver disease, and other ailments that are the stuff of parents' nightmares anywhere. Most children in La Oroya have 4 times the level where the brain begins to be affected.

I’m told that the chimney on the Doe Run smelter is the highest (both in actual height and in altitude) of any in Latin America. Our group was also told that it is emitting roughly 1,000 metric tons of sulfer dioxins a day – contaminants that are making it into the upper atmosphere and therefore spread to communities far from the facility. However, a local environmental coalition that is animated largely by the local Catholic diocese expresses even more concern about “fugitive emissions” (the smoke that escapes from other parts of the plant as opposed to from the smokestack). Those lower atmosphere pollutants are in many ways more dangerous as they drift south in the afternoon, but then are blown back to the north again in the mornings where they often envelop the community for days at a time.

The Joining Hands Network includes several organizations that are working on the problems of environmental contamination in La Oroya. As we drove into the city from the east to visit with some of the members of the Filomena Tomaira organization (named to commemorate a young woman who died in childbirth years ago as she participated in a environmental protest march to Lima), we stopped in a gas station parking lot immediately in front of the smelter.

The sky was gray, and it was true that there were more visible emissions coming from other parts of the plant than there were from the smokestack that was belching big clouds of smoke toward the sky. In some places, the emissions were obviously yellow – something I had never seen before. There was an open waste line with a heavy flow of water that came out of the plant and dumped directly into the river. There was a fine layer of silt in the air that I could almost feel on my skin, and one of the women of Filomena took me aside later and warned me that I should wash the soles of my shoes at the end of the day.

Quietly, our group climbed back into the three taxis that awaited us and we drove up the hill into the center of La Oroya. On the other side of the city, we turned left on a narrow side street, crossed a high, one-lane bridge over the river and pulled to a stop in a neighborhood dense with high, brick buildings built back to back. We entered the Filomena office through a narrow passageway, stepped in through a metal door, and then climbed up four flights of stairs to a large meeting room on the fourth floor.

There was a long table with brightly covered tablecloths that had platters of cheese, fruit, and a homemade Peruvian snack that resembles popcorn. As we each took our seats in plastic chairs around the long table, a slender woman named Dora (a nurse who later traveled with us to visit our partners in Bolivia) sat down next to me. Immediately to Dora’s left was a leader in a sister organization that works cooperatively with the volunteers from Filomina. I’ll call him “Felipe,” though that isn’t his real name. He was short, solidly built and had noticeably bloodshot eyes. I learned that he is a teacher at the elementary school that is located almost immediately in front of the smelter.

As we went around the circle for introductions, each person shared a little bit of his or her story. Felipe’s words brought me up short.

He began speaking in a low voice and a kind of “matter-of-fact” tone, describing how he became involved in Filomena’s work. He began to cry as he described what it is like to try to teach children who suffer from lead poisoning.

“In the beginning,” he said, “no one would stand up and say aloud that our kids are suffering from lead poisoning. The children come to school with stomachaches and headaches. They’re tired. They don’t even want to go outside and play, much less study. They’re called lazy burros and they’re often punished, but it’s not their fault. This isn’t normal behavior for a child.”

“Someone has to throw down the gauntlet,” Felipe said. “Somehow, we have to stand against the false image that the company pays so much money to promote. They have all the power. They can buy the workers, or trick the population of La Oroya into believing their lies.” He went on to describe a current campaign sponsored by Doe Run to provide a glass of milk for every school child in La Oroya every day. “What good does a glass of milk do for a child whose bloodstream is being poisoned by lead?” he asked.

No one moved as Felipe continued to speak. “We are considered traitors in this city. People are afraid that they’ll lose their jobs. But God’s great love that we carry in our hearts is greater than everything else. Christ is with us. He is our friend, and he will defend us when we tell the truth, as he has taught us to. This is why we will fight, because Christ does not want us to continue to live in bondage.”

As I listened to Felipe, I could feel my own chest getting tight. I asked myself, as I have so many times before, “What will it take for a popular, grassroots movement in our church to locate itself on the margins, with sisters and brothers like those in La Oroya, or with others I’ve met in my moderatorial travels like Pastor Chibemba in Mbuji Mayi, Congo, or Milton (the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia) and his wife Adelaida, who are standing against the violence in their country?”

I can almost hear rational and skeptical Presbyterians back in the U.S. who will want to dispute the facts of the environmental crisis in La Oroya, and I’m the first to admit that I’m no scientific expert. But our colleagues here have become the most important kind of experts themselves – the kind who live into a problem by training themselves in whatever ways necessary to defend their kids. When I think of the skeptics, I remember the wonderful scene in the movie Erin Brockovich, when corporate lawyers (who have been arguing that there is no correlation between their company and the people who are dying from drinking water from wells contaminated by their facilities) are offered a glass of water. As they start to drink it, actress Julia Roberts informs them that the water has been brought in for them from the community where their facility is located. Uncomfortably, they eye one another and then put down their glasses without drinking.

In the end, that’s the kind of litmus test that is going to matter in the creation of a new global community. Not a question from a company like Doe Run, “Can you prove a direct, scientific correlation between this facility and your health problems?” but a question from the community, “Would you be willing to come and raise your children here with us?”

This is what the Joining Hands Against Hunger partnerships are all about. From my perspective, La Oroya is actually a story of hope. This project has all the earmarks of what it will take to push us into a new kind of global community: courageous folks on the scene who commit to truth-telling, support from the broader community, and new, border-crossing alliances.

Joining Hands has created a remarkable place of partnership that brings together churches and unchurched families, evangelical pastors and environmental activists, Catholics and Protestants (practically unheard of in this context where most Catholics and Protestants would not consider members of the other group to be truly "Christian"), and the poor and the political elite. Together, they have joined together from as far away as Lima and Huancayo to create an environmental roundtable at which they share information and strategize together about how to confront the overwhelming environmental problems that threaten the entire watershed.

They also have a strong partnership with Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery in the St. Louis area. Because Doe Run operates a similar facility in Herculaneum, Missouri, there is a special sense of connection and commitment that Presbyterians in St. Louis have nurtured for their partners in the faraway mountain community of La Oroya. The most compelling example of what that kind of partnership leads to is the medical study that was recently completed by the University of St. Louis with some support from the Center for Disease Control. Most of the cost of the study, valued at more than $400,000, was donated. By early December, their results should be published, just in time to share the information with Peruvian Government officials who must decide whether to allow the company to postpone the lion's share of the environmental improvements it promised to complete when it purchased the smelter in 1997. The Company has asked permission to continue to pollute for 5 more years with legal impunity.

These are the ingredients that will be necessary to create Jesus’ beloved community in the midst of the global economy that defines our historical moment in time. Since my time in La Oroya, each time I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I find that the image of Felipe weeping as he described his students is inescapable. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In a world where borders are increasingly meaningless to the movement of the goods that we all depend on, our lives are inextricably interwoven with the lives of folks like Felipe, and we must join with them to do God’s will here on earth.

Do we dare to build true relationships of accompaniment like the ones that our sisters and brothers from Giddings-Lovejoy have been constructing with the people of Peru? I got to see that relationship first hand as I traveled with Jim Cook, a retired corporate attorney who will be the next moderator of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery. I saw it in the remarkable witness of seventeen-year old Erica Wunderlich, a Spanish speaking elder from her home church in that Presbytery. Watching the way that the Peruvians responded to the two of them, I find myself hopeful about our church, and about the possibility that God might have something entirely new in store for us.

I, like the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, try to rely on living my faith instead of relying on hope. But this time, a little hope seems well-founded.


By the way, check out these links if you’re interested in more info. on La Oroya and Doe Run Peru:

The Farrell’s mission connections webpage:


InterAmerican Association for Environmental Defense:

Doe Run Peru’s website: http://www.doerun.com/whatwedo/laOroya.aspx

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Leaving a prayer shawl behind in Peru


It was chilly in the small, cinderblock room that clung to the edge of a ravine strewn with garbage on the outskirts of Huancayo, about a six hour bus ride up into the high Andes east of Lima. The building was one of several in the little complex of classrooms and offices shared by CEDEPAZ (The Ecumenical Center for Social Formation and Action), which is one of the members of the Joining Hands Against Poverty Network in Peru, and the little ecumenical seminary called St. Paul’s.

CEDEPAZ was hosting this particular visit in order to orient us about their important human rights work in a country where more than 70,000 people were victims in the violence of the Shining Path’s war against the government and the people of Peru. The statistics were reminiscent of my experiences in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980’s: in addition to the 70,000 known dead, there were an additional 40,000 disappeared and 18,000 orphaned. CEDEPAZ is one of those courageous little ngo’s (non-governmental organizations) that tries to pick up the pieces and help folks to rebuild in the wake of overwhelming personal tragedy, magnified in this case by the reality that 40 percent of the killings were carried out by the government itself in it’s attempt to do the messy work of a counter-insurgency military campaign. Why is it that the cure is so often as bad as or worse than the problem?

I confess to feeling a little sleepy and sick to my stomach as the meeting began – brought on by the high altitude (we were at 11,000 feet) and the curvy ride and maybe the grade B, violent, loud movie on the bus the evening before. I wondered whether I would be able to give my full attention to the conversation.

And then, a young named Ruth stood up and began to tell about her work. She was a small woman, neatly dressed in black slacks and a black blouse, a bright red jacket with a low, open collar and sparkly material in its design, and long, black hair pulled back into a pony tail. She had a quiet confidence about her, and though she was talking about things that were quite difficult, there was a natural, low-key smile that stayed on her face. (Should be obvious by now that if I weren’t unbelievably happily married, Ruth is another of the savvy, brave women in Latin America who could steal my heart.)

Ruth’s grandfather, a brother, and four other cousins were all killed during the political terrorism and violence that shook her country. She comes from a distinguished line of pastors and theologians, and she herself is a pastor and a psychologist in addition to her work with CEDEPAZ. In a low voice, she articulated the challenges. “How do we learn of reconciliation, forgiveness, and letting go of our anger and resentment and rancor,” she asked? “How do we help one another to heal in order to begin to be able to trust again?”

Ruth is part of a team that has worked (with help from a small grant from Presbyterians for Disaster Assistance – pretty remarkable idea to recognize emotional trauma from war as a disaster issue) to create a “training for trainers” program that prepares counselors and conflict reconciliation facilitators to offer one-on-one counseling and workshops in their own communities. “This is a great match,” said Ruth. “The saving word of God through Jesus Christ put together with training in psychological techniques in trauma recovery to help victims of the violence to begin again. People are desperate to feel heard, and paid attention to.”

Then, an older couple named Alejandro and Alicia, who had been sitting quietly to my right in the circle, stood and began to share their story. Alejandro explained in a halting, almost disembodied voice, that they lost their nineteen year-old son on July 3rd, 1989. Though they know that he was abducted by the police and held in a local jail for at least a period of time, they have never received any news of what eventually happened to him. This is standard operating procedure in a Latin American style counter-insurgency campaign. The theory is that the best way to quell popular support for a guerrilla movement against the government is to create widespread fear of what might happen if one would choose to participate. The goal is not just to incarcerate people, or even kill them, but to “disappear” them. In thousands of cases like Alejandro’s and Alicia’s, across Peru and in many other places in Latin America, families never hear from their loved ones, never know why their family was targeted, and may never even know which party in the conflict was responsible for the violence.

I have to admit that I was still feeling a little removed from this story. After all, I have categories for this kind of violence. I’ve spent many years working with victims of similar violence who have come north to the U.S. looking for safe haven. But then, as with so many times in the past, I was brought up short by a mother’s personal story of the loss of her son.

Where Alejandro talked with passion about all of the families who lost loved ones, and with anger about a government that still has not responded to their demands for information almost two decades later, Alicia simply told her story in short, halting sentences, almost as if it just had happened the week or the month before.
“It was late in the afternoon when ‘Chino’ (their son’s nickname) said he was going to a friends house.”

“I asked him not to go. It was so dangerous to be on the streets after dark”

“He said he needed to study with friends for a class assignment at the university.”

“He was my oldest son, the one I depended on.”

“It was six o’clock in the morning. I was warming a frying pan on the stove to make pancakes.”

“Someone knocked on the door.”

“It was a little boy.” “He told me that Chino was in jail.” “I thanked him for coming to tell me.”

Alicia’s tears were flowing down her face, and by now several in our group were weeping with her. Sixteen years later, there is little that they know about what happened to their son. It is indisputable that he was taken by government forces. It is likely that he was eventually killed and dumped into a common grave that has since been uncovered, but the government claims that there is no money to do the forensic work to discover the identities of the skeletal remains in the grave.

Alejandro explained that they are working with CEDEPAZ to try to breathe life into what is functionally a group lawsuit against the government. They are working with dozens of other parents who also want to know what happened to their children, and wives and husbands trying to find out what happened to their spouses.

“It’s almost impossible to go on,” Ruth explained later, “when there is no definitive answer about what happened to your loved one.” There is always that lingering doubt. Who accused my child? Who abducted him? Who can I trust? The grieving compounds with unanswered questions.

As we finished our time at CEDEPAZ that morning, I took one of the prayer shawls (four more were sent to me after I wrote about leaving them as gifts in Louisiana and Mississippi), and I offered it to Ruth. I asked that she take it with her to each of the workshops that she is facilitating for counselors and conciliators.

“Share it with the men and women doing this important work,” I said, “and remember that there are sisters and brothers in the United States who are holding you in prayer.”

May it be so.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Joining Hands Against Hunger - the church in the age of globalization

Sisters and Brothers,

For those who haven't heard about our denomination’s wonderful work through Joining Hands Against Hunger (www.pcusa.org/hunger/jhah ), here is my brief synopsis on what I learned as I traveled with our partners in Peru and Bolivia at the end of October.

The fundamental purpose of Joining Hands Against Hunger is to get to the root causes of hunger and poverty. Many of us are familiar with the oft repeated adage that if you give someone a fish, she eats for a day, but if you teach that person to fish, she can eat for a lifetime. This program partners with those around the world who would embrace that statement, but whose experience of global economic trends and an increasingly endangered environment has pushed them to a far more penetrating analysis.

“If the water in which the fish swims is polluted, how will anyone be able to eat?” This question takes on real significance when asked by our partners in La Oroya, a mountain community in the high Andes of Peru where people are genuinely afraid to fish the once trout-rich rivers downstream from the mine (owned by a U.S. company called Doe Run) whose smelter smokestacks, fugitive emissions and waste and tailings makes their community look like a mining community of 100 years ago in the U.S.

“If we have no access to the river or lake because all of our natural resources have been privatized, how will we be able to feed our children?” The frightening specter of citizens unable to afford water to drink or cooking gas is all too real for our sisters and brothers across Latin America and the rest of the world who are watching as their most basic natural resources – what Dr. Vandana Shiva of India has called “our common good” – are being systematically sold to private interests. As we traveled over the last few weeks, many in Peru and Bolivia lifted up the selling of God’s creation as a matter that raised profoundly theological questions, as well as political ones.

“If we do manage to get access to the lake, how will we be able to compete in the new global economy to sell our fish?” Increasingly, folks who make their living on the land are forced to compete with the largest multinational food production and processing companies in the world, and they wonder how their communities will be able to survive. Small farmers and artisans and business people across the “two-thirds” world (that is, 2/3 of the world’s population who live on the underside of the global economy), are organizing in their opposition to a world economy in which it is impossible for them to feed their children, or to imagine a future of hope and possibility for their children as most of us imagine that future for our own children here in the first world.

These are the fundamental questions of faith that have driven the Presbyterian Hunger Program to develop Joining Hands Against Hunger. The participants in that project insist that they will not be satisfied with anything less than an energetic response to the underlying causes of hunger and poverty in the world. Here’s how it works.

Presbyterian Mission Co-Workers are assigned as “network facilitators” in eight countries around the world. In each of those countries, they support the creation of a network of church bodies and non-governmental organizations that are committed to getting to the root causes of poverty in their country.

In Peru, (Joining Hands Against Poverty) there are fourteen different church and nongovernmental organizations that make up the network. In Bolivia (Joining Hands for Life), there are eight. In each case, the network members work together to determine what their priorities will be and how they will join forces to respond to poverty in their country.

Joining Hands Against Hunger then seeds each network with small grants of roughly $20,000 to provide a fund to help staff the network and to provide start-up funds for joint efforts that the network agrees upon. More importantly, they help to develop Presbytery partners here in the United States to support the work of the networks. In the cases of the countries I visited this week, Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery from the St. Louis area has partnered with the Peruvian Network, and San Francisco and Newark Presbyteries have partnered with those who are doing the work in Bolivia.

The trick is, the Presbyteries are asked not to respond financially to specific needs or projects of the member organizations of the networks. The first goal is accompaniment – to walk with folks in their communities and to learn about their challenges. Simply put, the first task is to build deep, personal relationships that will undergird the work of the future. Members of the network are invited to share their stories in the U.S., and delegations are sent from the supportive Presbyteries to visit the communities that the network organizations are working in.

As a result, the folks are genuinely getting to the root causes of hunger and poverty in these countries, and our U.S. folks are making the connections about the ways in which the global economy connects us to communities around the world. For many of our partners, this is the first opportunity they’ve ever had to share their lives and their opinions with a U.S. citizen, and many of their presuppositions about who we are have been blown out of the water. Conversely, many participants from the U.S. are doing the hard and introspective work of analysis of the ways in which our material comfort and over-abundance is built on the shaky foundation of an increasingly desperate population in the rest of the world.

Together, with thoughtful facilitation by PC(USA) mission co-workers and staff, these partners are discovering that they can, indeed cross borders to make a real difference in poor communities around the world.

When people ask me if I am against the global economy, I generally respond that such an affirmation would be akin to suggesting that I am against air. Globalization is a fact of our lives, and there are many ways in which it can be harnessed to create good in the world. However, the testimony of our sisters and brothers around the world is that they are getting annihilated by globalization.

Put another way, there are powerful economic and political interests that would have us believe that it is possible to have a global economy without taking responsibility for the global community. That assertion is theologically bankrupt. Time after time, Jesus stood with the poorest and most marginalized in his community and listened to their stories. It has always been, and always will be, our job as Christ’s followers to stand with Jesus and to listen to those voices. Further, in an age when many U.S. citizens live in fear of terrorist action, our family around the world is trying to tell us that our over-consumption comes at their expense. As I spoke with some of those brothers and sisters over the last few weeks, it was clear to me that until we address that fundamental reality, our lack of security can only grow greater and greater.

Joining Hands Against Hunger is yet another example of “The Church being Church.” Our relationships of kinship in Jesus Christ are the building blocks for the security that we must rediscover in and through God. After a couple of weeks, I find it just a little easier to imagine what we could do if the church we’re to take seriously its mandate to live Christ’s values in the world.

In the next couple of entries, I’ll share more specific stories of Joining Hands work in Peru and Bolivia.



Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Teologia Integral: An Introduction to my time in Peru and Bolivia


It seems like most Christians identify themselves as either Matthew 28 Christians (those who believe that our first task as Christians is to follow Christ’s command to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations) or Matthew 25 Christians (those who feel compelled to take literally the judgment of the nations in which we’re told that our task is to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned as if they were Jesus himself).

I think we’re called to both. What if the hallmark of faithfulness to Jesus Christ is to insist that we will work with partners around the world and in our own neighborhoods to build solid, long-term relationships of accompaniment that are founded on a compelling invitation to others to give their lives to Christ? And what if we acted as if we really believe in Jesus’ prayer - “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and committed to the construction of the reign of God all around us?

As I’ve traveled, I’ve been looking for the best of each of those. Where are the strongest examples of evangelism and new church development in our Presbyteries? How do our partners in mission carry out the work of evangelism around the world? In addition to investing in the mission programs of our denomination, how can we better support the important work of our validated mission partners like the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (http://www.pff.net/) and The Outreach Foundation (http://www.theoutreachfoundation.org/ )? Where are the best examples of mission work that takes on the world’s economic, social and environmental inequities that are antithetical to the values we profess as followers of Jesus Christ?

Last week, Luis Perez (from Bolivia) and Jubenal Quispes (a Peruvian now living in Bolivia) taught me a new way to think about that elegant balancing act between sharing the Good News of who Jesus is and living as if we believe Jesus meant what he taught. They call it “teologia integral,” a theology that genuinely integrates social justice and evangelism and care for all of God’s creation. Luis is a pastor of the “Light and Truth Presbyterian Church” in La Paz, Bolivia, (part of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Bolivia), and also serves as the General Coordinator for the UMAVIDA Network (Joining Hands Network for Life). Jubenal, an advisor to the eight different organizations that make up the network in Bolivia, is a young theologian and lawyer who left the Catholic Church to become a Presbyterian after training for eight years to be a priest.

As I traveled in Peru and Bolivia at the end of October, I was hosted in both countries by the partners in “Joining Hands Against Hunger,” and I was extremely impressed by what I believe to be the best mission effort I’ve seen for the Matthew 25 side of our work as a church. I was accompanied by members of the Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery, which has partnered with the Joining Hands Network against Poverty in Peru, and by members of the San Francisco Presbytery, which is working in Bolivia with UMAVIDA. We were also accompanied by Maria Arroyo (Coordinator for Latin America in the Worldwide Ministries Division), Lynn Connette (the Presbyterian Hunger Staff Person who links Presbyteries to our eight Joining Hands Networks around the world), and our mission co-workers in Peru (Hunter and Ruth Farrell) and Bolivia (Bob and Julie Dunsmore)

As I fly back to the States, I’m struggling to put words on the experiences. The encounters and meetings and conversations and worship services and travel have been so fast and furious that it has been difficult to process – and impossible to write about - as we’ve traveled. I did take extensive notes, and I’ve mapped out a series of four or five reflections on our experiences that I will try to write as I travel during the next week.

If you’re looking for background to my own reflections, here are a series of weblinks you might want to check out:

Presbyterian Hunger Program: www.pcusa.org/hunger
Joining Hands Against Hunger: www.pcusa.org/hunger/jhah
UMAVIDA Network (in Spanish): http://www.redumavida.org/
Farrells: www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/profiles/farrellh.htms
Dunsmores: www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/letters/dunsmorer/dunsmorer_0510.htm Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery: www.glpby.org/Teams/latinamerica.htm#Peru