Blog Post by
Harriet Hall, Moderator of the Nicaragua Community Partnership and member Webster Groves Presbyterian Church
In her presentation for the last Presbytery gathering, Rev. Dr. Damayanthi Niles highlighted the use of language and how it shapes our thoughts and actions. Presbyterians are no longer officially called “missionaries”. We strive to “do mission” now as “co-workers” and in partnership.
Our presbytery’s mission in Nicaragua is an outstanding example of this approach to mission. Since 2000 we have been in partnership with the small community of Plan Grande #2 in northern Nicaragua. Our “Nicaragua Community Partnership” began as the Latin American Task Force and evolved as we focused on love and attention on Plan Grande #2. With the cultural, spiritual, and logistical guidance of PCUSA Mission Co-workers in Nicaragua who work with CEPAD (a Christian NGO and PCUSA supported mission), we have built and sustained a relationship based on mutual respect, listening, trust, solidarity, love, humor, caring, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we know it.
This 20+ year relationship has been rewarding and joyful, but not always easy. Factoring in language challenges, cultural differences, and our good old North American “we know best and can tell you what you need” attitudes, we’ve certainly made some missteps. We just knew that elementary school “scholarships” would help them keep kids in school . . . until they told us that supporting teens in secondary school was their priority. We wondered what they were “hiding” . . . until we learned to appreciate the natural differences in our communication styles. So as in any healthy relationship, we have worked to listen, build trust, understand, and forgive one another.
We have celebrated with over 60 students as they graduated from high school with the help of one of our small scholarships. We currently provide 38 high school students and their families with $200/year and also provide 7 college students with $400 stipends. We’ve seen “our kids” become schoolteachers and administrators, nurses, factory workers, and literate farmers.
Nicaragua is the second most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere with an average annual household income of $300-$400. The funds we provide students and their families certain make an economic difference in the community. Undeniably, we have financial resources which they lack and they are exceedingly grateful for the scholarships we provide. But they are quick to tell us – and we’ve experienced it ourselves – that more than the money, it’s the love and commitment which they value the most about our partnership. That so many of us here will leave the comfort of their homes to visit with them in their humble community, the joy that is shared when we do crafts, play soccer, hold new babies, work puzzles, and make s’mores, the knowledge that people here in this part of the US are concerned about them, pray for them, and celebrate with them, and learn from them – these are the experiences that they value most.
And what do we gain? Wow! Not enough space left in this blog to describe all the ways that this truly reciprocal partnership has been transformative! Invite one of us who has shared time with our Nicaraguan partners to tell you more. For more information, please contact Harriet Hall at 314-707-4750 or email@example.com.
Harriet Hall and John Hughes
Moderator of the Nicaragua Community Partnership