Welcome to the blog of the Enough for Everyone program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). By "just living" we mean both justice-based living and just simply living – freeing ourselves from the clutter of stuff so we can focus on living faithfully and living well. Join us in the exploration!
About the Author
Bryce Wiebe coordinates Enough for Everyone, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He loves slow food and is fascinated by the way things are made. He is excited to dive into experiments in simplicity with you. His sacred cow of consumption: kitchen gadgets.
The Rev. Dennis Dewey is a biblical storyteller and pastor of Stone Presbyterian Church in Clinton, New York. His church’s Fair Trade shop sponsored his participation in the January 2014 trip to Nicaragua sponsored by the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Equal Exchange. He offers these reflections on his experience with profound gratitude to his church’s shop and to the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Enough for Everyone, and its Associate, Bryce Wiebe.
I had a friend in seminary who suggested that theology is nothing more than the science of prepositions. Are we “of” Christ, “in” Christ, “with” Christ, living “to” Christ? It reminds me of that wonderful stand-alone stanza of the St. Patrick’s Breastplate hymn, “I Bind Unto Myself This Day”:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
My theological discovery on my Presbyterian Hunger Program/Equal Exchange mission education trip to Nicaragua brought home the importance of prepositions when it comes to missional theology.
We in the West used to think (and many still do) of mission as doing something “for” others—the others being “them,” the “less fortunate,” the people “of color,” those whom we need to help to become “more like us.”
Some years ago, when I was doing a series of performances and workshops in the United Kingdom as a biblical storyteller, a series funded by the quaintly (and somewhat anachronistically) titled British and Foreign Bible Society, I was shown a warehouse of empty shelves that in bygone days had held stacks of Bibles to be shipped to “them” as part of the effort to make them “more like us.” My guide with appropriate embarrassment referred to that era in which the Society thought of its mission as “sending little black books to little black people.”
Through thirty-plus of ministry I have been persuaded from the idea that mission is doing something “for” others. Mission is doing something “with” others. The experience I enjoyed in the trip to Nicaragua brought that reality home in an existential way. I received much more from the people I met there than they received from me. The truth be told, if my “help” was measured by my coffee bean picking skill, it was scant help indeed! I produced so little in the harvest in the one morning that I was picking that, had I been a “hire,” I’d surely have been let go by day’s end!
Among the stories shared with our group in our orientation at CEPAD (the Protestant Council of Churches in Nicaragua) was one that told of a business man, a contractor from Texas on a mission trip that entailed digging and constructing foundations for housing in a Nicaraguan community who offered to send equipment from his company to do the digging in much less time than the campesinos could to by hand. One of the village leaders asked him, “But what then would happen to the community?”
The work of mission is not just a matter of tasks to be accomplished. It is about the relationships among the people who do the work. There is something of the sacred in working together. It is the “with-ness” of mission that makes the “witness.”
My participation in the Presbyterian Hunger Program/Equal Exchange trip had as its stated goals
to give Presbyterians first-hand experience of Nicaragua and Nicaraguans,
to visit Fair Trade cooperatives and to develop personal relationships by participating
in the lives and work of members,
to learn about Nicaragua, Fair Trade and the work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program,
Enough for Everyone, Equal Exchange and CEPAD,
to create opportunities for action upon return.
I am happy to say that all of these goals were achieved by my trip!
Susan Sklar, our trip leader from Equal Exchange who teaches creative writing part time, invited each of us to make a list of words and phrases as we reflected our sojourn with a coffee farming family in the mountains of Boaco, then to select one of those words or phrases and simply write about it non-stop for a few minutes. The following is what I wrote about my three “roommates” in that adventure: CEPAD Staff Member, Frank Mendaro; Presbyterian Hunger Program Associate, Bryce Wiebe; and pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, Florida, the Rev. Larry Green.
The mud. It is the mud.
The mud is what I see on first approach to the remote farmhouse that I will be calling home for a couple days and nights. The mud: disgusting. The mud is my fear of what I will encounter. It is my discomfort, my dis-ease, my nightmare—slipping, falling, getting dirty, filthy. No escape. No way around it.
Making my way through (squishing my way through), I arrive at the porch, then into the main room of the house to deposit my sleeping mat and blanket there (will I have to sleep in the mud?), only to realize that I have tracked mud into my hosts’ home while my companions have thoughtfully removed their muddy shoes on the porch. Now I am embarrassed. Now the mud is also my shame. The panic has not abated, the terror of being sucked into the muddy abyss and so far out of my comfort zone. (My comfort zone is a very small place.) I know that I came in here in part deliberately to move out of it, but I had not anticipated the mud as my welcome mat. The mud is my enemy. Mud, mud, mud, mud, mud. But then come the introductions, the orientations, the recalibration, the internal voice reminding me, “I can do this.” One thing at time. One day at a time. One passage through the mud at a time.
I am so grateful for Larry’s fluency in Spanish, for Bryce’s gentle presence, for Frank’s playful teasing with his second-language English. Mostly I am grateful for the humor of these three fellows whose good cheer is redemptive, cleansing. They supplant my fears with other associations: mud wrestling, mud pies, muddy buddies, your name is Mudd, Fudd and cud. They are greasing the skids with mud, glorious mud! They are not blood brothers but mud brothers—a band of brothers, this fraternity in mud. We are marching in the mud of God, we are marching in the mud of God, and neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities nor height nor depth nor mud will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
The host family live with the mud, live alongside the mud. They are of the mud. It is their world. They know that God made us from the mud of the earth and breathed into us that divine breath that animates us still—the breath of Frank’s snoring, the breath that carries Larry’s bad jokes, the breath that powers Bryce’s singing, the breath that fills this place and scents itself with the wood smoke of this family’s kitchen. God so loved the mud that God gave me this. Therefore I shall not fear though the mountains tremble in the midst of the mud. Thanks be to God for this. Thanks be to God for all of this. Mud and all. Amen.