Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Neighbors in Nicaragua

Me and Grama Ramona (see previous blog)
Luke 10:25-37 contains a parable that is very familiar to many of us, often referred to as the story of The Good Samaritan.  Nowadays the phrase "Good Samaritan" is a compliment, used commonly to describe a nice person who helps others.

When we read this scripture, we want to imagine that we are like the Samaritan.  We read it as a feel-good story about the average person doing good where the religious leaders failed to do so.

But the phrase "Good Samaritan" would have been a bitter pill for the original hearers to swallow.  When the Lawyer asks "Who is my neighbor?" he is asking a loaded question.  Jesus gives him a loaded answer.
Read more »

Friday, October 12, 2012

Back to Nica

Catherine has the sweetest smile!
About a year ago I went to Nicaragua for the first time on a mission trip, and before I even left I knew that God was calling me to come back again.  I was inspired by the way communities are working together to love, feed and educate children despite a great lack of resources. El Ayudante in Leon welcomed our team in with wonderful hospitality, and we were able to see all of the ways that their staff are empowering churches, schools, families, and individuals in the communities of Leon - with support from international mission teams.

Why Nicaragua?  There are so many places around the world that have need, and often the places that get the most media attention get the most help.  When disasters happen, like the earthquake in Haiti, there is often an initial outpouring of aid for a few years.  This is a great thing!  But long-term partnerships are needed to help communities around the world improve the quality of life for their people.  Nicaragua is a country who is still recovering from political unrest and violence within the last few decades, and while the poverty there doesn't look like what you see in Haiti or Somalia, it is there.  We visited neighborhood after neighborhood where families struggle to put food on the table, and saw how people in the community scraped together funds to feed children a daily meal in school.  Not only does this ministry of feeding guarantee that each child will get at least one meal a day, but it also provides an incentive for families to send their children to school.

Grama Ramona at El Jardancito
One of our most emotional visits was to El Jardincito Preschool, a school organized by a lady known as Grama Ramona.  El Jardincito means "the little garden," and Grama Ramona started this little school out under the trees - she had no funds and no building, but she wanted to make sure that the children of the barrio had food to eat and were prepared for school.  Thanks to the partnership with El Ayudante and help from other mission teams, El Jardincito now has a schoolhouse and Grama Ramona is given a stipend for expenses.  We were moved by the love between this teacher and her students, and how much she had done with so little resources.  In the midst of our own economic uncertainty, I was struck by how much these communities can teach us about providing for those who have need.

I have seen firsthand how far our gifts of money and supplies can go when we support community efforts in other places.  Bit by bit, churches, schools and community organizations - with our support - can work together to improve conditions for families and make sure that the next generation has a better chance at getting out of poverty.  In our next trip we are going to visit more churches and schools like El Jardincito to support their efforts and gift supplies and funds.  We will also do one or two work projects either at El Aydante's campus or at a home or organization in the community.  Plus, since we will be there over New Years' we hope to provide a party for the El Ayudante staff and their families - a chance to thank them for their work and share a cultural experience.  I am committed to paying at least half of the $1,500 trip cost myself, but I would appreciate financial support from anyone who feels so led.  You can give online at my Crowdrise page.  Please keep the team in your prayers!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Stare at the sun tonight! (Safely)

This evening we (hopefully) have a chance to see a twice-in-a-lifetime event.  Those of us in the East Coast are going to witness a Transit of Venus between 6pm and sunset.  (For other viewing times and lots of other info go to NASA's website.)  As it happens, we are partnering with a local middle school to do a 6th grade outdoor education camp, and this rare event falls on the first day!  Since my lesson for tonight won't be usable again until 2117, I thought I'd share it with the masses.

As with solar eclipses you SHOULD NEVER look directly at the sun.  You could make a pinhole projector, but the Venus will appear as such a small dot on the sun that other viewing options would be more effective.  Our students are going to take turns using Solar Eclipse glasses that we bought online, and looking through welding helmet glass (it is very important that you use at least Shade 14 glass).  When I got both of these resources they were so dark I didn't believe they would work, but lo and behold I used them to look at the sun and got a perfect image.  That really showed me just how powerful the sun's rays are (this is why we don't look directly at the sun....)  We are also going to use binoculars to project the image of the sun, to see how that works.  NEVER use your binoculars or telescope to view the sun unless you have the appropriate solar filters.  Instead, with your back to the sun, you can point the telescope or binoculars behind you, and use them to project the image of the sun onto a white sheet of paper.  We tried it the other day and it was pretty cool, so hopefully we'll be able to get an image big enough to see Venus.

Below is some of the history about people studying the transits of Venus in recent centuries (this is my lesson plan for tonight's class).  It's pretty fascinating stuff - sea voyages, wars, algebra, and more!  Feel free to use it if you happen to have a group together tonight.  All of my information comes from the NASA and wikipedia links above.

Today we are talking about the Transit of Venus, which is what we call it when Venus passes between the sun and us. A Transit of Venus looks like a little black dot on the sun.
  • Why do you think people have been so interested in the Transit of Venus? 
Since ancient times some people watched the stars and planets because they thought it would help them to predict the future and learn about the gods.
  • It is believed that the Aztecs may have seen the transit of Venus in 1518. 
  • There is a jade figure in the British Museum, showing a god associated with the planet Venus, wearing the Sun as his neck ornament. Some people believe that this figure was a memorial to this event.
  • If they did see this event, it might have been a bad omen – the explorer Cortez conquered the Aztec civilization two years later!
In modern times people have been interested in astronomy because it can help us understand more about our solar system.
  • Have you ever made a model of the solar system?  
  • In the 1500’s Nicolas Copernicus created a model of what the solar system looked like, but he didn’t really know how far apart the planets are. He only knew how far they were in relation to the distance between the earth and the sun. 

In 1608 the telescope was invented, and in 1610 Galileo Galilee became the first human to see Venus as more than just a bright light in the sky.
  • By studying Venus, he was able to show that the planets do orbit around the sun, like Copernicus had hypothesized 
  • People became more interested in viewing events like the transit of Venus because there was so much that hadn’t been learned about the solar system. 
Another scientist, Johannes Kepler, was able to use math and astronomy to predict the 1631 transit of Venus, but he died in 1630 and was not able to see it. Based on his predictions, a French astronomer Gassendi looked for the transit, but it was not visible from Europe.

Jeremiah Horrocks gathered his own data to improve on Kepler’s tables, and discovered that another transit would happen in 1639 – 8 years after the one Kepler had predicted.
  • These transits often happen in pairs 8 years apart. 
  • Thanks to his calculations Jeremiah Horrocks and his friend William Crabtree were able to see the transit of Venus – the first people in recorded history to do so! 
In 1716, Sir Edmund Halley observed a transit of Mercury, and realized that by observing transits, scientists could determine how far the Earth is from the sun.
  • To get the most accurate data, he suggested that scientists should observe the 1761 and 1769 transits from as many places around the world as possible. 
  • How many of you have studied algebra in math? In algebra you sometimes have equations where you have to find the value of x, right? Well, in the solar system equation, the x they wanted to know was the distance between the earth and the sun. 
  • If they could figure out the distance between the earth and the sun, they could figure out the distances between the other planets. 
Halley died in 1742, but in 1761 176 scientists traveled to 117 observation stations around the world. 
  • Imagine what it would have been like to travel for months by sea, carrying delicate scientific instruments!  
  • To make things more complicated, the Seven Year’s War was going on between the French and English, but scientists were given special letters of passage. These were sort of like hall passes that got them safely through enemy territory. 
During the 1769 Transit, more than 400 sightings were published. One observer in London documented the transit with this drawing  
  • Benjamin Franklin observed the transit from the US. 
  • The most famous expedition was led by Captain James Cook. He left Plymouth, England in 1768 to circumnavigate the globe. 
    • Does anyone know what “circumnavigate” means? 
    • On his journey to circumnavigate the globe and explore the Pacific Ocean, he set up an observation station in Tahiti, an island in the South Pacific. 
    • Not only did he get pretty accurate data of the transit, but on the next leg of his journey he discovered New Zealand and got stuck on the Great Barrier Reef for a few weeks. 
    • He successfully completed his circumnavigation and returned to England safely as a hero. 
Photography was invented and developed in the early 1800’s, and scientists took hundreds of photographs of the 1874 transit. 
  • How many pictures do you take each day? 
  • In the early days of photography the process was very complicated and expensive so scientists could only take a few photographs. 
  • Unfortunately, technology was still not developed enough to accurately calculate the distance between the sun and the earth, even though over $1 million was spent internationally to collect data. 
There was a great deal of interest in the 1882 transit of Venus, and lots of people viewed it through pieces of smoked glass (sort of similar to the welding glass we will use).  This is a photograph of the 1882 transit
  • John Phillip Sousa even composed a “Transit of Venus March.” He dedicated it to American physicist Prof. John Henry, and it was played when the Smithsonian Institute unveiled a statue of John Henry in 1883. Let’s listen to it now. Try to imagine how excited people must have been to watch the transit of Venus in 1882. 
In 1882, the magazine Scientific American wrote “It is possibly the last time that so much scientific stress will be laid upon the transit of Venus. For before the next one in 2004, we have faith to believe that other and more accurate methods will be found for computing the sun’s distant.” They were right!

In 1891, astronomer William Harkness concluded that the distance to the sun from the earth was 92.4 million miles, with an uncertainty of 1 million miles. He used measurements from the transits of Venus along with other astronomical data to figure out the distance.

The next transit was not until 2004.

People are still interested in seeing a transit of Venus because they are so rare. Here is a picture from the 2004 Transit.
  • Today’s transit is 8 years later (remember they often happen in pairs separated by 8 years). 
  • The next pair of transits will not be until 2117! How old would you have to be to see that transit?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Longer Days

In my junior year of college I decided to fast on Wednesdays during Lent. I fasted from sun-up to sundown, which is a fairly wimpy fast, but I am a fairly wimpy faster. I hoped that over the course of Lent I would become better at the spiritual discipline of fasting, but as Lent dragged on I noticed that waiting until sunset to eat dinner seemed harder and harder each week. One Wednesday close to Easter I got really discouraged. Why wasn’t I getting better at fasting? Of course then it dawned on me of course it was harder to make it to sunset… the days were getting longer! Nature was upping the challenge on me.

Lenten commitments or sacrifices aren’t just supposed to make us “good at” spiritual disciplines; they also make us more humble and reliant on God. Nowadays I give up meat for Lent, and I am frequently reminded of my need for grace as I am (for example) biting into an Italian B.M.T. sandwich at Subway because I have once again forgotten that I’m not eating meat. But this is the good news of grace, right? Grace shows up most noticeably in the moments where we remember that we are only human.

For most of us, it does get increasingly difficult to make time for God as Lent progresses because life gets a lot more hectic as we move through spring and into summer. Here at Pecometh our busy season will hit right after Easter, with Volunteer Day and Pecometh Day, and all of the guest groups that come in at the end of the school year. Part of our Lenten challenge is paying attention to how God is present here and now as we look forward to (and prepare for) that busy season of ministry. For many of you the challenge is making time for God as your semester becomes more and more demanding, or as little league season gears up, or as the church calendar gets more and more full. (Let’s say a prayer for our pastors and church leaders heading into Holy Week!) Thank goodness God will show up in the midst of all that busy-ness, and we just need to slow down just a little and keep our eyes open.

Today I went down to Riverside to take a couple pictures of Spring springing at Pecometh. Grass is coming up and there are little green leaves on the new willow tree. I thought I’d share a picture with you. I hope the familiar sight reminds you of the ways that grace is springing up in your life.

Originally posted on the Pecometh Blog.

Re:Viewing Confirmation

Confirmation Sunday
If you did not grow up in the church (or maybe even if you did), “Confirmation” may seem like a strange name for a youth program. Who is doing the confirming when we talk about confirmation? Does God send down a sacred confirmation email saying, “Yup, this person has been baptized by water and the spirit.”? Or are we doing the confirming? Are we holding confirmation hearings where we vet our students to confirm that they are “ready” to join the church? Or are the students confirming that they have read the fine print and looked into their hearts, and they are ready to sign on the dotted line and “become a member”? Ideally, in confirmation we are all doing the confirming together. We support each confirmand (student in confirmation) in learning more about our faith tradition, reflecting on how God has been at work in his or her life, and deciding if she or he is ready to make a faith commitment.

If you went through Confirmation as a youth, what comes to mind about that process? I’ll admit, I hear plenty of people talk about how boring it was. And I’ll never forget the first day of confirmation class when I had to explain to a student that we were not talking about conforming them. Of course I also remember how empowering it was to me as a student, being asked to make my own decision and my own commitment to God and to the church. I know that many people share that experience. (And I’m actually really glad they made me memorize the Apostle’s Creed).

And if you’ve taught confirmation, you’re probably remembering the wonderful ways that you experienced God through and with youth… and you may also vaguely remember that feeling of “oh my gosh how am I supposed to fit all of this information into few enough classes that I can get all of the kids to come and also include some worship and service and missions and teach about the sacraments and grace and the trinity and have everyone sit still long enough and understand it all and not be too bored???” Or was that just me? When I was teaching confirmation it was sometimes challenging for me to let go of the logistics and content and really be present with my students and with God.

But I’ll confess that I love teaching confirmation. It is a chance for us to show young people the best of what God and the Church have to offer them. It is a season when we encourage our students to reflect on their own experiences of God, and we give them the tools to discern how God is inviting them to live out their faith. That’s why I am so excited to invite small confirmation classes to participate in the Re:View Confirmation Retreat in March. I know all of the prayer and planning that go into a confirmation process, and how it can be especially challenging for smaller churches. I hope that confirmation leaders will be blessed by the chance to leave the logistics to us so that they can spend the weekend focused on their confirmands. Together we will re:view some of the ways that God is at work in the world. We’re going to learn, climb, share, star-gaze, pray, hayride, shoot arrows, worship, listen, and lots more. And there will be Peeps Smores. Let me know if you’re interested in joining us!

This blog was originally published on the Pecometh Blog.  Next year's Re:View Confirmation Retreat is scheduled for March 8-10, 2013.  

Longing For Easter

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10

I remember when I was little I spent all winter and spring yearning for the day when I could go barefoot in the yard. For some reason, I always looked forward to Easter as a time when it would be warm enough. (Being too stubborn to admit I was wrong, I have memories of hunting for Easter eggs with very cold feet.) For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the Christian calendar brings our spiritual lives into harmony with the rhythm of the seasons. During Lent, our growing anticipation for the light and warmth of spring reminds us of the longing we have for new life in Christ, and for the joy we share at Easter.

By February (my least favorite month) I am ready for a new season… but there are still at least another couple months of cold weather. At Pecometh winter guest groups come in to enjoy the peace and beauty here, but it’s very quiet. There are no campers or canoe programs or groups at the pool. The bustle and noise that most people associate with Camp is still a few months away. It’s time to start preparing for the busy season, but summer is still so far away. Even though many of us would like to fast-forward through this time of year, in Lent put the time to good use. We set aside 40 days to repent and reorder our spiritual lives. I’ve sometimes heard it described as spiritual spring-cleaning.

Come April, my life will be joyfully chaotic, so now is the time to spiritually prepare for all that ministry. In the coming weeks, some of our staff will be sharing Lenten reflections with you on the Pecometh blog as we move toward Easter – and prepare for another busy summer welcoming guests and campers! We invite you to join us in observing a holy Lent, and hope that you will share your reflections with us as well.

Originally Posted on the Pecometh Blog


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Covenant Prayer Project

Ok word nerds and theology geeks.  I am working on a Confirmation Retreat that I'm running in March, and I would like to use the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer in our closing worship.  The challenge is that while I don't want to dumb down the language and theology for youth, I would like to find more accessible language.  (I am well aware that sometimes I think language is beautiful and accessible only to find that my audience thinks its boring).  So I went to work paraphrasing, and I would love to get some feedback, suggestions, etc.  I'll put my version, and the version in contemporary language from the General Board of Discipleship website.  There are some words like "exalted" that I didn't want to get rid of, but I wasn't sure if they were too churchy.  What do you think?

My version:
I’m not my own anymore, I’m yours.
I’ll take any assignment, I’ll accept any status.
If something needs to be done, I’ll do it.
If you ask me to suffer, I’ll get through it.
I’ll be employed for you, or laid off for you.
Raised up for you, or brought low for you.
Whether I’m full or empty, 
whether I have everything or nothing,
freely, with my whole heart,
I give everything to you
to use as you please.

And now,
Glorious and blessed God
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
You are mine and I am yours.
So be it. 
This covenant is made on earth,
But let it be signed and sealed in heaven.

Contemporary Version:
I am no longer my own by yours. 
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. 
Put me to doing, put me to suffering. 
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, 
exalted for you or brought low for you. 
Let me be full, let me be empty. 
Let me have all things, let me have nothing. 
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, 
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 
you are mine and I am yours. 
So be it. 
And the covenant now made on earth, 
let it be ratified in heaven. 

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Love in Nicaragua

In October I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua on a mission trip with 8 other people from the Peninsula-Delaware Conference area.  We were hosted by an organization called El Ayudante, which helps to support churches and schools that work to feed and educate children in poor communities.  We visited several schools and churches, where we played, did crafts, sang songs, and encouraged the children to grow up to the be loved and gifted people God created them to be.  We were also able to leave donations of money and school supplies at each place.  

At each location I was blessed with the opportunity connect with a few kids, and I was reminded that kids everywhere are the same!  They love hugs and having their pictures taken.  They love to sing, they get a little too wound up when they have sugar and attention, and the boys can't resist the urge to inflate their empty juice boxes and stomp on them, making everyone jump!  It was hard for us to see such beautiful children living in poverty.  Most of schools and churches provide meals when they can, because many of the children would have very little to eat otherwise.  But, we were inspired by the way God has called people in these communities to help feed and teach these children so that they might have the chance to get out of their circumstances someday.  

One of the most special experiences for me was handing out leftover Pecometh t-shirts and dresses that some of our campers made.  I was honored to be able to connect our campers who are so blessed and generous with these children whose faces lit up when they were given new clothes that were just for them.  

Thanks to everyone who supported me financially and through prayer!  As I encountered poverty and injustice in Nicaragua, I was reminded that we also still have poverty and injustice in our own country as well.  It is a comfort to know that our church family is doing what we can to help people in our own community, in our own country, and around the world.  

Check out my pictures on Facebook... Nicaragua 2011 Part 1 and Nicaragua 2011 Part 2!  

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Sad backpack, ready for Haiti
Some of you remember that I was supposed to go on a mission trip to Haiti in December, but then we couldn't go because of the growing violence the the days before we were supposed to leave.  The team rescheduled for March, but because of my responsibilities at camp I was unable to go.  I decided to set aside the money I raised, and keep an eye out for future trips.  

While I was looking for a trip to join, I was starting to envy the people I know who were working with kids on mission trips.  I had been focusing on construction trips in Haiti because of the need there and the fact that I don't mind roughing it (even if I don't have any construction skills).  Then last spring I got an email about a mission trip to Nicaragua that would happen October 22-29.  To be honest, I have never had an interest in going to South or Central America, but something about this trip jumped out at me.  The dates would fit well with my Pecometh schedule, I know the pastor co-leading the trip, and the work would be centered around El Ayudante Family Enrichment Center in Leon!  So with that I was planning to go on another mission trip, but this time I already had money raised and had all the right shots!  

Now my trip is less than a month away, and I'm starting to get really excited!  We had a meeting with the team last month and got some more information.  In Nicaragua, many kids are placed in orphanages by their families who are struggling to make ends meet; for this reason the Nicaraguan government has placed an emphasis on placing kids with family members rather than keeping them in group homes.  El Ayudante used to be an orphanage but now that all of the kids have been placed in homes or adopted, they focus on resourcing families.  During our time there we will probably do some work at the center (possibly painting some rooms), as well as visiting schools to do crafts, hand out snacks, and donate school supplies!  In addition we get to spend time with some of the kids who are served by the center (which might include taking them out for ice cream, and taking kids buy new clothes).  

Most of my money has been raised, but if you would like to donate money or supplies to the team, please let me know.  And of course please keep me in your prayers!  I never wanted to go to Nicaragua before, but now that I am getting ready to go I am excited about learning about a new culture, and doing my small part to support families who are struggling to raise children in poverty.  I am going to take some dresses that the Girls II Greatness program made during summer camp, and I'll also be getting together some school supplies and other things.  Thanks for your support! 

Supplies need at El Ayudante:

  • flip flops, over size 1
  • pencils
  • pens, red, black, blue
  • permanent markers
  • dry erase markers, dry erasers
  • paper, plain
  • plastic rulers
  • play dough
  • glue
  • printer paper
  • 3 ring binders, inch and a half
  • washcloths
  • hand towels
  • mattress covers and sheets for twin beds
  • notebooks
  • hygiene items, shampoo, soap, toothpaste