The last weekend in March, the Christian Mission Churches of Nicaragua celebrated their annual General Assembly.
The last weekend in March, the Christian Mission Churches of Nicaragua celebrated their annual General Assembly. Pastors and lay leaders began arriving at the church’s educational center in Ticuantepe from all five of the church regions -- one large delegation rented a bus to make the day-long trip from the distant northern part of Nicaragua. As always, the General Assembly is a time and space for catching up with distant friends and colleagues, for reviewing the path the church has traveled and for planning its future.
For us, the Assembly marked the start of our final year serving here in Nicaragua, and we have been caught up in the same: wonderment at the paths we have traveled in our nearly 3 years here, and looking forward to what our final year will bring before we begin the re-entry process of moving back to the U.S.
The Assembly culminated in a worship service on Easter Sunday, where church members from all over the country celebrated their unity in the Santa Cena (Lord’s Supper). The cycle of the church year, moving from Lent and Good Friday, with its focus on suffering and sacrifice, into Easter hope and resurrection joy, has been repeated again and again for us and the church we accompany.
Our time here has been filled with reminders of just how difficult life is for many Nicaraguans and church members. One of the theology students in the church’s northern region didn’t come to the first day of classes one week, because she didn’t have the 20 córdobas (about 85 cents) that each student contributes. We made sure her pastor let her know that the fee was not a requirement for those who could not afford it. At the next week of classes, a few months later, she brought her payment: in four 5-córdoba coins. I was reminded so powerfully of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44)... and I am humbled by her dedication, setting aside 5 córdobas (less than a quarter) at a time so she can contribute to her studies.
These stories and so many more have brought to life for us what it means to live on 2 dollars or less a day, which is a reality for many Nicaraguans. There are still far too many Good Friday moments, suffering that is all too real and concrete. But, gracias a Dios (thanks be to God), through our work with the Christian Mission Churches, we also witness a church empowered by God’s Spirit to offer resurrection hope in the midst of suffering.
We are currently co-teaching a class on Ecology and Theology to undergraduate theology students at CIEETS the Martin Luther King University (UENIC). Laura Jean covers the theology and Tim handles the science. We have heard many passionate testimonies from pastors working in both urban and rural communities. Among the environmental challenges in Nicaragua are problems of trash collection and sanitation, and of deforestation. After a recent reading about the challenge of clean water in Nicaragua and a call to action for the churches, every single student, in a group of almost 40, had a story of a river near where they live that is contaminated by industrial or agricultural waste (or human waste and trash), or that has dried up due to deforestation. What has made the class a really rewarding experience is how engaged the students are in the topic, and how eager to encourage their congregations to become advocates for caring for the environment.
The theology education project that Laura Jean coordinates is now in its home stretch in the central, western and northern regions. We began knowing that church leaders and pastors were hungry for a course of basic theological study and ministry skills, especially in the rural churches where opportunities for education, secular or theological, are limited. We weren’t sure how it would be possible to bring the training to as many students as were interested. With help from Global Ministries and a cadre of Nicaraguan church members who are both trained in theology and willing to serve the church by teaching, we are giving classes to eight groups of students in 3 regions. Nearly 100 students have invested their time and effort and will complete the two-year program and receive a diploma from the church. Plans are already being laid to celebrate the three regional graduation ceremonies in the fall of this year. It is truly amazing the way that so many people have come together and contributed to make this possible.
The past year has also seen the birth of the biodigester project in the western region. A biodigester is a mechanism for converting animal manure (an abundant resource in the countryside!) into methane cooking gas. For rural families who rely on gathering firewood to cook their daily food, this technology saves time, improves women’s health and reduces deforestation.
To date we have installed 3 biodigesters in the villages of San Pedro and Malpaso. The pastors who received the biodigesters report that all three are functioning well and have had a big impact on the families. One pastor told us that he hasn’t bought firewood since it was installed. This project has been put into motion with the help of churches from Ohio, who were even able to make the 3 hour drive to visit the region last June.
We were able to spend the month of January in the United States visiting a number of churches in Virginia, DC, Maryland and New Jersey. The cold weather was a bit of a shock, but Maya got to experience her first snowfall and we spent several weeks of quality time with family. We really enjoyed talking about Nicaragua and La Misión Cristiana to a number of welcoming and interested congregations. It is such a privilege to be able to share with our wider church family in the UCC and Disciples of Christ the stories of hope and new life we are witnessing in Nicaragua.
Laura Jean Torgerson
Laura Jean Torgerson and Timothy Donaghy serve with the Christian Mission Church in Nicaragua. Laura Jean serves as consultant to the Education and Theology Department of the National Board of the Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua and assists in the development of new congregations that reflect the liberating theology of the church. Timothy works in the social justice program of the Christian Mission Church and has been assigned to teach physics at the Martin Luther King University in Managua.