Written by Kay Woike
The New York Conference Annual Meeting, held jointly with the Northeast Region of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ was blessed to have as its special guest Global Ministries long term volunteer Magyolene (Mayim) Rodriguez. She is the New York Conference UCC's missionary partner working in Nicaragua. One of the unusual things about Mayim is that she is not from the U.S. She is a native of Chile and a member of the Iglesia Pentecostal in Chile which jointly sponsors her work with Global Ministries.
Mayim's native language is Spanish but she has been working very hard to become fluent in English. While her conversational English is very good, we made sure interpreters were present for her workshop at the Annual Meeting and for some of the other presentations she gave across the Conference. That also meant that she could speak directly in Spanish at the Bronx Spanish Evangelical UCC and be warmly welcomed at Pilgrim-St. Luke's/El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo which celebrates worship in both Spanish and English.
We learned that as a young person Mayim participated in programs at the Shalom Center near Talca, Chile where she developed a relationship with Global Ministries missionary Elena Huegel. While completing her education she spent her summers volunteering at the Shalom Center, where she met Felix Ortiz, who was at the time Global Ministries Executive for Latin America and the Carribean. After receiving a college degree in agronomy and working for a few years, Ortiz suggested that she use her faith, gifts, and education as a missionary. When a request came from the Iglesia Cristiana in Nicaragua for someone to work with youth on their creation care initiative, a conversation was held with Mayim's pastor who is also a bishop of the Iglesia Pentecostal of Chile. The church had never sent a missionary to another country, and he had 3 requests regarding her placement: that it be with a church that respects women - that it doesn't have any "strange" Pentecostal practices and that the country is relatively safe. After assurances were given, Iglesia Pentecostal of Chile agreed to partner with Global Ministries in sponsoring her work.
For two years she worked with Iglesia Crisitana on projects involving environmental education. After that she extended her term for 2 years and is now also working with CIEETS, the Interchurch Center for Social and Theological Studies and, in addition to environmental education, she focuses on food security and the development of educational materials. One of her current projects involves working with women to plant small vegetable gardens and convince them that in addition to the staples of corn, beans and tortillas, their families need "color" on their places - different kinds of vegetables and fruits. In response to drought conditions, she also helps farmers figure out what can be planted that will grow with little water.
Mayim is an interesting and delightful person. We were all inspired by her commitment to share her faith and her gifts with the people of Nicaragua.
Iglesia Cristiana is a home-grown Pentecostal denomination situated both in the barrios of Managua and in the rural areas outside the capital. Their vision is to encourage and support social transformation, incarnating the gospel as good news for the most vulnerable sectors of society: the poor, the sick, women, children, and people excluded from our socio-economic systems. The Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua began in the 1960s as a movement of ministry to prisoners, calling itself in those years "The Christian Mission in the Jails." Throughout its history, the Association has participated in the founding of various Christian organizations at the national level, with the goal of strengthening ecumenical relationships and supporting the development of churches and their communities. Since its inception, La Misión Cristiana has sought to foster social justice in the communities it serves. It currently is at work on a number of educational and development projects that serve its member churches and their communities.
The church began a project to improve food security for church and community members in the Western region of Nicaragua where decades-old deforestation has worsened droughts, flooding, and the resultant loss of crops. The first step was establishing seed banks which loan seeds to farmers with small plots and sharecroppers, many of whom would not have capital to plant otherwise. These farmers repay 125 percent of the seeds when they harvest, growing the banks to benefit more and more families. The second stage was giving seeds for family gardens (tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, onions, and peppers) and small orange and mango trees. These will help first with family nutrition, and (especially the fruit trees) potentially provide a source of income.
A third phase that has grown out of these efforts is the installation of biodigesters, a relatively inexpensive technology that produces methane gas for cooking from cow manure. Most families in the region are spending much time or money obtaining firewood for cooking in an already deforested area. In addition, the effect of cooking all day in a closed kitchen on an open fire is extremely harmful to women’s health. The first stove, installed as a pilot project in a parsonage, will pay for itself in less than a year; afterward the church no longer has to buy firewood, freeing up significant funds for ministry.
Environmental Education/Tree Planting
Environmental education, including climate change and strategies for growing food (and preparing it) in harmony with nature, has been an integral part of the food security project and is also a topic in the program on ministerial formation. The Christian Mission Church continues to look for more ways to educate its members, especially young people, about the importance of being good stewards of creation and with practical strategies for doing so (including reforestation).