The Adventure Continues

Our Church Council granted me a sabbatical for three months during the summer of 2010. My intention was to learn Latin American Spanish and to explore Latin American cultures here and abroad. Now that I have had some opportunities to lead mission trips to Yuscaran, Honduras, and to visit Mexico three times, the adventure continues.

Seeking New Horizons

Seeking New Horizons

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Meeting the Cambodian Community in Lowell

   On Sunday, May 5, I attended the Commemoration of the Cambodian genocide which began 38 years ago and took nearly 2 million lives.  The event was sponsored by GLILA, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance.  I joined this group last fall as a new way of being connected with the diversity of communities right here at home.

   The event took place at the Glory Temple on Hale St. in Lowell. I had never been there before, and I had not known of its existence.  I have heard that Buddhism is a philosophy that is compatible with all other faiths.  The place looked like a religious place of worship, so I inquired whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, and I was told it depends on who you ask.  Note the picture of the central shrine.  There were also many paintings on the wall depicting the life of the Buddha.

   Several faith traditions were represented with talks, prayers, songs, and poetry.  The most moving part of the presentation was the life story of two of the survivors of the genocide.  They were just children when they and their families were subjected to the cruelty and brutality of the Khmer Rouge government. The stories were astounding in their horror.  Yet, the people were gracious and generous, some of them being real leaders in the Lowell community.  I was impressed by their resilience.

   After the presentations, we were all invited outside for refreshments.  Most of the food was Cambodian, although there were a few desserts that Westerners would recognize.  I enjoyed the "sticky rice," made just like I remember from a Laotian family that lived with us for a few weeks in the 1980's.  I also sampled some excellent spring rolls, a dainty dessert of a kind of fried dough, and another dessert that was made with seaweed.  The hospitality was wonderful.

   I still don’t know if Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy.  I do know that the people who are practicing it in Lowell have been through some horrors that are hard to imagine.  If their practice has helped to make them stronger people, then I pray that God will continue to bless them with more healing.  I am so blessed to have met them.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Understanding Honduras in Joy and in Grief

   My most recent trip to Honduras was April 16 through 23.  April 15 was the day of the bombing in Boston, and we were just getting the news as that infamous day was ending.  I wondered how much news I would be able to get while we were in Honduras, since we had no internet, TV, nor radio.  Yet, we had people on the street, and they consoled us when they heard we were from the Boston area, and they gave us news updates as the week went on.  Even though we were far from home, I felt like we were one community, and the people of Honduras grieved with us.
   Our group spent more energy than usual getting to know the people of the town, Yuscaran, and the village where we were staying, Los Tablones.  We made many new friends to go along with the ones we had already made on previous trips.  While I was the translator for most of our Spanish conversations while we were there, the people in our group had little trouble communicating with hand gestures and a limited vocabulary.  I never cease to be amazed at how people who want to, are able to communicate over language barriers when they care about each other.
    The work we are continuing in Yuscaran is the construction of a new church building for the Episcopal church there.  While the work has seemed to be nearing completion, the plan has now changed to include an additional third floor.  The original plan called for a meeting room in the "basement" and the sanctuary on the floor above.  Now the plan calls for an additional story that will be used for offices or for the residence of the local pastor.  While this may be a good use of limited space, it also means that the sanctuary will have little light or ventilation that would have come from dormers on the roof.  The new plan needs some more discussion, but has already been a part of the continuing construction.  The work we did this year was to mix cement on the floor and to help haul it up about 15 feet to be poured on parts of the new ceiling of the sanctuary, which is also the floor of the third story.  As in the past, we used muscles in ways which were new to us.
   One of the people I look forward to seeing when I go to Honduras is a young man who is now 17 years old.  His name is Selvin and he helped me with my infant Spanish on my first trip in 2010.  He wants to be a translator and is learning English.  In 2011 I brought him a Spanish-English, English-Spanish dictionary to augment his studies.  This year I learned he cannot study at night because he has no electricity at home, and batteries are very expensive.  He uses candle-light, but has been advised that this is not good for his eyes.  So I gave him the money to purchase a solar light that uses bright LED bulbs, and is powered by the sun during the day.  (Solar power is really catching on in Honduras.)  Then I asked him what he is using for a textbook, and he told me the only book he has is the dictionary I gave him three years ago.  I know the kinds of resources I need to learn Spanish, and my three dictionaries are only part of the list!  My heart goes out to the students of Honduras who would give just about anything to have the educational resources we in the USA can take for granted.
   My friendships with people in Honduras are getting stronger.  Part of this is the frequency with which we have been able to get together.  Part of it is the ease of e-mail with which I can communicate with some of my friends there.  Part of it is my growing familiarity with their language.  This year, part of it is the grief and caring I saw in their faces and heard in their words when we in the Boston area were experiencing violence and mindless terror.  It's a long way in miles to Honduras, but it does not seem so far in my heart. 

Canon Kathy Pennybacker and Pastor Dagoberto Chacon