Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Snow to Ash to Sulpher Steam - within a week!! - and a few nice people as well.

2 weeks ago I left the UK. We drove to the airport through a snowstorm (OK - more like a snow shower!) and 24 hours later, back in Guatemala I was experiencing a different sort of shower. I was clearing up the garden (after 5months of being unattended) - and thought to myself  'I´d forgotten how dusty it is in Guatemala'. Reading the news later, I realised that it wasn´t just the normal dust - but also a showering of volcanic ash from Fuego Volcano, which isn´t too far away. The ash is great for the garden - as it provides extra nutrients and creates very fertile soil - but not to be washed down the drains, where it can cause blockages. Fuego is one of the active volcanoes in Guatemala - and has an almost constant display of rising smoke and occassionally of lava flares. But it has been more active over the last week. The airport was closed for about 24 hours to clear the runway of ash.

Thankfully it was open again by the time I went to Nicaragua for the Central America team conference. We experienced a volcano there too, when we visited Volcan Masaya - another active one. This one is surrounded by a barren landscape as in the earth resulted from the sulphur deposits that this volcano expelled in an eruption rather than the fertile type! And there is still sulphur steam rising from the enormous crater.






Whilst we were there (in Nicaragua), we had a great time for the other Latin Link members in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico....


 All together.
Guatemala and Mexico.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Towards Authentic Community

I like airports.. they are always places that I can be by myself and reflect. Or at least, when I travel alone (which is mostly), it´s always a good time to reflect on what´s gone before and what´s coming next.... Here´s a few thoughts that I wrote down yesterday at the airport... 

Over 6 months ago, I wrote a few blog posts about friendship. I admit that they make fairly depressing reading. Since then, I´ve been gradually working through where all those feelings came from and where I go to from here.

I´m recognising that many times, we feel disappointed with things, not necessarily because we´re rubbish at them, but because we have a longing for something more or better. For me, I think my reflections about the difficulties of friendship stem from (and is just one part of) a desire for authentic community. My previous blogs focussed on the need for friendships where you know others deeply and are deeply known yourself. 

But then I´ve also experienced being in a community, where I don´t have many friendships like that, but where I actually feel very much 'at home' because we connect on a different level; of shared values of how we see and understand the world around us, and a shared desire to see transformation in our communities and relationships, and where there´s an intentionality and accountability about how we connect together. 

So I´m realising that community happens on many different levels. Maybe finding authenticity and acceptance is easier at some levels than others. Some of it seems to be as a result of proactively creating an environment where community can grow. But there also seems to be abit of an unknown to it too - a chemisty - or a connection - that can´t be explained or programmed or manufactured. Maybe it´s just something about being in the right place at the right time, which sparks something good - and with the right encouragement it grows and develops. 

There is so much in our societies today that prevent or actively discourage community. Our hyper-consumerist and individualistic cultures promise us self-fulfilment and satisfaction but (even if you can afford all the things they´re selling, ) they don´t deliver. They only result in a shallow and superficial veneer of the real thing; all spin and no content; 'Dissatisfaction Guarenteed'. Even when you recognise your dissatisfaction with the last thing, the advertisers will attempt to convince you that the 'next thing' will be the solution. So many of us fall for the same trick again and again. 

I wonder, is there a correlation between longing for and creating authentic community life, and rejecting the consumerist merry-go-round and getting out of the 'rat-race'. I have a feeling there is - and that´s something that I´m excited about studying further in some way or other. 

But in the  meantime, I´m determined to put my 'discontent' with the way things are, to good use. As far as it´s up to me, I want to do whatever I can to create authentic community, or to at least create an environment in which authentic friendships and community can germinate and grow. 

Who´s with me?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mobilizing Elephants

I´ve just come back from a conference in Thailand, which was really inspiring in terms of my role in the Core team. Over the next few months, I´ll be working out how to implement some of the things I learnt. But I also had an extra day there, and managed to see a bit of wildlife......

 Butterflies
 Orchids
 Elephants!






 Waterfalls
And then I followed the sun back to the UK!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Last week, I visited the Netherlands with the Core Team. We had some good meetings, but we were also able to encourage the new Latin Link office in the Netherlands and some of their trustees.

 As well as an obligatory visit to a windmill.

 I stayed on a couple of extra days - and had chance to swim in the local canal!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Home?

Last weekend, I attended the debrief weekend for all the Latin Link Steppers and Striders (our short term programmes) who have returned this year. It was great to catch up with a few of the people who have been out to Guatemala this last year. But it also brought clarity to a few things I´ve been thinking over.

A while back, I heard a sermon or maybe I read a blog or something..... but anyway, it was from a guy who had been married about 10 years. He said that as he looked back to his wedding day, he now realised that on that day, he had absolutely no idea what he was letting himself in for! In fact, there was no way in which he could have known, because there are incredible joys and challenges that you just can´t understand without living through them.

I think there´s a similar thing with going into mission, or living in another culture for another reason. At the time of leaving, it can be a fairly straight forward decision, between one option or another. But a few years down the line, you look back and realise just how much that decision changed you, not only for the intervening years, but forever.

One aspect of this for those in mission is 'home'. When you leave to live in another culture, of course you understand that you are in some degree giving up home - almost regardless of the timescale involved -- you are deciding to leave the physical space you have previously called home in order to start again in another place.

But on your return, a greater understanding of the depth of that decision comes. I´ve begun to realise that it´s not the physical space or a particular house that is given up - but actually the concept of home. Home is where you are understood and where you understand what is going on around you. Where you are amongst people who just 'get you'. That is what you have given up.

When I arrived at the debrief venue, I was met by someone who had been in Guatemala for 9 months. She immediately hugged me tight, and cried for a good while, and when she eventually stood back, she said that she´d been so looking forward to the weekend, because it meant being with people who 'just understood'.

That´s the thing with living in another culture: it does something to you at a deeper level, that changes you, that makes it impossible to adequately answer the question 'How was Guatemala?'- when people are expecting a succinct pithy (and positive) response. It´s just impossible to summarise all the challenges, personal doubts, re-evaluations, joys, loneliness, intense spiritual growth, and experiences into a 30 second (one minute if you´re lucky) soundbite that your enquirer is looking for.

Living in another culture, your worldview is changed, your habits are changed, so that when you come back 'home', it no longer feels like you fit. That´s quite apart from all the cultural references (TV shows, local news etc etc) that you have missed out on. And yet, it´s also impossible to completely feel at home in your new culture. No matter how long you stay and adapt to the new place, you´ll always be different, and have to explain some aspects of who you are.

So this is why, when people ask me 'Is it good to be home?' - there´s usually a bit of umming and errring in my response. Some continue with 'I suppose you must feel like Guatemala is your home now?' - sometimes there´s a bit more umming and erring in response to that too. Because on one level, both of them feel like 'home', and on another, neither of them do. I realise that I have given up the right to have a 'home'.

And that´s why my friend at the weekend, felt so relieved to be with people who had shared a similarly intense experience, so could 'just understand'.

It´s a rare grace to be amongst people who you can be completely yourself with, and one I want to celebrate whenever I come across it. But it´s funny that sometimes, it´s those who you meet for quite short times along the journey but have shared some of the intensity of the experience. Other times it´s those people who have known you deeply for so long, that the differences now, don´t seem to matter. But it´s a gift all the same.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Northern Ireland

I was in Northern Ireland at the weekend, and met lots of Latin Link supporters who know me from praying for me, but who I´d never met! Such faithful people!.

 Then I managed a quick swim in the north sea, a long walk along the beach, and then a visit to Giants Causeway. Here´s a few pics for you....
















Friday, 26 September 2014

Back to College

.. this time to study for an MA.


 No classes yet, but this is a great place to get through all the pre-reading!