Monday, December 19, 2011

To my fellow YAGMs:

Grace and Peace to all during this holiday season,
from God who is, who was, and has yet to come...

It is a difficult time to be a YAGM.  

At least for me, my thoughts are strewn between my life here and back home.  A time where in past years I have been immersed in finals and preparing to travel home is now occupied by new culture, new traditions, and new people.  The presence of so many new things makes me crave even just one small piece of known ritual.

As much as this year has been about learning new ideas, it has also served to make me recognize the importance of things I have taken for granted.  Simple things like peppermints --which I absolutely adore--and watching snow fall while sipping hot chocolate by the fire defined the look and feel of this season.  Without them, I even question that we are even in the holiday months.

This is the part of accompaniment that is so hard.  Walking with people and encountering these new ideas means being apart from everything and everyone you have ever known.  It means missing your family, your friends, your traditions, and your life.  But it is in this that the greatest of joys can arise:  a new community.  A new sense of belonging. 

Being a YAGM means breaking yourself down until you are raw and tender; vulnerable and moldable.  It forces you to think --thankfully I’m sure we all have enough time to be pensive-- about what is important and then gather the pieces and rebuild with not just old knowledge, but with new insights from the world in which you are immersed.  It is an awful, horrible, wonderful process.  Miraculous.

It is during this last week of Advent --while we patiently wait for the gift of Christmas-- that I would like to remind you of what God is sending:  a message of grace for every living being and a message of relationship.  For it was through relationships that Jesus sought to change the world.  He sought to define how we interact with one another and taught that we are not meant to love only God, but also love our neighbors.  

It is in these very relationships that we YAGMs find ourselves changed.  This is where we are torn apart and rebuilt.  Our old eyes are plucked from our head and replaced with eyes that see “the other” as part of us.  We are surrounded by an abrupt reality of pain, poverty, violence, and injustice.  Yet for all the abuses our hearts are shown, we find a love for it all.  We find great joy in the communities and relationships we create with our site placements.  

My hope for each of you is that you find HOME in your community.  That wherever you are in the world, you can realize this is where you belong!  And even though you are far away from family and friends, I hope that the people surrounding you become family and become an example of God’s love made real in this world!  I hope that every day you find yourself changed by these relationships.  For this is accompaniment at its finest.  Wherever you are, create community and be love.

May the wide embrace of God’s love envelop the world and bring you both comfort and joy.

Never forget to share the bread!

All my love,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Newsletter and Video

Hello friends!

I just emailed out my latest edition of my YAGM newsletter, so if you didn't get that and would like to, please let me know. 

I also am going to post a video for you to watch about a man who was killed on November 28th, 2011 because of his public search for his son who was disappeared in July 2010.  It is a powerful video and many of my friends within my organization knew him well and were devastated by the news of his death.  It was a very sad day and I can only hope that peace can be restored to this country and around the world.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Worship Meditation - Based on Isaiah 55

There was a time when the world was wicked; when every inclination in the hearts of humankind was evil.  It was a time filled with violence and corruption.  When God saw this time and this earth that was filled with wickedness, she was grieved to her heart.  She decided to fill the world with water and blot out from the earth the very human beings she created.

If you remember, this was the story of the great flood.  But the point in me reminding you of this story is not to remind you of impending doom, but the recall what happened after the flood.  God makes a promise to never again destroy the world.  In Isaiah (Ch. 54 and 55), he repeats and renews that promise to us.

This past week, Team Mexico had a retreat on Globalization and Food Security.  We had the opportunity to have a conversation with an indigenous spiritual leader.  During our conversation, he said something to the effect of “Land is a spiritual inheritance.”  The process of planting food is a spiritual process for those who plant to eat and survive.  It is part of a tradition of sowing and reaping that has lasted for thousands of generations; in fact, this spiritual leader showed us corn whose lineage could be traced back 2,000 years in his family.  This process of planting and picking is part of a life giving process, not only for the plant being grown, but for the people and animals who consume that plant.  Whether or not the crops grow and produce food is linked to the lives of the farmers who work the land.

Growing and harvesting fields is meant to feed families.  To provide “bread” that nourishes all who eat it.  This is the simple purpose.  They are part of the cycle to give us food, give us bread and give us life.  In the Isaiah text we read, “All who have NO money are invited to come, buy and eat.”   Food is part of God’s free gifts to us.  It is an essential piece of life that God provides.  You plant a few seeds, and the result is an abundance of food and seeds for next year.  It is intended to be without cost.  We can even recall from Exodus, the story where Moses and the Israelites are in the desert, starving:  Some gathered more (manna), some less, but at the end of the day they each received as much as they needed.  God has promised to provide.

But what happens when the purpose of farming changes from seeking to provide the nourishment for the people of the world, to creating short term profit?  When the corn cobs and chili peppers become ways to garner wealth, not feed a community.  When seeds are planted and grow a plant that is unable to reproduce another year?  

What happens when you start charging for God’s free gifts?

People begin to die.  When food is grown for only profit and not for sustenance, people begin to perish.  

During our retreat we also met with an older lady who had planted and tended fields since she was a young girl.  It was her family’s land and we heard stories about how the trees were planted and how they grew big with her.  She never married, but has continued to plant corn, beans, and other crops.  She told us the story of how she planted corn:  First digging the rows, and then planting it.  But as she placed the corn into the ground, she talked to each seed.  “The birds, they will come and bother you, but I will help you.  I will try to protect you when the rains come and try to wash you away.”  She said things like this as she planted her fields.  Once the hard labor was done, she would rejoice, and hold a party with lots of food, so all would know that she had finished her planting.  Likewise, when it came time to harvest, she gave thanks and hand-selected seeds for the next crop.  “You have done well, thank you for giving yourself to eat, and to provide for me.  These seeds will continue the cycle and I will plant you again.”  The nature of how she planted relied on not just the growth of the crops but the ability to follow the cycle of death with replanting.  Both the harvest and the rebirth are critical pieces.  

But today as corporations seek to maximize profits, they are stopping the cycle of rebirth.  Companies --like Monsanto-- are sterilizing seeds and patenting new varieties of them.  When you can’t afford to buy new seeds, you can’t plant food.  If you can’t plant food, then you can’t eat.  And if you can’t eat, you begin to die.

As globalization practices --ones that focus on large individual gain-- begin to destroy the spiritual practice of planting and harvesting, they are destroying along with it thousands of years of tradition, and killing the people who participate within them.

God’s call here is again about community.  It is not selling food to get massive wealth, but to provide food to sustain and grow the community of people both near you and around the world.  Globalization shouldn’t be about becoming a monopoly to rule the world with an economic fist, but to work together for the benefit of everyone!  To make goods and bread available to everyone.  We are not meant to stand alone on a global scale and work merely for ourselves or ourkind, but for everyone.  We cannot abandon each other to the market.

And God’s promise is to not abandon us either.  God’s invitation is still for EVERYONE to come drink, to come eat.  Whether you have money or not, you are invited to buy wine and milk, not even just bread, but wine and milk!

God has promised us that she will not end our cycle again.  She has invited us into an abundant life where out of her love for us, she formed an everlasting contract.  A contract of baptism, of renewal, of abundance.  But it is a contract also requires us to participate.  We must learn to care for one another as well, to work together with creative tensions and to create societies filled with vital communities –free of injustice and inequality.  We must remember both our physical and spiritual connections with one another and quit spending our time on unsatisfying labors and on those pieces that are not bread, that are not sustaining.

God tries again.  She doesn’t flood us, she doesn’t destroy us.  She replants and patiently waits for the harvest.  A harvest that is shared abundantly with all creation.  

Can we learn to do the same?

Monday, November 7, 2011

La Semana Pasada

Hello dear friends!  It has been too long.

I have had the busiest week yet here in Mexico, so please forgive me for not getting this update to you sooner.  I had a fantastic time at the events for Day(s) of the Dead.  Here are a few things that happened...

Day 1:  October 28th

We began to reset the altar for Day of the Dead.  This involves a variety of specific items that are part of the holiday's tradition.  Incense, specific flowers, bread of the dead, clay cooking pots,skulls, glasses of water, maize, tequila, uncooked beans, mole, candies, a picture of the person who died and any other food they enjoyed, and of course lots of candles. 

We also added "bodies" filled with oranges and drawings by children who came to color in the zocalo.  I think this tradition is amazing and is a really neat way to honor friends and family who have died.  Here is a picture of the finished alter of Red x la Paz.

Day 2:  October 31

La Red x la Paz y Justica had a night of festivities --singing and poetry in the zocalo-- on this Halloween night.  It was fun.  Musicians from the movement came and sang songs both happy and sad.  One artist in particular, Churro, played a harmonica and a guitar while singing the funniest songs ever.  Seriously, I dare anyone to listen to it and not tap your foot and smile.  I didn't understand all the words, but the expression of them was hilarious.  Another couple sang songs that were a little more heavy, and yet another young lady read poetry about the war.  The crowd that came seemed to enjoy the performances. 

During this time, we invited everyone who had lost someone --either to violence or in the recent past-- to bring an offering to the altar in the zocalo.  We let children color pictures and left them there as part of the offering.  It was an interesting experience to see people bring bread, flowers, a candle to the altar and leave it in memory of their dead.  It reminded me that we are all in this together, we each feel the pang of loss.  It reminded me of Francisco, who had his own cross in this altar.

Day 3:  November 1st

This was the big day!  The march for peace.  Around 300 people gathered at the Paloma de la Paz and prepared themselves to march through the streets of Cuernavaca to the zocalo.  The fact that people took the time out of their day --a national holiday where you spend all day with family-- to participate in this march should tell how important this movement is to them.  The distance was fairly long, but people stuck it out.  They arrived in the zocalo about 2 hours after they began.  The march was greeted with the faces of those waiting in the zocalo.  Those who were simply there to see the altars and participate in the various market events were surprised to see such a huge group walking into the central square.  But it was certainly a sight. 

Following the march, there was a small theatre production.  It was pretty avant-guarde but was fascinating to watch.  The crowd dispersed soon after and people went back to their families.  The march was a success.

I hope you enjoyed this brief post!  I will try to get some more pictures and stories up from the rest of the week as well. 

Blessings for now!  Hope your Halloween was Spooktacular!  :P

Monday, October 24, 2011


Hey everyone!

Just thought I would let you know that I finally got out my first newsletter.  If you haven't received it and you would like to, it is probably because I don't have your email.  (Or at least your correct one)  So feel free to email me at and I will get you added to the newsletter list.

In other news, this week is going to be super busy.  There is a conference at the Christus Rex in Grand Forks, ND starting Wednesday and goes through Friday.  Author Sara Miles will be there and I just know it is going to be awesome.  I'm a little bummed that I won't be able to enjoy it with them.  I'm sure they will keep me updated with pictures... hint hint!  :)

I also have almost a whole weeks worth of events with La Red.  Starting on Friday, we will be resetting the alter in the zocalo for Day of the Dead.  This is a holiday that remembers family members who have died and celebrates their life.  It especially will bear significance for La Red, since it is the first one since the death of Juan Sicilia.  The altar will be created in memory of all the people who have been killed in the drug war.

Events will be continuing after Friday everyday up until November 1st.  On the first, there will be a march from a well known statue in Cuernavaca --Paloma de la Paz-- to the zocalo.  There will also be an event in which people can bring their own candles, photos, and stories to offer at the altar in the zocalo.  This will no doubt be powerful. 

I will make sure to get some pictures and more information on this upcoming weekend on my blog.  So look for that update after the first.  I think it will be an amazing event. 

Blessings for now!  And let me know if you would like to receive the newsletters!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Story of Francisco

Francisco is a young boy of 15 years.  I would describe him as a normal kid.  One who likes drawing, coloring, playing video games and loves soccer.  In addition to going to school, Francisco works as a tortilla vendor to help earn some extra money for his family. 

I had the honor of being able to visit his school one day with a friend, Maria, who teaches there.  Most of the other twenty children at this school were younger, varying in age, mostly between 4-10 years.  They described Francisco as fun loving, caring, smart, and as a good friend.  Juan--about 6 yrs--told me “I really like playing soccer with Francisco!” 

While many of his friends talked about him, his cousin Ariel sat in silence, staring into the distance.  She couldn’t bring herself to speak about him.  You see, it has been just over a month since Francisco was taken away from her and the rest of her family.  It has been a month since these children were robbed of their soccer playing friend.  Francisco was murdered on the steps of a local store, shot in front of people who could do nothing for him.

To remember him, Maria asked her class to make cards for Francisco.  They were given crayons to draw and write out the thoughts they wished to tell to him.  It was during this activity when Diego --one of the 4 year olds-- asked “When is Francisco going to come back?”  The entire room, chaos of drawing and all, went silent.  Maria tried to explain to him that Francisco wasn’t going to come back.  That he had died.  She asked “Do you miss him?”  Diego turned his eyes to the ground and replied “Si, mucho….”  He then looked directly at Maria, “But I bet he is in heaven and still in our hearts, right?” 

Drawing by Diego

“I miss him a lot.”  This sentiment was felt by each of those kids.  This 4 year old was right when he said that Francisco is in our hearts.  The kindness of his actions, the love of his family, and the pang of his death all reside within the depths of our hearts.  How all of that manages to fit without exploding all over our insides is something I do not understand.  It is something that I will probably never understand.

With cards in hand, the class went outside to make an altar for Francisco --a common ritual in Mexico-- and with them placed roses and candles around a tree.  As we took a moment of silence to remember him, tears began to stream down several faces.  Some were from his memory, but others were from fear.  “Is this going to happen to me?” asked Miguel.  “Am I going to be killed too?”  The whole scene at the altar was nearly unbearable, a group of children mourning their friend and fearing for their future.  Maria took a breath and simply said “No”, hoping it to be true.

Before visiting the school, a man told Maria not to bother talking about Francisco during class because even though he was a friend, these kids were desensitized to death and were used to people just being gone from their lives.  But that was untrue.  You could see how untrue it was in their eyes and within their drawings.  The empty space left by the death of Francisco was shown through their tears, their sadness, and their heavy hearts.

And that, my friends, is the awful story.  I wish it didn't end there.  I wish I could continue and tell you a happier ending.   But it is a story that tells the reality of Mexico, one in which there is sometimes no justice.  Yet it also tells why I am here.  I'm here because no parent should have to lose their children to violence.  No child should have to live in fear of being killed, or go through the pain of losing a good friend.  It is for these people that we struggle and plead for peace.  It is for Francisco, Diego, Miguel, Ariel, and for all the families out there who have lost a loved one.  It is for them that we keep the hope that someday things can be different.  That someday, peace will come indeed.

From above right:
"Francisco, may you rest in peace.  You were a good person and I loved you a lot.  
He liked to play soccer and bathe."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Theological Conference

For the past few days, I have been present at a Theological Conference in Mexico City.  The theme of the conference is "The Hope of Liberation and Theology".  There were 6 sub-themes to the conference:  City participation, Human Rights, Economy, Ecology, Ecclesiastical Participation, and Immigration.

In order to talk about these issues, we broke into smaller groups.  I found myself in the group that was talking about Immigration.  We explored the life of immigrants, challenges posed to them, and what our response as religious people should be.

The immigrant's journey is a process:  Leaving, traveling, and returning.  It is a journey that may take years to complete, and sometimes may never be completed.  The return step is particularly difficult due to various reasons including economic ones.  Our response, we decided, to this process needs to be one of accompaniment and hospitality.

Though we didn't have enough time to cover it, I think it is also important to pay attention to the causes of immigration as well.  (When) Immigration is a break in community, it is the result of systemic sin.  When we fail to work to repair that community, either simply through acts such as hospitality or by working to transform the system, individual sin enters.  It is our responsibility to care for community and relationships for any of our neighbors.

The conference also had some brilliant speakers:  Enrique Dussel, Doris Mayol, Emilio Icaza, Alejandro Solalinde, Pedro Pantoja, Oscar Enriquez, and Maria Pilar Aquino.  Topics of liberation theology, new paradigms of biblical and theological interpretation, religious initiatives to transform violent conflict, and a panel on peace and human rights.  In addition to all of this, the conference had undertones of women's rights and indigenous rights.

Overall, it has been a pleasure to be a part of conversations of faith and be able to meet people here in Mexico who are part of those conversations.  I am very glad to have been a part of it.

Should you be interested in getting some more information, feel free to email me or check out the website here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

New Information

Hello everyone!  

The last week certainly has been a busy one!  I not only have been getting to know more people involved with La Red, but we had a major meeting with everyone in the Morelos branch last Thursday.  

What is becoming clearer to me as the days go by, is that La Red por la Paz y Justicia is a movement of people, not an organization.  (Though they are moving in that direction)  It lacks official structure as well as many of the pieces that an established organization already has in place.  That said, they have still accomplished many amazing things, including meeting twice with the President and inspiring thousands of people to participate in their marches for peace.  

The meeting on Thursday was important in many ways.  Firstly, part of the meeting was dedicated to how the branch in Cuernavaca would define itself as an organization.  They are in the midst of talking about the benefits of –or lack thereof—combining with the Mexico City branch to be a unified movement, or remaining separate groups both operating independently within the national movement.

Secondly, they established organizational committees within our branch to help create structure and aid in communication of ideas.  If you don’t recognize how important this step is, let me do it for you:  This is a major leap toward becoming a sustainable organization working within Mexico for peace.

While I will likely be assisting everywhere, my supervisor recommended that I focus on the two committees of “Communication” and “International Relations”.  Since both of these were just created last week, we will be meeting within the next few days to determine a chair –which will not be me—and how the committee will operate.  My job is to simply be a part of the conversations and support them however I can.  (i.e. likely taking photos at events, translation of articles, etc)

Slowly but surely we are becoming more defined, more organized, and more recognized as an organization of everyday people working towards peace with justice and dignity.  It is an exciting thing!

Since my work with La Red revolves mostly around specific events, I have also been given the opportunity to work with another group called the Don Sergio Foundation.  It is an organization that works for human rights within Mexico and religious ideas like liberation theology.  They have worked alongside groups like Catholics for Choice and support having dialogues about the many faces of religion.

I have about 100 things to tell you all, but I will leave this post alone and keep you in suspense for the ones to come.  Next few posts will be about:  Theological conference this week, telling stories of La Red, and hopefully will get out my first official monthly newsletter!!!

Love you all!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Story of Peace

September 19th, 2011 marked the end of the southern caravan.  The event concluded in the zócalo of Mexico City with speeches and stories, hoorahs and tears.  The caravan as a whole was a powerful experience for those on it.  It certainly impacted the lives of everyone that traveled with it.  

An important thing to know before I delve into this final event is this:  It was not just La Red that made up this Caravan for peace.  It also consisted of multiple organizations from the different states and cities of Mexico.  Many groups came together –which is important— to create what was the caravan to the south.  Groups which are all crying to be more than just “human resources”, more than a statistic.

A stage was built and students from one of the universities were already present when Ryan and I arrived to the central square in Mexico City.  The music they were making was loud enough to cover the entire area.  Intermittently, they would announce that the caravan would be arriving shortly –about an hour—and would say a few words to rally the crowd around them.

Soon, several groups of people – Frente Del Pueblo, Movimiento Urbano Popular, and others – began to march into the zócalo.  As they walked they chanted several different things.  One person would begin, “Alerta, alerta, alerta” and the crowd would reply “Que camina la lucha por la paz en America Latina”.  Alert, Alert, Alert; (we are) walking the struggle for peace in Latin America.

Finally, around 7pm, the Caravan arrived.  The crowd cheered as the fourteen buses drove into the zócalo.  As the people came down from the bus, they gathered into groups and began to walk around the square.  Their excitement was apparent.  Some marched in silence, others chanting.  But everyone was eager to begin the last piece of the caravan.  They had been through much already, but were ready for a little more.

Speaker:  “Vivos se los levaron!”      --Alive they were taken!--
Crowd:     “Vivos los queremos!”      --Alive we want them back!—
These words were exchanged many times between the stage and the gathered people.  They refer to all the people who have been disappeared, killed, or otherwise taken due to the cycle of violence in Mexico. 

Javier Sicilia, after a short speech beforehand, came to the stage.  The crowd by this time was large, numbering in the thousands, and people waited and listened to what he had to say.  He spoke sadly and slowly about the reality of Mexico.  He began: “We are collateral damage.  To the polls and statistics, we are collateral damage… a number without a name.” “…It is for this reality that both crime and the State has reduced us to, and also to take your pain, countenance, and anger that I ask for a minute of silence.”
Silence.  Reflection.  Sicilia invited the crowed into a moment of silence to remember those who were killed and disappeared.  It is something he does frequently when he speaks.  You don’t give pause to a statistic.  You give pause to the life of a human.  What he really invited them to do was to help restore their humanity.  To acknowledge them not as numbers without names, but as people who have families and loved ones. 
This was the essence of his speech.  To reestablish dignity.  He also asked some provoking questions to the powers that be.

To the criminals he asked:  “What kind of happiness are you pretending to build for yourselves if your foundations are built on death, suffering and torture?”  

To the government:  “How will we care for this house that we demolished if our foundations are built on indifference, contempt, and robbery of citizens?”

Javier finished by recognizing the movement was made up of people without power.  Ants, the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the nameless.  But it was in this unity --of all men and women, of all those from the east, west, north, and south—that peace, justice, and dignity could be created.
He finished to cheers and applause.  (To read his whole speech:  Spanish ; English ) *not a perfect translation

After Javier Sicilia, it was time for victims and family members to tell their stories.  (I will also note that it was at this time that the members of the press left.)

Though there were many stories, in recognition that this is an extremely long post, I will only tell you of one.  It was the last one of the night…

Maria is a mother of four sons.  With hesitation, she participated in the May 8th march to Ciudad Juarez.  I was told that at that time she was afraid, so afraid that she could hardly speak.  It was surprising to me when I heard this because on this night in Mexico City, she spoke with such force and emotion, even without knowing the language, you could still tell what she was saying.  Maria was afraid in Juarez because each of her sons was disappeared.  Taken.  Maybe killed.  She told that story on stage in the center of Mexico City.  Her voice was that of a mother distraught.  Every word was filled with both anger and grief.  “Where are my children?  I want them back.”

Her call was that of change.  Change for Mexico so no other family would have to go through what she has been through.  Change for peace and justice.  Change for compassion and not indifference.  The story of her despair, and many stories similar to Maria’s, were told on this night.  Each of them bringing an indisputable sense of reality and personal-ness.  

The caravan to the south was an effort to make this movement personal.  Its purpose was to accompany Mexicans of all different areas by telling and listening to stories.  Stories of the indigenous, vendedores (sellers), families, and migrants were all told to one another.  Together they marched for peace.  Together they strengthened the bonds of justice and dignity.  

So here it ended:  a group of people in Mexico City.  Weary from their travels, filled with grief for the victims, and hopeful that their actions would be heard.  And though the caravan ended on Monday, the work of it has just begun.  The people working with La Red por la Paz y Justicia are re-energized and will be continuing to tell the story of the oppressed and nameless people of Mexico.  We will see where the stories take them.