Epistle from the Negropetenses

On June 15, 2013, very high rainfall and flooding caused significant water damage in the area surrounding Cristo Rey, our Lutheran mission in the rural outskirts of Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Many regular worshipers there, a large number of whom work in maquiladora plants and live in squatter housing along the railroad tracks, lost homes and possessions. Damage to the church property was also extensive. Water covered six inches in the sanctuary; in the Sunday school room, it was up to the tops of the metal folding chairs. Most noticeably, the fencing surround the property fell down. Cristo Rey leadership procured an estimate from local contractors for the cost to repair the fence–$3000. When I asked Cristo Rey members if a fence was even necessary, I got all sorts of incredulous looks. The property has been broken into about eight times in the past few years. A fence gives a sense of security in the midst of lots of uncertainty.

 

This coming Sunday, June 30, we will have a work time, inviting members of the worshipping community to help clean out the debris along the fenceline. Liturgically, we will have the service project be part of the worship service, starting with prayer and scripture in the sanctuary, and ending with Communion in the memorial prayer garden.

 

In the two years that I have been preaching at Cristo Rey while serving as pastor at San Lucas, I have struggled with how to best respond to the extreme poverty in the Cristo Rey community while also respecting the dignity of the people for whom this is home. Because I mostly cross over to Cristo Rey only on Sundays, I often feel disconnected from the community there. Too often I have assumed what the community needs without fully being aware of what is actually desired. I’ve sometimes felt colonial and patronizing.

 

This time, we’re trying something different in order to give some voice to people whose voice is often not fully heard. I realize that this is a baby step. Instead of me as an over-educated middle class white male pastor writing a letter all by myself about the situation at Cristo Rey, I’ve invited the input of members of Cristo Rey in sharing their experience of what happened in the flood, where they have experienced God in this situation, and what needs to happen next. I’ve invited and encouraged the people at Cristo Rey to have a voice in this letter to share their own needs and experiences. This is a new experience for us. We have become accustomed to me being the main communicator with our mission partners. In many ways, I still am. I was asked, “Why should we have to write a letter? If you’ll show them photos, they’ll understand.”

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Even with photos, we still write and describe. We made the process part of this Sunday’s sermon. This summer, we’ve been focusing on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. On Sunday, I reviewed the format of a New Testament Epistle, and we wrote one of our own, following the general Pauline pattern of greeting, thanksgiving, theological statement, practical instructions, and blessing. We can call it the Epistle from the Negropetenses (Negropetense is the Spanish adjective to describe someone from Piedras Negras). I realize that as pastor, I have had a heavy editorial hand in translating this, but I hope I’ve given people at Cristo Rey some chance to have more of a voice. During my sermon, someone from San Lucas functioned as recorder, writing down the responses people gave during the interactive preaching. I’ve used those notes to create the Epistle from the Negropetenses:

 

From the people of Cristo Rey Lutheran Mission in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, to our friends and mission partners in congregations in the United States:

Grace and peace to all of our brothers and sisters. We give thanks to God for all the support and prayers we have received over the years.

Water came into many of our homes, and into the church. The fence and the wall around the church fell down. God is present in all places. Jesus is present in our suffering. Even with losing things and with lots of water, we live with hope in the promises of Jesus—promises of eternal life.

We request help with funds to fix the Sunday school room and to protect the church from robbery by fixing the fence.

We give thanks and we request prayer for all those who lost their homes and residences in the water. May God bless all of you.

Donations to help with the cleanup and recovery process at Cristo Rey may be sent (with “Cristo Rey” in the memo) to:

Iglesia Luterana San Lucas

PO Box 1247

Eagle Pass, TX 78853


Cristo Rey flooding

Today I went across the border to Cristo Rey, our mission site on the outskirts of Piedras Negras, in order to see the results of the flooding there. We had cancelled worship on Sunday because the road there was not passable.

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In the day after the storm, Lidia (who functions at Cristo Rey as a nurturing leader not unlike the Biblical Lydia) and some other women from the congregation had already worked very hard to remove the mud and scrub the sanctuary. In the children’s Sunday school room, the waters reached the backs of the metal folding chairs. The biggest damage was the concrete fence surrounding the property. About eighty feet of the wall fell to the ground. The ornamental iron rails on top were salvaged and have been put aside for safekeeping. Lidia plans to meet with a local contractor to get an estimate of how much it might cost to repair the fence. On Sunday, the plan is to have more conversation with the worshiping community at Cristo Rey to work together in thinking about next steps.

At this point, the most helpful thing is to pray. Please join me in a spirit of prayer:

Loving God, we pray for ministry of Misión Luterana Cristo Rey and all those impacted by its presence of hospitality, community, worship, and service. Bring your healing presence in the aftermath of tragedy. Grant comfort and wholeness in the midst of cleaning and recovery. Send wisdom and vision in planning for the time ahead. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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FLOOD

1011934_551179081612449_125464401_nThis weekend, over 16 inches of rainfall caused flooding in Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Coahuila. An estimated 140 Maverick County homes were destroyed, and another 500 were badly damaged. Across the border in Piedras Negras, approximately 40,000 people were left homeless. You can read coverage from local news media here  and here.

At San Lucas, we had about an inch of water in the office building. A parishioner’s helpful shopvac helped it quickly dry out. Thankfully, the stored commodities for our food bank were on palates and safely above ground. At Cristo Rey, our mission site in Piedras Negras, we cancelled worship yesterday because the road was washed out and there was no way to get to the church. I understand that there was some damage to the perimeter wall around the Cristo Rey property. I really felt guilty not being present with the people of Cristo Rey yesterday, but for everyone’s safety, canceling worship was the best decision. When things have started to dry out and crossing into Mexico becomes safer, I plan to make a visit there later in the week and find out more about needs there.

On Saturday, about eight San Lucas volunteers and I helped for a few hours in the shelter that was set up at the International Trade Center. A vanload of non-perishable snack items from San Lucas’ food bank was brought over. As of Sunday, the City of Eagle Pass Emergency Management Division and Maverick County have consolidated the International Center for Trade and Quemado Community Center Shelters into one shelter at Eagle Pass Junior High School, located at 1750 N Bibb Street.

In the spirit of cooperation and streamlining of resources, at San Lucas we are referring local people with immediate need to the consolidated shelter, where Red Cross and Salvation Army personnel are available. I pass on the City’s announcement that public donations of clothing and food can be delivered to:

Maverick County Food Pantry

1609 Del Rio Blvd.

Eagle Pass, TX 78852

At San Lucas, our primary way of serving our community has been through our congregation’s food bank. Although San Lucas helps about 160 neighborhood families with emergency hunger assistance each month, we anticipate increased need in the days and weeks ahead. Continual support of the food bank at San Lucas makes this long-term ministry possible.

Iglesia Luterana San Lucas
PO Box 1247
Eagle Pass, TX 78853

Please keep us in prayer:

Dear God: In these days after extensive  flooding near the United States-Mexico border, we pray for those impacted by water in unexpected places. We lament loss of property; we grieve with those without homes. Be present, O God, in the midst of disaster. Strengthen ministries that serve people. Plant seeds of hope in the rubble. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, por Jesucristo nuestro Señor. Amen.


Summer reading

981698_737535715682_1503179346_oThis summer, I’m planning to be intentional about being a well-read pastor. Here’s my anticipated list off ten books that I think will help my ministry this summer. Some are newish; others have been on my shelf for a while. The two novels are classics that I’ve started a few times, but haven’t finished. Two are specifically about South Texas, including one by a geographer. Two deal generally with issues in Hispanic/Latin@ religious life. Two more deal with cross-cultural issues in general, interacting interdisciplinary with finance and evangelism, respectively. Two more deal with ministry areas that I know I need to be more curious about—stewardship and community organizing. Of the authors, three are women, one is Jewish, and two are Lutheran bishops (including one of my former preaching professors).

 

The list below doesn’t include the commentaries on Galatians I’m reading to prepare for preaching from the epistle, nor Acts commentaries to help me lead some Bible study on Wednesday nights.

 

Arreola, Daniel D. Tejano South Texas: A Mexican American Cultural Province. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Bowden, Keith. The Tecate Journals: Seventy Days on the Rio Grande. Seattle, WA: Mountaineers Books, 2007.

Giertz, Bo, Andrae Hans, and Nelson Clifford Ansgar. The Hammer of God: A Novel about the Cure of Souls. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Books, 2005.

Gonzalez, Michelle A. Embracing Latina Spirituality: A Woman’s Perspective. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.

Kahn, Si. Strategic Community Organizing. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Incorporated, 2010.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010.

Martinez, Juan Francisco. Walk with the People: Latino Ministry in the United States. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008.

Rah, Soong-Chan. The next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009.

Satterlee, Craig Alan. Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2011.