Update from Steve and Janet
Greetings and Merry Christmas to our friends at HSMC.
We admired the pictures of snow from Winnipeg last week and felt a bit of jealousy knowing how this would move people’s Christmas spirits forward. But then we put our shorts and tee shirts on and went out for a walk in the 28 degree evening… There are a certain number of Christmas decorations up around here. There were “Black Friday” sales last weekend. In today’s devotional there was talk about the commercialization of Christmas – so things aren’t entirely different.
We continue to adjust to life and work here in Bolivia. There have been some health improvements and Janet is working about half time. This means she’s supposed to work half time but it invariably creeps into something more than that. We’re glad that she has improved and for the important contributions that she’s making to MCC Bolivia team life. Currently we are working on things like a budget for next year and trying to imagine what our Low German Mennonite programming should look like going forward.
What are some things are good to highlight?
We feel far from friends and especially family just now. We facetime and watch our grandkids go sledding. It’s nice but of course it’s not the same. We are grateful for meaningful traditions of advent and worship that go with us. Our hope comes from the Lord and we are grateful for all we have and are able to do. Peace be with you as you celebrate God’s “Peace on earth, goodwill towards all” this Christmas.
Steve & Janet Plenert
Nora Pederson, a CMU student and part of our Home Street community, is in the midst of a one-year internship in downtown Vancouver. Nora is sharing this letter with us; it was originally written in September, but gives some wonderful insights into her experiences this year.
I am just wrapping up my three month introduction schedule and am heading on a spiritual retreat tomorrow. When I come back I will have discussed with my mentor a new schedule to follow for the remainder of my time here. My community participation has remainder much the same since I first arrived here. I am still participating in both yoga and Monday workouts. I have actually started inviting some of my neighbours to participate with me instead of just meeting people there which has been really cool. My one friend was explaining that he hadn't found a safe space to practice yoga yet so it was really exciting to be able to make that connection for him. Community meals are going well, I have now cooked two meals as head cook and everyone was very gracious in helping me and encouraging me through my anxiety. It is a very cool thing to have so many people support you through your vulnerability, from re-lapse to cooking.
I have experienced a couple moments that were very humbling in pursuing my own faith. The first was with a conversation with my friend T. She suffers from severe mental illness and it can often be hard to communicate clearly in a one-on-one conversation, which is why this one stands out so starkly. T came in and asking to tithe to our community; she then explained her commitment to tithing to both her church and the different faith communities she goes to. There was no pride in her tone, just stating it in a matter of fact way. To her it was obvious that a person of faith should be regularly practicing this. She then looked at me and my roommate, asking "Do you tithe?" I was filled with shame, as I looked at T, who sells items on the streets (and sometimes in our house, until we gently remind her this is not the right place) in order to make ends meet, yet she never thinks twice about her obligation to give to her church. All my normal excuses ran through my mind, and I realized how shallow they were. There are no complexities to hide behind here, either you give or you don't. The truth is as simple as it always has been. In the downtown, my privilege prevents me from running to my usually scape goats.
Another humbling moment came from my friend J. We were participating in a listening prayer and J shared his reflections. He reminded us that in the Bible it says that some will be given eyes to see and some ears to hear. Then he just expressed how grateful he was that God gave him eyes to see, that he was blessed with the gift of faith, a gift that changed everything. I am always taking this gift for granted, and this reminded me to humble myself once more to the many gifts I have received.
I have now secured a part-time job that will start after October first. I am working the till and serving coffee at a little independent bakery a ten-minute walk from my house. My mentor suggested that I get a job outside of this field so that I don't burn out before my year is over. I am excited to start working but I realize that another challenge has arisen from this. The bakery has a beautiful policy that allows "neighbours" to get 10% off. This includes the residents of the apartment upstairs and the neighbouring businesses. While I love this policy in theory, one of the neighbours is a strip club that hosts a brothel in its upper floors. This club is where rich customers come from all over the city to exploit women from our neighbourhood and support organized crime. I've never met a woman who works there, and after asking around, I'm growing more certain that these women aren't allowed out. And I have to serve the men that work there coffee and pastries at 10% off with a smile. My first reaction was to slowly convince the store to change this policy so as not to support this injustice. However, my roommate suggested that this, too, could be an opportunity to build relationships and be a positive presence. I have so far to grow in learning to love my enemies. The Holy Spirit is going to have to take over completely, so those interactions don't end with me hurling cake at said enemies. It is much easier to love the vulnerable then to love those in power.
I am very impressed with the church's challenge to delve into scripture. I have felt a call on my own heart to read scripture more deeply lately and may end up joining you all in this challenge. Matt mentioned the honey and crackers and seemed to quite enjoy it. He was actually out to visit in late August, which was wonderful. A long-distance relationship is hard; getting out of the rhythm of sharing daily life together is not a fun adjustment. I think we are doing well with holding up our communication, however, and finding ways to genuinely connect. I get to come home for Christmas so having a couple touch points during the year makes it a lot more bearable.
Sabbath-keeping has been going really well, but I will have a new challenge now that I am attempting to start a part-time job. It is good I have a community to keep me accountable.
I'm continuing to keep the church in my prayers.