In June a group of twenty of us from (or related to) Nacoochee Presbyterian Church went for a weeklong visit to Guatemala. When we first arrived Emerson Morales, our trip leader from CEDEPCA, talked to us about expectations for our trip. He asked us not to think of it as a Mission Trip where we, the privileged first-worlders, come with the idea that we are going to ‘save’ the Guatemalans and fix all their issues. Instead he asked us to think of it as a Vision Trip where we focus on seeing the work that God is already doing in Guatemala and learning about how we can be a part of it. This was a defining moment for me, and I think for many others on the trip. They do not need us to save them, but they do need us to see them.
Our vision started by taking in the landscapes of Guatemala. The views of the dramatic volcanic mountains we saw as our bus climbed to altitudes of 9,000 feet above sea level were breathtakingly beautiful. An unforgettable moment for me was our magical first view of the blue of Lake Atitlan as we drove down to Panachel.We saw countless vistas of great beauty however what is especially striking is how the people have adapted what could have been seen as uninhabitable and unreachable land. They have carved roads and found ways to build their homes and plant their crops on even the steepest slopes. Land is precious and very little space is wasted. If there is no more room to expand in width then they just keep building up. Though we did pass places that are reminders of ecological and sustainability work that still needs to be done overall the landscapes of Guatemala are inspiring. Over and over we were reminded of the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation as well as the hard work, determination and persistence of the people who create homes there.
Seeing Guatemala is also learning about their history, both ancient and recent. It is a story full of tragedy and struggle which highlights the people’s resilience and fortitude. They have repeatedly dealt with natural disasters (volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, floods and droughts can all strike Guatemala) as well as political and socioeconomic injustice of such extremes that they are difficult to fully comprehend. Unfortunately our own country and culture’s culpability in some of the events is undeniable. Though we do not want to dwell on the dark chapters of their history, it is important that we are aware of them. Our vision of Guatemala is not complete unless we recognize how its history has shaped the present and continues to influence the work being done to improve the future. And a lot of work is being done.
We were able to see firsthand what God is doing right now through the people of Guatemala for the people of Guatemala and, very importantly, we saw the people themselves. We shared smiles, waves, eye contact, conversation and even selfies. Everywhere we went, and especially in and around San Juan de Ostuncalco, we were made to feel very welcome. Our hosts, as well as people we met along the way who knew nothing about us, were warm, gracious and patient. They seemed genuinely pleased that we were visiting their communities. We were invited into their homes for fellowship and wonderful meals. We played with their children and hugged our prayer partners. We planted trees alongside them, and helped practiced each others languages. We visited their schools, attended their church, and admired their livestock and artisanship. We saw our fellow children of God and we will not forget them.
Groups like CEDEPCA and the Mam Women’s Association are working tirelessly to help people continue to improve their lives. We met people like Emerson, Rosario Diaz, Elena Mendez, and an ex-immigrant named Willy who have dedicated their lives to making things better and it is working. Listening to stories and seeing examples of what the Womens Association groups have done with their microloans is inspiring in many ways. Instead of surrendering to obstacles these women have banded together to educate themselves and others, to find opportunities and then work relentlessly to accomplish their goals. They are laboring not just to better their family’s financial situations, but also to continue to gain knowledge and skills that benefit their entire communities. They are open and eager to learn. The women we met, and many like them, are taking advantage of the chance for basic education and English classes at the Saturday school, developing skills like embroidery at the sewing school, and improving animal husbandry and agricultural techniques through programs from organizations like Heifer International. Attending and contributing to the health fair and visiting communities where new water filters and latrines have been installed reminded our group what access to education, clean water and hygienic facilities can mean. Tangible improvement been made and is continuing to be made by these programs. They are making a difference.
Our Vision Trip to Guatemala will have a lasting effect on each member of our group. We have been given the gift of seeing Guatemala and with that gift comes a responsibility to share what we have seen done and what still needs to be done. I feel honored to have made this trip and to be part of a church that has supported this work for a long time and is committed to continuing to support it. I hope we will not “grow weary of doing good,” for the work we witnessed in Guatemala is able to continue to grow in depth and reach because of our contributions of money and time as well as our prayers. Lives are being changed. Children are not getting sick from dirty water, jobs are being created, education is more available and the Word and Love of God is being spread.
It is hard to believe, but it has been six years since my trip to do mission work in Piedras Negras, Mexico. That was a wonderful experience that I have wanted to repeat ever since, but several moves, opening and closing a restaurant, and of course the day-to-day responsibilities of a working parenthood required me to keep putting it off. Since our last move our family has found a wonderful new church home at Nacoochee Presbyterian Church here in north Georgia. We became members a few months ago and we have gotten very involved in Convivio, a Latin America Outreach program. Many of the people I have gotten to know are originally from Central America. The leaders of Convivio are also leading a Mission Trip to Guatemala this summer. I am very excited to share the news that I will be able to go on the trip.
We will be flying into Guatemala City on June 6th and then taking a bus to Quetzaltenago in the western highland region of the country. That will be our home base for the week as we visit various places and work on different projects in the surrounding mountains. The group that we will be partnering with is CEDEPCA, El Centro Evangélico de Estudios Pastorales en Centroamérica/ The Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America. (www.cedepca.org). We will work alongside them on their ongoing projects to build latrines in communities that lack them, plant fruit, oak and pine seedlings in areas that need to be reforested, and support the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development as they provide resources to help the women of the community start, maintain and grow their own businesses.
In Ostuncalco we will take part in a Health Fair that will include sharing educational material and providing health screenings for an area clinic. We will have some doctors with us and we expect that malnutrition, stomach and respiratory problems will be common. One of our areas of focus with the children will be teaching them about how to best take care of their teeth as well as providing them with dental supplies. Though I do not have medical experience I do speak Spanish well. I hope to be useful as a translator at the Health Fair and in our other projects. Most of the people in the area speak Spanish but their first language is a Mayan dialect called Mam. Not only am I brushing up on my medical and dental vocabulary in Spanish, I am also trying to pick up some basic words in Mam.
Our group has been fundraising since the fall. We have sold Guatemalan crafts, had a dinner and movie night, and hosted a Latin American Dance group. Through those projects and some friends who donated early I have raised most of the $920 I need for room, board and projects. In order to help cover the $820 round trip plane ticket I have done a new painting and am offering prints of it for $25. The painting is of my friend Pascual, who attends our church and Convivio with his family. He is an immigrant from Guatemala who has inspired us with his faith and trust in God while working to appeal a deportation order. The prints are 8×10 inches and come in 11×14 mattes with backing boards that will fit easily into a standard frame. I hope you will want to add one to your art collection. I also ask you to pray for us, our trip, Pascual, CEDEPCA and the people of Guatemala.
Thank you so much,
(Note: Purchasing a print is not tax deductible but a donation can be. If you need your donation to be tax deductible then you can use the church’s donation site or mail a check to Nacoochee Presbyterian Church, Post Office Box 87, Sautee-Nacoochee, Georgia 30571 with “Guatemala Mission –Jennifer Herrera” in the memo line.)
My father, Noyes Capehart, has a page on his website called Thematic Variations where he states,
“It is one of the great lessons from the art of the past: the first response to a picture idea – the same could be said of a piece of music or a story – may not reveal its essence. One need only look at Monet’s impressive output of water lilies, or Morandi’s tireless efforts to capture the mystery of bottles, or Picasso’s insatiable curiosity with Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass to see that the first solution is not always the strongest. Beethoven fashioned no fewer than three variations of the overture to his Leonora, and Tolstoy was making changes with War and Peace as it went to press. I think of a variation in much the same way that I consider an artichoke; the outer, tough leaves have to be peeled away in order to reveal the delicious heart.”
The revisiting I have been doing of the image ‘Perennial Possibilities’ does not find itself in the same category as the master works that he mentions, but I still find it interesting to look at the different ways I have worked with the same blooming face and swirls over the past few months.
The image started as a work day doodle on the back of a report right as I was getting ready to start focusing my attention on creating my Curled, Whirled and Twisted coloring book. The doodle actually ended up being the start for two separate coloring pages as well as the principal image I used for the cover.
Since the coloring book’s completion I have been refocusing on my painting. I have finished three small paintings this month, one of which is an acrylic on chopping block version of Perennial Possibilities. I thought I was done with the image until I started putting this post together. Now I am wondering if I should revisit it yet again and see what else might evolve.
My coworkers are incredibly supportive when it comes to my artwork. I don’t think anyone finds it odd anymore that my brain does its best work trying to figure out the logic behind a report while my hands are doodling swirls and birds and such. A few especially nice folks have even left me little notes with doodles that made an impression on them which always makes me smile.
Most of my work doodles are the kind that happen when I am thinking about something else. They start with a little flower or a swirl and slowly grow through out the day or even the week. Some are better than others. I have plenty that are easily forgotten and also a few that turn into full size paintings or pages in a coloring book. But the other day I was not just doodling. I was sketching an idea for a painting for my sister’s birthday. I knew basically what I wanted to do, but I was not sure about the composition, so while waiting for data to refresh I was trying out different placement ideas. I then got up to get more coffee or something.
I knew it was not the kind of drawing someone would stop to look at, so I had no idea why when I came back to my desk several people were gathered around looking at my notebook. They were also shaking their heads and talking amongst themselves. When I got closer they asked my if I was okay and if while I had been sick I had “lost it.” And by “it” they meant my artistic ability. I made an attempt to explain I was trying out a new idea, but they didn’t seem to be buying it. So this post is to show them the finished piece in hopes of redeeming my poor little sketch. I feel like it did its job even though it wasn’t a glamorous one.
This little painting (8×10″ on paper) is a bit different from what i normally do. My sister Rachel, who turns 35 today, has always loved and repeatedly used the phrase, “I love you to the moon and back,” so this is my rendition of it for her, cause I love her to the moon and back and back and back, to infinity if you will.
Deciding to make an adult coloring book was more about process than concept. Every step of taking my doodles, drawings and paintings and transforming them into a coloring book was enjoyable. I loved the whole process. I started by going through my hoarders stash of files, journals and sketchbooks looking for images that seemed like they would be fun to color. Once I collected a big pile (I even found an envelope of doodles that go back to my high school days) I went through it again and again, winnowing it down to the ones that got scanned. Once the images were in the computer I brought them into Illustrator one by one and carefully traced the lines as vectors. it tool an average of two hours per drawing. I listened to great audio books and podcasts while I worked. It is very rewarding to click back and forth between the layers and watch a sketchy, perhaps even ragged, drawing turn into a smooth consistent one. I must admit that being able to use the computer’s precision to find the “perfect” line in the midst of several penciled attempts gives me a thrill. The next step was to print, review edit, print, review, edit until each one seemed to be finished. Some got there fast. The swirly profile on the last page of the book needed no revising, others, like ‘Breezy’, needed to be almost completely reworked before they seemed right. When I shared my progress with friends and family everyone was supportive, but almost to a person they wanted to know what my marketing plan was. I kept answering that my first focus was to get the book finished. I was honestly worried that if I thought all the way to how I would get the finished books into people’s hands I would get distracted and never actually complete the book.
But now it is finished. I have held it in my hand and seen it on amazon. Some have been ordered and they are being delivered. The creation part of the project is done. Now is the time to be thinking about getting them into as many hands as possible. But I have founded myself much more interested in thinking about what people will do with them once they have them and how I can get them to share their finished images with me. It is now that the coloring book as art form has become more of a concept to me. This is not visual art to just be looked at for a moment, possibly commented on and then likely forgotten. This is art to be participated in. By taking my pictures and stripping out their color and then inviting others, friends and strangers alike, to reapply it I am asking people to really engage with my art. I am hopeful that my lines and shapes will be just one step in a creative process as people take them and by their choice of medium, hue and manner of application change the mood and even the meaning of images and make them their own.
I am a Christian and I support the right of gay people to get married, however I have not been especially happy since the Supreme Court decision last week. As pleased as I am that we are getting closer to our country’s promise of all people being created equal I feel like we are headed towards an even deeper division in our country and that neither side will be content to agree to disagree. As an individual that for the last decade or so has been spiritually very conservative while politically liberal I have grown skilled at smiling and nodding and keeping my opinion to myself, but the time for that has passed. I think it could become dangerous if we allow those with the most extreme views on either side speak for those of us whose thoughts and opinions fall somewhere in-between.
When I first made the decision to be an intentional Christ-Follower I was afraid to let my closest friends know. Though there were many complicated layers to that fear I think it boiled down that I didn’t want to them to think I was stupid or that I was no longer able to think for myself. In the years that followed as our family settled in Georgia and got more and more involved in the church I think it was more lack of energy for conflict that kept me from letting the good people that I worshipped with that my reading of our Lord Jesus’s words brought me to an exact opposite place politically than it brought them. I may have also been afraid they would question my love for Jesus, but mainly I just wanted church to be a peaceful place. I thought the best thing was to keep politics and current events in the secular world completely separate. (The only consistent exception being issues of immigration. I have spoken my truth without fear on that issue as we are a family of mixed citzenship.) However in today’s world the issues of racism, sexuality and nationality cannot be ignored by the society or the church. The extremists on both sides will continue to be vocal, but they do not speak for all of us. The rest of us also need to have the courage to speak out and be honest about what we believe.
We need more than courage though. We need grace and discernment and of course love. If on one side we can say “Love wins,” and on the other read “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” it does not seem like we should end up so far apart. Love should unite, but here we are, divided, Christian/atheist, gay/straight, liberal/conservative, and so many other categories and names that serve to further separate. Fear, resentment and self-righteousness have become our only common denominators. It hurts my heart for all of us. I fear what we will become.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about asking God to reveal the places within ourselves that need to be changed. I still think this is very needed. We all have blind spots, very large blind spots. I think this is especially true for Americans when it comes to the Bill of Rights and our freedom of expression. No matter what side we are on in an argument we all seem to think that our side should have freedom of expression but the other side needs to shut up. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say we are all hypocrites. We all think we are right and therefore our side is the side that needs to be heard. We all seem to think, as my grandfather likes to say, that the other side is ‘dumber than dirt’ for not seeing it the way we do. And very very few of us are willing to step out of the security of being surrounded by people who think just the way we do. We insulate ourselves. The channels and stations we listen to, the organizations and churches we belong to, the friends we hang out with, we pick them all because they tell us what we already believe. It is comforting to be told what you already know to be true. It is a natural human response to flock to those like us, but sometimes we need to fight against it. I think our country (and our world) desperately needs us to really make an effort to understand where our neighbors are coming from, especially our neighbors that are different from us.
I do not think I will be able to change anyone’s mind about the core issues. It is just as likely I am as wrong as you are, but I do think I might have a unique position to talk about how we view and interact the people we disagree with. My immediate family and closest friends have very varied political, cultural, racial, economic and spiritual backgrounds. Because of the fact that I am a politically liberal Evangelical Christian living in the South I have not been able to find a clear group of people that think like I do. Maybe if I did I would be so pleased I would want us to just circle up so we could tell each other how right we are. But that has not been my reality. I have had the choice to sit by myself and pout or build relationships despite deep-seeded differences. Sometimes it is incredibly hard, issues like religion, sexuality, race and nationality are core to how we think of ourselves and invoke extreme and emotional reactions. Finding a way to bridge all the gaps that divide us will not be easy, but it is imperative that we try. There are people I love and respect on all sorts of sides of all sorts of issues and I feel called to try and help them understand each other.
The world is not just black and white, and it is not just a bunch of muddy grey places between them. The world is full of color, vibrant brights, delicate pastels, clashing complementaries and muted variations. Just as our homes and wardrobes can be made more visually beautiful and interesting by adding different colors, so can our minds be enriched by opening ourselves up to different thoughts, opinions and beliefs. As I share my own I do so not to try and win you to my own point of view, but to entreat you to open yourself up to the possibility that it may not be a matter of right or wrong, but just varying perspectives and as crazy as this may sound, not everyone who disagrees with you is evil or out to get you. They are human, flawed and fragile, and even when it may not seem obvious, probably motivated by love.
According to the Pew Research Center 70.6% of American adults describe themselves as Christians, and more than half (55%) of Americans say they pray every day. This week, after the tragedy in Charleston, even more of us will be praying. We will be praying for the victims, for their families, their community and our nation. We will be praying for comfort and healing and peace. We will be praying to know how to forgive the unforgivable. But even though so many of us pray to the same God and profess to follow His Word from the same book we are still incredibly divided. As a nation and as followers of Christ we are not all on the same page. We are divided by race, politics, economics, social issues, and much more. We read the same scripture but come up with vastly different interpretations of what it means and how we are supposed to apply it.
In Thoughts on Solitude Thomas Merton writes, “the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” That could be the case for any of us. And we could be following God’s will in one part of our lives while completely missing it in other parts. We are all human. We all have places where we are wrong. We could be joyfully serving and seeing God work miracles in our lives yet still have thoughts and believes in other areas that are in contradiction to His teaching.
I know we cannot go around pointing at the splinters in each other’s eyes. I do not have firmer ground than anyone else to say that the way I read scripture is right and their way is wrong. However, those of us who profess to follow Christ, those of us who pray, we can ask for our errors to be revealed to us. Each of us can privately ask God to convict us of our own biases, our ignorance, and the ways we misunderstand and judge not just our fellow humans but our fellow Christians. The over 150,000,000 of us that say we reach out to God every day can ask to see people and situations not through the lens of our own prejudices but as closely as possible to His perspective. He will answer this prayer. He will show us the hard parts of ourselves that we need Him to soften, the wrong beliefs we didn’t know we had, and He will help us change.
Those of us who follow Christ are to be His light in the world. We are supposed to be known by our love for each other and for all His people. If we can acknowledge the shadowy places within ourselves and prayerfully ask to be changed individually then we can truly come together as brothers and sisters to pull out the dark roots of hate and anger that divide us. Through His strength, power and love we can unify our families, communities and country.
The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. -John 1:5
The past two weeks I have done better at spending at least twenty minutes working on little still lifes. I have been sketching my sweet potato sprout as it grows as well as Sophie’s hyacinth. The hyacinth did not turn out so well, but I am pleased with the sweet potatoes. The pink stems seem almost surreal in their brightness, and the leaves grow and change so quickly that each day’s study seems new.