Link to the MCC Latin America Carribean (LACA) Advocacy Blog

Hello readers,

I meant to do this earlier but forgot…. ūüėČ

Below is the link to the LACA advocacy blog. I believe we had posted if many moons ago, but I (Rick) recently submitted a short perspective on the dynamic between donor agencies and local partners…see below if interested.

http://lacaadvocacy.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/stretching-our-donor-dollar/

Take care all,

ricardo

Posted in August 2013, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Catching Up….

So I felt we were a bit overdue for a blog post and then I reaslized its already been over 2 months since our last blog…you guessed it we have been busy, or as I prefer to say life has been full. ¬†So I choose to defer a more detailed thought provoking post until later this month and instead do a bit of a thematic overview of these past weeks.

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Guadalajara – July 2013

SERVICE (MCC worklife)

I decided that since with MCC we call ourselves service workers I would use this theme to share what and where our “jobs” having taken us in the past two months.

While Rick and I are loaned out to two different local organizations at times we are able to go out to serve together as a family. In these past two months we all joined Rick in two different workshops – the first at a church in Chiapa de Corzo demonstrating how to perserve their fruit and make jam, and the second in the small community of Tzelepat, learning about how to prune and care for fruit trees. As always these were enriching experiences.

At this point I¬īd also like to include that Ezra and Hilary closed out another school year, which to me is their service placement here in Mexico. Ezra¬īs highlight at the year end event was performing with his Kung Fu group. ¬†Next year Ezra will head into grade 2 and Hilary into her 2nd year of preschool at the same school, which will be in a new¬†location.

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Singing at Year End Program

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Workshop at Tzelepat

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Plum Jam…Yum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kung Fu Demo

Kung Fu Demo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JACQUIE¬†– For me mid May through June, in addition to¬†my other monthly/weekly¬†work, was full of working on budget proposals and part¬†icipating in planning/evaluation meetings, which typically I like, but a combination of ¬†the number, length and language of these ones led me a bit tired out by the end of June.¬†I continue to¬†try to contribute to perhaps a more¬†balanced, forward thinking/visionary and organized approach to how both the organization – YIRTRAK and one of their projects Semillas de Luz (aka Ezra¬īs primary school) function.

Two Yirtrak Colleagues from Spain

Two Yirtrak Colleagues from Spain

 Having started 2 years ago quite simply as a volunteer trying to contribute here and there, I find myself having gained both respect and much more of a workload.

RICK –¬†As in the previous two years, May and June was full of community visits that include technical workshops and general encouragement/learning/sharing within each community group and those of us accompanying these groups. I am currently working on a small seed-production project at the INESIN garden – hoping to distribute a few heritage seed varieties that I brought here from the north (sshhh! don’t tell Gerry Ritz! – perhap I’ll explain in more detail in another blog). As well, INESIN helps to coordinate diverse activities in both Catholic and Evangelical churches in celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – I thoroughly enjoyed singing in the interconfessional choir during the closing service.

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Church Service at our House

CHURCH LIFE – Rick and I have considered MCC`s desire for their service workers to pariticpate in the life of a local church as an important part of our time and ministry here in Mexico. In May we were able to host one of a series of special church ¬†services the women¬īs group planned to focus on “the christian home”. In June, Rick worked with the youth group to plant a milpa (corn, beans, squash and canadian sweet pea!) in a small vacant lot, as a way to connect with traditional culture, and¬†grow food that will support some church activities. And now we have just made it home in time from holidays for the kids to head to our churches VBS for the last two days. We continue to be thankful for the kindness, openess and hearts of the families in this congregation.

MCC TEAM RETREAT – These retreats take place about every 3 to 4 months in differents parts of Mexico, this time we headed to Tepotzlan (a somewhat tourist destination 1 hour or so from Mexico City). ¬†With many transitions occuring within the MCC Mexico Team in these months I would say the focus of this time was “connecting” both in welcoming new people to the team and saying goodbye to others – including our REPS who have served for the past 5 1/2 years – Marion, Ricardo along with Isabel and Sofia we will miss you!

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The Birthday Group

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Isabel, Ezra, Hilary, Sofia

 

 

FAMILY CELEBRATIONS

Hangin with Nogai

Ezra Turned 7!¬†¬†From a vegetable packed pi√Īata to black bean brownies to a family night out for sushi, Ezra wanted to celebrate with a theme of being healthy. ¬†Thanks to INESIN we put on a big event with one inflatable jumping “castillo de aire” and 50 plus guests – it will be a party to remember.Jacquie completed 39 years!¬†With a little less fanfare Jacquie joined Rick in living out the last year of her 30¬īs, although with this event we did check off one thing from her mexico bucket list – going salsa dancing with her hubby (thanks Gabriel and Lily for joining us!)

Father¬īs Day! While Mother¬īs Days gets all the attention here in Mexico, we were happy to reunite with the Gomez-Schreuder Families (some of whom lived in the USA this past year) to say thanks to all the Dad¬īs.

Anniversary Date

Anniversary Date

Rick and Jacquie¬īs 9th Anniversary!¬†

Being that July 3rd was a travel day and beginning of a MCC retreat this year, thanks to Miriam we were still able to go out a few days earlier and enjoyed some good Mexican food РChamula style.

Last Trip to Immigration! Since Rick and I were able to obtain two-year visas back in January, last week we were thankful for a quick 20 minute stay at the Mexico City immigration office to put the kids thumb prints down probably for the last time. While we do not celebrate that our time here is  down to less than one year, we are a bit thankful that we will likely not make that journey again.

2013 Summer Holidays! After our MCC Mexico Team Retreat we enjoyed one day back in Cuernevaca where we had spent some of our first weeks back in 2010 doing some langugage studies. We also decided to make the trek out to Guadalajara to visit some friends back from our Bethany days, it was great to be reunited with Jen, Joan and Trever (and see some other familiar canadian faces) and learn a bit more about their work doing intercultural discipleship and missionary training.  Besides visiting, we split our time between a couple of days in the city (walking downtown , going to the zoo, and participating in a VBS), and a few more relaxing days out at the Mattew Training Center (MTC).

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Yes they are growing up!

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Downtown Guadalajara

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Takin¬ī a Walk near MTC

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Pool Fun!

 

 

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Safari Adventure at the Zoo

FRIENDSHIPS AND FUN

While Rick is the one who has done a lot more traveling here in Chiapas this time it was “a mi me toca” , my turn. ¬†First I joined a group of veteran ladies here from San Cristobal to compete in a basketball tournament in a community (Jiquipilas) about 1 1/2 hours from here. ¬†The two days were a fun and different experience for me, speaking lots of spanish and sweating profusely as we were playing down in hot country. Second¬†I accompanied a fellow worker of Rick¬īs from INESIN (Lindsey, a young woman from the US here with the United Church) to Guatemala in order to renew her tourist visa. ¬†It was a long trip, 2 – 12 hour days in a van plus a 5 hour wait at the border waiting for a blockade to finish (all within 3 days), but also adventuresome and fun, especially getting to tour around Antigua for one day without kids!

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Antigua, Guatemala

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Tourney in Jiquipilas

As mentioned before our good friends Rebecca, Rogelio, Aaron and Kyara have returned to visit during this summer (they are involved in teaching in a spanish immersion program in a christian school in Iowa).   So as a family, and alongside many friends, we continue to be blessed during our time here in Mexico!

 

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Sibling Fun!

 

Posted in julio 2013 | 1 Comment

La Hora de Cafe

Coffee time. Its a part of the day for so many worldwide. The days that my work keeps me in the office at INESIN are usually punctuated with the toll of a bell at 11:30 am and the rich smell of cafe, this word which in my mind seems to exude a better flavor than the word coffee. Our routine at INESIN consists of approximately 30 minutes (sometimes longer!) together at the kitchen table (where melas are cooked when guests or workshops are happening), enjoying cafe, pan (bread), galletas (cookies), and fruta (yes, fruit). BUT, what makes la hora de cafe so wonderful for me, personally speaking, is the cultural learning. In my first year it was my primary teaching tool at INESIN to begin to understand Mexican culture, the context in Chiapas, and local customs of working in a small non-profit organization. And it served as a language tool, as the conversation would at times wind its way through theological issues and current events and at other times bounce and zip from one joke to another anecdote, thus expanding my vocabulary.

Lots of amazing local coffee cooperatives to choose from

Lots of amazing local coffee cooperatives to choose from

Coming together each day for laughter and learning at INESIN

Coming together each day for laughter and learning at INESIN

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think all folks in Chiapas know that the cafe produced here in-state is the best in the world (as is defended in all the world’s regions where cafe is produced!). At INESIN we would not dream of purchasing cafe from a cooperative that is¬†not¬†Chiapanecan, as a gesture of support for local producers. And while we are very much aware of the global dynamics that exist within the cafe economy, I wonder how many of us at INESIN, until recently, ¬†could not sleep at night due to the worries of what local producers are now facing……..

Its called “La Roya” in Spanish. It is a coffee rust (or fungus) that over decades has migrated to the Americas from Africa, via Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and so on. And it is devastating coffee plantations in South and Central America and Mexico like never before. The link below is a CBC story on the current spread and impact of this fungus. Miriam Harder, a fellow MCC colleague in Chiapas, also sent me a photo of an article in a UK newspaper. ¬†Articles like these can be helpful for those who live outside of coffee-producing regions, at the least as a means to indicate a possible rise in the price of coffee. Better, however, articles may also provide the opportunity for the reader to gain a glimpse into the life of a producer, who is affected so much more than simply another 25 cents a cup…..

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/04/17/f-roya-coffee-fungus-reddekopp.

Article in The Guardian (UK)

Article in The Guardian (UK)

INESIN’s work with community groups includes a region where coffee production is the primary source of income to the family economy. I have the pleasure of travelling to this area every 2 months to support the group, provide workshops, and visit individual families for encouragement and assessment. Our work is¬†mostly focused on home-based gardens and improving family diets, but last November the call came from the group…”would INESIN be willing to help us with our coffee situation?” The three communities in this region where we work receive virtually no technical agronomic support by government, so the groups felt very vulnerable in having few-to-no tools in addressing the situation.

Great yields this past year in Pacayal, but with the presence of roya, significantly fewer cherries will be harvested next year.

Great yields this past year in the municipality of Buena Vista, but with the presence of roya, significantly fewer cherries will be harvested next year.

Coffee leaf showing "roya" rust

Coffee leaf showing “roya” rust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Via a friendship and some organizational ties, we were able to work with a local ag technician to provide the groups with some technical workshops on Integrated Coffee Management, and specifically, Organic Treatments to Coffee Rust (roya). This occurred in January, when it still appeared possible to combat the rust as it was advancing. In March it looked worse, but the producers were still waiting to see if the treatments would have an affect. Last week when I was there, there was a general admission that a lot of work and very little profit is on the horizon for the next several years, as plantations must be renewed. This can sound similar to many stories we hear in Canada/USA/EU where producers lose their harvests due to natural, unavoidable causes….YET a critical difference is that for most every small producer in Latin America (and there are millions in this category) there are no safety nets, no crop insurance, and as it became very real for me this past week, no other opportunities close to home (several people have already left for cities within Mexico in search of work).

In January we held a 2-day workshop on types of organic treatments to combat this disease...

In January we held a 2-day workshop on types of organic treatments to combat the roya disease…

But the strength of roya this year has surprised many, and in Pacayal estimates have about 75% of coffee trees in very poor condition - most producers in Pacayal have tough choices and years ahead as they renew their plantations

But the strength of roya this year has surprised many, and in Buena Vista estimates have about 75% of coffee trees in very poor condition – most producers here have tough choices and years ahead as they renew their plantations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it really is La Hora de Cafe. I will still cherish my cafe, perhaps even more in the coming months/years. My consumer choice has a very direct impact on who is being supported, and what management practices are being applied. The cafe we savour at INESIN now seems to have more face, more voice, and more touch. ¬†I pray and trust that God’s creation has been instilled with a resilience that will overcome this loss, that the hillslopes will again reflect the sheen of coffee’s green, and that coffee-producing families will make it through, via hope, resolve, and our solidarity.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It¬īs All About Love

Lately I (Jacquie) have been thinking that I¬īd like to do a new series of blogs that are more intentional in sharing about my volunteer placement and/or daily life routines and what I appreciate about the various places, ministiries and people God has brought into my life here in San Cristobal.

So let¬īs begin with Yirtrak, a.k.a Pinguinos (Penguins)…the former being the civil association which runs the kids schools and where currently I work part time doing administrative type duties. Behind the word Yirtrak is the idea of “turning to transcend” (perhaps a poectic way and mystical way to talk about transformation) and has as a basic mission – creating spaces of holistic personal and community growth in harmony with the environment. The association is about 8 years old and its first project was a school that started with 3 preeschool kids, and has most commonly been known as Pinguinos. Change has been a constant in both the volunteers, local and work of this organization, which at the moment has 3 specific projects, a primary school (best described as a family-focused holistic education “colectivo” for kids), a preeschool (ages 2 to 5), and another project which focuses on the emotional dimension of one¬īs being (which at the moment runs a weekly women¬īs support type group, many of whom¬† are single mothers) and provides art therpay for some of the kids and parents that attend the schools.

I do not feel shy to say that working in the project and its team has been a very different experience for me, it has taken time to feel comfortable with a largely alternative, fairly youthful/utopic/bohemian crowd of Europeans/Mexicans many of whom appreciate various forms of eastern spirituality. And it has taken time to find my role and ways in which I have been able to contribute. But after 2 years I feel confident to say that I bring a different perspective (both cultural and spiritual) that is accepted and respected and a different skill set (organizational, administative, right-brained thinking) that is needed (as are others) and much apprecaited.

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Classmates at a kitchen workshop at our home

With that amount of background what I really wanted to share in this blog post (and another future one) are the elements of this proyect  that I have really grown to admire and appreciate and speak to the reason I asked to do my MCC volunteer service their to begin with (besides it being a good fit for our family).

Yirtrak has three fundamental philosophies: Love and Respect, Freedom, and Permaculture, and while all are evident to different degrees and in different ways, I have especially come to admire the ways in which this community shows, and seeks to teach the children/families involved, mutual love and respect.¬† Given the diversity of this group of people – culturally, spiritually, and economically – there is much effort in trying to live in harmony, respecting the voice and personality of each, not desiring to judge but to show love and use peaceful solutions in times of conflict.¬† While the culture lends itself to¬† much more physical signs of love and care,¬† I am also impressed with the amount of patience the “teachers/volunteers” show to all the children, taking time to listen and encourage as they care not only for their academics but the whole person. The children themselves are encouraged to voice their opinions, make decisions together and help each other to learn positive ways to resolve their conflicts.

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Ez last year, doing a “caracol” (snail) to say goodbye.

As for a more concrete expression of this love and respect I note that each family in Ezra¬īs school (the primary school project) was given the ability to choose how much they could contribute montly to cover the costs of the school, some give an equivlent to 15 dollars a month for their child, while others up to 95, and yet we are all given the same ability to give our opinion and thougths during the monthly family meetings (yes really the project runs on a very low budget, partly because their workers belief in its mission and live on an¬† monthly honorarium).¬† This isn¬īt to say there isn¬īt difference of opnion, frustrations-¬†¬† likely on the parts of all- for diverse reasons, but still these principles remain and continue to be sought after. On a personal note, I am thankful for the openness in which myself and our family have been received into the family of Yirtrak, and while all relationships take time to develop I continue to feel a strong sense of acceptance and appreciation in both the work I do and the person I am.

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With Fredrika, another volunteer from Germany

Finally, we as a family, also try to prayerfully bring¬† love and respect to this community. Both Hilary and Ezra have really integrated themselves into their friendships at school, Ezra brings a kind hearted, disciplined, and gentle spirit to his teachers and classmates, and Hilary often loves to give big hugs to her teachers and while she has her best friend, spends times playing with different kids. I continue to be so thankful for Rick¬īs openness and friendliness that he displays in whatever context he is in, and also his giving heart to serve, attend meetings and work in differents ways in the schools. While I feel more reserved, I make attempts to show love by speaking kind words, accepting people for who they are, being committed and faithful to my tasks, and having patience and flexibilty in dealing with money matters and different personality/work style types.

I end with a few “wise words” that I shared at a recent Yirtrak meeting at our home…

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always persevers. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13: 4-8)

 (Due to organizational changes this year their web site it a bit behind but if you want to read more about the history of the project, here is the link Рyou can even find an english version Рhttp://comunidadyirtrak.org/)

Posted in April 2013 | 5 Comments

A Time to Celebrate and to Travel

As we read in Ecclesiastes there is a time for everything….this past month was a time to celebrate, visit and see new sights.¬† Most of which occurred during Jacquie¬īs parent trip to Mexico. First we all decided they shouldn¬īt miss out on touring one of the largest cities in the world. So the youngest daughter tested out her spanish and tour guide abilities and meet up with her parents for a 3 day experience of Mexico Cities history, sights and subways.

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Where are the two Canadians?

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Anthropological Museum

 

 

 

 

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Bellas Artes

 

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Taco¬īs at Sapo¬īs

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On the Metro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We returned to Chiapas in time to celebrate Hilary¬īs 4th birthday, a special treat for the granddaugher and the grandparents, Grandma Susan even got to crack the Pi√Īata.

IMG_1902 (800x800)The next couple of weeks Jack and Sue got to enjoy company, the sun, daily walks to the centro, a trip to Rancho Nuevo and another peek into the daily routines of school, work, and market shopping that have become our life here in San Cristobal.

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Ezra¬īs School

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Out for Coffee

 

 

 

 

 

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Sliding with Grandpa

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Rancho Nuevo

 

 

 

 

 

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Visit to Rick¬īs Work

Just because we didn¬īt quite feel that was enough adventure we all decided to finally take a trip to Palenque – one of Chiapas most well known Mayan archeological sites. A mere 5 hour bus drive might not seem too adventuresome but this scenic tour of one turn after the other (through beautiful chiapenacan rural life I would say) provides a good test for the traveller. IMG_0672 (800x600)

IMG_0583 (800x600)While the current town of Palenque gave us  some nice walks through town, enjoyable dinners out and a restful place to stay, the main event was our day trip to the Mayan ruins a couple of kilometers away.

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As for short Mayan history lesson…I will try to summarize some main historical, cultural and geographic deteails.

The Mayan culture which is still very strong and present throughout southeast Mexico (including Chiapas), Belize, and Guatemalea has a long history is this part of the world¬† perhaps beginning as far back as 1500 BC. Even back then Mayan way of life was agrarian – centered around the growing of maize (corn), but it wasn¬īt until 150 AD that some of the first Mayan cities developed. The development of cities is perhaps one reason for the growth of the mayan kingdoms over the next 800 years, until a somewhat unexplained and sudden collapse of large parts of the the civilization occured in the last part of the IX century.¬† Palenque was one of the great cities that flourished during this time period as well as other places such as Chichen Itza in present day Yucitan, that some of you may have visited. The Mayan were a very relgious people, but also showed keen insights and abilities in art, Mathematics (they invented the concept of the zero) and astronomy.

Mayan Calendar Necklaces

Mayan Calendar Necklaces

It was a very hierarchail culture “and the priests (believed to be descendents on the gods) who controlled the calendar, art and writing, instigated a “theocracy based on fear.” In essence the lower people of society physcially built, ran and served the nobles who “were able to dedicate themselves to art and science.” The Mayan had a well developed sacred writing called the Popul Vuh, which recounts stories of creation and beliefs about their numerous gods and interacions their with humanity (quotes and info from “The Mayas on the Rocks” by Javier Covo Torres)

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So yes it was a month to celebrate, travel and enjoy Mexico with Grandma and Grandpa Falk, thanks again for the visit!

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Posted in March 2013 | 1 Comment

Queso Chihuahua and the Mennonite Tradition: a tasteful experience

Another MCC Mexico Team meeting, another long trip – by bus, taxi, metro, airplane and van – with a little walking required here and there. BUT this time we went north, way north to the the state of Chihuahua, known for its norte√Īo culture, and also the curious settlements of traditional Mennonites, who grow wheat, corn and apples from the semi-arid desert and sell delicious home-made cheese and sausage.¬† That desciption about covers what many understand of the Mennonites in Mexico.¬† Yet after several days in Cuauhtemoc and at the Steinreich Bibelschule, that description was merely the tip of the iceberg. I came home to Chiapas reminded of two things – 1) the inherent value of culture and tradition in knowing who one is, and 2) Mexico is a v-a-s-t country geographically (particularly north-south), and incredibly diverse culturally.

Leaving Mexico City and arriving in Chihuahua at dusk, we travelled 2 hours by van to the Steinreich Bibelschule (where our team meeting was held) and straight to bed.¬† Waking up with the sunrise (does the rising of the sun wake the kids or the other way around??) and looking out at the landscape….I was shocked…..the flat, farmed prairie, the long straight roads, the ranch-style homes with spruce and poplar shelter-belts, the low rugged mountain ranges in the distance, the crisp cool air…..according to my surroundings I had arrived in southwest Alberta!!¬† And the “yes-in-Mexico-but-out-of-Mexico” experience continued as we enjoyed the hospitality of the Mennonite folks; the Low German, the chicken noodle soup, the fresh-baked buns, and the weak coffee (sorry!).

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Our time there was focused on bringing together two MCC teams that have been working seperate in Mexico for years, even decades – the MCC Mexico program (historically focused on rural work in southern states of Guerrero and Chiapas and with partners in Mexico City), and the Low German program (focused on strengthening Mennonite communities through its partner organization, Servicios Integrales Menonitas), which was administered independently by MCC Canada.¬† These two programs have now become one, under the admin of MCC Mexico, and our coming together was a time to listen and learn from one another as to how MCC’s mission and vision is carried out in very different Mexican contexts. There are curently several new openings for MCC service work with the Mennonite colonies, so if you’re interested, check out the service postings at www.mcc.org

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Personally, apart from our meetings, a couple of highlights were a visit to the Mennonite Museum and a sunrise church service in a traditional Colony church. The museum had displays of original equipment, furniture, household goods and technologies that have been present since their arrival in Chihuahua in the early 1920’s – most families coming from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Being from Sask, the replica kitchens, cold-storage room and workshop brought memories of my grandparent’s home and other Mennonite folks I knew growing up. Funny that currently there are lots of people of various ethnic backgrounds looking to revive some of the traditional practices of all our predecessors, such as low-tech food preservation.

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It was in the Old Colony traditional church service where my cultural compass began to falter.¬† In some sense I felt orientated – the faces and other physcial attributes of the gene pool expressed in the people, the quiet reverence, the prevalence of Ford and Chev work trucks in the parking lot.¬† YET I also felt highly disoriented too – men and women on separate sides, only a slight nod to acknowledge one’s presence but no words spoken amongst the brethren, the high-german preaching and low-german announcements, and of course the worship through song, with the fourzangers (sp.?) at the front to lead the congregation. It was a unique experience, difficult to express in words – I did find a youtube videoclip of a song, along with some visual video of Mennonite homes in the Chihuahua and Durango region – to view see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNmYsQvIiQk¬†¬†¬† Later that same morning we attended another church service in Cuauhtemoc of the General Conference of Mennonite churches (Chihuahua) – which reminded me of many Canadian urban, mennonite churches with a more evangelical focus.

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As I mentioned at the start of this post, I came home reminded of the inherent value found in culture and tradition, as a strong support for the continuity of a community, of a society. Not to say that culture never changes, but it is the practice of valuing one’s culture that perhaps is then passed on to the next generation.¬† I really appreciated one fellow, Cornelio Schmitt, who was our local contact and essentially cultural guide. His experience growing up, along with other families breaking away from certain community and church practices to forge a new cultural identity that was more integrated with the local Mexican population, provided a valuable foundation for his children who are now growing up in a unqiue cultural mix of Mennonite, Mexican, and global (lots of youth with touchscreens running around) flavours.¬† His children daily speak low-german (at home), high-german (in school and church), spanish (with their mexican friends), and english (with anyone else who can!).¬† But this is not to delude us to believe that the cultural mixing never has its challenges – for example, currently there is a brewing conflict over water rights and access, between Mennonite farmers who irriagte large tracts of land, and Mexican campesino communities, who depend on surface water and shallow wells for their domestic water requirements.¬† MCC Mexico is providing facilitation in conflict transformation in the hopes that a mutually beneficial decision can be reached amongst the parties involved.

Particularly during our time with MCC, it seems that most of our rich experiences unearth more questions than explanations, so I am leaving both you, the reader, and myself this question for our mutual ponderance – How do we enrich our own culture and perspective via intentional and mutual sharing with other cultures?¬† Note – for our family I consider the mix with cultures here in Chiapas; for many in Canada, I can’t help but think of the current situation with Aboriginal and Metis communities.¬† My prayer is that I (and we?) can hold in balance the tensions of valuing culture and tradition, yet allowing change to to occur in a manner that peaceably invites God’s kingdom.

Posted in February 2013 | 6 Comments

Beginning the New Year with Prayer

For a variety of reasons in these last weeks I haved sensed a need to give more attention to the concept and practice of prayer.¬† Perhaps like many of you, beginning a new year often causes one to reflect or re-evaluate one¬īs daily or weekly activities and approaches to life. In addition, for me,¬† re-entering normal routines after a longer vacation seems much needed and yet somehow I can lack the motivation and desire to do so.¬† With all these thoughts and emtions circling around me I feel the need to search for a more peaceful heart and the courage and faith to start anew – for me all the more reason to look to prayer.

We have a verse posted in our house, one that has been significant for me for several years – Isaiah 30:15, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (perhaps my OT version of Phil 4:6).¬† To me prayer is all about repentance, rest and quietness before God and a show of trust in his ability to bring salvation (a very holistic and shaloam type salvation).

Last week I continued my reading of a book I had bought a couple of years ago called – “Prayer Saturated Kids; Equipping and Empowering Children in Prayer” by Cheryl Sacks and Arlyn Lawernece. My point is not necessarily to evaluate or endorse the book but to use some thoughts from one of the chapters to bring some framework to what I have been learning and appreciating about prayer in these past days (some of the bolded and italicized list below is adapted from one of the book’s chapters).¬† And so I begin…

God Responds to Simple Faith

One thing I have been learning is that God does indeed answer prayer and does respond to our desire to put our faith in him.¬† In these last weeks I have tried to be more conscious of looking to God in faith, and recognizing his responses to these efforts.¬† For me, the first aspect to answered prayer is often God’s spirit providing a sense of peace and/or insight (as opposed to frustration, anger and worry, etc..) that is present when I truly come to God in repentence, trust and rest – regardless of how the rest of my request might be answered.¬† But I am also thankful for concrete answers that can change the situations I had prayed for including more technical things like getting a visa process going that I had been anxious about or allowing my friend to find peace and reconnection in a relationship one day after we committed to pray in this regard.

Prayer is a Relationship with God

A number of years ago my most natural way to have a conversation with God was to go for prayer walks, just walking and talking, sharing my thoughts with God, trying to listen for his voice.¬† With two kids and a more full schedule, now it seems these conversations happen more as I begin my day over a cup of tea or in taking a few extra minutes of silence before getting up (really both happen due to my husband’s willigness to often care for our kids before and during breakfast).¬† I have yet to develop the discipline of a 6 am wake up but I am a work in progress.¬† These moments especially helped me this past week to give my concerns about my volunteer work into his God¬īs hands and enter a new year of work more hopefully and confidently.¬† We have also picked up again the process of praying for our day with the kids before we head out to work or school, a routine we hope instills a sense that God is with us in our days, and taking the time to simply say a few words before we head out is natural and important.

Praying God¬īs Word

In the past couple of years here in Chiapas the Lord¬īs Prayer has become a meaningful tool for me to use in prayer, especially in moments when I know my heart’s desire is to reach out to God but I¬īm not quite sure what to say. This well-known prayer includes elements of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication – the old ACTS acronym of the various modes of prayer I remember learning as a kid. While I find praying the words alone helpful at times, the structure also allows me to add additional thoughts to its different themes as God¬īs spirit brings them to mind.¬† Hearing these thoughts in a spanish translation of the prayer has added a new richness to these phrases of scripture – as well in a spanish song form that Rick often sings has allowed Ezra to start memorizing it – Padre nuestro que est√†s en los cielos...

Prayer Can Teach us Attributes of God

I think our approaches and attitudes about prayer are often affected by the concept we have of God.¬† I am sure we can all admit that some truths and/or perceptions about God¬īs character come more naturally than others.¬† In these past few years through experiencing answered prayers, two concepts of who God is continues to be built in my heart and mind. The first being that of “The Lord who sees” a name often written as Jehovah Jireh,¬†relating to God¬īs ability to see and meet our needs. I think back to all that God has provided during this MCC term, perhaps those that stick out the most has been 1) connecting us with an amazing couple that continues to rent our house in Saskatoon, 2) helping our children adjust to this new culture, life, school and language and keeping them safe and protected in and out of our presence, and 3) for all the friends and colleagues that have made for a new and much appreciated community here in Mexico.

IMG_0207 The other name/aspect of God that promonates in my mind these days isThe Lord of Peace – or Shaloam.”¬† Daily I long to be able to trust and embrace God as my peace; the moments I listen to his voice have allowed me to choose hope and peace in times I would more naturally react in fear, pessimism or frustration.¬† Yet still other moments, when the feeling of being out of control seems too strong, I panic, get discouraged, loose faith and the ability to remain peaceful.

The Importance of Repentance (my own addition to the list)

The importance of this aspect of prayer I have been learning from two different sources. The first through our home presbyterian church here in San Cristobal, whose liturgy regularily involves time given to a prayer of confession.¬† These past weeks we have been encouraged to spend a time of silence on bended knee before a designated person continues a more communal confession.¬† This is meant to be a humbling act, which indeed is the point but one that does not come naturally. I have seen both of my children go through struggles trying to build up the courage and desire to ask their sibling for what they know is a much needed request for forgiveness. And yet with practice and the increasing knowledge that the request will be given they are learning, and I think, appreciating the personal freedom that comes from simply admitting, “I was wrong, I¬īm sorry.” How much more can we be confident of God¬īs ability to cleanse and renew a humble and contrite heart.¬† Secondly, often in this past year during a vocalization of the Lord¬īs Prayer I get stuck on the words – “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are our debtors,” realizing with age how the first half of this equation weighs more than the latter.

And so I begin a new year with a desire to learn and commit more time in prayer, recognizing it is not a magical formula, as some prayer requests seem to be left unaswered or not answered in a way I had hoped, leaving me with a sense of disappointment or confusion. But when I take the time to think with gratitude of all the ways in which I know and sense God working in and through situations in my life, or in the lives of others, speaking to me with love and mercy, my faith is renewed and so I keep calling out with hope and a knowledge that he is listening.

Jacquie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in January 2013 | Leave a comment

Reflections on 2012

Some thoughts and reflections we have shared newsletter style and decided to include on our blog as well.

Happy New Years to you all!

LIFE IS MORE COMMITTED.

At different moments and in different ways all of our lives became more involved this past year of 2012.¬† In January, Rick was given more responsibilities in coordinating and managing the ‚Äúcommunity strengthening‚ÄĚ project at INESIN – in many ways a welcomed IMG_9694challenge, yet also a greater time commitment.¬† As a natural result his heart is even more rooted in the community groups with whom he works, and in turn his perspective continues to be formed. Perhaps most notable is recognizing the beauty and dignity in how cultures express their reverence for the Creator, and the resulting affinity to care for the creation that sustains them. For Rick, the words ‚Äúabundant life‚ÄĚ have taken on new meaning. ¬†We are grateful this year the whole family was able to visit three of the nine communities in which he works; to deepen friendships and gain a bit more understanding of the richness, diversity, and struggle of life in a rural community.

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MCC Mexico Team – July 2012

In turn, since September Jacquie has taken on a more focused administrative role at Yirtrak, the organization that runs both the kids‚Äô schools (preschool and elementary); a change bringing added challenges but also a greater sense of purpose and belonging.¬† The kids as well are more connected to their friends and school communities, especially Ezra who has a hard time leaving at the end of the day.¬† These schools have also been an opportunity to work together alongside other families and teachers invested in these education projects.¬† As a family we continue to enjoy our small Presbyterian church community,¬† Dios es Soberano ‚Äď God is Sovereign ‚Äď the kids are right in the mix with their Sunday school class that Rick frequently teaches, and Jacquie enjoys singing with the church choir named ‚ÄúShalom.‚ÄĚ ¬† We are also thankful to be involved in the lives of our colleagues, our friends, our MCC teammates and those whom we meet along the way – relationships which bring many blessings and at times challenges. ¬†For us, these commitments help to nurture an ability to both give and receive a sense of family.

LIFE IS MORE NORMED.

Sometimes Rick likes to joke that the kids are a thorough mix of two cultures ‚Äď Canadian and Chiapanecan, hence the term ‚ÄĚChiapa-nadienses‚ÄĚ. ¬†Hilary has spent more than half of her almost 4 years of life in Chiapas (she dreams of playing in snow one day), and Ezra in particular can rattle off jokes, games and stories in Spanish with hardly a foreign accent.¬† In many ways our life here in San Cristobal has become normal, with regular trips to the market, catching cabs and colectivos, and eating chalupas and tacos al pastor.¬† That said, life, culture and landscape are diverse in Chiapas, let alone all of Mexico, as we experienced again this past month via a visit to the Mennonite communities in Chihuahua (northern Mexico) for an MCC team retreat.¬† Our perspectives have been influenced as we observe how people express their faith in a different culture, how relationships are most-often valued over productivity, and how¬† people live more ‚Äúin the present‚ÄĚ without the unnecessary, self-imposed stress of constructing a future without hardship. ¬†¬†I (Jacquie) still remember during out visit to British Columbia this summer sensing both the strangeness and comfortable familiarity of many things Canadian, which made me realize how accustomed I could become to one way of life while still appreciating another.¬† Reflecting a bit deeper reveals to us that while our life in Mexico becomes more familiar and routine, we also experience negative aspects of the culture that counter the image of the festive life of this land and its people ‚Äď the history and persistence of corruption, violence, racism and poverty, on a daily basis are often expressed in subtle ways such as distrust, superficiality or fatalism.¬† So in one sense it is an amazing place to live and work, yet on the other hand forces us to look to God for direction, and to commit ourselves to the work for hope, justice and peace.

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ON THE PERSONAL SIDE.

On a more personal note, both Ezra and Hilary have reached new phases in life; Ezra is a school boy, reading, writing, looking up to the bigger boys, and wrestling with his Dad.¬† He continues to be thoughtful, creative, and very into learning about this world, the Bible, and often interested in designing traps, forts and art. ¬†Hilary is the preschooler, with lots of energy, often humorous, and both a princess and a tomboy. ¬†We are blessed to see signs of faith as she expresses her desire to learn about and be with Jesus. ¬†And yes, while they have their sibling squabbles they are the best of friends. ¬†In watching our children live here over the past 2+ years, we are often impressed with the gift of children, their ability to grow, learn and adapt, which challenges us and give us the hope that transformation is possible. ¬†Jacquie finds herself youthfully playing in a basketball league, reaching out to new friends, still learning Spanish, and thankful and humbled by God¬īs love and truth, and the call to live justly and peacefully.¬† Ricardo keeps busy growing gardens, collecting seeds, biking around San Cristobal, and visiting with whoever may be up for a chat.

Posted in January 2013 | 2 Comments

How do we expense this?

I would venture to guess that at some point during their service terms (or virtually throughout the majority of their terms!), all MCCers experience the blending between work life and personal life.¬† I believe too that most see this as an element that enriches life, most of the time.¬† Perhaps when it comes down to reporting monthly expenses it can be difficult in determining which way to go….personal expense…….or something that remains well-connected to our service assignment – mmmm…..so what about this one weekend we went to….

Recently we travelled to Pablo L Sidar, a community where I (Rick) work with a group of families through an MCC supported project. I have made many good friends there, and in the past months they had been suggesting that at some time I bring the whole family for a visit.¬† Taking advantage of the days off school/work for observance of Day of the Dead, we made the half-day trip and enjoyed 2 wonder-full days together…celebrating with the community, going on an excursion with the families from the community group, eating, laughing, telling stories and worshipping together. Still lots of discussion around agricultural issues, but in a different manner…….

Its hard to make this really come to life in words alone….thus I decided to continue with the content of this post via a photo-essay.¬† Hope you enjoy…….take care.

Friday night we celebrated with the entire community as they inaugurated their new park, of course centrally located and the daily gathering place of many people and activity. Lots of enthusiasm and tears for the beloved outgoing Municipal President. I hope to play in a basketball tourney here next June!

Taking a break from the photo shoot, of the many invited guests at the inauguration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lake is actually a dammed river, in the central lowland of Chiapas…the geography reminded me of Lake Diefenbaker in SK. The water was bath-tub warm and the kids pretty excited!

Jesus, a fisher of…well, fish, particularly with his home-made harpoon. While I have no verifying photo, he did catch a few, even up to 2 kg in size. Later that night he treated us to cena (supper) at his home-based eatery, mmm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of my favorites! Don Jorge and Do√Īa Ofelia in a spontaneous moment of mock-dancing. While it may sound insignificant, the fact that these folks have forged strong ties over and above their denominational identities is inspiring!

Lots of laughter and comments when I took this picture….when are we gonna have a little mexicana of our own?? jeje (I am providing no answer nor hints in any direction to this one…).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ezra and Meredith hanging out……

Yulia and Hilary saying goodbye to the lake and each other….we`re likely to make another visit sometime in 2013!

Posted in November 2012 | Leave a comment

A Look at Poverty

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them.

I read these verses from Acts 4:32-34a (NIV) last night as I was searching for an intro for this blog. It struck me as a description in complete contrast to the topic I had been contemplating.¬† Can you imagine a community of people living in harmony, in the power and grace of Jesus, and without a need among them? This is peace, this is Shalom, and according to the scriptures, it is something we can work towards even here on this earth. And so, with this hope we continue the work of being peace “shalom” makers.

As I further meditated on what it meant to be a peacemaker I returned again to the edited writings of Henry Nouwen in the book, “The Road to Peace.”¬† The editor of the book refers to four elements in Nouwen’s “spirituality of peacemaking” the first three refer to, in order, an active prayer life, being involved in nonviolent acts of resistance, and thirdly, the need to work in community. But perhaps it is the fourth, and last, that is the most challenging, as Nouwen wrote “peacemaking requires living and working among the poor and the broken.” My first response to such a calling is to think of the potential levels of discomfort such actions may result in, not only because¬†of the need¬†to open oneself to being involved in the hardships of others, but then also because doing so makes us more aware of the poverty and lack of peace that is present everywhere in our world.¬† It also adds to the compulsion to search for¬†difficult or seemingly impossible solutions to this brokeness.¬† Interestingly this is not the reason Nouwen gives to this fourth element in his spirituality of peacemaking, for in Nouwen’s experience and opinion “we receive the gift of peace from those who are marginalized and crushed by society, from the powerless and the vulnerable. They reflect the peace of Christ. ” This concept perhaps gains support from Jesus own words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” (matt. 5:3a). Our western world often tries to convince us that the¬†rich¬†and powerful are the blessed ones, and in some senses this is true, but whether or not these types of blessings result in experiencing¬†the peace of Christ or the kingdom of heaven is another question.

In addition to this four-fold list from Henri Nouwen, back in August I came across two of his¬†short devotionals, in¬†another book ¬®Bread for the Journey,¬® both of which¬†continue this basic theme, that is, of¬†finding God¬īs¬†blessings of peace, joy and love,¬†not¬†only¬†by involving ourselves in the poverty of others, but also¬†by embracing our own. Here are some excerpts from the two:

Our Poverty, God¬īs Dwelling Place – Aug 18http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/images/poverty.jpg

How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich? We have to ask ourselves, ¬®What is my poverty?¬® Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That¬īs the place where God wants to dwell!…We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it.

Meeting God in the Poor – Aug 19

When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs. The Christ who lives in our own poverty recognizes the Christ who lives in other people¬īs.¬† Just as we are inclined to ignore our own poverty, we are inclined to ignore others¬ī. We prefer not to see people who are destitute, we do not like to look at people who are deformed or disabled, we avoid talking about people¬īs pain and sorrow, we stay away from brokenness, helplessness, and neediness.¬† By this avoidance we might lose touch with the people through whom God is manifested to us. But when we have discovered God in our own poverty, we will lose our fear of the poor and go to them to meet God.

As Nouwen states more clearly in another part of the first devotional, ¨poverty has many forms.¨ And while these writings caused me to reflect on my own poverty, personally and/or culturally, as I hope it may for yourself, what I felt more compelled to share are visions of poverty that have spoken to me in these past two years while living in Chiapas, Mexico.

1. A young man whose mother left him at age 9 to migrate to the United States of America, who lives beside (with little support) his father and step mother, in a series of shacks and was sleeping on the ground with cardboard (which during rainy season was mainly wet).

2. Two young ladies who sell candy on the side of the street 6 days a week for 10 hours a day, having never been to school, and perhaps make between 10 and 50 pesos a day (1 to 5 dollars) to add to their family income.

3. A young mom who I see in the neighborhood working hard to collect garbage from homes and bring it to the garbage dump.  She works with a bike and trailer attachment, as her 3 little kids (one walking, one on her back, and the other sitting on the bike seat) tote along.

4. The sometimes drunk man who comes to the door asking for food often trying to convince me that it would be a blessing from God for him to receive it.

5. The little boy I see hanging around the artisan market in his bare feet asking mainly foreigners for some pesos, and I ask myself the question Рdoes he have family who he helps to support with his earnings or is he on his own?

In all of these scenarios there is a severe lack of something, but perhaps more so is the lack of dignity, liberty and/or the capacity to change ones situation, a reflection which stems from a conference I attended a few weeks ago, entitled in English, ¨The Challenge of Human Poverty for the Mission of the Church Today¨ sponsored in part by an organization called The Micah Challenge a global coalition of Christians holding governments accountable for their promise to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Our presenter, Erika, a Peruvian theologian, spent our first session in a discussion on The Bible and Poverty, I begin a summary of this study, by including a few OT verses she challenged us with,

Deut 15:11 ¨There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your bothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.¨

Proverbs 14:31 ¨He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for the Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.¨

While many other passages were highlighted one comment also stuck out to me ¨Poverty is not natural it is the result of violence and injustice,¨ which led us into the second half of this session in which we spent significant time looking at the ¨love¨ passage of 1 Cor 13 and the calling it gives us in how we are to show love in working towards justice for the poor. Based on verses 1-3 I summarize her main points:

  • Theological Discussion without Love is Noise – in other words, we can talk powerful and eloquent words about fighting poverty but without love it is just a clanging symbol.
  • Knowledge without Love does not result in Anything – we can do all the analysis, planning, and work we want but without love we will not transform anything.
  • Service without Love is Useless¬† – we can give all our money, time and energy,¬†but if it is not given in love, in freedom, with kindness, without judgment or looking for personal gain this too will not result in the end of poverty or injustice.

In essence what this passage is saying is that love, which necessitates the promotion of justice and truth (as it is more fully described in the rest of 1 Cor 13), is a key concept in any of type of peace/justice, development, shalom/kingdom building type work, or as our speaker refered to often in Spanish, ¨ la vida plena¨ Рthe full/abundant life that Jesus came to give and offer us.

Which begs the questions, what kind of physical, social, emotional or spiritual poverty do we see or hear of in our communities, churches, friends, families or ourselves? And, what steps are we willing to take to show love, to speak for truth, to care for and work for others (and ourselves) in our common attempts to face and embrace poverty, and in the midst of it to find God Рthe source of love and peace Рand ultimately together with him find freedom from, and the capacity to live with dignity in, and deal with, our human poverty.

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Henri Nouwen, The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice,  ed. John Dear, New York:Orbis Books, 1998.

Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, San Fransisco:Harper Books, 1997.

Erika Izquierdo Paiva, El Desafio de la Pobreza Humana para la Misiòn de la Iglesia Hoy,
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, 6 Oct 2012.

Images: The first tso images are randomly selected from “google” images. The third is a piece of work by a local well-known artist, Beatriz Aurora, the fourth a photograph again by a local artist, Michael Vial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in October 2012 | Leave a comment