Lost in Translation

The woman on the phone, speaking heavily accented Spanish, introduced herself as Consuela to Rebecca, the coordinator and translator for our bilingual group Mujeres Unidas en Fe (Women United in Faith). Consuela said that she wanted to visit the group and offer a Medicaid presentation. It seemed a little odd to Rebecca, as the current administration has drastically cut funding for public outreach around healthcare, North Carolina has refused to expand Medicaid coverage, and it is generally unavailable to persons who are undocumented. “I’ll bring a variety of options, and a gift for each of the women,” Consuela explained. “It will be a Medicaid party.”

From time to time we’ve hosted presentations about urgent issues such as legal rights, family emergency plans, and local law enforcement. Rebecca figured that perhaps there were healthcare options of which she was unaware. So she said yes to Consuela’s offer and arranged for her to come last week.Old woman

Juanita and I were the first to arrive. Rebecca approached us, laughing heartily. Clarity had dawned on her earlier that morning when Consuela had called back to confirm her visit. “You won’t believe what I’ve done,” Rebecca said, rolling her eyes. The others began to gather. And then Consuela breezed in, lugging two carry-on-size suitcases. She pulled out a palette and personal mirror-on-a-stand for each of us and set them up around the table. I was at my first “Mary Kay party.” Continue reading

Solar Flair

Hearing predictions of massive traffic jams, we launched our adventure toward totality on the back roads. Zigzagging our way, Bill and I and our friend Jo crossed the French Broad River in downtown Marshall, hurdled a couple of mountains as we cut south through Sandy Mush, wound over toward Trust and then down through Luck. Only the 12-mile stretch between Waynesville and the Blue Ridge Parkway was congested. We moved slowly then, but we moved. Luck had followed us. 24305551169_11762eed39_n

As if we had timed it perfectly all along, we drove up Miracle Mountain (if there’s a better place to watch an eclipse, I don’t know it) and arrived right at noon at the home of the parents of our friend Missy. Her mother had prepared a bountiful Southern lunch of cold cuts, pimento cheese spread, pickles, iced tea—and Sun Chips and Moon Pies. Delightful! Continue reading

Awash in Squash

I’d heard the jokes. I knew that zucchinis proliferate like rabbits (well, not exactly like rabbits). Still, I didn’t think it would hurt to put half a dozen seeds into the ground.10463108304_61651f6c83_m

This, despite the $28 tomato I grew years ago when I was renting a tiny garage apartment on a small farm. I had just moved to the North Carolina mountains from inner-city Washington, D.C., and I was oblivious to water and sun requirements, to the truths of worms and mold. I bought plants, cages, and fertilizer, I watered and weeded—and got one tomato out of the whole deal. Continue reading

Lunch with the Law

Three-year-old Enrique’s favorite toy—a plastic helmet with a dark face shield, emblazoned with the word “POLICE”—was parked on his head. As he toddled up to our burly, 6-foot-8 county sheriff, with his mother Rosita watching nervously, the irony just about did me in.

As I’ve mentioned here before, for three hours every week a group calling ourselves Mujeres Unidas en Fe (Women United in Faith) gathers at a nearby church. A dozen Spanish-speaking women and an equal number of us English speakers share Bible study, exchange language lessons, and enjoy a potluck lunch. Fear has been running high since executive orders coming out of the White House targeted North Carolina as a state for increased deportations (see “Family Emergency Plan,” posted 2/13/17).6881569740_5ed52a3468_n

Understandably, when faced with such a terrifying threat, many people choose to lay low and keep to the shadows. But a few weeks ago Carmela announced over lunch, “I think the best way to keep from being sent back is to introduce ourselves to local law enforcement—let them see our children and get to know our families.” It seemed to me audacious and brave—and very frightening for my friends. Continue reading

Making a Difference

In October 1983, two dozen peace activists gathered in Philadelphia as war raged in Nicaragua. U.S.-backed forces known as contras were carrying out a campaign of terror and mayhem against the civilian population. A woman from North Carolina, who had led a church delegation to the embattled country three months before, reported that while she and her colleagues were there the mortar attacks, kidnappings, and massacres had temporarily ceased. What to do?

The answer was obvious. If the presence of U.S. citizens was enough to offer protection to Nicaraguans, we needed to figure out how to make that presence permanent. Someone voiced what I assumed all of us in the room were thinking: “You mean we’re going to ask people to risk their lives in a war zone for strangers—and make them pay to do it?” Exactly.21357192889_c0cd8fc081_n

Thus was born Witness for Peace. It seemed clear to some of us that if we were going to issue such an invitation, we needed to be the first to go. Two months later, I headed to Nicaragua with the first team. In the meantime, U.S. military forces had invaded Grenada, and fear was running high among Nicaraguans that they would be next. Hearing their endless stories of anguish and loss, documenting contra atrocities, and standing in prayer with Nicaraguans at sites of attacks and massacres was life-changing for me. Continue reading

Love Your Neighbor

She was standing by my mailbox yesterday afternoon, a thin woman with gray hair holding a little black dog. “Have you seen Sadie’s house?” she asked as I rolled down the car window.Love your neighbor 2

“Can you describe it?”

Her face went blank. “I don’t reckon I can.”

“Did you walk up this road?”

“No,” she said, “I came over the mountain.” I looked at her frail limbs and her thin-soled shoes and had a hard time imagining it. She pointed up the dirt road that crosses a cattle pasture and dead-ends at Sara and Buck’s home, insisting as she took a step toward it that Sadie’s house was up that way. I pictured her opening the gate and tangling with either the cattle or Buck’s highly protective dogs, and I said, “Why don’t you get in the car and we’ll try to find Sadie’s house together?”

She smiled, introduced herself as Hazel, and settled into the passenger seat with her dog on her lap. I didn’t actually have a plan, other than to drive around the neighboring hollers until Hazel recognized someplace or somebody. Blessed providence, as I was turning the car around at the end of the road, she spied the mailbox with the name Campbell on it. “Why, Campbell, that’s my son’s name,” she commented. I asked her his first name. “Jack,” she said.   Continue reading

Jesus and the Easter Bunny

During an overly pious phase in my childhood, my favorite holiday was Maundy Thursday. I had nothing against the traditional favorites of Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. I did, after all, grow up in Hershey, Pennsylvania—raised in the First United Methodist Church on Chocolate Avenue, where the domes on the street lights resemble Hershey’s kisses and the fragrance of chocolate hung often in the air. I had no complaint against holidays that brought bonanzas of candy and gifts.

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But, at some point in my young life, I began to understand that not every child lived in a town with a chocolate factory, an amusement park and zoo, four swimming pools and nine golf courses. Some children were hungry and lonely and had no home in which to live. When this first glimmer of comprehension about suffering in the world came to me, I began to like Maundy Thursday. Continue reading