Saturday, March 28, 2020

Where is God?

During this time of isolation, I have been reading some books that I keep   meaning to read.  I just finished His Dark Materials trilogy written by Philip Pullman.  Towards the end of the trilogy the main character Lyla says this:

If you help everyone… to learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious… then they will renew what is lost…

I think – by and large – I’m fairly kind and patient… now that menopause is over, that is! 😊  But cheerful is a struggle for me… and I’ve been asking myself why that is.

I see the world not in all its beauty and grandeur, but through the eyes of the people I have been working with all my adult life… homeless people, battered women, abused children, rape victims, families with no job or housing in North Carolina, and here in Nicaragua those families who are desperately poor.  People who struggle and labor day-in and day-out, not to get ahead, but to just survive.

With the Coronavirus coming to Nicaragua, I see all the problems and not enough solutions to address what is in store for Nicaragua… a country still under U.S. sanctions though the United Nations is calling sanctions criminal in times like these…. a country that is the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere so there is no trillion dollar bail-outs for anyone… and a country that only gets negative press from international media (so who is going to want to help them?).

Being genuinely cheerful is needed in these times more than ever, but I can’t do it… I can fake it, but not feel it.
Let me be clear, I KNOW I have much to be thankful for:  wonderful children and grandchildren, a community, a mother who is here with us, amazing friends and support systems, food, housing, and Mike, my beloved, who loves me cheerful or grumpy… all the time.  I am extremely fortunate.  I know that.  And if I die from this virus, which is possible with my asthma and compromised immune system, I die knowing our children are loved, our grandchildren have awesome parents, our community will support each other as will our friends, and I have been blessed with the love of my husband.  I have felt the grace of God.

But… but where is God for all those who have not been so fortunate… for the poor?

Where is God for those now isolated at home with abusive parents and partners, and for the elderly with abusive children?

Where is God for the thousands without ventilators scared to death as they gasp to breathe in life-saving oxygen?

Where is God for the exhausted nurses, doctors, and technicians standing helplessly by watching people die, knowing that they could have helped them if only they had the tools?

Where is God for the homeless who cannot be isolated and have nowhere to go?

I’ve seen on social media postings about how this is all part of God’s plan.  I know it is hard to feel helpless… I get that better than most people who have grown up in the United States of America… but wishing for God to have a plan is just another way of grasping at control.  We can learn from those who have lived through horrific times when God was lost.

Elie Wiesel, the author of Night, wrote this about watching a hanging in the concentration camp:

One day as we returned from work, we saw three gallows, three black ravens, erected on the Applepaltz.  Roll call.  The SS surrounding us, machine guns aimed at us: the usual ritual.  Three prisoners in chains - and, among them, the little pipel, the sad-eyed angel.  The SS seem more preoccupied, more worried than usual.  To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter.  The head of the camp read the verdict.  All eyes were on the child.  He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows.  This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as an executioner.  Three SS took his place.  The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs.  In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.  'Long live liberty!'  Shouted the two men.  But the boy was silent.  ‘Where is merciful God, where is He?'  someone behind me was asking.  At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.  Total silence in the camp.  On the horizon the sun was setting.  'Caps off!'  Screamed the LagerĂ€lteste.  His voice quivered.  As for the rest of us, we were weeping.  'Cover your heads!'  Then came the march past the victims.  The two men were no longer alive.  Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish.  But the third rope was still moving; the child, too light, was still breathing... And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.  And we were forced to look at him at close range.  He was still alive when I passed him.  His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.  Behind me, I heard the same man asking: 'For God's sake, where is God?'  And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where is he? This is where - hanging here from this gallows....'"

Where is God?  With the partners and children afraid and beaten, isolated in their homes.

Where is God?  With the people gasping for air.

Where is God?  With the nurses, doctors, and technicians working and watching helplessly.

Where is God?  With the poor who have no safety nets, no food, and so much pain.

Where is God?  Always amidst the suffering.

This does not make me cheerful, but I know when all is lost and I feel the most helpless, God is with me… and for now, that is enough to allow me to smile and laugh... Occasionally.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Future Fridays: Good News!

With the Coronavirus, there has been positive moves in pollution levels as people stay home.

Mother Nature is getting a breather.

Watch this amazing video shared by the European Space Agency, of changes across Europe, especially in Northern Italy, from January 1, 2020 to March 11, 2020. 

As air traffic and most vehicle traffic have slowed to almost a standstill, the environment is doing better, even in such a short time.

This shows China from December 2019 through March 2020.

Our air is cleaner and freer of greenhouse gasses.  This can teach us something... I'm sure.

But will we learn?

- Kathleen

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Monday, March 23, 2020

What are we doing in Nicaragua? Coronavirus

On Friday Nicaragua reported its second confirmed case of COVID-19 coronavirus. Both patients are hospitalized, the Ministry of Health has tracked down all the contacts for the first patient and is working on it for the second patient who is at high risk, being diabetic, hypertensive, and HIV positive.

We are just beginning to see the pandemic in our small country. People are scared - they've been watching other countries closely for weeks. Many are not well-informed - there is a lot of misinformation being passed around.

At the Nueva Vida Clinic we are clear that we are not set up to see patients with COVID-19; that is a job for the better-equipped Ministry of Health.  Instead, we are working to continue serving our patients well, in order to help avoid overload at the public health clinics. We are also putting measures in place to ensure that our clinic doesn't become a point of contagion and to keep our staff safe:

  • We're setting up hand-washing stations with bleach disinfectant at the gate and at all doors. 
    loading hand-washing buckets for the clinic entrances
  • We have spray bottles with Clorox and are cleaning door handles and surfaces constantly. 
  • Only patients are allowed in the gate - usually several healthy people come in accompanying the patient, but we are no longer allowing extra people. 
  • Anyone with fever and cough are sent directly to the MINSA clinic. 
  • We've put on pause all of our group health talks for pregnant women, new mothers, and chronic care patients. We have paused the Lobas and Leones teen programs. 
  • We have stopped all preventative dental care at the clinic for the time being; we are still seeing patients with dental emergencies. 
  • We have informed all 150 of our chronic care patients, many of whom are elderly, that starting this week they should send a younger family member to the clinic to pick up their medications in order to reduce their own exposure. 
  • We have stopped nebulization treatments both in homes through health promoters and at the Clinic, because we don't have enough nebulizer masks to change out between each patient. 
  • We have put more benches outside so that while patients are waiting to be seen by the doctor there is more distance between them.  
  • Josefa is giving a talk on how to prevent the spread of the virus to all patients in the morning and the afternoon.

How will the situation evolve in Nicaragua? It is going to look different from other countries. Although many private schools and universities are moving to online studies, the Ministry of Education is so far keeping public schools open. In Nicaragua, most parents have to go out to work - as street sellers, in the markets, etc - or the family doesn't eat that day. Primary school children are fed at school, teachers are having the kids wash their hands regularly, and they are cared for. If the government were to close primary schools, many children would be unsafe at home alone and would not get enough food to eat. Closing schools is a decision with very serious consequences and so as of today, schools are still open. 

People live day-to-day here and live very close together. What would social distancing look like in Nueva Vida where people live 10 to 20 in a tiny house? And the houses are right next to each other? And everyone can afford to only buy enough food for the next meal? 

The people of Nicaragua have been praying daily for those affected by Coronavirus around the world. Now they also need your prayers.

Thank you.
- Becca

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Future Fridays: Will We Learn?

Will We Learn?

With the people who are in power running around trying to stick their fingers in the holes of the dam about to break, let us, who think we have no power, take a moment as we sit at home, and reflect on the up-coming climate crisis.

We think this pandemic is bad... Just wait.

It took too long for some in government to heed the call of the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.   The White House office designed to manage and prepare for pandemics had been closed. Some in power did not believe the public health experts and scientists for too long.  Some thought it would not affect them, so why bother to be cautious.  And look where we are...

Sound familiar?

Climate change is here and just right over there at the same time, threatening the human species as well as millions of other species.

We need to gird up our loins and claim the power we do have, from those who have power but have bungled the handling of this pandemic crisis. How?  Well for  starters... through our ballots, our voices, and our actions demanding:

  • that a new office be opened in the White House, as well as a committee be established to address climate change in both chambers of Congress
  • that billions and trillions of dollars be allotted to slow the progression of climate change
  • that we actually heed the scientists and do what they say
  • and finally, that we walk and chew gum at the same time... Meaning addressing the pandemic and climate change at the same...because both are threatening us now.
Will we learn?

For our children's and grandchildren's sake... I surely hope so.

- Kathleen

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Worrying today... tomorrow I help?

As the Coronavirus spreads, I have remained fairly calm.  I’m washing my hands.  Trying so hard not to touch my face.  Cough into my elbow. We set up hand washing stations outside of doors to stop viruses entering the house.  And Sarah and Mama (who is 90 years old) did not travel north.  Pretty good, huh?

Well, last night and today I’ve been in a state of anxiety.  Our youngest, Joseph, lives in New York City, he and all his housemates have no work.  They are all artists.  Their rent is absurd and they have leases that our other son, Coury, and his wife co-signed for Joseph and his beloved.

Coury’s wife, Cassie, is a family practice physician and is working in a clinic when she is not in quarantine.  In their not too spacious house are their two children, a housemate, and now another of our sons, Daniel, and his wife and daughter.  Three children under the age of three years!  Daniel and Claudia are trying to discern whether to stay there or come home.

Then there is son Tiff’s fiancĂ©, Liz, whose father needs new lungs and her brother’s house burnt down… the parents and new baby were not home at the time of the fire.

Then there is us and our work.  With Sarah not going to the States and with all the economic unrest, we are wondering how we will pay bills, buy medicines, and pay staff.  She frequently raises around $40,000 during spring speaking.  Nine containers of peanuts are stuck in warehouses in Honduras waiting for their inspection offices to open, while accruing storage charges of $150/day/container.  The peanuts did not get on the boat they were supposed to.   One sesame buyer is wanted to postpone getting their contracted sesame.

Health wise, Mama and I are at the highest risk.  For her, well she IS 90 and for me, a compromised immune system and asthma and - yes – old age.  But Kathy is 70; Sarah, 69; and Mike, 68 and he has asthma as well.

See where the panic is coming from?

And yet, my problems are nothing like the people who are crowded into poor crowded neighborhoods.  They cannot stay in.  They cannot isolate.  There is no social distancing option.

If they stay in their tiny houses, they will starve or have heat stroke!  It is hot as blazes right now!  The government is trying to address this but Nicaragua is POOR as dirt!

If schools cancel, many kids will go hungry because it is their only meal of the day.

Since the political unrest of 2018, the economy is terrible and more people are back on the streets selling fruit and wares, washing windshields, begging, and struggling… they make contact with people in their cars… because if they don’t, they starve.

Markets of cramped stalls and people “schmooshing” together to pass are the main way most Nicaraguans shop, and they shop day-to-day.  If the sellers close, they go hungry.  If consumers cannot shop they, too, go hungry... the poor do not stock up on toilet paper!

So, my panic seems silly but it is there anyway…or-at least-for today.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll not worry so, but get about the business of caring, in whatever way I can, for the poor.


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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Walking together - International Women's Day

IDW - photo Shutterstock license
Today is International Women's Day (IWD).  I was 31 years old and on a women's delegation to Nicaragua, the country I now call home after almost 26 years, when I first learned about this day.

Our large delegation came to Nicaragua during the height of the U.S.-backed Contra War.  More than 60 of us,  U.S. women, walked the road from Esteli to San Juan de Limay in order to open the road and allow free travel, because the hope was that the Contra would not attack while citizens of their funding nation were on the road.

As we walked, mothers of assassinated children planted crosses where their children's bodies had been found along the road.  "Dangerous" people like teachers, health care workers, pastors, community leaders and such were the victims.

Then we celebrated with a meal with the women of Limay.  They told us of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City in March of 1911 when the doors were locked to the factory and 123 women and 23 men died in the fire.  (

And those poverty laden, brave women of Limay told us... told me.. about the horrors women endure as well as their accomplishments with the Nicaraguan Revolution. 

I came to Nicaragua and learned about IWD.

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race, she said that there was gender bias in politics and when a woman brings up sexism then she considered to be "whining". How demeaning! 

The degree that women, especially women of color, are dismissed is the dismissal of those dying in a factory... most  were Italian and Jewish immigrants ages 14 - 23 years of age. .

When women take to the streets, they are not taken seriously.  Women are society's backbone and not having them in the highest offices of government is appalling.

Many of you have read about the supposed "dictatorship" in Nicaragua... But what you don't read is that Nicaragua is 5th in the world in gender equality. Nicaragua has already had a woman president and now has a female vice-president and many women are in local government offices and the legislative assembly. 

Of course Nicaraguan women deal with sexism, machismo, violence and sometimes murder, but so do women around the world... I can attest to the violence women endure in North Carolina, where we ran a battered women's shelter and a rape crisis line.  Unfortunately, men make that horror common place. 

I'm proud to be a woman.  I studied to be and was a pastor in a time when there were few of us.  I was expected to be perfect.  I wasn't.  But unlike many male pastors, I was criticized and looked down upon when I was different.  It was glorious in some ways to be a trail blazer more than 40 years ago, but it was also eye-opening to see the blatant hypocrisy that abounds in the church and heart-breaking to see it in those who claim to have "God's love". 

Women are the backbone of families globally.  They suffer mightily under the yoke of poverty. They suffer globally from fundamentalism and the powers that be...from being dismissed and belittled, to not being educated, to being raped and beaten, and even to being burned, stoned, and murdered. 

Today on this International Women's Day, let's celebrate the achievements we've fought to win, let's grieve the losses women globally endure, and let's pledge to not be silent any longer and to lift up our sisters of all colors and nationalities. 

- Kathleen

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Future Fridays: That AM cup of coffee... it matters!

In preparation for a broadcast of a tightrope walker walking across the Masaya Volcano, ABC did a story on Good Morning America about Nicaraguan coffee and climate change.  It was a good introduction on how climate change is changing coffee production. You can watch it on YouTube at this link.

Some things to note... Farmer Shares coffee ( purchases organic coffee for $2/pound from the growers... Not $0.93 or $1.15.  Farmer Shares coffee is shade grown under large trees that the farmers have kept alive, not trees recently planted.   Coffee is one of the most chemically laden produce from spraying... Farmer Shares is organic.  And all profits go back to the farmers who are part of collectives, not part of a coffee plantation.

Climate change is affecting the coffee of the coffee growers we support, like the report said.  The growers at El Porvenir have nurseries with baby coffee plants that should do better with the increasing heat and longer droughts, and as they receive more profit they can plant more of these coffee plants.

As my family can attest, I like to start my day with a cup of strong, black coffee.  If you do, too, please support Nicaraguan farmers by subscribing to buy your coffee through Farmer Shares ( Our farmers protect the earth... You can, too, and still enjoy your coffee.

- Kathleen

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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Health Helping

With the Coronavirus scaring people, I want to address public health.

The Nicaraguan Ministry of Health came to Casa Ben Linder to ask about guests coming in from other countries that have documented cases of the virus.   Nicaragua has a thermal scan at the entry point at the airport and will check on people with fevers.  Also travelers have to answer health questions on their entry papers... Simple questions.

What the Ministry of a Health asked of us was to give people the national health clinic phone number if they start getting sick so the health care system can help and, I'm sure, test to contain the spread of the virus.

At the Nueva Vida Clinic, we will focus on hand washing (which is more difficult when one is poor and have one faucet or no faucet and sparse access to soap) and not touching one's face. 

Pandemics effect the poor and in many countries these are the ones not counted or tested, and who spread viruses as a result.

They are invisible.

In Nicaragua the government sees these people.  In our clinic we see them. And outside the clinic... Well... 

Our 30 health promoters last year saw over 9,000 neighbors... Children, adults, sick, wounded, diabetic, pregnant, their homes.  They are our public health front line.

Don't you wish you had them in your neighborhood?

- Kathleen 

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