Today we had our final day of class. To be specific it was the end of our Faith and Practice Seminar which has made up the majority of class time the last three weeks, along with Spanish class. It was, like most of the class learning, not to mention all the other “experiential” learning projects we have had, rather unconventional from a traditional learning sense.
To end this unique semester required a unique experience. And we got it. Our presenters, Julio and Gerti Melara came bouncing in right at 8:00 AM all smiles and radiating a level of vivacity and energy that defied their little frames and graying hair. I don’t know many missionaries but I am glad that the connotations that follow that controversial word now include this wonderful couple. Julio is a native Salvadoran and Gerti is from Austria but they live and work here in Costa Rica with their children.
Yet in addition to being missionaries, perhaps more so, perhaps even more importantly, they are artists, musicians who weave lyrics through their melodies and harmonies that speak to and from the heart of the Latin American poor. If I may rewind to their exuberant entrance again I forgot to mention that adding to their sprightly manner were the guitar and violin bouncing right along with them already in their hands as they came in, the instruments almost personified themselves swaying in the hands of the two small people who carried them. They seemed so happy that the mood in the room which has been weighted down these last few weeks with realities that could depress a rock, audibly lightened. Come to think of it this was the first time that two people reminded me straight away of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry such was their perceived effect. Its possible none of you understood that reference but kudos to you if you did.
What followed was an impromptu concert of Latin American songs written by the Melaras and others that, like so many Latino songs can’t help but be sung along to. So there we were in this little room with the recognizable lively strum of the guitar in Latino style and the vibrant resonances of the violin singing, talking, and laughing, but mostly singing along and listening for two ephemeral hours. It was a wonderful moment, united for a time in the music and joy of these two people and a shared experience, singing together with our voices from El Salvador, Austria, Costa Rica, Colombia, the United States, and Canada but unaware of differences in nationality while at the same time being fully aware of the unimportance of nationality for that moment.
But like all good things the time came to say goodbye to our final guests. I have been so blessed by the people we have been blessed to hear and learn from this entire time and especially these last three weeks. There was John Stam who told us of the importance of praxis in our lives and that “living faith in God has to be born in the heart of each person”, of his theological discussions with Fidel Castro, and who made us laugh with his very own theology by which every time the word “fe” (faith) is written in the Bible perhaps the translation is actually “cafe” (coffee) and thus “Coffee is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 Stam Bible). There was James DeBorst in whom we heard of a kid much like ourselves looking for answers to a man still looking for answers but who spoke to us of breaking paradigms of “development” and “helping” and “Marxism” when labels are applied and intentions wrought that reap nothing but division and lies. There was Silvia Regina who challenged the role of the church to be one of liberation to choose to be bold and controversial by coming alongside Zapatistas, Indigenous movements, and the marginalized created by our own societies. There was Jaime Preito poet and Mestizo theologian who connected the plight of the Ngäbe-Buglé people in Panama with the love and justice required of Christians. There was Carmen Caamaño the professora who gently swayed us with the terrible realities northward migrating Central Americans face behind in their homelands and ahead into societies who prejudice them as “irresponsible”, “criminal”, “subversive”. There was the wonderful Irene Foulkes, who though nearly ninety espoused on the importance of proper exegesis and critical reading of the Bible while challenging us to “transform our life, transform our world” by first looking inward and then into the groups and societies we know and live in and in working from this point do the work of transformation. And then there was today and the two radiant people who sang with us these simple words: “I only ask of God, that I won’t be indifferent to the injustice…”
So concludes my classes for this semester that will in some way unbeknownst though now it may be have upset a trajectory that was only possible in my life that didn’t know and experience what I am knowing and experiencing.
Yet not all is ending here. Things end and new things begin and the next stage of my time in Costa Rica begins this upcoming week with a trip to a coffee farm where a new and different family awaits, where work awaits, and where new chances for learning, for seeing, for hearing, and hopefully later for doing await.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”