2 Piñatas + 6 Games of Ping-Pong + 8 Meals = Un Buen Día – Emily & Andrew’s Peace Corps Adventures

by Andrew Nilsen
Re-blogged from: May We Suggest

I’ve never seen such gigantic pots in my life.  In fact, I’ve only seen one pot comes close, which is at my father in-law’s cabin down in Cave in Rock, IL.  Today I witnessed two enormous pots full of food for fiestas with familia.  What a way to be welcomed into the family!

img_35291Today was my first full day living at my training site.  As TEFL teacher trainers, Emily and I are placed in separate small towns (pueblos) approximately 15 minutes away from each other in the Masaya department.  Peace Corps Nicaragua assigns married couples to separate training families primarily to help with language acquisition, which makes a lot of sense in our situation given that I have much more Spanish experience than Emily.  We will meet up twice this week for all-staff trainings, and will be able to spend the following weekends together, but for the time being we are focused on bonding with our host families.

Doña Juana has adopted me for the next twelve weeks of training, which means I now have older siblings!  My brother Osman (40 y/o) and sister Taniana (31 y/o) both are living at home.  They are very kind, welcoming, generous people.  In fact, I think Osman is sleeping in front of the TV in the living room, because I think they gave me his room.  I look forward to posting more updates about them in the following weeks.

This morning, after a light breakfast of bread and coffee, I hopped in Osman’s car to go to the finca para comer.  To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure what he meant by finca, but since we were going there to eat I was pretty stoked.  We drove about 10 minutes out of town, and turned right down a dirt driveway lined with plantain trees.  Turns out that was Osman meant by “Vamos a la finca para comer” was that we were going to his (our?) cousin Ricardo’s beautiful piece of land out in the country for an all-day food and family fest to celebrate the birthday of another one of our cousins.  Over the next six hours I ate a bowl of pork sopa consumido, received a botany/fruits of Nicargua taste-testing tour of la finca from Ricardo, ate freshly fried pork chicharrones with corn tortillas, won five out of six hotly contested ping-pong matches against Ricardo and his son, ate a gigantic plate of Nicaraguan style chop suey with pork, watched little cousins destroy a bunny piñata, and ate birthday cake.

If you were sensing a pork theme, that is because the family purchased and prepared two whole pigs to feed the birthday bunch.  We were a big crew, and even the biggest pot I’ve seen in my life only barely contained enough chop suey to feed us all.  The wonderful afternoon of family and conversation ended with me promising Ricardo and his wife that I would bring Emily to visit la finca before we finish our training.  I think our chances are good, since they throw a party there every time there is a birthday in the family.

After la finca, Osman drove Doña Juana and I to a one-year-old birthday party for a family friend.  Although the setting for this was much more humble, there was still the same immense pot full of food to feed the 30+ people who gathered around the dirt yard of the corrugated steel hut/house.  We were fed vigoron, a national dish of Nicaragua with (you guessed it) pork served over a bed of yucca, topped with a cabbage slaw.  While we were eating cake outside and watched more small Nicaraguan children obliterate pretty cardboard animals, Doña Juana, my new mom, turned to me and said “See, we don’t just eat gallo pinto for every meal.  We ate all day, and didn’t have rice or beans once!”

It’s only been one day, and already Doña Juana is exhibiting maternal psychic abilities by assuaging my unvoiced foodie fears.  However, I’d gladly trade gastronomic monotony any day for the feeling that I am a part of a family.  After today I get the feeling that I may not have to make that choice.



(Limited space available – so let us know if you’re interested!)

Please share this application form with anyone you think might be interested or benefit from this opportunity!

The APPLICATION FORM is due November 1, 2014.

 The retreats will be held in Independence, Missouri on these dates:
January 8-11, 2015
May 21-24, 2015
Nov 12-15, 2015

Please visit the Leader Institute page for more information about the program.



Here’s some important info you need to know:

  • This program is NOT JUST FOR YOUNG ADULTS. The material is created with young adults in mind, but is more than applicable for anyone (18 or over) wanting to improve their leadership skills!! This is a great program for:
    • new and/or aspiring church leaders (employees, pastors, congregational leaders)
    • youth/camp leaders
    • university student leaders
    • World Service Corps alumni
    • anyone wanting leadership training that can benefit them in personal or professional settings! (Looks great on a resume!)
  • Participants are required to attend the three in-person retreat dates throughout the year(from our experience, this is the best part of the program anyways!)
  • Participants can apply to complete an individual project or a team project with other participants
  • This is a partnership program. Funding for facilitation, assessments, and materials will be funded by Community of Christ. Participants must provide funding for their travel, accommodation and food costs. (We recommend talking to your local congregation/Mission Centre about financial support.)

Don’t miss out. This is a great program and an awesome opportunity for any leader!!

If you have any questions, please email yaministries@cofchrist.org.

From this Side of the Room

perspective1I have grown up going to Camp Bountiful; this fall will start my 25th year. Throughout the years many people have come and gone. There have also been wide arrays of experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.

This summers’ experiences stick out for a number of reasons, mostly because I got to experience a different perspective of camp.

Since I started working full-time nearly seven years ago, I have dedicated nearly every minute of allotted vacation time to attending camps. In some years I commuted an hour each way from the camp to my job, just so I could take part in the evening activities of that particular camp. When I commuted I did not mind the two hour drive because I knew I was a trip or a mile closer to going back.

Over the years I have been privileged enough to form friendships with some of the campers and staff that will last a life time. With some of my friends living four hours away and some only minutes. Some of those friendships have been with people that live close to me in southern Ohio. So I started picking up and taking them to some of the events we both intended to attend. Most of those rides included trips to Camp Bountiful.

I would take two campers from my area and we would play music and talk the entire way up and back. This year one of those campers got to be on staff at a camp I was not attending. This person does not have a driver’s license so they asked if I would take them to and from the camp.

I agreed to the trip knowing it would be difficult because I could not stay.

There have been many camps and many unique experiences that I could write volumes on. But this was a perspective I had not experienced prior to this year – dropping someone off for camp and going back home on the same day.

I got him to camp unloaded his stuff and hung around for a while greeting and hanging out with old friends. Throughout the following week I texted a few times to make sure they were having a good time at camp. All indications showed that they were.

The following Saturday came and I went to camp early so I could have time to fellowship with some friends. When I got to camp they were in the midst of breakfast and cleanup of the camp before everyone went their separate ways.

During that brief time it dawned on me, these people have spent the last week together, the last thing they wanted to see or pay attention was someone like me. I represented something none wanted to face. Their time as a community was coming to an end.

After realizing this, I went outside and sat at a table until it was time to pack up and leave. It was a different perspective because prior to that, I had not been the outsider of a camp looking in.

Earlier this month (September), I was asked to help out in the kitchen at Women’s Retreat. It’s a tradition at Bountiful that men cook during Women’s Retreat and women cook at Men’s Retreat. I agreed and was assigned dishwashing for the weekend. I had only seen this perspective of camp once or twice and failed both times. Cleaning the dishes for the cooks and participants was certainly an adventure. Every time I would finish with a meal I would go to the sleeping quarters and nap until it was time to do it again.

Although the work of the weekend was rough, it was worth it knowing I could be of service.

Though this summer was unique in its own right, I would not have traded it for the world and would do it again and again. I am looking forward to the next 25 years at Camp Bountiful.



Sunday, October 26 from 1pm-3:30pm @ Community of Christ Temple

We had a great turn out after the Peace Colloquy last year! Let’s have an even better one this year! You do not have to be a YA Minister to attend – just interested and supportive of YA Ministries! ANYONE interested in YA Ministries is invited!
Join us for a YA Ministers Gathering at the Temple (in the PeaceMakers Room) following the Peace Colloquy! (Even if you can’t stay the whole time – feel free to drop in) We will have time for networking with other YA Ministers, sharing helpful #YAMinistryResources, and connecting with each other!


We will also share lots of info and news about a YA Ministers of Community of Christ Weekend we are planning for the Spring 2015 (March-ish)!!!Contact Rachelle @ yaministries@cofchrist.org for more info AND to RSVP!

Sponsored and facilitated by the Young Adult Ministries Team

Mission is … Disruptive


Reblogged from: Missional Conversations

Philip was walking down the road (Acts 8: 26 – 39). David was tending sheep (1 Samuel 16: 5 – 13). Mary, a young teenager, was minding her own business (Luke 1: 26 – 36). Peter and Andrew were fishing (Matthew 4: 18 – 22). In the midst of our lives, we are confronted with the call and invitation of the Holy Spirit. It intrudes upon our routines. It throws off our norms and unsettles our logic. Through the witness of scripture and the ongoing story of the church, we find one example after another, story after story, lives and backgrounds and skills as different as we can imagine, being disrupted by the missio Dei, the mission of God. Engaging in Christ’s mission means opening ourselves up to the probability of change, both within us, and on our plans and actions.

The other day I had raced home to gather some things, grab a bite to eat, and pause for a moment between meetings. As I pulled into the parking lot at my apartment complex, I noticed a guy anxiously looking under the open hood of his car. Since he was on the phone, I justified to myself that he had plenty of help available. I quickly grabbed my things and headed quickly inside. After all, I had important things to do. As the minutes passed, I couldn’t get the words of the Mission Prayer out of my head, the words I had offered to God that morning: “God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond.” Was I willing to respond? Was I willing to let God disrupt my life and agenda?

We often get caught up in worthy things. It is too easy for me to become consumed in my To-Do list and to convince myself that my list matter most. But as I read about Mary, as I immerse myself in the story of Andrew and Peter, as I walk the road with Philip, I find God calling me to leave behind my places of comfort and familiarity. I was allowing an adventure with Christ to disrupt me. We don’t plan for mission: we plan to be open to what God is already doing so we might change direction. The expectation of missional ministry is to discern every day, “God, where will your Spirit lead?” I am asked to let God stir up my life so something new can bubble up. The words of Isaiah have God say, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19)

Did God want to do a new thing in my life, and perhaps I didn’t perceive it? The Spirit quickened me. I left my air conditioned apartment. I went down the stairs and into the 90-degree heat and asked if he needed help. Neither Jordan nor I knew much about cars and how to fix them. For 20 minutes, we tossed out some options, read through his manual and shared about his grandmother and our mutual love for working out and how he really didn’t mind the heat because the sun was out, happily assisting his efforts to tan. For 20 minutes, God was doing a new thing. Christ’s mission was disrupting our lives and we were being blessed by the stirring.

I saw Jordan the next morning, back out at his car which we hadn’t been able to fix. But this time, it was him, my neighbor on the second floor, who waved and asked how I was doing. “Help me be fully awake and ready to respond.”

May God disrupt your best-laid plans. May God stir the pot in your congregation to let something new bubble up. May God call you anew from your hillside and road and nets to nudge your heart into the holy adventure of mission. May we stop simply minding our own business to follow Christ out of the comfortable air-conditioning of our buildings to the “Jordans” of the world. May we be confident that in the midst of God’s disruption lies a deep and profound invitation to transformational mission. The eunuch was baptized. The Israelites got a new king. A Son was born. Seekers found One worth following. A neighbor was met. Mission was lived as lives were disrupted. And we have been forever changed.

Blessed to be a Blessing – Emily & Andrew’s Peace Corps Adventures

handsby Emily Allen Nilsen
Re-blogged from: May We Suggest


This word has meant different things to me over the course of my  life thus far. It once brought to mind the image of an all-powerful God who was moving pieces of my life around like a life-sized game of muggle-chess (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference). I used to believe blessings came from God and you were lucky if He chose to bless you.  I no longer see it that way.

As I got older, theological questions began to cloud my once clear picture and understanding of God. Why would God choose to bless me and NOT bless others? If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all loving, how can extremely terrible things like natural disasters or genocide happen? Was God too busy “blessing” little ole me to do anything about those BIG issues. These questions and more plagued my heart and soul as I struggled to make sense of it all.

For a while, I wondered if I didn’t even believe in God, as least not in the same “God” I had before. I knew I believed in something; some collective, creative, connective power, but was that God if God meant all the images I had been taught for so long? I never felt comfortable saying I didn’t believe, because that wasn’t completely true, but I also couldn’t claim the concepts I once knew and stood by. I remember thinking that old saying “ignorance is bliss,” has so much truth in it. I wanted, on some level, to go back to my old ways of thinking. It was so much easier to just believe that God was in control, that God had a plan for my life.  If only I could take away the questions I wrestled with, the doubts that drowned me in darkness.

But I couldn’t go back.

I had been changed – by untimely deaths of friends and loved ones, by injustice that existed and still exists, by pain, by the cruelty in the world. I’d been forced to think – by hard academics/religious classes at Graceland (my alma mater), by friends going through similar faith crisis, by the questions that wouldn’t go away and shattered my pretty-ordered-God-in-a-box-world.

Even today, I’m not sure where exactly things changed. There was never a moment of clarity or insight, just a slow steady crawl to new understanding. There are truths I feel and recognize in my deepest soul; there is something more, there is some connecting spirit, we are many but we are one. Slowly, I began to claim God again. Not the same God as before, but I choose to still use the word “God” because I have no other word for “it.”

I believe in hope.  I believe in love.  I believe in the power we have to love and affect those around us.  I believe our thoughts and intentions are far more powerful than we have any idea about.  I believe the universe is a connected web of intentions, and relationships, and feelings rather like the neurons in our brains.  I believe that connective force that can transcend time and distance is what we have poorly understood as God, so we thought God should be more like us – human, white, male, and petty, choosing to bless some and not others.

The word blessing now means something very different to me as well.  Blessing is an active tapping into that loving, wise energy.  Blessing is about rooting oneself into that force and allowing one’s heart to expand.  It can be felt by individuals or groups, in times of sorrow, in times of joy.  Being blessed isn’t a passive state where God plays games with your life.  Blessing is listening to the callings and promptings, listening to the wisdom that exists in the lives all around us.  Blessings invoke ancient power within our own lives and souls, connecting us to each other and the Earth.

I now believe that blessings are far more about love.

This past Sunday was the last time Andrew and I would be with our local congregation for a few years.  On that day, we gathered with our friends and family to receive a blessing for our Peace Corps service.  It was an opportunity and invitation to accept love and support from our community.  It was an invitation to go deeper and to prepare emotionally to embrace the challenges and blessings our Peace Corps service has to offer.  It was incredible to feel such hope and such love.  Not many young adults participate in organized religion in the Portland area, but we feel the intergenerational relationships we have made the past 4 years, sharing with that community, have changed our lives for the better. We have their stories, their lessons, their support.

Regardless if you are Christian or not, or participate in any religion at all, it is my sincere hope that at some point in your life you feel the level of support Andrew and I felt last Sunday for transitioning to this new stage of life.  While it is difficult to say goodbye to people who have become our friends and extended family, we will carry their blessings forward.  Thank you, Tuality Community of Christ for being companions on our journey.

May we be open to the blessings today that our loved ones helped us find and feel.  May we listen with open hearts to the callings and promptings around us.  May we feel the love and support from this past Sunday so strongly that it can help sustain us and support us through our Peace Corps service.  May we be blessed.


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