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January 30, 2014, 1:38 PM

Joyful Play Grows Where You Least Expect It

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”   - John 15:11

This month, we will finish our focus on the faith practice of Working for Justice; and for a few weeks before Lent begins, we will change topic to the faith practice of Playing and Living Joyfully.  The two may sound like antitheses, but they are not; in fact the two practices inform and enrich one another.

 On a recent Sunday, as an example of Working for Justice, I talked about the Simply Smiles mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico that Jim Esslinger and I participated in about five years ago, with a group from Choate.  We helped to build a one-room cinderblock home for one of the families who live next to the Oaxaca City landfill, scratching

out a living by selling recyclables that they have scavenged from the garbage that the city garbage trucks dump every day.  This simple home was replacing a corrugated steel shack, set directly on the hard-packed earth with no windows or doors.  During the rainy season, the runoff ran right through the house and the family lived in mud.  The cement floor of the new house raised the occupants a couple of feet up out of the mud so that the house was weather-tight.  It was also built with steel reinforcing rods through the cinderblocks so that the house could withstand earthquakes. 

In addition to building twenty-four houses, the work that the Simply Smiles organization has done with the families living by the dump has included helping them to organize to get the best prices for their recyclables and to get electricity and street lights for the neighborhood.  It has made it possible for those families to better their own lives. 

You might expect it to be a depressing experience to be working in the Oaxaca dump neighborhood among people of such poverty.  I don’t know what I expected when I boarded the plane for Oaxaca, but I didn’t expect to have as much fun and enjoy it as much as I did.  It was, certainly, a way of life that is foreign to me, but the people we met and worked with lived with dignity and ingenuity and joy.   After work each day – or before work – Bryan Nurnberger, founder of Simply Smiles, introduced us to Oaxacan history and culture.  One morning, we took our breakfast up to the ancient Zapotec archaeological site of Monte Alban.  One afternoon, we quit early so we could go to Dona Rosa’s pottery studio and have a demonstration of the ancient techniques that create the characteristic black pottery of Oaxaca.  Another evening we visited a market square where I got to see the work of Oaxaca’s rug weavers and other artisans.  On our last night, we had dinner with the families of the two men who were our construction foremen and teachers.  To receive our souvenir t-shirt, we each had to eat a deep-fried grasshopper, which is a favorite snack of Oaxacan children. 

The combination of immersion in a foreign culture of amazing beauty and history, and the opportunity to play some (however small) part in helping others to better their lives, I found to be joyful play as well as working for justice.   I discovered on that trip that joy inspires and energizes justice work; and that the work itself brings joy and appreciation for life.  Let’s play.  See you Sunday!

(Read the rest of the February issue of Judea Journal.)

~ Pastor Cheryl

Rev. Cheryl Anderson

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