Month: November 2018

Advent in Lospalos: Part 1

I’m going to do an Advent devotional this year.  Each week I’ll post a reflection about our life and ministry based on the texts for the next Sunday.  You can read the reflections alone but they’ll make more sense if you read the texts first.  Advent Blessings!

Reflection for Advent 1, December 2, 2018

Psalm 25:1-10; Luke 21:25-36

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m walking up a rocky trail to the house of a family of Immanuel Church.  As I get closer, I see a huge blackened pot sitting atop a cooking fire.  Smoke from the fire wafts in the breeze and drifts off over the top of a barren hill. The mom comes out to tend the fire. She is likely boiling cassava or taro, both staple foods of Timorese.  Meanwhile, about a half dozen scantily clad kids run around playing.  Dad is down the hill digging up rocks.  The soil here is full of them and before you can plant anything you have to extract them.  And that only happens one way: with a crowbar and bare hands.

The family’s house is a one-room shack made of corrugated sheet metal.  It’s dark inside with a dirt floor, two small beds and a pile of clothes in the corner.  It sits next to the sturdy foundation of a more permanent house they will one day finish building.  Inside the shack is a one-month old baby, the family’s fifth child.  She is sleeping peacefully on the bed.  Before I leave, the mom asks me to pray for the child. She calls in the dad, a small, muscular yet gentle-looking man wearing only a pair of shorts. The kids come in and we share a few minutes of prayer together.  It feels like an act of rebellion against an absurd world.

This family is living with hard realities.  Behind those realities stands the history of Timor-Leste: colonialism, occupation, a violent independence struggle and grinding poverty – a history filled with trauma.  And yet, in this place on this day, with this family, there stands in our midst the foundation of their future home and a new baby.  I see both as veiled signs of hope amidst a life of suffering.


Advent begins with blooming flowers in Lospalos


Advent starts with veiled signs of hope as well.  Luke talks of signs in the heavens, distress among nations and fear and foreboding.  But then a paradox: these are signs that redemption is near.  They will precede the coming of the ‘son of man,’ an angelic figure that will usher in a reign of peace.  A parable about learning to see follows and imperatives to “be alert” goad our attention toward adopting a posture of discernment in daily life.

Most of us live life largely asleep.  We go through the motions, do the tasks and tow the lines.  Mostly, we miss the deep meaning of daily life amidst a barrage of anxieties and preoccupation with past or future. Faith however, invites us to adopt a style of discernment and engagement focused on the present.

One of my favorite theologians, William Stringfellow, says this about discernment:

“The gift of discernment is basic to the genius of the biblical lifestyle.  Discerning         signs has to do with comprehending the remarkable in common happenings…it has to do with the ability to interpret ordinary events…to see portents of death where   others find progress or success but, simultaneously, to behold tokens of the reality of the Resurrection or hope where others are consigned to confusion or despair…discerning signs means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remaining radically realistic about death’s vitality in all that happens.”

Psalm 25 is a prayer that fosters this kind of discernment.  If we internalize its petition “Make me to know your ways, O Lord;…lead me in your truth…” we may, gradually, begin to discern the world’s realities and the people we encounter differently.  One of Jesus’ common refrains has to do with leaning to “see” because faith is a different way of seeing and indeed of knowing. It’s neither naïve optimism, cynical pessimism nor dry empiricism.  Faith looks boldly at reality but through the lens of hope.  It’s a kind of knowing that sees truth in paradox, passion and pathos.  Advent, it seems, is a good time to ponder this.






Toilets in Sorolua

We had a great morning in the village of Sorolua, a small village about 45 minutes from Lospalos.  Two years ago Clinic Immanuel started a partnership with this village to do health education and some consultation visiting the village monthly for a year and then decreasing frequency.  Part of the program included a “healthy home” project and building some toilets.  Clinic staff worked with the village chief to figure out how to make the village “open defecation free.”  Families that were committed to doing the work (which was all of them!) were provided basic materials: sand, cement, rebar, pipe, toilet seat.  The families were responsible to do the work and come up with their own walls and roof.  Uniting World of Australia provided the funding and Clinic Immanuel worked with the community and facilitated getting the materials there — not always easy during the rainy season!


Two sided bathroom.  Right is a toilet, left side for washing clothes.  Notice bamboo pipe coming in on the left.  This catches rain water for use in the bathroom. Bamboo walls.



Happy to report that after a relatively short time and a small budget, everyone in the community has a sanitary place to do their business!  We were really happy to see the simple but very effective models the families used for their toilets.  After touring about 6 toilet sites we had a nice closing meeting with the village chief.  It was a great exercise in grassroots community development with the Clinic, community and international partners working together to improve health and reduce suffering.  Below are a few pictures of the toilets.  Folks came up with some really great bathrooms using local materials for walls and other creative solutions!


note water pipe going in the back.  This one has a toilet on one side and clothes washing area on the other.


This bathroom has a hand washing station on the outside!


hand washing station


Basic design with tin walls and local wood


Bamboo walls on this one with tin roof and door


toilet is good to go but still needs walls.  

Nature’s Call

The end of the dry season in Timor-Leste feels a little bit like being in a pressure cooker.  From about September through November it gets hotter and more humid until usually sometime in mid November the clouds finally burst, the rainy season starts and people get busy planting corn.

Last week I paid a visit to some church members’ farms as vegetable season wound down and people were busy prepping the land for corn.  From one of the main roads in Lospalos three of us headed off on foot down a dusty trail, climbed over a home-made fence, crossed a stream and entered one family’s “toos.”  A toos is a large garden; it’s the place most members of Immanuel Church, like most Timorese, spend their days as subsistence farmers.  In this toos, papaya and coconut trees scattered amongst vegetable beds are surrounded by scrubby forest with cassava growing on rocky hillsides.  Most folks also have a small shack with a bamboo platform that serves as a shady napping place in the heat of the day.  Small fire pits are used to cook the mid-day meal and clotheslines show that the chore of washing never stops.


This gentleman has an impressive goat manure system that he uses for his vegetables


Mana (sister) Rita, the owner of one toos and an elder of Immanuel Church, walks across a single log bridge over a stream to join us.  She is a small woman with high cheekbones and bears a broad smile, evidently delighted that we’re interested to see what her daily life entails.  A couple kids follow, running barefoot behind her, obviously more than at home in this land that feels like a mix of wilderness and farm. Before we leave, Rita insists on giving us a bunch of cassava leaves and roots, both of which are traditional staple foods here.


Hannah, Leyla and Mana Rita standing on the edge of freshly tilled ground in Rita’s toos.  

Also last week, Monica spent 3 full days in the village of Nacroman.  As part of its community health program, Clinic Immanuel staff went door to door with surveys on tuberculosis, sanitation and nutrition.  They’ve identified a dozen or so households in need of a toilet.  As part of its outreach Clinic Immanuel will provide the materials for a few toilets, while the families will do the actual construction.  In the past, the clinic has spent about $125 per toilet, so this year, we will be able to support building four toilets in Nacroman.  Hopefully we will be able to do more in the next budget year.


Clinic Immanuel staff Akito (right) and the village chief of Sorolua

Did you know that November 19this World Toilet Day?  Yep, it’s true.  Nature calls to every one of us, but billions of people in the world still don’t have a toilet.  Keep that in mind next time you get grumpy about a slow internet connection!  If you’d like to find out more about World Toilet Day you can go to  The past two years Clinic Immanuel focused its community health efforts in the village of Sorolua, a remote place 45 minutes away from Lospalos.  After assisting with 8 toilets in that community, almost everyone in Sorolua has a sanitary place to answer nature’s call.