What Does a Family of Four Do in the Summer?

•August 8, 2012 • 1 Comment

Dianna Forrest serves dinner on the streets of Washington, DC with Martha’s Table.


Our Blog today is courtesy of William “Millsy” Mills, an Elder at Westminster.

What does a family of four do in the summer? They go on weeklong vacation, like Williamsburg. They go on weekend trips to Ocean City, NJ. Maybe, day trips to an amusement parks. Maybe, sharing time together going out to dinner before their oldest heads off to college, in the fall, for her freshman year. In our case, we have done all of the above and one more thing. The “more” included signing up for a missional trip to Washington DC, more specifically an Intergenerational trip dealing with hunger with members of the Westminster family ranging from a rising fourth grader to retired.

Our mission is to be intentional in developing relationships and immersing ourselves in the stories and face of hunger and homelessness.

We have had the opportunity to work in a very large preparation kitchen,  serve dinners from the side of a road, deliver toiletries to the homeless, work in a food cupboard, and much more while learning the stories of the people we are encountering.

As we work through why, how, and what hunger and homelessness exist and look like we have been reading from the  book of Esther. The one verse that really impacted me was Esther 4:14, Mordecai is delivering a message to Esther who is the queen and Jewish.  The King Ahasuerus does not know Esther is Jewish  and gives freedom to one of his court officials, Haman, to destroy the Jews on a future date and the scripture  reads, “Don’t imagine that because you are part of the king’s household you will be the one Jew who will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, liberation and protection for the Jews will appear from another source, while you and your father’s household perish. It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this!” Mordecai is saying that he would like for her to do something about the injustices that will occur to her people and that she could be part of God’s plan to save his people.

No one (and I mean NO ONE) plans to be homeless or wants to live below the poverty line wondering where their next meal will come from. NO ONE wants to stand in line on the side of a road in order to get a sandwich or a hot bowl of stew, while also holding the hand of their adorable child. No one plans this. And all of these people have a story, which like it or not it could be our story some day.

Just because most of us have all that we need (Or should I say want?) does not mean we may never lose it. Mordecai is saying to Esther, “Hey if you just sit back and do nothing, and  just because you are the queen and living the good life, all of what you have will not mean a darn thing when it all comes falling down. So step up, take a risk and do something. God made a plan for you, so follow it through.”

As God’s people we need to stand up for injustice, stand up for the homeless person on the top of a steam grate, take a risk and get to know the story of the person standing in line for a meal.

We have a unique opportunity to be able to help. As one of our guest speakers (who by the way had her nursing degree and later became homeless because of unforeseen circumstances and then after several years was able to get herself out of the shelter and become independent) said, “It is a beautiful thing when the ones that have a lot, help the ones that have very little”.

I want to leave you with this poem that Martin Niemoller wrote after being held in a concentration camp from 1937 to 1945.

First they came for the Communists,
And I didn’t speak up,
Because I was not a Communists,
Then they came for the Jews,
And I didn’t speak up,
Because I was not a Jew,
Then they came for the Catholics,
And I didn’t speak up,
Because I was a Protestant,
Then they came for me,
And by this time,
There was no one left to speak up for me.

Could we add to the poem?

Then they came for the hungry,
And I didn’t speak up,
Because I had food on my plate,
Then they came for the homeless,
And I didn’t speak up,
Because I have a roof, bed and shower.
Then I lost my job,
And by this time,
There was no one left to speak up for me.

Please, please everyone, find a place to take a risk and speak up, call your congressperson, develop relationships, engage with organizations, but please do something because it could be you!

That is what family of four does in the summer of 2012.



We are family…. family connections while on the Pittsburgh Project.

•July 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

While on our trip this year we had two sets of cousins, two sets of siblings and two pairings of mothers and daughters.  I asked Kristina Z. (9th grade), Emily S. (9th grade) and Linda Z. (7th grade) why they chose to come to with their family.

Why did you choose to come with your family?

Kristina- “Because it is a great experience and I wanted to share it with them.”

Linda- “I’ve wanted to go to the project for a while.  Then Kristina asked me.  I thought it would be great to go be with my cousins because I didn’t know anyone else.”

Emily- “When I heard that Linda was coming I thought it would be fun.  I came last year with my other cousin, Kristina.”

What is different about sharing this week with your family?

Kristina- “It made it more fun because we’ve been so close.  But it was also nervewracking because I was worried that they would get hurt, or hurt me.”  (with a little bit of sarcasm)

Linda-“I liked it because it was my first year. It was great to have someone here I already was close with.”

Emily-“I liked having people here that you can talk to and you know that they are there and you can share experiences with them later.”

Describe one way you were able to feel God’s presence this week.

Kristina- “Last night when we worshipped and sang.”

Each night the middle school students and adults gathered for worship. There were over 200 people in the room.

Linda- “Every night when we sang.”

Emily- “Last night during quiet time.”


Linda, Emily, and Kristina on our last day in Pittsburgh. You gotta love Tyler in the background.

During worship on Thursday night the preacher Wayne posed questions to the students and asked them to explore their relationship with God. They were asked to pray and remain silent for 10 minutes.

From the land of bridges and hills…Pittsburgh, PA.

•July 24, 2012 • 1 Comment


Kristina helps carry the garbage for the day. Behind her is half of the hill.

We send our greetings from the Pittsburgh Project in Pittsburgh, PA.  Right now we have free time and I am sitting in the rec area of the dorm building.  Twenty-two people, 4 adults and 18 students represent Westminster among 200 others.  This year marks the fifth year that Westminster has come to the Pittsburgh Project, it is my fourth time. Each time I come to this city I am struck by its geography and people.  Pittsburgh has three rivers that run through it, the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio.  If you need to get anywhere in the city you will go over at least one bridge.  To drive 12 minutes away to the house where we are working we have to go over one bridge.  I have never been afraid to drive over a bridge but, I assume once you go over it there is no coming back the same way.  Driving a 15 passenger van filled with middle school students and equipment around this great city I’ve come to appreciate them.

If you go the wrong way just turn around and go across another one.  It makes me think about the nature of bridges, to connect one side of a body to another.  This week I wonder what bridge(s) we are going to go across.  Will it be bridges between races, faith journeys, class, and age?  Will I be tempted to cross one and find out it was the wrong one?  Will we have to turn back?

Another thing that Pittsburgh is infamous for are hills.  These are the kind of hills that make you panic just looking at them.  While driving to the Project we came up one that was so steep one of our students chose to close her eyes.  (Everyone was safe and we got there in one piece).  I hate hills. As a runner I loathe their existence because they make all kinds of muscles in your body hurt for no reason. This morning I ran up one of those hills, slowly.  How in the world do the resilient people of Pittsburgh go anywhere in the winter?  They aren’t afraid of hills.

I wonder what hills we will face this week?  I wonder if any of us will see a challenge and walk away without trying. My hope this week as we learn what servant leadership is we can face our hills and bridges with the same resilience, grace, and sense of humor as the people of Pittsburgh.

Final Reflections from Honduras: Eliza Gilpin and Taylor Toll

•July 19, 2012 • 1 Comment


There’s nothing like visiting an unfamiliar country and seeing a familiar face. Before we’d even left the airport, our old friends comforted our nerves with a shower of hugs. And then it was off to the retreat center. As we drove, we watched the faces of the first time visitors among us. The sights were familiar, yet our faces mirrored theirs. In a sea of astounding poverty, we’ve noticed a lot of improvements- especially the paved roads! I, Taylor, was particularly thrilled about this development after the many times I got sick last year. I’m happy to report that I have not had to stop the van- so far.

The retreat was also a departure from last year and was a crucial next step in our partnership with the Hondurans. We spent a lot of time in community, strengthening our bonds and our Spanish skills. Of course we both (Taylor and Eliza) take German, which is really useful. But the language barrier didn’t hold us back in the least. For example, Nickie and her new friend, Alejandra, exchanged bracelets and one particularly moving note. Being in constant community with the Hondurans gave us a privileged look into their culture and daily lives.

A definite highlight for everyone was our visit to Guaimaca. First, we took a tour of the beautiful school where Marlon teaches. Then we walked to the church, thinking that most of our friends from the retreat would be in school- but as we opened the door, about a dozen Honduran youth jumped out and yelled, “Welcome!” They ran up onto the stage and started to sing and dance. A song that we sang throughout the week was “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” I found it beautiful that this is the song that both youth sang together because they opened our eyes not only to the conditions in Honduras but also to their positive outlook on life. By now we could sing along, and some of the songs even have English equivalents. We sang while they sang it in Spanish! And then they invited us up… and we learned we should leave the singing and dancing to the Hondurans.

For the returnees, visiting Peña de Horeb and seeing last year’s paint job still holding up was extremely gratifying. Also rewarding was the trip to see the improvements in Amanda’s house and quality of life. The day wore on and the anticipation grew for the evening’s conversation. Throughout the week, we realized that the idea of partnership could mean 2 different things in the 2 different cultures. We would have to work together to reach a shared definition of partnership. We discovered the similarities and began to work through the differences in order to form a sustainable friendship. As graduated seniors, we are jealous of the underclassmen who will continue to see this bond with our Honduran family grow. The week ended with mutual love, tears, and cake.



Mexico Trip Reflection from Jeff Nelson

•July 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Jeff in the center gearing up for a group game

This was my 2nd year going to the orphanage and was even better than the 1st. As I continue to go back, I know that my experiences will only get better. The one thing that I noticed as different from last year was that there were a few new faces and some people I met last year were not there. That stuck out to me because there are kids who leave and come but for the most part the atmosphere stays the same. That atmosphere is one that cannot be described through words, but is something one must experience.

The 1st thing that happens to you when visiting – and I mean the 1st thing literally – is get mauled by hugs and pleasant greetings of the children and adults there, which is really helpful in making you feel like your not out of place. This really helped me my 1st year visiting. Even in my 2nd year I could still not speak Spanish just as the 1st year but that didn’t stop them from including me in everything. I was pleasantly surprised by how much the teenage boys wanted me to sit with them for the meals, and I felt bad when I occasionally turned down their offer to sit with my group to discuss happenings that day as well as  to have time to speak English.

Kids from the orphanage lining up to hug Jeff after he shared some parting words with them.

This place has walls around its borders but the way they treat their guests makes them seem more like gates welcoming visitors rather than trying to repel them no matter who they are or where they come from. This for me is the evidence of God’s presence in the world. In a situation where I know I would never be as full of joy and happiness as they are, they put their troubles aside and come together for the sake of other people, not just visitors but with the ones they live with too. They really are like one big loving family, and I’m glad to have a place in their hearts as they have a place in mine.

One thing this place has taught me is to be thankful for what you have. Even when times are rough and you feel like the world is against you, there is always someone with you and that someone is God.  Even if it may seem like he is not, you just have to know that he is and always will be there. I am looking forward to going back next year and hopefully staying for longer than a week this time!

Honduras Reflections from Anne Jaques

•July 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Day three (Sunday) in Honduras and our immersion in a new culture has only just begun. To call it a “culture shock” wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration! From our humble yet adequate accommodation, a workshop on poverty and development, a retreat with Honduran Youth and a visit to the mall (yes I did just write “the mall”), we are all experiencing the sharp end of a new culture.

On the lighter end of our “culture shock” are the cold showers, yes parents freezing cold showers at 7am, but what is so amazing is how quickly we adapt. Certainly a great way to be frugal with the amount of water we use, especially in a country where fresh water is a precious commodity.

Moving along the scale of our “culture shock” was what we all learned about poverty and development in Honduras – 70% of Hondurans live in poverty – and what is perhaps more shocking is the expectation of poverty, or as Gloria Wheeler so eloquently described to us, “an inheritance of poverty”. In other words, youth, men and women growing up in poverty with no hopes or dreams of anything other than the poor conditions they, their parents and their grandparents have experienced. The NGO – Fundacion Simiente- works with the communities to help them understand what they can do to improve their situations, to dream of a more prosperous future. We learned that development is a process, it isn’t a project. It takes time to understand, build relationships and partnerships, to affect the values and beliefs of the communities they work with and in particular the women of the community. Great to hear, when we as a group are looking to develop lasting and meaningful relationships with our brothers and sisters here in Honduras.

The Presbyterian Retreat was both an amazing experience and to be frank, a somewhat shocking one for me. On a very practical note, telling a room of 130 youth that we were meeting in the Temple (church) at 6am on a Saturday morning, for 2 hours of worship before heading to breakfast seemed a little far fetched to me. But our group was vaguely punctual, only to have the worship start around 7 am, that showers were compulsory (yes cold showers), there weren’t too many “happy campers” among our group, but we put on a good face, and it was well worth it. The hour and a half sermons had a more than stern tone, and a hefty dose of guilt and sin; thankfully contrasted by Greg’s sermon on God is Love – thank you Greg! – it was a very different experience for all of us. Contrast the stern sermons with fantastic music and dancing, great team work as all the youth worked on fun team building sessions. It was a memorable weekend – and you all need to be proud of your bright, articulate, compassionate children.

The last experience of Day 3 was an interesting one for me in particular, a visit to the mall. Not really sure how I feel about walking into a mall in Honduras to find Payless Shoes, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, but a small part of American life is alive and well in Honduras. I am sure we all have mixed feelings about which of America any of us would want to see exported, but it is here.

God has called us here to witness, to learn, to understand, to build relationships, and to find a way to make a difference, however small in the lives of our Honduran brothers and sisters. That journey has certainly begun.





Honduras Partnership Reflections by Mario Cotto

•July 15, 2012 • 2 Comments

Honduras Day 1

Picture it 2:30am, alarm going off to start your journey to some foreign part of the world. But this isn’t just traveling a few hours to the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. This is the start of a week in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Twenty-six very different individuals all gathering at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 3:15 am to embark on our 6 hour plane ride that gave us time to wonder: what will the people be like? how will we communicate? Although we’ve only been here a few hours, we have started to become a close knit community of Jesus’ disciples, searching for answers to our own questions. And we have one big question in mind: where and how among this developing nation, among the violence and poverty and the people who live here everyday is God at work? Over the next week I will be trying to find as much of an answer as I can find with my fellow Christians.

And this is only the beginning of the first night. I can already tell we’re going to find something great.

Honduras Day 2 and 3

Heading for an Imago Dei youth retreat Honduras style! Meeting up with our friends from Peña de Horeb and other churches in the area, we have gathered about 130 people most of whom speak little to no English. Our relationships with, for me, new friends from Honduras started out like an awkward first date, where you choke on your water just trying to have a conversation.

The only difference was that this conversation was in a bit of Spanglish for us Americans. It’s funny how you start to see all the little miracles God starts to lead you toward when you least expect it. Shortly after we all arrived at the retreat, three of the boys from our team Max Shank, Ander Gilpin and my self asked to join in a game of soccer. Little did we expect that the entire camp would eventually be watching us lose to three young boys whom we had just met. It was an amazing experience to see how a sport can envelop so many people who you don’t even know.

As the night moved forward we got to experience the Honduran style of worship and were put into color groups for activities and games thorough the weekend. The theme for the retreat weekend was over coming your giants, venciendo gigantes. The giants represent the things that are separating you from God. I was surprised to see how passionate the youth were for the service. Some for a song even got on their knees and raised their hands to the sky singing from the bottom of their hearts. Then this morning we were up at 5:30 am and off to a quick service with some games before breakfast at 7:15. Again the passion for worship was present and this stayed with the Hondurans through their entire day.

Yet the most moving thing for me was at the end of the night when we celebrated the defeat of our “gigantes” or giants. We all danced for a good hour before we went outside to burn symbolic giants in a bonfire. This whole worship service, was by far one of my favorite ways God has been present with us this weekend. There is so much that has happened but it is very hard to put the events into words so for now buenos noches from the Imago Dei Honduras team!

Read Greg Klimovitz’ posts on www.gregklimovitz.blogspot.com

Also, we are having trouble posting photos so please check out Honduras Missional Partnership: Imago Dei Youth Group via Facebook