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Sin and Grace . . . a Just Coffee Story
  by Barbara Padilla

 

 This story is taken from a presentation made to the Just Faith group
at the Journey to Justice Day at the San Xavier Mission on 20 January 2007.

 

 

     Today I want to tell you a story about sin and grace based on my experiences with Just Coffee.  I have just returned from a 2 week trip to Chiapas, Mexico.  What a contrast from last year when I was there with Hurricane Stan.  The river that caused so much destruction a year ago was peaceful and beautiful beyond words a few weeks ago.  Because of the extensive hurricane damage, our Just Coffee farmers only harvested half of their crops this year.  Property was lost in the river, and heavy rains damaged plants greatly.  Nevertheless, the spirit in Salvador Urbina is always one of gratefulness to God for the blessings that have been bestowed upon them, and I was again humbled to be in the presence of these families.   Now, before I start my story, I want you to think for a minute about the definition of sin and social sin. Based on the social doctrines of the church, this is what I came up with  . . .

 

What is sin?  Well in the dictionary the definition of sin is an act against God.  Sin blocks us from achieving the fullness of our human potential.  At various times in the Churchís history, sin was understood as ďforbidden acts.Ē  We tend to think of sin as something we do as individuals such as breaking the ten commandments.  Personal sin is freely chosen, choosing of course the wrong instead of the right. 

 

 

And what about social sin?
 

Social sin is collective blindness.  Social sin resides within a group or community of people, a corporation, a political party.  It exists within any structure in society that oppresses human beings, violates human dignity, stifles freedom, and or imposes inequality.  We all participate in social sin knowing or not.  The only way we can recognize a sinful structure is if we step outside of our world and consider the world from anotherís perspective.  Those who have need to look at the world from the side of those who have not . . .

 

and now I begin my story . . .

 

Once upon a time there was a small community in the South of Chiapas, Mexico called Salvador Urbina.  It was situated at the base of a volcano in some of the most gorgeous rainforest jungle on the planet.  People there were coffee farmers, had been for generations.  They grew some of the best organic shade coffee the world has ever tasted.  The community itself wasnít a wealthy one, there was no running water, no drinkable water, houses were made of brick, but meager.  Some had windows with no doors, some had doors and no windows, some had neither, it didnít matter really, there was not much material wealth to protect inside. 

Meanwhile, in the north, were coffee drinkers Americana, developing a taste for fine organic coffees, but grumbling when they noticed coffee prices creeping up penny by penny.  They wanted the taste of specialty coffees, but wanted to pay the Folgers prices.  This motivated ďintermediariesĒ or middlemen to venture to the rainforests to convince the farmers of Salvador Urbina that their coffee was of poor quality and taste, and that they better take the 30 or 50 cents per pound they were offering or be stuck with the whole crop.  So, not being able to support their families, these farmers were making the decision one by one to migrate north to the US to find work that could support them.  And one by one they were dyingÖin the deserts, falling off trains, and suffocating in the trunks of cars, while coffee drinkers Americana drank to the last drop the cheap organic coffee they found by chance in the specialty store. 

 

The story will continue, but I want to stop for just a moment and ask these questions . . .
 

 -   where do we see the structures of sin in this story?

 -   where do we see social sin?

 

Now I want to share with you the definition of grace.  Grace is Godís love, totally and without any qualification.  Not only does God love us, but God is IN LOVE with us.  Our experience of God's grace demands us to respond.  How do we respond? Grace impels us to act in a loving manner toward others, to walk with others, to accompany them on their journey.  Grace demands that we listen to each other.  That we trust in each otherís ability to discern what we must do and what road we must take in order to achieve the fullness of our human potential.  Grace demands that we trust in the right to self determination so that we accompany others in ways that sometimes demand more than giving assistance.  Grace forces us to think in ways alien to our own cultural social and economic categories.  Grace calls us to extend ourselves beyond the borders of our own experiences. Grace happens when we reach beyond ourselves to become the Good Samaritan to one another. 

 

And so my story continues . . .

 

 About that same time there were a group of  people working really hard on the Arizona border in Douglas trying to keep all these migrants from dying.  They came upon one man, a coffee farmer from Chiapas who began to unfold the tale of the community from which he came.  He told of the struggle, the middlemen, and the migrating, and made one simple statement that would forever change the hearts and lives of people on both sides of the border . . . to leave oneís land is to suffer . . . and so the grace of God moved in and took hold of the hearts and minds of 3 men as they set out to make a change.   They were a business man, a pastor and a coffee farmer.  Together they came up with a plan to start a coffee cooperative in Chiapas.  The coffee would be shipped to Agua Prieta, Sonora,  where it would be roasted and packaged and distributed throughout the US.  There would be no US middlemen, no US employees, and all the monies made would go directly back to the cooperative.  And so, In 2001, with a small loan, on the hopes and dreams of 26 families, Just Coffee was born.  As Godís grace propelled this project forward people all over the country made a choice to stop buying the Folgers and support fair trade coffee.  Something as simple as a cup of coffee now had the potential to affect the immigration situation the way no walls and fences ever could before.  People could see that a simple cup of coffee had the power to bring families back together.  Godís grace helped people to make a conscious choice with their power of purchase.  People now had a way to stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters around the world whose families depend on a fair and living wage.  And by Godís grace, today in 2007, we have 35 families in the cooperative, and are working to start new cooperatives in 2 more small communities in Southern Mexico.  Today with Godís grace, people are returning home to Mexico, to their families and their farmland, because now they receive $1.30 per pound of coffee instead of 30-50 cents they once received.  Today, with Godís grace, the farmers of Salvador Urbina have health insurance and a retirement plan, they have brought purified water to the community and made it available and cost effective for all its members.  They celebrate  weddings and homecomings now, instead of funerals. The farmers in  this community  mentor and support farmers in neighboring communities as they start cooperatives of their own.  In the US we now understand better that inexpensive isnít necessarily better and that sometimes inexpensive is sinful.  We know that something as simple as purchasing food has the power to change the world in ways that laws and wars can never understand.

 

And by making these conscious purchasing choices we are telling our brothers and sisters in other countries that the price of dying is too high and we are willing to buy fair that others may live.

 

 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
 


 

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