On a Saturday afternoon in early January, about 200 people gathered in the center of Jiñocuao, a rural village in northern Nicaragua. Among the signs of celebration - multicolored balloons hanging from a large mango tree, children in their Sunday best - a small group of leaders from the local Christian base community gathered around a table.
In front of an attentive crowd, the community leaders, a lawyer from a nearby city, and Philip Wheaton, an Episcopal priest from Washington, D.C., signed a series of documents. The crowd erupted in applause.
With those documents, Jiñocuaos 33-year-old Christian base community also became a nonprofit organization, "Road toDamasc" - another group had already taken the name Road to Damascus - led by men and women from the community. And the deed to about two-and-a-half acres of land in the center of town, purchased by Wheaton for $900 six years ago, was legally transferred to the base communitys organization.
Community cofounder Cándida Aguilera expressed her jubilation as Wheaton handed over the ceremonial keys to the communal buildings. "Now we have the keys to the property that is ours," she said. Since its formation, the base community has survived war, loss of family members to the CIA-supported contras, natural disaster, and marginalization by the institutional church - and the economic struggles common to many in rural Nicaragua.
Road to Damasc now strives to find creative ways to survive economically. They have set up cooperatives - including a bakery, a carpentry shop, and womens pig and chicken husbandry - all of which, along with the community land on which many of the projects are built, will now be managed by the nonprofit organization.