Who am I?

My photo
Monrovia, Liberia
I live in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa with my wife and youngest son. We are recently arrived in Liberia where we are serving as missionaries with Evangelical Church Missions working under the Liberia Evangelical Mission. For most of the last thirty years we have served under ECM in Bolivia, South America. We are the happy parents of four children and the proud grandparents of two grandchildren.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Tribute To Duane Erickson

No. Duane is not dead. I want to make that point very clear. However, after many years as executive director of the mission, Duane Erickson has stepped down. I thought I would use the occasion to share a few memories about Duane and Jessie.

I first met Duane and Jessie when I had the opportunity to visit Bolivia for seven weeks in the summer of 1977. I was getting ready to begin my senior year at George Fox college and wanted to have the opportunity to experience a little bit of mission life for myself. I knew God was calling me in that direction but had no specific idea as to where or with whom. Anyway, Duane came to the airport in La Paz to pick me up. I don't remember much about first impressions and all that but the next day he took me with him out to register TEE students in the country. At one church they served us each a plate with some boiled potatoes. I remember Duane saying to me, "I always break these open in case there is a worm inside." And sure enough, when he broke his open there indeed was a big old worm cooked into the potato. Then the drink was brought out to pass around. As I saw the brothers bringing out what for all the world appeared to be beer bottles I began to wonder about what kind of outfit this was I was visiting. But Duane seemed to be drinking it so I assumed it would be ok. It was cheap pop. I learned that cheap bolivian pop comes in "beer" bottles.

Some of our best memories come from the time when Duane and Jessie lived just down the street from us in La Paz. There was the time when Duane sat on a pencil and the lead broke off in a delicate spot. Good thing there were nurses in the missionary community.

Then there was the time we were having prayer meeting at Duane and Jessie's. Our children we off entertaining themselves while we prayed. Boy was that a mistake. Dori, who was quite little, discovered Duane's supply of bb's for his gun and proceeded to eat them. When she opened her mouth a large handful of bb's came pouring out.

Another time we had a work team visiting. Dinner was at the Erickson's. After lunch, one of the men on the team laid down on the couch. Jessie, who was always attentive to visitor's needs, questioned him if he was feeling okay. His response, "Every day I see Duane lay down after lunch and take a nap and no one ever asks him is he's okay!"

After becoming executive director Duane was down visiting. We were walking down a road in Santa Cruz going to the home of some brothers when a fairly good sized goat approached. I was in the lead and gently turned his head away from me. The goat walked on past us and then, without warning, butted Duane for all he was worth. I am sure it had to hurt but did we ever laugh. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

On a more serious note, Duane and Jessie were great people to work with. Duane believed in me at times when I wasn't so sure I believed in myself. He was always encouraging and supportive. And Jessie, well maybe one more story will sum up our experiences with her.

Niki and I were gong somewhere and Jessie was going to watch Daniel and Dori for us. So we walked them down the street to the Erickson's house and rang the bell. In those days we both had the same young lady working for us. Her name was Esperanza. While waiting for the door to open, Daniel looked at us and said, "Dori likes Esperanza, but I LOVE Auntie Jessie."

I guess that about sums it up. We love Duane and Jessie. It seems a little weird to think of someone else being in Duane's office (no offense meant to Bruce Moyer, our new director). The Erickson's have been a part of our Bolivian experience from the beginning. We pray for God's best for them as they enter this new phase of life. And no, Duane is not retiring. He is continuing working at the office but in a new capacity. He no longer has to carry all those burdens and be troubled with all his problem "children" on the various mission fields of the church. Why, who knows, with the reduced stress in his life even his hair may come back!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hail to the Chief and the Champs Go Marching In

The last week of November was an important event in the life of our mission here in Bolivia. Our new executive director came to spend Thanksgiving with us and to let us get acquainted with each other. It is not that we did not know Dr. Bruce Moyer before, but this was our first experience with him as mission director. I'm not sure who was on trial here, Bruce or the missionaries, but in my opinion he came through with flying colors.

We all celebrated Thanksgiving together at JJ and Randi Guerrero's in Cochabamba.

It was the beginning of the trial by fire for Bruce as we introduced him to THE mission game Settlers of Catan. If I remember correctly, he held his own as a newbie but didn't win. I'd like to say that I won but I didn't do that either. (But I made up for it when we played a game here in Santa Cruz and I soundly thrashed both Bruce and Duane Erickson who was accompanying Bruce.)

After all that hard work it's always time to rest, right?

Friday was the big meeting with Bruce and all the missionaries. I came away from that meeting feeling good about the choice of Dr. Moyer as our new director but also a bit of sadness at the end of the Erickson era in the mission.

Saturday morning we left for La Paz to get in on the tail end of the church's national congress (like our general conference in the States but yearly). We arrived just in time to hear part of the report on the new proposed law regulating churches and missions. The government is trying to find a way to put more pressure on the church (both Catholics and Evangelicals) while promoting Andean religion. One way is by trying to control at least some of the offerings the churches gather. Also it appears the church will no longer be able to preach against some sin (like homosexuality) or against the occult (Andean religion is the worship of spirits and demons) as that is being labeled racist and intolerant. We will see how far the government actually goes with this and what all the implications for the church and mission will be. If there is enough fuss the government may back off on some of the proposals.

Good food is always a part of Congreso.

The cooks are always an important part of any event.

Saturday evening was a combined Bible Institute Graduation and Ordination service.

Prayer of consecration.

Greetings and congratulations.

On Sunday morning Duane Erickson, outgoing mission executive director, gave the morning message emphasizing the need to return to a strong evangelistic thrust in the church. Bruce also gave some words of greeting and encouragement.

National church missions department representative parys for Dr. Moyer.

Following lunch we were able to meet with the national board of the church to discuss two very specific projects. One project is the ongoing upgrading of Liberty school. (You can read more about that in my earlier post on November 9, 2010). The second project is the establishing of a pension fund for our pastors here in Bolivia. This fund will be used to provide some income for retired pastors as well as for their widows and to address major medical needs. Although the project is quite new, there are already pastors and churches that are paying into the fund and a number of widows and elderly pastors have received some help. (If you or your church would like to help with either of these projects please contact the home office or write to me at goelliott@cotas.com.bo).

Sunday evening I was to fly home to Santa Cruz while Bruce, Duane and our other missionaries drove back to Cochabamba. I was sitting in the airport with a headache, dead tired fooling around (dare I say it, I was playing a game) on my computer when all at once a loud commotion came through the main doors into the airport. A large group of mostly males were singing(?) and making lots of noise. Before long a drum had joined in. I wasn't in a very jolly mood and certainly did not feel like joining in whatever festivities were going on. But I had to find out what was what. I soon discovered that the group were fans of Oriente Petrolero, one of the professional soccer (futbol) teams from Santa Cruz. They had just won the league champoinship that afternoon playing in La Paz. The noise seemed to be dying down a bit when the team itself entered the airport. Then everything broke loose. Drums, singing, shouting, etc. and my head throbbing along with it all.

After going through security I discovered that I had the privilege (or maybe the bad luck) of being on the same flight with the team and its fans returning to Santa Cruz. All the way home on the plan the singing, noise, bangin on the sides and roof of the airplane continued. o well, I was feeling better by then but still did not care to join in the celebrating.

At last we were in the airport and I could get a taxi and escape all of this. But wrong! Half of Santa Cruz had turned out to meet the team. The traffic was so bad that it took us about 40 minutes just to drive from the terminal to the highway (less than five minutes normally). Then the highway was jammed up and my taxi drove down the wrong side (this was at night) for a long ways until some helpful policemen made us cross over the middle division and get onto our own side.

All in all it was quite an adventure. And I too must add my congratulations to Oriente for their win. It is their first national championship in a long time.

Tuesday evening Bruce and Duane returned to Santa Cruz and the next couple of days were spent in talking with Bruce as a couple, touring the churches, having lunch with the district board and yes, a couple of Settler's games.

 Friday morning I sent the bosses off to Brazil where they are meeting with the missionary crew there. All in all it was a great visit and we heartily welcome Dr. Moyer as our new leader. Our prayers and cooperation will be with him.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Green Gables Goes Dark

This past week saw a number of different activities. On Wednesday Niki presented the gospel to a group of ladies using the Wordless Book presentation. The hope was that there would be a number of unsaved ladies there. The meeting was held at the same place where the cookie class was the Friday before. Unfortunately very few of the same ladies were there. When the ladies from the church went to remind the different ones of the meeting the response they were getting was that everyone was helping their children study for their final exams (Bolivian public schools finished the school year last week). So most of the ladies there were church ladies but the presentation served to show them a method for presenting the Gospel. After going through the presentation, the ladies made Wordless Books and then everyone (including the kids and one other man who was there) made bead bracelets with the Wordless Book colors. It was fun watching the lone man explaining then the colors to his little boy who was also there.

On Friday evening we had tickets to go to the drama that the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center was presenting. It was a staged version of Anne of Green Gables. The kids were doing very well and were about two thirds of the way through the first act when the power went out in the entire neighborhood. What to do? So after waiting a reasonable amount of time it was announced that the play would be suspended and an additional show scheduled for the following Monday evening for those who were there that night. The drama teacher showed a lot of grace and the kids seemed to handle it well. (By the way, do you know what the organist replied when he was asked if he could play the Hallelujah Chorus? I can Handel it.) Rule number one about life in Bolivia - FLEXIBILITY. So the show was postponed, everyone left, and the power came back on about 15 minutes later. But no one could have predicted that. It could have been off for a couple of hours. But the replacement show last night went really well. It was worth the wait. Next semester they are gong to do Twelve Angry Jurors. That should be good as well.

Finally, on Sunday the district ladies had their annual convention to elect officers for the coming year and to discuss whatever ladies groups discuss. We were invited for lunch so we got in on the tail end of the meeting (we went after our normal church services) and had a good lunch of pollo al horno (baked chicken, rice, cooked banana, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes and,lettuce and tomatoes and onions). I appreciate the women's organization. They have tried to be creative this past year in reaching out. I trust that the new board will continue this positive effort.

New Women's Board

Now this week we are getting ready for the arrival of our new and old mission directors and then on to La Paz for the Annual Congress of the church. But that will be another post.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Take time out from the football games and the feasting to remember and give thanks for the blessings that we, as Americans, enjoy and for the greatest blessing of all - Jesus.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Of Cookies and Babies

On Friday of last week Niki led a group of women in Christmas cookie decorating at one of our churches here in town. About a year ago, Niki had invited the pastors' wives to our house to make cookies. They had so much fun that they decided they would like to do it again this year. But instead of inviting pastors' wives, it was an outreach event at the church. About a week before the class, the district women's organization's officers came to the house and helped Niki cut out and bake a bunch of cookies which were then frozen until the day of the great cookie caper.

The event was held outside on the patio of the house where the Heavenly Zion church meets. In attendance were 14 or 15 ladies, three men and about a million children, give or take a few.

The women seemed to enjoy decorating the cookies. A couple of them commented that they had never done anything like that before and  were going to try it at home. I suspect that others could have said the same thing.

Along with the women were children including several babies. The babysitting was more or less left in the hands of the three men who were there.

Most of the ladies who were there are women who do not attend the church and who, for the most part, do not know the Lord. Please pray for them to finally be drawn both to the Lord and to the church.

On Wednesday of this week Niki will be returning to the same place to share in a time of worship with the ladies and to present a Biblical message. Please pray that the women will return to share in this time of worship and that Niki will give the message that God wants.

Also this week I went to the hospital to see the new born son of one of the gardeners who works around our neighborhood. On the way to the clinic he told me that they want to begin to come to our church. Please pray for José and Edith that they will not only come to the church but come to the Lord as well.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Liberty School Presentation

Here is a presentation about the new construction at Liberty School in La Paz. It is really encouraging how the churches are working together to make this a reality.

Liberty School 1

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jhohan Ticona

Not Jhohan but a Jhohan like child.
My co-workers, James and Jenny Wolheter, had to change houses in Cochabamba on short notice. They knew that their house was sold and the new landlady had warned them that they would need to leave but probably not until October or so. But, while they were still in the States for General Conference they received word that the landlady wanted them out "yesterday." So, they made a mad search for a house when they returned, found one, and got moved. When you set up house keeping in a rented house in Bolivia there are generally things that you need to do, especially if "gringos" have not lived in the house before you. So they found themselves in need of a carpenter. They saw a sign on a shop not too far away form their new house so they spoke with the carpenter about coming to work. No problem. But after coming a time or two he didn't come back when he said he would. Now that is not too unusual for Bolivia but it is always a bit frustrating. So they tried calling him and somewhere in the process learned that his two year old son, Jhohan (pronounced Yohan) was in the hospital with a kidney stone (it turned out to be two of them, one about the size of an olive). The big problem was that the equipment needed to do the surgery was broken down. It was decided that Jhohan needed to be sent here to Santa Cruz to be treated. James and Jenny know a good christian surgeon  here in Santa Cruz and he readily agreed to do the surgery for free on this little boy but they would still need to pay for the hospital and medicines. It was decided that Jhohan should be flown down because of his condition.

To make a rather complicated story short the surgery went fine and the kidney stones were removed. But the doctor reported that Jhohan was extremely malnurished, which would (and did) affect his recovery. The doctor and his wife moved Jhohan, along with this mother, from the clinic into their home where they could take immediate care of them. Jhohan, being a normal two year old, did not like having things sticking out of him and at least once pulled his catheter out requiring more surgery.

Now to complicate matters, his mother was over eight months pregnant. During all this time with Jhohan, the time arrived for the new baby to be born. But that too proved to be a complication and she eventually had to have an emergency c-section as the cord was wraped around the baby's neck.

About this time it was learned that the mother's mother, Jhohan's grandmother, is a witch (bruja) and that she had said that Jhohan should die and that the new baby would hang itself. It seemed that more than just physical causes were involved in this case. At any rate, the mother was shaken enough that she left Jhohan in Santa Cruz and took the new baby by bus to Cochabamba to have herself healed and the baby blessed by either the grandmother or a different witch.

Finally, Jhohan was able to travel and was released from the doctor's care and is now back home in Cochabamba with his family.

During all this time, the mother was on the receiving end of love being shown by the doctor and his wife as well as by the different people who helped provide the money needed to pay for both Jhohan`s medical bills and the costs of the new baby's birth. At one point she indicated that she would look up Jenny's church when she gets back home.

Please pray for Jhohan and his parents, Iver and Alejandra that the power of evil will be broken in their lives and that they will come to seek him who by his death broke the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (See Hebrew 2:14-15). Pray for James and Jenny as they minister to this family.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day)

Yesterday (October 31), today and tomorrow are three days with important significance. Yesterday was Reformation Sunday, the commemoration of the day, when in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel questioning the practice of indulgences in the Catholic Church. That little list inspired a lot a debate and angry responses and was the beginning of the Reformation and the Protestant Church. I give thinks to God for Martin Luther and his insistence on sola fide, sola gratia, sola Scriptura - only faith, only grace and only the Scriptures. I am blessed to stand as a part of that tradition today.

Today is Todos Santos (All Saints Day) and tomorrow is the Day of the Dead here in Bolivia. All Saints Day was originally appointed to be a day to officially remember all saints, known and unknown, as worthy of imitation and honor. In Bolivia the Catholic Day has become associated with pagan custom and has resulted in two days of celebrating the dead, two days in which fear is a prominent part of the celebration.

In the Aymara world view man is made up of both the physical and the spiritual. The physical is, of course, the body (janchi) and the spiritual part has several components including the soul (alma), ánimo, ajayu, coraje (valor) and jañayu. A person can temporarily lose the ajayu, the ánimo and coraje (valor) without suffering continuing damage, but if he loses his alma (soul) that results in death. When death occurs, the family must cry and weep, not only because of the loss, but also because, if they do not show sufficient sorrow, the alma of the dead can punish them out of revenge.

At noon on Todos Santos the souls of the dead return together to their homes in order to eat, drink and take with them the things that they need for life in the other world. The dead have become the sullca dioses (minor gods) and are to be feared. If the dead have recently died, they are especially to be feared and so the family must prepare the right things to satisfy its desires. This includes all kinds of fruit and small representations of the dead made out of bread dough. Everything that the dead one liked is to be prepared and waiting for his soul. At noon, when the soul arrives, the family must begin to eat the food in the name of the dead. What cannot be eaten must be taken home with them. Also prayers are to be said for the benefit of the dead one. This feasting and praying goes on throughout the first day and into the night. Finally, at noon on the second day (The Day of the Dead, November 2) the souls leave the house and the family must move everything that is left to the cemetery where the ceremony and eating must take place at the grave of the dead, on top of it if possible. Nothing must be left uneaten. If a family needs help there are always those who will willingly help pray for the dead loved one in exchange for food and drink.

Flowers are an important item inpreparing the grave for the visit of the dead.

Cemeteries, largely ignored the rest of the year, get a good cleaning for Todos Santos

When a family succeeds in carrying out this responsibility for three consecutive years they are then able to preform the cacharpaya (liberation from obligations) and the soul of the dead will remain in his own place and may possibly become an achachila o awicha (types of gods) who will protect their descendants. This completion of their obligations toward the dead is happily celebrated with dancing to a certain special type of music. If they have not pleased the dead they will be punished and experience many bad happenings in the family but if they have pleased the dead they can be rewarded by receiving many possessions and much prosperity.

Todo Santos and the following Day of the Dead illustrate the importance of the Christian gospel's message that we do not need to live in fear but that our Lord Jesus has experienced death for us so that we, who have lived in the fear of death all of our lives, can be free of fear and live in love and gratitude for what our Lord has done.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can You Believe It?

I have writer's block. Here it is Monday and I am supposed to post something but I have no idea what to write about. I am glad that I was able to sign the papers on the "new" car. It's a Toyota Highlander 2004. It has a few stains and signs of its age but I am hoping it will prove to be a reliable vehicle for our field. It is the one vehicle about which everyone was in agreement. So that must mean something.

I feel like a new father! I love my car. (I have not let Niki drive it yet.)

Yesterday was a pastors' meeting for the district. It went well. It began with a message by one of our pastors and then the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon was taken up with reports of different kinds. I just love meetings but it is good to be with the pastors and leaders. They are a great bunch. One of our pastors is going through a very difficult time in his personal life right now. Please pray for him. Thanks.

Finally a word about current events in Bolivia. The government has passed a new law dealing with child protection issues but tucked away in the law is a provision declaring 12 years old as the age for consensual sexual relationships. It has generated a lot of criticism from parental groups, psychologists, doctors, the church etc. The government is responding by saying it is meant to protect minors and their rights, that it is stiffening the penalties against anyone who would violate a child,  and that the outcry is misdirected. Who is right on this one? What does the law actually mean? I am not sure but I don't think it is for good even if well intentioned. Please pray for Bolivia. The only solution to its problems is God.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a New Toyota (Well, not so new, maybe)

I know you are tired by now of hearing about car troubles and such. But that has been my life as of late. Now we are in the process of buying a new used vehicle. I have looked at more vehicles than I care to think of. One of the first was a Suzuki Gran Vitara - but decided it was too small in the luggage department, although a very nice car. Below are just a small sample of what I have looked at.

This nice 99 Toyota Land Cruiser also runs on bottled gas - but the bottle takes up at least half of the cargo area and you have to crawl over it to get in and out of the back. Price - $22,500. Decision - too much gas!

Now this next little beauty was eye catching.

A 2004 4Runner for only $19,000. A real nice car, blue color. nice interior. Problem - one head on too many and the right corner of the engine wired together. Oh well, I was really hoping on this one.

Next was the Ivan Cruiser (my name for it). a 1999 nice Land Cruiser, nice body and so on. But, Car Fax discouraged me.

Then there was this 4Runner, half 1998 and half I don't know what. I like half and half on my cereal but not in my cars.

This leads me, then, to this sweet little car.
A 2004 Toyota Highlander, $18,000. So far everything checks out good. Car fax is encouraging, ny coworkers are ok with it. Just need approval from the office and my mechanic. (He nixed my last find.) I have an appointment to drive it a bit more today and run it by the mechanic. So, unless some unforeseen thing happens, it may end up in the Elliott garage.

I share this to illustrate that things which are often fairly easily accomplished in the US just take a lot more time in a developing country like Bolivia. And basically there is no protection for the buyer. So you have to make sure that paper work is ok, taxes are paid, the car is in the country legally and so on because you have no one to blame but yourself. I guess that is part of why your missionary friends need so much prayer. So thanks for praying.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On The Care And Feeding Of Missionaries

How do you care for a missionary? That is a good question. Missionaries, like anybody in professional ministry, give most of the time and often have little opportunity to receive and replenish. Our mission board (Evangelical Church Missions) is aware of that and tries to take good care of us. So, this last week, our board arranged for a pastoral counseling couple to come to Bolivia to spend some time with our field crew.

Charlie and Margie Wilson, who serve with Barnabas International, spent not quite a week with us giving us encouragement and getting to know our team. The first evening they were in Santa Cruz they gave a seminar on marital communication. There was a nice group out for it and the presentation was quite on target.

The next day was run around with Gordon and see the churches in Santa Cruz then off to Cochabamba that evening to meet with the entire staff.

Despite sick kids and a sick Mom, we enjoyed the fellowship with the others and Charlie and Margie had the opportunity to become acquainted with everyone. We also had time for a trip up to the Cristo (a statue of Christ a little bit taller than the famed one in Rio de Janero).

The choices for getting up the mountain to the Cristo (Charlie thouoght we said we were going to a pre-school) are driving in a car, climbing the 1400 stairs or going up in the gondola. We chose the gondola. Evidently a good choice according to the warning posted at the gondola station.

There was time for Uncle Gordon to take the kids for ice cream while the Wilsons met with some of the other missionaries.

Sunday morning some of us went to hear JJ preach at a small struggling church in Cochabamba. He will be helping out for a number of weeks.

After some more time together with the Wilsons and a birthday celebration for James it was back home to Santa Cruz.

In between all the partying we had good visits with Charlie and Margie who patiently listened to our joys, concerns and just general chatter. Thank you for being there to listen. Sometimes that is all it takes to care for a missionary -  someone outside the loop with whom to share. We look forward to having you return next year!