Who am I?

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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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Come To The Wedding

Weddings are major events in our churches here. We generally have one of three kinds of weddings; Catch up weddings - where the couple have never been married and are getting their lives in order having come to Christ, postponed church wedding - where the couple has had a civil service but never married in the church and now would like a church wedding, good and proper weddings - where everything has been done right and the couple is now getting their civil wedding and having a church wedding before sleeping or living together. Obviously we prefer to have the third kind, even the second kind is fine (I "married" a couple once that had had a civil wedding probably 40 years earlier but wanted to have a church wedding following their conversion). The first kind is ok, too, when it's believers getting their lives in order. That's the kind of wedding I was at last Saturday along with Niki and James Wolheter. James did the officiating at the wedding.

In true Bolivian style, the 7:00 pm ceremony got started around 8:30 or so but without the presence of the bride and groom. Instead, the service opened with lots of music (see January 25 entry below for more comments on music). Finally, maybe around 9:00 or so the actual wedding ceremony began. First down the aisle were the Bible bearer, ring bearer and the flower girl. The flower girl and one of the other bearers were the couple's two daughters. Next came the groom escorted by his mother. Finally the bride and her father came in. James had a short message and then did the vows.

In a Bolivian wedding, in one sense the ceremony has small importance and there is not always a large crowd. (The actual legal ceremony takes place earlier at an official office - religious ceremonies are not legally recognized). But it is the reception that people want to be at and there usually are more people at the reception than at the wedding ceremony. The reception begins with lots of loud music, lots of soda, things to munch on and conversation. Everyone is waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. They are off taking a ride around town and possibly stopping somewhere to have pictures taken. It might be an hour or even an hour and a half before the couple arrives. When they finally do get to the reception presents are given to them (and sometimes a small token of appreciation is given by the couple to each person who brings a present). All this is usually accompanied by loud music and general merriment. There may be a time for people to express their good wishes for the couple and even a game or two. Around mid-night supper will be served. In this case it was wood cooked chicken, rice and a type of yummy potato salad. Following dinner you may leave without being terribly rude (that is usually when we leave). The cake will be the last thing served and it may not come until two or three in the morning.

I always enjoy weddings, even catch-up ones, because it is a good sign that a couple (or family) is trying to put things in order before the Lord and I think that pleases him. So our best wishes are with Freddy and Nataly as they continue their journey with Jesus.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Farewell To Alfredo

Alfredo Choque was both my student and a friend. I first met Alfredo when he became the co-pastor at the Linaje De Dios church here in Santa Cruz. At that time I was attending the church for a number of months and teaching the adult Sunday School class. Alfredo was a young man with a wife and perhaps three small children at that point. He and his wife María would eventually have four children altogether. Alfredo was fairly quiet but had a ready smile. He began attending my Bible Institute classes somewhere along the line and was a faithful student. When the head pastor was assigned to a different church, Alfredo was designated as pastor for the church and his family moved into the "parsonage" of the church - one small room that was attached to the sanctuary of the church. (I said at the time that the reason why they reassigned the other pastor was because he was single and so it was a waste of space to only have one person living in the parsonage when they could put a family of five into it.)

As Alfredo served as the pastor he now was required to preach every Sunday, I watched with interest as his preaching skills, along with his message content, improved. It seemed that the district had a potential solid leader in Alfredo. But it was not to be. After an extended stint as pastor Alfredo announced that his family would be moving to the other side of town where they had purchased a lot. They would live there. The distance would make it impossible for him to continue as pastor.

So Alfredo dropped out of sight. After returning from our last deputation time in the States I was inquiring about Alfredo and his family. The news was not good. Alfredo had returned to the world, was drinking again and had separated from María. In the midst of all this he had contacted a serious health problem with his kidneys, I think it was. He was in Argentina and his relatives in Bolivia were trying to locate a potential organ donor should lit become necessary. But God seldom allows these things to happen without seeking some redemptive purpose. I never did know all the details of just what took place or how, but through this illness Alfredo was reconciled to María and both to God again.

These past months Alfredo and his family have been active again in the Linaje church. But this past week he needed to travel to Potosí, (he was originally from there) trying to obtain some document that he needed. One night he went to bed feeling fine but sometime in the night or early morning slipped into a coma. It was decided to try to bring him to Santa Cruz, probably for treatment, but he did not survive the trip.He buried this past week.

Alfredo's death leaves María in a precarious position without a source of income and four children to care for. Although Alfredo had a steady job (he built concrete sinks for washing clothes) there is little money as any savings they may have had had been spent during his illness. María will not be able to take over his business. Her family would like her to return to the town where she grew up but her children are in school here in Santa Cruz and, as she says, if she goes, they will help her for a couple of months but then what? So she hopes to stay here in Santa Cruz. There is a market near her home that has booths for sale where she could set up shop. The booth would cost her around $500 and she would need another $500 to stock items for sale. There is hope that her family will be able to assist her. Also the church is planning to do what it can to help. We in the mission will probably contribute as well. If you or your church would also like to help María get back on her feet, you can send donations to Evangelical Church Missions, 9421 West River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55444. Please indicate that it is an offering for María - Bolivia. Thank you very much.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Seminar Summary

This past Saturday and Sunday the national church held a regional seminar in Cochabamba for the Cochabamba and Santa Cruz Districts. I was only able to attend the Saturday sessions due to conflicts in my schedule but I am glad that I was there (even if the lunch of pork, corn and more corn didn't set too well). Eighteen of us Cruzeños (Santa Cruz persons) were there along with about an equal number of Cochabambinos (Cochabamba persons) plus the organizing group from La Paz. The day began with an overview of the message and teaching of the book of Daniel. The speaker drew a number of parallels between Daniel's situation and ours. Just as the king of Babylon was a follower of false gods so is our current Bolivian president who does not hide his hostility to Christianity and his devotion to the old gods. Just as Daniel and friends were called upon to live faithfully in a pagan atmosphere, we also must be salt and light in the face of growing reliance on the old gods. This was followed by a discussion about how we can impact society in a variety of ways and we were encouraged to think of positive practical steps that we can take to impact our world. The afternoon session was a presentation of seven models for the church in ways that it can best be the church. The evening session was an introduction to this year's overall theme for the denomination. The day ended with a presentation of the children's outreach and education program that has been started in La Paz and will soon be expanded to include other districts.

It is always good to spend time with the brothers and I am reminded how blessed I am to work here in Bolivia. Please continue to pray for the brothers here, especially the pastors and leaders, who are expected to do so much with very little. Pray that we will indeed find a way to make a              
positive impact for Jesus.