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.

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.