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.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Feliz Navidad

It seems hard to believe that Christmas day is tomorrow. This month has been filled with activities, both church and family activities. We started out the circuit of parties by hosting a gathering for the Bible Institute students and teachers. There were about 25 who came. It was a fun afternoon with a couple of games, lots of food, singing and sharing a bit of Scripture. I tried my hand at making a variety of Christmas cookies to serve to the students. As I informed them, in a gringo party the Christmas cookies are the most important ingredient.

The next party was the ladies' Bible study that Niki helps organize. I cannot give you a report on that part because Mark and I were banished to the back of the house. However, judging from the level of noise it too was a success.

Then a couple of days later Niki hosted the annual Elliott Open House for the teachers and staff of the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center. That is the spread that puts the other parties to shame. Too bad you could not be here - there was plenty to go around.




Squeezed into the parties were a church anniversary and the final district junta of the year.

Next week our work team from Roberta, Georgia arrives to help work on the district headquarters/tutoring center building. We are looking forward to getting to know the team members and to work together.

This morning Niki has been busy in the kitchen. Fresh lefsa for breakfast, pies baked for supper. What more could a guy ask for?

Oh yes. To help make the celebration complete, both our daughters are here visiting. So we are almost all together. (Daniel and Naomi are are her parents' home in Wisconsin).

In my Bible reading this morning I read the account of the plagues on Egypt and the beginning of passover. It seemed an appropriate text for this day. Just as Moses was sent to rescue the Israelis from Egypt so Jesus was sent to rescue us from our sin. Thank God for Christmas without which there would be no Easter. So have a Merry Christmas and, however you celebrate, keep in mind that God sent a Savior for you and for me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thankful For . . .

Now that Thanksgiving has gone I would like to reflect on some of the items for which I am thankful here in Bolivia.

First, I am thankful for our great coworkers. We were able to all be together on Thanksgiving in the home of JJ and Randi Guerrero in Cochabamba. Besides enjoying a fantastic meal, complete with turkey (a treat in Bolivia) and the all the stuff (stuffing, potatoes, pumpkin, peanut butter, ,pecan, apple pies, Snicker salad and other good stuff) there was the joy of just being together. I was wondering when the four of our families would all be together again as Wolheter's were leaving on deputation in just a few days and the rest of us will eventually follow suit. We don't always see eye to eye with your coworkers. Sometimes we have different ways of doing things but I thank God for the team here in Bolivia that he has put together. We will miss the Wolheter's while they are in the States but trust that God will quickly bring them home.

Pie, anyone?
 Friday after Thanksgiving JJ, Bryan and I drove up to La Paz for the national church's annual congress session. The congress is usually marked by long sessions, fiery debate marathon elections and celebrations of achievement. This year's celebrations included graduation from the Tiahuanacu center of the Program for Forming Pastors in Service. It was great to see these active pastors finally able to finish their education and be recognized for this achievement. There was also an ordination service and a recognition of a couple of other pastors for significant achievement. A new church president was elected along with other new officers. I was invited to preach during the Sunday morning closing session. These kinds of events always remind me how blessed I am to be in Bolivia working with these group of pastors and people who love God. I am thankful that God has seen fit to call us to Bolivia to work and minister is a small way in the church here.

Bryan with new graduate.
 
New church president, Felix Callisaya and his wife.

Me.

Monday Bryan and I drove a car down from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz over "the old road". "The new road" was blocked by a group of protesters about 120 km or so out of Santa Cruz making it impassable. So we headed out over "the old road" to come home. After failing to find our way out of Cochabamba in good timing (we had great directions but there are very few street signs in Cochabamba identifying which street goes with what name) we finally were heading down the highway to Santa Cruz when everything came to a screeching halt. There was also a blockade at that end of the highway. So after inquiring a bit I was given an alternative route. So we headed off "the old road" for an unknown raod that was to take us back to "the old road." Anyway, to make a long story short, Bryan and I had the chance to see a lot of country that we would not otherwise have seen. And while "the old road" is not as bad as many make it out to be (I have driven much worse roads in Bolivia) it did remind me of how thankful I am of God's protection here as we travel.


"The old road."

So I say thank you to God for coworkers (both gringo and Bolivian), for the privilege of being in Bolivia and for God's safety each day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy 50 Anniversary Avelino and Josefina!

This last Saturday evening I had the privilege to help a very special couple here in Santa Cruz celebrate 50 years of marriage. That is an amazing accomplishment for Bolivia considering the low level of life expectancy and the high rate of couples who never marry. Avelino and Josefina Perez were married in our Viacha church by Bob Trosen, our first missionary sent to Bolivia by the mission board. Through these years they have learned to grow and mature in their relationship with each other and with God and their faith in Jesus is very evident to all. I have heard Josefina say several times how she had to learn to be a good wife and treat her husband with love. Their love for each other, their children and their neighbors shows clearly in what they do. The celebration was planned by their living children (four sons and two daughters). They had other children who they have already deposited in Heaven and with whom they will some day be reunited.

The celebration itself was a true Bolivian event. Announced for 8 pm it began about 10:30 pm. The main bulk of the celebration was a reaffirmation of their wedding vows. I was pleased to have been asked to do the officiating. Following the ceremony was a reception with lots of LOUD music, a midnight supper and cake around 1 am.

So I add my good wishes for Avelino and Josefina. May God bless their remaining years together with love, goodness and grace.

Josefina and Avelino with Jenny and James Wolheter


Sharing cake.

Bryan and Molly Canny share in the festivities.


Niki with Bryan.

Fireworks started off the celebration.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Forgot The Roast? No Problem!

Today's post is three short unrelated items. No creativity, no rocket science, just three straight forward reports.

1. About a week ago the Santa Cruz district had its annual congress session where churches give reports, new ideas for the district are discussed, accepted or discarded and new officers are elected for the district. It began on Saturday afternoon and ended Sunday evening. The highlights of the congress for me were: the heavy thunder storm that struck on Saturday evening so that we finally had to call it quits and go home because no one could hear what was being said. The church has a tin roof which makes lots of noise in the rain. Hurray for tin!; The re-election of the district president, Elías Flores, and the district secretary, Rubén Perez.Both of these men are servants of God who serve humbly and faithfully. They have been a joy to work with in the past and I look forward to continuing to work with them in this year; The acceptance of a plan that will involve the churches in giving scholarships to university students who are preparing for ministry. the mission has been giving scholarships for a long time. This is the first time that the district is committing itself in this way as well. That is a great step forward and I thank God for it.


2. On Saturday we had our first meeting for potential volunteers for the tutoring center here in Santa Cruz. There were around a dozen men and women who came for this first meeting. It is exciting but also a bit scarey to see how god is putting this together bit y bit. I am reminded of what Meredeth Schefflen said many times. (She was the founder of the Bolivian Evangelical University). Find something that is too big for you to do and then see how God does it. The tutoring center fits the bill in my mind. I don't know where the personnel and finances will all come from but I am looking forward to seeing what God is going to do.




3. I learned something new about Bolivia this last week when I arrived at the airport in Santa Cruz to fly to Cochabamba for a meeting. Let me suggest a hypothetical case or two to share what I learned. Let us say that you are on your way to Gramma's house in La Paz and you forgot that you were to bring a roast for dinner. Or say that you are heading to your son-in-law's home for a cook out but you didn't remember that promised to bring the burgers. You're already in the secure area of the airport. No way to leave and go find a store. But then you look and remember and a smile comes over your face. No problem you simply fo to the meat store in the secure waiting area of the airport. That's right. Fresh meat all packaged and ready to go. So pick up that roast (sorry there are no potatoes to go with it), buy those burgers and be on your way with peace in your heart knowing that the airport meat store has once again saved the day!

I am not making this up. A customer checks out what's fresh at the airport meat store.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Koocking, Kids and Kamp

This past weekend Niki and I had the privilege of cooking for the Santa Cruz Christian learning Center high school youth retreat. Although there was not an overly large number of people to cook for (around 80) it was a challenge for us to know how to plan and prepare for that large of a group. The menu was simple enough, spaghetti, hamburgers, chicken, taco salad, cinnamon rolls and breakfast burritos, and we did as much ahead as possible to make preparations there as easy as we could. But it still involved a lot of work.



Thankfully we had good help (another missionary couple plus a couple of Bolivian ladies)



and the kids were quite willing to eat what we put out.



My big day was on Saturday when I had to grill hamburgers for lunch and chicken for supper (There was no available working oven except a clay wood burning oven designed to cook bread). I had trouble getting the firs going becasue of the altitude but one of the other cooks knew just what to do so she rescued me and dinner was done on time.



Although from our perspective food was the foremost item the goal of the retreat was to challenge the kids to go deeper in their spiritual lives. The speaker was Aaron Breakfield, ECM missionary from Brazil. He did a good job of speaking directly to the kids and challenging them to live faithfully for the Lord.

We arrived back home late Sunday afternoon. Then early Monday morning it was off to visit the Santa Cruz district youth camp where I was scheduled to speak on that morning. We left the house in plenty of time but did not realize that we were going to hit a roadblock on the main drag out of town. (I think it was a group of frustrated neighbors trying to get the city's attention.) That caused us to arrive late at the camp as we had to follow slowly in line with a million other people (more or less) who were trying to get around the roadblock as well.

The camp had as its theme being a good soldier for Christ. Almost everyone was dressed in some kind of camouflage wear. Activities during the weekend had included running to the river, calisthenics, obstacle course, propelling down a cliff and other fun military type activities and, of course, lots of good food as only the church women can fix. I would never have gone to a retreat like that as a kid but everyone there was having a great time.


Reviewing the troops. you can tell I'm a general by the bulge in the belly.




When it came time for the session where I was to speak the commandant of the camp told everyone, in no uncertain terms, that they were to listen carefully. Yes sir, they all replied at the top of their lungs. What a great idea, I thought. Maybe we need this guy to give a pep talk before every lesson I teach. Now because we had arrived late my time was cut into about half so I had to make some quick revisions and changes to my presentation. I was asked to share on holiness and my text was Exodus 19. I thought that my presentation suffered some from the last minute changes but at the same time I felt that God was helping me in what I shared.



I am thankful that I had the chance to be involved in both of these youth retreats and turst that I was able to have a small part if what God is doing to raise up godly young men and women to serve him here in Bolivia.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tutoring Center

A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to teach two young tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
"Is it tougher to toot
Or to tutor to two tooters to toot?"


We won't be teaching any young tooters to toot but we are making preparations to open the Santa Cruz Tutoring Center in February. One of the great needs in the neighborhoods where we have churches is someone who can help school kids with their homework and give them a safe place that they can go. In many homes the children are left alone to fend for themselves when not in school because their parents (or in too many cases just their parent, usually the mother) are working. There is little or no time to help with school work and, in some cases, parents perhaps are unable to do so because of their own lack of education. And so we are working to offer help to school children in the neighborhood starting in February when the Bolivian school year begins again.

The project is under the direction of Bryan and Molly Canny and is a working out of a dream that Molly has had for some time.



The first concrete step toward making the dream a reality came this last summer when the Fort Valley GracePointe church sent a work team here to pour concrete. (Yes, the bad pun was intended!) An earlier post shared about their work here and what a blessing they were. With them, and with the finances they provided, the basic physical structure is being put into place. We now have a tinglado (covered space),



bathrooms (almost completed)



and a room for a security person to live in.



While they are sparse by US standards, they will provide a good beginning for the tutoring center. As finances are available we will continue to build and eventually have classrooms as well.

The vision for the center is to offer homework help each afternoon Monday - Friday along with a snack and a Bible lesson. Also two mornings a week English classes will be offered to high school students.

The planning for this program has been a combination of input from missionaries and Bolivian brothers and sisters.

Oscar, a school teacher, is giving of his time and knowledge.

Elías has been invaluable in getting the physical site ready.

Snack time at a recent organizing committee meeting.
 
We are now in the stage of announcing and planning a general meeting for all those who might be interested in volunteering time for the center. Without a lot of volunteer help the center will not be able to function. we are trusting that God will call and the right people will respond to this invitation to show love to the children of this particular neighborhood and to their families.

She's a little young, still, but cute as can be!
 You can be of help too. While I generally resist the idea of turning Ch'airo into an opportunity for fund raising I am going to give in this time. If you would like to help sponsor one day's snacks for the children, a gift of $10 would cover much of that expense. Also the hope is that one time a month the families of the children can be invited to a meal. A gift of $50 would go a long way in providing food and an opportunity to meet the parents of the children. There are other needs as well. Between now and February chairs and tables will need to be purchased, partitions made and other supplies purchased. Any gifts can be sent to:

Evangelical Church Missions
9421 West River Road
Minneapolis, MN 55444

Checks should be made out to Evangelical Church Missions and it should be indicated that the gift is for Bolivia Tutoring Center.

Above all, do pray for this new ministry. In a sense it is like walking in the dark because we have never done anything like this before but we are trusting that God will give us, and especially Bryan and Molly, wisdom that only he can give.



Monday, September 26, 2011

Good Things Come In Three's

When thinking what to write about it came to me that three good things happened this last week. Maybe none of them in themselves are terribly exciting but put together they helped make one good week.

1. My birthday. September 24 was my 55th birthday. Niki fixed all my favorite foods for supper - fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, biscuits and salad. For dessert she fixed a really great cherry pie and black bottom pie as well. So what could have been better. Maybe pie for an appetizer? Wait, that's exactly what happened. About an hour before dinner time I got a phone call. "Pastor can I come visit for a little bit?" Now I knew it was getting close to dinner and I kind of thought that there was company coming (although I didn't know exactly who) so at first I tried to discourage him a bit but soon decided that this was a visit to bring birthday greetings. And sure enough. Just a few minutes before dinner time the doorbell rang and there were seven hermanos at the door with a lemon pie, bottle of juice and a whole lot of birthday wishes. So we ate lemon pie and drank juice. Quite a good appetizer I'd say. I wonder how I could get that again tonight . . .

2. 24 de Septiembre. Every department in Bolivia has its own anniversary which are usually celebrated with as much gusto or more than Bolivian independence day. Santa Cruz Day is, that's right, September 24 which just happens to also be my birthday. I tell the hermanos that I am a real cruzeño. The day is celebrated with a lot of things (some things not too positive - lots of booze) but among other things many of the schools have special activities to mark the day. I was doing something earlier in the week in the house when I thought I heard drums. I went out into the street to see what was happening and sure enough there was a parade practice going on. Around the corner from our house is a guardaría (day care). They were out practicing for their Santa Cruz Day March. The day of the march was on Thursday and the kids were all decked out in special dress in honor of Santa Cruz.

The guaradía had borrowed a band from a nearby school.



The kids marched behind the band.



Then a short ceremony was performed. The Santa Cruz hymn was played.

video


A little guy read a poem in honor of Santa Cruz. A young girl sang part of the song Viva Santa Cruz.



All in all it was quite fun and heartening to see that even little children can be taught to be grateful for their country.

3. District junta. On Sunday was the third quarter district junta for the churches in Santa Cruz. It was held at a church with no bathroom and a building that only holds 40 or so people. I wondered why they were doing this. I was asked to teach the children, something I have not done for quite a long time. So I put together the story of Nebuchadnezzar and how he had to learn that God is supreme over nations, gods and people. The kids were fairly attentive (there were over 70 of them) and the helpers helped. And I learned a new Bolivian game. It was a hot day and not nearly enough shade but we had water for everyone.

When all was said and done it was a very good junta in spite of the limited facilities. Maybe someday I will finally learn that those things are not nearly as important as I tend to think them to be.

Good things come in three's. Thank God that they do and did. (I suppose that I could mention other things as well like winning three games of Settlers of Catan but that's another story.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tooth Brushes, Kids and Youth

Why should you brush your teeth? Because if you don't "Those Icky Sticky Smelly Cavity-Causing but ...Invisible Germs" will get you. that was the message I tried to give the kids at the House of Prayer church following Sunday School. It is a sad fact that in Bolivia lots of kids have mouths that are full of rotten teeth, in many cases simply because they do not brush their teeth. When the work team from Fort Valley, Georgia brought a bunch of child sized tooth brushes and toothpaste samples with them to give out to children I was very happy. So this one Sunday I read to the kids at church a story about brushing your teeth,



then demonstrated to them the correct technique


 
 and gave them all tooth brushes and toothpaste.




It was a lot of fun. Thank you Fort Valley for making these smiles possible!

This last Sunday I was invited to go out to where our district youth leadership were having a one day retreat for prayer and study getting ready for the upcoming district youth camp here in Santa Cruz. I was invited to teach on the topic of spiritual warfare. Another invited pastor also taught on the related subject of spiritual beings.



The spot they chose was maybe an hour from town up the river. We found a shady spot (as long as we kept moving with it) along the fence of a cow pasture in which to sit down.



The time was spent in singing, sharing, questions, teaching and prayer.




video



I am thankful for the quality of youth leadership we have in the district and give thanks to God for their commitment to him and to the work that he has called them to.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hebrews 13:3

I am going to prison. This will be my first time to be inside Palmasola, the main prison in Santa Cruz. I am going with the pastor of the church, and, it turns out, with some others as well, to visit the husband of one of the young mothers in the church. I am not sure why he is in prison. I only know that he has been in for several months. It really doesn't matter. I am going half out of curiosity and half out of the desire to meet him.

We arrive at the prison somewhere around nine in the morning. There is already a line at the gate waiting to get in. I go to the line of men along with the other three brothers from the church. The ladies and children get in on of the two lines made up of women. The wind is blowing like crazy and I feel as though I am being sand-blasted in preparation for a new coat of paint. The line gets longer but no one is allowed inside. The word filters out (I don't know if it is true or not) that the delay in admitting visitors is because there is a prisoner unaccounted for. And so we wait. But Bolivians do not always wait patiently. There is the usual chorus of complaints and demands that the gate be opened. Every now and then a car arrives and the gate opens to admit it. Finally the first visitors are allowed inside. Only a small number are admitted at a time. I find out that it really does not matter. Once you are inside the gate you continue to wait in a line. Outside there is the shade of the wall. Inside there is sun so it is better to be outside than in. Finally I am getting close to the gate. But when it is opened and my group starts to go in a rush of other people cut into the line and I am left behind along with one of the brothers. I have a bit of a sinking feeling only because I do not know what I am supposed to do once I get through the gate. I am finally admitted. I hurry inside and find the next line that I am to get into. I think it has been about two hours of waiting so far.

The inside line is routed through a small office. Before entering the office I am frisked by a policeman and have to empty my pockets and show my wallet. "How much money are you bringing to the prison?" I am asked by the guard. "Not much," I respond. It is now my turn to enter the office. I show my ID card. Also I am asked if this is my first time to visit the prison. Yes. Who am I visiting? The brother with me responds. And, he adds, he is in area number 4. How do we know that since we are first time visitors, the guard demands. The brother again responds by explaining that we were given the information by another. I am told to stretch out my arm. I am stamped with the guard's stamp and then he writes two numbers on my arm with magic marker, one showing where I am authorized to go and the other showing what number my name is on his list. I am told I can go. I walk out through the back door of the office into the courtyard of the prison. It is big, a lot bigger than it seems from outside.

The first thing I see is a huge empty lot with horses running around in it.  I spot the others from the church and join them. We are the last ones through and they have been waiting for us. Now we begin to walk to the area where we can visit. Off to one side we see a chain link fence with barbed wire on top. It is the women's section. There are children and women, some who are calling to us through the fence to give them an orange. On the other side of the field we see another huge solid wall, much like the outside wall of the prison. It is the maximum security area. We are not going there. We continue to walk and we pass the kitchen and a patch that looks to be mostly weeds but has a sign in it declaring it to be an organic garden.

We finally arrive at the entrance to the part of the prison where we will be visiting. I am searched again, my ID card taken from me and another stamp and number written on my arm. Then I am admitted.

The first thing I see turns out to be the market area of the prison. Here there are restaurants, a pool hall and other establishments that I was unable to identify. It is mostly young men that I see out in the street. We continue walking past this to go to area 4. The ground is cemented and fairly clean. There are no obvious guards in sight. I past inmates who are displaying their wares for sale. There are drawings, cars made out of pop bottles, wooden trucks and cars, watches, and other items for sale. Sort of like a tourist market, I say to myself. At last we come to area 4. As we walk through the gate the first thing I see is the front of a large building with the name, Living Hope Church, painted on it. From inside I hear the sounds of a band practicing. We sit down on the porch of the church while an inmate goes to find "Mario" (not his real name), the husband of the young woman from church. In a few minutes he arrives, a very pleasant young man. (I later find out he is 27 years old.) He is very hapy to see us and greets us like old friends although we have never met before. He also greets his wife and two sons who are also in our group. He is obviously happy to see them. His wife smiles broadly and the older son stands close to his father.

Our new friend begins to explain to us that there are three or four churches in the prison. This particular one is preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary the next day. I see young men painting window sills on the church. He takes us inside. We sit down and listen as the band finishes its practice. Our friend tells us how his life has changed. Upon entering the prison alcohol was about to destroy him. But through the ministry of the church he has come to know Jesus and his life has changed. Another believer joins us and shares his testimony. "Outside I was a prisoner," he says, "but in here I am free." He too was saved through the ministry of the church. Eventually we meet the pastor of the church as well. He, too, is a prisoner. I don't ask if he was a pastor before entering prison or was chosen to pastor the church by the brothers. Our friend tells us that there are around 200 believers now that attend this church.

We pass the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon visiting in the church. We then go to one of the restaurants to eat lunch with three of the inmates. The food is good and probably a step up from the normal fare.

It finally becomes time to leave. (There are set times for entering and leaving. Once you are in you stay until the set time for leaving.)   As we were leaving the church one of the brothers calls out "Hebrews 13:3."  Our friend walks us to the gate and we say good bye. I have to show my arm to get through the gate. I retrieve my ID card and we head back to the main gate. There I re-enter the office through the back door and have another mark put on my arm to show that I have been checked out. I leave, amazed at what I have seen. I remember what the one brother said. "Outside I was a prisoner. In here I am free." I feel that I will be back. Now that I know the reality of Palmasola I cannot simply put it out of my mind.

Pray for Mario and the Living Hope Church. Pray for its pastor and the believers who worship there. Pray for many other lives that need to be touched. And pray for me to know how to respond to what I have seen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Come To The Banquet

The heavenly Zion Church recently held a Sunday morning banquet that was inspired by the parable in Matthew about the banquet. Each member of the church agreed that they would invite someone new to come with them the following Sunday. The church would prepare a banquet to serve the new guests following the morning service. I was quite pleased to see that on the morning of the banquet there were between 12 and 15 new people at church.Some of those were children but eight or nine were adults. The service began with music. And then there was some more music. What impressed me was that the words for several of the songs were projected on a screen so that everyone could join in singing. The singing was followed by a game/illustration about salvation. Included in the morning's activities were several videos presenting different aspects of salvation. Towards the end of the service the visitors were introduced by name and given the opportunity to receive Christ as savior.(There seems to have been some positive response to the invitation with at least one or two perhaps making a firm commitment to Christ.) The service was followed by a meal and fellowship time.

As I witnessed this whole thing I thought to myself that some of this would never fly in the US culture. Everything was done wrong if you were wanting to make visitors feels at home. They were all "invited" to sit on the front row. They were all "invited" to join in the game while everyone else watched. Following the videos the visitors were asked to respond to some very tough questions about what they had just seen. Then having to introduce themselves and say something would be enough to make any half-hearted visitor flee through the nearest exit. But the amazing thing is that no one bolted. They took all the abuse that the church could hurl at them.They stayed for dinner, accepted some prizes from the church (a tub of butter, a sack of rice, some other food item), visited with people and some of them were back yesterday.

Please pray for those who came and for those who returned. Pray that those who made a beginning with Christ will carry through and allow him to begin to mold and transform their lives. Pray for the church as it seeks to fully incorporate these invited folks, and others, into the local body of Christ.

Are you missing having pictures with the posts? I am. Sorry to say my camera is in the hospital and pronounced terminal. I have a new camera waiting for me in the States. I should be able to have it by sometime in October. So until then the blog will basically be pictureless.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Saturday Night Live

This last Saturday evening I had the opportunity to meet a new group of believers who gather together on Wednesday and Saturday evenings at the home of one of group. The home is located right on the edge of Los Pozos (The Wells) one of the largest market areas in Santa Cruz and includes, not only living quarters, but also two tiendas (small stores) where they sell musical instruments (from a quick glance it looked to be mostly drums!).

This group is not large. On Wednesdays there may be around 20 adults with a handfull of children. The Saturday night group consisted of eight or nine adults and three or four kids. I could not have been given a warmer reception. After being introduced to those who were there I was asked to share a few words of encouragement. I had not come prepared to "preach" becasue the pastor who invited me told me I didn't need to say anything except a few words. however from the context of the event I perceived that more than just a few words were expected and needed. so I shared a little bit from John 3 and how we are called to extend grace in the world and not condemnation. After my few words the people there expressed appreciation for my visit. Then I was asked to pray the closing prayer. I was surprised that I was the entire "program" for the evening.

This group, if I have the story correct, had its start from the circumstances surrounding a sick woman. One of her friends suggested that they call a pastor (Fimo Ramos) that she knew to come and pray for her. So they did. The sick woman was comforted by the prayer of the pastor and her friends appreciated the ministry to her. Even though the woman did not get recover (she died not too long after that) the friends asked the pastor if he could come and meet with them. So the new group was formed. There are eleven different families on the list with a total of some 44 names.

My hope for this group is that it can some day be organized into a functioning church. At the moment the pastor is going slowly, having a very deliberate discipleship focus to prepare leaders for when the time comes to formally organize. Would you please pray for this group of believers that they will sense the direction in which God is guiding them and for Pastor Fimo as he leads them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Little Church in the City

Sunday I was able to attend the Casa de Oración (House of Prayer) church. You may remember that this is the church that was shut down for a time and had no pastor. In the last months Pastor Fimo Ramos has been "filling in". Somewhere in the past Fimo's heart has been touched by children and their needs. (He was the founding pastor of the God is Love church. His first service consisted of two or three children.) Later he had the desire to learn how to minister more effectively to children and so he took the courses offered on how to teach children offered by the Bolivian counterpart of Child Evangelism Fellowship. So when he agreed to become the temporary pastor at the House of Prayer church his first thought was to begin with the children of the neighborhood. That impulse has paid off. On Sundays there are now as many as 30 children who are attending the Sunday School. Yesterday the number of children was down a bit but the number of adults was up. In fact, there has not been an adult class because of lack of adults but yesterday it was announced that I would be teaching the adults. We had a good class with around ten students. And so God is moving again in the House of Prayer. Fimo would be the first to tell you that it is a direct answer to prayer. This year the district leaders have been meeting together for special prayer times and God is answering.

Pastor Fimo leading music.

This couple is helping to provide leadership for the church.


Yesterday before church began, Fimo asked to speak with me. He began to share his vision for expanded ministry at the church and wanted to know if the mission could help establish a centro de apoyo (help center) for the neighborhood children, much as we are working towards doing at the district headquarters facility. My immediate impulse was to say YES but I know better. First I would need to speak with my fellow missionaries, Bryan and Molly, who are heading up this program. (It is always best to sound hesitant at first and even a bit discouraging. Any kind of positive reacction can be taken as a firm commitment to provide whatever it is you are being asked to provide.) So I responded, but you will need to put windows in the holes in the wall. Also a gate in the fence to keep things locked up. And a bathroom. Kids will need a bathroom. As we talked I was inwardly smiling because I knew something that Fimo didn't. All these things would cost money and the church has no money. . . .

Maybe a month ago I received a phone call from an hermana. She said she was in town and wanted to see me. She had a bit of offering that her husband had sent for the district. Could I come that day and visit? (She and her husband immigrated to Spain several years ago to find work. She was back in Bolivia on a visit.) So at the appointed time I arrived at her home. After some visiting and meeting her son-in-law and granddaughter, she gave me an envelope with some cash inside. Again she assured me, (I suppose not to get my hopes too high) that it was not very much. And could it please be used to help the Casa de Oración church. (Her husband had been the original pastor of the church.) When I got to a place in private where I could open the envelope I counted out a little over $5000 US. Just a little bit, she had told me. Not very much, she had repeated.

So now there is money to help make the improvements needed at the church and maybe, just maybe (I still have not committed to the project) we can open that centro de apoyo. Will you please pray with me and with Bryan and Molly as we consider what might be able to be done. It will require helpers that we don't have and time that might already be committed elsewhere. But who knows? God has provided the funding. If he did that several weeks before the request who is to say that he might not already be preparing the needed helpers? It will be fun to wait and see what he does next.

For a couple of earlier posts on Casa de Oración you can go to the May 6,2011 postings.


Friday, July 29, 2011

How Do I Love Thee Chicken? Let Me Count The Ways.

This past July 15-27 was a very busy time. We were blessed to have a work team from GracePointe Evangelical Church, Fort Valley, Georgia with us. It was a group of 15 men and women from teenagers to retirement age. They got in a little before midnight so it was after one in the morning before we got them all tucked into bed. But first was the mandatory speech (you can drink Santa Cruz water and flush the toilet paper in the mission house but other places use the trash can).



The first full day was a Saturday so, after a leisurely breakfast (cinnamon rolls and fruit), we headed up the river to Las Cuevas for a picnic and playing in the falls. At lunch one of the fellows said to us - have you noticed that Georgia people eat a lot! I knew we were in trouble but Niki and Molly Canny were up to it and provided great meals the entire time the team was here and no one went hungry.







What's a picnic without a flat tire

On Sunday we took the team to the Linage of God Church where three of the group shared their testimonies about their walk with the Lord and the leader of the group brought the morning message. There was also the obligatory song in English sung by the visitors.








After a really good meal of chicken the group was invited to play futbol (soccer) with a group of young men from the church. Following the men's game was one with the ladies. It was a fun thing to watch and drew some spectators from the neighborhood. Following the game we tried to go to the sand dunes but were rained out. Maybe next time . . .




Monday morning was the first day of work. The team was here to help build a tinglado (shelter) on the district lot. The tinglado will be used for district juntas (gatherings of all the churches together) and will provide the initial place for our new tutoring center. Lunch, a yummy chicken meal, was provided by one of the churches. Even though the group was rained out of two days of work, the project went well and by week's end the floor was poured and the iron rafters ready to be lifted into place. Each day of work was mixed with laughter, bantering and, oh yes, a chicken dinner. (By the time the team left to go home they had been served chicken in 13 different ways in ten days of eating. I was surprised no one was sprouting feathers or laying eggs!)








Time for a nap




One favorite experience that I like to see our visitors go through is the opportunity to taste test chuño, the original Bolivian freeze dried potato. Most visitors find them less than pleasing but as I watched the first member of the group to take a bite her response was, They're kind of good.  As other members tried them they decided that they tasted like boiled peanuts. I have heard chuño called many things by visitors but never boiled peanuts. (That probably explains why I did not like the boiled peanuts that I sampled in the south.)

Love that chicken
 Not only was there work at the lot but each day, Monday through Friday, there was also a kid's club held at the God is Love church, near the work sight. I had told the work team lady who was in charge of preparing crafts for the club that there could be from five to fifty kids. I was not quite prepared for the 120-140 that showed up the first day. This was a blended affair. The work team was in charge of crafts while the district children's ministry coordinator was in charge of lining up teachers and the music. The coordinator had done her job well and the teaching staff was all present and accounted for on time. The first day began only 12 minutes passed the announced starting time. Unbelievable! Each day there was music, a Bible story and crafts and goodies. A success in every way for which I thank God very much.






The Second Sunday we were at the Rivers of Living Water Church in Plan 3000. Again members of the team shared their testimonies and the leader brought the message. Following the service everyone was served- you guessed it- a nice plate of spicy chicken. That evening some of the guys from the team wanted to cook so they prepared a nice meal of steak on the grill, mac and cheese and apple pie. (What!? No chicken?!) It was a great evening of fellowship, not only with the team, but also with the families of our two drivers for the week.

Monday was a final opportunity to shop and then time to pack up and prepare to leave the following morning. Tuesday came early as everyone piled into the bus one last time for the trip back to the airport. And home to Georgia.



We really enjoyed having this team. Their spirit was great, their dedication to the work fantastic but most importantly their commitment and love for the Lord shown through.Thank you GracePointe Church for coming. Y'all come back now, ya' hear.