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.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mark

Saturday, February 19, we celebrated Mark's 14th birthday. We celebrated with a small party with just three friends.

They played video games, watched videos and ate. The main celebration was the next day because that morning our older son Daniel and his wife Naomi arrived in Santa Cruz where Daniel will be completing the second half of his student teaching requirement to graduate from Indiana Wesleyan University in April. So we ate again and had a couple of more presents.

As we celebrate this event in Mark's life I am again thankful for the amazing gift of Mark that God brought to our family. For those of you who don't know his full story, I will spare you all of the details but will just give a short summary. On April 4, 1997 I went on a trip to the South Yungas, a tropical valley area north of La Paz, with some of the brothers from the church. The purpose of the trip was to help with the establishing of a new congregation. While we were there it rained tons on Sunday, the day we were to return to La Paz, and the road was a mess trying to get out back home. When we arrived in the town of Chulumani, a town several hours from La Paz, we were told by the police that the road was closed due to a mudslide. He suggested that we spend the night there rather than in our car alongside the road somewhere, so we did.

In those days telephones were still rather new outside of the major cities but Chulumani had recently obtained service. So, Monday morning, the 7th, I called Niki to let her know that we were coming but might be late and not to worry about us. There was a landslide and we would need to go home by a different route. As I was getting ready to hang up she said to me, "I should tell you before you hang up that I told them we would take that baby. Is it alright with you?" We had heard about this baby boy the day before I left needing someone to care for him. But we had no conversations about adopting or even offering foster care. As I returned to the car to start our journey home, I said to fellow missionary Charlie Wix, "Charlie, congratulate me. I think I'm a new father."

We arrived home sometime during the late afternoon. Being the first Monday of the month it was Missionary Fellowship night. That night at the meeting the big joke was, "What else doesn't Gordon know?" Apparently everyone else already knew that I had a new son before I did.

Anyway, that is how God brought Mark to us. I suppose there is a little bit more to the story but I'll save that for now. I want to end this post by simply saying one more time, "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for bringing Mark into our family. I can't wait to see what you are going to do through him."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crazy Hair - Crazy Week

This last week I had the opportunity of substitute teaching at the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center. (If you read this blog very often you probably know that my wife Niki volunteers at the school as an educational therapist and that I am a member of the school board.) Several of the teachers had to be gone last week due to a major conference that their mission agency was having. In a moment of weakness I agreed to substitute. It was 5th grade and only for one day. I figured that I could handle that. (By the way, have you heard about the organist who, when he was asked if he could play the Hallelujah chorus replied, "I can Handel it.") Do you have any idea how long one school day can be? We read books, we did math, we had science, we had Bible, we had spelling, we had recess. . .  . I don't really know how they manage to cram a 15 hour school day into an 8-3 schedule. I thought the day would never end. My hat is off to the brave teacher who corrals this group of lively 5th graders every day.

But my week wasn't over. Another teacher had to be gone, an unplanned absence, for three days and wanted to know if I could fill in. Of course, I said. I guess I'm a gluten for punishment. This would only be two hours a day, three days, with the junior high. What was I thinking?! Everyone knows that Junior High students have no brains, attention span or anything else that marks them as human except for boundless energy and an insatiable appetite for food, fun and anything except school work. The first day wasn't too bad as all I had to do was give them a test but the next two days required me to actually teach them something. The topic was forgiveness (this was Bible class). We read the Bible, watched some video clips, had a skit, answered workbook and worksheet questions and generally wished for class to be over and the real teacher to be back. Mercifully the three days came to an end. (The one good deal I got out of it was that Friday was Crazy Hair Day so I got to wear that funny hairstyle that my Dad would never let me do when I was a teenager.) Again, my hat is off to all those brave teachers who can calmy and quietly face the hazards of teaching Junior High students every day and come out more or less unscathed and smiling.

Truthfully, I enjoyed my four days of teaching. Yes there is a lot of energy (some of it focused in wrong directions on occasion) and unending vigilance is required but the payoff is tremendous for those teachers who day by day pour themselves into the lives of these young men and women, sharing in God's work of forming godly young men and women.

I am very thankful for SCCLC and its ministry to our children. As always, we are looking for English speaking teachers who are willing to come and help with this ministry of forming godly youth. If you are interested in taking up the challenge, or know someone who might be, please contact me at goelliott@cotas.com.bo. And pray with us that God will continue to supply the needed staff as he has faithfully done in the past.

More information about the school can be obtained at www.scclc.org.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Celebrations, Cakes and Kids

Everyone likes to celebrate something now and then. And what's better than a cake to help celebrate? And it's even better when it involves your kids. Recently I was invited to take kpart in two different celebrations involving both cakes and kids.

The first was the anniversary celebration of our church, Sión Celestial (Heavenly Zion). I have written a lot at different times about the church so I won't repeat too much of it. I have written a lot at different times about the church so I won´t repeat too much of it. The church began as a Good News Club on Saturdays for the neighborhood kids. Three years ago the leader of the Good News Club, and now pastor of the church, Rubén Perez, decided that it would be good and right to take the next step of going from Good News Club to church. Although Rubén is not married and has no kids of his own, the kids that have come to the Good News Club and church through the years have received as much love from him as if he were their father. So, there was a grand celebration with music (kind of loud - no, not just kind of loud, loud), games, preaching and, of course, the cake. Bolivian cakes are always very pretty and mouth watering. When you receive your piece it looks so very inviting and then you bite . . . Let's just say they are always very pretty.

I have never seen a cake before frosted to look like it is wrapped up in paper. Oh wait, it is wrapped up.

Unwrapped and pretty.

Yum, yum!

The second event was the wedding of Joel Castro, the son of our mission secretary, Lidia Castro and her husband Mario. Joel is about 27 years old and a very intelligent young man. He already has one master's degree in engineering and will soon he taking his new bride to Santiago, Chile where he will be working on a second master's degree. More than that, he loves the Lord so he really was a good catch for Idma, his bride.

Mario and Lidia, the happy parents of the groom.
Every culture has its own way of doing things. Bolivia is no different and if you had gone with me to Joel's wedding you would have noticed right away some small differences from how we do weddings in the US. To start with, marriage in Bolivia is a strictly civil affair. And so the young couple had to start the day out at a registro civil getting married. The civil ceremony is usually a small affair conducted in the office of the registro with only the couple, witnesses and parents attending. There is nothing romantic about it. It consists of the reading of documents and data and signing the marriage document. Once that is done you are married. Nothing else is required to take your place among the happily tied together in the bonds of matrimony. But many believers and non-believers, for that matter, chose to have a church wedding as well. That is like frosting on the cake, but we'll get to that later.

The church wedding was announced to begin at 11am, I was told. My invitation never did arrive. Lost in the mail, I guess. Well I knew that would never happen. So I waited until I saw life in the church to change my clothes and be ready to attend. At somewhere around 1:15pm the wedding ceremony began. The master of ceremony was a young man with a deep voice. Kind of like a radio announcer, I thought. I wondered if that was why he was chosen. It was his job to announce the wedding party as they came it. The first to march down the aisle was the pastor. A round of applause, please for Pastor Romualdo Atahuachi. Then came a small child carrying the Bible. A round of applause for the Bible bearer, please. Before the procession was finished, besides the Bible bearer, there was a ring bearer, four flower girls (two before the groom and his mother entered and two before the bride and her father), the padrinos of the wedding (those who footed the bill, in other words) and of course the bridal couple. (No attendants or bride's maids at this wedding although it is not uncommon to have eight to ten male and female attendants). Each member of the party was duly announced and applauded as they entered the sanctuary and again at mid point down the aisle, a hearty applause if you please, all except the two little boys who were carrying the train of the bride's dress (one was her new brother-in-law). I wondered if they noticed the slight.

Joel and Idma

When everyone had processioned in, the pastor then announced that he had to be shown the legal document proving that the couple had indeed been married. That being shown, the more important matter of the ceremony got under way. The pastor presented a good challenge to the couple about the need to fulfill their responsibilities (love for the man, obey and submit for the woman) and the need to keep God at the center of it all. It was a good challenge. Then the audience was asked to stand while the couple exchanged vows. After the kiss, the couple, before exiting stage left, had to sign the church registry recording their marriage. As the couple was then ready to exit a Mariachi band began to play and sing their congratulations to the couple. Now I don't mind listening to Mariachi music but enough of anything can be enough. However, as the song says, And The Band Played On. After enough music the couple and bridal party made their way down the aisle and out the door where the Mariachi band had reassembled and was merrily playing away requiring a bit of dancing between the newly weds and the padrinos and parents. Finally everyone was gone, the bridal couple off to take a spin around the city and have their pictures taken (they would not be seen again for two or three hours), and the rest of the crowd to the local (hall) where the reception would take place.

The local was called El Faraón (the Pharoah). It was a very nice local indeed with space for lots of people. Now the church was only moderately full for the wedding ceremony but the reception eventually was quite full. Indeed, as time went by, you didn't dare to get up lest you would lose your chair to someone else. The first order of business was to serve a little lunch while the band was tuning up and the ever-present Mariachi group reorganized themselves.

This food was merely the warm up. There would be snacks galore, hamburgers and finally the real meal before all was said and done. Over the next, I don't really know how many hours - I left after about five- the building would be filled with music, friends laughing and talking, good wishes for the couple, food and, finally, the cake. One observation, the main activity of at least this wedding reception was the giving of gifts. The Bolivian custom is that the bridal party stands up somewhere to allow the gift giving line (I call it the loot line) to form. The guests then begin to get in line to give their gifts to the couple. As you go through the line you greet the bridal couple, the padrinos and the parents. After you give your gift to the couple (who then handed them to the same two nameless little boys who held the bride's train and they then whisked them off somewhere) you are then given a small gift of food in return. In this case it was a bottle of Coke, a hamburger and a plastic dish filed with hard candy, a snack cake (think Hostess) and puffed corn (there is a name for it but I can't spell it). If you happen to have a lot of guests, like at this reception, the loot line will have to reform many times throughout the event as new people will continue to arrive over several hours. It literally is the main activity. Most of the gifts will be small - sets of glasses, dishes and that kind of thing.(We have a friend who received several hundred glasses at her wedding). Forgot to bring one? Not to worry. Part of the local's service is a gift shop with pre-wrapped wedding gifts ready to be purchased at the door and taken on in to the party. However some large gifts will be given with much ado. For example, some of the groom's uncles presented them with an entire bedroom suite (bed, covers, night stands, dresser).

The last thing on the agenda will be the cutting of the cake after the main meal has been served and the loot all given and received. The cake was very pretty but I have no idea how it tasted. (I have actually only been at one wedding where I stayed long enough to get the cake - and that was because the reception was outdoors and it had turned very cold and everything was hurried up.)

Lots of layers.

As I said above, I left after about five hours. A friend invited me to go with his family for supper as they needed to get home and the main meal was not yet served (not that I needed anymore food than I had already had). So I said yes. I had been loud music-ed out for two or three hours already and had been wondering if I could discreetly leave without offending anyone. I didn't really know how much longer the party would go on except that it had to be done by midnight, or at least that is what the sign on the wall said, that the local was only licensed to operate until midnight and that at twelve o'clock the lights would be turned out. (I don't know if everyone's fancy clothes would turn back to rags and their cars to pumpkins as well. As I said, I didn't stick around to see.)

You've been duly warned, Cinderella!

i was intrigued by this sign asking you not to pour your drinks out onto the floor. It reminded me of being in a hotel with a sign asking the distinguished clientele to not dry their wet clothes on the lamp shades.

This sign, partly covered by a wedding gift, warns the occupants of the building that listening to loud music for more than four hours can be dangerous to your health. It's only your hearing, nothing really important.

All in all it was a great afternoon and evening. I am happy for the young couple who did it the right way. (Meaning, no sleeping together before marriage and the bride not being pregnant, which far too often is the reality in Bolivia.). Soon they will be off the Chile where Joel will continue his education. I wish and pray for God's best for this young couple. In the words of the old Irish blessing, 

May the road rise up to meet them, 
May the wind always be at their backs, 
May the sun shine warm upon their faces 
And rains fall soft upon their fields. 
And may they have their cake and eat it too!