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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To Liberia and Back Again

Two days ago I returned to the US after one of the biggest adventures of my life. Our church, The Evangelical Church, has a sister church in Liberia, West Africa. It is an association of formerly independent churches that want to join together to increase the effectiveness of their ministry in Liberia and are asking our church for assistance. Over the last two years at least three different teams have gone from the US to spend time with the Liberian brothers who make up the Liberia Evangelical Mission (LEM). I was privileged to be a part of the last team that went.

The trip began with a really long flight from JFK Airport in New York to Monrovia, Liberia. The good part about the flight was that Delta fed us four times so no one had to go hungry! At one point I was beginning to feel kind of light headed when, right on cue, along came more food. Thanks Delta for taking care of me on the way over!

Going through immigration and customs in Monrovia was a breeze. They seem to genuinely welcome you into their country. Waiting for us were three of the pastors from LEM with transportation to take us to the ELWA guesthouse, our home while in Monrovia.

The ride from the airport to the guesthouse took at least 30 minutes. I could not help but notice how similar the countryside looked to many parts of Bolivia. The tropical growth is very green and pretty. However, arriving at ELWA (ELWA are the call letters for a Christian radio station that operates from the compound where the guesthouse is located. There is also a school, hospital, offices and many homes on the compound.) I saw something that did not look like Bolivia at all, the Atlantic Ocean and a beautiful clean sandy beach. Talk about suffering! The beach and ocean were right outside the door of the guesthouse.

Over the next days we would have meetings with both the leadership and pastors of LEM as well as visit their churches and have opportunity to learn more about Liberia and the ministry of LEM.

Executive Committee of LEM:
Evangelist Prince, Pastor Bedel, Pastor George, Pastor Roosevelt (Superintendent)

Without going into great detail about all that we did and saw, here are some highlights from the trip:

It was good to meet the leadership and to hear from them their vision for reaching out to their fellow countrymen. God has blessed LEM with solid leadership who are committed to work together for the good of the church and and Liberia.

LEM pastors and associated pastors

Visiting churches and sharing with them in worship as well as preaching was definitely a highlight. I was invited to speak at the Resurrection Faith Church, Mt. Zion Church and also in a chapel session at the Monrovia Bible College.

Seeing LEM's commitment to spreading the gospel beyond Monrovia was also a good thing to see. Islam, while representing a small minority in Liberia at present, presents a real challenge in rural areas of the country and outreach is needed in those areas.

The best highlight of all was the children. The churches of LEM have a great burden to minister to children. There are many orphans and abandoned children in Liberia and LEM is committed to do what it can to minister and meet needs. In some cases it may be a program carried out in a church. One pastor has extra kids living with him and feeding them. Another pastor has helped to establish an orphanage.

Some of the children from a rural village that we visited. We were told that many of these children are orphans.

There are many things more that I could include in this post but I will refrain except to say that when we returned to the airport for that long flight back home (this time we were offered food five times) I left Liberia with a new perspective on what God is doing in other parts of the world and I trust I will never be the same because of it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Battle of the Little Bighorn

I am sort of a history buff. I enjoy reading history and seeing historical sights and places. Deputation, though the years, has offered our family the opportunity to visit such places as Washington D.C., Appomattox Courthouse, Gettysburg, Liberty Hall and the Liberty Bell, among other places. One of those other places that I just had the opportunity to re-visit was the Battle of the Little Bighorn Monument in Montana. The experience begins with a video and displays in the Visitors’ Center. Following the center you walk up the hill and see the place where the Last Stand took place and you can read the names of the fallen soldiers on the monument at the top of the hill. Next comes the horse monument where the remains of the soldiers' horses where buried. The soldiers themselves shot their horses and used their bodies for protection against the fire of the Lakota warriors. A visit to the Indian Monument commemorating those who fought to preserve their way of life against the onslaught of the growing white man’s culture and presence ends the tour of Last Stand Hill. All in all it is a very touching and sobering visit. The Bighorn monument, like Gettysburg, draws emphasis that our country was born, grown and matured through conflict. It also raises questions that are difficult to answer: Could the American Indian have been incorporated into the expanding nation without their way of life being destroyed? Would history have been different if our founding fathers had implemented George Washington’s desire to grant full citizenship to the American Indian from the beginning of our country? How could the Washington government wage a war of extermination against the American Indian when it had recently gone through a horrible Civil War to guarantee freedom and rights to all within its boundaries? How can the string of broken treaties be explained away and justified by American History? Why do present day activists use the Native American Heritage in a deceptive manner, ignoring the fact that the different tribes were often at war with each other? How much different would the present day plight of Native Americans be had the US government acted in good faith with them from the beginning?

History is what it is and we can’t change it. We may try to reinterpret it and rewrite it but the fact remains, it is what it is. Our big challenge is to try to learn from it and not to repeat its mistakes.

 Below are some pictures taken at the monument and at the adjoining National Cemetery.

Marker showing the spot on the hill where Gen. Custer fell.
Monument to the soldiers who fell here. The remains of many of them are buried beneath the monument.
Inscription at the bottom of the monument.
The soldiers' horses are honored here.
In the last years markers have also been added to show where warriors fell.
My favorite sign to see anywhere!
Wooden Leg, Cheyenne warrior who fought in the battle.
From the Indian Monument.

Indian Memorial.

Dr. Marquis interviewed many of the warriors who fought in the battle and later wrote several books about the battle.
Grave of White Man Runs Him, one of Custer's Indian scouts. Custer released the scouts before the battle and encouraged them to try to make it to safety.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Boring Travelogue

September is my favorite month of the year. Kids go back to school, the sun is still shining - no snow or frost yet! - Christmas is around the corner, Santa Cruz Day is celebrated on the 24th and so is my birthday. This year I hit the amazing number of 57. 

This month has been full of travels and meeting new people and renewing old friendships. The month began at Danville, Illinois. Now Danville hods a special place in my heart as it was my first and only pastorate. Also it was there that I meet the love of my life, Niki. That's a long story that I won't go into here but is sufficient to say that our 31 years together have been great! We enjoyed meeting the pastor at Danville, staying in his very lovely bed and breakfast and having the opportunity to see old friends in the church and to meet new ones.

Then it was off to Oskaloosa, Iowa. On the way we were able to spend a night at the home of a new friend that Mark made at camp this year. It was fun to get to know him a bit and his family. We felt very welcome at their home.

The weekend in Oskaloosa began with a Saturday morning workday at the church. While I mostly stood around with my hands in my pockets it was good to visit with the guys there doing the work. I might add that I had a small moment of self control when the doughnuts came out. I actually passed them up justifying it that I had done nothing to earn one!

Sunday services went well and I thank God for his helping us to present the Word and the work in Bolivia.

From Oskaloosa it was on the Minneapolis and the WayCross church. I enjoyed the food, fellowship and more formal times together. There we were able to introduce the game of Bolivian Blotto to share some basic information about the ministry in Bolivia. On the way back home we made a visit to the SPAM museum. We highly recommend it. Whether or not you like SPAM it is highly entertaining, informative and FREE!

Next was a trip down south to Missouri and a weekend at the Brashear church. I have always enjoyed the people at Brashear and this time was no exception. The pastor graciously opened his home to Mark and me. He even showed us his train layout and took us out to an old wooden bridge over a train track to experience the thrill of a train almost crashing into us.

This week we will be going north to Milwaukee and then west to California to attend the annual meeting of the mission board. I am looking forward to both of these stops as well.

Why am I writing a not very clever and kind of boring list of our September travels? I don't blame you if you have already quit reading. I write this as a testimony to the grace of God as he has faithfully watched over us in our travels and ministered to us through the many people we have been with and hopefully through us as well.

Maybe the next post will be more interesting. But until then, Happy Travels and may God's grace go with you.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Thoughts On Beginning Deputation Again

Deputation, aka home ministry assignment (HMA), furlough, fund raising, support raising, is always a challenge for missionaries who serve in agencies that require the missionary to obtain his own funding for ministry. It does several things to the life and ministry of the missionary.

First it requires him to interrupt his ministry in the culture to which he has been called and uproot his family and return to the culture of his passport. Often he leaves the field feeling like assignments are left undone or that new outreach that was just up and going is now going to be endangered by his long absence. Then comes the issue of having to resettle into the passport culture. Housing, cell phones, internet service, transportation, schooling for the kids and a thousand other details all clamor for his attention. Even shopping becomes a challenge as the choices and new products in the supermarket can be overwhelming. (By way of example, I counted 50 different choices for peanut butter in one store. Multiply that by how many other choices for how many other products and perhaps you can get a sense of what I mean.) Missionary kids often feel overwhelmed by all the people saying things like, "My how you've grown" (I never wanted my kids to respond with "My how you've grown too", although I thought it might be funny),  or "Isn't it good to be back home" (The kids are thinking I wish I was back home and not here), and over bearing, but well-intentioned, relatives smothering them with attention when they don't know them and would just as soon be with their missionary aunts and uncles in the country they have left behind.

Once the physical issues are solved then comes the more challenging task of scheduling and traveling to visit churches and supporters. Churches have changed, pastors have changed, ways of doing things have changed and the missionary often feels out of date, uninformed and just plain stupid. He shows up   with suit and tie to find everyone else in casual dress. If he comes in casual dress the pastor has a tie and coat. (I remember once wondering if I needed to have my suit coat on for an evening service or if just my shirt and tie were enough. Then the pastor came out in tee-shirt, shorts and sandals and I realized I was way over dressed.) The missionary has many things to share but is expected to challenge, inform, entertain and serve the local congregation in the 20 minutes that the pastor has given him. He then needs to keep a still upper lip at the missionary offering time as the pastor reminds the congregation that the church furnace is going bad.

When the missionary is housed with a family in the church, or even with the pastor, he silently hopes that his kids will behave well and not have a meltdown for if they do they will be labeled as spoiled, undisciplined, ungrateful, and "not well behaved like my own children." (I have wanted to say to someone who was telling me how misbehaved the previous missionaries' children were that they should first try packing up their children into the car, travel for two months staying in complete strangers' homes each night where the rules, food and accommodations are vastly different from the night before, and then see how well their children do before pronouncing judgement.) And the parents will also be labeled as unfit, incompetent and too easy going.

I could continue this litany of the challenges that the missionary on deputation faces but I might be charged with complaining or griping if that thought has not already passed through your mind as you read this. The truth is that I am not complaining, only stating things as they are. The above illustrations are based on our real life experiences on deputation. Thankfully the negative things don't happen very often. (I've only once been called a burden after staying one night in someone's home.) Pastors and churches tend to be very gracious and understanding. But the temptation is there to consider yourself misunderstood, deprived and unappreciated. I wonder if the Apostle Paul had the same temptation as he traveled about and faced opposition from both his converts and his home supporters. Yet he could write  "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." I have learned that secret too, at least up to a certain point. I enjoy deputation travel and being with people. However, my prayer is that I continue to learn it as we launch out into this year's deputation.

I hope to see you soon at your church. And, yes, you can say to me "My how you've grown!" and you'll know what I am thinking as I simply nod my head and smile.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rested, Refreshed and Ready to Go! (Well, maybe . . .)

I had warned in the last post that Ch'airo would be taking a break with the transition from Bolivia back to the USA. But now it is time to begin again.

The last two months have involved a lot of things having to do with transitioning from Bolivia to the States for the next 15 months or so. The first order of business, which we accomplished with flying colors, was to get to know our new grandson Sammy. Gramma was really anxious to get to Indiana to meet, hold, hug and spoil the little guy. Of course Grampa was calm and cool with the whole thing, not the least bit excited or anxious. Hah! It was a great privilege to be able to help his parents dedicate him to the Lord shortly after our arrival in Indiana.

Next was a quick trip to Max, North Dakota to pick up the vehicle that Grace Corporation is leasing us during our deputation ministries. It is a 2004 Dodge Caravan. We are very thankful for the vision of Grace Corporation to help provide missionaries with wheels while on assignment in the States.

Another rather important part of the transition was finding a place to live. After a lot of looking, debating and considering we finally were able to decide upon an apartment in Northgate Village in Marion. While not big enough to hold a whole tribe of Bolivians it is adequate for three Elliott's.

Another not so small happening was the marriage of our daughter Heather to Jeremy Neill in Houston on June 8. So we loaded up the van and we headed to Houston: me, Mark, Niki's mom, Daniel, Naomi and Sammy. We made the trip in three days stopping along the way to visit some friends and to tour the Memphis Zoo.

It was a very special opportunity for me to celebrate the marriage of Heather and Jeremy. I thank God for the good husband and godly man that he has prepared for Heather.

From the wedding we headed west to Tuscan to spend a couple of days with friends from Bolivia and then on up to Colorado Springs for a five day Debriefing and Renewal retreat hosted by Mission Training International. It was a fantastic five days and we are grateful to have had the opportunity.

Now Niki and I are alone in Colorado Springs. Mark flew home by himself to Indiana yesterday and Niki and I have a couple of days together. Tuesday we will be heading to Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota where we will have our first official deputation service. FInally we will be arriving back home in Indiana about a month after leaving for the wedding. (Niki will have been gone almost two months, having traveled to Houston several weeks before the wedding to help with preparations.)

As I look back over this time of transition I can see how God has been with us each step of the way, providing what we need and even some extras along the way. As we begin this new round of deputation ministries we are encouraged to know that he will go before us and beside us providing our needs and, hopefully, using us to minister to others along the way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Farewell Bolivia (At Least For A While)

Today is the end of an era for the Elliott’s. We go to the airport tonight for our 2:30 am departure to the States. Thank you to all who have prayed for us and given financially to make this past term possible.

Ch’airo will continue but at a more infrequent pace. I will try to keep both the prayer request and schedule pages more or less up to date.

Before I go I want to share a couple of lists:  First, what I won’t miss about Bolivia:

All things chuño
Long lines and perceived inefficiency in government offices
Road blocks, strikes and demonstrations
The inability to buy a replacement washer instead of having to buy a whole new faucet
Loud music at church

Things I will miss:
Cecilia Canny
Hershey (our dog)
Faithful co-workers and best friends
Pollo al horno (oven baked chicken)
Yuca frita (fried yucca)
IC Norte food court and Wednesday shopping dates
Hot and muggy days
The hermanos (the brothers) from the church

So that is it. A lot more could be added to both lists but one thing remains the same no matter if we are in Bolivia or the US. The faithfulness of God will continue and will both lead us and supply our needs no matter what, where or when.

We’ll see you in the States.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

He Is Risen!

“He is risen.”

“He is risen indeed.”

For centuries Christians have greeted each other is this fashion as they celebrated the resurrection of our Lord. Our church in Bolivia is no exception to the rule and celebrates at Easter. Every year the Junta Pascual (Easter Conference) is a time of loud and noisy, thoughtful and meditative rejoicing that our Lord Jesus is alive.

The atmosphere is half carnival, half church and half unrestrained celebration as old friends meet, new friends are made and the church is able to see herself as a whole much larger than any individual congregation.

This year’s celebration included:

times of worship and instruction

lots of music

classes for all ages and language groups (Spanish, Aymara, Quechua)

games and activities in the street

good food

Sunday morning march

presentations from Colegio Libertad (Liberty School).

We were very glad to find that a good group of believers from the new church in Riberalta attended.

Niki and I were able to take a side trip to Lake Titicaca with some good friends before going home to Santa Cruz.

All in all it was an inspiring and challenging time calling us all to holiness of heart and life remembering that our Lord died and rose again to make it possible. Yes, “He is risen.”

“He is risen indeed!”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You've been in Bolivia too long when . . .

I know that as a missionary it’s good to become accustomed to your host culture. Those who can’t do it don’t make it. That’s a fact. But is there such a thing as overdoing it? Take certain food items for example: cakes in Bolivia tend to be heavy and not overly sweet. Generally they look a whole lot prettier than they taste to a North American palate. But lately I find myself thinking “Is this cake really that good or have I been here too long?” The same thing seems to be the case with corn on the cob. One of the things that my wife particularly misses is that good Midwestern sweet corn. Bolivian corn tends to be big and tough, like field corn but even less sweet. Again I ask, have I been here too long when  “choclo” tastes great? I could go on about Stateside steak being flavorless and too tender, or the way food cooked under unsanitary conditions in Bolivia tastes better than that in many health-inspector-approved US restaurants, but I think you get my point.

And it’s not just food. I used to be a very punctual person, by the clock, on time. Not anymore. The clock doesn’t mean that much here. Events are more important than schedules and relationships are more important than jobs. I wonder how that will play out when I arrive an hour late to a speaking engagement at a US church? Or when I go over my allotted time by 45 minutes? Will anyone still be there to hear me?

There’s also the problem of mañana (tomorrow). Mañana is when everything will be done—passports, visas, car repairs, you name it. Mañana explains why, with only three weeks left to go before leaving Bolivia, I am trying to give blood that I could have given a long time ago. Mañana is also why I’ve received an invitation to teach at the Easter Junta (the biggest event of the year in the life of our church) only a week before it begins.

Will I have some problems readjusting to life in the States? Probably. In fact I am certain of it. I expect to make a few blunders, maybe a few driving errors (Bolivian rules are a bit different) or social shockers.  So I’m glad that our Lord understands what it means to move between cultures. Did Jesus grow to prefer the food on earth to whatever fare heaven may have offered him? Did he adjust and enjoy a new form of friendship and camaraderie with his disciples?  Did he feel any sadness at saying goodbye and returning to his native culture?

Those are good questions. Maybe I’ll have to give them some more thought and ponder all the ramifications. When I do I’ll be sure to share them with you—mañana.