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, February 23, 2013

Blessings in Bunches

Have you ever noticed how good things and bad things seem to come in bunches? I am sure that they really don’t, but that is how we perceive them.

I want to share some good things that have come our way in a bunch. First, in case you have not already heard, our grandchild was born on January 17. Sammy is a very much anticipated and loved addition to the family. While I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet, he has already made his own special place in my heart.

Not too many weeks after Sammy’s birth, I got a phone call from a young man named Jeremy. I had met Jeremy before and was expecting this call (but maybe not quite so soon). He was calling to ask permission to marry our daughter Heather, and now our family is looking forward to a wedding.  While Jeremy may not yet have the same spot in my heart as Sammy, I am very excited to have him join our family. He is a very nice young man who deeply loves the Lord and Heather.

Our co-worker Molly Canny gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on our son Mark’s 16th birthday. 

We are extremely grateful to have Mark as a part of our family and are excited to welcome little Cecilia to our mission family and hearts. She should give me some opportunity to hone my grampa skills before meeting Sammy.

And then there are the more mundane issues of life. We have a car available for our use during our upcoming deputation ministries. That is a big praise to God. Mario (see earlier posts on him if you don’t know who he is) earned 50 bolivianos yesterday and is now  only short another 50 in order to cover his rent. He has a promise of a job and the possibility of getting his foot healed once and for all. The weather has been cooler. We are getting excited about the change of location from Bolivia to the States for a while.

In thinking about all the good that is coming our way, I am reminded again about what is so obvious: God is good and loving. I suspect that if we would look we would find evidence of that every day and not just when everything’s going our way.

PS: A quick followup on the last Post. Here is a picture of me giving the Bible Institute files over to the Santa Cruz district leaders. It was an important moment in the life of the district.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pastoral Training - Looking Back, Leaning Forward

As all of you teachers out there know, educating students is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be frustrating and challenging.
I remember one of my first teaching experiences in Bolivia— a class at St. Paul Seminary. It was an introduction to Christian Education with emphasis on Sunday School. The very first night, one of the older pastors who was studying complained that I had demoralized the whole group of students by choosing the wrong textbook. Welcome to the world of pastoral training in Bolivia, where the students don’t hesitate to share their opinions!

However much I may have demoralized them, I tried to learn from my mistakes and to improve over the years in textbook selection and my teaching skills.

I also remember one of our first mission council meetings after finishing language school. I was asked, "Would you like to work with the Bible Institute or TEE (Theological Education by Extension)?" "I would really like to work with TEE." "Fine. You can be the director of the Bible Institute." So much for careful consideration of my opinion!
Now it so happened that the sub-director of the Institute was none other than the same pastor who would claim that I had demoralized the entire seminary. He was middle aged and I was a young, dumb gringo. I was the director. He was the sub-director. I was supposed to lead and he was supposed to follow. HAH! There was no way he was going to take directions from me, and that was fine. I wasn't sure why I was supposed to be giving them. I didn't know anything about the institute, let alone how to run it. So tacitly by default he became the director. I don't really remember what I did. But that was good because from then on the institute always had a Bolivian director. It was time for the missionaries to relinquish power, and my appointment provided the perfect opportunity for the change to take place.**

One of my first groups of students in Santa Cruz.

Years later we moved to Santa Cruz and one of my tasks was to get a branch of the Institute up and running. I remember the first class, held it in a room at a new school next door to where the church would eventually be. We probably had 14 or 15 students, as I recall.

José, Leonardo, and Alfredo were all eager students.

The Santa Cruz Institute  eventually expanded into two different centers meeting at two different locations. As the district grew the institute tried to keep pace. In the early years I was the only available teacher, so things were limited by my own lack of omnipresence. Eventually we would add teachers  and a lot more students. Over the years here in Santa Cruz the Institute has had a little more than 100 students enrolled.

The first three graduates from Santa Cruz (when Santa Cruz was a TEE center before my time). Fimo, on the fight, is the new director of the seminary here in Santa Cruz.

Now we are in another transition. The Bible Institute will be no more when I finish teaching the last class under the Bible Institute system. We are now a part of St. Paul Theological Seminary, based in La Paz and owned by our Bolivian church. I have just turned the reigns over to the district.

Silvia was a sweet young lady who really struggled with reading and writing but she was faithful as can be. 

The mission will no longer be administrating the system.  Our upcoming deputation in the States combined with the change of name and system makes this a very convenient time to make the final change. We had a meeting earlier this week to plan, and I was encouraged. The brothers have good vision and a solid, feasible plan for transitioning from Institute to Seminary.

My current class, the last under the institute system.

I am excited to have been a part of this process, and I thank God for the privilege of participating in the lives of so many young people. Now I am equally excited* about the future of the seminary and will anxiously wait to see what God has brought about when we return next year.

*Disclaimer. If you know me it may be difficult to distinguish my excited state from my unexcited state. Although the untrained eye may detect no difference, I can assure you that there is. I feel somewhat like Bob the Tomato who has to explain, when told to sit down, "This is standing, This is sitting. I'm sitting."

** The other day, we were invited to lunch at the home of one of the pastors here in Santa Cruz. As we visited I asked them how long they had been in Santa Cruz since they are originally from La Paz. I discovered that my friend, the pastor, had come to our Bible Institute in La Paz to register and study. But he said he quit after the third day because he didn't understand anything. When I asked him about the date, it turns out it was probably the same year when I was "the director." I was not the teacher, however. So I laughed and said, "You were my first drop out!" But he has since been studying here in Santa Cruz and is one of my current students in the class on Holiness Theology.