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.

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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Return to Riberalta (And what I learned there)

You might remember reading about my first trip to Riberalta, Beni, Bolivia and how a new church has been planted there. This past weekend I made a return trip to see how the hermanos were doing. I want to share with you what I learned.

1. Always check out your boots before you go on a trip o make sure they have not completely gone to pot while sitting in the closet. The first afternoon while walking to town, my left boot gave way, both the heel and the toe. The right boot soon followed.

2. A "gentle rain" still gets you wet while riding on a moto-taxi (motorcycle taxi).

3. A downpour cannot be outrun by a moto-taxi. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to dry out after we got caught in the rain coming from the airport to our room.

4. A rubber-soled tennis shoe will melt when it comes in contact with the hot muffler of a moto-taxi. It had been raining and the driver was wearing a rather large poncho. I thought that I had both feet on the foot pegs, but I was noticing that it was difficult to shift my foot. I couldn't see my feet, because of the poncho, but I could feel that my foot was getting warm. It turns out I had it resting on the muffler instead of the peg. A second pair of shoes victim to the weather.

5. It helps to sing to yourself while riding on the back of a moto-taxi, especially if the driver thinks he must beat everything and everyone on the road. Arriving back at the room on Saturday evening, I was sure we had won the Kentucky Derby and the Indy 500 all at the same time.

6. Fifteen is very young to get married. Saturday evening there was a wedding at the church. The groom was fifteen (15). But that was ok. The bride was an older woman of 18 so I am sure they will be ok.

Ronny and Abigail at their wedding. Please pray for this young couple to be well established in their marriage and in faith. 

7. Wedding cake is best when eaten before the bugs have discovered it and embedded themselves in the frosting.

Fifteen layers of wedding cake.
8. Poverty of spirit can overcome the effects of material poverty. I was humbled as we visited the home of Enoc, a first time visitor to the church. His family lives in a one room house (we would call it a wooden shack). We went to pray for his mother who is suffering from a skin disease. One bed was in the corner for the adults. The children slept on blankets on the mud floor. The remains of a cooking fire were in the center of the room. But despite the poverty, Enoc did not seem the least bit dampened in his enthusiasm for the Lord. I pray that he and his family will become a part of the church.

9. The hermanos can accomplish a lot in a short time when they make up their minds to do so. During our previous visit to Riberalta there were only a few pillars where the church building would be. Now there is a  building complete with a cement floor.

Outside of the Christ Lives church.
There is still a need for chairs and furnishings.

10. Children are very loving, forgiving of poor Spanish, amazed by simple tricks and respond to love. I taught the children's Sunday School class. The group of about 20 kids responded to the songs, the story and my simple rope trick. Not once did anyone correct my grammar or poor word choice. Instead we laughed and sang together as we learned about God's willingness to help us. Oh yes, they also like to rub the hair on my arms. I simply tell them that I am half dog and then growl at them.

Hide and seek anyone?

Welcome to our church!
11. There are still opportunities for the gospel to be spread and for new places and people to be influenced and captured by the good news of Jesus. Riberalta is one such opportunity. May God bless the church there as it faithfully reaches out to its community and beyond.