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, December 2, 2014

Farewelled Out (of the country, that is)

One week ago today we left Bolivia to return to the United States while awaiting for our assignment to Liberia to begin. We were literally farewelled out of the country as our last couple of weeks in Bolivia were filled with goodbyes and mixed emotions. The Santa Cruz district of the Bolivian Evangelical Holiness Church held a very nice farewell for us on Friday evening before our departure. As I listened to the brothers and sisters share their kind words to us my mind was filled with memories.

The keyboard player that night, for instance, was a young man who will soon be graduating from university with a degree in music.

I was remembering how, as a boy, he had a keyboard at church and would play for the services, as often as not, hitting the wrong notes and being in a different key from everyone else. Now he is a very accomplished keyboardist with a good singing voice and a passion to serve the Lord. Where does the time go?

And then there was the district center where the farewell was held. When we first came to Santa Cruz there was not even a thought about a district headquarters. Eventually the idea cropped up but it was only an idea. Then the district was able to purchase a lot with a tree in the center of the lot using a donation from the States to finance the purchase. The lot and tree sat there for a long time, (maybe several years, in fact) overgrown and unkept. But now there is a nice facility that serves as home to district functions, Saint Paul Seminary and the New Hope Tutoring Center.

The music at the farewell was apparently picked with the grumpy old missionary's tastes in mind because it was neither loud nor oppressive.

Following the music we were presented with a number of gifts and "recuerdos"in order to take a little bit of Bolivia with us.

After the formal farewells and abrazos (Bolivian handshake and hug)

was a really delicious plate of sajj'ta de pollo (spicy chicken with chuño)

and a pretty cake.

Two days later we were honored by another farewell, this time by our friends from the missionary community.

Bryan and Molly Canny planned and hosted the event, complete with a large spread of food. It too was a nice afternoon of sharing one more time with the people who we have worked and played with over the years.

The most difficult farewell came at the airport when we said goodbye to our coworkers. We have been blest with really great partners in mission through the years and leaving them behind is the hardest part of our going to a different field of service.

So here we are, now living in "the in-between." We are very thankful to God for all his faithfulness to us during our years in Bolivia and look forward to what he will be doing both now and later as we arrive to begin our new assignment in Liberia.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Transition Observed

Transition: Passage from one form, state, style or place to another. We are in transition. We have been in transition before but always with the thought that while we were transitioning out of Bolivia we would be coming back eventually. This time we know that we are transitioning out without any definite plan of returning. That makes it different. And it is interesting to watch what is happening in my own thinking and emotions now that we are just two weeks away from leaving.

Remember when you first fell in love with your wife or husband? All his/her quirks didn't bother you a bit. They may have been considered charming and appealing to you. That's how I have generally viewed Bolivia's quirks. But no longer. I find that the things that used to make me laugh and smile now irritate me. For example, people honking their horn at a stoplight while the light is still red. It used to make me laugh. Now it is really irritating that people cannot patiently wait for the RED light to turn GREEN. And, no, I am NOT going to run a red light to make you happy.

This weekend was our district annual conference. The discussion seemed to bog down at times over little things that had no real importance. Normally I would feel frustration at this but would at least remember that an important part of Bolivian culture is for everyone to speak that has something to say, even if it has already been said a million times before by the other people in the meeting. Yesterday I found in myself an interesting mixture of frustration and carelessness. (Get on with it! On the other hand I'm leaving and this is my last conference so no big deal.)

When my last seminary class ended I had no real feelings of regret, more of relief that that too is now finished and out of the way. 

I have enjoyed the goodbyes and savored the bittersweet feelings of saying goodbye while looking forward to the excitement of moving on to Liberia. There are still a few more goodbyes to say and I will have the same types of feelings but really will not feel regret at leaving. 

Emotionally I am already gone. I panic to think at how little time we have left to finish packing but am not stressed out over leaving. It's funny how the mind and emotions work to protect us from the negative side of transition. Not too long ago I would have said that it would break my heart to leave Bolivia but now I am ready, even anxious, to get it over with and move on.

If you have read this far then you are probably questioning how sane this missionary is or how dedicated he is to his ministry. I want to reassure you that I am of sound mind and am dedicated to the ministry that God has entrusted to me. But he has built into us a mechanism to enable us to make transitions without falling apart, to make transitions knowing that he goes before us in preparing the way.

I will miss Bolivia. I will miss the people that I love here. I will miss the ministry and will feel left out as I hear of new things happening in the church and mission. But I will also be enjoying the new door of ministry that God has opened for us in Liberia. So I say with a full heart, "Goodbye, Bolivia. It really has been good to know you. I will miss you and think about you and, hopefully, even visit. But hello, Liberia. Let's see what wecan do together for the kingdom of God in the years ahead."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

O When The Souls Come Marching Home . . .

This coming weekend marks an important event in Aymaran society. November 1 is La Fiesta de Todos los Santos (Todos Santos), or All Saints Day. It is believed that at this time of year the souls of the dead return to this world to eat, drink and take back with them the things they need for life in the other world. The souls arrive in a great caravan and find their way to the homes of their loved ones who must make proper preparations to receive them. If it is a “hot” soul that returns, that is one who has recently died, the preparations must be especially elaborate. Special breads are baked, shaped in the form of people. Fruits of all kinds are gathered together, including those things that are out of season, and other favorite things of the deceased are prepared and laid out on a makeshift altar consisting of a table covered with a black woven shawl or poncho.

The souls arrive at noon on November 1. Upon their arrival the family members begin to share the food in the name of the deceased and to pray. These prayers and eating continue throughout the day, into the night and end at noon on the following day when the souls return to their own place.  The remainder of the food is gathered up and taken to the cemetery where the family continues the feast on the grave of their loved one. The prayers continue along with the eating until all is gone. None of the food offerings may be left over.

If the family of a deceased person completes this obligation for three years in a row, they are then released from the necessity to continue welcoming the soul to the house and the soul will stay in its own place with the possibility of becoming a type of god to guard and protect his family.

You may ask why the family goes through all this for three years following the death of a loved one. It is out of fear, because if the soul returns and does not find things to its liking it will punish the family with misfortunes of all kinds. On the other hand, if the soul is pleased with its reception it can bring prosperity to the family.

What a great contrast this is from the Christian hope of eternal life in Jesus. Through the years the Bolivian Evangelical Holiness Church has been faithful in proclaiming new life in Christ. Those who receive the good news of the gospel no longer live in fear of the dead but rather live with a hope of spending eternity in the presence of the Lord.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Farewell WIth The Pastors and Other Things

These last two weeks have seen a flurry of activity for us. It started out with a farewell given to us by the pastors of the Bolivian Evangelical Holiness Church in La Paz at the regular quarterly meeting of the denomination’s pastors. I was asked to preach, not really to preach but to share my testimony of how we became involved in Bolivia and my reflections on where the church is now as compared to where it was in the beginning. I am not given to being overly emotional while preaching but I shed some tears while trying to express our appreciation and love for the brothers who were there. After my sharing we were presented with some gifts and then properly greeted by each one present with a traditional Bolivian abrazo (handshake – hug – handshake) and kind words. Following the service there was a cake in our honor and many pictures taken with different brothers and sisters. All in all it was a good day with lots of memories, laughs and tears.

I have never played the lottery. I suppose that if I did I would only be throwing my money away. Whenever I buy a product that has some contest going on, instant winner and all that I always get, “You are not a winner. Try again.” But somehow or other I managed to win the airline upgrade lottery. Right after the farewell in La Paz I headed to the airport to fly to the States to attend the annual board meeting of the mission in my new capacity as Liberian field superintendent. When I purchased my ticket for the trip a few weeks before, I was offered an immediate, $16 upgrade to business class. At first I was suspicious. What was this going to really cost me? Lots of money at the airport? All my frequent flyer miles? But after a phone call I was assured that there were no hidden strings. So I flew to the board meeting going first class. Wow! It could become addicting.

When I returned to Santa Cruz I had diligently filled out my custom’s form on the plane. But I had misread a question and answered incorrectly so I changed the answer. When I gave the form to the lady she looked at it and said, “You didn’t sign it.” I had forgotten so I went over to a desk to sign the form. Then she sent me over to have my suitcase examined by an agent. While he was looking at my stuff she appeared with a new form. “You have to fill this out again because you made a change on it.” Ok. I took the new form and filled it out, signed it and returned with it. I figured that I could go now since I had had my luggage opened already and the form filled out again. No. “You need to go over there and talk with an agent.” So a second agent began to open my luggage. When I told him that it had already been opened he told me to go on but the lady was there again. They still didn’t like what was on my form. I had tried to be honest and answered yes to a couple of questions about items that I had. So the agent looked at me and said, “You need to fill this out again and you need to answer NO to all the questions.” Ok. So back I went for the third try. This time no one gave me a form so I removed one from the tablet of forms. I filled it out AGAIN, SIGNED IT, ANSWERED NO to all the questions and turned it in. “Where’s the carbon copy?” Do I have to fill it out yet again? “Just go,” they told me. I was by then about the last person and I am sure they wanted to be done. So much for trying to be honest. I guess they weren’t worried about a little fish like me.

Two days after arriving home we had our second garage sale. It is amazing how much stuff can be accumulated even in a “third world country”. But we were glad to sell most of what we had out. Following the sale we had invited the district pastors and wives to come for a meal. So Mark, Bryan and I did the cooking while the sale was going on and then served the lunch. It was a pleasant time of fellowship, singing and sharing together. And, as frosting on the cake, they bought most of what we had left from our sale at a special pastors’ discount!

I share my meanderings with you because these are the things that I will miss about Bolivia. I will miss the times of sharing with pastors, eating, laughing and praying together. I will miss the warmth and love that these brothers and sisters have so consistently shown us. And, yes, I will even miss filling out custom’s forms three times to get it right.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Peter, The Church and Children

Yesterday, Sunday, it was my privilege to teach the kids' class at our district junta. I have not done it for quite a while and so was a bit unsure as to what it was gong to be like. I had my lesson and craft preparations done, songs ready to be taught and sung and then came Sunday. It all came back to mind.

Bolivian children are cute, adorable, lovable, funny and undisciplined, especially in large groups. The room we were in has been newly finished but echoes. That didn't help. Nor were there enough chairs when we started. So the first ten minutes or so was just trying to get everyone situated. More chairs were brought in and a make shift bench made out of a plank and some bricks.

The helpers I had did a great job in trying to keep things down to a dull roar. However as we begin to sing a new song the kids interest was captured and they sang along and did the motions. "I am the church, You are the church, We are the church together….." That was the theme for the day that we are the church; not a building of brick and cement but people are the true church.

Although it doesn't look it, there were between 65-70 kids

Then came story time. It was the Acts 12 account of Peter being imprisoned and the church praying for him. Who was praying? A building? No. It was people, the church, who were praying.

Peter in prison, in my own art style.

The church praying

An angel rescues Peter

The church rejoices over God's answer to prayer

Following the story was craft time. We made stick puppets representing Peter and other characters in the story and then each child drew their own face on a styrofoam plate with their name and the caption: I am the church.

Craft time was wonderfully chaotic and noisy. But the kids seemed to have a good time and enjoyed making the crafts.

"I am the church"

The morning was rounded off by a lunch of Bolivian chicken salad and juice to drink.

I admit that I was a bit happy (and tired, and not too happy about the mess that had been made) when it was all over. Nonetheless, it was a blessing to with the kids yesterday because "I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together." And it is these kids into whose hands God will intrust the church tomorrow.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What Do You Do When The Lights go Out?

Last Sunday evening I was invited to preach at our Plan 3000, "Rivers of Living Water", Church as they celebrated their 20th anniversary. I gladly accepted the invitation when it was extended to me. The Plan 3000 church and I have a good history together, especially in its earlier years.

When we first moved to Santa Cruz from La Paz, the church was still very new and quite fragile at that point in its history. The brothers and sisters were meeting in a small plywood walled room at a school located next door to where the congregation hoped to build its building. During the course of that evening service I remember that a young man shared about his faith in Christ. That young man was David, who was to become one of my Bible Institute Students and pastor of the church for several years.

I had been in conversations with the district about beginning a branch of the Holiness Bible Institute in Santa Cruz. It wasn't long after that first visit at Plan that we began holding institute classes. There was a fine group of 15 students or so, several of them , including David, from the Plan 3000 church.

As the months went by the church began to build on the lot next door. Soon they had some walls up, no roof or floor yet, and began to hold services in the shell of the building. Somewhere along the line we had decided that this was the place that we ought to be attending church and so every Sunday we were helping out; Niki taught children's Sunday School and helped one of the young ladies in the congregation to learn how to do it, and I helped with teaching and preaching as requested.

The day came when the roof was on and the church was ready to pour a floor in the new building. We had a work team that was coming and so it was decided that they would help pour the floor. On that work team was a young lady named Jenny who shoveled sand and dirt and mixed cement as well as the men. Today Jenny Wolheter still laughs about that when we mention it to her.

There are other memories from the church, some good and some sad. The sudden death of Bernardino, a well loved pastor, saddened the congregation. They also experienced the tragic fall into sin of one of their pastors. Members have come and gone. Some have walked faithfully with the Lord while others have fallen away. Pastors have labored with mixed results. But through it all the church has maintained open doors and a witness in their zone.

All these kinds of memories were gong through my mind the night of the anniversary service. The service opened with lots of enthusiastic music. The tambourine girls were playing their best and the congregation was singing. There was definitely a feeling of celebration. As it neared time for the message all at once the lights went out. The music stopped and the pastor in charge wondered what to do. What to do? Why, continue on, of course. The light of the Gospel is not dimmed by the lack of electricity. Twenty years ago the lack of electricity would not have been a great problem and candles and kerosene lamps would have been lit. But not now. Instead the modern equivalent are cell phones. All over the church, people turned on their phones, some with little flashlights, and there was enough light by which to to see. Even the preacher (that was me) got out his phone and turned it on so he could see his text and notes. The lights did eventually come back on, just a few minutes before the end of the message and the evening ended with cake and conversation.

I thank God for the church at Plan 3000. I thank him for the light that the church has been and will be as they follow him in reaching out to their neighborhood.

Preaching by cell phone.

Pre-service prayer.

Making a joyful noise by tambourine.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Back Home in Bolivia Again

We arrived back home in Bolivia on August 21. It was a very good feeling to be getting off of the plane in Santa Cruz and to have the feel of being home again. It was even better to see Bryan Canny waiting to pick us up and take us home.

And yet being home has taken some readjustment. Drivers still honk their horns before the light turns green. Paperwork and documents that we have always done before are getting harder to do. Not to mention more expensive. (We inadvertently paid twice the amount we should have at the bank for one document we were getting. No refunds, no problems! Just consider it a donation.)

We are thankful for the small apartment where we are staying on the property of a sister mission. It was good to see our dog, Hershey, greeting us at the gate and genuinely remembering who we were. And it is good to be with the brothers and sisters after an absence of 16 months. And yet it is different. We know that we are not home to stay, but that we have a new home awaiting us in Liberia, West Africa. The brothers know that too and so there seems to be a bit of distance and sadness as we greet each other with the typical Bolivian abrazo. And as we had our first council meeting together with our fellow missionaries it seemed different to be discussing decisions and future things of which we will not be a part.

I suspect that these three months will go quickly and then we will be boarding a plane again in the first stage of our journey to our new home. When the time comes it will be with mixed emotions that we leave home in order to go home. But in the meantime we will enjoy all things Bolivian while we can.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Liberia, Here We Come

I have been posting in the past months about our potential upcoming change of assignment from Bolivia to Liberia, West Africa. I can now say that it is no longer a potential change but a fact. We have been reassigned officially from our ministry in Bolivia to the new ministry of Evangelical Church Missions (ECM) in Liberia. As we have been sharing this with people across the church there are certain questions that seem to crop up time and time again. So below are my FAQ with answers.

What will your ministry be in Liberia?

While there are still a number of details to be worked out, we will be working with the newly formed Liberian Evangelical Mission (LEM) denomination. As I currently see the situation, we can offer assistance in: denominational development, pastoral/leadership training and children's and women's ministry.

What is the relationship between LEM and ECM?

LEM is a legally recognized denomination in Liberia and is a sister church to the Evangelical Church in the US. ECM's role is one of assistance and cooperation. At this point there are no plans for ECM to incorporate in Liberia but rather we will be working under the umbrella and leadership of LEM.

Will you be returning to Bolivia at all?

Yes. We are tentivly scheduled to return to Bolivia in August 2014 for a short period from 12 to 16 weeks. In that time we will need to clear out our household items and, more importantly, say goodbye to the brothers and sisters in the church and to our coworkers and to leave in good order.

When will you arrive in Liberia? How long will you be staying?

Our assignment to Liberia begins in January 2015. We hope to secure visas and arrive in-country in January. Our term is for four years.

Who will be going? Are there other missionaries in Liberia?

Niki, Mark and I are relocating to Liberia. Mark is finishing 10th grade and so has two years left in school. While there are missionaries from other organizations, we will be the only representatives of ECM at this time.

What can we do to help in your transition from Bolivia to Liberia?

You can pray. We need God's direction, discernment and provision in this time of transition. You can consider giving financially to help with the establishment of this new ministry. We still need to raise some additional support in order to meet the goal set for us by the mission.

I hope that these FAQ have given you some answers. Feel free to write us (gordon@ecmissions.org) if you have other questions.

Deputation Advantages

Deputation, (aka home ministry assignment, fund raising, securing support etc.) is seldom considered the most desirable part of missionary life. In fact, some people have positively stated that if they had to do it they would not become missionaries.

I have written about deputation and its challenges before and I must confess that to a certain degree I can understand that sentiment. However, that statement is usually made without remembering that deputation never takes God by surprise. When God called Niki and me to serve in cross cultural ministry with Evangelical Church Missions he knew exactly what would be involved including the support raising aspect. Is it frustrating at times? Yes. Does it seem endless sometimes? Yes. Do we get tired? Yes. But that does not change the fact that God knows, understands and desires for us to be involved in this aspect of ministry. Also those things do not negate the very positive aspects and opportunities of deputation.

I have written before about the great opportunity we have of meeting so many people along the way, of seeing God's faithfulness in supplying our needs, and about the great love we are shown all across our denomination. But I have not commented much on one of the other great opportunities that deputation provides - the opportunity to see and experience many things that we would otherwise probably never see. In just the short time since Easter we have had the opportunity of being in at least 16 different states. Some of them have just been in passing while we have spent time in others. We have gotten to experience regional foods (boiled peanuts, biscuits and gravy, different types of bar-b-que), visited the Space Center in Alabamba, toured the Shiloh Battlefield and visited Giant Pandas in Tennessee, experienced the opera in Texas, and visited the World of Coca-Cola in Georgia. We have seen mountains, lakes, prairies and forests. What an incredible opportunity to explore America.

So I say, thank the Lord for deputation! This part of the ministry has enriched both my life and the life of my family. As we head out again tomorrow, I can hardly wait to see what will be next.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Return To Liberia

I arrived back in Oregon on Resurrection Sunday morning from my second visit to Liberia. I would like to share some observations and experiences with you that come from this trip.

1. Traveling with Niki and Mark was a definite improvement over the first visit. It was great to see Niki and Mark reacting to Liberia and to be confirmed in our sense of call to begin working there with the Liberian Evangelical Mission (LEM).

2. Living in Liberia will take some adjustments on our part. The food is different, driving has different rules (even from Bolivia) and the lights and water might not be overly reliable for some time. Not to mention that beautiful Liberian English and handshake which ends with a snap as your hand is withdrawn from the hand of the other person. I was still struggling a bit to get it down.

So which came first . . . the chicken or the egg or the auto parts?

3. I feel at home in Liberia and take that as a confirmation of God’s call on us to make a change of field.

4. The children of Liberia are delightful beyond words yet many of them are truly needy. The plight of Liberia’s orphans is almost beyond description. The 30 or so kids who live at the World Christian Heritage Home orphanage live in sub-standard conditions but at least have a roof over their head and a mattress underneath at night. And there is food every day. Still the orphanage is without running water and bathroom facilities for these kids. Yet the people running the home are caring for the children and have a good vision to one day have a complete home for these kids. (I am not saying that all orphans live in homes this sub-standard but for these kids this is their reality.)

5. Fish heads can be eaten and really don’t taste all that bad.

6. Participating in the receiving of the first ordained elders into the LEM was a great occasion and privilege. I am excited about the prospect of being a coworker with these very real men of God.

7. And now the story that many of you have been waiting for concerning our return trip home. We boarded the plane in Monrovia on Friday afternoon. We arrived in Accra, Ghana where some passengers deplaned and others boarded. As passengers to JFK in New York we stayed on the plane. As we were sitting there I began to feel light headed. This has happened to me before on airplanes so I knew what was happening but even so it is a bit disconcerting. I put my head down and told Niki that I was feeling like I was going to feint. Then I realized that I needed to use the lavatory to relieve some intestinal discomfort. I asked the flight attendant if I could use it. I guess in my oxygen starved brain I was thinking that other passengers were boarding and that I was not allowed to get up. After a trip to the little room I was fine and the light-headedness had passed away. However, the flight attendant who observed all this reported to the captain of the flight that I was a sick passenger. I was told that the captain wanted to speak to me (although he never did) and when I went forward I was told to step out of the plane and was then informed that I was being removed from the flight. Both Niki and I tried to talk them out of this decision and reassuring them that I was not sick but to no avail. So Mark, Niki and I gathered up our carry one luggage and were transported by ambulance from the plane to a small medical post inside the airport. From there we were taken to a hotel where we spent the night and most of the next day until the next flight to JFK. The airline never took us through immigration and so we had no legal right to be in Ghana. Indeed, the following night we had to be walked through immigration by Delta personnel since we had nothing in our passports to show that we were legally in Ghana.

After all was said and done, it turned out okay. While I was not very happy about being booted off of the flight I realized that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is a very serious thing and that the airline was being overly cautious just in case I was a carrier.

9. I am thankful for the privilege of making this return visit and would request your prayers for God’s continuing guidance in the days ahead and as the mission makes a final decision concerning our place of future service.