Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aging Gracefully

I thought I'd share my lastest monthly article in our church's senior adult newsletter, the "Joyful Tidings."

I’d heard the comment before, but someone quoted it again last week and I couldn’t help but reflect on the truth of the statement, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” My mother-in-law also shared a humorous remark that her doctor had made to her recently. In trying to express the idea that her age was catching up with her just a bit and showing up in some health concerns, he told her, “You’re suffering from the birthday disease—too many of them.” Sooner or later, we all have to face the reality that we’re not getting any younger. The passing of time brings with it some new challenges as our bodies age. I’m reminded of a Spanish phrase I used to hear frequently in Argentina, “Los aƱos no vienen solos.” That roughly translates into English like this, “The years don’t come unaccompanied.” In other words, each new year or birthday, while being a cause of celebration on the one hand, also brings with it new struggles and sometimes very undesired health issues.

How are we as Christians to respond to the aging process? What can we do to prepare ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for what lies ahead? To keep our minds sharp, physicians tell us we ought to read and expose ourselves to new information, as well as engaging in mental exercises like crossword puzzles and word search games. Physically, we ought to eat a well-balanced diet, get adequate rest, and exercise according to our capacity to do so. Emotionally, we can reach out to family and friends and maintain and deepen existing relationships or seek to form new ones. Finally, to keep our spiritual lives healthy we need to engage in the disciplines of daily Bible reading and prayer, as well as fellowshipping with other Christians, sharing our faith as God provides us with opportunities to do so, and seeking to minister to the needs of others as well.

Nothing will help us ward off the effects of aging better than adopting the attitude of the psalmist in welcoming each new day with the declaration, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” May that be our outlook and focus as we age gracefully.

Reggie McNeal on Evaluating Programmed-based vs. Missional Churches

I have always enjoyed and been challenged by anything that Reggie McNeal writes. I came across an article by him that refers to a new book he's written in digital form that addresses the question of how we evaluate programmed-based vs. missional churches. I think it's a great article and I look forward to reading the book.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guatemala Trip Photos - Feb 2009

I've uploaded some photos from the most recent trip to Guatemala with our church. I'll work on adding some captions to these, but as of now, they're at least available to see at this link.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Guatemala update - Wednesday evening

It´s after 10:00 p.m. and the day has been long so I´m probably going to be briefer this evening than yesterday. We headed to Tejutla this morning, leaving the hotel and making the hour plus drive through the beautiful mountains and valleys. We began with VBS at the Bethel Baptist Church there. I didn´t get an actual headcount, but guess there were around 60 kids altogether. Because of space constraints, we divided the children into two groups and Allen & Brenda worked with Jacque with the younger kids while Thorvald and Virginia assisted Linda and Susan with the other kids. The rest of us took off to deliver some of the bags of food to needy families and to share the gospel with them. We also got to see a mission point (new church start) of the congregation in a river valley a few kilometers outside of town down a narrow dirt road. The church has built a simple tin roof-covered structure alongside the river on property that has been loaned to them. They have about 40 attending, including children. We also drove a bit further to see the land the church has purchased to construct a more permanent building for the mission. The mission pastor is one of the fellows who has been attending our training sessions in Quetzaltenango every 6 months. He worked in the U.S. in NY for many years and has retired here.

We met back up with the rest of the group for lunch at a small restaurant in Tejutla and went from them to deliver more bags of food. Not wanting to overwhelm folks with a huge group, Rhonda and I went with the pastor while Linda and Carol (our partnership liaison) accompanied another lay leader of the church. We headed back down the same dirt road toward the mission but stopped along the way and walked down a very steep trail (several hundred yards) where each group spoke to two different families--sharing the gospel with them and leaving them food. An older couple prayed to receive Christ with Rhonda and I. Meanwhile, Jacque and Duane had gone with the mission pastor to visit some other families and take them food. They shared tonight at dinner that they also had seen folks pray to receive Christ with them. Once again we were struck with the tremendous poverty in which these folks were living. Most that we saw today lived in simple adobe brick structures--perhaps no larger than 10 ft. by 10 ft. They have to hike up that same steep hill that we climbed back up to get to the main road and go to town.

After the home visits, we went to a small public school in town. The school was much smaller and poorer than the two we had gone to the previous days in San Marcos. They combined the pre-K and K, the 1st and 2nd graders, the 3rd and 4th graders, and the 5th and 6th graders and we once again shared games, a Bible story, snacks, etc. with the children. The director expressed her gratitude for our coming and invited us to share some cake and tea. After that, it was another stop for tea at the home of the missions pastor before heading back to San Marcos and a dinner of tasty fajitas.

After dinner, we sat around the tables and shared reflections on the experiences of the week and the things that had impressed us or that God has taught us. It was a wonderful time of hearing how God has been working in each of our lives this week as we´ve attempted to serve Him here.

Tomorrow morning we´ll journey back to Guatemala City, stopping along the way to see some ancient Mayan ruins at Iximche. Friday will take us to Antigua for some sightseeing and shopping for souvenirs before we wake up bright and early Saturday to fly home.

Thanks to all who have stopped by to visit my blog and for your prayers for our group this week. We´ve certainly sensed them and have been blessed with a strong awareness of God´s presence.

Guatemala update - Wednesday morning

We had a busy day again yesterday, concluding with an emotion-packed "despedida" or farewell send-off by the FBC where we´ve been working since Sunday morning. The day started at another school--this time a good distance up on a mountainside on the outskirts of San Marcos. Once again, we divided up into four teams to share in the classrooms according to grades. The pre-schoolers and kindergartners were down the road a bit in another building and Jacque Flint went there with a translator and a couple of church members from the FBC here. The rest of us split up and each spoke in 3 or 4 different classrooms--about 400 kids in all I think.

While we were sharing in the classrooms, the pastor struck up a conversation with the principal or director of the school. Before they had finished talking, the pastor had led him to faith in Christ. He also visited with Susan Escher and I in the last class of 5th graders where we were sharing and set up a Bible study in the teacher´s home.

From the school, we drove a bit further out of town on a narrow, winding road (which pretty much describes any road you travel here) and then walked up a fairly steep dusty path to a home where the church had visited last week. The dust on the path was like nothing I´ve ever seen. It had the consistency of a fine powder and was a couple of inches deep. With each step, it was like setting off a mini-explosion of dust. The home where we visited had lost a young daughter (who also had a young child) to AIDS just last week. The pastor had gone with another young man who has been helping us this week named Bernabe (Barnabas) and had shared with the family and had prayer for the girl. She passed away the next day. We took food to her family and to one of her neighbors. The abject poverty in which they live was striking. The church had also supplied in their visit last week a simple water filter system as the family had been getting their drinking water out of an open barrel sitting in the patio area where the animals walk by constantly.

After lunch at the church which the pastor´s wife prepared each day for the team, we made some more home visits to deliver food in some cases and in others just to share the gospel. I accompanied the pastor with one of the church leaders with the purpose of visiting a couple of ladies who weren´t Christians. On the way, the pastor first saw a lady working in a little convenience-type store in her garage--a very common sight here. He struck up a conversation with her and she invited us into her house for a visit. She formerly attended but hasn´t done so since the death of her husband last year. We had a wonderful visit with her, sharing encouragement and Scriptures and through tears she said she needed to rededicate her life to the Lord.

The next stop was at the house of a young man who just happened to be standing in his door as we passed by. Once again, a similar scenario to the previous one, we were invited in and also met Carlos´ wife, Sarita, who has been having some serious health problems and is heading today to Guatemala City for tests on her thyroid. They too had once attended but had ceased to come. We shared encouragement from the Scriptures with them as well and had prayer for them. They showed up last night for the final evening service and Allen´s workshop.

Finally, we also saw an older gentleman, 67, who has a carpentry shop down the hill from the church. We visited with him for awhile as well and I was able to share the gospel with him and he prayed to receive Christ. From there we moved on to the houses of the ladies whom we were supposed to visit, but neither was home. It seems that the Lord had other plans for our afternoon with the three previous divine encounters along the way.

VBS went very well again yesterday afternoon at the church and then we dashed back to the hotel for a quick dinner before the wrap-up service and Allen´s workshop. At the conclusion of the time, the church recognized our team and gave us some of the woven book bags that everyone carries here. Their kind words of appreciation and love brought tears to everyone´s eyes I think. All in all, it was a wonderful time together.

This morning we´re off to Tejutla again (where we shared in a service on Sunday afternoon). It´s about an hour away through the mountains and we´ll have VBS at the school this morning followed by delivering food again to needy families there and then sharing in a school this afternoon. I´m off to breakfast now but I´ll try to provide another update tonight or in the morning.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Guatemala update - Monday evening

We had another outstanding day today, though the human misery and abject poverty we witnessed as we delivered bags of food to needy families after lunch today was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching at times.

We spoke this morning at the State of Israel public school, just a few blocks from the Primera Iglesia Bautista (First Baptist Church) here in San Marcos. We split up into 4 teams, with one group sharing with the pre-K and K classes, another group speaking with 1st and 2nd grade classes, a third group going to the 3rd and 4th graders, and the final group sharing with the 5th and 6th grade classes. There were generally 2 sections of each grade and a total of around 425 kids. We played some games with them, shared a simple Bible story about Jesus´ love for children, and gave them some snacks and crayons as a gift. With the older kids, we also shared a gospel presentation with them.

One of our team members had an interesting conversation with a 2nd grade teacher who is Roman Catholic. She commented that she had observed many pastors who seem to be serving for the wrong reasons--financial gain, etc., and mentioned some she knew who took luxurious vacations with their families while so many around them lived in extreme need. She observed that the FBC here though was different--they really were involved in the community and were seeking to meet the needs of others and this had impressed her. She expressed her opinion that this was what churches should be like. I shared her views with the pastor later and he was grateful for the good report. I´ll probably share at a later point about his ministry with street kids and troubled adolescents. It´s an amazing story of love, compassion, and hospitality beyond anything one would expect.

After lunch we went to some extremely poor neighborhoods where we delivered bags of food to some acquaintances of church members and took the opportunity as well to share the gospel with them and pray for their needs. A couple of cases really broke my heart. One was of a lady whose husband was in the very prison where we shared yesterday. He was imprisoned for domestic violence, having threatened her with a machete. He´s an alcoholic and when he is drunk is violent and abusive. She´s trying to raise 5 kids basically on her own. Another lady we shared with had visited the church for the first time yesterday, having been brought by a neighbor. She has 7 kids, all under the age of 13 and is a single mom. She leaves the kids home alone while she works to try and make enough money to support them. Both of these ladies prayed to receive Christ with us after having heard the gospel.

Another group shared how they went to a home where the mom through her tears said she was at the end of her wits--trying to care for a mother dying of cancer and attending to the needs of her own young children. The house was filthy and the team took time to clean her house--sweeping the floors, washing her dishes, washing the laundry and hanging it to dry--in addition to delivering the food and praying for her.

Still another family that this group ministered to involved a young teenaged mother who had given birth to two children--both the products of having been raped. The mom has some mental issues and her six-year old son is about the size of a three year old due to malnutrition. He can barely speak. Her newborn baby was in terrible shape as well and the team took milk back to the family for the baby as well.

Seeing what we experienced today was heartbreaking on many levels, but it reminded me of how greatly we´ve been blessed as a nation in comparison with so much of the rest of the world and what a tremendous responsibility we have as Christians to meet the needs of others as God permits us to minister to them.

Guatemala update

Greetings from chilly Guatemala. The daytime temperatures have been wonderful, but some have felt the evenings were a bit too cool.

Yesterday was a very busy day for us. We all went together to the local prison in the morning. It looked like there were about 35 or 40 prisoners (all men) and the meeting was held in the courtyard under a roof. I´m not sure how else to describe it as it was just a tin-roofed structure without walls. The members of the First Baptist Church here led in worship (acapella), singing some hymns and praise choruses. I knew all of the songs except the last couple of choruses. I preached a 15 minute message to them on Pilate´s questions to Jesus and used those to share a gospel message with them. Afterwards, we helped pass out breakfast to the prisoners.

From there we headed straight to church. They suspended their normal adult SS activities to allow us to share testimonies, etc. Every team member had the chance to share some thoughts with the congregation--ranging from conversion experiences to the awareness of God´s presence with us wherever we might be. Susan, one of our team members played some praise choruses as well on a keyboard and the folks insisted that she play another one at the conclusion of the service. I had the opportunity to preach and shared a message from Acts 2:41-47 about the characteristics of the Jerusalem church.

The church provided lunch for us afterwards and then it was off in the van to Tejutla--over a fairly narrow road with switchbacks and some breathtaking scenery of mountain valleys and villages along the way. Our time there was a bit shorter as we needed to get back to San Marcos for Allen´s evening workshop, but we participated in worship once again, introducing all of the team members and Jacque and Allen shared testimonies. Susan played a couple of songs and I preached the same message there as I had at FBC. While I was preaching, several of the team members met with the children and did an activity together. We´ll be back there on Wednesday for VBS in the morning and speaking in a school in the afternoon. They reversed that schedule on us as the school only meets in the afternoon. The church served us some sandwiches and tamales with hot chocolate before we hustled back to San Marcos.

There were 23 folks last night for Allen´s workshop and a good number of children who came with parents. Jacque and Linda worked with them (without an interpreter even) and managed to keep the kids entertained and do a craft activity while Allen led the workshop.

We came back to the hotel and spent the next hour or hour and a half packaging crayons and candy in zip locks to pass out at the schools the next couple of days. We wrapped that up somewhere around 10:00 p.m. last night. Someone commented that the first day felt like 3 days and yesterday felt like 2, and it was only Sunday. Seriously though, spirits are high and joyous and it´s a wonderful team with great chemistry. Lots of joking, etc. We´ve already had to adopt the slogan of "what happens in Guatemala stays in Guatemala." Just kidding about that of course. We´re looking forward to a few more busy days before we travel back to Guatemala City on Thursday.

We do have internet access here at the hotel which is a big plus.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Next Week's Schedule in Guatemala

I'm heading out early Saturday a.m. for Guatemala once again--this time with a team of 9 others from our church. One of our participants from last year's trip to Cantel, Guatemala had to cancel out at the last minute due to a problem with security clearance from Uncle Sam. We're going to have a busy travel day on Saturday, awakening somewhere before 4:00 a.m. to be at church and load up at 4:30 to head for the airport. We're due in Guatemala City at 2:00 p.m. and rather than spending the night at the seminary as in times past, we're heading westward that same day to San Marcos in order to be present for Sunday services. I thought you might be interested in what our schedule looks like for the week. It's going to be a busy time from early until late every day. Here's what it looks like:

Saturday, Feb. 7th
Arrive at airport approximately 2:00 p.m., leave directly for San Marcos, eating enroute, possibly in Quetzaltenango (Xela)
Arrive at hotel and settle in

Sunday, Feb. 8th
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Visit a local prison (45 men, 2 women), share a 20-30 minute message and help serve breakfast to inmates
9:30 – 12:00 p.m. – Worship service at FBC of San Marcos (preaching, testimonies, etc.)
12:00 – 2:00 p.m. – Lunch with church family and leave for Tejutla
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – Worship service at Bethel Bapt. Church (preaching, testimonies, etc.)
4:30 – 5:00 p.m . – Return to San Marcos
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. – Dinner
6:00 – 8:00 p.m. – Training sessions

Monday, Feb. 9th
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Speak at State of Israel National School (400 children, age 5 – 14)
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. – Evangelistic home visits (deliver food)
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – VBS at church (approx. 200 children)
4:30 – 6:00 p.m. – Dinner at the hotel
6:00 – 8:00 p.m. – Training
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. – Evening school (70 young people from 15-22 years old)

Tuesday, Feb. 10th
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Speak at National Public School (300 children, age 5 – 14)
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. – Evangelistic home visits (deliver food)
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – VBS at church (approx. 200 children)
4:30 – 6:00 p.m. – Dinner at the hotel
6:00 – 8:00 p.m. – Training

Wednesday, Feb. 11th
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Leave for Tejutla
9:00 – 12:00 p.m. – Speak at National Public School (approx. 600 children)
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. – Evangelistic home visits (deliver food)
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – VBS at church (approx. 200 children)
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. – Return to San Marcos
6:00 – Dinner at Hotel

Thursday, Feb. 12th
Breakfast at hotel, return trip to Guatemala City
Lunch enroute at Katock Restaurant
Arrive at Seminary

Friday, Feb. 13th
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Breakfast at seminary
9:00 – 4:00 p.m. – Sightseeing in Antigua