Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Culture shock two

We got up on Monday morning and packed and prepared to say our good byes. Pastor Gregorio was going to take us to the border. We freshened up and had a light breakfast. As austere as the accommodation were, with toilets that you weren't supposed to flush, showers that dribbled water, dust and dirt that seeped into everything, no TVs, Internet and intermittent cell phone service, it had become our home for just under a week. Someone noted that we came in and experienced a culture shock. Many of us were quite disillusioned on Tuesday night, but as we packed up, all of our initial concerns had faded to the background. Our priorities had shifted. We came in thinking about our needs. We left more concerned about their needs. We had become a part of them.

Gilberto, a local pastor came by with his wife and newborn daughter. Gilberto served as our translator every morning at the work site. He also shared his testimony. He told of drugs, prison and a Damascus Road experience which changed his life. He praised God for giving him a fresh start, a new wife and child, and a vision for ministry. He has a dream to reach out and warn kids about drugs. He has plans to build his own church. Right now he is working as an associate Pastor in another church in Mexicali.

We pulled out of the seminary at 9:00 a.m. and it took us just over an hour to get across the border. The cars were backed up for a couple of miles. They checked our passports and we made it through and were on the road again. Every one's thoughts began to turn back to our obligations at home again. It seemed quite a few of us had small situations to deal with. It was like we had entered a different world again. Our biggest concern one day earlier was whether or not we were going to get enough hot water to take a shower. Now we were back to worrying about what was happening at work, whether bills were going to get paid, about something that we needed to take care of at home and so on. You could feel the stress rising.

It is so funny. We actually felt bad for the people of Mexicali at one point during the week. We saw what they didn't have and our hearts ached. But as we returned to our world, there was a part of us that understood the fact that a simpler life style isn't all bad. There is some blessing in it. Maybe that is something we can bring back with us as we come home.


Together in the love of Christ

After church on Sunday we went to a Chinese Restaurant with the Barnes' family and the Pastor Gregorio's family. Rick and Mercy told us that there are 100,000 Chinese immigrants in Mexicali. This restaurant was beautiful with flowing fountains and lots of greenery. Of course water is scarce in the city so the fountains weren't working and the pond was empty.

After a sumptuous buffet which included shrimp, pork, orange chicken, broccoli, rice and so much more, we paused to present Pastor Gregorio with some gifts from Norwich. Sheldon presented him with a T-shirt and mug from our tourism office, some Classical music CDs and a post card with our City Hall which was signed by all of us.

We left the restaurant stuffed and went back to the seminary to relax a bit before returning for the evening service. I have to confess that I was nervous about preaching. I practiced my sermon and it timed out at about twelve minutes. Eileen and a few of the others assured me that was enough. Eileen did a nice job of filling in for Lori while we were on the trip. She tried to keep me in line but she had her work cut out trying to keep both Sheldon and me from talking too much and getting too preachy all week long.

The evening service began right on time at 7:00 p.m. and it included lots of music and a time for testimonies. One after another the people got up to give thanks for us. It was a very humbling and moving experience. We didn't understand what they were saying at first, but then Mercy got up and explained that each of the people had expressed how touched they were by our coming all this way to help beautify their church. They thanked us for loving them and their children and sharing so much of ourselves with them.

We were surprised when they asked us to sing again. We didn't have anything planned but Pastor suggested Amazing Grace. so we sang again. (Both churches should get a couple new choir members out of this!) They loved it. Then the time came for me to preach. I was a little nervous because we had already gone past the hour mark and I was worried the people were getting antsy. Mercy served as my translator and we had a good time. She mimiced my enthusiasm and the people seemed to enjoy the words I shared. Of course I went almost 25 minutes and our folks ribbed me a bit about being long winded.

Then as we prepared to close the service, Pastor Gregario had us form a circle of fellowship around the church and he prayed for us. Surrounded by members of the church, we felt the movement of the Holy Spirit move among us. Then the people came up to us, men and women, hugging us. No words were needed to feel the love. Mercy told us that in his prayer, Pastor thanked God for us and shared the fact that we were family now. I can tell you a few of us came away with tears of joy from both sides.

We closed off our last night in Mexico by stopping at a Dairy Queen for Ice Cream. A treat upon a treat.


God speaks our language

Sunday was a day of praise and celebration. Nancy got up early and cooked for all of us. She made plain, banana and apple cinnamon pancakes and we enjoyed them very much. Pastor Gregorio told us that the morning service would be pretty much like ours back home. It would start at 11:00 a.m. and go for about an hour. The evening service would last about an hour too, but it would be less formal and more laid back.

We arrived at the church in time to catch the tale end of Sunday School. The church has a very active education ministry. They have classes for all the kids as well as a class for young adults and adults. The only difference is that they don't seem to need to gather around the coffee pot before going to class.

Worship actually began about fifteen minutes late. Sunday School classes broke up and people began drifting in. The worship leader took his place and offered a short prayer and then invited us to sing. Almost immediately I recognized the first song even though the words were flashed up front in Spanish. It was "Lord I Lift Your Name on High." That put us all at ease and made us feel at home.

After singing together each of the Sunday School classes were invited up to share the verse of the day. It was really cute. Every class participated including the Adult Class. Mercy told us that each class will either tell a story, sing a song or read a verse. The worship really involved people of all ages and I would guess that they had over 120 people in this small church building.

There was more singing and time seemed to fly by. Finally about 12:15 p.m. Sheldon was invited up to preach. He was introduced by our ABC missionaries Rick and Mercy Barnes. One of the leaders in the church, Marco Maya served as his translator. I have to admit that it was great to hear English spoken and Sheldon made us proud. All week long we had been immersed in Spanish at the church as we ministered to the kids. Even throughout this service we listened on in Spanish, picking out words here and there. When we sang, "what a Friend We have in Jesus" in Spanish, I think we were all moved at how music can bring us together in wonderful ways. During the service David helped us to prepare to pieces of special music. We sand "I love You Lord" in English and then finished the service with "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" in Spanish.

When church got out at 12:45 p.m. it reminded me of home. The people came out renewed and with smiles of joy as they gathered outside the church. It was clear that even though we were separated by culture and language, we were united in our love of God.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Running the races til the end

When we arrived in Mexicali and heard the plans for the week, I thought that this Saturday would be a day of relaxation and reflection. The plan called for us to finish our work at the church in the morning and return to celebrate with the children that evening. When Pastor Gregario asked Sheldon and I to preach on Sunday, that meant we needed some prep time. Both of us are pretty good but not good enough to just pull a sermon out of the air. So Saturday became a day of preparation for us.

The rest of the group went off to the church and finished painting the sanctuary. They also put everything back together again. They hung the blinds and set up the musical equipment and the pulpit furniture.

We all returned for the evening celebration and helped out with the games. Sheldon took charge and the kids quickly caught on even though he didn't speak the language. There was laughter and excitement and lots of memories made that evening. As the day passed we knew the kids were looking forward to having cake and taking a shot at the pinata on the closing night of Vacation Bible School.

Eileen ordered a cake for the kids and we found out that they had also ordered one. Ours was beautiful. It featured a yellow sculpted cross with the words, "Jesus is our Friend" in Spanish. Their cake featured Sponge Bob. We felt right at home.

Watching the kids play the pinata was a blast. They added a few twists to it that made it even more fun than usual and we may try to incorporate them when we get back home. After the party we came home exhausted and retired early so we would be ready for church in the morning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The next twenty four hours

We made it through another day. After two days of following behind the Pastor in a mini caravan, we actually drove through the city ourselves without getting lost. It may not sound like much, but it would be like driving through Boston to get to your work place. The church is 45 minutes away from the seminary where we are staying.

Last night we took pictures of all the children so we can make little souveniers for them to take home. The theme is "Jesus is my friend" and we think the kids will like them. The kids make "the eye of God" last night and they had a great time. It is so nice to see them get so excited.

This morning we finished painting the sanctuary and did some stucco work on the front of the building. Sharon and David were in charge of throwing the mud at the wall. They made a mess but it looked pretty good when they got done.

Early this morning we learned that Melanie and Doreen's dad passed away. We prayed with them and they are trying to determine what they need to do this afternoon. There will be a service for him in Ohio. They may leave us a little early and fly right out there to be with family.

Tonight we have been invited out to eat with the Pastor Gregario after Vacation Bible School. We will go to a restaurant the has "grande tacos." Most of us have been enjoying the food down here. The woman who cooks lunch for us is great. We supplement that with a bakery that has pastry that is out of the world. Most of us will not be losing any weight on this trip.

We are so glad to have Nancy with us. She has been our interpreter. She knows the most Spanish so she has been in a lot of demand. June has also been in demand. A couple of people here have been asking her questions about immigration law. June was so excited to find another lawyer down here as well. He is the husband of the Director of Vacation Bible School. They spent time comparing notes.

We have all made the adjustment now. The poverty is a bit overwhelming to see. It actually tears at your heart when you stop to tghink about it. Both Sheldon and I have agreed that we want to do something more when we get back home. What, we are not sure.

I will probably not be able to write again until Monday. I'll have more for you then.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Believe it or not I am writing this blog from the home of one of the seminary graduates. Mercy Barnes said Alma will be the first woman ordained from the school. She runs a little internet business on the side. Like so many of the people down here in Mexicali, she and her husband run this business to supplement their income. He is a police office and works with the DARE Program. His is one of two units outside the United States.

On Tuesday we set off from Norwich at 5:45 a.m. and made it to Bradley airport in plenty of time. David Warfield arranged for our boarding passes and we flew right through the security checkpoint. We lifted off at 8:30 a.m. and after a lay over in Chicago, we made our way to San Diego.

Mercy Barnes met us at the gate and we took the two hour ride through the mountains to El Centro, the border city. After dinner, we headed across the border and made our way to the seminary. We were immediately struck with the poverty that the people here face. It is so evident everywhere you look.

We arrived at the seminary at about nine thirty and were met by the Director, who is also Pastor of the church we are working at. We recieved a brief orientation and then headed to our rooms. The accomodations sent most of us into culture shock. But after a good night's sleep, we were ready to go.

On Wednesday and Thursday morning we worked at the Church and did all kinds of prep and painting. Andy Scheuerman replaced a toilet, June Deptulski cut tiles and I made the coffee, cleaned the kitchen and ran out for doughnuts.

On Wednesday night we helped out at a special vacation Bible school and our ladies led the craft time. They made a banner and the kids got very excited. We will hang the banner tonight and everyone is excited. The theme is "Jesus is our friend."

On Sunday Sheldon and I will be preaching. He is taking the morning service and I will lead the evening service. (He is older after all!) The truth is that all of us feel blessed and although each night we return home tired, we have all seen the hand of God at work here.

I don't know if I will be able to blog in again before we return. So many of the things we take for granted, like television, newspapers and the internet are not easy to find. None-the-less, life is good. We miss you all but we will be back with lots of stories to tell.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Ready Set...

All the last minute details are out of the way. We had moving commissioning services at each of the churches. We got a nice write up in the Norwich Bulletin. And the hour is almost here.

It is hard to believe that within a few hours we will gather at the church for a grand adventure in mission. I hope I can keep everyone up to date with this blog. Everything will depend on what kind ofInternet reception we can get in Mexicali. I have been told that there is an Internet cafe. If so, we should be able to get online pretty quickly.

I am including a few photos of our service at FBC and the get together at Central afterwards. You can tell everyone is excited. Keep us in your prayers and we will be home with stories to share before you know it.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Over and over again.

I came downstairs to Fellowship Hall and I laughed so hard I wanted to cry. All of the chairs were set up and all of the tables were put away. Everything was set up for Sunday School. The only problem was that we had set up the tables and chairs for a reception afer church. To make things even more laughable, this was going to be the third time the room was set up for the affair. Twice the day before evereything had been set up and taken down by different people who meant well. They just were not aware of the plans we had for the Hall.

It made me think about how many times we stumble and fall down in our lives. We mean well but we get side tracked and go off on our own and stray from God's plan for our lives. Yet, ever so patient, God continues to set us up and put us back on track. It is good to know that He loves us so and He is always faithful and willing to set us up again no matter how many times we get taken down.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Love is never scary

I stopped in to get a horror movie at the local Movie Store for my daughter and her friends tonight. As I tried to pick one out for her it dawned on me that I don't enjoy the gory movies like I used to when I was a kid. They just make me sick now.

As I was chatting with the owner I mentioned this and he said something very profound. He noted that when we were kids we never really thought death was real. It was the stuff that scary movies were made of but they had nothing to do with life. He said that now that we are getting older, death is always on our mind. So it isn't really fantasy anymore. Deep huh?

I had my third tragic funeral in a month and he hit the nail right on the head. I think I'll stick with romantic comedies because everyone can use that kind of fantasy in their lives nowadays. Well that's all for now. I think I'll go up and tell my wife I love her. Why don't you do the same if you are married. If not call your kids, your parents or that someone special in your life and let them know you care. After all, life is short, especially when you get to be my age.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Passing the inspection

We are moving! Last week was exciting as we accepted an offer on our house and made an offer on a new home. Now we just have to proceed with the next steps to make the two transactions take place as planned.

Tomorrow morning we will have a home inspector in to look at our house. I am nervous about what he will find. I can't think of anything that may concern the new buyers. But yhou never know what a critical eye will turn up.

It reminds me of our lives as we stand before God. We know we are not perfect but we feel we are pretty good. Under the critical eye of God though, we may not be able to stand up under his scrutiny. With the house, it may interupt the sale. With our lives we may be turned away from God.

Thank be to God for the redeeming love of Christ who is our advocate before God. We may have our flaws but Jesus stands up and helps us correct them so we can be assured of God's love.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Life happens unexpectedly

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." If that is the case, then life happened to me yesterday. My plan was to take the day off and tend to some much neglected housework, and if I had enough energy, to do our taxes.

I managed to procrastinate most of the morning but a pile of laundry kept staring me in the face. So I finally decided to jump in and that's when the world turned upside down. The phone rang and it was my daughter. In tears, she told me how her car had died on the highway and she didn't know what to do. Normally I would hop in the car and go to her rescue. It wasn't so easy this time. She was two and a half hours away.

After managing to hook her up with AAA, I decided that I would go to her and let her take my car to finish her trip to college and I would wait with the disabled vehicle. I managed to get to Albany right after her car problems were diagnosed. Luckily, they had what they needed and got to work replacing her alternator.

In another hour she was all set and on her way. Some might say that my drive to Albany was a waste of time. But to me it was a divine appointment with my daughter in a moment of stress. We had dinner together and a nice talk. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

It is often these unplanned, unexpected moments that provide the memories that we take with us long after they are gone. It is in these moments that god often shows up. He shares his grace with us and sets up these special moments. We get frustrated because they weren't planned, but when we look back on them, we see exactly how special they were. so thank you God, for interrupting us so we can live a little bit.


Monday, April 9, 2007

Easter every day

I love the spiritual depth of Holy Week. Every day I feel so close to the Lord as I reflect on what he went through during his final days before his crucifiction. I can only begin to imagine what he was thinking, the fear, the doubts, the hopes, and his absolute faith in God. And as I read the Scriptures and hear what he says to his disciples and think about the unfolding events in his life, I can honestly say that I get caught up in it every year.

On Easter morning there is no greater high than gathering at Sunrise with other believers. For the twelfth straight year we gathered at Howard Brown Park. It was beautiful. The sun came up over the city in an inspiring view of God's creative ability and the scene was set to recall that first Easter Day.

We are so fortunate that God loves us so. The good news is that Easter dawns every day. Our triumphant Lord comes to us again and again now that he has risen. So if for some reason you missed the sunrise on Sunday, look for it the next time you get up and celebrate his love in your life.