Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Sabbatical Journey

It really is a sabbatical journey. That does not necessarily mean that I am traveling all the time. A good bit of the sabbatical journey is inward rather than outward. That requires time – time away from the usual, time for your head and heart to get out of one thing and into another.

This morning I read the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (she's a well-known author, her husband was the well-known pilot). The quotation I read was from her book, Gift from the Sea (This is one of my favorite books on the spiritual life. Melinda and I read it together the first time while on a weekend get-away at a B&B in Palacios, TX fifteen years ago. The small book was lying on the bedside table. We’ve given away a half-dozen copies since then.) Her words appeared in the daily devotional reading for May 29 in the Celtic Daily Prayer book I often use. She writes:

“If it is our function to give, we must be replenished too. But how? Everyone should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. If they were convinced that a day off, or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, they feel so unjustified in this demand that they rarely make an attempt.

The world [and often the church] does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone. How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside a time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical, or strange.

What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice!

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer to work out his thoughts; the musician to compose; the saint to pray.

The problem is not entirely in finding the room of one’s own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact the problem is how to feed the soul. I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even an hour or a few minutes, in order to keep my core, my centre, my island-quality. Unless I keep this island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends, or the world at large.”

Several of you have commented to me that my “sabbatical” sounds like a lot of work and more tiring than restful. I want to pay attention to your warning and concern. I am doing my best to see that in the midst of all the activity of traveling and ministry there are built in times of solitude and quiet, time for reflection and renewal. That is important to me.

I am also aware that “rest” is not necessarily “stillness.” Sometimes rest is change -- resting from the one thing that has occupied your thinking and effort by engaging in something else, something different. For me, rest is found in being outside the cycle of weekly sermon preparations, meetings, and the feeling of responsibility that goes with the role of pastor. I am confident that for six more weeks, those elements are all in the hands of competent people, and I am content to leave them there for the time being.

Two weeks from this moment we will be in the air between London and Entebbe, anticipating a 5:30 AM landing, local time in Uganda. That will begin two weeks of engagement in ministry that will involve teaching a group of Ugandan village pastors basics of biblical interpretation (through not one, but two translators), visiting a Ugandan village church overnight where we will conduct a medical clinic and show the Jesus Film, sleeping in tents or on the dirt floor of the church, visiting in the homes of AIDS patients in the villages to listen to them and pray for them, sharing Christ with the sick and the poor, and leading university students in a study of how to understand God’s Word. The unscheduled opportunities for ministry and witness that God has planned will flow around all those scheduled activities.

The rest in the middle of all this will be found in the uninterrupted time for conversation with my wife and daughter and the friends who will travel and serve with us – Pamm Muzslay, Diana, Andrew, and Pat Forrester. Rest will be found in the time with Larry and Sally Pepper, and their son, Adam. The beauty of the country of Uganda and its people will infuse rest into places of body and soul that would not ordinarily receive it, sort of like when you use some muscles that have been ignored for a long time.

Four weeks from today we will be flying from Entebbe, Uganda to Durban, South Africa. I expect to find some stillness during that week, as I support the work of others on our team who will be bearing witness and doing ministry. I’m promised some down time to hang out with Gary Price and to walk the beaches of Durban. I’ll also be using that week to make final preparation for the work in Thailand.

Five weeks from today, I will fly alone from Durban to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ll arrive on a Tuesday and have all-day Wednesday to myself. Beginning on Thursday I will speak once each evening for five evenings to a group of 65 of our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries who serve in Asia. Many of these have been doing tsunami relief since December. I’m asked to speak to them about the care of their own souls.

Then, the following Tuesday, the journey home begins. Chiang Mai to Singapore (11 hour layover and, I hope, 6-8 hours of sleep); Singapore to Johannesburg (12 hours in a plane, followed by 12 hour layover and another chance to sleep); then my family and Pamm join me and we make the flight to London and on to Houston.

When I get home, on July 14, I have a few days to meet with some students from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, to reorganize my life, and then, on July 20, three months after the journey started, I will show up at the office and report for duty. Rested? I expect so. A little remaining jet lag may be evident, but that will soon pass. The Sabbath journey is much more about what has taken place inside.

Sabbatical journeys are not only for pastors. The time set aside daily, weekly, monthly, or annually to find solitude, to “rest” from the usual, is the call of God for all his people. “Remembering the Sabbath” is one of the Top Ten, right up there with not murdering, not stealing, and not committing adultery. God knows that we need what only Sabbath can provide. As Jesus taught, “The Sabbath was made for men and women.” God knows we need it.

Finding rest and solitude,


Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Capitalist Pig

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OK. It really happened. I met Dr. David Gordon at his house and we drove to Ellington Field. He introduced me to Jim O'Neal, the owner of the Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross I would be climbing into for an incredible hour. Joe Tanner (yes, the deacon/astronaut/husband of Martha one) would be my pilot. I was excited about this experience, but truthfully, a little anxious. I did not eat any lunch because I couldn't think of anything I might want to enjoy twice.

After some briefing on the rocket-powered ejection seat ("Don't touch anything that is red"), we strapped in and taxied to the end of the field. A few more preliminary checks and we sailed down the runway and into the sky. In no time we were over Galveston Bay, and then the Gulf of Mexico. Joe said, "It's your airplane," and I took the stick in the back seat.

"What do I do with it?"
"Just move it around and see what it does."
"Where do we go?"
"Anywhere you want. It's an all-terrain vehicle."

For half an hour we flew a mile and a half above the Galveston Beach. I made tentative turns, circling the area. Joe took me through a barrel loop. Then he had me do a roll. Astroworld has nothing like this. I could tell this could be an adrenaline junky's equivalent of crack -- addictive and expensive. I felt like a Jedi pilot.

Our time was up too soon. We flew back to Ellington and landed smoothly. I let Joe go ahead and land the thing. I didn't want him to feel useless.

I have absolutely no "spiritual application" to make to all this, except to say that I am incredibly blessed to have generous and gifted friends who shared something with me that I would not have gotten on my own. Maybe that is a spiritual application.

Back on the ground, but still looking up,


Ready for Takeoff Posted by Hello

Friday, May 27, 2005

Getting What You Asked For

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So what is it like when you get what you ask for? That's always a dangerous thing. For 18 years I've been living within shouting distance of Ellington Field. I have watched the F-4s, F-16s, and T-38s fly over regularly, interrupting conversations with their roar. I have seen parts of 18 Wings Over Houston Airshows -- Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and others. And I have wanted once, just once, to be in the backseat of one of those jets. I'm pretty certain I'd throw up everything inside, but I have really wanted to do it just once.

I mentioned that one morning in a Men's Fraternity presentation this spring and someone heard me. He told me he had a friend with a refurbished MiG, an L-39 that he keeps at Ellington Field, and that he could arrange for a flight. Click here for more info. I couldn't believe it was really going to happen. It wasn't a sporty T-38, but it was a for real jet and I would get to leave earth in it, and that would be more than enough for me.

The flight is scheduled for today. About three hours from now. My stomach is knotting up a little bit. I'm kind of nervous. My wife is telling me that under no circumstances am I to attempt to actually fly the plane.

It's one of those situations, though. What happens when you really get what you ask for? Are you ready? I ask things of God regularly. I ask for what sound like noble things. I ask for God's hand to be on our church. I ask for him to make himself known to us in worship. I ask for him to lead us, for his will to be done. I ask for him to change my life, to develop my character. I think my stomach should be knotting up and I should be breaking out in a cold sweat. What if he hears? What if he does? What if he grants what I ask?

I'm fairly well persuaded that we are free to ask of God what we will, but that we are not free to instruct him as to the means that he must use to grant our desires. He remains sovereign. My experience has been that he feels quite free to do as he pleases without consulting me on the means by which he accomplishes his will and purposes around me. So I suppose I should be careful about what I ask.

So, whether I'm ready or not, in a couple of hours I will don a flight suit and a helmet and climb into the backseat of a machine capable of flying just under 500 mph with only two passengers. I think I want to do this. I asked for it.

I hope to report in later.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Ordinary Days

We arrived safely from Oaxaca on Sunday afternoon, May 22, and spent the afternoon and evening visiting with friends. On Monday I had to report for jury duty. The summons originally had been for a day during our travel to Mexico, so I rescheduled. The only real option in rescheduling was the day after returning. So I drove to the Metro Rail lot just outside 610 South off Belfort and rode the train to the Preston stop, just a half block from the jury assembly room.

I did not expect to wind up on a panel, and hoped I would not. I had a presentation to make on Tuesday afternoon to a group of pastors at the Institute for Religion and Health, and did not want to have to miss it. I was on a panel for a misdemeanor case, which meant they would only choose six jurors, so that looked hopeful. But they did not strike me and I was told to report back at 11:00 on Tuesday morning to hear the case. I called my colleague to say that I could not do the presentation on Tuesday.

I rode the train in again on Tuesday morning, stopping to walk a few blocks away to leave our passports with an agency that will get us visas to Uganda. I prayed as I traveled to town, wondering what God had in mind in interfering with “my plans” in this way. The "El Rey" taco restaurant is next to the Preston station, and I was a little ahead of schedule, so I grabbed a cup of Mexican vanilla coffee and a breakfast taco before walking to the courthouse. It was a little reminder of the last two weeks.

I boarded the elevator in the courthouse with one of the other six jurors on our panel and pushed the button for the 9th floor. On our way up our conversation moved very quickly from the feeling of interruption to my recent return from Mexico to UBC’s medical team’s plans to travel to Oaxaca in the fall. My fellow juror, it turns out, was a nurse and a Presbyterian. She inquired as to whether our group would take “outsiders,” exchanged information with me, and may check on making the trip with our group.

Once in the jury room, the judge came in to see us, robed in black. He told us that the state had dropped one of the two charges against the accused, who was going to plead no contest to the second charge. So our services were no longer needed. He gave us our work excuses, thanked us profusely, and told us we were free to go. The juror information form I had filled out had asked for my occupation and the name of my employer, and the judge had read over those. As others were leaving he asked me to stay and come back to his chambers. I noticed books on his shelves (I always look at those when I’m in someone’s office or home. What a person has read or wants you to think they have read interests me.). I saw a copy of The Purpose Driven Life, among others. After a few pleasantries and exchange of trivia (both native Houstonians, he grew up not far from where I did) we talked about faith and religion. He lives in our community and is thinking about getting back into church. He is not a Baptist and his growing up around some makes him somewhat leery of our ilk. Me too. I told him we were safe and he would be welcome. We exchanged business cards and I left. Walking to the train stop, I called to say I would be able to make my presentation after all.

On the train ride back to my car, I sat next to Jimmie, a black man about my age. We talked about Houston weather, found out we, too, were both native to the city, and that we had gone to neighboring high schools. He works as a custodian in a synagogue in town (I told him he didn’t look Jewish). By the time we were at the Texas Medical Center stop where he got off, Jimmie had talked to me about his struggling marriage and trying to stay in touch with his fourteen year old son.

The presentation went well and I was home by 5:30, with a sense of having had an unusually ordinary day. It was made up of duties, responsibilities, some anxieties, and conversations. What had been unusual for me was that I had begun with openness to what God might have in mind for the day that left me sort of “unscheduled.” I had the sense of blowing in the wind or floating in a stream that I was not in charge of. I was reminded later of how Jesus seemed to operate that way on a daily basis. Most of his significant encounters with people were “interruptions,” not “appointments.” I wonder what it would be like to live that way. Is that even a possibility? I’m sure it would drive the others in your life crazy. Maybe that would just be a side benefit.

We are back in town for two more weeks before leaving for Africa. We have plenty to do with various kinds of preparations. I’ll stay in touch.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Last Day in Oaxaca

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On Saturday morning, our final day in Mexico, we enjoyed another of Nora's beautiful and delicious breakfasts. Then Rod picked us up at 9:00 and we headed for a tourist site and an archeological wonder -- the ruins of Monte Alban. The short version of the site is that this an ancient temple site built by the Zapotec civilization about the time that Ezra and Nehemiah were rebuilding the Jerusalem temple. Click here for more pictures and info on the place. Rod made an excellent tour guide.

We left the site around 1:00 and swung by one of the village families we had visited earlier in the week. This was the family of unbelievers whose believing father/grandfather had died. We had a mission to fulfill. One of our senior girls at UBC, Amanda Harris, was involved in a Bible study this past year with a group of her friends. As part of the study they were challenged to find something of personal value and give it away. Amanda chose a blanket that had been hers since she was a baby. She asked Melinda to take it with her to Mexico and give it to a child. We gave it to Rosindo, the son of Guadalupe (Lupe). Lupe was very grateful. "The cold days will be coming soon," she said.

Rod then took us back to his sister's home for lunch, and later in the afternoon we walked to an orphanage, taking bags of chips with chile sauce and a sack of oranges. Eighty-five children live in the orphanage, most of them "throw aways" -- their parents just did not want them. Many are blind, deaf, or crippled. We spent a couple of hours playing with them, letting them crawl all over us. Rod and Connie make visits here several times a week. The children were delightful and grateful. We left when they all had to go to a Bible class, but we would have gladly stayed longer.

After our last meal of tacos in Oaxaca, we went back to our rooms, packed and made ready for an early flight home on Sunday morning. We will return to Oaxaca. You have to if you eat a grasshopper, they say.

Rod at the Orphanage Posted by Hello

Melinda Cooks Tortillas at Gloria's Posted by Hello

Melinda Learns Spanish Song from Grandma Posted by Hello

Friday, May 20, 2005

Winding Down in Oaxaca

Wednesday evening I went with Rod to the home of Filipe and Michelle, a young couple in their church. Felipe works with the EMS team whose office is a couple of houses down from the IMB mission house where we were staying. Michelle is an American citizen who has adopted Oaxaca as her home. She has a great vision for helping other moms, for working with unwed mothers, and for counseling. They host a Bible study for younger couples in their home every Wednesday night.

The study was supposed to begin at 9:30 PM. Rod told me what the real schedule would be. He and I would arrive at 9:45 and would be the first ones there. Others would begin arriving at about 10:30 and would all be there around 10:45. We would begin at 11 and would be back home around 1:00 AM. He might as well have printed a program. That is exactly how it played out. I thought teaching Men's Fraternity at 6:00 AM was a challenge. My brain is fried by 11:00 PM. But we had a great time. Rod translated and improved on what I offered.

That was the evening we had no water. Water runs to homes in Oaxaca only twice a week, and that is not entirely regular. That is, you cannot always know which days it will come in. It fills the tanks on top of your house that feed the house by means of gravity. So when the water is gone, you have only two choices: do without or call for a water truck to deliver 1000 gallons for $30. This is not pure water -- it can only be used for washing clothes, showering, and flushing toilets. You buy water for drinking, cooking, or coffee in large bottles for your home. When Rod and I returned around 1:00 the water was running and we were fine for Thusday. (We had been without electricity for about 3 hours the night before.)

Thursday after class we went to the home of Rod's sister, Mary Elva. She and her husband, Vicinte, serve as independent missionaries in Oaxaca as well. They will soon be taking an assignment in France. Vicinte returned to Oaxaca the day after we arrived, returning from a mission trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mary Elva, like Rod, is a native Oaxacan (oaxaquena), and, like him, is a great cook. She prepared red mole for us. That is not an animal. It is pronounced MOH- lay. It is a thick gravy or sauce made with about a thousand ingredients, including a large amount of chocolate. This was prepared with chuncks of chicken in it and eaten with rice and tortillas.

Thursday evening Melinda and Jenna went with Maurie, the IMB missionary, out to a village to teach a cooking class for Pastor Marcelino's church. But there was a funeral in the village and people could not attend the class. Instead Marcelino took them to the home of some new believers and about a dozen of them worshipped together with music and prayer. I stayed at Vicinte's house with others and watched The Bourne Identity. Well, I wasn't invited to the village. It was a cooking class and I don't have any business helping in one of those.

We had to move our quarters Thursday evening. Another team from the US is coming to the mission house, so we reluctantly moved to the elegance of La Casa de Mis Recuerdos, the B&B where our mission team stayed last fall. It is an absolutely beautiful refuge in the city, and was my first experience with quietness since coming here. It is close to our language school and it will be our home until we leave on Sunday morning.

The second B in the B&B is my favorite. Nora serves an beautiful and delicious breakfast to her guests each morning. She serves 30 different entres, so you could be there a month and not have the same thing twice. This morning it was fresh fruit with yogurt, pan dulce (sweet breads), hot chocolate and/or coffee, fresh squoze orange juice, scrambled eggs with chiles and tomatoes, and homemade tortillas. She had four other guests for breakfast besides us -- a sociology prof from California (Pat), a retired furniture restorer turned world traveller from Australia (Rupert), and a Jewish couple from upstate NY (Herb and I forgot. I know I could make up a name and you wouldn't know, but the truth is I forgot.) Herb is an athiest and an interesting conversation partner.

We graduated from our Spanish classes today. We received certificates indicating we had completed 27 hours of classes, more than half a college semester. In my second hour today the conversation turned to spiritual things as it did the second day. I have been looking for a way to talk to my teacher about Christ some more. During the conversational part of the class she asked how we celebrated Christmas in our country and in our families. Four of us are in her class: Jenna, myself, Courtney Johnson, and Frank, a 29 year old German who is taking a year to tour the world with his wife Sandra. They fly some, but do much of their travel by bus. So far they have been to Laos, Thailand, Figi, L.A., and Oaxaca. They're on their way to Guatamala, Honduras, and Belize. Eventually they will cross the border at Matamoros and come to Houston, where they'll get a plane to NY and then return to Germany. It will be several months before they come to Houston, but they may stay with us a while when they do. Frank has admitted that he is "not religious."

Anyway, Frank described Christmas in Germany and then we described an American Christmas celebration. Frank left. His four hours of class are up at 1 and our three hours don't end until 1:30, so he is gone for our last half hour. When he left, Zoroia, the teacher asked me how we celebrate Easter. I explained our church's celebration of Holy Week. When I told her that on Good Friday we read through the passion story, she asked whether I had seen the movie, The Passion of the Christ and what I thought of it. We talked about the film. Then I asked her: Para ti, quien es jesuchristo? (Who is Jesus to you?) She told me what she thought of Christ as a messenger of God and asked me who I thought he was. I told her what I thought. Then she asked what I believed about who God is. We talked about that. Then she asked how I thought people who had no faith in God could live. We were beginning to talk about that when the bell rang and the class ended. I am glad that no one who really speaks Spanish could hear this conversation in such poor and limited Spanish with this patient teacher/learner who worked hard to decipher meaning out of what I was trying to say.

It turns out that Zororia is good friend of Mira, a woman who runs the coffee shop a couple of blocks away. Mira, whose shop I visited, of course, is a member of Rod and Connie's church. Pray that Mira will be able to take Zororia's searching heart further on her quest.

Lunch today was at one of Oaxaca's best restaurants, La Escondida. It is an enormous buffet of a wide variety of Oaxacan dishes. I do believe Oaxaca has more kinds of foods than any place I have ever been. We were well fed.

Tonight we will skip supper (for obvious reasons) and walk back to the plaza at the Soledad church for one more helping of the nieves (fruit ice cream). Tomorrow we will visit the ruins at Monte Alban (these were built about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah -- by the way, I do hope you are staying up with reading through the Bible.) We will also visit an orphanage in the afternoon. Then we'll pack up and catch an early flight out on Sunday morning and will be home about the time you Sunday morning people get home from worship. Looking forward to being back home for three weeks before setting off for Africa. I have been to Africa before. I will probably not include many culinary reports from there.



Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Trip to the Village

Yesterday afternoon, following a lunch of leftover beans and rice with quesadillas (you cannot believe how much better that tastes than it sounds), Rod, Connie, Courtney, Melinda, Jenna, and I loaded in the van and headed back to the village of San Andreas, where we had held the birthday party a few days ago. This trip was Rod´s regular weekly trip to minister to some of the families there with whom he as built a relationship over the past eight years or so. These people are Mixteco Indians who live only thirty minutes or so outside Oaxaca City. The medical mission team will be holding a clinic here in September. We visited seven families there over about a five hour period. I´m not sure I can even narrate the experience. Let me try a combination of narration and simple memories of scenes.

A family of seven with no husband living in a one room cinderblock hut with turkeys, goats, chickens, dogs, and cats and no running water. The children in the family running to Rod and Connie with hugs and then greeting us with reluctant hugs as well. Every poor family we visited gathering chairs and insisting that we sit with them for a while, most offering food or drink. Rod in his beautifully fluent Spanish conversing with them about their lives, about Christ, about their concerns. A man who had worked in Phoenix, AR as a cook at a Chinese restaurant for three years to send money back to his family welcoming us into his two room, dirt floor home made of corrogated tin and bamboo. (You never know who is cooking your food, do you? You go into a Chinese restaurant in Phoenix to have your food prepared by a Mixteco Indian who lives in a hut on a hill side far inside Mexico!) The young turkey in that house that flew onto Rod's shoulder and then to my arm when I tried to snap a photo. Our host's huge smile. The family of twelve up the hill with no husband present and children whose health is fragile. The young adult woman going deaf. The shy one, Lulu, who would not lift her eyes to look at you, but who smiled beautifully. Soledad (sorrows), the little girl who is misnamed. She is full of joy. Grandmother going into the bamboo and tin hut and emerging with a 3 liter bottle of Pepsi and some plastic cups and insisting that we have a drink. Rod pouring the dark drink into one cup after another and passing them around like communion. The little girl covered with mosquito bites and Rod's promising to return next week with mosquito nets for the children's beds. The house of Tomas and his wife who have become believers. The huge grapefruit trees growing in front, encumbered with large, yellow fruit. The orange trees and the woman gathering a bag of oranges for us to take with us. The elderly grandmother, Margarita, sitting on the ground, her head covered with a green cloth, fanning flys away from the gaping hole in her face where cancer has eaten away her eye. Rod going to the van for medical supplies, donning latex gloves, cleaning the wound, and fashioning a bandage out of gauze. Margarita speaks no Spanish, only a Mixteco dialect, one of many. Her son, Tomas, was not there to translate, Rod realizing that he could not share the gospel with her and knowing that she will soon die, turning to us with tears and saying, "That is so sad." The house with two new believers, a couple who cannot read. Sitting on the covered area outside their hut and listening to Rod read John 3 to them from their Bible and their asking questions about when they could be baptized. The house where Rosindo once lived. He became a believer before he died, but his wife and daughters, and grandchildren have not. Rod and Connie have been going back to this home weekly bearing witness. A dozen people in the dirty front yard of the home, sitting under a tree until near sundown. The woman saying that without her husband her life was not worth living, she was ready to die. Rod's asking her if she were ready to meet God and her saying He would just have to take her like she is. The looks of gratitude on the faces of family after famliy as we carried beans, rice, pasta, milk, and salt to them.

I do not think that any previous experiences on mission fields compared to yesterday. I saw life being lived much as it was in Jesus' day. The people of San Andreas have only a few technological improvements over those of the villages of Palestine 2000 years ago. These were the kinds of people who followed Jesus in droves. And he was present among these Mixtecos as well. This morning I listened to Twila Paris's song, How Beautiful, and thought of the beauty of the hands and feet of people like Rod, Connie, and Courtney as they walk dusty paths and share the love and compassion of Christ with the sons and daughters of the earth.

Tonight I will teach a Bible class for married couples. Tomorrow holds Spanish class and a visit to Pastor Marcelino's church. This is a church our medical team worked with last fall. Kerry & Maurie Johnson, the IMB missionaries here, are holding a cooking class there in the evening for women (Maurie is doing the class) and afterwards we will gather for worship with people from the church.

I'm going back to the house for a cup of coffee or a siesta or both. It will be a long evening.



Monday, May 16, 2005

Monday the 16th

Sunday was another full day. We joined Rod and Connie for worship at Iglesia de Lluvias de Gracias (Showers of Grace Church). The congregation is mostly Zapotec Indian. About a half dozen Americans regularly attend as well -- a teacher at the American school, a couple of Wycliff missionaries, and a family of International Mission Board missionaries. After worship the entire congregation enjoyed a picnic at one of the member´s homes in a village several miles away. His house included a large walled compound with a beautiful flower garden. Sixty or seventy people brought their lunches and spent the afternoon together. Everyone brought raw meat and cooked it on a fire in the compound. The thin-sliced pieces of beef were place directly on the coals, along with small onions. Add avacodo, chiles, and queso in a tortilla and you have a really good lunch.

Sunday evening we walked to a nearby park to witness some native dancing, but the event never occurred, so we walked to the plaza outside Soledad, a large church, and ate nieves (lit. snows), a kind of fruit ice cream. We had had some the night before and thought it would be a good idea to go back. My favorite flavor is tuna, which does not refer to a fish, but to the bright red fruit of a cactus. Incredible.

Today we were back in our Spanish class in the morning and walked to the mercado this afternoon. We walked though crowds of people shopping in the largest market I have ever shopped in. We were surrounded with the sights and smells of foods I had never seen before. We ate tortas (a kind of sandwich with black beans, grilled steak, avacodos and cheese on a French bread-like roll). I bought a couple of kilos of Oaxacan coffee. (Matt and Patrick, get ready). We also visited a chocolate shop where, right before your eyes, they take the cocoa beans, grind them, mix them with a recipe of sugar and cinnamon, and then run the whole concoction through a large grinder twice. The aroma in the place is unbelievable. The product is a thick fudge-like substance used for a variety of purposes. They give you tiny spoons to sample the taste. We sampled the stuff in three different shops, just for comparison. This may be one of the best reasons to return to Oaxaca. Melinda and Jenna found blouses they liked, and we rode a bus back home.

Tonight Rod is cooking black beans and rice and we´ll eat several kinds of tropical fruit indigeneous to the area. We even bought a sack of grilled chapulines (grasshoppers). They are not too bad, kind of like teriyaki jerky.

Tomorrow we will go to a village for ministry. We will be inviting a sociology prof from the U.S. we met at breakfast on Saturday. She comes here annually with her students and Rod may become her entre into some Mixteco villages. It also gives Rod an entre into the life of a college professor and her students.

It is almost seven pm, and the beans and rice should be ready. We'll walk the five blocks back to the casa and enjoy a quiet evening. Melinda is working on a cut banner for Rod and Connie´s church.

Prayer request: Wednesday evening I´m leading a Bible study for couples. It begins at 9 and ends around 1:00 AM. Pray for alertness as well as for me to have something to share with these people that will be helpful.



Saturday, May 14, 2005

Friday in Oaxaca

I know that this is titled Friday in Oaxaca, but trust me, it is Saturday and I cannot find a way to edit the title. But it is about Friday, mostly.

We continue to enjoy our visit here with Rod and Connie. On Friday, following our last Spanish class, we went to a Zapotec village to see where the Oaxacan black pottery is made. Libby Brown was ecstatic. A dear Zapotec woman whose family makes and sells the pottery responded to our interest by taking us to her home where she and her husband make the pots. We saw his kiln (a hole in the ground in his garage) and watched as Mariana created four pots with just her hands in about fifteen minutes. Libby could not stand it. She got down on her hands and knees and grabbed some clay and began to work with Mariana. It was a sight, and yes, we do have pictures.

The Spanish lessons are stretching us, but we are learning much and look forward to staying with the language when we return. I think I´ll be on the look out for a tutor once a week.

The food here (Matt) has been extraordinary. We have eaten breakfast at a streetside cafe owned by a Mixotec family that Rod knows and at the elegant La Casa de Mis Recuerdos, where the medical mission team stayed last Fall. We have prepared our own food (today it was Tortas, a kind of sandwich) and we have eaten at local restaurants. We have had chicken, rice, and potatoes with a Mixotec family in a hut and we will visit a Oaxacan buffet next week. The fruit here is delicious. I have not yet visited one of the chocolate shops in the mercado, but I will

You need to know how well Rod and Connie work at ministering here. They represent Christ and the gospel so well in an environment that is steeped in oppressive expressions of religion. They love the people and will be moved to tears in talking about the needs of the indigeneous people. I have seen them take their own money to buy the necessities to provide a birthday party for a Mixteco child so poor that you cannot imagine. As we visited in the home of Mariana, the potter, they acquired her contact information and arranged to return to help her when men from Texas come to buy her pottery. They cannot speak English and the Texans cannot speak Spanish. Rod will help her get a better price for her goods, and will make a contact in that Zapotec village that has no expression of the gospel yet. Today at breakfast, when we met a sociology prof from Calif. who comes here with her students every year, Rod exchanged information with her. He will become her contanct to get her into some villages she would never be able to enter. He will have opportunity to bear witness to her and her students along the way. He is constantly moving in his christlike way into the lives of people

Rod and Connie Johnson are not International Mission Board missionaries, but work as independent missionaries. That means they do not have the guaranteed financial support that the IMB or CBF provides. They live month to month on the offerings they receive, and when they come to the states, they do not seek to raise funds, but to make friends. They believe that those who know and love them will support them in their work. If you would like to know more about how to support them, talk to Jeff Newpher.

I am going to return to the house now. This Internet cafe is full of cigarette smoke and it is getting to my eyes. Jenna is at the computer next to me. Check out her blogspot to get her take on all we´ve done. As we walked into the home of Mariana yesterday, I though how impoverished those teenagers are whose vacations consist of what Walt Disney has to offer. The world is a more real place than Disney World. People like Mariana exist by the billions. I´m glad she has had the chance to sit at a table in a missionary´s home on many occasions and hear grown men and women sit for several hours and talk about the world and Christ´s work in it. I am glad she has celebrated the birthday of an Indian girl who lives in a one room cinder block hut with chickens running about the floor. I am eager to see what the next couple of days hold.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two days in Oaxaca

We arrived safely on Monday evening and began an eventful visit immediately. Mother's Day in Mexico is always on May 10 and there is a custom here similar to Christmas caroling. Students from the churches go around to all the mothers in their church and serenade them all night long. A group from Rod & Connie's church showed up at the missionary house at 12:30 with guitars and accordian and sang for Melinda.

Tuesday morning we began our language study. Jenna, Courtney Johnson, and I are in a group and Melinda and Connie Johnson are their own group. We attend class for and hour and a half, take a break, and then go another hour and a half with another teacher. Today (only our second day) our teacher began to question Jenna, Courtney, and me about our religion and faith and we tried answering -- about 90% in Spanish. I spoke more Spanish in an hour than I have my whole life, I think.

Last night we stayed up late visiting with Kerry Johnson (no relation to Rod), the IMB missionary assigned here, and talked about their work with indigeneous peoples in the state of Oaxaca. Mexico has 62 identified Indian tribes, and 16 of them live in Oaxaca. They speak 295 different languages. More than 200 languages are spoken in the state of Oaxaca. Three million indigeneous people live in Oaxaca. More than 220 thousand speak no Spanish at all. The Zapotc, with whom Kerry works, speak 57 languages. Rod works with the Mixteco, who speak 39. Most of these people do not have a gospel witness in their own language. The Roman Catholic Church, which has been here for more than 500 years, has become a syncretized mix of Christianity, voodoo, and local indigeneous religions. Christians are persecuted and regularly martyered in the indigeneous areas.

We visited three large Catholic churches yesterday, all built during the time of Cortez. They were filled with images of saints that have become much like idols to various gods to the people here.

This afternoon we went to a Mixteco village to celebrate the birthdays of two children whose family Rod and Connie have been working with for several years. The abuelita (grandmother) came to Christ about five years ago. She is in her eighties, about four feet tall, blind, and full of God's Spirit.

Tonight I will pick up Libby Brown at the airport and she will join us through the weekend. Continue to pray for us. Pray for our language studies and the opportunity we are having to share our faith with Zoroida, our afternoon teacher. She seems very interested in understanding the gospel.



Monday, May 09, 2005

Sabbatical Travelblog

You may have received a cryptic email from me. Don’t worry about it. I’m attempting to learn to use a blog site. You should receive an email when I post to the blog.

People keep asking me, “Are you still here? I thought you were on sabbatical.” Answer: Yes. I am still here. And Yes. I am on sabbatical.

So far, the sabbatical has consisted of being home with my family, preparing a house to be occupied by a boarder (one of the summer interns will be living in our home this year), reading, and some solitude. Yesterday I worshipped with the Emerald Pointe Community Fellowship at the Emerald Pointe Apartments where we have a ministry team working. That was a delightful experience of diversity. A small group of Mexican Americans, African Americans, Anglos (and much diversity within each of those groups) gathered to sing, pray, and study the Scripture. Pamm Muzslay did an excellent job of presenting God’s Word. George and Claudia Mueller were there to encourage and support.

Today, we finish our task list and head for Bush Intercontinental at 3:00. We have a 7:10 PM flight to Oaxaca, arriving at 9:45. Rod and Connie Johnson will meet us at the airport. We’ll be staying in a home owned by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention most of the time we are there. We will start our immersion Spanish classes tomorrow morning. I should have some limited internet access there, and will post to this blog as often as I can.

Thanks for your prayers and support. I am praying for UBC, and many of you by name as I am aware of needs in your lives.

I love you all. It is a privilege to serve as your pastor.