Sarah’s Year-End Reflections

25 Jul

At my initial interview with the Ann Sullivan Center, I said I loved kids and had background knowledge of building communication skills and language. So my YAV volunteer placement started in the 3-5-year-old kid’s class.  I became the designated nose-wiper, child-chaser, and diaper-changer… and all of my “background knowledge” went right out the window. I had very little experience with this! Of course the kids were adorable, but they could be little monsters when they wanted to be. In my first two months, I was scratched, bitten, had my hair pulled, and was peed on. And because big reactions can “cause an escalation of negative behaviors”, I had to get bitten with a smile on my face! It was hard.

But my job description changed after the December holidays. All of the 500 kids that attend the school needed to have their hearing evaluated, and I was the one for the job.  But if you don’t already know this, kids HATE having things put in their ears. I wore silly hats, made funny faces, and sang the Barney song a million times, but the kids still cried rivers. I prayed for patience. I also prayed for the right words and peace as I told the parents that their child, on top of everything else, might have hearing problems.

In June, I was finally finishing up the last of the evaluations. One day it was Leandro’s turn. He was in the class of 3-5-year-olds that I had helped out with earlier, and I was kind of dreading this evaluation. Leandro was one of the only kids in class who could talk, but he had an attitude when he didn’t want to do something, and he was a biter. So I steeled myself and brought him in for the evaluation. He immediately started crying and saying, “I don’t want to. I don’t want it. Please don’t make me!” I tried calming him and explaining what we were doing, all the while watching out for his teeth. Finally, I pushed the button, and he passed the test. When I told him we were all done, he looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, “Thanks” and held out his arms for a hug. What child wants to hug a doctor after an evaluation? But I wasn’t a doctor; I was his teacher, and one of the first adults in his life that didn’t react when he bit them. I had made an impact on him. I know he made one on me.

My YAV year was in many ways like my experience at the Ann Sullivan Center. It was hard, but in also full of hugs and love, and the impact that it has made on my life has forever changed me.

We are packing today and flying home tonight. Please pray for our safe travels and many happy reunions!

Many hugs,

Sarah

Fasting, and vigils, and no beer, Oh my!

21 Jun

Before I even left for Peru, I vaguely understood that the churches of Peru that I would be working for would be much more socially and theologically conservative (in the sense that they interpret many of the Bible verses literally, so long as it fits their proper-living agenda) than I am used to.  The way in which “evangelicals” (meaning Protestant here in Peru) live out their faith in this part of the world is intriguing to a progressive Mainline Protestant like myself.

I have not been able to enjoy or even discuss having a beer with another church person.  This of course lies in contrast to studying at the local pub during seminary and discussing theology at a bar with church young adult groups.  One of the young church leaders noticed my tattoo when we had a fellowship day at the park and could not understand how a pastor would have one when Leviticus clearly tells us this is forbidden.  When I tried to explain the context of the chosen people being set apart by their specific regulations and rituals and how Jesus provided a way that made that not necessary, she just looked confused.  She was even more stunned when I told her that many of my friends who were pastors had tattoos after they were “born again”. Not wanting to create a stumbling block, I decided to just be more careful next time and wear higher socks that would conceal my ankle.  In many ways I have felt like I have had to stifle who I am, in order not to confuse or offend well-meaning Christians in Peru.  This mentality is slowly fading as some younger pastors are coming along in the presbytery I work in, but the lasting effects of Puritan-type missionaries in the start of the church here in Peru can still be seen.  For this same reason, I had to create another Facebook in order to not isolate myself from church goers who believe that Christians should not smoke, dance or drink alcohol among other prohibitions.

Having friends outside of the church has been important to balance who I am versus what they expect a pastor to be.  I have to constantly remind myself that I am not here to change people and to not try to judge their culture too harshily so as to not throw the baby out with the bath water.  Many protestants here take their faith very seriously.  Lots of emphasis has traditionally been put on evangelizing or converting (mainly Catholics and atheists).  One of the “hermanas” here is often quick to tell a moto taxi driver in the 5 min ride to church his need for salvation. This usually includes quoting scriptures and feels more like a verbal beating rather than a conversation. Though she does refer to the stranger often as dear-one (quierido).  This woman is a pillar of the church and has a very storng faith.  One of the things I have been impressed by is the faith of the believers here.

Sometimes, though, the amount of faith seems to be put to the test by rigorous faith practices.  Church members are quick to demand a vigil or a fast and many participate.  I find that these can be great practices in moderation and with the right motivation. Often I find that these are observed out of obligation for what a “good christian” is supposed to do. The reasoning behind some of these events are often hard to uncover or poorly communicated.   I felt that at some of the vigils and fasts that I took part in were thrown together and had little thought or planning put into them.  This also is a cultural bias of mine, even though I am normaly one who is okay with doing things on the fly.

This blog may seem to be a bit of a gripe (and well, that’s because it is), but it is also an effort to appreciate these things for what they are without trying to judge them too harshly.  These people that I have been working with are very caring. This month has been tough because they have already begun talking about how much they will miss us.  We have been walking and working with these communities for more than 10 months now.  The two congregations I have been working with are filled with people I have grown very close too.  I am excited about the things they have accomplished while I have been here and the dreams they have for the future. July will be a string of goodbyes and going away parties that will mark the end of this part of the journey.

During this experience I have come to understand and appreciate a certain kind of Christianity that is disticnt from what I am most familiar with in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I better understand why they put USA after Presbyterian because it is different in other parts of the world and of course there are other Presbyterian denominations.  What would a Peruvian or Kenyan think of our particular varieties of Christianity? What might they have to offer us? What might they find strange or unnecessary about our faith practices? I think they might sense that most members are not at church enough, as it is normal for them to have prayer meetings and other gatherings at the church all week long.  Churches in the United States of America definately have their growing edges.  Hearing outside voices allows us to access where growth is happening.

I will miss the excitement and enthusiasm with which these church members live out their faith.  I am not one that likes to say good bye and I hope I will be able to stay in touch with my new friends that have touched my life so proufoundly.  I am also looking forward to being united with my family and friends before we set out for our next adventure. Hugs to all of you who have been journeying with us. Your prayers and support have been felt and are greatly appreciated.

Reflectively,

Shane

Venezuelan Feast

15 May

Some people who read our blogs and look at our pictures see and hear about the things that we have seen and done, and it is so different from their lives that it is easy to think that we are just having fun every day of our year of mission. Though we do have lots of fun, we work a lot too, and little of the work is glamorous or exotic.  And, like any other hard worker, sometimes we just need a vacation!!  Thankfully, from May 4-13th, we had our second and final vacation, and Shane and I spent the entire 10 days visiting Venezuela.

For those who don’t know, Shane studied in Maracay, Venezuela for a year right after his graduation from high school. While he lived there, he lived with a family and made lots of friends at church and at school. So, 10 years later, the main purpose of our visit was to visit those family and friends and to introduce me to the beauties of the country.

We had a 5-hour layoBogota - view from the topver in Bogota, Colombia, and instead of sitting in the airport, we decided to go explore. We had a speedy tour of downtown, a walk through an emerald store (which Colombia is famous for) and we took a cable car up a mountain to the Monserat monastery, which had a beautiful view of the city. With traffic, however, we cut our trip back to the airport quite close, and ended up doing the classic movie-style dash through the airport. God must have been watching out for us, though, because we got through emigration and security and to our gate in under 15 minutes! Then it was “adios, Colombia” and we were on our way to Venezuela.

I am pretty sure that Venezuela is the most beautiful country that I have ever been to. The country is so verdant and luscious; it seems to be dipped in green. Just driving down the highway reminds me of being in an American National Park; I can’t imagine what the jungle is like! There is an amazing amount of wildlife in Venezuela, and we saw several iguanas and the most colorful birds and fish. The people are warm and friendly, the food is INCREDIBLE, and the cities are modern as anywhere in the U.S. To sum it up: it was paradise.

After we arrived in Caracas, we were picked up by our driver and traveled about 2½ hours to Maracay, where we reunited with the Martinez family, Shane’s previous host family. They were waiting with joyous hugs and homemade pizza to welcome us. Shane’s host sister, Annette, who was 2-years-old when Shane lived in Venezuela, is now a little lady, but there was no doubt that they were brother and sister, as they picked on and tickled each other anytime they were together. The family really spoiled us, and I couldn’t have felt more at home.

A big part of the spoiling was with food. Shane’s host mom, Yaneth, is an amazing cook, and the dishes she made were to die for: pizza, Arabic bread, risotto, spaghetti, and a roast. We also experienced all of the typical foods of Venezuela: arepas, empanadas, cachapas, and the very typical meal of rice, black beans, carne mezchada meat, and cooked plantains. One of my favorite things is that they make amazing fresh juices out of almost any fruit you can think of. And Shane loved finally drinking some good beer!  Joining alpaca and guinea pig, Shane and I got to eat another unusual creature on this trip: the capybara.  This giant rodent, native to South America, looks a little like a guinea pig or a beaver, and tastes like pork. Delicious!!  Needless to say, we might have put on a few pounds, but it’s not really vacation without a feast, right?

Sunday morning we met up with one of Shane’s best friends from his time in Venezuela, Ruben. We met his beautiful family and then rode together to church. The Maracay Community Church is bilingual and diverse, a beautiful melding of cultures, traditions, and languages. Shane and I have visited many churches this YAV year, and we are always treated kindly and deferentially, as a visiting pastor and his wife. At the Maracay Community church, we were embraced as a prodigal son and daughter. Instead of being the visiting gringo missionaries to be put on display, we were much-missed friends to be included and celebrated.  Indeed, God was in this place, and my soul reveled in the spiritual feast that was spread at the table. Not since my teenaged years in youth group have I witnessed such vitality and devotion in a church service. Whether the songs were in English or Spanish, hands were raised to the heavens and voices sang directly to God’s ears with messages of supplication, praise, and thanksgiving. Though the congregation was small, many of the members had leadership roles in the service, even the many children. I am hard-pressed to define exactly what it was that made this service so special and meaningful to me, but I can say with all my heart that, with tears in my eyes, I bowed my head and talked with my Lord, for the first time in far too long. It is possible to fall into a rut, and sometimes you need a jump start to recharge and revive your faith. Thank you, Maracay Community Church, for inviting me to your feast… I feel satisfied, yet hungry, for Jesus again!!

The next few days were spent relaxing and spending time with the family and Shane’s friends. Although most of them hadn’t seen each other in years, Shane’s visit was the catalyst for a reunion, and six of his former classmates were able to hang out with us during our visit. One night we went out for ice cream and drinks, picking up friends along the way. Another night they all treated Shane and I to Brazilian BBQ (think Fogo d’ Chao), which was very special.  I loved meeting everyone and hearing about their memories of their time together in school.

Thursday through Saturday we went to the beach! We stayed at the family’s condo in Tucacas, but the real beach was in a close-by national park. We swam in the crystalline ocean, saw a bird nesting ground, snorkeled with some amazing fish, visited a starfish cove, and caught crabs on the white crushed-coral beach (which we had almost to ourselves). We were able to buy fresh ceviche from fishermen and ice cream on our remote island.  It was a perfect day of relaxation and fun.

Sunday we needed to head back to Caracas to catch our flight home, but we got into the city early enough for a one-hour mini tour. We saw a lovely park, took pictures of a war memorial, got a view of downtown, and were treated to ice cream at a historic shop.  Then we said goodbye to our driver, and flew “home” to Lima. I truly enjoyed the feast that is Venezuela!

Really, this vacation came at the ideal time, as it recharged my batteries and gave me the push I need to make it through to the end. And with about two months left of our YAV year, the end is coming up fast. I anticipate a busy work schedule coming up, so I plan to throw myself into work while still taking a much time as possible to be with the many friends that we have made here.

With love,

Sarah

Semana Santa= unforgettable Holy Week

18 Apr

Semana Santa (Holy Week)

The 2012 Holy week will be one that is hard to forget.  Most of the week, we were on retreat in the city of Ayacucho that is located in the south central part of Peru with Debbie Horne, Harry Horne, Kaley Anderson, Sean Delaney, Mary Morrow and Hannah Schonau-Taylor (to see more pictures check-out there blogs and/or my Facebook). So I thought I would give a breakdown for our holy-happenings.

Palm Sunday

Although my church in Lima did not include palms or processions, it was a special Sunday.  The Adult Sunday School class hit the streets to clean up the neighborhood as part of the closing for a class on Scripture and the environment.  Later, I led my cute yet troublemaking first graders to go out to pick up trash to finish what the adults did not have time to get.  We carried banners explaining why we were there and talked to curious passer-bys about what a church group had to do with picking up trash. That night at the service there were still no palms, but we did talk about the Passion of Christ.

Holy Monday

I spent most of the day prepping my sermon for the evening. I listened to a Palm Sunday sermon online to get my palm fix and enjoyed the Leten devotional of the morning.  That night Sarah, a couple of YAVs and a guest went to the local Presbyterian Church where I preached in English on the Holy Monday scripture from John 12. It was a short service and we headed out to eat sushi afterward.

Holy Tuesday

We spent the day packing but we did go out to a Turkish restaurant for lunch.  It was a pretty relaxed day and then we boarded the bus to Ayacucho (14 hour ride). Of all movies they could have shown before we went to sleep, this bus line selected the Texas Killing Fields, which is a pretty disturbing moving based off a true story in Texas City. As the bus has to go way up into the mountains, Sarah had some trouble with altitude sickness, but thankfully she felt much better the next day.

Holy Wednesday

We arrived to our destination on time around 9am. Then we got settled in at Hotel San Cristobal.  We spent much of the day recovering and wandering around the Plaza Mayor.  During the day groups of people where designing “carpets” in the road made of flowers, sawdust, sand and other random items to make pictures in the street.  These were for the procession that evening which meant this art was soon to be trampled.  Mary arrived safe from Huancavelica and we had pizza for lunch. There was also homemade ice cream being made by women in traditional dress. We had our first devotional and Bible study on the Gospel of Mark once Harry had joined us. The procession that night brought a huge crowd into the plaza, which also meant watch out for thieves. A friend that was not part of our group had her camera cut out of her zipped jacket pocket, which put our group on alert.  There were three floats: one of Jesus carrying the cross with Simeon helping, another of Saint John, and another of Veronica (the woman who wiped Jesus face on the road to Golgotha). These last two floats encountered with the Jesus float. There was a band and singers that accompanied the procession.  It was interesting and beautiful but we were all pretty tired from our travels.

Maundy Thursday

For breakfast, I enjoyed a hot dog wrapped in a waffle on a stick and a waffle on a stick filled with cheese while the rest of the group ate normal things.  As we went out to explore the city we watched part of a reenactment of Jesus carrying the cross and being tortured by Roman soldiers in the streets of the plaza. There was a walk to all of the 33 Catholic churches in Ayacucho but we did not participate. Instead we went to the museum about the violence that took place in Ayacucho during the years of 1980-2000.  Many of the victims were innocent poor people caught between the Senderistas (members of the Shinning Path) and the Peruvian military. The suffering of the people was hard to bear but did fit the theme of the tortured Jesus. On a lighter note we had a great cultural lunch. I ate fried guinea pig and got to taste some of the traditional trout and pork. Lunch also came with a serenade by some university students in renaissance tights and they chose to dance with my beautiful wife.  That night we did our devotional and Bible Study and shared the Lord’s Supper together in the upper room of the hotel (the roof). It was a beautiful way to end an emotionally heavy day.

Good Friday

A huge part of this day was spent preparing and eating a traditional pit barbeque (Pachamanca).  We went to the house of Paco and Celia who live in Ayacucho and are friends of Harry and Debbie.  They had started heating the volcanic rocks at 6am by stacking them over a fire in the ground. When the rocks were ready, I had the privilege of helping remove the rocks, adding the potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken, pork, apples and peas to the pit, and then burying it.  While we waited for it to cook we hiked up a large hill to get a view of the city from the look-out (mirador).  When we returned, I was asked to help unbury and remove the food.  They kept reminding me that I was earning my meal.  The feast was delicious and most of us ate more than our bellies could hold.  We returned to our hotel to do another Bible study and devotional and this time we closed with foot washing. Afterwards we headed back to the plaza to see another procession with colorful carpets with floats of Jesus and Mary.  This time the mood was more solemn with candle lights and singing.  Jesus was in a large glass casket carried by several men.

Easter Vigil

What better way to celebrate the coming resurrection than to be chased through the streets by bulls! Early Saturday morning the brave/adventurous/ slightly crazy YAVs (Kaley, Mary and me) put on our running shoes and hit the streets.  First, we got to the starting point and waiting for the main event. Like most things in Peru it got going much later than was advertised.  Once we found the group that was participating we were given free t-shirts and we jogged/danced up the street to the plaza.  There we were prayed for at the Cathedral and it was explained that this event celebrated the rich traditions and celebrations of this town and its Spanish roots.  Then we danced/ jogged back to the starting line. Our friends were watching but like us had no idea what was going on.  Finally, the first bull was released into the street and I managed to get briefly tangled in the bull’s rope as he turned toward me. I thankfully slipped away with my heart racing and a tiny rope burn, yet had a much closer encounter than I was ready for.  Our small group of three ran with two more bulls but were exhausted from running uphill on a hot day and decided we would leave the other four bulls for the late-comers.  No one else got to see the bulls due to the immense crowd and the fact that they ended up in the wrong spot.  The partying in the streets lasted all day and into the night but we had more than our fill of excitement after the morning.  We had our last vocational discernment lesson and then had our own vigil in the form of a long bus ride back to Lima.

Easter

Mary was able to stay (as she had different travel arrangements) up until 4am to see the beautiful Easter procession (to see pictures check out her blog).  The rest of us made it into Lima early.  This gave Sarah and I the chance to rest, shower and catch the 11am service at the nearby Presbyterian Church of Pueblo Libre. It was nice to sing some familiar songs and celebrate the resurrection.  We also were able to spend some time with our host family and took lots of time to relax and unpack. We had an exciting and eventful Holy Week, but we definitely were dragging when we went back to work on Monday.

Christ is risen!

Shane

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Interesting Things in Peruvian Culture

14 Apr

Wish you were here? This is a list that I have been slowly been compiling. Enjoy a little taste of the life in Lima!!

1. Advertising – I am pretty sure that Brad Pitt and Hannah Montana do not come to Lima to get their hair cut, and I am very sure that Mark Zuckerberg did not go to school here, but according to billboards and advertisements, the stars regularly frequent businesses in Peru.  I wonder if Reese Witherspoon gets royalties from promoting the VisiónYa glasses store here?

2. It is common to refer to someone as “fat”(gordita) or “thin”(flaquita). Used with boys, girls, men, and women, it is common as a term of endearment (“Come here, skinny.”) or as a descriptor (“Have you seen Paulo, the short fatty?”).

3. Dating among young people is done differently here. Going out in groups is fine, but going out with one person of the opposite sex is not done. So how do young people “get their mac on”? They make out in the public parks. On any given night, the parks in Lima are full of young people attached at the lips.

4. Many buildings in Peru have rebar sticking out of the roofs or partially-unfinished paint jobs.  A former YAV said that this is because the families are hopeful that, when the money comes in, they can continue to add floors to their house for future generations to live in. However, a tour guide in Cuzco informed me that it is because Peruvians pay fewer taxes on unfinished properties than completed ones. Gotta take advantage of those loopholes!

5. invitame – if you see someone eating or drinking something and you want some, you literally ask them to “invite you” to share. This is commonly done between friends or acquaintances, but I have seen people use this with complete strangers.

6. “fua” – this is an onomatopoeia for “the sound of a person taking a shot of alcohol”.

7. Hot water heaters are pretty rare here. IF you get hot water, usually it comes from the shower head! An electric heater in the shower head heats the water. Just try not to touch any of the exposed wires…

8. Elms, oaks, maples… bor-ing! All that green and brown. Here, lots of trees bloom! It is beautiful!

9. We all know the scene. A group of girls are at a wedding, dancing. What’s in their hands? You got it…their shoes. Most American women can’t leave high-heels on for a night. However, in Lima, the women LIVE in them, literally carrying babies on and off of public busses in 5-inch-tall party shoes. You go, chicas!

10. Transportation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. Food

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. Peruvians do not ever walk around barefoot in their own homes. This partially due to the dirt, as Lima is full of smog and dust that turns the bottom of your feet black, even if you swept earlier in the day. It is also due to the belief that you will get sick, as the floors are “cold” (even in the summer).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this morsel of Peruvian culture!!  For better and for worse, Shane and I have really fallen in love with Peru. Our experiences have been and continue to be amazing. We are so blessed that we have been able to explore, serve, and grow with our Peruvian sisters and brothers in Christ.  And with three months ’till we return to the States, my goals have been to make the most of each day, to connect deeply with the friends that I have made, to pray, and to continue to give unstintingly of myself to the glory of Christ.

Bendiciones,

Sarah

Two beaches and a river

15 Mar

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Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!  The end of February and the first half of March (summer) have been both a very exciting and very hot period.  Our first trip out to the beach was with a large group of kids in the Compassion International program based at the Km. 18 church that I work at during the week.  We took three large buses filled with kids to a park on the beach outside of Lima (about as far away as Houston to Galveston).  It was interesting that most of the time was spent in the shallow pools because the ocean is too rough plus many Peruvians do not know how to swim (for example out of three buses about 10 kids were able to swim and most of those did not swim well).  We spent a whole day at the beach park and had a great time enjoying the water and our picnic lunch.

Later that week our campamento (church camp) took place in the same area near the Lima coast.  I put in a ton of extra time helping to plan the camp and I felt the four days turned out to be a success, thanks be to God. Everyone camped in tents (about 6 to a tent) and started off each day with a devotional.  Also, there were two workshops a day that addressed the faith of the youth and adolescents.  We played a ton of games through the week and I was in charge of leading some of them along with the devos.  I planned to lead capture the flag, but it was difficult when I arrived because I noticed that there were no trees and scarce places to hide.  Therefore, in an open field we played one of the fastest games of capture the flag, lasting about 10 minutes, half of which was explaining the rules.  We played with water balloons (I spent an hour picking up pieces the next day) and everyone had fun but we had to play other games because it was over so quickly. There was also a treasure hunt, competitive games and a night walk along the beach  during the camp.  Seven churches came together to form the camp and it was great to get to know youth from these different churches. This experience reminded me of my fond church camp memories at Camp Cho-Yeh and Mo Ranch. It took a lot of work but seemed to be well worth it in the end.  Many of the kids formed strong friendships with youth from other churches they had never met before, though they all live relatively close to one another.

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After a full week of herding kids at the beach, it was time to get some quality time at another beach far away (17+ hours in a bus). We had our YAV mid-year retreat at the beach in Mancora (technically Los Organos).  Part of our motive for going so far away was that we had to renew our visas by leaving the country and re-entering.  Our first full day at the beach we trekked into Ecuador which was less than three hours from where we were staying.  We “illegally” entered through a market crossing and had to get directions to immigration so we could enter and exit formally.  This turned out to be a series of going around to different border patrol offices and getting told different things. After some delicious food in Ecuador ( I had ceviche that was more Peruvian style), we were able to immigrate into Ecuador and then back into Peru successfully.

The rest of the week was super relaxing.  Each day included a devotional led by one of our group and a study on vocational discernment.  We cooked our meals (grilled chicken pasta, beef/ veggie fajitas, and grilled sailfish in mango salsa) in teams and I enjoyed grilling on a rustic and rusty pit three of the nights we were there.  The time was spent enjoying the sea, cooling off in the pool, reading and reflecting on our experience so far during our year of service.  We also looked at what we might want to do differently for the rest of our time and what we wanted to accomplish before our departure. Our last night we had a bonfire on the beach with smores and banana boats (I had fun playing with the fire).

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Soon we were all back to our “normal” work schedules, it was during this time that I had one of my most beautiful and chaotic encounters with the Spirit so far.  Last Friday night, I got a call and was asked to come to the baptisms that Sunday.  This was news to me because I did not know this was taking place and I had been teaching the candidates for baptism, who where only a little more than half way finished with their class.  Saturday morning I found out that I would be presiding over the baptisms and had to call my supervisor to make sure that I had the approval of presbytery to preform this sacrament.  Saturday after lunch I left to go out to the church (per my usual routine) and stayed the night on that side of town.  Sarah accompanied me and we went to a presbytery event about women in ministry.  Afterwards I briefly spoke with the church president about the baptisms that would take place the next morning.  This was to be my first ever baptismal service and it was taking place in a foreign land, in an unfamiliar denomination, within a different culture and I had no idea what their process was for baptism or even the parts of the service.  I was completely uninformed and I was begging for information but there was no time or energy left for people to include me.

Early the next morning I arrived at the church frustrated, stressed and still in the dark about what was going to take place.  There was a large bus that was taking the congregation to the place where the baptisms would be held.  I was told that we were going to Club Retamas and to bring shorts to get into the water.  That meant as much to me as it does to you.  I am sitting on the bus stressed and anxious about my role with no sign of the church leader, who was about an hour late (which is normal in Peruvian culture).  I had asked another member of the church what the usual service of baptism was like and got that they had a short service where they sang songs, prayed, the candidates gave testimony, a sermon was preached and then the candidates were baptized.  Although very vague, I was happy to have any idea of what was going to take place.  Finally, I got a  chance to talk to the church president as the bus pulled away from the church.

I found out a few more details about the service, though there was no official order in which things were done.  One of the details was that I would be preaching during the service. Really? A two hour heads up for a sermon in my second language for a special occasion, where some family and friends were with the church for the first time.  It was only by the grace of God and every ounce of self-control I could muster that I did not explode.  Those of you who know me well, would agree that I am a pretty flexible, laid back, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy, but this was too much. I vented in English to Sarah and did a ton of praying.  I did my very best to “let go and let God” because I did not have any other real choice.

With the help of the Spirit the service went well, though the 4 candidates (I only knew of 3) had not been informed about giving a testimony and a couple got stage-fright. As we closed the first part of the service, a fifth person decided they wanted to be baptized (to God be the glory) and she was quickly introduced.  The congregation dispersed as the candidates and I put on our white tunics.  We were informed that the river current was too strong and dirty to do the baptisms. Thus, we walked to the public pool area since we were in a park.  The pool was filled with people playing, splashing and screaming.  The president was trying to negotiate a corner of the pool that we could use with a lifeguard.  Many people in the gathered congregation noticed how complicated a baptismal service in these conditions would be and started to suggest other options.

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Someone had seen a run-off of the river, which had clear water and a slow moving current.  We arrived at the creek, which was shallow and looked like a ditch.  Some men of the church climbed into the water and started removing rocks.  I joined in and we built a make shift dam to help raise the level of the water so full submersion would be possible (they don’t teach that in seminary – sure glad I was a Boy Scout).  Even after the dam was made the water did not even reach my knees.  One by one the candidates entered the river on make-shift steps.  We got down in the river to pray and the Spirit took over.

Each baptism was unique and included for me equal parts of terror and beauty. The first baptism was of the youngest, an 11 year-old girl.  I had her sit down in the water for her baptism but the water was cold and she was hesitant and squealing as she tried to sit.  I promised her it would go fast once she was seated.  She was then baptized and was able to get just below the water.  When she arose the congregation burst into a capella singing.

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As the next candidate entered the river, the president said that he wanted to bring the candidate down into the water from a standing position.  I was sure that would not work and was worried about the young man’s safety.  I was overwhelmed with a peaceful thought to stop my worry and trust.  Giving over control, I baptized by lowering the youth with the help of the president slowly beneath the water and back up again.

Between each baptism, a song was sung accompanied only by clapping.  A young man from my youth group, a large grown man who I had barely met and a young woman, who was little more than a brief acquaintance, were consecutively baptized. Moved to have some kind of confession of faith from the last girl, I asked her some questions about her faith so I could baptize in good conscience. I was asked to close in prayer and was inspired to add some impromptu liturgy before the benediction that included splashing the gathered witnesses and calling them to remember their baptisms. I am very thankful for my Sunday and Sacraments workshop taught by Dr. Jennifer Lord because I at least felt I had practiced full immersion once leading up to this experience. I see this as an instance where the Holy Spirit was preparing me for the future.

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Though the circumstances where chaotic and filled me with all kinds of anxiety, God was in control.  This encounter with the Spirit in the river is a memory I will never forget.  I feel blessed that my first baptisms, messiness and all, took place in such a breathtaking manner.  During the baptisms my fear turned to joy; this holy mystery I can only explain as the work of the Holy Ghost! To God be the glory!

For those of you who have not yet seen the photos on Facebook, please enjoy the pictures and the video clip. Also, I will be linking videos to the blog of sermons, work in Peru and the baptisms. God’s peace be with you.

Leten blessings,

Shane

Humanitarian aid, Kony 2012, and YAV

10 Mar

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Due to much talk and criticism of the Kony 2012 project, I felt the need to do a quick blog post. I jumped on the band wagon early on because I knew about the Invisible Children NGO and was already familiar with the situation. I must first admit that I first saw the Invisible Children video when I was in college (about 5 years ago).  This is not the video that has gone viral but spoke to the problem of children soldiers in Uganda.  This was also a problem in Latin America in the 80′s and if you want to know more you can watch the movie Voces Inocentes.

I posted the video on many of my social media sources to help get the word out.  A day or two later, I thought twice about what I did after reading some of the criticisms and decided to take down the posts. I listened to some of my conservative friends and I appreciated some of the points they made. Such as: 1) activists of this sort usually tend to be against military actions yet the Kony 2012 calls for US military support, 2) this is not a particular concern for the majority of Ugandans at this point, and 3) the promoter of this viral video seems like he has a Messiah complex or at least feels to me like a “great white knight” trying to fix the problems of a culture he does not fully understand.  I have continued to read articles about the Kony 2012 campaign and one of the most helpful for me came from the Washington Post.

Though I agree with many of the criticisms, I still support Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 campaign.  Why? Well, this is still an important issue of justice and Africans in the region (though maybe not in Uganda) are still in danger.  Plus, the main goal is to make people aware of the situation even if it is late in the ball game.  My prayer is that after this year the Invisible Children organization will focus mainly on restoration and reconciliation of the people who have been affected in the region.  I hope they also take more time to listen to the needs of and the desires of the people of Uganda rather than just the things they feel passionate about.

As Sarah and I are working as humanitarian aid workers in some capacity here in Peru, this matters to me.  I love the model that we work with and alongside the people in our communities.  Where we are invited to help and support is where we go.  We do not pursue our American interest or try to change the things that we see need attention.  I am not saying this because I think Invisible Children is guilty of this, but that all international NGOs walk a fine line between aiding and hurting the people they desire to support.  It is only with the help of God’s grace and mercy that some of our actions might enrich the lives of the ones we serve.  I feel that it is good to reflect on what is happening and use discernment to know when it might be time to work ourselves out of a job (which should be the goal of all humanitarian aid).  Peace to you all in this time of Lent and please feel free to comment or disagree.

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