Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Death and Dying

I clearly remember my first experience with death while living abroad, and I was completely unprepared.  It was in Nicaragua, back when I was 23 years old.  Ernie's neighbour lady passed away, within a week of our arrival, and the family needed his help.  What I was so very unprepared for was being asked to sit with the body while they got things ready (went to buy a casket, bring home an embalmer, etc.).  SIT WITH THE BODY!? Coming from a western first world context I was in no way prepared for that. But sit with the body I did!

In my Western culture we have prettied death up, so my experience went as far as going to a funeral, maybe viewing a body, all nice in a casket.  I imagine that Nicaragua is not the only part of the world that deals with death in a much more personal and hands on way.  The beliefs, traditions, and even superstitions, are most likely vast and varying.

Why am I talking about something that happened years ago, or, for that matter, why am I even talking about death?  Since being here in Guadalajara we have shared in the grief of several friends.  Just yesterday we attended a funeral for a dear friend from our cell groups here in GDL. The day before that we went to a funeral home to support a friends from the gym who was grieving the tragic death of his youngest brother. Maybe a month prior to that we joined another friend from the gym who lost her aged father, another friend lost a grandmother (who was like a mother to him), and we have another dear friend whose grandmother is very ill right now.

Death is inevitable.  From the moment we are born we begin to die.  We live like we have forever.  We deny its eventuality.  We fear it. We don't understand it.  We don't prepare for it, or even talk about it. We just live our daily lives till we are forced to deal with it, whether through the loss of another, or a personal loss.  It often leads us to question God; why did he take our loved one?  It can lead to blaming God, or doubting and questioning him.

How does one reconcile a loving God and death?  Often during these difficult times these questions and doubts surface. "Why God?" This question comes with doubts, and at times anger.  How do we help a person walk through their grief, in a healthy way, with their faith in God intact?  And, at times, that faith in God may be weak to begin with. To share in their grief, to love them and to help them, that is a heavy task. I believe that part of 'being salt and light' means walking with the next person in their grief, empathizing, and being there for them. It's probably not a time for 'pat answers', its usually a time for 'presence'. Living out your faith takes many forms - this is one of them.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Life is Busy and Full - Feeling Blessed

Not every day is a picnic but overall life is good.  We are so very blessed to be here.  We are blessed to have the opportunity to love these people, to enjoy rich friendships, to share our faith, to help people grow in theirs, to laugh, to live the abundant life.  God is good.

I want to share with you, our friends, some of the things we have been doing and let you in on things that are upcoming.  I will begin with the past Sunday, Ernie got to do one of his favourite things to do...

What's he doing? He is telling a children's story at our convivio. He just loves telling kids a story, which makes them laugh, but also a story that has a point.  I have heard him tell this particular story often. As you can tell in the picture the kids and the adults were responding.
Overall Sunday was a blessing for all.  We got together with our cells groups at Rick and Ale's house, enjoyed coffee and a snack, sang some worship songs led my Joel and a friend, children's feature and short devotional (message) by Ernie followed by John leading communion.  A rich morning.

As you all know by now we are the 'gym folks'.  Ernie and I go daily, where we mix and meet many friends.  I am not sure which is the bigger blessing, the fitness or the relationships.  I have joined many classes and have made many friends through them.  Saturday they insisted I join them for a Super Dance Class (what makes it super is that all the classes come together and it is a 2 hour class).  Since I am more strong than coordinated I prefer the small classes.  But at their insistence I went.  What a blast we all had together.

We enjoy the gym so much that every body that comes ends up visiting the gym with us.  Some get roped into attending my classes and some just work out.
Allison our wonderful intern
So that is what has happened recently, a little taste of it, and here is what is coming up.  At the end of this month my brothers, along with their wives, arrive for a holiday in Puerto Vallarta and we will join them for a couple of days.  Since I have not seen them for over 2 years I am very excited about catching up with them.  
No sooner do we return from Vallarta and Ken Zacharias arrives for a field visit.  Along with Ken will come Ernie's brother Garry.  Although that visit is short, Ernie is very excited about sharing his life here with his brother.  They are already planing to run in the park and visit the gym.

We get a little break and then the Kleefeld EMC youth are coming for a week.  This will be busy and fun, hosting and getting to know this group.

We get another little break and then Ernie heads to Steinbach to speak at a mission event.  We have decided that I will not be joining him as 10 days after his return we head back, but for furlough.  I am trying to not count the days till that.  Not that I don't enjoy being here, I LOVE IT, but to be within hugging distance of my kids for 3 months! Priceless.  And, we have not seen our families and friends for over 2 years.  We are looking forward to reconnecting and catching up with everybody.

So, life is good.  God is good.  We are blessed and thankful for His hand upon our lives.  We covet your prayers and appreciate that we can connect through social media, email and the many other ways that our ever developing world makes available to us. Blessings to all.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Always Learning

It's not that I, or we, are necessarily overly humble, but we have learned something in the course of living abroad.  One must ALWAYS remain a student; willing to learn. Everybody can teach you something, if you are only willing to learn.

In his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood author Duane Elmer says "...learning is the ability to glean relevant information about, from and with other people." We often stop learning before we have learned everything we need to learn.  We stop being teachable.

So what have I/we been learning?  Well, we took a day of learning with our 2 Ascend interns.  This day was led by dear friends of ours, Joaquin and Martha.  We began the day with a lovely breakfast together at a fabulous restaurant of their choosing.
left to right: Martha, Me, Allison, Jessy, Ernie and Joaquin
Although breakfast was because we needed to eat (which we all love to do),  all good events happen around food, and relationships are built around the table.  It was here that we talked food, culture and slowly headed toward the topic of the main event of the day - the Catholic faith and religion.  This whole event was happening because Allison had to do a paper on the religion of her host country (as part of her requirements for Columbia Bible School).  She had a few questions and Joaquin graciously tried to answer.  It was very informative.

From there we headed to the big cathedral of Zapopan:

Here we saw many images, alters and various signs of faith or fanaticism.  Joaquin says that where faith is weak fanaticism is most evident.  They pointed out people who were praying at an alter, or image, and not even listening to mass.  They showed us the wall where people place pictures or charms of miracles that have been granted.  They took us to the store at the front of the cathedral where you could purchase 'relics' of the faith (crosses, images of the virgen, rosaries, candles, etc).  They explained to us that if we would have arrived prior to mass beginning we would have seen people crawling on their knees towards the cathedral.  Throughout the outer and inner courtyards people were selling things similar to those the store was selling.  

From there they took us to another church, which was closed, awaiting a funeral mass.  So, they took us to their church, where they normally worship.  This was drastically different.  Let me show you with a picture, for a picture is truly worth a thousand words. 

This church is mostly empty of images, except for a cross and a picture of the Virgen Guadalupe on the back of the platform.  The walls are bare.  Joaquin explained that these two extremes, so to speak, reveal the vast difference between the different orders within the Catholic tradition.  In this church, the confessionals are not like you see in the movies, with the person kneeling before a hidden priest.  Here you sit in front of your priest, conversation style, and confess.  It was quite distinct from any of the Catholic places of worship we had been in previously.

After looking around we returned to the church that had been locked.  They chose to attend mass at that one because the funeral was for a friend's family member.  Joaquin informed us that the mass here would be very similar to one they would experience in their church {We plan to join him on another occasion}.  

It was a good service, and the priest had a good homily, which we were basically in agreement with. The liturgy was interesting, the participation of the congregants was thought provoking, the order of service could be followed in a program of sorts.  How the 'funeral' was incorporated into the mass was also interesting.  

What were my 'take aways'? I went to learn, to understand more of the traditions of my friend's faith.  I did not go primarily to evaluate or to criticize, but rather to examine my own faith.  My friend Betty Koop shared a quote from Philip Yancy's book "Vanishing Faith" which applies: "As a Christian my main concern is not to downgrade other's beliefs but to examine my own." I think we need to continually pursue truth, and to make sure that our faith is vibrant and solidly based on truth.  This is truly what the day made me do, examine my own faith and the traditions it brings with it.

I think it is a healthy thing to get to know people of other faiths, or people who are also pursuing Christ, but from a different theological tradition.  I think having a 'teacher' take you on that journey is wonderful.  We are so thankful for this day and all the learning we shared in; it was mutually beneficial I believe.  I love that we enjoy rich evenings together in Bible study with our Catholic friends.  We are all on a journey of faith and are learning from one another. 'Earning' the opportunity to contribute to that kind of a discussion requires respect for others, as well as personal convictions, and an openness to learn as we do 'exegesis' in community!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Love Hate Relationship

I Love Mexico! But I have a love/hate relationship with some things about the culture.  'Time' being one of them.  But it is not because they are always late, that is so very secondary.  The thing that most often makes them late, well, its a good thing.  However, it changes the game!

If a Mexican (using this term because it is where I am living, but I think this might apply to most Latin American people groups) says, "I don't have time" that means he just doesn't have time.  They will try to fit everything into their schedule if it has a relational consequence.  For example, you invite them to an event, and they already have an event or prior commitment, they will not tell you they 'can't', they might says, 'Si claro, si Dios quiere'. {Sure, of course, if God wills it.}  Like the above quote says, to say I don't have time is like saying I don't want to.  They ALWAYS want to, its just humanly impossible to do everything they WANT to do.

Now, take this to a larger scale, since everything is relational and they want to do everything, what does that do to your day?  You are late for many things because the thing that you were doing, involved people, took time (probably more than you thought), and thus you are late to the next thing, which will most likely involve people and relationships and therefore will take longer than planned, etc, etc.  

This makes a 24 hour day loooooong! Nothing is quick here.  If you are going to join a group for breakfast, but don't really have time, you say you are just gonna drop by for a quick coffee - that will turn into a 2 hour coffee.  People - relationships.  If you are gonna run to the neighbours for a cup of sugar, that will probably take at the very least 1/2 an hour if not an hour!  You drop by a friend's place to drop something off, 1/2 an hour minimum.  Life takes time here because the relationships are VERY important.

You are at an event, a breakfast, a party, or wherever there are people - the coming and going takes upwards of 1/2 an hour.  When you arrive, you greet everybody, you do not want to miss anyone so as not to hurt anyone's feelings, even people you may not know.  Then, when you leave, you do that all over again. 

I find I get fewer tasks done here than I desire.  I am a task-oriented person, so this is hard.  But people things, they are done, and with much less rush than what is normal for this Canadian.  I am learning that you greet, smoosh, and all that other relational stuff, then you ask for whatever you want/need.  I am leaning that ...

And, what really matters is people - not how many tasks I accomplished in one day.  It is a lesson I am learning again and again.  I thank my many Mexican friends who are willing to patiently teach me that, again and again.  It is a lesson we in the North could stand to learn.