The Weather in Our Neck of the Woods

Monday, May 12, 2008

What a Day!

We ended last night with one of the youth saying that his mother did not think he was ready to be baptized. We were disappointed, but understood that this was a big move for the whole family. The decision to be baptized in to the church can very well ostracize the person from their entire extended family. It is a ‘no turning back’ decision, for more reasons that for most North Americans consider. Catholicism is the official religion, not that they practice it much, but if you are Panamanian, you are Catholic. If you are not Catholic, you are Pentecostal. If you are not Pentecostal you are a heathen. Not really, but almost. At any rate it is a decision that affects the whole family, and his mother felt he should talk with them more about it before he made the commitment. He is 12, and God willing, he will have time to consider and discuss this with his family. We went to bed excited about 3 baptisms for today.

At 7:00 this morning Yessi came over to tell us that her father had forbidden her baptism. He also said that he wanted to talk with her more about it later. We assumed that her brother had been given the same instructions, so thought we were down to one baptism. We understood that the angels would still have a great party for the one, so we would too! I told Yessi that we understood and that when her father was ok with her being baptized, day or night, we would be ready to take her to the river. She went to tell Marlene, the only one left to be baptized today, and we feared that there would be no baptisms, but Yessi returned and said that Marlene did not want to wait (Marlene is Yessi’s aunt) so we planned to head to the river right after services.

At 9:00 I walked to Dany’s house ( and Yessi and Olmedito’s house) to ask how to fry the vegetables for our lunch (Arroz con Pollo). She reminded me what to do, and as I walked away Yessi came running up and said, “Señora Joy! I talked with my father more and I convinced him that I should be baptized today!” She was radiant, and I could only smile as my eyes filled with tears at her fervent desire to obey God. So the tone for the day was set. It has been a joyful day since before classes started. My ‘Arroz con Pollo’ even turned out good!

Brother Norman Ponce, the son of our beloved Brother Ponce in David, came up to teach the class today. We had asked him to speak on baptism so that those in preparation for this afternoon could completely understand what they were about to do. He did a wonderful job. I swear it could have been Tim Martin, speaking with an immense love of God and of these beautiful souls. He explained, with Scripture, all the reasons for baptism, and what promises it held. Marlene and I were already crying in anticipation. I should tell you that Marlene is about 40 years old, and has been very sick for over a year. The very act of her walking to our house for church is often very painful, but she has been faithful to come.

Sister Anna taught the children’s class today for me so that I could hear what Norman was sharing. The children all knew their memory verse again. This is the third week in a row that they have aced it! I am very proud of them and their work!

Brother Gilberto taught the sermon. I wish I could tell you what it was about. I am sure it was good, but I couldn’t help sitting there smiling across the room at Yessi, Olmedito and Marlene, and thinking about the change they were about to make. The new life they were about to enjoy. The help from within they were about to experience. The Holy Spirit coming to dwell in them personally. My what great things are ahead for them! I had asked Gilberto to keep it short because here in this area, we need to beat the rain or the water will be really muddy, and more dangerous if it is raining. He was brief and to the point. We shared the Holy Supper and headed to the river. We loaded our truck with 12 people and Gilberto’s car with 6 and off we went. No rain, thank you Lord! At the river we sang songs and prayed. Norman took the confession of each of the three, and baptized them, Marlene first, then Yessi, then Olmedito. This served as more than 3 new babes being born into Christ, which is plenty of reason to celebrate. It also served as a renewal for the church – a reminder of what the church is supposed to be – and a refocus on being salt and light, and moving forward, in faith. God is so good!

Once everyone was good and wet we got back in the cars and went back to the house for lunch (where we ate the Arroz con Pollo). Lynn had made two batches of Lisa Hammett’s no-bake cookies last night and they were a huge hit! We enjoyed great fellowship then had our first church business meeting.

This is a new thing here, both for the church at David, and especially for this new church who are just beginning their own traditions of the church of Christ. This is both very exciting, and very humbling. We so want to avoid some of the problems that have arisen for the church in the States from not discerning the difference between tradition and biblical mandate. Every step we make is a brand new step, fresh and pure, if it is done with much prayer and diligence seeking God’s desire. We are so blessed that our brothers from David are supportive of our work, and not insistent that we follow the traditions of even their congregation. As of today, we have our first male baptized member (other than Lynn) so there are many traditions that simply cannot be followed in what we gringos would call the ‘normal’ way. As I said, this is both exciting and loaded with huge responsibility.

So, for this first business meeting, we needed to begin by getting the church to accept responsibility for decision making. This is a very new concept in general here. First, there is the mentality that all Gringos (North Americans) are the boss of whatever they are involved in. Then we have to overcome the idea that they have no choice in their circumstances. This is a typical mentality in Latin America – that what happens happens and we can neither change nor control any of it. This tends to be a two edged sword for the church; Because of this belief, the people are far more likely to depend on God, and give Him total power, and consequently, total honor and gratitude. It also causes them to remain reactive and not proactive. They are hesitant to go out and try any new thing because, it will happen if it should, and won’t if it shouldn’t. Therefore, there is no need for much decision making, as God will do what he will do, and all will be fine in the end. We also face the obstacle of the female mentality – that the men will make all the decisions regardless of what the women feel is best. To get these women to accept the challenge of both the decision-making and the responsibility for those decisions will be an on-going task.

Okay, I am through talking missiology, sorry about the lecture! We introduced the idea, in deference to the men from David who were with us, that normally in the churches of Christ the men facilitated the meetings, but because Lynn’s Spanish is not quite ready, I would be speaking on his behalf. If there were any ruffled feathers to sooth, this calmed them before we began. We proceeded to tell them what we, as a church should be discussing and deciding. The group consisted of about 10 members of this congregation and 5 from David. It took awhile for the Riverside folks to warm up, but they were actively participating before we were through, and any decisions were made. Brother Gilberto helped explain several times when he had something to offer to help the new church members understand what was being discussed. My Spanish is still rudimentary, but after the third time he re-explained what I said, one of the ladies said,” We are very accustomed to the way Joy talks, and understand her very well.” It tickled me to no end, and Gilberto was satisfied, so he only offered his own thoughts after that. Norman sat quietly, saying nothing unless asked directly. He was being respectful of our need to be united as a congregation, I believe, and I appreciated that.

After about an hour, the David gang headed back to the heat below, and the rest of the church sat and visited, and came to some decisions that frankly, surprised me. As a whole they decided that they would like to save the entire offering each week until a need arose. It was suggested that the ladies might want to attend the Convention in Panama City in August, and that part might be used for this, and part for the Youth convention next February. Most importantly, they felt that it should be saved for a time when someone might have a need- a sick child, for example. It was decided that should that type need arise, each family should be consulted as to how to help. It would not be the decision or responsibility of any individual, but of the church as a whole. We are thrilled with this first step. It takes us (Lynn and I) a little further out of the leadership role, which we believe is a necessary step for the church to grow and flourish. It simply cannot remain our responsibility forever. We believe we see this example in the Apostle Paul. He taught and raised leaders in the church, then moved on. While we intend to remain as a part of this church, we do not intend be any more significant than the other members of the church.

It was also agreed that we would meet every second Sunday afternoon after lunch. We ended with a prayer led by Lynn in English and translated by me. This was also a first for us, and as long a he keeps it simple, it will not be the last!

Earlier in the week we visited with Salinda, our dear sister with 9 children (now). She missed last Sunday and we were afraid that the baby was ill, but she had gone to Tole to see her mother who was sick, and her children were/are all healthy for the moment. Remember that 5 of her children are in the Riverside Beka program, so we provide uniforms and materials for school to them. We found that her children were lacking in many areas.

A need that she specifically mentioned was that they rarely had breakfast in the house, which means they rarely have breakfast at all. The school provides them a cup of ‘crema’ at 10:00 in the morning, and the children from Riverside in Gassville provide them lunch at 11:30, but Salinda’s children are getting nothing to sustain them before this. With the money provided by individuals to sponsor these Beka children, we will begin to provide breakfast foods for the family. The uniforms and other things that they need will be provided as well, but this weekly gift of breakfast will help all the children in the house, as well as Salinda. The extra cost will be about $5 each week. This is a way that we can help her, without feeling that we are enabling her. It is part of the Beka package that we offer her children.

This afternoon we took the children new uniforms – skirts, shirts, socks, shoes (both black uniform shoes and tennis shoes). We will also purchase some notebooks and pencils this week. They were thrilled, to put it lightly! When we got to the house Emelia ran to greet us. She is the middle daughter at 8 years old. She begged our forgiveness that she was not at church this morning and explained that her only pair of shoes had lost its sole and she could not walk the mile to our house without shoes. Certainly God knew that she had an immediate need, and sent us to take care of it! The girls jumped up and down like our kids would if they had been given a new car for Christmas. They were thrilled with the shoes – we had chosen the favorite colors for each, the skirts were “just perfect” they said, and even the socks were “the prettiest they had seen, so clean and white.” Salinda was equally thrilled with the oats and milk.

So, had it not been a perfectly wonderful day already, it certainly was after that visit. Shortly after we arrived home Jairo came for a visit and brought his sister, Tatiana with him. We were so pleased. Tatiana had not come to see us since we asked Ez to leave. Her whole family had heard from Ez that we had said he could no longer visit with or speak to their family, and they were hurt and angry, understandably. We had explained earlier today to their mother that this was not true, that we only asked that, if he were to remain working with us, he should not spend time alone with Jairo. So, this afternoon Tatiana came to visit, and we had a great visit. She had been one of my favorite English students last year, and I love her dearly. We feel that we are truly beginning to rise above the harm that Ez caused us, as a church and as individuals. We realize that it is not over, that more things will probably come to light, but we can see True Light at the end of the dark tunnel. If this family can begin to heal, then the church can heal as well. We are very grateful to God for His mercy and peace.

We were blessed by another visit later today. Marlene and her husband, Jose came to see and share photos of the baptisms. Jose does not attend church with us, and has not seriously considered it before, but God is at work! He is becoming more comfortable with us, and we enjoyed a great visit. We feel that soon he will try out the church here on a Sunday, and we are excited about that! He is a good man, a good husband and provider for his family, he just lacks God’s guidance. No, he just needs to acknowledge God’s guidance, and accept His lordship.

The day would have been perfect had not the internet and phone gone out. I really wanted to talk to my young son, and to share all this with you, my dear sisters and brothers, right away. God is always having to remind me to WAIT on His timing! Patience is not my greatest quality! Ah well! We have been able to share in this manner, and will post as soon as we have internet again. We love you all. Please keep praying because God is moving mountains here because of our prayers together!

Richest of Blessings!

Joy & Lynn

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