Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Doubts and Faith

Don Santos, Alexa and Marina

 El Maizal has recently welcomed 5 new babies into our community. We have Alexa, Alison, Alison, Caleb and Esmerelda. When I hold a new baby I am always amazed at how delicate, precious and tiny they are. It’s cliché but very true that babies are our future. I love babies.

The birth of Alexa has had an added impact on her family and their story impacted me. Her parents are Santos and Marina Portillo. They are active members of our church.  Santos leads our Community Bible studies and Marina participates and has been the president of the women’s group.

As is custom here, after her birth at one of our services Alexa was presented and her family was blessed (not a baptism yet, that’s later). Then a week or so later at our Sunday service Santos asked that we all attend a special service of thanksgiving for her the following Sunday and a small get together after.

We attended the service and get together the following Sunday. It was a nice event, the phrase in Spanish goes like this, Siento el calor del comunidad. Translated it means I feel the heat of the community but its real meaning is I can feel the emotional warmth of the community. It was a genuinely happy event.  The impact on me came from a story Santos shared with us about his family and their faith.

Before I get to that let me remind you of what the readings were after Easter Sunday. We had John’s, the doubting Thomas Gospel and we had  Luke’s Gospel of Jesus appearing to the Disciples showing them his wounds yet, some still doubted. In these Gospels we see doubts even amongst Jesus’s closest of friends and we see their faith and hope in the midst of their doubts. It was a very tough and confusing time for the Apostles and their faith. The significance for me is that by nature we have doubts but by faith we can overcome the doubts and have hope for the future. Hope for our future on earth and hope for our eternal life.

Now, let’s get back to Santos. Santos told us how Alexa was an answer to his and Marina’s prayers. Four years ago they lost a baby girl who died 15 days after her birth. He and Marina we obviously devastated.

I can’t imagine the anguish of burying an infant child. Santos shared with us, he asked God “why, why, why”?  This is a moment in human life where the faith is now under fire.  An unbelievable tragedy strikes us and we look to God and say why, why me, why her, why??? The implication is why did you do this to me. This is when faith can be broken, put on hold for years or maybe strengthened.  Santos told us that he and Marina maintained their faith and prayed to God that they be allowed to have another baby.  As he became misty eyed and voice a little shaky, he said Alexa was the answer to their prayers.  It took four years but God gave them Alexa. I can tell you that Don Santos was not the only misty eyed person there.

 Don Santos and Marina proved to me what I thought. In our doubts we can still have faith. It’s hard, it’s confusing but it’s what we are called to do. Trust in God at all times.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ahhh, the simple life

La vida sencilla

Ahhhh the simple life. The mission got a little sidetracked. The mission was interrupted for 10 weeks because Dianne was inflicted with an unusually bad case of Chikungunya.  Most people have it for 7-10 days and that’s it. Its name is of African origin and means, walking stooped over. I had it for about 8 days and that’s what it is like, the pain in my joints had me stooped over. For Dianne almost all the symptoms went away except for the joint pain. We ended up back in the U.S. so she could be checked out thoroughly after she put up with this pain from the middle of November till the New Year. Long story short she was tested for everything under the sun and it came back as a severe case of Chikungunya. After 10 weeks of rest in the U.S. she is improving. The pain is not gone but it’s more manageable for her. Being the way she is, she’s tried to fight through this but with this joint pain, that doesn’t work. The Dr. said it could be one to two more months. To her credit she’s decided to return to the mission and just let it play out. The Doctor said the reason her case was so bad is because she is a “delicate flower” but that said her dedication is inspiring, she has more than enough reason to stay home longer but she may look like a delicate flower but that’s far from the case.
So we landed in El Salvador on March 15th. Our 2nd year Anniversary of the mission was March 4th and in a way the interruption was a good thing although the reason was not good at all. An interruption like this gave us time to reflect on what we have learned. One thing we learned is that we like the simple life of El Maizal. It’s not easy but it’s simpler.

One observation is that this simple life is addicting. Remember, we live in los campos (the country). It’s not remotely like the big cities of El Salvador. At 6-7 PM this community and the surrounding communities are finishing supper and preparing for bed. It’s nice and quiet. Even during the day it’s quiet. There are the buses and cars on the main road but they aren’t that loud. We mostly notice the chickens clucking along as they graze, the many beautifully colored birds talking back and forth to each other and the chatter of kids playing and adults talking. Vida esta tranquilo (life is tranquil)
Life is simpler because most decisions are made sensibly and prudently. We initially found ourselves shaking our heads in disbelief in some decisions but we were normally proved wrong. We forget that all the tools and supplies that we have at our fingertips at home don’t normally exist here. People improvise here all the time and they are very good at it and since they are used to it, they don’t get flustered as easy as we would.

We also find it simpler because we rest more, not because we can but because we must. For a while we were in the full march mode, we must be productive at all times and be available 24/7. But that’s a quick way of making service to God become a grind. That’s not conducive to living the message of our Lord and Savior because you forget to see Jesus in everyone you meet. Well intentioned friends or strangers become impediments to results. You also don’t connect to God in prayer or studying scripture as purposely as you should. You can forget to accompany people with a smile and calming words about life and faith. After all that is what mission is about first and foremost, accompany people as their brothers and sisters in Christ.

The other noticeable thing that simplifies life is that literally all plans are not set in stone. We’ve experienced so many plans that get either cancelled or changed at a moment’s notice that now we expect it. I’m not saying it didn’t drive us crazy and that on occasion it still does but remember decisions are made sensibly so if something comes up more important, things change immediately. They don’t imprison themselves in a system that requires that you sometimes put more emphasis on maintaining a schedule versus addressing an immediate need. In fairness to my North American friends the complexity and difficulty of daily lives here create more emergencies than in the U.S. so it’s much easier to maintain schedules in the states. There’s a relaxing effect to life when you can shrug off changes and reschedule meetings and move along instead of being aggravated and feeling inconvenienced.
Our advice based on what we have learned is that we need to remember to relax and rest sometimes. If you’re the type of person that must have a daily plan then put rest into the plan.

Mark 6:31 - Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

En la paz de Dios

Tomas y Dianna