Monday, April 16, 2012

Final Days in Mexico, with a Weekend in Palenque

Right now, I’m sitting in the airport terminal in Tuxtla Gutierrez, waiting for my departure flight, looking out the typical airport window walls at mountains in the distance in every direction, and writing this post covering the final few days of the trip.

So, picking up at midweek of this week: after the discussions that resulted from my Sunday night lesson in San Cristobal, I wasn’t sure where I stood in the minds of the brethren here. So after the side trip to Xela, and when midweek arrived, I was pleased that the brethren here in San Cristobal invited me to speak for them again in their Thursday night assembly.

Then I was ready for the weekend meeting in Palenque, about 150-200 miles northeast of San Cristobal. Well, I was ready for the meeting. I wasn’t ready for Palenque. Darinel, his little son Jozman (sp?), his brother Leovardo, Elver, Delfino, and I went there on Friday in Darinel’s Nissan Sentra.

(On the road to Palenque; yes, that kid is on his cell phone)

San Cristobal, at this time of year at least, has a climate much like that of Long Beach. It’s been very nice weather. Palenque, at a lower altitude, is h-o-t HOT. Sweltering. It cooled off to “bearable” after sunset. Delfino, who lives with his family in San Cristobal, has established a very simple homestead in Palenque, following the establishment of a small church there. We had about 15 present on Friday evening, and maybe up to 20, counting some visitors, on Saturday evening and Sunday. All of the congregation, with the exception of Delfino, are recent converts. On Friday evening, I spoke about the Lord’s Supper, with it’s multiple purposes.
(Leovardo and Elver in the afternoon heat)

Then came one of the more miserable nights of my recent memory. The little homestead Delfino has established is one long narrow room. It includes a bed at one end, a small plastic table, a small wooden table for ironing, and a small table at the far end holding plates and cups and such. The windows (only along one wall, thus no breeze) have no glass, just wrought iron grilles for security. They told me that I was to sleep in the bed, and the others would sleep on pallets on the concrete floor, and a couple of them on 2 hammocks outside. I resisted the bed, which had a standing fan aimed squarely at it, as I had no more claim to the bed and fan than anyone else, but there was no rejecting their hospitality. Covers were unreasonable, due to the merely “bearable” night-time temperatures.

What they all knew, and I didn’t, was that mosquitoes would invade during the night . . . in great number.

With everyone settling down to sleep, I noticed that Darinel (Dari) and his 6 year old son were using empty water bottles for pillows. I rolled a shirt and sweater of mine into a pillow and gave it to little Jozman (sp?), and gave the pillow from my bed to Dari. There was a folded cover on my bed, which I would use for a pillow. And then the fan. It could be aimed squarely at me in the end of the room, or in a direction to everyone but me along the rest of the length of the room. Since I had the bed, I aimed the fan to everyone else. (Dari and 6 year old Jozman)

Then I lay down to sleep. Then after falling asleep, the mosquitoes came. But you know that half-asleep state when your mind doesn’t fully function? That’s where I was as the itching began to disturb my slumber. I was suddenly aware of a whole lot of itching, seemingly located along my shoulder, upper arm, and upper torso. Bed bugs were my initial thought, or perhaps fleas. Supposing the folded blanket used as a pillow to be the likely source, I cast it from my presence. But the intense itching persisted and spread. And the thought of taking bed bugs home to California kept me uneasy as well.

Somewhere during this part of the night, Montezuma began to reveal his wrath (for the second episode of this trip), though I’m not sure what I had done to incur his vengeful spirit. The toilet was in a small enclosure attached to the meeting place, across a gravelly yard/parking area. Back in bed, the itching from the unknown pests became unbearable. I changed postions to others areas of the double bed, still not aware enough to realize mosquitoes were the culprit, instead of bed bugs or fleas. No relief in sight. The next day I learned that the fan had been aimed at my bed to keep mosquitoes away from me, but of course I had turned it toward the others.

I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I got up to find sleep elsewhere. Out in the gravelly area was Dari’s Nissan Sentra. First door I tried was locked. Same with the second and third. Last chance at the driver’s door: YES!! I crawled into the back seat and slept in peace for the last half of the night . . . except when Montezuma called. Dari told me the next day he had also headed to the car for relief from the mosquitoes, but I was already there. I’m sure we could have arranged reclining the front bucket seats, but he went back inside to continue suffering. :/

I felt ill all of the following day (Saturday), and took a pass on some of the day’s activity: walking street by street with the others, handing out flyers, and eating breakfast, lunch, and supper in the brethren’s homes. I spoke Saturday evening seated in a chair. Nausea and other complications made standing for that length of time an unwise choice. My topic, for these recent converts in this new congregation, was submission to one another. With thousands of members in Jerusalem, they came to quick agreement on solving the problem of the widows and choosing 7 men to serve. That requires us to not insist on our own way all the time.

Saturday night, I allowed the others to insist I keep the fan aimed at me. I also slept under a sheet. A few mosquitoes still managed to get to me, but it wasn’t so bad. Dari and little Jozman slept in the car.

By Sunday morning, I felt entirely well again, with the exception of a headache, which was probably just the result of having no food to speak of the day before, and not an abundance to drink. But it was great to be past the other stuff. We had had visitors Saturday night, but they came in near the end of the lesson. We had more visitors Sunday morning, and they were there at the start time. As per Delfino’s request, I spoke Sunday morning on baptism and salvation. And not seated, but standing.

I was glad to teach there in Palenque, but as a place and as an experience, it didn’t leave an attractive impression on me. If I never go there again, I won’t be terribly upset.

We got back to San Cristobal about 8 in the evening, and I said goodbye to Delfino and then Leo. Then to little Jozman, who is such a gentlemanly little boy. I told him I hoped he would grow up to be a very good man just like his Papi Darinel. He said thank you. Darinel himself I would see in the morning when he would drive me to the airport in Tuxtla Gutierrez. And of course Elver as well. Thanks again to Elver for volunteering to translate for me for a full two weeks.

On Monday mornings at 5am, various ones gather at the building to pray together for an hour about all the various concerns they have. Sometimes this is as few as 5 people, sometimes double or perhaps even triple that. Following that prayer meeting, Dari drove me to the airport, with Elver and Gilberto traveling along, and I said my final goodbyes there at the airport terminal.

I’ll remember these brethren fondly. I hope I’ll see them again before too long.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Side Trip to Xela - Monday through Wednesday

On Monday, Darinel, Elver, and I drove to Xela. I was to preach there in the home of my niece and her family (David and Amy Raif) on Monday evening. They requested that I preach my Shepherd lesson on elders, as they have just been studying elders as well. Amy had prepared dinner for the group, and then I would speak. Among the gathering of about 20-25, there was good discussion afterward.

Then Tuesday evening, I spoke at a nearby congregation, Pachaj, and David suggested I preach the same lesson I had preached Sunday night in San Cristobal, which had resulted in some degree of controversy. I did, but the result was different. The applications of my lesson required some consideration on their part, but there was relatively quick agreement with the points I made. Afterward, we noticed the board where they listed who will be filling any of the responsibilities in their assemblies, common custom in Spanish speaking churches. My nephew David is known there, and so I was listed (click pic to expand) as "Gringo dos." :)

It was especially nice to again visit with Gilmar and Maria, the first family who ever invited me into their home in this part of the world. That was 5 years ago, and it was nice to renew that acquaintance, and to see their children 5 years older. They seem to be such a good family; some of you may remember them from a sermon in Georgia, wherein I mentioned them, their home, and his work choices. Others of you may remember them from a Pleonast post I made at the same time with the same observations. The picture at left is the second I took of them. The two boys were not smiling in the first, so I asked they do so. It is obvious in Angel's case that not all Latinos are accustomed to smiling for pictures. :)

Tuesday thus made the 10th day in a row I had preached. Earlier in the day however, Darinel, Elver, I, and three of the Xela brethren, David, Marcos, and Carlos, climbed Santa Maria volcano. It was a 4000-5000 foot ascent, and while I’m writing this on Saturday and that was Tuesday, my legs are still a bit sore. My Spanish speaking friends learned the English idiom, “My legs feel like spaghetti.”

(In pic below, Santa Maria is the farthest peak, as seen from David and Amy's house)

Wednesday was a true day of ease, a day off after those 10 days of preaching. We drove back from Xela to San Cristobal, and Darinel asked if I would like to drive. Any of you who know me know what my answer to that was. Drivers here are not overly cautious by American standards, and I adapted to local customs. The roads were mountainous, full of holes and topes (speed bumps), and crazed “chicken bus” drivers; all this in a low horsepower car, and which developed brake fade the day before, and which had an odd feel when turning more than a low-radius curve. I enjoyed it immensely, and I appreciated his confidence in me. Arriving back in San Cristobal, we had a supper appointment at Darinel’s home with his wife and children. They are another high quality family. He is one of those I hope to see serving as an elder one day. And the tostados she prepared for us, well they were the best tostados I’ve ever had – although I have to give credit to Margie A, whose tostados were likely just as good and possibly better, but it’s been nearly 4 years since I had hers and I can’t remember them in detail!

With that segment of my trip passed, I now have the weekend meeting at Palenque to look forward to, Friday to Sunday.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Two Days, One Post


As with previous days, there was again a breakfast appointment on Saturday – this time in the home of Carlos and family. They live directly across the street from Elver. Carlos is 35, and an elementary school teacher. Also present were another family. I don’t recall their names, but they have been Christians only for a couple of years. After eating, we talked some about their questions about marriage and divorce. It has been an issue of concern lately among the brethren here.

Lunch was a little farther away, and required a car. I have mentioned Darinel on several occasions, and the previous evening we had supper with Leo and his wife. Darinel and Leo are brothers, and their mother had invited Elver and me for lunch on Saturday, so Leo and his wife picked us up and took us there. There were 6 of us, as Dari and Leo’s sister lives with their mother, and so was there also.

Saturday evening, I presented the third of these lessons on elders. My focus in this lesson is the authority of elders – what authority they don’t have, and what authority they do have. And again, I took the final 10-15 minutes to discuss a few more of the characteristics of elders as found in 1 Timothy 3, this time adding a few from Titus 1 as well.

I’ve been very happy that these lessons on elders have been well received here. So very few churches south of the Rio Grande have elders, or ever have had them – perhaps those that do could be counted on one hand. This church in San Cristobal, with about 100 in attendance, has potential, as there are a number of young men who can aim for this work.

After the evening assembly, we were invited for supper at the home of Gilberto and his family. I enjoyed eating with them, and with another couple they had invited. After supper, Gilberto, Elver, and I, with about 7 of the young people, walked to the city center to watch Judas be exploded, as this was Easter Eve. There are a lot of celebrations and processions as part of the Easter celebrations here in Mexico, but the most dramatic is the building of a lifesize Judas figure (imagine it as a scarecrow), packing fireworks inside him as he’s built, and then on the appropriate evening, burning him, with the fireworks consequently firing as he burns. Well, in the city center, there was a contest for the best Judas figure and resulting fireworks – not that they all looked like Judas. One was in the shape of a dinosaur, another had the face of a recent and disliked President of Mexico. But they were all "Judases." As there was prize money involved for the best 3, they were elaborate and very explosive. Such powerful fireworks, firing in unexpected directions, in such close proximity to the crowd (I managed to get within 20 feet of the final one), would never be allowed in the US. And for once, I think maybe there is some sense in a few of our safety conscious precautions. It was amazing and fun though, and I’m glad I was there!

SUNDAY 4.8.12

Sunday morning breakfast was in the home of Isai and his wife – Isai is the 22 year old therapist highlighted earlier, and the son of Delfino. Afterward, we were quickly off to the morning assembly.

For Sunday morning, I presented a lesson from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I basically cover nearly the whole letter, arriving at his admonition to Euodia and Synteche to live in harmony in the Lord. We have no indication what specific issue kept them at odds, but surely self-interest played a part. Having covered the earlier parts of the letter, I then go back and demonstrate how nearly the whole letter is a rebuke to self-centered thinking, and discuss the problems of brethren getting along when they first think about self.

Again, I was very encouraged by the warm and grateful response of the brethren in San Cristobal to the lessons I presented.

A Sunday afternoon picnic in the park included me playing futbol (soccer) with the brethren, and for only the third time in my life, and the first time in 27 years. Since I lowered expectations before play started, I was actually kinda pleased with myself. :)

Then Sunday evening I addressed a problem I believe exists widely among brethren both south and north of the border. Although brethren are quick to correctly say the church that belongs to Christ is not a denomination, I believe many brethren nevertheless carry a denominational view of what that church is. Most of the lesson was received well, but when I started making one of the applications, there was some serious disagreement which came to the surface after the assembly was over. One brother even called me a sectarian, even though I was being exactly the opposite, and he was the one leaning in that direction. I was disappointed in the nature of his arguments; reasonable arguments for a position can be entertained and discussed. These were not that. While he and others still disagree with some of my application, things smoothed over, and he later spoke of having me return to Mexico to again visit and preach among the brethren here at some other time. And a few of the brethren saw the validity of my arguments and agreed with my understanding.

Considering how strongly they spoke at first opposing a part of what I had taught Sunday evening, and opposing me, I was very glad for those later developments, as I feared that my teaching on elders might be discarded as well, and they might have no further interest in my work among them. But things are better now, and whether they choose to invite me to come here again in the future is up to them in any case.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Friday (yes, I'm now a week behind)

Well, it is now Thursday the 12th, and I am just now getting a chance to write about Friday the 6th. Of course I had various lesson materials prepared or in mind, but some of that changes once I get on the ground, plus some powerpoint presentations needed to be redone . . . but especially laborious and slow is transforming my powerpoint presentations into Spanish - of course with Elver's help, moving back and forth between my laptop and his, for proper Spanish markings an punctuation. I found out this process tends to upset animations (mine btw are subtle, not loud).

Friday morning began with breakfast at . . . a concrete slab under the cover of a simple roof, with a couple tables and a grille. It’s the establishment of a sister in the church here, operated along a wall to the rear of the building which includes Elver’s apartment. Delfino, Obed (from near Mexico City), Jorge (from somewhere else), and I think Isai and Alex (hey it’s been a week) joined us.

Lunch was with with Nehemias and Elvira (pictured), a couple that live almost right next to the church building. Really good chicken breasts. And if I haven’t mentioned it already, a great number of the folks here live within a half mile of the building, quite a few within a 2 minute walk.

For the assembly Friday evening, I continued on the theme of elders. I presented a remake of a lesson I’ve done previously, “To Be a Shepherd.” I’m convinced that elders in a number of places don’t really understand the shepherding role they should be fulfilling, even though most of the passages about the work of elders dwell precisely on this aspect of the work. A story from my sister-in-law Libby’s experience with sheep and sheparding makes the best modern illustration of a biblical point that I’ve ever come across, and it really helps this lesson. If you know her, ask her about it. With the time remaining, I covered more of the characteristics listed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3.

The brethren here have been very expressive about their appreciation for these lessons, and very warm toward me. It’s good to be here.

Again, after the assembly, there was a dinner invitation, this time at the home of a young couple, Leo (Leovardo) and Rosalia (Leo is the younger brother of Darinel, our principle driver when we need one). Elver tells me it was the first time they had invited a visiting speaker into their home. She needn’t have been intimidated, the tacos she served were so, so good. And not Americanized. Fried pork, fresh onions as well as grilled onions, cilantro, another thing or two I don’t remember (but not typical American ingredients), and green sauce. I need to ask her what else she used.

Just Checking In (temporary post)

I just have not had time to post, but what with my posts about Chamula, I figured I might do well to demonstrate that I am still alive. It´s after 11pm now, so this is all I´m writing for the moment. Tomorrow looks promising for having time to partly. catch up.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Thursday in San Cristobal

A little more info about Chamula. Even after hearing the claims about executions there from numerous people here, I was still a little skeptical. But over breakfast this Sunday morning, Isai told me of some specific people they know who have been burned to death there for teaching against the local Aztec/Catholic/weird religion there. In fact Delfino Urbina, an area preacher, and father of Isai, was at the checkpoint skirting the city one time, and had a Bible in his car. The men at the point noticed it, and discussed among themselves whether they should take Delfino, as theythought he might be part of the group they had recently burned alive inside the meeting place they had constructed (Delfino kknows enough of the indigenous Tzotzil language to understand them). So, okay, there is real stuff going on there!

I am going to have to write shorter entries to catch up! I have had so little unscheduled time this week, we are busy from about 9 am to 10 pm. Not that I am complaining, it’s actually been wonderful. There just isn’t much time to write and get to the internet café to post what I’ve written. But I have about 45 minutes now between the Sunday morning assembly and lunch with the brethren, so I’m writing.

Thursday was the beginning of my preaching to the whole assembly here in the San Roman church San Cristobal. The day began with breakfast at the home of Isai’s mother, wife of Delfino Urbina. Delfino, by all reports, has been a good and influential man here in San Cristobal, teaching and preaching. For the last two years though, he has been working with the new church in Palenque, about 5 hours from here, though his home is still here with his wife in San Cristobal.

Between breakfast and lunch, I worked on final details for my lesson, but mostly (with Elver’s assistance) on getting the power point presentation translated into Spanish.

(I made only videos instead of photos on Thursday and Friday, and they take way too long to upload, so here´s a picture of Elver coming out of the building where is studio apartment is)

Then we had a lunch appointment with a couple who live here, but are members of the church in Larrainzar. After lunch, only a little time remained before the evening assembly. Meal schedules are a little different here. Breakfast between 9 and 10, lunch between 2 and 3, and supper after the 6:00 evening assemblies, at around 8:30 or 9:00.

Although I preached in two other churches earlier in the week, and also studied the men from here in San Cristobal, Thursday evening was my first opportunity to speak to the whole San Roman congregation here in San Cristobal. It was the beginning of a three-lesson series on elders. Thursday night I spoke about the need for elders, and the need for men to be planning early, forming their character from a young age so they’ll be ready to serve in later years. Added to those thoughts, I began a discussion of the characteristics required for serving as an elder – a discussion which would continue at the ends of the next two lessons in this series. Each night I chose a topic in connection with elders, and then also discussed a few more characteristics.

Following that 6:00 assembly, we had supper at the home of Anslemo Diaz and family. There was a very large platter, piled quite high, of what I would have called flautas as per my eating in the home of Margie Arellano, but which here they called tacos. After supper, another guest, a preacher from near Mexico City who was visiting with us, began singing, and of course various ones slowly joined in, and about 5 songs later, all 15 or so of us were singing song after song. I hated to leave, but needed to have a private conversation with Delfino for a bit, so he and Elver and I went across the street to his house, and his study. Following that helpful conversation, I could hear that everyone was still singing across the street, so I went back and joined them for quite a while longer. Isai, the 22 year old therapist I described earlier, was singing some tenor and bass, the first I’ve heard that among Spanish singing brethren, so I really enjoyed sitting next to him and joining him in that.

Finally got home, and did some work on the next evening’s lesson and power point translation. Got to bed well after midnight, as has been the case each night.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Wednesday: Preaching in Larrainzar, Risking life in Chamula

For Wednesday, the church in Larrainzar (45 minutes north of San Cristobal?) had requested I come to speak to them in the afternoon, and before the meeting one of the families arranged to host a number of us for lunch, including several preachers from the area round about.

Darinel and his young cousin Carlos picked Elver and me up early enough that we had time to make a couple of interesting stops in towns on the route to Larrainzar.

The first was Zinacantan, surrounded by hills. In the picture, almost no structure you see is a house. Nearly all of them are green houses, where flowers are grown for export. Ever wonder where American florists get all those beautiful flowers, particularly when it’s winter? From places like this in Latin America. The business and residential areas of Zinacantan are just around the hill to the right. The people of the city wear traditional clothing, men and women both wearing colorful garments with flower designs, reflecting the income of the town.

The second town we stopped in is Chamula, where the locals enforce their wildly perverted version of Christianity/Catholicism. The town has special autonomous status, and federal authorities are not allowed in the city. The main road skirts the edge of the town, and as we met the crossroad leading directly into Chamula, men in sheep hair panchos stopped the traffic, lowering their rope to allow passage only after cars pay them. I really wanted to photograph these guys and the scene, but Elver and Darinel warned me not to. So after paying, we turned right toward the town center. In most ways it looked like any other market area, full of crafts and the traditional garments of this particular town. But everyone in this town adheres to the local religion, a mix of Catholicism, old Mayan traditions, and their own innovations. If someone in town converts to another religion (even Roman Catholicism), they are kicked out of town and their families are punished – I’m not sure how severely. Witch doctor stuff is involved in their religious practices, with lots of smoke, pine boughs, candles, and rhythmic incantations set to the rhythmic shaking of gourd rattles. The latter takes place in the formerly Catholic cathedral in the center of town, and of course I wanted as much as possible in photo and video form – but again, Elver commanded me not to take pics or video. Elver says that if they catch you doing photography inside the cathedral, they are perfecty willing and legally free to take you out and burn you alive . . . or worse. I’ll let you catch his explanation of the “worse” in the video if you’re interested. He says they have done this. Well, I was skeptical . . . and figured I’m pretty stealthy, particularly with the very small and inconspicuous video camera I have (GoPro). So in the middle of a crowd inside the cathedral, I got it out of my pants pocket, turned it on, and held it in hand with my arm simply hanging down as normal. If you know the GoPro, you know the user interface isn’t the most user-friendly – and it turns out the setting was for camera instead of video. But I did get one shot; unfortunately, there’s a man blocking the best part of the view. Afterward, Darinel confirmed that he too believes the Chamulas carry out summary executions as described by Elver. And getting back to civilized society, others confirmed all of this as well. Still, a page on Wikipedia makes no mention of executions.

(Darinel: one of my favorite people here)

We finally arrived in Larrainzar. The primary language there is not Spanish, but Tzotzil, the language of the indigenous people there. Although many of them know Spanish as a second language, it was thought that some might be present who did not, in which case I would speak in English, Elver would translate into Spanish for the visting Spanish speakers, and then another person would translate into Tzotzil for the locals. After lunch, we had a little time before the assembly, and someone started singing a Spanish song, inquiring if I knew it
in English. That led to them trying a number of songs on me, in many cases we were singing a verse or two together in both languages. One of them asked a few questions about directing music, and I gave him some pointers. Finally it came down to just three of us singing the entire Nearer My God to Thee all in Spanish. I captured the final verse on video, though the earlier verses were actually better! Eventually we headed next door to the meeting place, a smallish building constructed more or less like an old wooden shack, and the assembly came to number about 30-35. In connection with some things Elver had told me about the group in Larrainzar, I chose to speak on Reverence in the Presence of God. Speaking in this little building, with big, noisy trucks occasionally lumbering by 8 feet outside the open door, is starting to be a normal experience for me.

Not long after returning to San Cristobal, several of the area brethren who had been visiting that day at Larrainzar appeared at Elver’s door to invite us to eat supper with them at a small cooking establishment (run by a sister) in the courtyard behind Elver’s apartment. That last part sounds kind of strange, I know, but that’s the best way I can describe it. It was good to continue my association with them.

While I spoke for a couple of hours with the men from the San Roman San Cristobal church on Tuesday, my work speaking to the whole congregation begins tomorrow (Thursday), and extends through Sunday, six lessons plus those earlier two hours (I wouldn’t normally bother to detail the hours that way, but feel I should for a select few readers). I am very much looking forward to my lessons the rest of the week. Three of them (Thursday – Saturday) will focus on the need for elders and the work of elders.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tuesday in San Cristobal

(Okay, I'm giving up on posting the video for this post - it's taking way too long to upload. Maybe I'll add it to this post later. Sadly, I took almost no pictures since I was doing video.)

I woke up this morning (Tuesday) at 8:30, Elver had already been up for a bit. Either the neigborhood dogs were more agreeable last night, or I very quickly became accustomed to their skirmishes.

At 9, two of the brethren met us here and we walked to the city center for breakfast. Isai (Isaiah) and Alejandro (Alex) are both about 22, and both know a little English. Isai does psychiatric therapy, and Alex is studying to be an elementary school teacher. The four of us walked perhaps a mile to the center of San Cristobal, I changed dollars to pesos, and then we sat down at a café. I ordered the Huevos al gusto, con chorizo. On the side were black beans and a slice of fried plantain. Nothing exceptional, but good. Isai and I talked in particular about the challenges he feels as a therapist and as a Christian. Professionally, he is not to be moralistic. Spiritually, he has convictions. The dissonance he therefore feels has played a part in him deciding not to do even occasional preaching, as he had been previously doing. I think there are other factors also at play.

Leaving the café, we walked partway up a steep, mostly wooded hill in the center of the city, and visited briefly with a sister in the church who lives and works on that hill. In fact her workplace has nice viewing areas to look out over the city, which fills the valley floor, and to view the mountains that surround the city. Then we walked through the streets of the center, some of which are mainly pedestrian streets with interesting shops. This week is the celebration of the city's 484th anniversary, so there was also music on the green behind the largest government building. Nearby was a crafts market with lots of interesting merchandise for sale.

When we finally returned to Elver’s apartment, Isai and Alex said goodbye just as another brother arrived: Gilberto. He appears to be in his 30’s, and he visited with us for a while. He had questions about divorce and remarriage and whether Jesus was preaching the old law or the gospel. His concerns grow out of the situation in a nearby congregation. I really appreciated his desire to have good answers.

After Gilberto left I had just enough time to get a 30 minute nap (I don’t usually take naps, but recall I had missed a night of sleep just prior to arriving here), and then get to an internet café, to upload Monday’s blog entry and the video and pics to go with it.

When I finished that, it was already time for a 7:00 gathering of the men at the church building during which I would speak. We first finalized some speaking plans for Thursday through Sunday, and then I led a discussion about authority and the work of the church; it was a meeting of about 2 hours in all.
(click pic to enlarge)
They had many questions, especially, but not only, about the contribution and purpose-specific contributions. I really enjoyed talking with them and hearing their concerns. There were 14 of us gathered, and there was only one in addition to me who was over 40. I’ve learned nearly all their names: Elver of course, then Carlos, Leovardo, Jose, Gilberto, Isai, Darinel, Alex, Carlitos, David, Anselmo, Rodolfo, and Iber. Afterward, Isai invited us to his parents’ home, where his mother and sister had prepared supper for him, Elver, and me. More scrambled huevos, with a number of vegetables mixed in, really, really good. A vegetable soup and a rice dish were also good.

We left there at 10:30, stopped at Luis’s place to finalize some plans for Wednesday, and then returned to Elver’s place. I’ve now written this all up, and I am ready for some sleep. I’ll get to an internet café as soon as possible to post it. Good night.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Monday: On the ground in Mexico

Since I never got to bed at all before flying out Monday morning, Monday didn’t really have a starting point other than the stroke of midnight Sunday night. Between preparations for my dog staying home alone, making sure I had files with me of various sermon topics and power point presentations, finishing laundry, and packing, I just finished getting ready when Steve Mason drove up at 5:30 am to take me to the airport. Yes, this is perhaps the worst case I’ve had of getting stuff done at the last minute . . . though last December’s trip certainly ranks high, as Daniel, Andres, and Sandra can attest.

The screen at airport security was within my view, and most of my large carry on appeared there as nondescript darkness, but right in the middle shone bright white, clearly and perfectly representing the shape of my fingernail clippers. Once before they were ruled inadmissable, but this time they passed . . . maybe the fact that the guy watching the screen looked away just as my carry on passed through, and looked back just to notice the image very briefly, had something to do with that.

I dozed in and out on the flight from LAX to Mexico City. I doubt I ever reached REM, but it was a bit helpful anyway. Coming into Mexico City airspace, I was impressed with the air clarity . . . for whatever reasons, I was under the impression that it was a horribly polluted city. Dozed off some more from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez.

Arriving in Tuxtla at 4pm, it was great to see Elver again. With him were 3 other brothers: the driver, Darinel (late 20’s), and two of Darinel’s nephews, Luis (18) and Carlos (14). They quickly showed themselves to be just as likeable as Elver. Elver is 35, currently does the bulk of the preaching at the church in San Cristobal, and is also working on the equivalent of a B.A. in English.

We headed immediately for the meeting place of the church in Tuxtla; there's kind of a standing arrangement that whenever men come to speak at San Cristobal, and necessarily flying in at Tuxtla, the church in Tuxtla meets to hear him speak first. I did request that we stop somewhere where I could pick up just some small something to eat and drink: I hadn’t eaten since breakfast in LA. Arriving then at the meeting place, there was some confusion over just what time the folks there would assemble, something about them not adhering to the daylight savings time change in regard to their assembly time. Seeing they had a chalkboard, I decided to present a lesson which really needs one, a lesson wherein I use graphics to challenge our concept of what the body of Christ is. While brethren universally declare that we are not a denomination, many (most?) nevertheless have a quite denominational view of the church. As I spoke, I could see some initial mental hesitation in their eyes, but as I continued, I could see recognition. They were very appreciative of me being there and speaking, and I was very appreciative of them giving me the opportunity.

Afterward there was food prepared for us all, as one of the families lives right next to the meeting place. Grilled chicken, cabbage thoroughly spiced with jalopeno, beans, grilled whole onions, a cool pasta salad, and of course fresh tortillas. After serving our plates, I noticed there was no silverware to be seen. So I figured I’ll just wait and watch what the others do. Turns out, they use tortillas for an eating utensil, picking up the beans, cabbage, or pasta salad with the tortilla, then biting off the portion of tortilla holding the other food. This is customary in poorer households.

Leaving Tuxtla about 8:30, the sermon topic dominated our conversation as the five of us drove the 45 minutes to San Cristobal, as especially Darinel asked questions about the application of the Biblical principles. Great conversation.

We arrived at Elver’s apartment where I am staying, and after coming in for a few moments, Darinel, Luis, and Carlos went their way. Elver’s apartment is what we would call in English a studio apartment: One room about 12x20, and a kitchen. Elver has supplied for himself the only kitchen appliances, a small dorm-sized refrigerator and a microwave. The sink doesn’t work; there is another sink just outside the rear door in a courtyard area. Also in that courtyard area, shared by several apartments, is the bathroom. The fireplace in the corner of Elver’s large room is a nice aesthetic feature.

I got to bed about 12:30, after basically being up all day Monday and all day Sunday before. I slept soundly except when the neighborhood dogs outside decided they didn’t like each other. They came to that realization three separate times during the night. Each time passed quickly though, and I was deep asleep again.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Departure Tomorrow for Southern Mexico

I met Elver Espinoza in Nicaragua. He's a Mexican brother who traveled there to help us and translate for us during a trip I had there in Nicaragua 2 years ago. He's a great guy, and we work really well together. Elver has been wanting me to come to Mexico since then, and the church where he is in San Cristobal de las Casas invited me a few months ago to come work with them. San Cristobal is in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, not far from Guatemala.

I'll be speaking in San Cristobal about 5 days, and then also in churches in cities in the surrounding area. Most of those are one day events, though one will be a Saturday and Sunday. I prefer more work in fewer locations, but, as Elver put it, when someone comes down there to speak, "Everyone wants a piece of you." He'll be translating for me during the whole two week period.

(click images to enlarge them)

My flight departs from LAX Monday morning at 7:10, I change planes in Mexico City, and then arrive in Tuxtla Gutierrez (not too far from San Cristobal) at 4pm . . . and I'm scheduled to speak in Tuxtla at 6 pm. Afterward, a social affair and food, and then a late evening drive in the mountains to San Cristobal. The distance is about 30 miles in a straight line, and I'm guessing that's doubled or even tripled on the road: