The Adventure Continues

Our Church Council granted me a sabbatical for three months during the summer of 2010. My intention was to learn Latin American Spanish and to explore Latin American cultures here and abroad. Now that I have had some opportunities to lead mission trips to Yuscaran, Honduras, and to visit Mexico three times, the adventure continues.

Seeking New Horizons

Seeking New Horizons

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New Perspectives on Mexico

The last time I posted a blog was when I was in Cuernivaca. In Mexico City and then in Pepperell my access to the internet was very limited. Now that our phone line at home has been repaired, I am eager to share the framework of some new perspectives I have found from looking at immigration issues from the Mexican side of the border.

I vaguely remember the history of the Mexican-American War. The part I remember most was the story of the Alamo in the Walt Disney series "Davy Crockett." From the other side of the border, that war is known as the "North American Invasion." Mexico at one time included not only present day Texas, which I think every US citizen already knows, but it also included several other current US states. The northern border of Mexico was in present day Oregon! There is still resentment there over that war which had the expanding US take nearly half of the country of Mexico.

Many people in the US who are of Mexican descent say their ancestors never crossed the border into the US, but rather the border crossed them. Many of them had ancestors here since the 1500's, which is before the first English settlement in Jamestown. When Cortez conquered the Aztecs, it was with the help of thousands of indigenous peoples who had been subjugated by the Aztecs. Cortez writes that he had 1000 Spanish conquistators and 50,000 native warriors in his invasion force. Today there are at least 65 languages spoken in Mexico, most of them being the ancient indigenous languages. This is especially difficult for Mexican workers who migrate to the US and speak neither English nor Spanish.

The US - Mexican border had been "porous" for centuries, with workers, usually farmers, moving north in the harvest season and moving south when the harvest was over. With the passage of NAFTA in 1994, the number of workers trying to migrate north doubled to 500,000 annually, since the large multinational corporations took over the agricultural sector of the Mexican economy and put so many poor farmers out of business. I was amazed at how hated is the NAFTA agreement among the people in Mexico. There was even an armed uprising among peasant farners just before it was approved. They said it was a death sentence for them. They were right, as many of them died trying to come north since their own economic livelihood at home had been detroyed. The borders were closed more tightly as part of the NAFTA program. Capital would now move more freely across the borders, but people would move less freely.

I don't know what I think about US immigration policies, but I do think about it more now, and from some new perspectives. I have friends in Mexico, and I often understand what they are saying in their own language, at least if it is in Spanish!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

La Fiesta en la Iglesia

The fiesta (party) at the church was not only a great deal of fun, but it was also remarkable in at least two ways as I think about Trinity.

First of all, it was celebrated on the day of the feast of the Assumption of Mary. That is also the name of the particular congregation where the fiesta was held. Some of the other Lutheran pastors here spoke of how they annually celebrate the life of the congregation on a special day. That would be easy for us, since there is already a day named ¨Trinity Sunday.¨ It is the Sunday after Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter. I think it would be wonderful fun to reflect on the name of our church each year, and to celebrate in a way that would bring us all together around the ministry we now share, and have shared down through the years.

Secondly, the fiesta was a very major event for the whole community. There were lots of vendors just outside the church grounds, selling cooked food, pastries, rides, and various kinds of toys. On the church grounds the fireworks were being set up all afternoon, to be set off after dark. The church was decorated inside with more Easter lillies than I have ever seen in one place. There was ethnic dancing and at least two musical groups, one of which provided music to which we danced something like a polka. There was fantastic food including a delicious chicken dish, and another with tender pork. Of course there was rice and beans, with the usual condiments of hot peppers, red and green salsa, onions, and cilantro, but there was also a variety of soda and plenty of beer. However, the most remarkable thing is that there was no charge whatsoever for any of this: not the entertainment, nor the food, and not even the beer. The people of the congregation provide everything for everybody and use the event to give a wonderful gift to the community! There were hundreds of people there. It was not the congregation of our hosts, but it was in the neighborhood, and so we went.

I have never seen or heard of a congregation giving such a lavish party for the community. I have no idea of how one would organize such an extravaganza, but it was marvelous to behold!

Listening without Translating

When we learn a language as children, we just listen and speak, eventually. Then when we try to learn a new language, we have to translate everything in our mind. The two methods I am using, one on the computer and one at our school, try to bypass this need to translate. It is working. I am now able, for about a week, to listen to Spanish and comprehend what is being said without translating first in my mind. It is harder to do this in speaking, but I am excited that my mind can still learn as I did as a child. We are working a lot on grammer. The rules are rather easy to understand, but putting them into practice is more difficult. On Saturday,
Doreen returns to the US and I head for my final week in Mexico City. I am so very thankful that I have this wonderful opportunity to study for such a long time!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Sermon in Spanish

The congregation was all men. Most of them were dressed in various shades of yellow, although many of them had shades of khaki. They were all very intent on every word I spoke, and that in and of itself seemed like a miracle, because I spoke only in Spanish.

We were in a prison. We were invited to participate with our host, Fernando, who is a Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church. I spoke for only about 2 or 3 minutes, giving a reflection that I had not expected to give until Fernando announced my presence and handed me the microphone. I usually have more preparation time!

The men who were wearing yellow had already been sentenced. The ones in khaki were waiting for a trial, and some had been waiting for ten years. Thank God and our constitution and for Habeas Corpus!

I spoke of how God had called Abraham and he obeyed, not knowing where he was going or why. I also feel called to learn Spanish, although I have no clear idea why. The history and the culture here are facinating! So much to absorb. So much to study. "Listen, listen, God is calling.¨

Saturday, August 7, 2010

¿Como estas? Sehr gut, und einen?

We are having a great time learning Spanish. Remarkably, all of the instruction is in Spanish, and we must ask our questions in Spanish. I cannot describe how this actually can work, but I do know that I am getting more confident with this new language, and I have been in a variety of situations where I can actually communicate to strangers in Spanish! This is not to say that in class we cannot use our native language as a backup, but our instructor, a university professor, speaks only Spanish. One of the students in my group of three was from Germany. When he would get stuck on a word, I found myself translating Spanish into German. Go figure!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Arrived in Mexico

Our biggest surprise when we arrived was the excellent bus trip from the airport to Cuernivaca. The security to get on the bus was almost was it is to get on an airplane in the US. We did not need to go through one of those machines, but our carry on bags were searched and we were wanded. There was a stewardess on board to serve drinks and a snack. The driver was about the safest bus driver we have ever experienced, and the bus was as modern as any I have taken before.

The home where we are staying is rather modest, but we have a three room suite that includes a bedroom, living room, and covered terrace. Our hosts are devout Roman Catholics who are leaders in their church. Francisco served as the equivalent of a worship assistant, and Angeles organized the various processions, some of which included us. I read one of the prayer petitions in Spanish.

After church, we went to a home of one of their relatives and had a real Mexican lunch. Needless to say, I do not know the names of all the things we ate, but they were all delicious. Then we watched La Lucha on television. This is that sport that looks like wrestling, but is clearly staged with people jumping on each other and hitting each other with chairs. Sometimes the referees also through a few blows! It turns out that our host was one of these wrestlers in 1974, and his wife was his trainer, with some medical credentials. The sport is not really about who wins, but rather about the entertainment and the extreme athletic maneuvers of the participants. Now we watch it, too!

Our hosts are wonderful! We have meals together and discuss things that we all are doing. They are also active in a local union, and I went to a union meeting last night. The meals are all authentic Mexican and have a great variety. The most interesting thing is that they speak no English whatsoever, so all of our conversations are in Spanish. We are truly being immersed!

The afternoon thunder storm is on the way, so hasta luego.

A Sunday in Rhode Island

On the last Sunday in July, we made our way to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Providence. Our intent was to experience the Spanish service there. However, the usher at the door informed us that the service was now mostly in English because most of the members were now comfortable with English. Go figure! After a while, new immigrants learn English and then just blend in with the rest of the population. Just like the Germans and the Swedes did.

There was a Spanish service scheduled for the afternoon. This was an experiment to see if there would be enough interest. We did not stay as we were headed for Connecticut to see Joshua.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inspiring Worship in Puerto Rico

Yesterday we worshipped at Iglesia Luterana Sion in Bayamon. The worship was filled with life and joy. Doreen and I were both moved to tears during the service, which is not that unusual, except that we could understand almost none of the words!

What made worship so moving in this congregation that was dying only five years ago? The pastor was very engaged in her sermon, and we could feel her energy and the energy of the people, even without knowing most of what she was saying. The way worship was led had all of the worship helpers connected throughout the service, like when the pastor raised her hands, she was holding the raised hands of the other helpers. The Lord's Prayer was spoken with people all holding hands in little circles, as the pews would allow. There were lots of announcements, including birthdays and awards for people graduating from everything from kindergarten to professional schools. The announcements, both before and after worship, gave us the sense of a real community where everyone cared about what everyone else was doing. The music was like a "praise band," with drums and some local instruments, like a cuattro (sp?) which was a very small guitar with twelve strings. The lead musician played in a jazz band at other times, like another great lead musician I know. The songs, all in Spanish, were from several ethnic traditions, quite intentionally. When the congregation sang, the people already knew the words to many of the music pieces, which freed up their hands to clap or be raised in adoration of Jesus. The passing of the piece took a long time, and we must have greeted at least two dozen people whom we had never met before, and this part of the service came to a close with the choir singing a song calling for silence in preparation for communion. After the end of the service, many people came to greet us, including people who offered us a place to stay if we want to make a return visit.

All in all, it felt as though the Holy Spirit had informed the people that Almighty God was truly present and would receive their worship and praise in this community united in love. It is certainly a place I would want to visit again!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Por que tienes zapatos en la piscina?

Sunday worship at the small church and at the ordination were very special events. We all prayed for Andy and Judy, in Spanish. The people here are very gracious and welcoming. As it turns out, the Lutheran churches are not growing as fast as I thought. However, the greatest excitement is among the youth! D-Guy's work here with Project Connect has fired up the next generation and many are heading for seminary. Boom Chicka Boom!

Most of the time when I speak Spanish to adults, they answer me in English. As we have headed toward Ponce, there is less familiarity with English, and in the pool today I found a five year old boy who was willing to talk with me in Spanish. The best interchange was when he wore his shoes into the water! I think my vocabulary is on the level on a four year old, but at least I can talk to children.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arrived in Puerto Rico!

Today we begin our sojourn in Puerto Rico. On the plane we sat with a man from here who was filled with wonderful information about life here and where to stay and what to see. For three days we plan to stay in San Juan. On Sunday we will worship in Dorado, not far from here, and in the afternoon we will attend the ordination of one of the local people prepariing for ministry. We have contacted two local pastors from information provided by D-Guy. Shortly before we left home, we had two guests for dinner: Juan and Jack. They both speak Spanish, so we had fun practicing. Juan was born in Puerto Rico and they will both be here later during our stay. Gettiong together with them will provide some more contact with local people, and more opportunities to speak Spanish.
The night before we left for here, I took the placement exam for the CETLALIC program in Mexico. I think my grammatical skills are somewhere around second grade, but my vacabulary is more limited. Nevertheless, this is great fun, and my speaking is getting better, although lmited. Our taxi driver was from Cuba. His first language is Spanish, but he learned Russian in school. Now his third language is English. And he drives a taxi! So much of the world speaks more than one language. It must be a great gift to be able to speak and think in another language. I hope I find out what it's like.

What to Do without Electricity

Over the 4th of July weekend we were invited to a family gathering of some friends whose family owns a few houses on the National Seashore of Cape Cod. The agreement is that the family will not install electricity from the "grid" nor indoor plumbing on the properety in exchange for the houses staying on what would otherwise be a seashore with no homes. Some electicity was available from solar panels and car batteries, so the place was not totally dark in the evening. Then there were also the kerosene lamps, just like the ones my Mom used growing up on a farm in Connecticut. Hot water for showers was provided by a clever sytem of water heated in a black 50 gallon drum enclosed in a tiny greenhouse. By late afternoon, the water was so hot it had to be mixed with cold water, just like in the rest of our homes. The social difference this made was that everyone there was focused on the people in conversation and not on the TV. (We used a radio to keep up with the Red Sox.) Local electricity can indeed be produced adequately for one home at a time, provided there is some conservation combined with new lights that use little power. For one extended family, this seems to keep them all together.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thinking Too Small

We have become accustomed to hearing that some corporations are "too big to fail." Perhaps we also need to begin thinking about being too small to succeed. I have been thinking about this since Doreen and I went to a Thrivent dinner last Thursday. The meal was great, and the speaker was excellent. He is John Busaker and he was talking about his book "8 Questions God Can't Answer." He posed to his audience the proposition that we may often think too small. We may focus on the little things and miss the big opportunities, in our lives and in our churches. On Saturday, we went to the dedication of the two homes in Bedford that have been built by Habitat for Humanity. (The work of Trinity in these homes was prominent among several other churches.) The director of Habitat's local chapter thanked everyone there for the five houses we built together last year. It was a record! He then announced his goal for next year as being ten houses! That is thinking big. Where would we each like to direct our lives? Where would we like to see our churches be in the next few years? I wonder if we are thinking big enough. I wonder what growing churches expect of themselves.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grupa de Espaniol

Our group of Spanish beginners has met twice now, and it is fun. We read some simple passage and then discuss it, all in Spanish. We each use different resources to look up words and grammar, but the fact that we are having fun doing it is very helpful.
My visit to the Hispanic church in Meriden, CT was quite interesting. It showed me once again that reading Spanish is much easier for me than hearing and speaking it. After the service I had that once again dreaded experience of introducing myself to a nice young man. After he told me his name, I said, "Encontado de conocerlo." He replied, "It's nice to meet you, too."
Today, Sunday, we are going back to Waterbury to visit Joshua. He is safely back from Africa and has pictures of his trip with Kendra.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Busman's Holiday

Our son is in Africa this week visiting our daughter. It is a wonderful and much needed break for both of them. He was unable to find a local supply preacher in Connecticut, so I will be preaching at his church on Sunday.
After the service, I plan to visit a Lutheran Church in Meridan where there is a service in Spanish. Perhaps I will be able to follow some of the worship. Doreen and I did that once in Sweden where the service made sense because the titles were all in Latin, like Kyrie, Gloria, Nunc Dimmittis, etc. So I am off this morning to visit my brother for the day, and to stay overnight.

Speaking Spanish

I have found that on the Rosetta Stone program, writing has been the most difficult exercise. However, as I work with it, I am finding the speaking to be more difficult. I went back to the restaurant on Monday and tried to get more complicated in what I ordered. Unfortunately the first three items I ordered were not available, so I resorted to English. The waiter does both languages, so I did not go hungry. I was thinking that it is hard for New Englanders to strike up a conversation with strangers in English. It is even harder to try to do it in Spanish.
Then we had a phone message from Carol at Shepherd of the Valley. She had heard from one of the other Lutheran pastors about my desire to learn Spanish. She has been learning for several years, but she needs practice. Sometimes she to talks to her dog in Spanish, which, fortunately, is not a German Shepherd. So we had breakfast and talked Spanish. I guess I am doing pretty well because she said it was more fun to talk to me than to talk to the dog. Aahh, more encouragement!
So next Wednesday we are forming a little group of her, Doreen, her friend, and me to talk Spanish. If anyone else is interested, please let me know. We will be talking sslloowwllyy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday Worship (Church in Cyperspace)

On my first Sunday on sabbatical, I visited two Lutheran churches on the cutting edge of using the internet for spreading the Gospel. Pastor Keith Anderson at Redeemer in Woburn and Pastor Mark Huber in Marshfield are the new cyperspace gurus for the New England Synod. They both did workshops at the New England Synod Assembly on the uses of electronic social media in the church. I worshiped in Woburn in the morning in what I regard as a traditional kind of service, very well done. However, the church website expresses much about the use of the internet and is well worth a visit.
At 5:30, I had a light dinner at a home in Marshfield where an emerging church is growing. The service was very untraditional with the "bulletin" being on a television screen where we also viewed the words to the hymns and watched parts of the sermon. Other parts of the sermon were in the form of a small group discussion, this time on the big "E" word: "Evangelism." Any form of the word seems to scare away people in our culture because we have so many bad examples of people doing it. However, it simply means to share good news! I came away pondering two questions: What is the Good News we have to share? What kind of Good News are people looking for? I'm looking for some answers this summer.
You may visit both of these sites by clicking on the links at the left side of the blog.

Lowell Sun Article

Debbie Havanasian is a wonderful interviewer and writer for the Lowell Sun religion page. I really like the article she did about me on Saturday, June 12. She incorporated some research to go along with the interview. Thank you to whomever put the article on my bulletin board at church, even before Doreen arrived with our copy.

Signed Up for Mexico

On Saturday night we made our final initial preparations for the trip to Mexico. That means that we are signed up and have our airline reservations. We still need to complete the placement exam, but I am waiting until I study a bit more and review the things I realize I have forgotten. The Mexico course is done in cooperation with the ELCA, and is based in part on the principle that one cannot learn language apart from learning culture, so the two are taught together in an immersion program. You can read more about it by clicking on CETLALIC on the left side of the blog page.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ways of Studying

As the school year is coming to a close, Doreen has a bit more time for studying Spanish. She likes to do it with the textbook we both bought when we took a Spanish course at the College of the US Virgin Islands. She likes the grammar and the conjugations. I like the computer program. Together we have some interesting and fun discussions about what we're learning. We're able to fill in the gaps in each other's learning. I'm better at the pronunciations, and she knows how to explain the why of what we are trying to say. For example, I have not yet come across the plural of "uno," which means "one." The plural would literally be "ones," but the word is best translated as "some." She has also found some short stories in the book about which I had forgotten. Reading them will help me to supplement the free Spanish newspaper I found at lunch on Monday.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday, June 9

I woke up with two goals in mind today. First, to plant a garden before it rains, and second, to create a blog. It is raining now, and the garden is planted. If you are reading this, then I have also created a blog. Thank you Greg S. for your help. Your blog is pretty cool!

Tuesday, June 8

Lunch today was in English with the pastors from the Northeast Massachusetts conference. What a wonderful group of Lutheran pastors we have! We had lots of things to share about our ministries.
In the evening I began the placement exam for the CETLALIC program in Mexico. The questions are all in English and German, but the answers must be in Spanish. I was pleased to be able to answer many of the questions, but I was also disappointed to see how many words I have aleady forgotten. I'm going to review my lessons before I submit the exam. This is so much fun.

The First Day

As usual, I began the day with some study of Spanish. The Rosetta Stone program makes it really fun, but I don't know how I will do if I talk to a real person rather than to the computer.
My next stop was at St. Francis Church in Dracut where I was interviewed by Debbie Hovanasian, the religion reporter for the Lowell Sun. She asks really good questions and the conversation helped me to clarify some things in my own mind. I think that a vacation is a time to go away from the normal routine. A sabbatical also has this aspect, but it also has the added dimension about coming back. So I am open to finding out how I will change in this experience of learning Spanish and visiting some Hispanic cultures. I am also open to seeing how Trinity will change this summer.
I had lunch in Lowell at the "La Differencia Restaurant" across the street from the Lowell Transitional Housing Center. I ordered my meal in Spanish and I read a Spanish newspaper. I received what I thought I had ordered, pollo con arroz and jugo de naranja, and no one said, "why don't you just speak English!" I take that as a success!