Wednesday, November 24, 2010

van Doorn Update!

from the Colonel Sander:
I'm enjoying a week of vacation, which gives me the opportunity to catch up with all kinds of things I was planning to do for a long time. I was working on a grant proposal until two weeks ago, and last week I was in the US for a workshop (in Durham, NC). The grant proposal was a huge amount of work, but Christel and I decided it would be good to give it a try, because it can gives us an opportunity to return back to the Netherlands. For three months I did almost nothing else except thinking about the grant proposal and writing it. I'm really glad it's over now. After I submitted the thing, I thought of one of your sermons and had my hair cut, to mark the transition back to normal life. 
Christel is doing well. She still goes to German classes. She met someone from Ecuador, another mother with two young children, with whom she likes to hang out. Jaleesa goes to a play group once a week, and then once more to another play group in church together with Kirsthe. She is starting to use a few words of German, and we have the impression that she understands quite a lot. She's all excited that it's winter, and she asks us every day whether it will snow today. She made a couple of nice drawings on the wall, on our bed and on Kirsthe. Kirsthe started to walk and talk this summer. She has a great sense of humor and loves music and dancing. 
We still miss Santa Fe a lot. Google Earth is out favorite way to feel 'homesick'. We still like Switzerland as a place to live, but the people are very closed. We have been regular visitors to the same church for over a year now and made only four new friends (two couples). Unfortunately they all moved, so we're back to nothing again. We decided to visit an international church again, to see if we are more lucky there. Most other foreigners we talk to have only foreign, no Swiss friends. 
We had a great summer's holiday in the mountains. We went camping with the kids for the first time, which went really well. We are already making plans for next year: one of the guys I collaborate with went to Vancouver for a postdoc, and he has asked me to come for a visit. I would like to go with Christel and the girls, and take a few weeks of vacation to travel south along the Rockies, all the way to Santa Fe. Would be great if it all works out! 

Advent Greeting - creche

At this time of year, we recall how St. Francis of Assisi offered a visual aid as part of his preaching about the birth of Christ to the townspeople of Greccio, Italy. On December 25, 1223, he brought in live animals, decorated a nearby cave with straw and a manger and created history's first Christmas crèche. In teaching a lesson about Christ's humble beginnings in the Bethlehem stable, Francis knew that seeing was believing. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Concert

Rev. Richard Avery, who is doing a fantastic job with our music at WPC, had an idea some time ago to do a concert. First, he thought spring; that didn't happen. Then he thought beginning of the fall; that didn't happen. Finally, Thanksgiving. A benefit concert. There is a fledgling much needed shelter in town generating support, so why not throw in our lot with them. The shelter would be the beneficiary of our efforts. It was great to see the bell choir pull it together and work hard for their part of the performance. The Brinegars played beautifully on their strings, while Bill Taylor tore it up on his trumpet. Wonderful guests, Still Waters, added some lively humorous folksy tunes, and Bettie (?) accompanied the choir marvelously on her French horn. And the choir worked our tails off singing 14 pieces, a variety of music, and we did great! It was hard work, a lot of fun, and we packed house, as well as the shelter reaped the benefits as well. Amazing what can happen with a vision, persistence, and a willing group. 

Here was my speech as part of the presentation: 

With thanksgiving coming up just this Thursday, we gather together to ask for God’s blessing on the work this city has set out to do.  The old Pete’s Pets on Cerrillos Rd, in a joint effort with multiple providers, including St E’s and Youth Shelters, will not only provide shelter, food, and a safe place for this town’s homeless, but let me tell you:  There are some big plans underway to do even more.  The facility will be transformed over the course of next year to a space where services can be provided, including health care and job training; there will be storage facilities, a full kitchen, showers, and ample space for those who need a place to stay.  
We, as a community of religious organizations, individuals, clubs, and groups, are taking on the task.  

To operate what is being called Santa Fe – Resource and opportunity center…AKA SF –ROC, takes major commitment from city residents.  First, I think that much thought and prayer is in order, for us to collectively arrive at an ideal we hope for those who reside here. Do we want there to be people sleeping on the streets or under bridges who don’t want to be there? Do we want there to be opportunities for those who have caught a bad break or made some bad decisions from which they have not been able to recover.  Thought and prayer are essential as we seek to create a better place for everyone.

There is a need for people to volunteer their time.  Planning and implementation needs to be done.
Clothes need to be sorted and distributed, and meals to be served. Hosts are needed at the shelter: checking people in, serving food, and facilitating evening operations.  There is a need for money. The shelter operation costs $15000 a month. Yes, there is much to take on and we can take this on. And in this small way we are beginning.   We are creating awareness, we are putting a small dent on a month’s operational cost. And we’re having a good time doing it!  

Jesus said, when the least of these knocked on our doors, and we provided them with shelter and hospitality, we have done it unto him.  Thank you for coming, thank you for your donations, which will go entirely to the shelter, and stick around for refreshments, including cheesecake and pound cakes and other treats.  Come back anytime if you would like to learn more about how to be involved.  

Be at peace and at home in this place.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cuba Day 4, Sept 9, 2010

Sept 9, 2010

If a plantain is very ripe, you cut it at an angle in thick ½ inch pieces and fry it in hot vegetable oil until it has a crispy blackened exterior soft interior.  If it is still green you cut it with a cheese slicer and put it in hot vegetable oil until it is hard to make plantain chips. Both are delicious! I think Ruby Gene liked the chips more.

Daniel took me to the market today.  Plastic or cloth bags are either to be carried, found in the street, or bought for 1 peso cubano or about 4.5 cents.  According to my guide, you can’t find the best fruit that grows in Cuba, but the fruit you find is good enough. We bought guayaba, plantains, and some salami, sliced from a less than clean looking concrete slab.  Purchases can be made with either the Cuban peso or the exchangeable Cuban Dollar (CUC), or some combination of the two if you get a good exchange rate for the CUC (24 or 25 pesos Cubanos).  Confusing…yes.  The man who sells plastic bags at the market couldn’t be found because the police were around and he wasn’t authorized to sell.
A Cuban Moneda National or "devisa" of three pesos.
From the market we went to visit two people from the church.  One was a young woman who had just had a miscarriage.  Daniel prayed for her, and we shared a few moments with her family.  The young woman in her 20s was engaged to be married, so obviously she was devastated and in a lot of pain.  The other was Israel Palma, a member of the church for some 50 years, was in a wheel chair and has stomach cancer. He is in his mid eighties.  Shirtless, he met Daniel and I with a disarming smile and display of enthusiasm.  He had been anticipating our meeting, and gladly shared that he enjoyed speaking English.  His wife, Pilar, originally from Spain, moved to Cuba with her aunt after her mother died and before the Cuban revolution.  She is a faithful Catholic, but knows we are all on the same camino.  She met Israel because Israel’s father kept sheep and she happened be on a business exchange, which turned into several exchanges.  They have been together for 52 years. Israel said of our relationship with God that we are like planets orbiting around the sun.  We are within God’s gravitational pull. 
Israel Palma in his bed on a visit to say good-bye just before we left Cuba. 

The following short video is Israel reading scripture in English on this same visit:
That evening Daniel led a bible study on the closing chapter of Ecclesiastes. It ended at 9:20 pm, after which, in the dark, Daniel showed me a set of about 12 keys that go to locks and doors of the church.  I assumed and hoped I would be able to figure it out through much trial and error.  As the keeper of the keys, I would be frequently sought after.  El Pastor is responsible for locking up, shutting and turning off, and putting away….So now that’s me.  Since he was one of 8 members of this church when he first came as a lay person in 1986, and has been here ever since, I suppose that he was one of the only ones who would know how to do these things. They are painting the front of the church building right now.  Thinking of a recent painting project at Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, I asked, “Who chooses the color?” He proudly pounded his chest and said, “Yo” - “I do.” It helps that he’s an architect by trade, so he knows colors, etc.

Names of the people are going to be very difficult to remember. First names are very different, like: Iraraizi.  And some of the first names are not used because of nicknames.  It is nice to meet a Pedro or Juan (or even Juany) or Ana on occasion.  There aren’t enough of them here. 

The Izquierdos leave tomorrow morning early.  We will miss them immensely as we will now attempt to navigate this town, San Antonio de los Baños, and this country, Cuba, relying on God and the people who have received us.

Cuba Day 3, Sept 8, 2010

It was 10:45 pm when Daniel prayed to close out a meeting with some elders and deacons. The evening began with an informal worship service (which I later discovered was both a going away and welcoming gathering), which began at 8:30 pm, just a few minutes after the airline Cubana finally delivered our two pieces of luggage which had gone missing since our arrival.  About 45 people were gathered in and around the sanctuary.  Children were playing and the little girls delighted over Ruby Gene, and she over them.  The service consisted of a simple welcome song, which Daniel led on guitar: “venimos de lejos y de cerca, somos una familia, dame la mano, a ti te doy mi mano,” something like that. Enough to inspire us to go around shaking hands and on occasion some of the women would initiate a single kiss on the cheek.  Not sure yet what the rules are on that exchange.  Daniel said a few words of welcome, and then invited us to come forward to say a few words.  I rambled on some about our past experiences in Latin America and about the church in Santa Fe.  There were many things I wish I would have said or said better.  One, the power of vision. I spoke of Dean Lewis, but didn’t connect it to what it means to have vision and from that vision God can make amazing things happen. Dean Lewis had this vision, and here we are in Cuba.  I was a bit skeptical these first few days about what this experience would be like.  The town is dumpy. Things are very different and it seemed the people were going to be hard to get to know—some of the names, thanks to Russian influence, were so hard to pronounce.  Then, tonight happened.  The church gathered. And in their greeting, their warmth, and their sincerity, I knew this would be a special experience for us.  Old men called me hermano.  Age contemporaries said this prayer/ poem for us:
            ¿Por qué tener miedo?
            ¿Qué sucede es qué acaso no tienen fé? 
            Respondemos: Estáis siempre gozosos.  Este dice el Señor.

Nuestro buen Pastor
Señor, tu eres nuestro buen pastor, el señor de nuestras vidas. Jesús tu hijo compañero del camino nos promete su pomania consten fe y su protección invariable.
Pero hoy señor en nuestra iglesia aquí en la tierra donde tu nos has puesto llamados a hacer tu obra estamos nosotros y en especial estos pastores que son tus siervos los que han dado todo para servirte donde tú los pongas lejos o cerca son Bienvenidos y dice tu palabra que se encuentra en el libro de Números Cap. 6 versículos del 24 al 26:

24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Older women invited us to their homes.  One woman, an afro-cubana, said if we could accept her humble home we were welcome there.  “La mas grande,” as she called herself, was the shortest woman in the church.  Pedro said we could count on him for anything.  Junior would pick us up for an event the following Tuesday.  Another told me she encountered God in this church 18 years ago, and has a reputation—attested to by others—for her great cooking.  These are the stories we will begin to learn.  The gathering of people, young and old, was impressive, very impressive.  They came not only for the service itself, but also because they wanted to be with one another. They wanted to say goodbye to Daniel and welcome Trasie, Ruby Gene, and me. 

Maria, Daniel’s wife, describes the people as sencia-simple.  One of our hopes through this experience is to learn how to be simple again. I hope these people can teach us.

The leaders—elders and deacons—who attended the worship service stayed to go over some final details before Daniel and Maria were to leave.  They met for an hour; no one was hurried even as the clock passed 10:30 pm.  They took care of what needed to be done to ensure the exchange went well.  Even after Daniel closed in prayer at 10:45 pm they stayed and took care of some still left unfinished “business”, and talked about other things.  I don’t know what time they finally left, but I said goodnight to them at 11 pm.  They know each other. They trust each other. They take the time to be with each other. They are empowered and confident that God has called them to be the church here in this place.  For which I am very grateful to be part of at this time. 

One of the many times Ruby Gene was the center of attention.  The young woman, Yudasis, with the baby in her arms, was the one who read the prayer for us, mentioned above.   

Cuba Days 1 and 2, Sept 6 and 7

The following passage, which I came across during my first few days in Cuba, struck me in that context:  
Peter Gomes, in his introduction to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, writes of Tillichian thought: “Genuine belief is maintained “in spite of” circumstances that would undermine belief and not simply because of circumstances that would confirm it.  It does not take a great deal of imagination or courage to believe that God is on your side when you are prospering or winning; it takes a great deal of courage and imagination to believe that God is on your side when you are suffering or losing. To believe in love in the face of hatred, life in the face of death, day in the dark of night, good in the face of evil—to some, all of these may seem to be hopelessly naïve, wishful thinking, “whistling in the dark”; but to Tillich, all of these are manifestations of enormous courage, the courage of confidence in more than the sovereignty of fact and appearance. 

Ruby was getting stir crazy.  She had not been out the whole day.  So we decided to take a walk on our own, unaccompanied through this strange new world called San Antonio de los Baños.  The town is named for a river that runs through it.  Evidently, it was more impressive in a yesteryear.  People would travel to the river para bañarse (bath or swim) in the river, not because there were thermal baths.  Thus the name, which is actually different from the name the Spanish originally gave it (ariguanabo).

We loaded Ruby in the stroller, and told her “parque,” her word for going to the park, in hopes of finding some place where she could run around.  The street that runs parallel to ours is where all of the commercial activities take place in town—a main street of sorts.  When I think Cuba, I think patchy thick walls of varying worn colors that adorn the patchy roads.  “Green” roofs exist unintentionally; weeds and even bushes and trees may be found growing on rooftops because buildings are not maintained.  Little motivation of the people? No money? No resources? Yes.  We were surprised to see a number of places that sell food.  Two advertized pizza.  We ordered two small round pizzas, mine with chorizo, Trasie’s cheese, with two “refrescos” all for less than a dollar.  The pizzas were tasty; Ruby ate what we gave her.  “Do these refrescos have water from the tap?” I asked the woman who leaned out over the windowsill of her home from which the business was run to better see Ruby.  “Si.”  “I’m sorry, we aren’t going to be able to drink them. We will pay for them, but we have been advised not to drink tap water, only bottled water.”  She was somewhat surprised and cautioned us about how costly bottled water is.  Cubans are very aware of the costs of things, and are careful to not spend unnecessarily and to use well whatever is purchased. 

We finished our pizzas and moseyed on down the street.  People walked busily here and there.  I noticed a barber shop and thought of getting a hair cut at some point; a bar and thought of getting a drink.  There were other small shops and “restaurants” of varying sizes and offerings.  Trasie observed that they sold what they had, and it was fairly unpredictable what that might be.  A bread shop with one cake for the day that she had visited earlier, had still not sold that cake by the end of the day.

We passed the river, and it wasn’t as dirty as some I have seen, and had a healthy current and even a few small fish.  We saw bicycle taxis who assured me they would take us as far as we may need to go.  We walked finally to the plaza marked by the local Catholic Church Cathedral—it too was in poor condition.  When we first arrived, there were only a few people there, but slowly as we sat and walked around and observed, more and more people came out.  It had gotten cooler and most had probably just finished their suppers.  The church doors eventually opened.  Strikingly and markedly, there were no vendors there.  There were over grown “volunteer” plants growing in seemingly random places.  The surrounding buildings were dreary, and in the middle was a pathetic square fountain, filled only to one side of its bottom had a slope, the bottom stored a few inches of rainwater, which somehow sustained life for tadpoles.  Ruby insisted on walking around the wide rim of the fountain.  Then she discovered she could walk inside the fountain on the dry bottom side.  But of course, the water was too tempting so she splashed around a bit, disturbing the tadpoles, which skirted away.  Some boys threw a baseball to one another; others some kind of large tree seed at each other; others were on skates.  A man road with his daughter about Ruby’s age, on a bicycle; she sat atop a wooden seat he had rigged to the bike, which actually looked quite attractive and adequate.  It made me think about the fancy $80 bike seat we had transported with us in case we had opportunity to ride with Ruby Gene.  I decided we would not be using the one we had brought, and the image of the coke bottle from the movie, “The God’s Must be Crazy,” came to mind.

I commented to Trasie, “It would take years to figure this place out.”    We will be here for just one month. 
Ruby Gene adjusting to her new facilities in the Cuban Pastor's house, were we would be living for 30 days.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

money money money money...Money

A stewardship sermon based on selected verses from the prophet Haggai.