Saturday, August 27, 2011

Meeting Discipleship Students

We have met the students we will be discipling this year! We have had our first small group with the 11th graders (Steve with the boys, Marlayna with the girls). It was more of an introduction and an overview of the year.  The students were receptive to the book study and prayer meetings we have proposed.  The girls even have their first out- of- school activity planned: a progressive dinner! Yummm!  What student doesn’t like food and fellowship! If you make food, they will come, right?! However, I do not plan on making any food, in fact, my plan is to learn from the girls on how to make Colombian appetizers. So, the plan for the evening is to have the 11th grade girls split into three groups, each group lead by a different leader. Each group is responsible for a different part of the meal: appetizer, main entre, and dessert! Once the meal is to begin, the girls will all come to my home where my group will serve the appetizer, then we will walk to the next leader’s home (across the street) for the main entre and more fellowship, lastly, we walk a few blocks to the third home for the dessert!  So stay tuned to hear how the evening turned out! 
We also had our first Student Spiritual Leadership Team meeting (SSLT), which is the group of high school students who are systematically and experientially learning how to develop disciple-makers. Again, it was very introductory, setting a base of expectations for the year.  We also set up times in with our student, who we will be meeting one- on- one to pray and discuss matters of need.  The students we meet with are going to be, in turn, meeting with and discipling an underclassman. Please be praying for us and these relationships, specifically that we will connect with the students and spur each other on toward love and good deeds!

Living in a Cultural Catholic country.

We just finished reading a book called Holy Ground by Chris Castaldo, which explains the Catholic faith, different “types” of Catholics (cultural, traditional, and evangelical), and how to talk with Catholics about Jesus and our faith. Building relationships is a key point in this book. The book was an excellent read and very applicable to us in this culture because there are many cultural Catholics.  In fact, it was so relevant to us that in one of our morning meeting, for spiritual / professional development, the Chaplin at the school led a meeting on cultural sensitivity. It was interesting to hear how some of the Colombian believers (whom some are former Catholics) choose to live their life in this cultural Catholic country.  For instance, is it acceptable during worship to bless yourself with the cross symbol (touching the forehead, chest, shoulder, shoulder), or to raise your hands while singing? How about during free time, what types of movies are acceptable to watch, music to listen to, or drink any/ certain types of alcohol? What types of clothes are appropriate for swimming? How about body piercing or tattoo? The Colombian Christians are very conservative.  We, personally, are rather conservative as well, though the American staff here has a broad spectrum.  These issues caused us to really consider how we, as Americans, will be viewed and judged by the local people based on our outward appearance or actions. We are called to live in the world, but not of the world; we are to be a light to the lost. We are also called to be respectful of our brothers and sisters in Christ and their convictions as we interact with them and not do anything that would cause them to stumble. So this also leads us consider all the more our choices in our daily life. Our desire is to live above reproach, which is a challenge we received from the meeting, so that the light of Christ will be made evident through our relationships with students, staff, and the community at large.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Building Relationships and Routines.

Building Relationships.

While we were in Prado with a family from the school, the two students indicated the desire to learn to swing dance.  We mentioned that we had learned to swing dance during our college years and would be open to teach them some of the basics steps.  We set up a time for them to invite their friends over to our place to learn the basic steps.  Six students came, some were graduates of ECA, and the others were current students at ECA. We spent two and a half hours with them, teaching the basic steps with some turns.  In between the dance instruction, we also sat and talked as we ate popcorn and drank Kool-Aid (which we had brought with us from the states- a treat for the students!). It was fun evening getting to know some of the students outside the school setting. They enjoyed their time as well and asked to come back and continue to practice. We said, “Sure!” We are looking for every opportunity in which we can build natural relationships with the youth in hopes to encourage and foster spiritual growth with our heavenly Father.

Getting into a routine
The school year has started for El Camino, and we are trying to get into a routine: Steve wakes up at 5:30am, out the door at 6:12 to catch the school van at 6:25am (also true for Marlayna and Elleazah if they need to be at the school early in the morning).  Steve arrives at school at about 6:40 and begins his days… he will share more about his days in a future post. Meanwhile, Elleazah and Marlayna begin their day at home, which is a bit different every day. But two days a week, they need to shop for produce at the local market where there is a different store front for the different types of product.  On one particular day, Marlayna was planning on making tacos for dinner. So, it is off to the market for ingredients, plus a few additional items. Marlayna and Elleazah have their shopping routine. First they stop and buy fruits and vegetables.  We also like to try a new fruit with each shopping day. The workers are starting to recognize Marlayna and Elleazah, after all how many “gringos” (Americans) come with a baby strapped in a Bjorn carrier to shop?  The workers love to see Elleazah and give her special attention as they coo at her. Communication can be difficult due to the language barrier, but Marlayna tries her best at Spanish to hopefully build a relationship with the employees. After the fruits and veggies, they head to the panadaria for some fresh bread rolls that are often eaten for breakfast (something to quickly grab and go) as well as for dinner. Next is meat from the butcher, and then to bargain a price for some avocados from a guy selling them from a cart on the street (always interesting with such little Spanish knowledge).  With the shopping routine complete, the tortillas were missing for the meal that night.  Not knowing where to purchase the tortillas, Marlayna and Elleazah started to window shop. When a store looked like it could have tortillas, they would poke their head in, look around for a moment, and with as much confidence that could be mustered, Marlayna would ask in her broken Spanish, while using hand movements as if playing a game of charades, to ask if they had tortillas.   Responses ranged from a confused look to one lady pulling out lady’s razor for shaving, thinking that was what was needed. Ohhhh… eventually Marlayna spotted a bag of tortillas hanging in a store. Later Marlayna learned the correct pronunciation for “tortillas.” First problem was that the first “T” sound was not hard and clear, plus the “ll” makes more of a “j” sound here in Colombia, not a “ya” sound that we have learned.  Lost in pronunciation. It was our first good giggle (being offered the razors), and I’m sure it will not be our last laugh as we learn and grow in this new culture.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Orientation week

This week has been packed with training and orientation at the school. After all, school starts this Saturday, yes, I said Saturday. The students will primarily come to pick up their books and meet their teachers. Nevertheless, the summer is at its end. Ready or not, here the new school year comes- and we are excited!

Steve is actively learning the current methodology for the learning center where students go for extra help or accountability. He is starting to make contact with some of the students that will need extra help and reach out to some of the families. He has a lot to do, but is excited this year.

Marlayna’s role is still rather undefined at the school. She will likely help in the library a couple days a week for part of the day. She may help an hour or so in the middle school science class helping with lab set up, since that is a very time consuming task for the teacher, who is also the middle school principal!  She may even help tutor some of the Colombians with some English lessons… but still not sure how everything will work out with having Elleazah with her throughout the days at school.

Together, it looks like we will be working with the Junior class for discipleship in small groups. The class has about 6 boys, and 16 girls, therefore, Marlayna will be working with another lady in the discipleship small groups in order to actually have a small group. We have also been paired up for our one- on-one discipleship; Steve is with a senior guy, Marlayna is with a junior girl.

Over all, we are excited about this school year and meeting with student to build relationships and invest in their lives as we make disciples.

Please be praying for us, and for the students of ECA as we begin this new school year. Pray that we rely on God’s strength and not our own strength as build a routine and relationships in the school.

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Excursion!

Our second weekend in the country, we finally finished all our government paperwork, our shipped boxes have come in and we are nearing the end of getting our apartment organized; life seems to be coming together. The director of the school called us and invited us to go with them on an excursion to “hot country” (down the mountain) to some property that a family from the school owns and allows missionaries to spend the night, relax, swim in the lake and go boating/ skiing surrounded by mountains. We joyfully accepted the invite before life would become crazy with school work.
Destination: Prado, Colombia

We left early in the morning to avoid traffic and so we could have two full days on the lake.  We made it to the property and were settled in by lunch time. The other wonderful aspect of this weekend was the Colombian cook! She made fresh juice from different fruit like Mora (similar to a blackberry), Lulo (tastes similar to kiwi), and passion fruit. We learned that most Colombians do not eat the fruit but make it into a juice.  Soups are very popular, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Usually, the soup will contain a meat (chicken or beef), potato, yucca, and cilantro. Other ingredients may include: corn on the cob, rice, avocado, and beans. The food is not spicy, but more “bland” due to the food being seasoned with the ingredients of the dish.

After lunch, we went for a swim in the warm, almost bath-like water, then lay in a hammock to read or take a nap- it was wonderful. By later afternoon, we were out on the water cruising around the lake and exploring different areas. But on the way back, we were in a bay and the full length of the lake away from where we were staying when the battery of the boat died!  The expression- “ up a creek without a paddle” was practically true, because we were so far from our location and we did not have a paddle! Instead, we used the skiis as paddles to get to a “nearby” home.  It took about an hour to row the distance and get battery a jump start!  Oh boy! What and adventure!  Needless to say, we had worked up an appetite for dinner (which was another amazing Colombian soup)!  We ate dinner in the dark so the mosquitos and other bugs would not be attracted to the light and as we gazed up at the clear sky, we could see so many stars twinkling in the sky.  Amazing, God’s handiwork- we realized it had been a long time since we had seen the stars like this due to the light pollution of the city or suburbs that prevented us from viewing the stars so clearly. While we sat under the star, we had such sweet fellowship with the director’s daughter and her friend (both college students), about discerned God’s will for our lives. I hope that we were an encouragement to these young adults as then try to discern career choices.

The next morning, after breakfast, a little reading in hammocks, the boat went out for the first round of skiing. It had been several years since we had gone skiing. The boat returned for lunch and a short break. We went for a quick swim and we were back out on the boat for round two of skiing.  By the time we came back in, we had to pack up, we ate a quick snack and were on our way. We stopped to see a small waterfall from a creek that feed into the lake. We climbed up and jumped off a big boulder into the lagoon. We were not able to stay long because it was getting dark and we needed to return before the mosquitoes would be out to feed on us.
Though we were only in Prado for 36 hours, it felt like we had rested for 3-4 days; it was wonderful. We came home with wonderful memories, and Marlayna and Elleazah came home with bed bug bites! We thank God for the generosity of this school family to provide a rest haven to ministry workers.

And the adventure continues!

Government paper work, gotta love it in the time of transition!  So, one thing we learned we needed to do when we arrived was to go to the “ministry” (aka. Consulate) in order to get our visas fixed, because when it was issued to us in the States, there was some sort of error. We do not know what the error is, just that there was an error. The second important piece of government work we needed complete was getting our ID card.
So early in the afternoon, we head to the downtown area of Bogota to go to the government buildings, which apparently close at 4pm. We arrive at the ministry only to find out that the hours are from 9am-noon!  What?! Go figure, only a government official would have such nice work hours! So we go to the next place, kind of like a DMV to get our ID cards. When we arrive, we see a long line, but quickly find out that we do not have all the paper work.   Urg.  By the time we would have all the paperwork, the office would be closed. So, this concludes the major portion of the day without getting anything really accomplished other than rounding up loose ends for our ID card. 

After running around, getting little accomplished we get on the bus to take us home. Because we have Elleazah with us, we have priority seating. As soon as I sit down with Elleazah, she realizes how hungry she is and begins to cry. I knew we were on “borrowed time” before the next feeding and she begins to wail drawing lots of attention! What am I to do but nurse her on a nice crowded bus. Hmmmm, not something I’m comfortable with, but I realize I have to do what I have to do! I am at least thankful for a cover to help with some modesty.  So, that was day one of attempting to get our paperwork completed.

Day two- We head out early because the ministry opens up at 9, and we want to get done before the crowds come. We arrive at the ministry at 9:10am to find a very full room because the ministry actually opened at 7:30!!! What?! It all worked out though because we had a baby, Elleazah. In the culture here those who are considered “senior citizens” and those with babies have priorities, which means that we were allowed to cut to the front of lines. So, a very long wait turned into a 10 minute wait! Originally, the first worker with whom we spoke told us that there was not a problem with our visas, but our translator did an amazing job at convincing him that we needed to talk with a supervisor to help fix our visa issues!?! After multiple explanations, emails were exchanged between the ministry, the US consulate and our school in order to clarify the issue.  We hope and pray that everything truly was sorted out and set straight.

Then it was time to head to the next government office to apply for our ID cards. By the time we arrived, there was a nice long line, as to be expected at a government office! Only this time, we were not allowed to have our translator with us, maybe because it was so crowded.  But we had all the documents ready, in order so that there hopefully wouldn’t be any confusion, we went to the end of the line and began to wait.  But within three minutes, an official worker ushered us to the front of the line because we had a baby.  By now, Elleazah was also starting to get a bit fussy due to a much needed diaper change and nearing her feeding time. When we it was our turn, we stepped up and handed all our paper work to the lady at the desk. She looked through the paperwork, put a paper clip on it and told us to sit and wait to be called.  Praise God, no problems so far!

We turned to look for a seat, only to find all the seats were taken. Bummer.  But then, about five people offered us their seat because of our Elleazah.  We accepted one of the seats so we could change her diaper and hopefully start feeding her. But in the middle of the diaper change, our names were called! Wow, that was fast! They took us to the back for some final paperwork, and a final picture to be put into the system saying that we had registered in the country. We were working with this wonderful lady who was entering our information who spoke about as much English as we spoke Spanish. She encouraged me to nurse Elleazah there in her office as she entered our paper.  It was a little awkward, but she seemed like a mother who understood… or maybe it is just the very understanding culture toward babies. When she came to the part where the documentation asked about religion and she saw we were Christians, she was very excited and seemed encouraged.
As soon as we adults were entered, we asked if Elleazah needed an ID card because we had heard mixed answers. She asked to see the same paperwork we needed to be issued an ID, we had everything but the printed picture and the money order (because we were hoping that she wouldn’t need an ID). Since we didn’t have those two items, she just took information about Elleazah we had filled out, then took her passport, and stamped it with a “registered” stamp!  Yea!  Praise God it was more simple than original anticipated.  This second day was so much more encouraging than the first! All government work was completed in time for us to get home for lunch! Praise God!