Monday, November 12, 2018

Last Minute

I don't know how many of you can relate with me, but I bet there's a number of you who are "last minute" people like I am.  Somehow we work better under the pressure of having to finish things now as opposed to one week from now or even one day from now.  (As an aside: the fact that I got an assignment for a course I recently took handed in one and a half weeks early, felt nothing short of...miraculous!  It was strange new territory, to be sure!)  I don't want to excuse chronic procrastination, but I can't help but notice that sometimes, perhaps often, God too, seems to work in the last minute.

During the last two weeks of October, we hosted what has become a yearly missions module for students from Millar College of the Bible.  This year we had five students who were interested in learning more about missions on the field instead of just in the classroom; we spent almost two weeks between classroom teaching and off-site ministry experience.  We bring in some local and national missionaries to teach and share from their experiences with the hope not only to encourage some to pursue missions but also to challenge them in the day to day mission work that we are all called to.

This is the third year that we are offering this in partnership with Millar and one would think that it should get "easier" with each year.  For whatever reason, this year was anything but easy in putting it together.  Teachers which we had drawn on in the past were either busy or unable to confirm.  We kept knocking on doors, and waiting, only to eventually hear a no.  It wasn't until a couple of weeks before that we were able to confirm one of our missionary-teachers who would end up teaching a significant part of the course: Worldview, Cross-cultural Understanding, and How to Share the Gospel in different cultures.  Yet, though he was finally confirmed, it still wouldn't be that easy.  Because of his busy schedule, and the fact that he lives in the neighbouring state of Chihuahua, we made arrangements for him to fly in for three days, courtesy of another missionary organization who would personally fly him. The only catch was: flying a little Cessna requires good flying conditions.  The forecast in Chihuahua?  Nothing but rain.  Plans to fly Sunday were postponed for a hopeful break in the weather Monday (the same day he was to start teaching).  As it turned out, though there was only rain in the forecast, there was also forecast a brief break in the weather.  Thankfully, this materialized and he was able to fly out in what turned out to be a mere two or three hour break in the weather, teaching within minutes of arriving at school!  (It was not only a huge relief, but a significant blessing for the students as he really challenged them with his stories and experience.)


Andres the teacher and our class of students

So, is God a procrastinator?  That couldn't be further from the truth!  Yet, He sure does seem to work things out last minute at times.  I'm pretty certain the reasons have much less to do with Him (as if He were busy, or that He forgets, etc.) and much more, well, entirely, to do with me and teaching me to trust Him always, even in the face of uncertainty.

If that were the end of it, I could say the rest of the time would have been a breeze.  However, it would seem the same last-minutedness extended also to our ministry times.  At best it can be difficult to plan things in Mexico as time is of secondary importance and plans can follow very much right behind.  Times can be set and plans made yet in the end, what happens will happen, when it happens!  (If you've spent time down here you will appreciate this!)  Needless to say, our ministry times, which included visiting an orphanage, taking part in some children's ministry, joining a church service, and finally tagging along with a local church who is reaching out to a local community, doing a weekly Bible Study with the goal of planting a congregation.  It was especially this final activity that ended up being particularly difficult to nail down for various reasons.  Between commitments, appointments, and community events, it finally did come together.  The plan was to go with the local pastor a few hours prior to the Bible Study, invite people, play some soccer with the kids, and take advantage of one of the missionaries (who helped put this course together and is also a doctor) to do some free consultations for those who needed it in this community.  This evening, for myself, really captured how this whole missions module has gone.  As we were walking through the streets, the kids would at first kind of "run away," seemingly shy at the invasion of these extranjeros.  My planner's mind starts thinking: is this going to come together at all?  An hour passes as we made our way through the village, having invited people and arrived back to the house where the Bible Study will take place.  No kids.  The soccer ball comes out.  Slowly some kids start to crawl out of the woodwork.  Within ten to fifteen minutes, more come and a second game starts.  On the consultation side of things, we weren't sure if there would be more than one or two who would come for the doctor's consultations but as it turns out, a solid two hours were booked taking us right to the Bible Study.  All in all, we had a great time and an awesome opportunity to see what it looks like to reach out to people here in this culture.  I was relieved and joyful to see how God did bring everything together, not only this evening but throughout the entire course.

What's the moral of the story?  Don't bother making plans?  I think it might rather be, even as I make my plans, to remember it is the "Lord who determines our steps" (Prov 16:9).  I'm glad there is a Mastermind behind everything who is completely trustworthy!  He seems to keep needing to remind me that He is in fact the One who is in control!  As an administrator, it can be hard to let go of the reigns sometimes; and sometimes He just takes them right out of my hand!

We are in the process of getting the word out for the coming school year and making final plans.  We are also excited about the tenth year anniversary coming up of CEC with plans to celebrate it during the school year, inviting alumni back for a two-week session of teaching, encouragement, and celebration.  Pray for prospective students - this is the time of year where we always wonder: will there be students this year??  But each year God brings the right ones...in His time!  Thanks for your faithful prayers!  ¡Dios les bendiga!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Homework, Hurricanes, and....Horarios

Hello from San Carlos!  I couldn't think of a third "H" word so I had to resort to Spanish, but those words in a nutshell tells you what I've been up to over the course of the past number of weeks. Let's start with the first one - that dreaded word, "homework."

Homework

Last year I "returned to school" in an online format, taking both a class last fall and again this fall from Briercrest's online seminary classes with a desire to keep learning and growing.  If challenges are the prerequisite to extensive learning and growing, these classes have not disappointed!  I'm currently in an Old Testament Survey class that is wrapping up at the end of this month and I've really enjoyed it, despite the work it has been.  With extensive commitments at the end of this month which I will highlight below, I have had to become "highly motivated" to get homework done ahead of time - not an easy thing for a natural procrastinator...

Despite the research papers and the reading that has been involved, it has been very encouraging to take a closer look at the Old Testament, a part of the Bible that we sometimes don't know what to do with, and see, of all things, a merciful God who is desperately reaching out to His creation.  I think I have often read the OT thinking that it is mostly full of condemnation, anger, and judgement towards Israel, but upon closer look, when we see how often (and how quickly) Israel turned away to worship other gods, time and time again, it is amazing that God held off as long as He did before exiling them.  Even then, He did not give up on us, but would eventually send His Son.  (If anyone wants to read the paper I just handed in today on Genesis 12:1-8 which looks at God's call to Abraham, click here.)

Hurricanes

Well, to be clear, it should read "hurricane" and to be technically correct, it wasn't a hurricane by the time it hit us but rather tropical storm Sergio.  It doesn't compare in anyway whatsoever to the destruction that has been leashed on many parts of Mexico and the US recently with storms such as Michael.  We did however get a few inches of rain and enough wind to blow over a couple of trees, and make a general mess of things.  The rain itself is always welcome, keeping things green a little longer and cooling things off.  Thankfully we survived with little damage!

Horarios (Spanish for "Schedules")

That's a round-about way of highlighting what's coming up beginning next week as we host a missions module from Millar College of the Bible in Saskatchewan and I've been putting the schedule together.  Six students will be spending two weeks with us as we look at various themes relevant to missions including cultural aspects, what a biblical understanding of missions looks like, difficulties faced, how to be effective, and more, while also hearing from a number of missionaries currently on the field serving.  We will also spend some time "on the field" working together with local churches and missions organizations.  Our hope and prayer is that the students who come will not only be challenged by what they learn and experience but also respond personally to the call to reach out to others.

Pray for us as we prepare for this time with the students.  Pray also for myself as I finish up this class.  We have officially started accepting applications for the coming school year - pray for the next class of students!  We never know who nor how many will come but trust that God will bring each student who needs to be here.  Thanks for your ongoing prayers!  ¡Dios les bendiga!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The 2018 Tour of Students

With one week having passed from our whirlwind trip across Mexico, including about a dozen stops and over 6,000 kms travelled, I wanted to share a little more about the students we reconnected with, the people we met, and the many ways we were blessed over and over again. Thanks for the prayers that protected us along the way! Click on the map below to see a view of our route, where it took us, and the students we met with along the way. To hear about our first half of the journey, read the previous blog post HERE.


In our plans we figured that the above route would take us perhaps 2 1/2 weeks but as it turned out (helped in part by an alternator that needed replacing) we ended up being on the road for exactly four weeks, finally arriving at the destination of Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. It is there that Jose Luis, Chayo (two of our teachers) and their daughter Edith (our new office administrator) live. Though it is tiring living out of a suitcase and not always being sure where you would spend the next night(s), we were blessed beyond measure, and I don't think that anyone of us was really ready to reach our final destination. If it wasn't for commitments that I already had in place back in San Carlos, we might all still be on the road!

Though we were only going to spend a couple of days at our furthest destination (Miahuatlán, Oaxaca), each day we extended it another day or two until we actually did run out of time and had to hit the road.  If you could have spent a day or two with us, I think you would have probably wanted to just stay there as well! If there's one word that would describe the lifestyle there I think it might be the word: simple. From food cooked over a fire (including freshly made corn tortillas made from freshly ground corn each morning), to the people living off of the land, not only for food but for employment - a farming community which was a reminder of the simplicity of the past (see the video below). Perhaps our accommodations were nothing to write home about (if you wanted a hot shower, you had to heat up the water over the fire; the washroom was an outhouse about fifty feet from the house), but I can't tell you how much we felt at home! We were just out of reach of cell service - if you walked about ten minutes from the house you could just get enough to show three bars of signal, but not enough to even check your email! But the simplicity of life was infectious; I got a taste of it hands on when the father of one of our students asked me if I wanted to come and see them plant corn. In the first video below you can see our student, Rafael, leading the yunta of bulls working the ground followed by someone sowing corn.


In this video you can observe someone who very obviously has never "driven" a team of bulls, though he did in fact grow up on a farm and thought he knew something about seeding.



It's pretty easy to pick out who the expert is, isn't it?

In some ways the church community reflected the simplicity of life as well. It was a fairly "traditional" church, where the men sat on one side and the women on the other. But one of the common denominators that we found in each and every place that we have been at on the trip was this: that genuine warmth of truly being among family. We could almost sense a "fight" brewing between members of the congregation as they said to us: "You've spent a week with so-and-so. Why not come spend a week with us?!" It was neat to see also that in this particular village (probably several hundred people altogether), a large number of the community were Christians who attended the church. But not only that, their vision for reaching other communities was evident as they have "missions", neighbouring towns where they go and hold weekly services.

Though we wanted to be an encouragement in each place we arrived to our students, I think more often than not we were encouraged to see them hard at work, even seven years after the fact that some had graduated from CEC, still living and serving the Lord with their whole hearts. If anything else had a great impact on us during this trip, it was a reaffirmation to keep doing what we've been striving to do as a school. We often tell others when talking about CEC that we are not a typical theological Bible School. Don't get me wrong, theology is important, but equally important is that the truth that is encountered in the Bible, takes root in each person (students and staff), becoming something real and practical. We want to continue to focus on this practical aspect, where life and ministry really are the same thing, where there is not "clear" distinction between the two. Maybe that's what struck me particularly during our last week: seeing this fleshed out in the simplicity of where we were staying. It was decided, after multiple delays in our departure, to have an impromptu service one evening in the home we were staying in: just a time of worship, prayer, and listening to some share from the Bible. Throughout the day everyone who came by was invited and a group of about 25 people or so showed up later that evening. One got the sense that this was just normal, just part of life here in this community. I'm already thinking of when we can head back there!

Thanks for all of your prayers! We were cared for and protected all along the way. Keep praying for our students as they continue to serve and live out their faith in their families and communities. Often the greatest challenge is in leaving CEC and returning home: learning how to take what has been learned and live it out. Without a doubt, as with all of us, there are ups and downs but the great news is that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6)