Monday, May 3, 2010

The Joel competition, our first first anniversary, and the Sierras

Wednesday was the Big Night of the junior high and high school youth group competition on the book of Joel at Dios es Amor. Abraham and I had been working for several months with the junior highers, reading the book of Joel, discussing the meanings, and learning a whole lot about locusts. The format for the competition was baseball, with the 'pitcher' reading a question with a value of 1 - 4 bases to the 'batter.' The game went a bit overtime, but in the end, the junior highers won 16 - 9. They, and their parents, were very pleased.

On Thursday Abraham and I stayed home from work and school to relax together and enjoy a day celebrating the anniversary of our civil marriage a year ago. We slept late, and then Abraham made breakfast for us. After that, we went to a theater to see Date Night (funny but rather crude in spots). It was late evening when we returned home, and Abraham began to prepare a deluxe dinner.

One of the reasons we decided to take time off on Thursday, aside from celebrating our anniversary, was that we knew the weekend would be far from restful. A church in the Sierras had planned a youth conference and had called our pastor asking if anyone could speak at the conference. Abraham accepted the invitation, so Friday after school, we boarded a bus for the town of Zacatlan.

After three hours, we arrived in Zacatlan, and a young man came to pick us up for the 1 hour drive to the clinic where we'd spend the night. The roads wound and snaked through the mountains, leading generally upward, sometimes on paved stretches and sometimes on rutted and potholed stretches.

We reached the clinic at 11:30, and ate with several of the clinic staff. By about 12:30, we finally went to bed. Our sleep was cut very short, however, by the cacophonous ring of church bells at 5:15 a.m. The ringing was replaced by recorded songs, and then the musical interlude gave way to bells again at 6:15 when we had to get up anyway.

The youth began to arrive, trickling in in two's and three's. Finally, about 35 people had gathered, and we divided up between two very overloaded trucks for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the church where the conference would be held. After about 1/2 hour of driving, we stopped to pick up five more youth before continuing.

Most of the youth from other areas had already eaten when we arrived, but the ladies cheerfully served us beans, salsa, and homemade tortillas. Once we'd eaten, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for the conference. After singing - this group seemed very musical - it was time for Abraham's first message. He spoke about real liberty, the kind that comes only from serving God.

When he finished the message, we had games outside for awhile. By this time the heat and humidity had increased oppressively, and midges kept raising welts on exposed skin. These difficulties didn't dampen most spirits, and when we returned inside, the singing was as enthusiastic as before.

Abraham preached a second time, this time speaking about living abundant lives in Christ. He involves any congregation in his preaching, but in the Sierras, it is extremely challenging, because the culture as a whole is reticent and also most of the teens' first language is Totonaco rather than Spanish. Some of the more citified teens willingly answered questions and participated in illustrations, but some of the girls especially wouldn't even answer direct questions.

Once Abraham finished, the kids broke into four groups for a variety of games. They had sword drills, dramatized Bible scenes, sang Bible verses, and sang songs containing certain words. By the time games ended, the teens were tired and hungry, and the heat felt like a physical weight.

Abraham had chosen, rather than to preach again, to tell a simple Bible story, ask some questions, and then repeat the story. After that, he broke the youth into groups of 3 or 4 for them to retell the story, ask the questions, and then discuss the answers. This was a method he had learned at a conference a few weeks before, and it was moderately successful with this group. The extreme shyness of some meant that not every group participated. One of the teens with me wouldn't speak even one word.

This activity ended the conference. We ate together, and then groups began to leave. It was time for Abraham and I to go back to Zavaleta to catch the bus back to Puebla. We finally reached home at 10 pm.

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