Monday, December 12, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The past two Sunday afternoons, the kids that come to Bible study helped to adorn the two rooms where we meet.  Some of the kids decorated the tree, while others clamored up on chairs to string tinsel.  Abraham let those who wanted to help him drill holes in the wall for the nails to hang decorations.

It isn't just the decorating that have brought Christmas to the rooms.  We have also been teaching about the true meaning of Christmas.  Abraham taught about the first Christmas from Joseph's perspective.  What changes in expectations and emotions Joseph must have gone through!  This past Sunday I compared two kings, Herod and Jesus, and concluded by asking the children which was the real king.

On the next two Sunday afternoons we will continue teaching of Jesus' birth and of the people involved.

There is an event that eclipses Christmas for many Mexicans.  Dec. 12th is the day Catholics set aside to celebrate and worship the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patroness.  Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims bike, drive, or walk to the Basilica in Mexico City.  Most carry images of the virgin with them.  Starting at 12:30 a.m. and continuing throughout the whole day in the Basilica and across Mexico, the people attend services, set off countless fireworks, and hold festivities.  Many stores remain closed throughout the day, since for the majority, Dec. 12th is a national holiday.  Celebrations on Dec. 24th and 25th never come close to the 12th.

Two of the young people who have attended Bible study on Sunday afternoons almost since the mission started will be receiving their first communion on Dec. 13th.  Flor and Daniel have heard many Bible stories with us, and Abraham and I visit their family every Thursday evening, often answering doctrinal questions that the parents bring up.  Some time ago, Flor prayed to accept Jesus into her heart, yet she continues, along with her family, to worship Guadalupe and other saints.  Please pray for the Alameda family and for Abraham and I as we share Christ with them.  We anticipate conflict for Flor and Daniel and perhaps their family after they have received their first communion.  From what we have seen in some other children who used to attend on Sunday afternoons, there is new pressure to stop attending Bible study after the communion.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blessed Thanksgiving

I hope that you all passed a thankful time with friends and family this Nov. 24th.  Abraham and I certainly did.

About a month ago, we invited my mother- and brother-in-law to eat with us.  A little later we decided to also include a friend of Abraham's from childhood and the friend's girlfriend, both of whom had been to our house before.  A few days before Thanksgiving, we also invited another friend from seminary and his girlfriend.  The day before Thanksgiving, we talked over and decided to invite a family here in Huejotzingo that we visit every Thursday.  Several of the children of the Alameda family also come every Sunday afternoon for kids' club.  On the day of Thanksgiving Abraham asked if we could ask another seminary friend to join us as well.

At 9:30 Thursday morning, Abraham and I had just finished breakfast when two ladies who have had considerable difficulties lately knocked at our gate.  They stayed and talked with us for a couple hours and then took their leave.

It was almost 11, and nothing was prepared for the Thanksgiving feast that we had invited 16 people to attend.  Abraham and I went into high gear.  Turkey in the oven, more potatoes bought for the mashed potatoes, stuffing on the stove, lots of apples chopped, pumpkin pies added to the oven, corn...Oh, and the chocolate chip angel food cake as well in case two pies weren't enough.

At four my in-laws arrived, and not long after that several of the Alameda children came.  The turkey was being traditional and not cooking on time, but everything else was ready.  At 4:30ish the two seminary students showed up, and then our last two guests arrived at 5, because they had thought the invitation was for five.

Their timing was just fine, because by that time the turkey was actually ready.  It was time to dig in!  Our feast included salsa and tortillas, since a proper meal can't be without those items here.  Although most of the food was new to several of our guests, they dug in with gusto.

Once we'd finished eating, the Alameda children left to help with chores at home, but the other friends were ready for games.  We had wild rounds of Spoons and other good-naturedly stressful games.  I dropped out of the games for awhile to skype with my family in the States.

By about 10, the play had wound down, and everyone was ready to graze on left-overs.  We all agreed that we should organize another gathering, and soon.  Abraham and I were blessed to introduce the tradition of Thanksgiving to several people who had never had it before.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Single parents' event

Last night the second single parents' event at Dios es Amor took place.  Abraham and I organized the event, but a small army of volunteers helped make it a success. One teacher at Puebla Christian School sent out an email asking for donated items so that she could set up a very low-priced garage sale for the parents with proceeds benefiting a single mom who recently suffered a heart attack.  The PCS director and his wife attended the event to help in many different ways, including driving Abraham and I and three guests from Huejotzingo back home after the event.  The PCS administrator and his wife also attended, helping by playing the piano during the dinner and with set-up, the garage sale, and clean-up afterwards.  Some PCS parents donated money to offset the cost of food for the dinner, and another PCS family provided their chocolate fountain and bought the chocolate.  A group of seminary students and a PCS mom donated their time to give massages, manicures, facials, and light make-overs.  A PCS dad drove Abraham and I to the enormous Central de Abastos to buy most of the ingredients for the dinner and then drove us to the church to leave the food.  Another PCS teacher let us stay the night at her apartment in Puebla so that we could go to the market early on Tuesday.  The elementary students made tissue paper flowers and made vases out of bottles for the decorations at the event.

And then there was the team from the church.  One mother gave her time to take care of the kids brought by single parents.  Many junior high and high school youth group members arrived early Thursday afternoon to begin cleaning and chopping vegetables and fruits for the soup, salad, punch, and chocolate fountain.  They steadily chopped through mountains of onions, carrots, potatoes, apples, and more and then cleaned up to have room to prepare stuffed and breaded chicken breasts assembly-line style.  By the time the food was ready, the parents were seated at the table, ready to eat their dinner.  Now the youth group took up trays and served the tables.

In total, seventeen single parents attended.  When they arrived, Abraham lead some games while the kitchen crew continued to prepare dinner.  About an hour later, the PCS and seminary group arrived and set up the garage sale and beauty parlor.  Soon the parents were enjoying treatments, and then it was time for dinner.  As the parents finished dinner and began their dessert from the chocolate fountain, we held a small raffle, and then the evening had ended for the parents.

There was still plenty of clean-up to do, and again the crew pitched in.  By a little after ten, the last dish was washed and put away, and we left for home.  The team of helpers was larger than the group of parents that were at the event, but everyone stayed busy except for when they took time out to eat.

Until the next single parents' event...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Days of the Dead

It's that time of year again.  Unlike last year, Abraham and I didn't go to a graveyard to investigate how people pass these days, but there are abundant signs just outside our door.

At first glance, the practices and traditions of the Day(s) of the Dead may seem innocent.  Families remember and honor their dead, and children learn from an early age not to fear death.  A closer look, however, shows that the majority don't simply remember the dead.

Cempazuchitl sold at a market  

In front of many gates,  families form a cross from the petals of the marigold flower (called cempazuchitl) and also make a trail of petals leading up to the cross.  The marigold is used to guide the spirit of the dead, either because of its strong smell or because of its bright color. 

On a drive to another state on Saturday, we saw fields upon fields of cempazuchitl flowers being cut by families, and many trucks filled with bundles of the flowers passed on the road.


Incense
Candles

Small sugar figures for altars
Once the spirit has arrived at the home, guided by the flowers, candles, the smell of food on the altar, and the welcoming call of the families, the family has an altar prepared with food, candles, more flowers, and incense.  The families do not set up altars simply to carry on a tradition.  Most, if not all, truly believe that their loved ones return in spirit form during the days of the dead and that the spirit partakes of the offerings left at the altar.


A drama in the city square

In the schools across the nation, students are required to bring in offerings to the dead.  Those who do not bring offerings lose points on their grades. October 31st is a partial day of school, only for putting out the offerings on the altars.  November 1st and 2nd are non-school days.

Please continue to pray along with us that these practices of calling on spirits and celebrating death can end.  Pray that the people will be steeped in the life-giving power of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The students we don't have and some we do

Soon after moving to Huejotzingo, Abraham, my mother-in-law Six, and I started teaching classes out of our home.  Abraham began general tutoring, Six taught sewing, and I offered English and drawing.  We started the classes just as school let out for the summer, and we had a variety of students for awhile.

After some time Abraham began to teach one of the girls who also came on Sunday afternoons how to read.  She is 10 years old, doesn't attend school, and doesn't know how to read.  Using a curriculum called Mas Luz, Abraham taught her syllables and they practiced using the Bible verses in the book.  Dulce continued for a few weeks, and she, her sisters, her cousin, and her nephews attended every Sunday afternoon as well.

Then she and her family stopped coming on Sunday afternoons, and she also stopped attending reading class.  We found out that when her cousin Natalia participated in her first communion through the Catholic church, she was then forbidden by her father from coming with us anymore.  We suspect that the other girls have also been forbidden from coming on Sundays and that probably Dulce is no longer allowed to come for reading.

As for the English classes, I had some students who came faithfully for several weeks and then stopped coming.  Some of them stopped because of work or school and some because of lack of interest.  New students continued to come, but usually only after other students had stopped attending.  Last week two new ones came who were born and lived in the United States for eleven years and therefore are bilingual.  Their mother wanted them to continue practicing English in order not to forget.  They came twice, but now they haven't returned.  Now three days have passed without a single English student.

In the drawing class and in Six's sewing class, we each have one student who has continued to come faithfully.  The sewing student is the mother of the drawing student, and they live around the corner from us.  Just this last Sunday, the mother and her husband also started a piano keyboard class with my brother-in-law Ken.  These neighbors are actively practicing Jehovah's Witnesses.

Where are the other students?  Please pray with us that we can minister in this neighborhood, both with the mid-week classes and on Sunday afternoons.  Pray that those who have been forbidden to come will either be allowed again or that they hear of God's personal love for them in another way.  Pray for Dulce, that she will be able to learn how to read somehow.  Join us also in thanking God for the Alameda children who returned on Sunday afternoons after several months of absence.  Their catechism teacher had forbidden them from coming, but although they continue studying for their first communion, they decided to return with us as well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

San Miguel

It has been awhile since I last wrote a blog entry.  With a less structured schedule than the one Abraham and I used to have while working at Puebla Christian School, things like regular blog entries sometimes slip through the cracks.  Since the last time I wrote, two friends visited us for a week, and my parents came for two.  Abraham and I have continued teaching classes in our home as a form of community service and outreach, and Abraham also has been going to Puebla twice weekly for Greek classes at the seminary.  I teach art at Puebla Christian School on Thursdays as well.  On Sunday afternoons the children still come to our home for Bible club and often stay after to play.

Programs such as this one were posted all over Huejotzingo giving times and dates for all activities
One of three towers full of fireworks
Huejotzingo's patron saint is San Miguel (the Archangel Michael).  Immediately following Independence Day, the festivities began for San Miguel.  Abraham and I saw part of one procession leaving one of the churches and winding through the streets, and we all heard continuous fireworks throughout the days (and sometimes nights) that followed.

The highly decorated outside of the church
On the actual day of San Miguel, September 29th, we walked downtown to see the activities.  As on other days, the fair rides and many booths selling food, trinkets, and other wares were crowded.  The zócalo, or town square, cathedral had the largest concentration of people.  Inside, the smell of hundreds of flowers thickened the air.


A table covered with San Miguel trinkets











What is ironic about the celebration, is that every poster and decoration referring to the event had the phrase ¿Quien Como Dios? (who is like God?).  However, none of the adoration was in any way directed toward God.  Our prayer is that the people here can leave their worship of others and direct their adoration to the only One worthy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two VBS´s

We´re on the other side of two VBS´s, one at Dios es Amor and one at our house in Huejotzingo.  To see all the pictures from both VBS´s and some other pictures from summer, go here.  The Dios es Amor VBS was the last week of July.  In total, 450 kids attended, although not all at once on any give day.  Abraham and I were in charge of games, and we spent time brain-storming to create games that would coordinate with the year´s theme of Moses.  Some of the games went very well and some had to be modified on the spot.  As is true of every VBS in Dios es Amor, everyone had to be willing to move to wherever there was a vacancy at any time.  When we weren´t leading games, Abraham helped with the Powerpoints for the Bible stories and set up the pictures for each day.  I pitched in with the kitchen crew in spare moments.  Everyone participated in clean-up every day after the children had gone.

Two weeks later a very different VBS began in Huejotzingo.  Monday was the most attended day with 20 kids.  Each day the number dropped, until Friday when the number went up again to 15.  At first glance the numbers are discouraging.  Why so few when there are so many children in the neighborhood?  We pray to have more children come, but also the low numbers do not tell the whole story.  About half of the children who did come were new children who had not attended the Sunday afternoon Bible club or VBS before.  They were able to hear the stories of Moses and also hear of how Jesus is our only provision.  Each day that Abraham taught the Bible class, he emphasized that salvation is only through Jesus.  He told the children that they could talk with any one of the adults about how to receive Jesus into their lives.

Although no child talked with any of us, the seed has been planted.  Please pray that it grows in their hearts.  Pray that they will join us on Sunday afternoons to hear more of the Gospel.  Currently we are teaching out of Matthew.  Pray that through the children, their parents can also hear.  Although the invitation to attend Bible club on Sunday afternoons is open to everyone, only once in awhile do one or two adults visit.

Please pray also for the classes that we are teaching.  We hope to use them as a community outreach, but attendance is very low.  I have only three English students who attend regularly, even though others have visited, and one student for the drawing class.  Abraham had students only one time for tutoring, and Six has one sewing student.  We would love to have more students, but we also do not want to become fixated on  numbers.  Our hope is to serve well the students we have even as God brings more if it is his will.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer in Huejotzingo

For a month and a half we've virtually been without internet.  Today we finally have everything properly installed and can make contact with the rest of the world.

Since school ended, we've had our share of adventures.  First, the weekend after PCS ended, Abraham graduated from the seminary.  He still has to take a semester of Greek and two 4-day classes, but other than those, he is finished.

The following Saturday night, Abraham suffered a sudden intense attack of pain.  We still didn't know any of our neighbors, and we didn't know how to get to the hospital.  Fortunately, Abraham felt a little relief walking, so we set out in the misty night to walk to the Red Cross station seven blocks from our house.  In the ambulance, the attendant asked if we had a doctor and where we wanted to go.  He warned us that there probably was no doctor in the Huejotzingo hospital, because it was a Saturday night.  I asked to go where there was a doctor.

Long story short, the ambulance took us to a small privately owned hospital.  The doctor diagnosed appendicitis, but said the surgeon couldn’t come until the next morning.  The nurse hooked Abraham up to an I.V. with strong antibiotics, and the wait began.  On Sunday morning, the doctor said that surgery was necessary, so at 11 a.m. Abraham went in for his first surgery ever.  Again at the doctor’s insistence, we stayed at the hospital until Thursday, although Abraham recuperated quickly.  Through friends and family, God provided the money to pay the bill, since in Mexico the bill must be paid in full on leaving the hospital.

A few weeks later a team from the mission Uncharted Waters came for a three-day sports and evangelism camp in Huejotzingo.  Unfortunately, their coming coincided with terrible weather and almost non-stop rain for the whole time.  We had a very different camp from what they normally provide.  Instead of crowds of young children, the only people in attendance were junior high or older.  Most of the time we played soccer and invited the on-lookers to play, but after some intervals we stopped the games and the team taught Bible stories and other related stories.  Abraham took turns with two other translators.

Once school ended for the Huejotzingo kids, we began classes in our house.  Abraham is tutoring general subjects for the kids who are struggling in school, I teach English and drawing, Six teaches sewing, and Ken offers drawing, guitar, and piano.  We hope to use the classes as outreach and to get to know more people in our neighborhood.

Next week Abraham and I are in charge of games for the VBS at Dios es Amor.  The second week of August will be the VBS in Huejotzingo.

Please pray for us as we continue to work here.  Pray that we stay healthy, pray as we present the gospel in an area hostile to change, and pray that we have wisdom.  Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The absolute LAST day

Last day water games for elementary kids
My classroom, forlorn
As far as Abraham and I know, today was our last day teaching at Puebla Christian School.  I have been teaching full time for four years, two years each in 1st and 2nd grade and then in 5th and 6th.  Abraham taught PE for two years, working the students hard (even assigning homework as 50% of their grade), and we saw with satisfaction how the kids became stronger, healthier, and more energetic.

But now we have another call.  We moved to Huejotzingo April 2, and have been commuting the hour+ on the bus every day coming and going.  We have been so busy it was hard to even find time to buy groceries or do laundry.  Now, suddenly it's over, and the whole summer yawns before us, almost empty of plans.  It's rather a dizzying feeling.  What will we do with the summer?  Most missionary families are heading for the States, but we will not be travelling anywhere, as far as we know.  There is great need in Huejotzingo, but we are not sure where to go from the one Bible study, one weekly home visit, and Sunday afternoon kids' club that we already have.

Please pray for us as we look for God's guidance on what to do.  Pray that we can use our time wisely.  Please pray also for some difficult situations with Marta and with the Alameda family.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Graduation

May 18th was the graduation for my sixth graders and for the eighth graders.  Time always flies, and this school year was no exception.  With only 10 days left in the school year, we are wrapping up, thinking about summer, and preparing for cleaning up and packing away.  The sixth graders wrote speeches for their graduation, and I assigned the fifth graders to write speeches as well.  It was amusing to read the best memories that the students recorded in their speeches.  All of them recalled the time when I laughed uncontrollably at something a student said, although that happened near the beginning of the year.  Isn't that how memories are?  As teachers, we present history, science, math, art, music, grammar, and other subjects, but the kids remember a moment of outrageous laughter above all.

There are many things I will miss about teaching at Puebla Christian School, since this is our last year as teachers there.  However, I will not miss having to catch the bus at 6:55 a.m. and the almost one hour ride into Puebla and then back in the late afternoon.  I will not miss being so busy that we do not even have time to shop for groceries in the market.  I will not miss being tired almost all the time.

We will be able to invest much more time in Huejotzingo once the school year ends May 31.  We plan to start classes, some teaching English and then a variety of other classes for children and adults.  We are not entirely certain what the schedule will be or how we will conduct the classes at this point.  We will also plan to start more Bible studies in homes.

Lately we have felt challenged by the work necessary in Huejotzingo.  There is one teen in particular who has been coming to Sunday afternoon Bible study for a long time.  She has professed faith in Jesus, and eagerly listens and participates in the classes.  We are saddened, however, to see that she still regularly attends mass and goes to processions honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe.  A few nights ago, Abraham saw her and a few of her siblings out walking.  He greeted them and asked where they were going, but they did not want to tell him.  They were going to either a procession or to mass.  The traditions of the Catholic church have a deep hold on the lives of the people.  Please pray for their eyes to be opened and for wisdom as we teach and live out our faith there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nuevos Niños

El sábado 30 de abril fue el día del niño en México.  Hay una familia misionera con conexiones con Puebla Christian School y ellos tienen varios juegos hechos en casa y una resbaladilla inflable.  Ofrecieron el uso de los juegos en Huejotzingo y también donaron dulces para premios.  Abraham y yo pasamos la mañana en diferentes trabajos.  Abraham fue para ver si una familia de Huejo nos podría ayudar a cambiar las cosas de donde habíamos estado rentando para las clases del domingo a nuestra casa, y yo fui a comprar algunas cosas, sacar copias de las invitaciones para la kermés, y distribuirlas.  Tan pronto como regresamos a casa, la familia misionera llegó, y empezamos a arreglar los juegos.

 
Todos nos sorprendidos por la cantidad de gente que llegó a la kermés.  Esperábamos alrededor de 20, pero más del doble llegaron.  Nuestro patio se llenó de niños esperando sus turnos para cada juego.  Varias mamás de Huejo y jóvenes ofrecieron su ayuda con los juegos lo que hizo posible que el evento saliera bien puesto que no planeabamos tener tantos participantes.  Por las siguientes tres horas, nos mantuvimos ocupados, tanto que ni siquiera pude sacar la cámara.  Afortunadamente una de las jovencitas sacó fotos.

Invitamos a los participantes para regresar a la clase del domingo a las 3.  La mayoría de los que normalmente van con nosotros llegaron y cinco niños nuevos.  Las cosas que Abraham cambió del otro lugar estuvieron (y todavía están) apiladas en una mesa, pero de todos modos tuvimos un tiempo de juegos, lectura, esgrima, y una historia de la Biblia.

El domingo siguiente preparamos una manualidad  para que los niños hicieran para sus mamás.  Tres adultos de Dios es Amor vinieron a ayudarnos, lo que fue una gran bendición porque hubo más niños nuevos, y en total tuvimos 22.  Pasaron casi toda la tarde haciendo sus manualidades para el día de la madre.

Los niños de Huejo que han estado asistiendo por más tiempo hicieron bufandas para dárselas a mis alumnos de PCS, y mis alumnos hicieron campanas de bambú y adornaron y llenaron frascos para intercambiarlos para el día del niño.  El domingo dimos los regalos de los niños de PCS a los de Huejo, y el lunes llevamos las bufandas a los niños de PCS.  Los dos grupos respondieron con placer y entusiasmo.  Ambos grupos apreciaron el trabajo y los resultados del otro.  Me hubiera gustado si los dos grupos se hubieran podido conocer pero ésta vez no fue posible.

Por favor sigan orando por Abraham y por mí mientras estamos invirtiendo más tiempo en Huejotzingo.  Viviendo allí ya se han presentado retos, pero también hemos empezado a construir relaciones nuevas, más que nada con los niños que viven cerca de nosotros.