A Visit to Granada and Rivas

February 27, 2009
A New Beginning in Rivas

A New Beginning in Rivas

 

Cristo Jesus, Rey de Reyes Luterana, Granada

Cristo Jesus, Rey de Reyes Luterana, Granada

 

Missionary Rufino and Mariana

Missionary Rufino and Mariana

 Missionary Rufino Laines and his deaconess wife, Mariana were called as missionaries to Granada in November 2005. Visiting with the couple this past weekend, we agreed that their time in this community was over and it was time for the church to prayerfully consider where he should now go to give witness to the Gospel. “We’re ready to go wherever the Lord calls,” was Mariana’s concluding comment.

 When first called to serve in Granada, their assignment was to use every means possible to reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and when the Holy Spirit gathers together a community of believers, to teach and with the community identify those who might be prepared to serve as a pastor and deaconess. By God’s grace, all this has been accomplished and on the 28thof March, a son of the congregation, Guillermo Zuniga, will graduate from our theological education program and be ordained into the ministry.

Some of you may remember one of Pastor Rufino’s first contacts in Granada – a police officer who was struggling with his vocation as a policeman. Could Christians really serve in the police force? In responding to the man’s concerns Pastor Rufino reflected on how God rules through government. He also spoke of sin and its consequences and of God’s eternal answer in the person of Jesus Christ. His clear witness to the Gospel touched the man’s heart and he himself became a wonderful witness to Jesus.

Though he has now moved from Granada, the contacts that followed led to the formation of a small community of believers. They first gathered in homes, then in a community centre. We had first planned to rent a facility that might be used as a worship centre, but soon discovered that it would be more cost effective to purchase land in this increasingly costly tourist city. With the assistance of Concordia Lutheran Mission Society that became possible. Since that time, with the assistance of several mission teams, the first stage of a church has been erected. (no windows or doors as of yet) The congregation now gathers here each Sunday for worship.

On the Sunday we worshipped with them, there were forty-seven people gathered. Pastor Rufino tells me that there is a membership of 60, and praise God, that is increasing. Next Sunday we will have some baptisms and confirmations.

Soon however this chapter in the ministry of Missionary and Mariana Lainez will come to an end. What will become of them? Where will they go? While the church here will make that decision in the next few weeks, I can perhaps give a heads up.

Monday morning we travelled to a community about 70 kilometres to the south, a city called Rivas. Pastor Rufino had met one family from this community when they visited a clinic held at the Granada church. Invited by this individual to come to Rivas, Pastor Rufino travelled down. One contact led to another and to another. Soon Pastor Rufino found himself travelling down every two weeks to visit, to make new contacts and to teach.

What a surprise when we arrived in Rivas. There to greet us in a little house were 17 people. They apologized that they could not all come; some were working. Those present shared a little of who they were, how they had become aware of Pastor Rufino and his message. They also spoke of their hope – of one day having a missionary in their midst. They also told me they didn’t have enough chairs for every body to sit on and wondered if I could do something about that. And there are babies to be baptized too!

Pastor Rufino tells me that he has 16 contact families in Rivas. They gather whenever he is able to come down and he leads them in devotion and study. He believes that God is opening this new door for the Gospel and you can tell by his smile that he is excited! So am I!

Our day in Rivas concluded with a devotion led by Pastor Rufino. We joined in the prayer asking that God would bless this new developing community of believers. May God provide them with a shepherd; may they be bold in their witness to the Gospel and may God continue to bless the ministry of Rufino and Mariana Lainez!

Up to this year, the ministry of Pastor Rufino and his wife has been supported by an individual family from one of our LCC congregations. This year, Zion Lutheran in Cloverdale, B. C. will underwrite a portion of those costs. Read the rest of this entry »

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An encouraging day

February 26, 2009

An encouraging day
In January 2005 I travelled here to Thailand to see how Lutheran Church-Canada could assist the Takuapa Sahatay Lutheran Church with its relief efforts. At that time, I witnessed the unbridled power of nature and the raw emotion of a natural disaster. Entire villages wiped out; families looking for missing members by viewing photographs of bodies or parts of bodies; fisherman wondering how they would ever support their families again because the water had destroyed their boats; children realizing their mother, father and siblings were gone forever; survivors crammed into make-shift camps not knowing where they would live.

We toured the tsunami areas today, four years later. What a difference. The refugee camps are vacated, gone or replaced by permanent housing; survivors live in new homes, many built by the King of Thailand and his family’s charitable foundations as well as agencies such as Rotary International and World Vision. The fishing industry is thriving thanks to gifts from Lutheran Church-Canada and others who helped build new boats. Memorial parks have sprung up in memory of those who perished. One of the orphans Lutheran Church–Canada helped now operates her own business. And best of all, many of those who received practical help from the local Lutheran Church continue attending worship services.

This is a good news day. The Lord took a terrible tragedy and provided opportunities for people around the world to share their resources and bring about lasting blessings, the best of all, the proclamation of His Word to people who needed the message of hope found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


The Cambodia experience

February 25, 2009

For Dr. Leonard Harms who has taken care of my arrangements while in Southeast Asia, it would have been crazy not to include a few days in Cambodia. Lutheran Church–Church–Canada has no official relationship with Lutherans here, except through Concordia Lutheran Mission Society, which supports theological education and the work of three deaconesses. Reporting in The Canadian Lutheran how the Lord is bringing about the formation of an indigenous Lutheran church body had piqued my curiosity, so it was an easy sell for me to go.

Phnom Penh is a city under construction. There is a lot of new development as offshore non-government organizations (NGOs) help the Cambodians find their way after nearly three decades of chaos. As for traffic, motorcycles outnumber cars ten to one..maybe more. Traffic rules are whatever works as long as you don’t hit anything or anyone—hard. It is internal combustion anarchy that plays out like a ballet.

We spent our first day, Monday, in the countyside about two hours northeast of Phnom Penh. We drove along increasingly narrow and dusty roads until we came to a place where about a dozen women were gathered under a tree and some 30 children involved in activities in another shady area. Each woman had a Bible and a Luther’s Small Catechism on the ground in front of her. Deaconess-in-training Lee Sim was conducting the study. Her daughter was leading the children. The Catechism is so popular with both believers and not-yet-believers that they need more. The initial run of 5000 is used up! Again and again we heard how much they appreciate the Catechism because it is a readable, simple explanation of the Bible and the Christian faith.

Afterward, as I interviewed Lee Sim, I learned how she had been threatened with death because of her faith. Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist and to renounce Buddhism is to turn your back on your country and culture.

Before we left, the pastor, Vanarith Chhim who works with Lutheran Heritage Foundation and Lutheran Instituted Southeast Asia, presented the women and children with a newly-translated book of Bible stories. Everyone was thrilled and quickly began turning the pages and reading the stories.

Tuesday we spent in Phnom Penh. It was both a troubling and inspiring day. Troubling because I visited the place where the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot tortured and executed thousands. Then I visited “The Killing Fields” where those who didn’t die during torture came for execution along with people from around the countryside. Estimates say almost 2 million people (26% of the population) were killed as Pol Pot tried to turn Cambodia back into an agrarian society. The genocide targeted anyone with an education, with any ties to the US or who was turned in by neighbours simply because they were ‘suspicious.’

As I saw the mass graves, instruments of torture, hundreds of photos of victims and saw the blood stains on the floors of torture chambers, I wondered how anyone can truthfully say that humankind is basically good. How soon we forget the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Darfur. It was a sobering morning.
Inspiration came Tuesday afternoon at the garbage dump of all places. Here Pastor Vanarith and another pastor have befriended children who spend their afternoons and evenings sifting through garbage to find reusable plastic sacks they can sell to recyclers. Smoke from the burning garbage filled the air. Dump trucks brought in fresh loads and front-end loaders continually moved it around. Three boys were having a great time swimming in a pool of questionable water nearby and when they saw the pastor yelled and waved. Often these children become involved with gangs and will be given glue to sniff to help them stay awake as they work nights in the dump.

Every Sunday, Pastor Vanarith sees 250 of these children in his Sunday school. There, they hear how God loves and cares for them.

A group of the children met us at a local church and they too received the Bible story books with the same enthusiasm we’d seen the day before. One boy began reading it out loud as soon as it was in his hands!

The Lord places so many opportunities before us to touch lives with His love. All we have to do is look around us. I wonder how many “garbage dumps” we would rather ignore?


Beginning in Bangkok

February 24, 2009

As expected, the jump from Canadian winter to Southeast Asia’s tropical humidity is a mixed blessing. Even the Thais wipe the perspiration from their brows because the humidity is so intense.

Bangkok is a large sprawling port city interested by rivers and waterways, concrete raised highway, and city streets clogged with cars, trucks and motorcycles. There are people everywhere. Spaghetti-like black overheard wires, many illegal connections to city and cable services interrupt the view of the sky and buildings. Along most streets, permanent and temporary venders line the sidewalks with their goods. Every so often while plastic chairs and tables mark an eatery of some kind. The combination of colour, sounds, and smells gives the city a unique sensory experience.

As you drive down the street, you see small spirit houses which look like miniature Buddhist temples. Every morning someone is assigned the job of lighting incense and presenting an offering.

In a courtyard just off a busy street in Bangkok, various Lutheran agencies share office and worship space. To the right is the office where Dr. Len Harms, LCC’s former mission executive, works as executive director of Lutheran Institute Southeast Asia. This regional organization is currently providing theological education for pastors and deaconesses in Thailand and Cambodia. The second floor of the building is classroom space. Before my visit is over, Dr. Norman Threinen, professor emeritus at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton (CLS) will arrive to teach. Many of the professors involved in the education program come from Canada. Dr. Stephen Chambers, also from CLS was here in January.

On the left is an area where The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod holds English lessons. The instructor, a lay person from St. Louis, uses the classes to build relationships with her students and constantly seeks opportunities to share her faith. Upstairs, a church meets for worship. Lutheran Heritage Foundation which publishes and supports the publishing of books and magazines in many languages has its regional office on the same floor. Just a few steps down the street is the Thailand office of Lutheran Hour Ministries. Here it is known as Journey Into Light.

Sunday’s service had a familiar ring to it, but not for the reasons you would expect. Confession and absolution, the sermon, offering, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer were all there. But when it came to congregational song, I found myself humming along to tunes drawn from contemporary Christian music and other sources. The Hymn of Praise was a delightful medley of tunes including the refrain from “How Great Thou Art.” At another point in the service, the two dozen gathered for worship sang Keith Green’s setting of “Create in me a clean heart” — Psalm 51. And the final hymn came from a Thai hymn compilation published by the country’s very small Protestant church—
“I need thee every hour.” They sang the hymns heartily, following the words either on the projection screen or hymnal, and accompanied by two guitars.

Attending a service like this really gives you the sense of the worldwide Body of Christ. Our language and cultures are different, yet we are united by the love of God shown in the suffering, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus. I would love to have heard some of the indigenous Thai hymns. Apparently, they are quite beautiful. I’m here for another Sunday, so hopefully it can still happen.


A Medical/Dental Team Visits

February 20, 2009
A Spiritual Consultation with Pastor Mardo

A Spiritual Consultation with Pastor Mardo

A Physical Consultation
A Physical Consultation

There was a lot of activity at the Mission Centre and three of our congregations this past week. A medical/dental/eye class team from Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Clair, Michigan arrived.  Using the Mission Centre as a base, the team held clinics from Feb 12-18  in Rancherea,  El Piloto, Santa Patricia and the Mission Centre itself.  Setting up in the churches, the clinic was  organized in such a way that the individual patient first had his/her blood pressure and temperature taken as well as his medical concern recorded. The patient then move on to the consultation area where they were able to see one of six doctors. (Two Nicaraguan doctors had been hired to assist.) A small lab had also been set up to carry out elementary tests if required by the doctors. If more extensive work was required perhaps involving x-rays or scans, the patient was driven to the local hospital, the clinic covering the costs. There was also a medication dispensary. Four people kept busy filling prescriptions and with an interpreter giving direction to the patient before they left the clinic. Over 250 people passed through the doors of the clinic each day.  Over 250 people were touched each day by the care and love of a Christian doctor, nurse and volunteer.

 In another section of the clinic people lined up to have their eyes checked and receive a pair of reading or distance glasses.  Two of the volunteers were a grandpa and his grandson. And behind the curtain were the two dentists, one American and the other Nicaraguan. On portable chairs, they treated patients in need of fillings or extractions. And on the way they provided some helpful tips on dental hygiene.

But as wonderful as all this was, even more wonderful was seeing our Nicaraguan pastors and deaconesses at work. These kinds of events in their churches provide them with the opportunity to meet and greet others within their community; they get to share a little of who they are and what they believe. With Bible in one hand and some hand-outs in the other, they tell of Him who heals from the disease of sin. And they take down their name and address and get permission to visit in the days and weeks ahead

 

For several years now, the Mission has talked of setting up a Medical/Dental Clinic that can provide services to our pastors and deaconesses and their families. Last year the dental portion of that clinic was started, but the medical was put on hold. The doctors connected with this team have encouraged us to move forward with the plan. Not only will the pastors and deaconesses and their families be helped, but also those who have received help through the clinic, but need follow-up care to monitor such things as blood pressure, diabetes etc.  We already have a Nicaraguan dentist on board and I have been told that one of the Nicaraguan doctors serving with the team has indicated his openness to serve in the clinic one day a week. That would fit perfectly into the plan. The cost of this project:  $10,000 dollars. Will we have the funds to make it happen?

 

I’m inviting all those in our LCC congregations who are involved in the medical/dental profession to help make it happen. Maybe you will also want to come down and help out in the clinic as well. (The rest of you can help too!) Just go on line to the LCC Website and hit the Donate sign. The project is named Nicaragua Mission Clinic.  You can also take the more traditional way and send  your gift to Lutheran Church-Canada at their Winnipeg office.

 

For our American friends who want to support this project and receive a tax receipt, we would recommend that you contribute through Immanuel Lutheran Church, 415 N.9th St. St. Clair, Michigan 48079 or email pastord@immanuelsc.org

 

Please pray for the success of this venture!

  


A Visit to our Mission in Costa Rica

February 12, 2009
R. Mayan, Roberto Carlos Acuna, Pastor Pedro, Edmundo Retana

L to R: R. Mayan, Roberto Carlos Acuna, Pastor Pedro, Edmundo Retana

 

 

Sunday Bible Study

Sunday Bible Study

Worship Centre

Worship Centre

 

Our mission in Costa Rica began in 2006 when Pastor Pedro, a graduate from our theological program in Nicaragua, returned from service with the LCMS in Panama. His approach began with visitations in a variety of communities (all suburbs of San Jose) taking every opportunity to meet people, visit in their homes and share the Gospel. He discovered over time that his greatest response came in the community of Alajuelita and it was in this community that he decided to centre his outreach ministry.  A facility was rented in this community thanks to the support of Concordia Lutheran Mission society. The facility gives a place to the mission; members of the community now identify it with Pastor Pedro and his message. And most important, it provides a place where people can gather for study and worship.  

 

When asked what has assisted him in his mission work, in addition to now having a centre from which to work, he speaks of two Volunteer Mission Teams who came down with MOST Ministries, an LCMS Listed Service Agency. The presence of these teams drew many people from the community. He was grateful for their service (one an Evangelism Puppet Team and the other an ESL team, but even more grateful for the contacts that he was able to make because of their presence in the community.

 

On Sunday we had the opportunity to gather in Bible Study with 12 others who came to the centre. (Pastor Pedro says that about 10-20 gathering each week; He always prays for more.)  For this bible study they were using a “GOOD NEWS” magazine and the Bible.  Good discussion took place as Pastor Pedro led a study of the biblical teaching on “sin as slavery” and then spoke of the liberation that God has given through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! While I must admit that I could not understand most of what was said, except through my translator, I do know from the nodding of heads and the alleluia from one participant that there was agreement in the Gospel and joy in the wonderful gift that God has given.

 

God’s ways are always a wonder to behold.  Through the internet a man by the name of Edmundo came to discover Pastor Pedro and his mission. Edmundo came to understand Lutheran theology through his theological study at the University of Costa Rica. Unsatisfied with what he was hearing in Lutheran circles, he turned to the internet and there discovered a multitude of LCMS theological documents.  Reading them he felt that he had now found his home.  Further exploration led him to LCC and our mission here, to Pastor Pedro and his community.   

 

The result?  Edmundo is now preparing to be received as a pastor of ILSN and when additional funding is approved will begin a second mission outpost in the community of Birrestio. 

 

I can’t close this blog with expressing thanks to all members of our congregations for their support of the mission that we do together through a regular offerings. Then also to CLMS for providing support for the rental of the centre;  to the LWML for their support these past two years of the ministry of Pastor Pedro as well as to the various volunteer groups that have come down and contributed to the outreach program of the mission. 

 

But chiefly do we give thanks to God who opens the hearts of people to the Gospel and gives to those who come to believe the passion to share it with others!


Difficult Travel

February 10, 2009
Nicaragua Mission Truck

Nicaragua Mission Truck

Travel in Nicaragua is not always easy. While in recent years there has been significant improvement to  the major roads, most roads leading into the villages and rural communises where the ILSN has congregations continue to be in very poor shape. In one case the road is simply a small river/flood gorge. In order for both the mission and the church to carry out regular visitations to these communities, it was decided that we should purchase a “mission truck.” We were blessed this past week to purchase such a truck, a used 2006 Toyoto Hilux four wheel drive for a reasonable price.

But having a vehicle sometimes complicates matters. Our first major trip planned was to visit our mission in Costa Rica. Little did we know what we would face at the border. Because there is no border agreement between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, there appears to be no system at all. At the Nicaragua side, we were met by several men who appeared to have some semi-official status. They provided some detail as to the process. Our vehicle would have to be inspected; we would need to pay exit fees and the cost for all of this would be 90.00 U.S. I paid the 90.00 and the process began. We passed through the first gate but now we were met by another team who said that our vehicle would need to go through a spraying and then be rechecked on the Costa Rica side. That together with our entrance fees would amount to $160.00 U.S.

It was at this point that we turned around. I refused to pay that amount and then have to go through this same process upon our return 5 days later. These costs were close to the cost of two airline tickets We turned around, but as you can imagine, that created a whole new series of problems. We were in no-man’s land, between the two border stations. What confusion! Apparently this had never happened before.

But taking the airline isn’t that easy either. No it wasn’t the airline travel itself, but the journey to the airport. On a previous trip we had hit a large pot hole with our vehicle. It did not appear that we had damaged the wheel assembly, but apparently some damage had taken place. We were only a few kilometres from the airport when our vehicle came to a sudden stop, but our front right tire continued on its way down the road. Apparently too much stress had been placed upon the lugs and they had been weakened. At that moment, they finally broke! We are thankful that no one was hurt. We were in the city travelling only about 25 kilometres per hour. If we had been in the country travelling at highway speeds, there might have been serious damage, not only to the vehicle, but to us.

We did however make it to the airport on time. The vehicle has been repaired and we are ready for the next adventure. By the way, the trip to Costa Rica was a blessing and I will share a little about our mission there in the next blog.


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