Sunday, August 15, 2010

Our final week - 8/6/10

We really are now on the home stretch. While my mother and I both agree that this has been the longest summer of our lives, things seemed to move quickly for us…looking back, of course. Our experience in Tulyehualco and working in the church has been a good one. I believe through this time I have been able to do what I came here to do – to learn the language and culture and to experience a Mexican way of life. I’m so very grateful for this experience.

But, we still have one more week to go before Miranda heads to Florida, Bobby to North Carolina, and me to Cancun for a few days to relax and explore another part of Mexico. While we are eager about our plans ahead, we have to take in this final experience as well. As I probably mentioned in an earlier post, Sonia and family are moving to a new church and parsonage. This means we are all going to experience the joys and pains of moving. For the three of us, it’s merely a slight inconvenience, but for their family, they are packing up two significant years of their lives, saying goodbye to friends and church family in Tulyehualco, and re-establishing themselves in one day before life begins in the new church. While in some ways, they are pleased with the new assignment and location, moving is never easy.

So, this week for us has been packing and helping them move, as well as some other “fun” activities to pass the time. Given that almost all the living room (and some bedroom) furniture was packed up early in the week, we looked for opportunities that would tour us around different parts of Mexico City – some of these experiences were very American in nature, so I can spare the details of time spent shopping in markets and malls, eating at chain restaurants, and going to the movies. Some activities worth mentioning were our visit to the monastery (in Tulyehualco), to the Templo Mayor and Metropolitan Cathedral (in downtown), and our “re-entry” into American ways of life (via the Hampton Inn stay from Thursday to Monday).

The monastery was a really remarkable experience as we saw an ascetic way of life still in practice by one group of sisters in rural Mexico today. (This “ascetic” lifestyle consists of extreme personal sacrifice for a disciplined life of prayer, fasting, worship, abstinence, etc.) This particular monastery was called a cloister and only for women who committed to living a sacred, holy, and prayerful life – never having direct contact with others on the “outside.” I had seen this before – you know, in the movies like the Sound of Music – but it seemed very different to have bars separate people within visitation rooms and even in the sanctuary. Our purpose for the visit was to purchase Rompope – a liquor ingredient required for making a tres leches cake – but after learning that they were out, we asked about looking inside the sanctuary. We were allowed in, but only after the sister let us in from the “back way.” In other words, the sisters do not step foot outside their “compound,” even for a guest. This way of life was something I spent time reading about this past year in seminary, but I just hadn’t realized how it was still practiced today.

After going in, we quickly realized that one of the sisters sat on “their” side of the sanctuary (which was clearly marked by an iron gate) praying in adoration to the host on the altar. (Throughout the summer, I wanted to keep the theology light in the blog. This was in large part because honestly, I don’t really understand a lot of what I’ve learned this past year. So, here’s my attempt…) In the Roman Catholic Church, parishioners spend time adoring the host which is usually kept for a period of time on the altar. In these instances, Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present, that this wafer truly is the actual body of Christ. Therefore, sitting in adoration, taking in the presence of Christ is a sacred experience. For Protestants (or Cristianos, as we’re called in Mexico), this wafer is a symbol of the body of Christ. From a theological standpoint, there is a BIG difference; it is something that greatly divides the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. While all of that is true, I just felt bad that we were interrupting that time for her.

A few days later, we said our goodbyes in Tulyehualco, primarily to church members and friends of the family. The night before we left, there was sort of like a send-off party for all of us. Church family brought ingredients to bake our final tres leches cake, which we were able to eat later that evening. We had a fun time just hanging out together. Kids slept over (on the mattresses that had already been moved downstairs to the fellowship hall). And the next morning, we headed to Mexico City for the final few days of our time in Mexico.

So, our next and final phase of the trip served as our re-entry into American culture. We checked into the Hampton Inn in downtown Mexico City on Thursday afternoon. We recognized that there were many foreigners in this hotel, not only by their looks, but also by their actions. It didn’t take us long to realize that our lifestyle these past 10 weeks has been pretty low-key, not exactly what you would expect in our fast-paced American culture. The best example of this occurred during an encounter I had with a woman in the business center of our hotel. In this case, the primary problem (for Americans) was that this business center only had one computer. This particular woman was greatly agitated by my interest in checking my email (for the first time in a few days), because she needed to print out her boarding pass for her flight that was leaving the next day. Normally, I might have been that frustrated myself about printing out my boarding pass the day before, but after spending a significant amount of time here, I realized that tomorrow is a-whole-nother day away! Just think about all that can happen (and be accomplished) by then. It’s learning to accept that life will go on even if things seem to happen a little slower than we’d like. The situation actually became more comical as other people passed by the business center seeming to have some dire need to use the Internet at that very minute. I think I might have been in that room using the computer for all of 12 minutes, yet I saw so much frustration and irritation over just the most minor of things. This was just a great lesson learned from our Mexican neighbors about the need for patience, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Our next day in the city included several exciting things. We visited the Templo Mayor – the ancient Aztec Temple constructed from the 1300s - 1500s by several Aztec leaders, most notably Montezuma. Thankfully, we invested in the $250 pesos for a tour guide who could tell us about the ruins and the significance for the ancient Aztecs, the Spanish, and now for Mexicans of today. It was interesting to hear about the stories of religion and politics folded into one within the temple. This Templo Mayor was one part of many other surrounding buildings of the Aztec Empire. In the 1500s, Cortez, the Spanish conquistador, defeated the Aztecs and began to destroy and re-conquer parts of the city for Spain, greatly changing the culture and ways of life. The Templo Mayor is one of the great tourist sites of Mexico City because of its rich history and connection to the ancient Aztec people.

Those days in the city passed quickly and soon we found ourselves preparing to say our goodbyes to Sonia, Jorge, Eliud, and Zuri. Saturday and Sunday we spent time with them all – looking around the new parsonage which is a little tight, but cozy and very cute; helping straighten (but only a little because they really just wanted to spend time with us); visiting Jorge’s church to see where Bobby spent his summer working; and then eating and just talking.

Sunday’s worship service was pretty special too, as this was Sonia’s first mid-day service in the new church. The people of the congregation seemed open and welcoming to them all – including us. The music and organ playing was the best I had heard in Mexico, even though the organist was a young Mexican guy dressed in cutoff jeans and black Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star shoes. The organ was tucked away to the right of the lectern and altar - all we could see as we heard these beautiful hymns played near perfectly was a right leg (dressed in cutoff jeans and tennis shoes) pushing down on the pedals. Wonder if that’s a trend we could bring back to our churches?

Finally, the sermon was very fitting – all 45 minutes of it – as the lay leader preached from Hebrews 11 (I’m pretty sure this was it – overall, he chose at least five passages of scripture to reference), which re-told the story of Abraham as he prepared himself to enter into this “foreign” promised land without fully knowing or understanding the final result. The key to this was his faith. It was by faith that Abraham sought this promise of God. However, he was never able to experience it. Only Abraham’s descendants were those able to live out this promise. While I could certainly make a connection to Sonia’s new placement in this “foreign” town, “foreign” church, and “foreign” house – changing everything in their lives out of faith in God’s promises – I immediately thought of our time in Mexico as one very similar to this scripture passage and the life of Abraham. By faith, God helped us walk into this strange and foreign land this summer, not really knowing or understanding where we were going or what we were going to do. Like Abraham’s journey, our journey also revealed the daily promises of God with us and among us in this foreign land. While it’s true that I have struggled on this journey, not really understanding or even seeing this “promised land,” as I prepare to return home, I am left to wonder if maybe my time here is to be experienced and seen by others instead of me or maybe together with me. I really don’t know, but my hope was that this blog this summer would be a way to share with you all as I (or we) traveled on this journey. Thank you for reading; thank you for listening; thank you for acting as God has moved in your heart as a result of the stories along this journey. And I faithfully believe that there will be more amazing promises fulfilled and lives touched in the future as a result of this experience – Gracias a Dios!

Friday, August 6, 2010

August 1, 2010

It's been awhile since the last post. We've had some really good days over the past week or so. For the past two weeks, we've been teaching vacation bible school at the church in Tulyehualco. Pretty much over the course of the two weeks, there have been approximately 40 children ranging from ages 3 or 4 to 15. Miranda and I were prepared to teach the 16-18 year olds, but we didn't have any show up. So, our lessons consisted of English to the 13-15 year old class. In my normal prepared way, I brought enough Spanish language books with English translation so that we had many topics to cover with them. For the most part, they were pretty enthusiastic to have us teach them a couple of days a week (remember they are teenagers, so they didn't pay that much attention to us, but they got the gist of it.) I enjoyed it, but like everything else we've experienced here, the language was a little bit of a barrier. Although with this crowd (and the fact that we were teaching English), it seemed to be a little easier to connect with them.

By Thursday of week 2, we were all wondering if we could maintain our stamina for one more day. The great news was that we were going to a nearby park for the final day of vacation bible school - finally, something that requires no words for me...playing sports! This was the highlight of my week - playing with children outside in a park for several hours...talk about feeling right at home. And the trip turned out to be a blast. I played basketball with some of the older kids and adults, followed by a quick lunch. After that, many of the groups walked around the park to see what was there, so Bobby, Miranda, and I headed out to look at everything too. Finally, when we returned, the class of 4-6 year olds told me to come with them. Of course, I agreed to go immediately. Walking with two tiny girls in hand, we made our way around to see the ducks, the fish, the turtles, and all sorts of insects and snails. Children will always be children - picking up things as they go, showing them to you in their proud way, always excited about their find, but even more excited to have someone tagging along and interested in them.

Finally, we rounded out the day's activities with a very modified version of futbol (or soccer as we know it in English). Keep in mind that the last time I played soccer was on a grass field at the Asheboro YMCA and I was twice as big as all the other boys running around me...in other words, at least 20 years ago. Things were a little different in our experience here, but it was still fun. The best part was that it didn't really matter if I had played before, much less remembered any of the rules or what I was supposed to be doing during the game. We were all just running around, kicking the ball, and laughing at each other! It was great! This day was definitely a gift - spending the day with the children of Tulyehualco, experiencing another slice of their culture.

Another wonderful gift was the opportunity to spend one final Sunday at the church in Tulyehualco. We originally thought we would be at Sonia's new church closer to the downtown part of the city as she would be presented to the congregation that morning. In typical Mexican fashion, the plans changed (for the better) and we were able to worship with our brothers and sisters in Tulyehualco one final time. During this service, we were able to watch all the children perform the songs they had practiced for the two weeks, as well as to receive their diplomas for VBS. Miranda and I were also recognized for our work in the church these past six weeks of the summer. Following the service, the people of the congregation bid us farewell and wished us luck for the remainder of our trip and time in seminary. In a way, it was hard to believe that this part of our journey was coming to a close.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Final Assignment for Duke - July 26th

At this stage in the field education experience, I am tired and ready to return to life as I knew it before leaving for Mexico in late May. Yet, in reflecting upon my time here throughout all the experiences we have had - participating in the Encuentro trip with other Duke students and faculty as we traveled throughout Mexico, studying Spanish in Cuernavaca, and finally, working in the Iglesia Metodista in Tulyehualco - I realize how blessed I have been to receive so many gifts during this trip. For me, these gifts are ones that have touched me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. However, it took several weeks into the trip for me to realize that all I have experienced here - the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the busy and the slow - have all been gifts from God. Further, it has taken a great deal of conscious effort to remember that these gifts are what would and will continue to sustain me throughout this journey.

Through these gifts and experiences, I have learned a great deal about this culture, as well as my own. I have also learned things about myself that I expect will remain with me for some time after I leave Mexico:

1. While many traditions and practices within the Iglesia Metodista are somewhat familiar and consistent with the United Methodist Church, my experience with the people in Tulyehualco has been a little different than I had expected. The worship services are very similar, but the people here are much more open and willing to share their life challenges and hardships with each other. This has been evident through the time devoted to witness and testimony in the worship services. Like people everywhere, the Mexican people share similar characteristics and life goals - they want the same things in their lives: love; support; food and shelter - yet, they are less inclined as a church community to reach out a helping hand to others in need, even within their own families and their churches. Unfortunately, we did not have a great deal of opportunity to experience this firsthand, but this was the sentiment expressed to us by Pastor Gonz├ílez. Assuming this is common among the people, it seems as though this lack of emphasis in mission work among churches is based more upon the life circumstances of the people here, particularly with regard to the amount of time and money they have to offer to others. This discussion led me to an increased interest in educating the people about the importance of doing for others no matter the circumstances of life, and even despite these concerns, there are still ways that they can help themselves by demonstrating God’s love. Of course, in addition to this, I have equally been interested in seeking out avenues for offering support from a distance upon our return.

2. Another barrier which has made the entire experience more difficult is the language. Even though this is an obvious and expected challenge, it is still very difficult to get used to. I believe the part of this that will stick with me the most is how the language barrier affects people in all parts of the world. In our country, we have an opportunity to reach out to those experiencing difficulty communicating with others. While I cannot necessarily understand their language, I do understand the frustration people experience in adjusting to a new culture, lifestyle, and language. Finding ways to alleviate that pain and frustration is something I feel strongly committed to doing.

3. Without a doubt, things happen at a slower pace here (and in all aspects of life). I have had to learn to deal with that, as I have slowed down to live in and follow the culture. This has been hard for me, as normally, I am someone full of energy and ready to resolve the challenges of any place I encounter. Fortunately (and in time), I have found through this experience that it’s not helpful for me to fight the system here. Instead, I have come to recognize that God has given me gifts of rest and time in this place - both to reflect and rejuvenate my soul. I hope these gifts are ones that I can continue to seek and practice upon my return.

4. While there are support systems back home, there aren’t many (or any) here. This has been a difficult thing for me to grasp. When suddenly you no longer can see and visit with loved ones and those you depend upon for encouragement and support, it is easy to feel isolated and alone - even when living in a house full of people. The support your “new family” offers is different, but it is critical to adapt to this in order to survive. It is important to accept this new type of support as something just as meaningful and renewing to you. This has been an interesting lesson learned here, particularly as I expect similar feelings of isolation upon beginning my pastoral career. That experience, too, will likely be in a place far from the known comfort of those support systems that I love and long for during times of despair. Seeking other systems and learning to quickly adapt to them during periods of change is what will sustain me, both now and in future encounters in my career.

5. More importantly, learning to rely on God more than anything or anyone else - more than loved ones, outlets for stress relief, etc. - is another key to survival. I am certain there are times in our lives when we must depend upon God more heavily than others. I know I have experienced a few of those times throughout my life, but this 10-week adventure in Mexico has tested me beyond belief.

6. Finally, God is here and at work in the lives of the Mexican people, as well as in our lives, day in and out...even when we don’t necessarily feel God’s presence close. I am not certain why I have had trouble ¨finding¨ or ¨recognizing¨ God here in Mexico, but this experience has been difficult for me in that regard. Maybe I expected something different about how I would feel in serving here or how I would come to know God more through this experience; I don´t know. However, what I have been able to recognize and rejoice in have been the blessings that God has provided for us each day on this journey. I hope to carry this experience with me long after I return, knowing that God continues to bless us no matter where we are, what we do or how we feel.

Overall, my time here in Mexico has given me so much. I have learned a great deal about this culture and people, as well as myself. I look forward to continuing to follow and practice some of these life lessons that I have experienced. ¡Gracias a Dios por este oportunidad!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A recap of the last week or so

Psalm 57
To the leader: Do Not Destroy. Of David. A Miktam, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.
2 I cry to God Most High,
to God who fulfils his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample on me.
Selah
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.

4 I lie down among lions
that greedily devour* human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows,
their tongues sharp swords.

5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.

6 They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path,
but they have fallen into it themselves.
Selah
7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
8 Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.


It's been a busy time for us over the past week or so. We've traveled our 2 hour commute to downtown Mexico City more times than I want to remember. We attended Annual Conference 3 of the 4 days. We participated in and observed the ordination of 3 presbyterios locales (the equivalent of elders in the UMC) and the consecration of a new Bishop. We witnessed an emotional congregation of pastors awaiting their (new) appointment for the coming year - including Sonia and Jorge. We attended graduation and danced the night away. We visited with our faculty advisor/professor from Duke, who was here to check-in on us. In that time, we talked; we listened to his advice; we complained; we read scripture; we prayed and we cried together. We worshipped and sang and shared a meal of fellowship with our church family on Sunday. We taught Bible School for several days to a group of 13-15 year olds. (I think there's a reason we set the age limit in our VBS programs to much younger!)

Throughout all of this, we've experienced ups and downs - as has been typical throughout the summer. It's not been easy, but we still get up to face the challenges of the day ahead. As I have lived in the moment of this experience, feeling the rawness of our reality here, I have found it difficult at times to feel that my spiritual life is sustaining itself, much less growing. Yet, as the end of our time here comes closer to its end, I have been reminded of many things in which I can give thanks. "Awake my soul!" because God's prevenient grace (yes, I am a Methodist) carries us through these difficult times of "persecution." In times when we aren't able to to anything for ourselves, it is God's prevenient grace that sustains us. It is when we are unable to recognize our surroundings as gifts from God or to be thankful for those gifts that God's prevenient grace intervenes for us. Even when we turn away from God or doubt God's presence during our challenges and suffering - it's God's prevenient grace that turns us back to God. It's not by our own actions, but by the grace of God that we have survived this summer!

God has been good to me, to us, showering us with grace throughout this trip. God has provided when we needed: food; rest; transportation; friendship; space; time; a shower (!); a bed; a sermon (in Spanish); words of comfort; a listening ear; money; encouragement; a plan (!). In a place where nothing is taken for granted, God's grace has rained down upon us - even when we couldn't think, act, believe, hope or even answer for ourselves. Gracias a Dios!

But our time here is not over and we face some pretty significant days ahead, particularly as we prepare for another, unexpected move in our trip. This move is much more significant for our Mexican family. At Annual Conference, Sonia was appointed to another church after only serving for 2 years in Tulyehualco. Like The United Methodist Church, the Iglesia Metodista follows an itineracy system (thanks John Wesley!), moving pastors anywhere between 1 and 4 years. (Thankfully, 5 or 6 years are becoming more of the norm for us.) The good news is that Sonia and family are pleased with the move. At this new church (which is literally in "downtown" Mexico City), she will now be closer to her husband's church, as well as her son's university. This change, while somewhat of a burden for all involved, is surely another blessing and example of God's grace at work in our lives.

Be praying for us, that we continue to seek God throughout the remainder of this experience, and that our souls awake to recognize the grace and blessings surrounding us each day.

Una grande fiesta - July 15

We'd all been anticipating this event for a long period of time. The day was finally here - it was the day of Eliud's graduation. We had heard about the significance of graduation for students here for as long as we'd been in Mexico. So, the three of us were equally excited about the opportunity to be a part of such a special event in the life of this family. This was such a big deal that we were to stay home (Sonia and Jorge were at Annual Conference) to get some things ready - including ourselves - for the big event.

Just like the Awards Ceremony the previous Saturday, we didn't really know what to expect. And just like we were surprised at that event, we were equally surprised at this event. In our culture, the word graduation brings forth specific memories and thoughts for all of us. I think of the type of music that is played; I think of marching in robes and mortarboards; I think of shaking hands and receiving diplomas. While this is very much a part of our culture, very little of this - if anything at all - is a part of the graduation experience in this culture.

As usual, we were told to be ready at 5:00 PM - so we were. We had done a good job of getting ready early so that we would not be the hold up when it was time to leave. However, as we waited Zuri and Alejandra (Eliud's girlfriend) casually finished getting ready - in their very decked out dresses and jewelry. I must have been confused about what we were going to attend, because their outfits seemed more like a prom or maybe a wedding...and that turned out to be the case. As we arrived around 5:45 (we were told the ceremony started at 5:30), other students were pulling up too. Because we thought the event started at 5:30, we had expected to be there a little early or at least on time so that Eliud could march in the processional. Well, there wasn't a processional or robes or mortarboards or diplomas. What we did experience was a fun time and a big party for all the graduates and their families. Turns out, the evening didn't really even get going until about 7:00 PM when dinner was served.

Our salon - salons are the locations where all the "big events" are held in Mexico - was called the Kristal Palace and it was the most elegant place I have seen or visited in Mexico - thus far. The outside was amazing, with freshly cut green grass and beautiful trees (something you never see in this part of the city), as well as the inside, which was really unbelievable. It was clear that the school had paid a significant amount for this. The decorations were gorgeous. The flowers at the tables were beautiful. It was just so elegant. After a brief period of "mingling" with family and friends, dinner was served at 7:00 PM. It consisted of several courses - a fresh fruit salad, a creamy nut soup, chicken cordon bleu with vegetables, and the final course was cake for dessert, although that came much later in the evening after all the recognitions had been observed.

All of this seemed very nice, but it seemed more like a wedding than a graduation. Speaking of recognition, after dinner, the graduates lined up to be called out or presented as official graduates of the school, ending up in the middle of the dance floor with people cheering all around them. The director of the school offered a few words, followed by students, teachers, and parents. So, this was their "ceremony." Yet, the "real" reason they were there was for the music and dancing, all of which began during dinner. The minute the first course was served, Shakira was singing and dancing (a replay of the finale at the World Cup Tournament in South Africa) in the background on this super-sized screen where everyone immediately turned their attention. It was pretty amazing, but so is conversation (in my opinion) - none of which we were able to have the entire evening. And the music and singing and dancing continued the rest of the night, which was fine with us, considering that gave us a mental break from speaking Spanish all night. It didn't really feel or look like graduation, but neither has some of the other things we've experienced here. The names might be the same (like graduation or church or anything for that matter), but the process or experience is very different. I think we're warming up to it though - after the second round of Shakira on the "big screen," Miranda and I decided that we should probably take belly-dancing lessons in the fall, just to keep up with our newfound Hispanic ways of doing things. You just never know when those skills might come in handy! Overall, it was just a great night - even if it was NOTHING like I had expected. And it was even better that we could enjoy this special event with our Mexican friends and family.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

At Annual Conference - July 16

It's day 3 of Annual Conference. We're here listening to a woman present about the history of the Methodist Church of Mexico. Wednesday was the first day, with the Conference kicking off with a worship service with several well-known hymns. It was nice to hear these hymns and other songs to set the tone for the remainder of the conference. On the way to the conference, Miranda and I rode with Miguel (our English-speaking friend from the church in Tulyehualco) and his father. During our 1 1/2 hour commute we talked about the church and what was likely to happen during our time here. Never having attended Annual Conference in the U.S., I really didn't have any expectations. We knew coming to conference (through our conversations with Miguel) that this year would include a lot of elections and voting. Every 4 years, a new Bishop and Cabinet are elected, as well as other officials within the larger church. Like our Annual Conference, there would be some time when voting on changes in the discipline would be done. In between all these elections of varying sorts, we have listened to different talks and updates about what is going on in the Methodist Church here.

However, even though we have a had an agenda of the entire conference, it has been somewhat difficult to follow along. We often don't have any idea what people are saying or why. We don't know or understand the history; we don't understand the present and the current status of things; we don't understand where the church hopes to go. It is very frustrating, even though we have some written materials. These things help us follow to a certain extent but we're still regularly in the dark about things here and what's going on in their presentations and discussions.

We are still looking forward to tomorrow when the ordination/consecration service will take place - for the new Bishop and those entering the ministry. (We found out yesterday after the elections that the man elected as the new Bishop is the director of the seminary where we visited with Sonia a week or so ago. Sonia and Jorge seemed pleased with the outcome of his election.)

Even though there are clear uncertainties about our understanding of things in Annual Conference, I do know a few things about the church where everything is taking place. The name of the church is Balderas - which is named for the street. This is common for many of the churches, especially those in the downtown part of the city. I have a few pictures I hope to share to show just how beautiful it is. The sanctuary opens up into three parts separated by great columns on each side. The pews are wooden benches throughout all parts of the sanctuary. There are beautiful chandeliers that light the sanctuary - something not commonly seen here in Mexico. The detailed painting on the walls is pretty spectacular. It's clear that someone spent a great deal of time on this. Finally, the most beautiful part of the church - in my opinion - are the stained glass windows. Each window seems to have a very different, but equally beautiful design.

This particular church is the second oldest Methodist Church here in Mexico City. It was founded by the missionaries who were part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. (The oldest church, Gante, was where we visited our first Sunday here in Mexico and was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church North. Both are equally old and spectacular churches.)

Hopefully, there will be more interesting things to learn during our last day here, which is Saturday, July 17. However, one interesting story from today to share is about a public ceremony held at the Benito Juarez Plaza near the church. After singing the Mexican National Anthem, a huge group of demonstrators passed by. It was a little frightening that we were in the middle of this, but fortunately, we were also in a very large group of people in the church. As the singing continued, the group passing by stopped to salute the flag. The whole experience was just pretty strange.

I hope that during our time here tomorrow - the final day of the conference - we will have the opportunity to experience much more.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A day in the life

sabado, 10 de julio

Yesterday was a pretty interesting day, with a wide range of activities and emotions. I want to share this with you - and in more detail than usual - because I think this might give you some indication of what we are truly experiencing and feeling about our time here. I've heard from some of you that my posts are always positive - that's true. Yet, that's not always representative of my true feelings. Getting used to these differences, as noted in the last post, is very difficult. Also, equally difficult for me has been finding God in all of this. True, you can serve in the church or in your community and still not be sure where God is in your life or how God is or should be guiding your way. As was recently mentioned to me, it's necessary that we find God as our anchor in our life experiences - through good and bad. And it was through God's grace and mercy that I found myself uplifted yesterday - hopefully long enough to remember that I am here to serve and to receive, to be a blessing and to be blessed. On to the story.

We knew the plan as of Friday night - on Saturday morning, we needed to be ready to leave at 8:30 AM to walk to Eliud's school for an awards ceremony to recognize those graduating seniors from his high school. After everyone was ready, we left our house at 9:05, arriving at the school around 9:20. We found our seats inside an open, but partially covered section of the school in what seemed to be the "courtyard" where chairs had been placed for guests. This space faced the backdrop and "stage" area up the steps immediately in front of us. We waited, watching the teachers and administrators of the school get all the decorations together and set-up while people were coming in. The just-in-time method seems to be pretty common here. Just before the program was about to begin, they turned on some music which was extremely loud, and I suppose was to set the tone...it turned out to be Barry White - You're my Everything. I don't know about you, but we were totally surprised, sending us into a somewhat controlled laughter. Soon thereafter, after noting that Barry "Blanco" White was playing for the ceremony we could no longer control ourselves. We were hysterical. This was just the beginning of interesting things to occur during this somewhat formal event. People were coming and going like it was some sort of sporting event, walking all over the stage area and anywhere else to take pictures, to get snacks and drinks (although I'm not sure from where because there was no cafeteria or vending machines, or to go to the bathroom, and almost always blocking the view of others. The next exciting part of the program was when several girls - students in the school - came out on two different occasions to dance for us. It was some sort of belly-dancing with way too exotic outfits for a school event - at least in my opinion. Again, we couldn't contain our emotion. We just didn't understand what was going on. Miranda noted that her thought was that we had finally entered the next universe...and we quickly concurred! Finally, as the program wrapped up, a Mariachi Band - that was equally loud and good, preventing any sort of conversation from there on out - came out on stage and played for the rest of the time, while we celebrated with the future graduates and ate lunch (or breakfast - since it was 11:30).

Later in the day, I think the three of us hit our max - our patience was completely exhausted and we were at our wits end. We were anxious in our own ways after we returned from Eliud's program. Miranda needed to finish her sermon; Bobby was ready to talk to Amanda (his fiancee who is serving in a similar program in El Salvador); and I was ready to get out of the house. The last thing I wanted to do was sit still and rest - more or less, that was most of what we had done all last week. The fastest way to send me over the edge is to "coop" me up in a location where I feel isolated from things going on out in the world. And as you might have expected, that's what we did - we went back to the house and just sat around. I did start (for the 2nd time) a book I bought at the recommendation of our Old Testament Professor about Jesus as a Jew and the significance for Christians. A few pages in and I was ready for a nap, so I put my head back and closed my eyes for a few minutes. A few minutes later I woke up feeling the need to move myself and my books to my room. After moving from room to room a few times looking for a "quiet" spot (FYI - there are no quiet spots in Mexico), I decided on Bobby's & Eliud's room. I could sleep, at least until someone opened the door looking for Eliud. Eventually, I ended up in my room trying to go back to sleep for just a bit. That attempt lasted for about 10 minutes until I woke up with tears streaming down my face. With Miranda working beside me (in her bed), she asked what was wrong.

As I took a second to gather myself, I said, "I just want to go home. I want to see my family. I want to see David. I want the peace and quiet of home. I don't want to hear loud speakers, music or anyone else in this family (including the three of us) talking to each other. I'm just sick of it. And as bad as I want to get up and walk around, the noise just gets worse when you go outside. It's everywhere. Mexico is still EVERYWHERE - this won't change no matter where we go, whether we sit in this bed or go elsewhere." I had had all I could take and there was NO refuge. There are few moments in my life when I have felt so strongly about something that I wanted it to end; this was one of those times. I would have given anything to have left this place at that moment.

So Miranda listened and I cried until we heard a knock on the door - we knew exactly what it was...it was Sonia coming to ask about lunch, which seemed to have been worked out after our conversation. I said I wasn't hungry and Miranda said that she was going to cook macaroni and cheese.

After my meltdown, I got up and quickly decided I was going somewhere and by myself if I had to. Fortunately, Bobby was willing and interested to go - we set out for the Panaderia for sweets (although nothing here compares to our sweets - it's like the sugar is missing in most of the desserts). Anyway, that plan seemed to subside the other emotions. Bobby and I were rejoicing in our walk alone and to get a "treat." We had decided to go to a coffee shop to eat our cake and hang out for a while until I had to be back for our Methodism class at 6:00 PM, giving us plenty of time for that as well as a quick pedicure (for me) too. But, unfortunately, we couldn't find anywhere that was open, and plus, it had just started to rain for maybe the 20th time in 3 days (I'm not exaggerating). Not wanting to sit in the rain, we decided that our only option was to return home to enjoy our sweets. So, we were nearly in the front door when Miranda (who was cooking batch #2 of her mac and cheese) stuck her head out the window to say that we had guests. Bobby and I immediately went into a tailspin - not only were we NOT going to get to eat our cake, but we knew that we would have to sit down and eat with everyone and talk - in Spanish, of course. I just about flipped out - I just couldn't take anymore. I had really wanted to run, but settled for cake instead. Now, I wasn't going to get either without eating a second lunch and praying and speaking in Spanish with our new "friends." Welcome to the world of pastors in Mexico - organized chaos, never knowing what's coming next or when. (I don't think Sonia or Jorge knew these people were going to come over for lunch either.)

Shortly after lunch (and after the guests left), we had our cake, enjoying every bite. There must have been some sugar in it because I was so quick to jump up with enthusiasm to clean the kitchen - which had become rather dirty with multiple meals-worth of dishes in and around the sink. We joyfully cleaned as we rehearsed the entire soundtrack of the 'Sound of Music,' singing to the tops of our lungs. (I'm pretty sure we had all lost our minds by that point!)

I promise there is hope in this story and it's coming, but not without one more hilarious, but very frustrating story about our second walk on the town. After the cleaning party, Bobby and I set out again - primarily to go back to the Panaderia for more sweets for later. (All I can figure is that I either have acquired a tapeworm or my multiple weekly visits to the gym and park are increasing my metabolism.) So, we're walking along on our way back when I hear this thud of something hitting metal...which is not an unusual sound, except that it sounded awfully close. I turned around to see what it was and Bobby was bent over holding onto his head. "Oh NO!" And yes, it had happened...on a very low metal awning, he had hit his head - HARD! He didn't say anything at first and I asked if he was OK. All he said was "$%# $#@% short people! I don't fit into any of their seats. I have to ride in a bus for three hours one way with my legs turned sideways because my legs won't fit in the seats the right way." - Bobby used very clear words to describe his frustration! He had lost it by that point and I kept composure for long enough to know that he was alright. But then, I completely lost it. Again, we were laughing hysterically because of what he said - it's true. Compared to us, Mexicans are short, and it's difficult for him wherever we go.

So, we finally returned back home with just enough time for me to take a shower before the Methodism class - Miranda had decided to play hookey so she could finish her sermon. I was less than excited about going by myself or with her - remember, we hardly understand anything in Spanish at a fast pace - and I wanted to attend the fellowship time afterwards even less. I just wanted to go back to my room and sit on my bed. I didn't want to talk to ANYONE!

Well, God had other ideas. I went - a few minutes late - to the lecture. True, I didn't understand very much, but I did come to recognize a few things while I was sitting there and then later during our time of fellowship.

Whether the three of us feel this way or not, this opportunity is un regalo de Dios (a gift from God). No matter what it seems like at times, it is critical for us to treat this time in Mexico as a gift - to learn, to worship, to pray, to grow in our faith. All of this is why we are here. We are to respect this time and to recognize it as what God has given to us and what God expects us to do as a result of having received this gift. It's not about what I want to do or not do - whether I want to participate in the fellowship time or to preach each Sunday. This is about me being a good steward of this precious gift that I have been given. So, I'm doing my best. The fellowship time turned out to be another gift for me, as I sat with Miguel (our English-speaking lay leader friend in the church) and Esteban. Miguel is great for conversation - especially when you aren't exactly in the mood to talk. He pulls out questions, which are often easier to answer than it is for us to listen to others talk. So, in my broken, but somewhat improving Spanish, I talked with them about my true feelings here in Mexico - which are positive mostly - and also about my frustrations in not understanding the language or being able to talk to people on a deeper level. They both seemed to understand. Esteban was interested in our work as seminarians and the difficulties we had in preaching - in general, not just with the Spanish language. As we were leaving, he offered to have us over for a meal at his home sometime during the week.

My prayers had been answered. God had shown me what I was looking for, yet only when I had been ready to listen and receive. Sometimes, we tend to be so focused on the future and how the GRAND plans might work out that we miss the "smaller" blessings that sustain us from day-to-day. I believe if I continue to seek these blessings, I will have learned exactly what God had intended all along - it's about the day-to-day. It's about the people you encounter day-to-day, both loved ones and strangers. It's about what you are called to do and whether you recognize this call and follow day-to-day. Life is tough, whether you're here in Mexico or at home in the "comfort" of your daily routine. Please remember the small blessings; they may just be what you're seeking, but failing to recognize as gifts from God.

Well, I didn't get my pedicure and I still miss my family, but thanks be to God for a wonderful day yesterday and a renewed spirit to keep pushing forward in this race of life.