Thursday, February 24, 2011

"First Fruits" in Pichal

We were in Cubulco this past weekend and we were able to witness how the Lord is continuing His work in the churches.  Several years ago we made a decision as mission and churches to enter a stage in the relationship where the mission would reduce its financial support each year.  While this was a hard decision to make, it was a necessary one for the further maturity and independence of the Cubulco churches.  It was important for the churches to realize that they needed to take on more responsibility especially in the area of finances. In previous years we spent considerable time teaching on giving, but since there was no plan in place to reduce funding the many of the people in the churches did not feel the need to give.  Thankfully now most of the churches understand that giving is a vital part of worship, although there is still a lot of work to be done on teaching people what the Biblical concept of giving is.
The following story is an example of how the teaching on giving is taking hold in some of the churches.  This past Sunday I was invited to attend a special service in Pichal, an aldea which is about an hour hike from the end of the road.  Since the bridge has been washed away we had to cross the river in a little boat. The church had planned a special service in which each member would bring the first fruits of their harvest.  The service was planned from 6:00pm till midnight, but since I had to leave earlier I stayed until a little after 9:00.  We had to be at the river by 10:00 because that was the time we had set with the boat operator, or risk having to swim across.  I was privileged to be a part of this service together with several other people from the church in Cubulco and my two oldest children Nico and Ellen.  I had the honor of being able to preach on what the festival of the first fruits was and what it means for us today.  When I was done preaching the people in the church formed a line and brought their offerings.  Some brought ducks, others chickens, and others brought corn or other produce.  Some other people who had sold their produce gave money instead to the church. After they had brought their offerings several of us prayed over the church and their gifts to the Lord.
Although the service was supposed to be to give the first fruits of the harvest the people admitted that after hearing the message they realized that they were not really bringing their first fruits.  The reason for this was that they did not really understand fully what first fruits where. Now they have a better understanding and I told them that what matters the most is that they felt the need to give and that they gave joyfully.   The Lord loves a cheerful giver!
Several days after the service I was able to ask several members of the church about how they felt  after the service and their response was "liberating".  This is exactly was giving does.  Giving brings freedom.  Freedom from holding on to what belongs to God.  Freedom from trying to do it on your own.  I hope and pray that little by little the people of our churches in Cubulco will fully grasp the Biblical concept of giving.  Many churches in Guatemala do not teach on giving according to what the Bible says.  The oblige people to give by embarrassing them if the do not give.  Many churches will announce who has tithed and who has not.  While this is something we want to avoid in our churches, it is important that the churches understand that giving is important in worship!
Some of you might be wondering what the church did with the offerings.  Well, that is a good question and that was also the question the people had for me.  What do we do with these chickens, ducks, and produce?  I told them that they had several options. The first was to sell it all and give the money to the church.  The second was to give part to the lay pastor and the rest to needy people in the church or the community.  The third was to do some sort of combination.  The fourth was to take the corn and fatten the chickens and ducks and then sell them or help the needy.  In the end they apparently sold everything right then and there and the money was given to the church.  The church collected over Q900 or $120 that evening, something that would normally take them months to collect. 

Getting our Driver's License

We mentioned in a previous blog that live here in Guatemala is more time consuming than life in North America and Europe.  Things that maybe take minutes to do or maybe an half and hour or an hour can take several hours or days in Guatemala and countries like Guatemala.
Recently we had to renew our Guatemala license and we thought we would explain to you the process in order for you to experience what it is like. Step 1 in the process was to get an eye exam.  This consisted of five sub-steps.  First we saw the receptionist who wrote down our names.  Next we had to see the doctor who checked our eyes.  From there we were sent to another desk where they took our picture.  We next had to see the receptionist again and had to pay the fee.  From there we were sent with a piece of paper to see the eye doctor who had to sign the paper.  After that the final step was to have all our papers photocopied.  This whole process took almost an hour.  Step two in the process was to proceed to the place where they issue the license.  This also consisted of several sub-steps.  First we were given some papers at the door to fill out.  From there we had to pay the fees for our license.  After this we were sent to have our driving record checked to see if we had any outstanding fines.  We did not so we were asked to go to the next step.  At this step we were had all our papers looked at and processed.  When this was finished we had to go to the next step which was having our picture taken for the license.  The final step was waiting for our license to be printed and given to us.  This process also took almost an hour.  In total it took us around 2 hours to get our license.  This might sound like a lot of time, but we were actually quite happy at how quickly we were able to get our license.  Things in some areas a becoming more efficient.  
However, there are other areas that continue to be very time consuming.  We are in the process of getting residency status for our two youngest children and the immigration office keeps changing the requirements  Almost every person you speak to at the immigration office has something different to say.  It becomes quite frustrating after a while.  Hopefully, one of these days this will all be arranged.

Friday, February 11, 2011


We know from the page view tracker that there are a number of people who are following our blog.  The majority of hits come from Canada, Guatemala and the US, but there are also quite a few page views from Holland, Australia, Ecuador, and Peru.  Then there are a few from places like the Czech Republic, Mexico, Germany, UK, Indonesia, and South Korea.  We would like to hear from all of you who are following our blog.  We have in general a good idea as to who is following us from certain countries, but there are other countries that we have no clue as to who is following us from there.  So for us it would be nice if you have the time to write a little comment.  We appreciate reading your comments since it makes us feel closer to you who follow our blog and keep up to date as to our life and work in Guatemala.  PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ONCE IN A WHILE!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Update

We thought we would just write something for this month even though there is really nothing new to write about.  Work has been busy which it always is at the beginning of the year.  It is especially busy now that I work with two organizations.  It is sometimes hard to juggle both ministries.   We are spending a lot more time in Cubulco since we are trying to make quite a few changes.  Some of the changes had to do with personnel and others had to do with structure.  We are running things differently and we hope that these changes with help make the projects of the mission function better.  We are trying to create an environment where the employees see this first of all as a ministry and not as a job.  This is hard to do, but we have implemented several things to try and reinforce this idea.  For instance in the education center we are getting the teachers to go and visit the families of the children who attend classes.  We encourage them to pray with them and encourage them in the faith.  Many kids come from troubled homes or from homes where there is sickness.  It is a great opportunity for the teachers to minister not only to the kids in class, but also to their families in their homes.  We hope that through this ministry we will attract some of these families to church, whether it is the Reformed church or another church.  The church is also a major concern of mine since we still do not have a pastor. In order to have a pastor the church needs to understand what this all entails.  They need to decide on a salary and on what they expect this pastor to do.  Up to now the church has been relying on the missionaries to do all that for them, but I told them that they need to decide and if they want I can guide and help them.  However, I have to push them a little to do this since they would rather not have to think about it.  They find it too complicated, but I told them that this is part of becoming a mature church.  The mission nor the missionary are going to do this for them.  We are expecting them to do it and if they do not do it they simply will not be able to have a pastor.  Thankfully some of the young people are stepping up and taking some initiative and showing an attitude of wanting to change and better the ways in how the church is run.  I visit Cubulco every other week to help the church with this process of providing for a pastor and to also teach on the Biblical concept of giving.  It is not that the missionaries have never taught on this in the past, but since the mission supplied the salaries of the lay pastor there was no need to really give, even though this was wrong.  However, a few years ago we put in place a plan in which we are reducing funding over a period of 5 years starting in 2011.  Now the churches seem to feel more of a need to give and we hope that they will start giving to God what belongs to Him.  Please pray for this process since it is slow and time consuming.  Also it is not uncommon to have resistance especially by the first generation members. 
On top of ministry requirements there are other things that require attention like getting new drivers licenses and residency papers for our two youngest.  In most developed countries these things are pretty straight forward but over here they are a work out.  It is takes so much more time and energy to do these things. because very rarely does it go smoothly and without some kind of complication.  But that is how things are and you have to learn to go with the flow.    
Our little Tristan

As to the family things are going good.  Lia's mom was with us for two months and she just left yesterday to go back to Canada.  We enjoyed having her around and the house feels somewhat empty without her.  The kids are doing fine.  Nico and Ellen both did very well on their report cards which we are happy for.  They really enjoy school and they play regularly with their friends from school.  Jesse and Tristan are also doing well.  We have been trying to teach Jesse Psalm 23 when it is time for him to go to bed.  After repeating the first few versus over a period of time we got him to say it on his own.  This is what he said which we found very cute.
"The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want
He makes me to lie down
in His bed and go to sleep".

For the rest we are having an electric gate installed as we speak so this will be a burden off our shoulders since it will allow us to get in and out of our driveway with out have to get out of the car to open and close the gate.  This of course makes you more vulnerable to thieves and carjackers.  Having an electric gate will reduce that risk, although nothing is fool proof.  Please pray for our continued safety since this is a daily concern for us.  Almost each day we ask ourselves the question, "will it be today that something happens"?  It is not a question of "if", but a question of "when".  While it is not nice to live on edge, it has made us keenly aware of the fact that life is short and that we need to live our "utmost for His highest".  We also have embraced the fact that God is in control of our lives and that if it is our time to go we can not do anything about it.  Some people might question why we would chose to live in a country as dangerous as Guatemala and I would answer with the words of Lia's mom.  As some know she and her husbands were missionaries in Irian Jaya and ministered to the cannibals.  The last station they worked in (Nipsan) had been destroyed once  while they were on furlough and the national workers had been killed and eaten.  When they decided to go back and work in this village again some people told them that this was not a good idea especially since they had small children.  Lia's mom responded with these words, "the Lord does not need an arrow to take my life".   This is so true!  The Lord does not need a gun, arrow, knife, or spear to take our life.  Sure the chances of that happening in a country like Guatemala is higher than in other countries, but when it is our time to leave this world we can not do anything about it.  While this gives us comfort we do ask that you pray with us that God will protect us.  Please pray for Guatemala that God will use the church as an agent of change.  The church is large in Guatemala (35% or more of the population claims to be evangelical), but it is weak and shallow.