Friday, June 19, 2015
Friday, October 17, 2014
Last Sunday afternoon, talking and laughing under the shade tree in Victor’s front yard, we were visiting in the farming community of Ámina. The brightly painted pink and blue wooden houses contrasted with the dark green banana fields nearby. The coffee and the afternoon sun were both simmering as we got to know the small group of 15 believers, a mixture of Dominicans and Haitians. Victor and his wife have suffered the loss of one child, and now, after a difficult pregnancy and life-threatening delivery, they proudly introduced us to their one-month-old daughter. They are experiencing God’s protection and peace, and are eager for their neighbors to know this wonderful God as well! Pastor Ramón from the La Yaguita Bible Church has been dreaming of starting a church in this community for some time. On Sunday he began asking the group questions about Ephesians 2. We encouraged their efforts as they answered tentatively, yet correctly. Ramón drove home the point that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Our almost-four-year-long leadership training course ended August 12. Since younger men who attended the course are assuming more responsibility in his church, Ramón is now free to pursue his dream in Ámina. As I (Bob) began the last class, we felt the electricity from the excited students. We’re not sure if the excitement was because they were finishing the course or because we were about to celebrate with pizza! The pastor of each group had summarized in class the history of their church, which prompted me to comment, “In your presentations, each one of the pastors credited past missionaries who mentored them. I encourage you to go mentor someone else. Be that rock for that next potential leader.” I then asked what course made the biggest impact. “Bible Study Methods and How to Teach the Bible”, they replied. “Due to the observation, interpretation, and application method you taught, we know how to study the Bible properly.” Two people said that these courses helped them become better employees at work due to increased analytical skills. A veteran pastor stated that he can now more easily outline a Bible passage. We began the leadership training classes for the Bible churches here in Santiago in April 2011. Starting with 84 students from five different churches, with their pastors attending as well, I felt a bit insecure. However, God changed my attitude from, “I don’t know if I can do this” to “If I prepare well, I CAN teach these courses!” Thirty men and women completed all eight courses. Along the way, the students caught a vision to expand their outreach. We know of at least 5 small group Bible studies they have started. Two of the churches are looking to start new churches, beginning with community activities and small group Bible studies like the one in Ámina. We’ve been invited to participate, but the initiative is totally Dominican! We’ve also had a request from a church just outside of Santiago to start a Bible study methods course to help train their leaders. The church is five years old, and already has almost 100 people attending. We’re wondering, “What will Ámina be like in five years?”
The phone rings again. Another member of the Central Church wants to know how Judy is doing. Now responding by memory in Spanish, I explain that Judy has to keep her head down on the table while remaining still. Thankfully, however, the detached retina and cataract surgery was successful. The caller asks, “Did you ever consider going to the USA for the surgery?” “We never did,” I reply, “because we had confidence in the Dominican retina specialist here in Santiago.” I explain that our good friend from church, who is an optometrist, is energetically overseeing Judy’s post-op care and making sure that I take good care of her! The washer goes off. I put my hat and sunglasses on (tropical sun!) and climb the four flights of stairs to the roof to hang the wash on the line. I can hang wash with the best of them. (No brag, just fact.) Last year, I taught 3 young ladies who came on a workteam how to hang clothes on a line. They had NEVER done it before! Life for me took a startling turn March 3 after Judy’s retina surgery. Up to that point I had done very little in the house, even though Judy called my attention to it from time to time. But after Judy’s surgery, I had to do EVERYTHING: dishes, wash and hang clothes, clean house, dust, cook meals (although a LOT of people brought food), squeeze lemons, cut mangoes, and make coffee. It is an honor to serve Judy, and I continue to help with the domestic chores (by popular demand); however, it’s a relief that she has resumed her normal activities. We are grateful for the many phone calls and visits from concerned friends here, as well as the more than 300 Facebook and email messages from friends in the USA. Thank you for your prayers! The eye is healing well. Life’s difficulties not only teach me to be a servant, they make good sermon illustrations! At the Los Girasoles Haitian church, the family there laughed as I told them of my adventures in housekeeping. I preached through Romans 1-8, and used Judy’s surgery as an example of how God works out all things together for our good (8.28). I continue to mentor a couple of young Haitian men, while Judy just completed a study of the book of Ephesians with a group of women. The surgery has taught us to receive the help of God’s family, and look for opportunities to comfort others. One of the pastors’ wives came over several times to read the Word as Judy listened with her head down. Others came by to pray for us. One couple, both of which do not know Christ, came by; and we were able to share and connect with them because his wife suffers from a rare disease. We got to know that couple because of the apartment mortgage situation. We praise God that that has been totally resolved! Last year we paid off the last part of the builder’s mortgage in order to save the apartment from being taken by the bank. Through a series of God-ordained events, this June we received those funds in full. Again, thank you for praying! Our Tuesday night Bible school has 35 students who will complete the final course, Evangelism and Discipleship, this August. While renewing our resident visas with the Dominican government, God gave us the opportunity to put the course into practice. Standing in long, slow-moving lines, we made a new friend with whom we were able to share Christ. He is an outspoken atheist. Pray that God breaks hard, hard ground in this man’s life. Speaking of breaking ground, due to the training of new leadership through the Bible school, one church is starting a new outreach in Santiago’s north. The pastor of another church is planning to start a Bible study in a nearby town. Younger leaders will assume more responsibility in those churches. And the Central church small group ministry has four new weekly Bible studies led by qualified leaders. God is so good! We thank you for responding to His promptings to pray and provide for the on-going ministry here. It’s a joy to serve Him in Santiago…excuse me; I need to go wash dishes…isn’t it true that dirty dishes just seem to multiply!?!?
After five days of acting out Bible stories, blowing up balloons, face painting, doing crafts, and loving the children in the community of La Yaguita, the seven-member team from Maryland is heading for a well-deserved day at the beach. Along with us is Karina, their Dominican translator, and Osiris—our driver who is also a local pastor. As the van bumps over the potholes, Osiris and Bob are having an animated conversation in the front seat. The hot topic is common misconceptions regarding the Holy Spirit. Karina, one of our students in the leadership training classes, studies medicine at a local university when she’s not translating for teams or teaching at the Children’s Center in La Yaguita. I smile as Karina eagerly jumps into the conversation taking place up front, “If only people would read and study their Bibles!” Her comment prompts me to ask her about the notice I saw at the church for a weekly women’s Bible study. After faithfully attending the courses on Bible study methods and message preparation, Karina and Alicia—the pastor’s wife at La Yaguita—started a study with the women at church. They are now studying through the book of Philippians, and the group has grown from 6 to 25 (five of whom are not yet Christians)! Hearing Karina’s enthusiasm for teaching others what she has learned makes all of the time spent in lesson preparation for the courses seem like momentary light affliction. Whether we’re meeting with 50 students or spending time one-on-one, there’s a special joy we experience when someone’s eyes light up as he or she captures the truth being taught. Moffat, a young Haitian man attending university in Santiago, is another example of a quick learner. He’s one of the leaders of the Haitian worship service at the Los Girasoles church, just up the road from La Yaguita. Bob taught the leaders there the how-to’s of sermon preparation. Recently, Moffat preached on Daniel 1-3. As we listened, we were amazed at his insights about Daniel’s progressive faithfulness to God while living in a foreign culture, and the effects his faithfulness had on that society. Moffat’s applications for the Haitian congregation were outstanding. Lately, Bob has spent a lot of time individually with Moffat to encourage him. The other day Moffat asked him, “It’s obvious you and Judy love each other. What’s your secret?” As we minister together we’re glad we can teach by both word and example. Pray that our example will always match our words! Pray also for perseverance for us and for the students as we come into the home stretch of the Leadership Training Course. There are two courses left to teach.
We spilled out of church after the first worship service on Sunday and headed, as usual, for the shady park across the street. It’s where we greet each other and chat about the week. A small group of us stayed in the park longer than usual, waiting for the second service to end. We would soon pile into cars and drive to a church across town that has a small concrete pool for baptisms. Ten people were going to be baptized. Two of them, a young man and a teenage girl, sat beside us in the park, along with Lucila who was waiting to help out in children’s church. Since Bob would be helping with the “dunking”, he began to ask the young people why they wanted to be baptized. From there the conversation naturally turned to what God had been doing in their lives. Lucila’s face suddenly lit up as she excitedly shared, “My life has been turned around completely! During the past nine months when my husband was out of work, we prayed all the time. We learned that we could trust in God. We never lacked for anything!” The young man at her side smiled and began to tell us how God is changing his desires, and even his spending habits. He makes only a modest salary, but since putting his faith in Christ, and letting some of his old habits go, for the first time he has money left over at the end of the month. After the baptism, a large family group gathered for a photo. Three members of that family have come to Christ within the last year, and it looks like more are on the way! Seeing and hearing how God is working in people’s lives energizes us, and makes us appreciate all the more those of you who enable our ministry through your gifts and empower us through your prayers. The church is not only growing numerically as the believers encourage their friends and family to come, but there’s also a deepening desire on the part of many to study and know God’s Word. We recently asked the students in the Leadership Training Center to attend a conference at a nearby church instead of coming to class that Tuesday. A well-known theologian and Bible teacher from Spain would be teaching through the book of Matthew. Many of the students, along with a large contingent of others from church, eagerly decided to attend all three nights of the conference. All of this is so much in contrast to the increasing materialism and delinquency in the city of Santiago. We see a despondency and unrest in the hearts of those who don’t yet know Christ and His sufficiency. With increasing frequency, people are venting their frustrations by demonstrating in the streets. We recently drove through a neighborhood after a demonstration. The streets were marked by black smudges from burning tires; and we had to drive around rocks, trash and broken glass. Pray that we and the believers here will be bold to talk about the difference Christ is making in our lives. Recently, Bob has had the opportunity to hand out evangelistic tracts and talk to those who came to check out our church bazaar, to the guy who pumped gas into our car, and the guy who carried out our groceries. The contact is brief, but most people respond that they will read the tract. We’ve shared God’s truth with a young woman during weekly English classes, and over dinner with the two lawyers who helped us with the apartment. Pray for open doors to be able to share more, and for receptive hearts. We’d love to see them experience God’s peace in the present and His presence for all of eternity. Our current study of eschatology in our doctrine class reminds us that the Lord may come at any time. Pray that we make the most of the time at hand.