Sunday, August 28, 2005

Venezuela - Carnival Stories

At the end of each clinic/carnival we would take down the equipment, clean up and gather to dance to a fun song: "Bueno es Dios". The last post, I included a picture of a lady praying to recieve Christ. At the dance, she broke into a "bump and grind" while holding up her new Bible and praising God for her new life. This was a little alarming, but recalling the prostitute who kissed the feet of Christ, we were comforted by the realization that the discipling she would recieve through the local outreach would produce in her a more appropriate modesty. Nevertheless, her exceeding joy was surely acceptable. If not, our level of spiritual maturity, low by the standard of God's righteousness, would not be acceptable as we intend it to be.

On one occasion, we had hats to distribute to some of the adults. Some desired to have hats for each of their children and there were simply not enough. A couple of adults, a lady and a man, became aggressive toward Ed Yarbrough and Cindy Rice. I came into the area in order to provide a stabalizing presence and things were relatively calm. The man who had caused trouble at one point walked past me and nodded his head in, what to me appeared to be, concession. During this ordeal, a vendor of cups of homemade frozen fruit pushed his cart into the street where we were holding the clinic/carnival. Both of the former aggressors, one at a time, went to the vendor, obtained a fruit cup each and presented them one to Ed and the other to Cindy. Recognizeing them as peace offerings, Ed and Cindy desired to honor this by eating them. However, because the water there is not clean, they were hesitant to even take a bite. Nevertheless, in the interest of reconciliation, they took a few token bites and walked to the bus to discard the rest. Fortunately, they didn't get sick.

One of the clinics/carnivals was blessed with the presence of a beautiful pair of identical twins who had some sort of congenital handicap. One could walk, but was a little gimpy. The other required the use of a walker to ambulate. I'm told they went to the clinic, but there is nothing we could do for them. They enjoyed the carnival and were decorated with face paint, nail polish, bracelets, balloons, braids and hair clips. The most important gift came during the dance. Janine Bowman picked up the twin who needed the walker and danced with her.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Venezuela - Carnival

I have more pictures of the carnival than I know what to do with - and all of them good. What you see here barely scratches the surface. While it seems like a small thing to speak of..."We got to play with the kids"...the interaction we had with the people, young and old, in such a light setting was quite profound. I'll sum up some of the activities we had for the kids and relate a few of the stories.

For the carnival, the ITAM staff would set up a sound system for playing music and making announcements. The music was Contemporary Latin Gospel, and the Venezuelans like it loud. We would set up soccer goals for playing "futbol" and there was no shortage of youth who wanted to play. For younger kids, we had a choice of a baseball toss, US football toss, frisbee toss or soccerball kick. For these, we had simple metal frames across which painted canvasses with netted holes in the right places served as goals. The kids would line up and try to hit the goal for candy. (They liked the gum, but didn't chew it for long. They would spit it out onto the ground... I learned that gum melts and disappears completely if it's hot enough.)

There was also the face painting, nail polishing and hair braiding. The younger boys liked the face painting, but only the girls went for the hair and nail treatment. We also had fun with the balloons by forming animals, hats and Christian symbols. We handed out a few bandanas and hats. We would also form up some miscellaneous games. They weren't familiar with volleyball so we invented a hackeysack-like game with a volleyball (or was it a small soccer ball?) and tought them some of the basics. They were inventive and liked to add some soccer moves in conjunction with the volleyball moves.

There were some great personal items. Ed Yarbrough brough his puppet, Baggie D. Bear, and Brian Andrews brought his juggling balls. Also, a few of the youth that went with us dressed as clowns. In years past, we had stilts, but this year we didn't break them out.

The lady here is praying to accept Christ at the carnival, Saturday, July 2.

Next, I'll tell some carnival stories.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Venezuela - Medical Clinic

Weeks prior to leaving for Venezuela, we re-packaged thousands of dollars worth of pharmaceuticals. We carry all of our supplies in the suitcases we are allowed to check at the airport. Most drugs are packaged with more cotton and air than they need. Most drugs are packaged with more cotton, air and box material than they need. In order to stuff our suitcases with as many drugs as possible, the drugs must be re-packaged. This gives us the opportunity to presort them into common prescription amounts.

The clinic happens in conjunction with the morning carnivals. In a few hours several hundred people are seen by the medical staff. We take a physician, a nurse practitioner and a few other nurses and orderlies. There are a few Venezuelans brought in by either the church or ITAM who also compliment the staff.

Obviously, the clinic can't address every ailment, but the medical staff can at least offer advice and the Venezuelans who work with us may be able to connect people with local help. Another thing - our staff can also pray with and offer the hope of the gospel to people in need. One account from this week is that a Bible was given to one of the patients who mistook it for a prescription. The patient read much of it through the day and came back later to have the "prescription" explained. It's the hope of the gospel that heals the most wounds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Venezuela - more about the church.

I have to tell you about one of the families in the church. I don't know all the names and spellings, but I'll tell you what I do know.

It's a compliment in Venezuela for someone to come up to you and feel your belly and muscles. Fat and muscle are sign that you have food and can work hard. I knew this ahead of time. One of the ladies, named Esmerelda, especially liked to come up to me and feel my fat and muscle. She would do so, smile, and call me "papa". I figured she noticed my own kids and was merely complimenting me. She was complimenting me, but there was more. She has three kids of her own: Engel (a boy about 12), Estaban (a boy about 9), and Stephanie (a girl about 5). Her husband owns and operates a bus - I don't know his name. He drove one day for us when Levi was doing maintenance on his bus.

Anyway, Esmerelda and her husband have a difficult time keeping food on the table. I learned that her purpose was to have us take her youngest two kids to the US with us so they would have a better opportunity to grow and do well. Of course this wasn't possible.

I'll break down the photos for you: that's me in the top picture with Esmerelda and two each of our kids in the front. From right to left: Luke, Stephanie, Hope and Estaban. The second photo is Engel, their older brother. This last photo is myself, their father (Esmerelda's husband), Brian Souther and Jeff Gross.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Venezuela - Iglesia Bautista: Fuente de Agua Viva

Meanwhile, back in Venezuela...

We were priviledged to spend much time with the people of our host church. The greeted us warmly at the airport when we arrived and followed us as far as they could through security on our departure. The whole week they went with us. We would pick them up at the church in the morning, work with them in the carnival and the medical teams. We would go back to the church with them and eat lunch there. After a siesta in the afternoon, we would pick them up again at the church and go out for food distribution and evening services. Afterward, we would say, "buenos noches" and go with the ITAM staff to supper. Thursday, we spent the morning at the church helping with some maintenance issues while our construction team finished up some projects.

Sunday, of course, we had Sunday morning services and Sunday School with them and came back later for evening services. We got involved with many of the service activities.
Myself and Brian Souther both attempted solos in Spanish.
Ed Yarbrough preached. He used Baggy D. Bear to start out with. The funny part was when the translator tried to translate using Baggie's voice. Our dancers danced and their drama team put on shows. Their youth did intermpretive movments. We taught in the Sunday School classes. I taught the adult Sunday School class. Overall, it was a great time of worship.

As for the week with the church, we were really made to feel a part of the church and its mission.

The Value of Sacrifice

I'll take a break from detailing my notes from Venezuela for a post. There will be more ...

Cindy Sheehan has been protesting against the war. This has reached national media after the advent of her son's death in Iraq (she has been protesting for some time now). Her son volunteered for a duty that could place him in harm's way. He fell as part of an effort to secure, not simply Iraq, but the US. How does the fighting in Iraq secure the US? It has been drawing terrorists from around the world, focusing the heat of the war on terror to a location that is away from the US mainland where the US military can face the heat of the fire from the terrorists. This keeps US citizens safe in their homes and reduces the number of terrorists that can sneak into the US.

The particulars of military strategy and foreign policy aside, the sacrifice of Casey Sheehan is worth something. That value is the collective life of the people of the USA: not just that we live, but that we live free. It isn't quantifiable: it is priceless. Nevertheless, the value can be degraded if the effect is denied. Cindy is degrading the value of her son's death by denying that the US ought to be defended or that our action in Iraq has any impact on the defense of the US.

Liberal "Christians" like to invoke the "love of Christ" in endorsing the sin of the unrepentant. "Why can't we just LOVE the homosexuals or the abortionists or witches and satanists? If they want to be church leaders, we should welcome them with open arms." The word in the Bible used to talk about the "love" of Christ is "agape" (an English transliteration of a Greek word pronounced "ah-GAH-pee"). The word is rarely used in ancient Greek literature. Homer uses it to describe Odysseus' return to Ithaca and Plato used it abstractly. It has been suggested that the word originally referred to a sort of patriotism. It is clear in John 15 that Jesus used it to indicate sacrificial love in juxtaposition against the Greek word for "familial love" (phileo).

Just as Casey Sheehan gave the ultimate sacrifice in an act of patriotism, Christ gave His life as a sacrifice in an act of justification. Was this justification for the condoning of sin? That's not justification. Justification is the payment for sin because sin is worth something: death. And this is not just the death of an individual, but the death of every citizen of the Kingdom of God because the death of any citizen of the Kingdom of God means the separation of that citizen from the King. To condone sin is to say that sin is not worth death. This is to say that the death of Christ has no value.

Casey Sheehan didn't die in vain... neither did Christ. The difference is that Christ rose from the dead. For this reason we honor Casey (and all others who have willing gone in harms way for our nation) and grieve for his mother who doesn't recognize her son's worth. She protests with the freedom her son bought for her with his life.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


This post, I'll convey something of the spirit of the Venezuelan people.

It may be a misconception that these are uneducated people. Literacy, as defined as people who can read and write over the age of 15, is reported to be over 93%. That's not bad at all. I found the Venezuelans to have a good sense of the world around them. I noticed that even poor children under 15 were able to spell. They are resourceful and mechanically inclined.

To this end, they take care of their automobiles. They may not be able to find the proper parts, but they have a knack for taking a similar part from another brand of vehicle and rigging it to work. You might see a classic Ford body with a Chevrolet engine, a Dodge transmission, Toyota power steering, and a smattering of replacement parts obtained according to what was available at the time.

On the roads are vehicles that range from the very old to the very new. There are mostly American cars, but imports from Asia and Europe can be found. On the same roads one can occasionally see a donkey pulling a cart with the driver often perched on the tongue of the cart next to the donkey. (Don't ask me how this works - I'm only reporting what I saw.)

Speaking of roads - the traffic is astonishing. It appears to be some sort of agreed-upon chaos. They have traffic laws that are not enforced. As a result, there is an understanding how those laws are to be broken. I saw only one accident while I was there. This could be attributed to the fact that people drive with their horns - the louder the better. For example, when creating another lane in the middle of the road to pass a vehicle that is in one's way, a blast on the horn is a good idea. It lets people know where you are so they don't run into you.

We had two busses. Bus drivers typically own their own busses. Our bus driver was Levi (pronounced Leh'-vee, like the mounds that hold back the water in New Orleans). He is a devout Christian and loved to worship to the music he let the ITAM staff play on the sound system on his bus. In the middle of traffic he would raise his hands and praise God. This was disconcerting given the chaotic traffic in the city of Maracaibo.

What I learned most about the Venezuelans is that they are conscientious people. The place we went on Saturday was a poor rural area on the outskirts of Maracaibo. Throughout the neighborhood could be seen houses that look like they've been torn down and are sitting in empty lots. In actuality, they are new construction. The people have very little. Instead of saving money to build all at once, they will buy a few bricks at a time and set them in place as they have the means lest their brother borrow the money. Consequently, construction takes awhile. They will use whatever building materials they can find. They will raise seedlings from wild trees and plant them in their yards so they have shade from the hot sun. They know they have less than many others and are not always willing to allow photographs of their dwellings. It is regarded as respect to ask before photographing. Poloroids are a good thing to have since they may want a picture to keep.

to be continued...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Venezuela - Our Environment

Our Venezuela mission trip is organized under the auspices of ITAM. ITAM organizes strategic Christian missions around the world. In Maracaibo, Venezuela, they put together a team of youth and young adults from the United States and Venezuela to serve the teams that come from the US. They provide food, water, transportation, equipment, translators, promotions, guidance and encouragement. ITAM pairs each team from the states with a church through whom all ministry will take place.

The cuhrch we were paired with was the "Iglesia Bautista: Fuetne de Agua Viva" (Baptist Church: Fountain of Living Water). The pastor, Tito, planted the church several years ago and lives in a small house behind the church. The house is bare with a small stove, a non-functioning refrigerator, a couple of plastic chairs and a broken table. His bathroom is clean and his bedroom is private. He has very little income, but is quite generous with what he receives. He has planted another church in the vicinity of the city dump and has countless outreach churches around the dump and in oulying areas of Maracaibo. He is a tireless evengelist.

We were quartered at the Apart Hotel Presidente. Not bad. We only saw one small cockroach during the week we were there. We had a living area with two single beds, kitchen, bedroom with a single bed and a queen-size bed and bathroom. The water has e coli in it so we couldn't drink it. ITAM supplied us with all the bottled water we needed. The hotel served breakfast every day and there was a clean swimming pool that was safe and provided a place to cool off. Speaking of which...

It is HOT in Venezuela. I didn't ask what temperature it was. I only know that took only a few minutes to become soaked with sweat once outside the air conditioned hotel. On a side note, the dump was perhaps 10 degrees hotter. Between the methane and the rotting layers of garbage, the dump generates heat. We were encouraged to take a break and drink water every 45 minutes. It was no trouble to drink a liter of water during the morning carnival.

to be continued...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Venezuela: The Series

Tonight we had the "share service" for our Venezuela trip. For the next little bit (unless something comes up in the news I feel compelled to address) I'll run a series on our trip to Venezuela. I have plenty of photos, so I'll be sharing some of those.

To begin with, we left Charlotte, NC in two groups. No flight could be found to take us to Miami together although we were flying to Venezuela together. The first group left early on Friday, July 1, to go to Dallas and catch a connecting flight to Miami. The flight to Miami was delayed which would have stranded them in Dallas. A series of flights for the next day was possible to get them to Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the second group was arriving at the airport to catch the flight from Charlotte to Miami. Since the flights for the second group were on time, the second group could go on to Venezuela.

My family was among the second group. We arrived Friday night and decided that we would forego the construction activities for Saturday and that all of us would do the carnival. We had most of our medical team and supplies, so we could do medical as well.

Saturday morning we went to a rural area. The medical team saw 400 people and the kids were great to play with - very well-behaved and cooperative. That evening we came back to the same area to have a program with some drama, dancing and music, and presented the gospel. During the program, a commercial passenger jet flew directly overhead in approach to the airport. This was the rest of our team who had finally made it to Venezuela.

more to come...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Judge Roberts' Kids

Setting aside his work in the background of the gay rights case (which is disconcerting), He has consistently preached the limitations of the judicial branch.

Judge Roberts has a couple of kids he has adopted out of Latin America. The liberals are making hay out of the fact that they have a lighter complexion than most Hispanics. The attempt is to imply that Roberts is prejudiced enough to not want darker-skinned kids. What does it matter? While some animosity exists between Hispanics of different origins in some areas of Latin America, for the most part Hispanics are a hodge-podge of different ethnicities. This to the point where they have become their own ethnicity.

The same liberals who claim enlightenment with respect to different "races" of people as well as staunchly hold to evolution as though it were a religious doctrine - these same liberals lack the ability to understand two things:

First is that need is no respecter of persons. The needs of these kids that the Roberts met when they adopted them were irrespective of their skin color. The natural conclusion of the libs' criticism is that the darker skinned kids should be adopted first. Who is being racist? The libs or Roberts?

Second is that the greatest genetic variation between races is no more than .02%. That's right, not 2%, but point-zero-two percent. That's not much. Racism? There's only one race: the human race. This little matter of how much melanin one has in one's skin is so minor that we are fools to make any beans about it. The fact is, with a mixture of European, Indian and African genes, any Hispanic couple capable of producing children can have a very dark baby or very light baby - although the greatest chance is that their offspring will be medium-brown.

They're beautiful people - no matter how much melanin they have.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

What About the Economy?

Have you noticed that almost no one in the news is talking about the economy? We've heard about CAFTA - or have you? It's the Cetral America Free Trade Agreement - the functional equivalent of NAFTA. It's on the table and will likely go through without much political hay being made about it. Why?

Simple answer: the economy is doing well right now despite high fuel prices. George Bush's opponents don't want to draw attentionto the fact that the tax cuts are paying off in spades. The Republicans are spending on pork like they're Democrats because revenues have increased while taxes have decreased. The conservative commentators have only briefly mentioned that the economy is doing well because they are still new at the media game and are still reactionary to the bad spin put out by the liberal media. They haven't learned to take the initiative and report the news that liberals aren't.

I'll take this moment to mention the benefits of CAFTA. Like the notion of lowering taxes in order to increase revenues, it's almost counterintuitive to think that helping the economies of our neigbors will help our own economy. Think about it: if I want to produce wealth, I need someone who values my product with whom to trade. The more people who value my product, the more wealth I can create. Agriculture, textiles and construction (food, clothing and housing - the necessities) only take you so far. To go beyond these industries, you must raise the standard of living. To raise the standard of living, you must improve the economy for all classes of people. In order to produce even more wealth, I need more people with whom to trade: and expanded customer base. International trade had been desirable since the beginning. It was one of the primary issues that led up to the war between the states. In order to trade internationally, it behooves us to strengthen the economies of lesser nations

I call this concept "Big Tent" economics. each economy is like a tent pole in a big tent. The poles closest to each other are the ones that trade with each other. If all the surrounding poles are bigger than yours, you can increase your pole easily to reach the top of the tent as the surrounding poles bear the weight of it. You have the tallest pole, you bear the greatest weight. In order to increase the size of your pole, you need to increase the size of the poles around you. As they strengthen and assume more of the burden, you can increase the size of your own pole. The US has one of the biggest poles (strongest economies) around. In order to keep it strong under the weight of international trade, we need to increase the poles (strengthen the economies) of the nations we trade with.To help bear the burdern of a "Big Tent" it helps to have all the poles fairly strong and to have as many poles as we can fit under the tent. Therefore, it's a good thing to improve the economies of Central American countries.

There's a further benefit. As we improve trade with them, we will have the leverage to encourage them to clean up the corruption that imports illegal aliens, drugs and terrorists into the US. That's seems like a good thing to me.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Natalie Holloway and Common Sense

We've been hearing and seeing every little detail about Natalie Holloway's disappearance in Aruba and her likely demise. We don't hear about every little disappearance that takes place in New York City. So why are we hearing about Natalie Holloway? Is it because her parents failed to teach her who not to associate with for her own safety? Why, that's arrogant isn't it? Certainly "stranger danger" is good for preschoolers to learn, but a freshly graduated high-schooler? Actually, we are hearing about Natalie Holloway because of the movie-like dramatic flavor of the story. People in New York, or anywhere else in the US, who turn up missing are just not in the right location for a US national media blitz guaranteed to keep people at the edge of their sofas keenly tuned into the 24-hour news networks. People turn up missing all the time in one location or another because they hung out with the wrong crowd.

But it is because she lacked the discernment to stay away from bad people that keeps us glued to the news. "That could be my daughter," parents who grew up in the sexual revolution may say. "That could be my friend," a teenager who grew up in the postmodern US may say. How do we stay in safe company while not appearing to be arrogant or prejudiced? We may not be able to. We may have to tolerate the beratement of the politically correct who are prejudiced against even the appearance of prejudice according to their own perceptions.

Who knows the purposes for her choice of people with whom to keep company? I doubt it was to share the gospel so they may be miraculously transformed. Likely she had a very self-centered reason. So you can't chalk it up to a good missionary spirit. My point is to ask, when are we as a society going to get off the edge of the couch, turn off the TV and teach our kids some common sense and give them moral direction?

Monday, August 01, 2005

From Venezuela

This was perhaps my fondest memory of our recent trip to Venezuela. A group of us went up on the dump where desparate people sort through the garbage that comes from Maracaibo. Our team has ministered there in recent years. As we hiked across the trash to where the people were sifting through the garbage, we were met by a woman and her 9-year-old daughter who lived there. Their faces radiated great joy and the woman continually praised God for all He does for her and they hugged each one of us dearly. As the girl hugged me, one of our team members took this photo.

This is a direct result of the work we do. While we take food and medicine to these people, it only lasts a short time. But we also give them hope. Hope not for this world, but for the next. They may live in a dump, but so do we. It's just arranged a little differently and smells a little better. The end result is that we all die. But God has promised that for those He calls to trust that He has paid the price for our sin - one that we can't pay ourselves and live - a price bore by God Himself in the person of His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ - that He would grant us eternal life with Him in His kingdom. I see on this dump people who are, by my standards, dirty on the outside but who have been cleansed on the inside. I can walk through the mall and see people who, by my standards, are clean on the the outside and filthy on the inside. On the dump at Maracaibo, the harvest is ripe. Here, the fields seem overgorwn with weeds.