Monday, December 15, 2008

A Special Dedication...

This post is a special dedication to a wonderful woman that God allowed me to know and love up until she departed from this Earth exactly one year ago. Margaret Havanac was born on October 4, 1913 as one of 10 children. She grew up, married (Jack Miceli), and had 5 children- 1 boy and 4 girls. She had 12 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. She lived by herself in her own apartment until she was 91 years young. She then lived with her middle child until December 15, 2007. She is loved and greatly missed.

Besides being with her family, things that she loved included:
  • Christmas
  • Going out (ANYWHERE!)
  • Anything musical or that lit up with lights
  • Shirley Temple movies
  • Baking/cooking (Caramel Corn, Lamb Cakes, Kolachky, Eggie Soup, Coconut Bars, Italian Cookies, Pizzelles, and more!)
  • Easter trees
  • Coffee with Italian Toast or S cookies
  • And so many more things that it would be impossible to list!

I love you Gramma!!!!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Experiencing More Culture

Yes, I have even more to experience here in Venezuela. This is my first Christmas in Venezuela- and I have already begun experiencing what Christmas is like in this part of the world.

Last night, I attending a Christmas dinner for ministry leaders at the church. The dinner started at "7:00pm". Notice I put the time in quotes- that is because it said it started at 7:00 but it really didn't- not here. Allow me to explain with example.

I was at home, ready to go to the church, at around 6:30pm. I started calling for a taxi, but there weren't any available. I then called for almost 2 hours to try to get a taxi- but there weren't any. This is not a new experience for me, as this happens almost daily- but not usually for this long. At around 8:15 or 8:30, I gave up trying and figured I wasn't going. I spoke with my friend Elizabeth, who also wanted to go (she has a car :-) ). We were not sure if it was worth going so late. We decided to go anyway and arrived at around 9:30pm. When we got there, they were just about to start serving the food. The event lasted until midnight.

Now, If this was in the USA, I know how it would have gone. People would have arrived no later than 7pm. Dinner would have been served between 7:15 and 7:30, and it would have been over by 9:30. But this is Venezuela, and from what I am finding out, this is typical of social events, parties, and dinners.

The entire event was "Christmas" here. The food was the typical Christmas meal in Venezuela- as unique to them as Thanksgiving dinner is to Americans. The main food for Christmas is called hallaca. It is made with a type of corn flour dough that is made like a hot pocket stuffed with meat, chicken, garbanzo beans, raisins, chopped peppers, and potatoes. It is then wrapped in a plantain leaf, tied up, and boiled. This was my first time trying it- and it is quite good. Also served was a chicken cole slaw salad and bread stuffed with ham, olives, and raisins. They also served 4 different types of desserts- typical desserts for Christmas.

The music being played was also "Christmas". They had the band playing Gaitas- which is a type of music that is from this area in Venezuela and is traditionally played at Christmas time.

When I looked at my plate of food- most of it new to me- and listened to the music being played- my mind kept thinking (in song format), "So, this is Christmas....". To me, this isn't Christmas. It doesn't look like any Christmas I have ever had. It doesn't sound like any Christmas I've ever had. It doesn't taste like any Christmas I've ever had. But this is Christmas. This is what Christmas looks like, sounds like, and tastes like to the people with whom God has placed me, and so, this is Christmas.

After the music, they had a time to present to the group who were the workers of the year for each ministry. When they started the presentations, they announced that the Coordinator of each ministry would be coming up to say a few words about the ministry and the person chosen in their ministry. Of course, this meant that my co-coordinator and I would have to go up and speak. She does not like to speak in front of large groups, and I don't like speaking in Spanish over the microphone in front of everyone- especially with no notice like that. We immediately looked at each other and she finally agreed to do the speaking for us. However, when we were walking up to the stage, it was announced that I would be speaking. It's not that I can't speak in Spanish- because I can- but I get nervous that I will mess up and not be able to be understood. I was told that I did fine and they understood what I said. The more I do these type of presentations in Spanish in front of the church, the more comfortable I am getting. I will look back at this in the time to come and laugh, I'm sure. But for now, all I can do is trust God to give me the language skills I need on a daily basis.

The church set up for dinner

Children's Ministry team

Missions and Evangelism teams

Gaita Band

Train dancing around the church to Gaita music

Experiencing culture

This week, I was invited by my friend Diana to go to the theater and watch a play. This was a local play written by someone who works with the theater. It was also my first play in Spanish. I was excited to go and wondered how much of it I would understand.

We had tickets for the second showing, which started at "9:00pm". At a little after 9, we could see through the cracks in doors that the people from the first showing were just leaving. So, we waited. At about 9:25 or so, in a different part of the lobby, we heard some loud drums and chanting. Of course, this drew everyone's attention. The group playing the music were actually the actors for the play- it began outside of the auditorium! The actors lead the way for the audience outside- out of the teater- and around the building to the back cargo loading door and everyone entered through the back. We then sat on chairs actually on the auditorium stage with the actors staging area in the middle and chairs on each side.

The stage itself was plain- no real decorations or backgrounds. There was one table in the middle of the stage that was used in various forms- as a table, as a house, as a ladder (turned on its side), etc. The actors had some basic costumes that they changed during the play.

As far as the play itself, I really did not understand much. Try as I did, I really couldn't follow what was happening. However, Diana (Venezuelan) did not understand it either. That made me feel better.

With all I have seen over the past 11 months in Venezuela, I am still finding new things to experience- new aspects of this wonderful country.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sign Language Update

I thought I would give you an update and a sneak peak at my Sign Languages classes that I have been taking for the past month or two.

I have learned quite a few words in Spanish sign and am able to put sentences together. I am also able to understand the instructors some when they start signing. The hard part is remembering to think through these signs in Spanish to keep them separated from the signs I know in English. Many people in the class have children who are deaf and have more practice opportunities, and are thus much better than Joselin and I. However, we are learning quickly.

There is just one more class next week before they stop for Christmas. Classes will resume again in January.

It has been suggested and the idea is being explored about offering a Sign Language class at the church to teach people how to evangelize in Sign. People will be able to share the Gospel message to Deaf people in the city and then invite them to church (since Filadelfia has a sign language interpreter at one of their services). This would be an excellent ministry to begin at the church and I hope to become a part of it.

Here is a brief video so you can see what my class at the Deaf Institute is like:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tercer Cielo

Have you ever had a time when you felt like you needed to do something- something that you don't normally do and that feels really strange- and you have no idea why you need to do it, but you know you just do? Well, that happened to me this week at the conference.

As you may know, I am actually a shy person (although I am less shy now than I was before God called me into missions). So, when I had this pressing feeling that I needed to go talk to someone I've never met before, although a very strange feeling, all I could think was that it was coming from God. Allow me to explain...

At the conference this week, there was a music group couple who sang and gave testimony. Their group is called "Tercer Cielo". I had never heard of them before, but from what I understand, they have a few CDs out and are starting to become popular. From the first time they came on stage to sing and talk, a thought immediately popped into my head. "I need to talk to them." Why would I need to go talk to the singers in this music group that I have never heard of before?? This was really a strange thought for me and I pushed it out of my mind. However, every time they came on stage, the thought came back into my mind- stronger than it had the first time. I had no idea why I was supposed to talk to them or what I needed to say to them, but I know that I was supposed to.

Finally, at their last appearance on Wednesday night, this feeling was so strong- I knew that I need to talk to them about their ministry and pray with them. I decided to go backstage and talk to them. I knew this was from God. It had to be.

I went backstage and was able to talk to them. I asked them about their ministry. Their songs are all Christian, but with a Reggae beat and at times a bit of rock. They are becoming popular and the secular radio stations have started playing their music. They are expecting a baby girl in February and are excited about having a child. They asked me about my ministry in Venezuela and I explained to them what I have been doing here. I then prayed with them. I prayed for their ministry, for their new daughter, and for safe travel as they left the next morning for a concert in the United States.

After I prayed with them, I said goodbye and left. I do not know why God wanted me to go talk with them. I may never know. What I do know is that if God tells me to do something, I better do it- and I am glad I did.

We declare that the Kingdom of God is here!

This week, I attended a city-wide conference/ training/ revival/ concert that was sponsored by Filadelfia Church. The theme of the conference was "Extendiendo el Reino de Dios" or "Extending the Kingdom of God". The opening video showed pictures with a song (in English) saying "We declare that the Kingdom of God is here!"

All churches in the city were invited to attend this "Congreso" which was being held at the Palacio de Eventos (the concert hall in the city). The days were split up into 2 separate sessions.The morning sessions were 4 hours long (or longer) and designed for church and ministry leaders and were more training oriented, with preachers and worship music. The evening sessions (2 hours or longer) were open to anyone wishing to attend (no charge) and included worship/concert and preaching. I am including some video so you can get an idea of what it was like.

This first video was from a concert portion of the conference. The type of music being played is called Gaita. This type of music has its origin here in Maracaibo. While Gaitas are typically Christmas music in Venezuela, they are played year-round in Maracaibo.

This next video is a music group called "Generación". They are a local Christian rock band that performed a few times during the conference.

This video was part of the last sermon, held on the last evening. The morning sermons were teaching sermons for pastors and church leaders. The evening sermons were "revival" style sermons for the general population. All 3 pastors who spoke were from Puerto Rico but are living in Florida, so they all knew English (and tossed in a few English words every now and then). I am surprised that I could actually understand most of what was being said during each of the messages, including one sermon where I understood the entire message!

When I first heard about this conference, I did not want to go. I knew that I was going to have a lot of work to do this week and I really didn't want to spend my whole day at this conference and definitely not for 3 days in a row (and yes, this was a whole day event- especially with traveling back and forth through rush hour traffic). However, God was working on my heart. He spoke to me in ways I really would not have thought (more about that in another blog entry) and He changed my attitude. I am very glad that I went and I hope that the church has another Congreso soon.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Double turkey, double blessings

This past week was a week to give thanks- Thanksgiving! I was blessed to have 2 Thanksgivings this year. The first one was on Thanksgiving day. I was blessed to be able to spend the day with the missionaries from Campus Crusade for Christ here in Maracaibo and all over Venezuela. It was nice meeting other missionaries and hearing about their ministry as well as sharing about mine.
Making hand turkeys and writing what we are thankful for on the feathers.

Posting our turkeys up on the wall

Two turkeys required to feed the 40 missionaries and guests.

The second Thanksgiving dinner I cooked myself. For this dinner, I invited several of my Venezuelan family over. Unfortunately, due to my small apartment, I was not able to invite everyone. There were 6 of us- and I still had to borrow a small table and a few chairs to accomodate us. Earlier this week, Samuel and Michelle had taken me shopping to try to find "American" products or equivalents so I could make the traditional foods. Turkeys here are hard to find and very expensive. The other hard items included sour cream, sweet potatoes, and corn meal for cornbread.

A Happy Turkey!

I spent most of the day today in the kitchen, cooking the feast while listening to Christmas music. (I've been having trouble getting into the Christmas season- which began a few weeks ago here. It doesn't feel like Christmas- it still feels like summer!) Today, I discovered that I do not like my oven. Besides the fact that there is no temperature gauge on it, just MAX and MIN, it is too small- turkey barely fit, and the rack is too small and actually fell twice, knocking the turkey to its side.

A no-so-happy turkey

My friends were supposed to arrive at 5:00pm. Diana arrived at 5... the others didn't arrive until almost 7pm. Diana helped me with final preparations, asking me a ton of questions about everything and having a few taste tests. It was her first Thanksgiving dinner and she wanted to know all about it. I explained to her the history of Thanksgiving and what a typical Thanksgiving day looks like. Its fun to see someone experience Thanksgiving for the first time.

By the time everyone else arrived, everything was ready. I explained to them a little about the idea behind Thanksgiving- how it was a feast dedicated to giving thanks to God for the bountiful harvest and blessings that He had given to the Pilgrims and how they wanted to share this feast with the natives who taught them how to live in their new land. I told them that this is what I was doing as well- Having a time to give thanks to God for the successes and blessings that He has given me this year and sharing this with the natives that helped me learn how to live in this new land. After prayer, we ate- Thanksgiving style- stuffing ourselves until we were as full as the turkey was before we ate it!

Time to eat.

Happy people eating a happy turkey

Guita's first Thanksgiving dinner- she likes turkey!

Everything turned out well- even with having to use Venezuelan substitutes for ingredients in my American recipes. The guys helped with the clean up and we spent the rest of the evening chatting and having fun.

They offered to help- I couldn't deter them.

While I was blessed to have 2 Thanksgivings, I know I am even more blessed by what God has given me and has done for me throughout this year- in both countries. I have been doubly blessed with two countries, two cultures, two languages, two churches, two homes and family and friends in each location who love me and support me while I serve God. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Election Day

No, I am not living in the past. Today is Election Day. However, this time it is the citizens of Venezuela who are voting. They are not voting for President- but they are voting for state governors and city mayors.

While these are regional elections, this is a major election. The appearance of the country's government could change as a result of this election. The choice here is not for Republican or Democrat, but similarly for opposing parties based on their allignment with President Chávez.

Once a person votes, their pinky finger is dyed purple- identifying that they have, in fact voted. This way, there is no way a person can vote more than once. The dye remains on their fingers for several days before fading. This is the Venezuelan "version" of the "I voted today" stickers that are passed out at elections in the USA. There is some pride in having a purple finger here- showing others that they did indeed vote. The results of this election should be announced by late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

I have been praying for this election- not for a specific person to win, but that God's Will will be accomplished here in Maracaibo and all over Venezuela.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pick up a book or two...

I've recently been asked what I like to do in my spare time. This question stumped me, as I had to think of the answer (You would think I would know this). After thinking about it, I realized that I like to read. I went on to explain to this person that I like to read Christian Fiction novels.

I have had to explain the concept of Christian Fiction books to many people here. This is an unheard of concept here. If you go into a Christian bookstore in Maracaibo, you will find books on Christian living, discipleship, etc, but you will not find Christian Fiction. This is sad because it robs people from the pleasure of reading fiction from a Christian prospective.

When I was growing up, I hated to read. I think I can count the books I read cover to cover in high school on one hand. This continued through my first few years of college. My turning point was when someone gave me a book- a fiction book about the Rapture and the End Times- called "Left Behind". I became completely absorbed in this book. I had never read anything like it before. I was excited when I found out that it was an entire series of books. I read the second book in the series, "Tribulation Force", in 2 days- fastest I had ever read a book. I have loved reading Christian Fiction books ever since.

I brought several books with me from the United States and have been reading each evening before going to sleep. I am currently reading a book by one of my favorite authors Ted Dekker called "The Circle Trilogy". This book is actually 3 books in one ("Black", "Red", & "White"). I only have less than 200 pages left (out of the 1184 pages in the book) to read.

I have also started to read a book I bought while in Ecuador- a Christian biography of a missionary, Nate Saint, who was killed in the jungles of Ecuador. The major difference with this book, besides being non-fiction, is that it is in Spanish. This is a little more difficult for me to read, since I have to refer to my dictionary for various vocabulary words that I am unfamiliar with. However, I enjoy the experience of reading in my second language.

I am also reading Una Vida con Propósito (The Purpose Driven Life) in Spanish. I have only read a few "chapters" of the book, but have also enjoyed reading this book- in Spanish.

Some of my favorite authors are Ted Dekker, Jerry Jenkins, and Frank Peretti. But my all-time favorite author is the one who wrote THE BOOK. Nothing compares to the Book that is living, active, sharper than a double-edged sword, penetrating to divide the soul and spirit, joints and marrow, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart! (Hebrews 4:12)

If you have any suggested readings, leave a comment or two about them. This week, try picking up a book or THE BOOK and reading a chapter or two. You may find a whole new world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The power of making decisions

Last night, I attended a Bible study with my host mom and some women from her church. When we arrived at the home of the women hosting the study this week, she led us to the kitchen where she had tea, crackers, bread, cake, and cookies waiting for us. After enjoying the refreshments, they realized that all of the women, except one, forgot their Bible study book that they are using, so they decided to do something different.

They decided to watch a dvd sermon by Marcos Witt (a Latin American singer and preacher of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas) called The Power of making decisions. In this sermon, he talked about how the decisions people make can affect thousands or millions of people. He used examples from the Bible. If Noah would have decided not to listen to God when He told him to build the ark, none of us would be here now. He used other examples like Ruth, David, even Jesus. He even used a few examples from his own life.

It made me think about the decisions I have made in my life; decisions to serve God on various mission trips in the past and ultimately to serve Him full time in Venezuela. How have my decisions affected the people around me? I know they have affected people, but I may not know to what extent until I get to Heaven. Until then, I pray that God will give me wisdom when making decision.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Various pics from the past few days...

This was the first of 3 churches I attended on Sunday. This church has about 150-200 people is currently meets in the basement of an office building.

This was the third of the 3 churches I attended (no pics of the second). This one had about 10 people and they met in the upper floor of a concrete house in a poor barrio. They had no instruments, but were still able to praise the Lord.

We went to part of the downtown area of Quito. Under the Basilica (very large, old Catholic church), are the Catacombs. They go on for several city blocks in various tunnels with a Chapel at the end of one of the tunnels for a funeral service. On the side walls of each tunnel and on the walls of the chapel are the headstones for those buried under the city- thousands of people.

We took the cable car up the mountain to see the RuccuPichincha Volcano. While I could not get too close to the volcano, I was up more than 13,450 feet in elevation! You could see the entire city of Quito. Near the top of the mountain is a Catholic Church. There are no houses up there, so I am not sure who actually attends this church.