Thursday, December 27, 2007

God sent Moses to open the Caribbean Sea

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Friday, December 21st
We went with the missionaries this morning to carry their bags to the airstrip. They did a great job sharing God's love with the Kuna and with us!! God gave us an opportunity just before they left to share our testimony with the teens...we constantly pray that God will use how He brought us together to encourage teenagers to wait on God's perfect timing!!

On our way back to Pastor Aris's house, Chris and I decided to check the docks (as we had done MANY times before) just to see if God opened any doors. The very moment we sat down on the bench, a sailor stepped off of one of the Colombian coconut boats to talk to us!! As we shared why we were on the island and what we were doing, another sailor came to listen. We were getting ready to go when the first sailor said, "I'll talk to my boss, but I'm sure that y'all could travel with us from island to island until we reached the last island." We couldn't believe it! Praise God!! Before we turned to leave, we asked the sailor's name. He told us, "Moises (Spanish for Moses), here to serve you." WHAT?! We had to smile...all the way back to Pastor Aris's house. God sent Moses to open the Caribbean Sea for us!! The only hard part now was saying goodbye to Playón Chico...the people here have stolen our hearts!

(Let me explain to you about the Colombian coconut boats...They come from Colombia selling merchandise (household products, clothes, and items in bulk for stores on the islands to sell) to the Kuna. If people have money to pay for the merchandise, they pay right then. If they don't, the Colombians give them credit. When the boat reaches the last island, they turn around. Heading back towards Colombia, they stop again at each island. This time to collect for the merchandise that they left on credit...the Kuna can pay using money or coconuts. During this time of year, coconuts are worth $0.15-$0.17 each. When coconuts are in abundance, they are worth about $0.10 each. If people don't owe anything, but they want to make money, they can sell coconuts to the Colombians as well. Nuevo Tauro, the boat we would be traveling on, can carry 60,000-80,000 coconuts.)

After breakfast, we had another long talk with Pastor Aris and Hna Tita. He shared with us a concept that Chris and I had been rolling around in our heads, but we weren't really sure how to express it yet to others. (Talk about confirmation from God!!) In short-term missions, there are two types--volunteer and development. Volunteer is what most of us are pretty familiar with...a group of people from outside of a community come into a community to bring a service. The service could be medical clinics, revivals, vacation Bible schools, building houses/churches, etc. Development is different because a couple or a group comes in and trains the church leaders of the community how to do something. It could be classroom management for Sunday school teachers, discipleship training, how to perform as a mime, etc. Then the church leaders put what they've learned into practice and they may even go to other communities to share what they've learned so that other communities can benefit as well. Both are necessary! However, the development is being done VERY rarely...something to think about!!

It was time to clean up...we went back to the church and got things in order for the service that night. Then Chris and I decided to walk around the island to visit with friends and to say some goodbyes. We spent quite a bit of time with Cariel and Arisnelda. Throughout the course of the day we met the boat's captain, Yesquin, and the boss/accountant, Ronald.

In the afternoon, Chris and I also spent some time preparing for the evening service. We wanted to make it clear that God had opened the door for us to go on this boat. He had was nothing that we had done and not because we are special. The Holy Spirit really made that clear tonight as we spoke. We shed quite a few tears as we said goodbye tonight!! The teens stayed as usually until the lights out last night of sharing for a while!!

Saturday, December 22nd
Time to travel...we woke up early and packed our bags. Pastor Aris and family as well as several of the church people walked with us to the dock. We loaded our packs on Nuevo Tauro, our new "home" and promptly learned one of the first rules of traveling by boat--we are at the mercy of the weather! It started raining so we had to wait until it cleared up. When we could finally leave, Enider, the pilot, had to navigate around large trees and all sorts of debris that was floating out into the sea from the mouth of the river. Plus, he had to keep an eye out for the coral reef. Any of these hazards would slice open the hull of the wooden boat if we collided with them. Thankfully, we made it safely the short distance to the next island, Tupile, without problems. Praise God!! I was also extremely thankful because I didn't get seasick today!!

When we got to Tupile, we had to show our passports to the police. At first, it scared me because I thought we were in trouble, but it's just routine recording of foreigners. Chris walked around with Capitan (what we call Capt. Yesquin) to help collect. I stayed and talked with people on the docks. Before we knew it, we ended up at Pastor Leandro's house. He's the pastor at the Baptist church on the island...apparently Pastor Aris and Hna Tita called ahead. They were expecting us. We spent the rest of the morning with the pastor and his family. While we were with him, we learned that the health department was using the church building right now. Their building fell down, and while the government is building the new health department, Pastor Leandro offered their church. So right now they meet at the pastor's house! What a great way to share Christ's love to the community of Tupile! He invited us to share with the teens that night...of course, we were excited about the opportunity.

This afternoon, we hung out at the boat and learned a little about the process of how they take in coconuts. We also were able to get to know some of the other guys from the boat. Eiris is the machinist. (He operates the engine and repairs it if there are any problems.) Nando is his assistant. Lewis is the cook, but he's also extremely knowledgeable about the coral reefs and the islands, so he can pilot the boat if Enider needs help. Cesar and Moises are sailors. (They help when we are pulling into or leaving the docks.) They are a great group of guys! We are really looking forward to getting to know them a little more!

Tonight we met with the youth at Pastor Leandro's house. After we shared testimony, they had a ton of questions. The conversation even turned to relationships!! So Chris and I were able to talk to them straight from the Bible about waiting until they were married to have sex and about only dating people who are Christians!! Praise God!

One of the ladies from the church, Mario Elena invited us to stay at her house that night. We hadn't really decided whether we would sleep on the boat or on the island, so we decided to accept her offer. Her husband, Javier, is not a Christian...his beliefs are really mixed up...some Christian ideas and a lot of faith in his culture and the Kuna prophet, Ige Orgun. He shared a lot about the Kuna system of beliefs with us. Yikes...there are kernels of truth, but it has been very twisted by the devil!!

Sunday, December 23rd
When we got to church this morning, Pastor Leandro asked us to share a Christmas lesson with the children at Sunday school. We prayed and asked God to guide us. Then we sang with the kids and shared about Simeon and Anna, and why they were so excited about Jesus’ birth. Several of the children prayed to accept Jesus’ gift to us--salvation! After church, Santa Claus came to visit the children. Tomorrow he's going to give out candy to all of the kids on the island! It's another way this church is trying to reach out to the community.

The guys on the boat told us that we might possibly leave this afternoon, so we said our goodbyes and went to hang out on the boat. While Lewis was cutting up the yuca (a root that tastes similar to a potato) for the soup, he sliced his finger open. I helped take him to the health department...thankfully he didn't need stitches, but he did need a tetanus shot!! I got instructions from the nurse about cleaning the wound and covering it each I'll be taking care of him a little bit!! It looks like the 1st aid kit is going to finally come in handy! We talked some as we went back and forth to the health department, and I learned that Lewis and his wife have just recently begun attending a discipleship class at home. He wants to know more about following Jesus. Praise God!! Chris and I are hoping to talk to him some more!

The guys hadn't finished collecting yet today, so we will be here until tomorrow. Chris and I got ready and went back to church. Pastor Leandro asked us to speak about Christmas again tonight, so we shared about the choice we Zechariah and serve God and to be obedient to His plan.

Monday, December 24th
We stayed again last night with the sister from church, but we've decided from now on that we will stay on the boat. The boat is home for the 8 guys who are working on it until they get back to Colombia. We don't want to reject their hospitality either. They are going to let us borrow 2 hammocks and we'll string them up at night and be rocked to sleep by the ocean!

So we said goodbye again and headed back to the boat this morning. We hung out with them and helped collect coconuts until it was time to move on to the next island. It was pretty smooth today, according to the guys, for this time of year, but it was a 2 hour trip to Ailigandi (island #4 for us). I didn't make it. I was sick the last 30 minutes. Yikes! Thank God for strength! I was wearing the last of my "clean" clothes, so when we got to Ailigandi and my stomach settled a little bit, Chris and I washed clothes.

The guys have really started looking after us...Chris scraped his knee up when he was playing soccer after the baptisms. It hasn't gotten better at all...I don't know what the difference is here, but sores get infected and have a hard time healing. It's not normal at all for Chris to have an open, oozing sore. God has made his body in such a way that it heals quickly. Well, while we were washing clothes, Ronald made Chris an appointment at the health department get his knee taken care of!

Tonight we hung out with the guys from the boat...especially Eiris. He told us about his son who is playing baseball in a training school of the Astros in Cartagena, Colombia. He also shared that his wife is a Christian, and that he goes to church with her every now and then...especially on New Year's Eve. He's hoping that they will be home by then, but he's not sure if it will happen or not. Another possible open door...

Tuesday, December 25th--Merry Christmas!! is different from any other Christmas we have experienced! There is no tone on the 2 phones that are on the island (2 phones for several thousand people!), so we can't talk to our families today. Plus, it's hot here. When Christmas comes, you are supposed to be able to at least talk to your family if you can't be right there with them, and it's supposed to be cold! How big is God though? He put us with a group of men who understood what it felt like not to be with their families on such a special day!! Praise God!

We decided that we would share a little of how we celebrate Christmas in the USA with the guys. We went out looking for "stockings." People don't wear socks on these islands, so it was a miracle that we found 4 pair! We bought candy and then went to hide where the guys couldn't see us working. We made salvation bracelets and put them in with the paper explaining how to be saved. Chris stuffed the stockings while I decorated and wrote them each a note on the back of some little Bible verse cards! Then we waited for a time when they were all together and gave them each a stocking with their name on it!! Eiris really likes socks, so after each person opened theirs, he took their sock!! We had to smile. We are praying for a time later today to share the Christmas story from Luke 2 with them.

Nando wanted us to meet his friend Manases who lives on the island and is a Christian, so we went to Manases's house. It turns out that he's a leader at the Baptist Church here on Ailigandi!! Too funny, we haven't gone looking for these churches, God keeps sending us to them though! Lonnie's parents founded the first church on this island, so there is a rich Christian heritage here! The people of this island are so open to Christianity that they allow the pastor to come to congress every Wednesday to preach and to have a church service! This is extremely unusual...we haven't and won't see that on any other island.

This afternoon we walked around the island, and we ran into two teachers from New York! As we were talking to them, they started sharing about a man who helped them at the airport on their way from Panama City to the islands. We the way they were describing him, it had to be Lonnie. We couldn't believe how God had worked it out. When we asked the ladies if it was Lonnie Iglesias, they almost passed out from shock! We were a little sad that we wouldn't get to see Lonnie again, but we were happy to hear that he was doing well. He had hoped to bring candy to the kids on Achutupu and Mamitupu (the next 2 islands that we would stop at), but we weren't sure if all of the details would work out or not. Obviously they did! Praise God!!

We were on our way to church tonight, and we realized that all the guys were together on the boat. We decided to be late for church and take time to share the Christmas story if they guys were willing. They were!! So I read from Luke 2, and Chris shared about God's plan for Jesus and for them. Then we prayed for them and their families. We knew it wasn't time to go any further...just time to plant seeds. We are praying for an opportunity near the end of our time with them to share more specifically about God's plan for their salvation.

When we got to church, the doors were still shut! We weren't late after all!! God's timing is perfect! Apparently the power on the island still hadn't come on, so they couldn't have church. We ended up talking to Manases and his wife, Yolanda for quite some time. They both have such sweet spirits about them. God is teaching them about being surrendered to His plan and serving Him. So while their kids are on "summer vacations," they are going to the island of Carti Sugdup (where we visited with Pastor Rafael to get water) to help support the Mission Nuevo Jerusalen! They are going to stay there for 2 months!! Praise God for their availability and willingness to serve! Pray that God will be glorified and that Pastor Odilio and his small congregation will be edified through Manases and Yolanda's time with them in January and February.

Wednesday, December 26th
This morning while we were waiting to see if we could call our families, Lewis was waiting too. He shared of a shipwreck last year. They were on their way home, and the ship hit something and splintered into pieces. He and many of the other guys, grabbed on to pieces of wood and floated for several days until they were eventually washed up on shore. Two of the guys from the boat were never seen again. What a risky life?! These guys need the assurance of heaven in case something happens to them.

Nuevo Tauro is an old boat, and this is it's last voyage before it goes in for repairs. There's a lot of water coming into the storage area beneath the deck. They pump the water out every 2 hours. For the guys to get home, they have to cross 24 hours of open ocean. We are praying a ton for an opportunity to share with them and to pray for God's protection on them as they head home!

This afternoon it was time to move on to Achutupu. It was close by, so no seasickness this time! Were helping on the boat with the coconuts when Pastor Idelfonso came for us. Apparently Lonnie told him that we would be coming through, but he just didn't know when. Again we smiled at how God has knitted this plan together. We went with Pastor Idelfonso to tour the island and to meet some of the church members.

We at supper at Hna Rosa's house...her brother, Marcelino is a Kuna missionary to the Darien. He's been there for 5 years. New Tribes (a missionary organization) was working in this area until 1993 when 3 of the New Tribe missionaries were kidnapped and killed by Colombian guerillas. At this time, all North American missionaries were pulled out of this area. (By the way, this would have been our path. God knew...He sent us to the Comarca Kuna Yala instead!!) However, the Kuna who live in the Darien still needed to know about Jesus, so Marcelino went in response to the need. The guerillas have continued arriving with the Kuna, but they have been peaceful. All they wanted was food. One year ago, the other group in Colombia--the para-military--learned that the Kuna were "helping" the guerillas (the enemies of the para-military), and they attacked the Kuna. Marcelino and his family along with most of their village had to escape by night to safety. Marcelino continues serving in this area!! Please pray for him and his family as well as the Kuna that he is working with to share the Gospel!

The guys from the boat aren't allowed to be on the island after 5 pm...rules of the Kuna for the Colombians. So the guys go to bed pretty early every night. There's no electricity on this island...not even for a few hours at night, so it was early to bed for us as well tonight...we were sound asleep by 8:30!

Thursday, December 27th
This morning, I finally got to see several of the little guys fishing. They use a fishing line and a pole! I was amazed to see them catching sooo many fish. I also got a little practice sewing...Chris split his hammock open while he was sleeping last night, so here's my attempt to patch it up!

Pastor Idelfonso invited us to share with the single girls at church today. We didn't know when he asked us that it was just girls, but Chris was okay! ha, ha, ha! One other brother from the church and the pastor was also there! Tonight we are going to share a few minutes with all of the youth. They are having a game night, but we will bring the devotion.

We learned today that we have to go to Puerto Obaldia--the border town between Panama and Colombia. We have to have our exit from Panama stamped before we are allowed to go to Colombia. The guys had really been thinking about taking us all the way back to Boca Chica and Cartagena with them!! It looks like that won't work out though. So back to the original plan...we'd go to the last island with the guys, wait until God opens the door in a canoe to get over to land and then walk to Carreto. From there, Pastor Pascasio will walk with us to the border. At least that's what it looks like right now...we'll keep praying.

It looks like we are traveling tomorrow to the next island...we'll see what happens. We'll be in touch again soon! We love you and God bless you!

A little about Kuna Religion (Please note that this is only what we have observed in our 6 weeks with the Kuna and through asking questions on the different islands...we by no means understand or know everything about their religion or culture!)
• They do believe in God.
• They have their own prophet Ige Orgun who came from God to teach the Kuna people how to live better.
o Not to sleep on the floor, but in hammocks.
o Not to sleep outside, but in bamboo huts.
o To eat Tule Masi--bananas boiled in coconut milk and fried fish.
• Jesus was only for the people of Europe...not for the Kuna.
• When you get to heaven, you are going to get paid ($) for what you did on earth--the Chicha you drank, good deeds, etc. You'll use this money to get in if you have enough.
• They understand that there is a spiritual realm.
• Their wooden statues transform into good spirits at night that protect the house from bad spirits that want to do harm.
• There is a close connection with things of the land and God.
• Their tradition is handed down orally that has been mixed with some Christian principles and other ideas that have come in through humanitarian groups like Peace Corp.
• Medicine men heal by reciting specific "prayers" depending on the sickness, prescribing herbal baths from plants found in the jungle on the mainland, and carving statues that sick people have to put under their hammocks, above their hammocks, and around their houses. (The sick person's family has to bathe the statues weekly, and the sick person has to recite the same "prayer" to the statue daily.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Feeling a little like Gilligan...still on Playón Chico

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Monday, December 17th
Today we started preparing for the missionaries who are coming on Wednesday morning. We've never been on this end of this, so it was a really good experience for Chris and I to see what the churches have done to prepare for our arrival when we took teams to Mexico and Honduras!!

A group of teenagers from the church came over to Pastor Aris's house, and we all went to Hna Zeida's house. Normally she rents rooms for the school year to the teachers who come to the island to teach, but they are all gone for "summer vacation." So we went to clean out the rooms and to see if we would need to borrow another house or not.

After working at Hna Zeida's house, we went to the church to do a little beach clean-up. I explained earlier that all of the trash gets thrown into the ocean...well, many times, some of it washes back on shore! We all worked together to throw gather up trash and toss it into another spot in the ocean. They are actually hoping to fill in that part with trash and shells and dirt. Then they'll put grass down on top of it. This process will extend their property a little bit!

Tuesday, December 18th

This morning Chris and I got to enjoy the fruit of Nitzia and my labors...Pastor Aris's mom invited us over to have a cup of hot chocolate with mashed plantains (using the chocolate that Nitzia and I ground the other day). We even got to help her with the process!

Then we went to finish up at Hna Zeida's house. They wanted to make it as comfortable as possible for the missionaries, so the borrowed beds from many different church members. This way, they could sleep on beds instead of in hammocks or on the floor! Pastor Aris decided that they would need a couple of more rooms, so we went to another house and cleaned and prepared the beds there as well.

We also joined the ladies who were cleaning up around the church...moving strips of grass to areas where there was no grass growing, and throwing the grass that was over-taking some areas into the ocean. Chris also helped cut the grass...with a machete, of course! Finally, we swept and organized the benches in the church! Ready for tomorrow!!

At church tonight, Chris went with Pastor Aris and the youth, and I talked to the women again about discipleship. About 7 women were interested in meeting together to pray and memorize scripture. They stayed after church and I paired them up. I can't wait to see what God does through this!! One thing that struck me was that 2 of the women don't know how to read, but they wanted to memorized God's Word...then they would have it even though they can't read it!

Wednesday, December 19th
We went to the airstrip to wait for the missionaries...along with tons of the teens and kids and ladies from the church! They didn't come on the first plane, so we waited from them for about 2 hours. No one was impatient or upset though...I love this culture!

Here's the whole crew...
Abel and Olivia are missionaries to Panama from Mexico City, Mexico. They've been in Panama for 5 years and have planted a church. Luz, John, Melany, Cesar Santiago, Ingrid, Sujey, Javier, Thedi, Isabel, and Mayra are all youth from their church. Leo, Lili, Andrea, and Daniela are a family from the mother church in Mexico City. Last year, Leo and Lili were baptized here in Playón Chico because they had never been baptized as adults (like Jesus was). Over the course of the last year, Andrea accepted Jesus as her Savior. She wanted to be baptized where her parents were baptized!! On the 20th, she will be getting baptized as well!

Mid-morning, they were going to begin vacation Bible school for the kids on the island. We all worked together to get the church decorated and ready for the kids.

Chris and I got to see a Christmas play after all this year...we didn't think it was going to happen! The theme of these two days is "The Path to Bethlehem." So they gave each child a t-shirt with the theme printed on the front. They also shared lunch with all of the kids. So after the lesson, all of the kids ran home to get their plate, cup, and spoon, and they ran back to line up for lunch! We all ate too, and then the teens from Panama started teaching the teens from Playón Chico the choreography for the praise songs!!

Most of the short-term team didn't sleep much last night, so they went to rest this afternoon. Chris and I went to Hna Felipa's house to learn to make bread!! Yet another recipe!!

Tonight we had church was a great service. The teens from Panama shared some praise music in Spanish. A little taste of heaven...worshipping God in three languages!! Afterwards, we were all able to share together testimonies from all over the world! God is amazing!!

Thursday, December 20th
Here's something that God made crystal clear to me today...Eternal life begins the minute that we accept Jesus as our personal Savior. We don't have to wait until we die. In John 17:3 Jesus is praying to His Father, and this is what he says, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, who you have sent." So now I understand Romans 6:23 better. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Without Jesus’ death...His sacrifice...all we get is death...eternal separation from God. Why? That's the payment one receives for their sins and because God cannot have sin in His presence...He's perfect and nothing can tarnish that! Since we aren't holy or perfect, we can't know God. Someone must pay the debt...death...that someone was Jesus! He paid it once for all people who are willing to accept His gift, His payment!! So now it's our gift from God to know Him through Jesus! Maybe all of that was clear to you wasn't to me...I praise God that He keeps teaching me!! e-mail me if you want to know more!!

Today is a big day!!! I've told you about Cariel, Hno Aureliano, his wife--Altabella, and Andrea, but Hna Eva is also getting baptized today. She's 58!! So we are going to see 3 people over 50 who have accepted Christ and are going to follow Jesus’ example in baptism!! I can't believe it!!!

The missionaries went on ahead of the rest of us to enjoy the beach a little. When the boat was ready to take us over, Hno Aureliano was the very first person on-board. He and Hna Altabella were waiting on everyone else when we all walked up!! Praise God for their enthusiasm!

Pastor Aris and Abel shared from God's Word and the teens from Panama sang. Then they went into the ocean, and one by one Cariel, Hno Aureliano, Hna Altabella, Hna Eva, and Andrea shared their testimony and they were baptized! It was soooo heart touching!! Then Lili and Olivia prayed over each one. Finally we sang together again!! (What a gorgeous place to be baptized, huh?!)

Then it was play time...Chris played soccer with the boys and the rest of us swam around and enjoyed the day!! Before too late, we headed back to prepare for another lesson with the kids!

The lesson today focused on the people who told of Jesus’ birth, participated in it, or who celebrated Lili shared about the prophets, the shepherds, the Wisemen, Mary and Joseph, Anna, and Simeon. It was really good and the kids were soooo attentive. The craft was a coloring sheet that had the same picture as the kids had on their shirts, so many of the kids took their shirts off so they could make their picture look exactly the same! They were so precious. On their way out, all of the kids received a bag of candy! What a great way to end a wonderful day!!

Still no idea when we'll be leaving, but we've been here 18 days...the longest anywhere...our departure must be close??! We'll be in touch again soon! God bless you and keep you! We love you and miss you a ton!!

Other Kuna tidbits...
• There's no word in Kuna for watch, flashlight, or Christmas. Since the American missionaries brought those items and concepts with them, they use the English words with a little different spelling--watche, flashlight, and Cristmas.
• Every church we visited had an old oxygen tank hanging outside of it. Apparently some time, it washed up on shore, and they realized that it makes a good bell. So when it's time for church they bang on the tank with a rock or a hammer three times. The third time it rings, everyone should be in the service.
• Burials...people are buried in their hammocks (sometimes in a wooden box) and all of their clothes are burned. The family builds a bamboo house in the cemetery (located on the mainland near their island) so that they have a place to live.