Friday, February 29, 2008

Why Leap Year is Special

Why Leap Year is So Special
It only happens once every four years, and today I have the privilege to wish my nephew John R. Sparks a Happy Birthday! John is one of the sweetest kids you will ever meet. He is kind, loving, and fun to be around. He always has a big smile on his face. I know he makes his parents very proud. Hope you have a great day John, for this day is truly special!!!

Learning the Language of Blog

If learning Spanish wasn't enough, I am also trying to learn another language as well, the language of Blog. For me, blogging is a hobby, a creative outlet, an on line journal. I set up my first "blogspot" with Blogger, but a friend of mine uses Wordpress, which offers some features that more experienced "bloggers" appreciate. I decided I would take a look at what they had to offer, and set up my own page at Wordpress just for fun (or frustration). To get started, I chose a template for my layout, learning how to use the dashboard. I wanted a customized header, and then I started getting way over my head. Thought it would be nice to add some images to the sidebar, so I went to the FAQ page--clicking here and there. It has something to do with a widget. I click, and start reading, ok...a little too complicated at this point. I will learn about that later. Do I want a Blogroll? How do I want to Archive my posts? Links? Categories? Tabs? How about the ultimate in blogs, a podcast? All I really want to do is a few basic things, like put in a few pictures, make the page a little more attractive and be done with it.

Blogger seems more user friendly (at least for beginners). I research "What people like most about Wordpress". Seems it has something to do with Askismet, Meta, features a professional "blogger" would desire. I explore topics dealing with Technorati Code, Hypertext Markup Language and WYSIWG.

Want more people to read your posts? I learn about RSS Feeds and Atom. Related topics include pinging, trackback, pingback, backlinks, etc. Joining a site called Sphere helps too. I want to import my posts from Blogger, which takes another half hour to figure out (I know, I am slow). While I am lost in cyberspace, my five year old is having the time of her life, the dishes need to be washed, laundry to fold, home school papers to grade, and dinnertime is approaching. I cringe when my husband sees me at the computer. Blogging is consuming way too much of my time. Welcome to the world of blogging!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Old Paths Mission Trip 2008

Building a Foundation

Looking back on our first year here in the Canary Islands, there have been days when we have asked ourselves, is it really worth it? Will we really be able to make a difference here in the lives of these people? The first year or two are always the most difficult, because you are starting from scratch. Moving within your own country is difficult enough, learning your way around, making new friends, finding a good church--it takes a while before your new surroundings feel like "home." I remember when we moved from Dayton, Ohio to Rochester, New York, it was like moving to a foreign land. People in Ohio questioned our move--why do you want to move up there? When we mentioned New York all they could think of was New York City--many don't realize that it is a state of great beauty (a few don't even know it is a state!) Or, they would say, "do you realize how much it snows up there?" But after a few years it became home to us.
Eight years later the Lord called my husband back to the mission field. Somehow in my heart I felt that this would eventually happen, but our family needed the time that we spent in Rochester to help us grow spiritually. We had a good home church, made a lot of wonderful friends, and my husband enjoyed his work as a chaplain in the jail and prison ministry.
So here we are, starting over, but this time it isn't quite so difficult. We can speak the language (well, there is always more to learn) which helped with getting our household and business affairs established. Soon my husband was out on the streets, passing out gospel tracts, John and Romans, going door to door, often with our daughters. He has planted a lot of seed, and sometimes people are very thankful and friendly, other times they can be quite rude.
Sometimes you get to the point where you think that people are just indifferent, whether polite or rude. Of course, I would rather people be "politely" indifferent, as it is easier to handle that type of rejection, but it is often the people who are "rudely" indifferent that the Holy Spirit begins to work on, asking them in their hearts why are they so hostile? Eat, drink, and be merry seems to be the philosophy of many here on the island. They are not really religious, even though there is a lot of it here; but they have beened turned off by religion. Many claim to be atheists.
My heart's desire is to see the Lord save a multitude of people, and have a good, solid church established, and sometimes it is easy to doubt if it will ever come to pass. Missionaries often measure their success on a field by how many souls are converted, and how many people are attending their church services. Is our work ineffectual just because no one is getting saved? How is it that other missionaries in other countries seem to be able to get a church going rather quickly, and here it takes years? Do they have more of the Holy Spirit's power than we do? Do they have better methods? Is the Lord in their work, but not in ours?
My husband likes to take a walk in the sunshine, praying and meditating as he goes. They are building a new apartment complex down the street from us, and the Lord spoke to his heart one day as he was observing the construction site. The Canary Islands are formed by volcanic rock, and I imagine that rock is very hard. They have been working on excavating the site and digging the basement for a year! We have watched countless trucks carrying out dirt, rocks, and heavy equipment come in to dig out the site. All this work and so far all you can see is a huge whole in the ground where they are pouring concrete and rebar. The Lord used this to encourage Doug, as he realized that building a work is a time consuming process--it will not happen overnight. It may take several years to see some progress. We plan, pray, and do the work that the Lord has called us to do. God is building His work, and much of the work He is doing is in our own lives.
I know missionaries who have been called to extremely difficult fields, yet have seen them remain faithful, continuing to plant the seed with seemingly very little fruit (at least what man's eye can see). It would be easy to give up and think it was all in vain, but we know that isn't true, for God has promised us:

"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." Isaih 55:11

Their "success" is that they continue to obey the Lord, doing what He has called them to do, keeping their eyes on Jesus and not comparing themselves to what the Lord may be doing with other missionaries' or pastors' works. Sometimes I wish we were called to a field where the harvest is already ripe and ready to harvest; it would be so much more encouraging (at least that is what we think, as I am sure there is no such thing as an "easy mission field"). By God's grace though, we will endeavor to be faithful to do what the Lord has for us here, and continue digging the foundation, one rock at a time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Keeping up with Technology

I hate to admit it, but my husband and I are "technically challenged." I barely knew how to turn on a computer when I returned to college back in the 90's, then progressed to complete a year in desktop publishing. I spent all that time learning a program that now has been replaced by something more advanced. Just when you think you are getting the hang of something, they change it!

Now I hope this doesn't sound disrespectful, and he would be the first to tell you this, but my husband is not the "computer guy" of the family. He uses it to write prayer letters, send emails, check his bank statement, and occasionally plays a game with the girls. He is not real fond of it. So he comes to me when he needs help with the computer. The other day we needed to look for a new "cassette" player because ours finally quit working--and my husband has a collection of at least 300 sermon tapes from way back when, that he swears he is going to listen to someday (even though we usually download sermons from the Internet now). I wasn't sure if they still made them--but we found one with a CD player--"look, it plays MP3's," he points out to me but isn't really sure what they are because we haven't upgraded to that yet. I know it will be just a matter of time.

Likewise, we really don't know that much about DVDs, or the newest in TVs etc. because we really don't use them much except for our home school curriculum, or to watch creation seminars, Andy Griffith, or Little House on the Prairie shows. If we need to fast forward, search, or pause the program we hand the remote to our nine year old daughter Rebekah.

Recently my husband got the neat idea that we should copy the Creation Seminars, which this particular preacher does not copyright his material and openly allows people to copy his material so they can be used to spread the gospel, so my husband ordered the DVDs from the states in Spanish so we could give them to friends, college students, and people here in the Canary Islands who showed an interest in the subject. Next we needed a DVD recorder, so we went to several stores here and found one for a decent price and brought it home. Mission accomplished! Now all we needed to do is hook up a few cables; it should be simple, at least that is what they told us in the store. Several hours later, my husband decides to invite our neighbor up to take a look at it. After all, he is younger than we are and should be able to do it with no problem.

"I think you may have a problem with the signal here--it needs to be programmed into your DVD recorder," he tells us, but that shouldn't be a big deal. Also, you need a special adapter since your other DVD player is from the states. So we head off to the electronic store, and my husband runs in while the kids and I sit in the car--he returns 45 minutes later.

"The guy was showing me how to hook it up on his TV." I am relieved he now has some more advice on how to do this thing.

"But we may have a problem--the technician told me that DVDs in the states might not be compatible here on the European DVD players." Compatible? I can't really understand this because aren't they all made in Japan or China? We get the great idea that perhaps if we buy one of the Spanish TVs with a built in DVD player, we can hook our Spanish DVD player into that, and they will all agree with each other-- and be all set.

Off we go to the department store to find one for a good price; they think the one we want is in stock, but it will take half an hour for them to locate it. By this time we are tired and hungry and decide to go home. While we were stuck in a traffic jam on the highway it occurs to me that I read somewhere that there are different formats for DVDs in different parts of the world--something to do with region codes. Is it possible that this DVD that we are trying to copy won't even work in the Spanish players? I ask myself.

I am sure there is a very simple solution to this, and the answer is right in front of me. But I am too tired to look it up on the Internet and find the answer--my brain doesn't feel like learning any more technology. I am tired of reading instruction manuals. Not only do you have to program the DVD player, but you have to program the TV, as well as the remote with a code to match the TV!! Ughhhh--why can't they make things more simple. Meanwhile my husband is in the living room for another few hours trying different things to no avail.

Finally my husband calls it quits, but he brings me this dusty old relic he found in the TV cabinet.

"Whose is this?" handing me this clunky black camera. Lo and behold, it is our 35mm camera, with an undeveloped roll of film still in it. "Can you still get the film processed for these?" he asks.

"Yes, but why in the world would you want to use it when I have a digital camera?" I reply. He continues blowing the dust off it, and seems happy with his new discovery. "I am going to keep this and load a roll of film into it--he informs me. At least I know how to use it." He feels comfortable with it like an old friend.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Enjoying the Sunshine

One thing you can't complain about here is the weather! Some days it is sunny, others partly sunny, and on totally cloudy days at least it is not cold! The clouds hover around the mountains, often blocking the sun here on our side of the mountains. We do get a lot of rain on our part of the island, but it is mostly at night. That is why it is so green and lush in the north; in the south they get very little rain and it is doesn't have the vegetation like we do. A weather forcaster has a very boring job here because it always looks about the same. I never need anything more than a light jacket or sweater. Temperatures hover right around the seventy degree mark, give or take five degrees. I have to say I do not miss Rochester's winters (sorry--for all my friends back home).
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Culture of the Canary Islands--the Language

One of the first things you are taught in "Missions 101" (if there really is such a thing), is the importance of a missionary learning the culture of his/her mission field. Many people have asked us what the culture is like in the Canary Islands. First of all, I must say, that I can only speak of the parts of the Canary Islands I am most familiar with, and that would be here on the island of Tenerife. Secondly, having only lived here less than a year, it would be foolish of me to even pretend that I understand the culture here perfectly.
One of the elements that defines a culture is their language. Having learned Spanish about 20 years ago while serving as missionaries in Guadalajara, Mexico--we were blessed not to have to totally learn a new language, but speaking for myself, I had not practiced it as much as my husband (he used it regularly while working in the jail ministry) and when we moved here I quickly jumped into brushing up on my language skills. I was quite surprised at the many differences in the dialect of the Canary people--they have their own vocabulary for certain things, and I am afraid my "Mexican" Spanish was a dead giveaway as to where I learned the language. They also have a distinct way of dropping the "s" on the end of certain words, and as someone put it "eating" parts of their words. I am now enrolled in an advanced language class for "extranjeros" at the public university, and it is totally in Spanish. It is a nice outlet for me from my daily routine in the house, as I love going to school and studying.
One of the interesting things about the Canary Islands, is that even though the majority of the population come from what they refer to as the "peninsula" meaning mainland Spain--we are living in a cosmopolitan society, with a mixture of many nations represented. There are a huge amount of immigrants from South America--Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil--and some from Cuba, West Africa, and Romania. There are also a large number of Europeans who live here because they like the sunshine and springlike weather. Many come to retire on the islands. The other day I was in the city of Puerto de la Cruz, and I was surrounded by Germans, Scandinavians, Italians and British--it makes it very interesting, because you never know what language you should speak to them (well, OK, I can only try Spanish or English!). So that brings me to the original point of this blog--while trying to learn the "culture" here in the Canary Islands, which culture do you learn? The one of the traditional mainland Spaniards? The Canarian? German? There is an international flavor here--and you come to realize that they are used to having outsiders on their island, whether they always like it or not (I am sure they like all the Euro's the tourists are spending). It seems that they are pretty accustomed to rubbing shoulders with people who are "different" or at least have learned to put up with them anyway. That makes them accepting of other cultures for the most part.
On the other hand, I think it is difficult to break into the circles of the Canary people. Perhaps they don't readily trust everyone--and it can take time to feel like they are willing to let you be their friend. I got a little discouraged at first because the ladies on the street and in the shops wouldn't greet me when I smiled and greeted them, then another missionary lady told me that it isn't that they are rude, it just isn't customary for them to do so. That has helped me, so I don't take it personally anymore. But our neighbors are great, and the people in the stores are starting to get to know us better, so hopefully we are breaking the ice.

Carolee's Canary Pics

The Romance of Missions

Does the life of a missionary sound exciting and adventurous? Perhaps you went on a short term mission trip and "fell in love" with the people of a certain country, or just the idea of living somewhere else seems appealing (remember the grass is greener theory). In the states, missionaries are well respected and for the most part, churches that invite us in, especially for a missions conference, often roll out the red carpet. They do this because they love missionaries, and are grateful for the work that we are doing. We appreciate this, and it is a boost to our spirits because traveling can make you weary, and the church that is excited to see us come is a breath of fresh air. Many greet us with baskets of fruit and candy, take us out for dinner, sightseeing, shopping for the wives--and it makes us feel so honored. From the pulpit pastors encourage us and challenge us, and we are "charged up" and ready to win the world for Jesus.
I call this the "romance factor." I compare it to the young woman who is eagerly awaiting the bridegroom of her dreams, then the Lord brings him into her life, they marry, and now she realizes that there must be more to life than this, and something is still missing to fulfill her desires, which must be children, and the Lord gives children, but then too it feels that this isn't really what is going to fulfill her...and on it goes. No matter where we are serving the Lord, we feel that it must be more exciting somewhere else. Ever look at someones life or ministry and think it is so much more used of God?
We plan and prepare, selling our homes, packing up our goods or selling them, and purchase our tickets, with anticipation of what the Lord is going to do when we get to the field. We get a hero's sendoff at our home church and at the airport, with tearful goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch.
Oh, what a difference when you land on your mission field. If it is your first term, it will probably just be you and your family arriving at a foreign airport, perhaps greeted by a fellow missionary, or if you are on a pioneer field, it will only be your family. No big welcoming parties, just trying to get your bearings and acclimate yourself to this new environment. At first it will be exciting, kind of like a honeymoon--so much to discover, so many different sights, sounds, and smells. But there aren't too many people saying, "oh, we are so glad you are here! We can't wait for you to tell us the good news that we have been waiting for." Maybe fellow believers will say that, or perhaps it occurs on a few fields, but in most of the world, people seem to be resistant to change, and they don't really see their need for Christ nor do they want someone to tell them that their religion which has been a part of their heritage and cultural traditions for hundreds of years will not take them to heaven, but only believing in Jesus Christ will save you from your sins. It is not "politically correct" to preach the gospel.
Once the honeymoon is over, the stresses of trying to get things done in order to set up house, start up bank accounts, apply for residency, etc. soon can get overwhelming, especially considering language barriers and trying to figure out how they do things in your country when in the states they do it so much differently! Nothing seems to get done in a hurry, and sometimes we have the American "fast food" mentality where we want things done right now, and can't understand why it takes them so long and so inefficiently.
Months go by, and at first you are too busy to feel the loneliness. But months soon turn into years, and the friends you have in the states are busy too, and you wonder if they have forgotten about you--but no, it is that we are all so wrapped up in our own lives that things get put aside. We have good intentions, meaning to write or call, but something else comes up. Missionaries make friends with the nationals, but it is never really quite the same--there is something about speaking in your own language with someone from the same culture that bonds us.
Actually, being in a missionary has changed tremendously in the past 25 years. When we first went to Mexico, we didn't have cell phones--we didn't even have a land line--we had to use the neighbors--and it was really expensive. Computers were just starting to be developed, and there wasn't the Internet--so no email, Skype, webcams, etc. which are really great tools to connect us now with friends and family. But it still isn't the same as being face to face.
Depending on your mission field, things can be really modern and up to date, or you may find yourself living in some remote village. Other challenges might include sickness--some missionaries fight malaria, hepatitis, parasites, just to mention a few. This can quickly wear down even the most determined family. It is easy to serve the Lord in health and prosperity, but when you start suffering physically, it wears down the human spirit and you start asking if it is really worth it (I know it doesn't sound very spiritual, but it is true--missionaries are human too!)
So, you want to be a missionary because it sounds exciting? I would challenge you first, try being a missionary where you are. If you don't enjoy telling others about Jesus where you live, where you speak the same language, and in the same culture that you can more easily "relate" to, what makes you think that just changing locations will make you enjoy it all of the sudden? Take as many mission trips as you can, and if possible, if really considering the mission field, try spending a year working with another respected missionary. A two week mission trip is good, but not really a true reflection of what it really is like to live on the field.
When we were in the states, we were always involved in ministry with our local church, whether it was soul winning, teaching Sunday school classes, teaching new believers, music ministry, children's outreach, jail ministry, nursing home, etc. That is the best place to start being a missionary. Our pastor once said something to the effect that missionaries do the same thing we do here at home, just at a different address. There is a lot of truth to that. I am basically a housewife, living in a foreign country, making meals, folding laundry, making beds, cleaning and washing dishes, and home schooling my children. Nothing really exciting. If I were expecting it to be more, I would be really disappointed. The only difference is that I don't get to go to a big church surrounded by 400-500 like minded believers, and live in the comfortable USA (believe me, there is still no country in the world like it, even with its faults). I am not saying that I don't like it here on the mission field either--but it is not "romantic" or suddenly exhilarating serving the Lord just because you are a missionary. It is just ordinary life and Christian living.

Reflections from the Field

Today as I sat on my terrace enjoying a cup of coffee, I was enjoying the birds singing in the palm trees, with the blue sky above and ocean to my back, thinking how peaceful this is--and hoping that I will never take this place for granted. It is easy to do so, after being here in Tenerife for almost a year, the newness of paradise becomes lost in the reality of everyday life with its challenges, problems, and day to day routine.

Of course, this isn't really paradise, but the beauty that God has placed all around us is a reminder of how sweet heaven is going to be. I miss my family back in the states and in Africa, not being able to hold my grandchildren, and knowing that they will grow up without really "knowing" me or being able to have the close relationship with them that is built by spending time together. My biggest consolation is knowing that someday they will have the heritage of saying they came from a family of missionaries, where they were taught the importance of sacrificing one's own personal desires for the necessity to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to others in a foreign land, so they too, may have the opportunity to come to the same saving knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, as we endeavor to obey our Lord's command--
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
We are doing our best to do just that, here in our "corner" of the world. As we are starting to feel a little more at home here in the Canary Islands, we are exploring various ways to make a difference here, one step at a time, for we know that this is not going to be an easy task. The process of building a work here will be slow, and we are just in the beginning stages, and there is much work to be done as we try to plow up the ground, so to speak.