Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Weekend with Friends in Uruapan

We spent this past weekend with Juan Carlos and Cynthia and their three daughters, Alejandra, Juli and Mariana.  Juan and Cynthia were our neighbors for the past five years; we lived in the house directly in front of them in the coto privado (gated community) before we moved to where we live now a few miles away in Colonia Mariano Otero.  Ally was—and still is—Ceci’s best friend.  Juan is originally from Uruapan, in the neighboring state of Michoacán and has for some time been talking to us about going there with them.  Nancy and Cynthia have been developing a really good friendship for years.  But Juan and I had never found a good opportunity to go much deeper than just neighbors.  It was fun to be with them this weekend. 

We got up early Saturday morning and made the 3-hour trip to Uruapan.  Each year in Uruapan, on the weekend of Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), a huge Tianguis de Artesanias begins and runs through Semana Santa.  They say it is the largest such artisan market in all of Latin America.  The indigenous people from all the regions of Michoacán bring their handicrafts.  There is traditional music and dancing—an opening parade—major celebration!  The streets are full of people. 

We spent Saturday and Sunday together—seeing the sights, looking at the Artesanias, hanging out and talking, and eating lots of traditional cuisine from the region.  It was especially fun to do this with Juan and Cynthia because its their old stomping grounds and they loved showing us around and taking us to their favorite places.  And Juan appreciates good food! 

One of my favorite things about getting to know any region is trying the typical foods.  Juan certainly didn’t let me down on this trip.  We ate tacos de carnitas (deep fried pork), enchiladas, gorditas, several flavors and types of atole, corundas (a triangle-shaped tamal that is typical of the region), several pastries and sweets, exotic flavored ice cream (avocado, peanut for example), goat tacos and Tarascan soup.  We also drank a few cups of locally grown café.  All of this is especially significant when you remember that we were only there for about 30 hours!  It was my kind of weekend. 

But the thing I really liked about the weekend was the way Juan took us behind the doors on the street to where his family members live.  We visited his aunt.  We spent several hours on Sunday afternoon with Juan’s sister and her family.  With great pride, they showed us several of the local sites and then invited us to their home for Sunday comida—showed us good, Mexican hospitality.  They are both educators in the school system in Michoacán—their families have been there for generations.  The conversation was easy. 

It was lots of fun.  I wish we could have gotten to this point in our friendship earlier.  

I wonder what—if anything—will happen next with this relationship.  

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Gotcha Day

Yesterday was “Gotcha Day.”  Five years ago yesterday—on March 26, 2005, our daughter Cecilia Grace was born into our family.  It was the day we got Ceci.  I can’t believe how fast the time has passed! 

Yesterday we had a family date; after school we ate at one of our favorite restaurants and went to a movie together.  It was fun being together.  It was fun telling remembering together all that has happened since Ceci came into our family.  It was fun imagining what the next few years will be like.  

We are blessed! 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Running with Jose Luis

I had a good time running a half-marathon this past Sunday with my friend Jose Luis.  He and I joined about 2300 others for the 24th annual running of the Medio Maraton Internacional Benito Juarez here in Guadalajara.  We began running together about a year ago and have enjoyed training on and off together for the last few months.  We enjoy the running and the hours of conversation that come with it.  This was Jose Luis’ first half-marathon.  It was fun to watch him run!

Jose Luis is a good guy.  You may have noticed from the picture that he is a few years younger than me—about 20 years younger!

Several years back, he was working in a factory and became impressed with the lifestyle and strength he saw in one of his co-workers, Martín.  Martín was a follower of Jesus and a part of the church that lives and meets in Colonia Jardines del Valle.

In the months that followed, Martín helped Jose Luis come to know Christ and the strength that comes from living in the Kingdom of God.  At first, it was difficult for Jose Luis because his family didn’t understand and felt threatened by the changes they saw in Jose Luis.  They threw him out of the house and threatened to disown him.  But Jose Luis persevered—and now a few years later, a house church rotates their weekly gathering between Jose Luis’ small home and the home of his sister Luz.  Most all the family has made or are in the process of making decisions to follow Jesus.  You can’t be around him very long without noticing Jesus in him.  

It is fun to watch Jose Luis run!

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Paying Attention

Thursday evenings are usually one of the high points of my week.  Last night was no exception.

Almost always, 3 or 4 of us fellows gather for a couple of hours.  Martín, Gerardo and Jose Luis came to my house last night.  It is always good just to hang out together as friends—to eat supper or drink coffee together—to catch up on each other’s lives.  Of course, these guys are not newbies when it comes to following Jesus; between the three of them, they have almost 28 years of experience as Christ followers.  Each of them is fleshing out Christ in obvious ways where they live and work.  The conversation is almost always rich! 

One of our main reasons for gathering is to pay attention to God’s work and word in each of our lives; to do this together—to be there for one another during good times and bad—to listen for God together and to support one another as we each try to be obedient to that word.  Besides our weekly gathering, we also try to connect by phone several times during the week—to ask how its going and to pray together.  We usually agree to read some section of scripture during the week in our personal time with God—lately we have been making our way through Ephesians.  Out of all of that, God almost always speaks. 

I think that we are learning how critically important it is to spiritual formation and maturity for us to have these close, and ongoing listening relationships with another person or two.  I’m impressed at the constancy of this element in the lasting spiritual formation I’ve seen over the years.  

I hope that these friends of mine and I don’t forget this important lesson.  I think it could make all the difference in the world.  

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Blessing to Families in Crisis

This past Sunday afternoon we drove out to a nearby campsite to join our good friends, Gerardo and Carola, for a little while as they finished up a weekend Camp for recently diagnosed children with diabetes and their parents. 

It was cool to see them and their team as they tried to be a blessing to the lives of some 25 families in crisis.  I felt so proud that they are my friends—so impressed with what God is doing through this group—so hopeful to see this light shining in a dark place. 

As they have done six times in the last couple of years, they and a growing group of about 30 professionals (nutritionists, psychologists, educators in diabetes, doctors and social workers) offered an invitation to children who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes.  They invited the children to bring a parent and spend a weekend being pampered, being shown how to care for themselves, being educated about their illness, being listened to—generally being blessed by others who know what they are going through.

There were special workshops being offered for both the children and the parents—covering all the relevant subjects and questions that these families are experiencing.  We met many parents and children—saw looks of tiredness, fear, stress…but also glimpses of hope in the eyes of the parents.  We saw kids having fun! 

One of the things I love about this is the way God has helped Gerardo and Carola discover this ministry out of their own life experience.  About 4 ½ years ago, their 10-year old daughter, Melanie, was diagnosed with diabetes.  Their world was turned upside down as they faced an illness that threatened to change and destroy all their hopes and dreams for their daughter.  Yet out of this crisis and the salvation God provided for them, they were drawn by God to notice and try to help others who now find themselves in a similar crisis.  The telling of their story has become healing for others.  They began the Hope Foundation for Children with Diabetes—Mexico’s first and only non-profit foundation for children with this disease.  They are presently serving over 200 families with this disease. 

I think of the Apostle Paul’s words of praise to “…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). 

Another thing I love about this is the way others—young professionals who hear about what is happening with these kids—are begging to get involved in this project.  They are finding purpose and satisfaction beyond the materialism and “success” that is being advertised to them as professionals.  While very clear about their own faith and about how God has been at the center of this story, Gerardo and Carola are partnering with many who are at various stages in their walk with God.  Gerardo and Carola see it as a way to plant seeds and build relationships with all kinds of people—to allow God to plant and nurture the seeds in hearts as those hearts become ready. 

At a coffee shop this week, a young fellow asked me about my life and my reason for being here.  As I told him about some of the things that are going on around us—and mentioned the Hope Foundation for Kids with Diabetes, he stopped me and asked:  “Could somebody like me get involved in that as a helper?” 

Gerardo calls this their proyecto de vida—their “life project”—a God given mission that springs out of one’s own design, one’s own pain, one’s own experience.  It is a mission that brings life both to the one on mission and to those who are being served. 

He has lots of people wondering about what their own life project might be.   

I wonder where all of this will go.  I wonder what God will do with all these seeds being planted in so many different hearts. 

It sure is fun to watch and imagine! 

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Multi-Church Gathering Yesterday

Yesterday we enjoyed being with good friends.  As commonly happens on the 1st Sunday of the month, members from several of the house churches gathered for an afternoon of worship, fellowship and fun.  This month’s gathering was hosted by the church that lives and meets here in Colonia Mariano Otero.  We gathered in the carport and patio of the Zendejas sisters—and spilled over into our house across the street.  

The afternoon began with an extended time of singing, prayer and reading of passages from the Psalms.  Jose Luis, who came from the group that lives in Colonia Nueva Santa Maria directed the larger group in a reflection around the Lord’s Supper and the common desire to follow Jesus’ example of perseverance and self-sacrifice.  A little later, my daughters and some of the youth took the small children aside for a Bible Story while Gerardo, who came with some of the members from Colonia Jardines del Valle, exhorted the larger group to live with faithfulness—and then facilitated a time of discussion and sharing of passages from Scripture.  Then, after a time of focused prayer for those with special needs and requests, the rest of the afternoon was spent cooking tacos, eating together, playing ping pong, laughing, celebrating a couple of birthdays, and generally sharing life together.  

Days like these are good for my heart. 

One of the things I especially liked was the way that the members of the different groups enjoyed and played with one another.  Sergio and Amelia had birthdays in the last few days—in good Mexican style, we made the most of the opportunity to have a party with them!  

I think our shift to small house churches in the last few years has been important because it has helped many to envision themselves as a group who fleshes out Christ in their neighborhood.  The focus on simplicity and smallness has allowed the groups to “do church” simply and focus much of their limited time and resources on family spiritual formation and connecting to God, on discipleship and on reflecting Christ to others in their own colonias.  However, the regular practices of gathering monthly as a larger grouping of house churches—and of regularly gathering for retreats, special studies, and youth activities reminds the house churches that they are not alone—that there are other groups like them who are similarly trying to follow Jesus—that we are looking out for one another.  

Another thing I liked was that there were several visitors among us yesterday.  It was cool to see how the group welcomed each one and to notice how the visitors felt comfortable enough to share needs and ask for the prayers of this group—to see everyone eating together and enjoying the afternoon.  

Yes, days like these are good for my heart. 

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