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Leading Worship

Even after a year and a half here in Mérida, God still finds ways of stretching us. In January, while chatting with pastors before a sectional meeting, our president asked if I played an instrument. I responded that every now and again I played the guitar, while I had considerable experience on the drums. He followed up that question with a request that I lead worship that meeting. Now, I had lead worship in the past, but always in English. (I think the number of choruses that I know on the guitar in Spanish could be counted on one hand.) Therefore, I did what any self-respecting perfectionist would–I put him off, until the next month.

I used that time to gather the some more choruses, practice, and pray. (It’s amazing how the weeks fly when you’re anticipating something like this.) Of course, I second guessed my decision. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when I thought that perhaps the meeting had been canceled for the month, but, regardless of my doubts, the event came. The end result this last Monday certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a beginning. I was able to sing (staying on key for the majority of the service), play the guitar, and I actually felt that I had led others in worship.

When I began my Spanish classes, I looked forward to the day when I would be able to do this very thing, but for one reason or another, I had put it off. Not enough time, other responsibilities more pressing, the list could go on. Isn’t it great that God doesn’t forget those dreams? In fact, I’ve found He sometimes uses others to push us into realizing them.

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We’ve certainly heard that line before. Whether we’ve used it or had someone use it on us, we know that something inappropriate had been said, something that didn’t fit in the conversation or context. Now, many of us would relate that unfortunate language to various four letter words that we may have heard throughout our lives, or perhaps to the childish giggles that accompany the use of “potty words” outside of their appropriate place, but today I’d like broaden the application of this phrase.

Alejandro, one of students in my evangelism class was testifying of a recent encounter. It wasn’t a report of “salvation” or “re-dedication,” but a reflection on his overly technical spiritual vocabulary. He was giving his friend a Bible that he had purchased when she asked him where to begin reading. He mentioned that the book of Matthew was a good place to start. Disappointed, she explained that she wanted to read about Jesus and not about Matthew! He had to take a minute to collect himself and explain that the gospels, although titled with the name of the writer were actually records of the life and work of Jesus. In his testimony, he shared with us that he was going to take the time to work through his thoughts, making sure that his communication with those who were not followers of Jesus would not only be correct, but also clear and understandable. He was committing to watch his language.

This testimony is a good reminder to all of us. We have a tendency to slip into routines in our speech. One story, related to me by fellow missionary Paul Kazim, is about a group of Bible School students traveling together. When stopping for gas, one of the students sticks his head out of the car to say, “The gas prices have really gone up, Amen?” Now while that line is certainly not out of place in the church, it would have a group of people scratching their heads at the local 7-11. Are we watching our language, or are we thoughtlessly separating ourselves from those we should be reaching with the use of a “sacred dialect.”

We missionaries must especially guard against this kind of behavior as much of our Spanish language habits are being built within the working environment of the church. Phrases like “Dios le bendiga (God bless you)” or “Bendito sea su nombre (Blessed be His Name)” are lines that can bring instant reaction in a worship service, but lose much of their significance when spoken in a secular context.

My brother’s post on the Bible knowledge of an AU student is proof that in the US as well, the need to clearly explain our God speech is more necessary than ever before. More and more, we are facing the same cosmopolitan, multicultural, and very often secular society that Paul faced in his missionary journey to Greece. In light of this, it would be a good practice to adopt Paul’s methods of explanation and the use of cultural references as he spoke to the crowd in Athens (Acts 17:16-31), meeting them in their context in order to share with them about their need to be in right relationship with God.

Like Alejandro, I realize that I need to remember to watch my language. I need commit to clearly relate to others (in Spanish or in English) what God has done in my life, and welcome them into the discussion by decoding my technical “God-speak.” Won’t you join me in the process?

How about you? Do you have a story to tell? Post a comment and share with us when you had to watch your “language.”


Yes, we have finally made it to the end of our language school experience. This Friday, Kelly and I, along with 15 other missionaries and university students graduated from the CINCEL program. More later, but we’ve got to get some sleep. We just finished packing and we leave for the airport at 4:30 AM tomorrow

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Final Exam

Keeping with our theme of lasts, we’d appreciate your prayers today (Friday) as we go through our “final exam” here at CINCEL. Kelly and I will each be sitting down with a professor for a “conversation” of sorts in order to plot our oral proficiency in Spanish. That’s the reason for the photo of Joseph’s mouth above. Please pray that we will be able to put into practice all that we have learned in the past year, and that the results of this exam will be an encouragement for the both of us to continue our learning even after we graduate from our program.

As language school students for the past year, we’ve had the benefit of taking a lot from the people around us. We’ve received 4 hours a day of lessons, we’ve stopped people along the street, in shopping malls, and in church in order to have conversations, and we’ve received advice and insight into the latin culture, but we’ve not often had the opportunity to give back. That’s why, when we have the opportunity to contribute, we feel that it is blogworthy.

This month Kelly headed up a program at CINCEL to help seniors in high school (colegio in Spanish) prepare for their math exit exams. She did interviews at the colegio in order to asses their areas of need and then was available for the past 4 weeks in order to give them the help that they needed. I also got a chance to contribute to the English program that fellow missionary Ron Marcotte has been offering to the community, I translated from English into Spanish for the beginning students during the teaching sessions and then helped as a conversation partner as each student worked on their alphabet, their numbers and various simple phrases.

I think that the most special opportunity that we had this past month was the birthday that we celebrated with our friend Mayra (pictured with the cake above). She was celebrating her 60th birthday, but with her children in Florida she was looking to spend her day completly alone. Kelly planned a small celebration with several students who knew Mayra, and Mayra was touched deeply.

It’s interesting. We’ve grown up in a consumer culture and have been bombarded with commercials about the things that we need to acquire, but the older I get (32 years and counting), the more I realize that we have been created to give. Nothing creates a better feeling of satisfaction, and nothing more positively reflects the image of Christ that so many others in our society need to see.

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A thing for talking. A thing for taming. A thing for tasting?

It’s funny how things seem to tie together in one’s life, but I recently came upon an interesting convergence of sorts. I was planning for my first Spanish Bible Study, and I was reading in James 3:1-12 where James talks about the tongue as an uncontrollable fire that can burn up our very lives. As I wondering how we could control such a savage beast, Myra, one of our Costa Rican friends, was introducing us to a new dish, tongue! Aha! I said to myself, pull it out and serve it for dinner! Of course, the idea quickly left the table of viable options.

However, As cataloged in one of our classmate’s blog, the tongue of a cow (pictured in Kelly’s hand) is indeed an edible, and actually quite tasty item. It is slow cooked overnight and then simmered in tomato sauce. (Myra used Prego.) The outer covering is removed during the process produce a very soft, pleasant meat.

Of course it may come to mind that what you are tasting may have at one time been able to taste you, but really, how many of us really know what goes into some of the things that we eat…like hot dogs? I highly recommend cow tongue, but if you buy it for the family, be sure to buy a big one, or get two because they shrink when you cook them.

But back to the convergence, the taming of the tongue is a daily process, is it not? We have now been in this stage of language-learning for about 8 months, and one of the more difficult things I have dealt with has been the phonetics involved in producing what I want to say. In Spanish a word with the same letters and different accent can have a completely different meaning. Also, words like “aeropuerto”, or “inmediatamente” were just a challenge for this Gringo to master. At times I’ve wanted to ask where I could buy a Spanish tongue so that I could trade it out with my American one before heading into class, but I have realized that there is no shortcut to pronunciation. It takes time and patience in order to speak correctly a foreign language.

So it is with God’s process in taming the words that we say, be it in out native language or a foreign one. We must admit that we need His intervention to pull out some of our cynicism, sarcasm, and complaining. It is a decision to allow Him to do his work, but it is also a process that takes time and a continual dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I have more to say on this in my Bible Study (in Spanish).

So there you have it: The tongue: a thing for talking (in languages foreign or domestic), for taming (through time and the work of the Spirit), and, as long as it is tongue of cow, a thing for tasting!

They say, all good things in life must come to and end, and life in language school is no different. There were a several things that came to an end in the past week that we’d like to fill you in on.

First of all, the trimester of school finished this Friday when we said goodbye to 13 graduates and 1 instructor. Fellow Mexico Missionaries David and Carolyn Huneycutt, Ryan and Christie Thomas and Terisa and Fredy Vasquez were among those who said goodbye to Costa Rica to head to their appointed destinations in order to begin their ministries. We wish them well. Also leaving the school was 13 year veteran grammar teacher, Iris Chavarria (pictured in this post from last year). She was our teacher for our two trimesters, and we owe all of our knowledge of the functioning of irregular verbs and the uses of the subjunctive to her. Gracias por todo Iris, será extrañada.

Second, the end of the trimester also means that we received our evaluations from our Oral Proficiency exams that I mentioned in this previous post. Both Kelly and I finished well, scoring above normal for our group. Not that language school is a competition, but the ability to advance more quickly here will mean that we will have an easier time adapting to the language in Mexico when we arrive. We want to take a moment to say thank you to our teachers (pictured above),thanks to you for your prayers on our behalf. Without those, we are certain that we would not have made it this far.

Finally, yesterday meant the end of my 31st year, and what a year it was! We finished our itineration by speaking in over 55 services, travelling by car to each one, participated in the first ever commissioning of new candidate missionaries at the 51st General Council in Denver, CO, moved twice, arrived in Costa Rica in August, and survived a couple interesting trimesters which saw us through sicknesses, and accidents, but also has brought us closer to ministry in Mexico. Through it all, we have to marvel at the faithfulness of God and His people as we have received the help of so many that they would prove too numerous to mention. My 31st year is over, and, if it served as any indication, 32 should prove to be wonderful!

Wrapping this post up, we realize that good things do come to an end, but as we finish one thing, we find that God continues to offer us new beginnings, which bring rewarding challenges and opportunities to view his faithfulness.

Sometimes, we are on top of the world and think that fluency in Spanish is within our grasp. Other times, we are somewhat like Josh Amiot, hanging on for dear life!

This is the stage that we find ourselves in this week. We are now passing through our “ECHO”s, or Spanish conversation proficiency exams, during which our conversation with one of our professors will be recorded and our level of progress marked. This is one of the most stressful times for the students of CINCEL as we try to bring everything together for this “final exam” for the current term. (Two terms down and one to go!) We appreciate your prayers on our behalf during this time.

Now about the picture. Josh had the unfortunate experience of slipping on the rappelling wall in full view of the camera during our recent men’s retreat. We certainly thank him for the wonderful object lesson, and of course for his great sense of humor!

Vergüenza is the Spanish word for embarrassment, and a classmate and I had a somewhat embarrassing run-in with the law today. As I had mentioned in my post on tarea, one of assignments in CINCEL is to talk with the people that we meet in San José. Ron Marcotte, missionary to Ecuador, and I were doing just that, interviewing passers-by in a shopping center, when we were approached by a security guard. After asking us what we were doing, he told us that we would have to follow him to the administration office where we would have to petition for approval for our interviews.

Upon arrival at the office, we were summarily questioned, in Spanish of course, about our activities, and our notes and responses were scrutinized. Finally, we were given permission, only if we would present identification and letters of reference from CINCEL stating who were were and what we were doing. Needless to say, we are crossing that mall off of our list of places to go to chat.

Of course, there was an upside. We did manage to talk to 7 people before we were “taken into custody,” and we did realize that we had the ability to survive in particularly stressful situations in a foreign language. So thank you to those of you who have had faith in us. That faith is paying off. Also, thank you to CINCEL for preparing us to face the situations that may come our way. Of course, come to think of it, we wouldn’t have been in that situation if CINCEL hadn’t put us up to it…

So what do you think? Are you ready for language school? Leave us a comment.


Tarea (f)

(Spanish) Work that needs to be done in a limited time (eg. homework)

Homework has been the key word for the past few weeks here in Costa Rica as we continue through our second trimester at CINCEL. And as you can see from the stack of books, there won’t be any let up in sight for a while.
This picture represents the books that we are using during our courses, and each comes with it’s own particular set of tarea. So in addition to the 4 hours of class time that we have each day, we have been working with at least that amount of homework. Add to that the time that we have to spend talking with people on the streets of San Jose, and that makes for a full day!

But this isn’t a post to complain, no it is much more to express our gratitude for the deadlines that God gives to us. I have found that we have a tendency to work better when there is a time frame set in place. So it is with Spanish study. There have been several times in our lives where we have wanted to involve ourselves in learning Spanish. The desire was real, but the deadline was never set. Now here in language school we have the motivation and, for sure, the deadlines. The wondrous thing is, with God’s help, those two elements have combined to result in some tremendous progress. Now for certain, we have far to go, but to be able to understand and to be understood in a foreign language is indeed a tremendous blessing. So the next time that God assigns you tarea don’t look at it as a time to cringe, but rather as a time to grow!

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