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Angel of Independence“The City” in the U.S. is of course, New York City. It is one of the most important centers of commerce and culture in the country, and, who can forget, it is also home to the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees. However, when you speak of “The City” in Mexico, you are speaking of Mexico City, the nation’s capital and home to about 32 million people.

This Wednesday we will have the opportunity to travel back to “The City.” We were most recently there this past August, when we received our invitation to work in Mérida. This time we will be traveling in order to receive our official religious visas, which will give us more freedom to work in Mérida and throughout the country. We’re happy to finally be through with this process as it has meant mailing of lots of paperwork and dealing with lots of waiting. Still, God willing and the thumb prints don’t smudge, we’ll have those important documents in hand this Thursday.

Also, we’re looking forward to getting together with other missionaries, including friends from language school, Peter and Delia Breit and Josh and April Amiot. Their children and ours we’re good friends in Costa Rica, and we’re glad to have another chance to allow them make memories as well as catch up with them on their lives and ministries.

So this week please be in prayer as we head out to “The City.” Pray for safe travel, for the complication-free reception of our visas, for patient easygoing kids, and for protection in and around the metropolitan area.


New Traditions

This year, the Godzwa family rang in the New Year a bit differently. No watching the ball drop in Times Square for us. We welcomed 2007 Mexican style. That meant of course there had to be fireworks, lots of them, and the traditional eating of the grapes.

That’s right, when the clock strikes 12:00 Mexicans have a tradition of eating 12 grapes, one for each chime of the clock. The tradition started in Spain in the early 1900’s, some suggest, as a way to trim the excess of an especially large grape harvest for that year. Later, the custom was transported to Mexico where the grapes have taken a special significance. Each grape represents a wish for the new year: Health, Work, Love, Peace, Money, Success, Prosperity, Joy, Happiness, Harmony, Friendship, and Luck.

Of course, we all have our traditional ways to celebrate the New Year. Why don’t you share with us your favorite by dropping us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Well, however you had opportunity to ring in 2007, we do hope your celebration was festive, and we wish you all of the blessing and joy that following Jesus brings to you in 2007.


Monday left you feeling a little bewildered? With the Christmas rush, I’m sure that all of us have asked ourselves if we are coming or going, but how about if you ran into a sign like this one?

We have had a pretty good time with navigation through Mérida. The city is laid out like a grid even streets running north-south and odd east-west, but once you reach the street called Circuito Colonias, which is basically a circle route around the older central neighborhoods, throw logic out the window. We’ve now tried to navigate the eastern portion of this road three times, and each time we’ve ended up in a different location. Of course it’s no surprise with signs like this one leading the way. I guess things like this show us we still have a bit more to learn about this city.

Things have been a little quiet here on for the last week, but it’s not because we’ve been taking a Thanksgiving vacation. In fact, as I write this, I’m in the lobby of our hotel for the Mexican General Council, in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico.

Thanksgiving is a decidedly American holiday. So, since Latin America doesn’t recognize it, life goes on pretty much like any other day. Events are scheduled, business is planned, and missionaries need to leave in order to attend church events.

Still, before I left for council, we had a chance to spend some time at Chichen Itza. This was the last great city of the Maya people which rose to prominence in the year 900 A.D. and collapsed about 1200 A.D. The site still holds much cultural and religious significance today.

I’ve added pictures of our trip to the which you can view by clicking on the picture above or following this link.

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Day of the Dead

I received an email from one of the readers of the site asking about the Day of the Dead rituals that occur here in Mérida. She was wondering if it mirrored the traditional practices that take place throughout the country, or if there was a certain Yucateco twist to the holiday. Not being one to disappoint, I decided to give what insight into the event that I have in this post:

First of all, one needs to be clear about the Day of the Dead as it is traditionally celebrated. Throughout Mexico, the first two days of November are a national holiday during which the country remembers their deceased relatives. The first day is a day set aside to remember the deceased children and the second is “El Dia de Todos Los Santos” or the Day of the Dead proper. During these days, altars are made in homes with pictures of the dead relative along with those things that would have been special to the person during their lives: a sweater, a jacket, a picture or possibly a toy for a child. Also, the deceased’s favorite foods would be on display with the idea that, during these days, the relative would visit to be with the family and partake of the meal there on the altar.

During this time as well, there is much attention given to the family gravesite where flowers are placed and the debris that have collected during the year are cleaned away. One Maya village takes this idea of cleaning to the extreme, and actually exhumes the dried bones of relatives that have been dead for 3 years, cleaning them and placing them on display in boxes. The ritual is detailed in this Yahoo news article

Also, it is said that, during the day of the dead proper, the family gathers at the gravesite in order to enjoy a meal with the dead relative. I tried to witness this tradition, stopping by the General Cemetery here in Mérida, but, possibly because of the rain, I found only a few families placing flowers.

Here in Mérida, there is another holiday celebrated during the same time called El Hanal Pixan. It is a ceremony that predates the arrival of the Spanish and also honors those family members who have died. The picture above, from the local paper Diario de Yucatan shows girls dressed in the traditional Maya “huipil” making tortillas in front of an altar constructed in order to celebrate this event.

We’ve found it hard to experience this holiday living the midst of an evangelical society that has rejected its practice, but I find myself personally torn by this rejection. On one hand, the worship of dead loved ones as a way of receiving favors for ourselves with God or as a way of helping them somehow reach eternal rest are ideas that I reject as being groundless biblically, but the Bible does not consider our loved ones as dead to us. Paul states that to die to be with Christ, and that our spirits continue to live after our physical deaths. Hebrews chapter 12 states that the saints (believers) who have died form a kind of “cloud of witnesses” that seem to cheer us on in our own Christian walk. So in this sense, our struggle to try to forget our dead loved ones seems as well to be a bit unbiblical. I still haven’t had enough exposure to the rituals involved to make an unbiased judgment. So I’ll save any conclusion for much later. Of course this could be something to talk out in the comments section!

So there you have it, a bit of a survey of what went on during this past week as Mexico and the Yucatan celebrated the Day of the Dead. Next year, we’ll hope to be more on top of the action so that you can see more of the sights, and possibly sounds of the season.

Update 11/10/2006: For more about Day of the Dead around the missionary world, see this feature post on Missionary Blog Watch.

Some time ago I wrote about Gallo Pinto, the breakfast food of Costa Rica in this post entitled “Happy Monday.” Well, as a comparison, I’d like to take a little webspace talking about the Yucateco breakfast called, “cochinita.”

Here in Mérida, pork is king. Not to say that there aren’t other meats, but if you are going to eat yucateco style, pork is the food of choice in the majority of the dishes from breakfast to dinner. So let’s talk about this most important meal of the day. Here’s the scoop on cochinita:

Cochinita is basically a pork sandwich. On the street, the marinated pork is usually cooked on a open fryer in front of you or ahead of time in an oven and then brought to the site, but “real cochinita” is cooked underground. That’s right, a hole is dug and a fire is built. When the only the hot coals remain, the meat of the pig is cooked in a clay pot that is buried in this pit. The result, I have heard, is delicious, but I’ve yet to sample it so, on with the cochinita of real life.

The sandwich is served on a hard roll, on which the sauce of the meat is ladled first, and then the pork is laid, by hand, on top. Now there are two types, cochinita especial, which is all meat, and the cochinita normal, which includes “other parts.” This family has yet to sample the normal, but our mentors, Paul and Sandy Kazim tell us it’s the more flavorful of the two. Finally, some onions finish the sandwich along with some picante, which never fails to accompany Mexican dishes. The result is the traditional breakfast food of the Yucatan.

Now I explained this dish to my brother, Mike, who told me that it needed something else, like eggs, in order to make it breakfast, but the Meridians don’t seem to miss it. What do you think? Are you ready to give up your Wheaties yet?

Where has September gone? Between getting our trip here, getting our house in order and applying for our visas, it seems as though we’ve burned through a whole month! Just now catching our breaths, we’ve found some time to look around a little bit, and we’ve been a bit surprised at what we have seen.

The other day, while I was working on our front lawn two very friendly ladies, one in her fifties, the other a bit younger stopped by. Carrying materials that they offered me, they began with a message about the dangers of too much television watching, a subject that many of us are open to. However, as I probed a bit deeper, I found that they represented the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a cult that claims to be Christian yet denies the divinity of Christ, marking them beyond the fold of what we would call the Orthodox Christian Faith. The surprising thing was that not only were they out but they were out in force, going door to door with at least three groups in our neighborhood.

It also appears that this neighborhood is a neighborhood in search of God. Stopping around the corner to get my car washed, I struck up a conversation with Alberto, the owner. The subject turned to my work, which gave me an opportunity to explain who I was as well as talk a bit about my acceptance of Christ. When the conversation turned to his faith, he answered that he really didn’t know what it was that believed, but he certainly was willing to listen to what I had to say.

Going back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can see the magazine that they left with me earlier in this post. The title is “Despertad,” which is a Spanish command that means: “Wake up!” I think that is what Kelly and I have received, a wake up call to the readiness of those who are searching, evidenced by my conversation with Alberto, and the limited time that we have to reach these searchers as false religions sweep in to snatch up those who are spiritually vulnerable.

Please continue to pray for us as we pray to reach Merida, and pray for those like Alberto, that they might be receptive of our message.

This Sunday marked my first opportunity to preach in Mexico. I was able to share at the Centro Familiar Cristiano “Cristo Viene,” which translated reads Christian Family Center, “Christ is Coming.” The church is pastored by Berta Sabido Castillo, a pediatrician/minister. She invited me to speak specifically to the teens of the church during the Sunday morning service. I was able to share about my personal experience of being called by God when I was fifteen. It served as a springboard as well to preach missions.

The message was well recieved and many came forward to pray following the service. Also notable were the new relationships that were formed that will last long after the words of the message have been forgotten. I was invited back to help teach leadership principles to the cell group leaders, and our familiy was invited to spend the afternoon celebrating the 21st birthday of her son Josué, who also is a student in the Bible School.

We enjoyed sharing a meal of pollo asado, chicken cooked in rasins, orange juice and olives, along with lots of tortillas. The kids were excited about drinking Coke, which is the beverage of choice here in Merida (sorry Pepsi fans), and having a part of the cake, “tres leches.” A custom of the Yucatecos is to have the person celebrating to take a Mordita, or little bite of the cake before it is cut. The picture above is what resulted during the bite. It is also a custom to push the person’s face into the cake when taking the bite.

We’ve enjoyed this opportunity share a little bit of the lives of those who are working for the Lord here in Merida, and we’re looking forward to more opportunities to come.

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A Culture of Waiting

Life is moving in fits and starts here in Merida. There is a sense of going forward and yet standing still. It is somewhat like the noonday sun which heats this city to over 100 degrees regularly. The day continues on, but life just seems to stop under the heat.

The thing that I am referring to is our housing setup. We’ve gotten an air conditioner installed, but another needing repairs is still in the shop, waiting to be reinstalled, “mañana.” Our internet is hooked up, but our telephone will require another possible 22 days in order to be connected.

Our missionary friends say that when it comes to dealing with everyday life in Mexico, getting one thing done is a good day, getting two things done is a banner day, saying that you’ve accomplished three things would make you a liar.

So we’re learning that enterning into the culture here in Mexico takes a different kind of patience. A patience that will allow us to take the delays in stride and help us to make friends along the way.

Photo Credits: Photo uploaded by A30_Tsitika’s photos and is available at:

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As you can see, the two Dave’s finally made it from Springfield MO, all the way to Merida. The two hour trip from Campeche was very uneventful, which was a pleasant change from the travels of the previous days.

We arrived in Merida at about 10:30 AM and got right into the work, unloading boxes, receiving deliveries, and getting things situated so that we can officially move in to our home. While we’d been driving, Kelly had been doing the real work setting up house here in Merida, and we’re certainly getting close to that point. In the meantime, we’ve been enjoying the hospitality of fellow missionaries Paul and Sandy Kazim.

Of course, the sweetest thing about the journey was the reunion and the realization that even though we have moved seemingly all over the world, home is where the family is.

Even though our journey has ended, our mission is just beginning. Keep checking back to stay updated, and keep us in your prayers.

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