Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Busy, busy, busy...

It's been a busy few days around here. Last Friday morning was the monthly distribution of food to the children in the church's sponsorship program. I always enjoy being here for that. The kids come with an adult from their family and hear a message from the Bible from Jose or Jesus and then receive a bag of groceries/household items. This month the bag weighed about 40 pounds and was full of cereal, soups, toothpaste, soaps, tomato sauce, and various other staple items.

By the time the program had finished, Jorge Rodriguez from Ocotepeque, Honduras had arrived. He was here to pick up our family and take us to visit with his family for the day. Our kids needed some time away from 'home base' and Jorge's three daughters were looking forward to meeting our kids and were out of school on Friday. I also hoped that Gloria could help me with finding some kitchen items that we had not been able to purchase here. We crossed the border with no issues and his family was waiting for us at their house. They had made signs in English to welcome our family to their home. They had a 'schedule' for the day and first on it was to go take care of shopping so the nine of us headed out on foot. We were able to quickly find vanilla, then barbecue sauce, powdered sugar, a couple of pizza pans (which will double as cookie sheets) and a cake pan. At the last store we went to, we were able to find Betty Crocker cake mixes (hooray!) and American parmesan cheese. And Gloria blessed me by having a plastic cutting board set aside for me as a gift. This is something I'd been looking for so it was the perfect gift. :)

We went back to their house after shopping to enjoy a lunch that Gloria had prepared. She had baked some chicken and made potato salad. It was so delicious. I also found out that Gloria goes through the same steps as I do to wash dishes. Despite the fact that they are 'locals', the water does not do well with their stomachs so they only drink bottled water and after she washes the dishes, she rinses them in water with bleach added. To be able to talk to another mom who goes through the same tedious process was helpful. She talked about how much time it takes but that it's necessary for the health of her family. I completely understood. Sometimes it just helps to know that someone else is going through the same thing. :)

While we cleared the table, Monte and Jorge were able to enjoy some good conversation and the kids all started a game of futbol (soccer) in Jorge's hallway. Despite being an informal game, it was quite intense and the kids enjoyed it a lot. We finally had to drag the kids away to go do a little bit more shopping. Gloria had said that perhaps we could find some of our items in Esquipulas and that it was only about 20 minutes away. As we got a few minutes down the road, something was said about Guatemala and crossing the border. It wasn't till that moment that we realized Esquipulas is in Guatemala. (Three countries in one day!)

As we entered Guatemala we noticed a large white beautiful building through some trees and as we tried to snap pictures out the window Gloria told us we didn't need to do that because we could go to that building. Turns out, "that building" is a Catholic basilica that houses a shrine of a "Black Christ"--a carving of Jesus on the cross made out of dark wood and dating to 1595. As we got closer to it and realized the enormity of the building, it was truly overwhelming. In the courtyard of the grounds, there was a row of people with various infirmities who were begging for money--you can see them over to the right in the picture of our family.

Gloria led our group and told us we could enter the basilica. As we approached the stairs leading up to it, she pointed out two young men crawling up the stairs very slowly on their hands and knees. They were saying some kind of prayer as they did so and Jorge told us it was a form of penance.

As we entered the basilica there were beautiful carvings and paintings surrounding us but the center of attention was at the front of the building. Encased in glass is the "Black Christ" and worshippers filed into the pews to pray. Gloria led us out a side door to where we would be able to see the carving up close. There is a path that leads through a shrine area. People who have attributed healings to the Black Christ bring remembrances to leave. This image of Christ's face was created from such remembrances. When we got nearer to the crucifix, Gloria pointed out a man walking away backwards. She explained that many people walk out backwards because they don't want to "turn their back on Christ."

The path led us to be able to walk completely around the glass case that enclosed the Black Christ. Some people in front of us lingered for quite some time, praying in front of the crucifix. Outside was an open area covered by a tent where people could light candles and there were at least four men working to clean up the wax from the floors and keep the area organized. As you might imagine, this entire experience led to some very interesting and in-depth discussions at dinner Friday night. You can read more about Esquipulas and the famous Black Christ here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esquipulas or of course Google it for more information.

Saturday I was able to use my new pizza pans because we have discovered that a local bakery, Lilan's, has personal pizzas pre-made for $1.25. I stopped by and asked them if they would sell me some unbaked, brought them home and put them on my new pizza pans and baked them here at home. They were delicious. We had Amanda (Reina's daughter) with us and she enjoyed them as well.

I tried to do some baking Saturday. Nathan's been asking for a chocolate cake. But one of the things I haven't been able to find is baking cocoa. All I have found is chocolate drink mix which has sugar added. The stores have tried to tell me it is the same but I know that it's not. So I found a recipe and tried to make a chocolate cake using chocolate milk mix. I had several things working against me in this endeavor. First, no cocoa. Second, I didn't have an appropriately-sized pan. I also haven't entirely figured out how to adjust recipes for high altitudes, but I'm working on it. And finally, my oven doesn't have temperatures on it. It has five positions on the knob--numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I'm guessing somewhere around 3 is 350 degress and have been using it as such but am not really sure. As I began to get out ingredients, we had various interruptions. Jose needed to talk to us, a lady from the church needed to talk to us, some stopped by to just say hi, then various other interruptions. I had put on an apron while working and the first few times, I took it off to greet our guests. By the end of the afternoon, when Jose came by I asked if he minded if I continued baking while we talked and he didn't mind so I mixed while he and Monte and I discussed some matters. The cake was edible, but not my best. Too many things stacked against me in this effort. I'll try again later and one of the stores in town tells me they'll have baking cocoa in this week. We'll see. :)

Sunday evening Teresa and I started a teen girls class. We had 6 in attendance and I think the class went well and the girls were receptive. We are looking forward to seeing this class grow and the girls become more involved in the church at La Palma. We want them to develop a real connection and a real relationship with Christ and this kind of class is a good way to get that started. They've never had one on a regular basis and I think it's going to be a good thing for them. At the same time as our class, Monte and Jose have a teen boys/young men class going to help encourage leadership and growth in them.

Monte has left this morning with Jose to go visit some of the families that have children in the sponsor program. I'm getting ready to work on some class material for this week's teen girls class. The kids are both making friends here and enjoying playing tag and futbol with the local kids. Nathan seems to have muddy knees a lot from these games. I'm getting better at calling Ruth by her middle name of "Erin" in public, as that is how the locals know her. Somehow it all feels right. :) God has guided us on the journey to La Palma the entire way. We knew He would not abandon us once we arrived, and as our family becomes a part of the community and the church body here, we continue to feel His blessings and guidance.

Last night as we prepared to head to the Monday night time of praise and prayer with the church, it began pouring rain. During the rainy season, there are not enough adjectives to describe how it rains here when it pours--it's just unbelievable. I commented to Monte that numbers might be down tonight because of the timing of the rain. It is inspiring, however, to see that rain pouring at a rate beyond your wildest imagination cannot stop a single mother and her children from walking long distances in the dark to meet with their church family. God is good.


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