We are WorldVenture missionaries to Costa Rica. Gary is professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA and is a blogger and author. Karen teaches at ESEPA and also specializes in sexual abuse and the church. They have four adult children who live in the USA.
Gary’s turn this month
2020 and 2021 are apparently the years for my books to get published. My 1 Corinthians commentary was just released English by Kerigma, Salem OR. It’s available on Amazon (only $25!) or on Logos Bible Software; the Spanish version is available on Amazon as well.
It was written in the first instance for the Latin American church, and to prepare it I did a lot of talking with Costa Ricans about how it can be applied to daily life. It should be useful for North Americans too. In fact, when people read it in English, they will have the chance to feel what it is like for us in the south, where many, many commentaries are translations of US works, and often include American cultural assumptions on how the Bible should be applied. Some American Christians I know regard their own exposition as “scientific, objective exegesis” and that of others as “culture-bound, subjective eisegesis (= reading our ideas into the text).” I disagree, or, at least I assert that life is more complicated than that. In fact, I have never met anyone- including the face I see in the mirror every morning – who opens the Word, free ideas of “what the Bible should say.”
In addition, writers – or preachers or teachers – do not just study the biblical text; they also “exegete” the audience in order to bridge the gap between God’s Word and God’s people.
In the commentary we go verse by verse through the text, and also give analyses of many key topics: marriage and divorce, the spiritual gifts, Christian leadership, pastoral ministry, poverty and wealth, unity. As an example:
True unity does not live in terror of disagreement, nor does it give up in disgust when disagreement occurs. I say this again: a person who is truly loving and living in unity with the church will at times say hard things, not because it is pleasant to do so, but because it is loving. Unity means that in a sinful world, even godly people will have occasional frictions, even sharp arguments. Unity leaves room for loving disagreement over details and disagreement over major issues. Unity does not seek calm for its own sake, but because that peace is the best way to represent God’s truth.
Spoiler: I should have another book in English being published this year; will announce it when it comes out! It will have an iceberg on the cover.
And a summer 2021 update: Greetings from Pennsylvania!
We were unable to get vaccinated in Costa Rica, so we decided to pop up to the States for a couple of months; and as soon as we flew up, Costa Rica when back on strict shutdown. So, this will be our summer to meet some of our churches and individual reporters, in order to bring them up to date on our work. Our calendar is filling up! Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 717-413-1764. Meanwhile, we are doing our regular work of teaching and writing in beautiful Lancaster County. We will see many of you over the next weeks.
Our son-in-law Chris, Vik’s husband, just graduated with his master’s degree! Congratulations Chris!
Blessings! Gary and Karen
Thanks to all our supporters!
We are so grateful for you! Every day we are reminded that we could not do this on our own. Your faithful prayers and encouragement and financial support allow us to give our all to the work God has set before us. Missionaries we know have lost a lot of financial support over the past year, but ours has held firm.
This month, Karen shares: I am still amazed how much our ministries have exploded in the last year! Since many organizations are more comfortable with online communication our ability to spread the Gospel and train leaders worldwide is multiplied. For instance, tonight Gary is being interviewed by an organization in Australia, pertaining to his new commentary; his audience crossed 17 time zones. This morning I helped plan the roll-out of WorldVenture’s new child protection policy with coworkers in Spain, Montana, and North Carolina, then Gary and I met with our regional director who lives in Oregon. Tomorrow morning, I will be teaching people from Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Los Angeles (California), Bolivia, and Costa Rica. Next week we will start orienting all WorldVenture missionaries and I will be leading groups worldwide. Without having to travel, we can accomplish more with less effort.
I have just finished teaching the first 2 courses of our new certificate program at ESEPA, training church leaders how to prevent and respond to sexual abuse. It’s been a fascinating opportunity to create something new that is so badly needed in our world today.
Recently I was blessed when Marcela López offered to make me a logo for the ministry. Our name, Levanta La Voz, means “Raise Your Voice”, taken from Proverbs 31:8-9, where we are instructed to raise our voice to help those who cannot speak for themselves. I believe that not only is it a good reminder every time we read the words, but also it is a great conversation-starter. You’ll notice it has 3 leaves – one for each way Christians can confront sexual violence: make our churches and homes safe places, provide help and healing to those affected by sexual violence, and spread the word out into our communities. Lastly, we have the universal broadcast symbol as one more reminder that staying quiet on this issue ALWAYS makes things worse. I pray that you will help us by raising your voice against sexual violence.
If you work with children or teens, have them in your family, or know anyone in your church that does, I highly recommend a movie: Childhood 2.0. It came out a few months ago and is available free on YouTube and various streaming services. It would be instructive to get groups of parents and church leaders together to watch this prayerfully. Once you have seen it and are prepared, it would be a fascinating conversation-starter to watch with your tweens or teens. It is not a Christian movie, per se, but it is a clear portrayal of the challenges children and teens face today. If we do not understand what they are facing, it will be impossible for us to help them grow unto godliness.
Gary in a conference! If you would like to see what it is like. Feel free to drop in! The action starts to pick up around 26:00 minutes.
* Praise! that our support level is healthy despite the pandemic.
* Praise! Karen successfully launched her new program and taught two of the courses.
Blessings this month!
Gary checks off an important box!
This month it’s Gary’s turn to share: This week, Editorial CLIE of Barcelona published my commentary on 1 Corinthians, Spanish edition. To give you an idea of what this means to me: I began the project in 2003. We were still fairly fresh to the mission field. All four kids were still living in Costa Rica. After many rewrites and negotiations, it was picked up by the good people at CLIE. Available on Amazon!
Instead of just writing a few words to describe it, we will go high-tech and show you a video of me talking about it! Click HERE.
To pick up a copy in English, it’s available on Logos Bible Software (click HERE) and, at some future date, it will come out on Amazon.
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Gary again: On Friday night we had graduation. A number of master’s degree students with whom I have worked for years got their degrees – for example, here I am with Ana Rita, Masters in New Testament Exegesis!
* Praise! that our support level is healthy despite the pandemic. And many thanks to Calvary Baptist Church, Riverhead NY, for adopting us as their new missionaries!
* Prayer! Karen will be launching her new year-long Certificate program, Saturday Feb 7. Please pray for this vital work!
Blessings this month! Gary and Karen
I made myself a promise that, just to mix things up, this newsletter would not be about, “So, we are trying to adapt to COVID.”
Gary writes: The following observations come after 22 years on the field. They apply to us: your missionary mileage may differ.
- You are no longer one culture or the other, but a mixture of two. Rather than “home” we sometimes use the language, “What is your passport country?” And here is a book on sale for 99 cents about missionary children, Karen highly recommends it! Move quickly, not sure how long the sale will be on.
- Language is a constant journey. We went to a full year of language school when we started our work. Yet we still learn and look things up, daily. I would guess that my ability to express myself as a professor is only about 60% of my ability to do so in English. Imagine trying to run a race in knee-deep mud. Or perhaps this Ginger Rogers quote is more relevant to Karen’s work, in Spanish as opposed to English: “I did everything Fred Astaire did! But I did it backwards and in high heels!”
- The New Culture. Costa Rica is, in my opinion, one amazing country with a great culture. The people are wonderful – and very forgiving of my accent! But it’s not just a question of learning Spanish words, but local culture. For example, last week we had the Desfile de Faroles, Independence Day with a long parade of kids carrying lanterns, and all in traditional costume. Costa Ricans also greet every person in the room when they enter, and say farewell to each individual when they exist. They make a big deal of “despedidas” (farewell parties) and of course, the “quinceñera” (a formal party for a girl who turns 15, much more important than a Sweet Sixteen).
- Church is different! A two-hour service is considered on the short side. Salsa rhythms predominate in the music. I remember that, one of the first times I was preaching, a truck passed by and tooted its horn. To my surprise, half the congregation ran to the windows for a few minutes, to gaze at what was going on!
- Reverse culture shock (going home) is harder than living in the new culture. The philosopher said, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.” And so, pretend to do this: look at a scene, then close your eyes for 10 months, and open your eyes; close them for a year, open your eyes, etc. It’s like one of those fast-motion films. To us, the US looks different every time we step back in, and so does the US church. A hint: ask your foreign missionaries how the church has changed over the past few years, you may be surprised.
- Living in the region, but outside the US. Living in Central America gives you a vastly different perspective on the US. The US is “that superpower to the north” and often appears on local news; by contrast, Costa Rica rarely appears on US news!
- The internet is a godsend. When we first went on the field, email was still only a few years old, and a phone call to the US was $1/minute. Now it’s free, and Karen talks to our kids almost daily. When I study, I can access many more resources online. And this year we have been giving regular international courses and conferences on Zoom.
- You miss the big things from America! Circumstances are unusual this year, but still: I haven’t seen my mother, siblings, cousins, or our own children, for over a year. Also, we miss our churches, or in fact, any church meeting in English.
- You miss the medium-sized things! Well, my personal “miss” is having a serious theological library nearby; when we are in Pennsylvania, there are two, within a half-hour. This makes any sort of research or writing I do – and it’s a lot – seriously more difficult as it should be. Occasionally I’ll post on Facebook, “Could someone find a copy of this book and take a picture of page 58 for me?”
- You miss the little things! People in Pennsylvania and NJ will understand why, every time we drive somewhere in the US, our first question is “Stop at Wawa?” (It’s a chain of wonderful gas-and-grocery stores, with running fresh coffee). No Wawas in CR!
- We thank God for letting us serve here; hardly a day goes by when I don’t think, “How blessed am I?”
Watch Karen Teach her International Course!
Three times a week, Karen boots up to teach over 100 people. CLICK HERE to catch a glimpse of her in her “studio” (if there are troubles with the “sound”, click the triangle on the upper right). She is saying, ‘So, we are not just saying that we must not abuse our power to abuse others; it is that we have to use our power to protect the vulnerable. As Jeremiah 23 says, Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD.’
Hello from San José, Costa Rica! I am so glad for the opportunity to update you on my ministry. Please forgive the length of this – I think a bit of background will help you comprehend the significance of all the new information!
You may remember that December 2015 Continue reading
Karen shares this month:
To see Karen’s online class, search out “Training Churches to Speak Up” on YouTube.
I love the old doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” Every time I hear it I have beautiful memories of singing it in church as a child accompanied by organ and piano, 50 of us singing it in 4-part harmony before meals while on Chorale tour in college, and singing it a cappella with Grace Bible Fellowship Church short term missions team up in the mountains as the fog cleared to uncover the beautiful Central Valley of Costa Rica as the city lights came on at dusk.
Lately the song has been repeating itself in my mind as I watch God work around me here in San José. After years of work and preparation, in February I began teaching my new course The Church Confronting Sexual Violence. We had 17 adults in our first English cohort, a mix of US missionaries and Costa Ricans, and met here in our home. Just about the time I started to get the hang of everything, exactly half-way through the 8-week course, quarantine changed everybody’s world. Within a couple of weeks, we had figured out Plan B: we were back at it, studying together via live video conference. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”
Even while we were finishing up those last 4 weeks, it dawned on me that switching to an online format had truly opened up new possibilities. There were fellow missionaries around the world who wanted to take the course, plus some workers in the US, and some of them had extra free time while they were waiting for quarantine to lift. We opened cohort #2 to start immediately after the first one and have now gotten through the first 5 weeks. Taking the course are adults who work in Russia, Spain, Mozambique, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the USA. “Praise him all creatures here below!”
One of my students shared with us recently about her experience in Honduras. She is fairly new there, so asked someone whether their large church had any type of child safety policy. The question got to the pastor, who replied that they did not have one, and was so troubled by it that he couldn’t sleep. The next morning, he got in touch with their denomination’s leaders to ask if any of their churches had such a policy. They did not, and the denomination’s leaders were so convicted about it that they asked us to please help ALL of them set up a child safety policy as soon as possible! I am still stunned and in awe of how God is clearly moving in the hearts of church leaders here in Central America! “Praise him above ye heavenly host!”
Needless to say, I am already making connections with people who can help translate everything so we can train those church leaders, plus anyone else who will listen! And now while I work, that familiar song of praise is in my heart, tying the old to the new, and my strength is renewed with gratitude that God has finally let me see the first true fruit of years of hard work and uncertainty! “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!”
ANNIVERSARY! We praise God too as we celebrate a personal milestone: our 40th wedding anniversary! We were having trouble deciding how to celebrate in quarantine, so our dear missionary friends Nancy and Paul Mauger treated us to a delicious breakfast!
Many blessings this month! Gary and Karen
Karen shares this month:
Gary’s commentary on Thessalonians was published in Spanish! And he is happy to be back teaching at ESEPA Seminary in San José, Costa Rica after the holiday break, and working on a new book.
He’s still working with Wycliffe Associates, helping to edit a new Greek-English dictionary for Bible translations. He loves what he does, so it is a double blessing to be able to serve the Lord doing what he enjoys most! (And from the perspective of a proud wife, I, Karen, think he is exceptionally gifted in this area!).
We have had a lot of family adjustments lately, the most recent one is that Sammy (our 12-year-old “foster son”) and his grandmother Rosi have moved out and are living with her sister and extended family about 3 hours away. They have been with us for 13 years, and we all love each other dearly, so it is a terribly difficult adjustment for everyone. But it was clearly God’s will, so we know it is what is best for all 4 of us. So that leaves the two of us alone, true empty-nesters for the first time since Steve was born 34 years ago. All of you who have been faced with an empty nest know what a huge adjustment THAT is on its own, so we are actually adjusting to 2 major changes at once. Not for the faint of heart! We are putting a lot of effort into how to re-arrange the household and divvy up the chores to keep us both free for the work God has given us to do. It has been a huge challenge but also we are finding unexpected fun in it.
I (Karen) am finally ready to start my new program training church leaders how to combat sexual abuse! It is very exciting and overwhelming! The first cohort will begin Feb 13, 1-4pm US Central time, every Thursday for 8 weeks. It will be a pilot program in English for missionaries here in San José, so that we can work out the kinks before translating everything into Spanish, and so that they can help recruit local churches to take the course beginning mid-year. We know that we are heading deep into enemy territory and he won’t take it lying down. The last 2 years working on this have been filled with obstacles, crises, and other types of spiritual warfare. It is obvious that God has been directing this project from the beginning, so we are trusting his timetable and his provision, and it seems as though God has finally cleared the deck to make way for the project to begin!
We are so deeply grateful for your faithful prayers, encouragement, and financial support! We cannot do this without you, and are very proud to serve God here on your behalf. We praise God for his generous provision through you: we received a number of generous year-end gifts in December and January, which pushed us into the black for the end of the year and allowed us to claim some past expenses. THAT gave us cause for much rejoicing, and means we will have the money for upcoming ministry expenses over the next few months. To God be the glory, GREAT things he has done!
PRAISE AND PRAYER
- Protection from spiritual warfare (health, time, distractions, protection)
- That God would send the right people to attend Karen’s pilot program, and use them to provide critical feedback for final adjustments
- That God would provide someone who is willing to translate a lot of material free of charge
- That Karen will have clarity of thought in these last days of writing the course
- If you think of it, please pray during each lesson, that God will give Karen clear mental focus, that God’s compassion and love for the helpless will flow freely, that his Spirit will change our hearts, and prepare us and lead us forward in this ministry
- That Gary and Karen would persevere in pursuit of new and healthy household routines, that we would keep our sense of humor through any rough patches of adjustment, that we would become an even stronger team in God’s service
At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. (Philippians 4:18-20, NLT)
With just a few small changes his words are still applicable today for the Shogren family: “We too have all we need – and more! We have been generously supplied with the gifts many of you have sent online or through the mail. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of us will supply all YOUR needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now ALL GLORY TO GOD our Father forever and ever!”
Every day there are unlimited reminders of your generous faithfulness: every time we go food shopping or pay our electric bill, it is a testament to God’s faithfulness through you. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts! Without you we would not be able to focus on our ministries in Costa Rica and elsewhere, training church leaders and missionaries through teaching, mentoring, and writing.
Now there is a new reminder of God’s generous provision at our house – in the garage! Thank you, Rose family, for your over-the-top generous gift of a 2011 Nissan Murano with only 43,000 miles logged on it!