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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?”
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
WE LIVE IN 100 HOUSES!
“I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property – along with persecution.” Mark 10:29-30
9pm on a recent summer evening, I (Karen) found myself making an unexpected call to my friend Cel: “Um, so, I’m on a plane which will arrive in Philly in about 4 hours, and, uh, I need a place to sleep tonight. If Nancy picks me up at the airport, can she drop me off at your house so I can sleep on your couch?” The logistics of delayed flights and missing car keys had shattered my original well-laid plan, and I was in the middle of a string of urgent phone calls and texts hoping to come up with a new one before my flight took off. In spite of sounding understandably confused, Cel replied without hesitation: “Of course! But not on the couch, the guest room is empty, so you’ll be up there.”
As I smiled gratefully, the above verses came to mind. I thought back to 21 years ago when I clung to those verses while we were trying to sell our beloved Quakertown farmhouse before moving to Costa Rica. They had comforted me then even though it didn’t make sense. A hundred times as many houses now? In a few weeks I wasn’t even going to own ONE house. But now, many nights in many guest rooms later I could guess that Jesus probably was talking about something we now describe using the phrase “mi casa es su casa” (Spanish for “my house is your house”). I started counting in my head: Cel’s, Steve’s, Karen’s, Sharon’s, Betty’s, Geni’s, Vikky’s… Yes, there probably ARE literally a hundred homes where I know I would be welcomed on short notice and treated like family! Where I already HAVE spent many wonderful nights sharing old memories and making new ones.
I think this is a prime example of how God’s beautiful promises to his children are fulfilled in wonderful ways, going way beyond mere provision: also bringing love and joy and community. Don’t wait for your plans to go awry to take some time to look at your own life and identify the extraordinary ways God has fulfilled his promises to you and your family. Thank him for what he has already done, and trust that he will continue to do more than you can ask or think.
To all the hundreds of you who have housed us and fed us and loved on us over the years, there are no words to adequately express our gratitude. We love to accept your generous hospitality and to return it whenever we can mostly because we love you and love to be with you! And when you have days where you feel as though you are not making a difference in the world, please remember that to us (and surely many others) you have been and continue to be the hands of God. Karen
FAMILY NEWS: Vikky married Chris Pierdomenico on June 29!
Chris and Vikky got married in a beautiful June wedding! Karen and friends handled the details of the wedding and reception, Gary gave away the bride and performed the wedding! We had a large group, that included many old friends, people who flew in from all over, family, including Tim from Albuquerque. All the kids together again!
A super special thank you to friends and family who went WAY out of their way to help prepare, serve, and clean up the wedding celebration: Sharon and Cassie, Juli, Laura & Michael, Joann & Vince, Steph, Tim, Cel and Karen. We could not have done it without your help!
Praise and Prayer
- Karen is busy doing research and holding meetings to explore a new ministry
- We have several new donors!
- Someone just pledged us money to buy a dependable car for Costa Rica!
- Dr. Vikky just started her first job in physical therapy!
And PRAY that we will be able to return to Costa Rica by the end of May!
Financial needs for 2018
You can give us a one-time gift or become a partner through our mission’s website HERE.
Our main news is that we will be closing down this website and moving everything to a new Facebook page.
On Facebook, simply search for the name SHOGRENS IN COSTA RICA.
You can also receive our bimonthly newsletter, just send us a message and you will get the next one in February.
Many blessings! Gary
My (Gary’s) Week as a Missionary
Class Prep! Monday I prepared for my two courses: Exegesis of Revelation (master’s level) and 1 Corinthians (bachelor’s level).
Revelation class! I began our weekly discussion with a question about the value of knowing the history of the seven churches of Asia, and also a point about the Greek of “thus says” in Rev 2:1.
Parenting! Sammy starts his new school year Monday – the school year is February-December – so I have been warming him up on Math Facts.
New Master’s Degree students! It’s my job to recruit and interview graduate students at ESEPA, and 2-3 new people contacted me this week.
US Politics! Well, no ideological details, but I was in touch with my senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey this week. Thank the Lord I can write them instantly from here.
1 Corinthians class! From 8-11:15 on Wednesdays. We have about 20 students, a lively group. One assignment is that they do some sort of creative project, which they will then present to the class. One group is going to do a send-up on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
Administrative council meeting! Friday’s 2-hour meeting Continue reading
Karen says: Thank you for your prayers in these last 7 weeks. God has answered those prayers in many beautiful ways. On June 28, Mom spent her last moments in her frail earthly body comfortable, peaceful, and surrounded by loved ones. Now she is enjoying eternity with the Lord she served so faithfully.
Contributions may be made to Woodlyn Baptist Church, Woodlyn PA, or Shriners Hospital for Children.
Gary says: Thelma accepted the Lord as a teenage and had walked with him for eight decades. My lasting image of her will be with her sitting in her special rocker, with her Bible and magnifying glass in hand, praying and studying the Scriptures.
What if you had to learn, let’s say, Romanian if you wanted to read the Bible?
Gary says: I have long admired the work of Bible translators, as they do the hard work of taking the Scriptures to the 1.3 billion who do not have the whole Word of God in their own – not in someone else’s – language.
I have just been offered a chance to lend a hand to this process (visit https://unfoldingword.org/). I am now working some hours a week to write a handbook that will help translators around the world. It’s called Door 43, named after Colossians 4:3 – “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word” (Now, wasn’t that easier than read it in Romanian? “Rugaţi-vă totodată şi pentru noi, ca Dumnezeu să ne deschidă o uşă pentru Cuvânt”).
This handbook will then be translated into 50 languages that are used all around the world. And from those 50 “Portal Languages” (e.g., English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, etc.) it will be possible to translate the Bible into every single language and dialect in the world. In theory, 100% coverage.
To give an example, we know that in Mexico people speak Spanish, right? But did you know that the government recognizes 68 other indigenous languages? That means that plenty of people cannot hear or read the Bible in their first language, and the Bible forever remains a “foreign” book.
So what will happen is this: Christian leaders in Mexico who speak both languages will use an app on their tablets, and bit by bit translate the Bible from Spanish into their own local dialect.
It is amazing that in the 21st century, people in remote areas, without electricity or telephones can start translating the Bibles into their own languages, using kits that donors have supplied (click here).
Wycliffe Associates just tried an experiment: they set up 13 native speakers in a remote area of Asia – and working in 12-hour shifts, they were able to translate half the New Testament in just a month.
We have nine people on our committee, and we are working on Acts. Our task is to go carefully over the text, and to write Translation Notes that will help people in the field to render the Bible accurately. For example, in Acts 16:31, Paul says “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your house.” We have a note about the word “house” – we remind translators that it doesn’t mean the physical building where people live, but rather the people who lived with the Philippian jailor – his extended family, workers, and servants. Now no-one will make the mistake of having the Bible say that “your hut can be born-again”!
Here are two notes that I wrote for Acts 20:7 – On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul spoke to the believers. He was planning to leave the next days, so he kept speaking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we had come together.
This project will run for 3-5 years, and has the potential of reaching every language on earth, and within a much abbreviated period of time. In fact, they will be flying me to their center in Orlando on June 20, where I will work with a team to write the Romans material in just a week.
Everything we do as missionaries to Costa Rica is aimed toward one goal: “Y este evangelio del reino se predicará en todo el mundo como testimonio a todas las naciones, y entonces vendrá el fin.” – Oops! That’s the Spanish of Matthew 24:14. Better say it in English! “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Please pray for this new open door! Blessings this month, Gary and Karen