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April 2015 Newsletter

On Friday, our community San Francisco de Dos Ríos celebrated its annual Passion Play. To my surprise, while “Jesus” hung on the cross (tied in this version, not nailed; see picture below) a literal earthquake shook the ground beneath our feet.

Then over the weekend I listened to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, which reminds us that at Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And the earth was filled with quaking”. The way to God was opened, and the power of the grave was nullified.

All because of a cross.

The Romans regarded “cross” as one of the worst curse-words in their language. Their darkest obscenity was “I in malam maximam crucem!” which roughly translates to “Go and get really badly crucified!” It was a shocking profanity. Yet this curse of Jesus has become for us the way of salvation.

As Bach went on to write: “Ah, Golgotha, hapless Golgotha! The Lord of Glory must wretchedly perish here; the blessing and salvation of the world is placed on the cross like a curse. From the Creator of heaven and earth, earth and air shall be taken away. The guiltless must die here guilty. That strikes deep into my soul! Ah, Golgotha, hapless Golgotha!”

Take away the cross and we might as well dismiss the preachers; call the missionaries back home; tuck the Bible back on the Ancient Literature section of the library; turn Sunday School into playtime. But no! “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And for those of us who were called to believe in the gospel, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (see 1 Cor 1).

We can draw a direct line between the cross of Christ and our work in San Francisco de Dos Ríos. May all God’s children enjoy that same clarity!

(I invite you to read my sermon on the shame of the cross at http://openoureyeslord.com)

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August Update!

Since January our support level has risen from 59% to around 82%, and unofficially we might be in the upper 80s%. This is very good progress, and God has been very kind, blessing us with a generous team.

Our goal is to be in San José for Thanksgiving Dinner. Why? Because two new missionary families are just now moving to Costa Rica for the first time; look up the Mihalkos and the Footes on http://www.worldventure.com. We have been walking step by step with them as they decided that God was calling them to be missionaries. We want the Shogrens, Mihalkos and Footes to meet around the turkey in November.

To accomplish our goal, we still need to raise hundreds of dollars a month.
We would be happy to visit your church, or even your family or your small group; just leave a COMMENT below; we are very low pressure and won’t twist your arm!

Karen says: I’m having my other hip replaced on Aug 12 at Physicians Care Surgical Hospital in Royersford. In 6 weeks it just may be the first time in many years that I can walk normally! We have reactivated our CaringBridge page HERE.

Gary says: I’m probably on my way to a certain island nation for some weeks; if anyone wants more details, they can email me. Please pray that I get a visa and that I will be up to a demanding schedule while there.

And young Sammy says by Skype, Grandpa, ¿cuándo regresará? When will you be back? By God´s grace, we hope within a few months.

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How has our ministry expanded?

Gary has a new role, helping prepare a generation of Bible professors in a certain nation (you have to come hear us to get the details). He is now mentoring masters degree students through their final projects, a 75-page thesis in which they apply the Bible to their local needs. He also is in charge of making sure they get library material they need to do scholarly research.

Karen will be working more closely with our denomination, the Bible Fellowship Church. The BFC has a special department for caring for its missionaries and their families. Karen will help to prepare their missionary kids (MKs) for life overseas.

Still needed for us to return to the field: 78 people to commit to give $50/month

In the car Sundays, between ministry presentations, the talk naturally turns to ministry and fundraising. Presenting our ministry is a joy we wouldn’t want to miss:
1. We get to meet new and interesting people (this week at two new churches for us, Redeemer BFC in the morning and Franconia Reformed Baptist at night).
2. We “happen” to run into and catch up with old friends with whom we’d lost touch.
3. We get to encourage young people that serving God is always worth the sacrifice.
4. We stay focused. There are so many things we COULD be doing, that we have to work through, what  we SHOULD be doing. As we put into words why we do what we do, it puts the spotlight on our priorities.
5. We enjoy traveling, since we can spend some time together as a couple. Since we were newlyweds, we’ve analyzed everything from “How was my sermon/bible study/presentation?” to future ministry strategies. It helps us stay united in direction.

Please pray: Do you have Christian friends who might be interested to hear about our ministries and our financial needs? We’re still free  weekdays in April.

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Why we are in Pennsylvania, 2013

We are back in Pennsylvania for the next few months. In December, Karen had successful surgery to replace an arthritic hip.

We will also need to raise our level of missionary support – a number of our donors have finished supporting us, the cost of living has gone up, and we find ourselves some thousands of dollars short every month; more on this to come!

We hope to see our friends in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England over the next months. We would also like to make some new friends who want to invest in the church of Latin America.

We also invite you to follow this blog, by adding your name at SIGN ME UP! on this page.

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2012 for Karen

In the last newsletter I went into detail on this year’s ministry highlights for me.  So instead of a repetitive repeat, this is what I have to say at the end of 2012:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!  My heart is overflowing with thanks these days!  There are so many people to thank regarding so many blessings in our lives!  This is by no means a complete list or in any kind of order, it’s just my best attempt at conveying our gratitude to God (and you) for what He’s done all around us in the last 12 months.

  • Thank you everyone who has taken the time to read our newsletter, pray for us, call or email  us, visit with us, and host us!
  • Thank you everyone who has supported us financially and therefore made every other one of these thank-you’s possible! Continue reading

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What does Spanish matter?

A cabinetmaker needs a professional router.
A programmer needs plenty of RAM.
A chef needs a serious mixer.
A missionary teacher needs a second language. For the missionary, language is the principal tool for doing ministry.

What are we trying to communicate when we use Spanish?

  • that we are here for the long term.
  • that we were serious about working in their culture.
  • that we want to speak about God in their “lengua del corazón” (language of the heart).

In Costa Rica, the central social event is to sit and enjoy a “cafecito” (a bit of coffee) with friends. Continue reading

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The Parable of the Little Toe

Once upon a time there was a church, a body of Christ.

On the platform stood various members. One man led the worship and read a Psalm aloud. A woman was the main singer; she too held a microphone. Two other women and a man were backup singers. There was a guitarist who played the chords; a drummer who provided the rhythm; a man with a trumpet, another with a bass guitar. Each member of one body, each one with his or her special contribution.

But what is this? What’s the hold-up? The worship leader asks that the church sing louder, with more joy and enthusiasm, but the people don’t follow his lead. Are they, as he suggests none too subtly, unspiritual? Well, it’s not their fault: they’d like to sing with more energy, but something is holding them back. They don’t know the words of this song, and the screen is blank!

Because up in a little control-room in back of the church, there’s a member of the body who handles the technology: the projector and the PowerPoint in order to show the lyrics. But he seems to be dreaming and his attention is wandering. He answers his phone, he chats with his girlfriend, he sends a text, he updates his Facebook.

The people want to sing with all their might, but without this one member, the hymn doesn’t fly.

“Just look,” he complains, instead of doing his job. “I can’t sing like her, I can’t play an instrument like they do. No wonder I skip rehearsal, since my part in the ‘show’ hardly matters. I’m not important, my part in this is tiny. In the body of the Lord, I’m just a little toe!”

Now you see the point of my little story: Everybody has their gift, whether they’re an elbow, a hand or an ear. And if one member doesn’t work, the body doesn’t function; when one little toe is missing in action, the whole body ceases to worship.

All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be…On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. 1 Cor 12:11-12, 15-19, 22

“The Parable of the Little Toe” was  originally written in Spanish for a Latin American context and is here presented in English. By Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica. For more essays, visit Gary’s blog at justinofnablus.com

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We follow Gary around for a day…

What’s it like to teach at ESEPA, in San José, Costa Rica? Let’s drop in on a Tuesday. It’s my busiest day, since I have one class in the morning, then another in the evening. There are “office hours” in between, where I work with the staff or talk with students.

All teaching and meetings are in Spanish, so I have to push myself physically and mentally. I leave home at 7am. Part of my routine is a morning walk, so the 40 minutes between home and ESEPA accomplishes several things: my exercise for Tuesday; getting the heart and lungs and brain moving; and it’s my time to pray. I pray for all the things that Christians pray for, and especially for my morning class. Today I’ll teach the Epistle to the Hebrews for three hours. See here for a quick video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nLSvFtfVKc&feature=youtube_gdata

I get a coffee and enter the classroom with cheerful greetings and then with an “¡Ay no!” as I break out the quiz. Hebrews is a new course for me. We use F. F. Bruce’s sturdy commentary as our text. This coming week we will study chapter 3, where the author uses Psalm 95 to warn against apostasy. We’ll work as one group. Then they will break into small groups to discuss some aspects of sin in the Old Covenant and how it applies to Christians. In this class they also have to do a Field Project: one man, for example, will visit the local synagogue to interview the rabbi about Jewish worship in the 21st century.

In the middle of Hebrews we gather together for 15 minutes, for a short Bible study and prayer led by a professor or one of the students. The students pray for issues that all of us face, but in this country that might include violent crime, poverty and serious family problems.

Then we go for our coffee break in ESEPA’s “soda”, which is the word for a lunch counter. The manager Dámaris whips up plenty of coffee, plus gallo pinto (rice and beans) and fried eggs, tortillas and cheese and meat turnovers.

Ah, have I mentioned coffee? Costa Rican beans are world-class, and they brew it up strong! It’s not as powerful as Turkish or Cuban coffee, but it comes out quite black. It’s the other thing besides exercise that keeps my blood moving during a long day. Two cups to get me going during Hebrews, another couple before my late class and then another one half-way through the evening.

After the break, it’s another hour or so of Hebrews.

Throughout the day, the principal enemy is fatigue. I don’t want my students to have a drowsy professor. We had a history teacher in high school; if his former students remember anything about him, it was his unfortunate nickname “Sleepy Pete”. For a person working in another language, there is a much worse problem: with fatigue it is more and more doubtful that I’ll be able to speak in proper Spanish. I prayed in the morning specifically about this, and pray during the day too. Usually if I’ve gotten to bed properly the night before, aided with lots of coffee and physical motion and prayer, three hours in the morning and I come out still speaking español.

Teaching in a second language is like running in knee-deep mud.

It’s Round Two where I’ll face the bigger challenger: my evening class. I eat a light lunch and delay supper until I get home; I can’t afford to fill up and get dopey. In the afternoon I might take another walk to try to perk up, or if it’s possible, squeeze in a nap somewhere.

When you teach at ESEPA in the afternoon or evening during rainy season, you have to be ready for an electrical storm and a power outage. Sure, PowerPoint is great, but you might end up teaching by flashlight, so always have a Plan B! On top of that, earthquakes happen every day, usually tremors you can’t feel, but every so often there is one that will get a shriek from the ladies in class.

Gary near the Soda at ESEPA

Tuesday evenings we up the ante, going from bilingual to trilingual. Direct your attention to the center ring, where Gary, an English-speaker, will teach Greek, in Spanish, without a net. I’ve been assigned to Greek I for the first time and have a record ten students in my group. The difficulty here is not just the Spanish. It’s that, to leap from Spanish to Greek one takes a different mental route than when one goes from English to Greek. I have to keep a short list of words that might trip me up: desinencia was one last week, a word I knew (it means “word ending”); but the first time out I mispronounced it. It came out sounding like the Spanish for “dysentery.”

Anyway, it’s closing in on 5pm and time to get ready. Again, much coffee, much splashing of cold water in the face and I enter the class with a cheery “kalespera!” (Greek for “good evening!”). They take their quiz. They ask Don Gary (yes, just like in that movie) or “Profe” (PROH-fay) questions about the homework. Then it’s on to: Tonight we study the genitive and dative cases of the Greek substantive. Two hours, then it’s time for devotions, given by one of the students. Over to Dámaris’ once again for coffee (for me) and food (for them), and back for another hour or so.

Fours hours of Greek: my students have had a long day at work and a commute, and it’s beginning to show. Every once in a while I’ll tell a joke or show them something so they can Amuse and amaze your amigos! I don’t just ask if they understand today’s lesson; I also ask, “How are you feeling? Are we holding it together here?” During the week I’ll also send them an email to encourage them.

We wind up at 9pm. One of the students happens to be going in my direction, so he drops me off at home; it would be dangerous for me to walk to the bus stop this late in the evening. At this point it’s hard to speak English. And, what’s this wonderful thing? Karen has left out a nice supper for me: homemade buffalo chicken sandwiches.

“Gracias, Señor Jesús. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and by your grace, here I am doing it.” Now let’s eat something, finally, and watch the news before dropping into bed.

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