Jun 1, 2020

Baptism in the time of COVID-19

Baptism of Reiber Santiago.
Baptism of Reiber Santiago.
Reiber Santiago Pirela Parra.
Reiber Santiago Pirela Parra.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 21, 2020, seven-month-old Reiber Santiago Pirela Parra, received the gift of new life in Christ through holy baptism. We also celebrated the Eucharist for the first time since “national quarantine” was declared about two months ago.

In my last communication, I expressed hope that the quarantine would be lifted by Pentecost and we would be able to resume offering the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Of course, immediately after I wrote those words, the quarantine was extended to June 12. But the rules have since been “relaxed”. What does that mean? Well, the 2019/2020 school year’s a wash. Schools, including our preschool, will not reopen until the new school year begins in September. Students are supposed to complete their studies on-line (something of a challenge, as I will explain) and we have opened the preschool every morning to distribute food and homework assignments to families in our community. Although the availablity of public transportation has been greatly reduced, we have been able to obtain the food through use of the car that your donations enabled to purchase.

The Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper.
In addition to closing of schools, most businesses are allowed to operate for a strictly limited number of hours per day, although the “relaxation” means some businesses are able to stay open longer now. No one is supposed to walk the streets and public areas without a facemask and maintaining about a meter of distance from other persons. In order to enter a place of business, you must have your hands sprayed with disinfectant. However, as far as I know, there are no rules specifically pertaining to place of worship. Since our chapel is not on public property, we have continued to hold Sunday morning services, although we will not celebrate the Lord’s Supper again until after June 12. Those who attend our Sunday morning worship are a small group of people that we see every day anyway. Nobody in our vicinity has shown signs of COVID-19 infection so far, so praise be to God for that as well.

Facemasks are in fashion.
Facemasks are in fashion.
Two thousand years of experience and scientific study have shown the likelihood of contagious disease being passed through the sharing of the communion chalice is very low. If your immune system is that compromised, you really should not leave your house anyway. Of course, we tell our communicants that they are not obligated to receive communion every time it’s offered, and if there is any indication that that they might be infected with COVID-19, they should stay home. While we certainly do not believe or teach that the Lord has promised the faithful immunity to pestilence whether we take precautions or not, we do believe that He will watch over us as we do the work that He has commanded His church to do.

Reiber Santiago’s parents, Ronelbys and Maria José, told me nearly seven months ago that they wanted their baby baptized in our chapel. But they wanted her sister in Caracas to be godmother. After waiting for her to able to travel from Caracas, they finally decided that this was not going to happen any time soon. They wanted Reiber Santiago baptized, so that if he did get sick and die, he would have the promise of heaven. So it was done on perhaps the best of days for a baptism, Pentecost.

Learning English.
Learning English.
In addition to continuing Sunday services, we have begun a new confirmation class and lessons in English for interested students. Everyone likes it when I sing the Mickey Mouse song. “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E! Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse!” Watch for my Appalachian gospel/Memphis blues fusion version on iTunes.

To everything there is a season

As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven”, and sometimes the time for everything is all at once. We have entered Venezuela’s rainy season, the period from May to November in which total rainfall may add up to 78 inches. Just in time, too, because the water level in our well was getting very low. However, now we have the problem of heavy cloud cover reducing the efficiency of our solar-powered electrical backup system, combined with longer and longer power outages almost every day. There have been a few times the system has not been able to keep the lights on all night, because of lack of time for the batteries to recharge. We have had to become more conservative in our consumption of electricity in order to compensate. However, a somewhat more pressing concern is that our cellphone/Internet service used to last six hours after the public power went down, but now it only lasts two to three hours. This means that after a particularly long blackout, we will be without electricity, telephone, television and Internet service. This stymies the children trying to complete their studies on-line, but of course the situation is potentially more troublesome than that as we are completely cut off from the outside world.

Lit by solar lamps.
Lit by solar lamps.
Sun-dried meat.
Sun-dried meat.
And we had a power outage that lasted three days in the week before Pentecost! The cause apparently was a powerful storm taking down power lines, but as far as we knew it could have been a much worse crisis. Furthermore, our auxiliary system does not keep the refrigerators in our home or the preschool going. Luz Maria was able to save the meat that we had stored by drying it in the sun, a technique that she learned in her childhood. The dried meat must be simmered in vegetable broth before being eaten, but it is quite tasty in the end.

Prayers for the Twin Cities!

There has been a wave of violence across the United States, evidently sparked by the tragic case of George Floyd. But the Twin Cities have been the epicenter and I was particularly struck by this Facebook plea from St. Michael’sLutheran Church of Bloomington, Minnesota, on May 29. St. Michael’s sent me to Venezuela as a lay volunteer in 2003 and has continued to support our mission in La Caramuca to the present day. So on Sunday we prayed for St. Michael’s and all the churches and communities affected by the rioting and looting, and also asked for better understanding and harmony between people of all races, especially through the peace found in Christ which passes all understanding.

Thank you, St. Michael's.
Thank you, St. Michael's.
This is a call for prayer for the greater Minneapolis community. Areas of Minneapolis have been devastated by violent protests. The protests are reportedly coming to Bloomington and the suburbs tonight. Please take time to stop and pray now for peace.

Lord Jesus Christ we come to you our shelter in the present storm and we ask that you bring peace.

- For those who affected by the violence both physically and emotionally, especially for those who knew and loved George Floyd, bring your peace.

- For the protesters in the streets allow them to be people of peace.

- For the police who are called on to protect people and property allow them to respond in peace.

- For those who are afraid to leave their homes because of nearby violence reign your peace upon them.

Lord Jesus Christ you are the Prince of Peace and the Lord of lords. We trust you and seek your peace today, tomorrow and eternally. Amen.