I am learning to enjoy lime and orange freshly squeezed from trees in the backyard. On Luz Maria's property we also have growing bananas, avocados, mangos, papaya and squash. The lemons come in handy when eating fried coporo as well as for making fruit juice.
Coporo is a species of freshwater fish found only in the rivers of Colombia and Venezuela. Here you can buy fresh coporo from the Santo Domingo river which runs down from the Venezuelan branch of the Andes Mountains. The custom is to fry the whole fish, complete with head and tail. They clean out the innards, of course, but you have to pick the meat from the thin, sharp bones. Squeezing citrus juice over the meat dissolves some of the small bones that you might have missed. Fried coporo is really good.
Right now we are sharing the house with Luz Maria's 16-year-old daughter, Sarai, and her 27-year-old daughter Yepcey, Yepcey's husband, Eliezer, and their three children, Aaron, Oriana and Elias Isaac. However by the end of this month, Yepcey and Eliezer plan on moving into the house across the street that they are fixing up. Eighteen-year-old Charli has moved into an apartment in Barinas while she attends a university there.
Eliezer is a teacher. His specialty is mathematics, but due to the demand for teachers he teaches a little bit of everything. He leaves early each morning to teach in two different schools in Barinas and tutors children on the weekends. When he is not busy with teaching, he works on the house across the street.
On weekdays our house is also used as part of a public preschool program. About 20 children from the neighborhood attend classes here. Yepcey and Sarai prepare their meals. We are building an enclosure in back of the house with a separate kitchen and bathroom so that eventually the preschool program will have its own space and Luz Maria can have her kitchen and living room back.
On Sunday afternoons, Luz Maria leads Bible classes for the children and I help with lessons in basic English. Actually these sessions are drawing adults from the community who are interested in both the Bible and English lessons.
Our intention is to develop the nucleus of a Lutheran church and school in La Caramuca. We have received preliminary approval from the Lutheran Church of Venezuela to do this. Four members of the national church's new administrative council visited our house on Sunday, November 5, 2004. The group included Pastor Adrian Ventura, president of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela, Pastor Francisco Cabarcas of La Paz Lutheran Church in Caracas, Edgar Coronado of Maracay, and Alcides Franco of San Felix de Guayana. Edgar Brito, pastor of Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas also attended the meeting.
Barinas is the name of both the state where we live and the state capital. The city of Barinas is about 15 to 20 minutes from La Caramuca by car or bus. I just returned from spending a couple of days in Caracas and it is a tremendous relief to be back in this peaceful small town. The constant turmoil that is Caracas is even worse now because of the holiday season (they have the annual frenzy of Christmas shopping here).
I have received one Christmas gift so far that I really appreciate. It is a CD sent to all Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod volunteer missionaries, I believe, by the LCMS World Missions in St. Louis. The CD is a collection of hymns, mainly from the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal. I really love the songs from my childhood in that old hymnbook. In contrast, I am embarrassed to recall many of the pop tunes that were Top 40 hits when I was in high school and I suspect many of my contemporaries feel the same way. As I have grown older, I have lost most of my interest in fads and trends, and now value more things that have stood the test of time.
Luz Maria once asked me if I missed the United States. I said I missed many people, places and things, but many of them now exist only in my memories anyway. Time like an ever-rolling stream washes almost everything away, but the love of God in Christ Jesus endures, as does the mystery of God's presence in the world, especially in the person of Jesus.
Clint Souligny, the new volunteer missionary coordinator in Caracas, was telling me of a time years ago when he was near death in a motorcycle accident (he was told later that two out of three people die from the kind of injuries that he had). In that moment he felt filled with a sense of God's loving presence. Although I have never been that close to death, I have felt that same presence in times of doubt and trial in my life, and never more intensely than here in Venezuela.
I hope that everyone has a blessed holiday.