Nov 22, 2005

All the world is God's own field

Come, ye thankful people, come;
Raise the song of Harvest-home.
All be safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied,
Come to God's own temple, come;
Raise the song of Harvest-home.

It is the week of Thanksgiving in the United States and I am thinking of a hymn and a holiday that are foreign to the culture here. Venezuelans have heard of the North American holiday, el Dia de la Acción de Gracias, but they do not really understand it on an emotional level. Here there has never been a need to worry about getting crops in before the winter storms. The entire year is an endless round of planting and harvesting. There may be part of the year when crops are more likely lost to flooding than drought; insects and weeds are ever-present threats; but there is no date when all fieldwork needs to be finished. Therefore the idea of an annual harvest festival does not make a lot of sense.

Another way of looking it is that Venezuelans do not limit acción de gracias, or thanksgiving, to one day each year. Often in Sunday services the prayers are divided into two sections: one in which the pastor will ask for petitionary prayers and the other in which he will ask what the people would like to give thanks for this week.

All the world is God's own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear.
Lord of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

But "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" did mean something in those rural churches in South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas where I once lived. Especially, in those days, the hymn's implied missionary emphasis. For the Lord and his angels may reap the final harvest, but who has been given the job of tending the field?

Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16: 15-16)

I remember a sermon my Dad gave on the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13: 24-30). He explained to his congregation of Midwestern farmers that "tares" were a type of weed similar to what they knew as "cheatgrass." Cheatgrass looks just like wheat in the early stages of growth. Only after the plants are nearly ready for harvest is the difference between the two species obvious. That is why the owner of the field told his servants not to try pulling up all the tares and risk destruction of some of the wheat.

So it is with us who serve God as witnesses of His grace and mercy to the ends of the earth. We are to do what we have been commanded and let our Lord worry about the results.

For the Lord, our God, shall come
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offences purge away;
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.

However, we are counting our blessings this week. Our evangelistic calls have borne fruit in a group of five women that Luz Maria is leading in Bible study. They are meeting for now at the main public preschool on the other side of town. We would like to host more adult groups at our location, but we are short on adult-sized furniture. Most of our furnishings are scaled to children ages two to six.

We have a core group of 15 children who show up every Sunday for our Sunday school (one of my favorites is the little girl who shows up during the week with a plastic bucket, asking for kitchen scraps to feed the hog her family keeps in their backyard). But, in going over our attendance records, we found that just in the past month we have had 50 children who attended for the first time or only attended once or twice before.

The week before last, Luz Maria and I went to the annual meeting of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela in Barquisimeto, along with a group from Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas. Among other activities, we (the Barinas group) were involved in a very productive discussion of possible evangelistic work with people from Cristo es Amor (Christ is Love) Lutheran Church in Barquisimeto. Participants in our discussion included Luz Maria and myself; Pastor Edgar Brito, his wife, Mariel, and Luzveidis Pinzon of Corpus Christi; and Henry Aranguren and Jesús Franco of Cristo es Amor.

Luz Maria and I have continued to discuss plans for cooperation with Pastor Edgar and the members of Corpus Christi. Luz Maria hopes to eventually have an exchange program with Cristo es Amor in which a group from Barquisimeto would come to Barinas to make evangelistic calls and a group from Barinas would do the same for Barquisimeto.

We give thanks for material blessings as well. Especially we thank Chuck and Chris Hewitson and other members of St. John's Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington, who have raised the money for us to fix our well and build a complete private water system for the preschool. Public water has only been partially restored. We now have running water for a few hours every other night.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Even so, Lord, quickly come
To Thy final Harvest-home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In Thy garner to abide.
Come with all Thine angels, come,
Raise the glorious Harvest-home.

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