Aug 13, 2006

Light in a child's eyes

Twenty-five years ago I taught third- and fourth-grade Sunday school for a short time. My fondest memory of this period was arranging to show a live sheep in the church parking lot to illustrate the parable of the Good Shepherd. Why? Because of the satisfaction of seeing the wonder in a child's eyes when touching a sheep for the first time.

I never had children of my own and until I came to Venezuela, it had been years since I had had much to do with young children. Now I am seeing that light in children's eyes quite often.

Even before the Sunday school today we had all five of Luz Maria's grandchildren playing together here. Elias, the youngest, is nearly two years old and his favorite game right now is riding horseyback. His cousin Pedro was his horse this morning while his sister Oriana (a year older) "rode" her cousin, Karelis.

Elias seems to be developing a very organized personality. He is very concerned with everything being in order in the first place and putting things back in their rightful place when he is done with them. For example, he will take a few sips of water and then try to pour what's left in the cup back in the pitcher. Also, we have some stackable children's chairs that he would stack and restack all day long if we did not keep them out of his reach.

Of course, while on the one hand, children can be a delight, on the other they can severely test one´s patience. We have had close to 100 children at one time attend our Sunday school or vacation Bible schools, but we have discovered that with the adults we have to teach and otherwise assist, the optimum number is between 20 and 30 children. A group of more than 30 is hard to control, especially because of the number of boys that we have involved. Many of them mean well, but without close supervision they cannot go more than 15 minutes without playing pranks or getting into fistfights.

But it is good to have the boys involved, because of the need for male leadership in the Venezuelan church. We try to teach that God holds men responsible for leadership in the home and in the church, but here many men shy away from both family and religious commitments. This is part of a family dynamic that is prevalent throughout Venezuela, but especially in the are
where we live. Fathers often either are not present in the home, or do not consider themselves obligated to be faithful to their wives or care for their children. The women then try to compensate for the lack of emotional support from their husbands by doting on their children, especially their sons. Even when their sons are grown, their mothers will attend to their every need. This makes it difficult for sons to separate from their mothers and assume
adult roles as husbands and fathers. And so the cycle continues for another generation.

Likewise, it is difficult for someone who has never had a strong yet loving father to understand a relationship with God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.

For Father's Day we had the Sunday school children make cards for their fathers, or whatever male relative came closest to being a father figure for them. One boy had absolutely no one that he could think of, so he made a card for me. I was very moved.

Thanks to the encouragement of many people, I have gained more confidence in my ability to speak Spanish and have begun regularly reading Scripture lessons Sunday mornings at Corpus Christi Lutheran Church. In addition, Pastor Edgar Brito has asked me to lead a couple of Bible studies.

For August 23 to 27 we are planning one vacation Bible school that involves children from La Caramuca, Punta Gorda and Corpus Christi Lutheran Church in Barinas. The event will take place at the church in Barinas. The national church has given us some money to develop uniforms (actually T-shirts) for a team of children who will be trained to evangelize other children. We will
unveil these uniforms as part of this event, too.

We also will use some of the wealth of educational materials left for us by the volunteers from Minnesota. We are very grateful to the people who donated these materials.

Some work was done on our street, thanks to Luz Maria's daughter, Charli, and her son, Pedro.

Our neighborhood, Barrio Las Lomas, does not have paved streets. Due to the heavy rains, our street had gotten so washed out that it was difficult for cars and trucks to enter. Recently, however, major repairs were done on the national highway that runs past La Caramuca. This road is the main route to Colombia in our region. This is good for legitimate traffic to and from Colombia. The downside is that it provides a pipeline for drug smugglers from the mountains of Colombia to Venezuela's Caribbean coast. For that reason, there is a permanent military checkpoint between La Caramuca and Barinas. While the road repairs were in progress, the combination of road construction, the military checkpoint and heavy rains often caused traffic jams.

Anyway, Charlie persuaded the road repair crew to dump their leftover materials on our street. Starting the week that the volunteers from Minnesota arrived, we had heaps of loose asphalt gravel laying around. Pedro knows the owner of the large ranch that runs along the river and finally convinced to send a grader up to our street to spread and pack down the gravel. So now,
while we do not exactly have a paved street, it has been greatly improved.

The ranch lies just down the hill from us. Often you can hear them driving cattle early in the morning, or sometimes sheep. Occasionally cowboys will ride their horses up the hill to where we are. Cowboys in Venezuela look much like cowboys in the United States, except one thing that I had never seen before was western-style boots with rubber soles. Only makes sense for the
rainy season here, I suppose.

Luz Maria's daughter, Yepci, continues her rapid recovery from her accident.The cast has been removed from her arm and she is walking around, although she tires easily. Thanks again to everyone who remembered her in their prayers.

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