παυλος αποστολος ιησου χριστου δια θεληματος θεου και τιμοθεος ο αδελφος τοις εν κολοσσαις αγιοις και πιστοις αδελφοις εν χριστω χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου ευχαριστουμεν τω θεω και πατρι του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου παντοτε περι υμων προσευχομενοι ακουσαντες την πιστιν υμων εν χριστω ιησου και την αγαπην την εις παντας τους αγιους δια την ελπιδα την αποκειμενην υμιν εν τοις ουρανοις ην προηκουσατε εν τω λογω της αληθειας του ευαγγελιου
Luz Maria and I have spent the past two weeks in Caracas studying New Testament Greek together. We had to translate the above text. It reads something like this in English:
"Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and brother Timothy, to the Colossian saints and faithful brothers in Christ. Grace to you and peace from God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God and always pray for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints through the hope stored for you in the heavens, of which you have heard in the truth of the gospel."
Of course, this passage is found in Paul's letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verses 1-5. It seemed a fitting theme for our journey.
Yepci, Luz Maria's daughter, and grandchildren, Elias and Oriana, traveled with us so Yepci could attend a preschool education workshop.
There were 15 people in the Greek class besides us. The youngest was Neudys Franco, daughter of Alcides Franco, a former president of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela. She just graduated from high school and, according to custom, her parents were prepared to throw a big graduation party for her. But she asked them to use the money they had saved for her party to send her to Caracas to study Greek. Her older brother, Jonathan, also attended the class and was charged with looking after his sister in the big city.
We met many old friends, such as Armando Ramos, resident pastor of Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm. Pastor Francisco Cabarcas, chaplain of Cristo Rey (Christ the King) Lutheran School in Maturin was in the class, too. He was staying in Caracas with his wife, Dagnys, and their daughters, Oriana and Veronica.
Our instructor in Greek was Mark Braden, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Cleghorn, Wisconsin (about six miles south of Eau Claire). Pastor Braden learned Spanish as a boy. His father worked for the USO and the family lived in England, Italy and Spain. His fondest memories are of the years in Cadiz, Spain, where there was a U.S. submarine refueling base.
Pastor Braden returned to Spain for a time as an 18-year-old student. A former university administrator, Pastor Braden entered the ministry as a second career and worked as a Greek tutor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In two weeks we learned only the basics of koine Greek, but it was enough to read the original New Testament text with the help of a lexicon and compare the accuracy of various translations. As we discovered, koine Greek, the lingua franca of the first-century Mediterranean world, is a more complicated language than most modern tongues, but it is also more precise with more specific words for specific concepts, and less ambiguity than modern English and Spanish.
Pastor Braden encouraged us to read and translate a few verses every day in the Greek New Testaments that each of us received. Many in the class wanted Pastor Braden to return and teach more Greek and also more theological courses.
Luz Maria and I also met some members of Pastor Braden's congregation: Carol Schauer, Arnie and Carol Riske, and Jerry Vetterkind. When we arrived in Caracas, they were in the nearby city of Valencia as part of a short-term mission team sponsored by Venezuela Lutheran Mission Partnership and led by Dale and Elizabeth Thompson of Woodbury, Minnesota.
The team returned Friday evening, August 3, after finishing a room, three rooms, complete electrical wiring and half of the sanctuary in a new building for La Fe (Faith) Lutheran Church of Valencia. People from Valencia and Maracay helped with the work. One day there were 40 workers on the project and over the course of two weeks, never less than 17 per day.
The foundation for the building was laid four years ago when I came to Venezuela and it has been a struggle to finish the project. But now Pastor José Urbina and the congregation are overjoyed at the progress made in just a couple of weeks. Soon they will be able to begin worshipping in the sanctuary.
On Saturday morning, the team's flight back to the United States was overbooked and the Riskes had to stay another day, so we got to see more of them.
We also had the opportunity while in Caracas to meet Michael Tanney, a former missionary to Venezuela who now is in Puerto Rico. He came here to make a presentation to the Lutheran Church of Venezuela´s Christian education committee (of which Luz Maria is a member).
I hope I have not made learning Greek sound like too much fun. It was hard work to gain even a minimum understanding, but a necessary step for all of us in our preparation to teach the sound doctrine of the faith. And we certainly thank God for all of the people working with us here and in the United States to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Venezuela.
We pray that all of you might have the grace and peace of our Lord.
Oh, by the way, I have a new Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT. Thanks to everyone who made replacing the ruined camera possible. A digital camera is essential to documenting our work here and it also is an important social tool as Venezuelans love having their pictures taken. Now I do not have to see the disappointed faces of the children back in la Caramuca when they ask what happened to my camera.