Jan 22, 2009

Alonso Franco joins us as vicar

David Ernst, Alonso Franco and Eduardo Flores
Alonso Franco was installed as vicar at Corpus Christi Lutheran Church on Sunday, January 18, 2009. He will serve in Barinas and La Caramuca for three months before being transferred to Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life) Lutheran Church in Puerto Ordaz.

Alonso Franco and Eduardo Flores
Alonso led the Service of the Word, Pastor Eduardo Flores preached the sermon, and I led the Service of Holy Communion, with Alonso assisting in the distribution of the sacrament. For the next three months, Alonso will preach at least two Sundays per month and lead Bible studies at Corpus Christi. I will be responsible for reviewing his sermons and Bible studies and lending him whatever counsel and aid he requires.

Alonso's father, Pastor Alcides Franco, served as president of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela for 14 years, and also as pastor of La Santa Trinidad (Holy Trinity) Lutheran Church in Caracas, and La AscensiĆ³n ( Ascension) Lutheran Church in San Felix de Guayana before becoming pastor of La Reforma (Reformation) Lutheran Church in the same city.

His older brother, Pastor Jonathan Franco, served for a number of years as leader of the national Lutheran youth organization, and is currently treasurer of the national church. Jonathan also has been chosen to go to Argentina for advanced theological study at Concordia Seminary in Buenos Aires. Of course, this means someone else will have to be selected as national church treasurer, but we cross every bridge when we come to it.

We loaned Alonso a microwave oven to use while he stays in the pastoral residence at Corpus Christi. Luz Maria saved up some money and bought the microwave last year, but about that time the wiring in our kitchen died and we have yet to replace that. So up to now we had not even taken the microwave out of the box. I should add that the preschool has its own, separate kitchen where the wiring still is more or less okay.

Luz Maria has been working very hard on completing her thesis for the fifth-level teaching degree. She will finish by the end of this month. However, since the semester does not end until July, she will have to wait until then to receive her degree.

Christian art workshop a success

Twenty-three people attended the Christian art workshop that Luz Maria organized in Caracas on January 9, 2009, including myself, Luz Maria, and Luz Maria's daughters, Yepci and Charli. The emphasis was on visual art (rather than, say, music) in the form of liturgical vestments and paraments, banners, crosses, crucifixes and the like. The attendees included clergy and laypeople from Barquisimeto, Barinas, Maracay, Caracas, Barcelona, Maturin and San Felix de Guayana.

Yoxandris Marcano shows paraments that she made
Yoxandris Marcano of Cristo Rey (Christ the King) Lutheran Church in Maturin gave what was perhaps the best presentation. In fact, it was a well-organized PowerPoint presentation highlighting not only her own work, but that of several other members of Cristo Rey. She had stored presentation on a USB flash drive (which are everywhere in Venezuela now, one gigabyte costs about $20 to $25, two gigabytes about $40 to $50). To show it, we used my laptop computer and a projector borrowed from Elsy de Machado (there was no screen, we just used a blank wall).

This may only mean something to my readers who have been to Maturin on short-term mission trips, but Yoxandris is a niece of Dagnys Marcano, who is now married to Pastor Francisco Cabarcas, and Oveida Marcano, former manager of Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm. Oveida recently married, but I do not know her husband's name. Yoxandris' father restored the walls and put a new roof on what is not the pastoral residence at Tierra de Gracia. It is rather exciting to have lived in Venezuela onl five years, yet to see already a new generation of leadership emerging within the Lutheran Church of Venezuela.

Eduardo models purple stole
Yoxandris made the red stoles that were presented to Eduardo Flores, Sergio Maita and myself upon our ordinations. She has also made for me a purple stole for use during the seasons of Advent and Lent, and paraments for our altar in La Caramuca. Our altar consists of a green plastic table about the size of a card table, but without foldable legs. Nevertheless, it looks fairly impressive when covered with the white altar-cloth bearing the alpha and omega symbols in front.

Others who made presentations at the workshop included:

  • Natasha Sanchez of La Fortaleza Lutheran Church in Maracay, banners and vestments;
  • Luis Miguel Silva, La Fortaleza, wooden crosses and other items crafted from wood and leather;
  • Pastor Luis Moya of La Reforma Lutheran Church, San Felix de Guayana, speaking on behalf of his wife, who makes banners and vestments;
  • Yepci Santana, Corpus Christi Lutheran Church of Barinas, banners.
Abel Garcia models chasuble
In addition, I presented slides of the wrought-iron version of Luther's seal incorporated into the gates of our mission in La Caramuca and the work that inspired it, the windows of Roca de Eternidad (Rock of Ages) Lutheran Church, Quebrada Seca, Monagas. Like many buildings in rural Venezuela, the church in Quebrada Seca does not have glassed windows, but rather ironwork on the outside of the windows to keep out intruders. And the ironwork in every window in Roca de Eternidad has symbols of the Holy Trinity, Baptism, Creation and other themes.

I also showed a picture of the beautiful Advent wreath made for Corpus Christi by Ludy de Tarrazona (the one that caught on fire).

Yepci shows banner
Everyone was excited by the talent and resources on display. There were four major concerns:

  1. That Christian art might give members of Lutheran congregations an avenue to use their God-given talents;
  2. That promotion of Christian art might preserve Venezuelan folk arts and crafts, which some fear are in danger of disappearing;
  3. That artistic expression through liturgical tradition might help the Lutheran Church of Venezuela develop a distinctive identity in Venezuela and a sense of solidarity with other confessional Lutheran church-bodies throughout the world.
  4. That liturgical art might serve to express and teach Lutheran doctrine.

Workshop participants favored the inclusion of formal art courses in the curriculum of the Juan de Frias Theological Institute and the formation of committees to promote Christian art in every congregation.

International perspective on abortion

This week marks a definite regime change in the United States as well as the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand. Exit George W. Bush, whose record shows him to have been the most pro-life President so far, and enter Barack Obama, who at the very least promises to be the most pro-abortion President ever.

Here is an on-line chart which shows the status of abortion laws in nearly every country in the world as of 2007. You may notice that while abortion on demand tends to be the rule in the United States and Europe, Latin America is something of a mixed bag. Here in Venezuela, abortion is only legal in situations where the life of the prospective mother might be endangered by bringing the baby to term. Neighboring Colombia is more permissive in regard to abortion than Venezuela (although I am told pious, practicing Roman Catholics are more common there), but more restrictive than the United States. Direct abortion is illegal under any circumstances in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile, although the Chilean government in 2006 authorized the sale of the abortifacient "morning-after" birth control pill.

This Sunday Bolivians will vote on a new constitution that, if ratified, would throw open the door to elective abortion. Please pray for Bolivia and also for other nations that are under pressure to change pro-life stands.

Please pray also for the United States and other nations that, hardened in sin, refuse to recognize the sanctity of human life and marriage, and the rights of the unborn, that they may repent before judgment falls.

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