Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What Bolivian airports teach us about perseverance ...

(By Erik)

Back in December I volunteered to speak in chapel here at Oklahoma Christian University on the topic of perseverance.

At the time, I didn’t realize I’d get a lesson in perseverance just a few weeks later.

I joined a team from the Austin Avenue Church of Christ in Brownwood, Texas, on a week-long trip to the South American nation of Bolivia. The church supports a five-family mission team there and took about 25 of us down to Bolivia for the inaugural service of the church in Cochabamba, a city of about 1 million souls tucked away in the Andes Mountains.

If you’ve been following the situation in Venezuela, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on in Bolivia — and a lot of Latin American countries — nowadays. I won’t go into all the details, but there’s tension in Bolivia right now between the socialist president, Evo Morales, and the local governments of some of the Bolivian states, including the one that Cochabamba’s in.

Things got really ugly just a couple of weeks ago, as supporters and opponents of the president’s reforms clashed on the streets of Cochabamba. They were hitting each other with sticks and throwing rocks. Two people died.

And we got stuck in the middle of it.

We were never in danger, mind you. We flew into Santa Cruz from Miami and stayed at a local hotel until we were supposed to catch a domestic flight to Cochabamba. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

It actually left at about 6 a.m. Friday.

The flight was delayed again and again as the local airline kept bypassing us, sending large groups of people who had been trapped in bus stations for three days on flights to Cochabamba. (The protestors had blocked the mountain roads, essentially shutting down everything but air travel.)

We were stuck in the domestic departures lounge — watching the in-airport “network” that basically was about 30 minutes of commercials and music videos played in a loop. One of the commercials featured a very loud rendition of YMCA by the Village People. So that was the routine — lay on the airport floor or the benches and start to drift off until the sound of “Bah, da da , da da Da da da da da … Young man …”

You know the rest.

When we finally got to Cochabamba, we spent the first day barricaded in our hotel as the protests continued. Most of us were too tired to venture out, so it actually worked out well. And, luckily, the protestors don’t work on weekends. So Saturday and Sunday were great days. We got to tour the city and eat ice cream and stir fry. (Yes, Cochabamba has a top-notch Asian restaurant.)

I’ve mentioned this in blog posts before, but it bears repeating. The book of James in the Bible tells us how we out to feel about suffering:

James 1:2-4“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The message in these verses seems to go beyond “Just hang on and God will get you through it.” Look at some more verses in the first chapter of James:

James 1:9-12“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

What James seems to be saying here is, “Hey, if you’re poor, congrats! You have to suffer so perseverance can finish its work, and if you’re poor, you’ll probably suffer quite a bit. You’re very lucky to hold this high position.”

“And if you’re rich, well, condolences. You guys have it a lot better and don’t suffer nearly as much as the poor. But take heart, chances are you’ll lose all of your riches sooner or later and then you’re right down there suffering alongside the poor. God will work it out!”

It’s much easier to read and hear these words than to live them out. I think about the funeral for Adam Langford, a missionary in Uganda who died in a car wreck last week. How do you tell his family to rejoice in their suffering? How do you tell them that suffering is part of building perseverance?

How do we find the strength to carry on in times of suffering? I know that I personally find comfort in the victories of life — the way that God frustrates Satan’s schemes by transforming the horrible into the miraculous.

In Cochabamba, we gave out balloons to children in the public squares — the same squares where people had been beating each other with sticks and rocks just hours before. I think we had about 50 visitors at the church dedication the next day. A few of them brought their balloons.

And we had one baptism to start things off for this young congregation. Wonderful news.

It’s great that we got to observe the fruits of perseverance.

Here’s another story of perseverance that gives me hope. I traveled back to my home state of Georgia a few months ago and met a man named Wesley Brown. Wesley showed me the old balcony of the West End Church of Christ. It’s a storage room now, but back in the 1950s it was the balcony of a church that was all-white. When Wesley attended gospel meetings here, he had to use the church’s “colored” entrance and sit in the balcony.

But the demographics of the West End neighborhood changed, and in the 1970s the church started actively recruiting black members — and they brought on Wesley Brown as minister.

In just a few weeks Wesley will retire after serving for 33 years as minister for a church that — at one point in its history — would not allow him to walk through its front door.

Growing up in the South, I’m certainly familiar with the racism that still exists, and I lament that Sunday remains the most segregated day of the week. But it’s hard to imagine a time when separation of the races was a law. It’s hard to imagine people endorsing such behavior — thinking that’s OK.

I asked Wesley what it was like, and he gave me a straightforward answer.

“Some accepted, some didn’t. Some people grumbled about it. Some of us just went along and prayed that God would knock down that barrier. And he did.”

Praise God for real-life examples of perseverance like Wesley Brown.

So, whenever you face struggles and hardships in your life, I urge you to keep your faith.

Based on my experiences in the Bolivia airport, I offer you these poetic words of encouragement.

Young man, there's no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy.

Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay at the …

You know the rest.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Our Christmas tree is still up ...

(By Erik)

Yes, that's how far behind we are on our post-holiday chores. It seems like we haven't been able to catch our breath since mid-December. Now that Bobby, Tamie and I have finished the content for the February issue of the Chronicle, I have a bit more time to reflect, relax and unpack.

I spent almost a week in the South American nation of Bolivia. The photo you see is a close-up of "Cristo de la Concordia" in Cochabamba, a city in the central part of the country. I have many stories to tell about this trip (including being stuck in the Santa Cruz airport waiting for a flight. It was supposed to leave at 7:15 p.m. Thursday and didn't actually get off the ground until 6 a.m. Friday. The song "YMCA" is still going through my head. I'll explain later.)

Some of you who read this blog knew Adam Langford, the missionary in Uganda who was killed in a wreck last week. If you'd like more background on what happened (and if you'd like to know more about the church leader, Moses Kimezi, who also died in the wreck) we've posted a story about the accident on our Web site. (Click on Adam's picture to read his final mission report.)

More posts coming. Promise.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How bout them ... Gators!

(By Erik)

I honestly never thought I’d say that, but I’m most impressed with the Florida Gators' 41-14 win over Ohio State. Wow! What a defense!

After all the mouth-running and smack-talking about who deserved to go to the BCS’ big game (and Florida’s coach did his fair share) I told Jeanie that it would be best for the SEC if two things happened:

1.) Michigan (who many said should’ve gone to the championship game instead of the SEC champion Gators) loses to USC in the Rose Bowl.

2.) (Much less likely) Florida blows Ohio State out of the stadium.

Two out of two ain’t bad! And the Bulldogs posted a come-from-behind victory against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl (though, as usual, there’s no reason they should have gotten into that hole in the first place).

So, despite bowl losses by Tennessee and Alabama, it turned out to be a pretty good bowling expedition by the SEC — the BEST conference in the nation, in my humble opinion (and in Ohio State’s, I’d reckon).