Thursday, October 25, 2007

Traditional dance

September 15, 1821 was the day Costa Rica was granted independence from Spain. In honor of the day, Costa Ricans celebrate with parades, parties and traditional dance. At our language school, the staff treated us to a presentation of traditional dance and food. It was a great day! Here's a video of the staff doing a dance from the Guanacaste region. In this dance, the man is chasing the girl trying to steal a kiss. When the couples come together, the man lifts his handkerchief in order to hide his attempt for a little smooch.

Lena and I liked this one so much, we tried it at home. But, since I don't have a handkerchief, I had to chase her with toilet paper.

Peruvian Coffee

The main cash crops of Peru are:
1. Coca--the leaves from which cocaine is manufactured.
2. Coffee--more than 350 million dollars worth, per year.
3. Asparagus
4. Paprika

The surprising item listed here is Coffee. People don't usually think of Peru as a great coffee producer, since the bulk of advertising regards Costa Rican and Colombian coffees. Nonetheless, Peru also produces great coffee. The irony has been that, even though the country produced great coffee, it was nearly impossible to get any of it in Peru. In the past, they exported all of the good stuff to the states. As such, in the past, our missionary friends in Peru would have friends bring coffee with them when they visited from the states. Or, in a truly ironic situation, you would have to buy Peruvian coffee at Starbucks--coffee which had been grown and roasted in Peru, shipped to the states for packaging, then shipped back to Peru for sale. As you can imagine, it's expensive. Now there is a move among coffee producers in Peru to hold back some of their produce for Peruvian consumption. That's really good news for me, since I love good coffee and my time in Costa Rica has only served to refine my tastes. I believe that God has some wonderful blessings for us in Peru and I'm believing that a good cup of coffee is one of them. (For more on Peruvian coffee, please visit:

A couple thoughts about the cash crops listed above:

1. Coca--though cocaine is produced from these leaves, they are also used for other productive purposes. In the culture of the people, they use them to make tea which is very effective for altitude sickness. Many of the tourists who visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu treat their altitude sickness with a traditional cup of coca tea.

2. Coffee--it's not really a bean. It's a fruit. On the trees, the fruit looks like cherries and produces a sweet juice. Inside the Cherri is the seed. That's the part we roast, grind and brew to make coffee. Who figured that out?

3. Asparagus--this is the first vegetable that I realized I really liked. It was a great eye opening experience which is still impacting my life today. My second favorite vegetable is broccoli.

4. Paprika--(the ground chilies at left) I know nothing about paprika, other than that it is used in baking. As such, I find it hard to think of paprika as a cash crop. When someone asks, "What do you do for a living?" Does anyone say, "Why, little darlin', I'm a Paprika farmer!" This is amazing to me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

New Tribe found

Today, while chatting with my brother on the phone, he asked if there were still indians living in the jungles of South America. Just a few hours later, I read the following article from the BBC: In essence it states that a new tribe of nomadic indians has been spotted in the Peruvian jungle, near the border with Brazil. This is facinating to me and I'm looking forward to befriending and ministering among the indiginous people of the Amazon. (We have two Latin America ChildCare Schools in the jungle, though not among unknown tribes.) Unfortunatly, contact with outsiders can be deadly for tribes such as these, since they have no immunity to infectious diseases. I tend to think of the outsiders that they would encounter as missionaries, but the truth of the matter is that missionaries are not usually the first or only people to forge into the jungle. 100 years ago, it was industrial firms searching for rubber. Now, it is frequently oil firms, logging companies or environmentalists. (It would be a horrible irony to catch a deadly disease from an environmentalist. It's important to note that environmentalists can also catch diseases from jungle dwellers.) When Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador, returned to Peru for his second visit, 1/3 of the population had been decimated by infectious diseases contracted from the Spanard's virst visit. Unfortunately, another 1/3 died from civil war, so that contact with outsiders is not the only evil that may befall native peoples. In the end, keeping a people group alive by restricting their contact with the outside world is an impossibility. They will eventually die of something. There are infectious diseases and deadly dangers that have nothing to do with people from other communities. Jungle natives, like their city dwelling counterparts, have no immunity against sin or death--both of which they are guarenteed to experience. That's why we're going to Peru. There are a lot of people who are lost in the jungle--whether it is the Amazon Jungle or the concrete jungle of Lima (with over 8 million people). They all need to know the good news of eternal life that is the gift of Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis said that the Gospel is like a virus and that our job is to infect the world.

(The picture above is of the Yagua tribe.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How much can you do in a year?

People write and ask, "Are you still in Costa Rica or are you in Peru? We’re still in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and practicing ministry in a "latin" context. We are scheduled to leave here on December 17. We’ll be in Cincinnati and Cleveland for the Christmas holidays and to ship our belongings to Peru. We fly out on January 5. We flew here on January 3, last year. So, it’s almost exactly one year from our departure from Cincinnati, to our arrival in Peru. I’m not sure why that’s significant, but it feels somehow significant. Whether a year is a long time or a short time depends on your context. To Americans, a year sounds like a significant chunk of time. To cultures outside the states, North Americans appear to be overly aware of (some would say obsessed with) calenders and clocks. If your having fun, a year goes by really fast. If your studying for a Spanish test, a year seems like a long time. We've been hear for 9 1/2 months. Since we're eager to fulfill our call to Peru, being in Costa Rica has (at times) felt like waiting in an airport for a connecting flight. When you're eager, waiting is hard. Sometimes, like when you're waiting in an airport, it feels like nothing significant is taking place. When you're learning a language and a new culture, changes come painfully slowly. But, over time, little changes add up to a lot. Consequently, in the midst of my own feelings of frustration, I’m also aware of many changes that are taking place; e.g., the ability to speak Spanish. There are plenty of days (most of them, to be honest) when I’m exhausted by all the work and I wonder when the process of metamorphosis will end (or at least slow down).

So, what does 9 1/2 months of language and missions training produce? Well, if you're Lena, you come out sounding like a native. If you're a 46 year old white guy, people say things like, "Don't worry--lots of guys your age struggle!" I’m able to have long conversations in Spanish, go to the store without problems and even have a "firm discussion" with the manager of a store over why he's not allowed to charge me twice for the same purchase. So, I can do a lot, but I can't function as well in Spanish as I can in English--or even Pig Latin. I’m not yet able to understand the evening news in Spanish or to read a book any more difficult than First Grade.

One of the greatest strains of being here is leaving a vocation where you were confident and appreciated, to come to a place where you are incompetent and unknown. But I am well aware of the fact that no one is unknown to God, nor incompetent; and, as Paul said, these light and momentary troubles are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us. (2 Corinthians 4:17) For us, that means both heaven and a glorious work in Peru “which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) All in all, I feel like one of the most blessed people alive. I get the chance to go on an adventure with Jesus, wait in the airport for a year, learn a new language, feel like a nobody and carry the Gospel to a whole new people group. Que Bueno!