Monday, December 19, 2016

A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

It's been a few years since my last New Testament Greek class, and I've been working on retaining (or re-obtaining) my language skills this past year. Some books have been more helpful than others, and in my quest for more useful resources I was offered a review copy of A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament from Kregel Publications.

The book is intended for use alongside a Greek New Testament (preferably a reader's edition that gives a translation for uncommon words at the bottom of the page) and a lexicon, although most New Testaments have a functional lexicon in the back. Whereas those other resources are helpful for figuring out what a word may mean, the syntax guide helps readers understand how the grammar and sentence-level structure determine meaning. Just as a foreign exchange student studying English might understand each of the words in the phrase "in a pinch" without grasping the meaning (in a difficult situation), so too a student of New Testament Greek may have an idea of what all the words mean without understanding how they relate to each other to make meaning.

The best way to evaluate a resources like this is to use it. I had A Syntax Guide out on the table with my Reader's Greek New Testament and my Logos iPhone app to help me read through Galatians. I found that prepositional phrases tended to cause me the most trouble, and notes like "διὰ + interval of time = after," "ἐν ἐμοὶ = in my case" and "ὁ δὲ μεσίτης ἑνὸς οὐκ ἔστιν = now a mediator is not for one party only" made reading easier. Other times word order or a pronoun for which I couldn't place the referent noun was throwing me off, but A Syntax Guide set me back on track. Sometimes it's the simple things that slow me down. 

I admit that I'm not very advanced when it comes to reading my Greek New Testament. I'm pretty dependent on external resources like Bible software or a good English translation. A Syntax Guide is a nice tool to have. It's not essential, but in tandem with other resources, it's proven valuable to my own studies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sardines in my stocking!



Christmas stockings are amazing.  They serve as decorations all December until that one day when they're stuffed to the brim (and over) with treats and goodies. I have forgotten many of the presents I got, but I know what was in my stocking. I can’t remember a Christmas past when my stocking didn’t have almost all of the following:

 

Candy cane

Assorted Palmer’s chocolates

Assorted fun size candy bars

Chocolate Santa

Orange

Peanuts

Can of sardines

 

You're probably thinking, who would eat that? I admit that it seems a little strange, but I'm not making it up. My dad actually put an orange in there.


Despite my mother’s complaints that sardines made my breath perfectly rancid, I loved them, as did my little sister. They were a special treat because of how rarely we got them and who we got to eat them with: dad. The peanuts and orange were supposed to balance out the chocolate and help fill the stocking without emptying the wallet. My dad told us that when he was a kid, getting fresh fruit in your stocking was a very special treat. I’m glad he passed on the traditional orange while making room for a can of sardines as well.

 

My own kids usually get smaller presents along with their candy in their stockings. Last year we got Lukas and Abby each a movie that sat at the top of their stockings, and I want to continue doing that each year until my kids consider it as indispensable a Christmas tradition as the oranges that they too find at the bottom of their stockings. I still haven’t introduced them to the pleasure of a good sardine. Maybe this year…

Monday, December 12, 2016

Martin Luther

The year 1517 is widely considered the start of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther penned his 95 theses and nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Since next year will be the 500th anniversary of this momentous occasion, you can expect a lot of attention to Martin Luther in the coming months. It's fitting, then, that Simonetta Carr, author of the excellent Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, has released her tenth title on this Reformer.

You don't have to look far to find a decent biography of Luther. I've watched some on YouTube, listened to countless sermons and lectures available online, read books, and even listened to audiobooks. With so many resources available, what does Simonetta Carr have to offer? Plenty.

First, her biography on Luther is a high-quality work in it's own right. It's a durable hardcover that, when combined with other titles in her series, looks beautiful on a bookshelf. The beauty only starts with the cover. Inside on each of its wide pages are period artwork, historical maps, photos of important places, and Troy Howell's fantastic illustrations of moments from Luther's life. They constantly remind readers that these events really happened to real people. My kids always seem more surprised by reality than by fiction, and their genuine interest and surprise at hearing these facts for the first time always gives me the joy of seeing their wonder.

The writing is aimed at children in the 7-12 age range, but even my 5-year-old stays interested as I read to her and show her the pictures. Carr does not whitewash Luther's history, though she does reserve the more negative information about Luther (such as his harsh language and verbal attacks against the Jews) for the Did you know? section at the end of the book. Given the scope of the book and it's size, it's not surprising that Carr didn't dwell on the more controversial moments of Luther's life.

I wish I had read more biographies when I was a kid. Actually, I wish I had read more, period. As a Christian parent, I want my kids to learn about my faith, and I pray that one day they will embrace it as their own. By sharing these biographies with them, they learn not only from my example, but from the examples of believers throughout history.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Christmas book for my daughter

My five-year-old daughter likes princesses and Christmas, both of which come together in A Royal Christmas to Remember. The book is part of The Princess Parables series produced by ZonderKids, and it's geared towards children between the ages of 4 and 8.

The story follows five princesses named Joy, Grace, Faith, Charity, and Hope, each of whom embody the virtue they are named after. As they get ready to celebrate Christmas, they decorate the castle and talk about what they hope to receive Christmas morning. The night before Christmas thieves break into the castle, tie up the princesses, and begin to loot the place until they are captured by the palace guards. The whole scenario struck me as odd, but it didn't seem to phase my daughter. The story ends with the princesses giving out gifts to the villagers who were also robbed by the bandits. The point of the adventure is that rather than being focused on getting things, we should instead imitate God, who gave up everything, even his own Son. The whole idea comes from the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:15-21.

The anti-consumerism and pro-giving message is a welcome reminder to both children and parents that the Christmas season is not a time for storing up treasures on earth.

The book has one significant error worth mentioning. It describes Luke 12:15-21 as "the parable of the Rich Young Ruler." However, the rich young ruler was not a parable, but an actual even that took place during the ministry of Jesus and which occurs in Luke 18. This seemingly minor mistake suggests that the authors and the editors aren't as biblically literate as I would expect of Christian authors and publishers. I can still recommend this book, but it's a good reminder to exercise discernment even when getting children's books from trusted publishers.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Septuagint: A tool for students of New Testament Greek

I’ve written before (here and here) that 2016 is my year for working on my biblical Greek and Hebrew. As the year draws to a close, I have to admit that I haven’t been as consistent as I wanted to be at the start of the year, but I have made some great gains. I’ve been most surprised by how much I’ve retained even without having gone over vocabulary lists or parsing out words.

I recently had the opportunity to secure a review copy of Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader, edited by Karen Jobes, professor at Wheaton and author of a number of highly acclaimed commentaries, including one on Esther in the NIV Application Commentary series.

This volume, as the name implies, introduces Greek students to the Greek text of the Septuagint. Jobes introduces the work and highlights the background and significance of the Septuagint for understanding the New Testament and the world in which it was written. What follows are 10 chapters from 9 different Old Testament books, including passages not considered part of the canon of Scripture like Psalm 151 and additions to the book of Esther. I found these passages fun to work through simply because I couldn’t rely on my familiarity with the English versions to help me out. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction about the Greek text of the book, pointing out differences and similarities to the Hebrew (Masoretic) text. Then follows a passage from the book (some have another introduction, like the non-canonical Psalm 151) broken up verse by verse with notes on vocabulary words and phrases in the text. Each section then ends with an English translation.

My early New Testament Greek classes had me work through 1 John and other passages to help me learn the language. Working through the Septuagint only further cements these lessons. Because the language of the Septuagint is a little archaic compared to the Koine period and it has significantly more vocabulary, it makes for a great next step in language learning. Words that don’t appear frequently in the New Testament can be studied in different contexts. Parsing verbs used in ways different than you’re used to forces you to think through it more.


I would love to be able to take a class that uses Discovering the Septuagint because the book was intended to be used as a textbook. However, it’s still a useful tool for improving your grasp of biblical Greek, and if you’re able to do your own independent study, I’d recommend checking it out.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book Recommendation: Christ All Sufficient

I have a shortlist of authors whose books are worth adding to my library, sight unseen. Brian G. Hedges is on that list because he writes books that provide a solid exposition of Scripture using vivid illustrations which he follows up with clear and practical application. I first read License to Kill: A Field Guide to Mortifying Sin back in 2013, which lead to me picking up Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins in 2014. His most recent book, Christ All Sufficient, is his first commentary.

Commentary is a bit of a misnomer. When people think of commentaries, they usually have in mind some dry, academic tome the size and weight of a college biology textbook. That's not what this is. Hedges wrote 10 chapters on the book of Colossians taking readers verse-by-verse through the New Testament letter explaining the flow of thought and directing readers to take hold of the timeless truths first penned by the Apostle Paul. The chapters all felt like quick reads, but each was worth pondering for a while before moving on to the next because Hedges has a way of bringing out what's in the text and calling readers to apply it immediately.

The book reminded me of the God's Word for You book series, which I absolutely love (a few titles are on my Christmas list this year). If that series is aimed at introducing people to the rich truths of the Scripture, Christ All Sufficient builds on that idea and gets a little deeper into some theological concepts. I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering preaching or teaching through Colossians. Even if you're just planning on reading through the letter, Hedges book will bring out great insights you probably would have missed without doing an in-depth study.

In short, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel

I have fond memories of reading the Berenstain Bears with my parents, and now I'm reading the books with my kids. I still prefer the original stories, but the recent additions by the Berenstain couple's son are enjoyable reads as well.

In The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel the bear cubs make an angel out of snow and learn about how Gabriel announced the coming of Jesus to Mary and the angels told the shepherds that he had been born. The illustrations are on par with those done by Stan and Jan Berenstain, and the focus on the angels of Christmas is one of the more unique emphases I've seen in children's books. It even has a list of Bible passages for parents and children to look up about angels.

The Berenstain Bears have been around since 1962, and I'm glad they're going to be here for a long time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Peru Trip, Days 10-11, Coming home

Monday, October 17, 2016

Santos and I woke up at 4:30 am so we could get to the train station in Machu Picchu on time for our 5:30 am train trip to Ollantaytambo, making it our third straight night without a full night's rest. We gathered our gear and walked down to the train station, waved our tickets, and waited for the train to arrive. When it did we climbed aboard, and to our sweet relief we discovered the ride was smooth and without any curves like our hair-raising drive through the mountains less than 48 hours before.

After talking briefly with a French couple who had wisely come to Cusco a week before to get adjusted to the altitude, we kicked our feet up and rested, snapping only a few photos along the way. Every once in a while the train would stop to let another train coming from the opposite direction pass through a tunnel ahead of us where only one track was laid or to switch back onto another track in order to climb higher up the mountainside.

Once we arrived at Ollantaytambo it was up to us to find a taxi driver to take us to Cusco. Fortunately, there were a whole bunch of them just waiting for a fare. Since we had paid 40 soles for a one-hour ride between Chazuta and Tarapoto, I figured 80 soles was a good price to haul the two of us the two hours back to Cusco. A cabbie stepped up and offered to take us for 100 soles, and I told him firmly, "80 soles, no más," and he accepted without argument. He even grabbed one of my suitcases and started hauling it to the parking lot.

I let Santos ride up front after he had taken the bullet riding in the back on the trip to Santa Teresa, but the ride between Ollantaytambo and Cusco hadn't made us sick on the way up, and by now we were getting used to the altitude enough that we didn't even feel any effect from the driving. The driver asked if we wanted to stop at a place where some Quechua women sold souvenirs. We had the time, so we agreed. When we got there we were treated to some tea and a presentation showing us how they spin wool, dye it, and turn it into cloth. It was quite fascinating. Afterwards Santos and I perused the items for sale, and we both picked up a couple items to take back home. Before we left we all posed for a photo.


Once in Cusco we checked our bags at the airport and took a cab to the Plaza de las Armas, the center of the city and the old Inca Empire. We wandered around taking in the sights, visiting shops, and just enjoying ourselves in a way we hadn't been able to before because we had been rushing from one place to the next. We had until 3:30 before we needed to take a taxi back to the airport, and we weren't going to be rushed. For lunch we stopped at a nice restaurant where I enjoyed a nice cut of llama steak after deciding that my children would never forgive me if I ordered cuy (guinea pig).

We finished our shopping and made it back to the airport with time to spare. Our flight was slightly delayed (never going with Avianca again), but we managed to get out on time. In fact, once we were in the air our pilot apologized for rushing us onto the plane when we finally did get to board. He explained that the rush was necessary because our aircraft was not rated for night flying and we had to get off the ground before it was too late. This was a little unsettling as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean on our approach to Lima, but we made it with no problem.


We had another layover in the Lima airport, but this time, for some reason, we had no problem falling asleep even with the constant announcements over the loudspeaker. I set my alarm and drifted off into dreamworld on one of the benches. Santos woke up about an hour before our midnight flight and nearly had an infarction thinking we had come so close to sleeping through boarding until I told him my alarm would have gone off in a few minutes anyways.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On the plane I didn't even try to sleep until we were in the air and I could recline my seat a little. Again, I was surprised at how easy it was for me to sleep when I had been unable to do so on the way down. Santos, on the other hand, had difficulty sleeping due in part to the elderly lady on his left using his shoulder as a pillow. I didn't get a chance to ask her how she slept, but Santos believes she slept well.

We arrived in JFK International Airport in New York City just before 9 am. Customs was quicker than I had ever experienced, and we enjoyed one last trip to Starbucks and awaited one more flight. The closer I got to home the more excited I became. Santos had the itch to return home too, despite having planned to stay the night at our house. After a short flight to Buffalo, Santos made up his mind and bought tickets to Indianapolis, not willing to spend one more day apart from his wife and children. When Hannah came with the kids to pick me up Santos said goodbye, and I hopped into the front seat of the van. I was finally home.

Thank you all for praying for me during this trip. To those of you who helped shoulder some of the costs, I am eternally grateful. To all who have read through these recollections, thank you. I was richly blessed, and the believers in Chazuta, Santa Teresa, Machu Picchu, and beyond were encouraged. To God be the glory.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 9, Machu Picchu

Sunday, October 16, 2016






By this point in our journey Santos and I had gone two nights without much sleep. Around 5 am a couple of kids in the hallway woke us up from our sleep. Because the sun rises and sets so early, most people seem to wake up before 6 am around here. We had to meet our contacts by 6 am anyways, so we gathered ourselves together and went down the street to the restaurant owned by Pedro's family. Again, the last full meal we had was lunch the day before, which Santos had failed to retain through the whole car ride, so we were grateful for the tea (mate de muña) and rolls with avocado for breakfast. We spent a little bit of time attempting and failing to get tickets for the train from the nearby hydroelectric dam to Machu Picchu, so we had to take a taxi with some fellow believers from Machu Picchu to the dam.



We got to the dam just in time. In less than five minutes we bought our tickets, climbed aboard, and the train started moving. Compared to the car trip the day before, the train ride was bliss. We traveled in style along the Urubamba River. Although we had planned on taking the train back to Santa Teresa in the evening and setting out on the mountain road in the morning back to Cusco, Santos and I talked it over and decided to spend the night in Machu Picchu if at all possible and return to Cusco by train instead. The only problem was that we left our bags in the hostel at Santa Teresa.



Once we arrived at the train station in Machu Picchu, we talked it over with the local church leader Abraham about what we wanted to do, and he assured us someone could send us our bags before the day was out. With those assurances, we purchased our tickets. It was a lot cheaper to take an early train to Ollantaytambo and take a taxi the rest of the way to Cusco. If you remember, Santos and I felt fine for that part of the road trip. With that done, we had to travel to another building to purchase our tickets to enter Machu Picchu. Abraham, as a resident, already had his entry pass. From there we went to purchase our bus tickets to take us up the mountain to the ruins and then back down. The line seemed long, but it was nothing compared to the line to get on the bus. Abraham's wife and her friend held our spot in line for us (a common practice in this country) while we were buying all our tickets, so it was much shorter for us than it could have been. In all, we ended up standing in five lines that morning.



The half hour bus ride up the mountain gave us breathtaking views, but the best views of all were waiting for us at the top. Machu Picchu, that great Incan citadel and one of the seven wonders of the world, is truly amazing. I had visited it some 13 years ago back in 2003, but it hadn't changed much. Because of it's new status as a "wonder" the crowds are now much larger, and some areas we were free to explore are now roped off to prevent damage to the site, but it's still more than you can expect to explore in just one day.



After our excursion was done we discovered that we had spent too much time under the sun in the thin atmosphere. We both got bad burns. We were waiting in a similarly long line for the bus back down the mountain when it started raining lightly. Down at the bottom, and by now very hungry, we took Abraham out for lunch around 4 pm. We agreed to meet up again in the evening to attend a Bible study at the Christian school where Abraham teaches, and Santos agreed to teach through some of his material on 1 Corinthians.



We went to Hostal New Day, owned by one of the ladies who attends the Bible study, and rested a little bit before we would have to head back out again. When we woke up and came downstairs our bags were there. The brothers in Santa Teresa had gotten them to us. We went to the nearby plaza to take in a few more sights and I left Santos with his notes to explore the area some more.



The time finally came for the Bible study, and the hostel owner took us with her, meeting up with more people on the way to the school. We sang a number of songs with Abraham playing the guitar and Jenny, one of the women who had been with us in Santa Teresa but who lived in Machu Picchu, lead the singing. Then it was time for Santos to lead the Bible study. He taught from the word, and I could tell the people were listening. His message was encouraging but challenging as well, calling on us to live lives of holiness before God.




Afterwards we returned with the women to the hostel for a little bit of sleep before we had to wake up again at 4:30 am so we could make our train in the morning. As we were getting out our shorts and t-shirts for bed, the hostel knocked on our door to speak with us. She did two things that floored us. First, she gave us a love offering to bless us for our visit - 100 soles, or approximately $30 for each of us. Additionally, she told us our rent for the night was taken care of. We tried to politely decline her gift, but she insisted and it would have been rude to do anything other than to gratefully accept her gift, hug her, thank her, and pray with her. Humbled yet again by the sovereign hand of our God.


By now our trip was over. All that remained was a train, a taxi, and a few more flights, but even on our last day we would meet with new surprises.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 8, The mountain road

Saturday, October 15, 2016



Sleeping in an airport turned out to be a little less enjoyable than you might expect it to be. Unlike airports in the U.S. that ensure an armrest separates each and every seat, the Lima airport has benches you can lie down on. This gives the impression that you can sleep on them. That impression would be wrong. Of course, the problem lies not with the benches themselves, but with the loudspeaker cranked to 11 that constantly reminds passengers to check the monitors for up-to-date flight information, pages individuals to come to a specific gate, and warns people that their gate has changed. Thus, every one or two minutes my pathetic attempt at sleeping was interrupted by a booming voice that might as well have been saying, "You should have gotten a hotel." The shorts I was wearing from the day before did not protect me from the air conditioning, and my yellow towel made for a poor blindfold. I would have to be completely exhausted before I could sleep in that airport. By the time we returned just two days later, I would be. Santos, on the other hand, somehow managed to get a little more sleep than I did, perhaps because he was wearing pants and had a nice jacket to keep him warm.



The closer it got to our airplane's departure time, the more we came to realize that our flight would be delayed. With little else to do, I texted my wife to let her know how things were progressing until I found out our flight was pushed back to 11:05 am. Had we known, we probably would have gotten a hotel. Hindsight is always 20/20.


The flight to Cusco lasted about an hour, and when we approached for landing we could see mountains on our left and on our right. The air was cooler there due to the altitude, and even while we were in the airport we could feel the lightheadedness that comes from being up so high. People talk about how difficult it is for sports teams to adjust to the altitude when playing in Denver, Colorado, the Mile High City. Cusco is over two miles high.



Pastor Jarvis from Tingo María had found out that Santos and I were going to Machu Picchu, so he called some people he knew who agreed to pick us up and set us up with accommodations if we agreed to visit their church in Santa Teresa and preach. I wasn't sure where the church was at, but I knew it would be a ways away from Cusco. Pedro, a church leader in Santa Teresa, met us in the airport and arranged for a taxi to take us to Santa Teresa. Although our last full meal was lunch the day before, we opted to hold off on eating until we were away from Cusco. Before long the three of us were piled into a car and heading north by northwest out of the city.



After about an hour and a half we stopped outside of Ollantaytambo for some lunch. It was here that our driver gave us some advice we neither understood nor followed. He explained that we would be heading high up into the mountains and come down the other side. He recommended we take something to sleep, but not having anything with which to knock ourselves out and wanting to see all that we could see, we politely declined the offer and loaded back into the car for what would be the worst drive of our lives.



Up until this point the road had been fairly straight. Upon leaving Ollantaytambo, we began our ascent into the mountains. Roads in the mountains cannot be straight without carving long tunnels through solid rock. Rather, they zig zag back and forth all the way up, frequently at short intervals. Because our driver was getting paid for the job and not by the hour, he had no incentive to take it slow around the curves. The effect was immediate: conversation died, Santos and I braced ourselves against the door, ceiling, head rest—whatever we could hang onto, and our heads and stomachs began acting in ways we had never felt before. The sudden silence made me realize that our driver had a music playlist consisting of about eight songs on repeat. I imagine the experience was not too far off from being trapped on a tilt-a-whirl for about three hours.




It was not long before Santos, riding in the back, announced his intention of being sick. Our driver was neither surprised nor concerned. He instructed me to open the glovebox where I found a large stash of plastic bags. He then told me to pass one back to Santos. It seems he was used to this sort of thing, and he said that he felt sorry for people from the coast who had to take a trip into the mountains. At the end, he said, "Salen blanquitos," meaning they get out of the vehicle "very pale," and that in a country where most people have darker skin.



Santos became very sick, but somehow I managed to retain my afternoon meal for the whole trip. I even managed to record a few videos on my phone, not because I wanted to remember the trip, but because I feared we would soon careen off the edge of the mountain. The driver was passing vehicles while approaching blind turns, drifting from one lane to the other, and pushing 80km/hr in areas clearly marked for 30km/hr. If we didn't survive I hoped the footage would somehow make it back to my loved ones so they could understand how we ended up at the bottom of a ravine.



By the time we made it to the top of the mountain Santos had spent nearly all he had left. By this point we had made it to 4300 meters above sea level, almost 2.7 miles high. We saw a heard of llamas that would have been cute in almost any other venue but the one we were at, and we had to push through the cloud-covered road down the other side of the mountains.



Santos finally passed out, probably from exhaustion, and I even dozed off once or twice. We finally arrived at our destination around 6:15, giving us just enough time to settle into our room at a hostal, get our Bibles out, and head to the church so I could preach. Santos looked like a broken man, and I was so exhausted from the car ride, lack of sleep, and missed meals that I wasn't sure how well I would actually do preaching that evening.



We walked to the church where we met a small gathering of believers who were very excited to have us. After some singing, Santos and I were introduced, we greeted them, and I preached. I've never felt so weak and inadequate, but they received us warmly and thanked us for coming. By 11 pm we were back to our hostel. We were weak, tired, and humbled by the mighty hand of our God. And tomorrow we were getting up early to go to Machu Picchu. God would humble us even more before the trip was out, in ways we couldn't even anticipate.

Peru Trip, Day 7, Hash browns and helping hands

Friday, October 14, 2016

Santos and I woke early on our last day in Chazuta. We got our bags ready to leave and gathered with our crew for a last morning coffee before heading to the church for breakfast. Enrique, Aurora, Aldo, Esther, and Ronaldo all had flights the following morning, but Santos and I had to be to the airport Friday evening in order to return to Lima. In such a short time we became a family out there, and the anticipation of saying goodbye hung over us until it was pushed aside by some scrambled eggs, fried yucca, plantains, and the last hours of ministry. I'd never eaten yucca before, and that first bite tasted just like hash browns. I admit I wouldn't be satisfied with just one. It was too good!

In the morning the pastors and church leaders attending our courses received various resources for themselves and their churches. Among the first to receive their books were the two women who had been in our class. Peru has the same problems with machismo as many other nations, so the act of honoring them first and in a very public manner made a powerful statement about how the gospel breaks down barriers. Others received commentaries, books on ministry by John MacArthur, and other resources.

Santos and I finished up our teaching of Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter, leaving the remaining books for Aldo to teach. That morning we were surprised to see Galindo, the man we met in Curiyacu, carrying his son, Abram, who was blind. They had made the trip upriver, and after meeting with Jairo and our team of doctors, we determined that Galindo would need to travel to Tarapoto (1 hour away by taxi) for evaluation and then make two trips to Lima for treatment.

We went out for lunch with our team one last time, and when we returned the whole group was released to return back to their homes, some with two, three, or even five days of travel ahead of them. In fact, Santos and I would have time to return to Lima, fly to Cusco, visit Machu Picchu, fly back to Lima, and finally take the long flight home before everyone from the training would be back in their own beds.

With the primary purpose of our trip complete, we returned with Pastor Jairo to our hotel to talk and share stories until a taxi came to pick up Santos and me. We had enough in our budget to leave an offering for the church in Chazuta that had hosted the training all week provided both breakfast and dinner for teachers and students alike. We were also able to leave enough behind to cover the costs for Galindo to take his son to Tarapoto and Lima for treatment. In my last communication with Pastor Jairo, the two were heading to Lima this past Friday. Glory to God!

Around 4:45 the taxi showed up and Santos and I said our goodbyes, leaving open the possibility of returning again sometime down the road. Pastor Jairo prayed for us, and we were off. During the drive back to Tarapoto we saw that there had been a new rockslide since the day we had driven down just five days before. We were reminded yet again just how blessed we had been to avoid major difficulties on this trip.

We caught our flight from Tarapoto and landed in Lima around 10 pm. Since our flight to Cusco was scheduled to take off early the next morning, we decided to hunker down and sleep in the airport. Little did we know the most taxing part of our trip was just about to begin.

Peru Trip, Day 6, Motorcycles aren't for everyone

Thursday, October 13, 2016

In the morning during our team devotional and coffee we had an extra special treat, biscuits with butter and strawberry jam. Santos shared with the team about our experience in Curiyacu the night before, where we met a family with a 13 month old child, Abram, who was blind. Because the four Dominicans on our team were doctors, they asked a number of questions and said that, depending on the cause of the blindness, the longer the child goes without treatment, the more likely the blindness will be irreversible. We agreed to talk to Pastor Jairo to see how we could help the family get their son to Lima for treatment, which we did later that morning. He promised to look into it and got together with Osvaldo, who ministers in Curiyacu, to get in touch with Ítalo and the boy's father.

During the morning devotional Enrique showed how the Bible emphasizes a pastor's character over even his interpersonal skills and teaching. It can be very easy to think that because you've had training and can recite a few Bible verses that you've taken care of the most important aspects of being a pastor.

Santos had all of our notes printed up for the students to take back with them. In the morning Jairo checked with each of the students to find out what resources they had at their churches, and many of them had little more than their Bibles. These packets of notes on the New Testament may be the only resources they have on the subject when they return to their homes and churches.

After Santos taught through Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon in the morning, I had to rush through 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus in the afternoon. Because we missed out on training during the afternoon of the day before, I needed to make time for Aldo to teach on Galatians and Ephesians. Fortunately, the morning devotional all week had been drawn from 1 Timothy and Titus, so I didn't have to be as thorough. I managed to finish my training in about an hour and a half. Aldo was able to finish his training.

Pastor Jarvis from Tingo María, the guy who had ridden his motorcycle 9 hours to attend the training and who went with us on our excursion to the chocolate makers and the beekeepers, offered to let Santos and I ride his motorcycle. After a thorough safety brief, Santos took a slow ride around the compound. I too took a ride, and since I was wearing the one shirt I brought with a breast pocket, I made a poor man's GoPro by hitting record on my cellphone and popping it in before my ride. Never having driven a stick, I killed the engine on my first try, but Jarvis set me up right. A couple of loops around the grounds, and I realized that 1) motorcycles are dangerous, and 2) I need to learn to drive a stick.

After training was over I played soccer with the men from the training. They soon discovered that my height was no advantage as a goalie when I let the ball through the arc within the first thirty seconds of play. Towards the end of our playing I started to get the hang of it and managed to sacrifice my body to stop a goal or two, partially redeeming myself. Santos was off holding a limbo stick for the kids while I took a beating at soccer.

In the evening the women of the church held a special service for the ladies of the community. Santos and I were tired, so we remained at the hotel that night and talked about what we were going to do to help little Abram get to Lima.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 5, In danger from rivers

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
"We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories." —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Like every morning our team got together for coffee and a devotional before heading out to the church for breakfast and training. We talked about our schedule for the day and agreed to be flexible. After our morning sessions we were supposed to go with some of the students downriver to some villages where some of them serve in order to pray with the believers there and give them some encouragement.

Santos and I taught in the morning because we wouldn't be able to in the afternoon. Santos went over 1 Corinthians. Because the letter is addresses so many different topics, he needed extra time to finish, so I had to abbreviate a little of my material on 2 Corinthians in order to finish on time. By now I had learned from Santos's example to make my lessons more practical and address situations and questions arising from the church. It was a bit of an eye opener the day prior when someone asked about the ethics of receiving offerings from someone who made his money growing coca for drug trade. The details may be different, but the issues seem to be common across cultures. Most of the problems they identify revolve around matters of sexual immorality, domineering leadership, alcohol abuse—all problems you can easily find in most any church in the U.S. The overview of 1 and 2 Corinthians allowed us to touch on each of these areas.

Our afternoon excursion downriver was delayed a little, so someone from the church brought us a bag of juane to enjoy for supper on the way back upriver. We went down to the harbor to await the group and had to take shelter under a tent canopy when it started raining. Once the group arrived we all loaded up into a motor, a boat with a good-sized outboard motor. The peke-peke, on the other hand, is essentially a long canoe that sits low in the water and has a smaller motor that makes a sound that give it its name: peke, peke, peke, peke... Our boat could fit about 20 of us.

Santos was very nervous at this point. He can't swim and we had no lifejackets. To make matters worse, people were telling him that the life preserver was more to help locate the body, not save a person from drowning. As we set out on the river, the fast current, rough water, and whirlpools suggested the jokes may not be all that far off from the truth. When the boat started taking on water partway into the journey we were kind enough to not tell Santos about it. Looking back, Santos was probably the only one in our group who actually recognized the danger of our situation.

We made two stops to drop people off before arriving at our destination 9 miles and 1 hour away from our starting point. The village of Curiyacu doesn't appear on Google Maps, but it's there. One of our students, Osvaldo, ministers there. We arrived just after 6 pm as the sun was setting behind the mountains. A steep trek up the bank brought us to the main plaza of the town, complete with a cement soccer pitch. Up the hill we could see a small building with sheet metal roofing and no walls. As the sun set and the area was bathed in darkness, a light shone in that building. Ítalo, an elderly local believer, explained to us that the building we saw was the church. Two months ago it didn't exist.

After climbing the hill in the darkness we gathered with some believers, prayed, and divided up to meet some families that had supported the church in some way but were not attending. The New Testament describes these people as a "person of peace" or a "God-fearer." Because the arrival of outsiders was something of a special event for them, they wanted us to meet those people to express their appreciation to them. Santos and I followed Ítalo down the hill to the house of Galindo, his wife Celmith, and their five children. Santos was able to steer the conversation with Galindo towards the gospel. Galindo stated that he had believed the gospel, but had stopped attending the church for various reasons. Santos was able to talk to him, encourage him, and pray with him. We discovered that the two youngest children, fraternal twins about 13 months old, had been born with vision problems. The girl, Débora, had been treated, but the boy, Abram, remained blind. Until now, Galindo had not been able to take the trip to Lima to have his son's blindness treated.

This whole conversation brought Galindo to tears, and both Santos and I had to work to maintain our composure. Galindo decided to return to church and start reading his Bible again with his wife. We prayed together, thanked them for receiving us, and left to the central plaza to reunite with our group. Santos and I decided we couldn't leave Chazuta without doing something to help this family, and sure enough, we did. But that's another story for another day.

At the plaza we met more believers from Curiyacu and posed for some group photos before returning to the boat for the trip back. Santos had Ítalo write down the names of all the believers in Curicayu, as well as the names of Galindo and his family. By now the river and jungle had been swallowed by darkness. Navigating back upriver against the current and without a good line of site made the trip more dangerous than the trip down. We spent a lot of time in silent prayer as we made our two stops to pick up the rest of our group. We decided to wait until we returned to the hotel to eat our juane. The trip passed without incident. When we arrived back at the port we said our goodbyes until the morning and our team returned to the hotel to enjoy supper a little after 9 pm. I discovered that juane, a local dish, consists of rice cooked in various spices and wrapped in a banana leaf. Food never tasted so good.




Friday, October 21, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 4, Chocolates and Bees

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Medical clinic
Have I mentioned it's pretty warm in Chazuta? All the guys on the team carried little towels with us to wet, drape around our necks, and enjoy the cooling sensation it gives as the water evaporates. The high 80s temperatures and the daily rainfall that raises the humidity makes these little towels so important. On our way to the church for breakfast we saw that word had gotten out about the medical clinic and there were people already lining up to be seen and treated.

Enrique continued his devotional in the morning with the students before we broke yet again into our two classes. Santos and I both used Enrique's teaching time to go over our own notes. Santos led off again, this time teaching through the Gospel of John and the three letters of John. He was great at getting the participants to dialogue with him. During my turn after lunch I tackled Romans for just over two hours. I had been nervous about it because it was such a large block of time and the letter is one of the most intricate and complex of all the New Testament. The night before I managed to talk to Hannah over a wifi connection, and she encouraged me, saying that Romans was my book, the one I was meant to teach. I don't know about that, but I felt very confident, and I don't think I left anyone behind or confused, not even when looking the challenging chapters of 9-11 dealing with the sovereignty of God in salvation.

Me teaching
In the evening we took a little excursion with Pastor Jarvis from Tingo María. He had ridden his motorcycle 9 hours over all kinds of terrain in order to come to the training. As the week went on and we learned more about him, it was exciting to find out that he had been taking his church through the Spanish version of Step by Step through the Old Testament and he was now leading them through Step by Step through the New Testament. People who before hadn't read their Bibles or who had difficulty reading were learning the same sorts of things Santos and I were teaching these church leaders.

The ladies of Mishky Cacao
Our first stop was at Mishky Cacao (Quechua meaning "Sweet Cocoa"), the only building in all of Chazuta that I saw with air conditioning. The owner of the establishment told us all about how the business had started and came to be what it was. Back in the 80s and 90s Chazuta and the surrounding areas were specializing in one crop, coca, and selling it to the drug traffickers that operated within the region. For many it was a Catch 22. The coca provided a stable income for the locals and kept the drug traffickers happy, but it eventually brought down government forces and people were constantly in fear for their lives, whether it be from the traffickers or the military. Eventually the trade was significantly reduced and farmers had to find another way to make money. The families of the ladies at Mishky Cacao turned to growing cocoa beans, and the ladies made chocolates by hand. Eventually outside organizations, including USAID, began investing in the women's business and providing them with equipment to grind cacao beans and refrigerate their products. They were very proud that they had just gotten a bar code for their chocolate bars and they would be going on sale in Tarapoto soon. At present each of the women had a stable income of 30 soles a day (just over $9). Oh, and the chocolate was delicious.

The beekeeper and his wife
Afterwards we went to the property of a family that keeps three species of honey bee and sells the honey, pollen, royal jelly, and other products. The husband showed us a map of where the hives are located and explained a little bit about the bees. One species, the blue bee, was very small and had no stinger. He took us out to the hives and used a syringe to extract the honey for us to sample, which was much sweeter than I expected. His wife was a Swiss woman. I'm not surprised to meet foreigners in cities like Lima, but I never expected to meet a European woman in the jungle. It seems the husband had studied in Europe at some point, the two met, and they fell in love.

On the way back us guys engaged in our normal shenanigans. Jarvis came up behind me when some dogs were barking and grabbed my calf muscle with his fingers and about scared me half to death. Naturally I had to do it to someone else. We also picked up grasses and tickled each other on the neck or ear to make them think a bug was on them. In some ways, it felt like camp.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 3, The Spider

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday was day one of our survey of the New Testament. After breakfast at the church Enrique got up and lead the morning devotional, which he would do all week. The emphasis was on what it takes to be a pastor, looking specifically at passages in 1 Timothy and Titus. Then we broke out into two groups, the first going with Enrique and Ronaldo to learn about missions, and the second staying with Santos and me to get a survey of the New Testament. Aurora, Aldo, and Esther went to work at the local medical clinic seeing patients and providing free health care.

Santos taught in the morning on Matthew and Mark. His wife Roksana had confided in me that he was very nervous leading up to the trip. He had lead Bible studies before and one-on-one discipleship, but he felt ill-prepared to lead a seminar for pastors. You wouldn't have guessed it once he stood up and began the lesson. He hit on the major themes of each book and connected with the students, who respected him and called him "pastor."

At lunch time we learned a few words in the local Quechua dialect from Artidoro, a man who's been working on a Bible translation team in Tarapoto. Because there are so many dialects in the Quechua language family, not all of them have a Bible translation. This one only recently got a New Testament, and apart from a few Psalms, none of the Old Testament has been translated.

After lunch I got my chance at teaching through Luke and Acts. Despite having been largely apart from the Spanish-speaking community since moving to Buffalo in February, I was back in my element again. I gave a background and overview of the each book, then went chapter by chapter highlighting key passages and themes throughout. In all, I spent about two and a half hours going through the material and answering questions.

That evening after supper we went back to the hotel, and I went into the bathroom to wash my face. Santos stood by the door with his camera, and he told me not to move. I thought he was taking my picture. He wasn't. Outside the door was the largest spider I've ever seen outside a zoo. When I came out of the bathroom I ran down the wall towards the floor, and Santos tried to step on it. He missed. One of us let out a small scream (Santos insists it was me, but I'm not sure), and it ran up the wall. A second attempt with a broom only succeeded in knocking it to the ground and under the bed. Ronaldo, Santos, and I had to remove a lot of our luggage and our bedding to search for it, since none of us was willing to go to bed without first finding and killing the spider. We finally found it underneath an end table, and Santos redeemed himself by killing it with the broom. Aldo managed to capture some of my reactions on video, which led everyone to believe it was indeed me who screamed. Fortunately, that video hasn't surfaced on the internet yet.

We spent the rest of the evening by the river, listening to the water and telling funny stories. Before going to bed we made a thorough scan of our room for any more spiders. Because it had been on the wall next to Santos's bed, Ronaldo offered to switch beds with him, but that may be because Ronaldo was eaten alive the night before by little bugs that came in through the window by his bed. Regardless of his motives, Santos opted to stay by the wall, and I remained in the middle, hoping that the two of them would serve as buffers between me and the creepy crawlies of the night.