Category: Faith

A Song Selection

(Stick with me. I go somewhere at the end.)

I am the Director of Music at our church. Part of that job includes choosing music for our services. We are a diverse Pentecostal church, diverse in age, shade of skin, nation of origin, rural/metro mindset, denomination of childhood, etc. Since music is a very cultural thing, basically that means I can never make everyone happy. Sometimes I can make some people happy. I do try to draw us into a mindset of praise and worship, away from the distractions of life to a place where we can focus our attention on God.

I’ve spent much of the day combing through music in an effort to add a few songs to our repertoire. I have a list as long as my arm of songs I’ve jotted down at different times to check out later. Today I tackled part of that list.

Some of those songs on that list are old songs, either choruses or hymns. The old hymns are very effective for us, so I perk up when I hear one I have neglected to integrate. There are other old choruses that I also want to put in. Our young folks don’t necessarily have to know they’re old, and the elders will appreciate it. 😊

But today I was looking for something more contemporary to add to the mix, so I combed through tons of the new music that has most recently been put out.

There are several things I have to consider musically, as we are a congregation who still sings en masse and doesn’t just watch the folks on the platform sing. (There is also no smoke, and we leave the house lights fully up. That’s another topic for another day.)

The range must be about an octave or less or we lose folks. For example, “Shout to the Lord” was a great song, but only about 3 people could sing all the notes, so we never sang it at Newark UPC. Things have gotten better in this area, but there are a few that still hit the rubbish bin for unreachable range.

We don’t have 3 electric and 2 bass guitars. In fact we don’t have any guitars. (We have a banjo that gets played when it fits the musical style, which I think is really cool. Who else has a banjo? We also have violin, cello, French horn, clarinet, and Hammond organ.) So some of the anthems or songs with a heavy beat just sound all wrong with our instrumentation. Some songs sound great with a full band and a stadium of thousands of voices that just won’t work with our Sunday 170. So they get scrapped too.

A lot of the songs released recently have a syncopated beat. I guess songwriters think it sounds old-fashioned to write songs that have words on actual beats. But when you have a congregation of people without sheet music in front of them, and if they had sheet music they couldn’t read it well enough for it to do anything but cause confusion, there has to be some kind of easily attainable pattern where the words fit the beat, the offbeat, the sometimes beat… They have to hit SOMETHING. But many of the songs sung today would require several rehearsals and lots of whiteboard instruction to teach the people where the words go. Not happening. Moving on.

But the thing that gets me most, (as they say in Oklahoma, it gets in my craw. What is a craw, anyway?), makes me scrap more songs than anything, is that so many of the songs put out lately are about a moment of pleasure. Let me elaborate. It seems the purpose of the song is to create an atmosphere where we feel really great in God’s presence for a while, a heaven-on-earth moment that tickles our fancy. It seems we’ve moved from Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs to Jesus-come-make-me-feel-good songs. I heard one person liken these song to what it would sound like if we were trying to get a small kitten to enter a room. The focus is totally first-person, totally me and I. I want… I need… If there is a “You” it is about “You can do this thing for me.”

Jesus is my Savior. He is worthy of all my worship. He doesn’t need to do anything more for me. I owe Him all. I want to focus on the cross, heaven, how He loves me, how I love Him, how amazing He is, His holiness, His grace, surrendering my will to Him… I do not require of Him that He come down and make me feel great. It so happens that often in the process of worshiping and praising Him He DOES make me feel great. It would be okay for an occasional song or two to have this theme. They’re not new; they can be found going way back if you look. But we’re talking way more than “an occasional song” here. Way more.

It makes me wonder if the problem isn’t actually just our songs but goes far deeper than that. Songs usually come as a reflection of what is going on in our culture, in our churches, in our hearts. Have we become so shallow that all we want is a spiritual high? A moment with a lover that we then toss aside for the rest of the week until we come back next Sunday and do it again? Dear God, if that is the case, forgive us. Help us not forgo the ongoing relationship for a momentary joy. Help us not trade the progressive discipleship for an event in time. Forgive us for forgetting your Amazing Grace. Help us to Surrender All, to remember Oh, How I Love Jesus, to rejoice in the Blessed Assurance that It Is Well With My Soul. Bring us back to being Near the Cross, The Old Rugged Cross. We know that Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and indeed, How Great Thou Art!

Of Grasshoppers and Giants

Here’s my Deep Biblical Thought for the Day. (Not implying or promising that there will be another one tomorrow.)

Numbers 13 tells how the spies coming back from spying out the land of Canaan gave a negative report, saying sure, the fruit in the land is nice, especially with all the milk and honey to go with it, but there are walled cities and giants and really scary stuff there, so nope, we like the desert.

We get down to Numbers 13:33 (NLT) and it says:

“We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”

Now somehow I doubt they interviewed the giants, saying, “So, Mr Really Big Guy, what DO I look like to you?”

“Um, you’re a wee little weakling, so if I had to pick, I’d say you look like…um…a grasshopper. Yeah, that’s about right. A grasshopper.”

“Not a lion or a bear or at least a camel?”

“Nope. A grasshopper captures it perfectly.”

“Okay! Very interesting. This confirms my suspicions. Thank you for your time.”

No, the Israelites saw themselves a certain way and assumed that everyone else saw them that way too.

This is a common mistake we all make. How can we not? We only have our own perspective.

But how we see things often isn’t the truth.

After a period of wandering around the desert waiting for time to pass and people to die (now isn’t THAT a cheery thought?) they again come to Canaan and again send spies (remember Rahab?) and this time they decide the milk and honey and grapes are worth the effort and decide to invade.

Rahab tells the 2nd set of spies in Joshua 2:9-11:

“I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

Everyone in the land is living in terror. Their hearts have melted in fear. That doesn’t sound very grasshopper-y

And then in Joshua 5:1 we are told:

When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.

And we find this in Joshua 6:1 (NLT):

Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in.

You don’t bring down the gates if you see your invaders as grasshoppers, now, do you? No. You shut the gates because you know you are in danger.

So we see the truth was that they were NOT seen as grasshoppers. All of Canaan was afraid of them. Why? Because they were a lot stronger than they thought. And they had a really big God was with them, which always makes all the difference anyway, even when we ARE as weak as grasshoppers.

So what is there in MY life that I’m not seeing correctly? What fault or past happening or private thing do I see as taking me out of the game when in actuality it is a tiny speck of no consequence? What area do I see as a weakness when actually it’s a strength? And even if my problems and weaknesses and grasshopper-ness IS true, I have a mighty God who cannot lose.

So take a moment, or a day, or a lifetime, to try to reassess areas in your life were you think you are tiny, where you think OTHERS think you are tiny. Perhaps that isn’t true at all. Especially with the help of a God who parts the waters for you to pass over rivers and seas without even getting your feet wet.

The Process of Perfection 

One of our children was quite unhappy with how they were doing in quiz practice. I, however, can remember where this same kid was 2 years ago and the progress they have made in memorizing, quoting, interrupting questions, answering questions, just everything. So I am quite happy and pleased with how they are doing. If I gave you details, you would definitely be impressed too. They, being a kid, can’t really remember what 2 years ago was like and it seems totally irrelevant to right now. They want progress quickly. Perfection. NOW!
I guess God probably feels the same way about us. He sees the mighty-long-way He’s brought us and says, “Look where you used to be and how far you’ve come! Look at all that progress! Look what I’ve done for you!” But we don’t want to hear it because we too want progress quickly. NOW! Perfection! STAT! 
So I’m taking a moment tonight to consider where He’s brought me from and brought me to. And I’m vowing again to trust Him when He says He’s in control of my path, and I’m promising to continue to let Him keep bringing me along, mistakes, failures, goof-ups, and all. 

What You Need To Know About Watching A Bible Quiz

Bible Quizzing is an amazing program of the United Pentecostal Church International. It is a bit complicated and confusing, though, if you have never seen it in action. I have put together this primer to help first-time viewers understand what’s going on. A secondary benefit is that it can be a source to help new teams get an idea of how the game works. 

The cast of characters:

Most important are the quizzers 18 years old and younger. At any one time there are 2 or 3 quizzers from each of two teams quizzing at the table. There may be up to 2 alternate quizzers waiting behind the table to get put in the game. The team on the left (from the view of the audience) is red, and the team on the right is yellow. Each quizzer has studied and memorized several hundred designated verses verbatim. (The number of verses is determined by which division their experience and age puts them in.) They are able to quote these verses word-for-word and mixed randomly. This skill and knowledge of the material allows them to answer the questions asked during the quiz. The more ambitious quizzers also memorize hundreds of “charts” which are facts such as what 2 verses contain a certain word or what three verses end with the same five-word phrase. 

Each team has one or two coaches who sit behind the quizzers and keep score, follow the material, help with contests, call time-outs, and bite their fingernails. 

The quizmaster reads the questions, states whether the answer is “correct” or “incorrect”, and otherwise runs the quiz. 

The judges follow along with a copy of the questions and confer with the quizmaster about any questionable answers, consider contests, and listen to a recording of what was said by the quizzer.

The scorekeeper, you guessed it, keeps score. Within the last few years most tournaments have begun using a computer program to make this job more automated. The team score is shown. 

There are other positions such as foul judge and recording operator, but these are not necessary to understand at this point. 

The quiz itself:
For Beginner and Jr divisions (up to age 11) each quiz is comprised of 15 questions: 6 ten-point questions, then 6 twenty-point questions, then 3 thirty-point questions. 

For Intermediate and Experienced divisions (ages 12-18) each quiz is comprised of 20 questions: 8 ten point questions, then 9 twenty point questions, then 3 thirty point questions. 

After each question is read, the quizzers have 5 seconds to hit their buzzer and claim the question.

After a quizzer hits their buzzer they have 30 seconds to give the correct answer. 

There are several types of questions. The quizmaster must identify the type of question unless it is a direct question. Some types of questions are:

Direct: a straight up question with one answer.

Quotation: the answer must be quoted word for word with no stumbles, repeated words, etc.

Quotation Completion: the quizmaster starts quoting a verse and the quizzer finishes the verse, word for word with no stumbles or repeated words, etc.

2 Part, 3 Part, 6 Part, etc: the question has 2 or 3 or 6 or whatever number of parts. An example of this kind of question is the “how many” of something is mentioned and “what are they”. As you can imagine, a 6 part question can be quite complicated. All the answers must be in the order they were asked, or if they are mixed up the parts must be identified by the quizzers as to which answer goes with which question. 

Cross reference: these questions involve 2 or more non-consecutive verses (in the Jr division they will specify a question from any 2 verses as cross-reference even if they are consecutive). These may be combined with the multiple part questions to make up a 2 part cross reference or 6 part cross reference, etc. 

Each team has 4 contests they may use if they think their answer has been incorrectly judged by the quizmaster or if they think the question is invalid. Only quizzers may call a contest. The coach may withdraw 2 of the contests and may present (or the quizzer may present) 2 contests to the quizmaster and judges. If a contest is granted it does not count against the 4 contests. 

Each team has 2 sixty-second time outs to be used between questions during the quiz. The quizzers and coaches may speak to each other during the time out. Usually this sixty seconds is used for telling the quizzers the score, strategizing, stern scolding, and deep prayer. 

A 5-point foul may be given to any coach or quizzer for breaking any rule in the rule book (manual). This includes but is not limited to inappropriate communication between quizzers and coaches, standing at the wrong time during a contest, calling a timeout after a question has started, or any other limitless number of items. Fouls are generally more embarrassing than harmful, but occasionally that 5 points can swing a quiz.

Answering the Questions:

Interrupting: In quizzing, unlike in social situations, interrupting is encouraged. A quizzer may interrupt the quizmaster at any point after the question is begun by pressing the buzzer. At this point the quizmaster stops, the quizzer’s buzzer number is called, and the automated system says “interruption”. The quizzer then must finish the question and give the correct answer. The quizzer does not have to give word-for-word what was on the quizmaster’s paper, but it has to be the same essential question. 

Points: A correct answer gives the team the number of points of the question. A ten point question answered correctly gives the team ten points, etc. 
An incorrect answer subtracts from the quizzer’s team’s score 1/2 the point value of the question. A ten point question answered incorrectly gives the quizzer minus five points. 

An interrupted question, when answered incorrectly not only subtracts 1/2 the point value of the question, but the same question is then reread to the opposing team giving them a chance to answer the fully-read question without interruption.

Quizzing-out: when a quizzer has answered a certain number of questions correctly (6 for Beginners and Jrs, 8 for Intermediate and Experienced) they are given a ten point bonus and removed from the game. This prevents any one quizzer from taking all the questions and adds an incentive for teamwork.

Erroring Out: when a quizzer has answered 5 questions incorrectly they are removed from the quiz table. 

Locking a Game: there often comes a point in the game where even if a team were to answer all of the remaining questions correctly they still couldn’t win. At this point the game is locked and often the coaches will instruct their quizzers to not hit any more questions. So you really can’t tell how close a game was (or not) by just looking at the final score. 

The Emperor’s Tight Clothes

We all know the story of the Emperor who gets a new set of clothes. In the story, nobody was brave enough to tell the emperor that his clothes were not, well, there. Finally, one little boy stood up and said what everyone else was thinking.

Today I am that little boy.

It happened this morning as it has uncountable times before. While perusing Facebook this morning I saw a picture of a woman who attempts to dress modestly. Her skirts are all long, her blouses have long enough sleeves. There was no plunging neckline. But I could tell immediately that she wears D cup bra because of the tightness of her shirt.

This is not modest!

I think a lot of it is ignorance. After all, there aren’t many people who will tell me “That really looks bad. You should wear something else”. But there are a few, and I use them. My husband will tell me. There are women (and even a few male family members) in my life who I can ask for an honest opinion about whether something is appropriate or not.

Some of the problem is that we’re going through a stage in fashion where everything is tight. Some of the problem is people haven’t bought new clothes since they’ve gained weight. Some of the problem is that people are ignorant of the effect their clothing has on others.

This problem is not just for women any more. Men’s clothing has recently take a turn toward tightness. Pants are skin-tight and shirts are sculpted. I’ve never had trouble buying clothes for my husband until recently.

I know from personal experience how hard it is to shop for modest clothes. I know that larger people have it especially hard. As I have had 5 children and fought hypothyroidism my body has changed. Just when I think I have it figured out, it changes again.

But it is possible to find clothes that fit well. It is possible to present ourselves in a manner that doesn’t draw attention to our bodies. If we pay attention to what we look like, how our clothes fit, and what they accentuate, we can dress modestly in an immodest world.

Here are a few rules of thumb I personally use. If you find something that helps you, feel free to use it.

1. If it is so tight that it doesn’t “hang”, it’s too tight. If a shirt or skirt stretches out over a curvy part and then instead of hanging straight down it curves back in, it’s too tight.

2. Most scarves don’t cover; they accentuate. Unless they’re pinned securely in place and carefully used in a specific way, they give small glimpses of whatever is underneath as the scarf shifts around with movement. This peek-a-boo effect can actually be more attention-getting than if the scarf weren’t there at all. I wear scarves, but I don’t plan on them covering up anything.

3. Lace doesn’t count as cloth.

4. If I have to constantly tug on it to keep it in place, it’s either not cut right for me or it’s the wrong size.

5. I am extra careful with stretchy material. It should hang, not cling.

5. If in doubt, I ask somebody. And I have given somebody, or even a few people, permission, no, an order, to tell me if something isn’t right.

I am not judging. I think a lot, even most, of the problem is ignorance and frustration with the garment industry.

So I’m the little boy in the crowd, yelling at the top of my lungs, “The emperor’s clothes don’t fit!”

How To Be On Time For Church (Even With Kids)

imagesThe things I share here especially apply if you have small children, but not ONLY in that case.  It seems that as we (and I include myself in that for sure) get older we tend to slow down.  I phrased many of these tips especially for young families, but they can easily be adapted to more mature families as well.

As a pastor’s wife and the church organist it is imperative that I be at church on time.  At least they won’t start without me, but if I’m late everyone in the congregation will know it and be inconvenienced.

We have 5 children and until less than a year ago we only had one car, so not only would I be late personally, but if I was late, the pastor wasn’t on time either.  Though the children are now generally able to get themselves ready for church, there was a time when their ages were 0, 2, 3, 5, and 7.  While I cannot say that I was always totally focused and worshipful when we left our house, I can honestly say I never held up the service starting because I made us late or allowed a little one to make us late.

So let me share some of the things I learned in those hectic years.  Some I learned by doing it right, and some I learned by doing it wrong for a while.  Maybe I can help you do more of the former and less of the latter.

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1.  Determine when you need to leave to be exactly on time.  Then add at least 15 minutes to get there early.  Then add 5-15 minutes for hitting all the lights red.  You’ll get there early, but that’s okay.  You can pray a little, visit with friends, greet visitors, and the kids (and you) will have time to use the bathroom before church starts.  When service starts you’ll be focused and able to concentrate on worshipping while contributing to and gaining from the entire service.


2.  Get everyone’s clothes out the night before.  This will cut down on the search for a clean pair of dress socks or that stray shoe hiding under the couch.  Yes, the baby will occasionally spit up on somebody or otherwise create a wardrobe problem, (how babies poop upwards is a mystery to me, but it happens, doesn’t it?) but this makes that hectic-rushing-around the exception and not the rule.

images (2)3.  Bathe the kids the night before.  I doubt they’ll get too dirty tossing in their beds at night.

images (3)4.  Pack the diaper bag or other bags for the kids the night before.  Have a spot where you always put anything you plan to take to church.  My spot is the front right corner of the living room desk.  My husband’s spot is the front hall table.

download (1)5.  On Sunday morning, get yourself ready first and keep it simple.  Get up early enough to get yourself totally ready before you get anyone else up.  This way you can concentrate on getting the little ones ready without worrying about having time to finish your hair.  Lose the complicated hair-dos of your youth.  If all else fails, wear a hat.  (I’m half kidding about the hat, but only half.)

download (3)6.  Cut down your expectations of Sunday breakfast.  The kids need to be fed, for sure, but it needs to be something easy.  It’s best if they can get it for themselves or at least not spill easily.  No red punch or purple grape juice for Sunday breakfast.  A piece of fruit will do nicely, or some cheese and crackers.  Yes, cheese and crackers for breakfast.   Think out of the box.  Your kids won’t care.  If you’re a breastfeeding mom, put in plenty of time for that as well.

download (5)7.  Focus on the main thing, which is getting to church on time and in one piece (and in peace).  It’s so easy to try to squeeze in extra things before church.  There’s always that load of wash you want to get started or the dishwasher that needs loaded.  The house always needs tidied up.  RESIST!  The only thing that matters on Sunday morning is getting to church on time.  The rest will wait.  Our appointment with the King of Kings is more important than those chores.

images (4)Why is this so important?  Maybe you’re not the church organist or the pastor’s wife.  Maybe you can slip in and nobody will even notice.  But is that the best thing for you?  I need all the help in life I can get, and I find that each part of the service contributes something to me.  And I hope that I contribute something to each part of the service as well, whether it be shaking the hand of a discouraged brother or greeting a visitor with a smile.  And we will probably never know the impact of those prayers we pray when we’re focused on what is important, and that’s not whether the dishwasher got loaded or not.

Memories of Mexico: Day 4, San Rafael

A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the fourth installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first three posts by clicking on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The next morning we slept in.  We had been busy and up late for a couple of days, so that was needed.

By the time we go to the restaurant it was lunch time.


I had a hamburger and coffee,

IMG_0235 but Steve still wanted Mexican Eggs (scrambled eggs with tomato, onions, and peppers), fruit, and a Coke.

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We went and picked up our hosts and headed back to San Rafael, the town we had driven through the day before where I had visited the Pharmacy and seen Don Quixote.  Well, not him personally, but his statue.

We visited a large family in their home.  One of the adult sisters (of 10 siblings) had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and they had asked us to come by and pray for her.  This family was obviously very close.  It seems that in their social structure, extended family is their welfare, social security, and health insurance as well as filling many other roles socially.  They fed us an “appetizer” of fried pork slices, tortillas, beans, and a salad of lettuce, onion and tomato.  They probably thought I was crazy for putting my salad along with the pork on a tortilla and making a taco, but I did it anyway.  They don’t eat cold vegetables on tortillas.  This appetizer was more like a lunch and less like an hor d’ouvre, but that was good because dinner was to be pretty late in the evening again.

After our “snack” we headed over to the place we would hold service.  It was at the home of another family (the family that made the flan from the night before) and was in the bay where they detail cars.


They had chairs all set up as well as some very nice flowers provided by a relative who owns a flower shop.


Service started


and people continued to arrive.  Here I am playing my violin.


By sermon time, we had quite a nice little crowd.

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Again, there was not enough room for a traditional altar call, so people prayed in their seats.  The young man on the far left hand side is a high school student who met us at the home we visited earlier in the day.  He is taking English classes in school, so I encouraged him to come to service and listen to the preaching in English that was then translated into Spanish.  He did come and listen and received the Holy Ghost during prayer time at the end.


I learned to play a few of their songs on piano in spite of not having any idea what the words said.  Here is a piece of one of them that we closed the service with.

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When service was over, they moved several small tables into the area and served dinner.


This is the outdoor stove on the sidewalk where they made the ponche (fruit drink).  Next to the big pot were a stack of day-old tortillas for any passers-by to take and feed to their animals.


Besides having a car-detailing business, the family that hosted us also ran a small convenience store, pictured here.


This is the kitchen where these hardworking ladies prepared the meal.  Several of them were from the family that lived here and hosted us.

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And these are some of the people who received the Holy Ghost during the services we attended in Mexico.

Memories of Mexico: Day 3, Potrero Nuevo and Casitas

A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the third installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first two posts by clicking on Day 1 and Day 2.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

After a breakfast of eggs and fruit, coffee and coke

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we went out to our faithful SUV.  The night before, though, we had gotten in too late and all the paved spots were taken, so we had to park in the dirt lot.  They had an interesting alternative to lines and instead used beautiful plants.


As Steven was wading through the jungle, I looked around and realized it made more sense to back the car in.


The SUV was great for what we needed, but it was a little different from what we usually see here in The States.

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After picking up Maribel, Marcello, and Amanda, we travelled to the little town of Potrero Nuevo.

They usually have service in this home, belonging to some of the church members.


However, since they were expecting a larger-than-normal crowd, they had prepared for us across the street in an outdoor auto-body shop.

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The owner of the shop is in the righthand picture in the blue shop.  He was a very nice man.  He showed us some pictures of the work he’s done on trucks, and it was  quite impressive.  He was in the process of repainting and replacing the bottom of the refrigerator shown in the picture.  It wasn’t your typical church building, but it worked quite well for our purposes.

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The 24 attendees (plus our 5) would have been hard pressed (excuse the pun) to fit in the blue house.


Marcello opened the service.


I played the keyboard for worship service.  I am not sure I was adding much positive to the experience at this point, but I was starting to get the feel of the songs.  Marcello held the mic next to the keyboard speaker so I could be heard.

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I also played violin, this time making sure to tune immediately before I played, so it stayed in tune all the way through.  I used a soundtrack for accompaniment, using a flash drive plugged in to a little pink speaker that Amanda loaned us.  Steven held a mic next to it to increase the volume.  It wasn’t fancy, but it worked.


Steven preached with Maribel interpreting.


Several people came forward for the altar call.


Following the service, they served us a lunch of baked chicken, red spaghetti, green spaghetti, tortillas, potato salad, and spanish rice: more food than I could eat in several meals.  The red spaghetti was seasoned to taste similar to the Spanish rice.  The green spaghetti tasted like it was seasoned with avacado and green chilis.  The potato salad was much like ours.  They also served a traditional Christmas drink called “ponche” made of boiled fruit.  Click here for the recipe.


The chicken they ate was seasoned with a red sauce which looked very spicy, but Maribel had helped us out by instructing the cooks to make ours mild.  They also let us try some mole (pronounched mole-ay) sauce.


As we left, they offered us some chocolate cake.  Of course I had to eat it: I wouldn’t want to offend.  It had fruit in it and was very moist, almost wet, but was very good.

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These beautiful plants were just outside the auto-body shop.

We had to leave in order to get back to Casitas in time for them to prepare for night service.  On the way out of town we saw this gentleman.


This statue of Don Quixote stands in San Rafael, a town we went through on our way back.   We also stopped at a grocery store and picked up some supplies for that night’s after-service dinner.  While they were shopping I went across the street to the Farmacia (Pharmacy) to get some headache medicine.  I was just going to buy some Advil until I remembered that Mexico has different prescribing laws than exist here in the states.  I asked if they had the prescription drug I use for my headaches (Toradol) and they went in the back and got me some.  This works for any drug that isn’t a controlled substance.  Those require a doctor’s prescription even in Mexico.


For the medicine I needed, though, purchase required no prescription, no doctor authorization, no nothing except for my knowledge of what I needed.  A similar experience happened a few days later when I had a pimple that was getting really infected.  I went into the pharmacy, this time in Casitas, and with the help of Maribel, got a medicine that in the states would require a prescription.  It worked really well and cleared up the infection within a day or two.  People without my nursing experience wouldn’t know what to get or how to administer it.  There is also some debate about the quality of the medications.

Following a short nap at the hotel, we dressed up and went to church in Casitas.  They had moved the benches onto the porch and had rented tables and chairs because of the meal after church.  It was very nicely done.

We started with Marcello opening the service with a full house and every seat filled.



Then about 25 more people came in.

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When the time came for Steven to preach, the building was packed.  Marcello and I ended up sitting in the doorway on the porch because there was just no room.


The building was too packed to have people come forward for prayer, so everyone prayed in their seats.  2 people were born again of the Spirit just like it happened in The Book of Acts.


After church, the ladies of the church served dinner.  These ladies worked very hard to make sure everybody was fed.

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People were everywhere: at the 4 tables inside and on the benches on the porch.

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I helped, even though my Spanish is VERY limited.  The people were very nice and figured out what I was asking even though I’m sure I said it wrong.  I managed to get everyone some bread, cups, soda, and then dinner.  They used the same menu as earlier in the day, with chicken, green spaghetti, and potato salad.


The only addition was that this time we also had chocolate flan for dessert.  I don’t know why my tongue is sticking out in this picture.

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After dinner, several families wanted pictures with us.


And I wanted a picture of this sweet little lady.

We went back to our hotel that night tired but happy.

By the time we got there the gate was closed and we had to honk the horn for the night watchman to come open the gate.

Memories of Mexico: Day 2, Mesa Del Tigre and Paso Real

A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the second installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first post by clicking on Day 1.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Upon arising after a good night’s sleep, we got ready for the day and walked down to the hotel restaurant where Daniel quickly showed up and helped us order.


I think we might have gotten him out of bed.  Steven ordered scrambled eggs with cheese and I ordered an omelette with tomatoes, onions, and sausage.  Their sausage tasted different than ours, but was very good.


I let them give me beans and tortillas and Steven did not.  We soon learned that beans and tortillas come with every meal unless you ask for them to not bring them.  We both ordered some fruit which turned out to be apples, cantaloupe (Daniel didn’t know what the English word cantaloupe was but instead just called it melon), banana, and papaya.  It was served with honey and lime.  Maribel told us later that they think the honey helps with digestion of the fruit.


We then drove to the home of our hosts.  Maribel offered us some freshly squeezed orange juice and after showing us around their home we walked down what we would call about 1/2 block to the church.  Here are some pictures.


This is the view from the street.


You enter the church from the left side.  Here is Amanda with the painting that’s on the wall next to the entrance.


 Here are Pastors Marcello and Maribel Fernandez at the entrance with the posted service times.


This is what you see when you walk in.  (Well, you probably won’t see these people in these exact spots.)  It is an L shaped room opening to the right and left.  The street is out the window you see here on the right.  The building is small but tidy and clean.  The roof is thick corrugated metal, similar to many others we saw.  The floor is concrete.  The benches are wooden and smooth.


This is what if you look in the window by the street.  Notice the fans.  They don’t have air conditioning and it gets VERY hot there, especially with lots of people in the room.


This is what you see directly in front of you as you walk in the door.  The light is on ahead of you in the bathroom.

Following this we headed out of town: destination Mesa Del Tigre.  We had mentioned to Daniel at breakfast that we were going to Mesa Del Tigre and Paso Real and he didn’t know where it was.  That should have been a clue that it was a little off the beaten path.  We drove northward on Hwy 180 and then turned onto a rocky rutted mud road which goes through what they call a ranch, but we would call farms and orchards.  It jostled my brain, and I was suddenly impressed at the wisdom of my husband renting an SUV.  I don’t know how a car could have made it.  They usually take a bus which is reportedly even more bouncy and jarring.  We passed groves of trees growing oranges, papaya, more oranges, grapefruit, bananas, and oranges, plus also crops of beans and corn, and then more oranges.  Amanda was saying she was hungry, so we promised to stop at the next McDonald’s we saw.  She was happy until she realized the nearest McDonald’s was about 2 hours away.  We paused long enough for Marcello to pick a few oranges which actually turned out to be what we would call clementines.  There was fruit everywhere: on the trees, on the ground, in the ditch…  I told Amanda this was the drive-thru.  The fruit was delicious.  She still wanted McDonald’s.


We climbed into the mountains and passed through Paso Real, the little village we would return to later in the day for service.  First, though, we were visiting some saints in nearby Mesa Del Tigre.  As she drove, Maribel dodged chickens running wild, and she said if she hit one she’d have to pay for it.  Evidently they know exactly which chicken belongs to whom.

We arrived at Mesa Del Tigre and drove into a field surrounded by homes.


Most of the construction is concrete block covered with stucco or plaster.  The homes were very open to the air.  One of these homes belonged to Hermana Santa (her first name is Santa, the Spanish word for saint, and “hermana” means sister).


Here is Amanda with a beautiful bush outside the home we visited.


Hermana Santa was very hospitable and sweet and made us fresh tortillas and some chicken soup with fresh cilantro.  The round bowl-type object in the middle of the table is a hollowed-out gourd used to keep tortillas warm.

Here is how she made the tortillas.

She sold a fresh turkey to Maribel who took it into town and resold it for the same price.  Maribel helps her get her chickens and turkeys to market this way.

She also had a parrot which she did not sell.  His name was Doroteo and he did not like Steven to take the video.  The bird kept turning his back to the camera.

Following lunch, we went back part-way down the mountain to Paso Real, the village we had come through earlier, where we had church service.


It was a church belonging to another group, but one of the men of the village lets them use it to gather.

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12 people were in attendance besides our 5.


Marcello opened the service with prayer


Then we sang some songs.  I tried to play along on the violin, but the songs were new to me, so I’m afraid I was probably more hindrance than help.  They sang a few slow songs and a few fast ones.  The fast ones were in a minor key.  They usually sing a capella with Maribel leading.


Then I played a violin solo of How Great Thou Art.  They knew the chorus and sang along in Spanish as I played.  The weather was very humid and cool, and embarrassingly, I had to stop and tune in the middle of my song.  It just wouldn’t stay in tune.


Then Steven preached and Maribel interpreted for him.  She was nervous as this was her first time translating for a sermon, but did a splendid job.  The prayer after the sermon was a wonderful time of time of repentance and dedication.

Following service we met each of the people there.  I took some pictures from the door of the church.  As you come out the door, this is what you see.


Thatched roofs are common.  They are made of palm tree fronds, and they do not leak.


Here is a picture of the underside of a thatched (palm frond) roof.  This method is vertical, weaving the fronds in and out of a wooden structure.


The bottom half of this picture shows the other kind I saw.  In it, the fronds are placed horizontal and attached to the bracing, but not really woven.


If you look left when you go out of the church, this is your view.


And you see this if you look right.

Down this road a bit is their general store, a house with a walk-in-closet-size room in the front with a few items for sale.  I went with Amanda there to buy some toilet paper.  This was a recurring theme on this day.  The bathroom was an outhouse-like structure out in back of the church.  I rapidly discovered that the American definition of “bathroom” is very narrow.

I also saw my first tortilla truck.  This works on the same concept as our ice cream trucks.  A loudspeaker on the top of the car or truck plays music and occasional advertisements for fresh tortillas and tortilla dough.  I never saw them sell any, but I guess they do.

From here we got in the Jeep and drove to the house of the elder who allowed us to use the building.  His wife was sick at home with a diabetic ulcer on her foot.  We went in the home and prayed for her, also meeting part of the family.  Extended family is very important in their social structure.  Everywhere we went we were introduced to sons, daughters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins…  Extended family is their welfare, social security, health care insurance, and all-around support system.

Following this, we got back in the Jeep and drove back over the bumpy roads, through the orchards, to Casitas.  We dropped by a hotel owned by church members Gabriel and Rosa.  They also own a ranch with cattle and lime orchards.  Then we went to eat at a place called El Pirata (The Pirate).  Gabriel and Rosa also came with their grandson to eat with us.  We discussed farming and ranching.  A lime farmer this season is getting 800 pesos for a metric ton of limes.  That’s about $61 American for 2,205 pounds, or 2.7 cents per pound of limes.  I remember paying a lot more than that the last time I bought limes at the grocery store.  With the farmer getting that much money, I imagine that his laborers picking the fruit aren’t getting paid very much.

They had very good food at El Pirata in very large portions.  Their appetizer was a spiced shredded fish with chips and a hot sauce meant to be mixed with mayonnaise. (They use a lot of mayonnaise there, even putting it on their corn-on-the-cob in place of butter.)  This was quite good and we ate a lot of it as we waited for our food.  While we waited, this gentleman came around to entertain us.


Steven took a video of him singing, which he thought was delightful, perhaps because we also gave him a tip.  This reminded me of my teenage days when I belonged to a group of strolling musicians that often played at banquets as people ate.  Amanda told us later that he was singing “All the drunk people raise their hands”.  But we weren’t drunk, so we didn’t.

Here he is singing his song.

The entire time we were there people tried to sell us snack and trinkets.  I got quite good at “No, Gracias”.  Rosa bought us some sweets that were fried dough with sugar on them.  They reminded me of the Cinnamon Twists served at Taco Bell, but they were much better.

After eating, Maribel delivered Hermana Santa’s turkey to a local restaurant owner who also happens to be the landlord for their home and the church building.  That family owns several local businesses including a fish market and restaurant.

This season is a busy time for Casitas, as it is a coastal town frequented by many Mexicans on holiday.  Since we were there between Christmas and New Years, business was good.  I do think, though, that we were the only Americans in town.  I’m sure in that little town of 2,225 our presence was known.

Following this, Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda walked across the street to their house, and we drove on down the road to our hotel.

Memories of Mexico: Day 1/2 and 1, Travel to Casitas

A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Day 1/2

Philly AirportWe left the Philly airport on the evening of the day after Christmas and flew to DFW where we spent the night in a hotel.  (For some reason, I was given TSA PreChek while my hubby was not.  This made him a bit frustrated as I zipped through security with my shoes on and he had to do the whole screening thing.)  This would allow us to arrive the next day into Veracruz, Mexico in the middle of the day, not in the night when we still had a 3 hour drive to get to our final destination: Casitas, Mexico.

 When we arrived in Dallas we were pleasantly surprised that the hotel had given us a suite because they thought we were honeymooners.  They were about 17 years too late, but we enjoyed the complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 1

We arose the next morning bright and early.


Well, early at least.  I wasn’t feeling too bright.  We flew into Veracruz, Mexico.  From the air, I noticed what I thought were colorful stacked shipping containers.  They were actually apartment or townhouse buildings.  Whereas Americans generally paint their homes white, brown, or gray, the Mexicans have no such inhibitions.


I saw homes of all colors and hues of the rainbow, which I found to be quite delightful.  These 2 are not my original photos, but the scenes I saw were very similar to this.


We arrived at the Hertz rental car facility and Maribel, Marcello, and Steven went into the office to make arrangements.  Maribel is fluent in both Spanish and English (as well as Portuguese).  Steven speaks only English, and Marcello speaks only Spanish.  Amanda, who at 11 years also speaks Spanish and English, stayed outside with me.  When they brought our Jeep around, Marcello walked around it with an employee documenting things that were scratched, dented, and broken.  There were quite a few, and we didn’t want to be blamed for them when we returned the car.  Nearby, another employee cleaned a car while listening to a very loud and thumpy version of “I’m Sexy And I Know It” in English.  I wondered if he knew what it was saying.  I still don’t know, but I heard several other American songs during my stay, sometimes in places where I knew for sure we were the only English-speakers.

After the paperwork was done, Maribel drove us down to the harbor in Veracruz.  On the way through town we passed some policemen, but they didn’t look like American police.


They looked like this.  I didn’t know whether to feel really safe, or really in danger.  This is not a picture I took.  I found this one on the internet; I was too chicken to actually take their picture.  We saw several police, both federal and state, during our days in Mexico.  Both kinds always carried automatic weapons.

We hoped to park along the street and walk to the beach to see the Gulf of Mexico.  The parking spots were all taken except those blocked with traffic cones by some enterprising people who had arrived earlier and claimed the spots for those who promised to eat at a certain restaurant on the beach.  It was either that or not go, so we opted to eat at their restaurant.  Here is a view of the waterfront restaurant.


 We would also be where we could see our car, which made our hosts feel good as well.  This was my first experience at a REAL Mexican restaurant (because I would soon learn they are quite different in every way from the American version).  They led us to our seats, plastic chairs like Americans would use on a patio, and a rickety table.  It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while.  They handed us one very-worn laminated menu.  With help from Maribel I ordered the grilled shrimp.  I figured that it would be mild and simple.


 It was very good. They served them with the heads still attached, which I learned was customary.  It was a bit messy and they didn’t supply any way to clean my fingers.  Though I can’t remember exactly, I think it was served with beans and tortillas.  I think this because almost every meal I ate in Mexico was, including breakfast. Steven had shrimp also, but his was seasoned, though he ordered it to be not too hot.  Maribel had garlic shrimp, I can’t remember what Marcello ordered, and Amanda had shrimp cocktail.  The Mexican version of shrimp cocktail comes in a tomato juice with shrimp, avocado, and some other green things in it, served with saltine-type crackers.  It is served like a drink, but eaten with a spoon.   Again, this is not a picture I took, but It was a lot like this.  Later on I will post a video of Steven trying this dish at our hotel.


The whole time we were there eating, vendors tried to sell us things: plantains all sorts of ways, peanuts seasoned a variety of ways, and various other goodies.  I quickly learned to say “No, Gracias.”  That worked pretty well.   You can see in the background of this picture the man in the blue baseball cap is selling chicken, shrimp, pineapple, ham, and I don’t know what else.


After our lunch, Amanda bought some roasted salted peanuts which she then squeezed lime juice on.  They eat lime juice on all kinds of things.  Limes are quite plentiful there, at least this time of year.  Maribel and Marcello later expressed that they were somewhat embarrassed by this restaurant experience because it was overpriced and not good quality for the money.  Steven and I didn’t know the difference and enjoyed the cultural immersion.

We got back in our rented SUV and drove out of Veracruz toward the north and Casitas, where Maribel and Marcello live.  We left the city, paid a toll, (I guess that’s not just an American institution) and drove along the coast.  At the toll booths we always saw several police officers, again with machine guns.

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We traveled on Federal Highway 180 which goes from Brownsville, Texas all the way down to Cancun.  The stretch we were on was mostly 2 lanes.  We passed through many little towns and villages, occasionally seeing the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.  It was very undeveloped: no highrise hotels or boardwalks.  Just beautiful beaches and rolling waves.  We passed the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station


and recurring signs showing the “Ruta De Evacuación”.


 I assumed the 2 things were related but tried not to dwell on these thoughts.

We saw several gas stations.  They didn’t have various kinds: I guess Pemex has a monopoly on gas stations in Mexico.  You can buy any kind of gas you want, as long as it’s Pemex.  Gas prices were not advertised on the signs.  imgres-2

Most of these had a convenience store attached of the OXXO brand.  I am not certain that they were all OXXO, (though they could have been) but most were.


We stopped for a bathroom break (it was nice and clean) and I got a mediocre-quality Vanilla Cappucino from their machine for about $1.00 American if I remember correctly.

As night fell, we continued along the coast.  I saw one sign more than any other, even Pemex.  It looked like this.


I finally asked Amanda what it was, though I suspected I knew because some things cross all cultures.  Sure enough, it is a kind of beer.  Later on in the week I would also see this sign, which needed no explanation.


Well after dark, we drove through Casitas, past the church and the gate which led to the Casa de Fernandez.  We were tired, though, so we kept driving with promises to check that out the next day.  Maribel had spent much time and energy finding us a hotel that she thought would be acceptable.  She had done a wonderful job.  They don’t have many American visitors in this area, so she had to make sure they would have someone who spoke English.  When we arrived, they called Daniel, a civil engineering student on holiday who had learned English from a boss at a restaurant he had worked at.  His English was quite good.  He helped us to our room and showed us around.  Everything was very white and clean.  The floor was tile, though there was a small (maybe 1.5 x 2 ft) throw rug to wipe our feet on.  This got a lot of use since it rained all but one day that we were there.  It was a bit chilly, though my sweater was plenty sufficient for me, but the locals were freezing.  They are used to much warmer weather.  The hotel had A/C but no heater, but luckily we didn’t need it.  Then Steven drove Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda back to their home while I unpacked.  Since everything was right on Hwy 180 I didn’t figure he would get lost.  Sure enough, in about 20 minutes he returned.

We walked down to the restaurant, an open-air porch with a thatched roof, where Daniel was waiting to help us.  I ordered some tacos and Steven ordered some steak with peppers and onions, with both meals to be accompanied by Coca-Cola.  Steven offered me one of his peppers, and I said I would take a tiny bite.  He insisted they were just bell peppers and popped a big slice into his mouth.  He rapidly found out that they were not bell peppers but something much stronger.  He made a loud noise and Daniel came running to make sure everything was okay.  I laughed and laughed, glad I hadn’t accepted his offer.  I think the employees thought we were loco.  The tacos were beef, served with soft corn tortillas, Spanish rice, and beans with crumbly (probably goat-milk) cheese on top.  They were quite good.  No cheddar cheese, sour cream, or cold vegetables were served with it.  Evidently that’s American.  I wish I had taken a picture, but I was just too tired and didn’t want to look like a silly tourist, an inhibition I soon learned to ignore.

Then we went to the common room right off of the open-air registration desk, the only spot with wi-fi, and we FaceTimed with the kids and my parents who were staying with them.  The connection was slow, but sufficient enough to communicate some.

We went back to the room and finished unpacking, I took a very quick shower because I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water, and went to bed.