Memories of Mexico: Day 4, San Rafael

Posted on

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.

IMG_0234

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 8.57.56 PM

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.

IMG_0240

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

IMG_0272

Service started

IMG_0278

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

IMG_0292

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

IMG_0299 IMG_0296

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.

INSERT VIDEO OF SONG IN SAN RAFAEL

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.

IMG_0302 IMG_0307

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

IMG_0308

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.

IMG_0309

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

IMG_0311

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

IMG_0313 IMG_0315

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


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

Posted on

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.

IMG_0095

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.

IMG_0184

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.

IMG_0183

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.

IMG_0185

This is the view from the street.

IMG_0189

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

IMG_0190

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

IMG_0191

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.

IMG_0103

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.

 IMG_0109

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.

IMG_0195

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.

IMG_0117

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).

IMG_0115

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

IMG_0118

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.

IMG_0138

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

IMG_0127 IMG_0202

12 people were in attendance besides our 5.

IMG_0126

Marcello opened the service with prayer

IMG_0137

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.

IMG_0132

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.

IMG_0196

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.

IMG_0204

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

IMG_0350

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.

IMG_0352

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.

IMG_0208

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

IMG_0207

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.

IMG_0139

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.


The Emergency Room Church

Posted on

20130726-002854.jpg

Tonight I sit writing this in an emergency room, waiting and waiting. Don’t get all worried. It seems to be no big deal, and I’ll go home soon.

But here I have sat, for 4 hours, having had an EKG and blood drawn. Those must not have been too remarkable, which is good. It’s not a good thing when they rush you right back in the ER.

The people here are an interesting cross-section of society.

Some are alone. Some have a friend who arrives to comfort them and cheer them up. It seems to work, as the patients’ tears cease. Some have a whole horde with them; 2 are allowed back, but 5 more wait in the waiting room.

Some are well-dressed. Some are not. Tattoos and piercings abound. Lots of iPhones are in use; one woman has 2.

Some wait quietly. Some talk to the strangers around them. Some throw fits and demand to be treated quicker. Some seem to be frequent fliers since every employee knows their name.

A girl about 15 years old nurses her baby.

An inmate is here with 2 policeman. His face looks like he’s been in a fight. If he won, I’d hate to see the other guy.

From the names called I know there are at least 2 other Regina’s here.

Various languages are spoken. I have heard 3 different ones, but surprisingly, no Spanish.

3 young Muslim men are here following a Ramadan celebration where one was injured somehow.

One family seems to be the Sikh religion with both the man and his wife wearing curved knives at their waists. The man wears a turban and leather slippers with toes that curl up and back over the shoe. Their little 3 year old daughter is very well-behaved and they play quietly and lovingly with her.

I see a man who was admitted at the same time as me a few years ago when I had inpatient headache treatment. His legs now look like he is headed for an amputation or two. They weren’t that bad then. Then he goes out for a smoke.

The people are wall-to-wall. They’ve run out of room and rooms. I am finally treated in the hall.

I can’t help thinking that our churches should be like this. Mark 2:15-17 records:

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

A church should be like the emergency room, full of people who need help: people from all walks of life, many cultures, socio-economic and educational levels, looking for help. They are sick, in need of a doctor. Some are crying, some quiet, some throwing a fit.

And the Great Physician is able to clean them all up, make them better, heal them. But if the church rejects them, kicks them out because they’re not well enough, they will never be whole.

Christianity shouldn’t be all clean and tidy. It should be germy and messy and inconvenient.


Worship Styles: Principles of Participation

Posted on

photo 14

I would like to share my opinions and observations of what has changed in church music services and what has come of those changes. I’d like to apply the principles introduced in my last post, What’s The Point, to the topic of songs in church.

What is the point of a church worship service? Everyone involved in a service in any way should know what their goal is. The way I see it, my goal as a musician involved in the service, (besides personally worshiping my Lord and Savior, which is the most important goal of all) is to facilitate and contribute to others worshiping of our Lord Jesus Christ. The music department is most successful when its contribution leads the congregation into a place of worship where the music is no longer necessary and the focus is totally on the Lord. If I do my job well, the congregation will hardly notice I’m there, and at the end of the process I will no longer be needed. I am not THE worship service; I am simply an usher arranging a meeting between the people in the congregation and God.

Something happened again a few Sundays ago that has happened many times before. We had some visitors from out-of-town, and following church they said what many of our out-of-town visitors say: “We enjoyed your songs SOOOO MUCH!” and “We felt comfortable singing the words, and everyone else was singing!” and “The words of those songs are so POWERFUL!” and “It was so refreshing to hear an ORGAN again.”

We have not set out to be old-fashioned. We’re not trying to be different. We have just kept doing what was effective in leading the congregation to a place of worship. We didn’t change just for the sake of changing. I regularly introduce different songs into our worship services. Some are old hymns we haven’t sung before. Some are new choruses written within the past few years. Some are choruses, but are very old. The ones that work, I keep in the rotation; songs that aren’t effective to meet our goals, I nix after a few tries.

On the Sunday morning that was so splendid for our visitors, 3 of the 5 songs we sang came from the hymnal. We projected the words, but they were exactly the same as we have been singing for years, yea even decades. We also sang an old chorus written a very long time ago, and a newer chorus that I have introduced within the past year. Of the 5 songs, the one that was most strained and least effective was the newest one. It probably won’t last too long.

Now let’s move to a completely different format. Every time I attend the Philadelphia Orchestra, I look over the program ahead of time and hope against hope that the classics are on the program. Give me some Bach, some Schubert, some Beethoven. Please, oh please, let it not be the world premiere of a piece newly commissioned by the orchestra. No Schoenberg please, or something written in 7/4 time using the 12 tone scale. Yes, I understand that it’s legitimate music, but I don’t like it. I’ve tried; I just can’t. I don’t have anything against NEW music. During 1999 and 2000 I had season tickets to the Philly Orchestra as they did an entire season of music written in the 1900’s, and I enjoyed most of it: composers like Ravel, Copland, and Sibelius. I just can’t get a handle on the more abstract stuff. I can’t find any pattern in the melody; the rhythm seems forced. When I hear one of these pieces I feel like standing up like the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson tale and saying, “The Emperor Has No Clothes!” Except I would be standing up and saying, “That sounds awful!”

I have been in modern worship services time and time again that lead me to know why these people from out-of-town were so thirsty for our type of music. I have wanted so many times to stand up and say, “This is not effective!” so that’s what I’m doing right here, right now.

In this newer format, there are somewhere between 6-10 singers on the platform, each with a microphone, singing in harmony. One of these singers is the leader, singing solo parts, adding extra ad-lib words and notes. The leader is not really leading the congregation, but leading the praise singers in the role of a soloist. If you watch the congregation, very few of the people are singing. Those who are attempting to do so frequently lose track of the music and words. There is no need for the congregation. They are welcome to join in, but they certainly aren’t contributing anything, and all but the best singers feel they are interfering with the good music.

Many, if not most, of the songs in these services were originally written to be sung in mega-churches meeting in arenas. A congregation of 30 or even 100 in a small sanctuary can not sound the same as a congregation of 10,000 in an arena, so the songs often sound out-of-place and awkward.

The words are projected, but the structure of the songs is so complicated that the A/V people often have trouble knowing what to project and they put up the wrong words. The rhythm of the words is relaxed to the point where it’s hard to know what is to be said when. The words are formatted like poetry and there are no actual notes to help show (even if you don’t read music) that some words are held longer than others. This also makes it more difficult to know what word should be said when. The accented words are often not in the typical pattern of beats one and three for 2/4 or 4/4 time or beat one for 3/4, etc. The accent may very well be on the 2nd half of the 1st and 3rd beats. Because of this rhythm, many of the songs require skilled bass and drum players to get anywhere near the intended effect.

Using the projector has allowed worship leaders to introduce a constant flow of new music. Since we are no longer tied to a printed hymn book, we can put in new music on a consistent basis. Because of this, the songs are often foreign to the congregation.

The topic of these songs is often very shallow and ambiguous. “How wonderful it is for us to worship Him” is the focus. The older songs, as a general rule, deal more with experiences and how good God is to us throughout them. The template for many of them is a verse about where He brought us from, a couple of verses about how He brings us through our current struggles, and a last verse about how He’s taking us to heaven. The contemporary songs are primarily emotional: an escape from the life we live outside of the church. Songs focusing on the blood of Jesus are few and far between, and a mention of heaven is extremely rare. Any acknowledgement of changes-for-the-better He makes in our lives are also scarce. The words are usually not doctrinally deep. Rarely is any difficulty in life acknowledged.

The difference between a performance and a worship service is participation. Concerts are fine in a concert context, but I have found them to be much less effective in ushering me to a place of concentration on God than a context where I’m speaking the words, singing the notes, and being a part of the process.

So if the topic of the songs is shallow, the beat is hard to follow, the projection isn’t reliably the right words, the structure is complicated, and the congregation isn’t needed, it’s no wonder the congregation feels unneeded and left behind. How is this the best environment for worship? The goal is compromised. After all, “What’s the Point?”