Good Friday in Antigua, Guatemala

April 22, 2014 - Leave a Response

Here are some further insights into our time in Antigua during Holy Week 2014.

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St. Joseph Cathedral at night. It faces the small park in the center of the city.

The first church was built about 1541 but suffered several earthquakes throughout its history, so it was demolished.

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La Merced Church, located three blocks north of the square (park).

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A floral and fruit tribute to Jesus, in Merced.

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As you walk to La Merced, you pass under this arch, an iconic symbol of Antigua.

Now we come to our experiences on Good Friday. In the morning all the men in the procession wore distinctive headdresses, different from those worn earlier in the week.

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I saw four processions. As on the other days, each procession is sponsored by a different church or school.

FIRST PROCESSION. By La Merced Church.

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You see many local Mayan women wearing their typical elaborately embroidered blouses.

Carrying the float is hard work, so you rest when and where you can.

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Later, I learned that this procession involved 7.000 volunteers as carriers, replacing each other at intervals. Can you imagine the work of coordinating this?!

SECOND PROCESSION. By St. Joseph Cathedral.

This one began at 3:00. As usual the processions began inside the church, and the float was carried out into the street.

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For this procession the purple robes are gone, and the carriers wear black, for mourning obviously. We are standing on the cathedral patio, looking out on the huge crowd in central park.

Later Genesis and I went for a walk and, by coincidence, were on hand when the float was carried backwards into the cathedral.

THIRD PROCESSION. By Christ School. Earlier in the day a bystander told me that this would be the most elaborate procession of the day. It started at 3:50 PM on the outskirts of town and is to end at 1:50 AM tomorrow. We saw it after dark.

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I was speechless. A very long float – ornate gold and silver work , giant candelabra, and four seated figures that I guessed represented the four gospel writers, but I can’t be sure.

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And in the center Jesus, as if buried, in a gold and glass coffin.

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And giant silver angels guarding the rear.

Not far behind this float and its band was another elaborate float devoted to Mary. All in silver, glittering brightly, with candelabra and other candles. The candles all had electric lights, not actual flames.

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I would have to agree with the bystander who told me that this would be the most elaborate procession of all.

 

I joined the pilgrims, behind the Jesus float. But in about an hour I returned to the square in order not to miss the…

FOURTH PROCESSION

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The photos are not ideal, but the spiritual impact was profound.

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The body of Jesus in a shroud, in a glass case, is carried by statues of mourners dressed in dark gray. In front of this are several broken-down columns and capitals and weeping angels. I took this to be a sign that heaven and earth were mourning the death of Christ, as if the end of the world had come.

Behind the body of Christ was a striking figure, of which I could not get a clear photo because of the night and the massive crowd. I had to ask a bystander to be sure what this figure was. It represented God the Father, reclining, stretching his hand toward the dead Son.

Always, following the floats and bands, night or day, are the street vendors. Most of them are not selling religious items, but food and toys.

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Foam geckos are a favorite item. I bought one for the girls.

For me, the spiritual impact of the processions  was profound.

Here is my observation: You can miss the real Jesus in the Holy Week processionals. You can find the real Jesus in the Holy Week processionals.

 

 

Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala

April 18, 2014 - Leave a Response

We arrived in Guatemala on April 15 to spend ten days with our daughter Melanie and family. We are all spending the first three days in the town of Antigua, a famous tourist spot, to see Roman Catholic processions that celebrate Holy Week.

First, here is a photo of Melanie’s family.

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Then, about the processions, from Palm Sunday through Easter there are one or more of them each day. They start anywhere from 4:00 to 11:00 AM and continue from eight to twelve hours, following a path through various streets and around the central park and past the cathedral.

The processions  are a beautiful spectacle. Usually, a small brass group leads the way, playing occasionally. Then one or two statues of biblical characters  on small platforms, carried on the shoulders of a few volunteers. Then there are men dressed in purple robes and headdresses.

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They line the sides of the streets. Note the one using his cell phone!

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And some of them carry censers. The aroma is very strong.

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Some of the censor carriers are quite young.

Some processions feature Roman soldiers.

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From Wednesday through Friday the large decorated floats all have to do with the suffering, death and burial of Christ.

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From this float I noticed a detail that I got in a close-up shot.

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Do you see two butterflies? Symbols of hope, I presume.

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The large floats are carried by men and boys, with 40 or more carriers per float.  The floats move forward very slowly, with many pauses along the way. After several blocks a new row of carriers steps in and trades places with the previous carriers. The carriers keep in perfect step and sway from side to side both while walking and while standing still.  As you see, the photo above is a night scene.

Behind the float and the band is a generator, pushed by hand, that powers the lights on the float and also powers floodlights so that the musicians can see their music.

On Wednesday and Thursday the men wore the robes you see in the above photo.

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Sometimes “Roman soldiers” carried the floats. Other soldiers marched as an escort. On Good Friday several soldiers rode horses,and there was one chariot.

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Here is a partial view of the band. Typically, the band had 30 or 40 instruments – brass, woodwind and percussion. The music as slow and a bit mournful, fitting the somber mood of our reflecting on the suffering of Christ. The booming drums and strong tubas gave an emphatic cadence. The band played a song, then walked in silence for awhile, and then played again.

After the band that followed the main float, anyone who wished could walk in the procession, so I did a few times on Friday, reflecting on the Scripture: “For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18

The next thing in the processions was always a float with the Virgin Mary.

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These floats were always carried by women. Another music band (of men) followed the Mary float.

Smaller floats of individual Bible characters or saints appeared at various places in the processions.

The entire pace of the procession was slow. All the participants were silent an respectful. Most of the bystanders were silent also.

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There is more to be said about the processions, but that will have to wait for my next blog.

 

 

 

About Air Travel

March 30, 2014 - Leave a Response

On a US Airways flight last week I learned a few facts about air travel.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of commercial air travel. The first commercial airplane flight took place on January 14, 1914, from St. Petersburg, FL, to Tampa. There was one paying customer!

Now there are 8 million air travelers every day all over the world.

Enjoy your flight!

More about Nappanee

March 9, 2014 - Leave a Response

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I am still in Nappanee, IN. This morning I spoke at Nappanee Brethren in Christ Church on the theme “Seeing the Peoples of the World through Jesus-glasses.” The pastor here is Jeff Williams.

Nappanee has half-apples all over the city, decorated with various themes. The one below sits, appropriately, outside a bank.

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Tomorrow I will have lunch in Fort Wayne with our long-time friend, Martha Rickman, and then fly home.

Trip to Indiana

March 8, 2014 - Leave a Response

On Friday, March 7, 2014, I flew to Fort Wayne, IN, and then got a rental car to drive to Nappanee for two meetings relating to my work for Brethren in Christ (BIC) World Missions.

On the drive through the country I saw many small flocks of Horned larks. They flit low above the ground in open fields. The Horned lark is our only native  lark. It “horns” are little tufts of feathers, visible only at close range, so as I drove along, I was not able to see the horns. I see a few Horned larks occasionally in my part of PA in the winter, but I saw many here in IN.

On the internet you can see many beautiful photos of this bird, but I couldn’t find any that were not  copyrighted, so I cannot  post any here for you.

At Kendallville I saw signs advertising the Mid-America Windmill Museum, but it is closed for the winter. I think I would have enjoyed the museum, recalling the functioning windmill that we had on the farm where I grew up at Chambersburg, PA.  The windmill still stands there but is no longer operating. Here is a photo of a typical small-farm windmill, not far from Nappanee.

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I am staying at The Inn at Amish Acres in Nappanee.

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Quilts are for sale in the lobby. And the rooms have a quilt-like touch.

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Amish Acres is closed for the winter, but in other seasons you can visit buildings with Amish furnishings and a theater in a  round barn.

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On Friday evening and Saturday I attended the annual meeting of the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church. John Zuck is the bishop. We met at Union Grove Church, which is a former grade school building (think modern, not old-fashioned). The pastor is Darin Simms. I also met several pastors whom I had not met before.

I set up a display of books and literature about BIC World Missions. I had many meaningful conversations with individuals about missions. On Saturday I gave devotional thoughts and an update about the work of our missions department.

On Saturday evening I drove to nearby Bremen to have dinner in the home of David and Sabina Rosentrater. I first learned to know Sabina years ago at Manor BIC Church in Lancaster County, PA, when I was pastor there and she was a teenager.

Shaker Village

February 23, 2014 - One Response

While we were in Wilmore, KY, for the renewal conference described in a previous blog, we drove to Shaker Village, about 2o miles south of Lexington, for dinner.

The Shakers were a religious sect founded on the teachings of Ann Lee. They practiced a celibate and communal lifestyle and practiced equality of sexes. Today they are remembered most for their style of music and furniture. Shaker Village is maintained as a reminder of the Shakers and their way of life.

In winter meals are served in the winter kitchen, located in the cellar of this building, known as the West Family House.

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The evening we went to  the kitchen we were the only customers!

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On the Village grounds sugar maple sap is dripping into buckets.

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Shaker Village is most interesting, and the food is top quality. Be sure to include the Village in your next trip to Kentucky.

Here in Kentucky

February 23, 2014 - 2 Responses

We came to Wilmore, Kentucky, on February 19, 2014, to attend a renewal conference – more about that later – and to visit some students and a friend from years ago. We lived in Wilmore from 1965-1968 while I was a student at Asbury Theological Seminary.

Wilmore is in central Kentucky, south of Lexington, and the area is full of horse farms.

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I was unable to get any good photos of horses. But we saw a lot of stone walls or fences in various stages of maintenance or disrepair. Here are two scenes of good repair – walls with no mortar at all.

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Here are some  scenes of Asbury Theological Seminary, including a statue of John Wesley.

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And inside the Beeson International Center forBiblical Preaching and Church Leadership you find this art piece of Francis Asbury, circuit riding preacher and one of the first two bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.

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At the seminary we met with the two Brethren in Christ persons who are students here: Luke Embree from Chambersburg, PA: and Megan Byers from Mechanicsburg, PA.

And in order to explore possible connections between Brethren in Christ World Missions and the Seminary, I met with Dr. Gregg Okesson, Dean of the E.  Stanley Jones Center for  World Mission and Evangelism; and with Dr. Thomas Tumblin, Dean of the Beeson Center, which serves as a link between the Seminary and the global church.

Now, for the renewal conference that brought us to Wilmore at this time. This conference was sponsored by the Francis Asbury Society (FAS), an organization founded by Dennis Kinlaw and dedicated to proclaiming the message of biblical  holiness through evangelistic meetings, conferences, retreats and publishing. You may learn more about the Society by visiting its web site.

Here are some views of the building that serves as the center for the Society. The society’s emphasis on the Holy Trinity is shown in a window and the unusual table in the board room.

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Speakers for the conference included Jerry  Coleman, Director of International Ministries for FAS; Stan Key,
Director of Operation for FAS; and guest, Sam Kamaleson, seen in this photo.

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Kamaleson, originally from India, studied at Asbury Seminary. He has founded and directed two foundations in India, published books and spoken around the world in pastors conferences for World Vision.

This renewal conference was held from Friday evening through Sunday noon, February 21-23. The theme was “Living Lavishly,” taken from Ephesians 7:1-8: “…according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us…”

Through times of worship, prayer and teaching we drew near to God and pondered the mystery, beauty and power of the fact that God wants not only to be with us, but in us. JoLene and I had the privilege of meeting many church leaders and missionaries who have served in many nations of the world.

We plan to return home on Monday, February 24.

Thinking about God

January 29, 2014 - Leave a Response

Last Sunday we attended New Joy Brethren in Christ Church in Ephrata, PA, where I spoke on missions vision and the work of Brethren in Christ World Missions. In the song time we sang a song that was new to me (where have I been?) and that resonated with my view of God.

The song is Sovereign by Chris Tomlin and others. In it we worship God as ultimate sovereign, not in some icy distant sense, but as a loving, sustaining God whom we can trust fully because of his unfailing love.

Sovereign in the mountain air
Sovereign on the ocean floor
With me in the calm
With me in the storm

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn

In your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end
I can trust you

In your never failing love
You work everything for good
God whatever comes my way
I will trust you

This song fits with what we learn about God in the Bible and with the way I am experiencing God in my life.

Big or little?

January 25, 2014 - Leave a Response

Do you sometimes feel your work for God is big? Do you sometimes feel your work for God is small? Do you also realize that God is working out his larger purposes around us and through us, and that our analysis of big or small is not the main point?

Mother Teresa once wrote: I am just a little stub of a pencil in the hand of God, who is sending a love letter to the whole world.

How simple – how beautiful. You can be that stub of a pencil. God can send his love letter through you. Every day can be a day of holy living.

Transforming Harrisburg

January 24, 2014 - Leave a Response

On January 23, 2014, JoLene and I attended the Groundbreaking Ceremony for new townhouses in the Allison Hill section of Harrisburg, PA.

These townhouses are a project of the Brethren Housing Association (a ministry of the Church of the Brethren) and Pinnacle Health. Six blighted homes on Hummel Street and Haehnlen Street (really an alley) will be demolished, and five townhouses will be built, in which homeless single mothers will get a second chance at life.

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For 25 years Brethren Housing Association (BHA) has helped women and children out of homelessness through rehabilitated housing. In so doing, the BHA and its many partners in the community have been a stabilizing influence in a distressed neighborhood.

On this bitterly cold day the groundbreaking went forward, on site and outdoors, with many community leaders turning shovelfuls of dirt that a workman had already loosened with a backhoe. Without his preparatory work who could have turned any dirt with a shovel on a winter day like this?

About 50 people attended this event. Part 2 of the event was a business luncheon at the Church of the Brethren on Hummel Street. At last we got warm! As part of the program a mother who has already been helped by the services of BHA told her story of moving from homelessness and helplessness to a new life for herself and her children.

If you want more information about this project, or if you would like to make a donation, you may  contact Steve Schwartz, Executive Director of BHA, at: sschwartz@bha-pa.org.

The Church of the Brethren cares about people’s spiritual needs, presenting faith in Jesus Christ as the way to true life, both now and in the world to come. They also care about the whole range of human need, reaching out to help in all kinds of practical ways. This multi-sided ministry is a sign of the kingdom of God.

My wife and I live in Harrisburg, and we are pleased to see ways individuals and agencies are working together to see people’s lives transformed in ways that bring long-term good.

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