Thursday, November 13, 2014

Power Made Perfect

As I wrote about a couple months ago, the Grammar Analysis class I am teaching this semester can be difficult, especially for those who are not inclined to be analytical.  The coworker that prepared the materials for our last grammar class had used the subtitle "The Funnest Class" as a bit of ironic humor.  I decided that Analysis needed something a bit darker and more direct, so I used "The Thorn In Your Flesh." 

I did hope to get a laugh, but as I considered the implications of  II Corinthians 12:9, I realized just how appropriate it could be in this situation.  In this passage, God reassures Paul that his thorn had a purpose:  to demonstrate Jesus' grace and power.  I decided to include the verse as a daily reminder to prompt in the students the same reaction that Paul experienced in his own life: that they would rejoice in their weakness, allowing Christ's power to work through them.
The lead slide for my presentations
I expected them to get bored and discouraged with the material we were studying, and they did at times.  I'm glad to say, though, that in the past 4 months they have all shown remarkable improvement in their ability to break down language.  Yet, I know that most of them would say, "I'm not very good at this."

However, I can't take credit for their improvement either.

As I look back at the past year, I can honestly say that I love teaching.  I have enjoyed preparing lessons, giving lectures, and doing personal tutoring.  That said, these verses have been just as important for me.  I, too, have gotten bored and discouraged.  I have so much to learn about all three of those aspects of teaching that I just mentioned.  There are so many ways I need to improve.  I'm completely new at this and I have had days where I return home from class wondering if I actually communicated anything worthwhile at all.

Some say, "You never really learn something until you teach it" and I agree.  I would also say, "You don't really know what fluency in a second language is until you try to teach in it."  I feel like I have been completely stretched and wrung out in both my understanding of grammar analysis and of Spanish.  I often have to "hunt" for words to describe concepts, because I still lack some of the technical vocabulary in this area.  I sometimes get to the end of the 2-hour class so mentally fatigued that I can't utter a simple sentence without some glaring, basic error in pronunciation, gender, or subject-verb agreement.  And for a grammar nerd, that's the worst thing that can go wrong!

That's why this passage is so beautiful.  In the end, it's not really about me or my performance.

No one really knows what Paul's "thorn" was.  There has been a lot of conjecture and a lot of good ideas, but the fact is that he left it unnamed. I believe that the Holy Spirit kept it hidden so that we could more freely apply this passage to our own difficult situations.  If Paul had specified what his difficulty was, we would tend to categorize it and put the application of this passage in a box.  As it is, we can take hold of the hope that is offered here and rest in Christ's work for us and through us.

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say that my inexperience and inadequacy could be described as "a messenger of Satan," but they are a sign of weakness.  And that's discouraging.

Kaylee has also experienced this.  Although she speaks well, she struggles to express herself clearly in Spanish at the level at which she is accustomed to communicating in English.  She is uncertain of cultural cues at church, around campus, and as a hostess in our own home.  Yet God is using her, too, as she faithfully applies what she does know.  She has had some good opportunities to advise and counsel both students and staff ladies, in the past few weeks especially.

We are not here in Bolivia because we are great missionaries, or great disciplers, great Christians, or even great people.  The reality is that we are not great anything!  We are weak.  We have problems. We struggle.  We are uncomfortable.  We are inexperienced and have so much to learn.  And that's a good place to be.

If we really contributed anything to this work, we would have something to take pride in.  I don't know how others view us, but because we recognize our own weakness, we can see that it is Christ who is working in us and through us.  It is His power that is shaping us and maturing us.  If anyone else is blessed or changed by what we do, it is only because of His power being perfected in our weakness.

A similar message hangs above our kitchen sink

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fun in the Sun: Güembé Butterfly Park

On Monday, we played hooky and took a long-overdue free day with friends.  We're about 2/3 through the semester and I (Nathan) have been very focused on my job and needed to set it aside for a day with Kaylee and the girls.  When our friends Dan and Jenny invited us to accompany them for a day off, I couldn't say no.

Spring has roared in like a lion (it's 100*F outside right now) and we wanted a pool.  The only place we could find that was open on a Monday was the Güembé Biocenter, commonly known as the mariposario (butterfly park).  We have heard about it for a couple years, but had not visited yet, in spite of many pleas from our daughters, who are very interested in butterflies.

Click here for all of the photos

We had to drive almost an hour to get there, since it's on the other side of the city and across the river, but we were very pleased at what we found.  The park covers 60 well-sculpted acres and features an orchidarium, tremendous aviary, a swamp (with capybaras, deer, and rheas), 2 lakes (one with monkeys, one with kayaks), lots of swimming pools, and cabins.  It's a beautiful setting and evidently taken care of.

The girls are avid butterfly chasers/catchers, so we had a look around before jumping in the pool.

Once we got in the water, though, they just wouldn't quit!

It was a great day to relax, have fun together, and experience something different!

Toucan in the walk-through aviary
Looking out at the city from the looking tower in the aviary
Macaws in the walk-through aviary

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Student trip to Oromomo

One of the goals of the Etnos training program is to give the students an opportunity each semester to get off campus, see more of Bolivia, and get a practical, realistic taste of what ministry can be like among the various ethnic groups of this country.

This past week I had the opportunity to accompany my coworker Howard and the 8 students to a village north of Cochabamba called Oromomo.  It is a small community on the Sécure river, populated by 80 families of Chimane and Yuracaré ethnicity.  Oromomo is accessible by river (a week or so, from Trinidad) or by air (one hour, from Cochabamba).

As we planned the trip, we talked about several purposes that we wanted to emphasize and I believe that we accomplished all of them:
          -rustic living
          -language and culture learning
          -relationship building
          -church planting strategy
          -working alongside others with a different philosophy of ministry

The following is an assortment of stories and photos.  More, fully-captioned photos can be found in our Picasa web album at this link. And don't forget that you can click on these to see them much larger.

Sunrise on Jorge Wilsterman Int'l Airport, Cochabamba
We flew out from Cochabamba by small plane, operated by Mano a Mano.  The 4 singles and Howard took the first flight in a Cessna 206, without any baggage.  The 2 couples and I loaded up the bigger Piper Navajo with the bags and were on the platform getting our routine police inspection when the pilot got the call that it was raining in Oromomo.  The airstrip there isn't long enough for him to land the big twin-engined Navajo in the wet, so we had to cancel.
Group 1 on their way

The forecast didn't look good and there was a good possibility that those 5 were going to have to spend the night without any clothes, sleeping bags, mosquito nets, or bug repellent!  Oops.

Thankfully, the weather lifted enough in the afternoon that I was able to go out by myself in the 206 with all of their bags and mine too.  Unfortunately, the pilot and I miscalculated the weights and accidentally loaded about 50 kilos overweight.  We had a tough time getting up to 14,000+ feet to go over the ridge!  However, after turning a few climbing circles, he was able to coax enough power out of the engine and 45 minutes later, we were landing on a beautiful little airstrip in the middle of the Bolivian jungle.
Oromomo airstrip
Of course, everyone was glad to see their things arrive and we set about setting up camp in the house that we would be working on.
Howard showing the gals how to set up a mosquito net

My mesh hammock was a nice lightweight bed
The next morning, the 6 of us that were in Oromomo set about working on the projects that we were there to do.  One of the big things was to plumb a bathroom, which Dennis and I jumped on, with some help from the girls.
We started by removing an elbow that had been installed backwards :P
Eli started a fire so we could form bell joints on the PVC and Naty helped her keep it going, even in the rain
Around mid-morning, the 2 couples and baby Esteban flew in.  After accommodating themselves, we all got back to work.

We worked on 3 main projects: plumbing, doors and and window coverings, and church signage.  Several other small projects were mixed in as we went along.

As mentioned, Dennis and I pretty much handled the plumbing.  We plumbed the drains, then supply, and set the shower pan, toilet, and sink.

Meanwhile, Howard and Matias were working with Pastor Tito on making doors and window coverings.  Tito is half Yuracaré, half Chimane.  He grew up speaking both languages and learned Spanish in school.  He has a very interesting testimony and is a crazy man on many levels.  He handles a Stihl MS660 like he was born with it.

Leo worked with Cristian (Mano a Mano's supply buyer and accountant) to put the name of the church up on the building in all 3 languages.

The gals often helped where they could on our projects and employed themselves in a variety of other useful ways.
Boiling river water for drinking was a continual task, as was cooking, all over a fire

Eli prepping meat to make charque
Eli and Polette brightening up the kitchen
Our last day, Naty helped me grade and compact the passage between the kitchen and house

Kristen helping some of the kids with homework
During all of this work, we had many opportunities to rub shoulders with the ministers on-the-ground and the people of the community they are trying to reach.   

Much of life was centered around the Sécure River.  It was our water supply, bathtub, washing machine, refrigerator, and swimming pool.  We loved it!
Hauling water for washing, cooking, and drinking
We swam at least once a day, usually twice, to cool down and clean up

Tito's girls having a swim

The river was also a major food source; we ate a LOT of fish.  On Saturday night around 11pm, Tito took us guys fishing.  We went upriver about 2.5 kilometers by canoe, where he shot a couple small sábalo with his bow, for bait, and dropped us off on a beach.  Dennis and Leo caught two surubí each, but I got skunked!  I did catch one the following night, though.

It was Leo's first time fishing.  That one on the left weighed 20 pounds, cleaned!

Most Sundays, there are two families that come to church consistently and a third that is occasional. A few of the teachers from the school have been attending as well.  We were asked to share in the main service and in the Sunday school classes.
Tito leading the singing
Leo preaching
Kristen and Naty teaching the younger kids
Meanwhile, Dennis, Mati, and I were frying fish and listening from the kitchen!

Sunday evening, half of the group shared their testimonies.

On Monday, we worked in the morning and then Tito took the whole group upriver to meet his mom and see her place.  We had a good time in the boat!
Bow group
Stern group

That final night, we hiked about 20 minutes downriver to another part of Oromomo known as the Zona Baja. The plan was to have another meeting there, in which the other half of us would share our testimonies.  I didn't find out until we got there, but most of the people that live there speak only Chimane, so Tito would be translating!
Nathan sharing his testimony with lessons about faithfulness in teaching generation-to-generation from II Timothy
This experience solidified in most of the students' minds (as well as mine) the commitment we have to teaching in the heart language of the people.  We had no idea what Tito was communicating.  It is terribly difficult to keep a flow of thought going with the back-and-forth of translation.  We had no background on these people, how they think, or what they already knew about the Gospel.  For me, this was one of the best experiences that we could have had for our students, so they could see the value of what they are learning in this training program.

Finally, on Tuesday morning, it was time to say goodbye and fly back to Cochabamba:

l-r: Leo, Howard, Tito, Matias, Nathan, Dennis, Cristian

Monday, September 22, 2014

Grammar Analysis

Grammar [gram-er] noun 1. A subject that you took in school and either didn't understand or promptly forgot;  2. A necessary evil that you fear, because of 1;
3. Something that fascinates you, because you're a little bit weird and 1 and 2 don't apply to you.

My focus at ETNOS this semester is Análisis Gramatical, which, as you might guess, is the Spanish translation of the title of this post.  I have the responsibility of teaching our 8 students the fundamentals of morphology and syntax during 4 hours per week.

The purpose of the class is to prepare the students for the linguistic phenomena that they will encounter while learning an indigenous language and give them the tools to understand and explain the way it works.

The most challenging thing about this class for me is that, just like you, my students fall into one of two basic categories when it comes to grammar: love it or hate it.  It is a difficult subject and, in many ways, you are either wired for it or you're not.

For example, take this basic homework problem that I gave to the students earlier in the semester, a collection of data from Pocomchí (Guatemala).  Some of you will be able to identify the verb roots and subject and object affixes within 5 minutes or so.  Others will stare at it for 20 seconds, not care, and move on to something else.

We use material prepared by SIL Mexico
Obviously, my students don't have the option of blowing it off.   For those without the wiring, the process of remembering terminology, finding patterns, and diagramming the material is often frustrating.  As the professor, I have to find a balance in the way I present the concepts, so that the students at both extremes keep moving forward without either group getting lost or bored.

Last week we moved past this stage of the linguistic process (morphology) and have transitioned into syntax.  Syntax is even more exciting (sarcasm alert) because it is the analysis of phrases and sentences.  Naturally, this includes sentence diagramming, an activity that some of you may have done in school.  Our method is different than what is normally taught, so it can be applied to any language that may be encountered.

Please pray for the students:
     -for patience with me as an inexperienced professor
     -for understanding and appreciation of the need for a solid understanding of grammar in the language-learning process

Please pray for me:
     -for wisdom as I teach and work to help the students understand difficult concepts

In other news, we are taking a break from normal classes this week to take a trip out to Oromomo, a village of Chimane/Yura people in the jungle northwest of here.   Another staff member and I will be accompanying the students for a week-long adventure starting tomorrow, Tuesday.  Please pray that it will be a good experience for the students and for Kaylee and the girls as they do without me for a week.  Lord willing, I will post a report with photos in about 10 days!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Solar Cooking

Here at Etnos, most of the class schedule is semester based.  However, a couple times per semester, there are 1-week module classes that focus on a particular aspect of missionary life, normally something technical.  Recent examples: electrical basics, inductive Bible study, rustic living, literacy teaching.

This past week I was given the opportunity to start off the new semester teaching the Solar Cooking module.  Now, I had absolutely zero experience at cooking with sunlight, but I was eager to put the Tinker side of my brain to work.
Toolbags + a big mug of tea = happy Profe

We started off the week with a short, one hour lecture on the basics of sunlight, the greenhouse effect, and solar ovens in general.  Then I divided the students into three teams and turned them loose to look on the internet for a plan and turn in a materials list by noon.

The next morning, we broke out the tools and got to work.

One team was made up of our three single ladies.  They had the brilliant idea of taking the casing of a discarded AC unit and patching the holes by riveting on sheet metal.
Measuring and cutting patches
Drilling for rivets
 Another team was made up of our Argentinian couple, Matias and Naty.  They built a single-wall wooden box with complex angles to better catch the sunlight. 

Leo and Polette, the Chilean couple found a very complex design that was meant to make the make the most of the sunlight, but made with lots of angles.  Dennis joined their team and they got to work on the structure, first.

 After lining the interior with thin plywood, they insulated it with styrofoam
Dennis cuts styrofoam while Leo and Polette measure and fit it

Meanwhile, the girls had finished their metal interior and asked for help building a wood exterior.  They built it with about 1.5" void on five sides that they filled with wood shavings from the planer, to insulate.  Other than a few difficult/dangerous cuts, I merely advised them as they set to work cutting and screwing things together.
Eliana taking a turn with the circular saw

Mati and Naty were the first to finish and did a trial run.

Howard came over to check it out
Friday was the big day.  Would the ovens actually work?

We started setting up at 8:00am and by 8:45 everyone had food in their cooker, ready to go.

Mati and Naty tried chicken burgers and roasted veggies
Leo, Polette, and Dennis did whole eggs, potatoes, and veggies

Eliana, Kristen, and Eli put in chopped veggies (in water) and eggs in a pot
Addi and I even tried our hand at it with just two mylar windshield covers.  It worked!
Chicken and rice soup packet

Got it up to 143.3F, just a couple degrees lower than the others!
While we waited for our food to cook, we cleaned up the workshop, then spent some time talking about the week.

All of the ovens got up to about the same temperature, about 150F.  I believe that they could have gotten much hotter if we had used real glass mirror reflectors instead of the mylar.  Maybe we'll do some fiddling and try again another time.

But at least they all worked!
The girls' "scrambled" eggs and veggies

Chicken burger, anyone?

Dennis enjoys a baked egg

My little sweeties had chicken and rice soup for their afternoon snack :)

All in all, it was a good week.  We did some "outside the box" thinking, the students had a chance to build something using unfamiliar tools and materials, and we had fun together.