I have just returned from Mexico and thought I would report on my current trip to teach the first summer session at JBI, Tehuacan. On Friday, July 3, I arrived in Tehuacan, along with my friend and traveling partner, Pastor Jonathan Villalobos. Tehuacan is located four hours south of Mexico City in the southern part of the state of Puebla. Our flight left Fresno at 1:00 am, with legs from Fresno to Guadalajara and then Guadalajara to Mexico City. After that, there were two bus trips from Mexico City to Puebla and, finally, Puebla to Tehuacan. We stepped off the bus around 5:30 pm after a long trip and only sporadic sleep.
After greeting friends made on previous trips, we were settled in our living quarters for the week. The house is directly across the street from one of the churches sponsoring the Bible Institute, so the 6:30 am session is a very convenient walk. The property has an enclosed garden with several very nicely landscaped outdoor areas. The house itself is two-stories with tile floors throughout and everything done in a sort of modern Spanish style.
After our respective preaching assignments in two separate churches, Jonathan and I were introduced in a joint session of churches on Sunday where we gave a synopsis of our upcoming course on Biblical Communication. There were approximately 50 people present. Certificates were awarded from our previous session last January with a regular ceremony calling the names, shaking hands with each person and presenting them with certificates. They seemed very pleased to receive them.
Afterward, some youth invited me to play touch football in a little yard between the church and the house next door. I was not surprised that the Mexican youth didn’t really know the rules for American football, so I was able to give them some pointers. Everything went well until I intercepted a pass. When I stretched out to catch it and started running, somehow my body got ahead of my feet and I went down, landing on the side of my head and right shoulder. Although it hurt, there seems to be no damage and actually my back, which had been out before the game, now kind of feels better.
The first session of the Summer 09 JBI-Tehuacan opened Monday morning at 6:30 at Manada Pequena (Little Flock) Church. There were perhaps thirty students in attendance. Some of the church ladies made a nice breakfast snack of tacitos with jello and coffee. The subject for the day was how to build an effective Bible lesson. I repeated the same material that evening from 7:30-9:30 pm to about 65 students at Oasis 1, a related church across town. This course is part of the larger summer, 2009 session of JARON Bible Institute in Tehuacan, which will continue next week with my colleague, Gene Beck teaching Theology 2. A youth outreach will take place the week after that, led by fellow JARON staff member, Kenton Rahn.
On Tuesday, along with the regular morning and evening sessions, we were added to a team, which makes regular visits to the local jail. Six or seven male prisoners were assembled for Bible study. We prayed together at the end and they expressed their amazement that Americans would actually want to visit them in jail. There are apparently some 70 or so believing prisoners and these guys see it as their calling to reach the rest. Wow! Afterward I was joking to the team that this was my third time in a Mexican jail, but that thankfully my sentences have always been short (less than an hour). Having done this before, I can say that a couple of the prisoners have now become my friends.
Later we ate lunch at the home of Cheque Vasquez, one of the leading pastors of the churches who sponsor the Bible institute. We were served a kind of chili relleno, stuffed with almonds, apples and other tasty ingredients and covered with a sweet white sauce, typical of the state of Puebla. Delicious!
It is now 10:30 am on Wednesday and the morning session is over. I’m working at a little table upstairs in the house in a sort of mini-solarium (a sun roof in a corner of the sitting area). Outside there are sounds of birds mixed with and some contemporary Mexican music coming from somewhere nearby. Very pleasant.
My friend Jonathan is teaching this second portion of the week. He is a natural communicator and has already won these people over. The schedule is actually quite demanding with early morning and late evening sessions and often counseling and planning in between.
In addition to teaching the morning and evening sessions of JARON Bible Institute, here is an idea of our schedule for the next few days: Lunch today is with one of the students, named Rosadela. Her husband is well known as the painter of the murals on the ceiling of the entrance to the Tehuacan City Hall. On Thursday we are scheduled to speak at an alcohol rehabilitation center. Friday there are plans to visit the onyx-producing village of San Antonio Texcala and then have lunch with a student. We are invited for coffee with my dear friends, Memo Lagunes and his wife, Betty on Friday evening. Yes, ours is a busy social calendar!
Prayer is essential. I can’t say enough about how we are looked after by the Mexican believers. In other places, mission projects have been much more rugged. But being away from family and the normal routine is a strain. It seems that nearly every time I have traveled on a missions trip lately I gave come down with some kind of virus or infection. I had a truly shocking cold and bronchial infection the first three days I was here. There are also bouts of homesickness (especially in the evenings after the sessions) and just the weariness of living in a different routine and culture. Thank God for the Mexicans’ care for us!
Michel, the son of Betty and Memo has been doing some of the interpreting for me when I teach. This morning he made an offhand remark about how amazed he was at the improvement of my Spanish over the last three days. Others have said much the same thing. These remarks are encouraging, especially since yesterday and today my mind has sort of shut down on all languages. For instance, I got up at 5:45 am this morning and knocked on Jonathan’s door to take a shower in the adjacent bathroom. When he answered, I couldn’t even put the English sentence together: “Is the shower free?”. I just stood there gurgling incoherently, until I finally blurted out with, “I want to take a shower.” I think my mind feels overloaded and wants to go on some kind of tropical vacation for awhile, where no talking of any kind is required.
(This concluding portion was written later, after our return to the United States) We finished out the week strong, completing the course and enjoying part of a day of rest and relaxation. Saturday afternoon was spent in planning with local church leaders for future JARON events in Tehuacan. The return journey on July 12, though long, was uneventful.
Thanks for your prayers and concern, Mike Bogart
Melinda and I have had an amazing couple of weeks in South Africa. Our partners on this mission team, Howard and Debi Foreman have been a joy to work alongside. We arrived in the middle of a government workers strike in which hospitals, schools and other offices are closed. The government is negotiating with the workers who want more money. Yet, things appear to be much as normal.
We stayed at the Giyani-area Police Guest House on the outskirts of town. The local police officials have rolled out the red carpet for us. We were able to hire a cook and were allowed the use of the full accommodations. The police commander for crime prevention in Giyani lives at the guesthouse. He and his son and a friend gave us a large brie (BBQ) one night earlier this week. The seven of us had great discussion and fellowship.
One of the local African pastors, Pastor David, loaned us his Indian-made Tata car so we could get around on our own. What a sacrifice on his part! That kind gesture saved us from the sometimes complicated and expensive process foreigners must go through to rent one. Both Howard and I drove the car, which for me was a bit weird because in South Africa they drive British-style (on the left).
The week of ministry included pastoral training classes in theology, taught by Howard and a general church leadership seminar on Christian counseling, taught by me. The two wives presented a women’s seminar and craft session, as well as met privately with several wives of pastors for encouragement.
While in the city of Malamulele, about 40 minutes north of Giyani, the four of us were invited briefly to the home of a local pastor in the area and given a gift of fresh garden spinach, which we ate later that night. We were allowed to present a gospel-oriented devotional at three police station chapel services, where we given a profuse welcome.
Believe it or not, the week also gave us opportunities to hold youth meetings and speak in several other church services, where we presented a welcome from the churches in the US. A highlight was driving 25 miles to the NW and visiting with the chief of the five villages in the Diangheza area. Once again the chief rolled out the red carpet, inviting us to lunch and outfitting Melinda and Debi in Shangaani costume.
What we have seen here in this northeastern corner of the country is a wild mix of western and traditional cultures. Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants exist side-by-side with traditional food vendors. We have seen women in traditional costume with fruit baskets on their heads and people in business suits; serious poverty and affluence; Africaans, Tsonga and English all spoken simultaneously.
Each morning we awoke to vervet monkeys in the trees outside our window. Several afternoons we were guests of the local Spar grocery store, where the managers made their computers and internet available to us. Americans can learn much about hospitality from South Africans.
If you ever get the chance, you should experience this place. We are amazed at how people are open to the message of Christ and the Bible and the pervasiveness of at least a positive attitude toward Christianity. Please pray for our friends, pastors Rex, David and Jackson; for our police friend Peter; Betta (our cook) and many others. Though tired, we came though the week very well. Thanks for your interest in this very effective project. We pray for you and trust you are well.
Mike and Melinda
Here are some typical scenes from Limpopo Province in northeastern South Africa.
The large picture was taken at a wedding we attended. This is the bride’s family. Her dad has three wives. Can you pick them out?
December 1, 2006
Greetings! It is that special holiday time of year, which gives us the opportunity to report to those who have prayed, given and shown interest in the ministry we have with JARON. We trust all of you are well and finding fulfillment in serving where you have opportunity as well.
As I mentioned in June, JARON has been invited to begin a ministry training course for pastors who serve in the villages of Limpopo Province in the northeastern part of the country. The first phase of what we hope will become a multi-year Global Leadership Training Project took place July 21-August 12.
More than anything else, this trip confirmed the need (and renewed the invitation) for us to become involved in the training of Christian leaders in the region. In those eventful three weeks I was involved in the following:
One week was spent networking with Afrikaans leaders in the Pretoria area, discussing needs and touring existing ministry projects. There are multiple layers of ministry we can easily plug into and provide training and other things in north-central part of the country.
The final two weeks were spent working with Shangaan ethnic people in Limpopo Province. A brief summary of this training week follows:
I taught a Christian leadership seminar to fifty church leaders from two different churches.
I led a marriage seminar for pastors in the city of Giyani.
I met with key pastoral leaders to discuss the details of a JARON Bible Institute program to meet the academic and practical ministry needs in the area.
The JARON team put together a medical / relief project in several area villages.
I along with several others, participated in a discussion for future development of a Christian camp that would serve the entire northeastern region of South Africa.
We met and established good relationships with many wonderful people, whom I hope to see again in future trips.
Thanks for your prayers, Mike Bogart