Showing posts from 2011

One Down...!

My first semester at South Texas College has come to a close, and it has been a wonderful time. Some of you will remember how this teaching position came about, and the miracle continues! I started out this semester with around 102 students in five classes...and ended up with some 88 students. Some moved to other sections, some withdrew from classes due to family or financial issues...and some just disappeared! That's how it is in we just roll with it. Many of my students here could be classified as "second language" students. In all of these classes, I had only three "gringo" students and the rest were all Latino. I believe we've mentioned before that the Rio Grande Valley is about 92% Latino...and I certainly saw that in my classes. Because so many of them do struggle with second language issues, I was able to bring into the classrooms here the very techniques, methods and 'tricks' that I used with my students at the Teachers

Reason for the Season?

I love this time of the year. I don’t love the stores and malls and other places where people pack together to fight over sale items, or yell at their children as patience and dollars run out. I don’t love the radio stations that play back to back to back Christmas songs with all the mixed messages—“Joy to the World!” followed by “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” No, these are not the things I love. I love going to church…and today did not disappoint. As we began the time of worship together, I looked down at the bulletin and saw those words we often see and hear this time of year around God’s people—“Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” And, frankly, in this first Christmas living in the US after having lived almost seven years in Latin America, I have seen how much Christmas has become so commercialized, even de-Christianized. We hear it in the tepid and tasteless “Happy Holidays!” as we enter Wal-Mart. The quiet rebel in me responds quite purposefully, “Thank you…and Merry Chri

A Christmas to Remember…and Share

Our family arrived in Guyana in 1969…and Christmas was soon upon us. At the time, the government was of the hard-lined socialist flavor, and they had severely limited any imports. As a result, Christmas trees as we know them were fairly non-existent. My parents, however, were determined to maintain some of our American traditions and practices in our home, so they made sure we had Christmas—one way or another. That first tree is burned forever into our memories. The government did have some sort of Christmas tree factory…and they did the best they could, I suppose, with the limited resources they had at the time. Basically, the tree was a modified broomstick…about three-and-a-half-feet tall, planted in a music box base that revolved and played a cheesy, plinky popular Christmas tune. The branches were little more than long bottle washers, spray-painted green. The whole tree had probably 20 of these branches…and they didn’t begin to hide the bare broomstick trunk. We had brought some d

Can It Get Any Better??

  I don’t want my kids to have a better life than mine. Oh, don’t hear me wrong—it’s not that I wish ill on my children. The truth is, I don’t think there IS a better life than the one I’m living now. My wife and I have a really good life…and I don’t know how it could get any better. Yet, I hear from so many around me that they still want that ‘better life’ for their children…but can we really expect life to get better and better and better? Is a better life a bigger house? If our houses in America get any bigger, we’ll have to start calling them biospheres! I don’t wish a bigger house on my kids—the taxes, upkeep and cleaning are plenty, thank you, for our 1200 sq.ft. home. And, besides, in four or five years, all our kids will be grown and gone…and this house will suddenly seem big and empty for just the two of us. Then…more toys?? I’ve seen the children who have been given copious amounts of toys, more than you or I ever received in our childhood. And, the result? Usually messy h

Simple Church

I love the word ‘simple.’ I like the ‘sssss’ at the beginning…it’s a sound soft and soothing. I like the ‘imp’ in the middle…the way I have to have bring my lips together and then pop them apart to get that ‘p’ sound. And, I like the sort of raspy ‘llll’ at the end…how I have to move the sound back towards the middle of my mouth, sliding towards the throat, to get that soft sound to come out…. And, of course, I tip my hand here as to my propensity towards philology…in its very literal meaning. I love words…and, more precisely, I so enjoy examining the effect and power of words. For me, ‘simple’ is a word of power, able not only to conjure smooth and rounded images in our minds, but even able to lower our heart-rate and breathing, to drop our blood pressure a few points. Yes, this is a good word…and we ought not to use it lightly! So, on to the idea of ‘simple church.’ For some, there is a sudden, just-out-of-reach disconnect when we put these two words together. Why? Because for some

That Unruly Wind….

I lay in bed night before last, the windows open for our cool “fall” nights here in the Rio Grande Valley, and I could hear the wind as it rustled through the leaves of the tree in our backyard. We are just an hour from the Gulf coast, and the wind often blasts off the open water and over our flat lands here in the Valley at 20 mph or more. Besides cooling off this usually warm land, the wind also provides a soothing, calming symphony to fall asleep to. So it was the other night…the undulating winds—at once soft and gently swishing through the leaves…then a moment of calm…and suddenly a blast that fairly shook the tree like maracas. As I lay there, I noticed that patterns of the wind were completely unpredictable…yet the wind was still calming in its random coming and going. As I lay there, I recalled what Jesus had said one evening…perhaps while listening to the night winds blowing through a nearby sycamore tree: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot

Changes Coming…

The wind whistles through the windows, rain pelts the window panes and temperatures fall by the minute as the cold front hurries down from the north.  When I went to bed last night, gentle winds from the southeast caressed our corner of the world, stars shone brightly in the night sky.  I had stepped outside just before bed to breathe deeply the comparative cool of the evening, preparing to go and sleep.  And then, around 5am this morning, everything changed.  I awoke to winds and rains…and to the cold air blowing through the house.  I awoke refreshed, filled with anticipation at the changes rushing in upon us. I sit now in our living room, awake and writing far too early, listening to the patter of rain as if falls on leaves and driveway.  Because the winds still blow, and colder by the moment, and because we are reluctant to close up the house, I sit wearing my polartec…bringing back memories of winters in Monterrey where we could not escape the winter cold.  Here, of course, we can

Missions… or the Mission?

Recently, a good friend and I were chatting about church, missionaries and missional things, and she asked me, “Could you write something about missions for me? It seems that there’s a new “generation” of leadership at our church, and they just don’t get it.” So, I write this in part to fulfill my friend’s wish…and in part to remind myself what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it. One of the great effects of our Western mind-set or way of thinking has been the “compartmentalization” of so many aspects of life including the life of faith, the Christian life, the life of the Church. We have effectively made “missions” one of the committees of the church, one of the things that’s included in our budget, or one of the annual emphases of the church calendar. I was about to write, “If one undertakes a careful study of Scripture…,” when I realized that all one really needs to do is to make a rather cursory review of Scripture to see the truth of the matter. If we were ask regular churc

Las Competencias del Docente para el Siglo XXI

(Adaptado de una presentación que impartí en el XV Seminario de Educación en El Instituto Laurens, el 28 de Mayo del año 2011, Monterrey, Nuevo León, México) En este ensayo, quiero compartir lo que he encontrado en casi 20 años como educador. Me imagino que la lista completa de competencias que pueden ayudar los maestros es una lista inexhaustible; entonces, mi meta aquí es nada más que compartir las cinco competencias más importantes para los maestros de aula en este Siglo XXI. Antes de compartir las competencias, quiero compartir con ustedes un poquito de mi propia filosofía de educación. No se preocupe—sería muy breve! Tengo yo dos propósitos en mi trabajo como maestro de redacción/retorica. Primero, quiero ver que mis estudiantes son mejores escritores cuando salen de me aula en el fin del semestre que cuando entraron en el principio; segundo, quiero ver que mis estudiantes son personas cambiadas, diferentes, por estar en mi aula un semestre. Como maestro, soy empleado para ens

I Never Met Jesus…

Sounds like an odd confession coming from this disciple, pastor, missionary guy, but stay with me…. The lady is an amazing woman who has affected my life in profound ways. I have watched her and learned from her. She has molded me and shaped me in many ways. I listened to her as she told stories, as she conversed with others, as she spoke in gentle whispers and in those rare occasions when deep anger rose to the surface. I followed her at times through great crowds of people…and sat near her around tables, on beaches and in cars. Her songs lulled me sleep…her voice called me to life in the mornings. However, the curious thing is that I never ‘met’ this woman—Mom was just always there. Having grown up in the Church and in a Christian home, Jesus was just always there. From the Bible stories that my parents read to me at night…to the prayers around the table at meal-times…to the Bibles that seemed to form a part of my parents’ accoutrements—Jesus was just always there, simply part of the

Madea: A New Discovery for a Late Arrival…

One of the “cool” things about living outside the US for so long is that I now return and so much is new to me. In the daily wanderings of life, I happen upon things that have long become “old news” for the culture-at-large…but are delightfully new and exciting for this boy. Okay, so she’s a little crude…and the humor sometimes a little “off color” (so to speak!)…but the message and impact astound. In fact, I’ve only had two of these experiences so far, but each time I was brought to tears—quite literally—as I watched the stories unfold. Sometimes they were tears of laughter…at other times tears of emotions that welled up from within. I have to say, Madea is…”the bomb!” Tyler Perry has created an amazing character. Rather, he has created an amazing slate of characters in his Medea movies. Of course, Medea is that delightful “Big Mama”-esque figure (the character brought to life in Martin Lawrence’s hit movies)…but she is deeper and more than Big Mama. She is hard, harsh, in your

Walking with a Stick…

As a young boy growing up in Guyana and Grenada, there was something I always had in hand when I left our yard:  a stick.  A stick was just a part of the everyday life there.  As many folks get up, dress—and without even thinking—put a wallet in the pocket or a cell phone in the purse,…well, a stick in the hand was like that for us kids in the Caribbean. Why did we carry a stick?  As we walked the roads through neighborhoods or the paths through “the bush,” there was always the chance of being attacked by dogs.  A stick was good protection.  And, if we were passing a mango tree, the stick became a lance to knock mangoes out of the tree.  If we happened upon an old tire (car or bicycle), a stick turned that tire into a toy that we would run along beside for hours and hours.  And, of course, it was good for prodding, poking, moving around whatever unknown things we found lying around.  The stick was a security blanket, a tool and a companion.   This week, I remembered the stick as I c

Saying “No” to Culture…and “Yes” to Faith

To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like. I had forgotten how difficult it is here in the US. I remember, oh, so clearly the mission teams, the work teams, coming to serve in Venezuela and Mexico remarking on how refreshing it was to worship there…on how deeply spiritual the people seemed…on how faith was somehow different there. I lived, moved and breathed the culture there…and saw nothing unusual…wasn’t really sure what they were talking about, but nodded, smiled and affirmed their assessment. After a month-and-a-half back in the US, I finally understand…. Living a life of vibrant faith here is so hard! The culture crushes in from all sides…and sucks the faith out of life. Technology is God. Money is salvation. Status is the goal. Possessions and shopping are the passions. And the Church here is not immune. Worship has become a technological production, practically impossible without multiple digital projectors, state-of-the-art sound systems. I even saw recently that one confe

God’s Expansive Grace

Recently, some friends of ours invited us to visit with them a couple of days during their vacation on the coast about an hour-and-a-half from where we live. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity. As I walked down to the beach from their apartment, I was struck yet again by the immensity of the sea. The horizon so far in the distance, the quantity of water, the variety of sea life—all of it just brings a sense of awe to me…and that to a boy who grew up in the Caribbean! The ocean always amazes me. I step down to the water’s edge…the wash of a wave running up over my feet, sucking the sand from beneath. I’m left unsettled for a moment, a little off-balance. It is though the sea is beckoning to me, gently trying to pull me in. I step a little farther into the gentle surf…tentatively at first since the water is so cool compared to the glaring sun-heated world around me. I’m up to my knees…my waist…mid-belly…and I finally plunge in, diving through a small wave. Refreshing, cleansing se

From The Mission Society Blog...

Some thoughts shared: The Mission Society Blog jon

Fast Five–A Good Bad Movie…

Our family participates and enjoys popular culture as much as the next person, perhaps. We love going to the movies…enjoy popular music…give popular art a chance. We are not classical snobs…and don’t want to be. We strive to find what is good in whatever ambience we find ourselves. Yet, we don’t embrace whatever is popular and call it “good.” We strive to be critical thinkers—that is, we question what we experience…either during the experience or after. We can enjoy the Twilight films, but we don’t embrace all of the ideas set forth. We can watch Ugly Betty on television…but we realize that the show pushes a homosexual agenda, and we don’t support that agenda. Being aware of the underlying themes and ideas allows us to watch, participate…but not get sucked in. And, I hope we’re always that way. Last night, we saw Fast Five ...the fifth installment of the Fast and Furious series. The show was good fun. The dialogue was clever here and there. Having lived in Latino culture, we were abl

A Chapter Comes to a Close…

The days of our living in Monterrey are coming to a close.  Another chapter comes to an end.  When I look back at my life, I can see those major chapters…even some I barely lived…: Birth – 4-yrs-old…in south Alabama Guyana (1969-1973) Wake Forest, NC (1973-1975) Grenada 1975-1979 Rome, GA (1979-1980) Grenada (1980-1982) US High School…Dad’s death (1982-1984) College (1984-1988) The “In-Between” Time (June-December 1988) Louisville—grad school, Jeanne, marriage (1989-1990) Truett-McConnell (1990-1994) Methodism, Pastoring, Candler (1993-1997) McAllen, TX and STCC – Pt.1! – (Aug.1997- Dec.1998) Michigan Interlude – Spring Arbor, Holly Bike and Hike (1999) Back to the Church…Erskine…Chicopee and Blairsville (2000-2005) Venezuela (2005-2008) México (2008-2011)…and this is the chapter that now comes to a close.  Life here has been a wonderful journey, with ups and downs, with its fair share of good times and bad.  All in all, Monterrey, Mexico, has been a great time—a time

A TCK Interview from 2010... jon

Pt. 3 - I'm a TCK...and my Kids are Too!

So, I was born in south Alabama...moved to Guyana for four years, then to Grenada for eight years...and 1982 rolled around and we moved to the US. The plan was for me to do a year or two of high school to prepare me for American university, and then for Mom and Dad to go back to the mission field where they would open a new work on the island of St. Lucia. Life does always go as we plan. We had arrived in Atlanta, Ga, where the Briarlake Baptist Church had allowed us to live in their mission house. The location was great--across the street from the church, a few blocks from Lakeside High School . Dad was to take a position at the Georgia Baptist Convention center in their annuity department...and Mom was going to just go on being Mom. Shortly after we arrived, I even landed my first the church...working on the grounds crew. Since the church was big--taking an entire block--there were grounds enough to care for! One of the things that the then- Foriegn Mission Board requ

Pt.2.5–I’m a TCK…and My Kids Are, Too!

As I thought about life in G’da ( Grenada ) today after writing this morning, many more memories came to mind that I want to put on ‘paper’: Walking the beach below the Cooke-Yarborough house, along Mosquito Bay; the swing from the tree behind the house that went out so high over the hill-side; the shack-shack tree in front of our house where I would sit in the breeze for hours; throwing darts and playing ping-pong for hours in the garage…with Andrew Minors, Peter Reeves, Gregor Phillips, Jackie Evans and more; making black-coral jewelry; ‘hunting’ with our modified air-rifles—shooting the few hapless doves…and then actually cleaning, cooking and eating them; catching fish for weeks on end…and finally three of us (Andrew M, Jeph and me) frying 67 fish and eating them all (well, some scraps we threw to our cat, Charlie); making kites; hearing “Oh What a Night” day after day on the Minor’s ‘new’ reel-to-reel player…at full-volume; finding the old single-car barge that washed up after a s

Pt.2–I’m a TCK…and My Kids Are, Too!

So, we finished up four years in Guyana, South America—my “first” second culture.  Now, just so you understand the TCK, we’re call “third culture” kids because our first culture (birth or home culture) mixes with our second culture to produce some weird concoction that is now a “third” culture.  Follow that?  Just wait—it gets even more complicated for me! Guyana—the only English-speaking country in South America, a country with large Muslim, Hindu and Christian populations, a large land area with a small population (less than a million!), a country both modern and stone-age.  It was a great place to spend my childhood—I was largely oblivious to whatever dangers, but old enough to enjoy a rather care-free life. Then, at the end of 1973, since the Guyanese gov’t refused to renew visas for missionaries, my parents had to turn elsewhere…and it wasn’t too far away.  After a year-and-a-half furlough in North Carolina for Dad to do masters degree no.2, we moved to Grenada in the West In