My wife, Beth, and I spent several weeks in October and early November in Bolivia and Peru. We went to Bolivia by invitation of the Bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Bolivia, Obispo Javier Rojas. In multiple gatherings of clergy, lay leaders and educators we presented WHF’s new publication of 27 of John Wesley’s sermons in Quechua, one of the primary indigenous languages of the Andean countries, which includes Bolivia. I also gave several lectures on “Wesleyan Theology through the Sermons of John Wesley” and had the opportunity to preach at Cristo Rey Methodist Church in Cochabamba. We did similar events among Methodists in La Paz.
We had the joy of having Johnny Llerena accompany us. Mr. Llerena is Executive Coordinator of WHF’s Institute for Wesley Studies in Lima, Peru (Instituto de Estudios Wesleyanos Latinoámerica). We are very grateful that he could share with us in these high moments. We are deeply appreciative of Johnny’s ministry and for the ways he is extending the mission of the Foundation and Institute throughout Latin America.
In North America Christians are accustomed to moving from the recognition of the Saints (what the secular world calls Halloween) to the celebration of Thanksgiving (a distinctively US holiday); followed afterwards by the preparation for (Advent) and celebration of Christmas. It was interesting to be in Peru and Bolivia in recent weeks where Christians move from All Saints Day almost immediately into all the signs of “Navidad” (the birth of Christ). Many of these signs of Navidad are secular (Santa Claus, snowmen, elves and reindeer), just like in the United States. As a side note: a number of years ago I bought in Peru a small ceramic replica of the “manger scene” with Frosty the Snowman towering over it. I’m sure that would market quite well here in the US also.
It was the experience of the quick transition from All Saints to Navidad (minus a Thanksgiving in South America) which struck me as very interesting. We in the US have Thanksgiving to help “buffer” the startup of preparations for Christmas. However, there are many signs in the US that Thanksgiving may not be doing that any longer: after returning from Peru on November 14 we went to our local grocery (two weeks before Thanksgiving) and found that the pumpkins and other signs of Thanksgiving had been replaced with Christmas decorations.
To the point: What I found interesting in Peru about the quick transition from All Saints (in early November) to preparation for Navidad (in early November and pre-Advent!) was the profound connection between death and birth. Here is what happened:
While journeying by bus from La Paz, Bolivia, back into Peru, we stopped over in Juliaca, Peru to visit with the Methodist Superintendent of that area. Together with Venancio and his family we visited the Altiplano cemetery in Juliaca on All Saints Day. Many families were gathered there, as is their tradition, sitting around the tombs/graves of their loved ones. On top of the tombs they spread out table cloths filled with food, and there they feasted, drank, sang songs, prayed and shared memories (see the photo in this newsletter). What a beautiful scene it was; a very special way to commemorate the Day of the Saints.
The next day we stopped by a store in the area to buy some provisions for our next trip (our next event was to be in Arequipa, about 6 hours away by bus, and about 7,000 feet below the 14,000 feet of Juliaca). As we entered the store there were all the signs of Christmas! Families were moving very quickly from the “fiesta of hope” tied to the belief in the eternal Communion of the Saints to the “fiesta of hope” tied to the belief that in the birth of Christ “God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”).
In the preparations of this season may we proclaim that all of our loved ones in the faith who have died before us; and all those who are yet to be born into the church; and all of us who are seeking to be faithful witnesses to Christ in the here and now; are all bound up together in a great mystery which unites us in the celebration of Christ’s Advent as Lord of all time and of both heaven and earth.
During this holy season, may you experience this grand, majestic, and universal promise of grace which comes to all of us in the birth of Jesus. “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Grace and peace, and Merry Christmas,
Mark W. Wethington
(Read more in the WHF Newsletter Fall/Winter 2013)
Obras de Wesley, Tomo III-IV
Available from Amazon.com
To view details or to purchase, click here.
The complete authorized edition of Obras de Wesley is now available for download (.pdf) at El Instituto de Estudios Wesleyanos.
WHF & IEW very much appreciate your support of our project to make an official and publisher-authorized download edition of OBRAS DE WESLEY available for free or with a donation.
Your gifts through PayPal are very much appreciated.
Wesley Heritage Foundation and the
Institute for Wesley Studies
is happy to offer a Kindle edition of
Obras de Wesley, Tomo I-II
To view details about Obras, Tomo I-II or to purchase,
We spent much of our time in Nicaragua being hosted and transported by a volunteer missionary from Western Pennsylvania. Richard Mzorka is a retired coal miner who accepted an invitation to join a work team in Nicaragua. After a number of mission trips, he felt called to move to Nicaragua and work with the Methodist church there. He has been here full time since June after selling his house, car and Harley! When we visited Richard still did not speak Spanish, but that did not seem to interfere with his ability to communicate with the Nicaraguan people. Richard has friends all over Managua-from the tiendas and roadside stands to church members and pastors. He is a very generous person with a quick smile and a backpack full of cookies and crackers which he freely distributes. Street performers, guards, and street people are all recipients of the coins he collects in his pockets and car. The people obviously enjoy Richard and any failure in verbal communication is compensated by laughter and hugs.
The Nicaragua Methodist church is a young church with a growning ministry. President Francisco Guzman is a leader with a strong desire to instill the Methodist identity within his church. His priority is related to that process, even if it slows immediate church growth. Important is him is the knowledge and understanding of what it indeed means to be a Methodist. We met with the 14 pastors, a vibrant and enthusiastic gathering who enjoyed the open discussion that followed an introduction to our work and travels. Their response included a discussion of the challenge of pastoral education and possible supplements to the 16 hour trip to Ahuachapan, El Salvador, to participate in the bi-annual, one week courses provided there. It can be a difficult and tiring journey for these dedicated pastors, most of whom have second jobs and thus, are not free to devote long periods of time for theological education.
Before leaving Nicaragua, we visited the capital and saw evidence of the 1972 earthquake devastation as well as memorials to Sandinistas who fought for the right to land ownership by laborers and farm workers. Between a history of natural disasters and war, this country has has to contend with a lot of challenges and strife. Reports seem to indicate that Daniel Ortega is maintaining a degree of Sandino spirit, but government seems to revert to a less pure form of leadership once it discovers its power. Where does the Wesleyan spirit fit into this context? How does the Holy Spirit dance with these proud and independent people?
The people of Latin America possess a generosity that seems to contradict their economic status. We have much to learn from the beautiful desire to share what they have, no matter how little that may be. They exemplify an understanding of the value of relationship and community rather than a protecting of what one has. We visited a rural church in El Salvador in the community of La Provedencia located in the midst of corn plots and mango trees. Mark happened to remark how much he likes mangos, one of his favorite fruits. A neighboring church member had one last mango (the season of mangos had past) that he had been saving. Immediately he ran to his casa and brought forth his last mango, offering this ripe, sticky fruit as a gift to a North American visitor. It was certainly a precious gift…and never a more delicious and appreciated mango. We North Americans who have so much are often less inclined to share from our bounty while our southern brothers and sister find a joy in giving what little they have.