I’d never traveled over the Christmas holidays before. Why would I want to travel away from family? But, with my daughter Alicia spending a year volunteering in Mexico, my wife Debbie, my son Andrew, and I were travelling to be with family. So, there I was learning about life in Mexico.
Alicia was living with a family in Tepoztlan, Mexico and working with young children for an organization called La Jugarreta. Tepoztlan is about an hour and a half south of Mexico City, close to Cuernavaca. Parts of the film the Magnificent Seven were filmed there. Hills around the city seem to rise up like the sides of skyscrapers. Alicia had already told us that she wanted to take us to ziplining. Or rather that we would take her - - and pay for it. She sent us an email with a link to a YouTube video of the zipline along with a note; “Mom, don't be scared. It's gonna be crazy fun.” Alicia kept up her sales job with Mom when we got there, including explaining the concept of YOLO or You Only Live Once. Debbie didn’t seem to be too fazed, however she did make some comments to me about the differences in safety regulations between the US and Mexico.
We went to the Ocotirolesa (Oh Co Ti Row Lay Sa), which I thought was Spanish for Eight Ziplines. But i was wrong, it's the name of the area where the zipline is. Then we were there. We got our protective gear and had to hike up to the start of the ziplines. First, there were a few short zip lines that didn’t have much of a drop beneath them. Then we had the BIG one. Debbie went before me and did fine. After a couple minutes, I was next. I had a short moment of thinking what am I doing, but I let it go and jumped off. The line wasn’t too high up in the air at first, but then it came to that skyscraper side of the hill and suddenly I was WAY up in the air. The brochure said the line was over 800 meters at the highest point. Half a mile up. The same height as a 35-story building.
As I flew over a soccer field, I thought this was as close to playing quidditch as I would ever get. As Alicia had said it was “crazy fun.” After we were all across the valley we had to climb up to the zip line that would take us back. Grabbing onto the cable that had been strung up the hill we pulled ourselves up. You Only Live Once, but we got to do the crazy fun zip line twice.
We were invited to an English language church service in Cuernavaca. My wife, Debbie was especially interested in seeing Cuernavaca because she had been there before on a trip when she was a Girl Scout.
We took the bus to Cuernavaca, took a taxi to the area the church was in, and then walked a few blocks to the church. We were slightly behind schedule (alright, we were late). On our walk to the church, Alicia realized we wouldn’t be late for the service when she saw the pastor running from the church to his house. He was looking for his copy of the sermon that was missing. It also turned out that only the bulletins for the later Spanish language service had been delivered. They were missing their English language bulletins with the order of service and the list of songs that would be sung. They worked around not having the bulletins. The Pastor’s English version of his sermon wasn’t found. So, to give the sermon he had to use his Spanish version and translate on the fly. It was all going well when suddenly – electronic beeps and music. Someone’s cell phone was ringing. The Pastor sagged against his pulpit, shook his head and said, “Ahh, go ahead and answer it. What more could go wrong today?” Once the music stopped, he gave a little aside that I remind myself of from time to time.
“You know”, he said, “there is a technical term for this. When you have everything planned out and nothing works the way it should. It’s a little word, only four letters. It’s called life.” And then he went on with his sermon.
After the church service we spoke with some of the other people there. Debbie found out that the Girl Scout camp that she had been at was only a few blocks away. We started walking there and soon made our way to the compound. A high wall surrounded everything. We walked up the guard booth and explained that we wanted to see inside. “I’m sorry, there’s nobody inside. They’ve all gone on an outing to Tepoztlan.” We took a few pictures in front of the gate and slowly trudged away. Standing on the other side of the street we tried to hail a cab. We weren’t having any luck when we suddenly saw the guard running in our direction. “I found someone inside! You can go in!”
We went back in and were given a tour by a young English woman who worked at the camp. On the tour Debbie would see something, give a smile, a nod and tell us a memory she had. As the tour ended we walked into the administration building.
Our guide pointed to a wall full of books. “Each visiting group of Scouts does a page for our scrapbooks.” Debbie remembered making a page. We asked the guide if they would have her page. “We should,” she said and then asked Debbie what year she had been there. “Hmm, that far back is going to be in the basement.” She left and then came back with three books. Paging through the books Debbie found her page. It included a picture of her group and each of the girls had signed their name. With a grin Debbie showed us her picture and explained the background of some of her friends in the picture. You only live once, but signs of your presence can turn up in unexpected places long after you’ve been there. And gone.
One day last February my daughter, Alicia, texted me and asked if I had any interest in going to Tanzania. I responded with a slightly less than enthusiastic, “Maybe” and “I’ll think about it.” I’ll admit my biggest trepidation was (and still is) the bathroom situation. Toilets in that part of the world aren’t the thrones we’re used to, but are squat toilets.
I was also feeling intrigued. Alicia had visited Tanzania on a trip when she was in high school. From the stories she returned with, I could tell the trip had had a big impact on her. The stories of the people in Tanzania were amazing. Alicia’s bus was hours late in arriving at one place, but the people there just patiently waited for their arrival. People who would give them chickens even though they had barely enough for themselves. People who, by our standards, have nothing yet they were happy and content. It is something I want to see. Especially coming from our culture where we’re constantly told that money and possessions equal happiness, to the point where 7% of people in a survey said they would kill a stranger for $10,000,000.
The trip is being put together by the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA where Alicia works. It is a mission trip, but we won’t really be doing any work. The people over there know that what we pay to get to there is roughly equivalent to what they would make in 10 years. So, they want to meet us and develop relationships. They can paint walls or build things anytime, but they will have only a limited time with us.
Churches in the St. Paul Synod have a history of relationships with Tanzania. Many are paired up in partnership with a specific congregation in Tanzania. My church, Shepherd of the Hills in Shoreview, has a relationship with the congregation in Kidamali. We will be visiting Kidamali along with several other locations around Iringa, Tanzania.
Unfortunately, Shepherd went through a rough patch in the past few years and the relationship wasn’t kept up. However, now we have a new pastor and there is an energy that’s been missing for some time. I believe one of the reasons this trip came up at this time was as part of God’s plan for Shepherd. As we move forward with the healing from the turmoil of the past we can restore a ministry that was dropped and shift our internal focus to also continue our process of becoming a part of God’s community.
I’m excited to be going on this trip. Unknowns for me are in store as I visit places that even Google Maps doesn’t know about. I’ll be blogging about the trip here. I hope you’ll join me on my journey.
One of the reasons I started this blog was because I had received a comment on Debbie's Caring Bridge site asking for updates on the family. It is time that I gave you an update.
I'll start with Debbie. While she is physically gone, she is still a part of our lives. She always will be. I think she would be pleased and happy with how the rest of us are doing.
Andrew has completed his first year at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He's home for the summer. He had a good first year. I went down there a few times, including seeing him in a play and seeing him playing viola with his orchestra.
Alicia and Carlos have been busy. They got married in March. They did a small ceremony so they could get it on the books to ease the process for Carlos to get a work permit from immigration. They'll do a more traditional ceremony in late August and are busy planning that.
The ceremony in March was beautiful. They were looking for a judge to perform a civil ceremony. Alicia was at her job as Office Manager for the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA discussing this with a co-worker one day. Her friend reminded her that there were three pastors in the office who could marry them, plus the offices share a building with a church, so they could have the ceremony there. That's what they did. They were married by Bishop Patricia Lull on March 11th. We're blessed to have added Carlos to our family and to have extended our extended family.
Which brings us to me. I've been trying to write. I discovered it to be something I enjoy doing. I was recently having a discussion with my cousin's wife. Liz has been taking banjo lessons. She noticed the link that we're both doing something creative now that our kids have grown and are more independent. I was thinking about that later and comparing what we're doing. Often when I say I'm writing, I'm asked if I'm going to be published. However, my first reaction with Liz's banjo playing wasn't that she had to be playing in a band. So I write, and it's not about if I publish, it's about what I enjoy.
l dated someone for a time, but then we broke up. It wasn't something I was looking for, but I reconnected with someone I had known as a teenager. I was not dating her as a replacement for Debbie, she was who I was with at the time. People can never be replaced, which is why grief never completely ends.
The other thing that's going on with me is that I'm planning a trip to Tanzania this fall. This was about another reason for starting the blog, because I will want to write about my trip. Stay tuned for future details.
I want to thank everybody who has been reading and giving me feedback. It's nice to know people are reading.
I was about to go to bed and suddenly realized it's Tuesday and I hadn't done a blog post yet today. What follows is something I had written before that ties in a bit with the Fourth of July holiday.
The Fall of Jericho
The city of Jericho is under siege by the Israelis. The people of the city sit safely inside the walls of the city. For six days the Israelis march around the city blowing trumpets. On the seventh day, they march around seven times. This time at the end, when they blow the trumpets the people all shout and the walls fall and the city falls.
We had this reading one Sunday at Shepherd of the Hills and as I listened I thought I knew what the sermon would say about it. I was wrong; it went in a completely different direction. What follows below is what I thought the sermon would be about.
I remember when I was little my aunt and uncle would host a Fourth of July picnic. One of the activities would involve one of the relatives playing patriotic tunes on the piano while we kids marched around waving little hand-held flags wearing hats that were made from folded up newspapers. As I got older it was a bit embarrassing, what were people thinking of me, and all that garbage.
If you were one of the Israelites marching around Jericho what would you be thinking? With the defenders of Jericho taunting you as you marched. Would you be slightly embarrassed with the marching and trumpets blowing? I mean what good is it doing? Only in the end did it God’s plan become clear.
Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, talks about his father asking him how many people he was going to save today. What a lot of pressure that would be. Can you imagine it? Everyone you talk to would have to be as if it was day seven at Jericho. Sometimes that may be the case, but not always. There are six other days. Does blowing your trumpet on the first six days not count? A farmer plows the ground and plants seeds. Is that not as important as the harvest? Even Jesus had “a voice crying the in wilderness” to prepare the way.
We should keep trying, reaching out, acting as Christians. We can’t know the full impact of our actions. We can’t know where everything fits in God’s plan until the end. How someone comes to God is a process. So, keep setting a Christian example. Smile at others, be polite, act silly without being embarrassed. Plant seeds for God’s grace to harvest.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.