Conversation at church

Scene: Lunch at church.

Me, looking round the group of youngsters (and always wanting to find connections): This is the table of the only children.

Girl beside me: I’ve got nine brothers and sisters.

Me: On your father’s side?

Girl: Yes.

Me: And do you see ever see them?

Girl: Three of them. One was really old, like forty-five or something, and he died already.

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Profound thought

A while ago I was at a wedding and got chatting to one of the guests, an older man. Seeing young people starting out on matrimony made him reflect on his own marriage of decades.

He said:

Oh, we knew nothing back then when we first got married. But then I learned to see Christ in the other person and that changed everything.

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This is not a great picture, but I’ll tell you what it is:

I went to a church recently to hear a wonderful group from Cuba (they are called Monte de Sion and you can find them on youtube) when I saw this massive poster.

It has a prayer point for every day of the year.

It begins with the indigenous groups of Colombia, which takes them until 12th March. Then they pray for each of the municipalities in our department of Antioquia (ends July 7th). Then there are three places in other parts of Colombia which the church must have some connection with, and on 11th July they start praying for the nations.

Today, they are praying for Bahrain.

On 18th November, it will be the turn of the UK.

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Independence Day

Last week, on 20th July, Colombia celebrated its Independence Day with military marches and the national flag flying on all sides.

This year in a town called Planadas, Independence Day was celebrated with a march for the first time in its history. Deep in rural Tolima, where the FARC came into being, any celebration by the state during the years of the conflict would met with violence from the armed group.

“We would sing the national anthem and raise the flag,” says the local police chief, “but if we tried anything else the guerrila would fire a granade or a tatuco (an explosive device made from a gas cylinder).”

This year there was a parade.

It may not seem like much but it’s not nothing.

You can see the picture here.

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Three New York Moments

I spent five days in New York recently. Here are three tiny encounters which, as always, made my day.

1. The baggage hall at JFK

Me: Can you tell me where the bags from Avianca 42 are?

Man: Ocho (=8).

Me: Muchas gracias, muy amable. (Thank you very much, very kind).

Man: Whatever you say, baby.

2. In a subway station

Me: You wouldn’t happen to have a small subway map we could carry around with us?

Lady behind the glass: Ma’am, we have several subway maps but NONE of them are small.

3. On Park Avenue

A man deliberately runs his truck over several traffic cones to get into a side street.

I watch with a look of horror on my face (think Munch’s The Scream).

So what, the driver shouts. They’re not people.

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Blessed are those who die in the Lord

Yesterday we said goodbye to a dear old lady in our church. Her name was Ester Araque and I wrote about her  on this blog a while ago.

She had been in hospital for a few weeks, seemingly improving but waiting for her health insurer to authorise her having oxygen at home. But last weekend she took a turn for the worse and she passed away yesterday morning.

As is the Colombian custom, the funeral was the same day, held in a funeral home in the centre of Medellin. Our pastor led prayers, readings and hymns as people came and went to pay their respects. A granddaughter stood up and thanked us for coming and exhorted to decide to love one another more.

Doña Ester was certainly a loving person; she was the first person to welcome me to my church, so warmly that I stayed. I will miss her.

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Transcendence on a bus

In Medellin, young lads often get on the busses with their boom boxes and perform a rap for their captive audience. A friend of mine calls them urban prophets and their critique of modern life is often sharp and moving.

But one day, a rapper got and said he was going to do something a bit different.

What he did was recite an old poem, a kind of melodramatic ballad about love, betrayal and death, over the backing of some classical piano music – maybe Chopin – that he had found on YouTube.

The result was the the most mesmerizing three-minute experience. The combination of words and music created a dramatic, tension-filled atmosphere and you could almost forget you were jolting along on a bus.

Welcome to Colombia, where the hustlers on the busses are artists at heart.

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No euphoria

You may have seen that the FARC have completed their process of disarmament, although hundreds of weapons caches remain to be dismantled.

A time for great national celebration, then?

Not at all. In the cities, it is almost as if these historic events were not happening.

A cartoon from the Semana magazine suggests one reason for this apathy:

When the war doesn’t hurt you, the peace won’t make you happy either.

The conflict with the FARC mostly affected the countryside and that’s where the effects of the peace will first be felt.

But as well as that, there is widespread mistrust as to the FARC’s intentions when it becomes a political party. Colombia’s socialist neighbour, Venezuela, is rapidly disintegrating and many people are genuinely afraid that that could happen here.

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