Friday, March 27, 2015

Suffering for Jesus in Cuenca

Our Pastor Pat Tanner at our "sending" church, Grace Chapel in Lancaster, California is the author of the above title, not your humble scribe.  We have in the past months explored to some length just what that phrase means. . . suffering for Jesus in (name the location).  Cuenca, Ecuador is much more exotic and mysterious perhaps than say, Ventura, California from a North American perspective.  Besides, we live in Cuenca now.  Hence the title of today's post.

You can suffer for Jesus in the Antelope Valley of California. . . a little.  You might get jeered at behind your back for identifying with Him out of earshot, or be reviled in local current event forums on the 'Net.  You probably won't lose your job, your residence, your car, or your family over your relationship with the Living Lord of the Universe.

Meanwhile, in places like Syria, Iraq, and Iran just to name a few more obvious choices in the news lately, you may lose not only those abovementioned items, but your very life!  ISIS takes few if any prisoners, it seems. 

Cuenca, our current "duty station" if you will, leans much more in the direction of our previous home in Palmdale in the Antelope Valley than (ahem) the Middle East.  Hard to suffer for Jesus in our expat living situation here.  We have no job to lose, our Social Security pensions keep coming every month (thank God for ATMs and Debit Cards from our USA based Credit Union), our landlady adores us, we have no car, taking the bus (Yes!  We have been learning the Cuenca Transit bus routes and have been reaping the savings over the taxi fares . . . only 25 cents for a bus ride, half that for Seniors/Disabled), taxi and walking when and where appropriate.  We are our own immediate family, and our extended family in the USA largely stays in touch with us thus far. 

So, no real suffering for Jesus in Cuenca, right?  Wrong!  I've heard testimonies from some of our new friends who are brothers (and sisters) in Christ about - and I am translating from the Spanish - "leaving the family religion and going to a strange church."  Because family ties have traditionally been strong here in Ecuador, these kind of comments from parents and siblings and other relatives sting . . . familial pressure is to stay within the accepted Roman Catholic tradition. Maybe ostracism is not directly done in full, but there are definitely strained relations due to one's decision to follow Jesus Christ and be Born Again.

This is one reason why Iglesia Verbo Cristiana has the "Iglesia en Hogar" house churches/home Bible studies and fellowships.  To one that is in strained relationships with authority figures like an abuelito (grandfather), the prayer support and friendships offered there are invaluable.  Still, Verbo has maybe 25 per cent of its attendance attending them from what I can see.  Not too much different from North American Evangelical churches, but for different reasons.  The biggest reason for the gap between church attendance in Sunday worship services and attending a house church meeting is due to not catching the vision of being a totally committed disciple of Jesus Christ, going with the cultural flow of letting the clergy do the work like one sees attitudinally in the North American church.  But I digress.

How are we suffering for Jesus in Cuenca?  In some less obvious but yet very real ways we are indeed doing just that as we continue to begin our forays in serving the Cuencanos among us in His name, teaching ESL and nursing at Fundacion Hogar in the El Centro of Cuenca.

Here's an example: this week, Carolyn Anne got a hankering for chili con carne like we might make at home in Palmdale (or buy in the can at Costco or Winco).  One small problem: where's the chili powder?  As Ecuador has been controlling its exports more and more in the past few months in order to live within its declining oil producing revenues, curtailing many imports, items like chili powder that used to be at Coral and Supermaxi are no longer there. 

Another item I miss is picante sauce in a 64 ounce plastic bottle.  Coral has a similar size plastic bottle of "salsa picante" but, as I soon found out, picante sauce in Ecuador is *HOT!*  We'll have to water it down with tomato sauce (more expensive here than in the US gram for gram) and see if we can use it up on some chicken tacos, chips or something.

Try to find a green pepper in the produce section like in the States.  Fat chance . . . It's easy to find hot peppers like chili peppers, though and there appears to be more than one variety of them at Coral.  I did find a yellow pepper that had some green to it.  Wonder what that will taste like?  We will find out!

Last year, Supermaxi had Campbell's canned soups available on the shelves.  At $2 or more a can, it was pricey, but something you could get if you had a hankering for food from the States.  No more.  Economic belt tightening, not to mention a "luxury tax" just instituted this month of up to 45 per cent put and end to that.  Buy Ecuadorian and help the country live within its means. . . we are doing that.

Oh, and back to the chili con carne topic: I tried in vain to find a kidney bean section among the multiplicitude of the beans found at my local Mall del Rio Coral.  Not anywhere to be found.  I picked up a bean called "chile frijol" which is decidedly *not* a kidney bean, but is red colored and appears to be used in the *one* offering of chili con carne I find at Supermaxi lately, the Facundo brand.  After soaking these beans for 24 hours, they appear to be soaked through, ready to be cooked and added to Carolyn Anne's crockpot concoction of ground beef, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and a bit of "picante" hot sauce added.  This is not North American style chili con carne, but it will have to do.  It did have good taste, though when it's all said and done.  More expensive ingredients than in the States.  I'd say with the ground beef used at $8, canned tomatoes at $2, Tomato puree at $3 (partially used bottle), and "chile frijol" beans at $3 a package, this crockpot took around $15 to $20 of ingredients.  Not cheap by US standards.

You want to know who is undergoing real suffering, economically speaking, in Latin America right now?  Venezuela.  Latest report states that due to the country putting all its eggs in one source of income - oil (95 per cent of foreign income according to Credit Suisse and Bloomberg sources) - and the downward worldwide price spiral, the average citizen now cannot find milk, flour, and toilet paper in the stores.  Venezuelans are leaving the country for other more stable countries, including Ecuador.  Even the Ecuadorians are leaving Venezuela.  A 40 per cent drop in National Income, and a 93 per cent risk of defaulting on its debts has driven the Venezuelan economy to its knees, and currently suffers the world's highest inflation rate - 63 per cent - amid hard currency shortages.  Hyperinflation could be in its future if there is no course correction by its leaders, or no price upswing in the price of oil.  Pray for Venezuela and its people, and for wisdom for its leaders post Hugo Chavez, please.    

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