As cold waters to a thirsty soul,
So is good news from a distant land.
Proverbs 25:25

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, . . . "Your God reigns!"
Isaiah 52:7
good news from a distant land (all posts)

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Ideas for reading the Bible for the first (or hundredth) time

Have you read the Bible? If you’re going to talk about it (or even have an opinion), you probably should . . . read it . . . at least once. Here are a few ideas to help.

Pray that God will help you understand what he wrote.

Read the Bible like a book. It claims to be from God, but God used normal means of communication. Generally speaking, the rules of human language (word meanings, grammar, the ways language “works”) still apply. Different “genres” (poetry, history, etc.) function a little bit differently, just like they do in modern life.

Look for units of thought (not necessarily chapters and verses). In the epistles (which are like letters), for example, these will be paragraphs or larger sections. In the psalms (which are like songs or hymns), these will be parallel lines and lines grouped into stanzas. The extended flow of thought might include evidence, explanation or examples, parenthetical ideas, purposes, or reasons. The big thing is to break out of a “chapter and verse” mentality and follow the flow.

The historical context is important, because it sheds light on the meaning of certain statements.

Think about the big story. Any single passage of Scripture is part of the big story of God’s rescuing humanity in order to establish His kingdom.

The Bible is in two big sections. The first part is the Old Testament (“testament” means “covenant”). The second part is the New Testament. Remember that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. The OT points to him with direct prophecy, with indirect prophecy (recurring themes, people, and institutions that are like “shadows” of Jesus, who is “the real thing”), and even with humanly impossible laws that he himself kept. The New Covenant doesn’t get rid of the writings of the Old Covenant (as if the old were now unimportant or not applicable). It is, however, “new.” The church relates to God through Jesus Christ and the New Covenant (Matthew 5:17-20; Hebrews 1:1-2).

Saturday, October 31, 2020

October 2020 Report

Events since our last report included anniversary and birthday celebrations for our family and a “virtual camp” on “The Bible and Science” (with up to 90 devices connected at one point) with Dr. Bill Lovegrove, Engineering Department Head at Bob Jones University. 

Retrospect. We recently reviewed a document we had labeled “Uruguay 2020,” an informal proposal put together in 2008 following graduation from seminary and a trip to Uruguay to survey opportunities here. The year 2020 was somewhat arbitrary, and our understanding of the Lord’s future leading limited; but it has been encouraging now in these days to review what God has done in the interim. We suggested a general mission of strengthening Uruguayan churches in the roles of evangelist and teacher. Though this mission did not preclude the possibility of church planting or pastoring, it emphasized instead the importance of the national Uruguayan church and proposed a supportive role alongside Uruguayan leadership.
Specifically the vision included three elements: We hoped to see a mature local church established in the department of Canelones. (We had surveyed San Jacinto, Tala, and San Ramón.) We wanted to encourage the Garwoods and Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha in Pando (also in the department of Canelones). We hoped to see an active Bible training program serving believers in the local church, national pastors in the ministry, and young people planning for or considering gospel ministry.
Later that same year, EMU’s Bible institute (B.I.) expressed desire for increased help. We began teaching in the B.I. in 2013, while the new FEBU Bible-college project was preparing to offer the first semester of classes in early 2014. The Lord has continued to bring students semester by semester to FEBU, while the need for and opportunities in the Bible-institute program have also continued, both in Montevideo and in interior cities of Uruguay. Though the Lord did not lead us to work in northern Canelones, it is encouraging to see new gospel work in Tala, San Jacinto, and San Ramón by FEBU co-workers. And a San Jacinto family continues to participate with us in Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha in Pando.

Prospect. In our church in Pando we continue with online services, but many of the people have also been able to stay connected via other means, including getting together in smaller, more informal situations. The weekly men’s meeting via Skype has been encouraging to them; we are currently looking at principles of Bible study and working through the book of James. Please continue to pray for the Lord’s guidance for this church and for His provision of a permanent pastor.
The school year in the Southern Hemisphere is coming quickly to an end. On the elementary and middle-school levels, it has been an abbreviated year. Students have largely returned to in-person classes, though in many cases with reduced schedules. We expect our kids will continue in their current schools in 2021: DJ in the Christian school outside Las Piedras (where D also teaches part-time EFL classes) and E in a local public middle school. She has been encouraged recently with a history writing assignment that resulted in a meaningful one-on-one conversation with her teacher and in some of her biblical worldview being read to the class. Please pray for the Lord to use her there, specifically for the salvation of her history teacher and of another friend (one of many Venezuelans now in Uruguay), with whom she has had opportunity.
FEBU classes are now being held in person in the classroom location at the Parque Batlle church. The Bible-institute classes in Montevideo will continue online for this final month. We expect to see two students complete the three-year Bible institute program and one finish the four-year FEBU program. Please pray for direction in planning for future classes, especially given the uncertainties of 2021. Several other projects are in the works: JM is working on a manual for tracing argument and on a smaller document to help Sunday school teachers in the use of translations for study and memorization. We’ve been asked to prepare several recorded sessions of Apologetics (JM) and Grammar (D) for a local/international radio ministry.
Since 2013 we’ve used a business card that includes our names, email address, brief Scripture verse, and a link to a website with a gospel presentation. During 2020 several have shown interest as a result. Please pray for the Lord to use His Word, through this and other means. Thank you for your continued prayers, financial support, and ongoing friendship!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

June 2020 Report

Greetings from Montevideo—and still mainly from home. Our neighborhood is pictured below, with our home in the middle. June 13 marked 3 months of COVID-19 in Uruguay. The newly elected government has exercised strong leadership in encouraging social distancing, but we have never been under either complete or obligatory lockdown. Nevertheless, there will be long-term effects here as everywhere. The escalation to global pandemic began, for the Southern Hemisphere, at the very beginning of the school year, and schooling on all levels moved immediately online. The first phase of reopening schools is scheduled on the elementary level for late June.

In April we wrote an update for the EMU Newsletter. Though not intended to be our April report, we never sent anything further. (We’re now including it on this blog.) Our desire continues to be to steward the changes in schedule. Without being unaware or indifferent to the suffering caused by closures of economies and breakdowns in health systems, we want to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by this time. When the coronavirus reached Uruguay we were finishing our move from the mission office/Bible-institute (B.I.) building to a nearby apartment. We are now a half block north, along one of the city’s surviving cobbled brick streets; and we’ve done most of our teaching and recording of classes at the mission office. In April we added an online hermeneutics course to the B.I. schedule to allow a student graduating later this year to make up a deficiency. Right after launching the course, we were given access to an online platform that we began using immediately and that will be available for future online and in-person classes. We’re grateful for this gift and the potential it represents to improve quality of presentation and to offer content (text, documents, photos, recorded video, and evaluations) easily accessed in one place. In addition to Hermeneutics, our semester’s teaching has included Homiletics, OT Poetic Books, and Grammar & Composition in the B.I. and FEBU. 

Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha. We continue, for the time being, to hold a weekly service via Facebook Live, sharing the responsibility for this with Daniel and Viviana. JM is also teaching Principles of Bible Study in a weekly men’s meeting via Skype. Matías Acevedo heads up the weekly youth meeting, also via Skype. 

Campamento Emanuel has been forced to cancel many weeks of activity, including the winter youth retreat. Nevertheless, plans are being made for an online meeting among the youth groups of churches usually involved. Dr. Bill Lovegrove, though unable to be with us personally, is working with Pedro to put together an abbreviated “virtual camp” program on the theme of the Bible and science. 

Family. In January JM received approval of his prospectus. In May D submitted a survey of findings on collaborative learning as an effective tool for teaching English as Foreign Language. We expect this to be helpful in the Uruguayan context; she’s pursuing possible publication of the paper in Spanish. The kids, in addition to their online studies, continue to enjoy reading, writing, art, and music. (Soccer has suffered over the past months.) In April the Lord protected JM’s parents in SC as a tornado dropped trees on their house, yard, and truck.

Uruguay and COVID-19. Uruguay has long been known for its uniqueness in the region—demographically, culturally, topographically, economically. To a large degree this has been the case during this pandemic as well. The country has so far been spared much of the suffering borne by neighboring countries. This is, we think, both a mercy and a judgment. God has spared life once again; but if this kindness is attributed merely to second causes—a conclusion the secular culture is already prone to—then we should fear. Please consider making use of these thoughts in your prayers for Uruguay.

Monday, April 20, 2020

April 2020 Report

At the time of writing (April 20) we are starting our sixth week of “quarantine,” which means—etymologically—that the “forty days” are almost over! God has dealt with us gently, protecting us from disease and mitigating personal effects of the interrupted schedule. Beyond controlling the negative effects, he has added these undeserved blessings:

These weeks have forced Bible-institute and FEBU classes to take a step forward in their online course offerings. Not only in Montevideo but in other cities students are accessing courses online. Though this might not be essential for their training, it tends to be a hurdle for some; and, the hurdle now having been crossed, the way might open to more options in the future. The Bible institute has added an online Hermeneutics class not originally on the schedule. Men in our church have begun a weekly online meeting studying Principles of Bible Study. Other discipleship opportunities with men outside Montevideo and Pando have arisen due to the specific challenges of the pandemic. Our church’s online services have provided a much increased potential of influence and have (ironically) actually facilitated a degree of connectedness not experienced before.

On the personal level, we have had more opportunity to be involved with our children’s education and have been much more connected to our home church in South Carolina via their live-streamed services. We have been able to continue settling into our new home in ways we might not have been able to under the “planned” schedule.

We don’t know how many more “forty days” of interruption the future may hold in Uruguay or anywhere else, but we know that God is managing well the affairs of nations and the affairs of our little family.

DJ develops a weekly camera base for Sunday services
from our home.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

January 2020 Report

Greetings from Uruguay! In December we celebrated Christmas by participating in an evangelistic outreach (in a public plaza and local stores) and in the Lord’s Day service in Iglesia Bíblica Comunidad in Carmelo with FEBU co-workers. Our two nieces, Florencia and Lucía (also part of our church in Pando), accompanied us. We also celebrated the wedding of a former student in Vergara, JM being given the opportunity to give a gospel message during the ceremony. And we celebrated the second FEBU graduation: Two young ladies completed requirements for the four-year degree; three other ladies completed a certificate program; and five local pastors and missionaries received recognition for their faithful attendance during the five years of pastors’ classes. Nations and ethnicities represented by this group of ten graduates include Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica, Germany, Brazil, and the Armenian diaspora.

During the next several weeks we will finish our move, now in process, out of the EMU/MEU mission house to an apartment up the street in the same neighborhood. Over the past six and a half years we have appreciated opportunities provided by living so close to Bible-Institute (B.I.) classes and, for several years, FEBU classes. However, the time seems right for our family to have a place of our own. January has been taken up with preparation of the apartment, organizing and moving, and participating in workshops at Camp Emmanuel on the topic of Christian music. February activities will include translating for part of a two-day class on ecclesiology and eschatology (the wrap-up of the five-year Pastors’ Program mentioned above); attending the EMU/MEU workers’ conference; preaching in the wedding of two former FEBU and B.I. students; and taking a week of family vacation. Matías Acevedo, who is helping with the youth activities in Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha, is organizing with the teens and college-aged group an evangelistic soccer tournament in the church neighborhood. Please pray for the Lord’s work in this barrio and for the ongoing growth of the church. The elementary academic year (for DJ and D) begins on March 2, as do B.I. and FEBU classes (for JM and D). E also returns to local public middle-school in March. This semester D will teach Grammar & Composition in FEBU. JM teaches OT Poetic Books in FEBU and Homiletics I in FEBU and the B.I., while continuing work on a manual for tracing argument in the N.T. Epistles.

According to her national ID card, Julia Piedad (pictured above right) was born in April 1926. She says her birth date was really in February, however, and we aren’t sure of the year. We know that this year she turns at least 94. She dates her new birth to the month of the 1950 Uruguayan World Cup victory when—in contrast to the temporal celebration around her—her thoughts turned to God. For approximately seventy years she was the housekeeper and bulldog of the EMU/MEU mission house. The word bulldog is not unkind and might, in fact, be euphemistic. This description now is necessary, not only to give a picture of the fierce care that she took for whatever she considered her realm, but also because the description highlights, we think, the work of God in her life over the past several years. As her health has waned she has experienced increased pain and near blindness. She has also been forced more and more to depend on others for her care. At a time in life when complaining about her discomfort would be understandable and even expected, her disposition has sweetened. Her occasional comments about pain are rarely—if ever—complaints. The picture, taken this week, is a regular scene. Please pray for her continued growth and unwavering trust in Jesus, and for wisdom and grace for those responsible to make decisions about her care. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 2019 Report

Greetings from Montevideo, Uruguay!

The quarter-year since our last report was in some ways routine: Weeks passed in a pattern of preparing and teaching college and institute classes, facilitating video courses for the institute, teaching in DJ’s school, taking E and DJ to their respective places of study, teaching and preaching in Pando on the weekends. But in other ways these months have not been “normal”: For just over three months we housed a former student; and in these last days of October we enjoyed a visit from JM’s sister Shannah (from SC) and a group of workers from Hamilton Acres Baptist Church (in AK). This team worked and slept at Camp Emmanuel, sixty kilometers to the east, contributing to the annual work event at the camp. They also spent several days with us here in the capital, where they participated in a FEBU class, toured some of Montevideo, and helped us with yard and painting projects.

In late August Matías and Bethany Acevedo and their three children relocated from upstate New York to Uruguay. Matías is Uruguayan, the brother of a friend and former student. (In 2018 he helped us during part of our four-month absence from Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha in Pando.) They are renting a house in the community of Totoral del Sauce, approximately fifteen minutes from Pando, where they plan to contribute to the ministry of our church. Please pray for the Lord’s leading for them and for the church and for an effective ministry among us. Daniel and Viviana continue to faithfully work alongside us, and we appreciate Jorge and Blanca’s help as well.

In September we were given opportunities for teaching and preaching in a one-day family conference in the city of Fray Bentos, on Uruguay’s west side, and at anniversary services in Iglesia Evangélica Siloé in the northern Montevideo neighborhood of Colón. The church in Fray Bentos is currently pastored by 2017-graduate Gabriel (married to Valeria). Another graduate from the same year, Exequiel (married to Vanesa), is assisting our friends Matías and Kristine Espinel in the church in Colón. Pray for these families and their ministries in each place.

Please pray also for a brief trip in November to the city of Paso de los Toros, in the heart of Uruguay, where pastor José Kowalcuk from the nearby city of Durazno is regularly engaged in evangelism. We will not be able to participate that weekend, but several Bible-institute students plan to accompany mission evangelist Juan González and take part in focused effort there.

By mid-December JM hopes to submit a prospectus to BJU Seminary, which (if approved) will form the first chapter of a research project focused on expository preaching and designed to strengthen Bible-college and institute classes and ultimately local churches here in Uruguay.

Uruguay held general elections on the last Sunday of October and will hold runoff elections on the last Sunday of November. Judging from the past ten to fifteen years, the results of elections will significantly impact the next five years and beyond. Please pray for God’s mercy on this country.

Friday, July 19, 2019

July 2019 Report

¡Saludos desde Montevideo, Uruguay!

Campamento Emanuel. Thank you for praying for the Winter Retreat at Camp Emmanuel. Approximately thirty-six teens came for three days, mostly from the Montevideo and Pando areas but several from interior Uruguay. The weather was chilly: Cold rain (and even some sleet) fell the first evening, and temps during the days hovered in the 40’s F, with usual high humidity. Please pray for the Spirit’s continued work in the hearts of those who heard the Word. Nico taught from the life of Joseph, highlighting God’s providential control of circumstances on behalf of His children. Robert and JM spoke on the effects of music, a general theme introduced this month with more extensive treatment planned for the Jan-Feb 2020 camps. Three teens attended from our church in Pando.

Training programs. In addition to the four Bible-institute locations in the interior (Rivera, Tacuarembó, Pando, and Treinta y Tres), churches in two other locations (Vergara and Durazno) have expressed interest in starting local classes as soon as possible. Please pray for the Lord’s clear direction in these two places—especially in Durazno as there appears to be potential for the development of future church leadership there. The second semester of classes begins on August 5 and runs through the end of November. In Montevideo JM will be teaching Bible-institute and FEBU classes, including Hermeneutics, General Epistles, and Church Music.

In another context, JM has the opportunity to participate, as a group of pastors evaluate and revise their joint doctrinal statement. Please pray for the Lord’s guidance of all those involved.

CCB Cristo Viene. This is DJ’s elementary school outside of Las Piedras, just north of Montevideo. The early-morning commute is long, but the combined benefits that address DJ’s needs and offer many ministry opportunities cause us to be thankful for this situation. Both of us have been able to clearly share the gospel with significant groups of students and their family members: D to the mothers and students, and JM to groups of grandparents, parents, and students. D has also been given the opportunity to teach elementary English two mornings a week. Apart from the impact on the students, her teaching is facilitating DJ’s attendance there. Much closer to home, E continues to do well in a local public middle school just two blocks from our house.

Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha in Pando. Please continue to pray for the Lord’s provision for this church. JM recently returned to a study in 1 Peter, and Jorge has taken several weeks of Sunday school to instruct about evangelism. Pat Garwood arrived in Uruguay on June 18 and is thankful to have seen many people from the church here (and elsewhere) where she and Don served for so many years. Please pray for her continued healing from a fall that she took on her second day here, a providential turn of events that significantly altered the nature of her trip.

The Lord’s dealings with us, in fact, over the last several months have been reminders of His providential control of everything. We do not always see His hand, but we are assured that He is guiding all. We do not ever need to say, “God must have some purpose for this,” because He has already revealed that at least one of His purposes is always our transformation into Christ-likeness (Romans 8). We are more fully convinced than ever of His keeping of His own and of the ultimately irresistible grace of God. Without sharing details, we want you to rejoice with us that God is keeping our current and former students. Though some have stumbled, most—and we hope all—are enduring. And we are watching God graciously rescue and restore in His own time and way. Our hearts are full! This month we are also celebrating His blessing and keeping us for 20 years of marriage. We are thankful! Please pray that we will be faithful with whatever more time the Lord may give us.