Bonaire


DAA FranceesFrom July 6 to 20, these three young men from International Bible Church (Daniel, Aaron, and Angelo Francees) are in Aruba participating in a summer evangelism campaign for children with Child Evangelism Fellowship, known in the ABC islands as APEM (Aliansa Pro Evangelisashon pa Mucha). They will be presenting the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to hundreds of children. Last Sunday in our testimony time, their mom, Liana, gave the report that so far, 20 children have professed a new faith in Christ through this ministry. 

Please pray that the Lord will continue to work to convert children by the power of the Holy Spirit as these guys share the Word.

It’s been a little too long since I’ve published an update, and a lot has happened since my Christmas season report. I’ve highlighted the prayer items like this.

Cancun

cancun-tripAs many of you know, just after Christmas my family gathered for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Cancun. I found it refreshingly cool there in Cancun. One might think that getting from Bonaire to Cancun would be an easy trip, since it’s just right over there on the other side of the Caribbean. But apparently, not many people take vacations from one tropical destination to another, so to get there I had to fly through Houston. The thing is, Cancun is right on the way to Houston. With a clear sky, you’d be able to see Cancun out the port-side windows as you flew around the west end of Cuba.

momsiblingsIn any case, we had a great time celebrating Mom’s upcoming 80th birthday with the whole family. And I mean the whole family–not a single one was absent–41 people altogether. Here’s a photo of Mom and her five kids. Mom’s the short one in the middle (I say this because nobody in this photo looks 80 years old, unless it’s the white-haired guy in the back).

And here’s a photo of the whole crew:

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Catching Up

Land Lease News   Coming back from time away, there’s always some busy time getting up to speed again. And it seems that as soon as I returned, things are happening quickly. Many of you have been praying for the government here to approve IBC’s lease on some land next door. We are already a bit pressed for classroom space, and we applied some time ago for land next door to build on. In December, the land office gave us a conditional approval of the lease, which requires us (in the next six months) to develop an acceptable plan and prove our financial capacity to build. Since the island postal service was effectively not operating during the month of December, there was some delay in our getting the letter.

Last week, we had a very encouraging meeting with our architect, who made some great improvements to the basic design we had in mind. He will prepare documents to respond to five of the six conditions we have to meet. The sixth, proving financial capacity, will require us to meet with bankers. While you’re thanking the Lord for providing this conditional approval, please continue to pray that we will obtain the bank guarantees we need, as well as being able to fulfill the other conditions on time. Also pray for a speedy final approval.

I expect this building–and the corresponding improvements to the property in general–to be a great asset in our efforts to advance the gospel here in Bonaire. One of the things that is essential to the growth and development of the church is our capacity to serve children and teens with midweek, club-type ministries. Our current facility is not quite up to it. The new facility will provide seven good sized classrooms, and a large meeting room, along with outdoor play area and parking. I hope you will stand with us in prayer as we move forward in faith for the cause of the gospel.

The Saga of Obtaining Bonairean Residency   Also delayed by December’s postal outage was the news that early in December, my residency and work permit were approved by the immigration department (IND). When I got back from Mexico, I went in to the IND office, and they said, “Give it another week; we mailed it to you December 1.”

After a week, I went back, and the young woman at the window took about two minutes to print me another authorized and stamped copy of the document (the government here LOVES rubber stamps). She could have done this the week before, but I think I didn’t have the right shirt on, or didn’t take long enough on the courtesies. As an American, it’s hard for me to remember who’s serving who at the government offices, so I get to what I want a bit too quickly.

But now I had my residency! Just one more simple step, and the process is complete. The final step involves registering at the Census Office and receiving the official Dutch Caribbean ID card, called a sedula. My friend and immigration guide, Brandon Neal went along to help. When we arrived at the Census Office, the lady at the front desk began to ask us about the documents they required.

IND approval letter? Check.

Passport? Check.

Birth certificate with apostille? Check.

Marital status certificate validating your never-been-married claim? What???

Even Brandon had never heard of this.

“What is that?” we asked.

“A document from your home country that certifies that you have never been married.”

“What is that?” we asked. Then we smiled nicely, and went off to figure out how to prove that something has never happened.

Just the week before, I had had lunch with James Moore, the new U.S. Consul General to the Caribbean Netherlands. My friend Michael Gaynor (that’s the Chat n Browse Michael) is the consulate warden in Bonaire, and he invited me along. So I thought, I’ll send Mr. Moore an email, and get his advice.

I got a very quick reply from the Vice Consul Morgan Miles, the first sentence of which was “There really is no equivalent US document.” He also let me know that one approach was to compose an affidavit swearing my singleness, which they could notarize in the Consulate in Curacao. “While such statements have been accepted in the past, only the Bonaire authorities will be able to reliably tell you if it will be accepted in your case.” Trip to Curacao for all this was going to run up to about $200, for a solution that might not work.

Well, so it went for about a week. Before it was sorted, I had called the Davidson County Clerk’s office, the Tennessee Office of Vital Records, and the Dutch Embassy in Washington, DC (where I was advised to talk to my local court clerk’s office and to call the Municipal Population Affairs Department at the Hague in the Netherlands). Michael G. had a lawyer friend asking around about it here in Bonaire.

My email exchange with the Dutch Embassy convinced me to try a little harder to get through to the TN Vital Records. They let the phone ring for a LONG time, but finally someone answered. When the person who answered put me through to someone who could help me? Voice mail on the first ring!! “I guess I’ll just go home,” I thought, but instead, I left what I’m sure was a sad and desperate-sounding message.

I really couldn’t believe it when my phone rang ten minutes later and I was talking to Sandra Stafford at TN Office of Vital Records. She new exactly what I needed, and she could take my order with a credit card over the phone, and the letter certifying that I had not been married in the State of Tennessee in the last thirty-six years would arrive at my Tennessee address by the end of the week! All this for only… $197. As it happens, a couple of guys from Trans World Radio are in North Carolina this week, returning on Saturday. Sheldon has mailed the document to them and they will bring it with them to Bonaire. Cue angelic chorus.

This is, by the way, the SHORT version of the story. Please pray that the unmarriage certificate arrives safely and is accepted (no problem anticipated) so that I can get registered and get the sedula. The sedula is a national ID card that you really need to function in society. Getting a bank account, getting a driver’s license, and getting health care all depend on the sedula (a partial list).

More Fascinating Adventures & Things to Pray About

Ministry at IBC is going very well, and people have been about as welcoming and encouraging as possible. The response to my preaching and teaching has been very positive, though some of you will be surprised to hear that it goes a bit long from time to time. Byron helped by showing off with a 30 minute sermon when he was here in December.

At the beginning of the year, we started an exposition of the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. In our Tuesday Bible Study, we’re working our way through 2 Timothy, and for our monthly men’s breakfast, I’m teaching through my series called “The Challenges of Discipleship.” The elders have stepped up in caring for the congregation, begun to work on getting a handle on oversight of our various ministries, and are working on developing a statement of purpose. Please pray that through all of these efforts, the Spirit will strengthen people with power in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.

This time of year, we have a very steady flow of visitors from every conceivable kind of church background. We also have a substantial population of winter residents. We also have people who have come back to the church to check out the new pastor. In this environment, it is most apparent that you can’t assume the gospel. Please pray that every time I speak, that the simple gospel will be clear and that the Spirit will use it to grow faith in the listeners.

Keep praying for Eppie. His recovery is progressing, but it’s a long road, and he’s still not able to work. In his case, government slowness means that he still hasn’t received the financial assistance he’s entitled to, so the church is still paying his rent. He is able to get around on crutches, and he came to church one Sunday. More than anything, of course, we hope and pray that this is the occasion for the Lord to get ahold of Eppie’s heart.

Along the same lines, you could say a prayer for Alfred Stutterheim, an elderly Dutch member of the church. He recently developed an infection in his foot that Doctors here in Bonaire were not able to eliminate. His condition got very serious, and the decision was made to send him for more advanced care in Colombia. Alfred once worked as a guide at the Corrie Ten Boom house in Amsterdam. He is a dedicated brother, and very interesting to talk to. Pray also for his wife Itske as she has to deal with these things as well.

In closing, a little observation from Philippians 1:1. In this text, Paul calls himself a slave, and the people he’s writing to, he calls saints. I guess most of us would rather be saints than slaves, but the reality is that these two words are pretty synonymous. A slave is someone completely possessed by another and completely dedicated to his master’s service. A saint is someone claimed by and set apart to God for his exclusive use. Slave? Saint? same thing.

The love of Christ is a pretty good reason to move.

(Today’s update title is the first line from James Taylor’s song, “Mexico”)

Merry-ChristmasSpecial note: If you’re reading this and you’re Dutch or Antillean, I apologize for any errors or misunderstandings. Feel free to use the comments to make additions or corrections.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Christmas in the Dutch Caribbean is somewhat different from Christmas in the United States. In the States, for example, we have Santa Claus, who is something of an Americanized version of the Dutch Sinterklaas, both of whom are fableized and secularized versions of Saint Nicholas.

Sinterklaas doesn’t arrive in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve by reindeer-drawn sleigh. Instead he comes by steamboat from Spain (that’s where he lives–not the North Pole) in the middle of November, and so kicks off the holiday season. Of course, we have Thanksgiving and Black Friday for that in the U.S.

Sinterklaas does bring gifts for children, who place their shoes, not stockings, by the fireplace as receptacles. Sinterklaas also keeps track of which kids are which, naughty-and-nice-wise–has the list with him when he gets off the steamboat. And Sinterklaas has helpers, but they’re not elves, and as near as I can tell, they’re not involved in the manufacture of toys. Sinterklaas’s helpers are called Black Petes (Zwarte Pieten in Dutch).

According to legend, the original Black Pete was a Moorish slave whose freedom was purchased by Saint Nicholas, for which Pete was so grateful that he stayed on to help the Saint. Over the years, for reasons that are not clear to me, Black Petes have multiplied, so that today Sinterklaas arrives with a whole crew of Petes (here’s some video of his arrival here in Bonaire). In the not-so-old days, Pete comes along with St. Nick to punish the bad children (in the harsher versions, he might even put them in his toy sack and carry them back to Spain!). These days, he’s more likely to just toss candy around. And these days, he might be black because he’s going up and down chimneys all the time and not because he’s actually black. Of course, here in Bonaire–and nowadays in the Netherlands where wood-burning fireplaces are getting banned–this chimney story is often hard to pass off.

One thing Santa and Sinterklaas definitely have in common is that they bear almost no resemblance to the actual Saint Nicholas, who was, after all, a real person and not a fictional magical character. He was a bishop in the early church and actually one of the signatories to the first Nicene Creed–usually regarded as the defining statement of the irreducible minimum of orthodox Christianity. He was known for secret deeds of charity, and one example is that he may have put coins in the shoes of people who left them out for that very purpose (I just pause here to note that it’s not really possible to be known for secret deeds).

The thing to notice about the actual Nicholas of Myra is that being a party to the Nicene Creed gets to the heart of the reality that Christmas is actually supposed to celebrate–the reality of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God in the person of Jesus. A man named Arius was teaching that the Son of God was a created being, not the second person of the eternal Trinity, and it was the Council of Nicaea that formally rejected that idea as heresy and established the twin doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation (that Jesus is fully God and fully human) as essential to the true gospel. In this way, it seems appropriate to me to associate Saint Nicholas with Christmas, even if his modern fictionalized versions don’t make the connection.

In Other News…

Our own Christmas celebration at IBC will include a Christmas Eve concert, which I am told is a popular event here in Bonaire. We’re bringing in extra chairs for it. Please pray that it will be an occasion for a clear presentation of the gospel. Also, for preaching during the advent season, I have adapted and expanded the little article I wrote for CBC’s Christmas Concert last year into a series titled “Christmas Changes Everything.” You can listen to these sermons on the IBC audio page.

On December 8, we had a special service to formally install me as the Pastor here at IBC. Byron and Jared were here from Nashville, and Byron gave an encouraging message about various ways the congregation here could support their new pastor. Jon and Charlene Kever also came down from Michigan, and Jon gave a short testimony about how God has used our friendship in his life over the years. After the service, we had a fantastic cookout “dinner on the grounds” sort of thing. One lady said, “It was church at its best,” and I tend to agree. What an encouraging warm welcome I have received. Here are a few photos from the day.CongregationPanoJohn_5657Byron_5658IMG_9859Sigfried_5665

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I also want to say a giant Thank You to Larry Stack, who sent a gift along with Byron…DSCF7708Web

After I picked myself up off the floor, I read the card Larry sent along with the camera, which placed a condition on the gift, “that you include underwater photographs in your posts.” That’s right, it’s an underwater camera! So here you go, Larry–a few of my first underwater shots (the first one is just in the water, not under). I hope these will stimulate your scuba nerve.

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Last but not least, here’s a link to a photo album of Jon & Charlene’s visit.

Let me start with the prayer list:

1. Pray that my visa will be approved as soon as possible. It has taken a bit longer than we originally anticipated, and there are things we need to do that can’t be done until I am a resident of Bonaire–things like getting a driver’s license and opening a bank account.

2. Pray for healing for Eppie, who has done much of the construction work at IBC. He was seriously injured in a traffic accident, suffering a broken leg and a broken arm. Because he developed breathing complications after surgery on his leg, he was transported to intensive care in Aruba. He has recovered somewhat, and is now out of intensive care and awaiting surgery on his arm. Please also continue to pray that the Lord will use these events to draw Eppie to himself.

3. Two special services will be held in December. First a service formally installing me as the Pastor at IBC will happen on Dec. 8. A small group from CBC in Nashville will be here, and Byron will speak. Jon and Charlene Kever are also coming, and Jon will say a few words in the service, too. The service has been announced in the local press, so there may be a number of visitors (even some VIPs) and an opportunity to share Christ with people we don’t see on a regular basis. The second special occasion is IBC’s annual Christmas Choir Concert on Christmas Eve. The concert is popular on the island and draws a much bigger than average crowd, so it also gives us a chance to proclaim God’s grace in Christ to many who don’t know Him.

4. Please continue to pray for our ministry to children on Sunday morning as we work out how to serve kids in three different languages.

5. Pray for our elders (Kees-Jan DeKruijf, Tom Francees, Bob Lassiter, Dave Pederson, and Brad Swanson). We are working on defining our mission as a church and how that mission can be realized in all that we do.

6. Pray for my preaching and teaching ministries. In November, the theme is the Christian family and marriage. In December, I will give a series of messages on the significance of the incarnation, and in January I will begin an exposition of the book of Philippians. I am also currently leading our Bible study on Tuesday nights, in which we just started to look at 2 Timothy.

In other news…

Governor Emerencia

As I settle in to life in Bonaire, I’m very encouraged by the welcome I’ve received. I was immediately invited to participate in a monthly meeting of pastors with the Governor of Bonaire, Lydia Emerencia. This meeting is organized by Herbert Domacasse, who previously served as Governor, and is a solid believer. Both of these important citizens have extended a very warm welcome to me.

I also recently met the famous Captain Don Stewart, who is the man who pretty much started the dive industry in Bonaire, and something of a local celebrity. When I mentioned meeting Captain Don to Jon Kever, he made the very perceptive observation that Captain Don is a walking Jimmy Buffet song.

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These are all people to pray for, by the way. I met Captain Don in the hospital, where they’re working on bringing him some relief for his problem of congestive heart failure which is currently complicated with pneumonia (he’s 89 years old, from what I’m told). While the Captain is a self-professed unbeliever, he was also enthusiastic in welcoming me to the island. I’m hoping he’ll be able to come to the installation service.

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Cruise season has begun on Bonaire, so between now and next April, about two or three times a week, one of these is the tallest man-made structure on Bonaire.

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The third ship of the season was this clipper, the Star Flyer.

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In this shot, you can see what I mean by the tallest man-made structure. That’s the Holland America ship Noordam in the red circle, and this picture was taken from the church, nearly a mile and a half away. DSCF7623b
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The big news of this last week was the visit of the King and Queen of the Netherlands to Bonaire last Saturday, during their tour of all of the Dutch Islands. The photo here was taken (not by me) at Mangazina di Rei culture center, where one of their guides, Gideon Plantijn, presented the king with some local food. I happen to know Gideon from the tour guide class.

One last thing: we’ve made some changes to the IBC website, one of which is that sermon audio is now available. Each week’s message is usually available on Tuesday morning.

Here in the tropics, it’s hard to remember that we’re coming up on Thanksgiving, but I must say I’m thankful to be living in a place where my main shoes are flip-flops.