12/02/2017

HANDS AND NAILS



After a week full of hands-on activities, I had my nails done for the first time in ages. My hands are somewhat calloused and always aching, and I do not have the delicate pianist fingers of my daughter Deborah or my daughter-in-law Adriana. I had finished a translation and decided to get some major yard work  done: weeding and re-planting my vegetable garden and planting flowers all over our Eden. Have two pairs of garden gloves sent by my son from Japan, but I am a hands-on, get the dirt under your nails kind of  gardener, no matter how much I know it won`t be a neat job to get them clean.  That sort explains the callouses. The aching is due to constant arthrosis, and when these hands don`t ache, they tingle, reminding me that I`d better see an angiologist soon – can`t ignore bad circulation forever!

The other activity I enjoy to get my hands working well is making bread. Kneading is very good exercise, they say, and last Saturday`s batch of rolls didn`t make it to the table for our community Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone who came into my kitchen to help get stuff ready came out of with a hot roll or two. Four baking sheets of rolls disappeared, and my husband didn`t even have a chance to try one! So today I baked for him alone: one baking sheet of rolls, one loaf, and one sheet of esfihas (bread stuffed with lemon and mint-flavored meat) though I am freezing half the esfihas for another day. Since I was in the kitchen and the ideas were boiling over, I made stuffed peppers to freeze for later, beef parmegiana for lunch and to freeze for another occasion, doce de abóbora (squash), sagu de vinho (red wine tapioca pudding), started on tomorrow`s feijoada and cleaned my fridge in the middle of the mess. I have to admit I am not a very organized cook, and am glad that tomorrow my cleaning lady will be here to finish off what I didn`t get done.

Back to my hands. Adriana was going to town and asked if I wanted to go with her. Besides being tired, my feet were a mess and I thought it would be relaxing to have long overdue podologist see (i.e., treat) those tired feet. They could do my feet at one o`clock (forty-five minutes from the time I called, and would I like to do my (hand) nails too?) Why not – I could use a little pampering – so I rushed Lau through lunch, ran in and out of the shower, and was off with my daughter-in-law to an hour or so of luxury. While waiting to be attended, I checked out the colors. Never in my sixty-nine years of life have I chosen anything more daring than pink, nude or an occasional red for nails – but a luminous royal blue nail polish beckoned and I heard its exaggerated siren`s call. Nothing (short of long treatment with a dermatologist) can be done for my speckled skin on hands and arms, but the terminals sure look pretty and are a perfect match for the blouse I plan to wear to church on Sunday. 

After a long winter without posting in my Garland blog, I am writing something apparently superficial and certainly not life-changing about getting my nails done in royal blue. On a day celebrating theologians, instead of writing on deep issues of life applied to daily living (Bible is definitely practical theology and I love it!) I decided to pamper my feet and color the tips of my hands royally. 

Of course that made me think of the many Biblical metaphors on hands. First, God`s hands – a God who made the world by His hands, who has the tiny little baby and our personal universe as well as aeons of prehistorical, distant past, present chaos and apocalyptical times all in the hollow of His hands. He is a personal God who made me a person and put me in a community of millions of unique individuals, and promised to guide me to the end of my days and beyond. He takes me by the hand and leads me through valleys and higher places (Psalms 31:15; 119:73; 139:10;  Isaiah 42:6 ).  Jesus said that He gives everlasting life and “no one will pluck us out of His hands” (John 10:28). We rejoice because God holds us in His hands -- though everything around us is shattered, torn asunder and ground to smithereens – I shall not be moved. Yet I am moved, because He gave us hands.

My own hands are not metaphors – they are mini-analogies to the greatness of a creative, ever acting God who does not slumber and is mighty to save. Wisdom says that the righteous “open their hands to the afflicted” (Proverbs 31:10) and whatever we have to do has to be done “with all our might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). “Whatever we do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” Colossians 3:17). God has put His signet ring on our clumsy fingers and makes it possible for us to do His work on our weeping planet! For this reason, men and women lift holy hands in prayer and godliness with good works (1 Tim 2:8, 10). 

God incarnate was the Word from the beginning of time and spoke the world into existence. He came into a world that did not welcome him, and gave himself so we might become His body. Head and hands are always joined, because analogously, we do with our hands that which first comes from our heart and head – and our Lord gave up His throne to have his body broken and hands pierced by rough nails:
See from his head, his hands, his feetSorrow and blood flow mingled down.Did e’er such love and sorrow meetOr thorns compose so rich a crown?
Our hands are not vital organs like heart and lungs, nor do they go long distances by themselves – they have to be connected to the rest of the body. But we would be severely handicapped without them. Though we use hundreds of word-figures for our hands (handyman, ask for one’s hand, give me a hand, hands-on, handmaid, hands off) they all work in connection with the head. Our lives are changed by things that are nailed: 
–  Christ nailed to the cross for our sins, resurrected from the grave for our justification, lifted high as He ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father – the words of the wise (like goads and like nails firmly fixed given by one Shepherd, Ecclesiastes 12:11)– historical events like the nailing of 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg cathedral in 1517.
But the color or shape or even physical condition of my insignificant nails has nothing to do with all of this. Sllly things like what they did to my nails do raise significant details on life and being, making me ponder on more than the condition of my hands and feet. So yeah to my royal blue fingertips, because they are just a tip of the iceberg of life as it is and as it should be coram deo.

Elizabeth Gomes

9/05/2017

HYLA DOC -- I-lu p’ing-an


           Yesterday two books arrived for me at the post office. I think my aunt Cindy has been sharing books with me since I, first-born niece of the youngest daughter of the Stowell family, went with my parents to Brazil, was born. These books are biographies of a legendary great-aunt, Hyla Doc, who was medical missionary in China until Americans were expelled in 1949, and then went to Liberia in 1950 until the mission board forced her retirement at age 67 and she crossed Africa and Egypt into Israel, to “retire” in Tupper Lake, New York, where she practiced medicine and gave speeches almost until age 87, when she was urged to consider her age and the hazards of remaining in practice as lawsuits became more popular. This moment coincided with the easing of restrictions on travel to China, so she sold her car and used the money to go once more to China to renew old friendships and lecture to students at the new medical college connected to WuHu hospital. She was a born storyteller, and when the friend who collected and compiled her story commented with the ancient medical missionary that hers was an impressive story, she retorted, “What impresses me is that it is the story of the goodness of God”. Through all the griefs and hardships and challenges of her life, Hyla Doc voiced a constant thanks to God for the loveliness of the world.
I knew “great grandcousin Hyla” became a doctor in an age when most women, if they went to college, were denied such a strenuous education. She earned her MD from Cornell University in 1921 (the year my mother was born!), one o six women in the class of thirty-six, and interned at  Belleview Hospital in New York City, and then Morristown, New Jersey, before going to London to specialize in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene  by the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Physicians of England. While at Belleview she wrote:
          I stand by the side of a current
          That’s deeper by far than the sea.
          And storm-beaten craft of every drought
          Come in to be healed by me.
          But some have more sins than fever,
          And some have more grief than pain.
          God help me make whole both body and soul
          Before they go out again.
“The years of Hyla Doc’s career in China all fell within this turbulent transitional period between the downfall of the Ch’ing dynasty in 1912, and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949” . She was chief surgeon at the then new Wuhu General Hospital, which stands on the banks of the Yangtze. Damaged almost to destruction  by occupying Japanese troops during the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) and again during the Cultural Revolution after  1966, Wuhu I-chi-shan Hospital has now (1991) grown to seven hundred beds. It is the teaching hospital for Women’s Medical College, the leading Anwhei province medical school.
          On one of her visits to New England around 1933, Cousin Hyla gave my mother, Carolyn Stowell, then a twelve year old, a cotton Chinese dress which is in my closet. Today, over 85 years later, my youngest son and his family are missionaries in Japan, and he gave me two Japanese kimonos (quite different from that Chinese tunic) which remind us of a continuum in world missions  in our family, but also in God’s people over the centuries. I discovered in reading Hyla’s story – that my grandfather’s family of Puritan and Huguenot stock, “were strict, law-abiding people, but in one thing they broke the law of the land. Their farm was one of the stations on the underground railway, and all but the youngest children took part in helping slaves escape up to Canada.”  And Franklin and Louise Stowell’s home was open to a young stowaway Jo Nishima (1843-1890) who came to spend vacations at their farm and told the Stowells that his great dream was to go back to Japan to set up schools like those in America. Long after, in Japan, Ada Stowell (Hyla’s mother) was honored as a friend of the founder of a school in Kyoto: Doshisha University (Dr. Niishima Jo was a celebrated Japanese educator who received his B.S. from Amherst and was ordained a Congregational minister).
           So Hyla’s grandparents (my great-grandparents) also gave haven to a Japanese samurai and stowaway, who became one of the greatest educators and founder of the Doshisha University in Japan, where today in the 21st century, my Brazilian son Daniel Charles Gomes, a missionary to Japan, is pursuing his PhD!
Among hundreds of births,  Doctor Hyla delivered Helen Priscilla Stam, daughter of John and Betty, missionaries with the China Inland Mission (known today as Overseas Missionary Fellowship), in Tsingteh. “In December 1934 a Red Army swooped down on Tsingteh where they killed most of the officials and well-to-do citizens… including John and Betty. They debated sparing the life of the baby, when a townsman stepped out of the crowd and offered his life for hers. For a day and a half, Helen Priscilla cried alone in a deserted house, unfed, uncared for, unharmed, but no one dared go near. A colporteur named Lo had also been taken, then released… [he and his wife] gathered the broken bodies and the baby, and made their anxious  way to Wuhu. We found Helen Priscila healthy and unharmed, and buried her parents in our small cemetery.” 
         On a lighter vein: “One afternoon a patient appeared with outstanding ears. They really stood out like the ears of a dear. He asked, ‘Are you Hua I-sheng?’  I said ‘Yes,’ and he said ‘I’ve come to see if you would operate on my ears and lay them flat on my head.’ “I said, ‘Yes, we can do that. There’s not much going on today; I’ll operate on one this afternoon.’ ’How did you know to come here to have it done?’.... ‘I went to the clinic and registered, and they gave me a stick with a number and told me to sit down and wait until my number was called I went into another room and Jesus was standing there. He  was a tall man (Dr.Loren Morgan), a foreigner, but he had a mouthful of Chinese words, so I  asked him if he could operate my ears and lay them flat. He said, ‘You go up to I-chi-san Hospital Hua I-sheng and she’ll make them flat for you.’…‘So I sent for the Bible-woman and said, ‘Mrs Chao, I am operating on this man, and he wants to know about Jesus… After a week, I took out the stitches and started on the other ear, and he said, ‘Please make this one much flatter than the other one, so I did… He came back often, and one day her brought his wife with him, and their nine-year-old son. I had heard him speak of his son and knew he thought a great deal of him. He said to me, ‘My wife and I are very grateful to you, and we have brought our boy to be your boy. Where you live he will live. Where you go he will go’. I tried to think how I would get along with a nine-year-old boy to look, ‘You know, I work in the hospital every day, and how would I ever be able to take care of a boy? Besides, there is a proverb you have that says a child should grow up before the face of his father and mother. I think the proverb is right, and the bet thing for him is to stay with you. I appreciate the honor, but truly think you had better keep the boy youselves.’ They were pleased and went off with broad smiles, taking the boy with them. Someone suggested that the Bible Woman may have told them the  story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.” 
          They are fascinating tales of exotic adventure, but it is obvious that the stories of sacrifice and suffering are much more that good story-telling. The blending of lives given in love for the Lord Jesus and for His people permeate every page. today give great importance to “right doctrine” or what today is known as “political correctness”,  (and I agree with the emphasis), missionaries such as cousin Hyla Doc did not enter any battle to impose their way of thinking, but served with intense and matter-of-fact love. I am amazed at the weaving in and out of numerous lives of valiant servants who preceded our lives with grace and truth, and touched our being with their being. The battles were all wrought in heavenly places for the furthering of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace. This tradition comes though many centuries – Saint Thomas, Jesus’ doubting disciple, went on to minister in India, and the Chinese say he evangelized China in the first century AD!”
          Reading old missionary stories, one remembers that the mission did not belong to this or that group, nor was it founded, implemented or enhanced by human merit – it is the mission of God through human lives, toward other human beings who, whatever their nation or color or culture, are part of the same world God loved, and invites us to learn to love.
         Hyla died at age 94 and on her stone are carved in Chinese characters the words with which she always said farewell to her friends: I-lu p’ing-an (May you have a peacefull journey all the way).
Elizabeth Gomes

6/19/2017

LIFE IN JAPAN,



By Ruth Gomes, age 13.
Ruth is our granddaughter who lives in Japan
with her pastor missionary dad and family.

Depression is something "common" in Japan. Due to the difficulty in learning the Japanese language, many Brazilians have been here a long time and still don`t know how to communicate. Many people feel abandoned... this happens, not only with Brazilians, but also with the Japanese. Japan is such a sophisticated country, but many people do not know God and do not have real joy that is found only in Jesus Christ.  Many Brazilians who are here are factory workers; few finish middle school and they end up losing a good notion of things, to the point that many of those Brazilians who study in Japanese schools are illiterate in both languages.

Many Brazilians living here do not care about religion and such things. Once, talking to a Brazilian kid in school, I mentioned that I go to church every Sunday, and he said that that is a waste of time. How can someone say that worshipping God is a waste of our time?! Today, in Japan, less than 1% of the population is Christian, and that It is quite normal for a person to be born a Shintoist because that is beautiful, grow as a Buddhist because it`s good for you, get married in a “Christian” church because the wedding ceremony is pompous, and die in Shintoism. Often we see buildings in the form of Christian churches,  made just for weddings. The number of Shintoist and Buddhist temples in town is incredible; temples are on the streets and altars in every home.

Japanese are very supersticious. The number 4 in Japanese is shi, which also means death. So, in many buildings there are no apartments with the number 4, nor is there a fourth floor. Japanese legends are quite peculiar, and in almost all of them these is an onique. Onique is the Japanese demon; according to the legend, usually he arrives and tries to drag the person into the underworld. Therefore, one of the rituals in festivals is to chase this demon away. For this, they hang the koinobori, which is a fish made of cloth hung outside the house. The number of koinoboris hanging outdoors varies according to the number of people who live indoors in the house.

The Japanese language has three different alphabets: hiragana,  katakana and kanji. O Hiragana is used to write normal Japanese words; Katakana is used for foreign words, and Kanji is like drawings of the words. There are many words in Japanese that have many meanings, so the kanjis serve as drawing that explain what those words are. In school, I am learning lots of Kanjis. After you get the gist of it, they help our reading a lot and are not as difficult as they seemed to be at first.

Shougakku graduation, April 17, 2017

The Japanese School system consists of three different schools, the first goes from First to Sixth grade: (shougakku). After you graduate from that, you go to another school from 7th to 9th grade (shyugakkou). After that, there is another graduation and they go to middle school (high school) from First through Third Grade (koukou). After that, few people go on to university (daigakkou). In Japanese school there are many subjects we do no have in Brazil, as, for example, home economics, which teaches how to sew, clean and arrange the home, and cook. From first grade on, the school lunch is prepared in separate buildings and then distributed to the regional school, given out from classroom to classroom with traycarts, dishes and silverware. Usually lunch is rice, a soup or curry, salad and some kind of meat, many times fish, and sometimes they give you fruit or gelatine, and 250ml boxes of milk for each student. Meals are made one per student, and we are not allowed to throw anything away – if you got it, you eat it. Usually the food is very good, but some days I have to drink a sip of milk at each bite of food for it to get down. On days when some classmate misses school, we play “stone, paper our scissors”, and the winner gets the milk or whatever he or she wants from menu. There is also a class about how to make Japanese tea, and how to serve and drink it. From 7th to 9th grade students must participate in extracurricular activities in school, such as kendô, judô or other sports, music, computer science, and several others. These activities exist to improve working in groups and so students can get to know each other better.

I stay in school from 8:00 AM until about 6:00 PM. When I get home, I need to rest a little, take a bath and do my homework. It is a very is busy day. I am still having a little trouble because there are many words I still haven’t learned, and so sometimes I don’t understand the teachers’ explanations well. I also have trouble with some rules the school requires of the students, like having to tie your hair up at a certain height, you can’t pain your nails r use any kind of makeup, and no earrings. Girls donot have pierced ears and are surprised when I tell them that in Brazil  my age mothers Pierce their daughters’ ears when they are still babies. For them, pierced ears are a sign of rebellion. One day I went to school wearing nail polish (I had used a really light pink polish over the weekend and forgot to take it off!). They took me to a different room and gave me acetone polish remover and told me clean my nails, and watched while I did it. The uniform is exactly alike for every girl, and the teachers measure the length of our skirts, that have to be below our knees, almost reaching the white socks that we have to wear.

I like in living in Japan, but miss my relatives and my home in Brazil. Sometimes I even cry from nostalgia. It is difficult to make friends with Japanese girls because I am so different from them in my appearance and way of being. Many classmates think I AM furiô (a rebellious person) because they think I dye my hair (which I do not do), I have pierced ears, and like to talk a lot. Besides, everyone know that I am a Christian, because I can’t stand to be quiet when they are teaching stuff like evolution or about many gods.

 I want everyone at school to know that there is only one God and only one way for salvation and fredom from depression and worry. May God help me giving me patience to do this!

3/15/2017

PURIM! PURIM!


Recently, Jews all over the world celebrated Purim. My memories of Purim are a photo of my Israeli friend Orah Breitbart in Japanese costume, when I was about fourteen, and my receiving a generous gift of hamentaschen from a Jewish library patron when I worked at the Elkins Park Library in Pennsylvania in my forties. But the biblical story of Esther has always intrigued me, and I considered writing a book that blended the 483 b.C. history of Xerxes’ (Ahasarus) Persia and its Jewish immigrants with the Twentieth Century stories of Iran that once was a modern shahdom before being engulfed in dominion of Muslim ayatollahs’. Persepolis (both the idea and the touchingly narrated and illustrated story of a Persian childhood by Marjare Sartori) impressed me with the idea of women living under the threat of annhillation, and drove me back to the biblical narrative.
I have a British-American friend, daughter of a Muslim Iranian businessman, who lived in Iran until the Islamic coup that ousted the Shah and put their land eight hundred years back in time. She is totally an American citizen and evangelical pastor’s wife, with whom I share life’s tidbits and the workings of God’s grace in our pilgrim lives. A lover of history, I always have sought links between Biblical facts and current events. So, for me, the book of Esther is not disassociated from things that still happen in the world that impact and change history as well as God’s saving His people in the chiaro-scuro days of Diaspora.
The Megilla depicts God’s grace and intervention without once mentioning His holy name. Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Haggiai and Malachi all cover the 70 years captivity (as well as parts of Isaiah and Jeremiah), and the story of Esther happened in Shushan while Ezra was leading the return of Jews to rebuild the temple. We don’t know what took the lives of Hadassah’s parents, but we do know she was an orphan, raised by her cousin Mordechai, who was of Benjamite royal lineage from Judah (say, like Saul, Jonathan, and Mephiboseth long before Jair, and may have been brought to land of Medes and Persians by the Babylonian Nebucchodnezzar.
The festival which celebrates the outcome of the story has several customs — the sending of gifts to family and friends, celebration and merrymaking, wearing of costumes. This is a way of emulating God who "disguised" his presence behind the natural events described in the Purim story, and has remained concealed —yet ever-present — in Jewish history since the times of the destruction of the first Temple. Charity is a central feature of the day, when givers and recipients disguise themselves this allows greater anonymity thus preserving the dignity of the recipient. The Persian Exile alludes to hidden aspects of the miracle of Purim which was "disguised" by natural events. The story begins in with Ahasurus’ banquet in Shushan to show off the riches and glory of his kingdom that reached from India to Ethiopia. Queen Vashti (according to some Talmudic scholars, daughter of Belshazar and granddaughter of Nebocodnezar,) hosted a banquet for the noble women of the land. Some Bible teachers use the fact that she refused to display her beauty before the drunken king and his guests is a teaching on modesty, while others use the fact that she defied the king’s order as an affirmation of fifth-century feminism—I prefer to think of it in terms of the facts: she refused to obey her wine-imbibed show off husband and, and like the wife of any tyrant, consequently was deposed. It then became law: every woman shall honor her husband  and every man is lord of his own household, and had the right to speak his own language (Esther 1:20-22).
When the king’s rage was spent, a new proclamation went throughout the land: a beauty pageant was planned and all the most beautiful virgins were now candidates to the queen’s position. If anyone thinks this is the ideal way to find a husband, confound him or her—it’s an ancient pagan method of choice, with no thought for integrity. But God was working in the shadows, and there was a Jewish man of character in the palace, Mordecai, who suggested his adopted lovely daughter be candidate. After a year of intense preparation under the auspices of Hegai, the chief guard and beauty advisor, Esther was presented to the king and immediately chosen as wife and crowned as queen. Her cousin told her to keep her Jewish identity secret. Tradition has it that she ate only fruits and nuts because kosher food was unavailable in the palace (maybe like Daniel and his friends (Dn 1.5-16).
Graceful Esther was given a banquet in her honor for princes and their servants and the other virgins who had participated at her installation in the royal house. Genorosity and gifts were the order of the day, and once again, Mordecai sat at the king’s gate. While there, he discovered a plot to murder the king, and told Esther, who revealed it to the king. The incident resulted in the hanging of Bigdan and Teres, and was recorded in the historical chronicles of the Persian kingdom. Nothing more was said about it.
Meanwhile, enter the villain prime minister Haman, to whom all but Mordecai bowed down. Haman took his irritation at the personal slight to a national level, and decided to do something to end not only Mordecai but all the Jews of the land. Anti-semitism resurges over the centuries and is always never discreet, but virulent, comparable to Nazi Germany’s plans to eliminate the Jews in the 20th century. A great sum of money was promised to the king, the document was written, signed with Ahasarus’ seal, translated into every language of the kingdom and distributed by couriers throughout the country.
Mordecai heard of the edict and received documentation, and so did Esther. Jews throughout the land mourned, fasted and prayed, wearing sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai reminded Esther, “Don’t think you will escape just because you live in the palace. If you are silent, help and relief for the Jews will come from somewhere else, but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows if you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13,14). Esther sent word to her protector asking that he convoke all Jews in Shusan to fast and pray for her; meanwhile, she will do the same and go to the king. “If I perish, I perish.”  After three days, she put on her royal robes and went to the inner patio in front of the king’s room. Delighted with her presence, the king stretched out his royal scepter asked her what she wanted, promising he would give up to half his kingdom if she so wished.
“No, just give me the pleasure of coming to a banquet I have prepared for you. Bring Haman with you.” It was done, and after the banquet, Haman bragged to his family how the queen had honored him inviting him to accompany the king. “But I won’t be satisfied while Mordecai is still at the king’s gate”, to which Zeres suggested, “Then prepare a scaffold to hang him!”— which he did.
Meanwhile, the King’s insomnia suggested a sure sleep-provoker—having them read to him the boring chronicles of the history of his kingdom. “What honor was given to Mordecai for uncovering the plot against my life?” he asked. “Nothing happened.” Next morning Haman was in his patio and he turned to him and asked, “What should be done to the man the king wishes to honor?” Conceited, self-involved Haman thought surely he would be the man, and counseled the king to have him clothed with kingly garb and crown, riding the king’s horse, with someone going before him and proclaiming, “Thus shall be honored the man the king wishes to honor!” “Then go do it — don’t omit a single detail — to Mordecai!” Crestfallen, the prime minister obeyed and paraded and honored his arch-enemy, then ran home to tell his family. While they were thinking of these things, the king’s emissaries can to fetch Haman to the queen’s second banquet.
This time, while they were wined and dined, the king insisted on asking what was on Esther’s mind, and she told him that she and her people were to be destroyed and killed. “Who would do such a thing?” asked the king without a clue. She begged for her life, revealing, “This man, this oppressor, this enemy is the evil Haman!”
Power was stripped from Haman and given to Mordecai; Haman’s property was given to Esther, but the laws of the Medes and Persians could not be revoked, so a new law, giving the Jews permission to defend themselves and kill their attackers was proclaimed. Purim was made a day of banqueting and joy, of sending gifts and finding respite, and giving generously to the poor.

 For such a time as this, an orphan Jewess became queen of Persia and saved her people from extermination. It was all written in a book. Mordecai became second after king Ahasarus, and great among the Jews, esteemed by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the well-being of his people, and proclaiming prosperity for all his descendants (Esther 9:32; 10:3).
Elizabeth Gomes

12/01/2016

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS


The last few days, Brazil has seen moments of suffering and pain on several fronts. On the way to the South American championship, the rising Chapecoense team, along with journalists and others who accompanied them, was wiped out in an airplane crash. While Brazilians were reeling with grief over the death of their idols, in the silence of the night, Congress passed laws with tremendous consequences for the future: one curtailing the action of justices in investigating and judging dishonest politicians, thus guaranteeing that the attitude and actions of “I`ll do as I pleases” continue in this Wild West; and the other, permitting, “no questions asked” abortions until end of first three months of gestation.

In Ohio, USA, once again gunshots felled college students, spreading terror and confirming that no one is safe anywhere! All over the world we hear of tragedies—some refugees drowning, dumped at sea, situations so terrible that they are unthinkable, on their way to “freedom”—and we would rather not hear any more about it. We also hear of people who, in compassion, take in refugees and are permanently hurt by them, as has happened repeatedly in Germany and other European countries, by Muslim “refugees” who rape and kill their benefactors whom they deem “infidels”.

The Cuban dictator’s ashes are being carried around the beautiful island country that he ruled with terror and deprivation since he ousted Batista (another dictator) in 1959. I remember as a fifth grader, my classmate telling me that her father, an officer in the US Army, was hopeful that the new revolutionaries would make Cuba paradise on earth—but he got suspicious of their intentions when seeing evidences of their Godlessness.

Recently I watched three historical movies, and though I realize that fiction permeates the stories we read or watch, have to admit that history moves my present, giving both hope and confirming some despair at prospects of future grief. Over the past year, several of God’s servants whom we knew and loved were “promoted” to heaven, and their families and churches still feel pain, though they know the Lord and trust in Him. Recently a beloved pastor-teacher who taught me and Lau since the beginning of our ministry, Dr. Russell Shedd, died.

Also recently, I heard a person I love express hope in the midst of a hopeless situation in which I can do nothing but pray for her, and remembered the many times in the history of the world, in the history of God`s people, and in my personal history, in which God intervened in direct answer to prayer. A sovereign God always knows what is, what was and what shall be—YWEH is the I AM from beginning to end, even if without a beginning and in ever in eternity. Both in historical past and more recently, we have witnessed God’s presence in midst of trials. One must return to the Word of God whenever always and recently perturb our present time. Jeremiah had his fill of persecution, suffering and affliction. He said:
My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is,
So I say, “My endurance has perished;
So has my hope from the Lord.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!”
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
BUT this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end,
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul,
Therefore I will hope in Him.”
                                   (Lamentations 3:17-24)

God is sovereign in time and eternity, but whether in recent or distant past, or soon or someday future, we have opportunities to do, for our own good, and the good of our fellow human, what is required of us: fear and love God, walk in His way s, serve him with all our heart and soul, keep His commandments and statutes (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). That is why, over the ages, heroes rise. I was thinking of two women heroes, one a prophetess-judge,  the other a foreign princess married to a heathen despot king. Both dared change history even if it killed them. Read the narrative of the situation after Deborah had been judging Israel under her palm tree for twenty years:
Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron ad he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time… “Up! For this is the day which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?”(Judges 4:14)

When Mordecai informed his niece of the political situation in Persia, he challenged her to act:
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? ... “if I perish, I perish.” 
                                                      (Esther 4:14-16.)

The beloved story of Purim follows, where a beautiful woman, immersed and guided by the prayers of her people, dares enter the king`s quarters and puts herself at his mercy. The God of history had placed her in a strategic place at a strategic time, and she was willing to change the situation even if it killed her. It was for such a time as that!

We are spectators in this wonderful, wicked, willful world, but we live in it, we breathe here and are part of what we watch, what we hear, what we see. There are many things in which our hands are tied and we are merely weak witnesses. But if there is something we can do to change situations where we are, none of us is immune, none can say, “there is nothing I can do!” 

What is required of us, God`s servants? Only “that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). To a Great and faithful God, we are small and our abilities are few and weak. Where have you been recently? Where are you now? Where will you be ten years from now? Francis Schaeffer reminded us that there are no little people. The Koheleth wrote: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)—for the Christian, it is not a question of “no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol”, but “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. So: “Arise and be doing, the Lord shall be with ye!” We are in this world for times such as this!

                                                                                                                                                Elizabeth Gomes

10/13/2016

WHERE ARE WE FROM? WHO ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING?

Paul Gauguin, Where are we from?... 1897, Boston Museun of Arts
Thinking of friends of all ages and walks of life, many creeds and stages of belief and unbelief, people I have met or enjoy from afar through books and writings, songs, sermons and speeches on almost everything this planet has to offer. Many of my facebook friends are ministers and missionaries from all corners of the earth, while others are professionals in every walk of life: musicians and composers and poets, medical doctors and dentists, accountants, teachers and lawyers, social workers, civil servants and physical therapists, athletes, computer nerds and psychologists. My good friends are often just plain moms—multi-tasked wives and mothers who do everything under the sun to ensure their family’s well-being. As for where, I have friends in Africa, Chile and Cambodia, Japan, Jakarta and India, Israel and Australia, Korea, the USA and Brazil and Hungary, France and German. The friends whose activity strike the chords of my heart more than any other (despite the strong second place of musicians and poets) are those who, like me, are translators, writers, editors and other communicators involved in producing in printed form the results of their life and thoughts. Time and again, they make me think through the questions in the title of this blog: Where are we from? Who are we? Where are we going?

All human existence, all culture, all dreams, all reason for being is questioned in this painting which represents various scenes of how life goes on, from birth and childhood to death. Writing in 1901 about that dreary time Gauguin said, “I wanted to die, and with that state of mind, I painted it in one single stroke. I hurried to sign it and took a formidable dose of arsenic that was probably too much; terrible suffering, but no death came upon me...”

I had never been attracted to Paul Gauguin. Previous impressionists like Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Renoir gave me an imprint of beauty in little and great things, but Gauguin’s paintings, especially after he abandoned his family and moved to Tahiti to “find himself” and live close to nature, free from the bonds of the present and discover his own truth” were not the kind I would chose for delight. For all his brilliance, Gauguin was a fool who, after he heard of the death of his daughter, declared: “There is no God” (Psalm 14.1). Gauguin was everywhere, in France, Holland, Panama, the Antilles, travelling the world, moving his family to Denmark hoping things would be better there. (In one sense they were: his wife Mette Sophie Gad courageously took on the job of translating to support the family, while he went away to Central America to “live like a savage” and then to Oceania and finally Tahiti, where he invented the world of NoaNoa and among other paintings created his famous Where from? What are we? Where are we going?

His questions are certainly good ones. Our origin and roots mark, influence, denote and give meaning to the next answer: What are we? What and who we are in one sense are in our DNA, while where we were and where we are now are constantly changing. We are who we are (made in the image of One who declared “I am who I am”) but we are not yet what we will be in the future. A naturalistic answer is no real answer, however, because it remains materialistic and allows no space for transcendence.

In a more positive vein, the Brazilian Christian poet, Gioia Junior wrote:
Where am I? I don’t know,
Nor do I know from whence I come
 Where will I later be is a mystery,
— But I know that he lives!
If I know that he lives—my Savior and my King
— I know that with him I have been
 and will forever remain.
If there is a reason to motivate my faith,
This its heart and soul:
My Redeemer lives
And so will I live with him!

Gioia certainly was thinking of another poet surrounded by naysayers who lived in the land of Uz and was covered by myriad questions about life while covered with boils and abandonment: Job, blameless and upright. Upon learning he 
lost all sons and daughters, all his wealth and well-being, he declared: “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21). God asked Satan “From where have you come?” to which he answered, “From going to and fro on the earth”. After the inimical dialogue of friends who blame him for the evil he has suffered, Job exclaims:
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives
And at the last he will stand upon the earth,
And after my skin has been destroyed
Yet in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:23-27)

When we experienced a life-threatening accident in the beginning of our ministry in the city of Jaú, I thought I had lost my husband forever and needed to answer my three young children’s doubts as to why their father was killed, hope dawned when my unconscious husband murmured the words to the song Gioia Jr penned and Decio Lauretti put to music: “Onde estou?... O meu Redentor vive, e eu também viverei”.

A living Redeemer who gives purpose and meaning is the central theme of the Gospel, the good news inaugurated by Jesus Christ and preached by his disciples and apostles after his death and resurrection, through the ages, until now, and will be proclaimed until his return. A prisoner writes with flaming pen, in prayer “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). As I translate a book about the Basics for Christians and write my own thoughts in lesser words and works, I am impacted by D.A. Carson’s vision of our faith. His questions provoke me to thinking hard about reason and motivation for being, for living, for writing, for doing any and everything under the sun:
What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turn you on?... abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more... I am not suggesting that we not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?
This is not a subtle plea for a denuded gospel, a merely privatized gospel, a gospel without social ramifications. We wisely reread the accounts of the Evangelical Awakening in England and he Great Awakening in America, and the extraordinary ministries of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers and others. Soundly converted men and women saw that life must be lived under God and in a manner pleasing to him. But virtually without exception there men and women put the gospel first... they reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel[1].

What motivates me? Where do I come from? Where am I now? Where am I going? My original questions from a naturalist pagan who rejected the wealth of Christianity find answers especially in the iron pen of the apostle Paul, who said that “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…(Phil 1.21) and concludes: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own…forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”(Phil 3.12-14).

You and I have a mission of proclamation—not as intellectually stimulating teachers of the Word nor as pastors, but as redeemed human beings who have a true story to tell—maybe like one beggar to another telling where you can find bread, maybe like a person who lived with questions and found them answered in a Person of full integrity and righteousness. Though we recognize the value of writing fiction as parables, we are totally committed to proclaiming truth in whatever genre or style we pen our thoughts. It must be the verifiable, experiential truth of the gospel, undefiled by the dross of false motivations and mixed conceptions (misconceptions), we denounce the lies people go after, and proclaim truth with life and vision. We are reminded (again by Carson) that “When Jesus denounces the religious charlatans of his day, he ends up in grief as he looks over the city (Matthew 23). For our part, we must not become people who denounce but do not weep. Neither may we become people who weep but who never denounce. Too much is at stake both ways”[2]. We weep as we denounce, and denounce with tears, as we observe the questions and answers of a hurting world.
Elizabeth Gomes



[1] D.A Carson, Basics for Believers, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1997, p 27
[2]D.A.Carson, Basics for Believers, p. 93.

8/16/2016

TRANSLATING AND COMMUNICATING


I`ve been thinking about friends, what we learn from them, and how we communicate. It used to be that when friends or relatives lived far away, writing letters was important to keep friendship alive. Phones usually were not an option. To phone my boyfriend on Christmas 1965, we set a time when he went to the phone company and we talked for a minute before the static cut our conversation short. A couple of times after I was back in Brazil, we had friends who were ham radio operators make phone patch calls to my mom in the USA, but it was a major operation, and by the time contact was established, we did not know what to say. Since I was a young teen, I had a score of pen pals all over the world, as well as the habit of writing for birthdays and Christmas to my aunts and uncles.
I began to really write letters in the year and a half I was in the States and the love of my life was in Brazil. Writing love letters is an altogether different category, and we have never repeated the feat once we were together for life. Sometimes he wrote morning, noon and evening, and I followed suit. Love letters were life and breath to me and to him. He wrote poems. I became skilled at describing life around me and the dreams and aspirations we shared. We not only became familiarized with each dream and family story, we became legend, myth, plans and reality as we corresponded, putting brains and brawn, heart and soul, into what we wrote. I returned to Brazil in June, got engaged in August and married in December 1966. Some time after we married, Lau declared that we should burn our letters, lest our children or strangers find and read them. Reluctantly I joined him in putting fire them on fire—but not before hand-copying each of the hundred and sixty-so poems he had penned in our correspondence. I typed that collection of poems and had them bound in leather when we had been married about ten years.  We no longer write love letters, though love is present and still growing strong—we have the presence of each other to spur, provoke, inspire, exasperate, and continually learn caring from each other. Sometimes he or I will still write lighthearted rhymes or more ponderous sonnets to each other, but we never phone to the other and rarely write notes. But Lau is the first reader of anything I write, whether about children and grandchildren or Christian life and life on this blemished planet or candid every day actions and reactions.
Back to communicating with friends and fellow-sojourners: I`ve assumed today`s facebook as a tool to keep in touch. Some two thousand or so between old friends from the past, some of their children and grandchildren, and fellow friends who are writers, poets, composers, dentists and designers, pastors and teachers and their wives, missionaries and non-religious activists, plain people complicated by incredible stories—all my facebook friends are real life samplings of diversity in unity. Some of my friends greet each day or evening with “Good morning (evening). Aren’t you going to say good morning to me?”, or publish pictures of beautiful flowers, children and pets, or fine porcelain teacups. I have to admit there isn’t time to reply or “like” each friendly greeting. Can’t play each game they propose to draw me into, or solve each puzzle people post—there’s simply no time to lose. Some  friends make delicious doces and desserts; others post their churrascos and family gatherings, or the beautiful crafts they are making. There are people who post terrible pictures of people dying of cancer or beheaded by jihadists, with the saying: write amen if you believe God can heal them or save them all from ISIS. I pray for the suffering church worldwide, and pray for those I know are facing terrible illness and pain—but typing “amen” is not going to do anything for them. Some people are dying for a good argument, and post philosopher or Christian leader or politician’s declarations, expecting my feedback. Now, I admire great thinkers, love a good discussion, but try to limit myself to subjects that really have changed my life or the lives of people in our world. Do not want to get into arguments about Pentecostalism, Calvinism or Arminianism, (have friends who are serious about God in each and every one of those camps) or denominational differences, though I have firm beliefs and denials and adhere to basic Christian orthodoxy.
What do l like to write? Basically, what I like to read. Words that touch the soul and stimulate the mind, goading to action. To sum it up, I want to translate into understandable, applicable language, in whatever language we are using, what Jay Richards said about C. S. Lewis:
Lewis was the consummate translator. This is an academic achievement every bit as impressive and lasting as any other. Translation of academic subjects into laymen’s terms is akin to hand-copying Van Gogh’s Starry Night with a much more limited  palette of colors than the great Dutch artist used for the original. The original required artistic genius. But a good copy using a limited palette requires genius as well… He once observed: “Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.” Many academics, in contrast, disdain the task of translation. They seem to pride themselves on grinding our turgid academic prose that is accessible to few and enjoyable to none… Lewis never settled for such a provincial academic career. On the contrary, he made his own academic life difficult by writing children`s books and Christian apologetics. Most Lewis scholars suspect that this is the one reason he never advanced beyond the title of lecturer during all his years at Oxford University. It was only late in life that Cambridge University had the good sense to hire him and give him a professional title befitting his academic stature… We must distinguish the elite populist from the dabblers or “second hand peddlers of ideas”… who have a disproportionate but mostly undeserved influence on culture. Such pundits offer their opinions on everything from film criticism and science to economics and politics; but their commentary is often superficial because they haven’t first learned those subjects. Rather than translating, they merely opine.[1]
Guess communication via social media has that same superficiality of “second-hand peddlers of ideas”. I hope to get to the sources, and share where living water and bread of life are found for anyone who is really hungry and thirsty. So I read and write on facebook—as a translator of unsearchable riches in everyday language!
Elizabeth Gomes



[1] Jay W. Richards, “Mastering the Vernacular”, in John G. West, The Magician’s Twin: C.S.Lewis on Science, Scientism and Society, Discovery Institute, pp. 182-83.