A Beautiful First Day of Unleavened Bread

Saturday, March 31, 2018
Cúcuta, North Santander, Colombia
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. I had only 6 hours of sleep, but I felt reasonably rested, plus my shoulder was feeling better. It was not perfect, but it was improved over the night before. Thank you to all of you who have been praying for it.
We went down to breakfast and had a relaxing meal. Then a whole bunch of people came in. They are sometimes very loud at breakfast. Since we were finished, we decided that now was a good time to leave. We walked to McDonald’s for a cappuccino. We returned to our room and prepared for church. I practiced my special music for church. It rained a little, but it stopped before it was time to go to church, so we were able to walk to church. Scott worked on his sermon, and answered some emails. The evening before he had called back to the U.S. and talked with several members and the elders to discuss things with them. He likes to keep open communication with all, even when out of the U.S.…something some are not quite yet used to.
We had arranged with the hotel where we would have services for a meal for the whole church for lunch before services. Scott had invited all to be at the church hall at 12 noon for lunch. We sat around the table chatting and waiting for the food to come. Amparo told us that last night, in the middle of the night while they were sleeping, someone broke into their garage and stole the mirrors off their Ford vehicle. She said that this is relatively common. The robbers work in concert with the repair shops. The repair shops will buy the stolen parts from the robbers and resell them to those that need them. They need to drive 14 hours to Bogota starting tonight so this is a big inconvenience.
Soon everyone was at the table and the restaurant began serving the food.  First they brought panela water. Panela is a raw sugar that they use to make a sweet drink.  Then they brought a bowl of chicken vegetable soup. After that, they brought the plate of food. We had a chicken leg quarter, white beans, rice, lettuce salad, and patacones.  They made a special plate for Scott of a grilled chicken breast and a plate of veggies—broccoli, carrots, and pumpkin.  
Oscar says that as a whole, the people from the city of Cúcuta do not like to eat vegetables.  So, it is uncommon to eat a lot of, or any vegetables.  Even having just a green lettuce salad is unusual.  I told him that it is surprising that they are as healthy as they are. They like rice, potatoes, yucca, and patacon to go along with their protein.
We were able to arrange this lunch for everyone because of the generous contribution of a member who wanted to do something nice or useful for the Colombian brethren.  Their main meal of the day is lunch, so this is the perfect time to have a meal. Normally, the members are not able to eat out in a restaurant, and then again, not even on a Holy Day.  So, this was very special for all of them to have a meal like this together. We had 37 for lunch.  The price we negotiated was very reasonable.
I spoke with Rocio about the unemployment situation in Cúcuta.  She says it is particularly bad for the unskilled workers.  These workers, such as maids, waiters, cooks, construction workers, and gardens, make a minimum wage of $200,000 pesos ($72 USD) per week. The Venezuelans are coming in and saying they will work for $150,000 pesos ($54 USD) per week.  This is $5,000 pesos ($1.79 USD) per day.  Some Colombians have moved to Bogotá to make more money, the living expenses are more there, so they don’t really get ahead.
Everyone helped to clean up the dishes. Scott, too, picked up plates and glasses and others followed his example. They took the tables out of the room and rearranged the chairs for church services.  I set up my flute and music stand and did a test run with the sound.  Some people enjoyed fellowshipping on the terrace while watching the rain.  Usually it is very hot and dry here, but the days we have been here, it has been overcast and rainy.  This is nice in a way as the temperature is more refreshing.
Ronaldo, one of the older teen boys, led songs and I accompanied them.  Every one sang jubilantly and loudly.  It was so loud on the first song that they could not hear the accompaniment music and had a hard time staying with the music.  I had a terrible time deciding to play with the singers or with the accompaniment music from the computer.   The songs after the first one went better, and we continued our joyful praise to God.
Ronaldo then gave the announcements, and Oscar gave a short message about the offering.  We take up an offering only 7 times a year on each of the Holy Days. I played a piece of music called, Did You Think to Pray?, while the offering was collected.  Scott gave the main message.  We had 40 people for church.
Scott continues to develop the young people, and uses children and elderly too so that the body is strengthened. Some do not yet understand why non-baptized men should song lead or give prayers. It’s a paradigm that will take time. These young men serve faithfully, are growing and are very supportive. In time will seek baptism, but we don’t disallow them to serve in the meantime. One highlight was when a young girl, 11 years old, carried the offering plate up to the front table when it was finished being taken up. Her smile portrayed that she was “part of a serving family.” We know God was smiling, too.
Daniel, one of the teens, set next to me.   He did not have his Bible so I shared mine with him.  A couple of years ago, we brought enough Bibles to summer camp so that all the teens would have their own Bible.  I asked Daniel where his was. He said he gave it to his older sister who just recently started attending church services.  I also saw another teen who did not have his Bible.  He said he had it in a tote bag and someone came by and stole the bag along with the Bible.  I told him that I hope they read Exodus 20 and learn that stealing is wrong.  We all had a good chuckle.  We will have to arrange to bring some more Bibles to camp as another young person has recently started attending and she does not have a Bible either.
After church services, a snack of a pea and egg empanada was served with soda pop.  One of the members brings a snack each week.  Gradually everyone started to leave.  We gave hugs and cheek kisses all around.  A group of young people, they are actually all cousins, plus Amparo (their aunt), wanted to go to Juan Valdez for coffee.   Jesus, Amparo’s husband, did not go as he had to get home to have a nap before they began their 14 hour journey back to Bogotá that evening.
By this time, it has stopped raining, so we all decided to walk the 6 blocks to Juan Valdez coffee.  Everyone else in Cúcuta had the same idea too, to go to the mall to escape the rain.  It was packed in the walkways with people. When we arrived at Juan Valdaz, there was a long line of about 10-15 people in front of us.  Scott and few of the young people decided to get a table.  I stayed in line with a couple of the girls.  Amparo got everyone’s order.  Finally we were able to order.  Then we had to wait a long time for them to make it. 
We eventually made it to the table where they were able to find two small tables together on the huge open air patio covered with a vinyl tent type roof.  We had a great time talking and chatting.  Soon it was raining again—very heavy at times.  We all joked that we would have to get a boat to get back home instead of a taxi.  Eventually there was a break in the rain and it was down to a drizzle, so we all took the opportunity to get a taxi, or for us, to walk across the street to our hotel.
We were damp from our walk back and our shoes were soaked, so we went straight to our room to change our shoes before going to the restaurant to eat.  It was way past our “normal” dinner time, but it was important to spend time with the young people over coffee…our bonding has no price tag.
I had a delicious chicken dish.  It was a grilled chicken breast covered with a sauce of tomato, mushroom, eggplant, and spinach, covered with melted parmesan cheese.  It came with patacones and a garden salad.  Scott had a steak with mushroom sauce, grilled vegetables and patacones.  We had a very relaxing time as we were the only people in the restaurant.  The waiter turned on some nice classical music for us, too.
When we were just about ready to leave our son-in-law and daughter called us on Messenger.  We talked to them for about an hour, and then returned to our room to shower and get ready for bed.  It was a very successful and positive day with the meal, services, and the coffee afterward.  We felt like the atmosphere was like one large unified family. Scott mentioned how God is blessing this congregation, and it’s really growing, in spite of some difficulties. He feels safe here and connected with the brethren. “It’s been a great day!” he says.
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It was indeed a beautiful first day of Unleavened Bread, in many ways. Miss you both! Keep up the good work!