Saturday, November 18, 2017

Even today, the blind see

His name is Thomas Reilly Gault, and, typical of grandparents, we’re proud of him. At 15, Reilly is known as a math whiz, and one application of this is his participation in speed-cubing contests, where he solves different of configurations of Rubik’s cubes as fast as he can.
One of his passions is music, with an emphasis in percussion. He is the lead drummer in his high school band, and plays the snare drums in the marching band. He also plays the marimba, piano (playing dinner music in hotels) and cello (playing the bridal march in weddings). He loves being part of the worship team in his congregation.
An interesting detail in all of this is that Reilly is legally blind. Glasses bring his vision up to 20/500 in each eye, which helps, but isn’t all that great. He uses a cane at school and has learned braille. With all of this, he looks forward to a career in engineering and music, and would love to be part of a youth ministry team someday. Needless to say, Reilly faces unique challenges as he walks into his dreams.
Recently, while browsing the Internet, Reilly discovered the new technology of electronic glasses that give people with impaired vision the chance to see as clearly as most of us do. He found “eSight” and became excited about the possibilities. His parents joined him and they contacted the organization and found that he would be a prime candidate for the glasses.
The major set-back in this possibility is that a pair of these wonder glasses costs $10,000, a price beyond the means of Reilly’s parents (my daughter Kristin and son-in-law, Jon Gault). But the organization helps family members engage their community to raise funds for this project.
So a few weeks ago, Jon and Kristin, after consulting with local government officials and the school system, took the plunge and set up a donation site. Reilly wrote the essay for the site. Here’s a part of his description:

“Until a few months ago, I did not know that there might have been a possibility that I could be able to see like other people.  I discovered eSight one day, while browsing the internet, trying to learn about possible cures for different types of blindness and visual impairments.  I immediately told my family, and they seemed interested right away.  I could not get this off of my mind, as it seemed that my disability could possibly become an ability.  As you can tell, I am really stoked about this idea, and I would love it if you would be willing to embark on this journey with me, this journey that could change my life. 
“I was born with albinism and optic nerve hypoplasia, where the back of my retinas, and my optic nerves, were not fully developed. When I was younger, around 1st grade, my vision was stable at 20/100.  After 2nd grade, my vision deteriorated to beyond legal blindness, which is 20/200.  It kept deteriorating, for some unexplainable reason, until it stabilized around 20/500, with correction (glasses).  My parents raised me with the mindset that I could do anything I put my mind to, regardless of my disability.  For example, a nurse told my parents that, because of my low vision, I would not be able to play any ball sports in the future.  My parents promptly enrolled me in soccer, which I went on to play from kindergarten to my freshmen year of high school.  After that, marching band took over.”
To read the rest of Reilly’s essay, go to his eSight page. To learn more about the electronic glasses and how they work, go to this site.
I love to read about Jesus instantly healing the blind, and I believe in the possibility of that happening today, although I confess I’ve never witnessed it or even heard of a case. But I’m also willing to let God work his sight-giving miracles through modern technology.

I can’t wait for Reilly to be able to clearly see his mom and dad, his brother and sister, and, yes, his grandparents for the first time. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Surviving the Hobbit Hole

I have a fantasy about being part of the persecuted church. I am captured for my faith and put into a dark dank little room and left there to suffer in solitude. But, in my imagination, I pray. I sense the presence of Jesus and meditate on his beauty. My circumstances become irrelevant as the glory overwhelms me. The divine beauty lifts me up.
Maybe it’s good to put such positive pictures in my head. But every now and then reality marches in and knocks them out.
Our current reality is called “The Hobbit Hole.” Hal and I gave it that name in order to inject a bit of humor into our living situation.
Several years ago, the executive council of the Friends Church here in La Paz fixed up this little apartment for us. It had been the office of the Bible school staff and when they relocated, the council painted it a peach color, put in a ply-wood partition and a miniscule kitchen counter and sink, and invited us to live here during our yearly visits to Bolivia. It was a loving gesture and we receive it in that spirit. It’s conveniently located near the office of the history commission we’re a part of, and right in the hub of activity of the Bolivian Friends Church headquarters. Moreover, it comes with its own small but private bathroom.
We’re grateful.
And yet….
People here have their own nickname for this space. They call it “The Refrigerator.” Truth be told, it’s small, dark, cold, and ugly. When we first moved in, we referred to it as “The Cave,” but later opted for the more positive “Hobbit Hole.” The peach-colored walls help.
The apartment does have one large window—that looks four feet out onto the unfinished brick
wall of the church. Not one beam of sunlight dares to enter. Ever.
Our “Hole” is located on the lower level of the large Friends school in back of the main church. Above us is a primary classroom, and from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the kids shuffle, stomp, recite in unison and scrap their desks across the floor. In the time between the morning and the afternoon shifts, rascally little boys and girls run up to our door, bang on it, and run away giggling. We choose to see the humor in all of this.
But at night, the place is dark and silent. Sleep is sweet.
So, we ask ourselves, “How do we choose life in this particular situation?” There is much we can do. Rugs help warm up the floors (tile over cement), as does the small but efficient space heater. We’ve brought in trees, mountains, flowers and even two affectionate giraffes with calendar photos on our partition.  Pictures by our artistic granddaughter, Gwen, add both joy and beauty. We try hard to keep things neat and orderly. Our table serves as a center for study, meals and hospitality. Yes, people do visit us here. We have seating for five if we bring in the stools that serve as our bedside tables. If more show up, some of us stand. It tends to keep visits short.

 Living room/dining room/office

Thank you, Gwen!

A place to fix simple meals

But I have to admit that my surroundings do affect my spirit. There are days when I fight depression, when the lack of sunlight and the sheer smallness of this space begin to give me a spiritual claustrophobia. I fight the temptation to give in, but this takes its toll on my energy level.
So we make an effort to get outside every day, to visit our friends around the city, to program adventures that let us see real trees and flowers growing out of the ground.
And in the early mornings, as I wait before the Lord, there are times when his beauty becomes more real than anything else, and glory fills even the Hobbit Hole.
For all the other times, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hospitality, Bolivian style

The view from Felix and Clemi’s fifth-floor guest apartment looks out over La Paz and to the mountains beyond. Not only is the view spectacular, sun floods the room with warmth every afternoon, as we’ve had the privilege to experience on two occasions since our return to Bolivia.
We’ve known Felix Huarina and his wife, Clementina, since 1972 when we first came to Bolivia as young inexperienced missionaries. Felix was part of the youth group at the big New Jerusalem Friends Church in La Paz. When he found out I had been involved in theater, he invited me to work with him in writing and directing dramas with the young people. That began a long friendship.

We attended the wedding of Felix and Clemi during our first term in Bolivia, and later, when Orpha and Iber joined the family, their parents asked us to be the childrens’ padrinos (god-parents). As part of our duties, we performed the rutuchi ceremony when the kids were still little. This is when the god-parents cut the kids’ hair and shave their heads, indicating that these are no longer infants; they have entered the next stage of life. (People believe that shaving the heads of children causes their hair to grow back thicker and more beautiful.)
It seemed to be joyful occasion for Felix and Clemi, but rather traumatic for the kids. They survived. That was a long time ago.

Now, whenever we return to La Paz, we are still made to feel part of the family. Felix and Clemi have constructed a five-story apartment building so that their kids can live with them, each with their own apartment. They tell us that the top story is for us, and they really do want us to move in. For practical reasons, we won’t be doing that, but it is a great weekend retreat.
Two weeks ago, Hal got sick enough that we called Felix to get a reference to a good clinic. He told us on the phone, “Stay there. We’ll be right over.” When he and Orpha got here, they told us to pack a bag, that we were coming home with them. Orpha’s husband, Milton, is a medical doctor, and he was able to diagnose Hal’s problem and get the necessary medication. That, plus Clemi’s chicken soup, and time in a warm sunny atmosphere got him over the hump.
Since then, we’ve been back once again to relax with the extended family and spend the night.
We see Felix frequently other times, too, as he is a member of the history commission we’re a part of. He is a film-maker by profession (and a radio broadcaster), and he is in charge of making the documentary movie to summarize the 100-year history of the Bolivian Friends Church.

Thank God for long term friendships. Thank God for our family away from home.

Dr. Milton with Orpha (whose hair grew back)

Iber, now a computer specialist, with his family

Felix (film-maker), on right, with other members of our history team