God Bless America.

Thursday is my favorite day of the week.

All day, I look forward to my evening class at a local seminary. I teach in Spanish to 12 hard working immigrants and we are looking at the first five books of the Bible.  I sometimes post things for my students on this site.

We use Spanish in the class, but Spanish is a second language for nearly half of us.

Five of my students learned a Mayan language from their mothers. There are 30+ Mayan Continue reading “God Bless America.”

My last two blog posts: there is a connection

I forgot to mention a connection between my last two blogs–one about Emily and Erlo and the other in which I try to notice some of the global connections in a small one block radius of Mi Oficina Computer Café I often go for meetings or to do other work.

The most concrete connection is this.  The bakery at Mi Oficina made the Tres Leches cake that we served at Emily and Erlo’s Wedding Reception in Oakland California.  And it was delicious!  I am posting pictures of the cake here so you can admire it.  But you can also see it on Mi Oficina’s Facebook page, or if you have a meeting with me at Mi Oficina, you will notice the picture of my daughter’s cake cycles up every few minutes on their digital displays of their products.

  We decided on this cake the day that Emily and Erlo took us to Korean BBQ Plus, right across the street from Mi Oficina. It gets great reviews, and it did not disappoint.  Emily and Erlo were able to introduce us to some of their favorite Korean dishes.  When we were done, we walked out of a Korean space, across a California street and into a very Latino space at Mi Oficina.    I was amazed to see how the next generation of my family felt at home in both spaces.

Before I get off the topic of connections, I think it is interesting that Mi Oficina is both active and passive in its facilitation of connections.

Regarding the active facilitation of connections this linked article recalls how someone at Mi Oficina was able to help Juan connect through chat with his mother whom he had not seen for a year.   Whenever I go there, I see how the computers they have set up there are used by their clients to connected with family and friends, many of whom presumably are somewhere in Latin America.  Those connections cross borders between nation-states, the conflicts around some of which are in the news nearly daily.

But the passive connections are interesting to watch, too.  I see friends reconnect there.  Meetings take place that bring people together with common political, social, and business interests and usually the language of the connection is Spanish, and it is over a cup of coffee.  I believe that it is without entirely realizing it, but Mi Oficina facilitates passively some interesting connections between Christians of different persuasions.  Since it is not their own place, Christians there are free to focus on following Christ.  It is not a place to promote their own programs and ministries, though there is a bulletin board and a literature table where religious and non-religious alike promote their wares.  What I especially have liked to notice has been when Catholics and Evangelicals meet each other there in the space between the tables where they have their own meetings.   Often the introductions don’t need to identify each other according to party lines.  They can talk instead about serving the community.  Some do their service in secular agencies, motivated by the love of Christ, others are part of specific movements or organizations.  It is cool is to watch them notice each other and eventually meet and share stories.  I expect that the next step might be that they will make plans together.

Globally connected

I have been using Mi Oficina as, well, “mi oficina.” It’s a great place to study, stay connected with part of the Latino community in Concord, and to have meetings with people.

Mi Oficina is in a strip mall that may be only a few miles from Walnut Creek, but life here could not be more different. The food is obviously different. Lots of corn meal, and the cokes come from Mexico. More rice. Less potatoes. Lots of beans and pork. Well, no pork at the Afghan grocery store. But the freshly baked Afghan bread is to die for. The Korean Restaurant across the street arguably has spicier food than the Mexicans on this side. But it is all good!
The people and what they eat is definitely one clear indication of the international connections active in this place. In Mi Oficina, the row of computers against the back wall is often filled with people who are making video calls to all parts of Mexico and to other parts of Latin America.
On the back side of Mi Oficina there is a store that just ships packages, or remits money orders, to international destinations. The list of banks and countries that is posted on the window indicates some of the banks and where you can send money or stuff. It must have over 100 entries in two columns. I always thought that the banks on the list were banks in Latin America. Today, I noticed that two of the banks are in the Philippines. The destination bank in some Latin American countries included HSBC which once stood for Hong Kong and Singapore Bank Corporation. Today it markets itself at the “World’s Local Bank.” No use trying to untangle those links!
Next door to that store, they sell Ice Cream from Mexico. And next to that, they sell cheap household and party goods from China. Many of the customers are day laborers from Mexico and Central America. If you happen to have a cell phone from Mexico, you can recharge the SIM card there and pay in U$. And you can mail your purchases (of Chinese goods) to friends and family in any country of the world.
Down the way there is a Latino grocery store that sells local milk, vegetables and meat, but many of the products on the shelves are from Mexico, Central America and other parts of the world. It’s not so surprising that we can get our favorite canned black beans from Guatemala, or enchilada sauce from Mexico. More surprising is that the local laundry detergent that we used to avoid when we lived in Guatemala, preferring imported Tide or All, is for sale here.
The Latino grocery store has a bakery and, clearly, the recipes are imported! Next door is the Afghan grocery store and bakery that also has imported recipes, but from the other side of the globe! Do you think they might buy their flour from the same local vendor? Does the same delivery truck stop for both shops? What language does the driver speak?
More surprising is that the Afghan grocery store, alongside the freshly baked bread, has a freezer offering “Helados Guadalajara” — some of the best popsicles from Mexico, with flavors you probably would never find at Safeway (I might have said, “you won’t find them in the United States”, but this is the United States!). But the connection between the Afghan grocery store and the surrounding Latino community produced an even more interesting offer. A stand of books in Spanish. Not simply in Spanish, but books by evangelical and pentecostal authors, some Latin Americans and some Anglo Americans translated into Spanish. And published by Editorial Betania Caribe, the Latin American publisher acquired by a Bible publisher in the US. Many of the books are actually printed in Colombia by missionaries originally sent by CLC to print evangelistic literature for South America.  And they are being sold by Muslims from Afghanistan!
There are global religious connections here, too. One Mexican shopkeeper was recently converted in the Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios, a major Brazilian church that promotes practices that many of the more established churches and denominations consider to be more pagan than Christian. A young man who walked across the border from Mexico found Jesus here, and works in a shop where you can often hear English praise music. When he is off work, you might find him studying the Bible in Spanish with people who are not from his country. Perhaps they met through a Guatemalan pastor who is employed by an Anglo church. Is this American Christianity or Latin American?
Speaking of “displaced” religious practice. When I visited Turkey, for the first time it was during the month of Ramadán, when Muslims are expected to fast all day long, and only eat after sundown and before sunrise. Now I am more aware that Ramadán is practiced by Muslim in the United States. Since this year Ramadan corresponds more or less directly with our month of August, Afghans and other Muslims in this shopping center selling and buying food and gifts for Iftar (fast-breaking after sundown). There are also Arabs here who who sell beer to the Mexican day laborers. I think they are fasting–not even drinking water–during the day. One of them is married to a Mexican. Would she also be fasting? I don’t know how they manage to fast without water when the day is so hot and long and the door to their liquor store is open all day. But I suppose they know how to resist, since they sell alcohol all day every day, and they seem to resist drinking it themselves.  I suppose they would not have this problem if they were in a Muslim majority  country.
What is the influence of all this connectedness on the future of this community? What interactions take place and produce new ways of living? How do you observe connections with God?