An Altar

Exodus 20:22-24

And the Lord said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: You saw for yourselves that I spoke to you from heaven. Remember, you must not make any idols of silver or gold to rival me.

“Build for me an altar made of earth, and offer your sacrifices to me—your burnt offerings and peace offerings, your sheep and goats, and your cattle. Build my altar wherever I cause my name to be remembered, and I will come to you and bless you.

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Early in the morning we gathered together and were divided into pairs.  Without speaking we would use the next 30 minutes to build an altar using whatever materials were available on the ground. Each pair ventured out into the area. Some stayed close to the church. Others continued further out.

There are numerous times when altars were built in times past.  I couldn’t help but remember Abraham’s journey up the mountain with Issac, and the altars of many others in the Old Testament. Not all the altars were to God.  Some were to other gods.

There were 450 prophets of Baal who when challenged by Elijah spent the day sacrificing and cutting themselves while waiting for their god to simply accept their sacrifice. Then Elijah made his sacrifice to God and had the people quench his altar 3 times with water so that the trenches around it were filled.  When he called on God everything was instantly consumed with fire.  Not a drop of water remained.  That day the 450 prophets of Baal were put to death.  Their lives were ended because they served a false god.

Where have we made altars?  In a real sense we build altars every day.  We spend our lives sacrificing for something every minute of every day.


Some of that time might be spent sacrificing on the altar of  family. Some of that time could be spent on the altar of success and/or money. Some spent on the altar of pleasure and comforts. Those choices dictate what we are sacrificing for and all of these things yield temporary results.

What kind of altar have you built and who are you building it to?

I challenge you to go out early in the morning and build an altar.  Contemplate on what and who you are living for.  Is it for the one who sacrificed everything for you or are you living for yourself?

What will you gain from those sacrifices?  Is it temporary or permanent?

On the dreaded altar of Golgotha, Jesus made a sacrifice and paid with his life for you to live.  Then, though he was dead, raised himself up again because he is the one true God.

Don’t make the mistake of making sacrifices to gods that have no power, that care nothing for you and will only steal your life.  Instead choose the one true God, the one who loved you enough to die for you and has offered you an eternal life if you would accept his gift to you.

Being Intentional

It was well after midnight.  As I laid in bed, I just couldn’t calm my mind.  Maybe it was the fact that I had 4 cups of coffee in the morning instead of my regular two. I should be tired after having stayed up until 2:30am the night before and driving home from our family beach vacation. I got up early to complete some gifts in my woodshop, ran several errands and packed for my trip to Tecate,B.C. Mexico.  My body ached and I was tired from being on my feet all day, but I still had a difficult time falling to sleep.  It’s like this sometimes the night before a long trip that I’ve been looking forward to.

This is my fifth year making the annual mission trip with the FCA.  Like every year in the past I never know what to expect. I’ve got the routine down.  I’ve flow the same flight every year. Joey meets us at the airport and we load up the vans.  Then we stop at In and Out Burgers, Target, and then drive into Mexico.  We arrive at our location, unpack and begin our mission.  I’ve got the routine down, but when Jesus arrives, the mission really begins.

Every year Jesus has shown up in a major way.  Many people say they meet Jesus here.  I know that to be true for me as well and I’m looking forward to seeing what he will do this year.

It’s a little like going to an amusement park to ride the roller coaster. There’s an anticipation while standing in long lines watching the coaster and other thrill seekers scream as it goes speeding by, knowing that soon, the experience will be firsthand.  Then the heart begins to race as you finally see the seat reserved just for you and off you go, climbing, peaking and then experiencing an exilerating loop de loop. Everything spins in all directions as the coaster roars down the track. The neighbors are screaming at the top of their lungs as you try to let out a screem when the g-force silences your voice.

While it seems like a thrill, the real thrill is seeing Jesus, what he is doing and can do through you in the lives of others.  It’s so easy to get trapped into a life where we try to make everything personal to us… perfect in our way, but that’s not Jesus’ way. Every time I’ve made this trip Jesus joined the party.  He is the thrill of the ride and what makes it special.

My first year Jesus showed up and helped me restore my relationship with him. He showed me a different way to live and gave me a renewed purpose for my life.  The next year, he showed me how he can work through me and use my voice when I let him. The third year, he gave me a heart for others and a passion for serving.  Last year, he taught me how to give.  This year he is teaching me to be intentional.

Jesus is intentional with people.  He is intentional about restoring a relationship with us. He is intentional about being there for us.  He gives his life so that we live.  He didn’t just die for us.  He continues to interceed for us with God every day and he commited to do that for us … forever!

When we marry, we are joined with our spouse and continue to live with them, hopefully for a lifetime, but when they are gone and our life goes on, many of us remarry.  Our relationships are fleeting … temporary.  Even relationships with our parents can be temporal.  But Jesus has made a lifelong eternal commitment that he will not break and he pursues us with intentionality every day.

Do you pursue him, or is he someone you reach out to when things aren’t going well?  If all he is to you is a problem solver, or the fall back person when you need something then you are missing out on the best part of knowing Jesus. He loves us with love so pure that it is incorruptible. You will find no one else who can love like that. There’s a thrill of being with Jesus that’s better than the roller coaster EVERY DAY. He brings life to every party and he promised it would be difficult, but that he would share it with us. He is faithful… forever.

1 Corinthians 13 defines his kind of love and what it means.  (As I was reading this passage it occured to me that the themes here in the first paragraph parallel my experiences in going to Tecate.)

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;* but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages* and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. 

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.* All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It is so easy to forget that Jesus wants us to be intentional too. He wants us to be intentional in seeking him and finding him in our lives.  He wants us to be intentional in making sacrifices for those he loves.  This includes our enemies and our friends.  He wants us to be intentional about what we give and who we give to.  But most of all he wants us to be intentional in our relationship with him.  To be intentional with Jesus is to love him.

A few weeks ago I shared this with the boys in my youth group.  I challenged them to be intentional about seeking and knowing Jesus. When you want the attention of Mom or Dad, you go to them and talk with them. Do you do the same with Jesus?  When something is going badly, who do you tell?  Do you talk to Jesus about it?  Who do you celebrate with when you win a game or have a success in life?  When you love someone, how do you show it?  Do you give them something, give them encouraging words or do something special for them?  Do you spend time with them?
Love wasn’t meant to be one way. It’s best when shared, but it requires being intentional.

I don’t know what Jesus will bring to Tecate this year, but I am looking forward to being intentional with Him and the people I meet there. 

What’s in your Alabaster Jar?

An alabaster jar was once used to hold expensive perfumes. The jars were made with a long neck and designed to be broken to use the contents and were ideal for perfume because they kept the contents from spoiling.

There are a couple instances in the New Testament where a woman (or women) anointed Jesus with this perfume from an alabaster jar. (Mt 26:7, Mk 14:3, Lk 7:37) The gift was very, very expensive and once opened was used up. There’s been a lot written about the alabaster jar so I’m not going to analyze and argue the points, but I did want to share some of my personal experience and thoughts.

Matthew 26:6-13

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.
The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” — Matthew 26:6-13

I’ve been a Christian for nearly 37 years. I had a great start, then drifted back and forth in my faith until 5 years ago when I went on a mission trip to Tecate, Mexico. Even before the trip God was doing a work in me. He used that time serving to accelerate the changes in my life and grow my faith by helping me see the path I was blazing and where it was leading me. It wasn’t to a good place.

On my recent trip to El Zapatillo the question came up about the alabaster jar and I asked myself what was in mine, or rather what was my alabaster jar? What is that most precious thing that I give God, but also, what am I holding back?

God doesn’t need anything from us, but he does want us. He’s a jealous god and he isn’t satisfied with a divided heart. The sad thing about my life story even though I’ve been a Christ follower for 37 years is that it’s mostly about what I’ve held back. For much of my life I divided my heart between God and what I wanted for me. I was trying to pour out my alabaster jar on both me and Jesus at the same time. It’s kind of silly to think about it in those terms isn’t it? Much of the perfume would be wasted trying to pour it on both people.

Besides, how can any one of us compare to Jesus? It was he that created the world, came into it in the most humbling of circumstances, lived a perfect life, sacrificed himself for us, and then rose from the dead and offered us a new beginning. He did all of this by his strength.  What have any of us done to compare to that? To say that any one of us should share in an anointing with him in that way makes no sense. Our lives can’t possibly compare on any measure to him.

When these women came to Jesus, they came with remorse, full of repentance and love for a person who gave of himself to save them.  He gave them forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. They gave him a most precious gift in the jar of perfume, but while Jesus accepted this, I believe it wasn’t the fragrance of the perfume that delighted him. It was the fragrance of repentance and love that they showed from their heart that was symbolically portrayed in their actions. It was a pure act of worship, a sacrifice of monumental proportions of the lives that these women led to obtain such a gift.

The irony is that there is nothing we have that God hasn’t first given to us. The perfume that these women brought was provided to them by God. He gave them life and means to either produce or obtain these expensive items. In the end, they chose to use them to honor God. Can there ever be a more beautiful act of worship, but to lay down our lives at the feet of God for his service?

It’s not about the alabaster jar, the perfume, or the woman who gave it. It’s about God, recognizing him for who he is, and honoring him for what he has done.

What’s in your alabaster jar and how will you choose to use it?

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” — Luke 7:36-50

Too many cooks

There were a few moments during my mission trip to Guatemala that I would consider personal discovery moments.  Even before the trip, God was weighing on my heart about some things in my life that needed to change.

The first really core shaking moment was when one of my teammates was working on restoring the toilets to working order.  When we arrived there was only one and the bathrooms had no running water.  He had worked all day on the task pulling together parts and trying different things.  In an arrogant sort of way I started asking details about the task as if I knew better than he did about how to fix the toilets.  It wasn’t meant to come across that way and I really was wanting to be helpful.dsc_1071

My line of work has me spending a lot of my days solving problems.  I’m also the guy that when handed a puzzle will spend hours trying to solve it. Then I have to go around and show everyone once I’ve nailed it. For a moment I actually thought I knew better.  This was pride and arrogance speaking.  I had no more to offer than he was already doing and my efforts were no better than his.  In fact, I’d put my needs of solve a puzzle and feel significant above the relationship and the job we were doing.  How many of us do that?

The second happened the next day when we had finished the roof we were working on.  I headed over to help another crew on the house.  Again, same thing happened only this time I tried to show another teammate how to hold and cut a board.  This is something I’ve done lot of and had a technique that I thought would help get the job done faster and easier.  My delivery … well let’s just say it was awful. My teammates response was “There are too many cooks in the kitchen.”  As soon as he said it, I realized I was at it again and I needed to disengage.  I’d put my desire to finish the project, know-it-all attitude and personal ambition ahead of our relationship.  It was prideful and arrogant.

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I regret both of these incidents, but I’m also very thankful that God allowed me to learn something from these interactions.  My team mates were understanding and forgiving.  They more than just tolerated me.  My teammates are some really amazing followers of Jesus and showed love with each other (and me) as much as with the people we went to serve.

The whole realization forced me to answer some hard questions.  Do I really think I’m always right?  Why am I not taking into consideration how others feel?  Would I change now knowing what I’m doing? The answers brought some ugly realizations that I forced myself to confront and lay at the feet of Jesus.img_20170125_115436

For me this mission was never meant to be a self discovery. Had I not been convicted by the Holy Spirit, I probably would never have realized what I was doing and how it affects other people.  The mission was meant to help children and a village find Jesus and improve their lives.  But God had a few things he needed to teach each one of us on this trip. What I came home with was a greater insight into myself as a person interacting with others and a stronger relationship to God and to my teammates.  I also came home with a greater love for others and a renewed purpose in my life.

 

 

 

 

¿como te llamas?

It was time for us to begin the VBS program with the children of El Zapatillo.  Each of us was recognized by name and invited to come to the front .. stadium style.  Then we had a time of music and they brought Rosa up to sing and lead the worship.  Afterwards we did a skit and had a short message before we broke up into our groups.

dscn1275There were five boys in my group (and I had a little girl join the next day).  Their ages ranged from 3 to 8.  We all sat down on the floor and I asked each one his name and age.  The older boys answered for some of the younger ones.

It was hard for me to understand the boys. I’m hard of hearing as it is, but there was a lot of noise in the background and they boys were quiet spoken.  It didn’t help that they were speaking in Spanish … or so I thought.  It may have been the local Mayan language.

Just like kids at home, some were attentive and others were easily distracted.  A couple of my younger ones worried me a little because they seemed too docile.  I’m used to little ones running around with unbounded energy.  I had to wonder if they were getting enough to eat, or if it was just a hard life here.  Some of these kids traveled a long way on foot to be with us.

As each shared his name, I wondered how they’d come to that name.  What kind of family were they from and were they happy?  Were there special needs in their life?  What did they like to do?  The biggest question that I ask with every child I meet is what kind of future is in store for this person?

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One thing I’ve learned is that names represent something as much as someone.  Sometimes people make a name for themselves.  By that, I mean that their name becomes synonymous with their actions, accomplishments, or fame.

I wondered what each child would accomplish and where they would be.  Would they make a name for themselves or live up to their name.  Would their name come to represent something good or bad?

Some names are given to represent authority.  Others to show position.  Some people are given nick names symbolizing an event or way about that person.

Even in the Bible, God took pains to name people and he even renamed a few.  Abram, the father of nations was renamed to Abraham.  Saul, persecutor of Christians, was renamed Paul and became the missionary to Christians.  Jesus says that many will receive a white stone engraved with a new name understood only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:27). Even Jesus, though he has many names will be given a new name (Revelation 3:13).

As I think about the events, I’m keenly aware that I also have a name that God has given me and how I live will either make that name or break it.  I will either be known for good or bad.

What about your name?

Help me! Help me please!

After completing our mission in El Zapatillo, we spent a day on the Rio Dulce and traveled to Livingston by boat.  It was a grand trip.  We had lunch in Livingston and then spent some time perusing the shops.  As we were making our way back down the hill to the boat, I was walking ahead of the group and I came up on this woman.

She was very dark skinned and walked with a bit of a hunch and a limp.  A number of her teeth were missing and she was dressed haphazardly, even disheveled.  As she walked toward me she recognized me as an American and began to ask for money. Although I didn’t quite understand her words, I knew what she wanted.

In American we have this happen all the time.  People stand on the side of the highway with signs asking for work or food.  Most of the time when you offer them something they only want money.  It’s a big business to be a beggar on a busy street corner.

As I turned back toward my group she began speaking louder.  “Help Me! Help Me, Please!” she said over and again.  I will never forget that voice. There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve heard that cry from a person.  She was helpless and desperate.

As I looked at this lady, I recalled what I knew in America, but I’m not in America.  This is Guatemala and things are VERY different here.  So I looked to some of my mission team coming down the hill.

Rudy, our resident missionary was out in front, passed me and reached in his pocket as he walked by.  He gave the lady a couple of coins.  What he’d given her didn’t seem enough to meet her need.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if he had just given her something to keep her from making a scene or if this was a real need. How would I know?  I turned back and looked at Sully, Rudy’s wife.  She knew exactly what my glance meant and nodded an affirmative. So I pulled out a few dollars and handed it to her.

It’s so sad that I even had to stop for a moment and think about this, but in a way I believe it was the right thing to do.  It’s one thing to just give, but money is not always what’s needed.  If we don’t stop for a minute and assess the situation, listen, and open our hearts, then we might miss filling the real need in someone’s life.

As I reflected back on this situation later in the day, I wish I’d done something else .  A few dollars wasn’t enough.  How was the hope that I have in Jesus communicated?  I only gave her a couple meals and maybe that’s all she needed today, but what about tomorrow and the next day?  What about her children if she even had children? What about where she would sleep tonight?

One of the hardest things about going on a mission trip is seeing this kind of need pop up and knowing that we’re only there for a few days.  The relationships we form are short lived and in situations like this we might have one single interaction to make a difference in a person’s life.  But there’s always more to the story.

The story for that person doesn’t end when we leave and just because we’re gone, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t continue to work in that person’s life.  He may have sent us there just for that day for that woman, but he will send someone else tomorrow and another the next day.

I may not be in El Zapatillo today, but God is and he’s working on other people’s hearts to go and to provide for the children even as he has me doing other work here where I live.

Maybe God’s calling you to be a part of this mission or maybe he’s asking you to step forward and sponsor one of the children in El Zaptillo.  Whatever it is, take that step forward and follow him.  We can’t always make a difference by what we do, but when God directs our steps, he will.

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Rosa Sings

It was time for our Vacation Bible School and all the children gathered in their chairs.  The small chairs in front, then the medium sized chairs and then the large chairs in the back of the room. Each child chose a chair that fit them.  It was one of the most organized groups of children I’ve seen.

The service began with singing and when it was time, they brought little Rosa to the front and put her on a chair.  Then they handed her the microphone.  Her voice rang out as she led the other children in worship.  Our team was blown away and I think half of us were filming the event.

What made this so surprising is that Rosa is a quiet, polite, unassuming, little girl.  She’s certainly not someone you would expect to stand in front of her friends and raise her voice the way she did.  But, boy did she sing!  She put her whole voice and heart into it.

God raises people like Rosa up from the most unlikely of places and gives them the ability to do things that are inconceivable.  He doesn’t conform to our patterns or molds. He makes them and breaks them to get our attention and uses us in ways that are amazing and sometimes even beyond our comprehension.

I had an opportunity later in the week to talk with Rosa (pictured above on the left with her teacher).  I asked her what her name was and she spoke so quietly, so unassumingly I still couldn’t reconcile how she stood there and raised her voice to God the way she did.

There have been so many times I wanted to stand like Rosa and speak out, but I allowed my peer-fear or excuses to stand in the way and didn’t do what I know I should have. Her courage and her willingness to stand firm and lead are an inspiration.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. — James 4:17

But it is also sad because like the other children in this village Rosa’s opportunities are very limited by the lack of resources, basic healthcare and an education. Undernourishment has taken a serious toll on the development of these children. Even though they come from hard working families, their lack of resources make it a struggle to have their most basic needs met.

The pictures here inside a new church don’t show what’s just outside the walls.  These children live in conditions that we would describe as primitive camping here in the US, but without the transportation, grocery stores, water purification, bathrooms, electricity/generators, and modern conveniences we bring with us, and they don’t just live it for a few days.  It is their life EVERY day.

This is why our church has partnered with CH Global’s child sponsorship program here and in Ethiopia.  We’ve worked to build the preschool and support roughly 1/4 of the 120 neediest children in the village.  There are many others that qualify if we are able to find people who will support them.

Join with us HERE and help children like Rosa learn about the life saving message of Jesus and escape the cycle of extreme poverty.

Dancing on the Rooftops

One of the great ironies of life is that Beauty and Danger are best friends.  I’ve never been one to shy from courting both Beauty and Danger and on this trip, it was par for the course.

During my college years, I spent a summer working for my uncle and cousin in upstate New York. I helped built chimneys, repaired and installed roofs, and did other general construction.  It was a hard summer, but I learned a lot and I came home with a tan, muscles, a new outlook, and a few new tricks.

We used to laugh at Danger and admire Beauty from on high.  Being up on a rooftop has it’s advantages.  I was fortunate that I kept close companions with Caution so Danger never spoiled my day. I wish I could say the same for my cousin.  He’s fallen off the roof twice and both times suffered serious injuries.  He’s lucky to be alive.

There were more than a few moments when this crossed my mind while I was on the roof with my teammate, Adam.  He’s an old hand at this sort of thing having worked in the trades a bit more than I have, he knew exactly how to approach the job in the safest and most efficient manner. One experience has taught me is to respect people who get up early in the morning and create things for a living.  I followed his lead and he taught me a few new tricks.

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There were some soft spots in the roof and although it looks solid from a distance we were supported by only a couple of 2×4’s.  If it weren’t for the boards we sat on, we’d have been licking our wounds from the concrete floor.

There was no shortage of work that needed to be done in the village.  When we arrived there was only one working toilet, but no water to flush and no showers. There were several buildings that needed painting including the new preschool, a new roof on the kitchen (pictured), and a home build that was underway.

Basic medical attention was over an hour a way and I’m sure a real hospital was a lot further off. Cell service was only available from the top of the water cistern. I only know this because I saw the pastor of the local church climb to the top to make a phone call. We couldn’t drink the water or even brush our teeth with it and we were instructed to sanitize our hands after every wash.

Life here is hard and every day there is a risk from the dangers of the forest that we know nothing about.  We saw some pretty big, ugly spiders (I’m sure they were harmless… who’s afraid of spiders anyway?) and a few scorpions (those I take seriously).  Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night revealed the tiny eyes of creatures big and small staring back at us.

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A spider lurking just under the roof we’d just replaced.

After completing our work each day, we had lunch and then spent time with the children, teaching them, playing with them and just loving them.  We played games and we sang songs together.  We gave them candy and snacks and did crafts together.

We enjoyed meals together, we laughed, we cried, we slept, and we celebrated.

But it wasn’t about the work, or courting Beauty and Danger.  It was like dancing on the rooftops with Jesus.  We were following his lead, learning a new step, and trying some new moves high up in the mountains of Guatemala.  It was exciting, fun, inspirational, and exhausting all at the same time.

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Why are we here?

When we arrived in El Zapatillo we were directed to our sleeping quarters.  The men were on the ground floor of the new preschool, the ladies in a small building.  The ladies were fortunate to have a couple bunks.  The guys brought blow-up mattresses and sleeping pads for the concrete floor.  The buildings in El Zapatillo have window openings (no glass), some with bars if they need to be secured.  We found the people there to be very respectful of our space.

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The Ladies Quarters – Courtesy of Breanna Alexander Hodge.

In the USA, we have windows and our are homes are tightly enclosed.  There is a different degree of privacy.  I heard a story once of a person coming to the USA from another country to live.  They were surprised by the fact that though we had nice homes in neighborhoods, everyone kept to themselves.  They said that living in a neighborhood in the USA was like living in a graveyard.  There was no life there.

In contrast, El Zapatillo was full of life.  The people were engaged with one another the whole time we were there.  There was a harmony about the place that speaks volumes about sharing life together.  It wasn’t just the people.  We saw the farm animals and the creatures of the forest all engaged in a daily routine, but the appeal of this place as a home, though hard to get to and live in, is very strong.

In the jungle there is also danger.  One night we heard a gun-shot and wondered what had happened.  Being a southern boy from Tennessee, I’d just assumed it was a hunter, but having lived in the city too, there’s always a nagging concern for someone’s safety.

Why do we go to a people we don’t know, in a place we’ve never been, exposing ourselves to the possibility of rejection, hardship, or persecution?

The answer is that God has called us to go because he loves these people.  It is through his spirit that we learn to love others and it is that spirit that gives us a passion for these people despite all the difficulties.

When we follow him, God goes with and ahead of us.  Not all missionaries come home, but it’s a risk we are willing to take when we go.  It’s no different than bungee jumping or sky diving.  If something goes wrong, we deal with it.  We know that Jesus will raise us up again. Our life is not limited by our time here, but our time here and what we do can make an eternal difference for someone else.

Coconut Greetings

When coming into a new place like this I never know what kind of reception there will be. Will we be welcomed here and what will we face. I felt right at home here in El Zapatillo among the people and our team.

As we settled in, Victorio, a local elder in the village, collected some coconuts and cut off the ends.  He handed us each a coconut and a straw to drink the coconut milk.  This greeting was a small token of the love that we would share with these people.  It was a fitting welcome to his home.

Throughout our visit I developed a special relationship with Victorio.  He had a genuine joy in his soul and I could sense that he walks closely to God.  He was so grateful and excited that we were there.  Anytime we needed anything, he jumped into action to support the work we were doing.  He didn’t speak any English and though I only know a few words of Spanish, we communicated on a completely different level. There was love in his eyes and in his heart, not just for his people, but for us too.  This man, is a true example of a servant leader and he was an inspiration.