Scared

The appointment to my new parish was confirmed with a confident handshake and the statement “and of course, you’ll be going with us to Nicaragua in January.”

“Of course,” I said, hoping no one would notice the sweat starting to form on the top of my lip. The contents of my gastro-intestinal tract were quickly becoming a swelling, stewing, stoking sign of fear.

Other than heights and eating bugs, not many things scare me. But the thought of going to a Central American country on a mission trip was starting to take hold of my deepest fears. After all, who hadn’t heard of Iran-Contra, Daniel Ortega, and the Communist influence in Central American civil wars?

My goodness, 24-hour news channels over the years had painted a picture in my mind of Nicaragua as an Iron Curtain, goose stepping kind of place, filled with mindless soldiers wielding Kalashnikovs, where everyone thumbed their nose at the Imperialist United States.

I was scared.

And I was wrong.

I’m learning that people are people all around the world. People get up before dawn, make breakfast, get their children off to school. People work hard, multiple jobs, six or seven days a week, just trying to feed their family and put cloths on their backs. People look up to the stars and ask, “Is this all there is? or is there more?”

Babies are born out of pain, tragedy strikes like lightening, the elderly quietly suffer in loneliness. Drops of Holy Water are splayed in the sign of the cross by those who enter sacred spaces. Children jump rope, squeal with delight over a wand from a jar of bubbles, and squeeze themselves in line to take a turn at wacking a pinata with a stick. Coffee brews, carts of shaved ice circle the village park, and older men tip back in their chairs while talking quietly and watching before them a game of pick up foot ball in the street.

International Christian ministries are about people, not politics.

The fear that gripped me began to fade away as I look out the window of the Delta flight and saw the poverty that surrounded the single landing strip airfield. Some old 50’s era military helicopters off to the side looked sad, tired, and rusted; like they hadn’t flown in years. Cooking fire smoke drifted up from Managua homes into the sky like there was some connection to heaven.  Even the gruff looking customs inspector at the airport looked like he was compensating for something. He couldn’t fool me.

I could feel the grace of God seeping into my consciousness like water drawn to a sponge. Smiles and waves and warm Hola’s were signs that people just want to be friends.

Being scared is natural, yet it also reveals within me a lack of confidence in my own faith. I know that God is in control. This is God’s world. There is no reason to fear. I’m human; which means, like you, I am a work in progress, flawed, bent, and brittle. Yet, despite it all, making new friends is God’s way of overcoming my fears and drawing me towards Christian perfection.

Scared? Not enough to keep me from going back.

How about you?

 

 

His Name Rhymes with Nixon

But I’ll call him Dino.

The 13 year old who stood before me begging for my watch had quite a reputation.

Other short-term missionaries who had been to our rural Nicaraguan village numerous times in the past had seen Dino grow up from a small child. They reported:

Dad; not in the picture.

Mom; did unspeakable things to earn or steal money, and who place her concerns before either of her two children.

Little sister; hanging on for dear life. Dino watched out for her and shared his spoils.

Dino, begged, borrowed, or stole everything. He popped up anywhere, everywhere, and at any time throughout the village, often when least expected. He knew all the secrets of every family in town. His classroom disruptions were legendary. One of our team told me “he’s got a little devil in him.” He was tolerated by all, but dismissed like a three minute tropical rain storm, without a second thought.

Dino was sensitive. His feelings were easily hurt, and from his body language, he was carrying a life time of disappointments on his under nourished shoulders.

Dino came to vacation Bible school, the week-long effort our team hosted at the local elementary school. In a crowd of 300 children, Dino hung out amongst the fringes. Older kids picked on him. Younger kids kept their distance. Yet, as regular as a jeweler’s personal time piece, Dino would show up every day for opening exercises and class.

Dino showed up in my class of senior high youth. He was breaking new ground. Yet, he yearned for acceptance so bad it was painful. He was playing the part of the village idiot as if he had a life time of rehearsing for the part. My English was translated to localized Spanish and I could see his brows furrow and tears well up in his eyes when I said, “Dino, either you’re going to work in our class, or you can sit quietly on the side.”

Dino chose neither.

He breathed hard, got up, and stormed out.

That noon at lunch, the chit-chat over the events of the morning turned to Dino. “Yes,” I said. “True to form, he got angry and blew out of my classroom.” Everyone shook their head as if we all understood. Turns out none, but one, did.

… except for one teacher, who had younger elementary children in her class. She understood. “Did you know,” she began slowly, “that midway through my class this morning, Dino popped in, and asked me if there was any way he could help?” For the rest of the class (and for the rest of the week), Dino assisted in the classroom by being a very successful teacher’s aide, teaching vacation Bible school.

Later in the week, in the evening, prior to retiring for the night, I sat on a chair watching the neighborhood kids swarming us in the street, playing some pick up street football, and just hanging with us odd North American visitors.  Dino came up to me smiling. We didn’t share the same language.

“You become a Padre some day?” I asked, holding my index finger like a clerical collar. After a few attempts at translation, I could see understanding descend upon him like a veil. Dino laughed, and giggled, shook his head and pointed at me, then turned and disappeared into the dusk.

How Far Would You Go to Pray?

Twice in one day I wondered about this question. Physically exhausted carrying building supplies and making home visits to local families in the high altitudes of Mayan lands, the first request came from a Hands of Jesus team member who heard a 4 year old girl was very ill and the family requested we come and pray for her. I brought up the tail as the group descended down a mountainous trail into a maze of homes and alleyways. I fell behind and found myself alone on the trail. I looked down and wondered if I could go on. The eyes of numerous children were upon this heavily breathing Gringo.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” I prayed over and over again. The “Jesus Prayer” had never let me down before.

I heard a man coming down from behind, saw me stopped looking lost, and asked children spying on me through glass-less windows where the Gringos had gone. The children pointed and I was on my way.

The prayers had started as I arrived, slipping quietly into the back of the dark room. The child’s life was at stake and I felt privileged I could silently add my own, even if it was in English. As we left, arrangements were made to take her and her family to the hospital. Thanks be to God.

The second time was at the end of the day. We were to bless the house the team built for a family. Though it was only a third of a mile, it was straight up. I’d been up it twice before and didn’t know if I could do another. Maybe I’d just wait down below at the truck.

“Lord Jesus Christ, …” I began to pray. In a moment I knew God had given me that extra reserve of grace to start the climb.

A young child from the home appeared and led me by the hand, steadily giving me balance as we climbed ever higher. We arrived late, but just in time for the dedication and prayers with the family. Tears of joy and thankfulness flowed freely as testimony was shared, gifts were given, and embraces were exchanged.

On this day I went farther than I knew I could, just to pray with others. By God’s grace, the Jesus Prayer, and a little child who led me, life giving prayers flowed from me into the lives of two families. Because I did, I know you can, too.

Quake 2

No. This isn’t a reflection on the video game I so enjoyed years ago. This is a second take on serving God’s kingdom in the high altitudes of Mayan Guatemala.

A retired colleague of mine, who has been coming to Guatemala for decades, replied that when ever he was here and experienced an earthquake that it stirred imagery of creation.

God created the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the sea and sky, and yes, Terra Firma. The same God who created you and me in God’s image is the very same God who created the ring of fire and it’s associated earthquakes. It is also the same God who sent us his Son, to still the wind and the rain of life, to teach us to love and forgive, to reset us clean, and who will one day welcome us home in his heavenly kingdom.

The moment God’s Son gave his life as a gift of love, there was such an earthquake that the Gospel reports tombs were opened and the dead were raised. God our Creator stirs the magma of our souls and releases spiritual energy when fault line slip. Such energy removes the sting of death and gives eternal glory to God.

Traveling and serving God in Guatemala stirs my spiritual magma. How about you?

Marked

I was marked. Seeing the mark on my hand made me think of the marks Jesus obtained by his crucifixion.

marked

My mark came from the ink identifying wheelchair size. 18 stands for eighteen inches in width. While working with others to obtain a good fit for one of fifty people from Guatemala City in need of a wheelchair, my grasp transferred the ink to my palm.

People came with family members, some carried, some rolling on broken wheels, others being dragged, all imprisoned by their lack of ambulatory abilities. All constrained to a life void of hope and freedom.

Being given a new chair, properly sized and fitted, tears of friendship and freedom flowed freely, taking away the oxygen in the room and replacing it with God’s Holy Spirit. Individuals beamed with love, God’s love, as each was prayed for and returned home.

In Luke chapter four, Jesus announces his call and mission, including release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind. Paul says “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 1 Cor. 3:17.

Christ’s marks from crucifixion freed us from our sins, freed us from the necessity to pass judgment upon others, and freed us to simply love God and love our neighbors …. not just some, but everyone.

Christ’s mark of freedom were the scars from a wounded hand. Mine simply read eighteen. What does your mark look like?

Quake

Guatemala, I am told, is a geologically active region that rings the Pacific. Volcanoes are everywhere. Earthquakes are frequent. Apparently we’d been experiencing earthquakes nearly every day on our mission trip this past August. I hadn’t felt one of them.

I’ve always wanted to, but I did not want to experience an earthquake so large that people or property would be hurt. So I am picky about geological events, as if I had one ounce of control.

On one of the last days in Guatemala, I felt my first earthquake. Sitting in a third story dinning room, it gently rolled the floor and rocked the pictures hanging on the walls. How cool!

There were quakes other than ground shaking events taking place all around me, however. On this trip, I was surrounded by a team of young adults that are smart, faithful, deeply caring, confident, and wonderfully in love with life and God. The emerging Church is like an earthquake, making the ground shake under my feet. My goodness, this was so refreshing!

The people we visited and provided with assistance were experiencing quakes of their own. Babies were being fed, economic opportunities were created, peach trees were getting planted, footbol was being played, and roofs were being erected right over their heads. An adult getting fitted for a wheelchair for the first time in their life, freeing their loved one from carrying them from place to place, is an earthquake unto itself.

Prayer here quakes, rocks, and stirs the soul. It is with power. It is participatory. It is in a language I do not understand, nor need I understand. Power comes from a confidence in faith that God is working in the world to bring about a transformation in his kingdom.

Prayers are lifting up the last, the least, the lost, and the left behind. Prayers are quaking the widows, the orphans, the hungry, and sick. Prayers are a conduit for the lightening of God’s amazing grace to strike, making all things new.

These are the quakes I experience when I take part in short term mission trips. Where have you experienced God shaking up your faith?

I Returned the Stick

Prior to my travels to Guatemala earlier this month, a dear friend, Ralph from Indianapolis, encouraged me to walk with a cane. My left knee had been increasing in pain and caused me to walk with a limp. Another friend, Don, suggested I obtain a walking stick to better navigate the steep, mountainous walking trails in the rural Mayan countryside. My pride prevented me from taking this well intention, wise advice.
Climbing up was difficult in the high altitude – over seven thousand feet – especially when carrying building supplies for a home that our team was building for a grateful family in need. Climbing down was terrifying. One slip or loss of balance would be catastrophic. My friend and colleague saw a short tree than had been fallen and went over to find me a stick. Lida stripped off the branches from a limb and presented me with a very helpful third point of balance. My goodness, I was grateful.
Safely down on the road, ready to load up the van for our return to town, I spied children from the family peering down from their perch high above the road. I saw no need to take the stick with me. I had not planned to return to the building site. So I limped over to the towering bank and lifted it up to them. I returned the stick. One boy took it and smiled.

In the same region the next day, I saw a man with a small horse. Strapped to it’s back were bundles of sticks he had gathered for firewood. In places of such extreme poverty, currency comes in many forms. Money, of course, is well known. But food is also useful as currency. Alcohol is currency. Goods, including firewood, is also valued as currency by those who use wood to cook. The walking stick I had used and returned were valuable items of currency to this impoverished family.

To my surprise, our group returned to the lofty building site the following day. Of course, we did; we went back to dedicate the house, to bless the family, and to distribute gifts and food. I didn’t want to climb the high mountain trail leading to the house, especially after a long, tiring day working elsewhere. I prayed. I prayed hard about going back up. By God’s grace and whisper, I set out for one last climb. Up the trail I went, blessed to take part in the dedication and blessings.

I only had to return down the steep trail.

With no stick, tired, and drained I began the descent. From behind, the mother of the family and one of her sons – the one to whom I had returned the stick, each approached and took me by the hand. With mom on my right and son on my left, these profoundly grateful and humble children of God became my new walking stick, balance, and assurance as I made my way down the mountain. They saw my need. They met my need, even though each was a fraction of my size.

withalittlehelpfrommyfriends

Safely down on the road, the mother and son smiled, and wished me well in a language I did not understand. I was amazed and humbled by the kind gift they had given to me, far more valuable than the original stick I had used. My goodness, I was grateful. Their guiding hands, confident steps, and gentle presence swallowed me in God’s grace unlike I had ever experienced and will never forget.

All because, I returned the stick.