Monday, November 20, 2006

Ramblings - Laura

I wanted to share something really cool that happened last week. I'll try to retell this story in such a way that you can share in my excitement and joy. First I need to set the stage with some important background information:
The picture above is of a young girl named Laura who I met over a year ago. She is 9 years old, and the oldest of three children. Sadly, her father passed away last year from terminal bone cancer, he was only 33 years old. Her mother, Maria, works in San Jose trying to make ends meet, so the children are cared for by grandma. Grandma is widowed herself, and living off her husbands pension. Their combined incomes are not enough to cover all of the expenses. They all live together in a very poor community called Juan Pablo. The living conditions are almost as sad as the story. Now with that said, it's important to know that I have not seen Laura in over nine months, partly because her grandmother told me that Maria had taken the children and moved in with the her mother after her husband died.

This is where the story starts to get neat. Last month a short-term mission team came to serve in Juan Pablo. While working in Juan Pablo they met Victor, a 13 year old boy that lives in Juan Pablo. He has not attended school for the past three years because his parents couldn't afford the uniforms, registration, books, and other materials. However, he is going to school this upcoming year because of some caring people donated money for Victor's schooling. I shared Victor's story the mission team and shortly after the mission team returned home, a team member emailed stating they were interested in sponsoring a child. They asked if I knew of any children that needed help. The challenge wasn't finding a child, the problem was trying to pick which child with so many in need. I explained that I would pray, and send some photos of different children.

Well, I bet you can guess where this story is going. Last week I was walking through Juan Pablo with Josh and Tim. I was heading to a house that is in serious need of repair, and has the potential for a future project. Well, guess who is living right across the ally way? Yep, you guessed it, Laura! Grandma recognizes me (the goatee helped), and remembered me praying for her dying son on several occasions. She welcomed, or actually insisted, that we come into her home. After offering coffee and show a picture of her dead son, I asked if we could pray for the family, and asked if she had any specific needs. She explained that money was tight, and she didn't know how she was going to buy her granddaughter the needed uniforms for school! I was giddy, Josh prayed for the family and we left.

To finish the story, the team member has agreed to send some money for school uniforms and materials. So now I get the privilege of returning to the house with the good news that God has provided! It's days like this I love my job.
I've been thinking about how all of this transpired. Some could say that this was a series of random events, or what I want to believe is that we have a caring Father in heaven who loves Laura more than I could ever imagine. Maybe I caught a small glimpse of a God, who is constantly working all things together for good and is doing more than I could ever ask or imagine. Be excited that God is working here in Alajuelita.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ramblings - Language Training

I haven't received the key to the city, but I have received a key to the city's library. Once again God has surprised me in the way He is working through us here in Costa Rica. During one of my weekly meetings with the mayor of Alajuelita, God revealed a new opportunity for ministry. The mayor asked me to consider using the library to conduct free English lessons to the community. I've prayed about it and accepted the responsibility.

This is interesting because as you know, I have not yet mastered the English language. I love to teach and preach, but I've never taught English. I feel confident teaching the basics - like the alphabet, but beyond that I'm trusting Him to help me do the rest. Please pray for me, my 67 students, and the success of this ESL ministry. Join me in praying that these classes will open many doors in the community to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It's interesting that right now I'm learning a new language myself. It is very challenging, but extremely rewarding as I'm able to put into practice what I'm learning. I'm very pleased with my progress and proud with the fact I'm carrying an "A" average in each of my classes. I'm starting to understand a good bit, but I struggle with formulating sentences and conjugating verbs fluidly. So, I walk the streets practicing my Spanish with my friends, and butcher the language daily. The locals are very patient and claim to be impressed with my progress, but I suspect they are just being nice.

God is also helping me become more fluent in another language. This is the language of love; which according to the Apostle Paul never fails, always hopes, and always protects. Love is often spoken loudest through deeds, or as St. Francis said "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words." I've come to realize that learning to love is similar to learning Spanish. It doesn't come naturally and requires a lot of work and practice. I've come to realize that by nature I'm not a very loving person, and for most of you this is not a great, new, revelation. I mean it's easy for me to love the loveable people, such as my family, friends, and neighbors; or anyone that can offer something in return. However, I struggle in loving people that smell bad, live offensive and immoral lifestyles, and have nothing to offer in return.

I've come to realize that I honor God when I love without needing love in return. It's exciting and freeing to give love with reckless abandon. I'm getting better as I learn that I don't need a person to love me in return. It's nice to be loved, but I don't need their love to love them all I can. So, I encourage you "Live to love, and love to live!" Join me in finding practical ways to practice unselfish love, and I suspect you'll find a new excitement to living as I have.

Finally, I've enclosed a passage of scripture for your personal reflection. My prayer is that God speaks to you through it as He has with me. I love and miss you all very much. Thank you for all your prayers and support, and may God richly bless you with overflowing love.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-13) "1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Friday, November 3, 2006

Ramblings - Feeding Center

I would like to thank everyone for the overwhelming response and feedback from my last email. It appeared to have accomplished the goal of motivating and encouraging, so here is next edition of ramblings.

Over the past three months I've been awed by what God is doing here in Alajuelita. I came expecting not to accomplish much in the area of ministry my first year, after all my plan was to spend the first year focusing on language training and adjusting to a new culture. Six hours of language training each day leaves little time to work or do ministry. However, what I've learned is that God is constantly working, and He accomplishes infinitely more than I ever could alone.

I've come to understand the blessing of God working in and though me in every day situations. The amazing thing I've found is that it works far better than expecting God to bless my ideas or "my work". The famous missionary James Hudson Taylor said "I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking Him to do His work through me." Isn't that a great idea and attitude!

So, I think the lesson I'm learning is to start everyday trusting God to direct and bless me in every situation. I've gotten away from planning every last detail of ministry projects, and I've stopped trying to predicted the results. I've found that when I have this mind set I'm no longer worried about making things happen in my own power, and I'm free to trust God with the results. I know that it's not me, but God working through me. I pray that you will find the same to be true in your life.

In closing, I would like to share some things God is doing through us here in Costa Rica. The Children's Feeding Center project - serving 275 meals a week, English lessons to the community, and the possibility of starting a Sunday Morning Worship service in Juan Pablo.

Please pray for each of these ministries, pray that God continues to bless the ministries and that I don't try to plan God out of the picture.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ramblings - Alex

It has been an exciting few weeks here in Costa Rica. I've asked Molly to start writing the family updates, as I'm going to focus on the ministry. Rather than just give you a report I've decided to share how God has challenging me to grow in my faith. It's my prayer that you will be encouraged, inspired, and possibly challenged as I have.

I'm awed by the calling and ministry God has given me here in Alajuelita. It's an awesome privilege and responsibility to carry forth the gospel of Jesus Christ to such a dark and dying world, and we realize that without your faithful prayers and support it would be difficult if not impossible! While here, many of the scriptures have a new and exciting application as I'm learning to live them out in new ways. God continues to place me in situations where my spoken faith has been challenged to become faith in action.

This week I would like to share one area in my faith that has been challenged. I've come to realize that I often I take the awesome blessing of God the presence in my life for granted, which causes me to be judgmental or simply uncompassionate. I would like to tell you a person that God brought into my life.

He is a middle aged man named Alex, who lives in a small box on the outskirts of Juan Pablo. (Juan Pablo is a small very poor barrio of Alajuelita.) He is the father of eight children from a couple different women. He is homeless largely due to the fact he addicted to crack cocaine. He has been in and out of Drug Rehabilitation Centers for years, and his addiction prevents him from holding down a job, or providing support to any of his children. He spends most of his day laboring to scrape together enough money for his next fix.

At this point you may be wondering how God could use a person like Alex teach me anything! Well, the first thing God convicted me of is that without the presence, and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, I'm a lot like Alex. Listen to the words of Romans 3:9-12 "What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jew and Gentiles are alike under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have become worthless; there in no one who does good, not even one."

It goes on but I think that is enough to get the point. I like to think that I'm somehow a better person than Alex, but the truth is that apart from the presence of Christ in my life I'm just as lost, weak, broken, and deceived.
I've also realized that I've been more like a Pharisee than Christ in my attitude toward the lost and dying. I, like the Pharisees, have found it's much easier to sit in judgement than it is to love the unlovable, plus judging others make me feel better about myself. Part of me would rather stone the adulterous woman, it's a lot easier than loving her, and if I act like I don't see wounded sinner, and cross on the other side of the road I won't have to deal with them. Plus, if I do stop and get involved I might get dirty or worse be associated with sinners.
The good news is that by the grace of God, and the power of Holy Spirit dwelling in me I'm and recovering Pharisee and starting to look a little more like Christ each day. I don't say that to boast or sound super spiritual, I'm simply excited that I think I one the right track. As I come to realize that apart from the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ I'm just like Alex, or worse a self-righteous Pharisee.

So now I try to spend a little time with Alex each week. We sip coffee and talk about family, football, and local politics, we had a conversation about what causes a gringo to decide to hang out with a crackhead in Jaun Pablo. Alex has shared through teary eyes that he is scared, scared of the future and because has started to doubt the existence of God. I've reminded Him that God does exist. Pray that God will open Alex's eyes to the truth and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that God will continue to use Alex to open my eyes as well!

Thanks for taking time to read this email and listening to my ramblings. I hope that I've painted a small picture of a lesson God is teaching me as I try to live for Him here in Costa Rica. I would love to hear your feedback and I'll try to keep you updated on how God is using your support to make a difference for His kingdom here in Alajuelita. Please continue to pray for us! We need your prayer and support like you can't imagine. I feel as though I'm on the front lines a lot of the time and the only thing holding me up is your prayers. Also, if you know someone that may be interested in supporting the ministry please let me know.
Now to Him who is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine!