Monday, December 24, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Yesterday, I was awakened by a phone call from Bernie. He begins the conversation by telling me that he needs my help; or more specifically, he knows a family that needs my help. He gives a quick explanation of the situation, and asks if I would be willing to go with him to visit the family. I agree to go and ask "when do you want to go?". "Right now", is the reply. I suddenly realize that Bernie is standing out front of my house. I guess he wasn't planning to take no for an answer.
We arrived at a small walkway, in a poor neighborhood, in a shady part of town. We followed the walkway to a small, unfinished house and were greeted by a young lady.
She looked to be in her mid-twenties, and was wearing a fake smile. It was obvious that she was tired and worn. I can't help but notice her hollow eyes. It's been said that the eyes are a window to the soul. I think I'm starting to understand that more clearly through my encounters here. In her arms was a beautiful, three month old baby, and hiding behind her legs were two of the cutest children you've ever seen.
Her story is the same as so many young women here in Alajuelita. She is a young unwed mother of three. She has no job, no house, and no way to provide for her children. She has no plans, prospects, or hope for the future.
I really wish that I could tell you that at this particular moment I was overwhelmed with love and compassion, but it was just the opposite. I found myself thinking, "She has obviously made some seriously bad decisions, and she is now facing the consequences. She is getting exactly what she deserves! Why should I help her? It probably won't make a difference, she will probably only take advantage of my kindness."
Then, almost audibly, the Holy Spirit whispers, "Do you love her? Can you love her like I do?" My mind instantly goes to Christ and His perfect love. A love without condition, a love that was full of action and sacrifice. I can feel my heart breaking, not because of her condition, but because of mine.
A study of the gospels will show that Christ never refused anyone help, even when it was inconvenient or culturally incorrect; He lovingly came to the rescue. His love compelled Him to associate with lepers, drunks, thieves, and prostitutes. Even though He knew exactly who they were, what they had done, and what they were going to do, He lovingly came to the rescue. He healed ten lepers knowing only one would turn back to say thank you. They were ungrateful, but Christ loved. Peter denied, but Christ loved. Thomas doubted, but Christ loved. Saul persecuted, but Christ loved.
He also knows me perfectly! He knows about all of my foolish mistakes. He knows about my idols and doubts. He knows about my fears and lack of faith. He knows about my self-righteous pride, and somehow, He loves me!
So, today, Alexis and I will go and try to be Christ to this small family. We will attempt to help meet some of the physical and spiritual needs. We will deliver food, medicine, clothes, tracts, and Bibles. We will kiss the unclean, and love the unlovely. She may not deserve my love, but I will choose to give it freely, as it was freely given to me. I didn't deserve to be loved by Christ, but He lovingly came to my rescue.
In closing, please pray for us. Pray that God will continue to break our hearts, and place us in situations that will challenge us. Pray that He will increase our capacity to love others as ourselves. I'll pray the same for you.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
It’s incredible that trickling streams grow to raging rivers in a matter of minutes. These rivers rush down the mountainside with an unstoppable rage and fury destroying everything in their path. One neighborhood, not too far from my house, experienced severe flooding. Many homes had three feet of standing water, while others were torn in half, or completely washed away!
In another area one of these swollen rivers destroyed a bridge. It was a small bridge and almost appeared insignificant, that is unless you live in Jasmine. Jasmine is a small community nestled on the side of the mountain. Most of the residents are squatters living in shanties; and it’s one of the most impoverished areas in all of Alajuelita. There is only one road leading in and out, so with the bridge out it’s inaccessible for emergency vehicles. Therefore, it’s not only inconvenient for the residents; it’s a potentially dangerous situation.
To make matters worse the local government claimed they didn't have the money to repair the bridge. I believe this was a half-truth…they may not have the money on hand, but I'm convinced it also had to do with the fact that the people of Jasmine are not a high priority. I'm sure that if some of the other bridges around town had been washed out, they would have come up with the money to make the repairs.
However, where man fails - God succeeds! The people of Jasmine may not be a high priority to the local government, but God loves these people and demonstrated it clearly through His divine provision. He used CCA Church, one of the largest local churches, to take on and coordinate the repair project. He used a team of professional Traveling Tradesmen from Boston to come and build the bridge. He used 6:8 Ministries to provide lodging and meals for the team free of charge. It’s amazing to witness God working all things together!
The project drew the attention of local media, and soon local news teams were on the site to cover the story. It’s a great human interest story, but it makes no sense unless you include the word love. Why else would this group sacrifice their time and money to build a bridge for a group of impoverished people that live over a thousand of miles away? Why would they work long days in a dirty river for people they didn't even know? The only possible answer to these questions is LOVE. For many years people have been using the “bridge illustration” to explain basic truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, now I have another bridge illustration. One that reveals the power and beauty of the gospel lived out. It’s important for us to understand Christ’s work of the cross so that we can be in a relationship with God. However, we also need to remember what we are called to do once we cross that bridge. Professing our faith in Christ is not the end of our spiritual journey; it’s really just the beginning. In many ways it's easier to believe in Christ, than it is to truly follow Him, especially when it requires personal sacrifice.
This past week I witnessed a team of men and women accept the challenge to follow Christ, and it led them to sacrificially loving some of the “least of these”. Watching this take place, I was reminded how the gospel empowers us to build bridges of love. The ability to love others regardless of race, gender, religions and denominations, economic status, and nationality. It’s easy to love those who love us, but when we build bridges, and love those who don't expect or “deserve” our love in return, we are truly living out the gospel.
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5:14
*photos by Nick Wisda
Monday, September 24, 2007
It was about dinner time last night when the phone rang. I answered and immediately recognized the voice on the other end. It was Cynthia, but her voice sounded shaken and weak. It was easy to tell she was struggling to speak though the tears.
She explained that there had been a death in Juan Pablo, and they needed my help. They didn't have the money for a funeral service, a casket, or a tomb. She went on to explain that Juan Carlos had been arrested again and rather than returning to prison, he chose to take his own life. His life of crime had resulted in previous stints in prison, and he had vowed never to return.
Arriving in Juan Pablo, I found what seemed to be the entire neighborhood in mourning. Many houses had people gathering to mourn the loss together. It’s difficult times like these that I'm at a loss for words, a language barrier of a different kind. As a result, I gave long, deep, hugs, quietly praying for each person embraced.
After a while we left Juan Pablo to go make all the necessary preparations for the funeral in the morning. In Costa Rica, the embalming process is different, so it’s vitally important to act fast. My understanding is that most funerals are conducted within thirty-six hours of the time of death. For this reason most of the morgues and funeral homes are open twenty-four hours.
The funeral was early this morning. The casket was set-up for viewing in the community center. Friends and family gathered to remember Juan Carlos, and comfort each other. It was during the viewing that I was asked to be an honorary pallbearer. Hesitantly accepting, I soon learned it’s a much larger responsibility here in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica they have funeral processionals, and you walk, and carry the body to the cemetery.
So, we all started walking. The most direct route was impassable because all the rain we have had lately has completely washed out the road, so we had to go around the long way. It was a long but beautiful walk. We walked in honor and memory of the dead. We walked contemplating our own mortality, knowing that there would be a similar end for each of us. The processional moved slowly and reverently through the winding streets of Alajuelita. There were small children and elderly adults, mothers carrying babies, and six men carrying a box containing the empty shell of a man.
When we arrived at the cemetery Pastor Miguel delivered a short eulogy. Then we carried the casket and placed it in the tomb. Everyone stayed and watched as they sealed the tomb with bricks and mortar. It seemed to bring an indescribable finality as the last brick was laid in place.
It’s a tragedy because Juan Carlos is dead, and this time there is no victory. I suspect that all there is left for him is an eternity of pain and suffering. While walking and struggling under the weight of death; I thought about how his death was the direct result of a fallen and broken world. I'll never forget my walk from Juan Pablo to the cemetery. Carrying his body on my shoulder, I thought about how horrible it must be for Juan Carlos, how he is no longer wearing that beautiful smile.
My raced to memories of my broken conversations with Juan Carlos. I tried to tell him about Christ, but he would not listen, he wasn't interested. His death somehow feels like a defeat, but I'm reminded that I can't make people listen. Only the Holy Spirit can soften hearts. However, this experience has motivated me all the more to tell others about this precious gift of life.
The walk also reminded me of my own victory over sin and death. My Savior, Jesus Christ, has paid the ultimate price, so that I can look at the grave with confidence. I can smile at death knowing that I'll spend all eternity in an endless love affair with God, my Father.
In closing I ask that you would pray for us ministering here in Costa Rica. Pray for God to soften hearts, and lives will be changed in this life and the next. I'm sure that I'll have the opportunity to walk in more funeral processionals here in Costa Rica, but next time I hope it’s more of a victory march.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
1 Corinthians 15:54-56 NIV
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Listening to her story, I realized, I could not judge her. I knew what she was doing was wrong, but so did she. I've never been in a situation where I was unable to provide for my family. I can't even imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in her shoes. Granted, sometimes my children complain about not eating the food they want; sometimes when things are a little tight…rice and beans tend to show-up on the menu more frequently than they would like; but we have never gone hungry. I've never been in a position where there just weren't any evident solutions. Back home you can almost always find some type of work. Plus, there is social welfare and other forms of assistance. However, if I were in her shoes…what would I be tempted to do? At that moment, I decided that my only action would be one of love. I prayed with her right there on the street, and she cried. I prayed that God would remind her how much He loves her and provide a solution to her problem. I prayed that she wouldn't find any clients, but would find work and then I prayed that God would help me know how to love and help her.
The cool thing is that through my experience with this young lady God has reminded me, who Christ is, and how I'm supposed to reflect Him in my life. His grace and forgiveness is greater and more powerful than all of my sin and hers! I'm not called to judge or condemn, but to love others with compassion. To love others as myself and to love them unconditionally as He has loved me. To quote an old Christian cliche "Love the sinner hate the sin", there is a lot of wisdom and truth in that statement. It's just really hard to do sometimes. So, I'm sitting here watching the rain wondering and praying what I should do. You know one of the nice things about the rain is it always stops. It’s only temporary. The darkness will subside and the sun will shine again. The birds will sing and the bright blue sky will return. You need the strength, faith, and courage to wait out the rain; and anxiously hope for the return of the sun. However, when you're standing in the rain a friend with an umbrella is a welcome sight.
(For those of you who don't know, prostitution has been legalized in Costa Rica. If you weren't sure it’s a horrible and ugly thing that has ruined the lives of many women. They fall into the trap through the temptation of making big money. Rich gringos come down and are willing to pay $100 - $150 to have sex with a young Latin woman. This is an incredible temptation, as that is about a month’s salary for many of these women. I recently read an article in the local paper about the social effects on legalizing prostitution. The sex tourism industry is a $40 million a year industry, second in the world. The typical client: North American men, between the ages of 38 – 54. Many of these men are married; we know this because now there is a problem with them being black-mailed by locals working with the prostitutes. The article said that a study showed that a large majority of the women working as prostitutes, end up addicted to drugs or alcohol within the first year. They explain that drugs and alcohol are used to mask the guilt and shame of selling their bodies for sex to strangers. It also said that STD’s and Aids are a common problem. Furthermore, 80% of the women had mothered children, and almost a third of the prostitutes were married. Join me in praying that the legislation will change and they will outlaw this horrible industry.)
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Jose lives in conditions that most us can't imagine. His small, three room house is constructed out of scraps of tin and wood, and leaks horribly when it rains. The small house has running water, but they do not have a bath or shower. They have one toilet that empties straight into the river, which can be seen and smelt, just out the back window. The house is in a community of squatters that live close to the river in Aurora. For those of you who may not know, living near the river here is not a good thing. The local rivers here are full of garbage and raw sewage, so let’s just say “water-front property” here in Alajuelita has a slightly different meaning.
Today, Chris, Nick, and I walked down the narrow path winding through the shanties. We were on a mission to deliver some food and prayer to Jose and his family. I've been visiting Jose about every week or so for several months. We slowly made our way back to his house, and found Jose just getting dressed. He looked as though he was having one of his better days. He was a little more coherent and playing with a toy. This was very encouraging to see, because my last few times He has been sick in bed. We spoke with his mother, a sweet young woman, who has a deep sadness in her eyes. She smiles often, but it’s a thin smile that is full of sorrow and worry. It’s easy to see that Jose isn't the only person in the family with a broken heart. We played with Jose, delivered the much needed food, and prayed with the family. We prayed that God would continue to provide for the family, we prayed for healing for Jose, and we prayed for the peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a very sad situation, and we all left a little heart-broken. However, to be honest I love these experiences, because they feel so right. I'm not boasting or trying to sound like some great saint, but today we were given an opportunity to live out our faith in a tangible way. We seized it...and it felt right. Praying for the sick, feeding the poor, loving the least of these. It feels right deep down inside my soul; and somehow for me that confirms and strengthens my faith. It validates all those crazy things Jesus said that go against everything the world teaches. Think about it, if we were all soulless products of evolution, these things would not feel right. We would find incredible joy and satisfaction in living selfishly for ourselves. However, I've learned the hard way, on several different occasions, living for myself never feels right. It often brings temporary satisfaction, but it’s not a lasting joy. For Christians, true joy comes when we give our lives to others. When we truly love others as ourselves. Today we did just that, and it felt really good.
“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Isn't that cool! The creator of the universe, the almighty eternal one, works in and through broken people like you and me; and He's not just making it up as He goes along! He has it all worked out, the plan is complete...and it's perfectly perfect.
Let me give you just one example of how God has revealed this truth to me. One of our first teams this summer was a group from my home church Cross Creek Presbyterian. The church really wanted to pour a concrete floor in the back of the Juan Pablo Community Center. They prayed and raised funds to go toward the project. This floor would be used to construct a kitchen that would be used to start a children's feeding center, and a worship service on Sunday mornings. However, when they arrived we still had not received permission from the city and the project was delayed. The team graciously decided to take on some other much needed projects, but did not get to see the floor completed. The cool part is that just a few weeks later God sent a team from Michigan who was able to put the floor in the community center of Juan Pablo, which is a huge step toward planting a feeding center and church in Juan Pablo.
Over the past two months God has brought over a hundred people from at least eight different churches and six different states to accomplish great things here in Alajuelita. All of these people were united in a common purpose of serving God. They were busy ministering to the poor, loving the unlovely and reaching out to "the least of these", and Kingdom of God is alive and well...and growing as a result.
As I reflect on the summer a specific text comes to mind...(bold emphasis mine)
Ephesians 2: 1-10
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. "
What a great passage! We were dead, disobedient ...then brought to life, not just to live selfishly, but to live for Him and to do the good works, which He prepared for us in advance...for which He receives the glory!
Friday, June 29, 2007
He explained that it all started when I was walking though the park with a mission team passing out prayer, gospel tracts, and empanadas to the drug addicts and alcoholics. Victor came running up to me explaining that he had “found” a bike for my six year old son Seth. My first question was “What do you mean found”? He explained that it wasn’t stolen, but someone he knew was selling it for four dollars. Sounded like a great deal. I gave him six dollars, Four dollars to pay for the bike, and two dollars as sort of a finder’s fee and for him to take the bike to my house.
Someone in the park must have seen me give him the money. They must have been following him and when the opportunity arose, “a big man with a big knife”, robbed little Victor. He had lost the money to purchase the bike. His solution was simple, he quickly ran home and sold one of his prize possessions. A few months ago Victor’s family bought a used Play Station 2. They had two games and two controllers, but now only have one game and one controller. Victor sold one of his games and controllers to get the money to buy the bike for Seth. Wow! I was blown away and encouraged by his integrity and humbled by his sacrifice.
I asked Victor if he was upset because he had to sell his game and controller. He looked at me as only Victor can, with eyes that say you are such a stupid gringo! He then explained “I don’t care about the game! I could have been killed!” Once again I’m amazed at how great I am at missing the point! It never occurred to me that people actually stab or let alone kill each other over six dollars! Furthermore, he had to keep it from his father, “because he didn’t want to cause problems for his dad.” I asked problems? What kind of problems could it cause your dad? He explained that if his dad found out he would go crazy, hunt this man down and probably kill him, and then he would end up in jail! Oh my! All I could think was “note to self…never rob little Victor.”
Anyway, this entire experience led to us having a great discussion about fearing death. I was able to explain that I don’t fear death, but rather embrace and welcome the thought of being in the presence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I explained that I can’t wait to get to heaven; that being said I hope it’s not anytime soon or by way of a big man with a big knife.
Victor confessed he wasn’t sure if he would go to heaven. He said sometimes he thinks he’s a Christian and other times he’s not sure. He has heard the gospel message so many times that he can recite it frontward and backwards. He’s just not sure if he really believes it. This is great progress! During my time here I’ve challenged Victor to grow in his faith. It’s been frustrating because with Victor it seems to be one step forward and two steps back. It sounds so easy “Go and make disciples” but as I’m learning it’s very hard to do. However, last night he went to a Bible study and this Sunday says he wants to go to church. These are all small steps of progress.
In closing I’m asking for all of you to cry out to God to continue to work in Victor’s life. Pray that God will continue to provide more experiences for me to share the gospel in a real ways with Victor. Pray that we, my family and I, will live out the gospel in such a way Victor will understand what it means to become a follower of Christ. Pray that we believe and live out the great commission everyday here in Costa Rica!
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
Monday, June 11, 2007
This new ministry will focus in a few key areas of ministry that we believe will expand and strengthen the kingdom of God. One of these areas is hosting affordable, life-changing mission experiences. God has provided us a facility capable of hosting up to twenty-four people safely and comfortably. This facility will be used as a tool that will strengthen and expand the kingdom of God.
Alajuelita is the poorest county in Costa Rica, and because of this many of the children suffer in ways that most of us can't imagine. We believe that God is calling us to minister to these impoverished children through a child sponsorship program. This will provide uniforms and books for those who could not otherwise afford to go to school.
Another area of focus is planting children's feeding centers. We believe that planting feeding centers are a great way to transform entire communities. We partner with local churches and provide the financial resources to plant and operate the feeding center, while the church provides the space and the volunteers. The effects of the feeding centers are far greater than simply feeding hungry children. The feeding centers increase the church's presence in the community, provides lay people in the church opportunities to serve and provides children with spiritual food through teaching lessons from the Bible before each feeding.
The final area we believe that God is calling us to minister through teaching ESL (English as a Second Language). This ministry has many benefits as it strengthens our presence in the community, provides opportunities to building new relationships, as well as provides individuals a great skill that will assist in finding employment. We use the Bible for teaching references and are currently working on a curriculum that will combine teaching English and the Bible at the same time.
As we start this new endeavor we need your continued prayers and support. For clarification I will not receive a salary for my work with 6:8 Ministries. We will continue to trust God to provide for our family through churches and individuals. We are missionaries working with 6:8 Ministries, but raising our own support.
In closing I hope this email has encouraged you to see how God in working in Costa Rica. He has used your prayers and support to bring much fruit. I'm confident He will continue to bless and multiply them. All I can think to say is..."Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" Eph 3:20
I've been amazed at God's provision through the whole experience. The first way God protected us is physically. My family was uninjured even though the tornado passed within 400 meters of my house. My daughter and her friend Laine had just run up to the "MegaSuper" to pick-up a few things for Molly. MegaSuper is about two blocks away from my house and is similar to a grocery store back home. While they were in the store it started to rain, and then within a few minutes part of the roof came off!
The second way God has provided is through our great friends. I was not home when the storm hit, but our friends Duke and Candy helped Molly and the boys with the immediate crises. By the time I got home Duke had left to check on the girls at the MegaSuper, while Candy kept my boys calm. They made the experience less frightening and later that night they had an ice cream candlelight dinner. They had no electricity and all of the of ice cream in the freezer was going to melt! In caring for my family they freed me to deal with the aftermath of the storm.
I went to the team house and assessed the damage and stayed to protect the house from looters! I called my other good friend Ernie, to tell him what had happened, and that his house here in Alajuelita was undamaged, in spite of the fact that the house four houses down lost the entire roof! He wanted to help, so he sent a generator with his son Storm, who drove late into the night to deliver the generator!
Then within an hour my cell phone started to ring! Many of our Tico friends were calling to see if we were safe and what they could do help us! It was an amazing thing to experience. I had several of my homeless drug addict friends come to check on me and offer to help.
The next day people showed-up with tools and strong backs and helped us repair and clean the team house. God used these friends to transform our disaster site back in a team house. Needless to say we are not completely prepared for our mission team to arrive today, but we are a lot better off than we were 24 hours ago.
Tornados are an extremely rare occurrence in Costa Rica and this is the first one ever to hit Alajuelita. Because of this, the homes are not designed to withstand a tornado. The news has reported that an estimated 3,000 homes were destroyed or lost their roofs. God has provided for some of these families as well as we are planning to use this upcoming team to bring some relief and assistance to the families effected by the storm. The mayor stopped by the house yesterday to ask if we could help...it was neat to be able to say to him "Yes we have a team coming Saturday, and we can help."
In closing I want to ask you pray. Pray that God would use all this chaos and tragedy to bring Him glory. Pray that this team will be able to minister during this time of crisis. Pray that God will continue to keep us safe dealing with the aftermath of the storm. Pray they will be able to get the electricity at the team house on quickly. Pray that God will continue to provide teams and the much needed resources to help our community recover.
Friday, May 18, 2007
While walking the other day I realized that I hadn't really noticed the mountains lately. The same mountains I once found breathtaking are now simply there. This got me thinking about other areas of my life, and sadly I've allowed my faith to become a little to routine. I started to draw several comparisons between God and the mountains here. First off they are huge, towering seven thousand feet over the San Jose valley. They are relatively unchanging, each day they are there and look the same. Their appearance may gradually change, but the mountains themselves are the same, and they are beautiful and breathtaking when you take time to notice them.
I think we as people like things to become routine, because routine is predictable, familiar, comfortable, and safe. We embrace routine to the point of trying to make some extraordinary things feel "routine". For example look at many Sunday morning worship services. The service is conducted same place, same time, and many churches have the same "order of worship" each Sunday. On top of that some of us try to park in the same spot and sit in the same seat each Sunday. These things in and of themselves are not bad, and some are necessary. However, the more routine the greater the risk of our worship experience becoming simply going through the motions, rather than encountering the living God. How routine has your prayer life become? Do you use the same words and say the same things? Do you stop and really think about to whom you are praying, and are you awed that He listens and answers back? Well allow me to remind you of the obvious. God that is anything but routine, actually He is the exact opposite of routine. There is nothing normal or routine about Him. He knows everything, He is everywhere, He is timeless, He is infinite, He is uncreated, He is perfect, and on and on. Therefore, we should be terrified, excited, and overwhelmed by His presence in our lives.
In closing I want to thank each of you for your prayers and support. We are so privileged that God allows us to serve Him here in Costa Rica. I would also like to challenge you, as God has me. First, try to recognize the areas we have let your faith and relationship with God become routine or mundane. Second, spend some time listening and reflecting on God. Who He is, and what He is doing in and through you. Third, pray for God's exciting and terrifying presence. Relinquish control and ask Him for the courage to follow him not matter where He may lead.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Watching Ericson got me thinking...I wonder if I need glasses. Not to correct my physical vision, but to enhance my spiritual vision. What if I had a pair of glasses that allowed me see the world as Jesus does? Eyeglasses that helped me to have more compassion for the lost and dying world. A compassion that welcomed a leper's touch or a prostitute's kiss. Or maybe they could help me see the true value of things so I could stop chasing riches, security, and comfort. Perhaps these glasses could help have the perfect joy and peace found in seeing God clearly. The truth is I don't need glasses, because I have Christ Himself inside of me. Not just His eyes, but His heart, and voice. The thing is, I tend to forget this and see the world though the eyes of self. However, since I've been here, I'm slowly learning to see with His eyes, feel with His heart, and listen to His voice. It's a growing process and a journey. Thanks to Ericson, I've been reminded how far I've come, and how much further I still need to go. In closing I just want to challenge you with this thought...what is your vision like?
This particular family consisted of a wonderful couple, and their three children ages 11, 9, and 4. The first part of the trip was spent conducting various ministry projects here in Alajuelita. To watch this family serve in ministry together was an amazing experience. They served at the Children's Feeding Center, went on a ministry walk in Aurora and passed out personal hygiene products and prayed with poor families. They ministered to children in the Juan Pablo community center, they bought and passed out food to three poor families, and they taught English in one of the local school. All this was great but for me the coolest part to watch was when they were able to meet the children they sponsored for school uniforms. The whole family was able to love on the same children they had already blessed thought there generosity. To watch these two families interact and pray together was a real blessing.
The second part of the trip was spent on the southern Pacific coast. They visited waterfalls, went horseback riding, went to the beach, and other fun stuff.
I have included a link to a short video they made of the trip. I recommend you take the few minutes to watch it. ( http://www.masoncommunitychurch.net/sitemap.htm ) click on missioncation sample.
The lessons learned and memories made will last a life time. Most vacations are good, but I think they would agree this one was great. If you would like to plan a trip for your family simply email me and we will start putting it together.
August brought the creation of the Children's Feeding Center in Aurora. This center is feeds roughly 125 children twice a week. I oversee the project, Rita more or less directs the day to day operation, and all of the coordination is done by two sweet Tico women, one recruits all the ladies to do the cooking and cleaning, and the other recruits people to teach Bible lessons before the meal. The operation almost completely run by local people, in a local church. However, the ministry is mostly funded by contributors at Cross Creek Church and a few other supporters in United States. This ministry has provided both physical food and spiritual food to many children. It has also strengthened the local church and has increased it's presence in the community.
August also brought the start of my language training and God has surprised me how much I've learned thus far. I know it's hard to believe...but I am capable of learning!
September brought our first short-term mission team...and we've had groups every month since. Watching God work through these groups has been very encouraging for me. In the past six months three families have received a new home or a complete remodeling. Many people have been prayed for and blessed with a loaf of bread and a Bible. One group worked on a school, and another worked on the Christian school my children will be attending.
September also brought out first child sponsor. Since then God has provided 20 different children with new school uniforms and school supplies. Some of these children are returning to school for the first time in three years. Here in Costa Rica every school requires children to wear uniforms, so many times if the family can't afford the uniforms the children simply don't go to school.
October brought the beginning of the ESL ministry. I continue to teach English in the town library twice a week. I currently have about 40 students...all learning English from me! Scary thought...
November brought a local tragedy as a family in the community had their house burn down. They lost everything in the fire. Outreach Ministries provided some immediate support and one family back home sent a love gift and we were able to provide some much needed food and clothing.
December and January were full of ministry opportunities as well but this email is already too long. I would love to tell you everything, but there simply isn't time. This has been a good exercise to reflect on the past, but now my focus is the present as we charge hard into the future. My prayer is that God will allow you to continue to be part of this ministry. I encourage you to "come take a walk" and taste and see for yourself.
In closing thank you for supporting the ministries here in Alajuelita through your prayers and giving. The past six months has been amazing, and we are looking forward to what God has on the horizon! Maybe starting a worship service in Juan Pablo? Maybe another feeding center, maybe an orphanage? Not sure yet...but one thing is for sure...God is at work here in Alajuelita and has much more to do!
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Saturday, January 27, 2007
I've heard Psalm 23 recited more times than I can remember. I've studied, taught, and preached on this passage, and like most of the children at the feeding center, I can recite it from memory. This is a great Psalm to remind us of the blessings, provision, and protection we have through our Lord Jesus Christ. However, as soon as they finished the first line I realized this Psalm may mean something different to these children.
"The lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want...to me the entire Psalm sounded like a blaring contradiction to the environment in which these children exist. I wondered how in the world could these children recite this and really believe it, then I realized something rather profound...which for me doesn't happen often. Never been accused of being the sharpest knife in the drawer.
The fact that I was sitting in a feeding center in Costa Rica, inside a small community church, listening to children recite Psalm 23, before eating a free meal was proof of God's provision and blessing. The fact that many of these unchurched children are being taught to trust and follow the Good Shepherd, who promises to never leave them of forsake them, is part of "God's guiding in righteousness". The fact they are getting a meal shows that He has "prepared a table before them". The fact that He has provided a loving pastor and church full of caring adults that have created a safe environment "so they fear no evil".
I'm not claiming that because of this ministry their lives are now perfect. They still live in poverty, in broken homes, in a dangerous neighborhood. By no means are their lives perfect. However, God's work through this ministry they may see some real examples of His provision and protection in their lives. Maybe they will learn to trust in God more and more with each feeding and start to see that God really is as great as He claims to be throughout His word.
So be encouraged and excited about what is happening here in Costa Rica. I challenge you to go and read Psalm 23 and look for ways that God provides and blesses you everyday. If that isn't enough to excite you, be excited that God is taking your offerings of prayer and support and using them to change lives here in Costa Rica!
Monday, January 1, 2007
In most cities in Costa Rica the center of downtown kind of the pride the city. It has a park, a fountain, bus stops, a catholic church, and the municipality. In Alajuelita is no exception, except that town square can be a scary place after dark. Many drugs dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, homeless, and other shady characters gather for their own version of community. Many of these "dregs of society" are my friends, to be honest I'm not sure why, but I have learned to genuinely love many of them.
We set-up under one of the only light posts in the park, we prayed, and stood ready to serve. Then something strange happened...because nothing happened! Nobody approached us at all, this was very unusual, normally a gringo can't walk through the park without being approached by at least one beggar asking for food or money! I figured a team of gringos with food and drinks, would bring them in like moths to flame! I was dead wrong.
I wasn't going to accept defeat so easy! I ventured out into the darkness in search of my friends. I found a couple and brought them to the gathering, the team served them while Jorge shared and prayed with them. I immediately left to go get more...it must have been a funny site to this weird looking gringo herding the bums in the park. Not everyone I approached wanted to come, some refused and even insulted or threatened me, but many did follow me back to the group.
By the end of the night a neat thing started to happen. Those that had came started to go out and bring others! One of my homeless friends named Javier must have brought eight different people back. Even the ones that were originally insulting and threatening me moved closer to see what all the commotion was about. The night was a success and we eventually ran out of food, and drinks, and bags and left for home.
God taught me a important lesson through this experience. I learned that I need to be willing to go out into the darkness and lead people into the light. I often expect others to see the light, and run to it because it's better, but maybe they don't know it's better? Maybe what they need to be loved into the light? I also watched all of them leave the light to return to the darkness. Unfortunately, most of them are still drug addicts, alcoholics, and prostitutes, But I will still love them the same. I've come to understand that I can't control the results, it's not my job to evaluate God's performance, or demand better results. I can only love each of them and trust God with the results. I do know many seeds were planted, many of them listened to the gospel message, and received prayer as well as loved in the name of Christ, and that is powerful enough to change lives. Mother Teresa once said..."In life we cannot do great things; we can only do small things with great love." I think she may have been on to something?
In closing I want to challenge you to charge into the darkness. Carry the light of Christ to a lost and dying world. I've found it to be scary, exciting, and full of joy all at once. I'm so thankful I have the light, but I can't completely enjoy it while there are so many of my friends living in darkness.
Thanks again for all the prayers and support. God is using your gifts to allow us to be here shining light in the darkness in our part of the world.