Thursday, August 30, 2007

6:8 Ministries Web-site

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ramblings - Rain

It’s raining again. It’s a torrential, unrelenting, dark, soaking rain. I hear it beating on the roof with some rolling thunder in the distance. I normally don't mind the rain, which is good since it comes every afternoon almost like clock-work. However, today it feels like a physical manifestation of my soul. It’s as if all of nature is reflecting the despair and brokenness of this fallen world. It’s not just the death, disease, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, that we've heard about, or witnessed first hand since my last “Ramblings”. It’s the spiritual warfare that beats down on your soul. A few days ago I was walking through downtown San Jose, when I noticed one of the young women I know from Juan Pablo. (She is 22 years old, but will remain unnamed as many of you may remember her.) It was not a pleasant encounter like bumping into a friend on the street; this was an awkward heartbreaking reunion. She was downtown for only one reason…she was working as a prostitute (see footnote). The especially, heartbreaking part was that she was raised in the church and claims to know Jesus Christ. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but said she had no choice. No choice! I was filled with all the self-righteous anger and disgust of a Pharisee. She started to get teary-eyed, and almost crying said "please listen to me". I immediately realized that I was not reflecting Christ, and that I was not filled with a compassion or love for her. I realized that I was angry because it offended me, and that I had invested time, resources, and prayer into this young lady; and I wasn't getting the return on my investment that I expected. Then there was the fact that her actions were reflecting a failure on our my part. If I would have prayed harder, or with more faith, or if I would have done something different it would not have come to this. It upset me because things weren't going my way, and I wasn't getting what I wanted. This wasn't a righteous anger but a selfish judgmental anger. All kind of feelings raced through my mind, and in the end they all came back to me! Then it was like Jesus wanted to show me how incredibly selfish and self-righteous I was acting. Some how this wasn't about her anymore, it was about me! “Spencer, stop thinking about yourself; you selfish jerk, and try to love her as Christ would.” So I listened… Through her guilt, shame, and embarrassment she explained that she had been coming downtown looking for “work” for the past week. However, she wasn't able to find any “customers”. I was thanking God that she hadn't found any “customers”, but in her mind this just compounded her feelings of worthlessness; she said “I'm not even pretty enough to be a prostitute.” She continued to explain that before she made the decision to work as a prostitute she had looked for work everywhere. I knew this was probably true, because unemployment is a huge problem here. She said one of the cosmetic factories had offered her work, but they would only allow her to work fourteen hours a week, and only paid $.75 an hour. (They keep it under fifteen hours a week so they don't have to pay the minimum wage or offer benefits). The $11.25 a week would barely make a difference. She explained that they had no food in the house, and many nights her child went to bed crying of hunger, which broke her heart. She explained that her father, who once was a leader in her church, had ruined his life with drugs and alcohol, and was no longer helping support her mother. So in turn her mother, with whom she is currently living, was going to start charging her, and her five year old son, $150 a month, to help with the cost of food, mortgage, and utilities.

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

Ramblings - Brokenhearted

His name is Jose Antonio, he is six years old, and he has a broken heart. Literally, there is something wrong with one of the valves in his little heart, and it’s slowly killing him. This problem with his heart has also affected his brain, so he does not speak, or walk, and struggles with his basic motor skills.
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

Ramblings - All Things Work Together

Things here have been crazy busy...and I'm loving every minute of it. We've had four teams and three families visit in the past two months! God has done so many great things this summer it's hard to know what to write about. However, one thing God has revealed to me how He is alive and at work orchestrating his perfect symphony in and through our broken lives.

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!