Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hope for the Hopeless

We recently had the opportunity to host a mission team from Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida. They came and left a wake of love, joy, peace, and hope, everywhere they went. One of the team members was a gentleman named Johnnie. Johnnie is one of those guys who is really easy to love. He has great stories of his travels around the world, and even greater stories of how God is working in and though him everywhere he goes.
Johnnie and I spent some of our time together looking at various construction projects for future mission trips. I knew of a family that needed to build an addition on their home to provide some much needed space. However, I was a little hesitant to suggest the project because it was the home of Carlos.
Carlos lives in Juan Pablo with his wife, five children, and four grandchildren. They all live together in a small three bedroom house. Carlos is a crack addict, and his addiction is destroying his family, and his faith.
To be honest, I had all but given up on Carlos. Like many of the crack addicts I know, it seems impossible for him to ever escape the death grip of crack addiction. However, as I was about to be reminded, God never gives up, and nothing is impossible for Him.
As we approached the house I explained to Johnnie that this family has fallen onto hard times. They come by the mission house looking for food and clothing from time to time. We have also provided help through the 6:8 Child Sponsorship Program. God has provided sponsors for his youngest son, and two of his grandchildren. Carlos is the primary bread winner, but his crack addiction has left him unemployed. They have no food or money, and not really any means to get them. The only income his family has is a measly government pension they receive for his oldest son, Christian, who was born with a severe handicap.
Shortly after we knocked on the door we were greeted by Carlos. Surprisingly, he appeared sober, and happy to see us. He welcomed us into his home. We explained that we came to look at the project on his house, and he quickly led us to the site where he wanted to build the addition. As we were planning the potential construction project, God was working on a different type of reconstruction. The conversation that started about building an addition slowly became a conversation about how God wanted to rebuild his family and his faith. Soon I was only translating as Johnnie and Carlos, two brothers that had never met, speaking different languages, were united by the life changing power found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Soon Carlos was crying as he explained, "I know God is good, and that God never forgets; but I feel forgotten". He told us about his dream of having all of his children, and grandchildren, living happily together in one house. He had great plans for his daughters, and both are unemployed and have children out of wedlock. He thought God would heal his son, but he is still handicapped.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this!" he said as tears rolled down his face.
At one point during our conversation, he used the illustration that he felt like he was drowning in a sea of hopelessness and despair. He laid his index finger along his bottom lip, and explained that waters were rising, and that he was scared. He was scared it would completely swallow him. He admitted that he started using crack to escape reality. It worked for a little while; but now everything is worse than it was before, and now he doesn't have the strength to quit, even though he sincerely wants to.
We explained that we felt God had sent us to try to help rebuild his house, his family, and his life. In the end we prayed for Carlos and his family. We left believing that God had used us to bring a glimmer of hope into his hopeless existence.
The next day Duke, Candy, and I delivered some groceries, a Spanish Bible, and a pair of reading glasses. As we presented the gifts and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He put on his new reading glasses, opened his new Bible and exclaimed "EXCELLENTE!" We prayed for the family and left full of joy and excitement. Since my encounter I've been thinking of the best ways to help Carlos. I realize these are the first steps on the long, hard road of recovery; but I'm determined not to let him walk it alone. I'm looking into a drug rehab center that is not far from here. I'm going to pay regular visits, and I'm going to continue to pray for Carlos and his family. I'm also going to see that he gets the addition he needs on his house. I can't help but believe that God is going to complete the work He started in Carlos, and that He is calling me to be part of the process. God has not given up on Carlos, so neither should I.
In closing, this experience has taught me something. I realize that I've become calloused by my environment. I see the power and destruction of crack addiction everyday. It's part of the way of life here in Alajuelita. I've started to buy into the lies of the world - there is no hope, they are lost and incapable of change. The truth is that if there is no hope for crack addicts, there is no hope for me. The same gospel that rescued me is powerful enough to rescue them. Ultimately, Carlos needs the same thing we all do. He needs the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring change, hope, peace, and freedom.
Thank you for all the prayers and support. We realize that we couldn't be here doing this if God didn't provide people like you. We are awed by His provision, and in His ability to use us in such a powerful way.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ramblings - The Market

Saturday mornings are one of my favorite times of the week. It's not what you might think, it has nothing to do with sleeping-in or taking a day off, it's because it's market day! On Saturday morning a few blocks of downtown Alajuelita are transformed into an open-air farmer's market. It's quite an amazing experience! Vendors come from near and far to set-up their booths containing fruits, veggies, eggs, cheese, meats, and more. Fresh produce at a fraction of what we are used to paying in the States. It's a vegetarians dream come true!

About a month ago my wife and I went to the market with our friends, Dave and Leisa. Dave and Leisa, were down visiting for a week and wanted to experience the market. Leisurely, we made my way through the market, sampling cheeses, squeezing tomatoes, and thumping melons. I was having a great market day strolling around sipping on some fresh squeezed orange juice and bumping into friends from around town. Then my friend Dave had to go and ruin it all! He pointed out one of the most disturbing things I've seen since I've been living here in Alajuelita

She looked to be about six years old, and was dressed in raggedy, slightly over-sized clothes. Her hair was a tangled mess, and her hands and face were dirty. Though, beneath all the grime I could tell she was one of the cutest little girls I have ever seen.

She scurried through the market systematically stopping at each vendor stand. She carried a clear plastic bag that she was filling with the scrap vegetable pieces that had fallen to the ground. Her little bag was full of pieces of lettuce and cabbage. Clearly she was collecting food to eat!

As quickly as we noticed her she seemed to disappear into the crowd. We were shocked and didn't know what to think. Though she left our sight, in a lot of ways she stayed with us. We talked about it for days and prayed for this little girl we didn't know.

The next week we returned to the market with Duke and Candy, Dave and Leisa had returned home to Michigan. While shopping, I told Duke that I was going to go look for the little girl we had seen the previous week. Walking off I whispered a one sentence prayer, "God help me find her". I didn't walk more than fifty meters before I felt a hug around my waist. I looked down and it was her! All I could think was "God, you are so cool!"

Looking down I saw her big brown eyes, and smiling face pressed up against my hip. I didn't recognize her, but she obviously recognized me. We spoke for a few minutes, and I gathered some important information. Her name was Wendy, and she lived on the street with her mother. I found out that her mother was in the market, so I asked Wendy to take me to her mother.

She led me though the crowd, and soon we were headed toward a woman I recognized. She is a local drug addict that lives in the street. She comes by the mission house for food and clothing. As we approached this woman, I whispered another prayer, "God, please don't let her be Wendy's mother". We stopped directly in front of her, and Wendy said "This is my mommy."

I offered to buy them some food, and they accepted. I explained that I would give her $10 to spend anyway she wanted. We walked though the market together stopping at venders. They spent it all on fruit and veggies. It was almost more than they could carry! At one point Wendy asked her mother for a snow-cone and her mother denied her request. Being a sucker, I took Wendy over to the snow-cone guy to buy her one. The snow-cone guy informed me that Wendy's mother is a bad woman, she lives in the park, and does unspeakable things to get money to support her drug habit, and Wendy gets caught in the middle.

It's at times like this that I want to scream! Why God! Why would you allow this to happen? Don't you see this little girl needs your help! She is growing up on the streets of Alajuelita, and being exposed to all kinds of unthinkable things. Please do something! Then I remember God is good. He knows Wendy's situation perfectly, and He uses people like me and you to send rescue.

Part of me wants to take Wendy into our home, and become part of our family. Provide her with a stable, loving environment. Shower her with love, and tell her that she is a precious daughter of God, and that God loves her more than she will ever know.

When we were finished, they left with bags full of food; and smiling faces. Gifts of food are good, but it's not what she really needs. She needs Jesus, she needs the gospel, and she needs rescue. It's frustrating as I have given her gospel tracts, I have given her prayer, I have given her the gospel, but I am weak and powerless when it comes to changing someone's heart.

Well, I'm heading out the door for my weekly trip to the market. I hope I run into Wendy and her mother. I haven't seen either of them for a couple weeks, and I can't help but think the worst. So I'm praying that today God will allow us to find Wendy and her mother. I'm praying that today is the day! That we will reflect Christ in such a way they would welcome His Rescue.
Please remember to pray our family. Pray that God gives us the endurance we need to deal with all the heartbreaks and trouble here in Alajueltia. Pray that God gives us the wisdom, grace, and love we need to be effective for Him.

Finally, thank you, a thousand times, thank you! Thank you for all your prayers and support. We realize that without God using each of you, we couldn't be here doing what we are doing.