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A Radiant Hope, Mission’s Meltdown, Day 4

It was our last full day in Honduras. Many gathered together in the sanctuary (of sorts) to organize the leftover gifts and pack for our last trip to a village named Estuman.

There were voodoo influences there. A man who claimed Christ had mysteriously died of poisoning, leaving his pregnant wife and four young children.

I felt better, but wasn’t looking forward to it. My heart was too raw.

This time, we were driven to the village where we met at Dominga’s house. She was the woman who’s husband had died. A few months ago, a group had travelled to her village and built her a cement block home of about 800 square feet. It was the nicest home in the village. There were no decorations, just cinderblock interior with a main room and two smaller rooms.

We set our stuff there and walked through the village, inviting people to our Christmas celebration. It was the same scenario; good-looking chickens and roosters, half-dressed children, shy women. Several men who resembled Juan Valdez–some complete with a donkey. There was the smell of smoke and fresh tortillas and the site of mangy dogs. There were pieces of garbage strewn about against the backdrop of glorious mountains covered with corn and beans.

This time, during the celebration, I participated. First, I painted fingernails. I didn’t have my glasses, so my aim was off. So much so, that a shy teenager who picked a pale yellow color for one hand, switched to a clear color with sparkles for her other hand. I stunk at nail art.

Next, I helped Crystal and Danielle with balloon figures. I didn’t actually make the figures, my job was to blow up the balloons for the others to create cute animals. Trouble was, I couldn’t blow them up fast enough. There were droves of children waiting expectantly for a balloon miracle, and I was holding up the show. I got fired from that, too.

Then I received “Bubble Duty.” My job was to spread bubbles everywhere in order to help gather a crowd and entertain the children. I don’t think I was that good at it, but it was a delight. Big sisters brought little brothers to me. I blew all kinds of bubbles. Some huge, some that just emerged as bubble spit. No matter what, it made them smile. Then it was their turn. I held the bubble wand and they blew. I wouldn’t trade the look on their faces for anything. Pure delight. Simple joy.

God created those children.

And that was good.

Later, we met around a man named Theodoro’s mud and stick hut. Previously, he had decided to make a pact with Satan and kill Mike Schadt. When he attempted to do that, he realized that God was stronger. He repented of his sin and turned to Christ.

He’s in training to be an elder. Joy streamed from his face.

We met at his house.

The chairs were placed on either side facing the mountains. Each chair was filled, so that some stood and others sat on the bare ground. Nursing mothers held infants, men listened with rapt attention as members of our team looked on with joyful awe. The view of God’s creation, both people and mountains were breath-taking.

First, we worshipped. The never-ending Spanish song, led by a smiling woman almost broke Rob Ozburn’s arm as he shook some sort of maracas to the beat. It certainly made him sweat. Next was the prayer. All prayed at once, most on their knees. A cacophony of praise.

I wondered if that is how it sounded to God when people all over the world raised their voices in praise and adoration. Amazing.

Mike Schadt spoke on the test of a believer. First, he described an unbeliever. He asked, “Are any of you involved in immorality?”

Someone raised their hand. It was behind me so I didn’t look, but I was sure curious. I wondered how that would go over in my home church.

Then Mike dealt with three different sin areas and asked specific Honduran elders if they were involved in them. It was a dramatic sight.

At the end of his message, he asked if there was someone who wanted to submit to Jesus as Lord of their lives. The man who’d raised his hand stepped forward.

It was our bus driver, Rene.

Truth began to seep into my brain. There was hopelessness, poverty, injustice, just as there always was and always would be. There was also the gospel. What Scripture describes as a treasure.

Remember how Mike spoke on the porch about how God took us out of our squalor, touched us and said, “Live.”

I knew then that ultimately, the answer to all of my questions revolved around the gospel. The cross of Jesus Christ.

Enough for today.

Mission’s Meltdown Day 3, Seeking God’s Face

A few years ago, I pleaded with the Lord to help me fall in love with Him again. He answered that.

Several months later, I asked Him to give me a love for His Word. He answered that.

Recently, I’ve petitioned the Lord to see His face. During that time of question, I came upon the passage in Psalm 27: 8. David is talking to the Lord: “When you said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.”

I believe He is answering that prayer. Not in the way I would have chosen or even thought of, but it is His way.

By a crisis of question.

Here is what I’ve learned so far. My POV (Point of View) is largely American, not Biblical, even though I thought it was. It is also human. Finite. Flawed. Fallen.

I couldn’t fathom the fact that a woman living in a remote part of Central America possibly suffering some sort of abuse could have joy. I now believe that is possible.

So for today, let me just share with you my thought process about part of that situation.

A person can be free on the inside and a slave on the outside. I Peter 2: 13-17 states, “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” In Philippians, Paul commands believers, (many of whom were slaves), to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” 4:4 So a person who has the Holy Spirit living inside of them, can have joy in spite of any circumstance. Paul is proof of that. That person has divine hope.

A person can be a slave on the inside, yet free on the outside. How about a day trader that is addicted to prescription drugs? Or a woman eaten up with bitterness. They may be free to pursue life, liberty and happiness, but inside they are enslaved to their sin. Jesus said in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That person does not have the Holy Spirit in their life. That is hopelessness.

A person can be a slave on the inside and a slave on the outside. Consider those throughout history who have suffered either justly or unjustly either in prison or under a slave-master who do not have the freedom found in Christ. Romans 6: 23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” That person has no hope in this world, and because they have not accepted the free gift of salvation will suffer judgement when they die. Forever. That is tragic.

A person can be free on the inside and free on the outside. That is the camp that I fall into. And probably you, if you live in the USA and have the Holy Spirit in your heart. Romans 6: 6 states, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with HIm, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” That is not only divine hope, but amazing grace.

We of all people are most blessed.

We of all people should be most giving. And loving. And praying.

Especially for those of our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed or persecuted.

That is what has been on my mind lately, and it’s made me have a grateful heart.

I’m going to take a few days off and enjoy the freedom of celebrating Christ’s birth. Take advantage of it. We may not be able to celebrate His birth for long.

Mission’s Meltdown, Day 2

Hang with me friend. Questioning God isn’t wrong. Learning to listen and wait is the hard part. Here’s part II for today:

I remember the instant I knew I was in trouble. At church one evening before our trip, we had a team meeting. After I left, someone made the comment that we’d have to be ready to share our faith at a moments notice.

“I grew up doing that. I won’t have a problem.” My words dripped with arrogance.

It was true. Growing up as an OB (Officer’s Brat) in The Salvation Army, you get used to flexibility. I sang the alto part in my first duet at age 7. I stood kettles for the Army soon after that and each Sunday, we traipsed out to the street corner for what was called the “Open Air Meeting.” To a teenager, it was the “I’ll hide behind my horn in case my friends see me, Meeting.”

We’d march out with our instruments, gather in a circle and begin to play. The instruments were to attract attention. And it usually did. Both good and bad. Several times we listened to a drunk rant and rave. Sometimes, local children would make fun of us.

Then my dad would give a short gospel message, I might be called on to give my testimony or pray or even sing, and then we’d march back to the Army for the night meeting. If someone were interested, we’d invite them back to hear more about Jesus. It was impossible to be shy.

I also grew up giving gifts and time to poor people. I received a degree in Social Work at Asbury College. My whole life was filled up with service and testimony.

So when I heard we would visit people and share the gospel, secretly I thought, I’ll be good at that.

Fast forward to Sunday morning in Honduras. The building was to be dedicated. There would be many people attending and the place was packed. Again, the people worshipped and prayed with passion for a long time. Again, Lorenzo translated the message of the Lord for our pastor. It really was amazing.

After the service, the local ladies cooked for all of us. About 300. Over an open fire. The kids played, the adults ate together and talked. But, I couldn’t stop crying.

Why are we doing this? Why do we think we know anything? Are we really doing any good?

I retreated to my room. I flunked missions.

I tried to read a novel and couldn’t. I was drawn to God’s Word. David’s Psalms encouraged me. I asked the Lord to help me. “I flunked Missions 101, Lord. I know that you have answers. Please help me.”

I cried out to my Papa. And He answered with His Word.

Danielle Kreloff came into the room. We talked and I shared with her how weak I was. “I think the Lord wants me to share my weakness with the rest of the team,” I said.

That night on the porch, people shared one praise after another. I remained silent. There was a pause, like we were going to end. I knew that was my cue. So I shared my doubts and questions and that I’d flunked missions.

Mike Schadt encouraged me with God’s Word and then all of the team gathered round me to pray. Joe Tro led them. The scriptures he used were some of the very ones that the Lord had brought to mind. One of them was the father in Mark 9. He said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Another passage the Lord brought to mind was in John 6. Currently, I’m writing a Bible study titled, “Bread of Life.” I’m stuck on day 10 that deals with the end of the bread of life discourse.

Jesus tells the people that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood or they will have no part of Him. Many who followed Jesus left at that point. Jesus turns to the tweleve and says, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

Of course Peter responds. His response was my response. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

My crisis wasn’t over, but I knew where to look for answers.

More tomorrow.

Mission’s Meltdown, Asking God Questions

I’m moving in less that two weeks. I’ve been reminiscing. Some good memories, some not so good. All important.

Over the next few days, I’d like to repost a series of blogs I’ve titled “Mission’s Meltdown.” A Crisis of question in my life where God showed Himself faithful as I questioned His goodness.

In my study of Scripture this year, I’ve noticed many saints questioned God. Habakkuk for one. David for another. Even Jesus asked if there was another way.

So as I prepare to leave Florida, I thought I’d repost blogs where I share my heart and God shares His.

His heart is much bigger and broader than mine. His grace greater than my sin. His love deeper than the ocean.

Mission’s Meltdown, Part I:

On Saturday, I wrapped my ankle with an Ace bandage and got on the bus. We drove about a mile away. We were weighed down with sacks of snacks, water bottles, Christmas presents for the children and adults, props, and Gospel of John tracts.

The plan was to drop the team off at the bottom of a mountain, we would climb it, visit a village, visit another village and wind our way back to La Esperanza.

Except, that our bus driver wanted to come with us. We noticed a home slightly down the mountain and drove the bus there. We’d made arrangements to pay the inhabitants to watch it for us, and we would pick it up later.

Except the bus got stuck on the way down. Our team prayed a lot, and this was no exception. All of our strong men tried to pull the bus out, but had no success. Finally, we waved down a local with a truck and he towed the bus out.

The driver, Rene, who is a big part of our story, drove back to the church, and we marched up the mountain. There was a middle-aged woman and a young girl headed that way with some food, so we followed her.

I almost died. And, for 52 years old, I’m in pretty good shape. When I reached Tom at our first resting place, he was on all fours, trying to breathe. (Of course he was carrying about a 50 pound pack, mine was about 20.) People under 20 were fine, but the rest of us could have met Jesus and been okay with that.

The local woman and girl just stared at us.

We arrived at the village, and it was like a UNICEF infommercial. We walked in small groups down various footpaths to huts made of sticks and mud. When we approached with our Dum Dum suckers to entice the children, we saw movement. Half-dressed and dirty, the children peeked at us curiously. They were beautiful.

Basically, when we entered each footpath, it was as if we were standing in their living/family/dining/bed room. Most huts had an open fire just outside. Many women were either nursing young ones or cooking tortillas. There were a few men around, so I assumed many were working in the corn fields we’d passed on the mountains.

Beautiful roosters and chickens surrounded the yard, while mangy mutts weaved in and out of our sight. I thought of my puppy, Sam. I fed him the best dog food, and he even had toys. More toys than any child I saw.

After we invited them to a Celebracion de Navidad, we regrouped in an open section of the village. The program began. Diego, a believer from Jacksonville translated for us. We did a few skits, acted out the Christmas program, gave a few testimonies of how we had come to believe in Jesus, and then we handed out small presents for everyone. We marked their hands with a smiley face to show us who had received gifts.
That bothered me, and I refused to do it.

We did the same at the next village.

I was choking inside.

These were the thoughts that ran through my head: These people are so isolated. They will never leave here. They’ve probably been here for generations. They have no chance to have anything different.

Then I moved on to questions: What if there is sexual abuse in that small hut? Who would help them?

Then I accused God: Why did you create these people? Are you cruel? Are you good? Are you even there?

That night on the porch, everyone talked about how blessed they were to be involved. I was glad for them, but inside, I despaired.

The End of the Climb–Honduras, Day 11

“Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD. ” Psalm 107:43

I’m nearing the end of our crisis of question journey. At times, it was rough, and like climbing the mountains in Honduras, I had to stop and rest every once in a while. I really think that is what it was, a climb. Not a fall.

I’d asked the Lord to increase my faith and learn to trust Him more. I also told Him that I desired to see His face. I believe that is what this crisis of question was/is about. Learning more about my Lord.

Let me do a quick review of my journey.

First, I travel to Central America with SOS missions after a flu-like illness. I twist my ankle and ask God to help me so I can travel to remote villages with the team. Next, I visit the villages and am devastated. I wonder if God is cruel. If He is unkind or unloving, or even if He is really there.

Then, I had what I’ve dubbed, “A Mission’s Meltdown,” and am almost unable to participate with the team. After that, I ask the Lord to help me understand, since I know that I am one of His children. And He does. He begins to show me through Scripture, other believers, writings, my quiet time, sermons, what He is like and how to understand Him. I really can’t explain that to you. But if you are a believer, you know what I mean.

He’s teaching me. He’s nurturing me. I feel as if I could climb into His lap to answer my silly questions. He doesn’t treat them as silliness, because He knows my questioning heart. He made me that way.

So what have I learned? I’ve learned that it all comes back to the cross.

It’s difficult to explain, but let me take you back to a scene in Honduras. We were at one of the villages that had a large field. Many of the younger members of the team played soccer with the children and even some local men joined them. At the end of our time there, several men gathered around our translator, Diego, and Rob Ozburn–an X Apache helicopter pilot.

Rob passionately shared the plan of salvation. Namely, that Jesus came to earth, clothed in our skin and lived among us to be a perfect substitute for our sins. Because He was, God accepted His righteousness as ours.

Really, it’s simple to understand.

I began to really think what that meant. Jesus saw disease, hunger, injustice, violence, greed, lust, and anything else that you could imagine. And He cared.

He didn’t just care like I care. The care that I have for people involves a gut wrenching feeling, but there is no sacrifice on my part. Not much, anyway. I visit, then I leave. I may give money. I think back to my time there, and I pray.

But Jesus actually lived it. He practiced what He preached. He gave all. Since He was deity, it was exponentially more than I could understand or imagine. He came for our redemption, yes. But He also gave us a crystal-clear picture of God. He is God.

I not only love Jesus, I like Jesus.

Rob shared with these men in a soccer field in the middle of the rain forest the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s a picture I’ll never forget. The men were mesmerized. Then it hit me.

The cross gives hope. The gospel brings redemption. Not only to people in faraway lands, but to American teenagers in five-bedroom homes. To rice workers in communist China, and to business owners in Germany.

The gospel gives hope to me. It gives hope to you in whatever your circumstance because it supersedes circumstances.

I got a glimpse of it that day in Honduras, but it’s taken several weeks to take form in my mind.

I still don’t understand a lot of what I saw, but I know Jesus.

Maybe you’re struggling with the same issues. My life is relatively easy, your life may be much harder. Take heart. Jesus cares. Jesus understands.

And then there’s always heaven.

That’s why I put the verse at the top about how the wise Psalmist looked back on God’s faithfulness in the past. Take a clue from him.

If you’re not sure, keep asking. He’s listening. He cares.

And keep climbing.