Monday, June 27, 2011

Embracing Our Inadequacy

Friday as I (Ben) talked with a new boy at Ciad he showed me a picture of his girlfriend. She was 7 or 8 months pregnant in the photo and he told me she gave birth one month ago. He had told me he had about 3 or 4 months inside already and hoped to get out within one or two years. As I looked at the photo I was beginning to loose it, I couldn’t handle the thought of the repeating cycle that brought Kleber there and will likely bring his children there. I asked him if she lived close, he quickly responded she lives with me, correcting himself with she did. He went on to say she went to stay with her mom for the help but when he gets out she will come live with me again. He is almost 17. My heart was breaking looking at a boy that hoped to have a family with a girl he left to have their baby while he is in prison. In my mind I knew the reality is she is likely already with someone else. It’s the lifestyle. What do I say?

Saturday we had a lot of people come to lunch once again. Many of the same kids, coming to eat, play some ping pong and go back home. Homeless people that come. Guys in their 20s leaving society behind to smoke crack. They don’t even realize they are homeless yet. Their minds are still lucid enough to have a conversation with you but you can see it fading right before your eyes. Some of the street women we interact with are pregnant and I have been unfortunate enough to pass and catch them smoking crack.

Sunday as Melissa and I were at the church preparing for the kids to come we sat down to pray. Both feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. We sat asking God to do something, to help us focus, to give us direction, wondering if any kids would come in the cold weather. We ended up with about 20 kids coming on their own without us going and getting anyone. Lori had to rearrange her teaching a bit and put the flannel graph away as mostly teenagers came. Melissa taught the older ones to make pancakes. I played ping pong with the boys. Lori summed up our Memory vs. Matt. 6:33 with an almost word for word edition of what I was about to say. Melissa had just given her testimony and it seemed to crack through a few hard shells.

Today, I realize all the little things we are doing don’t matter. We are completely inadequate and need to embrace that. It isn’t bad. We need to remember that 0 times infinity is 0 but 0 times God is infinity. Our efforts in their best form will fail to change the hearts of even one lost soul. However when you multiply our worthless effort times and infinite creator you have limitless possibilities.

After a weekend of reflection and revelation what has changed? Very little outside of perspective but that can be a big change. This church is a few weeks away from being turned over to Brazilian leadership. Tim is leaving. We have been here a year learning language and culture and helping with a few things. As this unfolds I realize I need to begin to watch more closely what God is doing in our own lives. We are seeing doors open and observing needs in a certain neighborhood. Perhaps we need to begin to focus our energies and efforts there. The time may be here to spend our time and energy zeroing in on the thing God has put in front of us and start saying no to things that distract us from that. I have been a learner of language, culture, style, ministry of Tim but perhaps now it is time to focus on learning more of who we are in ministry. That is a big change. It doesn’t mean we are leaving the church to start our own now. It doesn’t necessarily mean any change in schedule now but it certainly means to focus our observations more inward and on what God is doing with us.

At the end of this first year, just one week away, pray for us. We are so thankful and have been so blessed. We have been provided for month to month. We are learning the language. The kids are well. The first half of our residency is taken care of. We have a wonderful asset in our Kombi, VW bus. We still need to see the last part of our residency settled. We need around $1,500 us to finish that. We need to see in increase in our monthly support as costs have increased here and the dollar fell. Also we may need more for ministry and not just living. God knows all this and we aren’t worried. We also would like to visit Oregon and maybe Kansas later this year. It is all in the Lord’s hands.


Bless you all

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tired, confused, excited, hesitant……

There is no end of words we could use to describe our state of mind. God is beginning to do things we aren’t ready for. 2 months ago we were thinking of moving to another city because nothing was happening, now I am completely overwhelmed. What do we do with what is happening?

It isn’t like we had some word from the Lord “Go to this neighborhood and start something with these kids”. Frankly we were bored and looking for something to “mess around with” while waiting for what God might be leading us too. We thought we would be going to another city and perhaps taking over a kids ministry there. We don’t want to start something. We don’t “KNOW” Portuguese, we don’t know where to begin with so many problems in front of us.

However, yesterday we went to their neighborhood where Melissa and Jerus played soccer with them. As I walked the streets, where there was at least a couple hundred people all I could hear was Ben look at me, sit here, Ben what city are you from, Ben come here, hey kombi man. It was like I have 50 kids. Melissa being one of them, she was in her skirt and nice shirt from doing kids ministry and covered in red dirt head to toe. Lori and I were watching the game and I mentioned how dirty Vitor was, a very cute, very toublemaking half of a set of boy girl twins. Vitor and Vitoria, they really are special. Lori responded “have you seen Melissa”.

Where it is taking us we don’t know but this I do. When I woke up this morning the little part of me that always feels bad about raising support, asking for money and the idea that the money is for us, was gone. I realized we aren’t raising support so we can live in Brazil, we are raising money for them. Right now, they are on track to rinse and repeat.  They are going to repeat the life of their parents, of their community, of poverty, of drugs, sex, hopelessness and violence. When we are looking for support it isn’t because we don’t want to work. Believe me, I want to go back, start my business again and by a couch that doesn’t kill my back. Give my kids birthday presents and parties, see my daughter start middle school with Jessica and Molly.

The next 6 months to a year we are going to try things, fail, succeed and undoubtedly feel unprepared and useless. Hopefully we learn a few things. We are going to need to raise some money from both the US and Brazil to perhaps rent a building, buy games, feed people, who knows. We are going to need to build a team of helpers. We absolutely need to wait on the Lord and make sure what He is doing. In the end I hope we have touched some lives with the love of Jesus. I hope we can share the truth of His word with kids, teens, parents, friends and the hope that comes from a lifetime of obedience.

I feel like I have learned so much the last couple months and I can’t  wait to see what God teaches us next. Tim had suggested getting a ping pong table a while ago, someone said I have legs, Tim bought a $50 piece of MDF and I mad a table. He got a net and paddles and it transformed our church. We had problems with new people getting to know old people. Between a ping-pong table and me cooking some American foods on Wednesdays we have seen fellowship happen in a whole new way. Last night 30 or so people were hanging out at the church playing and watching ping pong. We left early and got home at mid-night. The pizza hadn’t even came yet.

God is teaching us to trust him. Build relationship, try things, trust simple ideas and learn to be free to say we need things. I didn’t want to ask for a car but I want to once again say thank you and it is a large factor in so many positive things happening. Before a car I couldn’t even get my tools to the church to make a ping pong table. We couldn’t get groceries and have energy left to go into a neighborhood to meet people.

You are all loved. We miss you all, especially yesterday. I long to be home and with you. However, we now are beginning to see what God has created us for. I challenge you, take risks, sacrifice your time and see how you can be blessed in the service of our savior.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Grace vs. Works?

It is clear God is leading us to work with kids and families by our house. It is equally clear we need help. As we begin the process of looking for that help I am challenged to think through and deal with a few issues. Works, Christian service, who, how often, gifts, calling, lots of things come into the effort of building a team to reach this neighborhood.

This morning as I read 1 Timothy I was thinking about grace. I had a conversation with a friend on facebook last night. She has consistently helped with the lunches on Saturday, going out and inviting people and is interested in helping with the kids on Sunday. She was telling me last night she comes from a point where she burned out, she is just now wanting to serve the Lord again. This is common here. Many churches put a heavy burden on people. They don’t know grace, all they know is go to church every day, help with everything, you have to serve, do what your pastor says, etc...

The worst part is I think it is based on truth but missing substance. Christianity is grace but it isn’t meant to be a party. Sometimes we see the pendulum swing. No more service but pizza every night, games, sports, bbq’s with friends. This is based on truth as well.

As I was sharing with her last night balance comes when we sacrifice our life for Him who gave all for us while doing things we like. I was explaining to her, I don’t want to put together a Children’s program with certain elements and then force people to cover those things. Rather I want to give a platform where you can come and do what you like to do but with kids who need love. This of course doesn’t mean we wont at times have to do things we don’t like. In my reading Paul is giving instructions to slaves to obey their masters, I don’t think being a slave is usually something you want.

kids day 002

I think Francis Chan has it right in Crazy Love. Approach it like you are approaching a future wife or husband. If you are a singer you will write music, if you are an artist you will paint pictures, I have made things for Melissa and watched my dad make and plant gardens for my mom. Use the talents you have out of love. The flip side of this would be you can’t say you love Jesus if you aren’t using your talents for Him. That isn’t about works to earn salvation or favor with God it is the simple reality that you can’t say you love what you don’t invest in.

We have to go through these questions ourselves. Why are we here, what should our schedule be like, how many times a week will we be with the kids? So many. I shared yesterday with the kids that the point of the miracle of loaves and fish is to put your faith in God not what you can see. Life is hard. We are being challenged with that. We have a little shortfall this month, I need to make a trip to Sao Paulo, get papers, finish residency, we would like to visit the states. I don’t see the money for any of these things. We just asked and received a car I don’t want to ask for more. Am I here because it is all going to be easy? No, I am here because Jesus first loved me and He loves the kids we are working with. How can I not sacrifice my life to come.

I have heard people say for many years I am not an evangelist, I don’t do kids ministry, I am called to make money and give, I am called to Africa and will serve God when I get there. The truth is if you aren’t using your gifts or doing anything you don’t know what your gifts or calling are. The truth is the kids we are working with are already in a type of hell and if we don’t do something they will be there eternally along with their kids and grandkids…….

Grace isn’t not having to do things. Grace is doing them because you love Jesus. Works isn’t serving Christ it is lovingly sacrificing your life for Him.

If grace leads you to spend your time, money, energy and so forth making your life here more comfortable it isn’t grace. If works makes you feel important and useful they don’t please God.

Working in grace is realizing Jesus gave all and working to see people come to Him as if their life depends on you. It is also going to sleep at night knowing if they go to hell it is their responsibility not yours. Your job and mine is to give every bit of time, money and energy we can to representing God’s kingdom here on earth. Not because we have to but because we can’t help it. Grace is also realizing it’s a marathon and taking a break when you need it so you can keep going.

I want to be able to tell you I am here because I love Jesus. In that sense a shortfall this month is purifying. I can’t be here for the money or to go out to eat because it’s not there. I can’t be here because it’s easy because I don’t know how it will work to keep these “ministries” going this month. I am looking beyond that knowing it is Jesus who is going to keep it going.

I want to see the people around me understand this. It isn’t because we are missionaries and have nothing else to do, but it is because Jesus loves these kids and he is trusting them to us. All we have to do is love them. Doing things we like with them whether it is playing futebol, dancing, crafts, building things from wood or just sitting with them gives us opportunity to touch the heart of God.

I would challenge you, are you impacting your neighbors, your co-workers, people in your city. Are you exhibiting love for Christ or love for self? Do you have to be a missionary or pastor to be used? If you aren’t an evangelist but an encourager couldn’t and shouldn’t that be used to point to Jesus?

If God is giving me these kids to love I will love them until He says go somewhere else. If I have to look for a job tomorrow and love them on the side I will still love them. I am not trying to work for my salvation, as I told a Jehovah's witness the other day that is a waste of time, I am trying to fall in love with Jesus. Try it with me, sacrificing your life for Him is rewarding, rejuvenating, worth it in every way and you will never regret it.

kids day 003

Monday, June 6, 2011

Edge of the desert


It seems like we may have finally arrived at the edge of the desert. Arriving in a new country, culture, language and even having a new baby is hard. At the same time you want to be missionaries, lead people to Jesus, work with kids, work with the hurting, whatever your passion is. You have studied, prepared raised money but you discover you are totally useless. There is nothing you can do on your own. You can’t communicate with the people you came to reach.

Over time it became difficult to be content. The first few months we kept busy with paperwork, having Alannah, school but through the summer we began to feel isolated and frustrated. We couldn’t quite do anything on our own.

Just about the time we thought we couldn’t take it anymore we began to see some breakthrough. I have shared about the growth with lunch on Saturdays and the kids coming to church. As we have begun to respond to this we are learning something really amazing.

We can do this. We don’t speak good Portuguese, we don’t have enough money, our church doesn’t have the perfect space but none of those things matter. God uses people who are willing and in His timing.

Yesterday we did a kids service at church in the afternoon. We weren’t fully prepared, we hadn’t met to plan anything but we were going to try. We picked up Ariel, a friend who is a student at Semear, a missions training school. We got to church and a handful of kids showed up. We began playing ping pong with them and I left to see if anyone wanted a ride. Joao had said more were coming but I decided to help it along. On the way back from picking up a handful of girls we seen another group almost there. We picked them up and got back to the church to find out plenty more kids had shown up.

Lori and Neto arrived just in time to help us bring them in for a memory verse and a story. It went very well to use the church  n the afternoon versus the night when everyone is there. We were able to use the sanctuary, projector and sound system. We had the parking lot empty for games and no need to worry about noise. We gave them cake, played with them and gave them a little story but most of all love.

It really was amazing driving about 20 of them home, all at the same time in my 9 passenger van, listening to them laugh and yell for friends. These kids didn’t want to leave just because some people gave them a place to play and loved them. They spend their days in the streets in front of their little houses. Little kids playing in the street, 4 and 5 years old.

We don’t need perfection and money to help them we just need to give a little time.