Monday, March 26, 2012

It is God

Through the transition to Brazil, then to Corumba we have often felt impatient. Often wanted living as missionaries to be more like the short term trips we have been on. We knew it wouldn’t be but at the same time there is that little dream in the back of your head that every day you will see people come to Christ. That you will do event after event, preach the gospel on the streets, doors will fly open and every thing you want to do will instantly come together.

The reality is just like leaving an action packed trip to Mexico you eventually have to go back to normal. So much of living as a missionary is about establishing a bit of normal. For instance with the kids doing computer school I now struggle to find time to write. I am working on a project, need to write a newsletter and have been falling behind on the blog. I am no good by the time our evenings are free and they start fairly early most mornings. We are getting involved in a church, Daniel is in soccer school, we are talking with the girls about what they want to do.

I have had to remind myself many times God is more interested in us than what we are doing. Also though, He is more concerned with building our ministry than we are. Sometimes I think our ideas of ministry get in the way of what God would want to build. I think God wants to build the foundation and I want to put up the siding and paint. We want the finished product, God wants a product that will last.

In the midst of that struggle to both be busy, be faithful to supporters and be patient on things coming together we get moments where we see clearly what God is doing. This encourages us to keep going, to focus, to plan, to pray.

This last week it was like my eyes were opened to the foundation God has built here in Corumba and the ministries that are being birthed in the little things we are doing. It started out Thursday having coffee with our pastor and going over to the church to look at a project they were having done. It was something I could have done for them, they didn’t need to hire someone but it was too late. So we looked at some other things. I realized there are enough projects at church to be the foundation of a vocational school I have been playing with in my head. Here I was waiting, working trying to find a location. Trying to put together in my head what I would need to get going. I instantly realized the start would be to take one boy with me to church to install the hardware on the front windows and doors, to paint and prepare them. Then to make stall doors in the bathroom, not a fan of sit down jobs with no doors. We also have some old pews and a table or two that need finished. The church needs the work done and will buy the material. I have the tools for the most part and the time. I also have the boy in mind. Juninho.

Juninho lives with his mom and 3 sisters, I think there are more out there as I have met one other brother. They live cattycorner to us in a duplex that would be a tiny shack if it wasn’t a duplex. We have a fair idea the mom is a prostitute and know the lady they spend most of their time with is the neighborhood drug dealer. They are cute kids. His teeth are rotting out the front of his face, he has to cook and take care of the sisters, he wants to study Portuguese, math and English to get a good job one day. If he is left to the only influences around him forget it. Melissa has often found his 2 year old sister 2 blocks away, alone at the street. I took him with me to pick up some stuff Saturday, he had never been across town.  What better place to start then with him.

Also Daniel playing futesal, indoor soccer, is one of the greatest things we have done in Brazil. We are a massive curiosity. Every boy on the team follows Daniel around. They want to talk to us, the parents want to talk to us. Really as a family of 6 Americans in the middle of nowhere we  don’t have to do anything to be missionaries. Just being here works. Swimming at the club Saturday we met kids from 3 more families. I was able to build relationship with another soldier who works there. We draw the city into us, people talk about us, ask about us, seek us out.

Saturday we had the neighborhood kids come again for a bible study. It is hard and they fight discipline and order. I was able to get through a little lesson on Solomon and seeking God. I was shocked at how little of the bible any of these kids know. They don’t know who Israel was, had never heard of Solomon but could recite an “our father or hail marry” at the drop of a hat.

Sunday I began teaching Sunday school for the youth. Teaching in Portuguese is a good stretch for me and forces me to work on learning. On top of that one of the adults who works with youth was there and after words asked if he could help on Saturdays.

In the end I really feel God has called me to discipleship. Maybe one day that will be to pastor but right now I see it is to invest in leaders, individuals and see people raised up to the ministries God has called them. I see Melissa being used in this way too. Another girl at church contacted her about helping start a ministry at a school here in town.

Corumba is 130 thousand people more or less. About 8% of the population here is evangelical Christian. I don’t know what percent of the Catholics are actually involved in their faith and know Jesus but let’s say that pushes us up to 20%, I think we are being generous but that is good. Of the 20% I would say probably like the states it is about 10% of them that do most of the ministry in and out of the church.  That would leave us with about 2% of the population of a city where more or less 100,000 out of 130,000 don’t have relationship with Christ working to see that change. What greater thing could we do than to raise up young people to be leaders in their churches, taking others out to make disciples.

Pray for us, Right now we are seeing the beginnings of a kids program that could grow and multiply into at least a second location. Pray for workers with abilities and gifts we don’t have. Pray God opens the door for our friends from Paraguay Ariel and Yennifer to come and join us. That he would miraculously provide support and a short term apartment for them, they just Got married last Saturday.

Pray for Manuel and Luryane as they have expressed interest in doing some things with us. Pray for me to continue to involve myself with people at the church. To draw in others that can be disciples and disciple those around us.

Pray for Juninho, that he would continue to be open to what we have to say. Pray for his mom Maggie that she would wake up and get some sense. Pray for us to have the courage to confront her about the neglect of her kids if need be. Pray he is able to work with me some. This could be the humble beginnings to something big.

Pray for Yara as she continues to come around the family. She is about 12 and in spite of all the problems around her a fairly good kid. She was able to go swim with us Saturday but her sisters were bitter and jealous. They can be cruel and unapologetic in their jealousy. Pray her sister Maria softens and gets willing to obey and be respectful.

Pray also for our continued growth in relationship with Pastor Altair of first Baptist as well as other leaders there. Also for our relationship with GEM, with Buster, Roberto and in the future Pr. Carl King. We may well have some projects with them that tie into our plans, especially with little construction projects they have there.

It was also nice to get a bit of time to fish and see the beauty of the area.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Social Justice, Popular Media, Christian Duty?

Recently we were able to sneak in a short vacation to say goodbye to my parents, who were leaving Brazil, and to pick up the car they generously gave us. We had a wonderful time in Rio De Janeiro one of the world’s great cities that happens to sit on some the world’s great beaches. We felt guilty going, we have been blessed in the last year to have been to Rio once and to spend a few days in a city near here called Bonito. We have been able to have more vacation time then we ever did when we had a “normal job” in the States.

We realized though when we were there how much we needed it. Working an this area, desiring to see peoples lives transformed has a cost. It can be hard to have adequate time for our family. Proper time. Our home isn’t always a retreat as sometimes the neighbor kid Melissa is working with can be mean, jealous, constantly at the gate, disrespectful and hard. I am not complaining, the reality of their lives is something I can not imagine. Preparing to leave for Rio Yara, one of the girls who is 11 said “que legal, voces tem um cuxao pra todo mundo” How cool you guys all have a mattress. She lives in a small house with her parents and a lot of her 14 brothers and sisters, sometimes with kids of their own. So many people live in the two three shacks down there if they built a wall we could call it a compound. We want to help, we want to see these kids changed, not just to receive Christ but also to be discipled to live different and have kids that live different. To cease to be a part of the brokenness of this world but of the cure.

One mother rarely watches her kids home or not. She leaves it to the 12 year old boy to look out for his 2, 5, and 7 year old sisters. When he isn’t around they are on their own. Melissa has found the 2 year old, Alannah’s best buddy, down at the main road 2 blocks away alone. We don’t have to go anywhere or do anything to start a ministry. Just live here and begin to get to know the neighbors. To look for opportunity to disciple and share the gospel with them. It is nearly 24 hours a day. I can’t tell you how many times we are trying to make a late dinner, 8 at night and they are at the gate yelling for us to come out there, climbing over the gate, refusing to leave.

Not complaining, just trying to give you picture of what it can be like to live here and what we are up against as we pray and seek doors to disciple. I have begun talking to one neighbor about teaching him to fix old pieces of furniture to resell, currently though it is the fishing season and he can make a few dollars so he has lost interest.

This brings me to my thoughts on the recent hype on Joseph Kony. Doubtlessly some would get mad at my calling it hype but that is what it is and that was the goal of the videos maker. He wanted a hysteria on FB and twitter to get attention. That is great, it takes money and awareness to bring change. My question though would be do we allow this to change us? Do we give the $30 he is asking and feel good or do we let the condition of our world sink in, do we recognize this Kony is but a drop in the bucket of the worlds injustices? Do we feel anything when the homeless guy outside the store sits with his sign or simply assume he wants beer and is simply unwilling to go to a mission?

The problem is both sides of these issues are based on truth. We could be of the opinion that the Kony video is a bunch of hype to get money, we would be right. We could be of the opinion this guy is dedicating his life to bring awareness to an unthinkable travesty and we should give, we would be right. We can go into the market and buy the guy with a sign a sandwich and give it to him, we would be right. We could, in the US, coldly tell him that there is a shelter down at the other end of town that will feed him and we would be right.

The issue I see is that the Bible hasn’t told us to be right but Righteous. That is much harder, that requires heart change that leads to right action. Belief in Christ that allows him to come in, clean our hearts, make us a new creation in the image of the Father leading to a true response to what we see around us. Jesus when he was about his ministry healed people when he was moved by compassion. Touched the lives of those he came into contact with. That is why he would go alone into the wilderness to refresh. Why he would go to Marry and Martha to be taken care of. It takes a toll to truly be moved and give of ourselves to the needs around us.

As I have read through the prophets one of God’s big criticism of Israel was her lack of compassion. That she left God and did bad things yes, but more so that she didn’t feed the orphans or the widows. Not only was sin prevalent but compassion died. Perhaps love can cover a multitude of sins.

Now at the same time I am afraid for where the modern church and missions may be going. The Mennonites may have been an early example. No offense to anyone please but many of the Mennonites missions around the world became nothing more than social works in these last 50 years. Praise God for their heart for compassion, peace, love and the well being of fellow man. However Jesus as he touched social needs also filled the spiritual need. We must have both. One without the other is dead. All preaching without compassion is dead religion. All compassion without teaching feeds a person or rescues them from sex slavery and allows them to die eternally separated from the satisfaction of a relationship with creator God.

I would challenge you to give to Kony 2012 or whatever strikes your heart. To care, to write senators. Much more though I would challenge all of us to search our hearts. Does it really bother us that kids in Africa are kidnapped, rapped, mutilated, forced to murder, drugged or does it just bother us to read it. Are we disgusted by what sin has done to our world. Are we willing to become passionate ministers of the gospel in our homes, work, cities, churches, etc... to see Godly justice?

Please understand this is not a complaint or criticism but facts. We are dedicating our lives to living in the far corners of the world. All the exotic things you think of Brazil, the wonderful time we had in Rio is far from where we live. We do our best to share what we are learning and going through with people. We are limited in what we can accomplish to the response that generates back in the states. I personally have around 600 Facebook friends, Melissa has a few hundred not all the same. 300 people have liked our Facebook page, 100 people read our blog posts on average, when we get out a hard copy letter it goes to 150 or so. Less then 20 people give every month and about 10 more give on occasion. We are blessed beyond belief and excited by what God is doing. We were blessed last month to have unexpected unsolicited giving. We are not in need personally but want to grow funds to touch more hurting peoples lives. What I am trying to show is that on my small scale the breakdown from interest to response. I would estimate between friends, family and the churches that know we are here there are 3-4 thousand people aware we are here. Out of that 1000 have some generic idea we think we are missionaries. Out of those I would guess about 300 believe what we are doing is good. Out of those 10% contribute. I would guess the number who pray is thankfully better but I would only put that at 30%.

Again this isn’t a complaint but to try and show the nature of people. It is easy to care for a second. To click the like button on Kony, to click the like button on our page. A few more may repost things. A few give. What is hard is to have and then maintain a heart change. A kingdom mindset that will keep us sacrificing for a lifetime. I am not trying to manipulate more people into giving to us but challenge myself along with you to dedicate our lives to the rewards in heaven. We can give of our money time and energy to make a difference on this planet and see heaven filled with more God created beautiful souls. We can arrive in heaven like one of the good servants who invested the talents given. Let us not just be people who have a momentary response but people who think of how to use our talents for the kingdom of God. I don’t want to simply jump on a bandwagon only to fall off again but to commit to something and see it through.

Personally we are friends with another missionary working in Sudan as a midwife. I am amazed that a single girl would give her life to a hard, dusty lonely place that a few girls the world might consider insignificant might have a better chance at living through their pregnancy and seeing a healthy baby born. She must know she can’t save the country or change the world but she just keeps going, seeing death and sadness almost daily. Satisfied by the lives she touches. A long term goal of mine is to visit the Sudan and see first hand her work. The sacrifice of the normal American life she has made to touch some remote tribal people in a lonely nation.

We also want to have that kind of impact here and have set up Project Pantanal, a fund with our mission board. These funds are dedicated to ministry projects and tools. They will not be released to us personally but to a Brazilian non profit we are beginning to set up. Whatever is bought with them will go to reaching and touching the people of the Pantanal. People who are uneducated, malnourished and hard to get to.

Again I didn’t write this simply to try and get more money. It is God who will sustain us but to encourage all of us to keep going, to strive for heart change. Not to be content with normal but to fight for kingdom eyes, kingdom vision. What can you do with your life? Are you gifted to make money, use it for the kingdom. Are you gifted with touching people, touch them for the kingdom. There are many wonderful ways to touch the global world and your neighborhood. We are just one, so is Kony.

If you are interested I will be writing a letter laying out some more about Project Pantanal. Email me your physical address to be sure and receive it.

Here again is the link for donating to us, you can donate to Project Pantanal , none of which will go directly to our pockets.