We are not Superheroes

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If I have learned anything over the last couple years it is that we are are not superheroes. We are not invincible. We are not immortal. And we don’t run the show like we sometimes think we do.

I’m talking about the Christian cross-cultural worker and humans in general.

Humanity

Life and health are fragile things and just when we think we have it tight in our grasp we lose our balance and it is ripped from us in a moment. It leaves us at a loss for words.

I never had reason to consider the fragility of life until recently. I took my safety and health for granted. I’ve recently been confronted with the painful reality that we have no idea what could happen tomorrow. We cannot see the future or, much less, determine it. As a cross-cultural worker I live in a region that is more dangerous than the environment in which I grew up. I’ve had to face the normality of violence and death in a way I never thought I would. Recently, I have experienced heartbreak within my own family and it leaves us feeling vulnerable. I have seen friends go through agonizing loss and face the uncertainty of grave diagnoses. We all question why. Everything was going so well. The control was in my hands!

The American value of self-sufficiency and autonomy is not necessarily a biblical one. We praise those who make it on their own with no help. The desire of self-governance is at the core of our rebellious hearts and is the retort of the atheist. Like toddlers, we push away the hand that feeds us because for a moment we stubbornly believe the delusion that we can actually make it on our own. We imagine that we are the ones in control and that we are strong and capable and independent and free. At our best, it sneaks into our self-conscious as we silently applaud ourselves, and at our worst we give in to self-aggrandizing behavior with disregard to how we belittle others.

Ironically, Webster defines humility as the freedom from pride or arrogance. To be truly humble is to be free. The constant striving to need others (or God) less is like a ball and chain.

 

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An excerpt from my devotional by Paul D. Tripp the other day said it perfectly:

Don’t fear your weaknesses. Be afraid of those moments when you think you’re independently strong.

In a world where all you have in the end is your thinking, your drive, your performance, and your achievements, weakness is a thing to be regretted.

But God’s grace makes weakness a thing to be feared no longer.

And really, the only way to accept the life-altering grace of our Savior is to admit how weak and unrighteous and not-so-know-it-all that we really are.

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How difficult it is for the prideful man to truly know God.


Christian Cross-cultural Work

I have been studying the book, Walking with the Poor, for literally, over a year. It is heavy and oh-so-good and relevant to the work we do in Honduras. Chapter 7 touches on principles and attitudes that a holistic practitioner on the field should have. Myers lists the characteristics that workers should aspire to in Christian development work:

  • Be patient
  • Be humble
  • Everyone is learning
  • Everywhere is holy
  • Love the people, not the program
  • Cultivate a repentant spirit
  • Act like dependent people – Myers says, “We need to show daily that we are a people dependent on God and not on our professional skills, our development technology, or our financial resources. People will see for themselves in whom we most truly place our trust. We need to be sure that our actions and our lives communicate that our trust is in the God of the Bible and nowhere else.

This is something that is so important for my husband and me in our poverty alleviation work. We immediately posture ourselves along with the “recipients” in giving thanks to God for His provision. We all are the receivers and our good God is the giver. No one is assuming the role of Superhero.

Humility as a cross-cultural worker also means having the vulnerability to voice certain defeats or challenges and speaking up when your health (physical, emotional, financial, etc) is spiraling. Humility is recognizing that our human bodies and emotions have limits and require rest. Humility is accepting help, like possibly going to a professional counselor or learning boundaries and when to say no. All of these can be especially challenging for someone on the mission field who has been taught that they should have unending energy and compassion, superhero characteristics.

There is something about the daily exposure to poverty and other ills of society which tends to tear away faith and make agents of change some of the most cynical people around.

– M. Maggay

Myers suggests that when our soul starts longing for the Sabbath that a “sanity escape” can protect our inner lives; this is a time to “withdraw from our work and sit back and look for what is good. [Holistic practitioners] need to be able to hear the music, listen to the silence, pray, and sit quietly before the Word. Smelling the flowers, walking on the beach, and reading a good book are essential to sustaining our humanity and spirituality.”

Rest is the best way to combat burn-out and compassion fatigue for full-time workers in difficult contexts.

Advice for a sending agency or congregation that is trying to care for workers on the field, Myers says, “We have a responsibility to help holistic practitioners free themselves in a way that allows them to make a gift of themselves, their character, and their skills, to all their relationships, beginning at home.”

In the day-to-day, we should learn to balance being driven and trusting in God’s sovereignty as described in the Serenity Prayer:

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amen

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Little Paola

Little Paola,

Where do you see yourself in the future?

What do you dream of?

Something heavier than what your vocabulary can convey

Something on the tip of your tongue, you can’t quite say

Even more than what you’ve been given permission to dream

Beyond the horizons of the coffee fields and lush, green mountains

A beautiful, natural beauty

That on some days look more like your prison walls

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What burdens do you carry?

Do you dream of carrying books

Instead of water jugs and firewood?

Carrying the weight on your shoulders, assuming guilt

For the adults in your life and their decisions past

Growing up much too fast

Never questioning the injustice

Never once uttering a “Not fair!”

Coming home from backbreaking labor in the coffee fields

Sore feet, broken ambitions

Passing neighborhood friends

On their way home from class

They with their backpacks, you with your plastic bucket

Accepting your fate

Never daring to challenge the way things are

Your vision stretches as far as your reality allows

 

An inferiority you’ve breathed day in and day out

With your tired lungs

Since the day you arrived on the earth

An inferiority as thick as smoke that never dissipates

Less than

Less than

Him, her, whoever else is out there in this big world

Less than the grown-ups

Less than the boys

Less than the white skin

Less than the educated and the rich

You never considered the damage

That breathing in this smoke of inferiority would do

Why can’t you see yourself like I see you?

The smoke and mirrors game of those in power

Clouds your vision, chokes your breath

And you assume that everyone plays by the same rules

 

Can you imagine a God who sees your inherent worth?

Who has plans of hope and not of harm

Who knew you (and wanted you!) even before your birth

Who carries your burdens in His arms

 

The flooding of things

The house in the dark during rainy season

The terror and anxiety that a storm brings

Dirt floors turning to mud through cracks in the roof and cracks in the walls

A life with cracks no one bothers to patch anymore

The flooding of emotions that you eventually learn to stop

You learn quickly to control the little things

The very few things you can, in an out-of-control world

Hard, defensive

Survival technique

A conditioning, an adapting to a harsh environment

The washing away of the vulnerability and fear and caring

Leaving a bare soul, jaded

A life-education very few could bear

 

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Invasions

The invading of personal spaces

Critters and humans taking advantage of weakness

Survival of the fittest

Fitting in your role

Survival of the lowest expectations

And you learn to expect abuse and the dismissing of wants and sometimes needs

Dulling memories of sharp violence reinforce it all

Privacy is a rarity

The power to choose, a luxury

With babies on hips, no protest on lips

It starts with baby brothers and sisters but soon the babies will be your own

No emotion is valid so there’s no value in expressing them

Why would your life be any different than your mother and her mother?

Why would you dare to dream of any other?

Could it be that anyone out there has your best interest in mind?

Could it be that someone out there cares without ulterior motive?

 

You have permission

For what it’s worth, I give you permission

To challenge

To change

To see beyond your limited horizon

To dream of something new

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We see each individual, created in the image of God, as having inherent worth and much to contribute to society.

We have just founded a nonprofit organization called VER International (501c3 status pending), committed to breaking cycles of poverty through community development initiatives. We are currently working in rural communities of Honduras with the hope to expand to other countries in the future. Our website and social media accounts are “under construction” at the moment but we will have our official launch soon!

For the month of October we are launching a student sponsorship fundraiser. With a one-time donation of $50 marked “Student Sponsorship” you will give the gift of education for one year to a student in rural Honduras, like Little Paola. Look us up on PayPal by our email address, verinternational.info@gmail.com, or go straight to our link to give: www.paypal.me/verinternational

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Comment or message me if you would like these flyers to help promote among your church or school groups.

The Privilege of Sharing

If you ask a missionary what is one of the hardest parts of serving full-time on the field you very likely will hear “fundraising.” Raising support has gotten a bad reputation and sadly can become one of the biggest burdens in a Christian worker’s career. Much of this comes from lack of understanding either on the missionary’s part or that of friends and family back home. You might be surprised to discover that being fully supported by faith communities not only is biblical but it is designed by God to be a blessing to everyone involved.

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Chapters 8 and 9 of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians is basically a fundraising petition. I love that he starts out describing the eagerness of the congregation in Macedonia to give, “pleading for the privilege of sharing in service.” It’s a privilege, not a burden! The interesting thing is that they gave out of their own poverty and desperation. Oftentimes the most sacrificial and significant donations come from those who have tasted poverty and hardships firsthand themselves. I can attest to this in our ministry.

It’s good to realize that all we have comes from God. And although we are just stewarding His resources we have free will in how we spend our time, energy, and possessions. The Message paraphrase says in 2 Cor. 9:6-7, “Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

I don’t always understand God’s ways but I do know that they are counter-cultural. When He prompts us to act it doesn’t always have to make logical sense. Several times while I was back home working 4 contract jobs and paying off my school loans before moving to the mission field I saw specific needs (a friend fundraising for her adoption, a friend fundraising to move as a missionary to Asia, an organization fundraising to help newly-arrived refugees) and I sensed God wanted me to give. Never once did I feel deprived or delayed in reaching my goals.

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Donna Wilson of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship says, “When raising funds we can be tempted to think, ‘I’ve got to convince people to give me some of their money.” However, the biblical view is: ‘I’m inviting people to give back to God some of His resources for His work.’ (1 Chronicles 29:14-16, paraphrased)

We’ve all been given different gifts and we all have different callings. Missionary Tom Stickney explains, “I am simply a mediator seeking to connect His people and His resources with His plan. That takes all the pressure off. The Lord calls some of us to be missionaries in Kenya, and some to be campus workers in America. Others are supposed to wear coats and ties and spend their days investing funds or buying real estate. Once we realize we’re all in the game, it’s a fixed result. We all simply play the role that God has assigned us, faithfully fulfilling the Lord’s purpose in our lives” …and on the earth!

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I’ll share a sweet testimony as an example:

My cousin, Katelyn, and I began traveling together to Honduras on short-term trips 15 years ago. We always dreamed of moving down here one day as full-time missionaries. During our college years and the time after, the Lord has led us down paths that look a little different than the original plan. Katelyn got a wonderful job as a high school math teacher and is able to positively influence teenagers. (Kingdom work!) Her job still allows her to travel on short-term trips and she has committed to partnering with my husband and me as a monthly ministry partner. She was in fact one of the very first ministry partners to commit to partnering with us financially. She knows she is fulfilling God’s call on her life in so many areas and we know that our work in Honduras would not be possible without her.

More than once I have thought, “If only I just had magical unending resources to meet my basic needs and implement all my community development program ideas here in Honduras. We’d get so much done!” But then I remember that it is a communal experience. We weren’t meant to be islands and work isolated from each other – we were created to depend on one another and so much spiritual growth comes from those relationships. This is what I keep in mind in the slow and sometimes agonizing process of support raising. Sharing is a privilege and it is a blessing to grow together during the process.

Some well-meaning people I know often get confused about what my husband and I do in Honduras and ask us some interesting questions. A common one is, “Are you looking for a job?” insinuating that our ministry is not a real job. (probably the same people who see support raising as a disguised form of begging)

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Donna Wilson says, “North American culture tells us our value is in what we own or accomplish; and our worth is reflected by position or salary. Family and friends may not consider ministry a “real job” because it lacks these traditional markers. But scripture teaches our value comes from God and His love for us. Scripture describes us as friends, children, and heirs of the King (Romans 8:14-17).

The Kingdom of Heaven is an upside-down economy. It is an economy of downward mobility. One who has grasped the revelation of the Kingdom won’t be satisfied with an earthly perspective of success. We hold Jesus as our ultimate example who left the riches of heaven and set aside all entitlement to dwell among us; Emannuel.

It’s also important to note that Jesus and His ministry were supported by the gifts of others (Luke 8:1-3) and although on occasion Paul chose to be self-supporting, more often than not he was supported by caring donors (Philippians 4:14-16).

P. L. Metzger warns us that if we’re not careful our society will lull us to sleep with its apprentice-style “survival of the economic fittest” which eclipses the biblical narrative. If you grew up with the “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” mentality, this kingdom economy seems really unconventional.

We are simply stewards and servants of a King who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is Jehovah Jireh and He is a good Father who gives His children what they need. I do not worry about tomorrow. I do not grasp too tightly to what is in my hand for I may be called to give it away and I may be called to receive something I didn’t expect – whatever is necessary to fulfill God’s purpose.


My husband, Natán, and I are incredibly grateful for the friends and family who have partnered with us in our work over the last 13 months. I can confidently say that we have not suffered lack. My lifestyle is quite different from how I grew up and in many ways is a bit more inconvenient and uncomfortable but God knows what He is doing and hasn’t failed us yet!

Dear Younger Me: First Mission Trip

This is a letter to my almost 15-year-old self on that very first exhilarating mission trip to Honduras in February 2004. Note: mission trip (STM) refers to evangelical Christian humanitarian work typically in another country. My teenage self would probably roll her eyes at this letter, but… Little Idealist, these are lessons you will eventually learn.

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In a medical clinic during one of my first trips. El Jardín, Copán, HN.

Dear Younger Me,

Finally! You’ve been waiting and praying about the chance to go on a mission trip and it’s finally here. So much expectation and anticipation (and let’s face it… drama, because well, you’re 14.) It really will prove to be more life-changing than you can even understand in this phase of life. I know you have done so much preparation and feel like everything in life has been leading up to this big, glorious moment. It will actually prove to be just one of many gloriously small moments that will ultimately string together in a beautiful way that only God can orchestrate. Just wait.

Journal this experience. I know you do this anyway because you’ve always been the weirdo kid who documents EVERY. THING. Good for you. One day, you’ll be 27 and a more experienced, slightly wiser version of yourself and you’ll be going through your old things and come across your old mission trip journal and you will sit in your room and cry over the pages because of how faithful God has been. And you’ll laugh at how cute and naive you once were.

LEARN. That is your first responsibility as a team member on a mission trip: to learn. Learn the language. Learn the culture. If you are serious about opening your mind and heart up to this new part of the world and want to effectively serve in some capacity with these people then there is only one option that makes sense… LEARN TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. You can’t build a ministry in another country through hand gestures and handouts while thinking like an American (read: United States-ean). Relationships are key and the foundation is communication and understanding. Do the hard work: learn the language.

Being a learner means you realize that you actually don’t know best. Do you know who does know best? The natives, and usually, the missionaries. The ones who live there day-in and day-out. They know what is appropriate and what is not. They know which situations are dangerous and which are not. As a team member, an outsider (no matter your age), it is not your place to question their leadership or decisions. Like, if they tell you to stop laughing obnoxiously loud in a public restaurant because you are being disrespectful of the country’s social norms don’t roll your eyes because “ugh, what a party pooper.” (Other than already attracting probably more unwanted attention than necessary, you are reinforcing a negative stereotype of North Americans – being disrespectfully loud and dominating of public spaces). You are also part of a team of people who is representing a local ministry or organization. LIVE BY THEIR RULES. It might seem super stuffy or strict compared to your church back home but… you are not at home. Respect the hosts’ rules.

Once you get to truly know the people and the culture you’ll find that they aren’t that different from you. You’ll get past the point of identifying all the differences and will start to celebrate and relish in the similarities of your common humanity. You’ll see dignity in each person and will be less likely to make blanket statements about their culture or race. As time goes on and you start having more conversations with the natives you’ll realize you stop talking so much about the natives. You’ll probably start out quoting faulty statistics about the country to friends back home or making wild generalizations about the local people as a whole… (Yeah, you’re gonna think you’re an expert on the entire Honduran population within your first trip or two. You’re kind of annoying.) Then you will get to know their hearts and will feel silly for making all those ethnocentric assumptions. (Thankfully, your Honduran friends are gracious people. Most will forgive you.) 😉

You’ll undoubtedly come home from this first trip with excitement and tears and pictures, sharing stories of what you saw and felt. Who wouldn’t? You might encourage a couple other friends or family members to join you on following trips. Some will listen intently, some will get bored from your stories pretty quickly because they didn’t experience it with you. They’re not going to understand. They don’t get why you cry because you have such a nice house and so many don’t, and why suddenly you are borderline taking a vow of poverty. You just went though a real emotional journey over the last seven days and those who didn’t experience it can’t exactly relate.

Speaking of poverty… YOU ARE NOT A POVERTY TOURIST. You did not pay $1,200 to travel all the way to Central America so you could “experience poverty.” (Which you never actually did. Seeing poverty is not experiencing poverty.) The thousands of people who live in rural Honduras and are trying to survive off a dollar a day are not staged for your entertainment or learning exploit. This is their real life. I know you’re excited about all the pictures you get to show to everyone back home but count the cost of that photo you just snapped with your iPhone* in that family’s private space while gawking at their extreme lack. Be sensitive and consider each person’s dignity before doing anything.

*I went through 3 entire disposable cameras on my first trip 12 years ago

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Apparently all I did on my first trip was hold other people’s babies.

Now, let’s talk about your clothes for a second. This isn’t a pertinent issue necessarily but it reflects your attitude toward those you are serving. If you show up uncharacteristically dressed like a bum in cut-off capris and cut-off ratty t-shirts, the message you are conveying is: you aren’t worth my best… or at least, you aren’t worth my average. I’m telling you now, there is no need to raid the thrift store for the nastiest items before your trip because “you don’t want to ruin your good clothes.” This is a fine excuse if you are helping with hard labor or a messy job like painting but consider your activity… washing hair for lice? Giving worm medicine at the entrance of the pop-up clinic? Dress appropriately and show respect in that.

Ok, I know you most likely will not receive this well right now because you are high on enthusiasm and naive idealism but you will come to learn this with time and it needs to be said… you are not the hero. Like, it is not about you at all. Take your piece of humble pie and swallow it well because no one likes an arrogant team member. You are one of many team members and unity is key. First of all, you are doing the humbling job of serving other human beings, so esteem them higher than yourself. Secondly, you are working with other volunteers as a unit and any individualism on the job has to go. Thirdly, you nor your team are the first nor the only ones to do this kind of work. It is valuable and needed! But it is not exclusive to your group. You don’t have a monopoly on “free medical clinics in Honduras”and you certainly didn’t invent the idea. Celebrate the fact that you are joining so many others in the effort to share Christ’s love in a tangible way!

It all feels glamorous right now but it won’t always be. You will experience more fear and pain than you even imagined but you will find more love than you even imagined also.

Let this experience move you to inward and outward change. You will slowly start to see the world completely differently. You’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on success, faith, politics, and current events than others. Let it move you to make a difference at home as you dream about going abroad again. You didn’t have this awakening inside your soul just to apathetically return to abundance and self-indulgence. Your eyes will be open to hurting people all around you. DO SOMETHING. Don’t sit casually waiting on your annual mission trip to come around again. You have a bigger purpose and there is too much at stake for you to put on your missionary hat for only one week out of the year.

So, in conclusion, little 14-year-old going on 15, your years ahead have so much in store. Don’t worry about learning all these lessons at once. It will happen in its time. Just you wait,

27-year-old You

(who still anticipates more lessons in the future)

___________

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Then in college I wrote this poem in an attempt to express the love affair I have with the country & people to which I don’t belong.

A Call to Love

Broken streets and broken souls call
I am compelled to answer, answer them all
Your small hands have taught me more than textbooks could contain
Your selfless joy is like my heart’s refrain
I’d choose you over a city of gold – all of you, every inch
I’d choose you first and I’d choose you again
I am a jealous lover, it’s my heart you win
You’re more than a memory, more than a friend
More than beauty and dirt and land
More than a good story to tell, more than I can stand
I am who I am because of you
It’s taken years to express, but for years it’s been true
My commitment to you runs deeper than a flutter in my chest
You have all of me, my worst and my best
I love you longer than seven days
Beyond borders and languages, my love stays
I love you stronger than a smile or a tear
Because I choose to love in the face of pain and fear
I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, rejected and betrayed
I was close to giving in and letting apprehension have its way
But I am led to you by a greater Hand
And my trivial emotions are irrelevant to His plan
I haven’t forgotten you, I never could
You are my first love, and my love is for good

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Oh yeah, 27-year-old me still likes holding other people’s babies. 🙂 Nueva Alianza, Copán, HN.

 

Village: Nueva Alianza visit in photos

*PREFACE* This was the blog entry that I was working on when my computer was stolen Sunday afternoon. The saved draft was open along with my photo editing software and the couple hundred pictures that I took during our visit to the village of Nueva Alianza. One of the purposes of this trip was to document living conditions and to have a picture of each family with their last names in order to correspond with the data we had on each child. This was part of Natan’s internship. The photos saved in this blog are the only ones we have from the trip.

A couple days before my trip down here I got an unexpected large donation from a close family member that surprised me to tears. I was overwhelmed and so thankful to God. I wasn’t worried about paying for our rental truck to get up to the mountains or the even bigger issue of how I would continue to pay on my school loans for these couple of months that I’m not in the states. I had a purpose, a mission, and God was my provider. Then because of a small issue out of our control with the rental truck we almost had to pay an outrageous fee on top of the rental price. I was upset and didn’t understand. We returned to the rental place to sort out the issue the next day and it was taken care of. They didn’t mention the issue and we weren’t charged. Just in time! God is good.

Then Sunday happened. My backpack along with my prescription glasses and laptop and a few other things was stolen out of Natan’s car. And I’m almost positive that it happened in the church parking lot… while I was hearing a sermon that would prepare me to deal with the very situation: Paul said in Philippians that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance, whether in lack or abundance.

I certainly won’t pretend that me minus my laptop equals lack or poverty but I have to admit that it felt like a heavy blow. I use it for most of my jobs and especially for photo/video editing which helps fund my mission trips. Also, I feel really uneasy about all my personal info that was on it. Recent books I have been reading are about ministering in hard places and missionaries who remain in dangerous areas and are friends with those around them even after they have been robbed by the very same ones. When I got back to my room Sunday evening I remembered the book I was reading and decided I would read a little before bed. Then I realized it was in my backpack…

Its pages are most likely being used as toilet paper in someone’s outhouse right now.

Needless to say I am asking God to help me with my attitude. He is still good, He’s my provider and I promise my pity party will be short-lived. I really have been preparing myself for something like this. I am amazed that after 10+ years of traveling/living in Latin America (especially Honduras) that this is the first incident I’ve personally faced. It really is minor compared with other things that happen here. God, help Honduras.

And, now let me introduce Nueva Alianza…

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Last year our missions team spent a day in Nueva Alianza (Copán, Honduras) pouring a cement floor for the pastor’s family. This was for the part of the house that was used as a kitchen, which was where they previously had to walk on dirt/mud.

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Natán, his brother Walter, and I were able to go back for a short visit last week. Here is a view almost a year later of the completed floor with the kitchen walls back up. The pastor’s widowed daughter and grandson stand in the doorway.

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The purpose for this particular visit was for Natán to conduct some interviews and gather research for his social ministry internship he is completing this month for seminary. This village had been chosen by the Christian Social Ministry to receive sponsorship so based on that connection and the friendships already started, we planned our visit. We just happened to get a last minute unexpected donation of children’s literature and workbooks that we were able to deliver to the school.

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Let me give you a glimpse into a day in the life of the students there. The school is only first through sixth grade and they are all grouped into one “class.” They are split into two groups depending on the subject being taught. After sixth grade (if they make it that far) is when they are expected to work and support the family. Typical work includes farming and construction.

One of their classrooms is a cinderblock room and the other is made of wood and metal scraps.

IMG_8354A government sponsored program provides the kids with a snack of beans, rice and tortillas during the school day. When the ladies walked up with the pots and pans of food all the children starting singing in unison a song about “snack time.”

We made a couple home visits and saw several inoperable toilets and some stove ventilation pipes that needed to be fixed. But we also saw some new water filters in the homes and a vegetable garden that the Christian Social Ministry helped start. We are hoping to come alongside them to partner with this beautiful community as well. My heart was especially touched for the children. I hope that one day they will each realize that they are precious and loved and can achieve any dream they put their mind to.

A heart thing

I hate the feeling of being misunderstood. I hate seeing someone I care for criticized due to being misunderstood. Being misunderstood is something that any living and breathing person must endure at some point (probably many) in his or her life.

Learning a second language and everything that comes with it (engaging a new culture, starting cross-cultural relationships, etc) is practically setting yourself up to be misunderstood. Like, a lot. Despite your best efforts and intentions.

But you don’t have to be speaking in a second language to have your words misinterpreted. In fact, you don’t have to speak at all. It’s funny how people can come to their own conclusions about another person without ever talking to them personally or hearing from their heart. Hearsay can be pretty brutal.

We imperfect humans do our best while muddling through this life of fragile relationships trying to find the balance in reaching out to others in vulnerability and protecting our own sensitive hearts. Sometimes we get in ugly, awkward, uncomfortable situations and there’s no script to tell us how to respond. So we react… or we don’t. And we can get criticized either way.

We can probably think on situations in which our heart would fit in to two different categories: bad or good. With regret and shame we might recall times we sought out things for our own selfish gain at the expense of someone else but we would probably say that most of the time our motives are pure and we are just misunderstood.

But even at our best, our hearts are deceitful.

9“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? 10“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:9-10

This is one of my daily prayers. Lord, search my heart.

Some days I want to scream, “…and search their heart while you’re at it!” But I am only responsible for me and my heart and my words and my actions.

I like to think my heart is good. I find myself often saying, “If only they knew my intentions! If only they knew my heart!” But maybe my heart is really selfish and greedy. Maybe I justify all my egotistical decisions to make myself believe that I am truly pure of heart and that is it everyone else who has ulterior motives and sneaky self-important schemes.

Lord, search my heart.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts![c]
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting![d] Psalm 139:23-24

What I do know is that a pure heart doesn’t come from us broadcasting our false humility or convincing others of our own innocence. It comes in the quiet moments alone with God when no one else is around to see or hear. It comes in examining that deceitful thing inside of us; it comes in the pruning, although painful; and it comes in the humiliating stripping down of all our pitiful tries and filthy rags of self-righteousness.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right[b] spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

 

In Light of their Suffering – Immigration

I wrote this a few years ago while I was living in Panamá and it was published on a couple different websites. In the wake of President Obama’s recent announcement about immigration reform in this country (FINALLY!), I felt I should share it again. I in no way am interested in provoking a heated political discussion or engaging in senseless cultural wars. I know that I serve a King not of this world and He has broken my heart for a forgotten and misunderstood people. IMG_5465 This was written after my home state, Alabama, passed one of the strictest immigration laws a couple years ago which has since been partly repealed/amended.

The following is in reference specifically to undocumented immigration from Latin America.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a grassroots advocate for immigrant rights. This great love and passion for the immigrant began halfway through my high school career after I had taken several mission trips to Honduras and was given a book about a boy who travels by train illegally to the U.S. to reunite with his mother. (Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, http://www.enriquesjourney.com/) I remember the first time I spoke up in defense of the immigrant was during history class in my small, Christian, southern high school. I knew the odds were against me but I felt a courage welling up inside, like this was something for which I was born. Somehow, I felt that the traditional way I had been taught to see undocumented immigration was wrong. I started questioning my old mindset that made me believe that these people were “less human,” or “undeserving.”

Now, almost seven years later, I am more dedicated to this cause and more sure than ever that Jesus Christ has compelled me to love and serve the undocumented immigrant. I have continued in my travels to Latin America and have seen unfathomable poverty. I have built relationships with immigrant families here in the U.S. and learned the richness of diversity and the beauty of God’s grace. I see the kingdom of heaven being built and it makes me wonder, “How is it that followers of Christ are more quick to identify with earthly territories than with the construction of an eternal kingdom?”

What truly baffles me is the hostility toward immigrants that can be found in circles of believers. I am amazed at how often I hear dislike being expressed toward “illegals” (a word I, personally, never use to label a human being) by the very Christians with whom I have served in third world countries. It is as if we muster up enough unconditional love and grace for the Latinos who live in their own country but when we return we treat the undocumented Latino down the road from us like our enemy. Is a person’s very presence in the U.S. without legal papers the unpardonable sin? Is it our job as believers to play the “us versus them” game?

I think Jesus accounted for the fact that we would sometimes misinterpret our neighbors for our enemies. He said, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) but just in case our neighbors really were our literal enemies or we had a temporary case of paranoia and thought that those around us were against us, he covered that by saying, “love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44) We can’t really get around that one… it pretty much covers all the bases. My hope is that our vision would not be obscured by the ugly blindfold of entitlement but that our eyes would truly be open to see others the way Christ sees. I love how Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

I have several friends and acquaintances that reside in this country without proper documentation. Their stories are all different. They are mothers, fathers, students, brothers, sisters. They preach on Sunday mornings and lead worship; they clean our hotel rooms and construct our office buildings; they pick our produce and serve our meals; they win science fairs and are awarded community service ribbons. They give, they take, they hurt, they fear, they need and they love.

The most recent legislation passed in my home state, Alabama, breaks my heart. It is already creating an atmosphere of chaos, mistrust and fear. I hope that somehow the supporters of this law may have personal encounters with those whom it affects and that their hearts may be changed. Even after years of researching this topic and following the legislative proposals, no amount of data or statistics can persuade me toward either side quite like knowing the immigrant can. You can never go wrong by cultivating human relationships.

This issue has really become much more personal for me in the few years since writing this article to the point that even engaging in a conversation about it is exhausting and can often turn hurtful – although everything I wrote then rings even more true now. If I were to sit down in front of my laptop with one of my undocumented immigrant friends and start scrolling down my Facebook news feed I would be embarrassed and saddened for them to see what many of my Christ-following friends and family members have to publicly say about “people like them.” (of course, undocumented immigrants aren’t the only subculture of people who get publicly bashed on my social media feeds by Christians)

It might be easy to assume that undocumented immigrants are here for a “handout” or a “free ride” to get an “easy way out.” Let me tell you – nothing about their lives here in the U.S. is easy. I would invite you spend just 24 hours with me as I travel to medical and school appointments every day interpreting for them – just to meet one or two personally and hear their stories of hardships and sacrifices they’ve made for their children. Or to be with me when I get a phone call from my friend who lives in another state and updates me on her process to get protection under the Violence Against Women Act – because for so long she was scared to report abuse because of her legal status.

*And if you are one of those people who has a hard time truly grasping the reality of how difficult actually obtaining a visa (permission of entry) is to the U.S. for a person in a third world country, I invite you to take a look at this info graphic that explains the process:

arizona39simmigrationlawgeniuspage2straightdope_4e60963eaf8de It isn’t new to quote scripture from the Old Testament – what God commanded Israel to do or not do regarding foreigners, and take it as a command for us today. But the other day the President referred to one of these Old Testament scriptures in front of the whole nation:

“You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” -Exodus 22:21 NLT

*For the record, I agree with the President (and the majority of America) that border protection is a priority and that we must know who is entering our country. (because not everyone is hardworking and respectful like the many immigrants I know) I have had multiple personal conversations with individuals wanting to come over illegally from Central America and never once have I encouraged any one to do so. What I want is to see a broken system get fixed. That way we all benefit.