The Art of Being Real on the Mission Field

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This isn’t a how-to article. I promise I’m not another expert. This just happens to be something I am trying to learn myself as I make it through this missionary/expat/immigrant journey in Honduras.

The love of travel and love of missions are not always the same thing. For me, they go hand-in-hand. It is a dream come true for me to be able to live as a missionary in Latin America. I’ve seen the wholistic transformation that happens when the Church steps up to care materially and spiritually for needy brothers and sisters. – A biblical mandate I believe –

Santa Cruz

Line of patients waiting to enter one of our medical clinics in Copán, Honduras

As a newlywed and a newly-returned-to-Honduras foreigner, this stage of life comes with a lot of transition. I’ve been traveling to Honduras (+ other Latin American countries) for exactly half of my life now and I previously lived here for a year teaching, so it’s not like this whole experience is brand new. In fact, I’ve lost the sense of novelty in a lot of aspects. I have to be intentional about seeing this country and culture with fresh eyes in order to maintain a sense of wonder and appreciation for its differences.

And let me tell you, it has its differences.

It is different from my life in the U.S. probably in more ways than you expect. (even though I bet it also has more similarities than you would expect.) I want to take the chance here in my blog to lay out a few realities in the most gracious way possible. In no way would I want to:

  1. disrespect the wonderful people of Honduras, nor their treasured traditions & customs
  2. display any type of ethnocentric arrogance
  3. “poor mouth” to receive pity as if moving to Honduras was some form of holy suffering for the Lord
  4. or, on the contrary, ignore the obvious and pretend that I am living life as a typical North American newlywed

…because I’m not. Here, I am stretched and challenged in ways that I wouldn’t be back in2017-05-07 09.16.06-2 the states. I’ve given up a few comforts and conveniences. (necessities or luxuries depending on which perspective you have.) At my worst moments, I am grouchy and whiny and look for someone to share in my misery or at least feel sorry for me. Thankfully, my Honduran husband, mostly undeterred by the little things I find  uncomfortable or inconvenient, patiently brings me back to reality and reassures me that whatever I was frustrated over is probably not that important in the grand scheme of things. (he gives great pep talks)

For example, back home I am used to complete climate control inside my home: everything from the temperature to pest control to aromas to noises – not even an ant or foul odor would sneak by without my noticing and inflicting vengeance.

Here I HAVE NO CONTROL. It is pure chaos for the five senses. There is hardly a distinction between the outside and the inside therefore I am totally exposed to whatever elements – heat, wind, critters, dust and dirt, the smell of my my neighbor’s lunch on the stove, the scent of the garbage truck passing by, the sound of my neighbor sneezing, the incessant honking of a car down the street, the party music at a ridiculous level all night long – decide to invade the house at any given moment. (a lot of this due to living in such close proximity to so many other houses)

Because we live in the city we are also in close proximity to other helpful resources like the grocery store and banks. *thumbs up*

FACT

The fine line that we walk as expat Christian workers is how to communicate our reality to those back home without sounding like grumblers. The truth is that no matter how many times I post online or call my mother to complain about how much “I am drenched in sweat and it’s not even 9:00 a.m.!” it doesn’t cool me off any more and she really isn’t going to understand what it feels like in the day-to-day unless she is here living it with me.

A more serious and difficult subject is violence and corruption. These are deep-rooted social problems that can affect the expat’s life in real ways. We often don’t know how to talk to those back home about the implications that these factors have on our daily lives. Generally it means going about daily activities with a heightened sense of caution and occasionally fear.

This brings us to the reality that many missionaries deal with battles that aren’t manifested in physical form. Emotional and psychological trials are real and can be underplayed if we aren’t careful. Loneliness and sadness can be painful parts of the missionary’s journey – but how do you casually drop that hint in a newsletter? For those back home, pray for discernment on how to best care for your missionary friend in this area.

Daily, I ask the Lord to give me patience and grace to deal with my circumstances. I voluntarily moved to this country (which I have loved for some time now) and count it an honor to have the opportunity to serve here. How can I complain about trivial discomforts when I am living in what most of the world’s population would consider luxury? I don’t make it a habit to guilt myself into feeling the awareness of my privilege. It’s important to be aware but guilt is not what drives our service or our generosity. Being caught up in the gaze of our Savior and His assignment to a hurting world is what propels us.

I apologize if I’ve ever made unfair generalizations about the country of Honduras or taken advantage of someone’s unfamiliarity with the culture to exaggerate a situation in my favor. This is not the work of missionaries. We should try harder to communicate with respect and truth and pure motives. We should try to be more open and direct with those who offer help, not playing the role of “poor pitiful me” nor that of a superhero.

We are human and we have weaknesses. I thank God for a husband, an ideal partner, who is strong when I am weak, and for a Heavenly Father who is stronger than both of us.

“…how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11

I choose to count my blessings right before I turn to share them with someone else. I might not have all the earthly comforts I sometimes want so badly but I’m called and equipped for an assignment bigger than my desires.

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.

 

Purposeful Singleness (and thoughts on marriage)

“…God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.” – Paul (the celibate missionary) 1 Cor. 7:7

When was the last time you viewed your singleness as a gift? It doesn’t have to be some unfortunate event that happens to you. You can be intentional in your singleness. It has a purpose.

We make our own decisions every day. Just as one chooses to marry, one can choose not to marry or to wait. Each scenario can be a blessing in its own way.

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I am writing this as an unmarried woman in her late twenties. I have been in a committed relationship for 3 years and 8 months (2 yrs and 10 months of which have been long-distance… I mean really long-distance, like I can’t see him without using my passport). I am very taken by a person who happens to also be very taken by me and we are planning our life together… while we are currently apart.

I am not looking forward to marriage just for the sake of getting married or to fill some void in my life. I am looking forward to marriage because I have fallen in love with someone who is my best friend and adds so much positivity to my life and calling and I think we can serve the Lord better together. I don’t idolize a married life but I do look forward to it.

1044205_915195455260816_4385145030561955805_nI live away from him in a strange phase somewhere between the married and single life, kind of as a not-available single person. At first I viewed this time as the intermission, or the waiting room to the grand beginning of life.

¡Pura casaca! like some say in Honduras… LIE! I’m not sitting around waiting on my life to finally begin! Nor do I dread that it’ll all be over once I say “I do.” This in-between time has actually been a wonderful journey rediscovering the joy and purpose of singleness.

My Christian faith informs my purpose in life which ultimately is to bring glory to God. Marriage is never the end but rather the means to the end of glorifying my Savior. That doesn’t mean the marriage is supposed to be perfect but it should certainly strengthen rather than hinder one’s relationship with the Lord. Before we enter into covenant with another human being we should know them well enough to determine what they turn to in the midst of problems. (of course, we are fallen humans who live in an imperfect world and there are some domestic scenarios that not even the most prepared person can predict) When things get tough what is that person’s knee-jerk reaction? What/whom do they trust? Do they lead me toward Christ or away from Him?

>>>><<<<

Dear single person (whether never-been-married, divorced, or widowed),

You have value. You are not a second class human compared to your married peers. And those in the ministry, you are not less of a spiritual leader because you are unmarried. No need to mope! Your life is not on hold. You have so much to offer in your singleness, and I am not only talking about temporary singleness until you find someone. View it as a gift! Be independent, travel, make your own decisions, make your own money, volunteer, engage in community with others, do productive things with your free time.

IMG_5771Singleness is not a disability, a curse, a punishment, nor something over which we should mourn. It can be a joy! You are not incomplete nor lacking in spiritual maturity.

Church, take your single members seriously. Provide space for them, not just for couples and families. You don’t have to play match-maker, really. Especially if it was not asked of you. Consider the fact that the individual might actually choose singleness. They don’t need your pity. They can serve and fully function within the body of believers as well as and often with more ease and flexibility than your married members. Value them in the stage of life right where they are without trying to change their status.

 

— A few thoughts on marriage —

What marriage isn’t (or shouldn’t be):

  • a solution to a problem
  • a problem or burden
  • your life’s goal

What marriage is (or should be):

  • a safe place to work through inevitable problems with a supportive partner
  • a blessing (something you enjoy with someone you enjoy)
  • an avenue to accomplish your goals
  • another way to serve and bring glory to God

*Also, weddings signify the beginning of a union and are a great time to celebrate. Weddings are not a real accomplishment though. Working through years and years of faithful relationship with another human being is the real accomplishment. I fully intend to celebrate on my wedding day but I think our 50th anniversary should be a bigger celebration. 🙂

–>><<–

Chin up, single! You have intrinsic worth.

When Grown-ups [Indirectly] Hurt Your Feelings on Facebook (or in real life)

*Disclaimer: Maybe this is common sense for some of you. If so, GREAT! Unfortunately, from my Facebook newsfeed this is still an issue among people I know.* :/

Dear oblivious friend, family member, angry and bitter Facebook acquaintance,

Your comments hurt. Yeah, remember that time you thought it was funny to joke about those illegals or those violent Muslims? Or, maybe because you feel as if the government or the media is unfairly slanted toward “anti-American values” (and due to the fact that you don’t have any diversity whatsoever within your Facebook friend list) you thought it would even the playing fields by lashing out at an entire group of people by reposting a cruel meme. You justify your hate speech with scripture and make biting comments and sarcastically wish ill on “those people” all in the name of patriotism or religion or whatever twisted combination of the two you pledge allegiance to.

Those things hurt.

Personally.

And it makes me question if there are any loving Christians still out there. 😦 (I know there are because some of my best friends still represent the very best of Christianity)

I know I’m sensitive. I get emotionally involved in situations and people’s lives too easily. I feel drawn to outcasts and misunderstood people. My worldview (read: politics) is determined by my faith in Christ + personal experiences and friendships NOT by talking heads in the media who supposedly share my faith.

(I don’t want to get on the subject of politics but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, why are so many Christ-followers supporting a clearly arrogant, bitter, angry, unloving, anti-grace bigot this election season? I am appalled.)

“I see the confusion of politics and religion as one of the greatest barriers to grace. C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of UNgrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.” – Philip Yancey

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I do believe that God has given me a burden for marginalized people. I confess that I am not always the best at loving people consistently but oh, how I feel a heavy burden. I have been an advocate for immigrants for some time and just recently I have made a couple dear friends in the Muslim community not too far from where I live. I am consistently amazed at what we have in common. Why had I never noticed our common humanity before?

Maybe because most of the voices I hear paint these every-day people as a murderous, revenge-seeking caricature. That is so far from my personal experience. I choose to believe that my friends are not the exception to the rule, just as I hope they choose to believe that I am not the exception either. And I hope I’m not.

(Funny, random story: the other day I was giving some friends a ride home after the ESL class that I teach. It sounds like the start of a joke but we were… a white girl, a Latina and a Muslim lady all in one little car. A group of people was on the corner at an intersection where we stopped and they all had posters offering free hugs. I honked and waved and a black girl ran across the street and reached into my car to give us all hugs! It was hilarious! I don’t know what that group represented or if I would even personally agree with them on what they stood for but it didn’t matter, I’ll still take a free hug! All four of us had such distinct backgrounds and stories. That to me looked like such a lovely picture of diversity. I wish someone had actually taken a photo. ❤ )

Some people would rather live their lives looking at others with suspicion and fear. That doesn’t sound like a nice way to live though.

If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.” Luke 11:35-36 Message

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..unless it is actually just you because “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” …or the fingers post.

Action step: Let’s try to be more considerate with what we post online. Have a little more discernment before sharing that hilarious thing so-and-so just posted.

We can all THINK before we post. Is it…

True

Helpful

Inspiring

Necessary

Kind?

And I am certainly not saying all of this out of political correctness. Could there be a more nauseating topic of conversation?? How about we all just try not to be *rear ends* in general as we interact with one another. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being patient and kind and loving and gracious. I don’t know if Jesus would be too down with your redneck renegade rant you just posted offending half of His creation. Let’s be gentle in our speech.

For the most part, this is me while scrolling through social media…

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But sometimes I want to sit down with the person and have a good coffee (or Yemeni chai tea) and ask what kind of horrible experience they had that made them so hateful toward another person… maybe that is a conversation we should have?

Nueva Alianza village update [PHOTOS] and Mission teams recap

It’s been a busy summer in Honduras! And that is just the couple of groups with which I was able to be present. Praise God for all the volunteer work that goes on in all parts of the country due to foreign teams. The San Pedro Sula (and I would imagine Tegucigalpa as well) airport is always buzzing with English speaking groups coming and going during the summer months.

I was able to spend 6 weeks total in the country. Needless to say, my summer flew by! (And I like it that way. 😉 Now fall can hurry up an get here please.)

But I wanted to follow up on the project in the currently sponsored village in Copan and share a bit from our 2 weeks of medical clinics.

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Natán and Walter in Nueva Alianza

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Laundry mat! Where some of the families wash their clothes. Most don’t have the typical pila. (large concrete wash basin)

I posted a picture and caption on Facebook from our preliminary trip up to the village about a little girl named Mariela:

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|| The best view. ||  My new friend, Mariela, showed me her house and her family’s garden yesterday. They were proud of their new water filter they received about a week ago. Two families live together in the tiny home so she calls the little room that she shares with other family members her “house.” Their outhouse style toilet has stopped working so they have to use the bathroom in the woods. They wash clothes in the nearby creek.

From the post a sweet friend messaged me wanting to send money for this family to have a new bathroom! So on the following trip we were able to sit down with the pastor of the village and write out the materials needed to construct a new outhouse for this family with a toilet that could be “flushed” with (a bucket of) water instead of what they had before – a hole in the ground that would fill up. Then we went to the hardware store…

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…and just a few weeks later we went back for a visit and got to see the completed and functioning outhouse!

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The donation we received was enough for two entire outhouses so on this follow-up trip we bought another load of materials to construct a second outhouse for another family who mentioned this need and whom the pastor knows personally. Also, we DO NOT build or hire anyone to build these for them. Part of maintaining dignity and pride in work and your possessions is taking ownership of them from the beginning. We do not endorse handouts but we work with them and listen to what the needs are. We do the basic things that they are not able to do on their own and come alongside them as they work to make it happen. Our goal is to develop communities and individuals, not be their vending machine, which is why the church’s consistent presence with them in their village is so important. I wish I was there to be able to visit monthly or even more often.

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me, Natán, Pastor Joaquin, Jonathan, Yanela – overlooking Nueva Alianza in the background

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* JOY *

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Mission Teams!

So, this year was pretty exciting as far as teams go. We had a lot of people and each year a lot of my family go, which I love, but this year it was even more exciting because my little (giant) sister came for the first time! And I was about her age the first time I traveled to Honduras and fell in love with the country.

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Family! me, little bro Carson, little sis Tori

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Lovely cousin Kate! What would I do without her?

Our first week of medical clinics was in the area of La Esperanza, Intibucá. Such wonderful weather and beautiful people! Our second week was in Copán as usual, which will forever have my heart. ❤ I actually didn’t take any pictures these two weeks because my main role was interpreter and I can get easily burned out wearing too many hats. Let’s face it, missions is not always smiles and giggles and I can get cranky by the end of these trips! But to be honest, even though it is a lot of work, this time was refreshing and reenergizing for me. Exhausting and sometimes emotionally taxing, but the Lord taught me new things and I treasure the moments shared with family and friends, new and old, on the 2015 Honduras medical mission trips.

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Don’t doubt in the dark what you saw in the light…

For anyone who’s been doubting or feeling skeptical like I often do, I am here to tell you that the REAL God still changes hearts in REAL life.

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(free stock photo from Pexels)

[So, I am working on a Honduras update post or two but I wanted to give a quick testimony and word of praise for what I experienced yesterday at church.]

First of all, the worship team started off the service with a song I had never heard before called Covered by Israel Houghton that absolutely tore me up…

At the cross you called it finished!

All my past is covered… all my sin is covered by your grace…

No matter what I’ve done
No matter where I’ve been
No matter how I fall
You pick me up again
You have removed my shame
You take me as I am
You call me justified
Now I am covered by your grace

Without mentioning the name of the church (because God gets all the glory, not any person or physical location) I want to say how much I admire this team of ministers for creating such a welcoming atmosphere and having the spiritual discernment and anticipation to be prepared to minister when a person has some heavy crap to take care of. Let’s be real, as humans we get shocked and offended and scared at some of the real life junk that people are dealing with deep down. It is a lot easier to dress up on Sunday mornings and intentionally not think about the personal hell that our neighbor might be living in.

My heart hurts for those who think they wouldn’t be welcomed in a church building. We as Christ-followers should be the most welcoming people on the planet. Why do we screw this up so much?

Well, God isn’t offended or intimidated by our mess. He loves us so intensely that just one encounter with His presence, one taste of the REAL Living Water, is enough to quench our thirst and make us realize that we had been so foolishly drinking out of the wrong well for so long looking for something that didn’t even satisfy.

A friend of a family member whom I met for the first time yesterday got a RADICAL taste of this unconditional love and overwhelming grace. He got set free from some crazy stuff on the spot while praying with some staff members after the service. I’ve been in awe of the Lord and feeling kinda weepy ever since. God is good.

Sometimes in ministry we feel like we’re treading water, maybe we are in the “sowing seeds” stage and it feels really slow. The all of a sudden we get to participate in the “harvest” and it is so encouraging and affirming. And I was reminded again not to ever underestimate what God can and will do. He’s been using unconventional ways and unconventional people since the beginning of time. Who are we to predict or “approve” of His methods or even think we could possibly have Him figured out? (And who says ministry only happens in the church building? That might be one of the most debilitating myths of the Church’s ministry today and there are even pastors who perpetuate this mindset.) When we start recognizing the divine in the mundane and becoming aware of sacred moments in secular settings we will be much more effective in the Kingdom. Let’s not miss God-ordained opportunities because we’re too busy with our heads down shuffling through our daily routines.

God is so much bigger 🙂

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.