Honduras, Part 2: Dia 7

    LEAVING PIECES OF ME

It takes a day to live an experience. It takes 30-60 minutes to write about it. It takes you 3-5 minutes to read about it. It takes you even less time to forget about it. Even I will forget in time. I forget what I read. I forget what i wrote. I forget what I lived. But whether or not I remember, I am shaped. I am impacted. I am transformed.
I would do well to duplicate the dandelion plant. One seed grows in the most difficult of places – even in the cracks of sidewalks – yet when the time is right, it has produced countless seeds. Those seeds grow into new dandelion plants, which produce more seeds, which produce more plants, and the cycle continues. It is much like the saying, “You can count the seeds in an apple, but you cannot count the apples within a seed.” What am I sowing?
Pieces of me. That is all. But those pieces of me, blessed by God Almighty, can grow for the glory of the Kingdom. I have no idea of the impact that I had or can continue to have in Honduras. What comes from chopping down tall grass so that mosquitoes have less vegetation to inhabit at the orphanage? Or how can I tell what it will help that we improved the drainage from their laundry area and bath? Will someone want to do what I do because I shared with them in their classroom? Who is impacted by my testimony at the Bible study? Will the devotions that I shared with the team have any lasting impact? Or what about my day with Alexa (well, the rest of the third graders were there also) and her sister offering me the chance to keep in touch? What happens now that I told some of those in Honduras that I will return, even though I said “Adios” this time?
Trust in The Lord in all your ways and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5,6) My understanding is so broken, so limited, so small. Because of the nature of my work with children, I did learn long ago that I will never truly know the impact of my work. I will never know if a particular word of advice was helpful or pivotal for someone who needed direction. Nor will I know what happens because of my failures, my mistakes, and my inadequacy. Thank goodness it’s not my plan. Better yet, thank God.
In one of my earlier posts on Honduras I referenced the book The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias. The book offers a perspective of a life well-lived and one that can look back upon the ways that God took some of the events that seemed to be the least significant and used them in mighty ways. We hear stories like that, like being the person that taught the person that taught the person who taught Billy Graham. How can you know at that point what God will choose to do with your actions, your words, your hands and feet? We cannot, but God does. God does us not ask us to understand, only to trust in all our ways.
I’m getting better at that. Still not great, but better. According to life expectancy predictions, I have reached the approximate half-way point. That sounds like a somber reflection in some ways, but it does not have to be. I am enjoying it. I have started to be able to reflect upon the ways that God has used different experiences to bring me to the point that I am at now. God has used seasons of preparation to place me in this season of preparation for this time of sowing seeds. Whether dandelion or fruit tree, we are meant to bring forth seeds that will multiply life. That was God’s command in the beginning; it is God’s command now.
As part of the way to bless the new mission house where we stayed, we were asked if we could bring down a sheet set and a blanket if possible. I chose to bring and leave a blue jean quilt made by my mother. I have no way of knowing if any of the patches came from jeans that I wore, but if I were to guess – knowing my mother’s resourcefulness – I would say it is pretty lucky. I thought it would be appropriate to leave “pieces of me” in Honduras, because that is exactly what I did. I left hugs, smiles, songs, words of encouragement, lights and – hopefully – Light. In exchange, I was given all of that back and more. That is the beautiful thing about God’s multiplication plan. God never asks for an equal exchange because we could never attain that. Instead, God simply asks that we leave what we have – our pieces, our seeds – and trust the creation of life to Him.
To God be the glory.
Amen.

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Honduras, Part 2: Dia 6

  • BEAUTY FROM ASHES

*The title for this day came from an early-morning experience of picking up trash. Neighboring dogs had come on to the property of the home where we are staying and ripped open two bags of trash during the night. As I helped to pick it up, I happened to glance at the morning sky and saw a brilliant moon above the clouds. I had to point it out. It stood in such stark contrast to the task in front of us. The phrase “beauty from ashes” came back to me, and it framed my day. God never leaves anything lifeless, and there never is truly an end with God. In fact, out of those things which we call “endings,” God always creates beautiful beginnings.

I do not typically receive well; I would much rather give. But when the giver is an eight-year old girl who speaks a different language and who has worked her way into my heart, I have no choice. As I have spent time in prayer this week, my perspective has been adjusted. It was not me, I have learned, who has been giving. But God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has been pouring back into me. The people and children of Honduras have again received me in love. In other words, they have been giving to me all along.
I truly believe that I saw the Holy Spirit clearly embodied and guiding me today. I am not an expert on the Holy Spirit by any means. In fact I grew up in an experience that left the Holy Spirit as an unknown member of the Trinity – a mystery – like the family member you have never met. As a result, I began my faith walk with much head knowledge but little sense of how I should navigate the moments of the day other than by rote obedience. And I know that the Spirit resides in us, but rarely have I experienced or seen it so clearly as I did today. The groundwork for today was laid during my flight out of Detroit. Once away from the noise, the to-do lists, the tasks, the pace of life, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to me – from behind me. When I posed the question about the Spirit’s location, I was reminded that I often attempt to forge ahead in front of the Spirit. When I would be willing to allow the Spirit to lead, then I would hear the Spirit in front of me.
Then comes the sixth day of the trip: a three-hour bus trip – one-way – to explore caves with the 3rd graders. I walked past a few students who called out “Aqui!” (“Here!”) as they offered me the seat next to them and I chose one in the middle of the bus. Immediately Alexa moved up several seats to sit behind me. Alexa and her friend Nancy, found a place close to my heart during the first trip. I had intentionally set out to play on the playground at the park on a field trip, knowing that I would be navigating the waters of the Spanish language without a translator. Alexa and Nancy were able to communicate enough to me and I was able to understand enough that they could take me all around the playground in a time of joyful play. This trip has been a joyful reunion with both of them, but I had made the mistake of thinking that I might be the one with something to offer, until today. Consider the ways that Alexa showed care for me today, and the way that I could “swim” with the Spirit today:
*She offered me a piece of her gum, just as I had done for her the day before.
*She assisted me as we were reading from the Gospel of John in Spanish.
*She helped hold the cross as we made a lanyard craft together.
*She offered me part of her snack, and then again, telling me that I could finish the second snack.
*She made sure that I came off the bus when we stopped for the restrooms.
*She held my water bottle for me.
*She made sure that I put my camera back in the bag when I was finished.
*She asked me if I was tired, and, when I said “A little,” she told me to go to sleep.
*She held my hand on her shoulders when it was time for a group photo.
*She held my hand as we entered the caves.
*She grabbed on to me when she had fear inside of the cave.
*She reminded me of the instruction not to touch the formations of the cave.
*When we discovered that the wet railings left a bad smell on our hands, she would not let me touch the railing anymore and made me put my hand down by my side.
*She brought my hand to feel her heartbeat inside the cave when it was beating fast from fear.
*When I tried to sneak my phone out to record how precious her voice sounded inside the cave, she noticed it in my hand and offered to carry it for me.
*She hugged me tight and said, “Douglas. Te quiero mucho.”
*She offered me part of the lunch she was sharing with her sister – it was delicious.
*When a translator asked Alexa if she remembered me from the first trip, her sister’s answer was, “How could she forget?”
*When playing a game that involves holding your partner’s hand, she brought me over to stand in the shade.
*When we had played the game for a minute, she made me turn so that I was “all the way” in the shade.
*She offered me the first choice of the lanyards we had made.
*She asked me on the return trip if I was tired. When I said that I was, she told me to go to sleep. When I had been resting my head on the back of the bus seat for a few minutes, she told me to lift my head so that she could place her jacket underneath it.

All of that, as just a part of the day, certainly points to a caring and loving eight-year old. But it was one moment inside of the cave that crystallized the experience of the Spirit for me. Alexa was certain to hold my hand the entire time we walked the 350 meters of the tour. In one narrow part of the cave’s path back outside, there was only room for one of us at a time. As we descended the dark, slippery steps of the cave, Alexa went forward and held her hand high as I followed behind her. It brought back to me the words of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the trip, “When you are ready for me to lead, I will speak from in front of you. I will lead you.” That is exactly what happened with Alexa.
I have often sensed the Spirit in ways that remind me of swimming. I cannot swim. But to “swim with the Spirit,” you need to let your feet leave the ground. You need to go with the current or you will fight against it. I have found so much beauty in water, especially in the last few years, and yet I cannot swim. But in many ways, I just did. Alexa, if you ever have the chance to read this, I did not understand so much of the words that you said. I understood everything that you did. Swimming with the Spirit is not a matter of knowing everything that is happening around you. In fact, if you are feeling quite certain of your surroundings and your place, you are probably standing still in the desert. But if your feet leave the ground, if you feel guided and cared for, if you feel love and safety, and closeness in spite of distance, you are probably swimming with the Spirit.
Alexa’s sister, who attended the trip with us and led the students in songs, games, and crafts nearly the entire time, asked me if I wanted the phone number to be able to speak with Alexa. I will be glad to do that, but I would need significant work on my Spanish. The truth is, most of what I know about Alexa is from simply being around her. It is from everything she did and from her ever-present smile. I know about Alexa from her hugs (she asked how to say – in English – “I like hugs”) and her care for me – the one who expected to be the caregiver. The same is true of the Spirit. Even before you understand the language of the Spirit, you will know about the Spirit by just being present. Be with the Spirit. Learning how to swim will take time – your time, intentionally given. Today I asked in prayer that my ears would be open to understand Alexa. The answer given was “You will; you’ll see.” What I did not realize was that I was praying to understand the Spirit. And I will, with time. Make that your prayer today – to hear and to know the Spirit as your Comforter and Guide, your Counselor and Friend. Let the ending of yourself be a beautiful beginning to a new life with the Spirit. Beauty from ashes.

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Honduras, Part 2: Dia 5

    KEEP SWIMMING

I do not recall how the mention of the movie Finding Nemo entered the conversation on the bus ride out this morning, but I instantly jumped in – feet first. Strange that someone who cannot swim would jump in that way, but the movie is one of my favorites and my most-quoted film by far. Lines such as “Can’t hear ya, Peach!” and “Today’s the day! The sun is shining, the tank is clean, and we are gonna get out of here” find their way out of my mouth more often than I care to admit. One line in particular, as listed in the title of this piece, seemed to fit today: “Just keep swimming.” There is no particular measure of beginning nor end when you are on your fifth day in another country. The beginning seems so distant, the end seems so near, yet there is so much that will still be done.
When there is much to be done, and when the continuity of relationships is uncertain, just keep swimming. It may not be right to say that I have “favorites,” because I have loved every one who has crossed my path, but I do. Alexa and Nancy have a special place in my heart, and they know it. My connection with them came to life because of my decision to “go swimming” during my first visit to Honduras. With nothing but free time remaining in the afternoon of a field day at a park, I ventured on to a playground without a translator to swim – to be with the children in spite of the language barrier. I understood enough of their communication to be able to swing on swings, slide on slides, and climb on monkey bars with them. Once you’ve done those things with someone, you have a friend for life.
But what about now? Now that this trip has an end in sight, now that I have intentionally come back not just for them, but for them nonetheless. I keep swimming. I knew that I would probably see Nancy for the last time – on this trip – today. Lord willing, I will have time with Alexa and the rest of the third graders tomorrow during an all-day field trip to the caves. I am not a big fan of “good-bye,” so how do I navigate the waters? I swim. When Jesus knew that his work was coming to a close, he kept “swimming.” John 16:31 tells us that Jesus exclaimed, “You believe at last!” His arrest was around the corner. His death was drawing nigh. But Jesus did not stop, and neither should we.
What is “swimming” in this analogy? Well, what was the point of the line in the movie? The line in the movie became a mantra of forward movement to find what they were seeking, a chant to say in the darkness as they searched for the light. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Did Jesus not say that he is the light of the world? He also said this: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4,5) Jesus desires that we keep swimming – that we press through the darkness, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in search of the light. Even when Jesus knew that a time of darkness was coming, he pressed on. He prayed.
Jesus prayed for himself, praying that the work of God in Jesus would bring glory to the Father. Jesus then prayed for those closest to him – his disciples. He prayed for the disciples to be one. He did not pray for them to be “as one” or “like one,” but that they would be one. That same request for unity appears in Jesus’ final petition to the Father when he prayed for all believers: “that all of them may be one” (John 17:21a). Jesus knew his time was coming, but it was still day. While it is still day, we must work.
I started to sense the difficulty of having to leave soon when Alexa gave me the first hug of the day. She did not let go. She did not have to, but I knew she knew. While we were sharing in her classroom, I caught her looking at me often. I did what I could; I gave her a smile. I was around Nancy often today. We played “rock-paper-scissors” and “over-under” in the games. Nancy is feisty – she will not be pushed around. But even in that moment a quick look and a smile can change her expression. As the students prepared for lunch, Nancy was asking me a question that I did not understand. When I could not answer, she found another person to give her the answer. She wanted to know if we were about to leave. Yes, we were, and that made her sad.
Keep swimming. This afternoon we spent time with a group of students who participate in a tutoring program in another community. I had not met them before and we were going with them to a children’s museum. I found myself internally questioning what could I possibly gain from such a short time with students I had not met? Just keep swimming. The eight students were prompted to introduce themselves in English. One of the boys, Daniel, had his right eye damaged in an accident when he was only one year old and can no longer see from that eye. As has been the case more and more, I already “knew” that he would sit by me on the bus. The students went on the bus first, and I went to the seat where I had left my belongings. It was with Daniel. Although the students were encouraged to speak in English, Daniel and I communicated in English. Later I learned that Daniel does not like to talk to people because of his eye, but he was freely sharing with me. I learned a lot about Daniel, and especially took note of the fact that he likes to write, including poems. God helped me see the light because I kept swimming. But the power to swim came not from me, but is only by the power of the Holy Spirit going before me – removing the resistance that would impede me. Because of this, on a day where I sensed the darkness of an impending “good-bye,” I found the light of a new relationship.
Gracias a Dios.

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Honduras, Part 2: Dia 4

    FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISHES

He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish – unless you we go and buy food for all this crowd.” Luke 9:13
You do not need to look around the world for very long before you feel as if you only have five loaves and two fishes to offer a crowd of 5,000 hungry people. There is poverty. There are widows. There are orphans. There is violence. What can I do with my little five loaves and two fishes? And, if I’m honest, I know that those five loaves and two fishes are not even mine to offer. The work of others, the gifts of others, and the willingness of others may be all that I have to offer. And yet the command remains in front of me, “You give them something to eat.”
This return trip to Honduras reminds me of how little I have to offer. In my first trip, I had already understood that I would never know – on this side of heaven – the impact of stepping into the lives of those I would encounter. Now that I have chosen to intentionally step back into their lives – now what? What can I do? There are still hungry (spiritually as well as physically) people all over the world; how can I help with that? The children that I have met still have much less access to resources than me or my neighbors. The children at the orphanage still often wear improperly fitting shoes and sleep in beds that we would never rest in. The children at the school still must go home where there is the possibility that their father or mother could be taken away by violence. So what can I do in such a short time?
The fact that I was quickly remembered by many of the students and teachers at Jubilee Center International made me question my purpose all the more. These children are loved, yet need so much. The people of the community of La Era still struggle with significant unemployment. The nation of Honduras remains dubbed “the most violent country in the world.” So what can I do? I know in my heart that I do not plan to return to Honduras this year. So now I will be saying “Adios” to the children rather than “Hasta pronto” (See you soon); so what can I give while I am here? Can I make a transformational impact in just a few short days? Is that even why I am here? Am I here for them, or am I here for me? Or am I here for God?
What can I give? I can give the same thing that the disciples gave when Jesus saw the great need of the masses; I can give all that I have. I can take photos of Nancy who is quick to invite other friends into the picture. I can ask Alexa how she is doing and how she received a scrape on her arm. I can tell Jose, who does not speak, that I like his picture when he shows it to me. I can grab Band-Aids for the girl who scraped her hands and knees during a game. I can ask Deisi if she is alright when I see that she is crying. I can laugh when the boy offers me advice on how to be a better soccer goalie. I can give hugs – and receive them.
There are a number of layers to the story of the 5,000 being fed. Jesus gave thanks and blessed what was available. The disciples doubted how they could feed the hungry, but they obeyed Jesus anyway. And then there are those who received. Mark 6:42 tells us “They all ate and were satisfied.” We don’t often give attention to the crowd in our reading of this story, but it bears examination. The people ate and were satisfied. When Jesus blessed what was given to them, they were satisfied. Does it tell us that the crowd was never hungry again? No. Does it tell us that the crowd was never lacking for food again? No. But in that moment, they were satisfied. Their need was met, blessed by Jesus.
Alexa and Nancy, the sweethearts who pulled me around the playground during my first visit, gave me many smiles and hugs today. Recognizing the language barrier, they would sometimes just look and smile. They were satisfied. Satisfied because I have chosen to offer all that I have in obedience to Christ’s command. And not only have I offered it but Jesus has blessed it. They have not asked me to take them home, even though my heart knows that I would. They have not asked me to make the problems go away. They have not asked me to “fix” Honduras or the world. They are satisfied to receive the love and attention that I am willing to give them because it is given in obedience and blessed by the presence of Jesus.
In return, my faith is strengthened in the knowledge that God can do more than I ever imagined. That is enough for today. Tomorrow will bring another opportunity to serve, to receive, and for the work to be blessed. The disciples witnessed the miraculous blessing of Jesus feeding the hungry, but that was not the last time they would need him. We always need him. That very night, after the feeding of 5,000, Jesus found the disciples straining at the oars of a boat in the middle of a storm. Jesus once again stepped in, walking on water, and calmed the storm. That assures me. I was prompted to come to Honduras initially and it was truly evident that the obedience was blessed beyond expectation. Returning to Honduras is also an act of obedience, and again it has been blessed beyond measure. Why? Because Jesus, the very Bread of Life, shows up to feed those who are hungry for him. Jesus, the one who calms the storm, shows up to bring peace. It is the work that Christ does that meets the need. He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. What else could I need?

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