Honduras, Part 2: Dia 3

    The Day the Gringos Came to Church

Tu eres mi amigo fiel
Tu eres mi amigo fiel
Tu eres mi amigo fiel

You might not recognize the words, but you would probably recognize the tune if you heard it. You might sing it as, “I am a friend of God.” Today in Honduras, in the city of La Era, there was a birth of worship. Hondurans and Americans gathered together to worship and praise God. They gathered together to break down barriers through hugs and blessings. They gathered together to sing in Spanish and English, declaring that God is our faithful friend. Indeed.
There is much that keeps us apart, especially on Sunday mornings. When I say “us,” I am referring to God’s children. I am referring to you. I am referring to me. Worship styles, people who look like us, language, comfort levels – all are factors that serve more to divide than to unite. Now how is it that those things given to us by God, for God, can keep us from God? Perhaps they keep us from God when we decide that they are not for God. When a worship style becomes for us, it is no longer for God. When our comfort level is important, it is no longer for God.
You know who gets this right? The ones who get this right, this worship without motives, is children. That was also evident today. When a song is placed before them, no matter the language, children will sing. Children will hug. Children see differently than us. It can be uncomfortable to be in a worship experience unlike your “normal” experience. It can be uncomfortable, but it can be good. It is good. You could use the excuse of saying, “I’ve never done this before.” But guess what? No one else has either. Worship is a dynamic experience. It is not like your favorite movie that you have seen six times and can quote the lines. At least it shouldn’t be. So when you gather with others to worship, you are entering a new experience which means that it should not have a predictable outcome.
To worship God is to pour out your heart and to enter into God’s. This mystery of God living in us and us living in God is rarely more wonderful than when we intentionally gather together in worship. And what then, can be more wonderful than to seek to press deeper into the heart of God? How do we do that? By living out, intentionally, this act of reconciliation. We sing songs of praise, of worship, of confession, of adoration, to be more fully reconciled to God. We greet one another in love, as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, to be more fully reconciled to each other. We listen to the truth of God’s word to allow for deep, transformational impact to come alive inside of us. So let me ask you, how are you doing with that?
As the team reflected upon the day, most commented on the beauty of worshipping together in Spanish and in English. Person after person was struck by the warmth that could take place in greeting one another, though most of us had never met before. Still others commented on the sincerity of worship within everyone else. Where else could you find that but in worship? The first answer that comes to mind for my own question is a sporting event. People who do not know each other can gather together, greet each other, and share an experience with another person who was a stranger just hours before. The question is not whether or not we worship, the question is who receives our worship.
A good friend of mine points out that worship is happening everywhere. My good friend is right. Whether it is the musician, the athlete, the political figure, the actor, or the material possession we wish to have; worship is happening everywhere. No wonder we are divided. We have fallen in love with the created rather than the Creator. We have fallen in love with what we can hold rather than what we can never grasp. We have fallen in love with what we can earn rather than what we cannot afford. We have fallen in love with ourselves.
Again we must look to children as our example. Children understand receiving. Children understand dependence. Children understand comfort in a way that we, as adults have long since forgotten. Comfort is not about what we can control, but it is all about knowing who is in control. When I step into apparent discomfort in my worship, I allow for God, through the Holy Spirit, to surround me with peace, with love, with comfort. The comfort of knowing that I am not my own. The comfort in knowing that God will provide for me when I trust in him. The comfort of knowing that I not only have a faithful friend, but an Almighty God. An Almighty God worthy of worship in any language.


Honduras, Part 2: Dia 2


Yesterday, to the best of my knowledge, there was a wedding reception in the barn on my parents’ property. No one from the family, just a couple that wanted to celebrate in that setting. The plan for this reception had been set in place for months, and the work of preparation took place in earnest once the warmer weather of Spring appeared. I learn a lot about myself when I learn about my parents, and this experience of barn preparation was one of those moments of insight. At one point I was talking to my mother on the phone and I had asked about the barn. She started to tell me, “You know those windows over the barn doors?” “Yes,” I responded. “Well Dad is up on the ladder…” “cleaning off the bird poop,” I said as I finished her sentence. I know my father a little too well in that regard.
What’s the point? The reception would take place inside the barn, and the odds of a guest looking up to say “What nice, clean windows” are a million to one. But the thanks is not the point. It never is with my father or my mother. They do the work well because they believe in doing the work well. That is something they learned from their parents, and that is something they have passed on to their own children. There is an expression of love in doing the work well. Scraping off bird poop is an expression of love? Absolutely. This is what I believe about my father and my mother: if they recognize something that could be done in service to someone and they do not do it, they would feel selfish. And they recognize a lot of needs. I believe that about my parents because I experience it myself. If I see something that can be done and I do not do it, I feel restless. This is not to say that I always do everything that I see, because I don’t. But then I live with the restlessness.
Doing the work that God has called you to do can sometimes be thankless. In fact, it very often is. And if you were hoping to be called to a “glorious” ministry position and you want to wait until that opportunity arrives, you might miss the point altogether. On our second day in Honduras, I had the opportunity to return to the San Jose Orphanage in La Paz. Sister Edith again greeted us with a smile, toddler in her arms, surrounded by 14 others, in front of a courtyard full of washed and drying laundry. Edith had stepped out of a “glorious” ministry position of teaching children in a privileged area because she believed God wanted more from her. She returned to her parents’ home. She prayed. She waited. One day a woman dropped off two children at Edith’s door, asking Edith to care for them. She did. More than 10 years later, she cares for 15 children – in an abandoned high school building. I don’t know whether or not Edith ever asked herself the question, “What’s the point?” Whether she did or did not is between her and God. All I know is that Edith has been faithful in her obedience and God has been faithful to her.
Among the tasks we were called to do while we were there was to chip away and remove cement from a drain for the laundry and shower. Tall grasses were chopped down with machetes. Piles of stones and dirt were moved from one open “room” to the surface of the playground. And I’ll admit, when I got my first taste of flying drainage water and cement in my mouth and eyes, I wondered, “What’s the point?” When I started sweating buckets to move stone and dirt via wheelbarrow, I wondered, “What’s the point?” Then I remembered the verses I read in the morning, Romans 12:1-2. I noticed the familiar command to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, but then I noticed that this was called a “spiritual act of worship” (emphasis added). Offering our bodies is a spiritual act? Why is it not a physical act of worship?
There is no longer a requirement of a physical sacrifice. Jesus completed that requirement – once and for all. So our physical bodies have become the vessels through which God’s Spirit can operate – our spiritual act of worship. My conversation with God on the bus ride back was still a selfish one, trying to find the “point.” I heard this explanation for this thankless, no-one-will-know-about-it work: “Because we loved you first.” My too-quick response was, “Oh, so I owe it to you? Is that it? I have to pay it back?” I regretted that response coming from me, but I was met with love and patience. “No, you are given opportunities to express love all the time. You have the chance to love others.”
Edith embodies that extremely well. She recognized that the love God has for her was immeasurable. She knew that God had called her to do more than to love those who were already receiving love. She did not even know what it was that God had in store for her, but God knew. God knew exactly what Edith could do and what could be done through her. She began to care for and love on children with no regular income. She wiped noses, cooked meals, hugged, sang songs of love, and remained faithful. Because God had loved her first, she felt compelled to love others in the manner that God had called her. Edith was given an opportunity to live out the love she had been given. Can you imagine not being able to express the love that has been given to you?
That is the point. In scraping bird poop off windows, in cutting down grasses that will grow again, in moving a small portion of the large pile of sand and stones, we are given an opportunity to express love. Our bodies perform spiritual acts of worship. When Edith washes a child’s messy face, folds the laundry for the 50th time, or sleeps with a sick child – she worships. We have to change our view of what is “glorious” work. We have to shift the perspective of who receives the glory. And once we realize that it is not us, we can offer our bodies in spiritual acts of worship so that God, correctly, receives the glory.


Honduras, Dia ?

I remember sharing with a friend that I did not think the “old me” would be coming back from Honduras. I had no idea how accurate that was.
The last four, nearly five, months have been an interesting adventure. Interesting in that I stepped away from a full-time position and maintained only a part-time position where I presently work. I had no other plank in the bridge to step on, only faith. And surprisingly, I had peace. I am not one for high-risk adventures. If you know me at all, you know that well. I prefer my risks to be calculated, thank you. But this time I did a different calculation and started drawing upon the reservoirs of grace and provision that God makes available.
Far too often, we find it strangely comforting to be self-reliant. Our pride and sense of accomplishment draws us in like inviting ocean waters. So, pride in hand, we swim out to say, “Look how far I have come!” No sooner do we raise our hand in exclamation than the powerful riptide of pride pulls us under. I know that has happened to me. If it has not happened to you, it will.
One thing that I had to let go of was my grasp of a title. When I stepped away from the full-time role, I was left with only one title, that of chaplain. As I applied for and didn’t receive positions that I felt qualified to fill, an interesting thought dawned on me. Four of the last five positions, or titles, that I have held have been positions that I was directly asked to seek. There was only one that I applied for and received without being asked – the ministry role. “Oh!” I exclaimed in awareness, “You’ve been making this clear all along.” I just was not looking.
It has taken me time to accept the role that I hold. In my second interview for the position, I shoved off the possibility that kids might call me “pastor.” In the form of Moses, I gave a “surely-not-me” type of response. But then the kids did start to call me that, as did the staff. What’s going on here? But I continued to do the work, and I held firmly to this place where God had brought me. I knew that he had placed me there for a reason, and to leave it would only bring me frustration.
About two weeks before I left for Honduras, I was finally able to tell my supervisor that I see myself as a pastor now, a pastor without a building. Whether by “pastor” or “minister,” I humbly accept this calling upon my life. There is a reason that I was born into a Christian family. There is a reason that my parents sacrificed to give me a Christian education. There is a reason I have felt called to serve others. There is a reason that God has allowed me to have the experiences that I have had, and that is to stop, turn around, and pour back out all of the love that has been given to me.
When I first traveled abroad it was to Nicaragua. I came back excited about what I had been able to experience. That was in 2009. I had paid it little mind until recently. There was something about the mention of a trip to Honduras that grabbed my attention. And, at the same time that I was stepping away from a title, I was stepping forward in faith that God wanted me to go to Honduras.
What I did not see, however, was just how strong the pull would be for me to return. I have not been an especially pleasant person this week. I have been irritable, frustrated, tired, and grumpy. (And yes, mom, I am eating and taking naps.) The problem lies in my “now what?” How do I mesh my experience in Honduras with my experience here?
People have differing perspectives on mission trips. Some will say, “Why would you spend money to go there when there is so much need here?” I hear you, but I don’t believe that the view has to be mutually exclusive. Going abroad and serving at home are mutually beneficial, not mutually exclusive.
Everything that I have learned here, in ministry, work, and education, helped me to be the person that I was when I was in Honduras. Everything that I learned in Honduras and in Nicaragua helps me to be the person that serves here in Grand Rapids. One shapes the other, but you cannot shape the one without the other. The truth is that my home is not here in Grand Rapids. I have never felt that. But the truth is that neither is my home in Honduras. This world is not our home, right?
So if my home is in heaven, the place that God is preparing for me, what am I to do here? Love God and love people. Going abroad reminds us of the universal truth of human brokenness. And it is also true that, universally, people need grace. And people give grace. In my two weeks abroad, I would venture to say that I gave and received more hugs than in all of the length of time in-between. Why? Partly due to culture and partly due to a recognized common love for the Lord.
There is brokenness here too, and a need for grace. Unfortunately the culture in which I am living has become very good at covering it up. We sell artificial grace, things that will make it seem like we are not broken. But, at the end of the day, we always have to take off our artificial grace. We are exposed. It is tiring. Wearisome. And unnecessary.
There is no grace substitute, and it would serve us well to stop searching. And there is no right nor wrong place to serve the Lord. We must serve where we are. One of the genuine difficulties for me this week was in leaving Honduras. It felt more like home than home. But God also reminded me that I am not ready for that step. Some day, Lord willing, I will be. But I cannot fast forward his plan for me. There is love to give here. Grace to give here. And grace to receive, much grace to receive, before the next place comes.
The only time that Jesus really began to speak about his future plans was when he knew his time had arrived. And even then, the disciples began to doubt and question. We do not need to see around the bend. We only need to see the road and the One who walks with us. When we see what is around the bend, it will make perfect sense. But, if we saw it now, we probably wouldn’t believe it anyway.
Keep walking, my friends.


10,000 Reasons

*This ongoing list is intended to chronicle the many different ways that I see God’s grace, faithfulness, and rich blessings. It began as a practice following the form of One Thousand Gifts, but I felt convicted to go beyond. The song “10,000 Reasons” reminded me clearly that even such a number is not enough ways or times to give thanks to God

838) “Mi corazon para ti es aqui”
837) 10:13
836) Having “some sense”
835) Walk with a view of Spring
834) Opportunities to work
833) Phone call from my daughter first day back
832) Interrupted plans
831) Flight voucher
830) Being able to communicate with Willie, David, Ana, Kellyn, Leo, Alexa, Nancy, Misael in their language
829) Not needing a translator to understand the prayer requests
828) Wiping the table
827) Cleaning the stove
826) Washing dishes
825) Holding a baby and remembering what to do
824) Coloring
823) The generosity to build a new home for the orphanage
822) Being able to use Spanish to make others laugh
821) Perry the Platypus
820) “Hasta pronto”
819) Hug lines
818) The prayer of youth
817) Dreams that show us who we will meet one day
816) Texting on the toilet
815) “My roommates are delinquents.”
814) “If someone from Iceland marries someone from Cuba, do they have ice cubes?”
813) “Brittany laughs like Santa.”
812) “Yo!”
811) Belly laughs
810) Morgan
809) Monique
808) Teresa
807) Dave
806) Misael
805) Vic
804) Cora
803) Kristy
802) Sandy
801) Michele
800) Brittany
799) Terri
798) David
797) Ana
796) Katherine
795) Orphan Outreach
794) The Potter’s House
793) The Oosterinks
792) David’s father
791) Willie
790) Gabby
789) Claudia
788) Janet
787) Kellyn
786) Leo
785) Kayla
784) Keila
783) Austin
782) Emily
781) David
780) Aben