Tag Archives: Church

Dedicating a Bathroom to God

Standard

Recently we had the pleasure of seeing a task completed here on the mission field.  We don’t always see the immediate fruit of our labors, so this was particularly sweet for us.  This past Sunday we dedicated a bathroom to the service of God’s House.  I know, we’ve reached new heights!  This is our second term as missionaries, so see what all you first term-ers out there have to look forward too?  Not everyone is qualified to do such work.  But in all seriousness, this day was one of those days when I felt like I was doing what I was made to do.

Last year our last team of the summer was from Brandon, Florida.  We brought the team out to a poor little church on the edge of town.  The sanctuary is nothing but 4 concrete block walls and a hot tin roof.  Next to the sanctuary is a dilapidated shack that the congregation was using as a Sunday School room, a make shift kitchen and a single stall bathroom for the whole church.  It was barely standing on its own.  The church had been told that since it was obviously not up to code, they would have to build a bathroom or close their doors.

The heart strings of the team were touched.  When they went back home, they presented this need to their congregation and they raised $5,000 to give to the church for the bathrooms and whatever other renovations were needed to bring it up to code.  The poor little church was beside itself with happiness.  At Christmas time, we brought the money into the country and delivered it to the pastor, who we highly trust.  In 22 days the church members constructed two bathrooms on the back of the property and were working on various projects to make the whole place handicap accessible, by Latin American standards.

But the amazing thing has been the response of the community.  In this past month of working on the building, they have almost doubled in attendance.  One man who lives down the street from the church would never speak to the pastor.  He was recently released from jail again.  With some of the money from the team, the pastor hired this ex-con to help with the construction of the bathroom.  Now his opinion of the pastor and the church is quite different than it had been in the past.  He is open to hearing what the pastor has to say.

This bathroom is more than a place to relieve the call of nature, it has brought dignity and respectability to the church in that community.  It has financially met a felt need of the workers who were hired to demolish the old and build the new, and it has been a source of pride for the church members themselves who now feel that they have worth and dignity.  No longer must they squat in a scary, dirty shack that shakes and shutters with every gust of wind.  Now they have a lovely facility that is even handicap accessible for those in the community with such needs… and there are many.

So we had the privilege of going out to the church to get video and photos for the church in Florida who are excited to see the results of their giving.  But more importantly, we felt the pride of the pastor and the church who built his with their own hands, and it is beautiful.

An Offering of Garlic for God Almighty

Standard

She teetered to the front of the church on arthritic little feet and carefully placed a small blue bundle on the edge of the stage in front of the pulpit.  This little old lady brought her offering to the Lord, and quietly returned to her seat.

The tin roof panels ticked and expanded in the hot sun.  A blanket of heat pressed down on all of us inside the cement block walls of the church.  As the worship leader strummed his guitar and the congregation swayed together in worship, I stared at that little blue bundle.  From where I stood, I could not tell if the bag contained eggs, small onions or garlic.  But whatever it was, it was clear that this little lady brought something precious from her heart.

I thought of the widow who brought her single coin as an offering to the Lord.  Jesus commended her for giving all she had.  She gave what she could not really afford to give.  She needed every cent to survive.  But she gave more than money; she gave her heart.

I teared up looking at that precious yet worthless little blue bag on the step.  I thought about what a humble offering it was.  Imagine bringing a bag of half a dozen heads of garlic as an offering to the God of the Universe.  The difference between the offering and its worth was never greater.  The dignity of God Almighty, King of Kings, The Alpha and Omega was contrasted against a bag of garlic, and yet, I felt that God was very, very pleased with that little blue bag.

When the worship ended, the pastor carefully and reverently collected the offering in a  bundle.  He respectfully nodded his thanks to the little old lady who bowed her head and smiled to herself.  She brought her all and received the blessing of God.  God Almighty smiled on her and her little blue bag of garlic.

Blessed with the Gift of Flight

Standard

Parrots in the Aviary

You wanna hear something sad?

Last year we went out to the coast and stayed at a hotel that had an aviary on the grounds.  I like birds, so I was excited to go see what kind of tropical birds they had on display.  They had beautiful Tucans and all kinds of parrots and peacocks and owls and some kind of vulture.  My favorite birds were the Scarlet Macaws.  There were mango trees above the cages, shading the birds, and some monkeys were in the trees eating fruit.  Of course those greedy monkeys never finish a whole mango before they drop it and reach out for another one, so there were all these mangos with just one bite taken littering the ground under the trees.  So my kids and I picked up a few green mangos and pressed them against the side of the Macaw cage.

Those big birds got all excited.  They would use their big, sharp beaks to scrape off bits of mango through the fence.  We just had to watch our fingers.  It was a lot of fun to feed them.  But the sad thing was that there were taller trees around the aviary and they were full of flocks of wild Macaws.  They were absolutely stunning in their freedom.  It was such a contrast to the caged birds we saw in the aviary.  The caged birds didn’t actually LOOK any different than the wild birds, but they lacked that sense of majesty and awe that we saw in the wild birds.  I felt bad for the caged birds who watched their cousins fly away wild and free, being just what God made them to be: Awe-Inspiring.

Pressing Mangos against the fence

In our ministry we have the opportunity to cast vision in the local church.  My husband travels around Costa Rica training lay people and pastors on how to start small group Bible studies on University campuses.  The cool thing is that sometimes at his seminars there are other kinds of people- not just students- ordinary people who have regular jobs but they’re interested in reaching out to their co-workers.  That’s really cool for us, because they are taking our ideas and expanding them, seeing potential for application in their lives, and getting excited about sharing Jesus with their co-workers.

But the frustrating thing is when we find these willing co-laborers trapped like a Macaw by a pastor who tries to control them.  Sometimes pastors can be very controlling of their people.  Sometimes people feel like they need to ask their pastor for permission to do ANY kind of ministry, even if it’s outside of the church.  For example, many of our students tell us they must ask their pastor’s permission before they start a group on their campus.  We’ve also had other adults in the church tell us they want to start a Bible study among their co-workers, but their pastor won’t give them permission to do it… so they don’t!  Some people who WANT to do something big for God feel like those caged Macaws looking wistfully at their brothers and sisters who fly freely above them.  They long for that type of freedom and mobility, but they feel caged and tied down by an authoritarian leader.

But really, this is mostly a type of culture clash for us Independent Americans who don’t like anyone telling us what to do.  We need to learn that “process” is not always a bad thing.  Most people who live in a Group Centered society like many of the Latin American societies, don’t find this to be a problem.  For them, they see themselves as a member of a group and they want the support and authority of the group leader behind them before they step out and try something new.  This works fine if the pastor is generous with his power and truly passionate about expanding the Kingdom of God.  This works fine if the group member isn’t frustrated and discouraged by the slow process of gaining approval and consensus among the group.  Sometimes it’s only the missionary who sees this as a problem.

It’s a fine line that must be balanced by us missionaries.  We come to a new culture with an entire life time of cultural baggage that we don’t even realize we carry.  We have our own ideas about how things should be done.  And if we aren’t careful, we can turn our cultural presumptions into Doctrine.  (Isn’t Efficiency in the Bible somewhere?!?)  Sometimes it’s best if we just sit back and let the people do it their way.  We present a new idea and let them hash out the details of how this should be done and what this will look like in their world.  The culture we are working in has it’s own set of processes and procedures, and it’s not a good idea to try to short cut these steps.  It’s a challenge for us missionaries to give the pastors freedom to lead in their own way and it’s a challenge for pastors to release their people into ministry.  This is not an easy thing to do.  Power is a heady thing, and sometimes it can lead to abuse.  Working together in building the Kingdom of God means opening up the cage and letting the birds fly free. It’s a hard thing to do.

Lucy and I are feeding mangos to parrots

A Taboo Subject among Missionaries

Standard

OK, it’s time to get brutally honest.  Today I’m going to blog about a taboo subject.  It’s something that most missionaries experience at some point in their careers and yet NO ONE wants to talk about.  It sounds sinful.  At some point in their lives, most missionaries say to themselves, “I don’t want to go to church.”

Now before I pick that scab off, let me clarify, I USED TO LOVE going to church.  I grew up in a ministry family and we were in church every time the doors were opened.  The overwhelming majority of my childhood church memories are wonderful, so I’m not processing repressed emotions here.  Then I grew up and had my own family.  We became a ministry family too.  As an adult, I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of ministry… but I still loved going to church.  Even though Sunday was the longest work day of the week for us, I still loved going to church.  It was all about Jesus!  Yeah for Jesus!

I loved going to church, until I became a missionary.

With one change of location, church became something completely foreign to me. Church became the source of so much culture shock.  The minute I set foot outside of my house in Latin America, a tidal wave of Spanish washes over me.  I am swept out to sea.  For two and a half hours (five in Mexico), I tread water every Sunday in church just waiting for someone to pull the plug and drain the ocean.

Let me describe my cultural shock, I mean my church experience, through the eyes of a Minnesotan transplanted to Latin America.

Because we’re missionaries, we feel obligated to put ourselves through this practice for Hell every single Sunday.  We crowd into a VERY HOT room where everyone sits shoulder to shoulder, uncomfortably close.  (We’re so close that by the end of the service I am wearing the perfume of the lady sitting next to me.)  The music starts.  Somewhere in the rules of the cosmos it is ordained that if you give a Latino a microphone they will wrap their lips around it and sing at the top of their lungs.  I don’t know why, but it is true.  For an hour and a half, the singers howl like banshees into the hottest sound system in a 10 block radius because the neighbors who don’t go to church just might get saved if they can hear the service in their living rooms.  It’s hard to remember that this is about Jesus.

It does not matter if the drummer can keep a beat, he will pound the life out of those drums.  The audience does not clap on 2 and 4, they clap on 1 and 3.  (At each church we visit, my children always ask, “Mom, do we clap in English or in Spanish?)  If there’s not a tambourine in the room, then you’re not in an Evangelical church.  For the first year, my children would cry that their ears were hurting.  I stuffed cotton balls in their ears every week.  I think we’ve all lost a percentage of our hearing, because no one cries anymore.  I can’t hear myself sing, but I think sound is coming out of my mouth.  I guess I went deaf for Jesus.

The preaching… 90 minutes or more.  Remember that I have about a 20 minute attention span on a Good Spanish Day.  On the positive side, that’s a solid hour of Bible reading for me if my kids are behaving.  Jesus likes Bible reading, right?

But my children are another trial.  Every Sunday they become tormented by demons.  There is more screaming and crying and fighting in our house on a Sunday morning than in all the rest of the week combined.  By the time we get to church… I want to sell my kids to gypsies.  IF there are classes for them, I can guarantee that they won’t want to go to them.  I let them bring Polly Pockets and coloring books to service.  They still whine and wiggle and annoy each other and basically drive me nuts for two and a half hours.  I’m having a really hard time focusing on Jesus.

When Lucy was a baby I tried to acclimate her to going to the nursery, but each week I found myself sitting on the floor of the nursery picking up thumb tacks and staples from the carpet and taking batteries out of other babies’ mouths.  Diapers were changed on a filthy twin mattress that took up most of the floor space.  In the corner was a broken play pen.  The corner of the play pen was held together with a rusty wire.  Sometimes the toys were stored in the play pen, and sometimes children were stored there.  Every toy in the room was broken and dirty. There were broken balloons mixed in the heap, and one time I found a tangle of an old telephone cord that someone thought the babies might like to chew on.  There was no way I was leaving my child in here!  I’m sure this has nothing to do with Jesus.

When we get in the car to go home, I congratulate myself on making it through another service.  We won’t have to do this for a whole ‘nother week.

So this is what you won’t hear from the missionaries that are visiting your church to raise their budgets:  Going to church?  We dread it.

Sure there are things we learn to appreciate about it along the way, but for most missionary families, going to church is the most stressful thing we do all week long.  I can tolerate the difficult shopping challenges, waiting in line until Jesus comes back, crazy drivers who break the law left and right, filth and poverty everywhere, the heat, the smell, the prehistoric sized bugs, beans and rice with every meal, punching through the language barrier.  But when you take away my familiar church experience and replace it with THAT it’s like the cloud that can’t contain one more drop.  The cloud bursts and an ocean rains down on me.  I’m drowning in cultural differences.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  I’m not the only missionary that has said to herself, “I hate going to church.”  Sometime when you have a missionary all alone in a quiet booth at Denny’s, ask them how they feel about church and let them be brutally honest with you.  It’s a relief to be able to admit it.  I don’t want to go to church.

St. Theresa’s Prayer

Standard

St. Theresa’s Prayer, Song Lyrics By John Michael Talbot

Christ has no body now but yours

No hands, no feet on Earth but yours

Yours are the eyes through which He looks

With compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good

Yours are the hands,

With which He blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands,

Yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes,

You are His Body.

Christ has no body now on Earth but yours.

Do we really need all these Body Parts?

Standard

“God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all.  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.  All kind of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!  The variety is wonderful… All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the on Spirit of God.  He decides who gets what and when.

You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body.  Your body has many parts- limbs, organs, cells- but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.  It’s exactly the same with Christ.  By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives.  We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything,… The old labels we once used to identify ourselves- labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free- are no longer useful.  We needed something larger and more comprehensive.

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less.  A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together .  If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” he would still be a part of the body nonetheless.  If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body?  If the body was all eye, how could it hear?  If all ear, how could it smell?  As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right were he wanted it.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance.  For no mater how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.  An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but  a monster.  What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place.  No part is important on its own.  Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost, I don’t need you”?  Or Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”?  As a matter of fact, the more basic parts are more necessary…  If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to luxurious hair?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t.   If one part hurt, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.  If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body- that’s who you are!  You must never forget this.  Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.  You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his body:  Apostles (missionaries), Prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues.  But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, uni-dimensional part?  It’s not all Apostle/Missionary, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer etc.”   (I Corinthians 12, The Message Version)

God came and sat with Us

Standard

Chino walked out of the house shortly after sunrise and carefully picked his way down the grassy lane where the cows had recently passed.  A farmer in the community had donated a calf to the church and Chino, the young pastor from the big city, was going to collect the animal.  The calf was to be sold and the proceeds donated to a poor family whose child had just received a kidney transplant.  In addition to the medical expenses, the family was required to build a new, cleaner house before their fragile child would be released from the hospital.  So Chino was off to collect the donated calf.

We ate a leisurely breakfast while we waited for him to return, but he didn’t come and he didn’t come.  Finally his young wife Marcela suggested that we drive to the church and see if he was there.  He was not.  Brave little Marcela took the lead and started the worship service.  My husband got up to preach and sometime later he noticed that Chino had slipped in the back of the little sanctuary.

The calf had escaped and gone running through the fields.  It took several men- all professional ranchers- several hours to pen the beast.  Then Chino, covered in mud and smelling like sweaty cow, went home to clean up before arriving late to church.  I wonder if he ever imagined starting a Sunday in such a manner when he signed up for the job of pastoring a tiny church in rural Costa Rica.

This church was super tiny, but cute and quaint with it’s heavily plastered walls and colonial arched doors.  It had pretty tiles on the floor and rough, hand made benches to serve as pews.  The stage was bare except for a hand made, wooden pulpit; no worship band, no big sound system, not even a cross, just simple furnishings.  But in that humble, one room church next to the dirt road in the middle of nowhere the King of Glory, the Maker of the Universe came down to be with his children made of dust.

I’m not sure I have ever grasped the magnitude of the coming of the Son of God in the way that I did on that Sunday.  I have never fully grasped the disparity between the throne room of God and the humble stable where baby Jesus was born.  Yet the God of all creation, the God of the wonders of the Universe, Maker of all life, Author and Artist of all I know came down to this dirty, poor, messy, painful planet to be one of us.  God came down to us!  The King got off his throne and came to sit in the mud with us.  We are nothing- made of dirt- and yet our Creator-King GAVE life to us, GAVE us love, GAVE us understanding and sympathy, GAVE us mercy, GAVE US HIS OWN DEAR SON to save us from ourselves, to save us from the mess we make of all that our dirty hands touch.

And on that Sunday morning God came down to a little, rustic, one-room church in the middle of cow pastures and grassy lanes.  God’s Spirit filled the little church where the young, inexperienced pastor and his wife lead 10-12 very poor church folk in giving the only thing they really had to offer- their worship.  God came down and sat with us.