Peace

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I believe that God gives us peace in the direction that we are to take and unrest if it is the time to hold back. Peace.  Where are we to find this peace?

I have had a wrestling of faith over the last year that has been even stronger lately.  And as I contemplated the words of someone else lately, I resolved  – God is good and He knows stuff that I don’t know.  I have chosen to trust in Him and that includes in the good times, the bad times and the in-between times.

I believe in God because I have seen miracles in my life.  My faith is strong because I have personally experienced God work in my life.  I wrestled with the question whether God is real and if there is a God years ago.  And as I lived my life, year to year, God has shown me His power, His authority, His goodness, His truth through different circumstances.  Faith does not allow us to only trust and believe when things are good.  It also means that we are to remain steadfast when things do not feel so good either.

Once you experience God on a “that could only be God” level, there is no denying that God exists; there is no turning back.  We believe this when our lives are at peace.  And we believe this when our lives are at unrest.

And once you have concluded that there is a God, that your life is in His hands, and you have surrendered to all of that… everything else falls under this premise.

And that is me. That is where I stand right now.

I believe that there is a God.  I believe that He is all-powerful (omnipotent) because I have witnessed His power personally.  And I believe that He has my best interests in mind (omnibenevelent).  That what I want is not always best for me, yet He will give me the circumstances that are best for me.  And so as I contemplate life, I believe that He also is all-knowing (omniscient).  These three pillars are on which my faith is built.  To these three attributes I surrender.

And yet I think about the position that I am in right now.  I am not where I thought I would be in life when I dreamed of my life in my 30s.  There is nothing about my current life that I expected or planned.  I do not have a job.  I do not have a husband.  I do not have kids. Each of these are things that I deeply desire.  The lack of these things have caused a separation between me and community.   Each of these things I have laid before the Lord.  Each of these are promises that God has given me.  And so why then is He withholding these things from me?  Does my heart not grieve the loss of all three?  Does He not want the very best for me?  Yes. He does.

I am grateful that my circumstances have led me to have a faith that is unwavering.  I draw strength from my past and when God has done the impossible in my life.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t have heartache in my loneliness.  There is plenty of that.  But I also have spiritual markers in my life where God revealed His power and authority to me that left me speechless and so I have to choose to surrender to Him and not make my life happen.

How long do I have to wait for these things to happen?  It is a conflict of faith.  Because I could flip the switch and make things happen.  I am good at taking on things that God has not given to me.    But is that God’s best for me?  If I believe He is all powerful, then that means that He could make something happen from nothing.  That means that His timing is better than my timing.  There are many times when shattering of peace within me makes me want to make things happen within my own power and forget about God.  But the experience within me says that when I try to do things within my own strength, or my own wisdom, it will only be temporary.  It may appear to be good at first, but it will always fail.

And so… I cling to my faith.

And I wait.

Crying out often to God asking how much longer.  The heartache is real.  The struggle is daily.

The comments that I have sheltered lately have tested my faith even more.  They come from well-meaning people, but their words do not sit well.  I was asked,” Are you not angry with God because He knew that you would give up your job, only to come back and it not be here?”  And another person said, “Do you find yourself mad at God because He is providing paths for others and not for you?” These thoughts have come to my mind more than once since they are spoken… and my response is this – I believe in God and in His power.  I believe that when God wants me to leave this place, He will speak to me.  I believe that God knows all and that in the waiting, there is much for me to learn and grow.  Yes my heart yearns to not be in this season of life any longer; but it yearns even more for God’s will and His hand.

There is joy in perseverance.  There is joy in the trial.  Because God’s hand is seen, not unseen.

 

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Simple yet so Hard

I sit here on the rubble of an old adobe house looking out over the valley and I yearn for the simplicity around me to settle in my heart. A smile appears on my face and I breathe in the fresh mountain air. And I am hit by the contrast.

Life here is simple.  But life here is hard.

My ear is drawn to the roar of the river below and I try to see how high the water has risen after a hard night’s rain. And I am reminded of how the water is welcome in this valley as it will bring life to the fields and provide the corn for the next year’s harvest.

A simple life.

And I peer below to see if the bridge that connects the mountain to the town is still standing.  Last I saw it, it wasn’t straight, but had been split in two by the power of the rising river now mangled into a “V” shape crossing the river.  Vehicles drove over it quickly hoping to not land in the river below.  If the bridge goes, then the people will have to pass through the river bed below.  They’ve done this before.  The challenge being that the river is often too high to pass and vehicles take the chance sometimes, only to be swept into the current.  A challenge in this land.

Simple, as I am surrounded by cornfields.  Most of them tilled and planted by hand.  A simple life of harvesting corn for the next meal. Yet hard because these fields are not flat.  They rise on the mountainsides, often washing away with a heavy rain.  Corn growing from any plot that has a hind of soil.  This is too steep for oxen so the land will be tilled by hand once again.  Then planted, fertilized and weeded each day.

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I close my eyes again to take in the sounds and the peace in this valley and my ear catches the vroom of a motorcycle heading towards town and see a father with his two children, one in front of him and one hugging him from behind, heading to school.  The freedom of a motorcycle is something that brings me joy, to feel the fresh air on my face, see the mountains around me as if the world is your map. Yet, to own a motorcycle here is years of hard work.  It represents the hard life conquered.  Creating opportunity from years of saving.

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There is the simple and steady put- put -put of the corn mill grinding the neighbor’s corn to be eaten that day in the staple of this land – corn tortillas.  The simplicity of life in growing all the food you “need” on your family’s plot of land outside of your home.  Many people never leave the boundaries of these mountains.

I am interrupted by a woman while I am deep in thought.  Asking me if I am from below.  Where did she come from?  How did she appear?  She walks to town using this mountain trail and is surprised at a white person sitting and staring at the valley.  Hard, because the rains have come.  She tells me there is no road or driveway to her house.  She walks this way today because the rains have made the other road impassable.  She walks the two miles to town for any necessities that she needs for the week and then brings them home.  A morning’s job.  But as she makes small talk, I realize the real question she came over to talk to me was to ask if we had work below?  And I was reminded of hard.  Hard because everything here is temporary.  Jobs are not permanent.  Money is never expected.  People are happy to have a week of work providing money for something that they need.  And then waiting for the next opportunity to arise to earn more money.  All is temporary.  Nothing is promised.

 

As she leaves, I rise and begin to follow the trail more.  A trail that I often imagine as I fall asleep at night to remind me of the simple beauty of these mountains.  And I catch the singing of the waterfalls, small trickles coming through rocks in the mountains.  And I rejoice for the rain from the night before.  How we all rejoice for rain because with rain brings a good harvest.  And this eases the weight on families.

And as I walk, the question arises in my mind, “How can a life remain simple and hard.  Constantly fluctuating.  Never stable.”  It is hard because that river of life causes landslides, and fields to flood and engulfs cars trying to pass through to the other side.  Simple because the roads have been carved through the mountains yet hard because there are deep ruts, landslides and mud holes that keep vehicles from passing.

Simple because what is needed to survive can be grown by hand; hard because drought, insects, education and finances limit the resources available.

The birds chirp bringing joy to my heart.  But the birds also remind me of the war in the not so far off past.  They birds sing as they have returned to the mountains.  During war times, there were no birds in the air, snakes on the ground, lizards to be found.  Everything became about survival and every animal was savored for that meal, not knowing when the next food may come.  How the simple sound of a bird can bring about memories of a harder time.

It is simple and it brings me joy because I can concentrate on the little things and love on people.  But I have the reminders daily of how hard it is.  Because the culture is stuck in a balance – always trying to get ahead.  Somedays taking two steps forward.  And other days taking three steps back.

And so it is for me as well.

“Let us fix out eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:2

 

Guatemala Snapshot

How was your trip?  What did you do?  What did you eat?  Where did you sleep?  Were you scared?  What were the people like?

I am sure that my teammates have received plenty of questions like this since returning home.  These are all experience questions.  And in part, that is what a short term trip is about.  It is hard to get past the experience, especially the first time in a country and this was a rookie trip for everyone!

As we sat with different missionary couples, the question arose, “Why do you do short term teams?”  And many different answers were given.  But for the 28 persons who are currently permanent with Adonai, each one has their roots on a short term team.  The face of missions has changed over the last decade.  Those who are leaving to serve on the field more often are from short term experiences then were raised on the field.   Adonai strongly believes that teams have a purpose and a place within the ministry.  And they recognize the different roles we have towards the global missions challenge.

It is those who step away from their home culture, into another culture that God grabs ahold of and meets them right where they are.  No matter where it is, if it is twenty miles from your house, a new ministry in the states, or around the globe.

And so answering this questions on what was “done” on the trip are tricky.  Our main focus was to encourage the missionaries who are here permanently on the field and come alongside of them in their daily ministry tasks.  To encourage is to be present.  To remind locals and missionaries that they are not alone.  What God did past that on a personal level is how God wanted to impact each person personally.

There were things that we “did” that were tasks that needed done from cleaning, to painting to joining in of worship sets and observing clinic.  All of these gave perspective of what it meant to live here and be a part of the ministry.

A shapshot of that..

Plenty of painting from clinics to houses ….

Joining in the local ministries….

 

Growing together as a Body of Christ and being stretched…

 

 

Joining the ministry where we could…

 

And creating fellowship and opportunities for others who want to join in Kingdom Reach to be able to come alongside and be a part of what God is doing globally.

 

May you rest in the truth today that we are all part of the Kingdom reach whether it is at your kitchen table or half way around the globe.  We are called to love and be a light.  May those two things never be extinguished.

God is Good

1 John 4:19 ” We love because he first loved us.”

Strangers.

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This is what we were four months ago.  But now, we are bonded differently, completely and in a way that only God could do.

Our church has grown so much that there are people you never see.  You are in a row upstairs, someone is downstairs, someone else attends later, someone is working in the nursery.  There is a struggle to connect.  And so, when we came together as a team, this is how our connections were.  Each was connected to me in one way, yet none of them connected until months ago.

When God impressed on my heart to continue forward with the plans for this trip, His words were – I have a purpose for each person that will go.  Each of them unique.  Yet each of them intentional.  And I did not know what those were.  Nor did I know who would be on this team.  I was to only present an opportunity and then allow God to bring the people to me.  Slowly they came.  And I will admit, I had my doubts whether I had heard God clearly on this one!

Yet, through the last two weeks, I have been smiling as I see just how God hand-picked each one.  With purpose.  He was right, as always.  And He was good to us.  As one member expressed this week, we are not bonded by age, occupations, former friendships, or anything else.  Yet our worldview and love for God gives us a common ground on which we could build, work together, share, trust one another and grow in a safe space.

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And so it was with us this past week…. Just that.  Days filled with smiles, growth, challenges, love and laughter.  And I am praising God for giving us this opportunity to see others within the Body of Christ like this and connect with others within the church to further strengthen our ties.

It is exactly why I never want to hand pick people to be part of a team.  Because by human effort I would fail.  Yet allow God to put the burden on their hearts and allow them to pursue this opportunity.

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I encourage you when you see each one of them to ask what God did in their heart this week and how their worldview has been expanded.  To listen what they have to say.  And to join in their joy as they share about their experiences and how they were stretched.

God is good.

All the time.

And all the time.

God is good.

I praise him for hand-picking this team.  I praise him for stretching each of us differently.  I praise him for creating us each uniquely.  I praise him for creating unity so quickly and effortlessly.  And I praise Him for what He continues to do in each of these lives.  My heart overflows with joy in seeing God work and move and unite.

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Blessings to you from Guatemala.

Update

 

 

A quick update since I am busy with much….

 

We are all well.  More than well. As life here is different and we are experiencing it through different eyes.

 

We have been to San Andres to work on the clinic and in Canilla at the hospital. Tomorrow we return to San Andres.  Thank you for your prayers….

 

 

And we are off!

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And we have arrived … in Pittsburgh…and are waiting for our plane lane without incident.   We are hoping the roads are passable today and we make it to Guatemala.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:48”

Why Short Term Missions

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Why do I do short term trips?

If I were to be honest, I would say that I always have as much hesitation as I do desire to lead short term trips.  And yet there is something deep inside me that pushes me to do it.  When I first started serving in Guatemala, I went independently.  I knew I was to return every year, but I did it without incorporating any of the Body of Christ.  People ask, how many years have you been traveling to Guatemala – and when I say 17, they usually ask, “Why did I never know about it before?”

That is because it was something that I did, and not something that I did to involve others.  Taking others is a lot of work and preparation and energy.  Taking others means that I can’t be as independent.  I have to think about their needs, and their experience and focus on them.  And so instead of pouring into the people in Guatemala, I am pouring into those that come with me.

But ten years ago I was convicted that I had a connection in Guatemala, to a family and a ministry that was very dear to me and it was selfish of me to go and serve there without inviting others.  That others wanted to be involved as well and did not have connections, and I was to be the bridge to connect them.  This was the Body of Christ working how God intended.  The Body did not consist of just an arm or a foot.  In not involving others, I was not doing my part with the Great Commission.  I was robbing others the chance to gain a global perspective and a heart for other people groups.  And so I began to include others in what was going on in Guatemala.  I took people with me, created a child sponsorship program that others could pray for the children within our nutrition program, created a school sponsorship program, involved the high school students where I used to teach and the church community.  I tried to think of all of the ways that others could be involved from going to sending to praying and everything in between.

Why?

Because missions is to be global with many arms and many parts.  It is not to be self-focused or project focused.   Missions is not just for those on the field.  It takes the support from all of these angles to reach all peoples.

There are many arguments out there against short term missions and I agree with many of them – that it would be more beneficial to hire locals to do the minimal work that we will be doing.  That many times teams can do more harm than good in their short time there; that it is difficult to make a lasting impression on the people and share the gospel with a culture that you do not know.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

All of these are true.  All of these are valid arguments. Yet all of these also need the Body to work together effectively for the spread of the gospel to occur.  Those on the ground need a backing.

Yes, there is money spent on plane tickets that would be better spent to employ a Guatemalan.  There is time taken away from ministry that is a distraction and it sometimes takes longer to complete something with someone, than it does without them.  Yes translating and explaining and talking are an investment.  But alone our efforts fail and fade.  Where ever we are.  We are to be encouraging others to carry on the same work in their “field” and often the spark is lit on a short term trip when out of your comfort zone.

Without the short term experience, there would be no exposure to these cultures.  And so, when God opened my eyes to my own selfish behavior or remaining focused on what I was doing…. And pressed upon me to take along others beside me…. Something bigger than myself happened.  The passion inside of me and desire was multiplied in others.  Friends, former students of mine, kids I worked with in youth group, members of my church or community have made the trek to Guatemala.  And as they have, I have realized something.   The face of missions is changing.  Many that are committing their lives to missions are not generational missionaries.  The trend used to be that the MKs (Missionary Kids) were who became the new work force on the mission field.  But those who are picking up the reigns now are those who feel the call on their hearts when on a short term trip.  And those that are dearest to my heart, who have served in Guatemala fall into this category.  Those serving long term, began the journey through a short term trip.

And so, I do short term missions to equip, empower and encourage others who want to do something for the Kingdom of God but just aren’t sure how to do that.  And through the experience that they have, they see how they are a piece of the puzzle that God has for spreading the gospel around the world.  I have six teens that I mentored through their high school/ college years serving outside of the US.  Dear friends that made their first week long trip to Guatemala, only to become involved and invested long term with their family. And although the money and effort that it takes on my end to lead short term trips overwhelmes me at times, it is when I realize that those that invest in short term trips, are the ones that will be making an investment past their week there.  They will be the ones who sustain the ministries.  That will pray.  That will financially support global missions.  They are the ones that hear God’s call to take what has touched their hearts and go somewhere on the field, whether it is near or far.  And allow God to continue to mold their journey.

 

I have been asking myself a lot lately why I decided to follow obedience to what God has asked me to do and lead another trip.  And it is just that – it is an act of obedience to how God is calling others to invest in the great commission.  The truth, only through God will we impact the Guatemalans in any way in our ten days in country.  But I know that hearts will be changed, forever.  That God has a specific purpose for EACH of the members of every short term team that goes out.  You cannot take a trip and not be changed.

 

And so I say yes.  I say yes to God once again that I will take a group.  Yes to God once again that He has something specific for each of them.  Yes to God once again on raising the funds, preparing hearts, and allowing God to lead.  My focus is not to change the life of a Guatemalan.  Because I know that this does not happen in a one week exposure.  My desire is to help bridge the gap and encourage both stateside and in Guatemala.  Because reaching all people with the gospel is something that takes a team.  A team of people who have a fire lit underneath them that want to reach out.  That see the bigger picture of what they are involved in.  To reach all people groups it takes those who are outside of the walls of their house, loving their neighbors.  It takes those who are willing to give of their finances and time.  It takes those who are willing to do short term and long term and medium term.  And it takes hearts to be opened to see that this life is about serving where we can with the abilities given to us.

And so, we are set to leave on June 22 for another of these trips.  This time a team of 7 with diverse backgrounds.  It will be the first time in Guatemala for each of them.  And my prayer is that God uses this time to widen their perspective on missions and see that it is something that they can be involved in for a life time.  Where ever God places them on this planet.

Paralyzed

Paralyzed.  Paralyzed by questions. People ask me a lot of questions these days.  And I can handle one, but when they start to string off a lot, I become paralyzed.  At least that is what my brain feels like.  Like it can’t complete the full thought.  I can still only think a few days out.  Maybe the month.  Others try to think for me or put thoughts in my head… and I can’t process all of that.

Paralyzed. Paralyzed by culture.  It has been odd at times feeling like I still don’t belong.  The culture is moving at such a pace and I can’t keep up.  And it is overwhelming to the point where I just give up.  It seems like so much has changed.  People’s lives.  How they relate.  What their priorities are.  As well as mine.  The causes that people choose to support.  The whole political state right now.  I cannot immerse myself in culture, because I do not feel as if it is my culture any more.  I cannot follow conversations.  And I cannot remember things that used to come easy.

Paralyzed.  Paralyzed by decisions.  In the grocery store there is a whole aisle of chips.  And I like 50% of them.  I avoid that aisle.  Because I can’t decide.  I have come to be accustomed to about 10 chips to choose from, seven of which are too spicy for me.  And so I always choose the same one.  Then there’s the decisions that matter.  Like where to look for jobs, what to do with my time, who to focus on, where to jump back into life.  Do I grow roots again and make friends, or am I just touching down again.  These are the decisions that paralyze me as I over analyze.  I feel as if I am still to sit.  And wait.  That God is preparing that for me and it is not available yet.

One place where I have not been paralyzed was in the classroom.  I had the opportunity to teach middle school woodshop, which I have been doing since I’ve been back.  And I have been grateful for so many things that happened during this time.  It helped to unparalyze my brain as I was able to create and had purpose and use the artistic side of my brain.   Students asked me questions about spacing of nails, types of sandpaper, and staining techniques.  I designed projects and even taught myself how to change sanding belts and saw blades.  I liked the challenge and it allowed my brain to function in having vision and being able to problem solve.  One girl asked me how I knew so much about wood, and I chuckled.  Because I probably knew more than her, but I am no expert.  I truly look at this time as a gift that God gave me, reminding me of the love I have to teach others and encourage them when they feel they are unqualified.

And so as I focus on what is still paralyzing to me and areas that I need to explore, I am pressing into what God has for me. Listening to His voice.  Knowing that this is a journey, and that God has led me to this point, with purpose.  I need to be able to slow down. To not immerse in the culture.  And to be whom God has created me to be.

A Final Graduation

 

I have attended graduation ceremonies on many levels.  And there is something within me that is proud every time.  There are some kids that breezed through their education and didn’t put forth their total effort, and yet they graduate.  And there are kids that shed blood, sweat and tears to get where they are.  For most of the students in Guatemala, to continue their education is a sacrifice.  It is the blood, sweat and tears kind of education.  They sacrifice to be in school.  They put off marriage, have less time for helping at home or in the fields, and being surrounded by family.  Many of them have to work to put themselves through school.  Their families sacrifice financially and put great hope in them that they will be able to succeed.  There is much pressure.  And there is much reward.  They value their education.

And so for me, to be able to see these students graduate and move one step closer to realizing their dream of having a better life, it is truly an honor.  I have prayed for these students.  I have a personal relationship with many of them.  I know their families.  I walked beside them.  I listened to them and I told them that they could do it.  Over and over and over again.  Because I knew that their way to a better life was through education.  Many of them I had to convince to stay, to work thorough the difficulties, that it would be worth it.  To persevere.  Yet seeing their smiles and their sense of pride shine through is truly something special.

This year two different classes graduated at ADONAI.  The first to graduate were the high school students.  One of my favorite moments of the night was watching them lead worship.  Seeing them on the stage reminded me of the growth that had happened over the years.  These students had been regular attenders at our worship evenings for the community and their talents and confidence grew over time.  Their faith was grounded and I have watched them take that faith and be leaders within the community – shining the light.

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As they accepted their diplomas and walked off stage, I am confident that there is a better future ahead of them than what they left behind.

 

 

Our nursing students had an intense year, completing their studies and passing their clinicals.  Each of the students passed the national exam as well to be qualified to practice across the country – a phenomenal feat.  These students were so excited for graduation and took great pride in their studies.  Many of them will be working in our clinics and hospital, and even better – some will gain jobs in different facilities where we know they will shine the light of Jesus as well as impart their knowledge.  Please continue to pray for these students.  As our job in guiding them is not over.