Monday, November 28, 2011

To Redeem

Do you remember the sign at the prize counter in the arcade? Redeem your tickets here. It meant that you have done the things asked of you and now you can receive your reward.
Webster classifies the word redeem as a verb. It is an active word. Action accompanies this word. The definition is this "to free from the consequences of sin".

The redeeming power of God's love, mercy, and grace were so clearly demonstrated before our eyes over this past week. We were blessed to be able to put together the first retreat for the teens here in Santa Rosa. You can read about that here. We had been praying for several weeks that God's power would be at work in the lives of these teens that weekend and as usual our ideas fell incredibly short of what He would come to do that weekend. On Saturday night 4 teens gave their lives over to God and put on Christ in baptism. A total of 8 teens would become our brothers and sisters in Christ that weekend. But the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus didn't stop there.

Church here meets on Sunday night for regular worship service, Tuesday night is a night of praise and prayer, Thursday night is discipleship classes, Friday night is for the life groups, and Saturday night is for the teens. On the Tuesday night following the retreat our fellow missionaries, Phil and Donna Waldron, came up to us to tell of more fruit that was been born as a result of the retreat. One of the teens that was bapitzed Saturday night was Nelson. Turns out that Nelson is 21, not that uncommon here since a jóven (young person) is anyone from 13-29 In our youth ministry program we make our age range 13-21. The story from there becomes one that only God could orchestrate.
Nelson goes home to his uncles house and tells them of how he has given his life over to God and was baptized. He then tells them that he needs to go and reconcile to his common-law wife Yulissa and their 2 year old son Nelson Gustavo. Nelson had gotten Yulissa pregnant at 16 and had stayed with her for a time until his drinking and trouble making led her to kick Nelson out of the house and out of her and their son's lives.

Nelson moved in with his uncle and aunt and began to slowly straighten is life out. He had quit drinking and making trouble and had begun to work in the construction trade. He had been to church a few times before and one of the brothers here pushed him to go on the retreat. Little did Nelson know what God would do in his life over those 2 days. Hearing the word and being convicted by it, Nelson put on Christ in baptism and then reconciled himself to his common-law wife. Yulissa, moved by Nelson's life changing decision started studying the Bible with one of the brothers here.

This past Saturday afternoon I was up at the church with Jóse Batres getting the teen room ready for class that night. While we were rearranging the room we heard voices coming up the stairs. As we walked towards the stairs to see whom it was, we were greeted by Yulissa and Nelson's Aunt. God was going to redeem her too. Aristedes would arrive in a few minutes to take Yulissa's confession of faith and we would have the privilege of watching Yulissa become our sister in Christ.
God has the power to redeem, not only people but marriages as well. Nelson and Yulissa also want to get legally married and will be as soon as their paperwork gets approved. Not only have they changed the course of their lives but in a country ravaged by absentee fathers and single mother homes they have changed the life of their son Nelson Gustavo. He will now have the far too uncommon privilege of growing up in a two parent Christian home.

I'm sure that God is not done with Nelson and Yulissa and I can't wait to see the rest of their story.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thinking back. Being Thankful.

Think back. What were you doing eleven Thanksgivings ago?

Eleven Thanksgivings ago, I was with a campaign group. We were on the island of Cozumel, Mexico helping the church there put on a gospel campaign preached by Bob Brown. My Spanish teacher, Ava Conley, had invited me to come along. I was seriously committed to the mission efforts in Venezuela, so for me this was just a chance to do some work in the kingdom and see some place new. For me, I was just along for the ride.

We rented jeeps and rode around the island with our hair blowing in the ocean's wind. We snorkeled, saw schools of fish and a barracuda. We dodged sea urchins as we headed out of the water. With a friend we grabbed a conch shell, cracked it open, and ate its meat right there at the edge of the water. (Ew. I know.) We went to a pitiful little 'zoo' that someone had that their house. It only had a few skinny little animals. We ate at a church member's house who was serving chicken soup. I held out my bowl for my spoonful and saw something horrific looking plop into the bowl. Ava confirmed that I had, in fact, received a tiny bit of broth and the whole chicken neck. (Ew. I know.) :) I tried to drive the stick shift jeeps and it took me 25 minutes to drive across to the street and pull up to the gas station. The gas station, who had been watching me approach from 30 feet away for as many minutes (and everyone else in my jeep) started applauding when I finally got close enough to fill up and stalled out for about the 95th time.

On Thursday of that week, we bought tacos from a street vendor for lunch, then for dinner we went back to the house, and made make-shift Thanksgiving dinner and pumpkin pie. We ate and were thankful--it's hard to be anything but thankful when you are on a mission trip.

For me, I had received a paradigm shift--I wrote a little bit about it here--when I met the Waldron family who were missionaries helping the church in Cozumel at the time. They had small children and I didn't know families with small children could even be missionaries. I thought that job was for old people and single men! I came back home, told Jon about it (we were only a 2-month old dating couple at the time) and he was impressed too. Well, we went on with life as usual from there.. Dated. Married. Jobs. Kids. Etc. Then God had a bigger plan for us. I'm pretty sure He had it all along; we just didn't see it coming.

Flash forward to yesterday:

The Waldron family had dinner at their home in Western Honduras. And they invited US. Because we're working with them. On their team. We're partners. Eleven years later. They still have 3 kids, but they're not little anymore. This time it's us with 3 small kids. Talk about a Full Circle Moment. Wow.

We are here because it's where God has a job for us now. I'm praying that some young college kid may see us and realize that ANYONE who is willing can work for God in the kingdom. He can use anyone who has a heart for Him. Who knows? Maybe in 11 years we'll be somewhere working with someone who visits us on a campaign and decides that they, too, can bring souls to the Father somewhere. Who knows? Or God might have an even bigger idea. Something that will wow me even more. I'm wayyyyyy over thinking something's too big for God.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are
my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As
the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to
it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it
yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out
from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:8-11
SO. My life is a daily reminder that my God is meeting all my needs and has also provided so, so many of my desires as well. He has over-filled my life in such an exceeding way that the only way that I can respond is with thankfulness. Humility, gratitude and thankfulness.

I hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that you were able to spend it with friends or family. I hope that you were able to reflect on what God has done in your life.

Be blessed. And be thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Retiro Juvenil 2011--Youth Retreat!

Good morning!! This blog has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to receiving attention from us lately! I'm not sure if we should chalk it up to moving to another country, staying with friends for 5 weeks, unloading a container and setting up a house, getting 3 kids settled in said house, schooling 2 of said kids to catch up for a late start in the school year, going to church 5 nights a week, or planning an entire youth retreat in a month and a half...Hmmmmm... :)

Obviously we have a lot to catch up on, and we plan to do so, but right now I want to tell you about the retreat that we just came back from this weekend! Mission UpReach generously provided all of the things we needed to make it happen, and Jon did an amazing job putting together a youth retreat for the youth group at the Iglesia de Cristo en Santa Rosa de Copán. It was the VERY FIRST time that ANYONE there (adults and youth) had ever seen anything like it! The theme was impactful. The lessons were powerful. The activities were purposeful. The games were fun. The food was delicious. Lives were touched. Transformed. People were changed. Eight new brothers and sisters were added to the kingdom by putting Christ on in baptism, and many renewed their commitment to Christ and were covered in prayer.
The youth group here had been a sort of scattered mess. Meeting regularly, but no sense of unity. No real growth. No order to the lessons. We wanted to provide them with a weekend that would teach them about true surrender to God. About becoming one as a group. Supporting each other, helping each other and growing together rather than tearing each other down.
The theme of the retreat was Entregate, which is a term that means to bring yourself. Surrender yourself. Hand yourself over. Give yourself up to HIM. Submit. Follow his calling. Allow him to work in your life. It's a pretty heavy word.
Raul Solis and his family, who live in Toluca, Mexico, came in to bring us the lessons. He did an amazing job. In three sessions (1. Deny yourself and follow Him, 2. Forgetting what is behind, 3. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me) Raul did a beautiful job teaching our teens how to surrender themselves. We learned how we need to leave behind our former lives when we choose to follow Him. We no longer should think as the world things, act as the world acts, admire what the world admires. How we become weighed down by the baggage that we carry around daily--the sins that overtake our lives and make us feel helpless to change. Things like lying, hate, anger and gossip. Others like malice, pornography, fornication, and hypocrisy. When we can let those things go and ask God to purify us, cleanse us, and help us move forward, we can strain toward what is ahead--to the purpose he has for us. Finally, in the third session Raul talked about how once we forget was is behind and we bring ourselves to God that we are to become a new creation--that we no longer live but Christ in us.
We had activities to help bring out these points...We made up a sort of relay game that we called Baggage. During Solo Time they had spent time following a guide that directed them to write their sins and struggles, their baggage, on 3 bricks. During the Baggage game the groups had to haul their 18 bricks of baggage through four different stations:
  • Put a puzzle together.

A brother in the church made us these puzzles that were SOOOOOO hard to do, but I just love them. They're beautiful! The cross is cut out in perfectly straight lines, and the other pieces were curvy and confusing. The application verse in this activity was Romans 12:2--"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."

  • Crawl under a net.

We made a cargo net and staked it to the ground. The kids, and their bricks, had to cross to the other side, completely under the net. The application verse in this activity was Hebrews 12:1-2--"...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..."

  • Red Corn.

In a jar full of kernels of corn, each group had to find ONE kernel that had been colored red. The verse was 1 Corinthians 4:7, 10--"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..."

  • Brick Puzzle.

Finally, after carrying these bricks through the entire course, they had to take them out, and sort them out to read Filipenses (Philippians) 3:12-14--"Not that I have already obtained this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Saturday evening, we had a bonfire and after another powerful message an invitaion was given and 4 teens responded to the call. Phil baptized them for the forgiveness of their sins and we had a joyful evening welcoming these new brothers and sisters. Sunday morning we had a special communion service followed by the Application message--over 20 responded that they were renewing their commitment to Christ and 4 more responded to the call of baptism. A brother, Daniel Perdomo, baptized these 4 and one of the most touching moments of the weekend was watching him baptize 3 teens and then his own daughter into Christ. There was hardly a dry eye to be found.

God was working here this weekend in Santa Rosa and it was amazing to watch. Personally there were a few times that I was nearly overcome with emotion. As I watched Jon running here and there, I was so proud to see how all of his planning, preparation and hard work was being blessed by God. As I reflected on that, and as I saw the way that the message was touching these kids' lives and changing their hearts, I had no doubt that God had brought us here because he has a work for us to do. It was amazing confirmation to my heart to see how He was blessing every effort that had been made--down to the beautiful weather, the power not going out, and the wet firewood staying lit during the bonfire. It is obvious that He was at work, and we gladly give all the glory of the success of the weekend to Him.