Mexico is...Different

Whenever I am in the States, people question me about what our life is like in Mexico.  Things that I no longer give a second thought to are often things that amaze and intrigue people in the U.S.A.  So, in an effort to let you into my world and experience life through my eyes, I am going to start this post tonight, and I will add to it whenever I think of something about my life that might be different from yours.  Feel free to laugh, cry, be surprised, or ask questions...

#1-  Here all the houses are built "stuck" together- in other words, we share walls with our neighbors.  Living so close to your neighbors can have disadvantages...lots of disadvantages, in fact.  The neighbor to our right likes to play LOUD music.  There are days when he likes to play it all day long, but he especially likes to play it at night...like right around the time the kids are trying to go to sleep.  It's especially hard when it's summer and the windows HAVE to be open all night, or when he plays music that talks about "666" and dancing with the devil.  Not exactly what I want my kids listening to, or what I want to be listening to, for that matter!  The same neighbor washes his dishes (loudly, I might add) EVERY night around midnight, right outside of our bedroom window (we can set our clocks by him...lol).  At least 3 or 4 nights a week, he and his mom have a screaming match while he is washing the dishes.  It's almost impossible not to eavesdrop, but we try our best not to...too many things are said that we don't want to hear!  With our neighbors to the left, there lives an old man (the grandfather of the family) that likes to stare at all the women as they walk by.  We try not to venture outside when he is there, but whenever we come home from church, he is standing right outside our door.  What he is watching out for while we are gone, I have no idea, but we have nicknamed him the "neighborhood cop."  He doesn't like us very well because we are Christians, and he likes to put screws and nails in our parking space...probably trying to pop the tires on our van.  Our side of the relationship with him?  Friendly, yet distant.  So, there are disadvantages to sharing walls with the neighbors...but it can also be fun.  We have a good relationship with the family on the left (all except for the grandpa) and we often have conversations with them through the windows or through the rickety back fence.  We have also developed a rough code for communication with the neighbor boy by tapping on the walls.  The lightest of taps can be heard loudly on the other side, and quite honestly, it's hilarious!  We have tons of fun with it...and you would too (:

#2-  I was startled awake last night at 3:30 am by the sound of someone banging on the front door.  Our door is metal, so when someone bangs on it, it is LOUD!  I woke up Noe, a little scared and wondering who in the world would be knocking at such an hour.  He went downstairs to peek out the window over the door, only to see a man stumbling away in the dark.  In his hand was a bottle of alcohol...he was probably very drunk.  Once I realized there was no danger and I could breathe again, I was saddened by the situation of the man.  Even when the knocking scared the heck out of me, I knew I wasn't alone...I was sure that God was with me and everything would be alright.  Poor man, drunk out of his mind and walking in the night, must feel so alone.

#3-  The "siesta" is not respected all over Mexico, but here it is.  Almost all stores and businesses in the nearby cities close between 2pm and 4pm, and often they tend to close a little earlier and open a little later.  Definitely an inconvenience at times, but you get used to it and learn to live around it.  Here in the small town where we live, you need to learn the personal schedules of all business owners in order to know if they are open or not at any given moment.  For example, the lady that runs the store across the street, always opens in the morning, around 10am for about a half and hour.  Then she reopens around 12pm and remains open until around 1:45pm, when she has to take her son to kindergarten.  She returns to open the store around 2:30 and is there until 4:45 when she has to go pick her son up.  The store is open from 5:30pm until around 8:30pm, and then the whole process starts all over again the next day.  Almost every other business here runs by the same rule: and the rule is that there aren't any rules.  If you are planning a meal or party and planning on getting anything from a local store, you learn to plan in advance...and if planning in advance is impossible, you learn to ALWAYS have a Plan B.  If you don't, you definitely run the risk of being left "high and dry."

#4-  Here there aren't too many rules that you actually have to follow.  We live in a really small town and pretty much anything goes.  For instance, we can drive on any side of the street we want, or even right down the middle.  There are no stop signs, just many speed bumps to slow you down along the way.  I have to admit, it took me a long time to actually get used to driving on the "wrong side" of the street, even when only for a short distance.  But I finally learned!   Another thing that can happen here in town: there often are parades, funeral processions, religious ceremonies, and goat or cow crossings that can occur at any moment.  I personally have been held up by all three of those things many times.  No longer do I get frustrated...I'm just thankful I have a car with A/C to wait in.   In that same category, I suppose I can add that people can block off their street if they are having a party or anything that involves a large group of people.  We have had to take many a detour when finding that the street has been closed due to a birthday party or a wedding!  One more thing that isn't unusual here...we have neighbors that spread fertilizer (aka: manure) as part of their job, and they like to park their truck full of manure right down the street all night long.  When it's hot we HAVE to have our windows open, but the smell penetrates the house and it's unbearable at times.  No rules can have its advantages at times...but it can also have VERY significant disadvantages.  I would prefer rules any day...but it's all part of living in small-town Mexico! :)

#5-  We don't have running water 24 hours a day.  They intermittently turn our water off and on throughout the day on a rough kind of schedule.  Usually we have water from 7am to around noon.  Then the water is turned off and it usually comes back on between 3 and 5pm.  It is shut off again around 6, and then it is turned on again from around 8pm until 10pm.  The water is turned off all night long.  Living here, we get used to the schedule, and learn to plan our dish washings and loads of laundry accordingly.  However, it is a "rough" schedule, so we have all had the water turned off right in the middle of a load of laundry or in the middle of washing dishes.  When the water is off and we need to flush the toilet we have to "bucket-flush" or pour a bucket of water from one of our reserves (we all have storage tanks) into the toilet bowl so that it flushes.  The worst is when we are in the middle of a shower, all soaped and shampooed-up, and then the water suddenly disappears!  Sometimes people here don't pay their water bill, and as a motivation (or a punishment) the town shuts off the water for everyone.  We have had the water off for up to almost 2 weeks- not fun at all!  We learn to live with it, but running water is something we no longer take for granted.  Water really is impossible to live without!

#6-  Adventures with wildlife!  Here, in our little, rural town, it's not at all unusual to have run-ins with 4-legged, 6-legged, and 8-legged creatures of all sorts.  The 4-legged ones I don't mind too much, although on occasion the kids have been scared by overly friendly dogs tackling them.  Cows, horses, goats...they are all a part of this life.  The 6-legged ones include cockroaches which are all over, especially during the hottest part of the year (which is right now).  The other night, Uriah and I were running all over the bedroom trying to kill two cockroaches with our sandals...those things are fast little buggers!  We've also had several encounters with scorpions, which are never fun and usually include running to the clinic as fast as possible for an anti-venom shot.  The 8-legged creatures are the scariest for me...I HATE spiders.  Although there are black widows here, we've thankfully never been bit by one.  But there are spiders here, big and black that sit flat against the wall.  They can jump from the wall to the floor in front of you, which scares me everytime!  The other day I had an interesting encounter with a 2-legged creature.  I was at church, and during the sermon Matthias was getting hungry, so as usual I took him out to the minivan to feed him.  It's really hot here right now, so I left one of the sliding doors opened halfway so that we could get a little air moving.  After a couple minutes, I thought I was hearing noises up near the front seat.  I thought it was my imagination, but just as I was laying Matthias down in the back to change his diaper, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.  Lo and behold there was a CHICKEN in the front seat!  Now, chickens do not usually evoke scary images, but for those of you who don't know, my dad used to raise chickens, and one of my jobs for awhile was to feed and water them.  The chickens were mean, the roosters were agressive, and I developed a huge aversion to them.  I was pecked, bitten, and spurred enough times to actually feel a little fear.  In my shock, I left Matthias in the back and ran to the front passenger door, thinking that if I opened the door, the bird would come out.  Wrong!  When the door opened, the bird got scared, and ran towards the back.  Oh no, I thought as images of the crazy bird pecking at my son flashed through my mind.  I ran toward the back of the van, and the opening of that door scared the chicken back up to the driver's seat.  I grabbed Matthias, and with him safe in my arms, I tried to figure out what to do next.  I figured Noe wouldn't be all too thrilled if I interrupted his sermon to ask him to get the chicken out of our van.  My next thought was to just leave the chicken inside and run to safety (ha, ha), but I had a feeling that the chicken could do a lot of damage in a short time.  I decided to try one more time to get it out myself, so I situated Matthias so he was facing away, and I opened the driver's side door.  The chicken flew up at my face and I almost fell over, but it was finally out of my car!  I was so relieved...and then I noticed that the neighbors were all laughing at me.  I hadn't even realized they were there, but quite obviously they had been watching the whole debacle and were sharing a laugh at my expense.  Not that I blame them...I've had quite a few laughs over the whole thing since then, too!


The Right Treasures

There are more stories than I can count that have to do with some kind of buried treasure.  One of my personal favorites is the story of Treasure Island, particularly the Muppets Treasure Island film (what can I say, I am a fan of the Muppets) .  In the movie, the sailors overcome many obstacles on their way to find buried treasure, only to be overcome by pirates who try to steal the treasure.  When the pirates arrive to the place that was marked on the map with an "X", they discover that the treasure is gone...it was already taken by someone else!  The treasure that they spent so much time pursuing wasn't even there in the end- definitely the kind of treasure we don't want to be stuck with.  A treasure not there is a wrong kind of treasure.  Another of my favorite movies is "The Count of Monte Cristo."  In that movie, Edmond Dantes finds the treasure that the old, imprisoned priest told him about.  That treasure was very real, and it helped turn Dantes into the Count and spin his revenge on his friend-turned-enemy, Fernand Mondego.  This treasure is different from the first treasure.  The first treasure was just an illusion, something they thought was there but it wasn't.  The second treasure was there and it was real- but it was used for the wrong purposes.  The treasure led to sorrow and death...not things that people usually would like to accomplish with a treasure, and another example of a wrong kind of treasure.

In life, we are all busy looking for treasure.  It may not be buried treasure, like in the movies, and we may not be so naive to believe in pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but we still search for treasure, for worth, for value in the things we do every day.  Most of us live our lives around the things we think are most important, the things that we value most.  A lot of the things that are "treasure" to us are good things.  Most of us would probably put a lot of value on our relationship with God, our family, and maybe even virtues like honesty, patience, and kindness.  On a daily basis, we would probably start to list other things that we value- a clean house, a good meal, a steady job, a neatly organized, independent life.  We often spend the majority of our lives trying to reach professional or social goals, none of which are necessarily bad, but they can often end up being the wrong kinds of treasure.

The things we can accomplish and the things we can attain here in this life are not eternal.  We can feel successful because of the big, beautiful home we have, or the job promotion we worked so hard for.  Those things are fine, even nice to have, but they are not the things that last.  Sometimes they are illusions like treasure #1- things to attain that will get us to where we want to be, but when we get there, we are right back where we started, wanting more. Sometimes they really are treasures like treasure #2, but we use them in the wrong way and they end up being more of a curse than a blessing.  They often are things that we work really hard for and we think they will make us happy, but in the end they just bring bills or stress or unhappiness or all of the above.

The point I am trying to make is not that these things are bad.  They're not.  In fact, the Bible says that every good gift comes from the Father...they are blessings meant to be enjoyed.  The mistake comes when we try to build our lives around those things...and they don't last.  People lose homes in the blink of an eye to fires or natural disasters.  Cars are totaled in accidents.  Beauty is lost with age.  Companies lay off  faithful employees.  Family members and friends move away and even die.  Relationships that we thought we could count on end.  None of it lasts forever.  It's nice while we have it...but if those things are the treasure we are building our life around, we may wake up one day to find it all gone and ourselves left with nothing.

Are there any treasures that can last forever?  Of course there are.  God lasts.  Christ's love and mercy are for everyone.  The Gospel message can touch people...and those people will live forever in God's presence because they accepted God's grace.  Telling someone about the salvation that Christ offers each one of us, and seeing them accept that gift, is an eternal treasure.  It's something that can never be lost or taken away.  Investing in your children spiritually and teaching them to have a personal relationship with Christ is eternal.  Not only will they spend eternity with Christ, but until their "eternity" begins, they can share the Gospel message with many others.  Those treasures, the ones that are eternal, are the ones I want to reach for.  I enjoy the temporary blessings, but I want to build my life around the eternal things 

We have been criticized a lot recently over having "so many kids" or for going on mission trips instead of trying to build our house.  We always are open to advice and we respect others' opinions, but when it comes down to it, this is my answer to the criticism.  Our goal as a marriage, a family, and a ministry is to store up the right kind of treasures...the kind that last forever.  We may not have all the things that others have, we may not have a nice house, we may not be able to do all the things we want to.  Our job is usually without promotion, and there's no provision for retirement...in fact, we probably will never retire.  That doesn't worry us.  Life isn't a guarantee.  We just want to spend the time we have doing things that will last beyond our own lives.  We want to love each other and enjoy spending time together.  We want to build relationships with others, caring for them and ministering to their needs, showing Christ's love to the people we meet.  The things we have in our possession now won't be with us forever.  We won't take our house, our car, or our titles with us to heaven.  But we want to take as much with us as we can.  Our kids.  Our extended family.  Other believers.  We want to be rich with the right treasures.  We want to arrive in the presence of our Father to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

God, please help us to store up the right treasures...the eternal kind.  We want our love for you to be the driving force, the motivation behind everything we do.


Are You Listening?

Today I lost my voice.  Not totally...if I try really hard I can make a few sounds come out, but basically I spent the day whispering.  Not only did it make our praise and worship time at church a little interesting (I am the worship leader), but I also began to realize that it is VERY hard to take care of 4 children (not to mention teach Sunday school) without a voice.  Even when I would try to talk to them, they couldn't hear me amidst the other distractions- other people talking, children laughing and shouting, semi trucks racing over speed bumps, car tires screeching, and a regular barnyard chorus of dogs barking, roosters crowing, cows mooing, and horses neighing (yes, these are all noises that we hear regularly at our church).  I warned Aislynn not to stand on the chair before it tipped, but she never heard me.  I tried to give Keyli instructions on how to color her picture during Sunday school, but she couldn't hear me either.  When Uriah made a goal playing soccer with his friends outside, I congratulated him with a huge smile on my face...and he never noticed.  I tried to sing a song to Matthias before he went to sleep (which is something he usually loves), but this time I think my strange voice actually scared him, and he cried even harder.  I think I had to repeat instructions today at least 3 times in order to be heard...and now I am worn out.  I hope I have my voice back tomorrow!

In all of this, I actually was struck by an important lesson.  I wonder how often God is speaking to me and I never even hear His voice.  Now, God will not lose His voice like I did, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that He speaks to us often.  After all, we're His children.  He warns us of dangers, he tries to teach and instruct us, and he longs to comfort us and speak words of love to us.  But how often do we actually hear what He has to say?  Does His voice get drowned out by all the other distractions in our life?  As I learned from today, it's very frustrating to speak and not be heard.  I'm not suggesting God is frustrated with us...but it is hard to speak and be ignored.  After awhile I, in my lowly human nature, gave up.  I figured if I couldn't be heard it wasn't worth speaking.  God on the other hand, is infinitely patient with us and His mercies are new EVERY morning.  If we don't hear Him the first time, He tries again...and again...and again.  He wants us to hear Him, to heed His warnings, to follow His instructions, to feel His comfort, and to enjoy His love for us.  God is speaking to us, even now.  Are we listening?


Nothing is Impossible

With God, all things are possible.  We've all heard it.  Sometimes we get too distracted by the things that are going on in our lives to believe it.  It's hard to see the impossible happen when we refuse to attempt the impossible.  Because we refuse to attempt, we become unaccustomed to seeing the impossible...and because we stop seeing it, we stop believing it.  I believe that God wants to do things in our lives that we think are impossible...and I for one want to see the impossible happen!

I mentioned in a previous blog the short-term mission trip that we are taking to Belize this summer.  For us, taking a short-term mission trip with national people was an impossible dream for a long time.  Now that it's happening, I am a little stunned and a bit overwhelmed.  I know that God has put all the pieces together to make this trip happen.  But this is only the beginning.  God is teaching me so many things through this trip...He's reminding me that my confidence has to be in Him every step of the way.  He's speaking to our whole missions team about trusting in His provision, not only for our finances but also for how and what we will minister while we are there.  We've all had many opportunities to decide that this is way too hard and to give up, but I am thankful that we have persevered.  As we persevere, we see God work in new ways, even making the impossible happen.

This last week, we had a small crisis.  We were finally ready to buy our airline tickets for the trip...and prices went up.  It still showed the same low price online and at the travel agency, but as soon as we tried to reserve 12 tickets, the prices doubled.  Maybe that's always how it works (I have no prior experience to organizing a group trip), or maybe it's just a Mexico-thing, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with the curve-ball.  Buying tickets for the new price would put us over, way over, budget, and telling the mission team we would need to raise even more money was close to impossible- we are already working around the clock to raise what we can.  I was tempted to call the whole thing off...just tempted.  Although I had no clue how this was all going to work out, I knew we had to keep moving forward and trust the Lord to work out all the details.  That decision was a turning point I think, and God's provision has been pouring out on us this week.

People have been offering to pray for us, even to support the trip financially.  We had the idea of doing a yard sale at church this week, and it is going better than we ever hoped.  We were able to book a hotel at a very reasonable rate for the trip home from Belize (our trip includes several buses, taxis, and planes, so on the way home we will have to stay overnight somewhere before our flight home).  Most importantly, we feel indescribable peace and confidence in our Lord- He is our provider.  Even when we can't see or understand how He is going to provide, we KNOW He will!  It's a choice to believe His Word and His promises, even when our emotions don't necessarily agree.  When the circumstances fly out of our control, we KNOW He is in control.  We believe He is who He says He is, and we believe He will do what He says He'll do.

It sounds so simple, but if we can apply this truth to every situation in our life, it will transform us.  It's all about looking at life though His eyes instead of through our own.  The things that seem impossible for us, are totally possible and even probable for Him.  He is LORD of ALL, and we are His children.  He provides for our needs...and blesses us beyond what we can hope to imagine.  I choose to see my circumstances through His eyes.  There is no pain too great, no obstacle too high to overcome, no suffering too overwhelming for Him to deal with.  Instead of trying to obtain results on our own, let's try to TRUST and let Him deal with the details.  With God, ALL things are possible!

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... - Matthew 6:25-27
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. .... - Matthew 6:34
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened... - Matthew 7:7-8
"how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! - Matthew 7:11
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7



I am not, by nature, a public speaker.  My personality is a little reserved, often shy, and I don't usually like to be in front of a group of people...I definitely prefer the background to the forefront.  I was the one in high school who spent days fretting an upcoming speech or presentation.  The very thought of having to speak in front of my teacher and my peers was enough to make me sick to my stomach.  Quite ironically, I am now a missionary.  There are many different kinds of missionaries- I happen to be of the church-planting, ministry-building variety, which means that speaking is a huge part of my everyday life.  Has the nature of my personality changed so drastically since I was a teenager?  Not really.  Do I like to speak in public now?  Not exactly.  But there IS a difference, and learning it transformed my life.  God can and wants to speak for us.  He wants to do the work through us...we just have to trust Him AND open our mouths.

When we know Christ personally, we understand that He would never lead us to minister to someone without giving us the words to say to that person.  Most of the time we don't know what to say at all, but when we trust the Lord to speak and then we open our mouths, we are often very surprised by what comes out.  When the Lord speaks, the right words always come, and people are touched and moved by God's love for them.  I have been thinking through all of this over the last several days because one of our assignments in preparation for our mission trip to Belize was to prepare a personal testimony to share.  The people on our missions team had never shared a personal testimony before, and they were all very nervous about it.  I shared with them about allowing God to speak through you...when we obey and open our mouths, He gives us the words to say.  They were all pretty skeptical, and I will admit that I was skeptical too, when I first tried it.  Once you experience it personally, your confidence in who God is grows, and the next time you are led to speak, you are much more likely to trust God for the outcome.  But until you experience it firsthand, it can a be a little hard to believe.  So, I encouraged our team to pray and trust that the Lord would give them the right words to say.  Because they had no other choice, they tried it...and were AMAZED at the results.  Each testimony was unique, a personal story which had a strong message of Hope and Truth woven into the plot.  The message that each one preached through there testimony was one that would touch just about everyone on this planet, and they were amazed at the words God gave them to share.

God's provision is always so far above all we could ask or imagine, and even I was in awe of the way He came through.  I didn't want to say, "I told you so!"  It was enough to understand that God was in our midst, speaking and ministering FOR us.  All we had to do was be obedient to open our mouths!  One of my favorite songs is called "Speak for Me" and it is sung by Jaci Velasquez.  The lyrics are my prayer each and every time I am called on to speak or minister.  I still don't like to speak in public all that much...but most of the time it's not even me speaking.  I just open my mouth, and God provides the words!

Lyrics to "Speak For Me":
What have I to offer
to a world in need
yet for some unknown reason
you have chosen me
Lord, you've set my journey
you've prepared the way
still I'm desperate for the words to say
all I am is willing
all I have is in your hands

Speak for me
this my plea
say the words I can't express
sing for me
a heavenly melody
that the people would be blessed
speak for me

Every brief encounter
that you send my way
is a chance to show the love you gave me
I see their troubled faces
a hunger deep inside
Lord, I depend on you to touch their lives
light what burns within me
let your truth shine through my life

Speak for me
this my plea
say the words I can't express
sing through me
a heavenly melody
that the people will be blessed
speak for me, sing for me, set me free
and they will see your holiness
speak for me
'cause your love will lead them on to heaven's gate
where they can look upon your face
light what burns within me
let your truth shine through my life
You're all I have to offer
to a world in need


The Mission Is...GO!

So, the coolest thing happened yesterday.  No, I'm not talking about the Packers winning the Super Bowl- although that WAS pretty great (I'm a Packers fan from waaaay back)!  It was something totally different, not at all extraordinary, yet it was an incredible experience.

I don't know if I've mentioned this yet in this blog, but my husband and I have been praying for years about leading a mission trip to a foreign country.  We've always wanted our passion for missions to be contagious, and one of our visions from the time we were married was to someday take a team of Mexican believers on a short-term mission trip.  Maybe this doesn't sound like an unattainable goal to you, but it seemed that way to us, so let me clarify something first.  Mexican Christians do not view missions the way most American Christians do.  The United States has a long history of being a missionary-sending nation.  Whether you personally are interested in missions or not, I would guess that most of you have either been on a short-term mission trip, had the opportunity to go on a short-term trip, or know someone who has gone on a short-term mission trip.  In the U.S. we are exposed to missions, even if we don't consider it a personal call.  In Mexico, there has yet to be a shift from a nation needing missionaries to a nation sending missionaries.  Don't get me wrong, there ARE Mexican missionaries.  We have friends working in several bigger cities around Mexico that have started missions programs in their churches and are sending and supporting missionaries.  But this train of thought has not yet been adopted by all of the Mexican churches, especially NOT the churches in the small towns where we are living and working.  Here the majority of believers have this mindset when it comes to missions: "Why spend all that money to preach the Gospel somewhere else when there are people that need Jesus right here?"  Most of them have never been on any type of mission trip, and NONE of them have ever gone to a foreign land to spread the Good News of the Gospel.

Given the perspective concerning missions of the people where we are working, we thought it would be several more years before we could ever lead a mission trip.  However, with God nothing is impossible, and He moved the timetable up.  Last year, we had the opportunity to lead our first mission trip to a small village in the mountains of Puebla, 12 hours from where we live.  Only 1 single guy came with us, but we were not discouraged and it paid off.  The young man returned home excited about missions and taking the Gospel message to other places and other groups of people.  God began to open doors, and as we prayed, we felt like God was telling us it was time to move forward and plan a foreign mission trip.

In obedience to God's leading, 18 months ago we began to plan the trip.  I won't share all the details of how it all came about, but after a series of events, it was decided that we would go to Belize for 10 days in July of 2011.  It seemed like so far away (the planning began in 2009), but things began to move swiftly.  Many people committed to joining us on the trip, only to back out just a few months ago.  Now, with 5 months to go, we have a group of 14 including us, 8 adults and 6 children.  The members of the group are scared (this will be the first time they leave the country) and excited at the same time.  At the beginning of January we began to meet weekly to pray together, plan together, and try to prepare ourselves spiritually for anything we may face.  As part of our preparation, we have decided to do a local outreach once a month from now until the trip.  Yesterday we had our first outreach...and IT was the coolest thing that I mentioned in the first line of this post.

I think I also mentioned that it wasn't extraordinary.  It wasn't.  We decided to make 100 sandwiches at the church, and then we went to the plaza (town square) in Sahuayo (the nearest city) to give away the sandwiches and cans of Pepsi.  We told the people where we were from and what we were doing.  We said that we just wanted to bless them, to love them, and tell them that God loves them too.  It was really such a simple thing- a simple act of care and concern to those around us.  The incredible part was the reaction that we received from the people.  They couldn't believe or understand why we would give something away without asking for anything in return.  They thanked us with a bit of wonder in their eyes...and our group left feeling that we were the ones who received the blessing.  Why?  Because it truly IS more blessed to give than to recieve.  God created US for mission...Christ's last command to us was to GO into all the world and preach the Gospel.  Mission isn't something extraordinary.  It's just about doing the little things, showing people the love of Christ in practical ways.  Mission is something that we can be a part of, no matter where we are or what we do for a living.  Mission is our purpose as believers in Christ...and I believe that God is always calling us to mission- whether we choose to listen or not.

Does that mean I think we should all become missionaries in foreign lands?  Not necessarily.  Do I think we should all take a foreign mission trip, at least once?  It certainly wouldn't hurt.  Being in a foreign land, out of our element and out of our comfort zone helps us to depend on God in ways that we don't have to when we are in a comfortable routine.  And meeting another people group, holding their hands, seeing their need, only makes us more compassionate and passionate for people.  When we learn to be passionate about people needing Christ, we become missionaries no matter where we are.  We can share Christ in so many ways, through so many strategies that in themselves are not extraoridnary.  Maybe those that saw us giving things away without expecting something in return will now be better able to understand that God saves us by grace alone- it is a gift that we don't deserve, something that we just have to receive.  Let's ask God to help us all to become a little more mission-minded when dealing with the people who surround us.  If we do, we can be sure that WE will be blessed, time and again.


Amazing Love

I think most everyone who has a relationship with the Lord would say that God loves us.  We know that the Bible says that God is love.  We know that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sin and die for us.  But do we really understand the depth of this great love He has for us?  I don't think we do.  Maybe in part we will never fully understand it because we are human...we are just not capable of that perfect all-encompassing love.  But maybe there's another part that doesn't understand it because we still don't really understand who God is and all He has done for us.

I've been thinking of the topic of God's love over the last couple days, and I must admit that I am just in AWE of the fact that He could love me so fully and completely.  I have been reading the book, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, and it has totally shaken me up...in a good way.  This isn't the first time I have read Redeeming Love, in fact I have probably read through the entire book at least 10 times.  No matter how many times I read it, the message still strikes me as if it were the first time as I try and fail to wrap my mind around the love that our Father has for each one of us.

For those of you who have never read Redeeming Love, I will give you a quick overview.  It is the retelling of the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer in the 1800's.  For those of you who are unsure of those names, I will refresh your memory.  Hosea was a prophet and God told him to marry a prostitute- Gomer.  The whole book of Hosea tells of Hosea loving Gomer and going after her to get her back even after she went back to prostitution.  God wanted Hosea and the people of Israel to understand His love for them...that even when they were turning their backs on their "first love" and prostituting themselves spiritually with other false gods, His love for them remained unfailing.  No matter how many times they failed Him, He would continue to run after them because of His great love for them.  In the book Redeeming Love, a God-fearing man named Michael Hosea is led by the Spirit to marry a prostitute called Angel.  She betrays him and runs away from him several times, yet his love for her does not change.  He does his best to show her God's character through his life, showing her in countless ways that no matter what she does or what she did, his love for her will remain constant.  The book is a beautiful love story, not only about the way Michael pursues and woos Angel, but also of how God pursued her...and is pursuing each one of us.

I can't explain it as eloquently as I would like to...there are just no words to descirbe a love that great.  It is so beautiful to know that our Father in heaven loves us so tenderly.  To Him, we are lovely even when we do unlovely things.  He sees the potential that He has created in us, the potential to complete and fulfill the incredible plans He has had for us since before we were born.  And when stumble and fall, he never gives up on us.  He still speaks to us, telling us of His love, wooing us gently back into his presence.  He just wants to love us and have us love Him in return.  He is the Bridegroom and we are His bride.  He CHOSE us, even though in ourselves we were unworthy.  He clothed us with His grace, His mercy, and His righteousness...He gave us all of Himself just so that we could be with Him.  His love for us was so great that he made a way to fellowship with us.  We didn't deserve it.  At one time or another, we didn't even want it.  Yet, He continues to call us by name.  He cares for us, He understands our needs and they are fulfilled in Himself.  He paid the price and before Him we need not feel shame or condemnation...because we are His.  How great is His love for us!

I would definitely recommend Redeeming Love to any of you who have not yet read it.  It is an incredible story, and a beautiful analogy of God's amazing love.  Only when we begin to understand God's love for us can we begin to see ourselves as He sees us: precious, lovely, and valuable.  Not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done and who He is in us!


Please Him

Somedays, like today, can be an emotional and mental workout for ministers of the Gospel.  We are working in some very small towns in Michoacan, and the people here tend to be very sensitive to...just about everything.  It is extremely hard to please them, so while we want to make them feel loved and cared for, we've learned over the years that it's impossible to please everyone.  The only One we need to please is our Lord, so we try to focus on pleasing Him and wanting the things He wants...and then hoping that at least some of the people will join us in seeking after Christ.

We must please God above all else.  We need to live our lives in such a way that He is the center of every thought, attitude, and action.  The simple truth is that no one, no matter who they are, can please everyone.  We often are even too capricious to know how to please ourselves.  But pleasing God, well that's easy in comparison.  His expectations and His love for us never change...and it's all written down for us in His Word so that we won't ever forget it

So, how do we please our Lord God, the Maker of heaven and earth?  We humble ourselves before Him on a daily basis.  We recognize that we can't and only He can.  We seek Him and His righteousness first, above all else.  We realize that all we accomplish is by His grace alone.  God is delighted when we draw near to Him, when we make KNOWING Him intimately our goal.  When love for our Savior is the motivation behind everything we do...pleasing Him becomes an easy thing to do.