Saturday, March 10, 2018

Planting seeds

I saw a miracle happen.

People see miracles happen more often than they realize, I think. God is always moving in ways we don't expect or believe that He can. But He does, and when He does, it's a miracle. 

This miracle was not an instant healing or a miraculous conversion. Most people would not classify it as a miracle, but I do. 

When the team from Innerkip, Ontario came to the Nehemiah Center the second week of February, we went to a community and visited people's homes. My group went to the home of a surly-looking man in need of a hip replacement. The pastor had explained to me ahead of time that he had run into this former parishioner's husband in the street walking with a cane and was surprised how this middle-aged man was so diminished from his former self. The pastor had promised Bismark that he would send a group from the visitors to go and pray for him, and he accepted. 

That he accepted was the first step. Bismarck's wife, Janett, used to go to the church where we were visiting. However, she had fallen away. Her oldest son is in jail (another whole story of pain and God's hand at work) and at that time, he was awaiting his sentence. Bismarck and Janett have two younger sons at home, both working in nearby factories, a thirteen-year-old daughter, and a three-year-old daughter. We met the whole family when we were there.

We heard that Bismark, a former member of the military, had dedicated his post-military career to being the chofer of several superior officers. However, this man who looks to be in his 50s is now walking with a cane and experiencing incredible pain because his hip is worn out. He has bone rubbing on bone, and he can't drive anymore. He is essentially on disability, but instead of receiving a salary, he was fired (according to the pastor - Bismark didn't want to tell us all of this). 

We prayed for Bismarck, Janett, and their children - especially the situation with their son in jail. Janet was crying during the prayer, and we invited them to the youth service that night. I was very glad to see Janet and her daughters there later that evening. The leaders at the campfire service made several alter calls, but I didn't see anyone I knew step forward. However, the pastor later told me that Janet had reconciled to the Lord earlier that afternoon, praise God! I caught her after the service and told her I was glad to see her. 

The next morning, Sunday morning, we were again split up into small groups for door-to-door evangelism. Our group was assigned Janett and Bismarck's street. When we got close to their house, the Canadian group members approached the porch and greeted Janett and Bismarck, who were outside. We invited them to the potluck service that evening at the church, and Janett said she would be there, and she was bringing Bismarck.

Let me tell you what I knew about Bismarck at this point: the pastor had told me that Bismarck had never wanted anything to do with faith. His wife had come to church for years, but he had not darkened the door. Bismarck looks like a very serious man, built like a military man and smiles rarely. I hoped and prayed he would come to the service, but I wasn't going to be surprised if he didn't come.

When the church service started, there was no sign of anyone from the family. Then a little while in, Janett and her youngest daughter came to sit in the row behind the team and me. I felt disappointed that Bismarck wasn't with them, but not entirely surprised. In churches where the male:female ratio is about 70% female on the days all the men show up, I know that it's hard to get men in the church. You can imagine my surprise and joy, then, when I noticed Bismarck coming in on crutches! He sat through the service and stayed for the potluck supper afterwards. It was the first time - to the pastor's knowledge - that Bismarck had been to church.

Bismarck is the man on the far right with the crutches, his daughter next to him, then his mother-in-law and his wife Janett is looking towards the camera. The others are team members from Canada and other church members behind.

It was a miracle. A man who never comes to church decided to show up, decided to stay. A seed has been planted.

Even better, I received a text message from the pastor a month later telling me that Bismarck had come to the next potluck service, and he has asked the pastors to keep visiting them at home. The Spirit is on the move!

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Mercies

Lamentations 3:22-24 is an often-quoted verse in my Christian circles:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

    “therefore I will hope in him.”
I have loved this verse a long time, but it has taken on new meaning for me. His mercies are new every morning. 
New mercies.
Every morning.

Enough to get through the day. Enough that when the day goes badly, each morning is a new start. 

I know that I haven't written in a long time. Team Season. It's the extra-busy period in January and February when I'm eating, sleeping, and talking with groups of 3-12 people for a week at a time, answering all the questions I can about population size, tree names, ministry efforts, as well as interpreting between English and Spanish for presentations, conversations, and sermons. From January 16 to February 25, I coordinated five international visits (one was only for one day), including schedules, accounting, and activities. It was a lot. 

I'm thankful for Raúl helping me, for other people at the Nehemiah Center chipping in wherever they could, and for some great team leaders. We got through, and I would say every visit was successful!

There was a point at the end of January when I woke up in the mornings not knowing how I was going to make it through the day talking and walking. But I did. Every day. Because His mercies are new every morning.

Yes, things went wrong during each visit. Some problems were minor, and some were major, but His mercies were new every morning. 

The Lord is my portion. He grants enough to get me through each day. I saw him moving in real and tangible ways over the past few months, and I hope to share those stories with you via this blog while I'm on home service from now until the end of April. 

And for those of you facing challenges, facing disappointments, facing exciting new things, facing exhaustion, or facing whatever is going on in your life - remember that His mercies are new every morning.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Home at the Nehemiah Center

Today at the Nehemiah Center we had a graduation for all of the courses from Better Churches II. There were 59 graduates present, and some of them had participated in two separate courses. The courses included:

1) Presupuesto del Buen Sentido (Good Sense) from Kingdom Finances, which was a pilot program about budgeting and learning how to manage finances. The takeaway from the course was that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but that power in Christ requires good planning - not just random hoping.

2) Consejería en Familia (Family Counseling) from DEFE, a program for pastoral couples to strengthen their own relationship and learn how to counsel others better. These pastors felt that they were pastored in the course, and they expressed appreciation for their mentors, Luz and Manuel.

3) Salmos de la Calle (Street Psalms) from DEFE learned that we are all singers of God's psalms. Participants felt inspired to be involved in their communities, using art and asking beautiful questions.

4) Instituto Timoteo (Timothy Leadership Institute) from DEFE, where participants who were pastors and church leaders learned about different modules related to pastoral care, family violence, preaching, and church planning. The pastor who spoke about his experience attested to the changes that have happened in his church and the work that God is bringing about in a new church that has been planted as a result of their participation in Timothy and the other church planting course.

5) Más Iglesia (More Church - Church Planting) from DEFE taught participants principles for healthy churches and how to multiply them, either through planting a new church or adding to the one they currently have. Participants talked about how much they learned and how much they appreciated the course.

As the participants gave testimonies of their time at the Nehemiah Center over the past two years - starting with Better Churches 1: Take the Pulse of Your Church and continuing with one or two of the above courses, they expressed appreciation for the facilitators at the Nehemiah Center. Some said that the Nehemiah Center feels like home for them.

For me, this was very humbling and encouraging to hear. Mentoring and pastoring pastors and church leaders is not an easy job, but it's also not very flashy or glamorous. It doesn't cost very much money in and of itself, these visits and coffees and hours dedicated to listening. The overhead for these kinds of activities is very high comparatively because someone needs to pay salaries for facilitators and cleaning ladies and cooks and security guards. However, in today's day and age, relationship is a scarce commodity and it needs to be brought to the forefront. While these pastors are in Nehemiah Center trainings, they are meeting other pastors and forming support networks that will last much longer than a year or two. They have learned that they have friends, resources, and a place to call home at the Nehemiah Center.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Significant events

Today is the day after the world changed 500 years ago. In 1517 on October 31, Martin Luther is said to have begun the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the door of a church. How could he have known that his desire to reform the Catholic church would later result in a myriad of Protestant churches? It makes me ponder how the actions we take today affect the lives of people years and years later. It also makes me think about how striking it is that all of the churches I work with - both in Nicaragua and in North America - owe their existence to Martin Luther. What a motive for celebration!

The month of October was a busy one for me, and not because of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I'd like to write about each one of these events more in-depth, but for now I'll just give you the highlights.

October 10

The Nehemiah Center held a "Vision Conference" for new pastors in Managua to come, meet the Nehemiah Center, and possibly sign-up to receive training in the coming year. We had 54 participants though not all were pastors of formal churches like we were hoping for. After a devotional time and a plenary speaker, the participants were divided into three groups. Each group rotated around three workshops: The Context of the Church, The Context of Managua, and the Nehemiah Center and its program Better Churches 1. I assisted my colleague Freddy in the Managua workshop. We had a photo collage that people looked at and talked about what the photos provoked in them. Then we discussed how Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem with all its flaws, and we prayed for Managua. After the workshops finished, we adjoined to the large ranchón area for feedback and lunch.
Praying for Managua

October 13 and 27
The León pastors began the Daniel Plan study. They opted for a more informal format than the pastors in Chinandega who had participated in three workshops facilitated by Manuel at the Nehemiah Center. The León pastors decided to meet every other week and asked me to facilitate the study. They have challenged themselves to lose 4 pounds in the next two weeks, and they are encouraging each other to have healthier lifestyles.

October 20
For the first time ever, we invited all the participants in the Church Friendship Program who live in Nicaragua to come to the Nehemiah Center to meet each other, share experiences, and give input for the program next year. I'm still working on going through all the questionnaires and notes that we took that day! I was very thankful for Raúl's presence taking notes and leading games with the 18 participants who arrived. Only 2 pastoral couples didn't show up out of the 11 who participate in the program. Praise God for a great turnout, and they all asked to do this again (and on an international scale!) next year!

October 22
In Acahualinca the 4 churches hosted a marriage conference for the couples in the church. In total with kids and servers there were about 60 people present, with 20 couples who participated. Pastor Andy, formerly from Oskaloosa, shared about the promises that couples should make to each other, and Pastor Henry from Acahualinca talked about the enemies of marriage. It was a sweltering afternoon, but we made it through by listening to some good music, playing some fun games, and eating good food at the end.

October 24 The Chinandega couples finished their study of the Daniel Plan with an afternoon potluck and prayer in Chinandega. We focused on the importance of friendship to continue to make changes. It's been a little hard to foster fellowship lately, but I trust that the Spirit knows what it's doing. We really enjoyed all the dishes that everyone brought to share at the end!

October 28
I handed over the keys to my house in León. My roommate moved out on the 10th, and since I have been traveling between Managua and León so much, it doesn't make sense to have a big, empty house to pay rent on. Plus, it's dangerous to leave a house without anyone in it, and the roof was leaking very badly during the rains. So I sold some things and put the rest of it in storage. For now I am house-sitting for some friends, and lots of people have offered me their extra beds when I need a place to stay. Between December and May I'll be with so many teams and traveling to the States that I won't need a place for more than a month of nights! It is definitely interesting to know that I'm a nomad right now, but I'm thankful for all the gestures of hospitality from people that I have received.

Now you know why I didn't blog all month! I've still been involved with the Nehemiah Center daily grind, meetings, Dordt students, and other random things. Perhaps one day, like Martin Luther, my actions will affect others' lives in ways that I can't even imagine. Soli deo gloria.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I love to ride my bicycle

Here in León, my primary transportation is a bicycle. The pastors joke by calling it my car. Some of you may remember the bicycle blog from a few years ago, and I still have the same one although Raúl and a friend modified it quite a bit several months ago. When Dale from Resonate Global Mission came in June, he took some footage of me riding through the streets of León. By the way, I only rode this slow because Dale asked me to - normally I zip along! I hope you enjoy a glimpse of life here!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Living in the gap

During my parents' recent visit, my mom commented to me, "It's easier for you to speak in Spanish now than English, isn't it."

The question has been echoing around in my head ever since. Is it? Do I live more easily in this Nicaraguan setting than in the North American setting? If so, what does that mean for me, for my ministry, for my constituents?

I haven't come up with any answers, just the beginnings of explanations.

Yes, most of my life, especially the emotional part, happens in Spanish. I am dating a Nicaraguan man. I live with a Nicaraguan woman. The people I call family here are Nicaraguan. My work bridges Nicaragua and North America, translating and interpreting between English- and Spanish-speakers.

Speaking in Spanish is like jumping in a pool for me. It's refreshing. I feel good speaking Spanish. I couldn't survive only speaking Spanish, just like I couldn't survive if I couldn't breathe air. Breathing air - like speaking English - is necessary. But maybe I prefer being in the water.

As I become more entrenched in Nicaragua, putting down roots and building relationships with people here, I have come to realize that the relationships that last are those with Nicaraguans. The missionary community here is very transient. Although there is a strong North American presence with the missionary and tourist communities in Nicaragua and especially León, the same people don't stay very long. So I have been focusing on the relationships that will be here long-term, and in the meantime, I think I have neglected some of my distance relationships. Forgive me for that, friends and supporters.

I have realized that there needs to be a balance. My ministry revolves around being able to bridge the cultural and language gaps between Nicaraguans and North Americans. Thanks to God, I think I am pretty good at it. However, it takes a lot of work to balance all these circles and relationships. North American family and friends, Nicaraguan family and friends, Nicaraguan pastoral networks and churches, North American pastors and churches, supporters of my ministry and beneficiaries of my ministry, Resonate Global Mission (formerly known as Christian Reformed World Missions) and the Nehemiah Center.

Some days I lean on one leg more than the other, and some days I can't stand doing the splits over the gap anymore. But by God's grace I'm trying. Trial and error, refocusing and trying again... That's what this life is about, isn't it? I'm open to advice. And again, sorry if you have felt neglected. Shoot me a note, and I'll remedy our lack of communication. Thank you for hanging in here with me as I struggle to live between two worlds.

And my comfort in all of this? We are all pilgrims passing through. This world is not our home. We are longing for the day when every nation and tribe and tongue stands before the Lamb, adoring God as one. Maybe living between worlds is just preparing me for the next life, giving me a taste of the glory of unity.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Skinny cows

When Joseph rose to power in Egypt, it was all because he knew his cattle. The pharaoh dreamed about 7 fat cows and 7 skinny cows, among other things. God revealed to Joseph the meaning of the dream, and Joseph became the second-in-command of Egypt. The 7 fat cows represented 7 good years of harvests, better than ever before. And the 7 skinny cows represented years of famine that would wipe away the good years that had come before.

At the Nehemiah Center, many of the pastors joke about the early years as being "fat cow" years. The programs had enough funding to take pastors to the beach for trainings, eat well, spend the nights in hotels, etc. Now we are living in the "skinny cow" years of financial crisis in the world economy and also in the Nehemiah Center budget. Thanks to God we have been able to make ends meet, but there is little cushion or margin for error in the budget. We definitely aren't spending any extra on luxuries.

The courtyard at the Nehemiah Center

However, the years of skinny cows are the ones in which God makes key moves. In the story of Joseph, the famine extended to his homeland of Canaan, forcing his family to go to Egypt where they heard there was grain stored up. The famine forced his brothers to desperately return to Egypt after their first encounter to rescue their imprisoned brother Simeon and reunite Joseph with his little brother, Benjamin. The skinny cow years weren't close to over, so Joseph invited his father and their entire household to move to Egypt. The skinny cow years brought unity and reconciliation.

Asking pastors in Chinandega to support the Nehemiah Center

I've witnessed a similar thing happen at the Nehemiah Center. Over the past year I have been involved with a funding campaign to raise funds for the administration of the Nehemiah Center. People at the Nehemiah Center have worked extra hard to be good stewards of our financial resources, and we have decreased our budgetary needs in many areas. However, we have also had to open up and be vulnerable with the pastors we serve. For the first time in Nehemiah Center history, we asked local churches to contribute offerings to the Nehemiah Center without being directly involved in training. The local church has been rallying to the call and expressing their support of the Nehemiah Center through words and finances. It's not enough to sustain the entire Nehemiah Center, but it's a start. Without the financial crisis, we wouldn't have had the courage or desperation to go and ask for support. Nothing much would have changed, and things would have stayed as they were; separate, dependent, alienated. By asking the Nicaraguan church for support, we have learned to trust God more, trust our local churches more, and trust ourselves more. Together, we can do this.

The first Nicaraguan donation to the Trumpet Call campaign from Getsemaní church in León

Maybe the years of the skinny cows aren't so bad after all.