Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Picking Up Prostitutes (and other biblical activities)

prostitute_2183530bQuite a few years ago I was serving as youth pastor in a small country church. We were foster parents at the time, so we had been reaching out to the biological mother of one of the children in our home. She agreed to attend church with us one Sunday, so I drove down to meet her at a bus stop in a town to the south and give her a ride the rest of the way. On that particular morning she was a no-show, and I started the drive back north, somewhat frustrated over my wasted trip.

As I passed through another town I saw a lady hitchhiking on the side of the road. I felt the Spirit prompt me, so I stopped and picked her up. She told me she was trying to get to church and then proceeded to tell me her story. She had been a prostitute for years and only two weeks before had found out she had AIDS (a death sentence in those days). She was alone, scared and seeking answers. So as I drove her to the church she was seeking to find, I talked to her about how much Jesus loves her and how He could change her heart and her life. She wept, I wept, we prayed together and I dropper her off at the door of the church with a hug.

I finally made it back to our church and the service began. Each week we had a time in our service where people could share prayer requests, so I took that time to ask for prayer for this young woman. Of course, I started it by saying, “I picked up a prostitute this morning” and then told the story. (That is probably not the best introduction to a prayer request.)

As soon as the service was over I was cornered by a woman from our church who proceeded to chew me out. She told me that I had acted inappropriately and placed both the church’s and my reputation at risk. “Do you have any idea what kind of reputation you could get doing things like that?”

I paused for a moment, took a deep breath and smiled. “Yes, I do. If our church keeps doing those kinds of things we could get a reputation like Jesus had. We could actually become known as friends of sinners.” That quickly ended the conversation as she turned and stomped off to go talk to some of the Board members who confronted me as well.

So, why am I bringing that long ago event up now? Well, I have been thinking a lot about what it really means to live a life that moves in harmony with the Bible. I believe we often think we know what that means, only to be far from the mark. Most of us have a picture of what a Christ-follower looks like. We have gotten it from our parents, our church, personal experiences with believers and/or popular culture. But often that picture does not line up with the Word of God, even when we think it does.

PleaserStop for a moment and think about the heroes of Scripture, including Jesus Himself. What did they look like? How did they act? Were they safe, predictable and well respected? Were they the suit and tie crowd? Were they good stewards as the church would describe Christian stewardship now? Did they fit into a mold at all?

Over and over when you look at the men and women of faith you see people who were scandalous, reckless, dangerous and unpredictable barbarians. They were unconcerned with their reputation but very concerned with God’s voice which led them to do crazy things. They touched the untouchables, loved the unlovable and did the impossible while the religious crowd told them they were crazy. I believe that most of the faithful people of scripture, including Jesus, would be quickly rejected were they to walk into the typical church today because they do not fit our unbiblical view of what a Christ-follower should be.

Please understand, these crazy radicals of Scripture were not that way because they were seeking to be crazy. They were that way because they obeyed God’s call, and He asked them to do things that, from a human viewpoint, were crazy and reckless. They were not lunatics, they were God-followers.

I am, by far, not a good example of a true disciple. I fall short in so many areas. But over the years Wanda and I have gotten a few things right. However, in the few things we did get right, we almost always experienced resistance from the church. Consider the following:

  1. When we started fostering back in 1992 we were told that we were being irresponsible by exposing our children and the children of our church to “those troubled kids.”
  2. When we started adopting after having five biological children we were told we were being irresponsible by having so many children.
  3. When pastoring a church plant that was reaching severely troubled families I was told by other pastors that “You can’t build a church on those kinds of people.”
  4. When we started downsizing our lives and giving the money to ministry we were told that we were not being responsible stewards.
  5. When we decided to move to Guatemala and begin this ministry I was told that I was a bad husband and father for putting my family at risk.

Hidden in each of these objections were the lies that God calls His children to be safe, careful and well-financed. It is okay to help others as long as it is not risky and doesn’t demand sacrifice. A good Christian looks out for himself and his family first and foremost.

roselenses-1c1vn4tIn reality, many of us believe that we are living biblical lives but in reality are only living churchical lives. (Yes, I made up that word. Deal with it.) The filter of the traditional church has caused us to interpret scripture and discipleship through a dark lens. As a result, we are getting a lot of it wrong.

And, yes, I realize that I am likely getting it wrong in some areas as well. The problem with having a filter that skews your perception is that you usually don’t realize you have it because your perception is skewed. But God is challenging me anew to head back to His Word with fresh eyes, trying to forget what I think I know so that I can learn what I really need to know. So that I can learn what it really means to be Christ-like in a world that really needs Jesus.

I believe that if each of us would do that, we would become far less safe, tame and predictable and spend more time picking up prostitutes. I know…scandalous, right?

If this strikes a chord in you, I would encourage you to pick up the book, The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus. It is a worthwhile and, perhaps, life changing read.

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Family and Opened Eyes

IMG_2927Over the last 10 days we had the privilege of hosting my sister, Kathy, her husband, Bob, my brother, Rusty and his wife, Vanessa. This has been a very special time for me to have them with us. It is only the second time I have seen them since moving to Guatemala, with the last time being my mother’s funeral in October of 2012.

It was a great time, but it felt surreal at moments. When I was a child I remember occasionally encountering one of my teachers from school in a store. It was a strange thing for me, because I could not imagine that teachers had a life outside of school. Yet there they were, intruding into my world while doing things like shopping, which real people do. (This experience was especially traumatic during the summer months because they served as a reminder that they were waiting for me at the end of vacation.)

My time with my family was something like that, only much more powerful and much, much nicer. My brother and sister, with whom I had grown up were suddenly in our new world of Guatemala for the first time. But instead of being an intrusion like my grade school teachers, they were a very welcomed presence in our home and ministry. And suddenly the North Carolina of my childhood came together with the Guatemala of my present, and it felt so very good. Two very different worlds came together and blended beautifully.

IMG_2954During their time here they had the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with our kids and to get to know the children in our group home. They also had the opportunity to travel with me and see our rural village ministry first-hand. Kathy and Bob spent a day with me down in Las Palmas and Rusty and Vanessa traveled with me to San Pablo La Laguna. Likewise, Rusty and Bob were able to travel with me to Zone 18 in Guatemala City to deliver a new wheelchair to a young man named Brandon and measure another child for a needed chair. Each of these times out were great, as they exposed my family to our work. But they also served another purpose. Each of my siblings and sibling-in-laws were able to help me see both Guatemala and our ministry through fresh eyes.

We have lived and served in Guatemala for over three years now, and it is easy to get used to the things we see on a daily basis. To be honest, I now take for granted things like erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, power outages, beautiful mountain views, mud-floored huts, rough mountain roads, widow-maker showerheads and poverty.

IMG_2970Yep, you read that right. I am now used to the poverty we encounter every day. I can step into a tiny, one room house with mud floors and large holes in the wall that is filled to the brim with a family dressed in ragged clothes. I can visit with them, make a delivery of food, formula or medicine and then leave without really seeing the desperate nature of their situation.

But my family opened my eyes anew and helped me see again. On numerous occasions we left a home, village or school and I turned to see tears in their eyes. And in each situation I realized that my eyes were dry. In each case, my heart remained unbroken by the things that break the heart of God. And that bothered me. How, in such a short time, have I gotten used to the things that used to make me sob.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there is more to caring for the poor and desperate than shedding tears. I realize that a person can weep about oppression, abuse and poverty and then walk away and do nothing about them. In that case, it is just empty emotions. But, likewise, we can also enter in those situations, help alleviate the suffering and then walk away having done a good deed without ever seeking to feel and share in their suffering. And my family helped me realize that I have been doing just that.

IMG_2925It is a defensive posture that I have assumed. Somewhere along the way I decided that it is just too hard to feel so much. So, little by little I have placed a wall around my heart to protect it. That is my being a coward in the midst of heroes, because each day these families face their pain and suffering and keep going, most with a smile on their face and hope for the future. Yet here I am protecting my heart by not even investing Christ-like empathy for their situation.

When I moved here I vowed that would never happen to me. I pledged that I would always keep my heart soft and my eyes open. But my family has shown me just how far I have strayed from that commitment. And so, I am re-entering the arena with a softer heart and the desperate prayer that God will help me keep it soft. I need Jesus to give me His eyes anew every day lest I walk past suffering without really seeing. If you are one of my faithful prayer partners I ask you to please pray that on my behalf regularly.

SAM_5370On a brighter and much cuter note, we received two new children into our group home on Friday, February 28. Since then, I feel like I am seeing double. Twin girls, Raquel and Ester, have invaded, and these two little ones have added a spark to our home and made it even busier. They are 2 1/2 years old and have microcephalus that has delayed their cognitive and physical development. They seem to function in both areas with the skills and development of the typical 14 – 18 month old. We are still having them evaluated to see what interventions they may need. This involves appointments with our local doctor, a pediatrician, a neurologist and numerous tests. Our big concern is that often microcephalus is a worsening condition as the brain continues to grow. Our desire is to provide medical treatment to minimize the impact of this condition. Meanwhile, they are keeping us running and laughing.

SAM_5389One of the things we discovered almost immediately was that they were used to having their own way. They seemed to believe that if their tantrum was loud and long enough we would cave to their demands. They learned quickly that we don’t negotiate. (It reminds me of an old joke: What’s the difference between a two year old and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.) Gradually the tantrums are diminishing and life is settling into a rhythm again. Please pray for Raquel and Ester.

Well, that’s all for now. Sorry for the erratic nature of this blog in recent months. I will try to update with better regularity.

Blessing from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew