Tuesday, May 24, 2016

a party in honor of clara

my grandma's best friend clara passed away not long ago.  clara was an amazingly kind, honest, and funny lady.  she was 90 - pictured here on the far right, with me and my grandma last year.

clara has been a supporter of our ministry since the day we left for guatemala.  for almost 8 years now, he support check has arrived in the mail on the first of the month, every month, without fail.

clara always had a special place in her heart for girls.  she had been active in community projects and ministries for girls and women practically her entire life.

so, when we received some $ that was donated at her funeral, we knew that we wanted to do something special with it.  we told clara's story to all of the Rinas (our girls soccer team), and threw a party, in clara's honor.

in order to fully appreciate this, you must know that these girls absolutely have NEVER done anything like this.  in a culture where girls/women are abused and ignored (hence the reason we long to change the men of the village), they just don't get loved on much.

most of these girls live brutally tough lives.  many of them they hike far up into the mountains, every day, to cut down firewood and hike it back down on their heads.

they raise baby brothers and sisters, acting like "mommies" when they are still young girls themselves.  they cook, clean, and work - as if their own childhood has been robbed from them.

needless to say it was an absolute joy to watch them run around a gym full of inflatable slides and rides for day, followed by a pizza party!

we wrapped up the day with a devotion from the bible, and reminded the girls of how much God loves them.  i think clara would have been very pleased.

thanks to my mom and grandma, for helping us honor clara's life and legacy with this special event.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

osteoarthritis, ruptured discs, a blown knee, bot flies, lupus, and more!

my left knee has been a disaster for almost 3 years now.  dozens of cortisone shots and meniscus surgery hasn't done the trick.  finally, after a knee scope about 8 months ago, i found out i had 3rd stage osteoarthritis.  basically, that means that i have almost no cartilage left.  doc said no more running, or impact of any kind (this caught me off guard, needless to say), and that within 5-10 years i'd certainly need a knee replacement.

at first it came as a blow.  i run and exercise on a daily basis, and play soccer 5 times a week!  but it only took an hour or two for God to take me to philippians 3:8.  what a joy it is when God allows to take something we love, and consider it a loss for Christ's sake.

then...  a few months ago, i was in honduras visiting the davis family when paul blew out his knee in a basketball game.  complete patella tendon tear.  major surgery, 9-12 months rehab, etc, etc.  pretty routine i guess.  but throw in that all of this is happening in a 3rd world country where major surgery may pose certain "risks" that aren't much of a concern in suburban america, and the stakes go up at least a little :)

still... all things considered, no big deal.  normal stuff.

then...  for months my wife had been complaining about some back-neck-shoulder pain.  she insisted it must just be a nagging injury, to give it time.  (for those of you that know kerrie, you know that "give it time" is her answer to almost any ailment!)  suddenly, her shoulder pain worked its way down her arm - then her fingers went numb.  we went in for an MRI.  when the doc put it up on the screen, he visibly winced (not a good sign!).  she has 4 ruptured discs in her spine - one of which was severely herniated.  she would need regular cortisone shots, some directly into the shoulder, and 3 months in a neck brace.

ok... things are getting progressively worse here.  but still manageable.

soon, we would get a call from the davis' in honduras.  their daughter shae (14) has a really, really strange deal going on.  she has a literal outbreak of bot-fly bites.  bot flies drop eggs on your body, who then bury into your skin where they camp out, grow, and live for a while.  (they can also be injected through mosquito bites.)  either way, they form a huge and uncomfortable knot, with an opening about the size of a pencil eraser (a literal hole on your body). eventually, they must be removed by covering the hole so they can't breathe, and bringing them to the surface.  when they come to the surface, the giant maggot-like worms are painfully pulled from the opening.  sometimes, 3 or 4 can be removed from each hole.

you think that sounds bad?  consider that poor shae was having these bites pop up all over her body.  arms, legs, neck, stomach, and even on her scalp.  around 15 of them!  google "bot fly removal" and take a look... and trust me when i say if we posted a video from shae's recent situation it would be as grossly entertaining as anything out there.

to make things crazier...  dr. carlos (our doc in guatemala) insisted that shae come to guatemala so that he can administer the treatment and observe her himself.  so the next day, jessica flew shae to guatemala to stay with us for the next month.  every morning and night, dr carlos comes over to painfully extract the worms from shae's body.  as the tears run down her face, mixed feelings fill my heart.  i am sad for her pain and i wish i could switch places with her!  but i am thankful that we can be here for her, and take care of her for the davis'.  i am thankful that she is perfectly comfortable and trusts uncle brock and aunt kerrie to care for her.  i know its not easy for paul and jess to not be here as she goes through this, but i am so thankful that we are family in this way.

as we prayed a couple nights ago for shae, we celebrated and thanked God for this unique and special way that he has called her to suffer.  does that sound crazy?  maybe it is, but isn't that how God tells us to respond to suffering when it comes our way?  comfortable christianity avoids suffering.  we run from it, assume its bad, and argue that surely God wouldn't want his children to suffer.  but look at what the bible says:

~ we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing what it produces in us...  romans 5:3-5
~ after we've suffered for a little while, God will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us... 1 peter 5:10
~ we must count it all joy when we meet trials of many kinds... james 1:2-4
~ the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us... romans 8:18
~ in the world you will have tribulation.  but take heart, i have overcome the world!  john 16:33
~ indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in christ jesus will be persecuted... 2 timothy 3:12
~ you shall not only believe in christ, but suffer with him for his sake...  philippians 1:29
~ this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison... 2 corinthians 4:17
~ blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial... james 1:12
~ i may know the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... philippians 3:10
~ though he slay me, i will hope in him... job 13:15
~ i rejoice in my sufferings for your sake... colossians 1:24

amazingly, that is just a quick sampling.  its in every book of the new testament.  suffering for the glory of Christ is a critical, foundational truth repeated over and over again in the word of God.  i would argue that it is more essential than many of the "what we believe" items on most church's websites.  while the other items listed may be true, most are not given near the time and energy in scripture that "suffering for God's glory" is.  its an imperative prerequisite to having faith in Jesus that is conveniently left out of the comfortable christian conversation.

so we give thanks.  God is preparing in us an eternal weight of glory.  i'm not saying i understand it perfectly (i don't).  but i believe it fully.  i don't know how this brutal case of bot flies will produce something wonderful in shae's life.  right now, its simply hellish for her to go through.  but i trust God that there is far more going on than i can see.

i believe God is doing amazing things at BVSA.  in guatemala, young men are rising up and fighting against generations of abuse and injustice.  in honduras, the groundwork is being laid for the same.

i also know there exists an enemy who works hard to stymie good progress.  he works to frustrate and anger us.  he works to distract us from our mission.

therefore we turn to God's word for strength - not to human wisdom.  humans tell us what we can do better, in order to avoid suffering of any kind.  meanwhile God not only tells us how to handle suffering, but to fully expect it.  that it's an absolute given if we are to call ourselves disciples of Jesus.  to take joy in it!  we must embrace the truth that it is an honor to join Christ in his sufferings.  i have failed at that in the past, and i don't want to anymore.

well...  in addition to all of this, jessica continues fighting with her lupus and all of the challenges that it brings into her daily life.  its a daily grind for her and i'm always encouraged by how well she handles it.  also, walda has suddenly been struggling with a mysterious loss of strength/use of her hands.  she literally goes to pick up something as simple as a cup and doesn't have the strength to do it.  she's been to the doctor, had xrays and and MRI done, and everything comes back normal.

all of these things i have mentioned, if dealt with independently at different times, probably wouldn't be so overwhelming.  the fact that all of these things are striking our BVSA family at once is, to me, nothing less than a confirmation that God is at work.  it is exciting!  please pray for us...  not that the suffering be taken away, but for endurance to see through the work that God has called us to.

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."
1 Peter 4:12 

tonight i am giving thanks to God for the suffering.  i am praying for kerrie, paul, jessica, shae, and walda - that they would not lose heart.  that they would rejoice - knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

we also continue to pray for those around the world who suffer far more, where christianity is illegal and/or persecuted.  lets not take for granted in freedom what they don't take for granted in persecution.  that is, being bold in sharing the truth and the saving grace of jesus christ with all people.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

why the thugs don't much matter

after posting my blog about the men of my village ("the thugs of BV") i received several responses - and i appreciate all of them!  some contained advice about what we can do differently.  a few simply gave heartfelt encouragements.

in our talks as a family and ministry team here at BVSA, God often reminds us that sometimes, when things get bad enough, it takes "generational turnover" in order for real change to take place.  so many examples in scripture speak to that fact.  and while its an encouragement during times of frustration, its also a daunting thought.

one friend shared with me a story about an unrelated conversation he had with a friend of his recently.  they were talking about how employees in certain places, like hospitals and banks, have to cover up their tattoos while on the job.  one of them asked "i wonder when that will change".  after some thought, they determined that it would probably change when the bosses are the ones with tattoos.

get where he was going?

another friend, experienced in tough cross-cultural missions, put a similar encouragement this way:

"What you're doing with the young men you lead will change all that!  I'm sorry but you'll just have to wait.  And if it's any consolation,  Paul was most probably beheaded before Corinth got straightened out." 

ha!  another "encouraging yet daunting" thought!

these encouragements are SO appreciated.  this is the love and support of a community of believers, albeit long-distance community!

and here's why the thugs don't much matter anyway. (in case you didn't read that particular blog, by "thugs" i am talking about the set-in-their-ways, beat-your-wife-and-kids, opposed-to-the-gospel, men of of our village).  as frustrating as they may be, the thugs aren't going to stall our momentum!  check out these highlights from just the last week:
  • 2 more young men were baptized on sunday
  • pato (17yrs old) intervened as his brother-in-law was beating his sister a few days ago.  despite his own mom yelling at him to stay out of it, that "he has the right to beat her if he wants to", pato couldn't help it.  james 4:17 was ringing in his years from our devotions that week.  if i know the right thing to do, and i don't do it, i sin.  so with his own family against him, he jumped in.  and he is one strong kid!
  • following the altercation, pato came up to "youth night" in the gym - he was crying and distraught.  allan and wilmer met him at the door.  they prayed with him and assured him that he did the right thing.  reassurance and prayer was exactly what he needed in that moment - and he got it from 2 older rhino graduates!
  • jhoni jumped in to stop his older brother freddy from beating his wife.  again, amazingly, against the wishes of his mom.  she screamed "its not your place to get involved" as he received the blows intended for his sister-in-law.
there is no doubt that God is at work.  deep generational chains of abuse and opposition to the gospel are being broken.  a new generation of men / husbands / dads / leaders are rising up!