Sunday, November 4, 2012

Excuses - Becky

Our team has had some exciting things going on lately. Most notably, we (well, the guys; I just deal with the paperwork) have started installing water filters in the homes of people in the community of Yankee. Along with the actual installations, we have been working with leaders of the community to plan the next steps and to get other members of the community excited and prepared for what we're doing. We have figured out with these leaders ways of making our projects "not just a handout," and people seem to be genuinely interested in helping their neighbors.

All of this is wonderful, but it has taken us quite a while to get to this point. Living in not just another culture with another language but also an actual third-world country makes things hard. Add to this the spiritual element in which something "bad" always seems to happen when we're trying so hard to do "good," and life can be quite an uphill battle at times. I mean, as I'm sure you have noticed, we can't even blog consistently. (This time I blame being sick for multiple weeks. Thankfully I have finally emerged from the cave, but now it seems like everyone around me has gotten sick. I think it's just that time of year.)

Most of the time we like to talk about the positive aspects of our lives here, but today I want to share some of the things that make it very hard ever to get anything done. Come visit us and you'll realize how true these "excuses" are. Let's entitle this list "I was going to, but...":

I was going to, but…
  1. “The truck I was going to use broke down and all other vehicles were already being used.”
  2. “I couldn't get a taxi to stop for me.”
  3. “I needed so-and-so, but he/she was sick.”
  4. “I was sick.”
  5. “I ran out of materials and the store was closed.”
  6. “I searched all over the city and no one has the thing I need.”
  7. “The power was out.”
  8. “The water was out.”
  9. “The Internet was out.”
  10. “It was raining.”
  11. “The road was blocked with peaceful protesters.”
  12. “The person I was supposed to meet never showed up.”
  13. “So-and-so never answered his/her phone.”
  14. “I ran out of minutes on my phone.”
  15. “I dropped my phone in the toilet.”
  16. “My computer’s battery died because it won't take a charge from the power cord.”
  17. “We didn't realize that that day was a national holiday.”
  18. “Somebody’s family member died.”
  19. “I couldn't understand so-and-so’s Spanish.”
  20. “So-and-so couldn't understand my Spanish.”
  21. “So-and-so was here from out of town and we had to take advantage of the opportunity.”
  22. “I had to wait in my house all week for a contractor to show up.”
  23. “I couldn't get in the mission because they changed the lock and I don't have the key yet.”
  24. “The small thing I was going to do first turned into something more difficult than I expected.
  25. “Something more important came up.”

Every single one of these things has actually happened to at least one person on our team. Most of them happen multiple times and to multiple people. Actually, it is quite common to experience at least one of these things every single day. I am not exaggerating. The sad thing is that this is just the short list; I could probably come up with ten more things right now without thinking too hard about it.

BUT, the thing is that we are getting things done. We have so many reasons why each day should be a total failure, but we are seeing a lot of success right now. Before it seems like I am bragging, I want to say unequivocally that I attribute this success to God. It has to be Him because, otherwise, it doesn't make any sense. Yes, I'm sure part of it has to do with the wonderful people with whom we work, but Who put these particular people together in the first place? Even when we human beings drop the ball, based on how I see things go, it is obvious to me that Someone has everything under control.

Let me sum up with these points:

  1. I am very thankful for how God is working in our lives and the lives of those around us here.
  2. You can take encouragement that any manner of excuses can be overcome. If God wants something to happen, it will happen, despite whatever obstacles we can identify.
  3. Even though living there is logistically very difficult, it is possible to be extremely happy somewhere because of the people you are with (more on that later... maybe).

What excuses are holding you back from doing what you feel needs to be done? What good thing is it that you're trying to do?


Sunday, September 30, 2012

One Year! - Becky

Yesterday (Saturday, September 29) we celebrated the one year anniversary of our move to Nicaragua. We had a big party at our house for all of the mission staff and their families. Despite me having had to do more of the preparations myself with Tommy's foot putting him mostly out of commission (a story for another time), I felt that things went really well. I am SO appreciative of all of the help I received from different people to make the party a big success. I especially want to thank the other members of my team for their help with transportation and with the food. Most of all, I have to give props to Chris for doing the chicken and "perfecting" the chili.  (And thank you, Shiela Holland, for the chili powder!)

This past year has been crazy, mostly in a good way. Sure, we have dealt with a lot of stress over various things, but in the end WE REALLY LOVE IT HERE. We love the people and we feel good about what we're trying to do here. Thanks again (we can never say this enough) to everyone who contributes to us both financially and spiritually/emotionally. We really couldn't be here without you. I have to say that we can really tell when people are praying for us over here; it makes a major difference. Thank You, LORD, for the first of even more wonderful years (we hope) here in Nicaragua!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Going to and Returning to Home (Tommy)

Becky and I recently had the opportunity to take a three weeks vacation back home to the United States.  Charleston, SC is our home; it's where we were born, raised and where we left from when we came to live here in Nicaragua.  Home is so many things really; people, places, sights, sounds, smells, feelings, memories, etc.

We had a really good time experiencing all those things again after being away in a foreign culture for 10 months.  I particularly enjoyed eating at some of our favorite restaurants,  some more than twice.  For me it was a chance to recharge and be refreshed in a lot of ways.  I don't think that I realized how tired and burned out I was from ten months of culture shock, language acquisition, work and being stared at all the time.  Only once I was able to ease back into the comforts of my home culture did I come to understand the extent of my malaise.

The thing that stuck out to me the most about being back in the United States is that everything is really nice and clean and orderly.  There isn't a ton of trash in the streets, drunk men passed out in puddles of mud along the side of the road nor hundreds of near dead parasitic dogs wandering the streets looking for the next meal that will only go to feed the worms crawling through their skeletal bodies.  Now don't get me wrong, Nicaragua is a truly beautiful country in many ways but it doesn't rival the States as far as things just being in a state of "niceness" if you will.

Being home was great and it only took a couple of days for the weirdness of things to wear off and for me to feel like I was "home" again.  However, after the first week or two I really started to miss being in Nicaragua.  I missed our friends and our church and the work that we so strongly believe in.  Although little thoughts about how nice it would be to just return to the States and live there again did cross my mind now and then I can honestly say that the draw to return to the land of lakes and volcanoes outweighed the longing for the comfort and ease of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Looking out the window of the plane as we made our approach into Managua at night I started to feel a little worried, it all seemed so foreign to me all over again.  I had felt so "at home" in the States again and I wasn't sure if I would so easily be able to slide back into my Nicaraguan ways.  I was pleasantly surprised/relieved once we landed and sat our bags down in the hotel in Managua at how very normal it all seemed to me.  The next day as we drove through Managua to do a little shopping before heading back to Jinotega I felt totally at ease, in fact I felt "at home".  I experienced that same feeling of comfort, familiarity and ease that I had felt while being in Charleston.

I think now I not only know in my head but in my heart also that I have two homes and two worlds within which I live.  I love both of them dearly, neither one is perfect or better than the other, they're just different, and spending long periods of time in either one in no way diminishes my ability to be "at home" in the other.

Monday, September 3, 2012

There and Back Again (Becky)


A lot has happened since the last time I blogged; hopefully I can explain it all okay.  To recap the last few posts, Tommy and I waited for something like 8 months before we were FINALLY able to move into our rental house.  The very next day, we were on our way to Managua to pick up his mom and nephew who were here for a week.  We had a really great time with them, but we were still exhausted from having painted our walls, dealt with a myriad of contractors, and quickly moved all of our belongings into our house.  With no couch or dining room furniture, we were all just sitting in plastic chairs, but it was just good to see our family.  As soon as we had them back to the airport, we turned right back around to pick up our friend Bri who was here for 3 weeks (see my last post).  She was very helpful, and while she was here we were able to start getting back into "work" mode after having had so much of our time and focus on our house.  We took her back to the airport at the beginning of August, and then it was just the two of us alone... in our own home... for the first time since March of 2011 (when we moved out of our house in Summerville into Tommy's sister's house where we prepared for our move to Nicaragua).

At the same time, we were wrapping up "group season" at the mission (a very intense time where groups from the States help with all sorts of projects at the mission, including some of our Hope for Life projects).  Things were going to slow down and get "back to normal".  With our Spanish teacher no longer having to act as a group translator, we were going to get started again with our Spanish lessons.  We were going to get ourselves organized so we could be more purposefully productive.  We were going to get some actual furniture for our house so it could be a place for us to recharge as well as to spend some time with our Nicaraguan friends.  (I never realized how important to mental health a couch could be.)  We were finally going to get really "plugged in" (for the second time, in some cases, after focusing so much on our house) to stuff going on in Jinotega.  Basically, all of the things that we had been waiting to do until we had our house and were in a normal state of operation at the mission were going to happen.

But, then there was a murder.  I wish I were joking here, but sadly I'm not.  A family member of some of the mission workers from our congregation (a Nicaraguan) was brutally killed in a drug-related incident.  The guy had actually worked for the mission temporarily as a translator this summer, and we all knew and liked him.  As if that weren't bad enough by itself, the murderer was a North American citizen (actually, he is ethnically German, but he is seen here as an American).  Once word of the murder started getting out and rumors started forming, there started some be some anti-North American feelings in the air.  Just to be clear, mostly everything was fine; no one was purposely going to seek to harm us.  But, Benny was concerned that we could be at the wrong place at the wrong time while someone was upset in the moment.  After much discussion and prayer, the decision was made for all of the North Americans at the mission to go home to the States for a while, just to be "out of sight, out of mind" until the murder was no longer big news.  So, we quickly got ourselves packed and prepared for some unexpected down time after a crazy summer.

Going from "let's get ourselves really 'plugged in' to Jinotega, Nicaragua" mode to being, suddenly, in Charleston, South Carolina, USA was a big shock.  We weren't planning to be back until Christmas (to have been in Nicaragua for at least a whole year), but even so we had been gone more than 10 months.  We found ourselves looking with different eyes at what had previously been our "home" for pretty much all of our lives.  Everything was so nice and clean and organized.  It was amazing to see houses constructed with drywall where the walls actually went all the way up to the ceiling with no gaps.  Driving on the Interstate was so fast and smooth.  Certain stores and houses were huge.  Food from restaurants tasted so good.  (The best sandwich I've ever had in my life was from a little stand at the airport in Miami.)  I was blown away by the convenience of having everything all right there at the grocery store and even (for clothes) Old Navy.  It was all pretty overwhelming.

It was also (obviously) a really big deal to get to see our family and friends.  Both sets of parents and most of our extended family all live in the Charleston area, along with a good many friends and the church family that I have spent my whole life with until moving to Nicaragua.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people to see.  We didn't at all advertise that we were "home," so there is still a large group of people we would have liked to have seen but for which we just didn't have the time.  (We'll get the rest of you next time.)  The coolest thing was getting to surprise Tommy's sister Ann and her family when we randomly showed up at their house.  We were there just in time (within the week) to get to "send off" our nephew to college.  I got to see my grandmother whom I feared might be gone by Christmas.  (BTW, it sounds like maybe a new medicine is doing her some good.)  We got to see some good friends (if briefly) that we had really, really missed since we moved.  I absolutely hate that someone else's friend and family member had to die to make the trip possible, but it was so good to reconnect with our loved ones.

Overall, the trip was amazing.  However, it also made us realize, first of all, how much we needed a break and, second, how much Jinotega has become our home.  For me, as good as it was to be with my people in the States, it was sad to be away from my Jinotega "family."  There are people here that we see literally every single day, and suddenly not to see them for a period of weeks was painful.  I can honestly say that for me I was even more excited to return to Nicaragua than I was seeing the States again.  Once we got to Managua, Tommy and I were literally jumping up and down like little kids in our hotel room because we were so excited to be back.  When we were actually back in Jinotega and got to see everyone again, it really felt like we were "home".  After being in the States where people are so separate from each other, the sense of "community" here was palpable.  The night of our return was crowned by us sitting outside in our plastic chairs, surrounded by the neighborhood kids who were excitedly showing us their English workbook from school.  It is so great to know that we really love these people, and they (at least those we deal with personally) really love us.

Now that we're back, we're sort of on a "getting things organized" high.  We feel recharged and excited about the various things on our plate.  There are still some things we're struggling with (fundraising, learning Spanish, etc.), but we are motivated to do what we need to do.  We covet your prayers as we are still trying to get "settled" in our house (andhey, I'll just say itwe covet your money as we still need furniture...and Tommy's laptop was stolen while we were away).  Anyway, we feel super positive right now and just so thankful for where God has brought us.  We are so overwhelmed with love from everyone we got to see on our trip and those we are back together with now.  I want to say, too, that I was personally very humbled by the number of people in the States who mentioned that they have been keeping up with this blog and our Facebook updates.  Well, I guess that's it.  We love you all so much.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Thanks, Bri!

Wednesday we saw our friend Brianna Close (Bri) back on a plane to the States. Bri stayed with us for three weeks while she helped with various projects (whatever needed to be done at the time) and spent time with the youth group here. Mainly she helped Tommy to begin mapping the town of Yankee where our team has a goat house and where we are developing a "showcase" center of all aspects of our sustainable living program. She also helped in the construction of a concrete floor of a school, as well as with a much needed pipe on an indoor stove at Reynaldo's house (see pictures below). (Reynaldo is the preacher in Yankee, and our showcase center and goat house are on his property.) In addition to all of this, she helped Becky with a lot of things for the Casa Materna.  We really enjoyed Bri's visit (as did the Nicaraguans) and were very grateful to have her help while she was here.

Bri and Tommy carrying water to mix with concrete

Tommy mixing concrete

Bri mixing concrete

Becky leveling the concrete floor

Reynaldo's kitchen before the stovepipe
(notice all the ash on the ceiling and walls)

Reynaldo's kitchen before the stovepipe

Chris, Bri, and David making the stovepipe

Reynaldo's wife sealing the bottom of the stovepipe

The stove after the pipe

Reynaldo's kitchen after the stovepipe

Monday, July 9, 2012



We are FINALLY in our house. :)

There is still a little bit of painting to be done, and we still need to purchase most of our furniture and many household items. But, we have electricity and a functioning bathroom now. These things were completed just in the nick of time before we brought home Tommy's mom and nephew (Jacob). We enjoyed spending all last week with them, mostly doing "tourist-y" stuff and just being together. They were the first family members we have seen in person since we moved here last September. A single week was really too short a time to soak up their company and to give them a thorough picture of what all we do here. (We were also very excited to see some of our friends from our home congregation in Summerville who were here doing work with the mission!) However, between their visit, us having had to work on the house, and us having been sick before that, we have really been out of the loop on what has been going on at the mission and at church. I feel like I have barely seen my Nicaraguan friends. We expect things to get back to "normal" soon, though. After I put up this post, Tommy and I will be leaving for Managua again to pick up Brianna, our friend from camp, who will be sort of our Hope for Life intern for 3 weeks. We are excited about the projects we have in mind for her to help with. It will be good to jump back into "work" again and, hopefully, to reconnect with our local friends and co-workers.

Anyway, we are VERY, VERY THANKFUL to be in our house at long last. (Thanks so much to everyone who lifted up prayers for us.) It was amazing and faith-building to watch everything come together by our deadline. It was obvious to me that God's hand was in the entire process, and it was gratifying to see our trust and patience pay off. I would definitely say that the house is worth the wait.

One thing we don't have at the house yet, though, is an Internet connection, so we are only able to communicate through e-mail and telephone (our Magic Jack phone) when we are at our office at the mission. Sorry if it takes us a little longer to respond to your messages. Hopefully we'll be connected at the house soon.

Thanks again for all of your prayers and support,

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Update - Becky

Hey, guys. I just wanted to give a quick update about what has been going on with us lately. We have not had as much opportunity to be at our computers to keep in touch with everyone, so I'm sorry if we haven't been as timely in responding to messages (and sorry if this post is pretty scattered). Tommy and I have been very busy dealing with our house. We were having to go around and light some fires under various contractors, and now we are in the middle of painting, which is a pretty significant undertaking. Meanwhile we have both been sick. Both of us were dealing with stomach issues (Tommy especially), and I (Becky) had a cold. Thankfully we are pretty much better now, though. This week we are missing "camp" for the first time in many years. (We always staff at Palmetto Bible Camp during "Superweek", but, obviously, we're not there this year.) It's very strange not to be there. Hopefully we can go next year. We just got back from an overnight trip to Managua to pick up a videographer who Tommy will be working with over the next week. They will be going around getting footage for a documentary about Texas Tech's work in Nicaragua with the mission. (I plan to keep painting at the house while Tommy is occupied.) Right now, there are A LOT of people at the mission. We currently have the Olive Branch medical mission team along with students from Texas Tech (also five interns). This whole summer the mission has one group after another coming, so I think it will be August before we don't have anyone here. Because of being busy with the house and being sick, Tommy and I have been mostly out of the loop on what the groups have been doing. However, David and Chris have been taking individuals from the groups up to a town called Yankee where our team is developing a sustainable living "showcase" to display each of our different projects. So far things have been progressing well with that. Tommy has been up there some documenting the work as he has been able. At the moment our house is our priority, though (well, aside from Tommy helping with the documentary right now). Our goal is to be in there and have things ready for Tommy's mom and our nephew who are set to come at the end of the month. (We can still really use prayers towards this end!) If we can just get that done, we should be able to shift our focus to other good things we have really been wanting to do. Anyway, this is our world right now. It kinda feels like we're in a bubble or a vacuum. It is satisfying to see our house coming together, but we'll be very, very glad when we're out of this stage.


P.S. - I would like to request specific prayers that not only will we be able to get in our house soon but that our house will be a blessing to many others. We have been blessed by a whole handful of people who have kept us from being homeless over the past year or so (our sister Erica Brown, Benny & Donna Baker, David & Caryn Henniger). It is very important to me that we are able able to "pay it forward" with our house. Even if we don't have people actually staying with us, my goal is to have it filled most of the time with people (our Nicaraguan friends & church members as well as various North Americans who happen to be here). I want to be able to be very generous with food and different things on a regular basis, but I'm concerned that this will be financially difficult for us right now. In my mind it seems to me that, for us to give the way I want to give, God will have to show up and provide. (He has so far in our lives, though, so I'm just trusting that He will continue in this manner.) :)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Spanish, the Metric System, and Logic vs. Feelings - Becky

You know what? I like Spanish. There is still a lot that I need to learn, but I feel pretty good about what I do know so far. I still find myself saying "huh?" a lot and getting stuck because of holes in my vocabulary. However, I am able to have meaningful conversation with my Spanish-speaking friends, and I really only use a translator for things that are "official" and "important." Lately it has been coming so much more naturally to me, even to the point of me having to stop myself from speaking Spanish with people who speak only English. When I learn new things about Spanish now, it is easier for my brain to figure out what to do with them. (¡Gracias a Dios! y muchas, muchas gracias a mi buena amiga Tania, quien es mi maestra de español.)

The thing is, Spanish makes sense. Sure, there are many things about it that are confusing because I am not used to them, but overall Spanish is pretty consistent. The vowel sounds are always the same. Consonant sounds are (pretty much) always the same. There are pretty straightforward rules (más o menos) about which syllable of a given word gets the emphasis. Once you know all of these rules, it is not too difficult to read something in Spanish and be able to pronounce it correctly. Compared to English (which is crazy and incredibly inconsistent), Spanish is fairly simple. In fact, I would even say that it is a pretty logical system of language.

Why, then, does it take so much work to learn it? Also, why doesn't everyone in the States learn it? (Just to be clear, I'm not saying that everyone should learn it necessarily; I'm trying to prove a different point, so stick with me here.) After all, it is the language of one of our neighboring countries. I've decided that it's like the metric system. It's logical and may even be better in some ways than what we're currently using, but most of us aren't willing to stop using "feet" and "degrees Fahrenheit" because they are what we know. It doesn't matter that "meters" divide so nicely by tens and hundreds and that "degrees Celsius" line up with the freezing and boiling points of water; we just want to keep doing what makes us comfortable.

The point I'm trying to make is that, as much as we may like to think that our decisions are guided by logic and reason, we are sentimental beings. We get so attached to our current norms that we tend to reject other ways of doing things, even if the new ways make more sense. We do make changes in our lives, but not because of logic (most of the time). We change because we have a sentimental reason to do so. I never would have bothered even to try to learn Spanish if it weren't that I have already given my heart to people who speak it. I'm still resisting the metric system... and I don't even have a good excuse.

This reality makes me wonder what other good things I may be stupidly avoiding—or stupidly holding on to. What personal habits are detrimental to my health but I continue to practice anyway? Are there any people with whom I could be really good friends but who I just feel uncomfortable about approaching? Do I have any "pet" spiritual ideas that make me feel good but don't actually jive with reality? If I answered all of these questions honestly, I could come up with a pretty long list of changes to make in myself. But, as a typical human being, unfortunately, for me to bother to start the process of change, I need more than just rational arguments to do so. Something must appeal to my heart and not just to my head.

But, I think that God set things up that way. This is not to excuse bad behavior at all (because we know that we need to do the "right thing" regardless of our personal feelings at the moment). However, God made us all emotional creatures, and it would behoove us to take note of that. God never said that logic is always good and emotion is always bad. In fact, many things about God Himself are quite illogical. It is definitely not logical to send a son who loves and obeys you perfectly to die for people who constantly reject you. It's even less logical to have created the world in the first place, knowing that you would have to make this sacrifice.

I think I would be worried, though, if everything about God were logical. I mean, would I really want to worship someone who was small and "neat" enough to fit inside my limited, faulty brain? Yes, there are some things about God that do seem logical to me. If the rule is that sacrifice must be made for sin, it makes sense that the death of a perfect person could be enough sacrifice for the whole world. But, I don't believe in Jesus because it makes logical sense to me; I believe because my faith is personal to me. As a missionary, of course I want others to come to put their faith in Christ, but I know not to expect much from making logical arguments. There has to be some kind of personal connection. I would even venture to guess that most people who are decidedly not Christians are turned off from Christianity more because of negative personal experiences than simply finding Christianity illogical. Like I said, God isn't quite logical, and I don't think we should go around trying to make Him so. Just like I only started learning Spanish for personal reasons, most people will only believe in God for personal reasons.

This is not to say that logic has no place in spiritual matters. We should use logic with emotion for the best results. It's jut that most of the time we aren't using logic like we may think that we are, and we need to recognize how important feelings are in ourselves and in others. Logic can present us with ideas, but it is our feelings that cause us to do something about those ideas... And I think that's okay.

What do you think? These are certainly just my opinions, and I would love to hear some other perspectives.


Monday, May 28, 2012

¡Felicidades Madres! - Becky

Last night at church the youth group hosted a celebration for all of the mothers in the congregation. (Their Mother's Day is coming up on Wednesday.) The kids gave the lesson and led some worship songs; performed a cool skit and sang some songs praising mothers; and served food that they had prepared themselves. They also took care of the younger kids for the first half of the program. Earlier in the day, they did some pretty serious decorating, and they even swapped out all of the pews for tables and chairs because they wanted everything to be really nice for the mothers. For me, having watched them through the whole process from the planning stages to the implementation, I was very impressed and proud of "my" kids. They came up with the idea on their own and maintained their fervor for it until the end.

I have been "helping" with the youth group for a while now and have sometimes been confused about exactly how I fit in there, but last night with everything going on I really got the sense of "this is where I need to be." When they were still planning everything for this event, I agreed to "help," even though I really didn't know exactly what that would mean. It turned out that I was able to aid in communication with some of the other North Americans at the mission about things the kids needed; to assist with the decorating (though, really I didn't do that much); and to sing with them the songs they performed. The most significant thing to me about all of these things was that I was able to do some major relationship building. I am already friends with some of the older* people in the group because they work with me at the mission. In addition to strengthening those friendships, I felt like I connected with some of the teens that had previously possibly been a little unsure about me. I think that maybe before, they didn't know what I thought about them, but because I have stuck around and because of my help with their Mother's Day program they can see that I love them.

Please don't think that I'm trying to brag on myself here; I am just so thankful that God has connected me with these people. Too often humans find themselves in situations where they are pouring out all of their love but get nothing in return. My heart was bubbling over last night to feel that there was reciprocation. Also, these kids are just cool, and it is neat that they actually like me. I am looking forward to spending a lot more time with them in the next few years.


*Someone recently asked me about the age range of these "kids." My response (after a good chuckle) was that they are maybe as young as 9 to as old as 29. Last night I asked one of the older guys how old he is, and he said that he is, actually, 29. As for myself, I only just turned 28, so, other than the fact that I am married, I kind of fit into this group myself, not even necessarily as a "volunteer." I can honestly say that, at least with the older ones, I really feel that they are my friends, not just children I am supposed to supervise or something.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Las Chiquitas Off-Road Challenge

Today; Becky, Chris, myself and several others from Mision Para Cristo went to visit the rural community of Las Chiquitas.  It's about a 20 minute off-road drive from Jinotega over the mountains.  There are approximately 750 people living there and it is one of the poorest towns I've have seen here so far. 

The road (dirt trail)  to Las Chiquitas is pretty good at first but towards the end it gets really, really bad!  The rainy season has started here in Nicaragua which makes good roads bad and bad roads impassable even with four wheel drive.  We were able to get there and back today with our front hubs locked and four wheel low but I'm afraid that sometime in the next few weeks the folks out there may find themselves cut off from vehicular traffic.

The people there are really friendly and very eager to work together with us to better the living conditions there in Las Chiquitas.  They are living on rice and beans everyday and occasionally some chicken or rabbits that they are able to catch.  Their wells are drying up making access to water one of the biggest needs there right now. 

There are some aid items that we can help them with immediately like vitamin soup mixes, clothing, parasite medicines for children and adults and other medical supplies.  Ultimately however, we want to help introduce things to their community like rabbit and goat breeding, composting, raised bed and table gardens and rocket stoves.  There is a time for immediate aid but continuing to give in that manner creates dependency and is not a viable long-term solution to many situations such as this. 

The folks there are also very excited to have Bible classes with us and we should be able to bring them some Bibles the next time we visit there.  The opportunity to share God's love in Christ Jesus with these people through helping them with physical and spiritual needs is exactly why we all came here in the first place and we are grateful to God to have this chance. 

Please pray for all the people living in Las Chiquitas and also for us as we try to work together to make their community a better, safer, healthier place to live. 

To God be the glory!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Fruit Market Girl - Becky

We had a baptism at church this morning. It was a kid who already faithfully attends youth group functions and actively helps with things like prayers and song leading. I don't know exactly how old he is, but I would guess he is anywhere from 11 to 14. (It's so hard to gauge age here!) As far as I can tell, he doesn't have any biological family members at church (I think he may even be somewhat of an "orphan" at home), but he is sort of like the fifth brother to the four sons of one of our preachers (who is also, more or less, the youth minister). From everything I have seen of him, he is a really sweet, godly kid. I was a little surprised that he hadn't already been baptized, since he obviously already has faith and tries to live by it. But, we were all very excited that he made it "official" today.

The thing that was especially exciting, though, beyond the actual baptism, was the response of the other kids at church. The baptistery that we have here doubles as the communion table (it's just a box filled with water that has a top on it most of the time), so it is on the ground and easily accessible. For the baptism, all of the kids eagerly crowded around the "box" so they could see the happy event. It was clear that they understood the significance of what they were seeing and were genuinely excited for their friend.

Now, the church building itself is right across the street from a row of fruit vendors, and many of them bring their children to "work" with them every day. There are several of these kids that we have gotten to know, and when they see us they call us by name, run up, give us a hug, and say "¿Cómo estás?" to us. This morning, the doors of the church building were open (as they always are when service is in session), and we could see one of the girls we talk to most often looking in. She seemed to be intrigued by the baptism. At first she just looked on from outside, but eventually she came in. After the event was over, I asked her if she understood what had happened, and she said that she did. I don't know what was actually going on in her mind about the whole thing, but I was so glad that she got to see not just the baptism but the joyful response of the other kids.

I am convinced that love and joy attract people like nothing else. I don't know what will eventually become of our fruit market friend, but I am honored to get to witness and participate in loving, joyful interactions with her. (Is it just me, or does it seem like this love and joy stuff is so much easier with kids? I hope and pray that I can carry the same spiritual "fruits" into my interactions with adults too.) Sometimes the "work" here can be frustrating, but mornings like this remind me of what I am really trying to do and why it is worth it.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Update - Becky

Today Tommy and I were able to get inside our house and start painting (well, priming). We are still not "in" our house, but we are at the point where we are willing to do whatever we need to do just to get it finished. We have to be out of the mission before it is completely filled up with groups from the States at the end of this month, so we are in "let's get this done" mode, though it is frustrating because most of the situation is currently out of our hands. Needless to say, we could really use some prayers.

A few weekends ago, our team had to go down to the Costa Rican border to renew our visas. We were able to complete the whole process at the border in 3 hours (it is supposed to take 3 days), and we spent the rest of our time in San Juan del Sur, which is about 45 minutes from the border on the Nicaraguan side. (It was cheaper than actually staying in Costa Rica.) It was a much needed vacation for all of us. When we got back, most of that week was a vacation week for the workers at the mission, so we had some down time then too. However, Chris (with some team help) spent some of the time building another version of the "rocket stove" over at his house. It was interesting witnessing the construction process (and good to enjoy the fruits of it later!).

Right now our team is still in a "research and development" phase. Our current focus is fleshing out the location of one of our goat houses (in Yankee) with all of the different aspects of what we want to do--like raised-bed gardens, compost piles, etc.--to serve as an example. We want to get it to the point where groups that come down from the States can help with and possibly reproduce these things in other locations here (and, of course, Nicaraguans can reproduce it themselves).

On May 1 we had a huge "ladies' day" here at the mission. Women from congregations all over the North came to sing, pray, hear encouraging lessons, and eat lunch together. I led singing for part of it, and Caryn, Jill, and I were put on the spot to sing a song for everyone (which was awkward--in a humorous way--but we were able to pull it off). Other things here--like church, the Casa Materna, etc.--are pretty much status quo. We are still learning Spanish, and it seems like we have had many random opportunities to use it lately (mostly successfully), which is really good. In general we are gearing up for groups coming down this Summer. (It has been slow for a time now, but it's about to get really crazy.)

Well, that's all I can think of to tell you right now. (Sorry I don't have a spiritual thought for you this time. We have actually had lots of spiritual thoughts in our brains lately, but because a lot of them are connected to personal situations with other people, it is tricky to figure out exactly what to say.)

We love and miss you guys,

Saturday, April 14, 2012

We Live in Limbo - Becky

Something I appreciate about Nicaraguans is that they will eat a fruit at any stage during the ripening process. For example, they will eat mangoes when they are soft and sweet (which would be the norm for me), but they especially like them when they are hard and tart, mixed with vinegar and salt. There is another fruit here called a jocote, which can be eaten when it is green, yellow, or red. The texture and flavor for each color is very different, but each is perfectly acceptable here. Fruit is something they have in abundance here while they may not have as many options for other kinds of food, so they have learned to work with it.

This attitude is something that they apply to other aspects of life as well. In a country where most of the people are working with what we would consider to be less than ideal conditions and resources, they "make do." There is no point in being picky about their preferences because they probably won't get their preferences anyway. (This is not to say that a child won't complain to his/her parents about the food on his/her plate, but I am talking about the attitude of the culture in general.) Even if there is the possibility of getting something better in the future, it takes so long for anything to happen around here that they just deal with whatever they currently have. (People may not have much money, but they have plenty of time.)

Even though I have never personally experienced true poverty, I think I can relate to the people here in some ways. As far as having to make do while we wait for what we really want, Tommy and I have been "in limbo" for pretty much our entire relationship. (Yes, I know that the phrase "in limbo" is not the same as the game in which you maneuver under an ever-descending stick, but when I think of the phrase I always get the song stuck in my head.) We waited 3 1/2 years to get married as Tommy paid off his debt and I looked for a job. We lived in a cheap apartment for 4 1/2 years, the last two of which were spent looking for and trying to make a deal work out on a house. We finally got our house and were looking into getting a dog and, eventually, having a child, but then our economic situation changed and we had to wait on those things too. Once we made the decision to move to Nicaragua, we waited for what seemed like forever for someone finally to rent our house. Now that we are here, it took us a while to find a house that we wanted, and we are still waiting while the house is being completed.

But, that's okay.

I was feeling frustrated the other day, thinking about all of the good things that we can't do yet because we are not in our house yet (having our Nicaraguan friends over for dinner; starting a regular Bible study; as well as other, various "relationship-building" activities—also, having some actual privacy when we want it). The feeling of being in limbo was there yet again. Then it struck me that we have ALWAYS been in limbo ...and it has been okay.

In fact, the whole time we have been feeling like, "If we can just get [x], then everything will be okay," we have had exactly what we have really needed at the time. The temptation is always to rest our hopes on whatever the "next thing" is and to feel anxious, like we're not really complete because we're only in a "temporary" situation. But, first of all, what if the thing that we're waiting for never comes? Will all of the "life" that we spent waiting have been wasted? Second, is the thing that we're waiting for really going to fulfill us anyway? Sure, it may make things nicer, but I can say from experience that no matter how much I have gotten in my life (whether physical things, relationships with people, "better" situations), I have always wanted more.

The truth is this: Resting our hopes on the "next thing" doesn't work. If we really want to have a life that feels "fulfilled" and to feel "okay" in whatever situation we're in, we need to hope in something that never disappoints. The only thing that fits the bill there is God. What I mean is that (for example), rather than feeling like we can't really start our ministry until we have our house (even though, hopefully, it will be easier to do so with the house), we should feel satisfied in the fact that God has us exactly where He wants us right now. If our trust is in HIM instead of in the thing that we're waiting for, we will ALWAYS have exactly what we need in every situation. We can also trust in His timing that it is exactly what it should be. I have seen friends go through the long, emotional process of adopting a child. I know that some things are VERY hard to wait for. But, if we are trusting in God through the whole process, we can have peace that passes understanding, and, if we allow ourselves to "rest" in Him, we can even have the ever-elusive patience.

I think this is very important for all of us to grasp because, if we look at humanity and all of time as a whole, there is NEVER a time when ANYONE ISN'T living in limbo, really. Until our physical bodies die and those of us who are in Christ go to be with him, we will be living our whole lives in limbo. Romans chapter 8 implies (at least by my interpretation) that even the rocks and the trees are frustrated by existing in an imperfect, temporary state. First, here are verses 18-25:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I definitely know what it feels like to "groan inwardly." The good thing is that God provides for even this situation, as we read next in verses 26 and 27:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Being "in accordance with God's will" is the key to this whole thing. We know what we want, but God knows what we need. In fact, the next verse, verse 28, sums up the reason why there is no need to worry or grow anxious in ANY situation:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God has everything covered. There may be things that we wait for expectantly, and those things will hopefully be blessings to us once we receive them. But, even RIGHT NOW we have exactly what we need. We read in 2 Peter 1:3:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Someone who understood this concept was the Apostle Paul. He says of himself in Philippians 4:12-13:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Speaking of being "well fed," I love the scene from the movie "Annie" where Miss Hannigan talks to the orphan children about their lunch:

Miss Hannigan: "And we're not having hot mush today."
Children: "Yay!"
Miss Hannigan: "We're having cold mush."
Children: [groan]

Some days we are just stuck with "cold mush." There is something else that we really wish we could have, but we don't have it. This could be something as important as waiting to adopt a child or something as trivial as wanting our fruit to be of a certain ripeness. This afternoon I was hoping for a sweet, juicy mango, but the vendors in the market were only selling mangoes that were either way over-ripe or totally green and hard. Taking my cue from my friends here who have learned to "make do," I went with the green mangoes ...and it was okay. I would prefer to be living in a house right now instead of in the mission ...but it is okay. If my love and trust is in God, everything else will "work for the good." In fact, it is already good, just not in the way I might want.

What things are you waiting for? What do you do when you don't get your preferences? Does it help at all to know that God is in control? Do you ever feel upset that God is "allowing" things to be the way they are? What thoughts help to encourage you in that situation?


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Importance of Relationships

I have recently been reminded of the vital importance of relationships, especially for those of us who are Christians. This is a topic that is very broad, so I am by no means going to cover it in its entirety. But, it is something that is at the heart of what we are trying to do here in Nicaragua. Since I can't give all the specifics of various "real" relationships here, I want to put out some points about relationships in general:

1. Everyone needs to be reconciled to God. All of humanity has been separated from God by sin (thanks to Adam and Eve). However, since we were created to be in relationship with God, Jesus died on the cross to get rid of the sin problem. Now, the only thing "between" us and God is Jesus, so to get to God we just have to go through Jesus. (If we "know" the Son, we "know" the Father; see John 14:6-7.)

2. It is our job as Christians to help reconcile others to God. (I have to credit my friend Kim for explaining this point so well in her blog post.) Now that we have discovered the way to God (through Jesus), it is our responsibility to help others find their way so that their relationships with God will be what they were created to be.

3. We need to be reconciled to each other. This point is so important that Jesus himself prayed about it in John 17:20-23 (emphasis added):

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

4. All of us who are "in Christ" make up the Body of Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 12:27.) One reason we all need to be unified is that we are supposed to function as a single unit. However, being unified doesn't mean that we are all uniform. Each of us is a different part of the body, and it is expected (and necessary) that we will be, well, different from each other. When we are working as "one," though, we are a force to be reckoned with. God makes a big statement about what we can do as humans after the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:6): "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

5. We need each other in person-to-person relationships as well. The model of individuals joining together to form a single organism works on a smaller scale too. Not only were were created to be in relationship with God, but we were created to be in relationship with each other. Forming the bigger organism of the Body of Christ starts with our individual relationships. We can do more with each other than we can separately (see Ecclesiastes 4:12), and there is something special about what Jesus says in this verse (Matthew 18:20): "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

6. It is through personal relationships that we can effectively minister to people. When Jesus was physically on the earth, so much of his ministry was person-to-person. He healed people individually, speaking directly with them and many times physically touching them. We have many examples of him having personal conversations with various people, and always he was drawing them to himself. (With crowds he had the tendency to drive them away, but with individuals he made real connections.)

7. How we treat each other is of utmost importantance. Everything we are supposed to do is summed up in the word love, as we see in Matthew 22:37-40:

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Not only do we need love for ourselves, but it is through our love that we show Christ to the world (see John 13:35). (This goes back to us being the Body of Christ.)

8. Because we are not perfect, our relationships are not going to be perfect. However, where we really see love come into play is when there is an offense given and the victim chooses to respond with forgiveness. This, more than anything, shows God's love to the world.
. . . . .

Again, this list is not comprehensive, but the main point that I am trying to make is that we need each other. When the 1st century church met every single day, I think they really got it (not that we have to do exactly that, but the principle is still true). We need each other collectively (as the Body of Christ), in smaller groups (our congregations, our "small groups," our groups of friends, etc.), and one-on-one. We need others, and others need us.

What other thoughts about relationships have I missed? What are ways that we can try to be more unified as the Body of Christ and on a smaller scale?


Friday, March 30, 2012

The Campaign - Becky

Tonight I led some songs at church during a women's campaign to get more ladies in the Church. The ladies of the Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ) here in Jinotega have been planning this "campaña de mujeres" for weeks. When they first brought it up, I wasn't sure what to think. I mean, of course it is a great thing to try to bring more people to Christ. But, the logistics of such a thing can be very tricky, and, at first, due to the language barrier, I couldn't get a satisfactory explanation of what a campaign actually is. Also, a part of me was nervous about what specifically they were planning to teach, as I am still trying to get a handle on what the members of the Church here believe. I guess, about the whole thing, I was picturing something like a Salvation Army troop parading through the streets. When they asked if I could help, I did everything I could to get more information first. However, I did agree to be one of the song leaders, a role with an acceptable level of embarrassment to myself (much better than handing out leaflets or something and asking random people if they "know Jesus"—at least on the embarrassment scale).

Well, apparently, a campaign here is basically a Church of Christ gospel meeting. The plan for this particular campaign is to meet at the church building for an hour each night from Thursday to Saturday. Each night is to consist of (more or less) a regular church service with singing, preaching, and praying, except that it is completely conducted and attended by women. Prior to these meetings, some of the ladies visited the homes of various women who are not already in the Church, and they advertised with signs and announcements in the street. Again, the skeptic in me really hoped these ladies wouldn't end up disappointed by a bad turnout after they had worked SO HARD. Maybe I just doubted that any person who is not already a Christian would want to show up for something like that. In the States, from my perspective this kind of thing is pretty old school.

I have to remind myself, though, that Nicaragua is not the United States. I guess they like these things here because we had more people in that building than I have ever seen, I would guess twice as many as we normally have on a good, "full" Sunday morning (which includes both men and women). I was impressed. Despite the fact that I was surprised by having to lead singing with a microphone, I was impressed by how seriously they were taking the whole thing. I was impressed by the confidence of the girl who gave the sermon. I was impressed by the table of books and pamphlets they had set up by the door. I was impressed by how welcoming the whole thing felt. Contrary to my fears, no one was yelling at the "sinners" to "repent," and the people in attendance actually seemed to participate wholeheartedly. Everyone was very gracious and encouraging towards me as a "gringa" trying to sing (in front of everyone, over a microphone) in Spanish.

We still have two nights to go, but so far I am VERY PROUD of "my" ladies. They have been enthusiastic about this from the beginning, and they are pulling it off wonderfully. Of course, as one of them pointed out tonight, God is the one who is really doing it. This is HIS thing, and we are just His instruments... which brings me to my point:

Who am I to judge someone else's servant?

I don't know why, but "evangelism" has been a weird thing for me in my life. I grew up hearing that I should invite all of my friends and neighbors (and random people in the grocery line) to church, and for many years I lived with a lot of guilt that I wasn't doing that. During this phase, there were times when I actually tried to talk to my friends, but instead of sharing with them the love of Christ, it came out more like "Here are the rules. You need to be following them." That didn't go over so well, so rather than push people further away from Christ with my hypocrisy, it made more sense to me that evangelism should be through example. Words can do harm if they aren't the right ones, but a godly life can speak volumes by itself. What I wasn't willing to admit to myself for a long time, though, is that this way of thinking is a major cop out.

Obviously, since I am now a missionary, I have come to some different conclusions than before. I am still far from where I need to be in my thinking (and practice) of evangelism, but it has become a very huge priority to me now (like, the biggest priority of all) to try to bring people closer to God. Before, my motivation was fear. Now (I hope, at least most of the time), my motivation is love. I do have some specific thoughts on what methods of evangelism may be more effective in different situations, and I have started to figure out which of those methods work better with my personality. For example, I know that I fear rejection of my message, but, even more, I fear being cheesy (hence my initial reluctance to join a "campaign"). Rather than confronting people with my "churchiness" head on, I prefer to encourage people through relationship. What is most comfortable for me is to to give people that I know personally a whole lot of love and then to talk about spiritual things when they come up naturally. (Although I have failed MISERABLY at this more times than I want to remember, you'd be surprised how often spiritual things DO come up in a loving friendship.) I guess that way I am using words AND example. There are other evangelism methods that I will employ, even though they are not as comfortable for me. Because of the whole love thing, I want to do whatever I need to do to help reconcile people with God.

Okay, that sounds good, but the bad thing is that I am at a point now where I have strong opinions about evangelism (how to spread the message and, also, what message to spread), and, unfortunately, many of those opinions come with baggage. Not only do I get snobbish about how I want to go about evangelizing but I may start to look down on how someone else goes about it. However, my experience with the campaign reminds me (I will repeat what I said earlier), Who am I to judge someone else's servant? In all of my evangelism efforts, the point is to reconcile people to God. But, that's God's thing. Yes, I believe that it is the responsibility of those of us who are part of the Body of Christ to reach out to others, but God is the actual "recipient," if you will. Humans are HIS people, and He is the one who has had the plan all along for making right our relationship with Him. In trying to help with this, I am only His servant. If He calls someone to minister in a different way than He does me, what is that to me? Yes, I should think seriously about different evangelism methods and weigh out what seems to make sense, but when the sweet women of a little congregation in Jinotega want to go old school (well, "old school" to me, not to them), I should roll with it and give them the support that they need.

Speaking of evangelism methods, really one of my main goals is to give as much help as possible to the locals here who are already ministering to their own people. And they DO. Even beyond this women's thing, so much of the evangelism that happens here is Nicaraguan to Nicaraguan, and I LOVE THAT. They do need help (in the form of various resources, as well as someone to preach/sing/pray alongside them), but they have such fervor about what they are trying to do. If I can get my nose out of the air and acknowledge that they actually do know more than I do about what their own people want and need, I feel like God can really do something good through us.

So, what are YOUR thoughts on evangelism? Do you ever feel bothered by how others evangelize? Are there times when it is right to question how evangelism is done, or do you think that any way of preaching Christ is valid?


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Update! - Becky

Well, hello again, everyone. I realize it is way past time to report on what we have been doing. The past month or so has been kinda crazy around here. Things have really kicked off for our Hope for Life team, and Tommy and I have had some good individual experiences as well. All of this is amid the random happenings at the mission (Misión Para Cristo).

First, WE HAVE GOATS!!! We were excited enough that the guys got our first goat house and corral built at the local retirement home, but it was even cooler to see actual goats inside. Tommy went on a trip with Ismael (the mission's agriculture guy) to a farm way off in the middle of nowhere to purchase the goats. The plan was to purchase three or four good goats, but somehow (quite unexpectedly) we got a "SIX for the price of four" deal. The problem was that the area we had for the goats really maxed out at four, so David and Caryn kept two in their backyard until we could figure out something else. Well, the plan all along has been (outside of having our goat corral at the retirement home for learning purposes) to start our goat project in the town of Yankee at the home of the local preacher, Renaldo. We knew that a group of students from Harding University would be here the next week, so we arranged to have some of them help build our second goat house and corral at Renaldo's house (to Renaldo's great excitement). That project is now finished, and the extra two goats are settled in their new home. We really hadn't expected to have made this much progress yet, but we are very thankful that, apparently, God had other plans for us.

A BIG help with our Hope for Life projects were Tessa Savage and Nikki Stark, who were the mission's interns for 6 weeks. They helped in the construction of our goat houses, and they even built and installed a rabbit hutch (complete with rabbits) in the Hennigers' backyard. They proved invaluable (especially Tessa, with her agricultural background) in getting us started in our care for the goats. Also, they experimented with some different recipes for making cheese from the goats' milk (and were quite successful, actually). In general, they were awesome to have around. Tommy and I really enjoyed having them live at the mission with us, and now that they are gone, we miss them terribly.

Meanwhile, I have had two main projects going on, which I have already described somewhat on this blog. One was the writing, translating, practicing, and delivering of a series of lessons for the ladies here. The whole process was extremely helpful with my Spanish learning, and it was a good relationship-building exercise with the ladies at church. Now that I am finished with this, I need to start getting some other lessons done on other topics that go with our Hope for Life projects (goats, seeds, etc.).

The other project was trying to get much needed items to the Casa Materna in Pantasma. Thanks to the donations of some of you, Janese Davis (who is in charge of the mission's work with the Casa Materna program) and I were able to purchase much more than we expected to be able to get for the ladies in this go 'round! (THANK YOU!) My goal for this time was simply to get the hygiene items they needed, but in addition to soap, maxi pads, wash clothes, and towels, we were able to bring them 3 new sheet sets (including new pillows) and enough pots, pans, utensils and dishes to outfit their new kitchen. We weren't able to bring them maternity clothes (I haven't yet found any good place that sells them), but we did bring them laundry detergent so at least they can wash the clothes they already have. The day that we took the trip to give them all of this stuff was the official grand opening of their Casa Materna, and the whole town had a parade. After all of the pomp and circumstance, we were able to spend some time with the ladies (like we normally do on our Casa Materna trips) before giving them the items. Oh, and while we were there, I still had some money left over, so I asked if they had any other immediate needs. They said that they needed gas to cook with (they already had the container; it just needed to be refilled), and it turned out that there was just enough money to get them what they needed. (I gave the money to the local preacher who took care of it for them that day.) I always love it when it is so obvious that God gives us just what we need at the moment. :)

There have been a lot of people in and out of the mission building over the last weeks. Periodically, the mission hosts IPO, an institute wherein Nicaraguans train other Nicaraguans to be preachers. This last time they were here, I spent some time with them and had the opportunity to sit in on some of their classes. Although I didn't understand everything (as it was in Spanish), it was still really neat for me, first of all, to develop my relationships with these people, and, second, to get a glimpse of what they are actually teaching (though I was able to understand overall topics more so than specific points). I was generally impressed that the classes are legitimate college level Bible classes. Outside of class, it was really cool to have real Biblical discussions with some of the people, and now that I have met the people, I have recognized some of them as I have been in different towns doing different things. Anyway, I was glad that they were happy to have me stick my nose in their business. It was cool.

The last large group we had was the spring break group from Harding University. I was excited to see a few people who I already knew and to get to know some others that I didn't know. As I said, some of them assisted with our second goat house. Also, I got to spend some time with others on the trip to Pantasma. They seemed like a really good group of "kids." (Am I old enough to call college students kids?)

As you can tell, there has been a lot of activity here lately. (And these are just the highlights; Tommy could probably tell you even more.) Unfortunately, I have been sick for a lot of this. The doctor here has had me on several antibiotics for different infections, but it has been tricky to get the rest I need to recover fully. (I keep feeling like I am better, and I even build up extra energy--but then when I use the energy I end up feeling bad again.) This has been affecting my mental capacity as well and has made it a little difficult to focus lately. Tommy also had a bad bout of sickness after being at the farm where he bought the goats. He didn't realize that he would be in a no electricity, no running water, nothing to sleep in but a moldy/mildew-y hammock kind of situation (complete with LOTS of bug bites--though, don't worry, his blood test came back negative for any terrible diseases). Thankfully, once the medicine ran its course he felt much better. Overall, I would say that, emotionally, we are doing great here. However, I think that there are various points of stress that we don't even pick up on that wear on us physically and mentally. Please keep us in your prayers as our bodies and minds continue to acclimate.

Something that is still a source of stress for us is that we are STILL not in our house, though it does seem like we may be getting closer. Also, we know that once we do get in our house, our expenses will be higher. We are trusting in God to take care of us, but we do anticipate things getting pretty tight financially. The reality is that we are still not finished fundraising. This is an aspect of being missionaries that neither of us enjoys, so that causes stress too. I just want to say, though, to those of you who do support us, I don't even know how to express how thankful we are. Without you (and God, obviously), we wouldn't be able to do any of this. It is because of you that we are now able to be a part of the lives of people who God has always loved but who we didn't know existed a year ago. Because of you, we are able to put into practice projects that, before we came, were only good ideas. Yes, we may be stressed at times, but what we have been able to see and to do and the people we have been able to connect with all make it completely worth it. We see God at work here, and we feel so honored to be a part of that work. Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity.

To everyone reading this, whether you support us financially or not, I want to say thank you for keeping up with us. It means a lot to have a connection with people "back home"--and those in locations around the world. If this experience has taught me anything, it is that our world really is "small." But, for the times that it feels "big," thank you all for making it that much smaller.

God bless you all,

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Story of the Light - Part III: MAN

(To see "Part II: JESUS" click here.)

To summarize the first two parts of this lesson, the light came from God the Father—who IS light—and then was brought directly to God’s people through Jesus Christ. This had to be done because, even though the people should have recognized God’s light and should have lived in it by following the Law of Moses, they rejected it. The Jews described in the New Testament had the same problem. In Romans 1:18-21 we read:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Even though they should have known it, Jesus had to come to reveal God’s nature to the people. He did this by the things he did here on the earth, especially by his death on the cross. However, before and after Jesus’ death, there have been those whom God has used as lights to reveal Jesus’ light—which reveals God’s light.

The Light Spread to God’s Servants

Before Jesus’ death, John the Baptist was described in John 5:35 as “a lamp that burned and gave light.” Similar to the light that shone on the face of Moses after he was in the light of God’s presence to receive God’s commandments, John’s light served to direct people to Jesus, the true light. John 1:7-8 says, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

In the Old Testament, the primary group to which God tried to give light through His law was the Israelites. In the New Testament, their descendants, the Jews, were also the first to have access to God’s grace. The central location of major events like Jesus’ death and the start of the Church was the Jews’ capital city Jerusalem. However, through the Apostles, God spread his light of truth from the Jews in Jerusalem to the rest of the world, even to the Gentiles. We read in Acts chapter 9 that Jesus revealed himself to Saul through a bright light, and Saul became the Apostle Paul who was a light to the Gentiles. In Acts 13:46-48, Paul spoke to the Jews about himself:

“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’’

“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

Many of the books in the New Testament are letters written by Paul to strengthen, encourage, and guide the early Church, which was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was a light for them, but the Church was intended to be a light for the whole world.

We Reflect God’s Light to the World

Sadly, many in the world are spiritually blind. They don’t understand who God is because their eyes are closed to the truth of the gospel of Christ. However, those of us who do believe in Christ have God’s light which gives us understanding. We read in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

The Law of Moses was supposed to bring light and life to God’s people, but because of the people’s broken nature, it only brought death. But, thanks to Jesus, now we are in a new covenant with God that does bring us light and life. 2 Corinthians 3 talks about this truth in verses 7-18:

“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

As Christians, we are supposed to show the world who God is. Our actions are like a mirror that reflects His glory. We have the light of God in our hearts, and it is our responsibility and privilege to share it with others. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We Need to Walk in the Light

Again, our actions are like a mirror that reflects God’s glory to the world. Unfortunately, our actions still send a message about God to the world even when our deeds are evil. For this reason, it is so important to make sure that in our lives we are remaining in God’s light. Paul sets a good example in 2 Corinthians 4:1-3:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.”

Romans 13:12-14 gives us some more specific examples of what we should do:

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

All of this is not to make us feel guilty for the sinful things we do. Jesus has already taken care of the sin of those of us who have chosen him. The fact is that being God’s people is a great honor which gives us the ability and the right to be his representatives to the world, as we see in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Living in the light is just a part of who we are in our new relationship with God. If we remain in the light we get to enjoy not only the glory of His presence inside of us but also a connection with everyone else who has been brought into the light, as we read in 1 John 1:5-7:

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

As people who get to experience this great fellowship, we should want to do everything we can to bring everyone into the light with us. Really, the thing that we are experiencing through God’s light in our lives is LOVE because God IS love. We are able to understand what real love is because we see it in the life and death of Jesus, who reflects God’s love to us. Others can understand this same love when we reflect God’s light to them by loving them and by loving each other. John 13:34-35 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

To really be in the light, it is not enough only to appear righteous. In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” If we want to reflect to the world who God really is, we need to do more than only to follow a set of rules, like the Israelites tried to do only to find death. We need truly to live lives of love.

We Will Live in the Light Forever

As I explained in the first part of this lesson, the light talked about in the Bible follows a story. It originated with God, who was and IS HIMSELF the light. However, He didn’t keep His light to himself but put it into its physical state where it was able to benefit man. God used His control over the physical light to help His people and to serve as a metaphor for His spiritual light, which represents things like majesty, comfort, guidance, truth, and life. We know from what is written about it in Old Testament that God’s people sometimes recognized his light, even though at that time God’s presence was separate from man. However, the people were incapable of remaining in His light forever. Through Moses, God had given laws to his people that brought them light when they followed them, but because of their broken nature, the people remained in the darkness. Because of this, it was necessary for God to come down to the people Himself and bring His light to them in the form of His Son Jesus. While Jesus was physically on the earth, he displayed the light of God’s glory in everything that he did, especially through his death on the cross to save us from our sins. In the light of Jesus, we see the most important truth that God is love. We also see that if we love others, God’s light shines through us as well.

I will leave you with one final thought. If we do live lives of love here on the earth, being careful to stay in God light, we will be rewarded with dwelling in the light forever. Revelation 21:23-25 says:

“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.”

Also, we see in Revelation 22:3-5:

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”