So Many Roads.

My husband came to bed quite late the other night.

I was still reading, when I should have slept.  But I could hardly help myself.  The book, which I am still carefully reading with a pencil in hand, is a wondrous true tale.  It is a humble, elegantly written and engrossing work by a woman who lived and worked in Afghanistan for five years entitled In the Land of Blue Burqas.  I picked up the volume while we were in the states.  I was curious of the format. I wanted to understand how the author weaved together her international experience so someday soon, I might weave my own.

I am surprisingly blessed once again with the re-orientation of my mind in terms of contextualizing the gospel with gentle grace and loving my neighbor.  It will be worth a second and third read to me as a tool and an inspiration.  To anyone who wishes to be a better minister in a foreign culture and/or understand Islam, read this book.

As I was saying, my husband came home late. He sat down on the edge of the bed, looking satisfied but tired. We began to swap stories about our day.  Mine were about our children, that our cistern was empty, my conversation with a woman at a market store, an inquiry into what certain words were on yet another announcement our daughter brought home from school and my thoughts.

His were more of the same from what I had heard so many other nights before.  His words piled up in front of me like a tumble of bricks that the writer’s mind in me began placing in a neat and coherent pile.  After his reporting, he rose to go brush his teeth and come to bed, without a shower.  But he turned and sat back down, abruptly and with those tired, but clear blue eyes looked at me and spoke again, “Angel, tell me the truth.  Am I making any difference here or am I spinning my wheels?”

It is not good for a man or woman to be alone.  It is good to turn our souls inside out for one another and voice the questions that sometimes haunt us in our most vulnerable moments.

I put down my book and looked at him. I was quiet for a moment as I thought on a response that would be a good word fitly spoken.

I went over the stories in my mind from just the last three weeks, the snapshots of how he has numbered his days.

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There is the small group in the village of Trinidad he works with weekly, driving 45 minutes to sit with them on over-turned buckets in a small tienda.  He takes them through a basic course for new believers.  He will be the first to confess he is not a gifted teacher nor communicator.  Words don’t come off his tongue, even his fluent Spanish tongue, like melted butter.  He’d rather let his hands speak through the strings of his guitar or the pounding of his hammer.  But he loves, sincerely loves people, especially Mexican villagers.   The people have come to love him too and more than that, to trust him.  Which is big in this culture.  The questions they ask him are enough to break your heart or bring you to your knees.

Then there is Pedro, who Ben has explained the gospel to several times.  He does believe.  And he wants to grow.  But how do you feel the love of the Father when you are rejected by your family of origin, again and again? How do you have time to think of things other than 60-hour work week in the local cement factory where you work so you can support your wife and two daughters who live in a house the size of our dining room?  Ben meets with Pedro, every time he calls.  He sits down in their house-room and shares their beans and tortillas and counsels him in simple, yet challenging ways.  He teaches him how to pray, for Pedro has no idea what it means to talk to God.

I could not forget Victor either.  He came to church just weeks ago, with his brother who trusted Jesus just weeks before that.  He limped on crutches, looking broken in both body and soul.  Ben, drawn to anything that hurts, sat down with him after the service.  He lay hands on his twisted ankle and we both prayed for healing.  They exchanged cell numbers.  Ben called him the next day and picked him up.  He took him on his errands he had to run to pick up supplies to fix a water pump and work on setting up a new water project.  Ben listened to Victor’s story and ached for him.  He prayed for him in the car for 30 minutes straight as they drove.  Then he took him out for tacos and prayed some more.  But Victor still needs so much more healing and his wife still served him divorce papers.

Now it was a pastor in another nearby town whom he shared dinner with.  Ben had led in a team months ago to the town where this pastor works and they broke ground on where a church is to be constructed and built a cistern for their bathrooms.  They continued a friendship and now were meeting to discuss more projects.  This pastor has been hurt by so many sources and his work in shepherding his flock in challenging.  He found Ben a safe place and told his stories.  Of course, my husband responded not with articulate and lofty words nor a litany of scriptures. He response was”let me pray for you”. The taco place was all of a sudden a holy place where Ben was carrying his brother to Jesus.  “Listen, I have a team coming down in June, our church from Florida.  Tell us how for one day we can serve you, your church and town the best.  We want to bless you, we want to come along you. You tell us how.”  The pastor looked at Ben and starting laughing with joy and then wept. No agenda pushed on him, no stress to receive help he hadn’t asked for, just a wish to come and serve.

There are so many other stories. So many. Big and small.

I looked out the window at the full moon and heard the radio playing outside next door.  It belonged to the three workers, building a house next to us.  They sleep on the cement floor at nights and then get up the next morning and start working again. Ben invited them over last week for supper.  We bought a kilo of taco meat with the fixings and the boys and I made a giant fruit salad.  We welcomed them in our home and sat down to a meal together, inquiring about their work, their families and like all good Mexicans, talked about food.  They had never been invited — dirty, rough-handed and from the “lower”class– into a gringo’s house for a meal.  They relaxed soon enough and we stayed up far too late playing games.  I sent them out with a bag of food and plenty of fresh fruit, for I knew they had not been getting a balanced diet.  Ben sent them out with a bible in each of their hands. He spoke with them about the love of God as he walked them back.  He has visited them several times since then.  They are gone now.  The house is still unfinished and we don’t know if they will return.

I knew why my husband asked me this question.  I knew he felt that all of his encounters don’t seem to be producing anything.  He can hardly see that God is working and that transformation is happening.  It is slow.  It is hard.  It is tiring. Is it all enough?

I finally answered him.  “The question is not if you are making a difference, the question is if you are obeying Jesus.  I see that you are and this is all He asks.  You are making disciples and we are commanded to make disciples, not converts.  You are taking the time to love and esteem others.  I know you don’t feel like the super-missionary.  I don’t either.  We are not hip, we are not the most gifted or trained, we are not great evangelists, we would not win “parent of the year” awards, we don’t seem to have a lot of dramatic stories of deliverance or healing or mass salvation to report to our supporters, we probably will never start some huge ministry…we are pretty average and a little crazy.”  Ben smiled.

“But, let me tell you a story your older brother once told me:

When you were little and lived in Guatemala, your dad taught at a seminary.   He would drive home and go down a long dirt-road to get to your house.  At the start of that dirt road a poor family lived.  There was a little boy always playing in the dirt yard.  Your dad, no fail, would stop and greet the boy.  Sometimes he would bring him a treat, sometimes he would tussle his hair, sometimes he would tell him Jesus loved him.  It was not much, but your dad was faithful.  Well, that little boy grew up and trusted Jesus.  He went on to study God’s word.  He went on to become a pastor.  He leads a church now and feeds many with eternal words and hope.  He is making disciples and those disciples are multiplying.

You too, are the one that stops by the side of the road. So many roads.  It may not seem like much, but you are obeying in love.  God did not call us to be successful, but rather to be faithful. I am so proud of you.  So, keep on my love, keep on.”

My husband grabbed my hand.  He had never heard this story.  It meant something to him.  A little misty-eyed, he thanked me.  Then he went to brush his teeth.

I turned off my light.  When I awoke in the early morning, he was gone.  Off to another village for a meeting he had that morning.  The kids needed breakfast.  A girl needed to be taken to school and two boys needed to be homeschooled.  The laundry and dishes were piled up, again.  Ben left me a note, saying he had called a pipa (water truck).  I was still a mom, a wife, a woman in a foreign land.

And I had my own disciples to make.

 

A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus. – Dallas Willard

The Business of Getting Visas.

Becoming a missionary in foreign soil has a way of making your roots looser—the tentacles to this world don’t attach so tenaciously. How can they when you find yourself in a place that is utterly unlike all of your cultural programing? Your anchor is no longer hooked between the rocks of familiarity, but in Who is there when all those rocks roll away — Jesus.

The bible tells us that those who are children of God are strangers and aliens in this world. Our “true passports” are stamped with the blood of Jesus, our real citizenship in heaven.  Heaven.  It is a place we have never been, yet we know when we arrive it will feel like we have finally come to the Home of all homes and all those we’ve had here have been but a beautiful tease of what awaits us.

We all have this innate want to belong, to be home, to know that we are rooted in some place for some time, connected to something bigger than our smallness. It is all more than the instinct to nest, it is eternity set in our hearts.

Becoming a missionary in foreign soil has a way of making your roots looser—the tentacles to this world don’t attach so tenaciously. How can they when you find yourself in a place that is utterly unlike all of your cultural programing?  Your anchor is no longer hooked between the rocks of familiarity, but in Who is there when all those rocks roll away — Jesus.

At first it is jarring, this sense of rollicking over new waters. You find yourself still grasping for all that you can understand and all that can bring you comfort. But after a while, when the weaning is more complete it offers a new kind of rest.  The fact that you can abide anywhere safely, legally and with contented joy on this earth is but by His gracious hand.  This truth sinks deep.

I felt this yet again yesterday as we spent several hours at the immigration office in Puebla.  The colors of the Mexican flag decorated the long counter.  The signs, of course, all encoded in Spanish and not a blue-eyed blond in sight, albeit our family.  After our first turn at the counter, we walked across the street to a hole-in-the-wall photo shop that catered to visa needs. We slicked our hair back, removed jewelry and donned most serious expressions for the flash.  Twenty minutes later we trotted back with our packet of tiny and very expensive photos, dodging the smeared tamales dulce on the sidewalk.  After being asked the usual questions, translating our heights and weights into meters and kilos, we were all fingerprinted.

An hour later we received our visa resident cards—good for the kids and I for three years. Praise be to God! No messing around with paperwork and lawyers and so much money for a long while when then we can apply for permanent residency.  What a far cry from the boyhood days of my husband in Central America when he and his family had to drive up the US border every six months!

We are legal.  For a long stretch.  Home in a country that is all my daughter remembers as having that fond title.  Home in a land where God called us to come and abide.  Strangely home in a place that still holds more questions for us than answers.

This all has me thinking: If everything in our lives is a show in the heavenlies illustrating redemption and to declare His glory in the ages to come and to prepare us for eternity, than living here in Mexico is quite significant.  And making your home where you do now is as much this truth.

And it doesn’t hurt being legal.

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