Not a Slam Dunk

Today we were in another sugar cane village. What set this one apart was that it had a park area, complete with a basketball court. Almost immediately we broke out into a game of 4 on 4 half-court with the kids from the village. I learned two things today: 1) Playing basketball in a leather fedora is never a good idea, and 2) My pastor has no problem rejecting a layup from a girl who measures five foot nothing.

20150121_152612

The basketball and the crafts and the finger nail painting and the many other activities we shared with the girls and boys of the village was our way of bring an interlude of joy and happiness into the lives of children who have next to nothing in their day to day. In an existence where running water is a luxury, babies meander in the road with no clothes, and girls are cast off as second class citizens, it was fulfilling to be able to deliver smiles and a certain sense of wonderment to those children.

Still, our mission was quite clear; to do our part to ensure eternity for those little souls. And it starts with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. It starts with literally reaching out to each and every child and inviting them to the house of God to hear someone’s testimony. It involves taking the time to share our stories and evangelize to others the grace God has displayed in our lives. Feed them the Word and they will be nourished. Nourish their souls, and they will be saved.

If only it were that easy.

It doesn’t take one time. It doesn’t take two times. It may take the fifth or tenth or fiftieth time for someone to finally hear God calling them and accept Jesus as their Lord and savior. It’s not enough for us to visit that village once, gift them with food, candy, and playtime, and expect them to all become Christ followers. It takes our team, and the team after us, and the team after that. It takes weeks, months, years of ministry. It takes a commitment from the church, the collection of Christians worldwide, to invest time, money, and love to bring the gospel to those who need it.

IMG_20150121_175124

And although these people with whom we interacted and shared today have a laundry list of physical needs, there is nothing they need more than Christ.

The analogy I use with my kids is imagine being invited to a party. Not just any party, but the most amazing, fun, insanely awesome party in the history of ever. Now imagine that the people you love and enjoy being with won’t be at the party with you. They have a chance to go, but they either don’t know about the party or simply have no interest in going. Wouldn’t you go to great lengths to tell them about the party? Wouldn’t you do everything you could to convince them to go?

To me, that’s what heaven is. An eternity of joy in paradise, a salvation not because of anything I did (Ephesians 2:9), but rather because I believe, acknowledge, and declare that Jesus died on the cross for me and is my Lord and savior.

It’s a never ending task because there is always one more person to reach and one more soul to lead towards salvation. And as I learned on this trip, it’s not my job to save souls. That is God’s duty. My job, as a follower of Christ, is to play my part in introducing others to the beauty of Jesus Christ, be it here in the Dominican Republic, back home in Tampa, or wherever it is I find myself.

And that is something I can do no problem.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'” -John 14:6

Empowered Through Him

God is great. God is all powerful. God loves to delegate.

So much time is spent questioning why God did or didn’t in our lives. So many people of faith speak counter to their convictions and challenge God because of the troubles in their lives or the lives of others.

My faith walk has taught me so much, one of which is the lyrics to the Matthew West song Do Something are so very true.

So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

We are all called to serve in our own way. We are all called to make better for those around us. Be it in our office place, our schools, while in line at the grocery store; we are all empowered by Him to serve for Him.

I was fortunate to experience that today. As we visited Pasitos de Jesus, an orphanage for girls, there really wasn’t a whole lot for me to do, per se. My strong suit is not sitting at a table with little kids and doing crafts. I’m not exactly qualified to do the medical work other members of our team were performing. I am, however, capable of doing yard work and moving trash from here to there.

So with gardening sheers in hand, I set off to make a little bet the landscaping of the grounds of the orphanage. I was given a specific task; trim the hedges that line the wall. I didn’t have to pull the weeds or remove the dead limbs from the hedges, but since I was there already, I did. I didn’t have to pick up the trash that had accumulated at the bottom of the hedges, but I did anyway.

Later in the day we visited a village. We had previously purchased food to take and distribute to the members of that community. The plan was to give the individual a bag of food, have our team pray with them, and then continue with the distribution. As with most things in life, things don’t always exactly go as planned.

photo

As it turned out, many of the recipients, although grateful, did not want to have to wait in order to take advantage of the gifts they were given. With twenty five bags, the queue for prayer grew quickly. Some started to leave.

We have only one pastor, but we have a team full of ministers, and God implored me to not let these people go home without a blessing. I felt empowered to step up to the next person in line, place my hand on their shoulder, and pray with them.

The Holy Spirit provided the words, and the fact I was able to deliver them in Spanish made them, I believe, a little more comforting to those receiving them. Other members of our team followed suit. All of the sudden, there were pockets of prayer going on. There were huddles of church in the middle of a village in the Dominican Republic.

We didn’t have to think about it. We didn’t have to question it. All we had to do was act.

As believers, we’re called to do His will here on earth. We’re called to step out of our particular comfort zone and extend a hand to someone in need. Believing in Christ is wonderful, but simply having faith does not make us Christ followers.

“So you see, faith by itself is not enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” – Jame 2:17

Looked Over and Forgotten

Their smiles melted my heart. The warmth of their hands moved my soul.

Our first full day of ministry began with a visit to a sugar cane village. Abject poverty, malnourished children, and of course – because we’re in the Dominican Republic – a baseball field. The eyes of the children opened wide as they saw our bus pull into their village. We all quickly broke out into games, throwing Frisbees and kicking a ball around. The males in our group became horses, carrying one, two, and even three kids on our backs, all the while running around like the kids we once were.

As I sat with a young girl and spoke to her about Christ, I stepped through my evangecube, an educational tool that is used for visually sharing the gospel. I was surprised at how well versed she was with who Jesus is and how He sacrificed Himself for our sins. I then began thinking about why this child of God lives in an environment in which she has to make do without shoes.

balsa

In the afternoon, we visited a living facility for the elderly. Whereas the village of children made me take a step back, the living facility wrecked my heart. To say it’s a facility is a misnomer. It’s a one-story building with rooms with beds. It’s a home to a forgotten generation of individuals, each beautiful and longing for validation, wanted to be reminded they are people too and not simply someone else’s burden.

The thoughts were overwhelming. The “Why’s” were without end.

At both places I got lost in my own mind, my thoughts cascading over what it is we need to do to fix the problem. But how do you fix poverty? How do you fix generations of inequity? How do you fix the influence of Satan in the thieves and the policy makers, both whom prey on the weak in their own way?

I don’t have an answer to that. My mind loves if-then process flows that lead to clean and neat solutions. Perhaps that’s why I’m so exhausted after dwelling on a systematic problem for which there may not exist an answer.

What I do know is that for those living in darkness, light is most important. For those living in loneliness, nothing is greater than love.

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and God is love (1 John 4:8). God reminded me today that my mission was not to solve the problems of the boys and girls at La Balsa village. It was not to provide a permanent solution to the women and men at La Esperanza home. My mission, the task to which God appointed me, was to love.

Love in the form of a smile. Love in the form of a hug. Love in the sharing of His good news. Love in the form of piggybacks and high fives and coloring books. Love in the form of serving soda with cookies and pushing a wheelchair and praying over someone.

These people I met today are overlooked and they have been forgotten, but not by God. Rather, it is we who have conveniently tucked them away into the unseen and marginalized them so that our lives may be a little easier.

I believe God has a plan for us all, but I struggle greatly in trying to understand God’s plan for these people; people who love Him and praise His name yet have their days filled with wanting, emptiness, and pain. Although it’s God’s privilege to conceal His plan from us (Proverbs 25:2), I think maybe His plan for them is actually quite simple: to help us grow in our faith.

I came to the Dominican Republic expecting to serve people, but today I found beautiful people ministering to me. People who have little about which to be happy, but still have a joy in their heart; a joy given to them by God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5

Commission Call

Today is the first day of our mission trip to the Dominican Republic. It’s been several months in the planning and now we’re actually here.

God has been working in me and through me the last couple of years, steering me away from what I thought I wanted – a successful professional career – and into full-on ministry work.

At first, He’s guided me to shift my writing from generic to more specific. He’s called me to use the writing talent He’s given me to share my story and help point others to His love and grace.

Now he’s directing me to step up once again. With this opportunity of the mission trip, a trip made possible because of our church’s partnership with Score International, not only will I be able to bring the Word of God to others, I am also meeting new people that I know will be influential in the next steps of my faith journey.

God does not reveal all the details at once. Rather, He calls us to step forward in faith, knowing this first step is assured in His protection, as are all the other steps that are yet to be revealed. I believe He gave me a glimpse of that next step tonight.

Tonight I got to know a little better the Executive Director of Score International. His name is John Zeller and he began doing his work in ministry at the young age of 54. John responded to God’s calling and has transformed so many lives as a result. I will be 42 next month, and I know God is laughing at me for harboring thoughts that I missed my chance to make a difference.

It’s going to be an interesting week, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me and the others on our mission trip team.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20