* names are changed
Monday, May 06, 2013
It seems incredible that God would give me the gift of this beautiful redemption story, that I would be a character among many, as he would display the wonder of the Gospel in the hearts Alondra*, Ricardo* and their children. And yet I know that I am just one of the many characters in this story that started in an ice cream shop on Good Friday.
Alondra was in a desperate situation when she came to me on that Good Friday, and because of the Spirit’s prompting, we helped her. Honestly, I never expected to see her again. Three months later, I find that God has completely transformed her life and her whole family. She was faithfully attending our church and was in the new members class to be baptized.
Since she and Ricardo were not legally married, they were not able to be baptized right away in our church. First, they had to get married. This, however was no simple matter. You have to have paperwork in order. Having paperwork (legal birth certificates, divorce documents, etc) can be an enormous obstacle for the people of our country. This is why so many couples never really get married legally, and families that are formed with two people who have not made a legal covenant suffer horrible consequences like violence, infidelity, and poverty.
This is where THE CHURCH of Jesus Christ has a powerful influence on SOCIETY. In order to get baptized and become members of the church, Ricardo and Alondra needed to get legally married. So the CHURCH rises up! A lawyer from our church donated services to work on paperwork, and finally after a long process, on April 26, Ricardo and Alondra got married! Ladies from the church put together a beautiful reception with a gorgeous wedding cake!
Two days later I had the privilege to serve with my Pastor as he was able to baptize the entire family. (except the younger children) Ricardo testified that he was a drunk before he came to Jesus. He said that he would buy alcohol before he would buy food for his family. Since giving his life to Jesus, and coming to our church, God has completely taken away his desire for rum and alcohol. He is a new man and the GOSPEL has taken them out of the misery of poverty. The day before he was baptized in water, Ricardo shared that he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit at church in the evening service. Now the power of the Spirit is as work on a whole new level in their family.
When I saw Alondra the day they were legally married, there in the white dress with flowers in her hair I was overcome with emotion. That beaming face, with a white gown, did not bear any resemblance to the desperation of the woman in the ice cream shop on Good Friday.
The Lord did a miracle for Alondra to find a beautiful wedding dress. She told us that she found it in a pile under the bridge where they sell used clothing that comes from the garbage dumps of clothes that are leftover from goodwill in the US. She said it was black with dirt, but miraculously there was one dry cleaner that was willing to clean it for her. As she told the story, the tears streamed on my face. For it was the metaphor of what God had done for Alondra and her family. Like her wedding gown, she was a treasure in midst of garbage of life and Jesus gave me the joy to help her get cleaned up.
* names are changed
* names are changed
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
And just yesterday I was sent a blog post, written by an American Pastor, “Why Prayer Meetings are a Waste of Time.” The post makes the claim that people pray so that they can feel better when something tragic happens, such as last week’s Boston bombing, and that this is not the purpose of prayer. Though the blogger makes some good points, and certainly the title was all about shock value, still, I was saddened by the Pastor’s disillusionment with prayer and church prayer meetings.
We could spend some time here doing in-depth studies and theological evaluations about the purpose of prayer, but as I ponder the sweetness and simplicity of these two sisters, I am so glad that when we are at the end of our resources, when I cannot solve the problem of hunger and poverty on this island, we can pray. And, we can teach our children to pray. And when the adults fail, and the government fails, and life is hard, and sickness is scary, and earthquakes happen, and sin is real, there is a Savior. A Savior that you can know, and experience, and talk to, every day in prayer.
Prayer is wonderful all by yourself but oh the sweetness when you are weak, and not even able to connect your brain cells together, much less fold your hands, and there is that sister and those brothers around you and you come together to pray. I don’t think that this could ever be a waste of time.
Just ask the shoeless sisters.
(This photo was shot by our Missionary Associate, Alex Rousonelos at a King's Castle outreach in Haiti, with Engage Dominican Republic students, Dominican missionaries Miguel & Mairelys Ovalle and Hidekel King and Haitian King's Castle warriors)
Monday, April 15, 2013
He was just 9-years-old, the son of Brazilian immigrants. He played little league, loved to ride his bike, and never missed a kickball game with the kids in their Florida neighborhood. The day he got the invitation, he swiftly ran home to ask his mom for permission to attend. It was an invitation to a Good News club, and he didn’t want to miss out on it, all the neighborhood kids were going to be there. Mama smiled; she could never resist those eager eyes, so she nodded, and he celebrated as he ran out the door and down the street.
Mary Jane Neville was just an average middle-aged mom. Her own children were now teenagers, but when Children’s Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) presented their vision for reaching kids through Good News clubs at her Central Bible Church in St Petersburg, FL, she was excited about reaching kids for Jesus. She took the training, prepared materials. She hoped to make Thursday afternoon a special time for the kids in her neighborhood. Every week she would share a Bible story and challenge the children to memorize scripture verses. Her husband made her an easel for the flannel graph and a lollipop tree for the memory verse prize.
That eager-eyed 9-year-old boy was there every week. He wouldn’t miss it for the world. He would learn the Scripture, so he could get a prize from the treasure chest and the lollipop tree. He loved the salvation songs and the stories, so on the day when Mrs. Neville gave the invitation for those who wanted to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior; he didn’t hesitate. He prayed the “repeat-after-me” prayer and that moment turned out to be better than all the prizes from the treasure chest and the lollipop tree. Then Mrs. Neville wrote the date of his “born-again” birthday inside the cover of a shiny new Bible and gave it to the boy. It was November 7th, 1974.
Soon after the Brazilian family moved back to Connecticut, the recession had hit, times were hard, and so they moved in with relatives. The Brazilian boy went to the Catholic school with his cousins, and he pondered the meaning of the Christ on the crucifix and the Christ of the flannel graph. The Scriptures and the lollipop tree were replaced with candles and rituals but the seeds of the Good News were planted deep in his heart. And though he left the Bible in a drawer to collect dust, what happened on November 7th 1974, would not let his teenage heart run away too far.
So in 1979, after the big move back to Florida, when the family settled in once again in St Petersburg, the boy who was now a teenager was walking in the halls of a new high school filled with invitations to drugs, partying, and girls. It was just at that crucial crossroads when Robby Kaufman knocked on his door with another invitation. Robby invited him to youth group at Glad Tidings Assembly of God. That very first Wednesday night youth group, the seeds that were planted in his heart by Mary Jane Neville took root and over the months they blossomed as he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and followed the Lord in water baptism.
The Glad Tidings church discipled that young man; Charlie Aldridge picked him up every Sunday and Wednesday in the church van, Roger and LInda were his Bible Quiz coaches, and someone else in the church gave him a scholarship to go to Youth camp. It was at that Youth Camp that the Lord called him to full time ministry at the age of 16.
About that time, he began to wonder about Mrs. Neville and the Good News Club. He wondered if she was still living in St. Petersburg, so he looked her up in the yellow pages, and sure enough, she was still living in the same home. So he went by on a Saturday afternoon to visit Mrs. Neville. When Mary Jane opened the door she could scarcely recognize that tall and handsome 16-year-old young man standing on her front porch, he was barely a shadow of the 9-year-old boy with the funny last name. She welcomed him in with glass of sweet tea and they chatted about his family and all that had happened in his life.
“Mrs. Neville, I came here today to thank you for telling me about Jesus and I want you to know that I am serving him today and I’ve been called to the ministry.” he shared with all the enthusiasm of a young man dreaming about his future. And as he shared the tears ran out of the wrinkles in her loving eyes.
Over the years Mary Jane watched the kids lose interest in the Good News club, most of the kids in the neighborhood never really followed through on those “repeat-after-me” prayers. Some had completely rejected the faith of their childhood. There were many days when Mary Jane wondered if all the investment of her time, talent, and finances was really worth it. Until that day when Nelson de Freitas showed up at her door step, there with his Bible under his arm and dreams of reaching the world for Jesus.
And those dreams became reality. Nelson and his wife Rennae have had the privilege to invite children in many countries of Latin American to church, Sunday school and to hear about Jesus under mango trees and on street corners. They have heard countless “repeat-after-me” prayers and some of those kids grown up to become pastors and missionaries.
Nelson always says that he wants to be on the front row in heaven when Jesus calls out the name “Mary Jane Neville” on that Judgment day. As Jesus shows her final reward, she may be expecting to see the face of Nelson de Freitas but what shock when she sees all those brown faces from Dominican Republic and Haiti. She may want to question Jesus, ask him if he could possibly be mistaken. But he will point to Nelson.
“Remember him?” he will ask.
“Oh, how could I forget that boy with the eager eyes and the funny last name?” Mrs. Neville will reply.
“Mary Jane, because of your faithfulness to reach the kids in your neighborhood, that young man has been reaching kids in neighborhoods across the ocean. Great is your reward!”
Mary Jane Neville is now in her 80’s. Since we began our missionary career she has been among our most faithful supporters.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
The little pink church has its name painted in red on the front wall “The Light on the Path Evangelical Church.” Hidden in the back parts of the Central mountain range where the people live in shacks scattered in the countryside, on that path traveled mostly by donkeys and motorcycles, the little pink church makes its great aspiration; to be a light on the path.
I smile to myself because I know that “The Light on the Path Evangelical Church” (TLOPEC) probably only has electricity for just a few hours a day. So while the saints are gathered and the electricity goes out, the praises are sung all the louder. I know this because this is how it works in church, here on our island, with the all-too-common power outages. The fact is that the Dominican power company cannot “turn off” the light of the Gospel.
Yet I am inspired by the TLOPEC church. With so little resources, why should they even bother? As paltry and pathetic as this little church seems, I can see a dream alive! At least they are getting a few people together, at least they are worshiping, at least in the midst of the darkness of poverty, the The Light on the Path Evangelical Church decided that they would sing together when the power goes out.
Still, the TLOPEC church is a great metaphor for what it really means to be a church, to be that which Jesus shed his precious blood for. It seems like sometimes our great aspirations are dwarfed by our actual accomplishments. How easily we sneer at the church today. Love God? They can’t even paint. Spread the saving message to the World? They can’t even spell. (yes there are a few typos on the walls) Yet, I see so much beauty, wonder, grace and even genius in what it means to bring people together into a humble community of faith, where they need each other and where together they need God.
And how many dreams and aspirations are hidden in darkness because we are waiting for resources, or excellence, or perfection? Surely, I understand the need for quality, but I wonder how often our lofty ideals for a glitzy and glamorous presentation extinguish just plain being a light; right where we are, on a path traveled by donkeys and motorcycles.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I know. It sounds gross. Missionary life is known for adventures in eating. The best missionary stories usually include monkey brain soup or tarantula soufflé. Our food adventures here in the Caribbean have been mediocre in comparison. Yet, among the food challenges that have come my way in this missionary journey is Red Bean Pudding, or Habichuelas Con Dulce.
Here in the Dominican Republic, as we approach Holy Week, the grocery stores are displaying proudly all the necessary ingredients for this most important delicacy. It is usually only served during Holy Week, and it is greatly anticipated. My wonderful Dominican friends and ministry family have always been so excited to share with me their particular version of the Red Bean Pudding, and even the ice cream shop has a Red Bean Pudding flavor!
I must admit, those first years of living here, I had to eat it with a smile, while trying not to breath. Yet, while I forced this exotic desert across my palate, I would see the beautiful expression on my Dominican sister's face. My friends were so excited to share their special tradition with me! I began to enjoy so much the sharing of this cultural experience, that the weirdness of eating sugary sweet legumes with sweet potatoes and raisins began to fade. TODAY, I am craving Habichuelas con Dulce, or Red Bean Pudding. And today, I will share it once again with my girls at Bethesda! Maria is making a big batch!!! She told me to bring some tupperware. And that is the way it works around here, you make enough to take some home in tupperware!
Food is a funny thing in our missionary journeys. It is so much more than nourishment for the body. Learning to love what they love, what they have made, their special traditions, is learning to love the people we serve. And so it was with Jesus. Jesus went from eating at heaven's table to sharing bread and wine with common men. In the eating and the drinking at our table, we watched Jesus love us. Picking up my spoon today, I hope that my girls can watch me love them, because I have learned to really love their Red Bean Pudding.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
It’s Independence Day here in Dominican Republic and today is a day of celebration for sure. In fact, one day is not enough for Dominican patriots. Dominicans, who are “party people” at heart, celebrate during the whole month of February! Still, in the midst of all the celebration of national independence,I am so grieved to see the slavery that still rears its ugly face here in the developing world. Today, while the school is closed for the holiday, there will be children standing at street lights begging for pesos only give the money over to help purchase the drugs and alcohol consumed in the home. And on this day that celebrates freedom, there will be too many women who will be captive to the atrocious abuses that are a result of unrestrained fiestas.
So today, I sat down with the Holy Spirit and my cafe Santo Domingo to join Jesus in Matthew chapter 21. I find myself standing with the crowds, palm branch in my hand, shouting Hosanna, celebrating my own Independence Day when Jesus triumphantly entered my life. Still, I am looking around at this crowd and I am seriously disappointed at the emptiness in their praise. It feels like they are celebrating just for the sake of celebrating. In just a few days, they will change their shouts from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him!”
In fact, true celebration requires a sincere connection to the reason for the party. Otherwise it is empty and what could be a celebration of freedom ends up being a false fiesta for bondage. The Dominican Republic is the only country in the world with a Bible on the flag and the verse that is inscribed is “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In the end the truth is not an idea or political philosophy. The truth is a person, and that Person is Jesus. Today as the festivities and music fill my world, my prayer is that Jesus will triumphantly enter this patriotic fiesta. After all, Jesus is the only true LIFE of the party!
Monday, August 27, 2012
It was actually Good Friday. We were out with the family eating ice cream at one of the very few places to eat in the city that night. There I was happily enjoying my passion fruit ice cream cone, when my joy was interrupted by a woman who was begging in the streets. This is not uncommon. I have had it happen on too many occasions; the fun of a family outing, interrupted by the reality of poverty in our city.
She looked at me with pleading eyes and the desperation of a mother who needs to feed her hungry children. I have seen those pleading eyes too many times to count, in places all over this city and all over the country. Those are the eyes that haunt me, that remind me of my inadequacy to meet the needs in this country that God has called me to serve. Still, looking into the desperation of this mother’s need, I remember that none of this is about me. Nor is it about the mother. Good Friday is always about HIM.
She asked me for money, and I tell her that I usually never give out money in the streets. I told her that I would normally go to a supermarket and buy something for her, but everything was closed. I told her that we would pray, and I would ask the Holy Spirit for guidance about what to do. Then, I asked her about her spiritual condition and she expresses that she desperately needs God. She asked me about my church and she told me that she would go the very next Sunday. I explained to her that since I was a missionary that traveled all over the country, I may not always be at the church but that she should tell the Pastor that I sent her there. We prayed together. She cried on my shoulder.
Then I had to make a decision. Should I give her cash? What would she do with it? Who was she? Was she telling me the truth, or was it a scam? These are questions that I am faced with in my everyday interactions with beggars that stand outside of the supermarket, at the traffic light, or the street corners of this city.
That is why I am so grateful for the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. There standing and praying with this desperate mother; I asked the Lord for the spiritual gift of discernment. As we prayed, I sensed that Jesus should not be misrepresented. If I were going to speak to her about Jesus, I must represent Him well, and I could not imagine that Jesus would have sent her away empty handed. So I put the equivalent of ten dollars into the palm of her hand, and I instructed her to look for a corner store near her home and buy her babies something to eat. She was immensely grateful, and once again, she assured me that she would visit my church.
I never expected that I would see this woman again. The story of this encounter could be told many times over, as I have had so many similar experiences in the 19 years of our missionary life here in Santo Domingo. I am sure that I have given money to drug addicts and drunks that ran to the nearest dealer for more of their vice. There have been children that have taken the pesos from my hand and given them to some horrible parent that enslaves their own children. These are the realities of poverty in the developing world, and in the midst of it all, I have learned to seek the Spirit’s guidance, as I remember Jesus’s words, “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these...”
Last Sunday I was back at my home church after three months of traveling during the summer with other ministry commitments. We were among the last to leave the building as we greeted our church family that we had missed so much. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there was a woman who was waiting to get my attention. Finally, I turned my attention toward her. She asked me if I remembered her. I did not. In fact, I had no idea who she was. She reminded me that she was the woman that came to me at the ice cream shop that Good Friday.
I looked at her in astonishment. She was dressed in her Sunday best, she had a Bible in her her arms and a big smile on her face. The joy that infused her whole expression was so different from the desperation that I saw on the evening of Good Friday. She told me that she did exactly as I told her and that she has been faithfully attending the church ever since that night. Then she introduced me to her husband and her children. She explained that they were in the discipleship class and that they were all going to be baptized soon! I was overjoyed to say the least. I cannot even begin to explain my great joy at seeing that whole family, bibles under their arms, standing in the foyer of my church.
So often, we do not see the result of a simple act of obedience. We just have to trust that one day in heaven there will be a ton of redeemed beggars from Santo Domingo. But on this particular Sunday morning, I was privileged to see the end result of that Good Friday encounter! It turns out to still be true that the best part about Good Friday is when we experience the outcome on Sunday morning.
“It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning.
It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands To the cross. They nail my Savior’s feet
to the cross. And then they raise him up next to criminals.
to the cross. And then they raise him up next to criminals.
But It’s only Friday. Let me tell you something-- Sunday’s comin’.” S. M. Lockridge