Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Help from Friends - Jason

Working with national believers is really cool.  I love the thrill of discipleship – watching people stepping into opportunities that have been opened up for them and then watching them begin to create opportunities themselves.  It’s always awesome to hear what they are learning and thinking as they begin reflecting on new experiences.  

Doing it in another culture has also shown the practical benefits for us as an organization.  It has always been my experience that people who are being discipled contribute more to the process as a whole than what could ever have been expected.  In another culture though, there is the additional benefit of expertise and relationships within their culture…something we do not have as missionaries.

We have three young people who we are discipling from Batey Lima who help us in their village and two more bateyes.  In the last two days, they have done simple things that have illustrated how great it is to have them as part of the team. 

Yesterday in one of the villages, a lady approached us and told us that she needed money to go to the doctor.  We are always very hesitant to give things out for various reasons, but she was very convincing and it is a new village for us – we do not have the relationships there yet.  Everyone reading this probably has an opinion of what we should do in that situation, but in the moment, it is usually very difficult to determine.  Add to it, that we get requests for help almost every day.  So my mind is going back and forth – I really do want to help if it is a genuine need and my helping will not make the situation worse.  In this case, Francis walked up to me and said in English (we have been teaching them English – the woman couldn’t understand him) something like, “Jason, don’t give her any money.  She has a very large family and they are very capable and willing to help with this request.  She is just asking because she thinks she can get money from you.”  Wow!  Wisdom…thank you Lord for providing these teammates.

Today, we pulled up to a village where we usually use a pavilion for the teaching.  We taught there all summer, but have not taught for the last month.  Now, a group of guys uses the pavilion to play dominos.  We picked another spot to do the teaching, but it wasn’t quite as conducive to learning, so Francis walked with me down to talk to the guys and ask them if we could use it again two days a week.  They know me, but they are friends with Francis.  So…they said “sure.”

We’ve seen this again and again.  Tomorrow, they will begin to teach through Creation to Christ and we will get to watch them teach through the process that they sat through as students during the summer.  Discipleship is cool.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spiritual Growth does not come from a Vitamin - Jason

We work in the same two villages each day.  In one of the villages, nutrition is a problem.  The kids could really benefit from a vitamin each day.  I think there are a few people who have become interested in supplying those vitamins and we are thankful for that.  It seems to me that it will do a lot of good.  In that village, the educational level of the kids is very bad and I wonder if some of it is just due to lack of health.  In this case, vitamins could make a difference.  Amazing that we can learn and discover what is good (Vitamin A, D, etc.), extract those and then give them to people who are lacking them.

I think sometimes we try to do the same thing though with Spiritual growth.  It becomes the "3 things every married couple should practice," "10 Biblical principles for sound money management," "5 Leadership traits from Biblical figures," etc.  In the field of education, we look for better methods for integration - how can we take the Bible in make it the backbone of the various disciplines.  And...there are methods for doing it.  We are looking for the vitamin - "extract the principles and just give me those."

But, when you stop and think about it, it becomes clear that Biblical truth cannot be handled in this way.  The Bible is not simply knowledge about something.  It is not simply cognitive understanding.  We do not teach the truths in the Bible in order to introduce people to a message.  We teach the Bible in order to introduce people to a person.  The very God of the universe can be met in the pages of Scripture.  And when we walk in relationship with Him, He changes us to become more like Him.  The husband who knows three things he should do and the husband who is becoming more like Christ are two very different husbands.

That is true in any relationship.  Think about a person who had an impact on you - not just in your thinking, but you know that you are different because of this person.  What if you had never met that person, but instead someone had made a list of their character traits or principles from their lives and you had read it?  Is it possible that you could still be impacted?  Sure, it is possible, but much less probable.  It is only possible to the extent that those ideas actually become your ideas, it is impossible if those ideas are simply known by you.

What am I saying?  There is no substitute for knowing God.  As an example, in the field of education, we will have an impact on our students when we are genuinely changed.  We will be genuinely changed as we know Him, not as we implement new methods.  The difference would be that in the former, the students are taking on the life that they see in us because we are genuinely different.  In the latter, we employ methods which the students will at best also implement in their own lives.  The one is changed life the other is changed methods for living.  The one is qualitative change, the other is the same type of change offered by any other religion in the world.  We are not offering a different way to live, we are offering a new life!

To those of you who made it through that, I have not found a good way to explain this concept.  I think it might be because we are so used to learning in lists that it is difficult to envision how exactly this change takes place - we have been trained to look for the vitamin.  If you have a good idea for how to explain it, I'd love to hear it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thinking Back..... - Pamela

I can’t believe it’s been a year already in the Dominican!  Watching the Simoses and Clines arrive in the country these last few weeks has been a chance to think about our first days and weeks in the country.  My first week was spent out in the country with no lights, water, sometimes no food, and no air conditioning.  I can remember feeling so hot all the time, hungry at times, and completely frustrated with the culture.  I felt that nothing was getting done and the things that we could get done took forever.  I remember thinking in the states that we focus on customer service, I could return items if I wanted, I could get a refill on my drink, I could go to Lowes and pick out anything I needed, but here I have to ask the guy at the counter and then he would go to the back to retrieve the screw I needed. I could go through a check out line without having the bagger, the guy at the desk, and the guy at the door check my receipt before leaving the store.  

I understood the language in the states and had no problem surviving; I knew the lingo and how to get things done.  I could pick out whatever kind of ice cream flavor I wanted and sometimes only pay a dollar for a half gallon of ice cream.  The culture shock, the fact we couldn’t speak Spanish, and having to depend on people drove me crazy.  I was impatient, irritated, frustrated, humbled, laughed at, and friendless in a strange country all alone.  We have car problems all the time, in fact our car at one point caught on fire, we feel the sweat on our bodies everyday,  our stomachs are sour from the water and food, our bodies at times feel like they have been through the ringer. 

But yet as I look back at all of those things I can say it’s not really all that bad.  Yes, those things were real and such a battle in my mind and body and yes, a struggle emotionally as they were/are lived through; I wouldn’t trade that first year for anything.  The Holy Spirit did His work in my heart by comforting me, instructing me, putting a mirror in my face by exposing sin. He gave me a glimpse of how I could be content in whatever circumstance I’m in.  He spoke softly the words that His grace is sufficient for me and his power is made perfect especially when I’m weak. He gave me the desires of my heart by providing other godly woman to meet my need of fellowship. He is teaching me to be a wise woman who builds her house even in a foreign country. 
When I feel sad he reminds me of how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  He is continually working on me to do everything without complaining or arguing and to speak pleasant words because they are like honey, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Most importantly he reminds me that I have this treasure (gospel) in jars of clay (that can break at times) to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not me.  Yes it’s true, that first year I was hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed;  the good news is that I carry around in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.  Yes, all of these things the Lord continually renews my mind and yes I still struggle and feel hard pressed at times, but I’m amazed at the work God has done this past year in my life! 

What will He accomplish this next year?  It baffles my mind to see God’s power in all my many weaknesses.  I’m such a broken jar of clay yet He entrust his precious treasure for me to carry in my body.  These next 10 weeks in the Bateys  I get to carry that treasure  and I believe my jar will be cracked at times. It will be a huge test of endurance, emotional stability, speaking nice words to my family, etc. There will be spiritual warfare, no doubt about it, we feel it all the time, so please pray with us that our minds will be continually renewed with these truths.  I am confident however, that he began this work in my life and will complete it! 

Dios te bendiga!

Amazing Grace - Jason

God created us to have a relationship with Him.  It shouldn't be surprising when we see His grace manifested towards someone who softens their heart towards Him...but it is.  In this case, its shocking:

I Kings 21:24-28  “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.” (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.) When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

You've got a guy who is extremely evil in his pursuit of evil and yet, he humbles himself and receives grace.  Its similar to the city of Nineveh turning after the preaching of Jonah.

Strange that in the face of this kind of grace, so many still believe that a relationship with God, either initiated or ongoing, must be earned. 

I think a passage like this shows God's style.  There must be a response to truth - in other words, God does not stop bringing destruction simply because.  It is in direct response to faith - in this case, Ahab's actions demonstrated that he believed what God said would happen would actually happen.  In the same way, for those who want a relationship with God today, they cannot have it however they want it.  We have to respond to the truth that Christ's death, burial and resurrection pays for our sin and enables a relationship with God to begin.  This is the nature of any relationship - I don't have a relationship with my kids or my wife or even friends only on my terms.  I have to know who they are and respond to that.

On the other hand, God responds to this faith without counting a man's former sins against him. Though nothing seems to indicate that Ahab ever entered into relationship with God, God is very quick to extend grace, calling him to repentance.  God's desire to see the relationship established is not neutral; it is very one-sided - He is biased towards having a relationship with us.  So much so that He sent His Son.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Abundant Life - Jason

I have been thinking about Psalm 1 ever since I heard a friend of mine from Bible College singing it.  Here it is if you are interested: 

Psalm1: 1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—  whatever they do prospers.
 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. 

The righteous are like trees planted by water which bear fruit.  How does that strike you?  Not so strange…that’s what trees are meant to do.  Jesus said that He came to bring us abundant life – full life.  When we delight in the truth, we live life the way it is meant to be lived and life is full.  Just like there is nothing strange about a tree bearing fruit, there is nothing strange about living life for God’s glory – loving Him, loving people, and using our gifts and abilities in a way that take dominion.  It was meant to be – and salvation enables life the way it was meant to be.

On the other hand, the wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away.  Who are the wicked?  They are those who refuse to take delight in the Truth.  Instead, they seek their own path, their own way.  They are masters of their own life.  The problem is that chaff is the part of the plant that is worthless. Its what the combine spits out once it has the seed. In seeking to provide their lives with their own meaning, they are slaves to insignificance.  The wind blows them away…the feeling of being master of their own life is illusory.  The reality is that they are not doing the carrying but are being carried away.

As I write, there are two faces that come to mind.  Faces that have chosen to be chaff – that have chosen lives of insignificance by declaring their own independence.  Each life is like watching a train wreck – one bad decision following another bad decision, each bringing with it consequences that cause those making the decisions to cry for relief. Yet they continue to refuse to be planted by the stream of living water.  Chaff intended to be a fruit tree, yet determining to remain chaff. Chaff screaming that it wants to bear fruit, yet refusing to be a fruit tree.

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

I can say as a believer in Jesus Christ, that having Him as Savior has not made my life more burdensome – it has set me free!  With all that I have, I want others to know that same Freedom.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Questions to a missionary wife - Pamela

Pam was asked these questions by a student in University...

1.) How long have you been serving as a missionary and have you been in the Dominican the whole time?

We arrived in the Dominican June 7, 2010 so a little more than 9 months. We will be having our first furlough in October 2011 for about a month or so. We plan to be in the States once a year for a month. So 11 months out of the year we are in the Dominican.

2.) When did you realize that you were called to go to the DR for full time missions?

I know what you mean by "being called" into missions, but I think for me and my husband we think of it more like God's natural leading in our lives.

Being a missionary is a tool that allows us to be what we are made to be. For others it may be using their gifts and abilities as teachers, lawyers, accountants, etc to glorify God with their lives. Missions allows us to use our abilities to glorify Him the way we are meant to live.

The events that led us to move in this direction took many years of God equipping us and preparing us for the task that we hold in our hands now.

For 4 years my husband led high school seniors to the Dominican for their senior missions trip. During those years our eyes were opening to the need for equipping and discipling the people in the sugar cane villages. The people hear the gospel all of the time but we saw very little discipleship, growth or real change in their lives. We enjoy discipling, especially my husband (natural gift and ability) and he loves using the tool of education to disciple kids and equip them to be what they are designed to be by God. He is a visionary also.

I love to organize, take care of details, and do administrative duties on the day to day level. So on that last senior trip to the Dominican we decided to head in the direction of missions. So, we moved to VA and Jason finished his doctorate degree at Liberty and I finished my degree. That took 2 years, and during that time we started Freedom International Ministries, Inc. Then we raised support for one year and now we are here learning Spanish. So for us it is God's natural leading in our lives.

3.) How did your relationship with your husband change and how did you have to adjust to it once you moved overseas?

Jason and I have always worked better along side each other than apart because we are on the same page. In the past when he was a teacher or we had separate jobs we didn't connect as well. It was hard to get a clear picture of what each other dealt with from day to day on the job. Now, I can't ask for a better situation. We plan together, we eat lunch together, we talk more, and we understand each other's needs more clearly. Our relationship changed for the better because the circumstances made it possible to be more intentional to work at it.

As far as adjusting to our relationship once we moved over seas it seemed to grow stronger. We only had each other (partly because we are the first ones down here from our team) so our priorities changed and we valued our relationship more. When my husband is the only one that speaks English and everyone else around me speaks Spanish then the only one I can speak deeply to is my husband.

4.) How does living in a different culture affect the way you have to raise your children?

The principles remain the same whether I am in the States or the Dominican but the methods change. For example, here the women dress very immodestly according to our culture. I have 3 boys that really don't notice that yet, but they seem to snicker a little bit or feel uncomfortable at times, as do I. I started having talks with them to turn the other direction when you see something immodest so you don't have to think about it. Some women breast feed their babies out in the open with out putting a blanket over them to keep from exposing their breast. This too is a culture difference that we need to overlook or turn our heads. This even makes me feel uncomfortable at times because I feel I need to cover them up. What we think as immodest they see as normal.

5.) What are your typical roles as being a wife of a missionary?

We think of it as two missionaries working full time on the field. I think some people see it as the man is the missionary and he brings his wife and kids along. I think we need to shift our way of thinking about missions because the wife has a full time role of working as a missionary too. Right now both my husband and I are learning Spanish full time. We have 3 hours of class every morning in addition to 4 to 5 hours of homework everyday. On the weekends we practice talking in Spanish with the people and teach an English class to people in a country church who want to learn.

This summer we have 10 weeks of chronological teaching from creation to Christ and we will host teams from the states during this time. Afterwards I will be responsible for organizing and administrating home school for 6 missionary kids in addition to all of the administrative responsibilities that require running an organization. In October, we will have fund raising events like our banquet, furlough, and preparing plans to build the school. In the future, I will be teaching in the school we start or filling in different aspects of our ministry as things come up.

6.) How does being so far away from home affect your relationships with your family members and friends from your home in the States?

We really miss our family; I think our kids really miss their grandparents and cousins. But I must say that when we see them or talk to them on the phone we are very intentional about the quality of time we spend with them.

I would say that technology is a fabulous tool for missionaries to stay in contact. Facebook, e-mail, Skype, phone, videos, etc help to make the time with family that more precious. At times I wish I could go out to breakfast with my mom or my sister or just have some girl time with them, I just can't do that that can be emotional at times. We are anxious to have our partners here soon; I think that will help with those types of relational needs.

There are adjustments to anything we choose to do. Being in a foreign country with different cultural habits, food, language, etc can add to the stress of living, but once you get through those changes, life feels more like reality and normal. I think the most important thing a missionary needs to know is that they are not forgotten and that the relationships in the states remain strong and that people really come along side of you to support, encourage, and pray for you. We need people to run this race with us!