What will you do now?

This coming August 14th I will celebrate ten years of full-time mission work in Latin America. Almost ten years ago, at age twenty-two, I was met at the airport outside of Caracas, Venezuela by fellow missionaries. I spent that night inside my very first apartment in Latin America. With a suitcase full of clothes, several books, a few things to remind me of friends and family, I began organizing my new life.

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Anaco, Anzoátegui, Venezuela

So much has happened in the past ten years: I’ve witnessed new births into God’s Kingdom. I’ve helped establish new congregations. I’ve sung at weddings, funerals, and helped expecting parents choose names for their children. I’ve run from armed gunmen and I’ve run into the arms of newfound family and friends. I’ve grown. I’ve cried. I’ve sweat and I’ve suffered.

 

So now what? People ask me, “What will you do now?” To ask, “What will you do now?” is a haunting question in our postmodern, liquid society. Very few people keep a job for very long anymore and many people move around fairly regularly. We expect new seasons in life to bring about important changes on many levels. So, What is my answer? What am I going to do? I would like to continue doing what I am doing now.

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Edo. Amazonas, Venezuela

My desire is to spend the coming years in Latin America as a missionary. This is not because I am somehow overly qualified for the job or never face uncertainties about my vocation. I recently discovered the following truth in a conversation with a friend while on furlough. Confession time. Here it is: I need to be a missionary.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the people of Latin America need me or that somehow the church would feel my absence. Quite the contrary, both friends and family in Latin America would do just fine without me. But I need to be a missionary because I need them – my Latin American friends and family.

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Parque los Chorros, Caracas, Venezuela

You see, mission work isn’t just about teaching – it’s also about learning. It’s not just about helping others, but being helped yourself. It’s about denying yourself certain privileges in order to walk alongside others. It’s about setting aside a part of your self to be transformed into someone different. Mission work changes you.

 

I would dare say that I’ve learned more about myself in the past ten years than I would have if I would have stayed in white, suburban America. Nevertheless, this self-knowledge would be entirely vain and egocentric were it not understood in light of my experience with the risen Lord.

 

You see, Latin Americans teach me about Jesus all the time. I’ve learned more about Jesus in dirty urban slums and in the Amazon than I did from a trip to the Holy Land. I come face to face with Jesus whenever I serve or am served by one of the “least of these”.

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Plaza Bolívar de Chacao, Miranda (East Caracas)

I don’t want to leave Latin America because there is so much more that I have to learn about Jesus. There is so much more that I have to learn about what it means to walk with Him on the asphalt, the dirt roads and through the high grass. I need to hurt, to struggle, to be alone, to be present, to laugh, to cry with my people because it is this pilgrimage together that teaches me who I truly am. It teaches me where I am going and to whom I am going.

 

I’m a missionary in Latin America because I need these people.

Malala and the Dangers of Objectification

objectification

Syllabification: ob·jec·ti·fi·ca·tion
Pronunciation: /əbˌjektəfəˈkāSH(ə)n/

Definition of objectification in English:

noun

The action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.

 


 

One of the greatest sins of today is the sin of objectification. A brief history lesson will tell us that objectification is a strategy that has been used to promote national and financial interests and even to promote senseless wars.

 

How does objectification work? Objectification: Ziauddin and Malala Yousafzai are Muslims from Afghanistan. They are uneducated, ignorant people who believe in a god that hates women and desires to end “life as we know it” in the U.S.

 

The truth: Ziauddin Yousafzai and Malala Yousafzai are Sunni Muslims from the Swat valley of Afghanistan. Ziauddin is a poet, school owner and an educational activist who speaks out against radical Islam and the terror caused by the Taliban in his native country. Malala spoke out against the Taliban and their decision to not let children attend schools. After receiving numerous threats, she was shot in the face along with two other friends on their way home from school. After a prolonged coma, she made an almost full recovery. She continues her educational activism fighting for human rights and especially for girls who desire to go to school. She won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 10, 2014.

 

Objectification obscures the truth. It reduces people to things. Men and women are often reduced to being simply “threats”. While some men and women represent threats to others – to suggest that an entire religion or people group represent a threat is to be poorly informed.

 

It might not be politically expedient to speak out against the objectification of our fellow human beings. But then again, following Jesus’ call to be peacemakers has not been politically expedient for His disciples throughout the last two-thousand years either.

 

In the last century, the Nazi party objectified the Jewish race when they proclaimed the Aryan race a superior one and the Jewish race to be inferior. Violence and aggressive action was much more easily dealt toward the Jewish people when they lost their status as first-class citizens.

 

In the New Testament, we see that Jesus rejected the idea that Jews should primarily see Samaritans as “half-breeds”. He gently informed the Samaritan woman in John 4 that soon Jews and Samaritans would soon worship together in spirit and truth.

 

When Jesus wanted to tell a piercing story about empty religiosity and hypocrisy, he made the “good guy” a Samaritan. The words “good Samaritan” never went together in the first century Jewish vocabulary before Jesus decided to challenge a common conviction of His day!

 

Jesus healed numerous men and women who had lost their status as such when they became demon-possessed, lame, deaf, blind, lepers and beggars. While many begged for money, others were forced to shout “unclean” at the first sign of others.

 

The Bible tells us that every man and woman on the planet today is the made in the image of God, endowed with the capacity to create, love, forgive and communicate with God and others. While many have chosen to turn their backs on God or to turn to false gods, this does not mean that we should treat them as animals – for they are not.

 

We must love our neighbors (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:34-40 et.al.) and our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) because they have been endowed by their Creator with a unique gift – His very image.

 

If Jesus were still telling parables today, I would not be surprised if today one would be called the Parable of the Good Muslim.

 

Check out a documentary about Malala and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai:

 

 

Malala also wrote a book, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.

Leo Tolstoy’s Pacifist Anarchism

Leo Tolstoy is well known for his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He is less well known for his short stories. The stories that we read in our last meeting were rather didactic and straight-forward. The author left very little to the reader’s imagination.

This can be seen as a lack of literary style or creativity. While there is no doubt the author could have embellished his stories or made them into mini-masterpieces, it appears that his desire goes far beyond writing good literature.

Young Leo TolstoyTolstoy was well known for his criticism of the Russian nobility and their ostentatious lifestyles. More than once he wanted to run away from his life as a Russian noble. He understood human flourishing as much more than having and administrating goods. His idea of being human had much more to with being good.

Our society today is more interested in “dealing goods” than in “being good”. While culturally and most certainly geographically, Russia may be thousands of kilometers from Buenos Aires, Tolstoy’s call for a more humane society rings true today in this place.

Tolstoy is also known for being an anarcho-pacifist. He insisted on nonviolent resistance as the path for a more humane society. He did not believe in the myth of redemptive violence — the idea that violence can end violence. His ideas not only found a great following in Russia, but in India and in the U.S.as well with people like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tolstoy asks us today through his stories, “what do you see when you look at other people?” “Can you look past what defines them socially?” “Can you look your neighbor in the eye and see him for who he or she truly is?” His prophetic voice was certainly not silenced by his death. He is, in many ways, still present with us today.

Leo Tolstoy

It’s just not the same!

There are many electronic devices available for reading books both old and new. In some ways, they are very convenient. I’ll even admit to reading a work of G.K. Chesterton on my phone while jogging on the treadmill at the gym. But the truth is: it’s just not the same!

 

worthless thingamabobsThere is nothing greater (well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit) than holding a book in your hand. Let’s admit it, we love the smell of books! And an e-reader provokes no sweet sensations whatsoever! Those of us who love reading have moved beyond judging a book by its cover to developing a kind of friendship with the book, a literary companion, if you will.

 

Books open themselves up to you, they share with you and wait patiently until you can give them more of your time and attention. They are with you on trains and planes and yes of course, on the Subte as well. Though I have owned a Kindle in the past, my desire for the printed word will always beat out the desire for convenience.

 

It turns out that my instinct and attraction to the printed word might have positive repercussions not only for my mind, but for my body. What does science have to say about those thingamabobs? Check out this article and learn more! Until then, stick with real books!

Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation

“Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted.” These are the words written by Flannery O’Connor in her prayer journal sometime between January 1946 and September 1947. At this point, she did not know just how much of her work was to published and cherished by so many!

This past Thursday we learned about the great American author, Flannery O’Connor. We read her short stories “The Artificial Nigger”, “Good Country People”, “Revelation” and “Judgment Day”. Here’s the handout we shared with the group:

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor is able to arouse our sense of justice but at the same time draw us toward a greater self-awareness of who we are and how we see and treat “the other”. Her stories often mention prejudice and race in the Southern United States. Despite living in a different time and place, her words still speak clearly today and call us dwell upon what kind of people we are today. O’Connor’s revelation story can lead us to our own revelation, if we allow it to.

Meditation by Francis de Sales

Second Meditation of the End for Which We Were Created

by Francis de Sales

 

 

Preparation

 

1. Please yourself before God.

 

2. Ask Him to inspire your heart.

 

 

Considerations

 

1. God did not bring you into the world because He had any need of you, useless as your are; but solely that He might show forth His goodness in you, giving you His grace and glory. And to this end He gave you understanding that you might know Him, memory that you might think of Him, a will that you might love Him, imagination that you might realize His mercies, sight that you might behold the marvels of His works, speech that you might praise Him, and so on with all your other faculties.

 

2. Being created and placed in the world for this intent, all contrary actions should be shunned and rejected, as also you should avoid as idel and superflous whatever does not promote it.

 

3. Consider how unhappy they are who do not think of all of this, who live as though they were created only to build and plant, to heap up riches and amuse themsevles with trifles.

 

 

Affections and Resolutions

 

1. Humble youself in that hitherto you have so little thought upon all this. Alas, my God, of what was I thinking when I did not think of Thee? what did I remeber when I forgot Thee? what did I love when I loved Thee not? Alas, when I ought to have been feeding on the truth, I was but filling myself with vanity, and serving the world, which was made to serve me.

 

2. Abhor your past life. I renounce ye, O vain thoughts and useless cognitions, frivolous and hatelful memories. I renounce all worthless friendships, all unprofitable efforts, and miserably ungrateful self-indulgence, all pitiful compliances.

 

3. Turn to God. Thou, my God and Savior, shalt henceforth be thte sole object of my thoughts; no more will I give my mind to ideas which are displeasing to Thee. All the days of my life I will dwell upon the greatness of Thy goodness, so lovingly poured out on me. Thou shalt be henceforth the delight of my heart, the resting place of all my affections. From this time forth I will forsake and abhor the vain pleasures and amusements, the empty pursuits which have absorbed my time; the unprofitable ties which have bound my heart I will loosen henceforth, and to that end I will use such and such remedies.

 

 

Conclusions

 

1. Thank God, Who has made you for so gracious an end. Thou hast made me, O Lord, for Thyself, that I may eternally enjoy the immensity of Thy glory. When shall I be worthy thereof, when shall I know how to bless Thee as I ought?

 

2. Offer. O dearest Lord, I offer Thee all my affections and resolutions, with my whole heart and soul.

 

3. Pray. I entreat Thee, O God, that Thou wouldst accept my desirs and longings, and give Thy blessing to my soul, to enable me to fulfill them, through the merits of Thy dear Son’s precious blood shed upon the cross of me.

For Parents of Missionaries

Jim Elliot was a missionary in Ecuador in the 1950’s. He felt God’s call to seek and save the lost. He was passionate about missions and longed to be on the mission field. He felt that God wanted to use him in a powerful way. And He did.

 

Like many young missionaries, he was discouraged from going to the mission field. When friends and family could no longer convince him to avoid the dangers of jungle life in South America, many well-meaning brothers and sisters in the US pointed to the great need for preaching the Gospel near home. Nevertheless, he was unshaken in his commitment to serve the Lord in South America.

 

In a letter to his parents, he wrote the following words:

 

“I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And He never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves which we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause.

 

“Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as a heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly – all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.

 

“Surely those who know the great passionate heart of Jehovah must deny their own loves to share in the expression of His” (page 132, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life & Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot).

 

I am thankful for parents who train their children up in the Lord in such a way that they choose to serve Him in foreign lands. I am thankful for the parents who in quiet prayer let go of their children and allow them to serve as Christ’s ambassadors far from home. I pray for those parents who will some day have to decide if having their children close to home is worth more than having spiritual grandchildren all over the world.

 

Parents of missionaries, join with us, your children in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ! Strengthen us with your prayers. Support us with words of encouragement. Send us with your blessing so that we might be a blessing to others.

Jesus, Our Rosetta Stone

Step back for a moment and contemplate God’s point of view. A spirit unbound by time and space, God had borrowed material objects now and then – a burning bush, a pillar of fire – to make an obvious point on planet Earth. Each time, God adopted the object in order to convey a message and then moved on. In Jesus, something new happened: God became one of the planet’s creatures, an event unparalleled, unheard-of, unique in the fullest sense of the word.

 

The God who fills the universe imploded to become a peasant baby who, like every infant who has ever lived, had to learn to walk and talk and dress himself. In the incarnation, God’s Son deliberately “handicapped” himself, exchanging omniscience for a brain that learned Aramaic phoneme y phoneme, omnipresence for two legs and an occasional donkey. Instead of overseeing a hundred billion galaxies at once, he looked out on a narrow alley in Nazareth, a pile of rocks in the Judean desert, or a crowded street of Jerusalem.

 

Because of Jesus we need never question God’s desire for intimacy. Does God really want close contact with us? Jesus gave up Heaven for it. In person he reestablished the original link between God and human beings, between seen and unseen worlds.

 

In a fine analogy, H. Richard Niehubr likened the revelation of God in Christ to the Rosetta stone. Before its discovery scholars could only guess at the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics. One unforgettable day they uncovered a dark stone that rendered the same text in three different languages. By comparing the translations side by side, they mastered hieroglyphics and could now see clearly into a world they had known only in a fog.

 

Niebuhr goes on to say that Jesus allows us to “reconstruct our faith.” We can trust God because we trust Jesus. If we doubt God, or find him incomprehensible, unknowable, the very best cure is to gaze steadily at Jesus, the Rosetta stone of faith.

Philip Yancey
Reaching for the Invisible God (135-39)

Living the Moment to the Fullest

I have been a little anxious lately, a little impatient. Well, possibly more than just a little impatient! These words of Henri Nouwen are a great remember to live the moment to the fullest:

 

Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.

 

Let us live the moment to the fullest!