Friday, December 18, 2015

White Butterflies

If work were a beach, teaching would be a beach covered with a million stones. You have nine months to move all the stones. Most of the time you feel like you’re behind schedule and the job will never be done. Starting a church is a beach with one stone that weighs a million pounds. We have two years to move the stone. We know that God called us to this task, so we go out everyday and pray for the stone. We look at it, walk around it, dream up and carry out ways to move it, push it, pull it, chip away a bit each day. And pray a lot. Teaching is harder because it’s labor intensive and constant. Being a missionary is harder because it’s just impossible. In my years of teaching I moved emotional and spiritual stones and built emotional and spiritual muscles: perseverance, faith, determination, hope, integrity, muscles that now help me chip away at the rock and, more than anything, stay on the beach. Because people have walked away. One of our teammates chose to leave the project in November. Losing teammates makes the labor harder, but it doesn’t make an impossible task any more or less impossible. Only God can move a million pound stone. God can move it with a breath, a wink, a thought.

Since Celeste left, Ashley and I are now work partners. Well, we were for a week. Then Damaris went home for vacation, so Ashley, Rachel, and I were all partners. Then Damaris came back. Then Ashley and Rachel went home for vacation, so Damaris and I are partners. This is why I haven’t written a blog in so long. Being without the North American girls has been excellent for my Spanish and horrible for my English. Please excuse any speling or gramer errors in this post.

Last week I lead Ashley’s house of prayer without her for the first time. Due to a cold, I had about a third of my voice and was tired, my brain fogged over by mucus and ceaseless coughing. And then two new women came to the house of prayer. Go figure. I was excited that our host had invited some of her friends, and that they had come, but I was nervous because that week’s lesson was ten points on how to forgive. Forgiveness is a powerful theme for pre, new, and experienced believers, but ten points in thirty minutes is not conducive to a positive first experience in a house of prayer. To make things just a little more difficult, the host’s very active three-year-old was not napping and very determined to take over the conversation. We dove into the topic using Matthew 18 and some help from an effervescent vitamin demonstrating God’s work on our pain. As I was explaining what I thought were the five or six more applicable points, I got that feeling—that wonderful feeling of Spanish words and phrases and sentences flowing from me effortlessly. My improvement in Spanish is an answer to many, many, many prayers, but sometimes that steady trickle becomes a river of coherent speech signifying that God is working in my mouth to speak and in the hearts of the listeners to understand. I explained that without God, our love and forgiveness is limited. We can be kind or ignore small offenses to a point, but we will quickly run out. With God, we are constantly receiving more love and forgiveness and can eternally give love and forgiveness. One of the girls, Yami, started crying. She’s twenty years old, friendly, and out-going, but feels full of hate and bitterness. At this point I excused myself to take the three-year-old to the other room, so Damaris could listen and pray with her. Both girls (Yami and Caro) want to know more about God and came back to this week’s house of prayer. We have plans to get together with them for a more private conversation after Christmas.

Beatha, Francis, Yami, Caro

Active three-year-olds are great! So are naps!

I guess my point is, God loves us very much. He didn’t abandon us on a beach with an impossible task. He loves us so much He gathered us from all over the world to watch Him move a million pound stone.

It’s been a long month. Last night I wrote in my journal that I feel like I’ve lost my joy (my joy is my magic). I prayed God would share His delight with me. Today, Cordoba was covered in white butterflies. Everyone said it was the weather, but I know it is for my delight. What a God we serve!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Laura, Face Painting, and Puppies

One of our first committed disciples was Laura. I don’t know why it took me so long to write her story, but I want to have it here. Junior and Jaci (our pastors) met her at an ice cream shop. She’s a single mom and was there with her four-year-old Sofi. While Sofi and Hadassa played, Jaci and Laura chatted about life and the church. Jaci told me about her the next day, and we tried for weeks to get ahold of her. We exchanged texts a couple times, but I was fairly convinced I would never see her in person. Then she showed up at a house of prayer (Bible study). She talked really fast, and I still didn’t understand Spanish very well. All I kept thinking was how much she looked like an angry kitten. She’s a small person, and she sat back a little ways from the table with her arms crossed. She spoke barely above a whisper which made it sound like she was spitting—spitting fire. I didn’t understand what it was that had evoked such wrath, but I knew I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it.

Laura and I at our house of prayer
Apparently Rachel takes pictures during prayer
She came back the next week full of anger and bitterness: THOSE people, THAT man, how DARE they. The third week, I watched Jaci’s reaction wondering when we would have to have the forgiveness talk and confront all this anger. The incredible thing is that we never did. We kept teaching, she kept coming to church and reading her Bible at home. As God continued to fill her with His word and His presence, the anger just melted out of her. After a couple months, she was, and is, a different person. She still doesn’t talk very loud, but she always talks with a smile.

And it’s not because her life has gotten easier. If anything, her circumstances have become more difficult. As the problems with her ex-husband and in-laws subsided, problems with her brother (who she’s living with) began and her mother’s health has declined. Work is difficult and raising a four-year-old is always a roller coaster. She lives pretty close to us, so we like to go for walks together in the evenings. I’ve seen her exhausted and seeking solutions for her problems, but I’ve never again seen a hint of the rage that use to consume her. Her favorite verse is Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not look anxiously about you, for I am you God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with y righteous right hand.” God has certainly kept His promise to her.

It’s taken to raining here in the evenings, which has frustrated some of our evangelism plans. When we do have decent weather, we like to go to a nearby plaza and paint faces. It started with the question, “How can we attract people to us?” In a big city that’s been over-evangelized by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the prosperity gospel, how can we attract people to us in a way where they feel comfortable having a full conversation with us. So now we paint kids’ faces for free. The only caveat is that they have to bring their parents to the table to give permission. Then we explain to the parents that we are Christians, and we’d like to pray for their child and their family while we paint. It’s been a great way to talk with people about prayer with the added bonus of being fun and giving the opportunity to pray for Cordoba’s children. Usually some of our regular church attenders come by to help or hang out. It’s starting to feel like a real church family.

We did a lot of Elsa crowns.
Emilce and her son Ignacio. We met them at the first
face painting event. They came back for the second one and
have been attending the church!

Although Rachel and Ashley are in the States visiting their families, the house has not felt empty. Right before they left, Genna and Julianna got two Yorkshire puppies. If you’ve read my past posts or know me, you know how I feel about pets. Caspian and Aslan are very cute and friendly, but Rachel and Ashley are pretty cute and friendly too. Plus they know how to use a toilet. I can’t wait for them to come back.

I just wanted a selfie, but Caspian needed to pee. You
might think, "Oh, how kind that he didn't want to pee in
your lap!" but after I put him down he ran straight to my
bedroom and peed in the hall outside my door.
It's his spot. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Before the Rain: Noah and Jonah

What do people tell you when life isn’t working out how you want it to? Wait on God’s perfect timing? You are being prepared for something bigger? These last couple weeks I’ve felt torn between these two responses; between the examples of Noah and Jonah. Our church and ministry is growing slower than we would like. My mom recently reminded me of the story of Noah. If God had sent the animals to Noah while he was still building the ark… can you imagine? A zoo of creation with nowhere to put it and an ark still to finish. God’s timing is perfect. Do not fear. Obey. Do the work you’ve been given and trust.

I’ve been reading Old Testament books of history and stopping when a prophet is mentioned to read their prophecy in context of the history. I read Haggai and Zechariah in context of Ezra and Nehemiah. I started 2 Kings and then stopped to read Isaiah. I got to Isaiah 30 the other day, and I’ve read it every day since. I can’t get enough of it. Israel had fallen and the Assyrians were coming for Judah. King Hezekiah rushed to Egypt for back up without giving a thought to God’s plans. Turns out, God was ready to fight for them. He had a message for Hezekiah through Isaiah: In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength (Is 30:15).

Our church is starting to grow!
This is Noah. Keep going, keep trusting, keep obeying. I know God called me to be a missionary in Argentina. He keeps calling me to it each day. I can grow in His presence and joyfully walk in His plans for me because I know He is stronger than any enemy or ally. Noah had to work in obedience for years before the flood actually came, but obedience is easy when you know your purpose is from God. God has carried me through all kinds of anxieties, distractions, persecutions, excuses to accomplish His will. Obedience is fun when you know it’s what God wants. When I hear a voice behind me say, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever I turn to the right or to the left (Is 30:21) I have nothing but the joy of the Holy Spirit.

But what if I’m not Noah? What if I’m Jonah? What if He’s trying to direct my steps, but I’m in the bottom of the boat asleep, ignoring my sin? 2 Kings is a repetitive motion of generations and generations of kings who ignored God and worshiped false gods. Just reading makes you frustrated. Why don’t you get it? Kings who do evil are defeated and kings who follow God are protected! Why can’t you figure that out? The worst are the ones who are so close. He did right in the eyes of the Lord, only the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. Aaaaah! You realize that God is who He says He is, but you can’t be bothered to command the high places be destroyed? Really? I think that’s why Isaiah 30 speaks to my soul. It prophecies a time when the people of Jerusalem will recognize God as their Teacher and defile their graven images overlaid with silver, and their molten images plated with gold. They will scatter them as an impure thing, and say to them, “Be gone!” (Is 30:22) They’ll be so disgusted with their sin that they can’t wait to get rid of it.

Then the fear creeps in. Am I that ridiculous king? Is my work here in Argentina struggling because of some hidden sin? Am I blocking something God wants to do in or through me? There’s obedience and then there’s making deals with God. If I give up a, b, and c and faithfully complete x, y, and z, You’ll do what I want, right? But am I using that logic as an excuse because I really like a, b, and c and I don’t want to do x, y, and z? And very quickly my mental circles become more frustratingly repetitive than 2 Kings.

Rachel and me after a run with our new friend/crazy personal
trainer Yuliana. Pray that she will become more open to God.
I think some of the answers are in the similarities between Noah and Jonah. Each had a vibrant relationship with God. They were righteous men who spent time with God. They knew His voice and clearly heard His commands. I need to draw near to God so I can hear His voice guiding my steps, so I know how and when to obey. God made His expectations very clear to them. Noah obeyed. Jonah ran away. And then it rained. Noah stayed safe in the ark. Jonah was thrown into the sea.

Then He will give you rain for the seed which you will sow in the ground, and bread from the yield of the ground, and it will be rich and plenteous (Is 30:23). This is the rain I’m praying for. I’m praying for clear commands, the courage to obey, contentment in obedience, trust in God’s timing, and rain- rain that will grow the seeds we have planted here in Argentina.

Sirius Black
Team Update: We have welcomed a twelfth family member into the house; a black bunny named Sirius. He is very cute but very messy which makes him, in my opinion, a mistake. He is excellent stress-relieving pet therapy, until he pees on you. Fortunately that doesn’t happen very often, but it is absolutely not worth the risk. Right now his home is Juan’s room or the patio or the living room. Since he doesn’t have a cage, we tend to lose him. Without fail, when someone goes searching for him they start calling his name. I’m pretty sure this works with normal rabbits, we just have one that is particularly stubborn. When this fails, they start talking to him, “Sirius! Come out, Sirius! Come here Sirius… Sirius? Sirius! Sirius, vení! ¡Vení, Sirius! ¡Vení!” Again, I’m fairly convinced he understands both English and Spanish, but since he is so darn stubborn we’ll never know in which language he is more fluent.

Sofia lives across the street from us.
She lived in the States as a child and moved back here seven years ago.
These were her first pancakes in seven years.
Her words were, "I don't know the last time I was this happy."
She's 19, we'll allow her some exaggeration.

Please pray for her as she battles frustrations with living in Argentina.
Her mom, Erica, recently came out of remission from cancer.
Her whole family needs the hope of God.

Ashley, awesome pancake master

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prophecy and Maté

The missionaries: From top down: Dani, me, Rachel, Ashley
Celeste, Damaris, Juan
Well, while you are preparing for Halloween next week, Argentina is slowly slipping into spring. Celebrating Halloween is a big no-no in South American Christianity, so we North Americans have by-passed it completely and have been blasting the Christmas music all week. Some of us may be a little homesick. The Stringers, the pastors, Juan, Dani, and I will be here in Cordoba through the holiday season, so we have been discussing how to combine all our favorite traditions into the most epic American/Argentine/Brazilian Christmas ever. I’m sure it won’t compare with seeing the lights in Locomotive Park.

Juan, Dani, me

Unlike many missions organizations, Extreme Nazarene has a full time wellness team of counselors to help keep us going. Last week Sheli and Trevor came from Boise to do a two day team building seminar. It was fun and helpful. My favorite part was one exercise on the second day about speaking from the heart. We were first challenged to tell our partner what our heart would want to tell us if it could speak. Not our brain or spirit, but the part of us that is pure emotion, what would it say? What would it want me to know? My heart often gets neglected. I told my partner my heart probably would tell me to express its emotions more often, to love others better, to be led by my emotions more. It was a different and good way to think. Then things got weird. Sheli asked us to share with our partner what we thought their heart wanted them to know. ? My partner (Dani) and I looked at each other with disbelief. We have very different personalities and perspectives. How could we possibly know each other’s hearts better than our own? As Sheli described the expectation, we began to understand better that reading the heart of another has very little to do with us. What has God created in this person’s heart that they haven’t seen yet? God lives in this person’s heart, what does He want to say to them? It could be something very similar to prophecy. I looked at Dani again and heard God speak one word to me. Dani looked at me and I knew God was speaking to each of us. As we shared God’s message for each other, we were surprised at what God told us, but we were more surprised at what God told through us. We got to see each other with God’s eyes. Dani told me I have a very big heart and I have a lot of love for people. I still have a hard time being completely convinced of this, but Dani knows it’s true. We were able to understand each other better than we understand ourselves.

Practicing sharing and communicating well

This creating truth with words has been a theme. Jaci is an expert at it. Within minutes of meeting a new friend, she will call her “woman of God,” whether she is or not. It’s a training; you hear something often enough and you make it true. It’s creation; creating something new by speaking it. She does it often with me. She has been telling me for weeks that I am the source of creativity in our partnership. She’s told me enough now that I actually believe it. What’s more is I make it true because I am more willing to believe in the creative ideas God gives me. I have become the creative strategist Jaci told me I was. Parents and teachers have been using this technique for centuries, but do I use it with my friends? My disciples? Do I speak God’s truth into their lives? It’s more than encouragement. It’s seeing the potential and speaking it as truth. It’s creation God-style: speaking reality into existence. What a privilege!

Cultural extra: So we drink maté. It looks like drugs and it tastes terribly bitter, but we drink it and like it. Unlike tea that is steeped, the yerba plant is poured directly into a cup. The cup is then filled with hot water and drank through a special straw with a strainer at the end that (hypothetically) keeps the yerba grass parts out of your mouth. The straw is also special in that it is (hypothetically) germ resistant. Ok, that’s a lie we tell ourselves because maté is usually drunk in a large group where everyone drinks out of the same cup with the same straw. The maté master prepares the drink with fresh water and sugar (never enough) and passes it to someone in the circle. That person drinks all the water and hands it back to the preparer who refills the water and sugar and hands it to the next person. Yes, really. And all the time, anywhere. In the living room, in the park, in the street, at work, at church, morning, noon, and night. We drink maté.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Clamor

After growing up with brothers, since college I have lived with several different groups of wonderful women. A few months in to each new living situation, my mom gets a text along the lines of “These girls and their emotions are making a mess. I know I have the emotional range of a toaster, but really they just need to get their act together.” (Yes-she got one of these texts tonight.) This strange quality of being distant and cold hearted is also what makes me stable, strong, and persevering. I’m not driven by passing passions or bursts of emotion. When I get knocked down, I allow myself to be picked back up because at the end of the most horrible of days my hope rests in the all-powerful, eternally faithful God. Amen.

But most humans are not like me. The Old Testament describes the people of Israel crying out to God, raising a clamor to His ear. We sometimes have prayer sessions like this as a team. We all pray out loud at the same time. Some people cry or sing. I talk. I talk out loud, but I struggle to get impassioned. God’s hears what I say no matter how I say it, so why can’t we just have a nice chit chat? Nice, calm, logical. It is logical for me to have faith in God because He has proven Himself to be faithful. We’ve had some rough times already in Cordoba, but God obviously worked out a few miracles to get me here so I know He has a plan. He has big dreams for Cordoba. Someone once pointed out that if the Israelites hadn’t kept a record of their failures, we wouldn’t even have an Old Testament. We, the Cordoba team, have failures on our record. We have sin, rookie mistakes, and well planned attempts that simply bombed. After four months we are revising our revisions and still coming up empty handed.

I felt the full weight of this about a week ago. Beaten down, optimism waning, no change in sight. And then I felt it. Desperation. It feels like heaviness. It’s the feeling that accompanies the logical understanding that we can’t accomplish our goals without God. We can’t accomplish anything without God. Our goals or His. And I started to raise a clamor. I started to cry and plead. “God, do something! What we’re doing isn’t working.” There was no lightning or parting of waters, but that heaviness has stuck with me. I think I found an emotion. I don’t mind it.

English class
At the beginning of last week, Jaci and I set a goal for how many new people we wanted to meet and start talking to about God. And then the week started. Jaci ended up in extra meetings during the first part of the week, and then Hadassa got sick limiting our opportunities to go out into the city together. I tried to find ways to help or seek help from my teammates, but between our different meeting and class schedules, it just didn’t work out. Bible studies, English classes, discipleship classes, personal visits, church services all went really well, we just didn’t have much time to meet new people. However, when we got to the end of the week, we found we had more than surpassed our goal. In fact, after putting in fewer hours focused on making new contacts, we had one of our most fruitful weeks so far. Now doesn’t that sound just like God?

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. Psalm 127:1

Dinner with friends
This week we have scheduled some times to meet with these newest of friends, along with another goal of new people to meet. Please pray for these women: Fernanda, Eugenia, and Maru-a former Jehova’s Witness and her Catholic mother and friend who want her to find a “new spiritual walk,” Marta and Daniela-a mother and daughter in a large family with large needs, and Tamara, Magali, Daniela, and Natividad-young women searching for love, purpose, and success. Thank you for all your prayers for our team. We are really trying and really failing and really seeing God fight for these souls. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Our first men's group, but Javier wanted to bring his girlfriend
so Jaci and I went too and then we held hands in a picture.
Side note: Ashley, Jaci, and I were sitting in the church Friday afternoon waiting for some new furniture to be delivered (thank you Lewiston First!) when this woman walked in. She explained that she had been walking by when the Holy Spirit told her to come in and introduce herself. She is a member of the largest Christian church in Cordoba and she lives nearby. She had seen our sign one day from the bus and God had told her that this place was “a door to heaven” (not like a secret portal but more like a place that is full of God’s presence). She said she wanted to pray with us, but she kept getting distracted asking us questions and giving us advice. Eventually, she started to get a vision and interrupted herself by switching into a prayer. She thanked God for what He was revealing to her-that He is going to use our church in powerful ways. She slipped into tongues and then back into Spanish, “Que fuerte! Que fuerte!” (this vision is so strong) She thanked God again, blessed us, exchanged phone numbers, and left. It was an unusual but powerful and timely confirmation of what God has already told us: no matter how we feel, this project is going places because it is His project.

Bible study

Friday, September 4, 2015

First Day of School

This is a 100 peso bill. It's the largest bill in Argentine
pesos. Today it is worth $6.50. Tomorrow it will
probably be worth less. Pray for Argentina's economy.
Before I left for vacation a month ago, I was asked if I was interested in being the church treasurer. I said, “No.” without hesitation, which got me a look that said, “I actually wasn’t asking your opinion.” This was followed by a, “Well…” that meant, “You and I both know you have to do this.” I sighed in agreement and puzzled over my situation. I’m pretty good at math, but I have no experience or knowledge of finance. Being treasurer sounds like getting to hold onto the money in some club, but it’s actually a lot of bugging people and reading receipts and feeling responsible for too many things. However, we have a limited number of personnel options. I have no desire to learn this job, but my math skills set me above the rest of my team. (This statement should speak volumes considering I have no qualms putting it here where I know my teammates will read it and agree.) I finally came to this question, “Is there no one else you can ask?” “I mean, I haven’t asked everybody…” “Could you? If no one else wants to do it, I’m available, but I really don’t want to.” The day I got back from vacation, I was told, “Hey, since you’re the church treasurer, let me show you how to get into the safe.” Sigh.

After Bible study, Laura, Vanesa, Pastora Jaci and I
took their daughters to a park. 
While I grudgingly did what I could to figure out the church’s finances, I still had my other jobs to complete. At Bible study, we discussed conversion based on 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. “but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” The women shared their own conversion stories, including how God removed the veil of desperation and seeking security in money and relationships, how God freed them from fear and confusion, how impatient they are to be transformed into Christ’s image now instead of growing closer to Him each day. In the end, we all agreed that continual growth is important, though not ideal in our own eyes. We ache for heaven. Right now, these young plants need much pruning in order to be ready for healthy growth. They feel the weight of the world’s lies and seek more truth every day. They can’t see it now, but God is equipping them with perseverance and a thirst for righteousness. All they know is the pain of the knife as God cuts away the broken and dead branches. While I encourage them, I feel God challenging me. Do I really think I have no dead branches of my own? Am I willing and ready to go under the knife every day?

Through Facebook I’m able to watch my teacher friends ready their classrooms. Actually, when I was in the States, I was able to spend a couple hours at my mom’s school helping her prepare for the big day: the first day of school. My first day of school happened this week. It was my first day of discipleship classes with the new believers who attended a leadership training retreat while I was gone. Instead of juggling a mountain of hand sanitizer and teaching playground rules, my first day of school centered on the highly anticipated topic of prayer. We have been a broken record of assurances that prayer is simply talking to God like you would talk to a friend. Our new believers, however, have had too much exposure to the formality of South American Catholicism to be completely comfortable with this. When I told them there are six stages of prayer, their eyes lit up (Finally! We’re getting to the good stuff!). I clarified that this is the development of a set aside time of prayer, a daily devotional prayer, not the qualifications of a “real” prayer. They nodded their understanding and egged me on, “Teach us how to pray!” I explained the benefits of beginning with worship, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession before making personal petitions and finally thanking God for what He is going to do. They asked clarifying questions and took notes fervently before broaching the big question, “What’s the deal with the Lord’s Prayer?” I started the typical response of the Lord’s Prayer is very important as a model of how we should pray. Fortunately, my students are persistent and asked the real question, “Do the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer have their own power?” The answer to this is obvious, but if you’ve been taught your whole life that the answer is yes, it can be troubling to hear that the answer is no. Now, God has been preparing me to answer this question for about five months. When I was still in Ecuador, God prompted me to memorize the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, and since then He has been growing in me a love for the exact words of the prayer in both languages. After assuring my students that the Lord’s Prayer has no power of its own, I shared with them that I love using it in my daily personal time with God. Instead of rote recitation of the words, I quote a part then expand depending on the circumstances of the day.

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. You are so far above me, and Your ways are so far above mine. Thank you for Your love. I love You.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Bring Your kingdom to this place, Lord. Do Your will among us and through us. Bring Your kingdom to our meeting today. Speak through my words and speak to me through the words of others. Do Your will in our decisions and actions. Make us as obedient to Your guidance as the angels in heaven.

As I quoted the Lord’s Prayer and gave examples, I saw eyes start to widen. “You can apply it to your own life!” Isn’t that beautiful? A dead and empty ritual suddenly coming to life in the truth: Jesus’s words are as powerful now as when they were first spoken.

It won’t surprise you to hear that I love my job. I love my job. I have an inexplicable joy for this task that is difficult, frustrating at times, and always outside of my cultural expectations. The person I would be without God would not love this job. God has given me a love and enjoyment for His calling on my life. I love my job. So how could I think that being treasurer is something I’m going to have to suffer through for the next two years? How can I possibly expect God to call me to something that I’m going to dread doing every day? I will be faithful to Him as He has always been faithful to me. I am excited to uncover His vision and receive His passion for the use and organization of our church’s finances. What a beautiful expectation. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

One Miracle

Our life recently has felt like a chaos smoothie with some transition and culture shock thrown in for good measure. Our “parent couple” recently had to go back to the states, and we’ve struggled to get a replacement family down to Argentina. We had some substitute leaders for a while, and the pastors have been living with us for the past three weeks. The pastors are excellent leaders, but we’ve definitely felt short-handed with a job that already felt too big. We are now coming through to the other side a little worse for wear, and praying fervently for help as we face the transition of new leadership and changing job responsibilities with the official inauguration of our church. Through all the feelings of loss, stress, and frustration, God has been working miracle after miracle in front of our eyes, just as we would have prayed for Him to do in the best of circumstances. Here’s one:

Two Saturdays ago, we performed an evangelistic skit in the main plaza of Cordoba. It was our first event that we planned and completed on our own since the short term team went home. The skit was a pantomime to music of a girl rejecting Jesus, facing Satan as her only other alternative, watching Satan kill Jesus in her place, then being rescued by the resurrected Jesus. It was short and powerful, but most of the characters were demons. After the skit, we got to walk out into the crowd in our demon costumes and talk with people about Jesus, a bit of a paradox. After our first performance, we walked to another plaza where we were planning on performing, but there weren’t enough people so we ended up returning to the first plaza and performing in a different part where we wouldn’t have repeat audience members. It was now getting dark, but we figured we’d go for it anyway. We still had our makeup on, so why not? After the performance, Pastora and I talked with some teenage girls who enjoyed the skit, but were already Christians attending an evangelical church in town (we praise God for the Christians in Cordoba, but we can’t steal them for our own church). When we walked away from them, the crowd had already dispersed a bit, but there was a woman and her daughter sitting by a tree a little ways away. Timidly, I ventured over to them and said hello (obviously I actually said, “como estas?”). Pastora and I chatted with the woman, Victoria, for a while. She shared that she felt like she didn’t have any peace in her life, and she didn’t know what to do about it. We explained the peace that God offers, but she was very hesitant to believe.
Sunday, I sent her a text letting her know that I was praying for her. I also included Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Monday, she wrote back asking if she could come to our house to talk with us. Tuesday, she and her daughter met with Pastora and me in Pastora’s apartment. Her life story unraveled in front of us, a family history of many divorces and suicides leading to her. After observing the poor choices of her family members, she had become a bit of a recluse; if she doesn’t interact with people, they can’t hurt her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t shield herself from constant fear, panic, and anxiety. I was struck by how normal she seemed to me. Her life story could have been (and may be) identical to that of a teacher in my school in the states. She wasn’t buried in a life of addiction or Satan worship, but she was still broken and hopeless. Pastora and I both shared how God had changed generations of sin and pain in our own families and the peace and joy we see in our families now. Every time we tried to encourage her with, “God can change your life,” she responded with, “I know He can, because nothing else has.” She wasn’t enamored with the love or hope of God. She was completely defeated and completely confident that God was her coming victory. There had obviously been a change in her heart since Saturday. She accepted God’s promise and forgiveness for her life that Tuesday, almost one week to the hour before I began typing these words. She helped us clean the church on Thursday, attended Bible study Saturday, and we expect to see her again at a discipleship class tomorrow night. The last time I saw her, we made plans to celebrate Christmas together. A week ago, the only person she had in the world was her nine year old daughter. Now she has a church family and the Prince of Peace dwelling in her and guiding her steps.

Every redeemed life is a miracle, but we are especially reveling in these first fruits of a great harvest God has called us to here in Cordoba. We have cleaned the church building and painted about half of it. There’s still a lot to be done before our first service August 9, but God has been and will continue to be more faithful than words can describe. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Week in Review: Fausto and The Sisters

The focus of our work right now is making contacts. Contacts are people in the city who we know. In order to “know” them, we need to know their name and how to contact them. In order for them to be a “contact” they can’t be a Christian who attends a different church. We have to be able to get to know them better, and we can’t steal them from another Christian church. We work to make new contacts and build our relationships with the contacts we already have.

The magnet I designed for the event. I think it has a bit of a
Steve Thomas feel to it. The verse is John 4:13-14.
While the short term team was here, we had several events that focused on making new contacts. One day, we passed out magnets with the church’s information to people in a plaza. It worked really well, but we talked to everyone in the plaza in the first half hour of a two hour event. One of the contacts I met was a man named Fausto who was with his two small children playing at the playground. Juan and I chatted with him for a while, told him all about our children’s event we had planned for the next day, and learned the names of his kids. Then we left him to play with his children in peace. Ten minutes later, their family moved to a different part of the plaza where Dámaris gave them another magnet and the same information. Juan and I intervened, and we all laughed it off. Fifteen minutes later, Fausto and his kids walked on the sidewalk toward their house where Dani stopped him to give him another magnet and the same spiel. Poor Fausto.

Celeste and me talking with people in the plaza
Since the short term team left, we have been busy making our second contacts with all the people we met during the events. This is a discouraging process as we realize how many fake numbers and uninterested people we have on our lists. Dani and Juan had been stood up by a couple contacts over the weekend. Sunday night, they came back from a visit to announce they had actually met their contact and he wanted them to come back every week to meet with his family. This is the best news we can have: a weekly meeting with a family that can become a Bible study that can influence the friends and extended family of the initial contact. After soaking in the encouraging news and congratulating Juan and Dani on their prospective small group, I asked the question, “Who is this contact?” “Some guy named Fausto.” Oh Fausto. Dani and Juan went back last Sunday and spent more time with their family. They would appreciate your prayers because, although Fausto and his wife are very interested in learning more about God, Fausto’s wife has had a very negative experience with Christians in the past and is cautious. Pray God will soften her heart and show her how much He loves her.

Beatriz, Mabel, me, and Pastora Jaci at our first Bible study
Monday was our day off, but Tuesday Pastora and I took time to go visit the homes and work places of some of our contacts. One such contact was Beatriz. Beatriz is an older woman who we met in a butcher shop a couple weeks ago and have been in contact with ever since. She is a Catholic woman with some concerning misconceptions about God. The Catholic church in South America is very different from the Catholic church in the United States. Where Catholicism in the States holds beliefs very similar to those of protestant denominations, the Catholic church in South America could not be considered Christian. When Catholicism was originally brought to South America, it was mixed with the pagan and idol based religions of the native people. This culture of Catholicism makes our jobs as Christian missionaries easier because the people are generally open to Bible-based teachings. However, we must be very attentive to the comments and beliefs of our contacts so we can clarify misunderstandings and guide them to the truth. During this visit, we got to meet Beatriz’s not so devout younger sister Nene. She was very suspicious at first, but quickly warmed to us and shared about her beliefs in God and her resistance to religion. Both are interested in learning more about the Bible and spending time talking with us about God. When we needed a witness to go with us to the immigration department yesterday to verify that we live in Córdoba, Beatriz made the journey and signed countless documents to help us out. We are grateful for her friendship and the great changes God is going to make in her life.

On Wednesday, Rachel and Dámaris went to a small group they have started in Belén’s home. Belén is 19 years old and lives with her husband and two small children. This week, she invited her twin sister, Erica, to the small group. Rachel and Dámaris shared about finding our identity in Christ and the way He wants to change our lives. Belén and Erica were both very quiet during the evening. At the end of the presentation, Dámaris asked hesitantly if the women were interested in accepting Christ into their lives. Both Belén and Erica immediately answered yes. Dámaris led them in praying for God to forgive their sins and give them a new identity in Him. These are our first two new believers in Córdoba.

We took the day off on Thursday to recognize Argentina’s independence day (one of our three work-free holidays during the year!). On Friday, Pastora and I headed back out into the neighborhood. This time we focused on the shop owners we know on the street where we want to rent our church building. There is a party store that is owned by Lucia and run by her two daughters Dayana and Nadia. We had already met and started a friendship with Lucia and Dayana. Lucia is a committed Catholic and Dayana is studying English in college. This day, however, Nadia was alone in the store. We had never met her before and she didn’t really seem all too eager to get to know us. After trying to chat for a while, we invited her to a Bible study we were having the next day in Pastora’s apartment and left it at that. Well, all of our contacts were busy with valid and invented excuses the next day (Beatriz and Nene were out of town at their niece’s quincenera) and Pastora and I were left sitting alone in her apartment. The doorbell rang about fifteen minutes after our start time and who should walk in but Dayana and Nadia. We sat and talked and ate and drank maté (have I told you about maté yet?) for about an hour and a half before we had to excuse ourselves to get ready to visit a church service in another town. They were very open to talking about God and asked good questions, but they were obviously more comfortable discussing English classes and the activities of Nadia’s two year-old daughter. We are excited to get to know them better and lead them closer and closer to God. 

Rachel, Dani, me, and Ashley
The North Americans waiting to fill out more residency paperwork.
Starting a new week, we are very aware of the end (hopefully) of our application for residency tomorrow. It has been a whirlwind of a process because we just realized last Thursday that our due date for residency had been moved up a month due to some paperwork mistakes. Through a lot of prayer and walking all over the city, they process has gone relatively smoothly so far. We pray tomorrow will go equally well. We are also still concerned about renting our church building. Pastor will be meeting with the district superintendent tomorrow and we hope to at least know more if not be further along in the process after that meeting. In the midst of all the frustrations and disappointments, we praise God for all He has done in us and in Cordoba during the past six weeks. We have four (very) small groups meeting regularly and two new saved souls before we even have a church building. God's miracles are my favorite thing. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Being Brave

A few weeks ago, I got to visit Austin while he was on a short term mission trip a few hours away. He brought some of my things from the States-favorite movies, piano music, clothes, and a note from my mom. She wrote that I am very brave to be doing this work. I don’t feel brave. I feel brave when I kill spiders and walk through a dark house. I don’t feel brave leaving my life in the States and moving to Argentina. That’s not scary-it’s God’s desire for my life. This is what He wants me to do, and He’s with me in every moment that I’m here.

I praise God for the life and job experience that I’m able to bring to my work here. I feel more confident because of the failings and mistakes I’ve made and struggled through. If I had come here right after college, I would have still thought I had to do everything perfectly. I am so grateful that I have learned time and again that God continues to work after failure. I was talking with God specifically about one class of students I had who challenged everything I thought of myself as a teacher. With God, I did my best, but I still didn’t do as well as I had wanted. I learned a lot about teaching, but I also learned a lot about failure. I thought I had ruined the precious reputation I had built as a “good teacher.” And I had. I no longer believed in this reputation. I saw myself as a poor teacher, but my coworkers saw me as strong and persevering. I realized that making people think I’m the best isn’t the same as being all that God wants me to be. Now I can be a person who lives instead of a person who builds a reputation.

As I was praising God for this, He gently pointed out that this experience was three years ago. How had I failed since? If I was truly confident enough to be willing to make mistakes, why wasn’t I making mistakes? I wasn’t afraid of being here, but I also wasn’t being bold here. My prayer became, “Lord, help me to fall on my face. Help me to say too much, do too much, be too much.”

This new desire came just in time for a short term missions team of high schoolers to come work with us for a week. The team of sophomores and juniors from North Dakota arrived on Monday. That night, I woke up at 12:30 with a sharp pain in the center of my right shoulder. It hurt so badly, I couldn’t fall back asleep. I tried stretching, sitting, standing, lying in every possible position, nothing made any difference.  I prayed that God would help me sleep. I had this sense that the pain was somehow spiritual-that it was the work of a demon. I prayed that if it was, that God would heal me. Then I found my phone and looked up symptoms of a heart attack. I convinced myself I wasn’t having a heart attack, and, after more than an hour of struggling, I finally fell asleep.

4am prayer-The first week in a while that I've actually changed out of pajamas before prayer.
My alarm went off at 3:30. I woke up sweating and still in a lot of pain. The short term team joined us at our house for 4am prayer. I sat next to Rachel with my coffee, obviously wincing. She asked me, and I explained. We sang some songs then started the prayer time. The leaders started by asking us to pray for the health of the whole team while we were working this week. Rachel asked me if she could pray for my shoulder. She placed her hand on my shoulder and started to pray, “God, I thank you for Brooke and for her place in our team. Father, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this pain in her shoulder is Satan trying to keep her from doing Your work today. Father, in your name, get rid of Satan and heal her shoulder. Get rid of the pain and heal her.” Her prayer continued, but I didn’t hear it. The pain in my shoulder was gone. And it never came back. Her prayer was very similar to mine, except she actually believed it. I’ve never been healed before, but I’ve also never really believed that Satan attacks me before. I've certainly never prayed boldly for a healing. 

Pastora Jaci talking with some high schoolers about Jesus and
our new church
Without the pain in my shoulder, I was able to really focus on the day’s events, especially knowing that God had healed me to do just that. Our event that day was a women’s event in the park. We gave facials and painted nails. While facial masks and fingernails were drying, we had plenty of time to talk with the women about their lives, our lives, and Jesus. I was in charge of training and translating for the high schoolers. They did such a great job that I still had time to talk with some of the women at the event. They all wanted to get to know us, the church, and the Bible better. This was the focus of the whole week-meet people, tell them about Jesus, and get their phone number so we can follow up with them, get to know them better, and get them involved in a small accountability/Bible study group. Throughout the week, we met people in parks, handing out magnets and water, doing flashmobs and skits, singing songs with children, and showing a movie. I still have a long way to go, but God is helping me be bolder in my conversations with strangers. The first step, of course, was walking up to people and talking to them. Now I am praying that God would give me the perfect Spanish words to speak into their lives in these initial conversations.

Having fun with the short termers
Our theme with the short term group was the power of prayer. On Wednesday, we went on a prayer walk with them through the city. We asked them to pray individually, together, and out loud throughout the day. It was encouraging to see how much they struggled. That doesn't sound right. It was encouraging to know that praying out loud and praying for more than a few minutes was a struggle for me only five months ago. I love that my relationship with God has grown deeper and stronger during this time of training and that I still have so much more to learn about myself, God, and my relationship with Him. I can't wait to get to know Him more.

The whole group

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ready to GO!

Our team has finished all our training and is ready to go to Argentina tomorrow! We will live in Córdoba for the next two years with the objective of starting a new church and training new Christians to be leaders of the church. Our training has included Spanish school, seminary classes, and learning how to establish the organization of our church. This past weekend, we met with the administrators of Extreme Nazarene to decide our work partners, ministry roles, activities for the first three months, and goals for the first eight months in Argentina. Our main job is meeting the people of Córdoba, introducing them to a relationship with God, sharing life and teaching them about God in small groups, and training them to do all these things for others in their lives. We do this main work in partners, but each person is also responsible for an area of ministry in the church. Organizing the partners was a little difficult because our team has three men and five women, and we need to work in same-gender partnerships. Fortunately, we have worked out a solution. These are our team members and their responsibilities within our church.

Ashley and Celeste
The first pair is Ashley and Celeste. They are both bubbly, fun-loving women of God. Ashley is from Mississippi and is a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University with a degree in social work. She loves people and is excellent at encouraging others. She will be in charge of the ushers at our church-making sure everyone feels welcomed and loved as they walk through the doors. Celeste is from Córdoba, and her parents pastor a Nazarene church in a suburb of the city. She is the fastest Spanish speaker on the team, and we all love listening to her passionate prayers-especially now that we know enough Spanish to understand what she’s saying. She loves learning English, which has slowed down her Spanish as she’s realized just how hard it is to understand a second language. Her favorite phrases are “oh please, sister” and “in your face.” Celeste is in charge of the intercessory prayer team. Both Ashley and Celeste are in charge of the Jesus film project. Please pray for Ashley as she continues to learn Spanish and for Celeste as she recently had knee surgery and will be needing physical therapy for a while.

Damaris and Rachel

Up next is Rachel and Dámaris. These two are equal parts passion and determination. You'll notice they are the only two who chose to actually climb into the closet for their picture. Rachel is from Michigan and is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University with a degree in intercultural studies. She went through our three month Spanish class for the first time a couple years ago and has been invaluable to us as a study buddy and interpreter. She will be in charge of children’s ministry. Dámaris is from Mendoza, Argentina. She loves eating suckers and having deep conversations. She is in charge of the consolidation ministry, which is a fancy term for contacting and following up with the people we meet in our church and at church events. Please pray for Rachel and Dámaris as they begin working together and start leading these large and important ministries.

Pastora Jaci and me

To complete the women partnerships, I will be working with Pastora Jaci. We are not quite sure how this partnership will work because Pastora obviously already has many other responsibilities, but we are excited to work together to figure everything out. In addition to all her typical “pastoral roles” Pastora is in charge of the worship ministry and meets with us five female missionaries every week to disciple us. As my partner, she will work with me to meet people and help lead our small group Bible study. She will be an invaluable source of support. You can tell she loves me because after cleaning and packing and sweating in ridiculously hot Colombia all day she still let me take this selfie. My ministerial role in the church is discipleship/adult education. I will plan and organize the leadership classes for the new members of our church. Please pray for Pastora as she balances being pastor, wife, mother, mentor, missionary, and her own personal relationship with God. Please pray that my Spanish would continue to improve so I can keep up with all my responsibilities.

Mati and Dani

Dani and Matías are the partners of male missionaries. They are both out-going and care a lot about people. Dani was born in Spain and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in South Carolina since he was ten years old. He is a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University with a degree in social justice and possibly Marvel movies. In our church, he is our Nazarene Missions International representative and is in charge of compassionate ministries. Matí is from Jujuy, Argentina. He is a stereotypical Argentine soccer nut who plays, watches, sleeps, and breathes soccer. He is our communications director and will oversee the publication of all written material (on paper and online) about the church. Please pray for these two young men as they mentor the fathers and husbands of our future church.

Pastor Junior and Juan

The final pair is Juan and Pastor Junior. These two are natural leaders and passionate preachers. Juan is from Buenos Aires and has lived in Córdoba for the past five years. He is passionate about youth ministry, his favorite soccer team (Banfield), and eating good food. He will be in charge of our youth ministry. Pastor will work with Juan to lead and mentor the people in their small group. Pastor will also pastor the church and disciple the male missionaries. Pray that Juan and Pastor will be able to organize, communicate, and work well together to lead their ministries and train their disciples with excellence.