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