Thursday, November 10, 2016

Disciples Making Disciples Part 3: Of All Nations

 There have been three moments in my life when God clearly spoke and changed the direction of my career. The first was when I was fourteen. I already knew I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school and loved explaining new ideas to people. One day, as I was daydreaming about my future, I had a vision of myself teaching school-aged children in Africa. It wasn’t like a normal daydream. It was burned into my mind. It was important. I felt God was telling me to prepare myself to be a missionary. I waited six months before telling my parents what I had been thinking about. They were passively supportive, genuinely wanting my life to be used by God and hoping missions was a phase I would grow out of.

The second was when I was 20. I was in a class in college listening to a lecture on cross-cultural tensions in the Boise area. It was my junior year. I was majoring in Elementary Education and minoring in Christian Missions. As the presenter spoke about gang activity and high risk Hispanic youth, I felt God whisper, “I want you to stay.” Tears welling in my eyes, I pleaded internally, asking forgiveness for whatever wrong I had committed. “I know I can be a missionary. With your help, I know I can do this.” And God whispered again, “It’s not about what you can’t do. It’s about what I’m calling you to do.” And that was that. Sobbing, I called my parents to tell them the horrible news. They cried tears of relief.

The third was when I was 26. I was in a Bible study hearing a presentation by Brian Tibbs on Extreme Nazarene for about the fifth time. I was finishing my fourth year of teaching fourth grade in the Vallivue School District. As I was giving my complete attention to the presentation, I was also sorting through my mental lists of what needed to be copied, prepared, graded, moved, and emailed before 8 o’clock the next morning. When Brian started explaining the role of a 40/40 missionary, I felt God stirring in me. He whispered, “This is for you. This is what I want for you.” As if He had just stopped by the fantastic futures store on the way home and picked out something nice for me. I prayed and sobbed for a couple days before calling to tell my parents the amazing news. They cried and haven’t really stopped.

Working for Extreme, I have fallen in love with the way we plant churches. We use something called the Master’s Plan. It’s basically making disciples that make disciples. Seriously cool for reasons enumerated in past blogs. Three months ago, my plan was to finish my time in Argentina, move back to Idaho, get a teaching job, and make disciples that make disciples. I wanted to use what I have learned here to be God’s instrument at home. In September, Brian visited our team to have our two-thirds review. After walking into what I thought was a finance meeting, he told me he had a job offer he thought I wouldn’t be able to refuse. My first thought was, “It would have to be in Boise.” It wasn’t.
Two-Thirds Review

For the majority of its existence, Extreme has operated in Spanish-speaking South American countries. As we have spread from Peru and Ecuador to Argentina and Chile, South American missionaries have been increasing hard to find. In this growth, we’ve been eyeing the one South American country that doesn’t speak Spanish but has a vibrant Nazarene church full of potential 40/40 candidates. This was the job offer: Education Coordinator for Extreme’s new Brazil field. I would be responsible for training teams of North Americans and Brazilians to plant churches in Brazil with the possibility of also training Brazilians to plant churches in other countries in the future. There was a lot of talk about opportunity and timing. As I listened, I grew increasingly alarmed at the fact that I felt nothing inside. I was neither repulsed nor excited about the idea. It was an incredible opportunity but not what I wanted to do. My pastors, who are Brazilian, were with me. When I entered the room, their faces were glowing. They obviously expected to celebrate the clear revelation of God’s will. As they watched my reaction, they became comforting and encouraged me to take my time with the decision. I had no idea what to do. “I’ll need to pray about it.”

 I prayed a lot. I was completely torn. I wanted to continue in mission work and see the church in Brazil grow, and I wanted to live in the States and share with my friends and family what God has taught me about discipleship. I cried tears of joy at the thought of accepting either, my future life was going to be awesome. I cried in grief knowing I would have to reject one or the other. Mostly I cried out of frustration that God was not being clear. For four weeks He gave me the runaround, prompting me to talk to my family members and ask friends to pray for me. Asking if I really knew what I was getting into with both options, what were my motives, my expectations? Through it all I continued to push back. I was grateful for the personal growth I was experiencing, but was no closer to an answer. Sure, God, this is all important, but I need to accept or reject this offer. Can’t you just tell me what You want, and we can figure out the details later?? This had no effect on His timing…

 In keeping with past experiences, my parents were not thrilled with this new opportunity. You probably know my mom and can imagine her response. I prayed for her a lot, especially as I began to realize that I was falling in love with the idea of being a missionary in Brazil. My emotions had become so erratic that I couldn’t trust this new feeling to reveal God’s will, but I was open to something I had previously not wanted to consider.

Tired of waiting for nothing, I tried to talk to my mom a second time, since the first time had gone so well. I prayed that she would be softened toward the idea, that maybe we could divine together what I should do. I was bitterly disappointed. If anything, she was more opposed to my accepting the job than she had been before. I still didn’t have any peace answering one way or the other. I had no choice but to continue waiting.

That was a Friday. Two days later, my mom called me. She was crying, again. She told me she had been praying for me that morning, that God would give me a clear answer. As she was praying, she had a whispered thought that didn’t come from herself, “You are the answer. Tell Brooke I’m sending her to Brazil.” There were more details to the story that I didn’t get to hear because I was so shocked by the news. No more teaching. Me, a career missionary. I began to praise God for answering
my prayers when I realized this change in my mom couldn’t have been an answer to my prayers the previous week. This had been God’s plan from the beginning. I didn’t feel a clear direction for weeks so that I would have to seek help and God could speak not only to me, but to my mom. He took care of all of us. It doesn’t make the separation easy, but my parents and I all know that this sacrifice is important and it is for God.

So, the new plan is to finish my contract here in Cordoba in April and return to Idaho for the spring and summer. Next August, I will move to Brasilia, Brazil, to study Portuguese and get ready to train teams before they go out into Brazil to plant new churches. I am incredibly privileged to get to do this work. I will never fully comprehend just how good God is. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Disciples Making Disciples Part 2: Living Life Together

Within a ten day span this month, we had a 50th birthday celebration, visited a newborn baby, had a baby shower, prepared for a wedding, and one of our disciples signed the papers to rent her new apartment. Living life together is more than just Bible studies and prayer meetings. It’s actually living life together, and it’s awesome. Here are some of the life events we’ve been a part of this month.

In this picture, poor Yesica still doesn't know why she's been called to the front of the church. Her boyfriend, Marcos, had worked with Juan, one of my teammates, to prepare a marriage proposal video. She said yes and we are very excited for both of them. 

Soccer is life and life is soccer. What more can I say?

The day that Pastora Jaci had her ultrasound to find out the gender of their baby, Pastor Junior was preaching at a convention in Brazil. We found out at 11:00 in the morning that Agatha is Agatha and not Caleb. Several women from the church conspired together to prepare a baby shower for that same evening so Pastora wouldn't be alone on their special day. 

Sometimes church family just becomes family. The Barreras have all but signed the paperwork to adopt Ashley as their fifth child. She took a vacation day so she could celebrate her dad's big 5-0 with her family. 

Ashley, Emilse, and I made a hundred crepe paper flowers for her wedding decorations. When the big day came, we didn't know what to do with them, so the flower girls threw them on the floor because life just isn't fair. 

Mother's Day is in October in Argentina. Each mother received a handmade nest necklace with an egg bead for each of her children. We prayed for their lives and their families in both services.

Sometimes a life event is learning how to use a laptop. Adela paid us for our services with her brother's leftover birthday cake. In our church it is always someone's birthday and there is always cake.

We also have cake for other reasons like Yolanda teaching her first house of prayer. She did such an excellent job that others have been inspired to follow her example!

Emilse and Marcelo had a beautiful wedding. It is very rare for Argentines to get married because the government recognizes couples as legally married after living together for a short amount of time. This was our first wedding, but we will probably have several more in the next couple years. We had to use the Methodist church because ours isn't big enough...yet.

So my point is, if you want to be closer to God, help someone else grow closer to God. Make disciples and teach them to make disciples. The act of encouraging them and keeping them accountable will encourage you and hold you accountable to God. It’s not easy. In fact, if your experience is like mine, it is possible that when your disciple has matured and is passionate for Christ and making disciples, something will happen. They will get arrested, or pregnant out of marriage, or fall back into addiction, or declare God doesn’t exist, or just disappear. And it will destroy you. For a moment. And then you will think of Jesus on the cross. For them. For you. And you will continue making disciples because after He resurrected from the dead, that’s what Jesus commanded us to do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Disciples Making Disciples Part 1: Giving and Receiving

Our main goal in Cordoba is to make disciples that make disciples. This is part one of a series on just that theme. I'm starting with an example: my dear friend Sol Barrera. 

About a year ago, Sol, like so many, had gotten stuck in her relationship with God. She had an idea of what God wanted to give her (hope and strength) and an idea of what He expected from her (moral living, church attendance) but never grew past her initial commitment to God. She was raised in a Christian household, but her family were serial church hoppers, never staying anywhere long enough to get involved. Until God brought them to us. We were ecstatic to have the Barrera family as a part of our church. We got them in an Encounter and leadership classes as quickly as possible. Sol’s parents and younger siblings were just as excited as we were, but Sol seemed to hang back. We didn’t realize that she was savvier than we. She knew it was only a matter of time before something would happen and they would go looking for a new church, just as they had so many times before.

Marina, Enzo, Luca, and Cris at their Encounter in February
Sol, a 23 year old in the last year of her 5 year literature program in the university, was a certified book-aholic. Reading was her god, her everything. She read and studied and studied and read so that she could graduate well and move to Europe to be a book editor. She read everything except the Bible. She hated reading the Bible. One day, after the family had been attending our church for a while, Sol woke up to a strange sight: her 19 year old brother, Cris, was sitting on the couch in their living room reading his Bible and writing in a notebook. She was shocked and concerned that whatever alien had taken over her brother’s body was probably coming for her next. And then there was the fact that four months had passed and they were still attending the same church. Her parents, Cris, and their 16 year old brother Luca were still attending leadership classes every Saturday, and her dad and brothers had started playing in the worship team. Sure she had been busy recently, but could an alien really have invaded her entire family without her noticing?

Prayer with the musicians of the worship team
Even though she wasn’t AS involved as everyone else, she was a good Christian and thought it was probably time for her to attend one of these Encounter things.  She participated in the July Encounter, and God finally captured her attention. He showed her that He is much greater and more active than she had thought. If her favorite activity was reading, her second favorite activity is learning. God opened her eyes to see that He has much more to teach her. This set her nerdy heart on fire for her Creator.

Sol sharing her testimony in front of the church after her Encounter
As we move down the list of Sol’s hobbies, her third favorite is teaching. After her Encounter, she started looking for opportunities to teach what she had learn. She attended a second Encounter retreat in September, this time to take notes on how the classes are taught to prepare her for helping teach in the December Encounter. In the meantime, she comes to the church every Saturday afternoon to spend an hour studying the discipleship course material with Pastora Jaci before teaching the September Encounter group their ongoing discipleship classes.

Taking notes in the September Encounter
In order to grow in Christ, we have to be giving and receiving God. Discipleship isn’t just a good idea or a church growth strategy, it is vital to our spiritual health. Sol’s experience in making disciples began with the challenge of deciding a day and time for the classes. I helped her through the process and got many frustrated texts explaining just how much she hates getting a group of individuals to make a decision. These small lessons in grace and patience can’t be taught in a vacuum. We have to get involved in other people’s lives. We have to let them expose our weaknesses and let God heal us.

Sol teaching a discipleship class
I can’t get over these bracelets. A year and a half ago, a high school short term team from North Dakota brought a hundred of them for a children’s event.  We gave away about fifteen at the event, then they sat at the bottom of a closet for probably ten months. Someone found them right before our February Encounter and decided to give them as gifts to the participants. We’ve been giving them as gifts in every Encounter since, and I still can’t believe people actually wear them. We never talk about them, but they’ve become a weird mark of our church leaders. I, of course, stole one for myself and love the subtle unity that comes from a cheesy child’s salvation plan bracelet.

Jorge and Gerardo in the discipleship class. Yes, we drink maté in discipleship class.
Another note on this specific photo. Jorge and Gerardo are two of Sol’s disciples who are also in Ashley’s and my house of prayer. Our disciples are coming full circle in a weird way. I taught most of Sol’s parents’ discipleship classes. They started calling me “Seño”, Argentine for prof or teach or miss or whatever the kids call their teachers these day, and the nickname stuck. Last weekend, we had a bouncy castle at a church event. Sol crawled in with her little sister, and Gerardo spotted her. He had no end of joy from seeing his wise professor jumping in a bouncy castle. Sol is continuing the 40/40 missionary tradition of showing that God uses the weak. He uses me and my weak Spanish skills to teach her. He uses her, a goofy college student, to teach her disciples. They in turn are encouraged because they recognize that that same God will use them to teach others.

I am ridiculously honored to be friends with Sol and watch how God is changing and using her. 

This is the entire Barrera family. I'm not sure how Carla didn't make it in any of the other pictures.
I hope they never actually read my blog because I always choose the worst pictures of them.