Is This Your Jungle?

Three months ago, if you had asked where I would be in June, my answer would have been, “In the jungle!”, with an audible exclamation point in my voice and a visible one on my face.

Due to the pandemic, I have not yet been able to return to the jungle. But would you like to hear some of what God taught me there in the past?

I actually started thinking about this topic before leaving the States. It was a snowy February afternoon in Lewis County and I was off on another adventure to spend time with someone.

As I hopped in the blue car I thanked God once again for dear friends who had lent me their vehicle for the entire eight months of my home assignment. Their generosity made it possible to meet up with financial supporters and other friends, visit my grandparents and run errands, serve in a variety of ministry opportunities, go on adventures with siblings, and arrange speaking engagements without making transportation arrangements for each event.


Photos featuring the car that allowed me to drop off Eli at the airport, plan surprise birthday picnics, hike one of the 46 peaks with the whole family, and go to the church building countless times, for services, music practice, studying, playing piano, fellowship, and ministry.

Driving down the road and enjoying the beautiful scenery of pine trees adorned by snow, I realized how much life was about to change in the upcoming transition.

Returning the car to my friends seemed symbolic of letting go of independence and freedom in returning to my village home. Not only would I no longer have a car to drive, there wouldn’t be places to go or a schedule to plan.

In the village, my routine is determined by the plans of my friends. Our outings include going to the gardens and the river and deep into the jungle. Just so you know, those adventures are far more epic than trips to stores or coffeeshops or restaurants.

But one downside is that I can’t organize a daily routine or meet up with people or go on spontaneous adventures whenever I get cabin fever. Absolutely not! Unless my friends are going somewhere and invite me to go along, I am “confined” to the village limits, since it is considered socially unacceptable and dangerous for a woman to go anywhere alone. The one exception is that when school is in session, it is fine for me to walk the 7 minutes up the path to attend classes, as long as I inform someone of these plans.

In the jungle, the number of friends I can see is very limited. Unless there are visitors from other villages, the maximum number of people in the village is 40, but the actual number is often as few as 15.

During my first two years there, there was no internet, thus, no contact with the outside world.

Does that sound like the kind of life you would choose? Well, some of us do! And I am so blessed and grateful that Jesus sent me to the jungle!

The jungle has undeniably been a place of isolation and separation from the life I had known, far removed from the two worlds I abandoned to become part of a third.

Yet it was there, as my friends taught me verbs, tones, sneaky switcharoos, and cultural norms, God taught me a lot about life, community, holiness, and dependency on His Spirit – lessons that I probably never would have slowed down enough to learn in North America.

I quickly learned that I love small and simple. Having less people around and less options available means having more time and focus to invest in relationships with new friends, immersed in their world. In choosing to become “poorer” as far as options and luxury and independence, I found myself richer in many other ways.

Rather than caging me in, the apparent restrictions opened doors to wide spaces of unimaginable freedom. Limitations led to an adventure of depending on Jesus in a deeper way. He taught me more about what it means to abide in Him, to just live, to be who He created and called me to be.

The jungle has changed me forever. More accurately, Jesus has used the jungle as a tool of sanctification and transformation, faithfully continuing the good work He is doing to make me more like Him.

These aren’t jungle photos, but the journey from monarch caterpillar to chrysalis (look closely inside the jar) to butterfly is an unforgettable picture of transformation.

I long for the day I am allowed to go back and learn more from Jesus and from my village friends. It will be wonderful to be reunited with them so we can spend hours together every day, on epic adventures or just sitting on benches, engaged in conversations while swatting away the bugs. It will be wonderful to once again eat granola for breakfast and rice for lunch 7 days a week, with the occasional surprise meat or fruit, without needing to plan a menu or buy groceries for at least 3 months.

Please understand that my love for jungle life and friends does not mean it is always easy to be there. It hurts my heart to be far away from family and miss out on seeing my nephews and nieces grow up. Going for weeks without a hug is harder than I ever imagined. While in the jungle, I long to worship and fellowship in community with other believers in a language I understand. And those are just normal feelings of loss and longing, not to mention out-of-the-ordinary situations.

During occasional times of crisis, it felt like the walls were closing in and I might be crushed. There was no escape or relief from fear and emotional pain that overwhelmed my heart. It was hard to stop thinking about stressful situations that were right there in the village, when I couldn’t even go for a walk by myself.

But Jesus held me fast and kept me from falling. His joy and grace and peace were more than enough.

The positive aspects of jungle living truly outweigh the negative. And in this adventure of walking with Jesus, even the pain and suffering are part of the blessing He gives.  

Now, can I share a secret longing of my heart? For the past four years, I have wished that you, my dear family and friends, could live in the jungle too, at least for a little while.

If only you could spend enough time there to give you a break from your fast-paced, crazy North American lifestyle. I have wished that you could trade all of that for solitude, quiet, peace, fewer commitments, and deeper relationships with fewer people at a time.

I have prayed that Jesus would somehow teach you what He has started to teach me about abiding in Him and just living, finding true joy in Him alone, and genuine delight in having less. I have wished that I could somehow include you in the precious and indescribable experiences He has given me in my jungle world.

And now, all of a sudden, the entire world has changed. Life, as we knew it, has been stripped away for a time. We have been isolated and restricted.

During this unwanted and unexpected transition, can you relate to any aspects of jungle life described above, friends?

Has your world closed in or become smaller in these days? In what ways has your routine been interrupted and your options limited? Maybe all you want is to get out of your house and escape stress and confinement, but you can’t really go anywhere, because it would be dangerous, or socially unacceptable.

Whether it be finances or relationships or opportunities, in some area of life, you probably have less. Maybe you even feel like you are less.

Do you ever feel like you are living in a different culture from the one you knew three months ago? We are so accustomed to having unlimited choices, options, and independence, that it is normal to resist or complain when they are suspended.

Please don’t get me wrong. I never would have prayed or wished for a pandemic or quarantine or lockdown. But I wonder if our loving Heavenly Father, who works all things out for good to those who love Him, might be using this crisis to answer my prayers for you in an unexpected way.

20190827_111428The work Jesus wants to do in our lives normally depends on our response, however. Will you allow Jesus to use this time to renew your heart and mind, transforming you and making you more like Him? What is He saying to you today?

Will you have the courage to make this your time in the jungle?

Even as your heart grieves the real and painful losses you are suffering, will you also look for the blessings and choose to be grateful for the good gifts of the present situation?

By God’s grace, will you sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him, asking what He wants to teach you in this time of isolation, cancelled plans, and uncertainty?

Walls and Peace

“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” John 20:19, 20

Jesus had risen from the dead. That’s what Mary Magdalene had told them, anyway. Yet there the disciples were, hiding behind closed doors, afraid.

What would become of them? They had left everything – houses, daily routines, lands, fishing boats, jobs and families to follow this Teacher from Nazareth. But three days ago, He had been crucified. Jesus’ death had put their dreams to death as well – dreams of deliverance and the kingdom of God. It was over. And now that the Jews had killed their Teacher, would they kill the disciples next?

And even if they survived, what were they supposed to do now? After all they had heard and seen and experienced while following Jesus, life could never go back to normal.

Or could it possibly be true? Was Jesus alive? Or was the women’s story simply the nonsense that it seemed?

We might expect the disciples to demonstrate more faith and maturity and spirituality at a time of crisis. They had spent three years doing life with Jesus, after all.

We might expect Jesus to appear to His disciples only after they had pulled themselves together or were emotionally stable. But He didn’t wait for that to happen.

Jesus came to the disciples where they were. Walls and closed doors and fearful disciples don’t stop our Risen Lord.

Jesus stood in their midst and simply said, “Peace be unto you”, or “Peace be with you.” And even before those words came out of Jesus’ mouth, His very presence with the disciples fulfilled His spoken words. Jesus not only gave the disciples peace, as He had promised to do in John 14:27; Jesus is the Prince of peace. Isaiah 9:6


It’s astounding that Jesus never rebuked the disciples. He didn’t say they should have trusted Him more or overcome their fear of the Jews.

He actually addressed their fear without mentioning it, or the external circumstances that caused it.

Neither did Jesus resort to clichés or false hope or warm fuzzy feelings. He never told them that everything would be okay and that life would get back to normal soon. It wouldn’t, you know. There would be persecution and prison and conflict and death.

Instead, Jesus helped them see what they truly needed to know and believe.

He showed them His hands, through which nails had been hammered three days before.

He showed them the wound in His side where the spear had pierced Him.

The wounds were more than proof that this man who suddenly appeared in the room was truly their Teacher and Friend, risen from the dead. Although the disciples didn’t understand everything yet, Those scars were tangible proof of Jesus’ eternal love and absolute power. He had won the victory over sin and death.

This story is not primarily about finding peace in the midst of scary situations, you see. Our deepest need is peace with God. 

For this reason, while we were sinners, enemies of God living in rebellion against Him, Jesus died for us. Romans 5:8-10 The punishment Jesus suffered brought us peace. Isaiah 53:5 The blood He shed on the cross brought us near to God. Ephesians 2:13 Because of what He did on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, all who believe in Jesus can be reconciled to God.

That is the Gospel of peace, the rock on which we can build our lives as disciples of Jesus who trust in Him, weathering the crises and fears that come our way. No matter what happens in this world, we know that someday Jesus will make all things new. Revelation 21:3-5

Perhaps we can relate to this story from John in a deeper way than ever before. Most of us are currently staying behind closed doors more than normal, due to a situation that might be causing fear, anxiety, frustration and hard questions, such as the following, among others.

What’s going to happen to us? How many people will die in the coming months? What will life look life after this is all over? Will things go back to normal? Will we still have jobs and ministries and routines to follow? Or is this the end?

Like the disciples, I often fall short of reasonable expectations as far as faith and maturity and spirituality. Crisis doesn’t always bring out the best in me. I say words I shouldn’t or fail to say words that should be said.

March 22 is a textbook example. It even happened to be the first day of the week, the same day Jesus rose again and appeared to His disciples. I was anxious and crying, shut in with fears which had built a wall around my soul. My faith was wavering; I had no idea of how God was working in my life, let alone in the rest of the world.

That night, even though there was not any right or ideal decision, I was so afraid of making a wrong decision, that it was impossible to just get over it, or analyze the situation logically from all angles, or pull myself together. Even while asking Jesus for wisdom and guidance, I was not fully trusting Him.

But you know what? Jesus didn’t wait until I unlocked the doors by reaching a certain level of trust or emotional stability.

Jesus came through the walls of my fear, and stood with me in an unexpected way. His presence did not changed the situation or answer all of the hard and painful questions. Yet Jesus has spoken peace to my heart, calmed my fears, and continues to be my peace. And as I walk with Him, He will help me to trust Him more and become more like Him.

What are your fears or anxieties today, friends? In what way might you be hiding behind closed doors? Please do not be ashamed, even if you are falling apart. Don’t tell yourself that you should be meeting certain expectations of maturity or stronger faith.

Hear the words of Jesus today, as He comes to you in love and resurrection power, in the midst of any fear you might be facing. “Peace be with you.”

Jesus is alive. The Prince of Peace is with us. So let’s stop being afraid –  because of who He is, not because of who we are or because of the circumstances around us. Like the disciples, may we see Jesus and be glad!

8 Things I Miss About the Village

Two of the most frequently asked questions as a missionary is finishing up home assignment are,

“Are you excited to leave? and “Are you excited to go back?”


No one has ever asked me both of those questions, however. It is either the first or the second. I finally figured out that the reason either one of those questions seems complicated is because answering both questions is the only way to give an accurate picture without oversimplifying the situation.

So are you ready for both answers?

No, I am not excited to leave. Saying good-bye to family and friends that I love is always painful and hard and sad.

Yes, I am very excited to go back. I love the friends and the life God has given me in the jungle and even while I have loved being here, have missed being there at the same time.

After explaining that paradox to some friends a couple weeks ago, someone asked what I miss about the village.

Well, the biggest and obvious answer is my friends who live there, but here a few specific descriptions, in no particular order, of things I miss.

  1. The effortlessness of spending time with people. Rather than calling to schedule something for the next day or week, or ask if someone is home so I can go visit, all I have to do is leave my house and walk around the village until I find someone sitting on benches outdoors or in their kitchen houses. Due to their culture’s natural hospitality and acceptance, and almost 3 years of intentional relationship-building, I am welcome to just walk in, sit down, or join in whatever activity might be happening, no questions asked, except for the traditional question like the one you ask friends when you first see them each day, “Did you wake up?” This lifestyle of togetherness and community is a wonderful way to live.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
  1. The look of delight and pride on the face of one of my best friends when I get things right in their language, or ask an insightful question about the culture. She has invested countless hours in patiently teaching me, and we have grown so much together, as teacher and student, and as friends.
  1. Little children yelling at my door during my third or fourth shower (cool-off technique) of the day, “What are you doing?” Well, they can hear the water running, so they know I’m showering. They just want me to hurry up so I can let them in to come play with my toys. The funniest occasion was when the little girl who tries to take charge of every situation, yelled in the most demanding voice a 4-year-old could muster, “Hurry up and let us in, cuz these bugs are biting us!”, as if there were no other houses in the village where they could escape the bugs, and I was a horribly neglectful person for failing to grant immediate refuge. These little friends make me laugh so much. I thank God for all the children He has placed in my life who enjoy spending time with me.
  1. The peace and stillness after the generator is turned off, normally between 9 and 10 pm. After everyone has gone to bed, with the background music of singing birds and insects, it feels like it is just Jesus and I alone, with no one else awake in the world to interrupt our time together. Many nights I step outside for a minute or two to gaze at the starry Amazon sky that He created. Even if the day might have been filled with stress or physical pain or discouragement or tears or a sense of failure, the beauty of that sight never fails to fill my soul with wonder and stir my heart to worship our Creator and Saviour.
  1. Not needing to deal with money or shopping or errands or appointments for months at a time. 
  2. Seeing brightly-colored parrots and macaws fly overhead as I walk across the village and remembering again, with a thrill, that I live in the real, live, Amazon rainforest.IMGP9652
  1. Being engaged in a lifestyle of ministry in which I am reminded on a daily basis that I do not have what it takes to do what Jesus has called me to do. That is true in the States as well, but it isn’t quite as apparent. In a culture that I am still becoming part of but will never completely belong in, my incompetence and weakness is very obvious to everyone. I’m not strong enough or brave enough or smart enough or organized enough or healthy enough or spiritual enough. Whether it is my inability to adjust to the heat, cope with stress, pronounce words, keep bugs out of my food, use a machete, handle a complicated cultural situation, or trust God instead of worrying, I am in way over my head in the village. And this is good. Abiding in Jesus comes more naturally when we are constantly confronted with practical examples of the reality that we can do nothing on our own.watching ee
  1. The daily suspense of waking up with no idea what could happen on a given day, but knowing that if I am in the right place at the right moment, there will probably be exciting culture events or interesting conversations to participate in. Knowing that I’ve missed out on lots of events and conversations since July increases my anticipation to return and jump back into language and culture learning with my friends. Every day in the jungle is an adventure!

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Remember the Red Rose

This is the post in which I share a story from nearly 6 years ago that I have been too ashamed of to write down or tell anyone. So if you have other things to do, feel free to stop reading. Just kidding. Hopefully the lessons God taught me using a red rose will help or challenge you.

Last week was Valentine’s Day, as you probably noticed. I went to Wal-Mart to buy pizza toppings, the last phone card needed for this home assignment, and the thinnest socks possible for bug protection in the jungle. I hadn’t been in the USA in February since 2013, and had forgotten what a commercialized holiday this is. Flowers and chocolate and sappy cards, oh my!


Still, I remember enough of North American culture to know that February 14 is a day when emotions run high, hearts are especially fragile, and hidden pain resurfaces.

So, standing in the candy aisle, a random urge from the night before to buy a Valentine’s gift for someone, didn’t seem like the best idea. Even expressions of friendship can be taken the wrong way when you don’t know a person well. And I am no longer comfortable enough in the American culture to navigate social situations and holiday expectations skillfully.

That insecurity prompted a flood of other fears. In my heartfelt desire for friends and acquaintances to experience Jesus’ love and believe in Him as their Saviour, do conversations end up being directed by me, and not His Spirit? Do I say things that push people away from Jesus instead of draw them towards Him? Do I try to run ahead of the Holy Spirit instead of walking after Him as a follower of Jesus? What if, whether here or in the village, in efforts to connect and serve and be a friend, I just mess things up?

As these emotions stirred in my heart, I gazed at the overwhelming number and style of candy boxes.

And a small voice suddenly whispered, “Remember the red rose.”

Even a siren or a snake or a stampede of army ants couldn’t have gotten my attention any quicker. I hadn’t thought about the red rose for a long time.

It happened in 2014, the summer that Brazil hosted the World Cup. Lots of ministry sprung up that year, some of which focused on outreach to women working in the sex industry, as well as prevention of human trafficking, which escalates in places where major sporting events are held. One ministry initiative was Festa na Rua (Party in the Street), a monthly event held in a different urban location each time. One evening that I had signed up to help, my Brasilian dad found me a ride with a young couple who were heading towards that area of the city, to spare me the normal 2 or 3 hour commute by public transportation.

Enroute, we were accosted by a street vendor. It is very common for Brasilians to go into business, selling candy or bottled water or other small items on the streets. Drivers stopped at red lights are viewed as potential customers.

This businessman was not peddling any of the common commodities, however, but was selling red roses. This was the first time I had seen a flower salesman at a stoplight.

And I suddenly felt an urge to buy a rose. “What kind of crazy idea was that?” I wondered. Sure, I come up with lots of crazy ideas on a regular basis (don’t ask my siblings), but this one seemed especially odd. Why in the world would I buy a rose?

For one thing, I had never made a habit of buying from street peddlers, and, less than halfway through missions training, I was on an extremely tight student budget. Also, I’d be helping set up for a party, and taking public transportation back home at midnight. A rose would get ruined. And what would the people I was riding with think of a strange American who randomly bought a rose for no logical reason?

But a small internal voice insisted, “Buy a rose!” I didn’t listen.

The light changed to green, we drove on, and I suppressed the feeling that I had made a wrong choice, distracting myself through conversation, and the building excitement for a Party in the Street.

The group heading up the event had a well-laid plan. We talked, prayed, and headed out to the designated corner, loaded down with food, soda, decorations, music, gift bags, and excitement to see God work.

Our location was a neighborhood known as “Luz”, the Portuguese word for “Light,” yet a place of darkness, where women work in an industry which devalues and dehumanizes them. Unimaginable stories of hopelessness, tragedy, poverty and abuse, in many cases, drive women to places where instead of receiving compassion, they are often judged and stigmatized.

Our desire was to bring light into this dark neighborhood, and connect with ladies working there. We prayed that they would sense that we loved and valued them as individuals, and start to believe that Jesus loves and values them and has a purpose for their lives.

It was an unconventional and terrific party! Many people who stopped by seemed excited about the refreshments and small gifts and the chance to socialize.

One of these was a lady we’ll call Annabelle. After listening to her story and sharing a bit of mine, I asked Annabelle the question which had been suggested by the party coordinators as a way to turn the conversation towards Jesus, and lay the foundation for the Gospel message to be shared.

“What was the most memorable or meaningful gift you have ever been given?”

Her answer came without hesitation. The most meaningful gift Annabelle had ever received was red roses.

red rose

My heart sank with the realization I had messed up big-time. God wanted to use me to give Annabelle another red rose as a tangible expression of His love, to show that He saw her and knew her story and her heart. The small gift of a red rose might have proved to her that God’s big gift of salvation through Jesus had her name on it as well.

But I had disobeyed the Holy Spirit, classifying His voice as a “crazy urge”. Choosing common sense over the illogical, propriety over spontaneity, safety over risk, a seat in the boat over a walk on the waves with Jesus, I didn’t buy a rose. What seemed like an insignificant incident became a significant regret. If only it would have been possible to go back to that stoplight, buy the rose, and give it to Annabelle.

She still heard the message of the Gospel that night. I pray that she still sensed Jesus’ love and compassion during our 15-minute conversation. But she didn’t receive the rose. And I missed out on being the delivery girl for what could have been a meaningful miracle.

As a daughter of God, I already know I am loved and valued, yet I still need the Gospel just as much as anyone else.

So what is the Gospel? The good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Even though we were all born sinners by nature, wanting to do things our own way, with a bent toward sin and away from God, He loved us so much that He sent Jesus, His only Son. Jesus died for you and me and for the whole world, regardless of our job or background or belief system. He took the punishment for our sin to bring us back to God, as His children, and give us everlasting life.

But not only did Jesus bring me back to God when I believed in Him for salvation from sin; He continues to draw my heart back to God whenever I turn away. Being in vocational ministry and living in a jungle does not exempt me from ignoring God’s direction or believing lies or living in fear of what others will think. So Jesus continually calls me back into the light, when it feels safer to stay in the dark corners of the nearest comfort zone rather than walk by faith.

God is still transforming my heart and renewing my mind. He graciously used the red rose incident as a catalyst for growth and change.

Since then I have been more aware of His still, small voice, and obeying it, sometimes even without being 100% sure of whether it is the Holy Spirit or a random urge. While it’s still a struggle sometimes, I’d rather do something that appears crazy than risk missing out on being part of something God wants to do in another person’s life. Although it often means embracing the unknown, jumping out of the boat, and redefining comfort zones, I’m all in. 

So on February 14th, while not overly excited about the commercialism of this holiday in our culture, I bought and delivered the box of candy embossed with a shiny red rose, along with a small bouquet of fresh flowers.

Did those Valentines’ gifts become miraculous tools used by God? I have no idea, which is fine. That’s God’s business. But I do have faith that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of this person, praying that He will draw her to Jesus someday, and that my attempts of friendship might be seen as small expressions of His love.

In the adventure of walking by faith, in confidence that the mission is His, not mine, I’m trusting that God will keep me from messing up too badly as I continue to grow in grace, learning to recognize His leading in both the major and minor situations of life. I’m believing that as I live by God’s Word and abide in Christ, my conversations will be led by His Spirit not by my own agenda.

And one of the things I am 100% sure of is that whenever I do mess up, or even choose to disobey, like that afternoon in São Paulo, our loving Heavenly Father will always forgive, and continue to use me, not because I’m perfect, but because He is so perfect that He is powerful enough to use weak and broken ones to accomplish His work in this world, despite our failures and mistakes.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

The Babies Someone Wanted

We forget many conversations almost immediately while others impact us so deeply that the words are etched on our minds forever.  In March, a friend, sitting on my kitchen bench, started an unforgettable conversation by saying, in a quiet, anguished voice, “I killed my baby.”  In response to my questions, she told me as much of the story as I could understand.  It wasn’t her choice.  My friend’s father-in-law didn’t want the baby for some reason, and said that she had to follow the cultural procedure of burying the baby alive and leaving it.  She told me how it’s cries grew weaker until it’s little life was over, and how she cried because she wanted and loved her baby.


A few days ago (12-18 – it was about three weeks ago now), the little elderly grandma in our village told me a similar story from her youth.  In her case it was her own husband that didn’t want the baby and said it had to be buried.

On Monday, as part of ACL practicing, I decided to spend one of the hottest hours of the afternoon lying on the cool tile floor of the bedroom while listening to audio recordings.  That conversation with the grandmother was first on my review list.

So much for my scheduled hour of listening practice.  Three minutes and 18 seconds into the audio recording, I was bawling so hard I had to hit the pause button, and never did finish practice time that day.

These dear ladies still carry the weight of strong negative emotions decades after their babies were buried.  The emotion they both named was sadness, but their comments and facial expressions lead one to suspect the possibility that pain, trauma, bitterness, helplessness, guilt and anger also reside in their hearts. 

These women each lost a baby.

Babies they nurtured in their wombs for nine months, babies they wanted and loved, babies they were not allowed to keep.

I cried so long and hard today.  I cried for the countless babies in this culture who were left to die over the years, before the Gospel came.  I cried for the mamas who loved and wanted their babies, and still have not been comforted.  I cried for the dads and grandpas whose hearts were hardened toward these precious little lives.  I cried for the people groups that are still living in total fear and bondage, as my friends were just 42 years ago.  I cried for the sorrows and fears and questions that my village friends still face.  I cried about my own fears and insecurities.

If these things grieved my heart so deeply, why would I write about them and risk bringing sorrow to you?  Even as I write this, I’m not certain I will post it.  This is the third time I have written about similar cultural topics and my reactions, but the first time I have had the courage (or audacity) to post.  Perhaps the time has finally come to share this part of my heart and ACL adventure.  You want to know why?

First of all, because it’s hard to cry alone. 

I need you, my family and friends, to come alongside me in prayer.

Will you please pray that Jesus will fill me with courage and hope?  I’m not very strong or brave, friends.  Monday proved it.


As a result of the power of the Gospel and the changes that Jesus has already brought to this culture, the practice of burying “unwanted” babies ended years ago.  Praise the Lord!  By His grace, some of the enemy’s lies have been vanquished by Truth, and many dark places have been illuminated.

But it would be naïve to think that all is now well in this village and culture.  Yes, there is evidence of true joy, hunger for God, and Christian fellowship.  Yet darkness and lies and bondage and pain still exist among this precious people.  And how could it be otherwise?  They don’t have the Word of God in their language yet!

I want to make it very clear that I am not judging this culture or saying that it is worse than North American culture.  Our culture also has dark and tragic aspects that grieve my heart and would shock people from other countries.  Just as no individual human being is perfect, no people group is perfect.

Every people group has wonderful characteristics, and I prefer to share the parts of this culture that I love and appreciate and participate in.  But it would be dishonest to pretend that life here is completely lighthearted, one cool jungle adventure after another.

And that is the second reason I might actually post this.

Because you are part of the ministry team God is using to reach these people, so you need to know at least some of the hard, heartbreaking details. 

How will you be able to pray knowledgeably for us if I never tell you that this culture, like all others, is contaminated by sin and marked by darkness? 

How will you support us in the battle if you only know about the triumphs and not the defeats? 

How will you hold the ropes for me personally, your sister and daughter and friend, if you don’t know what makes me cry, or sometimes want to run away? 

Can I be very real with you, friends? Even though the very reason for being here is to shine Jesus’ light into this dark place, my own fears and insecurities show that darkness is still trying to claim a stronghold in my heart. 


After two years of great fun, hard work, and dependence on Jesus, I can speak well enough to discuss serious topics and investigate slightly more profound aspects of this culture.  Thank you, Jesus!  But suddenly, since September, new questions have begun to trickle into my heart and mind.  On Monday that trickle turned into an overwhelming and unexpected flood…

What if I discover unspeakable hidden customs, not from this culture’s past, but from their present reality?

What if my trusted friends start telling me unbelievable things that shock and grieve me?

What if I can’t handle it? 

What if I’m not strong enough?

What if I don’t know what to say? 

What if I don’t have what it takes?

And, you can guess what happened next.  I started bawling again, this time out of fear instead of sadness, until the Holy Spirit quieted my heart with the realization that while my questions are real and valid, there is another question that trumps every single one.

“What if God’s grace is enough?”  And I worship God through the tears.


That question is not a true “what if”, my friends.  The blazing truth revealed by that question answers all of my fearful questions.  Of course I’m not enough for these things.  And I don’t have to be.  Jesus didn’t bring me here because I am qualified or tough or have what it takes to do this job.  He brought me here because I am a weak, foolish, fearful vessel, and that is the kind He loves to use to demonstrate His power and glory and sufficiency.

God’s grace is enough. 

God’s grace is enough for me and for all my fears.  His grace is enough for the elderly little grandma and for all her grief.  God’s grace is enough for you, and whatever you fear or grieve today.  God’s grace is enough for this whole people group, for my home culture and your culture, and for all people everywhere.  And isn’t that the good news we celebrate this time of year?

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  Luke 2:10-14  (emphasis mine)

Will you please pray for me with regards to all of this? 

Will you please pray for these sweet elderly ladies whose hearts need God’s healing and peace? 

Will you pray for this people group as a whole, and for each individual, that Jesus’ light will shine brightly into the darkest hidden places, bringing freedom and life and joy? 

All of us, wherever we live and work, are in a battle.  Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies.  Good versus evil.  Faith versus fear.


What kind of darkness do you encounter in your community?  I would challenge you not to turn away from the lies, the tears, and the needs around you.

We who walk in the light do not need to fear the darkness.  Ask Jesus to show you the dark places where He wants you to shine.

And please feel free to comment or e-mail me with how I can be praying for you about these things.

Level With Me!

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village


According to an online dictionary, the expression “level with” means

to be straightforward with someone about something; to be sincere or truthful about someone or something.

Well, today, I’d like to level with you about my progress in ACL.  I’d like to level with you, but I’m not going to.

This is not because I want to be indirect, insincere or dishonest about my progress.

Actually, I cannot level with you about this today because I need someone to level with me first.

As many of you have probably experienced in your workplace, ministry, family, or other areas of life, self-evaluation is a challenging task.  Can you imagine trying to evaluate your own progress in learning a tonal language spoken by less than one thousand people?  (In other words, there are no youtube videos, vocabulary lists, or handy little DIY proficiency quizzes online).  Well, I can imagine trying to evaluate my own progress, but I sure can’t evaluate it accurately.

Enter the ACL consultant!  His (or her) job is to evaluate the progress of missionaries who are doing ACL, to figure out what level they are at.

But maybe you are asking, “What levels? I thought you only need to learn the language so you can teach the Bible, make disciples, and plant a church.”  True, only that.

However, working towards that goal, in the ACL program, there are 4 distinct levels – Basic, Progressing, Capable, and Proficient.  Each of these is divided into 3 sub-levels.  These levels are used to describe and measure the learner’s language ability.  Each level has a different focus, which determines the most helpful learning activities, study strategies, and percentages of time spent on each of the 4 Ps.

In order to be approved to teach God’s Word here, I must reach sub-level 3 of the 3rd level, in both language ability and understanding of the culture.  Based on research and our mission’s experience, this is the minimum level necessary to communicate Biblical truth clearly, without creating confusion.

My language and culture skills are definitely NOT at sub-level 3 of the Capable level yet, but I am very eager to find out my current level, and get tips for accelerating future progress.


The star in the levels diagram above marks the goal, the official finish line for the ACL journey!

Reaching that 3rd sub-level of Capable does not mean the end of learning and becoming, but the end of full-time ACL.  It will mark a transition into teaching ministry, while still continuing to learn about the culture and improve language ability.  The Proficient level isn’t pictured in the diagram for some reason.

Would you like to know a secret, though?  Reaching the proper level does not guarantee that a missionary will communicate successfully. 

The strategies and levels and learning cycles and evaluations of the ACL method are all helpful in working towards a measurable goal, and achieving it more quickly.  We use these tools, but we do not depend on them.  They would never be adequate to accomplish our objectives.


In the ACL journey, success is not attained by the method itself.  Nor is effective ACL achieved through the missionary’s intelligence or ability or dedication to the task.  Successful ACL is absolutely impossible without the work of the God of the Impossible.

That goes for teaching ministry as well.  No matter how fluent and assimilated into the culture a missionary becomes, clear communication of God’s truth is not guaranteed by reaching the level-with-a-star and getting approved by a consultant.

As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2,

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Clear communication of Biblical truth, in any language or culture, is dependent on the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Fervent prayer is essential.  These are truths God started impressing on my heart in a deeper way last year.

There.  At least I leveled with you about something today.

So, please pray that God will empower me to do my level best during the next 10 days of ACL, and also during the evaluation itself – August 14th-16th. Those will be an intense and mentally exhausting three days, for my coworker, myself, our consultant, and the two language helpers who will be working with us.

My earnest hope and prayer is to come out of the evaluation amazed by Jesus and the mighty workings of His power.  Whatever level has been achieved, may the evaluation results make us all say, “Wow!  Look what Jesus is doing!  JESUS is amazing!”

Hopefully the results will also encourage the hearts of my faithful friends and language helpers with evidence that God truly is helping us and that in Him, our labour is not in vain.  And will inspire you to praise God with us, assuring you that your prayers and participation in this journey are making a difference.  Together, with His continued blessing, we will arrive at that star.

God is faithful, and He is able!  After all, He is the One who created my ears, brain, and mouth.  He has enabled me and sustained me, even through seasons of challenge and suffering.  He brought me here and gave me precious, meaningful friendships in this Amazon village.  He has planted in the hearts of our friends a hunger for His Word that is incredible to see.

I haven’t reached that star yet, but am still praying that God will give me the language this year, so that by the end of 2018 I will be fluent enough to teach His Word.  

Will you believe with me for this, friends?  Will you pray in faith, that the God of the Impossible would do great things in my heart, in this place, and among this people, for His glory?

What impossible dreams has God given you?  What goals are you working towards for the name of Jesus?  I would love to pray with you about these! 



How to Get a Brazilian Permanent Residence Visa in Just Under Ten Years


“Chegou semana passada.”

“It arrived last week”.  Those words from the officer on the phone sent me out the door yesterday afternoon on my first bike ride since Tuesday, when my sister and I went riding together on a quiet, semi-rural road, her last morning before heading back to the States (you will hear more about her visit in my next Crossing Cultures e-mail update and upcoming posts here).  What a surprise to hear that my visa had already arrived!  Granted, I applied for it in December, but for my second-year religious visa extension, I applied in January and the card was not ready until September, so I was expecting it to take a few more months.

If you missed last year’s episode of my visa saga, you can read it here.  And if you would like your own ten-year adventure in mishaps from first entry into Brasil until obtaining permanent residency, just try what I did, summarized in the dated bullet point list below.  Feel free to skip the list and just read the story underneath, however.

  • 2008: entered Brasil with tourist visa, valid for 30 days.  After that, applied for another tourist visa, valid for 5 years, multiple entry, but only permitting me to spend 6 months in Brasil each year.  I was there from October 2008 – April 2009.
  • 2010: applied for and easily received a religious visa, went to Brasil for six months, then due to ministry changes, went back to the USA, where the religious visa expired.
  • 2012: entered Brasil with my tourist visa from 2008, stayed for 2 months.
  • 2013: entered Brasil under the tourist visa again, stayed for 5 weeks.
  • 2014: planning to return as a full-time missionary to Brasil, attempted to apply for religious visa in NYC, was not allowed to do so, given tourist visa instead, and told to change it to a religious visa in Brasil.  That proved to be impossible, which led to visits to various branches of the police in São Paulo and the nation’s capital, Brasilia, to begin a complicated legal process requesting the right to stay in the country longer than a tourist visa would allow.
  • 2015: left Brasil, wondering what the results of the legal process had been (I was never contacted by the immigration department with information about my status, and did not have money or time to continue making trips to Brasilia to inquire), and whether I would be fined on my way out of the country because I had stayed a year and a half with only a tourist visa and a pending legal process.  Nothing was said.  At the end of the year, back in NYC, I applied for a new religious visa, which was granted.
  • 2016: entered Brasil with one-year religious visa
  • 2017: payed fees and did paperwork to extend visa for second year.
  • 2018: applied for religious visa to be transformed into a permanent residence visa, which only has to be renewed every nine years, by a simple process and payment of taxes.

On a practical side, this process required lots of research, money, time and travel.  Thankfully, I was not alone, but received help from parents, siblings, a cousin, uncle and aunt, a street evangelist, pastor and church members, coworkers, Brasilian parents and pastors, Brasilian friends of friends.  These people drove me to bus stations or government buildings (everywhere from Utica to Montreal to SP to Brasilia), picked up approved visas and mailed them to me, housed me overnight, and more, graciously giving of their time and resources to be part of this crazy ten-year process.

On a spiritual side, obtaining permanent residency has involved many tears, fervent prayers, and hard-fought battles to surrender my desires to God’s perfect will, whatever that would turn out to be.  There were moments where I wavered between trust and fear, and even wondered if the door to future ministry in Brasil would remain open, or if God would allow it to close, severing ties with a place and a people I already loved deeply.  I was not alone spiritually either, as all the people mentioned above, and many other brothers and sisters in Christ (including some of you reading this) encouraged me and prayed for safety, direction, favor from government officials, and miracles.

On on occasion, at the consulate in NYC,  I was coldly informed that the requirements for visa application had changed, and the website had not been updated; therefore, I did not have the correct documents.  There were less than two hours left to obtain said documents, return to the consulate, and legalize the documents, although I could not apply for the visa that day.  I needed to catch the bus late that afternoon to be back at work the next day, and hadn’t looked into any options for an overnight stay anyway.  Exhausted from spending the night traveling and then waiting in a little shop for the consulate to open, I could barely hold back the tears as I walked past the Brasilian flag and the guard, who, thankfully, was friendlier than the lady behind the desk had been, and wished me good luck in Portuguese, probably noticing that I looked distraught.

How was I to navigate a huge, intimidating city alone, in search of a library, a post office and other locations for which I had no directions?  I will never forget kneeling just outside the NYC Brasilian consulate, completely oblivious to the people milling past, alone with God.  The cement was rough under my knees as tears of frustration, cooled by the chilly winter air, trickled down my cheeks.  I pulled out my Bible, knowing that it would be foolish to race into the next two hours without the strength and assurance that can only be found in the Word of God.

The passage the Holy Spirit brought to mind was 2 Kings 19, where, after receiving disturbing news in a letter, King Hezekiah

…went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.  And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth.  Lord, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, Lord, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God…Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only.

If you know the story, you realize that the situation I faced that day was very different from Hezekiah’s.  A cruel enemy nation was out to kill him and the country he ruled.  He was told, “let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee,” implying that the situation was hopeless, and that God was either incapable or unwilling to save Israel, if their God even existed.

Compared to that, I admit that visa problems aren’t worth crying about.  However, I had received very disheartening news, and was facing a challenge for which I was unprepared, an obstacle bigger than my limited knowledge and resources.  The only logical reaction was to take it before the Lord and pray, acknowledging His power and sovereignty and pleading for His help.  I asked God to hear and see my need, and open doors in miraculous ways, not just so that I could serve Him here in Brasil, but so that everyone who would hear the story would know that the Lord is God and give Him the glory.

After five minutes in the presence of the Lord, I stood up, not knowing what the outcome of the day would be, but with full confidence that the God in whom I trusted would not let me down.  My panic was replaced by a calm determination that if it were possible to get the documents and return in time to legalize them that day, I would somehow succeed, with Jesus.

That “somehow” included friendly New Yorkers who gave me directions, lines that moved quickly, breathless jogs down bustling streets with a backpack and ankle-length coat (I must have looked ridiculous, but that didn’t matter), and an indescribable peace that kept my mind focused on doing the next thing instead of worrying.  As you might have already guessed, God worked it all out for me to submit the new documents just before the consulate closed.  Isn’t our God awesome?

That is only a small glimpse into the story that ended yesterday afternoon, with permanent residency in this country I fell in love with nearly a decade ago.


If my visa process had been predictable and quick, as it is for so many other missionaries, so much time and money would have been saved.  But would the qualities of perseverance and determination have been developed in my life to the same degree without the obstacles that had to be overcome just to live here?  Maybe not.  Would my conviction of God’s calling be as strong as it is today?  Probably not.  Would my faith and relationship with the God of the Impossible have grown as much?  No.  Would friends and family and I have prayed as much about this visa if every trip to the consulate had gone smoothly?  Of course not.  Would the thin piece of plastic I hold tightly in my hands bring such grateful tears to my eyes and such a thrill to my heart?  Never.

Not only do I now finally have the legal right to live in Brasil, I also have one more tangible proof of the faithfulness of the God of the Impossible,  in the form of a simple plastic card which represents so much more than anything a government agency could ever print or give.

Guided in the Dance

One of the highlights of any Neno celebration is dancing.  Lest you get the wrong idea, these “dances” are really more like marches.  One couple links arms and starts the dance, soon followed by numerous other pairs, marching in step to the music, 1-2-1-2-1-2.  Dance partners can be husband and wife, two men, two ladies, two children.  Sometimes three people link arms and join in the procession.  Occasionally, one person will enter the circle alone, dancing behind a pair.  There don’t seem to be many rules.

From time to time, the direction of the dance will change and everyone quickly turns around, to follow the pair of dancers that had been following them moments before.  Other than these quick about-faces, the dance is simple and predictable, a great advantage for someone as clumsy as I.  God must have taken this aspect of the Neno culture into consideration when He sent me here, knowing that even slightly complicated dance rhythms would be serious challenges to my motor skills and coordination.

During the second celebration held in our village since my arrival, a friend beckoned me to come dance.  I joined her eagerly, and another friend followed.  With their arms linked through mine, we joined in the procession of dancers, following the pair in front of us in the circle, changing direction, marching around, swiftly turning again.  At first I had to concentrate, but before long, the steps and turns became so automatic and natural that I was able to ponder subjects more profound than dancing or lively keyboard music.

In that moment, there were ladies on each side, my friends and guides in this glorious, joyous, cross-cultural dance of missionary life.  They are not just my teachers as far as dancing, but also in talking, daily living, Neno etiquette, relationships, and all the other aspects of the multifaceted system we refer to as culture.

As we moved together, around and around, step step step, I yearned to be able to move with my friends in other ways, fitting in with their routines, their customs, doing life together gracefully, without breaking step, stumbling, or bumping people on the sudden turns.  There will be days when it’s not so fun, moments when I feel like I’m dancing on eggs, when the culture reveals itself to be much more complex than its simple dance style.  Yet I boldly pray that I will live in unity and community with my Neno friends as much as possible, becoming part of their culture in deeper ways than one can now imagine.

Then my thoughts went even deeper, to the One who brought me here.

Life with Jesus could be compared to a dance.  And my deepest desire is to be guided by Him, led by His Spirit, dancing with Jesus until I am one with Him, not even knowing how He leads.  May this continue until I am not thinking anymore about where or what or when, just following His lead automatically, turning fast and true, always in step with Him.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.  1 Peter 2:21

For so long this verse has given me the idea of looking to Jesus as a role model, an example.  You know, Him on the pedestal, up high in the sky, or way out in the lead in a race.  And here is little old me plugging away behind, panting as I try to keep up, stepping in the footprints He left so long ago.

But I think the Neno culture has given me a new mental picture, that may be more accurate in some ways.  What if I am not called to follow behind in Jesus’ steps, but to follow beside Him?  Jesus doesn’t lead far off ahead in the distant horizon.  He also doesn’t lead from behind, pushing and prodding us along like stubborn mules.  Jesus links arms with us, drawing us close by His side, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, as equals, as brothers, co-heirs, children of God, to use biblical terms.  Did you get that?  As equals with God the Son, the Eternal One, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.  He is the only one who lived a sinless life, walked with God perfectly, danced impeccably with never a misstep.  And He condescends to dance with me at His side, as an equal?  Inconceivable!  Yet true.

Jesus isn’t dead and gone, you know.  He was dead and is alive again.  He did go and sent His Spirit back to live in us.  So His footprints on this earth are not past, like wild pig footprints (or deer hoof prints, for those of you not fortunate enough to live in a place where you can hunt wild pigs)  that need to be tracked.  Jesus is still present in our midst, here on this earth (albeit not physically and bodily) and He calls us to walk (or dance, for our present analogy) with Him.

You see, in this Journey-Dance of life, I don’t know what I’m doing.  Life is fluid, ever-changing, variable, intricate, detailed.  Sometimes one’s dance is marked by pain, agonizingly slow steps to a hauntingly beautiful melody as we learn to dance in faith, even in the valleys and the shadows.  At other seasons, the song is wild and vibrant, as we dance with reckless abandon and celebration.

The many dance steps and musical moods glorify our King.  He, after all, is the one directing the orchestra, our individual lives, and the grand scheme of history.

Sometimes the melody is marked by grace and steadiness, other times by changes so abrupt it would be easy to miss a beat or lose our step.  That is why it is absolutely essential that we stay close to Jesus in the dance of life.  He is the guide, the leader of the dance, the only one who knows what the next measure of music holds and which steps are most suitable for each specific note.  This world isn’t predictable, after all.  And neither is Jesus.  With Him as our life, every day is an adventure.

In those early morning hours (for the dances at these celebrations often last past midnight and sometimes until dawn), I realized that the closer I stayed to my Neno friends, the more our steps blended, in a sort of physical harmony.  Similarly, the closer I am to Jesus, the more in tune I will be with the music, and fully in step with the dance.  United with Jesus, one in direction, purpose and vision.  That is my heart’s desire.  To walk and dance so close to Jesus that without even thinking about it, I would go where He goes, I would do what He does, I would be like Him, imitating Him, and thus showing the world a small glimpse of who my Saviour is.

ACL Idols

Dissolving into a puddle of tears, she cried as if her heart would break – no delicate, ladylike crying, but ugly nose-blowing sobs that shook her body and left her face red and blotchy instead of its normal white.

Who was having such a major meltdown?  It was me, of course.  I certainly wouldn’t write about other people’s meltdowns.  So what happened this time?

Juliana had just informed me that our missions consultant won’t be able to do our linguistic evaluation this year.  Last year he couldn’t come at all.  This time, he is still coming, but the only viable dates fall during a major celebration here in our village.

And I’m left feeling heartbroken at this news that something we were counting on has fallen through.  It feels like we aren’t important enough to somehow work things out to do our evaluations.

Despite the fact that an evaluation is a bit like a “test,” bringing with it a bit of anxiety, I was genuinely excited about it, expecting it to be a very useful tool in pinpointing where each one of us is in our ACL, evaluating our knowledge and skill in both language and cultural understanding.  At least our professors and mission leaders always told us it was a useful tool.  And now I am frustrated and distraught about not getting to find out firsthand.

Logically, I know my feelings are unreasonable.  It’s certainly not Sergio’s fault that the celebration happens to be during the only chunk of time he can visit.  He is responsible for evaluating many teams of missionaries in a huge region of Brasil, along with his other duties and ministries back in Manaus.  Another consultant left our field a couple years ago, so Sergio has been on his own, although training new consultants, but probably spreading himself far too thin already.

But how can I wait another year?  The mission has certain expectations after all, for the timeframe in whitch a language should be learned.  What if I’m not making the anticipated progress here at the beginning of ACL, and get further and further behind?  Then when an evaluation finally does happen a year or two from now, the leadership will be expecting me to be far more advanced, but by then it could be almost too late if I’ve been doing everything wrong, and no one knew, so no one could help.

Will the support, leadership, and orientation I was counting on really be there when needed, or is it just a nice idea that may or may not happen?

Suddenly, with toilet paper in hand to wipe away tears, I realized what the real issue is.

Somehow, my heart had turned away from my Father and Friend to other gods, to idols.  No, I didn’t start worshipping the spirits from traditional Neno culture, but I had clearly turned away.  Some questions I asked myself made it quite clear that all was not well.

Do I really think that the God who brought me this far will leave me stranded somewhere on the road between first words and fluency? 

Will I end up destitute in any way after the abundant manner He has always provided? 

Have I joined the Israelites in the desert, whining and complaining, thinking that God is not enough and that I need meat and vegetables and the stuff of Egypt to survive?

Am I putting my trust in man and methods instead of in God Himself?

If I think ACL will make learning the Neno language possible, does that mean I think God can’t enable me all by Himself?

In expecting Sergio to have the answers, have I forgotten that Jesus has the answers?         

In desiring that progress and outcomes be measured and defined, do I remember that God’s Word evaluates aspects of ministry that are far more important?  (Love, heart, and motives, for example).

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.  Psalm 20:7

So what have I turned to instead of God, as my “chariots and horses”?

If God were speaking to my heart today, which He is, He might say,

“Some trust in ACL and some in language consultants, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”

Sure, methods and strategies and organization have their place.  But they are not what gives us boldness and equips us, and will prove a poor substitute for the God who brought us here.

Elevating a method or a person to the place of God is sin, plain and simple.

In the words of a famous hymn whose name I cannot remember right now:

The arm of flesh will fail you; you dare not trust your own.

If it’s foolish to trust my own might, power, intelligence, and organizational skills, it’s equally foolish to trust the might, power, intelligence and organizational skills of another human being, no matter how gifted or experienced.

These are basic biblical truths.  How did I turn away so easily?  How can I know the Truth yet persist in living as if I believe the lies?

It’s as silly as stumbling through the darkness of a starless night in the middle of a jungle, with a high-quality flashlight in my hand, turned off.

The concept of ACL with or without consultants, evaluations, and support should be so simple.  Not saying that the Neno language will ever be easy, but the concept is simple.  We did this already, after all, Jesus and I.

Rewind to October 2008 – March 2009.  Brasilian culture and Portuguese immersion 101.  How many linguistic evaluations for that?  None.  How many visits from consultants?  Zero.  Were there ACL manuals to read and highlight and get ideas from?  Nothing.  I had set out on my own, with lots of people back home praying but with only Jesus as my Consultant, my Coach, my Vision, my Everything.  He put other English-speaking missionaries in my path from time to time who encouraged me along the way, but our times together were sporadic and spontaneous blessings, not guaranteed support.

Was it hard?  Sometimes.  Was it fantastic?  Most of the time.  Was it the adventure of a lifetime?  Oh, yes.  And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

You know what?  Right now, I don’t think I need an ACL evaluation after all.  I don’t even need Sergio to visit, as helpful as it will certainly be to ask him questions and get his input.

Oh, my sinful, wandering heart!  What I truly need is to repent, to turn around, to change direction.  What is it going to take for me to truly learn to depend on Jesus and Jesus only in this new place and challenge?  Please pray that I will learn this lesson well, and live by it always.  My deepest need is a heart that cries out for God and God alone as if there is no one and nothing else to fall back on in the day-to-day of ACL.  Essential to this battle is a heart of holy desperation, a conviction that loving the Neno well and pointing them to Jesus is impossible without Him…not challenging or difficult, but IMPOSSIBLE.

And didn’t I say, a time or two, that I didn’t want to go somewhere too easy?

It seems more and more that the impossible part is not so much the actual task at hand, or the Neno people or language, but the absolutely inconceivable notion that God could ever use someone like this messed-up, broken, prone-to-wander daughter of His.

But according to 1 Corinthians 1:27, God hath chosen the foolish and weak things of the world to confound the wise and mighty, “that no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1:29) I certainly possess nothing to boast about, and am nobody from which greatness would be expected.

Yet by His grace, may God choose me, weak and foolish, with all my sinnings and stumblings, to make a difference for Him in this corner of the Amazon rainforest.  May what He does in and through me stun and amaze all those who see it, proving His greatness and glory in unconceivable ways.

Leaving Luxury

Surprising my little brother at camp.  Hugs are one thing I miss terribly in my village home, so a month of hugs in abundance was just what my heart needed.  

Written September 16th, 2017

Tonight you could call me an Israelite.  Not the courage-exuding, faith-filled, battle-winning type.  More along the lines of the desert-wandering, ever-whining, luxury-craving kind of Israelite.

I sit here next to my Neno friend, in the nearby village we are visiting for a celebration, one we have been anticipating for over 2 months.  Yet instead of being grateful and excited to actually be here as planned, all I can think about is how uncomfortable this small piece of log is to sit on.  If one didn’t balance just right, it could easily roll back and deposit one in the dust.

Worse, my thoughts then wander to the bathroom, which is better left undescribed.  Suffice it to say that it is not as “nice” as the community bathrooms in our village, and would score very low with regards to both hygiene and practicality.  In stark contrast to my normal water-ingestion habits, I wonder what would be the smallest quantity of water that I can drink in the next 36 hours, without getting dangerously dehydrated.

But I half-heartedly try to pull my mind, which starts kicking and screaming, in an attempt to focus on what is being said from the platform, trying to piece together as much as possible from the words and phrases I understand.  Oh, it’s hard.  My brain drifts to the delicious ice cream, nachos and rye bread I ate last month, the pizza, deep-fried chicken and kielbasa we never had time to make, and the grapefruit I fully intended to buy and eat, but forgot.  Oh, that grapefruit would be so refreshing right now – cold, citric and juicy.

First meal back in the States, at Panera Bread, with Dad and Mom.  Delicious sandwiches, plenty of water, and wonderful conversation in a language I understand.  

Then I catch another couple phrases of the message…

So this must be the drudgery of missions.  To be sure, much of this life is a grand adventure – everything from trekking through the jungle to eating piranas and making new friends.  But there are moments when missions is made up of little more than scorching heat, biting bugs, self-discipline and mental focus.  There are no obvious eternal differences being made, people believing in Jesus, or even practical contributions being made to the community.

Nonetheless, this daily grind is the toil and labor necessary to become part of a new culture.  All of it is an intentional investment, a foundation to be built upon, preparation for what is to come.

Do you remember the list of questions Paul asked in Romans 10?

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?

and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?

and how shall they hear without a preacher?

and how shall they preach, except they be sent?

Considering the context of missionary work that crosses cultural-linguistic barriers, I would ask also,

And how shall they preach, unless they learn the culture and speak the language?

And how shall they learn these things unless they live them, day in and day out, until by them they are changed?

The apostle Paul didn’t deal with many language barriers, as far as I know.  He was blessed to live at a time when Greek was spoken fluently across the Roman Empire, so his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew were sufficient to preach anywhere he went.

However, in considering the cultural barriers he dealt with, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write,

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.  And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;  To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.  – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

In our specific case, unto the Neno, we become as the Neno, that we might gain the Neno.  It is not for us, but for them, and for the gospel’s sake, and most of all for our Savior, the One who died and rose again.  Oh, that He might receive the glory of His suffering!

And oh, that I might stop whining and complaining and getting distracted by heat and other temporary inconveniences!

Father, help me to stop wanting the luxuries of last month.  It really was fun being spoiled by the way my family and others blessed me in abundance, and by our encouraging, joyful time together.  All of this was a gift from You.  But that month of comfort and ease and family time is over.  For now I’m back in another world, this wonderful place to which you brought me, to lose my life, that other reality, for your sake.  Give me the grace to choose contentment.  Teach me to make the most of every moment here, refusing to waste my life on the trivial.


Make me willing, by your grace, to leave all the comforts and luxuries and favorite foods and pleasant climate and people I love.  Granted, I’ve already left them literally, traveling by car, plane, bus, and taxi, but help me to leave it all behind again mentally too.  May I not be distracted by desires or memories of what is there, concentrating instead on the reality what is here…a language to learn, people to love, and a culture to become part of.  All of this is included in the adventure of following the one who must be the constant object of my focus – Jesus, my Master and Lord, my Joy and Prize, my All in All.


May I live out the words of Mary Dagworthy James’ hymn, especially the fourth verse:

Since mine eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I’ve lost sight of all beside—
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Looking at the Crucified.

All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Looking at the Crucified.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Looking at the Crucified.

– All for Jesus, Mary D. James