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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Night at the Orchestra

November 1st, exactly one month ago, was my last day at home in Itapecerica da Serra, and definitely the most memorable last night on record.  After we had all survived the excitement of Camila’s wedding, my brother Antonio suggested doing something fun and special to celebrate before I headed back to the jungle, and together we decided that visiting the Sala São Paulo for a concert would be just the thing.  Since these plans were made a bit on the last-minute side (as most brilliant plans are), it took some effort and planning to coordinate everyone’s schedules, but Antonio worked it all out for the family to go.  Our dad, who isn’t actually a big fan of classical music, and preferred to spend the evening babysitting his adorable grandson, passed his ticket on to Danilo, our married brother.  So it was the five of us that went.

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For you to appreciate just how unforgettable our night at the orchestra was, you have to understand that after two years in the jungle, my soul was almost starving for beautiful, classical, live music.  I knew I missed it, but hadn’t realized how much until the hunger started to be satisfied, bit by bit, during October.

First came the chance to play a piano while waiting for an event to start.  It was only for half an hour, but oh!  A real piano!  It had been nine months since I had played an electric keyboard, and 14 months since I had touched the keys of a real piano, so this was a rare treat.  My mom and brothers sang along on a couple hymns, which was fun, and brought back special memories.

Just the chance to attempt to make music awakened something in my soul that had fallen asleep.  While I sing every day in my little jungle home, singing is not the same as playing piano – following the measures in a hymnal, four fingers at a time, blending the carefully-chosen chords and harmonies.  Delight!  Even now imagination brings back the beautiful sounds of the last few measures of The Solid Rock, when I finally played them correctly after several tries.

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The second magical musical moment happened when someone left a guitar at the house.  I can’t remember which brother picked it up first, but when he started to play…oh the beauty!  It almost made me cry.  When there were instruments at home, playing music used to be part of the everyday routine, so I had really missed listening to it.  Both Gustavo and Antonio are very gifted musicians, whose playing glorifies God in a remarkable way.  The beautiful melodies they create fill the hearts of those who hear them with wonder, joy, and worship.

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Sala São Paulo is a beautiful historic building.  Architecture is a type of beauty that I normally am not especially drawn to, but in this case it was impressive enough that I noticed.  And excellent acoustics for performances.  Our seats were behind the platform, which was terrific because we were so close to the musicians, and could see the conductor’s face.

And then we went to the orchestra.  The classical pieces composed by Beethoven, Hummel, and Rossini, and played by the world-famous Sao Paulo orchestra were indisputably another level of beauty altogether.  I told myself to remember and treasure each moment and measure, so that I could savor them later when in need of that type of beauty.  For although I am surrounded by beauty every day here in the jungle – the natural beauty of tropical plants, the linguistic beauty of a tonal language, the human beauty of smiles and friendships, a corner of my soul had been longing for another type of beauty for a long time.  That yearning was satisfied by a special night of music a month ago, and I am thankful.

Music, at least in my heart, does something that no other type of beauty can do, nourishing and speaking to me in a special way.  Music of the caliber we heard that night, instantly prompts my soul to step into God’s presence, worshipping Him as the Creator of all beauty, the One who deserves my love and life

As we listened, drinking in the beauty of our surroundings and the music, wishing it could go on forever, my thoughts drifted to a place where beauty will never end.  There, the music will be so glorious, that in comparison, I suspect that those brilliant orchestral masterpieces will seem as inept as my five-year-old self playing “Do a Deer” with one finger.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” I would venture to guess that these unimaginable things include music, one of God’s great gifts to us, and thus especially appropriate to offer back to Him in worship.

In the car on the way home, we talked about music nourishing the soul, and about the many types of beauty there are in the world.  We considered how all beauty points us to Jesus, and increases our longing for eternity.

Then my brother mentioned how deeply he was impacted by The Lord of the Rings movies.  I haven’t watched them, so this will be based on his comments, as well as I remember.

Antonio said that the movies do a masterful job depicting a world dominated by ugly beasts and malignant forces.  They show the power of evil in a way that makes you feel sick, drawing you into despair and hopelessness, because it seems impossible that the evil will ever be defeated.

But then, at the end, in the darkest hour, in stark contrast to the reality which has been presented throughout the entire movie, a good wizard comes and defeats the seemingly invincible evil.  Light and goodness and beauty prevail!

All of that is a copy and reflection of truth, giving us a small glimpse and understanding of God´s omnipotent power and authority.

All cultures and individuals are contaminated by sin, yet despite that knowledge, it is hard to see the darkness of deception, pain, and guilt in this people group that I love.  Hearing details of the war that the devil waged on them, the lies he used to cause the literal death of family members of my dear friends, triggered sorrow and anger.  I also felt the darkness of fear and doubt in my own heart as I wrestled to not react according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, depending on Jesus alone.  He used these hard situations to remind me of who He is and what He will do.

At the end of time, in a way even more remarkable than any movie could portray, our God will gloriously triumph over all the evil in the universe.  When all we can see and feel is ugliness and darkness and despair, we must remember His promise that in the end, the truth and beauty and goodness and light and power of Jesus Christ will prevail, making all things right and all things new.

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Last night with the family (some of them), until the next time!

And just as I finish editing this post, the generator turns off, allowing a beautiful jungle lullaby to be clearly heard.  The instruments playing tonight are steady rain on the thatch roof, voices of birds, and insect songs of a thousand varieties.  On November 1st, God blessed me with orchestra music and special family time.  And that night, I felt so loved.  On December 1st,  He blesses me with the music of nature and special time with Jesus.  And tonight, I feel so loved.

If I can live by the truths mentioned in this post, and rejoice in whatever types of beauty are part of each day, always keeping my eyes on Jesus, the One altogether lovely, my heart will never be truly hungry or afraid or in despair, though feasts of beautiful, soul-filling music might be few and far between.