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.

 

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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

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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!

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!

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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.

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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 Corn Speaks Again!

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I am the corn.

Whatever this means for today, for 2019, and for the remainder of the days You give me on this earth…

Dear Lord Jesus, I am available!

Another year is just about over; 365 days of adventures with Jesus to treasure up and ponder. Just like the last day of 2017 and 2016, this morning found me trekking through the jungle with friends, harvesting corn from their gardens and watching them work long hours to prepare tasty traditional dishes.

As usual, I reflect on the work of God in my heart and life, thanking Him for His good gifts of joy and suffering in 2018.

Please check out this story I wrote that was published online by Ethnos360, along with a few pictures from our village, including one of a dear friend.

And The Ear of Corn Speaks!

 

 

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.

A Wednesday Poem

Because Wednesday was the day this was written, and I can’t come up with a good title.

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I don’t want a life I can handle.
I don’t want a job I can do.
I want to stand on the Impossible’s brink
And see it accomplished by You.

I ask not that the path would be easy.
I ask not that the tears would be few.
I want to run this race so hard that I stumble,
To be picked up and carried by You.

Send me giants to slay by Your power.
Give me mountains faith only can move.
Clear a path through the sea and destroy every foe.
So the victory brings glory to You.

Let the world see Your power in weakness.
And give credit where credit is due.
This weak, trembling servant could do nothing alone.
But yearns to be used greatly by You.

 

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.

When Saturdays are Worlds Apart

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Caio and Camila, October 20th, the beginning of their life together as husband and wife, building a household of faith.

Just five Saturdays ago, I was in São Paulo, with my sister, other family members, and a bevy of bridesmaids.  We spent the day in a fancy beauty parlor, getting our hair and nails done, talking, laughing, and preparing for my sister’s wedding.  What a lovely celebration of marriage, a gift created by God, as Camila and Caio began their life together, and their dream of building another Christian family for the glory of God.

By midafternoon that Saturday, I was dressed better than I have ever been dressed in my entire life.

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And you know what?  I wouldn’t have missed that special family event for the whole world.  So many memories, that we would remember for a lifetime even without the thousand lovely photos that are a treasure in themselves.

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The most loving, beautiful, incredible “adoptive” parents a girl could hope for.

What a joy to be there with my parents and brothers, to celebrate together that the Lord was giving our sister the precious gift of a godly husband who loves her and committed the rest of his life to her.  

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And the most caring, handsome, and hilarious “adoptive” brothers a girl could imagine.

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Or maybe I wasn’t adopted…looks like we were all made for each other.

Today I laugh as I look at the pictures and wonder if these moments really took place only 5 weeks ago?  And is that well-dressed girl with sparkly nails really me?  And is this the same life, or some fairy tale?

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My gorgeous and beloved sister with her new husband!

Today, November 24th, was a rather different kind of Saturday, you see.  I had the privilege of being with village friends for one of their normal-routine-life events, the first Brasil nut harvesting expedition of the season, spending the day not in a fancy beauty parlor, but in the beautiful Amazon jungle.

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If one looks very closely, there were a few common denominators between that Saturday and today…conversations and laughter and photos, but that’s about it.  No delicious dinner and pretty clothes and fancy decorations in the jungle today, just like there were no wild pigs, creek-crossing on logs, or fire ants to bite us at the venue where Camila’s wedding was held.

By mid-afternoon today, I was sweaty and dirty and bug-bitten.  There are two photos to prove this fact, since my selfie abilities have not advanced to the point where I can capture face and pants in the same photo, and no brothers were around to act as photographer.

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The part of the shirt that can’t be seen is covered with sticky juice, a result of the many tremendously delicious mangos we gobbled on our way back into the village.  Who needs ice cream or peanut butter pies when you have free all-you-can-eat mangos?  I must be the messiest grownup mango-eater of all time, though.  That’s one of the many reasons I can identify with children so easily.

Despite the lack of pretty clothes and jewelry, my smile this afternoon is the same as it was five Saturday afternoons ago.  You know why?  Because today, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.  This place, doing life with these friends, learning this language.

Once again, gratitude drips from my heart like juice dripping from a mango, but without the stickiness.  Surely I am the most blessed woman on the face of the earth.  How many people get to glide “magically”, not just from one random world to another, but between these three worlds – Lewis County – São Paulo – Pawanẽwa, specifically?  How many people can say and feel that they “belong” (in the measure that any follower of Jesus can belong to any world this side of Heaven) to these three amazing communities?  Only one person has this unique honor.  And that person is me!  Craziness.  Overflowing delight.  

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These shimmery blue butterflies fill my soul with wonder, beauty, and awe, inviting me to worship God their Creator.

It’s impossible to express how deeply I love each of these communities, which are so different one from the other that they truly seem like unique worlds.  My Saviour and best Friend is the One who placed me in the first one, then led me step by step to the others.  Whether riding through São Paulo traffic, walking jungle trails, dancing in circles, or driving down Lewis County roads, I’ll continue to go with Jesus, saying “Yes, Lord,” no matter where He, my greatest Adventure leads.

Were it not for Jesus’ great love and compelling call, I never would have left that first world for an unknown city, because I love my family and church and community so much.  But after living in Sao Paulo for a few short months, I couldn’t imagine life without my Brasilian family and church and community.

Were it not for Jesus’ great love for people groups who still don’t have God’s Word in their languages, I never would have left Sao Paulo to come to the unknown of the Amazon jungle, because I loved that second world so dearly.  But now, here I am, slowly but surely becoming part of a third world which I have also grown to love.

Now this is starting to sound like I’m about to leave this third world behind and go on some new adventure with Jesus, but that is not the plan at this point.  For the foreseeable future, I’m here to stay, except for brief visits to two other worlds, of course.  Who knew missionaries had superpowers?  Now if I could only have the superpower of speaking any language fluently on demand…that would be the coolest!

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Christmas flowers?  Oh, yeah!

 

Redeeming (and Recording) the Time [Becoming – Part 10]

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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In the last five posts, we looked at “the Four Ps” which run my life help me organize ACL activities and use time wisely, learning from the culture events happening around the village, in the jungle, on the river, or anywhere else.

You will probably remember several references to amounts of time spent on each of the Ps.  Did you wonder how an ACL learner is supposed to keep track of all that?  Well, you have come to the right place for the answer!

Let me introduce you to an ACL form called the Monthly Report.  For each day, it has boxes for each of the Four Ps and some of their subdivisions, in order to record how ACL time is spent, rather than just reporting a daily total of hours.

Pictured below is a real sample of my hours for the first half of November.  The reason it isn’t from a more recent month is that I started planning for this series back in the fall, and at that time did an English version just for you.  Forms are normally filled out in Portuguese to submit to our ACL consultant, which also explains the white-out and rewritten words.

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November 2017, Monthly Report.  This link: img051 should take you to the pdf version, which is clearer and easier to read, except you have to turn your head sideways.  

The expectation of our field leadership and ACL consultant is that missionaries would spend a minimum of 40 hours each week on ACL.  These 40 hours can be organized according to each missionary’s preferences, based on the people group, living situation, family status, and other factors.

Some missionaries do five 8-hour days, with 2 days off, reminiscent of a typical full-time job.  Others have different schedules. So far, I have gone through several “phases” in my personal planning.

For awhile, there was no point in planning for a weekly “day off” because I was loving ACL and being with my friends so much that there was genuinely no felt need or desire for a break.  (It does look like I took one full day off in November, though; nothing is written on the 11th). But normally, what would I do all day by myself?  After a few hours of cleaning, reading, cross-stitch, and listening to downloaded sermons and radio programs, I’d probably get bored or lonely, and end up going to spend time with friends, which involves language, culture, and relationships…ACL!

That has all changed now that Wi-Fi has been installed in the village.  Yes, yes, just writing that sounds crazy.  And it’s certainly ironic that we only have power for 2-3 hours a day, (except when the diesel runs out…tonight will be our last night of electricity until more is purchased) so we can’t have a fridge, but we’ve got Wi-Fi!

So all of a sudden, there are so many things that can be done on days off!  I can skype with my family, blog, look for new recipes, listen to sermons on RightNow Media, watch a cooking show or movie.  And it has been good to spend one day a week “disconnected” from the world in which I am semi-immersed here in the jungle, to reconnect with family and just get some down time to relax my tired brain.

So, since June 15th, I am in a new season as far as scheduling.  A few strategic changes to simplify diet and routine have reduced stress while increasing available time to be spent on…you guessed it!  ACL!

My current personal goal is 10 hours a day which would be 60 hours/week, with one day off.  Considering the 40-hour mission expectation, this gives plenty of flexibility for unanticipated circumstances.  A few recent “for instances”

  • Discovering a major infestation of thosands of tiny ants in my food bins.
  • Washing dishes in the river for a few days due to broken water pump for the community well.
  • Migraines.
  • Spending extra hours alone with Jesus after finding out discouraging news.

When these or other unexpected circumstances arise, since my working goal is already higher than it has to be, I can take a few hours (or the whole day when a migraine is bad enough) to deal with the situation, then go back to work, knowing that we are still “ahead of the game” as far as hours go.

And just to make sure it doesn’t sound like I’m overdoing it or becoming a missionary workaholic, remember that I truly love language learning, and my friends here are terrific.  Spending time with them is a delight, not a chore.  Most of the hours tracked each week symbolize a high percentage of fun.

And while the goal of 10 hours is always on my mind, it’s not a burden, but more like an extra-bonus challenge, resulting in prayers like, “Jesus, let’s see if we can do 10 hours today, okay?”  But when it doesn’t happen, it’s fine, like yesterday, when the intense heat drastically reduced a certain North Country girl’s productivity to the point where by 11 AM, I had accepted the fact that it would be an 8-hour day.

Now let’s go from days and months to the big picture.  According to the consultants and missionaries who have already finished ACL, after four thousand hours, a learner should be fluent enough in the language with sufficient understanding of the culture to begin teaching the Word of God.  Four thousand hours!

So these hour sheets are more than just required reports for leadership.  They are more than proof that I am doing my job and not just hanging out with friends in the Amazon jungle…oh, wait, hanging out with friends in the Amazon jungle IS my job.  But these logs are more than just an interesting record of our activities together.

Every hour tracked on these forms is an hour invested with a purpose, toward a specific goal.  As days and months march on, my ACL hours accumulate, pushing ever closer to 4,000, that elusive but reachable number.  Monthly totals are a recorded testimony to the learning of words and phrases, gaining of experience, assimilation of culture, and deepening of relationships.

Each hour spent in ACL is one hour further into the journey of becoming who God is calling me to be in this place, one hour closer to being ready to communicate God’s Word clearly to my dear friends in their heart language.  The time is short; their need is great; the task is urgent.

Although I often fall short of this, my heart’s desire is not just to “get the hours in,” but to make every ACL hour and minute count – for language learning and for eternity. Will you pray that God will help me in this area?  I want to view these hours not merely as time invested toward an important goal, but as precious opportunities to be a light and a witness on the journey. 

Oh that I might learn well, laugh often, love deeply, and live for Jesus only!

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.  – Ephesians 5:15-17

PROCESS for Progress. (3rd P) [Becoming – Part 9]

Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village

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In the ACL journey, the 3rd P is sometimes a challenge to keep up with.  Why?  First of all, frankly, when there are events happening and people nearby, it is sometimes hard to sit in front of the laptop and concentrate.

What if I am missing a great Participation opportunity in Xibu’s kitchen next door?  The bits of conversation I can hear sound interesting, and the other ladies are there right now!  And maybe no worthwhile Culture Events will be happening later when I am done with filing these language notes.  Processing is important, but it can always wait until another time…

Such are the thoughts that sometimes run through this Culture/Language learner’s little brain, either distracting me from Processing or convincing me to Participate instead.  There are also days, however, when I can happily spend hours processing if needed, learning from and enjoying the progress thus attained.

According to the ACL program, out of an 8-hour day, 45 minutes to 2 hours are supposed to be spent processing.  Since our electricity is inconsistent, sometimes there is a valid reason for getting woefully behind, and then catching up later, since I use the laptop and printer to Process.

Our village owns a generator, and we all contribute money or diesel from time to time, so that we can have electricity for 2 or 3 hours each night.  However, there is no organized system for collecting money, purchasing diesel, or computing the rate at which it is used, so sometimes we go without electricity for a week or more, with only a night or two of electricity before the diesel runs out again.  Thankfully, I have a spare battery for the laptop, but if I do a normal amount of Processing and some non-ACL writing, both batteries are typically used up in about 5 days.

But what is processing?  It is storing and organizing data – photos, audio recordings, and the pages of linguistic notes collected each day.  Processing also involves transcribing some texts so that I can focus on learning new vocabulary and grammar from them.

I file observations about how this culture thinks, believes, views the world around them, and understands the Bible.  These observations will be helpful in the future as I prepare to clearly communicate God’s truth in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them.

Accustomed to teaching the Bible using methods suited to a Western culture, I will need to learn new approaches to teaching that work here.  Please note that the message will be the same.  Just as God Himself never changes, the truth of His Word is also unchanging, crossing all cultural boundaries.  However, the way God’s truth is presented can and should change depending on the audience with whom we are attempting to communicate.

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New (to me) Jungle Trivia:  In May, there are swamplands within walking distance of our village!  Pristine, eerily beautiful, seemingly untouched by time and humanity.

Process time is also when that I take note of difficult vocabulary, words with tone differences and grammar patterns or sentence structures that I always seem to mess up.   Finding these challenges is fairly simple; the challenge is coming up with dynamic drills or learning exercises to use during Practice sessions.

To give you some examples of the Processing I’ll be doing this next week (May 19th-25th), here are the texts I was able to record during the last week.  Not included are the many short word or phrase texts recorded during the week; these are only the longer ones that require more time to process.

  1. Text recorded with the village grandma (she is the chief’s mom and grandma or great-grandma to over half of the people who live here), “Coatcoara”, with me asking questions about fire in the the olden days.  She answered those, then talked about their traditional drink which used to be fermented to the point of being alcoholic and causing drunkenness at festivals.
  2. “Coatcoara” again, this time talking about the different clans in their tribe.
  3. Coatcoara, this time being interviewed by Xibu and her 1st-4th grade students for their history class. Coatcoara is the last person alive who was part of the group that made the first contact with “white people” (Brasilians), and told us that story.
  4. Legend or folk tale about a man made of rubber, recorded by a man from another village, whose name, translated, is New Path.
  5. Short conversation with New Path and his wife.
  6. Another long legend or folk tale told by New Path. I didn’t actually understand a lot of it, so will save it to process at a future date, when my language level is higher.
  7. Text with a friend talking about guests coming to our village later that day, preparations to be made for them, and her happiness about receiving guests.

Often, I transcribe texts, typing them out word-for-word.  Later on, during the Practice stage, I ask a friend (whose official title, in the ACL manual would be CLH – Culture and Language Helper, but I normally just call them friends) to correct the transcription and help me understand any difficult parts of the texts.  Other times, instead of transcribing the text, we simply listen together, and the “CLH” helps me understand the difficult (to me!) parts of the text.

Technically, these texts are supposed to be based around culture events, but some of the texts lately have revolved more around stories, events of the past or how things were done in “the olden days.”

Also on my current Processing to-do list is:

  • 20 pages of notes in my Field Notebook, that need to be transferred to the computer.
  • Organize photos from the last two or three weeks into their proper Culture Event folders on the computer.
  • Print photos of objects or activities for which I need to practice vocabulary.
  • Re-read articles about grammar of the “sister language” to help me understand how the language works.
  • Enlist assistance to translate example sentences from “sister language” into ours, to help me master grammar concepts.

Thank you for reading this post until the end, despite the drudgery of a not-very-exciting blog about transcribing texts and filing photos.  Do you ever feel like your career or ministry or life itself is mundane and unrewarding?  Maybe, like me, you sometimes feel that no matter how hard you work, you see very little progress.  Well here is a verse that the Lord has used countless times to speak to my discouraged heart.  Hopefully it will encourage you too.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Corinthians 15:58

No matter what one’s job title or daily routine is, for the servant of God, all work is to be done for Him, and viewed from His perspective, as an occupation that has the potential to make an eternal impact.

And let me remind you that “servant of God” is a term that that includes all we who believe in Jesus, not just people who leave their home country to go live in the Amazon rainforest.  So don’t put me in some separate group, okay?  We are all created for good works, commanded to preach the Gospel,  love others,   deny ourselves to follow Jesus, and do everything we do in His name.

What does this look like for you in your current season of life?  Do you need a changed perspective regarding the eternal, Jesus-centered purpose of your work or daily routine?  How can I pray for you as you serve God where He has placed you?

Today, I need to remember that this P is not simply “process for progress”, although that does have a nice jingle-bell ring.  These 4 Ps that set the rhythm for my days and weeks are more than a useful pattern from the ACL manual.  They are Ps with a purpose: to lift high the name of Jesus in yet another language in His world!

Oh friends, please continue praying for me and my friends here in the village as we work together through ACL learning cycle, day after day, week after week.

Plan. Participate. Process. Practice. Plan. Participate. Process. Practice.

Pray that I will not grow weary in this journey, but will stay strong in the Lord, keep my eyes on Jesus, and finish well.  Pray for a bountiful harvest to be reaped in due season!  The firstfruits of this crop will be seen in my life – the inevitable changes involved in becoming someone God can use in this place among this people.  They will include fluency in the language, deep relationships in the culture, and an ability to clearly communicate God’s truth, all by the power of His Spirit.

And after that, we look ahead to an abundant harvest in other lives, as people from this culture believe in Jesus, become His disciples, translate and learn His Word in their heart language, and take His message beyond their world to others who have yet to hear.

Do you have the faith to see all this too, dear readers, and join us in praying until it becomes reality?