Profiles in Courage
Throughout our spiritual walk we have many conversion experiences. My first was when I became a disciple at the age of 18. When I was baptized I was overjoyed to find my relationship with God and to see what God had in store for me. It was obvious how God had orchestrated people to come into my life to show me the way to Him. My faith was fresh, my heart was eager, and my life had found new purpose.
Then life comes along… college, dating, career, marriage, and children. Each phase of life has its own conversion experiences. To some extent, being a disciple became more of a habit and lifestyle. I have often thought that because I have chosen to follow God, that life should be good and the storms minimal. But that isn’t always the case…
A little over a year and a half ago, I experienced another life changing event. After 20 years of marriage in the Kingdom, I was now a divorced, single mother of three teenagers. I was crushed. The landscape of my life and spirituality had taken a drastic change.
As I cried out to God, I realized that I had a decision to make. I could blame God, become bitter, and potentially destroy the faith of my children; or I could cling to the Word, open my heart to the women around me and beg God to carry me. I chose the latter.
Hebrews 11: 1 -“Now faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
I definitely wasn’t seeing how I was going to fare in this storm. Through my tears, I begged God to speak to me through His Word. Each day as I read, God showed me that He could identify with every emotion I was experiencing. Rejection? Betrayal? Loneliness? Yes, Jesus had been there.
I saw how God hurt with me, and the Psalms became a balm for my broken heart. I would call the women in my life to share my attitudes, feelings, and tears. They patiently listened and cried with me. I borrowed their faith because mine was weak. They helped me to stay focused on God, and to trust that He was preparing my children and me for something better.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I begged God to not let the circumstances shipwreck my children’s faith. My heart was breaking as I watched my kids wrestle with why this happened. I begged God to work in their hearts as they navigated through a situation that most Kingdom Kids will never experience. But I had to realize that God too was preparing their hearts through this storm.
As time moved on, I also had to look at my heart. Relationships don’t occur in a vacuum. What was God trying to show me about relationships in general, and especially with Him? I began to realize that I had hurt God by allowing the circumstances of life rob me of complete intimacy with Him. This conversion brought me to a deeper understanding and tenderness with God that I had never experienced during my walk as a disciple.
Wounds take time to mend. Seeing how God has provided for and carried us through this experience continuously helps my heart to heal. I have watched my children grow in their relationship with God and they have felt the love and support of the Kingdom like never before.
I Peter 3:6-7, 9  “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
But as with any conversion… the power is in seeing God transform the hearts of others. Despite the circumstances, the power of the Jesus’ sacrifice moved the heart of my 17-year-old daughter, Jenna. On July 14th, I was able to baptize her into Christ. I could feel God embrace me and I knew all the pain and tears were worth it.
I am still not on the other side. Despite the storm, I have learned to embrace the struggle. While it has been the most difficult thing I have ever experienced, I would not change it. The conversion in my heart and my daughter’s are too valuable. I continue to pray for humility and to be an example of love and faith. I have learned that I cannot control what happens to me, but I have the Spirit to guide me as I deal with it. I have chosen God, and His sacrifice – it is all I need.
As I look out of my living room window and see the bustling city of Santiago, Chile, I marvel that my husband and I have been asked to lead the church here. That by itself is amazing but on top of that we don’t speak the language, yet! Learning Spanish at this point in my life is one of the hardest things I have ever done. By nature when a task is this hard I often give up: like doing a painting or running a marathon (neither of which I have ever done). I think God has been training me for this for a VERY long time. You see, I am 59 years old. There are a lot of reasons why people stop trying to do hard things at this stage in life. Our bodies don’t cooperate in many ways, to say nothing of our minds. Now is the time that people start making jokes about forgetting things….not a very convenient problem when you are trying to learn a new language.
You may be much younger and think, “I don’t need to read this, I’m still young and it doesn’t apply to me”. I suggest you read on and open your mind. It is possible you could use some of these ideas in the future, or that my thoughts might affect some current decisions that will impact your life in later years.
I, too, was once 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Florida. There, I met people from the church and I learned so much about what it meant to follow the Bible. From the time I first read the New Testament I knew there was nowhere else where I would find a genuine standard for my life and find friends that would help me get to Heaven. On top of that, the church was where I needed to find a spouse who would have these same convictions. These decisions have made a profound difference in the direction of my life. Did I wake up one morning and decide I was going to move to India, Afghanistan, the Middle East, or Chile? No. As a matter of fact, I was raised in the only one city (Miami) until I left for college, and most of those years were in the same house. But because the Bible became my standard, I learned to view the world through new eyes. I focus on doing what God wants me to do and allow Him to direct my steps (Prv 16:9). I strive to keep firm on what the Bible makes clear about life and doctrine (I Tim 4:16) but, not “dig in my heels” and draw lines in the sand about what I will or won’t do or where I would be willing to live. But it is God who has taken us to so many different places, not me.
You might wonder if I knew before we married that one day I would travel to and live in many exotic places. The answer is a very clear “No”. Change can be scary. Many of us shy away from it all together. So, I learned to like it and even look for opportunities to change. I like cleaning out my closet, giving things away, imagining new places and new activities. I have learned to like moving to new cities or countries, making new friends and finding new ways to do things. But this didn’t come easily. I was so scared when we landed in India with the church planting in 1986. I felt like I was drowning for a while. Only my relationships and prayer kept my head above water. Each decision along the way had to be met with prayer, advice and more prayer.
Actually, prayer has always been difficult for me. I just finished Mark Templer’s book: “Prayer of the Righteous”. Yes, I read it in Spanish. Reading it this way took longer but that made me think more about what I was reading instead of simply flying through it. It was inspiring and challenging. Prayer is an area of my life in constant need of challenge and renovation. I pray that those of you who are strong in this area would write about your prayer life to help those of us who are weak in this area. I do know that prayer works because our Father in heaven listens and answers and I have seen so many of those responses!
In staying strong with God, I have come to realize that Bible Study is crucial. Sometimes for months I will listen to the Word while exercising. I focus on a particular book and write notes on what I am learning. I read a book and then read it again after a few months. I am particularly encouraged when I find parallel passages to whatever I am reading. I don’t claim to be any kind of scholar – I am just trying to learn as much as I can when I read. I gain so much from the work of others. I listen to messages and distill them and send the notes to my children sometimes. All of this said, I am in a constant quest to do more. I love it every time I learn something new so I try to make it daily.
I suppose one of the biggest lessons in my life has been my understanding of helping the poor. When it comes to this, perhaps I began to gain a greater understanding one Saturday in Gainesville, Florida. Several of us were asked to go clean a very poor woman’s house. It took hours. We put her rat-infested mattress was put out on the curb for the trash collectors to take away. I remember leaving with the others and wondering what would she sleep on that night. As we left, we saw her pulling it back into the house we had just cleaned. We did what we could to help, but in the end all we could do was pray.
I also remember the time that several of us in South Florida went to the home of a woman who was a “pack-rat”. I imagine that her need to hoard things had become a mental illness for her. She couldn’t even throw away a tea bag. They were everywhere. Her needs were overwhelming but we did what we could to help. Though we helped, in the end all we could do was pray for her.
When we were in India the beggars seemed to be everywhere. Sadly, because it is so overwhelming, it is possible lose your sensitivity to their struggles and you can end up walking by and trying not to make eye contact or even trying to escape their clutches. Some are forced into their life of poverty and others brought to it by life’s circumstances. Regardless, the needs were overwhelming. All I could do was pray and try to help one at a time: with a meal, a hand-shake, an invitation or a specific gift that would help. When we lived in Afghanistan, the winters were brutal for many. We often raised and donated money to buy wood for the heaters some families had in their homes. We would find clothes that we could give out, food that we could distribute, and even offer vocational training that would help people fend for themselves. I could recount the many things done with the money donated, but there was certainly never enough for all needs that were before us.
Here in Santiago we go to “La Vega”. It is the largest vegetable, fruit, meat, spice, beans market I have ever seen. It runs 365 days a year. There are homeless that live there. You can imagine why. We have a church service for them every Saturday. We do communion, a message, Bible learning games and a small breakfast that includes hot tea, coffee, and sandwiches. Truly, it is a highlight of my week. We dream of having a place for them to have AA or CR meetings, take a shower, get different clothes, do studies etc. It’s a long term plan. I know that I can’t “fix” all the problems they have. All I can do is pray and use the life God has given me to do something.
It’s important to me that I don’t get so safe and comfortable in my life that I forget that the majority of the world doesn’t live that way. Being careful not to love my surroundings or things too much just keeps me ready to move.
The church has always been my safe place. Each year I grow deeper in my understanding of why Jesus referred to us a sheep. It’s an amazing and profound analogy for us. I recommend you look into the characteristics of sheep: how they treat each other, how weak and simple they are. When we bump into each other, bite each other, walk on each other, trample each other and get confused, we need to remember that it is better to be a simple sheep than a stubborn goat. However, in most passages about sheep, perhaps Jesus is more talking about Himself as the shepherd and how dependent and in need of His protection we are. So, when we as sheep get into trouble, we need Him (through the church) to rescue us. And we will need this again and again. I am so thankful for the many churches I have been a part of in our group of churches. Wherever I go around the world, I am loved and cared for by God’s people.
I need my husband too. You can only imagine how much work it has taken to continue to grow together and love each other after 37 years of marriage (June 6, 1976). This would be another whole article. But without him I would be more stubborn than I am. I would be angrier than I am. I would be more impatient and more prideful. He is truly my other half. We argue and hurt each other’s feelings. But we laugh and love and share, too. We married young (22 and 23 years old) and have literally grown up together. I love my children (and now my grandchildren) more than I could possibly say. God has taught me amazing lessons through them I wouldn’t say I was a great mom, but as the Bible says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). They can write their own articles.
Perhaps I have just scratched the surface of many things. I pray for you to have rich of a life in Christ as I have had – learning, repenting, changing and being challenged.
Today at work, I found out that one of the homeless boys who we work with got drunk last night and killed another. I spent an hour listening to one of the women I work with share her story of abuse and her struggle with wondering if she will be able to financially support her two young daughters if she leaves her abuser. I then comforted that woman’s friend as she told me that she sees her teenage son entering a pattern of alcoholism and fears that he will one day be the abuser to another woman and their children. I ran into another one of the women I work with who told me that she found a dead baby in the trash last night as she was sweeping the streets.
Unfortunately, this is not an atypical day for me working with families who live and work on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia. I came to La Paz, a recent college graduate with my degrees in Social Work and Global Health, expecting to see immense physical poverty. When my plane touched down in this two-mile high city in the second poorest country in the hemisphere, I quickly saw that the poverty here extends far beyond what initially meets the eye.
Shame, abuse, loneliness, insecurity, and distrust plague the lives of many of the beautiful families that I work with. The emotional and spiritual poverty that they face is overwhelming. Men line the streets to shoeshine is masks because they are too ashamed to be seen making their living in a way that is met by so much discrimination. Old women sit on corners prostituting themselves because they believe that they have no other way to provide for their children and grandchildren. Eighty percent of the women I work have suffered from physical and sexual abuse. Many children grow up alone because their parents need to work twelve hours just to be able to put food in their mouths and a roof over their heads.
While my job here is to help families save money to work their way out of poverty, I see my role as much more than just to coordinate services for them and to make sure that they have goals and are saving. My job is to listen to the secrets they have fearfully hidden for years, to tell them and their children how beautiful and special and important they are, to kiss them and hug them and to make them laugh, to advocate for them when they feel as if no one else in the world is there, to spend weekends at their houses being a part of their lives, and to love them as much as possible in whatever crazy and imperfect way I can. My job is to be as much like Jesus as I possibly can. I know well that what they need is not me, but to see God through me. They need to see and know God, their all-powerful Maker and their Father who loves them more than life.
In John 3:30, it says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” In Psalm 31:16, it says, “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” As I venture into the streets everyday, unsure what will come my way, these scriptures are the prayers that are written on my heart. That as I dance or pray or play or cry, that people will not see me, but God in me. I pray that I can know his face so that mine can be a reflection of his. I pray that I can better understand his unfailing love so that I can better share his unfailing love. I pray that the families I work with can know my God, the God who has stooped down and rescued me, the God who carries me and calls me by name.
Next month I will leave La Paz, and move to New York City to pursue my Masters in International Social Work in a city that feels a world away. Even though I will be with students and social workers instead of cholitas and children, I know that shame, abuse, loneliness, insecurity, and distrust will still surround me. The truth is that spiritual poverty is an epidemic that is not limited to any one country or culture. The people who I will meet in New York City may live lives that are far removed from the lives of my families in La Paz, but they will still need to be told how special and important they are, to be listened to without judgment, and to be loved and made laugh. Everyone needs Jesus just the same: New Yorkers, Bolivians, the rich, the poor, social workers, prostitutes, the happy, the sad: everyone.
We are each planted in different cities, countries, jobs, and situations, but we are all needed in this spiritual battle. As disciples, we all share the same blessing. We have the great gift of being able to show Jesus to those around us through our hearts, our faces, our words, our actions, our relationships, our lives. And we each share the same promise in Proverbs 11:25: “He who refreshes other will himself be refreshed.”
As it says in 2 Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
With love from Bolivia,
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