Saturday, February 28, 2015

It’s Not Fair!

Our North American culture is full of churches. Every town in the US (and I imagine Canada) has at least one church, if not one per every 200 people or so. There is a plethora of variety available among differing denominations, or even a variety among the same denomination. (I remember laughing at the First Baptist, Second Baptist, and even Third Baptist Church in some towns that I drove through when I was a teenager.)

Recently, I was asking Serena what God has been showing her during her time in Mexico. I am a strong believer in God using short-term mission trips more for changing the missionary than for the missionary affecting great changes in the mission field. So, although the question, “What’s God teaching you this week, Serena?” usually elicits a chuckle…followed by, “Um…let me think about that,” there’s no doubt God has great and mighty things to teach Serena.

Serena shared with me last week that she has had a few “God moments,” those moments where she knows God is changing her way of thinking. She told me that as we were driving to San Pablo for worship, she was observing the people who were walking along the road. (Sunday is the day that many walk “to town” to shop or catch up on the latest news.) Her great epiphany of the day was that everyone she passed was destined for hell! She discreetly brushed back the tears, thinking about how the people don’t know Jesus, and they don’t even have anyway of learning about him. There is no church.

As we talked about it, she shared more about the impact of this realization. In the US, we are told to invite our friends to church. It’s almost like we’re pushing the idea that only the professionals can tell our friends and loved ones about Christ. Here, that’s not an option. “It’s just not fair!” she declared. “They have no hope of salvation.”

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17

Perfectly Precise Petri

Awhile back we met Petri, a young ZK lady from another village. She has a heart to serve the Lord and a wonderfully brilliant mind. I must admit, it’s been nice to have someone to challenge me to speak Spanish well. Petri loves words and contemplates word meanings. And she loves “play on words.” (We get along wonderfully!)

Petri has been diligently working on translating Bible stories into ZK. As I said, she has a gift for using words and she is determined to choose precise wording to tell the Story. We are blessed to have such a dedicated young lady working on this project!

Currently, Petri is staying with us while she works on the Bible stories. She and Serena (our college student from the US) are sharing a room. Pray for them to be able to bond. Petri does not speak English and Serena is working hard to acquire Spanish.

Pray for Petri. She is a third generation believer, which means that her grandfather was the first person in her village to accept Christ. Although the Word has been preached for about 45 years, there are still many within her family who struggle to fully accept Christianity. While they claim Christ, some still cling to other beliefs as well. To some degree, Petri has had her own struggles as well. Pray for her to be able to understand and apply Biblical Truth in every part of her life.

Pray for the translation project. We know that the enemy does not want her to finish translating and recording the stories. (We have chosen 30 stories from both the Old and New Testaments which we can use to tell the Gospel, from creation to Christ.) Pray that Petri will find the right words to convey the message in ZK. (We are excited to have someone working on this project with us. The down-side is that Petri speaks a different dialect of ZK. We still need someone who will be willing and able to translate and record stories in ZK of Pine Hill. Pray that we find someone!)

Simply Sweet Serena

Checking out the jungle leaves!

We first met Serena about 9 years ago. She was a 6th grader at the time and came to the AWANA program at our church in Idaho. Clay had just been called as youth pastor, and I was learning the ropes with my first baby…and as a youth pastor’s wife.

Over the years, we grew to love Serena. She has always had a sweet personality and was eager to help out and serve. As a youth, she helped in the Cubbies room during AWANA (that’s the 3-5 year olds…and we all know it takes a special kind of person to work there!), she taught in Vacation Bible School, she raked leaves on ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) days, she participated in the mission trips our youth group took, and so much more.

Checking out the smelly fish department of WalMart

For the last three years I have been trying to convince her to come to Mexico to help us. She was studying elementary education…and I already knew she was qualified to work with little ones. It made perfect sense to me that she would one day come down and homeschool my kids! I just had to convince Serena. (And her Mom)

I finally convinced her!! (And her Mom too!)
Last summer, Serena wrote me a letter saying God was doing “something” but she didn’t know what it was yet. And soon after that, I received a Facebook message telling me that she thought God was calling her to come to Mexico! (I think I let out a squeal when I read those words! And then I cried tears of joy!) I called Serena that evening and we talked it over. The hardest part was waiting seven months until we could pick her up from the airport!

Matthew, Tammy, Petrona, and Serena

It had been over three years since we had seen each other. The best part was seeing how God has changed and transformed her from a quiet, timid youth to a confident, brave, godly young woman. Can you imagine your first trip away from home...and you go to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language? But you don’t go to a city with lots of modern comforts. You go to a remote village in the middle of the jungle with few modern conveniences and two new languages. That takes courage, obedience, and trust. (We question her often about what she was thinking putting her life in our hands!)

Serena has jumped right in to this great adventure of jungle life. She spends her mornings in the classroom with four energetic young scholars, and she juggles the circus wonderfully! In the afternoons, she adapts to the spontaneity of our life, offering to play hostess to a surprise visitors, or holding the crying baby so that Felicity can spend 15 minutes listening to a Bible story. A few afternoons a week, she holds “Serena Surprise Time” where she entertains the kids (and sometimes some of their friends) with arts & crafts or games. And in her spare time, she studies Spanish and bakes cookies! (One of my favorites was watching her play Go Fish in a combination of Spanish, English, and ZK.)

We are thankful to have Serena with us and we are excited to see what God has planned for her future. I have no doubt that after living in the jungle for 6 months, her life will never be the same!

These Strange Ashes

Last month a friend left a pile of Elisabeth Elliot books in my possession. (It was with sadness that she had to leave them behind when she moved back to the States, but it was with gladness that I accepted them.) My next question was, which one do I read first?

I had never heard of These Strange Ashes, but after reading the back cover, I was intrigued. Would Elisabeth Elliot’s first year as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador have any resemblance to our first few years in the jungle of southern Mexico?

“What we ate, what we called clean, what standards we maintained, would have offended our neighbors here as well as our relatives back home—too good for one group, too poor for the other. We were between two worlds, we were here by the grace of God, and we expected Him to give us light.” (p. 88)

I have had friends mention their fears for us and fears about coming down to visit or work with us. One dear friend stated outright that she had no intention of ever visiting me in Mexico. It was too dangerous. Too difficult. Too dirty. And she’s right. It is dangerous, and difficult, and dirty. Unless we allow God to give us light. We truly do live between two worlds. Too poor by American standards. (All four children share one tiny bedroom!) Too rich by ZK standards. (Each child has his own bed?!? One family we know has only two beds in their one-room house. And there are at least 14 people living there.)

Elisabeth Elliot writes of her struggles with this dichotomy. She felt an unstated rule that as a missionary, her life should be one of complete sacrifice. I can relate to this unstated expectation because I have felt the guilt over small material indulgences. (I don’t really need a new skirt, but having one makes me feel a little more normal.)

Elisabeth worded it well. “It was only gradually that I came to understand that some things are meant to be cherished, and not sacrificed. God was responsible for my parentage, my nationality, and my upbringing. He had called me, and He had called me by name, and He would not bypass what I was or the things which had made me what I was.” (p. 88)

There is great comfort in accepting that God created me uniquely for this work among the ZK.
“The singing of our little group of believers…as they dragged their way through Spanish hymns, was satisfying to me only because it showed that there was faith in this far-off place. But it took the memory of strong, clear singing in English of great old hymns to fortify my soul.” (p. 89)

Yes, some things are meant to be cherished, like the memory of clear singing in English!

I leave you with one last thought. (I had many while reading this book!) Elisabeth served in a remote jungle long before the thought of Wi-Fi, when even the thought of a letter was cherished. She said, “To be able to send letters was a pleasure, and the idea of receiving them was greater.” (p. 99)

Our closest post office is an hour away and I’m not convinced of the reliability of the service. (I was being charged 14 pesos to send letters when the price is only 11.50 pesos because the post office only has 7 peso stamps. And the postman was not forthright with this information, even when questioned if the price had gone up.) Sending a letter is a delight for me. I admit to being a bit old-fashioned, and a letter is so precious. But even to receive an email or Facebook message is a great delight.