A Tale of Two Ships

Last year, I stood on the largest ship I had ever been on. It was a giant metal behemoth, rising up out of the water with the height of a three-story building. The “Pacific Hope,” a YWAM ship, brings medical and disaster relief to ports around the world. It is 180 feet long (half the length of a football field), and weighs 480 tons: the equivalent of piling 70 adult male elephants on a scale and weighing them at the same time. How does something so massive, made out of metal, actually float?!

More impressive than the outside, is the inside. Especially a room few visitors get to see: the engine room. This is a large room at the lowest part of the ship, full of massive pieces of steel machinery, cogs and valves, pistons and pumps.

It is this room that carries the ship to safe harbor.

 

This week, as my family is traveling the U.S. visiting our friends and supporters, I feel that I am getting a glimpse of the engine room of our mission. Today, I sat with three women who meet weekly to study the Bible and pray together in Joplin, Missouri. As I shared with them the testimonies of our past year in Mexico, I saw these women smile as they began to hear how God had used their prayers on our behalf.

Every story of breakthrough, transformed life, or victory that took place last year had its beginnings in the “engine room” of prayer.

After I had shared several inspiring testimonies from the past year, these three women took my hands and prayed with me. They prayed over my family, our YWAM base, and everything that God is using us to do in Mexico. I listened as one of our dear supporters, Patty, prayed. When she began to pray for our family, she listed off my children’s names as effortlessly as I do at home when I am calling them to dinner. That’s when I had a blinding realization: she speaks their names daily, as often as I do! These prayer warriors who have committed to pray for us really DO pray faithfully and regularly for us. They say our names throughout the day, each and every day.

This entire first year as we have moved to Mexico and started a brand-new mission work in San Juan del Rio, I have been so aware of one constant: The FAVOR of God. It meets us everywhere we go! At exactly the right time, the apartment that we need will open up; we find a mechanic to work on our vehicle who does a repair that would have cost thousands of dollars in the U.S., and this Mexican, (who could see a “white person” as an opportunity to make extra money), does the repair without charging for his labor; we end up “accidentally” meeting the director of the government office, who makes phone calls on our behalf and cuts out hours of extra paper-work and hassle by personally seeing to our situation. Time and time again, this supernatural favor has met us, has overtaken us, has overwhelmed us! This is no accidental happening, no circumstance of chance. This God we serve is real, and He meets us EVERY DAY as we walk committed to obedience.

Today, I realized this favor we walk in isn’t JUST because God is good. Which HE IS!

But, this beautiful ship we are sailing is powered by a secret room: the engine room. The place where prayers are made and HEARD by Our Heavenly Father!

This engine room is staffed by people the world over, people who forget about themselves and intercede on our behalf.

This group of people is as diverse as it is committed: A woman on her knees at home, the carpet worn by her frequent visits; A young person, praying as he sees our photo on Instagram; church congregations, who join hands and lift us up, their hearts drawn by the Father’s heart for Mexico; Worship leaders, who sing over us as they pray; My mother-in-law, who refuses to take “no” for an answer, especially in prayer; People from other countries, who have never been to Mexico, but know that there are others out there who need Jesus; Widows who miss their husbands but pray for us, even as they walk through grief; Busy moms with homeschooling children bow their heads with their children in their “school-rooms” to remember us in prayer; Businessmen, pastors, lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, siblings, parents, grandmothers, children: this group of people who staff the engine room of prayer for us are many and varied.

In an age where it can be so easy to get caught up in our own accomplishments, successes, hobbies, pastimes, comforts and joys, there are people who turn their backs on the moment and pray into eternity.

Who does that anymore???

YOU do.

If you are reading this, chances are, you have prayed for us at least once. You are a piece of this incredible operation that God has created. Yes, we are pushing into new waters. Each day, we feel new breezes and witness new things. But, we would be crippled if it weren’t for you. The people who toil faithfully in the deep, hidden places on this mission ship are vital to us. Those who put in the time, in the dark, never to see what we get to see, but committed to the journey nonetheless.

You are part of that group. Never believe that what you do is insignificant. Your prayers keep us alive, they keep us moving, they keep us focused. Your prayers make miracles happen every single day.

Did you know that in the last year since we moved to Mexico, our children have not been sick? We haven’t had to take them to the doctor for a stomach illness, cold, infection, broken bone, ANYTHING. We have five kids! And they are living under the protection and covering of an engine room of prayers.

So, I’d like to dedicate this blog to you. The hidden ones in the engine room of this ship. Prayer warriors. Mothers and fathers for the next generation. You are not satisfied with the comfort and ease of everyday life. You are always looking for more. And you bring us along with you.

How can I thank you? You know my children’s names as well as your own….

I am humbled.

I am grateful.

My heart overflows.

As we share our stories and then part with hugs, I keep hearing this promise:

“I will be praying for you.”

And now I believe it. It’s just not a nice thing to say that you forget as soon as we leave.

When we return to Mexico and begin our second year pioneering our mission, I will think of you and remember:

We are not alone.

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Some of our prayer warriors in Joplin, Missouri

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My Grandmother’s Stethoscope

Two years ago, my Grandma’s stethoscope saved a little boy’s life.

The boy’s name was “José,” and he lived on the island of Bastimentos in Bocas, Panama. My family of seven was on the outreach phase of our YWAM (Youth With a Mission) Training.

On that trip I kept thinking, “I can’t believe we are doing this!”

We arrived at a rickety boat dock to take a water taxi to the island. We had an incredible pile of luggage, 11 adults, 5 children: and only one boat available to take us across the ocean channel to the island. My prayer life grew in intensity that day as our boat floated about 8 inches above the water and we thrummed through the waves to the island. I realized during that ride how desperately I wanted us all to live to see another day!

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The blue boat behind us was our ride: 11 adults, 5 children, and all our luggage!

Once arriving, we stepped off the boat and began a trek up the hill to the house where we would be staying. Suddenly, invisible needles began poking me from every direction. I began frantically slapping my arms and legs and wondering if I was losing my mind. One of the volunteers on the island laughed and said,

“Welcome to Bocas. Those are chitras.”(pronounced: chee-trahs)

Chitras are tiny insects, like miniature mosquitos, which are barely visible, and they strike in large numbers. Literally, you will feel yourself being bitten/stung by 10-20 insects at a time. It is maddening, because you just can’t seem to make them stop.

They would be a very useful tool to employ in terrorist interrogations: A few minutes with a “herd” of chitras and you would be willing to betray National Security in order to be left alone!

In addition to the boat ride and the evil chitras, Bocas islands boast a humidity not of this world. In our short two-week stay, with our sheets and clothes in a state of constant moisture, my family’s skin began to itch due to fungal infections. This “island paradise” looks amazing in photos, but it is no easy place to do missions!

Meeting José and his mom, Lorena, was my favorite memory of our trip to Bocas. One night, we shared a time of worship with the nearby indigenous community. A small boy, about 6 months old, was coughing and struggling to breathe. Holly, the director’s wife at the base, approached the mother and we began trying to investigate how long the boy had been sick. He had contracted a cold and it was getting worse. His mother faithfully banked a fire to create smoke at night, in order to keep the chitras (bugs) away from her little family. The smoke was irritating José’s airway, and his symptoms were worsening. She told us he had been awake the entire night before, coughing and running a fever.

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I examined José in a wooden hut; the homes are built on stilts so families’ homes stay dry even when there is flooding from frequent rain.

We gave the boy a breathing treatment, and his wheezing eased. We prayed for him and his mother took him home. I slept fitfully that night, worried for baby José and praying every time I thought of him.

Babies will battle sickness and lung/airway challenges bravely, but once they run out of steam, their condition can deteriorate quickly and death comes quickly.

It was a long, dark night and I was anxious to find out if he was alright the following morning.

What I saw the next day made my stomach clench. He was limp, lying in his mother’s arms. The boy who had struggled the night before in not letting the white women get near him now no longer cared who touched and held him. His mom, Lorena, told us that he had slept “better” the night before. That also worried me: He was getting sicker, not better.

As an afterthought, before setting out on our two-month outreach, I had packed my Grandma’s 30 year-old Littman stethoscope in my bags. I went to get it, and listened to José’s lung sounds. As much as I wanted to, I could hear no air moving in the lower lobes of his left lung. The upper lobes were full of crackles. I am no doctor, but I was concerned he had pneumonia, and told his mother she needed to get him medical treatment immediately.

Every minute that went by, José’s lung infection was causing his body to fight for oxygen and he couldn’t keep this up indefinitely.

Lorena called José’s father, who told me there was no reason for his son to go the doctor. I found out that many of the indigenous go to clinic to be seen and the doctors often don’t even physically examine their patients; if they do, they prescribe medicines the indigenous are unable to buy. I argued with José’s father, emphasizing the danger his little baby boy was in. I assured him that we would help his son get the medicines he needed as long as he would give Lorena permission to take José to the doctor. He finally gave his consent, and I was relieved. Lorena would not have taken her baby to the doctor without her husband’s approval.

Once we had permission, Holly (the YWAM missionary at Bocas island) moved heaven and earth in order to find a good doctor who would agree to examine José.  Once she located a doctor, she then had to arrange to transport Lorena and José to the main island by water taxi. Several hours and many phone calls later, we had everything arranged and José was going to see a doctor.

Lorena and José returned that afternoon, loaded down with five different medications. José did indeed have pneumonia, and the doctor agreed that his condition had been serious. Because of everyone’s efforts, José was able to get the care he needed.

The best part of my trip was taking my battered grey stethoscope that had belonged to my grandmother, and hiking to the village every day to listen to José’s improving lung sounds.

The last day before I left Bocas, his tiny brown hands grabbed the stethoscope and held it as his big, dark eyes gazed up at me. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about how close this precious baby had been to death.

A few weeks ago, I returned to Bocas island. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hike over to the village and check on José and his family. He is a happy, thriving, almost three-year-old. He now has a baby brother named “Tom,” who was named after Holly’s husband. I gave some snack bars to the children, and José happily munched on one, oblivious to the fact that 2 years ago he was fighting for his life. Before I left, I prayed with them and thanked God for His love and protection over this little family. I know he probably didn’t understand me, but I hugged José and told him that he is special and that God has a big plan for his life.

José is alive because of God’s amazing grace, the untiring efforts of willing missionaries, and my Grandma’s battered 30 year-old stethoscope.

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December, 2017: José and his family. He is the little guy in the orange shorts and teddy bear shirt.

Little Ones: Big Purpose

I’d like for you to meet Monica. She is a school-teacher in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Her day-job teaching at a Christian school isn’t enough for her. She has a burden for children, and she has decided to do something about it! On Saturdays, instead of enjoying her day off from the noise and chaos of working with children, she hosts a Bible club for the kids in her neighborhood.

Our family got to spend a day with her, and we have nicknamed her the “Pied Piper.” She goes around the neighborhood, knocking on doors for one hour, extending invitations for the children to come to Bible Club. Over the course of the hour walk (and about two miles of terrain), she has a group of about 30 children trailing after her, following her to Bible Club. Upon arriving, she teaches them a Bible lesson, sings songs, plays games, and feeds the children a snack.

Monica spends her evenings baking cookies, banana bread, zucchini bread, carrot bread, etc, to feed “her kids,” as she likes to call them. She also makes them “juice:” water, sugar, and whatever fruit she has on hand, blended, with the pulp strained out, all mixed together. Monica is not wealthy, but she radically gives what she has. No one pays her to do this; she supports her little children’s ministry with her personal income. Monica has a passion for children: she ministers to them, and she personally sacrifices in order to share Jesus with them.

People like Monica bring to the forefront God’s heart for our young generations.

It’s so easy to overlook the importance of children’s ministry, or even to rank it as “second place” to adult ministry. 

This brings me to my second introduction: Pastor Bruno. He has been pastoring for over 25 years in the most dangerous neighborhoods of San Salvador, El Salvador. This city has been distinguished as the “death capital of the world” because of gang violence. Pastor Bruno’s church has about 35 people. Of those 35, 25-30 of these church members are children. He has literally pastored a church of children for 25 years. Children make up the largest population of his church for several reasons:

1. Adults are afraid to go where his church is located. It is just too dangerous.

2. The majority of his church attendees are the children of the gang members and prostitutes where he lives.

3. Children love to go to Bruno’s church, because he values them, he teaches them, and he patiently disciples them.

4. All his ministry teams are made up of children: Prayer Team, Praise & Worship Team, Ushers/Greeters, Evangelism Team, etc.  Kids know that when they go to Bruno’s church, he will teach them to lead, and he will hand them a microphone and LET them lead!

Rob and I met with Bruno and his family three weeks ago. We treated their entire family to a pizza party at the Pizza Hut in El Salvador. My kids had to coach their three-year-old grandson on how to play on the indoor playground. He had never been in a place like that, and wasn’t sure what to do.

We ordered too much food, in order to send them home with leftovers. Bruno, his wife, and his four children are modern-day heroes of the faith. Two years ago, gang members surrounded Bruno’s house, threatening to rape his daughters and kill them all. Bruno and his family knelt on the floor in their home that night, placing their lives into Jesus’ hands, and committed to staying and ministering there, no matter what happened. God supernaturally intervened, and they weren’t harmed. In fact, the local gang leader found out what happened, and the person threatening them disappeared.

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A visit with Bruno’s family

In the last six months, Bruno’s family has been working in Tonacatepeque (say that three times really fast without stuttering, lol). They drive 1 1/2 hours to hold a children’s program at a church where the church’s own pastor refuses to go because it has become too dangerous. They have had more than 100 children attend their “training,” and have graduated 62 students. These children can “graduate” if they don’t miss one session for 12 weeks, and they can recite 20 Bible passages. Pastor Bruno awards these children with a certificate of completion, a small toy, a children’s devotional, and their very own Bible.

Bruno does all of this by faith. The children he ministers to don’t have money. The churches he visits can’t afford to give him an offering. He has been driving the same beat-up van he had when we met him sixteen years ago.

He is not living for this world’s definition of success or accomplishment.

He is being faithful to Jesus’ entreaty in John 21:15, “[if] you love me… then feed my lambs.” 

In the past six months, our outreach teams have seen more than 600 people pray to commit their lives to Jesus. Over half of these people are children. In a recent study, The Barna Group pointed out that what a person believes by the age of 13 will carry into the rest of their lives. Ministering to children isn’t “mini-ministry,” or a “stepping-stone to REAL ministry.” It has the potential to literally transform entire communities and cultures.

Just the other day, we were readying our family to go do a children’s program. I caught myself thinking, “This is the LAST thing I want to do today!” I had a list a mile long of things to get done, like laundry, prepping for a Bible-school class, translating audio-visuals, and preparing for another children’s ministry on Sunday. To top it all off, I simply wanted a “day-off.” I was immediately convicted when I felt Holy Spirit reply to my attitude:

But this is what I want to do today.”

Once we arrived at the location, we spent an hour inviting kids. This actually means we spent an hour knocking on doors, waking people up, and inciting all the local dogs into a barking frenzy. People in Panama drink into the night on Fridays, and don’t like to rise much before 10:30 or 11 am on Saturday mornings. We really stirred up the pot knocking on their doors at 9am!

We gathered a crowd of about 35 kids, and then began our program. We had songs, games, dramas, and a Bible lesson. At the end, I was sitting on the ground, coloring in the midst of a group of Panamanian children.

Suddenly, God’s heart for them began to overwhelm me. I had been chatting with a boy and girl, and as they began to describe their home life in matter-of-fact tones, I realized that THIS was the most important thing I would do all week. Today may be the only day that little Carlos would have someone look him in the eye and tell him “Jesus loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This may be the only time this week that 10 year-old Aurelia will feel safe and not fearful of what an adult may do to her. My heart melted as I took in the sight of chubby, brown hands gripping a crayon for the first time, uncertainty replaced by confidence as we assured him that he was doing a good job.

So many children, all over the world, wake up in the morning and then go to bed later that night without ever being hugged, encouraged, shown affection, or given value. As my legs went numb from sitting on the dirty concrete, I realized that this was a holy mission. I was a living extension of the Father’s heart. Who will love His children? Who will kneel in the dirt and show them value? Who will give of themselves and embrace the chaos and joy of spending time with Father’s little ones? Who will feed His lambs?

Children aren’t an afterthought to God. They are His first passion.

My prayer is that my life would reflect this truth.

As we left the children’s program that day, we were mobbed by the children hugging us goodbye. Aurelia shyly told me, “I can’t wait for you to come back.” As I hugged her, fervently praying for her future safety, I felt Father God’s love for her break my heart.

I can’t wait to go back, either.

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Jesus loves the little children!