Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jesus is Enough

I sat out back at Rosa's table as she cried and shared with me all of the difficulties going on in her life. Financial difficulties, relationship problems with her husband and sons, and health issues. Having worked with people from these communities for over two years now, I have learned that I have very little that can fix their problems. So I sit...and I listen...and I pray. I pray that Rosa's family would find consistent income. I pray that her husband would step up and lead their family. But mostly, I pray that these difficult circumstances would lead Rosa to know that God is enough.

As we continue to talk, a lady named Estela from a nearby community walks in. She sits. She smiles. Her eyes sparkle as if she is hiding something from us. But she is dirty and sweaty from walking the hot dusty roads pushing her wheelbarrow, selling vegetables. She slouches when she sits as if she is too tired to hold herself up anymore. Selling vegetables out of a wheelbarrow wouldn't exactly be a job I'd suggest for any 55 year old woman. Yet she gently asks us how we are doing and then calls for Rosa's granddaughter, Johanna. She comes running up as Estela pulls two pairs of gently used shoes out from behind her back. Johanna tries them on, says thank you and runs off like most 5 year old children do. As I watched Estela joyfully give those shoes away, I couldn't help but notice that she didn't even have shoes that fit her. She had been walking around all day on the backs of her shoes because her own shoes were too small. I asked her if she had another pair for herself. She didn't. Rosa informed me that she had shown up at her house a few days before but barefoot. I was shocked. What kind of person walks around giving away necessary things when they don't even have them themselves? Yet to be honest, I knew the answer. I'd met Estela several times before and she is the rare type of person that doesn't do much else but sing or talk about Jesus. For her, Jesus is enough.

To be honest, next to Estela's faith, mine feels small.

But I hope that in both the good times and bad, that I too, much like Estela, will be able to say that Jesus is enough.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Choosing Love


Over the past three months I have heard that phrase repeated over and over again at bank meetings.  It is the new slogan at the Microfinance site and it simply means "I am third, Microfinance is more than just money." and we took it from Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus essentially tells us that all of the other laws can be summed up as loving God with everything that we have and loving those around us. Since day one at the Microfinance Site, we have continually emphasized that we are more than just a banking institution. Gains in wealth can be helpful especially for the poor but they can never sustain true joy.  Love sustains joy and true love can only come from God. 

While our new slogan is short and easy to learn, the process of learning to love God and others well is anything but simple.  In fact, coming to a common census of what love even is can be quite difficult.  Recently, Miriam started a bible study over the concept of love and she opened the first study with a simple question.  What is love?  The answers that we got from each group and each women varied greatly but I was especially impacted by a comment that one of our associates, Judy, gave.  She said that love isn't true when we do nice things for people without really feeling like doing it. It is an unauthentic love.  It was easy for Miriam and I to explain to the group that "feelings of love" are part of what love is but that biblical love is something much deeper than just feelings.  It is a sacrificial love.  It is a decision.  However, I couldn't help but think how infrequently Judy probably sees this type of love truly modeled.  Our culture cries out that the key to freedom and love is to follow our whims, desires, and cravings.  It says that love is a thrill, a delight, an adventure.  It says that love is about MY feelings.

As a young guy working in a culture that is different than my own and in communities with different socio-economic factors than my own, I have been thinking about how choosing love almost always leads to feelings of love.  When I was in high school and college, a majority of my friends or people that I loved were people that I naturally had feelings of love for.  Many times that meant that we had common interests that drew us together.  While my love for them in no way was unauthentic, I didn't really find myself loving people that were much different than me.
However, as I have lived and worked here in the Dominican Republic, my natural feelings of love have much less often drawn me into relationships.  My decisions to love have.  (Or maybe it would be better to say that my ministry obligations have.) Every week as part of my job, I have gone and spent time with a lot of broken people, met their families, listened to their problems, and tried to serve them well.  However, an amazing thing has happened slowly over the past two years and four months as I have worked with people who for many might seem needy and unattractive.  My feelings of love (most days) have caught up with my obligation or decision to love which is a very beautiful thing. As I go and visit Ramona, the coordinator of the first bank that Ryan started almost five years ago, my affections of love for her are that of a son visiting his mother.  As I sit and shell beans with Martin and Rosa, I serve them because I feel a certain type of fondness for their family.  And as I walk into Frankely's house, I joke around with him not to try and cheer him up but because I feel that he is a close friend and brother.  

Actions of love for others will always lead to feelings of affection for others.

I'm not saying that I have learned to love perfectly or that my affections of love for each one of my associates don't wax and wane.  I still have days where I wake up and because I don't feel like loving, I don't.  I know that I still have a ways to go, much like all of us, as I learn to DECIDE to love God and love others the way that Christ has loved us.  For he did not come down from heaven for the thrill, the delight, or the adventure of loving something beautiful, he came to give himself up for the broken, the ugly, and the unlovely.  Jesus loved and loves us not because we are worthy of love but because He is love and it is part of his character.  May we root ourselves in Jesus' love and may we CHOOSE daily to make that love part of our character.

Please continue to pray each of our MiBancos as we continue to teach about loving God and loving others.  Pray that they may experience love through the MF ministry and that it would ultimately lead them to the author of perfect love, Jesus.

Friday, October 11, 2013

It Might Be Personal But It's Not Private

For those of us who have grown up in church or who have worked in Christian ministry, it is easy to throw out Christian cliches without really thinking about the words coming out of our mouths  When someone is hurting or going through a rough time we say, "I'll be praying for you." or "Don't worry. God is in control."  When getting together in a group we might say it is for a time of "fellowship" or we might sit around and give a "praise report".  When someone becomes a Christian, we have phrases like "born again" or "asked Jesus into my heart", or "saved" to describe the conversion experience.  In all honesty, I don't have a big problem with the words themselves.  Sometimes the phrases help us quickly describe a complicated event or issue.  However, I wonder if we don't throw out these cliches without even reflecting on the intended meaning.

Recently, I was at a bible study when someone in the group used the phrase "personal relationship". Normally, I have always liked the saying "personal relationship"  as I thought of it in terms of having a living, breathing relationship with God of the universe and not just following a set of rules or traditions. Yet somehow I wonder if over the years the meaning behind "personal relationship" hasn't changed  or become hazy over time.  I wonder if we haven't often changed the phrase to private relationship with Christ.  We do our devotionals alone with God, we go to a quite place to pray, and we go to church to spend time with others who want to keep their relationships private too.  We think being with other believers is good and healthy but not something that is vital and necessary to the health of our most important relationship.  We get together with others and we talk about things like food, sports, or the new things that are happening at work.  After all, talking about how awesome the cheese dip is or how great the National Championship game was is far less scary than sharing the struggles of a relationship. There is nothing inherently wrong with either cheese dip or a National Championship game.  In fact, I love them both and will continue to passionately talk about them.  We just too often use those topics to distract us from the greater things in life.

God made us for something much bigger than a private relationship.  Jesus called us to have a living, vibrant, personal relationship with the Father but also to be part of a people that has a living vibrant relationship with God.  After all, when Jesus walked the earth, he didn't hole himself up in a cave for three years praying and fasting to the Father.  No, he walked the earth eating and hanging out with people.  He went fishing with his followers, he took time to be with kids, and he celebrated big events in people's lives like weddings.  His disciples lived in community together, went through literal storms together, and while it doesn't say in scripture, I can only imagine they debriefed together after Jesus did some other weird thing they didn't understand.  "Hey Pete, did you see Jesus heal that blind guy by spitting in his face?  You don't think he's gonna spit in my face at some point do you?"

The older I become, the more I realize how desperately we need community in order to run hard after Jesus.  And community doesn't just mean being surrounded by people. In the DR, life is based on relationships. They are extremely important.  Entering a room without personally greeting someone is practically a Cardinal sin.  Yet interesting enough, when it comes to privatizing their relationship with Christ or the lack thereof, most of them are just like us.  Scared that we might get hurt.  So despite understanding my desperate need for community, I must confess that much too often, I too privatize my relationship with God.  In my head I'm protecting myself from hurt, but in reality I'm just trading a living exciting and personal relationship with God for a stagnant, boring and private relationship.  And while that trade makes sense in my head, on paper it seems really stupid.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What Message Are We Preaching?

"There is no way that Eric is a Christian."

I turned and looked at Frankely, a 22 year old with a severe spinal injury that has left him bed ridden and wondered if I had understood him correctly.  After all, I frequently visited Frankely, one of my bank associates son's, and would often pray for him before leaving.  Who did he think I was praying too?

"What do you mean?" I asked him.

"Well you just don't act like most Christians that I know" He responded.  "You don't wear the right clothes and you like to joke around a lot."

We continued talking and soon Frankely's brother joined in telling me how he used to be a Christian.  I asked him what had happened and why he doesn't consider himself a Christian anymore.  Sadly, he explained to me how he was publicly humiliated in front of his church for a pair of "demon" jeans that he had been wearing. He was so ashamed, he vowed to never go back.

As I left Frankely's house that day, I was challenged by his and his brother's perception of a Christian.  It was obvious that the members of the local church had missed it and in some ways I had missed it too.


I have been reading a book called "Creature of the Word" by Matt Chandler and he talks about this idea of preaching.  Literally, in the Greek to preach means "to proclaim as a herald."  All of us, whether we admit it or not, are heralding or proclaiming a message in the way that we live our lives.  Some proclaim joy, some proclaim despair, and some proclaim that power, money, and fame are the pinnacle of human life.

It was clear in Frankely's case that some local church members were proclaiming a message of good behavior and conformity to a list of rules.  If you read the Gospels, you see that message proclaimed a lot by the Pharisees.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that that they were simply doing what they thought was best and hoping to edify the church by casting out "sin" but the message they proclaimed lacked grace that flows from a heart centered on what Jesus had done for them.  Their message was missing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As I reflected on the message I had been proclaiming, I realized that I had been visiting Frankely for months now and hadn't once started a conversation about Jesus.  I had been praying for him and assuming that through prayer, my message would be proclaimed.  Don't get me wrong, prayer is a powerful tool and God can do some pretty cool work when we pray BUT my message was incomplete.  My message was missing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So while I have been enjoying my visits with Frankely and with his brother, the next time I go, my desire is to proclaim a message actually worth sharing.  It isn't just a message that prayer is good but a message that saves.  A message that sanctifies.  It is a message that speaks of the good news of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

MiBanco Quarterly - Thanks

Last September, the Microfinance Site embarked on a journey to start five more micro-banks in the surrounding communities of Jarabacoa. We had written a road map to help us navigate to our final destination but we also understood that we would not be able to get there on our own. We would have to trust that the Lord would provide others who could help us as we slowly trekked along our way.
Since we took off on that journey, we have been able to raise $13,486 of our $20,000 goal and most recently hired a lady named Puny to help start the new banks.

While our journey is far from over, it has been awe-inspiring to witness the way that many of you have generously provided a cold cup of water when we have needed it most. Thank you so much for all the notes of encouragement that you have sent, for lifting us up in prayer, and for the ways that you have given financially to our ministry. You have been a powerful reflection of the generous and gracious King we serve. Thanks!

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this. Everything comes from you and we have only given to you what comes from your hand.”
- 1 Chronicles 29:14