Friday, May 15, 2015

Humbled in Honduras

Our mission team spent a week or so every year working in various locales in the country of Honduras. We built new and rehabbed old buildings, using mostly low quality cinder blocks and whatever wood we could get our hands on.

Many of the team members were skilled carpenters or bricklayers. I was not counted amongst that group, serving as a “go-fer,” fetching supplies for the more skilled laborers on the team. The days were long and arduous, but the rewards were often uplifting. None more so than a particular afternoon in the fall of 1997...

We began that day shooing away the dozen or so area children that had gathered around as we unloaded our tools and supplies for the day’s labor. Their little eyes were drawn to our backpacks, knowing they often concealed sugary treats that their impoverishment would not afford. But the children's presence in the work site was unsafe, so we always promised them something at the end of the day in exchange for them staying out of the way. Diligently, they would stand watch a safe distance away for hours to receive that prized piece of candy.

On this day, our task was to make much needed improvements to a one-room, cinder block church. The rectangular, dirt-floored building had two window openings on each side, and a large opening for the doorway. But without a proper door or window enclosures, the church had no protection from the frequent tropical winds and rains, not to mention vandals who often pilfered anything of value.

Because only half of our team was sent to work on the little church, I was pressed into the service of more skilled labor, helping build frames for the window shutters and door openings. Each frame was then anchored to the cinder blocks of the church, a rather daunting task given the low quality of the material.

Working on anchoring the door frame, I grew more and more annoyed at my inabilities to properly secure it. Compounding my frustration was having to move out of the way of women from the village. For some odd reason, the women had decided this was the most advantageous time to gather in the front of the church, albeit through the very doorway in which I worked. I grumbled to myself at the passing of each barefooted-villager, but tried not to let my aggravation show.

As drops of sweat poured down upon the dirt floor, I plodded onward at the task that totally consumed me. The more I tried to get the doorframe adequately attached, the more transparent my lack of carpentry skills became. Pridefully, I resisted asking for assistance, not wanting to expose my incompetence. All the while, I continued to have to scooch and crawl out the way of the steady flow of the village women. At the height of my frustration, I was brought back to reality by a gentle hand on my shoulder.

"What is it?!?"

My head whirled around to see one of my co-workers standing over me, his eyes moist with tears. A peaceful calm had fallen over the church. Looking around, I saw all my coworkers standing and gazing toward front of the church.

Slowly raising myself up from my agitated state, I stood to see those ladies of the village, now kneeling in unison at their dirt altar. They prayed and they wept in thanksgiving for the laborers the Lord had sent to their simple, but cherished church. Bowing my head, my indignant frustration was now awash in quiet humility as tears intermingled with sweat.

Suddenly the task seemed less daunting, but the reward so magnified.

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:36 (NKJV)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sergio's Stand

We sat out on a dirt street of Masaya, Nicaragua. Sergio had relented to talk with me, but not inside his house. He squirmed back and forth in one of the white plastic chairs he’d carried from inside as I shared the Gospel. His wife, Marta, sat off to the side, quietly listening and watching her husband’s reaction to the Good News. What she witnessed, no one could’ve predicted. 

Sergio leaned forward in apparent interest as I explained to him man’s dilemma: that we’re all sinners and our sin has separated us from God...but God has provided the remedy. Through Jesus’ death on the Cross, we’ve been offered payment for our sin, an incredible gift if only we’d reach out and take it. Many that I’ve spoken with over the years acquiesce at that point, realizing that they indeed need forgiveness and salvation...but not Sergio.

His powerful shoulders thrust back in his chair, as his dark eyes turned skyward. Sergio’s nostrils flared slightly and the muscles in his jaws tightened, his teeth clenching stubbornly. I sensed this was a journey that Sergio had been on previously, perhaps many times, but had never completed.

I leaned forward to speak to him softly, hoping to cool the rage that was building inside the man. Just then, God gave me a thought...

“Sergio, I’m going to tell you something that I’ve told no one else in Nicaragua. I didn’t really want to come here. I wanted to stay home, but my wife prayed about this trip and told me she felt God was wanting me to come. Sergio, I believe God sent me to talk to you, that you’ve run from Him long enough.”

My gentle touch on back of his clenched fist was like a spark hitting a powder keg, and the fury he’d been holding back erupted. Sergio forcefully raised himself up, momentarily standing over me. Knocking back the chair, Sergio whirled about and stormed into his house without saying a word.

The distant squeals of children playing penetrated the awkward silence of the situation. Sergio retreated into the confines of his darkness, a silhouetted figure pacing back and forth like a caged animal. 

“Dear Lord, stay after him,” I whispered, as I sat watching a man under the conviction only the Holy Spirit can administer. 

“You have pricked his heart of stone, I believe,” Marta said of her husband. 

“No, not me, but I do believe God has...”

We sat a while longer. Occasionally, the pacing would cease, as Sergio glared out at me from his lair. Respecting the boundaries that he’d initially set, I resisted the urge to go in after him. After a few minutes more, I reluctantly said my goodbyes to Marta. It certainly wasn’t the ending I had desired for our visit.

I began a dejected trudge down that dusty road – so very close.

There was no reason to turn around, but I did. His thick forearms crossed in defiance, there stood Sergio in the middle of the street, gazing my direction. Our eyes locked briefly. I invited him with one hand to come forward. At that point, the head that had once been reared back in pride, slowly bowed in brokenness. As Sergio put one foot in front of the other, his shoulders slumped and he began sobbing in repentance. 

“You listened to your wife and came to Nicaragua to see me. I need to listen to mine, and come to God.”

Brushing away a tear or two of my own, Sergio’s words reminded me how prideful I had been by resisting God’s will about Nicaragua. We knelt together in the dirt as Sergio called upon the name of the Lord, and received his salvation.

Addressing the church on the last night of the crusade, I asked for a show of hands from those present who’d given their hearts to Jesus during the week. All over the room, hands shot upward, as God had moved mightily throughout the crusade...but one man stood up.

No, a mere raising of the hand was not enough for Sergio. He wanted to stand in front of his community as a new man, now overflowing with the pride of the Gospel within him.

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...”
Galatians 6:14