It’s been an interesting few weeks as the world has been panicking over the coronavirus. Although it’s tragic many people have become ill, and people have died; the reaction has been more than a little crazy. Financial markets have crashed, cities are shut down, lives have been turned upside down. The thing is, we’re all going to die anyway, it’s just a matter of dates. We all have an expiration date; we all wind up in a box. Why the terrified reaction to this one, extremely rare, risk? Continue reading
I recently met with someone who is running a unique and inspiring ministry in the heart of the red-light district of Tijuana. Four years ago, this petite single woman moved into an area of ministry that most people would never consider. She opened up a little store-front location to host times of worship and prayer in the midst of a spiritually dark area. Several days a week they hold prayer and worship services that are open to anybody (I’m not using her name for her protection). She now leads teams out into the streets to give the sex workers flowers and tell them they are beautiful. She has been threatened, yelled at, and attacked for her work. I’m sure she’s been told that she is crazy. Does this sound like someone else you might know or read about? Many people claim to be followers of Jesus; few people put His example into action like this amazing woman.
Is the woman you just read about doing some astounding work? Yes. Is she hanging out and befriending people most people would never spend time with? Absolutely. She is many things, but the one adjective that is never used to describe her is “afraid.” She is oddly and sadly unique in much of the church today.
This month, my wife and I will have completed twenty-five years living in “dangerous” Mexico. We get asked a lot of questions about our work in orphan care and short-term missions. The one question we get asked far more than anything else is, “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” The vast majority of people’s first question is about safety, not about the work, not about what God is doing, not about abandoned children. The first question is almost always about the risk involved. We’ve never gotten sick from the food or water. We’ve never been robbed or shot at while in Mexico (Ironically, I was robbed while in San Diego last year). Are some parts of Mexico dangerous? Absolutely. Does it matter? No. Life is dangerous; get over it.
As you read through the Bible, note that being concerned, first and foremost, about our safety was not what Jesus instructed us to do. When the apostles woke Him in the boat to calm the storm, He rebuked them for lack of faith, calmed the storm, and went back to sleep. How many of us lose way too much sleep worrying about things that never (or rarely) happen. “Fear not” comes up a lot in the Bible. “Cover your butt,” “Watch out for scary people,” “Don’t do anything risky,” doesn’t come up so much.
Fear can have an incredible influence on people. A great deal of marketing is in some way based on fear. “Buy this insurance to protect yourself from any disaster.” “Buy this clothing, or you might not be cool.” “Try this diet, or you might stay fat.” Politics is almost all based on fear. “Vote for me; the other guy wants to raise taxes.” “The other party wants to take your guns, your rights, your money, etc.” “We can’t let THOSE people into our country; they are different than us and scary.” Watch any cable news, and you will hear versions of these statements every few minutes. Fear can have a corrosive and powerful influence. Fear can rob us of joy and prevent us from experiencing everything this life has to offer.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fear, way too many churches are indistinguishable from the world. A few years ago I was staying with a worship leader of a mid-sized church in a friendly, middle-class suburb in the US. As we were leaving for the church, he loaded his gun and holstered up. When I asked about it, he said that at any service there are two or three people armed for security reasons. I have no problem with basic security, but I found it deeply ironic that the person who is leading worship, the one singing about trusting God with all, that He is our rock and fortress, would be packing heat. (Write to me and yell if you like, I’m actually pro second amendment, I’m just using this to make a point). “Yes God, we trust you with all, but I feel better when I can shoot at someone.”
The point of this rant on fear in the church is to bring up what it does to short-term missions or any area of service. Fear can rob us of incredible opportunities, and prevent us from experiencing all that God has planned for us. When we’re held in place, and prevented from taking a risk for God due to fear, what is that saying? “I trust you God, but I’d rather just show up on Sundays and watch from my pew, wouldn’t want to take a risk now would I.” The Christian faith is an active faith. Go. Serve, Give, Sacrifice. Not because we’re called to, it’s because we can’t help but act when we realize what God has done for us, and how grateful we are to Him.
There are some things you should definitely be afraid of. Be afraid of being out of God’s will. Be afraid of reaching the end of your life and having regrets. Be afraid of wasting the precious few years you have left.
You will die. The US will collapse eventually. Some of the things you fear will come to pass, just know that ultimately it just doesn’t matter. Our God is bigger than anything we will encounter in this life; it’s a good thing this life is only a temporary situation. Ultimately, we’ve already won. The world says we should be afraid. We are not of this world. Live accordingly.
If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.
You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.
You might have hours left. You might be around for several more decades. But you will die. You will kick the bucket, go toes up, become worm food, start pushing up daisies. You will reach room temperature, give up the ghost, etc.. There are lots of ways to say it, but one way or another we all give up the fight, our heart will cease to beat, and our life on this world will end. When that happens (and you live in the US) the people in your life will arrange to have you put in a box, a week or so later people will put on dark clothes (weird) and will gather. Someone will say a few words by your grave, and people you’ve never met will stick you in the ground. Following this little ritual, people will get together somewhere, eat potato salad, and talk about you. Our life comes down to a plastic bucket of potato salad from Costco. (and maybe a nice sandwich platter.)
In Mexico, funerals are handled differently. When someone dies everything snaps into action in time-honored rituals. The body is placed in a box and positioned in either the home or a public location for the wake to start, all within a few hours of someone passing on. The wake is not a polite, reserved affair. People are up all night hanging out, crying, sharing, talking, eating, maybe sharing a few beers, but it goes on ALL NIGHT. It’s quite the send-off. What goes on in the background is something else. Friends and some family are out digging the hole. Digging a grave is much harder than it looks like on TV or in the movies, it takes many back-breaking hours. Once the wake is winding down, everyone loads the casket into a truck and heads to the grave site. Once again, very different than in the US: in Mexico, to “bury your loved one” actually means that. You, your friends, and the family use some rope and lower the casket into the ground. Then you grab the shovels. It takes a LONG time to bury someone. People are crying, maybe some wailing, and it takes hours. But when it’s done, there is a real sense of closure, everyone has said “goodbye,” and people start to move on. One of the many upsides to this time-honored tradition is it makes death very real to everyone involved. This is a good thing; we should all face death from time to time. We need to be reminded that our time here is a temporary gig. There is something genuine about “burying your loved one.” The sweat and dirt and blood of broken knuckles as you dig through the hard ground to make a hole to place the body is not to be taken lightly. It’s real. It makes the line between life and death very clear – there is an end.
It’s important to be reminded from time to time that there might not be a tomorrow for us. The reason I wrote the 500 or so words on funerals you just read is to remind you that you will be the center of one of these rituals eventually. What are you going to do between now and then? How will you use this precious and limited time you have?
Too many people go through the motions of life, without living life in line with the tremendous calling we each have. We need to be living our lives to the fullest, living in such a way that we will hear upon our arrival in heaven, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” We should slide into heaven out of breath, worn out from seeking to share with others, give to others, and be representing our Father well. I’m not sure who said it, but I love the quote “It’s sad to reach the end of one’s life and realize you’ve never lived.”
I work with a lot of young adults from the US who visit our ministry. Sadly, I know most of them will follow the tedious path that society lays out for them. They will attend college while they figure out what to do, they will leave college with too much debt, they will marry too young, and spend much of their lives paying back student loans. I’m not sure this is what God intended for us.
At whatever stage of life you find yourself, young adult, old fart, or somewhere in between; take a risk. Do something out of your comfort zone. I know one older female retired doctor (80ish) who still drives herself to Mexico every week to volunteer at various clinics. I know a young family that is currently looking for property to open a new orphanage. I have a friend who just got back from Guatemala where he helped with volcano relief. These are people who are actively working to bless others but are also growing in ways that are hard to imagine. They are sucking everything they can out of the time they have on this earth.
I know not everyone is called to serve internationally, but we are all called to serve. Don’t let fear of the unknown, fear of looking foolish, or any other fear keep you from trying something out of your norm. You might find a calling that will change your life, you might learn about the people in your community, it might shape you in ways you could never envision.
Take a chance, do something great with your life. Always remember: In the end, no one gets out alive.
Please share on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online. Thanks.
I recently sent a small, short-term mission team to visit another ministry. This other ministry does some incredible work and is lead by a profoundly inspiring man. The group spent a full day experiencing the ministry, listening to the stories of what goes on and saw how God is moving. They were impressed and impacted. They were also surprised that the leader of the ministry was wearing a Call of Duty T-shirt. “Missionaries don’t play Call of Duty.” Mmmm, maybe a little…
I love the line “Missionaries are normal people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.” This is so accurate. Some people think missionaries are somehow more spiritual or together than most. We really aren’t. I hang-out with a LOT of missionaries and let me tell you, we have some issues. Below are a couple of examples that might surprise a few people.
We like to have a beer now and then. (three baptists just passed out reading this). I’m not saying missionaries sit around and get drunk, but a nice IPA between friends, when not out in public, is good now and then.
We use dark humor to cope. “Why is it always better to date and marry adult orphans? No in-laws.” We deal with some of the worst issues in society: abandoned children, sex trafficking, things most people do not want to think about. It’s common for people working in emergency rooms, people in law enforcement, or anyone who works in life and death every day to use dark humor. It’s weird and disturbing, but it does help people to survive and cope. (I can’t write some of the jokes here, fairly offensive, use your imagination)
We worry about money more than we should. About twenty-five years ago, when my wife and I started in missions, we had a company that was fully supporting us. It worked for about three years and then the company went bankrupt. Scared the cr-p out of me. I know, I’m supposed to trust 100% in God and talk about how He will provide, but when you have your one source of support suddenly end, it tends to “stretch your faith.” I do know God will provide (He has) but when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from it can be complicated. Recently a group of missionaries were hanging out in my office, and someone asked “How much can I get for a kidney on the black market? (they were kidding, but somebody helpfully Googled it for them) Fundraising is a much bigger part of missions work than most people will tell you.
We watch/read/listen to the same stuff you do. A leader on our team uses his spare time to attend Comic-con every year and he loves superhero movies. I recently binge-watched Breaking Bad again. At any given time I would say the music my staff listens to is 50/50 Christian or secular. We have an informal staff meeting over coffee every morning, and you’d be amazed (or shocked) to be a fly on the wall. Sometimes after an exceptional odd meeting, I joke with my team “Other missions teams talk about favorite Bible verses or devotional themes, if people only knew about our conversations…”
I know of one ministry in our area that has a PERFECT social media presence; all photos of prayer and service and well-lit images of their leaders speaking in front of churches. They give a very polished, clean, holy presentation to everyone who visits their ministry. I kind of struggle with it. While doing some great work, I know them, and I know they have their share of flaws and fears. You would never know it by the way they present themselves. I think more people would join them in their work if they were a little more approachable, a little more transparent, a little more real.
George Müller was a Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England during the 1800s. He’s a missionary and orphan care hero and legend. Maybe I’m cynical, but along with the truly incredible work he did I have a feeling George had his bad days. He probably did worry about money now and then, got mad at his dog, felt like punching someone occasionally. That doesn’t diminish the great work that was done; it just makes him human.
The point of this is not to bash missionaries or shock anyone. The point I want to make very clear is that God uses regular people. I hear from people all the time that they’re not ready to serve; they’ll serve when they’re good enough, when they have enough support, when they’ve paid off their student loans. Here is some news: you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never have enough support, go anyway. If we’re waiting for the “perfect” time or circumstances to step out and serve God it will never happen. God does not use perfect people. God uses the broken. God uses the available. If we wait until we get our act together, we will be dead and in a box before we do anything.
Go serve someone; you’re more ready than you think you are.
Please share on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.
You can receive this blog by e-mail every Monday by signing up to “follow.”
In any ministry, it’s important to realize the battle is real. The struggles and hurts that we encounter and confront are part of a bigger spiritual battle. We live in a broken world and the enemy is very skilled, effective, and relentless. Whether it’s a megachurch pastor caught in sin, or a small food-bank struggling due to lack of funding, the enemy works towards, and rejoices in, ministries failing. Recognize it, get used to it; it’s going to be part of your life.
Orphan care is very close to the heart of God. God cares deeply for the hurting and abandoned child. The book of James explains that true religion is caring for widows and orphans. The enemy attacks all ministries, but I believe orphan care is a priority target. Whenever I’m talking with someone about opening an orphanage, or orphanage care in general, we spend time covering the expected basics: funding, staffing, organizational issues, dealing with childhood trauma, etc. Then I pause. After the basics are covered I pull back the curtain and ask them if they’re ready to enter into the battle, are they ready to have their world rocked? It’s easy to say “yes” to that question when it’s hypothetical; it’s a very different when it’s part of your life.
I recently had breakfast with someone who, along with his wife, is preparing to open a new orphanage. I asked him again, as I’ve asked him many times over the last six months “Are you ready for this, REALLY ready for this? You will never have a normal week again.” The challenges are real.
Although we have everyday challenges on a regular basis, I figure about twice a year our orphanage goes through something major. Some unexpected event or series of events that try to hurt the home and undermine the work that’s going on here. Sometimes we can see immediately what the attack is, sometimes it’s a little more stealthy. However they come, we know the attacks are real, and it sucks to go through them. But, and this is an important point here, we know God is bigger than the enemy. He won’t only protect us during attacks; He can use them for our good and for His glory. We might not see how God can use everything BUT, we have His promise, and can rest on that promise in the midst of the battle.
Several years ago, one of our older boys came to me and told me his eye was bothering him. This isn’t that uncommon, and we made an appointment to have him checked out, not a big deal. Within 24 hours, he had lost all sight in that one eye. We suddenly realized this might be a bigger issue. As we moved from specialist to specialist, it was determined that he had a golf ball sized tumor that was growing and crushing his optic nerve. That afternoon sitting with him across the desk from the neurosurgeon, when we were told he had maybe days or weeks to live, is burned into my memory. As we worked to get him to a specialist in the US, something very powerful happened. We operate as a large Christian family and prayer is an important part of our lives, but this challenge really upped it a notch or two. Without any coaching from us, our children started a voluntary dawn prayer meeting, churches from across Mexico and the US began praying for him and the situation. A few miracles later and he had a passport, medical visa, and an appointment in the US with one of the top neurosurgeons in California. On the day before he was scheduled to leave, we had a soccer game here on site with a bunch of the local teens to send him off. Without any prompting from us, the soccer teams (made up mainly of non-believers) formed a circle around him to pray him off. After several surgeries, he is now doing fine, attending college, and waiting on tables to earn spending money. I would never wish to go through that again, but God used that cancer to create an incredible sense of unity here in the home, and brought our level of prayer to new heights.
The enemy can be very creative; the attacks are always different and present in different ways. Among our large team of multicultural staff, we have quite a few couples. We love that our children are seeing healthy marriages and families modeled as most of them have never experienced that before. We went through one season where every couple on our staff, Mexican and American, went through a rough patch in their marriage. We know any marriage can or will go through rough times, but to have a dozen couples go through rough times over the same few weeks is pretty odd. All of the couples made it through, and today they are doing fine. In hindsight, it’s easy to see how this was a spiritual attack. Healthy marriages are the basic building block of a healthy family, and the enemy was going to do everything he could to destroy these marriages. Fortunately for all of us, we once again saw that God is bigger than any attacks that might come our way, if we allow Him to take over.
I’ve only shared a couple of examples, but there are countless others: hepatitis outbreaks, wells going dry, we’ve had three children pass away over the years, challenges from the government, infighting among the staff, etc. The only thing normal for us is that we will never have a normal week. Please do not read any of this as complaining; we are rejoicing. We, as believers, know we have already won, that Christ has overcome the world.
If you’re in orphan care (or any ministry) and are going through trials, please know you’re not alone. The storms are where we grow and learn how to flex against the raging wind. It’s the storms that water and nourish us down to the roots. Rest in the fact that, if we trust in our heavenly Father, He will protect us. He will use everything we’re going through. The battles are real, but we know who has already won.
If you’d like to receive these articles by e-mail weekly please click “follow”.
“Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to respond to this question over the last 20 years. I honestly believe this is more of a statement on the church in America today than any perceived danger in Mexico.
What keeps us up at night worrying almost never happens. In 2016 there were a total of 4 deaths by shark attack, 67 people died from taking selfies. If you ask a cross section of people, fear of sharks would probably rate higher than fear of smart phones. Way too many people live lives wrapped in fear of things that don’t happen or don’t matter. American culture feeds and encourages fear: fear of the “other” political party, of terrorism, of people from different countries or cultures. Fear has become the new American way.
A few years ago I got a phone call from a concerned father who was looking at sending his daughter with their church missions team to serve with our orphanage in Mexico. After talking to him for a while, he asked me straight out “Can you 100% guarantee the safety of my daughter?” I think I surprised him with my answer: “Absolutely not.” I asked him if he could 100% guarantee the safety of his daughter when she was driving to school, out shopping, or even in their home. There are almost no 100% guarantees in this life other than the fact that we will all eventually die. If we lived our lives looking for 100% guarantees, we would never do anything, that’s not why we’re on this earth.
At what point did the church collectively decide that we need complete security at all times? Why are we so afraid? Jesus never taught that we should only go and share the gospel if our safety could be guaranteed, that we should only help others if there is zero risk involved. I’m not saying we should take unnecessary chances, but what should we be willing to risk to share the Gospel?
“Fear not” comes up a lot in the bible, “You need to avoid risk” not so much. If we believe we have an all powerful, loving Father in heaven who only wants what’s best for us why are we so afraid? If we believe that God can use ALL things for our good and the good of His kingdom, why can’t we rest in that? The Apostle Paul did some of his best work sitting in prison. Paul was completely convinced this was just a temp job; he was on his way to heaven. Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was afraid of what might happen. The world needs more Pauls.
A good friend of mine has been a missionary in a Muslim country for a few years. (for his safety I can’t share his name or what country). This guy is fearless. Recently he sent me an e-mail asking an IT question, not a big deal. He went on to share about the struggles they were having going to print with a new bible recently translated into a dialect for that area. One print shop was burned down, one printer who wanted to help was sent to prison, my friend’s family was threatened, and he was arrested and held for several days. Yikes. I would have hit the road long before this. Rather than running, giving up, or even complaining, he was rejoicing. Through the entire E-mail, you could feel the joy he was experiencing; he had found the “joy in all things” that Paul wrote about while in prison.
In 2014 my wife and I were scheduled to travel with the team of about 20 to Ghana in west Africa. We had our tickets, we had our visas, and about 30 days before we were scheduled to leave the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa. You couldn’t pick up a paper, turn on the radio, or watch the news without being told how dangerous Ebola was and how we were all going to die. Not the best time to travel to West Africa. Over the course of a few weeks most of the team dropped out and, to be honest, we thought about it. We made a few calls to people on the ground to get accurate information and had some LONG talks. Any sane person would have canceled. (we’ve never been grouped in with sane people). We decided to go. The team was just five people, and EVERYONE said we were crazy. We went, had an incredible trip, and I believe we had a real impact at the orphanage where we were serving. West Africa is a BIG place, where we were serving we were over 1000 miles from the nearest Ebola case. At no time were we in any danger other than malaria and the other normal issue from that area.
In looking back at our trip to Ghana, I’m flooded with emotions. One of the emotions I have is regret for the many people who, out of an abundance of caution, chose not to go. They missed out on a life changing experience. They missed out on the chance to share with others and connect with believers on the other side of the world. The enemy once again used fear to stop ministry from taking place. How many people weren’t reached? How many lives weren’t changed by this incredible experience? The people who chose to stay back had the perception of safety, but they missed a life altering experience.
Take a chance. Risk something. Go drill a well in Kenya, go build a house in Baja, go serve (or start) a prison ministry. Step out and see how God might use you or might use the new challenges to change you. Of the people I hang out with in the missions field, I never hear them talk about the regret of taking a chance. What I see and hear are people who glow, glow with a joy that few people experience in this life. These are people who have taken, and continue to take chances for God. They are not afraid of risk, they embrace it, they have found joy. The only fear we should accept in our lives is the fear of NOT doing what God is calling us to. We should be deathly afraid of wasting our time here on this earth living a mundane, “safe” existence.
To answer the question about Mexico that I started out with: Yes, Mexico CAN be dangerous in certain areas, most of it is really safe, but watch out for those selfies.