Monday, November 26, 2012

Rachel's latest posting

Bom Fim- THE END

Hello All, First of all, let me apologize for the cliff hanger I left in my last post. so dreading writing that post that when I finished I just left it like that. Secondly, for those of you who haven't heard or seen me I am now officially home in Good ole Franklin Tennessee. The decision to come home probably one of the fasted made decisions I have ever come to.
When my little group of 8 had finally arrived safe and sound in Georgetown and we had, had time to hang out for a few days, catch up on some much needed rest and finally get some quality time with our other family members we hadn't seen in very long. As I rested I couldn't keep my mind off of the decision I knew I was going to have to make. A large sum of the team had made plans to go home for Holiday to see family and finally be back in their homes for a little while. While everyone else, including myself, planned to continue on and finish the 2 remaining countries (French Guiana and Suriname) then wait for the next step from Papa. However, if I have learned anything from this past year is that plans will change, especially when we are following Holy Spirit's lead, and nothing will ever make since (and I don't believe it is supposed to). My issue was, was that I had basically run out of finances and if I had continued on with my team to finish those last 2 countries it would have been just like it had been for most of the year, a complete walk of faith. It was a choice I would have easily made but something was drawing me home. It was almost as if I could tangibly feel the weightiness of God's Grace for me in this season lifting. When God initially prompted me to go on this trip I had no clue what I was getting into, but I kept hearing a year. Without even knowing what it would look like, when people would ask how long I would be gone I always told them a year.
Well that year was up this month November 1st to be exact. God is always faithful to His word. So all of this brought me to the decision to come home. Only problem was I had no money to get home. Well you better believe as soon as I had made the decision in my heart and really felt peace about it ( even though I would be missing a crazy adventure in those last 2 countries) God provided the money. One of my long time supporters a wonderful man who clearly hears the voice of God, sent me an email saying he wanted to send me some money. Now I had not said a word to anyone about this, but God knew! I told my supporter what I was thinking and he was able to get a ticket home for me, from the help of my extremely over-joyed mother. I would be heading home from Georgetown, Guyana within the next 3 days. Those last days were a bit insane for me. A rush of emotions with so many other people heading home as well it was a crazy time. The people I had lived with, bleed with, cried with, got angry with, the people I loved so much, my family, who always held me accountable and I learned so much from, they were all going to be leaving. But I was determined not to dwell on that matter. My last few days in Guyana were amazing. I was able to see most of the city while spending a lot of quality time with my family still ministering where ever I went. My team mate Liz and I went out one day to do some souvenir shopping. We came across this woman who had a prosthetic leg I wanted to stop and pray, but was apprehensive, I definitely should not have been.
We start to walk past her when she stops us to ask what the buildings around were. We told her we were not form there and didn't know. She then begins to inform us she is almost blind and is walking around to local businesses asking for money for an expensive eye surgery. I look at Liz and then at the woman and say “well ma'am we are Christians and we would love to pray for your sight to be fully restored.” She agrees and we pray a simple prayer then ask her if there is any improvement she says “a little.” So I ask to pray again and after I prayed a second time she seems shocked and says “I can almost see you completely right in front of me” all while really testing out her eyes, moving her sunglasses and squinting. With a huge smile on her face she says “thank you so much and God bless you” then continues on her way. I am still contending for her complete healing! I believe she got it! Now the day arrived when I was actually flying home it was a strange feeling , then again that feeling could have been from the lack of sleep I had, had the past week. All the many 3am airport runs, staying up late with family, hanging out with the homeless guy that lived outside the door of the hostel. We had met a taxi driver who was a Christian one night and asked him if he would be willing to drive us 2am in order for me to get to the airport by 3am to catch my 5am flight. He was more than willing and well as one of the coolest men of God I have met especially in Guyana. On the drive to the airport he shared with us so much about his life, his incredible testimony, his story of how him and his wife got together, and some serious revelation about the presidential election! Before this time the President Obama had not been announced as the winner. However, God had given our Taxi driver some extreme downloads about it. At one point he just says “oh so Obama has won the election and we all says “really when did they announce it?” to which he replies “ oh they haven't yet, but God told me and he showed me a vision about why.” We all just look at each other. Without going into to much detail of the vision basically it basically entailed that if Romeny had won the country would no longer turn to God for answers, but would look to a man for them, but because Obama had won people will turn more and more to God for strength and shelter in our times of need. I walk up to the desk to check in and that is when I was informed my flight had been canceled due to a snow storm in my layover in New York. I didn't know what to do.. I asked if they had a computer with internet so I could get a hold of my mom (after all this is Guyana and working WIFI can not always be expected). They say the internet is down, but they allow me to use their phone to make an international call. I talk to my mom and she already knew. So we get in a cab back to the hostel. I go back to sleep. When I wake up I begin to try everything. Finally after many failed attempts I get a hold of of someone, who to this day I am convinced she was an angel. All I had to do was tell her my flight info and that I wanted to change my flights to fly out of Miami instead of New York and she did everything else and for free. My tickets were changed and I was flying out the next day and with less layover time getting me home about 5 hours earlier than I would have. Even if it was 4 flights in one day. I was happy to be home. My family had to work so my best friend Shelby picked me up from the airport, bags and all! Now I am here! Spending time with family and friends, working, and loving life!
This time the transition back into American society has been so much smoother and easier it almost took me by surprise just how smooth it has been. I feel as if I have come to a new area of understanding where my home really is. In Jesus. Therefore, I am able to be home wherever I may stay. Being able to love whomever I am around just the same as the rest! So that is where I am at.... Don't worry I still have more to come. Love and Blessings, Rachael Michelle

Breck's latest posting

Homeward Bound

The team that set out at the beginning of the trip

With 50 dollars in my pocket, I set out on the biggest adventure (road trip) of my life thus far through Central and South America. After 426 days and 20 countries, I have returned to my homeland! Really, it’s hard for me to take in all that God has done in my life. God isn't some story in a book for me. I have seen Him show up in times of need and at other times just for fun. He is a loving father that takes care of me. He’s shown me that if He invites me to walk with Him, He will make a way for me to walk beside Him. I don't have to figure everything out on my own. He stays besides me and fathers me day and night. Through the times of joy or sorrow, He is forever near. I can’t get away from Him even if I try. He loves me that much. He is love, and He can’t but help but to be love to me. That is Him just being Himself. I have learned more in this last year than the five before it combined. Faith and love have been so carved into me. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” We receive everything in the kingdom of God through faith. And if we don't have love it doesn't matter what we are doing, even with the best of intentions.

Our trail around C.&S. America

What God is to me, I am to become and then be to others. I must follow the same way God loves, forgives, shows patience, doesn't keep record of wrongs, and isn't torn apart by what others see or don't see in Him. He isn't jealous or proud. He doesn't give up on others, but always hopes, always trusts, etc. After what God has shown me, I would be a hypocrite to give anything less to someone else. I find there often is a temptation to be a victim and hold onto the “that person did me wrong” card. If you want to hold onto that, read Matthew 17 and find out what you'll get. When people did Jesus wrong, he didn't act like it never happened. He saw the circumstance for what it was really worth. He confronted it and forgave and then moved on. But you never saw someone doing Jesus wrong and Jesus feeling too hurt and undone to still be love to them. Jesus knew and still knows who he truly is. He knows his identity. If I know mine, then I will be like-minded.

Sleeping while traveling up the amazon river.

And if I sin, my response won’t be condemnation, shame and guilt. Those are three things that never should be a part of a Christian’s life. We will only let those things get on us if we don’t know who we are. When I sin, my response will be something like this: “Father, I’m so sorry for not being who you say I am. Thank you that the old man has died by my faith in you. Thank you that you made my heart pure, or I wouldn’t have even cared that I just did that. Give me a deeper spirit of wisdom and revelation to know you better. I pray that I would have more of a ‘God reality’ step-by-step. If I see you clearly, then I can see myself clearly, and then I’ll see others clearly. Thank you that it’s you doing the work in me. In your name, amen.”

Ushuaia the city known as the end of the world.

I have come to know that I’m not just a sinner, but I am a once-lost son who’s been found. Now I’m not trying to stop sinning. I’m just being a son of God. For that’s the image that I was always made in, but I was born into a lie that I was anything else.

Our team gathered at Machu Picchu

“God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. “

We are made in His image; sin is something we needn’t worry about or even be concerned with. It’s no longer our master. We are free from it and have been restored. To identify with those old ways is just selling yourself short of what Jesus has finished and paid for. If we can see ourselves rightly, then we will love others for who they truly are. We can only give what we have first received. As we believe, we are given a new heart. This new heart loves--with a love that is fierce, aggressive, dangerous, bold, and willing to fight.

The last day with most of the team.

“Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” (Romans 4:3, The Message)

Reread this, but insert your name in place of Abraham’s.

Abraham trusted God just like I put my faith in God to bring me around the world and take care of me. Do the same. Enter into what God is doing for you by trusting Him with your life. Trust me; that will be the turning point of your life.

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Ro 8:29-30

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Ro 4:3

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Guianas, South America Complete: by Caitlin Scudder

The Guianas: South America Complete!

This was it—the final stretch of the continent. We would end our time in the Guianas—a group of barely-known countries on the northern coast of South America. Though considered one entity, the Guianas are actually comprised of three countries: Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Technically considered part of the Caribbean, the Guianas exude an Afro-Caribe vibe as well as cultural flavors from the countries that colonized them—England (Guyana), Holland (Suriname), and France (French Guiana).

Prior to the Guianas, our team had split into small groups, and we each made our way to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, to reunite for a “family reunion” and team debrief. Several of the girls had decided to fly home early for the holidays, and many teammates were unsure about returning to the Caribbean after the holidays for the final leg of the trip. This meant our time in Georgetown as a full team would probably be our last.

My small group made our way to Guyana from Venezuela. Because there is no legal Venezuela/Guyana border crossing, we had to travel from Venezuela back to Brazil, then to Guyana--hitting a record three countries in one day. From the border of Guyana and Brazil, we made our way to northern Georgetown, only around 260 miles away, but a nightmarishly long journey due to abysmal infrastructure.

Upon our arrival at the Guyana border, we were bombarded by mini-bus drivers who offered to transport us to Georgetown, claiming the best rates. Unaccustomed to bargaining in English, we happily negotiated prices in our native language after over a year of Spanish and Portuguese.

At around 2 p.m., our driver informed us that we would be in Georgetown by around 10 or 11 o’clock that evening. After a couple hours of bumping along terrible dirt roads, our bus driver informed us that if we didn’t reach a certain “checkpoint” by 6 p.m. we would have to rest somewhere for the night and continue traveling the following morning. Though the driver acted unsure as to whether we would reach the checkpoint or not, we later found out that it had never been a feasible option to cross and make it to Georgetown the same evening. Turns out, the lies of arriving by 10 or 11 were not only absurd on such poor roads, but legally impossible to boot.
Iris Latin America team boys; Breck Boyd, Taylor McClendon, Taylor Lindsey,
Brent Lough, Kurt Weller, Ben Cuyler, and Stephen Reams
Just before 6 p.m., we were forced to pull over on the side of the road where we found a random hut and shack where two local men sat staring at us. I reluctantly set up my sleeping mat on the floor of the hut, already getting eaten alive by bugs. Throughout the next few hours, the hut filled with hammocks and random men from other buses that had also failed to reach the 6 p.m. checkpoint. We were instructed to sleep until 3 a.m., when we would get up and drive for a few more hours to arrive at the checkpoint by 6 a.m.

After a few hours of attempted sleep, we reloaded our mini-buses and drove to the infamous checkpoint. Upon arrival, I realized why its closing would have presented problems for us. The “checkpoint” was actually a river that divided the road, and the only way to cross was by taking a crickety old ferry that only made trips between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. The decrepit little boat looked like it was about to fall apart, and watching several mini-buses awkwardly drive on and off didn’t inspire much confidence.

We safely made it to the other side nonetheless and continued our drive towards Georgetown. Other than frequently being stopped at random passport checks, our journey otherwise consisted of frighteningly fast driving. It was clear that our driver’s priority was getting to Georgetown as quickly as possible; but as he wildly maneuvered dangerous curves and unstable potholes, my priority quickly became arriving as alive as possible.

Meanwhile, dust poured from the roads into our vehicle and covered us from head to toe. We rotated between opening the windows in an attempt to not sweat to death and closing them to avoid choking on large clouds of dust. Almost twenty-four hours after leaving the border, we arrived in Georgetown with aching backs from the jarring ride, skin and hair covered in dirt, and luggage that had barely survived. My suitcase, which had been on its last legs for a while, realized its death along the way. When it was unloaded from atop the mini-bus, the inside frame was smashed in, holes had ripped in the sides of the bag, and my clothes and belongings inside were wet, muddy, and damaged.

Within days, the rest of the team arrived in Georgetown with similar horror stories. We laughed and caught up on our time apart. And sadly, we began our official debriefing of our time in South America. We spent time encouraging each person and sharing what good we saw in one another. As we spoke, I realized how much all of us had changed in the past fourteen months. We’d shared obstacles and victories together, and every moment (whether good or bad) had been well worth it. Though we’d worked with ministries throughout an entire continent, our most important mission had been the same in every country—our love for God and our love for one another.

On November 5th, we began a series of tearful goodbyes when the first group flew home from Guyana. The remaining eleven went on to finish the last two countries, Suriname and French Guiana. We first traveled to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, via mini-bus, ferry, and another mini-bus. Though Georgetown’s English-speaking Caribbean flair seemed out of place in South America, Suriname’s culture felt even more bizarre. Suriname possessed a wild clash of cultures including Dutch, Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian.

We found a small hostel and met together to pray for God’s vision for Suriname. Elizabeth had felt a special tug in her heart for the country and believed our time would be marked by random encounters that only God could set up for us.

Our first day, I went to the grocery store with Taylor M. who approached a stranger on crutches and offered to pray for his leg. The man shut down Taylor immediately. Pure and cold rejection. I wondered if all hearts in this country were so closed. A few hours later, we walked to a local church just minutes from our hostel to attend their evening service and ask the pastor if we could serve his church. When we entered the church, there appeared to be only two congregants, and the pastor was too proud to step down from his stage to even acknowledge the presence of several clearly-foreign visitors. We tried to speak to him, but we once again felt harsh rejection and ended up leaving the church building.

Admittedly, my spirits were low. I was physically exhausted. I’d been suffering from a horrible ear infection that began in Brazil and was causing pain all the way down to my jaw. I could barely hear when people spoke to me, and I was growing frustrated by the rejection from the Surinamese people. And on top of this, I was still trying to recover from the trauma of losing over half of our team before finishing the trip. My heart was heavy, and my motivation was severely lacking. I knew most of my teammates were already enjoying the luxury of proper beds, nice toilets, and pampering from their moms and dads. I reminded myself that the remaining eleven still had weeks ahead of us. I wanted to end in victory, not simply limp along at the end. But how could I do this?

After being rejected by the pastor, we decided to check out the city square and see if we could find some food or anything interesting going on. We noticed a large sign advertising a gospel concert and stopped under it for a moment. Two young Surinamese men approached us and explained that they ran a national Christian radio show for youth. We told them a bit about our journey, and they invited us to speak on their show in two days. We excitedly agreed, and my spirit began to come alive again as I saw God’s faithfulness in bringing forth random and unexpected encounters.

The young men asked us if we’d like to see the radio station right then, so we followed them a couple blocks to the station where their friend was already in the middle of a broadcast. He introduced himself and invited us to sit and listen to the music he was playing. Yet suddenly, he told us to be silent. He was switching from music to talking, and we were live. Before I could even register that we were not in fact waiting for two more days to go on air, a microphone was in my face, and I was live on a broadcast being aired throughout the entire nation. Flustered and slightly miffed that I just-so-happened to be the one sitting closest to the radio man, I gulped and coyly spoke into the microphone. “Hello Suriname…”

Camping our at a Church in Fortaleza Brazil
The broadcaster asked me several questions, and my mouth began to answer before I even had a moment to think. Afterwards, the man interviewed each member of my team, giving us all a very unexpected but special opportunity. At the end of the broadcast, Natalie M. was asked to pray for the entire nation. Our day of rejection had quickly transformed into something amazing.

Feeling more hopeful, we headed to the hospital the next morning to pray for patients. We had such a great time talking and praying for people that we ended up returning the following day to pray some more. Some of the people whom we’d prayed for the first day seemed to be better physically and emotionally on the second.

As we asked to pray for people, we realized the large mixture of religions in Suriname including Christianity, Buddhism, Hindu, and Islam. Yet, no matter what religion people were, all of them told us that we were welcome to pray to Jesus. Despite my original impression of a cold and closed people, I started to feel an authentic warmth from the culture. I was fascinated by the way the different religious and cultural groups genuinely loved and respected each other and lived in peace and harmony.

Taylor M., Ben, and I prayed for a woman named Gloria who had lost all feeling in her leg out of nowhere. She said the doctors were unable to figure out the cause, and she was waiting for a diagnosis. Meanwhile, she struggled to walk on this leg and hoped the feeling would somehow return.

We laid hands on her leg and began to pray. As we spoke, her leg started to shake beneath our hands, and she excitedly reported that the feeling had come back. Gloria looked shocked. We asked her to try to walk, and she got out of bed and paced around the room. She smiled in awe. Ben declared, “Jesus just healed your leg.” The other women in the room, Buddhist and Hindu, watched and clapped in celebration. This was wild.

the amazing women of our south america team
The random divine appointments continued when Ben walked to a nearby park to have some time alone with the Lord. A woman named Sandra approached him and asked for help. She explained that her boyfriend had just broken up with her, and she was overwhelmed and heartbroken. She was afraid to face her children back home and was waiting in Paramaribo, unsure of what to do. Ben counseled her a bit and prayed for her, as she began to cry. He asked if she’d be willing to meet him later at the park, and she agreed to return at 5 o’clock. Ben walked to our hostel and asked if any of the girls would like to come back with him to minister to her.

A few hours later, I accompanied Ben to the park and met Sandra. She seemed an open woman, seeking love and wisdom, yet slightly uncomfortable in her own skin. As we talked, she slowly revealed pieces of her story to us, explaining that she had three children from three different men, and now her most recent boyfriend had left her. She had no job and no way to provide for her kids. She felt lost.

Her eldest daughter, aged fourteen, repeatedly criticized her for her poor choices and constantly declared that she would never be like her. Her other children were angry that their fathers were not around. Sandra kept saying, “I never wanted my life to be like this. I never planned this. I wanted one husband and father for my kids. I never wanted my life to go like this.”

I realized that more importantly than forgiving the men who’d mistreated her or forgiving her children for their anger, she needed to forgive herself. I prayed for Sandra, and then asked her to repeat these words: “I forgive myself. I am free from the words of my daughter. I am loved. I am free.” After this, she seemed lighter. Sandra said she was ready to face her family now and more equipped to love her daughter. When Ben and I left Sandra, she was a smiling woman.

Days later, we continued on to our last country in South America—French Guiana. This final trek included another three-hour mini-bus ride to the border and a motorized canoe ride from one side of customs to the other. When we arrived on the French Guiana side of the border, we noticed a large sign that read, “France.” We found out that French Guiana is still a department of France, not a fully independent country. So technically, we were in France, South America, and the Caribbean all at once. What a way to end!

The drawback of being in “France” was French prices. We’d heard rumors that French Guiana was ridiculously expensive and decided to only stay for a few days to avoid going broke. We’d been warned we would need to spend at least forty euros a night just for a hostel and weren’t sure how we’d swing these prices. We prayed that God would provide some type of miraculous accommodation, but rumor said no cheap hotels existed in the country. By the grace of God, an angel in a pick-up truck appeared at the border and asked us if we needed a cheap place to stay. For no cost, just simply for the sake of being kind, he led us to a cheap hotel near the border where we each paid around six U.S. dollars a night. Praise the Lord!

We’d heard that there were indigenous villages all along the river and decided to go for a visit. I told God I would be satisfied if He sent us even one person to affect with an encounter of love. Just one person would be enough.

We bargained with a man on the river to take us on his canoe to a nearby indigenous community. I had no idea if this would be awkward or awesome. We boated just fifteen minutes upriver and were dropped off for a couple hours in a beautiful and quiet village. We cautiously entered the village and said hello to some people watching us, hoping they would receive our presence warmly. We asked someone if the chief was around in order to get his blessing to walk around the community and pray for people. We were quickly welcomed with open hearts and given permission to do as we pleased. While passing by a porch where a few people sat, we struck up a conversation with one of the women, who soon asked us to pray for her sick brother who was lying in a hammock just feet away from her.

We prayed for the man and the other women on the porch, and word of our visit quickly spread. Within minutes, other people from the community appeared at the porch to see what we were doing and soon lined up for prayer. I had asked God for just one person, but it seemed He had given us a whole village. For the next two hours, we talked and prayed with several of the villagers. One young man pointed to his ears, and it appeared that he couldn’t hear or speak. While we prayed, he began to shake by the presence of God, and his face lit up with a brilliant smile. He still spoke no words, but gave us the thumbs up signal, indicating that some type of healing had been received.

We then prayed for another woman with ear problems. From what I understood, her ears were clogged, and her hearing was affected. Still dealing with my own ear infection, I laid hands on the woman’s ears, hoping both of us would get healed. As I prayed for her, my ear opened! The woman began to lift her hands and praise God. Again, she didn’t explain what was happening, but from her reaction, I assume her ears were also healed. Oddly, when I took my hands off of her, my ear closed back up. (I ended up getting completely healed a few days later, but I found it interesting that my own ear opened and closed while praying for someone with the same condition). Afterwards, we were asked to visit another woman’s house where we prayed for a few others until our boat came back to the village to pick us up. On our canoe ride home, we were amazed at how quickly and beautifully God had arranged this time for us.

We left French Guiana on November 14th and later received news that Tanya’s baby boy, Zion, was born that same day. Just as we were leaving the very last country of the continent and completing the vision for South America, new life came forth. It was a sweet reminder that every end means a new beginning.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fly home from French Guiana, which meant backtracking through Suriname and Guyana and flying from Georgetown. We stayed in Suriname for two nights en route and noticed a homeless man begging for change the first. Breck stopped to talk with him for a few minutes, and a couple people offered him coins and food. We walked back to our hostel, thinking very little of this encounter. The following night, we passed by the same man and decided to talk to him. His name was Theo. He remembered Breck from the night before and thanked him for speaking to him instead of passing him by like everyone else. Theo explained that people normally ignored him or treated him like an animal, having no value for him because he lived on the streets. We spent time praying for Theo and simply chatting about his life and family. We quickly discerned that Theo was a far cry from the stereotypical addict on the streets begging for change to pay for drugs. His heart was genuine and pure, and the only thing he craved was love. I’ll never forget his words. “You stopped for me. You talked to me. You treated me like a person. I feel better inside now.” What had originally meant very little to us had meant the world to Theo. An encounter with love, no matter how big or small, changes people.

After a while, we headed back to our hostel, sobered by our encounter with Theo. Holding back tears, it hit me—LOVE. This was what our journey was all about. We’d traveled for over fourteen months and in twenty-one different nations. We’d seen miracles, watched amazing prophecies realized, and rubbed shoulders with great leaders. But in the end, I realized every adventure, every snapshot taken in a foreign country, every skill learned, and even every healing miracle would have meant nothing without love. To be honest, the greatest miracle is the simple love of the gospel, and that will never change. We can pray for healings, visit ministries around the whole world, and prophesy until our faces turn blue, but without simple, genuine love, it’s all worthless. When people ask me the greatest thing I’ve learned on this trip, I think they may be expecting something more profound, but this is the deepest thing I have to offer:

Love God. Love people.

That simple combination will never fail you.

1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Friends, this will probably be my last blog until January or February. When the team begins working in the Caribbean, I will resume writing. Thanks for reading, praying, and celebrating what God is doing. Love you all.

Venezuela-- Back to the Top

Friday, November 2, 2012

Venezuela--Back to the Top!

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

Ten months ago, my team and I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia and started the long journey down to the tip of South America. Circling the entire continent and arriving back at Venezuela, Colombia’s neighbor to the east, seemed ages away. But after traveling through mountains and jungles, experiencing both icy cold winters and boiling summers, and most recently crossing the Amazon River…we’re finally back to the top!

The last few weeks have been a strange period of changes within the team, and as usual, nothing is going quite the way we planned it. Several weeks ago, our team decided to plan a hiatus for the holidays, aiming to finish the South American continent before Thanksgiving and returning to the Caribbean after Christmas. Though this has birthed a new wave of ambition, it has also created a bit of a time-crunch.

While in Fortaleza, Brazil, Tanya (our nine-month pregnant team leader) decided to stay behind to await the birth of her second child. Her husband and “birthing team” are currently in Fortaleza with an amazing mid-wife and could be there for a while. Our team goal is to meet up in the tiny country of Guyana by the beginning of November. In the meantime, the rest of us have been left to choose whether to stay in Fortaleza to help out there, spend some time in the Amazon jungle, or travel to Venezuela. While many chose to stay in Fortaleza for a bit before making their way to Guyana, I (and seven others) decided we were going to get to the Amazon jungle and Venezuela and still make it to Guyana on time to reunite with the rest of the team.

At first I thought it wouldn’t be possible to cram so much traveling into such a short time period, but with the right combination of prayer and stubbornness, you’d be amazed at how much you can get done.

Getting into the jungle with such limited time and money was literally a miracle for our group of eight. We headed to Manaus, a jungle city on the Amazon River, and prayed that God would provide a way to travel into an indigenous village. At first, we were told it would take at least three days on a boat and hundreds of dollars. But after a day of researching and praying, God brought Moises into our path. Right away, this local Brazilian boated us to a tribe he’d been working with for years. We ended up visiting an amazing village on the Amazon that required only a couple hours of travel and about $30 including both boat fuel and food for a week. What looked impossible at first quickly unfolded into a perfect and smoothly-executed plan.

After returning from the jungle, we had less than two weeks to get in and out of Venezuela and make it to Guyana to meet the team. Two people from our jungle team flew home early for the holidays, and three of the guys stayed behind in Brazil to sort out passport issues. However, Elizabeth, Natalie, and I were determined to get to Venezuela. Again, God arranged things just right, so what seemed an impossible goal became smooth and easy. Our jungle friend Moises connected us with his friend Raquelle who connected us with her friend Rosa who connected us with her friend Anamaria. After four degrees of separation and two tiring bus rides, the three of us girls ended up at Anamaria’s home in the city of Santa Elena, Venezuela. Anamaria, a fiery pastor of a local church, provided us with beds, constant food and coffee, and the entertainment of her children (two biological daughters and another young girl who lives at the house).

Her seven-year-old daughter, Lupe, excitedly asked us where we were from, as she threw in comments about her dream of going to Disneyland one day. When I told her that I’d lived in California, just miles from Disneyland, her face lit up in pure amazement. From then on, she introduced me to friends as “the one who lives near Mickey Mouse.” When our new Venezuelan family found out our palest team member, Elizabeth, was from South Africa, they confusedly asked her why she wasn’t black. They constantly made remarks about her skin, and Lupe began to introduce Elizabeth as “the one who lives with tigers and elephants.”

During our first night in their home, Anamaria sat with us and asked us to share our hearts for ministry. She assumed we were a typical missions group who had pre-planned dramas for children’s programs or cheesy skits to share with the church. Anamaria explained that she had a children’s service the upcoming weekend and asked what we normally do. Slightly worried about what she’d think, we explained that our team isn’t your typical group of missionaries. Our goal is to be led by the Holy Spirit, not to run programs that we could run entirely by our own strength. Our desire is to accomplish things that would be virtually impossible without the power of God. We told Anamaria that one of our main ministries is praying for the sick and seeing the power of God heal people. And the last time we’d run a children’s service…well, we’d asked the children to ask God what He was saying, and they started drawing all the visions God was showing them and prophesying dreams over their futures.

We weren’t sure how Anamaria would react, afraid she might be disappointed that we didn’t have everything planned or that we operated too “out of the box” for your typical church. But as we shared our hearts, a huge smile spread across her face, and she said our arrival was an answer to prayer. Her church had been contending for breakthrough in healing and seeing God’s miracles, but most had yet to see or experience such a thing. Anamaria wanted us to share with her congregation and pray for the breakthrough they’d been waiting for.

When we chatted that first night, everything appeared to click just right. We’d been brought to Santa Elena for a reason, and that reason seemed quite clear. We were eager to serve alongside Anamaria in any capacity, assuming we’d already figured out God’s perfect little plan for Venezuela. Yet once again, things didn’t go quite as planned...

The next few days consisted of a bizarre series of events that revolved around Anamaria’s demanding schedule. Our first morning, she knocked on our bedroom doors at 5 a.m. and told us to get up to pray. We groggily got out of bed to find Anamaria and a church member named Juanita passionately praying in the living room. After an hour or so, we drove to the church where we met other intercessors. I’m all for prayer, but I could hear the woman next to me repeating the same words over and over and over rather than praying something from her heart. She seemed afraid, as if she didn’t say the right words three hundred times she hadn’t prayed correctly. I sensed legalism and obligation—the stark opposite of the freedom we are living in.

The next morning, Anamaria’s daughters banged on our doors bright and early once again and told us we had five minutes to get ready. Anamaria wanted us to go the market to “evangelize.” Unsure of what she was expecting, I reluctantly went to the market with Natalie, Elizabeth, and two of Anamaria’s girls. I have never seen an effective street preacher and was not about to try to be one. Rather than barking at random people in Spanish, we decided to just talk to people and pray for them. However, the hearts of the people in Santa Elena were closed, and we were continuously rejected. Anamaria showed up after about an hour of awkward attempts at prayer, and we told her that we’d failed to accomplish anything. She explained that the people in her city were afraid of foreigners and that she'd known all along that we wouldn’t be well-received. It seemed that we’d been deliberately thrown to the wolves. Ouch.

Later in the week, we were out in the city with Juanita, one of the women from the prayer meeting. She received a call from Anamaria who ordered the Juanita to drive us to the church right away to run a children’s program. We had told Anamaria we didn’t have dramas and programs prepared and were a bit befuddled by the demand to run a program with just two minutes notice. We were shoved in a car, dropped off at the church, and thrown in front of a group of kids. We asked the children to close their eyes and ask God what He was telling them. When they shared, their responses were, “I am a bad person” or “I need to be more obedient.” As I listened to the kids, I began to notice a theme of fear and control that seemed the exact opposite of what Christ died for.

Whenever we tried to talk to Anamaria or get information about how we could plan ahead for ministry, we were told she was busy. I wanted to confront her but felt it was not my place. Natalie and Elizabeth felt the same. We spent our days confused and frustrated.

After a few days, we received news that Taylor, Ben, and Moose had their passports sorted in Brazil and would make it to Venezuela after all. Juanita kindly offered to host the boys in her house.

They arrived on Saturday, and the following morning, we attended Anamaria’s church service together. We were shocked to see that her congregation consisted of only twenty people or so. All her meetings, all the demanding orders, and all of her oh-so-busy schedule had given us the impression that Anamaria was the pastor of a mega-church. Yet, we realized that this congregation was just a tiny group of people. When Anamaria clapped, the congregation clapped. When she stood, they stood. When she knelt, they knelt.

Appalled by the way the congregation seemed to worship their pastor as much as God, I bowed my head and prayed that these people would have genuine encounters with the love of God and walk in true freedom. After worship, Anamaria called our team up front and gave us a chance to share. We talked about freedom, God’s power instead of our pwn control, and true identity. I hoped our words would pierce Anamaria’s heart and the hearts of her congregants.

Just for the record, my heart is not to defame anyone or to criticize anyone’s ministry. However, it makes me sick to see people abuse pastoral power for their own selfish gain. I am not a Christian to achieve influence. I am a Christian, because I love Jesus. Honestly, I hate religion. I hate rules and structure that are created to make one look important or to create a feeling of control. I hate the abuse of a pastoral position to gain power, esteem, or clout. I hate the hypocrisy that has caused many to despise the word “Christian.” But I love God, and I love His people. And forcing religion upon them is not loving them at all.

I wondered if our words would take root in peoples’ hearts or if they would simply be dismissed. I wondered what Anamaria really thought about us. I wondered why I had come to Venezuela at all. At first, I had thought it was to serve Anamaria; but I soon realized God had not sent my team for the person seen in the front of the church but actually for a few of the most invisible members.

Ben and I prayed for a quiet girl in the congregation who requested prayer for her family. While praying, Ben received a word of knowledge about wrist pain and asked if anyone in the girl’s family had wrist pain. She extended her arm towards us and said that she had pain. We prayed for her wrist, and the pain left right away. Surprised, she went over and showed her friend. God heals His children, because it’s His good pleasure. That is love.

Natalie, Elizabeth, and I spent time talking to the girl who lives at Anamaria’s house (but is not her biological daughter) and realized her value was constantly being challenged. She was treated more like a servant than a daughter and needed to know that her worth didn’t come from how many dishes she could wash but simply who she was as a daughter of God. So we spent time talking, laughing, and telling her she was beautiful (something I am not sure she’d heard many times before). She begged us to stay longer, and I realized maybe God had sent us just for her.

As the week progressed, we girls hung out at Juanita’s house as well to spend some time with Taylor, Moose, and Ben. We realized it was God’s perfect plan to get the boys to Santa Elena. If they hadn’t made it, we wouldn’t have had much connection with Juanita. Juanita was another person who was slightly under the radar but in serious need of being noticed. She worked for a tourism company that takes people to beautiful waterfalls a couple hours outside of the city and offered to take all six of us for free. We gladly accepted her kind offer. She seemed discouraged when we left Santa Elena, but while at the waterfalls, her spirit seemed lighter. She had raised two sons who were now adults, and I think she felt a sense of family when she spent time with the boys on our team. She smiled as she watched Moose and Taylor playing in the waterfalls and told us girls that they seemed like two big kids. We laughed and agreed with her conclusion. I could tell that Juanita missed her own sons, and some piece of her heart came alive when she was with us. She told Natalie that she’d felt so sad lately, but when we came, she started to feel different.

Juanita opened up to us about how she’d been hurt within the church and was tired of being controlled. Part of her wanted to leave the church, but she also longed to see change there. She felt trapped and had no one to talk to. Her husband already had bitterness against the church, and she knew venting to him would only cause more. Within the church, she found herself unable to speak freely about the issues she observed. When she saw that our team noticed the brokenness no one else wanted to admit, she opened up her heart to us. As we spoke with Juanita, encouraged her, hugged her as she cried, and prayed for her, I knew it was no mistake we’d come to Venezuela.

I wish I could say that by the time we left, everyone’s problems were reconciled, and revival and change broke out in the church. Well, that didn’t happen. There’s still a lot that needs to be confronted and dealt with in that little church in Santa Elena, Venezuela. But despite the mess, we knew it was worth it to travel just to be with Juanita and the girl who lives in Anamaria’s house and some of those in the church who don’t normally get the time of day. At times on the journey we’ve seen people dramatically healed of cancer or deafness; at other times we’ve seen remarkable inner healing. Yet, at other times, all we get to see are tiny seeds planted; and the best we can do is pray they will grow into something beautiful.

Heidi Baker, the founder of Iris Ministries, often says this simple expression. “Stop for the One [God], and stop for the one [the person in front of you].” Sometimes it’s this simple. We don’t always get the glory we would like or see the fruit of our labor, but stopping for the One and stopping for the one needs to be enough. It is enough. A hug, a smile, or an encouraging word for somebody--it’s all worth it when we stop for the one.