Friday, October 31, 2008

Pray for us

I'm not at liberty to explain fully what's happening in Peru, but it is enough to say the some serious prayer for the Shrader family would be a good thing right now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Poor Little Rich Girl

One of the most confusing things about our life here is that we don’t have much company in our “class” group, financially speaking. To most of our church friends, we are rich beyond belief. That we can afford to pay rent for the home we have, where we have it, and eat out once in a while, and buy our food in a supermarket, is quite the wonder for them, and sometimes it creates a barrier. They don’t always look very relaxed in our home, and few think of returning the invitation to their more humble homes (for many of them, this consists of a small rented room). I think about wealthy friends we have back in the States, who never seem to be able to leave behind everyone else’s consciousness that they have money, and I understand them in a new way.

At the same time, we meet and interact daily with the upper class. Many of them have children in our school, and we are aware of the difference. Those who own a house or apartment, really own it—only recently has Peru started to develop a practice of giving home loans. At Peruvian birthday parties (for the little ones), the conversation is of trouble with the hired help, in which private school you were able to win a space for your 3-year-old, and international business travel. The moms are not combing the internet for low-cost recipes (low-fat, maybe), and dress to impress (this last one is more Latina than upper class—they just wear their best when going out, even when it is just for a little kid party).

In terms of shared life experience, it can be a little difficult to arrive at the easy sort of relationship that I have with friends back home—educated, but not above financial struggle, able to enjoy many little indulgences (a trip to Burger King once in a while, buying the good lunch meat, a nice little party for your child), but still aware of the need to be careful with resources, and completely relying on God to make a way for our kids to go to college. (Only four years away!!)

The other night, Bill and I were returning from a Bible study late at night, and our two guards (of the apartment building) were chatting. I frequently greet one of these friends in the evening with the traditional Peruvian cheek-to-cheek peck in the air, as he is a brother in the faith and a dear friend. The reason I don’t greet him this way during the day is that there is a work and cultural barrier between us during the day, in which that could be seen as breaking the class rules, and thus making everyone in the vicinity extremely uncomfortable, including my guard friend. This particular evening, Bill greeted both warmly, and I did likewise, with the peck in the air. The brother in the Lord was fine with that, but the other guard about fell over, and laughed very nervously. It was clear that that was NOT the norm.

Maybe part of our role here is to demonstrate to our friends in both classes that they are not as different from each other as they imagine—to be a sort of bridge. To place greater honor on our friends who know exactly what it means to live by faith, and at the same time, to be humble enough to share what we have openly with our prosperous friends (as well as the riches we have in Christ), even though it is less than what they are accustomed to.
To live this way confuses this poor little rich girl, but it seems to me a good fit. I understand what it is like to grow up watching the Lord provide daily bread (not everyone in the States is rich!), but was privileged to obtain a college education and buy (start paying for!?) a home in a good school district. And as long as the Lord is in it, I am content to live in this confusing world of rich, poor, and something in between.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Talking on the bus with Creta

Last night, I rode on an overnight bus trip from Lima to Ayacucho. I was seated next to Creta. (Her mother named her after Greta Garbo, but didn’t know how to spell it.) Creta told me that she was a devout Catholic and that her son wanted to be a Catholic missionary. It’s easy in this situation to think that either the person doesn’t need to hear the Gospel or that he or she would be unwilling. In terms of sharing my faith with her, it felt like a dead end. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to me, saying, “Ask her, How is your faith?” You would expect the question to be, “What is your faith?” Listening to the Holy Spirit, even when the question makes no sense, is a good idea. So I asked her, “How is your faith?”

She answered, “Well, I’m Catholic, of course.”

That didn't answer the question. I continued, “How is your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

She said, “Profound!”

Profound is a great answer, but it didn’t leave me feeling like we had actually connected. She went on to say, “I attend Mass and, as I told you before, my son wants to be a missionary.”

In terms of evangelism, this type of response is a smoke screen. People who are in love with the Lord, speak of their love and their gratitude for his free gift of salvation. Those with a strained relationship, speak of punching the clock and of the devotion of some other family member (like her son). Her answer did not convey a “profound” relationship with the Savior. As we continued talking, I found myself telling her the story of when Jesus appeared to me and spoke with me (which is too long to recount here). She said, “Thank you for saying that, because I have doubts about Christianity. I don’t feel the presence of God or anything when I go to church.” She continued, saying, “I don’t believe that God talks to people or that you can really know what the truth is.” This confirmed what I suspected. Her relationship with Jesus was something less than profound. I pressed through her smoke screen, asking if she had read the Bible.

She said, “Very little.”

I then began to explain that we know that Jesus is the Messiah because he fulfilled the prophecies that God told us beforehand; i.e., that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, that he would be a descendent of King David, that he would suffer and die, and that he would rise from the dead. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that Jesus is the Messiah, because they have never read or heard of God’s promises and how He fulfilled them. I shared with her that the Bible is an authority that doesn’t change and is the record of the Apostles’ teachings. She was very interested. I shared with her the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In the story, the rich man is suffering in “hell, where he was in torment.” (Luke 16:23). Luke continues to quote Jesus, in 16:27-31, saying that the rich man begs Abraham to “send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

This passage tells us that miracles are not the key to faith—the scriptures are. The scriptures have the power to change our hearts and open our ears to hear God’s voice. I shared Hebrews 4:12, which says that the word of God “discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I told her that there are many ways to hear God’s voice or feel His presence, but that none of them surpasses the power of God’s word. The conversation went very well. She was engaged, interested and challenged. Originally, I was put off by her smoke screen, but this experience confirms that it is a bad idea to believe that a person’s smoke screen is the final word in personal evangelism. Because of the Spirit's encouragement, I pressed through the smoke screen and she thanked me for it.

It was already midnight and most of the people on the bus were asleep. When the morning came, I was sick from weaving through the mountains. I couldn’t pursue our conversation, for fear of throwing up. When we got off the bus, I didn’t see her again.

I believe that Creta wants to believe in God and feel his presence, but she is full of doubts and has nothing to combat them with. She did not believe that she could understand the Bible, because she had been taught against it. Our goal as witnesses of Jesus is to speak the word of God to those who haven’t heard it and to encourage those who can to read it for themselves. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:17, that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” This is saying that when we speak the word of God, sharing the message of Jesus with people, the gift of faith is ignited in them. Creta needs the gift of faith.

Please pray for Creta, that the word of God will get inside of her and transform her heart and mind. Pray also for me, that I’ll have many more opportunities to share God’s word.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pastor Fernando says, "Thanks!"

I was in Iquitos, Peru, (in the Amazon jungle) back in August. Latin America ChildCare was helping to put in two wells for our schools there. Here is a 3 minute video of my friend, Pastor Fernando Garcia, explaining the situation at his school and saying thanks for the well. For those who speak fluent Spanish, please forgive the guy who is trying to film and translate at the same time!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Landmark experiences

When you move to a new culture and speak a new language, you think in terms of landmarks--those events which display that you've moved to a new level. I remember in Costa Rica when I had my first conversation with a taxi driver. That was a landmark moment.

Tonight, we hosted Willy's birthday party--inviting about 10 kids from his kindergarten class. We forgot how parties work in Latin America, where kids come with their parents, siblings, cousins and maids. We ended up with about 40 people at the party. It was a lot of fun! At the party, I experienced two significant landmarks:

1. The party was a mix of English speakers and Spanish speakers--and they were all friends. It meant that we have jumped the cultural gap and have our feet firmly planted in both of our worlds (where we came from and where God has called us to). It's healthy to be able to enjoy both--without rejecting either. As such, seeing friends who represent both cultures, laughing and talking in our living room, was a very rewarding experience.

2. At one point, a group of us were conversing in Spanish around the coffee table. Then, the conversation split and there were two conversations around the table with a Nintendo game playing in the background. To be able to hear and understand a Spanish conversation, when their is background noise, is a huge landmark.

When you live in a new culture and speak a new language, you don't feel as strong as you used to in your home culture. As such, landmarks like these are foretastes of a new strength that is coming. Isa 40:31 says "but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." I'm looking forward to soaring like an eagle, but until it happens, I'll savor every landmark that reminds me of the strenght that is on its way.