Split Custody

I left home last night

And got home this morning.

Te digo que llegué a casa por fin. 

Back home it was raining in the chilly black air;

Here at home it’s humid with an endless blue ceiling.

Tal vez la humedad me hace bien después de ese invierno de castigo.

The manner of speaking is musical;

It’s got a lilt you’d have to know to listen for.

Es que noo-mbre, pucha vos, ya llegastes, gracias a Dios.

The lilt that is the song stuck in my head when I’m home;

I can’t stop myself from parroting.

Hasta mis amigos mexicanos me dicen que hablo igual a ustedes.

It’s like split custody, and you love them both;

They just take care of you different.

Dos países, dos padres, que me cuidan bien.

 

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A Moment Of Freedom

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For Kelvin

He comes in late. He comes in hungry.

The words on the screen flash by too fast, usually.

Fourteen years old. Learning to read.

He’s not one for raising his voice–not musically.

 

They say “stand up.” He gets up slowly.

Finally a song where he knows the words, mostly.

Comes here a lot. Feels pretty safe.

Some people who love him are praising God, vocally.

 

They say “mercy.” They say “forgiveness.”

Jesus does seem to be sane, in this craziness.

What of his sisters? What of his hunger?

This might be his first time believing in innocence.

 

He hums the tune. He looks to the sides.

Others are singing with raised hands and closed eyes.

Is Jesus here? Is Jesus hearing?

A lyric escapes him, he lets it, his voice climbs.

 

He is a boy. He lives like a man.

More years will pass before there’s no fist in his hand.

But here and now? A moment of freedom.

Thinking of Jesus, he sings out, loud as he can.

Amarga

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Ruth 1:20

You were born

because they put nothing on

when they tried to force their dolor into each other.

You grew up

because what else to do

when receiving just enough aceite to keep the cogs turning.

You laid down

because he made it happen

for himself even though it split you open like a coco.

You made eyes

because what else to offer

when that is all they’ve ever wanted and tienes hambre.

 

Amarga, bitter at the world, bitter at me,

bitter at the men, bitter at your mom.

Dulce, could you ever change your name?

Will my good Lord ever sweeten up your taste?

 

She’ll be born

because your flesh was naked

though you yourself were covered inches-thick by muros.

She’ll grow up

because what else to do

when you brought her into this relajo and can’t blame her for it.

She’ll lay down

because you will lay her down

so she sleeps in peace and bathes in prayers and knows amor.

She’ll make eyes

because she is a playful child

and knows nothing else but hugs and games and confianza.

 

Amarga, bitter at the world, bitter at me,

bitter at the men, bitter at your mom.

Dulce, could you try to change her name?

Will my good Lord sweeten you up, just for her sake?

And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name… Revelation 2:17

Think About Me

For Kenia & Maria

Think about me, at night, when you’re the last one awake

And all the loves you take for granted are sleeping within arm’s reach.

Imagine me, behind your eyes, as you hold what you want most,

And greet the ghost of me in your dream world like a familiar friend.

Pray for me, as you thank God for the ones who need you

And for the one who freed you from your loneliness and searching.

.

I think about you.

Your life brushed up against me and encircled me and I was a child in its arms.

The hug ended

And I kept reaching

For something bigger than your little life of kindness and love to envelop me.

Like a crumbling tower I collapsed into the everlasting arms of eternity.

.

Remember me as the one with the awkward embrace

And the metallic face, rusted over from too much time in the rain.

Come to me with your greatness, with your service, in the morning

After a night of yearning and we will eat as one to end the hunger.

Think about me, at night, when you’re the last one awake,

And you recall the ache you felt in me when we brushed together.

take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 3): devotion to street kids

Street boys at the Peter Project in La Ceiba, Honduras

“Street boys” at the Peter Project in La Ceiba, Honduras

In the last two posts (this one and this one) I described what I learned in Honduras about who missionaries are, how they think, and one of the most important things they do, which is hospitality. This final post has more to do with what I learned about how missionaries feel.

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” -Charles Spurgeon

As we think about this together, ask yourself where your own mission field is or could be, and who the target people group in your life is or could be to which you want to devote yourself as a missionary.

Paul said to the people in one of his mission fields,

My little children, I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! Galatians 4:19

Dedication to a people group or mission field–such as the streets we live on–always starts with prayer: prayer in the Spirit, in the will of God, for those people, like the prayers of the apostles for their churches and Jesus for his disciples.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… Colossians 1:9

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened… Ephesians 1:16-17

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment. Philippians 1:9

What begins to happen as missionaries pray for the spiritual enlightenment and redemption of their people groups is miraculous. The deepest longing of their hearts becomes to see those people see the beauty and desirability of Jesus Christ, and to be transformed by the vision. Like Paul in the “anguish of childbirth,” missionary devotion becomes deep and dedicated. Their devotion becomes so sharply powerful that they can begin to lose themselves in an endless search for the perfect program, strategy, curriculum, or ministry model that will finally open the “eyes of their heart” and bring true change to their people group.

One of two things follows: emotional “burn-out,” or a re-centering of each missionary’s life and ministry around Christ’s gospel. The truth is that the beautiful paradox of Christ on the cross is the only persuasion strong enough to melt a stony heart, and the only argument cogent enough to convince a skeptical one. Wise missionaries realize eventually that their only task, ultimately, is to display and explain Jesus Christ, and to affirm and sharpen the vague but universal sense we all have that everything is wrong and that we need a Savior. In other words, it is to tell people to “repent and believe,” making sure they know what that means.

In Honduras, I learned a lot about “street kids” and children (and grown-up children) from abusive homes. If they get rescued from their environments and are put in loving and healthy settings, they tend to follow a pattern. They get the “itch” to run away from home, usually back to Mom, as if to check if anything has changed with the people supposed to love them. Usually, nothing has. Then, they run back to the streets, too ashamed to face their caretakers or adoptive parents, until street life becomes so unbearable that they sheepishly come back home and repeat the cycle.

Every missionary is persuading spiritual street kids and prostitutes to come home, be loved, sleep in real beds (as it were), and not run back to their natural father, the Father of lies, only to discover again that he only binds and steals from them. We are persuading them, and our own selves, that our adoptive Father really will meet us, running to us, with open arms, again. The lies in street kids’ minds about love and God go very deep–as they do in every human heart.

Praise God, because transformation really happens. It is not a myth, though it is usually undramatic. People slowly begin to think about what God wants when they make decisions. They start learning to appreciate the beauty of Scripture. They are moved to prayer by the story about Jesus dying. They feel hope from the story about him resurrecting. They run away from home less often. They start praying for other runaways. They talk about grace and are startled to find, after a while, that they too have become devoted. They are missionaries.

take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 2): hospitality

The hospitality of Abraham

The hospitality of Abraham

In the last post I outlined what I learned in Honduras about who missionaries are, and how they think. This post is about hospitality, because hospitality is what missionaries (read: Christians) do.

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9

Hospitality means including people, especially lonely people, in your life. That is the best definition I can invent, anyway. In the passage containing the “least obeyed command of Christ,” Jesus shows us what hospitality really looks like:

[Jesus] said to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14

Hospitality means being family to the family-less, and friends to the friendless, and giving homes to those without any place to go for love and unconditional welcome. It includes spending money on those whom you do not expect to return the favor. Acts 4:34-35 describes the effects of the early church’s hospitality, explaining that “there was not a needy person among them.” Imagine if we practiced that again!

Our modern American lives are deeply isolated from each other, with our family members, co-workers, social contacts, church friends, and neighbors typically occupying entirely separate aspects of our lives and rarely interacting. The following quote, though referring specifically to singleness as a marital status, describes this phenomenon:

“‘Singleness’ as we conceive of it in our culture is not the will of God at all. It is representative of a deeply fragmented society. Singleness in America typically means a lack of kinship connectedness. This was not the case…with Jesus who was not married. He never lived alone. He went from the family home to a group of twelve close friends who shared daily life with him until he died…. In contrast, singleness in America often refers to a person who lives alone or in non-permanent, non-kinship relationships.” –Karen Keen

Spectrum of individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures

Spectrum of individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures

Such isolation–the logical end of our bizarrely individualistic society–is totally foreign to the depth of community experienced by Jesus and his disciples and the early Church. Hospitality cuts away at our isolation, involves us in each other’s worlds, and brings “the [physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually] poor, crippled, lame, and blind” to a place where trust and restoration become possible, perhaps for the first time. Hospitality introduces the lost and lonely to the God who welcomes them into his family.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1

We are communal by nature. Being in other people’s environments and routines naturally involves us in their lives and takes us to where their hearts are. In your context, I see you as yourself: as another human remarkably similar to me, with needs just like mine. The artificial barriers we can keep up in public come down in our places of comfort and habit, and that is the only way significant relational connection and communication happen.

It is not complicated. It is taking people along with you in your life, and “hanging out” without any kind of agenda. It is creating environments where people can be who they are and be satisfied to be with one another.

In Honduras, where hospitality is a cultural cornerstone and people sit all day in their hammocks and are happy to talk about nothing, or not talk at all, as long as they are together, hospitality as a ministry model was easy and made sense culturally. In America, with our fragmented social groups, frantically busy schedules, and intolerance for silence or stillness, sharing even our external lives with one another is difficult, much less our hearts and souls. Here, hospitality still makes sense as the best ministry model–the best way to imitate the Incarnation of Christ–though it may take more logistical effort.

It works, though, and Jesus left us with a pattern to follow. He was and is the very best host.

Blessed are those servants who the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, [the master] will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. Luke 12:37

May the God of endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 1): who missionaries are

Abuelita

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14

Jesus the divine Son of God, the logical principle which governs the universe, broke into our dimension, entered a womb, was born, lived, and died as a man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Incarnation was the longest missionary journey ever undertaken, the most extreme cross-cultural interaction ever experienced. It is the lifestyle model for all missionaries, and all Christians.

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”Charles Spurgeon

For me, I’m “home”–back in the town I grew up in, anyway–after spending 10 months as a missionary in Honduras. God taught me there about missionary life, and about the paradigm for life that the Incarnation creates.

He taught me that this is a missionary’s heart:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… To those under the law I became as one under the law… To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… To the weak I became weak… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

He taught me that missionaries are lots of things, especially foreigners, students, advocates, and prophets.

They are foreigners. Naturally, they do not share all the thought patterns, habits, interests, or customs of their target “people group.” Since they are coming in from the outside, many things do not captivate them in the same way as they do for those from the foreign culture around them. That is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9 when he said he was “free from all.” Because Christ’s gospel defined Paul’s fundamental sense of himself, he found himself completely spiritually free from every sub-culture with which he interacted. Jews under the law, pagans outside it, rich and poor, weak and strong–being none of them in any fundamental sense, he could be each of them fully, while maintaining an underlying detachment from all the groups in their particularity. He remembered what Peter called all Christians:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… 1 Peter 2:11

Missionaries are students, by necessity. They are learners of new languages, cultures, societal systems, lifestyles, mindsets. Good ones never stop trying to understand their people groups better, by studying them. Better understanding, better parroting, makes for better communication, and missionaries know they are communicators of a foreign message–not from another nation but from another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. Missionaries experience their host culture not as passive consumers but as active students. They analyze everything that comes at them: automatically, because everything is different, but also studiously, so that they can be “all things to all people.”

Missionaries are advocates for the overall well-being of their people group. They resemble Levitical priests, bringing people before God and God before people. Sometimes they defend the well-being of their people group to oppressors or to people in power, and sometimes to the people themselves. They advocate for justice on behalf of their people even when those people do not know what that means, being devoted to a God himself profoundly passionate about justice. They pray like priests, interceding for the people, and they think like prophets, strategizing for the renewal of every aspect of their people’s life.

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

Finally, they are prophets. That is, they are voices of God’s truth–and praise be to God, the truth about God is that he is full of grace. God told Jeremiah the prophet, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak… Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:7, 9). God equips missionaries in the same way. They are vehicles of communication for heaven’s proclamations. They are otherworldly message-bearers. Paul said in the New Testament, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). And what is “God’s appeal”? The next verse tells us: “Be reconciled to God!” That is the essential prophetic message missionaries communicate with their lives and voices.

Consider these things. Jesus sends all of us out–to our campuses, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, and to all the nations and tribes of the world–just as his Father sent him.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21

Malnutritioned Heart

To the many hurting children I know, love, dream about, and long to see again in Honduras.
El Día Del Niño, 2013.

I’d rustle you up a hot plate of the food you love

that fills you up to bursting

if you would just come over for a bit.

I’d print you a hundred photos of how wonderful the world is

enough to spend all afternoon examining

if you would stop tearing them up.

I would treat all the wounds on your small sinewed body

with gentleness and comforting laughter

if you would pull up your sleeve and point to where it hurts.

If you would whisper to me your nightmares

without lying about how your sun rose

I would whisper to you how beautiful the moon was in your window.

Dear one, child with a malnutritioned heart,

I tell you about love and forgiveness at every chance I get

and you pfff and pshh, not quite at me, but at the thought

of being pardoned,

of being full.

new year’s perspective (ft. Calvin and Hobbes)

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power… 2 Thessalonians 1:11

Usually, I have jumped on the criticizing-new-year’s-resolutions bandwagon. Why wait for January? Why spend only a few weeks or days per year thinking about how to better ourselves? Why bother with an annual, short-lived spurt of energy that often hardly makes a dent into our habits, much less changes anything significant in our hearts?

Maybe it’s because this was the first time I was away from home during the holiday season, but this past year has persuaded to value tradition more. We really are creatures of habits and patterns. God designed us that way. He told Israel to set aside every seventh day, celebrate annual holy days, rest the land every seventh year, and restart the economy every fiftieth year. These patterns gave structure to their calendar. Israel needed that.

We need it too. When done well, I think our cultural tradition of self-reflection and resolution around the start of every new year can be extremely useful. The truth is that we often need external reminders, such as the calendar and tradition, to remind us to “examine ourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5) and “resolve not to sin” (Psalm 17:3). Wishing to become better purely through spontaneous personal drive is a nice idea, but doesn’t line up with human nature.

So, over Christmas break, I spent a lot of time thinking about the new year and how I can resolve to live it well. Specifically, I wanted to enter 2013 with a Christlike perspective on serving La Fe, the village-community within La Ceiba, Honduras where I work. I knew I wanted to understand the concepts behind my goals, which give them their purpose, according to what God has said. I also knew I wanted to “count others as more significant than myself” (Philippians 2:3). The following is what came out of that. Hopefully it will give you some ideas about living with purpose this year, however you feel about “new year’s resolutions.”

(1) GOD’S WILL FOR PEOPLE:

  • That they put their FAITH in Jesus Christ for salvation. 

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:29

  • That they REPENT of all their former works (those of which they were ashamed and those in which they took pride), the futility of their former thinking, the falsehoods they had believed about God, and the patterns of sin in their lives.

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:16-17

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8

  • That they be BAPTIZED.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27

  • That they become increasingly LIKE CHRIST through the means of grace.

By this we know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:5-6

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

  • That they fulfill their HUMANITY and express the KINGDOM of God in their relationships to creation, others, themselves, and God by practicing justice, mercy, peace (shalom), and love.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14

(2) What God has given me that I can share with people in La Fe, to live out his will in my life and to help them live it out too:

  • Prayer – for them, with them
  • Friendship – greeting, touching, listening, assisting
  • God’s Word – sharing, explaining, applying
  • Music
  • An example to follow

What do you think?

In what other ways would you summarize “God’s will for people,” if that’s the question you think we should ask?

In what ways do want to see God’s will fulfilled in your life more this year than last year?

What has God given you to share with the people around you?

visiting a widow

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

IMG_6752

I met her on Sunday. Mike, Ashley, and I were walking through the streets of La Fe, the village-community within La Ceiba, Honduras in which we work as missionaries. We took a picture of every family in front of their home, printed it, and gave the picture along with a Bible to each family as a Christmas gift. When we came to her house, she stood out to me because she was the oldest person I had yet seen in La Fe. She was seated in a plastic chair outside her home, slightly hunched with age, doing nothing but sitting and watching.

We took her picture and returned a few minutes later with the printed copy and the Bible. She admitted that she could not read, but assured me that she would give the Bible to one of her family members who would be able to use it. I encouraged her to do so, told her “God bless you,” and continued on to the next house.

On Tuesday, I looked for her again. At first, I found her house, but not her. Her son told me she was sick and in the house of his brother, a few streets over. When I found the house, I discovered her laying on a small couch, curled up, and clearly in pain. My heart felt heavy to see her suffering. I bid “good afternoon” to the house and gently explained to the young woman who came to greet me that I had met the “abuelita” two days earlier, had given her a Bible, had found out she could not read, and was wondering if perhaps she would like for me to read some scripture to her. They welcomed me inside and handed me a Bible.

I had not prepared a thing. I simply turned to some familiar passages and read them with reverence: Isaiah 25, John 10, Psalm 23, and Romans 5. A man and another woman soon came in from the back room and sat with us to listen in. The five of us listened to the beautiful words of God together and shared a few moments of peace in the midst of a crazy world. God blessed me with the words I needed to get the point across, in Spanish: God takes care of us when we feel helpless, like a shepherd guarding his sheep. Our hope in this life of suffering and death comes from knowing that Jesus suffered in our place on the cross. Without him, we have nothing at all. With him, we lack nothing at all.

The old woman said nothing during all of this, except to express her agreement when one of the other women stated her gratitude to me and to God for my unexpected arrival. I replied that God is a good Father, who gives good gifts at the very moment we think we cannot do any more. His word of promise is our hope in this life. After we prayed together, I offered to return in two days to read some more scripture aloud for them all, and they welcomed me back.

God’s mercy to us is profound. He came to us clothed in weakness: a child, a humble man. He spoke our language. He wore our clothes. He entered our homes. He visited us in the middle of our despair, called us back to the Father, and gave his body to us. The greatest gift he gave was his own self.

For us now, it is the same. God only approves of religion that is characterized by Christ-like mercy and Christ-like purity. When we enter one another’s homes, speak one another’s languages, and give ourselves to one another, with the Word of God, we find that making disciples is a reality within reach, as is joy. It is joy of which the principles and the gods of this world know nothing whatsoever.

There are many widows and orphans who need family, and many wandering souls who need to be called back to the Father. The best gift you can give them is yourself.

Receive from Jesus, give him away. Receive from Jesus, give him away. Receive from Jesus, give him away…

[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51

[Jesus said,] “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36