Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jailing Poor People for Begging

The jail here in Orange Walk has three cells. Each cell is about the size of a 10 x 12 horse stall. The small windows on the north side let in enough light to hedge a guess about the weather on the outside, but not enough of a breeze to cool off the cramped quarters where 8 to 10 men reside. The stench is unbearable since many of the men are arrested while drunk.

Today I was summoned to court to “interpret” for a deaf man that I know. Unfortunately I am the only person in Orange Walk who can voice what the deaf mans says. Unfortunately because I can’t hear the judge well and really am not qualified to “interpret”.

During the course of the judge’s questions we learned that he was charged with wandering the streets begging. He has no family, was abandoned when he was a child, lives alone in a house without electricity, food or water, and has no source of income. He has an outstanding bill for court costs from the last time he was picked up with cocaine in his pocket. When the judge read his conviction, the deaf man responded, “Yes, but what else can I do?” They sent him back to jail. He will remain in jail for up to three months. During that time someone from Human Services is supposed to get him in a rehab/job referral program. But he is deaf, and there are no interpreters in Orange Walk, so it’s hard to see how he will benefit from the rehab counseling.

My first reaction was this is incredibly unfair. The man is poor. He’s always been poor. He never had an education or a nurturing family. Throwing him in jail merely takes this man, an eyesore, a nuisance, someone we are embarrassed by, off the street. Mayan people believe strongly about sharing with each other and taking care of each other. It’s fundamental. How can it be against the law for a poor person to beg when they are hungry?

And then I thought, I wonder what Jesus would do if he encountered this man. There certainly were a lot of disabled beggars in Jesus’ day. I never heard of him giving them money. He gave them something more, the power to change. He said to man at the pool at Bethesda, (John 5) “Do you want to get well?” It sounds like a silly question. What poor crippled man lying by a pool begging would not want to get well?

I imagined asking the deaf man the same question: Are you ready to give up your addictions? Do you want to stop begging and work? I think he might say, “But what can I do?” He’s given up.

Maybe the man at the well, who had lain there for 38 years had given up, too. He responded to Jesus with hopelessness. “Everyone gets into the pool before me.” It’s no use. I will always be like this.

Jesus sensed his hopelessness. Jesus wanted to enable him. Did he walk over and lift him up? Did he soothe him with flattery and words of encouragement? Jesus knew the crippled man needed to make an effort. He had to pick himself up. When the man made the move to stand, Jesus healed him. Would Jesus have healed him if he continued to moan and lie on his mat? I doubt it.

Many times when I encounter the deaf man begging in town, I talk to him about Jesus. I pray with him. He says he prays and he will change. In fact most times when he sees me, staggering toward me with his hand out and almost blind drunk, he says “I pray.” Others, too, have talked to him, but he hasn’t changed.

I still wonder how to be Jesus to this man. I wonder how to help him pick up his mat and walk.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

God Heard My Cry

God answers prayer. Sometimes we have to wait a long time for the answer. But God's timing is perfect.

Below is the story of the miracle we experienced last week when God answered our prayer.

Some of you will remember we have had a “rough year”. Beginning in November last year when one of the young women discovered she was pregnant. There was a huge fight among the young adults in our church mostly about who was the father since it could have been several of them and no one wanted to take responsibility, specifically to help pay with hospital costs. Some were supporting the woman and the men were supporting the one boy, who she said was the father. The church was splitting in half along “boy-girl” lines. When the men came, if they came, they came with an attitude. They would refuse to look “across the aisle”. I preached. I counseled. We had a few breakthrough moments and then it would revert back to the hatred. I really was having trouble reaching the men. Because they did not want to see or talk with the young woman, they started leaving the church. Two joined the Jehovah's Witnesses.

That's where we were on October 3, 2008. But to tell the story of this miracle faithfully, I have to go back about three years when I was reading the D.O.O.R. Costa Rica Newsletter. I was interested in it at the time because I wondered if some of our leaders might benefit from going to Costa Rica to participate in their training. (It’s a center for training deaf church leaders.) I noticed that they had pictures and biographies of about 20 deaf people from all over the south-western hemisphere. ONE name and picture stuck out for me. His name is Ian. My heart raced a little and I immediately thought maybe this man will be our leader. Maybe he will help to reach the men. I cut out the picture and put it on my wall, but waited a year until he graduated to contact him. When I emailed DOOR, they didn't reply. I didn't know how to get in touch with Ian. Over a year passed… his picture was still on the wall. I looked at it and thought, if God wants this man to come to Belize how will he even know about this ministry? Eventually I told Galen and Gloria, my mission board supervisors, because they have contacts in Trinidad where Ian lives. I asked them if they could find him in Trinidad, but that never happened. I still did not know how to reach him and put it on the back burner. This summer someone sent me an email which directed me to Facebook.com. I never have time for the many online friendship sites, but decided to try it and see if Ian was on Facebook. He was, (in fact he had just recently joined.) I sent him email. I asked him to come help us for 10 days to see how he fits with us and if the men will learn from him.

HE CAME! He came to Belize October 3 to 13. He arrived and the men who were angry and not attending church came to see what he had to say. He preached. He taught Bible at school. He had lunch with some of the men and then we had our Friday Night Girl’s Night Bible Study. We invited the young men. Ian taught and every one of the adult men and adult girls confessed and repented. They each made a public confession of wanting to follow the Lord. EVEN the very angry, sometimes aggressive "father" of the newly born baby. He confessed. He said he wanted to turn around. He said he wanted to follow Jesus. He even talked to the young mother and offered to help with baby costs and try to work on their relationship for the sake of the baby. It was a miracle.
"God is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine." (Eph 3:20.)

All of the people in our church love Ian. They use his signs (he signs some things differently) out of respect because they want to do things the way IAN does it. He knows what and why he believes but shares patiently and gently. He listens and seems to receive wisdom from the Lord. When he teaches, they WATCH. I trust him.

While he was praying alone, he thought God was telling him to come back to Belize. He thinks that God wants him in Belize to help lead the church, particularly the men. We don’t know the details of when, where he will live, what he will do for money but we are trusting God with those details. He said he will come back and stay as long as God needs him. He is starting a new job in November in Trinidad. He has commitments there. But he said he senses God calling him to Belize and does not want to "pull a Jonah".

Isn't this crazy? How can I invite someone I've only known 10 days to come and work in this ministry? How can he leave his comfortable life, church and friends for a much poorer life here in Belize?

I'm reminded of this passage in Matthew:

"When John was in prison asking, "Are you the One who is supposed to come? Or should we look for someone else?"

Jesus replied, "Go back to John and report what you have seen. The blind have received sight. Disabled people walk. Lepers are healed and Deaf people hear. Those who are dead are raised to life. And good news is preached to the poor." (Matthew 11:2-5).

I know that we fasted and prayed periodically for two years asking God to send someone. When he came he preached the Word mightily and consistently. He spoke with wisdom and patience. Some people in our group who were hardened to each other, opened their hearts and asked for forgiveness. They gave their hearts to the Lord.

Is Ian the One who is supposed to come help us? As crazy and "dangerous" and risky as this sounds:
I'm sure of it.

Praise to Him who hears our cries for help. He answers our prayer.