Sunday, April 17, 2016

Blessed by Baptism

Last Sunday we baptized two people: Martha Cruz, and my daughter, Sulmi.  I had been talking with both of them for over a month about what baptism means and why we do it.  They were both ready to take this step of faith.

We started at out church where we sang and had testimonies about what God is doing in our lives; words of encouragement or just how we sensed Go walking with us.  Afterwards we always take a short bathroom break, eye break (tough for Deaf to watch for an hour or so) and had a snack and juice.  After about 15 minutes of fellowship we piled into the van with some sitting on laps and headed to the hotel with a pool right up the street.  The owner has been a friend since I came to Belize.  Because we were neighbors...she let us use the pool for the baptism for free.  (How nice!) 
 When we got to the hotel/pool we sang, prayed, and Martha and Sulmi told stories about their faith and made a confession, or acknowledgement of their sins.  For us as Mennonites, baptism is for the remission of sins, but even more than that it is a commitment to walking with Jesus.  On Saturday, the night before her baptism, with tears in her eyes Sulmi said, "I'm not good enough.  Sometimes I get angry.  I'm not mature enough.  I am afraid that I will stray from the Way like many people have done who are already baptized."  What a great conversation we had about never being good enough, about making a commitment, like marriage.  The wedding is not a magic moment that makes the man and woman stay together in a loving relationship forever.  No.  They have to work at it and re-commit to it everyday.  So it is with baptism.  She will need to re-commit to give herself as a living sacrifice to God in thankfulness for his mercy everyday. (Rom.12:1)  Baptism isn't magic.  It isn't something that *poof* makes us holy.  But through our faith we receive God's Spirit and his help to continue in paths of righteousness. So on Saturday night we prayed she could depend on God's spirit to help her keep her commitment...forever and to ask for forgiveness when she fell away.  I thank God for that moment or honest soul searching from Sulmi.

After they shared their testimonies we entered the pool.  Sulmi was first.

 It's a nice pool because the "children's side"is just the right depth....not to shallow and not too deep.  There I told them how I saw them walking with the Lord and encouraged them to continue to grow in faith..and I baptized them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 Afterwards we all ate picnic peanut butter and jelly, but some wanted cerviche so I ran out and got some.  It's not expensive here $2:50 US for a good portion.
 Then we swam for the rest of the afternoon...and relaxed and just enjoyed being together on a hot day.
 Minelia.  She wanted to be baptized with Martha her friend for 55 years. Minelia is walking very intentionally with God.  But she was raised Catholic.  When I asked her if she wanted to be baptized about 8 months ago, she said yes. Her mother said, "No!" Then her mother died a few months later. Minelia feels that to be baptized would be hurting her mother's wishes.  Although I think adult believer baptism is being obedient to Jesus' commands to be baptized, I also think God in his mercy understands Minelia's heart and knows it is torn between confessing her faith through baptism and her desire to follow her mother's wishes.  I know that God is merciful.  I also know that Minelia is faithful and loves God.
           Some of the women after lunch.

 The teenagers

 Kristel fixing someone's phone.  She's good at that. Nicole is watching.


 I think they are a little big for the baby pool :-)

 This is Zion, Nathanael and Springs 3rd child.

 Abigail and Zephaniah

 Zion on Selah

 Evelin and Alma

 They were very proud to pile up three people high.  Nicole is trying to lift Zion to make it FOUR!

Gineli resting with her phone.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Be Merciful Even As Your Father is Merciful (John 6:36)

I'm really amazed how much our church is growing.  And not just church but also Bible Study on Friday nights has 16 adults (including two people who take care of the children) and 10 children ages 1-13. Family Night has exploded to about 60 people.   Yay!~ (I think).

The "older people" ages 45 and up are faithful. They come to church every Sunday, memorize the verses for Bible Study and counsel the younger generation.  God is reaching out through them.

The youngest group is the hearing children of the Deaf adults. They love to come to church and look forward to doing fun things in Sunday School. As soon as the van pulls up to their house they come running out, smiling and waving hello.

The Deaf teens are starting to ask good questions about faith. One or two (Sulmi included) want to do God's will.  Sulmi notices God's hand and guidance in her life.  She trusts God and readily prays when things are not going well.  When I am struggling with a problem, she says "let's pray". I have hope that some of these teens will mature and become strong young Believers.  All except one comes from non-Christian families.To follow God's moral choices and God's ways of compassion and faithfulness is a way of life completely outside of their "family's culture."  Yet, they come to every Bible Study, every worship service and every game night.  I am praying the Holy Spirit touches their hearts powerfully.

But my heart aches for the 20 - 35 age group.  They still are doing the teenage hormonal thing.  The bulk of our church falls in this age range.  The most difficult "problem" is their sexual promiscuity.  Almost EVERY woman and EVERY man has sex with others from the group.  The men also use prostitutes at bars. (It's legal here.) Several of the children in our church have been created through these match-ups.  Even some of the Deaf women with children continue to earn a living with their bodies. At least one of the men and one of the women have an STD. 

I have talked about this with each of the women.  I have talked about the dangers and the stubborn nature of sin.  I have regular conversations with one of the men about his addiction.  Nathanael Davis holds Bible studies and frank conversations with several of the men on an almost weekly basis. 

I preach God's word.  I preach about becoming Holy.  I try to teach them to avoid temptation.  I don't shake critical fingers, but I do say what is right and what is wrong.  

If I kick them out, not only am I saying that I give up on them, I can't reach them if I shun them away. If I say, "Fix the problem and come back when you are holy" I will lose them.  I will also be violating Jesus'principal of judging other people instead of loving them.

Others would say I need to exorcise them of the evil inside.  Even if they would let me, I can't do that.

The problem reeks of the inability to make good (faithful) and healthy choices.  Is it because of addiction?  Yes, probably but also there is a lingering teenage stubbornness that says: "I can do anything I want and you can't force me."

This sexual promiscuity has been a problem since we started church.  Two of our regular attenders and three of their female friends earned money "on the streets". I talked with them and prayed that the Holy Spirit would convict them.  As they have grown older I had hoped they would mature and this "habit" would go away, but it hasn't. And, just as disappointing is that the five "new people" who have recently started attending our church are no different.

Hmmm.  I struggle with what to do about this. God led me to a book by Pope Francis called The Church of Mercy.  It gave me a new perspective.  I think it is Jesus' perspective.  Papa Francisco's premise is that the priest should sit in the mercy seat not the judgement seat.  He says so much more than I can quote here, but a taste of it follows:
"God responds to our weakness with His patience." (not judgement)
"Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us by revealing his love." (not a shaking finger)
"We are called to find Christ in them but also to be their friends, to listen to them and to help them to embrace the mysterious wisdom which is God."

This concept of NOT judging or even "setting them straight and speaking truth into their lives"....became clearer to me in a recent blog post I read:
When He Became a She and Learning to Walk In Love

I think it is every pastor's goal to be able to present their church that they have cried over, prayed for and sweated over, to Jesus and have him say, "Well done my good and faithful servant".  To receive that praise I felt I had to fix the "sin problem",  But, this week, I have learned that to be faithful, I need to get out of the judgement seat and extend God's mercy. Wouldn't it be great if Deaf people knew that our Deaf Church is a place where they can feel safe, loved, accepted?  I honestly believe that their "faith will be born of an encounter with God's love."

Father, help me to reflect your mercy.  Sprinkle my words with kindness and friendship.  Help me to lead these people into your loving arms.