Monday, December 26, 2016

Basking in His Wonderful Light

"The people who are now living in darkness will see a great light."  Isaiah 9:2

What a blessed Christmas Sulmi and I had!  From moment to moment my heart was full of gratefulness.  I want to share this overflowing with you.
We began with a short Christmas liturgy from called "The Gift of Light."

 "Life was in Him (Jesus), and that was the light for all people. The light that shines in the darkness...The true light that gives light to every person has come into the world."  John 1:1-15

We took turns reading the prayer and scripture verses and then we prayed that this light of God's love would shine out from us so that out lives bear witness to the radiant love of God.  It was a good beginning to a wonderful day.

For breakfast we ate a cinnamon roll, ohhh guilty pleasure.  Sulmi and I made them the night before. I thought of my sister Julie because we, too, had stayed up making cinnamon rolls one Christmas eve. 

Adoncia liked the wrapping paper.

On to presents.  We just had a few. We have so much and don't need a lot.  We were glad to keep the giving simple.  Even Sulmi said she doesn't need or want anything.  I gave her new pants and the chance to pick shoes from our friend's book.  I also gave her some little cosmetics,  She is maturing to that stage when girls like to try make-up on.  She knows I don't use make-up, but needs to choose for herself.  I can't forbid it. I think she will come out on a balanced side of the issue.

Kristel joined us about 2:30.  Her mother asked me to keep her for Christmas because Camy was in Punta Gorda, Belize with her ailing mother.  Kristel's brother invited her to San Pedro and then sent her on a small plane back to Orange Walk. When Kristel arrived, we ate.  Sulmi asked me to make beets like a friend Barb Romero had made for us at Thanksgiving.  I tried, they were better at Barb's. The rest of the food was a re-enactment of Thanksgiving.  Sulmi helped prepare it with me.  She likes to cook and I always enjoy cooking with her. Notice that she is wearing a dress?  While I finished cooking she disappeared into her room and came out in a dress and nice shoes (and a touch of make-up).  I asked her why she got dressed up and she said, "Because it's Christmas!"  Ok, so I changed, too.

Every year we have always spent Christmas afternoon with Sulmi's birth family in Yo Creek.  We pass out gifts to the children (usually their only gift.).  There are ten children in her family, but we also share with her Aunt Isabela's family and all of the adults. Izzy is the one Sulmi stays with if she goes to visit.  It's a blessing to be able to see the children light up with excitement.  Below you will see several pictures from our time at Izzy's house with Sulmi's whole family.  You'll see Elizanie in the picture.  She called and asked if we could pick her up and let her join us.  So with her mom's permission Elizanie joined Kristel, Sulmi and me for the rest of our Christmas day and night.

Sulmi's father is holding their 6 month old baby.

This is Aunt Isabela opening her gift with Sulmi's sisters looking on..

Sulmi, her Dad, and her uncle who takes care of two of the children, and Elizanie.

Sulmi and her birth mom.

Sulmi working her magic on the baby.

Little Orlando loving his new toy.

 When we got home we ate leftovers and put together a new puzzle.  As I write this on Boxing Day, they are still working on the puzzle for over two hours with lots of companionable talk in between.

We ate our homemade apple pie and the girls lounged with facebook while I watched "When Calls the Heart-Christmas" a new Hallmark movie.  Ahh what a relaxing end to a perfect day.

"You are a people who belong to God.  All of this so that you can sing His praises.  He brought you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

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.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ginormous Game Night

Game night keeps growing in popularity.  This past Saturday we had about 60 people.  It began with a devotion about seeking God's direction in prayer so we are sure to know His will. The verse was 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." The drama part had us all laughing as 10 children rushed to the designated pew while Nathanael modeled stopping to ask God which way to go.  After everyone understood this point, that we need God's direction daily to show us where to go, even if we think we know, we tried again. "1, 2, 3...Go!".  Off they ran except for 4 who bowed to God in prayer first.  Those who ran eventually realized their error and turned around hurrying back to the stage area to pray. We need to do something like this again, but it was fun way to illustrate the idea of needing to pray often for God's guidance.

After the devotion we had a light supper (a hot dog, dip, chips, carrots, and a cupcake).  The teens all helped to serve the food.  It's always a challenge to try and figure out what to serve that serves a crowd of ....who knows how many until they arrive.  I was shopping for the food and had planned on 56 hot dogs and buns, but got this nagging feeling to get one more package to make it 64.  Our largest group thus far had been 48, but I had a feeling that we would have a barn-buster evening especially because I wrote "Bring A Friend" on the invitations. Thank you God for the "one more pack" nudge. It was good to see some new faces and to see some of the new people show up at church on Sunday, too.  Please pray that they continue to come.

After the food we had about an hour of games.  We set up several tables of BINGO, a table for Jenga, and a table for UNO.  For the first time people were allowed to chose what game they wanted to play and later I heard some say, "I picked Jenga." or "I played BINGO."  It affirmed that they enjoyed having an option.  The options was a good thing because it would have been too many people for any one game.  At the half-way point we let people switch.  Although the other games had people switching all night, at BINGO the player had to be there from the beginning, so the half-time switch gave people the opportunity to leave BINGO or join.  The freedom was good. The teens also helped lead BINGO by being the callers.

Enjoy the pictures!

Carmen spent about 45 minutes holding Selena's baby and walking him to sleep outside of the noise and busyness of the game activity.  She did this just because she is such a sweet girl and wanted to let Selena have a break.  I praise God for our teens.  They are learning to serve God with their whole hearts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Glimpse of our Bible Study

Our Friday Night Bible study is kind of fun, I think.  I enjoy watching the people try to remember the verse from the past week.  Sometimes it makes me smile because it is a young child like Yuhayna (9) or sometimes someone like Misael who rips through the verse so quickly that I know he practiced for a while, maybe a day or afternoon mulling over it until they learned it well. I love to see Alma sign hers.  She never learned how to read, but each week she learns the words for the verse. God is surely at work in this.

Enjoy the videos I have attached below. The verse they are signing is:
"When you are angry, do not sin. And be sure to stop being angry before the sun goes down. Do not give the Devil a way to defeat you."  Ephesians 4:26-27.

After everyone signs the verse, if they remember it, we clap for them.

I then teach a new verse usually with an object lesson. In the photos below Gineli and Misael are trying to "get free".  They each have a rope tied to their wrists.  The rope is looped through the other person's rope. They enjoyed trying to step over it, twist around and try to find a way to get be free.  After they struggled for a while I showed them the trick.  It helped us grasp the concept of how God's grace has made us free. How that freedom is so desirable.  Without Jesus' death on the cross we would still be stuck....bound. (Ephesians 1:7).

Praise God for His grace that makes us free.