Richard and Elliott are in the States for the next nine days. The past two months of our lives have been an emotional roller coaster as we adapt to city life here in Recife, Brazil, waiting for the birth of our baby girl before we head back to the Jungle. I am on a spiritual journey that I want to share because I think it's important, as Believers, to be transparent. Over the next week, I'll be posting what God is doing in my heart as I ask Him to pluck the weeds in my life. I hope you'll appreciate my transparency and not think less of me for it. I hope you'll pray for me. But mostly, I hope it encourages you.
It's quiet here.
Aside from the noise of the street below our apartment complex and the swirling fan above my head, it's very quiet. No little feet pattering through the house or pleas for snacks or movies. Just quiet.
I play TV shows in the background just for the sound of human voice because the quiet is too much sometimes.
"I don't want this," I tell Him. "Any of it." I figure I may as well be honest since He knows my heart anyway.
I'm frustrated and I am disappointed and I am discontent. And He listens because He knows me. He knows my selfish heart and my clinched fists and He just listens.
Even He is quiet these days.
And I cry tears of anger because I don't get my way and I tell Him I know--I KNOW--it could be worse and life is, in fact, very good in comparison with 98% of the world around me but I WANT to pout and I WANT to feel sorry for myself because I am in fact self absorbed and so very short-sighted.
"Is it so wrong to want more?" I ask Him. "I want to do something great for You, and here I am with nothing at all to do. I'm alone here."
And His reply?
"Just listen to Me."
I'm taken aback as my pride sets in.
"But I HAVE listened! Don't you see where I am? I gave it all away. I left everything and everyone that I know. I am right, smack-dab in the middle of where You said to go. I did what You said to do. I have listened!" I answer, frustrated, tired.
"Just listen to Me."
He says it over and over every time I complain. He doesn't raise His voice but says it softly, gently, like a parent trying to soothe a crying newborn.
I spiritually cross my arms and furrow my brow. And He waits.
Waits for me to listen.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Sunday, October 21, 2012
As we were doing the interviews for the students, a Brazilian man came up and asked if we wanted some Jacare (amazon crocodile). I have to say that I prefer Jacaré over any other meat – it is the cleanest, leanest and best tasting meat I have ever had. Don’t even think of comparing it to gator! It is like white steak…so I was listening to an Indian speak some broken Portuguese, writing his summary in English and listening to the “Jacaré conversation”. I knew they didn’t have the funds to buy it but when I head the price of 30 Reales (15US) I asked if they wanted it (I already knew the answer). I bought us lunch. I continued the interviews and took pictures of each young man to finish the project packet to send out to donors. While I was doing that, a couple of the young men went and prepared our feast.
As we wrapped up, we all headed to the eating area. Lunch – Jacaré and rice, with farinha of course. They also fixed me some juice. I didn’t realize it until that point but I was in desperate need of some fluids. We thanked the Lord for His provision – in Matis. I want to quickly say here, it never ceases to amaze me to hear people with different languages pray to our Father. Amazing to think that in a instant He created all these languages and now, some that have never mentioned His name are now beginning to thank Him for His provision.
They graciously served me first and gave me the best 2 pieces of meat. I was honored and humbled. Thankful that God has given me favor among these people and humbled by the fact that He would use me to serve them and help them learn and grow to share Christ with their families.
I told him I wanted to treat him to lunch on Saturday and also wanted to invite his wife, Fernando (the missionary) and Otasio (the village medical leader). He said they would be free, we prayed together and both headed out.
Friday, October 19, 2012
We arrived there at the small place where Marcos does his discipleship program. I was apart from the group from Manaus so I headed down as they asked Eli a few questions. I was humbled by what happened next. Indians are very quiet, non-emotional (outwardly) people. As I approached the thatch roof hut where they meet for church, Shapu and Tumi Matis ( 2 young men I had spent time with over the past several trips) came out with a BIG smile on their face and gave me a big hug as I walked up to them. They had previously taught me some of their language so we had a brief exchange in Matis. As I walked in to the “Maloca”, I realized there was something bigger going on. There were about 35 Matis men and women and children sitting in there with Marcos. In this crowd included 3 top witch doctors within their culture. One, Tumi’s father, is mentioned is a previous post here. The pastor and his family came in and took their seat, I always seek to blend with the Indians (although not much “blending” actually happens, they appreciate the attempt) so I stood in corner with my new found posse.
I knew the following conversation would be interesting as the Pastor was there to see what he could do for these people. I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time around Indians and I have learned and been taught that you always ask how to handle things and how certain questions may be perceived. The problem with us as outsiders is we may have the best of intentions but without the correct knowledge of how to handle certain topics and situations we can ruin opportunities to build relationships with these people. Unfortunately, that is what happened next. The Pastor began a monologue with about 35 people that are VERY primitive and are just now beginning to think about knowing more about Christ (by the way, the reason they want to know more about Christ is because of Marcos and his ministry but that is for later).
The Pastor explained who he was (through Tumi as the translator) and what he did. He explained that he was there to help and wanted to know what he could do to help them. He then moved into telling them that the most important thing they could ever do is accept Christ into their heart as their Savior and only trust in Him. That life is only available in Him and that He is the most important decision in their life. He said all this was clearly written in the Bible and they could see it for themselves. I want to take a minute and say that everything he said was 100% true. It is the message that gives me hope and a reason for life. It is why I was in this place. My heart burns for these people to have their eyes opened to who He is. BUT, and this is a big one, these people literally have NO idea who Jesus is. All they know is, once again, a “Branco” (literally means “White person” but is the favored term by Indians for any non-indian) was telling them how to live their life and what they needed to do. What happened next took the color out of the Brazilian Pastors face and literally made him a “Branco”. He asked if there were any questions, the lead Pajé (witchdoctor) spoke up. He looked squarely at the Pastor and said, “Have you ever seen your God?”. The answer was in the negative. That was all the Pajé needed to hear. He said, “How are you going to come to me and tell me about this God of yours when you have not even seen Him?” “All you “broncos” have is a book to read about Him but you never see Him”. His next words left us all thinking a bit, “I have seen your God, I spoke with Him, I see many gods and talk to them frequently – and all you have is a book. Don’t tell me what I need to do when you can’t even see Him.”
I was expecting some sort of response from the Pastor – something….but he was truly speechless. He had just offended a Pajé by insinuating (not intentionally) that he had all the answers and could fix everything for them. When the Pajé returned with a difficult answer, there was nowhere else to go. That is when Marcos stepped in and asked them to let the Pastor know what they needed physically. They began to speak about wanting to have a fence built around Marcos’ property to keep their young men protected. They loved Marcos and what he was doing for their children but they felt like the boys were unsafe without any type of fence. The Pastor said, “Ok, we will see what we can do”. Now, I was homeschooled and I was once told that you can tell if someone was homeschooled by the way they run from awkward confrontation. I don’t know if that is true in a general sense but it is for me. I don’t really know what happened after that because Pastor Eli and I both left the Maloca. I used it as a chance to speak with Eli more about what he needed and the needs of the seminary. We talked about that for a little while. We then brought up the elephant in the room. He said they were great people and had helped financially in the past. He said he understood their heart but that they didn’t understand they were doing more harm than good with attempts to make a convert. You have to remember, we grew up in a world surrounded by Christianity (and still so few actually “get it”) and here we are trying to give the Gospel with ZERO background, explanation and absolutely no life examples for them to see (as far as Brancos are concerned).
They soon finished up the meeting and they were on their way. I went back into the Maloca once the awkwardness had cleared and began talking with some friends. Very quickly, about 15 of the Matis came and surrounded me. They wanted to know about me, how I knew their boys, etc. I used it as a time to talk about how much I love their culture (no smoke here, I have always had a special place in my heart for the Matis over all the other tribes). I talked about how I had met one of the Pajés (who was there) in 2010 and what a privilege it was for me to be there with them. We had some fun as they taught me some Matis words. Essentially, I didn’t come in and try to convert them. I did speak the Gospel in words they didn’t understand. I did everything I could to live it out and love them. I wanted them to see that there was something different about this Branco. I want them to see that their young men respect me and that I respect them and that even though I am an outsider, I don’t want anything for myself – I want to love them, unconditionally and let them know that they are of utmost important in my life. After all, that is what Christ did. You may argue that He also said to PREACH the Gospel. That is very true, but He also had certain people go to the Jews and other to the Gentiles because He knew how to best reach them. It is my firm conviction that these people will be reached by their own! They will not need the Gospel from a foreigner because God is raising up young men RIGHT NOW to be able to adequately convey the Gospel message in their own language and in a way that incorporates their culture, a culture God created to Glorify Himself.
Soon they all left, I swear that these people have to be ninjas because literally one minute there were 35 of them and the next there were 4….I have no idea where they went and how they did it so fast!
I began to talk with Marcos about the project that I wanted to develop to bring funds into his ministry. He is training 11 young men in their language. He is one of them, they trust him, he cares for them. And they are getting the Gospel through him. He is feeding them, giving them a place to live and teaching them the Gospel. He is also supporting a wife and a 2 year old on $250US a month! You read that right…..it is disgusting to me the amount of money that we waste as the Church when there are SO many that are scraping by with nothing. We think we do well because we give the magical 10%....most of them don’t even have that 10% to eat with….once again, that is for another blog. He was very excited to hear that there were already 17 people who had committed to giving and other than me, none of them had ever met him......
Thursday, October 18, 2012
The following is an update from my (Richard) most recent trip to the deepest part of the jungle I, as a foreigner, can go. This trip, for those who don't know, was to finalize plans to launch our first project here. It is amazing what the Lord is doing in this place and I am humbled and honored to be a part of working along side the indigenous leadership to get the G0spel to people that no foreigner will EVER be able to reach.
Wednesday, 10.15.2012, at 4:45am here in Recife, my trip began to the jungle. It was an hour earlier in the Jungle and I had about 14 hours and 4 stops before I would finally be in Tabatinga. After that, I still had to get a moto-taxi to the main port and get on a fast boat and go to Benjamin Constant and try and find a place to sleep. The next morning, I would be up early and on another taxi to get to my final destination of Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas, Brazil. I was dropped off by my good friend that I met in Argentina, Guilherme Franco, at the airport here in Recife and started the long flights. The whole time I was up and down in the air and walking through the airports, I was focused on the task ahead and thinking through everything. After all, I had 2.5 days to finalize 2 large projects that I was starting and I didn’t want to miss any opportunities. For those that know me really well, you can testify that I am a person that likes organization and for things to be planned out well in advance. So, me, Lecrae, the iPhone and my notebook were busy most of the trip getting everything down on paper to make sure I didn’t miss anything. No amount of planning could have prepared me for the following few days and what God had already predestined before the creation of the earth.
All my flights were uneventful and I was glad to be travelling light with just a backpack – my last 10-15 international trips have been with teams and the latest was our international move so those have inlcuded thousands of pounds of equipment, 10-12 people each trip and immigration paperwork to be responsible for.
My trip began to get interesting as the man across the plane came and sat next to the free seat to my left and began talking. He broke all the first conversation rules, our talk ranged from how horrible the US is, why we are to blame for the drugs and Guerilla war in South America and how it was unfair that we killed Saddam just for his oil. He also proceeded to tell me I was wasting my time working with Indians, he explained all their problems and why I would never be successful with them. I am generally very easy going and love to talk to others but this encouraging fellow began to become a frustration as it was the last thing I wanted to hear at the end of 14 hours of flying with another 2 to go on motorcycles and boats. It was there that the Lord began to work in my heart and say, “Don’t you see that this man sees no hope for these people because he has no hope for himself?” My frustration quickly left and I was searching for ways to share Christ with this man. He finally gave me the chance and I had the opportunity to explain that he may very-well be right and the Indians may not accept anything that I try to do. But I quickly followed that up with the fact that I wasn’t doing this for the Indians (even thought they are the “beneficiaries”). No, in fact I am doing this because Jesus has called me to do it. I was able to explain how I turned down a 100K plus dream job to come here and didn’t regret it one bit because my life was all for Him. He changed his tone and began to talk about knowing more about what we do and wanting to visit – he even asked for my contact info to stay in touch…..that was quite a difference from, “You gringos are so greedy that you are ruining the rest of the world”.
I made it to the hotel that night and searched for a place to eat. Nothing was open so it was a good thing Ashley had packed me one of Elliott’s cereal bars. The next morning I ran into Pastor Eli (the indigenous leader that is responsible that most of the leaders in our area have received the Gospel) and we headed to Atalaia. We were also joined by a Pastor from a more fundamental denomination in Manaus. He and his family were going to see about Marcos’ ministry. We had also run into an American lady that was with the same denomination in Benjamin. Eli later confided in me that they have had many issues in the past because these missionaries have taken credit and ownership of the ministry in the area. He said they had donated to help in the past and then claim credit for the work that is being done 100% by indigenous effort. He also said they have tried in the past to make these Indians that are barely out of the Jungle, starting a discipleship ministry with Marcos, to start wearing ties, cut their hair and not be around people that didn’t look like them. I have to admit that I was angry with these people at that point. Who are they? A song I listen to says, “They talk about the Law, but they are twisting the Law, the Law is the tool that leads us to Christ, by GRACE we are JUSTIFIED and HE gives us life”. It is amazing how we are saved by grace yet resort back to the chains of the Law. Galations 5:1 says, “ He freed us INTO freedom”, not chains, preferences or ancient Jewish Law that was put out not to be fulfilled by us but to show us we could NOT fulfill it! Anyway, I shared with Eli that many do horrible things in the name of the Gospel with the best of intentions but poor foundations. I told him I had NO intention of pushing any denomination, I was there to be Christ and serve in any way I could be used. He then said something many would say he (as an Indian) was uncapable of even understanding. He said,” Ricardo, I’m not interested in denomination. They have hurt my people so much in the past. I’m not talking about Doctine, Doctrine is extremely important and we will guard that but my allegiance is to Christ – not a human-founded denomination.” Wow! Sounds like the Holy Spirit just spoke through someone.......
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year. I love the cool, crisp mornings with the bright blue skies, no longer tainted by the humidity that permeates the air all summer long. I love the deep colors of the changing leaves and the Saturday football games (especially since I’m an Alabama fan and we are known for winning :). I love driving through Starbucks and getting a Pumpkin Spice Latte and heading out for a walk with a light sweater on and a comfy pair of jeans. And of course there is Halloween, which I know is controversial for many, but for me it just means lots of laughter, carving pumpkins with the family, eating chili, and handing out candy to the princesses and Power Rangers that show up at the door.
I love Fall.
I knew last year would be my last year to fully enjoy the benefits of fall, at least for a while. And enjoy them I did! I savored every sip of each Pumpkin Spice Latte so much so that I can almost—almost—still taste it now. We took a support trip up to Buffalo, New York during that season last year and I can still picture the beautiful leaves of the changing trees and if I sit still and close my eyes, I get very close to being able to feel the crisp breeze on my skin.But this year is different. This year, my fall was interrupted by an extended summer that will last well into the year ahead. In fact, I don’t see an end in sight until Lord willing we get to spend the winter holidays with the family in 2013.
Things are different. And just like the seasons change during the year, life is that way, too.The seasons change and if you’re not very, very careful, you start to wish for last season or next season and you forget that this season—this one right here—is just as beautiful, just as enjoyable as the one you miss.
I’m trying to learn that—really, truly learn that. But I’m just going to be honest and let you know that it’s hard. It’s hard when you are in a life-season of learning and stretching and growing faster than any life-season you can remember.It’s a season of mental exhaustion as your brain works to understand even the most basic of conversations in a language that you really thought you had a better grasp on. You find yourself hoping no one else is on the elevator or in line at the store so they won’t ask you a question you won’t know the answer to. Sometimes, you just smile and nod and laugh when everyone else laughs so it looks like you have a clue. You put yourself out there anyway because you know that’s the only way to learn. But mentally it’s exhausting.
It’s a season of physical exhaustion as you approach the due date of your second child and your firstborn is at an age of discovery and testing and trying. It’s a stage of independence and he’s already an independent child! It’s a stage of, “Mama, watch this!” as he climbs to the top of the sofa and jumps as high as he can into the pile of pillows stacked on the tile floor right in front of the end table all before you can even realize that he had piled the pillows and your heart nearly stops as you think how this dare-devil child in front of you was a little sweet baby just yesterday, wasn’t it? It’s a season of temper tantrums and tears and even hitting as he tries to push his boundaries and test the waters of disobedience over and over again. And sometimes I go to bed at night thinking, “I am a terrible parent” because it seems that I’ll I’ve done is said “no” and lectured on how “Jesus wants us to obey but only He can help us obey because we can’t on our own” as he stares back with a furrowed brow and a will as strong as steel and I’ve spanked and timed-out ‘til I want to give up and say, “Fine, you don’t have to eat real food. You can eat cookies and drink chocolate milk all day. And you can throw the play-doh and you don’t have to have a bath or brush your teeth and you can stay up as late as you want because Mama is tired.” But instead I stay consistent because I know that’s what he needs. But physically, it’s exhausting.And it’s a season of emotional exhaustion as the days are often unbearably lonely as we adjust to this new culture and the lack of friends and family and familiarity. It’s emotional when you have no communication with the outside world because there’s no internet or telephone or TV. You look forward to taking a taxi to the mall, not to purchase anything but just to be around people, even if you can’t communicate with them completely! It’s emotional when you Skype with your family and they are all eating dinner together or going for a walk and you are thousands of miles away. It’s emotionally exhausting when you can’t sleep because of a squirmy baby in your belly and blaring music outside your apartment from a party going on at 2am. Emotionally, it’s exhausting.
And if I’m not careful, I find myself longing, begging God even, for the seasons of the past. Those seasons seem so easy now. I miss our house and our car and our family and our church and our friends and Target and Starbucks and, and, and…..And God stops me right there.
And He wakes me up one morning at sunrise (which is 5am here) with a tap, tap, tap at our bedroom window. I get up to see what the noise is and I am breathless as I open the window to see the most beautiful sunrise over the ocean I think I’ve ever seen. And suddenly I feel very small and very humble because the God of the Universe woke little me up to show me that He’s still in the business of beautiful. He’s still in the business of creating memories and teaching and changing and helping and leading. And He took the time to wake me to show me that even in this exhausting season of change that we are in, He is still God. He still makes the sun rise and set. He still gives rest to my soul. He still comforts when the tears won’t stop. He still listens when I’m discontent and He still gently rebukes me because I am a child that He loves and cherishes.
And He reminds me that this is, in fact, a season. And it will change just like the last one and I better be careful to enjoy it because I don’t know what the next one looks like but I do know that there is beauty in every season. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder and be still a little longer to see it and hear it.
So as I sit here on our little sofa in our little apartment and sip on the awesome Cinnamon Apple Spice tea that I found at the supermarket that gives me the sweetest little taste of fall, I look out at the view of the ocean from our window and I enjoy the beauty of this life-season and I’m thankful for the beauty of past life-seasons.
Because I serve the God of the beautiful here and now.
This picture doesn't do justice!
(sunrise from our bedroom window, Recife, Brazil)