Wednesday, May 11, 2016

His Kingdom, Right Here {Part 2}

“Play it cool,” I thought, as I fumbled along the unfinished road with the dignified wife of the former Amazon Governor. She in her high-heels and me in my flip-flops plodding our way to the notary public just five minutes out from closing time.

“What in the world am I doooooing??” I thought to myself as I signed the papers for a one-year-lease on a massive leap of faith we had only brain-stormed and kitchen-tested up until this point.

“This is it. We have officially lost our minds.”

She handed me the key to our newly rented space with a dubious smile and I took it about as uncertain as Peter must have been those moments before his feet touched solid water.

What followed was a whirlwind of paperwork and fees and building and sweating and juggling timeframes and learning legal requirements and hiring and little sleep.

Then suddenly, there it was: The Donut Company. Exactly as Richard had sketched out on a piece of paper in the middle of the big empty white space was an incredible testament of God’s power and creativity. Truly a demonstration of His strength at work in us because I can say with certainty it was only by His provision and might that we went from Googling a recipe to opening an incredible, beautiful donut shop in a matter of four months.

But as exhausting and draining it was to build out a shop, to navigate the waters of employee rights and accounting requirements and legal jargon in your second language, to figure out where in the world to buy industrial kitchen equipment in the middle of the jungle, to figure out ingredients and schedules and suppliers and operate new machinery, and so on and on, the true challenge was yet to come.

Because the point in our shop wasn’t just to provide a few locals a job or to offer a tasty treat to native residents of this jungle town. Our main objective was much more than affording tourists a trendy escape on their Amazon expedition.

Our whole purpose is this: to love God and love others. In a town saturated with churches, we want a place for the unchurched.

It’s the opposite of what we feel naturally inclined to do. But we are firm believers that if you are surrounded by people who look, think, act, talk, and live exactly like you, you’re doing it all wrong.

Because we can shout all day long to a broken world that they are lost and going to Hell. But they are dead. And dead men, well, they have trouble hearing.

So the language we’ve been commissioned with speaking is Love. It’s this crazy, unorthodox, supernatural language.

Naturally, some people don’t like the way it sounds. They say it sounds like we’re hippies, condoning sin and living freely, everyone doing as they please.

I propose those people haven’t quite grasped what true love looks like. Because love requires a lot more dying to self and a lot less being right. It requires a lot of sacrifice with no promise to see the fruit. It requires massive amounts of humility and shows so much mercy and grace it’s painful at times.

Love is hard. It can be this strange conundrum of sharing a meal with someone who lives completely contrary to your convictions and laughing together over a surprise common ground. And it is those unexpected similarities that slowly break down the walls and lead to open doors and liberating conversations of how Jesus changed our world and opened our eyes when we were blind, too, and now we see so clearly that we are all just alike at our core—broken people in need of a Healer. Maybe our sins look different than theirs. Perhaps we don’t have the same struggles. Our backgrounds are different. Our cultures varied. But we are all the same. We all need Love.

And loving hurts. Often. When you give your life to the wounded, you’ll likely be bruised. People you pour your heart and soul into will walk away seemingly unchanged, resolute in their habits. We’ve cried a lot over relationships ended despite our best (though imperfect) efforts to love.  And we’ve been labeled a plethora of things for our open door approach. We’ve had to let employees go who just couldn’t accept graceful correction. We have had people we considered friends all but spit in our face when we stood firm on Love. Because sometimes loving means correcting and sometimes it means forgiving when it’s so hard to do and sometimes it means watching them walk away but still keeping the door open wide just in case they return.

Love bears all things. Believes all things. Hopes all things. Endures all things.

It never fails. 

Which requires time. It will take sacrifice. It will demand humility and forgiveness and sacrifice and dying daily.

But over time, if we’re patient, we may start to see little buds of fruit. When that atheist boy comes back to the shop again and again because “it’s just so different here”. When that girl who cuts herself sits down across from your employee who grew up fatherless, too, just to talk it out because “he’s the only one who will listen”. When that same employee says “tell me more about what it means to love others” because all he’s ever felt in the institutional church is “not good enough and condemnation” and he, too, wants to love others well. When those well-to-do clients are baffled that we would use the profits from the shop to love orphans in a neighboring town. When locals see us loving the homeless on the streets. When we take in refugees and fight for them. When we treat the nomadic hippies like actual human beings.

Suddenly it’s quiet here. Defenses start to fall. Hearts are softened. Ears are opened. And humility and grace finally get a platform to speak.

So to those who would never set foot in a building under a steeple? Come on in. Those who look different than they “should”? There’s no dresscode here. The crazy guy who everyone ignores? How’s a free donut a day sound? The prostitute working late? Welcome. The homosexuals, the fatherless, the lonely, the cutters, the agnostics, the atheists, the broken, the overachievers, the young families, the elderly couples, the enthusiastic teens, the Average Joe—this place is for you.

Because we love you. And we believe there is hope to be found for each and every one of us and that Hope is true Love and His name is Jesus. He’ll be the one to do the changing. Love will mark you in a way that you can’t help but share.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Fortunately, He loved freely. He didn’t require us to change first and He didn’t shout condemnation to the lost. He shouted grace and mercy, forgiveness and freedom.

He went on to say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He didn’t say they’d know because we had it right. He didn’t even say they’d know by how good we were. It’s love that they would hear first.

It looks a lot like sitting across the table and talking. It looks a lot like, “Welcome. How can we serve you?”

It looks a lot like the Kingdom of God, right here.

This is a multi-post series. See His Kingdom, Right Here {Part One} and {Part 3}.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

His Kingdom, Right Here {Part 1}

It was about three years ago last month that God brought one of the most incredible women I’ve ever met right to our front door.

It was dark out and we were settling down into our wooden home at the end of a crumbling road in a crumbling society. We opened the door with hesitation and anticipation. We didn’t know anyone in this small town and, as the new foreign family in town, we were targets for scammers. Our guards were cautiously up. She introduced herself as Rosa (pronounced “Hoh-za”) and her daughter as Vandrena.

I tried in my broken Portuguese to understand and be understood as she told us her story and we shared a bit of ours. And so a friendship was born.

The timing of this meeting wasn’t by chance at all. We had only recently died to some pretty big dreams and were doggy-paddling our way to whatever it was God had for us next.

We didn’t know the Kingdom was already on this street. His Body was alive here. And He would allow us to be a part, to find our place.

We began pouring ourselves out. Our doors stayed open. Our table stayed full. Our hearts stayed broken. Rosa showed us the ropes of working among the poor. We learned from her unconditional love and she learned from our unwillingness to give in to pressures from the naysayers.

I’ll never forget when we were sitting in our kitchen floor chatting one day about life and she was talking about her middle son coming back home. He had been away for about a year and she was telling him about us.

“He asked what you guys were like. I told him you guys were simple people, just like us...”

She went on to say other things that I don’t remember now and had no idea that she had just spoken words of hope and life into my heart. Because that’s exactly what we wanted her to see. That we are her peers, her equals. The white man didn’t come here to save, but rather to serve.

We walked an almost two year journey together with Rosa on that street and watched and loved and served and taught and gave and cried and laughed and lived. A house was constructed that would bring more children to the feet of Jesus. More bellies were fed and neighbors loved. Drunks were picked up out of the streets and Pharisees sneered. We invited in the rejected and those hooligan BMX kids. We built water systems and funded small business endeavors. I learned to scale fish (earning the nickname “mermaid”) and how to cut a whole chicken. I encouraged and listened, gave and received.

And so many seeds were planted during those trial-filled years. And by God’s glory we get to watch some of the flowers already blooming and even some fruit starting to grow.

Rosa is now the Director of Grace House Amazon which is home to four children: Cairara, Mariclea, Frankie, and Michele. We have been able to expand her influence exponentially by empowering her and speaking words of truth into her life. She continues to pursue what God called her to twenty years ago and what she was already doing, and God has used us to facilitate that in new ways. The feeding program is well underway, feeding 10-15 street kids Monday-Friday. Many kids are being tutored in math and reading in the afternoons.

Rosa’s oldest son, Boboco, whom Richard taught small business skills and discipled, is investing in the lives of young boys through soccer ministry every week. Her middle son, Pepeco, whom Richard discipled for a year and a half and is one of his closest friends, is pastoring the kids at Grace House as well as his own family as they face trials and struggles on a daily basis.

Our former neighbor on that street, Aurilene, is now the Assistant Director of Grace House and serves these kids selflessly every week. She has come so far from the shy, introvert that we first met as she now boldly stands up for what is good and right in a society of critics. She and her husband took in her niece and began raising her as their own. Then they took in his nephew. They know that there is joy in sacrifice. They've seen it with their own eyes. 

There is something so beautiful when we recognize that this thing isn’t ours at all. We are a small part of a big Body. We each have a role to play and it’s an important one. But it’s no more important than any other part. When we humbly submit to one another in love. When we are quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. When we esteem the other as better than ourselves. When we trust God’s timing. When we accept that God not only created different cultures, He is glorified in those cultures. When we realize His ways are not our ways.

When we truly DIE to ourselves.

That’s when we get a little glimpse of what Christ meant when He prayed, “May Your Kingdom come. May Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” All of His followers, walking in unity just as He commands, for His glory and the edification of His Body. And the world watches and wonders at it all. And we invite them in, too.

And man, is the journey breathtakingly beautiful.

“I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there My servant also will be. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” –John 12.24-26

This is a multi-series post. See Part 2 and Part 3.

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