In three short verses, Jesus cuts across two major social values of his time. How should we go about building relationships with people on the outskirts of our society? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon on Luke 14:12-14.
A FREE DAY! Our trip had a strange twist: we could not find reasonable airline tickets out of any city in Michigan. However, God answered prayer, and we flew out of Chicago which meant a 7-hour trip to the airport from Midland. Our flight home was a red-eye out of Guatemala City late on a Saturday night, which resulted in a blessing: we did not have to pay for another night in our hotel, and we had an extra full day in Guatemala. It did mean we traveled at night and didn’t get home until Sunday evening, but it worked out. The 2016 trip was indebted to Jim Sirks, Youth Pastor from the North Avenue Church of God in Battle Creek. Jim drove their big bus and transported us to and from O’Hare. Thank you Jim! Continue reading
LAST DAY AT THE TRACKS! Today was going to be our last day of working at the Tracks. Over the years this has been an emotionally tough day with many tears and hugs. In my travels here during the past nine years, I have learned it is all about the attitude and how we think about our work and friendships that have been made. My approach now is one of celebration; we know we will probably return at another time to renew our friendships and see the progress the community has made over the years. Its fun now because kids we met when they were 7 or 8 years old are now 15 or 16, growing up right in front our eyes. This brings us to our devotion for the day: the green paper is for growing in the Lord” (2 Peter 3:18). But grow in the special favor and knowledge of the Lord. I think back over the past nine years and the life experiences and growth in the Lord we have experienced throughout those years. And its the same with the Guatemalan people: they are maturing in their faith, and their community has had constant change and growth. So as we leave each year, we prefer to say “Te amo,” “Salud!” and “Hasta la vista amigo.”
We were tying up loose ends today as we sought out the people we wanted to see. Our groups artist, Josh, painted a beautiful mural on the wall of Lucy’s daughters’ bedroom. We finished the installation of the stairs at Sonya’s house. We took lots of pictures of friends, our group, and the blessings of the Tracks we wanted to remember. Some of us we knew it was the last time they would visit; others knew they would return later. Some knew they would be moving to Guatemala in July. Fortunately, with the advent of Facebook, our communication and interaction with the people of the Tracks has increased tenfold, and we feel much closer than we have ever been. We felt excitement, satisfaction, blessings, and so many feelings as we said good-bye to the Tracks.
This week, our Guatemala mission trip team shared some of their reflections with the congregation. Listen in as Pastor David gives a brief introduction based on Acts 9:36-43 and asks for a couple of volunteers to share how they noticed “God space” around them this week.
BACK to work as we return to the Tracks for another day of serving the people. If my memory serves me right, on this day we went up the path to a small church to give away all of our clothing treasures. It was a grand morning as we displayed and gave away every type of clothing that you can imagine, along with toys, candy, Spanish tracts and Bibles. We saw lots of people, lots of clothes, many smiles and happy neighbors as they filtered through the best merchandise you can get – at the bargain price of “free.” What’s cool is that many of us, at the end of our week in Guatemala, donated almost everything we personally brought; we gave our clothes to David Beam for a good washing and distribution to families as needed. Across the street, we were building steps to the second floor of Sonja’s house. Dawn was still cutting hair, and we converged on Lucy’s home to paint the inside of her house to brighten it up and bless her family. It was a great day of service, blessing and relationships growing as we minister throughout the community of the Tracks.
Our devotional thoughts were on white paper today, a boring yet very significant color in the Gospel story, especially after our celebration of baptism yesterday. The white paper tells us that we are now clean and forgiven, which is the VERY reason that Christ sacrificed His life: so that we might be pure and forgiven of our sins. How BIG is that!! Because of Jesus’s sacrifice and God’s forgiveness, we get to live with God eternally. That’s HUGE! Psalm 51:7 says “Purify me from my sins and I will be clean, and I will be whiter than snow.” For Guatemalans, that is miraculous because they don’t see snow (and I wish sometimes I saw less). But snow is a symbol of purity that only God can provide. So, next time you see snow, it just may be a God-sighting.
Our 4th day was an opportunity to reach out beyond the Tracks and serve elsewhere in the country of Guatemala. As we traveled a scenic pathway, we saw the culture and beauty of Guatemala. It’s a country of volcanoes, vast vegetation, architecture, and rural life. On past missions we had visited small and large orphanages, friends of David, feeding centers, small towns, Lake Atitlan (considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world) and even the black sands along the Pacific Ocean.
Today we went to the village of San Antonio La Paz to visit a lady and her husband who have spent their lives serving the Lord and providing food for local children during lunchtime encounters. They had pots boiling and a feast prepared for the young children. Our job was to set up the dining area, serve the meals and interact with the children. That act seemed very small on our part, but it was perhaps the only meal they received for the day. Children always bring smiles and it’s very touching to see how they always, it seems, want to take home food for their families. We also met a young lady, Karla, and her son who live right there on the property. David and one of his mission teams had built a house for Karla in the past. Small things always make a big difference, and it is heart-warming how the giving of a home and the serving of meals for hungry children make the world a little better place.
Another strange encounter, this time between Saul and Ananias, points us toward the importance of noticing where God is at work in our lives. Where is the God Space in your life? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon on Acts 9:1-22.
By the way, the video which Pastor David wanted to show at the end of this sermon can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4
TUESDAY was a great day at the TRACKS with lots of preparation taking place. We were all allocated to our roles as we prepared for upcoming days. Dawn was well into her hair cutting, some where shopping for wood and designing a set of stairs, the ladies were preparing for the clothing give-away up at a church along the tracks, paint was being chosen and bought for the painting of a house, and lots of relationships were being caught up on and developed. A busy day.
Today we received a red sheet of devotions to reveal the Gospel story. The RED paper is for the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. We were blessed with possibly the most quoted and well known portion of scripture: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This is the promise of scripture that people have held on to for centuries.
It was the type of day that went with our thoughts and reflections of a day such as this. We looked to scripture to exemplify our theme, Shaped For Serving God, that would define our work. 1 Corinthians 12:6 says, “God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all.” This year’s team was different in that only one person had not been to Guatemala before on a mission. We were a variety of people: a little girl, a couple of high school kids, some graduates, some college kids, some adults with younger families, a family planning on the mission field, a couple of pastors, and finally a few of us older folks who were living out our God-given mission in our retirement years. We were a diverse group with a variety of skills and talents. The quote that equipped us was this: We will be the most effective when we use our SPIRITUAL GIFTS and ABILITIES in the area of our HEART’S DESIRE, and in a way that best expresses our PERSONALITY and EXPERIENCES. Of course, these capitalized words spelled out the shape of our preparation for the mission that God had in store for us.
All of God’s people are given spiritual gifts as they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Some of us have known these gifts for years, and sometimes they have even changed; some have a grasp of their gifts and several in group were still seeking the gifts that Jesus had given them. God gives every believer gifts to be used in ministry. This mission definitely expressed all the various types of gifts God had given and they were used to bring Him glory. Probably one of the most evident shape witnessed within the group was our HEART. For many, this was the second, third, fourth or even ninth excursion in Guatemala so the passion and heart of this appointment was extremely evident. Serve the Lord with all your HEART and have PASSION! The Guatemalan mission has always been fun and fulfilling; however, our team felt new passion and love once again. It gets into your heart, and you just want to go back. It’s hard to explain, but God has definitely placed the mission upon our hearts.
It’s amazing every year how God constructs a team that meets the needs of the people. Every year we have a variety of ABILITIES that shape the trip. This year we had hair cutters, singers, builders, painters, strong bodies, organizers, salesman, preachers, givers, leaders, artists, Spanish speakers, people persons, etc. And over the years we have also been blessed with seamstresses, teachers, nurses, masons, electricians and the list goes on. All our ABILITIES come from God and are to be used for God’s glory. As I said, it is always amazing how God puts together a team that is just right for the mission experience we are on. To God be the Glory!!
PERSONALITY – We are all unique! The personality of a mission team is always unique. With personality, comes humanity – good, difficult, positive, negative, optimistic, worried, reflective, flippant, God-honoring, and so on. Fortunately, my experiences have given me the wisdom that teams must be focus on one thing: God. When you have eight full days together with people other than your family, there has to be a lot of give and take. That’s true of all groups, and, yes, even Christian teams. We have to practice what we have preached. There are many hours of discussion, working together, free time, times we are tired. People agree on things, people disagree, and God gives us plenty of practice in thinking of others. When we are focused on God, it drives us the right way, helps us think less of ourselves and eventually brings glory to God. And that’s what is all about. It’s not Mt. Haley’s trip, not yours, not mine, but God’s. So with our personalities, does God shine through? Are we Loving God, Loving People and Living It? That is an every day thought that continues every day of the year.
Our last piece of our shape is EXPERIENCES. We have been shaped by the EXPERIENCES in our life. God has blessed Connie and me with many experiences through our 40 years of ministry. I have been on dozens of work missions, conventions, retreats and opportunities to serve God. Every one has helped me for the next one and yet each is unique and special. Past experiences teach you many things, but they are all about God and bringing Him glory. Even when an experience doesn’t work, we ask, “What did we learn and how can we improve?” I leave you with this scripture: “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.” (1 Peter 4:10)
As is always the case, we worked through our Key Questions and had a lively and blessed discussion on Tuesday evening as we shared with each other the many ways that God had touched our lives that day. Our thoughts for the day left us with a couple of reflections: To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart. Our shapes divinely helped to fill us with joy today and we knew we were in the right place at this time. Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. Thank you Lord for letting us share in your kingdom today and may you receive glory in our efforts to make a difference in your Kingdom. Glory to God!!
NEXT: The 4th Day of Our Guatemalan Spiritual Journey
ANTICIPATION! This is the first day we would walk the paths of the TRACKS with many reunions of friendships. We did not really get too much done because we were wrapped up in relationship building and the smiles of what seemed like hundreds of children. The main corridor along the school was filled with literally tons of people as the “gringos” made their way through the crowd to seek people out, visit the schools and visit the homes of our many friends in this tightly knit Christian community. Most of the day was spent planning our agenda for the week, doing small projects and seeking out the needs of the community and its people.
Our day began as we circled for prayer at our hotel and eagerly talked about what the day would bring. We then traveled to David Beam’s home, where we feasted with a unique filling breakfast each and every day of the mission. Every morning, I passed out a colored sheet that represented The Gospel Story by Colors and focused us into our spiritual journey of the day. We received a grey sheet on this Monday that stood for our sin. It reminded us that we are all flawed and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” It was a good reminder that we are ALL in God’s Kingdom no matter where we are in the world. Whether we are divided by economics, language, living conditions or miles, we are all God’s people trying to live a humble life and bringing glory to God.
Accepting Your Assignment was our perspective for the day, and service was the core principle within our assignment. Each our devotions came from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and only included a portion of what this excellent book provides, but these brought real significance to our mission. Our first assignment was to understand that You were created to SERVE God. Have you ever wondered why you were created and what your purpose in life is? As we follow the model of Jesus who served, we realize we were created for acts of service. And why else were we in Guatemala? We were there to serve the people of the Tracks – nothing more, nothing less. From another perspective, this is why we were created: to serve each and every day, whether in Guatemala, at school, at work, with our family, in every aspect of our lives. Jesus served and so should we.
The very Gospel of Jesus Christ brought our second assignment for the day. You were saved to serve God. Are you grateful that you have been saved, forgiven of your sins and bound for eternity with Jesus Christ? Because we are saved, we are blessed by God to bring glory to God through serving every day of our lives. So, You were called to serve God. This was a question we often dealt with in our preparation meetings: why were we going to Guatemala? Are we being called? We often talk about having a “Divine Appointment” to serve God in an area of the world with no distractions and complete focus on serving and bringing glory to God. What are you called to do in your service to God? A mission trip is only a few days of the year where you have this opportunity in such an isolated atmosphere, but what about your daily life? We are called to serve – everywhere, daily and all in God’s name. John 14:15 says, “If you really love Me, you will keep and obey My Commandments.” This sets up our next assignment: You are commanded to serve God. Now we are bringing love into the picture; God loves you to the point of sacrificing His son. Do you love Jesus? Loving Jesus is a daily decision we all have to make and part of our purpose in life. Then, because we love God, we are commanded to serve God. How much do you love God? Are you serving Him because of that love?
Every one of us is an influence or has an impact on someone, whether a spouse, a family member, a church member, a neighbor or a person at work or school. We all carry the banner of Christ, both positively and negatively. Are we wearing the title of “Christian” that brings glory to God? It’s important that we travel to Guatemala and serve the community of the Tracks; however, what about the rest of the year? Are we influencing people for Christ? Do we impact others with our walk? Service is the pathway to significance. We have impacted Guatemala and through this we see the mutual admiration, respect and friendship which exists between the people and ourselves. It is definitely significant. However, are you doing that next door, at work, at school, in our church or where life takes you? Anything that brings glory to God is significant.
Service is NOT optional was our last thought for the day. As we read this now, a few weeks after our adventure, I wonder if the assignments of service are still ringing in your heart and affecting your everyday life? This was part of the purpose of the trip: to bring it home.
Ephesians 2:10 states “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” What a wonderful feeling to know that Christ works within us to serve. May this be a key lesson we live each day.
A lively discussion took place on Monday evening as we shared the key questions of the day: God sightings, blessings, heart breaks, learning, scripture, community and our thankfulness for the day. Sharing our hearts was most often the best part of the devotions.
Included in each devotion time were a couple of quotes to stimulate our minds and keep us focused on God. Our first one on Monday was “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” Many things can bring us happiness, but only the joy of love, grace and gratitude can create the mind of God. Also, because we were a team, we ended with this thought: “Alone we can do little. Together we can do much.” May all that we do bring glory to God!
NEXT: The 3rd Day of our Guatemalan Journey
Evangelism through relationships and conversations, all within “God space.” Read Acts 8:24-40 and listen to this first sermon in Pastor David’s new series on sharing the love of Jesus with people in natural, everyday encounters.