Saturday, April 28, 2012

So...we were lucky enough to make it to Cusco and Machu Picchu before leaving Peru this coming Tuesday!!!  It was very surreal and cool to visit such a magnificent place.  I just kept asking myself "why can't we build things to last anymore??!"  I imagine our kids won't remember much of these things, but I know the experiences are building their characters to be adventurous and comfortable all over the world...who knows what greater things their lives will bring!

We visited Machu Picchu as well as Ollantaytambo and Chincheros which are other sites of Inca ruins.  If you have access to facebook you can see a couple hundred pictures from this trip. You will notice that there are more steps/stairs than one could count!  These places are built up into the mountains for security as well as spiritual reasons.  While we were walking up, down and all around these ruins I kept looking back to see where we had been...the perspective is always different.  It always seems like so much farther than you had realized... While we were moving our eyes stared down at our feet so that we were sure footed and didn't fall in the moment while looking ahead...and surely you cannot look behind while trying to move on.   I think the analogy in this is obvious.  Sometimes we need to just pay attention to right now, but also important to stop and see how far we have come every now and then. 

Of course it has been absolutely wonderful to visit Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Machu Picchu...these are places that are very touristy for good reason!  I have to say that our mentality was not entirely that of tourists.  We are here on a great leap of faith that God has called us to take part in his plan here in South America.  Through these visits in other parts of Peru we have learned so much about the people that is actually quite different than some of the assumptions we had made.  In general, we really thought they were very Catholic...and to some extent that is true, but a lot of Peruvians seem to live in a religious fusion of Incan earth worship and an ambiguous Catholic belief system that primarily takes over the icons and prayer to saints. 
All over the countryside are these altars set in mountain sides, city walls, they are center pieces to children's parks, they are in restaraunts, gas stations, homes...everywhere.  Pictures of the altars are even more everywhere including hanging in almost all taxis and combis (buses), in hotel rooms, probably most homes.  It is crazy how idolic these icons have become.   At first glance, the church seems to be everywhere, but these icons are so far from related to anything in the Bible.  There are crosses everywhere too...which initially I assumed was connected primarily to the crucifixion from a more Catholic perspective but several Peruvians have told me that the cross is really just a symbol of "religion" in general and that it represents whatever belief system one may have.  Folks here seem to be very aware and believing in supernatural and spiritual things but are missing a whole lot about what the Bible says about God.  I wonder if in some conversations with people I have been ignorant in assuming what they already believe or what their culture is.  I also wonder at times if the idea of us being missionaries is offensive...that there is an annoyance about a foreigner coming in to change the beliefs that are the heritage of ancient ancestors.  I honestly have no idea.  We have met many Peruvian Christians that feel deeply the same burden to share the hope that they have in Christ.  We have had several Christian taxi drivers that have been very encouraging...we met some Brasilian pastors that church plant all over their home country...and of course the people in the local congregations in the Nazarene churches and the leadership are entirely supportive and are working with Extreme Nazarene to spread the good news of the gospel.  Seeing Machu Picchu and the immensely sophisticated community they had got me really thinking about the cultural history of the people of Peru.  I can't say that I have unravelled anything here, but it has reminded me how important it is to understand a person, to be where they are, go where they can be reached and have respect for the journey they are on as we share Christ.  I would hate to be perceived as insensitive or disrespectful in my attitude, words or actions.  At the same time, we do take part in God's reaching the world with His precious gift.

As we are fininshing up our time here in Peru, we definitely feel a great burden to understand who the people of Paraguay are not only as individuals but also who they are collectively and culturally.  I pray that God does amazing and huge things there not to change who they are but to fulfill who He made them to be.  We all have a story and a heritage but truly we are all meant to be with Him.  When our lives are wrapped up in our Christian communities, friends, church, etc.  things can feel very comfortable and as they should be...we even feel proud at how above reproach we may be...and feel accomplished in our Christian walk...but the reality is that there are millions and millions of people all over the world that are living with only a small inkling of who our Saviour is.  I don't even know how to begin tackling that except to pray.  My heart didn't even really feel this or understand this until just recently.  I am sure that sounds silly coming from someone who just "gave it all" to go into missions...but really I feel very common when it comes to the Lord and the whole reason we came down here as a family is because we felt that He was asking it of us.  All of this is one step at a time, the Lord giving in time. 

Please continue as always to keep us in prayer.  We feel very eager and ready to be a part of what God is undoubtedly doing in Asuncion.  I know that things may work out entirely different that what we may aim for but even in that I am completely sure that whatever the Lord accomplishes through Extreme during this time is going to be just as He designs and will surely produce fruit that lasts.  Right now we feel that the future is wide open and we choose not to dampen it with the same time we have great but unknown expectations of the Lord...I am confident that He is capable and will be faithful to use each of you and us in this endeavor.  When we ask for things that please the Lord, we will surely receive them.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

...late for Easter Sunday but always in season...

**I am having trouble posting photos to our blog for some reason. I will continue working on this but in the mean-time you can see them on facebook:!/profile.php?id=100000841991937&sk=info Just friend us!**
Easter weekend we were able to join a short-term group and some of the Extreme staff from Arequipa in Puno, Peru near Lake Titicaca to celebrate Easter and the first official service in a new church building constructed by the short-term volunteers and funded through donations to Extreme Building projects. It was amazing. It was very cool to see Lake Titicaca, as it is the world's highest navigable lake...but I personally was touched most by the volunteers there (short-term and long-term) but especially by the pastor's wife. I haven't talked to her ahead of time for permission to share what she shared with me, but I will just say that it is so crazy how God works years and years in bringing his plans together. He began working in the life of a little Peruvian girl years ago and calling her to minister along with her husband and family in Puno, Peru. It is beautiful.
So Sunday morning, Easter morning, I woke up and started reading in Luke about the crucufixion. Of course there are so many things that are striking about that strange time. During the last supper Jesus is speaking about being betrayed and he says "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you turn back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32). Of course Jesus said this knowing that Simon Peter would deny him three times after Jesus' arrest. It reminds me of Satan's asking permission to toy with Job and test his faith in hopes that he could destroy it. The cool thing about this is that in spite of the fact that He knew Peter would fail, He still prayed for him that his faith would remain strong. Right after he says he has prayed for him Jesus basically says that his faith will fail by saying "and when you turn back"... Jesus knows that we do fail and yet He is honored by our desire not to fail (Not that we do always fail of course because there are a great many times where our victory is completely secured by Christ!). God intends to change our lives, teach us, and teach others through our failure. It got me thinking about this whole story from Peter's perspective. Later on in verses 54-62 Peter denies Jesus 3 times and in that moment right after the 3rd denial, the rooster crows and it has all the drama of a movie...I imagine all sounds and movement halting except the sound of the rooster crowing and the electric gaze of Jesus piercing the heart of Peter (Lk 22:61). In that moment, Peter must have felt like the most horrible, disloyal, unfaithful friend in the world - a huge failure...small as a speck of dust...and yet, Peter is the rock upon which Christ will build his church (Mat 16:18). Christ knows exactly how we fail, He prays that our faith will remain strong but He uses us in spite of the failure and I would even say He uses us because of our failures. Peter in that moment of desperate humility must have walked away knowing his weakness in a way he could not have known before and enabled to increase in faith at having seen Christ's unwavering love and forgiveness. At the end of those verses, Jesus says "strengthen your brothers." Our failures are able to create strength!
The teams that are working down here go through so much. There are so many ups and downs and times when they may feel disappointed in themselves or in their team. I believe that these things are definitely more about the strengthening that comes after rather than our dissapointment at missing the mark we had set. We can never see all that Christ is doing. I am praying, right alongside Jesus, that our faith may not fail, but where it does let us be strengthened.
After the Resurrection, he appeared to some travellers walking on the road to Emmaus. This whole time they had no idea who He was even though they were among his followers. Now, they were kept from recognizing him until he chose to reveal himself... the women realized later that during their visit, their hearts had been burning and they knew at once was because their Lord had been with them! Sometimes we don't realize what the Lord is showing us until we are able to look back on it. I hope that we have the wisdom to recognize Christ, even if not in the moment... Let us not ever become discouraged for His plans are undoubtedly unfolding as they should. When we are walking along the road to Emmaus and we feel that all is lost, I hope we turn around and realize that Christ is Risen! He has conquered it all and "now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."(2Cor 5:5).
Easter is so emotion-filled...but awesomely beautiful at the end.
We are finishing up our time here in Arequipa this next week. We will be visiting Machu Picchu as a special little segue between our time in Peru and the beginning of our work in Paraguay. Oh my goodness it was so hard for us to get here but now I see fully in this moment that God has definitely ordained this for us and has already opened up blessings for trusting in His plan. I think this is our calm before the real work begins. Our team in Paraguay is working so very hard and they have already seen some amazing growth there but at the same time they are experiencing many challenges. Please be in prayer for them. Pray that they will not feel discouraged or incapable. We need only be willing and God will form us.
Thanks for reading all of this if you have gotten this far : ) In closing I am including a clip from David Platt, author of Radical. This is what Easter is all about...what Jesus died for, and what we are going to Paraguay for. Even here, on the mission field, we need to remember to give it all. Each day we may fail, but each day we may grow stronger. Let us be passionate in our living and bold in our faith! Let us ask of God for God...not for ourselves.

Lots of Love to you all and Thank You most whole-heartedly for your support.
**We need some of you to sign up for our Kid's Prayer Team. We have all months after May open. See to sign up. We have a few unfulfilled pledges and so are in need of a few more monthly sponsors. We are also praying about schooling for our children which would mean an additional monthly expense that does not qualify for tax-decutions for any donors. Please join us in praying for these needs.