Monday, August 24, 2015

An Exercise in Saying Yes {Catanduva 2015: Part 1}

Exhaustion set in as the plane bounced onto the tarmac, wing flaps fully extended, its engines roaring in an effort to slow down the large mass of metal. Her flight time had totaled about 15-16 hours in addition to a previous 6 hour bus ride. She was returning from the opposite side of the equator, from a place called Catanduva, São Paulo, Brazil. Catanduva's winter, similar in temperatures to those in Arizona, was just coming to an end, warm for the most part, downright hot under the sun, with shade offering respite in the afternoon.

This past week. Was it a dream? She experienced it, yet it didn't seem like real life, more like a movie, surreal. Facebook photos and a renewed outlook, the only proof that it had actually occurred.

Ten days ago she traveled to Catanduva with her sixteen year old son and a group of adults from her church. When the mission leader first visited and spoke about the opportunity for their congregation to take part in this mission project in Brazil, her heart beat wildly in her chest; she almost couldn't breathe. She peeked down the row at her teenage son and thought for sure this was an opportunity he needed to experience. With his own expression of desire to possibly go into the ministry someday, she assumed what she was feeling in her body was the call to sign him up. However, a week later, when the feeling didn't go away, and after she asked her husband if he wanted to go, she submitted to the call herself and signed up too.

Their mission: erect a new building for a local church as well as share the gospel with the surrounding community.

  • Erect a new building with very little construction skills? No problem. No fear.
  • Share the gospel with others when her own life is not the best example of a life continuously rooted in Jesus? That might be a problem. Extreme fear.

The last time she remembered having actually presented the gospel to someone was 25-30 years earlier when she was in high school. At that time, she had been part of a church youth group that stressed evangelism and sharing Christ with others, and while attending the youth group's discipleship studies, she was repeatedly encouraged to share her faith.

She had grown up in a suburban, sheltered environment, accepted Christ into her life at a young age, was surrounded by strong Christian influences, and was easily bold in her faith and sure of her salvation. Life was not difficult, the burden really did seem light.

Until college. Even though she tried to recreate the same environment she had left behind by joining Christian groups and attending church, she just didn't feel a strong connection at first with the Christians on campus. The loneliness from being so far from friends and home led her to hang out with anyone who would accept her into their circle. Her Christian walk became quite "zig-zaggy".

During her first year of college, she was more concerned with her own feelings of acceptance than anyone's spiritual destiny, not speaking of her beliefs with someone unless she was sure they already believed the same. And while she would walk the straight and narrow for a while even if lonely, temptation for friendships and acceptance would take her off the path for a time until she felt compelled to redirect her spiritual life again. This became a habit that continued for years even after she was married, had kids, and good friendships. She used God's grace as a safety net rather than recognizing it as the true gift of salvation and a place to rest.

And while God was patient with her through all those years, perhaps even holding back the dam of consequences that she should have incurred, she felt guilt for the many mistakes she had made along the way. Over time, she felt she wouldn't have much influence if she were to share her faith with someone, telling them they need to turn to God when she could not stay faithful to Him herself. She felt it would be hypocritical, the plank in her own eye was too large for her to remove in order to ever help anyone with the speck in theirs. So as her condemnation for herself increased so did her apathy towards others. They were on their own.

But then God either quit holding back the dam of consequences, or he just got tired of her apathetic attitude. Either way, in recent years, God has allowed more tests and trials than she ever thought she could handle. In the midst of these challenges, she has questioned God, gotten angry at God, cried out to God, begged for mercy from God. She wanted to run or escape, but he wouldn't let her. He continually pursued her until she finally had to give in. She was miserable while she fought, and only experienced peace and freedom once she submitted.

So she said yes to going to Brazil even though she felt she had nothing spiritually to offer. She had no plan for what she would do there, but she went with the attitude that she would say "yes" to whatever someone asked her to do. Secretly she hoped she could just work on the building, and it would all be easy. She was totally ok with that.

But God was not ok with that. The building had plenty of workers. Workers with skill and strength she did not possess. So while she said "yes" to any building opportunity offered such as moving concrete blocks or trying her hand at scattering mud on the wall, to attempting to trowel on the stucco, to standing on a precariously perched scaffold to paint the outside wall of the church, or just sweeping the floor and picking up trash, God also had people ask her to go on prayer walks, share the gospel with groups of people as they came to the free eyeglass station, and walk the streets to share the gospel with people in the neighborhood.

She said "yes" to all of it as best she could. Her personality compels her to let others lead if they seem to have more experience or confidence, but in the end sometimes there just wasn't anyone else around, or she had someone with her that knew about and seemed intent on pushing her to overcome her feelings of inadequacy.

She cannot tell you in numbers how many she lead to Christ or prayed with for healing, for their families, for their financial situations. She cannot tell you why she felt compelled repeatedly to pray specifically for peace and comfort and for the Holy Spirit to rain down his presence among these people.

All she knows is that she had one job to do; the job to submit and say "yes" to God.

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