August 2012

One Way to Look at It: Recovery Takes Time

I spent the better part of the month of July taking care of sick kids.  Stomach bug followed by a random fever followed by a head cold that led to a cough and passed to the baby who quickly developed bronchitis and required shots and breathing treatments.    And I went through a few of those myself.  Needless to say, I didn’t get out much.  

But I did spend lots of time calming ill children, trying to help them be comfortable enough to rest and heal, fighting them to get down another dose of medicine.  They were unhappy and resisted my efforts, not understanding the benefit that would come if they would trust my intentions and let the prescribed solution work.  They were exhausted, stuck in a vicious cycle of not resting well due to feeling bad, leading to feeling worse due to being extra tired.  I knew they needed sleep, but they struggled to relax.  I was fully focused and invested in their well-being, but they weren’t experiencing well-being at the time and didn’t understand why I wasn’t fixing everything faster.  

Have you made the metaphoric jump yet?  

It hit me one night as I tried to soothe a flailing baby who was just tired of coughing and needed real rest:

I’m the baby and God is the parent. He’s working to make it better and I’m just crying my eyes out that life is hard and if this is His concern for me, why does it sometimes seem all wrong?  I end up frustrated with God for not snapping His fingers like Mary Poppins and having everything swoosh right back into place.

I must remember that this world is broken, even splintered to the core in places.  Kind of like a tire swing that has been given a violent shove, the world got off kilter when sin entered and we are holding on for dear life as our reality flips and spins and sways.  If you're facing the right way and holding on well, it can be fun.  But then the tire spins and the ground seems to tilt the wrong way and your hand slips and you can't tell which way is down, and it's at least unsettling, if not downright scary.

And the thing is, God isn't doing it to us.  He is right there with us, caring for us, fully focused and invest in our well-being, even if we are not experiencing it at the moment.  Our fear or loss doesn't change that.

Sometimes I must accept periods of recovery, when things aren't going well for real reasons that need time to be set right again.  When I experience unwellness, it's natural to want it all better, right away.  But just as I want my children to trust my efforts, intentions and timing, so must I trust God's for me. 

Big Things are Happening

I feel like I start every library article this way, but...  things are really exciting in the library program.  I wanted to write an article on all that is going on so that you are well-informed when I come in for furlough.  I have several things to share.  

1. I went with the CUDA staff to talk with the directors of the education and psychology departments about our program.  My job is to model for the teachers reading comprehension strategies that they can use across the curriculum.  But what I have found (among the third grade classes where I am working) is that many of the students we are serving cannot benefit from learning the strategies until they learn to read fluently.  In order for the children to work on fluent reading, they need daily one-on-one attention. We went to Alas Peruanas (one of the major universities) to ask for student volunteers to come and read to students.  I hope to see this paired reading program kicked off by the end of this month before I leave.  The directors were excited about the opportunity, and gave us permission to advertise the need among their student body.  Please pray for this program, and pray for open doors to share the gospel message with university students.

2. Along with one-on-one attention, we need to know exactly what reading level these children are on.  I feel immensely blessed that God has brought a fellow missionary onto the field here in Arequipa, Neil Cantrall, who is equipped to train us in the ways of evaluating these students. Neil just recently moved here with his family.  They are looking to partner with other NGO's and Christian groups where they can be used.  Neil taught 4th grade reading in a bilingual setting in the US.  It really does seem like God knew exactly what we lacked in the program and sent Neil our way.  There really is no other way to describe it.  What is even cooler is that Neil will be working with the classes and training my good friend, and sister, Nadia, in the evaluations. They are taking over for me, and they will be leading the volunteer program while I am gone.  Please pray for their work, and pray for the evaluation component of the program to help us serve the students' needs even better.

3. The program has some really exciting opportunities in the near future.  Greg and I will be talking to different Rotary clubs to raise awareness and initiate a discussion of applying for grant money to go toward our library program.  The grant would come from an international partnership between a US chapter and a chapter here in Arequipa.  For those of you that don't remember, Alfredo, the executive director of CUDA, is a past president of the Arequipa Rotary Club chapter.  Pray for our presentations, and pray for open hearts of Rotarians to see the needs of the Peruvian school children that we serve.

4. I am in contact with the directors of education at both Harding University and Abilene Christian.  I am scheduling times to meet with faculty and students in the area of education to plan for future internships, a possible education campaign, and just to bounce ideas off of professors that are more knowledgeable than me.  I am very excited to share about the program and meet new contacts to further the good work God is doing among us.  Pray for all of those things that I will be discussing.

5. And finally, working in these schools has opened a door for us to become more active in the school culture.  We will be offering a series of talks on different topics for parents.  Schools want to offer education to parents.  We are blessed in our Peruvian church family with many who are experts in different areas.  So please pray for the planning of that series, and the ones that will share with others that may have never received the opportunity otherwise. Now do you see what I mean?  It is overwhelming to me to think of the potential of this program and where it is headed.  God is in control, and he has blessed the work immensely.  Glory to his name!

Some of you may have already been thinking this way, but something new struck me the other day.  We are serving in Arequipa, trying our best to live out a holistic ministry– serving the whole person.  I have reached a conclusion for one end goal of the library work.  We are teaching children to read fluently.  We are teaching children to use comprehension strategies to better understand and delve into texts.  If those children can master those things, what can stop them from picking up a Bible and understanding the gospel story?  So many Peruvian adults cannot read well or comprehend the passages we read with them.  It is my deepest longing that out of this program, Peruvians will be equipped to read the Gospel message for themselves and proclaim it among their family and friends. 

The Better Question

In 2005, Kyle and I flew to Lima, Peru for the Pan American Lectureships.  We hoped to gain some perspective on the Peruvian church and meet other missionaries from around Latin America.  We were aware that the “marriage-divorce-remarriage” controversy had split the Peruvian church.  In fact, in addition to the usual Lectureship activities, some of the visiting missionaries attempted to bring the two sides together for the first time in many years.  It was and is an ugly situation.

As observers still years from entering the mission field, we did not expect the controversy to touch us personally.  Moreover, while the conflict was clearly real, it all seemed caricatured—tales of preachers trained to travel around and insinuate themselves into congregations in order ferret out the false brothers; which is to say, in order to split churches.  Fixating on an issue or reducing salvation to a single conclusion is one thing–a historically typical thing—but a country-wide witch hunt was another thing altogether.  It was surreal.

Then a young Peruvian preacher who had heard were were planning to work in Arequipa approached us during a coffee break.  “I hear you are going to Arequipa,” he said.  “Yes, that’s right,” we responded.  “What do you think about marriage-divorce-remarriage,” he inquired directly.  There was no avoiding the confrontation.  It was already pursuing us.

Yet, we’ve had no part in that internecine strife.  Instead, our friends’ marriage struggles have confronted us.  What Scripture says about marriage has come alive as God’s own wisdom for living well in our most challenging relationships.  It is only by contrast that the tragedy of using Scripture as a bludgeon to defend one’s legal verdict.  The urgent question that comes from every direction is not whether one is allowed to get divorced or remarried but how to stay married despite the difficulty it involves.  The former is a question worth exploring, but the latter is far more important.  Jesus himself said that divorce existed because of hardness of heart—the same affliction that he diagnosed in his apostles—which leads me to believe that the more fundamental question in his mind was how to soften hearts.  Our friends who ask for biblical guidance to better their marriages are not asking which commandments they must obey but how to obey.  They are asking to be discipled; they are asking for softened hearts.  Imagine if the Pharisees had asked that instead.  Imagine if the Peruvian church had.

Requests for sound counsel led Abraham and me to offer a marriage seminar, which we recently completed.  For five Saturday evenings we explored the nature and purpose of marriage.  The sixth and final class was cancelled because of José Luis and Miriam’s wedding.  Preparations for the ceremony were more than they could manage alone, but the church members worked together to make it happen.  It was a tremendous thing to witness the church rally behind Miriam, who is a new Christian, and bless their union with service and love.  I much prefer to see the unity of the church upholding a marriage than to see a teaching against divorce dividing the church.

CUDA News: August

Last year we wrote about the “plan” we had for CUDA.  That plan included bringing three Peruvians (Alfredo, Paty, and Abraham) on board as paid full-time employees.  Like all plans, good or bad, they run their own course and the new year found us only able to bring Alfredo on as the Executive Director for CUDA.  Though we really wanted to hire them all at the same time the funding simply wasn’t there so we started with Alfredo and decided to work towards a middle of the year hire for the other two.  Well we missed that mark as well but thankfully we found ourselves in a position to hire Abraham and Paty on a part-time basis starting in August.  So it is with a lot of joy and thankfulness to God that I can announce, officially, that CUDA now has three Peruvian directors working together to bring about justice, wellbeing, and joy in the city.

Megan’s article gives an in depth update in her article this month so you should check it out and pray over all that is happening with the teachers, volunteers, and students involved in the program.  On the micro-finance side things are running better than ever.  We have added two new groups in as many months and have one new group that just began forming this week.  Bringing Paty on board this month has been a huge blessing to the program.  Instead of just diving into the middle of things (which is where she already was) she decided to go back to the beginning and re-familiarize herself with all of our plans and practices regarding the loan groups which has led to some healthy questioning of our policies.  Abraham jumped right in this month and began the difficult process of becoming familiar with everything we do, every program we have and every person we work with so he can help make all of what the NGO does more holistic.  Sometimes we get bogged down with the details and mundane process of running a program that we can allow the spiritual side of our work to slide to the back burner.  Abraham’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.  One thing he did this month was plan and hold a seminar on motivation (a necessary topic for college students who just began a new semester) at Alas Peruanas, a university where we are making connections.  Pray for our directors as they learn to work together as a team, ministering to the city of Arequipa.

One last thing to mention and petition prayers for is our continuing education.  While on the field we are always learning.  Sometimes that learning happens through books or classes and sometimes (often) through trial and error.  In September Alfredo will begin a masters program from a university in Lima (via distance learning) in NGO management and I will begin an online program in international development from a university in England.  Our hope is that with further education we will be better equipped to serve the people of Arequipa to whom CUDA reaches out.