Saturday, September 16, 2017

Holly the Wonder Dog

A dear faithful friend of mine died yesterday. She was elderly; we knew it was coming, but it is never easy when the family dog, the most faithful of friends, breathes that last breath.
It was Christmas 2003 when my parents came to visit us in the Dom. Rep. Alexander, 8 years old at the time went to my mother with literal "puppy dog eyes" and said, "Mamaw will you buy me a puppy for Christmas because I know my mommy wont buy me one." Mamaw decided without even blinking an eye that Alexander MUST get a puppy for Christmas. Of course I wasn't in favor of the idea but there was no stopping her. The boys were getting a puppy. We found her in a sketchy little corner barrio in Santo Domingo. She was already 3 months old, so I insisted that we see some younger puppies. The owner was able to get puppies from somewhere nearby but when they came, she was so jealous of those puppies, barking as if to say "But I chose you, I'm your puppy, not those babies!" It was over; she won our hearts!
We named her Holly because she was our Christmas present. The boys adored her. I wasn't a fan. She barked at everyone who came to the door, and every sound on the outside. She would bite anyone who seemed like they would threaten her boys. And she ran off when ever we opened the door! Usually, that was as we were running out the door for church or school. It made me livid!!! I could not stand that dog! Then one day she got out as we were trying to go to church and a little kid was playing outside, and with her idea that she must protect her boys, she bit at the ankle of one of the kids. The parents were so mad at me for letting the dog out. I was embarrassed.Nelson was out of town and so we talked about it over the phone. It had become such a problem that we were concerned about our testimony in the neighborhood. So I gathered the boys together and explained that we had to get rid of her. Alexander, looked at me with tears in his eyes and responded "So mommy if I mess up and make mistakes are you going to get rid of me too?" His question broke my heart. Grace was extended, and somehow Holly began to win me over.

Most likely it was because she began to be a pretty amazing dog! She killed the rats, mice, snakes and tarantula that were a terrible menaces in the DR. I started to call her Holly the Wonder Dog and she became part of the family. She even learned to sing! She and I would sing together and she had this amazing ability to match the pitch of a note that I was singing. She also hated when we traveled. She would get inside our suitcases as if today "Why don't you take me with you?"
When Troy went off to college, she missed him terribly. We would say "Where's Troy boy, Holly? WHere is he?" She would look up at us with a puzzled face and then she would search profusely for him sniffing every nook and cranny of the house, hoping to track him down.
Still, our Dominican dachshund got to travel more than most dogs when we brought her with us to live here in Texas. I always felt bad that her quality of life kinda went down coming here. There were no more rats to chase and kill, no sounds from the outside in our closed up home. No maid to be her companion by day. Still, she deserved to get old, fat, and incredibly lazy these past few years. She had been an amazing and faithful friend.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Delight in the Differences

The tragedy in Charlottesville headlines news reports and social media on this Sunday morning. Many churches are addressing the evil of prejudice and hatred, and we pray against this demonic force of division that threatens the beautiful, diverse United States of American, this nation that was founded by immigrants and traditionally welcomes the refugee.

On this 13th day of August, in the middle of news of the Charlottesville  tragedy, God in his divine and sovereign plan connected us to an opportunity to preach in a church of refugees from the Congo. The church was planted by a Pentecostal pastor and his family who themselves were the victims of a genocide in the Congo. As a result of the genocide they fled to Burundi and while in Burundi on the 13 of August in 2004, This family and many others in the church suffered a horrible tragedy that today is known as the massacre of Gatumba. One of the survivors of the massacre, who was just a young girl at that time, is now our student at SAGU.

And while I have never been to the Congo of Africa, it was a dream come true for me to worship with my African brothers and sisters. Though our languages were different, the music was different, and we were the only white people in that church, we were united in love for Jesus and love for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And that kind of love makes all the differences seem insignificant. In fact, that kind of love makes the differences a delight.

The music was different but oh what a delight! I couldn’t understand the words but I could understand the praise!!! The children sang and danced after they took the offering and little by little the women and men joined the dance at that front of the church. It was a “running in place” dance and oh what JOY! The people whistled and shouted out with a kind of yodel shout. It was glorious. And then the Pastor invited Nelson and I to dance with the people, without hesitation, we joined the dance. As soon as we began dancing,  the rest of the congregation pulled out their cellphones to record the visiting missionaries dancing the African dance.

After church we went together to eat an authentic Bayamulengue food, the food was different but oh what a wonderful delight! We shared stories and testimonies of God’s love an favor as we ate together.

And while it was our hope that our ministry was a blessing to the church, we were blessed so much more. There was the offering placed in Nelson’s hand by a young man, a refugee from Burundi. He said “I was so blessed by the message of God from a man of God and  and so I wanted to bless you.” Brother Joseph came the pulpit and said, I am praying that my children will be missionaries. I want to send my daughter Sarah to SAGU, so she can be a missionary. And I am so thankful for this missionaries to come here and bless us that I am going to put gas in their car for their trip! And just when I thought we couldn’t be more blessed the Pastor’s wife gave me the most beautiful African dress that fit me perfectly! Giving only produces more giving. Our cups are over flowing. 

And all the while I am in awe that God would weave my life into this story of redemption and grace on the anniversary of a massacre. I am in awe that God is always on mission even in our messes, in our tragedies, he is always at work weaving a redeeming our story. And as prayers are lifted from pulpits across our country, I can’t help but be filled with hope that once again God is on mission redeeming a tragedy.

There is such delight in the differences and once you have sat at the table and eat foofoo and beneit, you are forever addicted to living life in the differences. There is nothing better. My life is fuller and richer because of the differences.

And God invites us to play a part of his redeeming work. I am so glad that today God gave me the opportunity to worship with people so different from me. I am so grateful that he is weaving me into this story one connection at a time.


Still, my heart grieves that the same country that rescued and welcomed this Buyamulengue family after their tragedy, can also be home to people who reject that beauty of our diversity. Lord, have mercy on the United States of America and redeem our story once again. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Light on the Path Evangelical Church



The little pink church has its name painted in red on the front wall “The Light on the Path Evangelical Church.” Hidden in the back parts of the Central mountain range where the people live in shacks scattered in the countryside, on that path traveled mostly by donkeys and motorcycles, the little pink church makes its great aspiration; to be a light on the path. 

I smile to myself because I know that “The Light on the Path Evangelical Church” (TLOPEC) probably only has electricity for just a few hours a day. So while the saints are gathered and the electricity goes out, the praises are sung all the louder. I know this because this is how it works in church, here on our island, with the all-too-common power outages. The fact is that the Dominican power company cannot “turn off” the light of the Gospel.

Yet I am inspired by the TLOPEC church. With so little resources, why should they even bother? As paltry and pathetic as this little church seems, I can see a dream alive! At least they are getting a few people together, at least they are worshiping, at least in the midst of the darkness of poverty, the The Light on the Path Evangelical Church decided that they would sing together when the power goes out. 

Still, the TLOPEC church is a great metaphor for what it really means to be a church, to be that which Jesus shed his precious blood for. It seems like sometimes our great aspirations are dwarfed by our actual accomplishments. How easily we sneer at the church today. Love God? They can’t even paint. Spread the saving message to the World? They can’t even spell. (yes there are a few typos on the walls) Yet, I see so much beauty, wonder, grace and even genius in what it means to bring people together into a humble community of faith, where they need each other and where together they need God. 

And how many dreams and aspirations are hidden in darkness because we are waiting for resources, or excellence, or perfection? Surely, I understand the need for quality, but I wonder how often our lofty ideals for a glitzy and glamorous presentation extinguish just plain being a light; right where we are, on a path traveled by donkeys and motorcycles. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Unsung Heroes



When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Amy Grant. Seriously. I used to sing with the hairbrush and imagine the lights and the crowd. Of course, it was a righteous dream; I was planning to sing for Jesus.

I put a lot into singing as a child and teenager. I took voice lessons and learned to sing operas. However, that was not the path that God had in mind. Little did I know that his plans for me would be taking me to sing on dirt road paths in hidden places in small little churches with tin roofs, dirt floors and wooden benches. In the end, I think I got a better gig than Amy Grant. What JOY to see Jesus and his work in the small, hidden places.

And as missionaries on this little island I have met so many Unsung Heroes. Some of them built a small classroom for our missions students in the DR. It isn’t state of the art but we made sure that there was room for the black board and maybe even a projector.

And I watched those walls go up and I thought of all the world changers that would sit in that room. I could just imagine their Great Commision dreams being formed in that little classroom. Some of them will reach the Muslim world, some will go to jungles, some may plant underground churches in China. And they will be unsung Heroes, no one will know their name. But oh the names that will be in the book of Life!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Mother on the Metro

Stories from our Cairo adventures.

The best way to describe our first experience as a team of 10 getting on the Cairo metro is to relate it with your idea of trains in India. People are packed in like sardines and the challenge is in the exchange of people getting on and people getting off, and doing this before the doors close and the train moves on.

We entered the metro ready to squeeze 10 people together on the same car. This was unrealistic since the cars were packed. So Nelson rushed to a car that was further, and I followed, until our leader said, “Not this car!” So I obediently followed Nan, one of our group,  onto another car. Nelson made it to the far car without me, and I made it with Nan, but Adam was literally pushed off of the metro by an older man that was not about to be squished. The doors closed and it was just me and Nan sandwiched in with a car full of men. (Our team was riding together on the mens car. ) Nan knew that we had two stops and then we needed to get off. It was a little intimidating but we felt secure together and after all,  it was only two stops!  We also knew that we would need to wait for our leader because he did not make it on that car.

However, The situation was a little "hair-raising" in that car of men. The older gentleman was not happy about being squished like a sardine. So when we got to the first stop he began to yell at the passengers getting on. He was angry! Yelling in Arabic, one of the men who had jumped on responded back to him. An argument ensued and each one needed to have the last word. One man tried to calm the angry guy down but there was no stopping him. He just kept yelling getting angrier and angrier.

Nan and I were just a little overwhelmed but reassured by the thought that we would be off at the next stop. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. Then we came to the stop. Whew!

We reunited with the group and went on to the next train. This train was not so crowded but we still had to stand. I ended up standing next to a woman who was seated with her small son and baby nursing on her lap. I smiled at the little boy and his mother, trying to make a connection. The mother looked at me with lifeless eyes. She was obviously poor, perhaps even a beggar but she did not beg from us.

The baby was over dressed and must have been so hot. He stopped nursing and was squirming a little on her lap. The little boy was agitated too because he didn’t have enough room to sit. Then suddenly the man sitting next to the mother insisted that I take his seat next to the mother. I refused at first, wanting to offer it to someone else, but he was insistent. So I sat down, and then I noticed that the baby was falling from the mother’s lap. The little boy tried to help, but the baby was hard for him to handle. I gladly took the baby in my arms to help. However the baby was so upset and really wanted his mama. So I tried to place him back in his mother’s arms but she was unresponsive. She stared blankly and her body was stiff. I wondered if she was having a seizure. We had a nurse on our team and so Sheila went immediately to her side, but she didn’t seem to know what was going on. The only other explanation was spiritual. Perhaps there was something demonic going on with the woman. We began to pray and I grabbed water bottle from a team member to share with the baby. The baby gulped the water and settled down.

Then one of the men on the train rushed over to help. He began screaming in the woman’s face. Another woman came as well. The woman tried to get the man to stop screaming, but he insisted. Our leader said she was telling the man that it could be a medical problem. However the man recognized it as spiritual. He called it a Jin. and then he turned to a man behind him that had a Quran. They began reciting stuff out of the Quran and yelling in her face. With every recitation she became more stiff. Yet we saw tears falling from her eyes and running down her face. He turned around and we began praying and speaking in tongues under our breath. Every time he turned,  I looked the mother in the eye and I said “Jesus!” She would soften. Her eyes would respond. This went on for a while. The man would check the Quran and I would get near her with the baby and say Jesus. I spoke Jesus over the baby. I spoke it to the woman. And every time she would soften. He would return and she would stiffen. Finally, he was giving up and got out of her face.  We all kept praying. Something released and she put her hands on her face and screamed.

Once the was responding I quickly handed her the baby. She held her babies close and cried. We just kept praying. Someone handed her water bottles, but she refused them. This never made sense to me. We were getting near our stop.  It was one of the many moments I have struggled with leaving a baby, wondering about the future of that little one, when everything within me wants to keep the baby!

We walked off the car and I knew that this was a divine appointment. The Lord had arranged it all. God as always, on mission, and giving us amazing opportunities to join him, to represent him and to be his hands and feet.

And I knew that moment was for Jesus to use my arms to hold that baby. My voice to speak his name in the face of that desperate woman. However, It was not a moment just for me to experience, it was a moment for Jesus to take on flesh in that metro car. It was a moment for His name to be exalted and powerful in the face of evil. It was God on mission and incredibly he chose me to join Him.

To think that we would not have met that woman had our leader not been pushed off that metro car. I know that woman will never forget that moment. It has to be inscribed in her memory banks. and I believe that a seed was planted, something was happening and I cannot wait for heaven when I will see the results. Yet while we may not know the rest of the story there is one thing remains incredibly clear. The power in the name of Jesus!

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

With Jesus, Java, and John 9

With Jesus, some Java, in John chapter 9. 

I am with the disciples walking by the man born blind from birth. The natural reaction might be to pass and avoid the disabled. But not Jesus. He is supernatural. So here is a man is that is blind, but Jesus sees him.

And just like the disciples, I want to know the cause of suffering. This man is blind from birth. It was no accident that caused his sight to be taken. He was born this way. So we need an answer here. What caused this disability?

And Jesus answers our questions but his answer is not in the same category. The explanation for this man's blindness is not found in looking for a cause but it is found by looking for the purpose. Verse 4:
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (ESV)
Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. (MSG)

And all the while I have been asking Why? Why God? Why the suffering? Why so many disabled? Why don’t you heal them? Why the poverty? Why the disasters? And I have missed looking for what God can do. I have missed purpose.

And Jesus heals this man. But he doesn’t heal Paul with the thorn in the flesh and yet the thorn had purpose too. Healing or hurting. Cured or captive. Pain or pleasure. The point is not in the rescue. The point is the purpose.

I usually beg God for the rescue but what if I prayed for the purpose. What if I asked God SO THAT his works could be put on display, whatever that looks like?

And I think of my friend Laura* who so desperately wanted to walk, even run and her body was just crippled. Her legs are lame. Her mind is captive. But there is no doubt that Laura* lives with a tremendous purpose. There was that day when she told me in her slow speech that required so much energy, “I want to talk to you.’ And we sat by the lake with the beautiful Wisconsin breeze blowing on our faces and we looked eye to eye. And I saw Laura* with all her beautiful purpose mixed with suffering, hardship and affliction. I really saw her. I could see her soul. And Laura* saw me. She could see my soul too. And she said the most beautiful words ever. Laura* spoke the words but in reality I heard my Savior.

“Ms. Rennae, I'm never, ever gonna stop loving you.”

And that kind of love came from a beautiful crippled body with an enormous purpose.
*name changed.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Seeing Jesus in Brazil


I told everyone that I was going to Brazil to see my son get married and then I was going to see Jesus. So as we entered into Rio, we immediately began to search every mountain top, hoping to catch a glimpse of  Him.  This beautiful city with the mix of mountains and beach is absolutely stunning. The Brazilians say that it took God 7 days to create the world but on the 8th day he created Rio de Janeiro. And on one of these magnificent mountain tops stands one of the 7 wonders of the modern world; the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

We spent a couple of days sight seeing in Rio, taking the cable car to the Sugar Loaf mountain and there in the distance we saw Him. What a sight! It was a cloudy day and the clouds hovered over the statue and at times it looked as if Jesus was standing on the clouds. I thought of Jesus coming back for me appearing in the clouds.

The very next day, with a beautiful clear sky of blue, we ascended the Corcovado mountain to see Jesus. We arrived on the mountain top with hundreds of tourists from all over the world. We heard the languages of the world there at the feet of my Savior. And while the statue is just a lifeless representation conceived in the imagination of a man, I wondered about the significance of the statue for the people that stood with me with cameras and selfie sticks snapping pictures of themselves mimicking the Christ with outstretched arms.

For me, seeing Jesus in Brazil would be so much more than my visit to the top of Corcovado mountain. I would see Jesus in my new family; Izolis and Manasses, the parents of our new daughter in law Sameah. Izolis loves children and everywhere I went with her there were kids running up to greet her with hugs. She started a school in the ghetto of her neighborhood that now reaches over 400 kids for Jesus. Manasses, Sameah’s father is an Old Testament scholar. His love for the word of God, the church and people was so impressive and another way that I would “see Jesus” in Brazil.

I saw Jesus in Brazil in the church. There were churches on every corner and I would often hear the music flowing out into the streets and the people gathered for worship. I saw Jesus in my friend Everly as she shared her love and passion for the children of her church. I saw Jesus in the beauty salon as we got ready for the wedding!  Josie, a sister from the church and my hairstylist introduced her talented family to me. We ended up gathering together we singing songs of worship while my hair was getting fixed. While Josie’s husband and son played guitar, we would sing “Alleluia for the Lord God Almighty reigns.” in a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish and English. As we sang, there in the beauty shop, Jesus was larger to me than any earthly representation of his likeness.

And I saw Jesus as I watched my son gazing upon his bride as she walked down the aisle. While everyone was snapping pictures of the bride, I was taking a picture of the groom, my first born son. I wanted to catch his expression. I saw his eyes were twinkling with awe at his first glimpse of his beautiful bride. And I thought of my living, death-conquering Jesus on that day when he first sees His bride, the Church. Perhaps more significant and magnificent than the soapstone statue on top of he Corcovado mountain was seeing Jesus in the eyes of these two young lovers on the day of their wedding.

While I was seeing Jesus everywhere in Brazil, I wonder how many live in that marvelous city of Rio only know Jesus as a lifeless statue that attracts tourists. I wonder how many get up each morning and rarely even raise their eyes to look at him on that mountain because he is no more than an icon to them?  Jesus as a statue is nice to see, but honestly, after you take a few pictures, the wonder begins to fade. But when you see Jesus represented in the beauty of his people, his Church, there is an awe that cannot be captured with a cellphone and a selfie stick.

On the day of that the Cristo Redentor statue was dedicated, way back in 1931,  the cardinal spoke these words of proclamation for the people of Brazil “Christ wins! Christ reigns! Christ keep Brazil from all evil! “ Now as I leave the beautiful country and people of Brazil, I pray for the people of Brazil and especially Rio de Janeiro. I pray that they will not just see the statue of Jesus, but that they will see Him like I saw him in the beauty and love of His people.  It is a shame that we often misrepresent who Jesus really is. I am praying for the Church in Brazil today to be an adequate representation of Christ the Redeemer. Without a doubt Jesus is at work in Brazil. I know it! Because I really did see Jesus in Brazil.