and God’s blessing to you during this holy season,
I celebrated this Christmas in the Church of the Annunciation in the campo. Again I brought presents for the children. It was beautiful experience.
Last month in November, I was in Massachusetts visiting churches and friends. I spent Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in two year.
Generally, my thanksgiving newsletter is my thank you letter for supporting this mission. But this year, since I was in the US, let me thank you now for your generosity. Your support has made the following projects possible:
1. Emmanuel Church, Roatán: The first year we designed and redesigned the church. The second year we laid the foundations and started the wall. This year we finished the walls and will start the roof. The process is slow, because we only build when we have the money. But, on the other hand, we will have no mortgage when we finish.
2. Good Shepherd Church, Sta Maria, El Paraíso. This year we finished the roof and the tower. We have installed bars for the windows. Now we must paint and finish the interior.
3. Zamorano Diocesan Retreat Center. The schematic design is finished and are raising money to build the meeting hall, as Phase One.
4. St. John Bilingual School. With help of Inscape Publico, our pro bono architects in Washington DC, we are in the process of building the school cafetería, which will serve as classroom until the rest of the school is finished.
5. And finally, the Ministry of Presence continues to help young people with their education, pay for medical bills, buy computers for college students, aid for those in desperate need. Please see the prayer requests below and pray for the people we are helping.
Also, if possible, please consider an end of the year donation, so that I may continue with God’s work here. (See link to the right.)
When I was living in Copan Ruinas, I met a retired Canadian in his seventies, who was travelling throughout Central America to avoid the northern winters. We used to sit at the coffee shop overlooking the central square watching the people. What especially moved him were the mothers with their children. “Look at that little boy!” he would say. “See how he holds his mother’s hand. See how she loves him.”
It was simple observation, yet very true and beautiful. See how she loves him.
It is the image of Mary and the baby Jesus as well. Mary holds Jesus tightly in her arms, full of love for her new born child. See how she loves him.
And as we are created in God’s image, it also reflects God’s love for us. The special love that only a mother can give. See how she loves him. See how God loves us.
I was given a book, Good Goats by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn (1). It was written for people, who struggle believing that God really loves them. It is for people, who feel that they are never good enough and God is always judgemental and demanding.
Dennis Linn tells the story of his friend Hilda, who came to him for counselling about her son. He had just tried to commit suicide, after being involved in crime, drugs and prostitution.
Dennis asked her, as they sat together, to imagine that her son had died. The scene was the judgement throne of God. Hilda was there, too, as her son came in.
“How does your son feel?” Dennis asked.
“He feels so lonely and empty,” Hilda replied.
“And what do you want to do?”
“I want to throw my arms around my son.” She began to cry, as she imagined herself holding her son tightly.
When she finished crying, Dennis asked her, “What does God want to do?” And God stepped down from the throne, just as Hilda did. He embraced her son. All three of them cried together.
After that session, Dennis wrote: “I was stunned. What Hilda taught me in those few minutes is the bottom line of healthy Christian spirituality. God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most.”
See how she loves him.
(1) Linn Dennis, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn
Good Goats: Healing our Image of God, Paulist Press
Mahwah New Jersey, 1993
The authors are therapists and retreat leaders. Matthew Linn
is also a Jesuit. Together they are authors of twelve books
This year we had a suprise gift from Paloma Lee, 12 years old, from Hamilton-Wenham, Massachusetts. She sent the Ministry of Presence a donation for $200.00, money raised herself in a yardsale.
That money went to help Erica Lopez, 15 years old, from Church of the Annunciation in Rincón de Dolores, near Tegucigalpa. She is finishing a one year program in cosmetology. With this new skill, Erica wants to be able to support her family and to earn more money for an advanced education.
Erica, like so many young Hondurans, is eager to improve herself by developing marketable skills and pursuing further studies. Erica comes from a poor family, consisting of only her mother and four siblings. Like many families, they can only survive, if all members contribute. Erica want to be able to do her part, as well.
If you would like to support a young Honduran with a scholarship, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Years ago, while still working for IBM, someone told me I was not “evangelical enough.” Startled, I vigorously defended my efforts to share the good news. Later I realized this person actually meant I was not enough of an Evangelical. As a cradle Episcopalian, I vigorously agreed!
I have been in Honduras for almost 5 years. I have spent time with many Evangelicals, with a capital E, members of the Evangelical Movement in the US. The Episcopal liturgical tradition feeds my soul yet I have come to see that aspects of the Evangelical tradition enrich my own prayer and worship. I love all the “capital letters” who come down. We have Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Non-denominationals. I learn something from each of them.
I recently watched the movie, He Named Me Malala. I consider Malala to be a representative of the true Islam. I am inspired by Malala, 17 year old Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and her father. Their peaceful and forgiving spirit, born out of their faith, is beautiful and an example for us all. Malala, shot in the face for simply going to school, has never had one “quark of anger.” Imagine. I heard her in an interview say that if threatened again, she would throw her shoe at the attackers!
I am saddened when we focus on the differences between us, whether it is which Christian capital letter one is, which political party one chooses, or which religion one practices. It grieves my heart to hear people judging who is “in” (heaven) and who is “out.” Can we really say that Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and Malala are “out?” Can people of other faiths say that Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Suzy McCall are “out?” For Christians, Jesus was very clear about division of responsibilities. He judges, we love. In the midst of our differences, we have one thing in common. We are all trying to be faithful. So, I am content to let the Lord sort things out in His time.
It seems to me, aspects of other religions may enrich our own faith and lives. For me, I aspire to have the love and forgiveness for my enemies that young Malala already has. Buddhists have much to teach me about meditation and reflection. Hindus can show me how to see God in every living thing.
Hermanos y hermanas in Christ, let us not pat ourselves on the backs when we are so “tolerant” of differences. Instead, let us embrace differences! Let us open our hearts and minds to all that is beautiful no matter what the source. Truth is truth, beauty is beauty. Most of all, let us seek God in each other and love one another as He loves us!
Feliz Navidad! May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas!
I have been meditating on a prayer in a book of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, and thought I might use it as a framework for this newsletter. As we have come to the end of our first semester and, indeed, nearly the end of 2015, my mood is more contemplative and reflective as I look back over all the many things that have happened since we started back in August.
Sovereign God, Thy cause, not my own, engages my heart, and I appeal to Thee with greatest freedom to set up Thy kingdom in every place where Satan reigns; Glorify Thyself and I shall rejoice, for to bring honour to Thy name is my sole desire.
Four years ago, as we began to sense the Lord’s gentle yet persuasive tug on our hearts to return to the foreign mission field, we surrendered ourselves to His will to go wherever He sent us, asking only to be sent where no one else wanted to go. Gambella was the answer to our prayers. Not only do we now see the wisdom in our Lord’s sovereign decision to send us here rather than to any of the other very needy places in His world, but we also see His heart. Gambella is a place on the periphery…the people who live here live very much in the margins and have, for the most part, been forgotten and neglected. We see this especially in the field of education. While many have certificates and diplomas the evidence of what their papers declare is lacking. If children actually do go to school they receive a substandard education in comparison with the rest of the country. As far as the church is concerned, Satan has used this to his advantage as lack of proper theological training has resulted in either a continuation of traditional practices or some or other form of syncretism. The Christians here recognised this and asked for a Theological College…this year has been a year of fulfilment of that request.
I adore Thee that Thou art God, and long that others should know it, feel it, and rejoice in it. O that (people) might love and praise Thee, that Thou mightiest have all glory from the intelligent world! Let sinners be brought to Thee for Thy dear name!
But the College is not here simply to educate…it is here to bring glory to God. It is here because we are jealous for God’s Name and desire to see all in the Gambella People’s Region come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So we teach some in order that they might teach many. To this end we have built into our curriculum a Field Education Program in which our students are required to use what they have learned in class to teach in their respective churches. But more than that. We also have a Spiritual Development Program and a Servant Leadership Program in which students are trained in the disciplines of the Christian walk…Bible reading, study, meditation, memorization, prayer, and service of others. We desire to see our students not just talk the walk, but walk the walk in the Spirit.
To the eye of reason everything respecting the conversion of others is as dark as midnight, but Thou can accomplish great things; the cause is Thine, and it is to Thy glory that (people) should be saved.
There is little we can teach our students about evangelism…in an oral culture, sharing good news is as natural as breathing…so the news of free salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’s finished work spreads like wild fire, and people are responding by the hundreds! This is the work of the Holy Spirit and we rejoice in it. To our Lord, these people are precious and most certainly not in the margins of His book! Reason alone fails to explain the phenomenal growth of the Anglican Church in this area…this is His cause, not ours. He is moving and we are simply following in His wake.
Lord, use me as Thou wilt, do with me what Thou wilt; but, O, promote Thy cause, let Thy kingdom come, let Thy blessed interest be advanced in this world! O do Thou bring in great numbers to Jesus! Let me see that glorious day, and give me to grasp for the multitudes of souls; let me be willing to die to that end; and while I live let me labour for Thee to the utmost of my strength, spending time profitably in this work, both in health and in weakness.
Living in Gambella makes one very aware of the frailty of human life. Death is commonplace here and the reality of our own mortality is clear. Everything in this world is transitory and temporary. We are not owners here. But this realization spurs us on to be used by our Lord to share life in a kingdom that cannot be shaken by war or by disease…the urgency to preach the Gospel here is pressing. For many, tomorrow will never come. The deepest desire of our hearts is to see the people of Gambella among the multitudes around our Lord’s throne of mercy and grace for eternity and so this part of the prayer is especially meaningful to us.
It is Thy cause and kingdom I long for, not my own. O, answer Thou my request!
If we came to Gambella out of a sense of moral duty we are doomed to fail. Life is hard here. Those who have come to visit us, even for a short space of time, can testify to this. But we are not here for ourselves, nor are we here even for the people – no, rather we are here for God and His cause and it is this that keeps us here. Everything we have done since coming to Gambella is for the sake of His kingdom, as that is all that is worth living for as that is all that is real and eternal. God loved His world enough to send His only Son to die for it. That is what Christmas is all about and that is what our work in Gambella is all about. His cause…His Kingdom…His glory.
We are truly grateful for each of our partners in this ministry. We know that it is His cause that motivates you to support us and we praise Him for that. May His Spirit continue to work in and through us all to bring His kingdom to bear upon every place where souls remain imprisoned.
Louise and I will be in South Africa visiting with her mum and family and also one of our children and our grandchildren for the rest of December and part of January. This will also be a time for reflection and evaluation for me as far as the College is concerned. I have applied for Affiliate Status with ACTEA (The Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa) and have to work on our application as well.
Give thanks with us for the safe delivery of our third grandchild, Amelia Rose.
Give thanks with us for the successful and blessed completion of our first semester.
Pray with us as we reflect on our work over the past year, for wisdom to know how to shape the curriculum in the future, and for humility to discard our “bright ideas” for His better ones!
Much love and tons of blessings.
Johann and Louise
 The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, Bennet, Arthur Ed, The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1975.