In the Baptism liturgy for my denomination, there is a prayer I just love for the baptismal candidate:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.
My favorite part is when we pray for “the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” I imagine the wise men experienced that joy and wonder when they had their epiphany – the tiny baby Jesus, bringer of joy and wonder to the world!
Leafy Sea Dragon
I am also reminded of construction worker, Angel’s, answer when a team member asked how he knows there is a God. “The sun comes up!” God’s creation is filled with constant joy and wonder, if we pay attention. We open our eyes to see a myriad of beautiful flowers, the ever changing sky, the magnificence of the stars and galaxies, wacky fish in the ocean, the majestic mountain ranges, and on and on.
I have thought a lot about our two newest lambs, Daniel and Isaac, abandoned at birth. They have no idea what their lives could have been. Thanks be to God, instead their lives are filled with joy and wonder. All they know is love. These tiny babies are also are bringers of joy to all who encounter them. Can you see this picture without breaking into a smile?
Every once in a while Suzy will give me some advice: “Don’t let [situation/person] steal your joy. Her message is that joy isn’t the same as happiness. Happiness is fleeting, situational, tied to a moment in time. Joy is bigger, broader than that. It is more a state of being, a gift from God that we choose to accept…or not. Jesus doesn’t promise happiness all the time, instead He promises to remain at our side through good times and bad. More important, He invites us to follow Him into a life of love, joy and wonder…eternally.
Some people choose to live a life filled with joy and wonder in spite of circumstance. I recently met and wrote about Doña Santos. (Gracias Papa) She lives as hard a life as just about anyone. She and her family survive by digging through the dumpster along the side of the road. It is generous to call where they live a “hut.” It is really scraps of wood crudely nailed together against the side of a cliff. No electricity, no water, plenty of gaps for wind and rain to flow through. And yet, Doña Santos and her family choose to live lives of gratitude and joy. For her, like us, the holidays are a time to celebrate, to decorate, and to bring the joy of Christmas into our homes.
Despite the hardships of her life, her home is transformed into a place of beauty and celebration to share with all who pass by. She chooses joy and brings joy who pay attention.
What you’re searching for, you already know. God has blessed us with this amazing life, with eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to discern, and a heart in which to perceive the living presence of God in our midst.
My prayer for you this Epiphany and this year is that God will give you an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love Him, and the gift of joy and wonder in all His works.Amen.
One of my favorite songs is called Alaba a Dios (Praise God.)
To me it is exemplifies the Honduran faith. It is about praising God no matter what.
Simply praise Him
If you’re crying, praise Him
when you’re tested, praise Him
you’re suffering, praise Him
no matter what, praise Him
He will listen to your praises
It goes on to encourage us:
God goes before you opening the way
breaking chains, removing thorns
He sends His angels to struggle alongside you
He opens doors no one can close.
A few weeks ago, I was reflecting on the words, “He opens doors no one can close” when suddenly they struck me a new way. I had always thought about God giving us opportunities, new hope when, perhaps, a door in our lives had closed. I realized that they have another meaning and fear flooded my heart. He opens doors in our hearts that no one, not even us, can close. I knew exactly where He was leading with this new interpretation and I was not sure I wanted to follow. Really, for the first time since I have lived here, I was afraid. Not for my physical safety but, instead, for my heart.
You see, for almost 7 years I have driven the road to the Children’s Home countless times. Every time I look at a ramshackle hut built into the side of a cliff. A mass of garbage bags line the front filled with recovered trash from the dumpster in hopes of selling it for pennies to support whoever lives in there. I have often tried to imagine what life is like in there. The rain streams in through the gaps and holes in the roof and walls. Cold wind howls through them at night. Each time I wonder, “who lives there?”
Over the last few months, I have felt more than curiosity. I have felt drawn there as the van zooms by. I couldn’t stop thinking about the people and worrying about whether they have enough, or anything, to eat. Each trip past it, the feeling grew more urgent. But what could I do? I didn’t know who lived there. How many people live there? It could be one family or many families. How would I know how much food to bring? What kind of people are they? Violent men? Gang members? I would have to go with a Honduran man, I decided, IF I went at all. Most of all, I feared that if I made contact with the people who live there, they would move into my heart. The Lord would open a door that I would not be able to close. It wasn’t just about money. Food is expensive here but I figured anything I could do would help. It was more than the time it would require to shop for and deliver food. My real fear was capacity. Does my heart have room for more people? Why are you asking this of me, Lord?
On the last Saturday of October, I took the last team of the year to the airport. It had been a great week and they were filled with joy. Joy turned to dismay as we heard the announcement. All flights in and out of Tegucigalpa were cancelled due to bad weather. They were rebooked on flights leaving Tuesday! We returned to Casa LAMB in varying stages of panic. (“What in the world am I doing to do with them until Tuesday,” I thought. I had not prepared 2.5 days of extra activities!)
Suzy called and offered to come to Casa LAMB on Sunday and have a church service since the children were going to a different church. It was intimate and lovely. After the service was over, I felt a spiritual nudge and found myself saying, “Do you remember that awful hut on the side of the road? How would you feel about taking some food to them?” The team’s eyes brightened! It turns out the Lord had placed the same thing on their hearts and provided reinforcements for me, giving me the courage I needed. We went to PriceSmart and loaded up with rice,beans, flour, sugar and more. Luis, our driver, pulled over by the hut and got out of the van with us. There was a teenage boy standing in front of the hut. “Hola!” We brought food for your family!” He called for his mother. A
tiny woman stepped gingerly across the plywood bridging the gutter between the
hut and the road.She has no teeth, was
dressed in filthy clothes, and thin as a rail. She looked at us puzzled. “Hola!We brought food for your
family.”She looked at her son, “God
brought these gringitos to help us.”She
explained, “We had no breakfast this morning.”She broke into a broad grin as her sons took
the food inside.We introduced ourselves
and she replied, “My name is Doña Santos.”
Yep, the door in my heart was opened. I promised I would come back with more food. This afternoon, I stopped by again with Suzy and Kristen, a visiting friend of Suzy’s. When Doña Santos saw us, she recognized us, raised her arms to heaven and looked up and said, “Gracias, Papa!”
This door in my heart is not closing and that’s ok because when God opens it, He makes your heart bigger. Gracias, Papa.
In Honduras it is very common for extended families to share
the same home. For the poor, this means
many people squeezing into a very small house.
A family of five may share one bedroom in a two bedroom house. Often there are multiple generations sharing
the small home.A sheet hung from the
ceiling provides the only privacy for intimacy for a married couple.There
is no room to move around or space to be alone for a few minutes each day.
Our collaboration with Torch Ministries has given Suzy and I the
opportunity to provide a home for some of the people we know and dearly
love. Suzy and I have a
mental list of people who need a house. Earlier
this summer, the Holy Cross team built a “house in a day” for Virgilio, who helps Suzy with
her yard. “Virgilio is a new man,” Suzy said recently.
Two weeks before Christ Church
Anglican in Overland Park Kansas was to arrive, Karen, the team leader said
they would like to build a house in a day if possible. “Great!”
I answered, “Ariel is next on the list.” (We had built a house in a day for his brother, Jose Luis. Ariel told me then, two years ago, he would like one too.) Christ Church knows
and loves Ariel so it was a done deal. When I told Ariel he smiled and
strode forward ahead of me. It seemed like a muted response but I could
tell his excitement was growing the closer we got to the day as he asked more
questions to verify we were actually going to do this, made sure the team had
arrived and even called in the morning before we left Casa LAMB to check once
again that this was happening.
Early Monday morning, we met the Torch team on the way to
Ariel’s lot. We drove as far as we could
and then walked down a dirt road, over a footbridge and up a hill to the site
of his future home. Of course, we had to
haul all the tools, wood, roofing material, lunch, and water with us. Each house is 16×16, wood with a raised wood
floor, tin roof, a door and one window. The
Torch team builds about 100 houses a year. They got right to it, digging the post holes and measuring out the dimensions off the house. They agreed upon the placement of the door and window with Ariel. The Christ Church team figured out quickly how they could help. Jose Luis and Angel both came to help, sacrificing a day’s work. Of course, Ariel grabbed a hammer right away! Soon the framing was done and the teams were hammering away at the floor and walls.
The building site
Meanwhile, his brother and co-worker, Jose Luis, took me on
a tour of the area. “Our family lives in
all these houses. That one is my sister’s. That one up there is my uncle’s.” He invited me to visit the house in a day
Torch built for him a couple of years ago, straight up the mountain. He proudly showed me the improvements he had
made and his plans for expansion one day.
I explained to him that in the US people pay big bucks to have a view
like he has! It was there he shared with
me how he became a Christian. (Read his story here.) When he was 19 a friend invited him to
church. The pastor was preaching and
suddenly he got chills and felt “filled.”
He came forward and said to the pastor, “I accept Jesus.” At that moment, Jose Luis, who never had a
relationship with his father, heard a voice, “I love you. I am your father.”
As we were walking back down to the build site, Jose Luis
asked me if I knew about Ariel’s situation.
I didn’t. Ariel has been living with his 2 sisters. The landlord is evicting them. They have until right before Christmas to
move out. The sisters have a place to go
but Ariel didn’t. Unbeknownst to me,
this has been weighing on him heavily.
Making $13 a day, 4 days a week only when we have teams does not allow for any
savings. “Amanda, for Ariel this is a
miracle.” I believe his initial muted
response was the reaction to the unexpected answer to his prayers. Two years after his initial request and just in the nick of time, he was going to get a house.
We spent the next couple of hours building the house
together. More and more family members
and neighbors arrived to watch, smiling and sharing Ariel’s blessing. When the last board was nailed, the roof on, and the new
floor swept, we all gathered inside to inaugurate his home with prayer and
love. “It is so big!” he exclaimed. Angel sang, we all prayed, and
The extended family celebrating the new home
Ariel and the Christ Church team
Ariel’s response now?See for yourself.His smile went from ear to ear and his face
shone all day.The team retraced its
steps back to the van for the ride home, all filled with joy and walking lighter
knowing we had been part of Ariel’s miracle.
Jesus Christ, the Man for Others, We, your children, make our prayer: Give us grace to love as brothers All whose burdens we can share (From hymn Father, Lord of all Creation)
Bill Curry’s medical brigade was here last week. As always it was wonderful. Hundreds of people were seen by the US and Honduran doctors. They left with bags filled with meds we take for granted that are completely inaccessible to them – Tylenol, cough drops, tums, worm pills (well, OK, we don’t take them often in the US!) and more. Babies were held, children hugged, little old men proposed to (by me, much to the delight of the little old ladies present!) thousands of stickers stuck to hands and shirts, countless smiles exchanged. A great time was had by all.
In my blog I often write about events from the Northamerican point of view – what an experience meant to us/me. This time I want to present an event from a Honduran’s point of view, with some artistic license on my part…
“I got up early this morning. Yesterday was the anniversary of my daughter’s death. She would have been 28. I still look for her to walk in the door. I can hear her laugh. I think I see her out of the corner of my eye. I turn quickly to call out to her but she isn’t there. It breaks my heart all over again. With a heavy heart I put on my orange vest and grabbed my broom to go to work sweeping streets. I guess this government program is good, although it doesn’t pay much and often they don’t pay us for months. I don’t have any other work so every day I sweep and hope in the hot sun and driving rain. I heard about a clinic happening in a church. I stopped by to see a doctor. They gave me a number but it was at the end of a long line. I can’t be away from work that long. Just as I was about to leave, a woman called me to the door of the clinic and said, “Come in. We’ll take you right now.” I was surprised. I am used to being at the end of the line. Soon it was my turn to see the doctor. He smiled at me and said something in English that sounded nice. The Honduran lady translated everything he said. I was telling him about my aches and pains when suddenly my daughter came into my head. I couldn’t help myself and started to cry. I explained to them what had happened. The doctor stopped what he was doing and listened to me. I could see tears in his eyes. This northamerican doctor came from so far away to be in my little village and he stopped to listen to me. Then the lady from the door appeared and they all began to pray for me. They put their hands on me and prayed while I cried for my precious daughter. When we said amen, I felt different. As I stood to leave, the doctor hugged me. My clothes were so dirty and his were so clean but he hugged me. My heart still hurts for my daughter but I feel lighter somehow. I left with a bag full of medicine but so much more. Is this what Jesus meant when He said He will always be with us?”
While medicine happened last week, it was love that flowed through the clinics each day. From little Jenny who greeted us as the vans pulled into her impoverished village, to the elderly woman who made us the most delicious semitas (sweet buns), to Dr. Jill, the optometrist, who saw almost every one of the 618 patients, to all the local volunteers, to the brigade team who gave of their time, talent and treasure, to the patient who told Dr. Bill that an angel in heaven sent him to shoot cortizone (painfully) in her knee, to every person who gave God's blessing to one another, to the grandpas waiting for hours in the hot sun to bring their grandchildren to see a doctor, to the Honduran translators (including Suzy's daughters) who go so far above and beyond the call of duty, and finally to Dr. Bill who gave his shoes to a member of my airport family.
There is a common denominator in all the LAMB teams. They come laden with crates and suitcases full of meds, clothes, school supplies, games, etc. but Love is what they bring.
"God, through us your love make known"
(From hymn Father, Lord of all Creation)
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says over and over, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” Do you ever wonder what the kingdom of heaven is like in our world today?
Last week the kingdom of heaven was like the annual Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church (MPPC) employee luncheon held to celebrate the hard working staff at our Children’s Home. It is always lovely, something the staff looks forward to.
This year, however, was different. The morning started with a disaster as I learned that there had been a misunderstanding about the date and almost none of the staff was there. I was in a panic, wondering how I would tell the team. In a moment of lucidity, I prayed, “Lord, please redeem this day.” Staff members, Samuel and Oneyda, got on the phone to call the local staff members to return for lunch. I found Mengui and asked him to go with me to invite our neighbors to join us. We went door to door up the dirt road next to our property inviting them (at the last minute) to lunch. We had no idea if they would come or how many people would attend the lunch. Shelley, the team leader, was so gracious when I finally confessed the mix-up. “The right number of people will be here.”
At noon, the church porch was set up and we waited. The on-duty staff appeared. One by one the local staff returned. Just as I was about to give up on the neighbors I looked out and saw the family who live by the gate approaching, all dressed up! Pretty soon, all the neighbors were there and we had to get an extra table! (Thanks Debbie and Steve!) As always, it was a great event with good food (thanks, Judith!,) good service (thanks MPPC servers!,) lots of fun (thanks Mengui, Georgia, and Dawn for dancing!,) fellowship (thanks Solo Por Hoy band!,) and,worship (thanks, Holy Spirit!) My prayer for redemption had been answered!
The right number of people were there!
What made this year special was the inclusion of our neighbors. What started out as a last minute effort to fill the tables has become the beginning of a new tradition. My favorite part of the lunch was seeing how happy the neighbors were to be included in the LAMB family and how happy everyone was to be together:
When you get a group of Hondurans together, for what ever purpose, inevitably, worship breaks out. Mengui and Angel took charge and led the impromptu but beautiful worship.
Mengui invited people to come up and receive prayer. Bienvenido‘s (who died about a month ago) mother came up along with “Abuelita,” the grandmother who lives next to our gate. Abuelita got down on her knees to receive our laying on of hands and prayer.
This luncheon is what the kingdom of God looks like.
And it sounds like this as American voices from Holy Spirit, two weeks ago, mingled with Honduran voices:
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdomof heaven has come near.’