Dominican Reflections

I have decided that I am going to write three posts regarding my trip to the Dominican Republic. As I have written in a previous post, I have never experienced poverty like I have there. I have never experienced suffering, hurt, anger, frustration, and pain before like I have seen on the faces of those who live each and every day there. I can only sit and thank God for the many blessings I have been given and very rarely appreciate. This post will include my interaction with two people I have met. Each of their stories will include their picture, which I took. As you look at these pictures, I hope you to look at their faces and study the lines on their foreheads. Notice how they look and the smiles on their faces. I can honestly say that my heart was broken for these people because they have no hope of a brighter future – at least from our perspective. This will not be one of those type of commercials you see on TV – the commercials that try and get you to support a child, though I believe for those who are able, they should because it will bring you a sense of joy – this is not meant to hit that bone in your body. These are two stories about two people I met and my thoughts and my experiences after meeting them. Take this journey with me and experience these stories along with me. My challenge for us is to process these things and pray that God will show us something extraordinary through these voices from behind the walls of tourism. This is where our story begins.

The first woman I want you to meet is a woman who is in her mid forties. She is dark skinned and a little heavy set. When I met her, she was scrubbing a white, plastic chair with what appeared to be muddy water. When I asked her why she was scrubbing the chair, she just looked at me and smiled. In Spanish, she told me that it was almost time for dinner and she wanted her kids to sit on clean chairs. All the while, she continued to scrub the chair as if it was a fine piece of silver to be displayed. To see this woman’s devotion for something that we would consider cheap really hit me hard. To this woman, these two chairs represented something in her life that was important – a place for her two kids to sit at the dinner table. To us, they are simply another set of outdoor furniture that we collect and forget about almost immediately when we walk in the door. We would never really take the time to scrub them clean. Why would we waste our time doing something like that? If it breaks, it is no big deal. We can just reach in our pockets and buy another one without even blinking an eye. This woman couldn’t do that though. She could only afford these two so she really wanted to keep them nice and clean. I guess when you don’t have much, what you do have is more valuable to you. That was really significant to me. I guess the only logical question I have to ask myself now is what am I going to do about it? Am I going to continue to treat my “cheap stuff” as cheap stuff or am I going to take responsibility for the things I own – expensive or cheap? Am I going to value the things I buy or will I just continue to accumulate more crap? I never said this would be an easy task or easy answers in response. To not ask these questions would be like slapping this woman in the face for her efforts. She wants the best for her children – what mother wouldn’t?

In the same town, in the same place, I met a guy who had just worked 11 hours and made 400 pesos (about 7.75 for the day). He was only 40 or so but he looked at least 60 due to the amount of physical labor he had endured. He always smiled though. His smile was endearing to me. I couldn’t believe a man who worked so hard to make a living, and made so little would smile. I guess that is the catch 22 for this man and others who live in this village. Without the job, you have no home but you make so little you can never get ahead and better yourself or your community. We sat and talked for a little. He was hot. So was I. Since he had arrived home, he felt comfortable to take off his shirt and sit on his stoop. After I told him where I was from, he jumped up and ran to show me an orange thermos some American visitor threw out his window when he drove past their town. The only problem with the thermos was that it had a small crack, which didn’t cause any leaks, down the side of it. He told me it was a blessing in disguise. Since he works so many hours, he hoped that he would find something to carry with him to work so he could enjoy a nice cool drink of water. Then, while walking home from work, he saw the Americans throw it out the window and he ran up to look it over. He saw it as a gift. I saw it as a waste. I had several thoughts running through my mind. I was happy and angry. I was happy because this man had something he could use yet angry that Americans would throw things out the window like that. I was glad to enjoy this man’s company for a while.

I think meeting these two people really helped me understand a lot about myself and a lot about the people of the Dominican. I can’t think of a better way to explain what I have been processing in my mind. I have learned to love these people despite the many things that would deter people from building a relationship with them. I have learned to pray through their pain and smile along with them. I have also learned how to be thankful for the things I have been given. I know I have never taken what I have for granted deliberately. I have just learned to say thank you a little more often than I had before. I guess being in a place like this – the second most impoverished area in the world – does that. It would be a shame to lose that feeling and that gratitude I have learned to hold on to and grasp firmly. So the pictures will remain for me a reminder of what I have. I hope the faces of these two people give a small picture of what I am still processing and applying in my life. Thank you for reading.

Stories from the Homeless (31)

Last night was a great night. We have a couple of people who went out with us to Love Park. It was really cool. It wasn’t too hot or too cold. We had probably the greatest weather we have ever had. We had a lot of homeless people out tonight. Usually they are found sitting on the park benches, looking like “normal people” taking a break on a bench.

While I sat on the bench, Leroy came up and sat down to talk. He was supposed to have surgery but was unable to because he didn’t have a ride home from the hospital, which was a requirement for going through the surgery. He was a little upset over the whole ordeal but realized that he could do nothing about it. We sat for probably an hour or so just talking about a variety of things. I was glad to talk to him. He asked me if I would pray for him as he was hoping to get the surgery done later this month.

My final conversation was with a guy named “Pastor Will.” That is what I call him anyway. He loves to preach. He is your main-man, gospel preacher from the city. With no Bible in hand, he spent twenty minutes and prayed and shared Scripture. I am glad he showed up as well.

I know this is a short post about our homeless outreach but there really isn’t much to write about. I hope to meet some new people next time and have more to write about. God has been so faithful to me in the relationships I have begun with my friends in the city. God bless.

I am back!

It has been a long time since I have written on my journal. These past couple of weeks have been absolutely intense. I have not stopped running around. After I left Camp-of-the Woods, I went home, washed my clothes, and boarded a plane to the Dominican Republic. I won’t get into all the details here concerning all I experienced there in this post, but I will say it was a real eye opening experience. I have never seen poverty like that before. God truly blessed us and gave us the energy we needed to work with the kids we were going to minister to. I will make sure to do a separate post regarding that issue in a later post.

After I returned from the D.R., I came home, washed my clothes, and boarded a plane to the Twin Cities and drove two hours to Hayward, Wisconsin for my good friend Jathan’s wedding. God was completely glorified through this union of marriage. Unfortunately, I left my camera back at his sister’s house so I was unable to get some pictures. I am going to talk to his dad though and see if he could upload a bunch that he took on my computer, which I don’t think will be a problem.

Anyway, That is where I have been. I am back now though, getting ready to start my classes again and working a whole bunch of hours at the restaurant. For those who knew where I was going, thanks for your payers. Everyone remained safe, the flights were good, and we have returned home. I will be back in the writing chair more frequently. God bless.

Camp-of-the-Woods 2008 (Day 6)

Well we have finally gotten to the end of the week and Bryan Wilkerson finished the journey of Abraham where we could have expected: Genesis 22 – also known as the testing of Abraham’s faith. Now, I have heard this story at least 60 times – I kid you not. I think the more I hear it though, the more I am convinced that the story of Abraham is a story that we need to experience in a very tangible way. I am sure you know the story well.

Abraham is called to sacrifice his son on a mountain God would show him. Instead of taking his time, Abraham gets up early the next day and begins a three-day journey to, as Abraham states, “Worship God and return.” Isaac has no clue what is in story for him as they journey. What interests me is that Abraham, with all of the servants a man would want, decides to cut all the wood, sharpen his night and provide a source for fire without a servant’s assistance. I think maybe Abraham had to do this on his own so that he could reason within himself that God was actually calling him to do this. I am not sure why but my guess and your guess is as good as any. We are told that Abraham did the work – that’s all we really know about the situation.

After doing the work, he placed the wood on his son to carry and Abraham carried the rest. I find it interesting also that Abraham was so positive that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice. He is so confident that it doesn’t seem to bother him that he had not brought a lamb to sacrifice. When they reach the mountain, Abraham bounds his son and takes out the knife to slaughter his son. To you and I, this is crazy. Think about the implications of Abraham’s actions: Could you imagine telling your friends, “Hey guys. God spoke to me and I am supposed to kill my son.” I wonder what Sarah thought about their journey. I wonder if she even know about the conversation Abraham had with God regarding the sacrifice of her son. I am tending to bet that Abraham didn’t tell Sarah of their journey. If Sarah is anything like my mom, I am convinced that she would have put up a great fuss about the situation, as any mother would, and probably would have tried to convince Abraham not to go through with it. For Abraham’s sanity, I would tend to guess that Abraham left early in the morning as to not wake his wife for their journey. Again, that is just my personal thought – I can’t prove it.

Just before Abraham was about to drive the knife into his son, God calls out to him to stop and not harm his son. It must have been a relief to Abraham that he didn’t have to kill his son. The son of promise was not to be destroyed. In the thicket, there was a ram that was sacrificed in Isaac’s place.

I think what we need to take away from this story is that God is a very jealous God. He does not want anything to take the place of our devotion to him. In that respect, God might call us to be willing to give something up to show that our dependence is in God and not in ourselves. I don’t think God would call any of us to murder our children. In fact, I am very convinced that God would never ask us to do something of that nature. I think for Abraham, this was a learning experience understanding that God is who He is. I think it is a learning experience for us as well. God does not take “sloppy seconds.” He wants our best. He wants to know that we rely on Him and not another thing. I think Bryan Wilkerson explained this well through his lecture today. I hope we can continue to learn how much God loves us and that we would continually be willing to rely/lean/trust in God for all that He is and all He can and will do for us. God bless.

Camp-of-the-Woods 2008 (Day 5)

I think through this week, I have come to understand Abraham better. Here is a quick reflection with the added Scripture from today: As I think about the first 100 years of Abraham’s life, I have to wonder what kind of legacy he has lived thus far. He grew up in Ur – which is basically the Roman world of the Old Testament. He was very rich and had a knockout wife. She could have been regal (having the name Sari, which means princess). We are not sure how he made his wealth but he had plenty of it. In some respects, we could call him the Donald Trump or Bill Gates of his time. Trusting only in himself and his wealth, Abraham was your “typical American.”

As life goes on as it does, Abraham is confronted with a God he has never known. In fear, he plants his face to the ground. This God tells him that he is going to be a Father of many people. In fact, he will not be able to count them, as it is impossible for anyone to count all the stars in the sky. This must have seemed like a cruel joke – Abram had no children. In fact, he had almost given up hope that he would have any at all. For some reason though, this God seemed to be the real deal. He can’t explain it but realizes that this God has something for him and, even though he had all the money, power and authority any one person would want, he still lacked something in his life – an identity. So Abram packs up his family, his stuff, and even his cousin and his family and heads west. After taking a pit stop for seven years, he begins again on the journey that God has given him to follow. His father was dying and Abram had to take care of all the events that would have to take place for his burial. There is no doubt in my mind that Abram received more “stuff” after his dad passed away, though we are not told if that is the truth or not. I wonder what those conversations were like – the whole, “Hey dad. This God talked to me and told me that I would inherit a lot of land and have a ton of kids even though I am so old.” That must have been awkward for Abram to have and yet, perhaps his dad encouraged him. His dad did give him the name “exulted father” and we can only guess that his dad perceived that Abram would someday and somehow live up to his name. His dad would have an heir so that the family line would continue.

When they reached Canaan, God told Abram and Sari that they would inherit this land in time. It must have boggled Abram’s mind to see all that he was supposed to possess. If Abram was like you or I, which I would expect is the case, he probably thought he was going to get it right away. I am almost positive that he didn’t think it would take 25 years for God to make good on His promise.

While they were there, they decided to take a trip to Egypt. This was not for leisure but for necessity. There were no jobs or food in the area. What kind of confuses me is that Abram had all of this stuff – animals and all – why on earth did he need to go there? I am sure he could have survived quite well off his stock. Since he was “very wealthy,” he should not have had to go down to Egypt in the first place. But he went.

While he was there, he ran into a problem with his wife. As I said, he had a knockout for a wife. Pharaoh would be all over her and would probably end up killing Abram because they were married. To save his own rear, Abram told Sari to tell them a half-truth; that they were brother and sister. This would keep Abram alive and everything would work out. It worked – or so it seemed. Pharaoh got sick. Along with his whole family, Pharaoh confronted Sari and she finally told him that she was married to Abram and not just brother and sister. Abram told them to leave. They left Egypt that day with a lot of other stuff that didn’t belong to him, since he had acquired it under false pretense.

After several years, Abram decided to take matters into his own hands. Maybe he had heard this God wrong or something. Maybe he was supposed to have relations with his wife’s maidservant. So he did. You know that trip to Egypt? Guess where Sari’s maidservant came from? That’s right – Abram got more than just a few animals and money. He received a few women and men to go along on the journey with them to their new land. And since Hagar, the Egyptian woman Abram gave to his wife was decent looking, he figured he would give her a very important first task: Be the mother of my child to keep the family line alive. I wonder what her thoughts were on that. I am not sure she expected to sign up for this responsibility but she did what she was asked to do and slept with Abram. Within a few weeks, Hagar began to show, and Abram rejoiced that she would be pregnant with his son.

Well God wasn’t too happy with Abram’s actions. You can almost see God say something like, “No Abram, no.” The snowball effect of Abram’s sin was coming full circle and he didn’t even realize the implications of what he had done. Ishmael is born and Abram finally had a child. In Abram’s joy, God speaks to Abram and tells him that this is not how it was supposed to be. Upset by all of this Abram tosses Hagar out into the street. She had done her job and was no longer needed. God protects her though and we find out later in the story how important this child’s role would be.

As we speed up time, Abram is now 99 years old. It has been another 13 or so years since God had made the promise to Abram and still Abram and Sari had not conceived a child together. God comes to Abram once again and decides to do something really strange – He makes a covenant with Abram. Abram is told to cut a bunch of animals in half and God would make a covenant with him. After this time, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sari’s name to Sarah. What is interesting to note is that “hay” is added to their names. “Hay” is a Hebrew letter that has a reference to life or breath. I am sure you can hear it when you say Abraham or Sarah. It is this life that will conceive a child in Sarah’s womb. Abraham is then told by God to cut the foreskin off everyone who belongs to his family. This would be a sign of God’s promise to them for others to see. We have to remember that it was customary for people to take public baths with one another and inevitably they would see the circumcision of the men in Abraham’s family. We wouldn’t see it as a “conversation starter” but it would have raised a lot of questions as to why they had done what they did. Not to be graphic or whatever but we also need to think about the implications of this circumcision and the tools in which they probably used. A flit stone or a piece of pottery was probably used to do the job and probably took several weeks to heal. This covenant would not only be binding but it would be a blood covenant between God and Abraham’s family. And, I am sure they would never forget it.

After a good amount of time to heal, three visitors he had never met visited Abraham. It was customary for Abraham to invite them in to enjoy some food and fellowship. It was while they were eating, the visitor told Abraham that by next year, his wife would be pregnant. When Sarah heard them talking, she laughed at the thought that she, being 90 years old, would end up pregnant as such an old age. The men heard her and asked Abraham why she laughed.

Since Lot and Abraham split up, Lot ended up in Sodom and it was a very wicked place. The angel said that they were going to destroy it. Abraham, wanting to save his nephew, asked if there were any righteous there, that God would spare it. After asking exactly how many people are in Lot’s family, Abraham realized that God, in His grace, would spare Lot and his extended family from being destroyed in this cruel town.

This is where we ended today’s message by Bryan Wilkerson. I think sometimes we need to reread the story and ask serious questions about what we have read. We need to engage with it whole-heartedly and be willing to say, over and over again sometimes, that we really don’t have all the answers. I am still reading this story and asking more questions. Some of those questions I have shared in this post while others I am still sifting through along the way. I am also learning a lot of new things too. There are things that I had missed several times after reading the story. One of those things is that Ishmael was circumcised with the rest of Abraham’s family. That might not be a big deal but for some reason, Scripture had it in there for us to understand. What are the real implications to that for Abraham and how did God see that? We cannot be sure. All I am saying is: Let’s engage in the Scriptures and ask the questions we need to ask while learning along the way how to understand the mind of God – at least to the best of our abilities. God bless.

Camp-of-the-Woods 2008 (Day 4)

Could you imagine being told that you would have a child and having 24 years go by and you are still childless? Could you imagine if your name meant, “Exulted father” and yet throughout your own marriage, you have no children as your own? When people walk up to you and say, “Exulted father,” how many children do you have? The response you have to give over and over again is, “I don’t have any…” This is what Abram (Exulted father) experienced throughout his whole marriage experience up until the point when he was so frustrated and determined to have an heir; he slept with his wife’s maidservant and got her pregnant. We have to understand that this was a normal deal back then, even though it seems strange to us now.

Gods promise to Abraham had not changed. Abraham meets with God once again and Abraham says, “Lord, can’t Ishmael be my heir?” God doesn’t want to use him though. He wants Abraham to experience the promise of the fulfillment God has for him. Abraham is told that his name will be Isaac (which means laughter) because Sarah laughed when she heard that she would bare a son at such an old age). Abraham, probably tired and confused came to a fork in the road and had to make a choice. He could either go at it alone or do whatever he wanted by making the son of the flesh – Ishmael is heir or he could believe God and wait on His promise to fulfill it.

Wilkerson reminded me of a poem I learned a long time ago by Robert Frost. It is called, “The Road Less Traveled.” Here is the poem in closing. Abraham decided to trust in God and not make Ishmael his heir. He circumcised himself and the rest of the males of his family and trusted in God with full obedience.

ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

Robert Frost

Camp-of-the-Woods 2008 (Day 3)

So we are continuing our journey with Abraham (still Abram but we will call him by his God-given name). Abraham, in Genesis 15 is confronted once again with an issue that seems to get him down. God had promised him an heir and as of yet – almost ten years later – Abraham has not received the promise of God. I think this is something that happens to each one of us during some point of our life. We believe God has something truly great for us but we sit and wait and wonder if God has actually forgotten about us. When I wrote a post about faith, I confronted the scripture of Matthew 7:7, where Jesus says to the disciples to ask, seek, and knock, and the door will be open to them and God will answer and they will find what they are looking for. And, for me, I have been in that place more than once where it seems as though that verse is an impossible thing. I don’t know if I am the only one to struggle with God at all – that is more rhetoric than serious mind you – because everyone struggles with God at some level. If it isn’t faith, than it is the Word of God. If it isn’t the Word of God, then it is faith. If it is neither of those two, it is something else – like a promise of something great and important in one’s life.

I have never shared this with anyone but I guess now is a decent time to do so. It is so easy for me to give the right answers all the time but in all actuality, I struggle with my faith a lot more than I let on. It isn’t an every day struggle mind you. Sometimes I will read something in the Bible and I will sit back and say something like “Is this really true?” Other times, I struggle to answer someone’s question about God or faith and that bothers me a lot. I figure I should have all the answers but oftentimes I don’t. And, instead of wrestling with the subject at hand, I would rather retreat or change the subject, or even make some ridiculous sarcastic remark to ease the tension. I understand, to a degree, how Abraham was feeling.

Abraham is called to cut a bunch of animals in half and place them beside one another with a path in between them. This was going to be a covenant event for Abraham. One interesting note is that Abraham had to chase the birds of prey away. Perhaps they were actual birds but perhaps they were demonic entities as well. Perhaps they were the demonic entities that were trying to get in between God’s covenant with Abraham. I have to guess that Abraham had to sense that something was wrong with the situation and thus chastened the birds away. That is just my suggestion though.

The most important verse in this section of Scripture is “Abraham believed and the Lord count it as righteousness.” It is hard to believe. Even when God is taking directly to us, we can still struggle to believe that the promises of God will occur as He said they would. The opposite of faith is fear and I think that is why we struggle so much. We have fear that God will not come through on His promises and so we want to try and figure it out on our own. The only problem is when we do that; we usually end up making things a lot worse than better for us. Abraham again and again learns this all-important lesson. Maybe we would be wise to learn it as well.

I think Bryan has it right: When we wait in the darkness, waiting on someone to find us (someone like God), we must be patient and never give up hope that God’s Word will come to pass. His Word must come to pass because His name is upon His Word and is set high above all other things. I am not saying that I will never doubt God or ever lack in my faith, though I would rather not. What I am saying is that when I go through those times, I have to come back to what my faith says and what I know from the Word of God. When I do that, I have to make a decision to say, “Lord, be my strength and my song. Visit me here. Please God. I need to know that you are still on the throne as your Word says.” And when we are in those dark places, God speaks to us and guides us from the darkness of fear and unbelief to the light of joy and faith. It is in that way, we learn to grow and mature in our faith. A place you and I need to be.