flood

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Isn’t it wonderful when the people around you inspire you on to greater things? Hit the link here or click on the picture to read about one such encounter and where it’s leading us. While you’re there, don’t miss the rest of our latest quarterly update from the field!

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There’s been a theme recurring in my mind for the past few weeks; it’s the idea of a God who keeps his promises,  a God who doesn’t forget.

Last week, I had the chance to preach on Mephibosheth, an obscure name in the story of David, but an important example of the God who remembers. David had made a promise to his closest friend, Jonathan,  who just happened to be the son of his fiercest enemy, Saul.  He promised to be kind to Jonathan’s family when came to power.

Now, there would have been a pretty remote chance to see his promise come to pass had David reflected the kings of his day. They were known to conspire against their enemies and wipe out any trace of their descendants, lest one of them think of the possibility of rebellion and a shot at regaining the throne. But David was not like the kings of his day; he was a man after God’s own heart, And how does God act? He keeps His promises.

The story resumes years after the promise was made, years after Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, had been killed.  David finally establishes his reign, and when that work was done, he looks for a opportunity to keep his promise.  He seeks out Ziba, an old servant of Saul, and inquires of him the location of Jonathan’s son, the crippled Mephibosheth. He sends for him, and then, in all of his magnanimity, restores to him all of what had belonged to his grandfather.

He didn’t need to do it. There was no one alive to hold him to his promise. It was, to say the least, a unexpected act for a Middle Eastern monarch. But David was more than that, he was a king whose temporal rule was to point toward the eternal Kingdom of the Heavens and the God whose kingdom it is, and that God is a God who doesn’t forget.

Flash forward to 2002, when a town called “Tigre Grande” was flooded by Hurricane Isidore. During the storm, water from rivers of the state of Campeche surged in, filling lowland farms to the tops of telephone poles. At the time, a small church was taking shape, but, because of the floodwaters, the town was displaced, and its residents are disbursed throughout the county. The town was later reestablished and rebuilt, but, unfortunately, the little church did not survive.

Anyone else could have easily forgotten the little town of Tigre Grande, lying 50 kilometers away from the nearest good road, anyone that is, but God.

It was 12 years in the formation, but God’s promise to build his church was fulfilled. Early this year, God stirred the heart of a young missionary couple, Rangel and Claudia Vázquez, for Tigre Grande. They took a trip to investigate. What they found was astonishing. They had asked about the possibility of starting a Bible study in the village. When word had spread and the day of the first event arrived, a group of townspeople, 22 in number, were there to be a part. They had been waiting for them and the message they brought that day. Rangel and Claudia were able to say that just as the townspeople had not forgotten the the church that had begun years before, neither had God.

Kelly, the kids, and I had a chance to meet the group and share in a small service in garage of one of the houses that had been rebuilt by the government after the storm. The kids and adults found seats or stood in the little space, a dog stretched out in front of the table that served as a pulpit. As we sang, and prayed, and studied the scriptures together, we saw the signs of a church reforming, and we heard the testimonies of lives being transformed in that small village, down but not out, lost to some but not forgotten by God.

But that’s who He is, the God who keeps His promises, the God who doesn’t forget–not then, three thousand years ago with Mephiboseth, not now in the case of the Town of Tigre Grande, not ever.

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If you needed a reason to pray for your itinerating missionaries, this weekend surely made our need all the more apparent as torrential rain and floodwaters nearly stranded us in the state of Tennessee on Saturday.

We were travelling from Dalton, GA to Caruthersville, MO, returning from services in Georgia and a family reunion in South Carolina. We were on our way back to Missouri on Saturday morning via I-24 and I-40 with hopes to spend a leisurely afternoon with the Titus family, pastors of Caruthersville First, before holding services the next day in the Kennett section of the Southern Missouri District.

Things progressed as expected until just after lunchtime as we reached the Murfreesboro area. As we continued west, the skies opened up soaking the roads and slowing our momentum to 40 miles per hour at times on 70 mile per hour freeways. This kept up for at least an hour, finally breaking as we passed through Nashville. However, just as we thought that the worst was over, our progress ground to a halt in front of a river that had overflowed it’s banks and now crossed the entire highway.

The next two hours were spent in a number of switchbacks as we looked for a suitable detour. We traveled across US-70 through the flooded Dickson and then onto Waverly, where the river had virtually cut off that town from the highway. We crossed the water to travel down route 13 only to be turned back again 4 miles from rejoining I-40. We drove back to US-70 then and on to route 641 where we were finally able to regain I-40 and continue our forward progress toward the boot heel of Missouri.

As we looked to the right and the left of the roadways, everything seemed to be underwater–houses, businesses, churches and farms. The water was everywhere and seemingly in everything. By the time that we made it through Dyersburg and across the Mississippi it was well after 8:00 PM, and we were overjoyed to have reached Missouri and our journey’s end.

As we traveled, there were moments when I doubted that we would be able to make it through. I second guessed our decisions to continue, thinking perhaps that it might have been safer to stop and attempt forward progress at a later time. However, after spending a stormy night in the hotel in Missouri, I was confident that the urgency that I had felt to press on was well founded. The situation only got worse the following day in Tennessee.

So I am thankful that God had His hand upon us, guiding us through. And I am grateful for the prayers of those who stand behind us, as much during our itineration as during our time on the field. We appreciate this much needed support!

Still, as I am glad to be home to tell my tale, my heart goes out to the many who weren’t able to escape the flooding–those who lost possessions, homes, even loved ones to the raging waters. One quote from a news story read, “I know God doesn’t give us more than we can take, but I’m at my breaking point.” As you pray for us, please lift up these who are now suffering in the devastation through which we were guided this past Saturday.

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Salsipuedes Ministry

“Leave if you can!” That is the translated name of Salsipuedes one of the two towns that we visited on our medical relief trip to Tabasco. The village of Salsipuedes is situated on the Grijalva River in the Centla of Tabasco, a wetlands region of the state that’s three hours from the capital, one hour on good roads and two on what many would consider “off-road conditions,” but even more overwhelming than the distance to reach this place was the need that we met when we arrived. Sandy Kazim, the organizer and one of the medical providers of the trip told us that for much of the time she felt as though she was running an ER instead of a medical clinic. Four children in the same home with bronchitis and a woman who had recently miscarried were some of the most difficult cases, but case after case of skin infection and other diseases kept the medical providers working long past sunset, the time that we were told we had to leave for the sake of our personal security. Equally as tragic was the spiritual condition of the site. There were reports of active witchcraft taking place and a general look of hopelessness on the faces of many. “Leave if you can” –the name seemed to fit.

Still, that’s the funny thing about the God that we serve. Of all of the needy places that we could have gone, He sent us to the town of Salsipuedes. I think perhaps it was because, even though others had given up on that “Godforsaken” place, He hadn’t. He sent us there as an extension of His love in a tangible way.

I had the chance to enter into homes with several of the students of the Bible Institute while the medical team treated the sick. And as we passed from house to house, entering into their world, I thought of what Christ did for each one of us. He left His glory to live among us, to experience what we experience and to give us the hope that comes from a relationship with God. We in turn were serving as his representatives, offering the same hope that we now enjoy in a place where hope seemed for many to be a distant memory.

I spoke to many and told them that, although they might not have expected it, God had sent us to them specifically to let them know that He had decided to stay in Salsipuedes and that he was looking for hearts in which he could live. We prayed with many as they wrestled to take those first steps toward a relationship with their Creator.

What will happen is hard to determine. The routine of the life poverty has a grip that is relentless. C.S. Lewis once said it this way:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So is the work in Salsipuedes; the population is run down, too tired to hope, too tired to dream of something better, and perhaps easily placated with the counterfeits that false religions or momentary escapes like drugs and alcohol can provide. Still, I believe that something began in the heart of those that we touched on that Friday. They received a taste of the love of God, and I believe that through the persistence of the pastor and the congregation that is serving that town, together with the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, the very character of that town can change. In fact, I’m looking forward to the day when they invite us to the official name changing ceremony.

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When one thinks of the needs that arise after a major natural disaster, several things come to mind. In the case of floods, for example, I think of material possessions being ruined or swept away by flood waters, no clean drinking water for awhile, unavailability of food, loss of homes, and possibly the loss of life – both people and animals. Recently, the state of Tabasco was hit by major flooding. Thankfully, several people came to their aid, both from the government and through organizations. However, when we inquired concerning the needs of the people, we were told that they had received a lot in the way of provisions, but that medical attention would be needed down the road. That’s where we come in … Last week our family had the opportunity to join with fellow missionaries Paul and Sandy Kazim, medical professionals and Bible school students from the state of Yucatan in order to go to meet the medical and spiritual needs of their fellow Mexicans in Tabasco. We were hosted by pastors and church members during the 4-day trip while we focused the outreach on 2 towns that had requested help in these areas. Not only was medical help available, but our team also provided ministry for the children, youth, and adults through skits, songs, balloons, sharing of the Word of God, door-to-door evangelism, and prayer.
Upon returning to Mérida, I reviewed some of the videos and photos from the trip and would like to share a short film that hopefully captures the essence of our visit. You won’t see me since I was behind the camera, and you won’t see Dave, either, since he along with some of the Bible school students visited homes, meeting the spiritual needs of those who couldn’t come or who hadn’t heard about the medical outreach. But you will see our kids involved in ministry as they played an important role and were a blessing to many. Also, the film is set to music, a song done in Spanish. The song speaks of being available and ready to be used by God for the things He wants us to do, giving Him our time, our hands, our voice, not wanting Him to pass over us because we are available for His purposes. It is sung by Jesus Adrian Romero from his album, “El Aire de Tu Casa.” My prayer is that this short film serves as a reminder of the needs all around us and that we, through the help and grace of God, are the answer to those needs. May God bless you as you allow Him to use you.

You can view it in this post above or on GodTube.

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Dave distributing a despensaWe’ve returned from our 3 day trip to Tabasco, the region of Mexico that had experienced devastating floods in late October through early November. We loaded up two SUV loads of toys, vitamins, diapers, and powdered milk and drove the 8 hours from Mérida, Yucatán to Villahermosa, Tabasco to bring relief to families, especially those with small children.

Entering the city, we found that life had returned to its hectic pace with people and cars everywhere. The only visible remains of the inundation was the construction taking place to repair and clean roads affected by the floodwaters. Still, the stories we heard were incredible. People told us that many had remained in their homes, thinking this to be just a routine occurrence during the Tabasco rainy season, but that, as the floodwaters rose, they found themselves waiting on rooftops for helicopter rescue. The pastor’s home where we stayed took on more than 5 feet of water. He and his family stayed in the upper level and were able to save the majority of their appliances and furniture, but mold on the walls and ruined tile floors spoke of the work ahead to restore what the flood had ruined.

The countryside surrounding the city was a different story as floodwater remained on the roads and in the low lying areas that surrounded the houses. While no longer threating homes and schools, the stagnant water poses a health threat especially to the small children who choose to play in the contaminated pools and through mosquito borne illnesses. This is where we focused our efforts.

Entering Tabasco on Thursday night, we pooled together with Pastor Ruben, his family and several members of the church to put together relief packages with food, vitamins, diapers, milk and other essentials for the residents of these needy areas. It was touching to see the desire of these people, who were themselves victims, giving of their time and effort to help those who had needs greater than their own.

The following day, we handed out the supplies and toys to the children and their parents. It was for them clearly a “big deal” as at one point we were accompanied by one of their local government representatives. We were given complete access, even the ability to interrupt the activities of a elementary school to meet with the students.

Food was distributed, toys were given away, and much needed supplies were handed out, but something much bigger was accomplished. These victims received a much needed infusion of hope. They received it realizing that they were not alone in their struggle.

There is something amazing in the fact that God touches people to go and share his love with those who most need to experience it. At one point in the distribution, Paul Kazim, a fellow missionary, prayed. I think it was then that the reality of what we were doing came into focus: Jesus ministered to the people in Mark 6:30-44. He did that even though he was experiencing the loss of his cousin and herald, John the Baptist. He did it because he had compassion. In Tabasco, fellow citizens were putting their lives on hold, lives that had themselves been completely changed by the floods, to reach out to those with greater needs. What was the reason? I believe it to be nothing less than the same compassion that Christ portrayed to the 5,000 that were fed in the Galilean countryside.

We’re planning to go back to Tabasco January 10-13 to provide medical treatment and spiritual counseling to the needy suffering in Tabasco, to the people now being overlooked as efforts are being made to restore a sense of normalcy in the region. We as missionaries will take part, but I think the most effective counselors will be those who have lived through these floods. Those who, because of the compassion that only God can provide, have thought of others as better than themselves.

(You can see more of our recent trip by clicking on the picture above or through this link.)

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We’re on our way for a three-day relief trip to Tabasco with no time to type. What could be a faster way to relay the story? How about a video blog? Take a look at this latest offering and please remember to pray for those affected by the flood in Tabasco.

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A Change of Plans

Tabasco Under WaterMondays are usually a low-key day for the Godzwa family. The day after ministry is usually reserved for catching up on household items or replying to correspondence. I had a post planned about the evangelism seminars that we have been leading. But a telephone call from Paul, our mentor missionary here in Mérida, broke the routine. “Dave,” he said, “the situation in Tabasco has gotten out of hand…” The situation he was talking about was the flood that Mexican President Felipe Calderon now calls Mexico’s worst recent natural disaster.

If you have not had the opportunity to see the images of the Mexican state of Tabasco that CNN has been broadcasting, please understand that the inhabitants of this area, which is located about 300 miles from our current location in Mérida, are dealing with a true disaster. Due to unseasonable heavy and continual rain, several rivers have flooded their banks inundating businesses, homes, schools, and churches. News reports put up to 80% of this low-lying state currently underwater. Calls to church leaders in this district have returned reports of lower lying areas completely underwater, of many homes and churches with more than five feet of water in them, and of flooding so high that even people who live on the second floor of a building have found shelter elsewhere because there is no access to their homes.

So to one side moved the household chores and unanswered went the correspondence for one more day so that I could hit the phones to see what I could do to lend a hand to the relief effort being planned here in the Yucatan.

The situation in Tabasco is being described as the Katrina of Mexico. The center-city of Villahermosa is a complete disaster and as a result, those who have been forced to stay behind have nothing. The residents of Tabasco need drinkable water, powdered milk, towels, diapers, canned food, and lots of other basic items. The people of Yucatan are changing their plans to pitch in. Instead of buying food for their family, they’re buying supplies to donate as schools churches and government buildings have opened their doors to accept donations.

Specifically, the church leaders of Tabasco have asked for medical personal with medicines and vitamins to come and offer care. This is extremely important as the floodwaters begin to recede and diseases resulting from contaminated drinking water and inadequate services begin to appear. To respond to this request, God is calling on still others to change their plans. A relief corps of Christian doctors and nurses from Mérida are organizing now to travel in order to provide first-hand relief and the peace of God to those caught in the middle of this crisis. All of these health professionals are sacrificing family-time and their personal goals as they prioritize the needs of their countrymen.

I’m happy to report that my change of plans brought about some tangible results, but a need this great calls out for so much more to be done.

How about you? Do you feel God leading you to be a part of the relief effort?

Comment or email us and we’d be glad to help you with your change of plans.

Photos courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kubricka/

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