March marks one year since the coronavirus swept through the United States and changed our lives forever. In times of crises like the last 12 months, it seems as though all we can do is worry. But then we read the words of Philippians 4:6:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
We have not been unaffected by this tragedy, butas we have increasingly turned to prayer, we have found that God is the one providing for and protecting his people.
As we watched the virus spread through Latin America and into Mexico, our thoughts went immediately to our friends in the Yucatan. The churches planted during our last term, especially in the extreme south of the state, were extremely fragile and isolated. Their people are poor, largely dependent on what they can produce with their hands or grow in their fields. As the pandemic took hold and the economy came to a standstill, we wondered how they would survive. Then, when five named tropical storms passed over the peninsula, we feared the worst.
The damage was considerable. In Blanca Flor, where our students Lily Dzul and Kary Yam began their work, floodwaters had not only cut off their access to the village, they had totally washed away their crop. Still, even though they faced the worst they prayed for the best, and God answered!
While the floodwaters had destroyed the corn in the fields, they brought fish with them. So, instead of harvesting a crop, they fished for their food! Meanwhile, Lily and Kary were able to overcome their lack of access to the congregation by recording their messages and sending them via social media. Those with cell phones gathered with others to share their messages of hope and encouragement. Despite the storms and the isolation, God had provided! Despite the threats to the church, God had protected his people!
Yes, the past year has been disastrous in many aspects, and we continue to ask God for mercy on those who struggle with COVID-19 and its after-effects. Still, although we may be tempted to wring our hands in worry, we are reminded time and again that it is far more productive to fold our hands in prayer. He is the one who is providing and he is the one who is protecting his people.
As we gear up for this new season of ministry in 2021, we thought you might enjoy this encouraging article that Kelly wrote.
Is it a new season? Have you pulled out the clearly marked totes, tasted a spiced-up cappuccino at the local coffee shop, perused a clearance rack or two due to the new inventory coming into the stores?
Is it a new season? Have you welcomed a baby into your home, or said goodbye to one as she left for college? Have you recently separated from a spouse, or perhaps just tied the knot? Has someone dear to you left this world?
Is it a new season? Have you just changed jobs, on purpose or unexpectedly? Maybe you’re currently “exploring your options.” Have you been recently diagnosed with a chronic disease or heard the news of cancer in your own body or that of a loved one? Did you just “ring the bell”?
Is it a new season?
Seasons change. Sometimes it’s exciting, fresh, new. Then again, it may feel like Narnia under the rule of the White Witch—always Winter and never Christmas.
You are probably familiar with the song by The Byrds with the line “to everything there is a season.” Those lyrics and several that follow are found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. God has set in motion this concept of seasons from the beginning of time (Genesis 1:14). Knowing that truth gives me hope in the difficult seasons and challenges me to grow as I enjoy the exciting ones, understanding that one season gives way to the next. So, relish the exhilarating flavors of that pumpkin spice chai latte, pour your heart out to God during that long winter night, let hope arise in your heart as the first crocus appears or when you see the robin, and take in that vitamin D from the rays of the sun until it gets too hot and you need a refreshing dip in the lake! Whatever the season, let God be your Evergreen—never changing, always faithful—through it all.
That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. —John 17:21
“Calgon, take me away!” was the catch-phrase of a memorable TV commercial of our youth. It’s the cry of a mom confronted with an impossible domestic situation just before she’s transported to a secluded bubble bath of peace and quiet. For us, it would become shorthand for “I’m having a rough day, or week, or month and I’m ready for it to just be over.”
As we head into this, our seventh month of the pandemic, I’m certain we’ve all at some point wanted it to just be over. We’ve looked for the escape hatch or maybe even strained to hear the trumpet sound heralding Jesus’s return. Still, as we recently concluded our “40 Days to Listen” prayer and fasting emphasis, we’ve been reminded that God has not rescued us from the world, that is to say, taken us physically from it. On the contrary, he’s commissioned us to go into the world as his ambassadors of light in the midst of darkness, bearers of truth in the midst of popular opinion, and agents of life even in the midst of so much death.
Our Mexico Missionary Leadership Team, which Kelly and I lead as Area Directors, took up the challenge of memorizing John 17 during these past 40 days. We did so because we felt that this “high priestly prayer” would reveal his deep desire for us. As we rehearsed the words of that chapter, the nature of our mission revealed in that text became apparent. Jesus prays for us, “I do not ask that you take them from the world.” Furthermore, he says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” As the words of the Keith Green song say, “Jesus commands us to go.”
But he does not send us alone. He has called in the reinforcements, each one an answer to prayer. He sends Shawn and Carolina Sislo, who just last month entered Mexico after 6 months of waiting. They’ll be planting churches in Mexico’s “Last Frontier,” Aguascalientes, a state less than 2% evangelical. He also sendsElizabeth Dyvig, a pastor from North Texas who just this week was approved by the World Missions Board to work in Central Mexico. And, as John 17:21 says, he goes with us as well into, yes, a divided world, yes, a sick world, yes, a suffering world, but a world that just might begin to understand its need for a Savior.
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
In recent days I’ve been questioning my future hopes. As the pandemic took hold, I experienced an intense longing to get back to the life that I had known. Quarantine living brought with it an endless list of things that I’d given up to flatten the curve that someday soon I’d be able to enjoy again. I looked to the “new normal” as a finish line that, in just a little while, I’d be able to reach.
But as this crisis worsened, exacerbated by many of the conditions that had existed pre-COVID-19, I began to realize that the life that we knew was no paradise; it was at best a life “in-between” and there was yet a work to be done, not only in the world but also in me.
Such was the situation of the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. Facing increasing persecution, they were tempted to abandon their commitment to Christ. Therefore, the author takes them on a journey through their history and ritual, encouraging them to persevere in the faith that was not only transforming them but also the world around them.
He encourages them not to wax nostalgic for the “good old days” of Moses or Joshua but to look toward the kingdom that cannot be shaken and the cessation of their striving that is God’s promised Sabbath-rest. He exhorts them to do so by remaining sensitive and obedient to the word of God, alive and active.
That same word is alive and active in our day. As a real crisis tested the Israelites in the desert, so this pandemic has revealed our American situation. It has highlighted our connectedness even when we’d hoped to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. It has emphasized our vulnerability even as we’d once considered ourselves impervious, and it has displayed our inability even as we imagined ourselves the most capable.
But our response, as the Hebrews’, must not be to shrink back but to lean in to the uncomfortable, exposing work of the word of God. We accept its findings as it reveals our faults, acknowledging them and repenting of them. We hold firm as well as it strips away our false hopes, placing our sights not on the “new normal” but on the new creation that awaits those who persevere. And, in the meantime, wherever we find ourselves, we do God’s will, praying that in all things he might be glorified.
During the past few months of stay-at-home orders, I’ve taken to walking the perimeter of our backyard to spend my “alone time” with God. Given the fact that we had rented out our home over the past 9 years, I was not surprised to discover shards of glass, perhaps from a broken bottle or plate, left from a previous tenant. Day after day, though, the sun’s light would shift to reveal new pieces, even though I had removed the previously discovered ones. It’s also been a bit rainy lately, maybe some of the pieces were just under the surface. But, you would think after a while, the path would be cleared of debris – it’s fairly well-worn, after all.
This made me think of the spiritual path we walk. As we carve out a trail, walking with God, we notice some glass shards in our life: a sin or a habit or a stronghold that threatens us with harm. We remove them from our path and dispose of them, content to know we won’t get cut on our next “go-round.” But now that we’ve removed some shards, the light shifts and we notice a few more the next day or the next week. Will this process never end?
But the understanding that we are all at varying points of this process produces just the humility Dave and I needed to take part in facilitating online “round table” conversations during the 3-week missionary training session for new candidates. The topics that we reviewed last month: spiritual formation, culture, and theology of missions, among others, became open doors into our hearts through which the Lord could do His work, reminding us of the journey still ahead. But they also served as signposts, signaling to Dave and me of how far we have come, through both grace and perseverance, helping us to encourage these who now begin their missionary journey. Our prayer is that, through our interactions, these new missionaries will have less “shards” in their experience on account of this preparation time we spent together in community.
Lord, help us not to just stare and wonder at the glass shards on our path of life. We want to pause, bend down, and carefully collect them in order to dispose of them. Teach us to treat each item with care, removing it from The Way as we continue to walk with You. And, may we look forward to the day when all the shards have been forever removed.
Growing up in catholic schools, we frequently sang, “Channel of Your Peace,” a hymn taken from the poem, “The Prayer of Saint Francis.” One of the verses reads:
Make me a channel of your peace Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope Where there is darkness, only light And where there’s sadness, ever joy
Of course, I had no idea how that prayer would become a reality some 32 years later, but I am humbled to see how the Lord is using me and my family to bring hope in despair, shine as a light in the darkness, and serve as a source of joy in sadness.
And in Mexico, there has been much sadness. Because of the slowness of the response and the impossibility for many to shelter in place, the country struggles to contain the virus. Add to this Tropical Storm Cristobal, which has left much of southeastern Mexico, including the state of Yucatan, underwater.
Since that initial effort, we’ve sent emergency aid to district officials who were gathering relief supplies for flood victims. We’ve continued our conversations with those who are responding to Network 211’s online gospel presentations throughout Mexico. And we’ve coordinated the prayer response within our missionary fellowship, ensuring that our co-laborers have the support they need to sustain the effort.
Still, we are aware, now more than ever, of the need to do more to reach the lost of Mexico. That is why we’re excited to serve as facilitators in this year’s Missionary Training where two additional missionary units will be joining us to prepare for their service in Mexico and to add their effort to the work.
A channel of peace—the fourteen-year-old boy who sang those words had no idea what they truly meant. Now, this 46-year-old man is beginning to comprehend. It’s hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, and joy in the midst of sadness. Thanks for your prayers and support that helps us to be just that in Mexico.
Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him… Luke 24:31
This verse marks Jesus’ climactic revelation in the story of the Walk to Emmaus. This story strikes a chord with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s odd; the resurrected Jesus walks along with his former disciples and they don’t even recognize him. Second, it speaks to our moment, this period between Easter and Pentecost, as well as the current situation we’re facing.
As it opens, the disciples are expressing their regrets. Their hopes are dashed. Their lives had been turned upside down overnight. As they walked along, they were struggling to pick up the pieces, trying to make sense of their experience and move on. The amazing thing is that they were expressing their disappointment to the one who had already accomplished what their wildest imagination couldn’t begin to comprehend.
They were dealing with death:
The death of their political messiah. Jesus had been on their side, and, just the week before, he had been riding into Jerusalem. All that was left, they thought, was to determine who would sit on his right and left.
The death of their professional status. As Jesus’ disciples, they had access to resources: funds, houses, front row seats to all of the exclusive events. The shameful death of their leader had turned the tables on them. They were now the accomplices of a condemned criminal. There was only one sensible thing to do: get out of town.
The death of their personal savior. When Jesus was with them, he was calming the storms, healing their sick relatives, and providing their food. Now, it seems, they would have to fend for themselves.
The cross had killed their messiah. The amazing thing was, he was standing right in front of them, and they didn’t even recognize him! We ask ourselves how could they have been so blind? Yet perhaps this moment shows us to be more like them than we’ve realized.
As I reflect on Jesus’ activity during this Coronavirus pandemic, I can’t help but think of a scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In that particular scene, Indy saves his father who had been held prisoner inside a tank. Just as he succeeds in getting his dad off the tank and fighting off his attackers, the tank goes over the cliff. As it crashes on the rocks below, we wait with bated breath, thinking that he’s gone over with it. At that point, Indy’s father and their friends gather at the edge of the cliff, straining to see a glimpse of his dead body among the wreckage. We think he’s been killed. But, just as his father stands to eulogize him, the camera pans out and Indy appears, standing there looking at the same wreckage.
We’ve been asking, “where is God in all of this?” wondering if we’ll see him tangled amidst the disaster that is the Coronavirus. We stand, looking out over the wreckage, only to conclude that the Coronavirus has killed our messiah.
It’s killed our personal savior, the one who we thought was at our beck and call.
It’s taken away our ticket to professional status, the one who made us look good when he “showed up” at our events and worked on our behalf.
It’s overthrown our political messiah, the one that supported our American exceptionalism and partisanship.
Or at least it’s killed what we thought was our messiah. In reality, he’s here standing before us.
There’s a song that our MKs know fairly well: ‘Little white box”
“If I had a little white box to put my Jesus in, I’d take him out and kiss his face and put him back again.”
While I understand the intention of the song, I’m not a fan. Whenever I hear it I ask myself, “what kind of Jesus is this one that we can put in a box?”
He’s one that’s decidedly small, one that’s our very own, personal, even miniaturized to meet our needs.
He’s one that acts the way we expect.
He’s one that we can take out and put away when we decide.
Perhaps that Jesus is similar to the messiah that the disciples had created: one after their own image, one they expected to save Israel. It should be no wonder, then, that they failed to recognize the risen Lord. It should be no wonder, then, that we too may find ourselveslooking for our Lord when he is standing right here with us.
And so, there on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explains the necessity of thecross to his disciples:
It was necessary to remove our sin and our shame from us.
It was necessary to restore our relationship as a corrupted people with a holy God
But itwas also necessary to destroy the misconceptions both past and present of a God limited by race, nationality, political persuasion, professional aspiration, or personal expectation.
As they said of Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”
Yet that same Jesus arose. He stands now before us. And as he reveals himself to us anew, we are left asking, who is this one that now greets us on the way? How do we recognize him?
He’s still our personal savior, but instead of working for us, we find he’s working through us.
He’s still granting us professional status, but instead of leaning on him to prop up our self-esteem, we find he’s redefining our purpose.
He’s still our political messiah, but instead of believing that he’s on our side, we set aside our prejudices to work with him in his program to redeem the world.
Instead of trying to bend his ear to agree to our plans, we bow our knee to submit to his command.
In this Eastertide 2020, we walk with the disciples, identifying with their sense of loss, but my prayer is that we too might discover their wonder as we see Jesus truly risen, having conquered death and the grave and perhaps even our preconceived notions of who he was to us before this Coronavirus pandemic. I believe that, if we seek him, we’ll find him, like they did, to be far more powerful and far more capable than we’d ever imagined him to be.
These words are simply a devotional. There isn’t a lot of opportunity in this type of media to develop some of the ideas that I’ve brought up, but I welcome your questions or comments in the upcoming days and weeks. Maybe we can pursue some of these arguments to their logical conclusion or perhaps discover some new ones.
Still, I know, I’ve besmirched what some might consider a beloved song of their youth, and far be it from me to leave you without a proper replacement.
Here’s one I’ve heard, some 25 years ago. If I remember the title correctly it’s called “God in a Box.”:
“You can have a big box, you can have a small box, but if your god is in a box, your god is very small. You can have a plain box, you can have a fancy box, but if your god is in a box, he isn’t God at all he isn’t God at all.
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
These words from Philippians 4:12-13, some of the first verses that we memorized in Spanish, have gained much more meaning in these last weeks:
A month ago, we had plenty of funds, having needed just $150 of monthly support to finish our itineration.
A month ago we had plenty of plans, having weekends full of services and upcoming trips to participate in strategic ministry and important meetings.
A month ago we had plenty of confidence, thinking that we were prepared to face any eventuality. But then came the disease called COVID-19.
Now, because of a virus so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, everything has changed.
Our itineration has been suspended.
Our travel plans have been canceled.
And any confidence in ourselves that we had to handle the crisis has disappeared in the face of a situation that continues to change minute by minute.
Let’s face it, we do not have the strength to carry on in the face of the challenge of this disease.
We are active in prayer, but we do not have the power to see our companions, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, who fight against the coronavirus in their bodies, healed.
Being Mexico Area Directors, coordinating the ministry and movements of 24 families, we meet almost daily with our companions to help them, but we do not have in us the wisdom to guide them in the decisions they have to make in the midst of this crisis.
But we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength.
In the same way that we had thanked him for what we enjoyed in moments of abundance, we trust him now for what we need, the resources, the power, and the wisdom to overcome this situation.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week, “Unbelievable?,” a Christian/Skeptic discussion show. Recently, they’ve switched format to focus on the new reality that we are all facing. In this particular podcast, the show host, Justin Briley, interviewed John Lennox, a renowned mathematician and Christian apologist. When talking about the grief related to the current pandemic, Lennox referenced the passage in John 11 of the death and resurrection of Lazarus (at the 5:30 mark in the podcast). In that passage, he states that Martha expressed her disappointment to Jesus upon his arrival. “Lord, if only you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” Jesus then made a statement that was difficult for her to accept. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” She had enough theology, said Lennox, to know of a coming resurrection, but she was unprepared for Jesus’s response: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He goes on to say that he suspected that Martha then expected something big was going to happen. We, of course, know the rest of the story.
We have lost much in this pandemic: money, plans, a clear path forward, emotional stability, even friends and loved ones, and for that loss, we grieve, but Christ remains our hope. Even as we look to an Easter Sunday under stay-at-home orders, he remains our resurrection and our life.
Our prayer is that you and your loved ones have access to that hope and that strength that only Christ can give us.
We conclude with this well-known prayer: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)’
Para los que hablan español, he subido un video con la mayoria de este contenido. Se lo puede ver en YouTube.
As we face the crisis related to the coronavirus and the effects of the COVID-19 disease, we wanted to update you on our situation and offer you our support. Please, take a few moments to watch this video that we’ve prepared from our home in Springfield, MO where we are serving our 8th day of self-quarantine. You can do so by simply hitting the photo above. We hope that it’s an encouragement to you.
With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m sure you remember what it was like to sit at the “little table.” It was the one in the corner, or, worse yet, in a completely different room of the house. There, you’d groan, doomed to spend another meal dealing with the shenanigans of your little cousins, all the while wondering what kinds of mature conversations were happening at the “Big Table.”
But then, all of a sudden, you’d graduated. Maybe you went away to college and returned, or you’d gotten married and, without warning or preparation, you’d been given a seat at the big table. Are those your palms sweating, or is it just the condensation from the bowl of mashed potatoes? Is that a lump in your throat, or have you just forgotten to chew your food? Maybe, you think, you’d be more comfortable back at the little table. It’s funny, though, in the same way we’d always wanted to be at the Big Table, when the time came, we found that those who were there to receive us were truly glad to have us.
That holiday analogy was a bit of what our experience was like as we took part in first our Area Directors’ meeting in Colorado Springs, CO. In a room where over 400 years of combined missions service was present, we certainly felt the junior members. All the same, we were received during those sessions as part of the team, encouraged to take part and affirmed as we did. What a joy it was to hear and be able to weigh in on the strategic conversations taking place to ensure the increasing number as well as the security and effectiveness of our missionary colleagues throughout Latin America.
So, if you’re finding yourself on the threshold of increasing responsibility and wondering if you’re ready to take your service to the next level, be encouraged. Chances are, others have been looking forward to your contribution. Needing a bit more convincing? Check out this article.