Sunday, June 3, 2012

Why I Do What I Do

Life is fragile. We become more acutely aware of this fact when death touches us. And it seems like I've had more than my fair share of encounters with death lately.

In December 2010 my husband's paternal grandmother passed away. I returned to Iquitos in January 2011 to learn that my friend Johnny from the AIDS hospice lost his fight on New Year's Eve. A few months later I was at the Iquitos hospital when a gurney carrying a small mass covered with a sheet wheeled past me; Margarita informed me it was Jessica, another friend from the AIDS hospice. In January 2012 a Peruvian friend and Young Life staffer in Lima lost his wife to a sudden massive heart attack just three weeks after the birth of their second child. Days later we said good-bye to my husband's maternal grandmother. Barely a month after that I was enjoying a leisurely evening of watching TV while Skype chatting with Collins when all of a sudden I gasped at the breaking news on CNN - Whitney Houston was dead. Fast-forward a couple of days to Margarita receiving a phone call summoning her to Lima due to the untimely death of her brother. Then came the passing of America's oldest teenager, Dick Clark. In April some dear missionary friends in Paraguay shared the news that the wife and biological son of one of their missions colleagues had been killed in a terrible car accident just as they were finalizing the adoption of their daughter. And most recently, in May, a former student, dear friend, and shining example of man died tragically in a motorcycle accident. Some were family members, some precious friends, some friends of friends, some famous icons - yet in one way or another, the death of each of these people affected me in a very personal way. A few leave me lamenting the passing of an era, while others cause me to question why and still others shatter my heart into a million pieces as I grieve the gaping holes they have left behind.

Physical death isn't the only kind of ending that life hands us. We experience the loss of relationships - friends betray us, relocate to another city, state or country, or they just kind of fizzle out and disappear. Hopes and dreams crash and burn - circumstances outside of our control inject themselves into our lives and derail our carefully made plans. Jobs come and go - often at someone else's discretion leaving us wondering how we will provide for ourselves and our families. Material possessions are here one minute, gone the next - whether lost through the tragedy of natural disasters, pure accident, or our own ignorance and stupidity, stuff just doesn't have any staying power. The truth we must all come face-to-face with eventually is that possession is only an illusion. Nothing is really ours. People, desires, money, things - they only pass through our lives, lingering for varying amounts of time, and then they're gone. And one day we, too, will be gone.

Pretty morbid picture, huh? It would be if that were the end of the story.

Enter Jesus. The Good News. The Gospel.

In Him there is no death. Only life. Abundant life. Eternal life.

In Him we find forgiveness and salvation. In Him all losses are recompensed and all brokenness is made whole. In Him our emptiness is filled and wrongs are made right. Because of Him there is hope and joy and peace in the midst of devastation. Because of Him the tomb is empty and death of any kind only has a temporary sting. In the words of Bill and Gloria Gaither:

God sent His son, they called him Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because He lives I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives all fear is gone;
Because I know He hold the future
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

This week I celebrate my 10th year of serving in Peru that began with my first mission trip here in 2002. I also embark on my 7th summer of hosting mission teams, facilitating partnerships, and helping build relationships among U.S. and Peruvian churches. Additionally I open my 4th year of living in the Amazon, beating out a daily existence with some of the most beautiful people on the planet. There are those who think I'm crazy for having followed God into this place for this season of my life. I can only say, yes I am - crazy about the God who rescued me from hopelessness and gave purpose to my life. Crazy to tell others the reason why the overwhelming physical and emotional losses in my life haven't destroyed me. Crazy in love with my Savior who loves me right back no matter how imperfect I am. Crazy to share that death has lost its sting and is not the final answer.

Jesus says, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world" John 16:33 (NLT). He doesn't promise that life will be easy, fair or free from pain and suffering. What he does promise is something much bigger and greater - peace and hope.

Because there are still people in this world who think the morbid picture is all there is…
Because we are not promised tomorrow…
Because life is fragile and fleeting and time is of the essence...
...that is why I do what I do.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eating Leaves

I tried not to laugh - really, I did. But I couldn't help myself. Actually it's Villa's fault because he laughed first, then he had the nerve to tell me what he was laughing about. What other choice did I have?

After more than five hours on the river visiting villages, we landed safely back in Iquitos just in time to head off to El Bucanero for a late lunch. El Bucanero is one of my favorite places because the dining room is totally enclosed in glass and overlooks the Itaya River. The view is breathtaking. Because of the impressive scenery and most excellent cuisine, it is also a tourist hot spot. We arrived in time to get one of the tables closest to the windows situated directly on the river. Moments after we ordered, in came a large group of North Americans. A typical gringo group, they were loud, and oblivious to the fact that they were annoying the Peruvians who were trying to enjoy a tranquil meal as they competed for airtime while running back and forth from their tables to the window to take pictures of the two iguanas lounging in the tree outside.

With my back to the gringos (because I, myself, am no longer considered a gringa; according to the locals I am charapa - one of them), I was savoring my favorite Peruvian meal - tacu tacu with lomo saltado (a mix of rice and beans topped with strips of marinated beef cooked with onions, peppers, and french fries). I was gazing out across the engorged river, commenting on how early and quickly the water had risen this year, when Villa began to chuckle. I asked him what was so funny, and he leaned in and said, "That gringo is eating leaves!" Then he lost all control and proceeded to laugh so hard he could barely breathe. Not wanting to draw any more attention to us than Villa was already garnering, I resisted the urge to turn around and see this phenomenon for myself - for a few seconds anyway!

Casually turning my head to the side, as though I was searching for our waiter, I caught a glimpse of this poor, innocent, naïve gringo sawing away at the stalk of the bijao leaf that enveloped his fish. Fortunately I was no longer looking when he began to chew on the stalk, evidently with horrible (yet oh-so-funny) facial expressions which Villa described to me in vivid detail - as much as I could understand through his uniquely contagious laugh and gasps for air. It didn't take long until I was laughing hysterically too.

I honestly felt bad for this nameless North American; he had to know we were laughing at him (well, Villa was laughing at him - I was laughing at Villa). Then I wondered how many times over the years I have been the subject of onlookers' comic relief. What cultural faux pas have I committed? Without a doubt I know it has happened, probably more often than I like to believe. I feel my neck and cheeks burning hot with embarrassment at the mere thought. Then another thought - if my lack of Latino sophistication gives someone an opportunity for side-splitting, stomach-aching, soul-cleansing, perspective-changing laughter, then so be it. It is the best medicine!

Proverbs 17:22

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint