I haven’t written a post in over a month because I have been on a sabbatical. During this time there were several massive things that happened in the US and around the world that I really wanted to respond to……that I wanted to insert my voice into the conversation. From the nuclear deal with Iran to the SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage – everything in me wanted to “speak out.” However, when I would sit down to type I just couldn’t bring myself to hit the publish button. At the time I had no idea why the Holy Spirit was reigning me in….but I think I now know why.
At the end of my sabbatical I had the privilege of traveling to Peru to serve the poor, addicted, enslaved, all-but-forgotten people of Iquitos. The fury and confusion that had consumed me about political issues at home seemed less powerful. The loud, incessant clamoring of opinions that overwhelmed the news cycle here at home moved from deafening screams to pitiful whispers. Things that seemed, and in many respects are, huge issues – for just a few days – lost their luster. Things that had been very blurry in my mind gradually found focus, and I am a blessed man because of it. My prayer is that this small glimpse into my time in Peru will serve to edify the body, clarify the mission, petrify our fears and electrify our hearts to make more of Jesus.
4 things the church must never forget:
You can have muddy feet and a pure heart
The picture I have attached shows some of the local children hula-hooping in the rain. We introduced them to hula-hoops and they reminded us what pure joy personified looks like. The interesting thing about this picture is the mud these kids are dancing in isn’t your typical dirt. These children live in extreme poverty. If they are fortunate enough to live in a home with any sort of toilet the drain simply empties waste into a stream behind their home. When it rains or when the river floods annually, the waste makes its way through their homes and into their streets. All of that to say the mud isn’t your ordinary, run of the mill mud. I didn’t do any sort of scientific testing on the dirt but I feel certain the dirt is comprised of a mix of traditional dirt and human feces. After it rains they do not have showers to use or clean beds to lie down on…..for many they only have the floor – the dirt floor. Yet, despite their circumstances, the still dance and play in the rain as if no one is watching. They have dirty feet but pure hearts. I wonder if for many of us the reverse isn’t true? Perhaps we should not take so much pride in the cleanliness of our homes and externals and ask if, in the core of our heart, darkness and dirtiness reign.
God is still pursuing those the world has left behind
We went into 2 different drug holes between the hours of 11pm and 1am to simply be present. We went there praying for an opportunity to look someone in the eye trusting that in our eyes they would see the love of God. Drug holes are exactly what they sound like – dark places where people come to buy, sell and consume narcotics. Many of these drug holes are avoided entirely by the police and certainly dodged by the majority of people walking by. What was a bustling market during the day is a dungeon of sinfulness and depravity at night. As we approached the drug hole I couldn’t help but notice and be moved by the users who came out of their consumption to embrace Andrew, our missionary in Iquitos. Perhaps greater than that I was moved by the way both he and his wife Courtney hug these people like I hug my own children. They embrace them tightly with their arms trusting that this human touch will pave the way for the user to experience the supernatural touch of God’s grace. The vast majority of Iquitos, and frankly the world, have forgotten these people and written them off as nothing more than a dangerous nuisance – but not Andrew and Courtney. I appreciate what they do but was humbled most by the God that has prompted them to do it. In seeing their hugs I saw flashbacks of the people God used to hug me toward His mercy when I was lost in my own depravity. The church needs to ask who it is we have written off or chosen to forget…..and realize that God is still pursuing those people.
The only difference that matters is Jesus
We went into a part of the city that the police refuse to visit after dark and discourage gringos from visiting during the day due to danger. It is an area known for its drug population, sex trafficking, and assaults with razor blades. In the middle of all these warnings and all of these examples of brokenness we meet a pastor. He pointed out the place he used to live – the place where he participated in activities that would make any of us squeamish. The place where his darkest memories took place is no more than 100 yards away from the place where his church now gathers. It is a small, humble building that serves as both his home and his church’s sanctuary. As he tells his story and glances across the heavily littered slums he calls home he looks at us and says “May you praise God regardless of your circumstances because He is worthy.” Circumstances? I live in a 4 bedroom brick home in a nice neighborhood. I have 2 cars, 3 healthy kids, a wife that loves me, extended family that is a phone call away, and a church that honors and encourages me. Our circumstances could not be more different…..unless those aren’t the circumstances this man was referring to. I think, again in hindsight, that he was referring to the only circumstances that have eternal consequence. Without Christ there is no amount of money or possessions that will satisfy the debt that is owed for sin. I may have more physically, but have I, somewhere along the way, forgotten that Jesus and Jesus alone is responsible for my salvation? My sins may look different than this man’s but eternally speaking they carry the same penalty – eternal death. The grace that flowed from calvary over my sins is the same grace that is slowly weaving its way through the slums of Belen.
The goal isn’t heaven on earth
I headed off to Peru with all sorts of political issues stirring here at home. I headed into Peru with a real desire to write the best article, to present the best argument, to create the most informative podcast to address and correct the tension swirling around homosexuality, racism, international affairs and etc. But as the week went along I realized the ultimate objective for Christ followers isn’t to create some sort of heaven on earth. The scripture clearly tells us that this world is not our home. Please do not hear me saying Christians should not raise their voices in disagreement when appropriate. Rather please do hear me say the catalyst for us raising our voices should never be to create some sort of fictional nirvana. The catalyst for our raised voices, calloused hands, and dirty feet should be the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ – for His glory alone.
I hope we, as a church…..as the church…never forget these things. I hope we take seriously the call to find the lost and forgotten in our own society and extend to them the same good news that saved us. I trust we will look beyond the dirty feet and see the heart. I pray we will truly become the hands and feet of Jesus wherever it is He sends us. I trust we will labor joyfully even when everything seems to be stacked against us. Soon enough friends we will be home…..soon enough.