We thoroughly enjoyed a recent visit from a team from the Columbus Vineyard, led by Craig and Linda Hestleton. Upon arrival, they presented all the missionary kids with gifts and, as you can imagine, the kids were delighted. The team also brought meds and tools and musical instruments and so many things that will benefit us and those we minister to in this region. The day after they landed from their two day journey to get here, we were off on a nine day boat trip to the Amazon flood basin north of Altamira.
Our first stop was in a small village called Villa Mendoza, after about eight hours of travel. We helped them with their health questions, visited their homes, and had an evening service in the one room school house. There was a viral illness going around and we gave them something to help with the fevers and it was greatly appreciated. I can’t imagine living where something as simple as Tylenol or Advil is not readily available. The evening service was simple but very nice. Especially the village patriarch and the village teacher received touches from the Lord when we prayed for them. The patriarch had had a sinus headache daily for over one month that completely cleared while praying and was still gone the following morning. The teacher has a sincere love for Jesus that encouraged us all, and it appears, at this time, that he’s alone in this regard. We look forward to regular stops here to support and encourage what is already growing in him.
We went on the next day to Espirito Santo where we held an outdoor service on benches, under the stars, near the edge of the river, and under a single light bulb. No building, worshipping with a simple guitar, connecting with the Maker of it all and with each other, with virtually no man-made helps, surrounded by God-made beauty. I observed that we can spend much time, effort, and resources on man-made “needs” for our ministries, when we can meet with Jesus, the King of kings, simply, alone or with each other, anytime and anywhere. Although there wasn’t anything special man-made in this place, love, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and hope was given and was received freely. I sensed God’s pleasure as I watched the scene play out before me and it reminded me of Jesus’ words in the latter part of Matt 6 (“…seek first His Kigdom…”). We know that the kingdom He is speaking about is about things spiritual and unseen and this visit was a perfect illustration of what Jesus was talking about.
The following day we visited Aparecida, a village that our mission had visited only once to deliver water filters. Early in the morning, we set up on two benches under some trees and over the next four hours we saw almost everyone in the village as they came with health concerns and questions. We assisted where we could and had pleasant conversations with all. We saw more than fifty people that morning and each person was loved, listened to, helped, and prayed for, with no strings whatsoever.
We returned one week later to the warmest of receptions. This is a Catholic village, like so many in the region, and the “religion” in these villages is typically nominal at best but, as in other parts of the world, if differences in “religion” are perceived, antagonism usually results. Our reception when we returned was evidence that there were no walls between us. We were received like family or long-lost friends and it was easy to tell that, in their eyes, we were completely for them. Loving and serving them before speaking had given us the right to speak and had created in them a desire to hear what we had to say. Virtually the whole village turned out for the service and Craig’s message focused on who Jesus was and not on any real or perceived differences in belief between us and the villagers. God’s pleasure was again evident and I think we all basked in it.
There is nothing quite like serving and giving and, in so doing, sensing the pleasure of Him who so delights in doing the same. I’m learning that any success that we can experience from earthly achievement pales when compared to knowing God’s pleasure. The things of God’s kingdom simply cannot be measured by earthly means. We (I) often set earthly goals and set out to accomplish them by definable means. The achievement of the same, however, is nothing like knowing God’s pleasure, which cannot be measured. We just cannot measure walking with Him, conversing with Him, or hearing, serving, and obeying Him, and it is these that give us life.
We would prefer to measure our earthly progress but Jesus seems to encourage us to disregard this measuring. In Jesus’ teaching about progress and self, He commands us to treat self with disregard and abandonment. We, however, can prefer to serve self as we place “religious” or honorable labels on it. We focus on “character building”, or on “becoming more like Jesus”, or on our “blessings” because “He blesses and prospers His people”, or on how much of the Bible we know, or on how much work we are doing for the Lord. All of these are measurable and can be self-serving and self-satisfying, while Jesus and Paul actually encourage us to treat our measurable progress as trash, in order to gain intimacy with Him. So they are saying that our “good” earthly accomplishments can actually get in the way of what really matters.
This challenge is ever before the Christian. Do we abandon the grace, the unearned favor, that brought us to our Father in the first place, and exchange this beautiful gift of relationship with Him, for digging a well where there is no water to satisfy our thirst (pursuit of self-fulfillment)? This spiritual battle continues daily, whether one is in the States or on a foreign mission field, as to who we will cater to – self or Jesus. I’m learning that it all returns to drawing closer to Jesus and fixing our eyes on Him. And what is the result? The fruit produced from drawing close to Him and focusing on Him, while abandoning self, is more and more attention given to the only One who is worthy of any attention or glory.
It’s amazing what a simple boat trip can stir in me. This mission experience seems to be fertile ground for God to mold, strip, and break my heart so that I will finally learn that His wonderful grace is both sufficient for me and the most beautiful thing available to me. I hope for more as there is much more in me that gets in the way of pursuing only Him.
More on the rest of the trip to follow.