We recently enjoyed working with a team visiting from the Vineyard Church of Newark, Ohio. This was a special group of people. They were diverse in their abilities and experience and they came to serve. They did a river trip, worked on a building, counseled the missionaries, ran a Vacation Bible School for children, taught for several days on Kingdom prayer, and even cleaned the missionaries’ yards! They laughed and encouraged and loved throughout their stay and their impact will be lasting. A trip to this region is stretching in and of itself, yet they pushed through the natural discomforts and insecurities and touched many people with their care, including me. I was struck during their visit about how really rich we are as missionaries. Perhaps not in the classic sense, but in ways far more important, we are so rich. What Jesus said in Mark 10:29-30, has been profoundly experienced by our family in these past couple of years. The love and encouragement that we receive from His family makes us among the most blessed in the Kingdom.
This team especially focused on children. They ran a VBS with the children of a poorer neighborhood in Porto de Moz. Nothing they did was fancy, but all they did was beautiful. They had clown skits full of laughter and fun that taught Kingdom lessons to the kids. They organized crafts that left each child with souvenirs to take home with them. They photographed each child and sent them home with their picture in a frame that that child had crafted. They organized games for the kids to play and the joy on these kids’ faces was beautiful to behold, especially when contrasted with their difficult, simple, often painful lives. The events of these days created memories for these kids, seeds planted in their hearts, that will bear fruit in their lives over time.
Kids are neglected here. Family structures are almost universally fractured. Love and affection is not commonly experienced during childhood. Kids begin working at an early age, they seek love in other kids and become parents at an early age (early teens, commonly), and the cycle is repeated. Only the known affection of Jesus can alter this generational cycle. God’s love offers hope, hope brings encouragement, and courage enables one to turn away from these cultural patterns. God loved these kids through this team and the fruit of their efforts they will likely not see, but God will manage the seeds and the resulting fruit. The Kingdom of God, as well as Porto de Moz, will be different because this team was willing to love “the least”. I’m reminded of a song by Ray Boltz called, “Thank You”, as I consider this team and the other teams that come here at great cost and join us in this work. One day, in heaven, one of these kids will approach someone from this team. The team member won’t remember the kid, but the kid will embrace them, and thank them, for their part in steering them to Jesus and the hope that enabled the change in their eternal destiny. This team put themselves in a position to participate in God’s chasing after these kids with His love and affection.
I think of the many people God has used to steer me to Him. Many I won’t see again until that day around the Throne when I will embrace them and thank them for their patience when I didn’t get it, their kindness when I was obstinate, their boldness in sharing the truth with me when I didn’t care, their loving me when I didn’t love them. I will thank them for their faithfulness to the King and their love for Jesus, and how it impacted me. Many of you are among these people that have so impacted me, and I am so grateful. I’m struck by how many things “matter” to us in this life. Then, only one thing will matter, that we know Him and live with Him, where He is. Oh God, use us to gather more people for that banquet around the throne. It’s right around the corner…