Columbus Vineyard

We were recently joined by a group of five from the Vineyard Church of Columbus. Jim Tate led the team and this was Jim’s eighth ministry visit to our mission. He is spoken of with such affection by all the missionaries here and, after meeting him and getting to spend some time with him over the course of his stay, I understand why. Each member of the team was genuine, transparent, and enthusiastic, like its leader. Upon their arrival in Altamira, they immediately dove in and helped out for a week at a construction project at one of our churches, creating space for children’s ministry. They moved dirt and bricks, hauled gravel, mortared walls, mixed cement (all by hand), and, alongside several local men from the church, completed in that time period what would have otherwise taken many weeks to complete. Because of their efforts, the kids will have a place to meet and, soon, the caretaker family will have a nice place to call home.

At the end of each day, we drove down to a pier overlooking the Xingu River and jumped 30+ ft. into the refreshing warm, tropical river. Of course, our kids joined us each day for this excursion and they (along with the rest of us) had a blast overcoming their natural fear of jumping from such a height (over and over). We were able to pray for several people, who requested the same, even while having fun playing in the river.

The next week, we journeyed out onto the Xingu River and visited two river villages and one town over three days. Each member of the team freely and honestly shared about their lives and their experience of knowing Jesus and how He has impacted them. These guys prayed for so many people. At each stop, we were able to help many people with their health and each person gladly allowed these guys to lay hands on them and ask God to touch them. It was obvious that many hearts were touched and that many of the folks that we served experienced God’s love and affection for them, through us.

The remote people of this region do not have affordable access to medicine and they cannot get an experienced medical ear easily. They never have someone lay hands on them and pray to Jesus, the only actual healer, for them. All of this was received with much gratitude.

Our family joined the team on their river trip, which included a two mile hike from the river to the first village. The kids did great. Luke helped with worship and praying for people and with translating during the praying times. Ellie helped pray for people and Ben and Meredith swam and swam. Meredith fell asleep on a wood bench during each evening service after a day of walking, water and fun.

This team was special to me. The combination of the effort they put forth during the construction in the 100 degree heat, their laughter and fun-loving natures, and the sweetness of their hearts toward Jesus, was beautiful and challenged and blessed me, personally. There is a difficult to describe beauty in people who are transparent about their humanness, who are real and put on no airs, and who possess a passionate love for Jesus. This transparency and genuineness was characteristic of each member of this team, and just hanging out with these guys during their stay here was edifying and uplifting.

There is a temptation in the Christian life to appear better than we are, to ourselves as well as to others. The temptation takes the form of trying to appear “good” or, more often, trying to appear as if we “have it all together”.  Many Christians live in a superficial world of do’s and don’t’s, plastic smiles, token advice and "Praise God’s!" and they never allow themselves to be honestly known by God or by another, flaws and all.  Christians are some of the worst listeners anywhere because they are so quick with their "pat" answers and advice, totally lacking the healing balm of empathy.  It seems to me that this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus intended. God’s word makes it very clear that we ALL are a mess, a tangled and confusing web of mixed motives, past mistakes, fear, and self-centered desires. Though Jesus freely communicates that positive changes will occur in us when we encounter Him, these changes are NOT the goal. The goal is to know Him who, in stark contrast to us, is beautiful, good and in complete control of Himself and His desires. We are, in comparison to Him, none of these things, and never will be. To try to put on these qualities is to try to like God, and this is a futile endeavor, to say the least.

God’s family is a safe place to be open about who we really are as we win and lose our various battles.  At least it should be.  Church, at its best, can be a group of screwed up people in love with Jesus if WE will allow people to see who we really are.  As we grow in our trust of God’s affection for us, AS WE ARE, we will be free to reveal who we really are to others.  Then, as they see us share our weaknesses and frailties, they will be able to relax and let down their facade of having it together.  Then, together, we can journey honestly and openly, worship Jesus for loving even us, and encourage others to come to Him, as they are, where they are.  To know God, as He is, and to know ourselves, as we are (with all the junk inside), is life.  To appreciate the difference, is wisdom. To try to be something we are not (having it all together) misses the mark completely. This team reminded me that to be myself is important, and beautiful. To our Father, this is a high priority, as He, with purpose, made each of us unique, with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, to demonstrate the greatness and the beauty of the Designer and the wonder of His profound love for flawed individuals. 

My challenges to you (and to me) this week are to share openly with a close friend about a struggle that you’ve kept hidden and also to soberly ask someone what they might be struggling with so that you can go with them to Jesus (pray with them, not advise them) and walk with them to a place of deeper intimacy with you and a place of deeper intimacy with Him.

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