Inside Mariona Prison

For several months now, I have been going through security checks and pat downs every Thursday, not in the airport but as I enter and leave Mariona prison.  It’s a bothersome process, but well worth it when I consider the men inside waiting for the English Bible Study.

Mariona houses some 5,000 inmates in a facility built for 800, so conditions are deplorable.  The overcrowding in each cell means that men sleep in tiers of hammocks strung up like spider webs.

There is a growing number of deportees, men who grew up in the States and whose primary language and culture is English.  Those who end up in Mariona find themselves in a culture and environment completely foreign to them.  They long for their home culture and language, and some struggle to learn Spanish in this adverse environment.

Take Danny for example, a regular attender of the Bible Study, given 4 years for a parole violation.  He began coming because he prefers to speak English and was invited by a fellow deportee.   He became so fascinated by the story of David that he read through both 1st and 2nd Samuel on his own, and could recount to me all of the major events of the story.  Though his friends make fun of him reading the Bible, he continues to come and is considering making a decision to follow Jesus Christ.

I chose the story of King David, using Eugene Peterson’s excellent book entitled, Leap Over a Wall as a guide because I knew these men could identify with someone who desired to follow God but who also committed sins for which he suffered dearly.

One morning Danny’s eyes lit up as we were discussing Peterson’s quote, “Reality is made up mostly of what we can’t see.”

“Can I have a copy of that quote?” he asked eagerly, as if he had just discovered a treasure.

I shared with the men in the study that the horrid conditions in which they live are only a portion of their reality; that their inner spiritual and mental life, attitudes and actions make up a larger portion of their lives.  In spite of their current situation, I pointed out that they can be a part of the larger spiritual battle that occurs daily by returning good for evil and choosing peace over violence, letting God fight their battles for them as David did.

Ernesto, a pastor who is in for 7 years because he purchased a stolen vehicle without knowing it was stolen, spoke up excitedly.  “That’s true!” he said.  “I had a big problem this week.  Someone set me up and the men told me they were going to beat me up the next day.  I was so scared, I spent all night praying, asking God to help me.  The next day they found out I had been set up, and so I was safe.  God protected me.”

Each time I go into Mariona, I am impressed with the earnestness of these men, as they open their minds and hearts to the study.  In the Bible they find men and women who, like all of us, are flawed but through whom God accomplishes His good and perfect purposes.  I thank God that He is bringing about a transformation of their lives through the lessons found in His Word.

Beauty For Ashes

IMG_4793To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.
Isaiah 61:3

Life is hard, for everybody. There is no getting around that, and how we deal with the challenges of living in this sin-broken world determines whether or not we will live victoriously or be defeated. I see the brokenness all around me, and I have lived it. I have often told my friends, “I have already lived the worst day of my life, so now I can live freely, without fear.”

Before Bryan died, I would say that I had experienced hardship, but I had not yet been fully broken. I lived for God, but held onto my own way of living. I had not yet experienced what it means to surrender all to Christ, learning to depend fully on Him for my life.

I believe that sooner or later we all come to this point; to the end of ourselves and the beginning of brokenness. Once that happens in our lives, we have a choice. Either we can turn away from God, hanging on to bitterness and resentment, and live an angry joyless life; or we can turn towards God, to the One who is able to restore us to a life full of joy and beauty, to the Resurrected One who made this restoration possible.

I have seen this happen in the lives and testimonies of many of my Christian brothers and sisters, both here in El Salvador and the United States. I have witnessed and experienced in my own life the “beauty for ashes” that Isaiah describes, and the turning of despair into joy.

That joy comes in small and big packages for me: when I see the limitless beauty of God’s creation in the exotic flowers and plant life of El Salvador; when I catch the eye of one of the youth and we are able to share a wink or a reassuring smile; when the Pastor and I are able to have a few minutes of relaxation, sharing our stories, laughter and the occasional joke.

People have sometimes imagined that I wear rose-colored glasses, however I would present another point of view. I have seen the evil in this world. I have seen the effects of the wickedness of the human heart, in my own and in others. I am no stranger to sorrow. Every time I hear of another teen who has been cut down before ever finding out what it means to really live, I immediately think of the weeping and wailing mothers who are losing their children daily.

The difference for me is that I believe that God is greater than all of this hate, sorrow and wickedness we see around us. I see everywhere His hand moving to restore, uphold, encourage, bless and reverse the negative effects of sin. I see it in big and little ways, in the restoration of a young man who has left the world of alcohol behind, and the touch of a cool breeze on a hot day.

I feel such gratitude for how He is working in my own life and in the lives of those around me to demonstrate the incredible power of love. And though I am able to see my own weaknesses all too clearly, and sometimes those of others, I choose to love. I choose to hang on to the One who loved me while I was still holding Him at bay, unsure of what it meant to lean fully on Him. This is why I can smile and laugh, and enjoy the beauty in the midst of the ashes.



James McCray and Thomas Lane of the Anointed Ex-Offenders (AEO) came to El Salvador this past month together with Pastor Jack Weber forAEO at Punto Juvenil a rigorous week of ministry with their special gifts of song, dance, beat-box and testimony.  They delighted kids in the Christ For the City International soccer schools, and people in a poor community near the railroad tracks.  

The team helped to inaugurate the new youth center in Pedregal, a small sweatshop town located 45 minutes southeast of San Salvador.  Prior to the event, they met with 14 members of the local gang, to share their testimonies and enjoy a meal together, arranged by the pastor of the local church.  The gang members opened up and even smiled to see Thomas’ dancing and beat-box routine as James sang, “Lord, you’ve been so faithful!”  Pastor Jack spoke to the crowd about the importance of ministering to youth.  The inauguration drew some 100-120 people to the town square, in front of the youth Altavista 4center.

The AEO gave an open-air concert which drew more than 600 people to a park in a gang-controlled area. The event featured a local break dance group, as well as a Christian beat-box artist.  The crowd cheered as they watched the AEO members dance, sing, and beat-box. Local churches were invited and prepared to pray with attendees.   There were 12-15 people who expressed a desire to follow Christ.

The group also was able to do prison ministry at 3 different facilities in the San Salvador area: the Juvenile Detention Center, the Women’s Prison and the Mariona Men’s prison. In each place we  met with the “body of Christ within the walls,”believers who decided to follow Christ after being incarcerated.  A group of 14 teen boys in the Juvenile Detention Center have formed a church they call “City of Refuge.”  They were very pleased by the visit.  IMG_9478“Not many come to see us, “they said. 

In addition, the team sang and preached at 3 churches, the Central Cathedral and a Christian school.  It was a very rewarding time, and the team went home weary, but pleased to be a part of God’s work in El Salvador!



Salvadoran Elections Fair and Efficient

This past Sunday I served as one of the International Election Observers for the second round of the Presidential Election, and was very impressed with how smoothly things went.  There were lots of checks and balances to assure that there was no fraud.  The process was as follows:
1.  Voting tables were made up of 4 electoral representatives, along with 1 representative from each party (ARENA and FMLN).
2.  Voters came to their assigned table where they had to show their valid ID and also show their hands to indicate that they had not voted (post-vote they would have ink on one finger).
3.  On the spot, the electoral representative in charge of the ballots, signed and stamped 1 ballot with the official seal, and carefully tore it off of the ballot pad.  They also then removed a small tear-off corner of the ballot and gave it to the voter.
4.  The voter then went to the private voting booth (cardboard, as this is a poor country) and voted.  Only 1 voter could vote at a time, but there were not long lines as they had set up sufficient tables.  While the voter was voting, the electoral representative in charge of the ID process found their name on the voting list and then stamped over it to indicate that the voter had voted.
5.  The voter put their ballot in the box, and then went to the electoral representative in charge of the signatures.  There they signed next to their name (another indication that they had already voted).
At the end of the night, all electoral representatives, each party representative, and the international observers stood around the table to complete the count.  First, all of the little corners that were torn off the ballots were counted, to indicate the number of total ballots cast at that table.  Then all of the unused ballots were counted to make sure that the total equaled 500 (the total amount given to each table).  All unused votes were then stamped to make them null.  Then the lead electoral representative opened the ballot box in front of everyone, and ONE BY ONE removed the ballots, lifted them up for all to see which party got the vote, and then put that vote in the hands of that party representative.  Once all were divided up, and null votes set aside, the WHOLE GROUP TOGETHER counted the ballots for each party.  This was then put on the report, which was on a pressure sensitive form that made 5 copies.  Each party representative received a copy of the form, a copyh stayed with the electoral representatives, and the original was sent to the Electoral Board.  Ballots were sealed in special plastic bags, all materials were returned to the materials box where they were sealed up in front of the whole group.
With all of these people standing around, including representatives from both parties, agreeing on the number of ballots received by each party, as well as receiving copies of the final counts, I would say this was one of the fairest elections in El Salvador’s history.
The losing party candidate is, of course, making a big fuss which is not surprising.  What is disturbing is that he made veiled threats of a military coup.  We CAN NOT go back to the days of repressive military rule here!  This country has worked too hard for democracy, and we hope to keep it.

A Word on Resurrection

IMG_0349This day encourages me to reflect on the truths found in the Bible about resurrection and life after death.  After Bryan died, I had so many questions and few answers, but one thing I have always been assured of is that Bryan knew where he was going.  I know this because of a single word he wrote in the margins of his bible.  Bryan was not one to write or even highlight in his Bible, so this word stood out like a light in the darkness, a bold statement of what he believed and what I also am convinced of: that those who look to Jesus Christ as Lord and King will, after leaving this world, experience His glory with all those who believe, whether they have come to this understanding early in life, or have finally accepted Christ’s authority after long years of personal struggle and alienation from God.

Sometime after Bryan died, as I was working through deep grief over his going away, I came across this word he had written in his Bible.  He wrote it next to the final phrase of John 6:40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  Next to this, Bryan wrote the word, “resurrection.”

Finding this in his Bible brought me great comfort and served as an acknowledgement to me that Bryan knew that his death from this world would mean entrance into a new life in the presence of God.  His illness overcame his ability to manage in this world, so he went on to the next.

N.T. Wright, the well-known British theologian and scholar, studies the theology of resurrection in his book, Surprised by Hope.  He expounds on the early Jewish and Christian ideas about resurrection, as well as contemporary ones, and examines them from a Biblical point of view.  He debunks the many erroneous concepts within the Christian and wider world about death, resurrection and heaven.

Wright demonstrates that the Christian hope after death is not one of a disembodied spirit which resides in a utopian place somewhere “out there,” but rather is one of a bodily resurrection and eventual renewal and restoration of the earth.  Just as Christ was resurrected as the “firstborn” of a new covenant, God will also provide bodily resurrection for those who accept his free gift of redemption, and “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).”

Dr. Wright explains, “My proposition is that the traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage post-mortem journey (with or without the option of some kind of purgatory or continuing journey as an intermediate stage) represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope.  Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope.  It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story we tell about God’s ultimate purposes.  If we squeeze it to the margins, as many have done by implication, or indeed if we leave it out altogether, as some have done quite explicitly, we don’t just lose an extra feature, like buying a car that happens not to have electrically operated mirrors.  We lose the central engine, which drives it and gives every other component its reason for working.  Instead of talking vaguely about heaven and then trying to fit the language of resurrection into that, we should talk with Biblical precision about the resurrection and reorganize our language about heaven around that.”

Regarding heaven, he writes, “heaven is actually a reverent way of speaking about God so that the ´riches in heaven’ simply means ‘riches in God’s presence…’

The hope that Bryan had, and that I have, along with all those who believe in God’s promises as given in the Bible, is that we will be resurrected to live in God’s presence and enjoy a fully renewed creation. 

I know that I will see my beloved Bryan again one day, and that gives me much comfort.  But more than that, I know I have the promise of living together with him and the many other people whom I love, who have gone before me and will go after me, into God’s presence.  

Who is my neighbor?

Recently I preached at an evening service of a Baptist church in the neighboring city of Soyapango on Luke 10:25-37.  I retold the story in this passage in a modern Salvadoran context:

A Salvadoran businessman was going from San Salvador to Soyapango, and was at a bus stop when a gang attacked him, robbing him of everything, including his clothing.  They beat him and left him for dead.  By chance, a pastor passed along the same road on his way to an evangelization campaign, but when he saw what had happened he thought, “I had better stay away, or the gang will also go after me.”  He moved away from the businessman, and went along his way. 

Soon after, a theologian arrived at the bust stop, and when he saw the man he thought, “This man is likely a troublemaker.  He probably had a fight with the gang members and so they assaulted him.  This is his own fault, and so I better not interfere.”  He got on the next bus and went on. 

But a poor man with ripped jeans and no shoes soon came along.  He was collecting plastic bottles and aluminum soda cans to make a few pennies by recycling what he could find.  When he saw them beaten man, he felt compassion.  He approached him and gave him clean water from the bottle he always carried in his backpack.  He removed his shirt and tore it into strips to make bandages, which he used to stop the bleeding where the beaten man was wounded.  Then, leaving his collection of recycling that had taken all day to collect, he lifted the man onto his shoulders, carried him to the closest clinic, and stayed until the doctors could attend to the man.  Later, this poor man went to his makeshift tin shack and took the recycling money he had earned over the course of 2 days, which would have provided his food for the week.  He went to the clinic and gave it to the doctor telling him, “This is to pay for my friend’s medicine and care, and if the bill goes higher than that, I will pay the balance when I return.”

Well, which of those three do you think became a neighbor of the man assaulted by gang members?

In telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus challenged his audience by making the hero of the story a man rejected by society, considered dirty, and unpleasant.  In the story God uses a man that society doesn’t value to save the beaten man. Is it possible that we all have a tendency to think like those who heard this story from Jesus?  What biases do we have against people who are worthy in God’s eyes?  Although we may feel that certain people are unlikeable, disgraceful or unworthy, Jesus loves everyone, even when they are still slaves to their own selfish sinful ways.

After telling the story, Jesus gives the mandate to “Go and do the same.”

How can we become like the Good Samaritan?  I want to propose a couple of things we can do that sound simple, but in practice are very difficult:

1)      Learn to see through “God’s eyes,” seeing every human being as a creature of God, worthy to receive salvation and so worthy of my respect.

2)      With this attitude, love to others as Jesus commanded, paying special attention to  people who are devalued by society, wounded, the people who need healing, food, a home, love.

We so easily fall into the sin of being too busy, prioritizing our own needs and interest, and so these opportunities pass us by, as they did the Levite and the priest.  But Jesus calls us to be Samaritans; calls us to leave aside our own agenda when we see a person in need, and do what is within our reach to help.  This is how we must love our neighbor.


Another Unexpected Adventure, or “The Holy Spirit Beats Triple A”

Me and my '91 TercelThe other day I discovered that Holy Spirit has a much better Roadside Assistance Plan than the AAA. Of course, that make’s total sense for those of us who turn to Him for other kinds of help. It’s just that I had never had a specific experience with the plan until now.

I had just dropped Bria and Dan off at the airport and was headed back to San Salvador, an uphill climb most of the way. We had just enjoyed 10 days together, traveling to the beach, the volcano, the water falls, etc. in my “new” 1991 Toyota Tercel.

Our trip to the San Salvador volcano was the first time I used The Plan. On our way down (a very steep and windy road) we were taking in scenes of the city from different angles. Just as we got to the bottom and were headed for a busy intersection, the brakes gave out.

Headed toward a double line of cars and buses waiting for the light to turn green, I shouted, “The brakes aren’t working!” and quickly veered into the oncoming traffic lane. The light was still red when we came up to the intersection, so I took a sharp right in front of the two lines of stopped traffic, and was able to pull over to the side of the road on the corner. Thank God there was a gas station right across the street, and with the use of the parking brake we were able to cross over and park the car, after we said a prayer of thanks for God’s protection from a major accident.


Unfortunately, the station had no mechanical assistance, but they directed us to a tire shop next door where we found a friendly mechanic willing to come over and take a look. “Lots of people who come down the volcano have this problem,” he said, “and they all tell me their brakes have given out, but they haven’t.” He went on to explain that because I was using the brakes to slow down the car (instead of the gears), the brake fluid had overheated and we lost compression.  At least that is what I understood of his long and technical explanation.  All we needed to do was to wait 30 minutes or so for the fluid to cool. Next to the gas station was a very nice Pizza Hut, so we went in for lunch and when we returned, the car was fine!

But back to what happened on my way back from the airport. I had about ¼ tank of gas and was moving along fine, until I started to hear an unsettling clacking sound in the motor. “This can’t be good,” I thought, and I checked the engine temperature gauge. It had quickly risen all the way to the top without my noticing. Yikes! I thought. The engine is overheated. So I pulled over and turned off the engine.  After waiting about 10 minutes for it to cool, I tried starting it again. No go. The engine just would not start. OK, I thought, maybe I am out of gas. It could be that the gas gauge is inaccurate. What now? The best thing I have found to do in these sticky situations is to pray. So, I did. I thanked God for helping me to get Bria and Dan to the airport before this happened, and asked for help in figuring out what to do. Then I began to assess my situation.

I knew that there were no gas stations on my side of the divided highway, except for those further up the hill. I decided I would need to get to the gas station on the other side of the highway, back down the hills about 3 miles. The terrain between San Salvador and the airport is fairly steep, with shorter flat sections that I felt I could coast across with enough speed. So, I proceeded to back down the hill on the shoulder, looking for a crossover lane.

After about a mile (and an aching twisted neck) I found a crossover. I was able to cross the two lanes of my side of the highway during a traffic lull, coasting backwards to the inside shoulder. Unfortunately, the crossover was a bit steep and so I got stuck there on the edge of the road as I was trying to turn the car toward the downward bound highway. Hmm. What now? More prayer.

Thankfully, two nice guys stopped to help, and together they were able to push me into the downward lanes and I began to coast forward, waving a thankful goodbye as I picked up speed. I coasted down with ease, hitting only a few flat spots where I needed help to keep going. Thankfully, El Salvador is full of good-hearted men who are willing to push a vehicle in need.

puma gas station

I got to the gas station along the last flat spot by walking next to the car with the door open, pushing it with my left hand and steering with my right. Must have been a funny sight for the gas station attendant. He filled up the gas and checked my water. The engine was dry. But every time he tried to fill up the water, the engine spit it back like a water fountain, and we ended up dry again. This went on for about 45 minutes as we alternatively waited for the engine to cool and to be able to fill the water tank.

Now one thing you should know about Salvadoran men is that they love to study engines. Most of the cars down here have been rebuilt several times over as new cars are just not affordable for anyone but the rich class. In fact, my 1991 Toyota Tercel (which cost me $2,900) is in much better shape than many of the vehicles I have been in. Because they love a good engine problem, I soon had a committee of Salvadoran men peering into my motor to diagnose the problem. The Pepsi delivery guy was there, a guy who came over on his bike, a couple of guys who had stopped for gas, and several others who came over to join the excitement. As you can imagine, there were several different opinions about what was wrong with my car.

can of sardines

Here’s where the Holy Spirit stepped in. One of the guys was a mechanic who had worked in the business nearly 45 years, and who was willing to take the car over to his shop for repair. His assistant turned out to be a pastor of a small rural church in the area. We talked for a while, made arrangements for the repair, and then I headed back to San Salvador via public transport, e.g. squeezing into a minivan with 20 other people (yep, that’s right, 20) and riding back up to San Salvador feeling very much like a sardine.

Yesterday the two guys came by and we went off in search of repair parts, and to have the cylinder tested at a local machine shop. It took us most of the day, and there was lots of waiting, so I had time to talk with the pastor/mechanic’s assistant.  His name is Eugenio. He grew up under very difficult circumstances, and was severely physically and emotionally abused by his mother.  His father was an alcoholic.  At age 14 he was considering joining the MS-13 gang, looking for a sense of belonging that he did not have at home. Before joining, he was invited to a church service by a friend where he met God.

“Tears were streaming down my face,” he said. “I heard a voice telling me to go up front when they called for people to accept Jesus. Then I heard another voice telling me not to go. But I listened to the first voice and went up.” Through this experience, Eugenio’s life changed completely. He turned away from the gang and began to work selling soda at the airport to save enough money to go back to school.

Even though he has only been able to finish 6th grade, Eugenio is thankful that he got far enough to be able to read. His knowledge of the Bible is impressive, as is his commitment to Christ. He works as a mechanic during the day, and leads worship and prayer services for his small congregation in the evenings. “God has blessed us with a piece of land we can worship on, and we hope He will bless us with a megaphone and keyboard to be able to better give our services,” he told me. “I wish I could study more about the Bible, but I don’t have any money for theology books or commentaries. I need to get some money together to pay for my kids’ school books this year, and I may have to go around begging and borrowing for that.” Thinking of the many library of books we have at church that often sit for months on the shelf, I offered to lend Eugenio some books to enhance his pastoral training.

Tomorrow I get my car back, and though I could see this whole event as a hassle, I choose to see God’s hand in bringing me safely through, and in putting me in touch with a pastor who has an amazing testimony and who could use some encouragement as he continues to learn more about God and His Word.  Thank you, God, for all of your protection and help, and for making things happen the way you do!

An Unexpected Adventure, or “Rex Gets Us Into a Pickle”

Rex, the Great Cat Hunter!

It was around 10 p.m. a few nights ago when I finished my work on the computer and decided to take Rex for a stroll around the neighborhood before heading for bed. I usually walk him off-leash at night since the gateways to the community are closed, preventing him from running off and getting lost. He often chases after a cat, but as they are much quicker they easily get away, and he comes happily back, wagging his tail and panting with glee.

So, it was no surprise to me when he took off in hot pursuit of a cat, but this time he did not return. I had seen him go into a bush just ahead, so I waited for him to get tired of looking for the cat. I soon realized that he was farther away than I had thought, and so I went to find him. To my dismay, I saw that he had found a break in the fence separating our community from the hillside beyond. The rustle of his movements told me he had fallen down the embankment on the other side.

I knew I had to rescue him so I followed him through the opening in the barbed wire fence, leaving my over-shirt stuck on the barbs. It was dark, and though I had been outside the fence before, I had not been in this particular area. The hillside fell more steeply down here, with only a thin strip of flat ground near the fence. So down I went, much like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, and landed next to Rex on another thin ledge deep in weeds.

You can imagine me, stuck on a ledge on an embankment heavy with weeds, in the complete darkness, when all the neighborhood is quiet and most have gone to bed. I looked up. The top of the embankment was about 12 feet up. There was no way I could carry Rex up as he weighs over 90 pounds. I looked down. It was dark and hard to tell how far down to the next ledge or flat ground. The weeds on either side would not give way to my efforts to make a path to either side.

Rex was anxious and disoriented, so he resisted all my efforts to get him to try to climb up. In fact, he threw his full weight against me every time I tried. After about 20 minutes of thrashing weeds, trying in vain to get Rex to cooperate, and wondering if we were going to have to spend the night there, I decided to sit down and pray. I had already thrown up a few quick ones, but without any real thought or focus.

I sat down, took a moment to concentrate, and then said, “Lord, you know I can’t get myself out of this situation. There is no one around to help. You’re going to have to help me get out of here.”

After I had prayed, I decided that the only way to go was up. It was useless to try any other way. So, I began to dig at the side of the hill, just above my head, in case I could make a small stair there. No go. I looked again at the slope just to my right, and decided to focus my efforts there. To my great surprise, Rex stopped resisting me and so I was able to guide him that way, and even lift him part way up the slope. He seemed to understand what I wanted and immediately began to help by using his front paws to climb. Within a few minutes he was at the top!

Once that was accomplished, it was more or less easy for me to climb up, using the thick weeds as a sort of rope. Up top I took a deep breath and said, “Thank you, God!” You may call me crazy or a fanatic if you like, but I know that it was the prayer and God’s divine intervention that got us back up the hill.

Since then, I have been thinking about Jesus’ story of the good shepherd who goes out looking for the one lost sheep, and won’t give up until he finds it. The way I went after Rex. The way God never gives up on us. Yes, His love for us is that profound. You can believe it. I know I do.

For They Will Inherit the Earth

Luis is a humble and quiet man.  He speaks almost perfect English, and is very courteous.  He comes to the church every day where he sits in the library working on his paperwork.  He spends hours there, arranging and rearranging his papers, writing things down, and going over his work.  But the truth is, Luis does not contribute to the overall productivity of the church.  In fact, he does not work for the church at all.  You see, Luis has Alzheimer’s disease.

One day he arrived at the church, well-dressed with his briefcase, ready for work.  Pastor Miguel, with his great heart and sensitivity to the needs of others, found a place for him in the library, which Luis calls his “office.”  The staff at the church greet him, lovingly, and allow him to do his “work” every day.  On Monday mornings, Luis participates in the staff devotional, as if he were on staff.  It makes him feel happy.

Saul is a man in his thirties, with the mind of a child.  He was born retarded and cannot speak, but utters various sounds of joy or frustration, according to what he is feeling.  He is also an integral part of our church community here at Emmanuel Baptist.  He and his mother faithfully attend all of the Sunday and weekly services.  Saul has learned to take up the offering, and gladly goes up to get an offering plate when his mother tells him it is time.  The congregation lovingly refers to him as “Rey Saul,” (King Saul) and are kind and patient in directing him when he gets up to wander around during a service.  His mother praises God for giving her the beautiful gift of her son, Saul.  He is a much loved member of our community.

The stories of Luis and Rey Saul bring to my mind this passage in I Corinthians 12:12-14 which says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”  Paul goes on to say in verse 18, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (emphasis added).

The world we live in values perfection, outward beauty, youth and intelligence.  According to the world’s values, Luis and Rey Saul are a disappointment; a sign that things are not right; people to be tolerated but not honored.

Christ taught, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  He scolded the disciples for trying to keep children from coming to him, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

This is a challenge for those of us who think of ourselves as competent, hard-working and faithful Christians who have a tendency to want to “earn” our way into God’s kingdom.  We need to humble ourselves, leave behind self-sufficiency and become like children, totally depending on God, our perfect and loving father for all we need and do.

Blessed be those who are like Luis and Rey Saul, for they will inherit the earth!

Blessed Assurance!

I would hate to be a weatherman here in El Salvador since announcing it is going to rain this evening is like saying the sun is going to come up today.  It is the rainy season here, which usually means the humidity builds up during the day and it rains just about every evening; sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier, and often with great flashes of lightening and loud rolling thunder.  I love it.  It is so predictable that the Salvadorans have a common saying, “Here comes the water!”  There is a certain sense of assurance and certainty in that statement.

In the same way, as Christians we have assurance in God’s sovereignty in this world.  Paul writes in Ephesians 1:18-21,

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”

I believe that often people who do not understand God’s great redemptive plan for humanity mistake this sense of assurance for arrogance, or a cockiness in Christians that evokes a very negative reaction.  As Christians, we need to be aware of this when sharing our convictions with others.  Being aware means that we can share with humility and compassion, while firmly holding to the truth we have through God’s Word in the Bible.  We need not retreat into a defensive stance, as can happen so easily in these days of political correctness.  If we are true Christians, then we believe that Christ is who He claimed to be in his conversation with the Samaritan woman (Mark 4: 25-26):

“The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’  Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

If we accept that Christ is the Messiah, and that the Bible is God’s Word, we must also accept His sovereignty as given to Him by God.  He has “all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”

In my own life I have had to come face to face with this reality and ask myself, “Do I really believe that Christ has authority over everything that happens in my life and the life of others?”  Thankfully, God provided those assurances to us through the Bible, and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit.  There is a sense of certainty and peace in accepting that promise, and knowing that no matter what happens, God is ultimately in charge.


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