Monday, April 29, 2013

Some Thoughts On Our Time in Honduras -- Part 2 (by Bart)

There is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that I’ve heard repeated quite a lot recently.  It says, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”  I’m not totally sure that St. Francis had the proper balance in mind, but I think it’s fair to say that our actions communicate to others, as much or more than our words, what is really important to us.  Similarly, the Apostle Paul told Timothy that he should watch his life and doctrine closely so that he could save himself and others.  No matter where we find ourselves in the world, we as Christians should constantly be asking ourselves if our actions are really communicating to the world around us what God would have us communicate.
Ministering to people in poverty is an extremely complicated issue.  Since we have been in Honduras we have seen or been a part of many different approaches to poverty issues.  I have become convinced that, for our own sake and for the sake of those to whom we would minister, we cannot stop asking ourselves if the actions and attitudes that we demonstrate to others are really being received in the way that is most beneficial.   Are we doing things in a way that glorifies God and points people to Him?  When we give things away to the poor, are we sure they are getting the message we want them to get?  Or are they receiving a different, unintended message?  What message do we give to the members and leaders of a foreign church when we continually send money to sustain their congregation?  When our mission group builds a house for a family in need, what do they see as the reason behind what we do?  How sure are we that they aren’t reaching some conclusion that we didn’t have in mind?
The truth is, it may be difficult to determine what message the local people actually are taking away from works that are done with the purest of intentions.  But just as our church budgets are constantly being reviewed to ensure the good stewardship of all the finances that have been entrusted to us, we must also constantly analyze our methods so that we can be good stewards of the time, resources, and talents that we have at our disposal on the mission field.  The people whom God has entrusted to us to serve and to love deserve the very best that we can give.  We would be poor stewards indeed if we allowed ourselves to lose sight of our commitment to meet people’s true needs, to magnify God, and to encourage local Christians through our missions efforts.  
It’s no secret that, today, a large percentage of our missions efforts in materially poor countries like Honduras involve giving materially and financially to the people to whom we are ministering.  Throughout the Bible, God commands his people to give--especially to the poor.  The Bible also has much to say about how we give.  It’s clear that just the physical act of giving something is not necessarily all God asks of us.  Over and over again, we are reminded that what we give and especially how we give is of utmost importance.  Our motivation for giving and the attitude of our hearts is shown to be of just as much importance to God as what we give--if not more so.  From the very beginning, the Bible shows us that our offerings are pleasing to God when we cheerfully offer the best that we can give with the aim of glorifying Him and not ourselves.  
We, along with our brothers and sisters around the world, are equal partners in a global Christian community.  The church we read about in the book of Acts shows us a model of such a community.  The members all freely shared everything they had with one another, and the Bible says that “there were no needy persons among them.”  In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes this even clearer.  As he is instructing the Christians in Corinth about giving to those in need, he says, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.  Then there will be equality.”  From this, we see the church as a community where those in need receive help and, in turn, those who have received give to others in their time of need, and so on.  The Bible does not spell out for us when a “receiver” should become a “giver”, but, in Luke 21, Jesus himself says that He is more pleased with the poor widow’s tiny offering of “two very small copper coins” than with all the large donations the rich were making.  
Everyone has something to give.  Everyone has something to offer.  We know that God wants us to give of ourselves--of all that we have been blessed with--not just our money.  So, though they may be materially poor, what is it that those to whom we minister have to give?  Is it hospitality?  Is it encouragement?  Could it be a skill like the ability to repair an engine or draw a picture or cultivate crops?  Is it great knowledge of the Bible, or a unique insight into the Scriptures?  If someone is materially poor, that doesn’t indicate that they have nothing give.  Likewise, just because we may be materially rich does not mean that we lack nothing and should therefore always be in the powerful position of “giver”, or “teacher”, or “leader”.  As children of God made in His image, we are all rich--in one way or another.  Conversely, as human beings who live in a broken, sinful world, we are all lacking something; none of us is perfect.  In our relationships with others, then, we should ask ourselves: “What is it that this person has to offer to the people in their life, and to God?”  When we help others who are in need, we should strive to give in such a way that will empower and inspire the recipient to, in turn, give to others from what they, themselves, possess. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Some Thoughts On Our Time in Honduras -- Part 1 (by Bart)

      Every few months, Melissa and I have to fill out paperwork to keep our visas up to date.  So, several times a year for about the past two and a half years, I have to fill in the blank that says, “occupation”.  I’m not sure why, but I still always write “carpenter”.  I still feel a strong connection with that trade, even though I haven’t done much carpentry at all since we’ve been here in Honduras.  Working with my hands, especially working with wood, is something that is a part of me and I think it always will be to some extent.  To me, it’s a rewarding and satisfying feeling to be able to see tangible fruits of your labor.  When I started in the home construction business, I felt an even greater sense of satisfaction, knowing not only was I being able to help build something that would last, but that, because it was someone’s home, it would be a place where a family could live, and grow, and spend time together.  It would be a place that someone would take pride in.  
      Really, since I went on a spring break mission trip to Mexico in college, doing more, longer-term mission work had always been in the back of my mind.  Eventually, I felt like I had an obligation to use my talents and passion for carpentry and construction to benefit people who, I felt, really needed it.  The homes that I was working on in Oklahoma could hardly be described as basic shelter.  It seemed wrong to be pouring all my energy into building homes that were so luxurious, by most standards, when I knew that many people around the world lacked a decent roof over their heads.  
  In the winter of 2009, Melissa and I began asking people with some missions experience if they knew of a place where I could put my skills to work for people in need.  We talked to several people, and the country of Honduras kept coming up.  People told us stories about trips that they had made to Honduras and what poor conditions people lived in.  We went online and searched for more information.  We found all kinds of shocking statistics about poverty.  I envisioned that I would be able to do what I loved--build houses--and help people who were truly in need.  I felt that it was right for us to go and help.  We applied and were accepted to the Helpers In Missions program.  After a year of training, and much prayer and discussion, we sold our house and our cars and moved to Honduras for what was, originally, a two-year commitment.  
  From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to try to immerse ourselves in the local culture--at least as much as we could.  We wanted to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to not just visit, but to live in a foreign land.  It seemed to us that we would be happier ourselves and that our relationships with others would be better if we fully embraced the culture, the lifestyle, and the language of the Honduran people.  It excited us to think about the adventure and the challenge of knowing this new place and this new culture and trying to become as Honduran as we possibly could.
  We started language school right away.  Obviously, learning to speak Spanish would not be easy, but we were genuinely excited about the possibility of learning a new language.  Others had told us that, even if we weren’t great at it, the locals would appreciate our efforts and that they would be more accepting of us.  We attended Spanish classes every day, nearly all day, for the first few months.  At the same time, we had a sort of nagging feeling that we should go ahead and get to work on some of the projects that we planned to be involved in.  But we felt like to live among these people as guests in their country, we owed it to them to at least have a basic knowledge of their language.  And plus, the time we spent in language school was a sort of built-in transition period where we were learning what our new life would be like in terms of the daily tasks, like buying groceries, paying bills, and navigating our way around our new home country.
  I guess when you live day-to-day in a place you’ll learn things and have experiences that you just can’t get otherwise.  Before coming to Honduras, we had searched out all the information we could find about the country.  We read books, searched online, and even made two short visits before moving.  But even knowing lots of information about the country and the culture couldn’t compare to living among the people every day.  There were, and are, lots of challenges.  Our enthusiasm and sense of adventure, at times, ran right into a wall of confusion and frustration when we struggled to communicate or failed to comprehend why people did the things they did.  But we had been taught and trained to avoid forming negative attitudes about our new culture.  
  Instead, we tried our best to find the good.  And we did.  I’m ashamed to say that before we came to Honduras, I was focussing almost exclusively on things like high poverty rates, low average annual salary figures, a dismal education system, skyrocketing unemployment rates; all things that I thought proved how much we were needed.  And, in some ways, maybe I was right.  There certainly are lots of needs here.  But, living here, we began to see that there was plenty of good to be found.  We began to see beyond statistics and shocking images of poverty.  God was allowing us to see past the anonymity of the labels we had initially put on the “poor” and “needy”.  We started to see people as people, as children of God who bear His image and therefore have dignity that is not based on what they have or what they do, but rather who they are.  Many people here certainly have challenges to overcome, but they are people who are “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  
  I think, on some level, I had the idea that we were coming to Honduras to “bring Jesus to the people here”--”to bring God into a ‘dry and weary land.’”  What we have realized is that God has been here.  God was, and is, working in the lives of the Honduran people.  He has been, and is still, revealing Himself and His love to those who will open their eyes and hearts to Him.  After a short time of living among them, God, and the people themselves, began to offer us a glimpse into their lives.  We began to see them as friends.