Monday, December 15, 2014

Nativity

We didn't have a Nativity scene down here in Haiti, but we did have a lump of clay.   I thought it would be perfect to stick 5 candles in that lump of clay, remembering over the weeks of Advent that we are all still in the hands of the Potter, being formed and shaped.  Kari came out and looked at my 'lump' idea and said, "It's ugly.  Do something and make it pretty."

So we did.   I pushed out that lump of clay and made a Manger, and then with some broken pieces of dried clay from last year, Abby and I began to carve out our scene. There is Mary kneeling, baby Jesus bundled, Joseph standing, the sheep curled up asleep, the little drummer boy and even an Angel keeping watch.  

It won't last forever as there is no kiln.  It's more like dry mud than anything, baked in the Sun, so it crumbles easily.  It's passing away just like the rest of us in this old world.
But there's one thing it certainly is.... it's pretty.  It adorns our table as the centerpiece.

If God gives us another year, I'll make another, and I'll form the Manger to be the cupped hands of God, because at least that much is lasting.  He is always shaping and making us into something holy, something beautiful, and we are, always, in His hands.

'Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" declares the LORD. "These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.' (Isaiah 66)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Prayers for Peace

The government here seems to be standing on sinking sand. With all the hasty remarks that have began to take flight, please pray for peace and for the memory of the words that aren't meant for such to be forgotten and laid to rest in an unmarked grave. 

Fools are best to keep themselves silent, lest they open their mouths and remove all doubt. But it’s for those with wisdom and understanding to speak, using words with restraint. 'The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.’ Being slow to speak, yes, but sharing the choice meat that God gives, that’s important. The Bible says that death and life are in the power of the tongue.
We aren’t supposed to go around starting forest fires with these tongues of wrath, but we are to do something with them. Something grand. We are to share life...

'Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.’

We’re supposed to sharpen one another, keeping the shields well-oiled and fit for battle. Those conversations, if not sought after, should at least be embraced as something precious, remembering there will come a day when the giver may well be the receiver, thirsty and in much need of a drink from the well of Christ. All our thirsts will one day be quenched in the river, and I hope we will sit along the grassy bank and share some of the fruit from that miraculous tree.

Until then, remember to Whom it is we pray, with humility and reverence and relationship, and share Him with the waxing world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Balance

From both ends the pendulum swings
When a Creator is painted by created beings.
Though now through darkened glass we see
What faith, what hope, what Love might be.
Oh! The joys and sorrows found
When from on high the trumpets sound
And we are left with what we thought,
What was Truth and what was not.
And yet as Grace expands our view
We will but know it to be true
The heart, the soul, the matter is
He is ours, and we are His.
D.C. Elliott

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mutadis Mutandis

Mutadis Mutandis:  To change only that which must be changed.

Our kids were out playing with the kids in the village yesterday, and they all began to climb a Breadfruit tree.  10 feet up in the air, they all felt like they were on top of the world, surveying the back fields from their 'lofty' position.  It wasn't until they began to think about getting down out of that tree that something else began to set in...

They reached the point where the only thing left to do was to get their bellies down on the branch, swing down to hang, and then, gulp, let go.
For my daughter, she couldn't quite wrap her mind around the hanging and letting go part...  She became stuck in the tree as she faced her trial.

There was Fear.  There was Shaking.  There were the Weak Knees, but then came Discouragement, and eventually what began to seep in was none other than the darkest of foes:  Timidity.

Mocking and Jeering came running along soon afterward, and suddenly for one little girl, playing...well, it didn't really feel like playing anymore.  It was more like a battle, a struggle, a tease, and it wasn't very fun at all.
Slowly she became paralyzed by the words that take life, and defeat began to soak in with tears.  A Haitian man eventually climbed to get her down and she ran into the house.  

So today we talked about Mutadis Mutandis, about how there are plenty of good things about us, and some things that aren't.  But instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, maybe we should just try changing only that which must be changed.
The Bible says God did not give us a spirit of timidity, which is not to be confused with humility.  He doesn't mean for us to be faint-hearted or feeble-minded.  He wants us to live abundantly, in confidence, with courage.

We all marched back out to where the Battle of the Breadfruit Tree happened.  We acknowledged the defeat, and we attacked.   We came armed for battle.  Along with us were Encouragement, Love, Respect, Patience, and Honor.

Her brother climbed the tree, several times, and jumped down, several times, to give her a good example.    She studied him and watched his skills as he slowly became more and more exhausted.
Her Haitian sister climbed the tree and showed her the best way, the Haitian way, to climb.
Her mother and her father stood down below, arming her with Courage, promising to catch her, and eventually, a little girl who could still taste the bitterness of defeat found herself hanging, and then dropping down into Victory.  
She Overcame.  She Conquered.  She prevailed.  She lived.

That's how your Father sees you, did you know that?
Of course He sees you from time to time, stuck up in the tree, but that tree doesn't define you.  It's just a place where you happen to be stuck.   You can't see that when you're hanging, your toes are really only dangling a few feet in the air.   From your perspective, that fall is an eternity.   But how far does it look from God's perspective?
 
To give us just a little special dose of illustration, God saw fit to let a Haitian man walk up to us just after my daughter jumped out of the tree.  My Haitian daughter, Oberline, was up there still, just about to jump herself.
"You shouldn't be up in Breadfruit trees!"  the man yelled.  "People die from climbing Breadfruit trees all the time!  A man just died the other day!"  He said.
"It's ok, my friend." I replied. "She's used to it, and they aren't going to climb any higher, just to the first branch."
"It doesn't matter!"  The man responded again.  "You can fall out of a Breadfruit tree from just a few feet, and DIE!"  He warned.
I looked up at Oberline, who was now clinging to the branch, much like my other daughter was last night.  I could see Fear once again coming out to play,  and I knew Timidity would soon be on the way....
"Don't discourage, please."  I said to him.  I looked at Oberline,  "Don't listen to that discouragement Oberline.  You're doing just fine.  You come on down when you're ready.  You can do it."
I watched her take that defeat and throw it away.
She smiled at me...and she jumped.

"And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone."  1 Thess 5:14

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Arise

We got to participate in a few medical clinics lately, and though medical is not my niche by a long shot, I tend to find the Spirit lingering in sharp contrast to my natural desires. When I go against the flesh, there I find the blessing.  I wonder how many times I've missed it...

James Courter with Arise Haiti is a sort of mentor to me.  I watch him and learn.  Love is an action, but it's also a choice.   James tells me love has to look like something.  His team not only ran clinics but they cut hair and gave free photos.  The teenagers from the Arise kids program came along and gave people manicures and pedicures, raising money for other kids who are hurting in Ethiopia.    
Haitian kids, working to raise money for Ethiopian kids.  Is that not beautiful?  Is that contrary to what you might expect?  Isn't every work of the Spirit signed with that same signature?   I watched my daughter serve.  I watched my Haitian daughter lead.  I watched people soak in love.

I asked Darin Kaihoi if I could use his song to help tell the story of the beautiful hands and feet I witnessed this week.  His music and words are a paintbrush.  Darin readily laid down himself for the Kingdom and agreed.

What might you do for the Kingdom today?  Not because it gets you any closer to Glory, but because He is just that worthy of our all?  Did He rescue you from the fire?  Lay yourself down, see what He might rise up from the ashes.  I'm betting it's beautiful.

I think on God's mantle He keeps the most broken vessels.  I think it's that way because He doesn't think the way we do.  In our weakness we find His strength.  In our yielding, His masterpiece.
It's because of the cracks and the misshapen form that the Light is most revealed as it pokes out into the darkness and cuts through the hiding places.

See the video here:

https://vimeo.com/112650489




Saturday, November 15, 2014

Roar

For days and days we heard the music for Satan. Then the rains came and washed it all away. As soon as it let up a couple of nights ago they danced and screamed all up and down the path again, so last night we decided to have a music-fest all our own. We lit some cardboard on fire (we don't have wood to burn), and danced around for awhile singing praises to God and beating on our oil can. Then we stopped to make good use of the fire and roasted some marshmallows. I took a shot of my little tribe. I have to admit, I never knew my Sweet-Pea of a daughter had this kind of Roar inside her, but I will tell you this, if I were her enemy and encountered her on a dark night, I would tuck my tail and run, fast as I could.
By the way, pray for a man named Sergo. He likes to play guitar and seems to be a leader in the music. Pray that God turns him inside out and upside down for Jesus, and that his guitar will reach thousands more in the name of Christ.

Tranpe

Tranpe. To soak.
The Haitians have this word for soaking, whether it be laundry that is soaking in detergent, or food that is soaking with spices in a pot, but there seems to be almost no conveyance for the idea of soaking in the presence of God.
I'm told I can't use that phrase, to soak in the presence of God.
One Haitian pastor told me that I can say I want to stand in His presence, or that I want to come before him. Another friend tells me I can say I want to fill up before him, or to stay at His feet, but those ideas just aren't what I'm feeling.
I don't want to just come before Him, I don't want to just sit at His feet, and I don't think it's even possible for me to stand in His presence.
Throughout the Bible from Isaiah to the elders of Revelation, everybody seems to be able to do only one thing when He comes near, and that is to fall down flat on our faces.
Do I think I will stand? It's highly doubtful, unless He sends to me one of His Trusted with tongs and a live coal to touch my lips, and even then I'll only be worthy to stand if He wills it. I will worship, and I will listen.
There are times when my soul thirsts the same as the deer who pants for the streams of water. With that vision in mind I can say with near certainty that when I come into the presence of God and His grace I will be most like that of a Gingerbread man, falling headlong into a vast ocean of warm milk. By my very composition, I will fall down, flat on my face, and soak...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Quaking in the Bended Spring


We were reading in Ezekiel this morning about a people who had gone off the deep end. The laundry list of their day-to-day began with things we might consider mild, but then God's description of them takes us further and further down the rabbit hole, to a place so dark and void of reason that it doesn't even seem possible. And yet we know these things live under the rocks in the world today, these days even more so in the sun. They once peeked out at us from the headlines of some far away news story, but not anymore. Today they visit us nearer than the shadow of our steeples.
In the beginning, with the people in our story, it was the little things. But the little things did something, something maybe so subtle in the beginning that one can only assume it was never noticed or taken seriously, and thus began the slipping, slipping, sliding... The people began to ignore the Sabbath, but came to despise God. They lost their hospitality, but then they began to look at ways to even trick strangers and rob them. They didn't respect their mothers and fathers, didn't obey them, and then they began to despise them and even mock them. They became disgusted by Mom and Dad.
Maybe those didn't seem like big things, society was free after all. The rules and laws of God were coming down, the old way of the parents was stale and silly, and besides, this was a time of freedom for all men. Tolerance was the new world, and that was a world that didn't need God. How sweet is a false liberty, like a mouse to the beckoning fragrance of cheddar, so bathed in bliss that it can't hear the quaking in the bended spring...It has no thought of such evil contraptions, and neither do we.
God continues to turn out the light of the lantern in our story. The brightness begins to chase away and, if you're looking, you can see the battle for inches between good and evil, a rumbling that must have played out over the course of years. Mostly it must have lived on in the shadows of the mind where none could see the smoke to call out the alarm and ring the bell for all to come running with buckets to what may have surmounted to a 4-alarm fire. The world was burning, but they didn't see.
They began to worship idols, and the violations spread from the carved things of clay and wood to that of flesh and bone. Men began to take what didn't belong to them. Fathers even began violating their daughters, brothers violating their sisters as the twisted curse began to leave it's brand on the hind quarters of man. Bribes were accepted for murder, and all anyone could think about was me, me, me. The light of the lantern dimmed to a hiccup of a flame, and then the glow was lost in a smolder of smoke. Snuffed so nonchalant that there was not even notice of the cold and empty sadness.
The single overbearing question in the back of the mind is, "How?"
How does a people arrive there, where THAT becomes OK, normal, nothing special? How do you fall that far? How does someone not stand up and fight for the light to return to the blind?
Then God gives His answer. How? They forgot Me.
Mezanmi! (That's just Haitian for Wow!)
That's all we have to do? Believe it or not, the rest of the battle is fought in small measures, inches here, but miles there.
Haven't we all given inches already? Haven't we compromised and tolerated and loosened ourselves from the hand of God already, and all in the name of freedom and liberty?
If you can't say it, I will. Yes. We have. And I know we have, because I have. I am guilty. My back is not turned to God, not today, but isn't that only a question of time if I play with the ideas that we are playing with today?
God's laws, God's rules, are for Life. He looks at us kicking in our blood, and He breathes upon us. He says, "Live!" And by His Word alone we can have that. Real life. That's His desire for us, and He lavishes the blessing upon us. But then what? Light comes into our world, but men love darkness instead of the light, and we turn it away.
Why? Who would do such a thing, turn out the light in a dark world?
We each have a natural root that drills deep into the soul, always looking for a little bit more of ME, unwilling to yield, and the addiction of Self helps us to make up our minds as we decide that laws and rules shouldn't apply to us or anyone else for that matter. We give up God's laws and rules for anarchy, for a life of no-rules, and what do we find? We find the simple opposite to the life that God would desire for us.
We find death.
When it has crept into the very nostrils of our souls and we can't breathe or even remember what the fresh air smelled like, will we too have arrived at that final place of getting what we've asked for?
Do we really want what we are asking for, an eternity without Him?
Or will we awaken in time to see that with His rules and laws, there is life and life abundant? The time to choose is now, to wake up to the horrible truth that in a society with no moral compass it is entirely possible to fall so very, very far, even to a place where there is nothing left but death and a way that seems right...to a man.
"And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us." 1 John 3:23-24

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bulldozed


Nearly 5 years ago I was with a group of Americans in Haiti. It was my first time in the country, and we were looking for a back route to one of the villages on the mountain from the other side. A couple of guys inadvertently entered in the wrong coordinates and waypoints into their GPS, and no matter what I said with my map and compass in regards to our position, they decided they were going to 'trust the technology' instead, and that technology got us lost. We got out of the car and took a turn to the East, walking down into a deep ravine and up over the top of another mountain.
We walked for miles, and it took literally the entire morning, afternoon, and early evening before we finally made it back to our village.
I called it my Haitian Walkabout.
If you're not familiar with that word, a Walkabout is a kind of self-journey that one takes while sojourning into the wild to seek the spiritual side of life, to discover the meaning and the purpose of it all.
That day felt to me as if it embodied so many more things than I could comprehend, things that I knew might take years for me to understand. It became a rite of passage that led me to trust God down many more trails in Haiti.

It was only hours into the venture that it began to dawn on us that we weren't lost at all, that God knew, and planned, exactly where we would be that day. One of the women in our group found a family she'd met months before as we stumbled upon the home where they lived, and God answered a big prayer of mine from the night before.

I had asked Him why He would have me meet a little girl named Oberline on top of some obscure mountain that I would never return to, a girl I'd probably never see again...I remember asking Him why He would break my heart over someone I couldn't possibly find again in a sea of Haitian people.

And then it happened on the Walkabout that we popped out right next to her village. I remember the men scratching their heads at the GPS, admitting they were lost. I remember the tears that welled up in my eyes when I realized we were back at the exact spot where I'd met that little girl.
To me it was simple. God got us 'lost' so that she might once again be found.

Now, almost 5 years later, I was on that same mountain, visiting a new pastor at his church, making plans to get Bibles to him. Another pastor had mentioned in our conversation that there was a new, beautiful road that went up over the mountain.

"Are you kidding me?!" I said.
"I'm telling the truth." He smiled.
I had to go and see for myself.
I don't know how it is, but when I came up over the hill I almost cried. There before me, in exactly the same footsteps that we'd taken in our Walkabout 5 years before, was a road, plowed through what was once a wilderness in my mind.

They've made a road where once there was only a footpath. In places more suited for goat than a man is now a road wide enough to travel comfortably in a 4wd or on a moto. Exactly where we'd left the car years before, down the exact ravine, and through each village we'd passed, in exactly the place where we'd walked, there is now a road.

What once was a Walkabout in the Wilderness...Now a road. A big, beautiful road.
What do YOU think it means, reader?
What does this say to YOU?
Just a coincidence? What would be the odds?
If you got out of your car in America, alongside some National Forest, you walked for a full day, zigging here and zagging there, scribbling your way on a map, and then returned to that same spot 5 years later to find a road bulldozed, would it make you pause?
Would you consider what God might be trying to say?

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." ~Isaiah 43:19

When I was with a group of men this summer we were walking in a State Park. We purposefully left the trail and walked into the wilderness. The trees crowded in, the wind coursed through the branches and the forest became our cover. But then, out of the blue something caught the eye of one of the men. "Look at that! Is there some purpose to the bench?" He said.
"What?!" There in our 'wilderness' was a beautiful bench, sturdy and well built.
"Wonder who would put a bench like that clear out here?" I said.
Then we saw the path. A trail, and in the trees just a little further, a sign. On the sign was a map of the trail we'd stumbled upon, and written in large letters with an arrow were the words "YOU ARE HERE."

I laughed immediately. The entire day fell into meaning for me, as that day I heard God say the same thing I hear Him saying here in Haiti.

"You may think you're lost. But with Me, you are found. You can walk to and fro, zig and zag, blindfold yourself and spin about in circles. You can walk for miles in the darkness, but regardless of where you are or what storm you're in, if you are with Me, I am with you. Wherever you go, YOU ARE HERE. I know exactly where you are."

'But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.' Isaiah 52:12

Saturday, October 25, 2014

School and LIFE

"School is good, but whoever made up school didn't realize there's alot more school in LIFE."  - Abby Elliott,  11 years old.  
(there is supposedly a new road in the mountains where a new pastor is waiting for me, a new church to find...pretty sure Miss Abby is thinking she would much rather come with me on the moto. I can't blame her.  I was always the kid looking out the window in school, and she is my daughter.) 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Dependency

Years ago when talking to a good friend about reaching out to people for Christ, he said something to me that I’ve never forgotten.
“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I didn’t realize it until much later that it was actually Teddy Roosevelt who first said that, but this idea has carried with me ever since.
Really, it’s what I love most about Jesus.  He is comfortable with sinners.  He is comfortable with me. He hates the sin but He so loves the sinner.  
He can always relate to us.   Wherever we are, in any circumstance.  He is there.
Always, He is there.
Some time later, I found myself working in the corporate world for Wells Fargo, with a little startup photography business that was every day growing and taking up more and more of my time.  90 hours a week, and I was burning out.
Once again I found myself with that same wise friend. We were unloading chairs for the church at the elementary school, and there I was unloading much more than chairs and I rambled on about what I should and shouldn’t do, should I leave Wells Fargo, should I give up the benefits, the security, the money, the comfort…
"I don't think God really cares what you do, so long as you bring glory to Him.”

That word from my friend invested in my life.  It made a difference.  The next day I put in my resignation at the bank and started to work full time at my photography.

We built a studio, then added on our house, and were living our dream.
Kari went on a mission trip to Mexico and came back broken for missions, and I didn’t understand it at all.  “Why do you think you need to cross some manmade border or an ocean before you can serve.  There’s people right next door that don’t know the Lord. Go make them some spaghetti or something.”  I said.
For almost a year we were on different pages, until one morning during prayer when I yielded and prayed to God, “Here I am. If you want me to go, I’ll go.”
Immediately after that I got a phone call from a missionary in Haiti, who asked since I was a photographer if I would come and photograph kids for school sponsorship.
Just before we were due to fly out, Port-au-Prince was struck by the earthquake, and since the airport was badly damaged, it was another month before we could fly in.
When we finally did touch down in the country, it was pure chaos.  Everyone’s luggage was stacked in a giant pile, and then they were herding us out the gates, into a mob of thousands of desperate souls.
On a mountain in a packed palm-tree church, I heard a missionary ask the people who there knew of the Christmas story, and the entire church fell silent, save one old man who raised his hand and said, “I think it has something to do with a shepherd.”
I realized a different kind of hunger existed that I knew very little about.  It was a hunger for the Word of God.  I noticed that almost no one there had a Bible in their hand.
That’s God called us to Haiti, and over a series of strategic events He confirmed over and over to us that we were to get Bibles distributed in Haiti, and that we were to go.
I sat down with a Pastor from our church, and he tried to encourage me to go into missionary training.
It would have been a year and a half of school, with only the possibility of being placed in the field we felt called.   I loved the man but I had no patience.  I felt God had called us to go, and go we would, so that sweet Pastor chose to just love us through it.
God began to wipe away all of our dependency on things.  He was opening our hands and releasing everything we were holding onto.
We had no training.
No credentials.
When we reached the point of desperation with finding a house for my family, I resolved to just buy 4 hammocks and planned to string them up between the palms.  I was so confident that God would handle it.
And God did show up.  A man in the same village where we moving had built a home and needed to rent it, and so our family moved to Haiti.

We entered into a time of great humbling, crumbling, and schooling as we learned the language and sifted through the discernment of relationships.
Because we were just there as a family with no missional organization, we began to see the missions model from the outside looking in.
We learned that we don't have all the answers.
Our ways are not better by default, just because we come from a country that has been blessed by the hand of God.

I learned through my own failures that whatever I did had to be done in the strength of God.  God humbled me greatly.  My own ideas and theories went out the window, and I began to seek out my identity in Him.   Jesus related to me.  He took me down a several notches, and I began to see that I needed humility to serve and relate to the Haitian people.

Paul said, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them….  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
This was the view that we knew we had to adopt.
So we moved to a village of farmers, and I became a farmer.  The color of my skin was enough of a barrier.  In some way we had to relate.
Mudboots, tattered jeans and a hat. This became my daily attire.

We grew peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, and we hauled them to market with the men in my village, haggling with the Haitian momma’s over the selling price.
Friendships formed.  Real relationships.
We met in the mornings for devotions and taught the parables of the weeds, the seeds and the sower.
I preached in the churches.
My wife taught English and Bible in the village.
We ran kids to the hospital, to church. Our church was a hut, yet a room filled with some of the best worship I’ve heard in my life.
We rushed people to the doctors to deliver babies by c-section and I
had the honor of naming the baby boy who survived as a result.  Nathaniel is his name.
My kids made friends.  A Haitian girl named Oberline came to live with us,
We did life and invested in the people around us.
Discipleship began to take root as we planted the seeds of faith.
And the harvest has been a bumper crop.
We have seen real change.
I watched as God began to hammer away at my neighbor, Jean Wilbert, who was a drummer at the nightclub across the street from our house.   His Word drilled away at the walls, until one day he came to plant corn in a field.  All of the village men told him he’d be a fool to plant, because it hadn’t rained in a month and it wouldn’t raing for a month more.  He prayed and asked God if He loved him, to please bring the rain, and after he planted that last kernel of corn in the ground, the rain drops began to fall.  He ran to my house, pounding on the door, and said, “He is Undeniable.  I cannot deny Him any more.  That day he accepted Christ and was baptized in the village river.
Edain, a shady character that I told my kids to stay away from, came to work with me in the field.  He’d had terrible ulcers that would bend him over and take him to the ground.  We prayed for him, and the ulcers left him.  That man is now on fire for the Lord with a gift of evangelism, and has brought 4 other men to the Lord.
Men, who have nothing to gain from me, but have awakened to an eternity with Christ, are realizing God’s purpose for their lives.
I’ve seen the sick healed.
I’ve seen demon possession, driven out by prayer.
I’ve seen provision at the most desperate hour.
I’ve seen peace that passes understanding.
I’ve seen an angry mob immediately silenced by the Word of God.
I’ve prayed for my enemies, and I’ve seen them either leave, or be transformed.
I’ve seen the power of God confuse, interrupt, contort the plans of my enemies.
I’ve seen real forgiveness.
Pure Mercy.
Amazing grace.
All these things as I stand before you today I bear witness to.
I was born blind in one eye, and I became a photographer, and I have seen the hand of God.
Does anyone here want some of that today?

People come to Haiti and they are stricken by the hunger, the poverty, the hard living, to the point they jam their fists down into their pockets and pull out their money.
The #1 response I get from foreigners to our mission in giving Bibles in Haiti:
“I’m sure that Bible looks delicous.  I wonder how many bags of rice you might be able to get for the same amount.”
The #1 response I get from Haitians:
“Thank you so much.  This is my family’s first Bible.  We are so happy to have a copy of our own.”
We don’t understand that this is the only life they know, that they are survivors. This is because we live in a bubble, where we are in the top 6% of the wealthy in the world.
Yet some of the happiest people I’ve seen in the world live in Haiti.  They have nothing, and yet they are filled with joy.
Our knee-jerk response to the struggling world is relief, when what the people really desire is development, and the impact can hurt them.

We then get frustrated when we don’t see the change, when we see no progress.
We get angry when they fall into a welfare state, when we see them sitting around waiting for a hand-out, no longer looking for a hand up.
What we don't realize is that we are doing the same thing to ourselves in America, self-medicating as if we had the morphine button, trying to kill or fill a yearning.

Dependency, I’m convinced, is the single greatest obstacle that faces the Church and America today.
Dependency…  A word we that disgusts us.  Yet we are some of the most dependent people on the face of the earth.
That word hits every one of us differently.
Relationship
Career
Money
Appearance
Alcohol
Comfort
Pleasure
Insurance
Government
To be Chosen
Included
Security
Safety
Health
What are you dependent on in your life?

Isaiah reveals to us God’s desire, and that is for us to be dependent on Him.
Turn to me, Turn to me, Return to me. Over and over we find these words.
He doesn’t desire our prayers, our worship, our celebrations or our festivals if our hearts aren’t in it, if we aren’t totally dependent on Him.
Without that, our prayers and our songs become noise, our sacrifices meaningless, our silver becomes dross, our princes become rebels and companions of thieves.
We find ourselves in contempt of court as God says, “I will not listen.”
And yet, though are sins be as scarlet, He tells us that His desire is to make them white as snow.
"Come and let us reason together", He says.  Can you hear His heart?

When we open the door to that idea,
the door opens for healing.
That's just the beginning,  reconciliation, redemption,
Addictions are broken, broken marriages are restored,
In that darkness there begins to break forth a new dawn.
Hope comes.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Boldness replaces fear and timidity.
Your desires become a reflection of Gods desires
And your entire worldview awakens to something you never even knew was there.
You realize that what you have is treasure that so many are looking for, but so few have found.
The news you have is so good that you are bursting to share it.
Some of you here today, you don’t yet know.  I’m here to tell you!
We are all sinners.  We’ve broken God’s laws.  The punishment and the wages for our work is death.  But Jesus came, and because it’s the heart for which God is most concerned, He amplified God’s laws.  No longer is adultery just the physical act, but even to look at a woman in lust is the same in the heart.  No longer is murder just by the sword.  No, if you even harbor that bitterness and anger you are guilty.  Because to God if you have wished it then it may as well have been committed.
We think we can circumnavigate God’s laws, and we miss the point altogether.  So Jesus became the curse, your curse. He hung on a cross and suffered the most terroristic death imaginable, for you.  And if you believe, if you repent, He is Yours and You are His.  In John 17, just before they arrested Him for the last time, Jesus prayed for all of you, long before you were ever born:

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

You’ll fail sometimes, you’ll flounder and screw up, but you’ll have Jesus in your corner, so you’ll continue to grow as you begin to let go of your own weakness and grow stronger in the power of The Lord.
And then you’ll find yourself walking in a brand new life as Paul's words become your own,  “I know the secret to being to content in all circumstances.
I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

Teddy Roosevelt said, “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

Let go of all of that tail-chasing!  It’s smoke and mirrors.  A fairy-tale spun by the Chief of Liars. Some say Christians are weak.  That’s not what I’ve seen in my days.
I see courage under fire.  I see determination, commitment, charity, encouragement, boldness to stand up for what is right.  I see a people who want to be part of something better, bigger.  I see a people who want to make the world a better place.  I see the very fabric and tapestry of what our country was founded on, what made America great to begin with.  

I challenge us all to a higher road.
Attempt something so impossible that without God it’s doomed to failure.

“Who is this Christ of whom I speak?” says John Haggai.
“To the artist he is the Altogether Lovely
to the architect he is the Chief Cornerstone
to the atronomer he is the Bright and Morning Star
to the baker he is the Living Bread
to the biologist he is the Life
to the builder he is the Sure Foundation
to the carpenter he is the Door
to the doctor he is the Great Physician
to the educator he is the Great Teacher
to the engineer he is the New and Living Way
to the geologist he is the Rock of Ages
to the author he is the Living word
to the farmer he is the Sower and Lord of the Harvest
to the florist he is the Rose of Sharon, the Lilly of the Valley
to the horticulturist he is the True Vine
to the judge he is the Righteous Judge of All Men
to the journalist he is the Good Tiding of Great Joy
to the philosopher he is the Wisdom of God
to the preacher he is the Word of God
to the statesman he is the Desire of All Nations
to the toiler he is the Giver of Rest
to the sinner he is the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World
to the Christian he is the Son of the Living God, the Savior, the Redeemer
to the Disciple He is the commander in Chief who gives us our orders with unmistakable and unconditional clarity, He is Christ the incomparable.”

The only thing I would add to that is that to me, a photographer, he is the Light.
Have you ever tried to take a picture in the dark?
Who is He to you?  To your community?  To your country?
Did He rescue you from the fire?
Share Him!
When He calls you, will you answer?  Will you stand up for Him the way He stands up for you?

Maybe you haven’t been called to Haiti or some far away field, but you are certainly called.

Matthew 28 calls us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

David Livingstone said that these were the words of a gentleman.  To me, they are the words of my Savior.

Do you feel ill-equipped, unprepared, uneducated, unfit
Anymore than I?  Really?

“I turn to Hope and dig for Strength
Where in ancient words I see,
'Sufficient for you, in your weak place,
is the perfect grace of Me’.”   ~ D.C. Elliott

The honesty of Paul as he vulnerably shares his own personal weakness.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Your weakness is good. Use it, because it’s there that His glory will be made known, and everyone will know it was not borne of your own desires.  God uses what you give Him and He wastes nothing.

What God is asking of you will not be found
in your ability but in your availability.
You will not stand on your righteousness but His alone.

Do you want to see that kind of change in your life, in the lives of your family and those that are dear to you?
Then let’s seek His face with prayer and thanksgiving and make our requests to God,  so that today the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Wretched

In finding ourselves fitted for the service of Our Lord there is the most ecclesiastical of epiphanies, a churchly charge rooted in the simple joy of usefulness and purpose. There is a wonderful filling up of the soul with a fresh gust of the Divine. Hope! Beauty! Love! Yet in this same present vessel there lurks also the untamed beast of Self, hungry and stalking to devour any morsel of that spirit. He savors any juicy taste of the Yielded. He waits in the shadows with a steely silence, anticipating the next lowering of the guard, that quiet surrender or sigh or longing. It's a cloaked mutiny, treason of the Most High, yet played out in the private chambers of the heart. This is what drives him. This is where he finds his growl, there in the choked throat of the struggling saint, in knees so deeply mired. This is the bane of his existence, to calculate and pounce, to fill his belly and lick his loins for yet one more day of wretchedness.

And for this, this wretch, Jesus did not run away.

This King knew every treachery, every double-cross, every broken promise, every coup d'├ętat, and yet no one took His life. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself so that a table might be spread, that there might be a feast in your honor, and all this while you were yet a wretch. We are all yet wretches this side of Heaven, and there is none that are righteous. No, not one. It's not that any one man has risen to the Esteemed and is now deemed holy to teach the rest of the Wallowers. The very stink of wretchedness and a man's realization of his own wretched self yet embraced by the Splendid, this is what forms him, fitted and ready, for the service to The Lord. He knows what he is rescued from, and he knows it's himself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

When Helping Hurts

During a time of serious prayer and a breaking heart God brought me to this book. I'm not even half way through it, but I can tell you that with almost every page I can hear my spirit saying, "YES!"
This is exactly what I'm experiencing and feeling in missions. It's sharpening, convicting, and it's true.
There's come a time for us to rethink how we are helping. I'd like to challenge you in your growing, to take a look and spend some time understanding how and 'When Helping Hurts'.

This in particular is hitting home in Haiti:

'Managerial paternalism is perhaps the hardest nut to crack. We middle-to-upper-class North Americans love to see things get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Relative to many other cultures, including many low-income communities in North America, we are prone to take charge, particularly when it appears that nobody else is moving fast enough. As a result, we often plan, manage, and direct initiatives in low-income communities when people in those communities could do these things quite well already. The structure and pace might be different if the low-income communities undertook the projects themselves, but they could do a good job nonetheless.
You might be asking, “Then why don’t they take charge and manage these projects if they are so gifted?” There are lots of reasons that the people, churches, and organizations in low-income communities might not take charge, but here are several common ones that should give us some pause before rushing into a low-income community and grabbing the reins in any project:

They do not need to take charge because they know that we will take charge if they wait long enough.

They lack the confidence to take charge, particularly when the “superior,” middle-to-upper-class North Americans are involved.

They, like we, have internalized the messages of centuries of colonialism, slavery, and racism: Caucasians run things and everyone else follows.

They do not want the project to happen as much as we do. For example, they might know the project will accomplish little in their context but are afraid to tell us for fear of offending us.

They know that by letting us run the show it is more likely that we will bring in money and other material resources to give to them.

There are situations in which a lack of local leadership and managerial ability may require the outsiders to perform these functions, but we should be very, very cognizant of our tendencies as middle-to-upper-class North Americans to take charge and run things. Remember, the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule! There are times when the Holy Spirit might move us to do something for the materially poor that they can do for themselves. But just remember that these situations are the exception, not the rule.'


When Helping Hurts
itunes.apple.com

The Prince & His Bride

This was a treasured day for me. We took a break between harvesting and planting and ventured out to one of our favorite pastures with Jean Wilbert's family. For awhile I've wanted to capture his family in photos. 
We crossed the river right at the spot where Jean Wilbert was baptized and got away from the noise of the village. Benita even brought her new Haitian Songbook so I could record them singing. 

Kari showed up with some of the children from her kids club, and we all just relaxed together. When it came time for them to sing, I began recording and Kari almost fell asleep as she closed her eyes and drifted in the peace. Abby took the kids down by the river to play while we listened to this new Christian singing hymns with his wife.  I really think music will be the way 
Jesus speaks to Benita's heart.   

We played with their baby boy, Nathaniel, who is the baby I had the honor of naming last year after Benita's emergency C-section. Today he's just learning to stand. 
Eventually the kids all ran up and began to give me their best renditions from their favorite hymns. Jean Wilbert jumped right in with the low boom of his voice. This once hardened man, gentle among these little ones. It was a blessed day. At the end, the girls picked some flowers from the lilies in the river and stuck them in our hats. It may be the corniest picture in the world, but it speaks a mountain of words to me. This tough farmer, after a year and a half of struggles, wrestling with God, now my friend, even more my brother, and here he is brimming over with the fruit of the Spirit. We've had our ups and downs, times where we both had to lay ourselves down, and I can recall every moment when he fell upon the Rock of Jesus with little discoveries, nuggets of gold that God would use to highlight His presence for him with each passing day. Today Jean Wilbert doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks. He's set his face like flint to follow Christ, and that's the end of it. I see such peace in his eyes and joy in his smile. His family is setting out on a beautiful road together, a journey of eternal value, and God has given me just a peek of His handiwork. 

In my little, worn Bible there is a page with the name 'Prince Jean Wilbert' scribbled in to help me remember the day this man gave his life to the Lord. Prince is actually Jean Wilbert's last name, and in Haiti you always write the last name first, so literally his name is Prince Jean Wilbert. I always knew he was royalty. 

Just above his name is another inscription to help me remember what discipleship looks like: It isn't 'Here I Come to Save the Day'.  It's about doing life, caring, living, loving, one person at a time. To me, missions is about careful strokes, little calculations with Holy Spirit-sized movements. It's about getting your eyes off what the whole world thinks and focusing in on the heart and mind of what your Father thinks about the soul in front of you.
The inscription reads: Aim Small. Miss Small. 




























Monday, May 12, 2014

An Honest Prayer

Today I stepped into the field, maybe a little deflated.
I've seen some things in missions lately that have left my hope a little weathered for the wear.

There was alot of work ahead. Half of the crop is finished. It was time to swing the hoe and the pick-axe again and begin the work of bringing in a new rotation of peppers. Before me lay alot of hardened dirt. I could see Jean Wilbert's hoe was standing in the corner of the field, but he was nowhere in sight. There wasn't a Haitian anywhere in sight.
"I guess the novelty has worn off." I thought. "Not so interesting to see the White working these days. That's ok."
I took a swing with the hoe, then another, then one more. And then there came a little conviction mixed in with the dirt.
I stopped and removed my hat from my head,
"Sorry Lord. I wasn't working this ground like I'm working for you...I'm not looking forward to the labor...please bless this work, please bless this ground and bring more souls for Your glory. Thank you."

I took a swing, and then another, thinking that when this crop comes ready for harvest I won't even be here. I won't even see the fruits of labor...
"I crack the ground...Jean Wilbert plants the seed." I thought.
The earth was a little harder than I realized, so I walked back to the house for the pick-axe.

When I returned I found Jean Wilbert in the field with a new young man named Henry.
Henry likes to sing. Sometimes he sings as loud as he possibly can and you can hear him long before you see him. Sometimes you're also not in the mood for someone who thinks they're the next Bieber, and sometimes as he's singing he's actually mocking you, except he thinks that because he's doing it in song, nobody's figured it out...
"Hello Henry." We shook hands.

The man had passed by the garden and Jean Wilbert had felt led to ask him into the field for a God-ordained purpose.
As we cracked the earth I listened to him ministering to this man, giving him Scripture from Romans 15:1-6, encouragement from the Word, and the assurance of truth and hope.
"I saw you walking by." He said. "I don't know why, you are not fit for this kind of work (Henry is a bit of a feeble young man), but I knew I was supposed to ask you to come and work. I don't have any money to give you. But God has something to give you." He said. "When you walk with Him, He walks with you, He fights for you. He loves you. You hear what I'm saying? I needed to tell you that."

Here was my neighbor, big, strong, tough farmer, now quoting this passage to his neighbor, "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."

God's grace shatters every kind of man. He turns us inside out and upside down, and all for His glory.

I talked with Henry about the hearts of men, how we are sometimes just like this dirt. Some of us are harder, and we have to be broken up before we can receive the seed. Anyone that knows me knows I thoroughly enjoy a good garden analogy. I think God does too. I'm pretty sure that's why it all started in Eden.
It wasn't long after that and Henry finished and left the field, his head full of thoughts.

I told Jean Wilbert when he has a chance there's another verse God brought to my mind,
"What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." (1 Cor 3:5-6)
"Today I cracked the ground, you planted the seed, and God will give the growth."
"Yes!" He said.

We spent the rest of the morning working together, him trying to help me perfect my hoe-swinging to match the effectiveness and skill of a Haitian farmer, and me trying not to let on that my back is killing me. I'm going to miss these moments with my friend.

Lately I'm not sure of the effectiveness of cross-culture missions, the inner-workings, behind-the-scenes of missions, or what we even consider missions these days. But I am sure of one thing, God is still working. He's still listening. He's still answering even the most honest of prayers because He is still on the throne.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It Doesn't Take a Village

You've heard the phrase "It takes a village...", an old proverb that today is a popular way of saying, "it requires a multitude of people".
I'm a missionary, strike that, a ragamuffin, with boots on the ground in Haiti. I very seldom get anything right. I've learned the longer I live here that I really know nothing. But I need you to help me out with this...

I was watching a cargo truck on the main road, normally filled with goods like coconuts or rice, instead being loaded to the gills with Americans. They were all bouncy, happy, drinking sodas and cramming their faces with food. They were snapping selfies, snapping photos of the truck, of their friends, of Americans standing up in the back of a truck. Americans love to do that here. On any given day you can sit on the National Road and inevitably a carload of Americans will go flying by with white people hanging on the floorboards or out the windows like dogs with their ears and tongues flapping in the wind. The more daring love sitting on the roof of the car. They have no clue how many accidents we see here. How if one goat or cow or moto hops out in front of them they will find themselves, maybe, in a Haitian hospital where the reality of medical care in a third-world country will come bitterly seeping in as you slowly bleed to death on the floor next to your Haitian brothers and sisters. Maybe a doctor will look at you. Maybe not.

But it's a liberty. Something they don't get to do in America because of those pesky laws and State troopers, but here, aha here, there are no laws. Americans love that. Freedom is something we crave, probably because it's slowly being prostituted away.
Still, we love getting completely immersed in....ourselves.

Around them was the picture of money. The latest in sports wear, technology, earrings, sunglasses. The most innovative water bottles and backpacks... This is the modern day missionary team...

This isn't Disneyland. America, please understand the rest of the world is not Disneyland.

Haitian people were standing there watching them. None of them were smiling. None were happy. Most look anxious like they are living in a bad dream. Those are probably the paid translators. The leaders of the group pulled out in an $85,000 Land Cruiser, and off they went. Most likely they'd already saved-the-day for a few dozen, or maybe a few Haitians, and this was just the now coveted "beach day" that all Americans must have if they are truly expected to take up the cross for a week, or excuse me, 5 days.

The Haitians are the most hospitable people I've ever met. They'd give you the shirt off their back, their best chair in the house, and the only fruit in their tree. I'm told much of the rest of the world is the same way. And we come here to serve or to be served? Are we coming in humility or pride? Are we placing them above ourselves, or are we thinking our ways, our ideas, our education, our everything is better and therefore superior? I can tell you this. In one of these options love can thrive. The other is a vacuum where life itself cannot exist.

Do you detect some cynicism? There is some I admit. Because I don't understand. These are the people, my people, coming here literally by the truckload, week after week after week. It's no wonder to me why the Haitians stereotype me. They see me and if they don't know me, they immediately yell, "Hey White! Give me money!" It's all they know.

They insult me in their language because they assume I don't know a syllable of their own. They think my only language is money. That's all my people have shown them. They don't see love because it's not what gets handed out.

The compassion of today, your hurt in my heart, is being translated, twisted into something self-serving. Is this the treasure, here? Where moth and rust destroy. Is this the end of the rainbow? Where my only hope as a native is to somehow get my family to your idea of paradise, so they can drown in the Sea of Forgetfulness.

Pleasure. Comfort. Money. Me. These are the names of Gods. The Living God? Who is He?

Folks, it doesn't take a village. We don't need a village to come here. We don't need to come here and create a village either. They already have the village. Thousands of them. Each one unique, there for a purpose. Natural communities, families, farmers, widows, orphans, problems. We're supposed to meet them in their afflictions. Help those who can't take care of themselves. It requires one + Jesus. Love them. Do life with them. We're not supposed to come and take the tour, build them what we think they need, hug their babies as if we know we are leaving them in Hell and then go home, armed with our memory-filled cameras...because that's exactly where our compassion lives, on some memory card, lost between a sea of family vacation photos as we get back to the grind... We can't just go back to Wal-Mart after seeing the heart of God.

Why does James say it? Ask yourself why?

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
He calls us into the dark places to bring the light. Without reciprocation. Unconditionally. Anonymously if need be. Where the only residue that is left behind is not the stench of another culture's gods, but the beautiful fragrance of the Living God, desiring to meet them in their needs, to walk with them and love them through His people. Christians bear His name. But if He is on our lips and far from our hearts, what are we really doing?

Let's revisit the Biblical model, can we?
This is the American model. It's the Money model.
It's a model for failure. It's broken.

Let's go back to the model God already laid out, and see what happens when the Divine intercedes.
Let's return to following Him and not ourselves, to obeying what He's telling us to do, not what our pop culture is into, and let's see if the promise of that Gentlemen doesn't ring in our hearts, "and surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chelsea & Colby's Wedding in Haiti

We were blessed to shoot another wedding while serving in Haiti. The Courter's have been like family to us ever since we began our work here. Their daughter, Chelsea flew in to have the wedding here because James and Rachel are working through some paperwork with a Haitian adoption and couldn't leave the country. I thought that was an amazing testament to this young couple. They were willing to lay it all down and come here to be married. They came expecting nothing. There were no plans because what mattered most was family. They had no idea that 2 wedding photographers just happened to be right down the road, and good friends with Mom & Dad. 
To top it off, a short-term missionary the week before left james a nice digital camera, (just felt the Lord wanted him to do that), so I had 2 cameras to shoot with, there was no rain and the electric company gave power all night, so there was no need for noisy generators...God just dotes on His people. 
These are just a few of my favorites....