This Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Every morning when I get up and look out my window, I am awed by the beauty around me. The mountains forever call my name and the hues of the bright trees catch my breath. When the sun sets, I again am amazed. Our God is the great God of creation.

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For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

As much as I love the season of spring when all is new, as much as I love the mid-day sun when all is bright, every hour has its place and purpose. No matter the season or time of day, I am thankful for the plan God has for me and how He is teaching to be here now.

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For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child;

Friends on earth and friends above; for all gentle thoughts and mild:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I am incredibly thankful to be with my family during this season of life. I have missed them so much and am glad that I can be present as a daughter and sister. The friends God has placed around me and around the world are treasures to me. For the friends who are near, and far, and those who have gone ahead of me to eternity, I must thank God for His gracious gifts to me for the time I had them close.

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For Thy Church that evermore lifteth holy hands above,

Offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I cannot even begin to describe the great mystery of Christ and the Church. I do not understand why Christ would sacrifice Himself for her that we could have fellowship with Him. Neither do I understand how He allows us this incredible communion amongst each other and how the church can come together out of its many diverse parts to bring a song of praise. He knows that we need this kind of community.

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For Thyself, best gift divine, to our race so freely given; 

For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth and joy in heaven;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Best gift of all, the Giver. Thank You that we can know You intimately and that You are the source of all peace, joy, love, and hope. All that is beautiful and good comes from You. To You be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

 

For the Beauty of the Earth text by Folliott S. Pierpoint

First three photos are mine of Thanksgiving 2016. Fourth photo is Carola Venega’s of part of the Church in Mexico.

The More Time I in Spend in the Church…

The more time I spend in the church, the more I understand the heart of Jesus. I am not talking about the hours I spend in a church building…or even the time I spend with believers from my home church. I am talking about the time I spend leaving my community of believers and reaching out into the church, the global one.

Some of you may have a similar background as I do. I grew up attending church and my family and I still attend the same church today. It is an incredible blessing and I will always be thankful for it. I never personally experienced a church split or a pastor unexpectedly stepping down. This stable framework was a nurturing spiritual environment. So how or why did I leave this environment to engage with the global church?

In middle school, I had brief exposures to other cultures and to other denominations of Christianity. I learned to view other denominations as well-intentioned, but misinformed. To clarify, my church did not prohibit interaction with believers from other denominations, it did not condemn the practices of other denominations as sinful, and it acknowledged that the essentials of the gospel are the essentials and we should be able to hold on to these when fellowshipping with believers from different backgrounds. However, I often was on the defensive in instances when I encountered other beliefs or practices (within the realm of Christianity). As soon as the encounter was past, Bible verses would be looked up that explained why we had a more biblical view.

I reached out a little more when I specifically chose to go to a non-denominational Christian college which had a reputation for training servants of the gospel. I befriended people from all kinds of backgrounds; young in the faith, mature in the faith, some who attended house church, some high church, the conservatives, the charismatics, etc. The professors and staff also espoused many different practices and beliefs. They had the freedom to teach from their background, but they seemed to hold it with an open hand. They would often direct students to another professor with a different belief so they could more fairly represent it. At first, I was guarded. I would listen respectfully to another viewpoint, but then I would look up those verses I had learned to assure myself that I was right. After a while, I realized that I was approaching things wrongly.

It was also during my time in college that I realized something incredible. In the early church, when Paul was writing his epistles, he was writing to the church in Ephesus (for example) not a church in Ephesus. That is not to say there was only one gathering of believers in Ephesus, but that they all had community together and the letter would be passed around to the various gatherings of the church. The passages that talk about the various gifts of the Spirit and different functions of the body are not limited to how an individual fits into their local gathering. Each gathering was to work as a healthy body, but the groups were also called to live in unity and each city was to be in harmony with other cities because Christ was the head of the one church. I started to shift my attitude. When I encountered someone from another background, I would still listen carefully and note their reasoning as I had before. Instead of going back to my “apologetic” Bible verses to make myself feel more confident in my belief, I would ask myself if there was something I could learn from this different way of looking at things and explore the passages they had used to support their belief. I trusted the Spirit more and my own understanding less. I realized I could listen to other viewpoints and investigate their supporting verses without fear of being swayed from “the right track”. When I did this, many times I would still feel most comfortable with the interpretation I grew up with, but sometimes my understanding of a certain topic was broadened to include the new information I received. Sometimes I completely changed my mind on something.

Then, I went to Mexico. I did not go with a mission agency and I had the freedom to attend any church I wanted to. I was very eager to be a part of a house church because this was a completely new experience for me and was a model I had heard much about in my time at college. In a completely unexpected way, God opened the door for me to attend a house church. Of course many of the practices were different, but after a few months, I realized I was in disagreement over a major theological point. It was a much bigger jump to make than other steps I had taken for the sake of unity; it touched on the gospel itself. After a week or so of prayer, I decided to stay.

It was hard for many reasons. It was hard to walk humbly with a desire to learn. It was hard to not to speak my own belief at the wrong time. It was hard not to be divisive. I was there two years and I learned so much. I was also blown away by the doors opened to me to minister in the church, not to change it, but to serve it. Some practices I still disagreed with, one I enjoyed better than what I was used to, and my understanding of the theological difference was broadened. I did not change my mind on this issue, but the scriptures they used to support their position showed me that I was ignoring some important information in my own definition.

This has been a long story of my encounter with the church so far. I want to encourage you to step outside of the local church (maybe you consider it “your” church) into the church more. Denominations are not bad, but I think they can hinder unity. I still enjoy the consistency and like-mindedness of my home church, but the more time I spend in other churches the deeper I understand the glory of God manifested in diversity. Lower your defenses. Walk humbly and learn from your brothers and sisters nearby and around the world. If you really enter into the church humbly and stay close to Christ the head, you will start looking and thinking less like a Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, or whatever you consider yourself and more like Christ.  That is the end goal, isn’t it?

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Maintenance Prayer

I have been especially reminded this week that the enemy does not want us to be fruitful and effective. Yes, I know I talked about spiritual warfare in my last post, but last month’s attacks were overt and this week, I am seeing more subtle but devastating work. God is able to triumph, but we ourselves often give the enemy a foothold. In our English Bible study (which is such a refreshment even though I love the Spanish Bible study and church service I go to), we have been reading the two letters by Peter. We are in the middle of the second one now and it is rather ominous. It gives warnings about false teachers and the destruction for which they are headed. The enemy can attack from the outside, but he also works from the inside, looking for the seeds of pride, greed, and lust to turn an effective servant into a self-serving, power hungry leader.

This past week, I found myself crying quite a bit about things not even related to leaving Mexico (things related to leaving Mexico have also been making me cry). I have cried for a family I love and am worried about.  I have cried for my university and spent a lot time thinking about its situation. I have a regular habit of prayer, but even with that, I realized I had neglected to pray for my alma mater like I had intended to when I graduated. I wrote in my prayer journal… “Continue to use CIU as a powerful place for training those serious about making disciples of the nations. Please bless them financially, guide their decision-making, and help the entire bodies of students, faculty, and staff keep their eyes on you and your work.”  I have prayed this often, but not with much urgency. I felt like my university was on track and I think that affected how I prayed. I think I viewed it as maintenance prayer, just keeping up the good momentum that was already going. I only graduated three years ago anyway. How much could go wrong? That was a mistake. The people and churches and organizations that are the most effective have the strongest attacks launched against them.

All that is human is fallible. All that is human is broken. Confidence cannot be put in friends, pastors, local churches, missions agencies, Christian schools, or godly marriages. By that, I am not saying not to trust them. I am saying that they are not our source of life. 2 Peter uses the analogy of waterless springs. What is more useless than a waterless spring? Christ is our source and we cannot live without Him, even though sometimes we might be deceived into thinking it is His blessing or other believers sustaining us, rather than Himself. The bride of Christ (The Church) perseveres by His Spirit, not by human will or past legacy. The most faithful would fall, but for his grace.

So, this week, I can say I was a little shaken and very saddened. However, it has been a reminder to turn to the Lord in prayer because I’m relying on Him after all, and not anything else.

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Spiritual Forces Must Bow

The past week has been an exciting time. The weekend was a whirlwind trip to Mexico City, I bought my plane ticket home, and I have been preparing for the last major unit of the year (Charlotte’s Web is absolutely the perfect 3rd grade book). Best of all, we were looking forward to Margarita’s baptism.

However, there have been some… strange things going. Wednesday, we experienced a 4.8 earthquake that shook the house. None of us were hurt and the only city wide damage was one partially collapsed house, but it was frightening. Later that night, we all woke up to a fierce thunder storm. Thursday morning, Margarita asked me if I had been in one of the empty rooms where no one lives now. She saw the light on for a while and then it went off. Neither Kelly nor I had been in that room, but we went up to check and the light was on again. We turned it off, and while we were away at school someone checked it and didn’t see any problems with the connection. Later on Thursday, a transformer in our neighborhood blew and we had a kind of “brown out”, which was difficult for Margarita as well. On top of this, she had been having bad dreams all week.

This has all been a very powerful reminder of both the reality of spiritual warfare and the importance of baptism. There may be natural causes for all of the odd or frightening things that have happened in the past few days, but I do not doubt they are controlled by spiritual forces. However, it has been wonderful to see Margarita trusting in the Lord and believing Him to be powerful. On Thursday, the day before the baptism, the missionary who is discipling Margarita came. They walked through the house together praying for each room, even the empty ones. Ellen said she had seen this kind of spiritual attack many times during the week before a baptism.

It makes me wonder why baptism doesn’t seem to be surrounded by spiritual warfare in the United States (from what I have seen). Maybe it should be. Repentance from sin and reliance on Christ gives salvation. But baptism is like the birth a disciple, someone who is really serious about obeying Christ and following his commands. It is publicly disowning all else in favor of Christ. Maybe that is why faith and baptism were rarely separated in the New Testament by any significant time. Faith and commitment went together instead of a personal faith being allowed to be caught in a self focused stage before committing to service.

The baptism was held on Friday night. All three of Margarita’s children were able to be there and I think it was the first time for two of them to come to one of the Bible studies. Margarita shared about her life before she met Christ and how she came to know him. She told about how her life is incredibly different now, full of peace and love for others. Two other men were also baptized, one whom Margarita had invited to the Bible study a month or so ago. He is the clerk in a corner store near us and she noticed that he’d play Christian music on his shift. He was a Christian, but didn’t have a group of believers to meet with until he started joining us. As soon as the testimonies started, it started to rain (unusual for this time of year) and a baby started crying. More attacks, but God was still honored. After an explanation of the symbolism of baptism, we stepped out from under the patio (it has stopped raining for a few minutes) and I was able to help baptize Margarita in a small inflatable pool, along with Ellen. I am so thankful for this opportunity and expectantly waiting to see just what it is in Margarita that the enemy was afraid of and wanted to intimidate.

For more of Margarita’s story Faithfulness Springs Up from the Ground- November 2014

When Life Gives You Boredom-March 2015

He Is Alive-April 2015

Photo is mine.

7 Dresses

Last month, I had the privilege of helping with an art exhibit to raise awareness for human trafficking in Mexico. My roommate Emma is a visionary and wanted to use dresses to share stories of women without a voice. She found a great book called “De Cielo al Infierno en un Día” (“From Heaven to Hell in One Day”) which contains six case studies of girls trafficked in Mexico, ages six to twenty.

A dress was chosen for each girl that represented her story. We had a school uniform, a quinceañera (a girl turning 15) dress, a housemaid’s uniform, etc. Each dress also featured a pin cushion broken heart with pins in it labeling some of the wounds that got them into trafficking in the beginning. Some had been subject to domestic abuse, deception, emotional manipulation, abduction, and more. We also had a brief summary of each story beside each dress. Our house smelled like a carnicería (a meat shop) for a few days because Emma splattered each dress with blood to represent the abuse.

That accounts for six dresses, but the seventh was the most important. It was a white, unstained dress symbolizing hope. All six women in the stories have been rescued and that is why we know their stories. The rescued are a small percentage though and we want to offer hope to the rest still in slavery.

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The ladies in my bible study, and others, joined me in making smaller versions of the broken hearts to sell as reminders of the event and to raise money for Fin de la Esclavitud (The End of Slavery), the organization that Emma partnered with to host the event. The event was held at a local college in a common area in front of their library. It was so encouraging to see how many people stopped along their way to take the time to read and learn. Fin de la Esclavitud plans to host exhibits throughout the year. They have already done a second one and have two more planned currently. Please continue to pray for the continued impact of this exhibit.

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Here is the link for the author who wrote the book that inspired it all.

Photos taken by myself and by Emma Holloway.

Friends at the Beach and at the Mission Base

This is the final blog post about my Spring Break! I just wanted to share a little about some personal visits I was able to make while in Oaxaca. Though I had a great time being a tourist, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet some friends who were living in the area.

First, some of you probably saw my post about my travel partner accidentally booking accommodations at a nudist beach. It was really uncomfortable and I didn’t stay on the beach more than an hour or two. It was definitely the lowest day of my trip. We had just finished an overnight bus ride, the humidity was stifling, we were half way through the trip so energy was running low, I’d expected a relaxing day at the beach and didn’t get it, and I was stressed trying to figure out how I was going to meet my friend Scott, an hour away in Puerto Escondido, the next day. After some time in prayer and laughing along with all of you on social media about the irony of the situation, my travel mates came up with a plan that made the next day much easier. We ended up traveling together and once in Puerto I went to meet Scott and his fiancé, Isabel. We got to meet at a café just a block from my hotel. It was a great time swapping stories about our experiences in Mexico and also discussing our ministries and how what each of us was doing was making an impact for the Kingdom. I’m also very excited for them and their upcoming wedding (weddings technically, oh the joys of marrying internationally).

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The other personal trip I was able to make was from the capital of Oaxaca to Foundation for His Ministry, about 45 minutes away. If you know about the numerous trips I’ve taken to Baja California, they have been to visit this mission. The one in Oaxaca is more recently founded and is mainly a children’s home though it supports some other ministries as well. This was really important to me because it was my time in Baja at the mission that convinced me I needed to travel to Oaxaca one day. Hearing about the mistreatment of the Oaxacan people brought to work in Baja decades ago was heartbreaking. They had come out of desperation and ended up in similar or worse circumstances, but without the support of their own culture, climate, and language group.

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I also wanted to go because I heard about Mexican missionaries sponsored by the mission who went to live in the mountain villages to preach the gospel. Aside from the children’s home, the mission in Oaxaca acts as a base for the national missionaries in the mountains. This ministry is still dangerous and I met two Mexican missionary interns who had started the year serving in a mountain village and had to move back to the serve at the mission because things had gotten violent and it was too dangerous for them to remain at their assignment. Hearing more about this ministry to basically unreached people groups was probably one of the best parts of visiting the mission (especially since I had a little idea of what that would be like from visiting the syncretistic village). Another special reason for visiting was that my grandmother had visited for several weeks two years before and I was able to talk with people who had met her and a few teenage girls in particular who immediately brightened up when they heard I was her granddaughter.

Another highlight of the mission was getting to see their new school building and playground. I will admit I was envious. What I would have given for that natural lighting and space during my time at Lincoln!

They even have a zip-line on their playground!

 

All photos are mine.

Catholicism and Mayan Religion in the Same Building

Some friends had recommended that while in San Cristobal, we take a tour to a nearby village called San Juan Chamula. We had an English speaking guide who had been giving the tours for over a decade and really had a good understanding of the culture. The village was completely autonomous from the Mexican government and its church was autonomous from the Vatican. Their native language is Tsotsil and they continue to use the Mayan calendar. The village has their own policemen who enforce the rules and penalties; one to three nights in jail for petty crime or death for a major crime. We passed the burying ground as we entered the village. The graves were simple dirt mounds as large stone tombs and shrines are prohibited. It was prohibited to put a fence around the area. The crosses on the graves were black, green, and white denoting the death of an adult, young person, or infant respectively. By the way, the cross (especially a green one) is a prehispanic symbol, not always connected to the Catholic or Christian faith).

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Despite the large Dominican church built in the 1700s, their relationship with the Vatican has had a tumultuous history. In the late 19th century, they killed a catholic priest who had destroyed some sacred stones which were worshiped, but it wasn’t until a century later that the departure was final and official. Instead of catholic priests, they have 122 spiritual leaders at a time in the community who serve for one year terms and, with their wife and the partnership of another couple, take care of a saint in their home. The 122 does not count the shamans that serve the community.

Before entering the church, where we could not take pictures, we were startled by loud fireworks a few feet away and entered the church right after a procession of musicians. The noise from the firecrackers and musical instruments was part of their worship ritual. There are no pews in the church as most people worship on the floor and no sermon is delivered. I am doubtful if they even hold mass. They do not read the Bible. The saints all around the walls have literally replaced the Mayan gods and are worshiped in similar ways as their predecessors. There are rows of candles in front of them; different colors representing different things, including food for them. The saints are decorated with mirrors, going back to the practice of putting a reflective stone on an idol so it could draw energy from the sun. Jesus is associated with the sun and Mary with the moon. From the doorway, the center line of vision is drawn to John the Baptist. Jesus on the cross is lower and to the right hand side. We also had the privilege of going into one of the spiritual leaders’ homes though I could barely breathe because of the heavy incense and smoke shrouding the room where a saint was enclosed in a shrine of branches.

The people in this village are known for growing vegetables and for their wool work. The women’s traditional clothing is a heavy black wool tube that they belt to form a skirt and a traditional blouse.

In a nearby town of Zinacantan, we got to see a completely different lifestyle in the same indigenous language group. These people were known for growing flowers and weaving and embroidery. Their clothing was very distinct from San Juan Chamula and was beautifully embroidered with flowers in blues, purples, and pinks. This included the men’s clothing. We visited a home where the family demonstrated the back loom method for weaving and shared fresh made tortillas with us. We also arrived just in time to see a procession into their church. This village, though originally more syncretistic, has somewhat reformed and now follows more acceptable catholic practices.

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On the whole, it was an incredible experience and really opened my eyes to the spiritual condition that existed in Mexico before the Spanish conquest which has clearly persisted to an extent, especially in the more isolated regions among indigenous peoples. It also gave me an idea of just how difficult it would be to come into an unreached, hostile people group and bring the gospel. Though our guide kept insisting that they were a lovely, respectful people, they do not allow anyone to live in the village who does not follow their religious views. Apart from this, there is the evidence of how they responded in violence various times to the catholic priests. There would also be opposition from the outside because of the global tolerance culture. Our guide was complaining about how these people are persecuted even today. His example of persecution was that a few people had been giving free medical help at a clinic, including free glasses, medicines, etc. and at the same time giving out New Testaments. Our guide asked the police why they weren’t stopping these people and they responded “Don’t worry. They won’t read it anyway.”

 

Photos are my own.