West Center Street bridge over the Elkhorn River.
One of the main routes linking Omaha and
smaller communities to the west.

My heart hurts. I look at the picture of the destroyed bridge over the Elkhorn River, which for three years I crossed twice daily getting to and from work, and I can’t get my head around the destruction taking place in my home town.  It seems other-worldly, impossible.  Yet, I lived in rural Nebraska long enough to know the destruction of spring flooding, though never, never anything even close to this.

And I ask, “Where is God in this?”  Not, “Why did God let this happen?” but “Where is He in the midst of this crisis?”  He is always in the middle of any tragedy. I saw this first-hand, saw Him move powerfully and continue to move in the wake of the volcano eruption.  I know He will do no less in Omaha.

Dodge Street just wests of the Elkhorn River
Transportation to the communities to the west
will be impacted for a long time.

If it breaks my heart to see the destruction brought on by nature, how much more must it break His? He, who knows how wonderful this world was meant to be must be broken-hearted to see the suffering.  He knows that the havoc of nature is the cumulative effect of what generations of sin have done to the perfect world He created.  He knows that we, as mankind, decided and continue to decide that we have a better plan for the world than He did. And we reap the results of OUR plan for creation, and have the audacity to blame Him for it.

If you are not a Christ-follower, this will make no sense.  Only those who recognize their own sinfulness and have recognized the consequences of personal sin in their own lives can begin to understand that death, destruction, pain and suffering come when we think we have a better idea than God.  And if I receive the consequences of the sin I have personally chosen (God forgives my sin, but does not rescue me from the effects of my choices), how much more must the collective sin of mankind progressively impact the world he created?

So, I ask you, please, if you want to blame someone for this suffering, blame the one who started it all, who deceived Eve, and continues to deceive mankind into believing that God does not want our best, but somehow has a secret plan to hold out on us.  The one who Jesus told us will come to “steal, kill and destroy;” the true enemy of my happiness and joy.

To those who would ask why God would let something like this happen, I believe the Biblical answer is simple if unpopular.  Mankind decided they knew better than God how we should live, and we are experiencing the logical and natural consequences of that decision.  Just as any good parent might forgive the offense of their child, they ought not rescue them from the consequences of their actions.  It is through these consequences the child learns to make better decisions.  So it is with God.  He uses these natural disasters to remind us just how far mankind has deviated from His original plan for us.

Where is God in this? In the middle of it.  Trying to use this to show individual hearts how desperately they need Him.  We see him in the peace and joy of those who have lost everything, but can rejoice because they know there is more than the life we see before us now. (Yes, there are those people.  I can’t name them personally in Nebraska, but I know they are there because I have seen them here in Guatemala, in the aftermath of our volcano disaster.)

Where is God in this? He wants to be in the midst of it through those who claim to follow Him.  To reach out as “Jesus with skin on” to those who are suffering, to bring not just prayer and encouragement but physical, tangible help to those who need it. He wants us, as Christ-followers, to do on earth what we can to point those to the reality of who He is and what He has for us.  

As Christ-followers it is not enough to pray, though that is first and most critical. 

Here are some specific prayer points suggested by Cindy Borden who leads the King's Garden ministry in King Lake, one of the communities completely destroyed by the flood:

  • Pray against fear, discouragement and loss of hope.
  • Pray for immediate needs to be met.
  • Pray for tangible expressions of love and encouragement--now and well into the future.
  • Pray for compassionate relationships and many hands to help.

Pray about what God would have you DO.  Then do it.  If you feel a tug to do something, that is probably the Holy Spirit trying to move you, and I encourage you to obey.  Serving is never a mistake, and as James points out:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.~~James 2: 14-17                      

Let the church rise up and be the church in this situation.  THAT more than our words will show the world “where God is in this.”

Note: Many churches in Omaha are coming together with The Gathering Place (which meets in Valley, one of the communities hardest hit by the floods) which will be coordinating ministry and relief efforts.  For more information and to keep up with what they are doing go to their Facebook page.  You can donate online to support these efforts.  It is a great blessing to me to see the church in Omaha come together in unity.

You can check out the video of the community worship that took place this afternoon here.  If you can't watch the whole thing, watch 39:51 to 41:50--it's pretty incredible.  

A Word for 2019

Every December, I ask God to give me a word to challenge me and to direct my prayer and service for the coming year.  I believe this year He has given me "faithfulness."  While I thought I knew what this word meant, I wanted to check out its exact dictionary meaning.  For "faithfulness,"  I found: "thorough in the performance of duty; true to one's word, promises, vows; steady in allegiance or affection, loyal, constant.'

As I thought about this, I realized what a challenge it is to be faithful.  Faithfulness is an attribute of God, closely linked to His covenant love.  How can I hope to be faithful as He is faithful? Taken that way, it's overwhelming. 

But isn't that exactly what I am called to be; to be transformed into the very image of Christ?  To reflect His faithfulness to those around me by my faithfulness to who He calls me to be and what He calls me to do?  

I recall, then, that faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit.  It is not something I do, in my own power, but the Spirit of God working in me makes me faithful as I surrender to Him daily.  It is a result of the God living in me.  It is to be "full of faith" that as I do what I am called to do, my God will do what He has promised to do.  It is to place my faith and trust in Him, not in myself.

My "resolution" this year is to be found faithful.  

Has God given you a word or Scripture to direct you in 2019?  If He has, I'd love it if you'd share it with me so I can pray it over you this coming year.

Be Ye Transformed--Sixth Grade Graduates on Retreat

On Oct. 30, fifteen sixth graders graduated from New Life School, our ministry partner in Santa Maria de Jesus.  This class was special to me, since it was the first group of students I have watched progress from pre-school through graduation.  As a final gift to them, Reason to Hope sponsored a retreat day for the graduates and many of the staff, so that their final memory of New Life would be that we want them to remember Jesus.

This retreat was completely planned and implemented by the Guatemalan staff at the school, under the capable direction of Seno Sandra, our school psychologist.  They provided our students with a memorable sent-off.

Sandra submitted this report (which I have translated into English) to summarize the events of the day.

We thank God for the opportunity to share the Lord with our sixth grade students, and because New Life is a light in the lives of each one of them and in Santa Maria de Jesus.

The day began with the students being divided into two teams, and each team had to develop a team cheer, and particpate in other team-building activities.

This was followed by a time of praise and worship. Each student received their own copy of the Bible during this time. 

During the teaching time, the students were challenge with the truth that they can have a personal relationship with God and can depend on him to make wise decisions.  He can help them change their way of thinking.  

Seno Nisza, our fifth grade teacher, translated the day
into sign language to enable our two deaf graduates
to fully participate in this activity.

During the second teaching,  the pastor who was leading the retreat invited everyone attending the retreat to have a personal encounter with the Lord.  When asked if anyone wanted to make the decision to follow Jesus in their life, eight of the students indicated their desire to do so. Each of these students were prayed with and counseled by one of the Guatemalan leaders responsible for leading the retreat.

There were many other activities in which the students could participate, including sports, physical challenges, and art activities.

During the art activity, the students were divided into three groups.  They were given large sheets of paper and asked to write on one side what important events had impacted their lives up until now.  On the other side, they were asked to envision what lies ahead for their futures.  Many students opened their hearts during this activity.

One student said that the most important thing in his life had been God, and that in the future he hoped to become a pastor.  Another mentioned that New Life School had been an important part of his life, because here he had been treated differently than anywhere else.  Many mentioned that what had affected their lives most to this point had been difficult family situations, and that they hoped to overcome their past as they look to the future.  Some hope to become professionals, one a chef.  All shared their dreams and desires for the future. It was difficult for many of the students to share their past, but they did.  You could see their faces change as they shifted their focus from their past to their hopes for the future.

The day ended with a time of prayer.  Each student received a key chain, with the school logo on one side.  On the other side were mustard seeds, to help them remember the teaching of Jesus about how a small amount of faith can change their lives.

Best end of school year ever. 

Can You Believe They Did It?

This October will go down as a milestone in the history of Casa de Esperanza.  Both Moises and Osmi have graduated from Basico (9th grade) in a country where many able-bodied people never study past sixth grade.  To top it off, they both completed the regular Basico curriculum in school settings designed for students without physical challenges.

It is times like this when I look back in awe at what God has done in the lives of our young men during the eight years Reason to Hope has been in Guatemala.  And I have a front row seat to see what He is doing.

Moises and Osmi on their first day of Basico
January, 2015

Osmi studied in San Pedro at Liceo Antigueno, one of the oldest private schools in the area which prides itself on providing a strenuous course of study.  He attended five days a week for three years to receive a regular education diploma.  He would like to continue studying graphic design or architecture.  Click here to see more pictures of Osmi over the years, and hear his thoughts about graduating and his future plans.

Osmi with his teachers and graduating class

Moises completed his Basico in an Institute for adult education in Santa Maria de Jesus. He and one of the companion-caregivers would travel to Santa Maria each Saturday for the past two years, often taking the chicken bus, to allow him to study in a program which best met his needs. This program is run by Reynaldo Raxjal, who is a pastor and educator.  Rey served as our in-home teacher at the beginning of Casa de Esperanza, allowing Fidel to graduate Basico and Osmi to graduate sixth grade.  We are so grateful for the support he has been to us over the years.  Click here to see pictures of Moy growing up (I have known him since he was eight!) and learn what he thinks about completing his education.

Moy receiving his diploma
from Profe Rey

Of course, such a momentous event requires a celebration, so after Osmi's graduation ceremony the graduates and some of our staff, along with Dick Rutgers, went to Pollo Campero (where else?) to celebrate.

Moises is alway overjoyed by a good meal!

We were happy to have Ali, Osmi's "friend" join us to celebrate.
Don't worry.  We didn't forget about our other guys.  They were excited to get take-out chicken and Coca-Cola when we all got home.

Fidel returning home after collecting recycling from the community

Roberto enjoying a game of Jenga with our friend Olivia
as Mario, Fidel, and Moises look on.
I am so proud of these young men and enjoy watching them grow and develop with the support Reason to Hope is able to provide.  Thanks for being part of their lives.

Moises All Grown Up!

I met Moises on my first trip to Hermano Pedro Hospital.  He was about 8 years old at the time and already had cultivated the heart-capturing smile which has become his trade-mark.

He was such a little boy back then.  I remember him siting on my lap!

Futbol (soccer to those of you in the US) has always been Moy's passion.

And he never let his inability to walk independently 
keep him from playing his favorite sport!

Fine motor skills have always been a challenge for Moy.

Moises with Sonya and his teacher Nineth
at his sixth grade graduation

Moy on the day he left Hermano Pedro Hospital
to come to his forever home at Casa de Esperanza

Moy wasn't too keen on helping with chores
when he first came to us, but he's adjusted and 
now takes pride in helping out.

We soon discovered that Moy could actually walk
with support, though he still is insecure just using a walker.
You can see that he has no problem using Cesar
for support though!

And here is our graduate--21 years old and so proud.

Moises has been part of my life for so many years now--I almost didn't realize just how long until I went back and looked through pictures.  He really does feel like part of my own family and I believe he feels that way too.  One day when he was wanting me to do something for him that he could do himself I said to him, "I'm not your momma."  Instantly he replied, "Here you are."  I can think of no greater honor than to hold this title!