Am I a SJW?

Our ministry works to bring about respect, dignity, equality and justice for those who the world ignores or rejects, especially the disabled and elderly.  There have been times when I've been labeled as more of a Social Justice Warrior than a missionary, because our focus is on sharing the Good News of Jesus through our actions--to build a relationship with people before asking them to begin a relationship with our Jesus.  I have many reasons for this, which I believe are Biblically sound, but that's another post.

Living outside of the US, I have to admit I was unfamiliar with the term, and even had to look it up.  Wester's Dictionary defines a Social Justice Warrior (or SJW) as:  

Social justice warrior and SJW are typically used with sardonic [mocking, cynical] application, referring to a person who is seen as overly enthusiastic about issues of fairness in the treatment of matters of race, gender, or identity.

Though I am passionately concerned about economic equity and the dignity of all people, especially those with disabilities, my primary goal is to enable all people to know who Jesus truly is (not just as a religious icon), I don't think this term quite fits.  

While I am not involved in the struggle for the just treatment of the three groups named above, I see the just treatment of all people as a Biblical requirement not a social construct or a political position.  If I say each man is made in the Imago Dei, or the image of God, and I believe Jesus when He says, "Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me." (Matt. 25:49.MSG) I am afraid to do otherwise.

Today I came across a devotion from the writings of Henri Nouwen which explains my heart better than I could:

It [Christian social action] is not an anxious human effort to create a better world. It is a confident expression of the truth that in Christ, death, evil, and destruction have been overcome. It is not a fearful attempt to restore a broken order. It is a joyful assertion that in Christ all order has already been restored. . . those acting within the house of God point through their action to the healing, restoring, redeeming, and re-creating presence of God.

I believe the view expressed by Henri is the basis of all Christian social action and the impetus for the human service activities of our ministry. It may lead us into the social and political sector, redeeming these under then authority of Jesus.  It takes us outside the walls of the conventional church,  In fact, sometimes it is the conventional church structure we must confront.

Has your disability or a family members disability
prevented you from attending church?

Wherever it takes us, it is our sincere attempt to make the Kingdom of God present and visible to all people.  May we be found faithful.     

An afterthought:

Why to those of us who claim to follow Christ feel the need to diminish the work of others who have a different approach to advancing the Kingdom of God? Have we forgotten that the same Spirit gives differing gifts according to our particular call?  We can do better.

What CORONA-19 Has Taught Me

As I reflect on what I've learned and realized in the last 15 month, since the pandemic basically shut down Guatemala, and placed limits on my freedom, I have needed to confess, as well as celebrate, many things.

First, I realized how attached I am to the things of this world.  My freedom to move about freely, to buy what I want as well as need, to be independent and live as I want.  I like my life my way--and was hit smack in the face with the challenge to be content in all things--even lock-down and wearing masks.  I confess I discovered just how much I am of this world, not just in it, and needed to (and continue to need to) repent.  

I realized how attached I was to my activities, maybe even more than to the people in my life.  I was forced to trust God to keep my children and grandchildren safe, though they were far away and my mother's heart immediately wanted to go to them--as if I could do something to protect them.  I learned my own helplessness and struggled with resentment.

I was forced to see God's hand in this pandemic, even if it didn't fit in with my image of who God was supposed to be.  I don't believe He caused it, though He certainly permitted it.  I have seen how God has used this time of isolation to build my relationship with Him, making me less dependent on the somewhat artificial community of "church" and more dependent on the true community of the world-wide family of believers.  In the last year and 3 months I have called and Zoomed with more family (biological and spiritual) than I had in the last 10 years I lived in Guatemala.  I was forced to be responsible for my participation in community and not rely on an institution to provide it.

Did I miss gathering with other believers for worship?  Absolutely.  But when participating in the services of my home church here began to feel burdensome (it's much harder to pay attention when a service is in two languages, and the repetition leads to distraction--somehow it's different in person), I connected with churches I knew across the US.  I have come to love and appreciate that we are the universal Body of Christ as well as local gatherings.

I have been challenged to do everything without grumbling: when I had to plan my outings because we could only drive every other day and not all on Sunday,  When I have to wear a mask even though no one is within 100 yards of me (yes, in Guatemala masks are still required).  When my temperature is still taken every time I enter a store or public building, and my hands are chapped from hand sanitizer.  I am learning to count it all as joy, because I am alive.

In October I unknowingly contracted the virus, only finding out when I went to get test to return to Guatemala after a short visit to renew my visa after the airport here opened once again.  My short trip turned into two weeks in an extended stay hotel in Houston.  I was advised by a doctor friend in Houston on the best protocol of care, supplies were provided for me by by good friend Judy, and I learned that Walmart delivers.  In all I never suffered, only losing my sense of smell and having mild headaches for a few days.  This was shortly after two of my friends, much younger and in better health than I, had died from the virus.  

This could have turned out so much differently.  While it took me a while to recover my normal energy level (you don't realize this when cooped up in a hotel room), I suffer no long lasting effects.  That, too, is a miracle to me, since just yesterday I hugged a fellow missionary (again much younger and fitter than I) who is still periodically requiring oxygen, though he had Covid last August.  

So I have learned much about God's provision, not only for my health and strength but for our ministry. At a time when many ministries and nonprofits were closing (at least temporarily) God provided generously for us through you, His people.  We not only were able to continue our ministry full-force, but were able to extend ourselves to providing food for the elderly in San Pedro, the community where we are located.  I watched as God created ministry for the residents of Casa de Esperanza when I had failed to figure out how to do so.  I watched as our staff unselfishly worked a week at a time to limit the coming and going of outsiders to our homes.  We were cared for in more ways than I ever could have anticipated.

I guess to sum it up, during Covid-19, I have gained insight into just how big God is, and how small I am.

Family time

While my recent trip to the US was to renew my visa and attend the disbursing of ashes of a former co-worker, I manage to have a number of great visits with my children living in Omaha.

Going out to eat seems to be the  go-to activity for the grandsons--who amaze me at how much they can pack away.

Eliy who is now five has decided that Village Inn is our favorite place because he loves the pancakes and French fries (yes, eaten together!).  He is a great conversationalist, coming up with ideas which continue to amaze and surprise me.  He'll be starting Kindergarten in the fall, and is more than ready.  I am so proud of the great job Joel, a single dad, is doing raising him.

It's hard for me to believe that 15 year old Zach is in high school playing soccer on the Millard West J-V team..  I got to see a few of his games while I was home.  His busy schedule makes it hard to catch him, but we did squeeze in a few quality visits.

While my daughter-in-love, Lindy, is finishing another year teaching at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Omaha, my son Jeremy has been busy coaching Nathan's soccer team.  I have been so proud of Jeremy's work with these boys, and recently found out that both he and Zach are also serving as buddies for a special needs soccer club.  

Though Nate and I couldn't go to his usually grandma place, McDonalds, because the dining rooms were still closed, that didn't stop us from having our regular restaurant date.  Nate introduced me to a new (to me) restaurant, Jimmy's Egg, where ne managed to outdo his younger cousin, Eliy, in the quantity of pancakes he can consume.

Mikayla, Bryan and Owen surprised me a few months ago with the news that another child is soon to join their family.  Owen was excited to begin sporting this new shirt with the news.  This will bring the total number of my grandchildren to five,  but will add a granddaughter to the mix!  I have to admit that I am excited to begin buying little dresses and frilly things.

I will be coming to Omaha again in August to help Mikayla out during the last month of her pregnancy. I am so pleased she invited me to do this, and am looking forward to spending concentrated time with Bryan, Mik, and Owen.

Big brother, however, was not so excited by the news that he would have a baby sister, insisting that we only "have boys in our family."

A milk shake and the fact that Iron Man's baby was a little girl is helping him adjust to this news.

My son Jon, who lives in California, was the only child I didn't get to see this trip.  He has had a hard time lately, but is valiantly dealing with the death of his long time fur baby and totaling his car, both within a few weeks of each other.  I miss seeing him a lot.  Maybe a "California dreaming" trip needs to be in my future.

While I am grateful for the time I get to spend with my family, it seems each time I return to Guatemala it gets a little harder to leave them.  Each trip I realize how much I am missing as their lives go on without me.  I have to admit, it's the most difficult part of serving in Guatemala.  I trust God to care for them, and am so proud of how my children are living as adults and how my grandsons are developing.  I realize, though, how little I am a part of their everyday lives, and that's painful.  

The "family" I have found in Guatemala helps fill this void, but, honestly it's not the same.  For those of you who are thinking, "I could never leave my children," please don't share that with me.  It's not that I don't love my children as much as you do, but God has called me to surrender them to His greater plan and purpose.  What type of selfish legacy would I be leaving them if I failed to do this because it hurt too much?

Where is my loyalty? What is my first love?

I have always hated the term "Christian Nationalism."  As I see it, there is nothing Christian about nationalism, which is defined as "identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations."  Let me explain.

Nationalism reinforces the idea of "me first."  How can I, as a follower of Christ, hold to that belief when Scripture tells me clearly: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Phil. 2:3-4) How can I say "America first" in the same break as I say "Jesus first?"

I strongly believe in patriotism, which is "devotion to and vigorous support for one's country."  I see this exercised by the respect the Guatemalan people have for their flag, their national anthem, and their history and tradition.  And the contrast I see between the nationalism of the US and its lack of patriotism is striking.

Are the values of the US the values that we find in the Bible? Not the theoretical values of the Constitution, but the day to day values seen in the way of life of the US.

If you are not a Christ-follower, this doesn't matter.  You are free to believe and act as you want.  If, however, I claim to follow Jesus, I am mandated to think with the mind of Christ, not my own wisdom.  Too often, God's way of thinking and acting does not make sense to me, but that is what I am commanded to do.  

When I say, "I surrender all,"  what do I mean?

Do I include my identity as a citizen of the US?  Remember, surrender does not mean renouncing, only submitting something to the will of God.

What is my first and primary identity?  That of an "American"? Or that of a Christ-follower?  I fear too many of us have forgotten or forsaken our primary identity as Christ-followers to be seen as good "Americans."  

When I surrender all, do I surrender my security and my life-style for the good of others?  Am I willing to surrender some of my comfort so others can live with minimal safety and have access to minimal resources to meet their needs? Do I worry more about my future than about the present struggle of those who are lacking the basic necessities of life today?  Do I think more about the monetary inheritance I will leave my children, than the spiritual legacy I will leave behind?

These are hard questions. But life in another country has forced me to face these in my own life.  Please don't say that I have the "luxury" of doing this because I live outside of the US.  My ability to serve is dependent on the fact that I come from the US and benefit from the prosperity of my homeland.  But my ability to survive on the mission field is not based on the economic security I receive from the US, but my daily ability to survive is based on the fact that I follow Christ, oftentimes into places I don't want to go.

Some of these "dilemmas" are simple.  Is it my American guilt or the conviction of the Holy Spirit when I pay $4 for a latte, and yet pass by women on the street with white flags indicating they have no food for their families?  Do I need my coffee more than they need my $4?  

Other dilemmas are more difficult.  How do I respond long term to the 23 year old, polite and respectful young man who is living on the streets and comes to my home every few days, asking for "pan" (bread)?  Do I give him bread with refried beans and feel I've done enough?  Or do I offer him a hot meal on my doorstep, and sit with him while he eats it?  Do I try to help him with the impossible task of finding work when he only has a 3rd grade education, or do I help him complete 6th grade, where he might have a chance of finding a job which will provide enough for him to rent a room?  

What is my responsibility to this man, who I believe Jesus has brought to my door, when he falls outside of my "scope of ministry," but more importantly, outside of my comfort zone?  I'm still trying to figure that out. 

Please pray for me that I am open to God's guidance in responding to this and the myriad of needs I face each day.  It's far too easy to say "Reason to Hope first" and ignore those God brings into my life who don't fit in to "what I am called to do."

If I've learned anything. . .

 People often ask me what it is like to live on the mission field. I have never known how to respond until today. It is HUMBLING. I have learned how little I understood about myself, the world, and God. Today in my quiet time God put together some ideas that have been rolling around in my head for a while. I am sharing them with my friends not our to condemnation but confession. This is what I have learned, and to not share it with you would be selfish. So here goes. .

Living in Guatemala, I often reflect on the role of culture in shaping my beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, and actions. The longer I am here, the less I am shaped by the culture of the United States, and the more I am shaped by the culture of Latin American, especially the culture of poverty. Yet, I am neither fully “American” (though it is my passport country) nor am I Guatemalan.
Yes, I and grateful to the United States and all the opportunities it has provided me. But I love Guatemala for the way it has opened my eyes to how those same opportunities have blinded me—to the fact that we in the US are not more deserving or superior than those of other nations and that success and material gain have become our idols (how much of the success of a government is measured by the state of the economy, and how much is measured by how Jesus, in the form of the “least of these” is treated?). I learned about Manifest Destiny in school, but never saw it in action until I lived outside of the US. Too many of us think that the United States is now God’s chosen nation.
A nation, including Israel, was not chosen because it was superior to other nations, but chosen because God had a specific purpose for it to fulfill—the coming of the Messiah. If in any way you believe that the US is chosen by God, favored above other nations, stop and ask yourself what God’s purpose for the US might be, and whether or not it is fulfilling it.
We say we “were/are” a Christian country because the nation was founded on Christian principles. I don’t argue that for a minute. But that is Law, Old Testament do what is right in action. But did the US even have a change of heart and turn to live, not on Christian principles and traditions, but on the desire to truly follow God? That I don’t see so much.
We ask God to bless our desires and efforts, and tell him what he should do rather than ask what we should do. The reaction to the last election by many who follow Christ has shown me just how far we have to go. God permitted the new administration to be elected. Stolen or won honestly, he permitted it—just as he permitted Assyrian and Babylonia to conquer Israel. The challenge now is to live as Christ-followers no matter who is in office, or what restrictions may come. That is the history of Christianity in most of history and the world.
So maybe, instead of complaining about it, we need to stop and ask God “WHY?” Not with self- pity, but with a real desire to understand what he is doing in the world today. I don't think it is clear at all--but he can give us clarity if we seek it. As Blackerby teaches--look at what God is doing and then ask him how he would have us join in.
I love the United States. I am proud of the fact that both my father and my son have served as Marines in defending liberty. But I love the world, too. I see just how insulated I was to the suffering of the world, even though I often chose to work in areas of poverty in the US. It is possible to love the country of your birth and still love the world. The kingdom of God goes far beyond the borders of the United States, and I long most to be a good citizen of that kingdom.