Coming back to the Skagit Valley of Washington State was a bigger shock than we expected after a year in Paris. Significant ministry trips into 15 different countries seemed to increase our time away from home and give us new eyes for what was once familiar, sharpening our priorities. We are enjoying re-connecting with our family, ministry colleagues (see photo), faith community, supporters and also with jail inmates, ex-offenders, gang members and immigrant workers.
We participated in a baptism of Evaristo, an ex-gang member who is now a member of our community, in the frigid waters of the Skagit (see photos below). He and others want unforgettable, even dramatic baptismal experiences that will rival violent gang initiations.
Today Tierra Nueva’s visiting Honduran director David Calix, our Mexican pastor Salvio Hernandez and I met to try to distill our distinct theology and strategies for working with people in extreme poverty here and in Honduras.
As we prayed Salvio got a picture of a big tree, whose large branches provide cover. David saw a big roof that sheltered people from rain or hot sun. Luke 15, Romans 10:5-17 and Luke 10:1-9 all came to mind which we read and discussed at length over delicious chile rellenos and carne asada at the El Gitano Mexican Restaurant across the street from Tierra Nueva.
In Romans 10 the Apostle Paul contrasts efforts at self-salvation through following the law to the “righteousness based on faith.” This righteousness does not require frantic work bringing Christ down from heaven or up from the grave (v. 7). “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” writes Paul. How do we help people accustomed to seeing God as distant and punishing come to know God as close and loving?
Paul’s emphasis on people confessing with their mouth Jesus as Lord and believing from the heart that God has raised him from the dead (v. 9) really struck us as a brilliant crystallization into two essentials that show the Word as close & faith- inciting.
Jesus reveals that God (Lord) is not a distant law-enforcer but rather the one who comes down from heaven to seek and find the lost (Luke 15:4, 8). Jesus shows God to be the friend of sinners, healer of the sick and liberator of the oppressed. God raises Jesus from the dead, vanquishing death and all its authority, bringing him back to us as alive now.
“Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed!” (v. 12) write Paul. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” he insists (v. 13). But how will this message be proclaimed without preachers sent to communicate it in ways that instill faith? (v. 14-15). If indeed “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (v. 17) someone must agree to carry the message. Luke 10 shows an early Christian strategy instigated by Jesus.
Jesus appoints 72 disciples and sends them out in groups of two ahead of him into homes to receive hospitality first & then heal and announce the Kingdom of God. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. So beg the Lord of the harvest to cast out laborers into his harvest” (v. 2). Jesus sends them out needy and vulnerable (without money, suitcases or even shoes). They humbly receive and also freely give in the homes where God directs them.
David has been practicing this in Honduras for the past few years, visiting the poorest families in fields and homes, establishing friendship, praying for people and leading them in Bible studies.
For the past six weeks we’ve been gathering on Monday nights to try out Jesus’ ministry strategy in Luke 10. Four of us have been going out in teams of two, visiting families in rural migrant labor camps and in area apartments. Every week people are welcoming us, receptive to prayer and many have experienced immediate healing.
On one of our first nights out we prayed for an older farm worker who had been working long hours harvesting blueberries. She received almost immediate relief from pain in both her knees and arthritic wrists as Salvio, I and her husband prayed.
Two weeks ago a woman served us fresh blackberry juice from berries she’d harvested that day. She asked us to pray for her to be freed from abdominal pain from a past operation, and then poured out her heart to us about having lost custody of her three children to her ex-husband. She ended up confessing her bitterness and rage, asking for us to pray for freedom and God’s peace.
Last week we visited a Triqui-speaking couple from Mexico and their five children, who offered us soft drinks and then asked us to pray for healing for the woman’s leg. As the pain gradually diminished, Salvio read Jesus’ teaching in Mark about the power of faith as small as a mustard seed. The man asked us to pray for him to be filled with this faith. We left with greater faith and excitement to follow Jesus, and are now inviting others from our staff and faith community to join us as part of Tierra Nueva’s weekly rhythm.
Through these weekly visits we are seeing that the closeness of the Word that Paul talks about can be experienced through our very closeness as carriers of the Word to people right where they live (under their roofs). Jesus’ strength to comfort and heal people from emotional and physical pains wins them over to a God of grace and love.