Saturday, July 24, 2010

Aguirre Family Ministry Update

I was reading this morning from Romans chapter 4, where Paul is talking about Abraham's faith and belief in God...

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead.

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why it was credited to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:18-22

I've always thought that I'd love to have that kind of faith and unwavering trust in God.  I realized this morning that maybe I least a tiny bit of it anyway.  And while I am not sure that I would presume to think that my faith quite measures up to Abraham's, maybe it doesn't need to.  Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move maybe my baby steps towards an Abraham-sized faith is right where God wants me for now.

I wrote a few weeks ago about our ministry and the upheaval we're going through this summer....there's still so much uncertainty in our situation.  At this point, it does appear that we are packing and preparing to leave Mexico to take our furlough home assignment* and yet...we might actually stay, or at least come back if God changes some things.  If we do leave and God shows us that we're moving on, we may or may not go to Venezuela.  We may or may not move in a completely different direction and end up on a remote island in the Pacific, for all I know!

So much uncertainty and yet here I am, former uptight, I-need-to-know-NOW, controlling, worry wart of a woman exhibiting a simple, child-like trust in God that goes way way beyond anything I ever dreamed possible for myself!  Not that I didn't want it, just that I didn't know how to get it.  I am astonished at and ever so grateful for the changes that God has worked in me to bring me to this place of trust (because that's the only way to 'get it' anyway, I had to give up and let God do the work).  For example, if we really might be led to stay in Mexico, then maybe it's not such a good idea to be selling or gifting our things, right?  And yet I have complete assurance that if God moves us to stay, then He will replace the things we need when we need them and worrying about that is not something that I need to clutter up my life with right now.**  There are more important things to focus on, like being cheerful and meeting my kids' needs today.

I don't know that I am actually quite sure about going to Venezuela under the present circumstances and yet I have complete peace in honoring Miguel's ministry decisions because I know that God and His Plan is in control here (Proverbs 19:21).  It might sound contradictory, but I see it as choosing to step aside and let God be the one to reveal that plan as He sees fit through my husband and trust that God will work to change what is not for the best for our family (Proverbs 3:5-6).  I don't have to try to convince Miguel of anything...just pray and trust and calmly share my thoughts when asked or as God leads.  I couldn't do that before because I was too worried that my dear husband might make a mistake that I would have to 'suffer' for (quite humbling for me to have to admit, but yeah, that's how it was).

So this is a time when it is so obvious that God is working to change and grow us because we're ready for Him to's also a time when God is using us to speak truth to others regarding some situations that we find ourselves in right now.  Yes, we're struggling in some areas, haven't done everything perfectly, and yet these things are the very tools that God is using to shape, grow and mature us.  It's an exciting place to be, even though the learning and growing process has been painful as we're stretched farther than we think we can go.

But this trust, this simple faith, this peace (Philippians 4:6-7) is amazing.  I think I want more.

Philippians 3:7-14

*The current plan is to land in Northwest Arkansas mid-August, find a place to stay and for Miguel to work for a time as we pray and think through our options while working through the decision-making process with our home church there...

**I used to think that this sort of faith was a fluffy, too-spiritual-to-be-real sort of people who said that were just in some sort of denial or something and that sooner or later they would 'come to their senses' and realize that real life is quite different...and while I don't want to go to the extreme of being naive or unwise, what I am experiencing is something totally different and more real and healthy than my former anxious state of mind... 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to Jkaile!

I had a lot of mixed feelings when I found out that I was expecting was a difficult time in our lives and I knew that a pregnancy with all of its discomforts would most likely only complicate things.  I was right...

Morning sickness hit me hard and in the middle of that, we moved from the city where we lived in Venezuela to a small town to start a new ministry.  The house we lived in was very comfortable, but without a good cooling system and I struggled a lot with the heat and humidity.  I got very sick that February with a bad flu and became very dehydrated without realizing it.  I probably should have been hospitalized, but I refused to budge and poor Miguel had to nurse me back to health with the help of some friends.

It was during that time that I began to think that perhaps I would lose this baby...I'm not sure why I was convinced of this, but somehow I believed that since I hadn't really wanted another baby, maybe I didn't deserve to receive the blessing of another baby.  Completely absurd, I know, but it was a low time in my life and I don't think that I was thinking straight.  But because of that feeling, I prayed more fervently for this child than I had for the others.

Once I recovered from that illness, we had to move once again and the second house we lived in was even hotter than the first.  I struggled with the heat and dehydration and exhaustion and varicose veins in an unmentionable part of my body that made life miserable.  I was one grouchy momma, let me tell you!  I don't like to think about that time of my life...we traveled some during the months of April and May and then in June traveled back to the states to attend a family reunion.  Here's a picture of my mom and sisters and me on the last day of our family reunion...I went into labor that very night.  If I look uncomfortable, I was!  lol  I found out that my belly was so huge because I had an incredible amount of amniotic fluid.

Jkaile was born at 3 a.m. on July 22 after a rather short labor.  When he was born, the doctor noticed right away that there was a full knot in the cord and they cut it out to study it.  I don't think I was quite 'with it' to realize the full implications of that knot, I was just relieved to find out that Jkaile appeared to be a normal, healthy baby. 

What a cutie!  

At two weeks of age, I took Jkaile in to the dr. for the normal two-week check-up.  The pediatrician looked him over and then just stood there holding him for a long time, looking him over.  Then she kind of came to herself and handed him back to me saying that she rarely sees such a "perfect" baby.  As a new mom I was flattered, of course, but also surprised by her comment because I'm sure she sees hundreds of newborns every month.  I asked her about Jkaile's cord that had not yet fallen off even after 2 weeks...she said that his cord appeared to be very thick and that sometimes a thick cord takes longer to dry up and fall off.  I also mentioned that he'd had a knot in his cord at birth and asked her about that.  She was surprised and told me that a knot in the umbilical cord is "potentially fatal" and that what probably saved Jkaile was the fact that his cord was so thick.  

And then I knew...God has a plan for every life...God protected Jkaile through all of my sickness and travels and even from the knot in his cord.  That is also probably the reason I had been prompted to pray for his life and his safety all during my pregnancy.  Jkaile's life is a precious gift from God that we will enjoy as long as God allows.  

Jkaile at two weeks.

Jkaile and I

As Jkaile grew, I worried about a bit about his development, wondering if there had been any adverse effects from a possible lack of oxygen due to the knot in his cord, but it has become quite obvious to us that the exact opposite is true.  Not only is Jkaile a normal, healthy child, he is also demonstrating a higher intelligence than any of our other kids at this age!  Some friends who are highly educated in the areas of education and psychology who teach him in Sunday School have actually encouraged me to think of him as a special needs child because of his high intelligence (in other words, I need to keep him busy and challenged or suffer the consequences!).  No, he probably won't be one of those twelve year olds who graduate from college, but it's obvious that he is pretty smart.  

So Happy Birthday Jkaile! I'm so glad that you are part of this family!  Love you lots, Mom

Jkaile, July 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pancakes of our favorite meals!  Jkaile loves to help in the kitchen and as soon as he sees me standing at the counter with a mixing bowl, he comes running...literally!  I recently started letting him help me with the pancakes...I pour the batter and flip and then he gets to take them off the griddle and put them on the plate.  At first I was afraid he'd burn himself, but so far he's been careful.  Micah enjoys helping, too, although he's already learned how to pour and flip.  

Banana pancakes (which explains why they are lumpy, lol)

Some days I wish I had four arms!  

This morning we made pancakes with faces.
Jkaile liked the sad faces the best...

Future chefs at work....

Pigs in a Blanket

This is how I get help to make supper!  

A glorious mess...

We had to get a bit creative to find 
enough rolling pins...

Gracia girl...

Since Micah is old enough to be able handle the oven,
I hardly had to do a thing.


...especially with ketchup.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Friend Sol

I first met my friend Sol on the sidewalk by the parking lot of the married housing at the University of Arkansas.  Miguel and I were moving to Arkansas to be closer to his job and I was transferring to the U of A.  My Mom, younger sister and I were struggling to carry our king-size mattress into our apartment.  Sol stopped to offer her help in broken English.  Recognizing Sol for a Spanish speaker, my Mom stopped to talk to her.

The expression on Sol's face changed from one of cautiousness to joyful radiance that we spoke her language.  I would like to say that I stopped what I was doing to take the time to properly greet and show openness to Sol, but I let my Mom do that.  Of course I should have known better, but after briefly acknowledging her existence, I, the task-oriented Westerner, continued working on the job at hand...unloading the truck.  After Mom and Sol were done talking, we all worked to wrestle the mattress and box springs into our tiny on-campus apartment and thanked Sol for her help.

Turns out Sol and her family occupied the apartment right next to us...a divine appointment.  After a few weeks, we began slowly getting to know our new neighbors...Ciro, Sol's husband, and Sol were from Mexico and seemed open to friendship.  Miguel and I agreed to pursue a friendship with them with the idea of eventually offering to have a Bible study with them.  So we intentionally befriended them even though it was hard...we didn't know the Mexican culture very well and we sensed strong tensions in the home, at times even oppression.

After about a year of working to gain their confidence, we tentatively offered the Bible study and they accepted.  We found out later that they had already rejected the Catholic faith because it had not served their needs and they were openly searching for truth.  I began a Bible study with Sol and Miguel started with Ciro, both of us using the chronological method, but separately.  Looking back now, I realize we had little idea of what we were doing, but we blundered through by the grace of God.  Little by little Sol opened up more and more to me as confidence and trust grew in the relationship. Eventually, we found out that they did have serious family and marriage issues and that demonic oppression was a part of their lives.  I know that God works miracles because both Ciro and Sol are now both fellow believers and our brother and sister in Christ.

One day, however, once Sol and I were fast friends and trust levels were high, she reminded me of that first day we met out there on the sidewalk.  She told me that she knew that my Mom liked her right away, but she felt rejected by me because I did not take the time to talk to her and get to know her right there when we met.

She told me that the day she met me, she honestly thought I didn't like her because her skin was dark.

I cried.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Openness: Welcoming Others Into Your Presence*

**Openness: The First Step of the Pilgrimage

"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Luke 15:2

Openness is defined as the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.

Three important observations the author makes regarding openness:

  1. It is important to note that the author emphasizes that being open toward others is an ability...even if we aren't particularly good at it, we can practice and get better.  
  2. Openness is directed toward people--others like ourselves and those who are unlike us.  
  3. Openness must be expressed in culturally appropriate ways so that others feel both welcomed and secure in our presence.  This will, of course, mean different things in different places.
  4. Practicing openness in a different culture will require that we change.  A good quote about using the term embrace when speaking of welcoming others into our presence..."The will to give ourselves to others and 'welcome' them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying with them in their humanity."
On the cross, Jesus' arms were wide open and he signaled his openness to receive those who would come to him in was not only openness to repentant sinners, however, but also to those wishing to draw near for comfort, peace, refuge, hope and grace.  Therefore, the author points out that openness is grounded in the very nature of God.

Openness is also illustrated in the biblical concept of hospitality, mentioned various times in Scripture.  Hospitality describes an attitude of extending grace to people, including the stranger and those who are different.  It does include inviting people into your home, but the concept is expanded in Scripture to include extending love to those we don't know and who may be quite different from us...being gracious to all people, welcoming them into your presence and making them feel valued.  

The word hospitality is rooted in the word hospital, which Greek roots mean "loving the stranger" and later "house for strangers."  Eventually, the word hospital came be be known as a place of healing...the word hospitality meant connecting with strangers in such a way that healing took place.  Welcoming people just as they are and inviting them to join us just as we are therefore becomes a sacred event reflecting what Jesus did for us--providing us with a healing relationship.

A Western tendency is to quickly categorize people and things.  Westerners like to know where things or people fit because then it is easier to manage them or the relationship.  One way Westerners do this is by using the categories "like me" or "unlike me."  The "like me" category tends to become the "approved" category that Westerners approve and promote.  However, things that fall into the "unlike me" category tend to be viewed with suspicion, distance, critiquing and trying to change it (or you) to look more like me.

Skills for Openness - practicing these skills in your home culture will make them more natural so that when you do encounter or enter in to another culture, you won't need to develop them as much as just find appropriate ways to express them. 

1.  Suspending judgment

Making a judgment about something or someone is the same as coming to a conclusion.  If the conclusion is wrong, however, we have acted unjustly toward the person.  And once we have formed a conclusion, our mind may become closed to new information that might change our conclusion.  Often, once our conclusion is formed, the tendency is to see only the evidence that confirms that conclusion.     

When we are confronted with a new culture and a multitude of differences, we are all prone to judge from our own cultural perspective and therefore likely to see negatively what God sees as merely a difference.  If it is truly only a difference and not wrong, then we should try to stay open and be accepting. 

Developing our ability to suspend judgment helps us to follow God's caution about judging only with extreme caution so as to avoid misjudging another human being and therefore touch Jesus with the same disregard.  Suspending judgment is the first skill we need in order to maintain keeps us from making premature negative judgments and keeps us open to new information that may help us judge accurately.

Steps to avoiding premature negative judgments:
  1. Recognize that you might be making a negative judgment...ask yourself the question, Am I jumping to a negative conclusion?
  2. Stop when you recognize a negative thought or make a negative comment or judgment.  Ask whether you have enough information to be negative about that person...ask whether you should suspend judgment, get more information and get more cultural understanding before making a conclusion. 
  3. Ask yourself whether the observed behavior violates some clear mandate of Scripture or whether it is merely a cultural difference?
  4. If the behavior does, in fact, appear to violate a clear biblical mandate, ask yourself how you could respond so that you still continue to show openness while addressing the situation.  Great wisdom is needed for such a response and should not be done quickly...the correct response will probably not look the same as it would in your own culture.
  5. Unless you a person who has spent many years in the foreign culture, it would be wise to ask for counsel from a mature local pastor or an experienced missionary rather than adressing the issue yourself.
  6. If it turns out that the issue is merely a cultural difference, then remain open and celebrate it as part of God's diversity...try to understand how this difference is part of the larger picture of the culture.
Anytime we evaluate another culture from our own cultural perspective, the other culture will most likely look worse because we naturally favor our own cultural perspective and believe it to be superior.  This kind of ethnocentrism can cause us to assign negative attributes to the things we observe.  James 1:19 admonishes us to be quick to listen and slow to speak...good advice for the cross-cultural context!

2.  Tolerance for ambiguity 

A tolerance for ambiguity means living in uncertainty for periods of time...uncertainty has the tendency to drain our emotional strength and lower our physical capacity.  Most Westerners prefer not to live in uncertainty and manage their lives using PDAs, daily planner and agendas, leaving little room for the unexpected or ambiguous.  Westerners work very hard to avoid uncertainty and to live an ordered, predictable life because the unknown and unexpected are viewed as unwelcome intrusions in the schedule.  Other cultures, however, are very different and may not be as concerned about avoiding the unexpected or ambiguous as Westerners. 

When a person enters into a new culture, therefore, ambiguities abound.  The temptation is to hide or escape, but we can get better at handling the discomforts by keeping an open mind, processing our observations and asking questions.  The ability to tolerate ambiguity will allow us to hang in there when we would prefer to criticize or run away.

3.  Thinking gray

"The essence of thinking gray is this: don't form an opinion about an important matter until you've heard all the relevant facts."  Steven Sample

4.  Positive attribution

Negative attribution thinks the worst about others when there is uncertainty, but positive attribution assumes the best (while not being naive).  Try to develop the ability to intentionally think the best about people and then, if necessary, notice some of the less pleasant things on the side.  Positive attribution is a powerful tool in keeping us open towards others, which allows for a stronger relationship to develop.

A Restriction on Openness

The author throws in a caution at the end of this chapter to emphasize that openness to other cultures does not in any way equal religious relativism.  The challenge in cross-cultural relationships and ministry is to communicate grace to all peoples and yet affirm that the Bible is the authoritative truth of God. 

Our job is to remain open to the cultural diversity and to seek to adjust to the local culture without violating clear biblical principles or a clear mandate of Scripture.  Openness to these cultural differences will naturally lead us into the next step in being a cross-cultural servant, which is Acceptance. 

*Sorry, but you will be hearing a lot from me about this topic of cross-cultural's what I'm really passionate about right now as God works on my heart in this very area.  I hope it will bless you as much as it's blessed me!

**Notes for this post taken from the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Duane Elmer.  I highly recommend you get this book, by the might change your life!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Servanthood: The Process

Becoming a servant can be compared to a journey or a pilgrimage...while the steps described in Duane Elmer's book Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility aren't very complicated, the author points out that they do take a considerable amount of effort and discipline to carry out simply because we're used to servant practices in our own culture.  Merely calling ourselves a 'servant', doesn't mean that we will necessarily be perceived as such by others, especially if they are from another culture. 

I love how this book points out that I need to intentionally, every day, ask what I have learned about how a servant looks and acts in the local culture where I live.  I think that all too often, I tend to slip back into my usual, comfortable daily routine that is based in my own cultural experience and forget to stay on top of what it means to serve in another culture.  And the danger there is that I might become guilty once again of acting  like a "monkey". 

The cross-cultural servant model presented in this book is very practical and can actually be used as a guide in any relationship, whether it is cross-cultural or not. 

So here you go, a model of the steps towards becoming a cross-cultural servant.  The author lists the steps backwards since he feels they make more sense that way when first presented:

  1. Serving.  You can't serve someone you do not understand; at best you will serve like the monkey.
  2. Understanding.  You can't understand others until you have learned about, from and with them.
  3. Learning.  You can't learn important information from someone until there is trust in the relationship.
  4. Trust.  To build trust others must know that you accept and value them as people.
  5. Acceptance.  Before you can communicate acceptance, people must experience your openness - your ability to welcome them into your presence.
  6. Openness.  Openness with people different from yourself requires that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone to initiate and sustain relationships in a world of cultural differences.