The lost sheep in our area are the drug addicts, occult members, and floozies.
We’ve read the parable of the lost sheep over and over, but have we considered the story from the perspective of the sheep? Have we thought about how it feels to be the one who is lost and alone, scared and filled with doubt?
Jesus knows how the Lost Sheep feel because they too are His precious children. When we’re lost we get confused and sometimes panic; unable to think rationally, we struggle to make good decisions. Jesus sees his Lost Sheep wandering aimlessly in desperation and weeps for them. Knowing that they will follow anyone and anything that gives them hope, he asks us to rush to their aide and be their shepherd before they’re led astray by the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Jesus asks us to seek out the lost. It has always been my nature to care for the lost sheep that I happen upon, but that’s nothing more than fulfilling the minimum requirement. Jesus challenges us to do more, to be more. He tells us to go looking for them, to seek them out.
Time and again we’ve recognized our kids as the best missionaries on our team – and it’s true. They go looking for the lost sheep and often times find them congregating in the dark, literally. In our town plaza, there is one side which remains dark at night because every new light bulb is promptly busted out. As I watch my beautiful daughters approach this foreboding territory, I beg the Lord for His protection and wisdom. “Ask and you shall receive.” Jesus responded to my plea with these words of wisdom for Katelyn and Anna, “Don’t ever leave because you’re scared to stay, and don’t ever stay because you’re scared to leave.” We talk often about the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, but how do we know when the inspirations that we feel are from Him? One indicator is the peacefulness that fills our hearts when we’re in the midst of the Father’s will. It is that tranquility that they assess when deciding to stay or leave.
About six weeks ago, we were hanging out in the plaza one night. Anna and Katelyn approached some of the kids congregating in the dark and invited them to walk around the plaza, hoping to take them away from the drugs being offered by their “friends.” Several of them accepted the invitation. During their loops, our daughters broached the topic of baptism and briefly explained the importance of being Christians. The Lost Sheep, as we call this group of wandering souls, were intrigued and wanted to know more. Knowing that we had to give the best 30-second elevator speech of all time, we briefly explained that during baptism we are filled with the Holy Spirit and our souls are forever transformed. They listened and then left, with no indication of what they thought. We were unsure of the effectiveness of our spiel until our daughters returned only moments later to report that “the group” wants to be baptized. They collectively decided that we needed to start a sacramental prep class in our home just for them. It would meet every Saturday morning at 8AM, include a yummy American pancake breakfast and lots of fun.
And so it is! Each Saturday morning the Lost Sheep gather in our home. Upon arriving, after politely greeting Chris and I, they always make a beeline for the Legos. It seems that Legos draw boys of all ages from every part of the globe. Vehicles, structures, and other creations come to life as I put the finishing touches on the yummy, American pancakes they like so much. We all crowd around our table, say a blessing, and then dive in. A couple weeks ago we celebrated one boy’s birthday. He was happy to be with us: his parents were both intoxicated and unaware of the date. During breakfast we upheld the FMC tradition of honoring the birthday person. Each of us shared things about him that we enjoyed, respected, etc. It was really powerful – for him and the rest of us. Although he wasn’t going to show his tears, I could tell he was crying on the inside.
I can’t possibly provide the details of every gathering we’ve had, but want to highlight just a few.
For one Saturday we made a giant heart-shaped puzzle that they worked together to assemble. They were unaware of what the final shape would be…
…and that it would have a huge hole in the middle.
After looking on the floor and seats for the missing piece they asked, as if scripted, what was up with the missing piece.
“What’s wrong with having a big hole in the middle of your heart?”, we asked, “You mean, things don’t work right when they have big holes in them?”
We agreed they needed something to fill the hole…
…So we gave them pieces of paper with words that represent things that people try to fill the holes in their hearts with: drugs, material possessions, pornography, girlfriends, etc.
The gaping hole still made the puzzle seem incomplete.
“What do you think is the only thing that can fill this hole in your heart?” we asked.
“Jesus,” they surprisingly replied in unison.
“Let’s learn a little bit about this person Jesus,” we said before reading two stories from the Bible: The Woman Caught in Adultery and The Prodigal Son. This was the first time any of them had heard either of these stories and they were amazed at how applicable they are to life here in San Hilarion. We talked about the reality of our sinfulness and Jesus’ unconditional, unending love. We spoke directly about their home lives and family situations, acknowledging the pain that they suffer when others make bad choices, but explaining the importance of forgiveness. We ended the day by reciting the Our Father and talking about the embedded truth: we can only approach the throne of God asking to be forgiven AS we’ve forgiven others. Until we’ve completely forgiven others, we have no business asking God’s pardon for our own sinful choices.
“…and forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us…”
They boys were struck by the profound nature of the message. By the looks on their faces, I could tell they were considering their own ability (or inability) to forgive those that have hurt them most.
It was a little awkward, so Katelyn and Anna announced that they were going to make human tables. It was a perfect end to a fun morning.
The very next day we learned that it was Javier’s 15th birthday. We offered to host a mini-celebration of cake and pop, but fully expected to lose out to his “boyz” who are always vying for his time.
He agreed to gather in the home of a mutual friend. As everyone was enjoying the sweet treats we honored Javier by sharing what each of us appreciate about him. His hard shell melted and what we saw was the fragile remains of a little boy who had experienced a lot of pain and hardship. We pray that he’ll continue coming around so that he can experience the love that Jesus has for him.
Another Saturday we played a board game that we had made. They moved their pieces along a path which spelled “AMEN” and were trying to reach “Heaven” at the end. Various spaces included descriptions of either good or bad choices, which allowed them to skip forward or fall back.
The pile of draw cards offered the most entertainment. Anna and Katelyn had created over 60 cards that described common situations. For example, “You skipped school to do drugs with your friends. Move back 5 spaces.” Another card read, “You carried water from the river for an elderly neighbor. Move ahead 4 spaces.” Some cards referenced specific events that had transpired, which made everyone laugh really hard: “You told the gringas (their name for white people) that you love them. Move back 20 spaces.”
After about an hour of play we had gone through the DRAW pile a couple times and decided we needed additional cards. As the kids wracked their brains to think of both good choices and bad I realized that this was a perfect application of what we had talked about. They were not only differentiating good from bad, but qualifying just how bad something is to determine how far back a player needs to go on the board. Their examples often seemed ridiculous, but effectively shed light on the scenarios they’re faced with.
After our game and discussions were over we expected our guests to leave. However, they stuck around our house for hours and hours. They played our other board games, built more Lego creations, hummed along with Chris as he strummed the guitar and sang praise and worship songs, and just enjoyed nice conversation. It was delightful.
When it was finally time to leave, they all inquired about our next meeting and felt disappointed to learn that we’d have to take a week off because of our trip into the remote valley of Bombonajillo.
We’re super excited to have found the Lost Sheep. We pray for the grace to be able to follow Jesus’ lead and bring them safely back to the flock. We ask for prayers as we discern each gathering, that we’re able to remain docile to the Spirit who knows exactly what these boys need.
This year, Sammy and the kids made my day extra special with flowers, cards, a special breakfast, and even a original song that they wrote just for me!
Mothers are the ones who help us tie our shoes
Who wash the dishes we use
But the best part is she loves us
Mothers are the ones who help us dry our tears
Who chase away our fears
But the best part is she loves us
Mother’s Day’s the day
Mother’s Day’s the day
Mother’s Day’s the day
We celebrate our moms
Great, right?! Sooo great.
All moms deserve to feel as special and loved on Mother’s Day as I did, but as I was counting my own blessings I knew that that just isn’t the case. Mother’s Day can be hard, lonely, sad, or disappointing for lots of moms and women who desire to become moms. Motherhood in all its forms and tenses — the day to day living of it, or the loss of it, or the yearning for it — involves so much vulnerability. It exposes our very core to so much hope and often, so much pain. I think it must be absolutely the most human experience a woman can open herself up to.
“Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.”
+ Hebrews 12:1-2 +
[Originally posted 8/27/2015]
“Are you excited to go for a run on the Great Wall?” I asked my mission partner jokingly.
“I don’t know about going for a run,” he laughed, “but I am definitely excited to be here.”
It was midmorning, we had just landed and both of us were really looking forward to three epic days of climbing the Great Wall, seeing the city, and visiting the FMC team. We had just spent two action-packed weeks in the Philippines and were on our way back to our mission post in Asia. This was the perfect opportunity to make a quick visit, and we were going to make the most of it.
If you show up at Faith Camp this summer, you are going to meet a whole bunch of bright-eyed, crazy-energetic, matching-shirted young people. They won’t only be the junior high students and their friends. You will meet the young people who do the prep work, lead cabins, organize and orchestrate the activities, and, frankly, run camp. Faith Camp is radical because we are by young people, for young people, and Faith Camp changes lives for precisely this reason.
The highlight of my mission trip would have to be the second day of the trip. We traveled to a pueblo called Tres Unidos. It was not easy arriving at the Pueblo, but it sure was a little heaven here on earth, hidden in the wilderness. It reminded me of our own journey in life. Life is not a road easily traveled, but a mix of hard bends, dead ends, and beautiful memories. All our hardships and toils are worth every bit of it because heaven is our final destination. There was so much of grandeur in the sceneries and in the mountains and in the valleys that the road we traveled to get to Tres Unidos and the time was worth every second. Life is hard but it has so much beauty in it that a good way to experience it well is to live it with a thankful heart and constantly remind ourselves that our God is so good… All the time! Herein lies the beauty of our journey.
The dim hospital room was packed full of 15 or 20 Filipino families, each huddled around a bed or crib holding their sick child. The windows were open and a single oscillating fan in the corner provided some airflow to keep the room bearable. Our small group of missionaries had introduced ourselves and were tasked with sharing a testimony – a personal story about when each of us saw God in our lives.
I feel torn every time I hear Pope Francis’s message of “making a mess of things.” The self-conscious and lazy part of me wants to use his message as an excuse to do as little as I “feel comfortable” doing, while the scientist and perfectionist in me tries to calculate the equation to invent the messiest mess the Catholic Church has ever seen. Clearly, God qualifies the called, not the other way around.
This year in missions has taught me many valuable lessons. A lesson on love is what I will now share with you. A sweet woman named Gemma “Gi Ging” has been my faithful teacher. Gemma’s left arm and leg are only slightly mobile, but that does not stop her. Every day she walks from her home the lengthy journey into town. She loves to stop by our cottage for a drink of water, a snack, or just to hangout. Often she may come several times in one day. She always has a beautiful joy radiating through her eyes, her laugh, and her smile. The language barrier does not even phase her. She tells me long stories and listens to whatever I have to say.
There are crazy days in missions. Some days there are college students filling our porch while I am running around trying to do five things at once. Next thing I know, Gemma shows up waiting to receive love. To send her home is the response of the flesh in that moment. However, the Lord calls us to a different response. A response of LOVE. True love. It is Jesus present in Gemma saying, “Slow down and love me.” Call to mind the story of Martha and Mary. Often we are so busy with other things we forget to just sit with Jesus. “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:42).
In those times of chaos and rushing, the Lord was asking me to just sit with Him. I wish I could tell you “true love” was shown to Gemma every time. Many times I failed and rushed into the next thing. The radical love Jesus calls us to is one that steps outside ourselves and puts the other first. The Lord in His faithfulness gave me many opportunities through Gemma that I might learn this love. This lesson He longs for us to know: the truth of our Father’s love. The Lord completely wills the best for you and for me. He gives this TRUE LOVE to each one of us. The most important aspect of missions is love. I have learned what it means to truly love those we serve – to see Jesus in all faces. In closing, let your love be true, sincere, selfless, and pure. You will then know the love of our OUTSTANDING GOD – Who is LOVE Himself.
Camiguin Island, Philippines
“The glory of God is man fully alive.” – St. Irenaeus
These words of St. Irenaeus have challenged many to serve the Lord in a new, vibrant way. A major element of my husband’s and my discernment into becoming missionaries was a response to our desires to live an extraordinary family life, to serve God in a radical way, and to live lives that give Him glory through embracing every moment and squeezing out all that life has to offer. I was not expecting to see, during this first year of missions, just how much we can actually be “fully alive” and giving glory to God in our mundane, day-to-day experiences.
We arrived in Asia about 3 weeks after we found out that we were expecting our third precious child. As thrilled as we were to welcome new life, jet lag combined with pregnancy hormones, new foods, new smells, new culture, etc. left me an exhausted hot mess. Fully alive? I just wanted to be functioning enough to feed and clothe our 21-month-old twins! How was I supposed to be glorifying God by preaching the Gospel and serving the poor if I couldn’t even get out of the house? Mercifully, the Lord showed me that He was asking me to be obedient to my vocation as a wife and mother and to the needs of my family. Could I could serve Him in those closest to me? Could I love Him in the quiet monotony of everyday life?
Instead of giving a wholehearted “YES,” of course I became frustrated. Why, God, did you send me across the world to just be a housewife? Couldn’t you have taught me this in America? With all my stuff and my friends? Why Asia, Lord?
And then He opened my eyes and my heart to everyone around me, to all those who don’t get the chance to be what we may consider “fully alive”: the women who hand wash their families’ clothes in the dirty river everyday; the young wives facing the oppression of their families, hindered from pursuing an education, career, or social life; the poor who struggle to eke out a simple existence, to feed themselves and their children with less than $1 a day.
I slowly came to realize that our American concept of “living life to the full” is frivolous and self-indulgent if we are not living in the center of God’s will for our lives. I can live life to the full by living in solidarity with the poor and offering up my countless dirty diaper changes and endless dish washing, as unglamorous as it may be.
In reality, it is an incredible privilege for me to struggle through these things while raising my children in a foreign country. Too many people around the world labor to just survive, much less have the freedom and opportunity to get rid of most of what they own and travel across the globe. We have been incredibly blessed with supportive benefactors and encouraging family and friends who make our mission life possible. Who am I to demand that I “live more fully” when I can look around me and count truly endless blessings?
God loves the little things too. He honored the woman who gave two coins to the temple treasury (Mark 12: 41-44) because she gave them with trust. He loves my two-year-olds’ sweet and innocent prayers. He cherishes the poor who love through their simplicity. To glorify God means to be fully alive in Him, in His will, whether that is changing diapers, changing the oil, or changing countries; whether teaching a few children to pray or preaching to thousands. It’s giving everything to Him and allowing everything to glorify Him, as large or small as it may seem to our eyes.
How is God asking you to glorify Him today?
[Editor’s Note: Due to possible religious persecution in some countries, any references in this article to specific countries have been replaced with references only to the continent.]
We began our 33 day retreat in Porvenir de Tacubaya, Mexico, by the lead of the Holy Spirit. The people desired to understand their already strong devotion to Mary. Having a Spanish translation of the book 33 Days to Morning Glory offered us the opportunity, despite our limited knowledge of Spanish, to make use of some deep material. The retreat was amazing! Every day we arrived at the village and gathered with the nine women and their children. We started with praise and worship songs; we prayed inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us. We shared scripture and how the Lord was speaking to us in our personal prayer time each day; we read the daily material of Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, sharing the parts that caught our attention and their significance to us.
At first the women didn’t share much, but soon our one-hour meetings became two hours because they’d share so much – getting off topic sharing home remedies for insect bites and recognizing they were married in the same year just months apart. The Spirit was building community. They might have seen each other around for years, even decades, but now they were experiencing one another and encountering the Lord together!
The women made extraordinary sacrifices to be in the chapel every day, waking up early to complete their daily chores and staying up late to cook dinner for their husbands after our time in the chapel. By the end of the retreat each woman shared her testimony. One shared that she only read the Bible once a week, on the days we would come for our weekly prayer meetings, but now she reads the Bible every day. The smile on her face attested to the joy she received in her heart from the Word of God.
The Spirit was moving through the whole retreat, especially in our scripture sharing: several times two women would feel lead to share the exact same scripture. The themes of our scripture sharing were always cohesive, the Spirit speaking to all of us in the same way. One day all the scriptures reminded us of the importance of loving our neighbor, another day on the need to fast as a way to prepare ourselves for Consecration Day. And we received constant reminders that God is faithful.
“The smile on her face attested to the joy she received in her heart from the Word of God.”
But by far the greatest change in these women was their missionary impulse. Halfway through the retreat one woman asked us, “When will you go to Fermin (the neighboring village)?” I turned the question back to her, “When will you go there and tell them of what the Lord has done in your heart through scripture and this retreat?” We heard in our scripture and our retreat the need for going forth, inviting others to seek the Lord and encouraging more people to strive for sainthood through a consecration to Jesus through Mary.
The day after Consecration Day in the pouring rain we braved the ride to Fermin with the nine new disciples the Lord made in the retreat. In total we were 25 people, including kids, in a 12-passenger van! The women went off two-by-two inviting people to the chapel. Diana, 14 years old, MC’d the prayer meeting. Three women from our original group shared testimonies of encountering the Lord; three others shared scripture; and all of them prayed over the visitors to the chapel. Their invitation to the ladies of Fermin to participate in a similar retreat was received with pleasure and enthusiasm. In the months to come, the women of Tacubaya will lead a retreat for the women in Fermin! God is ever faithful and ever good.