Las Aves is a community only a few minutes away, on the outskirts of town. Dwellings scattered up on a red earthed hill with a stunning view of the ocean just a few miles to the West and the rolling mountains to the East. It is a newer settlement and does not yet have power or water access. The settlement is largely made up of indigenous field workers making about 10 dollars a day. For some reason when we hear that, as Canadians, we assume that the cost of living must be proportionately low here but it's really not. Of course there are some things that are cheaper here, but some things are more expensive, and a lot of things are about the same. A 2 litre jug of milk costs about the same as it does at home. As you can imagine $10 doesn't go very far especially in households that are often made up of single moms, many children, extended relatives, and elderly grandparents.
I had planned on this post being a simple set of pictures and a few descriptions...but I sense a bit of a think out loud , ramble coming on. Bear with me while I try to make sense of some thoughts...or find something else much less annoying to read. I won't mind if you do.
Much of the time I fluctuate between wanting to leave the mess to it's hopelessness and feeling inspired that there is Hope.
We've run all the spectrum from being appalled by the poverty to being appalled by some who call themselves Christians. Over the past decade we've served as staff at an orphanage/ mission base, we've lead a group of volunteers on a 1 wk mission trip, we've helped build a couple houses, we've passed out donations, we've given out food, we've spent time with the people, and more recently we've come as free agents just to observe, enjoy the culture, and help where we can. We have witnessed corruption, incompetence, and pride by those who are here to "help" and we have seen beautiful genuine Christlike hearts serving, and giving of themselves...and we've seen everything in between. Although I have no doubt that the Lord lead us into each of those things for His purpose, we've learned a lot of hard lessons along the way...mostly by our own mistakes.
In many ways, over the past several decades, it seems the gospel has been replaced by a cheap, sanitized, image focused, charity coated religion and the promise of Jesus plus...Jesus plus a new house, Jesus plus a better life, Jesus plus a spot in the ladies society, Jesus plus behavior modification rules, Jesus plus an end to all your problems, Jesus plus Gringo funding. It has essentially inoculated a population against the gritty reality of God's amazing grace and the sufficiency of Christ. It's really enough to make a person kick the dust from their feet and walk away from the mess....the mess that has never changed and the new mess that has been created.
It also appears that the decades of unbridled hand outs and well intentioned "help" has in many cases actually hurt and created some real issues. The real needs get missed while opportunistic greed, and deception, is unintentionally encouraged. I hate to even say that because people will use it as an excuse to do nothing about poverty in the world, for fear of being scammed. We've come to the conclusion that we do what we can to give wisely, and trust the fruit of that to the Lord.
It seems that much of this trip has been spent wracking my brain, stripping down assumptions, asking questions, repenting of bad attitude and pride, praying for direction, looking for healthy ways to give and support healthy ministry, searching for fruit from several decades of Christian missions, looking at ministry pitfalls....and going back to the very basics of what I know to be true. Because honestly, after 13 years of coming here I'm left with more uncertainty and questions than answers. I don't know what the future holds for us here but I'm sure learning a lot..mostly about how little I actually know about what helps and what doesn't.
So here is my brain storm list of what I know to be foundationally true in life and ministry ...because sometimes I need a reminder.
*Our lives, our salvation, everything is for God's glory and our completely satisfied joy in Him.
*As Christians, we are all ministers of the gospel and called to make disciples...replicating, transforming, growing, fruit bearing followers of Christ.
*God saves sinners, no one is beyond God's grace.
*As a response to the grace we have been given we are commanded to care for and show compassion to the destitute and the orphaned.
*We are commanded to love others and die to self.
*We love because he first loved us.
*I have complete assurance, as a child of God, that nothing I do or don't do, will cause God to love me more or less than he does right now. I work from His love not for it.
*Jesus death and resurrection is central, and must remain central...without that we have nothing.
*We have no righteousness of our own, nothing to boast in other than the cross.
*We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort, and empower.
*The message is timeless but our methods must be timely and contextualized.
*Imposed legalistic, "take the Bible and add a whole bunch of cultural christian rules/ burdens on top of it" is always devastating, whether done here or in Canada.
*Reckless handing out of free stuff is detrimental to self sufficiency and ambition in any context.
*Biblical structure for ministry health is extremely important.
*Accountability is absolutely essential.
*The Christian life is one of continuing repentance and humility.
*Everything we need to live abundantly, to love extravagantly, and to show mercy scandalously has already been purchased for us.
*Obedience is tough.
*Love is a lifestyle.
*Pride is ugly.
*Assumptions destroy relationships.
*The human heart is an idol factory.
*Life is complicated.
*Things are not always what they seem.
*There are NO easy, fix all, practical solutions to things like poverty, child abuse, absent fathers, incest, drug addictions, neglected children, and destroyed families in this sin twisted world...ultimately only Jesus return will make it right.
*Money does NOT solve any of these things.
*There are no perfect, fail proof, methods to deal with the issues above.
*God's grace is extravagant
*God is faithful even when we're not.
*He uses imperfect people to accomplish his perfect purposes.
*God is good.
.....and despite all the frustrations, disappointments, wondering, and questions...
I really do love this place and this people.
It's easier to discuss systems, structures, and ministry models from a safe distance. It's easier to debate the helpfulness of handouts from a far away location.
At the end of the day the need is still enormous.
The view from here makes nothing simple.
The physical and spiritual poverty is real.
The fact that a baby has no clothes to protect her from the biting, damp, ocean wind is real.
The 12 yr old mother with a newborn in her arms, who shares her paternity is real.
Irreversible disability caused by devastating child abuse is real.
The shivering children, empty tummies, and dark nights are real.
The staggering lack of responsible men, loving husbands, and committed fathers is real.
Love that is willing to get it's hands dirty, and enter in, is real.
The joy of a regenerated and transformed heart is so real...even in the midst of poverty.
The ways that being here impacts my children is real.
...and so we enter in, and get our hands dirty. If only for a month.
We give out of what we have been given.
“This is your love, O God, not to make much of me, but do whatever must be done so that I waken to the joy of making much of you through all eternity. How then shall Christ not be my only boast! " John Piper
We visited Las Aves with our friend Amber who has befriended many of the people in this community. She knows the children by name and writes down their clothing sizes. She sits in their homes and hears their stories. She laughs and cries along with them.
It was fun to tag along and watch her do what she does.
Thank you to everyone who sewed up quilts, sent along blankets, and donated baby clothes and sweaters. I can assure you they are being well used in Las Aves.
My friend Amber has welcomed us so graciously, let us follow them around, learn from them, and mess up their house. She is a beautiful Jesus loving woman, an imported Canadian wife of a Mexican husband, and a busy mom to 4 children. They serve in partnership with various ministries down here but mostly they live a lifestyle of love and have a relational ministry. Her husband, Saul, works hard encouraging and serving local churches and pastors, doing outreach into the poorest neighborhoods, helping with house building projects, all while doing construction jobs around town to feed his family...and of course is a great Dad to his 2 bio kids and the 2 teens they've welcomed into their family this year. I'm inspired by their commitment to stay and serve... even when things are tough and they don't know where grocery money will come from, when construction work is scarce and only pays $30/day, when running water is unpredictable, when laundry comes off the line dirtier than it went on.... they persevere.
I'm amazed at their overflow of love that continues even when it's taken for granted, or exploited, or misunderstood, or rejected...I guess that's what happens when you love like Christ.. after all, look what we do with God's grace. The exact same things. Watching them pick up their cross and carry it with both passion and joy is humbling and inspiring.
You can witness their unfolding story here.http://becauseloveisalifestyle.com/..and if you feel so inspired and led send them an encouraging message , pray for them, or send them a gift. It will be very well stewarded and very much appreciated. After seeing their heart, watching their passion, witnessing how generously they live with what little they have, and hearing about their vision for the future...I know that God is doing a work in and through this family. I'm excited to see what God has planned for them here. It has been a privilege to spend time with them.
“If Christ is an all satisfying treasure and promises to provide all our needs, even through famine and nakedness, then to live as though we had all the same values as the world would betray him. “
It's been a lot of fun to hang out with another mom, and being that she's an adoptive mom to older children ..I'm gleaning all I can from her experience.
“If we do not embrace the path of joy-laden, painful love, we will waste our lives. If we do not learn with Paul the Christ-exalting paradoxes of life, we will squander our days pursuing bubbles that burst. He lived “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). The Calvary road is costly and painful, but it is not joyless.” John Piper (Don't Waste your life)
Soli Deo Gloria,