Sunday, December 27, 2009

Taking Christmas to the Streets

Dear Beloved Family and Friends,
From all of us at JERICHO MINISTRIES
Wishing you a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!
With so much gratitude, Betsy

We decided to take Christmas to the streets this year…table, chairs, tablecloths, candles, carefully wrapped presents, a centerpiece, the traditional leg of pork dinner and a specialty dessert the Hondurans call torrejas.... it’s kind of a rich French toasty type thing. We brought the works! Hae Young, Blanca, and I were super excited with this plan to share Christmas dinner with our friends on the streets. The only problem: there was not a soul in sight as we parked the van near the curb. So we decided to wait a couple of minutes to see if anyone would show up.

I had gotten it in my head to share a tradition with them that I had grown up with. During Advent, my parents would have us sit around the dinner table on Sunday eve and we would have our own little family service. They would assign a task to each of us depending upon our age. One of us would read the appointed scripture, another would lead a carol while yet another would carefully light the number of candles indicated by the number of Sundays that had gone by in December. Then Daddy would read the explanation of the scriptures while we listened with rapt attention. I loved it! I thought perhaps the women and men on the streets whom we have grown to love would love it too. And so that’s why we found ourselves on that cold winter eve waiting on the streets for someone to show up for our Christmas fiesta.

Nelson and Lorena came first. Nelson, in his tiny miniskirt, helped us unload the long table and the chairs and then the others came too, seemingly out of nowhere. We easily set the table and to my surprise, they quickly settled down and the same Spirit that led those devotions I participated in as a child showed up to lead this celebration. Tita seemed excited to be assigned the part of the devotional reader. Miriam squirmed with joy when assigned the part of the scripture reader. As she smiled the light gleamed off of her golden front tooth. The most excited was Lorena. She was to light the white candle of the Advent wreath which is called the Christ candle. It represents Him and His coming into the world. She asked me several times if I was sure about choosing her for such a thing before she finally settled happily into her role. Jessica, my friend from the very first night of visiting the streets, would light the other candles and Marvin would blow them out at the appointed time. Everything was ready.

It was one of those moments when you lose track of time. You get lost in the moment and in the glory of it all. Jesus coming to earth, God made man, the Divine crashing into the ordinary not just once, but over and over in moments like these to let us know that He is Real and that He loves us. He spoke to us through the scriptures and then again as we broke Christmas bread together. We spoke of His return and Jessica in particular wanted to know about the signs of His coming again. They lingered at the table. There wasn’t the normal scuffling about to get quickly back to work or the frantic jerking of their eyes back and forth to check out which client was driving by. No tonight they were there.... all there, drinking in His Presence and Love by candlelight.

Just before we blew out the candles Jessica whispered to me that this year, maybe just maybe, she would come to Jericho, that she would leave this life of degradation behind. Just maybe.

On the way home we were overwhelmed with feelings of joy and love. They didn’t accept Christ or make any commitment to give up their wicked ways, but they were touched by Him. My mind was abuzz as I puzzled over why we love them so…..these women and men who only seconds before we arrive are obviously involved in actions too despicable to even mention. And seconds after we leave they are back at it again. The only way I can explain it is God. Isn’t that how God is? He loves us even when we are stuck in the miry clay, trying desperately in our own strength to become unstuck, insisting on our own way. And He loves us even when we show no signs of leaving our wicked ways. He simply loves us. He woos us by shedding His light into our darkness.... by showing us how desperately we need Him. And then He waits for us to choose His way so that we can leave our ways behind.

Pray for Jessica, that truly she will leave her ways behind and that she will choose the Light of Life, the Giver of eternal life.

I pray that your Christmas is full of His Light igniting your life for His glory!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sowers of Love and So Much Work to Be Done

October 28, 2009 Some of you might know that we have a tithing relationship with another ministry here in town called Sembradores de Amor (Sowers of Love). Pastor Francis and his wife Marilyn started this church in a poor barrio by reaching out to gang members. They truly live up to their name. The love from above that they sow into the hearts of their leaders and church members has really caused a love revolution in their neighborhood. From the beginning of their ministry, there was one gang that totally persecuted them day and night. The leader of this gang, Marcos, threatened to kill Pastor Francis on several different occasions and the gang members harassed church members on a regular basis. But Pastor Francis told Marcos what Pastor David Wilkerson said to Nicky Cruz when Nicky was still a hate-filled gang member in New York City. “If you kill me and cut me up in a million tiny pieces, every piece will still cry out that God loves you.” Pastor Francis called this past month to ask us to join him in prayer and fasting for this gang leader as many of his gang members were coming to Christ. He also asked me to research ministries to homosexuals because the wild part about this gang is that they not only are known for drugs and violence, but for homosexuality. By God’s grace, Marcos accepted Christ last week in a health clinic due to a scare from AIDS. He tested negative and was filled with gratitude and decided to pray with the man who was evangelizing at the clinic. Meanwhile, back at the church, his ex-gang members had been praying fervently for his conversion. There was much rejoicing over this lost sheep at Sembradores de Amor and at Jericho. Pastor Francis invited me to the deliverance for Marcos which was an amazing privilege. This is what transpired.

Pastor Francis and about 100 of his leaders gathered in a circle at their church. We were instructed to pray so people began praying out loud all at the same time. Some were walking about and shouting loudly, others were kneeling and entreating God in hushed tones. The Spirit was definitely leading. I looked up from the floor where my head had been plastered as if nailed tightly for the last 15 minutes and noticed that Marcos was now among us. There was no mistaking him. I gazed over to where he was sitting praying quietly and I could not take my eyes off of him. It was probably too long, socially speaking, but I could not drink in enough of this whole picture. It was mind boggling. His facial features were strong and masculine and he was dressed in a T-shirt and new jeans. Etched into his features were years of participation in evil, both criminal and occultist in nature. I could understand why he would cause fear. But at the same time there was this effeminate thing going on with him which totally seemed to collide with the drug lord exterior. His locks were curly and pulled back in a huge pony tail that reached half-way down his back and his nails were nicely manicured. Gold dripped off his arms and chest. Then Pastor Francis had us all sit down and explained that we were a here to pray for Marcos and in the most loving way he invited Marcos to share the actions of his life that he was now willing to repent of. Marcos was given a microphone and without any visible shyness he began to matter-of-factly recount in a very feminine voice the things for which he was now very sorry. He mentioned the occult practices and the murders and the lost boys he commandeered to do his evil deeds. He talked about the homosexual practices that he had been involved in since he was 11 years old. He often spoke through tears saying, this is the thing I am most sorry for.

After the public confession, everyone gathered around him to pray for his deliverance. It was beautiful to watch as the body of Christ took turns anointing him and praying for his freedom. My face had been stuck to the floor earlier because I was a bit fearful about what might transpire in this meeting and I wanted to make sure God knew I was serious about needing His help. But there was nothing fearful about the deliverance. He fell down several times under the power of the Spirit and willingly renounced his participation in all things evil. The pastors and leaders took authority over the darkness and once again it was clear that the Holy Spirit was leading. Perfect love casts out all fear.

Marcos’ face was full of peace and joy as church members took turns hugging him and giving him words of encouragement. I was not about to miss out on hugging this new brother in Christ whom I knew God would use in a major way. His conversion was really bad news for the kingdom of darkness. Pastor Francis said he had presided over 6000 gang members.

November 15, 2009 Two weeks later Pastor Francis asked me to preach at several of his services and to bring the Jericho worship band. Marcos arrived sporting shorter hair and his car was overflowing with a crew of ex-gang members. He remembered us and seemed pleased to share about how he was now using his resources and leadership for the Kingdom of God. The last service was like nothing I have ever attended in my life. It was just the messiest thing. I looked out at the congregation and a sea of young faces stared back at me, some so hardened by life that it was a little scary. I knew I was looking into the faces of ex- and not so ex-drug addicts, rapists, assassins….. You name it; they were there, exactly where they needed to be. Every nook and cranny of that church was filled with a young person hungry for God. What touched me most was watching Pastor Francis. He was fearless as he called an entire gang to come forth for prayer. He lovingly took a young drunk under his arm. He led that service with power that came from above. I remembered thinking to myself ... ”Now this is church”! We all agreed that night coming home together in the busito that we wanted to be like Pastor Francis.

So I’ve been thinking and praying a lot these days about Sembradores de Amor and their new disciples. The ministry is messy and demanding and there are slip ups on the horizon for sure as these new disciples grow and mature. But it is oh so worth it ... these new disciples will make a huge impact on the Kingdom of God. Love compelled these believers to reach out to these gang members who threatened their very lives and faith has helped them believe that these conversions are true and will bring forth much fruit.
December 7, 2009 You can imagine the sadness we all felt this morning when Pastor Francis called to tell us that Marcos was assassinated last night as he was leaving the church. He had just walked out of the worship service and his last words to Pastor Francis were, “There’s so much work to be done.” Several minutes later he was lying dead in the middle of the street in a pool of blood. It has been said that it was done by a rival gang, by hooded men in expensive cars. I don’t know. But I do know where Marcos is. I know that by God’s grace he is rejoicing in heaven. His conversion was true and perhaps in his short lived life in Christ he produced more fruit than some who live a lifetime without truly sharing what Christ has done for them. Please join us in praying for Sowers of Love Church, that they will be strengthened all the more by what has happened. Please pray that Marcos’ life and testimony will bear even more fruit. There is so much work to be done!

In His forever love,