Yesterday I returned to my brood of 11 after spending several days in the Villa and all I have to say is it is definitely a circus out there! A wonderful circus! So much happens in the span of one day. I came home feeling like I had been in the trenches and that there had been great victory. I am not sure how it looked from God's perspective but from mine, things looked good, very good. Three women still in the program, all 9 children alive and accounted for, all the volunteers still on board, and some cards finished and ready to be sold that the women had made. This is what happened yesterday.
Tuesday July 13
I take our three new women with me to a place called Potrerios. It's where the mayor's office is situated and we go there due to a land dispute. Our land to be exact. Some of us call them "those pesky farmers" but recently they have become more than just pesky. They have become downright difficult. The whole problem stems from their properties being without access. The original owner sold off his land in parcels and was not thinking ahead so the farmers insist on entering our property to get to theirs. Not a good situation in any scenario but especially in our case since our whole purpose in having the Villa is to provide our women and children with a reasonably safe and secure environment. We simply cannot have farmers trapsing through our property on a daily basis. We arrive at the Mayor's office after transversing about 20 miles of dirt road surrounded by beautiful pine covered mountains. The tiny village of Potrerios is picture-postcard lovely and totally quiet. The Catholic Church is the most prominent building on the square and the melon colored paint only makes it stand out more. The Mayor is attending someone else so we drink refrescos (sodas) at the tiny pulperia(think seven eleven in somone's living room) in front of the municipal building. When he finally is ready to see us, I notice a stack of unmarked folders on his desk. I greet him as warmly as is culturally acceptable and state our purpose (to get a copy of the purported paper that the farmers claim to own which give them rights to a portion of our property). The Mayor starts shifting through the folders, opening them one at a time, slowly looking at each individual sheet of paper, all the while stating that he is sure he had the paper several days before but now has no idea where it might be. He begins to make noises like, "I hope this thing doesn't get ugly" and his tone almost seems threatening. I make different noises. I tell Him we are not expecting "ugly" because God has always protected us and that we don't expect Him to abandon us anytime soon. The women just look at me wide-eyed. The mayor continues to shuffle papers in a half-hearted way and I finally realize that no amount of our sitting there is going to help produce the paper. I ask him, "Are you the mayor" because it occurs to me that this extremely disorganized person might be a clerk and perhaps we need to ask to see the mayor. But no, he is indeed the mayor and stands up at my question and shakes my hand in a very political way. Finally we agree that he will leave the paper at the police post close to Jericho Villa. I pray this is not just some empty promise.
On the way back to the Villa, one of the women spots a mango tree. It's full of very ripe reddish green mangos, especially at the top. She screams for me to stop the car. I am obedient because it's a long dirtroad ride back and the women could use a diversion. They are so thrilled that we have stopped. They secure permission from the ancient looking woman who appears at the gate to use the whittled branches near the trees to knock down the mangos. They scream like children as they bat at the upper branches sending the mangos flying every which way. They come running back to the car with their loot and tell me to give the elderly woman some money for the mangos. They say 20 lempiras when I ask how much. It's just over a dollar. The woman now waving at the gate seems happy. The women are ecstatic with their stash of newly aquired mangos. I wonder to myself if there is a fruit in my life that I would get that excited over. Wild raspberries....maybe. We leave the car halfway up the road to Jericho since it is impassable due to road work. They have to carry the mangos up to the Villa by hand. Some of the mango excitement starts to wane but not much.
Back at Jericho we settle down after eating mangos to study the Scriptures. The women are very giddy and are laughing with a tone that seems tinged with more mockery than joy. As we start the class with praise songs it becomes obvious that they don't want to sing. As we pray it occurs to me that there is a spirit of derision present. We pray against that and the whole tone of the class changes. The class is on deception versus truth. We take turns sharing some of the deceptions we have been privy to. I share about how I believed that if I could just find one man who would love me more than anyone else, that I would be OK (I think I watched too many cinderella type movies). I share how I made many bad decisions based on that deception and how God's Truth set me free. He is the One person who loves me more than anyone else. And His love is safe. One of the women shares how she felt like she had really arrived when she became the girlfriend of a major gang leader. She confesses that she loved the feeling of power because she could just talk to him if she had an enemy and he would send his thugs to do her bidding. She says it was a terrible deception but there is a curl about her mouth that betrays her. She is still tempted by this untruth that anger and violence will bring her well-being and control. I will see this fully come to light later in the day. We share more and then end the class with confession and prayer.
Down in the salon, which is our big spacious multipurpose room at the Villa, we set up the tables so that we can make greeting cards. This is one of our practical workshops. I have resisted making cards with the women for some time now because many of the ministries to women coming out of prostitution make greeting cards. I've seen many pictures of rescued women from Thailand all seated around a table making cards out of some natural material. It doesn't seem to me to be a lucrative proposition, this teaching card making. The problem is, it is my pride that makes me resistant. We want to be "different". We want to make something of great quality that will sell and help us be self-sustaining. Not a bad idea but God has been providing me with free card-making supplies and giving me design ideas even when I am past exhaustion and need sleep. So we are making cards today and I am very enthusiastic about it. Two of the women really seem to enjoy this cutting and pasting and sewing on of buttons. One in particular is showing some gifts in design. The third woman is restless and does not make any bones about her disdain for this activity. She is the woman who comes from a gang member background. She excuses herself to go and get a diaper for her one year old. She does not return in the time it takes to get a diaper and come back.
We are packing up the card making supplies when she comes running back into the room. She flings her arms around me and begs me to pray for her. The other women look on while I start praying for her. The other women ask me if they can go back to the kitchen for more mangos which frees me to minister to this very agitated woman/child. She is now confessing that she overheard some of the younger girls talking about her when she went for the diaper. Her "old man", the flesh came fully to life and she shares how she almost smacked this girl to smithereens. She brags about how it was easy for her to kill in the past and I do not doubt that. She tells me something stopped her. She thinks it is the Holy Spirit. I know it is the Holy Spirit and I am so glad that He is actually the One in Charge at the ministry. She shares even more about how she used to use violence to control others. She calms down just as Katie, one of our Villa volunteers, comes to confront her because although she has not used physical violence to hurt the young girl, it comes to light that she has pelted her with profanity and lies. This asking for forgiveness does not come easily but it is finally done. Both parties ask for forgiveness and seal it with a hug. I tell them that the consequences of their actions will be that they have to find some tangible way to bless each other everyday for a week.
On my walk down to the car I spot two men walking towards the shed where we keep our construction materials. I recognize one of the men and am overjoyed to see his face since we ordered doors from him back in January and haven't been able to connect with him since. The doors are for the main gate of women's apartments and now that we have women there, we desperately need the doors. As I greet him from a distance, I suddenly see his face contort into fear. Carl, our big grey guard dog, comes bounding behind me towards the men. They suddenly disappear inside the shed closing the door tightly behind them. I have to laugh at the whole scenario. Carl is not vicious but he does take his guarding seriously. His front teeth have all fallen out so he can't do too much damage but he still scares people. After several minutes I convince our doormaker to come out of the shed and he tells me the good news that the doors are done and that he will install them on Saturday. It's been a long wait but I pray that they will actually be in place by the weekend.
Eduardo and two of our Villa boys walk me down to the busito with umbrellas as it has started to rain. Eduardo is Elvia's son and he is volunteering at the Villa for a year before he goes to college. It occurs to me how blessed we are to have this young man in our midst. He is caring for the five Jericho boys and his spiritual maturity is way beyond his years. He delights in caring for these young gents even though they are not the easiest to deal with due to their backgrounds of growing up on the streets. I make a mental note to ask him about how God is working in him and through him.
On the way back into town, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude. Instead of being put off by the battles, I want more. Thoughts of staying longer the next time flood my head. I am excited to see new patterns being established in the lives of those living at the Villa even if they are only just small steps. The Holy Spirit has definitely made His Presence known to us in the living of the day.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
It is the second week of July 2010. Two years ago during this time I was flat on my back in an apartment in New York City taking chemo and waiting for God to fulfill His promise of complete healing for two incurable cancers. Earlier in the year(2008) we had three women come to us for help and we sensed that they were ready to enter the rehab program in the Villa. We were ecstatic to finally begin ministering to the women in a setting that seemed idyllic. The vision to help them find healing and wholeness through the power of Christ was becoming a reality and our whole ministry was abuzz with excitement. But after only a month, all three women independently of one another, chose to return to the city. One woman snuck out quietly leaving her two daughters behind, trusting that we would care for them. The inital excitement and anticipation that permeated the ministry atmosphere was replaced by a sense of failure and bewilderment. What had gone wrong? Why had we failed to help the very women we had so longed to minister to? What was God doing?
A month later I was diagnosed with amyloidosis and multiple myeloma. The whole ministry went into a state of flux. Now it seemed like God's grace that we didn't have the three women and their children in the Villa because Hae Young and Elvia, my closest co-workers in the ministry, would be able to take turns caring for me in NYC. So instead of the three women, we started the rehab center with the two young girls who were left behind and their cousin who had already been involved in prostitution at the tender age of 11.
The healing journey took time. I felt trapped in a body that seemed anything but my own. I begged God to heal me instantly but He had so much He needed to teach me in that time of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. He had so much He needed to teach all of us in that time of learning to trust Him for the impossible. The doctors said there was no hope and that death was imminent. God spoke to us over and over again that He was going to bring forth a complete healing. We chose to believe the Promises of God over the doctor's dictamen. It made all the difference.
The Lord spoke to us not only about healing, but about focusing on the children of the women. He seemed to whisper in our hearts that He was very interested in the next generation. And then He began to bring the children to us one by one until some of our households seemed so full that they would burst from the sheer number of children. It was good to be a part of the restoration of these young lives.....good and very stretching!
But I still longed for the women to come. We made visits to the streets and did all we knew to do but still the Lord seemed to restrain that part of the vision. I couldn't help but feel on some days (like when I was dealing with a little boy's tantrum) that someone had hijacked the vision and put a bunch of children in it's place. I experienced a sense of lostness that I had never before known.......It's hard for me to put it in words, but in those moments when I was alone (which were not exactly frequent in a household of many children), I would feel waves of a sentiment that I can only describe as "feeling adrift". As I cried out to God for anchorage, He led me to a verse that said, "Be Holy as I AM Holy". I knew that the word "holy" meant set apart for the Lord's use but when I looked it up in the Greek dictionary, the translation caught me off guard. It said something like this: forever ruined for ordinary life. Wow.....forever ruined for ordinary life. That made sense to me. Once we have tasted the radical wine of following Jesus all out, we are ruined for the common life. Nothing will fill us as fully as living the life He has called us to live. He began to show me that each and everyday I needed to be living out fully the purposes for which He had made me. The lostness that I was experiencing was because I am ruined now for anything except what He has called me to. Somehow through that revelation of scripture I understood that the call upon my life to minister to women lost in prostitution had not been rescinded....I just needed to wait upon His perfect timing.
We have learned over time that God's timing is often not ours. We might think we are ready for something when truly we are not. God had to get us ready for this next phase of the ministry. We needed to grow in our ability to love unconditionally, to listen more intently to His voice, and to be more dependent upon His Word and His power. We needed to decrease, He needed to increase. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death had produced much needed fruit.
Then the birth pangs began. We got news that the first woman we had met on the streets back in 1998 had come to Christ in January. We had prayed for her and visited her on a weekly basis for over 12 years. Her one and only son had committed suicide at the age of 13 and this event had plunged her into a despair that led her to Jesus. We were so thrilled to hear of her conversion and of the pastora who was discipling her in her neighborhood. I was disappointed that she didn't come to Jericho but oh so thankful that she had finally made a decision to follow Christ.
All of this is just the intro to share the exciting news that we have women in our program again! I have been timid to share this because I often compare the women's first months in the ministry to pregnacy. The first three months are the most tenuous.... and when you have experienced spontaneous abortion, as we have, you are more careful about sharing early on. It's hard enough to go through the disappointment yourself without bringing a whole slew of folks along with you. But I cannot contain the news any longer because we need your prayers. We have three women in the ministry at the Villa between the ages of 16 and 24! God is bringing in the much awaited lost lambs. Sara came to us in late April through one of our teachers. Maribel and Margarita came to us through a dear friend of mine who is a missionary here in Honduras and works with the children of these women being set free from darkness. We rejoice at this very long awaited blessing of ministering to the women whom God has placed on our hearts.