Thursday, November 28, 2013


Between semester students, the ladies from two classes, and us teachers, we realized that we represented 6 different countries!  That's a lot of diversity for a small group, so we decided to celebrate the end of English class with a cultural activity where everyone collaborated and brought food to share from their home culture. We shared a little about pilgrims and Wampanoags, turkeys, etc., too.  It was fun--and delicious!

But the point I want to make is not actually related to the food or the cultural bit.  

We took time at the end to go around and share what we were thankful for.  It was amazing.   

Sometimes we wonder if the things we do matter.  We wonder if we are really following the Holy Spirit's leading or if we are just inventing ministries on our own in vain.  And sometimes I wonder who is ministering to who.  (to whom? Hmm.)

God used Doña C that day when she shared (again) how her life changed when Maria Eliza and I went and prayed with her one day two years ago and invited her to join the micro-finance group.  To be honest, it was all Maria.  And I really have done nothing special to deserve her love and loyalty except to push her not to give up on coming to English class.  

She has never been to school.  Four of her five children have been or are in prison.  Her husband left her several years ago.  She is raising some of her grandchildren, and she has health problems that she deals with on a daily basis.  

And yet, she has learned to read enough to be able to read the Bible.  She comes to English class, not to become fluent in English, but to exercise her mind, to get out of the house.  She is thankful for all that God has done in her life.  She is thankful for the way he has acted on her behalf in the last two years.  She said that God has been so good to her, that he has spoiled her, that he has always taken care of her.  She is so thankful for the other ladies in the group, how they encourage her and lift her up.  So thankful for Diana and Cindy, the leaders of the micro-finance ministry.  And she's thankful for me, for praying for her, for helping her learn English.  

How did I get included in that list?  I hope that I'm communicating this right.

Doña C has been through some very excruciating situations in her life.  She has suffered and has not given up.  She has persevered.  She is letting God take the muck of her life and form something beautiful.  She was so close to giving up (probably many, many times), but she hasn't.

She is a hero.  And she is thankful for (among all those other things) how God has used little-old-me in her life.  I am humbled.  I am convicted.  And constantly floored.  Her praise to God cuts my soul.  While I see and rejoice with her in all that God has done, I recognize that she is still in the middle of, and reaping, terrible circumstances.   How can she be so thankful?  

And how can I be so un-thankful sometimes?  Who is ministering to whom? (to who??)  I am definitely on the receiving end with Doña C.  And I am thankful for that.  Thankful for her special spirit.  Thankful for her example of dependency and trust in the Lord.

She lives Romans 12:12.  12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 

I have found myself saying many times in the last couple of years that I will probably never know Jesus in the same way that many of the ladies in our micro-finance site have come to know him.  I haven't really concluded whether that's okay or not.  I do, however, deeply respect and admire the strength of spirit, the depth of faith, that has developed in women like Doña C because of clinging to God in the middle of suffering and pain.  So, while I might teach Doña C a few words in English, she has taught me infinitely more.

I have much to be thankful for.  And I guess I'll keep teaching English class, because I have so much still to learn.  

Psalm 103

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Own Understanding

Yesterday in English class with the "avanzadas" (the advanced group), our semester students shared Proverbs 3:5 with the ladies, which says:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart 
and lean not on your own understanding;.

Verse 6 goes on to say:

in all your ways submit to him, 
and he will make your paths straight.

In light of some of the issues several ladies from English class are facing (financial, immigration, health, unfaithful husbands, etc.), this verse was spot on for yesterday's class.  (Thank you Cristina and Elina.)  And I have been thinking about it ever since, in light of some of the things that friends are facing, that we are, too.  Things look very bleak if we see only with human eyes and human understanding.   How many times have I said things like, "God wants us to use our brain."  Or, "God gave us a brain for a reason."  But, as I have been pondering the words above, words that I memorized in my 4th grade Sunday School class, I am struck that I rely on my 'own understanding' far too often.  And I 'submit to him', or another version says 'acknowledge him,' far too little.  I try to straighten my own paths more than I trust God to do it.

Let me clarify that I DO think God wants us to use and exercise our brains, our creativity, etc. In fact the scriptures strongly encourage us to seek wisdom and understanding, to grow in our knowledge of God, etc.  But even wisdom originates with God, and is given to us by him.

I have had the luxury of a lot of safety nets in my life, including family, government, the race and class I was born into, my education, etc.  Until the last few seasons, I have not really had to depend much on the Lord.  (At least I have not recognized my dependency on the Lord.)  I can figure a lot of things out on my own, or someone I know will help me.  My 'own understanding' has typically been enough for me. And even when it hasn't been, my tendency is to worry, not to take things to God.  The culture I grew up in encourages me to be self-sufficient, independent, able to conquer anything I put my mind to.  It does not encourage me to be dependent on God, interested in the common good, or submitted to any plans God might have for my life (especially if they do not resemble the "American Dream" in some form).  My culture says it's all about me and what I want, what I can do, how smart I am.

Even the Christian culture in the USA gets these things confused sometimes. . . but I think that's another blog post.

I have written before about how much the ladies in English class teach and encourage me.  Hopefully they learn enough English to balance the scales!  As I look at some of the desperate situations they face, and as I have been learning a new kind of dependency on God, much of it from their example, those words in Proverbs take on a new, deeper meaning for me.  I might be a smart person (and I may or may not believe I'm much smarter than I really am!), but my knowledge, understanding, wisdom are NOTHING compared to God's infinity in those things.

The reality is that relying on my 'own understanding' is actually a really dumb, albeit really easy, thing to do.

So, as the paths get crooked, my current prayer is that God reminds me to trust him fully (and that he helps me trust him fully!), that I will seek HIM for answers and peace and direction, and that I will actually submit to Him when he gives those answers and direction.  The rest, the straightening of the paths, belongs to him.

Also, I am praying for the ladies in English class and all of their tough circumstances.  That they, too, will seek and trust God, and submit to him.  And that he will straighten their paths, too.