HEAVY LIFTERS

…which end will you lift on?

WHEN IT RAINS…

In my last post I was wondering aloud about ministry opportunities here in Dallas.  If you get my newsletter, you also saw a prayer request for God to show me some ministry that I can get involved in during my year here.  (If you don’t get my newsletter, ask, and I’ll put you on the list!)  I also have been praying about finding the right church home here in Dallas.

My newsletter went out on a Saturday.  The next Sunday, I was inundated with ministry opportunities!  Our prayers were answered, friends!  My Cuban neighbors approached me to teach them English, I was given the opportunity to work with children in the African church I’ve been attending on Sunday evenings, and I am exploring an opportunity to teach literacy also.  Tomorrow, I’m going to start meeting with a young woman from the country where I will live for Bible study and prayer.  Why wait to move to Africa to build relationships, to help people and to teach literacy, right?

As far as finding a church home goes, the pastor’s wife of the Hispanic church that meets upstairs from the African church (multicultural church – I love it!) sought me out last Sunday night to invite me to their Sunday morning services.  She also asked me if I sing or play an instrument!  Hmmm….

This morning I went to the Hispanic church and was greeted warmly.  Turns out I’ll be talking to the teen Sunday school class in a couple of weeks, and my guess is that I’ll end up helping to teach that class.

Tonight, I went to the African church for my maiden voyage into helping the kids.  (That adventure will have to be its own blog post!)  Before church I was talking to the pastor, and he was expressing his gratitude for my willingness to help.  I told him that I had been praying for ministry opportunities and that God had pointed me to the kids in this congregation.  He said, “I love you for that!  I wish everyone would ask God for ministry opportunities!”

So, friends, what about you?  Have you asked God to show you how you can serve His people where you are?  Or maybe He has something special for you in another country!  Ask Him to show you what it is!

THE LITTLE CHILDREN

Children are important to Jesus.  Like he said in the Gospels, “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

In Africa, at least where I will live, the little children are marginalized members of society.  It is rare to see a child who is over the age of one with a parent.  I jokingly told my co-worker that once a child can walk, he’s on his own.  Although I said it in jest, my statement is pretty much true.  You either see tiny babies strapped to their mothers’ backs while she works, or little kids running amok throughout the village, with no parental presence anywhere.  Bigger kids are in charge of their younger siblings.

In a place where survival is so difficult, there’s not much energy left to show affection to one’s children.  When you’re spending all your time simply trying to eke out a living, there is no such thing as “quality time” with the family.  Love must be shown to your children by providing food for their hungry tummies.

When you give children even a bit of attention, they go crazy.  They are so starved for adult attention, they swarm you in order to get just feel little bit of warmth from you.  The instant you show affection to a child, he becomes your perpetual sidekick.

One little boy we saw frequently was a shy little guy who was about seven (although it’s hard to tell a child’s age, since they often look younger due to malnutrition).  I couldn’t understand him when I asked his name, as his speech capabilities were severely limited.  His friend told us that this boy was named Talata, and it instantly saddened me.  See, talata is the word for “three” in their language.  It’s as if this little boy’s family was too tired to even muster up the motivation to think of a name for their baby.  This is one snapshot to illustrate the value of children in my future home.

Now, while I’m living in Dallas completing my training, I am surrounded by children from many nationalities in my apartment complex.  Sitting at the tiny playground, I watch kids from Africa, Asia, and Latin America playing together.  I wonder how I can be Jesus to these little children.  What will ministry to these children look like?  This is something I’m committing to prayer, and I would also be grateful for your input.

HOME

This has been a wild month.  Two and a half weeks ago, my roommate and I moved into our new apartment (on a Monday – blech!).   Two days ago, we had finals to close out our first one-month school session.  But, in spite of all the craziness, I feel like life has settled into a rhythm.

The picture of this sunrise (Yes, sunrise! Me!) just doesn’t do it justice.  It was worth stopping my morning preparations to step outside our front door and witness.  This sunrise was a lovely gift from God to remind me of His presence throughout the day.

Although our apartment complex is peaceful and safe, this photo doesn’t show what is happening outside the security gate of our complex.  See, we have chosen to live in an area of Dallas – you can read more about it here – where over 40,000 people live in less than 3 square miles.  For the most part, the population of our area consists of refugees and immigrants from various countries around the world.

Why do we choose to live in this place?  Our classmates ask us:  Why do you live so far from school (especially when gas is so costly)?  Well, my roommate and I desire to give feet to our faith and live life among “the least of these.”  We feel that, since we are training to go minister to people in a cross-cultural setting, we shouldn’t wait until we’re on the field to do just that.

So, I can’t wait to get to know our Burmese, African, Cuban, Latin American, etc. neighbors and start showing them Christ’s love.

In case you’d like to drop me a note, send a care package, or maybe even send a tax-deductible donation (made out to Pioneer Bible Translators, please!), my new address is:

Melinda Velasquez

6050 Ridgecrest #308

Dallas, TX  75231

STUDY

Well, I’ve finished my first week and a half of linguistics classes.  The program I’m enrolled in is accelerated, with a semester’s worth of instruction crammed into one month.  Take that times three classes, and you’ve got the idea.

Already this has been a learning experience for me, and I’m not talking solely about linguistics, here.  See, for my last two undergraduate degrees, I held a 4.0 GPA.  I’m used to being the “smart” kid in class; school has always been easy and fun for me.

At least I’ve still got the “fun” part down.   Imagine every linguistic nerd you’ve ever known, and put forty of them in a room together for the entire day.  Add free donuts, and you’ve got my school.  Needless to say, I’m not the “smart” kid anymore.  Now I’m just the fun one.

The main lesson I’ve learned (rather, re-learned) this week is that I’m not perfect.  And my striving to be perfect in my schoolwork is, at its core, pride.  This is something I’m having to recognize and work through.  And frequently lecture myself about.

There’s a scripture that comes to mind when I think about school.  In the King James version (happy 400th birthday, by the way!), 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”   Right.  Study!

The main lecture I’ve been giving myself is a reminder of the big picture:  I am going through this training so I can return to Africa (in one year!) and teach people how to read.  This is God’s will for me; not to get an A+ in every class I take, but to prepare myself to do the work that He has ordained for me.

A more contemporary translation of 2 Timothy 2:15 speaks more clearly of this big picture.  It says, “Do your best to win God’s approval as a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed and who teaches only the true message.”

Do your best.  Nowhere do I read, “Beat your head against the wall if you don’t get the best grade in class.”  This scripture will be my guidepost to remind me of my bigger purpose, and it’s not to get straight A’s.  It is to bring the true message, the message of salvation through Christ, to the world.

The pressure’s off, so now I can admire the amazing linguistic gifts that God has gifted to so many wonderful people.  And enjoy the free donuts.

AFRICA IN A SNAPSHOT (OR THREE)

As I reflect on my month in Africa, I wonder what I can tell you to convey the amazing, life-changing visit I just spent there.  When I look through the hundreds of photos I took, I wish I could go through them all with each and every one of you, explaining what they are.  If only..!

My first full week in Africa, we conducted a literacy workshop out in the bush.  During the four-mile bike ride there and back, I had time to reflect on God’s provision.  In a country where a sip of water could make you violently ill, or something as tiny as a splinter could introduce a deadly bacteria into your body, you begin to realize how fragile life really is.  Africans know that their lives are in God’s hands, and they cling to Him with a tenacity that I covet.  This picture was taken in a payot, which is like a gazebo outside of your home where visitors are received.  The pastor had left her Bible (in the Zande language) in the windowsill, so I could see how well-worn it was.

The following week, we led a teacher training workshop.  Daily I was amazed at the students’ dedication and seriousness with the training.  One student named Repent (shown seated, in a polo shirt) came to class, and practiced teaching to his peers, even though he was terribly sick with malaria!  These believers understand the importance of reading God’s word in  Morokodo, their own mother tongue, and take very seriously the task of giving others this precious gift.

After that, we traveled to another town to meet with some missionaries and talk about their organizations, and their role within the country.  While we were there, it was clearly demonstrated to me that God has big plans for this country, and He is working mightily through His people.  Workers are there “at such a time as this.”  I can’t wait to be counted among those who are blessed to call this wonderful country home!

WORTHY

Yesterday was the saddest day of my life. Literally.

Imagine driving away from a home that you shared with your son for three years. Imagine leaving that son, alone, while you head off to a far-away place, where you won’t be available to run to his rescue whenever he calls. Heck, imagine not even being available by phone if you were needed.

Yesterday, I left for Dallas for a week’s worth of training before heading off to Africa for five weeks. I bawled all the way to Oklahoma, and then off and on throughout Oklahoma and Texas. Tears have trickled from my eyes randomly throughout the day, and even now as I write.

After I return from Africa, I’ll be remaining in Dallas for a year (for even more training) before permanently moving to Africa. So yesterday’s parting was a final page in the chapter of the eighteen years of Antonio’s and my life together.

Even worse for me, Antonio will become a husband and a father while I’m out of the country. I realize that this will be the first of many, many milestones that I will miss while on the missions field.

Big life transitions are tough. The one thing that has been continually encouraging me, and kept me from literally turning the car around three times on my way out of town, is Matthew 10:37. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

It occurred to me somewhere in Texas that, as difficult as this is, as hard as it is to push myself into this new phase of life, God did something vastly more difficult. God sent His son to earth, knowing Jesus would die, and knowing he would have to turn his back on his only son as he bore the sins of the world. Suddenly my sadness seemed petty in comparison.

If God could do this for me, the least I could do is value His call over my ties to family. I’m trying valiantly to be worthy.

SAFETY

Whenever people find out that I’m going to North Africa in a couple of weeks, they get a concerned look on their faces and say, “Be careful!” or, “Isn’t that dangerous?” The pat answer I’ve perfected is, “I’m safest when I’m in the middle of God’s will.”

Safety is such a pervasive concern in our society. Sometimes, I think safety comes before doing the will of our Father. Instead, I would rather be about my Father’s business, and let Him take care of my safety. I’m obviously not going to be running around doing dangerous and foolish things, but I’m not going to huddle in my house in fear, either.

Many people entered Home Depot in Joplin, Missouri last Sunday night, and lost their lives when a F5 tornado hit the town. When a husband told his wife that Sunday, “I’m running to Home Depot.” was her first impulse to cry out, “Isn’t that dangerous?” Probably not.

My point is that we don’t know when, or where, our last breath will leave our bodies. When it happens, I pray that I will be working for the Lord.

LEANING, LEANING

One Sunday at church, we were singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. As I was gleefully belting out, leeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaning, leeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaning, a thought struck me, and I jotted this down: Never in situations where we need to lean.

Think about it.  How often do we find ourselves in a “leaning” situation?  When was the last time we did something in faith that simply couldn’t be done without God’s help?

Years ago, I was reading the autobiography of one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.  If you aren’t familiar with their story, you can read about it here.  This resilient young man  described their flight on foot from Sudan to Ethiopia, and the lion attacks, crocodile abductions, and armed rebels that these young boys endured.

One part in this autobiography shamed me, and still sticks with me.  The author was describing how God had gotten them through so many unbelievable trials, and he pointed out how small Americans’ faith is.  Our faith is small, he believes, because we are never in situations where we truly need God.  We don’t know what He can do, because we don’t let Him show us.

Why is this?  Do we not believe that God is real?  Do we not believe that God can actually do anything?  Do we theoretically believe that God created the heavens and the earth, yet when it comes to real-life situations, we’re not so sure?

In 2 Kings 3, the king of Israel teamed up with the kings of Judah and Edom to attack Moab.  They found themselves in the desert seven days later with no water, so they sent for the prophet Elisha.  Elisha advised the kings to fill the valley with ditches, knowing they would be flowing with water in the morning.  He says in verse 18, “This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord.”

Easy!  If generating a desert full of water is easy for God, why don’t we trust him to the simple things in our lives?  Let God show you what He can do – He wants to!

Let’s lean!

KINGDOM LIFESTYLE, Part 2

Our citizenship is in heaven. This reminder from the Apostle Paul is for all believers in Christ; not just those of us who are preparing to leave for the foreign missions field.  It’s easy to hold loosely to the material comforts of this world when you know you will be moving across the ocean and can only bring so much “stuff” with you.

Those who serve the Lord at home are in a much more difficult situation, in my opinion.  Face it: staying in one place leads to accumulation of “stuff.”  When I tell people that I am selling and/or giving away most of my belongings, the overwhelming response is, “How freeing!” Some have even confessed their jealousy of my possession-shedding.    I wonder, though, why we can’t all live like the Kingdom Citizens that we are, with an eye on our future home.  Why is this beyond our comprehension?

Take beds, for example.  I read somewhere that we Americans are among the very small percentage of the global population who have beds.  Many people sleep on a hand-built platform like the one shown to the left.  The bed in this picture was built by the Morukodo, which is the people group I will be getting to know and love this summer.

In preparation for my new home, I have decided to adjust the way I live.  I had read that when Hudson Taylor was getting ready for his move to China, he gave away his bed and began to sleep on a hard platform like they do in parts of Asia.  Of course, his friends and family thought he was crazy, so I figured I would be in good company.  My sister had a folding camping cot, so I traded my pillow-top mattress and frame for her cot.  You should see all the extra space I have in my bedroom now!

Have I lost any sleep over this change?  Not a bit.  The cot is a snug, warm place where I read my Bible, pray, and sleep every night.  This Kingdom Citizen doesn’t need anything fancy for that.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.  –Psalm 4:8

KINGDOM LIFESTYLE, Part 1

In preparation for my move to Africa, I have been making a conscious effort to live less of an American lifestyle, and more of a Kingdom lifestyle.

I was recently in California visiting my sister and her family.  Within a few days, we had eaten Mexican, Chinese, African, Italian, Thai, and of course, American food.   During my visit we observed the vast number of choices we Americans have, of which food is just one example.  When I lived in Mexico, we ate … Mexican food.  Granted, there’s the occasional McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, and even a random Chinese food restaurant, but the main fare was usually something in a tortilla. And I was fine with it.  Sometimes I think we in America have too many choices, and are on decision overload.

To get ready for my life in Africa, I have been trying (not always successfully!) to scale back and simplify my eating habits.  For lunch, I’ve been bringing a peanut butter & jelly sandwich to eat at my desk.  That’s it.  No variety, no frill, no dessert.  I wash it down with a Diet Coke – which will be my last stronghold to conquer – and continue on my day.

Please don’t think I’m trying to be a food martyr or am showing off what a disciplined Christian I am.  Trust me:  I’m not.  Take me to a doughnut shop, and you can see my weakness first-hand.  My intent in simplifying and minimizing my food is to adjust my body so I won’t have a growling stomach to go along with my culture shock.  But by exerting physical control over my body, I hope to gain spiritual discipline as well.

Think about it.  Food is only the vehicle by which we put nutrients and energy into our bodies.  I agree; we should relish and enjoy our food.  Believe me, I agree!  But food also has a cultural aspect to it.  Why is food such an obsession in our culture?  We have a whole television network dedicated to it, for pity’s sake!  Must everything be super-sized?  And when did deciding what kind of food to have for dinner become such a monumental hassle?  It’s just food, after all!  It has gained a power over us that is overwhelming, and we may not even realize it.

Take a break this week.  Simplify your meals.  Just eat a bowl of cereal, and spend the extra time feeding your soul instead.

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