Standing firm against the secular tide: Part 5 of 5

Thursday, July 28, 2016

There are some types of people whom you come across only very, very rarely. Whose commitment to God, depth of character, qualities of personality, abilities, strong principles, Kingdom vision, and overall amazingness puts them in a different category and you’re left with a profound gratitude to simply have the privilege of knowing such a person.

Meet Michael. (Not his real name)

Committed. Interesting. Loyal. Kind. Steady. Fun. Strong. Musical. Missional. Well-respected. Skilled. Purposeful. Traveled. Well-loved. Awesome. And above all, sold out to God: even when that means uprooting, saying goodbye to family, and giving up just about everything Americans take for granted in everyday life. 

Michael works among the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico; this means living in a small cinder block house in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, no air conditioning, no running water, no grocery stores, and no church full of like-minded friends.

Sacrifice? Yes. Privilege? Yes. But only a man with the quality of character Michael possesses could actually see the unutterable privilege masked in so much sacrifice that it would make most church-going Christians (even in the Bible belt of Texas) run for their lives. 

I recently had the opportunity to interview Michael and hear his words of wisdom. I hope they inspire you to live your life more fully consecrated to God, more focused on His glory, more committed to the plans He has for you. Spending your life in the service of our King may not be easy, but it is always worth it.

Q: What is your vision, and how did you determine where God wanted you to be?

Even as a young boy I was always fascinated with new places, new languages, and new people. I was also raised in a Christian home. Ever since I can remember, God had welded together the desire to serve Him and the fascination with other peoples, cultures, and languages. From about 10 years old I felt the desire to serve God in cross-cultural missions and He continued to press that on my heart in the years to come.

I always felt a call to Mexico. Just after I finished Paramedic school, a friend from school, who was from Mexico, invited me to come down and visit him and, knowing I was interested in missions, offered to introduce me to a team that worked with the Tarahumara Indians. I stayed in Mexico for 2 months and got to know the mission team very well and was very encouraged by their work. Right from then I began praying that the Lord would show me if this might be where He wanted me to serve. Through prayer, the counsel of others, and the opportunity to visit the team several more times, I decided to begin specific preparations to join this team a little over 3 years after first visiting.

My vision (and ours as a team) is to see a church planted among the Tarahumara Indians that will continue to replicate itself in other areas of the mountains. And that the Tarahumara will come to know the Lord and that those that believe will share with their own people of God’s salvation.

Q: What did you do to prepare for life on the field?

There were many things that I did to prepare; much of that was seeking to gain experience in many different practical skills: carpentry, mechanics, Paramedic school, and things of that nature.

I think the biggest thing I did in preparation was to find a mentor who helped me to grow in my relationship with Christ and in my knowledge of Him and His Word. A little over 2 years before I began missions in Mexico, I asked an older man if he would be willing to mentor and disciple me. He helped me learn how to read and study my Bible better and with purpose, kept me accountable in my spiritual life, shared from his experiences and knowledge, and was a trusted source I could go to with questions and doubts about anything. 

Growing and preparing myself spiritually was by far the most important and valuable thing I did to prepare for missions. 

There are many things that would have been great to have learned or experienced, but they can be learned later. You can never replace time and energy spent growing in your relationship with Christ with anything else to prepare you to serve Him.

Q: What is your top piece of advice for someone going to the mission field?

Prepare yourself spiritually. 

I don’t mean learn how to give sermons, learn how to lead a Bible study, learn how to quote word perfect the plan of salvation. I mean prepare yourself spiritually. Find a spiritual mentor, study your Bible personally and for your own personal benefit and growth, learn to pray, learn to fight spiritual battles within your own person, and learn to love Christ more. Maybe it sounds selfish, but if you aren’t prepared spiritually, how do you expect to do effective battle against the enemy in a fight for the eternal destiny of other’s souls?

Q: How do you stay strong in your relationship with Christ when the going gets tough?

This answer comes back to my top piece of advice for going on the mission field. The years leading up to me going on the field were spent in growing myself in the Lord and through that time He taught me many, many things and gave me Scriptures and experiences to look back on that point me back to Him in difficult times. I’ve always enjoyed journaling, and being able to go back through my journals and remember how God brought me through other difficult times in my life helps me take my eyes off myself and fix them back on Him. I would highly recommend keeping a journal where you can record what God is teaching you. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just something you can look back at to remind you of His faithfulness.

I also utilize my brothers and sisters in Christ that surround me here. A community of believers is so important to staying strong as an individual. I have to be the one to ask for and accept help from them, but maintaining close relationships with other believers here help point me back to Christ when it is hard for me to do so alone.

Q: Have you found coping strategies to deal with stresses or discouragements?

Being someone who needs to express my emotions outwardly in some form or fashion, there are three main things that I end up doing when I’m feeling discouraged: talking to someone I trust about it, writing it down in my journal, or releasing it through my piano or violin. When I can express to a friend my discouragements, they can help put things in perspective and point me towards Christ. With my journal, I like to write my discouragements in the form of a prayer or even conversation with the Lord. And with my music, I like to pull out the hymnal and play and sing my favorite hymns. Again, like a prayer and expression to the Lord of my discouragements, hurts, and needs. Each one helps me to bring whatever I’m discouraged about or stressed with to the top where the Lord can skim it off and relieve me of the burden of carrying it alone.

These are definitely personal strategies of mine but I seek to be very purposeful in doing one or all of them in times of discouragement because they are the ways in which I feel I can release the burden and cast my cares upon Him. (1 Peter 5:7) 

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day can be difficult to describe, but each day for me, at this time, is spent focusing on learning the tribal language and culture. While I am fluent in Spanish and some of the people speak a little, they only speak enough for getting what they need. When conversation turns to deeper things, it must be done in their language and with an understanding of their culture. 

Every morning I enjoy getting up early to have a quiet time by myself with the Lord before the day starts. As a team, we pray together for an hour or so each morning as well. After praying together the regular day starts. Daily chores include bring water from the well a couple of miles away, preparing and having food ready for visitors that come knocking any time of the day, and of course fixing miscellaneous water leaks, broken doors, generators, or vehicles.  

Outside of everyday chores, some days I will spend the whole day hiking and visiting with native friends in their homes, spending time with them in their homes practicing my language and observing their daily lives. I always carry a little notebook with me to write down new words or observations I've made about the culture and then organize that information in the evenings when I return home. There is also a young man that comes over every other day to help with language specifically. I practice conversing, ask him about new words I've learned, or ask him questions about the culture. 

Much of any given day will be hosting visitors and friends that stop by to say hi or share a meal. People are more important than projects so some days I simply spend hosting our Indian friends in my home. If fact, while writing this I have a visitor in my home that has been here for six hours just visiting, chatting, sipping on coffee, and looking at the pictures in the National Geographic magazines I have.

"People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. 

Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. 

I never made a sacrifice.” – David Livingston

Snippets from an old journal entry

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I opened my journal last night, flipped all the way back to July 2014, and began to read...

I write this for that long, cold, winter day when I wish to sit back and dream of Texas. I am sure there will be such a day, or maybe many of them, when I will close my eyes and think of the time – this time – these few short, precious, sweet weeks when we were in Fredericksburg. 

I know I cannot explain or describe Texas: the land, the feeling, the people, the sounds, the depth of love we all have for the rolling land of the Hill Country, and most of all for the friends here.

I am sitting in our trailer this evening, at our little kitchen table. It is 8:42 in the evening, and while the sun has set, it is still quite light outside, that yellowish evening light that is particular to Texas. It is hot. A pleasant hot that warms your bones, and makes you drowsy and sweaty and happy. 

Across the rugged brown field next to our campsite, a white cat silently hunts grasshoppers, silhouetted against the backdrop of green oaks and a darkening Texas sky. Cars and trucks are going by on highway 290 and making a steady comforting sort of rumbling sound, although most of what I hear right now is the air conditioning. 

I really don’t know how to describe this light. The sky is almost a lavender color, slightly pink with the setting sun. It is beautiful. Is it ever not beautiful here?

Cicadas are singing their evening song outside, and other bugs are joining in the chorus, making a cacophony of pleasant music. I am enjoying sitting here and thinking about all the wonderful fellowship we have ahead of us, here in this place of Christians and like-minded friends. 

We have many appointments planned, and it is such an AMAZING feeling! Because right now, at this moment, all the fellowship is ahead of us, and we get to look forward to it, and then when I read this, I’ll sigh and say, “Oh, I remember that… it was such a good time.”

58,000 words and counting

Sunday, July 10, 2016

My novel is almost done!!! I am in LOVE with this project. My pseudo-goal was to have it completed by my birthday (today!), and I'm nearly there, as I just have the climax left to write. Last chapter here we come!!

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