Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Lord Determines our Steps

Recently I shared a post called "A Humble Beginning," where I wrote about our first official day of ministry in a slum here in São Paulo.  A generous, small church offered for us to use their facility to run a program reaching out to the kids living in the area.

Through working in this church and conducting some door-to-door research in the area (with the help of a missions team visiting us), we discovered some very positive things about this specific slum area: 

1. The church is doing a great job reaching out to the kids and families living in this area. It is my prayer that more slums would have churches like this one reaching out and loving people in their community.

2.  There is a government sponsored social project located extremely close to the church, and around 120 kids living in the area attend programs offered there. 

3.  There is clear organization and structure on this side of the slum, both physically and in the daily lives of the people living there.

Through running a program in the church, conducting research, and getting to know the needs of the area, we have come to the conclusion that this side of the slum does not have a desperate need for the kind of ministry we want to bring. There are already great things in place, both socially and spiritually, and this is wonderful news!

As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the following verse:

We can make our plans, 
but the Lord determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9 NLT

We had a plan - to attempt to reach out to one side of the slum through offering programs for children and teens.  We were willing, and ready to work and invest in this area, but we discovered the needs in the area are not so extreme.

Yet, through this whole process, God has been teaching us many things. We are thankful for the experience of working in the small church in the slum, but also see that it is best that we stop working in this specific area and instead invest our time and energy in a different place with more severe needs.

So what now?  

About a short 15 to 20 minute walk away from the church (where we were working), is an extremely needy slum area desperate for help.

We are now praying and exploring ideas in how to reach out to the kids and families living in this area.

This slum is actually fairly new.  In Portuguese it is called an "invasion" area, and the people living there have named it  "Matinha" which means "little grassy area."  The people living in this slum have literally invaded a green, grassy area, taking pieces of land and then building their own homes out of various materials. As you can see in the photos, the living conditions here are quite shocking!

When the missions team was visiting us, we held a Saturday kid's program (see photos here) and conducted research in this poverty stricken area.

When comparing "Matinha" with the other slum area where we were reaching out, it is like night and day.  The needs in this new area are extreme and seem endless! Yet our God of endless love offers great peace and hope in the midst of the struggles and challenges of life.

Please pray for us as we continue to minister to kids and families living in the slums of São Paulo, but now focusing on a more needy and poor area.

We desire for the Lord to determine every one of our steps, in all that we do as we serve Him.  We are joyful, expectant, and hopeful of how the Lord will develop our ministry and use it to bring many to the knowledge of relationship and abundant life in Him.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps...all for His glory and name's sake!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hosting a Missions Team!

This past week we were busy hosting a short-term missions team!
An eight member team from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Belo Horizonte, spent one week with us here in São Paulo as a part of their Discipleship Training School (DTS) practical mission outreach.
Here are some highlights from our week of ministry together!

The team served at the Sower ministry, the community center where we are currently volunteering, leading Bible studies and various creative activities with the kids and teens.

The team also helped us to conduct some research in two nearby slum communities.  We went door to door personally asking families various questions to learn about the specific needs of the area.  This important information will help us as we are still in the process of praying and deciding about exactly where we want to establish a ministry to children at risk.

One slum area we explored together with the team has extremely poor living conditions and many needs both physically and spiritually.

The DTS missions team even helped us hold a Saturday morning kid's program in an extremely poor area of one slum.  Many precious little ones came to participate in the fun.

Our Sophia enjoyed playing with the kids and participating in all the activities!

The missions team also blessed us through songs, dance, drama and a special message at the Saturday night worship service at the Sower ministry.

We prayed for the DTS team at the end of the service for the rest of their missions trip.  Yesterday they flew to the nation of Mozambique to serve for four weeks there.

At the Sower House ministry, everyone who comes to volunteer and serve at the ministry paints their hand print on the Sower House wall. This handprint is a physical testimony of how each person played a part in the beautiful work of the Sower House.  Upon the team's departure they left their mark.

We had a wonderful week with this YWAM team!
God used them to share much joy and love here in the slums of São Paulo.  Please pray for this team as they continue to minister and share God's love in Mozambique, Africa!
A group photo in the little church where we have been working with a few children each Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Microwave Story

I was just waking up as I heard the beep-beep of microwave buttons being pushed downstairs. 

“Don’t play with the microwave!”  I called out to my 5 year-old Sophia, as I turned over in my comfy bed to snooze for just a few more minutes.

The next thing I know, the smell of something burning reached my nose. I scrambled to my feet, and ran down the narrow stairway leading to our kitchen below.

There I found my eldest attempting to microwave her breakfast, all by herself, because she is strong and independent like that.  The colorful sprinkle covered pancakes from our special “breakfast for dinner” the night before, were now pure black instead.  The pancakes were also smoking excessively inside of a CLOSED plastic container in the microwave.

As I inspected the damage, I turned to the miniature version of myself and exclaimed with impatience, “You can’t play with the microwave!  We almost had a fire!”

Billows of smoke filled our kitchen so I quickly opened the back door and windows to air out the house, while my daughter ran to her room dramatically wailing in tears over what she had done.

Sophia's room is her place to regroup and calm down when emotions get the best of her.   I immediately went to Sophia, telling her it was ok, but also explaining the seriousness of what just happened.  I knew she had learned her lesson.

Then, as I reached out to console Sophia, she pushed me away. She did not want to accept my love, my forgiveness, my embrace.

At that moment, I saw myself in my daughter.

So many times when I make a mistake, when I struggle, when I have done something I am not proud of, when I sin - I want to push others away.  I want to even push God away. I want to punish myself.

“I messed up. I am a mess. I don’t deserve love.”  In the ugly moments of real life I often think these thoughts… But these thoughts are not the TRUTH.

On that crazy Wednesday morning, I held Sophia tight and pulled her close onto my lap, knowing she needed to hear, receive, and learn some truths about who she is and who God is. 

She is ACCEPTED… even in her mistakes.
She is LOVED… even when she has done something unlovely.
She is FORGIVEN... where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  

God is patiently working to teach me these powerful truths, and I so earnestly want to teach them to my children.

As I held Sophia tight, she gradually relaxed into my arms and began to receive my love, listen to my voice, and believe that what I was saying was true.   I told her, “It’s ok my girl. It’s ok. Sometimes things like this happen to the best of us. I love you so much.”

And then my day as mommy continued on - full steam ahead!

I cleaned multiple potty accidents off the floor, bought a big supply of groceries, cooked for my family, cleaned, did laundry, settled frustrations between my two daughters, encouraged my then 2 year old to “pee pee in the potty” over and over again…You know, the normal…

And I also snapped!  I spoke impatiently to my loving husband over something silly – not my most proud moment. No, not at all…

On that rough Wednesday, my husband offered acceptance, love, and forgiveness to me in spite of my sin, and yet I would not reach out and take it.  I felt too undeserving…

And then suddenly, I realized.  I was responding just like my daughter, who just hours earlier wanted to push away my love.  There I was doing the same thing, but to my husband.  In my sin, in my mistake, in my unlovely mess, I began to push away the love of my beloved, who loves me more than any other human on the earth.   

Later in the evening, once my girls were sleeping soundly, I retreated to my secret place to pour out my heart to God.  Even in my heart, I wanted to push God away too.
My heart was too UGLY.
My unloveliness TOO MUCH.
My sin so BIG.

Yet God spoke strong from the book of James, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” 

And I broke.
In my mess, in my sin, I turned to God, and He came. He showed up. He comes like He promises He will.  He came, scooped me into His comforting lap, held me close and whispered truths to my heart...

I am ACCEPTED… even in my mistakes.
I am LOVED… even when I have done something unlovely.
I am FORGIVEN... where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  

God powerfully used this day as a reminder to me that even when I try to push away His love, He pursues me and is greater! 

His love is patient and kind. 
His Word eternal and all powerful to break through.
His presence and nearness constant. 
And even when my heart condemns me, He is greater than my heart.

I am thankful for these truths and that He never gives up on me.

I hope and pray this testimony encourages you today, wherever you are at on your journey with the Lord.