Category Archive: Compassion

Rancho Santa Marta – the Privilege of Service

We came to Mexico to serve – children, teachers, staff.

Quite a few groups of young folks come to volunteer at the Ranch. We learned Sunday that we are known as the “white-haired group” because so many of our team members have, you guessed it, white hair! (We ran the gamut from 19 to 91 this year.) Being the “white-haired group” is a pretty great distinction because, while we delight in the younger men and women who come–and need their energy, skills and mobility!–various people on our team have  served here for over 30 years (Don and I, eight and seven respectively). Like the Eveready Bunny. Evidence of God’s grace that we are still able to serve in meaningful ways.

We’ve experienced that grace in a variety of ways this week. Annette worked with children on English words and crafts. Leola cooked, and worked her puppet magic. One boy, whom she said doesn’t speak in school, got behind the cardboard stage, a puppet in each hand, and told his classmates a story! Debbie needed help repairing a sewing machine to continue work on the curtains she was making for one of the homes. She mentioned the need to Juan who, as the youngest of thirteen children, often repaired his mother’s sewing machine! A few minutes of his expertise and, wallah, Debbie had her repair.

One side of gym, complete with metal studs and siding

Much needed restroom by children’s play area

Don and his team directed the construction work with grace and strength, and one side of the new gymnasium is now supported by metal studs, covered with siding. Another group worked on a needed play area restroom with six stalls each for boys and girls. We are tired; but  keep working to accomplish the goals set for us, despite several significant workaround challenges.

JoAnn and I enjoyed keeping ‘our boys’ hydrated and uplifted with snacks and water twice a day, as well as painting, photography, and doing crafts with the children.

Last night our team leader, Bob Moorhead, played the organ in the chapel for those who wanted to listen. I sat, stitching a yarn art sample for our craft time and listening to wonderful sounds, from “Just as I Am” to the Beach Boys. It was a renewing time of just being in God’s presence.

Every year our time is meaningful as we watch what God is doing in the lives of many of these children, and understand a little more about the challenges of directing this large operation, which includes forty-five resident children, another 180-200 in elementary and junior high school, the ranch with its horses, pigs, cows, goats, the hay bales scattered over some of the 450 acres, the peach tree orchard. The wisdom and diligence required to lead this ‘operation’ demand much. Its Directors rarely get away for a break; yet they continue to serve, love, teach, and build into these young lives.

Will you join us in prayer for a couple of specific needs:

  1.  House Parents for one of the boys’ homes. “Victor’s House”, which our team framed last year,

    Victor’s House

    is ready for occupancy by the older boys/men. It is named for the oldest male resident who grew up at the Ranch and just had his 40th birthday. These boys’ disabilities make living independently almost impossible. However, they, and the house parents who will move with them, cannot move until new house parents are identified and hired to take over the younger boys remaining in the initial house. This is a tough job; 24/7 with children with special needs. Often house parents leave after a short while, saying “it’s too hard.”

  2. Times of respite for Directors, house parents, and staff.
  3. Additional teachers needed for the school, especially as the Ranch begins teaching tenth grade this Fall.

I am deeply thankful for this ministry of intentional building into the lives of children and young adults, and privileged to be a very small part of its ministry. For more information about the Ranch, see http://www.ranchosantamarta.org/

May God bless you this week as you watch for opportunities to serve Him in your daily life.

 

From Red Carpet to Black Earth

It was just a week and a half ago that Don and I stood on the Red Carpet in France, where the Cannes Film Festival began today. The glitter, glitz and glamour of the movie world, stunning actresses and handsome actors in clothing that costs thousands of dollars, the rush of the crowd (we were told it’s hard to move in Cannes during the Festival) were easy to imagine.

The following day we traveled to Monaco where we watched the changing of the guard at the palace, and went into the Monte Carlo Casino – small but stunning. It was afternoon and there was little action at the tables. We got something to drink, sat and watched.

This weekend we’re in a very different environment.

Sunday morning, Don and I, along with the rest of our missions team, celebrated worship at Rancho Santa Marta in Baja, Mexico. After driving fourteen hours Saturday to reach the ranch, we settled in for a night’s sleep. This morning we joined the ranch’s resident children, parents and staff for a worship service in both Spanish and English. It is a joy to worship here annually.

Forty-five resident children include orphans, children removed from their homes because of abuse, several who have been left at the ranch’s doorstep, and others with learning disabilities. They live in groups with house parents, giving them a stable and structured environment in which to grow. Additionally, about 180 community children are bused in for school from up to 60 miles away.

Director Rod shared his testimony this morning; it thrilled me to hear him talk about how God has prospered them … not in terms of financial success or reputation; but in their five children, and the blessing on the Ranch’s ministry. He pulled out a Kobe Bryant LA Lakers’ jersey, a “Struiksma” jersey (his and Tina’s last name) and another jersey with the name of one of the children here. Tossing that one to the side of the chapel, he spoke: “The message these children have received is that they are junk – because of abuse, because of separation from their families. Our job, and yours while you’re here, is to love them and teach them they are of infinite value because of Christ.” He reminded us that our work here goes far beyond building gym walls; it’s to minister to and value the children here.

Don and I feel pain when children choose to leave the ranch, or must leave because of disruption to the community. Sometimes their desires and needs feed them the lie that life will be better, happier, easier outside, with less of the structure they need to become contributing adults. Sometimes children have to be removed because of their impact on others.

One family of seven children have all grown up at the ranch. Some are becoming productive adults. Other children are also here with their siblings. We have been blessed to see the love, education and training they receive. And there are young adults who came to the ranch as little children, and are now also ministering to others. While the ranch is a safe haven for these children, they are also taught about, and led in, taking the gospel beyond these 450 acres. Some learn that they too can bring the good news of Jesus to others.

Our team at lunch after church, at a local restaurant

Don and I feel blessed to see different parts of God’s creation, both in nature and in the people we meet. And we see our Father’s love and desire for relationship in myriad settings, whether obscured by wealth and fame, or shared with children who come with great needs. And we love Rancho Santa Marta, its children, staff, and teachers. Would you pray with us that our service this week will be a blessing, both among our team of 23, and to those we will serve.

How can I pray for you?

Agony … and Glory!

“Christ is risen.”

“He is risen indeed!”

The traditional Christian Easter greeting celebrates the greatest truth believers know. But how often do we also focus on the agony that came before victory?

It’s Thursday. Jesus flinches as spittle splatters onto his face, and groans in pain as the crown of thorns is pressed into his forehead. The open gashes across his back attest to the whippings he has endured. His mother, Mary, is barely able to see above the rest of the crowd as she stands, watching while they nail her boy to a rough-hewn cross. Reaching out with her right arm, she forces her left hand to cover the scream that threatens to break out of her throat. She rocks back and forth, heart shredded. “My son. My son.”  Wanting to take his pain; unable to do so.

Later she kneels at the foot of the cross, wringing her hands, keening as she watches her son dying. Never has she felt so alone. Then John steps up and lays a hand on her shoulder. Mary looks up through tears to see that John, too, is suffering as he watches his Rabbi’s body being torn and bruised and broken. She sees Jesus look down on them both.

“Behold your mother,” he says to John.

And “Behold your son,” to Mary.

And after Jesus’ death, after they have buried him in a borrowed tomb, she goes home with John, who cares for her from then on.

There is so much agony in our world. On at least three of five days last week I read about another school shooting, a bombing during Easter celebrations, and a fired employee returning to the workplace to kill. I hurt because some people I love are going through physical, emotional or mental pain. A good friend with whom Don and I have ministered in Mexico for the past few years went in for what was thought to be a non-critical surgery, caught an infection and died. Wars and famine abound.

But, as an old song says, “Sunday’s comin’.”

Sunday, when Mary’s world, John’s world, our world, was changed forever because Jesus conquered death and, in so doing, gave those who believe, life eternal–and hope now!

Yes, sorrow is ever-present in our world. But there is a day coming when joy will be the light of our morning and the song we sing at night. The day when Jesus the Christ returns for his people, and sorrow will forever be forgotten; pain a thing of the past; and peace, justice and harmony will reign. What a day that will be!

I pray that if you are hurting, lonely, confused today, you will turn to the God who gave us Easter Resurrection; and the promise (and experience) of His presence with us in the sorrows and agony of today.

Sunday’s comin’!

 

 

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ on the River …

That’s just what Don and I did as we enjoyed a river cruise up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Memphis a week ago. dsc08384 I’d not seen this part of the South before. Our American Queen antebellum steamboat was charming and romantic. Food was plentiful, and delicious. Multiple sitting rooms provided areas to sit and read, visit, or play games.

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Courting chair in the Mark Twain Salon

We flew into New Orleans a few days early, and met our friends Joe and JoAnn Payne at the city’s National WWII Museum Sunday morning. A WWII vet, Don got some extra attention. The exhibits are very well done and the stories of different service men and women expressed the challenges, tragedies and sometimes heroism of war. I was glad to learn more of Don’s service in the medical corps as memories were prompted during our visit, and by questions JoAnn and Joe asked.

Freedom Park in Helena, AK was one of my most meaningful visits. During the Civil War, runaway slaves traveling the Underground Railway knew that if they could reach Helena, they would be under the protection of the Union Army. The Park is a peaceful memorial to the deep need of people to be free. While camps set up for these families left much to be desired in the way of adequate food and housing, they did provide hope of a future lived in freedom.

Frogmore Plantation in Natchez, Miss., my second choice, is the only historic & modern, 1800-acre working cotton plantation in the South. Its owners have a passion to share the South’s history, and the plight of slaves–even more deeply personal as this couple invests in ministries to those caught in human trafficking.  We began our tour on an original pew in an 1800s African American plantation church, as the mistress of Frogmore took us back in time. Music filled the air as two marvelous local musicians regaled us in song. After that we looked through a number of slave cabins, and learned cotton production, then and now.

One day, as we sat on a bench alongside the Mississippi, a young man sat to our left, head on his knees. During Don’s and my conversations with each other and with passersby, he barely moved. Finally I reached over and gently touched his arm.

Showing us how to pluck the cotton out of their "bowls"

Showing us how to pluck the cotton out of its “bowls”

“Excuse me, sir, are you all right?”

He raised his head and looked at us. “Yeah, I’m ok. Just had a big night of partying last night and am resting up to do it again tonight. But it’s nice of you to check on me.” We wished him well. The next day we saw him–same position, same bench. I was saddened to think this was the rhythm of his life, whether just during a trip or as a lifestyle.

Jesus is the Light of the world, and on this trip we saw both the pain of darkness; and the light of hope when slaves were protected, through people we met who are working to relieve human trafficking. May we be filled with the Light of Christ so we will reflect that to those in our circles of influence, to the glory of God.

“If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way…All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.” (II Corinthians 4:3-4, MSG)

May you be blessed with the Light of Life this Thanksgiving week.

 

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Real Prayers – Gratitude

Gratitude opens doors to relationships. That’s one of the values Pastor Rene shared with us recently. I can’t control my circumstances, but I can choose my attitude. Some benefits of gratitude are improved physical health, reduction of aggression, better sleep and self-esteem, and increased mental strength. Those are worth a lot!

"Please, Sir, help us!"

“Please, Sir, help us!”

He told the story of the ten lepers who came to Jesus, hoping to be healed. (Luke 17:11-14)

“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” they cried.

“When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” The priests were the ones who could allow a cleansed leper to return to society. Interesting that Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests BEFORE they knew they were healed.  That required faith on the part of the lepers … looking down at finger stubs, missing toes, they may have thought, “Why? Nothing has changed.” But somehow they trusted Jesus enough to follow His directive, and ON THE WAY they were healed. They must have been overwhelmed with awe and joy. Being whole would allow them to return to their homes and families rather than living among the rocks and stones with other lepers.

leper-thanking-jesusBut wait. Ten asked for Jesus’ help. Ten followed his directive to go to the priests for a clean bill of health. But only one came back to thank Jesus. What about the other nine? Were they just so excited they rushed off without thinking of giving thanks to the One who healed their bodies? Rene said that people who don’t say thank you quickly often don’t say it at all.

Ten obeyed, but only one worshipped.

How often do I make a request of my Father, then not even notice when my prayer is answered? I want to be attuned to recognize His answers, to thank Him quickly, and often, for the graces He bestows on me.

“I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.” Psalm 118:21.

For what will you thank God today? 

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