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Monday, April 22, 2019

The Rainbows & Volcanoes of God’s Promise

Just like everyone else in this world, I have good days and bad days. There are even times when our bad days can turn into bad weeks, bad chapters, even bad seasons of life. But, in recent years I’ve noticed something on those bad days— especially the ones that start out with the potential of being the worst. First, let me give you some context.

Every day my wife and I take turns dropping our kids off at school. Our daughter’s school is about a 3 minute drive, just down the road. Our son’s, however, is about 15 minutes down the mountain, making it about a 30 minute ordeal from start to finish. The road we take opens up into a breathtaking panorama of the town below at a certain point. Before the view, it’s a bit of a ‘straight-away,’ where on a clear day you get the first glimpse of the snow-capped volcano known as Cayambe. In that tunnel-like road, Cayambe towers above you and looks huge and impressive. After leaving that straight section, however, the forced perspective changes as you look into the valley below with the remarkable view. Interestingly, Cayambe looks smaller, but is now in context to the broader surroundings, painting the backdrop to the town below and mountains all around. It’s a breathtaking panorama. 

The thing is, the number of incredibly clear days here with no clouds in the sky are fewer than one might imagine. Certain months are better for being able to see the various snow-capped volcanoes here in Ecuador, but regardless, even those of us who live here year-round get excited when the snow-capped volcanoes are ‘out.’

Let’s go back to those ‘hard days.’ I often think of Noah who was trapped in that ark with so many animals waiting for the day that he and his family could once again step out onto dry land. The day finally comes, and God blesses him with the rainbow: His promise never to flood the earth again. His promise of faithfulness— a simple reminder of His presence and involvement in our lives. In the same way, I can’t deny that God reminds me of that same promise on those days that I head down the mountain to drop off my son, and suddenly see her: Cayambe, in all of her glory, towering above me. All creation declares the glory of God! Just as the rainbow serves as a reminder of God’s promise, those days that I am burdened, stressed, losing hope, and in great need of a reminder of God’s presence— those are the days that I head down the road and am blown away by the majesty of creation as I stare at the snow-capped volcano, Cayambe. 

The doubting Thomas in me wants to chalk it up to coincidence or something less ‘holy;’ but, it has happened dozens of times now, and always on those days I need it the most. The ironic thing is that I always forget. You would think I’d come to anticipate it, now. But, I’m usually so caught up in myself or my problems, that as I drive down the road with the weight of the world or negative attitudes I’m carrying, I’m surprised and taken aback every time as my eyes see the mountains. It’s not fabricated. I truly believe it’s God reaching down to earth and involving himself in my life. And, the thing is He does that for all of us on a daily basis— if we simply stop to look around and recognize the many blessings that surround us.

We have running water. We have warm homes. We have cars, tv’s, phones, hot food, access to almost anything we can imagine. And yet, we so often feel alone, upset, and desire to have more than what we already possess. We can become so inwardly focused, we often forget to include God in our daily conversations, decisions, and thought-life. He’s right there— waiting. Waiting for us to acknowledge Him, waiting for us to accept His peace, His joy— the things that He offers us so freely. Yet we’re constantly distracted by our modern ‘conveniences’ and don’t recognize the need to daily invite our Creator to take part in our everyday lives.

What is weighing you down today? What burden are you carrying? What has constituted a ‘bad day’ for you recently? Your Heavenly Father invites you to lay your burdens down, to open your eyes to His goodness and peace, as He longs to remind you that He’s there. He’s caring for you. He’s providing for you. He’s protecting you. He has plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. Perhaps the clear view of a snow-capped volcano is what you need as a reminder of His presence— or perhaps it’s simply taking in what’s around you and recognizing the blessing of His provision, His creation, the people around you who care. Take the time today to really take in the things around you. Choose to see the rainbows and volcanoes of God’s presence and promise. He is with you and He loves you.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

An Easter Reflection

As we sat in bed with our kids last night after having our Bible story time together, Kaia turned to me and asked, “Is Easter the best holiday?” I asked her why she thought that, and her response was quite logical, “Because Jesus died on the cross for us, but he’s alive so we can go to heaven!”

About every other year on Good Friday I like to sit down and watch the movie, the Passion of the Christ. Every year seems a little too much— a bit too often, somehow. So, last night we watched it together, just Suzy and I. 

When you step back and look at it, Easter is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Palm Sunday we’re riding high, the last supper is incredibly meaningful but heavy, the garden of Gethsemane takes things to an even deeper level, and then the road to the cross is a dark and emotional one. Our Savior dies. And then, just days later, he’s alive. He is risen! And we celebrate. 

It’s an emotional investment to remember, reflect, and emotionally engage with all that took place so long ago. It’s much, much easier to simply go to church on Easter Sunday to hear the ‘happy’ sermon and go about your day with the Easter bunny and egg hunt rituals that follow in tow. The thing is, I think the emotional journey is a good one. Not easy— but good.

Suzy commented multiple times throughout the movie that it’s just too gory. I agree that it’s gory. But, I also think it very well could have been that bad. It may not have been quite as intense as Mel Gibson painted it— but it could have. And if anything, it led me to reflect on the pain that He chose, the pain He didn’t escape, the pain that my sin and your sin weighed on Him. He suffered to free us from our wrongdoings. He suffered so we wouldn’t have to.

I’m active on several different social media platforms. Today I enjoyed seeing several friends post statuses and photos with words or Bible verses reflecting on this day. One that was posted by a few people said, “It’s Friday. But Sunday is coming.” How simple. It acknowledges Good Friday— not simply glossing over it— but it points us to what happens on Sunday. Because if Sunday doesn’t happen, Christianity simply wouldn’t be what it is. 
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I suppose that’s the attitude that I hope to take on and embody. I want to mourn. I want to feel the weight of what Jesus suffered— for me. I want to cry. But, I don’t want to stay there. Jesus is not in the tomb. He did not remain dead. His brilliant light shines brightly and He is alive! He is alive in you, and He is alive in me. I not only want to believe that; I want to embrace it, celebrate it, and radiate that brilliance. I will celebrate! 

So, on this day before Resurrection Day, I invite you to take the emotional plunge with me. If only for one day— engage with the Word and mentally, emotionally, spiritually walk through what your Savior did for you. And don’t jump into ‘part b’ where the stone is rolled away, just yet. We have an Easter book for kids called The Week that Led to Easter, and Kaia mentioned to me twice throughout the day today, “Daddy, we forgot to read the last two pages of this book!” We didn’t. We intentionally left them for tomorrow. Close the book. Let the discord and sadness settle in a little. Feel the weight of it.

And tomorrow, leave your tears, your worries, your burdens behind. Because Jesus has conquered the grave. And we celebrate that fact! He is risen. He is alive. He created a way for us to be forgiven and to live with Him eternally. Praise God!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hiking Uphill

Last year we chose the camp theme of ‘Ascend.’ The story we painted was that our lives are like a hike. Christ is the guide hiking alongside us, and we are aiming to summit the mountain which we clearly see set before us. The ‘surprise ending’ to this story is that once we get to the peak of the mountain, there are many more mountaintops beyond that come into view. Life doesn’t stop there on the mountaintop. We enjoy the view, rest, and pick up our pack to take on the next mountain.

Today is a day of reflection for me. I hiked 30 minutes uphill on the El Refugio property to get to the campsite where I’ll be spending the day. You might not see where this is going right away, but bear with me. I have a love/hate relationship with running. I dread doing it because it’s work and I often think I could be spending that time in a better way. But, I love the results of running and the experience itself is usually very rewarding. I always know it will be worth it— I just don’t really like doing it.

Hiking is basically the same for me. I know it’s good for me, I enjoy it when I’m doing it, and I often question if there’s a better way to spend my time. Actually, if I’m not hiking with a pack, I’ll probably jump at the opportunity if I know there will be great views and it will take a specific amount of time that seems reasonable to me. Here’s where I’ll bring it back. The 30 minute hike I made today was with a pack. To me, that changes the experience. Add in that extra weight and discomfort, and I’d much rather throw everything in the car and off-road it to the same spot and enjoy the view that way. So I think.

The truth is, every time I’ve got a pack on and find myself panting hard and sweating I just can’t wait to push through it. I don’t like it. I want to get to the campsite, the lookout point, or wherever the destination may be as fast as I can. But if it weren’t for those tiring, uphill sections, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now writing this. The hard times are the ones that leave the greatest impression on us and are where we often learn more profoundly. And instead of just trying to push past it, what might happen if in the midst of difficult times like that, we were to ask the simple question, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me through this?”

This year’s theme could almost fit within last year’s. The theme title is, ‘Jump.’ The imagery that goes with it is a backpacker, making the leap across a chasm— from one rock face to another. Picture yourself as the same hiker from the first paragraph. On that hike to the peak of the mountain, you come across a gulley. There’s a river way down at the bottom, and no clear way around. The gap isn’t a mere hop, but it does seem possible to leap over if you gave 110% of your effort. Questions might fill your mind: Is this the right way? Is it necessary to jump over this chasm? Should we turn back? What happens if I don’t make it to the other side? Did our guide lead us here intentionally? And if so, why?

As I was hiking today, another complicating question came to my mind when thinking about this very situation. What if there are two spots where it seems equally ideal to jump? Perhaps one has an easier landing at first, though it’s a steeper climb up after you land. In the other spot, though steeper at first, there are a number of exposed roots which would be great to grab onto and secure yourself after the leap. Both have pros and cons, yet both seem to be good options. And to make things more complex, the one option seems to be the natural extension of the path you’ve been on— whereas the other seems it will take you a different way.

For me, the logical question is to discern which one is better. I think most of us naturally approach things this way. But what I’ve been challenged to ask instead is: Which is the way God wants to lead me? The whole first challenge in this scenario is to work up the courage, faith, and trust to make the leap. But right along with that is: Which is the way I’m meant to go? Which path has God prepared for me?

Perhaps that’s where you stand today. Ready to make the jump, but unsure of where to jump to. Maybe you’re not convinced that this is the right way. Or, maybe you can see the jump off in the distance and are like me— you know it’ll feel good and will be worth it, but would rather do something else to fill your time.

Though I described the 30 minute hike as uphill, the last 5 minutes are actually much more level. I caught my breath. I stopped breathing so hard. I began to reflect. I realized the workout actually made my body feel pretty good. And everything you just read came whirring through my mind during that time. Life isn’t all uphill. It’s also not always level. And we’ll find chasms along the way that will require faith and trust— they might also contain some tough life choices. But with Christ as our guide, we can firmly place our trust in Him. We can trust that we are where we’re meant to be. And, we can have faith that if we really are seeking His leading, the place we jump to will be right. And our guide will be there waiting for us, continuing on alongside us as we walk the winding, but rewarding paths of life.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Used Canvas

The brokenness of our world has struck me especially hard in these past weeks. That of the world and my own brokenness and imperfections. How easy it is to let life progress without stopping and really taking the time to examine your own life? In the face of tragedy or incredibly difficult times, perhaps we are jarred to do so. But what about in the times of monotony? When life is simply moving forward and we are meeting the status quo? I was recently very convinced by this.

In the history of art, there have been periods where it was not uncommon for artists to reuse canvasses. The implication, then, is that there are ‘ghost paintings’ beneath the painting we see on the surface. Perhaps a layer of paint exists between the two paintings, giving the artist a ‘blank canvas’ before painting on top of what once was. 

I always found this concept not only useful, but fascinating. Imagine the number of potential ‘masterpieces' or at least well-known paintings hanging in galleries around the globe that may have other paintings just below the surface. Images and concepts that we’ll never see. To the naked eye, they simply don’t exist.

Today I have been preparing two canvasses. I, myself, have used this technique a number of times and thoroughly enjoy it. I like the fact that the first (or second) painting below gives a layer or base of texture. The canvas is unique and before ever applying the first brush stroke to the repurposed canvas, there is character and personality.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, 
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
I certainly believe these words to be true. The interesting thing to me has always been the fact that we have our past lives, our past failures, our personal history that we can’t erase. There are many analogies that have been used over the years to teach us that we’re completely wiped clean, seen as entirely new in the eyes of Christ when we put on the new life. Only He can erase our past and make us a new creation. I myself have used these word pictures— we are blameless, white as snow, seen as God’s perfect child. And yet we don’t forget our past. Certain events, perhaps, but we are marked and influenced by our past actions. I don’t say this as a discouragement, but to highlight the fact that we are molded and impacted by our experiences— be them good or bad.

But walk with me through the analogy of the reused canvas. First of all, the artist recognizes that the canvas still has worth, potential, and value. A bad painting does not warrant throwing out the canvas. The canvasses I prepared just moments ago had paper and other things glued to the surface. I painstakingly peeled off paper and glue with my fingers for quite some time. I took a tool to the surface to scrape off the parts that were too hard to peel off with my own hands. And the truth is, I didn’t scrape off every raised bump. I left some of it— intentionally. As I mentioned earlier, it will provide a base of texture and depth to the canvas that I actually want. 

After I peeled and scraped everything undesirable off, I took out my white paint. With a thick brush I applied a healthy layer of white paint over every inch of those canvasses. In spite of the fact that I used a thick layer of white paint, you can still see a faint image of what was previously there coming through. I could add another layer of white on top. But I won’t. I’ll start the painting with that faint image slightly showing through. But it will quickly be covered up. I’ll apply several different colors, potentially even layers of paint over the entire surface of the canvas, transforming it into something beautiful. I’ll take advantage of the bumps and glue and raised paint texture from what was previously there and work with it to create something of worth and beauty.

And God does the same with us. He takes care and time to bring healing and restoration. He chips away at the pains of the past. At times it hurts. And at times he has to use more heavy duty tools that we feel more distinctly to rub away the ugliness that was once there. And we don’t forget every poor decision from the past. In fact, we are fortunate to benefit from the good things that took place in our past and we hold on to the lessons learned from the hard times. The canvas of our lives doesn't become completely smooth upon receiving salvation. Our memories aren't wiped clean. God restores the canvas— He restores us. And he cleans us and does see us as his perfect, blameless child. But we’re still formed and influenced by our past and past experiences. And some of those hurts are still visible, even when the new painting has been laid on top of what was previously there. But God works with it. He paints over and uses the bad and ugly to make something beautiful. We may still limp from our past, but there is good thatch come from those things. 

We aren’t discarded. We are imperfect beings that have been declared as having worth, and then reclaimed, restored, and recreated as something beautiful. 

I am imperfect. Our world is certainly broken and it’s hard to believe at times just how much pain and filth exists. It’s humbling for me to take the time and examine my life, only to find that there are habits I’ve let develop and attitudes that have taken root that are less than admirable. And it weighs on me. I’m not proud of my brokenness. Especially because now I have to do something about it. I realize that I need to lift my eyes to the artist who created me and has been working on my canvas for a while and ask Him to re-work some of me. I am no masterpiece and there are parts of my painting that need to be scrubbed out. And together we’ll move forward in this process of sanctification. 

But I take comfort in knowing that He won’t throw me out. He won’t say it’s not fixable. We’ll get there. And I’ll keep trying… and He’ll keep painting. He’s not done with me yet. And though the painting is not yet finished, He sees me as beautiful, having great worth, and He is proud of His creation. 

He is proud of you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


This is the road just outside of our house in the dry season
I'd say that we had lived here in Ecuador for six months before I learned what the word 'polvo' means. Our summer months here can get pretty dry. So, when all of the dirt roads turned from packed, hard dirt to light, dusty powder, I learned the meaning of 'polvo.'


I can't tell you how many times that word has come out of my mouth over the past three months-- and especially during the last two weeks. Our house is currently under construction. It's a very old house, which means that the walls are made of adobe. Adobe is basically dirt. And our house has been filled with it.

Let me step back. God has blessed us with an incredible house to rent here in Calacalí. We love the house, we love how close it is to El Refugio, we love that there's a yard and that several of our Ecuadorian neighbors are El Refugio workers. The only downside to the house is that it only has two bedrooms-- one for us and one for kids. We do plan to have more kids, and it's nice to have space to host family and guests. From very early on we've said that if there were just one or two more bedrooms, we'd love to spend all of years here in Ecuador living in this house. That's how much we love the place.

So we thought we'd bring up the idea to our landlords. To our surprise, they were completely up for making an addition (with two bedrooms!) and were happy to front the money themselves to make it happen. When they found out we'd be in the States from October to December, they decided that would be the ideal time to do the work. They thought three months would be more than enough time.

We just entered month 7 of construction.

The back of our house, where the addition is being built
They're building up, so the nice thing was that they just used ladders and scaffolding to get up there to work. So although we've been living in a construction zone since January, they haven't had to walk through our house to do the work until last week. Last Monday they started busting down the wall to connect the two floors-- and thus began the dust.

So, we relocated our family to a cabin at El Refugio for the week leading up to Easter. But I (Jim) spent the work hours each day at home-- to keep an eye on our things, answer questions, make calls when things were needed, and attempt to keep the place as clean as possible.

We put up a big sheet of plastic in the hallway where the main demo was taking place, hoping to minimize the amount of mess/dust. 

It probably would've been worse had we not hung the plastic. But I vacuumed about a quarter inch of dirt off of the carpet in our bedroom (which we had cleared out, anticipating how bad it would be) after that first day. Every day when they went home I would sweep, vacuum, and dust to try and keep on top of the mess. And each new day, within the first hour, the layer of dust would be back.

In some ways it was quite appropriate that we were displaced during the week leading up to Easter. The workers didn't work on Friday, as Good Friday is a holiday here, so that was our first day back at home. I couldn't help but think of why Christ went to the cross for us. We are sinners. We are filthy. Though at times we think we can contain our sin and keep the 'dust' in a small, sealed space, we can't. It's just like the dusty dirt in our house that we have tried to contain and not allow to seep into every room in our house. But it does. Even when we got a big panel of plastic and duck-taped it on all sides, somehow the dust still has seeped into every inch and corner of the house.

But Christ has made a way for us to be clean. Try as we may to be perfect, we will fail. There is only one who is sinless, perfect, and clean. And He made it possible for us to be wiped clean-- forgiven. 

We're still (at least) a few weeks out from being able to move into the new section of our house. The wood floors upstairs need to be sanded (more dust...), the electrician needs to put in all of the light switches, outlets, and lights, and the floors need to be finished. The end is in sight-- but there's still dust ahead. 

I was reminded of 2 Corinthians chapter 4 as I've been reflecting on all of this. Verses 17 and 18 say:

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

The great thing is that when the construction is over we'll enjoy this wonderful house even more than before. We'll have additional space for our kids (and kids to come!) to play, for guests and family to relax and be comfortable, and to continue hosting those we build relationships with here in Ecuador. It has been a pain, but we look beyond the dust and hammering, knowing there's a purpose. We will have trying times in this life. But Christ has overcome the world. He has cleaned the dust away. He has made us clean. And there is an eternal reward waiting for us. For what is unseen is eternal. Even though at times it's hard to see past the dust.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Oyacachi: Stuck in the Muck.

As the shouts of joy died down, I will never forget the sound of all of the little voices yelling, ‘Noooo!!!’

Thirty five of us pulled into Oyacachi on a bus just two days earlier, with about five of us having visited the town previously. The group I was with is from Camp-Of-The-Woods, a camp located in Speculator, NY. They have a discipleship program (called LIFT) for young adults who want to spend a semester or two to intentionally grow in their relationship with the Lord, be mentored and discipled, experience outdoor adventure and God’s creation, grow in their understanding and experience of missions, all the while serving at the camp. We have hosted this group at El Refugio every year for about the past five years.

Part of their time here is always spent connecting with two of our ministry partnership sites: the towns of Chaco and Oyacachi. On the day mentioned at the start of this blog, we were less than an hour away from leaving Oyacachi to head back to El Refugio. What had happened was that during our three days in Oyacachi an excavator had come through and dug a trench between 5 - 6 feet deep between the road and the parking area where the bus had been sitting. The bus driver had finally gone to turn the bus around, after having sat in the spot for 3 days. When he went to pull out, the two front tires sank deeply into the loose dirt (that had turned to mud from all of the rain) where the trench had been dug. The nose of the bus sat squarely on the ground while the wheels were halfway submerged in mud. It appeared we might be staying a little longer than we had anticipated.

It was lunchtime when all of this happened, and our group had several tables end-to-end located right alongside two rows of other tables end-to-end. The difference was that our tables were normal height, while the other two rows were built for children— very low to the ground. Their tables were filled to the gills with little kids who are part of the Compassion program in Oyacachi. Ranging from three years old up to around ten or so, these were all children we had been playing with ever since we had arrived. The first night we held a service at the church where special music was shared as well as many testimonies. We began all together in the sanctuary, but split up halfway through the service with the second half catering more specifically to each group: young adults in one location and the adults remaining in the sanctuary.

The following two days were structured similarly as we had an hour at the public school each day to play games, share skits, and give simple english lessons, followed by partnering with the Compassion program hosted at the church. Students helped pass out the food to all of the kiddos, and the second day we were given time to teach the children. Following the meal the team put on a skit that connected to a Bible lesson and then all of the children made a craft alongside the team that related to the Bible story. Once the craft was done, everyone ran up to the community volleyball court for games that we had prepared, and many of the kids stuck around getting piggyback rides, laughing, and running around until we had to leave to eat dinner. We held another service the second night, and I practically had to beg a few of the young girls from the town to head home at the end of the night, as all of the team members were going to bed.

One thing I so appreciated about the LIFT team was their intentionality in deciding to make the gospel message central to all of the interactions and opportunities they had. Whether we were at the school, with the Compassion kids, or in an evening service, every chunk of time we spent with members of the community a clearly thought-through presentation of the gospel was plainly laid out. I should know, as I translated half of the testimonies, a sermon, and multiple drama presentations.

The Church in Oyacachi
In the short spurts of 'free time' that we had, I visited with the Pastor of the church and other members of the congregation. I even had a chance to ask a few questions and videotape the Pastor and another member of the community on our final day. When I asked the Pastor about the benefits he saw of teams like ours coming to do the types of things we had done, he enthusiastically responded by saying how clear it was to see the impact. He mentioned that when groups like ours come in we have access to a much wider base of individuals in the community. He even went so far as to say that those on the fringes of society are willing to come out and interact with us, and they're often harder for the church to draw in. It was obvious how dearly the children loved being with us, and he ended by pointing out the fact that when people from a different walk of life and place in this world come to visit, it opens up opportunities simply because locals have an interest in finding out who these people are and what their experiences are like.

We did finally get the bus out of the mud. Though the excavator tried pulling it out with a metal cable, we watched it snap twice and finally Rick jumped into action. He called us all outside and half of the team got into the back end of the bus while the rest of us pushed as once again the excavator pulled using the metal cable. It heaved, heaved, and finally lurched forward out of the muck! We all went back inside to finish lunch, and just a minute or two later heard the bus get ready to drive fully across the trench. As it plunged forward, it cleared the muck fully without getting stuck and came to a halt on the other side of the trench. All of the LIFT students cheered! And as their cheers died down, there were just as many of the Compassion children yelling, 'NNoooooooo!!' knowing that this meant we were, in fact, leaving. And it struck me.

Although we weren't even there for three full days, a connection had been made. Those kids loved being with the team, and simply didn't want us to go. I have never in my life experienced such a long goodbye as I did that day. Kids running, spinning, gifts being given, hugs everywhere, pictures being taken-- and neither side could easily say goodbye. Guillermo had found me at every turn throughout those three days and I was happy to be able to at least give him our family's prayer card and truthfully tell him that we as a family would be back again to visit in the coming months. Even still, that didn't make it easier.

As I reflect on those days today, a verse from John comes to my mind. In John 13:35 it says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” There was no shortage of love during those days in Oyacachi. And it wasn't simply all action/service-- there was a healthy helping of truth given with it. And as the team stopped at an overlook on the way out of town to look back, pray over the town, and sing a blessing upon it, I was reminded of what a beautiful picture it is to be in the family of God, carrying each others' burdens, lifting one another up in prayer, and being willing to give all of yourself through love in the name of Christ. Needless to say, it was a wonderful three days.

The town of Oyacachi, nestled in the valley of the neighboring mountains

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Does Love Demand?

As I took in the stares of about 30 onlookers and felt their hatred towards me, I believe that I experienced a glimpse of the way our Heavenly Father sees us in our brokenness and sin.

It hasn't been a fear of mine, per se, but I've really wanted to avoid becoming known as or referred to as the 'missionaries with all of the car problems.' But it might be time to lay that down and let it be what it's going to be. The irony is that we've really been the victims every time. The first time there was perhaps a level of misjudgment or naïveté after the initial breakdown of the car-- but the last instance and this one were simply outside of our control. Perhaps that's why I don't want to have this 'car trouble' reputation.

 I digress. Our car is still in the shop. On Saturday night we hosted a dinner for our latin american interns along with another missionary family. The dinner took place at their house. When it was time to go home, we were given the opportunity to drive their car back to our house in place of walking through town late at night. We would return their car to them at church in the morning. 

It rained after church. So, we got lunch, ran the errands we needed to, and the plan was to drop off Suzy and the kids at our house, bring the car back to them, and walk home after returning the car. 

I should mention that drunkennes is a problem in our town. I had commented to Suzy several times that morning how I had never seen so many people so drunk, wandering around and congregating in the streets of our town. We were a distance of about two blocks from our house when there was an impasse in the road. Several cars parked on the right side of the road, 2-3 cars parked on the left, and about 15 people clearly inebriated huddled right in the middle of the road. I give two short beeps of the horn, as is customary here, and the group started moving off to the side of the road, hugging the parked cars. I crawled forward, driving between a mile and two miles per hour.

Our neighborhood, where the incident took place
And then we heard the noise. What noise, you ask? Well, a drunken individual who owned one of one of the parked cars on the right side of the road decided to get into his car. As we drove by. He threw his door open, directly into the side of our friends' car as we drove by. When it made contact, his car lurched forward about a foot or so and rolled onto the foot/ankle of one of the inebriated women that was hugging his car.

I was greeted by many, many drunk individuals saying things like, "Nothing happened," "be on your way," "Keep going." I should mention that this was a brand new car our friends had bought just about a year ago. It's in pristine condition. Also, the husband of the family was actually in the US, as his grandmother had passed away just days before. After calling the wife of the family, her/their desire was that we take pictures of both vehicles and write down names, phone numbers, and license plate numbers. 

Let's return to where I started: the angry, drunken mob. After getting Suzy and the kids home, calling a couple of our Ecuadorian co-workers, and getting the police involved, tensions continued to rise and opinions on whose fault it was became more and more engrained. That, and if you've ever interacted with very drunk people, they're not the most reasonable to deal with. The owner of the other car took a running start with fists flying at me numerous times, every time getting restrained by the police. Many drunken rants, aggressive fingers being pointed, and very offensive accusations as well as comments about skin color were thrown about, willy nilly. I chose the very few words I used carefully, kept incredibly calm, and tried to maintain a controlled, neutral demeanor.

The panel that was damaged on our friends car will probably cost a few hundred dollars to replace at their dealership. If we take it to a local place, it could potentially be repaired for $100 or less. So that was the suggestion-- they pay $100 and we all walk away. Someone suggested a 50/50 split, meaning they contribute $50 and we all walk away. They were unwilling to try and gather this amount, saying that they had mouths to feed and didn't have $50 to their name-- which could have been true. I should mention that here in Ecuador it is customary and even expected for the parties involved to bring things to an agreement without getting insurance involved. With police present, they even stress and push for money to be exchanged on the scene for damages incurred rather than going to court or taking things to insurance.

As I looked at my neighborhood, all gathered around, drunk, I couldn't help but think of all of these individuals and this being where we live. These were our neighbors. Their relatives. Was my reputation worth the $50 (or less) that I would receive as compensation? The police sided with me, and wanted to help reach an amicable agreement, or we'd all go to court in a month-- incurring lawyer fees, fines, and more. I reached a moment of clarity where I really feel God was prompting me to do what I did. So I tried as hard as I could to get everyone to quiet down in order to speak and address everyone.

Here's more or less what I said: I've lived here for almost three years. We live in this neighborhood. I work just around the corner at El Refugio. I got the police involved because I am not the judge, and we needed a chance for both parties to present our stories and let the law act as  the judge. In my opinion, I wasn't at fault. I was simply trying to bring my family home from church. And perhaps you should be willing to admit that some of this, or all of this was, in fact, your fault. Regardless of that, here is my decision. I am a Christian. Today I am choosing to extend grace to you. I am not going to make you pay for the damages to this car. We will cover the cost of the repairs, though this doesn't seem just to me. For me, it's not worth making enemies. You are my neighbors. I want to live in peace with you and maintain a good reputation... 

At which point, the now 40 individuals gathered essentially cut me off, began embracing each other, me, shaking my hand, cheering, etc. He didn't deserve that grace. In fact, when he had to present his car registration and papers to the police, his car wasn't even insured, up-to-date, or in legal standings. They threatened to take him to the police station and lock him up several times.

Christ is love. He forgives us and extends us grace when we certainly don't deserve it. There was a whole lot involved in this terribly ugly afternoon-- and perhaps some of you reading this will think that I made the wrong decision. And perhaps I did. But Christ came to earth and extended his love to us. And sometimes choosing the loving response, even if undeserved, is best. 

I am going to pursue relationships with the individuals that were involved in this incident. I know that God was involved in all of this. And though part of me wishes it simply hadn't happened, I know that God is in the midst of all of this and that He will redeem the situation to draw people to him.

So, maybe we'll never shake the reputation of being the 'missionaries with all of the car problems.' But if people can receive the love of Christ and come into a relationship with Him through events like this, a less-than-ideal reputation is something I can deal with.