Sharks in the Pool

The promise of adventure drew me to the water that night.   I loved swimming and mom and dad never let me swim at night…especially without them! That night would be my chance to have some real fun! Still, a little voice inside pleaded, “No! It’s not safe. ” I listened for a moment and then pushed it away, determined to take advantage of a rare opportunity. But like all who venture into the exhilaration of the darkness, I had to come face to face with my fears.

When the gate slammed shut behind me, metal clanging and clicking into the locked position, I felt the ambivalence of fear and excitement.  I moved my toes out of my jelly shoes and onto the cold tile edge and gazed into the memorizing glow of the deep blue. The yellow hue of the street lamps and the deeper color of the pool in the shade of night was excitingly new but I realized how different the familiar pool looked without the piercing rays of sunshine revealing everything within it. Tonight, it looked… eerie. Scary.

A familiar voice behind me asked, “Well? Are you going in or not?”

“I just want to get my feet wet first,” I lied, pasting on my fake fearless-smile.  So I stepped down into the cool water, grasping the icy steel pole for assurance and aware of the chill that ran up my spine. I paused to watch the deep end suspiciously. The shadows under the surface seemed too dark. Even while squinting, my eyes could not focus. The dim light was washed in waves before it could show me what was really under the water’s surface.

The voice behind me laughed. “You sure are taking a long time. What are you scared of?” Well, for one, there’s Jaws! irrational-fear As I looked into the deep end I thought, surely a shark could fit in here? Maybe even come through those dark, creepy, giant drains?

“Well?” the voice urged. “You wanted to come out here. Jump in!”  He was right. I did say yes when he asked. And since he was the whole reason I was allowed to come, I felt obligated to show my gratitude by pressing on. So I took another step down into the water, sending more ripples into the layers of blue and gray around me.

With my eyes fixed on the deep end, I waited. Was that a gray fin I just saw under water? The drums of the Jaws theme matched the beating of my heart and I was no longer sure I was safe. The thrill of the unknown cover of night wore off and I longed for the warmth of the day. But just when I thought it was time to run home, the voice behind me said, “You can’t chicken now. Keep going!”

So I took another step, waist deep and listened to the silence of night. I was used to the loudness of the pool: people laughing, other kids screaming, splashing and music. Now, it was way past my bedtime and silent everywhere. I could only hear the sound of the water swishing lightly in and out of the drain and oddly, I felt alone.

“Well?” He urged again. I looked at him behind me, in the warm, well lit, shallow end.   He seemed to want what I wanted: an adventure. He was here to help me and I didn’t want to disappoint him. I decided to trust him with my fears by asking the question, “Can sharks get in the pool?”

I knew it sounded stupid as soon as I said it. Yet he chuckled reassuringly and consoled, “No. It’s okay. Jaws can’t possibly fit in here! Don’t worry. You don’t’ have to if you don’t want to. It’s always safe over here on my end.” He motioned to the area next to him.

How silly I felt. Silly, scared little girl! I looked back into the dancing shadows of water…fixed on the round yellow light that marked the deepest, farthest end of the pool.   Just go for it, I thought. Claim your adventure and jump in! I let my feet leave the step and started to swim out, keeping an eye on my feet beneath.   But the more I moved, the more the shadows seemed to take on a life of their own and I become convinced I was no longer alone under cloak of darkness.   The thrill of the adventure died under the grip of fear and I needed refuge.

I swam quickly out and turned to the safety of the shallows, where the light seemed a bit brighter and the water a little warmer. But, to my dismay, safety was the mirage for the true danger of the shark was waiting in the shallow end all along. And I was his silly little prey.

Signed,

9 year old girl

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Love’s Miracles: The Haiti Series, Part FOUR

Easter celebrations have just recently ended. For my home church thousands came forward to make decisions to follow Jesus Christ. I found myself overwhelmed with joy and tears as hundreds came forward and wondered why it is so emotional for me. I think it’s because of what happened in Haiti. In Part three of the Love Series, https://godslovetransforms.com/2015/04/16/loves-miracles-the-haiti-series-part-three/?preview=true&preview_id=363&preview_nonce=c061bfc65c I talked about gathering outside a small school to spend time with and pray over children. I haven’t yet mentioned a young man who was, quite frankly, getting on my last nerve. I first encountered him inside the classroom. He was clearly the oldest and largest in the entire school …somewhere between 15 and 17 maybe? He sat in the back of our class, arms folded, glaring. And when we started to make animal balloons, he didn’t seem so thrilled…until the younger boys started enjoying themselves. Then, he became “interested” enough to mess with their cool hats and pop a leg on the giraffe just for fun.

It’s safe to say, I took an immediate disliking to him.

His tyranny continued while we were outside. He avoided the center of the group at all times, always lingering and prowling around the edges. If a younger kid ventured toward the outer boarders, there he was, waiting to pounce and steal their balloons. I remember looking up at one point and he was covered head to toe in balloons that he had taken. He was popping some, reworking others and proudly wearing some of his new re-designs.

Bully, I thought. I think I even physically sneered.

When the moment came to invite the group of children to ask us for prayer, no one made a peep. The silence was deafening. The pastor gave a 2nd invitation. Again, silence.

It was starting to get awkward and I was starting to get disappointed. I scanned the faces of the kids looking for signs of openness and praying for God to direct us. That’s when our eyes locked: the teenage bully was the only one staring back at me with his arms crossed, his head hung and his leg up on the wall behind him. I scoffed but that’s when the little voice in my spirit said, “Him.”

No way! I thought and my eyes scanned the audience of kids again. Anybody else! They landed on the teen bully again and again I heard, “Him.”

A tantrum broke out in my head: it consisted of me giving God all the reasons this balloon-stealing-rebel was CLEARLY not receptive to God or anything good! There’s no WAY I’m hearing this right, I thought.

“Who is being the rebel right now? You or him? And what if I’m right and you’re wrong?” Those questions got my attention and I decided I would take the risk of being wrong.

I stepped forward and fixed my eyes on teenager in the back.  I asked the translator to call him out and tell him that I felt like God was telling me to ask him specifically what he wanted prayer for. Judging by his posture, I assumed he would shrug it off, shake his head and say, “nothing.” Instead, the young boy looked up at the translator and then at me with wide eyes and said, “Yes. I do want prayer. I think I would like to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

273030_10151634976388788_903298006_oI don’t know who was more shocked: me or the little boys he had taken the balloons from! Then conviction hit my hard heart and brought me to tears.   The pastor called the boy forward and embraced him.   The men led him through a prayer of belief and asking God to be Lord of his life and as I watched, I saw a softness in his face that was there all along. I saw a precious, loved child who was eager for all that was good. I saw an open heart, a destiny as a spiritual leader and a warrior for the Kingdom of God.

This same young man…whom I had judged so harshly was the very same young man that would be called leader in the Kingdom. He was soooooo important to God and I had totally missed it.  After his declaration, the rest of the group was eager to ask for prayer and many got released and healed as a result.

That night, I wept. His name was Will. A princely name, I thought. I repented for seeing him so poorly and for not having the loving eyes of Christ, who searches the heart and not the outward appearances. How marvelous and worthy of rejoicing is the witnessing of the greatest miracle of them all: the love and grace of God who leads us into redemption and salvation.

Yes…the greatest miracle of all…

“For God soooo loved….” –John 3:16

Love’s Miracles: The Haiti Series, Part THREE

Do you ever lay awake at night asking life’s deepest questions? What’s our purpose? Where do we come from? Is death final? Are we more than flesh and bone? What is truly real?

For many who do ask, the answers will typically divide us into two groups: those who believe in God and/or life after death (aka the “spiritual” or “religious”) and those who do not (aka the “logical” and “practical” realists). But I have found a third group: those of us who say with our mouths, “Yes, we believe in life after death…” but live and think like realists, ignoring any sense of a spiritual realm and basing interaction in the world only on what we see and feel. I was one of them.

Like many, I say that I believe in the Bible and what it says. I’m supposed to believe in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

If I believe as I say I believe, then the “spiritual and heavenly realms” should be a reality to me. But they were not. Enter Arche in Haiti: a place, a time and a trip that would challenge and transform what I truly believe.

We traveled almost 2 hours by bus to a remote Christian school, warned that we were going to a rural area. In Haiti, the more rural an area, the more “spiritual” they get. We were told to be aware we might get resistance from voodoo priests and witchdoctors who oversaw the village. (note: It is common for the average Haitian to believe in God and still practice voodoo).

After some teaching in the school, we moved outside where we realized we would quickly have to improvise with activities to spend more time with the kids. So we played duck duck goose, Simon says, read story books and sang songs while the size of our crowd tripled as others from the village (adults included) came to see what we were doing.  The demand for our time did not cease while our games and resources did. At one point, the pastor leaned over to me and asked if I had any other ideas. I panicked when my mind went blank but then a single thought entered.

“Can we offer to pray for them?” I asked. Pastor Brian smiled and nodded and had the translator ask the children for prayer requests. (Some of this story was already shared in part two: https://godslovetransforms.com/2013/07/19/loves-miracles-the-haiti-series-part-two/

Among children was a 12 year old girl who shyly giggled and hid her face while raising her hand. When we called on her, she embarrassingly put her hands down and to her side and I wondered if she was just doing it for attention or showing off for her friends. Honestly, I didn’t think her request would be a genuine one. I was wrong. What she asked for stunned me.

“I would like more of Jesus.”

I had to have the translator clarify the question. What does she mean “more”? Did that mean she knew him already? She nodded yes. Did she believe Jesus was the Son of God, the one true way to heaven? She nodded. She believed in Him and wanted…MORE? She nodded and smiled shyly.  So, our team started to pray for this adorable, yet strange request for “more” of Jesus.  1010892_10151629987278788_2045383595_nAt one point, we had her repeat statements of truth such as:

I am a daughter of God.

I am beautiful.

I am loved.

I am special.

She never got those final words out because to the surprise of us all, that young girl went limp and fell forward. The team reached out to bear her weight and help her to ground where she immediately did something I had never witnessed; something super “weird.”

She started to writhe, her eyes rolled in the back of her head and her hands started to fly around. It almost looked like a seizure and yet the nurse on our team confirmed it was not. Her back arched and slammed down and she made noises/sounds with her mouth. Someone commanded that no harm come to her and commanded her body to be at peace. She stilled but her eyes raced like she was watching a frenzy of activity in some invisible place. And then, as quickly as it started, her eyes focused on something… or someone we could not see. First, awe touched her face. Then recognition. And then innocent tears of gratitude. She started to weep and a look came across her face that I can only describe as amazed. The silence among us confirmed that something significant just happened: something beyond us; something unexplainable.

When she finally seemed like she was “back”, the young girl looked spent of all energy. 971887_10201277681730898_528642533_nShe could barely hold up her head and simply wanted to rest. We asked her what happened and her first response was “Beautiful.” Thinking she misunderstood, we asked again. She said, “so beautiful and I’m here. I am here.” A little tear ran down her face and I could sense no guile, drama or reason why any of what just happened was something she faked.   I couldn’t help but set aside the “weirdness” and want a glimpse into what this little girl had just seen and experienced. I was convinced it was spiritual and divine.

We later learned that little girl was the daughter of the only voodoo priest left in the village. When we got back on the bus, the team roared to life with questions! So many of us had been “believers” for years and never seen anything like that before.

For the realists and skeptics, this will be just a story someone made up to reinforce a theory of life after death. They would say, “Naw. Death is final. There’s life and then you die and that’s it.” For the spiritual, this may be confirming or frightening, depending on what you truly believe. For me… it was faith-changing.

Jesus often talked about “blindness.” In Matthew 13:13, He said, “This is why I speak in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Like the little girl in Haiti, Jesus saw into realms invisible to us and yet surrounding us, influencing us and very much a part of our present and eternal life. He often prayed, “Have ears to HEAR and eyes to SEE” because He understood that spiritual blindness is our greatest threat to a full and eternal life.

I was someone who declared with my mouth but didn’t really believe. Only by the grace of God did He open my eyes to the unseen. Thanks to the faith of a young 12 year old girl, I whole-heartedly believe that the spiritual is not only real, it’s  MORE real than what we perceive as real (i.e. the here and now). Instead of creating anxiety, this new revelation has brought a sense of peace. I have peace that if God is faithful to that little girl and graceful enough to open my unbelieving eyes…then surely, He is loving and patient enough to teach this child more about things invisible but ever-so-important things. Surely…He will bring more understanding of His person, His plan and His purpose. Surely, He has brought more assurance of the heavenly One and the heavenly realm. As I breath, I now believe in the “Beautiful” One that girl saw that day. And like her, I now yearn for more of Jesus: more sight to see and know Him now until that glorious day all the layers of this current reality are peeled away and we get to see Him face to face.

May we all have the innocent prayers of a child, the love of the Father who answers and the freedom of open eyes to see beyond the limitations of the flesh and blood into our eternal purpose.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Love’s Miracles: The Haiti Series, Part TWO

Raise your hand if your parents taught you never to talk to strangers. I know parents intend to keep us safe but sometimes I wonder what kind of adults it made us?  In protecting us from the bad, did they also teach us to ignore the good?

I grew up SHY. I was rarely, if ever, the first to talk to anyone.  Imagine my reluctance when I become a believer and realized that we are called to talk to strangers, go to new places, step out of our comfort zone and be the ones to REACH OUT.   Now, “never talk to strangers” seems counterproductive.   As a kid, “never talk to strangers” was to keep my photograph off of the milk carton but these days I ask, “What opportunities am I MISSING?”

Even though I’m learning to reach out more, it is STILL a difficult principal to practice.  There is an aggressive internal argument every time the opportunity presents itself! And nothing presents you with more opportunities to have that argument like going to a foreign country on a mission trip.

In foreign lands, EVERYBODY and everything is strange (no offense strangers!).  Every sight, sound, smell and interaction is out of place.   In Haiti…nothing was familiar.  Street signs were unreadable. The smell of burning trash filled the city air. The language was beautiful but I couldn’t understand a thing. The weather was sticky and the people…well…they looked at US like WE were the strangers! Some people were glad to see us because we represented opportunity.  Some people were not so glad to see us because we represented exploitation.  Some were neutral.  And some just didn’t care. Like the kids.  The first ones to break the barrier of awkwardness were always the kids. I guess their moms didn’t teach them NOT to talk to strangers. Lol

Some hovered with a leery eye nearby while others waltzed right up to us with a smile and took our hand.  “My missionary,” they said with their eyes as they beamed up at us.  Soon, we were surrounded by an army of tiny people, all fighting to be near us, touching us, playing with our hair, begging to be held and soaking up as much attention as they could (which seems endless)!

Those kids!  In minutes, strangers they were NO MORE: they became family, loved ones, little sisters and brothers and it baffles you how much you could love someone you just met.  These little strangers quickly became…familiar.  I’ll never forget those brown innocent eyes peering into mine as they reached up for my hand and take hold of my heart.  I was powerless to resist them!

It dawns on me that this is how God feels about us.  In Jesus we are innocent and we are children of God.  How irresistible are we to Him?!  It is no wonder Jesus pointed to the kids and said the Kingdom of God was like these (Matt 18:3, Luke 18:16).  They cross all language and cultural barriers and demonstrate the simplicity of faith by simply wanting to be near you.  They are unconditional and reckless in their ability to love and trust and they break down everything negative with their grateful smiles and belly laughs.

The kids were the first to reach out unabashed and deem the strange new people “safe.” So it should have come to no surprise when after giving an entire church an invitation to prayer, the kids came up first.  But it did surprise me.  One little boy had courage like I’ve never seen before. After asking if anyone wanted prayer, he bravely stood up and asked for healing because he was “leaking.”  The entire crowd of kids surrounding him laughed and snickered but did he waiver? NO! He kept his eyes forward, stood up a little taller and proceeded to ask for prayer.  And God touched Him because I believe God just couldn’t resist a faith like that!

Even more surprising to me was when we asked children what we could pray for them.  The majority smiled confidently and said, “Jezi!” (JESUS!). Through the interpreter we learned they wanted to know Jesus and many, who already knew Him, wanted more of Him.

—–I just need to pause for a second here and point out that my mouth was usually GAPPING open at these requests.  These are kids. KIDS!  Aren’t they supposed to be less wise than adults? They could have asked for anything…things, food, answers to provision and needs that we knew they needed. But no…they asked for the ONE THING that is eternal and everlasting.  Now THAT’S WISDOM!!!! It was very humbling to realize these little 7 and 8 year olds seemed to see more and know more about what mattered than the adults (including me)!

Oh, to be like these!  I prayed with more kids in Haiti to meet and know Jesus than adults.  These were the most amazing and miraculous moments to me: even next to the actual miracles we witnessed.  Nothing brought me more joy or fulfillment than praying with children to know God.

Once the children created the bridge, the adults followed and we were able to minister to the needs of many.   I soon become keenly aware of the need to pay attention to the “strangers” around me and see them as opportunities to bless them or learn from them.   And the more my eyes were opened, the more opportunities seemed to appear!  What would I have missed if the kids didn’t show me the way?!  Thanks to the children of Haiti, I see new opportunities in strange places with strange people in a whole new light.  I still have that internal battle to be the first to reach out…but it’s getting easier and easier each time I do it.

Strangers are hidden opportunities for great encounters, healings, new relationships and a chance to expand the Kingdom.  All I know is this: “the Kingdom of God is likened unto these [children]” and I want to be like “these!”    Thank you to all the beautiful young ones of Haiti for helping this believer love like a child!

-Angela

Love’s Miracles: The Haiti Series, PART ONE

 

Do you ever wonder if an ordinary, everyday person can make a difference in the world? Are you an “ordinary, everyday person”?  I know I am. And I know a lot of people who feel like ordinary people are unlikely to make a huge impact on history.  We are not the Michael Jordan’s of the sports world, the Oprah Winfrey’s of the television world, the President of the political world or the genius of the scientific world.  And when we compare ourselves to these giant talents (which, let’s face it, we all do), we  feel ordinary and un-special. 

In my opinion, nothing accentuates the feeling of “un-special” more than being a short term “missionary” in a one of the poorest countries in the world.  Let me explain.

Whether its food, medical aid, practical information or spiritual guidance, a missionary’s primary goal is to bring HOPE in whatever form they can.  But every missionary has a FIRST: first trip, first country, and first time seeing the world beyond their familiar borders. And that “first trip” is typically difficult to swallow as the message of hope seems to crumble under the unending onslaught of sickness, poverty, hunger and death.

Such was my experience the first time I visited Haiti in 2000. We spent a large amount of time in a medical clinic in the middle of the country. With no official medical aid provided to them, people would walk for hours and sometimes days to receive care. At first, I was overjoyed with the work the missionaries were doing. They were a light in the darkness. But the longer I stayed, the more I saw an endless need. Sick…sick people having to walk in the condition they were in to receive basic medical aid started to rattle me.  And those who seemed to suffer the most were the kids.

Nothing shakes you to the core like coming face to face with ill or dying babies. Nothing. And what I witnessed in Haiti in 2000 left me feeling grieved.  Hunger was endless. Sickness was endless. There were so many that I quickly realized the need outnumbered the resources to help them.  No matter how much you gave away…no matter how much you did…there were always more you couldn’t help. I left Haiti in 2000 feeling “un-special.”   Surely, I had it wrong. I wasn’t a carrier of hope…I didn’t have enough money, enough skills, enough drive…enough of anything to give to make a dent of a difference in the world of Haiti.

 So what then, I wondered, was the purpose of a mission trip if we weren’t going to make a difference? I concluded that I was the focus of the trip…not the people of Haiti. I concluded that a short term mission trip had one purpose: to expand our own world view and challenge us to live differently.  After all, what difference did my presence really make in such a short time? What hope could I really provide these people?

Thirteen years later, I met a Haitian man who would change my rookie beliefs. Meet Pastor Rene Joseph. pastor rene He and his wife have been in ministry in Haiti for many, many years and regularly open their home and play host to visiting missionaries.  It didn’t take us long to figure out that he was well known in Haiti, very influential in political areas and doing a WHOLE lot of work for the benefit of the country.   I had one nagging question I just HAD to ask him.  So, on our 2nd night in Haiti, I asked Pastor Rene to share his story. He laughed a deep, hearty laugh…his eyes glazed as he seemed to go to another point in time and when he realized an eager audience was waiting, he gently began his story in the coolest accent EVER.

Rene was dedicated to become a voodoo priest at a very young age. Right before his official dedication, missionaries came to their remote village and gave the children candy. Pastor Rene describes the day vividly with clear emotion as he reflected on the emotions he felt by receiving a single piece of candy.  Someone had given him a gift…his first. No one had ever given him anything. Elation crossed his face as he described that wonderful piece of candy and then, seriousness as he explained that something inside him shifted as a result of that very small gift.  He wanted to know what message these missionaries carried.  What would compel them to come to some remote place and show such a gesture of kindness to strangers?

He never allowed himself to be dedicated as a voodoo priest and gave his life to Jesus. He has since planted over 40 churches in Haiti and a year after the 2010 earthquake, he hosted a massive crusade in front of the capital building and has seen over 1million Haitians give their life to Christ. He is a crucial part of the changing spiritual climate in Haiti…and all, he says, “…because of one little piece of candy.”

All I could think about was the lady who gave a little Haitian boy a piece of candy.  She had no words to give him. She didn’t teach him a skill. She didn’t even stay to ask his name or play with him. She didn’t put on a show or provide a massive donation. She had nothing special to bring…just herself and ONE, SMALL piece of candy. She was “un-special”…like me. Like you. And yet…she was the most SPECIAL person to one little boy who would grow to influence an entire nation.

Did she go home feeling hopeless like I once did? Will she ever know this side of heaven, the impact in the world she made with one, tiny gesture? Do you still wonder if an ordinary, everyday person can make a difference in the world?

I don’t. Because I now believe whole-heartedly, that just a single moment can change everything.   I believe the smallest act, be it a hug, a smile or a piece of candy from an “ordinary” person is really an EXTRAODRINARY event waiting to bloom.

Pastor Rene’s story shifted something in our hearts that night. We now had an unwavering hope and purpose, confident that the tiniest action of love from one person to another, could make a world of difference and bring life-giving hope to many.

And boy….did it make a world of a difference!

(To be continued. Part Two of the Haiti Series to come soon.)