Seeing hope and beauty in a difficult place …


“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV).

What is beauty? Is beauty something individualized and classified as to certain people? Is it something for the lucky in the genetic pool of features and characteristic who have exquisite features and captivating looks? Is this natural beauty just something that the luck of the draw doles out? Or is beauty something you can buy in product form of which by the application of make-up, creams and color accents and agents will render the ordinary face extraordinary? What is it about beauty that fashion groups and companies try to determine and dictate to others by their subjective definitions of certain features what beauty is? Is beauty, a body shape or size or a certain striking facial feature? Is beauty attained by the endless offerings of new styles in clothes and dress and thus available for purchase?

Is not beauty more than the physical features or factors of a person? Surely beauty is more than something purchased and applied to the surface of the skin? Surely beauty is not the clothes draped or stretched across and around the body, regardless of the shape or size of the person?

Even in a broader sense of beauty … there are natural flowers, plants and trees that are attractive to the eyes with their color and unique features that we would speak of as beautiful. There are panoramic vistas that are considered beautiful. There is architecture whether in design and structure that appeals to the senses and is defined as beautiful. In addition, most artwork and photography exists as attempts to capture and gift us with the artist’s interpretations of beauty.

Yet, however beauty is defined or presented, there are moments in our lives when we encounter rare and extraordinary beauty where we least expect it. It happened to me in one of the rankest and discouraging places I have ever visited in my lifetime. At the Guatemala City Dump Community, where the paths are filthy, gutted and broken down of life and promise, I met two women who were radiant, hopeful and full of life and promise. They are women whose beauty was shining like a light in the darkest of places. In a place where the stench of discarded, used up waste and accumulating refuse … staggers and penetrates every sense of your being. Yet, here in this repulsive and ugly place, these beautiful women live expectant in the hope of their faith. Here in this offending place of nauseating smells; the pleasantness of everything about them brings forth the sweetness of the very presence of Christ in whom they trust absolutely. Here, in this place of despair, they live out their days in the hope of their faith.

These beautiful women bonded together as sisters, live with their families in a 12 x 18 foot space they are proud to call their home. This tiny home built from discarded boards and covered with salvaged tin was splashed with color and decorated with things they have collected along the way. They work in the dump collecting things to be sold or recycled. To add their lot in life, these sisters have lost their husbands to the violence that comes with life on the edge of life. Death comes on the edge of life where violence often rails against the poor and disadvantaged because force and evil are tempting as pathways for change. Their husbands drifted away from God even as the wives clung and still cling to the mercies and provisions of God. I have seldom seen any greater faith and trust in anyone in my life and seldom sensed any greater joy than the fruit of the Spirit of God in their lives life lived out here in this dreadful place as women of beauty in the middle of great hopelessness.

Their beauty is not something … they apply after buying some beauty product for they have no money to buy anything extra. Their beauty is not just something that was naturally gifted to them in their features that they vainly exhibit. No, their beauty flows out as something more. Even as they smile and reach out to others … there is something so rare and powerful in the trueness of their essence. Their beauty is far deeper and far more substantial. It has been fashioned and molded by the greatest sculptor of all time, their Lord and Savior. All the pain, misery, poverty and difficulty that life has doled out to them and everything that has come against them has not made them bitter, hostile or mean spirited. Instead all the awfulness thrown against them has been reclaimed and remade as they have trusted in their Savior and given their days over to the hand of God. He has remade these women beautiful in every way.

If beauty somehow is to come from ashes, then something has to be burned upped. Something has to have been offered up to the qualities of the heat and flame as to change the composition of the substance. So then what has been burned away in the heat of pain and suffering, affliction and circumstance while leaving the pureness of gold to remain in the place where the fire burned off the dross?

These precious women of faith have given themselves up to the One who refines in the fire. They have released all the pain and suffering, affliction and circumstance to be refined as precious as the finest gold. They surrender their days to their Lord and all they contain. They give up all that would pull them away from the workmanship of their loving Father. They trust Him completely, totally and in every way. Their contentment while living in this awful place is found in Him alone. Their joy is in Him regardless of their lot in life and their beauty is something that God has fashioned by His love.

It is rare to see such trusting faith. I have seldom seen any greater faith and trust then in these special women of true beauty. I have rarely sensed any greater joy as the true and beautiful fruit of the Spirit of God in a life lived out than is evident in these women. They possess great beauty in the middle of great hopelessness. Their beauty comes from the living grace of a loving Father and God, who in the ashes in our lives creates true beauty. Only He can take what would be awful, terrible, rank and filthy can bring beauty. Beauty comes from the Savior who came to redeem the world and only He can make beauty from the ashes of our lives.  He alone can make a person truly beautiful as He creates and fashions us from the inside out as to shine with His workmanship. I will be forever etched by in my faith; by these beautiful women whose trusting faith in a Living God made then alive in Him while living in one of the worst places, I have seen with my eyes on this earth.

Praise, be to God, who loves us all with a great and extravagant love. Amen.

A faithful servant of God …


“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence …” (1 John 3:17-19, NIV)

The dust blows and twists around your face as you stand on a rutted dirt road and no matter which direction you turn, it stings the eyes. The first smells you sense, seem both sweet and nauseating at the same time. As you take a deeper breath, something more sinister pushes violently against your lungs as they desire better air. Slowly your mind recognizes the repulsive smells of accumulating, lingering and burning refuse in massive amounts.

As you gaze first in one direction and then in another, all you see are people working midst piles of organized and separated reclaimed trash. There are piles of plastic, piles of clothing and cloth, piles of salvaged aluminum, stacks of metal and mountains of unrecognizable stuff. Midst all these accumulations, you notice trucks of every shape and size bringing more and more to this overflowing place of the discarded and reclaimed. Some new trucks and some older trucks all overloaded with waste of every kind. There are sewage trucks and open-backed trucks, covered trucks and compacting trucks, shining trucks and dirty trucks; all delivering more or driving away to gather more. Then there are the trucks of poor. These trucks are smaller and battered beyond description. They are moving the reclaimed and recyclable trash to the buyers to began the process all over again. There will be no new trucks for these purveyors of gathering and selling; only more loads to eke out enough money to buy meager amounts of beans and rice for their family.

Next you notice the endless parade of people. There are people laboring under bags ten times their size and people barely able to walk. In every direction people are moving, weaving and crossing the road, going somewhere. Men and women going to the dump to work for twelve hours or so. They go to rummage and claim enough stuff to put together a dollar’s worth of recyclable goods for their efforts. People with families, women with babies, men maimed by the busyness of the trucks, children dressed for school and children hardly dressed with ragged shirts and tattered over-sized or undersized shoes. Finally along the edges of the broken down shacks are the addicted men, who have rummaged through the garbage to find bottles of liquor to drain of its last ounces or cans of glue and solvents hoping to stay high as if to rise above the squalor of this place. This place is the Guatemala City dump and it is one of the largest dumps in the world.

Yet here in this place of the dirt, filth, cast-offs and hopelessness; smiles persist on the faces of the children and great charity is seen in the efforts of churches, leaders and projects of various kinds and functions. These humans who offer up their energy, heart and time might seem like angels alongside the rest of us but the fact remains; they are just humans who give more than the rest of us.

Behind a huge wall of nondescript fading aqua colored building is a small church with saintly pastor. A pastor who not only cares for the spiritual needs of the people she shepherds but a pastor who feeds the poor because her Savior asks her to love as He loves. Her eyes glint with the loving compassion that her Lord had for the people sitting on a hillside when he sent the loaves and the fishes around to the crowds to satisfy their hunger. The genuine Christian empathy and faith of substance that enables this small demure woman to feed the hundreds of children who come to side of the church each and every day is completely daunting to consider and comprehend. Still there are no cultural or societal awards for this kind of work and sadly there are few outside of this place that even know of her or of her monumental ministry of hope in a hopeless place. Yet as peered into the faces of a few of the hundreds that gather each day to eat, most likely their only meal of the day; I knew I was seeing what faith in a loving God looks like when it is flows out in true love and grace.

In my life … I have met countless pastors and sat in the audience of great spiritual teachers and leaders but I have not been in the presence of anyone so humbly and authentically real in word and deed in their faith. This is real faith, not for a dedicated moment of emotion; but real faith being lived out.  It is faith alive as she feeds the spiritually and physically hungry … meal after meal, question after question, need after need. She loves and gives, day after day.  This is real faith; not faith for accolades or reward. It is true faith because she knows Jesus Christ as her Lord and she loves Him with abandon because of His love for her. The children in this difficult place cannot keep from running with great big smiles to hug her and just be near her. Their endless expressions of gratitude are what the “Gospel” brings when it is truly lived out. I know somewhere else in a place completely the opposite of this place of want, struggle, tears and pain; there is a Savior who is also smiling as He watches this woman who loving serves Him. Yes, the Risen Christ is smiling; because this faithful servant is living out “Good News.” She is letting the “Good News” of His love and grace shine in this tragic place like the blazing sun for the world to see and find.

May the Lord richly bless you my friend, Pastor Mercedez for all that you do. I know the Lord is well pleased.

(I made a promise to Pastor Mecedez.  I promised to try and help her get Bibles to give away to the people and children who come to her for their needs. This will be facilitated through the church at Antelope Hills where I serve as Pastor. If you would like to give to this effort, please contact me about facilitating any contribution you might desire to give towards this effort).

God loves …


“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 1:31, NIV).

On this day, we saw a rainbow color the sky during the impromptu Americanos versus the Guatemalans soccer game.  Little did I know of the promises that God would reveal to me on this day.  It was to be a day of activities and fun on a well-worn soccer field among the many soccer fields in the vast expanse of soccer fields of this place. We walked by field after field of soccer games and hundreds of people of all ages gathered in bright and colorful uniforms playing “fútbol.” Finally there was a field open in furthest region of the gigantic soccer park complex.

Of course the age difference between the kids from Guatemala and the volunteers from America was of little significance and of no importance because the kids from the “Dorie’s Promise” orphanage have been bouncing the soccer ball off their head since the time they could walk. They also have been practicing footwork for about as long. So the eight year old girls and boys could easily bring the ball past most of the awkwardly flailing and falling Americans most of the time.These precious children seemed to find real delight in our desperate failures and the sound of laughter was almost as prevalent as the sound of the black and white ball being kicked about in every direction.

After the game, as we loaded twenty something bodies into a van designed for many less, I volunteered to sit in the very back seat with the ten-year old boys, just behind a row of girls in the ten to twelve age range. Little did I know midst the smell of the humanity of the many heated bodies that we were going to add the smell of taco and cheese flavored snacks and apple juice. For a moment … the tightness of the space and the smell of all of us piled together enhanced by the pungent aroma of the well-received snacks was a bit much. Yet as we started to move down the street lined with dozens of families and “fútbol” enthusiasts of every type and age … my mind seemed to be translating the context, surroundings and feelings inside of my heart towards a different understanding.

As the tired boys began to lean into me and as they lifted my arms up so they could snuggle even closer against me, I began to notice a sweetness in the fragrance of life and relationships on this ride back to the orphanage. Even as I was slightly embarrassed at the odor of my own humanness, the children’s thoughts floated on the joy of the day and having someone along to lean against desiring the security of being cared for. The girls in the row ahead sang along with the radio and the “Special Mothers” anxiously scanned the 15 or so children to see if any were getting carsick or bothering other children. Simple things outside along the way brought smiles, “oohs” and “aahhs” from the exhausted but excited youngsters.

I looked around and noticed the specialness of each child. I thought of their journeys of pain, loneliness and abandonment to be come to the orphanage and the journeys ahead in their lives. Their different expressions, emotions, smiles and unique looks and gestures made this captive group, a tapestry of rich color as vibrant as the Guatemalan fabrics in stalls and markets, we were passing by.

As the sunset began to set and cast its soft glow on the faces of the children. I realized the beauty and specialness of this Guatemalan journey to the soccer fields and back to the orphanage. God loves us all with deep and steadfast love, drawing us ever close to His side. His only concern and intention is to love us. God loves us fully and completely seeing and knowing everything about us. Through the Living Christ, He blesses us with the relationships that connect and fulfill us. Somehow in the crowded van after a day overflowing with activities with our new friends … there was a sweetness in all of this; as to the life God had blessed and given every one of us. He continually graces us by His love to experience joy upon joy. He often gives us joy in places where we might least expect it. My heart took in a hearty measure of this joy through His grace, He had purposed in this place and in this moment midst all of us tightly packed on this special journey back to the orphanage.

Living and dying …


“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

(Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV)

Life on earth can be short or long. We have no way of knowing the number of our days. The realization of life on the earth is fleeting comes along quite quickly as we live out our lives. We realize how moments past by like the seconds on a clock; swiftly and without much control on our part. Lofty intentions have long been forgotten in the passing of the ordinary. Our desires to travel to some dreamy and exotic location might never come about even as we have journeyed past the familiar day after day. People and friendships come and go; leaving mostly memories of connecting and un-connecting passages through time and relationships. Children grow up, leaving behind the undersized bikes, broken toys and countless interactions of love and parenting turning in our hearts like the pages of a book open to the wind.

Our mistakes follow us at times, a bit like our shadows on a bright day, reminding us of consequences we have dealt with and yet they linger around us. Our efforts at working, caring and giving, peek out from behind the clouds of feeling, shining as light in the remembering of the things we did right.

Still, what little control we have over our days on the earth. What do we really see as the point of our living? Is it to try hard? Is to grasp as much as we can from what we are given? Is it to struggle in doing good? What do we really live for? Why are we given life? Why were we created and what is truly the purpose of our living?

Christ comes as the “Light and Life” to all of His creation (John 1:4). He desires to give us life full of abundance (John 10:10). He gave His life for our salvation (John 3:16-17) and He desires because He is alive, to live in us (John 14:19). There is an eternal plan and purpose to our living and our dying. Eternity is in our hearts, to be found in the “Living and Risen Christ.”

We find our greatest fulfillment in our living, when our living is in and unto Christ. Our life comes from Him. Our living is sustained and guaranteed now and forever by Him as He abides with us. The Risen Christ is living in us. He comes by the power of His Empowering Spirit and God’s presence through His constant endearing and enduring love as our Lord abides with us in all that we are and do. He is all we desire, He is the only One that matters. He is the source, the nourishment, the desire and the strength in our living. Our greatest desire in life is to know Him and be in Him.

Our true living is in Him and for Him, because He is why and how we live. Thus when our days come to an end, we will come into His presence as greatest gain of our living. We may wonder about things and ponder the joys and frustrations of life, but we can life in nothing else than living or dying in relationship with our Savior.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, ESV).

Suggested Reading … Philippians 1

The Light in us …


Geoffrey Holt, Pierced Metal Screen Inside Confessional, National Gallery of Art, NGO Image, Public Domain

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6, NLT).”

If something is pierced, something else can penetrate through to the inside. If the something that is pierced is a panel made of a solid surface and light is on one side; light would be able to come through to the inside. Once light has traveled through the panel, light exists on both sides of the panel. As long as there is a light source, there will be light on the inside of the panel. If the piercings are done with intention and with purpose; a design is formed on the outside of the panel.

Our Lord is the “Light of the World.” Jesus spoke of his being the “Light” and offered himself as the “Light of life” that would negate our having to flounder in the darkness (John 8:12). Christ as light existed before time began and will not fade as time itself passes by (Colossians1:17). God is creating in us a masterpiece through the light of Christ penetrating the canvas panel with His purposes and design (Ephesians 2:10). Since He was pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5) the light of love and grace pierces through the panel of our life in each and every moment of His redeeming, sanctifying work in our lives. In every sin forgiven by His death on the cross, in ever teaching and convicting moment of His presence coming through the Holy Spirit and in every empowerment coming into our hearts by His love and grave; the Light our Lord penetrates the panel that is our life. In every moment of trusting and obedience as we live out our days, allows us to be remade to bear the image of the “Light” in us to give witness of His workmanship

We are remade with His hand here on this earth by His redeeming and sanctifying touch, so we might come into the place where there will be no need for the sun and the moon because the “Light of the World” is there (Revelation 21:22—27). Let us not be afraid of His plans and or His workmanship because as He has His way with us, we become His masterpiece. We will bear the mark of His workmanship on the panel that will be our life lived out. 

Suggested Reading … Philippians 1