Sunday, December 16, 2007

Juarez Reflection: Like Chocolate and Venom


"Immediately, the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me in my unbelief!'" (Mk 9.24 NIV)

I am laying in my chilly uninsulated room in the barrios of Mexico. The glow of the small propane heater, set next to my bed, creates lingering shadows upon the darkened walls. I am reflecting on the happenings of the day, thankful that it is ending in the same way it began: I am pleading with God. I am asking him for hope, encouragement, strength, wisdom…joy. I believe that somewhere between His grace and my complete unworthiness He has given me grace to be free; freedom to be His son with no qualms or questions. Though all of my being cannot accept this reality, I choose to believe it. I choose to believe for I have no other hope.

One shadow, dances off the wall reminding me of the vehicle I drove into a ditch this morning causing me to be at the whim of angry neighbors and a vacationing Youthworks! staff. Another, flickers with the event of community contacts standing me up even after I drove a half hour to meet them with presents and baked goods. Still another, displays the bleak hopelessness of the Woman's shelter I visited, and it tells of the ever growing helplessness I feel when I think upon the dim futures of the children I played with. Still another, reminds me of the stuck valve on the propane tank I assumed was shut and began loosening in our living room. The tank, after a frantic run outside by one of the Youthworks! staff, thankfully spewed the deadly fumes into the air instead of toward the stove someone was using. And still another, reminds me of the team tensions and frustrations between our very eclectic group and our aggravating recent interactions with the community. And one more reminds me…and still one more relates…and yet another tells me…

These dancing shadows creep ever closer to my flickering light, swaying and moving with a sultry toxic message – as of venom yet sweet as chocolate. There I lay, cradled close to the last security of the dimming light, ever aware of the advancing dark, and pray:

"I choose to believe! Overcome the black night of this unbelief!"

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Juarez Reflection: A Feast of Praises


The steam of the nearly boiling water warms the otherwise frigid kitchen of the small church Salon de Sociale. In the background is the ruckus of rowdy Mexican youth and the leaders that are working tirelessly to keep them entertained as they offer a relevant message of Christ. I have been commissioned to cook for this overnight event. It is nearly ten, and I can't help but worry that the children are getting anxious to eat -though truly, this may be the best meal some of them will have all week; a spread of feasts for a crew of peasants. I subtly remind myself that eating in Mexican culture generally happens later, but I still cannot shake the nagging of my brain.

My thoughts dwell on the youth here and the frustration one of the leaders confessed to me; the realities of in-depth inner-city ministry had met this visionary minister face to face. He has been wrestling with some real and weighty issues in his work: How does one overcome the street life and show the great joys of the love of Christ? How does one stop the cycles of poverty so that a group of youth can see that there is more to life, namely the love of Christ, than drugs, violence, and an eclectically active sex life? How does one show the love of Christ in a place that teaches their children to lay Him on the wayside? How does one keep hope when every effort seems to end in disappointment?

I am reminded of a time of worship recently when the leaders, having pleaded with the youth to stay and worship, lifted their praises to Christ; hopeful; prayerful; alone. In the middle of one of the songs, the youth boisterously flooded the room returning and paying no attention to the meaningful praises of God, and the leaders continued to sing even amongst the obnoxious distraction. In that moment, my mind's eye dreamt and saw a time when these children, by the faithful and exhausting efforts of these young leaders, might someday bow their entire being at the throne of Christ, thankful for the life they have been given; worshipful for the mere chance to do so; reverent of His mighty power and love. I saw them – beautiful. I realized that these rough city kids had returned because they found no other like it anywhere else. They needed this place of safety and hope. Could they have found an even more "relevant" place to be in the druglord's house? definitely. But they would not have found the hope and Christ-like love offered here.

As my mind revels in the idea that one day the praises of this youth would ascend like the pungent altar incense of old, the rising steam from the boiling water reminds me of the task at hand. I thank God for His goodness and ask Him for encouragement in this desperate place for those that are faithful. I stir the pot and chuckle. We may not live like kings here, but tonight we're all sure as hell gonna eat like one.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Juarez Reflection: Walls Cannot Contain

I try to hide my shivering from the others who had come more well prepared than I have. The pastor has leant me a jacket displaying the allowed and appropriate colors, but it does little to fight the biting chill created by the shade of the building we are forced to stand in. As we make our way inside the penitentiary, things become very real and very sobering. All along the way, Mexican police officers garbed fully in modern war armor and SWAT gear stand guard with their fingers taut against the triggers of their M-16 rifles. Drug dogs run the line sniffing out any who might try to breach the borders and parameters of this guarded community. With me the pastor, the mother whose son we were to visit, and the pastor's assistant. We heave the weighted load of food and supplies for the young man to eat, bathe, and do laundry on to the inspection counter, and the undying love of this mother hits me for the first time. Without her, this man would starve. Without her, this man would die.

As we enter numerous inspection lines, and give our lives and identities basically to the whims of the Mexican prison system, I can't help but lean my entire being on the hope that God would safe guard me – that the sayings of Psalms 121:8, displayed proudly on one of the walls of our apartment, promising He would secure my path for eternity, would not fail me now. I am helpless to all but trust in Christ.

Once through these seemingly unending security checkpoints, and with my visitor card tucked safely inside my clenched and white knuckled fist, I proceed into the courtyard. In Mexico, there is no separation of inmate to visitor. Once one is in the gate, he is directly in the prison community. As we walk past starving and begging addicts, gangsters, and swindlers (who apparently were not as lucky to have caring family on the outside), and made our way to the young man's cell, It becomes strikingly obvious that, for some, prison might be the better option. For, inside these walls is a small community; inside these walls is a virtual paragon of commerce; inside these walls, men are free to sell, trade, and barter without all the hassles of having to worry about needing shelter or providing for family. That is to say, they are free to do so if they are given the proper provision which all are not. We reach the young man's cell, which is not unlike some of the two person dorm rooms of my university, where he has just risen and his cellmate slumbers continually never showing his face. His mother hands him the package of supplies which his shame permits him to take. I see a mother's heart breaking.

He walks us to the courtyard where we buy some coffee and cookies from one of the inmates there, and watch some of the men cook their breakfast on the gas stoves provided. We talk of various things. We converse about the recent riots inside and some of the horrors of death and violence the young man had seen, we spoke of the differences he has noticed in serving time in the States and serving time in Mexico, but most of all we spoke of God's undying love for him – we spoke of the liberty that Christ can offer.

We leave, and I am overwhelmed. My whole being, everything in me and of me, desires to scream and yell and pray as loudly as I possibly can for this young man:

Father! Show him the freedom these walls cannot contain!
Father! Show him the freedom these walls cannot contain!
Father! Show him the freedom these walls cannot contain!