The Circle Kept Growing

The Circle Kept Growing

“Cuba has seen a spike in outward migration since last year’s announcement that it and the United States would restore diplomatic relations. Many Cuban migrants say they have chosen to leave now out of fear that detente could bring an end to the U.S. migration policies that benefit them, although U.S. officials say no change is in the works.”           (ABC News)

In mid November, as Cuban economic refugees were making their way through Central America in hopes of reaching the USA, Nicaragua closed it’s border refusing to allow any Cuban entry. This response forced the Cubans back into Costa Rica, thus invoking a political battle. Costa Rica had no choice but to find temporary solutions for the close to 3,000 Cubans now in their nation. It was and has been a mess with tensions high between Costa Rica and it’s neighbor, Nicaragua. As Nicaragua sided with it’s ally, Cuba and denied entrance to the Cuban refugees, these refugees, went from being economic refugees to political refugees overnight.

So this past Friday a small team of us from San Jose drove the six hours to a little town close to the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua where the majority of Cuban refugees were staying. It would seem now that at least six or more shelters/camps have been set up for the Cuban people until Costa Rica can reach some solutions. So far sending them back to Cuba is not an option much to the relief of the Cubans. Our hearts were hurting for the Cubans and we wanted to serve and help in any way possible. We were told we would help the national emergency response teams on the ground. In the hopes that we could bless a few kids with Christmas approaching, we bought some toys to give away in the camp we would be helping.

When we arrived to this tiny border town, we were caught off guard by the chaos ensuing and the amount of people everywhere. The schedule that had been set, changed and we wandered around being unable to help. Workers were bogged down with work and police were everywhere.

The needs were overwhelming and there seemed to be an atmosphere of shock and hopelessness that met us. Our team walked around the little town to get a sense of what was happening. We went back to the place we were staying to wait for instructions, when none came, we gathered together to pray and seek God’s direction. That night we went out into the town to pray and meet people who were in the streets.  Some of our teammates were able to talk with some of the Cuban refugees and they appeared hopeful. To them, the camps and the lack of resolutions to proceed on their journey to the USA were still much better than the conditions they left behind in Cuba.

The next day came and while we were encouraged to have shared in conversation with a few people, we still wondered why we had not been able to accomplish as much as we had initially anticipated. It was an hour before our team was due to depart and return to San Jose when the phone rang. Our contact to the national emergency response unit had called to say that we were granted permission to visit not just one but all of the shelters! Not only could we visit but we could bring the toys we had previously purchased and we could pray with whomever wanted prayer!

Each camp we visited, the kids would spot the toys instantly and before we could say anything they would come running towards us with huge grins and shouts. It gave us so much joy as we watched delight spring to their faces and it seemed to spark joy even in the adults all around the camps watching the children receive the gifts.

At each camp, we offered prayer for anyone who wanted to pray with us. At one particular camp, a few people came to us wanting prayer, so we joined hands and made a circle. As we started to pray, more people began to join the circle and the circle kept growing. By the end of the prayers, I opened my eyes and realized the circle had grown much larger and we were now praying almost in the center of the camp. Our little circle of faith and hope had grown and when we hugged goodbye, the atmosphere felt lighter. As we drove away, I reflected on the wonder it is to step into the center of a seemingly hopeless situation and make hope contagious.

I am all too aware of how contagious fear is in our world right now. Social media and world news have seen fit to remind us of this daily. However, there is this amazing anecdote to fear and it’s the powerful combination of faith, hope and love.  This combination is fear’s undoing and when this anecdote is put in motion, fear becomes powerless.

That day in the camp so many of us representing different nationalities, joined hands and made a very strong statement to hell. We all chose to embrace faith, hope and love and cling to the fact that God is good always.

I may not fully understand why so much tragedy seems to be in our world right now but I do know this one thing-God created his kids to contain the capacity to bring faith, hope and love into ANY situation.

 

 

Rice, Beans and Miracles Unseen

Rice, Beans and Miracles Unseen

I believe that miracles happen everyday but so often we don’t see them. A set back or an obstacle can occur and we become focused on a solution or the lack of one.
What if the only solution you had to a problem was a miracle?

Many years ago, I had the privilege of helping a friend who had started a feeding program and day center in a small town of Nicaragua. Our location at the time was a small place with limited space and one tiny bathroom. The roof was completely made of metal and the average temperature was 90 degrees. One particular week, the power and water had been turned off in the whole city and it was on day three of no power and water that we had the weekly scheduled feeding program.

We only had twenty kids signed up to eat that day. It had been a long, exhausting week and our small team of four had been spread pretty thin. Two hours before the children were to arrive, I sent the team off to grab lunch and run some errands, while I stayed behind with the cook to help feed the kids.

The time came and children began to arrive and with all twenty accounted for, I began to hand out plates of rice and beans. I was so relieved that due to the lack of resources we had exactly enough to feed everyone. As the kids were lining up with their plates, there was a knock on the door. I opened the door to find ten more kids piling into the tiny center. Not even five minutes later another knock and even more hungry faces entered. Before I knew it, more knocks came and we had four times our  original number of children to feed. It was chaos. I came into the kitchen to let the cook know about the new arrivals and was met with absolute panic as she informed me that we did not have near enough to feed them all.

I looked at all the kids staring up at me expectantly. I couldn’t call anyone because phone lines were down. I didn’t have any cash on me to buy anything. I was out of options. I turned back to the cook and asked to see the pot of beans and rice. There it stood with the evidence of what she had said, we barely had enough.

I remembered the stories I had heard of people praying over food and God miraculously providing. So I prayed, “Okay God, we have to feed these kids. I pray that you provide food for every child here and increase our supply.” I waited, nothing happened. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe the rice and beans to miraculously rise right before my eyes and come spilling out of the big, black pot. I had prayed in my heart language (English) instead of Spanish, so the cook looked at me with such confusion. To this woman, I appeared crazy kneeling down, talking to a pot of food on the ground. Crazy or not, I believed that God would help us feed every person there. I was desperate for Him to provide.  I turned to the cook and said, “Give an equal portion to every child and we will believe that all will eat today.”

We scooped out plate, after plate, after plate. Every single child that came that day ate not once, but twice. It was the craziest thing. The rice and beans were still the amount we started with and never changed in quantity even after every child ate twice! I couldn’t believe it and neither could the cook. We sent home leftovers for all of the children and we still had some in the pot.

That night I marveled at the miracle I had seen God bring to our humble, black pot of rice and beans. I knew the provision didn’t just come because of a need but because  of the love of God. He knew that it might be the only meal some children would receive that day. It always broke my heart on the weeks we had no leftovers to send home to those particular families. However, that day was different, that day we had more than enough for leftovers.

I pictured God’s absolute delight in loving on those kids and watching my shocked face every time I peered into the pot to see the quantity never seem to decrease.

While I have never seen beans and rice multiply quite like that again, I have never doubted that it could happen. When bills come rolling in, supplies are low, the van has a mechanical issue, or the washing machine has broken down, I remember that miracles happen.

The Heart’s Worst Enemy

The Heart’s Worst Enemy

Poas Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

Busyness can be the heart’s worst enemy- Lisa Bevere

When I first started in full time missions, I was in a constant state of busyness but my heart was aching deeply. I had random emotional break downs, would forget to eat, lose my keys, etc. I couldn’t even begin to describe how I felt or what I was doing because I was in a constant state of, “go, go go”.  I felt overwhelmed by the needs all around me. I was too busy.

Rest had become a luxury that I had decided I simply could not afford. I was consumed with fixing the problems and I felt guilty if I was not doing something to improve the poverty around me. I couldn’t focus on the beauty of Central America because all that filled my time and attention was the lack. I lost sight of the culture and truly how to make a difference.

I believe that many times in mission work, if we are not careful, we can adapt a savior mentality and forget to rely on the Holy Spirit to work in and through the lives of those around us. God loves people more than we ever could and when we rely on that truth, there is a freedom that comes, allowing us not to strive and help everyone we meet. Many caregivers and missionaries can often develop PTSD or Secondary Traumatic Stress, (also known as Compassion Fatigue) from hearing and seeing so much tragedy.

Relief work can be heavy and draining, so it is necessary to balance having a life apart from the work. Otherwise, when you are working with survivors and victims, you are not rested and can be just as discouraged as they themselves. When they encounter a caregiver they should encounter a rested person, full of hope and life. You cannot instill in others what you don’t have yourself.

Whenever I visit a country, I take time to enjoy the culture around me as well as the mission work at hand. I have served and explored in twelve different nations, sampling their food, touring their sights and checking out their local artisan markets.

It is exhilarating to take in the scenes, sounds, and smells of a country.

Women from Costa RIca making a traditional dish Arroz con pollo  (chicken with rice)
Women from Costa Rica making the traditional dish, Arroz con pollo
(chicken with rice)

A nation is more than its social issues. Every country has a story, learn that story, memorize its face, enjoy its food and you will see a greater view of God’s design.

Unexpected Beginnings

Unexpected Beginnings

Can it really be six years ago that I sold almost everything I own, quit my job, and moved to Costa Rica simply because God moved on my heart to do so? I wanted to be obedient, but I was baffled that God chose Costa Rica to launch me out into the mission field. For the two years prior, all I had talked about was the Middle East. I even trained one summer with an organization (SWI) that goes into places like Pakistan. I studied Islam and the persecuted church and areas where persecution of Christians was very prevalent. I was determined to find and go to any and all areas where Christ is not allowed nor wanted.

In my childlike faith, I wanted (and honestly still do) to just pick a spot in the middle of the world, set up a home and then just house, feed and love every single orphaned, abandoned, hungry child on the globe. However, that was not what He had in mind for me, and so when He sent me to Costa Rica, I told him I would just take all the little ones in Central America! So it is not surprising that it did not take me long to discover an unreached, untouched area that was full of exploited and hurting young kids. As I sat listening to a pastor share all he had discovered in a certain town and how desperately in need these children were, my heart broke. Although I told the pastor I would pray and would not commit to anything, deep down I knew I would be back. I came home and prayed, and it was not long before I knew that I was to go back and see how I could help and where. I also knew then that I was not going home. I called my mom one night on Skype crying from what all I had learned of these children and crying because I knew I would not be moving home in December. She cried with me but we were both smiling through our tears because we knew this was God. This was the birthing of LFI and the journey of how a girl from Kentucky moved to Costa Rica.

Like most girls, I grew up with Cinderella stories, but I also grew up with stories like David and Goliath, Moses parting the Red Sea, and missionaries (i.e. Jim Elliot). At a young age, I was ruined for this world. Many of us aspire to make a difference, our culture speaks of reaching for the stars, becoming anything you want as long as you believe in yourself. We flock to the theaters to see good triumph evil, rags rise to riches, and success defy defeat. Why? Because the one who designed us, who spoke us into existence, in whose nature we were created; defined those heroic tales. God triumphed evil with His Son, Jesus, and everyday He triumphs when you step out to be His hands and feet. Everyday success defies defeat when you allow Him to shine through your weaknesses so He can shame foolishness. For every counterfeit, there is a genuine.

The Bible is not fiction nor fantasy. It is a living God telling stories through the lives of everyday men and women who allowed God to use them. The day I made Jesus Lord of my life, that became my culture. My heart began to beat with thoughts of how big God was, how through Him all things are possible, and how the world was so hurt and broken. I knew, I too, wanted to let God take the pen and write His story, His version, His way. Every test, every trial, every mountaintop and valley has taught me something and pushed me to grow in God.

Fighting Losing Battles

Over the years,  I have experienced the feeling of defeat wage war on my heart and taunt my mind. This type of ministry is hard, very hard. One day you can be making progress, the type of progress you didn’t dream possible and then, the next day, you are starting back at square one.  It can be a roller coaster of emotions and disappointments that are challenging you to quit.  There have been days where we fought hard to see a girl rescued or a child receive justice and we won. Then there are days where we fought hard, prayed hard and we lost. I have wept on the days where defeat screamed and smirked in my face begging me to throw in the towel.
 I had only been working in anti-trafficking for a short time when I came across a battle story in Judges 20 after hearing it in a sermon. The story jumped out at me as I realized that the fight for justice in the midst of losing battles had been going on for centuries.
In Judges, the tribes of Israel are about to fight their fellow tribes of Benjamin because of sin and crimes committed by the men in Gibeah and Benjamin’s refusal to address the crimes.
The Israelites were fighting for justice. A woman had been brutally raped and beaten. She died as a result of the abuse. A horrible crime had been committed by their brothers in Gibeah, a Benjamite town. The Israelites expected those guilty to pay for the crimes and demanded that the tribes of Benjamin hand over the guilty men. To everyone’s dismay, the Benjamites refuse. Something had to be done, war was inevitable, so all the men of Israel (with the exception of Benjamin) came together and prayed.
Here is that passage:
 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle.  The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The LORD replied, “Judah shall go first.”

 The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah.  The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. But the Israelites encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”The LORD answered, “Go up against them.”

Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.  This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.

 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there,  with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?”
The LORD responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”
Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah.

Two lost battles, so many dead and all for a good cause. Yet, they pray, fast and seek God if they should still fight? What encourages me so much is not that the Israelites eventually win, but that they are willing to keep fighting even after great loss. God rewards their perseverance for justice and tells them they will win the final battle.

Could God ask me to fight losing battles at times to teach me how to win the war? I  asked myself this question many times in the beginning of our work. Maybe my definition of victory looked different than God’s definition. After all, I have seen that God is about the journey more than the destination and every battle has contained a powerful lesson. Whether we win or lose a battle, I know we will win the war and it is through that confidence in God that I am learning not to fear losing sometimes.

Broken Has a Face

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Broken- reduced to fragments; fragmented.ruptured; torn; fractured.infringed or violated

Broken is an interesting word. What do you think of when you read or hear that word? When I was a little girl when I thought of the word broken, I thought of toys. When my toys or accessories were broken, I took them to my dad and usually he was able to fix or mend them. When I was a teenager, broken was a bone in my body or a part in my car. Once again, I would call my dad and he would come to my rescue. When I entered into the medical field and worked for General/Vascular Surgeons, broken was usually a Gallbladder, Appendix or Vein. Finally when I left and moved to Central America, the word broken took on a whole new meaning. Broken no longer was a toy or accessory; a bone or a car; a gallbladder or appendix. Broken had a face. Broken was men and women, boys and girls all hungry and hurting for more than just food. One day, I learned of broken little girls and forgotten older women living and working in prostitution. They were suffering with broken brains and broken hearts. This time, the one I ran to, was God and He reminded me that His son Jesus died on the cross so that whatever was broken could be fixed.

It wasn’t the fact that modern day slavery still existed. It wasn’t the harsh reality that over 20 million people on the planet were slaves that compelled me to be an abolitionist. It was the continual trips to the red light districts of Costa Rica that compelled my heart to abolish slavery. As I learned stories from those working in prostitution and became their friend, love grew in my heart. As their friend, I wanted answers. I wanted solutions. I wanted human trafficking to stop. I wanted it all to end. I purposed in my heart to fight for them. I wanted to look evil in the face and show that love could win.

For so long I avoided the title of abolitionist. It had become something trendy. While I was grateful for all of the awareness that had come with the trend, my heart sometimes hurt that the focus would be on the cause and not the people. In Costa Rica, fighting modern day slavery was not trendy. It was hard for me every time I came home to the US to understand the language of the fight against slavery. Over time, I worked hard to network with other organizations and see what was happening across the globe. I finally found and came to accept that I was among so many others that God was rallying to become abolitionists. Hearts around the world were being united to see God’s cry for justice be made known.

I am proud to be a modern day abolitionist and part of the great justice movement that God has ignited. While my focus has been predominantly in seeing justice take place in sex trafficking, I long to see justice for all areas of social injustice.

I have seen the face of evil rage against children wanting to rob them of a childhood.     I have watched, lonely men pay someone to “love” them for a night. From borders to brothels, to street corners and park benches, I have heard stories of the deep brokenness that comes from those affected by the commercial sex industry.

The journey of coming to understand this type of brokenness has changed my life forever. Now and always, broken has a face to me. Broken has a name and a dream. Broken cries on my shoulder. Broken smiles at me as I hand out coffee. Broken has become my family.

I have loved living among the broken and hungry. I have been humbled and privileged to partner with Jesus these last 6 years to fill hungry bellies, mend wounded knees and love on hurting hearts.

To any of you that think you could not change a hurting, ugly world, I have good news, you can. Decide to relentlessly love the broken person that is placed in your path, because I promise that when you do, you’ll see the face of Jesus and you will change the world for that one. Love never fails.