I recently had a heart attack that changed my life . . . again! No, not a physical heart attack but a spiritual heart attack. I don’t get them very often in my old age for some reason, but I still get them. Really, I only get them when I let my guard down and let God’s Holy Spirit actually reach my sometimes cold hard heart. You see, as a professional clergy, as a cultural christian, as a missionary, it’s so easy to hide behind the “professionalism” of my trade. Don’t we all? It seems so easy to hide behind the cloak of “what we do” instead of truly just being who we really are. We are Christians, Christ-like, a child of the creator of this universe. You see, it’s so easy to confuse the two - what we do and who we are. We actually think that they are synonymous and nothing could be further from the truth. As a professional clergy, I learned to “keep my distance,” “stay professional,” “remain objective” otherwise you will not be an effective minister.
Every profession has heard that. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, clergy, CPA’s, CEO’s, etc. They all have their cloaks of professionalism that they hide in. However, I’m not a “professional missionary!” Not really, I’m just a Christian trying to live out my convictions. As I read the New Testament and study the life and ministry of Jesus I ask myself, “Was he a professional messiah?” I mean, did he look at himself like we clergy view ourselves and “what we do?” You know, did he try to stay professional and exercise his ministry using the principles from Dale Carnagie’s book “How To Win Friends and Influence People?” Do you think he viewed himself as a professional maintaining his distance and objectivity in carrying out his strategy? I may be wrong but I don’t think so.
My heart attack came when I began to actually see families with children in a neighborhood with temporary housing evicted and literally having to tear down their shanti homes and relocate. Once in particular gave me this heart attack. This was a beautiful young couple with several children and a newborn. I walked the neighborhood of Las Colinas at 8:30 at night with my spotlight trying to find them to take them food. I couldn’t find them but I found the ruins of their old location and I eventually found their new sight which was absolutely pathetic. The scene was an erie setting as the rain poured down and I walked through the mud fields in the silent, dark, fields. It was their 7 year old daughter who led me to family. What I saw caused my gut to cringe, I was breathless, and remained without words. My heart was broken. Four poles in the middle of a mud field with tarps as their makeshift roof. The swampy field served as their flooring and their new born baby in the arms of her mother. My mind was flooded with so many mixed emotions. I don’t know what happened because I’ve seen this and worse before. But this time, my heart was just broken. I would be absolutely a non-human if I wasn’t moved by this experience. I have seen this before in Honduras when I went through the military coup and the country was under martial law. But tonight, God did something in me that I just haven’t felt in a while. I was moved with compassion. I went home with conflicting thoughts and emotions for the next few days.
I recently read the passage in Matthew 14 whereby Jesus was moved with compassion when he viewed the crowd. He had his reasons I’m sure. One time, no . . . many times Jesus was moved with compassion. That word caught my attention and I just had to look it up. The basic greek word means “to have our bowels moved or yearned .” You know, that feeling when you see something and you hurt so much by what you see that you actually get sick to your stomach, you want to cry, you . . . feel helpless and moved. You actually “feel.” It’s not a heady thing nor a cognitive process. It is a gut wrenching feeling. Jesus fed crowds because he was moved with compassion; Jesus taught them things they needed to hear because he was moved with compassion (Mark 6:34); he gave forgiveness because he had compassion (Matt. 18:27); he healed people because he was moved with compassion (Matt. 14:14); he comforted people because he was moved with compassion (Matt. 9:36). He saw the human condition and it made his stomach hurt. Jesus actually touched, walked with, spoke to, lived with, and cried with the folks he encountered. He didn’t remain objective and distant. He actually dwelt like them. Good shepherds in the long run end up smelling like sheep.
There you have your heart attack. Jesus had many of them I’m sure.
This kind of heart attack is a good thing. You see, one of the objectives of Short-Term-Missions is leaving the place you went to serve with a changed heart. If you leave like you came, you have missed the boat and probably need to re-evaluate your “professional paradigm.” STM’s should have this affect on people. Many folks who have come down to serve for a week return feeling guilty about their lifestyle, their abundance back home when contrasted with the poverty they see here. Many go home not knowing how to process it or know what to do with it. With time, most get re-adjusted and really don’t do anything with what they experienced and perceived. Others come and return just as they came. Some, just don’t get it and never learn to “connect the dots.”
If things that you see and experience don’t move you, I would consider that the lyrics of this old 70’s song become your prayer.
My eyes are dry, my faith is old
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me
Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine
Soften it up with oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew in the wine of Your Blood (Keith Green).
May you have a heart attack of God’s compassion and grace.
Grace and Peace,
David Ceballos, Ph.D.
What is that task? Well, there are two significant references found in scripture, one found in the Old Testament and the other in the New Testament each one with it’s own spin. The Old Testament reference is Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18; and Mark 12:28-34 known as the great command. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The New Testament reference focuses on defining who our neighbor is while the Old Testament defines our relationship with God.
Now, as I see it, the Church is really entrusted with the task of presenting one thing to the world. To put it in business terms, the Church markets one product and one product only. That is Relationship! That’s it in a nutshell. relationship. Everything the Church is engaged in doing should revolve around marketing/presenting that one product-Relationship.
What does that mean specifically? Well, this is my spin on it. We market two kinds of relationships - a relationship with God and relationships with our neighbors (the world around us). You can’t really do the second one without a healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ, at least it won’t be at optimum.
You see, everyone has a relationship with God, it’s either good or bad. It’s either healthy or damaged, you either acknowledge your creator or you ignore it - but everyone has a relationship with God. Likewise, we all relate to the world around us and we either do it well or do it with great dysfunction. We all suffer with broken, fractured, strained or alienated relationships with someone. We all have someone we really don’t like very well and vice versa, their are people who don’t like me very well. That’s relationship - good and/or bad.
The Church hasn’t always been stellar in this but it certainly has a great message of hope and the means to enhancing those relationships over and beyond anything else, even beyond the Barnes and Noble self-help section. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is the first step to restoration and a healthier world-view. The Church seeks to promote this relationship at the primary step to redemption within myself and within the world around us. This is really what Incarnational ministry is all about. Fleshing out the love of Christ all around us. The Church exists to equip us, prepare us, encourage us, affirm us to go out and present this great “product” to the world.
What does this have to do with missions? Everything! Theoretically, every task and effort the Church is engaged in should be focused on enhancing this one product- our Relationship with God and neighbor, EVERYTHING! Anything beyond that is a distraction, completely. Like most organizations, once institutionalized they take on an institutional inertia all of their own and go into maintenance mode and forget why they ever organized and exist in the first place. They become self-serving. The Church is the only organization that I know of that organizes itself for non-members, or at least should. That’s our DNA.
Missions and what we do in Panama is focus on this one task. When teams come, we ask that they focus NOT on the physical task they signed up to do but to focus on establishing a God presence and focus on Relationships. Everything else is a distraction. Yes, our building a building is important but no as establishing a presence and cultivating healthy relationships.
So, reevaluate your own life, your presuppositions of your faith, your church activities, and your own life purpose. Don’t be distracted, get focused and stay on mission. On my next blog, I’ll share my take of FOCUS (love acronyms).
Blessings to all and see you in Panama,
Dr. David Ceballos
We have many wonderful things to look forward to for 2015. As I reflect back on the beginnings of all of this energy in Punta Delgadita, I am amazed at how the global body of Christ has responded. It can be summarized no less than AWESOME on so many dimensions. We have discovered that truly our ministry (Cindy and David) is really global in that we minister with both sides of the border (all borders for that matter) and not just Santiago.
The way the global body of Christ in the U.S. has responded has been a miracle in and of itself. We began this work with one team. We now have 26 teams on board catching the vision and investing their grace gifts in Panama. Why is that I ask myself? It certainly is not because of my little sermonette they have to endure when here.
No, I suspect there are four things that can account for this revival and I can summarize it with four letters. P. R. A. Y.! Yep, I believe this sums it up in a nutshell and this acronym has become our mantra for 2015 which will serve 3 purposes. It describes our values, our priorities and our strategy.
What does P.R.A.Y. mean?
P. We are all involved in incarnation ministry, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is what we all do even when constructing, healing, teaching, playing. We are establishing a PRESENCE where there has not been previously a Methodist presence.
R. Relationship building is key to everything. We celebrate two kinds of relationships and seek to bring healing to both of them: relationship with God through Jesus Christ and relationship with our neighbor. What good is constructing something if it is empty, no one can relate to it, or if we heal their body but their soul is disjointed?
A. Our context is so different from anywhere else and certainly different from where our team members come from. The needs are different therefore we must ADAPT accordingly and maintain that attitude. Our context determines our Adaptation in order to meet those needs.
Y. We are all guests here and in a larger context, guests on our wonderful planet Earth. So, we must remain humble with our God and our neighbors and maintain that humility crying to God, “YES LORD, HERE AM I! USE ME IF YOU CAN.”
I believe our revival has occurred because our global body of Christ gets this PRAY when they are here. If they didn’t arrive with it, they certainly get it while they are here and leave with it. It’s contagious and it’s biblical. That is what is so neat about it all, it just fits right. Nothing in this acronym speaks about construction projects, health projects, or children’s projects. While those are very essential and necessary they really are secondary. And I am so proud that our partners in ministry “get it!”
So for 2015, this little powerful word PRAY will serve to reflect what we VALUE most, determine our PRIORITIES and guide our STRATEGY! Get on board and get revived!
Grace and Peace,
It seems that the world’s obsession with power is based on might, strength, and manipulative deception. Real power comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that we cannot imagine or conjure up. Paul, a devout Jew early on in his life, became a missionary to the very people he grew up to despise, the gentile. To become an effective missionary, Paul learned to set aside every tool of the trade he had been trained with as they were rendered completely useless among his target group. What a challenge! What a total make-over! Nothing of this world can do that except the Gospel’s transformation power.
Short-term as well as long-term missions seems to place each of us the same position. Going to do ministry in a cross-cultural setting where the norms may be different from our own, language differences which may seem as barriers really are bridges. The way things are done are strange at times and can sometimes make no sense to us whatsoever. Yet, we are challenged to cross that bridge and connect with the global body of Christ.
Last week we encountered a situation in a small remote village of Panama located in Veraguas fringing on the borders of what is called the “Comarca” or the border of Gnobe indian territory. The landscape was dense jungle and a road that was winding along the mountainside that showed no mercy on my driving skills. On our way back from our visit to that village, we encountered along the road a young Gnobe couple who was apparently suffering from extreme abdominal pain. They were out in the middle of nowhere and had to make a journey to the next larger town (not very large at that) to get to a clinic. The walk would have killed her, the wait for a bus would have been all afternoon.
Cindy immediately laid her down and examined her as best as she could. Seeing the emergency nature of this, we lowered the seats of our car and loaded her and her husband in the back. Barefooted, in pain, vomiting, and almost unconscious, we began our trek back up the mountainside to take her to the nearest clinic. On the way, we noticed along the mountainside what looked like several figures coming down the road out of the jungle side. What we saw amazed us. It was a mother carrying a young girl who had both legs in a cast braced together. They had been walking like this for an hour trying to get to the village that we just came from to try to catch a bus to Santiago, a good 2 hours away.
We loaded them up and threw them wherever they could fit in our car. It was a full house, legs, arms, heads poking out of every window, nook and cranny. I wish I could have photographed it but I didn’t. We backtracked to the village we had come from and dropped them off at the waiting spot for a bus. Then proceeded back to take the Gnobe lady to a clinic. It was a long, slow, methodical trip having to make several stops for her to vomit, go to the bathroom in the jungle side and find drinking water for her.
The point of all of this is this: there were obvious severe cultural differences for us as well as the Gnobe indians that we encountered (even within Panama itself there is cultural diversity). There was also language bridges that existed that each of us tried to cross. All my trained skilled sets were basically useless at this point. The common language we all understood was the ministry of compassion, love, and benevolence. When we arrived to the clinic, the young man sought somehow to express his gratitude by offering me his lunch which as a banana. Of course I declined it but both he and I understood the gesture of compassion and love. The global body of Christ hurts and moans for this unity in human bonding through the love of Christ which of course “compels us!”