Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fire with Fire

 Lying in bed the first night in the dark, the situation hit me as surreal. On one side of the valley there was a raging party. Buen Retiro was full swing in their anniversary celebration and the volume on the audio system was loud enough that it sounded like my neighbors had their stereo on full force. Except that the party was at least four blocks away.

The music wasn't quite loud enough however, to drown out the sound of gunfire on the other side of the valley. Wednesday night was the first night of the town uprising against the mayor, against injustice, with all the frustrations that corruption in government bring. On the way home from the gathering in Juan's house, we had walked by the town court where the mob was centered, with rumors that the mayor was inside, that the judge he had bought to exonerate him was inside, and who knows who else. The townspeople were pitting all their fury against the building, throwing broken cement pieces at the windows, and when we passed, they were ramming the doors below with a post-turned-battering ram, a man was pushed from the second story and a fire was lit in the entryway. Molotov coctails were being thrown into the broken windows above and a spirit of violence was heavy in the air. The people wanted blood. At ten, Iquitos sent reinforcements, riot police with tear gas and guns, and the people retreated.

And last night, the second night of the strike, the people got what they wanted. Why they choose to fight only at night is anyone's guess, but the riot police stopped playing and started shooting into the crowd. Tonight there's one youth dead, one child hit by a stray bullet and chances are very good, another two youths have passed from critical condition to join the first. Such senselessness. I guarantee you that the mayor and his officials haven't been hurt. I guarantee you that the leaders of the parties who are instigating the townspeople to rise up haven't been hurt. Only the youth who don't truly even know why they're there, and the policemen who have the very ornerous task of trying to maintain order in a town gone crazy.

My friend Juan saw the first young man shot in front of his house, hit from behind while running from the police with the rest of the crowd. His family had to leave their home because the tear gas was so bad, and he had stayed to watch the house only to be caught in the melee with images he now can't erase from his mind.

Tonight all is quiet and hearts are heavy. It's 8:30, and I pray it will stay that way the rest of the night (it did). Lord, have mercy. Do please pray for Nauta with me. Injustice and corruption are evil, but fighting fire with fire will only make more people hot... and an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” will soon leave the whole world blind and toothless.

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." 
Romans 12:17-21

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Airport Trust Fund

There was a knot in the pit of my stomach, and the night was falling quickly. At the same time yesterday I was already heading away from the Quito airport, for the first time in my life having erred on the date and had shown up for my flight a day early. My embarrassment was only equaled by my feeling of helplessness, not knowing where I would stay, and... night falling quickly.

Trust is a big issue for me, and I KNOW God is good. He's proven Himself over and over... and over. But still I doubt. Not that He wouldn't be good, but that I won't hear Him correctly or that maybe this time I've messed up once too much and He'll leave me to my own devices. Which would really stink, because my own devices are pretty flimsy... even though when I start to doubt, I still think I need to lean on those splintered sticks.

So yesterday, one day too early, and today... well. God had provided a place to stay at the HCJB guesthouse last night and I had been able to pick up the bag I had accidentally left at the first hostal I stayed in. My email was nicely being caught up, and amazing Lois Price had appeared at the guesthouse too, a retired nurse who still lives in the jungle of Ecuador and sweetly invited me tolunch with her. My afternoon plan was to grab some snacks for the airport, shower at 5 and run to the bus stop. Lois thought that would be a bit late for my 8pm flight, but I was sure it would be fine. “You're the expert!” Lois remarked after I told her of my dry run yesterday. However, I hadn't counted with the rain. And the rush hour traffick. At 5:30 I was standing in the rain with Lois holding an umbrella, and every taxi that passed was full. So we walked to the corner. And to the other corner. And down the block. By the time I grabbed a taxi and made it the half-mile to the bus station, it was almost 6pm. And the ride to the airport is over an hour. In rush hour traffic.

Sitting in the bus, waiting for it to fill up and seeing the sky darken... I started to get that knot in the pit of my stomach. What if one day I was WAY to early... and the other day I missed it altogether? That would also be a first. 6pm. 6:05. At 6:10 we left the station and crawwwlled out of the city. My Dad's advice as a TSA agent were ringing in my ears... “Always arrive too early, rather than too late!” So? I prayed. At first I prayed my mantra, “Father, please open the door so that I can go through.” Then I prayed, “God, please delay the flight coming into Quito from Guayaquil.” Then I realized how selfish and well... panicky I was feeling. So I started to pray “God, please help me glorify you no matter what happens.” And I started to pray for ANYone who came to mind. Alli Mellon. The persecuted church in North Korea (THAT will put one's momentary troubles in focus like nothing else!), I prayed for people in Nauta, for youth that had left Nauta to look for work,... and the knot remained. God's still small voice broke through as I squirmed... “Do you trust me, Crystal? Do you trust me?”

Yes. No. Yes. No. “Yes” as I focused on my knowledge of God's faithfulness. “No” as the bus crawled through the jammed streets. 7pm. How far away were we? 7:10. The bus picked up speed. “Do you trust me?” Oh Lord. I had to confess. I don't trust very well. I was already planning how I would need to look for a bus to the Ecuador/Peru border back in Quito. At 7:23 we pulled into the airport and I sped up the stairs to the LAN counter. “8pm flight?” the attendant asked as I was whisked through... breathing sigh upon sigh of relief. Yes, God, Yes! I trust you!

And then I was miraculously in line, waiting to board.

“Reitsma, Crystal, please approach the ticket counter...” What was this? I haven't been summoned to the ticket counter since Februrary of 2008. “Your baggage has been selected for a random search” said the agent. “Follow me please.” Seriously? The flight left in ten minutes and... “Do you trust me?” Oh Lord. Yes. I do. So we ran down back through security, through the waiting people, outside to where the luggage was being... no, had already been loaded on the belts to the plane, and there sat my red backpack, lonely. It was opened, peeked in, questioned... and we were off and running again, back into the building, back up the stairs, back through security, and down to the very empty gate.

Last one on? Yes. On the plane? Yes.

 Oh Jesus, why is trust so hard? Why do I feel I have to figure everything out, have a plan B, and C... and maybe even D, doubting God's provision, His willingness, His very love. I don't know. Trusting Him comes hard, even with a mountain of evidence in His favor. Trust for the ministry when all looks sparse. Trust for friendship when friends are scarce. But I do know that I want to live out trust more. And live much less in the panicky, tight-fisted, close-hearted cynicism that I seem to have garnered over the last few years. He proves Himself over and over... and even if I HAD missed the flight, even if I had NO place to stay... would He still be good and trustworthy?

Sunday, October 6, 2013


"More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them."
-Henri Nouwen

Friday, October 4, 2013


This may be a bit over-dramatic... but here goes.

Half the time, if you don't hear from me, it's because my head is under water. Not the real, liquid type that gets in your ears and nose and makes your vision blurry, but the other kind. The murky water of life that gets in your ears and nose and makes your vision blurry. The kind that makes it hard to see where you're going and even harder to communicate that to someone. When your head's under water, it's hard to talk,... and if you do, it's hard for anyone to understand you. So if you don't understand this post, don't worry... it's because my head is under water.

On one hand, maybe that's a good thing because maybe, just maybe, I'm finally submerged in that glorious river to which Ezekiel 47 refers, in that cryptic passage about the river that comes out of the temple of God and runs deeper and deeper until you can only cross it swimming.

Or, maybe I'm not.

It sure doesn't feel like I'm being swept along by the Spirit of God, it just feels like I'm being pulled under. If it's the Spirit of God sweeping me along, then I'm humbly grateful. If it's the worries and cares of this life, if it's my like-a-top constantly spinning mind trying to figure out the whys and hows of life, if it's a wrong turn in the path, or a character flaw that God is trying to purify out of my slow-to-learn heart, then I wouldn't mind getting out of this whirling eddy and sit on the bank for a while.

These last few months have given me ample material for rumination. Nothing earth-shattering, like death in the family, or similar tragedies. Just a steady stream of unfortunate coincidences that have turned into a rushing torrent in my mind, and made me question which side is up. Four teams have failed to appear this year, two of which informed us of their inability/decision not to come, and two who just dropped communication altogether, no warning or explanation given. It gave me that same eerie sensation that I had as a child when I'd come home from school and no one would be there. I would be ok at first, then would start to wonder paranoically if the rapture had occured and I had been left behind... The paranoia that creeps in under these circumstances is a sneaky suspicion that God is telling people, “don't go to Peru with Crystal, because... (fill in any number of reasons here)

Now blend that with a visa that just refuses to be renewed, a diploma that continues to come back to me in Latin (this would require much more explanation), and patterns that I see repeating themselves in the personal realm (miscommunication, strained friendships and my aforementioned tendency to paranoia)... and I'm starting to wonder if perhaps --I really am the problem--. Confrontation and conflict resolution have never been strong suits of mine. I know I could use more work on those skills and lately I have been steadily presented with multiple opportunities to pare those skills toward perfection. Selfishness and self-pity, and a sense of futile inadequacy have also risen to the surface of this cesspool. God saying “no” to going home to my brother's wedding, the death of a dear pastor's wife here in Nauta, the knowledge that there are pastors who talk about me disparagingly behind my back (who DOES that, going about bearing tales?) and so on. All of which add together to lend a unsettling sense of being adrift in a troubled sea. What's going on, God?

The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head

Jonah. I must confess he has been a recurring theme in my life in the past. But I don't think I am trying to run from God's will right now... it's just rather murky, and currently indecipherable to me.

I resonate more with Psalms 42:7

Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.

And the same Psalm repeatedly voices,

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Yet. I am convinced of this. That He who began a good work in me will be faithful to bring it through to completion. Today the birds are belting out their joy and praises to the king. There is much to do, but He who does the work is faithful. He is. And will continue to be.
...if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” II Timothy 2:13

Even if I fail. Even if I at some point in my life am faithless, wittingly or unwittingly. Even if I stumble, He still is able to sustain His work. This is my trust, this my confidence, this my undying hope. I rest in His ability, in His grace, in His unquenchable glory.

Are you also in turbulent waters today? May you and I, at the end of the day, be able to say with David,

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
- Psalms 40:2

Come, let us lift up our hands to the Father of Lights, and the Author of Life and cry out with the Psalmist,

from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
- Psalms 61:2

Friday, June 7, 2013

5 Guys

Five boys from Nauta far from home.

Abandoned by their Mom 2 years ago.

Living with their great-aunt and their sometimes Dad.

And all I could see, written on their faces was the crushing weight of being.

Unwanted. Burdensome. Unloved.

What do you do when your heart breaks?

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justly, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?" 
- Micah 6:8

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seasoned with Salt

Lately I have been struck by the amount of fear and hatred permeating internet postings and chats, whether it be an article, an event, or a personal facebook post. There are words like "idiot" and "stupid" and a combination of those two plus a myriad of other derrogatory epithets referring to intelligence, religion, race and morality... and these monikers are being flashed around by people as quickly on one side of an issue as on the other.

For some reason, it makes me feel ashamed of my country that otherwise well-meaning people feel they must resort to such a base level in order to express their disagreement with another's political or religious opinion.  The issues that I have seen that are most incendiary are: gun-control, abortion, homosexuality, Obama, and you can probably fill in a few more yourself.  What shocks me though, is that even though I hold very strong opinions on all such matters, never have I been under the illusion that calling someone else a "freaking idiot" is going to sway them to my point of view. As a matter of fact, it seems to do just the opposite, creating an even greater chasm between us, and lessening any chance of real dialogue as to why they and I would hold differing viewpoints.

When I listen to the hearts behind the dissenting statements and fears, I hear strikingly similar things. Most people want a safer country (they just differ about how that might be best effected), most want less poverty and less crime, most want children to have a better childhood, and young women and men to live to their full potential, most advocate responsibility and caring for your neighbor... and then with a very wide brush malign anyone with opposing opinions on how that should come to be. And that brings me to my third discomfort: we have forgotten how to disagree.

Why does this bother me so much? Well I'll tell you. Whenever we call someone else a name that demeans them, we are exalting ourselves and deeming them "less" than we are in one way or another. In the worst-case scenarios, we de-humanize them - someone who breathes the same, bleeds the same, is filled with the heights and depths of emotions the same as we are, someone who listens to music, appreciates art, loves their children, and enjoys good food and a good b.m. just as much as we do - just over a difference of opinion. And why is that such a terrible thing, you might ask? Why shouldn't I exercise my first-amendment right to free speech to express my disgust with someone else's opinion? It may just be that that is the one thing that we do have to fear... our irrational, media-fed, reactionary fear and lack of basic civility one to another.

It brings to mind troubling times in history (and present) when such fear and epithets have used to debase and subjugate whole sectors of the population... and in some cases to justify physical violence. Words like "bitch," "nigger," "kike," "fag," "spic," "cracker," "dog," "whore," "cockroach," "monster," and an endless list of others that are just as well left off of here as being entirely unproductive (in my humble opinion) unless you're trying to produce hatred, injustice and violence.  In skimming the internet I stumbled across this article about the Darfur genocide.  I'll leave you with some of the quotes I found most compelling:

"Dehumanization is a mechanism that imposes degrading attributes on individuals and also entire groups for purposes of massive group destruction," (Hagan:3)

"Collective dehumanization processes place groups outside the normative universe of moral protection, leaving them vulnerable to targeted genocidal victimization." (Hagan:3)

(on cursing: think "f-ing idiot")
"Cursing sets up violence to be a sacrifice to honor the attacker as a priest representing the collective moral being" (Katz:1988:36-37)

"It is the 'us' versus 'them' intensification of group conflict that raises 'righteous slaughters' to mass atrocities. Katz (1988) argues that disabling the moral inhibition against murdering a "loved one" is accomplished by person specific cursing, while mass murder raises the stakes from individual denouncement to group dehumanization." (Hagan:14)

"such extreme dehumanization becomes possible," Kelman and Hamilton (1989:19) observe, "when the target group can be readily identified as... a distinct racial, religious, ethnic, or political group regarded as inferior or sinister." (Hagan:15) 

Hm. Inferior or sinister. This is what I am seeing many of my fellow countrymen suggesting about those on the political right. Or those on the political left.

Am I a reactionary? Do I think a massacre is imminent? Am I proposing tongue-tying political correctness?  I would say that with a cautious heart, I urge my fellow countrymen and women to move back toward civility, the Golden Rule, true dialogue (not reactionary mud-slinging) and a refusal to give in to the fear.  Regardless of my aforementioned very strong beliefs I refuse to stoop so low as to call someone who disagrees with me an "idiot," or worse. I assume (with hope) that you have your good reasons for believing as you do, just as I have mine. I may not agree with those reasons, may try to dissuade you from them, may wonder how you came about them... but I sure will never hear them, nor will you hear mine if we submit to the temptation to hysterically insult one another. And if we don't hear, and I mean truly Hear each other, then there is not much of a country left to defend. For I would aver that a country is made up of people united by some commonality and relationship with each other... not just an imaginary political line. 

One last thing... and this is the one thing from which I draw consolation: it sweetly speaks to me of the untenability of relativism. It does not matter what the perspective, how wide the disagreement or how vast the difference in opinion, the majority of people still seem to think that THEY are right. This to me suggests that the majority of people think that there IS a right ...and a wrong. That there is something that is TRUE, and this truth is knowable. If they did not think so, they would not be so adamant and irritated about their "rightness" being opposed.  May we find once again what is True. And Right. And Good. But not at the expense of consideration for our neighbors and personal integrity.

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:6

Friday, April 26, 2013

Go up into the Forest

Six years ago, I first set foot in Nauta at the end of July in 2007, and it was then that God spoke to my heart about HIS heart for Nauta and specifically for the youth here.
He showed me His heart for them to be freed, healed, trained and sent out, released into HIS call on their lives...

Now, six years later, after hemming and hawing, after feeling shut down and blocked at every turn, after waiting and waiting on God... finally I felt like not only did I have the "go ahead" to act, but if I DIDN'T move, I would be in direct disobedience to my Heavenly Dad... so, we bought land. "We?" you say?

Well, after this year's conference, I got two specific words that I am rather convinced were from God. One was "it's time to move, and to spread out" (see Isaiah 54:2), and the other was after praying with a friend who has the same heart and vision (thank you, Mr. Sadidje for that message).  I had asked Juan Tapullima (my friend) to look for land. And he found some really nice pieces within Nauta for very nice prices too... 50,000 soles, 60,000 soles... or more. And all I could say was, if it's from God, He'll provide the money. Then I went to look at a piece of land in a newly opened squatter region. This is what it looked like:

In other words, a lot of work. Juan agreed and set out to look some more... but I had an unrest in my heart and I sat down to pray for a friend. Joshua 17 came to mind and this was the second word. Joshua 17:15 stuck out at me, "..go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there..." I shared it with Juan via text from Iquitos and when I came back on Tuesday, we called the area representative. How much would they be able to sell us 40 meters of frontage for? (This was Juan's idea... I was going to offer 400 soles right off, since they were selling lots at 100 soles per lot, with 8 meters of frontage each). The delegate thought about it and said S/250. That's it... $100 american.

So today we (Juan, his wife Nataly, his son Pablo, a friend Felix, another friend Danixa, and Nick who is here for 6 months after being away for 5 years) went back... and walked the land. And measured it. And prayed, giving it to God...

And paid our S/250 and went home with great gratitude in our hearts and soooo excited about what God is going to do... and a lot of work to do in the meantime!