Thursday, April 27, 2017

Baptism - What of it?

Sunday afternoon we drove a few kilometers south of Tambo de Mora, and two precious young ladies were baptized.

Abigail, 10 years old, had come to the church around a month ago with her Mom, scared and asking for prayer. She had been having demonic dreams, full of fear and impotence. No matter how much she prayed, and her Mom prayed, the dreams kept coming back.  It's hard to take authority over spiritual attack when you don't know Who your Father is yet. After chatting for a bit with her, her Mom, pastor Robert and a few girls from the World Race team there at the time, she indicated that she would like to give her life to God, and would like Him to be both her Savior and her Shepherd. I tried to make sure it was something that she truly wanted, not just a patch for a scary moment, and she said she was sure she wanted to give her life to Christ. We prayed and gave her further strategies for telling those spirits that she belonged to God, and they had no right to bother her.
The next week when they came to church, she said that after 3 more nights, the dreams had stopped, as she continued to introduce the bothersome spirits to her Heavenly Father, and His authority.

That same week, her older sister, Anghyolina, who is 14 years old, came to church with her Mom, brokenhearted because her stepfather blames her when anything goes wrong. One of the racers, Andi, was able to share her testimony about growing up in a broken home, and speak directly to her heart about what it looks like to find your worth in what God says about you. It was a beautiful moment.

After the service that night, two of the women were talking about being baptized, and young Abigail expressed her interest in being baptized too. As we were talking about it on the way to take them back to their home in Chincha, she mentioned it again to her Mom, and her sister Anghyolina piped up too, "I also want to get baptized!" So we arranged for a class on baptism with them the next Sunday afternoon with pastor Robert, and then set a date for the baptism after that class for this past Sunday.

In the Catholic church culture down here, infants are baptized, and many see it as an amulet of protection for them against sickness or evil spirits.  Those who are baptized are saved, and those who aren't, well - aren't. In the Protestant church here, it is a symbol of one's commitment to God, and our willingness to be united with Christ in His death, receiving His forgiveness and burying the "old man" with it's old nature with Christ and trusting in His grace for a new way of living in Him.  But, there's a big "but" for me: I still have questions.

I know baptism doesn't save you - we are not saved by works, but by faith - however, does anything supernatural happen at baptism? And if it does, how do I know so many who have proclaimed by being baptized their desire to follow Christ... but have turned back to the world and to dependence on themselves, their own wisdom, and strength to get what they want out of life? So many people share about experiencing great peace when they were baptized, or of an infilling of the Holy Spirit. Others say it's just an act of obedience to God's mandate to be baptized, nothing more and nothing less.  Just like with Jesus, though, it seems that for many, the public declaration of the desire to follow Christ is followed by a time of testing in the wilderness... and perhaps not all pass the test.

The mandate in Matthew 28 is to go, making disciples, baptizing them in Jesus' name, and teaching them to obey all that He commanded.  I do believe that as exciting as baptisms are, it's the last part of that directive that gives the church (and me) trouble. The "teaching them to obey all that I commanded."  Discipleship to Christ - not to doctrine, not to oneself, not to a denomination, but to "hear His voice and follow," I believe is truly where we need to be working.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rimac - Finding Healing in the Broken

Yesterday my friend Sofia called at 8am. "Did I wake you?" she asked, and I laughed her off with a "At 8am? Don't be silly... even if you had, it would have been time to be up anyway!" The reality was that I was struggling to drag myself out of bed... again. At night my thoughts keep me awake, and in the morning it just seems easier to keep shutting them out with more sleep.

"Hermana, could you come with me today to visit my sick brother (in Christ, not by blood)?" I tried to stall for time to answer, "What time do you want to go? Let me think... I need to be back in time to make supper, it's my turn to cook tonight. Where is he?" Trying to sound like I care (I truly want to care, but the weight of my thoughts makes me listless), while inwardly acknowledging the reality that I might rather stay home... and do what? There was truly no good excuse. And isn't this what I'm here for? To be available to meet others in their need? She was ready to leave immediately, I just had to pull myself together, so I gave her an affirmative answer, and asked for an hour or so to "take care of some things." Like getting up, eating, getting dressed and trying to press in to a devotional time with God.  

The upside was that I got to go out and have some reprieve from my thoughts. The downside was that he lives in Rimac, one of the most crime-ridden sectors of Lima.  At 11am we finally met up in Chabuca, a park right behind the presidential palace. The river Rimac runs by the park, and on the other side of the river is the sector itself, standing in dirty stark contrast to the area surrounding the presidential palace. I followed her lead, as she was familiar with the zone and knew how to stay away from more dangerous spots.  We took a taxi to Rimac market, then another car to the San Juan area on the side of a hill, walking an uneven block to the house where the sick man, Gustavo, was. 

 A year ago he had been diagnosed with a malignant cancer, and given a year to live.  He was in bed, rail-thin, a man in his late 50's more or less, with a still dignified demeanor even on his deathbed.  His yellowed eyes gave away his quickly deteriorating condition, but we chatted about the weather, my friend Sofia's early years as a believer, and his family.  He had been a police officer, and had 9 children, not all by the same woman.  He had his sweet wife Yoli bring out the certificates he had earned in courses taken for chaplaincy service after coming to Christ.  I was impressed by his effort to better himself to serve those around him.  Then we sang and prayed together.  "Tu fidelidad es grande..." "Your faithfulness is great..."  As we prayed, he started to writhe and moan, and all my doubts of my ability in my present state to minister to anyone flooded in, but I continued to feel led to pray against depression and discouragement... and God showed up. Turns out God isn't limited by our imperfections - asking in faith in His goodness even apart from our worthiness is enough.  Gustavo stopped writhing and started nodding.  "Gracias, Señor." "What do you feel, brother?" I asked. "Peace. A lot of peace."  Just what we'd been asking for.  My heart flooded in gratitude and awe at the mercy of God. 

Later Sofia told me of how he had been wounded by the church, and how pastoral jealousy had kept him from meeting his full potential to serve.  How the pastor had never visited him, even after knowing that his cancer was fatal, and on one occasion when he had felt well enough to attend a service, had remarked that "nowadays it takes cancer to get people to go to church." Wounded people wound others, and the wounds of discouragement were deep. Sofia felt sure that this is what left him as we were praying. 

On the way home, I wondered at a God who uses the broken to bring healing to others.  Who took a womanizing police officer and turned him into a police chaplain and family counselor. Who planted a transformed police officer in the middle of a corrupt and delinquent sector of the city and whose family, even in his sickness, is a beacon of light to those around them.  Who got a depressed girl out of bed on a Wednesday morning to go pray against discouragement and depression in a terminal cancer patient.  Truly, great is His faithfulness.