This past week has held a few.
In beginning the long journey toward an MDiv through Moody Theological Seminary, I started the first 7 week class. I was told that the courses would require an average of 10-15 hours of work each week which is quite manageable even for those with a full-time work/ministry.
Well, I’m here to tell you, I’m way above average! I didn’t think I would need to be too concerned with how much time it took, so I didn’t clock the hours. However, if it took less than 25 hours to this point, I would be surprised. I still have a two-page paper to create and submit by midnight Monday. I’m glad to say that by Friday night (or rather Saturday morning around 1 a.m.), I had completed all the readings, all the discussion questions, all the study guide questions, and one of the two papers for this week. I even had started earlier than the class officially started by one day, since I already had the textbooks and syllabus and course schedule. So, I felt good on Monday having a jump on the reading. I had no idea though that I’d be reading from Monday-Friday (minus ministry tasks, Bible studies, etc.) until 1 a.m. every single night. One night I read till 2 a.m.
On Saturday, there was an all-day men’s conference in Querétaro and I had committed to go, and one of our house church men, Jorge, was able to go with me. We ended up picking up one other man (Jorge’s brother-in-law) on the way there as we were surprised to discover that he was going and was already in the local bus station about to buy a ticket. I guess his plan was to get to that city by bus, and then would have to drag a heavy suitcase (full of bookstore items to sell at the conference) on local buses until he could finally get there. I don’t think he would have made it until lunch time at best! So, we adjusted our route in-progress and picked him up on the way. I think he was surprised too!
That conference was pretty good, but started late (we were on-time…what were we thinking arriving on-time?!?) and ended late. During the conference, I felt a heart-string tugging me to take a detour on the way home to visit briefly with a missionary family we haven’t seen for a couple months.
That family, the Swansons, informed us a couple days ago that the wife, Deliegha, had suffered a miscarriage this past Tuesday. We were surprised to find out that she was pregnant. That was news to us! But so was the news of the miscarriage and that surprise was not a happy one. You might pray for Deliegha and the family (Jeff and 3 kids). They serve with IMB and are involved in Bethie’s classes this year. Unfortunately, they weren’t home (and I didn’t have his phone number to check on that before we headed up the mountain to their house), so we missed them.
By the time we got back from the conference, it was late and I was spent. Now what to do about Sunday morning house church? I had read a couple hours’ of material toward the devotional last Monday morning, but had not had any time since then to do anything else with it. I wasn’t even close to ready for that. I thought I’d have some time on Thursday and Friday and maybe after the conference on Saturday, but I had no idea that my course work would totally absorb those days, and that the conference would kill off the rest of Saturday.
So, last night I decided that since we knew 2 families weren’t coming today, we’d probably have between 1 and 3 families at best, and it would be a very small group for today. I’d forget about doing a devotional and use a missionary video that had been loaned to me just a couple days ago without me asking for it. That would fill in well for today, and we could sing some hymns and move on to our book study (which we listen to in audio form so I don’t need to prep for that).
Sunday morning. More surprises. I checked out the DVD on my office laptop and didn’t feel real good about it, but Bethie thought it was good despite the monotone narration. So, ok, we’ll go with it. I took it to the dining room and inserted it into our aging Macbook Pro (6 years old now) which we use for church, and the DVD drive just wouldn’t read it, click, click, click. Ejected it and tried again…same thing. I decided to nix it altogether.
Yes…we should just go back to some Bible memorization work that we have neglected for a couple of months. So, pull the table back out, circle the chairs, and the few people who come will work on making memorization cards at the table. Keep it simple. We can sing a couple hymns, have our prayer time for petitions and praises, and move upstairs for the audio/visual book study. Simple.
11:00 a.m. start time. No one here yet…not unusual. 11:10 a.m. I hear a rough sounding muffler. I suspect that would be Lupe’s parents who we knew were planning to arrive to San Juan on Saturday afternoon. Lupe didn’t know if they’d make it or not on Sunday morning, and we were pretty sure they wouldn’t come.
Well, they indeed had. (Keep in mind, the parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses…that throws in a new consideration for the meeting.) So, that’s 4 adults and 3 kids. Looks like we’ll have just them. Quite informal. Hmmm…wonder if the Bible memory work will be OK. Probably so. We’re going to work on a salvation passage from 1 John. That’ll work.
11:15 a.m. Toñia arrived, with her three boys…and husband. Have not seen him in over a year! Typically, the boys join the adults (they are all teens or older). So, suddenly, we are up to 9 adults and 3 kids. We need more chairs. I hear the bell ring again. Jorge and Eva made it. 11 adults and 3 kids. 11:17. I hear more voices. I come back from the hallway with more chairs and I find myself greeting a family I’ve never even met before and have no idea who they are. They have an adult son and two little ones. 14 adults and 5 kids. Add us and we’re at 17 adults and 6 kids (Cameron will have to count as an adult because he is our primary “nursery” worker!). Surveying the room. This is not a small group with just a few people.
OK…now what? Oh the hymnal. I never picked out any hymns! Grab a hymnal and attempt to hide in the hallway looking for a few songs to sing. Jharley grabs me.
“Hey, you remember that English exam for my university I told you about and you were helping me study for this summer?”
“Ummm…no…well…yeah…sorta. Yeah, I think so. Sure.”
“I took the exam last week and I passed! In fact, I got a level 6!”
“Hey, that’s great. What’s a level 6?”
“Well, you know it’s very expensive to go to university, and I have to take English classes, but it all depends on this test. Each level represents a semester of English, so a 6 means 3 years of English I got credit for.”
“Oh that’s good. What’s the highest level you can get?”
“OH…that’s really good. Congratulations!”
“And it’s because of your help, Alan. You really helped me with my conversation. The teacher told me that my conversation skills were very good. Thanks so much for helping me!”
“You’re welcome. I don’t think I helped you very much, but you’re welcome, and I’m very happy to hear you did so well. That’s great!”
OK…now after all that, there is a dining room packed with people expecting a church service which I wasn’t ready for at all, and they’re waiting for me to start it. Like right now. Already.
Hmmm…no way we could sit around the table and work on something, we couldn’t possibly fit. We have some very loud little kids running around, ummm…think…ummm…I can’t think, and well…this is one big surprise.
THINK. NOW. PRAY. NOW. BLANK.
So, we went around and gave intros of everyone. We asked for prayer requests or praises. That got a little interesting and I don’t have all of that assimilated yet in my head, but trust me, there was a testimony from our new guests (Victor and Laura) that sort of blew our socks off. Wish I could accurately relay that. Bethie and I talked about it afterward, and we have a few gaps in what we understood. It was truly a work of God in their lives is about all I can say, and it was a potentially disastrous situation involving potential jail time for being honest as a believer! After what must have been several years of judicial proceedings, just this past week a court exonerated him and all the charges were dropped! He’s a federal police officer and had refused to cheat, and in the process of not cheating, he was accused of cheating (by some of those who truly do cheat and steal money from the government). Sound familiar? Maybe a guy named Joseph? So glad to hear that Victor did not have to go through the Mexican prison system for false accusations.
Well, we prayed and now what? Think. OK…a quick review of the men’s conference by Jorge and me, and then a quick review of the 3 tests of a believer from our ongoing devotional in 1 John. That was good. OK. Ummm…we’re going to take a little break now…5 to 10 minutes for coffee and banana bread and to chat. Adults will move upstairs and we’re going to watch a video.
That’s it. That’s what we’ll do. The video? The one that we watched about 3 weeks ago but only half the group was here to watch it that time. Then 2 weeks ago the half that had missed the week before and no one who had been here the week before was here that time, so then we watched it again, except Lupe had missed it both times. And his parents weren’t here. And the new family wasn’t here. And Jorge just told me yesterday that he really enjoyed that and would gladly watch anything like it should there be another one (we have another one).
So, we moved a bunch of chairs upstairs and got the room arranged so that all the adults could see the TV screen. “Defining Moments” is a Billy Graham Association video. They originally did a Spanish subtitled version which I just happened to have shown the last time Lupe’s parents had visited with us on a Sunday. That was about a year ago. It was hard to follow the subtitles, but they said they enjoyed it.
This version has been redone and is all in Spanish voices and 2 of the 3 testimonies that are interwoven throughout the video are by Spanish speakers. Most of the adults seemed to know the actor who is Mexican but lives and works in the USA now. BTW, after showing it today, Lupe and his parents said, “Wow! That was so much better than the subtitled version. We really didn’t understand that one. This was crystal clear. I understand it now.”
I got that video going and realized I didn’t have a seat but found a spot out of the way. I couldn’t see everyone from where I was seated. About half way through I’m seeing Kleenexes get passed around. I could see Lupe’s mother in front of me dabbing at tears.
Well, surprise. God used that video for a third time…reinforcing the message of the Gospel. When it ended, I got up and shared about two minutes of my own testimony and read 1 John 5:11-13. I closed in prayer.
Downstairs again…I had a conversation with Lupe’s dad. I shared elements of the Gospel again. I won’t bore you with the whole conversation, but I ended up giving him a Spanish version of an evangelistic book by Andy Stanley, “How Good is Good Enough?” as well as another Gospel presentation illustrating that our good works don’t save us and can’t even help us be saved. He said to me, “This is really making me think.”
Well…my heart just breaks to hear that and to know that maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit is using His Word to break through the years of everything this man has thought to be true. First, the good works salvation message of the Catholic church which they left, and secondly (and continuing), the false good works teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He and his wife drive back the four hours to their little town tomorrow morning in their 30 year old truck. Their town, to my knowledge, remains untouched by the Gospel after centuries of living…dying…in darkness. A town of about 15,000 people and to my knowledge, there is not one believer.
Would you pray for this couple? Pray for them to be surprised by grace. Pray for this town called Pastor Ortiz. I can honestly tell you that should God reach into this town, it’s a miracle that only He could have done. Pray for God to do that. Pray for it. Pray for them.
I don’t know much. I can’t say much. But one thing I can tell you:
God is a God of surprises.