Monday, May 22, 2017

Thoughts from Honduras

A few weeks ago Manuel and I packed up our apartment with the help of my grandparents and sister, stored our stuff, packed our bags and headed north to Honduras with six other people on a mission to scout things out there and bring in new Vida220 students. We loved being there, and were always warmly welcomed despite a few warnings of “Honduras is dangerous,” “Be very careful!” and “Are you sure you really want to go there?” There my eyes were opened and my heart was touched by something totally new to me: gang activity.

Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are sadly known as some of the most violent countries in the world because of so many clashes and wars between opposing gangs as they try to gain territory and basically show each other who is boss. There are certain areas, cities and towns that are more “conflictive” than others. Therefore, outsiders fear to enter. They fear because of the stories they’ve been told and images they’ve seen of what goes on there. The whole world tells them that they should be very afraid. But what do you actually find when you set fear aside and go where no one else wants to go?

Chamelecón in San Pedro Sula, Honduras is one of those big, no-go zones. In the last ten years the town has suffered horrible violence at the hands of two opposing gangs. There was a kind of civil war between the two as one had control of a strategic territory (known there as a colony) beside the river and the other decided that they wanted to take over. Inside of that colony were dozens of innocent families who had nothing to do with any gang activities, others who had fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers connected to the gang that controlled the colony at that time, and right in the middle of it all is a Mennonite church.

We met with the pastor of this church multiple times over a few weeks. Each time he shares with us a different experience allowing us to understand the kind of things that have impacted his community, church and even his own family. But as we sat and listened to his stories far from Chamelecón, so many of the details were only left to each of our imaginations. It wasn’t until we actually visited the church one Sunday that we were able to understand, at least a bit better.

That Sunday we had planned to meet with the pastor in a gas station right inside of the main entrance into Chamelecón so that we could follow him to the church. He was running late so we sat in the van and observed what was around us. There were three or four heavily armed soldiers posted in the middle of the road to see who goes in and out, always ready to block off the road “if things get ugly down there.” Dozens of people drove and walked by. Some paid no attention to the strange van and others stared as they passed by. The pastor finally came and we followed him towards the church. We passed by people riding their bikes, couples walking hand in hand, people grocery shopping, and all looked pretty normal to me. There was almost no sign of the “war” that had torn so many lives apart only a few years ago.

It wasn’t until we got out of the cars at the church and followed the pastor on a small tour of the colony which had been forcibly taken over that we began to connect images with the story: a house that one of more than a dozen families from the church had to abandon as they either fled for their lives or were forced out because of connections to the opposing gang, a man whose elderly father-in-law was kidnapped and murdered because he didn’t seem to understand why he could no longer visit his friends in the neighboring colony, dozens of abandoned, gutted homes, and an empty lot right beside the street that divided the colonies of the opposing gangs where the church would meet to pray for peace knowing that at any moment guns could be fired and they would suddenly find themselves in the middle of a battle, but still they kept praying.

We returned to the church where the pastor had told us that we could expect to see a slightly more “expressive” congregation than in the other Mennonite churches we had visited. We all wondered what he meant by that, but we would soon find out. Songs and words take on a whole new meaning when in the midst of the violence God has truly been your only hope, your only safety, when His presence has literally been the only source of peace that you can possibly find. The commands to forgive and love your enemy no longer look the same when it means forgiving your father’s murderer, your husband’s kidnapper, and the people who tricked your son into believing that the gang would be good for him, that he would be taken care of and become rich and powerful, but now he’s gone. To still lift your hands in praise and give thanks can no longer be an empty, monotonous act. If you’ve been through any of that and have chosen to believe, to forgive, to have joy, you know that it comes from the deepest corner of a heart that only God in his grace could make well again.

These people do not deny the pain they have felt, nor do they deny the danger of being threatened and hurt all over again. But they don’t let it control them either. Some communities choose high walls and metal gates to try to keep the danger out, but that “security” still ceases to exist the moment they step outside of the gate and back into the real world. Others have chosen to face life head-on, recognizing and believing in a good and loving God who can still change even a gang leader’s heart, and make right the wrongs committed against them. These live in true faith, they know true joy not based on circumstances, and they experience a true kind of peace that only comes from God and is not wavered by the unrest that surrounds them.

My eyes have been opened, my heart has been touched, and I have been challenged once again to not allow myself to buy into the ideas that media and society are so good at selling. Don’t believe all of the stereotypes, don’t put a certain group of people in one big box just because of where they come from. The truth is that they’re not all the same. Go and see for yourself. Get to know a few people from a culture or place that you’ve only heard about on the news or read about in books. Be brave and step outside of your comfort zone. You might just be pleasantly surprised, even shocked, at what you find.

**If you like "Ted Talks" and have a few minutes to listen to one here is a really good one related to the last paragraph called The Danger of a Single Story.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We are Content

         The last few months have been a whirlwind full of exciting things. It’s hard to believe it’s almost July already!  In April I was able to visit my home in Ohio for the first time in a year. In May we visited churches all over Costa Rica and even went to Nicaragua to prepare for the short-term mission teams that we are now receiving through PVM. We also got to go to San Miguel, the community that we worked in three years ago, on foot for the first time since last November. In the beginning of June our two Vida220 teams finished their five month long outreach and moved back to our base in Heredia. The Friday before we received our first PVM group a tree fell on one of our temporary dorm structures (noone was inside at the time!) and within two days we had another one ready to live in. We’ve been busy and we’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but through it all we’ve been reminded time and time again of God’s goodness! Not that we have ever had a reason to forget it, though.

Praying with Lesly after touring the city of Granada, Nicaragua.
Pastor Florentino and his wife Mariela in San Miguel.

                My trip home in April had several purposes, one of which was to fundraise. Manu and I are not people who need or even desire to have many material comforts, but we had been living off of the budget that I had been given as a single person. As I went home we knew that somehow we needed to raise about twice as much as what we had been receiving. So, we went into fundraising simply praying and believing that God would provide enough, and we were ready to make changes in our lifestyle if needed. But, when all was said and done we found out that our proposed budget had been met. Manuel and I feel so overwhelmed and thankful to God for His provision in the lives of our supporters, and in turn ours.

We are blessed to have such a supportive community in Ohio.

Eva and I got to visit the zoo.

                As if that weren’t enough of a gift, God gave us another big one just this last Friday, June 24. Manu was granted his tourist visa to visit the States. We know cross-cultural couples who have had to apply multiple times before their visa was ever granted, so we were a bit wary of what the answer for Manuel would be.

                The night before his interview we were praying and asking for God’s favor and also proclaiming our trust in His answer, whether it would be a “yes” or “not yet.” Then while I waited during his interview I was reading in Luke 11 as part of one of the passages that I was supposed to read that day. It talks about Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. He also says that he who asks will receive, he who seeks will find, and to him who knocks the door will be opened. Then comes one of my favorite verses, Luke 11:13, “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him,” and after reading that my prayer changed. I asked God to fill Manu in that moment with all of the fruits of his Holy Spirit. So, along with that great gift which He promises to give us, God also granted us his favor that day.

                We’ve been extra thankful lately and much more aware of God’s support in what we do and ask of Him. Our eyes have been opened more to the power of the support and prayer of the people around us, both far and near. But, in these days I’ve also been reminded of Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” It is always easy to feel content and thankful when God answers our prayers the way we hope he will. The test that we must pass one day will be to remain content when His answer is “no” or “not yet.” On those days we all realize if the object of our worship has been the blessing or the One who blesses.

                Thank you all for your prayers and incredible shows of support, and thank you for taking time to hear our heart. We would like to ask for your continued prayers specifically for wisdom, strength and energy as we will be very busy for the next two months hosting more than 200 people in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and visiting other countries in Central America to recruit students for Vida220.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rain, Weddings, and New Adventures

Rainy season has finally come. It came about a month late, but it’s here! Sometimes I wonder we prayed so hard that God would give us a dry wedding day that He decided to move the entire season back a month.

It’s interesting to no longer write as “I” and “me” but “us” and “we.” Manu and I have been married for just about two months now (woohoo!) and there are so many things that we are still getting used to, but so far it’s been a beautiful, smooth transition. In the last few months we have seen God’s hand move in ways that we did not expect. I can now see that long before we were ever making wedding plans, He was making them for us by putting people in our lives who would help lift the load of wedding plans and details. I learned a good, hard lesson on pride and letting go of control the week of the wedding. It’s one that I won’t soon forget. In the end the wedding was beautiful, we enjoyed ourselves and were so blessed to have many friends and family members travel long distances to stand beside us. 

After our honeymoon Manu and I moved into an apartment located about 200 yards from the coffee farm that serves as VidaNet’s base. God was definitely in control of that detail as well. We had our eye on two apartments. One we had seen and loved, the other we hadn’t seen but it was closer and cheaper. After waiting, praying and playing a long game of phone tag with the owners of the cheaper one we were ready to give up and go with the more expensive one. We decided to call one last time and were finally able to see the apartment. We loved it (especially the price!) and said “yes” on the spot.

In ministry, Manu and I have committed to the position of Vida220 Directors for the next three years. The school starts on October 18 and we are working hard to prepare everything for its arrival. This year we are expecting 13 students from the US, Canada, and Costa Rica. We are excited and nervous to see what the next 10 months will hold. It’s a huge responsibility and this is an intense program. It would be easy to wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into, but if there is one thing that we are sure of, it’s that God called us to this, we didn’t just choose it on a whim.  We hope and expect to not only see growth and greater maturity in the students this year, but in our lives and leadership as well.  

We would greatly appreciate it if you would join us in prayer for these things:
  • Protection over our marriage, home, and health
  • Wisdom in our marriage and ministry
  • That God would take total control of Vida220 and change the lives of all involved
  • For guidance and direction for future plans, both near and far
  • That Manuel would receive his visa to be able to visit the States

Thank you so much for taking time to pray for us and these things. Manu and I may never be able to personally thank you for your support and prayers, but know that we are so grateful for it! We hope to visit the States sometime very soon! Until then you’ll be hearing from us from here.

May God bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you!
With love,

Manuel and Liz

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


“Our Father will refresh us with many pleasant inns on the journey, but he would not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
                                                          C.S. Lewis

I’ve been feeling homesick lately. It always seems to happen around this time of year. You’d think that the holidays would be the most difficult time to be away from home, but I’ve found that it’s the months following Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s that hit me hardest.

This homesickness is something that I have yet to fully understand, although I feel like God has recently given me some insight on the matter.

It’s a strange thing, because the feeling of homesickness doesn't go away when I’m “at home” in Ohio. There’s still always something missing. But what is it?

In Ohio I’ve got a big, amazing family, great friends, an awesome church, history, the privilege of enjoying four distinctly beautiful seasons, so many comforts, so many opportunities. Why shouldn’t I feel at home there?

Here in Costa Rica I really have no reason to feel so homesick either. I have been blessed to be able to meet and get to know so many wonderful people, many of whom have come to feel like family. I have an amazing boyfriend. I daily get to see the awesome works of God’s creation in ways that I would never see in Ohio. God’s allowed me to form a very small part of an effective ministry. Why shouldn’t I feel perfectly at home here?

Would anyone like to tell me?

Some might call it discontentment. Or maybe it’s just a “missionary problem”. Sometimes I feel like I’m just flat out crazy. Or maybe I’m not so crazy. Maybe this feeling is something normal, something people have been feeling for thousands of years.

"Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw if way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that--heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a city waiting for them."
                                                   Hebrews 11:13-16 MSG

Could this be something we’re all born with? Maybe whether we realize it or not, there’s something deeply ingrained in our souls that tells us there’s something more, something so much better than this.

Naturally we’re all looking for that unknown thing. We look for it in money, possessions, and power. We think we’ll find it when we finally have our “other half”. We search in seemingly good and fulfilling things like having a successful ministry, being active members in a good church, and surrounding ourselves with wholesome things and people. Well, let me be the first to tell you that it’s in none of those things. 

“They desire a better country…a heavenly one.”

I've come to the conclusion that this homesickness will be sticking around for a while (at least I hope it will!), and honestly I’m okay with that. But I know that someday it will end. Someday I’ll no longer be an exile in a strange land, but a permanent resident of that heavenly country. Someday I’ll be home. I long for that day, but if God still has me here then it must be for a good reason, and I fully intend to make the best of every moment that He allows me to walk this foreign land.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

God Doesn't Call the Equipped, He Equips the Called

After spending six great weeks at home I'm so glad to have been back in Costa Rica for the last month.

Sunday marked the beginning of a new "school year" for Vida220. We received 12 new students: 4 from northern Ohio, 2 from Mexico, and 6 from here in Costa Rica, 3 of which are from the indigenous reserve in Talamanca. It's a huge blessing to have such a diverse group of four very distinct cultures come together with the same goal: to walk in a more intimate relationship with God.

I was reminded recently of a phrase the I heard years ago: God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called. That's actually a phrase that I am quite often reminded of because of the fact that I frequently feel completely unequipped to do the things that God calls me to do. So I sat down a few days ago to search for stories from the Bible that demonstrate the truth of this phrase and I came up with a good list of them, which is by no means, extensive.

Moses—A Hebrew boy born in Egypt during a time of great oppression against the Hebrew people. According to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, Moses should’ve been thrown into the Nile River moments after being born. But God had a different plan. Moses was hidden for the first three months of his life, and then when he could no longer be hidden he was set afloat in a basket on the river to meet his fate. Who finds him and picks him up? Pharaoh’s daughter, of all people. Now, you would probably think that the daughter of the very man who commanded that the lives of all Hebrew baby boys be taken at birth would be the first to follow that command. But she doesn’t. Instead, she sends Moses back to his own mother (whether or not she was aware of the fact that she’d sent him back to his birth-mother we don’t know) to be nursed until he can go and live with Pharaoh’s daughter, becoming her son…Pharaoh’s grandson. Years down the road Moses is watching his people, the Hebrews, suffer as slaves to Pharaoh and out of anger he murders an Egyptian (little did he know, God would later use him give us the commandment “Do not murder”). So Moses runs away and hides, and God soon appears to him, speaking from the burning bush. God asks Moses to go back to Egypt, the place he ran from, to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. What was Moses’ response? “Who am I to go back to these people? They’ll never listen to me. I can’t speak well. Please, send someone else.” But God doesn’t let him off the hook. So Moses goes and with the help of his brother, Aaron, he confronts Pharaoh. Through Moses, God performs many miracles and signs. He sends ten terrible plagues, showing His great power and authority over all of creation. Pharaoh finally lets God’s people go, but not without putting up a fight and in the process loses his entire army in the Red Sea which God’s people crossed through on dry land, with the sea forming walls on both sides of them. All the while they’re being led by Moses, this man who should’ve been killed in the first hours of his life. His story goes on from there as he leads the Israelites in the desert. He gives us many great examples of leadership, though he was far from perfect. His story is just one of many stories which show us how God equips the people He calls.

Joseph—A young boy, sold by his brothers, who has what we might call “bad luck”. But everything that happened to him had to happen so that one day he would be responsible for saving the lives of thousands of people during a famine.

Ruth—A widow who ends up being mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

David—A simple, shepherd boy turned into a mighty king.

Esther—A Jewish woman living under exile in Persia, who eventually becomes the wife of the Persian king. She then saves the entire Jewish race from being destroyed by taking some very risky actions.

Jonah—A rebellious prophet who took a life-saving message to a people at the point of being destroyed.

Mary—A simple girl who would become the mother of the Son of God. Can you imagine the pressure she must have felt when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,”?

The disciples—They were fishermen, tax-collectors, some of them were probably hated by a lot of people. But Jesus called them to leave everything, follow him, and learn from him. All along the way we see him equipping them to go out and fulfill the calling to go and make disciples, to teach them, baptize them, and do even greater things than Jesus himself had done.

Paul—A man who for years hated and persecuted Christians. But then Jesus got a hold of his life and he became quite possibly the greatest example of a life fully surrendered to Christ, willing to make any sacrifice to see the Kingdom of God furthered and expanded.

I can almost guarantee you that none of these men and women felt equipped to do what they knew God was calling them to do. But God uses them in mighty ways despite their lack of knowledge, strength, power, position, number of friends, eloquence, even despite their lack of willingness. These are just  a few examples of people who never planned to change history, who never imagined that their stories would be written in a book that millions of people read each day, even now, thousands of years later.

As we look at these stories written thousands of years ago it might be easy to think that God used to do that kind of thing, but He would never do that with me. The truth however, is that the God we serve today is the exact same God as these people served, and He’s still surprising normal, simple people with great callings, far beyond their human abilities or knowledge. But God always has and always will equip the people that He calls. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Who's doing the writing here?

I had a crazy idea a few weeks ago: some day I want to write an autobiography. Maybe once I'm old and have grand-kids I'll make that a project. It seems to me that God has blessed me with a fairly abnormal life, and although many days life has not been easy I have decided that I wouldn't change a single thing about it.

You see, all along God has been writing my story, and it's only just beginning! As He closes each chapter and begins a new one I grow, I get to know the Author's heart and mind a little more, I fall a little more in love with Him with each new page, and He makes me want to keep reading and living out this story to see what comes next.

Now, I can also clearly identify times in my life when I was the one controlling the pen (figuratively speaking of course) and attempting to write my own story. Those pages are a mess and I quickly learned that I am not nearly as good of an author as God is.

I think sometimes we get angry at God, at least I know I do, for writing something in our stories that we don't like. But here's the thing; we can't see the whole story like He can. We live on one page of the book at a time. Sure, we have memories of past pages and chapters and at times we may attempt to live those times out again but in reality that's not possible. And unlike reading a book made of paper and ink we don't have the privilege (though a debatable one) of skipping ahead a few pages or chapters, or sometimes to the very end, to see how everything works out. We have hopes and dreams for the future but no way of really seeing it. Sometimes God will give us a little clue, or even a peak at what is coming, but He also asks us to trust in Him and tells us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,...For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

That's pretty reassuring and exciting for me! I love a good book and for some reason that I don't understand the Author of the #1 Best Selling Book in all history (which is a fact by the way) has chosen me to be a character in His continuing story. Like I mentioned earlier, one day I stopped trying to write my own story and handed the pen and paper over to Someone who has the biggest imagination, the most power, and the most beautiful handwriting and way with words. The most exciting part of all of this is that He wants to be the author of all of our stories, though He won't ever force us into doing something, He gives us that choice. I for one though am proud to wear His signature as the Author of my story.

I was reading the last chapters of a book called A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, when the idea to some day write an autobiography came to me. The book talks about "how the soul grows through loss" and it put to words so many things that I had been unable to express, if even to myself, since my mom's death nine years ago. In this book the author describes what he has gone through and learned since a car accident took the lives of his mother, wife, and daughter. I had actually taken a break from reading and was writing in my journal when the majority of what I've just written came to me. When I finished writing I decided that I was going to finish the last chapter or two of the book, and I'll finish with what Jerry Sittser says at the end of the epilogue:
"But I have this sense that the story God has begun to write He will finish. That story will be good. The accident...was and remains a very bad chapter. But the whole of my life appears to be a very good book."