Monday, November 21, 2011

The Storm

Sunday night, November 20. I am ministering in the city of Oran, very near the Bolivian border. Just as people were gathering for the service, a powerful storm of lightning, thunder and a virtual cloudburst hit us. Families, who were walking to church, came running in... soaked to the skin. Some were mothers with little babies in their arms. Some were families of three or four riding through the mud on little motorcycles. I was surprised that in spite of this driving rain the church filled up clear to the back rows.
The pounding sound of rain on the metal roof was deafening. The audio system was a good one, but no match for the roar on the roof.

I called the children forward and tried to do something with Perfume and Felipe, but the storm pounded so hard on the roof that Felipe had to yell to even be heard through the speakers. His act was obviously much less effective than usual.

I was preparing to read Acts 20:24 as a text to minister when the lights went out and the sound system with them. Now in the dark all we could hear was the roar of the pounding rain on the roof. Within 5 minutes or so they got the church's emergency generator going and we had sound and lights again. I started to preach and in another 5 or ten minutes the city electricity came back on… so the generator had to be turned off… and again we were plunged into darkness with only the roar of the rain until the system could be restored and the sound turned back on. Still I had to yell through the sound system to be understood and even then I’m not sure my voice effectively reached the back rows.
The whole evening service a struggle. Like the disciples in the storm, Pastors Pancho and Susana Farias and I were pulling at the oars with all our might.

Finally as I was closing my message the rain let up some and the distractions lessened allowing for a great altar time. Almost everyone was on their knees seeking God, many until after 11 PM.

My regular reading through the Bible this Monday morning, took me to Matt 8:23-27. It’s the story of a swamped and sinking little boat with Jesus calmly asleep in the stern. Was that storm related to the powers of evil? Was the devil trying to drown Jesus? Or was the Father in heaven saying, “These boys are sailors. They’re used to this lake. These fishermen have been sailing it most of their lives. Crank it up a notch… more wind… higher waves… swamp that little boat until these sailors realize that it is out of their control… until they have no choice but to call upon their Master.” Maybe I am too self-sufficient. Maybe God is cranking it up a notch so that I’ll fall again at the feet of my Master and admit my helplessness.

Ironically the theme of my message last night was “God is with us and He never makes mistakes”.

This morning I wrote this little prayer: Father, You are in control of the wind and the rain. Perhaps I am not supposed to question the “Who done it?” and the “Why'd they do it?”, but to ride out the storms of life with total faith in You… for I am not alone… I am not alone! Hallelujah! I am not alone in this “boat of ministry”. You, Jesus, Creator of the sea, the waves, the wind and the rain… You are in the “boat of life” with me. Immanuel, God is with me! My little insignificant craft may be tossed about on the sea of life’s storms, but the Master of it all is resting in the stern… calmly at peace and in full control of every circumstance. Thank you, Jesus.

Your missionary with muddy shoes.


Friday, November 18, 2011

God's Gentle Rebuke

True, I have been running full speed, sometimes living in less than ideal circumstances, ministered 11 times in 3 days and looked up at God and said, “How am I doing?” I expected to hear angelic applause. Silence. Very LOUD silence!!!

So I went to my regular “read thru the Bible” scripture for today. It included where Paul is defending his apostleship: 2 Cor 11:23-29 “… I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? … In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”

And God said, “Bro Ralph… What was that that you were telling me… (and bragging to everybody else on earth) about your achievements?” And I crawled into a hole and hid.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tears of Joy

My hotel room is smaller than a single car garage; it smells stuffy since it has no windows except the transit over the door which opens to the dark lobby; the paint on the wall is cracked and peeling off in places; the plumbing leaks water onto the bathroom floor constantly; each time you flush the toilet you have to lift the lid on the tank and reach down into the water to raise the float that sticks and floods the floor; as is common in many older hotels here, the shower rains down on the whole little bathroom soaking everything; the pillow on the narrow bed is a stiff, hard bolster; I had to request towels and soap since none were in the room; the situation is not ideal. But here I am… hardly able to see the computer screen for tears of joy!
Today is Tuesday November 15. I rose at 5 AM for the two hour drive from Tucuman to Metan. My first ministry opportunity this morning was at 9 AM to more than 300 excited children K through 7th grade in a public school. This was followed by a short TV interview with Felipe. From there at 11 AM to another public school to minister just to the fourth graders… about 60 of them.
Had lunch with two pastors and a 45 minute rest and back at 3 PM for the afternoon student body of about 300 students in the first public school and at 5 PM 300 more in the other school . At 6 PM I was taken to a juvenile retention center to minister to three teenage boys. Rodolfo is a clean, sharp looking 14 year old, Domingo is 17 and looks like he might have had a rough life. Faustino is also 17. None of the three smiled much. All three listened intently to Felipe’s Bible story. Then I ministered to them in an informal way, finally leading the three of them and their two police guards in the sinner’s prayer.

I went back out to my car along with the two pastors that accompanied me and opened the trunk to put Felipe and my accordion back in. Suddenly I found myself bent over the open trunk sobbing… unable to see clearly for my tears. My heart breaks for those 3 teenage boys. Pastor Carlos, who ministers there weekly, has promised me that he will give them each a copy of Nicky Cruz’s book “Run Baby Run” in Spanish this weekend. I took no pictures of these boys, but their faces are imprinted on my heart.

So what makes me weep for joy while sitting here at the computer? It is simply the privilege God is giving me to touch so many young lives with the message of Christ’s love and hope for a brand new start.

I must leave now for the evening service…
Today four exciting school events, one TV interview, the Juvenile Detention Center and finally the church service. Almost non-stop 5 AM till midnight. A great day! So rejoice with me!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blessed by Eduardo

Last night I was privileged to minister to a church full of children at the suburb town of La Florida. Pastor Nicolas Torrente, who had bussed them in from a low income neighborhood where their youth teams regularly minister, held the suitcase as my pet skunk, Perfume, came squirming out.

Every kid in the church that dared to risk losing a finger, reached out to touch Perfume. They should have known there was very little danger, since I had assured them that “She hardly ever bites.”

Eduardo, who lives in a wheel chair, enjoyed petting her, too.

Before leaving on the bus all the kids piled up on me and around me for this picture. A lot of these kids haven’t got much to look forward to… except the wonderful love of Jesus.

The bus drove away and Eduardo was wheeled to the front at his request. Here is a brilliant young man trapped in a twisted body that does not allow him to speak clearly nor move his limbs with full control.
Thinking that he had come for prayer, I prayed with him and sat beside him for a picture. Sometimes he could get out a whole sentence quite understandably, but other times his thick tongue could not be understood and I just nodded my assent. He told me how the Lord uses him to carry the message of Christ’s love to his classmates at his special school.
But now he was telling me something that I could not understand at first. Finally I discovered the real reason that Eduardo had asked to be wheeled up front. He wanted to pray for me! With obvious difficulty he raised his hand and placed it on my head and prayed a deeply earnest prayer of blessing on me. I understood most of it, but some words got blurred by my own sobs and some were obviously spoken in a beautiful heavenly language. The Lord Jesus, who was standing by very close to us, was listening and understood every word!

I drove back to my hotel counting my blessings: health, strength to walk, voice to talk and sing and the list goes on and on… and now an added “super blessing” by my friend, Eduardo.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Retired Preacher’s Paradise

Pastor Misael and I set out early last Saturday morning for the 120 mile drive. The little village of Mutquin is up a winding road climbing into the foothills of the Andes. You guessed it. That’s the road as shot from the valley floor. For over 25 years Pastors Misael and Sara Nieto have poured their lives into the provincial capital cities of Catamarca and Santiago del Estero and into many little towns like Mutquin. They have started more than 30 AG churches including the mother church in Catamarca that seats over 1,000.
Pictured is Pastor Misael (on right) discussing the work with a fellow minister.

Pastor Misael reminds me of Jesus. He touches people. He sits with them in their humble homes. He weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those that rejoice. Little children and the elderly alike come running into his arms.

As we drove into Mutquin a lady came running to the car window thrilled to see her pastor. (Photo) Store owners hugged him.

We visited several humble homes. One was this 94 year old saint, Francisca, who beamed with joy to see her pastor.

Another was this elderly lady, Segunda, known as the “soul winner”. She has been an instrument of blessing to this town. “Right there in that corner,” she said, as she pointed behind me, “right there is where the Baptist pastor received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

I turned and shot a picture of the moisture damaged “sacred corner.” How many had found Jesus there? Only the Lord knows.

The mountain above us was rumbling with an angry thunder storm leaving its top painted white with hail while worship rang out from the little church in Mutquin Saturday afternoon. What a blessing to be chosen to share God’s Holy Word!

Three hours later we were at a larger town called Sougil located in a valley as large as the San Juaquin Valley in California.
The service was held on the lawn in front of the church due to the heat inside. I’m not sure they could have squeezed that crowd inside anyway.
The Castilleros (youth) were all there early with great enthusiasm. Excellent young musicians, a sweet trombone, a soft sax, key board and guitar complete with singers set the backdrop. The crowd gathered as the sound of worship drifted across the town. Children beamed with delight at Perfume and Felipe. God gave me a special freedom as I preached to a responsive crowd.
Sunday evening I ministered in the mother church to about 800. Hundreds knelt at the altar service. God was there! Men, women and youth wept unashamedly as they dedicated their future to the Master.

How many of you retired preachers out there get to preach in 8 very different places in 6 days?! When one year ago the Lord spoke to my heart telling me that He had a new chapter for my life, I could never have guessed I was in for so much delightful fun.


Catamarca cactus in bloom