I often think we can observe people with passions that cause them to act in a way that is peculiar or even crazy to the outside perspective. That same ‘craziness’ which can drive some people nuts is also the trait that proves to be attractive to others. One of the things about me that I know that has irked my wife is my ‘optimism’. Optimism in the sense of dreaming big for a better and amazing future, despite how bleak the current situation may be. At the same time, I know full well it is also what attracts her to me as I seek to be obedient to God’s redemptive call in and through our lives.
Shalom as the bible speaks of for all of creation one day, fills my head full of amazing imagery. With a childlike imagination, you can only guess how my mind may fantasize and see the potential, even if it only scratches the surface of how deep the goodness and design of our God for His universe is. Some days, this can seem crazy, really crazy for Margarita when we witness injustice, blatant corruption and brokenness around us as we serve here in Bolivia. While we call this place home during this season in our lives, but it still remains a foreign land where many of the accepted norms seem so incredulous to us.
In 2015, we arrived to the mission field here in Bolivia as a family during a season of crisis and disorder. To be honest, some of it was due to the changing political climate and the difficulties as a Christian mission learning how to adjust, but another part can be attributed to our lack of intentionality towards positive change with the possibility of a longing for how things were. In either case, the bleak context in which we found ourselves as missionaries ultimately came down to the consequences of sin.
Sin. The very reason we should be here right? Not to let it shape our perspective or leave us jaded, but rather to be vessels of God’s love and truth that turns sin on its head! I think the transitions we’ve witnessed first hand over the last two years might be hard to imagine, but out of the original 37 men, women and children that were serving here when we landed just over 2 years ago, only 5 of them were in country as we completed our 2 year term last month. Five. That’s a little crazy if you think about it as you’re not even accounting for all the history and experience that left this country in the form of career missionaries, but also the general lack of resources, both human and financial that exists in missions worldwide.
Now you can picture a little better the overall frustration for Margarita in coming to Bolivia to serve. Not only does she still not have her medical license recognized by the government in order to serve through medical missions as per her advertised purpose in coming here, but the promise of a team and mentors also quickly vanished due to varying circumstances. Couple that with a husband who keeps trying to encourage and see a better future ‘if we just do our small part to be obedient in the present’ and you can imagine some of the many conversations we’ve engaged in over the last 2 years.
After only 5 months of living in this new country as a missionary, I was asked to serve as the interim field chair and received very little orientation when my time came to actually step in and do the job. I had to learn on the fly, and despite the frustrations and feelings of being lost, I knew deep down that the Lord didn’t place us in this situation by accident, but rather He had been refining and preparing us for the challenge all along.
Many of you know we travelled last year and prayed about returning to Bolivia after discovering the good news that Margy was pregnant while weighing the risk of returning to South America with the Zika situation. We even struggled through that decision following our returning, when one ultrasound check up showed Victoria’s head circumference had dropped from over the 60th percentile down to below the 3rd. Nonetheless through the struggles of transition and personal suffering, God sustained us and allowed us to see a little of His plan for our field. Shalom. Not just for our field, but for this country.
“We keep going because brokenness still mars the beauty of God and the people He loves and created.” Earlier this year as Margarita and I looked ahead to our initial 2-year term coming to an end and the Field Director for Bolivia returning after 14 months of Home Ministry Assignment in the States. Margy approached me and said something I never would have expected. There were times during our first 18 months here where Margy wanted to purchase one-way tickets back to Canada or to Colombia, but she said, “When Dan (our field director) comes back, you know we can’t just move and leave him all alone with the task of caring for this field? I can only commit to one year at a time, but we need to stay and continue to be a part of the change.”
I guess my craziness and optimism rubbed off on her a little! I will be honest, there was so much to try and tackle over the last year, from non-functioning leadership teams, broken finances and legal paperwork that span a decade prior to my arrival and even a lack of accountability or awareness of our ministries, that I chose wrong at times and placed the ministry over the love and care of my own wife. She saw me pour myself into trying to be a part of working towards a better future that God had painted for me over this field and country, and while it drove her nuts, it also inspired her despite my failings as a husband. I thank the Lord for His grace and mercy over us. Your prayers over this last year have helped us endure and bring us to this point.
This past Wednesday, it was officially announced that I would serve as our field’s new country director for South America Mission. While in reality my role won’t change too much from what I was engaged it over the past 12 months, the quote, “the longer I serve my God, I realize how big He is and that I’m not Him,” resonated as I found the need around me, much greater than my capacity more often than not. That being said, going forward we will restructure field leadership to be comprised of a team, because despite the lack of human resources on the field we know we need each other in this battle to support, care and sharpen one another if we desire to move forward in a wise manner. My prayer is that with this new leadership team, we can honor God in excellence as we continue to serve here and be a part of bringing God’s Shalom to His creation. Oh, and surprise, surprise, the good Father has been faithful too. As of the writing of this update, we now have an exciting team of 35 children, women and men who are faithfully serving God here with their lives and for the sake of the cross.
There is still much work to be done, but we have that vision of God’s Shalom for all of creation as our guaranteed future. In the world of missions it may seem like we only have lemonade money compared to outside world, but when you serve the almighty God, I think it’s good practice to operate with champagne taste. After all, Jesus Himself was considered outrageous, crazy and controversial in His time on earth, but to this day He remains astonishingly attractive in a dark and broken world.