Category Archives: Cuba 2018

Maybe if we would all just slow down….<3

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I know I am not alone in noticing something about our current culture because I have many conversations with people. People I know and total strangers because for some reason, I seem to be a magnet for people to tell me what is on their mind. 

There is a kind of accelerated pace in our world today and high levels of stress and frustration that are acted out in all manner of behaviors. 

And nowhere is this more evident than along the highways, interstates and even the streets we navigate to get across town. 

I spend a lot of time in the car, and more and more I am alarmed at the way cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles weave in and out of traffic and run red lights. 

It is nothing to see a light turn yellow a fair distance ahead and as cars slow to prepare to stop, another car coming from behind will gun it and pass under a fully red light. 

There are, I am sure, times in our lives that warrant speeding but I find it hard to believe so many people these days are experiencing increased urgency in situations to get to their destination.

On the interstate, cars appear out of nowhere and blow past us. God forbid we are only going the safe seven mph over the speed limit for they will ride our bumper in the passing lane until we can get around the car going fifteen under. 

So much anger and angst fueling vehicles that are propelling down roads at the endangerment of themselves and others. 

And it can make my blood pressure soar and my own heart constrict and yet, I know I appear the same to other more slow-moving vehicles at times. 

God calls us to be different and move through life in such a way that we stand out…not because we are faster and more powerful and wield the most intimidation. 

No. 

In the midst of all the forces that are exerting copious amounts of energy to be #1, we are to be quietly and purposefully exalting the Only One.

It is a temptation to try and beat, defeat, or at least compete with all those around us.

It is a grace gift to run the race at our own pace.

Take a deep breath. 

Live counterculture. 

Follow Christ with your whole heart <3

A tale of two airports <3

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Can you believe we are waving goodbye to June??

Me either. 

We have had several big events in our life that have propelled us thus far and July is chock full of more fun stuff dotting our calendar to the point that I have to focus on making intentional choices each day or summer will slip past leaving me wishing I had followed through on some things we wanted to do. 

I am winding down the two week series covering some thoughts and reflections from our time in Cuba (ok…not really permanently…because more may pop up from time to time…but….)

This morning I will finish with this observation gleaned from passing through the airports in both countries. 

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The contrast was incredible to me. 

As we deplaned in Havana, we followed the flow of people to an area where lines formed.

There was a wide row of booths with official looking people sitting in them checking passports and pointing to a camera for each person. 

A red line painted on the floor clearly marked where you stood just before you were motioned to a desk for your turn to pass through. 

Once through this area, we followed the flow of people to the next line and whatever they were doing, we did. 

Perhaps there would be someone with a uniform standing there. This one might offer slight direction or was just available if you had a question. 

And we all managed to make our way through. 

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In the U.S. we were greeted by a barrage of signs and TSA agents who loudly repeated in robotic fashion a myriad list of directions with about as much enthusiasm as someone reading off the privacy agreement for Facebook over…and over…and over.

So basically, they were standing in front of a detailed sign with words and pictures depicting what they were saying, plus they were on a loop of monotone instruction. 

And in case we didn’t understand what a line is, we had miles of roping looping back and forth to keep us in check and moving forward.

Yet, a large number of people had to be told several times about removing toiletries, emptying water bottles, taking off shoes…etc…etc…etc.

What is it with us?

The more information we have thrown at us, it would seem, the  more we shut down mentally. 

And I wonder if one of the greatest struggles of living in a thoughtful and engaged way in our American culture is to fight the temptation to close off our minds because…blah, blah, blah…we know, we know….

We scroll through pages of news feeds and media dismissing anything that doesn’t interest us or apply to us in that moment.

We half listen to the people around us as we check the ding on our phone for another message. 

We grab snippets of devotions and Insta-Scriptures with pretty pictures…but are we absorbing any of it?

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Like the fleeting days of summer, I pray to be more intentional to pan for the gold of what God is saying right now. 

In the midst of excess and overload on our senses, we must become even more disciplined in our efforts to train our ears to hear the still small voice of our God…calling specific direction to us in the madness that is America 2018. 

We must set up guards for our minds and hearts, but not shut down to the possibilities of what God is speaking to us in our daily journey.

What are you doing personally in your life right now to make sure your heart and mind are tuned into what God is speaking over your life?

I pray for each of us to be purposeful in our pursuit of a deeper and more intimate walk with Him every day.

His guidance and direction are available to us in pointed and personal ways if we will make the effort to focus in on what He is communicating to us.

May we be people who partake of His wisdom and learn from His ways

<3

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The beautiful difference <3

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So many of the ways God worked in my heart during our time in Cuba have been gently reinforced throughout the weeks since our return. 

I have continued to encounter recurring themes from our time there through my own morning quiet time, email devotions or the pursuits I have set in place to grow this summer.

One of the two studies I am engaged in is to read the book Adorned by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Our sister-in-law Sonja led a bible study on this book and gifted me a copy. It is about the cross generational mentoring relationships of women and the importance of that in the body of Christ.

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With an active schedule throughout June, it is slow progress I am making and much underlining and note-taking…but as all things God…I am right where I need to be. 

This week I read this line on page 37…

“Believers should be noticeably different. True believers will be noticeably – beautifully – different.”

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth; Adorned, Moody Publishers 2017

Amen <3

In the margin of this passage I have jotted these words:

CUBA

  • Dress
  • Affection for one another
  • Behavior
  • Attitude
  • Worship
  • Bible reading
  • Prayer

Going into a country and culture so very different from my own, the contrast between believers and non-believers was far more evident than in my own homeland. 

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Here it is hard to tell sometimes who the believers are and who are just kind people with good hearts but have no interest in pursuing the abundant life offered by Jesus to those who will lay down self to follow Him.

In the atmosphere of the setting we witnessed, we met some very kind people who are not believers but there were distinctions in the community of the church that set believers apart from these in obvious ways.

So looking at the list above for explanation:

Dress – the women and men of the church made the effort to take their dress up a notch for services and also there was a level of modesty that was not prudish but effective. I am struggling with the awkward political correctness of fear of offense here, but I am going to press on. The men and women who were believers consistently appeared to have made the effort to honor God with their attire and with the offering of themselves in a presentable and non-offensive way to others – inside and outside the church walls. 

whew…that was crazy hard. 

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Let’s move on.

Affection for one another – Let’s face it. Latins rock greeting one another. While I am all about maintaining my personal space in conversations with others, there is something oh so charming about the side cheek brush of a kiss distributed in a completely non-sexual way by males and females to each other. But it was more than that with the believers. There was a kindness extended as they visited before and after services or around the perimeters of our work settings and home visits. 

They genuinely greeted each other with joy and there was an obvious lack of pecking order grouping that we sometimes see in our culture. I wonder if the nature of a history of persecution hasn’t stripped away some of the clique mentality as they certainly seem to function with a love that points to something deeper than our human capacity to get along with everyone.

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Behavior: Gracious, humble, serving, smiling, unassuming, polite, kind, active to do and to be…I can’t help but gulp back a lump in my throat thinking of them and the ways they communicated Christ with all of their actions. 

Attitude: For this I would say there is something in the countenance and work ethic of believers we met that sharply contrasted with those we would run into in other ways. There was hope and joy in the ways they did their work and there was evidence of the applied belief that, while we honor the laws and government under which we have been placed, we know these are ultimately only in power because God has ordained it.

And when we know that, it changes everything. 

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Worship: They entered into worship with pure hearts. Worship during church service, worship in private homes. Hands and faces raised heavenward. It was too sacred to even look at sometimes. And yet I couldn’t help but see the glow of glory resting on those faces. Pure joy. No show. Just love being poured outward and upward like a child reaching for his or her father’s arms. 

Bible reading: I need a bigger word for this. Bible consuming, maybe? Pastors held one in the hand and referred to it as the Word was explained and taught with passionate zeal. All around us, in every gathering, heads bowed over well-worn Bibles or text on their phones. Fingers followed along on the lines of the scriptures and heads nodded. It was active. It was alive. It was inspiring.

Prayer: Again whether we were in homes or in the services at the church, there was prayer. And not just one guy saying a prayer while we all bowed our heads. I’m talking about people going over to other people and laying hands on them and praying. I’m speaking of the kind of Holy Spirit prayer that moves mountains and invades places only God knows about and can do something to bring change. 

Once again I am going to repeat what I have said throughout this series…what did we do in Cuba? 

We visited our family in Christ and we learned and we grew.

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We were encouraged and we have been transformed.

We saw how the church thrives in spite of opposition and persecution that is more than just people bashing your beliefs on social media or the late night monologue.

And if we left one tiny portion of anything with them that they gave to us, to God be the glory  <3

Even if you are the only one <3

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I am a slow processor if you hadn’t noticed. So I hope you will bear with me as I finish out some thoughts and insights and musings from our recent visit to Cuba. 

I may just ramble on with this for the remainder of the week, so hopefully you aren’t getting bored.

One day between our work project and eating lunch, we were invited to sit and listen to the history of the church we partner with. 

We sat on the stone steps and I so hope I understood the interpretation of the story correctly and am sharing accurately.

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My understanding from our lesson is during the era that ushered in the current form of government in this country, many of the churches were closed and pastors were stopped from preaching.

There was some upheaval over ownership of all buildings and properties and to my understanding a time came when a church could maintain the deed of the building site IF they had an active congregation. 

However, circumstances being as they were; it was almost impossible to hold services. 

But one man came faithfully every week and prayed in that building. 

And so…as our endearing pastor expressed with a gesture of a wide open hand and facial expressions that clearly communicated even without the English words being added…there was “church.”

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One man. 

Praying ever week alone on those stone steps. 

For years. 

Three, I believe he said. 

Three years, going and praying faithfully in the face of opposition and persecution…one man. 

I sat there in that sacred place and looked around at the handful of teenagers who made up this youth trip that Russ had felt called to go along on and invited me to accompany him and I wept hot tears. 

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I thought how often I have prayed for Russ to want to do an international trip and God answered my prayer with more than I could have asked or imagined. 

Because many years ago, when our own three Reimers were teens in this same youth group, God laid on my heart to start a prayer ministry for the teens.

The basic group who prays with me once a month has, like me, moved on with our families and gotten busy. 

We have lost touch with who the youth even are, but we have never felt released to stop praying. 

Sometimes just one of us can be there and sometimes none of us can make it. 

For years we prayed daily over lists of names for which we had no faces.

And I had been asking God if it was time to stop this. 

Maybe the season was over and we should just pack it up and call it a good run. 

But God had a word for me as I sat there. 

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Who would benefit most if we stopped praying for the nameless faces of the young people who are being trained up in our church? 

I will not pretend to understand why God, who can do all things, invites us to participate in His marvelous work through interceding for others. 

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I will only tell you that He is most gracious and kind to allow us to partner with Him through our prayers. 

I will tell you that He so generously shares the joy of answered prayer when we are obedient to continue to press on even when we see no answers.

Are you praying for someone or something all alone?

For years and years on the hard stone steps of what appears to be a situation that has not hope of ever being changed?

Don’t.

Stop. 

Ever.

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With your last breath, cry out to God to come and to invade every corner of the place, person, situation you have been called to lift in prayer. 

For  your family.

For this country.

For a cause.

For the Church.

He worketh!!!!

Oh yes, He worketh…

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all things for our good and for His glory!

Day 5: Souvenirs from the Journey…Cuba 2018 <3

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Good morning! 

Wow…last week we were checking out of our hotel in Havana and this week we are sitting in the lobby of another hotel. This time in Austin.

Typical of us we manage to pack a lot of events into short spaces and are enjoying getting to attend a wedding with John down here in Texas. 

When people ask about the focus of our ministry in Cuba: basically we helped the local church by bringing in materials and supplying man-power to help with needed maintenance and provide a mini-Bible school. 

But I would also say the real mission was much like we read of the early Church in the New Testament. 

It was fellowshipping and worshipping with the Body of Christ in another country.

And as with all mission trips I have ever been on, I got way more than I gave. 

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While the Christians in this country are certainly the minority and the framework of government and culture are even more restrictive for the people of the Cross there than here…they unabashedly gathered in their homes and like Daniel, with windows and doors wide open…they sang and prayed and proclaimed the Good News. 

On the last night we had a closing service on the rooftop of their church. 

Youth from the local church mingled with our group as we settled onto the rings of concrete blocks under the night sky.

We were encouraged to alternate Cubans and Americans so we were truly coming together as one body.  

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We sang and shared and then the pastor gave a message on the inevitable discouragement we will face as followers of Christ. He used three pillars of faith in Scripture: Elijah, Asaph and Jeremiah.

These great men of God all experienced times of doubt. The kind where life and circumstances beat them down to the point they wondered if God really even cared or was this whole faith thing just another fairy tale. 

Each faced a place of feeling abandoned and ready to quit. 

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He then encouraged us with God’s care for each of these men and how they moved from doubt to faith. 

He closed this time by offering to pray for anyone who was weary from a long season of trial. 

As vocal and out there as I can appear to be with this calling God has placed on my life to write and to share my heart, I am not the first person to hop to her feet and step forward in a crowd of even familiar faces. 

And so the immediacy with which I rose to my feet in the middle of so many attests to the truth that when God’s Spirit is invited into a setting, God will work in amazing ways.

Because even as I found my stiff body rising from that concrete block, I saw several others doing the same. We were compelled to rise, and to receive that night the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In the circle of prayer, the pastor laid hands on each one of us. He prayed in the Spirit and in Spanish as our translator spoke God’s word for each of us, over us. 

The only way I can describe what was spoken over me would be to echo the words of the woman at the well…I met a man who told me everything I had done.

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The word of encouragement that spilled out over the hand of the pastor holding my head was as if he knew every doubt and discouraging word I have spoken to myself for the last six years. 

And then to confirm every hope or dream that has propelled me forward each letter typed for a post or blog, each word prepared to teach or exhort. 

There is no way on this earth that pastor knows what has been carried in my heart to the point of breaking me. He could not know the private conversations I have held in what I hoped was prayer and listening and obeying the One I have give my life to follow.

But God knows. 

God spoke to me through a brother and sister who used their gifting under the authority of the Holy Spirit to renew this fainting heart. 

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To hear someone who doesn’t even know me or my story tell me almost word for word my own deepest fears and the core of my mission statement…was an incredible experience. 

And then so sweet of God, to make sure I didn’t forget…on our return as I sat at our familiar kitchen table…starting another day back in the routines that make up my every day life…my morning passage included the passage of Scripture used in the prophecy spoken over me two days earlier.

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.     Isaiah 48:10

The trials I have walked through have not been because the Lord does not love me or as punishment. They were handpicked and forged by God for my good and the good of those I am called to serve.

The trials of my days are for the refining of my soul and to enable me to effectively complete the calling He has placed on my life. 

Or as the final word spoken over me confirmed what God has whispered to me so many times as I weep over these keys…How can you encourage others to come through the fire if you have not been in the furnace yourself? 

And if your mind is bent toward skepticism and you think a generic, one-word-fits-all prophecy gimmick happened…

let me assure you…

each person in that circle received a personal word that spoke intimate knowledge of the details of each story…

because God KNOWS us and God KNOWS not only the particulars of each trial…

He knows the purpose and the outcome and you can be assured today…

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HE LOVES YOU and HE IS FOR YOU <3