Several days ago, God spoke powerfully through us in our community Bible study time about the passage in Matthew 25 regarding the coming of Christ and how He will judge the nations. Everyone will get split up in one of two groups: those who showed compassion to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned; and those who didn’t. This passage might be well-known by most Christians and even potentially overlooked or minimized in its importance, but it provides striking clarity on the heart of Christ for the marginalized (and just where our heart should be as well). He says that those who took in the homeless (or orphaned or widowed); those who went to visit the sick and imprisoned; those who shared their food (and time, love) with the hungry and thirsty were not merely fulfilling some noble notion of ‘charity’ or even reaching some high moral standard. Christ said that as we’ve done unto the most vulnerable, we’ve done unto Him.
Now that’s huge.
To feed the hungry or to take in an abandoned teen or to visit and pray for those in prison is not to ‘be a good person’ or even live some moral ideal of compassion for the human race; Christ Himself (and this is a mystery that we cannot understand) is found in the needy, and He will judge us at the end of the world according to the times we’ve paid attention to Him and met His needs or by the ways we’ve ignored, overlooked and rejected Him, preferring to meet our own needs and live for the luxuries of this world rather than loving Him by loving those who suffer. To love the poor is to love Christ in disguise. Wow. This is how we can touch the heart of God.
So that (in very few words) is what we’ve been learning in our community Bible study time that we have every morning with our 10 foster kids, our local teachers/missionaries, our 30 local students, a few neighbors, my husband and me. We gather in a big circle (or more like an entirely imperfect rectangle) on wooden benches. No frills, no microphone, no stage, no professionally-made signs and banners. We simply come together as fellow human beings (of all ages) made in the image of God who desperately want to know the truth, to experience Christ and to live for Him rather than to live for the lies the world offers.
To be a Christian is to really follow Christ; to seek Him out in His many disguises; to live a life fully given over to the ways of justice and far removed from the lagoon of sin and selfishness. To live in such a way is eternally rich far beyond money; to trust in God in such a way (and to be used by Him to touch not only the heart of humanity but God’s very own heart!) is truly worth our very lives.
Warning: this post is going to be pretty long. (Go grab a cup of coffee, or stop reading and miss out on the best part!)
In these past few weeks God has been instructing us in just what it means to live for Christ. It is not (as many might believe) to live by a list of rules or to live listing off all that we don’t do; to avoid the bad (but also neglect the good). To live with and for Christ is to be led by the Living God to lose it all in this world in order to gain it all in the next; to die to ego and selfish desires in order to be filled with the richness of Christ, even now in our mortal bodies. Many people have a very low view of what it means to be ‘Christian,’ so God has been leading us deeper into the richness of what it means to truly follow Christ (and not simply attend church once or twice or six times per week and continue living like everyone else in the world).
As the hour-long Bible study time came to an end several days ago, our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline approached me, visibly shaken, and asked to speak with me in private. It was not really the right time, as everyone was supposed to go to their respective prayer groups, and that day I was going to take on about 10 teen girls to cover one of our teachers who was unable to be present that morning because she had to take her daughter to the hospital.
I eyed Jackeline wondering what potential catastrophic news she was going to share with me (alas, our kids — and especially our teenage girls — frequently ask to speak with me in private, and sometimes what they reveal can be downright troubling). I began to speak my objections, but in her eyes I saw a certain desperation and she reiterated, “I really need to talk with you in private. Now.”
Did it have to do with a boy? What on earth could she have to share with me that couldn’t wait another minute? I felt my blood pressure rise.
I sighed deeply and told the other girls who were waiting for me to go to another prayer group because I would be speaking in private with Jackeline. The girls looked confused (as probably did I), and I walked somberly with Jackeline from our large dining room where we had just studied God’s Word over to our little orange-colored cinderblock home not a stone’s throw away. I prayed silently that God would give me the strength to properly address whatever urgent news Jackeline was about to tell me even as I fought off the anxiousness that wanted to flood my veins.
We passed into the bedroom my husband and I share (the quiet, private place where most of our more intimate conversations with our kids occur), and she immediately sat down on the little purple couch-chair wedged in the corner and I sat on the tile floor in front of her, my heart beating fairly quickly and unsure what to expect. She looked deeply moved or on the verge of some kind of breakdown; it was hard to tell which.
I looked up at her and waited. She began gushing words, “I feel…like God spoke to me this morning in the Bible study. And…all the money I’ve been saving for the future…I feel like God wants me to take it all out and share it with the needy — to buy food for the hungry. God really touched my heart this morning, and I don’t want to live for myself. I want to seek out how to love Christ, visit the sick. I felt like God revealed to me how I can really love Him! I really want to do it, to go into downtown La Ceiba to find the homeless and the drug addicts — maybe we can make bags of food for them — and share with them who Christ is. We have to go!”
All her words came rushing out like a river with a particularly strong current, and then she began crying.
I blinked a couple times, completely relieved that what she had to share with me wasn’t bad news at all (there was no confession of some secret boyfriend or any other bad deed done!), and at the same time I rejoiced in my heart of hearts for the beautiful work the Lord continues to etch out in our daughter. What a wonderful talk in private. Yes; let’s have more of these! Praise God!
I extended an arm towards her, and she came tumbling — or rather melting — off the couch and into my arms as I held her in a long hug.
Once she calmed down — alas, I believe it was for joy that she was crying — she reassumed her position on the couch and began sharing with me the rest of her conviction, “Today I have evangelism class. We’re gonna head out in like 20 minutes to go visit people’s houses and pray with people — ”
I nodded and smiled, still completely content (and more than pleasantly surprised) with her new God-designed attitude. It was true that she was in our new “Evangelism” class, and she would be heading out with four of our other foster children, a couple local students and two teachers to spend three hours sharing God’s Word in our destitute neighborhood. This was a new class (really not a class at all but rather a growth activity in the school of real life with Christ) that the Lord had led us to create at the end of our school year, and a group of our more spiritually mature teenagers had enlisted. Rather than dedicating their morning to one more academic pursuit, they wanted to go reach the lost in the same way that they had been reached.
Jackeline continued as I listened, “And, I feel like we’re not supposed to go visit people that we already know, but rather those who are completely lost — the sick, those with AIDS.”
She was speaking full of passion, and I was just trying to soak it all in, giving thanks in my heart once more for His active work in each of our lives.
Then, unexpectedly, “And, this morning when you were teaching about how we are to share our food with the hungry — there are so many people without food, and if we feed them we are feeding Christ Himself! — I feel like God wants us to take the food out of our pantry this morning and go share it with the poor people we’re going to visit.”
I felt like a somewhat unpleasant shock had been sent through my veins (or, perhaps more accurately, a train had blindsided me), and for some reason — probably out my ego’s desire to defend itself — I almost felt like throwing my head back and laughing out loud sarcastically. Go give our food away? Again?! Had we not just emptied our pantry not two weeks prior? After our miracle dinner, inevitably I had to go back to the grocery store in the ensuing days to replenish the lost rice, beans, eggs, etc. It was never in our budget to do so, especially with the pending adoption fees which we still were nowhere close to being able to pay! How could we possibly keep giving away all of our food when we have so many other legitimate financial needs? Could this really be from the Lord? If we keep having to go buy more food (because we keep giving it all away), how on earth will we pay the adoption lawyer? Oh, God, help us! (And please stop leading us toward such radical acts of obedience!)
The breath taken out of my lungs as those thoughts of self-protection hammered my mind, I stared at Jackeline, my face frozen in fear and hesitation. She leaned in toward me, eyes full of sincerity and faith, waiting for my permission. She even looked slightly perplexed at why it was taking me so long to respond. I was, after all, the one who had given the Bible study that morning, who had called the youth to live this radical lifestyle of faith in Christ, going beyond what is comfortable in order to live completely given over to God! To share your food and lose your life for Christ! Oh, what a hypocrite I would be now if I refused that which the Lord had prompted in our precious daughter.
The objections came to my mind again — The adoption! Jennifer! Do you not remember that you need to find (and who knows from where!) that huge lump sum in order to make your beloved children forever yours! God has called you to this adoption; how dare you squander your money on these crazy food giveaways and forsake the adoption! The lawyer is doing a phenomenal job and very soon she will be asking for her first payment; and you have nothing! Don’t be a fool!
I swallowed and began answering carefully, encouraged by my daughter’s faith and praying that God would grant me the same, “Wonderful. Yes. I’m so grateful that God is speaking to you in so many ways and that you are being joyfully obedient. Go into our pantry and take what is most necessary. Eggs. Beans. Rice. Go bless the people for love of God. I’m so proud of you.”
She squealed with delight, gave me a big hug, and then she was off. Off to tell her two leaders of the news — that they would not only be visiting people to share God’s Word, but that they would also be able to bless each poverty-stricken household with a provision of food. They would be putting into immediate practice that which they had learned that morning.
I remained sitting on my bedroom floor for a few moments, heavy with material loss and at the same time fully thankful, trusting. But it wasn’t easy.
I then got up, praying to God that I had made the right decision (even as I knew I had), and headed wearily over to our kitchen. As I stood at our sink — staring out at the majestic mountains just beyond — I could see Jackeline in my peripheral vision enthusiastically emptying out the huge sack of beans I had just gone to purchase and carefully shuttling out all the cartons of eggs. In my waning faith, I could see money being poured out, leaving our hands even as I knew that God would use it to bless others. But us? The adoption? I would once again need to go to the grocery store to buy food to replenish that which was so joyfully given away, and that would be money that we wouldn’t be able to put toward adopting our kids. I felt heavy, albeit joyful.
Seeing our beloved daughter so joyfully giving away all our food (for the second time in like two weeks), I turned away, literally feeling like I could not watch. May God bless our evangelism team in their obedience to give freely, because right now I certainly cannot do so.
For the last several weeks — ever since we had felt confirmation from God in regards to choosing a highly experienced adoption lawyer — our cry to God has been for the financial provision to complete the process. The lawyer is giving us an over 60% discount from what she normally charges, but even so the payment was way beyond our reach. We had gathered with our children to pray on more than one occasion, asking God for the funds. We had considered selling our milking cows in order to pay for part of the adoption, and then they were unexpectedly killed by cattle thieves. After weeks of prayer and hesitation, I even felt led to make a phone call to a wealthy family friend, taking up the courage to ask straight out for the funds for the adoption (something I’ve never done before), and much to my disappointment he agreed to help with a small part, but not all. That had been a very hard day, although I was thankful for the part he was willing to give. It felt like doors were closing; funds were already tight, and I couldn’t help but wonder where on earth we were going to get that money to pay the adoption lawyer, especially with all the recent extravagant giving the Lord had led us to do.
I had wept; Darwin and I had prayed; we had gathered with our children on numerous occasions, informing them of our financial impotency and telling them, too, to pray that God would make a way. Nevertheless, in the midst of many trials and unplanned giving, we felt even more confident in God’s perfect provision than ever before.
During this time, however, rather than God’s miraculous provision coming to us for the adoption, God had better yet been leading us to give away. In many ways — not only in those I’ve mentioned on this blog and the one prior — we had been led by the Living Lord to give away much, and to do so joyfully. Surely none of this made sense; we were waiting to receive, but God had instructed us rather to give, and to do so extravagantly, with everything we have. Even so — in the midst of loss and unmet expectations, our confidence in Christ and His provision remained constant, even though we had no idea when or how He would provide.
And then, a few days ago, I went to the bank in downtown La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras that lies about 30 minutes away from our rural neighborhood where we live and serve. I was in town to run a few errands, go to a doctors’ appointment, and check our financial status in the bank. It had been the first time in many weeks that I was going to be in the city doing these types of errands, as I’ve been trying to be a stay-at-home-mom as much as possible for our 10 kids. (One of our beloved local teachers has been helping me tremendously with our different errands so that I can be more present in the home.)
I headed into the small branch of the familiar bank that I’ve been going to for over five years now. When they passed me to one of the little customer service desks, I presented my Honduran residency card and the Living Waters Ranch account number, asking the bank worker to write down on a slip of paper the exact amounts we had in our savings and checking account. (In Honduras we cannot check our funds electronically without jumping through about 1,000 hoops, so I have to present myself in person at the bank in order to find out these numbers.)
Now, I am no accounting expert (nor is it our goal to become whizzes at managing numbers but rather to dedicate our lives to rescuing lost people), but neither am I haphazard with our finances or totally clueless as to how to manage money. My dad trained me from a very early age in the basics of wise money management, and during a period in my life I spent much free time reading money management books and learning from financial teacher Dave Ramsey.
As with any household or organization, its leaders know at any given point just about how much is coming in and how much is going out. We do live by faith, so — however many times I’ve been led to feel worried about our financial security — God has continuously called us back to radical faith in Him, our Provider, but just the same we do not neglect our financial responsibility in the least.
So there I was in the bank. In my mind I was well-informed that our savings account held almost zero funds, as we had transferred them to our checking account several weeks ago. I sat idly in that red cushioned bank chair in the unfamiliar air-conditioning — feeling out of place, my boots caked with mud in such a polished, sterile environment — and the emotionless bank worker slipped me the little paper with our numbers on it.
I glanced at the amount in our checking account — the equivalent of $15. I laughed to myself, as I knew it had to be low. But then my eyes took in the number in our savings account (that which should have been extremely low, so low as to not even take it into account), and it had not only the exact amount we needed for the adoption, but a little bit more.
My eyes grew and I looked up at the man behind the computer. I told him, “This number has to be incorrect. In our savings account we don’t have this amount of funds. Please check again.”
He scoffed and assured me that he had not made a mistake. I insisted, “Please check again. I really think this number is wrong.”
He reluctantly checked again, confirming that the written amount really was in our savings account. The money for the adoption. But how?
I probed further — “Who deposited this money, and when?” I felt like my head was spinning.
He crossed his arms and informed me that he couldn’t give me that information. I demanded (in an entirely unpolished manner), “I’m the one who manages our organization’s funds, and I’ve been doing so for over five years at this bank! Please give me the information if you are able to do so!”
Responding to that slight nudge, he glanced back at his computer screen. He then uttered my own name, mentioning that the money came in a transfer that I had facilitated on September first. When I was back in the States, sick for several weeks and recovering. It was the same money that I had transferred down to Honduras — that which is a collection of the donations from those who support this work.
But we had already spent that money.
Chills ran through my body.
Yes; the transfer I facilitated on September first. I remember well; I have the amount recorded in a log I keep on my computer. An accumulation of donations that I transferred down to Honduras all at once, as we do every month or so. But we had already transferred that specific money into our checking account and had spent it to pay our teachers, purchase food, buy shoes for our kids, do property repairs, etc. In short, those funds had already been invested into the daily maintenance of the mission over the past couple months. Hadn’t they?
(I realize that what I’m about to say oversteps the bounds of rational sanity and that many who read this will not believe what I’m about to write) — but I dare consider that God multiplied the money. (Either that or there was some huge flaw in our accounting of which I am the sole manager and could not possibly overlook.) Either way, I was absolutely convinced that we didn’t have the funds for the adoption, and all along — during each of the trials over the past several weeks and each time we were led to step out in abundant generosity — the funds for the adoption were already waiting in our account.
I had lived the last several weeks believing that our savings account should have been close to zero — for we had transferred the money into checking, and had already spent it in our daily ministry affairs of loving and serving! — but it had been there all along. God had led us to give, and to do so extravagantly and in a time that we believed we were in great economic need, but He had already supplied that need ever since that transfer was made (and doubled?) at the beginning of September. We had been led through a series of faith-stretching acts only to find at the end that He had already supplied our greatest need (that of the adoption funds) even before He led us to give it all away.
And — to me this is funny and shines with the mysteriousness of God’s ways — I used to visit the bank every week and micro-manage our funds, thanks to my own anxiousness and resulting in my own frustration. If funds were at a certain point, I left the bank feeling secure. If they were low, I left feeling worried. What small faith!
This time I hadn’t gone to the bank in over two months (although I had still been managing our daily accounting via our checkbook, etc), and I experienced one of the biggest surprises of my life.
And so I headed over to the head bank a few blocks away and confirmed with another source that those mystery funds (miracle funds) really were there, and then I transferred them to our checking account. That night we shared the astonishing news with our four kids/teens we are in the process of adopting, and their eyes were aglow with wonder. God really had provided, and it wasn’t necessarily through some rich benefactor or by us selling off our cattle and other earthly belongings: He had taken things into His own hands this time and multiplied (or at least kept hidden from our knowledge) that which we believed should no longer have been there.
This morning I am in the city of La Ceiba again, and I even went back to the bank to try to investigate further to see if this really was some miracle of divine provision or just an accounting slip-up (honestly we don’t care which; either way God has given us the funds to adopt our kids, and we were led through many stretching steps of faith all the while believing we were without funds). I went to one branch; they were unexpectedly closed due to a freak flooding incident within the bank. I went to another branch; they denied me further information regarding our account history (even though on prior occasions they’ve given it to me), telling me to go check our P.O. box to find our bank statements from the last few months. I walked several blocks on foot to our P.O. box, opened it up for the first time in quite a while, and found nothing. No bank statements! The bank was behind over three months on sending out their statements! I thus have no human way of knowing if this really was a miraculous multiplication of funds!
As I walked out of the post office, I laughed out loud along the littered sidewalk of La Ceiba and thanked God in my heart of hearts, for I dare to believe that it is His good pleasure to hide these secrets from me so that I may continue onward in my state of wonder, humility and faith. I don’t need to know all the details; I must only trust and obey!
After all, we read God’s Word and find the stories of the times Jesus multiplied the extremely small provision of fish and bread in order to feed thousands, and then we live our daily lives depending entirely upon our own resources and methods. My mind continues to spin as I search in vain for answers, and I feel as though I’m teetering on the edge of reason (or perhaps have lost sight of it altogether!), but the Lord has definitely increased my faith! I will now begin to pray over our food pantry with my husband and our kids, that God will multiply our food so that we may be able to continue sharing abundantly with all those whom He chooses to bless through us.
So — with fear and trembling and great joy — I share with you this bewildering story of God’s provision and His gentle leadings toward obedience, toward total commitment, knowing that He fully knows our needs and is fully capable of meeting them in His own way.
God is great! Amen!