Let me tell you a little story.
An elderly woman had two large pots. Each pot hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her shoulders. Every day, she used this device to carry water to her home.
One of the pots was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. The other had a deep crack in it and leaked. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this situation occurred daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the woman one day by the stream, saying, “I am ashamed of myself because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”
The old woman smiled and replied, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walked back home you watered them and made them grow. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table and give to my friends and neighbors. Without you being just the way you are, there would not have been this special beauty to grace our homes and lives.”
Sometimes, it’s the “cracks,” or what we perceive as imperfections, in this reality that create something unexpected and beautiful.
To be honest, I have a lot of cracked days… days when I feel like I’m not able to accomplish what seems effortless for others. Days when I feel like I’m not pulling my weight on the team and that I’m more of a burden than a help. There are days when I feel like I’ve worked myself to exhaustion and I have little to nothing tangible to show for it. Days when my language skills get in the way, or the fact that I just can’t physically do something that others can do, or (the worst) when my north American cultural norms butt up against Spanish culture and my expectations end up having a throw-down with reality (I always lose that fight!). Not kidding, I have a LOT of cracked days!
Maybe that’s why the story of the water bearer and the pots made me cry when I first heard it. Sometimes you just can’t see through your own imperfections and realize that they are the parts of you that make you valuable and special.
Looking back, I can see how God has transformed and used the cracked parts of my life for good. Hard times in my youth, family struggles, professional setbacks, parenting tough spots, and even things that seemed like utter failures and disappointments… God has eventually turned those in to “flowers beside the path” and allowed me to use them to share with others. My hard days eventually became teaching points. My brokenness and darkness has given me great depths of empathy and compassion for others as they go through those times. Even the days that don’t seem all that bad or hard, but they just seem ho-hum or unproductive or slow - God has found the tiny grain of goodness in those days and used it. I know because on the seemingly average, nothing-special kinds of days, someone always ends up telling me, “I love seeing you, your hugs are the best” or “I’ve been seeing you play with the dogs every day. It always makes me happy.” God uses the normal (and the broken) to do the extraordinary and shine light for others.
Our cracks and brokenness and our normal averageness allow something to change and ultimately make life much richer and more interesting. Every day and every crack has it’s own special purpose and potential.
So, are you feeling a little cracked today? I say, “hallelujah for the cracks!” Who’s with me?!
The Cracked Pot story is now the feature story that we use in the La Posada care ministry. Lots of ministry workers, pastors, CCWs and humanitarian aid folks come to us feeling broken and cracked, and wondering if there is any way to repair and restore and be useful again. The Cracked Pot story is a beautiful example of how God can use our perfectly imperfect selves for good.
2 Corinthians 4: 7-18 Treasure in Jars of Clay
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Just can’t recommend these enough! We have been spending our morning study time with a podcast from BEMA Discipleship. We HIGHLY recommend this! Start at the beginning - yes, all the way back in Genesis 1. This podcast really helps you study and understand the scriptures and their original culture and context. We listen and follow along in our bibles, take notes, highlight, etc. And, if you’re anything like me, you will want to study even more between podcasts! Do it on your own, or better yet, as a couple, with a friend, or in a small group or a class. Y’all… don’t miss this!
Another highly recommended study tool… The Bible Project puts out some really great video overviews for each book of the Bible. You can view them on your You Version bible app on your phone, or on the computer. Our team is studying Colossians right now and we watched the video overview last week. So good!
These last two months, we have been having an abnormal amount of stress and tough days. After a long conversation with some friends, we decided to make a list of the things that we are hoping for, dreaming for, aching for… the things that we would like to see really improve and change. (see list at below) We invite you to please join us as we pray for these big-picture situations. Print out this list and put it somewhere that you will see it each day… stick it on the fridge or in your daily planner or on the dinner table, copy it and share it with your Sunday School group, etc.… We would love to know that we have people out there praying these big things for us and with us. Let us know if you are joining us!
· That we would be vital members of our community in Spain
· For improved communication in our marriage, for everything to be seasoned with love and grace
· That we would grow and become better care providers for workers around the world
· For team dynamics and loving, supportive community
· For improved communications with our family in the USA
· For healthy lifestyle amidst the challenges of living overseas
· That we would each develop deep and lasting friendships in Spain, no loneliness or disconnection
· That our home would be open and welcoming and give peace to all who enter
· That we would have more doors open to us to work in the refugee and immigrant community
· That we would hear from God about our involvement in the local church
· That our Home Team and community and supporting churches in the US would be anchors of authentic connection and support
· For Kingdom-thinking to break forth in Antequera
· For people to live out the beauty of Kingdom and “love your neighbor” in our community
· For La Posada care apartment and ministry to be used to it’s potential and purpose
· For improved financial provision so we can continue to work and serve others
· For our family to be growing in The Word and in prayer and faithfilled community with others
· For Antequera to have a beautiful model of church and Christian community
· For a movement of small groups, house churches, and dinner church groups to take hold and grow and live out the beauty of faith communities
· For us to each feel valued and feel that we are using our unique gifts and talents in ways that make a difference to others and to the Kingdom
I have to be honest with you. I made a promise to you, my tribe, to be vulnerable and open, and so here we are. We are down and disheartened right now.
My husband and I have worked our way in to roles where we have more influence and impact on global issues and global missions than we have ever had in our careers. We now serve in circles and countries and situations where we can effect real change and empower people to make significant differences in the world and the Kingdom. We work directly with people who are changing the face of world poverty, human trafficking, water issues, human migration patterns, leadership development, and education around the globe. We coach and counsel and lead people who regularly sit in the offices of mayors and ambassadors and prime ministers and presidents. All of this is good. In fact, all of this is great! Real impact and real influence. Empowerment and development of grass roots programs, and people doing incredible things. But one fact remains…
Leadership is not sexy.
We aren’t doing “sexy missions” anymore. We are now leading and developing and caring for those people who do. We help to empower them and lift them up. We help to train them. We are the faceless mentors behind those incredibly great front-line workers.
We serve in a different way now. We are about Training, Mobilization, and Service. We aren’t digging the water well personally – but we counsel the guys who do. We aren’t living in a high security, closed access country teaching education programs and empowering local teachers and students – but we are the coaches for the ones who do that work. We aren’t sitting on dirt floors with mothers and babies in impoverished villages in the bush – but we mentor those who are. And we aren’t personally curing disease or bandaging the injured in medical clinics in the jungle or on war-torn borders – but we are helping heal the trauma that those people carry with them day in and day out.
There was a time when we did many of those things personally. We spent years doing work with poverty, with empowering women, and with hunger. We spent years helping with medical campaigns and serving in places that never see doctors or health care. We founded education programs in villages with little access to resources and high rates of illiteracy. We served in community development projects and harvested crops and milked goats and raised chickens and fed the hungry. And we planted churches and discipled new believers where before there had been none. We have vast experience on the front lines of ministry, mission, and humanitarian efforts. That experience and those years of service are exactly what lead us to be what we are today… mentors, leaders, trainers, coaches, and counselors for the next generation of cross-cultural workers that are taking up the torch and stepping in to serve.
In the corporate world, this is exactly how it should work! Younger workers spend years getting their feet wet, working their way through roles and job descriptions and career paths until one day they are really good at what they do, and they have the experience necessary to step up the ladder and train up the new recruits. They become leaders and mentors. Their earning power increases and their resumes build. They become team leaders or department heads or executives. They have arrived.
But it’s just not quite like that for cross-cultural workers who become leaders and take on leadership roles. At least it hasn’t been for us, nor for some of our peers. There hasn’t been any earning increase – we continue to be fully dependent on churches and partners and donations for funding the work. Now that 80% of our work and roles are related to leading others and mentoring, training, developing, and coaching, we are no longer seen as “real missionaries” by the general public. Our influence is greater, our responsibility is greater, our ability to impact effective change in real world issues is greater – yet we are losing funding every day because we aren’t “front line enough”. We don’t post photos of us curing diseases or healing the sick. We don’t have video of us wandering through dusty streets with native people groups. We don’t personally plant churches in war-torn areas. And we aren’t seen wearing traditional clothing or eating unknown foods. That used to be us, but not in this season. This season is a season of leadership and of training up and empowering and caring for our peers - other cross-cultural workers.
Leadership isn’t sexy. It doesn’t fit the traditional narrative for cross-cultural work. It doesn’t yield spectacular photos or near-death experiences or wild animal tales. But it’s necessary. It’s dirty in a different way. It’s front-line in a different way. It reaches the unreached and least-reached in a different way. And it’s what we are called to in this season. It’s the role we have risen to. It’s what we believe in.
I know we make a difference. I know we are holding others up when they don’t think they can keep going for one more day. I know that training matters, that development matters, that mentoring matters. It matters in the corporate world. It matters in the academic world. And it matters in the mission world. I know it matters.
Not all cross-cultural work is sexy. But that doesn’t make it less valuable. I know this calling still matters to God.
As Italy and Greece and other European countries have worked to seal their borders, Spain has become Europe’s number one destination for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Numbers of arrivals have more than tripled during the first half of 2018, and still a steady stream of people arrive by land and sea every day.
Billy attended the meeting for Coordination of Immigrant Services this week in our pueblo. Antequera is currently the settling point for 2413 immigrants. In little Antequera, our neighbors include people from Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Kenya, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Syria, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yemen… and that is just to name a few! In all, there are 74 nationalities represented in Antequera as immigrants and refugees.
Neighboring initiatives are really important to us! Jesus says there are two biggies that we need to focus on. In Matthew 22:37-39 he says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Well, the way we see it, this ‘love your neighbor’ business must be pretty important! And obviously, in Antequera, our neighbors include a pretty big population of immigrants and refugees.
We have a neighbor who received asylum in July. (name withheld to protect his identity and security) He is new, he is alone, and he needs friends. He speaks zero English and zero Spanish. He speaks a very specific dialect of Arabic. We were connected to him via cross-cultural worker connections in other countries and agencies— they knew him and knew that he was being resettled in our town, so they sent us his name and contact info. He joins us for church, he comes to our young adult group, and we share a cup of tea and occasional meals together. Yes, we have our communication issues - he is beginning to learn Spanish, and we have become pretty efficient at using translator apps to fill in the gaps. But even with language struggles, this relationship is so worth it!!! He is a blessing to our lives! Being able to be “family” for him is a privilege!
This is just one example of what loving our neighbors looks like. This is normal in our house. Last night, we had people from 5 different countries around our table. Our life is enriched by all of these friends and their cultures. Life spent with them is beautiful and precious! Try it… go out and love your neighbor. I promise, it will be the experience of a lifetime. Jesus said so!
This. This is walking alongside someone. This is discipleship. This is my husband helping a friend. This is the Bible in Spanish and English and Arabic all at the same time. This is what it looks like to walk with an immigrant friend through language learning and faith and culture. This is loving your neighbor.
This is what rush hour looked like when I drove home the other night. Watch and listen. Thank you, Jesus, for goats! they make me laugh every time! Goats are my happy place. And dogs. And chickens. And horses. Okay... animals... animals make me super happy!
Any time you live and work in another culture and language, you are going to come up against challenges. A lot of them are really pretty funny. Embarrassing, but funny. And you just have to laugh and learn from it, because if you are too serious and beat yourself up about it, you won’t make it out here in the big world of cross-cultural service. Here’s one recent example:
In a meeting of church leadership, I (Laurie) said, “We need people to be cheerleaders (porristas) for the event and encourage people.” Others at the table responded with strange looks and gasps.
Then one leader said, “What do you mean by porristas?”
“Cheerleaders… you know, people who encourage you and give energy to the event. Like in sports on the sidelines? (odd looks) Like in High School Musical? (ah ha! Clarity registered on their faces.) The whole time I’m waving my arms and making cheer moves from my high school days.
Then the founding pastor said, “we don’t use that word here. Where did you learn that word?”
“Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru.”
He says, “Oh. Latin America. Well, we don’t say that. Porristas are people who smoke marijuana. We don’t need that at this event.”
Oops… note to self… no porristas at church events. Noted.
It’s time for an update on Sarah and her horse.
Most of you recall that Sarah lost her beloved equine friend and teammate 18 months ago to a terminal illness. Many of you sent your condolences and prayers, and some sent in special funds to help Sarah replace her horse and continue show jumping and riding.
The owners of the stables where Sarah rides had provided a lovely mount for us to borrow until we found a new home — the loaner horse’s name is Looney. He is a dream, full of personality, and he adores Sarah. He only has eyes for her, and he shows his love by placing his big forehead on hers every day in a horse-hug, or rubbing his head on her with affection. We have been searching and trying to purchase a new horse since Looney has been on loan to us. But Sarah was often in tears over having to one day give up Looney.
Well, long story short, the stable owner has made Looney available to be Sarah’s forever horse. No longer a loaner, Sarah and Looney are now forever family!
Thank you VERY much to all who helped provide for Looney and for Sarah’s continued ability to ride and do the sport she loves!
We grew grapes for the first time ever this summer!
We went to the nursery looking for a vine for the patio garden. We didn’t much care if the vine actually produced anything. We just wanted a vine that would grow on the patio and be green and help the space to feel a little softer and more nature-like. We settled on a grape vine, with it’s nice shaped leaves and a little variation of color as the season progresses. It was so fun to watch the vines grow up the post on our rooftop patio, and then begin producing grapes! At first, the tiny little grapes were like those little balls on the heads my grandmother’s sewing pins. So teeny! But soon they were swelling and turning to the nicest purply blue color. And then they were so big and so full that they weighed down the vine and we feared it would break from the weight of the fruit!
I know the time is coming when we will have to cut back our beautiful vine. I'm already dreading it.
I have always hated pruning time. Billy, being a horticulture major (Texas A&M – WHOOP!), has always been the one to tend the gardens. He has to be the pruner, for sure, because I just can’t bring myself to do it. The plant always looks really great to me – right now, in the moment - but Billy seems to have this sense about what needs to happen for the plant’s future best growth. He always tells me that while the plant looks good, it is actually using lots of energy trying to grow in places it shouldn’t. And while it is producing lots of flowers or fruit, they are inferior. And so, he gets out his pruners and he goes to work. I can’t even watch. It is almost physically painful for me to see all those branches and leaves, and sometimes fruit, go tumbling to the ground and end up swept in to a big trash pile. When it’s over, I always feel so sad for the poor plant. And Billy smiles and shakes his head every time and says, “Just watch. It is going to be so much better and healthier. Just give it time.”
And, after 32 years of cringing through this process, I know he is right. It always works out for the better. The plants are always beautiful after their season of pruning and new growth. But oh, how it still hurts me to watch the process!
For us, it has been a season of metaphorical pruning. We have come to a season when the outward appearance of our work looks quite full and fruitful, but it is difficult (or impossible) to sustain at this level. We are using a lot of energy and focusing in lots of places (which isn't really focus at all). Like the circus act when the man spins plates or juggles balls… the crowd is amazed at his ability to keep it all going, and then someone throws him one more. "Wow! Awesome! Throw him another one!"
But we all know how this ends.
And so, we are in a season of discernment with our team and our mentors and with God. There are loads of good things going on. Tons of things to still be done. Bucoos of possibilities. But we just can’t do it all. We are that plant that is growing and putting on flowers and fruit, but maybe we have too much going on and we need to strategically focus our energies to produce superior fruit.
I’ll be honest. This process is causing me more than a few tears and heartache. Saying no is not my strong suit. Cutting back is really hard for me. But I also believe in the process, and I believe that focusing my skills and efforts in strategic places will yield better, stronger people this season.
For me, I’m focusing in on Development this season. Our Europe region has grown from 16 CCWs to 41 CCWs (adult workers and their families) in just a few months and that is going to take some focus on my part as Regional Consultant for Europe. Also, we added two TMS families to our team in Spain, so we now have 3 families working in Antequera. This will require a good deal of team formation and development over the course of the next year. And it’s no secret that Neighboring Initiatives are very important to me. Loving my neighbors and those around me well and building community and relationships in Antequera is never going away. It's community development at it's relational core.
So, what’s getting pruned? It’s more a matter of me having to say no when I’m asked to do things outside of my focus. More accurately, it’s me having to TELL MYSELF NO when I see something that I could do. It’s me being okay with juggling just three plates, and not allowing more plates or balls to be thrown in to the mix. When my head says “Hey, it would be really cool if …”, It means having grace with myself and reminding myself that yes – that would be cool, and yes – you have the right skills for that, but no – not in this season… maybe later, or maybe that’s a vision to pitch to someone else. I need to have a season of pruning back and focusing my energies on these few things that are going to reap big dividends, things that have the potential to have deep and far-reaching effects, not just here, but around the globe. Whew, y’all! Saying no and focusing in. That’s HARD! Because I want to do it all. Like, ALL. OF. IT.
So, pray for my pruning process. And pray that I “abide in Him and Him in me, so that I may bear good fruit.”
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
It was 6:25pm. The sign on the gate said that visitors could enter the cathedral until 6:30. At 6:30, mass would begin for those who wished to worship. As we stood at the gate discussing whether or not we would enter this massive cathedral for a visit, a woman sprinted by us and threw open the gate. She hurried in to the building and we joked, “Wow! She must really want to see this cathedral!”
We followed her in through the enormous doors. The interior was amazing, as most cathedrals are. There were three other visitors milling about, obviously sightseers due to the tell-tale marks of a tourist… the big camera hanging around the neck, t-shirt, shorts and chunky hiking sandals, and a ball cap to top it all off like a cherry on a sundae. Very obviously not locals. And in the pews sat one woman, praying. The woman who had dashed past us at the gate.
I looked at the time. Six thirty. Time for mass. I happened to be standing to the side and two men were talking beside me. The priest and a lay-person from the church. The man said, “What do you want me to do? Should I ask them to leave? It’s 6:30.” And the priest said, “No. Let them stay. There’s only one for mass (pointing to the woman in the pew). No reason to even have it.”
No reason. All I could see was this woman sprinting past us and throwing open the gate so she could be at mass on time. And now the priest says, “no reason”.
Spain has thousands and thousands of amazing churches and cathedrals. Yet this is the case in so many of them. Very few, if any, come to worship anymore. Catholicism has been steadily falling over the past decade. And protestant churches are not growing, only holding steady at the same numbers they have had for the past 10+ years.
The scene I witnessed in the cathedral brought another story back to me. Years ago, when we first started working cross-culturally, we worked in Mexico. We built a relationship with a lovely family. The father, Aaron Berman, was one of the most humble men I have ever known. Quiet, peaceful, full of courage and overflowing with God.
He loved to tell us the story of how he one time visited Tyler, Texas. He was invited to speak at a church’s mission conference. He was invited to speak about his vision and work in Mexico in a breakout workshop session.
When the time came for the workshops, Aaron went to his assigned room to speak. Before him was a room full of chairs, set up theatre-style, and one woman. He thought that maybe he should wait for a few minutes until others came. But no one did. So he closed his eyes and he said, “God, I came all the way to Tyler, Texas to share about you and our vision for Mexico. I spent money I don’t have to come here. What am I doing? What do you want me to do with this one woman?” But God’s only answer was, “Speak.”
So he did. Aaron shared his heart and his vision with that one woman. He said he felt so small in that big room full of empty chairs, but he shared anyway.
In the end, that one woman (who happened to be from College Station) ended up being responsible for starting a movement of people who would eventually come to Mexico and work alongside Aaron and his family, helping to plant several churches and build a church camp for Mexican pastors and churches along the border to use as a retreat and leadership development center. Aaron spoke to one woman, and God used her to start a movement. He always used to end the story by holding up his finger and smiling and winking his eye and saying, “You only need one.”
He loved to share that story with us. And that story has encouraged us on so many occasions. So many times when we feel like, “God, what are we doing? Why are we here and only a handful of people seem to care? What are we supposed to be doing? Only four people are coming to the class. Only a few show up for bible study…” Etc. It’s usually Billy who remembers Aaron in those moments and he just looks at me and holds up his finger and says, “You only need one.”
Our everyday lives in Spain are truly based on a one-on-one relationship principle. Yes, we have a few small groups that we work with and we serve a church here. But mostly, our work is one-on-one. Coffee and coaching with a pastor. Time spent with a young adult. Tutoring a student. Helping a resettled refugee to find his way in a new and confusing place. For us, the Kingdom is built one block at a time. It’s slow, but it’s beautiful and deep and meaningful.
Aaron died 10 years ago, but he still influences our life today. It’s easy to get discouraged when it feels like no one seems to care, when no one shows up, or when it feels like no one is listening. It’s easy to be down when church attendance drops to only a handful of faithful folks in July and August because it’s summer and it’s hot and there’s no air conditioning at church and the beach seems like a better option. It’s easy to feel like we’re spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. But then Aaron seems to find his way back in to our memories, smiling and winking and saying, “You only need one.”
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!