Tonight as our pastor shared an exciting announcement, I took out my notebook and I started writing. Not sermon notes, just notes. (I did read Harriet the Spy this week.) This is what I wrote.
Gary and Alli (Pastor and his wife) could’ve left. They could’ve given up and left and nobody would’ve blamed them. They could’ve grown bitter and burnt out. They could’ve been comfortable and safe and close to their families and still done “good things.” They could’ve not had their house broken into.
Miguel and Noemi (Pastor and his wife) could’ve left. They could’ve given up on this crazy American pastor with his Spanish that isn’t always exactly perfect and his counter cultural gospel. They could’ve said, “We do enough for God, actually, and pastoring just sounds like a lot of work we don’t have time for,” and people would’ve understood.
On Friday nights the women of the church could take a nice, well-deserved, much-needed rest. They could stay-in. They could go out with friends. They could take a nap. They could avoid the rejection and heartbreak and brokenness they encounter on the streets. They could avoid all of the drama and the he-said, she-said and well, the murder.
I’m sure the people who work with the youth every Saturday night have other thing they could be doing. And the men who work with the baseball ministry have families and jobs, too. I’m absolutely sure that the Mota family could’ve offered up one hundred viable excuses for not opening their home to seven girls who needed a safe place to live and grow.
But they didn’t. And they don’t.
Alli reminds us almost every week at bible study that you can’t do spiritual work in fleshly strength. Which is true. It’s also true that you can’t reap spiritual benefits from fleshly work.
Tonight I saw the evidence of spiritual work done in spiritual strength. I saw the evidence of sacrifice and others-first and sharing the good news and listening to the Spirit. Tonight Pastor Gary asked everyone at church who had received Christ as their Savior, who had been set free from sin and lists of rules and feelings of inadequacy and all that other stuff, because of IBEM to stand. Everyone who has accepted the truth of the Gospel because of something they heard or saw at Iglesia Bautista Evangelica de Macorís stood up.
Geeze there were a lot of people standing.
One of the people who stood up, who is my Sister-Friend because of Jesus, is one of my co-workers. She is a woman who works harder than almost anyone I know. She is a woman who loves her students and takes time to laugh with them and hug them each day. She is honest and committed to not only her personal spiritual growth, but also to the spiritual growth of others. One time she came over to my house so that I could help her with something and ended up dropping everything to help me (who was in a panic) search my new apartment (which didn’t yet have power) for my keys. She puts others first and her smile brightens a whole room. Because of the ministry of IBEM, she lives out her life as Beloved.
Another one of the people who stood tonight is also a friend of mine. We met last year when he drove my friend Sara and I to McDonalds one Sunday after church. He is very compassionate and giving, often stopping by just to say hello and wash our dishes. He is fun-loving and always has a song stuck in his head – which means he’s usually either singing, dancing, or both. He looks out for us, helped us find an apartment, and used to talk frankly about how something was missing in his life. A couple of weeks ago, at IBEM, he realized that what was missing in his life was a holy purpose, a loving God, and a Savior friend. Now he’s my brother, and he’s learning from the rest of his new church family what it means to be a man after God’s own heart.
A third person who stood tonight accepted Christ as her Savior only a couple of weeks ago, but God has been pursuing her for much longer. Women of the church have been talking to her about coming to church, about getting off the streets, about finding a safe and sustainable job for years. Years. A couple of weeks ago she sat down next to me in church and one of the first things Pastor Gary said was that we all have two directions we can go in life – the right way, toward and with Jesus and the wrong way, toward death and destruction. He said we all have a choice. If we’re going the right way, we need to choose every day to keep on going. If we’re going the wrong way, we can choose right now to turn ourselves around. She looked right at me and said, “He’s right.” That night she turned herself around. And then she went home to her boyfriend who beat her because he’s afraid that her new-found religion might take her off the streets where she is supporting his drug habit by selling her body. Tonight she stood up to declare that she has turned herself around and that she is now walking with Jesus. Not because the road is easy, but because it leads to life.
Tonight, as a church, we celebrated paying off a $100,000 loan that we were given to buy our current church building. We, a church of mostly Dominicans, paid that loan off in three and a half years. Tonight we celebrated the work that God has done through IBEM, in our church building (which is paid off!) and in the previous church building. We celebrated the lives changed because of this church, its members, and most importantly our God.
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” – John 4:34-38
Gloria a Dios I get to witness the reaping (not the someone’s-gonna-die Hunger Games Reaping but the good-gospel-work kind). I get to receive the wages in the form of new brothers and sisters to love on and rejoice together with. Gary and Alli, Noemi and Miguel, and the faithful laborers of IBEM have been working their spiritual and physical butts off for the past ten years and tonight we got to rejoice a bit together. What Jesus said here in John is still true. The fields are white for harvest. He’s not done yet. I have entered into this labor and am ecstatic to work the spiritual work He has called us too.
Let’s get to work.