September 2011


This is Jaime. He is 74 years old. In 1970 he immigrated to California where for the next 33 years he worked as a busboy in a Bob’s Big Boy in downtown Los Angeles and where he became a Christian. He and his wife, Juliana, raised six children all of whom live and work in Southern California.

In 2003, at the age of 66, he decided to give up his life in the United States to return to Mexico, to his indigenous village in the mountains of Oaxaca. He went with his wife in order to share his faith in Christ with his native village. He believes that this is what God called him to do. His children in California, now adult professionals, supported him financially, sending him money to build his house.

In late 2010, in the middle of the night the village authorities came to his home and threw him and his wife out. They forced them to leave the village. The couple now lives in the city of Oaxaca as displaced people. The village authorities will not allow them to return to the village to collect their things, including money his children had sent them. They sold off his four bulls and his supply of grain. When questioned by state officials they lied and said the grain had gone bad and they had thrown it out. They had no answer for what had happened to the bulls. The government cannot or will not guarantee Jaime’s personal security and the village authorities have threatened to imprison or kill him if he returns. He says they sometimes call him late at night asking for his address.

He thinks the reason for their expulsion is rooted in personal jealousy but the village authorities claim it is because he shared his faith with others in the village. They say will not allow anyone to change religion. A missionary couple, also indigenous people from the same region, say Jaime did his work quietly but felt compelled to share his faith and joy with his people. Jaime says his wife, who is 64, cries every night. He says his children have encouraged him to leave Mexico behind and return to California where they will look after him, but he does not believe his work here is done. He asked me to ask others to pray for him.

This is “Juana”. She is in her 70s. She and a number of other families were thrown out of their village on July 22, 2007 because they refused to renounce their faith. As in the case of Jaime, the mob came to their homes in the middle of the night, in a downpour, and pulled them out by force, driving them out of the village. They also sought refuge in the city. She and the others are not allowed to return to the village and have been told they will be beaten, imprisoned or killed if they try to go back, even if it is just to see relatives.

Juana not only lost her home, she lost her husband, who rejected her for being a Christian, and her daughter who was unable to withstand the pressure and renounced her faith.

Juana and the others eke out a meager living, collecting recyclable garbage from around the city and turning it in. She is old, has no family who will support her and no other resources. She still clings to her faith.

The government has done little to help the situation. They will not guarantee the safety of Juana or the others if they return to their village. They say they have convinced the local authorities to let the Christians sell their property so they at least have some money to build a new life, but the Christians say the local authorities deceived the state officials. The local authorities have threatened anyone who attempts to buy the Christians’ property; technically they are free to sell but no one will purchase it. She also asked me to ask others to pray for them.

This all sounds terribly sad but I cannot forget Juana’s steadfast faith in a God who will provide for her, or the sounds of her prayers mingled with the prayers of the others who were expelled that night, at the end of our meeting. She lifted her eyes and hands to God and I could see, she believes.

I cannot forget the light in Jaime’s eyes and smile. The palpable pride he took in telling me about his 33-year career as a busboy at a burger joint in downtown L.A – a job most people I know would consider demeaning and not worthy of mention. Despite the way they have treated him, he loves his people and his village and wants to show them the way to God.

I lift my eyes up to the hills; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

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I’ve been inspired by many things this week: the faith of two friends as they deal with the sudden death of their daughter and wait to learn about the results of the husband’s surgery (he may have cancer); the faith of another friend who last month was diagnosed with a debilitating and incurable disease and then a few weeks ago told she may have been misdiagnosed and is still living in uncertainty; reading the story of Adoniram Judson – (who turned out to be a distant relative of mine!) – who was largely responsible for bring Christianity to the Karen and Karenni and the translation of the Bible into Burmese but who only saw real results after a lifetime of work that appeared to bear very little fruit, the loss of two wives and an infant child and almost two years in prison; reading through the words of Ezekiel and Jeremiah who lived their lives faithful to what God called them to do even though it appeared that no one took any notice of what they said (and frequently did the opposite).

I am reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline at the moment and adding to all the examples above, have had it reinforced that faith is a discipline. Many Christians have been taught to believe that faith is some kind of magical thing that you just have; that it’s somehow bestowed on us with no other action on our part than the initial decision to accept Christ. I’ve also been reading a book on the Great Awakening in the mid 18th century in the American colonies and have been struck by how people at the time deeply agonised over the assurance of their salvation. I think we’d have considered most of them Christians (and “saved”) but many seemed to be convinced that faith was something external that could be given or withdrawn at the apparent whim of God.

Faith is a funny thing and something we should never take for granted. I think many of those with whom I work would agree, that while there are times when our strength runs out and God miraculously refreshes us with faith and hope, most often faith is a decision. It is something we have to choose, sometimes over and over again, when faced with the impossible situations and cases we deal with every day in our professional lives and uncertainty, tragedy and daunting challenges in our personal lives. We are called to pray for our faith to increase, but so must we choose daily to believe.

How brittle are the Piers
On which our Faith doth tread —
No Bridge below doth totter so —
Yet none hath such a Crowd.

It is as old as God —
Indeed — ’twas built by him —
He sent his Son to test the Plank,
And he pronounced it firm.
Emily Dickinson

915

Faith—is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not—
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side—
It joins—behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.
Emily Dickinson