The church I grew up in used the motto ‘His Hands Extended’. That meant they aimed to be an extension of God’s grace and blessing to the community we lived in.
I recently heard a story that embodied this ethos as good as any church could. To be his hands extended is a big part of the mission of God, and as missionaries, we aim to bring people into contact with God. When we look with the eyes of Jesus, we often see the hurting and pain of his people. As his hands extended, we desire to fill the void and bring a piece of heaven—healing or love–to the broken hearted.
Some of our Foursquare Missionaries have done just that as they work in Baja California. Don and Sandy Godwin have found a niche serving deported Mexicans. They found that when some illegal immigrants get deported to Mexico, the US government does not stop to ask if the Mexican can speak Spanish. In some cases, these people have grown up in the US only learning English. The immigrants made a life in the US, but now they are sent to what is supposedly their home with no connections and barely enough Spanish to survive. The Godwins have started a church that specializes in offering compassion to English speaking Mexicans.
One pastor told me last week at the Southwest District Conference of one story related to this compassion. One of the people in his church did not have their papers in order when Immigration came through. The pastor told his people he could contact someone he knew in Mexico that might be able to help. He hoped to offer a glimmer of hope to a family about to be uprooted and shipped back “home”. Baja Mexico was many things, but home was not one of them for this family. The pastor sent a Facebook message to the Godwins hoping they could find this deported family.
My pastor friend said he waited around anxious that his Hispanic friends were lost and without help back in Mexico. He hoped his message made it to the Godwins. After no response, he decided to call them that afternoon. He hoped to hear a plan of how they could contact the newly deported family. When he got on the phone with them, he immediately asked if they got his message. The urgency was palpable in his voice.
The answer the Godwins gave instantly cut the tension building in this pastor’s heart. They told him, don’t worry, we have the family sitting in our living room as we speak. Not only did they have a plan on how to help them, the missionaries or agents of God’s mission were already in the process of expressing God’s heart to these people.
I don’t know a better living metaphor of being Gods’ hands extended, but I am sure there are millions of them around the world.
What is your favorite example of being God’s hands extended?
Does God see where I am? Does He know what I am struggling with? These questions plague me at times, but I believe I am not the only one that asks these question, so I thought I would share a picture that came to me while reading Zechariah recently. This comes from the passage in chapter 10 that talks about the sheep that are without a shepherd. I see a picture of us, of me, as sheep. We are lost, wandering on our own. We are stuck in the crags, the crevices, the obscure side of the hill. No one knows where we are, and most of all we are helpless and without hope. We are bleating, crying out for help. We ask does anyone hear our cry. And this is where Jesus intersects us. He comes down to us with compassion. He sees us on the backside of nowhere. As he desperately searches for us, he finds us following the sound of our cries off in the distance. The sun is setting, and we are growing in despair. Just in the nick of time, he spots us. The God of the universe comes to us. He knows where we are. He rescues us. At the same time a second picture came to me showing another aspect of God’s compassion for his people. This time we have been lagging behind the herd when a wolf cuts us off from our friends. Sometimes life or the enemy of our soul comes at us with a vicious attack. Where we are being attacked by the wild animals, Jesus defends us. In this picture, I see myself on my back nearly eaten alive by a wolf when Jesus comes down and snatches me free from the mouth of the wolf. He takes the wolf by the back of the neck and throws it aside. I believe we miss seeing Jesus in this perception–the strong, protector. Jesus shows strength and even anger. He wants to set us free, so he must first throw off our attacker. The wolf yelps but crawls off with its tail between its legs. I am free. I am safe. When I look into the eyes of my rescuer, I see unabated love. I see the desire to find me no matter what obstacle lay between us. Now, I can rest in the arms of a mighty God.
Sometimes we ask, “was all that effort worth it?” Well, since you asked, here is a story that highlights my feelings on our six years in Thailand. The short version is: Yes, It was so worth it! The long version follows. “I am too old to change” she told him. One of our best friends in Thailand from the very beginning, Simon, repeated this story to us time and again. He told us more than once how he desperately wanted his family to know God. As a teenager, Simon came to know Jesus and began following him. When he shared his story with his parents, they agreed that God is real. They intellectually assented that God was the way to go and even supported him in his faith—something rare among Thai families. The social norm in Thailand dictates that families shun Christian converts. Our friend’s parents just couldn’t fully come to know God. For them, they said they were too old to change. In Thailand, like much of the world, the culture and religion are inextricably linked. The Buddhist worldview shapes every aspect of how people live. So to be nearing retirement, a Thai person looking at Christianity as the way to go has to weigh completely changing all of who they are. They are not simply adding Jesus to their life and gaining a positive outlook. They are taking on a new understanding of how to live. For Simon’s parents, the thought of changing at this point in their life was daunting. No, for them, it was impossible to change. Fast forward five years. Ovarian cancer struck Simon’s mom, and our friend carried a heavy heart for his mom’s health and her soul. The diagnosis was bleak as cancer hits hard in the villages of Thailand. What could Simon do? The church we led quickly came around him in prayer and emotional support. Simon’s anguish doubled as he lived in Bangkok far from his hometown and parents in the north of Thailand. We joined him in the prayer that his family would come to know God and soon. But the distance made us feel more than helpless. Coincidently, at the same time of her illness, Our Home Chapel had a team of leaders and youth going north for a youth camp. I hoped we might have an opportunity to visit Simon’s mom while in the same province. We did, because she came to the hospital in the provincial capital, Chiang Mai (only three hours from their village) where the national youth camp was held. The day before camp began; Simon went up early to visit with his family. Once again, he gave his heartfelt plea that his mom know God. In all of this God was working on her heart. Incredibly, what seemed impossible for years became reality that night. His mom, through many tears decided to give her heart to Jesus. Her future was more uncertain than ever, but now her life was in Jesus’ hands. The next evening, our team went over for a visit with Simon and his mom. We sat around doing what friends do in Thailand, eating snacks and shooting the breeze. We teased Simon about girls, talked about life in Thailand. Oh, and his mom loved getting to see pictures of Ellie. What Thai person didn’t want to see our cute tow head—a small minority in their country. Before we left, the OHC team asked to pray with Simon’s mom. We gathered around her to lay hands on her and pray. At this, one of the mom’s (what we called the older ladies) in the church put her hands on Simon’s mom’s abdomen and began to pray with fervor. As I listened to her pray in Thai, I felt God stirring. But we wouldn’t know if anything happened for some time as Simon’s mom had just come from the hospital that morning. The doctors gave her an updated diagnosis and treatment plan. She would not come back for another month. The next time she showed up to the hospital four weeks later, the doctors decided to run the blood work one more time before beginning treatment. To their shock and disbelief, the cancer was gone. There was not even a trace that the cancer had been there. Simon’s mom was released with a clean bill of health that day. God did the impossible. Jesus intersected her life far after the point in which she thought she could change. As I reflected over the past few days, I had this one thought. This is why Jesus gave his life—that people could be made whole in body and soul. Furthermore, this is why we gave our life to go to Thailand. Stories like this make it all worth it to leave behind the comforts of our home, family and friends to invest in the lives of people who do not know God. God is the God of the possible—even when we are convinced it is impossible.
Do you have any stories of God doing the impossible?