WHAT'S IN YOUR BLANKS?

I have been told by others that I'm a “dreamer”.  I’m not always sure if that is a positive or a negative.  But, here are some of my thoughts as I was flying from Argentina to Paraguay earlier this year.

I like to dream; especially on planes.  When I’m on a plane my mind often begins to drift off and dreams begin to form just like the clouds.  At first, my dreams are vague and not well formed.  But soon, they begin to take shape and I begin to “see” them more clearly.  Almost all of my dreams have a beginning.  They start with “What if …”.   And, they have an ending “… so His name will be known”.  You probably are thinking “that’s not much of a dream”; and you would be right.  But, what makes these dreams significant is "the blank" in the middle of the two phrases.  I want "the blanks" in my dreams to be filled in by God.  His blanks are always better than mine.  And, they tend to be much bigger than mine.  In fact, they are often outrageous and humanly impossible to complete.  But, that’s what makes them so exciting.

So, what am I dreaming right now?  Well, here it is.  Yesterday, my wife Michelle and I, along with two of our church planting ministry friends in Argentina, Eduardo Buldain and Juan Rameriz, met with Maria Gloria Penayo and her husband Nicanor Duarte at their new home in Buenos Aires.  Maria Gloria, the former First Lady of Paraguay, became a friend of Michelle’s last year when they spoke together at a women’s conference in Paraguay.  Nicanor, a former president of Paraguay for two terms, is now Paraguay’s Ambassador to Argentina.  Maria Gloria and Michelle have developed a deep friendship and love for each other in a short period of time.  As we began talking, it was so encouraging to see how Maria Gloria has already started a women’s Bible study in her new home. 

After a few minutes of catching up, I asked Maria Gloria a question that was burning in my heart; “So, why do you believe God brought you and your husband here to Argentina?”  Maria Gloria responded honestly by saying, “I don’t know yet but, I have prayed to Him to use me for whatever He desires.”   This is exactly what God wants … an open and submissive heart to serve Him.  I can think of no better mission statement for an ambassador of Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:20.

As background, Argentina has a large population of Paraguayans who have come to Argentina to seek work.  They are hard workers and will work for less pay than others.  The reported number of Paraguayans living in Argentina varies.  I have heard numbers between 800,000 to over 2 million.  With only 6.5 million Paraguayans living in Paraguay today, regardless of the exact number, the percentage of Paraguayans living in Argentina  is very high.  And, most of the Paraguayans are living in the very poor barrios of La Mantanza located on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.  This is an area where no one wants to go as it is a poor, crime ridden and dangerous place.  In some barrios, you dare not enter without a local resident inviting and escorting you.  But, this is the area where God has called Eduardo Buldain and others to plant churches for Him.  To date, they have planted 16 Missionary Bible Churches in these barrios and have a vision to plant nearly 100 in the next 20 years.  Maria Gloria and her husband, who are both followers of Jesus Christ, listened as we spoke about the plight of the Paraguayans and others living in La Mantanza.  I could see Gloria’s eyes begin to tear up and her heart break for the people in these barrios.   These people are Paraguayan’s … her people, but more than that, they are God’s children and she has a heart for the lost.

So as I am flying, my “What if’s” begin to form.

“What if … God wanted to use Maria Gloria and Nicanor to reach 200,000 Paraguayans in La Mantanza …”. 

“What if … God used Maria Gloria to begin a movement in La Mantanza among the women and children …”.   “

What if … La Mantanza became a beacon shining His light to all of Argentina …”. 

So many “what if’s”.  But, I am now passing over the Parana River signaling that we are in Paraguay air space and will soon be landing.  So, what’s in store for us in our next 10 days in Paraguay?  What dreams does God have for us?  They are beginning to form and I will share more later, but here is a hint. 

What if … God were to use Su Refugio to reach the mothers and the children who were born in jail as a result of their mothers being incarcerated … so that His name will be known?

These are some of "the blanks" in my dreams.  What’s are "the blanks" in the dreams that God has given you?  He has BIG dreams for you.  You know that, right?   Jeremiah 29:11 

Will you pray for "the blanks" God has placed on my heart? 

Send me "your blanks" and I will pray for them also.  

Are You Ready for THE RETURN?

Last November, Michelle and I traveled to Israel to visit our “Paraguayan son”, Cesar, who is serving the Lord as a guide in the Garden Tomb.  From an early age, Cesar felt the call to be a missionary in Israel so he studied, raised his support and in obedience to God is now an ambassador in the Holy Land for Jesus.

While visiting Cesar, we went to Jericho to spend the day with Tass Saada, Seeds of Hope (www.seedsofhope.org), and Chris Marshall, Kids Around the World (www.kidsaroundtheworld.com).  Once a PLO sniper for Yasar Arafat, whose mission was to kill Jews, today Tass has a love for both Jews and Muslims.  Tass realized that by planting seeds of hope in children, the hatred that would surely take root as they grew up could be neutralized.

As we drove into Jericho, we first saw a monument of a key that says “We Will Return” (see photo below).  They key is a symbolic reminder to the Arab people that they have an obligation to regain any territories that are considered to be stolen by the Jews.  Many Palestinian refugees still hold keys to homes they (or their predecessors) occupied inside Israel before fleeing in the 1948 war.

We spent an impactful day with Tass and Chris.  That night in our hotel room, we realized, like many other Americans, we had drawn a few conclusions (mostly negative) from what we had seen or read in the media.  That day the myth was broken for us and at that very moment we said “we will return” … and bring others with us.  We wanted to not only show “The Holy Lands” to the people but let them get to know the Palestinian people.

So, we are returning to Jericho this week.  But, this time we are returning with a team from Su Refugio Ministries (www.surefugio.org), in partnership with Kids Around the World, to bring joy and good news to the Palestinian people.  We will be posting updates to update our journey and give you a glimpse into what God is showing us.  I hope to not only share photos with you these next two weeks but also some of the insights God places in the hearts of our team members.

I can’t finish this blog without first reminding you to be mindful of THE RETURN.  Jesus Christ is returning and the day is drawing near.  Just as He ascended from the Mount of Olives across from the Temple Mount, He will also be returning to the same location one day.  The question is, are you ready?   For more information, read John 14:2-4. 

Setting the Captives Free

It was Thursday morning as we approached the entrance of The Buen Pastor, a women’s prison in Asuncion, Paraguay.  We were greeted with empty beer bottles left by those on the “outside”.   But, we did not come to see what was on the “outside”, but rather to see what was on the “inside”.   The “inside” houses 500 women who are being incarcerated for a variety of crimes, from drug trafficking to murder.  We had been told that this prison was a mixed facility, that is, women who had committed serious crimes were living alongside women who had committed lesser crimes.  Our desire was to see the situation of those caught “in between”.  We came to see the children who were being incarcerated, along with their mothers.  Women who were convicted of crimes and were pregnant are sent to this prison.  They deliver their babies in prison and the children continue to live with them in prison until they reach the age of three.

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As we entered the prison, there was tight security.   We were escorted to Norma’s office, the prison director, who had been on the job for three years.  We explained that we are Christians from an organization called Su Refugio (meaning His Refuge or God’s Refuge).   We shared that the vision of our ministry is to care for widows (single mothers) and children in distress, according to James 1:27.  The Buen Pastor prison is full of single women and children living in distress.  Norma began to explain the situation at The Buen Pastor prison.  She shared many stories with us.  Norma pulled out a six inch knife from her desk telling us that one of the women inmates was recently stabbed with this knife.  It is a rough place.  But, she agreed to guide us on a tour of the facility.  Two guards stayed close behind us as Norma guided us through the prison.  As we entered the facility, I remember the first woman I saw reached out to touch me as if to say … “please help me”.    There are no cells at The Buen Pastor, just a maze of buildings with lots of dark rooms.  They all live together.  At first I thought … that’s good, they are not in a small cell.  But then I quickly start thinking … how are the minor offenders protected from the violent criminals? 

As we walked through the maze, we finally reached what we had come to see … children.  We met a mother laying on a bed with a four day old child.  We met a young girl, who we were told was four years old and could only speak a few words.  We walked into rooms with two or three children staring at us with empty eyes.  These children are given no education.  They are captives in a prison just because they happened to be born in prison … they have no hope. 

But, there is hope.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18) 

During our time at The Buen Pastor, we could see Norma’s heart soften.  She became very interested in how Su Refugio could potentially have an impact on this prison of 500 hundred women and especially the children who are suffering.   And we, too, were changed.  What we saw at The Buen Pastor could not be ignored.  Our hearts told us that we have to help.  We have no choice.  And we have to engage others to help as well. The picture below (left to right) shows Michelle, Norma, Pamela (Su Refugio social worker), Rocio (Su Refugio lawyer) and Scott.  

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So, what are we to do?  We are praying to launch a new ministry as part of Su Refugio Paraguay, called “Freeing the Captives”.   Our program is two pronged.  First, we want to begin to minister to the women at The Buen Pastor, especially to those who have children inside the prison or are pregnant.  We want to share the love of Jesus Christ with them and tell them that they can have a personal relationship with Christ.  We want to let them know that their lives can be restored and that God has a plan for their lives.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). We want to start a Mom’s in Prayer group inside the prison where women will pray together for their children (www.momsinprayer.org). 

Second, we want to begin to give the children at The Buen Pastor a new environment.  We want to begin bringing the older children (3 and 4 year olds) to Su Refugio, located about two hours away, each week from Monday to Friday.  We want to give these children a life outside of the walls of the prison.  We want to feed, clothe, love and care for these children each week.  On the weekend, they will be brought back to their mom in prison.  It’s not a total solution, but it’s a start.  And we want to find homes for the children if their mothers will be in prison for an extended period of time (which is the norm, not the exception). “And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:39-40) 

Maybe we can’t help the masses, but we can help one.  Possibly two or three.  Maybe eight to ten?  We don’t know how many we can help, but God knows.  He has placed this on our hearts and we must try to help.  But, we too need help.  We need your help.  We need your prayers.  We need financial support to transport these children each week to Su Refugio.  We need help to provide clothes, food, medical care, etc.   We need to pay for a technical staff to work in and outside the prison with the moms and children, including a social worker, psychologist and lawyer.  We need to hire additional “aunts” who will watch over these children from Monday to Friday each week.  And, we need to hire a guard to ensure that any who may try to harm or snatch these children will not be allowed to enter Su Refugio.  There is no one else helping these children.  We know that this is beyond the limits what we can do.  But we are taking a step of faith to see what God wants to do.  It is a work that God has called us to … perhaps He is calling you too.    “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26). 

If this story and the call to action are tugging on your heartstrings, will you consider joining us for one of two upcoming events where you can learn more?  The first is Friday, June 13th at our quarterly HIStory Unfolding event taking place at the Poway Community Park Auditorium at 6:30 PM.  And then the following day, I will be with my wife Michelle speaking at the “Hope for the Broken” conference at Maranatha Chapel beginning at 8 AM (continental breakfast at 7 AM).  This conference is specifically designed to inform and call those with a heart for Prison Ministry to join the work that God is doing in San Diego and Paraguay.  Or you can also log on to our site at www.surefugio.org for further information on how you can be part of “Freeing the Captives”.

Finding Samaria - If Not Me Then WHO?

Samaria. Remember?  It’s one of the places in Acts 1:8 where Jesus told us to go and be His witnesses.  It’s located just past Judea, a little distant from our homes in Jerusalem.  Or, so I thought until this past month when I was in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay training church leaders in strategic church planting and multiplication.  At least that was my plan.   So often I go to teach others and God sits me down and says, “No Scott, it’s you I want to teach”.

Samaria is NOT a matter of distance.  It cannot be found by going farther away from home.  It can only be found when you choose to get out of your comfort zone and allow God to break your heart. 

When Jesus was walking from Judea to Galilee, He chose to pass through Samaria.  Normally, the Jews would make every effort to avoid Samaria. The Samaritans were “untouchable” and the Jews, including Jesus’ disciples, had no desire to interact with them; their hearts were hardened.  But Jesus’ heart was different.  He purposefully entered Samaria desiring to impact not only the life of one women, but an entire village.  After revealing Himself to the woman at the well, she ran to the village to share about Jesus.  Shortly thereafter they told her “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  John 4:42 

You can find Samaria when you are willing to open your heart to the “untouchables” … those who are different … those who make you uncomfortable … those who make you fearful … those who dislike you or greet you with anger.  I found Samaria this past month in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.  I was strategically looking for it; I just didn’t know it was Samaria.  “Samaria” is located just outside the Ciudad del Este bus terminal on one side of the road.  It’s not found by looking on a map, it’s found by looking through the eyes of my/your heart. 

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My friend Tim Kunkel drove me down this street last year. Like Jesus’ disciples, I did not want to go there … after all, it’s a scary place.  The people living in this “Samaria” are a part of a tribal group, called Maca, who have left their tribal lands to relocate into urban areas. They speak a different tribal language, but understand Guarani, the native language of Paraguay. They walk around in front of their makeshift houses with little or no clothing and have a glazed look in their eyes due to the drugs they use.  As I drove by I could see many children.  They were dirty with little or no clothing.  I saw children sniffing glue fumes from a bag and wandering in the middle of the street in front of their homes.  I was told how the parents sell the children to men who park their cars on the other side of the street.  The parents sell the children to buy more drugs.  It is the lowest level of depravity. 

People drive by like Samaria doesn’t exist.  The government doesn’t know what to do about these “Samaritans”.  The hearts of those living in Jerusalem have become so dulled to the images and that they appear as if they no longer see Samaria. It’s as if it doesn’t exist.  After all, this group has been there for 12 to 15 years.  But it does exist!  I saw it.  I experienced it.  I cannot close the eyes of my heart.

I was told that “these people have chosen this lifestyle; it is their choice.  I was told that they don’t want to change”.  But what about the children?  Who chose this lifestyle for them?  Who is crying out for them?  Who will give them a voice?  If not me, who?  If not now, when?

I’m returning to this Samaria in June to do “something”.  What am I going to do?  I don’t know.  I know that giving them “things” will not help, they will just sell the “things” for drugs.  I know what they need.  They need to know my Savior.  They need to be rescued in the same way Jesus rescued me. I know that I was no better than least of them; in fact, I’m just like them … a sinner who has destroyed lives.  But, I am different today.  I have been rescued and restored.

I’m trusting that God will direct my steps.  I have made the decision that my “when” is “now”.  I’m ready to face their anger.  I am ready to face the rocks that they threw at me as I took this picture.  I am convinced that this “Samaria” is no different than the Samaria found in John 4.  Jesus can use one child to impact a village.  I’m praying for that one child.

So, if you don’t know where Samaria is, contact me, I know where it is, I can show you … it’s not far. We can go together.  We can pray together.  Want to come?  

Chasing Lions

I recently read the book “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day”.   The book tells the story of a man named Benaiah who chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day and killed it.   It was kind of a crazy story as the lion fell into the pit and Benaiah could have walked away without further risk or danger.  But he didn’t.  He went into the pit and killed the lion.  Crazy, huh?   What’s really crazy is the book is non-fiction.  You can read the story in 2 Samuel 23:20-21.  The story goes on and when David, the King of Israel, needed a body-guard who was fearless, and battle ready, he picks Benaiah.  Benaiah began chasing lions and later he was used by God in a powerful way.

I want to be a “lion chaser” too.  I want to have the confidence to face opposition and problems just like Benaiah.  I want to do crazy things and be used by my King in powerful ways.   I see so many people standing on the side lines and become cheerleaders as to what God is doing in His Kingdom.  I don’t want to be on the sidelines.  I want to be in the middle of the action.  I know that I am ordinary, but I believe that God wants to use me to help build His Kingdom.  Why else would I still be here on earth?  He has a plan for me, and I want to be fearless and “chase lions” for Him. 

God also wants to use each of you.   Do you feel ordinary and incapable of accomplishing great things?   If you silently said “yes”, then step forward, you qualify for the job!  The Bible is loaded with true stories about who God likes to use.  He wants the unlikely, the weak, to accomplish His will.  God is continuing to write stories about how He uses ordinary men to accomplish extraordinary things.  I challenge you with a simple question, “Do you want God to write the story He has created you to accomplish … or do you want to write your own story”? 

As I continue to write this blog, I want to share stories of how God is using His team of ordinary misfits (that’s me and those who have joined in) to “chase and kill lions”.  God is doing amazing things within the ministry of Su Refugio.  He began in Paraguay, expanded into Argentina, and now Peru and Mexico.  In November we are going to Jericho, Israel, to chase some lions.  And, we are praying for what He might have for us in Panama and hope to do some early exploring in Columbia later this year or early next year.  God doesn’t need a village, but He wants to use a team.  He doesn’t need us, but He wants to use us.

So what do you think?  Are you ready to chase some lions?  Give me a call, I know where a lot of them are hanging out.   Don’t worry, we’re not going alone.  We have a special lion hunting guide who not only protects us but wants to guide our every step.  And what’s really cool, He not only knows where all the lions are, He controls them!

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