Monday, August 24, 2015

Praising God, Dancing with Arabs

Manuel parked the bus in a field alongside the Pan-American highway that runs through Chimaltenango. We parked in a rough cut cow-field as a man in typical dress and a large hat lay on a dirt mound watching us unload.

In his eyes, I imagine we were just another bus-load of foreigners come to talk loud, pick up garbage, cry in the face of poverty, and then roll off with our backpacks, water-bottles, sunscreen, bug-spray, and mobile phones in a dusty puff of sunset drama.

This group was different. This group has changed the way I see everything. I am made a petter person from walking with them for the past week. 

Walking down that rabbit trail through the cow-field, heading towards a shanty town village with me were young men and women from Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Israel. Their families fled their home countries because evil was at their doorsteps. They were marked for persecution and death because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

I have never had to run for my life. I have never had my faith challenged by militants that would kill me and rape my family. As I walk beside them, my mind is overwhelmed as I look at them. They wear jeans. They smile and they tell jokes. We work together, we sing together. There is so much about them that is exactly like me. But for them to live no differently than I do, nearly cost their families everything.

This reality shakes me to my core, because just yesterday I learned that another 65 Christians were seized by ISIS and are being tortured as I write these words. ISIS now controls territory that is larger than the land mass of England. 

Maybe I could ignore the news reports. Maybe I could try to claim ignorance of the atrocities being committed in the opposite hemisphere of the globe... but I cannot ignore these people that walk beside me into poverty.

They have lost so much. And they are here to serve others. Their faith is a mountain of a testament. Their faith in God cost them everything, and yet, here they are praising His name, and serving others as they serve Him.

This is such a powerful posture of prayer. They remind me of Daniel. Even in the face of death, he prayed, giving thanks to God. I am walking with giants. The history of the people of God shouts out to me from their steps. I am blown away.

We made our way through the scrap and board neighborhood down narrow streets. We walked into the church that our mission helped found and build years ago. We learned from the pastor about the growth of this congregation and the impact in this place. And then the group asked if they could sing. 

To my great surprise, despite a light rainfall, they stepped back out into the street. A small guitar was brought out from a soft-case, a bucket was turned upside down, sticks were carved smooth, and worship came down as their voices were carried up with the rhythms of the strings and the pulse of the bucket drum. Worship in Arabic filled those streets as curious faces peered out from doorways and around corners. 

The music swelled as unfamiliar cadence, tempo, and harmonies flooded through the streets. Some of the ladies began to slightly dance and suddenly I was moved beyond circumstance. Time and place disappeared as I stood in worship like it must have existed in the time of David. Spanish and English began to add into the sound as a familiar song pulled my mind back to the present.

The street had filled. Families had came out to join us. The pastor was working the crowd, children were watching with candy in their hands and bubbles blowing through the air. What was once a dusty narrow street, had transformed into a surreal mix of nations praising God openly and without fear.

Vitamins for the mothers and babies.
For two hours we all filled that church and those streets, those who had been persecuted were praising God as they danced and held the hands of those who suffered. 

With so much darkness in the world... with the American Holocaust of 55 million murdered babies while we worship in our padded seats, with the beheadings of men and women throughout the middle east while my own nation refuses asylum... it would be easy for my own countenance to be dragged into a dark place of bitterness and disillusionment.

And yet... here are those who have known the fear of death, dancing with those who know the sting of hopeless poverty. And like Daniel, I know that I must praise the name of God. Blessed be the Name of the LORD. 

He is worthy to be praised. And so... I joined the nations and lifted my voice up to Him. 

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed Be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be'
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

-Lyrics by Matt Redman

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