Texas Mission 2017 #5

The fancy dashboard screen indicates the outside temperature to be 111°. Yikes.

The fancy dashboard screen indicates the outside temperature to be 111°. Yikes.

The last “work” day of our 2017 Mission to Mission trip was powerful in many, many regards.  For a variety of reasons beyond our control, the time spent at the home in Donna, TX was limited to half a day.  In some ways, that was probably a pretty wise decision, given the heat we experienced this afternoon.  As with most things in our lives, we didn’t finish the job entirely, but we had to stop anyway. We’ll trust that just as the Lord raised up hands to begin work of which we knew nothing two weeks ago, we’ll trust that there will be hands sent to complete the tasks we were obliged to leave undone today.  At any rate, it was wonderful to see this project to this point and to celebrate with the homeowners as they continued to dream of moving into their own new space.

Joe is sealing up the bathroom tile.

Joe is sealing up the bathroom tile.

Gabe installing some light fixtures

Gabe installing some light fixtures

Here, the team observes a moment of silence for the broken pipe, only recently buried...

Here, the team observes a moment of silence for the broken pipe, only recently buried… I think Lauren may be reading some sort of liturgy from her phone.

Bob engages in a little resurrection theology with the soon-to-be-mended pipe.

Bob engages in a little resurrection theology with the soon-to-be-mended pipe.

You know, painting, sawing, and Tina handing trim through the window...

You know, painting, sawing, and Tina handing trim through the window…

What? A Long-billed Curlew stopped by the vacant lot next door? Who knew?

What? A Long-billed Curlew stopped by the vacant lot next door? Who knew?

With Adriana and Raymond - we are glad to have been able to participate in this stage of their journey.

With Adriana and Raymond – we are glad to have been able to participate in this stage of their journey.

pizzahutOnce again, we found ourselves the recipients of lunchtime hospitality.  This time, it was not a meal cooked and delivered to the site, but rather the treat of personal pan pizza in air-conditioned comfort.  Our liaisons at First Presbyterian Church of Mission TX, Kathy  and “Tejano Bob”, took us to Pizza Hut in an effort to break up the day.  It worked.  Folks were in a food coma ten minutes later…

The interior of my van upon leaving Pizza Hut...

The interior of my van upon leaving Pizza Hut…

Several of us took advantage of the extra hours in the afternoon to visit the Refugee Center located at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen.  Here we were privileged to see how this congregation has rallied people of faith and good will across the Rio Grande Valley to provide a hospitable welcome to those fleeing persecution and danger in Central America.  Persons who are seeking refugee status in the USA are received by the Border Patrol and vetted at a detention center nearby.  Those who are cleared for entry and continuing the process are then brought to this center, where they are given a hot meal, a clean set of clothes, a shower, and a place to sleep for the night before going to the bus station the next day to travel to the city in which their sponsors will receive them.  It was our honor to be on hand when two young mothers and their children came in and were received so graciously by the volunteers of the parish.

The exterior of a tent used to house some of the refugees received at Sacred Heart

The exterior of a tent used to house some of the refugees received at Sacred Heart

thurs3

Dinner provided us with the incredible opportunity to share in a lengthy reunion with the Paz family, with whom we were glad to work two years ago.  We stopped by to say “hello” yesterday, and then got a message inviting us to dinner today – and what a feast we shared.  There was enough chicken and sausage to feed an army, along with some amazing beans and a homemade cake.  It was good to get caught up on the who’s doing what in school and to see how the house is continuing to provide a blessing to our friends and those with whom they come into contact.  We don’t often get a glimpse of the kingdom, but tonight we did.  And we were glad for it.

img_8880

The table is spread!!!

Joe, Tim, Vicky, and Lauren

Joe, Tim, Vicky, and Lauren

With Julio, Ricardo, Juani, and Kimberly

With Julio, Ricardo, Juani, and Kimberly.  Alert readers will notice that Ricardo is holding a recently-imported bottle of Nali brand hot sauce from Malawi.  That’ll get the old salsa up and running!

Sometimes, being friends with someone means taking a turn on the trampoline with them. Better Lindsay than me, I'd say...

Sometimes, being friends with someone means taking a turn on the trampoline with them. Better Lindsay than me, I’d say…

Tomorrow is a travel day – we’ll take the drive up to Houston and then on Saturday return to Pittsburgh.  It’s been a great trip for all kinds of reasons, and I hope and pray that the fruit will show in years to come.

Texas Mission 2017 #4

By the time we get to the third day of a mission trip, we’re really  about as much “on a roll” as we’re going to get.  Generally, folks have some idea what we’re doing and how to do it… Conversations have been deep and warm, and similarly, if I got on your nerves a little bit on Monday, by Wednesday afternoon I’m literally killing you.  If you like BBQ, you’re in heaven; if it’s not your favorite, you’re ready to change channels; the time together is charging up all of the extroverts and the introverts are simply craving some “me time”…

Today was a great day.  In terms of the work, we have almost finished the exterior painting and knocked out a lot of the interior.  When we left today, the toilet flushed (ending our thrice-daily invasion of the local “El Tigre” Exxon station), the tile was just about into the bathtub, and the doors had all been hung and several were even framed.

In terms of the “chemistry of the company”, well, it’s just wonderful.  We’ve enjoyed Joe K’s amazing cooking skills and laughed at some of Pastor Dave’s hilarious jokes.  Encouragement has been shared, stories told, and our Bible study has been deep and rich.

At the end of the day, we visited the home of a family we were privileged to serve two years ago.  I’ve been friends with Juani and her son Julio on Facebook since then, and it’s a tremendous joy to see that the house to which we contributed has really become a home that sustains a family.  We had a delightful visit, and at the end of the day Juani invited us to return tomorrow for dinner.  Needless to say, we are very, very excited!

Here are a few images to help you get a glimpse into our week…

Joe doing the detail work of cutting in the edges of the closet.

Joe doing the detail work of cutting in the edges of the closet.

Gabe, Kati, and Lauren looking a little too pleased with themselves at the ceramic saw.

Gabe, Kati, and Lauren looking a little too pleased with themselves at the ceramic saw.

Joe K. and Bob (we found him!) installing the water lines.  One of the advantages of this climate is that frozen pipes are just a bad memory...

Joe K. and Bob (we found him!) installing the water lines. One of the advantages of this climate is that frozen pipes are just a bad memory…

Lindsay putting the paint on the door frames prior to their installation.

Lindsay putting the paint on the door frames prior to their installation.

And now Tina trims them to fit!

And now Tina trims them to fit!

Jon is a man who is simply out standing in his field.

Jon is a man who is simply out standing in his field.

Dave applying the trim - a deep purple to accent the slate gray/blue siding.

Dave applying the trim – a deep purple to accent the slate gray/blue siding.

Enjoying a reunion with the Paz family, with whom these six individuals served in 2015.

Enjoying a reunion with the Paz family, with whom these six individuals served in 2015.

There is some debate as to whether it was Napoleon or Frederick the Great who said, "An army marches on its stomach.  There is no dispute as to how Joe has equipped us for the challenges of our days...

There is some debate as to whether it was Napoleon or Frederick the Great who said, “An army marches on its stomach. There is no dispute as to how Joe has equipped us for the challenges of our days…

A little game of Apples to Apples helps us to socialize...

A little game of Apples to Apples helps us to socialize…

...and meanwhile, back at "Introvert's Corner", a few of the fellows recuperate from an intense day together.

…and meanwhile, back at “Introvert’s Corner”, a few of the fellows recuperate from an intense day together.

Texas Mission 2017 #1

In 2009, I had the privilege of joining my friend Stacey and my daughter Ariel on a brief visit to Reynosa Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas.  During that time, we developed an idea in which a group of adults from Crafton Heights could return and engage in a cross-cultural mission experience in partnership with the churches in South Texas and North Mexico.  In 2010, the Church sent a team of 8 adults, and ever since then we’ve been able to enjoy growing relationships with two churches on the Texas side of the border: The First Presbyterian Church of Mission and Solomon’s Porch Faith Community in McAllen.  These two churches have hosted us, fed us, and walked with us as we consider the ways in which God invites us to grow in our understanding of what it means to be one body in Christ.

Each year, we leave Pittsburgh, ostensibly to join together with service agencies such as Faith Communities for Disaster Recovery or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in order to provide adequate housing for those affected by tragedy.  And we do.  In the days to come, you’ll see photos of us doing something.

But truth be told, I’m here for the food.

Ok, not literally.  But I’m not here only to hold a hammer or a paintbrush.  If that was the only goal, we’d have some cool fundraisers and send a check so that the folks here could hire real painters or drywall hangers.  But we have the fundraisers and send ourselves, because we believe that what happens inside us is as important as anything we might accomplish in the way of home rehab.  And for me, a lot of times that happens around the dinner table as we share stories, remember hardship, and revel in laughter.

Tina learns about Texas hospitality first-hand!

Tina learns about Texas hospitality first-hand!

We arrived in Houston Texas on Saturday morning and drove about six hours south to Mission, Texas.  When we got here, our friends from FPC mission were waiting with beef brisket and smoked turkey and all manner of delicious food.  We shared that meal with our team of 13 and an equal number of Texans.  Sunday morning we had the privilege of worshiping twice: once in English and once in a bilingual service.

In addition to having the largest group ever to travel to Texas, we were greeted by a sizable contingent from First Pres, who prepared and shared a fantastic meal with us.

In addition to having the largest group ever to travel to Texas, we were greeted by a sizable contingent from First Pres, who prepared and shared a fantastic meal with us.

David lays down the blessings at Solomon's Porch (Pastor Danny translating into Spanish).

David lays down the blessings at Solomon’s Porch (Pastor Danny translating into Spanish).

The service at Solomon’s Porch was incredibly personal for our team because David and Joe brought the sermon as they preached about the impact of our recent trip to Malawi (see this post and the ones following for more about that trip!). Our hosts were so moved by the experience that they presented the preachers with a special gift…

Joe talks about the fulness of the body of Christ.

Joe talks about the fulness of the body of Christ.

Evidently, the fee for the preaching that these guys have was communicated from Malawi. Dave & Joe receive their chicken from Solomon's Porch!

Evidently, the fee for the preaching that these guys have was communicated from Malawi. Dave & Joe receive their chicken from Solomon’s Porch!

Hmmmm... Seems like food is what brings us together. Another church, another amazing plate of BBQ!

Hmmmm… Seems like food is what brings us together. Another church, another amazing plate of BBQ!

After worship, the members of Solomon’s Porch presented us with a meal consisting of… wait for it… beef brisket and smoked turkey and all manner of delicious food.  More than that, they gave us the gift of themselves in conversation and partnership.

The morning service in the new worship space being built by Solomon's Porch

The morning service in the new worship space being built by Solomon’s Porch

The CHUP team in the entry to Solomon's Porch

The CHUP team in the entry to Solomon’s Porch

Following the meal, our team visited La Lomita Chapel on the banks of the Rio Grande and marveled at the history of this area.  We were further blessed to wander around in 85° sunshine at the Bentson-Rio Grande State Park.  Some of us caught a glimpse of a bobcat, and all of us enjoyed the wind and the sunshine.

La Lomita (the small hill) was first built in 1865 It was an important site for the Calvary of Christ, the Oblate missionaries who rode up and down the Rio Grande Valley visiting widely separated Catholic churches, baptizing newborns, performing marriage ceremonies and blessing the dead.

La Lomita (the small hill) was first built in 1865 It was an important site for the Calvary of Christ, the Oblate missionaries who rode up and down the Rio Grande Valley visiting widely separated Catholic churches, baptizing newborns, performing marriage ceremonies and blessing the dead.

Inside the tiny chapel at La Lomita Mission.

Inside the tiny chapel at La Lomita Mission.

That's the Rio Grande behind us. It's a river.

That’s the Rio Grande behind us. It’s a river.

We didn't see too many birds in the park today, but this black-crested titmouse stopped by to say "hello".

We didn’t see too many birds in the park today, but this black-crested titmouse stopped by to say “hello”.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

We ended our first full day in Mission by listening to a concert by a local Barbershop chorus.  We are constantly grateful for the ways that joy finds its way into our experiences here… and hope that these stories and photos will prompt you to think about your own journey this day.

We were surprised and delighted to be invited to a concert by "The Men of A-Chord", a Barbershop Chorus. The venue is the First Presbyterian Church, where we are staying.

We were surprised and delighted to be invited to a concert by “The Men of A-Chord”, a Barbershop Chorus. The venue is the First Presbyterian Church, where we are staying.

The Risks of Love

 

Each summer, the First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights, through its Open Door Youth Outreach, sponsors a free five-week day camp for as many as 50 neighborhood children.  Because we invite these children and their families to worship, we often try to have a theme for our time together on Sundays.  In 2016, we have been listening to the story found in the book of Ruth.  Our texts for Sunday July 10 included Ruth 3 and Philippians 2:1-4.  

 

It’s all in the story of Ruth, but if you’ve not been here as we’ve studied this book, it’s not just the story of Ruth. It’s all over the news in 2016, too.  Just like it was in 2015.  And 2014.  You may never have heard of Ruth or Boaz or Naomi, but you know this story…

Famine leads to despair, and despair creates refugees. Refugee camps and slums lead to more violence and death, which in turn creates more long-term poverty and systemic dislocation, which breeds resentment and ethnic hatred.

It’s what happened to Naomi, Elimilech, and their family; it’s what has happened to 60 million people on the planet this morning. So even if you’ve never heard of Naomi or Boaz or Ruth, I know you’ve heard this story of famine and refugees before.

"Whither Thou Goest" by Sandy Freckleton Gagon. Used by permission; more at http://sandyfreckletongagon.com

“Whither Thou Goest” by Sandy Freckleton Gagon. Used by permission; more at http://sandyfreckletongagon.com

In the book of Ruth, these challenges provide our hero, Ruth, with an opportunity to work that leads to encouraging the community to structure itself so that there is a better chance for long term healing, growth, and survival.

Now, so far in our story, the driving force has been Ruth’s desire to care for Naomi, the destitute and elderly widow who at first finds herself bereft in a foreign land, but eventually comes home to Bethlehem. While they were still in Moab, Ruth promised all she was and ever would have to ensuring her mother-in-law’s survival. When they moved to the land of Judah, Ruth took it upon herself to go out and look for food to sustain the two of them. Thus far, our story has been about Ruth’s devotion to Naomi.

Today, there is a slightly different angle that emerges. For what is really the first time, Naomi voices her concern for Ruth’s security and future. I know that back in chapter one she said that she had Ruth’s best interests at heart when she tried to send the younger woman away, but when we read that, it sure sounded as if Naomi was so trapped in her own grief that she was simply driving everyone away from her, rather than genuinely caring about her daughter-in-law.

Yet in our reading for this morning, Naomi lays out the beginnings of a course of action for Ruth to follow. It’s as if the older woman is saying, “OK, you might not know this, but this is how we do things here in Judah. You’re going to have to trust me and do just as I say, even if it seems strange to you…”

Now, I should probably include this caveat every single time I open my mouth, but it’s important to note this morning that there are a lot of ways to view the events that are described here in Ruth 3. If you’d like, I will invite you into my study to consider the perspectives of a number of authors who are way smarter than I am and who choose to read this scenario differently. Yet as I overlay the passage at hand with the life of this community and the needs of the world, I am choosing to view this part of our story with an eye toward seeing the main characters as individuals who are willing to take personal risks that result in opportunities for someone else to thrive. I believe that this is a story about people who could have chosen to focus in on personal gain of one sort or another, but who decided to act in the someone else’s best interest.

Naomi, in chapter three, strengthens Ruth even when there is no guarantee that Ruth will stick with Naomi in the days to come. Right now, Ruth is going out and engaging in the menial labor of gleaning that provides Naomi (and Ruth) with three squares a day…but if Naomi’s plan works, Ruth will have a measure of independence and freedom that will allow her to turn her back on her mother-in-law, should she so desire.

Similarly, Ruth is exceedingly trusting here in chapter three. She follows Naomi’s advice, even when for all the world it appears as though the older woman is dressing her up like a prostitute and parading her through town. The whole plan hinges on Ruth’s ability to have a private meeting with Boaz in a public space. Can you imagine what would happen to Ruth if the perception was that she was a vulnerable young foreign beauty who was looking to earn a few dollars by spending time with the field hands? There is a lot that could go wrong with Naomi’s plan, and if it would go wrong, Ruth would surely bear the brunt of it.

"The Meeting of Ruth and Boaz", Marc Chagall (1960)

“The Meeting of Ruth and Boaz”, Marc Chagall (1960)

And Boaz has his own set of risks here. He’s thought to be such an upright man, but what will happen if he’s found in the fields with a gleaner-woman? He could have worried about becoming a public spectacle, but rather he chooses to be more concerned for Ruth’s honor and safety as well as Naomi’s well-being. In this private meeting, Boaz offers nothing but support and encouragement for Ruth even as he pledges to do the same publicly.

Each of the three main characters in this chapter had the opportunity to choose to act out of fear, mistrust, or selfishness, and yet each chose to risk reputation, future, or even self for the sake of others and the community.

If I may, I’d like to highlight a bit of fairly recent history as an example of how this kind of choice might look today, even if it is rare in our world.

Not long after modern Israel became independent, the first Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948. For decades, Jews and Arabs traded violence and hatred. When he became US President in 1977, Jimmy Carter sought to broker an agreement that would lead to a lasting peace in the Middle East. He sought out meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat. Although there was initially some progress, the talks quickly stalled and it appeared as though things would always be as they had always been. President Carter’s wife, Roslyn, suggested that the President invite these two old adversaries to a place that had become special to him, Camp David in Maryland.

L to R: Anwar el-Sadat, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978.

For thirteen long days, the leaders of these three countries met in secret. It was an enormously risky process for each of them, because typically heads of state only show up at meetings once their “people” have determined the outcome and laid the ground rules. There were times when Sadat and Begin refused to talk with each other, and Carter carried notes from one to the other. But finally, on September 17, 1978 the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East” was signed by these three world leaders. Much of the world reacted with hope and a cautious optimism.

When the treaty was accepted by Israel, Egypt was punished by the other Arab nations. Not long afterwards, Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated by a member of his inner circle. It was a costly, costly peace process… but it remains a shining example of leaders who are seeking the best hope for peace and justice for all, and not merely seeking to increase their own influence or prestige. You can say, “Are you crazy, Carver? Do you know what they’re doing in the Middle East?” I do. And I have crossed the border from Israel into Egypt, and I am here to tell you that it’s a much better situation than most borders between Israel and her neighbors. Because men of courage and vision risked something.

Can you imagine anything like that in our own day? Three world leaders who are willing to take the time and energy and risk necessary to hammer out a complicated agreement? As you mull on that example from history, let me invite you to compare that narrative with that of the current day, where each of the major political parties in the United States has selected the most militaristic person possible to stand for election as president. If all you knew about the United States was what you read in the papers or saw on the news, you might conclude that a top priority for this “Christian nation” is making sure that we elect leaders who are prepared to bomb our enemies back to the stone age if that’s what’s necessary to preserve our power and prestige.

Let’s be honest: we worship power and prestige. We want to be best at everything, first in every line, and to have more than anyone else. We resent being inconvenienced, intruded upon, or asked to do something or love someone that isn’t to our liking. We believe that everyone ought to be treated more or less equal, or at least nearly as well as we are treated. We want to be safe and secure and comfortable – for God’s sake, we want to be comfortable.

following-jesusAnd here comes Jesus, talking about humility and service and self-denial and personal sacrifice and caring for others ahead of yourself. Asking us – no, expecting us to get into line behind him and act like him when all we really we want is a ticket to heaven when we die. As if we would be comfortable living the life that he lived.

Exactly! Did you see what they did to Jesus? I saw The Passion of the Christ. Wow, that was intense. And gross. No thanks, Jesus. I’m not into that.

“…do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others.”

I’m telling you, for as much as all the politicians like to hang around Jesus at election time, the real Jesus couldn’t get elected as dogcatcher in this town.

And yet… and yet, there he is, saying over and over again, “Follow me.”

Allow me to conflate the stories of Jesus and the words of Paul and the narrative from Ruth and suggest that while the Gospel does not instruct us to simply roll over and denigrate ourselves, there is pretty clearly a biblical model here to extend yourself, to risk yourself, perhaps even to lose yourself on behalf of another.

You saw it already in the scripture reading: Naomi lent Ruth some of her “insider” privilege in the culture in which they lived. Ruth promised Naomi all of her youthful energy and devotion. Boaz shared deeply of his wealth and honor as he extended both his wallet and his reputation on behalf of these poor women.

So go ahead. I dare you. Look for ways to enter into someone else’s experience this week. Acquaint yourself with the sense of powerlessness and frustration that so many of our neighbors deal with day in and day out. You want ideas on how to do that?

Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel died recently. Although his life was complicated in all sorts of ways, you would do well to set aside an evening this week and read (or re-read) his short book called Night, which details the horrors of the treatment that the Jews received at the hands of the Nazis a couple of generations ago. And think about what that book says about the refugee camps and walls and fortresses of our own age and the people who would build them and those who profit from their existence.

And what about the other events that dominated much of this week’s headlines: the death of several young black men as a result of encounters with the police and a horrific attack on police who were patrolling what by all accounts was a peaceful protest and lament over these deaths.

Think about this odd connection between these events: in both cases, we have groups of people who, by and large, are good people who want to do their jobs and love their kids and coach little league and… and yet, this morning, our nation has a lot of people who are getting out of bed this morning wondering if they will be judged simply by the uniform or the hoodie that they choose to wear; people who wonder if the color of their skin or the job that they’ve been hired to do makes them deserving of the death penalty…

Very few of us in this room know how it feels to be profiled while driving in the “wrong” neighborhood or shopping in a strange grocery store… but I am here to tell you that for many of your neighbors and some of your friends, that’s a daily, if not hourly occurrence.  Very few of us know how it feels like to show up for work wondering if there’s someone waiting to kill you simply because of the job to which you’ve been called, but that is the reality for many of our law enforcement officers.

Can you be, in the words of Paul, “interested in the lives of others” enough to correct your co-worker when he starts spewing racist hate speech? Can you honor the stories of the men and women around you enough to call out your friends on social media when they post and repost bald-faced lies or poison the web with their toxicity? Or do you laugh and say, “Oh, well, that’s old Uncle Bert. He doesn’t mean half of what he says.”

Look for ways to be present in conversations that involve people of color. Listen for their stories, and accept them as opportunities to see the world from a different perspective. Refuse to give credence to, and for God’s sake don’t be a part of passing on horrible stereotypes and accusations about what “the police” or “those thugs” or people of color or anyone else is. Refuse to talk about “those people” – whichever category “those people” refers to. And then use whatever influence you have as a result of your race or citizenship or financial status or gender or… or… or… to be you for someone else today.

I’m only one person, you say. What difference would it make? I’m not changing anything.

Change you. Be remade in the image of Christ anew each morning, and risk who you are for someone else. Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi did it… and while we’ve not quite gotten there in the story yet, I’m here to tell you that because these three people decided to risk themselves and trust each other and enter the world open-handed, a baby who would become King David was born. And the world was changed eternally by that.

Remember: you’re not making this up. You’re following in the footsteps of those who have brought us to this point, by the grace of God. Amen.

 

Texas Mission 2016 #5

So, I had to go back and re-read what I wrote yesterday.

I had to do that because in many ways, today was a frustrating day for our team.  And it was frustrating, by and large, because we felt increasingly driven by the need to do and achieve and produce some great deal of work on the little house on Puffin Street in Edinburg, Texas.

IMG_3263

Jon has spent some time this week apprenticing as an electrician. he may have a knack!

All that stuff I wrote yesterday about partnership and being together and allowing God to shape us?  Yeah, well, it turns out that it’s harder to remember some of that when you’re frustrated by using borrowed tools and working to finish a job someone else started and trying to figure out how in the world you are going to finish this job by the time the day is over.  So, one by one, we took a trip to the “bitter barn” today.  The flanges didn’t flange right, and the wire was too stiff, and the plumbing connections were for the other kind of plastic tubing and the paint dried on my brush in the sun and Jon fell into a hole and twisted his ankle (not apparently very seriously, but as he himself reminded us, we shoot horses for less) and the drywall might have fallen from the ceiling and crumbled into 73 pieces when the fellas thought it was up there pretty good…

This picture looks pretty cool, right? Guys working together... 4 minutes later the piece in question had crashed to the floor - a victim of late-day, late-week frustration.  And we all lived.

This picture looks pretty cool, right? Guys working together… 4 minutes later the piece in question had crashed to the floor – a victim of late-day, late-week frustration. And we all lived.

…and yet, as you read this, the world still turns on its axis.  Somewhere, the sun is shining, birds are singing, and a gentle breeze waves across the field.

Here I am painting about half as much as I'd hoped to today...

Here I am painting about half as much as I’d hoped to today…

 

Gabe managed to wrangle some recalcitrant wire into shape to provide service to the home.

Gabe managed to wrangle some recalcitrant wire into shape to provide service to the home.

We didn’t finish.  That was an unrealistic goal.  But this afternoon, we stopped.  And that was fine.  We did what we could with the energy and skill and tools and time that we had, and it’s good.  And when the next team steps up to the plate, it’ll be better.  And it’s fine.

Here's our team, along with Texas Bob, letting go of what we couldn't finish.

Here’s our team, along with Texas Bob, letting go of what we couldn’t finish.

Because after we stopped our work in Texas this year, we did something amazing.  We left Puffin St. in Edinburg and headed west about 45 minutes or so to visit the home on which we worked last year.  And it was amazing.

The little purple house to which we contributed our meager efforts is now a home.  We met our old friend Juani and her children again. We saw how they have taken the structure that was a house and have filled it with character and celebration and joy and hope… And it was simply beautiful to see.

With Juani and her family, celebrating God's gift of home.  We read Psalm 133 and prayed together, and it was good.  Very good.

With Juani and her family, celebrating God’s gift of home. We read Psalm 133 and prayed together, and it was good. Very good.

We didn’t finish that job either.  But it’s done now.  Thanks be to God, it’s done.

This is Vicky.  At her home.  Wearing a shirt that reads "Princess".  Everything about this is beautiful.

This is Vicky. At her home. Wearing a shirt that reads “Princess”. Everything about this is beautiful.

And, thanks be to God, there’s another one on the way.  And – no thanks to us, but to our colleagues in Texas – another and another and another.

Pray with us tonight for families who flee violence and who survive trauma; pray for those who need a home and those who can help to provide it; and take it easy on yourself when you’re feeling all that pressure to do and achieve and produce.  Take some time today to be.  Be thankful. Be hopeful. Be courteous. Be kind.

Texas Mission 2016 Update #4

IMG_3241As we worked this afternoon, one of our hosts brought a community leader to the site.  She had heard about the work that was being done and was interested in seeing what she could do to help encourage her congregation to invest in this type of mission.  We gave her a tour of the job site and talked about the kinds of work that we had done and that we had planned.  She was very impressed with the story of the family on whose home we were working and so glad that someone was doing something to help these people, and she said something to the effect of,

You see, this is exactly what I was talking to my son about the other day.  He goes to a church that sends people all over the planet, but I keep telling him that there are people who need help right here in the Valley!  There’s no sense in people trotting across the world to do work when there are people in our own back yards who need help.

Our host said, “Um, you know that these fellas are from Pittsburgh, right?  They came here from there to do work in the Valley.”

Bob continuing with the bathroom installation.

Bob continuing with the bathroom installation.

Crafton Heights is a church that sends people all over the world.  For the record, we do know that there are problems in Pittsburgh.  Our back yards are not, figuratively speaking, pristine.  And yet, for the seven years we’ve been coming to the Rio Grande Valley to work in neighborhoods like this one.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Our visitor today was right: there are all kinds of needs that surround us every day, and if we’re only talking about economics and the physical labor that gets done, it doesn’t add up.  It would be cheaper if everyone stayed home and worked in their own back yards.

If working on houses was all that mattered.

Because here’s the deal: the eight men who have gathered here in Texas this week would not be doing what we’re doing now if we were in Pittsburgh.  That’s true in terms of the physical work that we’re doing: it’s hard to imagine all of us taking time from our daily lives while we are in the midst of those lives and working to plumb, electrify, and paint someone else’s home.  It’s even more true in terms of the other work that we’re doing: there is no way that these eight men would spend hours each evening talking about the importance of grace or the need for us to develop forgiving spirits or the problems of sin or the nature of the church.  It just would not happen if we were in the 412… and yet, here, away, we have the chance to wander through some of these conversations.  And as important as all of those conversations are, I’m not even sure that they are the most important work that is getting done.  Tonight, Gabe talked about the fact that this group of men is getting to know each other in deep and rich ways and we can’t even begin to imagine the impact that will make once the trip ends and we all return to our “normal” lives.

Ed demonstrates the qualities of leadership that have gotten him to where he is today...

Ed demonstrates the qualities of leadership that have gotten him to where he is today…

The way I see it, we didn’t come here solely for the people who live in Texas.  And we didn’t even come here for the benefit of deepened friendships or heightened spiritual discussion.  We came here because we believe that something that happens here, this week, will allow us to make some slight (or not so slight) changes in our every day lives and patterns of relationship and thought that will, in turn, make the 412 (or wherever we are) a more Godly place.  We’re working on a house, but we are being changed.

The resource for our discussions is a relatively new volume entitled A Second Shot of Coffee With Jesus.  This online comic strip features simple artwork depicting Jesus’ interaction with a small community of adults – it’s snarky, it’s intelligent, and often, it’s spot on as we consider our own lives.  Here’s a sample strip:

12719114_1230341826993358_6594844831537132404_o

The way that we use the book is simple.  As we left Pittsburgh, I held it up and said, “All you have to do is find one or two strips in this volume that strike a chord with you.  Maybe it’s a topic that you’ve thought about a lot.  Maybe it depicts something that really annoys you.  Maybe it seems really, really true to you.  At any rate, all you have to do is simply pick a strip, read it to the group, and say why it strikes you.

Several nights we’ve sat in the church kitchen and talked for more than an hour about the nature of God or the reason we have to follow Jesus.  These simple comics have opened us to a series of discussions that have been truthful, earnest, and fruitful.

We ought to be able to do that in Pittsburgh, but in my experience, it doesn’t often happen.

Which is why we come away.

One of the highlights of the day was a delicious meal at the Lone Star Barbecue - we were joined by Texas Bob and his wife Pam as well as Kathy and her mother, Martha.  The Food was amazing... and the conversation was even better.

One of the highlights of the day was a delicious meal at the Lone Star Barbecue – we were joined by Texas Bob and his wife Pam as well as Kathy and her mother, Martha. The Food was amazing… and the conversation was even better.

Texas Mission 2016 #3

It was hot in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, today.

The temperature at 5 p.m., according to our trusty Ford...

The temperature at 5 p.m., according to our trusty Ford…

This is a marked change from last year, where we all worried because we didn’t have enough warm weather clothes.  That was not a problem today, as we enjoyed the opportunity to dive deeply into the work at hand on the site selected for us by our partners.  The second day is always a great day, because we still have energy and zeal, and we know what we’re doing and why.  Today, in spite of the heat, was no exception.  In fact, we worked so hard that nobody took a lot of photos.  Here are a few images of our work.

Much of my day consisted of "augmenting" the drywall work done by the last crew. It involved a little fresh mud...

Much of my day consisted of “augmenting” the drywall work done by the last crew. It involved a little fresh mud…

...and a whole lot of sanding!

…and a whole lot of sanding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan found that he enjoyed the electrical work... you could say he got a real charge out of it.

Jonathan found that he enjoyed the electrical work… you could say he got a real charge out of it.

Bob invents a plumbing solution out of a bucket of leftovers...

Bob invents a plumbing solution out of a bucket of leftovers…

Nemorio is a constant source of encouragement and joy!

By 10 a.m. the sun was blazing!

By 10 a.m. the sun was blazing!

In fact, it was so hot that we got worried when we couldn't find Tim. Eventually, we discovered him holed up under the house. He SAID he was helping with the plumbing, but he wasn't coming out...

In fact, it was so hot that we got worried when we couldn’t find Tim. Eventually, we discovered him holed up under the house. He SAID he was helping with the plumbing, but he wasn’t coming out…

... Eventually, however, Bob Walters and Texas Bob Sherwood managed to entice him by waving a can of cold Pepsi and a "Hot Pocket" under the house.

… Eventually, however, Bob Walters and Texas Bob Sherwood managed to entice him by waving a can of cold Pepsi and a “Hot Pocket” under the house.

All in all it was a great day to be together.  I need to mention that we were, once again, spoiled in the food department.  Our friend Martha served us sloppy joes and brought not one, not two, but THREE Grapefruit pies for lunch.  I had a slice of each one just to be fair.  Tomorrow I’ll write a little more about the things that we do in the evening and the ways that this time makes the trip so meaningful to all concerned.  In the meantime, thanks for your prayers, and keep the family for whom we’re working, as well as our own families, in your prayers.