Learning from the city

Dear friends,
This has been an interesting week. I last asked you guys to pray for the VBS, because they had so many children and not enough workers. Well, the next day we had (I think) 78 kids, and it was more manageable. Friday we had (I think) 79, and the closing ceremony was on Saturday. Lots of adults turned up to see their kids dance and to see what they had made, and the husband of one of the couples that wants to plant a church shared a short gospel presentation with everyone. They're starting a Bible study tonight at 8, and so far 10 people have said that they'll come. That's a pretty amazing turnout. Please pray for this group. Some of the people we met have some incredible problems. One family is a husband and wife (who is 18), and their little daughter, less than a year old. The husband has been out of a job, and the daughter was crying terribly last week, because she hadn't had anything to eat. They apparently go without food on a regular basis. (Just by the by, my friend did go buy them a good supply of beans, and some baby formula.) I had to help another lady fill out her information form, because she can't read and write, and she told me that her mom died a couple of weeks ago. Please pray for these people. Please pray that people would come to Jesus, that they would be able to form a church, and that the church would be a Kingdom force in that community. Pray for transformation. 

Other things that have happened are that we got to go to the Centro with the IBC team on Friday. We went to the Iranian guy's restaurant, to give him a Farsi New Testament, and he told my friend and me that it came at a good time. We asked why, and he explained that he has met two people--Jehovah's Witnesses--one from Denmark and the other from the States, and that they've been meeting with him on Thursdays for the last month. I definitely feel ashamed that I had taken so long to follow up with him. Please pray that God would protect him from lies, and that God would open doors with him.
The Expiatorio
While we were out at the Centro, we walked a few blocks down to the Expiatorio, a huge church dedicated to Christ of the Sacred Heart. On the outside it's amazing--it has the 14 stations of the cross portrayed around it, and on the doors it has the stories of creation, the fall, and the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and the story of Pentecost. Then it has a picture of St. Peter's Basilica and a couple of popes. 

Creation and the Fall
"Immaculate Virgin, Holy Mother of God, intercede before your Divine Son for all of us."
 Inside the Expiatorio, it's simply amazing. Soaring arches, groin vaulting for my humanities people, the classic cross shape, and alcoves on both sides with various statues, kneeling benches, and boxes where people can drop money. The first is a Jesus with his hands tied, looking beaten up, wearing purple. The second is Mary, with banners on either side calling her to save the people and take them into her heart (above right, sans banners). This is the only one that has its own grotto, and the only one with a chain in front of it.

Farther up into the church is a picture of Juan Diego, the Native man who saw visions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the apparitions of Mary designed to point people to God. He was carrying a bunch of flowers in his robe the last time he saw her, and when he opened his robe, the flowers had dyed the fabric with her image. This happened over 400 years ago. As you've seen in other parts of my blog, there are pictures of the Guadalupe all over the place. In fact, at night, there's a light show projected onto the Expiatorio, and it includes a huge Jesus with a beating Sacred Heart, and then later a picture of the Guadalupe. When that picture popped up this Friday night, a little girl stood up and called out excitedly, "¡La Virgen!" She's very much a part of the Mexican identity--their Virgin, come especially to intercede for them. 
"Beloved Juan Diego, 'Eagle that speaks'! Teach us the way that leads to the Brown Virgin, so that she should receive us in the intimate part of her heart" --John Paul II
Other statues included Jesus, tied up, bleeding all over the place, and Jesus in a glass coffin. There was a resurrected Jesus at the front of the church, but behind the pulpit (which said, "Your Word is truth") was a spectacularly ghastly dying Jesus, and on the other side, a Mary. 
Jesus in a glass coffin. While we were there, a girl came up and touched the coffin and prayed.
The crypts, with empty graves behind Mary.
Paul, pointing to Mary
Then we went underneath the Expiatorio. That was a singularly odd experience. As far as I can tell, the structure beneath the Expiatorio mirrors the structure above, only it is a crypt, set up a bit like a labyrinth, shaped like a cross, and full of graves and statues. The entire thing is a teaching tool, with stairs leading to nowhere and doors that don't open, symbolizing the pursuit of vanity. It has a set of paintings of the major prophets, with short biographies underneath, and it is full of statues. The entire middle of the crypt is a series of statues of apostles and major saints, and it is headed by a statue of Mary. Paul stands directly across from her, pointing.

"Pay attention, and see, if there is pain like my pain!"
Lamentations 1:12 
On the left side is an alcove dedicated to Mary, echoing the words of one of the friezes above the entrance to the Expiatorio itself--"O, you, all who pass through this way, pay attention, and see, if there is pain like my pain!" This is part of the doctrine of Mary's wounds received throughout Jesus' life, which enable her to intercede for us.

As you can see, Mary is everywhere. There's another scene where Jesus hangs on the cross, and at His side, looking much more queenly and triumphant, is Mary. 
"God so loved men."
It is difficult to see what could come out of all of this. After we went through the crypt, we asked the lady who was managing it to explain a picture to us. She knew the story intimately, knew every person's name, and the significance of many of their actions. It could almost have been the gospel. It just wasn't.

Please pray for this city and these people. This is a system that has so many ideas that are close enough to the truth to deceive, and are just twisted enough that they can't save. Pray for truth to come out, for people's hearts to be open.

Rather than end on a crazy note, I want to share what happened later. We walked away from the Expiatorio, heavy on the inside, and as we were walking, we ran into a very blond girl--the Danish Jehovah's Witness! We talked for her for a minute, and then we headed to Subway. We sat there and were breaking down what we had seen and heard, very frustrated at the magnitude of lies surrounding us, so I suggested we pray. The IBC girls prayed for an opportunity to share the gospel with someone, and we were praying through the fact that God loves each of these people and desires to redeem them, and as we were almost finished, someone interrupted us. We turned around and saw . . . a clown. I think we all felt at the same moment that we needed to invite him to sit down with us, and we bought him a coke. It turns out that he's a Mormon. We sat and listened to him for a long time, and we were able to talk to him as well. At the end, we asked if we could pray for him, and he let us pray for us before he left. It was a very sweet time. We didn't get to go through the gospel, but we got to share some things with him, and I hope our love demonstrated as much or more than our words. He kept repeating that we're put on this earth to love people and spread cheerfulness and joy, and I related to him that we are able to share joy because Jesus was a "man of sorrows," and that we can have joy because He took the pain for us. 

So our day went from giving an Iranian a Bible, to encountering a Danish Jehovah's Witness, to encountering a Mormon clown. You can't make this stuff up. Also, that same night, we drove to this music square to hire a mariachi band to sing a song for us, and our car was mobbed by men in spangly suits. They were actually plastered on the side of the car, hoping to be hired. It was surreal. We finally did get to hire a band to play and sing for us, and it was an incredible experience.

Another thing that happened was that today my friend and I went to do some follow up with a lady I had met last Monday from the colonia above where we were doing our VBS. She had come to VBS at least one day, and then had sent her children the rest of the days, because she was feeling kidney pain. I sent her a note with my number on Saturday, and I told her that I'd like to visit her house. Well, this morning, we headed out to her house, and she talked with us a bit before welcoming us in. We sat with her and talked, and she eventually told us that six years ago she was in the States, and she was pregnant, and that she lost her baby. Today was the anniversary of that baby's birth--her daughter would have been six today. She had been too sad to call me because of that. We realized that none of God's timing in this was a mistake. We prayed for her, and I got to share that one of my current favorite verses is Psalm 31:7, the end of which says, "You have known my soul in adversities." The word "known" there is the intimate form of knowing, and it's been a bit of a refrain lately. What it told me was that God loves this lady enough to have uprooted two people from their country and sent them to her on exactly the day that she was grieving, just to pray with her. It was incredible to see God's timing. I felt like we were able to participate in Jesus' ministry of sorrows with her. 

Please continue to pray for what the follow up should look like with all of these different people. It's hard to know who to focus on, or how. I am incredibly grateful that God gave us all of these encounters and opportunities with people, and I am so grateful that I get to be involved in His work.

Thank you for praying,

No comments: