Monthly Archives: November 2011

Juarez’ Gentle Giant

Almost a year ago the Lord brought a “gentle giant” into my life by the name of James.  James moved from Fort Worth, my hometown, to Juarez to start a ministry for men living on the streets and the children of his neighborhood. He came empowered only by the name of Jesus. He was not sent by a church or denomination only the prompting of the Holy Spirit moved him to move into one of the most dangerous cities in the world. James towers over me and is as big as an offensive lineman, but his power is clearly tempered by the presence of God in his heart and life.

A mutual friend who struck up a conversation with James on the streets of downtown El Paso introduced me to him. This gentle giant was raising financial support for his ministry by selling key chains and candy. With the funds he raises he provides a half-way house for men seeking to break the bonds of addiction and he also leads a ministry to children on the weekends out of the backyard of his house.

Our church decided to join him in his work with a small monthly contribution and I began to believe more and more in James and the work God had called him to.

Recently James made friends with community leader named Charles who was inspired by his devotion to Christ and to the people of Juarez. He offered to help James by putting together a marketing plan to help him raise the financial support he needs.

This week I met with them about how we could help pull this plan together. In the course of the meeting Charles suggested to James that we approach the local television stations to see if they would be willing to run a community service type story about James to give him more exposure to people who may be willing to invest financially in his work.

It was obvious that James was somewhat reluctant. Charles urged him to accept the fact that we needed to get his story out if we hoped to raise the financial support he needed. James acknowledge he knew that but he raised a concern that I had never really considered. He pointed out that if people in this valley got wind of who he was and what he was doing that he might become a target for extortion, kidnapping or worse.

Suddenly my eyes were opened to the world James lived in and I only visited. On the streets where God has strategically placed James there are those who would turn on him and exploit him if they believed he had something they wanted. Simply put James risks his life to give live to others.

James reminds me of Jesus in so many ways. He left the security and safety of his hometown to move into a neighborhood desperately in need of love and grace. He gave up his right to safety so others could receive love. He does not simply talk about love but he lives it, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to bring good news to those lost in sin.

John told Jesus’ story this way in John 1:14:

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Tonight when I go to bed in the safety and security of my home surrounded by my family, I am going to say a prayer for James who points people to Jesus by how he lives his life.


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A Heavy Dose of Reality

Last week I was sitting in a Finance Committee meeting when the meeting to a hard right turn toward reality. We had spent the better part of an hour going over a less than encouraging financial report. Over the past two month our church spent more than we took in and we were prayerfully seeking ways to deal with this downturn in our financial position.

One lesson I have learned over the past thirty years of being a pastor is the simple truth large and churches alike struggle financially from time to time. I also must confess when the struggles descend they capture an undue portion of my thoughts and attention. When I was a “solo” pastor I was worried about putting food on my family’s table. Now as a member of a large ministry team I am worried about many families who depend upon the financial stability and strength of the church. Too often I resort to worry instead of prayer.

As we closed the meeting the chairman called on one of the members to pray which is standard operating procedures for most church meetings, but before the prayer was offered another member of the committee spoke up. You could  tell from his voice that their was an urgency in his request.

Now with the committee’s full attention, the member recounted that one of his closest friends and co-workers desperately needed the prayers of God’s people. This co-worker lives and works in Juarez. Early that week gunmen had stormed into his home and had the family lying face down on the floor. Then the gunmen grabbed the co-worker’s teen-age son from the family circle and whisked him away to their horror. Sadly within days the family heard the grim news of his death. As this news spread around the conference room it was obviously that we had been confronted with a grim dose of reality.

Living in this valley we are often confronted with the fact that we cannot allow ourselves to get blinded by the trivial and the mundane aspects of life. We must keep the “big picture” in front of us. We must remember that we are in a life and death struggle against the forces of darkness lurking all around us.

We closed the meeting praying for the victim’s family and for the end of violence in our valley, and I went home reminded how incredibly important it is for our church to be the “light and the salt” of the earth.

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Casas por Cristo por Chickens: Life in the Most Dangerous City in the World

Juarez: A few days ago I had the opportunity to join a construction team made up of men from the First Baptist Church of El Paso, and the Trinity-First United Methodist Church of El Paso. This team was tasked with the assignment of building a home in Juarez in cooperation with the Casa por Christo ministry headquartered in El Paso.

We arrived at the job site around eight 0′ clock in the morning and set about a series of projects in preparation for the arrival of the cement truck. Unfortunately the cement truck was running on “Border time” which meant it was fashionably late! Finally mid-morning the truck arrived and the slab was poured, and it was time for us to wait for the cement to dry. I don’t know if you have ever waited for cement to dry, but I can assure you it is a long tedious process.

As we waited we took our lunch break and shared a meal with a local pastor. Following lunch the team was bored waiting and was looking for something to do. One of the guys noted that the family that was to inhabit the new home had three roosters and three hens in a tiny makeshift chicken coop. It was also noted that we had ample left over lumber and chicken wire to construct a new chicken coop. So a handful of guys decided that was a worthy project for their afternoon break.

It just so happens that among the team were an architect, an electrical engineer and a couple of master carpenters. On a piece of sheet rock the architect drew up plans for the chicken coop which included a pitched roof, and two rooms. Once the plans were completed the work on the project proceeded with wood being cut to precise specifications, and the carpenters going to work with a fury.

As the guys were working since I was in “supervision” not so much because of my status but because of my lack of skill, I was visiting with the site coordinator from the “Casas por Cristo”. He shared with me how fewer and fewer teams are willing to come to Juarez because of the reports of the senseless violence in the city. Sadly the reports are true. Over the past few years thousands of people have been gunned down on these dusty bloody streets.

As he spoke of the dangers and the fears, he also reported that his organization had not had a single violence incident while building homes for hundreds of low income families who had been living in cardboard houses with dirt floors.

It occurred to me that I was watching an amazing irony in life. I was watching a group of men laughing and having the time of their lives building a “chicken coop” in one of the most dangerous cities in the world!

Interestingly enough my mind was drawn to the words of Jesus when He said:

“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will find it.” (Mark 8:35 NIV)

I realized right before my eyes I was witnessing this amazing reality. Many were bring robbed of the joy of serving our Lord by fear while a handful of men willing to take a risk for the sake of the gospel were experiencing life as it was meant to be.

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