The hallways were empty and silent on the campus of Continental Theological Seminary (CTS). The Coronavirus had invaded Belgium like the rest of Europe. Suddenly in one day everything had changed. It had been such… More
I passed by the prison cell laden with stone and iron. The heaviness of the atmosphere seemed palpable to me. The night before we arrived I laid in bed wide-awake and pondered, “How would I tell these men God had delivered me from men just like them?” My stomach churned with nerves. They were murderers, rapists, and thieves, much like the men who had robbed us just weeks earlier. I needed peace. “Didn’t they deserve to hear about the love of God? But, what if they felt judged by me? And, how would I overcome intimidation and find the courage needed?” I tried to piece together words that would bear hope.
I was grateful for our team. Our interpreter and his wife were experienced in these things and seemed to be confident in the plan. They had invited John and me to share our terrifying encounter and rescue in this country of Guatemala.
The old Catholic convent now served as a prison for men, isolating them from society. Once we arrived, we were searched and given permission to enter. The thick stone walls and iron bars made for cold and lonely surroundings. There was nothing in the way of furniture nor personal belongings, except for soccer balls in the courtyard. My thoughts from the night before continued to weigh heavily on my heart.
We entered the courtyard where the games had begun. I was nervous. Quickly we were escorted into a room where a group of men stood waiting to hear what we had to say. I wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” After introductions were made, it was my turn to speak. Suddenly, compassion overcame me. It did not seem important why I was there, but what God was doing.
In the next few minutes, I shared John’s and my story of the highway robbery and the men who had attacked us. Silence fell over the group. As I dared to look in their eyes, I could see pain. Tears ran down their cheeks as I continued to share how God had rescued us from an impossible situation. If I could only help them to understand how much God loved them. At that moment, I was reminded of our primary purpose as believers; and my reason for being at the prison was clear. It was not to tell my story, but rather to be a manifestation of God’s love. For we had also received freely the forgiving love of God.
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 1John 3:1
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1John 3:16
It was hard to say good-bye. We prayed with the men and as we left they were kind and showed their gratitude. One young man had caught our attention. He stood out because of a serious, debilitating injury to his eye. His name was Pedro. It wouldn’t be until months later that we would come to realize the full magnitude of what God was doing that day in Pedro’s life.
The evangelistic crusade would be held in a three-top circus tent with capacity for 1500 people. People gathered out of curiosity to watch the enormous tent go up. The local soccer field near the busy food market was the perfect place. It took weeks of preparation and prayer. Daily announcements were made on a loudspeaker inviting people to the crusade.
At the end of the week-long crusade, Pedro walked into the back of the tent. We couldn’t believe it! We greeted him with excitement! He explained how he’d just been released from prison. While in the courtyard of the prison he had heard the announcements on the loudspeaker coming from the street. The crusade was the first place he had decided he wanted to go. He had remembered our visit to the prison and wanted to know this God we had talked about. Set free from prison in one moment and from his past in the next, all in that same day! He became a new and changed man when introduced to the love of God.
Pedro attended a training center where he learned more about God’s love. When he returned to his village at the foothills of a volcano, he was not the same man he had once been. Pedro decided to serve in his local church introducing others to the same love and forgiveness that had set him free.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16
It is not only what God does in us, but it’s what He does through us. During this time of COVID-19, I am reminded of the opportunities we have to introduce people to God’s love. Instead of being consumed with fear, judgments, and intimidation, let’s do the opposite and use every opportunity we’ve been given to share the love of God with people just like Pedro!
Together, we build HOPE!
Nate burst through the front door frantically yelling for us. Just minutes ago he had left the safety of our home and stepped onto the cobblestone streets, locking the large, gated door behind him. Off he had gone to buy a loaf of bread at the nearby tienda with the last of our Quetzales💰. He was only 12-years-old. I had watched him go, then headed to the rooftop to pray with John.
The rooftop patio was covered with beautiful, dark-pink Bougainvillea. You could see Agua, the silent and peaceful, majestic volcano rising 10,000 feet over the city. It was inspiring. I listened to the sounds in the street and could smell the tortillas cooking, as we began to walk and pray.
We were broke. What should we do? Only weeks earlier, while entering the country of Guatemala as missionaries, we had lost almost everything we owned in a highway robbery. Our supplies and money were gone. Should we stay in this country, or should we go home? How would we sustain ourselves, pay our rent, feed our family? We had limited communication with friends and family. We felt stuck.
Everything was still so fresh in our hearts. Our passion for the Lord and the people had continued to grow since the robbery. We had no desire to return home; but how could we possibly stay? One thing had changed. We were determined now more than ever to know what God wanted us to do before making any decision. We were willing to follow His plan more than our own. For if there is one thing we had learned, He was a God of miracles. He could provide in a situation that seemed impossible.
Out of breath and covered with sweat, Nate started to tell us what had just happened. He had purchased the bread and started home when he was stopped by an old man pushing a wheelbarrow full of firewood. Nate further explained, “He tried to say something to me, but I told him, ‘no hablo espanol’ (I do not speak Spanish). But he kept speaking more Spanish to me!” Nate continued to tell us how the man had pulled out a bundle of money and gave him some Quetzales 💰💰💰. The old man then patted him on the back and went on his way. Nate pondered aloud, “I wish I’d had a tract to give him. I wonder what he was trying to say to me.”
How could this be? We had just prayed, asking the Lord to increase our faith, and to give us an understanding of what he wanted us to do.
The old man’s gift of a few Quetzales 💰💰💰, with such little value, suddenly gave great value to our faith! In a country where robbery is a common daily event, this was nothing short of a miracle! We thought, “If God could hear and answer us so quickly, He could do anything.” Our faith grew! “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” Luke 17:5 We began to pray fervently over the next several weeks.
We planned to do an outreach in a town called Sumpango on November 1st, the Day of the Dead. During the All Saints Day Giant Kite Festival, hundreds would gather on this holiday to watch the 30-foot kites, built from crêpe paper, take flight over Sumpango in celebration of their dead.
We started with live worship on the edge of the road, near the cemetery. Testimonies were given by the Master’s Commission students, and the Heart Of Man preached. Afterwards, we prayed for several people to accept Christ as Savior. One young man came out of the cemetery, drunk; but he was instantly set free from alcoholism when the local pastor and John prayed for him.
At the end the outreach, we formed a line to pass out tracts to those traveling on the road to the festival. We were also warned by our fellow missionaries to be careful; for it was a day when there was a high risk of being robbed. As the crowds proceeded up the road, a man passed us and slipped something into John’s pocket. It was money! 💰💰💰 This was the second time our faith was increased! God was still listening!
ON CHRISTMAS EVE 🎄🎄🎄 there was a knock on our door! There stood a missionary friend with a fax in his hand. News had arrived! Our financial needs had been completely met through generous givers in the states, people unaware of our circumstances!
When I look at this picture, I am compelled to move forward; but, at the same time, I am hesitant and frightened by what appears to be risky. Many times it’s that way with our faith. In our love for God and desire to follow him, He leads us on a path and in a direction that appear to have risk.
Our journey often begins with excitement! We trek through the jungle of life with faith-filled expectations of what God has in store for us. Then we encounter “the challenge.” That’s when the doubts hit, and the “what ifs” flood our minds, confusing our hearts. Did I take the right path, make the right decisions? It wasn’t suppose to happen this way. Has God left me? But, faith does not produce the risk.
Faith is what connects us to God’s promises when we are faced with an unexpected challenge that appears risky.
I have learned . . . He is always faithful to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 I’ve resolved to live as the writer of Proverbs reminds us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-7
I am reminded . . . misplaced trust can lead to disaster. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalms 20:7
In 2 Chronicles 16:9, Hanani the seer came to King Asa of Judah and rebuked him for relying on the king of Syria instead of relying on God. “The Lord’s eyes keep on roaming throughout the earth, looking for those whose hearts completely belong to him, so that he may strongly support them.”
As I maneuver through life in the face of things that challenge me, I take the opportunity to spend time in His presence listening. It’s much easier to exercise faith when your focus is on Him! He provides the answers and the miracles!
Paul writes, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6
Together, we build HOPE!
I stood in the doorway of the church, watching the people gather in the street to look at the beautiful display of street carpets (alfombras) made from flowers and colored sawdust. What took hours throughout the night to create, would soon be trampled by the Catholic processions. It was Holy Week (Semana Santa) and thousands gathered from around the world to participate in the three days of Easter celebration.
Our family was leading The Community Church of Antigua, which later became an outreach center. Our team had decide to hold a two-night evangelistic outreach at the church. Our plan was to show the Jesus Film in Spanish. At the time, we thought it was a perfect place and opportunity for the event. The church doors open up like huge gates directly onto the cobblestone street.
We started with great anticipation, but our first night ended with disappointment. We had prayed and fasted, but only two people had entered the church to watch the film. We questioned whether our plans were right. We all decided to show the film one more night.
Darkness fell over the city, as different Catholic churches paraded their dead statue of Christ, concealed in a glass coffin. It was Friday night, the time for grieving, as they proceeded to the place of burial. They shoved the eager crowds back. Candles were passed out, along with written prayers to be recited. The death march began with hundreds of men that resembled the Klan, wearing black and white hoods. They were lead by the priests who were swinging smoking incense throughout the street. It was considered an honor to carry the heavy procession barges, weighing 1,700 pounds, displaying the seven cries of Christ.
We were unaware which street the procession would be traveling on. To everyones surprise, the moment they passed by our church the statue of Mary fell over onto the barge. This was a very serious problem and the procession came to a halt in front of our church doors. One by one, young men dressed in dark hoods entered the church. The church was now full. Shortly after, the statue of Mary was repositioned on the stage of the barge. It had been just enough time for the film to catch the attention of the hooded men. They refused to return to their positions and refused to carry the statues any further until the end of the film. They sat on the church floor with eyes fixed on the screen, as they watched the life of Christ for the first time.
John gave an invitation as the film finished. Many chose Christ as their Savior. That Good Friday night, God chose to stop a 1,700-pound barge with a statue of Mary and of a dead Christ, carried by 200 men, to open their ears and eyes to His living love. Many had never heard the whole story of the cross and a risen Savior.
At a time when I am overwhelmed by the suffering due to COVID-19, I am also reminded of how God provided a way for suffering to end by giving His only son as a sacrifice for our sins.
Below is a recent quote from my son who was there that Good Friday night in Antigua where an Easter miracle happened!
Happy Easter! – Deborah Sims
There was a day and an age when it felt like all hope was lost. It may have seemed like the darkness had won. But God in all his love and glory prevailed! It is the greatest day in all humanity! The day sin and death were conquered forever and God’s love reigned supreme! A verse in Romans that has encouraged me during this time says this:
“So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us nor beneath us— no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!” Romans 8:38-39 TPT
Nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing. This is good news! – Nathaniel Sims
I stepped up to the platform and faced the large crowd in front of me. My stomach was churning with nerves. The women sat on one side of the church and the men on the other, looking at me intensely. How would I tell them my story? These people lived continually with the terrifying realities of this country. I had only experienced that terror for one night. Just weeks earlier I’d fled for my life into the night, running through the jungle with my four-year-old in my arms. It was never meant to happen this way, as we arrived in the country of Guatemala on our first missions assignment.
My interpreter turned to me; it was my turn to speak. Out came the words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me . . .” To my complete surprise, people jumped to their feet and began to cheer and dance, expressing great enthusiasm. I continued to share my story, repeating the truth that when bad things happen it does not mean God has forsaken you.
Throughout my life I had struggled with fear, especially when circumstances seemed out of my control. Dependency on God meant TRUST.
That terrifying night I had hidden in the thick jungle with my son, close to the road. The highway bandits continued to search for us. As their shadows passed by me, I was quickly reminded of Psalms 23:3, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . .” Suddenly, the Lord’s presence encompassed me. Peace overcame my fear in a way I had never experienced before. I quickly came to realize my only chance of survival was dependency on God, completely trusting Him. When we are placed in a difficult situation and one of total dependency on God, we are given an opportunity to experience Him in a deeper way.
David knew all too well the shadow of death after fleeing from King Saul and hiding in a cave. But, he also knew another type of SHADOW, which he wrote about in the book of Psalms.
Psalm 57:1 Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
Psalm 36:7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Many times I’ve walked through the shadow of death, but the shadow of the Lord has always been closer.
I was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect that was corrected at 12 years of age. Later in my adult years, I battled stage 3B lung cancer and was only given a 3% chance of survival. Lung cancer was followed by stage 2 endometrial cancer. I spent time in ICU with a ruptured bronchial artery in the lung. I spent more time in ICU with a staph infection in the lung. All this to say, this respiratory virus called COVID-19 has tried to take over my heart with fear. But I am reminded of . . .
Psalm 91:1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
There is a greater shadow, then the shadow of death. It is the shadow of the Most High, the Almighty, our Lord and Creator!
I look back and choose NOT to forget His goodness and faithfulness to me in times of trouble. King David describes how he would have despaired unless he had believed that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
The book of Acts tells how God used the Apostle Peter to display His glory.
Acts 5:14-16 More and more believers in the Lord, crowds of men and women, were constantly being added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried their sick out into the streets and put them on cots and sleeping pads, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on one of them [with healing power]. And the people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing the sick and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
If the shadow of a man like Peter, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, could heal the sick, how much more can we trust in God.
Psalm 63:6-8 For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.
John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Ihave always loved the mountains and I would like to think I grew up like Heidi. The Green Mountains of Vermont weren’t the Swiss Alps, but as far as I was concerned it qualified me to be a highlander, NOT a flatlander. The first time I traveled to Guatemala as a young missionary I didn’t expect to see anything as beautiful as home. To my surprise the next morning, I found myself gazing out my window at mountains rising up 10,000 ft. The smell of fresh tortillas and the cool air quickly reminded me I was far from home. Ever since that first missions trip, I’ve always wondered what was beyond my backyard.
With the easy access to travel these days many people travel far and wide. “What’s on your Bucket List?” has become a commonly asked question, almost as frequently as asking one’s name. Many times I have sat down to make my own Bucket List, only to be reminded again of how short time is. What have I done with my time to make any difference.
Psalms 103:15 says . . . As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
TIME is a person’s most valued commodity and how one spends it says a lot about who he or she is.
Aside from working, sleeping, eating, socializing, exercising, etc., I think of the many who have sacrificed their time and their life for freedom, justice, and humanitarian efforts. Harriet Tubman was one of those persons. Being enslaved herself, she escaped, and helped countless others gain their freedom as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Later in life she served as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War, again fighting for freedom. She had a strong faith and was called with a passion to help those suffering. There are so many valuable ways we can spend the time we have been given. So, what about this “Bucket List” we dream of?
What if . . . we started our bucket list at the beginning of our lives instead of the end?
Many times we think of a Bucket List as being a list of all the things WE want to do, or places WE want to go before we die. But, what if we started our bucket list at the beginning of our lives instead of the end? And, What if we looked at our list as an opportunity to meet someone God has on his heart, someone waiting to hear the good news in a distant land, desperate to experience love and freedom.
James 4:13-17 says . . . Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Looking back to my younger years, I am reminded of the extraordinary places God called me to go and situations He has seen me through. When I think about my “Bucket List,” I dream of places I would love to see and things I would love to do. But, above and beyond those dreams, I want to live my life in the light of eternity, seizing opportunities I’ve been given to introduce people to the hope we have in Christ. I want peace that comes from knowing I have been obedient to the Lord with the time He has given me. For that, it takes a daily discipline in your relationship with the Him, listening to what purpose He has called you.
“Ultimately each of us must be persuaded in our own heart and begin to move and act where we are. Nowhere does the Bible say that all–out committed to Christ means we have to take our family to some remote jungle area and die there. The calling of the Lord is different for each individual.” — Dr K. P. Yohannan
Unlike Harriet Tubman, none of us grew up in the time of Civil War. But like Harriet Tubman we can look beyond ourselves. We should consider what is lasting, and stewarding our time with purpose, bring hope to others.
“One hundred years from now, what will remain? Houses, money, plans, buildings – these will no longer have any meaning. We must adjust our lifestyles now and invest our lives to reach the lost world.” — Dr K. P. Yohannan
Recently, I learned the story of Sam and Lisa Paris, living in a community located in the jungle of Tanna. I was overwhelmed with their story and sacrifice. You may be, too.
Building Hope Together! Deborah Sims