A few weeks ago, sitting in the office of my probation officer, we began a conversation much like we do each visit, about current global events/disasters/atrocities, which inevitably leads to, “what really is God’s perspective on it all?”
December 6-12th: I just returned from a seven day trip to Puerto Rico, where myself and two others went with a relief focus caused by Hurricane Maria. The situation was worse than we anticipated. The day we arrived marked 90 days since Maria struck, and for 45% of the island meant the 90th day without electricity. It was hard to overlook the debris and trash, the congested traffic because traffic lights are gone, and leveled neighborhoods, to imagine what San Juan, a top 10 tourist destination, looked like before. But, in the midst of it all, God is moving.
December 15th: A little background about my friend, and probation officer. Similar to the other four probation officers I have had, he has a tendency to view life with skepticism and analyzes situations critically. Much of that outlook can be attributed to the environment he works in, and often times, difficult people he’s interacting with. However, he loves telling stories of the individuals he has “helped” throughout 20 years of being a probation officer. I have slowly gained trust with him and we have developed a friendship over the past year. My trips to refugee camps in Greece, or homeless camps in Lubbock, have reminded him that there is the ability for an “addict” to experience restoration and have a life transformed. And frankly, he is fascinated with all I have shared about what God is doing globally.
For the sake of the story I will call my probation officer Steve. I walked into Steve’s office and started with small talk, as I waited for the door to creak open and I could begin sharing the Jesus-lining hope I found in Puerto Rico. He started by bringing up a recent conversation with his mother-in-law about her donations to a distant, non-profit that is feeding children in Africa. Of course, attached to that conversation was negative, skeptical notions. But, he followed it with a nice compliment, “That’s what I like about your organization, you have a good balance of taking care of the need here, too.” Steve is well aware of the nations I’ve been to and time I’ve spent out of the country the past year, but this common response from Christian’s in America was the opening I was looking for! I began explaining my perspective, through my experiences (testimony). “Although I had life changing moments in those nation’s, there have also been life-altering encounters in homeless camps of Lubbock, Tx, unforgettable conversations on Bourbon Street, and recently going back to Shiloh, in Houston and sharing about God, at the place that saved my life. You see, Steve, those moments are held with same value and admiration in my eyes as anything I have experienced abroad. And the reason is because of the common denominator they share-an absence of God. The significance, and urgency for people not pursuing Jesus in Tyler, is no different than a man unreached in Indonesia.” That concept took Steve back. There I was, someone who admitted a personal dream is to be a full-time missionary in a foreign country, but was confessing: the impact felt is identical, no matter where. Essentially, I was conceding, the need is overwhelming in America, too.
But, I continued.
Steve has a background in Christianity, is aware of Jesus’s philosophies, and like most in the Bible-saturated community we live in, knows the Great Commission mandate’s believer’s to, “make disciples of all nations.” For Steve, there is no disputing, “it’s not a bad idea to go drill water wells where there isn’t water,” but like most American Christian’s, as creatures of this culture, tendencies always come back to our needs-America’s needs. I continued with the my perspective that was shaped by wrestling with God. “Steve, did you know that in America alone over $10 billion is spent on church buildings each year? And the amount of real estate alone that is owned by churches in the United States is worth over $230 billion.” This astounded him, (and myself each time I consider).
I boiled it down. “Steve, truthfully, I believe there are enough resources to care for the Spiritual health of America. But, I have not found it to be the case in the countries I have visited.” The light bulb went off. He understood three things that he had not before. 1) I was not thrill seeking, or valuing foreigners more than my neighbors. It is God’s agenda that leads me, which is people-centered, all over the world. 2) Praise the LORD for supporters, (such as his mother-in-law) for the people in these shattered areas! Who else is going to help? 3) There were ample resources within the American church to care for American’s, which importantly lead to, his responsibility as an American believer.
I do not know if Steve had ever heard an explanation of why it is important to help people outside of America, or if he even had ever sought an explanation out. But, I do know that he had a perspective change that day. Whether it was through seeing a felon, former addict give the explanation, or if hearing the logical reasoning is what did it. All that is important is the paradigm shift that happened from the usual hopeless lens he sees situations through. And most exciting for me was the third revelation he had that day about his responsibility. I believe that with every revelation the LORD gives us, attached is a “call-to-action,” and Steve heard it that day. As I left he said, “Thank you for that, Anthony, I feel rejuvenated. I am going to chew on this conversation and share it with my wife. I am going to pay it forward.” I told him the first thing I was going to ask when I see him on January 9th was, “What did you do with what God showed you?”
Puerto Rico was an incredible experience that moved me…So much so, that I will be leading a team back March 11th-17th. If you feel like this is an opportunity you want to be apart of, then let’s meet a need. The urgency is consuming. Please click on the GoFundMe link below to learn more.
I am an open book. I would love to talk.
Until next time.