The past couple of weeks I have been doing ministry the south cone of our city of nearly ten million. The community where I have been spending the past couple of weeks is purported to have the highest concentration of people in all of Latin America. From my house, it's a 40-minute drive to the fledgling church that I have been teaching. The joy of teaching new believers is a story worth telling; but the ride there and back has its own tale, too. So I want to mention that today as I tell you what God is up to in this part of South America.
After some 30-plus minutes I approached the edge of the community where I wanted to work. I noticed a sight in front of me on the divded, four-lane paved road I traversed. I saw a funeral procession trying to turn onto the main road. No one would pause to let them in. Being a true southerner, I did. The cars behind me honked in anger when I stopped and motioned for the not-so-long procession to enter the road in front of us. Cars packed with men, women, and children slowly turned onto the road, trying to catch the hearse. Intermingled were pickup trucks; each truck had its complement of passengers and even more stuffed into the bed. That's when I saw a sight I am not accustomed to seeing. There, in the back of more than one truck, sat men and women, hoisting old 2-liter soft-drink bottles filled with homemade corn liquor--Peruvian moonshine, if you will. They raised them to me in a salute for letting them in; then they took a long swig, all to the laughter and cheers of passengers in a bus that went around me in the right lane. Never did Proverbs 31:4 and 6 seem more relevant: it is not for kings to drink. . . ; give it to those who are perishing, and whose life is bitter.
Before long I turned off the main road, descending down one long hill and proceeding up another. The pavement gave way to packed sand and dirt. There was plenty to go around. Not a sprig of grass could be seen anywhere. Just dirt, sand, and rocks, which rose quickly into a steep, steep hill. Piled in one spot was a small mountain of garbage. One one side of the garbage all kinds of dogs rummaged. On the other side, a young mother and her two children dug. One of the children looked up at me. Her face was smudged with the grime of the area I drove through. Her eyes looked empty, as did her mother's when she finally looked at me.
Beyond them were groups of young men and women walking about. Some of these youth would hang around until after dark, when they would exchange their friendly greetings for gang greetings. I knew that and hoped they knew that I knew it; after all, a little knowledge goes a long ways around gangs in this city.
I bounced and rocked my way up the hill to my destination. Outside my car the dust rose up. Inside, the fresh air flowed and the sound system thumped out the music of some of the latest praise and worship albums I obtained while stateside. There, waiting with smiles were the faithful few. On that day it would be all women. On some days a man or two will show. There we sat, praying for one another, trying to sing without instruments or anyone who could carry a tune, and studying the word of God.
These same ladies once had that same empty look as the ones I encountered on the garbage heap. But they heard the gospel some months ago. They heard it and they believed it. And the change! Even their husbands complain because they do not run to the same excess as they once did (didn't Peter say something like that would happen?). Two ladies were there because they had to discover what it was that changed the first two converts. They figured it must be some powerful stuff. One lady was a brawler. Now she was kind and gentle. One was known for her party life; now she sought to lead people to drink of the Holy Spirit. Something must have happened! And it did: Jesus happened.
The contrast could not have been greater. The houses looked the same: shacks made of plywood, woven mats, and tin. But their hearts shone with the light of Jesus.
It's not happening at lightning speed, but God is changing this small community. God is building his church where there was no church. And he just happened to invite me along for the ride.
It's something he says to all of his children: come along for the ride. Join me in my work. All I can say is that the ride with Jesus is worth it. Come along!