Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30″
One of the aspects of Advent and Christmas we often forget is how God’s birth and reign turned the world on its head. We want to think of Christ as bringing love and happiness which he certainly does. But Advent is also a time of repentance, a time to consider the ways in which we have not acted in holy and just ways. In passages like the Magnificat, we hear that the hungry will be filled and the rich sent away empty (Luke 1: 53). At this time of year, we also hear words from the prophets who warn us what will happen if we refuse to take care of the poor.
Amos warns us what will happen if we “trample on the needy” (v. 4).
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (Genesis 8:20, NRSV)
The first thing Noah did after stepping out of the ark is built an altar.
Immediately, they worship.
On mission trips to Costa Rica, the team would worship with the hosting congregation. We were doing ministry in a little shantytown known as Los Diques. The first time I went on this mission trip, I was not ready for what I experienced. Worship was different from what most of us experienced in the States. And it was not just because it was in Spanish.
This week I learned about the death of Don Victor, a pastor who answered God’s call on his life to be in ministry of people in a shantytown. I’ve been reflecting on his ministry this week.
Where pavement meets gravel in Cartago, Costa Rica, is where you enter the shantytown of Los Diques. This is a place where people with no other means go. Families escaping abusive fathers. Mothers addicted to drugs. Grandmothers raising grandchildren. Young boys whose only way out is to join a gang; young girls whose only way out is to sell themselves. And this is a place the government would rather not exist, which is why they have been so reluctant over the years to give the basic necessities for these people.
Yet, none of this mattered to Don Victor.
Back in 2005 I was in seminary and making plans to do a directed study in Costa Rica that included a mission trip to Los Diques. After much preparation and great support from family, friends, and a church who caught the vision, in January 2006 the first team made their way to Costa Rica.
Since that first trip in 2006, my experiences in Diques have influenced my preaching, teaching, leadership, and ministry in general in various ways. It’s not uncommon for me to share the story of Don Victor, the pastor at the Church of the Light of the New Day in Los Diques, when teaching or preaching.\
“Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!'” (Matthew 27:22, NRSV)
Who is innocent?
Who is guilty?