You know that Sunday feeling, right?

We leave church inspired by and filled with  Truth, encouragement and passion on Sundays … and somewhere during the the day, after the music fades and our cars leave the parking lot, pieces of the message tend to fade, too; somewhere along the way, we often lose that Sunday feeling. 

The Monday After {the Sunday Sermon} is our attempt to carry the Sunday message into Monday mornings by walking together and sharing how what we’ve heard on Sunday morning is making a difference in our Mondays, our weeks, our lives. Each Monday, a voice from the pews will give personal perspective to the words we soaked in on Sunday. 

So follow along each Monday as we seek to integrate that Truth into our daily lives; leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

The Monday After: Sunday, November 25, 2012: Living a Generous Life: Splashes of Joy in the Sea of the Insurmountable

By Ted Brooks

Chris and Kathy Gouzoules’ Sunday message had extra meaning for me as I was privileged to actually be there for many of the stories they told.

I vividly remember the day we first came to the village of Agua Bendita and to the home of Jose Luis.  It was my first trip to Tenancingo; all I knew was that we were going to do some home repairs. I grew up working in our family business building homes and I had been in some high-poverty areas and thought I was prepared to help.  I expected poorly constructed homes with leaky roofs, broken windows and rusty pipes but nothing had prepared me for what I saw that day.

We scrounged up whatever tools we could find and after an hour drive on a scary mountain road, finally parked in a field on the top of the mountain next to the house we were to fix.  But where was the house?  In front of us was a small structure, not quite the size of a one-car garage.  It was made from rough tree limbs buried into the ground and tied together with bits of rope.  The walls and roof were covered with old yellowed plastic sheeting that had been “recycled” from one of the many local greenhouses.  Inside the structure I could make out a worn mattress on a dirt floor along with some clothes and random household object scattered around.  Standing near the hut was an older woman and several children.  We were told that altogether eleven children and two adults lived here.

My head began to spin. No matter how much I tried I simply could not imagine that this could be a family’s home.  Maybe some homeless person’s temporary shelter but a family with eleven children ranging from a baby to a young teenager?  How was that possible?! One of the lessons that God had taught me on a previous trip was that poverty does not equal unhappiness.  I had been with people who lived on only a couple of dollars a day but who were rich in the joy of life and relationship with God and learned that the proper response was friendship and admiration, not pity.  But as I spent the day trying to make that poor structure into a home I was absolutely heartbroken.

Several of the children gathered together in a quiet group watching us work on their home.  They were timid and thin and very dirty, but what I remember most was their eyes.  There was no excitement about the work being done on their home.  Years of abuse and neglect had driven out all hope.  They simply existed from day to day like wild animals living in the woods.

As we finished our work that day I took a few pictures of the home and the family.  I took them not out of pride to show the work we had done or the people we had helped, but to remind me of how much more needed to be done.

One of the pictures was of “Cristo Rey”, the huge statue of Christ that towers above the town of Tenancingo.  The statue depicts Christ with his arms outstretched to the people below, inviting them to fellowship with him.  But the picture I took doesn’t show this.  From the front door of that poor home in Agua Bendita all you could see was the back of the statue.  I am not a very emotional person, but as we drove away at the end of the day my eyes were filled with tears for the people who lived there.

I couldn’t imagine living in that cold, wet, dirty hut with no hope for a better life and every day waking up to find that even Christ had turned his back on me.  Gretchen and I didn’t know what God had in mind for us, but we knew that He had called us to be a part of helping the people of Agua Bendita.  As we spoke with Chris and Kathy and the leaders of the church of Tenancingo they also felt the same call from God.

Over the last few years we have seen God do some amazing miracles on the side of that mountain. Our first prayers were for better housing for the people and God answered that in a miraculous way.  A few months after we left, a group of university students came and built houses for about fifteen families.  These were simple structures that would be barely adequate as a garden shed for us, but they had a floor to help them stay clean and safe from insects, solid walls that kept out the wind and cold, and a roof that kept them dry during the heavy rains.  To the people of Agua Bendita they were miraculous plywood mansions that God had sent them.

There was still no electricity in the village so we had gotten donations of solar powered lights that we brought with us on our next trip to Mexico.  We went from home to home, offering to install them so that they could have some light at night.  I remember going into a home that had a teenage girl.  Her bed was in one corner and tacked to the walls were pictures of her favorite “boy bands”.  The small table by her bed was covered with lip-gloss and makeup and hairbrushes and all the other assorted stuff of teenage girls.  I was struck by how incredibly normal it all looked compared to just a year before.

It was wonderful to see the material changes that had occurred in people’s lives, but witnessing the mental and spiritual changes has truly been incredible.  When I went to install the lights in the homes I took a couple of assistants.  One was Sam Adamek, a high school senior from Immanuel, who was my translator, and the other was Jose Luis.

Before that day I would have had a hard time telling you what Jose Luis looked like.  He always hid in the back of the group, a hat on his head and his face to the ground.  He had never known anything but abuse and neglect and had learned that the only way to survive was to literally keep your head down and hide from the world. He had started coming to the church in Tenancingo and now this shy teenage boy, who we first met living in that plastic hut and hiding from us, was volunteering to help.  All day long he climbed ladders and hung from rafters helping to run wiring and screw in light fixtures and solar panels.  At each home his smile got bigger and bigger and he became bolder and bolder.

At the first home he hardly said a word and just stood quietly by assisting, but by the last few homes Jose Luis was the leader, explaining to the people what we were here to do and installing the lights almost by himself.

The change was amazing, but the biggest miracle of all came the next night.  As Chris described in his sermon, the church in Tenancingo held a Good Friday service in Agua Bendita.  They brought up chairs and a band with a sound system and a generator and a large portable screen and projector to show the movie “The Passion of the Christ”.  Nothing like this had ever happened there and the entire town showed up.  There was food and singing and it was a great celebration.  Just before the movie began, Jose Luis stood up and went to the microphone.  It was the greatest miracle I had ever witnessed to see him standing before his entire town, telling them how Jesus Christ had changed his life. I think he said more in that fifteen minutes than his town had heard from him in fifteen years.  This young man, who the day before had brought physical light into their homes, now brought the spiritual light of Jesus’ love into his village.  Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but I didn’t need a translator to understand the passion in his voice as he shared his testimony and then lead them in prayer.  It was awesome to hear God speaking through him.

God has continued to work miracles in Agua Bendita.  The church has helped with donations of food and clothing and medicine.  They have done tutoring programs and VBS.  Most of all they have brought hope and the love of Christ to this little village.

On our trip this summer with the Immanuel team one of the projects we worked on was the construction of a playground in Agua Bendita.  One of the young leaders of the church, Pilo, had “rescued” a playground that had been removed from a park in Tenancingo.  He had raised money and even paid out of his own pocket for it to be welded back together, stored and then shipped to the top of the mountain.  Our team was privileged to help dig the holes and pour the concrete to put the playground in place.  It was an amazing undertaking.

What struck me the most was the change in the children.  Four years before when we first came the children would hide from us and even cry when we reached out to touch them.  Now they covered the hillside, watching the playground being erected.  They were laughing and talking and playing with us and were so excited we could barely keep them off the equipment long enough for us to bolt it back together.  To them it was like Disney World had just been built in the middle of their village.

When I left that day I once again had tears in my eyes for the people of Agua Bendita.  This time they were tears of joy for all that God had done for them.  God has heard our prayers and taken our meager offerings and done a fantastic miracle.

There is still a lot pain and suffering and work to be done, but He has given them hope.  Jesus has shown that He did not turn his back on them.  He has shown His face through Chris and Kathy Gouzoules and the people in the church in Tenancingo, and even through the people of Immanuel who have prayed and donated and even come to their village.

Yesterday Chris asked us to pray for the things that seem impossible in our lives.  Whatever that is in your life it may be hard to believe that God can fix it or even cares to fix it.  You may feel like you are out of hope and that God has turned his back on you.  If you are feeling that way then I wish that I could bring you to a little village on the side of a mountain in the middle of Mexico.  A place that was once more desolate and hopeless and alone than you could ever imagine.

A place that was impossible to help – unless you have an impossible God. 

A God through whom all things are possible. 

Ted Brooks is husband to Gretchen and dad to some wonderful kids. He works as a tech director for a local school district.

2 thoughts on “The Monday After: Splashes of Joy in the Sea of the Insurmountable {Ted}

  1. Ted, your gift of writing made all this come alive to me! Thank you for sharing your heart. You’ve encouraged me to keep rating for what I wrote down yesterday. God loves to show up in “the impossible”.

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