Friday, August 4, 2017

New Website!

One of the many projects we've tackled during furlough has been creating a website. Now that it's finished, this blog is moving to that site.

Check it out at www.ortizmissionsjourney.com.

We are enjoying our time on furlough, but we're gearing up to head back next month!!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ten Reasons NOT to go to the mission field


                                                Image result for missionary photos

Have you ever wondered what it is like to live on the mission field? There are so many reasons people become missionaries. The life of a missionary is often admired and praised, regardless of the knowledge of day-to-day activities.

When we told J.L. Williams that we were going to move to Haiti to be missionaries, he told us, "If it is within your power, don't do it."
Of course, we were taken aback. J.L. is known for being all about missions - his life poured missions into every aspect of it, touching everyone with a glimpse of his passion. He explained to us that if it was within our power to NOT go, then it was not truly God calling us. Within our own power, we can keep ourselves from doing it. When God is truly calling us, we have a leading and urgency that cannot be calmed or quieted.

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We have been in Haiti for nearly 4 years now. In this time we have met so many people who have come to Haiti for varying lengths of time for vastly different reasons. If you are contemplating going into missions - regardless of length of time - here are 10 reasons you should NOT go.

1. Missions is exciting!
While there are many things in missions that are exciting, this is not a good reason to pack your bags. Daily life in missions can often feel mundane. Once the newness wears off, you will find yourself in a new rhythm. In this stage, life goes on as "usual." Though there are new aspects to this "usual," it still can feel mundane and lack the special awe you had imagined. For example, my days are about like this:
wake up and ensure kids are eating a healthy breakfast
start school with kids
quiet time while kids are working
continue helping kids with school
lunch break
check kids' school
The afternoon is usually spent either getting groceries (a LENGTHY process), taking a child to an activity, or preparing for Bible study.
There is not much that feels out-of-the-ordinary for me in my regularly scheduled activities. My exciting God moments are probably as frequent as what I could experience in my home culture.

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2. Everyone should do it.
The Bible tells us in Matt. 28:19 to "Go and make disciples." While there is a command to go to the ends of the earth, this was given to a group. Some people are not called to "go to the ends of the earth." The reality is, so many people come to Haiti for one week and it is an incredible experience for them. At the end of it, they go home, the adrenaline wears off, and they go back to life as it was. Going is not the solution...you have to be faithful to share the Gospel wherever you are. If you do not know how to share the Gospel and/or your testimony where you are - if you are not in the habit of doing this regularly - then you should not be going into missions just because "everyone is supposed to." Missionaries desperately need those who understand the need for missions, and will work hard at home to raise awareness, pray fervently, and send support in many forms (emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, etc.).

3. I will feel closer to God.
Regardless of where you live and what your "job" is, your relationship with God - and with others - requires dedication and time. Living on the mission field does not always help with this. There are new stressors and things demanding your time and attention. Things that are often a "quick-fix" in the states can take much longer on the mission field. Be accountable for your relationship with God and the time you spend with Him, no matter where you live. There are times on the mission field that you can feel like you are in a spiritual desert...missions does not equal better relationship with God.
Our oldest daughter reading from
"The Jesus Storybook Bible" in Kreyol
                                       
4. People will respect me more if I am a missionary.
People will choose how they feel. Some will respect you for who you are, regardless of where you live. Others will find something that they don't like about you regardless of who you are. Strive to be a respectable person wherever you are. Missionaries do not win popularity contests...and they often feel ostracized and/or lonely. If you're looking for respect, live a life of respect. Ultimately, seek your image in who God is and who He says you are!

5. I want to live in a foreign country.
There are much easier ways to live in a foreign country besides being a missionary. Some countries welcome missionaries gladly, and expect great things (which is exhausting). Other countries do not welcome missionaries, and may even despise them (which is exhausting). If you want to live in a foreign country, do it! Fulfill that dream - but do it on your time and on your dollar unless you know missions is right for you!

6. It's on my bucket-list.
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Bucket-lists are great. They help us dream big and focus on meeting some of our big goals. There are so many things on bucket lists. If being a missionary is one of them, make sure you have reason for it. Simply doing it to say, "I did that once," will not end well. Being a missionary is not easy, so take the time to ensure you're ready! Otherwise you could go home worse-off than you started.

                                         
7. I want to start over (don't like home; run from my past; don't want to face hardships at home).
My daughter reminded me that the book Christy was about a young lady who really didn't want to be at home anymore. She thought missions would be a good alternative. She struggled throughout her time and learned a lot. There are so many ways to run from life...I think most missionaries want to run from life at some point. If your purpose in becoming a missionary is to start over, you will meet that goal. However, you will suffer for it in the long run. As is so often said, stay and work through problems first. Then go as God leads.

8. My friend (or family/parents) was a missionary. I feel like I should do the same.
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It would be a lot of fun to join friends on the mission field. It could feel like the honorable thing to do - become a missionary since your parents/grandparents were missionaries. I think (and hope) they would be honest with you to tell you that they don't want you to go just because they did. Think about it - do you want someone to say they are a Christian just because you say you are? I certainly do not - not even with my own children! Because as soon as the world comes crashing down around them, they will not be able to stand. I want people to choose Christianity because they see how much they need and want it for themselves! The same is true of being a missionary - to go because someone else did will set you up for failure when the world comes crashing down...and trust me, it will.


9. Being a missionary will make me special.
Our youngest within days of moving to Haiti, 2013
My youngest felt this should be on the list of 10 reasons. His answer? "You shouldn't go be a missionary to make you special. God says your special already!"
So there you have it - out of the mouth of an 8-year old.  If you are struggling with your self-image, seek your Creator who will remind you of who you truly are. Let Him show you how special you are. Don't pack your bags just to find that!

10. I went with a group on a short-term trip, and it was incredible! I want to go back and live that way all the time.
Throughout the past 4 years, this may be the most commonly stated reason for wanting to become a missionary. We have worked with a LOT of short-term groups. Nearly every group has at least one person who says they want to come back and "live like this all the time." I'm going to let you in on a secret - short-term trips are NOTHING like LIVING on the mission field. They are designed to give you as much positive interaction as can be crammed into your time. They are designed to scratch your itch and help you feel connected. They are designed to educate and inform you so that you can go home and be an advocate for help and change.
As a missionary, you are not on a sprint. You are on a super-marathon. You are not trying to cram everything in, and it is not all positive. You are working on learning language and culture, building relationships with all new people, and mourning the life you sacrificed in order to come.

So there are 10 reasons...and I am sure there are many more. If you are not sure when to go, or how you know for sure, ask a missionary!

The reality is that there is only ONE reason for why you should become a missionary - being called. 
So ask yourself, "Am I being called?" If you do not know that God clearly said to you individually, "Go," you could be walking into suffering that is unnecessary. When the uncalled go to the mission field, they suffer...but they also can cause others to suffer. Too many times, people are sent out and those who receive them are distracted from their ministry because they are trying to help someone survive. All missionaries can go through this. What gets them through? Knowing they are called. Without that clear conviction to stand on, people can be nearly destroyed.

At the end of the day, when I want to throw in the towel and pack it all up to go back to running water, 24/7 electricity, family and friends, English language, restaurants and nearby groceries (that, by the way, have everything!), I am reminded that God called me here. If He called me, He has a reason. I do not want to leave too early and prevent His complete plan from taking place in me.  I want to be faithful to wherever He calls me, and I know He will provide all I need while I surrender daily.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Kanaval

These last three days in Haiti are known as "Kanaval" which coincides with Mardi Gras everywhere else. In Mardi Gras, people indulge the flesh right before the 40-day lent season of repentance and fasting. Kanaval is no different in essence, though it is heavily influenced by vodou traditions and rituals. That typically means that vodou and "mystic" activity increases during this time and continues to be at a heightened level up through Resurrection Sunday. Here in Haiti, the Lenten season—Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday—is filled with Haitian vodou ceremonies and practices. Particularly on Holy Week, the most significant of these is the rara. Very plainly, a rara is a long procession with loud music that is steeped in idolatry and spiritual symbolism. On the surface, they seem like such a fun and harmless piece of Haitian culture, with the colorful dress and upbeat music. Underneath, the full picture cannot be divorced from the worship of voodoo gods. A quick Google search for "Haiti Carnival" shows this, among other things: "Rara is called "Vodou taken on the road" by Haitians.[7] Processions of female dancers follow male Vodou religious leaders, accompanied by drummers and vaksen bands, stopping at crossroads, cemeteries, and the homes of community leaders. Rara rituals are public acknowledgements of the power of local "big men" in the communities. Money is given to the leaders of rara organizations and communities during processions. The incorporation of military costumes and dance steps in rara processions is also an acknowledgement of the community hierarchy, and the folk belief that Vodou rituals, including rara, supported the success of the Haitian Revolution, and the continued well-being of Haiti. Rara band members believe that they have made a contract with spirits, and must perform for seven years, otherwise adversity will result.[8]"
For the last week or so, we've heard some new sounds coming from the neighborhood. Now, it's typical for loud speakers to be doing political propaganda into all hours of the night. We experienced that leading up to the elections and even the inauguration. However, with all of that behind us, the loud speakers seemed oddly out of place. In the middle of the day, we'd hear bull horns, broadcasting people speaking, but we couldn't make out what they were saying. Last week, we were walking to another missionary's house and realized we were passing right next to where the speakers were located. When we asked the other missionary about it, he said it was a vodou community that had recently sprung up in our neighborhood and they were (obviously) being very vocal.
Cathi commented later that when we were living in Chambrun, people would tell us all the time that the village was deep into vodou and that it just wasn't that common in other places. Given Kanaval and the occurrences like this one in other communities, that is not the case. What was encouraging was that the missionary told us that several church leaders were getting together often to pray against this. I plan on linking up with that group and join in the prayers against the encroaching darkness here.
During this Kanaval season, much of this week is a holiday, which means no work and no school. Many churches send their youth on retreat, hold outreach events, crusades, etc. I was invited to do a 3-day conference in Pernier, at a church atop the mountain village. We started on Sunday afternoon and finished at noon today. During the three days, we took a deeper look into Scripture at what God has revealed about Himself for us and how that should impact our lives. In contrast to the bright lights, loud music, and colorful celebration of Mardi Gras, this was a very simple conference. But it was a great few days, digging into God's Word and worshiping together. They asked some tough questions as they genuinely wanted to grasp more of God. Our motto for the three days was that we didn't want to just fill our heads with knowledge, but fill our hearts with a deeper appreciation for the God we serve and worship. This was also in stark contrast to the spirit of Kanaval which glorifies selfish desires. Instead, people were gathered to deny themselves and glorify the only One worthy of worship. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Superstitions

Yesterday, as I was preparing to teach this weekend, a friend of mine stopped by the house. He appeared to have been crying and was clearly shaken up. I followed him out to the porch to talk. A few days ago, he had stopped by with his little girl, Spendie, to show us some sores that had developed on her body, particularly on her backside. At that point, he'd been to a clinic, which had given him an ointment and sent him to a hospital that could do further testing. He told me that after that day, he'd taken Spendie to two hospitals and they both told him the same thing: "This isn't a sickness medicine can fix. If you're a Christian, pray; if you're not, take her to a witch doctor." He continued to tell me about heightened voodoo activity in our area (he is one of our neighbors) but that he doesn't know who would put a curse on his little girl. In tears, he told me he didn't want to take her to the voodoo temple, because he doesn't believe in that stuff. He's a Christian and goes to the same church we do. At the same time, he was at whit's end and desperate to help his little girl.
I told him I wanted to go pray for her, so we left my house and walked down the street to his house. There she was, lying on a mat on the floor, visibly uncomfortable. After greeting his wife and others in the house, I talked with them, sympathizing with their situation of watching their child suffer without being able to truly help. I assured them that God sympathized with them too, as he watched Jesus suffer for us. We prayed together, for Spendie, for the family, over the house. When I left, their spirits seemed to have been lifted in our time of prayer. After calling them this morning, they're still holding on and doing better as a family, so I praise God for that.
Unfortunately, this kind of situation is not all that uncommon. When a sickness or misfortune can't be explained, the default assumption is that it was a witch doctor that cast a curse or one of the lwa (spirits) were upset with the individual or family. The Western concept of free will is almost non-existent in this context. People strive to appease the spirits around them so that no harm or sickness will befall them. Some refuse medical treatment in the belief that what is going on is purely spiritual.
Here is where two worlds collide: The Western tendency is to deny the reality of the spiritual realm. In doing so, everything is reduced to purely materialistic explanations - science. The other extreme, as exemplified by animistic cultures, is to explain everything through spirits and magic. The spirits dominate reality and humans must constantly fight to appease them in order to survive. Or through magic, people can control supernatural powers in order to achieve their desires. In the Western world, science deals with the empirical world and leaves religion to handle the other-worldly stuff. But as scientific knowledge expands, the need for religion decreases.
But what about the "excluded middle"? If on one end we have the world as experienced by our senses and on the other we have beings and forces that cannot be directly perceived, then what about that middle ground where these two collide? In this culture it's ghosts, spirits, ancestors, demons, gods and goddesses that live in trees, rivers, etc. These aren't part of another time and place, but in our world and time. And what about the questions that arise when doctors have done all they can and a child continues to get sick? In the Western world, many situations are chalked up to accidents, luck, or unforeseeable events and we just shrug it off. But many people, such as in this society, are not content to leave such important matters unanswered. So, often times, the answers are in the form of ancestors, demons, witches, local spirits, or magic. These are the questions of the "excluded middle" level. When Christian missionaries dismiss these questions or fail to give definite answers, people return to the witch doctors and the mystics who have answers.
A missionary must have a theology of these things; theologies of divine guidance, provision, and healing; a theology of ancestors, spirits, and invisible powers of this world; a theology of suffering, misfortune, and death. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Scripture offers us this third worldview. Our central message needs to focus on who God is - His greatness, holiness, and His power, and His work in humanity. We need to not just sing these words, but make them personal:
"Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God You are higher than any other. Our God is Healer. Awesome in power our God. Our God..." It is He who delivers us from evil and empowers us to live in freedom!