Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today Is The Day

Psalm 7:9-15 (New Century Version)

God, you do what is right. You know our thoughts and feelings. Stop those wicked actions done by evil people, and help those who do what is right.

God protects me like a shield; he saves those whose hearts are right. God judges by what is right, and God is always ready to punish the wicked. If they do not change their lives, God will sharpen his sword; he will string his bow and take aim. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he has made his flaming arrows.

There are people who think up evil and plan trouble and tell lies. They dig a hole to trap others, but they will fall into it themselves.

Back in January we met a young man named Eduardo. He lived in Barrio Buenos Aires and had been involved, for many years, in the M-18 gang (Dieciocho Mara) running drugs and committing other crimes. In September 2008 Michael Miller wrote the following about Eduardo’s younger brother:

Twenty-one year old Claudio and I had just been getting to know each other. Well, that’s not exactly true: I’d known him for years as Caño (Con-yo), a dangerous gang member in our neighborhood whom we usually tried to avoid as much as possible. He often came by the Micah House to ask for food, although he was an expert at asking in a way that made it clear that we should give him what he asked for or else.

If you’ve read my past blogs about Laje and Ole, you know that God has been trying to get me to see young men like Claudio through His eyes. Claudio and his equally notorious older brother Eduardo (who goes by the street name Chifín…Chee-feen) noticed that change in me, and for a couple of months had been coming by the Micah House almost daily to talk. Claudio had just been released after doing two years in the national penitentiary. Shortly after his release, a rival gang member saw him walking through the market and took a shot at him; the bullet lodged in his arm, but his life was spared.

As I began to have my nightly chats with Claudio, I realized that both the jail time and the close encounter with a bullet had shaken him, and, as a result, he was at a crossroads. I agreed to help him pay for his surgery; it would cost about $400 to remove the bullet from his arm and to get his shattered bone set. For some reason, the fact that I was willing to help gave him great hope. In his mind, the surgery would be his new lease on life.

One night, the week before the surgery, Claudio came to our door but refused to come in. He was standing on the street corner, waving me to come out. When I walked over to him, he said that he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he was going to say. “Uh-oh”, I thought to myself, “what has he done now?” “Michael”, he said, “when this surgery is all over, I really want to change my life. I don’t want to stay in the same hole I have been in for so long.” Surprisingly soft-spoken for a gangster, Claudio was at this moment taking the biggest risk of his life by exposing the hurt of his soul to me.

I responded by urging him to give his life to God…to let the past be the past and to trust God with his future. Claudio nodded reflectively, and I asked him to come back so that we could keep talking about these things.

That was the last time I ever saw him. A few days later, in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, a police pick-up truck dumped Claudio’s body off at the morgue. No explanation was given as to how he died. In society’s eyes, he was just another nameless casualty of the savagery of street life.

Juan Carlos (left) and Eduardo (right) hold Claudio's casket in the Micah truck.
After burying his younger brother Eduardo started to take a look at his life. In 2009 he decided that things needed to change or his fate would be the same as his brother's and asked Micah to help him with the cost of drug rehab at Proyecto Victoria. That day in January when we met Eduardo was his first day out of the 6-month inpatient program. He held his certificate of completion proudly, his face was bright and full of hope as he talked with Brian and was accepted as one of the first students in the Tech program.

Eduardo working in the welding shop.
When classes began in February Eduardo started off well, showing up on time, studying and working hard, but within a few months the talons from his old life began pulling him back in to the drugs and the violence. After missing several classes and with rumors swirling that he was using drugs again, he also became one of the first to be expelled from the Tech program. He pleaded with Brian to be given another chance and was told that if he continued to come to Monday discipleship he would be considered again in 6 months. Almost every Monday Eduardo showed up at the church across from Micah. The spiritual battle that raged within him was evident as he tearfully asked for prayer again and again, prayer that he would change, that he would do the right thing, but then continue to walk in darkness.

A couple of months ago we heard that he and Alejandro, a student at the time in the Tech program, had been involved in a murder. There is no confidential tip line in Honduras and if you want to stay alive you pretend you don’t know anything, which is what we did. Alejandro was expelled from the school for failing to show up for class for 3 days and, like Eduardo, begged for another chance and, like Eduardo, was made the same offer to reapply in 6 months.

My initial reaction to the news was a combination of disgust, fear, and indignation; disgust at the thought of them killing another person; fear because Eduardo knew where we lived; and indignation because my internal hierarchy of sin concluded that they were no longer worthy of compassion or grace. The fear drove me to my knees where God gave me the passage in Psalms opening this post, and I felt better, justified, and completely missed the point.

The next Monday night the boys and I dropped off the meal for discipleship class and as we were driving away we passed Eduardo and Alejandro. Hate and venom spewed from my mouth, and a quick “sorry, guys I shouldn’t have said that.” Michael, not knowing about the murder, responded “it’s okay mom, he’s probably done plenty to deserve it.” Suddenly my indignation was exposed for what it was, the sickening stench of sin. In that instant God revealed the self righteousness that I harbored in my heart and how I was just as deserving of those hateful words as Eduardo - “Everyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” 1 John 3:15 – because of my hatred for him. The next day, alone in the house, I wrestled with God for hours about this. Surely He wasn’t serious? How could my hatred for him be as bad as what HE did? He killed someone! That had to be much farther down on the scale of sin than my words. Oh, I knew what scripture says, but REALLY? There had to be some hidden clause in there that made my hatred a non issue. As I prayed God began to show me how hatred is equal to murder. In my hatred I had no compassion for Eduardo, no desire to see him come to salvation in Christ. In my hatred I believed he deserved to go to hell. My hatred allowed no room for grace, no room for redemption, only punishment and death – murder - for the crime.

I began to realize that my sin, just that one sin of hating Eduardo, made me just as deserving of hell as I believed Eduardo to be. On my knees, filled with remorse I cried out to God to change my heart, change my mind, to give me His eyes for Eduardo, His heart for Eduardo. The disgust I had felt for him I now felt for my own actions as they were brought before the judgment seat of Christ and exposed for what they were.

Each time I saw Eduardo after that all of the hate was gone, replaced with a compassion that can only come from the Lord. I saw a young man shackled and bound in sin, deceived by Satan. One day I asked him what he was doing with his life. He sheepishly looked down and said “nothing”. I told him nothing wasn’t good because that only led to trouble, to which he replied “I know.”

Last Monday night Eduardo was murdered. The stories about what led up to his murder vary, but the end result was the same. A group of men in a white truck with hoods on their heads and guns in their hands grabbed Eduardo and Alejandro from the street in Barrio Buenos Aires and drove to a neighboring colonia. After being tortured for 30 minutes they were shot in the head and left dead in the street.

Eduardo's body.
Tuesday morning we learned about the killings and that a 3rd person (Johnny, a student in the Tech program and member of the discipleship class) had also been killed, and I couldn’t help but travel down the road of “what if”. This past week has been difficult, going over the various scenarios in my mind, what if, what if, what if. And then I re-read the passage from Psalms that the Lord gave me. So often we forget that we serve a God that is holy and just, a God that will only tolerate sin and disobedience for so long. We play at repentance, throwing a half hearted “I’m sorry” toward heaven, much like my casual apology to my boys, and then go on our merry way. God did not bring Psalm 7 to my mind so I could feel justified, he brought it to my mind to show me what was going to happen if Eduardo did not surrender his life to Christ once and for all.  Deep in my heart I hope and pray that on one of those Monday nights, as the Holy Spirit stirred in Eduardo bringing him to tears, I hope and pray he asked Jesus in. 

As we prepared for discipleship yesterday we wondered if any of the guys from the barrio would show up. Many were fearing for their own lives, either former or current Dieciocho members themselves. The chairs were set up and when they finally finished arriving the room was full, but for 3 empty seats, a graphic visual reminder of the previous week and a perfect way for Brian to begin the lesson, trying to drive home the point that the day of salvation is today because we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow.

The comments online to the article detailing the murders reflect the opinion of most, that this isn’t a tragic case of 3 lives lost, but instead we should be celebrating the blood running in the streets because there are 3 less criminals in the barrio. They got what they deserved! Good riddance! Thanks to the men in the white truck, you’re our heroes! Hate and venom spewing from their lips, just like me. Lord have mercy.

Satan is playing for keeps folks, but so are we. We have been called to serve those that the world has thrown away. Fear will not dissuade us from reaching out to them with the same love, grace, and compassion that Christ has given to us. Luke 12:48 says “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” By grace I was pardoned and declared not guilty of murder, and so much more. I have been given much.  He demands nothing less than my life in return.

Blessings and peace,



Anonymous said...

I love you Natasha, and thank God for your clear message. I remember these two men, and prayed for them and all of the guys...and my heart is sick over their loss. I am so happy that the room was filled last night with young men with renewed focus on what it means to "play for keeps" with God. God wins...and I want to be on His side all the way. You are all in our daily prayers. I am praying for Juan Carlos especially...may the grace of Christ show in his changed, honest heart and compassionate face.

In Him,

Carol said...

Natasha, my heart goes out to you all. God is a God of mercy and compassion, and does not demand more than we can give. I believe he saw the heart's intent of those young men and gathered them to his heart like the father of the prodigal son, who only needed to turn his face toward home. Death snaps everything into perspective--instantly the superficial drops away and the eternal comes into focus. May God use this opportunity for great good for His kingdom.
Love to you all,

Search Engine Submission - AddMe