She was just radiant on the day that I met her. Of course, you might expect that, seeing as we had just shown up, a group of about 25 of us from America, to help build her a house. But it was more than just the excitement over the house—it was deeper than that. You know how, sometimes you just know that someone loves Jesus? Without even saying a word, you just know?! That was how it was with Sandy. I knew. The love and the radiance of Jesus were undeniably written into her countenance.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed. – Psalm 34:5
Our leader asked me if I thought she was a Christian. “Of course she is! Can’t you see it in her face?!… I’ll find out!” So I went to ask. In part to confirm what I already knew and to get her story, and in part because I was itching to knock the dust off of my high school Spanish, and in part because I just felt an immediate kinship with her and wanted to get to know her … this was as good an excuse as any to introduce myself. Not to mention, there weren’t many in our group who could speak much Spanish.
So, I introduced myself and basically just asked if she went to church around here. (I don’t remember why that seemed like the right question to ask—because right now without context, it seems super awkward; I know.) She immediately explained that yes, they went to church and they were Christians, not Catholics. Those are her words, not mine. I fully understand that you can be both a Christian and a Catholic. However, especially in her culture, she wanted to make it clear that she wasn’t following a Catholic tradition but Jesus… and she happens to do that via an evangelical church.
As we got to know each other over those two days, (Can you believe we built her a house in TWO days?! Crazy!), she shared some of her story and actually begged me to share it because she wants everyone to know about what Jesus has done for her and her family.
She is only 29 years old. A single mom raising her 3 kids and a step-daughter who is 16, not that much younger than she is. First off, can I just point out that not everyone is willing to take on a child that isn’t even theirs, especially when that child is a reminder of the man who left you for another woman?
Her youngest, Angelito, is now 8. When he was just one month old, he got sick. He basically went catatonic and would neither eat nor respond at all. He was in the hospital for a month and a half while they ran tests and finally determined that he had a heart problem and would require open heart surgery. She couldn’t afford the surgery and out of desperation went to the local church and asked them to pray. Angel was miraculously healed and immediately began to respond and eat again. The doctors later confirmed it; he was fine! Not surprisingly, Sandy gave her life to the Lord.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears…
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles. 7
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them. – Psalm 34:4-7
Now, she tells everyone she can about how Jesus, in His great love and mercy, saved her son. She has essentially become a missionary in her community. She has four women from the neighborhood who she invited to church. All have become Christians; two she personally led to Jesus. These four women (and their children) come to a Bible study in her house every week. She’ll disciple them for the year and then start with a new group as they, hopefully, go on and form their own discipleship groups.
At the end of our time, we took her and her children shopping. We bought them groceries and some clothes and whatever else they needed. You know what she bought???? Extra place settings so she could feed people in her home. Coffee and tea specifically to serve the women in her Bible study, because that’s what they like to have when they come over. She thought nothing of herself, but everything for her family and her community and for how she might share Jesus with them through her home.
When we first got there, before we even started, before I met Sandy and her family, we prayed. We prayed for the house we were building, for safety (of course) and for the family who would live there. I remember specifically that I was surprised to hear myself praying for the ways that house would be a testimony to the Lord in the community and for the ministry that would happen in that house. I was praying for fruitful ministry in that house and on that land…without knowing a thing about Sandy. Now that I know her, my prayer makes even more sense—there is nothing she wants more than to glorify the Lord with her home, and she has such a gift of hospitality that her primary place for ministry will be her home.
She and I talked about how it is that she, who has so little, would be willing to give like she does to others. I wish I could have recorded her little sermon—I think it would do us all some good to hear it. She passionately began to explain that God wants us to give. We cannot out-give God. When we give, He blesses us back! And, if we have no money to give, we always have something—our hands, our time, our service, our love…something!
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. – Psalm 34:8-10
I had just that morning been contemplating 2 Corinthians 9:6-12, how God gives us what we need, NOT so that it ends with us, but so that we can be a blessing to others. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (v 10 – emphasis mine). God’s blessings to us are like water—when that water flows in, it’s only good if it also flows back out. Water that gets stopped up becomes a breeding ground for all sorts of gross. It stinks. It becomes unhealthy, full of algae and muck. Water that flows out is clear and life-giving and healthy. So it is with the blessings of God. They aren’t meant to flow into us and get stuck there. They’re meant to flow…in and out.
That’s what Sandy was telling me, and it’s what she’s been living. I’m sure some of the people who have received houses from Homes for Hope weren’t Christians. I’m sure some don’t have the missionary heart that Sandy has. I’m sure some don’t plan to use their home to bless the community like Sandy does. God will bless whom He blesses for the glory of His name, and surely those houses are a testimony of His love to all who receive them, just as Sandy’s is. But, as Sandy and I talked, I couldn’t help but wonder if God wasn’t wanting to enrich her with a house because He knows she’ll “be generous in every way” with it. If that house is God’s way of saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful with little, so let me give you more!”
Honestly, I’m sitting here thinking about Sandy, thinking, “Great job, Sandy!” Thinking how awesome it is that she does what she does, and how awesome that God is blessing her with more. But perhaps that’s not all I should be thinking. Perhaps I should do a little deeper examination of my own life and giving. Perhaps we all should. We live in a culture that tells us that we have “rights” to “our stuff.” It’s great if we share it, but it’s ours so we don’t have to. What we miss is that it’s not ours; it’s God’s. We are simply stewards. Did you catch what it says in 2 Corinthians 9? HE blesses us. HE enriches us. It’s HIS. It’s all His, given to us for a purpose—not just for our personal use, but so that we can share and bless others with it. And, in that way, it’s most truly for our joy—because God knows the most joy we can get out of “our” stuff is when we share it with others.
Can I be honest? We raised money for the trip, asked others to donate. This wasn’t just to make it more affordable for each of us, but also so that we might have more come in than our personal need for the trip so that we could afford the supplies for the home, and take Sandy and her kids shopping, etc. We raised enough for another group to come in later and build them a bathroom. (Can you believe that’s not a standard part of the homes? We are so spoiled here in America!) We were asked to raise money not only to help ourselves get there, but also to be a bigger blessing to Sandy. Conceptually, I understand, but let me be honest, here—I didn’t raise enough to cover my expenses. Not only that, but I’d promised to help cover someone else’s expenses if she didn’t raise enough because I thought it was important she go. I ended up covering much of those expenses out of my own pocket, and I bellyached about it.
God says he loves a cheerful giver, but I confess, while I was cheerful about giving my time and strength and Spanish knowledge…I wasn’t too cheerful about giving “my” money. I need it; I thought. Finances are tight. I, myself, work in ministry full time and have to raise support to do so. Surely, if God’s calling me to go, He’ll provide the funds, right? He did. He just didn’t do it through others. He did it through my savings. Not the response I expected to my step of faith. I kind of expected God to enrich me so that being a blessing to others didn’t actually cost me anything. It’s such an ugly thought I’m truly horrified to write it. That’s not how Sandy gave. She didn’t wait to have a house and some groceries before she gave to others. She practiced hospitality when it hurt. She was like the widow who gave to the prophet the last of her food, and then found that there was more.
THIS is what God asks of us. Give first. Trust Him to supply what we need after. It’s no step of faith (and very little of obedience) if we only give when we see the supply for it. Give first. Even when it hurts. It’s easier to do when you realize you are a steward whose job it is to be obedient. You are not an owner whose job it is to hoard or protect.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully[d] will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency[e] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
A few last comments:
Sandy has been paying for the land her house is on for the last two years—approximately $40 month, about half her monthly salary. She has about another 9 years to go until it’s fully paid for (as of summer 2017). Economically, just having a house on the land sets a family ahead about 10-15 years.
Sandy’s two older girls go to school in the mornings 7-1. Sandy herself works from 6-1. That leaves her two young boys, Angelito and Jesus (8 and 9), home alone every morning as their school doesn’t start until 1pm. This is her biggest fear as a mother, leaving them alone. Jesus takes care of his brother, and fixes his food and cleans up the house every day. He’s the man of the house and takes it seriously. I assure you, no one worked harder to build that house than Jesus! He worked relentlessly alongside the men to hammer together the frame. He has had practice—he works construction every weekend with his uncle. (I believe he primarily helps to clean up the construction site.) It’s his dream to become a builder and build homes for others. The first time I saw him truly smile and act like a kid was when we took them shopping—he was transformed.
Their home is a tiny little two bed-room affair with a kitchen area. We were able to give them a small refrigerator unit, something between what I had in the dorms and in my apartment—nothing even suitable by American standards for a family of 5. It’s insulated—a blessing in the Mexico heat! And, it has windows, which the last place they lived did not. I saw it—it was so dark and dingy. It had one pathetic little lightbulb in the corner which didn’t even provide light to the door. What a difference light makes!
We gave them a bunk bed to sleep on. One of those where the bottom bunk is extra wide. It has mattresses and sheets…all complete. But it’s only one. For a family of 5—a mother, two teenage girls and two young boys. All on one bunk bed. I asked her about it. She wants to put the older girls in the other room so they have a little privacy. They have something they can sort of use as a bed, but it’s broken. Our hope and plan is to raise another $600—that’s all it takes for another bunk bed complete with mattresses, sheets, blankets and pillows.
If you would like to contribute for another bunk bed for Sandy and her family, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org! We can take the funds through Shepherd Project Ministries and when we have the full $600, I will work with Homes of Hope to ensure she gets the bed.
If you would like to support other people like Sandy and her family in need of a home, Homes of Hope does an amazing job of vetting the families and making sure they will truly benefit from a house. You can either donate money, OR, I highly recommend going yourself to help. They can take individuals or groups—Christian or secular. The YWAM campus in Tijuana is an amazing (and safe) place to stay and it’s an incredible way to serve together as a family and/or group. (There are also other locations.) The homes take two to three days to build, so it’s a very do-able short-term mission trip. Check out their website for more information. Also, you can read The Homes of Hope Story: It Matters to This One, by Sean Lambert.
Pics of Sandy’s house in progress. You can see behind her house the hill they climb almost daily to catch the bus.
Pics of the YWAM base in Tijuana.