The following is a paper written for and presented at the Cooper City Church of God Missions Conference on February 7, 2012. I was encouraged by it, I hope you are too.
“Kingdom Citizenship: Where you are coming from and where you are headed.”
Jessica Hanson, Director, Casa Shalom Orphanage
Cooper City Church of God Missions Conference 2012
We’ve come from all over the world to be here today. We’ve come from Africa. We’ve come from Europe. We’ve come from North America, Central America and South America. We’ve come from Asia. We’ve come together to spend a few days in fellowship, worship and training to return to our adopted countries to minister more effectively to people that we’ve come to love and respect. Where we come from, both our countries of birth and as missionaries in our adopted countries, greatly affects where we are today and of course where we are going in the future. As missionaries, evangelists and leaders, we cannot separate our past from our present from our future. Today I’m going to share with you from the theme of “Kingdom Citizenship: Where you are coming from and where you are headed to.” I hope to be able to share with you a little about where our ministry has taken us, where we are, and what we hope it will be in the future.
As missionaries and Christians, where do we come from? I don’t just mean a physical location like a city or country or continent. I mean spiritually. What is our spiritual history and heritage? We know that as humans, our innate sinful nature prevented us from communing with God like He intended. Our pre-Christ past was therefore characterized by despair, sin, and separation from God. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Before we came to Christ, we were slaves to our sinful and selfish natures and rejected God’s offer of redemption. But thank God He provided a way out of this bondage! By sending His only son to die for us, He allowed us to leave behind our lives of darkness and despair, and adopted us as His own! Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry Abba, Father.”
What an amazing concept adoption is. My husband and I serve as the Directors of the Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala. I want to share with you the story of a group of eight siblings by the name of Mejia Lux that we took in January of 2011. The children, who you see in the photo above, came to the orphanage after their parents abandoned them. They simply didn’t want the responsibility of raising eight children, and they left them. The oldest child, Maria, 12-years-old, was trying to take care of her younger brothers and sisters all by herself even though she’s still a child. The boys, ages six, seven and eight, were working in the local coffee fields picking 100 pounds a day, instead of attending school, to try to provide for the family. When the children came to Casa Shalom, none of them had ever attended school or been to a doctor, they were filthy, barefoot, lice-ridden and starving. They were little more than slaves and had no future. They remind me so much of us before we came to Christ. They were doomed to a live of poverty and hopelessness! But God brought them to our orphanage, and even though we cannot legally adopt them, they and all the other children that call the orphanage home have been adopted into the wonderful Casa Shalom family and the family of God!
I wasn’t asked to speak about our present, but I don’t think I can discuss where we’ve come from or where we’re headed without talking about where we are right now. Like the Mejia Lux children coming out of extreme poverty, we came out of extreme despair and hopeless when we came to Christ. God’s plan isn’t for us to stay in a state of separation from Him! That’s why He sent His Son to reconcile us to Him and to bridge that gap of sin that separates us from God. When God adopted us as His sons and daughters, we gained full privileges and rights in His kingdom. We don’t have to live in fear like slaves anymore because we’re the precious children of the Father and citizens of His kingdom. Philippians 3:20 – 21 states, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” In this verse, we are reminded that we are not citizens of this country, or our adopted countries, or even of this world. Our present is characterized the belonging to the wonderful family of God.
It is logical to assume that we can’t get from yesterday to tomorrow without today. What we did yesterday directly affects today, and what we do today directly affects tomorrow. Today is the connecting point between our past and our future! Thus, we cannot underestimate the importance of our actions and attitudes today. The Old Testament story of Moses clearly illustrates the connection between the past, the present and the future and how you can’t have one without the others. At the beginning of Exodus, the Israelites find themselves enslaved in Egypt. Exodus chapter 1, verses 12 – 14 say, “So the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor they worked them ruthlessly.” In the enslaved Egyptians, we can see mirrored our lives before surrendering to Christ and becoming God’s sons and daughters. Like the Israelites, our past is one of slavery and bondage. But like God didn’t leave the Israelites in slavery forever; through Moses, he provided a way out of slavery and into the Promised Lands, where they could live as his children in peace and freedom.
We all know that God’s chosen people didn’t have any easy transition from slavery to the Promised Land. We know that in between leaving slavery behind and entering their future in the Promised Land, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. There was no HOV lane, no fast-track from slavery to the Promised Land, just 40 years of trials, hardship and opportunities to grow and stretch. The Israelite’s “present” wasn’t exactly what they’d had in mind when they left Egypt. In Exodus 14: 11- 12, they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone’ let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” And in chapter 17, verse 3, they said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and our children and our livestock die of thirst?” Nearly once per chapter throughout Exodus, the children of Israel grumbled against Moses and questioned his reasoning in leading them out of slavery.
Yet we see in Exodus that God never abandoned his children in the desert. Conditions may not have been as comfortable or pleasant as they would have liked, but God never removed his hand from them. We see so many examples of him providing extraordinary gifts for his children, like manna from heaven, shoes that did not wear out, and water from supernatural sources (Exodus 16:4, Deuteronomy 29:5, Exodus 17:6).
Sometimes, in our “present” we feel like we’re in a desert. Conditions are unpleasant or seemingly unbearable and we feel abandoned. But during these times in when we need to watch for the miracles that God does to carry us through to our future “Promised Land.” We recently experienced such a miracle in our ministry in Guatemala. We’ve recently been going through a “desert” time with opposition from staff members, financial challenges with our personal budget and just day-to-day ministry to 20-plus teenagers! In November, one of the youngest children at the orphanage, Magdalena, age 2, nearly severed her finger in a door hinge at the orphanage. She and her twin sister are the youngest of the Mejia Lux siblings. We rushed Magdalena to the hospital and the doctors told us that they could do nothing for her but remove the part of the finger that had been severed – they couldn’t repair the bone or the blood vessels and that without the blood vessels, the tissue would die.
We weren’t ready to accept that answer, so we took her to another hospital, where they told us basically the same thing. The only other option they could offer us was reattaching the skin of her finger. So that’s what they did. They sewed the thumb back on, but did nothing to the blood vessels or bone. Magdalena was admitted into the hospital where she was supposed to wait for 3 days before the doctors could remove the severed appendage. We began to pray in faith that God would heal Magdalena’s thumb and spare her the pain of growing up without this important finger. The next day, we visited Magdalena in the hospital and asked how her finger felt. She held up her hand, which was enclosed in an open-ended cast, wiggled her thumb and said, “fine!” She was supposed to lose the entire thumb, but God performed a miracle and Magdalena’s thumb has recovered completely. God repaired the bone and the blood vessels when Guatemala’s doctors weren’t able to. She doesn’t even have a scar. God has used this miracle to bring glory to himself. And we have clung to miracles like this one as God showing us his favor and provision as we minister.
As the body of Christ, where are we headed to? God has given us the hope of the Promised Land at the end of this life. It is our duty as believers, as missionaries to bring as many people as we can from slavery, through the desert, into the Promised Land. That is why we leave our countries, our families, our homes and our cultures to minister to people around the world, in the next city or sometimes next door. Pastor Bill Hybels has said many times that the job of every leader is to take people “from here (where they are) to there (where God wants them to be).” Our job as missionaries, pastors, evangelists and believers is to lead people in our God-given mission field from their past, their “here,” through their present, into their future, or “there.” As citizens of the Kingdom of God, our role is to bring as many people as possible with us! This is what compels us to do what we do.
I’d like to close with an update on the Mejia Lux children. While we’re under no illusion that the children have “arrived” and need no further healing or help, we believe that a great work has already been done in their lives. All 8 children have changed dramatically, physically and mentally. The oldest four are attending school and all are receiving medical care. They’ve come back from the brink of starvation to be happy, healthy and well. The oldest three children have accepted Christ into their hearts. We are so grateful that the Lord has chosen us to help bring these precious children from slavery, through the desert, and into the Kingdom of God!
As Christians, we come from a dark place of separation from God, but He has a plan of redemption that is available to each and every person. He brings us out of our past, through our present, that is sometimes characterized by difficulty, to our future as citizens of His everlasting kingdom.