“You are an Apostle”… Who, Me?

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Tents of Go Inc, a group of short term missionaries at Rancho Camp, Amor Ministries

“Why Amor?”

“Huh?”

“Yes, why… Amor?”

“Well, Amor means love,”

“Wrong…”

“Huh?”

“Are you or not an apostle? It’s Amor because your job is to show the love of Jesus.”

That was an exchange I had the other day with an agent at the San Ysidro border as he was reviewing my documents and read the logo of Amor on the side of the truck.

The border, it’s an interesting place. Sometimes you wait a long time, only to be hammered with a ton of questions, secondary inspections, and the occasional agent who gives you a hard time. Sometimes the crossing is quick and painless… so I’ve heard, mine are never quite like that. But I digress…

I was shocked at his boldness, a little bit offended by his tone, which was a bit patronizing (OK, here is where I recognize to you that I’ve always struggled with authority), and intrigued by the timeliness of this questioning.

“An apostle? Who? Me?” I thought.

Seconds before we reached the window I had been sharing “my testimony” Christian speak for the narrative of the moment you chose to abandon who you think you are, to the truth in the offering of salvation — letting Jesus into your heart. My experience was radical, but my transformation didn’t finish at that moment. It only meant that at the end of the pursuit, it was my turn to follow.

“Am I an apostle?” Well, recently I’ve been calling myself a missionary to explain what I do at Amor,  despite the fact that I don’t live in a foreign land… well sort of…

“Jesus calls us to a continuous life of service. Therefore, we choose to serve with love… one family at a time.” Source

I’m a missionary because I was sent to Amor, and on weekly basis I’m sent to Mexico to work, to speak, to know, to learn with families and pastors in the region. Because I’m in a mission to help bring development in the communities alongside people who seek to bring social justice .  And yes… to show the love of Jesus.

“But an apostle?”

I found this definition in Google,

The word apostle is derived from the Greek apostolos, meaning “one who is sent.” A modern-day apostle would typically function as a church planter—one who is sent out by the body of Christ to spread the gospel and establish new communities of believers.

But I don’t have a special background, training, knowledge, for this mission. All I have is my experience, my story, and the passion I have from what God has done in my heart.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul says :”For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all — yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Perhaps there is more to this calling than writing and letting people know about helping the needy.  In this calling I’m showing what amazing God I serve; The One who died for me and rose again to remind us that He has overcome to offer a relationship. The only response:  it’s love.

“Did you learn something today?” he said.

“Yes sir” I replied.

And he handed my documents back.

His Pursuit part 3…

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“How long do I have to wait?”

“It says here three to five minutes.”

“What does two lines mean again?”

Silence.

We ended up taking six tests. For an unmarried 18 year-old few things are scarier than the sight of two lines on a pregnancy test. He laughed (probably from the shock). I went cold, for I had made up my mind. After all, this was the United States and I knew where to find the nearest Planned Parenthood.

I had dreams to pursue. I liked this boy all right, but not enough to give up my entire life plan. Did I?

Life Intertwined 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

 Romans 8:28 (NIV)

As we talked about our “choices,” the phone rang. His mom called to inform him that the baby she was expecting had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18.  Meanwhile, Danny’s sister was also struggling to conceive after a series of miscarriages. The irony upset me .

Their mom was willing to stand behind her baby, despite a high-risk pregnancy and little statistical probabilities for survival, for life’s sake. She was living her faith in Love. I was living life in fear and selfishness. What about MY dreams?

As I’m typing this, my stomach turns inside out as I don’t even want to consider an alternative universe where my boy didn’t exist. He has the biggest heart and a brilliant mind. He is happy, funny and sweet. Everyone who knows him knows what a blessing he is to everyone around him. But more importantly, making the choice that he would live saved my life.

Danny’s youngest sister, Kelly Marie Murdock was born months later. Her short life had the purpose of showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice while giving an opportunity for their mother to witness in my life.

Danny’s youngest sister, Kelly Marie Murdock was born months later. Her short life had the purpose of showing me the meaning of love and sacrifice while giving an opportunity for their mother to witness in my life.

After the call, Danny dropped me home and told me to think about what  I wanted to do next.

The next day he took me to Mt. Helix and proposed in one knee presenting a small heart shaped ring. The gesture meant everything to me, important people had quit on me before. Yet, he didn’t want to run away, or even if he did, he was willing to face any challenge for his baby and me.

He was asking me to change my decision from whether I would have a baby or not to whether I would do it with him by my side. Looking into his eyes I knew he loved me, but I was afraid. I didn’t want to multiply into my mistake by getting married. We had nothing going for us. Even if I was not going to have an abortion, I could go home and raise the baby on my own, or perhaps consider adoption, like my big sister had recommended on the phone.

We were both young; we were going to be parents; we came from very broken homes; we didn’t even have similar views in politics and religion; he was heading to boot camp; I didn’t have a green card; we spoke different languages (although at this point most of our conversations were Franklin free); and the worst and the most painful thing: It meant I would leave my family, my country and everything I knew for good.

Marrying him meant abandoning everything for this man and my unknown child, and giving up the life that I wanted to have for the one we would create. I told him I would think about it.

I Do

In bed at night, the words of God “I will never leave you nor forsake you” echoed in my head. For the first time, I prayed with all my heart: crying, longing for answers, wanting to believe.

Why Trisomy 18?

Why the miscarriage?

Why me?

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5   (NIV)

Next day I paged Danny 1, 4, 3. (I love you).  He called me. I said a simple “I do.” “Pick you up at 8 to go to church?” he said. “Yes,” I said.

We had guilt written all over our faces, three days have passed since we found out we were going to be parents and we had not told anyone (except for my big sister who kept it a secret). Danny was excited to give the news to his family. I was terrified to call mine back home.

During worship I felt again the warmth and love that I felt during the service at the Baptist church four months ago.

Their pastor began speaking about faith and again I knew the message was directed at me:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” This verse from Ruth to her mother in Law is a common one read at Christian weddings, yet it was the first time I heard it.

It was a confirmation that God had indeed prompted me to say yes to Danny. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God,” my fears dissipated as He held me in His hands.

For the first time I had the confirmation He was after me, and I wanted to be caught. I invited Him in.

 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:13 (NIV)

 Joy

P.S. His pursuit for my whole self from that moment on became relentless, with the culmination several years later with my surrender. We did start with a tumultuous marriage. From the brink of divorce, he restored us and renewed time and time again our love and commitment to each other. He has been transforming us and I don’t believe He is ever done. In fact in the past two months since I started Journey to Amor he has taken us to new Mountaintops and accompanied us through some very dark valleys of doubt and fear as we take on new challenges and summit our finances and career choices to His will. But in Him we find truth. Only this weekend I received His Joy, an experience that I thought beyond my possibilities and faith. I’m extremely grateful for His unending love and His continuous grace.

This is me, this past weekend at a retreat. Joyful, full of the Holy Spirit. Thankful.

This is me, this past weekend at a retreat. Joyful, full of the Holy Spirit. Thankful.

His Pursuit part 2

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To share my experience meeting God or like we church folk like to call it, my testimony, has been intimidating. Most of the changes that happened in my life took place at the core of who I am. Those changes have led me to find peace. This is the second part of what I’ve called His Pursuit. 

I did not grow up in the church. Although like I mentioned before I was raised with customs and traditions of the Catholic Church, in my home rarely did we discussed things of the spirit. The idea of God had a more superstitious tint and I preferred more logical matters.

Why would then God be after me?

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 NIV

The experience at the church changed me profoundly. I was not ready to give my life to Jesus, but in my mind for the first time I accepted the possibility of the existence of a Supreme Being that not only created me, but also was seeking after me.

At around the same time, I met Danny. Danny was this very cute 18-year-old that simply swept me off my feet. Although we had nothing in common except for a strong attraction to each other, we began hanging out.

He invited me to his church (yes he was a friend of my “churchy” cousin).  And since the prospect of going to church with a guy I really liked sounded better than going back to attending Catholic mass, I joined him.

Again I had a hard time following the sermons at church, but it didn’t matter. Next to me stood a very cute boy who was crazy for me.  Then we would spend the rest of the day together. He would hang on every heavily accented word I would say. We talked for hours although mostly it was because it took hours to put a couple of sentences together reading them from our not always reliable Franklin translator.

If only we had Google translate in our phones back then (You new international couples don’t know how good you have it). But we didn’t even have cell phones. We paged each other and with that we created our own unique language.

He wanted to join the military to get money for school. I hated war, and distrusted American Interventionism. He read J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. I preferred Marquez and Kundera. He was a Christian boy. I was a Humanist. He was a “gringo” about to go to basic training. I was a Mexican girl with a looming expiration date in my Visa stamp. He liked Metallica. I was a Nirvana fan. Yet, we both enjoyed playing GoldenEye 007 in my cousins Nintendo 64.

And at that age, it was enough for each other. I fell in love with his laid back personality, he, with my fiery eyes (his words not mine). We laughed. We played. We attempted to dance.

But deep down I was mostly attracted to something that I could not put my finger on. It was not the sexual “je ne sais quoi” that makes you attracted to the unexpected and sometimes ugly guy (inside and out). If I had to give it a name it was an aura of goodness. The only other person I had met with this attractive energy was my best friend Katia back home, who was the only Christian I’ve met before coming to the States.

When he invited me to dinner with his family. They all had this energy. Maybe because I was not fluent in English, I was more aware of what people put out. Their intentions somehow became transparent. They were free. When I returned to my uncle’s home, I started noticing that everyone under his roof had it as well.

By no means were they perfect people. But for the first time I noticed that having God in your life meant peace, a contagious peace, and an attracting force beyond evangelical words. I began putting attention.

His Pursuit part 1

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A couple of weeks ago I was prompted to write “my testimony.” When I finished it, I immediately began questioning whether it served any purpose to the goals of this blog, and whether I wanted to get this personal. While my life prior my conversion was not outwardly messy, it was inwardly dark. So I’ve been sitting on my story for a while, but like many things in a faith led life sometimes you just have to obey and let God do the rest. If nothing else for freedom’s sake. So with much love here it is part of my story which I’ve divided it in three installments.  

About 13 years ago I came to United States. I spoke not a coherent word in English and I could barely put the words together to understand anyone trying to communicate with me.

I was living at my step-uncle’s house in Southern California. Although he is a Christian man he felt compelled to take me to a Catholic service on Sundays. Like he put it, I didn’t have to go to his church but I had to go to church. He assumed since I was Mexican, my faith was Catholic.

I never had the heart to tell him not only that I wasn’t a Christian, but also that I wasn’t a believer of any sorts. My heart had been hardened, a learned mechanism of protection from the loneliness, fear and the anger accumulated from my childhood. I became skeptical of anything but things I could see, hear and witness in the physical world. I didn’t need things of the heart or spirit for I had a sound and brilliant mind.

Skepticism was a form of life. Very early on I learned how religion was used to subjugate entire societies. I was an avid reader.  My morality: I believed in personal consequences, a loose understanding of karma, if you will, heaven and hell here on earth. The world, the universe was random chaos, no divine justice or intervention. Religions were lies given by churches, monasteries and mosques around the world to the weak-minded to control them, and I was not going to let anyone, or anything control my life or choose my destiny.

Because I was not ready to have those conversations with my uncle, more out of the fact that I could barely ask for salt at the dinner table, I began attending Catholic services on Sundays and it quickly became my weekly break from the English bombardment at home. It was a time for me to turn off my mind through the predictable movements of Mass, which despite being held in English I could follow: Kneel; stand up; Padre Nuestro (it has the exact same rhythm in both languages); now someone is going to read from the Book that I never put much attention, Credo, line up to eat the ostia (you don’t want to let everyone think you carry an unforgivable sin if you don’t partake), etc..

One Sunday morning, during my cousin’s leave after he graduated from Boot Camp, he invited me to join him with the rest of the family for a service at their Southern Baptist Church. That week I had been feeling particularly lonely and homesick so I decided to join them.

The first thing I noticed was the dozens of cute American “churchy” kids about my age. I joined them to their College group, which it was held in a classroom. It felt like Catechism class all over again, yet instead of stories of mythical gardens, giants and endless repetitions of prayers they were having a conversation in History, Theology and Geography. It went right over my head. I only sat there and smiled, with a little bit of pity for their little minds being brain washed while they felt so academic and important.

Then we went to the main sanctuary where for the first time in my life since I can remember my heart was stirred to be connected to something more, at that moment, God began His relentless pursuit for my heart. (I suspect the pursuit might’ve started long before, but my heart needed to be completely broken until I could let Him in).

My command of English was very limited; the only things I could watch in T.V. were reruns of “Friends” because I knew many of the episodes in Spanish. But during worship, for reasons I could not explain I began crying. Maybe I was tired, but I didn’t feel embarrassed to cry in front of everyone. No one minded. Then the pastor began speaking and I could understand every word. I heard the words as clear as any I have ever heard in my native language. It was freaky, but I figured the sermon was to be understood by the masses so the message had to be a simple one– one that I could understand.

Then I heard “for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6b) No sentence ever spoken before by anyone ever felt that personal. I knew he was speaking about the loneliness I was feeling at that moment. It was directed at me as if preceded by “Fabiola… For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” I can’t explain it: open ears, open heart. It was a promise for things yet to come. Then I felt warmth in my heart, literally like falling in love. 

When the service was over I didn’t share the experience with anyone and I was shocked when in the van on our way home, everyone’s voices became muffled. Their language undecipherable as usual, I wanted to demand them to speak with the speaker’s voice. “Enunciate,” like my uncle repeated it when I tried out his language in my mouth. Staring out of the window His promise “I will never leave you nor forsake you” began circling in my mind. Could it be true that the Creator of the Universe was after me?

Extreme heart/home Makeover 2007

2007 Amor trip, Danny and Chuck

2007 Amor trip, Danny and Chuck

The trip across the border was swift. My group consisted on a pretty diverse group of young and old people, married and single. We all had different reasons to be there. My reason: I thought it would be “cool” to help build a home for needy families, and I thought it could also be a good bonding time with my husband. My husband’s uncle also decided to come with us, as a baby Christian he was the probably the most excited of the bunch, taking the words of Jesus in Matthew 2534-36 very seriously.

 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.”

I remember I had my reservations about the ministry. I was not mature in my faith and was suspicious of any charity/evangelic effort. It felt cruel to swing bread in the face of starving people if they chose to follow Jesus. For the record, this is not at all how Armor works, but that’s how I imagine it.

As the token Mexican of the group I also didn’t want to be associated with the Mexicans, we were there to help. Not everyone in Mexico lives like that I wanted to tell them. While for Americans populations are broken into races and countries of origin, in Mexico it’s a class system whether most of us would admit it or not. Even though I was there to help I had a hidden sense of superiority and broken ideas of what it meant to be poor.

Tijuana-Tecate region

Tijuana-Tecate region

By the time, we arrived at the colloquially named Dump City in the Canyon between the old road Tecate-Tijuana, the lively conversations of dozens of short-temp missionaries stopped. We all simply stared at the desolation outside our window. It was incredible to think that less than an hour away from the comforts of home, plasmas TV, manicured lawns, shopping malls and the land of opportunity, a group of people survived off the trash collected from the old municipal Tijuana Landfill.

Because we were a one-day building team, as opposed to seasonal campers we were assigned to give the finishing touches to two homes. In the first one, we would pick up some tools and finish up with the cleaning efforts and in the second home we would stucco the outside walls.

We were there to do extreme home-makeovers, but I didn’t count on a heart-makeover, much more impressive than the homes built.

It was easy for me to judge poor families. I couldn’t comprehend why if they were so poor would they keep having so many children. Why would they not choose something better for themselves? In every child I was seeing the same repeated story: Children continually born under the same or worse circumstances than their predecessors, with no fault of their own destined to poverty.

One of the staff members at Amor shared with me that the original mission for Amor was to help children who ended up in orphanages after their parents could not look after them. However, the founders decided that empowering families and helping them stay together by building homes, the family could use their own resources to send their kids to school, they would get sick less often. In short, families that stayed together, grew together.

A group of girls gather to get their picture taken

A group of girls gathers to get their picture taken

At the first home, on a strip of land below the dump. I heard the testimony of a man who quit drinking after his wife began praying for him. He also had gotten a job and was sending his two daughters to school. The trash collected around the house was part of his livelihood as he would sell at a recycling plant nearby. He was very thankful that he not only had a roof over his head but a concrete floor on the ground for his loved ones.

Before Amor, his house did not have running water or indoor plumbing. During the rainy season, the dirt roads turned into mud rivers that would wash into the house. Many homes in the area were still shift made homes built with discarded pieces of wood and plastic and roof tarps. We could still see many of those homes. How would anyone be able to raise above that on their own?

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  2 Corinthians 5:17

The two girls in the center were getting their own bedroom

The two girls in the center were getting their own bedroom

By mid-morning my heart had begun changing. I started seeing the children as my own. Despite language barriers with some other members of the team, they also managed to share their love and gratitude. We were thankful, for the experience had not only taught us to appreciate what we had back home, but we were witnessing resilience that is born into the human spirit when shown love.

Poverty turns out is as physical as spiritual.

During the building process, all the work is done by hand. At Amor, volunteers don’t use power-tools to be more inclusive. Which it meant I was not above mixing concrete. I discovered it’s really hard work. I have much more appreciation to construction workers all over the world. No day at the gym has ever felt that good. I didn’t know I had it me, but that’s part of the incredible experience.

Towards the end of the day, I knew I wanted to be back, but life got in the way. Nevertheless, a seed was planted that took six years to sprout.

UPDATE: Since that trip, the old Landfill of Tijuana closed. Many families lost their incomes, while some found jobs in the maquiladoras, the area is still in dire need.

11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11 (ESV)

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=xrDRnwjZah0

1 (ESV

If you want to learn more about the work of Amor in Mexico visit http://www.amor.org/trips/locations/mexico

If you want to support my work with the organization,  please visit  https://www.amor.org/give/staff. Input my name in the comment box Fabiola Johnson. All donations are tax deductible.

God Size Dream

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be a writer. On sixth grade this dream was fed by a little bit of competition with one of my best friends and academic rival: Monica. By the time we were in Jr. High we even made a bet of who would win a Nobel Price or a Pulitzer. We were very young and naïve; But profoundly in love with Spanish literature.

We went to different high-schools and it was during this time that our dreams changed. I was to be a lawyer. It happened gradually as I began reading Plato and I found out I enjoyed the pursuit of truth and justice and crafting arguments. I still wanted to write, but also to be able to earn a living and keep my independence as a single woman.

At the end of high-school, I was admitted to law school and not just any law school, but to La Escuela Libre de Derecho, one of the most prestigious schools in Mexico. Still, at 17 I began having second thoughts, I was going through inside turmoil and insecurities of an adolescent carrying scars of a broken childhood. I didn’t feel prepared to take that new step. I was spinning without real direction.

My step-dad  and my mother encouraged me to spend a year with their relatives in United States. The plan was for me to learn English, and then return with a clearer vision of what I would do next. School would wait for me, while my acceptance letter guaranteed me a Visa.

 God is the Composer. Your life is His musical score. God is the Artist.

Your life is His canvas. God is the Architect. Your life is His blueprint. God is the Writer. You are His book.  Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle

 That trip altered forever the course of the life I had planned for my self.

It was in the United States that I became a Christian. Despite growing up with a Catholic background, I was a unapologetic agnostic veering towards full-on atheist. And it wasn’t that people didn’t share their faith with me before; my best friend is Christian and she tried (although she mostly focused on Catholic to Christian conversion when I wasn’t interested in either option). I believe I couldn’t hear because my ears were clogged with hate and resentment. I sensed that if I had survived  for so long,  it was up to me to make things better for myself. I wanted to believe I was intelligent enough and capable enough to work through whatever was sent my way and the idea of God seemed like a superstition that would only get on my way.

But Jesus pursued me, found me and changed me.  He created in me new dreams and new hopes.

I’ll share my testimony with more detail another time. Probably is worth noting I never went back to live in Mexico and I also didn’t ended up studying Law.

When I enrolled for the first time in College in the United States I had to take many English classes, only to be able to start taking College level classes. I still remember with amusement the face of my counselor when I said I wanted to major in Journalism. His job was to tell me that it was a really bad idea; perhaps I would be more interested in a Chicano Studies degree. In order to be admitted into the Journalism program at State, I would need to pass a nearly impossible test.

It wasn’t until the third attempt I passed such test. And kept onward. I graduated with a major in Journalism and a minor in Economics from SDSU– A small feat for many, a gargantuan for me.

After graduation I remember telling God, well thank you, I got it from here. At the same time He told me, give it to me. I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to understand. But a seed was planted that would take three years to germinate.

Like I’ve said before, I love journalism. It’s at the essence of me. I don’t discard a career in journalism, but for now God has given me a new dream. In retrospect He had been working early on at the heart of who I am, at the core of my talents and as I work to hone and acquire new skills He keeps prompting me. That’s why when the opportunity came with Amor I took it. I knew it was a God dream. And the dream has grown that now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

While I’ve not raised the monetary support I need to work with Amor, some doors have started to open up in that regard, and I pray more people decide to partner with me and believe in my calling within the organization.

In the meantime I am writing, again. For now even if the only story I have to share it’s mine, I’m writing. With each word my writing becomes more coherent, more full of faith. I’m discovering the voice He gave me, to use for the job He has ahead for me.

And I no longer want to be independent. I like living in interdependence with my husband, family and friends and to be completely dependent in Him.

As for Monica, she studied computer science and has written in the sidelines, poems, and short stories. She’s a mom of a beautiful daughter and has created a beautiful family and I’m sure in her way she’s living her dreams.