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Spreading Light by Inspiring Generosity


I follow a Facebook page called I Like Giving.  It was created to support a movement that began when Brad Formsma published a book by the same name.  I am a fan of this movement because it touches on the heart of what Se Luz is working towards–living generously.  The memes and stories posted on this page are meant to inspire others to act and live in ways that embody the fruit of the Spirit (that’s my claim, not the page admin’s).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

Living up to these qualities is no easy task.  Just ask ANYONE who has been on social media during this past election season (yes, I went there).  It takes grace to act with love towards your neighbor who advocates for policies that, when carried out, would have a negative impact on you or your loved ones.  It requires forbearance, gentleness, and self-control to engage with that person in meaningful conversation to shed light on a different perspective (and to learn about theirs).  Choosing joy and peace when so much of the future is uncertain is a spiritual discipline.  If we take the fruit of the Spirit as a package of traits that we Christ followers aspire to, the net result is generous living.

Like Mahatma Ghandi, I believe generosity has more to do with one’s attitude than with the capacity of their giving.  Too many people are hindered from generosity because they think they have nothing to give.  Yes, donating money is generosity.  But so is serving others, volunteering, making connections, using your special gifts to benefit others, listening, forgiving someone who’s hurt you, being considerate of others’ needs… I could go on all day.  Generosity is being in tune with what advantages you possess (time, talent, treasure, status), the needs of others, and how God is calling you to connect the two.  

The Bible’s New Testament (the OT does, too) provides many examples of what it looks like to live generously.  The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the poor widow (Mark 12:42), Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9), Jesus’ entire life (Gospels), the early church (Acts 2:45-47)… Furthermore, the book of James teaches us that it is not enough to simply believe in these principles, but that we must allow our faith to propel us toward action (James 2:14-26).

 Our Se Luz group in Guatemala have a special opportunity, right now, to inspire generosity in the Santiago community.  We recently learned about a family of orphaned (to AIDS) siblings (age 4-24), who’s home burned to the ground.  In response to a local radio station’s appeal for donations, several community members came together to raise $670 (Q5,000) to help this family.  That’s a pretty strong community response, considering the economic level of families in Santiago.  As an organization, we have a plan to leverage our position to encourage the community to give even more.  Publicly, Se Luz is committed to providing the manual labor needed to build a new home for this family, plus 50% of the material cost (total budget is $4,000).  Our hope is that this commitment will inspire more families and businesses to give what they can to help these siblings with their urgent need for a home.  Privately, we are willing and able to fund 100% of the project (and will do so if necessary), but we highly value and desire community collaboration.

Se Luz’ mission is to Bring the Light of Christ to Guatemala through Discipleship and Service.  Traditionally, the mission has been focused on our youth and their good works in the community via service projects.  In light of inspiring generosity (pun intended), our mission becomes a challenge to the broader community to shine the light of Christ through generous living.  For many reasons (cultural and historical contexts), this type of generosity is pretty radical for Guatemalans.  While hospitality is a clear strength in generosity for our Guatemalan friends, charity is an opportunity area for growth.  For ten years now, Se Luz youth have been modeling generous living; the time has come for us to invite others to do the same.

Today is #GivingTuesday.  We are inviting you to join us in our mission to shine Christ’s light in Guatemala–through discipleship, service, and also generosity.  In order to achieve our mission, we depend on YOU, our generous community to take action.  Please consider making a donation today, and spread the word about our important work!
Link for online donations:

STORM (Service to Others in Relational Ministry) camp and Pastor Dave Brown deserve credit for the formation of my thoughts on servanthood and generosity.  Bethel Seminary Master of Arts program in Community Ministry Leadership, and the ministry of Greg Meyer and Jacob’s Well have also helped me flesh this out.  Many thanks!


Reposting to test an email blast with mailchimo


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”–Chinese Philosopher Laozi

Se Luz is 10 years old this year.  It’s a milestone worth celebrating.  It’s also a moment worthy of reflection.  I first read the quote above after having made the ‘single step’ on this thousand mile journey.  I think the intent of the quote’s author was to inspire and empower people to take action, albeit small action (a single step), towards a dream.  For me, the quote wasn’t so much inspiring, as it was affirming.  ‘Yeah,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can relate’.

In 2005 I moved to Guatemala to chase a dream.  The move was one step, but before that was the first step–fundraising.  By sending friends and family letters laying out my vision and action plan, I was committing to the dream in a very tangible way.  I also set myself up for accountability with…

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“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”–Chinese Philosopher Laozi

Se Luz is 10 years old this year.  It’s a milestone worth celebrating.  It’s also a moment worthy of reflection.  I first read the quote above after having made the ‘single step’ on this thousand mile journey.  I think the intent of the quote’s author was to inspire and empower people to take action, albeit small action (a single step), towards a dream.  For me, the quote wasn’t so much inspiring, as it was affirming.  ‘Yeah,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can relate’.

In 2005 I moved to Guatemala to chase a dream.  The move was one step, but before that was the first step–fundraising.  By sending friends and family letters laying out my vision and action plan, I was committing to the dream in a very tangible way.  I also set myself up for accountability with those people.  As money and pledges started coming in, I realized, ‘now I have to do this’.  I had sworn myself to the thousand mile journey of Se Luz.

December 2006 is the official ‘birthdate’ of Se Luz.  For one week we had 25 youth staying in a hotel in Patzun, Chimaltenango, doing daily service projects at schools and churches.  Each night we had devotional time together.  Here we are, wearing shirts that proclaim ‘I Am a Light’:1918443_174663645364_1343188_n

In the 10 years that have followed, Se Luz has been my baby.  I love this ministry with my whole heart.  My love for Se Luz (the programs, community and leadership development initiatives, internal board practices, etc.) is only compounded when I realize how profoundly I love the people involved.  Like the very people smiling at you in this photo.

I don’t know about you, but when I love something or someone, I become it’s advocate.  I will defend it and strive to protect it’s most basic inherent value.  I make personal sacrifices to ensure it reaches it’s ultimate health and potential.  This is what I understand is the Jesus way to love.

Running parallel, though not entirely separate, with my Se Luz journey is my marriage to Felix.  We had been dating for a year when I made the move to Guatemala, and decided to have a long distance relationship during the 15 months I lived there.  I hope you can read between the lines and see the level of sacrifice we made for each other and for Se Luz in that decision.  Just 4 short months after moving home, Felix and I were married.  See:image

This month, we celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.  We are expecting our first child together in August.  It’s been a long wait for a (human) baby.  Everyone’s perspective is different on this subject, but to me it felt extra long because we waited not due to biological issues, but because of personal and relationship ones.  For a long time, I wondered if I hadn’t ultimately sacrificed the chance at having a human baby by choosing Se Luz as my baby.

I thank God that that was not the case.  We made the single step towards parenthood when we decided to try getting pregnant in September 2015, and by November 2015 our baby was conceived.  When I found out I was pregnant in December, I had a deja vu moment of ‘now I have to do this’.  I realized that I was finally on the thousand mile journey of being a mother to a human baby.

My first maternal sacrifice came shortly after that when I was presented with the problem of Zika virus carrying mosquitos being confirmed to have reached in Guatemala.  Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus run the risk of delivering babies with microcephaly, or underdeveloped brains/heads.  With our annual board trip planned, and my ticket purchased, I made the decision to bow out of the trip this year.

In the sense of making this decision to protect my human baby, it was an easy thing to do.  But from the ‘Se Luz is my baby’ perspective, it was a lot harder.  I have always had such an integral role on these trips (as the driver, schedule maker, interpreter, cultural liaison, and leader) that it was and is still hard to imagine staying home.

Processing the decision with my mom and other trusted friends, I came to the realization that stepping back and letting the show go on without myself being such a principle character would allow for others to step up and into different roles of leadership.  This is ultimately what is best for Se Luz.  Didn’t I say this already–making personal sacrifice to ensure the health and potential of the thing you love… It’s how we ought to love our babies.

So, yesterday I saw our team off at the airport.  Before leaving the house, my dad and I ran through the list of must-not-forget items.  ‘Show me your passport,’ I said.  He did.  ‘Show me your cash’.  He did.  ‘Show me your drivers license’.  He did, and replied, ‘This is like going to my first day of school’.  Haha.image1

Well, actually, yes.  In a sense, I am a doting mother sending my loved one off on his own into the world for the first time.  While the team is in Guatemala this week, I am home in MN.  I am not detached from what they are doing–I could never be–but I am also not the nucleus.  I am learning to let go, and trust in God that the plans that have been made, and the preparations put in place will result in stronger, healthier, more empowered ministry.  Praise God for the lesson!

Thanks for reading.  🙂
If you have a desire to send a baby gift, I want to encourage you to make a donation to Se Luz.  We will have enough stuff for the human baby (probably too much), and this would be a meaningful way to support both of my babies!  Here’s where you can give:
MAIL:  Se Luz Ministries, Inc. 4325 Zachary Ln N, Plymouth, MN 55442

Guatemala–land of Contrast and Irony

My hope for this blog entry is that the photos resonate with you more deeply than any words I could write.  They do need a bit of explanation, though, which you can find below.  I encourage you to look at the photos and meditate on them.  Ask yourself what story they are telling you.  Then ask God what your role is in this story–bystander, consumer, justice seeker, peacemaker, partner, problem solver, listener, (fill in the blank).

Photos 1 and 2:  The first is a picture of an actual dessert served to me at Antigua Guatemala’s fanciest restaurant.  (I could only afford dessert!)  While some Guatemalans’ food budget includes extravagant dessert, the reality for most is that they need help feeding their families.  The second is a picture of Se Luz youth Juan Culajay (whose own family has economic struggles) delivering a one-month’s supply of food staples to a grateful mother.  This was one of 30+ food baskets that Se Luz youth distributed in February of this year.

Photos 3 and 4:  Before and after (in reverse order) of a retaining wall and storage room project Se Luz built to serve this public school several years ago.  Unfortunately, the (then) mayor of Santiago tore the school down and promised to rebuild a better school on the site in an attempt to win votes in this years’ election (he lost).  Only the retaining wall, photos, and our youths’ memories remain of this project.  Whether or not the mayor chose this school to tear down to spite Se Luz is up for debate…But we do know that rather than celebrate our youths’ positive contribution to society, he resented Se Luz for the LIGHT that was shone on his corruption through the various projects we did that served public buildings/infrastructure.

Photo 5:  Gang graffiti over a sign that literally says ‘Welcome’.

Photo 6:  In contrast to the gang issue, this picture shows many young men working together to raise a wall of a home they built for a family that previously were squatters.

Photo 7:  Contrast in one photograph.  Despite the humble conditions of this woman’s home, the picture shows her big heart and hospitality as she cooks a meal for her guests.

Photo 8:  The great ruins of Tikal.  Probably the most iconic of Guatemala’s many beautiful landmarks (Antigua Guatemala and Lake Atitlan are also at the top of the list).  The contrast here is more aptly described as irony–because the park is so remote (it requires flight from Guatemala City), very few Guatemalan people have the opportunity to see these ruins in person.  It’s like a Minnesotan never seeing Lake Superior.

Photos 9 and 10:  Photo 9 shows a water line hooked up to the city water supply.  Se Luz youth dug a 400 meter trench and installed water access to benefit the 20+ families who live along the road.  Photo 10 shows the pila (sink) at the end of the water line, that the youth painted “Ministry Be Light”.  Again, maybe more irony than contrast, but Jesus is called both the Light of the World and also Living Water.  Here we have a juxtaposition of water and light–both giving testimony to the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Photo 11:  This one is metaphor.  The beginning phase of every construction project is to level the ground.  The region of Sacatepequez (Santiago) is hilly (it’s in the mountains).  Sometimes there are large rocks that need to be removed from the construction area, sometimes there are trees that need to be dug up and hauled away.  It is always the case that the land needs to be prepared.  As I was selecting photos for this blog, I was going through all of our projects and it hit me that there’s a picture just like this one for every project.  Aren’t our hearts exactly the same?  By God’s grace, God enters our heart and levels the ground before laying the foundation and building God’s house in there.  God shows us the rocks and trees that need to go.  I guess Methodists called this phenomenon prevenient grace, since it shows God working on us before the foundation is laid.  Taking the metaphor back to the families we serve–the ones who ultimately live in the houses we build–please join me in prayer that Se Luz’ effort and service to them is representative of God preparing their hearts for a new foundation, and also that our youth would be inspired to reflect on this Truth as they work the ground on each project.

What reflections have these photos provoked in you?  Would you be willing to share your thoughts in the comments?


Think back to January of 2013.  Can you remember things you did, or what your life was like just 34 months ago?  For most of us, especially us adults who work and have never-ending responsibilities that are not broken into season by school year or something similar, it is difficult to think of one vivid memory from January 2013.

That is not the case for Juan Culajay.

Juan is one member of a family of 9 orphaned siblings (to alcoholism), with an additional 3 (maybe more now) children of Juan’s older sisters.  In January 2013, there were 12 Culajay children living in one room, behind the family’s tortilleria (shop that sells hot fresh tortillas at meal times).  As if that were not shocking enough, there are two other details about the Culajay living situation that build upon the direness of their need for help.

  1.  Sure, the family was crammed into just one room, but add to that the fact that the wall shared with neighbors was two stories tall.  Elder Culajay siblings can remember a time when they had a second room upstairs.  Unfortunately, their parents’ alcoholism took priority over living space and they sold the second-story wood floorboards to fuel their vice.  Not only did this act take away a whole extra room, but created very unsafe conditions for living in the room that was left.  If you struggle to understand the problem, try to imagine a 20-foot cinderblock wall over not great footings, and with no support besides the floor and the roof.  Then add the fact that this house is in an earthquake zone.  Just a little rumbling could have made that wall come tumbling down.  I shudder at the thought of what could have been, and thank God that it never was.
  2. The Culajay family is visible.  Or, at least, they should have been.  Their home is near downtown Santiago.  There are businesses and other families on their street.  Across the street is a church.  Around the corner is City Hall.  During election cycles, political parties used the front wall of the Culajay’s home to promote themselves, without even a knock on the door to ask permission.  How could so many Santiago residents be blind to this family and their needs?  How?

Juan Culajay remembers January 2013 because that’s the month that Se Luz youth showed up at his home with building materials and lots of young volunteer workers.  He remembers January 2013 because that is when his life was transformed.

With a simple home remodel, The Culajay home became safer and larger by the addition of the second floor bedroom and porch.  Through the kind gesture of a friend to Se Luz, the family became better-equipped to provide for itself with the gift of a new tortilla stove/comal.  But the most transformational aspect of this January 2013 service project was that Juan and his brother Jose joined Se Luz as youth participants.

Before long, both Juan and Jose became Romeo’s right (and left?) hand.  Juan was also integrated into Romeo’s work crew.  Since January 2013, these two boys have had almost 100% attendance at Se Luz weekly meetings and monthly service projects.

This past summer, Juan was in an accident.  He was hit by a car while crossing the street, and broke his leg pretty badly.  It has been 5 months since the accident, and Juan is still homebound, his leg in a cast.  He’s getting restless.  He’s questioning God and why this accident happened to him.  He misses Se Luz meetings, and laments not being able to participate in the service projects.

Just last week, Juan told me how upset he was that he missed out on going with the group to Playa Grande, El Quiche.  I told him not to worry, because God willing Se Luz will continue to do service projects until there is no more need.  That could be a while.  **understatement**

This is a young man who loves being a part of Se Luz.  He is eager to get better so that he can re-engage in serving his neighbors.  He is counting down the days anticipating the return of the Board of Directors in April 2016.  He even asked me to teach him English so that he can interact with us more easily when we come.  **my heart swells**

I love Juan’s story.  I love it that I’ve had the privilege to see his transformation over an actually short period of time into a mature young man and Christian.  I love it that it’s not only me who is excited to see this change, but Romeo, the rest of the youth, all of you… and most importantly, God.

Guys, the work we’re doing with your help in Guatemala is really. good. work.  I hope you get that.  We are actually changing lives–and not just anonymous lives.. The people who’s lives Se Luz is changing have names and stories and bright futures.  We all are so grateful that you’ve chosen to partner with us to make these stories possible.  May God bless us all.

Going Deeper with Comfort Zones

Today, September 3rd, 2015, marks the 10-year anniversary of my move to Guatemala to start what we know now as Se Luz Ministries, Inc..  It was at once the best decision I’ve ever made, and the most difficult day of my life.  I admit, I cried myself to sleep my first night in Guatemala.  It was lonely.  I had boldly stepped out of my comfortable and predictable life, and firmly planted myself in the unknown.  It was scary.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d made a mistake.  Yet I knew that my decision was founded on a clear conviction of calling and faith in a great God.  Despite my loneliness and fears, God’s grace empowered me to understand that that date, September 3rd, 2005, marked the beginning of a great adventure.

My first blog on Comfort Zones didn’t satisfy my appetite for discussing this topic with you.  I keep thinking about Jesus’ interaction with regular folks in the gospels, and how he was constantly calling people out of their comfort zones.  Even way before Jesus, God was in the business of making people uncomfortable in order to be great.  God called Abraham to leave his family and go where God led him, God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt (which, if you re-read the story of the Exodus, you’ll see just how uncomfortable this made Moses), God had the prophets doing all sorts of crazy things (would you marry a prostitute, like Hosea?  willingly enter the lion’s den or burning furnace, like Daniel?  go naked and barefoot for 3 years, like Isaiah?). Coming back to my point about Jesus, let’s look at a couple of gospel examples of how this call played out:

  • Jesus call the first disciples (Luke 5).  A couple of fisherman are not catching anything.  Probably, their fathers and grandfathers were fisherman.  Boat life and fishing were their comforts.  Jesus called them out of the boat, away from their nets to follow him.  They did it, and they inspire us to do the same.
  • A rich young ruler asked Jesus how he could earn eternal life (Mark 10).  Jesus, testing him, told him to sell all of his possessions, give to the poor, then follow him.  The young ruler couldn’t bring himself to leave his comfort zone of wealth, and walked away a sad man.  Jesus used that interaction as an example of the negative power our comfort zones have over us.
  • Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  The simple act of talking with her drew her out of her comfort zone.  Through their conversation, she developed a kernel of faith, and because of her testimony, many believed.
  • Jesus called Zaccaeus down, out of the tree, and invited himself over to lunch at Zaccaeus’ house (Luke 19).  The result was an exaggeratedly generous episode of justice for those whom Zaccaeus had cheated as a tax-collector.
  • Jesus taught an expert in the law and the disciples that to be a neighbor to someone means to go out of your way to help them, sacrificing the time and expense necessary to meet a need (Luke 10).
  • Jesus taught that taking care of the least is equal to caring for Jesus himself (Matthew 25), and conversely, not doing so is equal to rejecting Jesus.
  • Who can forget the teaching of Jesus that we must take up our cross daily and follow him (Matthew 16).

Upon further reflection, isn’t the very act of ‘taking up our cross’–of dying to ourselves–just another way to describe leaving a comfort zone?  So then in order to identify your metaphorical cross, you’d need to know where the boundaries lie that form your comfort zone.  Most of us experience a comfort zone that is geographical and/or material.  Clearly, not everyone is going to pack their suitcases and move to Guatemala to test the theory.  😉  Leaving the zone of material comfort could be as simple as venturing into a new neighborhood to volunteer, or giving a warm greeting to the signer at the busy intersection.  Just as universal as the physical comforts of having things and security, are the emotional comforts of belonging and having value.  Have you considered what it would mean to leave that comfort zone?  A couple of times in the last week, I’ve read statements in social media along the lines of, ‘this opinion may be unpopular, but (states opinion)’.  These people, by declaring an “unpopular” opinion, are exploring outside their emotional comfort zone.  You might call this being vulnerable.  Try thinking of an issue that is important to you.  How likely are you to speak out about that issue, to educate others, or to put your beliefs into action?  If you hesitate, it’s probably because you struggle with leaving your comfort zone.  Today, I want to encourage you to try it.  Speak up.  Take action.  Your voice is unique and the world needs to hear it–no matter what is the topic.  Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself outside of your comfort zone…

And that’s good, because by the looks of it, that’s where all the great stuff happens.

Reflections on being LIGHT in darkness