Sunday, August 7, 2011

Good Ends and Beginnings

It's the same story every year. We begin our advertising for LST about four weeks before the initial information meeting. We have flyers printed and posted all over the city, with the biggest concentration on the university campuses. We depend a lot on word of mouth. We have never not had enough readers. Another way to say that would be we always get more than enough readers. So it's pretty silly of me to tell you that every single year, without fail, I panic. About two weeks before the information meeting I panic because we haven't gotten enough calls or emails. "This is the year," I think. "Someone who knows what we are doing and doesn't support it is ripping down our advertisements," I actually thought this time around. It's now part of the pre-LST routine for me to panic. It just wouldn't be the same without it. Except this year, God used my pre-LST panic to work in a fantastic way.

The week before the information meeting, in my pre-LST panic, I decided to put an ad in the newspaper. It would run for 7 days straight, up until the day of the information meeting. I got several calls from people who had seen our ad, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I finally became satisfied with the number of people confirmed for the info meeting. One of these people who had seen our ad was a woman named Thalita. When I talked to her on the phone, she had more questions than usual. She wanted to know why we were offering free English conversation with native speakers, what the connection was with the church, if it was a philanthropic effort, etc. Usually we try to not say too much over the phone before they come to the info meeting, so I assumed she would be one of those who "figured us out" before she ever got a chance to come see what LST was really about. I didn't have high hopes that I would ever actually meet Thalita.

The night of the information meeting I was finally able to put faces to names I had been hearing for weeks on the phone. The meeting had a great turnout, even after having been postponed 24-hours at the last minute due to the team's flight delays. At the end of the meeting someone brought me the phone and said "it's a reader, she's lost." Thalita had been wandering around our neighborhood, looking for our building for 40 minutes. It turned out she was on a street perpendicular to ours and wasn't very close. It was getting late, and I felt terrible for her having spent such a long time trying to find us, so I told her to just go home and I'd guarantee a spot in the program for her if she called me the next day. "No," she said, "tell me how to get there from here. I really want to go." So I did.

Thalita walked in a few minutes later, just as the last readers were getting ready to leave. I took her to a table with an LST worker and sat down, explaining how the program works. She stopped me and said, "before you go on, may I say something?" "Um...sure..." I said. She went on to explain that she had been a Christian many years ago, but had spent the last several years of her life far from God and dabbling in other religions and spiritualities. She had begun to see the bad effect these practices were having on her life, and had made a decision that if God still wanted her she would consider going back to him. According to Thalita, when she called about the ad in the newspaper and I told her that LST operated out of a church, she knew this was God giving her a second chance. "So," she finished, "I just want you to know that I'm here for God, I'm not here for English." I sat there, probably with my mouth hanging open, looking back and forth between Thalita and Kalie, the LST worker. "Did you know you would be studying the Bible in these classes?" I asked. A big smile came across her face, "No."

What transpired over the next few days can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. I invited her to church, she actually came. Some very evident evil influences in her life disappeared. I watched her transform emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Whereas on the first night I met her, her eyes seemed empty and hollow, days later they were full of joy and life. She would come early and stay late after her reading sessions and we began to form a fantastic friendship.

A week or so later she and I sat down to study the Bible together. Because of her background in Christianity she already knew that she wanted to be baptized, and knew exactly why, what for, etc. (Basically our Bible studies were her telling me things and me confirming them...haha.) But she didn't want to be baptized just yet. "I see baptism like a marriage," she told me. "I think I want to date a little more." So we continued to study together and talk for hours before and after her reading sessions.

The week before FriendsCamp, Thalita's LST worker, Aimee, and I had decided we were going to talk to her more directly about her baptism. After 6 weeks of thinking and praying about it, we wanted to ask what she was waiting for. So the day we were all geared up to both approach her about it in our next conversations, Thalita walked into her reading session with Aimee and said "Do you think it would be ok if I was baptized at FriendsCamp this weekend?" Um...YEAH!!!!

FriendsCamp walking to the lake

So there we had it. The perfect activity for our Saturday afternoon at FriendsCamp. The rain, that did not let up the entire weekend, let up just enough for all 50 of us to make the 5-minute trek to the lake for Thalita's baptism.

Thalita and one of the LST workers

Fifteen other LST readers witnessed Thalita making this expression of faith, and many of them asked questions afterward about her decision. It was The. Best. Day.

Roberto and Osmildo with Thalita

Thalita has been very vocal about all of the many ways she has seen God working in her life, starting with the day she saw the newspaper advertisement. She is an elementary school teacher but been unemployed for a while. She attributes her new job and the many other opportunities coming her way to God's faithfulness. As soon as she was baptized, she commented on the fact that she had just been baptized in the lake called Bonfim. In Portuguese, Bonfim means "good end." "This is definitely a good end," she said. I'd say it's a pretty good beginning, too.


paul said...

Awesome! Praise God!

Anonymous said...

We feel so blessed to have been able to witness this whole process unfold with Thalita while we were there, Cris! It was amazing to see God use you and many others to minister to her. We're praying for her. Love, Dad & Mom

Cyndi said...

My heart feels like it is in my throat and I am fighting back tears as I read this. Thank you for sharing this story and thank you for what you are doing!

Hi, I'm Deanna. said...

So exciting Cris! I love stories like this. You are doing an amazing job!

Debora Mariano said...

Cris, you just got me crying with this post. But tears of happiness, I may say. I'm happy that Thalita found her way to the church that day and everything that came w/ that.

I really just hope someday I will be able to dedicate myself to God as you and Thalita do. :)

Debora Mariano

Andrew Hill said...

Praising with you all!