Right now we have just entered into the darkest time of the year for my city that I am living in here in the Dominican Republic.
There is a tradition that started long ago in Italy. In catholicism the month before Easter is called “Lent” where individuals fast in different manners and prepare and cleanse themselves for the holiday and celebration. Well, I don’t know who it was, but someone over there across the ocean thought that it was a brilliant idea to essentially have a “month with the devil” where whatever the flesh desired is permissible to partake of until the following month of lent where they would make themselves "clean" again after all the indulgence and sin.
This tradition has crossed into many different countries that are predominantly latino and of catholic roots and has landed itself here in the Dominican Republic as well. My city is known for its Carnaval celebration and there is an increase of abuse in alcohol intake, drugs, sex, prostitution and anything else destructive against the body and spirit that you can imagine. Individuals can be seen dressing up as little devils and parading around town, others choose to make large whips with spike balls at the end of them and hit attenders while they are walking by.
Many join out of ignorance, not realizing the evil that is permitted to take place but for the rest of the city there is a heaviness, a call for action, and those that recognize what Carnaval truly is stay away. Because its so much more than what is happening in the seen as what is happening in the unseen that permits Satan to begin destroying the interworkings of an entire city, across several communities.
In regards to New Hope, lately the war has been raging greater than ever within our girls house. I have felt this weight upon me, a crushing weight that has felt as if I’ve been tormented unlike I ever have before. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is when it comes upon suddenly but it is manifested in different ways. There are times when I have allowed the storm to crowd out what my Spirit truly knows... That the battle isn’t of flesh and blood but rather against the evilness, the principalities, the works/plans/attempts that the enemy throws at us to steer us away from what God is TRULY doing in the midst of it all.
When my focus is drawn away from my calling I’m bought out of a joy that God promises me, what He has already given me have, that which is truly mine. Yes there have been so many moments where I am wondering, questioning, asking God...... “Why me!!!??? Why do I have to exist in the midst of this darkness?!! What is it that you would have ME do?!” I feel this loneliness because in the barrio I struggle to stand in my purposes when it feels as though the whole world is going a different way.
But still... The Lord reminds me I am not alone.
The other day I was really at my lowest. So many times I had thought that maybe I was done, maybe this was it for me, or this was never really the will of God all along in my life... But they have always passed, peace has always come, affirmation and confirmation make their way back into my doubting heart.
But this time it felt different. I mean it really felt like it could have all been over. The moment where lies become your truth and the only way to know what you can really trust and believe as God’s will and voice is if someone speaks it over you.
And that’s just what happened.
He provided the words... and they didn’t come from within, because I wasn’t able to hear them with all the voices that were drowning out His words of life... They came from a different source, the source of another fountain of life that had readied the truth and prepared to deliver it in hopes to still and calm my distressed and aching soul.
We sat there.
Me and two other women from New Hope. The leaders, the founders, the ones who are over the interworkings of New Hope and more.
And what did they do? They sorted out the truth from the lies right before me.
They reminded me that I AM THE LIGHT because GOD IS THE LIGHT. That HE IS IN ME and I bear WITNESS to THE WORLD of who the LIGHT is just like Jesus did Himself.
They helped me to see that it just can’t be surprising that this thick darkness continues to come pounding on my chest, shaking me and stealing away my purpose and joy because I am such an easy target. Now I don’t want to speak spiritual warfare over my life, I don’t want to have a victim mindset, but I will tell you that this is the most I have ever experienced before for consecutive days and months and the darkness and evil and principalities that Satan sends and conceives are more real to me than ever before.
And as we prayed and spoke the truth over ourselves in our distress, in our concern, and cried for justice and breakthrough OH... Did peace come.
And I had to go back to it. Later that afternoon I sat myself in His presence... Seeking out the truth for myself... Writing it down, speaking it out loud, reading it in my bible...
Because if God says that I WON’T BE SHAKEN, I want to live unshakable.
If God tells me that HE HIMSELF IS MY PEACE, I want to have full access.
If God tells me that WHEN HE IS WITH ME NO ONE CAN BE AGAINST ME, I want to live victoriously.
Because if God tells me to REJOICE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, I want to sing in shouts of praise even if I have to through my tears and cries for deliverance.
And you know what God did in the days that followed? He gave me what He knew my soul needed. He led me to Himself through the strongest language of love that I hold so close to me in this life.
WORSHIP in SONG and INTERCESSION through PRAYER.
If you know me, you know that I would choose I worship night and time of spontaneous prayer and song over just about ANYTHING. And on Thursday night, not only did my friend and I begin leading a worship time at our church meeting like we normally do, but the Lord also brought in a group of Americans to visit us from Pennyslvania that came do to worship and prayer ministry for a week here in the Dominican Republic.
And they led us in THREE HOURS of true, untamed, Spirit-filled praise... The most beautiful time that I have experienced since I have been here.
And what God told me that night was something that I realize I needed to take back for myself, something that I need to claim every moment of every day...
The Joy He promises. The Joy that ALWAYS has my name on it.
Instead of crying like I had for the last few days, prostrated before the Lord, pleading out for deliverance from my suffering, exhaustion, and the darkness that continued to linger and lurch any chance it could... He made me smile, He made me laugh, He made me cry tears of JOY and I believed in His power, His truth, His purposes and sweet freedom.
Then the next day came... And God spoke to me when I woke up. Yes, I felt so full from the night before, but the Lord reminded me that I have to continue to be FILLED with the truth and POWER of the Holy Spirit... I can’t let me guard down because if I do I will just be destroyed when I start to recognize and be pushed and bruised by the storm that continues. And so during our devotional time before we start school He led me into another two hours of prayer and worship time with the girls and staff the next morning... More joy, more freedom, more praise and promise. Then hours later on that very same day I received even MORE as the same worship group from the night before at my church led a worship time at a park in our city and we were ministered and ushered yet again into the presence of a VERY REAL God. The one who is in the business of restoration, reconciliation, rebirth and relationship.
And as God has continued to encourage me I recognize how the Lord sees me and knows me. He knows the interworkings of my heart. He sees my hurts and tenderness and wants to fill me up again with His presence so that I can be the fountain of life and truth that He has made me to me. Because....
The truth is....
The person that I am is the person that HE IS.
And that comes with incredible POWER and PURPOSE.
So, as Carnaval has been approaching so has another set of events as well. Because every Sunday afternoon and evening there are Carnaval celebrations on almost every street in the city, there was born an event called Unidos por El which in english is called “United for Him.” It is a time where Christians from all over the city come together to worship, pray, dance, celebrate, eat, and join together in the presence of our God who deserves all the glory and is the ONLY ONE worthy of our praise, attention, bodies, hearts, minds, souls.
Our first event was this past Sunday and I had the pleasure of helping with children’s activities, being a photographer, as well as spending time with my girls who came along with me. It was such an incredible time because all the girls have known their who lives during the month of February has been Carnaval. Most all their family's go, bring/expose them to the madness, and unfortunately it is always something that they are taught to look forward to.
I have been DETERMINED that none would have the opportunity to go this year. It wasn’t without resistance... But, all of them who were in our care this weekend ended up going to United for Him and it gave me such a sense of relief and peace on their behalf.
It is never easy to see children craving that of which will end up destroying them in the end. It is difficult to have to convince a child that Jesus is BETTER than what they could ever encounter on the streets, even in their own homes... It is difficult when you know that they know what is good and righteous and holy but still there is such a strong battle and craving for what the flesh wants that many times seems to be without relent.
But to see these girls... Dancing, worshipping, pushing themselves to the front of the stage and celebrating their King... It was something that I will never ever forget.
One of our favorite artists sang at the event. Her name is Isabelle and we love her music and listen to it almost daily. With each of the songs that she sang I always had a little one on my shoulders and switched them out every time she began playing something new. It was as if I was presenting them to the Lord, bringing them TO HIM, and saying, “Here you go Jesus!! Here is your child!!! I brought her here, I’m bringing her before you, and she will know your Name and worship it.”
Please be praying for us that we would be able to stand in the gap for these girls, their families, our city and this nation in this present darkness. Please pray for me that the Lord would speak triumph and purpose over my life. As I have cried out He has continued to provide me with more worship that has made sense of the chaos that continues to ensue and what the true meaning behind it all is. This song posted below by United Pursuit is one that I continue to have repeat (and am even listening to right now) to remind me of all that is worth fighting for. It is called “Take Back.”