Grace For the Hard Seasons of Life by Joel McGee
Here in Nauta, where we are 4° south of the equator, there are only two seasons: the “not so rainy season” and the “much heavier rainy season.” Both are hot and humid. And because the seasons are so similar, it’s a challenge for me to distinguish between the different times of the year. December feels much the same as July, and, as a result, I’m caught off guard when I see the stores filling up with Christmas decorations and fake Christmas trees or when I see the random guy dressed as Santa Claus wandering the streets.
In spite of this, the seasons still come and go. It seems hard to believe, but October first marked the end of our fifth year living full-time in Nauta, Peru. I want to say that this has been the best season of our lives, but that certainly wouldn’t be true. I’m not even confident I could say that it has come anywhere close to being our best season. In truth, these have been the hardest fought five years of our lives. We’ve had some bad, hard days…like the day we realized the house we had bought was termite eaten and too dangerous to live in, and that it needed to be torn down and rebuilt…or the day Amy broke her little toe (at a 90° angle to her foot! Ouch!)…or the day I sunk our boat at the port. I could go on and on with stories of these “bad” days. Of course, we have certainly had good days, also, but I will hold firm to the fact that in the beginning years there certainly were more bad days than good. And it’s only by God’s grace that we’ve managed to hang on.
A few months back, a good friend, encourager, and mentor made his annual trip to visit us in Nauta. We were discussing the ministry and our family and all we had been through during our five years here. This friend has a way of saying some simple, but profound things, words that usually resonate deeply with me. During our conversation, he said, “You know, Joel, there is never growth without pain.”
When going through difficulties, a person’s heart can become hard. But for me, difficulties have had the opposite result. I have grown spiritually through these hard times. God has shown me grace, so much grace, during this season of my life. And the pain has softened my heart in areas that used to be hard.
I find it ironic that we expect God to give us grace time and time again, but we rarely, if ever, extend this same amount of grace to our brothers or sisters. We all have our bad days, even our bad seasons. And we each need grace and strength to endure, grace from God and from each other. So today, let’s pray about how we might be able to give grace to someone. That grace is so needed!
Ministry Update from Joel McGee
I continue to work on, and develop, my “technical” training program with the focus on three different areas: 1-mechanical repair, 2-welding and metal fabrication, and 3- carpentry/house construction, and home electrical. I am currently doing mechanical repair training with one part-time student, as well as with Carmen. We are in the process of building a motorcar that will be used for racing the local race track. This is a great “hands-on” learning experience and a way to bring God’s love into an area that is extremely dark spiritually.
When Amy, Carmen, and I last returned to Nauta from the US, we brought with us 13 recurve and 2 compound archery bows, as well as arrows and targets. We are hoping to bring an archery program into the local schools as a means of teaching those skills and of sharing the love of God. We’re also in the process of training some of the youth at our church to teach others and to use archery as an outreach. So far, Amy and I have been invited to teach archery to kids at two camps during their summer break.
|Joel instructing a young woman|
|Archery lessons in progress|
Amy has partnered with Laura, another missionary who lives here in Nauta, to help teach English to students enrolled in the tourism program at the local community college. Once a week, they also have a class to help the local Peruvian English teachers polish up their English.
Besides continuing to be extremely involved in the local church here in Nauta, Carmen trains in Judo 3 times a week. She has also joined a co-op of other homeschooled missionary kids. They meet in Iquitos each Tuesday, and as students must have a parent attend with them, Amy usually goes. It’s a long day for them, as they have to leave Nauta no later than 6 AM to make it to class by 8 AM.
|Carmen with her co-op|
HOW WE’RE PARTNERING:
We continue to partner, side by side, with many different ministries working here in the jungle.
Laura had a grand vision of delivering one hour of water two times/day to the neighborhood where she lives but, for various reasons, had some difficulties achieving it. I was able to use some of my resources to do a bit of “re-design” work. I enjoy working on these types of projects, especially when the bulk of the work has already been done. With a few tweaks here and there, we were able to help her reach her goal. A huge thank you to God, and to Laura, because the benefits that clean water is bringing to this neighborhood are enormous.
We continue to work alongside the cofraternity of pastors in the river communities. We recently attended the second anniversary of the Monte de Sinai church, which is the new church that Abram has started in Santa Rita. It is so encouraging to watch him grow this church and love the people in his community. He has such a big, open heart for sharing the love of God in the villages. The cofraternity has several outreach events planned for the coming year. Francisco, as president, continues to try to organize the members, which is a slow process in this culture. He is trying to encourage inactive members to either become more active or else separate from the group.
|At the anniversary celebration in Santa Rita|
|Abram walking a bride up the aisle at the
This year we partnered with Pastor William and his sports outreach ministry. In particular, we invested in his quite successful, and growing, Judo training program, which I believe is an excellent opportunity for the youth here in Nauta. Pastor William belongs to a Judo club from Lima and has always had the desire to hold competitions here in Nauta, where he’s been training youth in Judo for many years. He has not been able to do this, though, because he has never had a regulation size dojo with regulation size mats. This past year JungleMaster was able to help him purchase the mats and renovate the current dojo to make this a possibility.
|Judo lessons in session|
|Using Judo as an outreach|
God has also brought JungleMaster alongside Rocio Ricopa, a local woman who has a heart for children and children’s ministries. Along with several others, Rocio has started a program that serves the kids here in Nauta. They do a two hour session every Saturday morning, engaging the children in fun activities and teaching them about God. She desires to better serve the children by getting a degree in elementary education, and, through your faithful prayers and donations, JungleMaster Ministries has been able to assist with her online studies to reach that goal. As she has been attending classes and learning about child development Rocio is seeing that many children here in the jungle miss critical cognitive stages of development. As a result, she has created a twice-weekly movement program for children ages 3-6 in the church to help them develop their motor skills while learning about God. It’s amazing to watch how God is using Rocio in her community to give these children strong foundational truth in God.
Please pray for the two upcoming archery camps.
Pray that the kids who attend the camps will experience the joy of Christ.
Please pray for Amy and Laura as they teach an upcoming month-long intensive English course in February.
Pray, also, for the students who will be attending that class.
Please pray for protection and guidance for Francisco and Abram, the leaders of the cofraternity.
Please pray for encouragement for Joel and Amy as they serve God in the jungle.
Please pray that God will bring people alongside them who have the desire to join them in the work.
JOEL, WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE THIS MINISTRY? by Joel McGee
For the first two years after becoming the director of JungleMaster Ministries, I felt God telling me to move slowly, to rest in Him, and to wait for Him to lead me. But early in 2018, God started to speak to me with a different theme: “I have entrusted you with this ministry, Joel. Now where are YOU going to take it?“ I really didn’t have an answer for this question at the time. But it led me to start asking myself, “What kind of future does JungleMaster Ministries have?” and “What will the organization look like?”
After a lot of thinking and praying, I realized one thing. JungleMaster Ministries has always had a somewhat short-term, project-based mentality. There was nothing wrong with that, but was it still the right strategy, now that Amy, Carmen, and I were living full-time in the Amazon?
The more I prayed about where I was going to take JungleMaster, and the more Amy and I talked about it, the clearer it became that it was time to change the mentality, time to stop thinking short-term and change to a long-term focus. I am learning that to make disciples it takes relationships. It takes loving people the way Jesus commands us to and being the examples He calls us to be. Mentoring pastors and leaders is no short term project, especially when it is being done cross culturally! I’m sure glad God never thought of me as a short term project!
So, what steps will we need to take in order to make this switch to long-term thinking? At a retreat with the JungleMaster Board in January we discussed this in great detail, and we agreed to do the following things: 1) Make some modifications to the mission house to make it more livable. 2) Make some minor organizational changes State-side related to having a full-time paid director who is also our on-the-ground missionary. 3) Consider putting certain organizational or structural things in place in Peru so that, if and when the McGees are called off the field, JungleMaster’s work will continue in a sound and accountable way.
|Joel has recently tiled the concrete countertops of the
mission house kitchen in order to make them more
Even more importantly, I’ll need to work hard to maintain correct priorities. My relationship with Christ is the most important part of my life. Next is my relationship with my wife and the job of leading my family. Then comes my relationship with, and my ministry to, the community I’m in. Keeping my responsibilities in line is an important part of modeling the Christian life for those I’m ministering to and also makes the work I have to “do” or get to “do” a bit easier and more enjoyable.
So, now that we’re thinking long-term and recognizing that we need to focus on developing relationships out of the hope, peace, and love we have with Christ in order to successfully do ministry, what are the pillars of that ministry? What has God gifted JungleMaster to do? Well, there are a couple ways that I feel God has truly gifted us: 1) The ability to partner strategically and help others connect and 2) our mechanical abilities and resources.
|JungleMaster has assisted Jared, a Peruvian youth
sports ministry in numerous ways. JungleMaster
transported Jared staff to Santa Rita for 2 days of
training with this group of kids.
It’s foolish to think that JungleMaster would be able to fill all the needs that people have. We are building relationships with other ministries and NGO’s working in the area to find out what they are offering and what they are teaching, and we are building relationships with the people to learn their true needs. With this kind of mindset, I often find that I can connect Peruvians with organizations that are specializing in the kind of training that they need. This frees JungleMaster up to do what we are gifted at doing. I think you get the idea. For me, it’s the old adage, “Why reinvent the wheel?” If I know of an organization that offers good, sound, biblical training, and someone I know wants to get good, sound, biblical training, why wouldn’t I connect the two of them? JungleMaster is also really good at connecting people from the States with places in the Amazon where their talents can be best used. Connecting needs with the people and ministries that are able to fill those needs is so fun and exciting, and it truly feels like how the body of Christ should be working.
|Joel is developing a course in
basic mechanics. His daughter,
Carmen, and their friend, Luis,
are among his first students.
JungleMaster is also gifted technically. We have a boat and the operational skills needed to be of great use transporting locals or mission teams up and down the Amazon, Marañon and Ucayale Rivers. And due to my mechanical background, we have an amazing opportunity to teach mechanical skills to people that live in a small engine world. This technical training is one of the things that I have felt God has us here for. I’m currently working on developing a program to teach the locals practical skills related to small engines. The focus of the program won’t always be on preparing individuals to obtain a career in the field, although in some cases, this could be the result. Rather, the training will focus on dealing with every-day scenarios such as what to do when you have the family in the canoe five hours downstream from your house and the motor dies. This training will also have a focus on safety.
|Joel teaching some of the local
youth the basics of peque peque
As JungleMaster moves forward with this long-term mentality and with a focus on building relationships in order to make, and train others to make, disciples in the Amazon, look for us to concentrate our major efforts on these two areas that have become the pillars of our ministry: building strategic partnerships and providing technical training.
ADOPTING A HEALTHIER MINDSET by Joel McGee
Besides being the wrong strategy for JungleMaster at this point, there is another important reason to start thinking long-term. Not having long-term goals can be dangerous for marriages and families. For Amy and me, it’s meant our life in Nauta has been lived like this: “We can push through the next two years because we know we’ll return to Bellingham after that, and life will get back to normal.” Things that needed to be finished in the mission house, and furniture that we needed, got skipped over due to the thinking, “Well, we’re only here for two years, so why do we need to be comfortable?”
In order to be healthy in the long-term, we need to start adopting a long-term mentality. Our thoughts need to become: “This IS our normal. So, what do we need to put into place today to MAKE this our normal, and what do we need to do today to ensure that our future will be successful, also?”
Because of this desire to prepare for the long-term, Joel has recently been making much-need improvements to our mission house:
|He has replaced rotten wooden supports with
sturdy concrete ones like the one on the right.
|The front door has been replaced.|
|In addition to tiling the kitchen countertops,
Joel has also tiled the floors.
|Joel has replaced the former wooden ramp spanning the
drainage ditch in front of the house with one made of concrete.
WHAT IS MY MINISTRY? by Joel McGee
I used to think that “doing” ministry was something that I “did.” I now know doing ministry is being the best example I can as I live out my daily life.
Ministry is about relationship. It’s about loving our neighbor as Jesus commanded each and every one of us to do. Most of the time people just want a friend to listen to them, walk with them, and be with them, someone they can talk to. It’s during these times I can be the example Jesus calls me to be and love them the way he commands us to love.
God keeps coming after me even though I fall short daily. He loves me, and there is nothing I can do to get more love from him or less love from him. All I had to do was accept the gift that he offers to every one of us. There is such freedom in this! Amen.
JungleMaster is going to be in Peru until God lets us know it’s time to do something different. Until then, I am called to be a disciple maker, and I am commanded to love people by sharing this gift of God’s love with them.
- For groups or individuals who will commit to praying for and with the McGees
- For mature Christian couples to mentor the McGees and reach out to them on a monthly basis
- For safety, health, and strength for the McGee family
- For God to raise up more missionaries (individuals and families) to join the work in Nauta and on the rivers
- For the local Peruvian pastors to stay encouraged and to desire to work in unity
- That God will raise up strong leaders who desire to lead their villages and communities to God
- For the chains of corruption to be broken
- For the locals to experience the true peace that comes from having a relationship with Jesus Christ
The past two weeks we have been replacing the posts to our house. Last year Joel replaced the back 5 posts and now we are replacing the front 5 posts. They were rotten through and we are having them replaced with concrete posts. Its been quite the project; very messy and having big holes in our walls and floor. For me it’s a very interesting process to watch. The other day I was taking pictures and giving thanks to God for being able to do this work and have a strong foundation. This morning I woke up with this on my heart…what it means to have a strong foundation. You know where I’m going with this, right? The bible talks in Matthew and Luke about the importance of building a strong foundation so that our “house” will not fall and will withstand the storms that come. And, in Isaiah, God declares He laid a stone of sure foundation. Maybe you even sang the kid’s song about the wise man building his house upon the rock. But, what I realized wasn’t this lesson that I learned and that I am trying to teach my daughter and sharing here in Peru with the young children that visit our house and we see in our ministry. No, what I realized was the magnitude of God’s love and grace for us. Because you see, like this house, many of us maybe didn’t start out with the best foundation. But, God’s grace and mercy and gift to us through Jesus Christ allow us to go back and replace that rotten foundation with one that will stand firm. God’s love and word is the surest foundation. He is there just waiting for us to accept the gift we have in Jesus Christ. And, like our house project… it will be messy! It’s hard work digging out the root of that old foundation that can only be filled by Jesus. But, when it’s done the assurance and faith that remains will be forever strong.
Acts 4:11 “Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.”
The good news: Jesus has risen and we are forgiven!