Yes. You read that title correctly. So many times we get asked the question, “What defines you?” What is it that makes you who you are? Can you think of five of your most defining moments?” But, what if we were to ask a slightly deeper question? “What refines you?” What is it that makes you a better version of you? What irons out your blemishes? What tests you and helps you come out different on the other side? We have discovered in the past year, that for us, the answer would be sand and wind.
We live in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which many have lovingly nicknamed Sandy Cruz. Every afternoon we work at the Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) Tutoring Center. We work with the children in an open-air meeting area, with a high tin roof and partial walls on three sides. The lot where the center is located is still under construction and therefore full of dirt and sand, not to mention the sandy roads that surround us. There are, therefore, many days when we have to battle against the elements (wind, sand, sun, and rain). It is really quite difficult to accurately describe the extreme force of Santa Cruz winds and the large amounts of sand that blow in. Let me try and set the scene for you.
You arrive at the center on an especially windy day to set everything up before children arrive. Before you can start, however, you have to sweep out the piles of sand that have blown in overnight. As you begin to set up the tables, chairs, and supplies, you are almost physically lifted off the ground and into flight with a six-foot white plastic table in each arm serving as your wings. All the while you are trying to keep the sand out of your eyes and your skin is being “exfoliated” by nature’s sand blaster. The children start to arrive and you sit down with a fourth grader to tackle some mathematics homework. It proves to be difficult however, as his papers start flying all over, you begin to feel the grit all over the table, and you struggle to speak and hear (in your second language) over the sound of the strong winds sweeping through and/or the hard rain pounding on the large tin roof. You start to feel the frustration building up inside of you, wondering how you are supposed to accomplish anything worthwhile in surroundings like this. As you get up to chase yet another piece of paper that is flying away, a still small voice pierces through. “Stop. Take a moment. Breathe. These kids look up to you. You may be the only glimpse of Christ they see today. What type of Jesus will you show them? Will they see a person who is angered by their surroundings or a person who is able to find joy in the midst of frustration?”
In Isaiah 48:10 we read, “See I have refined you, though not as silver, I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” The words here are a bit strong. We would never refer to New Hope Tutoring Center as our “furnace of affliction”; it is a vision that God put on our hearts, a place where we have devoted our whole selves and where we enjoy serving and working. We have discovered however, that it is also a place where God often plans to do His best refining in our lives; not through fire but through sand and wind. We are continually amazed at the refining moments that God has given us during our three years of ministry with these elementary school age kids. We have learned so much of who God is, who He desires us to be, and the ways in which He wants us to serve. One of the biggest lessons has been that what we are doing is far more important than the environment in which we are doing it. The opportunity we have to reach into the lives of these children and help them have a more complete education and an opportunity to hear about Christ brings so much joy. Whether the table is clean or gritty makes no difference.
Sand is made up of millions of little particles that put together can be a brutal force. In the same way, it is very easy to feel bombarded in our daily walk when it feels like a million little struggles, temptations, and frustrations are stealing our attention and taking our eyes off of Christ. Yet refining is a process made up of many significant moments and can only happen when we purposefully choose to fix our gaze on Christ and continually step into those difficult yet ultimately rewarding situations. It isn’t always easy but we pray that with God’s help we can daily walk headfirst into the sand and wind and be excited to see how God continues to refine our countenances.