Traveling to to Miami these days is a lot like visiting another country. It is affectionately known as “the capital of Latin America” and Spanish is the first language of many of its citizens. This week, I had a family reunion of sorts in Homestead, FL which is just south of Miami. I was meeting with my CLC brothers of sisters from all over South America, the Caribbean and Canada. Like many family reunions it was a lot of fun and overwhelming at times, but really worth the effort. These special events happen every two years in the life of our ministry and have been memorable every time I have been there.
Like any big family, we like to share stories and this week was no exception. I was asked to host the “reporting sessions” where each country gives an update on what has happened in the past two years and what we should be praying for as they plan for the future. Each group was supposed to take 20 minutes for the presentation. By the second night, I knew that I was in trouble. We only had one more reporting session to go and we still had five countries to still scheduled to share. These were not boring Power Point presentations. Instead they were heartfelt times of sharing what God has been doing in our region and no one wanted to skip the details. Who was I too interrupt the flow of the stories being told and the celebrations of God’s faithfulness? We often ended the nights after 10:30PM and some people “kept the party going” by meeting in smaller groups to tell stories they had not gotten to yet.
As if often the case, some parts of the family had a pretty tough two years. Nowhere was that more evident than in the stories shared by our team in Venezuela. Despite incredible financial hardships in the country, our team has been able to keep ten stores and a wholesale operation going to supply the needs of a desperate nation. One of the core values of CLC is the principle of sacrifice. When you can’t buy toilet paper, toothpaste or cereal in the grocery store, everyday living becomes a practical sacrifice. Many young professionals have left the country in search of work elsewhere and violence and insecurity are on the rise. The country is a tinderbox of political turmoil and ripe for revolution. Somehow, our brave leaders have kept 34 people employed and the doors open in ten lighthouses around the country. I don’t know how they do it. Only a life sustaining and miracle working God could make that possible.
One of my favorite stories of the week came from our team in Trinidad who have suffered a terrible loss this past year. They lost their longtime leader, Marlene Ramroop to a sudden and highly unexpected heavenly homegoing. In God’s providence, a dear friend of Marlene’s, Sandra Robinson, who was CLC’s accountant, agreed to take up the leadership mantle on an “interim” basis. At the gathering this week, Sandra announced that she is now excited to drop the word “interim” from her title and she made one of the most dramatic presentations of any country that attended. In only three short months since Marlene has been gone, the CLC team in Trinidad has rallied around Sandra and are in the process of renovating every store with new paint in some really vibrant colors. To our great surprise, she even announced that they will be opening a new store in their sister island of Tobago later this month. Sandra is full of ideas and vision and her dynamic leadership is a real tribute to Marlene’s legacy of faithfulness service.
At weeks end, we finished on a high note as we had our “night of fun” with every one assigned to a team that had to put on a skit, sing a song or do a dance. While none of the groups would have been candidates for “America’s Got Talent”, there were some remarkable performances. In my group, we had a young man who had lost his mother in the last month. He sang a moving tribute to her in Spanish and there was hardly a dry eye in the room, even amongst those of us who did not understand the words. Not surprisingly, my CLC brothers and sisters from Latin America were not shy about dancing or singing and we all had a lot of fun. It was certainly a great way to end our time together.
During the week, I was elected to serve as Regional Director for North America and the Caribbean starting in June of 2016. This followed a decision to split our region in two again as the work in South America has grown so fast in recent years. At our final meeting together, we were asked to give feedback on whether we should continue meeting as one big group in the years to come. I was delighted that there was a unanimous consensus to keep us together despite our language barriers. I was also strongly encouraged to learn Spanish as that is apparently “the language of heaven”.