These hands I give to you

Exodus 31:1-11

3 1 v1Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 "See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent-- 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand -- 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you."

Week 46 (November), Commentary on Exodus 31

After a small start about 50 years the Work & Witness concept for getting people to help with domestic and world mission construction projects and other mission field needs that short-term volunteers could meet swept through the Church of the Nazarene like a flash flood coming down the Nueces River in south Texas. [more info on short term missions like Work & Witness]

Divinely inspired craftsmen have been used all over the world in the spirit of the way the tabernacle was built as recorded in Exodus 31 (and reinforced by the principle in Romans 12:6 that everyone has something to contribute). The idea of getting involved in global construction projects missions began snowballing in the Church of the Nazarene not long before a 1976 earthquake in Guatemala. Thus, in God's timing, the church was prepared to respond to that tragedy. Immediately scores of men "filled . . . with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts"1 signed up to go on teams to Guatemala to rebuild "tabernacles" all over that shattered land.

Not long afterward a multi-team Work and Witness project was put together for the campus of the Nazarene Bible College in Trinidad. While many of those initial work crews went to the Caribbean and to Central American countries, they soon began traveling to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The sunrise-to-sunset labor of men and women offering back to God the skills He has endowed them with has upset the stereotype of the rich, dollar-waving American. What's more, the volunteer workers themselves have been revolutionized as they have discovered ways in which they can be of direct benefit to the Body of Christ.

Of course, it's not only on missionary construction projects that craftsman skills have been put to work. Through the history of our denomination, a good percentage of local church sanctuaries and educational units have been built with "donated" labor.

After my father-in-law retired, he came to the little church I was pastoring in south Texas. Living in a travel trailer behind the parsonage, he spent about two months doing those many little repair jobs that always need to be done around a church building. One day we were talking in the back of the annex where he was doing some plumbing. He told me that he considered this to be his own ministry for the Lord. It was much more than just a way to pass some time, or even to enjoy doing some thing with his hands. [ thoughts on my father-in-law's passing ]

One of my missionary deputation services took me to an Oklahoma church where a member had learned the art of making stained-glass windows just to make new windows for the church. The lady's work, which was at the halfway mark when I was there, was revolutionizing the interior of that sanctuary!

Just after the U.S. Thanksgiving celebrations that year we were involved in a missionary rally. After the service a lady gently pushed two large paper sacks into our hands. Inside were hand-made, muppet-style puppets for us to use in our ministry -- well-made puppets which we put to good use in Italy. [ E-book on missions in Italy ]

It's impossible to count the people who have used their God-given skills in building or rebuilding "tabernacles" or tabernacle furnishings just as Bezalel and Oholiab did.

What about you? Has the Lord gifted you with craft skills which could -- and should -- be put to work in His service? Is there something you could do to improve the attractiveness of the "tabernacle" where you worship Him? Is there a home mission project on your district that could use you? Is there a Work and Witness project in another country where you could be of help?

The Lord has a place for you! [ song "This Pair of Hands" ]

1Exodus 31:3, New International Version

These devotional thoughts first appeared in the Standard, a weekly take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by what is now called The Foundry.

    -- Howard Culbertson

The beginnings of Nazarene Work & Witness

Was a 1966 trip to Mexico the first-ever Nazarene Work & Witness trip? Possibly so.

During their 1966 spring break several students at what is Southern Nazarene University and some adult sponsors went to northern Mexico to construct a church. A fundraising campaign led by student Leslie Wright netted nearly $7,000 to purchase construction materials and pay other expenses related to the trip. The beginning of "Men in Missions" (that developed into Work & Witness) under Dr. Paul Gamertsfelder was still a couple of years away.

So, very likely this team could be called the first Nazarene Work and Witness team. Note: Work & Witness is the title of the Short-Term Mission (STM) program of the global Church of the Nazarene.

It couldn't be done? Miracles in Mexico

written by Howard Culbertson in the summer of 1966

Photo of Mexican

"We didn't know your kind of American existed," the dark haired senorita admitted softly to twenty grimy, exhausted United States college students. A warm April breeze played around the moonlit hotel patio in Muzquiz, Mexico.

The twenty students had just passed the midway point in a feat declared impossible even by United States standards. They had set out to construct a concrete block church building complete with furnishing in just six working days. In Mexico, the land of mañana, they faced incredulous looks.

Eighteen months of planning were coming to fruition as the men looked forward to the last three days of work. It had begun a year and a half earlier at Christmas time of 1964. David Uerkvitz, piano professor at Bethany Nazarene College (Bethany, Oklahoma), read a news story about northern U.S. college students rebuilding a burned-out southern black church. Before Dr. Uerkvitz unfolded a vision of SNU students in Mexico. There, during their week-long spring break, they would erect a church building.

Denominational leaders reluctantly gave the green light to the project. The Missionary Emphasis League of Southern Nazarene University -- then called Bethany Nazarene College -- agreed to accept sponsorship. In a special all-school chapel in mid-October of 1965, Dr. H. T. Reza, director of Nazarene Spanish work, challenged the 1600-member student body to not only furnish a twenty member crew, but also to finance the entire Muzquiz project. The seven thousand dollar goal, however, seemed unrealistic for the student body of that size. But students gave up midnight snacks, cokes, dates, and other extras to pledge over $7,500 for "Operation Helping Hand."

Ripples of excitement began to pulsate the student body. From a list of over forty applicants student electricians, carpenters, masons and other construction workers were selected. Once a week for six weeks the crew skipped morning classes to go into nearby Oklahoma City for immunization shots.

A construction contractor from Bethany agreed to go to Mexico as foreman. However, in the middle of the winter, a bad heart condition hospitalized him. With the immunization deadline rapidly approaching, George Lake, Muskogee, Oklahoma, minister, volunteered to supervise the masonry work. A psychology professor donned overalls to head up carpentry work. Directing construction of pews, windows, doors and other finish work would be a professional cabinet maker.

Mrs. Uerkvitz and a college librarian would cook American food for the crew to prevent reactions to unfamiliar Mexican cooking. A registered nurse took her vacation to care for any injuries and other health needs--one of them being two pills per day to prevent dysentery and salt depletion.

Tools, nails, glue, sunglasses, suntan lotion, food, medicine, lots of deodorant (possibility of little water) and other supplies began collecting in rooms and homes. Since few of the crew spoke Spanish, English-Spanish dictionaries went into many suitcases. In mid-afternoon on Friday, March 31, 1966, the "Operation Helping Hand" caravan left the central Oklahoma campus. Suspension systems of five cars and a pickup groaned under loads placed on them. At dawn Saturday, after fourteen hours, many gas stations and coffee breaks, they crossed the United States border at Eagle Pass, Texas.

Mexican customs officials stared at the power tools and refrigerator on the pickup and shook their heads "no." Regulations would not permit those things to enter. After much discussion Mexican border guards finally said the crew itself lacked proper papers to go further their country than the border area.

Since motel rooms had been reserved in the border town of Piedras Negras, the crew left to get three or four hours sleep. They would try to cross again later Saturday morning when more offices would be open and higher officials could be reached. Project director Uerkvitz, who spoke fluent Spanish, grabbed two hours rest and was back at the bridge by eight o'clock.

As a last resort to even get crew members in, Uerkvitz went back to Eagle Pass and contacted the Mexican consul. The official, who happened to be working overtime, said he could issue proper clearance. Re-crossing the border, the students received necessary temporary visas.

However, power tools and the refrigerator would have to stay at the border. Hopes sank, for without power tools, the building could scarcely be started within the allotted week. But the crew, determined to build the church even with hand tools alone, loaded their gear on a bus and set out eighty miles to Muzquiz. Professor Uerkvitz elected to stay at the border and bring all he could of the equipment later in the afternoon.

As crew members piled out of a bus in the town square, the sidewalk swarmed with children. This crowd of spectators rarely dwindled from sunup to sundown during their eight-day stay. After a bit of searching the hotel was located and rooms assigned. Having only three hours' sleep in a day and a half, team members promptly fell exhausted into bed. Since the pickup had not arrived, crew members took hourly turns sitting in two chairs in front of the hotel watching for the pickup -- empty or not.

At midnight a pair of headlights began picking their way slowly up the narrow alley into the hotel courtyard. It was a blue pickup with all the power tools aboard. It had taken fourteen hours for the pickup to go through customs -- as long as the drive from Bethany.

The refrigerator had had to be left behind, but the crew was content to sacrifice it to get the power tools. It was given to the Mexican Nazarene pastor in Piedras Negras.

Palm Sunday dawned. Since the tiny room used as the "Iglesia del Nazareno" in Muzquiz overflowed with the twenty members of the native Mexican congregation, the fellows clambered onto the pickup for a six-mile drive to Palau to attend a larger Church of the Nazarene. Using a guitar one of the fellows had bought at a tourist shop on the border, a hastily formed quartet sang for the Palau Nazarenes.

Pounding on the rickety, rotting hotel doors at 5:30 a.m. Monday brought fellows out of sagging bathtub-shaped beds. After breakfast and devotions they were on the job at seven. A concrete slab thirty by sixty feet on an otherwise empty lot greeted them.

Saturday night and throughout Sunday, the townspeople were quite suspicious of these gringos. Feeling the hostility, crew members dared not leave the hotel except in large groups. From a Muzquiz teenager who spoke English they learned that two years earlier several vacationing U.S. young men had stopped in the mining town and played the part of the "ugly American" well.

Monday morning, the fellows began searching for a key to open friendly relations with the Mexicans. Finding that the town had a volleyball team, the SNU'ers challenged them to a game.

Monday afternoon a sound truck blared its way up and down the streets of the town of 20,000 boldly announcing that at 7:30 p.m., the Muzquiz volleyball champions would play the "University of Oklahoma."

Grandstands filled as Mexican volleyball players warmed up. After finishing an 11hour work day, the construction crew labored to unlimber tired muscles. Mexican agility and skill soundly defeated the North Americans the first game, but U.S. height and brute power squeaked out victories in the last two games.

The volleyball games marked the turning point in international relations between the United States and Muzquiz Mexicans. The devastation of a nation's reputation by irresponsible students in a couple of days two years prior would now take a week's hard, free labor on the part of twenty young men to repair.

Power saws whined through Mexican siesta times. Air hammers pounded finish nails into pews and window frames. Cries of "mud" filled the air as hoes sloshed through mortar mixes.

Walls climbed upward as row upon row of blocks were laid. Fellows had to cope with less-than-perfect concrete blocks and mortar. Available lumber was huge, rough planks of uneven dimensions which had to be planed and cut. Material did not come as ordered or store stocks were depleted, but the determined crew ignored or overcame the obstacles.

Townspeople gaped as the structure grew skyward on the once bare lot. Because steel beams were unavailable, two-by-ten planks, sixteen feet long were laminated on the concrete floor to form three huge wooden beams. These would span the thirty-foot width of the building. Because a crane nor even a winch was anywhere in sight, Mexicans felt that the attempted lifting of the beams would be the end of a wonderful gesture on the part of those starry eyed Americans.

Wednesday morning was beam raising time. Townspeople crowded around the building to see the gringos meet their Waterloo. Crewmen lined the beams, muscles bulged and strained, sweat poured off distorted faces; but the beams slowly raised into place one by one.

With that hurdle cleared, construction rushed on. Rafters criss-crossed the sky above workmen on the concrete floor. Sheet iron began rattling its way across the framework overhead. An entrance patio appeared on one corner.

After working long hours, crewmen still found energy to play the Muzquiz basketball team a close, but losing game for the Americans. A couple of evenings they played football in the dusty city streets a game which most of the Mexican children had never seen. The Builders' Quartet, formed that first Sunday, went over to the Palau church to sing again one night at a revival service.

Meals for the hungry men -- the cooks used recipes made for over 100 servings -- were prepared in a house rented for use solely as a mess hall. Although some foodstuffs had been brought along, quite a bit was bought at the local market. The cooks wouldn't always say what the bowls contained, but the known ranged from cactus to goat meat.

As the Saturday afternoon shadows stretched across what was less than a week before an empty lot, the finishing touches were put on the building. After supper, the crew went back to the church to transform themselves into a choir for dedication service the next morning. A week earlier, on April Fool's day, the project had seemed like a big joke. But there it towered, ready for its first service on Easter Sunday.

Sunday, the crew slept a bit later than the usual 5:30 reveille call. Then, they were up for their last day in Mexico. Marching up the aisle to the platform that Easter Sunday morning, they passed adults sitting in newly made pews while children sat on platform steps, hung in windows and stood in doorways. From a congregation of less than thirty the week before, the number in attendance had jumped to over three hundred.

It was a vacation burned deeply into the hearts of twenty young American citizens. As they left Muzquiz Sunday afternoon to return to Tuesday classes in Bethany, they left a bit of themselves in that northeastern Mexican mountain town. More than just building a church, they had tied together the hearts of people from two nations.

Have you made a golden calf?

NextHave you set up a golden calf in your life? [ read more ]

Short-term mission trips    1 + 2 + 1    Commissioning litany    Elephant and mouse parable

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10/40 Window explanation and map     Seeking God's will?    African martyr's commitment    Nazarene Missions International resources