But God

Heroes in Venezuela

But God never abandons us May 26, 2023

Hebrews 11:26, 13:5-6 Moses thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. … For God has said, “I will never fail you, I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear: What can mere people do to me?”  

I usually post just twice a week, but I want to share a situation with you that’s happening right now. We could substitute the names “Otto and Idagly” for Moses in Hebrews 11:26: they too have chosen suffering rather than treasures in the way the world evaluates priorities. I wrote about them way back on October 11, 2020, so you might want to re-read that post.

Otto leads the Pastoring of Pastors movement Dave helped start in Venezuela. For a long time, as a husband and dad who cares deeply about his family, Otto has nurtured the dream of a house of their own. And now that is coming true!!

Currently their family of five lives in Idagly’s parents’ home, sharing the space also with Idagly’s sister and her family–12 people in a five-bedroom house. This means their two adolescent girls share a small bedroom with their brother, and Otto has his office in his and Idagly’s bedroom, and all twelve people share the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. 

Yuliana, Idagly, Eliam, Otto, Eliany

Otto created a plan eight months ago to build a four-bedroom house (one bedroom to be used for his office). An architect projected it would cost $15,000. We tried to raise money for this, but people responded with only $8,000, so there was no possibility of initiating construction.

With runaway inflation, the cost increased dramatically. Inflation in Venezula was 436% in April this year compared with April 2022. Think about that for a minute.

However, people leaving Venezuela have been selling their properties at a loss to obtain cash. A four-bedroom apartment became available in Otto and Idagly’s neighborhood for $23,000. We told them to jump on it. We “borrowed” $15,000 from our own retirement account to complete the cash payment. Otto and Idagly received the keys to the apartment two days ago! They want to paint and repair a few things before moving in after they are with us in Bogotá for a leaders’ retreat June 8-14.

Dave and I have been thinking and praying about a repayment plan that would work for Otto and Idagly. We gave them $2,500 as a gift, leaving them $12,500 to repay. That’s an enormous amount in a country where right now the minimum wage is equivalent to $5.40 per MONTH and they are understandably nervous about this. The proposal we have sent them is that they repay us $100/month, which would take them until the end of 2034. (That’s more than a third of what they receive through our Multiplying Grace effort.) Any month they are able to pay more, or any time someone makes a $100 contribution, their debt will be reduced by one month.

Would you enjoy helping them with this debt? If so, please send your gift directly to us. We can’t give you a tax break because we used personal money, not ministry money. You can send us a check (contact me through Messenger or debrakornfield@gmail.com for the address) or use Paypal or Google Pay. I’ll try to update you monthly on progress toward resolving this debt. 

Imagine how amazing it will be for this family that has chosen to STAY in Venezuela to care for pastors to have their own living space. Imagine Otto, leading a nationwide ministry, having an office of his own.

I think Otto and Idagly’s situation helps us understand why almost a quarter of Venezuela’s population has left the country, including most professionals. Recently public school teachers went on strike, protesting salaries of about $10-$25/month. University professors earn $40-$60/month. President Maduro said no and ordered them back to work, asking them to be content with being “heroes.” Wouldn’t you leave too? There’s no way for one person to eat at those salary levels, even only eating rice. And most of them have families.

Every time I read a story like this, I appreciate Otto and Idagly and our other Venezuelan pastor friends more, for their determination to stay in Venezuela to serve and care and give. Truly, they are heroes in the Kingdom of God.

Truth stranger than fiction

But God made Leviathan to play May 22, 2023

Job 41:1, 12, 18-19, 33-34 Can you catch Leviathan with a hook or put a noose around its jaw? … I want to emphasize Leviathan’s limbs ad its enormous strength and graceful form. … When it sneezes, it flashes light! Its eyes are like the red of dawn. Lightning leaps from its mouth; flames of fire flash out. … Nothing on earth is its equal, no other creature so fearless. Of all the creatures, it is the proudest. It is the king of beasts.

Psalm 104:24-26 O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! … See Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

In the mood for levity, I went to Job 41. God spends an entire chapter describing this creature whose identity is disputed all these thousands of years later. I picture God laughing with glee as he points out to job the amazing features of this great fling of his imagination.

And I think of poor Job, totally taken aback by the exuberance of God’s response to his completely valid questioning of his experience of extreme suffering. God says to Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (Job 40:2).

Job must have been shaking in his boots. “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you,” he responded. (Another version says, “Nothing you wish is impossible.”) Job continued, “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance? It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.”

I haven’t suffered like Job, but I question all kinds of things. This conversation challenges me to remember Who I’m talking to: a God powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead and give him a body that can pass through locks and walls and appear on a mountain 140 km (87 miles) away (his disciples had to walk) and then ascend to Heaven back in Jerusalem. A God whose Holy Spirit, poured out like fire, can be present everywhere at the same time.

Leviathan. Levity. God’s powerful sense of humor on full display through his creation.

Thanks, Lord, for helping me not take myself so seriously today!

Another of God’s creations (borrowed from my friend Nancy Goetz Jones):

The Perfect Law, by sculptor/photographer/filmmaker Benjamin Carlucci, Pittsburgh

But Jesus’s body was placed in a tomb

Matthew 27:57-60 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left.

John 1:4-5, 14, 17-18 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. … The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. … For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. … The unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Stations of the Cross 8

Benn says about his sculpture:

“It was a delight to work in a physical medium as most of my work is digital. The tactile process of slowly and intricately wrapping delicate strip after delicate strip of paper struck me as fitting, since the scriptures are so often pondered slowly, line by line.

“The photography element was fun too, I ended up creating a sort of human shaped dummy to wrap in the linens and serve as the backdrop for the hand poking through. Lighting and staging said photo was much more akin to my usual art (filmmaking) so it felt good to take the piece into a more familiar setting.

“The writing is Hebrew, all taken from the Torah.

“Overall, I found the entire process to be a fulfilling experience, and I hope others are able to use the piece as a starting point to ponder the stark mysteries of this great story: John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

[Debbie] Benn–and all of the artists whose art we have featured in this series–would love to know how their work has impacted you. Please take a moment to post a comment responding to any of the eight. Thank you!

Last week in Brazil someone commented that it’s possible to become so focused on Scripture that we miss personal encounters with Jesus himself. Hearing this, I thought of Benn’s sculpture, and the invitation to come to Jesus to receive life. Come just as you are.

If you’re like my husband Dave, who can’t wait to return from these posts about the cross to the garden where Jesus emerged ALIVE from the tomb, you’ll be glad there is still another week of Easter season before Pentecost on May 28!

Finished, by teen artist Elizabeth Crary, Pittsburgh

But Jesus cared for others even in death

John 19:26-30 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” … Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” They held sour wine up to his lips.When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then, crying with a loud voice, he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Station of the cross 7: Jesus dies on the cross

A hospice chaplain told me that often a person does not die until he or she feels “free” to go. This perception usually happens when family members, despite their sorrow, release their loved one. Sometimes the dying one waits until a specific person arrives and says goodbye. We experienced this with Karis.

Jesus needed to complete his farewell to his mother and to “the disciple he loved,” ensuring they would care for each other. Even while enduring an extremely painful death, Jesus reached out to them with love.

Elizabeth describes her art piece like this:

“One of the problems with making a piece for the Station of the Cross series is that quite a few of the scenes are rather gruesome if depicted literally, without metaphors or symbolism. I chose a piece that I could draw symbolically, Jesus dying on the cross. 

“The idea of a candle, representing his life, being snuffed out intrigued me. I wanted to portray the contrast between the “white” of Jesus’ righteousness and the “red” of his blood shed for us, so I contrasted the white unmelted candle with the red melted wax to portray Jesus’ blood being shed. 

“Though it is an artistically simple piece, I appreciated how it didn’t avoid the clearcut harsh reality of the cross. It shows the clear line between life and death and how it was extinguished before the candle (Jesus) had the time to burn through (live a “full life”). As paintings go, this is one of my favorites that I made, and I hope others appreciate it too.”

[Debbie] As I’ve spent some time with Elizabeth’s candle, it seemed to me that the melting red wax uncovering the pure white candle underneath could represent the glory of the revelation on the cross of Jesus’s divinity, such that the centurion exclaimed, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

Chris Tomlin has yet another understanding of the red and white of the cross (Love Ran Red).

Wondrous love, by teen artist Lucy Sams, Pittsburgh

But Jesus was pierced

Mark 15:25-27 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. A sign announced the charge against him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. And the Scripture was fulfilled that said, “He was counted among the transgressors.”

Station 6: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Lucy writes about her work of art:

“When I was making this piece, I wanted a way to represent the pain and suffering of Jesus while also implementing other symbols. I put water and wine on one side of the crossbar and bread on the other symbolizing communion. I put the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Latin, Greek, and Aramaic because that’s what was on the sign on Jesus’s cross. 

The Hebrew on the cross translates to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their respective places. The nails in the form of a body are supposed to represent the suffering and pain that Jesus endured on the cross.”

[Debbie] The nails in the shape of a heart brought tears to my eyes. I remembered Karis writing in her journal (June 1, 1999) as a hospitalized teenager:

“I’ve been poked with needles until my arms are literally black and blue and red. I thought last night as they poked me again, “What must it have been like for Jesus, not to be pierced by loving nurses and these tiny sharp needles, but rather the soldiers, the nails . . .” I remember Christ and find not the strength not to complain but rather that there is nothing to complain about.”

The words came to mind of the American folk hymn, “What wondrous love is this.” Here it is, sung by Fernando Ortega. With Lucy’s image burned into your mind, close your eyes and worship.

More than clothing, by artist Suzanne Werder, Pittsburgh

But Jesus was stripped

Matthew 27:33-35 They went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The solders gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall …  After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. This fulfilled the word of the prophet: “They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my robe.” (Psalm 22:18)

Station 5: Jesus is stripped of his garments

Suzanne says this about her painting:

“I used bright colors to contrast with the subject matter and to show that he was stripped in broad daylight. As I drew, I contemplated how we use clothing not only to cover our nakedness, but to show social status and wealth, to express ourselves, and to look attractive.

The church and followers of Jesus are often called the body of Christ. I wonder what we need to be stripped of.

I left off the head of the man on Jesus’s left not only because I didn’t have room for it on the page, but also so viewers can put themselves in his place. What have you said or done that has metaphorically stripped Jesus and brought him shame?

Suzanne also made two videos about this work:



Take a few minutes to let this sink in: Jesus took my shame.


Suzanne earns her living through art. She offers prints of her work for $30. Contact her:

Email artallthethings@gmail.com

Instagram @artallthethings  https://www.instagram.com/artallthethings

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/artallthethings

From weeping to joy, by artist Millicent Arlene Smith, Pittsburgh

But Jesus turned to them

Luke 23:27-28 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. … Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest (Psalm 126:5-6).

Station 4: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Millicent says of her artwork:

I made the women in white silk to show tears. They are together, witnessing the same scene, yet each individually bears her own grief. Isaiah 53 says Jesus bears our griefs and carries our sorrows.

Here is a recent example of Jesus noticing my tears and turning to care for me:

On the evening of Sunday, December 11, 2022, my downtown apartment building was on fire. I walked down the fire escape with two elderly ladies and when we got outside, we could see the flames shooting out the windows of one of the apartments. As I stood at the corner, a stranger, slightly inebriated, kept patting my shoulders and asking if I was okay. I said yes and then he said to me, “I’m not a religious person, but I think we should pray.” He cupped his hands and held them out to me. He waited for me to take hold of his hands, which I did. I thought he was going to start praying but realized he was waiting for me to pray. I prayed for the safety of all who were involved in the fire. After thanking this stranger, I walked away thanking God for sending me an Angel who helped me get centered on what was needed at that moment.

Because we weren’t allowed back into the apartment building due to water damage, I was given a choice to call a friend or family member to come get me, or sleep on a cot in the Convention Center. I prayed and asked God to give me a name to call. I called my friends who live on the Northside, and even though it was 12:45 a.m., the husband came to get me while his wife made up the couch. I stayed with them for two nights. When I found out I still couldn’t get into the apartment building on the third day, another friend said I could stay with her. She offered me her bed while she slept on the floor.

On Wednesday, December 14th, the landlord sent those tenants who still had no place to stay to a hotel on the Northside. I was able to stay at the hotel for several night until the apartment building manager came to the hotel to inform us that Tuesday, December 20th, would be the last night they would pay for us to stay at the hotel. We were also informed that we could not go back to the apartment building to live, because all leases were cancelled. On December 21st, a third friend extended hospitality to me. I stayed with her and her husband until I was ready to move.

The next day I looked at an apartment a few blocks from church and filled out an application. While waiting for approval, I received my security deposit in the mail along with December’s rent, prorated. That evening I got word that my application was approved, and the apartment was mine. I was able to use the check I had just received that afternoon as my security deposit for the new apartment. On Friday, December 30th, I moved into my new home. Prayer and praise turned a devastating situation into an experience of joy.

Note: This article was originally published in The Ascent, a monthly publication of Church of the Ascension, Pittsburgh. Used with Millicent’s permission.

Unfinished, by artist Doug McGill, Pittsburgh

But Jesus’s cross challenges us  May 1, 2023

Luke 23:26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene [a city in North Africa] happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. … “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”“Take my yoke upon you. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Luke 23:26, Matthew 16:24; 11:29-30.

Station 3: The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene

Doug says the following about his painting:

This piece is very much unfinished, which in many ways reflects the station. It calls each of us to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

My vision for the piece was to capture Simon of Cyrene returning from the field and being surprised by stumbling onto the scene of Christ’s brokenness, the soldiers’ dilemma, and the realization of what he was being called to partake in. In my mind, Simon was off to the Temple to make a celebratory peace offering – hence the young goat in his arms (see Leviticus 7:11-18). In the scene, he’s about to become a partaker in the preparation of a much more significant offering. 

I chose a section of the Via Dolorosa that felt closed in, tight, and inescapable, with no option of creating the distance from suffering we so often desire. The dimension is meant to draw the viewer in to see Simon’s confrontation with the cross, feel the tension of a change in course, and emphasize the realizations that can come in a spilt second through the chaos of human drama.  

I’m not convinced the current draft captures the intention, but the process of envisioning this work did provide a self-reflection of seeing oneself in the call to love God and others. Even in deep brokenness, facing hostility and suffering, Christ invites us to walk with him.

I hope to continue working on the piece and paint as time allows. Doug

[Debbie] As I’ve taken time to let this painting challenge me, the fact that it’s unfinished lets me see myself in Simon’s place, coming from my own tasks with my own purposes in mind, to a sudden confrontation with Jesus in the very act of laying down his life for me, too hurt and broken to continue bearing the weight of the cross. What will be my response?

Sandi Patty’s beautiful song “Via Dolorosa” captures some of this emotion.

“I found myself rather emotional,” by artist Marissa Bowles, Pittsburgh

But Jesus carried his cross  April 27, 2023

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away, carrying the cross by himself. … Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. … He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. … Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. (John 19:16-17, Hebrews 5:8, Acts 8:32/Isaiah 53:7, Revelation 5:12)

Station 2: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

Marissa wrote the following about the significance and the process of creating this drawing:

Before anything else, I prayed. I prayed that the gift of art God gave me would be used to first and foremost glorify him. That after some time away from creating fine art, God would melt away feelings of self-doubt and use me and my now willing hands and heart to create again. I prayed to be led by the Holy Spirit to create something that would be a blessing to many and tell of the immeasurable love that God has for everyone.

Then, I spent time meditating on the Station 2 Scriptures [quoted above]: 

I found myself drawn to the use of symbolism. The skull-shaped hilltop with cavernous, tomb-like recesses represents death. Ropes tied about Jesus’ waist, held out of view by soldiers and intended to pull him onward like a lamb led to slaughter, instead trail behind him, symbolizing Jesus’ willing spirit. A halo of light surrounds Jesus’ head, symbolizing his coronation as King of Heaven and Earth. A lamb, traveling the rocky, dirt path opposite Jesus, bows in reverence and gratitude to the truly sinless, spotless Lamb of God, illustrating Jesus as the once-for-all perfect sacrifice for sin. The little lamb is set free from death by Christ’s sacrifice as we too are set free and redeemed — the sheep of his pasture bowing before our Lord. The scene is one of solitude, inviting us to imagine the loneliness that Jesus may have experienced as he selflessly walked the path ahead of him.

I chose graphite on paper as my medium as it has always been a favorite of mine and is forgiving. It often provides me with a feeling of being more connected to the image and the details as they begin to emerge. In particular, I found myself rather emotional, holding back tears, when I began to render Jesus’ wounds. With each stroke of lead, I felt uneasy, sorrowful, guilty and repentant.

I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to create a piece like this and to be in the company of so many talented artists within the body of the church. I pray that this experience will be a catalyst for more art inspired by Scripture to come into being, not only in the reflective time of Lent, but year round.

In Christ, Marissa

Through the eyes of a six-year-old, Caleb Massa, Pittsburgh

But Jesus said nothing

Mark 15:1-5 Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law … bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

[For other details of this scene, see Matthew 27, Luke 23, and John 18-19.]

Luke 12:7, 11-12 Don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows … When you are brought to trial … don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.

It’s tough to stay calm and quiet when unfair accusations are leveled against us. Don’t we instinctively want to defend ourselves and demand justice? Doing so can, though, play right into an aggressor’s hands. He or she now has something concrete to fight back against. A latecomer—say, a schoolteacher called to a bullying situation—may not be able to tell who started it.

What does calm stillness accomplish? For one thing, it can defuse escalation. When only one party is yelling and threatening violence, while the other is silent, the dynamics change. Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated the power of nonviolent response through the long story of the struggle for basic human rights. As in the case of Jesus, courageous people preferred to be killed than to lower themselves to their accusers’ tactics.

Six-year-old Caleb Massa gave considerable thought to Jesus standing silent before Pilate and the crowd of accusers as he painted a picture for the first Station of the Cross, part of the observance at our church of Good Friday.** Art can communicate even more than the artist had in mind. So before you read Caleb’s thoughts (below), what does this picture say to you about Jesus as he stood before Governor Pilate and the yelling, angry crowd?

Jesus is Condemned to Death, by Caleb Massa

Here’s part of Caleb’s description of his work:

“I painted Jesus huge because Jesus is really big, because he is God. Part of his face is not in the painting because he’s so big. The crowd is at the bottom. Pilate is sitting on a chair. You don’t see any of their faces except Jesus. The background is black because it’s a very sad scene.”

This big, solid, strong, calm Jesus lives inside of me and inside of you through the Holy Spirit. He is with us always. We aren’t alone, ever, even in situations of injustice and threat. We can ask him for help to know what to say and what not to say when we are slandered—even when we ourselves are our own accusers! Caleb’s painting will help me to remember that.

**Traditionally, there are fourteen Stations of the Cross. Church of the Ascension observes eight stations. Each year, a member of the church—a child, young person, or adult—creates art for each station. A guide to this year’s creations says this: “The making of each Station is a labor of love, a formative practice in which the artists participate with the Holy Spirit to reveal afresh the Passion of Christ.” Each artist has given me permission to post his or her work on this blog. I am grateful to each of them.