Friday, August 8, 2014

Top 6 From Summer Missions

Three mission trips in three countries. Honduras, the U.S. and Mexico. That was my July. It wasn't planned that way, it just worked out that I could and did go on all three trips. Our church has also just welcomed Pastor Laurent back from Madagascar. We've been busy this summer.

I've had some time to think back on the month and I want to share some thoughts. These thoughts go beyond the food and lodging and itinerary. They are reflections on God after serving this summer. For every mission team that goes out, whether to do local mission around the church or mission on the other side of the world, I ponder what God is doing through the mission. I am more interested in what God is up to on the team, in the ministry, and in our church than the details of work done. The work matters. It matters to the the people served and the team serving. Through it God is up to something. That's what I think about for months and years after trips.

In light of recent critiques of mission work by Donald Trump and Ann Coulter - both reacted to the American missionaries who contracted ebola in Africa - this is a timely look at what such missions teach. Implicit (Trump) or explicit (Coulter) in critics' views is the opinion that Americans shouldn't go on such trips. However, they are not my teachers for Christian mission. God is. Christians are on God's mission and God calls us to take that mission to "Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), which is a way of saying our mission is in our home communities, in the region around where we live and throughout the planet. We take that seriously.

The church I serve has robust ministries in our home community and the following are six reflections - big thoughts - of what I saw God doing and saying in our mission beyond our local community.

#1 - The Poor Are Always with Us.
Jesus said that. He was making a point to those around him to enjoy his presence, work and life among them while he was bodily on earth. But he did remind them and us that the poor in this life are always with us.

This summer I have been to rural villages in a part of Honduras that even Hondurans talk about the way we might talk about the harshest of inner city living. "Olancho is rough." I have been to the streets of San Francisco and lived for a week among the homeless in the Tenderloin district of the city. I have been to poor, rural villages of  Zona Maya, a region of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. This is in addition to previous travel all over the world, the United States, and the Tampa Bay Area. Villages and cities may try to mask the poor and homeless and needy, sequester them, hide them, or push them away, but still poverty and desperate needs are pervasive. There is need in our own town. I serve on the Social Services Committee of the city of Dunedin. Mayor Dave Eggers and the city Commission established tho committee for a reason.

Over and over, I have thought about why this is so. That part of me that seeks the well-being of all people and reacts so violently to injustice done to and oppression experienced by one person or group against another wants resolution to the problem of suffering. I want people to be fed, clothed, sheltered, safe, healthy, and loved. Yet everywhere people are hungry, poorly clothed, homeless or nearly so, unsafe, and unloved. Are one's circumstances to blame? So if you are born poor are you destined to poverty? Or if you happened to be born with basic needs met up to affluence, you just count yourself lucky and live your comfortable life you were born into?

In this life, as we await a future God has revealed will one day arrive, we live with all kinds of realities that are not pleasing to God and hard on people. Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me" (‭Mark‬ ‭14‬:‭7‬ NIV). We are also told this about the poor of the Israelites during Moses' day, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land" (Deuteronomy 15:11).  So we have the poor and needy with us and we are to help them. When the awaited future arrives, all will be made well and right. Until then...

#2 - Help is Needed.
I once heard a board member of a successful homeless ministry say his goal was to end homelessness in his area. That is too hard a goal around which to wrap my mind. Ending world hunger or world poverty or even Dunedin poverty is more than I want to say. Part of me is embarrassed to admit that. Part of me knows good and well that it is within the human capability right now to end world hunger. I know that if relief of suffering people made it to the same priority level as launching a new piece of technology or funding our global entertainment activities, we would find a different world than the one in which we now live.

Perhaps my goal is too modest, not faithful enough, and not representative of a man who proclaims and lives faith in an omnipotent, omniscient God. Perhaps my hope is not ambitious enough, but if embraced my hope will result in a better life for those in need. My goal is that everyone do more.

As a pastor of a large church, I am challenging the entire church to have a more activist attitude toward ministry to those Jesus loved - the poor and needy and those on the edges of society. I realize some have physical limitations that prevent high level of activism, but in addition to financial giving and speaking to God in prayer about the needs, I challenge people to put their bodies in the middle of the need. Like in rural villages in Honduras or Zona Maya. Like on the streets of San Francisco. Like at the Homeless Emergency Project (HEP) in Clearwater or Bridging a Freedom ministry addressing one part of the horror of human trafficking. Like the strip club outreach in which some women of our church are active. Or maybe it is the new community care agency in the works that will be located in Dunedin and likely to begin in the next year. We are not lacking for places to plug into mission to those with great needs.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. When it comes to the needy some say or think, "Too bad. They're messed up. It's their fault. Let them live with their decisions." I've heard that attitude and those words. Jesus did not have that attitude.  Jesus once said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Matthew 9:12). He came for those who were spiritually and physically sick and in need. My challenge is to acknowledge the need, the call to help those in need, and then to step out and help. The poor and needy are around and within and well beyond our church. They are everywhere. That fact alone demands a response of action by anyone who claims faith.

In language we are adopting around our church, join in the fight to push back the darkness in which people live around us and throughout the world. Do something! For Gods sake. For humanity's sake. Do something.

#3 - The Streets Are Bad.
Living in San Francisco for a week in the Tenderloin district was the first time in my life that I slept and lived among the homeless. We were in a building under lock and key, but one step outside the front door and we met person after person who lived on the streets. We walked up to them to talk with them. We walked around and by them to get to other locations in the city. While a certain community among the homeless was present, albeit very different than community as we know it, you can't see what we have seen, hear what we have heard, smell what we have smelled and conclude anything less than living on the streets is bad.

We saw how rough it was. A group of us asked if we could pray for a man. Of all of the things I imagined we would pray for, I was not expecting him to asked for prayers for his personal, physical safety. We walked to Walgreens one night to get some decongestant for a few on the team (a luxury I was aware many we passed on the street could not and did not enjoy) and on the way on the opposite side of the street a homeless man was yelling, "Where is my money?!" He was yelling at a man sitting next to him that he had in a headlock. He was punching him in the head. The man being beaten was pathetically crying out "I'll have it on Thursday." The streets reeked of urine and vomit in places. People made make shift pallets for beds with bags or baskets of their life's possessions next to them. They seemed mostly to sleep by day, often sleeping off a hard night of drinking or drugs.

Few choose the streets. Many end up there. Most we talked with longed for friendly faces. They long to have others see them as humans who matter to others. The repressed sense of shame was palpable. One homeless woman, who seemed to be a mothering moral compass to others, yelled at others for behaving poorly. "Pull your pants up," she yelled at one intoxicated man whose pants were exposing way too much, "there are young people around." The man did. Some talked of wanting something more than they were living. Most seemed resigned to it. If they were clear-headed, reflective and honest, all would say it was bad living on the streets.

#4 - Mentally Ill People Need Love.
Mentally ill people need a lot of help. They need therapeutic help. They need pharmacological help. They often need physical medical help. But they also need to know of Gods love and experience human love.

In San Francisco, we passed a man several times who moved like a bird, mumbled as he spoke, stared at you through wide and creepy eyes. Clearly, he was troubled and it was more than intoxication. He was mentally ill. There were others like him. They need help, but they need more.

I know I'm over my pay grade to start taking on the problems and needs of the mentally ill. But somewhere behind those vacant stares and that incoherent babbling, beyond the tainted humanity, is the image of God - the Imago Dei - as theologians call it. Even though we live in a world after the Fall of Adam (see Genesis 3), and even though something of that image of God was lost after the Fall for all humanity, still a fragment remains in all people. For that reason alone, love in the form of seeking good for the person is called for by others. This needs to be done in safe and controlled settings with some people, but it needs to be done. They deserve love.

I realize the line I am edging up to here. The mentally ill are sometimes criminally mentally ill. Victims of those mentally ill may hear this as pardoning their behavior or removing the consequences of they actions. Nothing of the sort is suggested. Criminals need to be handled in ways that prevent further harm to others at a minimum. School shooters, spouse abusers, child molesters, need to have the full extent of the laws pressed upon them if that is what it takes to get them away from further harm to others.

My question is who will tell them - yes, even them - of a God who came to this earth in order to bear upon himself the guilt of the horrible sins they committed? Can we find relief or even joy at seeing such a person respond with deep sorrow and genuine repentance? Or do we find relief and joy in hoping the person "rots in hell?"

For many, this is an emotionally-charged question. Were Christ counseling us how to think and behave, his example and teaching has been clear - love the unlovable and forgive the unforgivable. Mentally ill people are often those people. Unlovable and unforgivable.

#5 - Poverty Is Hard on People
Much has and should be said about how the simple life of the world's poor has much to teach the rest of the world about unhealthy attachment to material possessions, relationship-crippling overpacked schedules, how keeping up with and comparing ourselves to others who always seem to have a better life robs us of joy, and how the life of faith in God is indeed a rich life. My overall experience of the poor is they are happier, more communal, more content in life and more faith-filled. But that does not mean that poverty is easy on people.

Poor people are more unhealthy physically. In remote Honduras, going to the doctor or even clinics is not always possible. As a result, people live with pain far more than we do. On one trip years ago, we travelled with a dentist who was there for the first time. He was running a week-long dental clinic. After the first night in the village, he wept openly in group time. He was overwhelmed by the need. "All I can do is try to manage pain." Poor people there live with intestinal issues including worms. They live with chronic asthma and other pulmonary issues often stemming from wood burning stoves with no chimneys. Women have female problems that often go untreated. One elderly woman was eager to see a medical doctor on our team. It turned out her uterus had descended outside her body. Obesity and issues like heart troubles or diabetes related to obesity is surprisingly high. You would think poor wouldn't have much to eat and the opposite would be the problem. But when you are poor and live on rice or beans or tortillas and maybe chicken or beef along with it, that is a high starch, high carbohydrate, often high calorie diet. All of these health problems diminish quality of life and increase mortality rates.

This is where mission teams can help the locals help their communities improve. When a team goes in after working with local leaders to help an entire village improve its water quality, sanitary conditions, medical needs, and basic needs like shelter, the overall health of the village improves. We have noticed that over the years. The health of an entire village rises. Healthier people are more capable of improving their lives. When mission teams join alongside of pastors and church leaders to call people to a life of faith in Jesus Christ we offer gain for the whole person - physical, emotional, and spiritual.

#6 - God Is at Work.
I was so encouraged to see mission teams everywhere I travelled this summer. I was happy to be on the mission teams. When we were in the airport in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, team after team flowed in and out of the airport. On the streets of San Francisco mission teams and mission agencies were everywhere seeking to provide relief to those in need. In Mexico, we stayed at a place that was hosting mission teams and had its own teaching mission to the Maya people.

A common theme throughout these and other trips was the present, evident movement of the Holy Spirit in this world, in the missions, with the teams, and especially with those served.

In the village of El Mico in Honduras, a group of us went through the village praying for those in need. Our first stop was an elderly woman who had no feeling in her legs and couldn't walk. She was dejected. Youth and adults prayed over her simultaneously and fervently in Spanish and English. It was a powerful experience. The presence of God was felt by all. The best part was afterward. The woman had relaxed, felt uplifted and encouraged, and the team was energized.

On the streets of San Francisco with a cup of hot chocolate in hand, a woman for whom life was a series of hardships felt encouragement from God through the young faces of the students like MacKenzie, Justin, Lyric, and Charlene praying for her.

In the village of Naranjal in Zona Maya, a young girl came forward and had a group of us pray for her infant daughter similar to how the Honduras group prayed for the elderly woman. In Naranjal, the prayer was for heart and lung issues. The presence of the Holy Spirit was felt by all.

There is a recent movie I have yet to see titled "God's not Dead." Those who travelled as well as the home team who supported them are witnesses to the truth that title speaks. God is alive and on the move. God is transforming villages in remote locations into spiritual communities of love and support. God is encouraging and helping desperate people in inner cities. God is doing that in this world and in individual lives. Like mine. Like yours.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mayas and Christ

The Maya ruins of Ek Balam
Today Richard, Dave, Tommy, Pastor Alfredo and traveled two hours from Felipe Carillo Puerto where we have been staying to go on a cultural tour of a Maya ruin called Ek Balam. It is a Maya pyramid. Pastor Alfredo insisted that Tommy and I (Richard and Dave had already been there) see part of his proud heritage before we left for the U.S. I’m glad we did.

My first thought was it was a place of ancient child sacrifice. I know barely anything about Mayan history, but I remember that. While other pyramids were more spiritual and practice human sacrifice in their religion, this one appeared to be a royal residency. I walked the 98 steps to the top in the hot, jungle heat. I expected it to be cooler up top with a breeze. Not at all. It was oppressively hot. However, the view was spectacular. From the top, I could see for miles in every direction. Just amazing.

I did three things at the top. First, I took pictures. Second, I sat and listened to my daughter Lauren sing an opera piece called Lascia Ch’io Pianga. I have a recording of her singing it on my phone. It was a sweet moment to have her there with me, even if only a recording. Finally, and best of all, as I sat higher than any other place within sight, looking down on the canopy of jungle, I contemplated God.

At the top of the ruins, I contemplated how God is so much more than we can imagine. God is truly omnipotent, omnipresent, good, loving, merciful, generous, and forgiving. Out of his character flowed a desire to create this world which he did. Out of his character, God gave us eyes to sit on high places and drink in the majesty and glory of God in nature. Out of his character, God gives us moments when we are staggered under the radiance of his goodness and holiness.  Out of his character, he has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ and settled the issue of guilt for sin once and for all. Out of his character, God gave us the desire to share what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Which is exactly what happened next, but not by me.

When I came down from the top, I rejoined the others and we toured the rest of the site. It is an impressive bit of history to enjoy. While we were walking, Richard told us that while we were all visiting the ruins, Pastor Alfredo sat in the shade and talked with people who came to be in the shade with him. While they talked, Pastor Alfredo led three Maya people to Christ. All done in the Maya language. Three people became Christians at the foot of Ek Balam! He may be proud of his Maya heritage, but he is above all a Christ-follower and wants others to be also. The man amazes me.

The trip home was uneventful and this evening we took our host, Benny, to dinner in gratitude for his hospitality. It was a local place with outstanding guacamole. Truly, outstanding! Tonight, I’m getting to bed early. Up early and heading to Cancun for my flight back home tomorrow. 

Off to bed...

Me on top of Ek Balam

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Education for a Better Life

Mural on school across from church in X-Yatil
Today, we went to two villages and in both the emphasis was on discipling people into a new or deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. How we did that in each village was different. In the first, the emphasis was on leading leaders; in the second, it was on directly presenting the gospel.

We got a later start to the first village. This late start allowed me to get caught up on my morning Bible readings and check in with home. We have wifi in the house where we are staying. We went with Benny Fisher, the man who owns the house where we are staying, two of his workers, and the four of us. We drove about the same distance and roughly to the same area as we drove yesterday morning to a small church in a village called X-Yatil (pronounced sha-teal). There, a group of people were waiting for us. We were there to watch a presentation by Migel Luna about a training program for church leaders International School of Ministry (ISOM). This is a program developed in California, translated into Spanish, and presented in video format. It is an 18-month program the completion of which gives leaders a respected credibility in the village. They will be credentialed leader. It costs them about $18 and it looked like all 10 from that village signed up. I found myself thinking, “these 10 with this training will impact thousands of others for Christ.” It was awesome to be a part of the moment.

Across the street from the church was a wall with a mural, pictured above. The mural showed a Maya man in traditional appearance reaching out with one hand to plug in a computer. To the right was paper with symbols of academic studies and a painting of a young Maya girl walking into a school. The sign on the computer said “Education for a Better Life.” Across the street in the church, that idea was behind what was being presented. If leaders can be equipped for deeper discipleship and can teach that to others, the better life that Christ offers can be experienced fully.

We had lunch with Pastor Alfredo and his wife, Dami, in their home. So far, lunch has been later than lunch back home. Today, we ate at 2 pm. Yesterday, it was 4 pm. After lunch, we packed into a 12-passenger van and headed for the next village.

Home in the village of Naranjal. It was also the church. 
The village of Naranjal was remote. Like many of the villages here, the home construction was stick and thatch roof, using all natural materials readily available from the land around them. This particular home was adding a new bedroom and the expansion project, unlike the rest of the home, was made of concrete blocks. This home was also the church for the village. When I realized that we would gather for worship here, I thought about the earliest of days of the Christian church, to New Testament era Christianity. They met in homes in what we would consider primitive conditions. Just like today. That alone was awesome, but it got better. Dami and two other women led singing for a congregation of mostly women - the men we working - and children. Afterward, Pastor Alfredo spoke to them in Maya. I could tell from several glances and something he was saying he wanted one of us to speak, but we had no translator with us, so none of us did. He opened his Bible and began to speak. I have no idea the specific words he said, but I can read a room. Here was the holy man addressing people he loved. You could hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes, and see the respect of those to whom he spoke. This man was connecting with, ministering to, proclaiming Christ to people he knew and loved. As I sat on the edge of the room watching and listening, even though I could not understand his words, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and I knew God was speaking into the room.

After Pastor Alfredo spoke, he asked if anyone needed prayer. He wanted us to pray for the sick. One young woman came forward with her infant daughter. The mother looked like she was 12 years old. Her baby had heard and respiratory problems. That’s all we were told. So the four of us gathered around, I said to the others, “let’s all pray all at once.” We laid hands on the baby and began to pray that God would heal the girl. Again, another powerful moment that makes me want to come back and see the young mother and her baby to see how God answers that prayer.

We travelled uneventfully back to town, walked down to a restaurant, walked home and visited for a few minutes before heading for bed.

I have been sleeping well at night. The room is air conditioned with a window air conditional which does just enough to take the edge off of the heat. That is perfect for me. I don’t like it cold. Ever. The bed is comfortable and I’ve been tired at night. That combination of comfort and weariness has meant deep, dreamless sleep and feeling well-rested in the mornings.

The food here has been great. As usual, I am cautious about what I eat. I only drink bottled water or soft drinks and I only eat what has been cooked. Although, I did eat some avocado and tomato on a Maya dish the other night and even though I thought about whether the knives used to cut were washed in safe water, I ate it anyway. Richard said that the limestone base on the land around here made for some of the cleanest water around. The water filtering project from Honduras was not a needed here. Still, I am cautious. Having said all of that, the pork dish the other night and the chicken dish last night as well as the beef at lunch yesterday were all flavorful and plentiful. Tortillas and beans are a staple item here and are tasty. Even snack time in the villages has been tasty. At the village this morning, they passed out what was shaped like a pizza slice, but was bread filled with what we guessed was an apple spread layer. Slightly sweet, slightly fruity.

I have not felt unsafe since I’ve been here. We have not encountered any threatening people in the town or in villages, even after walking five blocks through town at night to go to the restaurant tonight. The drug cartel does not operate in this area, since there seems to be little it has to offer them, so gangs and violence related to gangs is not present. Traffic is the only real threat and I’ve seen worse in other parts of the world. Rural traffic is risky around sharp corners and in the fact that many roads have little or no place to pull off should someone miscalculate as they pass. Head-on collisions have happened because there was no place to get off the roads. Because of that, everyone we’ve seen on the roads is more mindful of the oncoming traffic than usual. Again, I have not felt unsafe.

I'm beginning to think about the return trip home. I've been gone eight days and looking forward to being back home.

Off to bed...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Zona Maya Ministry

Dami teaching the children in Yoactun
Yesterday, I flew a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Cancun, Mexico. Two men from our church, Richard Lehman and Dave Phillips, picked me up at the airport to drive me three hours south to the town of Felipe Carillo Puerto. Richard and Dave arrived last Thursday so I am only here for part of this mission. We return to Tampa on Thursday.

We are staying with a man named Benny who is from Monroe, North Carolina originally. He now runs a mission home here called Sandra's Place. It is named for his late wife and has many bedrooms for mission teams or conference attendees. An upstairs room was added as a meeting space for conferences, often pastor conferences. I'm in an air-conditioned bunk room with four bunks and a separate bathroom compete with a hot shower. I'm the only one in this room.

I slept in this morning until 7 am.  Two hours in an airport, five hours on an airplane, three hours in a car, and a midnight arrival here made yesterday a long day. After a perfect breakfast of a granola bar (I was not hungry after a day of airplane food), we headed out to the day.

Richard and Dave wanted me to see the city first. We went to a downtown shopping area where I was able to change my dollars into pesos. We then walked through the shops. It reminds me of walking through San Estaban in Olancho, Honduras. Only this city seems more tranquil. Busy, yet not the same cowboy feel as San Estaban.

Our mission today was to visit two villages, Laguna Kana and Yoactun, as well as to visit with a family that had experienced a crisis and pray with them. We went with Pastor Alfredo Perera Pech, a pastor whose daughters live in Clearwater and Tampa and who has visited us at St. Andrews several times. He and his wife, Dami, have spent years developing relationships with people in villages throughout this region. At one point, Pastor Alfredo was pastoring 17 churches. Now he has seven.

Children coloring Good Shepherd pages in Laguna Kana
In both villages, Dami led singing, all a cappella. Pastor Alfredo gave opening remarks, introduced us, and asked us to say a few words. I brought them greetings from the elders, deacons, members, and pastors of St. Andrews. Afterward, Pastor Alfredo split off with the adults and Dami went with the children to teach a lesson on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. At one point, I sat next to Jennifer, Pastor Alfredo's granddaughter studying French and English at university and our translator. "What is he telling them," I asked. "He's talking about how alcoholism damages families and lives." Addiction and all of the problems related to it, is a serious problem in the villages. Pastor Alfredo explained that to me with his broken English and my pathetic Spanish. It was enough for me to know that drug and alcohol addictions here, like everywhere, devastate lives. The women were especially interested in what he was saying. I could tell from the nodding heads and attentive eyes.

After the villages, we drove to a man named Lauro's house. Lauro and his wife are grieving the death of two of their sons who were killed recently in an automobile accident. We gathered in the living room, Pastor Alfredo said a few words, then we recited the words of Psalm 23 from memory ("The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...") and prayed together for God to comfort and guide this family in their grief. I can't imagine losing even one child, but to think of losing two at once is hard.

From Lauro's house, we drove back to Felipe Carillo Puerto and had dinner. We dined at a local restaurant and had a great meal. I had a local Mayan pork dish recommended by Jennifer, Pastor Alfredo's granddaughter. We all tried the habenero hot sauce. All was outstanding.

Tonight, I did laundry, rested, then we gathered to talk about missions and Zona Maya missions in particular. The need here is great and the place where we are staying is well-suited for receiving mission teams. More than that, strengthening the faith of individuals in the villages while at the same time strengthening the faith of team members is central to being here. We talked about all of that and spent time together in the living room. It was a good night.

This trip plus the others has given me space to ponder mission motivation and practices. I spent a long time on the airplane here pondering what this summer has taught me and I will be posting that at the end of this trip to add reflections from this trip. For now, I will say that this is what we do. We serve and give and go. We do it because there is need, we are capable of meeting some of the needs, and the Holy Spirit has led the particular missions to us as a church. This church called me, a pastor who at the time had sent a dozen or so teams to Honduras. God brought mission leaders to us. Teams went out and our church has, over the years, been shaped by the mission team members who have gone and returned. While they were away, they got what I call the "mission itch." That itch needs more than a once a year scratch to be satisfied. These away trips have stimulated increased involvement locally. It is a beautiful thing to see the fulfillment of Jesus' command to tell others what we know of him locally, in our area, and "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8-9).

By the way, it's hot here. But after cold San Francisco, it's a welcome heat.

Off to bed...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Day of Play

At the Pacific Ocean on Ocean Beach, California
You may have heard the expression, "when in Rome do as the Romans do." Our variation on that expression today was, "When in San Francisco, do as the tourists do." So we did.

Earlier in the week, I invited our YWAM leader, Daniel Clift, to go with us on our free day. He is from Concord, just across San Francisco Bay and spent the summer in the Tenderloin where we were staying. He agreed and after sleeping in, getting a shower, we headed off to the mass transit station.

Daniel told us at the end of this very long day he's never heard of anyone doing all we did in a single day. The following is a list of all we did. Keep in mind we were riding busses and trains to get to these places which were often far apart. Our last leg of the trip was a long walk just to get to a bus stop. We were tired, but had a great day.
  • Played at Ocean Beach. We out our feet or whole body (Trevor) into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Saw a street riot over the Middle East fighting.  
  • Had lunch at Super Duper, a gourmet burger place
  • Rode a cable car. A San Francisco must.  
  • Walked down Lombard Street, the curviest road in the world
  • Viewed Alcatraz, "the Rock," a former prison on an island
  • Walked Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39
  • Met an 2012 London gold medal Olympic runner Demetrius Pinder and his family. 
  • Had dinner at California's famous In & Out burgers (that's where we met the Pinder family)
  • Went to Ghiradelli Square. "Show of hands...who wants ice cream?" Two hands went up. The rest were too cold for ice cream. 
  • Saw the Golden Gate Bridge at night. 
This was a great way to end the trip. All of us, especially the youth, had a trip whose memories will last a lifetime.
On the famous curvy Lombard Street

Friday, July 25, 2014

Prayer in the Square

Standing outside of YWAM base camp before outreach
It's been a good day. After breakfast, we had an orientation to a new ministry to the homeless for this trip. The ministry was to worship with, meet with, pray with, and provide for some clothing needs for the homeless in an open plaza. We went to the United Nations Plaza, a 2 ½ acre pedestrian mall in walking distance from our base camp. The plaza is a major portal for all modes of San Francisco’s transportation system. Vendors show up with tents and goods for sale along the walkway of the mall. This is also a gathering place for the homeless.

We sat on a curb outside of a federal building on the plaza, pulled out the guitars and percussion instruments and began singing. This singing began to attract a small crowd and soon the team began interacting with the people at the worship space. Not long after that, team members went off in groups to interact with the homeless gathered throughout the plaza.  Charlene, Becca, Hannah, and I met with "Tio Javier" (Uncle Javier), a 50 year-old alcoholic who said he wanted to stop drinking, but it was hard for him. We asked about his life, his family, and his needs. He asked us to pray for his drinking, for him to be able "to keep living," and for pain he was experiencing after being hit by a car a few years ago. We met two people in that park who had injuries from being hit by cars. The other guy still had a cast on his arm. After a while, I caught the eye of a man sitting off a distance, smiled, and did that guy thing of tilting the head as if saying, "what's up?" It was enough of a cue to feel okay going up to him. The man's name was AJ, which were the letters of his two first names that "are difficult for Americans to pronounce." AJ was from Afghanistan. He was smoking marijuana as we spoke, hoping, as he said, it would mellow him out. I thought it a strange comment because he seemed perfectly relaxed. AJ talked to me about life in Afghanistan, in Pakistan where he family moved, and his years in America. He spoke of a failed arranged marriage. He spoke of his hopes to be able to earn money to move back to Afghanistan. "It may not be much to look at, but when you live there, you realize how enjoyable the place can be."He also spoke of faith. His home countries were predominantly Muslim, but he rejected that faith because he felt like it was forced on him. He felt suffocated by the rules of Islam and without openly rejecting it, he just wandered away from it. I told him I was a Christian and hoped that the conversation would drift toward spiritual truth and decisions. It didn't. I couldn't help but agree that just accepting a body of doctrine was not what God wanted. I didn't get to have the discussion that faith, and especially Christianity, is not about religion; it is about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, our group had to leave and our conversation was cut short. If I lived here, I would go back tomorrow and as many days as possible to continue the conversation. I only hope our conversation was one small piece of opening his heart to meet Christ in a real and personal way. 

At worship time in the plaza
After lunch, we went to do group processing of the trip then went to worship and large group processing. That was a great time to spend in worship and prayer before God. Students got to journal, draw, nail burdens written on slips of paper onto a cross, pray together, and doodle on the sidewalk with chalk. It was a time to express what God had done in them or said to them in this week's work. Nicky and I used this as a time to take a few of the students aside and affirm them in their faith. When Nicky, MacKenzie and I were talking on a small porch behind the building, the wind blew the door back into the building shut. What we didn't know was that everyone had left inside and we were locked out. We thought we were going to have to jump the fence then found a gate that led us into a construction zone that took us about 15 minutes to find our way out. When we got back, the team had eaten, all of the food was gone, and the three of us went to Subway down the street. It was a little mini-adventure. 

Tonight, the game plan was perfect. Relaxing. Some slept, a group of us gathered on a couch and looked at photos and videos on the computer, and enjoyed hanging out. We also planned our day ahead with our leader, Daniel, who will join us in showing some of the sights of San Francisco. 

For now, it's bed time...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Going After Hunger

Our team plus 100 others working in the food bank. 
We went after part of the problem faced by the homeless or near homeless in a different way this morning. After a 20 minute rapid transit train ride, we went to a huge food bank and helped breakdown about 50 pallet loads of food. There were 110 volunteers mostly from the bay area. The GAP clothing store corporate staff had a big work day to end hunger. I spoke with a human resources manager who explained that helping people with much more than clothing has been a core value of the company and this, serving in a food bank, is an expression of that value.

We traveled back to base camp, had lunch, and went to worship time. The teaching today was a continuation of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Once again, the YWAM actors - us - acted out each of the story. Once again, the YWAM actors brought out nuances we would never have noticed had these actors not brought them out. For example, Joseph's brothers had a Texan accent. Also, the relatively insignificant part of the pack animals carrying the bags for Joseph's brothers played a comic part of the story. Even our own part of the story, when Israel told his sons to load the best of the land's honey, myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds, in our version these items popped up out of the ground and had sound effects. Still, the story of God came through. Issues of forgiveness, faithfulness, and worthy living were seen and noted in the story.

After worship, we went into the kitchen and taped printed Scripture verses to water bottles and bread packages. The Scriptures were about Jesus as the Living Water and the Bread of Life. Once completed, we hit the streets again. Our team divided into two groups and offered water and bread to the homeless along the way. Two guys named Tony and "Curly" stood out on this outreach for us. They were standing together and accepted what we offered. Before we could even ask, Tony said, "We need to pray together. Let's pray like Jesus taught us." And then we circled up and prayed the Lord's Prayer. We were told to and did keep our eyes open during prayer. Afterward Tony had a big smile on his face and wanted to know all about us. It was great to see the younger team members talking to him. Curly told us, "I write gospel songs." I asked him to show us by singing for us, which he happily did. He sang one of his songs about how "the church prayed for me today." We all started clapping and trying to sing along. Those two guys were beaming and our students felt connected.  When we debriefed afterward, we heard the other team tell of how they met with familiar faces and a few new ones. One woman was a Jehovah's Witness and didn't want to be prayed for or pray for others because "the end is coming." While we too have a theology that acknowledges a second coming and transformed heaven and earth, what thought most about was how many people on the streets really do have mental issues. We've seen a number of people having conversations with themselves, including one guy boxing the air and yelling at some opponent. Even the homeless around him watched him with anything from wariness to laughter.

Worshipping in Union Square
After dinner, it was free time. We went to a local well-loved coffee place, Philz Coffee, and then went to Union Square, an upscale shopping area. It was such a contrast between the homeless in front of the buildings in the Tenderloin district and the limousines in front of Macy's at Union Square. Hard to process. We went up to the Hyatt Hotel's 36th floor observation room. We had a spectacular view of the bay and the city. Afterward, we headed back to the base, but ran into another team from California (the other Presbyterians) who were singing worship songs in the Union Square. We joined them in leading public worship and passing out flyers about YWAM. On the way home from that, we ran into the Texas team on the way back from their evening out. Texas, California, and Florida all walked back to the base camp.

Energy is high tonight, the students are opening up more and more to God and each other, and the ministry gets stronger each day. Even though it was not as personal today with the food bank work and the limited contact with the homeless with the Living Water/Bread of Life outreach, we did interact with, pray for, pray with, and minister to the homeless today with more comfort than yesterday. It has been a good day.

Grace and peace...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On the Streets of San Francisco

My morning team out in front of the YWAM base camp
This morning they let us sleep in. Mercifully. We all slept like rocks. The other teams went to go on a "homeless plunge" where after a night of sleeping on the floor at base camp, they go wander the streets for half a day and have their meals at homeless feeding places like San Francisco's version of Clearwater's Homeless Emergency Project (HEP). The leader's said that our trip here was not far off from the homeless experience so we would do something else.

We went on a scavenger hunt. The point was to be on the streets interacting with and praying for people while making our way to some sights of the city using clues given to us. Our team stopped at a Japanese Peace Plaza and prayed for peace in the middle east, in the places with active wars, in families, and in the Tenderloin neighborhood where we are staying. Justin said of his prayer, "I don't know where those words came from." His prayer was a fervent appeal to God to intervene in places with conflict. So cool. We also went to the Fillmore Heritage Center where we prayed for St. Andrews church member John Corl who we heard while there was in that very moment undergoing open-heart surgery. It was great to share with them later the news that he came through the four-hour surgery well. While we prayed a woman whose store we prayed in front of came out and said, "I hope you were praying for me." We told her we would love to pray for her, gathered around her, and prayed for her and her family. The scavenger hunt ended with us going to the location of the home in which a TV family - the Tanners from the show Full House - was filmed, including the Alamo Park across the street.

When we came back, we had an orientation to the community luncheon we were about to have. Unlike other food programs which concentrate on feeding the homeless guests and "get them in and out as quickly as possible," this lunch was much more relational and spiritual. Two people on the teams sat at each table. Two waiters waited on the guests.  Other teams poured water or tea, worked in the kitchen, welcomed them into the luncheon, and cleaned up after. Almost everyone here went out for about 35 minutes ahead of time to invite the homeless in the neighborhood. About 100 showed up.  I was a waiter at a table at which we had 3-4 guests, each of which we got to know a little. One man, Patrick, was bright, articulate, personable, knowledgable, and had a great sense of humor. We don't know how or why he is homeless, but we did learn about this life and his family. Nicky Clark prayed for him before lunch was over. It was great.

After lunch, we cleaned up, went to small group time to process our lunch outreach, then began a time of worship. During worship, we were given the Old Testament story of Joseph, divided into groups, and told to act out the stories. Let's just say that when you get a group of youth to act out a biblical story with 15 minutes preparation, entertainment is sure to follow. Our part of the story was when Rueben defended Joseph. Rueben was played by a guy named Dan from San Jose who played Rueben with an Asian accent. None of us will look at the role of Potiphar's wife the same again after one of the youth guys from Texas played the part convincingly. In the end, however, the story of God's care and control in the story of Joseph and the story of God using difficult circumstances to work out good came through loud and clear. It was an important teaching moment.

Dinner tonight was out. We went to an Indian cuisine restaurant called Chutney near where we are staying. We had naan bread, curried rice with lamb, a chicken dish with a cream sauce, an eggplant dish, and another potato dish. It was all delicious and for many students it was their first time with Indian food. This area is a melting pot of international persons and restaurants.

The final part of today was a hot chocolate outreach. This base camp here in this Tenderloin district has been doing hot chocolate outreach each week since the 1980s. The homeless know that a good, warm cup of hot chocolate and a friendly face is available once a week here. It was another of an increasing number of times to get to meet and interact with people who happen to be homeless.  Whether they accepted the hot chocolate or not, the homeless welcomed and were grateful for the act of kindness shown to them.  Many opened up to us about their lives and their needs. We prayed with many of the people. Seeing 12 year-olds MacKenzie and Lyric alongside of 17 year-old Charlene and 19 year-old Justin smiling and encouraging and praying for the people on the streets was powerful. These students are learning to look past the labels and see and seek to bless people. Fellow humans. Children of God. It is beautiful.

The leaders talked tonight and we are beginning to see spiritual movement on our team. Some more than others, but God is opening eyes and hearts. That is a fire within that we pray the Holy Spirit will turn into a blazing fire.

Time to rest...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Getting to San Francisco to Serve

Yesterday, a team of 10 people left from Tampa to travel to San Francisco, California. It is a youth trip and I am one of the leaders. We are staying in a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) “base camp” located in a neighborhood in the city called the “Tenderloin.” This neighborhood has great need, particularly with the homeless, and YWAM has set up base camp as a permanent site to minister to and with the men and women of the streets. I will write more on the ministry as we go through the week. This entry is about why we are here and a little about the challenges getting here.

After spending eight days in Honduras earlier this month - our seventh trip to that country as a church - and now spending this week in inner city ministry, the question arises once again of “why are we spending all of that money to go far from Dunedin to take care of people when we have needs right here in our own backyard." I hear it every time along with questions about why I'm gone on these trips and not in the pulpit. The answer hasn't changed over the years. We think it fulfills the gospel call to make disciples of all the "people groups" (Matthew 28:19) and be Christ's witnesses throughout the whole planet (Acts 1:9).  I struggle with those who think it is okay to not help those beyond our church or community. I've heard of churches who say that. We only take care of our own people. That is NOT us. I've said it before: I want us to be inwardly strong and outwardly focused. Car Care Ministry, strip club outreach, Homeless Emergency Project (HEP) and all of these mission trips are ways of us being outwardly focused. And as for me being on these trips and away from the pulpit and the church, I am not the kind of leader who leads from the back. I lead from the front. It's who I am. That takes me away at times. It is part of who I am as a pastor.

Being on this particular trip has had an interesting start. To get from Tampa to San Francisco, it took 26 hours, three airplanes, four states, three limo buses, two trains/trams, one hotel, and a whole lot of patience. Our planned route took us through Milwaukee and put us in on Monday evening. We got to Milwaukee without incident. And then the plan went awry. The flight was delayed three hours and then, because they couldn't get a crew and airplane together at 10 pm, the flight was cancelled. They drove us to a hotel near Chicago's Midway airport, a 90 minute drive away. We got into Chicago at 1 am. We had to leave for the airport at 4 am. It was a short night. We got on the airplane, landed in Los Angeles and were welcomed with another flight delay, this time it was the final leg to San Francisco. FINALLY, we landed, caught the mass transit to the YWAM site, and stopped moving. I told my daughter Christina we are "stupid tired." Sleep will be welcome tonight.

The best part of all has been the "no problem" attitude of the team. They have been content no matter what is happening. The patience displayed has been great, especially since this is the very situation in which others come unglued. We lost a day of being on mission which is a disappointment, but we all know that God is in control and somehow this was a part of this journey we needed to experience. As Nicky said when we prayed in Chicago, "it was late at night and we were uncertain where we would sleep for a while and we are going to serve the homeless of San Francisco who experience this as a way of life. Maybe God is preparing us." Well said, Nicky.

YWAM base camp has several mission teams here now and all of the teams gathered in the dining area tonight for a pizza party. Not pizza we at; rather, pizza we prepared so we could bake and serve it tomorrow to the homeless for lunch. Afterward, our team leader, Daniel, took us for a walk around the Tenderloin district. We stopped for coffee at Philz Coffee, a place coffee lovers rave about, and then to pick up some congestion medicine for a few on the team who are feely stuffy.

And now...bed. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Looking Back on the Journey

For the final day of the mission trip, I've asked the "Queso Grande" (Big Cheese) for the trip, the team coordinator, Gene Ginn, and his daughter Sara to share thoughts on the trip. 

Gene Ginn and his daughter Sara.
Gene's Thoughts
As a reflection of our mission experience in Honduras visiting the village of El Mico we are reminded of Gods power to bond us all as one in the spirit. The mission teams were successful in completing our work projects to improve the lives and health of the villagers, such as, concrete floors, latrines, room additions along with two new projects. The new projects were a Pila, which is a water basin and shower along with a new eco clay stove which uses minimal wood to create a very hot cooking surface. Every year the improvements are visible to the visiting group, due to the work HOI is doing in the Agalta Valley with Gods help along with a few crazy missionaries.

As we drove to the ranch the group had a lot of questions. Especially the "newbies" What will we do? Will I be able to do that type of work? Without revealing everything they would be doing I gave them just enough information to stay safe. I feel it is up to God to reveal what they should be doing and why they are in Honduras on a mission trip with 27 others.

The team began the week with a "we are going to get this done attitude" and with God on their side they were physically strong and full of God's grace. The projects were many during the week and all of them were completed and with a group this large the projects were finished in record time. Martha our Honduran group leader came to me on the last day and said, " I don't know what your group is going to do tomorrow, you are almost finished." I said, "it must be time for a fiesta."

During the evening devotional it was repeatedly revealed to me that God was at work. Bringing stories back from the village of relationships were rekindled and new ones being made. The daily VBS was enjoyed by the children acting out the bible stories they were learning. One of the most memorable days was when I had finished working at one house and to get to the next project Sara, Jen, Brad and I had to walk by the school yard and all the children were outside on a very breezy day and the pinwheels they had made in VBS were spinning so fast they were about to take flight. The laughter of the children was truly infectious. God is Good and again I am reminded why were are here in Honduras letting our light shine.

Sara's Thoughts:
Hola Mis Amigos y Mi Familia! So now that I have been surrounded in a complete Spanish environment, I am pleased to inform you that the remainder of this letter will be in Spanish. Is that okay? No? Okay, English it is!

Many of you know that my parents have been going on this trip for seven years and the fact that I finally would be able to go was very overwhelming. Things like packing for a week and constantly contemplating "Do I need this? Do I need that?" followed by flying into the Tegucigalpa airport. A local called the airport TNT because it is one of the most dangerous airports in the world due to the fact that it is surrounded by glorious mountains of extreme height and houses that made me feel like I was invading their privacy because of how close in proximity they are to the runway. However, I do believe that on this trip, I have learned one very important thing. You don't need anything but the grace of God and His will.

You may ask why I say that. For those four days that we were in the rural village of El Mico, I saw more love, compassion, strength and hope than I could ever comprehend between a village of 45 families. I was awestruck in wonder when I saw how much they had spiritually versus how much materialistic things they didn't have. They always had a smile on there face and PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). Thanks to Brad Byers for that catchy slogan. They were a community of people who were connected by several things, the most prominent being their grace in God. These people had an unfailing love, just like God.

One of my most memorable experiences was the second day I was in the clinic. There was a woman who had brought in her daughter. Mirian, our lovely translator and nurse, looks at all of us and tells us "This child is anxious and nervous but we have nothing to fix that with." Quickly Marcia, also a nurse, brought a piece of paper with a prayer on it for good health. So we sat and prayed for her worries and her health. It amazed me that we were led to do that at the exactly right time for her.

I was truly blessed that someone my age, could experience something as life changing as this trip. I've heard the stories and seen all the pictures. However, I was blessed when God gave me the chance to see with my own eyes what I had seen in pictures, and now having my own stories to share with the world. I also came walk away with 27 new friends who I have become true brothers and sisters in Christ with, and let me tell you, my cup is overflowing from what I have experienced thanks for your prayers and support for making this possible form me and my Dad. I am proud to have represented St. Andrews in Honduras.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Last Full Day in Honduras

Today's guest's bloggers are Linda Dremstedt and Mirian Andrade. These two had not met prior to the trip, but those who didn't know would have guessed they were lifelong friends. I've asked them to share their thoughts on Friday of the trip. 

Miran (in blue), Linda (in center) and Jen dancing at the concert
Last night the Honduran security guards who work for the sending organization Honduras Outreach, Inc. (HOI) put on a fabulous concert for the four mission groups staying in the compound. We danced and sang and Tyler White became part of the band playing the “cajon” like he was born to do so! The guards had guns on their hips but musical instruments in their hands.

After many days of travel, hard labor, fun and fellowship we are finally ready to leave. All tasks were completed in the village thanks to great team work among ourselves and the villagers. It’s up at 5am, luggage on the bus at 6am, breakfast at 6:15 and gathering of all employees and missionaries at the cross 7am. We sang songs together and then the pastors and HOI president shared inspiring messages encouraging us to carry on with God’s work as maturing Christians. We thanked each employee as they greeted each one of us.

On to Tegucigalpa! It was a bumpy and dusty six hour ride much of the way, but knowing our destination was getting closer to home made it easier to take.
About midway we stopped at the Mennonite Bakery for lunch and shopping from local vendors. The couple who owned the bakery came here over 40 years ago with their family from Indiana and was there to greet us. A few hours more and we arrived at the fabulous Honduras Mayan Hotel. What a treat!!! Flushing toilets, big beds, hot shower, swimming pools, internet, and even a beauty salon. Oh my!!!!!

At 6:30 we met for dinner in the hotel and had a celebration of Christina Fullerton’s birthday. Jayne Dowdy had the tables decorated for the occasion and birthday cake was shared by all. Following dinner we ascended to the top floor over looking a spectacular night time view. We gathered around for our final time of sharing and reflection. Gifts were exchanged from group to leaders and leaders to group. We truly appreciate all the work it took to keep us all safe and productive.

Our Honduran leader, Martha Espinoza, translated a letter written by a person in our village of El Mico. They were very grateful and thankful for our willingness to share our blessings with them. They wished us a safe trip back home. They wrote about our hard work and all we had accomplished in God’s name. They thanked us many times and sent us on our way praying for safety and health. We were all very moved to be so appreciated and were reminded once again why we had come here, to be God’s hands and serve.

Lastly, Pastor John led us in a time of affirmation as each of us was blessed individually with the hearing from our peers what gifts they saw in us and how we contributed to the mission as a whole. What an uplifting and humbling experience it was!! Pastor John stated we were indeed the “Light of Christ in the world" and “well done" for what we had achieved and learned on this journey.

The youth were amazing on this expedition!! Mature beyond their years, open to God’s direction and showing Christ like love for each other and the Honduran people. Parents and church could not have been prouder of them as they shared God’s love to the village through hard work and joyous play.

We had the perfect group for what we needed to accomplish. God has a way of bringing us where we are needed and where we need to be. It was a trip we will never forget. As always, we received more that we gave and that too is God’s way of keeping our hearts open and wanting to keep giving of ourselves.

Mirian and Linda

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Finishing and Saying Goodbye

Today's guest bloggers are Brad and Jen Byers. Many of you know Jen as our former Children's Minister. She retired from that position when Brad took a new job on the K-9 department of the Sheriff's Office and his hours changed. This is Jen's second trip here and Brad's first. Both of them were energetic, hard working, and pure joy. They let the love and light of Christ shine! This is Day 4 of work through their eyes.

Jen, in-country leader Martha Espinoza, and Brad
Our day started with a group picture at the cross with our team shirts, tired smiles and a beautiful mountain background.  On the way to the village for the last time I read our bible verse on the back of our team shirts, Matthew 5:16.This made me reflect on why we are here.  I truly believe that as a team we Glorified God.  St. Andrews and St. Mary’s accomplished so much. Each team member has a special gift and shared with the people of El Mico. Not only did we build latrines, floors, wash basins, eco stoves and mudding we built relationships.  

Our team today was Gene, Sara, Brad and Me.  We started at Martir's home to finish pouring a concrete floor on his front porch.  We were so relieved to see a small porch with a little pile of sand.  We worked quickly and were ready to move on to help another team and family.  After walking all the way across the village we were happy to see that they were also close to being done.  We visited with this family and Sara really enjoyed playing with one little girl that was extremely shy. After several blown bubbles she opened up with a big smile and popped a bubble.  The man at the last home was able to speak a little english.  He enjoyed sharing pictures of his family and friends.  I really feel that we made a connection with the people in the village and earned their trust.
Our work was done in the village so we headed toward the school house but on the way we stopped to visit the homes and families of projects that were completed.  All the families were grateful and proud of their homes.  We made it back to the school house and prepared for the fiesta. 

Many of the villagers arrived at the school house wearing their sunday’s best. They are very respectful and proud people. The fiesta started out with all the people of El Mico singing beautiful songs in spanish and the Honduras national anthem. We then sang our national anthem. After singing everyone prayed the Lord’s Prayer together at the same time. They said it in spanish while we said it in english, it was awesome. The pastor’s wife represented the village and gave every team member a gift of a carved piece of cypress wood shaped as fish saying Jesus. For a short time everyone was able to have some fun and fellowship together while eating watermelon. As we said “Adios Amigos” it was very obvious that it became a sad time because it was time to leave. But knowing that the village of El Mico are believers in Jesus and will be blessed was comforting as we left the village. 

Our team devotional time after dinner will be based on the theme “Eternal Life” and one of our verses being Matthew 28: 19-20.This seems to be appropriate timing as today is our last day in El Mico. 

Jen and I want to thank you for all of your prayers. We know that you are with us in spirit. Your prayer letters give us motivation and strength to fulfill the mission to glorify God and spread the love of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Last Full Day in El Mico

Today's guest bloggers are a mom and dad plus their son who are on the trip this year - Brett, Julie, and their 17 year-old son, Zach Phillips. This trip was a trip filled with parent/child combinations. My daughter, Christina and I were together. Gene Ginn and his daughter, Sara, were here. Barry and Jayne Dowdy had their son, Darren (aka here as "Dorito"). Debi Fiegle and her son posted the other day. And now, here's the Phillips family. 

Brett and Julie Phillips
Brett’s day:
My day began with a great ride with my family to the village of El Mico. It was a beautiful morning with a short walk to the first home which had dirt floors. Our mission was to concrete the floors so the family wouldn’t have to walk on the parasite ridden dirt and improve their health. The meeting of the family was great, and they were filled with joy and happiness to see our team arrive to help. After that, we went to two more homes and met and worked with more of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although there was a language barrier, the mission was completed and relationships were built. The labor of the day was a great success not to mention joyful and fulfilling!

Julie’s day:
My day began with a great stretching exercise led by team member Brad Byers. Once we were all stretched we loaded the vehicles and visited two local HOI, Inc. schools. After that we headed to the village and I had the pleasure of working with Gene Ginn on a shower and sink. We shoveled concrete and sand and managed the crater dance [the method of mixing concrete on the ground] once again. When our job was complete we went back to the school and watched Jayne Dowdy finish passing out the last few water filters to families without clean water to drink. A total of 43 families, received a water filter and this village will be a pilot program with ongoing education and support from HOI, Inc. God is good!

Zach’s day:
My day started with stretching out as a group to prepare for our day. When we left in the cars for El Mico it was a sunny warm day. When we arrived at the school Jen, Marsha, and myself were assigned to help a family put in concrete floors into there home. After a few hours we completed our assignment and headed back to the school for lunch. After lunch I was invited to go with both Pastor John and Father Roy to go to houses with people that needed someone to pray for them and I happily took the opportunity. Every house we went too was amazing and special in its own way, but one house was extra special to me. The first house we went too had an elderly woman laying on her bed. Her son explained to us that she had no feeling in her legs and without a wheelchair she was bound to her bed. When we entered the room you could see that she had almost no emotion or even motivation. We gathered around her, put a hand on her and each said a prayer to her. Once that was complete we all shared in saying the Lord’s Prayer. The change in the woman was amazing. She looked at us with a smile so big you would think she was an eight year-old on Christmas Day. It made me feel good because she didn’t need anything to smile or to be happy, All she needed was someone to show her love and feel like people do care. She thanked each of us individually before we left and hugged us goodbye. That moment was very special to me and I’m glad I could experience it with such a great group of people.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hunkering Down

Today's guest bloggers are my daughter, Christina, and her boyfriend, Tyler White.  This is Tyler's mission trip and the first time he's needed a passport to leave the U.S.  Christina has been on this trip before in 2012.  This Tuesday post went up on Friday when we returned to the capital city of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. The internet at the ranch was completely out Tuesday and Wednesday. It was fixed on Thursday, but frozen molasses moves faster than the internet speed. Here is Christina and Tyler's post.

Christina and Tyler with Eduardo in background
Last night Tyler helped lead a group for our evening devotion and the topic was spiritual growth. They asked where each member of the group saw any kind of spiritual growth and it was amazing to see that almost everyone spoke about some way they had their eyes opened by God.

We as a couple wanted to share our individual days with you, to get two perspectives on our lives here, and speak together as a couple to what specifically God has opened our eyes to with this team.

Christina’s day:
How can someone attempt to describe a transcendental God movement with words? I will attempt it, but I pray you hear more than just my words when I say this.

My day began with breakfast, seasoned with the ever-present hint of hand sanitizer, before heading to the village. Tyler and I were excited to be assigned our jobs for the day, and (one of) the wonderful things about working here is how Gene separates people who know each other well (i.e. family or significant others) so we can get to know other team members better. Needless to say, we were separated.

My team and I headed off to a house that needed a latrine finished. Finishing the latrine called for tasks that are now habits for us: passing concrete blocks, mixing concrete, sifting sand, you know, the usual. 

While there were many people there working with or watching us today, one girl in particular stood out. Her name is Rosa and she has Down’s Syndrome. She seemed fascinated with us right from the get-go, and her mischievous smile indicated that she was planning something. 

To entertain her and a couple other children around, Zach Phillips, a 17-year-old member of the St. Andrew’s team, made the wonderful decision to pull out his bubbles. Man alive, did Rosa love those bubbles! We blew a few for her until she realized she could do it, then she promptly blew a few all over Zach’s face, and this laugh, this infectious laugh, bubbled up out of her as she realized how funny she thought she was. 

As we took turns entertaining Rosa, we finished building the septic tank, and concluded the day by putting the walls of the latrine together with mud. This family is special because they are able to make their latrine a room addition, thereby having indoor plumbing.

Somewhere between the concrete and the mudding, I realized that all of my dreams as a child of Little House on the Prairie being the ultimate life is literally the life that these people live and it drew up conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I have always dreamed of living that simple life of Laura Ingalls Wilder that these Hondurans have, but on the other, I found myself pitying them. 

It wasn’t until we got back to the ranch and I read a letter from my prayer partner that I realized something. The letter spoke of happiness versus joy in their letter today and quoted Oswald Chambers: “The Bible talks plenty about joy, but it nowhere speaks about a “happy” Christian. Happiness depends on what happens, joy does not. Happiness is not a sign that we are right with God; happiness is a sign of satisfaction, that all is well for the moment,—but that all of us can be satisfied on a lower level. Jesus Christ disturbs every kind of satisfaction that is less than delight in God.” 

Rosa had joy, and many of the other children had joy, and I realized that my mind has been too “me” oriented in that I have only seen this village through my American eyes, pitying those less fortunate than us, and I need to take those blinders off.

Tyler’s day:
To understand what truly happened today, let me back up to yesterday. I was placed in a group with Debi and Brad. Debi called me and Brad her “go-getters” because of our ability and eagerness to work hard and fast. 

It was frustrating at the start, since both Brad and I struggled to find a way to apply our acquired knowledge from previous time in construction/carpentry work to the crooked logs and “foreign” crew of Honduran men before us. It was Debi’s veteran suggestions of patience and facilitation rather than the “git-r-done” attitude of two “newbies” that greased the wheels enough for work to start slowly, modestly, and with more patience than either of us wanted to muster. 

As the day moved on, Brad and I each noticed how the growing relationships with the Honduran men facilitated more trust with the tools and construction. Brad described it aptly, “As soon as we started getting to know each other, everything went mucho rapido.” He developed a working relationship with the mason Alonso, and Debi spent some time with the elderly couple who owned the property before stirring several volcanoes of cement. The whole project was started and finished in that one day; a first according to Debi.

My perspective, which started with determination to work hard, was shattered in favor of an overwhelming connection of brotherhood with the 21-year-old Jose Luis today. I worked very hard, broke a hard sweat, and impressed him with my abilities with a hammer and saw, but that was merely the media through which we connected on a fundamental level. Jose Luis continued to work with me, this time on his grandmother’s house. 

Our laughter, camaraderie, and brotherhood echoed from the previous day into today, and was reinforced with new love and companionship. The laughs from our bellies boomed into existence through smiles that somehow stretched wider than the day before as we moved onto the next house to see my new partners Jason and Jill play with an 8 year old girl whose name escapes me. They moved from bubbles to tennis balls to Jason’s magic tricks hiding pebbles and picking cards. As Jason and this little girl giggled so hard in each others’ faces that they ran out of breath, I saw the face of Jesus manifest itself: the childlike unadulterated joy that we all are called to pursue and grant others in order to pass through heaven’s gates.

These two stories from our experiences today are consistently echoed throughout the group and the core of our sentiment is reflected threefold: God’s love is moving everyone here, Jesus Christ is alive and thriving, and the Holy Spirit’s voice is facilitating communication purely from heart to heart despite any barrier it may encounter. 

We as a couple reflected upon this in a rare moment away from the group as we noticed the strengthening of our spiritual bond regardless of the relatively short time we have spent together since arriving. 

One thing has become increasingly clear as the relationships between Hondurans and Americans, as well as among our group, transforms into brothers and sisters in Christ (hermanos y hermanas e Cristo): the physical poverty is truly great in Honduras, but the spiritual richness is greater.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Work Begins

Today, I welcome a mother and son guest blogger team, Debi and Jason Fiegle. Debi is the Deacon for Global Mission at St. Andrews and has been on every trip we’ve had. This is Jason’s first trip. The internet service on the ranch is very slow, so I will forgo uploading photos until I get into better internet service. Probably in Tegucigalpa on our last night. Also, the group had an opening worship service last night led by Father Roy and me. We sang, prayed, had some ice breaker questions to talk about together, heard the story from John 6 of the young boy who brought to Jesus what he had to feed hungry people, and then had communion ourselves led by Father Roy and me. And now, news of today from the Fiegles...

This morning we woke up excited and ready to visit our new and old friends at the village of el Mico.  Breakfast was at 6:15 am which consisted of eggs, ham, beans, bananas and watermelon, so we received our protein to help give us energy for the day.  We met at the cross at 7:00 am to have a short worship service with the HOI ranch staff and the other two teams at the ranch.  This is always a beautiful service and a wonderful way to start the first day.

The drive to the village seemed shorter than usual and we were very warmly welcomed by the villagers.  The children were outside the school and we all got hugs from them and the adults before we started our introductions.  I was fortunate enough to see many of the children and adults that became my friends from last year.  Returning to a village you have visited before is awesome!  There is a different comfort level and an immediate feeling of returning home.  I really enjoy seeing my Honduran families again.  The students welcomed us with songs, we sang two songs to them, we weren’t as good as they were, but we got it done.  Pastor John gave a short Spanish introduction before we introduced ourselves to the village.  Many of us were remembered, not all by name, but by sight.  The pastor of the village spoke and the Godcidence that occurred was he spoke about having a positive attitude, which we were just talking about during devotionals last night.  I think this is our theme for the week.  As Brad Byers says, PMA, positive mental attitude.  We are all going to have a positive mental attitude this week and when Jesus is your focus, how can you go wrong?

We had seven work teams and one school team.  We were working on latrines and pilas (outdoor laundry) today.  The VBS team had a great morning with the kids and in the afternoon we had a clinic with 27 adults and 10 kids attending.  The latrine I was working on was totally complete by the end of the day.  We had a great group working with us at Sophia and Jose Sanchez’s house.  The newbies are initiated into mission work and have done well.  The end of the day everyone is relaxing in hammocks and sharing tmi, (too much information), which is always what happens on a mission trip.  We mean this in a good way.

Jason’s thoughts: 
The whole trip has met my expectations from what I have been told and have seen from pictures.  At the village I met a kid whose name was pronounced just like mine, except it was spelled Yeison.  I had a pretty good conversation with the kids.  My Spanish teacher would be proud.  I guess four years of Spanish has helped a bit.  There was a lot of standing, bending and lifting while building a latrine, which was completely expected.  I did not expect one of the Hondurans to trip and almost fall into the pit for the latrine, which was probably 10 feet deep.  I grabbed his leg and Jen Byers took the blow by grabbing him under the arms, but we saved him from falling.  My favorite experience today was playing with the kids and pumping up their soccer balls, which is extremely important in Honduras.  I had a crowd of kids around me while I was pumping the soccer balls.

As I (Debi) reflect on the day, I must say that Honduras is as beautiful as ever and the people are loving and friendly.  Our team has quickly bonded, we all are full of agape love and are so excited to do God’s work tomorrow.  God is so good!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Arrival at the Ranch

Today's post will be by team member Barry Dowdy. Barry is an elder of the church and one of the ones at St Andrews who has completed seminary requirements on his way to being a Commissioned Ruling Elder (CRE). That's the new name for what was previously called Lay Pastor. He has been married to Jayne for 17 years and they have four sons, one of whom, Darren, is on the trip with us. If you've ever spent time with Barry you also know him to be one of the most fun people to be around. He loves the Lord, this church, and serving on these mission teams. Here is his update for today. 

Shot taken today of cathedral in Jutacalpa
How do I start to describe the awesome way God has blessed this trip? After getting a good night's sleep and a hot shower the thing that comes to mind is starting my day in the company of 28 of my new best friends. As the sun came up this morning around 6 am I was already awake and had been for serval hours, this is typically as we are two hours behind our normal time in the USA. We gathered for breakfast at 7 am and opened with prayer lead by a pastor in the group from Georgia that was also staying at the same hotel. We had bananas and watermelon with our eggs, toast and pancakes, topped off with an excellent high-test variety of Honduran coffee. It was so nice to causally talk about the coming events and not having to worry about the phone ringing or getting ready for work!

We gathered all our baggage and snack stuff from our rooms to put on the bus before we walked around the downtown area to do some site seeing. We were told this city - Jutacalpa - has 75,000 people in it, but it was Sunday morning so traffic was light and most people appeared dressed for Church. We stopped by a large Catholic Church (photo above) and took a quick peek inside. Julie and Brett Phillips renewed their vows to each other after picking up some local rings from a nearby vendor. I witnessed this private moment in the company of 300 people. Jayne and I shared this same reaffirmation last year. It was very special moment for them as they came here together to share the love of Christ on another continent.

The whole group gathered into the bus for the four-hour journey across some of God's most beautiful countryside and we were not disappointed. Even though you get jostled like a Ping pong ball at times on the secondary roads one can still enjoy the green farm laden valleys and picturesque mountain views. I have seen these same roads for the last five years but they still hold my attention as I can see the growth of this country's infrastructure. It appears their economy is improving as paved roads continue to extend further out into the more rural areas.

The Honduran people are so friendly and accommodating to us. Marta, our HOI leader and the staff at the ranch had lunch prepared for us upon our arrival and we enjoyed another round of pollo (chicken) and rice. All the supplies that were donated and purchased made it through the airport and to the ranch so we spent time unpacking and organizing all of it. The 100 buckets for the water filters were delivered and I have begun to drill holes in them so we can install the filters by Wednesday so they can be loaded on the truck for delivery to the village. Thanks again of all who donated!

I will close for now as we just got back from a tour of the base camp aka the ranch and we will probably have to go eat more food as it's almost dinner time. The ranch takes good care of us and makes sure we are well fed. It is truly a blessing to be here and I can't wait to see what God has in store for us tomorrow.

Note: The people of St. Mary's church who are on our team are also blogging. If you want to see their posts, CLICK HERE