Wednesday, November 08, 2006

God works when we don't feel like we can.

It's a weird place to be in... we've been working for the past year and a half, building a foundation, praying and hoping for things to start and now it's happening. And, it's happening so fast that it's difficult to keep up with. Two Friday nights ago, eight of the kids that have been coming to the skate park gave their lives to the Lord. This past Friday night, after I finished speaking, I asked the ones that had raised their hands and prayed, to stick around for a little while so that we could talk. I wanted to talk to them about starting a new believer's bible study. One of the kids that stuck around was a guy named Nicholas. He's about 17, from Argentina and has been coming to the skatepark for the past few months. After talking about the day and time that would be best for us all to meet, I told him that I didn't know he had raised his hand the previous week. He told me that he hadn't but that he couldn't stop thinking about things all week. He said that he wanted to find out more about God, that he wanted to get to know him and that he had lots of questions. I told him that I would love to sit and talk with him and asked him to stop by my house on Sunday morning.

Well, he came by and we spent two hours talking and sharing. He did have lots of questions but they were sincere questions. He really wanted to know how he could have a relationship with God. It was obvious from the conversation that he has had a lot of new age influence in his life, but it was also obvious that he saw through a lot of it and was really looking for a relationship with a very real God. As we talked, I answered the questions that I could, shared with him what the bible said and shared the gospel with him. At the end, I asked him if he would like to follow Jesus and have a relationship with God through him. We discussed it all...the problem of sin, our need for forgiveness and the price that Jesus paid to free us from the penalty of sin. He is a very bright kid...well educated and very analytical. It was interesting to hear him say that he agreed with what I was explaining but that it sounded too easy. "Maybe that's why so many people have a hard time believing...because it sounds too good to be true," he told me. I agreed with him and asked him what he thought. He said that he believed and that he would like to give his life to God. We prayed and then welcomed another brother into the family. It was pretty incredible and yet another sign of God's power moving in ways that are far beyond me.

My gift is not public speaking. After all this time of leading bible studies, talking in front of people, etc... I still stumble and stutter my way through. I get so nervous even preparing for house church that I feel like puking at times. My point is this...and I say this specifically to encourage others that have a difficult time speaking or sharing in front of others. Just do it and trust God with the results. It is the power of God that does the work...what He wants is people that are faithful and say yes. There's no other explanation for it. Some of the verses that speak the most to me were written by Paul in I Corinthians chapter 2. He says, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not reason on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

One of the things I have wanted most in life was to be one of those pastors that people walk away from talking about "how amazing the message was" or "what a wonderful speaker he is." I often wonder why God called me to do something that almost tortures me. I definitely feel compelled to do it but it's not easy and it doesn't come naturally but, that's ok because God uses people that say yes and lives get changed. Be faithful, push through the doubts and fears, do what God has asked you to do and leave the results up to him. Time after time He amazes me with His faithfulness and it has been exciting to see the results.

Welcome to the family.

I have some great news to pass along and some additional prayer requests for specific people. This past Friday night at the skate-park was an incredible evening. As I wrote in our prayer requests last week, we are planning to start a very structured series of messages for the youth over the next nine weeks. Because of our plans, we wanted to see if we could attract some additional interest by hosting a movie and pizza night this past Friday. Our plans were to let the kids skate for a while, feed them some pizza and then watch a movie together. We decided to show a movie entitled “Something to Sing About” by the Billy Graham Association that my father had brought down earlier this year. Louie, the youth ministry director, asked me to introduce the movie before it started since I had seen it in the past and had recommended that we show it. I introduced the movie by talking about choices. We all have choices in our lives and our choices have consequences. I asked the kids to really pay attention to the characters in the movie and to really think about the choices they were making and the results of those choices.

The movie is about a young guy that gets out of jail after doing time for a crime he didn’t commit. The actors are all African-American, many of whom have been in popular movies and television shows. Anyway, when the guy gets out of prison, he is having a difficult time re-adjusting and finding work. Right away, he is offered an opportunity to make a quick buck by getting involved in the selling of drugs. He ends up meeting an older, Christian woman in a grocery store, who invites him to church. Not long after, he makes a decision to follow Christ. The rest of the movie deals with the consequences of this choice and contrasts it with the choices that were made by his friend who did get involved with the drug trade. The consequences of each decision are clearly portrayed and the gospel is presented a couple of times during the film. I have never seen the kids pay such close attention to anything since we started this program back in July. It was incredible. They were completely silent (a miracle akin to turning water into wine) and every eye was glued to the screen. Many of the kids here in Puerto Viejo are facing the same decisions day after day. Some of them are already playing the part of small time gangsters as they mimic what they see on TV.

Shortly into the film, I started feeling very strongly that we needed to share the gospel and give the kids an opportunity to respond. I asked Louie to share once the movie had ended and I asked him to be very direct with the kids. Louie laid it out for them and tied it in very well with the fact that each of us has to make a choice of whether or not we will follow Jesus. When asked if they wanted to follow Jesus, between eight and ten kids raised their hands and prayed. It was awesome. Afterwards, several of them immediately came and asked me for bibles. We are going to start a new believer’s bible study in the next week or two so that we can help these kids to get off on the right track. They are excited about their decisions and really want to begin learning and growing. Several of them came to our house church tonight. It’s exciting but it is also very challenging. These kids will need a lot of prayer. Everything in the world is stacked against them including the general apathy that seems to permeate the culture.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Getting around in Costa Rica

A long time ago, I wrote about the daily contrasts we run into here in Costa Rica. This past week, I took a short trip up to Guanacaste, the northwestern province of the country, to visit our new neighbors and give Justin, an intern that worked with us this past summer, a look at a very different part of this small country. As we drove through San Jose, everything was fine. Shortly after we began climbing into the mountains, my 4runner started knocking and pinging like the engine was going to fall apart. This really made me sick at my stomach for a couple of reasons…first, it’s not good to be stranded on the highway in CR, and second, I just had to have the entire engine rebuilt earlier this year and it shouldn’t be having problems. Anyway, we had a couple of choices… stop and find a mechanic to look at it (a dicey proposition at best) or keep driving and see what happens. I decided to keep driving and as bad as it was, it didn’t really get any worse.

We made it into Junquiallal around 6:30 that night and were welcomed by Mike and Joanna (who are moving into the house next door to us here in Puerto Viejo tomorrow). Turns out that Mike had to take his car to the mechanic on Monday, so I just planned to go along with him. That being decided, we ate and then hit the sack so that we could get up and surf the next morning. We ended up getting some decent surf and then just hung out with Mike and Joanna the rest of the day, visiting an Indian village with them in the afternoon so that they could buy some pottery for the shop they are opening here in Puerto. Monday was spent at the mechanic’s…from 8:00am until 5:00pm. Tuesday was the reward as we caught some of the best small waves I’ve had in months, not more than 200 yards from Mike’s house.

Now, about the contrasts that I mentioned earlier… First, we had a safe trip to Junquillal but experienced some car trouble (got that fixed), then, we scored some good waves but my car was broken into while we surfed and I lost about $350 worth of stuff. Great surf topped of with a robbery. Par for the course. Anyway, it was a great opportunity to get to know our future neighbors a little better. Turns out that they are Christians and had been praying that they would find a house near another Christian family, specifically one with little kids. They were really excited that God answered their prayers so specifically and we are looking forward to them moving in. They have already come to our house church once, when they were in town looking for a house, and are looking forward to coming on a regular basis. God is really doing some cool things and we appreciate your prayers as doors continue to open.

Why we're here

Well, I wish I was a little more regular at this. It’s hard to imagine being any more irregular but something always seems to come up and I run out of time. Not to mention that it’s a little more difficult to get online down here. Anyway, things have come a long way since I last made time to post. We now have an almost completed skate-park and a regular youth program taking place each Friday night where the kids are getting exposed to biblical truth and are having lots of fun at the same time. At the same time, the kid’s church is going well on Sunday mornings and the house churches (both an English and a Spanish speaking church) are beginning to grow.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that I actually have the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing down here. The more time I spend with the kids of Puerto Viejo, the more time I want to spend with them. They are an incredible group of kids that come from some pretty gnarly home situations. A couple of Friday nights ago, Louie (who heads up the youth program) asked the kids to write down some questions that they had about life, God, church, etc… on index cards that he handed out, so that we could answer the questions from a biblical perspective. I helped one kid write down his question on the card and almost started crying when I read what he wrote. He is only ten years old and he wrote, “Why is it that someone can hit you and God doesn’t come and help you?” That really hit me and gave me a better sense of what these kids deal with on a regular basis. Some of the other questions addressed the existence of God and other questions such as what happens to you if you commit suicide? I was blown away by the depth of the questions but at the same time am very excited about the possibility of answering the questions with the love of Jesus. It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to pour into the lives of these kids when they are at such transition points in their lives. Already, two of them are coming to our house church and a third expressed interest in coming tomorrow. I pray that God speaks to them and works in their lives so that one day soon, they are the ones taking the good news of Jesus to the people of this community.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Follow up to Iguana Hunting

This past Saturday, we got a glimpse into the future of the ministry here in Puerto Viejo. A little over a month ago, we began talking about the possibility of hosting some type of “work day” at the property with some of the local kids. We’re looking for ways to get locals involved in what we’re doing here, which can be a little difficult due to the general lack of volunteerism and the stage of our ministry at the moment. Well, we decided to host a work day, starting in the late afternoon and ending in the evening with pizza and a movie. We started talking to some of the local kids that surf, figuring that they would probably have the most interest in the skatepark, and tried to get the word out to a few other people as well. The idea was to get some additional work done and get to know some of the youth better just by spending time with them. We’ve had a few other opportunities to spend time with some of them lately, which I believed really helped in gaining their trust and made this opportunity more possible.

Anyway, we set the start time for 3:00pm on Saturday. One of the things about this place is that you can’t really depend on much of anything, so we were prepared for a complete no-show even though many of the kids had said they would be there. Well, 3:30 rolls around and there’s no one in sight. I was starting to get a little worried but then at 3:32 kids started showing up in groups of 2 or 3. In the end, we had a total of nine kids show up, which was more than I expected. They worked hard, sanding beams in the music cafĂ© and destroying the remnants of a wall where the first phase of the skate-park is going to be constructed this summer.

Around 6:00, the pizzas arrived and we all stopped to enjoy some food. We watched a portion of a skate movie, just to give the guys a look at the possibilities, and then we watched a really good surf movie called Brokedown Melody. The afternoon and evening were specifically geared to give us an opportunity to build relationships. The kids were told who we are and what we’re all about but they weren’t hit with anything heavy. That will come later… For now, we’re gaining their trust, becoming friends and generating some interest in them about what will happen in the future. Unless there’s surf, most of these guys don’t have anything to do so they wander the streets of Puerto Viejo getting into trouble or, at the very least, exposing themselves to things that they don’t need to see or experience. It was really cool to have several of them ask when we were going to be doing this again because they wanted to make sure to be there.

Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest for your souls.” That includes kids that have seen and experienced way too much for the number of years they have behind them. We’re trying to accomplish several things through the use of the skate-park, which is really just a tool. We’re trying to build relationships and we’re trying to offer an alternative to wandering the streets at all hours of the night (rest for the soul). In the future, we want to capitalize on both of these things by sharing the love of Christ in tangible ways and by sharing the gospel and offering opportunities for these kids to grow to maturity as Christians with the hope of plugging them into house churches as those grow and develop. Right now, it’s small steps…a little work, pizza and a movie, but God’s opening doors and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future as we are faithful with the small things.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Iguana hunting

Iguana hunting isn’t the most common way to build a youth group, but down here, you never know what will bring people together. Last week as I was working at home, I heard a crowd of guys in front of our house. I went out to see who it was and recognized a couple of them kids I knew from town. I asked them what they were up to and they told me that they were hunting iguanas (illegal but a traditional source of food in the Afro-Caribbean diet). The showed me what they were hunting them with…sling-shots made from tree branches and rubber straps. These guys had pretty good aim, too. They had already bagged one and were on the hunt for a second one. We figured that all the hunting would give them quite an appetite so Amy suggested that I invite them back to the house when they were done to help us finish off a giant pot of soup (iguana free) that she had cooked the night before. I followed them down the road towards the river and gave them the invitation to come eat lunch whenever they finished hunting. Teenagers are teenagers no matter the culture or the part of the world, so they all accepted, decided they were done hunting and came to the house right away. We spent the next two hours hanging out with five, then six teenagers as they downed every bit of soup, bread and cookies that came their way. We had a blast getting to know them a little better and they really seemed to enjoy hanging with the gringos.

These kinds of times are essential to what we’re trying to do down here. One thing that I have come to understand is how much effort and time it takes to gain the trust of these guys. I think that many of the people in the Afro-Caribbean culture, while seeming to be very outgoing and at times, “in your face”, are actually pretty shy when it comes to interactions that are outside of their control. For example, some of the guys can be pretty boisterous and rowdy out in the water or wandering around town in a pack, but get them in a different situation, say in front of a visiting mission group, and they will either run (literally) or try to fade into the background. I think they feel like they’re on display…like a curio in a museum. I can’t say I blame them for wanting to get out of situations that are uncomfortable…I often want to do the same. I just hope that as we do small things, like feed the troops while they’re hunting iguana, we gain their trust and friendship as individuals and eventually as a team. I know these guys are going to be spending quite a bit of time at the skate-park but for now, these small times are what builds relationships and gives us opportunities to tell them about Jesus and show the that he cares about them. You won’t find it mentioned in “The Purpose Driven Youth Group”, but iguana hunting may just be the world’s most over-looked strategy for getting a group of teenagers together.

Hanging Out

Hanging out…just plain old hanging out usually isn’t too productive…by most definitions of productive. It’s interesting then that many of the best and most productive times we’ve had here in Puerto Viejo involve “hanging out”. For example, this past Sunday evening we invited almost 20 people over to our house for Easter. For much of the time, we just hung out, ate and enjoyed each other’s company. I have found that sharing a meal is one of the best ways to get to know people and, for me the other is by going surfing with them.

Anyway, Easter Sunday night we spent a lot of time hanging out and getting to know each other better. It was a very mixed crowd, representing four different cultures and a wide variety of religious backgrounds. One of the guys that came is named Patrick. Patrick is the subject of a book entitled “In Search of Captain Zero” which was written by one of Patrick’s friends that went looking for him several years after Patrick had moved away from Long Island. It’s an interesting book…pretty rough reading in parts due to the language, etc… but I found it really interesting and in some ways, I felt like I knew Patrick before we even met him. Throughout the book, the author recounts various details of his life as he and his buddy Patrick, traveled around the world surfing, running drugs (crazy stories) and avoiding death on numerous occasions. These flashbacks are interspersed with accounts of things that take place along the way as Alan searches for his old friend.

It’s pretty interesting that Patrick is now living in a tent pretty much right in front of our house. This has given us an opportunity to really get to know him. He’s pretty solitary, but he loves kids and dogs and we have both. He also comes by to fill up his water bottles regularly. Well, one day last week, Amy invited him to spend Easter with us and he accepted. That night, he enjoyed the warmth of a family, a good potluck dinner and he also heard the gospel presented in a very straightforward, simple manner. Patrick listened, made some comments from time to time, and really seemed to enjoy himself. I know he’s not a Christian (he’ll happily tell you that himself) but I also know that God loves him very much and wants to change him from the inside out. Figuratively, God’s calling Patrick out of the tent in the woods and into the warmth of a house, with a family that cares about him.

Please pray that we’ll have more opportunities to hang out with Patrick…really getting to know him. Pray that God will work in his life and that he will one day experience everything that God has in store for him…forgiveness, new life, restoration. There’s lots of “Patricks” down here. God willing, we’ll continue to meet them and show them that there is a God who cares for each of them personally.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Topo (far right, kneeling) is a local guy that used to be on the Costa Rican professional surf team. He hasn’t surfed competitively for a few years but he still gets out in the water on a regular basis. Having grown up in this area and having spent much of his life on his own, Topo saw a need and started giving free surf lessons on Saturday mornings to a lot of the local kids in town who either don’t have parents or whose parents don’t spend much time with them. They’re not quite street kids, but most of them don’t have too much of a family to give structure to their lives. We’ve been getting to know Topo and several months ago, before we left for the States on furlough, we started helping him and his girlfriend with the lessons. It’s a pretty cool thing to be taking place here because you just don’t see too many locals that actually volunteer within their own community. It just doesn’t happen. Anyway, I started taking my older daughter Maili to the surf lessons back in October. She has a great time, is learning to surf and gets to know more of the local kids and I have a chance to push some kids into a few waves, getting to know them a little better too. Different people drop in to help and on any give week, there will be a couple of local guys and a couple of expats like us that are just taking some of their time to invest a little time in the lives of some kids that need it. Who knows what this might lead to down the road. As we get the skate park up and running, many of these same kids will come down and join us for a skate session and hopefully, will get the opportunity to experience God’s love in a personal way. That’s what it’s all about. Christ came to earth to save us. One of the benefits of this is that we get to have a personal relationship with the almighty God that created us. These kids need to know that this is possible for them as well… That there is a God that loves them and has a plan for them. They need to be told this but they also need to be shown, first-hand. At it’s most basic level, all it is is pushing some kids into a few waves. But it’s an investment that has potential to return some really big dividends.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Interesting days and unusual days. Life in Puerto Viejo is a series of contrasts. The amazing natural beauty is such a contrast to much of the ugliness that affects humanity as a result of sin. We live on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, yet are constantly affected by the dark side of human nature in the form of theft, typically to fuel a drug habit. One day the Caribbean sky will be sunny and gorgeous and the next day all hell breaks loose and it gets cold, windy and rainy. The majority of the people are so loving and friendly that you almost forget the few that are constantly looking for a way to take advantage of us. We see God working while Satan does his best to shut down any and every work that God begins. This contrast and the battle behind the scenes that causes it was never more evident a couple of days ago when Ronnie and I had a conversation with a drug addict named Joaquin that I’ll never forget. We got to know Joaquin last summer during a time when we were hosting a variety of teams. Joaquin is one of the more interesting characters that I’ve met during the past year here in Puerto Viejo. He’s about 5’6” tall, wears some pretty outlandish clothing (especially for this culture) and has one of the craziest haircuts that I’ve ever seen. If there’s one thing about Joaquin that he pays attention to, it’s his hair. Talking with him is a trip. He speaks some English, a little island Patois and pretty good Spanish. Since my Spanish isn’t that great, a lot of our communication is non-verbal. When we are able to talk, he’s pretty hard to follow and the same conversation… sometimes the same sentence can go from Jesus to Star Trek to the best way to grow bananas. Joaquin is a trip. The whole town knows it. But there’s one thing about Joaquin…God loves him. A lot. I don’t think Joaquin knows this…yet. If he did, and if he really understood it, he wouldn’t want to live the way he does. Most days he just wanders from place to place, looking for enough wild fruit or coconuts so that he can eat a little and sell a little for his next drug fix. Joaquin has had a difficult 24 years and it shows in every line in his face.

A couple of days ago, as I was headed to the store to pick up some groceries, I say Joaquin sitting against our fence. He asked me for 500 colones which equates to about a dollar. I want to help him but I don’t want to give him fuel for his drug habit so I asked him if he would just like something to eat. Joaquin said yes, so I made him a sandwich and got him some fruit and a drink. I stayed out there with him just to hang out for a while and I began to get a very strong feeling that I needed to share with him, how much Jesus loved him and wanted to change his life. Because of the language barrier, I am pretty much limited to showing God’s love to Joaquin by spending time with him, having a meal with him or some other physical way to demonstrate God’s love. This time it was different. I really felt like Joaquin needed to hear about Jesus… how much Jesus loves him and how Jesus came to set him free. He needed to hear this in his own language. There was only one thing I could do, so I prayed. I asked God to send Ronnie, to help me translate and to share with Joaquin himself. Although having a prayer answered by God shouldn’t be amazing, I was still amazed at how quickly He answered my prayer. I don’t know why I ever doubt, but I never seem to put as much trust in God as He’s worth. Well, once again, God came through because He cares about people more than we ever could…even at our very best. Just a few minutes after asking God to send Ronnie, I looked up and saw him riding his bicycle down our road. It was like the sun had just burst through the clouds on a rainy day. Ronnie pulled up and started talking to us. He told me that God had just brought him to us. Cool stuff.

Anyway, as Ronnie and I shared (mostly Ronnie at this point), I could see that there was a fight going on in and around Joaquin. I prayed that God would clear up his mind and relieve him from the damage of the drugs, just long enough for the truth of Jesus to sink in. It was unreal…I could actually see waves of confusion and clarity going back and forth across Joaquin’s face. He would be clear and focused for a few minutes…listening and concentrating. And then…he would be back with Captain Kirk on the enterprise. We continued to talk and share. Joaquin was very interested but there was someone else that didn’t want Joaquin to be free. Three times Ronnie asked Joaquin if he would like to give his life to Christ…if he would like to be free and changed. Joaquin said that he wanted to be changed but each time, just as it looked like he might say yes, he said no. We had an opportunity to pray with him. He was very grateful and said that he would remember this special day. I believe he will. We’ll be praying for Joaquin and we hope you will be too. There’s a war going on and his soul is at stake. God loves Joaquin and I think he just might be starting to believe that he’s actually loveable. God brought us together with Joaquin for a reason. I don’t doubt that. I believe that God has special plans for Joaquin and I look forward to the day when Joaquin says “Yes” to Jesus.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Back in PV

Getting settled back in to our home here in Puerto Viejo has been interesting to say the least. We arrived back in town on Tuesday, Feb 14th and had one day to start un-packing before we left for Jaco on the Pacific coast to attend a friend’s wedding. About two hours after we left Puerto, we received the first of two interesting phone calls. The first call was from our neighbor who was letting us know that some random guy had come into our property and, claiming they were his, had taken the two stray dogs that we had adopted a few months ago. When they first wandered into our yard back in November, they were skinny and in really bad health. We waited a few weeks before we started taking care of them because we didn’t want to just take someone else’s dogs. After asking around and not finding anyone to claim them, we adopted them. The girls loved them and really took good care of them. They were the most upset when this guy took them. According to our neighbor, the guy’s story seemed to be true and the dogs seemed to know him well. I was mostly upset that he came when we weren’t home and without any permission, took the dogs away with no regard for the fact that we had been taking good care of the. Our older daughter cried for about a half hour when she found out. Right after this, we got the second, which was to let us know that we had won a scooter in a drawing at the local pulperia (a small corner store). This was a really cool thing because the scooter belonging to one of the couples on our team had just broken down for the last time and it is their only mode of transportation. Amy had been filling out forms for the drawing for month specifically so that she could give the scooter to them if we happened to win. God blessed us so we just passed the scooter on to them. What a strange day. The rest of the weekend went well…the wedding was great and it was great to see so many friends again.

As we get back into the swing of things, my hope is to post at least twice a week and include some photos as well. This is all new to me so it will take a little time to get the hang of it, but it’ll work out

Monday, February 13, 2006

Between Worlds

Once again, we're between two is a world of busy schedules, wealth and high-tech and the other is a world of relationships, fluid schedules and simplicity. We're caught between these two as we have to function smoothly between the two. We fly back to Costa Rica later today and tomorrow we'll be back in the little town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast near the border with Panama. I'm looking forward to getting back to our home, friends, dogs and work. It will be interesting to see what has changed and what has remained the same after five weeks of travelling. I know that there are some interesting situations that will be awaiting us but the good thing is that ultimately it's all in God's hands. More to come.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Costa Rica Slide Show

Welcome to our blog. Instead of me telling you about us, why don't I just show you...

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