Friday, May 25, 2007

The Return

Last night was a rough one. I woke up about 2:00am feeling very full...usually a pre-cursor to a round of vomiting. I put it off as long as I could and then all hell broke loose. Now it's daytime and I'm sitting at home with zero strength and a bellyache when I had planned on spending the day at the skatepark with the team that just arrived. Flexibility. That's the key.

One of the coolest things about the short term teams is having both churches that return and individuals that return. Yesterday, I was pleasantly suprised to see that one of the members of the visiting team was a guy that had come down last year during May. His name is Danny (on the right) and he is an all-around good guy. Last year, he came down as the result of a last minute decision and ended up being the most critical person on the team. We were hoping to put the roof on the skatepark but didn't really know how we were going to accomplilsh it. Well, Danny was a contractor and was able to put together a plan, divide everyone up into teams and get the whole thing taken care of in a very humble way. He's also a very committed Christian. At the end of that trip, we asked him to seriously consider coming back down at some time in the future to spend more time with us. Now he's back and he says that God has been working on him ever since that life-changing experience of coming down here to serve alongside us. We'll see what happens, but it's incredible to find out that the work we are doing not only has an impact locally, but God also uses it to touch and change lives in the people that come down for such short time frames. It is definitely good to see him again.


Back from Bocas del Toro in Panama and all is well. It was good to get away with just Amy and the girls for a few days before the attack of the summer teams. We really got to spend some fun time with each other in a beautiful place. One of the most exciting things we did was spend the better part of a day on a tour of several different islands. We were able to see some dolphins, go snorkling and hang out at one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I really felt like I was able to connect with the kids in a special way.

It's funny how each year, after several months without a team in town, I start to look forward to the summer season. It is a lot of fun and I really enjoy meeting all of the different people that come down to help us here in Puerto, but by the end of the summer, I am glad the teams are gone and am ready to dive back in to our ongoing work. This summer will be a busy one and will also be very much a transitional period as TJ, the most long-term member of the team, will be departing in September.

In other news, I have been reading a book called "Searching for God Knows What" by Donald Miller, author of "Blue Like Jazz". I really enjoy reading him because he makes me think outside of my normal boundaries. This book is more of an apologetc from a totally different perspective than most apologetics which are more concerned with "proofs" than with process. what I mean by that is that he approaches Jesus, the Gospel and salvation from a much more holistic, relational perspective that often seems to get lost in the facts and bullet points that typically make up my thought processes. It was a great read and really gives me a lot to chew on and think about as I work to teach and display a loving, relational God in a culture that knows him more through such things as hairlength, style of dress and genres of music. Good book...I definately recommend it and believe that he really speaks to a lot of the things we evangelical christians "know" about Jesus and the bible. Read it.


All's good. We head off to Bocas del Toro tomorrow to renew our visas. It has been quite a while since we visited Bocas and I'm looking forward to it. It is a good opportunity for our family to get away and spend some time together before we enter the summer season. This year is going to be good but full and we won't have much opportunity to have a break once it begins.

Speaking of the coming season, we have been discussing and planning for the various teams that are coming. I'm looking forward to the work that we'll be doing as it will take us further towards the completion of the skate park, but the thing I am most excited about is the opportunities we have to really begin including some of the locals to help us host teams. There are a few of the older youth that are potential candidates and a couple that actually get excited about the possiblity. If everything works out, it will also be a really cool way for the visiting teams to connect with the area in a different way. We are hoping that they can add some local flavor to the orientation process and also help us with some of the logistical functions like getting teams into town for dinner and then back to the hotel safely. This could really challenge some of the older youth to begin serving both God and their community in a very different way from anything they have done in the past. There will probably be goofs, surprises and let downs but if we are really and truly here to start something and pass it off then we have to be willing to take chances. I'm looking foward to it.


Here we are again...just a few weeks away from the summer short term mission season. We're gearing up, getting construction projects and outreaches planned. Ronnie, one of the long-term members of our team, has been doing a great job overseeing continued construction of various aspects of the cafe and skatepark. We are going to be putting a new deck around the metal container we use for a skate and tool shop and are in the process of finishing the office space. One of the things we have needed for the longest time is office space. We need the AC for our computers and it will also be so helpful to have a more distraction free environment to work in. Dear God, please give us high speed internet to go along with the new air-conditioning unit. Amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Baptism - April 3, 2007

Baptism means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. One of the things I have found here in Puerto Viejo is that baptism is very closely associated with salvation. That’s exactly what it should be associated with you might say, but, here in this culture things aren’t always what they seem. Misunderstandings and mis-information abound. Here in Puerto Viejo, there is a commonly held belief that being baptized means you go to heaven and not being baptized means... well, let's just say your future is up in the air...or maybe in the other direction if things don't go so well.

Jesus provided us with an example of baptism as did many of the early apostles. For them, baptism was an outward sign of a change that had taken place within a person as they turned their backs on the way they used to live (read "died to the old self") and began to go in a completely different direction (read "raised again to a new way of life") based on their faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is also a way for those of us who have put our faith in Christ, to identify with him in a personal, physical way. The bible says it this way "...those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" 2 Cor. 5:17.

This inward change and identification with Jesus was celebrated recently when Johanna and Jetsi were baptized. Both of them had chosen to follow Jesus several years earlier but neither of them had been baptized. They had never marked their decision publicly. During discussions at our house church one night, both of them requested that they be baptized. They are excited about their faith and finally wanted to show friends and family what had taken place in their lives. The event brought together both the Spanish and the English speaking house churches along with an assortment of friends and family.

The evening of the baptism started with some pretty iffy weather. Right as we gathered at the river, the sky clouded up and it began to rain. Fortunately, God had other plans and the rain stopped as fast as it had started. I took some time to explain the meaning of baptism and to read some verses from the sixth chapter of Romans. We prayed and then Jetsi and Johanna were baptized. As you can see from the photos, Makena and our neighbor's dog Panbon got a front row seat so as not to miss any of the action. The smiles say it all as both ladies were excited and proud to share the moment with everyone that gathered.

One really cool thing that happened involved Jetsi's family. Her mother and father have been separated for many years and while they have a good relationship, they don’t get together as a family very often. This event brought them all together to share in the happiness of their daughter, which made Jetsi very happy. Afterwards we got together for food and a celebration which topped off a great event. Please pray for Jetsi and Johanna. Pray that they will continue to be identified with Jesus in every area of their lives and that this public marking of a personal decision will be one more event in two lives that continue to mirror Christ to the world around them.

Change - March 27, 2007

Change seems to be the word that best describes the constant state of things since we arrived here in Puerto Viejo a little over two years ago. Changes in personnel, changes in ministry structure, changes in knowledge and understanding. I'm glad for the change because it always causes me to look at things from a different perspective...sometimes out of sheer survival. Right now, we are moving into a period of major change with our team. In a few more months, the long-term team will consist of myself, my wife Amy and Ronnie and Tammy. Thankfully, we have several people that have committed to being here for the short-term future which is so important because it allows us to continue focusing on long-term goals and objectives. We can't do what we're doing without long-term team members and we can't do it without the short-term members that are so essential to the support roles. That being said, I am really hopeful that God will provide more long-term staff in the coming year. We need someone that is fully committed to the continued development skate-park and youth program. We need someone to take on many administrative tasks for the long haul and we definitely need someone that is committed to everything it takes to plan and host short term teams. Looking ahead, these tasks seem impossible for three people to take on...and they are, if we're to remain sane. But, this is where the change of perspective comes the realization that we don't have to do it all. God knows and will provide what's needed in His timing. I am really looking at this time as an opportunity to start over in many ways. We are out of the development phase. We have direction and momentum and no longer need pioneers. We now need people that can take the ball that is already in play and run with it. I could (and usually tend to) get really stressed out about all of the unknowns but truthfully, I'm excited about the all of the possiblities as God brings the right people on at the right time. We'll see what happens.

Following - March 12, 2007

We have really enjoyed being back in town and reconnecting with everyone. it is nice to be home. I've also been really happy to see how things are going with the house churches. This past weekend, we celebrated a wedding in the Spanish house church. Ronnie did an awesome job of officiating and it was really cool to see all of the different people there enjoying the fellowship together.

There have been some great things happening at the English speaking house church as well. This past Sunday, after the bible study (which people are really beginning to participate in more and more) we talked about having a special time for baptism in a couple of weeks. One of the girls that has been coming faithfully for a while has been a Christian for a while but has never been baptized. When asked if she would like to be, she immediately answered, "Yes". The cool thing is that her little brother accepted Christ and was baptized in May of last year and now he is going to be involved and will help baptize his sister. During the course of the conversation, one of our next door neighbors spoke out and said that she had never been baptized either, even though she has been a Christian for years. She also said that she didn't think that her husband (one of my surfing buddies) had been baptized either. Immediately following house church, a couple of the guys came to me and we talked for a long time about their faith. Both of them had made decisions to follow Jesus earlier in their lives and as they shared those decisions with me, they told me that they would like to be baptized as well.

It is hard for me to convey what these things mean after the past couple of years of laying groundwork, hoping and praying. we have done a lot of talking about what it really means to follow Jesus and people are really, conciously wanting to do it...whatever that might mean for them. It is so exciting...they are even volunteering to pray before and after church. When most of them first started coming, they could hardly look each other in the eye and now they are beginning to pray for each other, ask for prayer about specific areas of their lives, read aloud and even sing in front of each other. These are huge steps down and exciting path and it makes me so happy to see them really wanting to know God in ways that are genuine. It is just so awesome to have the priviledge to be a part of it all.

The Return - February 27, 2007

Well, after six weeks of living out of suitcases, it's good to be home, although we feel like we're living a country song. Our dog is gone, our phone is broken, our washing machine is leaking and our dryer belt broke...but, we're home and we're getting back on track. It has been good to see the team again as well. We are going through so many personnel changes and so many things about the future are up in the air that it has preoccupied a lot of my thoughts lately. I have been praying for peace and wisdom as I look and plan ahead through this next year...trying to anticipate what the changes will mean. This type of stress can either get me down or cause me to really start looking in different directions for solutions or alternatives. God has really been using this time for the latter...looking in different directions and approaching problems from a different perspective. So much so that I am actually excited about the future. I see new ways of involving locals and ways of reducing the responsibilities of our various ministries as God brings locals into our circle of assist us and to eventually take over responsibilities. There is even a good chance that we may be able to completely turn over one entire area of ministry to locals with only a little oversight responsiblity on our part, by the end of next year. Hard to say what will happen...only God knows. But, I am thankful that he has given me peace and helped me to trust him with an unknown future. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful because He cannont deny himself.

The Visit - February 5th, 2007

Finally recovered (mostly) from my drug overdose... Why would anyone pay for that? It's beyond me. Anyway, we are now in S. Florida visiting our home church and two others that we are invovled with. It has been a great visit so far but it has also been packed, busy and to fast. On the way down, we stopped and stayed with a friend of mine from years ago when I was in the Navy. It was really great to reconnect with him and to see his family as well.

They are trying to plan a trip down to visit and are really excited about everything that is happening in Puerto. We spent some time with the pastor of our home church today which was great. When the church was small and none of us had kids, we used to go out for Mexican food together. Now, with a total of 9 kids between the two of us, it is better to just get some cheap takeout and hang at the house while the kids go berserk. We had a great visit with him and his wife. The church is planning a trip down in June and people are really excited about it. I spoke on Sunday morning and there is quite a bit of interest both from the congregation and on the staff. It is great to see the church finally in a position where they can get more involved. Tuesday evening, I'll be speaking to a group from the church that includes several potential interns and long-term staff as well as people that want to come on the outreach. Should be good. Just coming home helps me to see how blessed we have been as a family to have so many different people and churches that are all working together to see God's kingdom grow. it is a cool thing.

Overdose - January 29, 2007

I've had a few problems getting connected the past couple of weeks as we have been travelling, but fortunately and able to get online today. We are in North Florida right now staying with my family. I have spoken at Thomasville Road Baptist Church in addition to a group of people from several different churches at a coffee. I'm also planning to speak to the college group at TRBC on Wednesday night and am hoping for a good response and maybe an intern or two from that engagement. I have encountered an unexpected problem since we came home that has really limited my ability to much of anything other than lay around. When we returned home, we went on a short cruise with some friends and I used one of the motion sickness patches to help with my sea-sickness. Unfortunately, I had a really strong and bad reaction to the medication several days after the cruise and ended up with Scopolamine toxicity...I've been poisoned by too much medicine. For the first day, my vision got so blurry that I could hardly see and I've been spinning and so disoriented that I can't even drive, since Thursday. I went to a doctor today and was told that I must be extra sensitive to the meds and will just have to wait and see what happens. It is interfering with just about everything and has pretty much immobilized me. I'd appreciate your prayers on this.

The Return - January 8th, 2007

Here we are getting ready to head back to the States for our furlough. There is so much to do and so many things to wrap up and prepare for, but I am really looking forward to the time with friends and family. Last year, we went like crazy while we were home and were more burned out when we returned than when we left. All that work, numerous speaking engagements and we only netted one new supporter. I know that gaining new supporters is not the only reason we share what's going on down here, but at the time, it was a lot of work for very little visible return. This year, we are planning to take a different route. I'll still be speaking a few different times but will not fill up my schedule like last year. We'll see how it goes as we learn by trial and error. I will sure miss everyone and everything that is taking place down here and will continue to pray for our team and all of the locals we're working with. I hope that our entire family comes back re-charged and ready to go in this new year and I will be praying that God brings the right people onto our team at the right time and that the ministries continue to expand.

The Contest - January 1st 2007

I’m sure that every single person on our team will post on the same thing, but what the heck. Last night we hosted the first annual New Year’s Eve Concrete Jungle Skate Contest. Like so many things that take place here, you can plan, prepare and hope but in the end, you’re simply waiting to see what happens and then adapt to it. We had intended the first half of the evening to be a time geared towards current participants of our house churches and other people that might be interested in coming in the future. I almost had my heart leap into my throat when because when I first arrived all I saw was children running around. My fears were confirmed (or so I thought) when another friend (one that’s not interested in coming to the house church) arrived with his daughter and told me that he had brought her for the children’s party. Uh-oh.

Thankfully, everything settled out and people started arriving for the skate competition. We started a practice session around 8:00 and began the competition close to 9:30. It turned out to be a lot of fun and went amazingly well, especially considering we only came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago. We ended up having a huge audience for Puerto Viejo standards and most of the kids really gave it a go in front of the crowd. I would say that my only disappointment was with the people that didn’t show up. We wanted to provide the competition as an alternative to the crazy partying that we knew would be taking place everywhere else. It worked well and a lot of the kids we have been working with were there but a few were not that I really wanted to see. Oh well. We finished off around midnight, handed out the prizes and everyone made their way home. I hope that this is the first of many and that in the future, some of the kids that we are working with now are in leadership roles…hosting and discipling…at future events. All in all a great event. Everyone on our team really put their all into it and did an incredible job. The visiting team from Flagstaff also brought a lot of enthusiasm and hard work to the event and helped to make everything run smoothly. I’m looking forward to next year.

December 26, 2007 Christmas

Christmas was great. In many ways, I prefer to be here in Puerto Viejo for Christmas rather than being at home in the States. it is such a great opportunity to open up the house and spend time with people, getting to know them better, building deeper relationships, etc... This Christmas was interesting because of the differences in the two gatherings we attended. We hosted a Christmas get together on Christmas Eve that was mostly attended by close friends and people from house church. Most of the people were Christians and we had a great time together in large part because of that bond that we share. Christmas day, we were invited to the house of some friends from town. We also had a great time with them, but it was completely different. Most of the people at the party were Italians that live in the area and are not Christians. We enjoyed a great meal, made some new friends as pot smoke drifted through the house and beer flowed freely. What a difference between the two gatherings. I pray that we will continue to deepen our friendships with some of the people at the second gathering so that maybe next year, they will coming to a Jesus centered Christmas party