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Monday, December 16, 2013

Me llamo go to the bathroom

I just finished my first trimester of language school. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned in 13 weeks. Though I have plenty to learn, I know just enough to get around and get my main point across. The highlight of my time studying was my last day of phonetics class where I was able to answer my teacher’s question about the Christmas story in Spanish. I got to see the light bulb go off in her head as she understood the visit of the wise men and Herod’s genocide for the first time. This is exactly why I’m learning Spanish!

Patrick is also picking up on Spanish and is learning and applying things very quickly. He just spends time with Gina and applies all the rules I’m learning in my grammar class. The other day when I told him to say “hasta luego” (see you later) to one of my girlfriends, Patrick “corrected me”…. “mom, it’s supposed to be hasata luega. She’s a girl.” I had to explain that luego is always the same, but he’s got the whole gender thing down.

Patrick has also learned the phrase “me llamo Patrico” (I call myself Patrick), but he uses it as his go to phrase for anything. Me llamo yogert, me llamo leche (milk), me llamo go to the bathroom. We've taught him  to use “quiero __(name the item)__ “ but we’re still working on it.

He’s starting to use a lot of spanglish, but he knows which words are from each language… “I have 2 now, and if I get another I’ll have tres. Mom, that’s 3 in Spanish.” “I would like some leche, por favor. That means milk!” It’s simply amazing to watch his sponge like brain soak it all in.

While Patrick is learning a ton of Spanish through immersion, he still has times where he’ll tell me… “no more Spanish please. Please say it in English.” I often feel that way too! Language learning is a process, and we learn the best when we’re having fun.

Here's an audio clip of Patrick running through a basic Spanish introduction. He wanted to record something after hearing me record my Spanish tongue twisters for my phonetics class...



Hasta luego!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Goodbye

It has begun. We have started the season of Goodbyes here in our district of San Fransisco De Dos Rios. Last Saturday was the last youth group session for one of our student leaders. She is a Junior, and her family is moving back to the States--their church is successfully planted and thriving, and God is moving them home.

Others are just beginning. I just returned home from a commissioning service at Sojourn, the k-12 school attached to the Language Institute. The service was to help the students of all ages to remember what was going on--why they were moving on. Each got a picture frame with a couple of pictures from school for them to remember. Two of our youth groupers were among this group.

Goodbyes are hard. Hard for those leaving, but also for those staying behind. A connection is severed when goodbyes are said. Most of these we will never see again in this lifetime. What do you do with the love you come to have for a person, the investment you've made into each other's lives? Is it worth making friends again? Is this pain always linked to having people close? Should I just keep everyone at arms length, a safe distance? These are questions that our students must wrestle through. Please pray for these kids as their world gets turned upside down one more time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Quick Trip to the States

Here are some photos from our quick trip to the US at the beginning of the month. Ironically, I did not get any pictures of the wedding--which is why we went in the first place. The colors were superb!


 Pretty Lake Burton in the fall.
 While the Bridesmaids were doing their thing, Patrick and I went to Talullah  Gorge!


 And he climbed ALL of the stairs by himself from the bridge up. I was impressed!





 Fishing in his PJs at his favorite spot
 Throwing the rest of the bread to the ducks!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Solid Youth Ministry Requires a Solid Bible Base

The last four weeks that I've been able to teach at youth group we've focused on the gospel of John. It's has been incredible to see how pointed and focused the apostle John was in writing his gospel. In 20:31 John says that his gospel was written 'that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name'. We're seeing that theme over and over again in chapter 1 and the first half of 2 alone. Indeed, I can't see how I've ever missed it!

One of the things that we're really purposeful about is trying to help walk students through the process of Bible study. This is modeled in the way I go about teaching John. Of course I want the biblical principles to pierce the heart; I also want to model responsible and accurate study of the text, that they may learn in the Spirit how to approach the Bible themselves.

In guys bible study we're nearing the end of a study on Joshua 1-6, and we are learning about markers in the text that point us back to other passages. When we read about the death of Moses in ch 1, we went back to Deuteronomy and read about the death of Moses. When we read about Rahab, we look at why she's mentioned in Hebrews 11, and also James. When we read about the 2 1/2 tribes sending warriors as they had promised Moses, we go back to that story. When we encounter the Commander of the Lord, we look up different Theophanies (the second person of the trinity in the Old Testament) and discuss if this is another occurrence. It has been incredible to see the little things that we all pick up just be reading and observing. This is the first step of Bible study. Every week we read, re-read, read again, and again and again the passage for that week. We want to try and see beyond what we think it says, to what it really says. At the beginning of the study we read all 6 chapters in one sitting (many had never done that) and a couple weeks ago, we listened to it in audio format with the Lord of the Rings and Braveheart soundtracks in the background. These guys have done such a great job. This first step in Bible study is crucial before moving on to the next step--interpretation; moving from 'what does it say' to 'what does it mean', as Old Testament narrative tends to be pretty straight forward. We hope to explore interpretation further with a Johaninne study picking up where we'll leave off in the gospel this winter, and transition to another literary style in the big group meetings in January

Why is this so important? For any believer to really mature in his or her faith we have to get beyond just going to church on Sunday and listening to a podcast on Wednesday. We have to DIG into the living word of God! We have to search it for wisdom! We must renew our minds with His words that pierce bone and marrow. What most discouraged me in doing this before studying how to do it for 4 years in college, was that it is such a daunting task! I didn't know where to start, or how to do it. I wanted to know what God wanted, but I was lost whenever I opened my Bible. 

Sure, more time playing games than studying the Word will attract a larger crowd. But frankly, Jesus wasn't interested in crowds. He was interested in true disciples. As I follow Him I hope to point our students towards a deep, true, cost-counted walk with the living God.

Thank you for your love, prayers, and financial support. We see so much potential in these students--thank you for investing into their lives. May God richly repay your sacrifice with Spiritual blessings.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Campout- Nothing in Vain

Jonathan, Patrick, and I returned from the youth group's annual fall retreat on last Monday. It was a blast to spend 2 full days with the students in the cloud forest at the beautiful camp La Cumbre. Each night of the retreat, Mark Flach, who was the youth director of the IYG 5 years ago, spoke on the fundamentals of the faith. Many students responded with an eagerness to go deeper in their walk with the Lord.
One of the most important aspects of this campout were small groups. Each group was lead by a student leader. In addition to discussing as a group the previous night's talk, the students rotated among various activities: a prayer walk (really a prayer scoot as they called it), rappelling, team building activities, group games, creating a skit, and doing a service project for the camp.

It was so neat for Jonathan and I to plan all of the activities and use our skills from our time working at Miami University. Going into marriage, Jonathan and I both knew that we wanted to be missionaries. We also knew that the Lord had clearly lead us to Oxford, Ohio to take care of Jonathan's grandmother. It was in Oxford that we started working for Miami University's Outdoor Pursuit Center. One aspect of our job was leading small groups in doing team building activities. I remember thinking back then, Lord, how in the world will you use this experience to advance your Gospel? It just seems like we now know a ton of games. Two and a half years later, after the Lord transitioned us out of Ohio and into Costa Rica, we used those very skills to help our youth groupers bond as a small group and to build relationships where Christ is modeled. The Lord uses every drop of every experience for His glory!

Enjoy the pictures taken by Melissa and Eliza!








Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Poco a Poco

*It's crazy to think that we've been in Costa Rica for well over a month now. Sorry for the lack of updates; we're learning how to juggle our many hats.*

Whenever I speak to a Costa Rican and tell them I'm learning Spanish, they always respond "poco a  poco" (little by little). This is so true not only for my experience learning Spanish but also for our adjustment to Costa Rica. It's been an extremely smooth transition, but there are many little and big ways we're making adjustments. Little by little we're feeling more at home and less confused by the difference (many of them positive) in living.

It is very evident that we have people praying for us, because we know the peace we have in the midst of the craziness can only come from the Lord. Language school is going extremely well. I'm learning Spanish! I'm so thankful for my classmates who are encouraging as we all wade through directions in Spanish. All of my classes are solely in Spanish, so we're constantly asking each other to verify we understood our instructions. Spanish for us is a team effort.

Jonathan is so happy to finally be in full-time ministry. He's meeting with a couple of guys one-on-one and is leading the boy's Bible Study. He's loving building relationships with the students and answering their eager questions. Last Friday we had a pancake night at our house with 31 students. It was a blast to be able to host them. They've gone 3 years without youth directors, so they were really excited to have a fun event other than their usual Saturday meeting.

It's really weird for me to have to be hands off to much of our ministry so that I can focus on Spanish. I'm thankful that so much ministry happens in our home, but it is weird not having time to invest in students lives because of language school. I have to remind myself that this is a time for concentrated Spanish study that I won't have a year from now when I'm fully engaged in ministry. It's also weird that for the first time in our married lives, Jonathan and I have two different responsibilities. I love working with him, so it's weird that we have to actually sit down and share what's going on in each of our worlds.

There are many things that we're loving about Costa Rica:

  • We love that I payed our phone bill at the grocery store while checking out
  • We love all the fresh fruits and vegetables at very good prices. We just bought 3 Kilos of tomatoes for $2 (It's ok to be jealous about this)
  • We love that we finally have our own home and can host students
  • We love the warm weather, breeze, and mountain view
  • We love the kindness of all the Ticos we've met
  • We love that we're just 50 meters north of a park
There are also a few challenges that we're starting to adjust to:
  • We have to go to 5 different stores to get our "essentials" that would only require one stop at Kroger
  • Walking everywhere since we sold our car. Patrick is developing Costa Rican legs!
  • It gets dark here around 5:30 and it's safest to do everything before dark, which doesn't leave you much time
  • Making most things from scratch. It's nice knowing exactly what goes into your food, but it takes much more time
  • Being busy. With Jonathan and my different schedule and many things taking longer to do here, we have extremely full days
It is such a blessing to finally be in Costa Rica and for it to feel more and more like home. We're so thankful for everyone who prays for us and for those who enable us to be here. Oh yeah, we have one more piece of exciting news...


We're having a baby girl!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Our Exciting Week

Whew!
That flew by so fast. 
  • On Tuesday Maggie started her first day at SLI (Spanish Language Institute). 
  • We're having someone watch Patrick 4 days a week for some of the morning hours while Maggie is in school and I am working. Her first day was also on Tuesday, and we love her! Her name is Gina, and she and Patrick get along really well. She has helped out SLI students for 11 years now, and is used to our "strange" customs :)
  • On Tuesday we met with the continuing adult leaders of the youth group and talked about things that will stay the same as we take over leadership of the youth group, and things that will change. It was great to spend time with others passionate about seeing the youth group grow deeper spiritually. We have two adult leaders, Melissa and Andres, and then Grace, who just graduated high school is staying on as an intern. Andres grew up going to youth group. He was the interim director, and will continue to help in many facets, including a lot of the administration. Melissa is another ReachGlobal friend who spends about a third of her official time meeting with youth group girls and leading the girls bible study. Grace is helping everywhere from student leadership to worship team to meeting with younger girls, as well as helping in other AMCA ministries. 
  • Wednesday was great as I got to have coffee with a SLI student who has been in student ministry for 10 years and hear some things he's learned about youth ministry: biggest takeaway, youth ministry involves parents and students. They're not autonomous. Without parental involvement in the student's life, youth ministry is not very effective. They have a son Patrick's age, so we went to their apartment and ate pizza and Patrick got to play in English.
  • Thursday I watch Patrick in the mornings--Gina does not come. So we went with one of the highschool guys who hasn't started school yet to the hardware store to pick up some PVC pipe for games. Cheap and versatile, PVC is my favorite material with which to build games. We spent the whole morning sawing and taping the pipes with Zack. Thursday evenings we're off and we are starting date nights! We had our first date in about 3 or 4 months. Note: not a good idea to wait that long!
  • Friday I met with the leader of the middleschool guy's bible study. He teaches Bible at a Spanish seminary here, and they only live 5 doors down from us. Convenient! 
  • I then met with the principal of Sojourn Academy, a bilingual school that meets on the SLI campus, where a lot of MKs go. Maggie and I got permission to join the students for lunches and different extracurricular activities. The principal and vice principal are excited to work with us, as many of the students there go to youth group. I sat in on lunch with some Sojourn students after the meeting. 
  •  Afterwards, I caught a bus to a ride to the student worship team meeting. We discussed the expectations of the worship team, and I got to share some very important things I've learned over 10 years of leading worship. From sincere humility to analyzing a song to see if it will work well to sing as a group. Afterwards, one of the students led us in a half hour of prayer and song.
  • Last night was the big US vs Costa Rica World Cup qualifier. When Costa Rica played in the US they lost, and it was a little unfair--they played in Denver in April, and after the US scored it snowed a bunch, but the game was never cancelled. Seeing as it never snows in Costa Rica, it was even more difficult for the Ticos to play in--and both teams were having a hard time. Last night, Costa Rica saw vindication winning 3-1. There was cheering on the streets for 2-3 hours after the game was over. I am not a US soccer fan myself, and unashamedly rooted for Costa Rica. Maggie shushed me once when I yelled after Costa Rica scored... something about a sleeping toddler?...
  • This morning we went to the market! We are finally figuring out that we need to stock up on fruits and veggies on Saturday mornings. Supermarket produce here is usually old and beat up and expensive. We're learning to eat more like Latin Americans do--more rice, plantains, and other veggies they have here but not in Ohio or Georgia. 
  • Tonight we have student leaders meeting, worship practice, and the big youth group meeting. Earlier this afternoon we'll have a Skype conference call with the speaker who is coming down for campout in October. I'll start speaking at youth groups after our October campout so as to focus on the many other areas that involve the transfer of leadership responsibilities!
Maggie is enjoying studying at ILE, and the homework keeps her pretty busy for several hours after she returns home (Her classes are over just after noon). It is an intense time for her as all of the classes take place in Spanish, and it takes all of her attention to not miss anything important! She is thankful that she gets to talk with Gina when she gets home right away. She is forced to speak more Spanish, and Gina is a very patient language helper.

Patrick is adapting so well. He loves hanging out with students and eating tropical fruit. Although, he was very grateful to have some familiar strawberries this morning. He loves the fresh bread from the plethora of bakeries. He does miss Maggie's folks a lot though, with whom we were living for the last year. He likes talking to both sets of grandparents on Skype, a special treat that we are blessed to have.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rainbows

Image By Chris & Lara Pawluk
It's so awesome to see God's faithfulness through this whole process to get to Costa Rica. God has been present through every step, and his perfect timing is becoming more and more evident.

Two years ago in October, we were in Minneapolis applying with ReachGlobal. On the way to our meeting to find out if we were accepted, a double rainbow painted the sky. It reminded
me of God's promise to Moses and of His faithfulness.

The last month has been crazy with hope and wonder if we would make it to Costa Rica in August. Two weeks before we were cleared to go, we were overwhelmed with the question "will this happen?" On an evening when I was most discouraged, a rainbow again painted the sky. It wasn't about my wishes for timing or even a result of my effort. God is the only one who is faithful, and He assured me that He would be faithful in getting us to where He's clearly led our family. Just 4 days later, we had the funding to go!

We're now here, and I'm eager to see God continue to work!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pura Vida - We have arrived!

Pura Vida!
Literally translated, 'pure life', this is a common greeting with Ticos.

We are happy to announce that we have arrived without hassle and are almost all the way settled in!

Quick facts:

  • Left for airport 8/19 at 6am
  • Arrived in CR with all of our bags at 1 pm CR time (currently on mountain time--but CR doesn't do daylight savings and time stays the same year round)
  • No problems or taxes in customs (9 bags, 3 carryons, 1 guitar, 2 personal items) 
  • Dinner and groceries provided for us for the first week. 
  • Set up with internet at home within 24 hrs of calling the company. What!!
  • Language school orientation starts Monday, first youth group event is Saturday 8/31
  • Patrick is doing very well considering the time zone, and loves his new room! (pics below)


Story

Our last days in the United States where a whirlwind. We had a bittersweet time at our church on our last Sunday, and had the house [mostly] taken care of by the time we went to bed Sunday night. Maggie's sister had to be at work on Monday, so she visited until Sunday afternoon and even helped us with some of the cleanup. Maggie's cousin came on Sunday night and spent the night to help take us to the airport in the morning. Monday morning came fast, and everything was a blur and quite surreal. We were up at 5:30 and out the door at 6. We bid a sad farewell to Jef and Kathy and headed to our gate. 

Patrick did really well on the flight. We sat in the very back row of the ariplane all together, and I had a perfect view of them loading the bags, so I saw all 9 of them get on the plane. No need to fret about that! Well we were the last to get off, and headed slowly towards the line for immigration, knowing that all of those people who were with us on the plane would also be waiting int he same line. But in Costa Rica, if you have a young child, you are escorted to the front of the line. So we walked passed about 100 people in line and breezed through customs. We hired a worker to help us with our bags, and he escorted us through customs... I'm not even sure that the agent looked at the x-ray screen. Although he did look at me funny when I told him that we were here for 68 days (we return for my sis-in-law's wedding) and proceeded to put a total of 12 suitcases on the belt. Crazy Americans.

We had two ReachGlobal staff member and an AMCA friend meet us at the airport. The gentleman who was helping us with our bags loaded them all into the car, and we took off!

The drive to our apartments took about half an hour and reminded me of growing up in Ecuador. The drive goes something like this: Accelerate, brake hard, swerve, lay on horn, swerve out of the way for the motorcycle racing in between lanes, swerve, brake--repeat.

When we got to our apartment it was nice and clean, and already furnished. We'll be here for at least 4 months. We spent some time with our gracious reception party, before they left for us to get settled in. Though honestly we'd rather they'd have stayed to keep us company, we've seen a lot of them and others who have been a great help and great friends.

We have accomplished several things: we got chips for our cell phones (thank you so much for the donations!!), have located the grocery store, Patrick got his next vaccinations at the hospital downtown ($10 in less than 10 minutes from entering the hospital), and visited a store comprable with dollar store quality, but much more expensive (our really cheap plastic hamper was $10) Plastics are expensive, wicker baskets are even more expensive, and electronics vary. Many foods are more expensive, but produce is cheap. Labor is inexpensive, but internet is more expensive.

We love our apartment. We are on the 2nd and top story and have a great view of the area, and mountains (yes!). Homes here have window that do not close all the way, as there is not central heating or air, and it is usually warm. We get a wonderful breeze through the apartment. We have one set of neighbors who are with Mission to the World who we've enjoyed getting to know. We thought our wait to get on the field was long--they've had a 14 year process, with many factors playing into their journey. They're here at the language school for a year before continuing on to Mexico to work with the deaf population.

We'll try to keep up with pictures as much as we can remember to keep you in the loop! We are so thankful to God that He raised a team of prayer and financial warriors to send us into the heart of Costa Rica. We'll keep on working on getting settled in, and then it's full throttle working on language and working with students. God is good. We are so content to be where He has placed us.
 Breakfast at the airport


 Sad goodbyes

 Beautiful skies
 Beautiful water!
 Immigration and customs forms! 

 Putting up stars from Nana in Patrick's new room
Finished project
View from the front door

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beggar

I just finished reading the book of Judges, and I came away from it utterly ashamed of man's sinful nature. So I decided that the book of Acts was the best book to read next. It is always so encouraging and hopeful to see the Holy Spirit work in building the Church knowing that the same part of the Triune God is at work in all believers lives. I read Acts 3, I was encouraged, convicted, and full of thanksgiving for Jesus Christ.

You can read the text here: Acts 3:1-10. I'll just summarize since, sadly, I so often overlook it when people quote Scripture.

It was a normal day for a lame man: being carried to Beautiful Gate outside of the temple to beg for alms. As he was being carried in, Peter and John approach the gate. As was the lame man's source of survival, he asks Peter and John for alms. So use to gazing from one worshiper to another with hopeful anticipation for help, Peter and John have to declare "Look at us" to get his attention. It works, and the man "fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them" (v5). However, it wasn't at all what he expected. What? They have no silver or gold to offer me. But wait, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, you tell me to rise up and walk?!?!?! Sure enough, Peter takes the man by his hand and raises him up. Instantly the lame man's feet and ankles are not only healed, but made strong. So strong that he leaps up and starts "walking and leaping and praising God" (v8). All who were in the temple recognized this once lame beggar whom they walked past at the Beautiful Gate asking for alms. They were filled with wonder and amazement!

I was struck with the realization that the beggar never expected to he healed. He was trying to take care of his current situation of needing to beg to survive. He was oblivious that he could and would be healed -- something much better and a bigger solution than silver and gold. 

I was hit with the fact that I was like the beggar: "Anyone, anyone want to give to get us to Costa Rica? Anyone?" Reading this passage, I was convicted that my time and energy recently has been spent looking around for people interested in our ministry rather  than asking God to get us there. Sure, He uses people (so far 84 people and 2 churches) but He's the One who provides the means for them to partner.  God can work in bigger ways than I could conceive in getting us to the place He clearly has been leading us over these past 2 years. Now I wait in anxious anticipation to see what He will do in the next 6 weeks so we can move to Costa Rica! I'm so thankful for how He has been working these past few months.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Video: IYG Part 2

So I finally edited the second part the IYG videos sent to us. Thank you everyone who helped out! I appreciate it so much.

I hope the you are able to step into the youth group for a minute through these clips.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Anchor Holds

Today I worked with Signature again. We're building a team challenge course. In the mud. We've gotten our machines stuck an embarrassing amount of times. It's been raining many days, and all of us workers are betting that there used to be a septic tank right where we park the machines and store the tools, and slosh through ankle deep mud. Gross. 

Yesterday we sunk anchors for for the guy cables. Guys are those cables you might notice coming down from  towers and poles. Their purpose is to provide stability for a structure, so when the wind blows, or the tower is stood upon--and it rocks, the guys hold it in place. 

Using a skid steer, we screwed these six foot steel anchors into the ground. (This is not the actual machine--we were deep in the woods and mud valiantly fighting off mosquitoes and man-eating vines)



We drove 8 anchors in for one side of the course. Today, I attached cable to the anchors, and my fellow workers attached the cable to the structure. I then tightened all eight cables. Tight. 

This is not the course we're building, but it's the same scale, and the same idea.



The very simple truth is that if you try and put course up like this without guys, it will fall to the ground. If the guy anchors aren't properly sunk, the tower will fall. If the soil is not the right composition, the anchors will pull out and the tower will fall. 

Whenever I think of anchors, I think of being rightly rooted in Christ and in the word of God.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

If not standing on Christ, all of my endeavors in anything I do might possibly fail, and will certainly not have lasting impact. The tower will just topple over. And someone may put in another septic tank.

We've had a pretty crazy past two years. And yet I feel God's peace now than ever before. Because He's been my anchor. And strength and security is in the anchor. 
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Love that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To College Students, RE Missions

(Students can skip to the bold text.)

Quick update:
I have been sick this month for about two weeks. I was able to make it to some meetings and a wedding, but I spent a lot of time in bed. This is strange because I rarely get sick enough to stay in bed... ever. The last time that happened I think was the Spring of 2009, when some wonderful dishcrew people brought food up to my Culby 4 dorm room (thanks, Diego!) and my wonderful girlfriend got me a can of soup. Ok, so she wasn't my girlfriend yet--I actually asked her out on our first date on our way back from taking me to the urgent care center (full disclosure here--not my brightest moment). (she said yes, and ended up marrying me, so I must have done something right later on!)

But I digress.

We're full steam back to raising our support now (support raising doesn't get much attention when you have a 102 fever). We've reached the point where might just know enough people to reach our full budget now. We're waiting to hear from 4 churches  and a handful of individuals, but  this MIGHT be it. I don't mean to get your hopes up too high, but mine are right now, so you can come up here with me. (Although half of the churches we've been waiting to hear back from for over a year now, so no guarantees--see the last post for insight on why churches take longer).

This brings me to a shameless plug for missions. Well, more shameless than usual. I wish to inquire of you--what are YOU doing about missions? To reference Piper, one of my favorite Bible teachers, there are 3 options for the believer: Go, Give, or Disobey. So which are you involved in? (as a side note, I would argue that those who go should still give, and those who don't go should give more).

First off, while they can be helpful and stretching, short term trips don't count as "going". You don't get off the hook because you went on a two or three week missions trip last summer. Sorry. Jesus models incarnational ministry, and the way the gospel has spread throughout the world in the last 2000 years has been through long term missionaries. Ask yourself, do you want to be involved in the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the world? Or is a cross cultural vacation with a little ministry thrown in enough to fulfill your part in the great commission? This is seriously exciting stuff here. Don't short change yourself. 

I want to write particularly to college students, although I think all of my friends have graduated now (feeling old here). So if you're not a college student, pass it on to one! (facebook works well)

In my experience college students are known for two things: being poor, and being immature. The first is almost always true, the second, only half the time. But I believe students hold the future of global Gospel advancement in their hands. In the going, but especially in the giving. 

There is lacking in students a fear that grips most after graduation. The fear associated with money. When I was a Junior at Moody, a non-traditional student, a close friend, was going into missions. When he approached me about supporting him, my first thought was--you're crazy. I barely make my payments, and beside still I need to have fun. But I let him speak. "Even those in college can give $5 or $10 a month, and after all, we're all called to play a part"

Something clicked inside of me and I started supporting him at $50 a month. And it was the most exciting thing I was doing. I was working an extra 5-7 hours a month to do it, but it really helped put money in it's rightful place: a tool, not a god. We are not to be controlled by money--we can serve God or money, and not both. Jesus made that clear. I'm sure that if every Christ-following college student gave $10/mo to missions, not only would missions be SO much better funded, but incredibly valuable lessons would be learned early on. Lessons of commitment, the infinite importance of the gospel, generosity, and the sheer joy that is found in giving sacrificially. 

If you are a student reading this right now, I challenge you to find an long term missionary, and get involved with your cash. This is where it hits home for so many people, and trust me, it only gets harder to give once you graduate. Giving sacrificially will bring you closer to Christ in a way that you won't know until you try. What do you want your life to be about? Put your money where your mouth is. Put your life where true security is found--in fearless faith of His mighty provision.


How do you start? The easiest way is to find someone you know, or someone your church supports. Write that person, and tell them you'd like to start supporting them. Find a dollar amount that makes you a bit uncomfortable--start with that. You know then that when you give up a venti mocha for a tall, or a tall for a water, you are involved in life, changing gospel advancing, Christ revering work. And it will be credited by God to your account (Phil 4). Realize that this is a commitment and these people are depending on you to follow through. Stay in touch with your missionary, communicate, pray, give. Maybe one day even go to see what The Lord is doing. Ask The Lord how else he can use you. Trust me, He has his ways.


Jonathan and Maggie Hunter are missionaries with ReachGlobal raising support to minister to Middle and High school students in Costa Rica.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why So Few?

*This Article or Blog does not reflect the opinion of ReachGlobal or the EFCA. This Article is based on personal research, experience, and opinion.*

This last weekend my mother in law had an open house for her art and for our ministry. When asked about the demographics of our sending team many had a common question: Why do only two churches support you? We have over 75 households supporting us--and two churches. The question came not as one of suspicion (if there are only two churches, you must be doing something wrong) but one of disbelief (how could they not want to support you?) While that was flattering, with all modesty it was a good question. We know many missionary candidates and field workers who have similar church statistics. Not only that, but we were advised numerous times to not try and connect with churches because of the low result ratio and the bureaucracy behind the long time spent waiting for churches to make a decision.

I saw my parents finish their support in '93 with 15 or more churches on their team. So I ignored the advice. In fact, I've easily contacted about 100 researched churches in the last year and a half. Why so few joined?

I tried to do some research on the subject and statistics (using the academic database we still have access to from a prior employer) but only found information on a) the philosophy of missions and b) short term missions.

Some of it helped, as these two factor are why churches aren't involved in sending foreign missionaries on such a large scale anymore. But in simple brainstorming I found several other factors.

Money. Money is getting allotted in other places, like...

Technology. Churches feel the pressure to keep up with technology and to stay culturally relevant. 10 years ago very few churches had a lighting display for worship, or used ipads in place of paper music sheets.

Buildings. Some might say that this is not a new problem, and they might be right. We have visited and have friends at many churches who are in over their head with building debt. But many churches are faced with a real spacial problem. Something has to give...

Advertising/Attracting. Websites cost to maintain, decorations in the building become more elaborate, etc.

All of these things (and more) cost money--and there is less to go into the missions budget

Semantics
Missions now means anything from raking someone's yard, to painting, to running a VBS, to a building project to... anything we want it to mean. Anglican Theologian Stephen Neil notes, "If everything is mission, nothing is mission" (1). Missions has ceased to refer to Evangelism and Discipleship and now can mean almost anything we want it to mean. Miguel Ángel Palomino notes that "Ever since churches borrowed the term 'mission statement' from the business world, the word 'mission' no longer has much to do with the biblical concept of missions but instead has to do with the purposes and objectives of an institution" (2). Today it seems that all it takes to be a missionary is to be a part of a religious 501c3 or simply to serve others.

Short Term Missions. 
STM, for short, have been a cause for much debate. All and all it has put an international ministry experience in the hands of, well, everyone. There is a philosophy that says: to be involved with missions we must send our members... short term. But in reality, in financially supporting a long term missionary the church is involved in missions in one of the deepest, oldest, and certainly most effective ways possible. But this biblical philosophy (Phil 4) that  long term foreign missionary is a direct extension of the church is hard to find in churches today. Furthermore the church has spent billions on STM-- for what studies are showing have been vastly ineffective in the big picture (3).

Missions Philosophy.
This directly relates to the last point. We have found many philosophies behind how a church is involved in missions, and each has a weak point:

  • some only support organizations (like some Southern Baptist churches, etc). After all, people are messy, and it's so much easier to just write checks--so where is the connection with and care for the missionary?
  • some only support national pastors--but this causes dependency and often ostracizes them within their own people (4)
  • some only come alongside national churches (5)--but where is the person who goes to live among them and learn their culture and language? So much cultural misunderstanding happens here between the churches
  • some only work with temporary immigrants so when the immigrants return they'll bring the gospel back to their countries--but this is negating the great commission, saying that it is not for us anymore, but for them! (and that is the biggest objection the the last few)
  • some only support a handful of key areas, but then a missionary raising support might search far and wide just for one church to support him... and what portion of the budget? Certainly not all, probably not even 50% or 25%--how is this effective in support raising?
  • some do the 'old fashioned' way of supporting missionaries--keep taking them on until you have too many to keep up with and the finances are spread way too thin; 
  • some, the one I criticize openly--we only do STM... 'nough said. 
  • Oh yes, I can't forget the "Our church isn't called to missions" philosophy. Hmmm...



So few churches are on the same page with supporting missions that it makes it incredibly difficult to approach a church and be talking about the same thing, even though we share a common vocabulary.


Flooded
Frankly, churches are flooded with requests for money. STM, local charities, various para-church organizations, etc. In talking to a lawyer, I found out it was only a one time $5,000 comprehensive fee to file and start a non-profit 501c3. So many people and ministries have started their own nonprofit that they have, for lack of better terms, flooded the market. Under-appreciated church leaders and secretaries field phone calls and emails from so many people asking for money, that the unfortunate often happens: legitimate long term foreign missionaries often get grouped in with masses, and promptly written off--or as frequently happens to me, hung up on or ignored.

What I want to make clear is that this is not a shot at criticizing the church. This is not a low blow, or an upset missionary writing to get rid of my frustrations. I love the church--Christ loves the church. The leaders in our congregations are there because God has them there. I write to unveil issues common to the churches I've come across.

Tragic
The lack of importance of missions in the church is staggering and tragic. Missiologist and veteran missionary Zane Pratt says, "The most common misconception about the place of missions in Scripture is the idea that mission is somehow optional, or simply one among many items on the church's agenda. But mission is actually one of the glues holding together the grand narrative of Scripture, and it's central to the agenda of the church"(6). There is something tragically wrong with missionaries being advised not to spend time contacting churches. It is a tragedy that, as a generalization, the church in the US has dropped the ball with foreign missions.

But hope is not lost. Never has the failing of a human element ceased the purposes of a living God. Missionaries are still being sent. We're already at 74% of our monthly support. The people of God, with the heart of God, take the word of God seriously and are readily giving the money God entrusts to them to the advancement of evangelism and discipleship across borders and barriers, even to "the ends of the Earth"


1. Neil, Stephen. 1959. Creative Tension. Edinburgh: House Press, p89
2. "'If everything is mission, nothing is mission': reflections on short-term missions." Journal of Latin American Theology 2(2): 2007. p 208-226.
3Are Short-Term Missions Good Stewardship? A conversation between Robert Priest and Kurt Ver Beek, Christianity Today, Posted 7/5/2005
4. Craig Ott, Let the Buyer Beware
5. See above article
6. The Non-Negotiable Center of Missions by Matt Smethurst, interview with Zane Pratt





Monday, April 29, 2013

Simply Ask

I'll just go ahead and use the fact that we are now at 71% of our monthly support as the reason we haven't posted. With that being said, we've been blessed to see God work. We've gained 11 new partners and are praying for more as our campaign comes to a close soon... 


 When we were in Knoxville for a prayer conference, we had lunch one afternoon at Chick-fil-a. After receiving our yummy food, Patrick went up to the counter all by himself and asked "Can I please have some ice cream?" Jonathan, the lady at the counter, and I all laughed, and we went on our way to the play ground. About 20 minutes later, the lady came up to Patrick with a bowl of ice cream with sprinkles (I didn't know they had those at Chick-fil-a). I had Jonathan take a picture of Patrick with the ice cream he received by simply asking. It brought to mind the following Scripture: 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
James 1:5
I love that all we have to do is ask God for wisdom that He doesn't find fault in us for lacking wisdom, but He generously gives it to us.

Recently, Jonathan and my common prayer begins with asking for wisdom. We're asking for wisdom as to how to raise Patrick, how to raise our remaining 29%, and how to prepare to work with around 120 students. Please join us in praying for wisdom in these situations.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter Photo Shoot!

Happy Easter!
We had a wonderful day celebrating our Risen King at church in the morning, and with family in the afternoon. It was a great time of reflection and worship. May the Savior ever give us eyes to see the depth of his unwavering love and the heights of its cost.

-Jonathan, Maggie, and Patrick