Expectations in Marriage and Missions

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The church in America is an interesting animal. Over the years, the church has done some incredibly positive work, and at the same time, if we’re honest, the church has done a lot of damage. One ongoing and problematic issue the church has is that it tends to have a pack mentality. The church tends to embrace whatever the current trend is. Whether it’s calling for the prohibition of alcohol one hundred years ago, the rabid opposition to secular music about 30 years ago, or the spike in end-time studies that seems to come around every 10 or 15 years, the church follows trends. Continue reading

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You Need to Walk Your Pigs

pexels-photo-110820You meet a wide range of people when you run an orphanage. Visitors, donors, mission groups, etc. are all dropping by. Most people are a joy to work with; some are a little more challenging. Around the office, we use the saying: “Everyone brings joy, some when they arrive, some when they leave.” A while back one well-meaning visitor urgently asked to talk with me following a tour. This is not unusual. What he wanted to talk about was a little different. Continue reading

How to Melt a Snowflake

Snowman with a blank placard on the snowSome good friends of mine run a ministry coordinating short-term mission trips to an inspiring orphanage in Ghana (see links below). Some of the students and adults they bring to Ghana are from affluent areas of California and have been protected from the bulk of reality most of their lives. You know the type, people quickly offended by anything and easily “triggered.” I once joked with the leaders that they’re the first people to transport snowflakes into Ghana. Yes, it’s a corny joke. But to push the joke further, the best way to melt a snowflake is to apply heat. These trips are exceptional at melting snowflakes.

More and more, American society is easily offended. Many comedians now refuse to work the college circuit because anything they joke about offends everyone in the room. Politicians need to check every word and phrase before they speak. People are afraid to hear from others who they do not agree with, as if they might bruise if they hear or see something that doesn’t confirm their own beliefs. It’s harder and harder to have intelligent discussions on any topic without it becoming a polarizing issue. Try bringing up vaccinations, gun control, immigration, veganism, or any other topic and wait for the reactions to begin. The idea that other people might have beliefs different than ours and still be functioning intelligent people, in no small degree, has been lost.

So how do we, and others, begin to lose the snowflake mentality? By leaving our sheltered routine and meeting people outside our circle. We change and grow by exposing ourselves to new cultures, new experiences, and new people. Our world becomes bigger, as we realize how big the world is. We grow when we stop and listen, to really pay attention, to what the other person is saying.

There’s something powerful and life-changing about stepping out of our normal routine. Wherever you are in life, odds are your routine is fairly set. You have the same job, working with the same people. You probably attend a church with people who look a lot like you and from the same income bracket. When you eat out, you probably rotate the same restaurants over and over: burgers, Italian, Mexican, repeat. This is not a judgment; it’s just an observation. People naturally fall into a routine in their lives. Sometimes, it’s good to mix things up a little. God generally speaks to us on the mountaintop, not in line at our regular Starbucks.

Before my wife and I moved to Mexico, semi-regular short term mission trips were an essential part of our lives. The trips we took both as individuals before we met, and later traveling together were life-changing and broadening experiences for both of us. These short-term trips are where we first felt the call to full-time missions. Once we were living in Mexico and actively involved in orphan care, people assumed our days of short-term missions work were over. My wife continues to take frequent trips with our local church to mainland Mexico, and we’ve both been to Africa several times. Our lives, and our faith, require that we break up the routine. We all need to take a chance and serve alongside people outside our usual circle of influence.

My first trip to Africa had a profound impact on my approach to ministry and orphan care. We had already been caring for orphans in Mexico for many years, and I thought I had a handle on it. I was (and still am) an idiot. In Malawi, I was exposed to a level of financial poverty that was life-altering. It’s one thing to read about or watch documentaries on extreme poverty, it’s an entirely other thing to experience life with people living in those situations. We saw deep pain, as a mother begged us to take her four-year-old son so he could have a better life. We also experienced people with a depth of faith that put ours to shame. It was two weeks of an emotional workout, and we were stronger for it.

As the years of ministry pass by, I’ve become a passionate advocate of short-term missions. Yes, when short-term teams are managed correctly, they can have a powerful and positive impact, but the individuals on the teams are also impacted. Horizons are broadened, minds are opened, and the seeds of empathy are planted or expanded as people experience new cultures.

If you, or people in your influence, seem to be a little too easily offended, you might have a snowflake issue going on. Think about spending some time serving others for a week or so. Let the cold, self-righteous attitude of the snowflake melt away as it’s exposed to warmth.

To plan a trip to Ghana or to Mexico, please contact Be2live, or contact me directly through this blog.

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No Regrets

IMG_0355Everyone is playing with the “Faceapp” right now, the app that shows what you will look like when you’re older. Time killer? Yes. Creepy? Absolutely. Are they harvesting your data? Probably. But the one good thing that might be coming out of the Faceapp fad is it’s forcing people to think about getting old and eventually dying off. Most people are in denial; they believe they will be around forever. People believe that they will take that mission trip to Cuba “someday.” They will work with children at risk “eventually.” They’ll help others “once my loans are paid off.” It’s good to remember we might not have that many tomorrows. The time we have is a precious gift that is slipping away faster every year. Don’t reach the end with regrets.

This last week was one of the busiest weeks of our summer here in Mexico. We coordinated three large teams and their efforts to build four homes for needy families in our community. Well over 150 people from multiple states across the US, spending a week of their summer on a short-term mission trip. They all came down with the hope of changing lives. It worked, but I can guarantee it worked in ways almost none of them could have anticipated or might have noticed.

Obviously, the families who received these houses were blessed, and their lives were changed. The homes built aren’t just shelter. The teams, working alongside the family, build a home where they can be proud to live. These are semi-finished three bedroom, one bath homes that would have taken them years to construct without the help of the missions groups. This is why the groups come down, to have a profound and long term positive impact on the families they are seeking to bless. But something else went on in the background beyond the expressed agendas and motivations.

These projects help to provide desperately needed jobs in our community. Almost all the materials are purchased locally. Over the summer, our homes and other projects account for about half of all the local hardware store’s sales. The local skilled laborers hired to help out were able to feed their families. The local glass shop guy always does a little “happy dance” when we walk in to place a window order. These homes impact so many local lives in ways that are impossible to count.

The impact of a well run short-term mission trip is life-changing for everyone involved. For the vast majority of the people who traveled down to help recently, it was a week they will remember the rest of there lives. The teams that came down built relationships with each other, and worked together with fellow church members in ways they’ve never been able to before. I listened to one father, working alongside his wife and three kids, as he shared with tears in his eyes about the bonding time with his teen girls. They spent the week hanging drywall together and learned how to tape and mud the drywall panels. Ask any dad; it takes some effort to find quality relationship time with teen girls.

I was witness to the tearful home dedications as keys, hugs, and blessings were shared all around. The families, teams, and individuals who worked together this week will be sharing stories about the trip for years to come. If they hadn’t taken a chance, spent the time and money to come down, they would always wonder, “what if?” They would carry those regrets for years.

Too many people reach the end of their life and wonder if they’ve ever made a difference. They regret not taking a chance. They wonder if they’ve made some mark or impact that will be remembered. People who serve where the need is greatest never have to worry about this. I’ve never met anybody who regretted caring for orphans, widows or those less fortunate around them. The life we build has nothing to do with the stuff we usually focus on, a life well lived is one focused on having a positive impact on other people’s lives.

On your grave, between your birth date and death date, there will be two dashes: – – representing your life. What will those two simple dashed represent? What did you do between those two dates? You might not change the world, but you can change someone’s life. Don’t end your life with regrets.

 

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The Toilet Paper Police

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Years ago, our ministry had “the toilet paper police.” A gentleman on our staff was in charge of all the soap and cleaning supply distribution to our very large orphanage. This is actually a tremendous job when you think about it: all the soap, TP, shampoo, pine cleaner, diapers, toothpaste, etc. for 120 children, plus the staff, plus the many visiting teams we host. Human beings just go through a LOT of supplies. This gentleman (we’ll call him Bob) was very detailed. Bob would keep lists, track everything, look for patterns in supply usage, etc. Although it was all with the best of intentions, he was kind of a pain. He eventually got the nickname of “the toilet paper police.” He was trying to do the best job possible, and he might have saved us some money, but what was the real cost? What damage was he doing to relationships by stalking people over one extra roll of TP? Kids get sick, people fall in the mud, things change. Sometimes it’s just better to let some things slide for the greater good.

The toilet paper thing might seem odd, but the same controlling attitude can easily flow into other areas of ministry. Some people make a plan or agenda and can get VERY upset if things need to change. When we have a flu outbreak, and most of our kids are throwing up, it’s hard to force them to participate in the great vacation bible school program you had planned. If your group was scheduled to paint a building, I understand it’s frustrating if it rains that day, but that is not in my control. Sometimes things change. When you have a large team, traveling to a foreign country, things changing is the norm.

This week we had a group working hard to prepare lunch for our large family. We occasionally have government inspections (always a lot of fun by the way). Once the group had the spaghetti in the boiling water and cookies in the oven for dessert, we all had to participate in a mandatory government fire drill. I’m sure the group wasn’t expecting or planning on this, but they flowed perfectly and actually saw the humor in the whole situation. The group standing around with our kids while a head count was done turned into kind of a cool experience.

Occasionally, something happens that completely derails the best-laid plans. It’s so critical to realize, God might have a plan that is very different than our schedule or agenda. If we’re focused on our frustration of missed flights, miscommunication about transportation, or people getting sick, we might miss out on a very different opportunity. How we respond in the midst of changes, challenges, and frustrations shows everyone around us who we honestly see as being in charge. Are these our plans, or God’s plans?

Now and then, plans change entirely. In two weeks, we have a fantastic group coming from the Midwest to build a house for a needy family in our town. The planning has been going on for months. Blueprints have been finalized, and materials have been purchased, pictures of the family have been sent to the group, etc. This young family has four children, one of their sons is special needs. The details were in place, and everyone was expecting a fantastic week of service and relationship building. This week, everything changed in a way that no one would have expected. Due to what we believe is a reaction to some medication she was on, the mother of this family of four passed away two nights ago. Understandably, the husband and the four children are devastated. We are helping with funeral arrangements and doing what we can to support the family. It seems trivial in the face of death, but what do we do with the home build project? As of the writing of this blog, the group is planning on moving forward with the home build, but the changes are bringing phenomenal challenges and opportunities to minister at a vastly more profound level. Flexibility on the part of the group will be essential for everyone even remotely involved with this project.

Obviously, this is an extreme example. But unexpected changes are the norm with life in general, and international missions especially. Part of it is the bizarreness of international travel; part of it is different cultures and systems than most groups are used to. But part of it is also a spiritual dynamic. There will always be challenges and barriers to effective ministry. The key to getting through those challenges and barriers is to see them differently. The changes we encounter, the disruptions to our plans, can lead to incredible opportunities for service and ministry as long as our hearts are in the right place and we keep our eyes open to those divine appointments that God has laid out for us.

Be organized, plan well, but always remember to allow for the unexpected. Allow for God to set things in motion in ways that we didn’t prepare for. Please don’t be the toilet paper police.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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Missions and Politics

yelling“If you support the general US policy on immigrants, you should cancel your missions trip.” This line was recently posted on Facebook and shared by many people. I don’t agree with the statement, but it brings up an interesting point. How much does our politics interfere with our testimony? How much does our contempt for other political parties or nationalities impact our mission’s goals?

What we spend our time on, what we focus on, what we promote in our lives and social media, says everything about our priorities. The enemy will do everything in his power to distract us from what is essential, to distract us from seeking God first and representing Him well. With today’s non-stop cycle of political news, from an ever more slanted perspective from either side, it’s easy to get distracted from what truly matters.

A while back, a very good friend of mine, a strong Christian and missions-minded person, was spending an inordinate amount of time on social media promoting and sharing his support of the 2nd amendment. We eventually had a conversation where I pointed out that he might be focused more on defending the constitution than actually supporting and defending the Gospel. (He got my point.) The constitution is, in the grand scheme of things, temporary. All things of man are. Eventually, the constitution and the US will fade away and become a footnote in history. The only things that last are the things of God. Too many people are chasing after the shiny object of the temporary, and ignoring the eternal.

Anyone who’s read the news or watched the 24-hour flood of news channels is aware that much of the church is increasingly focused on political issues. The vitriol and fury that so many Christians are demonstrating are, to be honest, embarrassing, and increasingly problematic. “They shall know them by their love.” has been replaced by, “They shall know them by their snarky Facebook posts attacking people they don’t agree with.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have an opinion; we have an obligation to stand up for the weak, the defenseless, those in need around us. This is Jesus’ example to us. But how we stand up for others matters a great deal. Jesus was not political; He didn’t pick a side other than hanging out with the rejects of society. He knew there was deep political corruption, He knew it was a broken political system, but He also knew it just didn’t matter. He focused on the individual in front of Him; He focused on what was important.

My team, and many of the groups we host have been helping with the migrant camps in Tijuana. These camps are hosting people from Costa Rica, Haiti, etc. Many of these people left horrifying circumstances for the slim chance of not just a better life, but of survival. A donor to our ministry heard about this and let us know that he would reach out to his church. He was sure they would help with supplies. He was amazed and disappointed when his church gave a very firm, “No.” They would not support “those people.” Think that through, they refused to help migrants because they felt these people should “just go home.” They didn’t like the politics, so it was OK to turn a blind eye. This is counter to everything the Gospel represents. Even if we do see people we don’t agree with as the enemy, we have explicit instruction as to what our response should be. We are called to love our enemy, pray for our enemy, heap blessing on them.

How many of us deserve the blessings and grace that God pours out on us everyday? None of us are worthy, none of us have a right to this grace, but God pours grace in abundance on us anyway.

Jesus taught extensively on this topic. From the good Samaritan to reaching out to lepers, the Gospel leaves no wiggle room as to how we are to serve our fellow human beings. The Gospel does not say only bless those we agree with, only help those who are worthy, only pray for people who are making decisions we agree with. And yet, the church today is increasingly divided into political factions, divided by agendas that have no lasting value. How can we share the Gospel overflowing with grace, acceptance, and love when so much of our lives are bathed in contempt for those around us?

Going back to the line this blog started with: “If you support the general US policy on immigrants, you should cancel your missions trip.” I disagree with that line. Whatever your stance on immigrants is, you should take a missions trip. Spend time studying and understanding the issues from different angles before you go. Go and meet the people that you see on so many news clips. However you feel about their actions or them personally, you are called to love your enemy. By spending time with them, you might find your perceived enemy is actually your fellow child of God, that your enemy is someone that our Heavenly Father cares deeply about.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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A Fear Factor

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“Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to respond to this question over the last 20 years. I honestly believe this is more of a statement on the church in America today than any perceived danger in Mexico.

What keeps us up at night worrying seldom happens. In 2016 there were a total of 4 deaths by shark attack, 67 people died from taking selfies. If you ask a cross-section of people, fear of sharks would probably rate higher than fear of smartphones. Way too many people live lives wrapped in fear of things that don’t happen or don’t matter. American culture feeds and encourages fear: fear of the “other” political party, of terrorism, of people from different countries or cultures. Fear has become the new American way.

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a concerned father who was looking at sending his daughter with their church missions team to serve with our orphanage in Mexico. After talking to him for a while, he asked me straight out, “Can you 100% guarantee the safety of my daughter?” I think I surprised him with my answer: “Absolutely not.” I asked him if he could 100% guarantee the safety of his daughter when she was driving to school, out shopping, or even in their home. There are almost no 100% guarantees in this life other than the fact that we will all eventually die. If we lived our lives looking for 100% guarantees, we would never do anything, that’s not why we’re on this earth.

At what point did the church collectively decide that we need complete security at all times? Why are we so afraid? Jesus never taught that we should only go and share the gospel if our safety could be guaranteed, that we should only help others if there is zero risk involved. I’m not saying we should take unnecessary chances, but what should we be willing to risk to share the Gospel?

“Fear not” comes up a lot in the bible, “You need to avoid risk” not so much. If we believe we have an all-powerful, loving Father in heaven who only wants what’s best for us, why are we so afraid? If we believe that God can use ALL things for our good and the good of His kingdom, why can’t we rest in that? The Apostle Paul did some of his best work sitting in prison. Paul was completely convinced this was just a temp job; he was on his way to heaven. Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was afraid of what might happen. The world needs more Pauls.

A good friend of mine has been a missionary in a Muslim country for a few years. (for his safety I can’t share his name or what country). This guy is fearless. Recently he sent me an e-mail asking an IT question, not a big deal. He went on to share about the struggles they were having going to print with a new bible recently translated into a dialect for that area. One print shop was burned down, one printer who wanted to help was sent to prison, my friend’s family was threatened, and he was arrested and held for several days. Yikes. I would have hit the road long before this. Rather than running, giving up, or even complaining, he was rejoicing. Through the entire E-mail, you could feel the joy he was experiencing; he had found the “joy in all things” that Paul wrote about while in prison.

In 2014 my wife and I were scheduled to travel with the team of about 20 to Ghana in West Africa. We had our tickets, we had our visas, and about 30 days before we were scheduled to leave the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa. You couldn’t pick up a paper, turn on the radio, or watch the news without being told how dangerous Ebola was and how we were all going to die. Not the best time to travel to West Africa. Over the course of a few weeks, most of the team dropped out and, to be honest, we thought about it. We made a few calls to people on the ground to get accurate information and had some LONG talks. Any sane person would have canceled. (we’ve never been grouped in with sane people). We decided to go. The team was just five people, and EVERYONE said we were crazy. We went, had an incredible trip, and I believe we had a real impact at the orphanage where we were serving. West Africa is a BIG place, where we were serving we were over 1000 miles from the nearest Ebola case. At no time were we in any danger other than malaria and the other normal issue from that area.

In looking back at our trip to Ghana, I’m flooded with emotions. One of the emotions I have is regret for the many people who, out of an abundance of caution, chose not to go. They missed out on a life-changing experience. They missed out on the chance to share with others and connect with believers on the other side of the world. The enemy, once again used fear to stop ministry from taking place. How many people weren’t reached? How many lives weren’t changed by this incredible experience? The people who chose to stay back had the perception of safety, but they missed a life-altering experience.

Take a chance. Risk something. Go drill a well in Kenya, go build a house in Baja, go serve (or start) a prison ministry. Step out and see how God might use you or might use the new challenges to change you. Of the people I hang out within the missions field, I never hear them talk about the regret of taking a chance. What I see and hear are people who glow, glow with a joy that few people experience in this life. These are people who have taken and continue to take chances for God. They are not afraid of risk, they embrace it, they have found joy. The only fear we should accept in our lives is the fear of NOT doing what God is calling us to. We should be deathly afraid of wasting our time here on this earth living a mundane, “safe” existence.

To answer the question about Mexico that I started out with: Yes, Mexico CAN be dangerous in certain areas, most of it is really safe, but watch out for those selfies.