My son prayed for $100,000 last night and I hope he gets it.

Last night, as our family was doing our regular bedtime routine of stories and prayers, I asked my oldest to give the final prayer for our family.  We have a list of things that we usually pray for, and he proceeded to pray for all of those things.  My kids have picked up on some of the things I routinely pray for, so he mentioned some of those as well.  Then my son threw a curveball into his prayer last night and prayed for 100 grand.  Now before you jump to conclusions, I have to explain why and who it was for.

Yesterday during our Sunday gathering, if you were there, you know I mentioned the 539444_242466675871887_1606113187_nUganda missions trip that our church is going on, as well as, an offering that we are going to take to help with the completion of the baby’s home.  In passing, I mentioned that they needed $100,000 to complete the 5,000 sq. ft. orphanage and medical clinic (our church and another in Nebraska have a very good relationship with Ken and Cathy Nganda and their amazing ministry to orphans in Uganda).  My son, who heard about this need in church yesterday, decided to start praying for the $100,000 for the orphanage.

At first I was proud that my son was not only listening in church, but also had enough compassion and faith to bring this before our Heavenly Father.  I was then confronted with the reality that I had not thought of praying for this need sooner.  I wrestled with this and realized how numb I have become about the needs around me.  I hear about families and marriages that are hurting.  I hear about missions needs and orphan needs, and because it’s all too big for me and overwhelming to really contemplate, I start to become numb to it all.  And what I realized was this numbness was leading to prayerlessness.

Have you found yourself feeling numb to the needs and hurts around you?

I need to rediscover the childlike faith displayed by my son last night.  He simply heard of a need, a need that’s too big for him to really do anything about, but he responded by taking this big need to the One who can something about it.

What if we all started to pray like this?  What if our first response and our continual response was prayer to the needs around us?  There’s something too big for all of us today that we are facing.  How will we respond?

I hope that my son keeps praying for $100,000.  I know I need to as well.

 

When the gospel takes you to Latvia and back

Today’s post is from Scott Beierwaltes, one of the elders at Providence.  Scott and Katie and their family have been on an amazing journey over the last 6 months through their adoption of a young man from Latvia, Andris.  I’ve asked them to share what God has been doing in their lives over the last few month and what He has taught them through their experiences in Latvia.  Here is Scott’s story:

I pray that this post clearly communicates just how amazing our God is and how blessed we are to be His.  Any bragging you may sense as you read our story comes with a humbleness of knowing that the great peace and joy we’ve experienced is not due to anything we’ve done, but purely by the grace of God that He would bless us so richly and beyond anything we deserve.

Wow!  What an exciting ride it’s been these past 6 months as God placed a powerful sense in me, and then in Katie, to reach out and connect with Andris days before he left to head home to Latvia after spending 5 weeks here as part of a host program.  

What’s been interesting to me is that it has never seemed like a burden or sacrifice.  I would have thought that along the way, at some point, we would feel overwhelmed by all the various challenges and as we overcame them to feel pride in our accomplishments and what we’ve overcome.  Instead, from the moment we connected with Andris at his host family’s home, everything has felt very natural and normal.  Peaceful.  From our communication, to our feelings for each other, to all of the various hoops and expenses related to the adoption process … it’s as if God has supernaturally paved the way and provided us just the right amount of momentum.  That momentum carried us all the way to Riga, Latvia for most of the month of June.

We arrived in Riga with the sole focus of bringing Andris physically into our family after many months of Facebook chats and the occasional call or video chat.  On the second day we were formally approved by the Latvian orphan court and made the drive out to the Children’s Home where Andris lived.  Seeing Andris in person after so many months apart brought great happiness!  Similar to the anticipation felt during pregnancy and then the feelings of intense joy when a baby is born, we felt similar anticipation and the rush of excitement the moment we saw Andris and hugged him.  From that day since we continue to be blessed as we all get to know and enjoy each other.  It’s been such an amazing experience to see and experience God’s handiwork.  For reasons beyond our understanding, God chose now to be the time to finally bring us all together.

One aspect of this experience that I’m grateful for has been the opportunity to rely on God.  Realistically, while I’d love to be able to say that we’ve always relied on God each and every day, it’s simply not true.  Way too often, typically without even realizing it, we’ve made decisions based on what we wanted to do and believed was possible. This was, and continues to be, completely different.  Initially, we didn’t even think about adopting Andris.  Not because of anything about Andris personally, but more a feeling that our lives were already full.  God changed all of that in an instant when He placed in me an undeniable sense that we had to connect with him.  At first, it wasn’t clear what exactly that would mean, but I shared those feelings with Katie who didn’t even blink before agreeing to connect with him before leaving.  Unbelievable.  A busy mom with 4 young children, yet God had prepared her to be open minded to what He might have for us.  God gave us both the desire and then also the sense that He would provide for us all along the way.  So, even though we knew in our minds that practically it would be very difficult (i.e. very tight deadlines due to his age, high financial costs with zero money budgeted, and 4 kids under the age of 8) we also had a clear sense that if we trusted and relied on God that He would provide for us.  And He did!  

We learned to focus on one day at a time.  To spend time with Him in the morning praying for that day and not just for Andris, but also that our love for God would deepen and from that He would change us to love others in a way beyond anything we could do on our own.  During those times, I was reminded that the good news of Jesus isn’t just for the unbeliever, but for everyone.  I learned to remind myself and thank Jesus daily for living a perfect life for us to follow, for incurring the punishment for sin that we would have all otherwise suffered, and then rising from the dead and living among the people to prove that He was who He said He was.  Reflecting on that Gospel message repeatedly dramatically increased my feelings for Him.  As the feelings and dependence increased, the more I want to share that with people.  The more I want to live the type of life that will bring Him the most glory and fame.  He deserves it!  The law, or description of how we should behave, is our guide.  Not that we can come close to doing it all in our power, but it serves to show God’s perfect standards and to plant seeds in our hearts and minds to bear fruit when opportunities arise.  Our realization that we fall short of how God intended us to live should serve as an opportunity for us to seek Him and the forgiveness bought for us by Jesus on the cross.

In remembering the Gospel and literally begging God to change me and overcome my inherent selfishness, God has blessed me with a deeper love for Him and others, as well as a desire to look for “divine appointments” to speak of His goodness.  One awesome answer to prayer is that God has given us a story to tell.  I prayed for months pleading with God to give us stories to tell people about Him … after a few occurrences of sharing the adoption news and our story, I finally realized that this experience was a direct answer to prayer.  Not just for me, but also for Andris who prayed for a large family to adopt him.  

God is amazing and has blessed us so richly!  I feel like we’re just scratching the surface of what God has for us.  The more we let go, follow the Bible, seek forgiveness, and put our trust in Him … the more I believe we’ll experience the fullness of life and ultimately the pureness of heaven.  

Take the gift of today, and everyday, to fall on your knees and thank Jesus for all that He’s done and humbly plead with Him to change you and instill in you an undeniable sense to boldly follow Him.

May God bless you and keep you close!

Uganda missions trip journal – days 4-7

Here are Pastor Bobby’s remaining experiences from our team’s trip to Uganda.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 18th

I can’t explain how each day is even more incredible than the one before, but that’s just the way it is on a trip like this. We started the day sleeping in until 8:25a, it was wonderful and much needed. We got a quick breakfast, then loaded the van for a day of ministry. On our way to the property, we had a few errands to run first. We stopped to meet Cathy at the bank, and the ladies went with Cathy to the market. It is the largest open market in east and central Africa. They said it was hectic, people running into you, some with large pans of goods on their heads shouting “pass, pass!” so you would move aside. Being white/foreign, people know they usually have tourist money, so they shout “muzungu, muzungu!”

The guys went to a concrete yard and bought 45 concrete posts to put into the ground. What is nice about Uganda is it is cheap to hire lots of laborers to tackle huge projects like moving around and delivering huge concrete posts. With the plan to meet the delivery truck at the land, we left there and made a stop by a market to buy some goods for the widows on the land.  There are two widows squatting on the land and another close by. We all gave and collected 140,000 shillings ($60usd), and after we bought the necessities (rice, salt, sugar, soap, bread) for all three widows, the total was $139,500. Does God still work miracles, even small ones, just to help our faith; absolutely, if we’re looking for it. Ken has reached out to these widows in such Christian love, and has agreed to let them settle a half acre of the 5 acres that he bought. So we picked up some kerosene and some gas for the bus and headed to the land, but not before we did the math and figured out that gas costs $5.80 a gallon here; whew.

So the drive was not far from where we were, but I couldn’t believe how remote feeling the last 2 miles or so of the drive was. It was way off the main road, and way back in the woods. The road was so narrow the brush was scraping down the sides of the bus at a few points. The roads are very eroded and bumpy. We got to the land, and the first thing we did was see the well. Ken told us that the day before we arrived the men struck water at 70 feet, another miracle for those that have eyes to believe it. I could go on and on about how providential it was that they struck water the day before we arrived, so they could be encouraged and we could experience the awesomeness of what is happening in this community. I was humbled to tears by what I saw as I thought about the hundreds of people who did something to make this well a reality, the yard sale, the change drive, the kids at schools getting involved, individual donors, and more. And thousands for many more years are going to have changed lives because of the sacrificial love of God’s church. That $20k that we raised was truly the broad effort of many, many people and organizations. I thought about the fact that had we not responded to that call, this well wouldn’t be there, and the poor in that community would still be walking 5-7 miles one way to get fresh ground water. Now, they can walk and receive the most vital life giving source on earth in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t enough for me to see the mouth of this 70 ft miracle, I was challenged to get into a plastic bucket and go down to the bottom of the well, which I accepted.

What a neat experience, 70 feet into the earth, damp and cool, quiet and still, all part of God’s creation. Looking up the sky was bright as I saw shadows of men standing at the mouth of the well. They raised the pump out to give me and the African young man already in the well some more room to stand together. The top of the well was about 6 feet in diameter, and it gradually reduces to about 3 feet where I was 70 feet down in the ground. Because the soil was loose and rocky, it kept caving in as they would dig. So they have been building a brick wall as they move down, and literally the only way now to dig is this; one man, one short handled pick axe, one short shovel, one plastic bucket on a rope (also the elevator). They reel up the 5-6 gallon bucket, dump the mud and water out that the guy in the well has excavated, and literally repeat this process all day long, moving inches at a time. After I was raised out of the well, I washed the dirt from my hair, face, and feet, and then we offered a prayer of memorial and thansgiving to God for this incredible well and what a blessing it is.

So, around lunchtime we walked onto the land where the fence construction was happening. The view is fantastic, it’s up on a hill and you can literally see about 330 degrees around, what a wonderful refuge for many future orphans. It is my desire to drive onto that land one day and meet a son or a daughter to bring to the US, if the Lord is willing. We got a quick tour and then didn’t delay in starting those holes for the rest of the posts. In a matter of a couple hours, and after some crazy hard work chiseling away through the rocky soil with our hole diggers, we dug out about 30 holes. The locals started moving the posts into position and mixing the concrete african style (creek sand, plaster sand, cement, and chucks of rocks in a huge pile. Mix it right on the ground with shovels, ad water, transport to location in wheelbarrow or 4 gallon carrying containers). The concrete posts are about 120lbs each, and these 20-25 year old Ugandans are carrying them, one each, not together, on their shoulder through brush and forest with their barefeet. I also carried a couple, and after doing it twice, I was exhausted, and have bruise marks on my shoulders from just carrying two. These guys are in such great shape, so tough, they literally can work circles around us. Our only advantage is better technology and faster ways of doing things with it. If we ever had to re learn how to live off the land with not many tools or resources, one month in Uganda would be about all the training you would need to survive. Little Bobby and Cam did a little helping here and there when something was available for them to do. Other times they were found exploring, sickling brush with their African long knives, raiding the pringles from my bag, or climbing in jackfruit trees.

The ladies arrived around 2pm with lunch and sodas. Then we worked til 3:15pm, and it was time to get the groceries from the bus and deliver them to the 3 widows that live right at the land. What a sight to see the jubilee and rejoicing as we brought them simple necessities, that didn’t cost us much, about $20 on each widow, but meant everything to them. They would clap, sing, and holler as we approached with bags of goods. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ admonition about “as we do unto the least we do unto Him.” These are probably the poorest people I have ever seen with my eyes. The children had holes all in their dirty clothes, the smaller they were, the greater the chance that they had no clothes at all. One widow insisted we sit as a group in her house, where she welcomed us and made us laugh. She had the biggest smile, and hugged all over us, especially Bobby and Cameron. I know this widow had to be 75, yet to show her strength, she carried Cameron (55lbs) , over the threshold style, out of her house and back to the bus. Even pausing 30 seconds for a few pictures. It was wild. We also saw coffee beans all over this land. We rushed from there straight to a school that was dismissing at 4pm where Mikey and Hannah shared about needing Jesus to cleanse our hearts. Then we passed out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and silly bands to over 200 kids. They danced for us, we sang for them, they were very grateful, and we were even more so for having such a neat opportunity to give a needy child a brand new toothbrush.

When were arrived back at the hotel, it was one of the earliest nights that we had gotten back the whole trip, it was about 6:15-30. So we decided to try out the pool, water temp about 80, not too bad. We organized a game of water polo in the shallow end with a flat volley ball, with two plastic chairs as the goals; it was so much fun. Everyone wants to do it again. We got to supper about 7:15, had another great dinner, even greater discussion in devotion time in Acts 16, then had a time of singing. We noticed the Ugandan workers cleaning up the kitchen were singing to “Lord You Are Good”, so we called them to join us. Angie went over and convinced them to put down their rags and come and worship Jesus. (Great Mary/Martha moment) At first it was three, then four, then eight! We also invited over a German bush pilot who lives in South Sudan, named Gero (Aero Gero is his FB name…) that we had met who works for Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Three nations were lifting up the praises of God for about 30 minutes, the Spirit was there, we had prayer time, and “powerful” only begins to describe how great the time was. Now we are back in the room, it is 12:04am, and we get to sleep 8 hours again.  I am so grateful. On the agenda for tomorrow is more work at the land, some community ministry, and probably another 3-4 unplanned happenings that we are beginning to look forward at this point. That’s all for now.

 

Tuesday June 19th

8:55pm. We have still two full days in Uganda and already I am saddened to leave Uganda. I am in love with the people here, and with the ministry that I see happening here. What a neat place to visit, there is so much we’ve learned. We have bonded so well as a team too, truly I love Ken and Cathy Nganda, and all of the team like they are family. I’m excited to write out all that we experienced today. Bet you couldn’t guess this, but God was again awesome today! We began again with breakfast around 8:15, and on the bus at 9am. By 9:10 we were heading to the land, and as always, with a couple important stops. This time we picked up water for us, and a loaf of bread for the workers, who yesterday only had our snacks to eat all day. Then we got a pick axe, since that was the fastest way through the first 8-10 inches of soil, some pliars, wire, and some fencing. We got to the land about 10:10, and immediately got to work digging the rest of the holes, about 15. We carried the concrete posts close to their final resting spot and set them off to the side. I slashed down part of the fence line where the new fence was going. Ken only bought about 50 feet just to see how things would go. By 11:50, we had done all that we could do, as the locals had not started mixing the new concrete yet. There were still more holes to be dug on the other side of the property where they had spaced the posts way to far away initially. So in our last 20 minutes, we cranked out another 6-8 holes; by now we were finally learning how to dig these puppies. The soil was loose, but rocky, so the hole diggers worked but not great, and when you closed the diggers to bring up the soil, much of it would fall out of the bottom.  The locals had never seen or heard of post hole diggers, and honestly, the soil was not great for them anyway, so I don’t know if they were impressed or not. So we would work the pick axe first, and get as low as possible, using the hole diggers to trim the sides and even out the hole.

At around 12:15, we were headed back to the hotel for lunch as we had ministry plans for the afternoon. By two we had eaten, freshened up and showered, and were back on the bus heading 10 minutes to a ministry center called Incredible Youth Center International. This is run by two guys named Brian and Solomon, and they have a heart to see young people reach their full potential and dream big. First they showed us great hospitality, invited us in to see their nice building, one of the nicest we have been in yet in this region of Mukono. They set out drinks and fruit, and of course we enjoyed their kindness and had some great fellowship. They showed us the other parts of the ministry, and then we made our way to the front yard where about 150-200 were gathered to sing with us and hear me share the Word. A local pastor named Godfrey was my translator, and he did a great job. I shared the beatitudes, and tried to paint a picture for them of the Christian life, beginning with brokenness and ending in persecution. I told them repeatedly what Christ had done for them on the cross. At the end I invited them to respond to the Gospel, and one did named Vincent, along with a few younger children. Vincent is living together with a brother that does not believe in God and he knows it’s going to be hard. Pray that Vincent remains steadfast, unwavering, and full of the love of Jesus towards his brother.

We left there around 4:15p and headed to Kampala to eat. During our 1.5hr commute, we jammed out to some Oak Ridge Boys, Gaither Vocal Band, and Alabama. Mikey and I figured out how to plug our music into the stereo through the microphone port using a cable I packed in my guitar bag. It has provided some great times of singing, laughing, and worship during our many long bus rides here. There was something interesting, wierd, and beautiful all at the same time about singing Gaither Vocal band while watching Ugandan’s walk down the road with baskets of bananas on their heads. Charles the bus driver and Cathy both loved the music. Charles so much so, that as soon as I got back in the bus after eating, he handed me the chord that plugs into my ipod and said, “here, music.” We later learned that Ethan’s favorite was Go Fish, we all participated in “The Wheels on The Bus” and “Happy And You Know It”, handmotions and all, we were crazy on that bus, but it made the time pass quickly, and it made for great memories!

Cathy took us to Pizza Royale, in downtown Kampala. The area is very nice, and very modern compared to the rest of Uganda. As we were looking for a seat, I ran into a white couple who was adopting a 2 year old boy and 3 year old girl, as long as the court hearings go well. They live in Tennessee, and have 3 biological kids back in the states. He was a HUGE guy, and come to find out, plays pro football with the St. Louis Rams as a Lineman, his name was Steve Wells, wife’s name was Julie. What an amazing heart these two have, sacrificing much to bring home the orphan. The kids were Ronald and Caroline. The pizza was great, after eating, I bought Cam and Bobby some ice cream and we hopped back on the bus for a 1.5hr commute back to Mukono. Kent spent the day in court, which went really well, and the parents from Anderson SC who are adopting Ron might be going home in about 10-14 days with their new baby boy.

Everyone was tired when we got back about 8:30p so we opted to do today’s devotion, tomorrow morning. After devos and breakfast in the morning we are going to head to Jinja for the day and see the source of the Nile. I am loving the beatiful country and people that God made in Uganda. He is AWESOME! Not guitars, not lines from movies, not cars, not places or things made by man, and certainly not me. GOD alone and the works of His hands: now that’s awesome! I say this because one night I shared that we use the word awesome for things that certainly are not. I am chiefly guilty of this habit that robs God of words that should be ascribed to him. I was reminded of this when Cathy said, “You all say ‘awesome’ a lot.” So we are all trying not to say it at all, unless God is the subject matter or creator of it! More tomorrow after Jinja!!!

 

Wednesday night – June 20th, 9:15

Today was site seeing day, when we were to go to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The Nile is amazing to me, because it begins at a fresh water lake, but doesn’t draw from the lake, then flows north over 4 thousand miles! Jesus is awesome, and he has bajillions of gallons of water in the earth that we don’t even know about. I wonder if Jesus ever walked into a river to refresh himself with a drink and thought, “I’m really glad I made this right now.” Anyway, we began the day with breakfast as usual. I woke up before the alarm went off this morning with an upset stomach, but it has nothing to do with Uganda or this trip. It’s a wierd thing that’s been happening about once a week for the past 4 weeks or so. It never leads to anything, just unsettled stomach, and when I stand up and start walking around I’m good. I believe that God is showing me favor and keeping me healthy, because I feel like my body with God’s strength is fighting something off. Although I feel ok during the day, at morning and at night, and random parts of the day, I feel like there is a small engine running in my head. When I talk my voice is loud, and when others talk they sound like robots. I think it has to do with the flights here, not adjusting right, then the fact that Kampala has an elevation of almost 4k above sea level. Anyway, other than a few upset stomachs here and there, and some tiredness, everyone is mostly healthy. Praise God.

Breakfast has been great, really all the food has been great, and the people are so hospitable, everywhere you go. We had devos at breakfast this morning, we covered Ephesians 4, talked about oneness and unity with God, and in the Body, the Church. Kevin challenged us to wear proudly the Jesus jersey only, and not to put any on over it. We loaded the bus at 9a, and headed about 2 hours to Jinja. We stopped about 20 minutes short of our destination at Cathy’s parent’s house. They are both still alive. Her mom is in great health, she has a really clean house, and was of course very welcoming. We sat in their living room, looked at Ken and Cathy’s wedding pics, and visited for a few moments. Cathy escorted in her elderly father, who has diabetes and is suffering with dementia. She visits him weekly, and he is getting worse each week. It is so hard on her, after we left, she cried off and on for an hour, knowing that the mind of her father is going, and his health declining. We need to pray for her father, and for her and Ken, her mom, and all their family during this increasingly hard time. Even with all the other responsibilities they have, this probably weighs most heavily on them.

The source of the Nile area was beautiful. We road a boat over to an island, just steps away from where they say underground springs continually feed the Nile. We saw some exotic birds, some cute little white monkeys, and some enormous palm trees. We left there and went around the corner to a place called 2 Friends Restaurant. The good news, the food was pretty good, at least mine was. The bad news is it took a LONG time to get it, over an hour, maybe close to two. But, they had wi-fi, or slow-fi if you will, so I snuck in some free texts to Bethany and sent some pictures. Scott tango’d with Tracie… those two love birds, and others checked their email. They had a little concrete crazy golf putt putt course, so we played a quick round compliments of the manager of the restaurant. Jason Mahr and Don Forrest tied for first with 5 over par, the actual golfer of the group, Scott, got beat by everybody almost. Just confirms my theory that great golfers don’t make putt putt stars, a pregnant mom with a baby in a sling can outmatch a pro on the putt putt course all day long.

We hopped in the bus for the 2 hour trek back to the hotel. Travel was smooth, we spent lots of time with the guitar singing hymns. Africans love to sing, one of the many reasons I love Africa. And funny enough, Ken’s all time favorite artist is country music singer Collin Raye; and he sings it very well too, Loganda accent and all. His favorite show when it was on was 24. The world ain’t like it used to be, we have Ugandan’s who don’t have hot water, washing machines, or high speed net hooked on country music and government conspiracy shows, and this new world of technology has it’s pros and cons. It has the ability to bring the Gospel more clearly, to bless more easily, and to build and prosper communities in freedom. But if all they get is our western sinful sleaze, then we intoxicate their culture, desinsitize their youth concerning modesty and respect for authority, and break up the moral fabric and Christian heritage that is really strong in Uganda currently. But, I won’t go off on a tangent about that, not the place.

When we got back to the hotel, we chilled and read through Mark 5 individually, then met at 7 for supper, devotions, and worship. Kevin has done a great job guiding us in devotion time, and has an amazing humilty and a listening spirit. He’s a truly great leader and teacher, and has been a blessing on this trip, bringing experience, wisdom, and maturity to almost every facet from travel to ministry. Also, I am so glad that I purchased and brought this little Martin Mini travel guitar. This thing has been such a blessing. I have played more on that thing the past two weeks that I usually play in two months! We have enjoyed many long and fruitful times of intimacy and worship through song, and that little tool has been a blessing to us all. God is so good to always provide, even simple little things like a guitar. Now, off to bed for the last time in Uganda this year at least. Tomorrow night at 11pm we’ll be falling to sleep on a runway in Entebbe, and hopefully waking up on a runway in Brussel’s Belgium about 7am. Tomorrow morning the plans are to eat at 8:30, pool time at 9:30, pack up at 10:30, check out and leave at 11:30. We are supposed to go to Ken and Cathy’s for lunch, then the babies home, then the beach in Entebbe at Lake Victoria for dinner before heading to the airport around 8. Our last day in Uganda! So sad, but bittersweet, as we get to see our precious families on the other side of a long two day journey. I know there is much more to be done here. I hope to energize many more pastors and churches to get involved. The field in Uganda is truly, truly white unto harvevst. I myself also hope to be back, and more in my family if possible. This is truly and unforgettable, life changing, character molding experience. All for the Glory of God, He alone is worthy.

 

Thursday, June 21st – 11:30

This was our last day in Uganda, but at least we got a full day. We slept this morning til around 8am, and got up for some breakfast for the last time at the hotel. The staff that served us all did a great job, and they were in keeping with the rest of the folks in Uganda, incredibly hospitable. After breakfast we all packed up our stuff, organizing what was staying, what was being checked in, and what was being carried on. We found some time for one last water polo game, and so Kevin, Caleb, Mikey, me, Cam, and Bobby all jumped in the pool. The temp was around 75, and it was windy, so we had to be a little brave at first, but once we all got to playing, we forgot about the chilly-ness of the water. Accept for Mikey, I don’t think that poor skinny dude ever got used to it. My team of me, Mikey, and Cameron dominated, but I guess that didn’t have to make it into the journal. 🙂 We took showers, cleaned up, and were on the curb ready to roll at 11:30; the bus didn’t arrive until 12:15. We proceeded to Ken and Cathy’s house, super nice, really spacious, and clean. It was cozy, the food was delicious, and they also were very, very hospitable; no shocker there. After we ate, Ken led us in a time of sharing and testimony, and let everyone share their take aways, their critiques, and their heart concerning the trip. It was so good to see how each one’s life had been changed by this short little trip, especially mine. I am looking forward to serving and loving my family again when I get back. I am even more grateful for my life, my house, my wife, my family, my ministry, and all that God has given to me. He’s been so good. Yet I know my heart will always have a special place for this beautiful country and it’s people, and I hope to be continually connected with Ken, Cathy and the Babies home in Uganda and for our church to continue blessing them in a great way. We left there and traveled to the babies home, and spent a good two hours holding children and connecting with them. Those 11 little children are so, so precious. What great and godly care they are recieving at this refuge, this orphanage. We also dropped off all the clothes that we wore, or packed personally to bring and leave there, and it ended up being a really, really large pile of clothes. After saying good-bye to the precious babies and nannies, we went back to the mall area where we exchanged money at the beginning of the week. We ate pizza there (it was yummy!) for supper, then loaded the bus to drive 1.5 hours to Kampala. Again, we had a lot of fun jamming to music. Cathy confirmed that we have been the only team to ever conceive of using the mic jack of the bus that a tour guide would typically use to talk and plug our music into it to have some corporate jams and worship action. It was good stuff. Many in the Nganda family fell asleep on the way to the airport, sweet, beautiful Crystal fell asleep on me, and I know it’s because they are so tired from serving and hosting us all week. I am hoping they can really get the rest that they need after such a large week of ministry. Now, we are at the beginning of our 7.5 hour flight back to Brussels. This is a red eye, going all throughout the night, so we must sleep the majority of this flight. I was hoping to knock out this journal the first 15 minutes of the flight and see if I could score a Sprite and pack of pretzels or something, but I don’t think it is going to happen. Our good-byes to the Nganda family in frount of the airport were pretty sad, I love these people so much, and other than email, have only known them for a week. It is awesome how the Holy Spirit united us instantly as family from the first time we hugged them upon our arrival in Kampala. This whole trip has been so smooth, and really met all the expectations that I had. In many ways this was a pioneering trip, hopefully one of many private missions trips from our church straight to Ken and Cathy and their ministry. The Nganda’s had the vision of bringing us here, and not only bringing our hearts, our donations and gifts, and helping with the fence, but also seeing what a typical week in their lives looks like. They also wanted us to see in general all the various ministry opportunities and needs that Uganda has to offer. Truly, again, the field is so, so white here. So pioneer we did, and I feel like I have a much better working knowledge of their ministry and of the affairs of the culture and the country. Sending them money each month is great, but being there in person to touch what they touch, feel what they feel, see what they see, and so on, is the way it really should be. I know now we have a true partnership, true partners in the Gospel of Jesus in the country of Uganda. I can’t wait to upload all the pictures, send out my thank you cards, and share all that we experienced with the Church back home. That’s it for now. More from Belgium and Washington on our last day of this incredible journey.

 

Friday June 21st

This is our last day of travel. We’re in the air in the 777, 2 hours out of Washington. A quick word about last nights travel. The night flight went fairly well, some slept great some really didn’t. Little Bobby and Cameron slept the whole trip, I tossed and adjusted and so on almost all night. I might have put together 4 hours of broken sleep. But our layover in Belgium was so long, that we found an area that Kevin knew about on the second floor in the corner where there are cots and so most of us rocked a great nap. I know I slept 2 hours or more, and deep, deep sleep; so did Little Bob. I was reminded how much I dislike the prices at airports when we went to get some kind of breakfast at 6:30 am and we paid 9 dollars for a one donut like sugary waffle in a package and a small OJ. 9$!!!! Crazy. All I kept thinking was that I could have bought 3 medium Frappe’s for that at McD’s. Poor Angie just wants some protein, some good ole eggs and bacon or something; we are all pretty “starched” out. Around 10:30 we headed to check in, and that included literally 4 different posts to check in with, security, then more security, then some security, then some changes in boarding passes… welcome back to the United States of Homeland Security. I think most everyone has stayed awake this whole flight, we all feel pretty rested after those cot naps at the Belgium airport. This is the flight with On Demand entertainment so there are tons of choices from TV shows, documentaries, etc. I began the task of organizing the photos on my computer and trying to put together some kind of a slide show. Incredibly, I took over 600 photos and 40 short videos. I’ll probably jot out my final thoughts for this journal on the flight from Washington to Charlotte. God has been more than faithful to uphold us in every way for His glory, and I am confident the fruit of this trip will be seen for many years in the lives of those who answered the call, to those with whom we ministered, and to those who will follow in our footsteps for years to come in Uganda.

Little Bobby and Cameron have been exceptional, they have hung right in at every turn, without any complaining. They have gotten many compliments, from locals in Africa and members of our trip, on their maturity, their obedience, and their over all “coolness”.

So this is the last little blurb of the journal for our first mission to Africa. I will never forget walking off the 777 from Brussels into the sky walk in D.C. and stepping into what felt like a sauna. The Africa climate was marvelous, low to mid 80’s and no humidity, mid 60’s at night. In Washington it was crazy humid, like hard to breathe humid, and high 90’s. Uuugh. We picked up our bags from the belt to recheck them at customs in Washington. All went smooth until it was time to board. Then the delays started. We were grounded at the Washington airport 3 hours later than we were scheduled to leave due to rain and thunderstorms. Two hours of that was in the airport terminal, and another 1 hour on the airplane. (Little Bobby fell asleep on the plane before we pushed off from the gate, slept the whole hour we were delayed on the ground, the whole flight, and up until the seat belt light went off at the terminal in CLT.) I was able to text Bethany updates from the plane the whole time we were stuck in DC, which was nice. But being so ready to see the family, and only being 2 hours flight away from that precious reunion, that was a little frustrating; sitting, and sitting, and sitting some more. Little Bobby talked all day about going straight to Chick Fil A when we got to Charlotte, which was supposed to be around 6:45-7, that didn’t happen until lunchtime on Saturday. 🙂 So we didn’t arrive til 9:45-10, and to top it off, we were delayed in Charlotte from getting to the gate because an ambulance was sitting where our plane was supposed to go. It was a great test of patience for an exhausted team eager to see their loved ones, but I think everyone passed the test, what a great team. Each one brought a special dynamic to the trip, each person led specifically by the Holy Spirit to serve on and experience this trip. Finally, we walked off the plane and made the 5 minute walk to baggage claim in Charlotte. What an exitement to ride down that escalator and see my beautiful wife after being separated for 10 days, and those little ones missing their daddy, running up and clinging on to me. Ahhh, home at last. Partly torn, missing our new gospel partners in Africa already, but back to my most important ministry on the earth; family. It was a sweet site to look around at the others hugging and kissing their loved ones, and I was reminded again, as I was at the beginning of the trip, that at times the cost of following Jesus is so, so great. Sometimes, we must follow the Spirit to a place where many things we love are sacrificed. But if the Spirit is truly in it, and God is calling, we must never doubt that He will provide for and take care of the details we leave behind. When our lives are bringing glory to God, truly we too are beneficiaries of that glory, for when we live out our faith in obedience to His call, whether home or abroad, we can fully trust God with all we have. For all we have has been given by Him anyway, and perfect is His plan for us. This was a trip of “firsts” in so many ways, and I long to see our partnership with Ken and Cathy in Uganda be one that lasts for decades. It begins with water from a well and a fence around an overgrown field on a hill outside Mukono, and Lord willing it will lead to a beautiful facility with Christian workers caring for 50 plus orphans in Jesus holy name. And all along the way, during the fundraising, the trips, the planning, the events, the projects, and all that, souls once bound for everlasting separation from God will hear the Truth, feel the Truth, accept and believe the Truth, and become themselves springs of living water welling up to their salvation, the salvation of others and the proclamation and display of the Glory of God in all the earth: He alone is worthy. Closing the chapter on Uganda: Trip One.

Uganda missions trip journal – day 1-3

Bobby Wilkinson, our pastor of Christian life, kept a journal while he and the team from Providence went to Uganda last month for the missions trip.  Throughout this week, I’ll be posting a new entry every day.  I love Bobby’s heart and perspective about missions, the church and life, and I know you will to.  Here’s day 1 from his journal:

Wednesday – 4pm est

It finally came. June 13th, this is the day that felt like would never get here, the day we jet off to Africa. Now, the last week seems like it happened in the blink of an eye. I could have used 36 hours each day, 24 didn’t seem enough. But, the preparation whirlwind is over, somehow most of the lists got done; the Bobby do list, the church do list, the family do list, the honey do list, and all types of randomness in between. We are finally on our first plane flight, Charlotte to DC. My sweet family watched from the overlook in Charlotte as we blasted into the air. A few times today I’ve had to hold back the crocodile tears thinking about my precious family and all that I will miss when I’m gone. Truly, the sacrifice involved in Jesus’ admonition about leaving family for his call is hitting home. “break” 

 (Backlog) Some other points worth mentioning from day one of our journey – I woke up and stuffed all the clothes in a bag. Then shocked and cleaned the pool. After that, we started off the day at Lowesville cafe as a family, but not before a classic last-minute Wilkinson Walmart run. I couldn’t go without all the kids having some processed snacks. 🙂 We met the team at the office, took some pics, and said our goodbyes. On the way to the airport, we avoided an accident when someone literally pulled right out in front of us on highway 16. Ben laid on the horn, and I was right on time with a classic back seat driver comment, “uh, Ben, you had the left lane open.” That suggestion came after he stomped on the brakes, with two cars in the caravan right behind us, one pulling a trailer. Praise God we avoided it, nothing that you read in this journal would have been written had the Enemy derailed us in such a way, even before the journey even started. God is stronger.

Check in at the airport went ok, it took a while because their computer/system was acting up, and because of that they waived a $400 fee on the one oversized bag we brought with the post hole diggers. We ate one last good American meal at Chili’s before boarding our plane. I coordinated with Bethany to come to the airport overlook to see us fly off, which they did not  actually see us because we were on a different runway. She said Cadence cried on the way home because she didn’t get to see us. We were at Washington Dulles for a couple of hours, I spent time charging all my gadgets for the next flight, and little Bob chose to spend the first of the money I put in his fanny pack on a frosty from Wendy’s 🙂 . (Note – I later took the rest of money back out of his bag after he gave an African kid an American $5 bill for a fake necklace that turned his neck green. He did get it back, eventually.  I love his giving heart though. I explained to him how much American money is to a poor African child, and how that kid would probably get beat up the first time he showed that to an older child.) 

Thursday morning – 2:30a est & 8:30a Belgium time 

Well, we are in the air, it’s 2:30am to our body, and we are 1 hour out of Brussels Belgium on this 777 Boeing. When I finished journaling last time, we were on the first flight. And it seems like in a 7 hour flight, finding time to write would be simple; well, here’s what’s been going on. First, our flight was delayed an hour and a half, due to a hydraulic line leak/malfunction, and they had to repair it at the gate. We started to taxi out, then the pilot nonchalantly informs us that “something is wrong with the plane and we’re headed back to the gate for maintenance.” Thanks for the confidence boost Captain Reassurance. 🙂

Eventually we made it into the air and immediately they served us dinner, at about 8:45. It was actually pretty good food. Lil Bobby had beef stir fry and I had chicken and rice. Then we watched Captain America together. At that time is was about 11pm, so we brushed our teeth, tried to get comfortable, and eventually dozed off. Bob had a difficult time, I can’t imagine his excitement. I think we both slept about 2 hours 45 mins. After waking up, we saw that there was 1.5 hours left on this flight. Now, he’s watching Happy Feet and talking to Kaylen, a new friend we met who is also headed to Uganda for mission work. So, in the last hour of this 7 hour flight over the Atlantic, I finally found some time to catch up the journal. I imagine we’ll get a nap on the next flight to Africa on the Airbus, hopefully it’s as comfortable as the plane we’re on now. It’s a plane, so it’s small, but it’s still been a pretty cozy trip. So far, everyone is doing great.  

Saturday night June 16 – 10:15pm

From measuring the time that has passed from the last time I wrote you can tell just how busy we have been here in Africa. I’ll try to hit only the highlights, because to record all the neat things that have happened would take way more time than I even have to offer. Here we go.

We arrived in belgium in the morning around 9:30a, and it was 9:45a by the time we walked into the airport. We literally had less than an hour to navigate the airport and get to our next gate. Which was in a different building, only reached by bus, which we also had to wait on. When we got to the gate they were already boarding and we only had time to quickly hit the bathroom and walk onto the plane. The airbus was smaller inside, and the equipment was older, so it was definitely not quite as comfy as the 777.  The trip was LONG, we flew about 8 hours, then landed in Kigali, Rwanda, only to sit on the boys locker room stinky plane an hour while waiting on passengers to offload, and some new ones come on. The flight to Entebbe was short, 40 minutes, and we arrived about 30 minutes behind schedule, about 11:20pm local time. We got our bags, stuffed them like sardines into the back of the bus, and spent some time in prayer with Ken and Cathy, thanking God for the safe arrival. Immediately we fell in love with these precious saints.

We drove an hour to Kampala and stopped at a 24hr market for refreshments. We bought bread and sandwich ham, good stuff, we were so hungry! The airlines didn’t serve us supper, just a chicken fajita wrap, called a Posh Pocket, around 8:30 pm. We left the market and finally made it to the hotel about 2am. We checked in to our beautiful rooms, then slept til 9am. ON FRIDAY, we ate a great breakfast, loaded on the bus, and headed to change our money. That is the place that I found cheap wireless internet and loaded a few FB pics. We left there and stopped at a market where Cathy got us some drinks and hotdogs for lunch at the babies home. We arrived at the babies home, and had a tour, met the mommas/nanny’s at the orphanage, held some precious little ones, and then ate the hotdogs. I tried some jackfruit, it was pretty good. That’s a very popular and common fruit in Africa that grows on trees, and fully grown is actually larger than a watermelon. HUGE fruit. Then we spent over an hour sorting and organizing all of the gifts and clothes. They were SOOOO grateful for the generosity and compassion of our church and how they gave. Bobby and Cameron played with a couple 3-year-old orphans (Kim and Chrisch), and also entertained the neighborhood kids through the fence with the ipod, silly bands, tennis balls, and more.

We left the babies home about 4 pm, the team went back to the hotel for dinner, devotions, and rest. Little Bobby and I went with Ken to Omega Church where I was to meet the worship pastor, and the team for rehearsal. We were early, so we made the most of our time by organizing a local futbol game with some kids. Little Bob LOVED it, I played too. Then, Ken and I talked for about an hour, and we were eventually joined with Derrick the worship pastor from Omega. He was very interesting to talk to, and was really one of the “deepest” worship guys I have met. He has worked himself out of all “front man” roles and leads totally from the back… So great, they have so many talented singers, passionate worshippers, that I’m sure he didn’t have a hard time finding people to step up and lead. Oh that it would be like that with pastors, elders, and worship leaders here.

Little Bob spent hours in that area with local kids; talking, showing them the Ipod, taking some pics and video of me in rehearsal, and playing with them. We always knew he was a social butterfly, but it is now a confirmed international trait; he is Little Bob in USA and in Uganda, and it doesn’t matter to him if a person lives in a hut, or house, or is black or white, or has a funny look or accent. This little boy loves people. We got back to the hotel around 10:45pm, took showers, and hit the sack. ON SATURDAY, we woke early, 6:15 am, for a whole day of festivities, ceremony, and celebration. Omega church started Big One, a wedding event that seeks to help couples legally marry. It is very expensive to get married in Uganda, between feeding wedding guests and the bride price, many people don’t bother. They get the blessing of their parents and they start life together. But they don’t make public commitments before God and community and are not recognized in the state. So Omega wedded 220 couples, and we have many pictures of this great day. We helped with set up in a few small ways, I conversed with some of the locals, and taught a few kids how to play bat ball with a stick and a tennis ball. We also helped the brides out of their cars as they arrived at the reception from the wedding. (Back log: We heard the following day at church of some people who committed their lives to Christ through that event, hallelujah.)

We left there and went to a mall so Don could get malaria meds and I could get a memory stick reader to offload pics from my full camera. We arrived back at the hotel around 6, went down the hill where hundreds of school children and parents were celebrating an end of futbol season with awards, dancing, and singing. And of course, we played a little pickup soccer then too. At 7 we had dinner and devotions. The food was excellent, fish, chicken, salad, collard greens, potatoes, rice and a soda. After devos, we came back to the room to pack for tomorrow, lay out our clothes, shower and crash…. and type this journal. I really want to go to bed, but I know that if I don’t write this stuff down now, I will lose it and be too busy to finish later. Tomorrow we are up at 5:45 am, and at 6:15 I am headed with Ken to the church for sound check. The english service is at 8:30 and I am involved with the singing. It is going to be so much fun, and worshipful, and heavenly. I am learning from the Africans a lesson I already know, but have lost the ability to execute. Slow down, don’t be always “doing” something. Sit around, have conversations, dive deeply into the hearts of your children and wife and others, the “stuff” will just have to wait. It is going to be hard repenting and putting this lesson into practice once again, we have so much “to do”. The question is how big a priority the “much” is. That’s it for now.

Sunday – June 17th – 10:30 pm

This morning was probably the earliest morning of my trip, woke up at 5:50 am, ugh! But for a good cause, to get to church early and prepare to play with the local band and choir. My ride was supposed to arrive at 6:15, and they changed the plans last-minute where we would all ride as a group at 7:ooam. It actually worked out well because we ended up being out the rest of the day as a whole group and having two cars would have been difficult. We left a few minutes after 7am, and just returned back to the hotel at 9:30pm. HUGE day, but a great day indeed. After breakfast, the bus arrived, and we headed to church. We arrived at Omega Healing Center church around 8:10, and the service started at 8:30. Perfect amount of time to plug-in, tune, and be ready. The church had already been praying for over an hour, and when I say pray, I mean deep shouting, and intercessions, and tongues, and yearning, and more. These people sincerely want to see the glory of God in their services, and they have a deep and childlike faith.

We sang mostly songs I was familiar with, which helped me to pick it up fast. The other 3 musicians were phenomenal, playing mostly by ear, and were ridiculously tight. The vocalists were true black gospel: loud, passionate, and energetic. The singing went on for over an hour, and my favorite song out of the set was Lord You Are Good. How glorious and heavenly to stand on the stage of an African church, and look around and sing “People from every nation and tongue, from generation to generation, we worship you, Hallelujah.” I closed the worship time with How Great Is Our God and again the lyrics seemed to take on a newer and deeper meaning because of my context; “all will see how great” and “let all the earth rejoice”. They honored all the volunteers of the Big One Marriage day, and the pastor preached a short 25 minute sermon. He was very wise, and although there was a tinge of “prosperity for man”, it seemed to be prioritized rightly. Man’s prosperity is a by-product of God in us, and not the prime product of God in us. He talked about spiritual fathers, and had some great insights on the parallels of earthly fathers and the heavenly Father. Talking about people who say we should only be concerned with the new testament and “it’s all about grace now” he said, “Try running your house totally on grace.” So true. For God disciplines those He loves, as a good father will lovingly do.

After church we went to a restaurant called Sea Scallops. Again, the food and hospitality were super good, and we had more great conversation with Ken, Kathy, and their family. The team is bonding not only with them, but with each other each day. What an amazing journey this has been in only the first 3 days.  After the restaurant, we stopped by a local souvenir marketplace where there was a lot of fun African stuff to buy. Bobby and I picked out a few little gifts for the fam. Then, we went to a local mall where they were sure to have a coffee-house with internet. After buying a coke, they gave us a wireless code and we called home and talked with Bethany and the family on Skype. It was 9am in Charlotte. My wife has never looked so beautiful to me, I miss her so much. I felt even more renewed after talking with her, but I am growing a little more homesick everyday; although I also feel totally “at home” here in Uganda. What a blessing from God to connect with my brood on father’s day.

We had to leave the internet cafe to get to a special “surprise” that Ken had planned for us. I know this sounds redundant, but our next experience is also something that I don’t have words, time, or space to explain. It was an African cultural theatre, and seriously, probably one of the top 3 most entertaining and moving experiences that I’ve ever been a part of. Amazing talent, amazing humor, amazing sound, educational, just top-notch, world-class all the way around. The young musicians and dancers were broadway quality good. I can’t imagine why this production is not an international sensation; really. The owner and founder of the show was also the MC, and he was Bill Cosby funny, maybe even more so. He was a weird mix between Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman. He had us crying, laughing, clapping, and me almost falling out of my chair. On top of this entertainment, we had little African Ethan Nganda, 1.5 years old, who already has a hard time being still, now having to try to restrain himself with all of this fun dancing happening right before his eyes; he lost his battle with temptation. At times he actually became part of the show and the performers just rolled with it. Scott caught much of it on video. The MC picked him up one time and said, “what do you think about the show?” and he just grunted and smiled. Then the MC said, “what do you think the people in this crowd deserve?” Ethan said, “Eat”, that was it. Later, the MC called all the kids onto the floor, and played some games, had some fun, and got them dancing. Cameron was chosen to dance and he said, “I have to warn you, I am a hip hop dancer.” He brought the house down with his moves, and I could tell little Bobby was wanting a piece of the action. He started going around the whole circle and letting everyone dance, little Bob was working out the moves in his head. Finally, it was Bob’s turn. He let loose Bob style, like a true Muzungu (white man), and I was very proud; as was he. Later I commented that he was himself and I love his dancing and he said “Dad, that wasn’t me, that was better than I usually do.” I got almost all the good stuff on video. We left the show early at 8:30 to drive one hour back to Mukono to the hotel. Now, me and little Bob are about to hit the hay, and we get to sleep til 8am tomorrow! YAY for sleep, very needed. So excited to get working tomorrow at the property, time to construct us a fence! Jesus has been so real to us on this trip, what a great experience. I really pray God leads, directs, and blesses our desire to adopt one day from Uganda, if it be his will.

 

Living on Mission with God through jiu-jitsu

Over the last month we’ve had some within our church family spread out over 3 different continents to share the gospel of Jesus and live out their lives on mission with God.  I’ve asked some of them to share what God did in their lives through their experiences.  It’s important to remember that every person who went is just a normal person that has allowed a supernatural God to use them.   All of these stories are simple, yet powerful reminders of how God can use us everyday to take the gospel to our world.

The first person to share is Luke Amos.  Luke went down to Buenos Aires, Argentina last month through the invitation of a local missionary to use jiu-jitsu as a means to take Jesus to those outside of the church.  His story is a great example of how God can take a regular sport and turn it into an avenue to share the gospel.  Here’s Luke’s story:

 Argentina was much more than I could have imagined and/or expected!  I returned home to North Carolina on Friday morning, after making my flight from Buenos Aires TEN MINUTES before they closed the door for boarding.  *Thank you, Javier Ojeda, for coming back to help me, even though I told you to go home.  I would have missed my flight otherwise!  I won’t spend the time explaining the entire story, but let’s just say that the traffic (and drivers) in Buenos Aires might be worse than those in Washington DC…quite shocking.  I really want to make this short, but I’m not sure how it’s gonna be possible.  I’ll do my best…
 
God was good and protected me the entire week from chaos.  Although I wasn’t scared, I did pray for physical protection.  The number one concern for the Argentine people in the city of Buenos Aires is what they call “security”.  This includes kidnappings, carjackings, muggings, robberies and worse.  The missionaries I stayed with, Ron + Chris Self, have been robbed 13 times in 30 years.  This includes scenarios which are much more violent and terrible than I want to describe in this email.  The bottom line is that God clearly protected me during this trip and I am thankful.
 
The week started off with my arrival coming in the morning, much like my arrival back to the states.  I’m not fond of the red-eye flights, but that’s life.  As soon as I got there, I met Ron Self and we had about an hour trip back to his home.  We had a great conversation about the city, the economy, the church, mission boards, and general mission work both in Argentina and in other countries.  Although I had known Ron a bit, I hadn’t had a long conversation with him before this.  I was very impressed with his wisdom and endurance, despite an extremely tough 30 years in Buenos Aires.  I know for a fact that most people (probably including myself) would have left the field long before 30 years…seeing and experiencing that things his family has.  You should know that leaving Argentina has NEVER crossed his mind.  For those of you who know Ron, you understand that this isn’t just talk.  He and his wife plan to live out their lives there, unless God has other plans.  I got a chance to have many great talks and laughs with Ron and Chris throughout the week.  I really learned a LOT about many aspects of life.  I’ll just say that I really hope to see them both again in the future.  God used them to influence my life, even if I only spent a week with them. 
 
When we arrived at the Self’s home,  I felt very much at home and very welcomed.  Javier Ojedo soon came to greet me and take me out for the night.  I also met his very sweet daughters Cynthia (21) and Jana (16) at this time.  I got to spend quite a bit of time with all three of them over the week, as the girls are both black belt instructors in Tae Kwondo.  Javier and his wife Laura are the owners of the four Tae Kwondo-Martial Arts schools in Buenos Aires that initially desired to have someone with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu background to come and teach at their schools. I was able to see the main school that night, and watch a bit of one of the kids classes that was going on.  We also visited a market, where I purchased some items for my family. 
Javier dropped me off at the church that evening, where they had a “guys night out” that included many of the 18-35 men in the church.  We had a great night of getting to know each other, playing video games, talking about Jiu Jitsu and eating some home-made cooking by my interpreter, Javier Fernandez.  I had communicated with Javier before the trip started because he is heavily involved as a leader in the church.  He has also trained  BJJ for about a year and wants to continue to learn more.  We are about the same age and got along great.  I was quite exhausted from the long trip and day.  I hope that the guys there didn’t think I was a bum, but Javier Ojeda came back to take me home around midnight.  The guys stayed about past 1:00…typical for the average Argentine person, but not for this wimpy American. 
 
The next day, Ron Self and I followed the whole crew of TKD and Jiu Jitsu people to the camp where many local TKD instructors would be sharing a weekend of learning leadership and organizational skills taught by Ron.  He shared the Gospel in each of his presentations and the people were very receptive.  I taught four seminars over the next couple of days.  I also got to spend a good amount of time with both Javiers.  I also spent some time with Juan Marcos, who is an instructor, leader at the church and boyfriend of Cynthia.  Juan Marcos is a very funny guy who loves the Lord and really went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. The BJJ seminars went very well and the instructors seemed to love the techniques.  I was able to share much about my life and about the Gospel after each session.  Everyone was very receptive and attentive while I spoke.  The respect that I was shown was very humbling.  Between Ron’s classes and my BJJ seminars, many people who didn’t have a relationship with God were immersed with His Word and His teachings.  When it was time to leave, many of the instructors thanked me and we exchanged email addresses/Facebook requests.  I didn’t expect to see most of them again, but many ended up coming out to the upcoming free seminars in the city during the (Monday through Wednesday) week. 
 
Monday through Wednesday evenings, I got to share the Gospel and teach BJJ.  The seminars went very well and once again the people were very receptive and respectful.  There was a great energy in the school during these classes.  The students seemed to LOVE Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, an art which most had not seen before.  Each night, I would share the Gospel from a different perspective because some of the same people came all three nights.  By Wednesday night, we had almost 50 adults and 30 kids in the (separate) classes!  After we took pictures, I once again exchanged email addresses and Facebook requests with many people.  I intend to stay close to many of the friends I met and continue to share God’s love with those who don’t know Him.  Javier, Laura and several others showered me with gifts of gratitude for sharing my life and teaching the students some BJJ.  I was extremely humbled and grateful.  I tried to explain that it really WAS God who did everything during the week.  I simply taught an art that in reality, won’t mean anything when it comes to the Eternal Kingdom of God.  What will matter is what we DO with whatever talents God gives us.  Javier and Laura definitely understand this. 
 
The trip was a great success because many either heard the Gospel for the first time, realized they needed to change something that was happening (or not happening) in their lives, received a book about eternal salvation, or were encouraged to keep building relationships with those who don’t know Jesus.  I say this not because I was able to do these things.  I wasn’t.  God chose to use this sinner (ME) to spread his fame to a part of the world that needs it.  I couldn’t have done it by myself.  God was truly with me (as He always is) during this trip.  His presence was felt in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.  It’s hard to explain, but I know one thing…
 
I WILL be returning to Buenos Aires if the Lord allows it, and  I WILL maintain the relationships that were made with the people in the church and those who don’t yet know Christ. 
 
I want to thank the Selfs, Javier + Laura, Cynthia + Jana, Juan Marcos, Javier + Emmanuel Fernandez, Gustavo and his family, and many more Argentines who showed me love and kindness during my trip.  God used you in ways you will never know.  I will be praying for you until I see you once again.  I truly feel that I have known you guys my whole life.  Thank you for everything, I love you guys!!
 
I could go on and on about stories and more feelings on the trip, but this is already much too long (sorry).  God has changed my life through this experience and I trust that he’s changed (or will change many others).  Pray that I stay focused on doing the same work here in the United States.  I KNOW that is what God desires of me!

The wrong way to help orphans

When you tell people that you are doing something to help orphans, you’ll always get that look from other people who you are in some way, a good person. I saw it when I told people about our church raising money for the well in Uganda. I saw it when people would hear about the 3 families from our church that are hosting orphans this Summer, or the 1 family that is actually adopting an orphan, who is a teenager no less. That look. It’s easy to think that all this stuff we are doing is good and we are good for actually doing it. Yes, we’re sending 12 people to Uganda to help an orphanage, yes we are bringing orphans into our homes, and yes, we even gave some money to help orphans this year. When you just sit back and think about all that we have done or are doing, it’s easy to feel that tinge of self-righteous goodness. Of course, who is anti-orphan. Besides Esqueleto from Nacho Libre, who uttered the phrase, “I hate all the orphans in all the world!”, no one is really against orphans (btw, just typing that quote felt wrong). Even people outside the church think that helping the fatherless is a good thing.

Here’s what we have to remember though. We can do good things the wrong way. Helping orphans is good, no doubt, but we have to ask ourselves why we are doing this. Have we spent all this money and made all these sacrifices just because it sounds like a good thing or because it makes us feel good? We fool ourselves if we think God is impressed with any of our efforts. Righteous deeds done for the benefit and glory of ourselves is actually despicable to God. It’s also easy to see the pictures, hear their plight and feel bad. So are we motivated by mere pity?

As a Christian there is a deeper reason for why we help and love the orphan. We love the fatherless, because that is who we are. All of us…spiritually speaking. Every person born on this earth was at one time, a spiritual orphan, outside the family of God. Colossians 1:21 states that we were alienated, which means we were outside the fellowship of God, that we were enemies of Him. It’s one thing to adopt a baby. They are sweet and innocent. God doesn’t adopt babies, He adopts despots. Orphan care and orphan ministry is vital and important, not because there are over 140 million orphans that need a home, but because the doctrine of adoption drives us to love others the way God showered his love on us. God brought us into His family through the work of Jesus Christ. Check out this passage in Ephesians 1:3-8:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

Think about this, in a few months, the well will be dug in Uganda. Our team will be home with pictures and stories of their trip. Andris will be home, and the Eastern European orphans will be back home. All this activity and focus towards helping orphans will settle down. But does it have to? It will be easy to think that we’ve all done our part. We’ve all given. We’ve all helped in some way. But if we are driven by the truths of the gospel, we never let that thinking enter into our minds. We reach out, we give, we adopt, and we go because the reality of God’s passionate, never-ending, sacrifice through Jesus doesn’t grow old.

I hope and pray that this year is just the beginning. I pray that more will be done, not because of how all of this makes us feel, but because we worship and follow a God who never stops bringing prodigals into his family. Let’s be driven to continue to do much to care for orphans, but may we do it the right way.

The inadequacy of telling people you’re a Christian

I live in a cul-de-sac.  It was one of the top priorities on my wife’s checklist when we were looking for a new house  when we started Providence six years ago.  After living my entire 35-year-old life in suburbia, I can say with certainty that cul-de-sac living is just a little bit different.  The biggest difference is the knowledge you have about your neighbors.  It’s not that you don’t know your neighbors when you live on a regular street in a neighborhood, but it’s the level by which you know your neighbors.  In a cul-de-sac, there’s one way in, one way out.  95% of the traffic that drives by your house are the others who live in the cul-de-sac with you, so you know when they usually go to work, when they come home, and any other routines that families have in the rhythm of their lives.

As much as I know about my neighbors, I know that the opposite is true.  My neighbors know me and my family.  They see my family rhythms.  They know when we come and when we go.  They’ve watched my family leave early on Sunday morning and arrive back after lunch.  They know we have about 25-30 people at our house every Sunday night.  They know we occasionally have a bunch of women meet at our house on Wednesdays in the Fall and Spring.  Quite simply, they know we’re a church-going family.  Of course we have conversations with our cul-de-sac community, so they know I’m also a pastor as well, which can potentially be a huge problem.

It’s not that I don’t want my neighbors to know I’m a Christian, and even a pastor of a church.  I just think that when it comes to the responsibility of sharing Jesus, we stop short of doing that.  We compromise the Great Commission and justify in our minds that we’ve actually done that, when we really haven’t.  It’s like there’s something inside our mind that says, “I’ve done my duty of sharing my faith to my neighbors.  They know I’m a Christian.  If they ever want to know more, they know where to find me.”  Sounds pretty good, but it fails the missional test.  In all my years of growing up in suburbia, I’ve never had a neighbor come over and say to our family, “I know you leave every Sunday for church, so you must be pretty tight with God.  I’m having some problems in my life right now, and I just know I need God’s help. Can you tell me more?”  That’s a dream scenario if you’re a Christian.  It’s the “I found $20 in my pocket” witnessing moment, and chances are it will probably never happen.

We need to ask ourselves a question that might move us to actually be witnesses, “Am I content that people know I’m a Christian, or do I want them to know Jesus?”   No one is giving their life to Jesus by simply knowing that you’re a Christian.  I think we are failing Jesus’ command to make disciples when we allow telling people that we are Christians to be adequate.  It’s encountering Jesus that is so transformational.

Witnessing is not telling people you’re a Christian.  It’s not telling people you go to church.  It’s not inviting them to church.  It’s not sharing with others the moral standards in your home.  It’s not reading your Bible out in the open at work, or on your front porch.  All those are great things.  You should do them, but you haven’t actually shared the gospel with them.

Witnessing is talking to people about Jesus.  It’s talking about the cross and the resurrection.  It’s about sharing your story of being a sinner, lost and dead in your sinful rebellion against God, and then how you found grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  There’s power in the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  Let’s not forget that.  When people meet Jesus, they are different.

Imagine if we actually made sharing Jesus and His gospel the priority, and not just telling people we’re Christians.  It’s a change I need to make that might just change my own little cul-de-sac.