Think Ahead

 —  December 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Some well-intentioned things can backfire if you don’t think ahead.


With Christmas coming up, it’s possible that you may be winding down your ministry plans. What I’m about to propose to you may seem absurd, but I’ll offer it anyway.

Be intentionally busy, just a few minutes longer.

Think ahead and have a plan before Christmas for your spring and summer ministry.

It’s common for people to check out a church during the holiday season. You may be meeting parents and teenagers who need something tangible to look at and explore to give them a better sense of your youth ministry. Here are three quick tips:

  • Have a 2-month calendar on paper: Be ready to hand this out to anyone you talk with. Better yet, create a team of students whose ministry it is to do this during weekend services.
  • Make sure there is one big event coming up in January: Highlight it on the calendar, whether you end up doing an all-nighter at your building or a local serving opportunity.
  • Ask a question on the backside of your calendar related to some larger serving experiences you’re considering: Link it to your webpage via a web address and a QR code, and on that page ask them what type of serving experience they would be most excited about taking part in. Here are some of my favorites:
    • DSCN3560Group Workcamps: A 6-day, high-energy mission trip of up to 400 participants. Join other youth groups to repair sagging porches, rebuild unsafe steps and wheelchair ramps, and paint homes. No special skills needed…just a willing heart!
    • Week of Hope: A 5-day trip of up to 100 participants. Campers are challenged to live as Jesus did while serving the needs of people through local ministries and non-profit organizations. You’ll serve meals to the homeless, work with disabled children, share stories with an elderly person, and more.
    • Lifetree Adventures: An international mission trip that makes it easy to serve abroad. Send your youth on a trip to Haiti, Peru or Puerto Rico and get back teenagers who are more confident, more compassionate, and more appreciative of the advantages they enjoy.

Got any other favorite tips or trips to add to the list?


What have you learned makes a serving experience or camp a great one?

Doug Franklin over at Leadertreks has some great thoughts on how most of this is up to the posture of adult leaders. Here are ten of his observations:

  • Mission_TeamGoing is not enough: “…we don’t just want them to go, we want them to grow.”
  • Be a trip mentor: “A trip is a great place to develop a long-term, life-changing relationship with a student.”
  • Have a purpose for the trip: “What do you want your students to look like when they return?”
  • Inspire spiritual growth: “Students will feel a need for God while on the trip, and this is a great opportunity for you to introduce them to spiritual disciplines”
  • Find teachable moments: “…mix a student’s experience with the truth of God’s Word.”
  • Challenge students: “… [it[ starts with challenging the top performing students.”
  • Get sleep: “Trips become increasingly ineffective as team members become tired.”
  • Add value to your adult volunteers: “… the number one problem I see over and over again is adult volunteers who have no idea what they are doing on the trip. They come because youth trips need adults, but beyond that they are not sure why they are there.”
  • Remember Boundaries = Love: “Don’t give students what they want; give them what they need.”
  • Stay connected to God: “You can’t impart what you do not have.”

(Read the rest of Doug’s solid article here.)

I think Doug is spot on. Just last month we had a major difference in a serving camp experience because of the investment we made into our adults, which in turn helped them better invest into students.

Which of his points most stands out to you?

Is there anything you would add or subtract?


I’m reluctant to write this post, since I feel tremendous guilt for sharing what I’m about to share. Nonetheless, here goes… our missions team went to the beach today.

That means I don’t have a great story about the orphans, nor can I tell you what I helped build, clean or fix today. I wish I did – because I know that many people who are reading this worked hard today. I tend to work hard most days, too.

20140320_142943But today… today I walked around on a beach with dark sand made from the lava-based mountains foundation nearby. I ate locally-seasoned shrimp, experienced drinking coconut juice right out of a coconut and I put my feet up in a hammock. I walked the shore and picked up seashells with my 13-year old son.

A “siesta’ is typically a short nap taken that people in warm countries take after the a midday meal. It just so happened that our siesta embodied most of the day.

Again, I apologies if this creates any ill feelings on your part.

I have been in seasons of life where reading something right this would have made me want to bark back in bitterness, “Boy, that must be nice. I am nowhere near that experience.” I get it, I really do. Most days I’m off trying to juggle plates, chainsaws, bowling balls and more, too.

Today, though… I experienced sabbath and rest.

I live at a pace that is always cranking out the next thing. Even now, I’m putting off going to bed just a little while longer to write this. It can become easy to be a “human doing” versus a “human being.”

So today… I was a human being.

It gave me time to simply slow down my thinking and remember that the universe runs on God’s energy and not my own.

(Maybe you need that reminder, too)

There are real issues still in my life that need my attention. In fact, tonight my wife sent me a brief news update about a shooting in our hometown that happened today. It was at a location that she could have been at had the plans she made turned out according to her timetable. Instead, God allowed some circumstances to slow her day down and prevent her from being there.

1911841_10152263063296460_1068908084_nI wonder what will happen in me tomorrow because I slowed down today.

  • Will I love the orphans a little more genuinely?
  • Will I swing the hammer a little harder?
  • Will I push a kid on a swing a little longer?
  • Will I learn a story a little more attentively?


Where can you build some into your life? It’s easy to swing too hard one way on this… either valuing rest (and even time with family) so much that you never get to the to what matters more… or working so hard that you never get around to Sabbath.

Maybe it won’t involve a beach or a hammock, but maybe it will involve being still and doing nothing right about now, and remembering God is God.

“So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)


Words create worlds.What you say has the power to mentally transport someone from where they are to where they could or should be.

Ironically, worlds also create words.

As I mentioned yesterday, our team met a couple of women in the afternoon who each had a unique story to tell. On the way to visit one of them, the tune “Lifesong” by Casting Crowns came on the radio. Our driver/host Levi likes to play worship music as we travel, whether it’s in English or Spanish. My toe was tapping along while I lightly sang along to the song.

When I say “lightly sang along,” I think you know what I mean. That’s means, “If I was alone, I’d really be singing out. Since I’m among random people, I won’t break social etiquette.” I once sat in front of a guy on a plane who sang opera music… the whole plane ride… but I digress.

After the truck stopped and we got out to meet the woman, I learned her story – from her fight with cancer, to the four young children she wonders about in terms of who will care for them if she dies. When we piled back into the vehicle and “Lifesong” continued playing, I got a whole new meaning out of it.


And so this afternoon… I sang worship songs in a prison.

We visited with several women who were in for crimes they were accused of or committed. I don’t have any pictures to share since the security didn’t allow for it.

What I can do is try to offer some words to create a world, and a world to create some words.

Imagine yourself standing in a jail cell door today as I did.

All around you are prisoners. They may not look like it, since they don’t resemble the actors from movies nor even have on the same colored jumpsuits. They look like mothers… sisters… wives… neighbors. They’re dressed in casual clothing.

But they’re all prisoners.

If you’re honest, you relate to this. There are things in your life that you have felt a prisoner to.

Urges. Pride. Lies. Addiction. Sin.

So there you are, standing in the middle of a jail cell that leads into a corridor of incarcerated community… and someone with a guitar begins to sing the Spanish version of songs you know well.

And you think, “I’ve sung worship songs in so many different environments… but never with the honesty of a prisoner.”

You begin claiming God’s grace in your life.

Open the eyes of my heart… I want to see You…”

Your grace is enough… Your grace is enough… Your grace is enough… for me…”

“I see his love and mercy… washing over all our sin.. the people sing… the people sing… Hosanna…”

“…I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the ways that He loves us…”

Have you ever sang worship songs in a prison?

Talk about a visual aid.

Words create worlds. Worlds create words.

I’m feeling quite broken over that right about now. Want to make sure that lasts.

May my lifesong sing to You.

Hoy ha sido otro gran día!

(Yeah – I totally did a Google translate on that. My Spanish is improving, though – and by that I mean instead of only talking English I now talk English with an Antonio-Banderas-from-the-movie-Zorro accent.)

Anyway, today was another great day. There’s so much I can say about it.

Perhaps this video sums it up best, though.

And… you’re welcome.

20140318_094251We (obviously) connected further with the kids at the school the Honduran missionaries serve.Part of that included more work on the playground – from sanding down the climbing wall we constructed yesterday, to working on repairing a bridge.Other team members did some cooking and teaching, including one of our gals who is a computer major in the United States. She was able to give the kids some great instruction (via one of our translators, Christian) to the kids on what the internet, their operating system and more.

1236436_10202511273215716_103545513_nAdditionally, our team spent some time with two ladies who shared their stories of being blessed by God through the great work being done here. One of them is a widow (with four children) who has cancer, and she welcomed us into her home as we heard her story and prayed with her.

After a full day, our hosts let us pop into a local grocery store. People on mission trips at this point usually do one of two things:

  • Try as much of the local food as possible.
  • Get as many things that you can find that remind you of home in order to feel comfortable.

20140318_185449aMy son and I opted for a combination of both, getting soda and cookies as a special treat – but picking some flavors that aren’t readily available in our neck of the woods.

I think he’s going to be awake a while tonight.

It’s okay, though – he’s been amazing on this trip (as has everyone on our team). Tonight he said, “Dad, I want to do this trip again.”

We’re not even halfway through it yet. Wow!

What’s the secret?

20140317_122949What is it that causes children to run up to strangers and give them hugs?

What is it that inspires Americans to come on out to a random school in the middle of a foreign land and hug those kids right back?

I mean, really… what’s the secret?

If you’re a cynic, you might say that everyone is just in it to get something from the other group. The kids want to feel supported and the missionaries want to feel useful.

Maybe. Maybe that’s as shallow as the world is.

Or maybe… maybe there’s more.

Maybe there’s something real about football a group of kids who can’t speak each other’s language somehow playing a spontaneous game of football together… then monkey in the middle… and then some other game that was invented on the spot, and somehow understood by all.

I saw that happen today.

Maybe there’s a reason why a group of Americans have callouses on their hands after helping rebuild a playground today… or why a group of Hondurans donate their time to invest into kids spiritually and academically.

I saw that happen today.

20140317_113421Maybe there’s a reason why someone brought a pack-and-play on a plane to bring to these kids… or why others brought coloring books, crayons and more… or why others brought a suitcase full of donated toothbrushes, shoes and other supplies.

I saw that happen today.

Maybe there’s a reason why everyone waves at you when you drive around the city. I mean… everyone.

I saw that happen today.

20140317_131302Maybe there’s a reason why I’m even trying to process all of this tonight. Maybe it’s not a secret, but it’s as obvious as Jesus Christ being real, alive and powerfully present.

We had a good “Day 3″ today.

God is on the move… not just good deeds… God.

I saw that happen today.

I’d recommend you have a few moments of holy trembling over that.

While you’re at it… how is He on the move where YOU are at today?

P.S. I saw something else today, too.


I’ve got the power!

(can somebody go cue The Snap, by chance?)

The power went out at our retreat center tonight. Keep in mind that we’re being incredibly spoiled by our hosts, from air conditioning in our rooms to an amazing fresh-cooked meal three times a day. It’s easily the kind of place you might spend $100 a night in if you were on vacation…so much better than any of us were prepared for.

Our team (l-r): Robin, John, Kristi, Cristin, Blake, Joshua, Tony

Our team (l-r): Robin, John, Kristi, Cristin, Blake, Joshua, Tony

While the power was out, our group hung out and got to know each other better. We busted out our flashlights, played a couple of games to break the ice, and kept waiting for the system to cool down and restart. Finally, it did – just as my son and I were wondering how our evening showers would pan out.

The deal is it’s about 100 degrees here in Honduras. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration, either -the temperature is literally around that all week long. We picked the hottest time of the year to come, not knowing it was the hottest time of the year to come. Nonetheless, God had plans for us today.

To save money on every house the ministry builds, they created a business that makes the blocks they use in building.

To save money on every house the ministry builds, they created a business that makes the blocks they use in building.

We kicked things off by hearing more about the ministry here locally and its connections globally. First, we listened to a presentation from our hosts, and then went for a prayer walk to see some of the local and global ways the ministry reaches out. They do everything from generate income through coffee sales to run a concrete business to fund their ministry to orphans. For example:

  • The concrete blocks are used to build homes, but they also sell 3,000 concrete each week.
  • The coffee business is now called “REVIVE Coffee,” but you can catch some of its vision and the people we connected with today through a slightly older video on it.


This is the view from our retreat center. By the way, the cow’s name translates to “Little Table Cloth.” Just thought you should know that.

Within a stone’s throw of our retreat center is a village of 42 small stone shacks and homes that have been built to accommodate more than 100 people (many of them being children) who have no place else to live. Several of the kids come from situations where a parent died due to HIV/AIDS. We hung out here for a while, connecting with a couple of kids who were very interested in the “My Talking Ginger” app on my phone.

The hottest part of the day kicked in, so we hung out at the retreat center just a bit before heading out to serve at the orphanage our hosts minister through. I was again inspired by the hospitality of the Honduran people. One of the gentleman who takes care of the retreat center made sure I knew where to sit outside so I would stay out of the sun as it moved about the courtyard.

20140316_192458aBefore we knew it, we were off on our next assignment. This time it was building a fence to protect the playground area and offer more structure to the kids who use it. They certainly made the project come alive as they ran about, sneaking in a hug or wanting someone to play with them. We made some great connections, especially with a 14-year old boy named Danny who was one of our key helpers.

I’m not going to lie – it’s easy to high-five each other after a day like this. What we’re finding is there is more to a trip like this than a high-five. God is speaking to us through these events, and even the power-outage tonight was a reminder that He’s the God over everything we try to control. We’re not the “saviors” here – He is, and always will be. We’re some of His sweat and hugs, though.That’s a role anyone can fulfill wherever you’re reading this today.

20140316_171547aI’m so inspired by my son’s hard work, too. I’d appreciate your prayers for him – that God would speak assurances into him that would enlarge his world and spiritual journey. It would be easy for this just to be a “good deeds” experience, although I sense the spiritual wisdom our leader Robin is adding to the trip will ultimately guide that in a deeper direction.

I think we’re going to sleep well tonight. We’re likewise looking forward to what tomorrow holds.

Thanks for your prayers and words of encouragement!


Don’t let my obvious command of the Spanish language fool you. I’m about as fluent in it as whatever secondary exposure to Dora the Explorer and Chipotle menus have made me.

Still, here I am writing you this quick post from the bed of my mission house. Perhaps that’s a bit too familiar, but it’s been  along day of travel for my 13-year old son and I.

20140315_091251It’s our first trip with Lifetree Adventures, and so far it’s been amazing. We left our schizophrenic Ohio weather this morning around 3am to get to our local airport at a reasonable hour. From there, we flew three hours to Miami, then another three hours to Honduras, and then drove another three hours by bus to our city. He’s been an absolute trooper, and our team has already started bonding.

Of course, there’s only so much you can do your first day.


We did note how “American” the area around the airport felt. Right when we stepped outside we saw a Burger King, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Church’s Chicken, and a number of other chains. A huge “CINEMARK” movie theater was also within walking distance, connected to a huge mall that puts the closest one near me in Ohio to shame. The real takeaway was when one of our guides said, “What you’re about to see in the mall isn’t accurate to who we are.”

I thought, “That statement could be said even in America.”


On the flipside, once we got on the road there were some notable hurdles to consider. For example, if you want to use toilet paper in a public bathroom you need to bring it in with you. That’s right – “personal budgeting” never mattered like this!

A big highlight was when we attended a local church service.


It wasn’t what I expected… in fact, it was oddly familiar. We sang songs that my son and I know from the radio back home. I tried using the Spanish lyrics that were up on the screen, but ended up reverting back to the English version… tunes by Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Hilllsong United. I even had a person translate the sermon via an audio device and headphones. It was like my own personal Acts 2 moment.

I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and appreciate your prayers. We’re going to begin serving tomorrow. Any tips to make the most of this time?