Criticism happens.

Adults nod our head at that reality, knowing that it’s just a part of life. We’re “mature” like that.

Students, on the other hand, are still wrestling with realizing this.

We can argue that they haven’t grown up yet like we have, but maybe it’s something else… maybe the reason they struggle with it is because they haven’t yet let go of the idea (like adults have) that such antagonism shouldn’t be a part of life in the first place. They’re still doing a double-take and a triple-take full of shock and awe on something we’ve closed our eyes to.

hqdefaultIt’s one of the reasons why I appreciate actor Wil Wheaton’s thoughtful answer to a young girl who spontaneously asked him a question at a Comic Con event. She wondered if he could give her advice how to respond to her peers who call her a nerd.

Take a look at Wheaton’s response, noting the way he serves her through the wording and pace he uses to speak to her:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04WJEEb33CY

Any takeaways? For example:

  • Notice how Wil doesn’t toss in a lot of “um’s” into his response. He was speaking from a place of conviction. How did he get there? Is this how conversations happen between you and students?
  • The audience erupted with affirmation a few times, and other times didn’t. Wheaton didn’t seemed phased (no pun intended) by whether they did or didn’t clap… he obviously wasn’t trying to get their approval but address the girl. Again, is this how you handle what students present your way or are you going for a “high five” reply that makes you look favorable/slick/hip/whatever?

What can we learn from this in the way that we serve students through everyday conversations?

“Now what?”

20140321_101034That’s the question that most people struggle with on their last day of a mission trip.

You first entered into a foreign culture with all of your country-isms intact, wondering how weird this was all going to be. Around your third or fourth day in, you ironically became somewhat critical toward the very culture you left, wondering why “we” have it so wrong when “they” have it so right… whatever “it” is. Now you’re not sure what to think as you go back to the sounds, flavors and comforts you’ve missed…. while wondering how important those sounds, flavors and comforts actually are.

20140321_104157Maybe you experienced a unique connection somehow:

  • God broke your heart over a group of kids/people whose smiles/tears did something inside of you that you didn’t know could happen.
  • God expanded your strength somehow, as you accomplished tasks you’ve never attempted before in your life.
  • God broadened your mind over a concept or through an “a-ha” moment that will forever change how you look at some aspect of life.
  • God ignited a fire in your soul that warmed you in placed you didn’t realize were cold.
  • God stretched your circle of friendships, and you now have social media relationships with people who you would never have even known how to look up (let alone spell their name) before your experience.

But it’s the last day… now what?

20140321_174208Well, you probably have one more local meal to eat and enjoy. And then there are the logistics of travel to concern yourself with. So perhaps the next 24 hours are a bit of a wash. You’ll soon find yourself in the old routines that you left before, wondering what really, really matters. You may even get frustrated that you and God don’t connect at home like you did on your trip, not realizing that the luxury of time has played into so much of what you experienced.

Psst… you may have noticed by now I’ve not been as personal on this post as I have in previous ones.

Honestly, it’s not because I’m lacking in material.

Today was one of the most unique days for me on this trip. I won’t go into details here, mainly because I’m still processing it. I sense God is forming some type of life in me through this experience, and I need to prepare for its birth.

My son Joshua, bonding with one of our new friends (Danny) from the school. We visited a mall together today and this spontaneous moment happened.

My son Joshua, bonding with one of our new friends (Danny) from the school. We visited a mall together today and this spontaneous moment happened.

As I can process it, I’ll circle back and write an epilogue… or maybe a prologue… maybe it’s both.

What I do know is I’m so, so thankful for this trip.

It’s been one of the stretchiest experience to go through personally-and-with-my-son, while never feeling dangerous (except to my own legalisms and spiritual safety nets that God needed to have His way with anyway). Our Lifetree Adventures trip leader Robin navigated us through each experience, juggling the hats of guide, friend and participant along the way. The missions house was a safe place to unwind each day… our team was able to get to know each other better every day.

What else is there left to say?

I’m not sure, but it’s late… and I have an early departure time to head back home to my family in the morning. Thanks for your prayers, and for journeying with me/us as prayer partners. Here’s one last burst of culture… combined with culture. Consider this the Honduras-American remix.

http://youtu.be/Zm-JVbZ423Q



20140320_110927aSiesta.

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?

Siesta.

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)

Lyrics.

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.

razorwire

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!

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.

20140316_110602

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!



20140313_134201Hola!

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.

20140315_141103

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.”

20140315_165612

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.

20140315_211053

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?

 

 

Abraham Lincoln once observed, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

That’s a great concept, especially when in a free market culture we’re used to “Apple vs PC,” “Coke vs Pepsi,” “McDonalds vs Burger King,” and so on. Even in Christendom, you can find yourself consciously or unconsciously at odds with another church across town. We talk a good game about how we’re all a part of the Kingdom together, yet still feel tense when someone is missing from our row of chairs and tags themselves online in a row of chairs at another church.

Aren’t we all supposed to be serving Jesus together?

We know that, right? Maybe that’s what keeps us from actually doing it.

It’s why I’m a huge fan of what Earl Henning wrote recently on his blog. Here’s a quote:

20140223-162632“Early in my youth ministry career, I learned something kind of bizarre. I tried to connect with respected youth leaders in my area in hopes of gaining a little help from their years of wisdom. I had hoped they might take this new guy under their wing to help expand some influence in our large community of lost teens.

Instead, what I learned was that they were similar to football coaches. They had their successful ministry playbook and did their best to keep it private. No follow up emails or phone calls, no follow-through on their “Yeah man, let’s get together” after an unexpected bumping in to. It seemed that this was their home field and they weren’t about to let some small-time coach come in and make their fans switch jerseys.”

Earl Henning

Check out Earl’s wicked, cool beard. If you ever meet him, ask him for the back story to it.

Earl goes on to observe how since he’s taken the other approach and reached out to younger peers he’s seen some benefits of it:

  • Venting!: “Consider it counseling without having to lay on a couch. And honestly, who can understand you better than someone who is fighting the same battle?”
  • A community playbook: “It took me a while to get used to this, but when my local youth pal and I started to share playbooks it was amazing. We’ve shared message ideas, stage design ideas, volunteer training ideas.”
  • Power in numbers: My buddy and I have kids who go to the same schools and live in the same neighborhoods. Honestly, why shouldn’t we work together to build a mega-team of soul-winners?”

You really need to read all of what Earl offers.

3D man near red question markThat said…

  • In what ways have you felt a conscious or unconscious tension with other churches/ministries?
  • Do you sense greater “rivalry” of “churches vs churches” or “youth ministry vs youth ministry?”
  • Is it fair to assume that if you’ve invested years into a student that they shouldn’t just “up and leave” one day to go to another youth group?
  • How do you view other youth workers around your city – as a network of peers who do what you do (but everyone keeps a safe distance from) or as true co-laborers that you can share life/ministry with?

Please chime in. Let’s learn from each other on this. Thanks!