Friday, June 22, 2012

Fishing With Frank (How He Changed My Life)

My college prof... in his element.

I attempted to send you a note around 10:30 this morning, but it looks like it didn't send. I apologize if this is a duplicate note!

You have been very influential in my life. I often tell people about my college prof that would call me and wake me up in the morning to tell me that it was important that I came to class! I look back to those Church Music classes as some of my best memories. While packing up and sorting through old boxes last month, I came across some of my assignments. My packing was delayed by 45 minutes as I allowed those old papers to take me back to those days. It was encouraging to see where I had come from.

Kellie and I have been married 17 years now and we have 3 children. Our daughters are both adopted: Aleksandra, 8 from Russia, and Sterling 18 months from China. We just brought Sterling home in April. It is amazing how she immediately fit into our family. We began her adoption process 6 years ago, long before she was born. We like to tell folks that it took us 6 years to adopt our 1 year old... God's math is different than mine!

We first travelled to Guatemala 3 years ago... and I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Over a 24 month period I returned several times and began to understand that I had to give through the pain... the benefit of locking eyes and hands with an individual and bringing hope to a life far outweighed the pain. I began to see the joy in the mission.

Kellie and I have always had this dream of being adoption agents. Through our encounters in China & Russia we saw the plight of large orphanages... how desperate they are, how hard they try with so little resources. We went to Guatemala and encountered Fontaine and Paula Greene. They took abandoned and hopeless children directly into their home and covered them with love, educated them, fed them, taught them about Jesus, and gave them hope. 

God gives us our dreams and then sets our vision. He has made a way through impossible barriers for us to receive 4 abandoned and orphaned infant girls as soon as we arrive (June 2013). We will have legal custody of them and be authorized to select their forever families. We will be adoption agents. Currently this is available only to Guatemalan citizens and residents, but we hope to be able to also coordinate international adoptions with churches that partner with us here in the states. Politically, it looks feasible within 3-5 years. Praying!

God has been HUGE at work in our lives. We are living in my parent's basement and we have either sold or given away nearly all our belongings. We eat with borrowed dishes and rest on borrowed furniture. We are aggressively becoming debt free. We have become evangelistic in our nature as we talk of our mission and God's story to all we encounter. We are building up a base of 600 partners. We are reaching out to people, to groups, to churches. We can present to an individual, or to thousands. We are going BIG.

We have been living with James 1:22-27. We believe that caring for orphans and widows is the heart of God. We believe that we ourselves were orphans before being adopted by the God of everything. We simply seek to take the hands of others and lead them to the miracle we have experienced for ourselves. We also are living in Acts 2. It is incredible to read with fresh eyes the story of the emerging church... how God added daily to their numbers as they lived lives in obedience, faith, and fellowship. All these things are critical to us as we transition into the mission community of a third world country.

Our faith has been stretched... we have learned that the promises of God are ALIVE and not just stories in the Bible. We have learned to pray prayers so BIG that the only way to move forward is when God steps into the picture. Our children are seeing our weaknesses and our faith in action. They see that it is God that moves us forward.

We needed to sell our home... and could not do so. We were in despair, we had hit an impassible barrier. We read of Joshua and we decided to pray circles around our house. I tell of it in my blog, it is the Jericho series.

For seven days we prayed as we walked around the outside of our home. On the 7th day we circled it 7 times and then we blew intruments (a trumpet, a recorder, and a ram's horn) and we SHOUTED. The kids were scared the house would implode. As we marched around the house the 7th time on that 7th day... we passed through our gate the final time and suddenly it slammed shut behind us! I kid you not! A wind seemed to gust out of no-where and then the night returned to stillness. I shook and cried with the knowledge that God was with us.

7 days later, to the very hour... we got a phone call from distant family who needed to move to Ohio from South Carolina. They took our house sight unseen for the price we needed. God answers big prayers.

I am thrilled to have you partner with us in any way you believe you should. We need mentors, accountability partners, prayer warriors, and financial supporters. Thank you for being in my life.

May God Always Be With You:

Chad Shepherd

...and the things you have heard of me among many witnesses,
entrust to reliable people who will be qualified to teach others.
 ~2 Tim 2:2
P.S. Here is my info: (our mission agency & the way to partner with us) (our Guatemalan Mission) (my Blog: faith, adoption, mission)

Steps On the Water (at least a River Walk)

If You Say Go...

I had searched all week for a cowboy hat. I was a thin, goofy-looking kid with glasses and big feet... but I had the heart of the west beating in my chest. My heroes even then were John Wayne, Indiana Jones, Davy Crocket, and Ronald Reagan. Real men wear hats. The air was oppressive and entered my lungs only with effort and a long drawl. This was San Antonio, International Youth Convention 1992. It was a time and place that forever altered my path.

It was the summer after my senior year in high school, and life hung in wonderful tension. The past was neatly buttoned up with a diploma and the future was full of unknown promise. We were a band of 40 youth set loose in an enchanted city. My first girl-friend was with me nearly every daylight moment of the trip.

Everett Planck was my chaperone, and Bobbi-Jo Planck was hers. Each night we would steal kisses in the hallway and then I would stand and watch as the door latched into place and ended the moment. Each of us would then blush and deny kisses to our respective Planck. We fell in love this week.

These were the first heart pounding glimpses of our steps into the unknown. We felt desperate to hold on to each other as we faced the yawning questions of forever. Life for these moments reached perfection. I found my hat, and I found my girl.
San Antonio with my girl ~ 1992

Again... we find ourselves walking along a river in San Antonio. Our minds naturally are drawn to the memories of our first time here. Kellie mentioned to me that we had agreed that we would one day return to this place. We smiled at each other as we realized that we were able to keep this promise. Life is funny sometimes... when we are willing to go where we are meant to go, somehow the good gets honored.

These past two years have exceeded every expectation that ever fired in our cognition. How can it be that a short-term mission trip to Guatemala was the catalyst to slam our lives back on track? Our captivated hearts have led us back to where we first found love. San Antonio... 20 years later, to complete our training and commissioning as missionaries.

How is it that this city is the pivot point for our lives.... twice?

San Antonio with my girl ~ 2012

And so... what does it mean to live a life called by God? This is a question that I now am living to answer. So far I have learned that it is a life full of convergence. Nothing happens by chance. There is significance in our walk... and it is placed there to mark the influence of God. Kellie and I walked along the path of the Guadeloupe River with the sun shining down and warming us in the gentle afternoon and we quietly discussed the flow of our lives. 

When you first see desperate need... it is soul-arrestingly painful. And you learn to give through the pain. You understand that the need is greater than your discomfort. You begin to notice the individuals who stare into your eyes as they find comfort in your company. Slowly you understand that the joy of the one finding her way home is greater than the pain of the world. You recognize the significance of a life pressed on a life. You comprehend the power of actions guided by truth.

Lately I have been transfixed by the early church as recorded in Acts 2. It tells us that the people were filled with awe because God was evident in their midst. They sold what they had and gave it to those who suffered. They met and worshipped together. God blessed them and supported their efforts with more people. They were happy and they were sincere. The Spirit of God lived in their hearts.

This week as I read this passage I wept openly and without shame. This verse had never meant anything to me in the past, but now God used it to capture my gaze. At some meager level... God has worked in our lives to accomplish this. We have sold our goods and possessions. We have given to the poor (we always received more than we gave). And now... through tears of humility, understanding, and thankfulness... I see that God adds to our numbers daily.

I have not walked on water... and yet, my eyes have been twice fixed on Jesus as I stepped onto a river walk. God has stunned me again... His promises are true. Yeah... we hear this, but when it is experienced it is forever life altering. 

We just spent a week 61 miles outside of San Antonio in Kerrville, TX with Commission To Every Nation, our missions agency. We were able to rub shoulders with couples who had served as missionaries for 30+ years, as well as many others who were being commissioned alongside us. It is incredible to think that our little group has already dispersed to every major continent.

God has a plan for us. God has a plan for you. We all have stories if we open our eyes to see them. Kellie and I have twice walked on the river. We extend our hands to you.

(click it and partner with us today)

Check us out. This is an invitation to join us in God's mission. He has called us, and we believe that He has also called you. Together, we partner to fulfill His commission. 

Our Mission:

We go to take orphaned and abandoned infant girls into our home, and to connect them with their forever families.

And, yes... I still have that cowboy hat (and, of course the girl).

CTEN Missionaries ~ June 2012
If You say go, we will go
If You say wait, we will wait
If You say step out on the water
And they say it can't be done
We'll fix our eyes on You and we will come
-Vineyard Music, 2007

Saturday, June 9, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (16) Forever & 49 Days

0600 Wake up call ~ Guate style
Visions and dreams are now materializing into solid form. Pray big, run towards the goal like everything depends on you, and trust in God because you understand that what needs to happen can only happen by His grace and power. Take a mariachi band for example… if you see just one of these guys walking through a store, you may think he looks a bit ridiculous. But when all the pieces come together, it is an incredible way to start your final day in Guatemala!

Our group is on our way out and a new missions team is now in place here at Mimi’s House. Edgar just loaded our bags in the truck and we approach our 4:30 departure to the airport. The Breiel Missions Team has already booked next year and I am fly on the wall listening to their discussions of ongoing support. Lives were changed this week and the challenge of missional living has been issued.

This morning I was thrilled to accompany Fontaine as we dropped Julissa off to art school and we drove to the school where Kellie will teach and our children will attend, CAG. Things are starting to feel very real now, and it is a welcome relief. It is good to see the brick and mortar that will cradle our days. We also drove past some possible properties that will potentially be home for our family and the children we take in. I was thrilled when we by chance encountered the principal of the school and I was able to meet his family and discuss our arrival next summer. The school is in need of English teachers, and Kellie’s resume’ is a perfect fit.

Fontaine and I discussed what Catalyst Resources International will look like when the Shepherd family comes to land. I called Kellie to relay the conversation to her and our hearts danced together. God is awesome. Things are falling into place that my hands could never lift. Our dream and calling to one day hold orphans and find them forever homes can be realized much quicker than we ever anticipated.
Continue to pray big prayers for us that God opens the necessary doors. Pray big for us that hearts will be open by those who are willing to become a part of this blessing.

Kellie and I return to Guatemala in 49 days. We will have our 3 children with us: Caleb (11), Aleksandra (8), and Sterling (17 months). We will tour the schools, meet the teachers & see our classrooms. We will be introduced to the missional community here near San Cristobal, and we will began to plan where we will live and began our ministry. We are overflowing with joy at the prospect of taking in those who were without hope and extending them towards forever families and the love of God. Our ministry will be threefold: rescuing abandoned children, home construction & community building, and education. We seek to provide generational change to the people of Guatemala, one life at a time, through the example and love of Jesus.

Come with us. The journey is amazing.

See ya in 49 days!

GUATEMALA 2012: (15) The Road We Travel

The road to the family we encountered this week.
The road calls to me from the dust. Tonight I  write from the desk at Mimi's House and I think of the incredible week that I have experienced. No matter how far ahead you may think you can see, our perspective is always a limitation to our vision. It has been wonderful this week to again place footprints in the earth of Guatemala. We have seen 4 families gain homes, hundreds become friends, 2 baptised, and many receive medical equipment and medication. We have danced with children, and held broken little bodies. We have been blessed with giant smiles on tiny faces that shined out past the pain. We have given until it hurts. We have abandoned pity and found compassion. What we have experienced has changed again our lives. My path is affirmed. Can you see it? This is my road... it is traveled by children, and those who teach me how to live as I help them survive.

More and more, this place is home to me. This is only my 4th week in the country, and yet I know that this place holds my future. When I picture my family a year from now... I see them here. It was incredible to see my son holding the hands of the boys of this village as we walked the paths. 

Tonight, children sleep in beds that have before slept only on dirt. The message of the love of God reverberates in minds as they contemplate what compels us to come. We have not saved the world, but we have added our ripple in the pond. 

Several years ago a husband and wife came to Guatemala to adopt children. They met a missionary family. This family then hosted the pastor of that adopting family for a week in Guatemala. That pastor then sent his church. That church invited others. A small child allowed her feet to be washed and inspired one of those members who then brought down another church group. Entire villages have been changed by this ever increasing ripple across the surface. Hope has arrived for many. The cycle of poverty has been shattered for children, and the message of God is the catalyst.

God has brought together these families with our own, along with many who have chosen to walk beside us all... to bring about generational change to the children of Guatemala.
Elementary School in Labor de Falle, Guatemala
This school now receives money to provide a healthy lunch to over 100 kids per day. This pediatric walker was delivered and now a young girl can walk across her classroom. I have seen the circles on the water enlarge even this week. I have seen perspectives shift as people realize the impact that slams their soul when belief is allowed to manifest to action. 

You can experience this. My words can not show your heart the depths of the need. Poverty like this is not in existence in America. And yet... I have never seen people more grateful. I have never seen such a deep love of God. I have never learned so much from others.

Pray big prayers. When is the last time you asked God for something that only He could deliver? Do you know what it feels like to truly depend on His intervention to see you through? Pray for something that can only be answered by God. Pray for something that will bring Him honor. Claim it. Pray through it. Walk towards it in faith. See what God will do.
Worship Service at Mimi's House~ with Breiel Church
I look forward to my return in July with our team from Journey Church, West Chester. Things are shaping up quickly for our move to ministry here. It is amazing to see God at work. Kellie and I have a vision for adoption that has grown from our own heart and experiences. I am in awe to see how God is working to make our path straight. Pray for us as we walk this road, we look forward to feeling the support of your hands as ours lift up the orphans in Guatemala.

Friday, June 8, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (14) Carved In My Soul

Day Four ~ Complete

We first heard of him two weeks before our journey. Flavio had severe diabetes and a family that depended on him. His last attack nearly killed him, placing him in a coma. Our group brought him a Glucometer and an expansive supply of test strips. His family also received one of the four houses that we built. My uncle Stephen was telling him farewell as we loaded the bus on this final day of being the village. He told Stephen, “thank you so much, for me this is already heaven.”

We have talked a great deal among our group about perspective. What do we really need to be fulfilled and to achieve happiness? What is our purpose in life? How can it be that a chronically ill man living in a desolate shanty town high on a mountain in Guatemala can be so grateful for what he has… while so many who have so much more… simply grumble, fret, and fuss?

We handed the keys over to our family and walked through the door of their new home with them. We had worked alongside them all week. I had spun their children in the air, climbed trees with them, danced with them, and fed them several pounds of candy and granola. As they walked in to their new bedroom, I was overcome with emotion as Luis and his little sister both began to tremble and cry.  Do you have any memories of getting a new room, or a new house?

What if the only house you had ever known was constructed of mud bricks and corn stalks?

This was the home for the family of five. A single bed, and a small room with a scrap roof. I thought of my own family of five, and noticed the family pictures hanging on the wall above the bed. I began to consider what it would mean for my family to live here with these conditions.

It was then that I realized something significant… it is arrogance that assumes that my life is better than theirs. How is it that I continue to rate quality of life in terms of possessions, belongings, comfort, and security? How is it that I still worry about food and health and the safety of my children?

The belief that I profess says that I am to cast all my cares on God, that my treasure is in heaven, and that I will live forever in paradise. I have to wonder if a lifetime in adobe and corn stalks would better open my eyes to the reality of this life.

Carved in the tree above the home years ago, "Dios te amo"
Have I become so comfortable that I can’t see that my inheritance is already here? I have been adopted by God and He has called me His own. No matter what the circumstance of my life, if I am His child, held in His arms… then yes, this is my heaven.

I come back to the same place… accountability for my time, and do my actions and attitude reconcile with my belief? From the perspective of God, does the way I live my life show evidence that I love my neighbor as myself? Does it show that I love God?

I will never forget walking down the dirt path after completing our home today. Caleb and I walked with Luis, the little boy from our home between us, each of us with one of his small hands in our own. We made monkey sounds, jumped around, and laughed. The way he looked at us was worth everything that it took to get there... and worth more than any possession I have ever had. We think we have treasures in life... but they are nothing when compared to the deep love that comes from fulfilling our true purpose.

Created by God to fellowship with God. Separated from God by sin, reconciled to God by the sacrifice of His son. Able to show others the way.

Simple stuff. To every one, a day is appointed to die. So, let’s start living.

Change your world...wherever you may be.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (13) Spin Cycle

A small hand was held in my right hand and another small hand was grasped in my left. My eyes switched back and forth between them as their smiles made me laugh. I stooped down a bit so the little arms could lock around my own and then I lifted them off the ground as we spun. I would lift them high to my shoulder level and then lower them down to the ground, alternating their rise and fall as we turned. This is how you make friends for life. This is how you turn a moment into forever. I will not forget them.

As drove a nail through a panel I felt a small tap at the back of my head. I continued to nail and I waited to see what might happen next. Again… tap. I smiled and took another nail from the bunch sticking out of my mouth and continued to attach the board. Finally, a third tap. I dropped the tools and let the nails fall from my lips as I turned. She was about 3 feet tall, with incredible dark hair and bright eyes that had no equal except for her smile. She reached up to me with both arms as she said, “te amo.”

I reached down and returned her hug. Suddenly I was surrounded by outstretched arms… both boys and girls. I lost count of how many heads that were cradled against my own. Self-consciousness fully fell to abandon as tears streamed from my eyes while I gave up all that I could offer… hugs and candy.

We were at the school in Labor de Falle, a village just beyond Cerro Alto, high above San Cristobal Guatemala. Our group took a break from home building today so that we could help serve lunches and play with the children.  I am always overwhelmed with the stark contrasts of utter desolation and perfect beauty that exist in this land, and today was another of those moments. For a few minutes, my soul was transfigured to a higher place. Surely, we were in the presence of God.

Language is no barrier here. We sang together, we danced, and we hung from the rafters like monkeys. I stood in awe as I watched my son and his new friend Kevin laughing and playing with these impoverished children who shine the light of truth on my own malnourished soul. It is remarkable that I see the face of Jesus in their gaze. They have broken and mangled feet, open sores on their faces, parasites on their bodies,  and even inside of their organs. They are unbelievably small for their age, and none of them have healthy teeth. They must live with constant pain.

And yet… I have never seen such a zest for life. I have never seen such a thankfulness for a hug or a piece of gum. I have never been so aware of the great expectation of my own life. When is the last time that I reached up to God and told Him that I love Him? When is the last time that I accepted freely what He has to offer, fully realizing that I have no way to repay Him? Why can’t I understand that I do not need to?

Christ told His disciples to simply come as a little child. Yes.

Today I get that.

GUATEMALA 2012: (11) Beauty Among Desolation

Day One of Construction

The weight of the Rubbermaid tote that held our power tools was pressing down on my shoulder.  My boots dug deep into the moist dirt road as I stepped over eroded ruts from the daily rains. Memories of the families and the homes that I had built over past weeks flooded through my mind. Our team stepped over stones and through a scrap and branch gate and had our first look at a concrete slab.

My uncle Stephen, aunt Michele, and cousin Cameron had organized a group of 30+ people from The Breiel Church in Middletown, Ohio. My son Caleb and I joined their excursion. The church had committed to doing a first with Catalyst… build 4 homes in a week. The day arrived, I was joking with Edgar and asked him, “so, who is leading the fourth team?” I knew that Edgar, Ramiro, and Diego would each lead a team, but I did not know who they had selected to build the fourth. I figured it must be Manuel who provides transportation and mechanical support, or possibly a new addition to the team. I was taken by surprise when Edgar replied, “you are Chad… HAH-HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And so, there I was with a team behind me, ready for their first Guatemalan Missions experience… and I knew good and well that I was not prepared to manage the building of a home. Edgar had informed me that since I had built the homes in the past, surely I was able to remember how it was done. Oh my. He handed me a stapled packet of photocopied drawings and told me to get started.

I can tell you that the first day of my fourth building week in Guatemala did not go as smoothly as the prior three. We had more than a few hiccups, and confusing moments! As the day drew to a close, we realized that an entire wall had been constructed incorrectly and would need to be redone.
My first opportunity as a construction leader for Catalyst Resources International was not starting out remarkably well! I took a moment to run up the hill and evaluate Team 3’s progress… we were at least a half a day behind them.

Here is the remarkable part… our team was no grumbling or complaining. This was an incredible group of people that I was able to work alongside. While we all recognized our situation, we were also celebrating our accomplishments. As the day had progressed, we had all learned from our experiences. We had taken our mistakes, and followed through with the corrections. We knew we had a plan, and we understood now how to make it work.

As the day closed, we had a discussion and it was apparent that we were eager to begin again the following day. There was still a whole lot of house to be built, and plenty of time to do it. We were confident that our home would be complete. The night’s discussion was a perfectly timed reminder of why we are here. It is about the people, the relationships, and above all our belief.

We are here to celebrate the love of God. We are here to reach out and take the hand of a child, to look into the eyes of a mother. We are here because the love that God gives to us compels us to love others. It will never be about how skilled we are, or even how great of leaders we may become. It is simply a matter of our willingness to allow our belief to shape our behaviors, attitudes, and actions.

Thank you Breiel Mission Team for reminding me of this again today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (12) Beanies in the Bible?

The morning broke the night with beauty. Last evening was an incredible moment of sharing and reflection with the team over coffee as the night sky flashed over Pacaya. We have hit the sweet spot of the week where the team now acts as an organism and our goals are clear.

Team four walked across the stacked rock entrance to our work site and began by deconstructing a wall that gave us difficulty last evening. I walked to Team Three and drafted Ramero… I asked him for a consult! Soon we had made the needed adjustments and the day opened up as we worked into the afternoon by delaying lunch.

As we walked away at the end of the day’s work I turned and snapped the picture above. We had completed the entire frame of the house, 2 exterior walls, and the wall that separates the bedrooms. Today we met our construction goal and made up for our difficult start. We walked away with smiles and celebration.

Today was a great day… and now I will tell you why.
We brought gifts with us for the children. In the past we have done massive give aways with the village (and we will still do that too) but this time we decided to make it more personal by selecting gifts specifically for the children whose homes we were building.

About a decade and a half ago I was an obsessed Beanie Baby collector. I would drive for hours to search for a specific plush. I scoured the internet and would pay over suggested retail price to possess a unique bear or animal. Over the years I had amassed over $1000 worth of Beanie Babies. I had the Princess Di Bear, Good Luck Bear, and even the original Brown Bear, among many others. For the past 7 years they have been sealed in a box. I rediscovered them last month as we were packing to move.

I was standing in the basement thinking how foolish of me it had been to spend time on that pursuit. And suddenly, I knew what I should do…
And so, today I along with some 30 other team members placed Beanie Babies in the hands of children in the village of Labor de Falle, part of Cerro Alto, Guatemala. I am still the goof that paid far too much for toys, and yet… the smiles and laughter I worked among all day was without a doubt more valuable that anything money could buy-- simply and truly priceless.

I also had a hat collection, and tonight those hats are riding along the dark hair of boys up and down those mountain paths. Each of them was interested to learn the source of the hat as I told them which state I had purchased them in over the past 20 years of my life.

It really is amazing how we live with treasure packed in our homes and somehow have no concept of its worth. Our lives are rich. We have much to offer. I believe that this makes us accountable and responsible. I think the more we have, the more we can do.

And so, I sit beneath the portrait of Mimi tonight here at Catalyst Resources in San Cristobal. I have that incredible mid week feeling of exhaustion and happiness. Everything is made so much more special for me as I experience it with the realization that this will soon be part of my everyday life.
I think of Kellie, Aleksandra, and Sterling back home. I watch Caleb as he continues to discover the passion and the deep meaning of our faith in this place. I can see him also letting go… of fears, of attachments, of possessions. What is available to us by God is so much more. Somehow it is easier to see Him when we have less stuff that hinders.

This is everything. This is our forever. This is our religion. Our God is with us. Beanie Babies, hats, & laughing children. The thankfulness in the eyes of a mother who works harder every day than any of us ever has… and yet is unable to feed her children. There is something powerful in meeting that need. There is a quiet exchange where God stands in the middle and you realize…

…this isn’t about you. This isn’t even about them. It isn’t about poverty. It isn’t about need.

It is simply about God. Can you see him in the midst?

Monday, June 4, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (10) Amigos

Truths are universal.
Truth #1: A common interest is a great place to start.

Truth #2: Adventure can be found anywhere.

 Truth #3: The road is better with a friend.

I wanted Caleb to come with me to Guatemala this week so that he could begin to understand why we are so intent on getting here. Experience is a powerful way to learn, and oftentimes our experiences even shape who we become. 

I have two main goals for him this week (unknown to him): to have a life-changing experience as he encounters the children in the villages outside of Guatemala City, and to make friends along the way. Tomorrow we head into the mountains to begin our mission for the week, and today was about relationships.

It was incredible watching my son interact with so many new people. He was fearless... introducing himself to so many unknown faces, and sharing the day building friendships. Among the many important steps we take in this transition, today was the among the most important. 

Caleb was able to meet the children of several different missionary families, and begin establishing relationships with the young adults that he will work alongside at the school he will attend.  I have no doubt that today was the start of several life-long friendships. I continue to be amazed and blown away by the converging plan that is now our calling.

Each day God is working to bring together His plan... and we are learning to trust and let go. Friendships continue to build and the potential of what can be becomes ever clearer. I too am so thankful to have such incredible people with whom to walk this path. 

The way is becoming apparent. The vision is scoping down to a laser focus. God is at work. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (9) Buckled Up & Tucked In

This group has kept the airline industry profitable over the past 48 hours. Nearly 40 volunteers have gathered from 4 separate states, arriving from multiple airlines and airports and gathering at Mimi's House over the past 6 hours. At this moment, the lights are out and all are settled in for the team's first night in Guate. I smile every time I think of the predestined wakings of their first morning! I wonder what will get them first: the abnormally loud screaming birds, the roosters, firecrackers, unexplained industrial percussion, car alarms, traffic noises, or maybe even a Mariachi Band?

What I can tell you is that this team has already made a lasting impact. The patio is congested and the tables are bowing with the weight of their donations. Plans are locked in for: 4 homes to be constructed, Bible Schools to be taught, people to be triaged, glasses to be distributed, food to be given, services to be held, lunches must be packed, and many dishes will need to be scrubbed. 

Lives are about to be forever changed. This seems to be the exchange: needs are supplied with planning, and lives are changed by unexpected God moments. This place has a way of breaking down people to their basic desires. We want to have meaning. We want to make a difference. We want to be connected to something bigger than ourselves. 

At the heart of it all... we all seek the exchange of love. We want to lay our heads on our pillows at night and release consciousness into the place where our actions measured up to our belief. A trip like this is powerful... and it always changes people. You simply cannot walk away the same person as before. These experiences are bought with the currency of accountability. When we are confronted with circumstances that change our paradigm, our hearts either break and reform, or become hard.

It all comes down to how we respond to what we encounter. There will be great beauty in this week... and each person will also find that moment that stops their breath. How do you react when you see a sick child silently crying on a heap of garbage? How can you not feel the weight on your soul when a disfigured young boy grabs your hand with a smile on his face and wants to be your shadow? How do you reconcile the waves goodbye as your vehicle stirs up the dust that will coat their malnutritioned bodies as you speed away to your delicious meal and warm bed?

You lie in your bunk at night and you begin to understand the immense responsibility you have as you engage in the blessings of your life and make claim to worship the God who died for your sins.

When we come face to face with the real message of Christianity, we are often completely overwhelmed. There is no power greater on earth. When you stare suffering in the eye and you experience what it means to ease that pain... it changes how you think about everything. 

This is the heart of our belief. Helping those who owe us nothing. This is our own experience. We are all orphans who have been offered an inheritance undeserved by a God who requires only that we meet our most basic need through Him as we accept His love.

This is what brings me here. This is how I can boldly sell what I have and fall on the mercy of God and the faith of my belief. It is simple... losing everything while allowing God to wrap His arms around you is the greatest gain that you can ever hope to achieve. Holding on to the temporary stuff of life and giving credence to fear while you miss out on the full love of Christ is the greatest tragic irony of humanity.

We must be willing to hurt in order to help. We must be willing to lose in order to win. We must be bold. We must be aware of fear... and then run full tilt into its teeth. We must claim our birthright. 

We are orphans who deserve nothing.

We are sons and daughters of God who have been given eternal life.

And so... what is pain? It is temporary. What is death? It is the finish line. What is life? It is our chance to take hold of the hand of a fellow orphan and run together toward an inheritance. This is our temporary moment that will determine our forever.

This week... for me... for my son... for my fellow travelers... it is decision time. We stand at the threshold again. We each and every one will wrestle with our reaction to our belief.

There is great beauty to be found in this life. It exists where we become who we were created to be. Happiness and peace are found when action is in equilibrium with belief. On this day, may we all be about becoming.

And so... it is time to tuck in for the night and buckle up for the ride. And to the guys, I am sorry about the snoring (I did advise you to bring earplugs).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (8) Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear

(First Trip To Guatemala for Caleb!)

(A few hours earlier...)
We considered the fuselage of the aircraft through the glass of gate A14. The sun had risen above the horizon and was casting our image back onto the surface of the window. I could see his expression as it shined beneath the brim of his hat. I had looked forward to this day, and it was inexplicably here.

It was only a few months ago that our family stood on the opposite view of the wall. We had gazed forward to a hoped adoption, a successful trip home, a goal of renting out our home, and beginning a summer of introduction to Guatemala for our children. Our goals were aggressive… a bit reckless, and exciting! I looked into the face of my son and gave thanks to God that we are in this moment.  I considered the reflections both persistent and perceived and I marveled at how close it all stood on the periphery of my soul.

My thoughts are seldom linear, rather they seem to organize by the colors of the memories. Similar shades overlap to form pictures of how I view the world. My mind played in time-lapse fashion the moments that had brought us to this point.
I now type in seat 6F as we cross the heartland of the U.S., heading south to reach Guatemala. I fired up the small red notebook that I use while travelling because I wanted to capture my thoughts. As often happens of late… my action led to something unexpected and better than my intentions. The data recovery program activated and began to open a file that I had typed last year.

I remember writing it as a brainstorming session to prepare for a public speaking event. As we glide across the clouds (and Caleb’s head flops about as he tries to sleep sitting up), I cannot remember if I ever used it… but it remarkably captures my thoughts from the reflections in the glass. And so…

I remember the moment when I became aware of myself and the way I saw everything changed. It was the third day of building a 20 x 20 cinder block home on a mountainside in Companero, Guatemala.  The heat of the sunlight blazed down on my back and my jeans were coated with mud and concrete. I was feeling overwhelmed by the realization that we would not be able to finish this home before we had to leave the country. How could I feel this tired and have so little accomplished for this mother and her three children who needed so much?

I came to Guatemala with this concept that I was here to help the poor. My heart was shattered as I knelt in the mud of the footer and realized that the poverty existed within my own soul. My mind seemed to assault itself with rapid memories of encounters I had shared with the people I met.  I thought of the first night we arrived in the country and watched families walking through pouring rain, making their way through running water and debris in their best clothes with smiles on their faces in order to get to church. This church that they built with their own hands and sweat… using materials that each of them could afford to buy… a single brick at a time. I watched them as they worshiped in this church. I stood there and wept as I felt the intense passion of their belief. I had no doubt that they touched the face of God.
I thought of Edgar, how his laughter and smile could explode into the moment and the incredible relationship he shared with his family; his wife, daughters, and son. Edgar had beaten all the odds. He had overcome mountains in his life that had buried so many. He knew who he was and he had the vision to see what could be… through the dust of what was.

And Ramero… this man changed my life with his own. Have you heard of iron sharpening iron? Never have I seen such life in any person. He would work all day and then he would clean up, change clothes, and lead worship at his church. Larry Renner was on the trip and at 6 o’clock one evening we were all dead tired and beaten by the day. Ramero had not slowed, in fact he seemed to pick up his pace as the day grew long and the sun shadowed the evening. Larry asked him, “don’t you ever get tired?” Ramero smiled, shook his head and replied, “nunca cansado” meaning, never tired.” But more amazing than even that… was the way his oldest boy looked at him at the end of the day.
These men represented everything that I had always heard about God. True belief was the fuel of their lives. They poured everything into serving and loving in the moment. I knew that I wanted to be that kind of man. I wanted to live out my belief. I desired to be looked at by my wife and children the way that I saw theirs looking at them.

I looked across the village that day and I realized that I had a choice. I had seen true belief. I had experienced what happens when love is allowed to give your eyes sight. And so, I had a choice. Truth is powerful stuff.  Unless I shielded my eyes from its intensity… I would be forever changed. I cried that day. I cried because I saw who I was in the light of those who had allowed their lives to be changed by belief… I did not measure up.

To love someone means that you make yourself vulnerable to them. It means that you are changed when you see them hurt. It means that you are challenged when you see them rise against unbeatable odds and soar with greater faith than you have ever held. It means that you can not stand still and not be moved by them. When I allowed my heart to be open to this love… my life forever changed. I had come to Guatemala to be on a mission trip to help the poor. And it was my own poverty that dropped me to my knees as I accepted the incredible richness that poured from the lives of these incredible people who embraced the hope and joy of a savior.

Loving people in the margins… helped me see the measure of my own soul.
…and so, we go again into the margins of places to travel, perspectives to consider, and life to be lived. We have found our purpose here in the margin and we widen it to consume the entire page. As we increase the scope of the margin, I realize how small are the cares, fears, and selfish excuses that once filled the page.

Here is the truth I find… that in the book of my life, it is God who writes in the margins. He allows me to read it in the reflection of his light in the lives of those who surround me. And as I look back, He is often much closer than He appeared.

Sorting 3000 lbs of donations!
Newly Completed Team House!!!
I look forward to noticing his proximity in the eyes of those we walk with this week. I post this with a cup of CRI Java in my cup!