Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bienvenidos: Broken & Blessed

A very welcome sign indeed. This week is our first week living on the grounds of Catalyst Resources International as part of the staff. It is the first week in our new home, and also the first week of two this year that our launch church, Journey Church Cincinnati is serving as a team in Cerro Alto.

This week we are working with two families as we build their new homes from the ground up. Both homes are in sight of this sign that leads to the two areas where Kellie and I have been honored to build homes over the past 3 summers, Cerro Alto and Labor de Falla.

On Monday we pulled up to this now familiar fork in the road and I smiled as I realized that both paths were equally worn, and we have travelled them both (yes, nod to Frost). My mind flips through a synapsed photobook of the families that we have come to know deeply. In fact, this week I have held many children in my arms that now rest their heads on pillows, tucked in a bed,  sheltered by a roof, and securely locked behind a door... and I am eternally grateful to have been a small part of this story.

This story that is God's story. I am no great man. I will never be. I do not aspire to be. I want to be a man that is patient and kind with his family, who aggressively seizes life by the reigns of his belief. I want to love big, and live extravagantly. I want to cut boards, play with kids, unite families, and leave this world fully spent.

I mean... I want to live a life that gives, that teaches, that embraces the full meaning of who God created us to be. I want to walk big in His story. He doesn't need me to get the job done, but I sure need Him to understand what it means to live fully.

The first time I encountered the people of Guatemala, I found myself hiding in a dusty ally corner on my knees in tears. I was broken by the stark contrast of the poverty of my soul silhouetted by the fulness of life that shined from the family that would live in the house we labored together to build.

This week marks the arrival of a destination that was began in my soul at that moment. This week I work alongside members of that family. I am overwhelmed by the joy that continues in my soul, and so thankful that God broke my life on that dusty hillside. 

I came that day to build a home, but the real construction began as the hard ground of my heart was split open by the pick-axe of truth. I wanted beyond anything to live a life that demonstrated my belief in the existence of an omnipotent God. 

Here we are. It is astounding. It is amazing. It is nothing less than a miracle. I pray that we never forget this journey. These steps that have brought us this far. Like a broken in pair of boots that stir the dust on a familiar path, may my soul fit with a deep felt peace into this place.

This weekend is our first preview Sunday for Journey Church Guatemala. I will be sharing with our congregation the mission and vision of our gathering as we pour everything we have into connecting people to Christ and the Church. I ask you to pray with me that I communicate the heart of God... that I am able to convey the words in a way that changes lives.

We are slowly filling our home with furniture that will allow us a place to recharge, and from where we launch big missions. We are getting our hands back into the work that began a change in our everything, and we are easing into our roles as Campus Pastor and Teacher, respectively. We also are beginning the processes of Guatemala Resident status and laying ground work for our mission to the abandoned children of Guatemala.

So yes, we feel welcomed. Oh yes, we are at home. We look forward to hosting you with the world's best coffee, a toasty fire on a cool evening, and the opportunity to allow the surface of your heart to be shattered by the power found in the wise eyes of a mother filled with tears of gratitude as your heart joins hers in a wonder-filled gaze at the face of God.

Bienvenidos. Welcome.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hypocritical Musings Where the Blacktop Ends

Roads here are not like roads around my hometown of Cincinnati. In Guatemala, there are a few key highways, each town has a few key boulevards surrounded by streets and avenues, and the pavement ends there.

Many of the routes between villages are in this ENDS THERE area. There is a main route from Antigua to Monterrico that follows the highway system, but we decided to navigate it on our own... through the mountains. The Shepherd family isn’t about taking the easy Gringo way, we came here for keeps, and we figure we want our eyes open now.

Wide Open.

The route we took from Antigua to Monterrico was beyond our imagination. It was beyond what we have even seen in movies. Our Terracan is a powerful AWD diesel and we used its full capacities. When describing the choices of routes, our friend Edgar described this way as the shortest, but added that it is “no bueno.”

If you are in Guatemala and Edgar tells you that something is no bueno, then allow me to suggest that you either avoid it like a hive of angry bees or you be sure that you have your big boy pants on before stepping that way.

Satellite navigation has no respect of one way streets and many streets in Guatemala are one way. It also has no understanding of the fact that throughout much of developed Guatemala, there is no such thing as a left turn. So... even getting out of Antigua can be an exercise of intuitive direction (a skill that we are developing out of necessity).

So we found our way out of Antigua, using Volcan de Aqua as our beacon and began to wind ourselves around her vast base. The road rapidly depleted to a crumbly single lane with occasional breaks in the surface, but we are used to that and I smiled as I lightly held the wheel with my right hand and we cruised on to adventure with the weeks playlist cranking a nice bass line from the speakers.

The next little town, Santa Maria de Jesus was typically beautiful, crowded, chaotic, and uniquely Guatemala. We climbed the hill to the center of the town and then began our descent. We came to the edge of town and made a left hand turn into the outskirts... the pavement abruptly ended. After a few 100 meters I applied the brake and put the truck in PARK. I turned to Kellie who shared my nearly blank and somewhat apprehensive expression. This could not be the way.

We sat at the top of a ridiculously steep incline with no clear road... not even the dirt kind. It was more of a rocky, trash covered moonscape. The path ahead was full of large rocks, deep ruts caused by rain (we are in the rainy season... please lord don’t let it rain) with significant drop offs on either side. Nope... this is too much reality for me. 

I skillfully (you know, backing forward and backwards multiple times while the locals watched from horseback) yes skillfully turned the Terracan around and we headed back into the small town where we pulled over beside a Tienda and recalibrated the navigation. 

After 15 minutes we were convinced that there was no other route. At this point we were committed. We had come to far to take the other route. It was move forward or go back home to Antigua. And so... like I said, we came to this country to stay. So we shook off the jitters and again with skill, this time between a multitude of Americans on short term missions who wouldn’t get out of the street until I revved the big diesel (kind of fun) and the typical randomness of animals, small vehicles, and unexpected obstacles, turned the truck around.

I slowed down at the top of the hill, staring at it a second time. This time with eyes looking for a path, rather than eyes looking at the pitfalls. I dropped the engine into AWD, geared down and we safely made our passage. I commented to Kellie that I think the name of the town was originally just, "Santa Maria" but when people drove down that hill... so many of them cry out to Jesus that it became, "Santa Maria de JESUS!"

I had no idea that this would be by far the easiest hill we would navigate.

 I checked the fuel gauge and remarked to Kellie, “I am not worried about our diesel level right now, but in an hour I will be.” We considered the distance to be covered and decided that we would be fine. Surely this mountain terrain absent of a road would not continue for long. We would come out the other side shortly, find a good road, and refuel at the first service station we saw. No worries.

We would not see pavement for nearly two hours.

About 30 minutes into the trip I realized what we were driving on... it was a horse path. We were the only vehicle making this trip. As we crunched, climbed, and bobbed our way through the mountain pass... we received many looks of amusement and amazement from Guatemalans on horseback.

But... it wasn’t just a horse trail. There was a second type of vehicle that frequented these paths deep into the mountains... massive industrial trucks that were tasked with garbage removal. It was right when we noticed that our green dot on navigation had finally reached the halfway point that we crested a turn and realized that our path ended directly into a massive dump. 

Again I stopped the truck in disbelief. I noticed my knuckles where white-gripping the wheel and my shirt somehow instantly stuck to my back. I was so far beyond my comfort zone that I realized that none of us are ever really safe. In the vehicle with me was my wife and my three kids. The buck stops with me. I take a breath, make a joke, and we begin to make our way through mountains of trash (doing my best to avoid glass), shifting surfaces, massive trucks that make no effort to avoid our path, countless dogs, and desperate people who watch our shiny vehicle pass over and throw their endless search for edible food.

A couple of men on horseback rode up to our vehicle and walked beside us. I do not know their intent. Although the a/c is broken on our truck and the air was stifling, our black tinted windows remained tightly closed as I wrestled with the conflicting feelings of wanting to reach out and make contact with these beautiful people who are desperate for the same things that I want... and realizing that it could also be very unwise to do so.

We came to Guatemala to serve... and we are driving on our way to the beach through poverty... and I felt overwhelmingly hypocritical as we passed them by.

I have no justification for this. We are a family who God has called to serve. Our preparation is complete... our mission begins in 2 weeks. We took this break as a respite for our family. The kids have given up everything... friends, belongings, grandparents, their school, their language, their culture. 

And still... it is not an easy thing to take this break. I fear that people looking in will think poorly of our intentions, that we just came here on their goodwill to play. I have had family tell me exactly those words. This time is a necessary breath of air for our family. We are here for keeps. There will be time to serve. More at times than we can handle... 

We passed through the area, with me deep in thought, the sobering reality juxtaposed with my own story had driven out the fear in my mind. The condition of the road somehow worsened at this point. We were now descending rather than climbing... the turns were steeper, the corners tighter, the road surface was covered with large boulders that threatened the undercarriage of the vehicle.

I worried about our tires blowing. I had a spare and I knew I could change it... but my imagination considered the possibility of two failed tires. We continued to descend. My shirt was absolutely soaked now with a combination of the heat and the level of concentration required to keep four tires on the path. My fingers now ached from the long tight grip that I had been maintaining on the wheel as I constantly rotated it back and forth to avoid holes, rocks, and stay clear of the unforgivable ledges.

There simply was no room for error.

Navigation showed us that we were 3/4 of the way through. I had kept glancing at our fuel gauge since we first left that little town. We were now at 1/16 of a tank of diesel. I considered our reality, and then I turned down the stereo and addressed my family.

“It could be that we run out of fuel before we get to the main road. We are close enough to walk though, so I need you all to decide now what you want to carry with you. We can’t take it all, and we have to consider that whatever we leave behind will be taken. The people here aren’t bad, they’re just desperate. 
So, I need you to think of where your electronics and hard to replace valuables are. If we run out of fuel, we need to be mobile within two minutes and making our way down the mountain. Does everyone understand? We will be fine, but we need to grab what is essential, stuff it in your pack, and make our way to the city.”

The reality was that we could not sit in a stalled vehicle. We would be too vulnerable. Crime is typically not as big of an issue outside of the cities, but we needed to get off this mountain before nightfall. If we moved quickly and efficiently... we could make it.

Driving as quickly as the path allowed... racing against time.
The gauge continued to fall and it seemed to fall faster the farther it fell... like gravity was pulling it towards a terminal velocity. I found myself talking to the truck like a coach, “come on, you can do it... give me these last few kilometers.” I kept the stereo playing and the conversation light as I also was in constant communication with God. I was just asking for His eyes to be on our situation, and for me to make the right calls. I thought of Him turning water to wine and I thought of Him blessing the loaves and fishes.

I also thought of the apostles who suffered, of Abraham who was asked to sacrifice His only son, and I understood that we are not promised safety simply because we follow Him. Rather, I believe that suffering is a necessary part of following God. I have no doubt that our ministry and our family will be required to pay that price. I was aware that the bill could arrive on this day.

I noticed 3 cell phone towers on the horizon. Our path was winding us them. The altimeter had fallen to just a few meters above sea level. The fuel gauge had somehow stopped falling. I didn’t allow myself to contemplate why.

We made what was just another of countless ridiculous turns in the road, and found ourselves now driving in a dry river bed towards a significant city. As we passed underneath the interstate that was our next leg in the trip... I considered the storm clouds in the distance. I understood where the water would surge if the sky opened up.

I laughed as I remembered the description of this route, “es no bueno.”

Our navigation was malfunctioning and sent us into a dead end where the road had collapsed just as we entered the city. There was room to turn around... but only just enough. There was the road behind us, and drop offs on the other 3 sides. For the third time I put the truck in PARK to collect my wits. We could not stay here. Our fuel was nearly depleted. We were not in a safe part of the city.

I dropped the windows so that we could all lean out and watch the edges. The concrete had actually crumpled and fallen in places... so I didn’t want to get my tires near those edges. Backing up wasn’t a desirable option either, the way wasn’t safe.

We had come so far and our nerves where shot. I remembered breathing training in yoga that allowed me to extend muscles and hold painful poses. I employed those breaths and techniques in that moment as I listened for the sound of rubber tires slipping on loose concrete. And this time... with true skill and care, I turned that vehicle around. I prayed for guidance, and began making turns based on gut feeling.

We came through a narrow alley to a busy 4 lane highway. A fuel station sat on the other side. Even a day ago I would not have attempted the crossing. But after the experience of the past two hours I had gained a new sense of determination and confidence. I eased out into the traffic and made my way across... Guatemalan style. Traffic won’t stop for you, but people don’t want to hit you either.

I used my 2-year old level of Spanish and purchased Q400 worth of diesel. To our shock we were refueling on the street that we needed. The highway that would take us to the Pacific Coast.

So what do you think of our little adventure? Perhaps you believe I embellished it to thrill you? Or maybe I toned it down a little so that you don’t think us too risky or foolish. I guess all you can really do is take my word for it... and know that I may have even chosen both.

What I can do is tell you what I learned. I was reminded of our mission. I was forced to contemplate where we’ve been, what we have to face, and what the reality is of our circumstance. I believe even a little bit more than before that WHO we are is not based on our context. It is based on the content of our soul.

I am reminded of the great C.S. Lewis... and smile as I think of His words that so perfectly fit our context. 

We are Surprised By Joy. 

Even when the time comes that we are required to suffer... the real promises of God will kick in. We can have Peace that passes understanding, and we can have Joy in times of trouble.  We are promised that in this world we will have trouble... but we are also told to take heart, because God has overcome the world.

I think we are going to take the long way back to Antigua, but if you are ever out my way and you want to flirt a little with adventure... just say the word. 

I know this route to Monterrico. It is a shorter distance, but it is no bueno.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"A Man Carrying a Water Jug Will Meet You..."

So... you want to do something meaningful? Something that will forever change your world? 

Do you ever just simply feel... lost?

Two friends named Pete & Jon once asked a simple question to a man who gave them some crazy sounding advice. They asked him, "where do you want us to go?"

He said,

A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him home. Then talk to the owner of the house and say,
The Teacher wants to know, ‘Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’  
He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare the meal there.”

How do you carry YOUR water?

The women here carry it on their heads, but I prefer to heft it on my shoulder. And I am carrying it now, and like the story above... I am sent to meet you.

If you want answers. If you feel a deep desire for something more... even if you feel skeptical and full of doubt. 

Let me meet you here. Follow me as I carry mine. I need as many to walk beside me as possible. We can carry the life it brings together. 

Come here and ask God to show you something meaningful. Come here and lift up the small life of a child... or two... or maybe even an entire village.

I promise you that when you lift up that child... you will find that it is YOUR world that has been changed.

So... how do you carry YOUR water?

Mission trips for 2014 are being booked now. You can come and serve by:
  • Building a home for a widow & her children
  • Constructing a Tilapia farm or sustainable farming
  • Building & setting up a chicken business for a family
  • Serving in a medical or dental clinic
  • Holding a Vacation Bible School for children
  • Feeding and nurturing a school of children
  • Volunteering in an orphanage & loving babies
  • Or just tell me what you want to do...
Find out more at the link below... and then hit me up at

Begin your mission trip here:

~Story Source: Luke 22

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Beautiful Life Among the Ruins

It is the condition of our hearts, not the context of our situation that defines who we become.

 We do not allow our circumstance to dictate our reality. 

The coals glowed with the heat that we could feel against our skin as the now familiar smell of wood smoke filled our breath.  The sound of ground corn and water being patted between palms carried over the hardened dirt floor as it has for well beyond a thousand years. The history seems to reach out and make itself known here.

Earlier in the day I had been touched from the outstretched arm of a destitute and broken woman on the street... the tactile nature of this sense of history was no less real.

According to lore, the last eruption of Mt. Agua was over 1000 years ago. While the validity of the local claim is unclear, history does record a massive earthquake in 1773, the same that destroyed Antigua.

What is amazing is to learn how each time the cities were destroyed, they were rebuilt larger and even more beautiful. Tradition remained intact and no effort was made to hide the scars. And that is the real beauty of this land... the cities have been rebuilt among the ruins of the past. The old walls still stand, and the people from the youngest to the oldest can recount the stories that make them who they are today. 

Kellie and I ate a chicken stew that was grown, harvested, and prepared by the families with whom we dined. Chicken, carrots, spices, rice, tortillas, and coffee that was all ground and cooked by blade, stone, hand, and fire.
There was an innate honesty about the food we ate from earthen bowls and glazed cups. We were transported back to a different time, possibly even a better time, or a least a simpler time. A time where things like history, family, tradition, and even love seemed to rule the day.

Of course... we have history and it also shows us the dark pieces of that time, but for this small moment today, we allowed ourselves to celebrate all that is good.

(Yes, that is Kellie... my fearless, fierce, and beautiful wife) Everyone should try carrying a large pottery basin filled with water... simpler times of course did not means easier times. 

But for this bit of earth, the advance of technology hasn't yet stamped out the culture, and for Kellie and I, the day was filled with lessons not just of language and history, but also of integrity and character.

It is good to remember the path that has brought us here. It is even beautiful to look at the ruins of the past and to see the rich heritage and the steps that made us who we are. 

We continue on these steps to lead us forward, and we are thankfully aware of the deep meaning that surrounds both our bodies and our souls as we find this beautiful life among the ruins.

Overlooking San Antonio, Guatemala (complete with volcano)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Journey Church - Guatemala!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 - A contract is signed for JourneyChurch Guatemala to begin meeting at the Christian Academy of Guatemala campus.

Already God is pulling together an incredible core team to Grand Open our new Sunday Morning Gathering on August 18, 2013.

We are a church community- a group of people gathered together striving to learn about and LIVE out God's love. All are welcome and invited on this Journey.

BIG things are in store as missionaries & Guatemalans are drawn together to be a place where people who are far from God can be close to Him and His people.

We believe that our hopes and dreams and passions are gifts from God--a glimmer of God's identity that was breathed into us in the beginning of time. Our wildest dreams and deepest passions are only hints of the heart of God. We long to capture that, to enjoy that, to own it, and to encourage one another to step into it. ~LIVE BIG.

If you are in Guatemala, you are invited to join us and become a part of connecting people to Christ and the Church.

God's purposes for our lives and for our community are grander than we can imagine. We acknowledge & welcome the unexpected, the surprising, the seemingly impossible. We anticipate that we may not yet have imagined some of God's purposes for us.

If you are not in Guatemala... you might consider finding a way to get here.

~Sections in bold taken from Welcome To Journey
A Guide to Partnering with Journey Church 

For information in Guatemala
Contact Chad Shepherd
Campus Pastor