Friday, January 31, 2014

¡Feliz año nuevo chino! 中国新年快乐

Thursday, March 8, 2012: 11:30 P.M. we carried her through the doorway of our home for the first time. It seems unbelievable that she has been with us for less than 2 years.

Those of you who know us, know that you simply can't imagine our family without her. Sterling Mei Shepherd… our "crazy and dangerous" little girl.

Her eyes watch me every day and challenge me to be a better man. I made a promise to keep her and never abandon her. I gave my word and took an oath with my right hand raised in a communist office in Guangzhou. "I promise."

So today we celebrate Chinese New Year with our little chino-girl here in San Lucas, Sacatepequez, Guatemala. She knows just as much Spanish as she does English. She is growing up fully bi-lingual. 

Sterling has friends here from all over the globe, even from Korea and China! Her smile brightens our day and her presence reminds us of the powerful love that is adoption. She is our daughter… fully… completely… and today we celebrate her culture.

Happy Chinese New Year 2014!

Last year's blog on the same event.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"O Captain! My Captain!" When Our Heroes Are Fallen.

"I fluxuate in the course of a day from feeling like a strong crusader, to feeling like a black-cloaked betrayer, to simply feeling delusional, and then back to believing I underestimate God. At the end of the day… I am them all. 
There are times when running feels like an inviting option. But realistically I could never set my feet to go. It would make me an oath-breaker, an abandoner, a quitter, a doubter, and the ripples would be eternal.
I can't call us frauds, because I've never seen the genuine article. Everyone I know is deeply screwed up. Even my heroes fall… we are none of us saints. I have no doubt that the gates of Hell are against us because of the pivotal nature of this time."
-excepts of a note to my wife, a time not so long ago

Everyone… and I mean everyone I talk to always asks the same question like the cawing of a crow. It is simply the truth of our experience they really want to know. And yet I wonder, where the truth lies deep… should I give it breath, would they  only hear defeat?

All the cards are on the table right now. We are fully extended, and we are too far gone to come back now. This is what it means to be past the point of no return. We can no longer feel the heat of the ship that burned behind us. There are times when we miss the glow of that fire when the air carries a sharp silence along the darkness.

This is the unglamorous time of a missionary. The thrill of a beginning has gone evanescent and yet we have very little to tangibly show for our efforts. We have thrown our entire lot into this sacred calling: all our finances, all our relationships, the future of our marriage, and the well-being of our children. We have done this with prayer, preparation, and eyes wide open.

And we rely on those behind us who have pledged to hold us up… spiritually, financially, morally. But the reality is that it is not thrilling to pay for electricity, tanks of propane, gasoline & diesel for transportation, and even to put food on our table. And support money for our existence runs thinner every month. That knowledge becomes a presence that can sit over our heads like a black animate cloud with claws. 

We have secured the property for Casa de la Abuelita, Journey Church | Guatemala is growing and thriving, the kids are flourishing and growing, our work at the two schools seems to expand the Kingdom of God daily. God is blessing our endeavors at every turn. People's lives are being changed and God surprises us daily with his promises fulfilled. This mission is blessed!

And still… it is like the tolling of a bell when the tangible evidence of our support continues to dwindle. The bell grows softer and the darkness threatens to consume. Perhaps this is a necessary test of faith for me. There must be something I am meant to learn. Maybe I need to be less self-consumed, or live leaner, or maybe I just need to be further broken. Maybe I have too much pride… or not enough compassion. Maybe I just need to further abandon self. I think likely it is all that, and more.

I draw hope today in the life of Carman Licciardello. He is a christian who travelled the world while I was in high school, packing out coliseums and concert halls… never charging admission. His music and faith was powerful. Carman has been hit with cancer, and he has made his fight public. I have watched him as he faced death… I could feel him wanting to rage, but choosing to praise. 

So many of my heroes have fallen. Every time they do it is a piece of my heart that seems to die. I spoke with a man who runs an inner-city substance abuse recovery program in the city (Guatemala City) and he explained when the famous Televangelist fell in the 90's, how it cost his mission and missionaries all over the globe dearly… funding sources dried up as people lost their faith when this prominent man proved to be a charlatan. We are all such creatures of imperfection… and yet we all long to see something genuine.

May God give us strength as we reach for the only truth in the universe… Him. May we daily die to be more like… Him. Because our heroes will fall. There is no righteousness apart from God. We press on.

We are doing our best to make up the shortfall. This incredible opportunity at the school where I pour my life into the lives of 200 Guatemalan students… it covers the cost of our monthly rent. We have 5 key families and 5 key churches that blow us away with their passion and generosity. We have a great friend who will be running races, every footfall raising money for our family. We know God will provide…

…if we remain faithful. If we forsake all others in this calling. If we are willing to die daily to self and be made alive only through him.

I have no doubt that something great is just on the verge. I can feel electricity in the air. And yet… the cliff is a dangerous place to stand.

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

~Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Caught By A Member of the 18th Street Gang

This is a true story. My life is surreal. This day was the type of day that some people spend their lives hoping to live. I am nothing. Just a character in this epic story that is the greatest story of all time.

I stepped into the car of David Toledo, the House Band Leader of Journey Church Guatemala. I was armed with my Bible on my hip and Jesus by my side. We were heading into the capital city in Guatemala where I was to deliver a sermon to a group of men. It was a christian rehabilitation program, and Roberto was graduating. It was to be a redemption story.

So off I go… 7 months deep into this country, speaking very little of the language, deciding to use no notes as I spoke and David was to translate. 

This past week I listened to a message recorded from my childhood. The words of Clifford Hutchinson had reached to me across decades as I listened to him preach, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."

And so I went, armed with the words of Cliff's testimony, along with my own story of adopting a baby who had been condemned to die in Russia… and how God honored our faith and restored her health.

It was a powerful moment as language barriers fell and soon I was shouting and praising God with a group of men who felt fully the strength and power of a loving God. They had known weakness, and they had fought back to life. They had tapped into the power that is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

It was in the moments that followed that something so significant happened that I still can not fully wrap my mind around it. While sharing styrofoam cups of authentic Guatemalan Hot chocolate that had been boiling in a large iron pot for hours… I met Marcos.

Marcos was born in Guatemala, and then moved with his parents to L.A. Marcos was a man my age now. His dark black hair was perfectly cut and combed back with every strand in place. His clothes were immaculate, and his English was far better than my Spanish. He spoke softly and I felt strongly drawn to his spirit.

Marcos' face was covered in blue tattoos… along with what I could see of his hands, arms, neck. His shirt was buttoned nearly to the top, but I could see that his chest was also heavily tattooed. He began to speak as I listened to his story.

The 18th Street Gang is ranked as the #5 most deadliest gang in the world. It began in San Francisco, and is one of the two prominent gangs that make Guatemala the deadliest country in this hemisphere. The tattooed man standing and talking to me over hot chocolate is a member. I say is, because you are never allowed to leave.

While he was a child in L.A., his father was assassinated by a gang hit. Marcos grew up in his father's footsteps and grew in prominence as a gang member. His face now bore the acts that gained him that status. Three tears were tattooed from his eye, along with countless other symbols.

Marcos served hard time in Mexico, and in the United States. He served 18 months of solitary confinement in Leavenworth Penitentiary and eventually gave his heart to Jesus while attending a service in prison. From that moment on, his life changed. This prominent member of one of the world's most feared gangs… became a child a God and an ambassador of Christ.

He made his way across the U.S., and through Mexico, crossing the Guatemalan boarder… only to have all his assets seized by corrupt agents. He made his way into the capital with 50 Quetzales in his pocket (about $8.00).

He had felt God calling him to a specific inner city mission where he could reach out to the men of the 18th Street Gang. This would mean risking his life daily… trying to connect these gang members to the God who loved him. He arrived to the mission, only to find that the missionary was absent, away in the U.S. on furlough.

And so Marcos lived on the street, praying through the days and sleeping on the doorstep of the mission at night… until the missionary returned, heard his story, and immediately hired him to lead the staff.

Marcos now counsels and guides men from the prisons of addiction and gang violence… piecing their lives together and leading them to Christ. He was recently featured on national Guatemalan television (with his face shadowed to protect his identity) and he told his story of hope, of courage, of his conviction to reach out to save men of the 18th Street Gang… even at the very real risk of losing his own life.

This is a man who was among the deadliest in the world, who now puts his own life on the line daily… to save others.

I was in a fog. This day could simply not have been more surreal. I had preached a 30 year old sermon, from a giant of a man of faith from Middletown, Ohio to a room full of recovery addicts and gang members in Guatemala city. I had worshiped with a man who just a few years earlier would have cut my throat without remorse.

I shook his hand one last time and I turned to the steep concrete and steel 3rd floor staircase. My boot caught the edge of uneven concrete and I began to fall.

Marcos reached out and caught my arm. My feet on the edge and my body over the expanse.

Our eyes caught in that moment. What kind of convergence must happen in this universe for this type of thing to take place? How great is our God that this 18th Street Gang member catches me as I am about to tumble? Had we met just a few years earlier… the outcome would have been so different.

And yet… here we are, working together in Guatemala. 

Pastor Hutchinson… I carry your message, and so does a member of the 18th Street Gang. 

Hebrews 13:8 - Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

(Names and some facts changed to protect identities).

Update: several weeks after I met Marco's, he was shot and killed outside of the mission.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Notes from Seminary: (1) To Be A Citizen in the Kingdom of God

To Be A Citizen in the Kingdom of God
by Chad Shepherd - Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 10:34 PM

Point #9: A Discussion

How can we encounter the eternal God of the universe who forfeited all power and right to stand in our place? How could I see the full extend of His love and not be likewise and powerfully changed? It seems to scream out from the pages of the book and the experience of my life… that to see Him is to be immediately and forever changed. Participation in the Kingdom becomes a deep desire when I recognize that His image imprinted on my own soul is the reflection that soothes my searching eyes. Yes, I believe this is the unspoken assumption, or rather a question that penetrates to the heart of any who would profess to have seen this most powerful God. How has it changed you? Do you carry the vision with your every step? Surely if our vision has changed, our feet will lead us toward our gaze.

Are we interested in discipling? It seems that if we have received the nature of God pouring vertically down into our hearts, then the irresistible and inevitable reaction will be that our finite hearts can not hold His abundance and so then would necessary flow out onto others. 

Does Jesus seek followers who have been transformed? I think of the contrast of those who dropped their nets against the story of the rich young ruler who allowed part of his life to separate him from following completely. It seems that to follow Jesus… simply and utterly demands that we place nothing else before Him. If we have not been transformed, then it must be that we have not fully seen Him for who He is. This reminds me of the disciples in the boat during the storm when Jesus asked them, do you still not know who I am?

Yes… seeing Him for who He truly is, will transform us. We recognize this transformation and feel the familiarity of the One who made us. As a caterpillar cannot transform into a frog, so can our souls only be transformed into our Father's likeness.

Emerging from the cocoon with outstretched wings, we take to the air. This flight is noticeable! It is shocking. It is dramatic. The Kingdom of God is present in our actions. The effect is unignorable.

I used to live parallel lives. My life in business, and my life with church people. There came a point in my life where I determined that as long as I was split between the two worlds, the two Kingdoms, that a was neither fully in either. I could only be the adopted son of the living God. That reality changed everything. There was nothing else that I would rather be, and so I claimed that birthright with every breath.

Kingdom transformation… I love that term! Yes, bad things do happen. However, I serve a God who can work amidst the storm. Even Jesus Himself promised us… in this world you will have trouble. And yet, in my own life, these times of trouble have been reworked to display His grace and strength and love, backdropped fully against my failings.

While I do not downplay the significance of individual responsibility and accountability, and I do not believe that salvation is a collective experience, I do believe fully in the New Testament example of the first century church, that illustrated this ultimate command of loving God and loving your neighbor. We are all the creation of God. How do we think evil thoughts about a man or woman that is created in the image of the God who saved us? It reminds me of the story of Saul on the road to Damascus. Sometimes I need to be struck down by the blinding truth obedience to His love is my only true path.

I love this concept that our walk with God is a lifelong journey. We do not arrive and then relax… but we must take the steps daily, pressing forward, always seeking. We can drop the nets to and follow like the early disciples, but following Him is more than a one time experience. It is, like Paul described, dying daily.

This idea that it takes more than intellect, more than knowledge is one that is dear to my heart. I come from a family that has several pastors. Through watching their life stories and by listening at their knees since I was on training wheels, I have to understand (even more through my own life) that the promises of God… the joy, the peace, it comes from our obedience. it comes from our doing. It comes from understanding our full reliance on God. It comes from seeing thankfulness reflected in the eyes of a man who receives your help underserved, and then recognizing that this is the look that you need to have when you look up to God.

In short… are we walking with the values of the Kingdom? Do people see in us evidence of our citizenship? How do we encounter the God that created everything, who gave it all up to cover our unpayable debt, just to bring us close to Him? How can we not show evidence in our living of this great love that saved us? I believe that if we encounter Him, we are irrevocably and forever changed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"You see us as you want to see us…"

Brian Johnson: Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...
Andrew Clark: ...and an athlete...
Allison Reynolds: ...and a basket case...
Claire Standish: ...a princess...
John Bender: ...and a criminal...
Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?
- Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

I was that guy today. Nope, not the cool kid, not even the athlete or the basket case… I was the other guy in the quote. I was Mr. Vernon. And it felt so strange…because I more identify with the Breakfast Club that I do my new role as Administrative Coordinator of the Christian American School.

I am responsible for teacher administration, student discipline, parent & community contacts, and spiritual guidance.

In fact… this all occurred to me while I was administering a detention to 7 students. They entered the room and were greeted with the following on the whiteboard:

Welcome to YOUR detention.
You WILL sit quietly.
You WILL write a paragraph on what behavior brought you here.
You WILL write a 2nd paragraph on what YOU could have done better.
You WILL write a 3rd paragraph on what you will do differently in the future.
And then, You WILL give a 3 minute speech, explaining it all to me.
-Mr. Shepherd

The good Lord knows I've served enough detentions to know how they work best. I received absolutely no complaints or gruff. They all did what I told them to do. I had my intense face on. But inside… I was thinking of The Breakfast Club.

And as my mind does, I reflected on the long road that has brought me here. And then I felt overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. I give thanks to the God, my King and Father. Only His plan would land me here. I am the record holder of tardiness at Preble Shawnee High School in Camden Ohio. I racked up 38 tardies, served countless detentions, in-school and after school, and multiple days of dreaded Saturday School. And finally… they quit counting.

I laughed and shared my own story before I required them to tell their own. I confessed my transgressions and then sat down with them to pour a little of my life into their souls. Who knows what they thought?

"You see us as you want to see us…" Mr. Shepherd. Yes, I do. I see you as myself. I see you as a loaded spring. I see you able to accomplish far more than you can imagine. I see you as God sees you.

Chad Shepherd
Administrative Coordinator
Bible Teacher
The Christian American School

San Cristobal, Guatemala
Accredited & Christian Based Learning
Students find direction here.
Middle & High School Chapel
Teaching Godliness & Vision using
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 and the Bible.
After all, "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."

And to the Raven I say, "Evermore! Evermore!"

Anderson, our alma mater, guide of soul and mind
thou has taught within thy borders
to aid all mankind.

So for this thy noble purpose may our best avail;
friend of all that's good and upright,
hail to thee, all hail.

And so it begins… again. Once again I find myself at this inexplicable place, a place that is only found by the grace of God. It is written that God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the chosen. For me, life recently has been a series of responses to God. And each time it goes like this… 

"Do what? NO. Oh…yes, God."

It is a "NO" because that is always the rational answer. It is a "NO" because I recognize that I am not qualified. And yet… it turns to a "yes, God" because He speaks clearly to me that He demands it. He has sent me here at this time, to this place, to simply be faithful. And so I step forward. I step forward knowing that I do not have the means to do so. And then He simply provides the way.

I pastor a church. I was aware of my lack of a seminary degree. It gnaws at the back of my mind that I am in need of a deeper study of the word of God. But I am a missionary and seminary is expensive. I can't leave what I am doing. It simply can not be.

And then I received a email telling me that the school where I studied my undergraduate work was launching it's first ever online seminary degree and I should apply. I prayed about it and felt that it was right. And so I applied and was shocked to find that I had met the qualifications. 

I told them my story and also told them that I had the ability to pay nothing. I was told of a new scholarship that had just been created that was looking for "Pastors of congregations of about 70 people. Churches that are doing something unique." I pastor a church of about that number (it is growing) and we are a gathering of missionaries and Guatemalans. We speak English and we speak Spanish. We are shattering cultural boundaries and we are connecting people to Christ and the Church. Yes, we are unique, and so I applied.

To my shock… I was granted a full scholarship. My classes begin tomorrow. And so again… I am a Raven. Evermore!

My online self-introduction to my peers:

Hello from Guatemala!
by Chad Shepherd - Sunday, January 12, 2014, 4:58 PM

It is an amazing opportunity to share this forum with each of you. I am thankful for Anderson University and the powerful provision of God that it affords us all. 

My undergraduate degree was completed at A.U. in 1996. Since that time I have worked in mental health, and in corporate management with The Kroger Company. I have studied off and on with The University of Cincinnati, and well as Indiana Wesleyan University to pick up necessary skills for those positions.

This past year my wife and I moved our family to San Lucas, Sacatepequez, Guatemala to become missionaries. We have adopted international children, and we felt God calling us to this place where there is a tremendous need among the children. We are seeking obedience to the call of James in chapter one where he is urged that true and faultless religion is caring for orphans and widows.

Our ministry here has several components, but they all advocate toward this cause… of caring for orphans and widows, with our focus being largely on orphans. My wife teaches as a volunteer at a local school, and I am the Academic Coordinator at a second school. Along with this, I pastor a campus of Journey Church, based in West Chester, Ohio, pastored by Tom Planck.

Journey Church Guatemala is a unique gathering of missionaries and Guatemaltecans who together share the mission of connecting people to Christ and the Church. Together with the two schools, we all share the mission of reaching the children of the community and bringing their families in to fellowship with believers.

My wife, Kellie and I also work with an organization, Catalyst Resources International. We lead short term mission teams into nearby 3rd world villages to offer feeding to children, medical & dental clinics, education, sustainable food projects, and home construction. Priority to relief is given to widowed mothers with children. They must be active in the local church, the children must be in school, and the family must have the endorsement of the local pastor and school director.

The true heartbeat of our presence in Guatemala is the final piece of our mission. We are establishing a home where we can take in 15-30 orphaned children in a residential setting, supported by qualified Guatemalan staff. This process will take several years, and so it affords us to reach out the other directions at this time. 

We have 3 children, Caleb (13), Aleksandra (10), and Sterling (3). Recently we were able to purchase a puppy, a miniature schnauzer that helps our family feel more at home here in our new place. We landed in Guatemala on June 11, 2013, and God has honored our steps as we continue to pursue His vision for our lives.

I look forward to discovering more of His purpose as I learn aside each one of you. God bless.