Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Band of Gypsies

We were due for a re-acquaintence with Highway 122. We loaded up our sweet ride and we hit the open road. The bright morning sunshine gave way to a thick misty fog that hung over the pavement.

I pointed the vehicle north and became one with the highway... man, metal, and asphalt blending into a beautiful road grit symphony.

Alison Krauss & Union Station played from the CD player as the kids fussed and Sterling sucked her thumb. We were on the first leg of a three church Sunday.

I floated along the familiar curves and bends that I know as well as I know my name. Our family and all of our dysfunction rounded a ridge and we looked into the face of Bambi.

Bambi was a bit more started than I was, but not as started as Kellie. As Kellie grabbed the Oh Crap Bar above her head, Bambi ran from the left, to the right, back to the left, turned and faced us, and then began to run straight down the middle of the highway away from us. 

Our tight jawed faces surrendered to laughter as I began toot-toot-tooting the horn to quicken his pace. Bambi survived our encounter and we all seemed a bit more awake.

About 5 minutes down the road I drove into a bird. THUMP!

Two small birds... sitting in the middle of the road, seeming to be at some sort of game of nerve. One flew left, the other flew into the bumper of the Shepmobile. I'd say the winner is the breather.

Our safari was made complete with the sighting of not one, but two large hawks, a fast running squirrel, and what was either a piece of tire or a dead black snake. I'm pretty sure I saw the splatter of the squished out insides, and so I'm calling it a snake.

A mandatory country detour and nearly two hours later we pulled up to our destination, The First Church of God in Ansonia, Ohio.

What an incredible morning! They are sending 4 people to serve with us next week and they had the mission table set up and donations were being collected! We joined them for introductions and Q&A, and then jumped into the service. It was VBS celebration Sunday!

Sterling fit in well... the theme was Weird Animals. She seemed most content in the center of the stage. She had to wait her turn until after the multitude of kids completed their songs! The students knew their daily Bible verses and sang all the songs from the week. It was beautiful moment that ended with our family up front and prayer.

The best part about joining churches on Sunday is that church people like to eat! We dove in to foods that we just can't find in Guatemala: fresh sliced turkey breast, smoked ham, swiss cheese, honest to God homemade salads, mac 'n cheese, and little old lady made desserts! Heaven.

We made many new friends, and soon will welcome them at the airport in Guatemala. We look forward to an incredible week! Soon it was time to pack up.

A beautiful day, a beautiful drive, a beautiful church, and a beautiful lady at my side. This was a good day.

And so back down 122 we rode, with no more animal encounters and me the sole conscious human. I smiled as I dropped into cruising speed, avoided cops, and we made our way to the next two churches: Poasttown Church of God that blessed us with a donation, prayer, and even let me preach (brave souls) and then on to Breiel Boulevard where I peeked into their production of Weird Animals.

I ended the night kidnapped by my uncle and zooming back down some of those same country roads in his bright yellow Boxter, hands in the air...

...thinking that we'll be on a plane heading back to the mountains of Guatemala...

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends...

(Thanks Mr. Willie Nelson. BTW, you look really different now. It kind of freaks me out.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Walking through the Valley

Anderson University | the valley

She runs through the valley like time on fast approach. Arms flailing and staccato laughs as she pink-shoes across the grass.

I consider my own four year sprint through these grounds as I desperately pursued direction in the shadow of the theology school. I was sure I was aimless, but those years prepared me for such a time...

Eternal Flame | outside of Decker Hall
I am drawn deeply to this place. I hope to contribute to it some day. I feel powerfully drawn to the legacy that founded it and a degree of accountability to see that the horizon remains level with the foundation. 

Helios |  in front of Hartung Hall

I smile, realizing the distance we've covered since Kellie and I were undergrads on this campus. We laugh as we recount the unveiling of this fountain. It is surreal to see Sterling reach across the sunlight and ripple the surface.
Adam W. Miller Chapel  |  Stained Glass

A distant touch on the veil of our souls still creates concentric rings in our own lives. This place shaped us. Truth imbedded within seems to resonate stronger with the proximity of our origins and the convergence of our path.

There is a peace here where Russia, China, and Guatemala all run home. This day is just a simple handshake and soul refuge. 

Garden  |  outside of Byrum Hall

Friday, July 11, 2014

An Unexpected Journey - Incarceration!

We ran in different circles. Well, that may not be entirely accurate. He ran in a circle. He was a football player. He was smooth and he knew what to say. His clothes had the right shade, color, crease, and label. He could smile at girls at make them laugh. He knew how to fight. He ran with the kids who ruled the halls and ran the world.

I sat alone. I slipped in with the echo of the bell and walked out the side entrance at the end of the day. My table for lunch was at the far left corner. I sat there alone each day, contemplating everything and nothing.

This day is different. He and I, we both sit alone... on opposite sides of a glass in a room secured from both sides. Our divergent paths collide. There is no looking away.

I had sat in the folding steel chair while he was brought into the space on the other side. He wasn't the person I remembered, but then again... as he sized me up I realized he didn't recognize me either.

As most things in life, simplicity did not provide me passage to this place. I was met at the main dispatch wall of Middletown City Police, and turned away. The friendly but overly assertive lady told me a line I'm sure she repeats over and over to folks who just won't listen. "Visitation is gained by appointment. You must call at 7 a.m. and request a time. Next visitation block is Saturday at 6 p.m. 

I took the slip and walked away disappointed. He was so close. I am usually so far away. I was sure that it was right for me to see him today. Too many chance encounters had aligned for me to meet his mother sitting behind me at church on Sunday... to learn we were both from Preble County, that I had graduated with her son, and that he was incarcerated.

I walked away feeling dejected. I had been sure this was a God thing. Why do I have so much trouble discerning the voice of God? 

Suddenly an obvious realization stopped me. I stood still and smiled as I remembered the card in my wallet. I am a licensed clergy member... I am Rev. Chad P. Shepherd. I've never had cause to use it. I've never claimed the credential. I wondered if it would work? I wasn't sure, but I thought it was worth a try. 

I walked back up to the window with purpose. I picked up the phone and buzzed Ms. Power back to the window. Or so I thought. Without glancing up she answered the line using her headset and answered with her normal official greeting. I said, "Do you make different visitation allowances for members of clergy?" She looked up at me... with a doubtful look.

I stood in torn blue jeans, a v-neck white t-shirt, tattoos visible on each arm, and silver hoops in each ear. 

"Are you here as his friend or as clergy?" This was a critical question that I knew I needed to get right. I needed to be honest and also advocate my right to see him. "I was his friend 20 years ago in high school. Today I am here as his pastor. I am requesting that you grant his right to see clergy." Is that even a right? I'm really not sure!

She said, "do you have your credentials?" I said "yes" as I pressed it up against the glass. She looked at it, and looked back skeptically at me. "Do you have a secondary photo id?" I showed my freshly renewed Ohio Driver License.

With a half smile she handed me a form. "Fill this out and wait while we call him to the visitation room."

I gave what I hoped was a confident nod of approval and a "thank-you" while inwardly I was shocked that it worked. I stood to the side and waited while the door buzzed and I entered in. I walked about 20 feet into the corridor where I was intercepted by a guard. I was told that I had "no authorization to be here" and I had to immediately leave.

I turned and walked back through the secure door. The official who had granted me access seemed surprised. She asked, "have you already seen him?" I told her about being denied access. She picked up the phone and I heard her assuring someone on the other end that indeed, "he is a credentialed clergy member." I laughed as I realized their confusion... I simply don't look the part!

All this played through my head as my friend sat down across from me. He hadn't been given my name, he was only asked if he would meet with a clergy... and he got me. Without giving him my name I told him that we graduated together. He looked at me intensely, but still there was no recognition. While fearing that he wouldn't remember me at all, I told him my name, "this is Chad."

"CHAD SHEPHERD?" His face broke with a smile and a laugh..."but you look nothing like you used to!" He accused me of dying my hair. I told him he sounded like my mother. 

And so our conversation began. We talked about our children, he has one on the way! I shared our story of Sterling and how it is to be a 40 year old father of a toddler. We talked about relationships, hilarious shared classroom memories, and even good local places to eat. 

I smiled and told him, "don't worry, I'm not here to preach at you." He said, "no worries man." 

I don't like telling people that Jesus loves them. I don't like telling people that they're living wrong. I think I'm pretty messed up too sometimes. I have no stones to throw. 

What I love to do is just to press my life into someone else for a few minutes and to share stories. He asked about me and I told him our story. I listened to his questions and I just told our story. I shared my faith. I shared my struggles. 

I listened to his story. I remember a time not so long ago that he and I sat together in history class. I thought of the convergence that brought us together in this small space. Somehow I know that time will not stretch to 22 years before I encounter him again.

I can't even begin to grasp the purpose of our meeting, but I have no doubt that it was a meeting that came from God. There was purpose in our encounter. I don't know if it was for him, but I do know that it was for me. I am thankful to have had this moment with him. I am thankful for the entire experience. I am thankful to just exchange stories with an unlikely friend from my past.

Wherever you are. Whatever you are doing. Listen and watch for moments. I am a believer in God. I have no doubt that the lives we brush against... are moments of design. Don't miss out. Keep your eyes open, your feet willing, and guard your heart.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sterling Mei: (34) "Fully Ours - Again!"

Honorable Judge Randy T. Rogers & The Shepherd Family
Shortly after 9:00 this morning, we found ourselves in a familiar courtroom. Ten years ago we were here to re-adopt Aleksandra. Nineteen years ago Kellie and I were here to obtain our marriage license.

A re-adoption is done in the case of international adoption for the purpose of gaining a birth certificate "that is easier to read" according to Judge Rogers. While it grants no additional legal standing to Sterling, it will make life easier for her (and us) since now a U.S. document can be presented rather than a beautiful Mandarin Chinese portfolio.

There we no attorneys present today, and I had on my new suit... so I opted to sit in the attorney's study under the rotunda. The family climbed the staircase to the top floor of the historic courthouse. The light shined down bright from the sun, covering our U.S. Flag in beauty. We took the moment to reflect on foundational belief. Sacrifice. Honor. Duty. We are thankful. We are indebted. We are patriots.

Our name was called out...our family filed into the chambers, and we stood for the entrance of the judge. Kellie and I raised our right hands and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My hand was raised to the judge and my soul was turned to my God. The oath was a prayer. I believe it to be binding.

Judge Rogers asked, "who will be first?" After a brief pause and an exchanged glance I found my voice and heard it echo in the chamber, "that will be me your honor."

For the next ten minutes, I spoke about my faith. I talked about my God. I shared our story. Every word from my mouth was this walking, talking testimony of our love of God. It was the same for Kellie. Question after question came from the bench. Why are you adopting? Why China? Why would you adopt from multiple countries? How did you become involved in Guatemala? What prompted you to move to Guatemala? 

Suddenly we relaxed as we simply told the story of God adopting us and loving us like a father. We shared how the love of God is what give us life and that we have a deep desire, a need really... to simply give it back. Our children represent our relationship with God.

The formal hearing somehow blended into shared stories of faith that flowed from both sides of the bench. The judge leaned back so he could see through the corridors and we heard him whisper... "this is what it's all about. I have a little Russian girl and a Chinese girl in my chambers and they're beautiful."

Judge Rogers then banters back and forth with our three kids, finally saying, "ok, here's the all-important question. Caleb & Aleksandra, do you want to keep her?"

Kellie and I held our breath.. and both kids laughed and said, "yes!" Judge Rogers replied, "then there is one final thing to do to make it official.

He asked Sterling to approach the bench, explaining, "I have 3 gavels. A wee little baby gavel, a mid-size mommy gavel, and a great big daddy gavel. Sterling, your job is to bang the gavel."

Now, the judge is a very big man and Sterling is a very small little girl. As Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Mommy smiled on, Sterling sized up the Judge.

And the judge failed the test. Sterling was simply not going to cooperate. The wise judge gracefully stepped away, offering Kellie and Sterling to sit in the seat of Justice. I winked at the judge and whispered, "oh, I'm in trouble now." Without missing a beat he said, "yes you are."

Sterling still was reluctant to touch even the wee little gavel. Undeterred, the Judge turns to Aleksandra proclaiming, you don't remember it, but you've banged my gavel before. Young lady, come show your sister how it's done.

And so the party at the bench grows as Aleksandra takes Sterling's hand. Together our daughters, a little Russian girl that was taken to the steps of a hospital and abandoned, and a little Chinese girl who was born pre-mature and left in a city park... they lifted the wee little gavel, and they brought it down with a slam onto the wooden base! The proceeding was official. In the words of my wife, "Sterling is ours - again!"

The cheering in the room seemed to ignite a fire in Sterling that suddenly burned away all apprehension. As Aleksandra reached for the mommy-sized gavel, Sterling begins slamming down the wee little baby-sized gavel! This is life abundant!

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln calmly look on as chaos ensues! The Honorable Judge Randy T. Rogers observes from the side with a smile that beams from ear to ear! Laughter is echoing throughout the chamber and spills abundant into the corridors. People are looking in the doorways! Sterling looks to Aleksandra and exclaims, "you've got the Mommy-sized gavel!"

His honor realizes that no-one has the daddy-sized gavel and he orders Caleb to step forward and execute the court order of adoption for his sister using the giant gavel. The sound of the impact was shocking. Caleb had indeed signified the close of the case with a resounding strike.

This little trip home has been a series of God-moments. Times where He just seems to show up big. Like... having our total process time from document file to final hearing be 7 days... and He showed up again today. We had court costs and processing fees due today.

Without preamble or explanation, the judge waived all fees. We walked out of the hearing without dropping a cent. I was ready to run for the door, but my wife turned to the clerk and said, "what do we owe?" To which the clerk replied, "you owe nothing, the case is closed."

This is the work of my God. You owe nothing. The case is closed. This is salvation. This is what I am shown by God over and over and over. The account is closed. The judge has paid my debt.

And so, for the first time (again) we introduce you to Sterling Mei Shepherd, our daughter. She's our 3rd child. We adopted her in her origin of Guangzhou,China and now we have re-adopted her in the city of our origin, Hamilton, Ohio.

It's all really a big fuss about nothing. She's been ours since we first began this process, 5 years and 3 months before she was born. 

Today was a day to celebrate!

I mean, what girl doesn't want a fairy-tale ending on a white horse? Welcome home Sterling... wherever we may roam!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sterling Mei: (33) Ohio Birth Certificate Pre-Trial

Kellie dropped enough coins into the meter to buy us an hour and eighteen minutes. The courthouse was built in 1885, and is the seat of power for Butler County, Ohio, founded in 1803.

We were here for the preliminary hearing for the re-adoption of Sterling. This past week we appeared before the clerk who agreed to waive the requirement for an attorney, so we sat under the rotunda with a bunch of loud chatting attorneys, waiting for the judge. 

A tall man walked through the room wearing a bow-tie. The attorneys all grew silent as he walked through the middle of the crowd. His gait passed by us on the outskirt of the room, he nodded and walked into the clerk's office.

Soon he re-emerged and walked into the judge's chamber. 

Our name was called and we followed the clerk into the chamber and stood before the bow-tied judge. He smiled and said, "why are you here?"

After a few minutes of nervous chatter and an exchange of documents, he hit us with a series of proclamations: "I prefer a simple process," "I like the full family to be present so the kids can bang the gavel," and "how soon do you want to have the trial?"

Amazing! He asked us what we did for a living. We had told him that we were missionaries. He asked about the nature of our mission and asked if we were Christians. He smiled when we said "yes." 

And so we accepted the appointment of 9 a.m. tomorrow and returned to the meter with an hour to spare. In a few hours we'll make our way back to the courthouse with the full family in tow. We're gonna bang that gavel with gusto!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Touching Eternity Beside an Empty Chair

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray thee Lord my soul to take.

God bless mother and father too.
Help all the children be honest and true.

His chair sits empty now. The pillows are arranged to fit the small of his back and to support his arms. His dark plastic glasses rest on the table. His absence fills the room.

Her chair is filled with the best of my world. My Mammaw, Ruth Mathis. We step around the side and enter her peripheral vision. Her head is tilted slightly down. Her eyes are closed and I can't bring myself to speak interruption into her rest. My mother is there and she breaks the silence.

Mammaw opens her eyes and immediately glances over to the empty chair. I feel her pain as the realization of his passing sweeps over her in a wave. I imagine this is her ritual. My mind is considering the pain that she must be feeling, when her gaze turns towards us.

The transformation of her face was nothing less than majestic, like watching the sun break over the horizon of the ocean. She began to raise her left arm. It was shaking and slow, but she extended her hand and her finger uncurled towards us. Her smile intensified as she pulled in a steady break, fixed her eyes, and said, "Sterling."

Words come with great difficulty, and memory can be a challenge for her. Through all of these obstacles, she recognized the face of the family's newest member, an adopted little girl from China.

The moment was exquisite. I went from tears of empathy to tears of joy. I once read that the chemical composition in tears is different based on the emotional reaction. The full periodic table must have been on my face. 

The day continued with a pool outside, amazing burgers and dogs with sauces from Frisch's and Skyline. I went outside to briefly sit with the family and to snarf down 3 burgers. But I couldn't sit out there in the sun with my Mammaw sitting beside the empty chair. In my mind's eye I could distinctly picture two empty chairs. This time is precious.

I walked into her room and passed by the chair that seemed sacred. Mammaw slept as I rearranged the furniture of the room, removing a magazine rack and pulling a third chair directly against hers. She woke up with her hand in mine as her favorite video played and I sang softly along with an old hymn.

The day went by too fast. With my talking... a run-through of my favorite memories with her. Days of hot-wheels, shared chilitos, ice-cream, and lots of desert. I teased her about hiding from me to eat the final cheese-chilito from a Zantigo bag. I told her, "I have a question I've wanted to ask you for years and years. Did you hide so that you could have the whole chilito to yourself?" Her entire body shook with laughter as she brought her head up and down in a beaming smile nod! 

In that moment... we were transported back to those days.

She grew tired. My uncle Stephen rounded the corner and it was time to get her some dinner, and then tuck her into bed. He helped her into her bed as I sat back in the glow of the memories.

I walked down the hallway into the darkened room. I passed Pop's empty bed. His Bible was layed open at the top and I paused to consider that nearly every word was underlined, and the pages were worn thin. My eyes looked over to Mammaw, tucked in the bed, the blanket up to her chin.

Her eyes were closed and her breathing was peaceful and quiet. I knelt down beside her and was overcome with the symmetry of the scene. Nearly 4 decades ago, her and I experience this moment like a reflected image. It was always her kneeling at the bed, praying with me.

Her eyes opened and we exchanged a smile. I could see the outline of her hand underneath the quilt and I place mine over hers. I told her about my memories of us praying together at night when I stayed with her as a small boy. We both had falling tears as I talked through those memories.

I asked her if I could pray with her. I can't remember the words I used, but the emotions were powerful. It was a holy moment. Somehow, our memories, our shared history, our faith, and the sincerity of the moment was recognized by heaven. I have no doubt that we were joined with the very presence of God.

My prayer ended, and the moment was somehow fragile. I felt like we were somehow transfigured to something outside of time. We simply were present together... and nothing could separate us from the shared experience. I understood that I would never lose her.

It was at this moment that I told her I wanted to sing to her like she had sung to me countless nights. I leaned in close, tears of eternal joy mixed with tears of human grief... the air constricted in my throat as I sang out from decades past, 

"Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee Lord my soul to keep." The next line came hard as my mind grasped the significance... "If I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take."

Yes... I am so thankful. The empty chair is evidence that my Pop is with the creator, his God, our Father.

I sang on...

"God bless mother and father too."

I pictured my mom and dad... I am so thankful for this life they've given to me. I prayed for their continued days. I love them more than I know how to show. I hope to show it with my life.

"Help all the children be honest and true."

Caleb, Aleksandra, Sterling... soon this will all pass to you. It will be me in the bed, with all the others gone before me. I am so thankful to pass on this faith, this legacy, this song...


-To Continue the Story-

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Ultimate Adventure (a photo journal)

Waterfall over Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The past month has been filled with the stuff of lifetimes. My uncle Stephen brought eight family members with him and I promised them “the ultimate adventure.” While I never intended on fulfilling that promise (I mean, it’s a bit grandiose), I know that at the least I delivered several moments of death defying fear and together we made tracks on parts of the earth that very few people ever see.

Deep into Guatemala we traveled. West to the coast we encountered the pacific shores of Monterrico, the land of sea turtles, parrots, caamans, and iguanas. We went up into the mountains, climbing the heights that surround mile high Lake Atitlan that was created by a cataclysmic volcano many years past, rolling on the waves of a lake with depths of over 
1000 feet
Lake Atitlan

We zip-lined through the canopy between two mountains, suspended by a single small cable with our gloved right hands as the break. 

A great little place for tortillas and limonade
A view from a mountainside terrace

Cables Xtremos!
Don't forget the monkeys!

Daring photo courtesy of Stephen Mathis
We travelled deep into the northern jungle region, near Coban where we rented a cattle truck and endured a 45 minute drive on impassable roads...

G-Haul (Gringo Transport)

...to reach one of National Geographic’s Most Beautiful places, also listed as “one of the 25 places to see before you die,” Semuc Champey.

A simple view along the way
This bridge had seen better days...
Leaving behind the cattle truck, the perspiration soon soaked our clothing. We were in the jungle. This was no girly-man rainforest. This was the real deal, jaguar and asp infested, mosquito, and ridiculously large spider inhabited jungle! With Sterling on my shoulders, or in my arms, we scaled up the side of a cliff using rock-hewn cut-outs, and sheer drop-offs with no handrails. Soon we were all covered in mud from head to toe. I heard a great deal of grumbling in our group… it had been a rough haul, and the thin oxygen, high altitude climb had more than taken a toll.

But then we hit the summit, and looked down at the crystal clear emerald pools below. We had found paradise. A small wooden deck hung over the precipice. It was a 300 drop—straight down. And so, we all stood on the deck or hung on the rail to get the perfect photo! 

The climb down was just as dangerous, but we had seen the destination. The water was clear and cool with the first step in. The guide warned us, “there is fence at top of pools and at bottom. You cross it, you die.” The area in between… was the most amazing thing I’ve ever encountered.

The first pool at the top of the cascade of pools!
The pools were filled with mineral rich water that resulted in added buoyancy to the human body. As our group splashed in the top pool, I slipped down to the second, completely alone and fully out of sight of any other human contacts. I swam out to the center of the water and floated on my back. Without moving arms or legs, I suspended on the surface of the water. My ears were submerged and sound was prehistoric. The sky was cloud-filled and perfect. I found myself in a state of perfection.

It was about that time that I heard our guide shouting at me from the bank above. I raised my head as I began to make out the word that he kept shouting over and over. “Pirhana!” “What?” I shouted. He said, “this pool is not for swim. It is full of pirhana!”

I stopped all movement and immediately stared down at the water. I was aware of my body suspended alone in the clear depths. My mind instantly took an inventory of every surface of my body. Did I have any cuts? Any open wounds? I did not. Feeling a little more confident, but still fully freaked… I looked up at the bank for help. It was at that moment that I caught the sideways grin of the guide.  I was simply a victim of his favorite joke! 

I have heard the cliché, “hurt people, hurt people, and I figured that sounded pretty good. So over the next hour or so I enjoyed freaking others out with tales of flesh eating fish as they swam into the cool, clear water.

Of course our group also visited Antigua and spent a great deal of time wandering through local markets. Antigua never gets boring. No matter how many times we visit, the volume and variety of beauty is aways astounding.

"Fuente de las Sirenas"

Fountains at Santo Domingo
Santa Catalina Arch
We had an obligatory late-night Walmart (picture not provided) run into the capital due to lost luggage, and of course we were rained on time and time again!

Our second week together was joined by 40 of our closest friends from the Breiel Church. We climbed volcano Pacaya together and endured an absolute soaking during the climb! Even so, roasted marshmallows were enjoyed by a few brave souls who ventured up to the edge of a live fissure.

Sorry about the white legs.
The ultimate adventure? Nah, I’d say not. There are always more things that can be experienced. However… we swam in the pacific, climbed an active volcano, swam in jungle pools, flew through the tree-tops of the jungle, rode in cattle-cars across broken wooden bridges, boated across an ancient lake nestled between 3 volcanoes, and tuk-tuk’d up and down dangerous mountain passes. There were a few bumps and bruises, a possible fracture, some blood, two pants peeing episodes, 3 pukings, and 4 sinus infections that required antibiotics. All in all, I’d say we made a pretty good run at it! 

Along with the church we also helped to build 5 houses for families in need, participated in a medical clinic, hosted a Vacation Bible School for over 100 kids, and participated in the feeding program. 

An exchange of blessings.
Parts of Bible School were a BLUR!
Bible School lesson inside Pastor Soloman's Church
Double Rainbow, final day of work at Labor de Falle
This chick hatched a vibrant shade of pink (I know, you don't believe it).
During this same time, I preached 4 Sunday morning sermons, I participated in a 10 hour class for my seminary degree via Skype on a Saturday, we had our fabulous intern, Sam Renner with us (thank God), Caleb and Aleksandra attended Camp Guamiski, we had the summer kick off for Big Student Ministries at the Christian Academy, we graduated our 12 seniors at the school and I was the closing speaker for two graduations. 

And so now… we draw down for a bit of a break. Well, not really. I type this from an Airbus A319 at 30k above sea level. We left Guatemala at noon today and we will land in Detroit at 11 PM, where my dear in-laws will haul us the final 3 hours to Cincinnati in their van. 

Somewhere over the midwestern U.S.
Over the next three weeks I will speak at 7 churches, gatherings of youth, mission boards, and corporate groups as we tell the story of the children of Guatemala. This is a funding drive for our ministry. In the next 3 weeks I’ll have at least 14 opportunities to tell our story and to raise some funds: (1) our family support, (2) for the children of Labor de Falle, (3) to establish a scholarship for students who attend the Christian Academy.

Our mission continues to be all about the children of Guatemala. We will be funding education for the children who now live in homes thanks to the people of the Breiel Church. We will be raising funds for a group of 3 siblings whose mother is recently widowed… she works extra hours each day and struggles to pay to send her three children to school. She wants them to have a better life than she has.

I promised my uncle the “Ultimate Adventure,” and I don’t know if he’d consider that I made good on my promise, but at the end of the day my conscious is clear. Because this mission that God has given to me… well, it truly is the ultimate adventure.