When our family first came to Guatemala nearly three years ago, I sat at an outdoor bistro with Kellie and the kids in Antigua. Two young Guatemalan men approached us and one of them said, "You look like a pastor." I sat there with earrings in my ears and tattoos on my arms, thinking, "I do not look like a pastor!" He explained to my perplexed face that we had met on Facebook and we'd been friends for some time. He and I laugh even to this day each time we see each other... about the day he startled me in Antigua. As our mission gains further clarity and direction, I find myself frequently serving as a pastor not only for Journey Church, but also in uniting rural pastors and in the leading of mission teams. This week I realized both through experience and through discussion with trusted brothers that in order to reach the culture... I need to physically reflect the culture. And so... let the Chapin make-over commence. The earrings are locked away for US visits, and the attire of a pastor replaces shorts, t-shirts, and the flare of a bow-tie. Khaki pants, button up shirts, even suits on Sunday will be a more frequent choice in my wardrobe. But... it has to be more than clothes. I've noticed lately that my growing beard seemed to freak out the villages. Children would tug on it and call me a goat. It's hard to spread the message of Christ if people think I'm a goat-man, a bum, or a gang-member. So... here's my quick transformation today that freaked out my kids, made Sophie our intern scream, and caused our guard to refuse me entry to our own property... because he did not recognize me.
Shotgun start... urgent message from the mission director, Fontaine, "This is not a drill. We are a go.
Be down and ready to roll by 12:30."
"In Guatemala, everything is possible.
Nothing is easy." ~Edgar Ramos
We soon discovered that we needed our legal representative to sign the check, and realized that we had no idea where he was. Step one, track down the legal representative.
We caught up with our legal representative having lunch, gained his signature and then went to the nearest BAC Reformador Bank to learn that
they did not do Cashier's Checks.
Undaunted, we drove across the city to a second BAC Reformador bank to be told that they would not cash the check without the legal rep present. So off we went, out of the capital to our local branch where after an hour of paperwork, verifications, and phone calls, we walked out with our Cashier's check. It was then 3:30. It had taken 3 hours to accomplish step one.
We drove back into the Capital, into one of the most dangerous zones, to find the attorney located in a subterranean parking garage. At this point it was like every movie gone wrong I've ever seen.
Giovanni was checking the place out while I studied the layout of the hallway. This little strip of storefronts was surrounded by the concrete jungle of the garage. An armed guard stood at the far end, and directly behind Giovanni was the small business owned by the seller of the van.
Although we were 30 minutes late, the sellers had not arrived... and so we waited. Finally, they arrived at 4:30 and the paperwork process began. Since we had no prior relationship with the sellers, it was a situation of intense mutual distrust. Every step was cautious, and double checked by all parties. The process crawled until finally we began signing the newly created title.
After the attorney completed the final forms, we asked to see the van before handing over the check. It was now 5:30. In five hours all that we had accomplished was printing a check and signing a title. I felt my head nearly explode when the seller stated that the car was not there... it was now being driven from Jocotenango, over an hour away.
And so... we waited in the offices of the attorney and of the seller until 6:00 at which point we agreed to all drive to a strip mall nearby where we could inspect the van, and the seller could walk to the bank to cash the check.
This was after a major discussion and disagreement that nearly blew the entire deal. The seller wanted us to go and cash the check with them... and I refused. I simply was not willing to risk that much cash. They finally agreed that they would hand us the keys, and they would accept the check after we had inspected the van.
We took the lady of the family with us, she was the legal owner, a very nice traditional Guatemalan lady who told us about her family and that she was a Christian. We arrived with her at the designated parking lot... and her son was no where to be found. Neither was the van.
It began to get windy, cold, and dark.
It felt like an hour passed, but I checked the time stamp on my phone and it was only 15 minutes before the white van pulled up and we discovered the delay. The seller brought with him two more men. Up to this point, we had strength in numbers, now that money was about to exchange hands... they had us flanked. My only condolence was that it was a very public parking lot with armed security.
The driver gave me the registration, keys, and parking pass to exit the lot. I started the engine and again inspected the vehicle, checking the interior, exterior, tires, engine, and undercarriage. Everything was in order and I was ready to hand over the check. It was at this point that we realized that the little lady, the owner, was no-where to be seen. I started to panic until her son explained that she had to go to the bathroom.
Seriously? After all the waiting, all the running, finally we're ready to take the leap... and she has to pee. Ten minutes later... here she came. This was the critical moment. In my head I pictured three possible scenarios: (1) Everyone is happy and the exchange of van and check goes smoothly, (2) We can't agree on how to do the exchange and so we call the deal off, (3) The men who surround us take the check by force and they leave with the van.
I smiled to myself in my state of worry... because in my heart I knew that we had people praying for us. I reflected on the history of a man of faith giving me a dollar for a van, and the amazing path we've been on this past week of finding a van and receiving funding. I realized that even if the worst situation were to happen, I was ok with it. God had been with us this far, He wouldn't abandon us if we faced trouble.
I took the check out of my vest pocket, handing it to the little lady... and was stunned to see tears of relief in her eyes as she and her son inspected the check. It was done! Suddenly everyone's apprehension fell like weights from shoulders and we were handshaking and hugging.
It was 7:30 PM, the simple transaction of printing a check, notarizing a title, and exchanging payment had taken 7 hours. That's right Edgar, nothing is easy. I loaded up into the captain's seat for the first time and felt like Captain James T. Kirk piloting the Enterprise out of the space dock for the first time. It was dark, I was on the wrong side of town, but I was driving the van the God had supplied.
We arrived home around 8:30 pm. Mission accomplished.
Everyone likes a good fish tale, and man has this ever been a whopper of a true story! For those of you who have followed from the beginning... this was a simple act of faith.
My friends... my God is real.
Five days ago, I felt God commanding us to go and find a van. I had $1 in my pocket and no idea that He had placed the perfect van in a place that I'd only find through our obedience and public search. I had no idea that God would send us: Ansonia Church of God, The Harbron Family, Dayspring Church of God, The Wallace Family, The Breiel Church, and Mt. Victory & Ridgeway UMC who would all catch the Spirit and make this possible.
After some intentional maneuvering, the van sits at home in our driveway. It's been an amazing faith walk, a wild ride, an experience that has humbled me, strengthened my faith, increased relationships, and gives us hope for our ministry moving forward. God has honored our obedience.
The glory is to Him... we're just along for the ride.
Well... ain't that just the truth? I mean... come on. Full disclosure, as the old Sunday school song said, "I am one of them." But seriously... there are times that I just want to distance myself from the label. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not downplaying the need of following Christ both individually and as part of the family of God. Our roots go deep. We need each other. We need community. Even back into the days of the children of Israel, it was the temple that kept us all united, aligned, and focused on God. We need to hold His word and commands in our hearts and on our tongues. It's just... sometimes I just can't take all the divisiveness. Too many of us Christ followers are drawing lines of separation while the world burns. Enough. None of us are perfect. I can't abide living in an artificially created bubble that reeks of the white-washed tomb stink of hypocrisy. I don't care about what you're against. I want to see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit active in your life. Too many of us get all cleaned up in pure white Sunday best and drive past the hurting. Too many of us simply are walking past the man in the ditch rather than picking him up, healing his wounds, putting a coat on his back, and providing his lodging. Too many of us cry out about social injustice and terrible government while we have empty rooms and beds in our own homes while people suffer in our own suburbs or nearby in the "bad" parts of the city. I don't think the problem is our culture. I think the problem is that too many of us who wear the label of "Christian" aren't willing risk ourselves to reach others. The cold hard truth is that we want to be safe and comfortable and that means more to us than our faith. Come on! We fight each other about immigration, while we complain when the telemarketer has an accent, or the family next door speaks another language. We rage about the injustice of refused entry of Syrians... and yet how many of us will unlock our own door to someone who needs a place to sleep for a night? We view ourselves as victims and believe the lie that we're suffering. Our reality couldn't be more different from the truth... we have means. We freak out about rampant homosexuality and the collapse of our culture... and we huddle behind walls to protect ourselves instead of reaching out to show hope and a true path. We're the children of God, the evils of the world aren't a threat to us... we are a threat to them. It's time we take our place, shine a light, salt the water... just make a difference because we are here. Even if we have debt, misfortune, sickness, stress... we have it better than the majority of the world. If you have a couch and roof... and you've never extended your space to someone in need, then you have means that you aren't sharing. You don't get to just bury your talent. Yeah... sometimes Christians, we are lame. We fuss about the types of movies we'll allow our families to see while we lead those kids in lives of lukewarm belief. If you're living by faith, the impact of your life will overshadow anything the world can offer. Nothing compares. Sure, sometimes you'll lose. You'll endure hardship. You'll see family lost. You'll suffer tragedy. It's all true. The world is broken. But you have hope. You have been adopted by the God of the universe. Surely nothing else beats that? This isn't about where you live or what you do for a living... it doesn't matter if you're a chef, a mechanic, or a wall street shark. There are people that need relationship, hope, and love right under your nose. It's time to make a difference in this world. It's time to throw away false entitlement, safety, security, and comfort. Get out there and prove that what you have is real. Show that your life is different. It's time to stop being lame. Get up and walk.
Mount Victory and Ridgeway UMC teamed up with teams from Catalyst Resources International and loaded up on the big blue bus headed for El Durazno, Chimaltenango. The view from the bus provided just a passing glimpse into life for many of the people that we passed along the way.
As the bus bounced and shook into the dirt lot where we'd depart on foot, we were greeted by two small children whose mother was working inside a nearby tienda.
The Mt. Victory and Ridgeway team of Gary, Tina, Stephen, Wesley, and Luke first met the Zen family: Wilder, Heidy, Edward (5), and little Carli (18 months).
Through a partnership that began with a nervous introduction, a handshake, and a prayer, the next few days were spent building more than a house... relationships that would not be forgotten by anyone there, no matter how far away they might travel, or how many years might pass.
This team came geared for production. With experience in building, agriculture, and a history of working together, within three hours they had completed a typical day's work. This meant... there was time to play. Antony was game and I was ready to capture his feat with video.
With day one completed, the team requested a photo with the newly framed home and their newest best friends. As the walls rose, relationship began to grow. Memories were already being established that were more than names... smiles, laughs, memories, and hopes for the future.
The second day of construction outstripped supply, and so labor gave way to play. I sat by with amusement as the team began building with scrap, and then took the play to a new level as a stump and a panel transformed into a multi-generational, multi-cultural teeter-toter.
Check out the video... Live Action!
While play continued on the ground, the roof crew began to lay the trusses. To my amazement, I looked up and saw Caleb on the roof. This week brought two big firsts for my son: his first time serving as a translator,
and his first time as a roofer.
Our days found a rhythm of hard work and hard play. On her first day in the village, our new intern Sophie found herself a prime attraction for the niñas. Dirt had been unearthed to fill the foundation, and now imagination transformed it into a bottomless canyon to be jumped by brave explorers.
On day three the project was so far along that we needed to find additional work. The team agreed to fund and provide the labor for a sealant and stain. This extra touch will protect from weather and insects while adding beauty to the house.
At lunch time the team and family were gathered together on the porch. We were no longer two groups, but single family that was bound together at the heart by experience, shared belief, play, and accomplishment.
A discussion took place between the team and it was decided that the neighbors who had helped lay the foundation last week should receive a thank you. Our CRI Project Manager, Edgar gathered their extra funds and went shopping at local tiendas, keeping the economic stimulus local, and quietly prepared food for four families that helped with the house.
The day ended as previous days... a good deal of play
and progress ahead of schedule! This Ecocomal Stove will be the centerpiece of a new, outdoor kitchen. The vented stove will improve breathing conditions for the family, and will reduce their wood consumption, labor, and cost by half.
The final day with a team in the village is always a powerfully emotional day. Projects are complete and that feels really good, but the folks from the US are faced with the reality that they now have to say goodbye. The typical rushed falling of hammers begins to slow as each person now feels the value of time and savors each swing.
Hearts are forever changed. Life now will necessary look different when feet land back on US soil. Faces and deep unspoken thoughts will echo in the coming days. We are all not so different. Culture, money, tradition, politics, it all just somehow pales and disappears in the tender gaze of a little girl wearing her first new pair of shoes.
Wilder cut and sanded a plaque. He had gone into town and had a photo printed so that he would not forget the faces of his new family from the United States. He borrowed a Sharpie from the team, and asked us all to sign it. He said that this would hang inside their house so that they could pray for each of us each day.
Suddenly the time was upon us that we had anticipated. Now that it was here, none of us wanted the day to progress. It was the best time of the week... dedication... and yet, it was also the signal that we'd be saying goodbye.
The dedication began with scripture and prayer.
A final photo to document what was done here.
And then we quietly wiped tears as Heidy held Carli and walked into her families new house as her husband Wilder stood by with the smile that reflected all our hearts.
The family is in their new house.
Now their challenge is to make it a home.
Gary and the UMC team gives food to each family that helped. This unexpected gesture was a powerful moment as he explained that we are all God's children and we are given each other to help each other out.
Even though I've been a part of more dedications that I can count, each and every one is powerful and breathtaking. We are reminded that we are all sons and daughters of God. We all have the same needs, hopes, and dreams. We are not so different. When the dust settles... life is not so complicated.
Things were not looking great in the middle of the morning... ...that's when it all started to change.
Here we go... this day will be a walk of faith and obedience. We could end with empty hands or with just the dollar in my pocket that began it all. It's a faith journey. A dollar placed in my hand with a statement, "This is the first dollar of many that God will supply as He gives you a van."
Whether we end the day with empty hands or just empty pockets, it really doesn't matter. I am blessed and invigorated to walk in the sunlight today in faith. There simply is no better feeling than living a life that you KNOW simply doesn't work or make sense absent of God.
We are challenged to pray bold prayers. We are created to live lives so daring that they only work when God intervenes. We want to live lives that simply look foolish to those who don't know God, and also lives that cause celebration and hope in those who do.
This is our story as it continues today. Come along.
Of course the day immediately begins with a twist. We expected to see a van and we're following a guy on a motorized bicycle up a hill, turning into creepy little alleys. I'd be afraid if I were alone, but there are three of us, and we're on a God journey.
I reflect that we would not be at this place, had we not been at the multiple places we visited yesterday . God has given me visions, but I've yet to know the destination. I get just enough to get me to the next place. Yeah... just enough to get to the next step. I hope I never forget this lesson. An obedient life is to be lived as they say in Guatemala, "Poco a poco" or, little by little.
I breathed a deep breath of the cool mid-morning air. The altitude here was refreshing as it required my lungs to pull fully. This van was not what I had hoped. I had to smile and shake my head though... once again, God had given me precisely enough vision to keep my feet moving forward. That moment was when two things happened at once.
I had no idea that prayers were going up from mission partners in Texas on our behalf. The email below had hit my phone, but in my excitement... I hadn't noticed it.
What did catch my attention was a Facebook message from a good friend at Journey Church Guatemala.
I do not make this stuff up. This is my life. God works in ways that exceed my every expectation, imagination, and greatest hopes. I don't do it myself. You've seen my actions... they've all resulted in nothing but my continually open, empty, and reaching hand. My reaching hand... is my only meaningful act. We are obedient. God works the good together according to His purpose as we walk His path.
And so... dropping what we were doing, we jumped in the car and set out for Jocotenango, at least an hour away from the city, on the far side of Antigua. We were driving away from all of our other options, but I felt the Spirit of God leading, and there simply was no other option.
Traffic had been horrible all way, but I just laughed as we drove what should have been a difficult journey with ease... God was making our paths straight. It seemed campy, but still, I knew it to be true.
Our journey had found its ending point. God certainly has a sense of humor as he keeps me humble. I wrote just yesterday that I didn't want a Chevy because "They took the bail-out." Well, guess what... she's a Chevy...
... and she's so much more than we hoped for. This is a 2007, Chevy Express, 6.0 liter V8, 300 horsepower engine, 15 passenger van with air-conditioning, cruise-control, new tires, and passive theft-deterrent. We test drove it... the engine was smooth, the acceleration was amazing. I sat in the passenger seat as Manuel tested the limits of the engine, suspension, steering, and brakes on a mountain road... I sat there and resisted the urge to weep.
It gets even crazier. Years ago I had a favorite pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. I lost them on the beach on day in Florida. I've missed those glasses since then. By now you know what I'm going to say... I looked down in the dash... and those exact glasses were waiting for me.
Yes... God has a sense of humor when he shapes, corrects, and affirms my steps.
This is my story about God. Well, this is God's story where I get to be a character. It's all true. His grace is enough. He's enough. That's really all... He's enough.
Tuesday if all goes well, we expect to take possession. It's a typical Guatemalan story... the guy who showed us the van is a friend of a guy in the US, who is a brother to a lady on the Caribbean Coast of Guatemala, a place called Puerto Barrios, who owns the corporation that holds the vehicle.
Our title specialist is on the job, Edgar has worked his mojo with all his contacts, Fontaine and CRI have helped cover the amount while God sends in the money.
So... it all began with a statement of faith and a single dollar. Then our friends Brendon and Jennifer gave $1000, and Ansonia Church of God gave $5000. That was followed by $5000 from Dayspring Church of God with a swift, unanimous vote in a board meeting.
We've still got some ground to cover... but we're walking by faith. There simply is no better place to be.