Thursday, August 25, 2016

"How Much Longer Poppy?"

Our family can be found along the road often lately. We're thankful to have a lot of folks that we want to see and we're doing our best to blend times of rest with times of purpose. I think criticism is on the minds of some when they see a picture of a family together with eyes downcast on electronic devices. I am not one of those people.

Connectivity is the word! Online learning can happen while screaming down the highway at 70 mph, conversations can be had via video call and text, electronic books can be read, and a five-year old can be occupied with a little man stomping on mushrooms.

Oh yes... the five year old, "How Much Longer Poppy?" This question can be asked on replay with no stop button. After a few days of answering this question non-stop, I found a remedy. I needed a remedy because this question framed the drive as a task and made the minutes slide by slowly. I'd rather see the drive as an adventure with scenery and experiences to be enjoyed.

And so I needed a remedy. I began answering the question, "How much longer Poppy?" with the simple phrase, "About five minutes." This seemed to confound Sterling at first. The answer just didn't make sense. She seemed troubled that my answer did not match her experience. 

Finally, after some analysis in her remarkably sharp head she proclaimed, "Poppy, you're a Trick or Treat. That's your new name, Trick or Treat." And, like Halloween magic, the question disappeared as we all settled back into the journey.

Of course, there will be some that criticize my response, saying that I'm lying to my child. Well... my children know me, and they recognize my voice so well, they even catch meaning in the tone. They know when I'm teasing and they for sure know when I'm serious. 

"How much longer Poppy?" I'm sure this phrase is familiar to you as well. So many times it's a phrase that we use in our own conversations with God. How much longer do I have to put up with this? How much longer do I have to suffer? How much longer until I get what I need? How much longer God?

We focus on this question and it only turns us into our own torment. Meanwhile, life is racing by and we're missing the beauty of the passing of the day. 

Sometimes God is whispering to us, "About five minutes." Sometimes that's really all we can handle. Sometimes we need to recognize the utter futility of that question and just stop asking. 

Wherever you are in your journey today, give thanks to God for the things that are good. That's where you'll find Him every time. After all, if God is with you, then you're right where you need to be.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Colt Trooper .357 Magnum Mark III & Jehoash - Strike Again!

My dad handed it to me and said, "Now this is yours." I was nearly speechless.  I think I muttered some pathetic, "Wow, thank you. This is now my new favorite gun." 

I've been collecting Colt revolvers now for some time. My dad started it all by giving me a Colt .22 modified revolver that his father had purchased upon coming home after World War Two. It came with family lore of dad and his brother dropping it in the creek behind their house, to be retrieved by grandpa the next day.

It was a Police Positive and I'd spend years collecting the other calibers in the line: a .32-20, a .38, and .38 Special. I'd researched them all on line and traced their serial numbers to learn their history after procuring them from various gun shows and pawn shops. 

But the gun that my father handed me now... it was a much more expensive model. It was a Trooper .357 Magnum Mark III. It was the premier choice of a line first manufactured in 1953, primarily to policeman, packing a powerful delivery of gunpowder on a mid-frame 6 shot revolver. I had admired it for years... and now my dad handed it over to me.

There are times in life that seem pivotal. In this moment, each member of our family is leveling up in life: Caleb beginning online courses with Cedarville University, Aleksandra transitioning to a self-driven online education, Sterling beginning Kindergarten, and Kellie masterfully coordinating all of us monkeys.

This is indeed a time of significant passings to my hands. I hold the Colt as a tangible and real reminder that this is the time that I have been prepared to grasp.  Now is the time where I reach out my hands to receive a legacy that is being given. This is due to the heritage of my family and my identity as a child of God who continues to seek Him. All our days lead us here.

Our search continues for the congregation that God is preparing for our arrival. We gather the possibilities as we cast ourselves at the feet of God. We give God praise.

Like King Jehoash  when he knelt at the feet of Elisha, may my hands be guided to cast vision like arrows shooting through a window. The advice of Elisha rings through the centuries... grasp the arrows and strike again. Jehoash  when told to strike the ground with the arrows struck only three times and then stopped. 

This is not a time to stop. This is a time for our family to now strike again. We grasp in our hands this moment with all the transition and all the change. We hold onto all that we've experienced like arrows ready to be released. And we grasp these arrows tightly and we strike again.*

Like the bullet released from an exploding firing pin of a classic revolver, like the arrows shot through an ancient window in Israel... may we strike again.

*The story of King Jehoash  and Elisha was told by Pastor Shawn Wood at Freedom Church in Monck's Corner, South Carolina on the 21st day of August, 2016.

*Scripture Reference: 2 Kings Chapter 13:10-18.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Waist Deep with Heavenly Goggles

As missionaries we were always cautioned to avoid posting photos of our family relaxing. After our first six months in Guatemala had passed, we were required to exit Guatemala for a visa renewal. The closest and cheapest place to go was Punta Gorda, Belize. While we were there, I posted a photo.

"Well, it must be nice that you can take your family to the beach while other people support you. I haven't been able to take my family on a vacation for six years."

At first, this comment on social media landed like an icy fist on my chest. I felt ashamed and guilty. I told a good friend about it and his comment came at me like a rebuke.

"You tell them to walk away from their careers, sell or give away everything they have, leave family, live in a dangerous country, shower with contaminated water, give up air conditioning and heat, work for months on end without a day off, and then after they've walked in your shoes, they can get a clue about your life."

After hearing my friend's defense of us, I belly-laughed and then admitted, "You know, it's funny. The guy who made that comment has never contributed a dime to our cause. Our real supporters know us, love us, and want us to take the time as a family to refresh."

It was that incident that helped Kellie and I to resolve that we would always be transparent. Our supporters would know our successes, our failures, and even our celebrations. The truth is that there are too many missionaries out there who are afraid to tell their full story. They fear that they'll lose supporters, or that others will think poorly of them.

Of course... that is nonsense. Without exception, we found that each time we were vulnerable, our friends, churches, and supporters responded with their prayers, communications, and finances. We learned that if someone is really on your team, they'll stick with it through the good times and bad. If they won't stick with you because of a beach photo... well, then they aren't worth keeping on the team anyway. 

We have a story to tell as we walk this path, and as always, we'll tell it full here. I love this picture of Sterling as she holds a weight of sand and water in each hand, allowing the water to slip through her fingers as she watches it with blue-tinted glasses. 

I want to live my life this same way... to hold the fleeting days and moments, to feel the weight and the loss, and to look at everything with tinted vision. My God is calling me to see things like He sees them. I can feel His light shining down and warming my skin. He is building His everlasting kingdom as He walks beside us in castles of sand.

The past few days have provided me opportunities in each hand as we search for where God is leading us to pastor. I've had to answer the naysayers as they ask questions like, "Are you sure you're ready to be the lead pastor at a church in the US?" Or they give unsolicited commentary such as, "You should pastor a small church to learn the American culture," or "You don't know what you're getting into."

Certainly there were doubters when Moses stood before Pharaoh with a staff, Daniel was tossed to lions, the three Hebrews were thrown into a furnace, David faced Goliath, and Paul faced the religious council in Jerusalem. The faith that is in me is no less than the faith that has strengthened and prepared the men and women who have gone before us. This is not a time for timidity, but this is a time for love, of boldness, and true hearts. My God prepares me and He goes before me.

We have not been prepared, Kellie and I, to live life like everyone else, to pastor like the common preacher, or to search for our congregation by following an expected list of rules. We are on a specific calling, and we will continue to be authentic, bold, and transparent as we take these faithful steps.

Like Sterling, we have weighted choices in our hands. Over the past week we've met with two churches and our hearts are full with each of them, as well as others who have expressed some interest in us as their pastors. They have different timelines, pay scales, and attendance numbers. 

For years I have been critical of pastors who accept "callings" to churches that are: larger, pay more, and are located in more desirable communities. It seems odd that God calls the majority of pastors to larger assignments. Surly the pastor who ministers for decades at a small congregation is just as valuable to the Kingdom of God as the pastor of a multi-site, multi-service mega-church.

God surely has a sense of humor and He exercises it by making my life walk match my mouth talk. I complained about missionaries over-charging for their furniture when they leave the field... and so we sold everything at 1/3 of its value. This required us to give out of our poverty. It required faith and it benefited other missions who serve Guatemala.

The sky flashes outside and the rain pounds the roof as I contemplate these things that God has opened up before us. I see His path going through them all. As we walk in His will, we can-not make a poor decision, He stands beside each option. And so we ask for your continued prayers as we begin to measure the costs and faithfully follow our God.

At this point anything is possible. God is blessing our active wait, and He has placed some amazing men and women in our path. We have met people in far-away places that know our grandparents, both Kellie's and my own. We have exchanged stories that have far outweighed coincidence and have proclaimed themselves as affirmations that we walk on the path of God. 

So, let's all take tomorrow into our hands without hesitation. Let's kneel down waist deep and snap on our heavenly goggles as we reach with open hands and engage fully this experience. God will bless our walk as long as we pursue Him. There's no better place to be than following Him.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Actively Waiting

"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 
Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 
Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them." 
Luke 12:35-40 

My friend Kayci Roh's dog, Hoot actively waiting.

More than anxious inactivity and better than directionless pursuit, active waiting is an intentional calming of the soul, a redirecting of the eyes, and a widening of the heart; all in the singular pursuit of knowing God. 

This slow pursuit is one that began over the course of months as Kellie and I began to sense the call of God. His preparation of this way is increasingly evident to us each day. Conversations even now are beginning with groups of men and women across this nation as Kellie and I begin to place our name as candidates with congregations.

We wait on the LORD, and we actively pursue the alternatives before us. Sometimes the path that God reveals is clearly marked, and other times we find His direction only through a lengthy pursuit. No matter which the option, His path is always the best path.

Through the coming weeks and months, we invite you to walk this path with us as God leads us forward. We'll see multiple states and meet with great men and women of God. So many of you have carried us with your prayers, and with thanks we continue to move forward as we actively wait on the LORD. A church congregation waits somewhere with us.

"Therefore, return to your God, 
Observe kindness and justice, 
And wait for your God continually."

Hosea 12:6

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Imported or Impounded, Lost Dogs & Excess

Here we are, six days in. Most of the suitcases are put away, not all of them. We've been here before, a migrant family in transition. We're professionals now I suppose. We're comfortable with the uncertainty, maybe even we thrive a bit on it. We've learned that these times of waiting on the LORD precede times of promise.

The van sits unpacked and awaiting a paperwork process. The physical nature of change is more than simple geography. There's paperwork to complete, and our emotions must be given time to catch up to our obedience. Our family has learned to cherish this in-between time. These days always draw us closer and refine our vision.

Caleb and I had just picked up an aquarium left for us at Triple Moon Coffee Company (like them on Facebook) by my friend, Jacob Farler. On the way home I realized that we didn't have enough rocks for the tank and that I'd forgotten my wallet. We improvised by using the 2004 Jeep Cherokee that I bought on Tuesday, grabbing some stones from alongside the railroad tracks in West Middletown and the creek bed beside the volunteer fire station in Trenton. 

After returning to the house, Caleb and I were upstairs installing the tank for his turtles, Anakin and Luke, that I'd smuggled to Ohio from Guatemala (ok, it wasn't technically illegal, but "smuggled" just sounds fun, like I'm a turtle pirate or something) when Sterling came dripping up the stairs, a sobbing, snotty mess.

"Poppy, I'm so sorry." My heart sank... Sterling has never used these words. She's usually very brave even in bad situations. "I opened the door and Remus ran out. I tried to go after him but he crossed the street."

I asked, "Did YOU go into the street?" She's only FIVE! She answered between gulping sobs, "Yes, but I looked both ways." OHHH.... I am such failure as a father in this moment! My five year old was running in the streets!

With Sterling safe in the house and Caleb standing guard, I sent a text to Kellie and her mom who were nearby in the city. We assembled at the house and launched a search committee for Remus the dog who has always been a symbolic reassurance to our family that everything is going to be all right.

We had to say goodbye to Bentley 3 years ago and his absence left an obvious gaping hole in our hearts that highlighted all the things that our kids gave up when we moved to Guatemala. When Remus came into our lives, that hole was filled and life again felt secure, normal, doable.

And so I drove 3000 miles in no small part to get Remus here for our families' sanity.... and now there is a heartbroken 5 year old feeling guilty in the house while the rest of us tear through the neighborhood by car, bike, and on foot in a search for Remus.

Kellie's Mom, Sharon was the hero of the day... of the year really. She found Remus. Sterling pointed the way that Remus ran, and that's where he was found, running along the fence line with another dog. 

While I drove around the neighborhood alone in my search, I had a lot of time to think and I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the excess. I don't think that re-entry for a missionary is as difficult now as it was in decades past. Social media and enhanced communication keeps us pretty well up to speed on societal changes. 

But... there are things that we forget, and when we return, we see things will a changed and deeper perspective. There is just so much extra, unneeded, excess everywhere I look. I stopped in front of a beautifully manicured two story home with two Harley-Davidson motorcycles and a giant Ford extended cab truck sitting in a spotless garage. 

We went out to eat last night and the amount of food on our plates was far more than we could eat. Every yard is perfect here. My mind could only see the beans and rice that I ate while sitting on the dirt ground floor of the house of a generous family in central America. 

I contemplated wealth, poverty, and what it means to be generous. I've shared a bowl of rice with a mother who spent a day's wages to eat, and her generosity eclipses the character of us all here. In that moment I just felt poor. I missed the generosity of the destitute. Here we starve our souls while we wallow in the excess of our hearts.

Well... I took a breath and realized that each place comes with both problems and perspectives. We all need the same thing, to know God more. That's the only answer I have in either place. 

Like a conduit that links both places together, the van awaits a new journey tomorrow as I drive it to the Department of Homeland Security Point of Entry in Erlanger, Kentucky. The necessary paperwork is assembled and ready for the Customs agent who will inspect the vehicle and determine if it meets EPA and Department of Transportation specifications. There are two outcomes for tomorrow, the van will be imported or impounded. It'll be an adventure either way.

If all goes well, I park it back at Journey Church, West Chester tomorrow with an EPA 3520-I and a DOT HS-7 form, both signed and stamped. Then the next stop will be a local inspection by the DMV and a new Ohio Title.

So, things are going well... six days in. We're thankful. We're all still together. God is good and He is our constant. We look forward to the days ahead as our path continues to open before us.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Guatemala, Mexico, USA Day Five "Blazing Through the US"

3000 miles | 54 drive hours | 3 countries | 5 days

Day One: Guatemala City, Guatemala to
San Cristobal, Las Casas Mexico

Day Two: San Cristobal Las Casas Mexico to
Puebla Mexico

Day Three: Puebla Mexico to
Matehuala, San Luis Potosi

Day Four: Matehuala, San Luis Potosi
to San Antonio, Texas

Day Five: San Antonio, Texas
to Middletown, Ohio 

After finally maneuvering the van through thousands of waiting cars, we pulled into the "Inspection Area" and began a conversation with the Immigration Agent.

Agent: "Is this your van?" Me: "Yes sir, it is." Agent: "You're a US Citizen and you own a van in Guatemala?" Me: "Yes sir, that is correct." Agent: "You drove all the way from Guatemala?" Me: "Yes sir, that is correct." Agent: "Guatemala is a long way to drive." Me: "Yes it is."

Agent: "This is your van?" Me: "Yes, it is my van." Agent: "What is your destination?" Me: "I'm driving to Ohio." Agent: "Ohio is a long way." Me: "Yes, it is." 

Agent: "Why are you driving to Ohio?" Me: "My wife and kids are there visiting her mother. I am joining them."

Agent: "Why do you have so much stuff?" Me: "It is all low value, and it is only personal items for family and kids."

Agent: "You're driving from Guatemala to Ohio?" Me: "Yes." Agent: "It is a very long drive from Guatemala to Ohio." Me, "Yes it is."

Agent: "Why would you want to drive all the way from Guatemala to Ohio?" Me: "It's something that I've always wanted to do, and you only live once."

Agent: "Thank you and have a nice day sir."

After all our worry over the paperwork for the dogs, the agent didn't even ask to see it. The turtles rested safely in the floorboard in a Pops Brand Ice Cream Container. All the way from Guatemala to the US we had only a single police inspection. We had no mechanical issues, and no accidents.

After pulling out of San Antonio (and seeing the Alamo), I had no idea how long we'd drive until we'd rest for the final night. We decided to take it city by city. And so, we passed through: Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis, and continued past: Nashville, Louisville, and finally Cincinnati. Our final day hit the road at 10:30 AM and continued until we reached Middletown, Ohio the next morning at 9:00 AM, twenty-two and a half hours.

I'm a bit tired tonight, for sure. Even so, the drive is done. I lost count of the cans of Coke Zero, cups of coffee, chewed three packs of gum, ate a bag a pan de agua from San Martin, and a big bag of pretzels. I listened to Mexican music, pop music, praise music, and talk radio. 

We drugged dogs, watered dogs, fed dogs, walked dogs, and even at times hid dogs. Bark, bark, bark.

The time spent on the road was perfect, blessed, and worth every second. Next time, me and my Uncle Stephen will have to find a longer drive... maybe Panama?

Thank you for your prayers! God heard, and God blessed our travels. I give thanks that He has honored our faithful steps.

Friday, August 5, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Guatemala, Mexico, USA Day Four: "GOD BLESS TEXAS"

God always speaks to me, and sometimes I listen. 

So often people say to me that God just isn't speaking to them. But Jesus said that people who have ears should hear Him, and people who have eyes should see Him (Mt 11:15; Mk 4:9). Paul wrote that God has revealed Himself to us since the beginning of time, through creation (Rm 1:18-30) and Moses wrote that the word of God is never out of our reach, but is in our hearts and words (Dt 30:11-14).

Who are we to say that God is silent? He speaks to us constantly in the world He created. By His words, He spoke creation into existence. Certainly, the action of speaking words from our own mouths is evidence of His image imprinted on us.

Yes, God speaks to me always, and sometimes I listen.

I stood at the base of this cathedral in San Antonio, Texas this evening, reflecting not only on the path that led us through Mexico, but the greater path that has landed my family in this place of obedience as we've listened to the voice of God. 

As I sat beside my uncle at the US border at Laredo, I expressed to him a declaration that had been unspoken and held in my heart.
"You know, I can say from deep inside my heart that we are running from nothing. Everything in Guatemala was being blessed. Our identity as missionaries had been solidified and we had a clear plan of moving forward: with the church, and with the mission. 
With everything that is in us, we run towards the voice of God. He has prepared us for this moment. While it seems hard to understand why we would go when things seem to be better than they've ever been.
But, I know without doubt that this is our call, and so while some might think we run from Guatemala, we use it as a platform to run towards our continued call."

Tonight was such an affirmation of that call as Stephen and I walked along the River Walk of San Antonio. It is no mistake that this was my third time here. 

The first was in 1992 when I was here with Towne Boulevard Church of God, Towne Teens for the International Youth Convention (IYC). Kellie and I were dating and that week was a time of direction for us; both as a couple, and also in our spiritual walk. I remember the call of God on our lives at that time. We knew that He had a plan for us together.

Then we returned in 2012 when we travelled for missionary orientation with Commission to Every Nation before moving to Guatemala as full time missionaries. Again our faith was affirmed and shaped as we began to understand God's call on our collective life.

And now, in 2016 I walk these sidewalks alongside the water, contemplating how this ground now guides me along familiar paths, again with the future spread in front of me and Kellie, each time here like fresh assurance of the days to come.

This is a time of peace in my heart. Through days that many fear are full of uncertainty, I walk with a calm assurance that I have not felt for some time. It isn't such a mystery though... I know that I walk with God. And even though Kellie is now on the road, traveling with her family and our kids to Niagra Falls for a few days of rest... I know that she is right beside me in this walk. 

I also give Him thanks for our children who share this same fearless spirit. It is no mistake that we are called here, for such a time as this. Even as I type in the hotel room with the glow of the television, I here the steady breathing of my uncle in the other bed beside me and I am reminded that God provides exactly what and who we need... when we walk in His path.

Since our separation from Antony (our lifeline), who helped us navigate the Guatemala/Mexico Border and multiple police checkpoints, our progress through Mexico was absolutely providential. Tuesday through Thursday we were stopped at only two checkpoints, one waiving us through, and the other ordering us to pull to the right... but I continued driving forward, and the soldier allowed us to pass. 

We drove through three other checkpoints that were unmanned, or where we witnessed the officials simply walking away as we approached. Our path was unobstructed at ever turn. The drive through Mexico was simple and easy.

There simply is no better place to be on earth, than walking beside our God. The drive continues tomorrow as we begin to head east across these United States, continuing to listen to the words that God speaks.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Guatemala, Mexico, USA Day Three: "Two Gringos, Two Dogs, Two Turtles."

I keep falling asleep. It is ten after 1:00 AM and the soothing sound of the a/c in the hotel room is knocking me out. It has been a long day of driving.

Around 650 miles today, heading north towards Laredo, Texas, we saw crazy sights, and took the van off the highway and down into the ditch line to avoid protestors who blocked the highway. 

All humans, dogs, and turtles are still alive, healthy, and accounted for... praise to God. Thursday should be a short dive to the border at Laredo, and then beyond. San Antonio looks like the perfect place.

God has been with us. Thank you for your prayers. His world is beautiful. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Guatemala, Mexico, USA Day Two: "The Parting of Antony."

Our group of three left the room in San Cristobal Las Casas at 7:00 this morning, taking Remus and Sirius to the park for some green space. Afterwards we had omelets at a quaint little bistro on the sidewalk, finishing the meal with a perfect cup of espresso.

With the van idling on the side of the street, a quick hug and a back-pat... Stephen and I drove away leaving one of the most loyal men I've ever met on the sidewalk behind us. With some extra cash in his pocket and my Guatemalan SIM card, Antony became smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror as  our two year walk together on God's path diverged.

As difficult as it was to step into separate directions, I was also comforted to know that Antony is a soul anointed by God, and I have no doubt that his walk will be mighty. My family is working to see him soon in the US.

Stephen and I made our way north towards the coastline, and then turned west before making our way through flatlands, and then back through mountains before reaching our destination for the night, Pueblas, Mexico.

We found a Holiday Inn that was willing to house the dogs for the night, and we again smuggled the turtles into the room. Tomorrow is day three as we begin our approach towards Laredo, Texas.

Tonight while laying in bed, I purchased US auto insurance for the Polar Bear (the van), verified dog import procedures with the CDC website, and reviewed again the process of exiting Mexico with vehicle intact and bond deposit secured.

With all done for now that can be done, I lay my head on the pillow thinking of the scenery of the drive today: massive bridges, bodies of water, windmills, rainbows, snow-crested mountains, and warm sunsets.

After some rest, we'll wake to take on day three. We'll either make it across the border into the US, or we may stop close. Time will tell. We give thanks to God for his providence. We give thanks to God that we can walk in His way.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Guatemala, Mexico, USA Day One: "There is a Turtle Over Here."

To so many of you who prayed for our journey today, here is how the day ended, me with my mouth stuffed full, between two of the most incredible friends in the world, at our intended stopping point, San Cristobal, Las Casas, Mexico.

When my alarm went off at 2:30 AM, Kellie popped out of bed before me, to go downstairs and brew our final pot of coffee in Guatemala. The previous day was our final day of goodbyes, with friends stopping by, hugs and gifts exchanged, and emotions stacked higher than our suitcases.

With our two dogs, Remus and Sirius loaded in the van, along with their required paperwork, Stephen, Antony, and myself hit the dark roadways and made our way out of the city, through Chimaltenango, heading north towards Huehuetenango, and towards the border crossing of Mesia, Mexico.

There were two memorable phrases spoken today, both by my uncle Stephen: (1) "I hear water running," and (2) "There's a turtle over here."

We were driving in the cold, dark, high altitude air of Tecpan when the first phrase broke the soothing hum of the tires on the open roads, "I hear water running," Stephen said. I asked, "Is the five gallon jug busted?" Suddenly we all shared awareness as we heard the sounds of Sirius, our smallest Schnauzer, puking inside of his dog kennel. Ironically, shortly thereafter, it was the sound of water running again as we poured from the five gallon water jug to rinse out dog vomit on the side of the highway.

The second occurred at our stop at the border, where we all nervously approached our first checkpoint, complete with military security, to gain our exit stamp from Guatemala. Our navigation was mobile phone based and my charger had inexplicably stopped charging. After gaining our stamps with little resistance and amazing assistance from Antony, we saw a man selling cell phone chargers on the side of the road.

This was the moment when I heard in a bewildered voice, "There's a turtle over here." He seemed a bit startled. He later said, "I wondered where a Red-Eared Slider would have come from." In that moment of his surprise, I had to confess, "Um, that's Caleb's. Do you perhaps see another... there were two."

This water started out clear this morning.  
Thankfully both turtles were recovered unharmed and I am relieved to report that all the Shep family pets: Remus, Sirius, Anakin, and Luke are safe with us in the hotel room tonight.

Tomorrow Stephen and I will continue our trip north as Antony enjoys an additional day and night here Las Casas before taking the tour bus back to Guatemala. His help has been as immeasurable and valuable as both his friendship and our families love.

We are so thankful to have found a hotel that offered secure parking for our van (in the corner) and is also dog friendly. The turtles were smuggled in,
inside my backpack.
Our target tomorrow is a 480 mile, 9 hour drive to Puebla, Mexico, just east of Mexico City, placing us over halfway through Mexico. Antony helped me get a Mexican SIM card for my phone and we have internet loaded, so the plan is to provide updates along the way. We appreciate your continued prayers that we remain within the path that God sets for us. There is no better place to be than in His will.

Goal: 480 miles to Pueblo by nightfall