Tuesday, January 22, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (3) Pure Religion

“But God doesn't call us to be comfortable

He calls us to trust Him so completely 
that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations 

where we will be in trouble 
if He doesn't come through.” 

~Francis Chan, Crazy Love

A feared and powerful man once walked down a long road between to ancient cities on a mission. It was a 6 day journey that spanned over 130 miles of unshaded heat and dry dusty roads. He was known to be the best at what he did, and this thing he did was the pursuit, torture, and destruction of those who claimed to follow The Way.

His sandals stepped closer and closer to the city of Damascus where he intended to further solidify his claim. He was sure he would find more of these radicals, and his mission was to scrape the surface of the earth clean of them and their teachings of their messiah, this so called savior.

Saul wasn't looking for Jesus on that day... and yet, Jesus was looking for him.

As a young man studying with the religious power-brokers of the day, the Sanhedrin, he was witnessed to be at the stoning of Stephen, the first recorded christian martyr. While he watched the life being beaten out of this man, without a doubt the scene was etched into his memory as Stephen died crying out that he could see Jesus, and as the stones fell on him he could be heard saying, "forgive them."

Now, the grown man Saul was the most aggressive persecutor of these that followed the way of Jesus... traveling with his men, sure of his position in society, highly educated, and with impeccable heritage. In short, he was untouchable. 

And he wasn't looking for Jesus on that day... 

...suddenly persistent and blinding light strikes him with such force that he collapses to the ground in fear for his life. He shuts his eyes so tight that it hurts, and tears flow from them as this impossible light permeates his eyelids and sears his eyes--blinding him.

A voice that seems to come from everywhere and somehow no-where shakes him to his very bones as it thunders, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 

With his body still pressed flat in the dust he cries out, “who are you?” 

The entire earth seems to shake with the immediate answer, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting.”

How do you react when you are confronted with the presence of God? This day changed Saul's life forever. His encounter with the one he was persecuting...this realization that the story of Jesus was more than a band of lunatics, this confrontation with true belief changed his life immediately and forever.

Through obedience Saul found his way as directed by Jesus into the city and his sight was restored. His willingness to follow the voice of God, even through the dark of sightlessness led him to receiving the promises of the one he sought to destroy.

Can you imagine? This man who martyred the first christian was chosen by God to become His first missionary. This one who was crushing the message of The Way, leaving a trail of blood and bodies in his path... went on to become the most influential bearer of the gospel of all time. 

Surely God then... can also use you.

His name became new as he took on a new mission... from destroyer to a life of belief fueled by his experience. And this belief carried him through tragedy. The persecutor became the afflicted: beaten, abandoned, stoned, shipwrecked, mocked by his friends, outcast from society, and even rejected by other followers of The Way. He found himself imprisoned and even put to death. 

During these times of imprisonment, he wrote to the early church and told them of his joy and he spoke of a peace that comes from God that defies understanding. 

He showed us all that the promises of God are fulfilled when we are obedient to his voice.

Peace and Joy are not based on context, but on content. Not on where we're at, or what has happened to us... NO, they are rather a reflection of the condition of our hearts! Have we had an encounter with the God of the universe?

If we have heard his voice... and we are obedient to his direction... then our lives are changed.

Through obedience we can find the promises of God: peace, joy, true contentment that lives above circumstance. How can we live lives of inaction if we have encountered a God Experience? How does this not change our lives? Do those around us see the influence of our belief? 

Do we carry the peace, joy, and love of The Way... or are we still face-down in the dirt?

If you question whether or not God still speaks... I am here to tell you that indeed He does. 

He comes to us when we least expect it... and most importantly, 
He speaks when He choses. I assure you that His timing is 
when we need it most.

And... God doesn't call us to be comfortable.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 

for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets 
what kind of man he was. 
James 1

(Excerpts from the intro of my message at Poasttown on Jan. 20, 2013)
Poasttown First Church of God
6376 Germantown Rd.MiddletownOH45042

Sunday, January 20, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (2) That's How We Do It.

Last summer I gave my employer a one-year notice of my resignation from the company. I was worried that I might be separated immediately when they learned that I no longer had long-term goals that included them, but I also knew that they would eventually find out as word of our departure spread. I decided I wanted to control the message and I wanted to share my story with them regardless of the risk.

I met with my immediate supervisor who listened with very little comment. He just looked at me and said, "Chad, are you sure about this?" When I answered yes, he took a deep breath, looked me in the eye and again repeated his question. I responded, "yes, I am more sure of this than anything I have ever done." He stood up and said, "let's go talk to the president."

Within a few short minutes I found myself in the office of the company president and was telling our story of how adoption had changed our lives. I talked of the villages and the people of Guatemala. I spoke of their faith and how it challenged our own. I found words flowing out of my mouth with sincerity and deep-felt passion as I shared our goals... our dreams... our plans... our calling.

To my surprise she then shared with me some of her own story and I was overwhelmed with the parallels in our lives. Somehow it seemed that this conversation was meant to be. She ended with telling me that I had her support and the support of the company. I could remain employed up until the time I chose to leave.

Within a few weeks I began phasing out of my position and was re-assigned from my district role to a management assignment in a retail store. I hadn't worked in a store for nearly 7 years and I had a great deal to learn and re-learn.

The store had heard bits of my story before my arrival, and when I was there face to face I quickly learned that I had to be better at telling exactly what we were going to do in Guatemala. Suddenly I was publicly sharing my faith on a daily basis. Within time, I learned to love telling the story!  They helped me re-gain my footing and become effective.

I have been with this team now for 6 months and they asked me how they could help us raise money for our mission. One of the ladies, Sue had an idea to buy and sell bracelets. I told her that I had a box of about 100 hand-braided bracelets from Guatemala and showed her the one on my wrist. Within 48 hours she and the ladies in the front office had sold the entire lot to our co-workers.

I left work this past Friday with a smile on my face, and a lump in my throat... everywhere I looked, the men and women that I have worked beside these last few months had Guatemalan bracelets tied on their wrists. One by one they came to me to show that they wanted to be part of our life's goal. Some have even made long-term commitments to giving.

God knows the need and desire of our hearts. When we follow his path, he works in ways that we can not see. What began as a tentative step for me in sharing my faith with co-workers has brought us together to this point of shared vision.

I have less than 100 days now with the 9-1-9, and I plan to make each on count. I am thankful for these days. 

That's how we do it at the 9-1-9!

Friday, January 11, 2013

GUATEMALA 2013: (1) Introducing Our Mission

Shepherd January 2013 Newsflyer
In five short months from this time tonight I will be writing my first blog post as a missionary from Guatemala. I can already feel it coming like a shift in the air before a cool summer rain.

Our mission has four separate components and I wanted this flyer to provide a preview into exactly what the Shepherd family will be about. This is our calling. It is a single mission with four clear areas of focus: 

Labor de Falle
We will actively work in this village with teams from the United States and Guatemalans to accomplish: home building, water projects, feeding programs, medical & dental clinics, child education, literacy & completion of a church. 

The big idea here is initiating generational change. Decades of civil war has devastated communities and families. We seek not to just help those whose hands we grasp, but also to  strengthen them to become self-sufficient, lifting up not only themselves, but an entire community. 

This is all accomplished with a foundation of sharing the story & living the love of Jesus. True religion is more than words.

Christian Academy of Guatemala
Kellie will be fulfilling a lifetime goal of teaching in another country. She will be volunteering and has already sent in all necessary documentation. The school is a private institution that many local missionary families as well as domestic families attend. 

Caleb and Aleksandra are already enrolled and daycare will be available for Sterling. I will be volunteering as well, filling multiple roles as needed: driver, coordinator, speaker, ditch-digger, jack-of-all-trades. This will be an area of community and stability for us as we can interact with other mission-minded families. 

Journey Church Guatemala
Founding missionaries of our organization, Catalyst Resources International, Fontaine & Paula Greene have been organizing mission-minded people and Guatemalans who want to worship in English to weekly meetings of worship, fellowship, and teaching.

Within the past year, this gathering became a campus of our home church, Journey Church in West Chester Ohio. Now, Journey Church Guatemala will be our congregation. I will be on staff as an associate pastor, working with small study groups and assisting with the weekly teaching series.

A Home for Abandoned Babies
And now we are at the heart of our mission. Our home will be a safe harbor for 4-6 infants who were abandoned and hopeless. Kellie and I have a passion for adoption because of how our two daughters have blessed our lives. We all walk hands held tightly together as we live out our belief.

We also believe that the God of the universe created us and called us His own, adopting us as His sons and daughters.

Our experience and our belief drives our conviction that we want to spend the rest of our lives reaching out to these beautiful children and uniting them with forever families.

Our life journey is now about looking after widows and orphans in their distress. We understand that to know God we must... beyond all else... have love. This love compels us. (James 1, 1 Corinthians 13)

We are forever grateful to so many who walk with us on this pursuit of belief. You are now the Provision of God.

This is our Mission
(Sponsor a Child or Come & Serve)

This is our Sending Agency
(Partner with our family today)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tears of Hope

January 2, 2013 ~ Happy 2nd Birthday
It may have been raining on that day,
the day she lay you down.
The hedge cradled your silent cries
as the warmth of her final embrace died.

The sky could only open up and weep
as tiny lungs gasped and you fell alone.
Six years of waiting had long since darkened
our dreams for a daughter.

Even so

The sun may have shone that day,
the day He held you safe.
I imagine the soft beat of sheltering wings 
expanding air through insufficient lungs.

The higher ways of God held us all that day...
that day that hope gave way to abandon.
The life of an infant and the faith of the broken,
 together nourished with the warm tears of the Father.

Oh yes, it was raining on that day.

A tea party

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sterling Mei: (32) The Great Wall of China

no walls around the human spirit, 

So many times in life I think we limit our own abilities with our doubt. While it is good to be prudent, we at times carry the worries of what could be upon our shoulders and listen to them as they whisper corruption in our ears. How far could we go if we stepped forward every day with the acknowledgment that we are the created beloved of the God of the universe?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step
Since my grade-school days and my first glimpse of a photograph of the Great Wall of China, I imagined myself standing on the top of that brick wall. 

I thought of the skilled and exhausted hands that placed those brick in the scorching sun and punishing winds of those mountains. It seemed to be such an impossible task to build a wall that stretched so far and stood so tall. 

I wondered about the vision of the Emperors that commanded the building. It had never before been accomplished, never had been, and likely never again will be. 

At the base of the Great Wall, outside of Beijing, China
Somehow in this incredible walk of life... I found myself with my wife at the base of this great wall, just outside of Beijing, China in the Winter of 2012. We had been on our own epic quest to adopt our third child, our second daughter. 

It was epic in that we had no idea how many detours, flights, and pursuits we would be required to chase on the day we first filed our paperwork six years earlier. Indeed we stood at the base of this wall different people than we were when we took our first tentative step.

At the base of the wall outside of Beijing.

The beginning of a journey requires only a willingness to  step away from where we are. We must be willing to part with what we know and find an awareness of the ground beneath the steps of our boots. 

It can be scary to say good-bye to the boring and mundane... but this is a necessary step to reaching beyond what we have to grasp that of which we dream.

Wherever you find yourself, I implore you to look to the horizen. Tell me what you see and ask yourself if you will find what you need should you reach that line of sky and earth. 

On this cold, blustery day we set out on a mission. We would reach the highest point of The Great Wall of China.

Our time was limited... as is typical of life. The bus would be leaving at the appointed time, and the climb was at the extreme limit of our ability. The air was thin and the answer was immediate and clear. 

Yes... we would reach the top. No matter what.

Within a day we would hold our new daughter in our arms. Today was about placing our feet on the stones of history. Men and women have accomplished incredible things in this world. What would our contributions be? 

At least for this day... we simply wished to pay respect to those who had passed before us and to simply stand in awe of the creation of our God.

And so we began our ascent. It began with smooth pavement and a crowd of people.
The air was crisp and the wind was cutting. Already we understood that this would be a painful journey, but childhood dreams demanded that we press forward with enthusiasm.

We bundled coats, scarves, and gloves tight. 
We kissed. 
We began climbing. 

How can I describe our experience? We felt like forbidden travelers evading guardians of old as we pressed our legs up those rocks that had been cut so long ago. We were aware that the protectors of ancient Beijing had patrolled these steps and cut down invaders with arrows and spears. It was like looking back in time as our eyes feasted on the horizon.

Along the way we encountered structures of brick and stone that must have sheltered the soldiers as they defended their city. We envisioned fires burning and decorated generals directing their troops in times of peril. 

My mind turned to introspection and I realized that somehow I was now evaluating my own walk in life. Where did I start? What were my goals? Who was I ? Where did I intend to be?

Was I guarding my heart? What were the watchtowers of my own soul? I looked across the span of the dusty room and my eyes locked on an answer.

“You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, 
jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls 
that are always going to be placed in front of you. 
If you don't have that kind of feeling for what it is you are doing, 
you'll stop at the first giant hurdle.” 
-George Lucas

In the horizon of our lives, what is it that frames our vision? What is it that is worth protecting? How vigilant are we in guarding the core of what is important? Do we realize our vantage point... how far does our vision pierce the distance? 

My wife stood in the silhouette and my breath caught in my throat. Yes... she is my epic journey. My commitment to her... my promise to God... my oath to forever. All this has brought us to this point. 

This convergence of childhood dreams, youthful promises, and lifelong goals.

It is all held in the vision of the God who created us to be... to be greater than the mere circumstance of our mundane lives. We are challenged to climb mountains.

I remember this point in our climb... looking across a chasm to a gazebo that seemed to silently observe the landscape. It seemed so serene, so strong, so isolated. 

I was struck by the contrast of the graffiti on the stone that was placed with such care, overlooking the power of the mountains that were raised up with violence... that held back invaders... and became the stronghold of the city. What was unimportant to some, was the stumbling block of others, and even so... became the salvation to the wise. 

What we choose to see can change who we become. We are not really so controlled by our circumstance. 

Undeniable beauty. Immense power. I am aware of the smallness of myself. I am in awe as I imagine myself as a chinese slave carrying rock up endless paths and laying brick after brick. I shudder at the power and vision of the Emperors who believed such an insurmountable task was possible. 

I wonder to myself... what I am capable of accomplishing? Am I to be swallowed up by the vastness, or am I to be empowered by the vision?

I think of Elijah and the still quiet voice of God on the side of the mountain. 

I pause and I am certain that I can hear it now. 

God speaks to me through his creation. He speaks to me through the relationships in my life. He speaks to me every moment I chose to open my eyes.

We crest the first mountain and we now can see our destination. The air is thin. The wind is relentless. Our faces are stung, our lips are dry, our legs are burning, our lungs feel raw, and our hearts are pounding. Sweat runs from our foreheads and freezes on our cheeks. 

We were once climbing with a crowd, and now we find ourselves nearly alone. The view is indescribable. We find ourselves alone with the birds of the air... and we climb on.

To get through the hardest journey
we need take only one step at a time,
but we must keep on stepping
~Chinese Proverb

I begin to run forward and I find myself now encouraging Kellie to follow. The going is tougher than we imagined, and our only companions are a few young German university students. We leapfrog them with our forward progress. They seem surprised that these middle-aged Americans can keep up.

 Our acknowledgement turns to a silent competition that drives us all to the top. 

Kellie and I pause for a picture as we stand on the highest elevation of the Great Wall of China. We have reached the summit. We have breathlessly found the top. It was worth it beyond our expectation. The feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming and the view was beyond imagination. Although we were exhausted, thirsty, and suffering... we did not want to leave that place. 


A stone sentry station stood at the summit with a small rock hewn vertical climb to a look out point. It was straight up and had no hand-rails. A fall here would be unfortunate. But we had climbed so far... I wasn't about to miss the top. 

I passed by the German students and I began a crouched ascent. I had to remove my gloves and dig my fingertips into the cracks of the ancient brick. I climbed knowing that a slip would be devastating. And yet... I reached the top and pulled myself over the ledge. 

I was alone at the highest point of the Great Wall of China. There was no-one to photograph my accomplishment. I thought of my friend, Kayci Roh and laughed... no doubt if he were here, he would have beaten me to the top. 

I turned my camera around and took a photograph of myself. This would be a moment I would remember for the length of my time on this earth.

            Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still. 
           ~Chinese Proverb

And so now we had to begin our descent. Time was rapidly expiring. We were with a group, but none of them tackled the climb. We were alone and at risk of missing our ride back to civilization. This was a concern since we had no idea how to get back to our hotel, didn't speak the language, and were on the far side of the globe. 

Somehow this all just made it all the more fun! 

My right knee had begun to swell and would no longer bend. I had to sort of shift and hobble down the hand-cut rock staircase. The steps are were not uniform... some would have a drop of only an inch or two, while others would fall off a good meter. 

Kellie now became my cheerleader as my knee refused to bend and the pain intensified. Each step was excuciating, and yet there was no other way down. The pain glazed over into a haze as I concentrated on my breath and kept my eyes on the horizon. 

I thought of my new daughter that I would soon hold in my arms. I thought of our families future. I thought of how our vision has to overcome the difficulty of our present circumstance. 

I feared that I was doing permanent damage to my leg... and I realized that it didn't matter. I was climbing the Great Wall of China. I was gaining a daughter. I was following the path that required me to abandon comfort for an adventure. Should this relegate me to a cane or a chair... it would be a badge of honor. We kept placing one foot in front of the other. 

Others had paid a much higher price than me. I now gave thanks for the pain that provided me perspective.

Along the way we had to pause to catch a breath and to again admire this once in a lifetime view. I imagined hordes of invaders cresting the ridges... and sentries lighting beacons to warn of needed preparations. Life is full of passion, sacrifice, and commitment. What will my legacy become? What legacy can you and I share together?

Sometimes it is good for us to encounter momentary discomfort on our journey. The pause causes us to look around and become aware of the things that bless our days. I stopped with a swollen knee and I was able to capture this incredible picture of the love of my life. 

If you find yourself feeling alone on the great wall of your journey... take stock of what matters most to you. What are your goals... where is your vision? Are you focused on the step, or can you see the power of your journey?

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. 

Listen to the don'ts. 

Listen to the shouldn'ts, 

the impossibles,

 the won'ts.

 Listen to the never haves, 

then listen close to me... 

Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

My daughter Sterling just turned 2 years old 13 minutes ago. She was the purpose of my journey. This lifelong goal that first caught my attention as a child in grade school was fulfilled as I found my daughter. 

You may not know the plans that God has for you... but I assure you that if you are willing to step away from you comfortable and safe place to follow the path He has laid out for you...

you will not only fulfill your dreams... you will find blessings and perspectives that forever blow your mind and change your life.

Happy 2nd Birthday
Sterling Mei Shepherd,
our precious daughter.

Mountains are no barrier.