Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Shepherd Family Marks 2 Years in Guatemala (or, Golden Retrievers Have to Let Go).

La Recoleccion Ruin, Antigua Guatemala
Faith is a journey. If we aren't moving, I think we might be dead. There is no such thing as being a comfortable follower of Christ. While there is joy in the LORD, there is also great sorrow over the state of the world. I live in this expanse between the two. Recently I've identified this place as the Kingdom of God.

I don't see the world like most people. I come to understand that suffering, while a misery and never chosen, is in fact the place that I can oftentimes best be used for the good. It must be our expectations that we get so out of whack. Somehow we end up in these bleak places where we mutter to ourselves about equality and fairness. What happened to humility and sacrifice? 

I think it's been stolen from us. And it is time we take it back. There's so much chatter now about what is right and what is just. The world has changed fundamentally, but my relationship with God is unchanged. My identity is intact. Faith is a journey, our family has been in Guatemala two years now, and it's time for us to transition to the next level.

We stood underneath the patio as the teams from several U.S. churches waited in line for their grilled burgers. Burger night is always a special night because it reminds us of so many memories from the past. It's a common thing that binds us. My mission director was challenging me to shift my focus. For the past 18 months I've been the Principal of Christian American School, putting in at least 40 hours a week. I'm also a pastor of Journey Church Guatemala, a missionary with Catalyst Resources International, a graduate student, and husband and father of three.

A year and a half ago our funding was failing and our plans were falling apart. God provided Christian American School as a place where I could pick up a stipend that covered our rent. I think he also provided me to them. It's been a beautiful labor of love. 

We've seen enrollment skyrocket, teacher retention climb dramatically to 87%, student grades increase, national test score ranking rise, and student's give their lives to God. The state of the school is very good. I have been looking forward to enjoying the fruits of the labor next year. It's a staff that I've built... well, we've all built together. I am deeply grateful for the time I have been able to spend with people who have become family.

God has blessed our ministry this past year. We've added 4 new supporting churches, and people seem to believe in our hearts, mission, and calling. We feel established. We know our purpose. 

This year has also been exhausting. I am tired like I've never felt. It's like my bones need sleep. I haven't had a day off since April 4th. That was spring break week. I had time off and I nearly went crazy. I've forgotten how to take a day off. I sleep 6 hours a night at most. I love the work, and yet I feel my body and my mind growing heavy. I've been wondering if the summer will be enough.

My mind shifted back to the present. As we stood under the patio, with me defending why I should continue this pace, I heard the words fall from my own lips, "Maybe the time is coming again that I just need to let go, and to trust God." His response was, "Exactly, now is that time."

He went on to describe me as a "Golden Retriever." He was being careful with his words, and I knew where he was driving. I said, "I've been told that I am loyal to a fault." He said, "Yes, exactly." You have a hard time letting go. Once you believe in something you are intensely loyal, I've seen that in you."

I felt it hit me. It was a moment I've learned to identify. It's that moment when the Holy Spirit of God makes its way through my defenses. All the tension and stress and effort suddenly disappears with an instant calming, reassuring knowledge that I have fully yielded. How ironic, this passed Sunday I preached on how the Courageous Ones of the Bible embrace the unknown.

And so I am releasing my role at Christian American School. It's a better place now than it was 18 months ago. They are strong. They are moving together as they follow God. It's a relationship that we'll continue to foster, but I'll no longer be their employee. I'll be their pastor, friend, and occasional consultant.

Last night was my last official act, graduating students and closing the school year. I have felt exhaustion leave my body as I've yielded to the will of God. I know we are taking the correct steps. We've been exactly where He's called us to be, and now He is again showing us the next steps.

Kellie and I are very happy to announce that our interns have been wonderful. Sam, Leah, and Caden have experienced teaching at Christian American School, clerical work for Journey Church, leadership in Big Student Ministries, field work for Catalyst Resources International, interaction with PILAS Ministry, and precious days of love at House of Hope. 

Our intern apartment is completed and we have visions of building a second. Our internship program this year was a huge success. Next year, we will expand this, with openings for 10 interns, beginning this December. We are signing up interested young men and women now. They must be Christians, mission minded, and with significant work experience or at least one year of college.

In addition to this, I will be able once again to join Catalyst Resources International in leading short term mission teams from the U.S. I am thrilled to be able to jump back into direct interaction with our friends and pastors in the villages and mountains. New Church of God connections are also coming together, with exciting interaction between our churches and our connections in Anderson.

As I work with teams from the U.S., I will be able to identify those who are skilled, willing, available, and interested in exploring missions a little deeper than a one week trip. This will be a significant base of generating internships. Those who want to experience a little bit more with Catalyst Resources International can do so as Kellie and I continue to develop and expand this program.

As Journey Church continues to grow, I'll be able to dedicate more time into my volunteer team. I look forward to more discipleship and volunteerism with this team. Journey Church has partnered with Light for the Future, a Christ based english academy for children who live in the tin city outside of the capital dump. One student recently was able to gain employment at a call center, speaking English, and now begins to lift his family out of generations of poverty.

Journey Church's relationship with Christian American School and Christian Academy of Guatemala continue to run strong as we meet at each location and enjoy the fellowship of shared goals. Together we are fulfilling the mission of connecting people to Christ and the Church."

As part of my re-alignment I've also reduced my class load from the seminary, taking 4 hours per semester instead of 7. This pace will enable me to graduate with my Master of Christian Ministry Degree from Anderson University School of Theology (SOT) in the spring of 2017. I am humbled that God has made this path possible.

My good friend and mentor, Dr. Gary Agee of the SOT was just confirmed and installed as the official Historian of the Church of God. He's coming down to spend a week with us here at the mission, and we'll be discussing possible documentation of the history of the Church of God in Guatemala. I'm thrilled for the potential collaboration!

So, we continue to walk in will of God. It is my deep desire that we remain in walking in the blessing of God. This October I am eligible for ordination, the final step of my credentialing as a pastor. It's been a challenging and rewarding process since 2013, and it will be sweet to feel the hands of those ministers covering me in prayer. 

Faith is a journey. I thank God that we're still moving. I praise God that He doesn't allow us to become comfortable or complacent. I am grateful for the stretching and the growth. I praise God that He has revitalized my spirit, and that He continues to shift our focus as He sharpens our edge. 

Now more than ever before, we are leveraged to be a part of generational change with families here in Guatemala, walking with them in powerful faith. And we need your support. We need you to send us interns. We need you to walk beside us prayerfully, and financially. I am confident that greater things are yet to come.

Just in case you're worried that I'm tired, please know that it is the type of tired you get after doing something you love, and know that beginning mid July, we'll be taking 4 nights away as a family at the nearby Pacific coast. 

Just in case you're one of those murmurers that say missionaries shouldn't be frivolous and wasteful, please know that the cost is very cheap, and the time together with family is vital.

And if you're down in our neck of the woods, we have a bed with fresh linens waiting for you. I promise you a trip of a lifetime.

Las Capuchinas Ruins, Antigua Guatemala

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