Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hearts Wide Open (the Journey)

In the beginning God spoke everything into existence. Galaxies exploded from His mouth and from His imagination. He is the God of all things creative and expansive, and humanity was the pinnacle of His creation, filled with His breath and marked with His image. We carry His characteristics of building, restoring, and multiplying.

Nearly twelve years ago God instilled a vision in the heart of a man in Guatemala who was opening an English School. The man was deeply impressed that the school was a gift from God and that in turn it should be given to a church. 

While this sense of giving back was by no means unique, what made it extraordinary was his conviction that the church should be an English speaking church and pastored by a man from the United States. 

The idea was crazy and most just laughed as the years passed. Surely he must have felt a little like Noah as he built a boat on dry land while the neighbors humiliated his efforts.

While God was speaking to the owner of the school, I was being groomed by a Fortune 50 company in Cincinnati, Ohio where I learned how to manage people and projects. Certainly the Spirit of God was not communicating these things to me as I chased a career. Pastoring an English speaking church in Guatemala would have sounded like a ridiculous, disruptive, and ill-conceived notion.

I think back at how closed my heart was during those times when God was preparing my life for a wide open Journey. Even when we limit ourselves, we still bear the image of an expansive God.

Two years ago we nearly packed up and ran home. Our life savings was gone, our house in Ohio was approaching foreclosure, and we had lost key financial donors due to a failing economy in the US. Our vision of founding an orphanage in Guatemala had collapsed and I viewed myself as a failure and a fool.

Of course, we had experienced some success with the Journey Church campus that met in a school... across the street from the school founded by the man with a vision. But pastoring the church didn't put a penny in my pocket and to make ends meet I began to substitute teach at the school across the street.

The owner of that school was astounded to find that an English speaking pastor was working on his campus! Over time a relationship formed between my family and his as we became friends and partners. I went from a substitute teacher, to Academic Director, to Principal of Christian American School (CAS). 

Journey Church remained across the street, but we began to hold events on the CAS campus, such as: Big Student Ministries and small gatherings of evening worship. A conversation began as Erico shared his vision with me and we started to discuss what it might be like if Journey transitioned to his campus. Could I possibly be the pastor that God had shown to him so many years ago?

This past year has been a faith walk. I resigned my position as Principal with the school (releasing the salary) in order to dedicate more time to our church and our mission. Through hosting interns and God's divine providence we have remained financially sound. Each month is still a faith walk, but God has honored our steps. 

On May the 15th at 10:00 AM, the Journey Church House Band will hit the first chord of our relocation to Christian American School. The school owners, Erico and Vivian have built two new classrooms for Journey Church to expand our children's ministries, constructed a beautiful office at the entrance of the school that will become Journey Church Guest Services, made structural and parking changes, provided storage space, and given the church a full time office... all at no charge.

Main Entrance and Guest Services
Two classrooms complete with whiteboards,
projectors, and WiFi.

The Auditorium with seating for 200,
(CAS Chapel service pictured).
The vision given to Erico so many years ago has now become reality. Again, the words spoken from the mouth of God are creative and expansive. The imagination of God far surpasses our wildest dreams. Surely it should be no surprise that the God of creation has the ability to pluck up a retail manager from Ohio and pair him with the owner of a school in Guatemala... and yet, I find myself simply and wholly amazed. 

Conversations are now beginning again as together we share visions of multiple campuses: Magdalena, Carretera El Salvador, and maybe even Antigua.

May God continually open our hearts so that we run unrestricted; filled with His breath, imprinted by His image, and seeing with His imagination.

"We have spoken freely to you... our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return... widen your hearts also."
2 Cor 6:11-13

Erico Can
Chad P. Shepherd

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Everything as Loss: Little Faces Shine with Hope

Nameless to the world, she stepped out from between discarded trash from the city that pulses beyond the pallet and cardboard walls of her home. How strange our band of multi-ethnic people must have looked to her eyes as we walked by with white teeth and neatly laced shoes.

We made our way through the squeezed streets along the truck route to the city dump where thousands survive by scavenging and recycling the plastic, glass, metal, and unwanted bits of life. 

In this place, the Hot Wheels and action figures of my childhood are replaced with bits of string and random pieces of brokenness that are grasped with tiny hands. Just hold one little hand... and bear witness to the hard life that is evidence by broken fingernails, caked deep with the dust and grit that is existence here.

Take moment and stop by their front door... don't just pass them by... and consider their day, their desires and hopes, listen to them describe what the future holds. I found myself staring at a crusty jar of mayonnaise, the oil had separated from the other ingredients, sitting on top the yellowing cream due to a lack of refrigeration.

These homes have no running water and they are stacked side by side for as long as I can see. Where do they go to the bathroom? Many have no power. They're just bits of garbage, held together with old hangers and bits of wire. The nice homes here are raw concrete, offering shelter from all the world in a place where dust obscures the sunlight and rain floods every home.

We were honored to be in this place. I am grateful to see my son walk among people that know how to survive among the most difficult conditions, in a place with the lowest health conditions and highest murders on the planet. People who live daily by faith. 

People who understand what the value of knowing Jesus Christ is really about. I helped assemble a bed as I contemplated the words of Paul to the church in Ephesus. He said that knowing Jesus is worth more than anything else. So much more, that the things we think are important, like college degrees, titles, and occupation... in comparison, those things are like garbage that is thrown to dogs. 

Which of us then are the poor? 

Danna learns English from "Light for the Future" mission. She has shared a bed with her four siblings and their mother with a single thin mattress during the hot nights near the opening of the dump. Her family is more fortunate than others, they have a steel door that locks the dangers out.

Their story is one of hope that Paul would understand so well. There was a place that Paul spoke of, known as Gehenna. It was referenced by the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah. It was a place where things burned perpetually; discarded things, unwanted things, even bodies.

It is the same here. Among the garbage can be found the discarded dead... some by accidental crushing as the trash underfoot collapses, and others discarded after murder.

Certainly we all have trouble in our lives. We also have things that we believe give us worth, value, and identity. Surely it is easy for us to consider how a family living in Gehenna might lose perspective, faith, and hope. Meanwhile we are blind to the fact that the very things we cling to... endanger our souls every bit as much as threatening crime, disease, and malnutrition.

What a lesson we have to learn. It is not the situation that surrounds us that gives our life worth. It is only our relationship to the person of Jesus Christ that gives us value, hope, and meaning. Everything else is disgusting like piled debris that holds the decayed bodies of burning corpses.

Everything else is simply worthless... if you do not know Jesus Christ. Seek him daily with all your heart, all your mind, all your actions... and don't seek him alone.

*This project made possible by the cooperation and fellowship of four mission organizations:
-Promise House, a home for teen moms build the bed,
-Prince of Peace, home for girls provided transportation,
-Journey Church Guatemala paid for the bed,
-Light for the Future coordinated the team.

Pauls words taken from Philippians 3:7-14.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Dam Tour was Sold Out (So we took the Power Plant Tour)

High atop Lake Mead Sterling knew no fear.

Caleb looking out at 8 of the 17 generators that bring power to the surrounding states. Hoover Dam and the Colorado River provide a combination of man-made and natural resources to the surrounding states. 

Paintings by John Rush
Just in case you weren't sure?

The Winged Figures
of the Republic
Lake Mead: created and
sustained by Hoover Dam

Allen True, a Colorado resident and artist, incorporated
Native American concepts into the art deco design.

While not impressed with the glow of Las Vegas, the might
and power of Hoover Dam gained Caleb's approval!

Aleksandra takes a peek over the edge
while her Mammaw Krena shares the moment.
Hoover Dam was a reminder of the might of America in generations past. The quiet splendor of art deco, mighty figures in stone, brass and marble fixtures point to a time when the country celebrated her place in the world.

Nestled into the beauty were also reminders of a nation that was ready to defend itself with soldiers inside the Old Exhibit Building and a high defense post hidden in the mountain face, used during World War 2.

Hoover Dam is an exquisite blend of power, strength, and beauty that represents some of the best qualities of our nation. The 92 men that gave their lives to provide life and power to the west are represented and remembered by the thousands that visit them daily. 

Our nation needs more than technology and entertainment. We would do well to remember the titans of the 20th Century that gave so much. It now falls on the next generation to either continue to defend it, or to allow it to waste away with faux values of apathy and tolerance.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Grande Shepherd Adventure (The Shepherds Go West)

Outside of Las Vegas, heading towards Arizona, the highways are straight and the land is clear. A turn from the main road found our rented Ford Expedition churning dust and our appetites growling in a desolate little town. The wind moved debris along the sides of the road and I waited to hear the whisp of the wind carry a faint soundscore like a Quentin Tarantino film.

A friendly face met us inside the diner as we relieved the boredom of a teenage girl with a smiling face and hair pulled into a wild ponytail. As we examined the menu of hotdogs done twenty ways, she gave us tips on navigating the Skybridge, our first stop on our trek along the rim of the Grand Canyon. 

Our family learned this week that Caleb is as sure footed as a mountain goat. "Goat" was often seen hoping from rock to rock as we all nervously watched from safe pavement. His feet were sure and he never slipped.

Into the looking glass we looked, the closer to the ledge you stood, the stronger the pull toward the edge seemed to pull at your body. Every direction was sheer wonder.

As soon as I spotted this summit, I knew that "Goat" would have to conquer it... and I knew that I'd follow his footsteps. Sure enough... with a look to his mother, a nod from her (and a quick unspoken glance to me that said, "Go with him") we were off.

Of course... not to be outdone, Aleksandra was with us. With the two of them in the lead and me behind to catch a slipped foot (on my head)... up we went.

The view from the top was unrivaled. We felt like Everest climbers as we surveyed the world from our peak.

After climbing, we were able to see the climb from a distance... our foots stepped where the ravens soared. What a cleansing moment it was of serenity and silence above the fray of the world. How ironic that within the danger of the climb we found a calm, silent embrace of our God.

I am held captive by the ravens. Their size was rivaled by their intelligence on the ground and grace in the sky. I defied park rules and earned the disdaining looks of others as I shared my lunch with this bold bird as he edged closer and closer to my reach. 

Sterling was full on monkey energy at every step. She saw the binoculars around my neck and was thrilled when Kellie found a little red pair at an official gift shop that was sized just for her. I paused with awareness that at five years old, Sterling will remember this trip prominently in her memory for the rest of her life. These are formative days. How amazing that we invest into her in this expansive place. The world is open to this young, inquisitive, bright mind.

Contemplation wasn't isolated to my own mind. I watched them as they watched the world. While they contemplated the landscape, I prayed for their future. Of all the amazing cuts in the earth, I realized that none of it rivaled God's preeminent creation... His children.

(Video... click the photo)

Obligatory selfie and cameo

"Goat in his element."
Sterling... strike a pose. #Vogue
Papaw "Live-Action" #photobomb
Seizing the day

Leo T. and Krena Shepherd, my parents hiking on the mountain edge.

The greatest surprise of this trip was the freezing temperatures. Hollywood had lied to me all of my life... the desert is not always hot! This was our coldest day with temperature reaching below freezing as snow whipped across our faces. Our family, transported from the mission field of Guatemala was not prepared.

Undeterred... we bundled up, soaked up heat like lizards when we found warm places... and continued on this trip of a lifetime. Surely the memories of experiences shared will far outweigh the temporary bite of the wind.

Desert View Watchtower, the memorial site of an airline crash, serves as both a symbol of improved aviation safety and a testament to the beauty of the landscape. 

What a powerful place to close the day. Surrounded by history, both of power, beauty, and pain. Life goes on. We rebuild through desolation. Beauty is enhanced as we celebrate life together. 

Surely... each day provides us both of these things, pain and beauty. Turn your eyes to the horizon.