Faith like a what?

I’ll be honest as I usually am.  I have been contemplating writing this blog for a while now.  I know it is something that needs to happen.  It is a good way for me to somehow organize my scattered brain right now.  A way to be able to put into words what I am feeling even though I really don’t know what I’m feeling.  That is kind of the space I have entered at this point in the journey.

 

This year has been a lot, PERIOD.  It has been full with visits, new people, new homes, old friends, coming home friends, family and more.   It has been trying new things and experiences.  It has been dealing head-on with tough issues and things I would rather not deal with.  It has been diving into deep rooted parts of me and trying to understand and make changes.  It has been finding and understand rest.  It has been about loving me for me and understanding deeper who me is.  So, when I say journey, that is truly what this year has been.  Now, we enter into a new space as we venture back to Ecuador.  It is familiar and new all at the same time.  We aren’t the same people we left Ecuador as and I know those in Ecuador are not the same as they were.  The ministry in Ecuador has grown and changed.  Friends have changed.  Some are there, some have embarked on new journeys of their own.  All is different and all is the same.

 

A lot of people I’m sure wonder what the transitional, missionary life is all about and why we do it.  I often wonder that too.  Sometimes I realize that I didn’t have things figured out last transition to the States, but now I do for this move.  Only to realize that there are a whole new set of emotions, decisions and things I can’t even name that I can’t understand.  Why would I cry over place mats?  I don’t even USE place mats?  I cried because those place mats had memories attached.  They were used for countless Christmas dinners.  It is a thing.  But this missionary life makes things like that simple decision complicated.  You can’t take everything like that in your suitcases.  You can’t hold on as tightly to things as I usually might.  To most, those simple things are simple.  For me, they are hard.  When people ask about this life.  At this point, on this day, in this time, it’s hard.  Period.

 

Simeon asked me today as we were packing yet another bag, ‘mommy, why did you start the Santiago Partnership?  Was it to help people?’  I explained about ‘call’ which I’m sure to a 9 year old boy sounds pretty interesting.  I told him that we followed what God asked us to do.  Sometimes, at different times in my life, those few simple words sounds crazier than they ever have.  To say to myself, I am following what God asked us to do when I have to say goodbye to my best friend and her family.  When my son gets off the bus and cries in my arms because his heart hurts that he had to say more goodbyes.  When we have to pack up and leave behind a family house that has so many wonderful memories.  Packing up our lives once again and deciding what is important enough to make the journey with us and what will likely be thrown away (for instance old photo albums, antiques and bluebird houses).  Do I know these are just things you may ask?  Of course and that is why the decisions are made for those things to stay behind.  There are not bluebirds in Ecuador that I know of.  But my heart still hurts because those things would probably stay with us if we lived in the States.

 

Would I change the call I feel God has placed on my life?  No.  There are some days, hard days in ministry when my call has been what has gotten me out of bed in the morning to continue.  Would I be happier here in the States?  Well, I know we would be fine if that happened, but I also know God hasn’t called us from Ecuador.  God has placed us there and if we were anywhere but the will of God, we wouldn’t be living life obediently or abundantly.  You don’t think about your children crying in your arms because they have to say more goodbyes when you answer YES to serving as a missionary.  You don’t think of what ‘home’ is or your lack of definition to that simple word anymore when you raise your hand and say “send me!”  You don’t think about the guilt or the goodbyes or the problems and struggles when you say “I will go”. You just…GO.  PERIOD.

 

That’s faith, right?  Taking that step not always knowing where it leads.  Going deeper in the water even if you don’t have a life jacket.  Jumping without a parachute.  It’s all crazy isn’t it?  Faith can be crazy and scary and emotional and a place you don’t understand.  I am there right now.  But part of faith is knowing that there is someone that is your life jacket, your parachute.  Someone that holds your hand when you take steps in to the darkness and unknown.  I have seen the evidence in the past that God doesn’t leave.  He is walking with us.  He’s holding our hand and guiding.

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DEEP AND WIDE

For a couple of years now, I have prayed for churches or individuals who would take a large undertaking.  I knew it was a big ask, but I also know our God is a big God and He cares about things we care about.  A few years ago, I got connected with an organization called Days for Girls.  They help:

increase access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls.”

We have partnered at different times with Days for Girls to help get the menstruation kits that they create to Ecuador in to the hands of girls and women that need them as well as through education.  In Ecuador, especially in Indigenous communities, talking about your body or what happens to it including menstruation are not talked about; it is very taboo.  We have been able to use these kits as well as partnering with our physicians in our clinic in Ecuador to make this topic less taboo.

All that to say, during this year of home assignment, we have been trying to talk with churches, women’s ministries and individuals to see if they would be willing to take on the task of being a chapter to help make and sew these kits that might directly go to Ecuador and our project.  We have now had two churches who are in the process of hopefully doing JUST THAT!  The story of how this was created and developed in the community where we are living right now is too long, but I will just say that we have seen just how Deep and Wide God cares.  We contacted a lady in our church here in Goshen, Pleasant View, who might be able to take this on and she did.  Laura Stern has done that and partnered with an already existing chapter that Vicki Gibson leads.  They are pictured here.

Vicki and Laura

They have taken this and run with it with a goal of sewing 200 kits to take to Ecuador with their PV team in June.  They are super close to finishing and the church and chapter communities have come together to do it.  This is what Laura recently said:

Thank you everyone for all efforts!  This project has really given us a good visual for DEEP and WIDE.  It has taken many of us doing what we can to get these made and what a blessing to see it all unfold.

God has truly shown me how much he cares.  He has answered a prayer that I have kind of secretly prayed for two years now and God has shown me how DEEP AND WIDE He cares that He would speak in ways I couldn’t even have imagined to make this possible.  Thanks so much!  Here are a few pictures from the sewing days that have happened at Pleasant View to sew these kits.

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Everything is Different

Isaiah 61:3
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

I started the Lenten season (the 40 days before Easter) with very good intentions and high expectations.  In years past, I felt this holy season sneak up on me leaving me scrambling and rushing and in the midst of the noise, losing the significance, Jesus, redemption, resurrection.  I mean it is one of heights of the church year and somehow I seemed to lose it in everything else in my calendar.  Well, this year was going to be different.  I had chosen a book that was a devotional for 40 days with podcasts and such to help bring in Lent and fully experience it (at least what my idea was).  I had received materials to help lead the kids through the Lenten season as well.  I wanted to give up sugar and diet pop during this season.  I had lofty goals, high expectations.  I wanted to go through the journey of Jesus.  To understand and really to meet Him.  Those weren’t bad goals or expectations, but when we celebrated Easter just a few short weeks ago, I had only made it to day 24 or so of the devotional.  I made it over halfway through without sugar or diet pop and then caved.  I didn’t even start the materials for the kids.   I started feeling like I had failed.  Once again, I failed to do the Lenten journey.  But during the Easter service and the days after leading to today, I realized that God was there the whole time.  I didn’t need to have expectations and lofty goals because the focus of Easter isn’t about me, it’s about Jesus.  He is the same but everything is different…

Am I losing you yet?

The days following Easter I seemed to have this joy that I hadn’t experienced in a really long time.  It was something new and in all honesty, a little unnerving.  I just figured there would be a crash sooner or later, similar to a sugar crash an hour after you inhaled your favorite cake (not that I’ve ever done THAT!).  I was expecting it and really was wondering where this was coming from.  Now, I’m not dumb, I know my joy comes from Jesus and that is an inherent joy that is not emotional.  But I felt that emotionally I was feeling and finally living in that perfect place of joy.  The joy was overshadowed by where I feel I live sometimes and that is the failing place.  The place where one thing happens and you feel like you’ve failed and then negative thoughts come in that lead into a downward spiral of negativity until you kind of plant yourself there with feelings of never getting out.  Who knows, maybe I am alone in the feelings like this.  But at the end of that day, feeling in the depths, feeling like I failed and sometimes feeling like the cycle is never going to break, I was met with overwhelming hope.  Everything WAS different…because of Jesus, not because of ME.  The cross and the resurrection took on a whole new meaning.

I was driving the kids around as kind of the last resort thing to do to try and get them to sleep.  I was sleep-deprived myself and feeling really worthless with a horrible attitude (nobody has been there?  Can I get an AMEN!).  I had turned on music which is usually a pretty good place for me to start when I am feeling in the failing place.  It usually takes my focus off of myself, which it did, in a big way.  I was listening to a song called Everything is Different.  Hence the name of the blog post.  The parts that stood out are these:

You made a way when there was no way
You covered heaviness with garments of praise
You wrote a song and You’re singing it over me
I feel a dead heart beating now
This revelation makes me want to shout
That Jesus has been sent
And everything is different

You turn ashes into beauty
You are for me, not against me now
You found me somehow
You turn mourning into dancing
You turn weeping into a joyful noise
Oh rejoice!

I was caught so completely off guard and so marvelously reminded of how different things really were.  The joy I had felt and the failing place are all covered, Jesus was sent and everything WAS and IS different.  I knew that this song was from scripture, but I didn’t know the passage and so I wanted to learn more so I looked it up.

Isaiah 61:3 says:

 …and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Another line that lead me to scripture was the thought (seriously, think about this), that God wrote a song and is singing it over me.  That the God the breathed nothingness in to being would care enough to sing a song over ME?  WHAT?!

Zephaniah 3:17 says in the New Living Translation:

For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

As I dove deeper in to the scripture, Christ reminded me of so many things.  You can read the whole commentary  HERE

And I highly recommend it because it is amazing.  But basically what I drew from it is taken from the text, The spirit of heaviness they keep to themselves (Zion’s mourners weep in secret); but the joy they are recompensed with they are clothed with as with a garment in the eye of others. Observe, Where God gives the oil of joy he gives the garment of praise. Those comforts which come from God dispose the heart to, and enlarge the heart in, thanksgivings to God. Whatever we have the joy of God must have the praise and glory of.

So, let’s go back to the car.  My failing place was suddenly changed to joy.  Because things were different, I was different because of the redeeming power of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection.  I don’t HAVE to live in that place because He has exchanged all of that for beauty and joy and peace and praise and thanksgiving.  I hadn’t failed in that moment to meet Jesus.  I can’t fail at that, ever because Jesus is already here.  I have already met Him and He has already changed meI just have to live in to the beauty, joy, peace, and praise and thanksgiving.

That sure hasn’t been the last failing place incident I’m sorry to admit.  But, God is teaching me to not LIVE IN THAT place, but to live in the beautiful place.  The place where the mourning is changed to praise, ashes are changed to beauty, hearing, HEARING the song that Jesus sings over me as praise.  Live THERE friends!

As usual, music is an integral part of the story for me.  Here is the song, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT, by Shane and Shane:

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Signing for a new future

About a month ago, our Ecuadorian leadership of the project signed a new agreement to work hand-in-hand with the Ecuadorian government in our ministry of the Home for At Risk Children as well as we extended our agreement to continue the Prevention program.  Both of these agreements mean that the social services department of the Ecuadorian government will be financially supporting the project in these two different facets so this is extremely exciting news.  Congratulations to our Project Coordinator, Rolando Escola, as his leadership and negotiation skills has brought about this new development.

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Women serving women

Recently, our project in Ecuador held another women’s medical caravan; this time in the amazon, also called the jungle region of the country.  This week’s team was made up of Ecuadoran doctors (including doctors from our clinic in Cayambe), missionary women, and women from the local and national women’s organization of the Ecuadoran Covenant church.  We served two communities and provided medical, dental, and counseling care.  One of the communities that we worked with only have medical providers two a month and the rest of the time they have to travel 1-2 hours for any type of care.  We had  great week serving alongside women from another part of the country.

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Indiana University Dental Students return to serve

A little over a month ago our project had the opportunity to serve alongside a group dental students from Indiana University School of Dentistry.  They come each year to work in the communities in and around Cayambe.  This year the group consisted of 10 students, 5 dentists, and one person who organizes and cleans equipment.  They worked in three different locations in the area, working with primarily a Kichwa population.  They saw a total of 229 patients throughout the week and provided fluoride treatments to around 500 local children.  We had a great week of working together!

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Updated Schedule

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Categories: 501c3, Cayambe, Construction, Ecuador, Evangelical Covenant Church, Family Fun, Home, Home Assignment, House, Medical Caravan, Ministry, Partnerships, Travel, Updates, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Training for a 10k for 15 Good Reasons

You can see the GoFundMe Page here: Training for a 10k for 15 Good Reasons

During this year of Home Assignment Kim and I have been intentional in making changes in our lives to be healthier in many senses of the word.  As a kind of final goal for me in terms of my physical health, I decided to run a 10k and I have signed up for the 10k at the Munster Rotary Run A Round in Munster, IN on June 8th.  We’ll be moving back to our home in Ecuador on June 15th.

Running a 10k will not be easy for me.  Though I have run a Marathon in the past, that was almost 15 years ago and I am no where in the kind of shape that I was back then.  Years of hard work in life and ministry and a lack of focus on caring for myself has taken its toll, so for me now, running a 10k will be a major accomplishment.

But I don’t want to just run for myself.  I have 15 reasons to run a race that has more importance than my own.  The Emanuel Home for At Risk Children in Cayambe, Ecuador is the home for 15 children who give me all the reason I need to run a race for a greater purpose.  Their stories are ones who I will never truly understand or relate to because of the pain and difficulty I have experienced in life pales in comparison to theirs.  As I train and run along the pavement and as my muscles ache from exertion, I will try to imagine what the pain could possibly be like to be abandoned by the only people you know in the world.  As I struggle to catch my breath on the long runs, I will try relate to the endless cycle of abuse that leaves the children grasping for the air of freedom from the on-going torment.  And as I, God willing, cross the finish line on June 8th, I will rejoice that my accomplishment is nothing as compared to when these precious children are able to reunified with their families into a healthy and loving home.

Any donation of any amount is appreciated as I want this race to be bigger than myself and my own personal goals.

You can check out the Santiago Partnership website  at https://www.santiagopartnership.org/ to learn more about us.  The Santiago Partnership, as an international team of followers of Jesus Christ collaborating with the local church of Ecuador, South America, seeks to transform the lives of at risk children and their families, as well as serve underprivileged communities.

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A Beardless Reflection

As silly as this selfie looks…. here we go!

 

This my attempt to explain why I am now beardless.  For those of you are thinking right now, “who cares???” or “why a reflection on something so trivial???”… I will be explaining.  For the possible one or two of you that actually remember the point of this new face and why it is a big deal, you, my friends, are to be commended.

 

To explain, please see my Journal Reflection from October 30th, 2014: Talk to the Beard

 

If you couldn’t make it to read the entire post from 2014, here is the part that pertains to today: 

 

“What I am saying is that I have had enough… It’s time to make changes in my life and for our marriage and family that will better sustain us over the long run of ministry and life.  We just need to setup patterns in our lives, and my life specifically, that will provide a better balance of ministry and family/health.  In addition to having such a strong focus on ministry, I need to balance things out better with taking care of myself and my family.  Specifically, I need to focus on being a better husband and father, my health (eating, exercise, etc), spending more time dedicated to God, and having down time with my family and friends.

 

After Kim and I get through this  busy time of transitioning to Ecuador and getting our project going, we are planning working together to put together a life plan to do just this.  And I will be making a commitment to myself to do things different. All of these kinds of commitments will hopefully put us in a better place to be sustained over the long run of a life of ministry.  We don’t want to get burnt out.. I was feeling like I wasn’t going to make it to the age of 40 there for a while!!!  We want to be happy and content in ministry and not feel like it is a burden that God has called us to.

 

So, that is why I have the beard.  I told myself that as a way of holding myself accountable to getting this plan in place of creating a new me, I would grow a beard in order to have a daily reminder that I need to do better.  So, it’s Joel’s form of a goofy penance that I am forced to remind myself of each and every day when I look in the mirror.

 

Once I get myself in a more healthy state, I will shave my beard again.  So, you can watch for pictures of a beardless Joel and rejoice with me when that day comes!”

 

So, yes, it has been FOUR AND A HALF YEARS!!!  I’ll say that again…. IT’S BEEN FOUR AND A HALF YEARS!!!  I.have.finally.shaved.  It has taken this long but I have finally shaved.  Now, this all probably would have happened much quicker if I wouldn’t have trimmed my beard along the way but I guess maybe I’ll take that tip with me for next time.

 

Things have been going well in this year of intentional holistic health improvement.  I’m still keeping very busy BUT… I am exercising, eating healthy, going to bed on time, spending time daily with God, reading and being intentional in spending time with Kim and the kids.  All of this has been a part of our healthy journey that we have been on during this year of Home Assignment.  If you didn’t catch that blog, you can read that one here: Falling into Good Health.

 

We have been successful in implementing changes in our lives and creating new habits.  Kim and I have both joined different nutrition/health programs in which I am counting my caloric intake and being accountable about the kinds of food I eat.  Along with this, we have been exercising regularly.  Kim does a lot of fitness classes.  I had been going to the gym but I recently changed things up to where I am training for a 10k.  These changes have been successful in producing results.  I have lost 30 lbs!  But the more important thing is that I keep it off, so that is why in addition to saying THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PRAYERS!!!… I also want to say PLEASE KEEP PRAYING!!!  We will be getting even busier as we return to our busy lives in Ecuador and we will be hitting the ground running as we will already have a mission team there when we arrive and we will have 3 more teams and some volunteers over the summer months.  It will be a busy time and we want to rest on the habits and routines that we have learned to keep us grounded in good health.  Please pray for us that we can make that happen.

 

I really don’t want to have to grow a beard again so let’s keep this going and stay on the right path of healthy goals and lifestyles!

 

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Reflections on Maundy Thursday and the Cross

The evening meal was in progress and the devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  John 13:  2-5

My thoughts written in my journal during the Maundy Thursday service tonight…

The unfaithfulness of US, makes the cross that much more significant because HE was so faithful and focused on the cross.  We focus so much on the resurrection without remembering the road to it.  There is SO MUCH that happens between the garden (Gethsemane) and the cross.

(Listening to Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded and it is so beautiful)

So much endured.  So much to remember as a bystander.  The significance of washing feet.  Tonight we washed Simeon’s feet together, Simeon and Joel washed my feet together and then Simeon and I washed Joel’s feet.  The example Christ sets in this act is extraordinary.

The anxiety and fear and anticipation of “IT IS FINISHED” wrapped in a towel and basin with the cleansing of water.  We (meaning I), have to remember this before we can focus on the cross and resurrection because THIS is the essence of the cross.  Christ’s character and identity present with each foot with each drop of water and dirt mix washed away, patted dry.  Without blemish or stain by the ONE with no blemish or stain.  We did nothing, the disciples did nothing but observe this act and remember it as we do the bread and the cup.  The mystery, the way Christ wove each moment in to the cloth of this final act is hard to wrap our minds around.  But we must attempt to step in to this journey and understand.  Not just jump to Sunday and the joy, but remember and not forget the road that gets us there.

For me, God meets me in music.  Here are some of the songs that have brought me in to this place on Maundy Thursday and as Good Friday comes, allow yourself to feel the enormity of what Christ did…for US, underserving, unfaithful.

Let us Break Bread

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

What Wondrous Love Is This

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