Friday, June 8, 2018

recent updates: june 2018

volcano tragedy

the recent eruptions from volcan fuego ("volcano of fire") have left over a hundred people dead, hundreds still missing (likely dead - buried under dried lava flow), over 3,000 evacuated, and almost 2 million affected.  according to rescue workers on the ground, the disaster is much worse than reported through the media.  in fact, a group of prosecutors and politicians have opened an investigation of criminal negligence by CONRED (guatemala's emergency response agency), after not heeding the warnings given by the national institute of seismology and volcanology.

in countries of extreme poverty, disasters such as these lead to unnecessary death and destruction.  not only are the warning systems archaic (if not absent), but the poorly built homes simply give no protection.

the varsity rhinos went down to the disaster site the day after the tragedy.  they worked in the relief center, unloading donations such as water, food, and clothing, and helping organize the distribution area.  as expected, it was complete chaos.  please pray for those who have lost loved ones, are still searching, and whose lives have been turned upside down.

if you are interested in donating towards this cause, we have friend-ministries who are directly working the disaster relief.  these are trusted ministries who will assure that the donations meet the greatest need.  you can donate through deepstream guatemala HERE, and we will pass the donations through.  please note "volcano relief" with your donation.

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farewell night with Rhino grads

as we prepare to leave guatemala in 3 weeks, official goodbyes have already begun.  we are excited for what God does in the coming months, as we prepare to plant more BVSA academies in tough places around the world.  but the excitement is currently dampened by the sadness of leaving.

we recently had a group of rhino graduates over to explain more clearly why we're leaving, and encourage them to stay strong in their efforts to win Buena Vista for Jesus.  it was a special night as we reminisced on 10 years of ministry in BV, and 8 years of BVSA.  the oldest who was present (now 25) was myro marroquin, a 2011 graduate.  he, and almost all of the others, shared their favorite rhino memories, and encouraged us personally about the impact we made in their lives.  it was tough to hold back the tears.

for me, one of the sweetest moments of the night came from josue (abuelo), who is now married with 2 children.  as he reflected on all that he learned at BVSA, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "but something i always told myself over the years was that i want to be a dad like brock and mynor...  and now i'm doing it."

while our emotions are all over the place right now, we are excited to turn over the leadership of this special place to mynor and walda leiva.  we trust they will continue the vision of BVSA with passion, and many more young men will come to faith in Jesus.

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gymnasium naming rights

one of the things i've wanted to do for a couple years is officially name our gym.  as our time in guatemala is coming to an end, we finally did it.

we gathered the rhinos and i explained to them how most sports arenas, fields, stadiums, etc, have a name.  usually, the name reflects a financial donor or sponsorship.  in our case, we want to name our gym after someone who has "sponsored" us through fervent prayers.

this man prays for us every day - not only in general, but for each person by name.

this man has encouraged me so many times over the years.  his counsel to keep fighting has motivated me time and time again.

his insistence that BVSA is a church - not just a boys academy - has helped me keep my focus on being a good pastor, not a soccer coach or administrator.

his example as a godly husband, father, and lover of jesus has inspired me like no one else.  he is a modern day hero of the faith, not unlike those listed in the hebrews 11 "faith hall of fame."

such an honor to give our gym the name:  CESAR GARCIA GYMNASIUM.  you can watch the video on our may 25 instagram post (@BVSARhinos).

it was also pretty special to see his son pablo's reaction.  and encourage him to always be proud to say "i'm cesar garcia's son."

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jake and E

i've been saying that phrase - "jake and E" - for the last 15 years...

they possibly played in their last game together yesterday.

best friends since 2 years old, God has been sweet to allow them to grow up together in 3 different cities and 2 different countries.

they will be uniquely linked forever.  missionary kids.  lovers of Jesus.  lovers of soccer.  fluent spanish speakers.  funny, handsome, genuine, soft, strong, well-rounded over-comers.

they've faced challenges together and overcome obstacles like not many young men their age ever will.  they've fought and made up.  they love and defend each other like best friends should.

i have no doubt they will rock their college campuses with something different - not just as lovers of life, but also as lovers of Jesus.  able to influence those around them because of their love for the world, while walking against the ways of the world.

2 unique MK's - actually missionaries in their own right.  2 future awesome husbands and dads.  2 future world changers, with desires to carry the love of Jesus to the nations.

would God have their paths cross to share another chapter of life together in the future?

after yesterday's game
we shall see.......


















Monday, June 4, 2018

pastor marcos, local BV church plant

pastor marcos (orange shirt), wife olga (red shirt)
several years ago, i heard about pastor marcos through the rhinos.  he was a "new pastor" in town that was "causing problems."  given my history with the pastors in our village, i was very curious...   

the religious climate in our village is extremely legalistic. the churches are difficult to work with, and have even expressed their anger with us for teaching freedom and "women's rights."  now, when an american hears "women's rights", certain thoughts come to mind - discrimination, equal opportunity, equal pay, etc.  but in rural guatemala, its something completely different.

i'll never forget our first visit from the group of local pastors.  it was late in the afternoon when i responded to the knock on the gate.  6-7 men asked to come in and talk with us.  masked with handshakes and niceties, they proceeded to tell mynor and i that we are "outsiders" and don't understand how the village works.  they requested that we don't teach "american ways" to the boys.

never in a million years would we want to americanize the village of Buena Vista!  in fact, its part of our ministry philosophy not to do so.  so i was genuinely interested to know what they were talking about.  maybe there was something subtle we were doing that we needed to rethink...

after pressing them several times to please share what specifically they were talking about, the lead pastor for the main evangelical church finally shed some light.  "here in the village, the women have their place.  their job is to cook, clean, and take care of the kids. the boys in your academy are saying that you are teaching them differently.  telling them that the women's opinion values the same as the men, and a man should even help with cooking and cleaning." 

wow.  our academy had only been open a few months, and God was showing us what we were up against.  generational roots that may take a generation to dig up.  as the years went by, the number of challenges and conversations with the local churches mounted up. there's so much more to it than i can possibly explain here...

i've been asked a million times why we don't partner with a local church, or "plant a church" in our village.  you can read my answer and philosophy behind that question here if you'd like to.  nothing has changed there.  

sunday school class 
but back to pastor marcos...
when i finally met him, i immediately felt his passion.  clearly passionate for youth ministry, he was convinced that the next generation could make lasting change.  he had married a woman from nearby magdalena and described how he eventually felt a specific call to the village of Buena Vista.  but after working to plant a church in BV, he had been beaten down by the legalism.  he had already made the mental shift from the adults to the young people.  go figure!

pastor marcos has worked hard to develop relationships with the other local BV churches.  he has organized get-togethers with the other pastors, and has worked to host several concerts with the other local church leaders.  he describes it as having been a long, tough road.

one time, several of the pastors asked him to come to a meeting.  he was excited, thinking he was finally being welcomed into the network.  when the meeting began, he was blindsided... by an "intervention" that was focussed on his "lack of respect for God" because he wore jeans and flip flops, and had hair that was too long.  ugh...

despite all of the set-backs and discouragements, pastor marcos pressed on.  he relentlessly pursues the youth of Buena Vista with ministry opportunities.  he hosts camp-outs, barbecues, and concerts.  he is ALWAYS working.  that being said, i still felt the need to be patient in "endorsing" any local church.

last year we invited pastor marcos to our tuesday-night bible study with our older Rhinos.  the topic was "sexual purity", so i was a little concerned how he would respond.  after all, we hit these topics head-on and don't mince words.  

after the first gathering, pastor marcos approached me and asked if he could begin bringing his teenage son.  he said he'd never heard this topic be discussed so openly and honestly... and felt like it was something that he and his son should be working through together.  it was during this bible study that i truly gained a great love and respect for pastor marcos.  i saw his genuine heart and desire to honor God with his life, both as a pastor and as a dad. 

we have taken the idea of getting behind pastor marcos' "church plant" to God many, many times.  but every time we committed to pray about it, God said, "not now... just keep doing what you are doing."  He not only said that to us, but to the schmidt and leiva families as well.  

marcos and olga (with mynor and allan) singing with kids
as a side note, i am grateful for my friend mark's investment in pastor marcos over the last couple years.  he has truly come alongside and given countless hours of counsel.  in addition, the leivas have begun attending pastor marcos' church, and digging into the community of believers there.  its been awesome to see the various families and ministries reach out in support...

for me personally, it was last november when God spoke clearly and directly.  a group from ocean city church in jax beach was in town visiting, and we had gone to visit the home one of our rhinos, named wisman.

after the visit, wisman said he was headed to church, and i asked if we could go with him. he was thrilled to have us come along!  when we showed up unannounced at pastor marcos' church, i peeked in before anyone saw us.

pastor marcos was in front of his church, mostly all kids, leading them in the "chicken dance."  it was a sweltering hot day.  he was sweating profusely. a huge smile on his face, there he was...  as free as can be, dancing, doing the movements, encouraging the kids.

it was in that moment that i heard God's voice say, "its time."

praying over marcos and olga
its not that i had ever doubted pastor marcos' sincerity.  but there was something powerful about walking up - unannounced - and seeing the guy joyfully giving his heart and soul to the kids of BV, in jesus name.

over the next few months, we prayed over what that meant.  i knew it meant taking our support/partnership with pastor marcos to another level, but wasn't sure how.  finally, i asked him directly what could help him the most at this point in his ministry.  he eventually responded, "a clean, dry, dignified place to gather together..."

since then, mark and i have had several meetings with pastor marcos and our local builder.  we've designed a large multi-purpose room that will protect them from the primary BV elements (rain, cold, heat, and dust), and also allow room to grow.  

the initial cost will be $15,000.

as usual, because of the mountainside incline, a large retaining wall and leveling process is necessary pre-construction.  that part is already underway, and construction will begin next. 

WE ARE LOOKING FOR DONORS TO HELP WITH THIS PROJECT!  

if you are ever able to visit guatemala, we would love to introduce you to pastor marcos, his wife olga, and their church family!
 
to support the project, please contact me or donate by CLICKING HERE and note "pastor marcos" in the donation.


UPDATE:
we have already received $5,000 towards the project!  
current remaining need is $10,000.

let us know if you want to help.  thank you!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

recent updates: rose stacy, brooke, baptisms, and the wilsons

allan & glendy with rose stacy
allan's wife glendy gave birth to a healthy baby girl!  rose stacy is the newest member of the rhino family!

these moments always remind me of God's faithfulness.  as we see young couples - young families - stepping out into the community of buena vista who are doing things differently... changing the culture around them...  loving God and loving their neighbors...  men honoring and respecting their wives... and cherishing their kids...  i can only say "thank you Jesus!"

i remember in 2011 when allan started in the academy.  he was T-R-O-U-B-L-E.  God is so good.

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brooke with me and matt, right after surgery
our daughter brooke was in town for the last 10 days - she came in to get her tonsils taken out.  i know, right...  came to a third world country to have a tonsillectomy?!  yeah, well, thats what missionaries do :)

in the states, without insurance, a tonsillectomy costs between 7-10k.  here, after all costs including plane ticket, we paid about 15% of that!  God is faithful.  he has blessed us with so many dear friends and contacts here in guatemala over the years.  and now we have a new friend in ENT doctor hugo motta.

praise Jesus, brooke is recovering well and back in jacksonville.  after over a year of off/on severe tonsillitis, struggling through the pain and sacrificing her love of singing, we are praying that she is fully healed.

her boyfriend matt came with her on the trip, and it ended up being a really special time...

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more baptisms to celebrate!  on a recent trip to honduras, darwin and jeff were baptized in the
caribbean sea.  jeff, our cfo at bvsa, had been baptized as a child but described it as being without any real meaning.  having made a true decision to follow Christ around 5 years ago, he decided it was time to proclaim his faith decision with baptism!

mynor and i baptizing jeff and darwin
darwin (better known as "mash") approached us a couple months ago after making a personal decision to be baptized.  he too was baptized in the catholic church as a child, and had been told by his parents that it was wrong to do it again.  even though mash was growing in his faith at the time, he decided out of respect for his parents not to do it.

but after a solid year of growing in his faith and truly giving his life to Jesus, he decided it was time. when he approached us, he said that he told his parents "i respect your opinion and all that you have done for me, but i have to make this decision for myself because my faith is my own."  to his surprise (and ours too), they were very understanding, and told him they respected his decision!  (pretty amazing for our legalistic "catholic vs evangelical" village!)

it was a beautiful time together with friends.  two great men from completely different lives and cultures, now forever connected by the blood-sealed bond of Jesus.  a little glimpse of heaven...

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wilson's donations for dr. carlos
our friends ryan and laura wilson recently visited for a few days.  only having been here twice, they are some of our new favorite peeps!  let me explain...

a big part of being a missionary is being a host.  in our case, our home is literally a revolving door of visitors.  between mission teams and in-home guests, we probably average 2 weeks per month of hosting!  add to that the families that often come live with us for a season, and the boys that live in our home... and, well, you get the point.

after years of living this way, you can't help but contrast all of the personalities.  we love being a small part of so many people's spiritual journey...

back to the wilsons.  after their first visit (last year) we were left refreshed.  not because they "poured into us", or brought gifts, or gave us special treatment.  but because of the way they dove in! sure, most people come on a "mission trip" to serve.  however, the different variables such as the language gap, culture shock, nerves, fear, etc, make it easier said than done.  simply put, we as "hosts" spend much of our effort helping create the situations so that people actually can serve.  

ryan and cesar
not necessary with the wilsons.  with no spanish skills whatsoever (except ryan's nacho libre attempts), and basically no experience in guatemala, they jumped in like they had been here a thousand times.  

they talk to the boys as if they understand!  just confidently look them in the face and converse.  "hi, whats your name?  how old are you?  tell me about your family.  what do you like to do?  do you like music?  how do you feel?  do you ever have stomach aches?  whats your favorite movie?"...

somehow it works.  the boys sometimes understand enough to respond, and from there its a mixed pot of spanglish, sign language, and charades that somehow works out!  

laura being a nurse and ryan a physical therapist, they also bring invaluable skills to the mission field. and when they are here, they work.  after a long day, they'll ask "anything else we can do? anyone else we can see?"

we're thankful for their giving spirit and refreshing energy.  sweet sweet people.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

why am i sad?

the house doesn't smell like a locker room so much anymore... so why am i sad?

no empty bags of chips or candy wrappers everywhere... so why am i sad?

no missing cans of mini-cokes from my private stash recently... so why am i sad?

haven't had to yell from my bed "quiet down!" at 11pm for the last few days... so why am i sad?

the bathroom isn't so disgusting anymore...  so why am i sad?

no rowdy games of tag in the house, banging through kitchen chairs, recently... so why am i sad?

our grocery bill went down dramatically...  so why am i sad?

nicho and mash moved out of the house last week after about a year and a half living with us.  true, they only moved to the guard-house next door...  but our home feels completely different.  i thought the change might be nice...  so why am i sad?

luci asked us at dinner last night, "why do things always have to change?".  such a good question.  after some logical reasoning that left her 5 year old heart/mind less than convinced, the only thing we could think to tell her was that, no matter what else:

Jesus never changes...  he's the same yesterday, today, and forever.  
hebrews 13:8



Sunday, April 15, 2018

BVSA honduras open again!

Click here to watch a video of BVSA Honduras Opening
lots of emotions after the last week in travesia, honduras...

it was a little less than a year ago when unforeseen circumstances caused the academy in honduras to shut down. i'll never forget my friend cesar's advice shortly thereafter...  "don't lose heart. God is faithful.  Jesus is the head of the church.  if He started bvsa travesia, He will keep it alive! let's pray that he sends new workers into the harvest."

still mourning over all that had recently happened, i was blown away by cesar's optimism. and i was (very) soon to be left in awe of how right he was, and how faithful God is!

right away, jason and axel moved back to guatemala to continue working with the academy here.  peter, our staff member from travesia, stayed on site to take care of the property.

just a few days later, i received a call from a friend telling me about the foster family, who was feeling called to the mission field.

a few months later, the fosters came to visit bvsa guatemala, and on that same trip we traveled together to honduras.

about a month after that they moved here permanently, to start 3 months of training at bvsa guatemala.

in january 2018, they moved to travesia.

last week, only 11 months after its doors were closed, bvsa travesia is open and the Spirit of God is alive and moving there again!

during those 11 months, 3 people have been baptized on site, families have moved in, their kids put in local schools, prayer teams have been welcomed, new relationships have been formed, and enemy strongholds dismissed in the name of Jesus!

i am blown away by God's faithfulness.

when over 80 boys showed up for tryouts, i fought to hold back tears.  when i saw that many of them were rhinos from before (for only a few months in 2017), i fought even harder to hold my tears back!

as i watched our leadership team - the fosters, jason, axel, peter, rosemary, and marcio - step up and lead with love, passion, humility, and confidence...  i felt overwhelmed.  not to mention so proud of them.

and when the varsity rhinos finished up their first (brutal, 2hr) physical workout chanting Rinos! Rinos! Rinos! as they jogged around the field... i was overcome with emotion.

thank you Jesus for your faithfulness!  may your church in bvsa travesia lead many people to follow you!  and may those lead and disciple many, many more.....




Tuesday, April 3, 2018

announcement: leaving guatemala soon

God has been stirring our hearts in this direction for several years now.  it started with simple statistics, especially regarding the "great commission" that Jesus gave before he ascended.  his final words were an authoritative order to take the gospel to all the nations (matthew 28:16-18).

but the statistics show us to be brazenly disobedient.  

for example, the historically christian united states of america is currently responding to Christ's command by sending 0.05% of its christians to the nations.  one half of one tenth of a percent!

john piper once said regarding Jesus's commission, there can be only 3 types of christians:  zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient.  i wonder the percentages of each category, considering that 99.95% of american christians are NOT goers?  

as shocking as that is, it was actually another number that found permanent unrest in my heart and mind.  it still lingers there and wakes me up at night.

of the 0.05% goers, only 9% of them are going to countries where 4.5 billion of the world's 5 billion non-christians are.  thats right...  91% of american missionaries are located in countries that are open to christianity, if not already predominantly christian. 

this is not a snub towards missionaries anywhere.  it would be ridiculous to disrespect the half-of-a-tenth-of-a-percent who have left it all behind for the mission field!  and without a doubt, there are unreached people everywhere.  the heartbreaking crux of the issue is simply how few christians "go."

so... God is calling us to expand our ministry to new territory.  there is a latitude/longitude box on the globe called the 10/40 window.  inside it, you'll find those 4.5 billion lost souls i mentioned (many of which are unreached, having never heard about Jesus).  the 10/40 window is also the home to the majority of the world's poor.  

as a result of these stirrings from the holy spirit, in december of 2015, mynor and i visited morocco.  in 2016, we went to the cross & crescent conference on islam.  and in may of last year my family went to northern iraq.  

the commission that Jesus gave was a mandate for christians to tell the world about himself, so that they may be saved and spend eternity in heaven with God and all his glory.  if christians are called to be the light of the world (matthew 5:14-16), and to let our light shine before men so that they can know God...  then i want to go where it's the darkest.  what better place to shine a light?

in early july of this year, my family will be transitioning out of guatemala with plans to relocate to iraq.  God has given me a vision for BVSA. a soccer ministry on its surface, it is actually just a training ground for young men to come to faith, be discipled, and evangelize their communities.  the fact that soccer is the world's sport - a language in and of itself - makes it an amazing tool.  

we've gotten solid feedback from contacts in iraq and morocco that this unique approach could be effective in their environments.  ministries geared toward young muslim men can be very powerful, as a male muslim-to-christian convert has much influence over his family, and future generations. 

we will be leaving guatemala a month short of our 10 year anniversary.  its been an amazing 10 years, full of both hardship and immense blessing!  the work here is just beginning.  the leivas are capable leaders, equipped with a fantastic team of young men who came up through the academy and now share the vision to keep leading young men to Jesus. 

we will temporarily relocate to our hometown of jacksonville as we make plans towards our next move.  we will need sufficient time to plan, as moving to this part of the world as missionaries can be complicated.  if you are a supporter of our family, or of BVSA, please continue with us!  nothing will change regarding your support as it continues to allow us to take the love of Jesus to the nations.

just as before, you can support my family here, and you can support BVSA here.

some prayer requests during this transition time include:

1. the difficulty of leaving the place we've called home for the last 10 years. God has given us such a special family here. it's going to be hard to say goodbye.

2. a smooth transition of ministry leadership to the leivas.

3. a family to come serve alongside the leivas and help share the load of loving and discipling.

4. the leading of the holy spirit in all future steps, and my ability to discern. this includes the unstable situation right now in northern iraq, and if God would have us plant an academy somewhere else first.

5. missionaries to partner with in iraq and around the world!  

feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts or questions.  and thank you so much for being a part of this incredible journey with us.  may Jesus get all the glory and may lots more people come to know Him!


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

busy year so far...

my blog posts have been fewer ever since we started using Instagram.  i've got to get back to journaling/posting more!  but please also follow us at @BVSA Rhinos...

its been an awesome first few months of the year at bvsa.  we started the year with a ton of new boys and (for the most part) they have been nothing but joy!  this is the first year since we opened in 2011 that we've never had a new rhino quit inside the first month.  there's always someone who rebels against the structure/discipline... but this year, praise be to God, all have hung in there.

we've been teaching on the theme "who is Jesus" over the last month or so.  its been incredible and has opened the door to so many great conversations.  today we covered the point that Jesus is the only way to God and the only way to heaven.  for many of the boys, this was the first time they had ever heard that...

its been a joy to have the abegglen family here with us this year.  they arrived in january and plan to stay through june.  jeff has come on as cfo of bvsa, and has been a huge help as we grow and face new challenges getting finances to academies and missionaries in different countries.  its been great to get to know their family, grow deeper in community, and walk in faith together.

jayden & nicole (center) with cruz and luciana
we've hosted a few wonderful visitors already this year.  our dear friend david puckett came again and blessed Aldo with another prosthetic leg.  my brother chad always brings a group of friends every february, and it was once again an awesome visit.  then our friends from world sports united visited with a group of college soccer players and pro coaches.  needless to say, its so great for the Rhinos to connect with soccer peeps!  then my girls visited with a couple of their friends from college.  so wonderful to have them here!  here's a few pics...

aldo, david puckett, and mynor
world sports united with the JV rhinos
madi, brooke, tori, and logan with Las Rinas
we were also able to get over to the honduras academy and spend some time with our team there. it was such a special trip. some friends from compassion christian church met us there and we were able to spend the days in prayer and worship.  bvsa honduras is starting fresh and the ministry is alive and full of the holy spirit!  also during this special weekend, our local staff member and soccer coach, peter, accepted Jesus as his savior and was baptized!  we return to travesia, honduras in a couple weeks to officially re-open the academy.


bvsa honduras: jason, marcio, peter, jeremy, maria, yaina, and axel
peter being baptized with jeremy, kathryn, and axel
new bvsa honduras field under the lights!
we've been restructuring and remodeling things here at BVSA guatemala in preparation for our departure. i will blog more about that soon... but the clock is ticking as God is calling us to move on to share about Jesus in new territory.  we remain passionate and excited to use the world's favorite sport of futbol as a tool to share the hope and salvation Jesus!  in anticipation of our move, we've upgraded and moved the kitchen (johanna is so happy to be out of the dark corner!), expanded the weight room to accommodate our growing number of Rhinos, and moved our classrooms down the ministry house. we are still praying for a 2nd family to come and work alongside the leivas and join the effort of discipling and sharing Jesus in Buena Vista.

johanna in her new kitchen
expanded weight room
as always, we are so grateful to our support family.  thank you for your prayers, support, love, and friendship. you truly allow us to keep fighting every day.  may our king Jesus receive all the credit and glory!

follow us on Instagram @BVSARhinos

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

4 phases of mission field acclimation

as many of you know, God has been leading us towards an expansion/growth model at BVSA (more here) so that we can take the saving love of Jesus to more places where the gospel is not welcomed.  as part of the process, we've been working on our own "missionary training program" for quite some time.  to be clear, the only firm requirements to train a missionary are 1) God's Word and 2) the fire of the Holy Spirit!  our training program definitely bears that in mind...  while simply offering some resources of experiences, encouragement, advice, and infrastructure that will help prepare our missionaries for the field.  the following is one of those resources.


Mission Field Acclimation: The Four Phases
By Brock Johnson

You've done it.  You heard the call, and you obeyed.  Welcome to the mission field!  You are one of the very few who have been willing to leave it all so that others may know Jesus.

At the end of Luke 9, Jesus talks about the cost of following Him.  Sadly, it is because of the great sacrifice required that many decide it’s just not worth it.  One guy just wanted to go bury his dad after he had died.  Another wanted to go say goodbye to his family.  But Jesus said, “No… no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom.”

Wow!  How great the cost!  And it is true…  leaving it all behind to follow Jesus requires sacrifice.  For some, it may lead to sickness, imprisonment, or even death.  But for everyone who crosses borders for the sake of the gospel, it will lead to certain sacrifices and tough adjustments.

If you haven't had to make a foreign land home (over the longterm), it’s simply impossible to understand the difficulties that it entails.  The truth is, there is much about missionary life that is simply dreadful.  Without the hope outlined in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, the mission field could be a pretty miserable life.  

Just when something good or encouraging happens, the enemy shows up to remind you how lousy it is where you live.  Not just the extreme things that strike every once in a while, but the daily stuff...  like a simple errand taking 5 hours, internet always being down, language and culture acclimation, kids being depressed/emotional/bitter/sad, longing for a deep conversation, the realities of poverty, sickness and death all around you, missing family, or a million other things.  

And just when progress is made, some attractive lure from home (family, friends, speaking english!, and simple comforts, conveniences, and luxuries) will come screaming for your attention.

Loneliness in the mission field can be crushing.  After spending a week working on a ministry/personal update, you’ll hit “send,” excited to share with everyone back home what you've been up to.  Often times,  you’ll end up terribly disappointed with the lack of response.  Little by little, you start to feel forgotten about.

Most missionaries end up feeling like their friends, family, and even their home-church start losing interest in them.  In some cases, it’s largely true.  But even when it’s not, being alone in a foreign country sure makes it feel like it is.  A healthy team, scheduled phone/video calls, and good missionary care, are all hugely important.  But the reality is…  abiding in Christ is the only thing that will sustain you.  As your dependence on Him grows, you will find that His grace is more than enough!

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There are four phases that missionaries go through after hitting the ground.  They are 1) honeymoon, 2) crisis, 3) recovery, and 4) adjustment.  There is no exact science to the timing of onset.  Some will move from honeymoon to adjustment quickly, and for others it will take much longer.  But it is almost a certainty that all foreign missionaries will experience the following four phases:


Phase 1 - Honeymoon
You begin your new adventure in the honeymoon phase, and it usually comes to an end between your first 3-9 months (sometimes sooner, almost never later).  This stage allows you to "get through" because of the sheer adventure of it all.  Everything is exciting and fun.  You're riding on adrenaline!  

You've answered the call to the mission field, and even the annoyances can be “embraced.”  You’ll likely see the difficulties of language, shopping, traffic, and paying bills as a “challenge” and you’re eager to give it your best shot.  You’ll know when “honeymoon" is dwindling when things begin to shift from fun to frustrating.  But you’ll hang in there for a little while longer because its still pretty awesome, adventurous, and exciting to live in another country!

Phase 2 - Crisis  
The line between honeymoon and crisis is very fine.  Honeymoon ends abruptly and crisis comes BANGING in.  “Crisis” will hit sometime during your first year, and can last another 6 months to an entire year.  

During this phase, everything seems to be falling apart.  If you have kids, their struggles begin to take their toll on you.  Consoling your kids every day, seeing them hurting, crying, and missing “home” will bring feelings of guilt.  Your marriage may be strained during this phase, especially if one of you is adjusting better than the other.  Its common for the man be busy working and finding his “place” while the woman is struggling to find hers.  Of course, the reverse is possible as well. 

Even if your language skills are improving, you become more frustrated that you can't have conversations of any substance.  At some point you will no doubt feel like your language skills are regressing.  You've learned just enough to realize how much you wish you knew.  You feel like a 6 year old every time you try to have a conversation.  Fun during “honeymoon”… meltdown material during “crisis.”

You'll start growing tired of the country's slow, outdated, annoying ways of doing things.  Your inner-gringo starts longing for the efficient ways of old.  You miss home.  You miss foods.  You miss central heat and air.  You miss carpet.  You miss Publix, Target, and the ability to just go get gas on your own.  You miss everything!  And being followed, stared at, and feeling uneasy is no longer “dangerously exciting.”  Rather, it’s starting to make you mad.

Most missionaries will visit home at some point during crisis phase, and while it may be refreshing, it’s actually not very helpful (nor recommended)!  I don’t have solid statistics to support it, but I’m certain that trips home during “crisis” often leads to missionaries making a decision that their calling is not long-term.  The trip will only remind you of all the comforts and niceties that you miss.  Instead of simply feeling rested, your return to the mission field could bring bitterness, frustration, or even anger.   

Oh... I forgot to mention.  During crisis phase, all of your sin is becoming glaringly apparent.  You realize that the reason all of these things bother you is because you lack patience, contentment, an identity anchored in Christ, true dependence on God, and overall peace in your life.  You begin seeing a selfish, high-maintenance jerk every time you look in the mirror.  Like a punch right to the face, you're having a pure identity crisis.  You never realized how much your "identity" was wrapped up in your former life! Your reputation as leader, husband, mom, athlete, sister, daughter, great friend, truth teller, multi-tasker, business person, organizer, host or hostess, comedian, super-mom, bible teacher, (list goes on)...  JUST GOT ENTIRELY CRUSHED IN THE MISSION FIELD.  Suddenly, you are unable to do ANY of those things with any level of quality or efficiency whatsoever.  

You realize that the stripping away of your comforts, routine, and securities only allowed all of your well-hidden sins to come oozing out of you - all at once!  You see your sin more clearly now than ever.  Your fears, insecurities and false idols all get thrown onto the table, and you are forced to confront them.  You begin to not like yourself.  You begin to consider how moving back home could set things right.  You start to justify "understandable reasons" to call it quits.  Maybe conflict with others you are working with, security concerns, or lack of quality education for your kids all become justifiable reasons to start looking at the 2-year mark as an honorable end-date.  It’s no wonder that 75% of missionaries head home after 2 years…

And remember, during all of this, you start realizing that many of your friends, family, and even home-church aren't nearly as interested in your calling as they once were.  They were so excited for you when God was stirring your heart toward the mission field.  But you left…  and they stayed.  Corporate America, Little League, YMCA, extracurriculars, the suburbs, and summers at the pool is still very much their life.  They support your ministry, but may not reach out much.  And when you are able to catch up, your conversations might be awkward.  Some of your friendships begin to lose the quality/depth that you thought they once had.

Phase 3 - Recovery  
Recovery phase usually begins to settle-in sometime during your second year.  You've made it past crisis! Things start looking up - at least a little.  You made the decision to face your sin head-on.  During crisis phase, you likely had some level of a breakdown.  But instead of running, you fell at the feet of Jesus, confessed your sin, begged forgiveness, found grace, and are on the road to...  well, recovery!  The process of “crisis to recovery” is wonderful, beautiful, and necessary.  It is purification and sanctification. 

Regarding the annoying in-country things… they are still annoying.  But God is working on your patience, bitterness, and your deep desire for "american systems.”  You are embracing the idea of “dying to self,” and with that, you are learning to let go of some of those things.  You are likely finding joy in new simplicities.  

God is replacing some of your old relationships with new ones.  He has likely put people in your life that need Him, and therefore need you.  Maybe even someone special that you needed!  These new friendships might take away the "sting" of some of the ones back home that have grown distant.
  
During this phase you’ll probably get a visit from some friends, family, or church from home.  Sometimes (not always!) these visits can be truly encouraging.  Whether being around old friends is awkward or refreshing, it may allow you to see how much you have grown.  That, in and of itself, will serve as a private and personal encouragement.  You also might see how your life or your work affects them.  This can remind you of the importance of what God called you to. 

During the first 3 phases, missionaries tend to lean to heavily on what people back home are doing and saying.  Remember, God called you to the mission field - not them.  You will find your hope, strength, and sustainability in Jesus.  Your relationships that are truly anchored in Jesus will not only persevere, but strengthen.  And as you live sold-out to the call, you may gain a better understanding of some tough scripture, such as Matthew 10:34-39.
   
Lastly, a pretty cool breakthrough usually happens in this phase…  you have a deep, critical conversation with someone in your new language!  It’s not uncommon to have a moment where you realize you can “finally be yourself.”  Joking, laughing, sharing your faith, and fully expressing yourself in a second language can definitely serve as a signal that you are nearing “adjustment.”

Phase 4 - Adjustment  
The adjustment phase is usually around year 3 and beyond.  You are starting to feel like your new country is home. You care a lot less about the little things.  You don’t long for american food, culture, or systems any more.  Your love for the people and commitment to the call outweighs all of that.  God has revealed more to you about your specific calling to this place.  You are sharing your faith more, and seeing how He wants to use you so that others may know Him.

Your language skills have finally gotten to the point where you can be yourself, go deep, have true relationships, share your faith, etc.  Your kids are thriving as well…  talking, studying, and reading in their new language.  Their ability to express themselves in another language has allowed them to find their place.  In fact, their arrival to “adjustment” will likely be ahead of yours!

When you visit "back home" the comforts, luxuries, distractions, and conversations probably bother you more than they lure you.  The simpler, albeit tougher, life has captured your heart.  It has led you to a different intimacy level with Jesus, and you wouldn't trade it for anything.  

Welcome to the foreign mission field, long term!  May the great commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20) forever sustain you.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

jan 2018: homecoming month!

elmer, milton and robin
in a sweet moment when Jesus was telling his disciples of things to come, he said to them:

"but when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative - that is, the Holy Spirit - he will ...remind you of everything I have told you."  (john 14:26)

this scripture encourages my heart today.

last year was one of our tougher years in the academy.  several boys quit... some quietly, and some in a more rude & rebellious kind of way.

someone assured me last year, "well, they are teenagers and all teenagers rebel.  they're just going through a phase."  while that may be true, it's a lot easier to say when they aren't your boys.  these rhinos are like our own.  some that left practically grew up in my home over the years.  i'm confident we know them better than their own parents do.

but during all of those years, the Word of God was planted in their hearts.  and we know that God's Word never returns empty...  "it shall accomplish that which i purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which i sent it."  (Isaiah 55:11)

it is true that many of the boys who quit the Rhinos simply hit an age where rebellion and curiosity got the best of them.  but the seeds of truth that were planted in their hearts never disappeared.  as John wrote, the Holy Spirit reminded them of the things they were told.

i was still shocked when Milton and Elmer showed up at tryouts this year.  they would later say:

Milton:  i'm sorry for leaving.  i miss it here.  i miss my family, my church, my brothers.  i left because of my own pride.  i wonder if you would give me another chance?

elmer and milton at tryouts
Elmer:  this is my family.  i hope you will let me come back.

later that week, we received a knock on the door from Wilmer.  Wilmer is a Rhino graduate from several years ago.  after graduating, we hired him to stay on staff.  he had come to faith in the academy, been baptized, and shown a true love of God's word and a genuine relationship with Jesus.

until one day he just left.  no explanation.  nothing.  after years of calling me "dad" and growing up in our home...  just gone.  several attempts were made to figure it all out, but he wouldn't share anything. it was a brutally hard time for us.

sitting at dinner a few nights ago, now 2 years later, and he knocks at the door.  after some greetings and small talk, here's a summary of what he said as tears ran down his face:

"i want to say i'm sorry.  i turned my back on the people who loved me the most.  the ones who taught me about Jesus.  the ones who cared for me unconditionally.  you are my family and i walked away from you.  i wanted to do things my way.  i wanted to see what street life had to offer.  i tried it all.  every bad thing you can imagine, i did it.  i put my bible away and ignored God while i tried everything.  i filled myself up with sin, but i am totally empty.  the more i filled up with sin, the more empty i felt.  i am finished.  i can't to it anymore.  i'm here because i have nowhere else to go.  no one in my life truly cares about me.  i know you guys love me.  that's why i'm here.  i miss my family.  i miss my church."

it was a sweet night of reconciliation. we talked and prayed... and ultimately Wilmer asked God for forgiveness and rededicated his life to Christ.

mynor welcoming robin back to the team
the next day, another knock at the door.  it was Robin.  a young man without a father who practically
grew up in our home.  last year we were investing in him to become a future leader in the academy, when he suddenly quit.  back a few months later, then quit again...

but this time seemed different.  his words (and tears) almost an exact repeat of Wilmer's!  he spoke of a "pull" that he always feels.  something that keeps telling him to come back to the Rhinos.  to come back to God.  we explained to him how the Holy Spirit is inside of him, talking to him, drawing him home.  again, like John said...  reminding him of all the had been taught.

what a week!

no matter how this all shakes out, i am finding certainty and comfort in God's promises.  as we continue to plant seeds in the hearts of young men, we must trust God for the increase (1 cor 3:6-9).  i am reminded of our ministry verse that is engraved on the BVSA gym wall:

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9