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!


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

Monday, January 22, 2018

recent instagram posts from @BVSARhinos

January 20: Mynor and Nicho talking to the JV Rhinos

January 17: First parent meeting of the year

Jan 17: Allan & Enrique handing player/parent contracts

Jan 17: 1st day of JV practice, veterans in jerseys, rookies gotta earn em

Jan 13: Tryouts. The new varsity boys. Notice Milton and Elmer?  Back after quitting last year!

Jan 13: Tryouts. These are the new JV boys. God help us!

Dec 27: BVSA Honduras team departs Guatemala for permanent move to Honduras!

Dec 24: Merry Christmas from the Johnson family

December 18: Great week with Trinity Fitness

Dec 18: Brandon with Trinity Fitness (and Rino Clause!)

Dec 18: Aldo and the Rhinos enjoying the annual talent show

Thursday, January 11, 2018

the church is who we are, not where we go

Brother Cesar preaching to a recent mission team in Guatemala. Many of Cesar's recent messages have been amazingly similar to the Francis Chan quote below.
"We can be the generation that kills the consumer mindset of 'church'.  When you think about it, and you just read the bible, does it even make sense to say 'I go to church'?  Do you think Peter ever said 'I didn't really like the singing today'?  Or Paul ever asked Timothy, 'did you go to church today'?  Church wasn't some place you went, for an hour a week, and then evaluated it.  It was their identity."
~Francis Chan, Dec 29, 2017

Saturday, December 23, 2017

recent updates in pictures

It was sad to say goodbye to our 3 graduates this year - Denilson, Cristian, and Jeffrey - but fun to celebrate their Rhino Careers.  We will definitely miss these 3 special guys.

Aldo won our 2017 Most Inspirational Player Award

Chucky, Jordan, Mauricio, and Bladmir acting out "Nacho Libre" at the Rhino Talent Show!

Fun times at the Rhino Christmas Party
Mynor sharing about Jesus at our annual "Decorate the BV Square" night

-------------SOME RECENT FAMILY UPDATES-------------
Our 2017 Rhino Family, including the Honduras Team!

So nice to have our girls with us for Christmas this year - our whole family together!

Luciana turned 5 on December 2nd.  She got her first guitar!
Thankful for a recent trip to the beach with the Schmidt family!
Luciana loving a rare trip to the ocean

Dad with his 3 precious girls

Axel was baptized last month, fully committing his life to Jesus!

Celebrating Axel's baptism with his mom and dad

Following Aldo's successful 3rd surgery over the last couple weeks.  He's had his foot and hand reconstructed, as well as skin grafts done on his elbow.  Up next... lots of rehab and a new prosthetic leg!
The boys enjoyed a December visit from Mimi & Papa and Dave and Lynn Stewarts!

We seem to experience early deaths way too often here.  This pic is of Luciana watching our friend Candelario get placed in his tomb.  A bunch of rhinos are sitting in the background, looking on as well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

saying goodbye to candelario

we lost a friend today.

we met candelario more than 8 years ago.  it was 2009, and we were told about a family desperately in need of a home.  when we met their huge family, who were all crammed into a tiny tin shack with dirt floors...  we knew God wanted us to help.

what began as a new home, grew into a deep friendship.  allan, candelario's youngest boy, would later join the boy's academy...  and eventually give his life to Jesus, graduate, join our coaching staff at BVSA, initiate our girls soccer program (las Rinas), and become one of our best young leaders.

about 4 years ago, candelario had a tragic accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down.  ever since then, we have visited as often as possible and tried to support the family with various needs.  amazingly, this accident in some ways brought peace to their family.  he had been an abusive alcoholic for years...  and now, confined to his bed, he became a peaceful man, unable to harm the family, and eventually getting involved again in his kids and grandkids lives.

when we would visit candelario with friends from the US, he would always be so grateful for the visit.  he has told us so many times how if it weren't for his "gringo friends" he would feel totally forgotten.  sadly, since his accident, he says no one would ever visit him - even his own brothers.

which is why it seemed fitting that a group of friends from the states were here at the time of his passing.  we spent the morning at their house, trying to cheer up all the kids...  and the afternoon at the funeral.  as we visited their home earlier this morning, allan's sister magda hugged me and told me in tears how grateful she was for us, the other missionary families, and all the americans who have cared for her dad over the years.  she literally said, "all of you are the only ones who cared about him."

but there's someone else who cared for him as well.  for the last couple years, allan has been sitting at his dad's bed reading him the bible.  he also had the chance to pray with his dad shortly before his death.  allan... the youngest of 9, the spiritual leader in the family.

i hope candelario is in heaven.  it was a sad day, but hope is alive.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

BVSA Honduras... almost there!

we are excited to say that we are very close to re-opening the Buena Vista Sports Academy of Honduras!  the village of Travesia is a place desperate for Jesus, and we are anxious to be back.

we believe in our BVSA model!  we have seen countless lives changed, generational sins broken, and an entire village impacted.  and we are committed to planting more BVSA academies in tough places around the world.

BVSA Missionary Training Program
we have spent the last several months in an intensive missionary training program with our honduras missionaries.  we strategically divided the training into 2 parts:

1) Missionary Life Training:  The Great Commission, What to Expect in the Mission Field, Language and Immersion, Financial Integrity, the Impact of Missions on the Family, Crossing Cultures, When Helping Hurts, Safety & Security, and more.

2) BVSA Operational Training:  BVSA's Core Beliefs (Overall Vision, Planting Procedures, Financial Integrity), Bible Teaching,  Soccer Program, Education Program, Finances & Administration, Nutrition & Hygiene, Hosting Mission Teams, and more.

Goers and Senders
we have the "goers" all set to oversee the honduras academy.  its a great group of missionaries - follow these links to read more about jason, axel, and the foster family.  Jesus said "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly for the Lord to send out laborers in his harvest."

we are thankful for our laborers who have left home, jobs, family, conveniences and comforts for the sake of taking the name of Jesus to the nations!

now we're praying for more "senders" to get behind our "goers"!

Start-up costs
we need to raise approximately $30,000 to get the academy where it needs to be before opening.  this funding will finish our on-site soccer field and facilities, as well as purchase some basic needs such as a washer/dryer, large freezer, and some basics to get our weight-room started.

Ongoing costs
we are praying for a team of monthly supporters to help cover our approximate $3,000 per month operational budget.  this budget includes staff salaries, the daily feeding program (approximately 800 lunches per month!), and all monthly bills and operational expenses.

i read this recently in randy alcorn's book titled "money, possessions, & eternity":

“The need is desperate.  Isn’t it time we emptied our pockets to help reach the world for Christ?  Like those who pray, those who give are partners with those who go (colossians 4:2-4; Philippians 1:4-5).  Some can go.  All can pray.  All can give.  Will you?
As you consider your answer, imagine for a moment the warm voice of someone from a different culture - perhaps with a different color of skin - coming to you in heaven, embracing you and whispering, “thank you - you brought us the gospel, and that is all that matters.”

what a thought, right?!  would you consider partnering with us?  if God leads you, please click here.  and you can always contact me directly by using the email link on the same page.

lets finish the mission by working together in taking the name of Jesus to the nations!  Matthew 24:14

BVSA Missionary Family

Friday, November 24, 2017

aldo surgeries

i want to share a quick PRAISE JESUS story.

earlier this week, i sent out an email to just a few people about aldo.  after visits and advice from friends - a prosthetic doctor and physical therapist - it was clear that aldo needs several surgeries in order to get serious about rehabbing and adjusting to life with one leg and one arm.

but after constant attempts through the public hospital to get help, it was clear that aldo was getting ignored.  with time working against us, we finally made the decision to go the private medicine route.  

within a couple hours of sending out my email, the funding for all 3 necessary surgeries was fully covered!  within days, we were able to get aldo in for the surgeries on his good foot (which was turning outward) and his good elbow (which has had bone exposed ever since the accident in may).

aldo is recuperating and will soon go in for surgery on his hand.  as he recovers from these surgeries, he will be able to begin rehabbing more seriously and get to work at becoming an independent young man again!

matthew 25:40:  the king will answer them, "truly i say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

Monday, November 6, 2017

mash and nicho: a couple of davids

darwin (mash) and denilson (nicho)
mash and nicho continue to exceed expectations.  i couldn't be prouder of them.

i walked into their room last night and they were both on the couch, messing with their phones.  i immediately started giving them a hard time.  (we make a specific effort to stay un-addicted to smart phones in our house.)

in unison, they responded defensively, promising me that they weren't on social media or playing games.  i grabbed their phones, and to my surprise - they were on their bible apps.

they went on to tell me that they were going on a "double date" the next day to antigua.  turns out mash is "a little bit" interested in nicho's girlfriend's cousin...

they explained that their plan is to hike up to the cross in antigua, a famous antigua landmark. once at the top, they are going to sit on the mountain and "explain to the girls the significance of the cross, just like you taught us when we went on the rhino excursion."

i told them how great of an idea that is, and answered a couple of their questions about verses they were looking for... then walked out of the room holding back my tears!  i guess it was one of those sweet moments where an impromptu, real-life example touches your heart.

these two guys have been growing like crazy during this year's leadership program in our house.  spiritually speaking, they have fallen in love with Jesus, and are sharing him with friends and family members.  not only that, but they are both pure servants.  they jump to help at every opportunity.  they are as loyal as can be.  they are learning how to manage the academy.  they are protective of luci and even kerrie.

they are simply turning into great young men.

i'm reminded of when the Lord sent samuel to jesse's house, to pick the next king of israel.  jesse lined up all of his boys - big, strong, charismatic, and full of "king potential."  but after examining them all, samuel said, "is this all you've got?"

jesse replied (paraphrase) "well, there's david... he's out taking care of the sheep... but he's just a little runt."  samuel had them bring david to him, and after seeing him immediately anointed him as king.

mash and nicho are like david.  i never would have predicted how they've risen to the top.  others in the leadership program are much smarter, more outgoing and more charismatic (and are still here, and doing well.)  but nicho and mash are the most consistent.  they don't complain or ride their emotions.  they are always in a good mood.  they work hard, and will do absolutely anything for you.

as samuel was choosing the next king, the Lord told him "do not look at his appearance, or his height, or his stature... for the Lord sees not as a man sees:  man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

when i look at mash and nicho's outward appearances, i see a couple of little runts!  but when i look at their hearts, i see something big, bold, and beautiful.

i see hearts after God's heart.

i see a couple of davids.

Monday, October 30, 2017

risk your kids for the kingdom?

a couple days ago, our next door neighbor was murdered.  shot 10-12 times for refusing to pay on an extortion attempt.  he was driving home from work (in a pickup, full of people in the back) when a motorcycle drove up beside his window and unloaded.

his wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was also hit and is now in critical condition.  the truck wrecked and many of the people in the back were thrown and injured - thankfully none died.

this type of thing has been relatively commonplace over our last 9+ years living as missionaries in guatemala.  

i'll never forget our kid's first week of school after our move in 2008.  a father of one of brooke's classmates was kidnapped while shopping at a hardware store that we had just shopped in that very week.  when we arrived to pick up the kid's from school that day, it was locked down and police were everywhere.  

can you imagine how we felt?  it was our first week on the ground...

these are only 2 examples - one from our first week here, and one from just a couple days ago.

it puts in perspective something fantastic that i read recently.  maybe one of the best things i've ever read on missions.  here's an excerpt from john piper's article titled "rick your kids for the kingdom", dated october 23, 2017:

Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the world?  Short answer: Yes.

Why?  Because the cause is worth the risk, and the children are more likely to become Christ-exalting, comfort-renouncing, misery-lessening exiles and sojourners in this way, than by being protected from risk in the safety of this world.

When Paul said that "anyone who does not provide for... his household has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8), he was talking about world-idolizing slackers, not self-denying emissaries of Christ.  But even that observation is not the main point.

The question raised by this text, and many others, is this:  What is the greatest good you can do for your children?  What does a real, countercultural, Christian ambassador and exile from heaven think when he is told, "Provide for your household"?  Provide what?  Culture-conforming comforts and security?  Really?

I don't think so.  He is thinking, How can I breed a radical, risk-taking envoy of King Jesus?  How can I raise a dolphin cutting through schools of sharks, rather than a bloated jellyfish full of plankton floating into the mouth of a whale called the world?  How can I raise offspring who hear Jesus say, "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58) and respond, "Let's go"?

Perhaps we lose too many of our children because they weren't trained as kingdom soldiers.  Maybe we train them in comfort and security, and now they won't leave it.

You can read the entire article here.  For us serving as missionaries, this is one of those reads that - as my wife put it - "ignites our soul."  it speaks well towards the "worth the risk" factor that many of us fully believe in, but find hard to articulate.

i was asked recently why i would move my family to a place like guatemala or even somewhere like iraq.  my simple response was "how could i not?".  people are dying without knowing Jesus.  Jesus commanded us to take the good news of hope, love, peace, forgiveness, and salvation to all the nations.  and there are still entire nations and entire people groups that don't know.  how could we not go?  how can we not send?  how do we just live our comfortable lives?

we didn't go into missions so that our kids could be raised differently, get a different perspective and form different priorities.  we went into missions because God called us through his Word to missions, and we just obeyed.

but i do agree fully with the reference from the article above.  i can't begin to describe all of the challenges, danger, risks, adventures and incidents my kids have experienced in the mission field.  and i am beyond thankful for who they have become in the process.

i wouldn't trade it for the world... and i do believe that they are now young adults that, when they hear Jesus say "are you sure you want to follow me, because i don't even have a place to lay my head?", they will undoubtedly say "let's go."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

welcome fosters; my letter to your boys

first night in guatemala - oct 4, 2017 - welcome fosters!
last week, the fosters arrived on one-way tickets.  they'll spend the next 3 months with us in guatemala, then relocate to honduras early next year with jason and axel.  the next 90 days in guatemala will include an intense missionary training program, 3 hours per day of language school, and lots of rhino futbol for their 2 boys!

something has really struck me being around their family.  its that their boys are the exact same ages that my kids were when we arrived in the mission field in 2008.  jake had just turned 7, brooke was 10, and madi was 11.  in the foster's case, jackson is 7 and alek is 10.

jackson has had a couple tough moments since getting here last week.  nothing crazy, just normal stuff.  its not easy on a kid to leave his friends and family, switch culture's overnight, and have his world turned completely upside down.


because of the age comparison, i'm going to use jackson (who is currently 7) and jake (who was 7 when we moved to guatemala) as examples in this post.  i could substitute alek, brooke, or madi's names just as easily (i am so proud of my girls)...  or any young kid who is either moving to the mission field, or who grew up in the mission field!

my letter of encouragement to jackson, and any other kid who follows mom and dad to the mission field.

brooke, madi, & jake - august, 2008 - first week in guatemala
dear jackson:

over 9 years ago, my son jake was you.

one day, he was surrounded by family and friends in his comfortable suburban home where he had grown up.  the next day, he woke up in a crazy new place, where no one looked like him or even talked like him.  it was dirty, chaotic, and strange...

his house "back home" was sweet - complete with carpet and air conditioning!  it had a big TV that played american shows in english.  the neighborhood was safe, clean, and even had sidewalks!  just a short jaunt through the community led to a beautiful swimming pool, basketball courts, and a pristine soccer field.  there was an ice-cream place, a pizza place, a publix, and just about everything else you could ask for... right around the corner!  and best of all - mimi, papa, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived just minutes away.

jake knows exactly how you feel, buddy.

when he was 7, we landed in guatemala without a clue what we were doing.  he didn't speak one word of spanish, and didn't know anybody.  we were wanderers.  strangers in a foreign land.

within a few months, jake was thrown into a local school where nobody spoke english.  his crazy parents dropped him and his sisters off every day at 7:30am and didn't come back until 2:30pm!  everyone in his class laughed at him and made fun of him.  back in the states, he was the coolest and funniest.  but here, he felt like a total outcast.

when his teacher made him read out loud, everyone laughed.  when he had to ask a question (like "can i please go to the bathroom?"), he would usually pronounce something wrong- and everyone would make fun of him.  one time, for weeks in a row, a kid kept telling him he was going to beat him up after school - just because he was a "gringo."

sometimes jake would come home and cry.  one time, he said "i don't understand a single word they say.  i feel like all i hear is the sound of bees buzzing...  all day long."

but his parents kept telling him about Jesus.  they showed him how Jesus was made fun of, laughed at, spit on, and ridiculed.  they showed jake in the bible where it says that if we want to be a follower of Jesus, we too have to be willing to be suffer and be made fun of.

God began to show jake that He had sent his son Jesus to earth to help people, but even those people didn't realize it.  they didn't think they needed help.  and that's why they were mean.  so jake was able to see that his job, even as a kid, was to be like Jesus.  he realized that the mean people need Jesus too...  and if he would love them, and have faith, Jesus could change their hearts!

jake also learned to laugh at himself.  he learned how to replace pride (that doesn't like to be made fun of or laughed at) - with humility (that doesn't care if people laugh at you!).  he learned how to be nice to someone who had previously treated him like a total jerk.  he also learned how to spot others who were being made fun of - and be kind to them, encourage them, and become their friends.

another really cool thing that happened is God showed jake that not everybody in the world has an x-box, an iPhone, or even plenty of food.  he began to not really care about those things, God started shaping him into a new person.  he started caring more about helping people than he did about having new stuff for himself.

soon jake learned spanish - even faster (and better) than his parents!  over time, he started to fit in and feel more comfortable.  he got bigger and stronger and became the best soccer player around.  but it wasn't his soccer skills that made jake special.  it was his love.  jake had learned to love Jesus more than anything.  and because of that, he learned how to love the people.

he even loved those who were mean to him.  to be honest, jake began to even teach me (his dad!) that very truth.  one time, i was upset that a kid was being a bully to jake, and i tried to give him some advice.  i told jake to stand up for himself by saying sometime mean back to the kid - out loud so that the rest of the class would hear it.  jake replied "thats pretty funny dad...  but i think i'll just try to be nice to him and see if he changes."

wow!  i was embarrassed!  but at the same time, i was very proud of who my son was becoming.

jackson, here's the best part.

jake now realizes that all of those "blessings" he had back in the american suburbs... they were actually hindering him from knowing Jesus.  the luxuries (toys, games, electronics, etc), safety, security, and comforts - were actually preventing him from experiencing Jesus.

the challenges associated with changing cultures, facing persecution, and being surrounded by poverty, diversity, and insecurity...  led jake straight to Jesus!  and today, as a young man, Jesus is his everything.  jake is not perfect, and (trust me!) he makes plenty of mistakes.  but God used his life in the mission field to humble his heart, simplify his life, give him a new perspective, and mold him into who he is.

jake recently received a scholarship to go play college soccer in the USA.  in 9 months, he'll leave his life in guatemala behind (the only life he really knows), and return to the country where he was born.  its a culture he doesn't know anymore.  his memories there have become faint, and his experiences there have been defined by 1-week visits.

he's nervous!  he doesn't like to read and write in english anymore, and sometimes gets uncomfortable around americans because he doesn't understand some of their phrases and jokes.

jake and jackson - oct 2017
but i know he will shine bright.  and not because he's handsome, funny, athletic, and charming.  he'll shine bright because he has learned how to hear Jesus' voice and obey it.  he will shine bright because he wants people to know Jesus.  he will shine bright because he learned how to love Jesus, and how to love all people, with his whole heart.

jake will be the "different one" again.  people will probably laugh at him.  but he won't care this time.  he will probably embrace it and enjoy it!  he will live totally different than his teammates.  he will love people differently, and he'll share openly about his faith.  he won't care if you are black, white, latino, or asian.  or even christian, muslim, buddhist, or atheist.  he has learned to see all people as people.  people who cry, laugh, and hurt.  people who need a savior.

i can promise you this...  jake doesn't regret his move to the mission field one bit!  he even realizes that he didn't just "follow mom and dad to the mission field."  today, he sees that God put him there with great purpose.  and in fact, he credits growing up in the mission field for the person he is today.
so when you're having a bad day, frustrated and angry...  remember jake!
when they are all laughing at you...  remember jake!
when you're mad at your parents and just want to go home...  remember jake!

and when you remember jake, may you be reminded of God's faithfulness, and be filled up with the unconditional love of Jesus.

oh...  and if on any given day you just need some encouragement or advice, don't hesitate to call jake.  i know he would stop everything to take your call :)