Friday, July 31, 2020

how should Christians handle politics, racial tension, and covid-19?

the combination of racial tension, covid-19, and the upcoming presidential election, has led America into complete pandemonium.

Christian or not, politics seems to be the filter for everything.  Satan is working overtime to assure that every angle on every conversation is steered by politics, and firm loyalty to one side or the other.

it's crafty on the enemy's part, as it keeps everyone mired in the world; eyes fixed on temporal problems and temporal solutions.  it's why these things always lead to "get out and vote" movements. 

the logic suggests that electing the right candidate will solve everything.  but it never does.  why?
because the true problem has been the same since the beginning of time: our own sin. 
the only solution remains the same too: Jesus.  (1 john 2:2)

if i'm not careful, i start to drift down that same cultural/political train of thought.  my daily time abiding in God's word is the only way i can maintain a kingdom perspective.  there's a reason its called "daily bread" for Christians.  we starve without it, and end up feasting on the junk food of this world.

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i don't claim to be a special voice on all of this, but i do want to share some thoughts rooted in Philippians 2:12-14.  as i studied it recently i felt it couldn't be more apropos for today's climate.  i've separated the section by it's commas so you can recognize the beauty of each line:

"Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  
that you may be blameless and innocent, 
children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, 
among whom you shine as lights in the world,  
holding fast to the word of life..."
 
the middle line (in orange) identifies the scenario: Christians living in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.  the surrounding 4 lines tell us what to do about it.   

but before we can dig into "what to do about it", we have to establish that we too are living in a crooked and twisted generation.  honestly, i'd call "crooked and twisted" (politically and ideologically) an understatementin fact, the two parties that supposedly work together to form governance seem to have both lost all sense of reasonableness.

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many on one side are refusing to wear masks, rejecting data and safety protocols, and running with every covid-19 conspiracy theory out there.  some in this camp would say systemic racism isn't even real, and racial injustice is just an excuse that black people use.  despite claiming to be the party for evangelical Christianity, their favorite "conservative personalities" influence their worldview much more than their bibles do.  sadly, they justify their own hate and judgment, based on the fact that the extremists on the other side have gone too far.
 
on the other side, you've got violence, rioting, and pure mayhem being justified as "protest."  a culture is forming that bullies people by saying "you must agree with every single thing we stand for, or else!"  for example, while the phrase "black lives matter" is of course true (and a worthy mantra right now), the organization itself has other objectives that are questionable, to say the least.  many of which are not even race related.  yet if anyone dare speak about it, or even hesitate to join the movement, they're tagged bigot, racist, sexist, or homophobe... then annihilated via social media, and rejected by all.

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several factors contribute to this madness.  divisive leadership on both sides.  biased media on both sides.  unwillingness to empathize. fear of retribution (cancel culture), and much more.  as a result, the valid concerns coming from one side will never be appreciated by the other.  

it's a true impasse.  gridlock of the worst variety, with nowhere to turn around or free things up.

as Christians, what are we to do in such a crooked and twisted generation?  which side do we support?  what if there's truth on both?  and lies on both?  how do we form our viewpoints on these matters, and handle these conversations? 

first, we have to change filters.  toss out the political and cultural filters, and upgrade to a biblical filterlets go back to Philippians 2:14-16, starting with the last line:

holding fast to the word of life...

in order for a Christian to live in this world, the bible must be our source for everything.  God's word has to be the influence forming ALL of our opinions, leading ALL relevant conversations, and shaping our ENTIRE perspective.  it is the living, breathing word of God - always true, always right, and always giving a better way. 

when we know the Word, keep to the Word, and abide in the Word, our opinions and actions become like Christ!  this is what prevents us from conforming to the crooked/twisted thinking of the world.  as the Christian grows in knowledge and wisdom, devotion to a political party or even a "nationality" begins to seem trivial by comparison to devotion to King Jesus. 

Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  
that you may be blameless and innocent

when we abide in Christ and grow in knowledge, we begin placing our identity in Him alone.  as He conforms us into His image (which He promises will happen!), grumbling and disputing become less natural of a response to our circumstances.  eventually our combative and argumentative nature gets replaced with a genuine desire to be blameless and innocent, which flows from humility.
  
among whom you shine as lights in the world
 
finally, as we abide in His word, and put on His character, we get to shine Him. the ability to shine Jesus is especially important during dark, chaotic, confusing times like these.  oh, how this crooked and twisted generation needs the light of Christ!  

what made Jesus shine uniquely bright was his perfect balance of Grace and Truth. as we grow in those characteristics, we gain the ability to better discern right from wrong - and then lovingly engage. through this, God gives us the opportunity to stand out from the world (shine!)... by not fitting perfectly into any worldly "camp"...  and showing political and cultural objectivity based on commitment to biblical truth. 

you can read more about replacing your filter in colossians 3:1-17.

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returning to the current state of chaos in America...

to Christians on one side: if racial injustice doesn't truly bother you, something is wrong. a Christian should be appalled by any partiality, for God shows none (romans 2:9-11).  try to understand the reality of systemic racism, and empathize.  it's good to be patriotic, but not without appreciating how the process-out-of-slavery left huge hardships for black people, some that remain to this day.  here's a great short video to learn more, by American icon, Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales).  trust me, he's brilliant :)

regarding both the racial climate AND the politics surrounding covid-19, measure your arguments (and level of passion) against scripture.  aim for empathy and understanding.  pursue humility and objectivity, and ask God to help you recognize when your news source - or your president - might be wrong.

to Christians on the other side: be willing to call out the serious blemishes in what's going on.  an important cause doesn't justify all means (violence, bullying, cancelling, etc).  don't dismiss/shame people who might be wrestling with different nuances of it all.  and be careful not to let the bad apples ruin the whole bunch, so to speak.  most importantly,  if you feel oppressed or persecuted, remember the Lord is for you (psalm 9:9). that should free you up from having to fight so hard, knowing that He fights for you.  

you have a captive audience.  in the long run, it will go to waste if the most audacious, unreasonable voices steal the limelight.  separating from the extremists, and leading a shift of tone towards considerate dialogue, could lead to monumental and overdue change. 

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we don't need more political banter.  grumbling and disputing isn't a way forward.  yes, vote... and yes, defend biblical truth.  but as Christians, we must realize that in the end, Biden, nor Trump, nor Perfect Candidate C, is going to make everything better.  the magnitude of the situation, and our own human depravity, makes "electing the right candidate" far too simplistic.

what's needed more than ever are brave Christ followers, shining like lights in a crooked and twisted generation. 


"God, i know the only way to shine your glory in this world is by abiding in you, knowing your word, and being brave enough to live it out in unashamed obedience.  convict me of my own sin daily so i can repent, be renewed, and keep fighting the good fight, for your glory alone."

Friday, July 17, 2020

my plans / his plans

i've been having to remind myself lately that there's much more to what's going on in the world than how it affects me.  if i forget that even for a moment, i become myopic and selfish.

if not for the coronavirus pandemic,
  • we'd be in africa right now, making progress toward our senegal ministry plant
  • we would have already gotten to one of our existing academies with our 3 missionary families (who are currently preparing for the mission field) to do onsite academy training
  • we would be planing a return to guatemala to spend some time with our ministry team, and God-willing witness the birth of our grandson!
  • and the list goes on...
but as i abide in Jesus, he reminds me that He is accomplishing more than i can possibly imagine.  his ways involve all people, all cultures, all hearts, all governments, the earth and its ecosystems, the sea, the sun, the moon, the stars, all the galaxies, and so much more! 

its preposterous that i slip into simply seeing "barriers" to what i otherwise want to get accomplished.

"Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." (proverbs 19:21)

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (psalm 8:3-4)

so i come back to Jesus. when i abide in Him well, perspective and priorities are realigned. instead of frustration that i can't be where i want to be, making progress on initiatives that i want to be making progress on...  i am able to re-set and ask, "what would you have me do today. Lord?  right now?"

this shift has led us to better minister to people right where we are.  it's also led us to do our 5-week missionary training via Zoom...  to spending much needed time on the phone/Facetime with our missionaries in the field...  to re-thinking ministry vision and procedures with our officers on the board... to beginning a weekly all-missionary devotional via Zoom... to helping transition leadership for ANSL... and much more.

because of being unable to get back to africa, or visit any academies, we've been able to be available for some things that we never could have expected. 

for example, we have friends who are currently helping foster a young girl who is from guatemala. she doesn't speak english and kerrie has been able to spend the days with her, not only translating but helping encourage her delicate heart, as she has been through much tragedy and abuse.  it's been sweet, and only possible because of God's perfect timing.

all of this to say: God continues teaching me what it means to fully surrender my plans to the Lord, again and again, day after day. 

dying to self, which is arguably the most commonly woven theme into every book of the new testament, is a constant battle

not only does it mean fighting against our sin nature - which is hard enough
not only does it mean surrendering our ambitions and dreams - which is totally counter-cultural.
but it also means surrendering our plans - even the plans we believe are God-honoring.

as Christians, our aim in this life is to be used by God for his glory.  but that means however He sees fit

i am learning more and more that the way to best be used by God has a lot to do with surrendering my plans (even the ones i made for Him!) and instead humbly seeking His. 


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

stress levels - you won't believe this

anyone heard of the "holmes-rahe stress test"?

it's been around since the late 1960's, and is still widely used by health professionals to determine a person's stress level.  still used by the american institute of stress, the scale - which is based on life circumstances - helps predict when a person's level of stress is likely to cause serious health problems.

the test
most people score between 50-150 on the scale.  here's how the results are to be evaluated:

150 or less = relatively low risk of serious health problems due to stress

150-300 = 50% chance of a health breakdown* within the next 2 years.

300 or more = 80% chance of a health breakdown* within the next 2 years

*health breakdowns mentioned are heart-attack, heart disease, mental breakdown, severe depression, diabetes, stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal disease, and other severe illnesses causing hospitalization.

missionaries break the scale
in the late 1990's, doctors' lois and lawrence dodd of heartstream resources began using the holmes-rahe scale to determine the stress levels of foreign missionaries serving overseas.  what they discovered is amazing, not to mention sobering.

✔foreign missionaries not only average well over 300, but have sustained scores of 300 year after year.

✔foreign missionaries average 600 on the scale.

✔foreign missionaries in their first term average 900 on the scale.

the results are remarkable.  and they explain a lot too - like why 75% of foreign missionaries return home within the first 2 years, never to go back to the field.

one missionary who took the holmes-rahe test noted that he scored a 532... and this despite "no way to account for the fact that i almost crash every day that i drive in my country, don't speak the language, and daily instruct my children what to do when a cobra wanders into the yard."

personally
for me, it has taken years to admit it.  but i know it's real.  i lose weight and have severe stomach problems. i know it's stress related - directly connected to the field - because when i am stateside i gain weight and my stomach is fine.

i'm not writing this to provide answers- i'll save that for another post!  i'm just sharing the information because i think this is serious stuff.  and rarely gets talked about.  i guess my only hope is that knowing this information might inspire people and churches to be intentional about caring for missionaries serving overseas.

and i'm definitely not writing to complain.  because the truth is (and i think i speak for most long-term missionaries), despite the stress, i feel most alive in the field!  i always feel most at peace when i'm obeying God, no matter what.

it's paradoxical, that's for sure.  as christians, our spirit tends to be most thankful and content when our flesh is being challenged.  we know our joy is fullest when we're being sanctified.  for me, i also feel the opposite effect- when a season of "comfort" leaves me feeling spiritually lethargic.

if you've never lived in the foreign mission field, it's simply impossible to put into words how constant the stress is.  our missionaries at BVSA all deal with it in different ways.  but we all have one thing in common - we consider it to be worth it.  and we wouldn't have it any other way!


james 1:2-4, romans 5:3-5, 2 corinthians 12:10, philippians 3, galatians 6:9

Sunday, May 17, 2020

the trivialization of philippians 4:13

it's gotta be one of the most cheapened and misused verses in all of scripture.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

most often, we see philippians 4:13 used to motivate achievements, accomplishments, and winning.

what a crime to trivialize something this profound.

consider- paul wrote the book of philippians while imprisoned in rome.  we know paul's missionary journeys included near-death beatings, sickness, hunger, being shipwrecked at sea, running from killers, etc. from what he wrote in the previous 3 chapters (1-3), we can presume he had been beaten badly, to the point of death's door, as he wrote this very book.

as he pens chapter 4, before the famous verse 13, paul lays out several encouragements on how to live the christian life.
  • rejoice always.  paul is not talking about happiness based on circumstances here.  he is referring to deep joy, despite circumstances.   
  • give thanks in all things.  in all situations, good or bad, maintain a thankful heart towards God, knowing that he is working it out for your good.
  • do not be anxious about anything.  it's tough for anxiety to coexist with the peace and joy that come from the Lord.  paul is saying that true contentment in Christ thwarts anxiety.
  • let the peace of God guard your hearts.
  • be careful what you dwell on, as it will be produced in you. spend your time thinking about honorable, pure, praise-worthy things. don't waste time consuming garbage.
after setting that grand stage, paul leads us into some of the deepest waters of the christian faith.  he closes it out with the famous verse 13.

i have learned to be content in every situation. i know how to be brought low, and i know how to abound.  in any and every circumstance, i have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  i can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

in other words...  because of Christ who strengthens me, i have learned to find as much joy, peace, and thankfulness while suffering, as when everything in my world is perfect.

in other words... because of Christ who strengthens me, i am content no matter what happens to me. whether i feel TERRIFIC or i'm being TORTURED, my joy in Christ remains the SAME.

what paul is saying defies all common sense.  it's completely unnatural.  it actually flips the generic, clichΓ© version of 4:13 directly on its head.

athletes put 4:13 on their shirts, shoes, and under their eyes.  albeit well intentioned, the context is incorrect and the point of 4:13 is being missed entirely.

instead of a charge to "success" or a motivation to achieve and accomplish, 4:13 is more of a commitment to losing well.  it's a conviction to endure, and praise Jesus in the losses.

instead of pointing up to give glory to God after throwing a touchdown, 4:13 is about the fortitude to point up and give glory to God after getting sacked.

accurate representations of 4:13 look more like:
  • my friend Cesar who worships Jesus as deeply and joyfully as anyone i've ever known, while agonizing in constant physical pain from a terminal disease.  "i can do this through Christ who strengthens me."
  • my friend Johanna worshipping Jesus with all of her heart, hands lifted high, singing at the top of her lungs, at her husbands funeral who had tragically taken his own life.  she say's to her 6 year old daughter who is suffering from a broken heart, "the devil won't steal our joy, we'll get through this, through Christ who strengthens us."
  • a mother and father who recently lost their 4 year old precious baby girl, praising Jesus and sharing their confidence in His sovereign will, the very day that she passed away.  "today their is sadness and hope; it is Christ alone who strengthens us."
4:13 is about praising God - even giving thanks to God - amidst unthinkable tragedy and pain.  it's about being content in any and all circumstances.

4:13 is usually misused because its easy to be content when we're pursuing or receiving the things we already want.  contentment when "all is well" comes naturally!

but the "secret" paul is referring to?  it's about unexplainable joy and thankfulness in the midst of failure.  supernatural peace in the midst of the pain.

"i can do all things" is not motivation to succeed and achieve, its resolve to praise Jesus no matter what.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

missionaries and coronavirus

i am so thankful for our financial support team. since the coronavirus pandemic began, to my knowledge we have not lost any financial support. thank you friends, and thank you Jesus!

i also want to take a quick opportunity to speak on behalf of our entire BVSA missionary team. for the last couple weeks, i have been on the phone for the majority of each day with our missionaries in different countries.  they are all navigating their own situations with tremendous faith and courage.

from a missionary standpoint, today's circumstances are unique in their own right.  not only are missionaries impacted financially like everyone else, but they are also navigating the uncertainties of third-world medical care & governments, complicated food distribution and broken financial systems.  meanwhile - and most importantly - embracing the big opportunities that "tragedies" create in opening hearts to the gospel.  

and don't forget that missionaries are also making decisions on how to best care for their own families too.  when you add it all up, it can certainly increase stress levels.  which leads me back to my point.  your continued support - both financially and prayerfully - serves as a MAJOR encouragement to missionaries during these crazy times.

we know the current situation is having an economic impact on everyone.  if your support of missionaries, and the great commission of Jesus, is a greater sacrifice at this time, you can be certain that God receives and uses it in greater measure.  

as you support faithfully during this season of financial instability, may Christ be blessed like he was by the widow who gave sacrificially in luke 21.



Sunday, March 29, 2020

from florida to africa... and back

it's been slightly 2 months since we arrived in west africa. now we're back stateside. what is going on!

i have such mixed feelings. when my head hit the pillow that first night - after a straight 24hrs of travel - my mind was swirling.

on one hand:  so thankful that God cleared the way for us to get back (too many stories to tell here). thankful to see our son and pablo, who have been uprooted from their universities. and thankful that God has shown us time and time again that it's his will for us to be here.

on the other hand:  oddly enough, i miss africa already. we had gotten "over the hump" of some tough initial challenges. luci absolutely loved her school as well as her friend next door.  we were growing and improving in our french classes, and making new friends too. we were making progress.  our house had become our home.  to be honest, we were starting to really like it there. all God!

when coronavirus hit, returning to the states wasn't even a thought. as time went on, the US was getting more and more cases while africa was seeming to avoid it all together.

but potential issues with our visa status were brought to our attention. the impact of coronavirus had closed offices and procedures that we needed to get done before our tourist visas expired. after digging into it and ultimately acquiring legal counsel, we were warned that even though coronavirus was the cause, local authorities are very stringent in this area and there was no sign that they would give a grace period to those who were caught in the middle. we were advised that a permanent stain on our visa status could be detrimental to our future initiatives over the long term.

after discussing with our board, and our missionary team across other locations, that's when we looked into flight options out. departing and re-entering would automatically re-set our tourist visa, and allow us to get back and help our son and pablo navigate things in the meantime. with help from family using skymiles, we booked tickets one week out.

but thats when panic in our country, not to mention around the world, began to ensue. the virus had reached africa, and our west african country was one of the hardest hit. the president eventually shut down all schools, public gatherings, international flights, etc. we were told that our flight, still almost one week away, would almost certainly be cancelled. the US embassy arranged emergency charter flight evacuations for US citizens in the country immediately.

as we prayed through all of this, God overwhelmed us with peace. we continued moving about our lives in africa, going out to shop and prepare. not knowing if we'd be able to fly out, or be in longterm lockdown in africa, we semi-prepared for both. we felt the Lord allowed us to view it in a simple way that provided us a lot of peace: if our flight holds, we'll go... and if its cancelled, we'll stay.

after several more twists and turns, our flight ultimately departed. a smooth travel day with minimal inconveniences... and just like that we're back in florida.

amazingly, i woke up to 2 emails from the embassy. the first saying that no more flights for US citizens are available. ours had been the last one.  the second, that all visa/residency immigration services are cancelled indefinitely and US citizens are basically at the mercy of local government decisions regarding visa status.

such sweet confirmations!  as we continue abiding in the Lord daily, enjoying his presence and his faithfulness, we look forward to His purposes in bringing us back during this time.

we're thankful that our french classes are moving to an online format so we can continue progressing with the language.  thankful that luci's school in africa is doing the same.

here we are Lord, sanctify and renew us, and use us however you see fit.  and please let us know when you are ready for us to return to africa.  we remain excited to return to the purpose, and the life, that we left there.



Saturday, March 21, 2020

christians & corona

the practical measures regarding coronavirus are our responsibility, and we should take necessary precautions. but even more important is our reaction to the situation as Christians. we must stay in our bibles, praying, and worshipping. we must ABIDE in Him! scripture gives us much to lean on in times like this.

while its tempting to get caught up in the hysteria, as Christians we are called to be set apart. we're called to be salt and light in a world that is tasteless and dark. how much more-so in times like these! our confidence and peace comes from knowing that ALL POWER AND AUTHORITY ON HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO JESUS (Matt 28:18), and even the wind and the seas obey him (Mark 4:41)!!!

for Christians, moments like this bring big opportunities! 1 peter 3:14-15 tells us that when we "fear not" it will open up opportunities to tell people where our hope lies. we do that by showing peace in the chaos, confidence in His sovereignty, genuine belief in His promises, and valuing the advancement of the gospel higher than protecting our own life.

during this ordeal, we should be asking questions like:
  • how can this be used for the glory of Jesus? 
  • how can it be used to point others to Jesus?
  • how can it be used in my conversations with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers?
  • how might God use this to strengthen my relationship with him, and for my own sanctification?
  • how can i serve people who are in greater need than myself during this time?
  • who do i know living/serving in other countries where unstable governments and poor economies make things even more complicated? how can i be intentional and strategic about caring for them and praying for them?
most of all, lets ask God to make himself known to ALL peoples in ALL nations, at ALL costs, and bring glory to himself through all of this.


Monday, March 9, 2020

we need your help!

UPDATE:  SINCE THE TIME OF THIS POST ALL OF OUR GUATEMALA RHINOS HAVE BEEN SPONSORED.  

ONLY 2 HONDURAS RHINOS REMAIN IN NEED OF A SPONSOR.

hello Rhino friends, family, and supporters:

we need your help!  

between our Guatemala and Honduras academies, we still have 30+ boys that need sponsored.

the Rhinos Sponsorship Program helps cover all of the Rhino's needs throughout the year.
for $40 per month (or $480 per year), your Rhino receives:

  • a nutritious meal every day
  • unlimited pure drinking water (not such an easy thing in Guatemala)
  • all necessary hygiene care
  • all the resources of our soccer and education programs

even better than that, we will make sure you and your Rhino get connected and STAY connected.
~ you'll receive a refrigerator magnet to remember to pray for your Rhino(s)...
~ you'll receive pictures, videos, and letters from your Rhino throughout the year...
~ and you are welcome to write and communicate with your Rhino as often as you like!

the RELATIONSHIP side of this program is what the Rhinos love the most. just to feel loved and know they are cared for, and prayed for, can truly be a life changing thing for them. by sponsoring a Rhino, you become another key voice in their life by which they can hear the gospel, and receive the love of Jesus.

would you consider sponsoring a Rhino?  
Go to https://www.bvboys.com/rhino-sponsorship/ for more information and to see who is still available.  


Thursday, February 20, 2020

one month in west africa

today marks one month. it hasn't been an easy, but we're good and things are looking up!

out of tears
emotions have been all over the place.  not gonna lie, we spent the first couple weeks crying a lot!  not only was the situation here pretty hard, but we couldn't stop thinking of our kids. each of them (and new son-in-laws) are in new/different seasons of their lives, and we wanted to be close to all of them.  we're also missing the friends and fam that we deeply enjoyed during our year stateside. 

while we knew God was bringing that sweet season to a close, we felt pretty miserable for a while once reality actually set in.

on top of that, no running water, no AC, a rough apartment, no language skills - and no clue what to do about any of it - left us struggling for sure.  thankfully much of that eventually got dealt with, and we began settling in. 

where's our meter?
for the most part, we didn't have running water for our first 5 days here. we finally were able to get a cistern and water pump installed and we thought our major water problems were over. until 2 days ago... when the water company came and took our water meter (literally cut the pipe and removed it!).  they shut us off, saying the bill in this apartment hadn't been paid in 5 years. 5 years?!  (of course i only figured all of this out after numerous trips up and down the stairs, calling translators, and finally sitting with our security guard navigating google translate.)  and i still wasn't positive! lol.  

so...  another couple days without water, borrowing from nice neighbors, etc... but praise God it all got sorted out quickly and we got the meter returned.  thank you Jesus.

je ne parle pas frances
french class is hard, but its been good. we are enjoying our teachers and classmates. it's 4.5 hours per day - so definitely information overload! it's a totally different method than we did with spanish, but really interesting. instead of using a book, curriculum, learning conjugations and memorizing verbs, the first 100-150 hours is only listening.  then you start to listen and repeat - similar to recreating how a baby/child learns their native tongue

phase 2 then gets into speaking and forming sentences, etc, but still no reading or academic learning. it's called the GPA approach for language acquisition.  anyway, we are learning... petit a petit... :)

luci happier than ever
one of the most incredible things about this move is how much luci LOVES it here. her joy hasn't dipped at all since we arrived. hasn't cried once. hasn't complained once. its all God. otherwise it makes no sense. we left her sisters, brother, mimi and papa, all family and friends...  and she is the happiest we've ever seen her.  we praise God for this EVERY DAY. honestly, if she were miserable, crying coming home from school, etc - on top of everything else - i don't know if i could do it.

wonder woman
my wife is incredible.  she always toughens up and says "yes" to whatever God has for us, whatever the cost. and she's always willing to follow me as i follow Christ.

this last month has been spiritual "game on"... and my wife is a gamer!  my heart smiles as she dives in... struggling to get a taxi, shop the markets, and read food labels.  she's a totally different person than when we did this 12 years ago in guatemala.

just like then, her world has been turned upside down.  her friends, family and comforts of home stripped away. a true woman of God, she leans into Him fully, and He sustains her joy.  up early every morning spending sweet time with Jesus, she gets refilled by the Living Water.  i'm so proud to be the husband of this amazing woman. 


grateful for bigger reasons
i am truly grateful. not only do we get to "pioneer" another academy and remain committed to the call to the unreached people group we've been called to... but God is also reminding us how hard mission work is - especially in the beginning.

which reminds us how important "missionary care" is.  it was a big topic of conversation for us while we were stateside, and its being reinforced during this tough season.  we want to be good at taking care of our missionaries. we don't want them to get so overwhelmed that they quit.  we want them to endure over the long-term.  a soft landing in the field is helpful, not like the one we're dealing with now. we want them to feel supported, cared for, have a team, and ideally a community.

the wehmeyer's will be joining us here late this summer. we're thankful that we'll have some basic things sorted out by the time they get here. it will be a softer landing for them and their 2 little babies.

most of all, its good to suffer for a while 
i'm not claiming to be suffering in any mighty way.  but its good for me to be humbled.  its a blessing to be uncomfortable.  

and its good for us to be the "newbies" again.  wandering aimless and clueless, and sounding like 2-years olds when we talk. 

its good (even though i hate it) to feel scared for my family's safety, nervous to run a simple errand, dirty and sweaty all the time, and feeling helpless and intimidated in basic situations. 

it strips me of my rights and exposes my control issues. it reveals the needy, and smug, american in me.  it illuminates my sin. ultimately forcing my full dependence on Jesus.  

it helps me die to myself, probably the most underrated and disobeyed command of Christ. 

its a painful process, but i am so thankful for it.  it sharpens me, making me a better warrior for the kingdom.  not to mention better husband, father, and man.  but best of all it leads to deep sanctification and intimacy with God.

my morning abiding (time with Jesus, in the bible, in prayer, and in worship) has been sweeter than ever this last month. when i abide well, He puts it all in perspective. 

times like these can easily be mistaken for the worst days (flesh perspective) when in reality they are the best days of my life (kingdom perspective).  

1 peter 5:10, romans 5:3-5

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

cesar's new bed

it is such a blessing to be a part of this man's life.  cesar garcia - a hero and mentor in my life. he sets the bar high for what it looks like to truly follow and walk with Jesus.  i am often convicted by the Lord's voice reminding me to consider cesar...  his steadfastness...  his abiding habits...  his patience, endurance, and his perspective.

like training in sports, it's always good to have people around us who are ahead of us. it helps to have real life examples to look to and learn from.  we need that as christians, too.  for me, cesar is certainly one of those people.

which is one of the reasons it is such a privilege to be a blessing to him and his family.  with the help of a friend who wishes to stay anonymous, we were able to get an orthopedic, adjustable bed brought in for cesar. at the touch of a button, he can adjust the angles of his back and legs. not only does this help reduce pain, but also assists with therapy.

he and his wife andrea voice texted me in the middle of the night thursday, the first night sleeping in the new bed. they were emotional because it was truly helping cesar rest.  it was was one of the sweetest messages i've ever heard!

there is an awesome story about how this all came to fruition, but i will save that for my anonymous friend to tell as he chooses.  to that friend:  thank you for hearing the Lord's voice and responding immediately!

and thank you dr. carlos for being that guy who's always willing to jump in and help get a project  done.

love and miss you amigo checha!!!


Saturday, February 8, 2020

so hard, but so good, to go through this again

leaving our home for school
my stomach has been cramping for days- sometimes stopping me in my tracks. i'm tired. a ten-day headache lingers on.

we have been in west africa for two and a half weeks. not going to lie... it’s been hard.  we we're supposed to be "veterans"!!!  lol...

i remember
12 years ago we did this in guatemala.  we landed in a new country, new culture and started a new life.  with no language, no sending organization, and no "team", it was just us.  me, my wife, and our 3 young kids - just trying to figure things out.

i remember feeling helpless. worthless. scared. inept. humbled. i literally remember pretending to be confident and strong for my family's sake... while whispering desperation prayers to Jesus all day, and crying through my prayers at night.

i remember my wife crying. a lot. i remember her telling me she didn't like herself: that her former identities such as "super-mom" and "women’s bible-study leader" – even “friend” and “daughter” and “neighbor” – had all been stripped away and she hated what she found underneath.  i knew exactly what she meant... i was going through something similar myself.

i remember my kids coming home from school and crying, saying they didn't understand a single word, and that all the kids laughed at them every time they spoke.

but i also remember...
bonding with my family more deeply than I had ever imagined possible.  we experienced things with God and with each other that shaped us into who we are as a family to this day.

i remember how sweet the joys, and how exhilarating the victories.

most importantly, i remember how close i felt to Jesus in those moments of desperation and dependence.

when it takes full dependence on God just to run a simple errand, it does wonders for your sanctification!

when you are humbled to the point of losing your 1) comforts and conveniences, 2) past identity, 3) ability to communicate, 4) any chance for a routine, and 5) all your friends, family, and home church… you either quit, or you grow fast.

as christians, suffering shapes us.  our best growth comes by fire (romans 5:3, 2 cor 12:10), and the process brings you closer to Jesus than ever before.  it’s always worth it!

thankful
and THAT is where i am today.

there are moments already where i’ve wanted to quit.  i've had a few situations where my chest swells up and my breathing turns to short breaths.  or my stomach ties up in knots...  and i start justifying reasons why it makes more sense to not do this after all.

in the midst of all that, my time with Jesus is extraordinary.  it fills me so much, I feel like I could explode.

i can’t read scripture or worship without tearing up.  His faithfulness showers me – completely flooding my heart.  it’s remarkable, hard to explain.  best thing ever.  words of life, ministering to my soul.  more than “reading” them, I hear them, I feel them, my soul drinks them up.  living water!

my stomach pain is still there. i’m always tired. my ten-day headache lingers on.

but I hear your voice Jesus. and there’s no other place I want to be.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

pablo - coming to america!

this is absolutely crazy.

pablo garcia (aka "son of cesar" πŸ˜‚ ) has been accepted at trinity baptist college in jacksonville, florida, to play soccer and go to college!

assuming his visa interview goes well (please pray!), he will begin classes in january 2020.  (update: visa approved!)

now before i say more... let me just say this:  i don't believe for one second that God's top priority in all of this is simply that pablo "gets an american education" or "gets to play college soccer."

clearly both of those things are incredible opportunities for a kid who grew up in the forests of guatemala!  (big shout out to finca florencia, magdalena milpas altas, and los rinos de buena vista!)

while those things are great, i just think there's more happening here. this is bigger than that.

i believe God is sending pablo to the USA... as a missionary.

wait, what?  i thought the US sends missionaries to guatemala - not the other way around?

that would be an incorrect understanding of missions.  it's God who sends missionaries. and He sends them wherever He wants to, whenever He wants to, to accomplish whatever He wants accomplished.

God has been preparing pablo for this ever since he was a little boy.  from the very beginning, pablo has been pointed to Jesus as the foundation of everything and the answer to everything.  he has witnessed giant faith his entire life.  not only the unthinkable and miraculous... but also the simple daily things like love, humility, and acts obedience, practiced daily in his home.

pablo's dad is legendary.  i'm talking hebrews-11-saint kinda legend.  just type "cesar" in the search box (top left) of my blog and read away.  he's my personal mentor in the faith.  he's who i most look up to as far as examples in this life.  the most Christ-like person i've ever known.  his entire family - parents, sisters, grandpa - are truly wonderful people.

but this moment... this particularly story... of new opportunities, and being called on mission... belongs to pablo.

--------------------

pablo was a lanky kid from magdalena when we met him in late 2009.  when we opened our soccer academy not too long after that, we never really considered pablo- since all of the kids in our academy were from the village of buena vista.

that is, until we were set to travel to honduras for a tournament in 2014.  we were short on players for our JV team, and we needed an extra sub or two.  on top of that, we just thought it would be a neat experience for pablo and his family if he came along.
2014 Tournament in Travesia, Honduras

while there, we played a team from a poor village called travesia - and several of their players played barefoot.  after the game, walking the long path from the field back to our bus, i noticed pablo (12 yrs old at the time) walking in only socks.  i asked him where his cleats were... and he started acting shy and didn't want to tell me.

finally, he said he had given them to one of the players who didn't have any shoes.

but here's the best part of the story... when we invited pablo to come with us on the trip, he told me he didn't have any cleats, so we told hm we'd give him a pair.  when i gave him the brand new cleats before we left, i told him that when the  tournament was over, he could keep them.  he was so excited!
and it was that very pair that he had given away...

--------------------

pablo stayed in the academy from that point on.  our only Rhino not from buena vista.

pablo is quiet, not a big talker.  he only answers when called upon.  he has a charming humility about him... never wants to speak up, not wanting everyone to know that he knows the answer.  and he always seems to know the answer.

his biblical knowledge is profound for his age.  anyone who knows his dad, knows where this comes from. but in addition to having scripture memorized, he tends to always understand the deeper meaning. he knows jesus in a real and personal way... he understands the true gospel... and his theology comes from knowledge plus real experiences, which leads to deep understanding.

his faith has been tested.  he knows all about suffering. and glory. and true joy.

--------------------

one of my favorite things in the world is to sit at cesar's bedside and listen to him preach.  even now that i am not in guatemala, we exchange voice texts regularly.  hearing his voice brings peace and joy to my heart - and tears to my eyes - every time!

--------------------

before he got sick, cesar used to knock on doors and tell people about jesus.  he tells stories of how many people would slam the door in his face.  he says he didn't let it bother him, because he knew with each slammed door, he was that much closer to getting one person to listen!

once his condition left him bedridden, he was hugely discouraged that he couldn't go knock on doors to share the gospel.  recently he told me:

"thats when people started coming.  it started with local churches.  they were coming to pray for me... the poor, sick guy... but i took advantage of each opportunity and shared the gospel with everyone that came through my door!  then God sent you all - missionaries from the USA!  then you started bringing your groups... then more missionaries started visiting, with people from all over the world!"

he went on to say that ever since he has been unable to leave his bed, people from 29 different  countries have come through his door and heard the gospel, and countless have chosen to follow Jesus at his bedside!  he said when people go back to their countries, and return to their families, he prays for them and asks God to bless and grow the seeds of truth that were planted.

i'm trying to do some rough math... considering all of the groups over the years, plus all of the other missionaries who bring their groups... i'm realizing that i can vouch firsthand that thousands of lives have been changed after spending time in cesar's home!

and what's great about it, he says, is that no one has ever slammed the door in his face again πŸ˜‚!
the joy in suffering that this man conveys is something else...

--------------------

back to pablo... so through a serious of crazy events, God opened up the opportunity for him to come to the states to study and play soccer.
  • it started with a christian coach who saw him play in guatemala  
  • then a small group of people who love him began advocating for him 
  • then a christian university became fond of him and his story
  • then a men's bible study group agreed to sponsor his entire 4 years of tuition
do you see where i'm going with this?

i realize pablo comes from a rural guatemalan village... and college life in the US is going to be overwhelming.  he's human.  he'll struggle.  it's not going to be easy.

but this amazing opportunity, that he has no doubt earned through hard work in the classroom and on the field, just seems to have a unique anointing on it.

did i mention that when we approached cesar and andrea for the first time... to tell them about the
opportunity... cesar said God had already prepared their hearts for this?

God had already told him this was going to happen.

here's the only conclusion i'm left with:

it's become commonplace for missionaries from the US to go to cesar's house... and we've seen God do amazing things.

now a missionary from cesar's house is headed to the US.

i'm anticipating amazing things!!!


----------------------------------------------------
⚽ BE A PART OF "TEAM PABLO"! ⚽
-----------------------------------------------------
Pablo's adjustment to life in the USA is going to be difficult.  We are praying for a team of people in or near Jacksonville, FL to show him some love while he's here, or help out with some of his transitional needs. Please CLICK HERE for more information, or contact Milena Ruiz at bvsamilena@gmail.com!


Monday, October 21, 2019

idolatry & the christian sports fan


make no mistake, i like sports.  i like watching, competing and training.  i lead a ministry that uses sports to get the gospel into tough places.

my issue isn't with sports, it's with idolatry.

i believe that for christians, the more we fall in love with Jesus, the more we dive into the scriptures, and the more we abide in Christ... the more ridiculous becomes the idea of the zealous christian sports fan.

this is true because as our intimacy with Christ increases, so should our spiritual antennas that identify the subtleties of idolatry.

subtleties are one thing.  whats even crazier, is how many christian super-fans there are. for the super-fan, there's nothing subtle about it - it's blatant and unashamed!

since returning stateside, this has been an overwhelming reality for me.  i can't tell if it's my own change, something else has changed, or if i just forgot what it was like.  but it seems like sports is all people talk about.

so, here we go again...  another season of countless hours and dollars invested in sports fanfare...  of office pools and fantasy leagues... of christians everywhere expressing twice (or 100x) the excitement they've ever expressed worshipping Jesus... and otherwise quiet, shy personalities suddenly expressing gobs of emotion.  another season of church fantasy football leagues (of course done in the name of community)...  of men in churches getting fidgety and checking their watches as noon-time approaches...  family schedules revolving around what games are on...  and tickets, tailgates, nfl-ticket, and staying glued to phones checking scores, highlights and stats.

fantasy football
i realize some good community can come from guys gathering to watch sports.  there's certainly nothing wrong with that.  but i wonder when christian leaders will realize (or have the courage to teach) how dangerous fantasy football can be.  entertainment has a firm grip on the american christian's heart.  entertaining ourselves is already a huge problem - and fantasy leagues encourage people not to only follow their favorite team, but to follow every single team, every player, and every statistic... all season long.

i hear a lot about how harmless it is.  and of course it's possible to be kept in proper perspective.  but overall i think its far from harmless.  just ask the wives and kids who wish dad would turn off the tv, or put down his phone.  for some, the encouraging of fantasy leagues can be like feeding an addiction.  the flesh of the sports fan longs for the next game, or match - for the players, the stats, the stories.  the fan's heart and mind wants more... to stay connected... to not miss a single game, headline, or highlight.  even for the average fan, missing the day's rundown of espn.com (or whatever preferred source) leaves them jonesing like an addict.

meanwhile our Lord Jesus stands jealous.  he longs for our affections to exceed that of anything else we consider good in this life.  Jesus said our love of anything in this world should be like hate compared to our love for Him (luke 14:26, matt 10:37).  he included love for parents, spouses and kids in that teaching.  much less a ballgame.

college football saturday, nfl sunday, monday night, thursday night...  oh, and then comes the nba season... mlb playoffs... nfl playoffs... march madness... nba playoffs... and around and around it goes.

we can justify anything by quickly calling it innocent and harmless.  but who are we kidding?  i know christians who are absolutely consumed with this stuff.  and we often applaud it, if not embolden it, from the pulpit.

as christians we have to be sensitive to the battle that constantly wars for our hearts. it's not that liking sports, or watching a football game, is inherently wrong.  its the delighting in it that becomes a problem - especially when our delighting in Christ is nowhere near the same level.  we must remember that abiding in the world is exactly what satan, the "ruler of this world," desires.  (1 john 5:18-21)

"don't be conformed to this world..."  romans 12:2
"don't love the world or the things in the world..." 1 john 2:15
"you adulterous people! don't know friendship with the world is enmity with God?"  james 4:4

the fight: spirit vs flesh
i'm not trying to be legalistic. lets celebrate our freedom in Christ all day long.  but as christians being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, our freedom should lead us to a pursuit of holiness.  and the sanctification process naturally squeezes out the love for worldly things.  at some point, we in this disneyland of american church need to address our obsession with the world.

and in my opinion, our obsession with sports is one of the big elephants in the room.

as american christians we need to sound the alarm on giving ourselves whatever we want.  fighting our flesh, denying self, rejecting the world, etc, is how we daily wage war as christians.  it's hard.  i lose that battle often.  but the bible makes clear that a mind set on the flesh refuses to submit to God.  denying self and pursuing the spirit requires a fight.

here's a fact:  if we're not fighting... if we're coasting... if we're too quick to justify what we want, and defend how harmless things are... we will default to the flesh!  and we become slaves to one or the other, spirit or flesh.  "neutral" defaults to the flesh.

i'm not saying we can't enjoy things in this world.  its ok to enjoy sports!  but not without abiding in Christ daily.  as we abide... as we grow in sanctification and intimacy with our Lord Jesus...  our perspective in all things changes from worldly to eternal...  which virtually guarantees you'll begin caring less who wins and loses ballgames.

and when you no longer care who wins or loses, and you aren't jonesing for kickoff or constantly checking stats, that's when you'll know your affinity for sports is no longer an idol.

football season is upon us.  it's the time of year that reminds me of the idolatry that can so easily be  justified as simply, "being a sports fan."



Friday, August 30, 2019

what a love story

adoniram and ann judson
adoniram judson was a missionary to burma in the early 1800's.  before he left for the mission field, he fell in love with a sweet girl named ann.

he had a dilemma.  he knew that the calling on his life was one of full surrender and sacrifice.  and he knew the dangers of taking the message of jesus to the unreached burmese.  he was willing to die for the mission...  but take a beautiful young woman with him?

but ann was a passionate follower of jesus as well, and fully committed to the cause. they believed God had placed them together for this very purpose!

here's the fascinating letter that judson wrote to ann's father, asking her hand in marriage:

“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world ? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

ann's father ultimately approved, and many of the risks judson spoke of in his letter would be fulfilled.  ann lost 3 children while living in burma, from sickness and complications during childbirth, and she eventually died from smallpox.  judson would write in her eulogy, "she left her home and died for the sake of He who left his home to die for us."

was it worth it?  is foreign missions worth it, no matter the cost?  

judson was beaten, tortured, and imprisoned throughout his life, and died (61) on a sea voyage from lung disease. but when he died, he left 100 churches and 8,000 new believers in burma!  (there were none when they arrived.)  today, burma has 2.5 million evangelical christians (modern day myanmar).  judson also translated the first burmese bible, which took him 24 years to complete.  

judson and ann's love story is breathtaking!  but not because of dreamy dates and fairy-tale romance.  it's an amazing love story because together, they were willing to sacrifice everything for the One who first loved them.

God is love.  he is the creator and author of the greatest love story of all time.  and Jesus - the savior and sacrificial lamb - is that story.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

the rolfe family

ok, so this one is especially personal for me.  i'm talking about my baby girl here... my bubba brooke... my squeezy beezy...

but i don't want to make her feel like she's getting "special treatment" or "unnecessary attention"... so i'll make the rest of this announcement sound really formal. πŸ˜‚

We're excited to welcome the Rolfe's to BVSA! Matt and Brooke were married in December of 2018, and are already answering God's call to the mission field! They will be joining the team in Guatemala, with the aim to eventually help BVSA plant a new academy in Central or South America.

Matt and Brooke bring lots of gifts and experience to the mission field. Growing up in a close-knit Christian family, Matt has had a genuine love for Jesus from a young age. He loves sports, producing music, and is a gifted musician- skilled in drums, piano, and guitar.

Brooke grew up in the mission field in Guatemala. She too began walking with Jesus at a very young age, and growing up as an MK helped her develop a deep desire for the nations. She also loves making music, is fluent in Spanish, and will graduate in December 2019 from the University of North Florida with a degree in Business Management.

The Rolfe's are set to land in the field in January, 2020.

but enough of the formal!  i'm so proud of my beezy!  and thankful to the Lord for pairing her up with an awesome husband who is committed to leading their family towards Jesus with all he has.  

its uncommon that a young couple choose the mission field before getting "settled".  but what better way to start?  i mean, do we really believe the lies?  "lets wait until...
  • we get a little more settled..." 
  • we make a little more money so that we're more stable..."  
  • we have kids so that its easier..."
  • all of our medical needs are cleared up since we have good health insurance..."  
  • the the kids are out of the house so that they don't resent us..." 
etc, etc.  the problem is... none of those things actually happen!  at least, not to the extent that we all of sudden feel "ready" for the mission field.  simply put, those who feel called to the mission field and wait for the "right time"...rarely ever go. 

brooke and matt have simplified things, and there's a lot to be learned from it:  
"lets just obey jesus today, and let Him worry about all of that."

go here to support the rolfe's.  


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

new moves, new missionaries... current needs

with all of the exciting developments going on, several have asked what our current needs are.  thank you for asking the question!  i believe this is what john was talking about in 3 john 1:6-8:

"...Please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God.  For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers. So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth."

PERSONAL NEEDS:
the johnson family's monthly needs are fully supported - thanks to our amazing support team!!!

our one-time needs going into our transition to west africa are:

1. VEHICLE:  a reliable vehicle is more critical now than in any situation we've ever been in.  the drive from the village (we'll be living in), to the closest city (hospital, groceries, etc, is 13 hours).  this drive is through the desert, with virtually nothing in between point A and point B.  according to the arnold's (who have been there for nearly 30 years), a low-maintenance, low-risk, reliable 4x4 vehicle is a must. in addition to emergencies, the 13 hour trip is made every 2-3 months to stock up on groceries and supplies.  therefore, a large truck or SUV is ideal.  the approximate cost for a suitable vehicle is approx 15-20k.  this vehicle will also be shared with the abushaib family.

2. SHIPPING:  we will be shipping the vehicle, as well as some personal belongings from jacksonville.  approximate cost for shipping will be $6,000.  (consulting with arnold's on this; they are doing the same thing after being stateside on furlough for a year.)

you can click here to contact us or to help towards any of the above.

ADDITIONAL BVSA NEEDS:
1. MISSIONARY FAMILY SUPPORT:  we have 3 additional families joining BVSA and moving to the mission field at this time!  all 3 are currently raising support... needing monthly supporters as well as one-time donations for flights, car, language school, and transition expenses.  so if you love supporting missionaries... we got you covered! πŸ˜‰  click on the family names to learn more:


2. ONE MORE FAMILY:  we are praying for one more family to join our BVSA-West Africa academy!  please let us know if you or someone you know feels called to the mission field.

3. JAX LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OCT-JAN (WILSON FAMILY):  the wilson's will be moving from savannah to jacksonville for 3 months of missionary training before heading to the field. we're looking for somewhere for their family of 7 to stay during that time.  if you have space, a 2nd property, rental property, or know someone who can help, please let us know!  as a last resort, we should be able to rent something furnished for a few months in the $1200 per month range.

4. LOTS OF RANDOM TRANSITIONAL STUFF: during the training from oct-jan, and all of the moves, flights, visa/residency applications, temporary living situations, etc, etc...  the small costs add up fast.  click here to donate towards "mission field transitional needs", and it will be put to the greatest need. thank you!

GOERS CAN'T GO WITHOUT SENDERS.
THANK YOU TO ALL OF OUR SENDERS! 


Sunday, August 11, 2019

BVSA West Africa looking for missionaries!

We are currently praying for a family to join us for our West Africa academy plant.  If you feel called toward the mission field, or know someone who is, please let us know!

Some qualifications include:

  • Mature in the faith
  • Active in ministry 
  • Heart for the unreached
  • Willingness to sacrifice comforts of home

No missions experience necessary!
No soccer skills necessary!  

**Training will take place in Jacksonville, FL from October to December.

**Relocation to West Africa scheduled for January 2020.

To learn more about the ministry of BVSA, check out bvsarhinos.com.

Contact us at bvsarhinos@gmail.com for more information.