Friday, December 25, 2015

christmas 2015

merry christmas! 

last night at midnight, fireworks lit up the guatemala sky.  (if you haven't seen this before, it is simply breathtaking.  imagine practically every home in guatemala lighting fireworks... then imagine the view from our academy in the mountains, which overlooks all of guatemala city and the surrounding areas!)

we had quite the fireworks show ourselves here at bvsa.  after our annual viewing of Elf, the younger Rhinos ran around our property lighting firecrackers, sparklers, and bottle rockets.  then, at 12:00am, we lit up the sky for all of the village to enjoy.  afterwards, i was struck by a similar thought that i've had every christmas since living here.  that here we are in a tiny little third-world country in central america, where, because of the birth of Jesus Christ, the whole country explodes into a light show - 2,000 plus years later.

on a larger scale, practically the entire world celebrates, pauses, or at a minimum takes notice, of the birth of Jesus Christ.  some 2.5 billion believe He came as God to save us.  others think its nonsense.  some even go out of their way to kill His followers.  as i write this, i'm in guatemala watching country music singers sing songs like "come let us adore him" and "what child is this" on ABC.  even in the liberal day and age we're in, you couldn't avoid hearing about jesus (at least in western civilization) if you tried. 

without question, Jesus is the most polarizing person to have ever lived.

he was 2000 years ago, and he still is today.

for some of us, he's worth living and dying for.  we believe in eternal salvation, therefore we give up our earthly lives for the sake of others - for his glory - knowing that eternity awaits. 

but there are still many who don't know him, haven't heard of him, or haven't experienced his love.  therefore, we leave our comforts and families, we go to foreign places and learn new languages, we celebrate holidays alone, we leave careers and worldly dreams behind, we look stupid in the eyes of many, and we welcome laughs and criticism... so that others who are physically and spiritually suffering can KNOW HIM...  and have the joy and peace that we have.  it's just to good to keep to ourselves.

today we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  it was a joy to watch my kids today.  especially my 3 year old luciana, who is still innocent towards the whole idea of "receiving gifts" on christmas.  for her, today was Jesus' birthday.  nothing else.  and she loved every minute of it.  there was a constant singing of "feliz cumpleanos a jesus" in our house all day long...

we're planning on giving some gifts (and opening those that people gave) on new years day this year.  we typically do christmas gifts and have no problem with it at all, so long as it stays simple.  but we're trying a new idea this year so that christmas day could have no other focus.  especially for luci.  its hard for a 3yr old to celebrate Jesus' birthday when you have your own pile of gifts to focus on!

anyway...  sorry for the christmas ramble. 

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how crazy is it that the prophet Isaiah wrote this about 700 years before the birth of Jesus!

7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.   9:6 ...For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.


 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Allan

Allan.

just saying his name brings a smile to the face of all of us that know him.

this kid has brought more joy to my life (and a little angst too) over the last few years than almost anyone.  he just has a way of lifting up the room... bringing life to the party, so to speak.

he's always been the funny kid, full of life and lots of fun.  but here's the thing:  he's become a man.  and while he's still a joy to be around, he is maturing into a young man who knows when to joke, and when its time to get real.

early this year, allan came to faith in Jesus.  a genuine transformation began taking place in front of our eyes!  what was once obligatory daily devotions, became an intentional desire to listen and change.  even our tuesday night bible study became something more for him - a time to go deeper, study more, and commit to better lead his teammates.

Allan the "life of the party" became Allan the leader.  and the best part is that he is still the life of the party!  one of the problems in our little village is that, traditionally, when someone comes to faith, they become robotic.  they go to church, stay out of the streets, outwardly doing and saying all the right things.  but it is lifeless and unattractive.

Allan is learning the difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus.  he is learning that his personality was created by his Maker... that he doesn't have to become a serious religious-type in order to follow Jesus.  instead, he is allowing his unique personality to be exactly what God is using.

man, i love this kid.  completely on his own, he recently partnered with his sister (unheard of here) and another local woman to do a fundraiser so that underprivileged and malnourished kids can get some healthy food and christmas present.  on his own.  we literally knew nothing about it until he had already done it.  he even encouraged the Rhinos to each donate Q10 (about $1.30) each to the cause.  every single Rhino participated.  that speaks to his leadership and influence.  again, he did this without us even knowing.

the last couple months, he has been doing "vacation camps" for the kids of the village.  using the bvsa gym, he runs soccer camps every morning from 8am to 12pm for the local kids.  he and Wilmer even do a daily devotion with them.  all of this without any help from us.

these are the things that make my heart skip a beat.  we are watching before our own eyes the vision of BVSA become a reality.  6 years ago, before there was any boys academy, i wrote the following, which can now be found on our website: 

"We believe that God wants to raise up a group of young men to be loving husbands and fathers, respected leaders, and godly men, who can break cycles of abuse – and absence of biblical family values – related to poverty in the village of Buena Vista, Guatemala."

Allan is an example of this vision becoming a reality.   i have no doubt that this young man will be a loving husband and father.  something different that this village has never seen before!

and at only 19yrs old, he is already becoming a godly man and a respected leader.



Sunday, December 13, 2015

close call with kitty

the doorbell rang last night late.  it was christian's mom.  christian (better known as "kitty") was at home struggling with a stomach ache.  she said he was in a lot of pain, and was asking for some help.

i assumed it was something normal like parasites, amoebas, or an intestinal infection.  all normal stuff around here.  but i asked dr. carlos if he could go check on him.  immediately after seeing him, feeling his stomach, and asking a few questions, dr. carlos said to get him to the hospital - fast.

dr. carlos has never been an over-reactor.  i asked paul if he wanted to come along (their family is in town) and within 30 minutes or so we arrived at the national hospital in antigua.  tests were taken, and by 1:30 am kitty was in surgery having his appendix removed.

apparently kitty had been struggling with stomach pain for over a week.  he had mentioned to me at the academy that he had a stomach ache a couple days ago, but it didn't seem out of the ordinary.  it didn't keep him from practicing and doing normal activities.  little did i know his appendix was inflamed and likely to burst at any time.

couple things worth mentioning here:

1- i'm so thankful that salomé (kitty's mom) knocked on our door for help.
2- so thankful for dr. carlos and his uncanny ability to diagnose things fast.
3- i am amazed at how tough this 11yr old kid is.  from what i have heard, the pain from an inflamed appendix is excruciating.  its just amazing how people here, even kids, fight through physical pain.

we're praising God for all of the above!  in talking to dr. carlos tonight, kitty's appendix could have burst at any moment.  if it had, he could have easily died.  i just can't fathom that.  it is moments like these when i find myself praising God for the privilege it is to live here, and simply be available to help the people of our village.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

a few recent updates

jake and milton are pretty popular with the ladies these days!  their firewood ministry to the women of Buena Vista is going strong.  ever since jake was 10 he has been telling me he wanted to this.  now, at 14, he's making it happen.  with some help from some supporters we were able to get a used 4 wheeler.  jake and milton head up into the mountain early in the am to help the ladies cut down their fire wood, then deliver the wood to their homes, so that they don't have to carry it down on their heads. 




been nice to be able to practice outside every once in a while...  thanks to educatebv for sharing your new school soccer field!







 the rainy season seems to be lasting an extra month this year...







i'll never forget, as cesar was going through a very tough time in 2012, he would always tell me that he was praying God would allow him to live long enough to meet luciana andrea.  now, 3 years later, the two of them have a very special relationship.  seriously.  luci doesn't just "go to people" easily... but man, she lights up every time she sees cesar.  needless to say, he absolutely loves it!






 it was great to have kerrie's dad with us for a week in november!
 

Monday, November 2, 2015

though you slay me

personally, and with my family, we've been continuing on this idea of God's purposes for suffering.  the theme is in every book of the bible from genesis to revelation.  perhaps theirs no better story than Job.  anyway, my daughter brooke pointed me to this song.  its one of the more powerful messages in music i have heard in a long time.  and this version includes a 1 minute teaching from john piper that will blow you away...




Sunday, October 25, 2015

my grandpa's story & the blessing of suffering

It's so easy to mistakenly associate God's blessings only with all of the "good things" in our lives.

"work is great, God's really blessing me."

"family is good, everyone is doing really well, God's really blessing us."

"no financial problems, car problems, relational problems...God's blessing right now."

or the big one:  "everyone is healthy- that's all we can ask... we're really blessed right now."

Sometimes those are blessings form God, there's no doubt about that.  The problem is when we get so certain that those things are always "blessings", and we forget how the seemingly bad things in our life can be blessings as well.

Romans 5 talks about rejoicing in our sufferings - because of all the good things it produces.

1 Peter 5:10 says that after we have suffered, the God of grace will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.  Did you get that?  It's the blessing of suffering that allows those wonderful things to develop in us.  It's not the "good blessings" like family, health, and financial security that restore, strengthen, and establish us - its the process of suffering that get us there.

Suffering has a purpose.  Through it, God is accomplishing something.

James 1:2-4 says "count it all joy my brothers when you face trials of all kinds, for it produces steadfastness...  let the steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

We need the process of suffering in order to complete and perfect us.

My favorite teaching on suffering is 2 Corinthians 4:17.  "For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..."  This verse speaks to the eternal value of suffering, which is really all that matters.  When we are wise, we think and live in light of eternity.

There are dozens and dozens more.  The bible is filled with scripture and stories that point to God's purposes for our sufferings, and how he longs to bless us in the process.

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My grandpa died last week.  He was an incredible man, and left behind a legacy worth mentioning.  He was a lifetime farmer who finished his first few hours of the days' work before anyone else even woke up.  No one outworked my grandpa.  He was also an honest man who prided himself on telling the truth and treating people fairly.  He was a faithful man who loved his wife and honored his family.  And he would always jump to help anyone who needed a hand.  He really was a good man.

He was also the most stubborn man I've ever known.  Maybe the most stubborn man that anyone has known!  In fact, at his funeral, I made the statement that if I passed out a sheet of paper to everyone in attendance, and asked each person to write down 3 words that described my grandpa, I bet "stubborn" would be on everyone's list.  The reaction of laughter confirmed it to be true.

Yes, he was a good man...  but my grandpa was not a Christian.  Despite over 60 years of marriage to a wonderful Christian woman who faithfully followed Jesus, served in her church, led bible studies, and prayed for my grandpa every day - he never broke.  His stubborn nature didn't need anything or anyone's help.  He was a tough farmer who could do anything and fix anything... so what did he need Jesus for?

Then came Parkinson's disease.

This progressive disease of the nervous system that causes so much pain, and for which there is no cure, took my grandpa down a road he had never been down before.  A road of helplessness, and vulnerability.

Parkinson's disease takes your identity away.  It starts with the death of nerve cells in the brain.  Those neurons send messages that seize up the working parts of the body.  In my grandpa's case, and among other things, he lost his ability to work, walk, talk, and move freely like he used to.  Though his mind told him "you can do it", his body just wouldn't let him.  Month after month, the effects of the disease got more and more suffocating.     
 
Before Parkinson's, my grandpa had a very specific identity.  Some of his characteristics, as I mentioned above, were actually quite Christ-like, such as work ethic, honesty, and faithfulness.  But the untouchable, do-it-alone mindset always kept him from believing he needed a Savior.

Parkinson's took that away in a hurry.

Before you knew it, grandpa needed to be waited on hand and foot.  He needed help moving, eating, and bathing.  He even needed someone to take him to the bathroom.  My grandma couldn't do it all alone, so often times complete strangers had to help him do these very personal and private things.  And trust me, gramps hated every minute of it.

He tried to defy the odds.  He regularly stole the keys (which my grandma had hidden) and took the cars and tractors out for joy rides.  It's a miracle he didn't kill himself.  One time, he insisted on going out to "burn ditch" like he had always done before.  He eventually fell down and found himself helpless and face-down, surrounded by flames.  By God's grace alone, my grandma realized what had happened, and in a miraculous act of strength, she drug him through the flames to safety - sustaining 3rd degree burns in the process.

Those are just a couple (chosen from dozens!) of examples that touch on the stubbornness of this old man!

But little by little, my grandpa's heart began to soften.  Maybe this part is just my opinion, but I believe God was honoring my grandma's lifetime commitment to Jesus, and her thousands of prayers for her husband, when He gave my grandpa Parkinson's disease.  It was a final chance.  Not everyone who says "no" to Jesus over and over again gets such a last chance.

Eventually, my grandpa, at age 83, confessed to his wife that he needed Jesus.

After 60 years of prayer and faithfulness, having never pressured or persuaded him, he had come to this point on his own.  He confessed his sins and asked to be baptized.  I can't imagine the joy my grandma must have experienced.

He died last week at age 87, five years after giving his life to Jesus Christ.  During those 5 years, he was a complete mess.  He cried a lot, confessed his mistakes, and apologized constantly.  He wanted to make everything right with anyone he had hurt.  He even worked to piece together the broken relationships of those close to him.

He was still a bit stubborn and ornery - but he was changed.  He was forgiven and free.  His tough, i-don't-need-anything-from-anyone identity... was gone. 

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The great thing about suffering (even though we don't see it this way at the time) is that it strips us from our identity that we thought defined us.  Whether it be tough farmer, successful executive, athlete, mom-of-the-year, pastor, politician, or anything else...  suffering has a way of making all of that pretty meaningless.

Even our more general traits, such as funny, smart, clever, strong, prideful, wise, etc...  when we are suffering, we tend to care less about those labels, don't we?

It's hard for us to realize that many of the things that make up "our identity" are precisely the things that limit us.  We don't realize that our identity can box us in, and trap us.  "I'm this person, I'm that person, It's just who I am."  The great thing about suffering is that it removes all of that.  We can't cling to, or protect "our identity" any more.

But he said to me. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content in weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, I am strong."  ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9-11

Suffering took away my grandpa's very solidified identity.

While he was a man who already knew about Jesus, it was through his suffering that he actually met Jesus.  As tough as a man as he was, it was in his weakness that he was made strong.

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

As strange as it sounds to thank God for a cruel and unforgiving disease that has no cure...  I am thankful that God used Parkinson's disease to bring my grandpa to Himself.  There is no doubt that he is not struggling with Parkinson's anymore.  He no longer struggles to walk, eat, or talk.  He has a new body and is in perfect health.  His witty sense of humor is in tact, and he probably cracking people up as we speak.

For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison...

So as my family and others celebrate my grandpa's life, God put on my heart to remind everyone how the happy ending (new beginning!) to his story was made possible through suffering.

It should encourage us all to pray bigger, bolder, riskier prayers.  We should ask God to replace our identity with his, no matter what it means for us - even if it requires pain and suffering along the way.

Because I guarantee you, based on where my grandpa is now - based on what he is witnessing right now - he doesn't regret for one second that God used Parkinson's disease to get him there.



Monday, October 5, 2015

unforgettable night with enrique and the boys

last friday night was one of those special moments in the history of our ministry.

our weekly tuesday-night bible study with the boys turned into an emotional time, full of the Holy Spirit.  there's no way i'll be able to describe it all, but i want to share one special part.

enrique in NYC last year
enrique has been a skeptic from day one.  for years now we have been walking with him through the abuse he experiences at home.  we've been through alcohol rehab with his dad, and countless other things.  but when it comes to the thought of following Jesus, enrique has always said "no thanks."

he has been skeptical and also cynical.  throughout the years, he has said "christians are all hypocrites.  they say they're different, that they've accepted Jesus, and they just do the same stuff as everyone else.  its not for me."

he drives me crazy sometimes, but man, i love this kid.  (i guess he's not a kid - he's actually 18 years old.)  we've tried to walk him through it all.  we've explained that in some ways he is right - no one is perfect, becoming a christian doesn't mean you stop sinning, and we're all hypocrites to some degree.  also that the way each person responds, grows/not-grows after accepting Christ, does not change who Jesus is.  we've also encouraged him that the beautiful difference between christian sinners and non-christian sinners... is the forgiveness offered through the cross.  we've had more conversations with enrique about Jesus over the last 5 years than you can imagine.  and he listens...

but he isn't buying it.  every time we have great moments and conversations with him, he finds a way out.  not long after, he's always convinced that its not for him.

enrique is a deep thinker in a village where there just aren't many.  areas of malnutrition, poor education, and other generational problems just don't produce a lot of deep thinkers.  but enrique is an enigma in this place.  he takes what he hears, what he is taught, and he meditates on it for long periods of time.  he's not a talker.  he's a thinker.

over the years, jesus has been pursuing enrique in a big way.  of course he learns about God every day during mandatory daily devotions at the academy, and every-day life at the academy.  but it seems that every where else he turns, he hears about Jesus as well.  at edbv (his school run by our friends the schmidts), he hears about Jesus.  his best friends have accepted Christ.  he just can't escape!

so...  a few weeks ago during our trip to the U.S., he talked to me for 5 straight hours (driving from jacksonville to miami) about how he feels different.  he explained how the men's devotions book i gave him a year ago is "starting to come alive".  (we made an agreement a long time ago that he would read one each day.)  he said that it used to be boring, but now its exciting.  he explained that he used to read them real fast and head off to school, but now after he reads one he opens up the bible to research a little further what it said.

i asked him if he thinks the book has suddenly changed, or if he thinks his heart is beginning to open up to the grace of Jesus?  "i don't know", he said, "we'll see."

last tuesday night, he showed up at our optional bible study discipleship program, which he has never come to.  mynor caught everyone up on where we currently are in the study, then he welcomed enrique.  i couldn't help it... and asked him directly before we went any further:  "kique, you've heard about God for years.  did you come here tonight to continue 'exploring' what Jesus is all about, or have you come to a point in your life where you already know that you need him?"

from that moment on, the night was on fire.

enrique prayed (and prayed, and prayed).  in tears, he gave his life over to Jesus Christ.  at one point he stood up to address all of us, and his knees literally buckled underneath him and he fell to the ground.  he sobbed uncontrollably as he finally let go of all the abuse and suffering he has endured in his life.  he took all of the weight and all of the pain, and put it at the feet of Jesus.  he was free.

his best friend allan, cried hard and celebrated with him.  he shared with the group as tears ran down his face that "everything is different now.  now that we have enrique, we're going to be so much stronger."  he shared how this has been his prayer for so long, and that this was one of the happiest moments of his life.  they hugged strong, like men should hug.  something beautiful that never happens in this village.

confessions, commitments, and heartfelt encouragements followed from julio, ivan, and josue.  it was one of the most raw and honest moments with friends that i have seen.  at one point, enrique looked at julio, eyes locked, and said "i owe you an apology.  you have tried to help me several times when i was drinking and doing stupid things.  and i just hated you more.  i've always thought you were so stuck up.  that you think you're so cool.  but i see now how many times you've tried to help me.  i am so sorry." 

at that point, i think i broke.  men don't talk to one another that way here.  no apologies.  no signs of "weakness".  again, it was a beautiful image of true manliness. 

last night was the opening night of the local fair here in town - a huge time of temptation for all the boys & men in the community.  booze is everywhere, people come over from neighboring towns, girls are half-dressed, etc, etc.  enrique came up to the living room where i was resting.  he wanted to hang out and talk.  i asked if he was going out to the fair and he looked at me like i was crazy.  "man there is nothing for me out there.  no part of me wants to go out there."  after catching up for 30 minutes, he went down stairs and spent the rest of the night with my kids, playing games and listening to music.

this is a different enrique.  he has always been a unique young man.  other kids follow him.  and like allan said...  now that he has given his life to Christ, we're going to be so much stronger.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

disasters (natural & political) in guatemala

recently in the small village of santa catarina pinula, guatemala, heavy rainfall caused a mudslide.  a chunk of a mountain literally collapsed on top of the village.

after several days if digging and searching, the hope of remaining survivors is dwindling.  almost 100 bodies have already been found, but up to 600 are thought to be buried under 50 feet of earth that crushed over 125 homes in an instant.

mynor and i went out there yesterday attempting to volunteer, but we were turned away, saying that they have more helpers than the delicate situation can handle.  we spoke with a firefighter that clearly had experienced hell on earth the last couple of days.

some of the personal stories emerging from this tragedy are gut-wrenching.  there's a boy who can't find his mom, dad, and 4 brothers and sisters...  and a woman who somehow survived, but lost virtually everyone - 21 family members dead, including her husband and all of her children.

there is another injustice behind this tragedy though.  since 2008, CONRED declared this exact village a high-risk area and recommended the community be relocated. their report suggested evacuation relocation and stated that the mountains above the village's current location will not withstand heavy rainfall.

the government did nothing.  didn't help.  didn't require that people leave.  nothing.

meanwhile here in guatemala, our president and vice president are in jail, along with many other government officials, who collaborated in a huge customs/import scheme that lined their own pockets with millions of dollars.

while the customs scheme is (thankfully) what got busted, everyone here knows that's only the least of it.  the corruption and lack of concern for the important issues is at a disastrous level in this country.  and it is always the poor who suffer.

please pray with us for the people of santa calina pinula who are in complete despair right now.  and also for the future of guatemala as we are in the middle of new presidential elections.

update:  since writing this post, a new president has been elected in guatemala.  his name is jimmy morales, and he was formerly a television comedian.  considering the fact that the guatemalan government has been a joke for a long time, perhaps its appropriate.  while not much is known about him, at least the people made it clear that they no longer want a known politician in office.  we're praying that, at a minimum, he somehow stays clean from the corruption that has owned every guatemalan government leader for decades.
   

Monday, September 28, 2015

19 year anniversary

15 years old
today is our 19 year wedding anniversary.  is it horrible to admit that a friend reminded kerrie about it yesterday...  that both of us had forgotten?   

i saw her for the first time when i was 14.  it took me a year to get her attention!  i told her when we were 15 that i knew we would be married some day... and by God's grace alone that came true.

we've been married for 19, but together for 25 years.  some of those years have been very hard,  but the unconditional love and grace shown to me by kerrie leigh haller johnson has been consistent.  it is such an honor to be her husband.

i won't try to attempt describing all my feelings about my sweetheart.  i'll just say this...

25 years together
her servant heart humbles me.
her wisdom amazes me.
her prayer life spurs me.
her smile comforts me.
her cute figure flusters me.
her steady faith settles me.
her consistency awes me.
her eyes have always captured me.
her love of Jesus inspires me.
her submissive heart emboldens me.
her grace led me to Jesus.
being her husband delights me.




Sunday, September 20, 2015

an incredible day with wilmer, and for BV

written thursday night, sep 17th.

this is a special young man.

from the time we met him around 6-7 years ago, we knew wilmer was different.  a unique soft heart in a village where there are few.  teachable and moldable from the start.  later, he began sending me texts, expressing his heart, sharing what he was learning in devotions, and how God was speaking into his life.

in april of last year, he accepted christ and was baptized.  not long after that, his faith was tested when he risked his own life when he saved a local girl from likely being raped.

from that point up until the present day, his walk with Christ has been steadily growing.

today was an incredible day for wilmer.  it was an incredible day for all who were present.  actually, without its even knowing it, it was an incredible day for the village of buena vista.

together with friends from savannah christian church (who have been in prayer for this visit for more than a year), along with my family and the leiva family, we witnessed the unequivocal power of the holy spirit.  God is raising this young man up, preparing him to lead BV into a new era.  it is clear that God is calling wilmer to a unique and special calling.

as men, mynor and i work tirelessly at bvsa to break generational chains that exist in the village.  but, we ourselves are not from BV.  we are not one of them.  they are not our people.  since the academy began, our goal has been to build up young men - locals - that can see the vision through.

through an intense and spirit-filled morning in prayer, an anointing of sorts took place.  battles against the work of satan took place.  literal demon intrusion took place.  bold confession for the sins of an entire people group took place.  and liberation happened.  

wilmer stood up in front of a crowd of witnesses and took the generational sins of his village and put them on his own shoulders - begging forgiveness and calling on the power of Jesus to redeem the brokenness.  i have witnessed powerful movements of the holy spirit before, and i knew i was in that place again.

as forces of evil gripped his body and attempted to inject fear, the power of the holy spirit through 20 or so of his followers came alive.  wilmer eventually rebuked the attempts of satan and after a tough fight, he was freed.  he explained a sudden "fire" that came over him as he smiled - a wonderful smile - and raised his hands to the heavens.

in true warrior fashion, he said boldy:  "i'm ready.  i will die for this.  if i die sharing the gospel of jesus, so be it.  it's worth dying for."

he left us all inspired.  that's the kind of leader that soldiers follow into battle!

after the dust had settled - the confessions, enemy attacks, deliverance, filling of the holy spirit, and proclamations - everyone present felt the magnitude of what had happened.  again, an amazing moment to be a part of.

wilmer's battle is just beginning.  as he works to reverse generations of bondage that have plagued his village, attacks will come at him.  he will be tested, challenged, confronted, and hated.

please join us in praying over wilmer's life and his calling.  pray the ephesians 6 armor of God over him as he enlists in the fight.  pray for his continued spiritual growth and his steadfastness.

and praise God for choosing this humble kid with the soft, moldable heart.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

post trip summary

20 of the 30 boarding their first plane
what a trip.  a huge success in so many ways!

*spiritually:  so many great conversations, worship, prayer time, and impactful moments with God.

*relationally:  the number of supporters, fans, volunteers, friends/family that came out and participated was amazing!

*physically:  we played 8 games, finished 6-2, and represented Rhino futbol in every way.  discipline, possession, sportsmanship, hustle, and heart.  we're so proud of our boys.
 
i'll be putting together a video of the trip soon, but in the meantime wanted to express our thanks to all who helped in any way and/or came out and cheered.  you made the boys feel like champs.  it was truly an unforgettable trip.

Monday, August 31, 2015

ready to go

today was madness.  packing up a soccer team for travel might sound easy enough, but try 30 kids from an impoverished village in guatemala who have never packed in their life and don't even have an idea what the concept is.  trust me... different story!

after preparing a million things over the last several weeks, today was final check day.  this is one of many conversations from the day:

me:  what are you going to where when we go to the church?
wilson:  i don't know.
me:  what do you mean you don't know.  we talked about this.
wilson: silence
me:  show me one thing in your bag that you plan to where to the church.
wilson:  holds up underwear, socks, and t-shirt.
me:  what pants are you going to where?
wilson:  silence
me:  pants.  do you plan to where pants? 
wilson:  can i run to my house?
me:  why?
wilson:  to look for some pants.

we are beyond excited to be traveling to the USA with a bunch of boys who, some of which, just this year left their village for the first time.  my prayer:  that God would use this trip to continue developing the boys into better men.  more confident men.  men who can change their village.  i don't know exactly how He will do that, but that is my prayer.

please pray for all of this if you can.  also for walda, who with her 2 babies will be manning the fort alone at BVSA for 10 days.  if you are anywhere near Jacksonville come out and support the Rhinos!!


Come out to Veterans Park on Fri-Sat-Sun and support the boys!

Click here for the game times and directions

** Bring your noise makers! **
** Make signs! **
** Paint your faces! **
** Just show up and cheer! **
** A big crowd will make the boys feel like pros! **

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You can also come see the boys share at Emmaus Church 
on Sunday, Sep 6th

- Service begins at 9:30am -

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And don't forget our event in the park on Labor Day,  
Monday Sep 7th!

Come hangout, visit, play games with the Rhinos at Veterans Park
Stop by anytime from 1:00 to 4:30pm
 
*Feel free to bring your lunch
*Drinks will be provided
*Bring lawn chairs
*End time is "sharp" b/c the fields are reserved at that time

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

30 Buena Vista Boys headed to USA!

giving thanks to God outside the US embassy of guatemala
we arrived at the US embassy of guatemala with about 80 people (rhinos and parents).  this year, they changed the rules - no one allowed inside except those applying for visas.

mynor tried to "imply" that he was one of the boys dads - no luck!  me and mark ended up going in through the "american citizens" line, and while inside we tried to keep an eye on the boys from the other side of the building.

allan and enrique were the first ones called up for their interviews.

i tried to go over to the visa interview room but they wouldn't let me in.  i argued that some of these kids were 9 and 10 years old, extremely nervous, and they needed their coach to help explain things for them!

no luck - the security guard asked me to leave. "but i'm an american citizen and this is the US embassy!"  nope...  i was asked to sit in the waiting area.

allan and enrique were in their interviews for what seemed like an eternity.  i could only see their backs.  my mind was going crazy, wondering what was going on.  (last year they had allowed me to do the first interview.)  i was certain... the longer the interviews lasted, the more likely they were having problems.  finally, allan looked back at me and smiled, as if to say "its all good."  a couple minutes later, enrique did the same thing.

once allan and enrique's interviews were finished, the rest of the boys passed through quickly.  all of the visa requests were approved!  which means, very soon we'll be boarding a plane with 30 BV boys - headed for the USA.  for some reason my mind is drifting - imagining 9yr old Bladimir on an airplane!  oh yeah... then there's 10 year old Jhonson who throws up every time he rides in a car much less flies in a plane.  uggh!!

i admit that just the thought of traveling with all 30 boys stresses me out!  but at the same time we couldn't be more excited!  what an opportunity.  and only 10 of them were with us on last year's trip...

THANK YOU for your prayers and support in making this trip possible.  despite the challenges i've mentioned in past blogs, these special guys deserve every bit of love and opportunity that comes their way.  and we know that God will use this trip in a unique way as he molds them into confident, exposed, aware, educated, and godly young men who will change Buena Vista!


HERE'S A FEW DATES TO SAVE.  PLEASE COME OUT AND SUPPORT THE BOYS!

all games are played at Veterans Park

Friday, September 4th:
JV Game @ 5:00pm
Varisty Game @ 6:30pm
*Boys will need to leave right after Friday night games due to early next morning

Saturday, September 5th:
JV Game @ 9:00am
Varsity Game @ 10:30am

Sunday, September 6th:
JV Game @ 5:00pm
Varsity Game @ 6:30pm

Monday, September 7th:
Please come hangout with the Rhinos at Veterans Park!
Anytime from 1:00 to 4:30pm 
*Feel free to bring your own lunch
*Drinks will be provided
*Bring lawn chairs
*End time is "sharp" b/c the fields are reserved at that time


Thursday, July 30, 2015

bvsa honduras update

my family just got back from a quick visit to bvsa-honduras.  more than a "bvsa site visit", it was definitely time to get the families together.  after 2 years together under the same roof, deep friendships were formed and everyone misses each other.  on that front, it was a terrific visit.  all the kids were lobbying for another day or two when it was time to go!

we left BV, guatemala on thursday morning at 4:30am and arrived puerto cortes about 8-9 hours later (a little slower with a 2 year old).  luci was a champ, but man that drive is brutal.  its almost entirely a one-lane road, lots of potholes, and full of semi-trailers that you have to pass one at a time in order to make up any time.  just a miserable drive.  thankfully, no big issues crossing into honduras (its a shady border) and we arrived in time for a late lunch together.

the davis fam is doing well.  they are living life in puerto cortes and travesia, engaging the people, acclimating to the culture and the environment.  you can tell whats legit and whats not in these settings - and their acclimation process has been nothing less than legit.  they are known/recognized right away by many of the locals, and welcomed in the schools, churches, etc..  they are out in the heat, sweating it up and mixing it up with the people every day.  this is critically important, because when bvsa travesia opens its doors, their credibility will have been established.  doesn't mean attacks wont come. but so often the failure of the missionary comes from not truly knowing the people and being accepted by them before trying to help.  our goal is that when the academy opens, paul, jess, axel and the girls are already considered familiar friends. on that note, things are moving forward incredibly well.

jessica and the girls are troopers. their house is hot, and the kitchen is the hottest room.  no AC.  steady 100 degree days.  they don't complain.  there are lots of mosquitoes (they make their own bug spray). they've created a nice home environment where almost everything can be done outside (school, meals, etc) where there is shade and a breeze.  every time i visit them, we spend most of our time outside.  as long as you can find shade, the ocean breeze provides a nice atmosphere.  they are hanging in there and making the best of it all.

axel is doing great.  paul continues to walk him through some things, but overall he is developing into a solid leader.  it was obvious on several occasions how the people in the village respond to him.  neat to see the people treat him as a friend, but also respect him.  we had some great talks while i was there, and overall i am really stoked at how he is coming along.  i love how the davis' and he live and operate as one family.  he is going to be KEY part in this initiative.

no doubt, just like here in BV, life in the mission field just sucks sometimes.
  • their car is constantly broken down with no good mechanics, no guaranteed work and not even a time-frame to know when its will be ready.
  • water (both drinking and tap), electricity, internet, cell service - are all hit or miss on any given day.
  • constant concern for safety.  cant just take a walk, go on a drive, or run an errand without your head being on a constant swivel.  your neighbor is a drug dealer and almost everyone is a crook.
  • virtually no meaningful friendships yet; tough to have deep conversations with people.  and when you try, its of course in another language which makes things complicated.

all of these things - and more - make life tough in puerto cortes/travesia.  but the davis' are doing a great job.  i think back to when mynor and i watched paul engage the community of travesia the first time we were there...  and watching him (all of them) each time i visit reminds me why we all felt certain that God called them to start and lead bvsa-travesia!

please continue to pray for the davis fam, the people of travesia, honduras, and the future boys academy!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

great showing in regional tournament

VARSITY RHINOS PLACE 2ND IN THE REGIONAL SAN LUCAS TOURNAMENT

The rhinos finished the San Lucas Regional Tournament with a record of 6-2.  Yesterday's final was an intense match, but the boys came up short.  However, this tournament was great preparation for the US trip, as the teams were bigger and stronger kids who come from more developed (educationally, nutritionally, etc) areas of Guatemala.  We are proud of our boys performance!  They fought hard throughout the tournament and clearly left their mark and earned some respect.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

kerrie's dream and future travel with the rhinos

its no secret that the wealthy, comfortable christianity of the developed western world frustrates me.  anyone who knows me, knows that has been a passion of mine for quite a while.  we talk about it around the fire when mission teams visit.  anytime i have opportunities to preach, my messages usually involve this theme.  but living in the mountains of guatemala, my rants are usually relegated to my family (who listen so patiently), and to my journal...

anyway- my wife kerrie had a dream the other day that definitely got us thinking.  all she could remember was a 20 second "blip".  she said it was really strange.

in her dream, she was in the US during our upcoming trip with the rhinos, watching one of their games.  a friend sensed something was on her mind, and asked her whats up.  kerrie said, "i don't really know how to say it.  i'm struggling with my disgust of american culture, and i just don't know how to even reconcile it."  the friend responded, "then why did you bring the boys from the academy here?"

ouch!  kerrie almost felt bad even telling me about it!

do you believe God sometimes speaks to us in dreams?  i do...

the dream forced us to look a little deeper into the positives and negatives of a trip such as this.  after having done one last year, we already know that some of the benefits for our boys were obvious:

1. "seeing the world" a little bit can be such a positive thing for anyone who grows up isolated, especially in poverty.  it can open their eyes, minds, and hearts.  it truly helps when the boys see something other than the poverty, abuse, addictions, and closed-mindedness of their little village.

2. these trips load the boys up with confidence.  we've seen it happen, and i always seem to struggle to put it into words.  one thing i know is that the boys need more self-confidence in order to put into practice (in their village), the things they learn in the academy.  going on a big trip, seeing other parts of the world - even just seeing a big city, being on an airplane, and learning how to handle yourselves in different settings and events - brings a certain confidence back home.  again, its hard to explain, but all of us here see it and feel it.

3. traveling to the states is another opportunity to see friends and family that support us.  some of which have visited guatemala, but many of which have not.  that aspect of the trip is always special and helps solidifies lasting relationships.
   
but... there are clearly downsides to these trips as well.  with nothing but great intentions, the american experience showers the boys with excess.  lovingly and generously, the boys are over-entertained, over-fed, and over exposed.  and this is as much my fault as anyone...  its difficult to not want the boys to see and experience everything!

but after returning home from last year's trip, we noticed a few things that needed attention.

1. the boys came home with an assumption that good christians in america are blessed financially.  the size/number of homes, cars, TVs, and _______ (fill in the blank) literally blew them away, and they naturally associated it all with "blessing from God."

2. they came home thinking they needed nicer stuff for themselves.  some got their hands on smart phones and began buying internet minutes so they could look at facebook. others used what little money they have for food and school to buy cool clothes, shoes, or hats.  eventually, them and their families began to feel the pinch from those decisions. 

3. after returning home, we struggled deeply with a new sense of "entitlement" that crept into daily life here at the academy.  all of a sudden, it seemed like the training-table food wasn't good enough,  facilities to shower every day were no big deal, and team-issued cleats, uniforms, balls, etc, weren't very special anymore.      

little by little, we began coaching them back to reality and did our best to explain and teach on each of the mentioned topics.  on the bright side, we had several months of great devotions!  we were able to teach what the bible says about the prosperity gospel, how sin affects all cultures, and what genuine thankfulness looks like.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, I BELIEVE GOD HAD SPECIFIC PURPOSE IN KERRIE'S 20 SECOND DREAM.

that purpose, we believe, was to get our attention before we take any more big trips.  he wants us to focus on the details more carefully.  he's telling us to think things through, be wise and strategic regarding the nuances i've mentioned above.

last year's trip was amazing and i have no regrets at all!  but i thank God for the constant fountain of wisdom that he is, and for the way he walks with us and teaches us as we live, learn, and grow. 

if we are issued visas for this year's US trip, it will no doubt be much more simple - attempting to accomplish the 3 positives above, with much more sensitivity towards the 3 negatives.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

culture shifts - one american christian's thoughts

two different themes have been heavy on my heart lately and i'm unable to shake it.  i can't just move on.  do you ever feel busy or consumed, just because you can't stop thinking about something?  like your heart and mind can't seem to find rest?

that's where i've been for a while, and i'm trying to put it into words.  my wife and kids have been getting the brunt of it lately :) so i'm attempting to put it on paper.  not because i think my perspective is valuable or needs to be heard.  but this is my journal.  it helps me unwind when i write down my thoughts.

the first theme relates to the persecution of christians around the world.  those who have the courage to take the gospel to places where either Jesus is unknown, or where following Him is punishable by prison or death.  it is projected that only 10% of christian missionaries who are sent out actually go to these places.  like me, most are in places (albeit dangerous) where christianity is openly accepted. 

the other theme that i've been wrestling with is the dramatic culture shift - away from the christian faith - in the U.S.  now i have never been one to buy into the "america is god's country" talk, mostly because i think our rich/comfortable/soft version of christianity displeases Him.  that being said, i've always been thankful for the religious freedom we have in america, and of the general appreciation of the bible and christian heritage.

but things are changing - and fast.  acceptance and celebration of "all things" is at an all-time high.  there are seemingly no more rules, as if the character of God has suddenly changed.  as if the bible no longer perfectly balances grace and truth.  as if true love never says "no", has no discipline, no boundaries, and simply permits anything that feels right.

the culture of today simply says "follow your heart".  yet Jesus said, "for out of the heart comes evil thoughts; murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander."  or as the great prophet jeremiah put it, "the heart is the most deceitful of all things..."

meanwhile, american christians are softer than ever.  many are embracing and celebrating the new direction, just falling right into its tempting lure.  others, are cowardly avoiding it altogether.  which leads me to the connection between my two themes...

while our christian brothers and sisters around the world face the persecution of prison and death as they stand up for Jesus, many western christians are cowering due to fear of the persecution of being made fun of, or ejected.

did you catch that?  death versus picked on?

christian brothers and sisters around the world are being beaten, imprisoned, and killed for their bold proclamations for Jesus Christ.  meanwhile, we carefully toe-the-line because its simply "unpopular to go there"?  its unacceptable - and should anger us as christians.

consider a few recent headlines (only a few of literally hundreds):

*a 15 year old in oregon can now have a sex change without their parents permission - and have it paid for by the state of oregon.

*two men were arrested in california for reading their bibles on government property.  they were sitting on the curb, outside of a DMV building.

*bruce jennner, who won a gold medal in the 1976 olympics, will win the courage award at the espy's tonight because he had his male parts removed and replaced with female parts.  (meanwhile, the list of courageous nominees includes lauryn hill, a college basketball player who died of brain cancer after raising 1.5 million for cancer research...  and noah galloway, an army veteran who lost an arm and a leg in iraq, and still competes athletically at a high level.)

(note: i'm sensitive to anyone who struggles with their identity.  stories like jenner's are extremely sad.  but my christian faith says that we are the ones that need help, not God.  in other words, He didn't make a mistake when creating us.  and we certainly don't need to fix his mistakes in order to find happiness.  it is us who have made mistakes along the way - we've listened to the wrong people, fallen into convincing influences, etc.  we've been deceived.  and the answer is rarely "do what makes you feel better".  the answer is always found in the liberating person of Jesus.)

but on a more obvious note - most 15 year olds can't make a responsible decision about what to eat, much less head out the door to have a sex change!  yet that kid is now being encouraged by the general population, with its celebration of the courage of bruce/caitlyn jenner.

as christians, our silence on these topics is as equally detrimental as the loudmouth christian who responds like an insensitive idiot.  don't let his mistake cause you to be silent.  silence can be the loudest expression of what we do or don't believe.  an unwillingness to talk about our faith, fearing the resistance that may follow, is a shallow witnesses and trivializes the profound price that Jesus paid for us.

i was impacted greatly by something i read recently.  while an american missionary worker was visiting an underground christian church in china, a local pastor there told him:  "don't you dare give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution... that is, the witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

the author says it was the one most powerful thing that anyone has ever said to him.

for me, at this point in our history, that means this:  as our country changes, it is the responsibility of Christ followers to stand up and testify to what Jesus taught.  not in a loud, obnoxious, mean way.  but in a clear, obedient, honest, and loving way.  we must remember that since the death and resurrection of Jesus, millions of people have been persecuted, imprisoned and killed for following Him.  the least we can do in our free country, is defend His teachings at the risk of being made fun of.

in other words, we must defend in freedom, what our family-in-Christ defends every day under persecution!

for american christians, we should embrace the changing times as an opportunity.  finally, we can, at least in a minimal way, join our brothers and sisters who suffer around the world!  use tonight's espys broadcast as an opportunity to start a conversation!  a conversation where you can lovingly share about the nature of God, the truth of scripture, and our responsibility to defend it.  

welcome the backlash.  let them mock you... let them pick on you... let them make fun of your beliefs... let them lie about you and label you as a hater.  read 1 peter 3:16.  God has proven throughout history, that when people are willing to suffer for Christ's sake, great revivals of faith take place!  the explosion of house churches in countries of persecution display this truth.  it is a fact:  where christians defend the faith in persecution, the church of Jesus Christ has the most success.

how beautiful would it be if the sudden attack on christianity in the U.S. ignited true followers of Jesus to awaken from their slumber?  what if the attacks against our faith is exactly what we need in order to be resuscitated from our spiritual deadness?

christians in america love to talk about grace.  and its is true, that by His grace we are saved.  but we must not let the amazing grace offered to us make us lethargic.  the availability of His grace doesn't excuse us to become lazy with our sin.  while His grace sets us free, let us not forget that he is a King of Justice who will return as promised:  "I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done."  (rev 22)

i don't know about you, but want to live for that day.  if persecution follows my beliefs, my words, and my lifestyle, so be it.  i am a follower of Jesus.  i believe every word of the bible.  i believe it must be studied and understood in order to see past the flippant claims against it.  i lean liberal when it comes to caring for the poor, and conservative when it comes to the protection of unborn life.  i believe God designed sex and marriage to be between a man and woman.  not only does the bible cover that thoroughly, but it also makes biological sense to me.  i believe in the saving grace of Jesus through His blood shed on the cross, and that is available to ALL, no matter what we've done.  and i believe in a God whose love is perfect.  like a perfect parent who uses combinations of rules and freedom, forgiveness and punishment, kindness and sternness, grace and truth.

i am ashamed of how many western christians have managed the cultural issues above, therefore damaging the definition of "christian" and leading millions to misunderstand Jesus.  and while that is unfortunate, it cannot lead us to water-down a gospel message that is no doubt quite offensive.  we are called to be loving and sensitive as we navigate these times, but we must never turn our back on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

it is true that love wins!  but remember... when Love (1 john 4:8) returns to put an end to His story, Love will arrive pissed off - with a sword to strike down the nations (rev 19:15).  Love...  is returning not only to rescue, but to judge.

the day He comes back as Rescuer and Judge, i'm sure i will feel scared and worthless before him!  but man...  how i want to be able to look my King in the eyes on that day, despite my multitude of sins, confident that i stood for His word, and didn't get swept up in the cultural shifts and changing philosophies that the world threw my way.

thank you Jesus for allowing us the privilege to follow you, share your teachings, and defend your truths!  we pray for our brothers and sisters in REAL persecution around the world.  let us join them in their sufferings - literally and in spirit.  may we commit to not give up in freedom what they do not give up in persecution.  help our kids grow up even stronger in the faith, as their world will be increasingly more difficult.  give us the strength to stay strong in this fight as we anticipate the return of our Rescuer and Judge.
  
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indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 tim 3:12)
 
don't let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  (col 2:7-8)

...guard what has been entrusted to you.  avoid the pointless discussions and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.  although some claim to have it, they have abandoned the faith. (1 tim 6:20-21)

but even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.  have no fear of them, nor be troubled.  (1 peter 3:14)

do not be surprised when the world hates you (1 john 3:13)

have a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  (1 peter 3:16)



Monday, July 13, 2015

still working on our USA trip...

we are still working on the details of our US trip.  our applications for visas have been sent in, and we're waiting to hear from the embassy to schedule our interview appointments.

however, the venue for the tournament has changed.  i have already reached out to those who specifically sponsored a boy's trip and received their ok... but wanted to let everyone else know as well.

short version - we were unable to participate in the NY tournament because we have a few kids who are too old.  initially we were told it was no problem at all, but as the time came to apply for visas, we received a completely different message from the tournament leaders.  we were extremely disappointed.

however, our friends at Florida Elite Soccer Academy in jacksonville, FL, have invited us to play in a tournament during labor day weekend!  we are so thankful for this new opportunity.  even though we're still a little bummed about the NY trip, we trust God has his reasons.  and on the bright side, since so many of our friends/family/supporters are near north florida, the boys are thrilled they will be able to see them.

so...  instead of the buildings of NY the boys will see the beaches of FL.  i'm pretty sure they will be out of their minds either way!

please pray with us during this visa application process!  once we have visas in hand, we'll follow up with more information.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

a few recent updates...

we had the privelege of baptizing some more young men recently!  ivan, robin, and denilson.



ava luna is the newest member of the family, born may 9th!  congrats to the leiva family.  it is such a joy to have another baby in the house!


been practicing on the dirt field a lot more lately.  its a little tougher to control the ball, but gives us more space to practice 11v11 before our upcoming trip to the states.



can't believe how fast the time goes.  madi is entering her sophomore year in college, and brooke is starting her freshman year.  what happened to my babies?!



we had some friends from lake city, FL stop by recently.  thank you jackson's and friends for sharing your time, resources, and love with the people of buena vista!


love watching these 2 grow up together.  noah and luci are best amigos.


a few shots of everyday life in buena vista.  our friend grandpa marcos, who turned 90 this year and never takes a day off.  luci playing with a friend.  and bvsa tucked away in the guatemala mountains.