Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A 9-11 REVISIT....WHERE WERE YOU AND WHERE ARE YOU GOD?

**THIS IS MY ANNUAL REPOST OF A 9-11 STORY I WROTE SEVERAL YEARS AGO...

Most of us have experienced something tragic in our life.  And when that happens, often times our response is....."where were you God".   Those words might be a knee-jerk reaction or it might be a question we know we'll never get an answer to here on earth.  Nevertheless, the feeling is there.

These past few days, I've heard a number of people ask questions in regards to 9-11.  "Where was God that day?   Why did he let that happen?"  Well......there is an answer.  One that will be useful to you anytime you reach a point of despair.  The story I'm about to share with you is a God-thing.  Told only by the one that knows.....     

I was there................

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news on September 11,2001.  Neither will I.  I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say "Good-Bye".  I held his fingers steady as he dialed.  I gave him the peace to say, "Honey, I am not going to make it but it is okay......I am ready to go.

I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children.  I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn't coming home that night.  I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to ME for help.  "I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!", I said.  "Of course, I will show you the way home-only believe in ME now.

I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls.  I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven.  He heard my voice and answered.

I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer.  I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faiths has saved them.

I want you to know that I saw every face.  I was in Texas, Virginia, California and Afghanistan.  I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news.  Did you sense me?

I want you to know that I saw every face.  I knew every name-though not all knew Me.  Some met ME for the first time on the 86th floor.  Some sought ME with their last breath.  Some couldn't hear ME calling to them through smoke and flames"  "Come to ME....this way......take my hand",  I offered.  Some chose, for the final time, to ignore ME.  But, I was there.    

I did not place you in the Tower that day.  You may not know why, but I do.  However, if you were there in the explosive moment in time, would you have reached for ME?

September 11, 2001 was not the end of the journey for you.  But someday your journey will end.  And I will be there for you as well.  Seek ME now while I may be found.  Then, at any moment, you know you are "ready to go".

I will be in the stairwell of your final moments....

GOD


We are just days removed from honoring 9-11.  The sting is still there...but for how long?  Will the words God offered in this story be something you can hold onto for more than a couple of days, a week, or perhaps a month?  Or will they be something you can grasp for eternity?

Know this...He was there on September 11th, 2001.  He is here today.  And He will be there tomorrow.


YGG,

John  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

MEMORIES CONTINUE OF NAVY SEAL JON TUMILSON AND HAWKEYE

Nearly two years ago we were left with the image of Hawkeye, the black Labrador friend of Petty Officer Jon Tumilson laying on the floor near the coffin of his owner.  It was a picture worth more than money and fame could ever provide.  It was the "ultimate gift" one friend gives another, regardless if one of those happens to be a dog.

This past weekend the small northeast Iowa town of Rockford paid additional accolades to the fallen hero and his buddy.  The following is from Laura Bird of the Mason City Globe Gazette.

"U.S. Navy Seal and Rockford, Iowa native Petty Officer Jon Tumilson and his dog, Hawkeye, will be able to forever run through the prairies of the Rockford Fossil and Prairie Park.  A bronze statue of Tumilson -one of 30 American troops killed in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011, when their helicopter was shot down en route to a combat mission-and Hawkeye were unveiled and dedicated Friday night at the park.

"Thank you to the board for allowing us such a beautiful place for Jon and Hawkeye to run forever", said Tumilson's brother-in-law Scott McMeekan.  The statue was made by Jeff Adams of In Bronze in Mt. Morris, Illinois.  It depicts Tumilson and Hawkeye running, which the two loved to do.


Kathy Tumilson (left) mother of Jon hugs a family member at dedication
I can't tell you what an honor it was to be entrusted with the image of Jon", said Adams.  He said he spent six to eight months trying to "breath life" into a man he never knew.  The Tumilson family sent photos and measurements such as shoe size and Adams read Navy SEAL books, but it was the stories of Tumilson that inspired him.

"Here on this extraordinary hilltop we dedicate this statue to the memory and intensity Jon brought to life", Adams said.

U.S. Navy Lt. Robert Bradshaw spoke about Tumilson's character, too.  He was chaplain for Tumilson's SEAL team.  "Jon was a gift to us", he said.  He was fully secure in who he was.  JT was a man of faith, a warrior".  All of the speakers, including Iowa State Rep. Josh Byrnes, encouraged the more than 200 people in attendance to never forget the people who serve the United States.  "Everyday is Memorial Day and everyday is Veterans Day", said Byrnes.  "It shouldn't be just one day we honor these people".

People were also encouraged to crush their excuses like Bradshaw explained to the families of the 30 SEAL members after their deaths.  "I will never forget what he said", McMeekan said.  "These are the type of men who crushed their excuses".

That quote inspired the GO Crush It 5K Challenge and Operation Go Crush It Collection Drive for military families, which were both part of the events on Saturday.  There was also a meal and benefit concert held later on in the day.  All proceeds from the event will benefit 3 Minutes Out, the foundation the family set up after Jon's death.  For more information on the charity go to www.3minutesout.org

And I should add....yes, Hawkeye made it back for the festivities.....

Family and Friends around the tree of HOPE
This past Wednesday evening I had the distinction of traveling with two of the co-founders of Project 52, Dustin Blythe and Bill Clark, to Rockford.  As part of the ministry of Project 52, they plant trees with the following commitment...."plantings seeds of Hope one tree at a time".

There must have been 30 friends and family members who were invited to the tree planting.  And...it was an evening to remember.  The Tumilson family was terrific......after the ceremony Kathy ushered the three of us into their home to show us the memorial room Navy Seal members had erected in honor of Jon.  It was moving....and it was special.  And as we shared traveling home that evening....an AMAZING day.

YGG,

John

Monday, May 27, 2013

IN MEMORY....CARRY THE LOAD AND MORE OF FREEDOM ROCK

I served our country as a Navy SEAL.  Every Memorial Day I have a persistent, dull, deep ache.  It's the memory of all of the buddies I'll never be able to talk to again.  I couldn't express my feelings with words, so I put on my boots, loaded my pack and I started walking.  With every step, I thought about those buddies I lost.  As I walked, a man stopped me and asked, "Son, who are you carrying?  He understood what I couldn't say.  At that moment, I knew that other people felt like me.....and Carry the Load was born".

Those words came from Clint Bruce, Co-Founder of Carry the Load.  They are impactful and to the point.  And they pack at wallop. So what is Carry the Load and what is its significance to Memorial Day?

CARRY THE LOAD
The mission with Carry the Load is to bring the meaning to Memorial Day by honoring the sacrifices made by members of the military, law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families while serving our country and communities, especially those who have died or were wounded while carrying the load for their fellow Americans.  "The truth is, there is a disconnect between what Memorial Day means, and how it is observed', said Bruce.

This year the group began with a 2,000 mile relay that began at West Point, New York on May 1st and will conclude with the annual 20-hour walk in Dallas.  The National Relay was broken into 348 legs along its journey to Texas.  Each leg represents an opportunity for some group to honor a selected individual or individuals. The Dallas walk began at 4 p.m. yesterday and concludes today (Monday).  

One leg of the National Relay comes into view for the pass off.....
Twenty thousand people registered for this year's event, more than a million dollars has been raised but it's more than that.  One walker back for his second year is Luke Benson.  If he has a beef with anyone, it's that the true meaning of Memorial Day has been lost on so many people.

"A lot of people have taken away from the tradition, you know, just to sit on lake and drink beer and barbecue", he said.  "I think you have to go back to something like this walk to realize the importance of what the Day is about".

Marine Staff Sgt. Jacob McCormack carries a flag with the names of Marines he deployed with to Iraq in 2005.  Two were killed. On his backpack are pictures of the five Marines killed when he went back in 2006. He and his team were walking at 4 a.m. as I posted this story.....making each step along the way count.  His thoughts on the marathon summed up so, so much to the event.  "It's important to us, and there's nothing like a little bit of pain and suffering to make you remember and never forget what those guys sacrificed for us", said McCormack.   For more information on Carry the Load go to http://carrytheload.org/splash/

My best guess is that this event is going to grow in its numbers......and here's hoping those figures are off the chart.......and then there is the Freedom Rock.  Here's what I wrote about in October of last year.

"It's only thirty some miles from where I live.  Hardly a long trek.  That's why it's hard to comprehend any  reasons its taken me so long to get there.  But last weekend I finally did.

It weighs some 56 tons and is roughly 12 feet tall.  It's about a mile and a half off of Interstate 80 at exit 86 (about 35 miles from Des Moines) among the cornfields of Iowa.  And it's one huge, huge focal point for what our troops preserve for us each and every day.  Freedom.  And appropriately it's called by that same name, Freedom Rock.

For years, the rock served as a graffiti piece.  Something vandals used to pen their mindless dribble and sayings.  That was until 1999 when a nineteen year-old from nearby Greenfield by the name of Ray "Bubba" Sorensen came to the rescue".

"It was around Memorial Day when I was driving past the rock when I wondered what it would be like if I actually took the time to go out there and paint it.  And so I painted it with the flag raising from Iwo Jima.  I got a huge response from it that I kept painting it. And I've been painting it with tributes to Veterans on Memorial Day".

Thirteen years later, Sorensen's still at it.  He usually begins his process each year by putting scenes on a blank canvas.  And then the process begins.  Each side of the rock save one has a coat of white paint and awaits a new theme".

And then I found out about this nugget, one, I hadn't seen anywhere. This Spring, Sorensen began the Freedom Rock Tour with a goal to paint a rock in every county in Iowa....99 in all, creating a unique statewide veterans memorial for the state.  How cool is that??

A Sorensen Masterpiece....Again
YGG,

John



Thursday, May 9, 2013

IF ONLY I COULD ELIMINATE THIS FROM MY LIFE......

You've no doubt felt frustrated and angry about something in your life and said, "if only I could eliminate this from my life, things would be just fine".  And if you haven't said it, you've no doubt thought it.....or if you can't admit to that, my guess is.........that feeling has existed deep down inside the innards of your soul. Somewhere.  That's the kind of being we are.  Prone to wanting everything to be hunky dory.  But as most of us have experienced, that's just not possible. Have you ever wondered why?

Recently I read a piece which hit home on the subject courtesy of  Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling".  Here are her words:  "Do not long for the absence of problems in your life.  That is an unrealistic goal, since in this world you will have trouble.  You have an eternity of problem-free living reserved for you in heaven.  Rejoice in that inheritance, which no one can take away from you, but do not seek your heaven on earth.  Begin each day anticipating problems, asking Me to equip you for whatever difficulties you will encounter".  Wow....if that's not spot on!!!
We're wired one way.....or so we think
Problems aren't causing you trouble; you are using problems to cause yourself trouble.  A problem for you may not be a problem for your best friend.  And a problem you had a year ago may not be a problem any longer, even if it is still present.  Here is an example from a young person trying to make sorts of life.  "In 2004, I was 18.  I was comfortable.  I had money, but I didn't have peace.  Happiness was out of sight.  I thought money would provide happiness, but it didn't.  As time went on, I became frustrated with the endless search for happiness.  People all around me were looking, but weren't happy.  I became frustrated, then impatient, and then curious.  Why were some people happy, while others wallowed in their own misery.  Some were happy with little, while others were miserable with a lot.  It tickled my brain".      

Where our young lad found a "tickle"....many others would perhaps describe it as a "weight on the brain".  Because that's what the days have become to them.....a constant search in ridding themselves of life's hiccups.

I found myself drifting to the Bible for a thought...."who would I think faced one of the biggest problems in their life?"  Let's see.  There was Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Peter, just to name a  few.  And of course, Jesus.  He would be the problem sufferer leader hands down.   But then I thought of Daniel.  And clearly, he made real sense to me.

Many of us know the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den.  Daniel, in Daniel 6, is a highly esteemed government official whose colleagues become jealous of.  Seeking to get rid of him and knowing that he is a religious man, his colleagues convince the king to enact a decree saying that prayer can be made to no God except for the King.  Once the decree is made, Daniel continues on praying and giving thanks to his Lord just like he always did.  When he is caught, his colleagues tell their king and he is forced to throw Daniel into the den of lions.  The next morning, the king finds Daniel alive.  The lions had not harmed him.  The point?  Daniels faith in his God is what made him great in the first place.  Knowing he would not recant regardless of what happened to him....despite the problems he's facing.

Is there a simple solution?  Some would say yes and some would argue that it's a life-long battle....however,
"The best equipping is My Living Presence, My hand that never lets go of yours", concludes Sarah Young.  "Discuss everything with Me.  Take a lighthearted view of trouble, seeing it as a challenge that you and I together can handle.  Remember that I am on your side an I have overcome the world".  

YGG,

John

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight"-Proverbs 3-5;6  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

ROBLES....FROM UNKNOWN TO UNSTOPPABLE

"When opportunities don't present themselves, you have to look for other doors to walk through", said a confident and smiling Anthony Robles Monday night.  My gosh, if that didn't resonate with me.  And it sure made me inquisitive of what else he might be passing along our way.

The night, was the 2013 Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet for Central Iowa.  It's a night I've attended many times, but none with the effect I was left with on this particular evening.  If you don't know of Anthony Robles, you're probably not alone.  He's not what you'd call a household name.  At least not yet.  He's a former NCAA wrestler who in his final season won the 125-pound weight class while wrestling for the Arizona State Sun Devils.  That fact alone is not so unusual, but given that he only had one leg is.  In truth, that's his story....the past, present and future of what he encounters each and every day.

If ever a mother (Judy Robles) could have said, "I told you so"
Robles was born with one leg, just his left.  And his mother was young, just sixteen.  So given those odds, wouldn't it be easy to see failure written across much of these two lives?  That was not the case.  His mother, Judy, always reasoned things out by saying, "God made you this way for a reason", over and over and over again, until he believed it.  For sure, it was her unwavering push that enabled him to be where he is today.  Was it a cakewalk to fame?  Far from it, as Robles would say......

He's never met his real father.  In fact, he didn't know much about him at all until he needed to add that portion of his life to the book he's written, "Unstoppable-from Underdog to Undefeated".  His step-father,who had served as a father figure since he was four, left the family.....walked away from Anthony's mother and three other siblings because he could no longer handle the financial pressures.  Strange considering his step-father was a pastor at a local church in Mesa, Arizona.  Nonetheless, the remainder of Robles family leaned on their faith.  Somehow, Judy reasoned...."you stay in school and we'll be alright".

It was around this time, the sophomore year of Anthony's career, that there were also changes in his mind-set.  He became more focused......his prayer life became deeper and he depended on his God for strength......and he also kept thinking about his mother's message...."God made you this way for a reason".   Weeks later, Robles placed fourth in the NCAA Wrestling Tournament.  The next season, he enjoyed a 32-4 campaign, but finished seventh at the NCAA's.  There was but one year left.

In the 2010-11 season Robles enjoyed his achievements, going undefeated through the regular season and right up to the final match against Iowa's Matt McDonough, the defending champion at 125 pounds.  Scared....but determined.....and relieved to see his family in the arena....Robles wrestled "the match of his life", winning 7-1.  He had, in many respects, gotten his glory.  Hours later when the meet was wrapping up, he grabbed further accolades by being named "Outstanding Wrestler".   Later would come other forms of recognition through the NFL Hispanic Leadership Award and the Jimmy V Perseverance Award.

Today, Robles is working on a movie deal, serves as an analyst on ESPN wrestling coverage and.....is on the motivational speakers circuit.

To me, what a crowd of some 400 saw Monday night had much to do with humbleness.  Truth is, it could have been an evening where disabilities took center stage.  But they didn't.....and after the initial walk to the podium, the two crutches that were positioned under Robles' armpits seemed as natural as a stool.  That's how much he held the interest of the crowd.

Yes, Judy Robles, God did make your little Anthony for a reason.  Just like he has for each and every one of us.  It's our path......much like the one Anthony painted of his Monday night, that we need to find.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance"-James 1:2

YGG,

John              

****The evening ended with a poem Anthony read after receiving the Jimmy V Perseverance Honor which he shared so graciously...it goes like this:

Every soul who comes to earth with a
leg or two at birth must wrestle his
opponents knowing its not what is, but
what can be,  that measures worth.  Make it
hard, just make it possible and through pain,
I won't complain.  My Spirit is unconquerable.
Fearless I will face each foe for I know I am capable.
I don't care what's probable, through blood, sweat
and tears, I am unstoppable"---Anthony Robles.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

WHEN DEATH DROPS IN

Are we ever truly ready for death?  An unusual question to ponder no doubt, but one many of us have considered from time to time.  When death happens quickly, say in the way of a accident, there is no time to make plans.....touch base with old friends and tie up loose ends.  However, when there is an illness involved......when death is knocking at the doorstep....our opportunity to "square" things is staring right at us.


Last night I received news that a former high school classmate and college roommate of mine passed away  after a couple months battle with cancer. His name is Gary Burman, one most of you don't know.  That's really not the relevance of my words today.  What is......is the fact that Gary did not die a Irrelevant Death.

Peace Be With You Gary.....
When I first heard of Gary's illness in March I struggled with reaching out to him.  It had been some where in the neighborhood of 30 years since we'd talked.  After college graduation, he'd gone his direction and I went mine.  There wasn't a real connection to us anymore, or so I thought.  So for days, I wrestled with the "Should I" or "Should I Not" and looking at the phone numbers for Gary and his wife, Linda.  Finally and slowly I punched the digits of my cellphone.

As the phone began to ring I was filled with all sorts of uncertainties.  What condition would Gary be in?  What would we talk about?  Would I be walking into uncomfortable waters?  What compassion or friendship would I be able to offer?

"Hello?", echoed the strong voice at the end of the line.  "Ahhhh, Linda, this is John Kelling, Gary's old roommate from college", I somehow forced out.  "Hi, John", she shot back.  And that's all it took.  Just a couple of quick words and the rest of the conversation took its own course.  For all the anxiety I put myself through in making the call.....it was long gone now.  (let that be a lesson to us all).  The two of us must have talked for five minutes or so as she explained things of what was going on until she passed the phone over to Gary.  What I heard was a weak, soft-spoken Gary....but it was a voice exactly as I remembered.  .    
    
As we talked, I thought about a whole lot of other remembrances.  Like the fact that our parents were both in the restaurant business in our growing up in small-town Iowa, we were in Cub and Boy Scouts together, he was on the Little League Cubs and I was on the White Sox (two Chicago teams), we both played the saxophone......we got into trouble together (I'll leave that to the imagination) and we both went on to the same college, Mankato State.  We had a whole lot of commonality, the two of us.

Our conversation must have lasted half an hour and in it was some laughter and some tears. But definitely more laughter, especially when Gary related a parasailing experience he had in Florida.  Seems like his fellow employees all got together and sprung a trip on the family to a warmer climate.  Apparently, Gary's son, Joe, wanted to parasail, something Gary had little interest in. However, as the story goes, the driver of the parasail boat had a shirt on with the letters, Y-O-L-O.  And as curious sorts, the family asked what the letters stood for.  "You Only Live Once", the driver responded.  I'm not sure of all the details other than the fact that it was toward the end of the day and the crew offered to let Gary go up with his son.  In many respects, the shirt's "message" couldn't have appeared at more appropriate time.  For both Gary and his son.

That was the last time we talked. And as I hung up the phone, I knew it probably would be.  But that didn't keep me from calling and checking in with Linda.  Over the course of the next few weeks Gary had very little strength, yet....and this is what I find amazing, he'd wake up each day with Hope.  "What's on the calendar for today", he'd ask his wife.

The more I thought about Gary's calendar comment, the more I was intrigued.  How often do we look at each day as a challenge, ready for what's in store?  How important was it for Gary to try and keep his family at a point of "normalcy", when things were clearly close to the end?  Was Gary's desire for another day, another task what kept him alive.....without pain throughout his entire struggle?  Yes, Mr. Burman, that's a relevant statement.

CaringBridge was an especially good tool for Linda (and family and friends) to use during Gary's illness.  There were many days I read her comments and left with a big hurting hole in my heart.  But this morning, as I sat down to share a few words of a life that was not Irrelevant, these words presented themselves.

"As the sun was setting over the lake and began to shine on Gary's face....and into his eyes.....he saw the light and peacefully passed at 1907 (time)......Gary is at Peace with our Lord!"  

'What's on the calendar for today?"......Somehow, Gary, I think you have the answer to that question.

YGG,

John

"Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended"-Isaiah 60:20
 



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

COURAGE SOMETIMES SKIPS A GENERATION

In my last writing I spoke of some of the trials of the mission field....and the fact that missions are not to be looked at as some impossible leap of faith.  It does require some courage, I will grant you that.  The notion of courage led me to suggest a line, "courage sometimes skips a generation".

As much as I'd like to say that was an original thought on my behalf, I'd be lying.  It came from the movie, "The Help", a story concerning blacks and whites in the south and the relationships between the slave/maids and their owner/boss.  Courage was prevalent throughout the show......first from the maids ability to weather tremendous amounts of disrespect.....to the wherewithal of a young white woman who chose to write a book about the maids and the treatment they received in her southern city.

What type of a role model had her mother been to the little southern belle?  Well, not much really, that is until shows end.  It was then that the mother realized her daughter had stepped out of the stereotypical attitudes of the town and had forged her own ideas as to the worth and respect the black women should have been given.  In many cases, the maids were more of a mother to the children than their own biological parent.  The mother's remark, "courage sometimes skips a generation" was as much a smack at her own deficiencies.  But truthfully she could have been speaking on behalf of millions of people who let "things happen", by turning the other cheek.  Why?...because their afraid of any kickback to a status in life they think they are entitled to.  And oh, how wrong we are on that account?  

It can seem this daunting to have courage.........
It leads me to the question, "how courageous are you?"  If so, is it something you have passed on to your children?....is it something they see in you....OR, if you aren't.....why not?

The dictionary offers this nice little package of words to describe the action.  "The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  But it's not that simple.  If it was, I believe we'd see it far more of it than we do.  So, I wonder, why is that?

Author Steve Maraboli offers this response, which is pretty right on.  "People who lack the clarity, courage or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours.  When you change for the better, the people around you will be inspired to change also...but only after doing their best to make you stop.  Live your truth and don't EVER stop".  

And then there is our former President John F. Kennedy who stated, "In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience--the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men--each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.

If I think a little deeper on the subject, I see two forms of courage.  One comes from a direct plan.....going against the grain, so to speak, where you are a risk taker.  The other has to do with a reaction to something, say for instance, the type of courage Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta exhibited in Afghanistan in 2007.  For his actions in an ambush of the eight members of his 1st Platoon ....heroic by all standards, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The first living soldier to have received such an honor since World War II.  

Giunta remarked, "In this job, I am only mediocre.   I'm average.  I did what I did because in the scheme of painting the picture of that ambush, that was just my brush stroke.  That's not above and beyond.  I didn't take the biggest brush stroke, and it wasn't the most important brush stroke.  Hearing the Medal of Honor is like a slap in the face".

I'm sure it took courage for Giunta to utter those remarks.  But isn't that what so much of this is about?  When the easy way out is right in front......when Giunta could have taken all the glory....he opted to go the other way.....knowing that his fellow soldiers were equally important that particular day.  Courage is not  something easily achieved.  It takes an individual who is resolute and focused. And those seem few and far between any more.   Perhaps that's why we see it skip a generation. And in the world we live in now, that's a  doggone shame.

YGG,

John




Sunday, March 24, 2013

A MISSION IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE

"I believe that in each generation God has called enough men and women to evangelize all the yet unreached tribes of the earth.  It is not God who does not call.  It is man who will not respond.-Isobel Kuhn, missionary to China and Thailand

The quote from Isobel Kuhn, above, is such an impactful statement when you discuss mission trips and the relevance they play in our lifes.  Why is it that man/woman have such a difficult time leaving the comforts of their surroundings.....to challenge themselves......and to see what God has in mind for them once their heart changes?  Why do we run the other way?  Or make excuses that appear logical, at least on the outside.

It's been about a month now since 24 of us from Project 52 traveled to the Dominican Republic to assist Lighthouse Schools in Los Alcarrizos, a suburb in Santo Domingo. Our 8-day stay was packed full of work, eating, work, work, prayer and sleeping.  No question it was an educational trip   Shortly after setting back on U.S. soil I sent an email request to each of the mission trippers asking them a couple of questions and some word associations.  I believe their responses offer the full gamut of emotions, sacrifices and thoughts.  One, in particular, jumped out at me. It's a thought many people could or can relate to.  And this from someone who feels he doesn't put things in perspective.

"So many things to sort out", said Donn Anderson, a farmer from Wellsburg, Iowa.  "Sometimes words cannot describe what one is feeling.  There is definitely something going on in my life, but I don't have a grasp on it yet to comment.  I wasn't going on the trip for a second time after unfortunate illness that gripped me after our return last year", he added.  "Something influenced me to go, changed my mind or heart to buck up and deal with it.  I am certain to WHOM that was.  I'm happy that I went for a second trip, my outlook at this has significantly changed and God willing, I will be going next year".

Before each meal a prayer of thanks and compassion 
Reading on, came more words of wisdom....this time from the mouth of babes. Fifth grader Verity Carstensen, age 11,  from Clive, offered these thoughts when I asked how her life might be transformed or changed by the mission trip experience.  "It has changed my life about how I look on sharing.  I now look at it like it was never mine....God gave it to me to give to someone else who needs it more than I.  And the trip has made my heart content.  By seeing what little they (Dominican people) have and they are content and we have a lot but cannot be content, it made me realize how spoiled I really am....and don't even deserve it".  Wow...  

Sometimes.....the changes come in unexpected areas as Corey Viet from West Des Moines, Iowa alluded to.  "Before I started going on these mission trips, I didn't really know how good God was.  I have always been a believer, but not to the point I should have been.  I can tell now that God has a plan for everyone, and even though we may not know what that plan is, we can be assured that he will lead us through life if we just trust in him".  Lastly, this mission trip makes me believe that there still is good in this world.  A lot of times, the news or social media talks about all the bad in the world.  It is always refreshing to go down to the Dominican Republic and see that there are happy people in the world who are genuine.  Being cut off from pretty much everything while we are down there is always refreshing and as I said, really makes you think that there can be good in this world".

"Each year I think I transform a little more", related Matt Banzhaf, of West Des Moines. "I think that comes from the different experiences I get to encounter on each trip and also from the different perspectives I take away from listening to my peers on the trip (some new voices and some familiar).  I seem to become more motivated because of those things".  Banzhaf went on to relate of the first trip he took in 2011 to the Dominican Isle.  "It changed my life"....to see how much it transformed some of my friends and to hear them talk about the same things I felt just the year before....it was one of the more, if not the most, gratifying feeling I've had in my life".    

Many times a mission trip is not so much about building anything concrete.....or leading someone to the Lord.....but it's about new found friends.  But as one might expect, there can be a language barrier.  There are, however, ways to combat that says Lesli Clark of Urbandale.  "I do feel motivated to learn Spanish so that I can communicate with the Dominicans better.  Mission trip experiences are so much about relationships and not being able to communicate thru words is frustrating to me".  Sounds like she has a solution.
A Dominican smile communicates acceptance and  love
"For me", began Mark Javers of Harrisburg, South Dakota.  "It was the joy in the faces of the young school kids.  But in addition to that, Javers offered, "mission trips, even though they are only for a week or so, help me to remember that the rest of the year my focus is to be on other people and how God is calling me into his adventure to love others and work with them wherever He is leading".

In addition to the questions I asked, I also offered up a chance for word association.  Now remember, these answers were done in different locations and at different times....but look at the results:

LIGHTHOUSE SCHOOLS:

Karen Meyer of Wellsburg, "A Beacon for all".
Nancy Buskohl of  Grundy CenterWellsburg, "A Blessing"
Jen Carstensen of Clive, "A Beacon of Christ".
Bill Clark of Urbandale, "A Beacon to the Community".

DOMINICAN PEOPLE:

Sheila Steinmeyer of Grundy Center, "Content and Loving".
Sydney Clark, age 12, of Urbandale, "Different Lifestyle".
Corey Viet, of West Des Moines, "Grateful".
Bill Clark of Urbandale, "Warm, Content".

And how about lasting images?  There no doubt will be many for all of those on the trip....but a couple of outstanding remarks had to do with the young Dominicans they encountered.  Kelsey Clark will always remember going to the Compass Point School.  "It was a really neat experience to be able to give the kids school supplies", she offered.  And then there was the experience at Las Charcas involving the national sport of the country.  "It was pretty awesome seeing those kids faces light up when they got those new baseball gloves", said Matt Banzhaf.  "Those are the experiences and feelings we get to experience, but when trying to   relay that to people when we get back.....the words just DON"T and CAN"T do justice".

A pretty happy, content bunch of young athletes with new equipment
As I put a wrap on the experience of Project 52's Dominican Mission Trip for February 2013, I'm left with a few lingering words of thought.  Sacrifice and Courage.

It shouldn't go without saying, there was a multitude of sacrifices that took place to enable all 24 individuals to go.  Wives were left alone, husbands were left alone......and some were left with young children.  Some faced opposition from family members and some from friends. Some struggled to leave work and their daily routines.  Yes, it took much sacrifice.  But....it was not a Mission Impossible.

If anything...I'd like to offer my fellow mission members this thought.  Thank you for your courage.  You see, sometimes courage skips a generation.  Let me say that one more time.  Sometimes COURAGE skips a generation. What you've done is a witness to many.  Perhaps more than you'll ever know.  Thank you for your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and your desire to do what is right.

YGG,

John

"It is possible for the most obscure person in a church, with a heart right toward God, to exercise as much power for the evangelization of the world, as it is for those who stand in the most prominent positions".  -John R. Mott

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

IT'S A PROCESS IN PROCESSING A MISSION TRIP

"How was your mission trip?  Did you have a good time?  Sure seems like you did a lot of neat things from the pictures I saw on Facebook.  What was the highlight of your trip?"  Those are just some of the comments and questions I've heard since our mission group of 24 made it back to the states.  And as you might expect, those were the easy questions to answer.  But they're more to be answered.  Some questions haven't even surfaced yet.  And how can they; were still in the processing mode.

A Man on A Mission....Christopher Columbus Statue near downtown Santo Domingo
Yes, the group from  Project 52 did have a good time spending eight days in the Dominican Republic.  But we also found time to let our emotions and circumstances challenge our preconceived thoughts. Every one of us is going through some transforming change.  It no doubt will dictate how we view other cultures.....enable a glimpse of our own spoils or perhaps even a desire to find out more about what God has in store for our lives.

This past weekend at Generation Word Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, I was reminded of Paul's First Missionary Journey.  I wondered as I read line by line of the book of Acts, how a man could be so devoted....so focused, so determined to fulfill his......well, mission.  Here is but a part of the story:

Let's catch up with Paul and Barnabas.  They've left the church in Antioch after hands were placed on them and the Holy Spirit directed them with "set apart for me these two for the work for which I have called them".  With them was John Mark, a helper.

The three traveled to Cyprus and Paphos, Salamis and to Perga.....where John Mark, left them to return home.  He apparently didn't feel he was being used in the proper manner.  That his gifts were not being utilized.  Yet Paul and Barnabas continued on,  facing Jews and Gentiles who were in amazement of their knowledge and wisdom of Jesus. And then there were those who distrusted them and made life miserable.

In the town of Lystra, things took a decidedly different note.  "Then the Jews from Antioch and Iconcium (where they had been previously, but been run out of town) came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.  However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city.  And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe".

Okay, first off.  As our pastor Galyn Weimers so eloquently put it, "how many of you would have gone back into the city?"  I mean you've been stoned and dragged...presumed dead.  And by most accounts you'd probably look pretty beat up.  Like black eyes, puffy and scarred face.  Why the heck would you make your way back for more?  I think I might have said, "hey, let's go on down to Derbe and forget this place, shall we?"  But Paul had a different plan. Here's what he did ....

"And when they had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe) and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God".  

Now, that's what I call a tribulation.  What more can one expect to have to endure?  But that was Paul.  Doesn't it make you wonder why Barnabas went untouched?  There was not one mention of Barnabas being throttled.  Apparently, Paul was the bigger threat of the two.

So let's process this for a minute.  How much different do you think Paul's experiences were compared to Barnabas....or even John Mark, who ended up rejoining them on the journey?  Would you expect either John-Mark or Barnabas to be as bold.....as convicted as Paul?  Interesting to say the least....

And now almost two weeks later, I'm in the processing stage of our mission trip to Santo Domingo and the Dominican Island.  My experiences were unique to me.  I've got images of people and their culture that might not resemble any other snapshot a person took in their mind.

Am I the same person as I was before I left?  Not on your life.  As I'm sure most of the others aren't either.  But they probably have the same question eating at them....that is, if they truly want to use this trip for furthering God's kingdom.  What's next God?

That's the process many of the 24 of us are in today.  Praying, waiting and listening to God for direction.

And if it's any help, imagine what Paul had going through his mind after completing his first journey.  You know what he did?  He did it all over again.  Paul's Second Missionary Journey.

If you wonder what this mission trip stuff is all about and how it will impact your life, perhaps this might help in the processing......

Several years ago I interviewed a young man by the name of Scott Wallace.  Wallace, 18, had returned from his first mission trip to Africa.  I asked him to forget the camera was rolling and to talk to his friends in a manner to convince them of the importance of a missions trip.  Here's what Scott gave me.....



YGG,

John

Monday, March 4, 2013

A DOMINICAN DOG WITH A THOUSAND NAMES

Before boarding the bus to take us from us from Camp Buenn Nuevas, where we had been staying the past week to a Santo Domingo Hotel, I looked around and wondered....is there a story I'm leaving behind?  Am I overlooking something that needs to be told.  And then, there he was.  Sitting right in front of me.  I shook my head wondering how in God's name could I have forgotten him?   Afterall, I'm a sucker for a dog.    

Bending down, I scratched behind his ears and asked him ever so politely if he had a few minutes where we could relax.  He chose one of his favorites locations...the sand pile which was actually pretty cool.  His name is Chiquito which means "tiny".  But he's been called a lot names.  Everything from "King" to "You Little Piece Of ____.  And just about everything in between.  People have all sorts of ideas of dogs.  Some like them, some are afraid of them and then there are the ones that have never gotten to know one.

Our group called him Jukey.  Not really sure why, but that gives you an idea that each mission group that comes to Camp Buenn Nuevas tags him according to their estimation of the little guy.  He's kind of a hit or miss kind of dog.  He's here one minute and onto something else the next.  He seems to do most of his heavy work at night.  During the day he lies to take long, long siestas under the vehicles on camp grounds....

I like to think of him as "Ambassador", chiefly because he is there to greet everyone and to make the guests stay a little more enjoyable.  However, it's up to you to take at least a little initiative.  He wasn't going to push himself on you.  But he was always around, somewhere.

Looking out his window (with a yawn) at "siesta" time
Here's a little of what I found out:

Me:  So, boy, how did you get this job?

Chiquito:  Really, I'm not sure.  I mean look at me.  I'm not very big.  Don't have much hair.  And I'm only three years old.  I don't have a special breed attached to me.  Some people think I'm a mutt.  But, it's kind of funny, because I think God is using me, just like he uses you humans.  He uses little old imperfect me to help make his perfect plans.  I see it all the time.

About this time, I figured I was getting far more than I bargained for.  But....he had me hook, line and sinker.  I had to go on and see where this was going to go.
        
Me:  What do you mean by that?

Chiquito:  Well, I see all sorts of people come here for mission trips.  Some come thinking they are going to change the Dominican people and they end up changing themselves.  I see it in their eyes...in their attitudes.  They even treat me different.  It's awesome to see.

Me:  How so?

Chiquito:  I hear it when they're at the picnic tables.  Most of them forget about my hearing.  I can hear almost anything they say.  And they kind of forget I'm around.  But they say things like, "I'm glad I came along on this trip.  It's opened my eyes to so much.  I feel like a changed person".  And this is the thing I really like.  They start talking to me and petting me.  I think they use me as a buffer for the pet they had to leave at home.  And through me, they feel like they're connecting with them.  It's pretty awesome. Some even go so far as to give me a hug.

Me:  What's the most rewarding thing about your "job"?

Chiquito:  I'd have to say it's hearing people say they are going to come back. There's nothing like having a familiar face get off the bus.  It makes my day, for sure. Even though you can't tell, my heart leaps for joy when I see that.

Me: Most disappointing part of the "job?"

Chiquito:  Kind of the opposite.  I just have that extra sense of who's going to come back.  They don't have to say anything.  I just know.  How about you?

Me:  Me?

Chiquito:  Yeah, you.  I've been watching you all week wondering what you were up to.  When I found out you were a writer a lot of it made sense.  Because you sure asked a whole bunch of questions and did a big bunch of people-watching.  A little like me, really.  But how about you?

Me:  Chiquito, I thought I was asking the questions.  I wasn't really ready for this.

Chiquito:  I'm sure not.  Well, are you?

Me:  Am I what?

Chiquito:  Coming back?

Me:  Okay, I'll try to answer that as honestly as I can.  Yes, hopefully, I'll come back.  But there's some hurdles to clear.  We've talked about building a new baseball diamond in Las Charcas.  If everything comes together, I'll be back in November.  If not, I don't know.

Chiquito:  Hmmmmm.  Okay, that's acceptable.  Hey, you'd better go.  The bus is getting ready.

Me:  Thanks, boy.  My best to you and everyone else you meet.

Chiquito:  Gracias.

With that, the skinny little four-legged guy got up from the sand pile and began walking away.  He had the walk of a dog with bountiful pride.  He clearly did not have his tail between his legs.

YGG,

John

P.S.  As the bus began to pull out of the Camp Buenn Nuevas driveway I looked down.  There was Chiquito, or whatever you want to call him, peering up at the windows as if to say "Adios". "You little stinker" I thought. And you wonder why God chose you for that job.


      




  

Friday, March 1, 2013

RAMIREZ LEADS THE PHYSICAL YOUTH OF LIGHTHOUSE

The quickest way to gain a person's respect is to show them the way....because they can relate to the fact that you've been there.....done that.

At age 16, Jose Alberto Ramirez received some encouraging words from his pastor that he should connect with the community of Los Alcarrizos for the purpose of helping the areas youth realize their abilities in basketball and baseball.  He immediately had success so much so, Lighthouse Schools director Cristian Santiago, took notice.  Two years later, Ramirez came on board with the school as a volunteer in the physical education area. Without question, Jose was a diamond in the making.....  

But it wasn't just the skills he possessed, it was the character he exhibited.  To give you a little insight into the makeup of the man, catch this from a Cleveland group who sent a mission team to Lighthouse in 2012.

"The last time I visited the Dominican Republic, I asked Jose why none of the teams had ever built a house for him.  His reply was so typical Jose.  "There are too many people who need a house more than me.  I just think about how I can help others, not how others can help me.  He has served faithfully with his time and talents.  Now he is being blessed him with a home of his own".  

Ramirez leads the right way......
Now 27, Ramirez is the physical education teacher at Lighthouse.  In addition, he also oversees the weight facility built a little over two years ago on the school grounds.  He is, building bodies......minds and souls.  And not necessarily in that order.

It wasn't all that long ago that Ramirez was overweight.  When I asked him through my translator, Deb Heredia how much weight he'd lost, there was a rather sheepish response.  "Some where in the neighborhood of 45 pounds"|, he replied.

Frankly, that's what was most convincing to his students.  Over a year period, he knocked off all the unnecessary weight....something students could see first hand.   Not only was it exercise that made a difference, Jose focused on a diet that helped him significantly.

That was the eye opener for his students.  Not only did they see the progress that he made, they realized that if they indeed were in a similar situation...... there was a road to travel.  "We like to see the kids grow",  said Ramirez.  "Be yourself is our motto.  But most importantly, we have to show love and respect.

Listening to Ramirez speak, I have to tell you, gave me encouragement for the youth of Lighthouse.  They aren't necessarily building world-class athletes.....they are molding well-rounded individuals.

What does the future hold for Jose?  Where is he headed?  He's always had this dream of being a lawyer.....  and secondarily, involved with physical education.  I asked him if he'd be disappointed if his dream of  being  a lawyer never transpired.  And he quickly replied "no."....

If that's not a consistent comment from a young man focused on his future....I'm not sure what is.  And I think back to the comment from the Cleveland people...."I just think about how I can help others".

"Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it:-Proverbs 22:6

YGG,

John  
        




Thursday, February 28, 2013

"ROLLING" SANTO DOMINGO STYLE

"The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.  But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble".-Proverbs 4:18-19

Day number six of the Project 52 mission trip was a lesson in Dominican culture and wisdom..... given to me by a young lady who if she was in the states, would be well on her way to business success.  She'd be someone who any company would be ecstatic to have as an employee.  The only thing is, she's living in the Dominican Republic.  And I hope for the Dominicans sake, they're able to hold onto her.  Keep her on the soil she is passionate about.  She is by all accounts, on a journey.  

To hear Debora Heredia tell it...."the book of Proverb's is how I roll".  And as you listen to the energetic 20-year from Santo Domingo, you get a sense, she practices everything she speaks.

I first got a first glance of Debora as we came through the airport in Punta Cana.  There she was waiting..... searching the crowd for a couple of faces she'd not seen in almost a year.   Those kissers belonged to Larry and Karen Meyer of Wellsburg, Iowa who had agreed to sponsor the young lady several years prior.  "They are like my grandparents', Heredia related.  "I am so thankful.  God wanted them to help me".  When the three made connection, it was obvious of their true affection.  And as the week has gone on here at Lighthouse Schools there is continued proof.  Karen said, "I'm not sure I know the whole story yet about Debora.  But I do know, she is a very nice young lady.  And we are so proud of her".

So, let's find out some more about Debora:
1.  She is the youngest of three (one brother and sister).  Lives with her mother and father.  Her mother is attending USAD University and majoring in social work.  Her dad is a driver.
2. She is a frequent face at the school despite graduating in 2009 at age 16.
3. Every year in school she received Merit recognition for her schoolwork.
4. In the 20 years of Lighthouse's existence, she has been involved in some way or another in almost 16.
5. She is a full-time student (in her last year before beginning work on her Master's) at USAD University carrying between 18-20 credits.  Major is social work.
6. Most days require her to put in a 12-13 hours with school work and practice (at a hospital).  At least three hours of her day is spent on the road traveling an hour and a half each way to school. She must spend between $25-$30 each week in her travels.  That expense is the biggest portion of her education commitment.  Credit hours cost in the neighborhood of $3.  
7.  When missions teams are present at Lighthouse, she pulls in hours as an assistant in various capacities.  Wednesday, she spent the early part of the day arranging rerod forms for walls in the new dormitory......served as a translator for an interview I did with the Physical Education teacher at Lighthouse, spent an hour with me for an interview.....then returned to work with the mission team on the building project......spent a little down time with the mission team prior to supper.....then served as the translator for the church service we attended together.  A full day for sure......but Remember, it's how she rolls.

Despite the youthful exuberance, I had to ask her, "don't you ever feel burned out/".  To that she fired back, "whenever I get tired, I ask God for strength.  But I enjoy doing what I'm doing.  Lighthouse is a light of Hope to people in our community and that makes it all worthwhile".  

The quickest way to success is a straight line
Heredia sees herself as a work in process.  Something we all could learn more about.  The verses at the top and bottom of the story are where she gains wisdom and strength.  Her role model is Solomon.  As she described her reasons for such a mentor, it was obvious Heredia was aware of the ultimate pitfalls the King of Israel had...despite asking God for insight in clear thinking and practicality.  "I ask God for help every day", she related.  "But more than anything, I feel blessed.  I don't have all I want, but I want all I have", she concluded.

Those last words have remained in my head and heart since yesterday.  It makes me wonder how many of us can say the same thing.  And I say that to you know matter what country you live in and what your situation is.  This morning as I finish this writing, I am having the pleasure in not only hearing but seeing a people who have "joy" beyond anything I can comprehend.  The kids are singing and dancing and clapping on the school house grounds.....completely uninhibited.  Without a care in the world.

In thought between assignments
Would I consider Debora a poster child for Lighthouse School and their mission?  At first, I thought so.  But as I am impacted more each day by their approach to life....I truly believe she is more the rule than the exception.

Again, I am reminded by Heredia's comment of the Santo Domingo culture, "that's how we roll here"........

Thank you for your wisdom, Ms. Heredia.  You've made my week complete with those five words.                  
         
"My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you.  Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.  Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.  Say to wisdom, "you are my sister, "and to insight, ""you are my relative"  They will keep you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words".-Proverbs 7: 1-5

YGG,

John


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

WINDS OF CHANGE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

I finally began to set into some type of rhythm today....Day number 4 of an eight day mission trip to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.  I've observed the other 23 members of our group in the previous three days, looking for any uptick or crack in the make-up of their mental, spiritual and physical approach to each day.

I say that, not putting myself above anyone else.  I'm just watching because that tends to give me a perspective on what to write about.  And I'll bet their watching everyone else too.  How can you not?  Ever so slowly, we are developing into a  "family unit".  There have been numerous opportunities as a group and individually to provide some sort of soothing words to a previous hurt or misfortune.  Is this beautiful Caribbean Isle the catalyst for letting down walls?  Perhaps.  Is it the common thread of showering in cold water that builds unity?  Probably not.......although its been mentioned more than once.  But even that topic is beginning to fade away.  We are adapting.  Settling in....developing a routine to the day of devotions, eating, work, eating, siesta, work, eating, reflections of the day and collapse.  Somewhere along the line there is the hurried walk to the school office area where the internet connection is found.   It probably goes without saying, the day is not complete without connecting home.  Not in any big emotional way.  But a short reminder of what the people back home mean.  It's a process.....one that will become a habit.  Albeit a short one......    

In a very short order this trip opened my eyes to connecting with loved ones. I was very frustrated, yet ecstatic any time our son Kristopher connected with us when he was in Afghanistan.  Frustrated in that we didn't hear from him enough, or so I thought.  The ecstatic part you easily understand.  Kris had a couple of ways available to reach us.  The thing I didn't see on his end, was the difficulty that he might have had in finding an open computer, a clear line or even the wherewith all to trek down to the "communications center".  Now I get it.  Last night, there were seven people trying to get on the internet through cell phones and laptops.  Some were emailing, others using Facebook....then there were the Big Kahuna's taking up bandwith with Skype.  Minutes later, several more joined the fray.....wow!!!

I tell you this, not to complain, but explain.  It's not like home.......

At the same time, I know several who have returned for their second and third and fourth times.  Lighthouse Schools, without question. is their second home.

There's various reasons....one couple has an "adopted" daughter they met several years ago.  Today, they sponsor her in the pursuit of an education at a local college.  Another has made four trips here and feels a commitment to working with director, Cristian Santiago, in his efforts to provide Hope to an area and people who are thirsting for opportunity.  Another feels moved to share his "gifts" in construction.  And then there are the friends of Trey Blythe, the young man murdered nearly seven years ago in Cedar Falls.  They are the future of Project 52 (named after Trey) and this mission relationship with Lighthouse. And those are simply a few.   For first-timers, the eyes and ears are opened a little more each day.

A morning of celebration at Lighthouse Schools

This morning as the group made their way to begin work on a new dormitory for the school, there came a definite note of celebration in the air.  As I walked up to the school ground area, I stopped and stood and watched as class after class made their way to the stage to celebrate their Independence. The scene was more festive than anything I've ever witnessed.  And it was performed with perfect decorum.  You might notice several flags in the picture above.  That was a small percentage of those flapping in the Santo Domingo breeze.

Los Alcarrizos is an area of staggering unemployment.  It's been suggested that it's over 40%....some even say it's pushing 60%.  So where's the Hope?  I believe you'll be able to see it in my next blog.  Tomorrow I will be talking with a teacher and student at Lighthouse Schools.

From my perspective, I will dig into the who, what, where, why and how they got here and where they're going. Only then, will you be able to see how the Winds of Change do blow in Santo Domingo.

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you-Jeremiah 29:11-12

YGG,\

John

Monday, February 25, 2013

THE ROOSTERS OF SANTO DOMINGO

"I tell you the truth",   Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times-Matthew 26:34

I couldn't get this verse out of my head this morning.  Waking up and hearing roosters crowing incessantly will do that to you.  That, and the realization that you're no longer in the comforts you're used to.  Far from it.
As day three emerges on a mission trip of 24 Americans to the Dominican Republic, you begin to think in different terms.  Terms that are foreign to you.  The concept of life itself takes on a changed form.

How easy would it be for the people of this island to question the existence of a God?  Most make $1,000 or less a year.  Living conditions are, in many cases, a roof over your head, four strong bricks walls, "borrowed electricity" and little room for quiet time.  Yet, they are in the words of  Cristian Santiago, director of Lighthouse Projects, "content".  Santiago oversees a Christian school in Los Alcarrizos, a suburb in Santo Domingo.  Los Alcarrizos is regarded as a tough neighborhood, but that has not slowed Santiago's approach of providing love and transformation.  Nearly 1,200 children attend school here.   These are the fortunes of change.....the doctors, lawyers, engineers and business people of Santo Domingo's tomorrow.  You'll find out more about them in a future writing.  For now, I'll leave you with a snippet of my initial impression.....God is at Work here.  Slowly, perhaps what the locals would say.....in Dominican time, but change is taking place.  And a key word used here is HOPE.

Before I left for this mission trip, my wife, Joanne, asked our small group about the notion of how God placed us on this earth.  "Do you ever think about how God knew where we were going to be born?  Have you ever thought about how fortunate you were to be born in the United States.....and why Nigeria wasn't your place of origin".  At the time, her comment made me stop and think, but not long enough.  Not nearly long enough.  In fact, within the first 24 hours here in Los Alcarrizos, I had a discussion with mission member Wayne Blythe about the very same thing.  Wayne related a story of asking some American men friends of his, if they ever prayed thanking God where they were born.  Their response was probably much like mine, reflective to a point.

And then along came this mission trip that opened my ears and eyes further.  Pictures can only show so much.  It's when you can feel, breathe and  experience something..... that God provides a finishing touch.

On the second day here, Santiago took the group for a walk through the community.  Before we departed, he pointed out that we should keep the thought in our heads that what we were about to see in living conditions, was not "how they live".....but "who they are".

Home is what you make of it.....
So, here I sit as we enter day number three....curious, questioning and processing.  I find myself with nagging thoughts.  "How would my love be for Jesus if I lived here?"......"would the rooster crowing be a signal for me to offer a quick denial, just like Peter".  If, and I say that very cautiously, if I wanted to move here, would I be "accepted?" or even a heavier thought....."would God speak to me to pack up my belongings and head out"?

For years I've felt a calling to sports ministry.  What does that look like?  Gosh, I'm not sure.  Is this it?.....time will tell.  I do know one thing though.  Each morning, as 23 mission members and I wake up,  we will be challenged by some roosters offering a challenge for the day.  That is, unless we decide to take matters into our own hands and dispose of the little two legged critters,

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Sunday, our group loaded onto a bus and traveled three hours to Las Charcas, site of a baseball project Project 52 is are embarking on for this fall.  Members of our group and locals played a "fun", but competitive  couple of softball games. Nearly everyone (from our group) came away with some sunburn, a few had scrapes on their legs from sliding into base (thinking they were much younger than they actually were) and everyone enjoyed fellowship.

As the day concluded, Bill Clark from Project 52, presented a complete set of baseball uniforms (jerseys, pants, hats, socks, belts, etc.) to the local players.  They'll now be able to go forth as one, representing Las Charcas in a very dapper red/gray attire.  Additionally, the local youth manager was presented with baseball equipment (gloves, catchers gear, bats, etc.) courtesy of donations from the Urbandale and Dallas Center-Grimes Little Leagues.

One Team in the End....

It was a day humbling for both groups.  One where cultural differences was replaced with a common theme.  Sharing the love of Jesus.........


YGG,

John    

Thursday, February 21, 2013

MISSION TRIP DOMINICAN REPUBLIC STYLE.....

The day is finally here.  After months and months of planning the Project 52 mission trip to the Dominican Republic has arrived.  Altogether, 24 excited and willing participants will be leaving Des Moines on Friday morning for a mission and baseball project.  Of course today, (Thursday) Mother Nature had to show her nastiness and dump some snow on the situation, but we've been able to rearrange things and will set sail regardless.

Initial work will take place in Santo Domingo at the Christian School that Lighthouse Projects has a hand in.  There will be numerous building projects as well as opportunities to share the gospel.  And then there is the baseball portion of the trip.  Here's the skinny.....

I'd like you to take a look at the picture below and imagine in your wildest dreams what sport is played there?  If you thought motocross, you're wrong.  If your guess is golf, you'd be off base too.  Try baseball.  That's right baseball.  And not what you'd call a "Field of Dreams" site at the present time, either. Is it?

It's a what kind of field?
The ballfield you see is located in Las Charcas in the Dominican Republic.  Population, 9,254.  Now imagine again, what it would be like trying to play your country's favorite sport if you were one of the youth of that community (over 2,000 by some estimates) .  Let's not mention the lack of a backstop or fence.  Or dugouts.  Or grass.  But let's focus on  what is there...... rocks.  Not small pebbles mind you.  But rocks the size that many in the United States would use for accent in their gardens.


Let's take the imagery one step further.  It's the bottom of the ninth in the hotly contested ballgame at Rockbottom Field.  Two out.  Bases loaded.  Home  team is trailing 4-2.  There's a line drive hit to the shortstop's feet.  He reaches for the ball, but it caroms off a small boulder and ricochets to the third base foul line and three runs score.  Game over.  If you're the home team you're happy, but if you're the visitor you're pretty upset to lose that way. These are the elements Las Charcas' youth play with.  Not because they want to, but they have to.  There is no other place to play.  For now....

To understand what baseball means to Las Charcas, local organizer Cristian Santiago, had this to say, "baseball is the most popular sport in all of the Dominican Republic.  Building a field for this community would attract baseball teams from up to 3 hours away and would be the pride of Las Charcas!"

Las Charcas in its present state


The cost of the project is estimated to be $49,780 and is broken down as follows:

                                                                                       Cost

Cement blocks ( 8900 at $1 each)                             $    8900
Sand needed (9 truckloads at $900)                                8100
Gravel needed (8 truckloads at $900)                              7200
Bleachers  $12,000                                                        12,000
Fencing                                                                            8,000
Bags of cement (620 needed at $9 each)                       5,580

Las Charcas' "Field of Dreams" 

It will be awesome to see what God has in store for us.....and even more, in how he will change us.

Should you be interested in finding out more about the baseball project email me at john@p52.org or call me at 515-238-5165.  

YGG,

John

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE


A good friend of mine, Bill Clark  from Project 52, offered up a newsletter this past week about Perspective.  How often do we get off kilter and lose that.  We tend to think our life is made better by material things.  And how wrong is that?  We see it time and time again.  Below, you'll find a story from this past week that points out the importance of doing things for people and giving back with a perspective in mind.


After watching their son survive a pair of military stints in Kuwait and Afghanistan, Andrew Steiner's parents were devastated when he was killed helping the victims of a minor Brown County traffic crash last month. But Douglas and Nicole Steiner took solace in one fact: Steiner died the way he lived, helping other people.

Andrew Steiner, a 26-year-old U.S. Army reservist, was driving to Howard just after midnight Jan. 27 when he and a friend came upon the scene of a minor crash. As they checked on the vehicles' occupants, another vehicle slammed into the wreckage, launching Steiner over an overpass railing about 30 feet away.

Andrew Steiner's funeral featured a full military send-off, with fellow members of his reserve unit, Desert Storm veterans and members of the Patriot Guard paying their respects and recalling his work overseas.  The military presence, along with warm messages on Steiner's Facebook page, brought comfort to the family, his parents said.


"These days, you hear about young people dying from drugs, alcohol, suicide," Douglas Steiner said. "Andy was trying to do something good, because he had a warm heart. And people who didn't even know him have been giving us warm thoughts. I think that helps."  "We're proud of him", said Douglas Steiner.  "The fact is, Andy is deceased because he was trying to do something good.  I wouldn't look at this any different than if Andy was overseas and his life was taken there".    


Then there is the story of  Project 52's tree planting for two young men from the Rosamond, California area, Brett Wallis and Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Lopez.  "According to Clark, "each tree planting is unique, but these plantings were truly an amazing experience".

After the trees were put in the ground, the families of Brett and Joseph presented Project 52 with dog tags that showed pictures of Brett and Joseph on the front and their favorite Bible verses on the back.

Two Men Who Have Perspective, Brett and LCpl Joseph 

The verse for Brett was Philippians 4:13.  " I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength".  The verse for Joseph, who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan, was particularly fitting.  Joshua 1:19.  "I will be strong and courageous.  I will not be terrified, or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go".

The Project 52 newsletter goes on to say, "in addition, Joseph's father, Arthur Pratti, shared this final text message he received from Joseph before he died.  We were floored when we read it, and it speaks directly to the importance of always keeping things in perspective each and every day".  Before you read the text and again afterward, ask yourself this.....If you knew you might die tomorrow, what kind of perspective would you have today?  What things would truly matter?      

"Hey Dad,

I'm flying out of Leather Neck tonight to my area of operation so this is the last time I will be texting you.  I have been reading the Bible every day and talking to God every day and it's been helping me a lot so far.

If for some reason something happens to me and I don't come home, make sure Mom understands I have a relationship with God now and I'm OK.

I love you Dad, see you in 7 months.

I  ask you.....does that put a different perspective on life to you?  Are you finding it a little difficult to swallow about now?  Can you even pretend to feel what that father must feel, knowing....that his son is safe with our Father.  And that his death, while so difficult to accept, is something he can can come to grips with.  I hope so....because when I read it, it choked me up big-time.  And in some fashion, I hope you too.

YGG,

John    


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

FEARLESS TO THE END

Everyone needs time to refuel the engines.  Perhaps even a opportunity to look around and see others and what they're doing.  And it's also an occasion when you can take a look and challenge yourself and your creativity.   It's been since December 18th that I last posted.  I had to look for myself what I last wrote about because whatever it was, it flat out wasted me.  Both figuratively and literally. I had no ambition to write and even less to talk about.  Go figure. When I  took a look at my archives, it was readily apparent why I felt this way.  The subject was Newtown, Connecticut and the massacre that took place of the schoolchildren, teachers and administrators.

It's taken me 35 days to get back on the soapbox.  Not that I haven't been reading, compiling and noticing the world around me.  But now it's time to get back to work......

Over the Holidays, I grabbed a book off the library shelf about a Navy Seal by the name of Adam Brown.  It looked like an interesting read, but little did I know, how interesting.  It took me a day and a half to read.  I simply couldn't put it down.    

Here in a nutshell is the storyline.... "Fearless is the story of a man of extremes, whose determination was fueled by faith, family and the love of a woman.  It's about a man who waged a war against his own worst impulses and persevered to reach the top tier of the U.S. military.  Always the first to volunteer for the most dangerous assignment, Adam Brown's final act of bravery led to the ultimate sacrifice".

From Someone Many Had Given Up On....To One Simply "Fearless"  
Author Eric Blehm wrote a phenomenal book....a must read.  Blehm portrays Brown in about as transparent manner as you can get....with all the good and the bad and everything in between.  But more importantly, we see how Brown overcame his demons.  In a brief description Blehm writes, "when Navy Seal Adam Brown woke up on March 17, 2010, he didn't know he would die that night in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan-but he was ready.  In a letter to his children, not meant to be seen unless the worst happened, he wrote, "I'm not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this earth, because I know no matter what, nothing can take my Spirit from me".

Adam Brown is a Navy Seal Team Six member....but he is much more than that.  Read "Fearless" and you'll see what I mean.  Foremost, "LIFE OFFERS US CHOICES.....SOME PEOPLE STUMBLE DOWN THE WRONG PATH.......SOME PEOPLE NEVER RETURN.....AND SOME CHOOSE TO RISE TO A HIGHER CALLING".

So what do you feel like today...."Fearless"...."Worn Out"....."On Fire"....."Depressed"....."Passionate".  Regardless of what word you think best describes you, the capitalized words above should be a life lesson to us all.

About a year ago, a woman in our church told me I was "bountiful".  Okay.  Just what does that mean, I thought.  I made a quick dash to the computer when I got home to find out for sure.

"Bountiful"....plentiful, ample, giving freely, generous.....Big Hearted.  Frankly, I was a little embarrassed to think I didn't respond  to her statement knowing what it meant.  I knew it was something big or good, at least I think that's what she had in mind.  Or was it the city in Utah by the same name?  Bountiful.

Hopefully you've been called something "good" you can lean on.  A word that will be an encouraging note to others.  Like Adam Brown said.  "I'm not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this earth, because I know no matter what, nothing can take my Spirit from me".

Amen......

YGG,

John