Thursday, February 28, 2013


"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



Tuesday, February 26, 2013


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 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!!!

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 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



Monday, February 25, 2013


"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 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,


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.........



Thursday, February 21, 2013


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:


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 or call me at 515-238-5165.  



Tuesday, February 12, 2013


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.