Sunday, March 24, 2013


"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 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" see how much it transformed some of my friends and to hear them talk about the same things I felt just the year 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:


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".


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. 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.



"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


"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 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 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.....



Monday, March 4, 2013


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 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 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.



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


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