Thursday, December 31, 2009

A time to be proud...

When I got to Ecuador, I decided that I wanted to go to a church that none of the other missionaries went to. The church I decided to go to was a difficult one for me. There are many Sundays that I don´t agree with what is preached and to be honest, it is a constant fight to stay there and see it as my ministry.
For the past 2 years, I have tried to encourage the youth leader to see outside the walls of the church, which was also his desire. The problem was, it was not the desire of many of the church leaders. Trying to convince them to do an ¨outreach¨ was like hitting your head against a brick wall: you get nowhere and it´s more pain than what it´s worth.
Yesterday all my prayers and desires manifested themselves in the form of an awesome event that my church put on called, ¨Gracias Dios¨ (Thank God). I was amazed at the quality of music, theater and preaching that was presented last night in San Sebastian Plaza. They got OUT of the walls of the church and got IN with the people. Tears blurred my vision as I saw the thousands of people watching the Lord glorified as they presented HIS WORD instead of our church. The name of chruch was not even mentioned until the end of the program. I almost cried as the pastor said, ¨This is not about any religion. This is about glorifying Jesus who is the Son of God and Savior of the world.¨
In the 2 years I have gone to church here, I never would have guessed that this day would come... but it did. And I was bursting with pride as I saw Jesus lifted high above any church name or single person. Gracias Dios for allowing me to see fruit from this church you have put me in!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

If you didn´t have a tree, would you still have Christmas?

If you didn´t have lights and Christmas carols, would you still have Christmas?
If you didn´t have snow and cold, would you still have Christmas?
If you didn´t have presents and twinkling candles, would you still have Christmas?
If you didn´t have commercialism telling you to buy stuff, would you still have Christmas?
If you didn´t have sweaters with ugly blinking trees... oh wait, everyone wishes that that would just stay away from Christmas...

The reason I ask all of this is because I don´t. Yep, that´s right. As I walk down my very normal street, I see people going about their normal business. When I leave the grocery store, I don´t hear the friendly ¨Merry Christmas¨ nor is there snow. Instead I am wearing flip flops and t-shirts and hearing the normal sounds of techno blaring from a nearby car. Is it still Christmas? I wish I could say YES... Christmas is in the heart, not in the presents or the decorations, but instead I´m going to be honest and say it doesn´t feel like Christmas.
But one thing it is, it is time to celebrate... why? Not for the trees or the lights but because many years ago God decided that it was time. It was time to give up his very precious Son so that I could have eternal life. As the clock strickes midnight tonight, I won´t be with my family like I have been for the past 26 years, but I will be thankful because Christ came so that every year I have had and will have can be lived for his glory.

Merry Christmas from the other side of the globe... may Jesus show you what Christmas is all about.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas... bad timing

I am a big planner. I like it all planned so we can have the least amount of stress as possible. But there are always those little bumps... that sometimes look more like huge mountains.
By now, most of you know that I love to tell stories... things that happen to me or people around me. This morning I was reading Jesus´ story; how the whole thing got started. And I started thinking about Mary. I don´t think she was very much like me.
BUT if she was, I think Jesus would have ruined her Christmas. I think her thought process would have gone a little like this:
1. I just got engaged! Why did God have to chose NOW to do this whole virgin birth thing. Do you know what he´s going to say?! This is not going to be pretty.
2. I´m about to pop. There is no way I am going to Bethlehem just because Ceasar thought it would be a good time to take a census! A donkey? Really? Give me a jet plane and I´ll consider it.
3. Of course, we have to come to Bethlehem on the busiest day of the year. And, of course the baby decides right NOW is the time.
4. A stable? Hay is itchy and I don´t want the first thing my child sees to be a cow.
God, this is the worst timing ever! I want my warm bed, my mom´s help, and my home town.

When you think about it, it looks like the worst timing ever. But in reality if it weren´t at that appointed time in that specific place, prophecy would not have been fulfilled.
How many times do I complain that things are not according to my calendar? This Christmas season, may we stop seeing things as inturrptions, and start seeing them through God´s eyes... as Divine Appointments.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Do you want the gum?

On Saturday I got the opportunity to share with my youth group for the first time. If you know my story at all, you understand that speaking to a bunch of teenagers is nothing new to me. I’ve been doing this for a long time… but it was my first time to do it in Spanish. I had it all done and ready to go… I had 4 people read over it and correct it… I had read it a ton of times and was as ready as I would ever be. But, as usual, I was still nervous.
Something very unusual for me is that that nervousness didn’t go away… it stuck with me until the moment I finished. During the whole deal, I was sweating so bad, I had to brush my hair back because it was actually sticking to my face!
But it was a great time. It’s amazing how true it is that the Lord loves to use our weakness to show his strength. Hold on, I gotta back track for a second. I also felt this type of nervousness when I baked my first thanksgiving turkey a couple weeks ago. Its one thing to do something like that for your family who has no choice but to love you, it is something completely different when you do it for 15 people you don’t really know. I finally told God, with the turkey and my message… Jesus, it is all you. If this turkey/message flies, I will give you all the glory because it is you and you only who did it. If it doesn’t, I’m blaming you as well. 
As I was in worship before I got up to speak, I was talking to the Lord about my nervousness… he didn’t take away my nervousness, but he did give me something…. I realized that I didn’t have one of my classic illustrations that I always use and He gave me an illustration that worked amazing with my message. The Lord used what I had… in one pocket I had a piece of gum; in the other $10. In the middle of my message I called a kid up and said, “I have a present for you. It’s a piece of gum (and I held out the gum). You can either have this gum or you can have what’s in my other pocket. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I am going to tell you it’s good. The question is, do you trust me enough to believe that I want good things for you?” The cool thing is that the kid actually thought about it for a second… but in the end picked the pocket present and got $10.
I think about how that has been God’s question to me time after time… “I have such good plans for you, but are you going to trust me enough to believe that I want good things for you? Would you rather have the thing you can SEE now or wait for my best later?”
I’ll take the $10 over the piece of gum any day… and like I told him I would, I give Him all the glory for all the good that happened that day and every day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The people who have shaped me…

No one knows you better than the people you live with. Why? Because they see you in your pj’s with buffy eyes after crying and love you anyways.
I have had the privilege of being known and loved by some of the most amazing roommates I could have ever asked for. Each one of them has become a part of my family and each has left their mark on my life. This is my tribute to them.
When I met Candace, I thought she was crazy. My first impressions were right. Her craziness makes her extremely unique and one of my favorite people to talk to. I just found a note that she left with a plate of cookies for me the day that I got to Loja; just a little word of encouragement and welcome, even though she had only gotten here 2 weeks before. Candace and I lived and worked together for an entire year without killing each other. When she left I felt like a part of me was missing. Thank you friend for your love and acceptance.
Now when I met Nicole, I thought she was quiet and timid. Nicole comes off as being very put together and slightly quiet. Boy, was I wrong! Nicole is really one of the weirdest people I know. She loves to laugh, take pictures, be her in her pj’s (which have different levels… you cannot leave the house in 1st level pj’s but you can in 2nd tier pj’s because they are more like sweatpants) and has the biggest heart for people. Collie and I lived together for a year and a half and she probably got to see the worst part of me. She was my “go to” person when I was losing my mind over the management of El Sendero. She always let me talk, rant, cry or laugh with a knowing and compassionate look. I could not have done the past year without her. Only you know how much I miss and appreciate you.
Those two probably got to know me the best because of the length of time we spent together, but there were others who I desperately love and appreciate. Kate and Gabi were the first two I lived with. They taught me so much about laughter and joy. No one can forget my roommate that stuck out like a sore thumb in Ecuador, Erin (long blonde hair, blues eyes and pale skin) with her infamous quote, “I hate milk in a bag!” And my most recent roommate, Britney… I met B when she came with a short term team, and she ended up coming back for 3 months and staying with me. I saw her grow and change into the most amazing woman of God.
When Britney and Nicole left in October, I realized how much I couldn’t have done the past 2 years without each and every one of the above ladies. Each one of you has shaped me into the woman I am today and I am eternally grateful for your friendships and love.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey in Ecuador...

My mom has a million and one traditions... for birthdays, Christmas and yes, Thanksgiving. One of them is inviting a whole bunch of people over and we all have to write in a book the thing we are thankful for that year. I used to think all my mom´s traditions were quite silly, but the older I get the more I appreciate them. So this year I decided to carry on her tradition.
It started with talking to Adam and Emily, from the peace core about their plans. When I found out they had none, a plan began to form in my mind. I pitched the plan to Steven (another short termer) and Jessica (a Christian who works with World Teach) and we were all in agreement to have a big thanksgiving dinner for mostly the American populatoin here in Loja. My numbers started at 7 and before all was said and done we had 16 people sitting down together to share our 11 kilo (24 pound) turkey!
During that time, I had everyone do my mom´s tradition and write down what they were thankful for and it blessed me to hear that they were thankful for El Sendero and the comfort it gave them away from home and for the thanksgiving dinner to share with people who understood them.
We made some awesome connections and friendships are in the process of forming. So this thanksgiving, I would say I am thankful for the opportunity to minister to, not just Ecuadorians but anyone the Lord would put in my path.

Monday, November 23, 2009

To be seen…

My little sister is probably my favorite person in the world. She sees people that no one else sees… she always has. Ever since we were kids, she has seen the lonely, the poor, the hurting while everyone else walks by, whether purposefully ignoring the situation or in blind ignorance. She came to visit me here in Loja last May and even then, she saw someone I didn’t… a lowly woman begging on the street corner (see blog… )
Since then, I have gotten more than one opportunity to love on and speak with this woman. The problem is, she has no teeth and is very difficult to understand. Yesterday I ran into her again in front of our supermarket begging for a few coins. When I saw her, I gave her a wave and there appeared the biggest toothless grin you’ve ever seen. As I began my side of the conversation, she began to ramble on in incomprehensible babble. I just held her hand and shook my head, feeling quite bad that I understood very little of what she said. I promised to come back in just a moment with something for her from the grocery store.
When I came back out with bag in hand, she gave me the look my grandma gives me when she hasn’t seen me for a long time. It’s the look of sheer joy as she held on to me. I knew she was grateful for the food, but I think she was more grateful that someone SAW her. She asked me if I could bring her a picture of me the next time I come and I told her I could do one better. I squatted down next to her and we took the above picture.
This morning my Bible reading was in Acts where Peter and John had their own run-in with a man begging in the temple (Acts 3:1). Peter and John were going to the temple to worship, not to heal someone, but they did not discount an opportunity to show Jesus’ love. “Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’… ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Tears blurred my vision as I read the story thinking of my little lady. Jesus offers her something that no one else does… to be SEEN and known by the Creator of the universe.
It all started because my sister came down for one week and saw someone I may never have seen. I can promise you that this woman’s life is different because of it. Please pray that she will see how the Healer of all things wants to heal her heart, not just her body.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pray and watch it happen…

Andrea is 24 years old and a single mom. Her son is 6 years old. Her dad is the pastor of my church. As she relayed her story of an 18 year-old telling Christian parents she was pregnant , she told me that her family was really supportive. But that no one really understood her struggles as a single mom: trying to raise a child by yourself, being lonely, wondering if you’ll ever find someone who will love you and your child. It’s even difficult in the church… It’s not like you fit into the “Women’s Ministries” at church because you’re still in your 20’s without a husband, just a kid. But really you’re no longer a “Youth” because you have a CHILD and responsibility. This is when we started talking about the idea to start a single mom’s ministry. She got so excited about the idea of having a place where moms can come, take a break from their kids, find people who understand their struggles, and a Savior who relates to their every need. Since then, I have posed the idea to several single moms that I know and each one has responded with joy and a few tears.
When I was in Bolivia the desire grew to start this ministry. Since then, I’ve realized that I probably won’t be the one to start it, but I do want to be the one to start pushing it.
This week, there is a counseling conference on how to minister to single moms and teenage girls. I knew that Andrea would be the perfect person to go, but I could not get a hold of her. Last night at El Sendero I told the Lord, Look I don’t have the time to go and find her, but I really feel like YOU want her to be at this conference… so you’re going to have to bring her here. At 9:00, she walked in the door. I jumped around like a little kid, I was so excited. I told her about the conference and she was so excited! She’s not only going to come, but she’s going to bring her friend who has the heart for the same thing.
This idea is the Lord’s. It’s exciting to watch him grow and sustain it. Pray for Andrea and other women that the Lord is going to bring to start and sustain this ministry. It has very little to do with any of us… just pray and watch it happen!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Scars: something to be hidden or shown off?

Have you ever compared scars with someone? I have some weird and funny stories to go with my scars. For example, the crater I have on my left big toe. This is one of my more recent scars from our beach trip to Peru. My toe got run over by a huge rock in the ocean and then got a whole bunch of sand stuck in the heart-shaped crater, so we had to dig it out with tweezers. All that trauma on my toe made it sensitive for at least a month and its still there 3 months later!
Scars aren’t just outward… each one can point to their emotional scars and express how their heart has been wounded. I was thinking today about my decision to take on the management of El Sendero last year. I remember very vividly, Jesus telling me that I would leave scarred, but that he would put me back together. It scared me to death to think how those wounds would come. Looking back on those 8 months, I can examine each cutting word, each time my pride was broken down, each friendship changed or lost, each tear that was shed, and each time I said I was done and couldn’t take one more step forward… each scar. But each one of those scars reminds me how Jesus carried me and put me back together.
“Don’t we constantly expect people to heal from life’s beatings and lose their scars? I’m somehow comforted to know that Christ still has his.” – Beth Moore.
As I think on Christ’s scars, I realize that the reason they are so important is that we are reminded what he went through for our salvation and our scars are important so that we can remember that we are never too broken that he can’t fix us.
Thank you Jesus for my scars; reminding me constantly of MY inadequacy and YOUR sufficiency.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How often do you get to witness something this beautiful...

A couple months ago one of the girls at the cafe and I were talking about hearing the voice of God. She´s been a believer for a while and was expressing frustration about not being able to hear his ¨voice.¨ ¨Is it audible? Or is it just something I feel? How do I know that if I follow it, it will be good?¨ We talked about how the Lord speaks through people, circumstances, his Word and prayer. She still walked away a bit frustrated with how to hear Him. So I challenged her to tell the Lord that she was willing to be obedient and wanting to hear from Him.
Today as I was walking home from church I ran into my friend standing in an open doorway. As I waved hi from across the street, she called me over. I saw in her hand a large bag of food. With a trembling voice she said to me... ¨The Lord keeps putting the little man who lives here on my heart. I felt like I needed to bring him food, but I don´t know him and I don´t if he is going to accept my gift. Will you ask with me?¨ As the little man came to the door, my friends quivering hand held out the bag of groceries as her little voice said, ¨I know you don´t know me, but I feel like I´m supposed to give you this food. God bless you.¨ As we walked away she began to cry. ¨The Lord has been putting that man on my heart for a week. Thank you for sharing this moment with me. I guess that´s what listening to the voice of the Lord means...¨
I write this story with tears in my eyes knowing that the Lord is moving in this girl´s life causing her to not just be a hearer of the Word but a doer.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A New Normal…

Before I left for Ecuador, I was talking to one of my friends about all the things I was freaking out about… mostly Spanish to be real honest! And he told me, “Don’t worry. It’s just a New Normal.” I just gave him that ‘I have no idea what you are talking about’ look. And he said, “Look, think about all the times you started something. How nervous were you the first time you stepped into Starbucks on your first day of work? And now its no big deal. You could do it in your sleep.” He had a point. At some point in every stage of life there is a New Normal. Something that is New right now but by the time you leave it, it’ll feel as Normal as breathing.
Today I bought my ticket to come back to the United States and I was having a hard time breathing. People keep asking what I am planning on doing once I come back and to be honest I just don’t know. There is nothing I am feeling extremely passionate about doing and to be honest, that scares me. But just last night I was reading my journal from when I first got here to Ecuador and I actually had a good chuckle. It was all so NEW; learning Spanish, making friends, living in a foreign country. I actually wrote: I am so proud of myself. I walked home all by myself today. Now it feels so normal, I think of it LESS than I think of breathing! It used to be a new that scared me to death… but now it’s my life that I’m having a hard time leaving. Moving back to the States feels like I’m starting all over again… with the new. Hopefully one day it’ll feel normal again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maybe it’s time to stop being a saint…

A Sunday morning is such a good time to just sit and listen. I think about what Jesus said… the Sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the Sabbath. SO last Sunday I didn’t go to church… yep I’m a heathen. My favorite place in the world on Sunday mornings is on the roof of my house. There isn’t anyone in my house. All the good church people have already left for church and all the rest are sleeping off their hang over (hey, I’m just being honest). All that to say, this Sunday, I went up on the roof at about 10 in the morning and as I sat down to have my time with Jesus, he told me to listen. I decided to write down all the things I heard… here’s my list:

Birds singing (2 different kinds!)
Church Bells
Wind through the trees
Door slamming
Cars racing down the street
Engines roaring
Water rushing
Dogs whining
Music blaring

If you were to sit on your roof, I’m sure you’re hear something different, but no matter where in the world you are there is noise. Whether that noise is coming from within or without depends on who you are and where you’re at. Either way, the Lord is probably trying to speak to you the same way he was trying to speak to me…Slow down, close your eyes, listen, be still, be silent. Allow me to speak. I love you. More than you can comprehend, imagine or dream. My love goes beyond yours for your family, ministry or significant other. What I say I love you more than life itself, they aren’t just words, I proved it by doing just that… laying down my life ALL FOR YOU.
Maybe you, like me need to spend some time being a heathen… stop doing things FOR God and starting getting to KNOW God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Too much luggage...

A team of 15 from Brookwood arrived in Quito on Thursday, October 8. I couldn’t help but jump for joy when I saw them! That night as I laid in bed, I also couldn’t help but mull over the details of the following days in my mind, including how to get SO much luggage on the next flight without getting charged $200. This is something I had been mulling over and trying to figure out for the past couple of weeks. I thought… well I could send Daniel to the counter because he doesn’t speak any Spanish, so it’ll be so frustrating to them that they’ll just let us through. But then I thought that was pretty mean to the people at the front desk and to Daniel! OR I could just pretend I couldn’t speak Spanish… but then I figured that was a little deceitful.
As I laid there, the Lord said, Walk up to the front desk, put down all the passports and let me handle the rest. I thought I heard him wrong. There is no way it could be that simple.
The next morning before we ever went into the airport, I got the team together and said, “Look guys, we have about 20 kilos over each person… so we’re just going to have to pray and let the Lord do the rest.” We prayed, walked in, and I set the passports on the counter. The lady behind the counter marked each piece of luggage with weight and everything. Every single bag was over and we had about 3 extra bags, on top of 3 guitars and a keyboard. She handed me the tickets and said, “Have a good flight.”
That was it… all my fretting and the Lord already had it all figured out. Sometimes the simplest answer is best one.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A dead fish over chicken and rice…

This weekend after the team left, I got to spend a few days in Quito resting up from the 8 days of ongoing work. One night as we were walking home from dinner, we saw the same lady we had seen going to dinner sitting on a little wooden plank. My heart broke for this woman and we decided to go and buy her a little dinner.
My heart was bursting with joy as we offered her chicken and rice… my heart broke as she scowled and refused the offer. I asked her if maybe her family would like it. Through gritted teeth she said, “This is all my family needs,” as she pulled out a dead, gross fish from under the board she was sitting on. We walked away with a wonderful dinner as she sat there clutching her old fish.
As we walked down the road, it hit me… this is all of us. Here is Jesus offering beautiful, delicious grace, but we would rather cling to our own way of doing it. Instead of graciously accepting the free gift that he offers, our pride makes us hold onto our works and what we can do to “earn” our own salvation. Oh how it broke my heart to walk away from this women… but just a block down was a little boy, Joe begging for food. He hungrily and excitedly accepted our small offering. As we walked away he called out to us, “Chau!” I turned around to see the biggest smile I have ever seen and a little hand stretched out to the heavens waving emphatically.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:14-15

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today I went to court....

Yep… that’s right. Today was cultural experience #197302. Here’s how it all started. In June my roommate Nicole came back from band practice with a black eye and no saxophone. She was supposed to play that weekend and was walking home after practice with the guys from the band. A car full of guys jumped out and one of the guys grabbed her sax. If you know Nicole at all, she is the most laid back person you will ever meet… UNLESS you try and steal her sax. My sassy friend fought her little heart and got a nice little shiner for her trouble. As they drove off, a friend of hers pulled up and they all jumped in the car and had themselves a nice little car chase in Loja! It turns out the guys got caught at the bus terminal trying to rob some other lady. What does all this have to do with me you ask?
NOTHING… except that we had to go in and testify that the sax did indeed belong to Nicole.
Yesterday (3 month later!) I received a phone call asking for Nicole. I explained to them that she wasn’t here and the man explained to me that she had to be here to testify. I then explained to him that she couldn’t because she was living in a different country and not coming back. He then informed me that I had to go in AGAIN to say that indeed the sax belonged to Nicole, even though I had already done that 3 months ago.
All that led up to this morning when Colin, Steven and I (the “witnesses” to Nicole’s sax) had to go in and testify in front of a judge and in front of the guys who robbed Nicole. The entire time I was completely nervous thinking that I wouldn’t understand the “formal” words, but it turned out to be quite funny having to stand up with my right hand up saying that I would tell the truth in Spanish (first time I’d ever done that in English or Spanish!) and explain why Nicole no longer lived in Ecuador.
Yeah… as Steven put it, I think we’ve now been through every cultural experience that there is… funerals, robberies, weddings, baby showers, and now the judicial system. Oh the life I lead :).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Miracles keep happening...

In about a week and a half I have a team coming from Greenville, South Carolina... Brookwood Church. I love these guys and I am super excited to see what the Lord does with them this year. I think back to last year when I didn't know them yet. The Lord must have given Daniel (the leader of the group) an extra measure of grace when he was told a 26 year old was planning his trip... thanks for believing in me Daniel! And now I think about this year and I can barely contain my excitement!
Here's why: normally the planning is the most stressful part of any trip. As I was sitting at the bus terminal in Bolivia, I started thinking about everything I needed to do to make it happen. I had in my head that we would have a big concert in San Sebastian (the plaza in front of El Sendero), but as I sat and prayed about it, the Lord said NO.
SO... I started brainstorming with Jesus of all the things we could do. When I got back to Loja, I was talking to Colin about one of my ideas to have a concert in the Tecnica (the Catholic University). Several people had told me that there was no way I was ever going to get a concert there, but as we talked about it, the Lord brought to my mind my friend Matt. Matt is an English guy in charge of the English conversation club at the Tecnica. I decided he would be the perfect person to talk to... and 5 minutes later he walked in. We talked for about 4 hours about all SORTS of stuff and he said he would love to help me out. I was thinking that maybe we would be in a back auditorium or something and before I knew it, he asked me... "How does 11am in the cafeteria sound?" First of all, the Tecnica is Catholic so the fact that they would LET us in is a miracle. Second of all, the cafeteria is RIGHT in the center of campus. Third of all, 11am is right in between everyone's classes when they hang out! I was not expecting THAT to say the least.
On top of this miracle, the Lord has BROUGHT the people I need to talk to into the cafe as I was working. One day I needed to talk to the pastor of one church and the youth pastor of another church... that evening they BOTH came in within 30 minutes of one another. He has provided people to cook, bake and show the team around. He has provided translators and speakers without me even raising a finger.
The Lord has provided opportunities I could never have imagined and people I could never have asked for! Seriously, I CANNOT wait to see what's going to happen...

Monday, September 21, 2009

4 Months from TODAY...

Today is September 21st... Four months from today I will be making my way back to the United States. To be honest, it scares me even more than coming here in the first place. I think back 2 years ago when I was getting on the plane and I am just amazed at how the Lord has chosen to use me. I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!?
In honor of the time the Lord has given me here, I would like to share something that happened this weekend. Those of you who have kept up with me will remember my friend Leydi. I met Leydi about a year and a half ago and since then the Lord has been working in her life. For the past 8 months or so, she has showed absolutely no interest in the Bible, the gospel or anything in between. That is when the Lord told me to back off. I have shared the gospel with her, she knows the truth but has no interest in hearing it. The Lord told me to love her, pray for her but to stay back until she was ready to move forward.
A miracle happened this week. She came to the cafe to let me know she is pregnant and she is getting married in 2 weeks. But bigger than that, she said that while I was in Bolivia she tried to call me... she wanted to go to church with me. I almost fell off of my chair. I told her I would love to have her come with me to church next Sunday and we've agreed. It's a date.
I have known the Lord is at work in Leydi's life since the moment I met her... I have prayed for her, with her and have asked you to do the same. I am asking once more that during this time of change, the Lord would move in her life in a mighty way and that she would come to know HIM as her Savior.
As I think about saying goodbye to Loja, it makes me want to cry... but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord brought me here for many reasons and that His Word does not return void.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If he says pray, you PRAY... if he says run, you RUN!

What would you do if the Lord asked you to do something weird... that was my dilemma many times during my trip to and from Bolivia. I will give you two examples...
Number one... I had arrived in Santa Cruz at 2 am where I was warmly greeted by an immigration officer wanting $135 from me for a visa ONLY because I was a US citizen. After I had paid, he told me that he could not put the visa in my passport because I did not have a blank page in my passport. After much pleading, he put it in the back (though he informed me that he shouldnt have). After a goodnight sleep, I spent the day with Debbie and Graham Frith, SIM missionaries who started El Alfarero (one of the reasons I went to Bolivia). At 3pm, with plenty of time, we got in the car to make the quick 20 minute trip to the airport. When I arrived there, the man behind the counter informed me I was at the wrong airport and there was no way I was going to make my plane. As we ran back to the car, I began to pray. I only had 3 and a half days in Sucre to get to know the cafe and if I missed this flight, I would only have 2 and a half days. Graham informed me that we would try but it was pretty much inevitable that I would miss my flight, seeing that the journey across town was 40 minutes. By this time it was 3:15 and my plane was leaving at 4:00.
As we sped along the road, the Lord told me to pray, and not just to myself, out loud. Mind you, I had just met these people a little more than 12 hours before. But the Lord would not let it go, so I asked them if it was ok and I prayed... more like begged the Lord to make it possible.
We came barrelling into the parking lot and I jumped out of the car as Debbie grabbed my suitcase. I saw a sign that said, Must be checked in 20 minutes before the plane takes off... I threw my passport down on the counter and said, "Please tell me I made it." The man looked at his watch and said, "You made it by 2 MINUTES." Thank you Jesus.

Story number two... on my way BACK to Ecuador, I had to change flights in Lima, Peru. I only had one hour to get to my next flight and when we landed in Lima I realized the flight was a bit late, so really I only had 45 minutes to get to my next flight. While I was waiting for everyone to get off the plane, the Lord told me "Run." And I thought to myself... really?? I still have a bit of time, I will be fine... not to mention, I am going to look like an idiot running through the airport. But he kept speaking to my heart, "Run." So as soon as I got off the plane, I started to do my fastest speed walk I could. Everyone around me, as suspected, looked at me like I was crazy. As I rounded the corner for the security check in, I looked behind me and saw a plane full of people coming from a different direction, delaying the people on MY plane for who knows how long. I barely sqeeked through security as the line went from 10 to 200 people. WOW... I should listen to the Lord more often, dont you think??
I seriously am amazed at how the Lord took care of me on this journey... from big things to small things and everything in between he watched out for me. Thank you Jesus!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Motobike experiences in Bolivia...

Mari told me that we were going to go around to the different pueblitos around San Ignacio to visit the mission churches that the Jesuits started. That sounded like an awesome adventure to me, but then she said, "Can you drive a motorbike?" So "drive" is a pretty strong word... my dad taught my sister and I how to drive a motorbike before I left for Ecuador, but I never thought I'd actually use it, especially not driving the crappy roads in Bolivia! Thankfully enough, Diego, another guy that was with us offered to try his hand at it, though he had NEVER driven one. Needless to say, this left me very nervous and holding on for dear life.
We started our little adventure at 9am, with the Bolivian sun beating down on us and mosquitoes hitting us like the front of the windshield. It was quit an adventure to say the least... and this is where the Lord began to speak to me.
For the first hour, I was having a heart attack... the roads were horrendous and I thought we were going to die at any moment. All I could do was stare at the bumps and holes in the road and pray, 'Please Lord, help us to get back in one piece.' But then the Lord said to me, why are you so consumed with the road? You're not driving. You're either going to trust the driver or you're going to get off. If you trust the driver, it means you can look at the amazing view around you and leave the driving to him." I realized that is like my relationship with my God... I am a control freak and more days I stress about next to everything going on, but the Lord was trying to say to me, "Do you trust me? Do you trust me to drive you in good places? Do you trust me to have your best in mind and keep you safe no matter what the path in front of you looks like?" So as we drove down that dirt road, I began to just trust and take in all the scenery. Can I tell you the journey was much less stressful. So now, I just need to apply this same principle to my life... trusting that my Driver will take care of me no matter what the road in front of me looks like.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You can know all the right words and miss the point entirely…

It’s interesting how I meet people here in Loja. I met Jason, a fellow American through a series of Peace Core volunteers and English teachers. He loves coming into the café for a good chicken quesadilla and tiramisu. I think it makes him feel at home. Because Jason likes coming in, he also brings in a lot of friends, new peace core people and people just passing through. Last week he brought in Lucy and Claude. They are also Peace Core workers working with an indigenous community outside of Riobamba. When they came in, they asked about the café and I told them it was mission run, which seemed to satisfy their curiosity. They ordered pie and chocolate cake, which Susi, one of our employees brought out to them. They began to ask her questions about El Sendero and us as Evangelicals.
She excitedly came up to me to tell me about the conversation and suggest me talking to them since they are native English speakers. I left the kitchen excited and wondering about what to say. I sat down with them and did what I thought Jesus would do… I asked questions. Who were they, what did they do, and what they believe. I got a charade of answers including their interest in Christianity because of the community they work with. This indigenous community used to be Catholic, but because of some slightly greedy priests, they were turned off to Catholicism and turned on to Jesus by a group of Christians who came to their village. They told me how Jesus changed these people’s lives… from the way they treated their families to their work ethic. THESE PEOPLE are what peaked the interest of these two! Who would have guessed that the Lord would bring 2 people all the way from the States to be ministered to by a community of Christians living in the middle of nowhere in Ecuador!
They went on to say that they used to be Lutherans, but then some 10-20 years ago had a spiritual awakening and became Buddhists. They pray to Buda or any other person that they look up to that could possibly help them on their journey. They believe that all paths are correct. Claude told me, “We believe in Jesus, but not that accepting him as your Savior is the only way to God. He was a good man that we should model life after.” It intrigued me that these two knew the “right words,” and yet it did little to penetrate their hearts and lives.
They continually said to me, “As a Christian you believe… but as Buddhists we believe…” After they had finished telling me their story and I had finished asking my parade of questions, I said “You keep saying, ‘As a Christian you believe…’ so can I share with you what I actually believe?” They agreed and the Lord proceeded to use my mouth to speak the truth of His Word. I tried to agree with them on any point I could, and yet not shy away from Jesus being the Only way.
Remember Jason? Yeah, he was sitting there this entire time pretending to read a magazine, but I know that he heard every word. I was trembling, more out of fear than the cold that pours over Loja every night. One thing I didn’t share about Jason… he is gay and really has no desire for things of the Lord. So as I shared the truth with these two Buddhists, I prayed that the Lord would also move in Jason’s life.
After I had finished, they thanked me for the food, said they would come back if ever through Loja and left. I know the Spirit of God was there. I know that this was a God-ordained moment… whether for Lucy, Claude or Jason I don’t know… we’ll just have to wait and see!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Joy in the Midst of Chaos

I never thought I would have this problem… TOO many people helping!? This past 2 weeks, Verbo youth group has been helping us out in order to raise money for their camp that is coming up. Luis and Vivi, a missionary couple for Ecuador and Peru have also been helping. I’ve also had a ton of younger ones wanting to help out because they are on vacation. On top of all that, our weekly volunteers are also coming in. Friday, I had 7 volunteers, plus me and another short-termer and 4 employees… needless to say, our kitchen was FULL!
The blessing comes when I get to have conversations like I had with one of our new volunteers, Kathy. She goes to my church, but I hadn’t met her before she stepped into the café to be a volunteer. She stands at about 5 feet and has the sweetest disposition one could ever ask for. She is one of eleven siblings and has been raised her entire life in the church. After hearing a little bit about her life, she asked me how I came to know Jesus… and I told her that I too was raised in the church and accepted Jesus as my Savior at age 5, BUT that my relationship with God did not become real to me until I was 15 years old. I told her about how I went to church out of habit. As soon as I started to tell my own story, I could see her get excited. “YES! That’s me! I’ve been going to church all my life but it’s only been as of recently that I’ve decided that I want to draw close to God and make it my own.” We talked a bit more about how important the Word of God is. As we talked about it being God’s love letter to us, I could see it connect in her mind and her face beamed with excitement at the prospect of knowing God intimately.
Because of the abundance of chaos in El Sendero this week, I wasn’t able to take our conversation too much further, but it is exciting to see how God has united our two hearts because of the story he has given us both. I am so excited to see what God does in and through Kathy… a young girl on a search to know the heart of God.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Goodbye to yet another awesome friend...

I hate it when people leave. I mean seriously, you just get to know someone and decide that you like them OH SO MUCH and then they leave. Boo.
This is a goodbye to my awesome friend Holly. She has only been here two months but has been a blast and a blessing to be around. With her little Spanish, I have seen her jump head first into culture, friendships and ministry. She was the one who brought Melissa and Tabitha to be such good friends and who was always getting us to do something strange. She was a great addition to our Bible study and a huge help to the Cordero de Dios youth group. She made people feel at home in the cafe and was a bright star showing off Jesus' love. She is now off to her second year of college and my prayer is that the Lord blesses her richly in all she puts her hands to. Even though I have only known her several months, I can already see that her heart for the Lord is BIG and that he is going to do BIG things in and through her life.
Holly, thank you for sharing your life with us. You will be greatly missed. I love you friend!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A year and a half down... 6 months to go

It feels like just yesterday I was writing my struggles of moving to a foreign country, learning a new language and making new friends. A year and a half later, Ecuador feels more like home than anywhere on earth. It is so easy to go through life pleading with God to "do something" and then forget to thank him when he does. So I want this to be a time to look back and remember some of the key moments the Lord stepped in for me this past couple years.
I remember May of 2007 when I had just stopped working for Prince of Peace, was working at Starbucks and felt like my life had no direction. I clearly remember telling the girls in my Bible study that I was probably just going to die because God didn't have a plan for me (dramatic, I know :)). When I finally decided to let it all go and let the Lord do what he was going to do was when the opportunity came up to go with SIM to Ecuador and work in a coffee shop, the exact thing I really wanted to do.
I remember October of 2007 crying out to the Lord asking him what I would do if I could not converse with the people I so desperately wanted to minister to. I remember clearly that he told me to move forward into this abyss called "learning another language" and even if, by the end of 2 years could say no more than two sentences to someone, I was doing what he called me to do and that should be enough.
I remember starting a Bible study in the first 3 months I was here, even though I felt like my Spanish was like that of a 4-year-old. I watched as the Lord took my limited vocabulary and His Word to change the lives of the girls in the study.
I remember being asked to take on the managing position at the cafe. I remember telling the Lord I was not equipped for this... that my Spanish wasn't good enough, that I was too young, but the Lord told me to take it anyway.
I remember being asked to lead a short term team of a church I did not know for people who were twice my age. The amount of excuses I came up with as to why I COULD NOT do it are immeasurable. But again, the Lord took it, used them, used me and turned it into something beautiful. (I can't wait to see what he has for this team THIS year!)
As I write all of this, I smile to myself remembering the fear and doubt I felt in my heart each time the Lord asked me to do something too hard for me to handle alone. I smile because if it weren't for these hard times and difficult experiences, I wouldn't know the sufficiency of the Lord as well as I do today. Thank you Jesus for walking with me in the happy, sad and the difficult. A year and a half down, six months to go... may the Lord bring himself glory through my time here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Did it get lost in translation OR did you just make ALL that up to fit in with your message??

One of the reasons I started going to my church here was because of the lively worship and joy that they all seemed to have. I enjoy people who are not afraid of worshiping their God (this is my youth group on the right...)

BUT some days things aren't so right on when it comes to theology. This week we had a guest preacher who started off by telling us that we were going to talk about prayer and then spent the next 30 minutes talking about basically nothing as an intro. (Most people would be annoyed at this point, but this is just a weekly experience for me) The NEXT part was the part that really got me. He had us all turn to 2 Kings 13:14-20. If you haven't read this chapter recently go and take a look.
I read it to myself as he was rambling on about nothing again and thought, 'What in the world does this have to do with prayer?'
I'm not kidding, I was actually impressed that this guy could write his entire sermon and then randomly said "Hmm what chapter should I use? 2 KINGS!"
The chapter is about how Elisha is about to die and the king at the time went to get his last words of advice before he dies. Elisha tells him to take a bow and shoot an arrow through a window. Elisha places his hands on the kings as he shoots and then Elisha says, "The Lord's arrow of victory" and tells the king to strike the ground with the arrow. The king does it, but only three times and Elisha gets mad and says, "You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it." And then Elisha dies. (Really I'm not doing it completely justice... go and read the passage!)
Here are the points that our guest speaker had as he went through the passage.(It took notes because I was so impressed with how he got something that wasn't there!)
1. Crying is good as long as its real. Fathers listen to their crying children.
2. Bows and arrows are like prayers against Satan.
3. Pray is like incense that is a beautiful aroma to God.
4. The king did not have direct communcation with God, so the prophet had to help him.
Which means that we must teach new believers how to pray.
5. If you ask wrongly (meaning doubting and without faith) He will not answer your prayers.
6. Pray with windows open towards Jerusalem (he gave Daniel's example how he prayed 3 times a day, windows open toward Jerusalem).
7. Prayer without passion does not have power. If you do not hit the ground (like the king struck the ground with the bow), Satan wins.

Here is the thing with some of these points... they are not necessarily WRONG. Yes, we must teach new believers how to pray. Yes, prayer is how we fight against the Devil... but here is what truly saddened my heart. This man is taking any old passage of Scripture and making it say exactly what he wants it to say without any regard to context... and the people of the church are eating it up.

My desire for the church is Loja is that the believers in it would learn to study the Bible for themselves. I long for them to know the truth of the Word and that would set them free from legalism and fear. Please continue to pray for the pastors and believers in Loja, that they would peach the truth of the gospel boldly and correctly.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Boy of Many Questions...

David is Melissa (one of my employees)'s cousin. He is 14 years old and asks a TON of questions.
-What are you doing?
-Why do you do it that way?
-Why are you here?
And my favorite lead in questions...
-Why aren't you Catholic?
This question led is into lots of other questions.
-What's the difference between Catholics and Protestants?
-Do we have the same Bible?
-Why don't you pray to Mary?
All of these questions led to the Bible. We pulled it out and started answering his questions. We talked about how salvation was by grace through faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross and that there was nothing that we could DO that would be good enough to get us into heaven. We talked about how Mary was an amazing woman, but that a relationship with God was only obtained through Jesus Christ. He nodded along like he understood all this, though still thinking it was quite unbelievable that I wasn't a Catholic.
And the final questions:
-What would I have to do if I wanted to be a Christian? Is there some ceremony you have to do or something?
I had to hold back a small grin at the last question. I showed him in Ephesians 2:8-9 how it says that it is only by grace we are saved through faith. And then we looked at John where it says whoever believes has eternal life.
All this was met with puzzled looks and a slight nod... then it was time for him to go. David still has a lot of questions, but one thing is for sure... he is searching. I love the passage in Jeremiah that say, "You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart."
My prayer is that he keeps asking those questions and finding his answers in the Word of God!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

You never know when it'll be your last...

We were getting ready to leave for Cuenca on Friday night when Tabitha called me. “Jose Gabriel died.” If you don’t remember him from about a year and a bit ago, he was the kid that I listened to one day as he poured out his heart (If you wanna read the story from last year, click here). He told me about his family situation and how his dad had lived in Spain for more than half his life.
He had not just made friend with me, he had also made friends with Tabitha, one of the missionary kids. Last week Tab met with Gabriel and as they talked, she just laid it all out for him. He claimed to be a believer, but he just wasn’t living like it. Tab told me later that she had never been so blunt with anyone. She spoke the truth fearlessly into his life… and that was the last time she ever talked with him.
Gabriel’s friend, a fellow believer was the one who told me about the whole incident. He said that that conversation with Tabitha was the best one of his life. Gabriel said that she challenged him to get his life together and start living for Jesus. The Friday night before he died he told his friend that he had a dream that a man in all white came to him and said, “Don’t be afraid. Come to me.” His friend told him, “Jesus is calling you! Run to him!” But what he didn’t realize was that Jesus wasn’t just calling him to walk with Him, but to come home.
That Sunday night, Gabriel’s cousin went to his house looking for help. The cousin wanted to commit suicide and Gabriel was trying to talk him out of it. He was telling him how life was worth living. They were on the fourth floor balcony of Gabriel’s house when the cousin tried to jump. Gabriel grabbed him and while pulling him back grabbed an electrical wire electrocuting himself and vaulting him off the balcony. They rushed him to the hospital, but it was too late. He was gone.
As the girls and I were talking about what happened this weekend, we started praying for the cousin whose life was saved by Gabriel and I started thinking, ‘This cousin now has an obligation to live his life to the fullest because its no longer his, its actually Gabriel’s… which was taken from him.’
And then I realized that this was a new picture of what Christ did for me. He allowed himself to be killed so that I wouldn’t have to die.
Someone gave their life for you… its as if you are living the life that SHOULD have been theirs. You are not your own. You were bought by someone else’s life. Honor Him with all you are.
I think about Tab’s last conversation with Gabriel. She spoke truth deep into his soul. She held back nothing. I am amazed by her courage and the way she allowed the Lord to use her. You just never know when a conversation you how with someone will be their last. Make it count.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My only hinderance...

Master-workman surely has the right to use any tool he pleases for His own work, and it is plainly NOT the business of the tool to decide whether it is the right one to use or not. He knows, and if he chooses to use us, of course we will be fit. And in truth, if we only knew it, our chief fitness is our utter helplessness. His strength is made perfect, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Our strength is our only HINDRANCE.
- Hannah Whitall Smith

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Don't settle!

At this moment, I have three very dear Christian friends who love Jesus that are dating people that don't (and several others that are considering it). I don't know if I can fully explain how burdened this makes my heart. They all try and tell me that that doesn't mean they won't MARRY someone who loves Jesus (and that this person is OPEN to God)... but its much more likely that they will end up with someone who does not point them toward Jesus. One of my friends who is in this situation had her 6 year anniversary of being a believer today and I just thought to myself... you DESERVE a man who loves the Lord with all his heart!
I have been struggling all week about how to talk to each one of them. I desperately want them to know the truth and at the same time know my love and that this is not coming out of judgment. I have too many friends and know too many women who are married to good men who don't love Jesus. Each one of them would tell you that every day they plead with the Lord for the salvation of their husbands so that they can serve the Lord together. THIS is what I don't want for my friends, though it is very common here in Loja due to the lack of strong godly men (and women)walking with the Lord. I believe it is one of Satan's biggest lies to Lojano believers: if you wait for someone who loves the Lord, you will be single forever! (Which is one of their biggest fears).
Please pray with me for my friends and the other believers in Loja who are settling for LESS than God's best for them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I KNEW they would make good friends!

When I first met Melissa, I didn't realize that she was only 17 years old because of her maturity level. She wasn't like most of the 17-year-old girls around here constantly screaming about some boy and breaking a nail. She has goals and dreams and desperately desires those to be met. This was definitely a different "type" of girl from the normal Lojana I am used to.
There is another girl that I know who is that same boat, Tabitha. She is a 16-year-old missionary kids living here in Loja who loves to play soccer and isn't bothered by stupid boys or petty drama. She has a heart for missions and desires to see people know Jesus. The problem is, that doesn't mesh very well with the 16-year-olds here.
Several months ago I thought to myself: 'They would make great friends!' And I kept trying to set up ways for them to be able to hang out, but it just never happened. Recently a super short termer named Holly came to visit and the three of them started hanging out constantly! They are becoming GREAT friends... Holly and Tab invited Melissa to youth group and to hang out after. This Sunday we started a Bible study with the three girls and Mesissa's counsin Anita. They all seemed to really enjoy it and are super excited to keep going in the book of John.
God continues to teach me that it is ALL in his time and his way. Melissa is moving closer and closer to a personal relationship with Jesus. I believe with all my heart that these girls will play a huge role in her coming to know Jesus. Please keep this little Bible Study and four-some of girls in your prayers. (Above Picture: Melissa and Tab are fighting over a game of spoons :))

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hope's here to stay...

I am so blessed by my volunteers. I just think they are amazing. There are two girls in particular that I have become more attached to in the past month. Karen (on the right) and Valeria (on the left). Karen came to me from the English club. She wanted to practice her English because she is moving to the States in August. Valeria is a girl from my youth group who is best friends with Karen but has never shared her faith with her. Valeria decided that she was going to come on the two days that Karen helps me to build the spiritual side of their friendship.
This past week, in English club, my friend Paula was able to have a conversation with Karen about her relationship with Jesus and she stated that she just wasn't ready yet but she had been thinking about it a lot. And later that night Valeria invited her to youth group with us. She declined due to some homework, but we haven't given up yet.
Here's the even cooler part... Karen just found out that she is moving to Arkansas for her exchange program and will be staying with a PASTOR! She will be doing everything the family does, including going to church and being involved in youth group.
There are no such thing as coincidences. God has a plan that would blow our minds away if we truly understood the full extent of it all. Please join me in praying for Karen that she would accept Jesus as her Savior... if not here in Ecuador, in the United States. Pray that the family she is staying with love Jesus and would continue sharing the good news of the gospel with her.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Challenging Moments

This is not the first time (nor the last time) that I have talked about Maria de los Angeles. As some of you know, she recently went to Bolivia to do her thesis. As many do not know, she had a hard time from the beginning. She was supposed to be living with the nuns in a convent and then decided that that would not be best for her spiritual walk and bailed out to live with the rest of the students.
This caused her problems on two ends… the nuns decided that they did not like her because she bailed and the students decided that she was a “nun” because she was supposed to live with them. This was just the first of many things that have happened to Maria in the past couple of months with the most recent being problems with the university she is working with. She was meant to go and help teach some of the poorer people in the area how to produce and sell their own food, but is currently teaching Biology and Chemistry instead. Needless to say, she is very frustrated and I received an email a couple weeks ago telling me she desperately wanted to come home.
Yesterday I was able to chat with her on-line and was overjoyed by what she told me. Not one of her circumstances has changed… she still doesn’t like her job and things are still very difficult, BUT because of all of this she has grown very close to the heart of God. She told me that HE has been the one sustaining her through all of this.
As I inquired as to what she had been studying (since there isn’t a Christian church in her city, to my knowledge) she said she was studying Romans and that she LOVED it. As we talked she asked about a passage in chapter 10 that was confusing her. I looked at the passage to see if I could shed any light on it, but found myself also quite confused. So we looked at it together and came to an answer… SHE challenged ME and I learned something new about the Word that I had never seen before. How awesome is that?! The Holy Spirit is teaching us both through his Word.
I miss her desperately (me and the girls took the above picture to show Maria where she “should have been” at a recent birthday party :)) but am so excited to see what the Lord is doing in and through her life. He has awesome plans for her there in Bolivia and one of them is definitely to grow closer to Him.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Manwellcito… he hates it when I call him that. But I have grown to love this kid like he is my little brother. I have been amazed to see where God has brought him in the past few months. I don’t know if I can do his story justice, but I will try…
When I came back to Loja in January he was not doing good. My roommate Nicole told me that he had been drinking pretty much every weekend since Christmas. As you can imagine this hurt my heart. One night when we were all out, Nicole and I saw him pretty wasted and here was the thing that really got me: when I’m just hanging out with Manwell in the coffee shop he’s happy, laughing and fun. When he drinks, he is quiet and down. I thought to myself, ‘Why would he want to be THIS Manwell… I like the other one better.’
A couple months later he told me, “I feel like I’m always wearing a mask for people. I have to be this happy, fun guy when really I feel miserable inside.”
I remember one day looking over at the couches and seeing Manwell and Carolynn in a very intense conversation. Later on Carolynn told me that she has never been so bold with anyone. She just asked him straight up what he was doing and where he was in his walk with the Lord. She challenged him to read a book called, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.
It was amazing to see the transformation that took place in Manwell’s life throughout the next month. He told Nicole and Carolynn that he was afraid to be honest with God because God was so big and powerful. About a week after that we were talking and I asked him about that comment and he said, “I used to be scared to be honest with God… like I had to wear a mask for him too, but now I’m not. As I was reading that book I realized that Jesus can handle my junk.”
Carolynn just recently went back to Australia and Manwell told me, “If I was the only reason that Carolynn came to Ecaudor for the past 3 years, it was worth it because of how God has used her in my life.”
God is still working in Manwell’s life and it is amazing to see what He is capable. Keep praying for Manwell that he would know the amazing Jesus who desperately wants to know him.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tag team...

I met Fabían on a taxi ride home. I had just been with a bunch of my friends at a graduation party and they didn’t like that I was going to catch a taxi alone, so they sent Fabían with me. We started chatting on the ride home and I quickly found out that Fabían spoke English and wanted to practice. We talked about what I was doing here and where he learned English. As we rounded the corner to my house he said, “I really respect what you guys are doing here and I’m really interested in a relationship with God.” The words no sooner crossed his lips as we pulled up to my house. I quickly told him to please come by El Sendero so we could chat more. He promised to come to Faith Night the following night and I said goodbye.
The next night was Faith Night, which I never go to… but I was planning on going just to talk to Fabían. Well, as it happens, I was sick that next day, but my parents were in Loja and my mom decided to go to Faith Night. Here’s the funny part of the story. I THOUGHT Fabían’s name was Javier, so I described him to my mom and told her to look for a guy named Javier. Oops. Even with those hiccups, she found him and had an amazing, but short 10 minute conversation with him.

Here was the email I received a week later from Fabían:
The main thing that encourages me to write this is that I have heard that your mum has returned to the US, and it makes me sad the fact that I was not able to say her farewell, you might found a little odd what I am going to say but I got the feeling I would never forget what your mum has told me in on a, say, ten minutes length single conversation we were having a couple weeks ago, she told me about the Good News and helps me like only few people have done in the past to understand what God has done and what is He is keeping doing for everyone of us, I strongly think that the conversation I had with your mum will lead me in every single step and decision I would make in future regarding my life, because what she told me kind of opened my eyes, mind and spirit for a new whole adventure under God's eyes and care, that made me happy and I also got the feeling that God has a good plan for me, in the past I would never expect something like that but now that my soul has been alerted I am willing to hear every single word He will tell me and also to obey him with no doubts.

I set up a meeting time with him the next week and as we talked, it was as if the Lord was stirring his brain. I could see him thinking about the things I was saying and Jesus and a relationship with God. He told me that he was Catholic and that he thought he always would consider himself as such because of his family and his culture. I shared with him that Jesus cares very little about the titles we put on ourselves but more on what we believe and our relationship with him. I was able to give him a book that Colin recently bought in Quito called, “Tu Fe” (called Choosing Your Faith by Mark Mittelberg in English). The next day he came to the shop to meet up with Steven and he told me that it was a perfect book for him in discovering his Faith. He was already on page 87!
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” – 1 Cor 3: 6-7 The conversation started with me to my mom to a book to Steven. Don’t ever forget that YOU have a part in the salvation of the people you love. You never know if you will be the one who will START the conversation or end it.
Love the tag team...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

True Religion?

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." When I read this verse the other day in James, it disturbed me. I thought to myself, am I not showing true religion because I don’t HAVE any orphans or widows in my life?
The other day as I was walking home from buying a bunch of stuff for the café, I came across a little old woman. (“Viejitos” – old people – like this man in this picture seem much older here than they do in the States). This woman particularly looked like she was having a rough time of it; she was so bent over due to osteoporosis, she might as well have been bent in half. In one hand she had a small bag of bread and in the other a little walking stick that was holding the majority of her weight. I, myself was carrying two large bags, but knew that this was the time. I stopped and asked her if she needed help. She gratefully took my hand and put all her weight on my arm. As we walked she talked about her family and many other things that I couldn’t understand due to a lack of teeth and a mutter.
My heart was broken that I couldn’t communicate with this woman, but I knew that for this day at this time, she was my true religion.
Walking home I thanked the Lord for giving me the opportunity to minister to someone in real need and then he reminded me: Orphans and widows don’t have to be physical, it could be emotional, spiritual or mental. This woman was a widow because she had no one to care for her. Others have family but no one who will truly care for them. Some orphans still have parents but have no one to show them the truth.
THIS is true religion: to take care of orphans and widows in their distress. Do not discount the orphans and widows in your life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blessing in the midst of heart ache...

There have been many difficult things that have happened in the last couple weeks, but along with those things the Lord has brought many blessings. I would like to share one of those blessings with you today... may God receive all the glory for gift he has given me this past couple of weeks.
I'd like to tell you about Margoth. She is one of the girls who has been in my Bible study for almost a year. She comes from a very devout Catholic family and, when asked will quickly say she is a Catholic through and through. This past week as we were sitting down for Bible study she told me about a spiritual life class that she and the other girl in our group, Gabi have to take to graduate from the Catholic University they both attend. She was very flustered at the teacher because she used the terms "Catholic" and "Christian" interchangeably. So I asked her what were the differences that she saw between Catholic and Christian. Her explanation was very interesting...
Catholics pray to the saints, but she was quick to say that she didn't. She also said that Catholics believe that you can get to God through Mary, but she doesn't. She believes that you can only get to God through Jesus. "When everyone prays to Mary during Mass, I pray to Jesus because he's the real way to get to God."
I just smiled at these statements. I believe my little friend understands the gospel more than she thinks she does. Gabi and I explained to her that it is less about the title you give yourself and more about what you believe about Jesus, salvation and the Bible. We all know "Catholics" who don't practice their faith and know very little about what they believe AND we all know "Christians" who don't believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven and having a relationship with God. So give yourself whatever title you want, but who do you place your faith in is the real question.
Margoth is still thinking and processing, but I am convinced that many people are discipled BEFORE they come to Jesus as Savior.
There are many more blessing and people who are coming closer and closer to knowing Jesus, but I'll save those stories for another day. Please be praying for Margoth that she would truly understand the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Up a creek without a paddle

This past weekend ended with tears and frustration for me. As the weekend came to the end, I was hit with new information that I would be short a full time worker during a month that all the missionaries that I depend on are out of town. That day I also got sick with a nasty cold, but because I was short a person, I had no choice but to work. I laid in bed on Monday night crying out to the Lord... I'm sick, I'm short staffed and I don't know what I'm doing. I am up a creek without a paddle and I feel like I am drowning!
It was as if the Lord wrapped his arms around me and said, "This is the time that my strength is being made perfect in your weakness." I have not felt this weak for a long time and I don't like it. But the Lord continued and said, "Am I all powerful? Do you trust me?" Through the tears all I could manage was a whispered "yes."
Tuesday morning, the Lord spoke to me, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask god who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
I am still up a creek without a paddle... not a single trial has changed. But I am choosing to trust the One who knows made the creek.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gotta love the short term team...

There are some people who say short term teams are useless... especially high school short term teams. I LOVE THEM! And not just because it's how I got into missions 13 years ago, but also because of examples like this...
There is a short term team here of 7 high school kids and about 6 adults. Yesterday they helped out with the English ministry at the cafe. They were split up into groups with the Ecuadorians and asked to share their testimony. I was not in one of these groups but heard about how awesome it was from one of my volunteers. Her name is Melissa. Melissa is amazing. She is my little god-send who has been helping out every day for almost a month and is seeking. After the group time, she came up to me and raved about how wonderful her group was because of a guy name Jace. She said to me, "He understands my story. He's been there. He was telling me about God and how God understands." Both Jace and Melissa have had to grow up quicker than normal due to divorced parents and non-supportive fathers.
For the past four weeks, I have gotten to see Melissa grow closer to coming to know the Lord. It all started with Nicole asking her to help out as a volunteer at El Sendero and walking with her through the process of becoming one. Then I got to see Steven, a fellow short termer invest into her life and see her begin to ask questions. Then Susi, one of our employees invited her to church and Carolynn invited her to youth group. And now Jace met her where she is with her family situation. She felt understood and cared for because of this kid's story. I love how the Lord does not use ONE person to bring someone to himself... he uses a whole host of people. I can't wait to tell you that the last piece of the puzzle has been put into place. Until then, keep praying that the Lord would draw Melissa to himself!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What happens when you can't breathe...

The moment of sheer panic hits and all of the sudden it feels like air won’t enter your lungs quite as easily. You tell yourself and everyone around that you’re fine, but your mind is going 100 miles a minute trying to figure out how to fix the situation. Your mouth says, “It’ll be fine. I’ll just trust God.” But as your mind reels, it screams, “You’re SCREWED!!!”
Yeah this is what happened to me a couple weeks ago. I knew that my friend Helene was leaving for Germany and that my friend Carolynn would be leaving for Australia the first part of April, but then I found out that Colin was going to be out all of April for surgery. And a few days later I realized that John would be out of the country for 3 weeks in the month of April. ‘Huh.’ I thought to myself. ‘This isn’t good. All my consistent help in El Sendero is going to be gone starting April 1st.’ The real hyperventilation came when Paul, one of my most trusted and faithful volunteers told me that his schedule was changing from being able to be at the coffee shop almost every evening to 2 nights a week… and in several months he’s not going to be able to help out during the week at all.
You know in your heart that God can provide but your heads looks at the facts. I am so grateful that God likes to do the impossible.
So its not that any of the above has changed… not one single bit. But the Lord has done something else, brought other people. In walks Melissa. Melissa is a 17 year old teenager learning English. She is in between high school and college and just wants to practice her English. She’s got a lot of time on her hands, so for the past 2 weeks has come in every evening. Not only is she a huge blessing, but has been asking questions and willing to discuss things of the Lord!
But it doesn’t stop there… a girl from Canada has quickly and randomly decided to come and help out in the English ministry and coffee shop starting mid-April. On top of all of that, the Lord is providing more volunteers than we know what to do with. And not just people who come once and never come again… people who want to be apart of our team and our family.
In the moments I can’t breathe, I have to remind myself of Psalm 13:5-6 “BUT (when all else is going to crap) I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he HAS BEEN GOOD TO ME!!!” (emphasis mine).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No pants... no problem.

An older sister with her little brother in tow, crying as usual and all she wants to do is get home. She doesn’t have time for his antics and charades. It’s not until a man calls out to her that she relizes the reason for the boy’s tears. He is unable to walk any faster due to his pants wrapped around his ankles. I couldn’t help but laugh.
But this wasn’t the only kid that caught my attention this week. When I went to church on Sunday I wasn’t greeted by a finely dressed woman, instead I was greeted by the hand of a little 6-year old girl, “Benvenidos!” (welcome!). I don’t care who you are, that will put a smile on your face. And as I was sitting through worship I noticed another little girl getting ready to go off to Sunday school. Before she skipped off, she looked up to her mother and asked for an offering. Her mom gave her eleven cents and said, “That’s a lot of money” and shoed her off to Sunday school…
The simplicity of a child. Their biggest problem: no pants. Their greatest joy: greeting on Sunday morning. And their biggest offering: eleven cents, because its all they have. Some days I do wish I could go back to that age and see life for the simple things. Instead of complaining about the things I cannot change, rejoicing in how the Lord has blessed me. Instead of looking at what I do not have, giving thanks for the people God has put in my life. I want to stop looking at life through the eyes of impossibilities and look at life through the eyes of a child: God can do ANYTHING!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's about that time to tell my story...

Yesterday sitting in the cafe I got to meet this really cool girl, Sarah from the States, working with OMS doing a video about the ministry opportunities in Ecuador. As she shared her story with me about how God brought her to the place of doing missions (something she SWORE she would NEVER do), I thought about my own story.
I love my story because its mine. It's bizarre and I have done a lot of things that I told God that I would NEVER do. If you haven't heard my story, I think its about time that you hear it. (If you have, feel free to get a refresher or skip this blog... up to you :)).
My parents have been youth pastors since before I was born, so i think I was born being a 17 year old, or at least hanging around them. I became a Christian sitting on the toilet when I was 5 years old (long story... if you wanna know, you gotta ask) and I think the first person I ever shared Jesus with was a little girl on a beach in California when I was 6. That started a love for sharing Jesus with people (spurred on by my mother and her passion for sharing the gospel).
As I got a bit older, church became "the thing you do." I was the last one at church every Sunday because I had no choice. When I was 15 years old I went to visit my non-christian cousin. As we sat on the beach in New Jersey, we talked about life, love and eventually about God, she told me, "You don't have to do this." And I said, "Do what?" She responded with words that cut me to my core, "This Christian thing. It's your parents' religion, not yours."
From that moment on I realized it was time to make a choice, was this going to be my parents' religion or my relationship? I chose the later and began going on mission trips, investing into my friends and really living for Jesus. I think I was 17 when I first decided that I was going to be a missionary. My dad's intern, Kelly was a big drawing factor in all of this. She had given up the comfy life in Colorado to travel to the Philippines and be a missionary. 'This is what I want to do.' I thought.
As you will hear many times in my story, God had a different plan, but I was too stubborn to recognize it. So I thought at 18 I was going to head off to the Philippines, but then I thought better of it and decided to go to Moody Bible Institute to study missions. Everyone told me I was a shoe-in and as usual God had other plans. I ended up in Lagrange, Wyoming (population 350)at Frontier School of the Bible (population 100). A place I swore I would NEVER end up.
I was still dead set on doing missions and completely ANTI-youth. But as usual, God had different plans and I started working with a youth group in Chugwater, Wyo (population 200... or so). God used those kids to break my heart for youth and see that no matter how much I fight it, THAT was where I was supposed to be.
After that, I had the opportunity to go to Dallas and help out some good friends, Oscar and Jen with their youth at Prince of Peace. God continually reinforced my desire and I changed my major to youth ministry.
Through many tears, I gave over my hearts desire to do missions to the Lord. But thank God that his plans aren't mine because through the next 4 years I got the chance to take those kids to several different countries and expose them to missions. So I thought that was it... push my youth towards missions.
Again, that wasn't God's plan. Through a series of events, I was getting out of youth ministry and had no idea where to go next, so I made the logical choice and got a job at Starbucks. During this time the Lord worked in me through a type of cafe ministry... hang out and talk to people about Jesus. I LOVED it.
So I thought why not just make a job out of this?? I searched and searched but didn't find anything that fit what I wanted to do, so I gave up. I remember sitting in my friend's living room saying, "I don't think God has a plan for my life. I think he's just going to kill me and be done with it." (Yes, I can be a bit dramatic). Through tears I handed my dreams (again) to the Lord.
Not a week later my dad calls me and tells me that he found a ministry on the SIM website that I might be interested in. I thought to myself, 'Yeah right it won't be what I want.' But I agreed to look into it. In the job description it said, "Looking for someone with a heart for evangelism (check), experience with youth (check); we are a coffee shop outreach to university students (check check!!)." So last year I ended up here in Loja Ecuador working with University students and just loving people to Jesus.
Since then my job description has changed a bit and I am currently the manager of El Sendero. I never would have guessed God would have brought me to this place... not in a million years. But here I am, in the center of his will. And to be honest, I can't wait to see what's next. You know why? Because God's plans are not my plans and for that I am truly thankful!!!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sucked in...

As most of you know things around El Sendero look a bit different than they did last year. Walking into the coffee shop last year, you would have seen about 4 or 5 foreigners from 3 different countries helping out all the time. Now you will see 1, maybe 2 foreigners (one being me!) and the rest Ecuadorian. Here’s the fun part: most all of them are volunteers with outside jobs, school and lives, but they choose to come in and help us out. Some want to practice English, other want to hear more about why we’re here, but the majority are there because they like being with us!
Melissa is a new volunteer that just started today and she commented that it looks like everyone has a lot of fun and that they get along well. As I looked around I realized that this café has brought people who normally would not know each other together under one roof. In the mix we have our faithful two: Diego and Paul, who I am forever indebted to for their faithfulness to the café and to the ministry. Then we have a friend that we met in salsa class (Jose Pablo) added to a random guy (Paolo) who just came in by himself for a coffee and ended up becoming part of one of the local churches. Then throw in a couple high school girls, Ximena, I started a conversation with over 6 months ago and just comes in regularly to chat along with Melissa who got hooked up with us through the English ministry. Look at this! Look at what God is doing.
Some days I look at the café or the ministry and get frustrated at what we aren’t doing or what we could do better. But what I forget to do is praise God for what he IS doing and the people he IS bringing to us. So now we just keep praying that the Lord continually draws all these people closer to himself!