Quito Experiment, Days 5 & 6

15 07 2017

I know I haven’t updated in a couple days but they’ve seen long days. Fruitful days but long days. Also, I wasn’t sure how to put into words all that I’ve witnessed the last couple days…but I’ll try. (Warning, long post)

Thursday and Friday, we spent all afternoon in a local park. The guys played basketball for the most part and the girls used henna to make temporary tattoos for anyone who ventured up. (More on henna in a moment)

Sam, Connor, and Nathan took a couple basketballs to the park and hopped it up a bit with some of the locals. After about 30 minutes, we called time so everyone could catch a breather and grab some water. Then, with help from a translator, I talked about what it meant to be on a team and that in the Bible, there’s a team called the church. I told the group that there was only one way to make that team – I then presented the gospel. One guy, Roberto, had lots of questions. Please pray for him. He says that he follows Jesus but doesn’t like the label “Christian.” I’m sure he’s not a believer but he’s close. I will be emailing him over the next few weeks. Connor sat and talked with Roberto for maybe an hour about his faith. It was awesome to see.

Then we played some more ball. After about another 30 minutes, we stopped, and Nathan shared the gospel with 5 guys. 3 of them left shortly into our conversation but…2 of them didn’t! Ricardo and Vladimir, both from Venezuela, heard what Nathan had to say, prayed, repented, and trusted Jesus with their life! How awesome is that?

This kind of thing was happening for almost 5 hours each afternoon. It was awesome! We didn’t always play ball. Sometimes we just walked the park and struck up conversations with people. In all, us 5 guys, Mark, Sam, Connor, Nathan, and I, shared the gospel with over 40 people and saw 3 people give their life to Jesus!

The girls set up blankets in the park beneath a tree and drew temporary tattoos on the hands of anyone who would come. You really have to see it to understand, but the artwork walks through the story of scripture. As the tattoo is applied, the recipient hears the story of the Bible from Creation to Christ. Then, they leave with a semi-permanent reminder of the gospel. It’s pretty cool. Through this “henna station” more than 50 people heard the gospel. The girls can tell you more about numbers and special stories from their experience. I know of at least 2 people who trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior because of the work, Heather, Eden, and Sara did with henna. Many more left encouraged and prayed for.

There is one more interesting conversation that took place on Thursday. They were literally running through the park distributing flyers. When I saw that it said something of Islam, I immediately chased them down to ask them some questions. We talked for maybe 45-60 minutes. I had a great time telling the the truth of Jesus Christ but in the end, they simply could not comprehend the love of God…A love that would send His own Son to die a cursed death on a cross. Love so amazing so divine demands my life, my soul, my all.

It’s been a great, awe-inspiring couple of days. God is good. He is faithful. Never, never underestimate what young men and women can do to advance the kingdom of God. I am truly blessed to be called their youth pastor. It is times like this that make everything else so worth it. I am already pumped about our next trip, but cannot wait to get home and see where these student go from here.

Tomorrow, we get to enjoy being tourists for a day. We’ll visit the equator and a couple other places. We’ll eat some guinea pig then we’ll fly back on the red eye to Atlanta. Please pray that all the people who heard the gospel will have fruitful follow-up from the local pastors. We gathered information on almost every person we with whom we spoke.

This is my last update of the Quito Experiment. So long and until next time, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.


Quito Experiment, Day 4

13 07 2017

Wednesday was a long day. Personally, it didn’t help that I had to break open the Imodium first thing yesterday morning. I started feeling a little better, but then…the bus ride. Anyway, VBS started at 2:00, and miraculously, right at 2:00, I felt much better. That lasted all the way to 4:00, when VBS was over. It was as if the Lord gave me strength just for those two hours. I spent the next hour and half curled up on the altar at the church while my team went out visiting families with the pastor.

I am grateful for the team I have. I already knew that Mark and Heather had extensive experience on the mission field, but I am made more aware of that and appreciate all they have done this week. The students have done a fantastic job as well. They have shared the gospel and loved on the children during VBS. Today, we head to a local park all afternoon to share the gospel through sports ministry, creative ministries, and henna tattoos. I’m excited about today. My prayer is that all five of our students take the opportunity to have gospel conversations with the people they meet.

Back to last night…Nathan and I were both feeling puny, so we got a taxi ride back to the dorm. After a night’s rest and some water, Gatorade, and breakfast, we’re both feeling much better. We missed the worship service at church, but I can give you a few details.

Mark shared a sermon from Daniel 3. Nebuchadnezzar tried to steal the identity of the three young Hebrew men. (In fact, can you name them by their Hebrew names or do you only know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?) The church was packed…standing room only. After the message, the team got to enjoy an Ecuadorian delicacy, cuy, or guinea pig.

Please continue to pray today as we go to the park. Pray that our conversations will be fruitful and that God will be glorified.

Quito Experiment, Day 4 = God is faithful, may we be as well

Quito Experiment, Day 3

12 07 2017

Today we saw almost a 100% increase in the number of children at VBS. We went from 41 on Monday to 78 on Tuesday! Who knows what Wednesday will bring? The team did another great job today. The youth are really starting to make connections with the children from Quito.

Sara did a great job with a tough lesson: sin, commandments, and sacrifices. The older children must have been paying attention well because they not only answered the questions but asked great questions as well.

Eden reinforced the lesson by teaching the children how to do a craft that displays the Ten Commandments. The older children made “tablets” out of construction paper. The youngest children (ages 2-4), traced their hands and counted to ten.

Nathan and Connor played some games with the children and got to know some of them much better. Sam was the group leader for the 2-4 year olds today. They have all done a great job again at leading ministry. I think they are seeing that it’s not always so easy to be the leader or teacher but they seemed really excited to show the love of Jesus to these children.

After VBS we visited another home with an ill child. Karen, 20 years old, suffers from a disease that attacks her organs. She is now in bed because the arthritis in her legs make it too painful to walk. It was quite an adventure to get to her home.  We climbed down the face of a mountain. It was very steep and the terrain made it tricky to navigate. However, our guys were very helpful with assisting some of the others in our group make it down to the home.

It took so long to reach this home that we did not make it to our second visit. Again, the students did an amazing job of ministry today. I am proud of how they are taking this opportunity to serve others and serve Jesus.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is a big day as we cover the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Please pray as we seek to share explicit gospel conversations.

Tonight, we enjoyed some ice cream, the students and I went to Tropi Burger, and I came from behind to win Phase 10. (I’m sorry, was that out loud?)

Quito Experiment, Day 3: a tough, exhausting day, but worth every ounce of energy

Quito Experiment, Day 2

11 07 2017

This was our first day on site. Before we set out for VBS however, we all gathered for a time of worship. There are 30 folks here from 3 different churches in the US. The churches are divided into 3 different ministry teams. One team stays here at the school working with children through sports ministry. Another group goes out to a brand new church plant to assist the church with VBS. Our group also assists with VBS at the same church where we worshipped on Sunday.

We Northside 8 are joined with 4 others from a church in Santa Fe. We were prepared for 60 children but ended up having 41. The pastor told me that none of the children from the church were actually at VBS today. Most of who we shared the gospel with were children from unchurched families. He was very encouraged by this and we should expect even more children tomorrow.

Connor did a great job teaching the lesson, the story of Creation, to the children. They know that humans are created in the image of God and that makes humans the highpoint of all creation. Not only that, God wants to be in relationship with us. We are truly cared for and loved by God.

Eden also shared with the children about being made in the image of God and how that makes them the most valuable thing in all of the world.

Sara led the students through a craft reinforcing the lesson that Connor and Eden shared with the children. They considered what it meant to be made in the image of God and that He has placed His thumbprint on mankind.

Nathan and Sam led the children in recreation. The location is less than ideal, a small, concrete courtyard with no equipment to speak of. There are two pieces of lumber with rebar welded into the shape of basketball goals. But, you couldn’t convince the children that they were lacking. Everyone had a great time.

After VBS, we visited two families. The first family was a grandmother who was taking care of her bed-ridden daughter, who is 36 years old. She has a brain tumor and is basically at home in a coma or coma-like state most of the time. We gave her a small gift and Eden and Connor prayed with the family before we left. As we were leaving, Pastor Edison presented the children in the home with shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child. That was a very special moment.

The second home we visit was with David, and young 20-something who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent treatment and the most recent scan had shown no tumor. However, one year ago he had a biopsy, after which we woke up paralyzed. He gave us a “thumbs-up” to indicate he was happy to see us. Again we shared a word with his mother and then Connor and Donovan prayed for the family.

We concluded our night with some of the guys playing basketball and the rest of us playing Phase 10. God is good. It has been a joy to watch my students engage with other people and lead in ministry. I am so proud of this group of students and can’t wait to see what God has in store for the rest of the week.

Quito Experiment, Day 2 – it’s starting to come together, but keep praying

Quito Experiment, Day 1

9 07 2017

The Quito Experiment…a weird title, perhaps, but maybe you don’t know the people I’m working with. (I already know I’m weird.) But anyway, it’s been a good day. This after learning that all but one piece of our luggage made it to Quito. I assume that the 20 pound bag would have grounded the plane or otherwise made the bumpy decent into Quito wholly unbearable. Anyway, it’s on its way and should be here tomorrow. Speaking of bags, the TSA rifled through our bag that was full of ministry supplies. Apparently crayons are a controlled substance or at least worth opening and dumping in the bottom of the bag.

But enough about travels. Today started with a trip to a local church with Pastor Edison. His father was the pastor of the church for a long time but a few years ago suffered a stroke. The church wavered and declined in the wake of no leadership. (It seems there’s a verse that warns us about a perishing people where there is no vision.) Pastor Edison has taken on the role of pastor and is leading this church through a revitalization process.

The service began with a cappella, congregational singing. One particular minister of music that I know would have been proud, as I suspect we sang every verse of each song. We then had a brief teaching or Sunday school lesson about the teachings or doctrine of Jesus and how they are trustworthy. Soon enough, the praise team gathered on stage. Pastor Edison is the lead singer, along with 3 lady vocalist, a drummer, bass guitarist, electric guitarist, and keyboard player. All amps were on and volumes at full!!!

I was asked to preach so I had prepared a short sermon (which is always at least doubled in length whenever there’s a translator involved). I spoke about the call of Gideon. When the angel of the Lord first called him, Gideon replied with a question, “Where is God?” He seemed to be asking God why he was experiencing such difficulty. Why had God allowed such suffering of His people? I’ve had similar questions. But God never really answered that question. Instead, He told Gideon to get busy, that He had a job for him. He gave Gideon purpose, meaning, and hope. In other words, He told Gideon to get busy doing what he had been called to do. As it turns out, God used Gideon in a mighty way. He can do the same for you.

After church, we toured the facility to scope out the best course of action for VBS on Mon-Wed.  Let’s just say, it should be interesting. Hopefully, more on VBS to come this week.

This afternoon we went to a place in Quito called the Crystal Palace. You could look out and see most of Quito from this vantage point. Our missionary, Ron, told us about the local culture and how much influence Spanish Catholicism had on the people. It was saddening, yet enlightening. This same false gospel has been proclaimed for 500 years. And why? For wealth, power, and control. Quito needs Jesus. Won’t you pray with us?

After we came back to the school where we are staying, and after eating some pizza, we moved into the gym for a “concert of prayer.” Eden and I played and sang 5 songs while others read scripture and led us in a time of reflection and prayer. It was a moving service and I believed has helped prepare us for our first day on site, tomorrow. After about 30 minutes of basketball, and writing this blog, I’m tired. I need a shower and a good night of rest. Nos vemos!

Quito Experiment, Day 1 = Success, excitement building

Keys to the Kingdom

18 08 2016

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16:13-19)

Life’s most important question – and Peter nails it! Who is Jesus? The Christ, the Son of the living God. But that’s a sermon/article for another day.

What is the rock upon which Jesus will build His church? Is it Peter himself? Is it the confession of Peter? Again, a sermon/article for another day.

What has always intrigued (perplexed) me about his passage is the last verse. What does Jesus mean about binding and loosing? What’s He talking about? I’m not saying it hasn’t been there all along. The meaning has been staring back at me for as long as I could read the words on the page. Probably my biggest problem has been thinking too much, or rather too complex. It’s rather simple, I believe.

Further, it’s not that I had mis-interpreted verse 19. I had no interpretation to speak of. I simply shrugged my shoulders. However, as has happened from time to time in my spiritual walk, I believe the Holy Spirit has illuminated something for me. I believe that Jesus is telling Peter (and by proxy, all disciples throughout all time and place) that He is preparing to leave. He will no longer hold the keys to the Kingdom, but is handing them over to human hands. To quote Matt Papa,

The keys of the Kingdom were placed into hands
Of children and priests and of fishers of men

But you probably already figured that out. Yes, it’s obvious that the keys are given into human hands, but what do the keys look like? How do they function? What are we binding and loosing? To answer these question, I want to offer a few others.

  • Who is “the door?”
  • What is the key that unlocks the door to the Kingdom of Heaven?
  • As followers of Christ, with what have we been entrusted?
  • As followers of Christ, what is my mission?

The answer to all of these questions…Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. The gospel unlocks the door to the Kingdom. The gospel has been entrusted to humans. The gospel in every ear, shared with every person is my mission. It’s an enormous responsibility with eternal ramifications. To bind/loose can also be said to close/open or lock/unlock. As I share the gospel, I share the keys that unlock the Kingdom. The door is loosed. When I fail to share the gospel, I bind people to eternal damnation.

Now the question – What you going to do with the keys?

Is Belief Enough?

10 04 2015

The victories are fun and exciting to read about, but I’m glad the Bible includes faux pas and shortcomings as well. They help me to understand that no one is perfect. It’s a comforting reality that helps me move forward with my own life. I mess up, sometimes accidentally, but more often than I care to admit, it’s intentional. The key is to learn from those mistakes, whether they’re mine or someone else’s. As I read again the resurrection story this Easter, I encountered what must surely be one of great mishaps of history.

According to John’s gospel, (chapter 20) as Peter and John heard the news from Mary, they beat feet to the tomb of Jesus with John, the younger of the two, arriving first. I’m unclear as to why he didn’t enter. Perhaps he thought it polite to wait for Peter. Maybe he was just scared stiff. Regardless, Peter didn’t waste any time and ran right in. We’re told that John followed Peter and upon wandering in “saw and believed.” But what did he believe? He believed that Jesus was no longer dead. He believed the writings of the prophets and the words of Jesus. He believed that Jesus took three days to rebuild the temple. (John 2:19-22) He believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

I find the next verse perplexing, however. John believed, but he did not yet understand. What didn’t he understand? Hadn’t he been with Jesus for the better part of three years? Hadn’t he heard His teachings? Witnessed His miracles? Yes! And that is precisely why I believe he didn’t understand. He had seen Jesus cause the lame to walk, the dumb to talk, and the blind to see. He had witnessed Him cleansing lepers and casting out demons, turning water to wine and cursing a fig tree, calming the storms and walking on water. Jesus had healed the sick and raised the dead. It may be that John just saw this as another miracle in a long line of miracles. Perhaps the power of Jesus had been taken for granted.

Frederick Buechner says, “If death was to be truly defeated, it was only by dying himself that Jesus believed he could defeat it. If he was to reach the hearts of men, it was only by suffering his own heart to be broken on their behalf that he believed he could reach them. To heal the sick and restore sight to the blind; to preach good news to the poor and liberty to the captives; to wear himself out with his endless teaching and traveling the whole length and breadth of the land—it had not worked because it was not enough. There had to be more.”

I know I’ve been there. I’ve believed in the power of the Almighty, but didn’t understand its significance for me. What we read next is perhaps one of the saddest verses in all of scripture, the historical mishap. The disciples didn’t understand and so “went away again to their own homes.” At first, I wasn’t sure I’d read it correctly. Upon realizing that Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, had risen from the dead, the disciples went back to life as usual. Wow! Keep reading and you’ll find Peter saying, “Fellas, I’m goin’ fishing’.” In the book of Acts, we find them staring at the sky as Jesus ascends. The angel questions their actions and essentially tells them to get busy. The disciples didn’t understand. Thankfully, we discover that they do eventually understand. The Spirit falls on them and they carry out the mission of God, even unto death.

Lord, I believe. Help me to understand. Don’t let me go about life as usual. Help me to live in the power of the resurrection. Amen.