My Homeless Friend, Karen

I went for a fantastic run Saturday morning.  It was a crisp fall day, my breath steaming in front of me, leaves aimlessly floating through the air and fog lifting above the river.  One of those inspiring kind of days where I was left in awe of God’s provision and thankful for the breath in my lungs.  I’ve always appreciated moments like those.

As I made my way down the usual path, I had a little conversation with God.  Lately, a common question that I’ve been asking Him is “what’s next?”  In other words, I ask Him how I can be a part of what He’s doing.  It’s kind of a scary prayer because maybe, just maybe, He will actually answer that prayer by opening up an opportunity to love on somebody in an unexpected way.  Well, literally 2 minutes after I prayed that prayer, the opportunity presented itself.

To back things up a little, months ago, I met a gal named Karen.  She was homeless and I had a very cool conversation and experience with her.  Long story short, we chatted a bit, I gave her the sweatshirt that I was wearing, but I wanted to give more, so I sprinted home to get my family in hopes of grabbing a few things to give to her.  We loaded up the car with supplies and drove back down to the river in search for Karen and we eventually found her, having the chance to give her some food and blankets.  That was basically the end of the transaction…until this last Saturday! (FYI, you can read Part 1 of this story HERE)

As I was huffing and puffing, jogging along the river, guess who I saw?!  Karen!!!!  I couldn’t believe it!  As I passed her, I knew I had to say something, so I offered a simple, “hey Karen!”  She kind of looked around, half disheveled and shocked, probably wondering who this weird guy was and how the heck did I know her name!

I ran past her about 500 feet and then I felt the nudge to go talk to her, so I headed back towards her direction.

As I approached Karen, I asked her if she remembered me.  At first, she didn’t recall who I was, until I started explaining the day I gave her my sweatshirt and my family meeting her down by the river with food and blankets.  She actually remembered us and said that she thought about us often!  So cool.

Nothing much had changed in her life.  She did get the radio that she was looking for…she said she wanted one so she could listen to that “Christian radio.”  I thought that was neat.

Karen had some cans to return to Safeway, so I walked with her to the store and we had a great conversation…although it was a little disheartening.  We talked about church and how she doesn’t feel accepted there.  We talked about how folks turn the other direction, not wanting to associate with her.  We talked about what tree she slept under and if she used a tent or a tarp…stuff like that.  I appreciated her letting me tag along.

I asked her if she had plans for Thanksgiving and she didn’t have any….that made me sad.  As we continued to talk, I felt led to give her my phone number.  I told her to give me a call on Thanksgiving day and I would put a plate of food together for her and run it down to the river, where she was staying.  I made Karen promise that she would give me a call and she agreed.  I really hope she calls.

Here’s the deal, this story isn’t really about Karen and this story really isn’t about me.  It’s about God engineering circumstances in a miraculous way, allowing His love to be shared.  Karen and I just happened to be a part of His story on November 18th, 2017.

Life is full of opportunities to be a part of something greater.  Sometimes God just needs a warm, willing body to work with…somebody to accept His invitations into something greater than ourselves.  I’m certainly not perfect and I have missed out on many of His invitations in my life, but I accepted His invite the other day and I’m grateful for that.

It would be really cool if I got a call from Karen, it really would.  But, whatever happens, I have a feeling that I’ll be seeing her again soon, whether she likes it or not! 😁

God Bless,

Paul

 

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Ecuador – Day 8 (Final Day)

ecuador-344Well, the amazing week was coming to a close.  This was the final day of an incredible journey.  My emotions were so mixed….I was super excited to see my family back at home, yet I felt like my heart had planted roots in Ecuador.  I had new family there and saying goodbye to them bummed me out.  Another full day was ahead of us though and I couldn’t wait to get moving.

We had the opportunity of checking out project 542, ALC’s 2nd funded project.  Construction had not begun yet, but the plot of land was acquired (after some drama – see day 5 for details).  We had a small church service and hugged a lot of great folks….notice the hugging theme?  🙂  It was cool to envision what the new project would look like and what memories would be shared there.

ecuador-514These projects are placed in great locations, right in the middle of impoverished communities, which is ideal.  They serve as great hubs and resources for those in need.  I love the way God works and I love the way He uses His people!

Speaking of God using His people, I have a cool story for you.  After we said our goodbyes at 542, we broke up into groups and visited a few more homes.  My group had a special mission.  There was a little boy named Freddie who just had a birthday about 1 week before.  A little before Freddie’s birthday, his dad started a new job working in the mines.  The job wasn’t close to home, so he had to travel.  Although it’s great that his dad found a job, the family hadn’t heard from him in about 2 weeks.  They didn’t know if he was just unable to make a phone call, in trouble or dead.  Freddie’s birthday came around and he was really hoping to see his dad…..well, the day came and went and the family still had not heard from him.  Understandably, Freddie was very bummed about this and he missed his dad very much.  This story laid heavy on the hearts of the staff of 542, so they decided to do something so special…..they threw him a surprise belated birthday party and we got to be a part of it!!!!  They went to a bakery and purchased a cake made just for him.  They also brought some drinks and decorated the walls of the house with cool kid stuff.  To top it off, they had this awesome sparkler candle to place on the cake and those pull-string little firework confetti things.  Although the folks from 542 had limited resources and funds, they still gave what they could in order to pour out God’s love on this little boy.  Inspiring.

ecuador-549I’ll never forget walking down the dirt streets to his house, cake and supplies in-hand.  Then entering his house and seeing his smiling face light up.  He was surrounded by people who loved him, family and strangers alike.  I couldn’t believe that we were standing in a house in Ecuador, eating cake with beautiful people, witnessing God’s love in action….I was standing on holy ground…truly.

After our little party came to a close, we took the last bites of cake and it was time to head out.  We visited a couple more staff houses to meet their families and pray with them.  I was reminded once again of how dedicated these folks were to serving and pouring out every resource that they had.  They hold on loosely to their lives, knowing that God will provide.  I want to be like that.

After some great visits, the trip was officially coming to a close.  We were saying goodbye to our friends and driving to the city.  The plan was to head to the market to buy some souvenirs for our friends and family.  It was a great time and fun to negotiate prices with the vendors!  I wish we could wheel and deal like that more in the states!

The next stop was back to the hotel…the same one that we stayed in at the very beginning of the trip.  We organized our luggage there and ate some dinner.  For me, this was a sad time.  We were heading directly to the airport from the hotel and I couldn’t believe that the journey was over.  After months of preparation and prayer, God’s agenda had been accomplished and we had the divine opportunity of being a part of it.

ecuador-564Well, it was about time for our team to pack up and head to the airport.  The anticipation of going through customs and security became our new focus.  Eventually, we all made our way through the ticket line and it was time to say goodbye to our leader, Liz and the translators.  They became family to us and saying goodbye was harder than expected.  They were amazing people and we couldn’t have made it through each day without them.  They wished us well and we made our way through customs, through security, to Miami, to Dallas and finally, to Portland.  The trip was smooth coming home (thank goodness!!!) and we were ready to see our families.  When the plane landed in Portland, we all knew that it was time to apply all that we had learned in Ecuador to our daily lives.  There was so much to share with our loved ones!

After tons of hugs from our families, we gathered one last time with our group to pray.  We thanked God for an unbelievable experience and our strong team.  We thanked God for His protection and for the opportunity to be loved and to love in a whole new, powerful way.  I’m grateful for my amazing team and the memories that we shared together.

ecuador-572Looking back to about a year ago, I never would have pictured myself traveling to Ecuador.  I’m just a normal guy who goes through the daily grind like everyone else.  Being interested and responding to God’s call to go abroad never seemed like an option or a possibility.  Boy did that change!  It just goes to prove that God can use any of us to make an impact around the world.  There are folks struggling out there, doing their best to make it through another day.  They need hope and joy and comfort and food and care and love just like we do.  Getting to that point of thinking outside of our little boxes is hard, but it’s necessary if we want God to make an impact through us.  It takes intention and it often takes God slapping us across the head to get there.

So how do I conclude such an awesome trip?  How do I sufficiently portray what’s on my heart?  I guess I’ll just leave you with some great words behind why I went: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20

As a Christian, the Great Commission lays heavy on my heart and truthfully, it scares the crap out of me sometimes.  God calls all of us to “go.”  It’s not always pretty or organized or perfectly planned, but neither is life.  God uses normal people to accomplish miraculous things, He just needs folks who are willing to take steps in faith and trust Him.  So I ask you this: Are you brave enough to go?  Are you willing to stretch yourself and risk being uncomfortable?  I encourage you to let these questions sink in.  God’s inviting you to join Him in transforming lives…in transforming your life.  Take the invitation.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks so much for following me along this incredible journey!  It’s been fun!

ecuador-585God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador – Day 5

ecuador-229Day 5 presented a really cool opportunity.  Our team was invited to a ground-breaking ceremony for another church.  Basically, the church owned the plot of land and they were close to starting the building phase.  The ceremony consisted of some prayer, worship and a great faith-filled message.  A small hole was dug and a rock hung from a string directly above the hole.  Towards the end of the ceremony, the string was cut and the rock dropped into the hole, signifying the first stone being laid as part of the construction process.  We were a part of history….God’s history!  What an honor.

Pastor Alejandro planted this church and is also responsible for training others to branch out and start churches.  A good example would be Pastor Jonhny from Project 534, where we spent most of our time serving on the trip.  It was a pretty powerful thing to witness and I’m grateful that they invited us along.  Although we had no affiliation with that particular church, they considered us family…being brothers and sisters in Christ was the glue that bonded us.  The bible in action…awesome.

After the ceremony, we headed back to 534 to finish up some of the lesson plan stuff from day 4, go to some more home visits and prepare for another fun day of VBS with the kiddos!  Shortly after we arrived, we received some bad news….

Project 542 is the newest project for our church.  This is the 2nd project that our church has funded, along with 534.  Project 542 hasn’t started the building phase yet, they’ve only acquired the land…or so they thought.  In a nutshell, Kerly, Pastor Jonhny’s wife (from 534) was the main negotiator for the land.  From what I understand, it is pretty difficult to find good land and close good deals in Ecuador.  Negotiations are primarily sealed with a handshake agreement until things are made official via a notary signature.  Apparently, the seller of the land changed his mind and backed out of the deal.  This happened just before they were to meet with a notary to make things official.  Understandably, Kerly was pretty upset and frustrated because of this.  The first thing we all did together was pray…..we prayed for the guy selling the land, we prayed for peace and we prayed for God’s will to be done.  I love how prayer was the life-line in all of this.  Our Ecuadorian family didn’t have much, but they had God and that’s all they needed.  Inspiring.

ecuador-340Later in the afternoon, we received some great news!  Kerly decided to meet with the seller one more time.  I’m not sure of the exact details of the conversation, but she explained that her church family from North America was visiting and that she would really like him to rethink the whole deal.  He seemed pretty shocked that we were actually there in Ecuador as all of this happened.  I’m not sure what his main motivation was to change, but he decided to stick with the original deal and go through with the sale of the land….just like that.  It was one of many examples during the trip of God intervening when obstacles presented themselves.  So cool!

After some good news, it was time to start VBS with the kids again.  For some reason, I remember this day being pretty hot and humid.  Amidst the basketball and soccer games, I was a sweaty mess….like super sweaty….like really sweaty….like, ok you get the point :).  Even amidst the “steaminess” of the day, it was such a joy to see the kids again and make new friends.  I was also able to hang out with our sponsored kids, Alan and Nicole again and I could tell that they were getting more comfortable with me.  There were more high-fives, hugs and I even scored a couple of kisses on the cheek from Nicole….talk about melting a dude’s heart!  Have I mentioned that I love these kids?!

ecuador-273After another great day of VBS had ended, we had the opportunity of going on more home visits.  It was time to visit Alan’s house and I was so excited.  Because we went right from the project to their house, Alan, his brother and mom got to ride with us on the bus while his dad was waiting at the house.  As we approached their home, Alan’s eyes lit up with anticipation and he gave me a “here’s my house!” look as we began to exit the bus.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in regards to conversation because Alan’s family was pretty quiet.  To my surprise, as we entered their home, I was greeted with a thoughtful “welcome to my little house” sign on their wall and smiles flashing everywhere.  I felt so loved.  On top of this warm greeting, Alan’s mom gave me a bouquet of flowers entirely handmade of paper and other various materials.  It was for my wife, Pam.  I was floored and humbled by such thoughtful gifts.  We made small talk and I talked some trash with Alan about beating him in soccer…pretty funny.  As we talked some more, I discovered that his dad walks about 1-2 hours to work everyday and once he’s at work, we walks some more….he’s a street sweeper.  I developed so much respect for him and all of the hardworking folks in Ecuador who are struggling to put food on the table.  I couldn’t help but feel convicted regarding my attitude towards work sometimes….I added it to my list of things to work on.

ecuador-295Unfortunately, it was about time to leave.  Towards the end of every home visit, we always closed our time together with a group prayer.  During this time, we asked the family if there was anything in particular that they needed or maybe if they had specific prayer requests.  Almost every family either prayed for health and/or for their family to stay together.  Alan and Nicole’s families were no different.  Never once did I hear somebody ask for material things, handouts or pity….only the essential, tangible things that were lasting.  In North America, we have so much already and we have the habit of asking for even more.  These folks just wanted to survive and stay together.  How simple.  I appreciated these times of prayer together…..all of us in a circle, joining hands with one common thread: JESUS.  Chokes me up just thinking about the power in that.  It was beautiful.

ecuador-085It was now time to head back to the hotel.  Another great day was in the books!  Every day provided me with a new lesson about life and faith.  This day showed me that when folks gather together with God as the focus, powerful things can happen.  God is always present, but His powerful hand is even more evident when His people unite in love.  “For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” -Matthew 18:20

Stay tuned for day 6!!!

God Bless,

Paul

Ecuador – Day 4

Ecuador 247After a good night’s rest, we had a challenging, faith-testing day before us.  Our team was being asked to “disciple” and “teach” the staff at project 534 on how to prepare and teach a Sunday school lesson.  The evening prior consisted of late night preparations, teamwork  and foggy brains.  We put together a structure of how things would go, but we all understood that God was ultimately the one calling the shots.  We were learning to be ok with this.

We arrived at 534, ready to be stretched.  The day began with a great devotional time together and we prayed for the day.  We then headed outside to play another team game.  We stood in a circle and passed a soccer ball to each other.  The person passing the ball expressed something that they appreciated about the other person….something encouraging and uplifting.  Once the ball was passed, the person had to sit down and on it went until everybody had a turn.  There were a lot of smiles and “ahhh, that was sweet” comments going around.  I felt the love man!  It was a great building block for what was ahead that day.

Ecuador 159Next, we headed into the church to begin a time of teaching and brainstorming.  In a nutshell, Sunday school lessons at the project mainly consisted of opening the bible and reading the story to the children.  Although this is totally fine, keeping the kids focused was a challenge.  There was a need to spice things up a little and pull some creativity and fun out of each lesson.  So, with the leadership of Erin, that was our focus!  It was a creatively messy time consisting of ideas being flung around, minds being challenged and confidence being developed.  It was beautiful.

The brainstorming led to structure, which led to the formation of a lesson plan.  Over the next couple of days, each group presented their lesson plan and I could sense the pride, excitement and optimism within each of the staff members sharing.  We were so dang proud of our Ecuadorian church family!  I’m confident that this was only the beginning of great things to come.

Ecuador 165God works in awesome ways doesn’t He?!  As a group, us North Americans felt unequipped for the task at hand….we aren’t anything special, only normal people learning right along with everybody else….but we were called to do something bigger than us, so we gave it a shot and had the opportunity of seeing super cool results.

After our productive time together, we were treated to an incredibly tasty lunch made by the staff at the project.  I think it was shrimp, chicken, beans, rice and other good stuff.  They worked so hard and it was so appreciated and enjoyed!

Ecuador 169At 3pm, the flood gates opened and the kiddos poured in for our first VBS of the trip!  What a riot!  I was seriously in heaven….crazy kids hanging onto our legs, jumping around, super excited to be there….shoot, I was super excited to be there too!  The parents assumed their positions on the sidelines, observing the semi-organized chaos with proud, content smiles.

We organized the VBS in a way that rotated the kids from a bible story, to crafts and then to games.  The kids dove right in, laughing at the great stories and using their creative brains to make cool crafts.  I was part of the game crew, so I got to be rowdy and goofy with the kids…it’s a spiritual gift of mine ;).  There was so much joy as we made up secret handshakes and played simple games like soccer, and bean bag toss.  You know what, I think they would have had just as much fun playing with rocks or sticks…because they were just happy to see us….we were present and available for interaction….we were there to love and love we did!

Ecuador 178

Sadly, after many “see you tomorrow’s” and long hugs goodbye, it was time to leave the project and visit a few more of the sponsored children’s homes.  The day kept getting better!

I can’t explain how great of an opportunity it was to visit so many homes over the course of the trip.  Each family was so different, but there was one common thread…they all had grateful, hospitable hearts.  Us folks in the states hesitate to have guests over when we haven’t cleaned the windows or dusted a countertop in fear of being judged by others.  Our amazing Ecuadorian friends invited us into their poverty-stricken, difficult situations with open arms….their gratefulness for our presence trumped their concern about our judgment.  Can you imagine how different our communities would be if we had this level of transparency?  Pretty eye-opening and humbling.

Ecuador 488Although it was tough to put this day to rest, it was now time to grab some dinner and debrief with the team.  We had so much to talk about and so much to celebrate.  This was a day of victory…not only because of what we accomplished, but because of the fears that we overcame.  God knew what we could handle and I’m so glad that we all jumped at the chance to be challenged.

A big truth came out of this day for me: typically when God is calling us to do something, it’s not predictable….in fact, it can be pretty scary.  Not much growth happens when we are comfortable though.  Faith develops when we are bent, squeezed and faced with the possibility of failure.  These are the hardest times, but often, the most rewarding times in life.  I felt like some walls were broken down for me….like some chains were loosened….because I got a taste of God doing what he does best: using normal people to accomplish great things.  All this being done by His power and grace only.  This day was a fantastic day.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” -Romans 8:28

Ecuador 337More to come….stay tuned for day 5!!!

God Bless,

Paul

 

Ecuador – Day 3

Ecuador 020Things were about to get real.  Days 1 & 2 consisted of travelling, overcoming, vision-casting, introducing, laughing, crying and resting in preparation for what was waiting for us on the next leg of our journey.  The clouds were beginning to lift in Guayaquil and we would soon hop on the bus and take a 2 hour drive to Santa Elena!  This would be our new home for the rest of the trip.  My stomach was churning with excitement…only God knew the powerful time that was ahead of us.

As the bus rumbled through the streets of Ecuador, past banana tree farms, past street vendors, past iguanas on walls, past homes, mostly small and broken, I knew that our team was ready for a new adventure.  We would soon be arriving to project 534 where we would be greeted with smiles, hugs and the presence of Jesus.  It was time to hang with some kids!  Not yet though….the bus began to slow down a bit and suddenly, the roads were solid dirt, the homes became smaller, wild dogs wandered the streets and it was obvious that we were taking a quick detour before the project….

Ecuador 038The bus rumbled to a stop and the lingering dust cloud behind us began to settle.  Little eyes, both big and small peered at us with curiosity through bamboo fence slats and door openings.  They must have been thinking things like; “Who are these people?”  “Why are they here?”  Well, to my surprise, we were there to visit a few homes of the kids that we sponsored, woo hoo!!!!  I knew that we would be visiting, but not this soon!  Although I was beyond excited, I have to be honest about something…..arriving to these poverty-stricken areas via a large bus embarrassed me a little.  I felt unworthy, spoiled and humbled.  The folks living in the community didn’t seem phased though…..just excited that we were there.  Unlike North America, every “hola!” was exchanged with another.  Every wave was returned enthusiastically.  Folks were human to each other, even amidst rough conditions.  How refreshing and inspiring!

Ecuador 145We broke up into 3 groups and ventured off to visit a few homes.  I had the amazing opportunity of visiting my sponsored child, Nicole.  As my group and I strolled down the streets of Santa Elena, I couldn’t fight off the nervous feelings.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Would they welcome me with open arms?  Would we have enough to talk about?  Would Nicole be afraid of me?  My anticipation turned to joy as soon as I was embraced by Nicole’s mom upon our arrival to their home.  I met Nicole’s dad next as I approached the door to their home.  Hiding sheepishly behind him was Nicole.  She wore a pretty white dress and was just plain adorable!  Understandably, Nicole was very shy at first.  We exchanged hugs and had a seat in their home.  I couldn’t believe that after a few years of mailing letters and praying for this little girl, I was sitting next to her, my shoes touching her floor, my arms hugging her, my team being a part of it.  God is so good!

Ecuador 046Our conversation was pretty simple.  It consisted of basic questions regarding school, food, pets, etc.  My man Fernando was translating for us (thank the good Lord!) and did a great job of bridging the language gap.  There may have even been a little ballet dancing going on between Nicole and I…maybe 😉

One last thing about the visit blew me away…in the middle of their main living space, there was a table with a photo of our family on it…yeah, our family!  Also, Nicole had multiple pictures of our family in her bedroom, strategically placed in a certain area right next to a little box which contained all of the letters we had written her.  Man, we were a part of her family!  They love us!  It was an amazing reminder that the simple things like sending pictures and writing letters to these kiddos means the world to them.  What a humbling and encouraging feeling!


imageAfter an amazing visit and big hugs goodbye, it was time to head to project 534.

I had heard about the experience of pulling up to the project for the 1st time and couldn’t wait!  Kids and families were just waiting for us to arrive.  Welcome signs were held and smiling faces lit up the space.  As we exited the bus, it was as though we were famous or something.  I wanted to shout, “we’re not that special, really!” but I just enjoyed the moment and grabbed all of the hugs, kisses and high-fives that I could get.  I let their love penetrate my heart.  There’s no words to explain it, only gratefulness.

imageAfter we all got settled, these beautiful people held a “welcome to Ecuador” church service for us.  They waited a day to hold the service due to our travelling delays, so thoughtful.  There was preaching (by Bryce), singing, dancing and American / Ecuadorian flags being presented together, united as one.  Powerful.

We had the opportunity to meet a lot of kids (including my other sponsored child, Alan) and reunite with the project staff that we had met the day prior.  It was a great day.  One full of anticipation, love and joy.

After this awesome evening, we headed back to the hotel and ate dinner, debriefed and prepared for the next day.  Day 4 presented the opportunity of teaching the staff how to structure a fun bible lesson for the kids.  We were all a little intimidated…it felt beyond us.  You know what, it was.  God stretched us and taught us something very valuable….to just trust….not only in God Himself, but the skills and abilities that He has given us.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

Stay tuned for day 4!

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador – Day 1 and 2

imageAfter many meetings, tons of preparation and a lot of prayers, the day had finally arrived!  My team and I were heading to Ecuador!  I remember feeling both elated and anxious at the same time.  It was early, I wasn’t hungry and coffee didn’t even sound good.  Leaving the family was so hard…really hard, but I had to trust.  I came this far.  Only God knew what was in store.

We arrived to the airport at 4am to catch our 6am flight.  Our leaders, Bryce and Amy told us that the mission trip started when we set foot in the airport….boy were they right.

We were tested as a group immediately….our flight to Dallas was cancelled due to weather.  After about 30 mins. or so, they figured out a way to get us to Miami and eventually to Ecuador.  It was a plan that consisted of splitting our team up into small groups.  Some of us headed to San Francisco, others to Los Angeles, others to New York and I headed to Chicago with my home girl Kelly.  By a miracle, at the end of the day, most of us (the 3 New York folks didn’t make it) made it to Miami on time to catch our flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador.  The others made it the next day.

When we finally set foot on South American soil, it was roughly 4am or so the next morning (give or take…c’mon, my brain was a little foggy ;)….our original time for arrival was 9:30pm the night before.  We quickly found out that most of the team’s luggage didn’t make it to Ecuador.  Luckily, the luggage was found and delivered the next day.  Crazy man!

imageThrough it all, our group was a bunch of warriors.  No complaining, just focus and flexibility (like rubber bands).  God knew what He was doing…..priming us for a week of love, power, grace and awesomeness.

After a couple of hours rest, we met with the staff/volunteers from the different projects, 534, 535 and 542 (534 & 542 are the projects that ALC has funded, but ALC sponsors some kiddos from 535 as well).

Prior to this, our fearless leader “Mama Liz” told us that we would be shaking things up a bit this trip.  That our mission was not just to impact kids.  Our mission was to build the church, which meant supporting the staff and building relationships with these beautiful people.  This consisted of the amazing opportunity to serve them, converse with them, visit their homes, meet their families, teach them our ways of how to run a Sunday school lesson/VBS and just be a family.  Of course, we would spend a lot of time with the children as well, but this trip would be two-fold.  What a fantastic vision….one that we all embraced.

I tell you what, we had such a powerful/fun time!  We played a hilarious name game…..we all stood in a circle and each of us had to give our name and a body part that itched (ie., my name is Paul and my nose itches).  The person next to you in the circle had to repeat your name and body part and then say their name and body part…..this continued until we were all the way around the circle….If we repeated something wrong, we had to get in the middle of the circle and dance!  I was towards the end and repeating 40 people’s names and body parts was not my strength….but they humored me and I danced a lot :).  So fun!

imageNext, we had a powerful time of conversation and prayer.  Thank the good Lord for our amazing translators (Pauli, Titi, Nicko, Fernando, Jonathan and Liz), they bridged the language gap so beautifully!  At my table, we prayed over our time together, the culture and for God’s hand to be on the different projects.  Man, was that powerful.  I cried like crazy because I was so overwhelmed with God’s presence.  My Ecuadorian family prays with passion, conviction and desperation.  It really touched me.  We don’t see that much emotion in the states and I certainly don’t pray like that on a day-to-day basis!  I felt like God was saying; “hey Paul, welcome to Ecuador. Get ready, I have some plans for you so hang on tight!”  Amen to that!

To end the day, we ended up going to a big store called Super Maxi….kinda like a Walmart.  We bought some last-minute supplies and stocked up on chocolate, coffee and other cool stuff to bring home!  It was a fun outing and it was a great introduction to the city.

We ended with dinner and anticipated going to 534 the next day.  So exciting!

Overall, those 1st couple of days taught us something…..when God is moving and people are following, there will always be obstacles.  Satan is always waiting to trip us up, but God has bigger muscles than he does, so we’re good to go.  Our team was given an extra dose of strength, patience and perseverance for this trip, I truly believe that.

imageWe also learned that God likes to shake things up.  We all expected things to go a certain way, but that wasn’t His plan…..so often we settle for “good” when he’s more interested in “best.”  We need to hang on loosely to our lives, we really do.  God always knows the path, we just need to be willing to step.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:11-13

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Day 3 to follow…stay tuned!  🙂

God Bless,

Paul

My Homeless Friend, John

Homeless grocery cartSeveral of weeks ago, my small group from church got together and served some homeless folks.  It was a pretty cool setup.  We had tons of food, coffee, juice, clothes, toiletries and a trailer equipped with a large cooking griddle and burners.  Better yet, we had willing hands and feet available to serve and love.

Our goal was to make a bunch of fresh breakfast burritos for the homeless in the area.  Nothing too complicated.

We started cooking in the morning and noticed that the turnout was a little slower than expected.  It was pretty early and we figured that most folks wouldn’t be out and about until mid morning or so……..so a few of us hopped in my truck and starting driving around, looking for people to invite.

The first stop was a park, then down the main drag….our eyes were searching left and right, in hunt for those “in need”…then we saw John.

He was coming up a side street, pushing a grocery cart full of cans.  He had dark sunglasses on, a running nose, a scruffy beard and a heavy heart.  I would guess that he was roughly 35 or so.  He was pretty open to chatting, which was cool.  We invited him up the road for a burrito and some rest….we were about a mile away.  John mentioned that he had to take his pop cans back first and then he may hike up the road later.  I glanced at my friend Jeff with a “should we?” look and then we proceeded to get creative.  We ended up putting John’s grocery cart in the back of my truck and my other buddy David sat in the back with it, bracing the cart so it didn’t fall over.  John sat in the front seat with me, while Jeff squeezed into my small back seat.  One big happy family!

When we arrived to our location, all of us piled out of the truck and we made sure that John was fed and comfortable.  There were other homeless folks there also: one gal was sitting in a corner, talking with one of the team.  Others were chatting about the “system” and how hard it was to get ahead in life when faced with such a steep uphill climb.  Most of the conversations were laced with hopelessness, paranoia and the desperate confusion of what to do next.  It was a humbling, eye-opening experience and I was grateful that my friends and I were able to be there.  To listen.

After an hour or two, John had to get going, so we headed back up the road to return his cans.  Jeff was in the back this time, holding the grocery cart in place and just John and I were in the truck together.  What a great, short, yet powerful conversation we had!

In a nutshell, I thanked him for coming with us and for sharing his story.  I felt the need to be kind of blunt with him.  I mentioned that I noticed his hopelessness.  That maybe he thought his past mistakes defined him.  That maybe he thought God somehow looked down on him for who he was and the choices that he’s made.  John agreed with me in a simple, yet moving way….he nodded and began to cry.  His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, but I felt his pain and I heard his desperate need to be loved.  I felt God’s powerful presence in that truck.

The few words that I could muster were “Jesus loves you man.”  That’s about it.  We talked a little about forgiveness and grace and in about 5 minutes, we were unloading his cart and he was visiting with his buddies at the can return.  Short but sweet….so sweet.  God works in crazy ways doesn’t He?!

My hope is that John was encouraged that day.  I know I was!  Only God knows outcomes and heart conditions and I’m ok with that.  It was an honor to be a part of God’s plan and to serve strangers with a group of selfless people.

The homeless folks weren’t the only ones being fed that Saturday morning.  My soul was filled to overflowing.

 

God Bless,

Paul