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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Praying for our Enemies and Melting Butter

ButterI truly can’t think of a better time than now to do what’s seemingly the most unnatural……..to pray for our enemies.  Not only for those in our social circles, but for those around the world.

In all honesty, as a Christian, I’m called, you’re called, we’re all called to pray endlessly for each other. Even for those who hurt people.

Should we pray for murderers, terrorists, gossips, slanderers, liars and abusers?  You bet.

We all come from humble, simple, organic beginnings.  It’s a pretty weird concept to grasp.  Even the most evil among us were born into this world as babies.  They wake up everyday, they breathe, they eat, they drink, they sleep…..similar to all of us.  Somewhere along the line, something happened.  A paradigm shift occurred.  The bad trumped the good.

As human beings, we will never sever the root of evil, that’s God’s job.  He’ll complete His work someday, but for now, our job is to love, encourage and welcome God to change lives all around us.

Praying for our enemies doesn’t condone their senseless acts.  It just simply releases them to the One who created them.

Not because they deserve it, but because we all suck sometimes.  We all mess up in various ways, some of which are more serious than others.

There’s a change in the heart when we begin to lift others up in prayer.  It’s kind of like a hard stick of butter, freshly removed from the fridge….I see our hearts like that.  The longer the butter sits at room temperature, the softer it becomes.  Similarly, the more that we pray for others, the softer our heart becomes.  The defensive barriers slowly come down and God gives us His eyes for others.  Our judgement of other’s actions now becomes an understanding of their disposition….of the fallen condition as human beings that we all fall subject to.

So let’s pray friends.  Let’s pray for healing, for freedom, for God’s intercession in even the most wrecked lives.  For an understanding and belief of who Jesus is.  That’s the stuff that matters and that’s the stuff that flips worlds upside down.

We’re not capable of knowing other’s motives.  We’re not capable of understanding it all.  We’re only capable of conversation with the One who does.

 

God Bless,

Paul

 

More Than a Crutch

ParachuteI’ve heard it said that those who believe in Jesus use Him as a crutch.  That “religious” folks can’t handle life on their own, so they need an “imaginary friend” to help them along.

From the outside, I can see why some people think this.  Until you’ve experienced the peace that surpasses anything that life can provide, it can look silly.  I get it.

As someone who follows Jesus, I would say the whole crutch thing is a little lame-sauce…yeah, I just said lame-sauce.  I prefer to put the crutches aside and think of Jesus as my parachute instead.

Crutches only support one part of the body.  A parachute means everything.  A parachute means life and without it, falling out of a high place means death.  That’s just it, Jesus is my everything.  I don’t just lean on him like He’s a piece of wood under my armpit.  I cling to Him for life because He is life.

If I ever start to just lean on Jesus for comfort, it’s ok, but it’s not the best.  He wants all of us.

 

God Bless,

Paul