Monday, November 6, 2017

One Kind Man

In the mid 70's Charlie and Betty Brewster had an idea. Charlie owed a business in Alaska that was doing pretty well and they would vacation in Maui. There was something about the setting, the peace of it, that rejuvenated and fed them.

Despite his wealth, there was a humility to Mr. Brewster. There was an intuitive awareness that not everyone had been as blessed financially as he had been. And there was a keen understanding that people who work in vocational ministry were probably near the bottom of that financial ladder.

Charlie and Betty understood that the refreshment that island gave them would be illusive to the majority of pastors and missionaries. So they began to dream and they reached the conclusion, "We can't preach and we can't sing, but we can do this."

So they bought 65 acres of dry undeveloped scrub brush, a mile or so from the beach, up Mt. Haleakala above the town of Kihei, overlooking the ocean. They built a four wing guesthouse and a caretaker's cottage.

That's when they found out Betty had cancer. She died two years later. Then a wildfire came so close to the guesthouse it melted the light fixtures on the lanai. Then Charlie's father died. Then his brother. Then while he was driving down the mountain in Alaska, he hit a moose, fracturing his neck and putting him on bed-rest.

Requiring full-time care during his recovery, Charlie began to wonder, "Were we wrong? Should we even continue?" His nurse encouraged him not too decided to quickly. So he waited, healed and then began again.

Finally, after 10 years of loss and struggle, they began to develop the property. Irrigation, fruit trees, macadamia nut trees and all kinds of flowers and plants. Birds began to nest there, wildlife began to pass through. And weary servants began to pass through.

Nancy and I have had the good fortune to stay twice at Brewster Rest Haven. Each time allowed a two week stay of healing and restoration. We've explored, snorkeled, sometimes spent days doing nothing and have watched sunset after sunset over the ocean.

Hundreds of God's workers have experienced healing. All provided by a couple who couldn't preach or sing. I think too often we look in the mirror and only see our limitations, our faults and our weaknesses. We see all of the things we can't do and so, decide to do nothing.

I am so thankful for a man who asked, "What can I do?" I believe he paid a price for that question, a price many in ministry would understand. His willingness to ask and his determination to follow, even through adversity, has breathed life into many. It's humbled me. And it's caused me to ask, "What can I do?" 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


We leave Ecuador in a week and still do not have our visas to return. Our lawyer doesn’t seem too concerned. So, there's one person.

One of the most exciting/challenging/infuriating things of cross-cultural living is the level of uncertainty that is always just under the surface. 

You can just click into automatic in your home country. You know what you'll find at the grocery story, if they'll have the part when your car breaks, what your commute will be like, consistent electricity and water. Generally, things work the way you expect them to.

We have no idea what it means if we don’t receive a visa.

Can we still return in November?
Do we have to wait until January?
If we’re out of the country when it’s approved, will we still receive it?
Would we have to start the process over?
What does it mean if we’re rejected completely? Can we come back? When? For how long?

I don’t throw out those questions because we’re panicked. We’re not. The worst that could happen is we’ll have to go back to our home, to our bed, with our dog laying at the foot of it. The only thing lost would be our plans. 

I mention the questions because things would be different if, like most missionaries, we had sold everything, raised a bunch of money, then moved our family to go where we believed God had called us. It creates all kinds of practical and spiritual questions.

As strange as it may sound, a life in missions is a life of "not knowing." It puts us in a place of dependency. It's a hard place. An exhausting place. And its the place where we need to be. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Leaving the Harvest

Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field."

I wish he'd added, "And ask him to help them get along!"

I have heard the number one reason missionaries leave the field is because of other missionaries. I've never seen the study, so I don't know if it was done by MSNBC or Breitbart, but it's at least close to true.

Now they also leave for, ailing parents, needs of children, and even retirement. And those are the reasons they tell you.

But usually there's a story behind the story. We tell the cleaned up version. The one that makes people smile and nod instead of cringe. We do it to "protect Jesus" or the mission, or so we don't look like a failure. 

People think, in missions, their coworkers will be like Jesus. What they find is some are as impulsive as Peter or as power hungry as James and John. Some will doubt them, like Thomas and some are as demanding and as Paul. 

So missionaries hit the ground expecting to work with Jesus and instead they get disciples. It's awful!

You can get some toxic people, but that's usually not the case. These are all good, Jesus-loving people, who left home to change the world. And they are all living at a constant level of cross-cultural and ministerial stress that can make them act in some very un-Christlike ways.

Sometimes it's just we're all very different people, trying to get to the same place, by going in different directions.

So, if you have a missionary you pray for... when you pray for their protection, their cultural adjustment, language acquisition and success in ministry, pray too for their team. Pray for healthy relationships with teammates. For unity and friendship. For laughter and joy in the work.

Because joining the harvest is great. And we need to stay together until it's completed.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Facebook Church

A few years ago, Nancy and I were going through a rough time. Our marriage wasn't in jeopardy, but the relationship was definitely strained.  We had already purchased some tickets for a fun day out, so we had to use them.

The night before had been tense. That morning was tense. And even our time together throughout the day was awkward, as we tried to enjoy what we were doing, without resolution to our conflict.

We took the obligatory photos and posted them to Facebook. It's what you do when you're having a day of adventure with beautiful things to see. You share them with... well, everyone. People liked and commented on the pictures. And everything was fine until someone wrote, "Wow. I wish I had your life."

I was heart sick. No. Not today you don't. Beautiful pictures, of a beautiful place, with smiling faces didn't tell the whole story. I felt like I had posted a lie.

But I have to wonder, how much different is that from my Sunday morning? I show up to church, showered, smiling, handshakes and hugs. "I'm good! How are you? How's the family? Hows your week? Good weather. Great game! Wonderful worship. Great message. So good to see you. Hope you're doing well. See you next week."

I can show up, participate, but never engage. I can spend time with people, listen to people and leave without them ever really knowing who or how I am. I can get the "likes," "hearts," and "smiley faces" that feed my ego without ever sharing how much I'm struggling.

Facebook's got nothing on a church lobby. The narthex was Facebook way before Facebook. It's where I can be real, but not too real. It's where I can "post an image" that's as fake as a whitewashed tomb.

When I don't tell the truth of who or how I am I cheat myself. There is nothing more humbling, there is nothing more healing than the acceptance and outpouring of support from a loving community. If we never admit our brokenness, we can never experience the wonder of unconditional love.

And we cheat everyone around us. Who wants to share a struggle with someone who never seems to have one?  Who can see God's glory if I am always displaying mine.

I get it, it can be scary to tell the whole story. And I understand, not every place is safe to do so. I also believe it's a better way to live. It's the way Christ asks us to live. Because only then, when someone says, "Wow. I wish I had your life," they will truly understand what they are asking for.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rocks and Dogs

If you go for a walk around an Ecuadorian city or town, you're going to run into dogs. In some towns dogs are everywhere. Some are behind a fence, some are owned, but roaming the streets and others are just out there, fending for themselves.

For the most part, when Nancy and I go for a walk, we coexist with the dogs. They really don't pay attention to us and we don't pay attention to them. Every now and then, though, we run across one or more who are quick to suggest we leave their neighborhood.

As they bark and follow us down the street, it can make you a bit nervous. But then I remember what to do... pick up a rock.

It makes me wonder if every dog in the country has been hit with a rock, because it never fails. I've never had to throw one because when I lift my arm, they back off. They continue to bark and follow, but at a much safer distance, until ultimately they go home. 

It's a great trick to know. But it's a sorry way to deal with people.

We pick up rocks when the new kid in the office needs to learn his place. We pick up rocks when the new girl tries to worm her way into our social up. We pick up rocks at church when someone doesn't adhere to the rules everyone knows, but Jesus never seemed to mention.

Most people don't pick up rocks and throw them indiscriminately. Though, some do. Some people pick up rocks when they're afraid and feel threatened. Sometimes, because of history, abuse or ways of self preservation. But I'm not really talking about them.

I'm talking about those of us who throw rocks because we're afraid of change. We're afraid we'll lose power. In our workplace. In our social group. In our home. At church. In affluence. In our politics. In our racial "superiority."

It seems to me, so much of the conflict in our nation at the moment is steeped in fear. We're afraid of the unknown. We're afraid of change. We're afraid of the other. We're afraid of the loss of control. We're afraid we're losing power.

So we act like Pharisees who brought Jesus the woman caught in adultery. They made it about her but it really wasn't. It was about them. They were afraid of Christ, the way he exposed them and the power of his message. So they grabbed some rocks.

The problem is, Christ tells us to put down our rocks. Even when it's uncomfortable. Even when it costs us.

Jesus was anti casting stones. Probably, even on Facebook. He is the only hope we have for change in this world. But if we want to follow him, we have to put down our rocks.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Army, a Hillbilly and the Shenandoah

When I was in the army, our platoon sergeant decided we needed some team building, in the form of adventure training. I worked in a bridging unit, which meant we had lots of access to boats and rafts.

So our sergeant took the lieutenant and a two man raft, to find a place to go. They went in the Spring, after a few weeks of heavy rain. The Shenandoah River isn't really known for it's rapids, but I guess after all the rain, the two men on the little raft thought they were going to die. So, of course, when they got to the end of their ride, they looked at each other and said, "This is the spot!!"

Due to logistics, we couldn't make the trip until August. With no rain the previous months, the Shenandoah had returned to it's leisurely pace; the slow stroll of a young couple in love.

Needless to say, "adventure training" was now a life and leisure tour. Thirty, testosterone filled young men, gliding gently down the river.

We had two 15 man rafts and one two man raft with the a cooler full of food... and probably beer. We were jumping off rafts, swimming, throwing each other in the water, laughing and actually, having a good time.

At some point, I jumped off my big raft and climbed in with my two buds, and the cooler, in the little one. Because there were only three of us and because we really didn't care, the two larger rafts were constantly getting pretty far up ahead of us.

So there we were, Don in front, me in the middle and Joey in the back, paddling and drifting along. We got bored and started smacking the water with our oars. If you do it right, it can sound like the crack of a .22. It was fun.

The larger rafts had long been lost in the twists and turns of the river, when we came around a bend and saw a beautiful house, nestled in thick woods, back off the river on our left. On our right was a towering, horseshoe shaped  cliff the river bumped into, before turning and moving on.

I said, "I wonder what it sounds like here!" as I smacked my oar on the water. Sure enough, "KA-POW" bounced off the curved cliff and seemed to magnify my "gunshot." Don and Joey, of course, grabbed their oars and the three of us unloaded an arsenal of .22 rounds into the water. We finally collapsed in the raft, laughing at what great marksmen we were.

Then, out of the wood line, stepped a guy who looked like Phil Robertson, from Duck Dynasty. He pointed a long bony finger at us and yelled, "THERE THEY ARE!".

That's when I saw the rifle.

Now I can't swear to it, but it seemed like time slowed down as he lifted that rifle to his shoulder, and somewhere, in the back of my mind, I began to hear banjos playing.

Then chaos.

The rifle cracked and water flew in our faces all at the same time. Having been army trained, there was no hesitation, we immediately began screaming like little girls.

Don and I sunk our ores into the water and began paddling, like two guys from the Oxford crew team. Joey, in the back of the boat, had never even heard of Oxford. He was also as strong as a horse. All he knew how to do was paddle as hard as he could on one side of the boat.

With the Clydesdale in back, it didn't really matter where Don and I wanted to go, we were at Joey's mercy.

So there we were, the repeated crack of the rifle, water flying up everywhere, three soldiers screaming, spinning like a giant merry-go-round, drifting ever so slowly away from danger.

Now I know good and well, an old guy, from the hill's of Virginia, could have put us down in three shots or less. He just wanted to move us along. And that he did.

But here are four things I learned that day.

1.A lazy day can get frantic fast, enjoy it while it lasts. 2. When you're having fun, you might want to stop and ask yourself, "Could this get me shot?" 3. Before you give someone access to the steering wheel, make sure they know how to drive. 4. There's no better place to spin out of control than the lazy waters of the Shenandoah River.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Missions and a Pair of Ducks

Mission Training International has a great debriefing program for missionary families. In it, they try to give missionaries and their kids a common language for what they have experienced, the paradox of missions. Or, for the kiddos it's a pair of ducks. A "Yay Duck" for things that make you happy and a "Yuck Duck" for things that don't. Let me explain.

I'm sitting again in Quito. I love this city. I love the mountains that surround it. I love the people who live in it. I love the perfect weather. I love life here. Except when I don't.

They're working on it, but the city is pretty polluted. I can't stand the traffic, buses or the way they drive. I hate rainy season when it's freezing. We're working on a visa and I'm so frustrated, I'm about ready to scrap it.

But I love the food. Long walks with Nancy in the park. The warmth in the greetings that include a peck on the cheek. I love their passion for football. And I love the rich history of a city over 500 years old.

They start them young just like us, but the ball is different. 
And there are things about an old city that drive me crazy. Like when things don't work. Lights, plumbing. I can't drink water from the tap. Like a city infrastructure that was created for thousands now supporting millions.

I sat in church on Sunday, wrapped in the warm blanket of nostalgia. We had returned to a place where we worshiped for years. As I walk the streets I'm reminded of where Andrew acted in school plays and where Marcus played soccer. I can stand on the spot Andrew talked about his first kiss and where Marcus said he hoped Jesus would come back before the next sex ed. class.

At the same time I miss my friends from my passport country. I miss my family at Grandview. I miss my team in the office. I miss Andrew and Marcus and Kelsie and the gift it is they live in Colorado. I miss my dad and sister though they don't live nearby. I miss the places we play putt-putt and our favorite restaurants.

I can't even get started on the families I'd love to be with in Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia. We have people all over the world our hearts are tied to. People we've lived life with, raised kids with. People who have cared for us when we've been wrecked. People we have cared for. People we love.

Missionaries and their kids live in the tensions of the two ducks. It's a love hate relationship. You feel a bit schizophrenic at times.  Loving where you are and wanting to be somewhere else. Sometimes loathing where you are and the thought of leaving is  too heart crushing to contemplate. It's a beautiful mess. And you wonder why we're so weird when we come back to visit. :o)