June 28, 2010

Greetings from the DR...

Day one on the work site. Welcome to the mud bowl!
Some of the boys... taking a break.
Our 50-person block line.

Seeing some patients at the medical clinic.
Holding VBS in the park for the kids

Added 7/8/10:

June 27, 2010

Maravilloso (Marvelous)

Today is our fifth day—the halfway point--of the trip.

We got a break from construction and conducted an all-day medical clinic. Five Dominican doctors and three of our nurses saw 582 patients in a five-hour span. Patients were seen in family units and for most it was their only opportunity to receive medical care and medications. Even though we could only offer the basics of care, the families were very thankful for even that.

I think about how much we complain about our health care system in the US. Believe me, one day at a clinic here and you’d thank God for the access and resources we have!

After three days on the work site we’ve accomplished so much. We started Friday with a 50+ person cinderblock line…in the street, down the sidewalk, around the corner and onto the work site. Everyone participated--grownups, kids, Dominicans, Americans. In no time at all we moved tons of blocks. At about 40 pounds per block, it was a great show of strength and teamwork.

There’s been something for everyone to do. Cut and bend rebar, use the pick axe, shovel trenches (which seem to be multiplying like loaves and fish), mix concreto and mecla, or play with the kids. My personal favorite has wielding a trowel and bucket of mecla to help build the walls. It’s not a job the Dominicans seem eager to give up, so I’ve been happy to been allowed to help. With so many people working the walls are rising quickly. We have six wall sections started so far.

One thing became evident after our third day on the work site—us Americans are definitely not used to such strenuous work. With aching muscles, sore backs and outright fatigue we were all sagging by the end of the day.

As Anthony said, “You could just look at people’s faces and see how exhausted they were.”

I’m continued to be amazed at how well the kids (Dominican and American) all get along and how resourceful they are. The other day on the work site a group of boys played baseball using a plastic soda bottle filled with rocks and a broomstick…and they had a great time! I haven’t heard a single, “Mom, I’m bored!” In fact the opposite it true, all the kids are engaged and animated—with no TV, computers, cell phones, video games or gadgets. Amazing!

This trip has not been without its challenges…more it seems than last year. We have had several people get sick, including three today. Long hours and general exhaustion have taken a physical toll. An outreach activity last night didn’t go as planned (at all). The devil seems to be trying to get a grasp on this trip. But, I believe God will use it all for good and await to see how that happens.

Even still the Spirit is alive and at work. Revealing Himself in our large and small group devotions. In the intimate one-on-one connections. In shared moments. And times of prayer and worship. Last night we got a big “Wow!” during the service we led at the church in Haina.

On the Haiti trips this spring, Pastor Brony (the pastor of the church here in Haina) introduced some of us to a song wrote, (Maravilloso). Us Americans practiced the song before we came and sang it for Brony and his congregation at the service. As soon as he heard the first few notes, a smile of recognition spread across his face and the faces of his congregation. The tambourine, drums, bongos and “cheese graters” joined in with our guitars as we all sang with incredible joy and enthusiasm.

It’s these moments we treasure. Dios es maravillos. (God is marvelous.)

Tomorrow we’ll run a VBS in the park and then we’ll have a much needed afternoon at the beach! We are ALL looking forward to that and are praying for NO RAIN!

Dios te bendiga!

Added 7/8/10:

June 24, 2010

Grace Like Rain

We’re here in Santo Domingo. Safe and sound. It’s the end of our first full day…and our first day on the work site. For those of us who have been here before, it was great to see old friends. Newcomers made friends in no time at all. Now we’re one big, happy bunch. Dominicans and Americans.

If one word could sum up today it was MUD. It’s been raining here for days. The work site looked more like we’re building a swimming pool than a church. Some of the kids actually did swim in the giant muddy pools of water!

Even with all the rain we managed to get a lot done. Trenches were dug. Rebar was cut, bent and tied together. Kids were played with. Piles were shoveled. And even some concrete was poured. We finished the work day tired, soaking wet and incredibly dirty but thrilled for the progress we made and oh, so happy to be here.

The highlight of today was our devotion this evening. We met in small groups first and then joined for large group worship and sharing. It was our first time joined together in this type of gathering. It was great to refocus on our real reason for being here. Besides a sharing powerful singing (us Presbyterians can sing loud when we want to!), we shared a lot of laughter as well.

Our small groups shared their impressions from the day and our trip so far. Here’s what some of the folks said:

I came because my nine-year-old daughter saw the slide show from last year and her young friend was in one of the pictures. She said, “Mom, he was in the DR and he’s MY age! Next year I want to go!” I never thought I’d do something like this, but now my daughter and I are here together.

The thing I feared most was the lack of amenities -- cold shower, really hot weather with no air conditioning and questionable bathrooms. I’m surprised by how none of that bothers me now.

What amazed me the most today was the teamwork. Everybody focused on the goal of the minute. Whatever needed to be done people did. Whether we needed to dig or move a pile of gravel or form a bucket line, we worked as one team. It was so awesome to see!

This afternoon, after lunch it was raining so hard that it looked like we were going to have to leave the work site, but Pastor Brony (our maestro) came to us (as we waited under the shelter of a neighbor’s porch) that it was time to mix concrete. Just like that we started moving stones and mixing concrete. We ended up working the entire day. Even though we were drenched, it was amazing how much work we got done.

It was so cool today how quickly all the kids (Dominicans and Americans) played together. Within moments of us getting off the bus it was like one group of children from little ones to teenagers. It didn’t matter that they didn’t speak the same language. They spoke with balls and bubbles and giggles and gestures. All day long they had fun together. That would NEVER happen at home and it made me so happy to watch.

Tomorrow is another work day. Hopefully the rain will stop, but we will do what we can regardless of the weather. We have some things planned that we’ve never done on these trips before, so I’m excited to see how they turn out. Stay tuned…

Dios te bendiga.

Added 7/8/10:

June 23, 2010

Go! (aka Just Do It!)

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

By the time you read this all 39 of us missionaries should be cruising at 30,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. And by noon I expect we’ll be in the Santo Domingo airport eating corn pizza and drinking Red Rock soda. Aaah, it’ll be good to be home.

When I look at the roster I see such a diverse group ranging in age from six to seventy-something. We have students from kindergarten to college, business executives, nurses, teachers, stay-at-home moms and stay-at home dads, pastors and pastors-to-be. Some are seasoned travelers, others await the first stamp in their freshly-minted passports. Some speak bits of Spanish, but most are English-speaking only. Some travel with confidence in the skills they have to offer—to heal, teach, sing, lead or construct. Others aren’t quite sure what they’re doing here.

I’m pretty sure no one got a good sleep last night, given that nerves were on edge and alarms were set for 2:30 a.m.! By tonight we’ll all be wiped out, punch drunk with fatigue and incredibly hot. But we will have arrived. And we'll be together. Ready to go.

I know God has a plan for each of us here right now. Before we were born He knew we'd be here. He knows exactly how our unique offerings—our personalities, heart and energy—are needed. His strength will cover our weakness. His joy will be our strength. And His grace will be sufficient. 

It’s an exciting time…just like the apostle Paul said, "This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives ...” (Colossians 1:6, NLT)

As Rick Warren says:
The best way to develop Great Commission eyes is to just get up and go on a short-term mission project to another country! There's simply no substitute for hands-on, real life experience in another culture. Quit studying and discussing your mission and just do it! I dare you to dive into the deep end.

It will enlarge your heart, expand your vision, stretch your faith, deepen your compassion, and fill you with a kind of joy you've never experienced. It could be the turning point in your life.” 
 I couldn't agree with him more!

Please check back for periodic updates during the next ten days and keep us in your prayers.
Dios te bendig

Taken last year at the building site. This is where we'll work again.
We'll begin to build a church, plus a school and medical clinic.

June 21, 2010

One Adventure Ends...and Another Begins

"But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:14)

Following our guide across one of many bridges. Metaphor anyone?
While I haven’t written much about it, the thrill of our rim-to-rim backpacking trek in the Grand Canyon hasn’t faded. As I’ve excitedly shared stories and pictures, I’ve heard one reaction again and again: “Wow, that's amazing!” Quickly followed by, “I could NEVER do that!”

I usually smile in reply, but think to myself, Yeah you probably could.

I’m not a remarkable person. I didn’t bring any special skills or extraordinary fitness with me into the Canyon. As I see it only three things separate the naysayers from me—a desire to try, some training and a belief that I could do it. (Of course, financial resources and basic health/fitness are also necessary.)

At the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Ready to start our third day.
But it’s a common response, isn’t it? We admire others’ accomplishments that are so far out of our comfort zones and experiences, and we think, “That’s great for them, but I could NEVER do that!” But why do we say this?
  • Why do we erect fences defining what we can and cannot do?
  • Why are we so quick to doubt our potential?
  • How can we be so sure if we’ve never tried?

I have a distinguished history of doing just that—not with physical challenges, but from spiritual ones. Deep down (and not so deep down) I’m a spiritual scaredy-cat.

How'd we get from there (top of picture)
to here (bottom of picture)?
One step at a time.
During the past eight years I’ve said I could never:
… lead a Bible study.
… pray out loud.
… teach a class.
… go on a hospital sick visit in a ministerial capacity.
… go into a prison
… speak at a podium
… go on a mission trip
… have a story published
… sit with a dying friend
… visit with someone I don’t know, whose language I don’t speak and pray with them.

Each one of these doors I kept firmly closed, but Jesus patiently stood outside knocking, “Will you come out and follow me?” “No!” I replied. But He didn’t go away.

For some reason in each of the above instances I cracked open the door of possibility—and eventually said “yes." But why?

I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m eager to make a fool of myself (and I'm quite sure I have). It’s not that I felt qualified (usually the opposite is true). And it’s not even that I believed I would succeed. The only thing I know is that in my heart I desire to be a follower— not a sitter-on-the-sidelines—of Jesus. I want to run the race and I want to run it well.

To do this often means training in new and sometimes painful ways. In ways that work neglected muscles, build strength and increase endurance—slowly, one step, one “yes” at a time. As I've traveled, I believe Jesus speaks these words to me, and to all who doubt or hesitate, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Where we are weak, He is strong.

What doors do you have firmly shut with a resolute, "Who me? Never!" Where do you need a new vision to see what's possible? What physical or spiritual muscles need a workout? Jesus is waiting. Will you open the door and follow Him?


In a little over 24 hours, I’m off on another adventure…another leg of the race. This time I’m headed back to the Dominican Republic for my second mission trip there.

On Wednesday at 3:15 a.m. my kids and I will join 36 others in the parking lot of our church and board a bus bound for Newark airport and ultimately Santo Domingo. Some are “first-timers” who are probably filled with the same anxieties, questions and concerns as I was last year. Others are veteran DR missionaries who are on their sixth, seventh or eighth trips. But all of us are fellow runners who’ve bravely said “yes” to God.

For ten days we’ll continue the work we began last year (building a church in Haina). We’ll conduct medical clinics, home visits and VBS. We’ll reconnect with old friends and make new ones. We’ll sing, worship, pray and play together. And we’ll live in community with one another as we work side by side, mano a mano—living, breathing stones in the body of Christ.

I’m so excited to get there. I’m excited for my kids who are thrilled to be going back. I’m excited to see how God works in us and through us all. Will you pray for us?

I hope to post periodic updates from the house where we’ll be staying. Last I heard the internet was down. Check back throughout our time away.

June 16, 2010

Not Me, God. I’m Exhausted.

Last week I was presented with two ministry opportunities. Both are with organizations I believe in, work with and support, and both were unexpected requests. Initially I was flattered to be asked to take a bigger role in each, but when the reality of adding more to my volunteer/ministry plate sunk in, the logical side of my brain screamed, “Are you crazy! The last thing you need is MORE work to do. You’re already doing far more than your fair share!”

The other half of my brain agreed, “Ya’ know, you’re right. Why should I be expected to do more? And how can I fulfill my other obligations if I said ‘yes?’”

That was pretty much my mindset all week. But inside, my spirit felt unsettled and challenged my trigger response. While the world may look favorably upon me if I do my "part," what does God have to say on the matter? Is giving Him my parts enough?

I turned to Scripture for answers. This verse stood out:
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48
I also discovered that as followers of Christ we are to:
  • Allow ourselves to be broken and poured out like a drink offering. (Philippians 2:17)
  • Offer our lives to the Lord as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1)
  • Grow in wisdom so we can to discern between what is good and what is BEST. (Philippians 1:10)
  • Not grow weary from doing good. (Galatians 6:9)
  • Conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Philippians 1:27)
  • Run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
  • Glorify God in all we do. (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31)
These job descriptions tell me our Heavenly Father doesn’t want part of us, He wants ALL of us. Excuses like, “Later,” “Find someone else,” or “I’m too busy/tired/stressed out,” don’t seem to be biblical responses.

Whenever I need a spiritual wake-up call, I turn to Oswald Chambers. Here's what he has to say:
You have no right to say—“O Lord, I am so exhausted.” He saved and sanctified you in order to exhaust you. Be exhausted for God, but remember that your supply comes from Him. “All my fresh springs shall be in Thee.”
So, there’s my answer. I must never grow weary and I need to say “yes” to every ministry request. Right? Well, that doesn't seem to be the appropriate response either.

The other day I happened upon a blog that helped clarify my thoughts. The pictures in the blog reminded me of my love for these people (which happens to be where one of my ministry opportunities lies). The images rekindled a flame in my heart. My spirit tingled with excitement.

I know that feelings are an unfaithful guide, but God’s given each of us unique gifts, hearts and passions. Shouldn’t these inner promptings direct us to where God’s calling us to serve? It seems that when we serve in these areas, our service isn’t a duty or response to guilt, it’s an act of love for our Heavenly Father who’s given us so much.

With refocused eyes, I reviewed the two ministry opportunities. The first one I have the skills to offer, but no passion for what I’ve been asked to do and it conflicts with my other “kingdom” activities. I feel at peace saying “no.” With the other opportunity, it’s clear God has given me a heart and desire to serve with the organization and the people they minister to. Even tentatively, I must say “yes.”

Part of me wants to selfishly protect my time and serve out of my comfort and convenience. But I hear Oswald Chambers reminding me, "Be exhausted for God." Such exhaustion is a privilege, not a burden.

I’ve been given much and I know that blessing comes with a great responsibility. In my heart I truly want to use all God gave me to bring glory to His name. I recognize that in this season, the demands upon me are great, but I will trust that my strength will come from Him who called me here in the first place.

June 8, 2010

Running Free

We have the cutest, sweetest yellow lab and it’s been brought to my attention that I don’t write about her enough…hardly at all in fact. Maybe it’s because she’s not a troublemaker who provides frequent doses of writing inspiration. Regardless, she’s obviously far more forgiving than the furry, four-legged feline in our house, because she’s never once mentioned the fact that I’ve written about (and even gotten published) stories about the C.A.T!

Tess is my walking buddy. With leash in hand and iPod on (my ears, not Tess’), she and I travel the neighborhoods for not-quite daily treks. Besides getting much needed exercise, it’s on these outings that I get writing ideas, sort through personal problems and let my mind wander. As much as God speaks to me, I hear Him during these jaunts.

Tess on the "best day ever"
One thing I realized on a recent walk is that Tess (and probably most dogs) teaches me a lot about what a relationship with Jesus should look like. For one thing she’s filled with fruit of the Spirit! Love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness top the list. Gosh, I could write a volume on the joy displayed through her wagging tail! She radiates joy at the prospect of walks, fetches with the tennis ball or rides in the car. Add a hike and a swim in a stream and it’s the best day ever!

The other day Tess and I started out on a walk. Usually I choose the route, but this day I let her lead. Within steps out of the front door Tess pulled on the leash—with single-minded determination. It was obvious she had a plan. I could hardly walk fast enough to keep up and think she would have run to our destination if I let her off leash.

We took a right turn, then a left and another left. Then a right. Turn after turn Tess led and I followed, curious to see her intentions. About twenty minutes later we arrived at our destination. A local park.

The funny thing is we hardly go to this park and hadn’t been for months. But, Tess knew exactly where she wanted to be. I let her off her leash to run and sniff and be a dog. The slobbery smile on her face confirmed her joy. She was free.

I want to pursue time with the Lord with the same purpose and passion as Tess pursued the park. I want to strain against all that holds me back to commune with my Maker—to worship with abandon and take joy in just being with Him. I want to have that route burned in may brain regardless of how much time has passed.

I want to be free.

Isn’t this why we were created in the first place—to live lives that reflect His glory? God doesn’t intend us to be constrained by leashes like busyness, self-sufficiency, doubt, fear, worry, pride, or idolatry. He also doesn’t want us to stay “inside” where it’s safe and predictable. He wants us free.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  ~2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Jesus died on the cross for our sins. In doing so He freed us and showed us the way. This freedom is exhilarating.

Just ask Tess.

I am Free
by the Newsboys
I am free to run
 I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free
Yes, I am free
Through you the kingdom's come
Through You the battle's won
Through You the price is paid
Through You there's victory
Because of You my heart screams I am free
I am free