Archive for July, 2010
July 26th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted in » God at Work, My Life / Family
So… I’ve been back in the United States following our mission trip to the Dominican Republic for four days now, and have been experiencing something wholly unexpected rather frequently since our return: culture shock.
Yes, culture shock. In my native culture. Following a trip to a culture that can probably best be described as “other” in comparison.
Who’d have thought?
It seems to stem from the fact that we are such a privileged people here in the United States… we have our every desire right at our fingertips. For food, there’s a supermarket. If you need clothing, there’s a mall. If you need a car, credit’s not that hard to find… for just 60 easy payments or so, you can have that brand new [insert model here]. Shelter? We rarely give it a second thought. Clean water? Not a moment’s.
It’s so odd. When we arrived home early Friday morning, we pulled in the drive and I just sat there, staring at the comparative mansion I’m privileged to own. A far cry from the dirt floored, tin-walled shacks I saw in the Dominican, I felt shame to have so much for myself, Nancy, and my three kids.
As I drive down the highway, I can’t help but be amazed at what I see. Bright shiny new vehicles, left and right… all cruising down the road in an orderly fashion (well, for the most part). If we see a motorcycle, it’s usually a big Harley or a Honda Goldwing… with at most two riders. I can’t help but envision the highways in the Dominican, full of 150cc Honda knock-offs, weaving every which way with as many as six people riding (yes, six!). I can’t help but recall the bumping and lurching of the bus we rode in the Dominican (to think, we complain of potholes).
When I entered Wal-Mart to pick up a couple items we needed, I couldn’t help but envision the Dominican market, with all its small vendors, each peddling their own unique wares. And I remember the smell of the meat market, the “fresh” fish, and the live chickens waiting for slaughter. I’m amazed at how we have everything available at our fingertips.
And when I flew from Dallas to Kansas City at night, I was utterly amazed at the millions of points of light shining up at me from the ground. We light our highways, even entirely vacant parking lots. There, light is a privilege, available only if you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of a few hours of electricity in the middle of a rolling blackout.
As I witness all these things, and continue to be reminded of the gap between us “haves” and the Dominican “have-nots”, I struggle mightily with one main question:
Why are we so blessed to have so much, while the Dominicans have so little?
Why was I blessed to be born in the United States?
I have a feeling I’ll be struggling with these for a LONG time.
July 20th, 2010 | Comments Off | Posted in » God at Work, My Life / Family, Pictures
As I’m reflecting on my first couple of days here in the Dominican, I can’t help but be amazed by how many kids we’ve seen running around everywhere we go. When our bus pulls up anywhere, we’re practically mobbed by them.
They want to hug us, hold our hands, tug at our shirts… anything to be close to us. They want to be held, played with… loved. And, amazingly, they all seem to be filled with joy.
Yes, joy. Though so many of them live in conditions most of us here in America wouldn’t subject our pets to, these kids are filled with joy.
It’s simply amazing. I’ve been almost completely overcome by emotion by seeing the poverty in this nation, particularly as it pertains to children. Yet these kids shine with joy unlike that I’ve seen almost anywhere. It lifts my heart.
And to see them play, particularly with Jeffrey? Wow. They can’t speak a single word to communicate with each other, yet they connect with each other so well as they play. They speak the universal language of fun. It’s just awesome.
I wish I had more eloquent words to describe what I’ve seen and how I’ve felt. However, like so many things I’ve seen down here, it’s just not possible to communicate the thoughts, feelings, images, and experiences through words, or even through photos. You’ve got to see it to understand.
July 18th, 2010 | Comments Off | Posted in » God at Work, My Life / Family, Pictures
As I’m processing what I’ve witnessed here in the Dominican, it’s pretty clear what jumps out about this nation and these people at first glance: this is a place of immense poverty.
It’s difficult to witness, let alone process.
I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials on television for Haitian relief, or for save the children, or for some charitable relief organization trying to make a difference throughout the world in places like this. Most of the time, when we see these things, we have no sort of emotional response… we’re more likely to simply change the channel to check out what else we can find to fry our brains, or to wonder if the scenes shown are staged. If we do have an emotional response, it’s usually of irritation… how dare these organizations try to wind us up emotionally to extract money from us!
But witnessing poverty first-hand?
There simply isn’t much that will move you more.
You can’t help but be affected by seeing families living in 4′ x 8′ shacks constructed of whatever materials they happen to be able to find. You can’t help but shed tears as you see children with distended stomachs, running around naked and playing in mud puddles. You can’t help but want to do something… anything you can think of to help. You can’t help but be overwhelmed because the need is so great… where can you start?
You can’t help but question how and why God would allow this. In the United States, even the poorest of the poor have a roof over their heads and somewhat regular meals. They’ve probably even got a television to watch, clothes to wear, maybe even an old beat up car to drive.
The contrast between “our” impoverished and the impoverished here is so dramatic. Here, the impoverished don’t eat for days. They pick through trash dumps to find whatever supplies they can for subsistence. They cobble together shacks for shelter made of old vehicle hoods, cardboard, scraps of tin. They have parasites living in their stomachs. Bugs and lice living in their hair. Scabs and scars arising from all sorts of nasty things we can’t begin to imagine.
Even the “average” person here rarely works, for there simply aren’t jobs available. We complain about a 9% unemployment rate, how “awful” our economy has gotten, how horrible our 401K has performed, how “health care reform” will ruin our nation. Here, unemployment is 75-90%. Savings and retirement are foreign concepts. Health care is virtually non-existent.
I could go on and on, yet never adequately communicate what I’m seeing. Take a look at some of these photos, though, and allow these images to move you emotionally. Consider how God would have you personally respond to what you’re seeing.
July 17th, 2010 | Comments Off | Posted in » God at Work, My Life / Family
Well, our first full day of ministry here in the Dominican is now in the books. Itâ€™s been an overwhelming experience, to say the least, but itâ€™s definitely been good.
Hereâ€™s the dealâ€¦ the overwhelming thought Iâ€™ve got right now. If youâ€™re a follower of Jesus Christ, and youâ€™ve never been on an international mission trip, youâ€™ve got to go. The Great Commission is clear:
19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The first part of the Great Commission is to go. The last part is that Christ will be with you. Weâ€™ve gone, and weâ€™ve DEFINITELY experienced Christ being with us so far.
Itâ€™s amazing to see the need here. And itâ€™s utterly amazing to see how God is working. I’ll detail those ways in posts a bit later.
[Note: These are thoughts from Friday evening, July 16th.]
July 16th, 2010 | Comments Off | Posted in » God at Work, My Life / Family
Remember the song? â€œBig olâ€™ jet airlinerâ€¦ donâ€™t carry me too far away.â€
That was the majority of our day, really (though certainly not the majority of our experience). We woke up bright and early at a time of day Iâ€™ve seen only once or twice (3:45 AM!) to hop on a plane to the Dominican. Well, not exactlyâ€¦ first we boarded a puddle jumper to Chicago, then a slightly larger plane to Miami, and finally that â€œbig olâ€™ jet airlinerâ€ (a 767!) to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
We arrived slightly after dark, so it was awfully hard to get much of a handle on our surroundings here. Basically, we saw the inside of an airport and the inside of a bus. It was rather clear though that â€œweâ€™re not in Kansas anymoreâ€. Customs presented a few rather anxious thoughts, though reality proved to be nothing like the various worries that ran through my mind. In fact, our entire team was rushed through without any question whatsoever.
The most welcome sight of the day, though, came as we exited the airport, as we came upon the sight of what seemed like an army of blue shirted D.R. missionaries welcoming us (there are about 8 in reality, but the welcome sight of them mobbing us with hugs, grabbing our bags and loading them upâ€¦ made it seem like a lot more). These folks will be part of our family for the week, serving as our guides, hosts, and leaders here in the Dominican.
As for adjustment? I think weâ€™re all dealing with a bit of shock that the reality of this trip is setting in. But we expected to be a bit overwhelmed. Itâ€™s a good thing. Weâ€™re so comfortable with our little world in the United Statesâ€¦ weâ€™re so locked into the thought that our culture and our way of life is the only way people live (we know better, but itâ€™s true)â€¦ experiencing something completely â€œotherâ€ does come as a bit of a shock to the system. But itâ€™s clearly a good thing. I fully expect to shed some tears in the near future (what can I say, Iâ€™m an emotional guy). I expect Jeffrey will have some issues with adjustment. And I expect Nancy to encounter something that makes this trip tough.
After all, itâ€™s hot and humid here. We donâ€™t have electricity and air conditioning all of the time as we do at home. Weâ€™ll be eating food thatâ€™s a bit different from what weâ€™re used to. Weâ€™re going to see a lot of things that will be difficult to swallow. And weâ€™ll be missing Jenna and Allison quite a bit.
But weâ€™ll tackle these things together, and weâ€™ll grow in our understanding of the world, and perhaps most of all, of Godâ€™s global purpose. Weâ€™ll be meeting people here that, in Christ, are our brothers and sisters already. Our family. And hopefully adding more members to it as we share the gospel with people that donâ€™t yet know Him.
Itâ€™s going to be a good experience, even if not an easy one.
[Note: This post was written Thursday, July 15th. Posts from the Dominican Republic Mission Trip will be delayed a bit, due to time constraints while there and availability of internet and electricity.]
July 10th, 2010 | Comments Off | Posted in » My Life / Family, Pictures
When I was growing up, I loved baseball. It certainly wasn’t the only sport I loved, but it was definitely near the top.
I remember throwing a tennis ball against the side of the house when I was around 7 or 8 years old (maybe younger, I don’t know for sure), playing a pretend version of the game… if I caught the ball, it was an out, if not… there were runners on. I remember making diving catches and imagining being on “This Week in Baseball” (remember that one?).
I remember practicing pitching in my backyard, throwing baseballs (yes, baseballs) against the brick foundation of the house toward a strike zone I’d made there with tape. I’d throw more pitches than I could count some days, always trying to get my accuracy down, and later, different pitches.
The Royals were definitely my team when I was young. There wasn’t much better than watching George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Kevin Seitzer, Bret Saberhagen, Paul Splitorff, Dan Quizenberry, and the rest of the guys back through the early to mid-80′s. I remember watching the pine tar homerun on television… watching the Royals fight for the pennant almost every year… I remember listening to the Royals on the radio whenever I went to visit my Grandma and Grandad Stickley… and I can vividly remember watching the 1985 World Series.
And all the time, I remember wondering what it would be like to actually be on the field at Royals Stadium. I always thought that would be the coolest thing ever.
Well, yesterday, that dream came true. I was given a ticket for a Royals on-field promotion, where I had the opportunity to take batting practice, shag fly balls, and meet with a couple of Royals greats (Willie Wilson and John Mayberry). Words cannot describe how cool the experience was. Suffice it to say that I felt like I was eight years old again… running around the outfield like a crazy man to snag fly balls… taking cuts at pitches thrown by Willie Wilson, hoping to really crush one (and yes, I did hit a few that were pretty nice)… just sitting there listening to Willie and John talk about their days in the majors.
Oh yeah. The reality of playing baseball at Royals Stadium? Even better than I’d imagined.
July 7th, 2010 | Comments Off | Posted in » Christian Living, Devotions / Bible Studies, My Life / Family
As many of you may already know, in about eight days, Nancy, Jeffrey, and I, along with twenty-one other people from my church and other St. Joseph area churches, will be embarking for the Dominican Republic to take the good news of Jesus Christ to people living in darkness there. The spiritual needs of the people are large, the trip itself a bit daunting, and the prayer needs great.
If you’re reading this at “Toward the Goal”, it’s probable that you share the hope and faith we have in Jesus Christ. If that’s the case, you’ll completely understand the need for fervent prayer for this trip… Satan is every bit as real as the God we serve, and he’s adamently opposed to people being used by God to reach the world with the hope of Christ. Spiritual warfare is likely, so we’ll need an army of prayer warriors standing behind us as we move to the front lines to push back darkness.
So, please… believers in Christ, pray. We do have a prayer letter to help guide your prayers, so if you’d like to receive that, by all means, contact me.
If you don’t have a faith-based relationship with Jesus, I pray you’d consider his very words:
13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven â€” the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Jesus claimed that He was the Son of God, sent from heaven to reconcile a sinful world to God the Father. He performed miracles, signs, and wonders to prove He was who He claimed… healing people, miraculously feeding huge crowds, even raising the dead. Still, all but a few people of the time did not believe, and He was ultimately rejected and sentenced to death by crucifixion. And then something amazing happened… after suffering, dying, and being buried, He rose from the grave, conquering sin and death just as He said He would.
The question before each of us is simply this: do you believe? Will you act upon that belief by submitting your life to Jesus, repenting of sin and choosing to follow Him from that point forward?
Eternity hinges on this response.