Monday, June 25, 2012

after 365 days in Africa

Many days seemed to fly by with:

Beach-side sunrises at 5:00 AM, 

Saturday soccer with guards,

Mountain hikes through waterfalls, 

 Sunday ball with an orphanage team,

Ocean cruises on a catamaran,

Video Games with 2nd Graders,

Basketball camp with 100+ kids, 

Athletic competitions with local schools,

Insightful discussions with beloved guards, 

and powerful African sunsets.

Other days seemed like weeks, thanks to:

Church services with multiple sermons
(event-oriented society),

Triple-digit temperatures with 100% humidity,

17-hour bus rides with unplanned pit-stops,

Failed GPS tracking with students in the bush,

Rainy season and flooded roads,

and forced good-byes to close friends.

          I guess I'm supposed to be arriving home, seeing my time overseas is up. But arriving, for me, has recently become a complicated word. The more people I meet and the more places I live, the more difficult it is to arrive. Transition is tough. What you find and who you meet while traveling and discovering and venturing out is not what makes it hard; it's those you leave behind.

          We are having a family reunion in southern Missouri at the lake this week. Familiar faces of family and friends are sweet to see for sure, but so are those we have to leave to see them. Consider water sports. When you're waiting to ski or tube or knee-board, you float in the water behind the boat. It takes a while for the rope to tighten after the boat starts moving forward. It feels like I'm still moving from Africa, even though I'm already home. I'm physically here, but my mind is still catching up to the boat. I'm feeling the tug of the taught rope pulling my emotions as I complete the transition. I wasn't expecting such a difficult time returning when I left last June.

          I think dying to self and following Christ brings with it natural transition. Jesus didn't sit and wait for people to come to Him. While He moved along, He invited those He met to follow Him (by leaving). One thing I learned this year is that the Body of Christ is global. I've grown up with songs of Jesus loving all the little children of the world, but to go out into the world and meet some of these children who are loving Jesus back has been incredible! This is what makes transition more bearable. When we think of who we're leaving it can be extremely sad. But it's encouraging to know passionate followers of Christ are all around. And when we realize Who is waiting for us, going with us, and staying behind us as we leave, it makes it easier to jump in cars, board planes, and follow Christ by leaving.

America is my home for now. The year in Africa is over.
But I think I'll be arriving for a while. 

And you know what? I'm cool with that. 

Thank you for listening to my thoughts in this blog and for being a part of the best year of my life. 

I look forward to what lies ahead! 

Be blessed, friend!

"Be strong and courageous.  
Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, 
for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."      
Joshua 1:9

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finish Strong

With temperatures cooling slowly, people in Mozambique are pulling out the coats and boots and scarves and preparing for winter. I have recently seen my breath and found myself shivering as I take the keys to the guards in the early morning! Even so, I quickly forget the chill when the afternoon sun beats down in PE. Nonetheless, the summer is coming to an end, along with my time in Mozambique.

Hilario getting the keys

In four weeks I will be writing from the other side of the Atlantic. There were times when the thought of completing this year seemed impossible. There were others when I could picture myself here full-time. Mostly, I've been content with the rate of speed of the year. But as I approach my departure, I feel a need to finish strong.

Dad has told me many times,
"Most accidents occur within 20 miles of home."

It may be that people just avoid venturing out. Maybe their jobs prevent them from traveling. Maybe the price of gas keeps them close. You can't crash where you don't go. It makes sense - if you drive close, you'll crash close.

But maybe it's not that people don't travel. Maybe they do. And just maybe, as they return, the tendency is to let down their guard and relax while approaching familiar ground, the welcoming destination they like to call, home. I don't want to relent or relax in this twenty mile stretch left in Africa. I want both of my Dads to be proud.

If you are ending a term of sorts, I encourage you to do more than just finish. Don't settle for simply completing the task. Some people fall asleep when they approach a destination. Let's not just do our time. My challenge is for us to get creative and keep ourselves awake by working harder than in the past; looking further for opportunities to grow, and encouraging others along the way.

Let's run the race well, and finish strong!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hoops for Hope

The second week of March was overfilled with an amazing time of sports outreach. Pastor Mark Wible (Highland Baptist Church) led a team of six athletic men with the desire to reach the world for Christ through basketball. During the first three days, fundamental skills were taught to 120 kids in a neighborhood called Jardim. They were shown how to dribble, pass, shoot, rebound, and move offensively and defensively.

Hoops for Hope team
(Left to Right: Myself, Jim Bowers, Thiago, Carlos, Avelino,
Mark, Noah, Mike, Dezanove, Vance, Ben, Andy)

At the end of each session, Mark shared the following devotional thoughts:

I have a purpose.
God has a plan.
You have a part.

The kids were encouraged to discover their PART to play in God's PLAN of redemption for the ultimate PURPOSE of bringing Him glory. Local ministers presented the salvation message to the children on the final day. We had around fifty kids respond! Praise God! Our prayer is that these kids can plug into local congregations and continue growing in their fresh walk with the Lord.

The fourth day of the week was spent training coaches and ministering at an orphanage outside of town. With an overflow of children wanting to participate, we decided to break the team up into two groups. My group ran the skills training while the rest of the team played with the kids on the playground. I had been running my own station for passing the whole week, speaking Portuguese the whole time. But when we split into groups, I was the only one available to translate for Pastor Mark. It was a stretching few hours for sure! Exhausted from the week already, I was grabbing for grace to make it through our final presentation.

One of our translators for the week was Thiago Silva de Souza. He is a Brazilian friend I met in high school. Having recently graduated with a degree in Physical Education, he shares my passion for sports ministry and flew over to Mozambique to help run the camp. His presence and interpretation was very much appreciated! He will be spending the rest of the month at my house before heading back to his home in Manaus, Brazil. Please ask God to reveal the next steps for Thiago's life.

Thiago and I at the airport

Elio and Thiago
(street child)

As I pass the nine month mark in Mozambique, I too am praying about the next steps to take. I would appreciate your prayers as I try to discover God's plan.

CAM girls basketball took 3rd place at the annual AISM tournament!

More immediate prayer requests are listed below.

School trips this weekend:
  • The high school is traveling to Bilene beach for their annual field trip. They will spend two nights out, returning on Saturday afternoon.
  • Two high school students will be traveling to Johannesburg, South Africa for the Global Issues Service Summit Africa 2012. Kyla and myself will be acting as chaperones for the weekend. We will return to Mozambique on Tuesday.
  • Our elementary is traveling to the crocodile farm this Friday for the day.

Melvin and Sharon Kelly are having a child.
Please pray for safe and healthy delivery. Sharon's water broke this morning, so the party could be going on as I type. :)

Continued discipleship of new believers in Jardim.
Please lift up the lives of so many children who made decisions to receive Jesus and live their lives for Him. Ask that they could find churches where that relationship could be cultivated well.

Thank you! Be blessed, friend.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Profile of the Last 6 Years

Let me introduce to you someone I admire,
someone who inspired me to re-venture overseas.

But first, let me set it up:

My junior year of high school was filled with transition. Fresh off the mission field, I readjusted to life in the States. I picked up my first job watching after-school kids at minimum wage. I joined the varsity basketball team. I reconnected with old friends and made others through a local youth group. Wednesdays quickly became my favorite day of the week. The worship, fellowship, games, and messages were great. Youth group made my transition easy.

One day Pastor Ryan told me and a friend about a man from church who needed some yard work done. Jonathan and I quickly jumped at the offer for some extra cash and, shortly after, found ourselves pulling down a gravel driveway to the Smith's residence on Deer Run.

A large man approached us and began to lay out his expectations for a perfectly groomed garden. No leaves. No weeds. No sticks. No rocks. Nothing but plants and flowers or the job wasn't complete. He was an intense man who knew what he wanted. He was intimidating, as was his expectation for perfection. But behind the seemingly crass and calloused covering there was something sweet and tender. After laying down the law of perfection in the morning, he laid down two Subway sandwiches for us at lunch.

It was then that I thought to myself, This isn't so bad after all.

Garden on the east side

One tedious job was enough for Jonathan, but I chose to stay. Cleaning garden beds was the first of many tasks. It gradually spider-webbed into a regular general maintenance and grounds keeping position. I trimmed grass; cleared trees and planted others; weeded, preened, and mulched gardens; cleaned gutters; laid seed; power-washed and stained decks; decorated for Christmas; blew leaves; shoveled snow; built a greenhouse; watched turkey and chickens and Patches the cat and the house. I ran chainsaws and blowers and mowers and trimmers. I drove the tractor and trailers with brush, mulch, and compost. You get the idea; I did work.

Many hours have been spent at the Smith's residence over the past six years. At the beginning, money was the main motivation. I had never done manual labor for compensation before then. It felt good to work with my hands and get recognized for it financially. But with each job, I got to know a very interesting man a little more. The pay became more than cash and checks. Morning chats, water breaks, and afternoon discussions 'til dusk was when I got to know him best.
  • Interpersonal conflict.
  • Fundamental attributes of God.
  • Doctrinal differences.
  • Relationship with family, friends, enemies, and lovers.
  • Economical decline.
  • Occupational pursuits.
  • People, destiny, love, and the purpose of life.
These conversations, along with many others, opened the door of my heart to glean from a wealth of wisdom and knowledge I discovered in a very honorable man of God…Tom Smith.

Tom and his grand kids in the front garden

He demanded perfection I couldn't give. I pulled flowers instead of weeds. I broke glass and tools and machines. I hit water lines, multiple times. I spilled gas. I scalped grass. I even broke his zip-line. I made mistakes quite often. But I tried. And that's what he chose to see. I always tried to do it right. I always tried to fix what I broke. I always tried to learn from mistakes. The perfection of effort was there even when the grass and flowers weren't.

Somewhere along the line, my initial fear of Tom turned into respect. Intimidation became imitation. You see, about the time I met him, Tom was diagnosed with cancer and not given long to live. He could have taken this news and rolled over and quit. But Tom isn't like that. He's a fighter. He has beaten the odds numerous times to find himself beyond his troubled past, above his current trials, and reaching higher. He took a basic forklift position and managed to climb the corporate ladder to an esteemed management position that flew him around the world, took him on exotic retreats, and retired him well - complete with a $20,000 Rolex. He fought for what he wanted.

When he was diagnosed, he didn't roll over, he didn't quit, he simply began fighting for what he wanted…to live. Tom's spirit and miraculous help from God brought him through many storms that could have easily taken his life.

"A man's spirit sustains him in sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?"

Proverbs 18:14

Norma Smith plays a huge part in this testimony. The power of prayer is evident through the faithful and persevering support of Tom's beloved wife. Spending nights at hospitals and countless hours in prayer, Norma's love for Tom and faith in God has never faltered. Who wouldn't fight to spend life with a woman like that? Tom did.

Tom and Norma at Matterhorn

If you ask him, he may not admit it. But behind his humble spirit he knows he has overcome the medical predictions, survived the painful treatments, and destroyed the statistics for survival. He hasn't only survived this incredibly torturous disease. He has thrived in its midst.

Through considerable pain and weakness, Tom has managed to host annual baptisms at his private lake; successfully partner in Empty Pockets housing rentals; faithfully attend men's group at Denny's; continually support the church, youth group, and missionaries abroad; generously invest in the lives of others; and even manage to play a starring role in a sermon series video for Christmas.

PJ and I shoveling Tom's driveway

There are many reasons why I appreciate you, Tom. Everything from your delicious soups and love of nature to your directive mannerisms and unique interaction with animals. But mostly, I love the time you took, the words you spoke, and the lessons you taught me by sharing your life with a slave. :)

Tom and Norma at my high school graduation

It was an honor to stand in the legacy you're living;
It was inspiring to watch you run the race;
It was empowering to work the land together;

And I will forever be changed.

Thank you.

- that missionary in Africa…who wasn't going to return :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Early in December I found myself sitting behind a soundboard, behind bars. One of our national churches organized a worship service for the inmates of a local prison and asked me to run sound. It was a good time and a fun atmosphere. We sang for over an hour before celebrating Christmas with candy and African cheese puffs. I can check off one of my personal goals for this year, because during the service I was able to share my first sermon in Portuguese!
It's the little things. :)

"Set me free from my prison that I may praise your name."
Psalm 142:7

Please pray for people who are imprisoned all over the world, not only in literal jail cells, but also remember to lift up those ensnared by cords of sin (Proverbs 5:23). Ask God to remind people of the truth we shared with the men in Boane prison: there is hope!
His name is Jesus.

Christmas on the Compound
Christmas was spent on the compound with three other missionary families. It wasn't a white Christmas by any means, unless you consider the fact we were all mulungos (white people). But at least it wasn't brutally hot. My first Christmas away from family made me realize being together in person is less important than being together in spirit. Do you think it's possible to be together in person, and still be worlds apart? I do. I also think it's possible to be worlds apart and still be together in spirit. I may not have been there to sit around the tree, listen to Grandpa read the nativity story, or exchange gifts with relatives this year; but I still felt loved and I still felt a part, knowing I was with them in spirit.

South Africa
Dave and Ann Dedrick surprised Kyla and I with a priceless 3-day trip to South Africa. Does that sound like a prize puzzle getaway from Wheel of Fortune? It pretty much was! We drove around a mountainous region called Sabie and hiked around (and beneath) a waterfall!

bridal veil falls

Day two took us into Kruger National Park where we stayed overnight. Getting up before dawn, we tried our luck at spotting some big cats at sunrise, which we did! We saw an abundance of wildlife including the endangered Wild Dogs and all the Big 5 (Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhino, and Water Buffalo).
Thank you Dave and Ann!


Ann: He looks angry!
Me: You can tell when they're upset when their ears start flapping.
Ann: His ears are flapping!

monkey grooming our truck

The final journey of Christmas break came in the form of a one-week trip to Beira. Kyla accompanied me on a 16-hour bus ride half way up the coast of Mozambique to assist Dr. and Mrs. Meyers prepare for second semester at Beira International School. There were many memories made that week. Some were good. Some were great. Some were not worth repeating. But the most unique memories involved the bus ride there and back.

Beira sunset

Our double-decker, charter buses drove through the night to avoid traffic. We left at 3 PM and arrived the next morning at 7 AM. We stopped at a very Mozambican restaurant for dinner around 9 PM. Everyone got off the bus and made a beeline for the rundown bathroom stalls, including myself. But the overcrowded boy's room was a little much. Three sweaty men, two urinals, and little more than one square yard was too claustrophobic for me to urinate in peace…so I held it.

the boys room

Fast-forward three hours down a pothole-infested road...

By this time my bladder was tired of being flexible. It was probably close to 1 AM when we stopped a second time. I assumed it was another potty break - and I really had to go! A lady sitting a few seats in front of me grabbed her bags and headed outside. Mostly everyone, including Kyla, was sleeping. This mama was the only one to get up, but I didn't think much of it until after I followed her outside. She went right, so I walked about thirty yards to the left. As I was preparing to relieve myself on the side of the road with the cover of darkness in the middle of the African bush, a loud hydraulic release hissed from behind me. I turned to see the bus door closing! The vehicle started rolling away without me, but thankfully, I was awake enough to run it down. As I re-boarded the bus, I happily discovered a bathroom on the first level! When I got back to my seat I found Kyla (still sleeping) and my cell phone (still sitting on my bag) right where I left them. I'm glad I don't know how the story could have ended!

Our return trip was even more ridiculous! We sat in the bus waiting to leave for about 30 minutes, sweating our tails off. The delay was worth it when we realized they were fixing the AC. But two hours later we found ourselves at an early, unplanned pit-stop. I didn't think much of it until I heard the word, pneu, which means, tire.

"Are you serious?" I thought.

I jumped out of the bus to check it out. Sure enough - we had a flat. The guys were taking lug nuts off the massive wheel. It looked like a pretty legitimate tire change until I saw somebody under the bus messing around with the jack. It was broken.

flat tire. broken jack.

I asked the driver if I could flag down trucks to find a good jack to use. My offer, like the pictures I was taking earlier, wasn't appreciated. I waited a little longer before asking again, to which I got the go ahead.

The first truck I flagged down turned left and drove up to a small community convenience store. I followed on foot as Kyla stayed with our bags on the bus.

When living in Africa, you quickly learn - nothing happens quickly. Disorder and ambiguity are inconveniently consistent. You learn to deal with it, but it CAN be frustrating at times, especially when trying to track down a working jack in the bush.

I reached the truck and asked the guys who were unloading if they had a working jack. They sent me to the driver, who sent me to his boss, who sent me back to the driver, who was now conveniently out of sight. I went back to the boss and was directed to another worker who directed me outside and had me jump in his truck, because he apparently knew someone who had a jack. We drove about a mile down a road overly-crowded with people and goats. Many people instantly spotted the white man and proudly announced it to those who did not. We pulled up to a shop to find that the owner did not have a jack after all.

Thankfully, our next stop was the last. We found a working jack at a brick-maker's house. It happened to be propping up a tractor at the time, but we found wood to replace it before putting it in the truck and heading back to the bus. The runaround was complete!

arriving with a working jack

I brought the working jack to the guys who were still messing around with the broken one. They started cranking away, lifting the bus bit by bit. But they stopped when someone noticed an important detail...they didn't have a spare tire!

Tired, sweaty, and sick of searching for jacks, I couldn't take any more. I retreated to the bus and plopped down in my seat until the heat forced me out again. About an hour later, the tire arrived and was replaced successfully. The lesson I learned that day was not to assume a professional bus line that carries two men specifically for maintenance purposes would be equipped with a working jack or spare tire in the case of a flat. It took 19 hours to get home, but we made it safe and sound! Praise God.

patience is a virtue, Paradise is a stretch
(see top left corner of windshield)

Yep, things are pretty exciting over here. I appreciate your prayers and support! Here are some specific ways you can be praying for the ministry in Mozambique:

1. Sports ministry (March 12-16)
Pastor Mark Wible from a large church in Waco, Texas is bringing a sports ministry team to run a basketball skills camp in mid-March. Morning and afternoon sessions will provide young people with the opportunity to learn basic basketball skills. At the end of the week, we will present the gospel via testimonies from team members and local ministers. Please pray for smooth logistical planning (visas, passports, flights, schedules), safety, and servant hearts.

2. Mission Team
Continue to pray for our team as we face transition with the departure and arrival of missionaries.

3. Intentionality
With 4 1/2 months left in my one-year commitment with OMS, I am really praying hard that God would help me make the most of these final chances to serve Him completely. I want to be intentional with all of my relationships. I long to take advantage of every opportunity He provides to share His love with those around me.

4. Provision from flooding
The rains that hit us last week washed out many streets and houses. Some families have lost their homes and must rebuild or relocate. With rumors of another weather system coming up from Australia with reported cyclone-like strengths, further protection for people here is a serious concern.

Thank you for your prayers! They are powerful and effective.
How can I be lifting you up?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Unwrapping 2012

the law of investment

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey,
who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.
To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags,
and to another one bag, each according to his ability.
Then he went on his journey."

THE PARABLE of the talents is a familiar story for many.
A man preparing for a journey entrusts his possessions to three servants. The first servant receives the equivalent of five thousand dollars. The second servant is given two thousand dollars, and the third servant receives one thousand dollars.

After a long time, the man returns from his journey and has his servants present him with what has become of their entrusted talents. The first servant had doubled his five thousand dollars, and the second servant had doubled his two thousand. But the third servant had buried his money in the ground out of fear, only returning the original amount to the master.

The first two servants are commended for the results of their diligence. But the third servant is scolded by the master and thrown out for being lazy and worthless. The master then takes the third servant's talents and presents them to the first servant, who had profited the most.

Jesus explains the law of investment in Matthew 25.

THE PRESENCE of the talents comes in many forms.
God gives us countless blessings every day. With a new year around the corner we are reminded of people we love, possessions we own, dreams we hold, time we value, food we enjoy, bodies we cherish, and room we have for improvement. I believe these gifts are talents God entrusts to us. We can respond by either Holding On or Holding Out.

Holding On is protecting the talents God gives.

When something is placed in a person's hand, the natural response is to make a fist and grip it securely. Parents do this with children. Men do this with women. America does this with freedom.

Imagine a person receiving a handful of sand. What happens when they try to hold it by making a fist? It slowly slips through their fingers. The tighter the grip, the faster it slips. The more restrictions parents put on their kids, the greater the chance of inciting rebellion and losing them altogether. The more a man controls a woman for her own protection, the more she wants to walk away. The harder governments fight for freedom and equality, the further it imposes itself on its citizens. By holding too tightly to things we love, we risk losing what we already have. When we bury our talents in fear of losing them, they WILL be taken away.

The tighter the grip,
the faster it slips.

Holding Out is investing the talents we receive.

The way to hold the most sand in your hand is by keeping your palm wide open. When we receive blessings, we must do it with open hands, holding them loosely as a sacrifice of praise to God. Talents are temporary. We are given them for a time. It isn't about holding to what we have, because it will all eventually slip away. The Law of Investment is the call to boldly sacrifice trust with wisdom, to give God control of the blessings He provides. Talents are opportunities to bring God glory by receiving them loosely and offering them freely back. Are we investing wisely?

We are told in I Corinthians 13 that "love always trusts." What does that look like? Does that mean trusting everyone all the time? I don't think so. That would be foolish, because people are not completely trustworthy. No, I believe it means entrusting everyone all the time…entrusting them to God. He IS completely trustworthy, so we can always trust God with people. all people. all the time. It is a sure bet - a wise investment!

THE PURPOSE of the talents is to challenge our investment strategy.
What have you done with the talents in your life? How have you invested in people? in your dreams? How have you invested your resources? your time? your body? your spiritual gifts?

Trusting God with things we love is far from easy. Parents want to protect their kids. Men want to protect their wives. America wants to protect her freedom. I want to protect my sister, but the fact is, I may never see her again. It's not fun thinking about losing something or someone you love. Entrusting these things to God is not easy, but it's wise, and it's totally worth it!

Talents come in many forms, but the types of servants are only two. Which are you?

Have you been a good and faithful servant, holding out your talents through trust in God? Or have you been a wicked and lazy servant, holding on to them in fear?

The good news is - the master is coming back! The investment is maturing! The talents will be counted, and the servants will be rewarded accordingly. God wants to give you great and marvelous things, even before that day! As you are faithful with little, He will entrust you with much, much more.

It's all a matter of how you hold your hands.

Receive a very blessed 2012, friend!

Monday, November 28, 2011

acao de gracas (thanksgiving)

This year I have EVERYTHING to be thankful for!

Just to name a few, God has blessed me with:

awesome times of ministry with Warrenton Wesleyan Church;

amazing opportunities & generous hearts in raising support,
and a safe return to Africa to rock out a calling I received in 2003;

special moments with family and friends prior to my departure,
and increased dependence on Him through loneliness and transition;

greater independence through basic (very basic) culinary skills,
and great overall health during the past six months in Africa;

weekend getaways with incredible people to incredible places;

remarkable upsets at the African Games,
and more faith through miraculously approved visa applications;

new family and friends on the field,
and the ability to communicate in Portuguese;

two weeks with my father in Mozambique;

a brotherhood in the form of a basketball team,
and official permission to begin constructing CAM basketball court;

positions of influence in the lives of over seventy young people,
and six more months to live and learn along with them.

God is SO good! I'm overwhelmed by the ways He has chosen to bless me this year. It's like I'm sitting back and watching a dream play out in real life. It's incredible!

Sure, it's not always easy living in Mozambique, but it's ALWAYS rewarding living where God leads. If you feel God calling you to go somewhere, to do something, or to join an area of ministry,
don't hesitate.

God doesn't call everyone to go overseas,

"...I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace."

Ephesians 4:1-3

If He calls you to it, He'll lead you through it.

Happy Thanksgiving, Friend!