The reason I started this blog was to describe how God has been moving in my life since the day I was born. That story can be found under the ”My Story” category. I invite you to join me in my journey by starting there. Please feel free to leave any comments about your story as well.
10 Aug 2012 2 Comments
Today was day two of the 2012 Willow Creek Leadership Summit. It was once again a day overflowing with teaching and inspiration. The following notes begin with some serious thoughts about business, then it moves into great tips for conflict resolution, inspiration from those who put their lives on the line to free slaves, a challenge by Bill Hybels to take a personal moral inventory, John Ortberg outlines how influential Jesus is, and then we end with a couple more challenges to influence the world.
The first speaker was Patrick Lencioni author of “The Advantage.” Here is an outline of what he said:
There are two requirements for success in business:
The first is TO BE SMART in Strategy, Marketing, Finance and Technology. Every organization has this one pretty much covered. So this ends up being more of a multiplier of Health…
The second requirement is TO BE HEALTHY which happens with:
– Minimal politics
– Minimal confusion
– High morale
– High productivity
– Low turnover
Having organizational health is the single greatest competitive advantage you can have in business. It is free and accessible to any leader who wants it.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR ORGANIZATION MORE HEALTHY:
1) Build and maintain a cohesive team by mastering Results, Accountability, Commitment, Conflict, and Trust.
2) Create clarity. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
3) Over communicate
Answer these six critical questions to create clarity in your organization:
(This is not about creating a mission statement)
- Why do we exist?
Define your core purpose. It may have nothing to do with What you do. It is Why you do it. Then make decisions based on this core purpose.
- How do we behave?
Define your core behavioral values based on what is actually being manifested among your people. These core values are what you are willing to get punished for.
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
This is the strategy which Patrick defined as the myriad of intentional decisions you make to run your business that differentiates you from other organizations.
- What is most important in your organization right now?
- Who must do what at the leadership level?
Patrick recommended Jim Collins book: “Built to Last”
The next Speaker was William Ury with Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation. He talked about negotiation and conflict resolution. He says:
The goal is to deal with conflict in a constructive way through conversations that lead to a solution. We need to listen to the different views. We learn to live with each other by understanding each other’s differences.
The key foundation is “going to the balcony” where you can get a larger perspective and get to a place of clarity. In other words, take a time-out. Ask: Why are we here and what are we trying to achieve.
The biggest obstacle in getting what we need in a negotiation is us. We are our biggest barrier because we react without thinking. The greatest power we have in negotiation is the power to NOT react…
- Focus on the people. Their interests and underlying needs. Separate the people from the problem. Be soft on people (listen, put yourself in their shoes, understand how they feel, and show respect) and then be hard on the problem — address the problem.
- Focus on their interests, not positions. Identify the underlying interests behind the issue. Identify why they want what they are asking for.
- Develop multiple options based on their underlying interests in order to come up with a solution for all sides.
- Be Creative.
- Use objective criteria and a fair process. Insist that the result be based on some objective standard. These should be standards that are based on fairness and independent of each person’s will.
Prepare by creating a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). This is a walk away agreement in case you cannot come to an agreement. A BATNA is also useful to help you measure against the proposed solutions, it gives you more confidence, helps you prepare ahead of time by considering all the possible alternatives, helps you consider your interests, prepares you for what may come up, and prepares you for what you are willing to negotiate.
As Abraham Lincoln said: “Do I not destroy my enemy by turning them into my friend?” Abraham Lincoln
When Gary Haugen, from International Justice Mission, introduced the next speaker, he said “leaders lead out of who they are on the inside.”
The Speaker was Pranitha Timothy from the International Justice Mission in India who has rescued more than 4,000 men, women and children from slavery in very dangerous situations. Pranitha said she felt called to this ministry by Isaiah 42.
The truths she hangs onto are:
1) We are called to serve by a God who is already at work. He goes ahead in the darkness to make the path straight.
2) This life belongs to God and we get our strength from Him. It is in the most dangerous situations that you must believe your life belongs to God.
3) God is good. We must trust God when we see abuse in the world.
4) We are called to serve because our lives belong to God.
Speaker Mario Vega who is Senior Pastor of a church with three campuses and 100,000 people in El Salvador referred to 1 Samuel 15:34–16:1 as he spoke about dealing with an ethical leadership problem in his church. He said: “Those who open the door to moral failure open the door for more failures to come.” And, “The moral integrity of a leader will challenge the integrity of many others as well.”
In response to Mario’s talk, Bill Hybels pleads with us to take a moral inventory by asking:
- Is there anything in your life that would fail the trustworthiness test?
- Is there anything happening that would be considered inappropriate or dishonoring?
- Is there anything that seems deceitful?
- Is there anything you are doing that would be considered out of bounds?
- Is there anything gray enough that you wonder if it is legal?
- Is there any private habit or addiction that has its hooks in you? It may be that others may not even know about it yet.
Sometimes God allows us to wander long enough to give us time to sort out these issues and come back to Him before blowing up our integrity publicly. You cannot take care of this on your own. The good news is that God will accompany you as you walk back to integrity.
John Ortberg delivered a “definitive talk about the identify of Jesus.”
He began with “too often we argue about Christianity but instead we should marvel at Jesus.”
Following are some of those things to ponder:
- Jesus gave the world its most influential movement.
- Jesus changed how we think about history. The calendar is even based on the life of Jesus.
- Jesus shaped how we express compassion. Jesus started a revolution in the way we view women and children. Whenever you find people taking care of the lowly, it is connected to the compassion taught by Jesus.
- The Jesus movement shaped education. Churches built schools and the Revolution recognized the need for education so everyone could read the Bible. Monks invented clocks and eyeglasses to help them read and know when to pray.
- No other book has been translated into so many language like the Bible has.
- The Jesus movement revolutionized the imagination of art.
- The Jesus movement changed political theory. To give to Caesar what is Caesars.
- Jesus changed how we think about human rights and dignity. See verbiage in the Declaration of Independence. Jesus promoted egalitarianism.
- Jesus uniquely taught love of enemies.
More can be found in John Ortberg’s book: “Who is this man?”
Geoffrey Canada who transformed education in the Harlem Children Zone says:
Hope is infectious and so is despair. We have to contaminate an environment with positivity and encouragement in order to offset evil contamination and bring it to normal. Do it a little bit at a time.
You have to change the culture which carries messages to the kids by creating positive messages so kids are more likely to get those positive messages throughout the day.
Bill Hybels has said many times “The Local Church is the Hope of the World.”
He ended the Summit by expanding on that by saying:
The church stewards the only message that changes lives. Every person in the church is important and we have to give each one the training and capacity he/she needs in order to give way to the light and love of Christ.
09 Aug 2012 Leave a Comment
Today and tomorrow, I have been given the opportunity to attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. What I learn each year during these Summits is so inspiring that I wish everyone could attend. Therefore, I am going to list my favorite take aways for you in two posts. One for each day.
1) The first Speaker was Bill Hybels, Sr. Pastor of Willow Creek Church. He says:
God makes you a leader so you can move people from Here to There (to achieve a vision). He did not make you a leader so you can show people how smart you are.
You are most vulnerable when you are half-way to that vision (there) because the energy of the launch is waning and the end cannot be seen yet. This is when you especially need to walk closely with God and use your best vision casting techniques.
2) The second Speaker was Condoleezza Rice. She is a very clear thinker and communicator. Here are a couple of her quotes:
- Government cannot deliver compassion. Only the church and the people can ….. people who believe every life is worthwhile.
- When you are in a position of authority, you need truth tellers around you and those you can have difficult conversations with in private.
- The most important attribute of a leader is to be an irrepressible optimist. To be that, we need to keep perspective of how difficult our circumstances really are.
- Regarding conflict: Don’t let things get personal. Find neutral ground which may require physically moving to a different location. Sometimes the craziness is not coming from the person you are talking to but it may be coming from the people around them.
- Work not for a world that is. Work for a world that should be.
Condoleezza referred to Romans 5:3-4 saying that out of struggle comes victory: “endurance develops character and character develops hope” (much like I talked about in my last blog “Who’s Battle is it Anyway?”)
3) The third Speaker was Jim Collins who is a leading business author of books with data driven facts. He shares from his book Good to Great that what makes great leaders is humility combined with will.
From his book Great by Choice, he says great leaders prevail in the most adverse circumstances because they have fanatic discipline, use empirical creativity, and have a paranoia that is productive.
Fanatic Discipline means to make a plan and stick to it. Adhering to a standard of performance even in the toughest of situations. Personally, that means disciplining yourself in good times so you can handle things during the bad times. That includes pacing yourself and being consistent. Don’t get ahead of yourself. “Mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
Ask yourself: What do you need to do today to set yourself up for the inconsistencies that may occur tomorrow?
Blend discipline with creativity so that the discipline amplifies your creativity. Creativity is natural, discipline is not. How do you get rid of the stuff that gets in the way of your creativity?
Productive Paranoia is about being well prepared in case something goes wrong … before difficult times come. So that you can be strong when people need you most.
4) The fourth Speaker was Craig Groeschel, Pastor of LifeChurch.tv. He challenged the generations.
To the Older Generation, Craig said:
Don’t fear or judge the next generation. Believe in them because they need you. Invest in a young person. Tell a young person you believe in them and help them become a leader. As we give leadership to the next generation, delegate authority so they can make changes. The next generation is mission minded and can make a big difference. Let them stand on your soldiers. “Stand together for the glory of Christ and make His name known.”
Embrace the season you are in and be yourself. Authenticity trumps cool. You can be a spiritual mentor and leader. “If you are not dead, your work is not done.”
To the Younger Generation, he said:
You need those who have gone before you. Your generation needs to learn to honor God, the church and then one another. Because of this, Craig says you are limiting what could happen between generations. Serve those over you faithfully and watch what happens.
The generations working together must be intentional about creating opportunities to learn from one another. For instance: Create ongoing feedback loops from both generations.
And that was just the first day. More tomorrow….
05 Aug 2012 1 Comment
When I started working for a Christian organization, I assumed living a spiritual life would be less of a struggle because I would no longer be limited by what I could do or say during the majority of my day. Like most people, I thought it would make life less stressful. Little did I realize I would be challenged to be more responsible and proactive about my spiritual growth than ever before. Considering the nature of what we do at KTIS, I realize I need to be accountable to practice what I preach and be able to talk about and understand what I believe. I have also come to realize that since I have taken this job, satan has tried to make it difficult by distracting and discouraging me with hardships all around me.
I have found myself in the middle of discussions lately talking about the fact that it seems as though satan steps up his attacks when people do God’s work, speak boldly about their faith or volunteer to serve on His behalf. That may be true, however, the conversation shouldn’t end there. I have also been reminded that, although there is an unseen battle raging around me, as a child of God, I am already on the winning side. Therefore, why should I be afraid? As I have done all my life, I knew it was time to go to my Bible to define the truth…
God promises to take care of me and hear my prayers as He warns me that I ”will face many trials and sorrow” (John 16:33). That is why He tells me to prepare for and fight against evil with faith, the salvation that comes through Jesus, doing what is right, and to stand on the peace and the truth that are found in His Word (Ephesians 6:14).
So why do I have to still suffer when I am a child of a loving almighty God? It is not because God rules with an iron fist. It is to prove my faith (1 Peter 1:7) and build endurance, character and hope (Romans 5:4).
While I have enjoyed serving through the ministry of KTIS and have experienced personal hardships, God has used these times to draw me closer to Him and experience His intervention in my life like never before.
My hardship may not be a hardship to someone else and vise versa. At the same time, the rewards and blessings I receive at the end of those hardships are unique to my growth and experience with God as well. But one thing is true for all of us. God promises that if you follow His lead, He will guard you from evil. As David said when he killed Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s”!
01 Apr 2012 Leave a Comment
In my job, I meet with people from all denominations and I am learning a lot from their spiritual stories and experiences. Their stories inspired me last year to attend Easter services with three different denominational churches. By doing this, I learned about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in a new and refreshing way. I attended a Catholic Church, my daughter’s Covenant Church and then my own Free Church on Sunday morning.
Ever since I attended the Catholic school in third and fourth grade (see part 2 of “My Story”), I have been intrigued by the beautiful depictions on the wall of the stations of the cross. Therefore, I have always wanted to go through a ceremony with the stations of the cross. I found an opportunity to do that the Friday before Easter last year. I love the reverence that the Catholic church shows toward God and the opportunity to kneel while I prayed in church. During the stations of the cross, you pray through the story of the crucifixion. Because the story was told in a new format, I was able to pick up on details I did not pay attention to in the past. The experience also inspired me go back to my Bible to look up details; such as, where did Veronica come from in the sixth station of the cross.
That next week, I was sitting at the Covenant church on Good Friday. They had a cross beam laying on the altar along with two-inch nails that looked like miniature spikes. At one point in the service, the Pastor sat down and people went up to the altar, picked up the little spikes and started pounding them into the beam. I was shocked. Feeling a bit self-righteous I thought “no way! I am not going to do that. That would be like crucifying Jesus all over again!” Just as fast as I reacted with that response, an overwhelming impression came over me and I knew… “but I have already done that!” I was humbled. Jesus did not die just because the people of that day crucified Him. He chose to die because of my sin as well. Jesus says in Matthew 26:53 that God could have sent down the angels to save Him but He did not because Jesus knew He had to die in order for us to have a way for salvation. What Jesus did on the cross for me became more real in that moment than it had for years.
God has created so many different people and uses all denominations in which He draws each of us into a relationship with Him. I am going to step outside my box again this year and my goal is to attend a Maundy Thursday and/or Easter morning sunrise service. I challenge you to experience the reality of the resurrection in a new way this year as well.
25 Mar 2012 6 Comments
Do you ever wonder if God cares about the little things? I have been thinking about this over the last couple weeks because I have had some pretty interesting conversations about God’s Will and prayer.
It is clear that God controls all things but He also tells us over and over again to pray at all times (Ephesians 6:18, Luke 11:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and about everything (Philippians 4:6). My favorite example is the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18. Verse one starts out by saying “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
I love the moments when God becomes real in my life by specifically answering my prayers. Last weekend, I lost the R key from my iPad keyboard when I was in Wisconsin. I vividly remember telling myself to put it in my zippered coin purse so I would not lose it. When I got home, I went to my coin purse to get the key but it was not there. Then I proceeded to look through all the zippers in my purse, suitcase, and toiletry bags. I spent the next couple days trying to figure out how it could have disappeared from a sealed container. Not having the key was a problem because I do all my writing using my iPad
As I thought about what I could do to find the key, it made me wonder “does God care about the little things in my life? Would He answer a prayer about a lost key?” I have prayed and He has helped me find things in the past but I have always taken it for granted. This time, I stopped and made a conscious and deliberate effort to pray. Then I watched to see if God was concerned about my little problem. My prayer was that He would help me find the key in such a way that I would know He was the one that lead me to it. Therefore, every time I had a hunch of some place it could be, I followed through on that hunch. However, I followed through on a couple of those hunches to no avail. Then, Friday morning as I was loading my car to go to work, I made one more deliberate prayer saying “God, reveal the key in some way that doesn’t make sense so I know you answered my prayer.” I finished that prayer just as I was leaning over the driver’s seat and setting down my bags on the passenger side. I saw the rail under the seat and thought “would it be there because it fell out of my purse?” But it wasn’t. Then without moving, I shifted my gaze down just a little further and, to my amazement, there was the black R key sitting in the bottom of the black cup holder! All I could do was stare at it and laugh. I could imagine God got a kick out of it as well. How it got there is beyond me.
I cannot wrap up my thoughts about prayer without quoting the verse that encourages me to pray: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).
It is not that God cares about the little THINGS, He cares about ME and my needs. No matter how big or small. And, He cares about you as well!
26 Feb 2012 3 Comments
On our fifth day of the trip and after our final morning with the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, we took the Jeepneys into a squatter’s village near the Cebu Central Free Church. We could barely get the Jeepneys into the area because the roads were so narrow.
This was another one of those life changing moments. While they were seting up the pipes, curtains and portable radio for the puppet stage on the hard dry dirt, we took out our toys and games to play with the kids:
Before we could get started with the music and puppets, the Filipino kids gathered together in front of us and treated us to their own performance of song along with synchronized movements. It was beautiful! It turned out that they had learned the song at the Central Free Church.
Since this situation was in an open field and not confined to a fenced-in environment, we were surrounded by mobs of people and hundreds of outreached hands when we passed out the care packages. We gave away anything and everything we could find, including our pens and personal snacks. After everything was gone, they even took the cardboard boxes that once held the care packages.
Sunday was so hot that we had a constant stream of sweat pouring down our backs. We were back at the Cebu Free Church to lead Sunday school this time. Here is Rachael teaching and Jessica showing off one of the crafts:
Angelo was there and was one of the few adults who came down to watch the puppet show with the kids. I noticed that Angelo was watching from the curb across the street when we were saying goodbye to the kids. It was another one of those heartbreaking memories. It felt as though we were leaving one of our own behind. Thankfully, however, he had been introduced to many in the church and it was our prayer that he would stay connected with them.
That afternoon we went to an inside Market which would be comparable to an indoor flea market here in the States. We did our best to spend all the money we had while we were there but that took some work considering the fact that pesos were 44.38 to the dollar. It took 7,500 pesos to buy $150 in souvenirs. The seven women that packed up our items and served us were giddy by the time we left. Our favorite souvenir was a hat for Randy made out of frog hides.
This was the evening when Jessica found a small lizard in the tub at the guest house. She thought it was so cute that she tried to pick it up by the tail. However, the lizard shed its tail and left the tail wiggling in her hand. Needless to say, Jessica freaked out.
Monday was our day to go to the beach and rest. The private beach club we went to was clean, had a cement wall around it, and was a sight for sore eyes. I did not understand the purpose of the wall until I was out in the water and looked back to see that there were more squatters on the other side of that wall. It was difficult to stay focused on a day of rest with this reminder just a stones throw away. Here is a picture of the divide.
Our devotions that day were about perseverance and how God works through trials. We were a little over half-way through the trip and as we reminisced and looked back over the long week, people started missing their families back home.
We were not sure if we were going to be allowed to teach religion in the school because, in order to do so, all the kids had to bring back their permission slips. It turned out that they all did. Therefore, we were allowed to go in to present a 20 minute story to each of the classes. Here we are waiting for their procession and worship of the Virgin Mary before school started.
We tried to use puppets during the first presentation but the class did not pay attention and got a little carried away so we did not use them after that. We quickly learned that the Filipino children have a short attention span and the teachers keep their attention by having the entire class repeat a lot of what they say.
Afterwards, we had to wait in the hot sun for the Jeepney to show up. As with most mission trips, it was one of many times when we had to remember that “no plans and no schedules are set in stone.”
WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY
We spent our last couple days playing with the kids and visiting with the college students. I had brought a couple pocket toys with me on the trip and it was now time to let them float away into a crowd of children to never be seen again. Here they are with one of our favorite…Mr. Potato Head
A few of us walked through the squatter’s village, bought up all the bread from the local baker, and passed it out as we walked along. There were some very educated people living in those tin and cardboard houses. We met nurses, teachers and a mechanic. One of the problems is that there are just not enough jobs available for everyone.
Because our presence brought so much attention, the churches had big turnouts during Sunday services the next week. Therefore, they set up Bible study groups to continue their work with those who were new to the church. And, the Alliance Church was expecting to have another congregation in their area within three months. Knowing that gave us a little peace for the ache we felt when we had to return home.
We poured out our remaining energy on one last outreach on Thursday evening. We went to the squatters who lived in a tarp covered marketplace that went on for blocks and blocks. Again, it was quite a squeeze for the Jeepneys to get around:
We walked deep into the belly of the market and to the second floor of an unfinished cement building where a group of kids were waiting for us. This was the foulest smelling and dirtiest place we had been to yet. The smells of rotting food and garbage were mixed with smells of urine. One of the children warned a member of our team to not go down a certain corridor because, as he said, “there are snakes down there.” There was one point where we saw a rat run across the floor and we were told that the welts on some of the kids were from rat bites. Here is a photo of these precious children:
After the singing and puppet show, Jessica, Rachael and I took out the bubbles again. However, this group was pretty wild. It was not long before we had to put the bubbles away because the kids were pushing and shoving so much that they started slipping on the soap that spilled on the dirty cement floor. There was even one boy who kept dipping his hand in the soap to coat with hair.
In my journal I wrote: “I now realize one of the reasons we are here in Cebu is to be an encouragement to the churches, students, Children’s Shelter, and the people in the squatter’s villages. I left on this trip assuming I was going to get something done. However, it really came down to equipping the Cebu churches and encouraging them to serve and reach out to their own people.” The Filipinos told us that because we flew all the way to Cebu to be with them was an encouragement in itself.
After ten days in that moist salt air, our cameras were wearing down and even the guitar strings had started to rust. We left behind all of the puppets, equipment, supplies, and even some of our clothing with the churches and shelter.
After tearful goodbyes at the Shelter and a last minute visit into the midst of the squatter’s village to visit with one of the families, we were on our way to the Cebu airport. Here is half of our team (and some of that luggage) with one of the Jeepneys…
This time we did not have a stop in Honolulu but had a 13 hour flight from Manilla to Los Angeles. Thank goodness we had a four hour layover in LA because it took us three hours to recheck our bags. All of our flights were once again late. However, because there were so many of us, the subsequent flights did not leave without us because the airlines did not want to have to put 30 people in hotels.
I experienced my first episode of culture shock in LA when I saw a man standing at the airport McDonalds yelling at the cashier because he did not get what he had ordered. This was a shock because we had just spent the past two weeks interacting with friendly and gracious people. They were not loud and angry but instead soft spoken and gentle.
Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home. Even to the point that Jessica fell asleep in the hallway while petting the dog. Rachael had a head cold that she had been battling for days and then developed an ear infection. My eyes were so infected that it took two prescriptions and weeks for them to get back to normal.
The main thing I learned from this trip was what it means to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24). I summarized this realization in my journal by saying: “this means extending my love to other people by freely giving up my own comforts and time while having the faith to step out and overcome my fears.” I continued by saying: “how wonderful to experience the reward that comes from seeing the appreciation and joy on the faces of the Filipinos because of that sacrifice.”
Recently, a friend pointed out something I had never noticed before. If you read Matthew 25:31-46, notice that when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, his judgment is based on whether they fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, invited in strangers, clothed the poor, and looked after the sick and those in prison.
Do not worry about what it is you should do. Start by making yourself available and willing to be used by God. Just do something to extend the love God has shown you whether it is locally or overseas.
19 Feb 2012 3 Comments
I am glad I kept a journal of our two week mission trip to the Philippines because so much happened every minute of every day that even the best memory would not be able to recall all the life changing encounters we experienced.
Our flight to Cebu, Philippines took off July 9, 2000. Jessica and Rachael (16 years old at the time) had never flown before and this was my first international flight. There were 30 people on this mission team. We were traveling with 30+ suit cases, 30+ carry-ons, and 30 seventy-pound boxes of supplies. As you can imagine, traveling to the other side of the world with that many people and that much baggage was quite an endeavor. To complicate things more, our very first flight was overbooked and we were 40 minutes late taking off. Therefore, we delayed every flight we were on thereafter. We had to run from one connection to the next but what really delayed the planes was transferring those 60+ pieces of luggage from one flight to the next. Although we had to wait a couple hours for our luggage to catch up with us in the end, it was amazing that every piece of luggage made it to our final destination.
To keep costs down, we had four stops along the way and it took almost 27 hours to get from Minnesota to Cebu, Philippines. I still have a hard time figuring out the math with time changes and traveling from East to West against the rotation of the earth. All I can say is that we lifted off from Minnesota at 4:55pm Sunday July 9th and landed in Cebu, Philippines, at 8:40am Cebu time Tuesday July 11th (that was 7:40pm MN time on July 10th). Therefore, we lost 13 hours! To make it even more adventurous, we had to endure turbulence from the first flight to the last. I found out later that my husband was closely watching the weather during our flight because we were flying behind a typhoon and a couple other weather systems. God had us covered but what an experience for first time international travelers!
The first thing I noticed when we landed in Manilla was the extremely strong smell of mold. That is when we first heard that the typhoon had just gone through. This was the heaviest humidity I had ever had to inhale. There was so much moisture on the windows of the plane and airport that it was as though we had landed inside a huge greenhouse. The newspaper was full of stories about the typhoon, crooked police, and a garbage slide in the squatter’s village. Jessica’s first words after that final take off from Manilla to Cebu was “and we have to do all this again in two weeks!?”
When we arrived in Cebu, the diesel pollution combined with the smells of mango, lye and sewage were nauseating. By the end of the trip, we were used to the smells only enough to stop complaining about them but not enough to be numb to them. To this day, when I smell diesel, my mind goes back to the Philippines.
The coolest thing to me about the eight bedroom guest house we stayed in was the banana tree right outside the porch windows. I was surprised to see that the inside of the bananas in the Philippines are more yellow than the ones we get in the States. And, even though the smell of mangoes permeated the air and mixed with all those foul smells, I still fell in love with their sweet smooth flavor. It is disappointing that the mangoes are just not the same here in the States.
After unpacking, we went to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu to meet the kids and drop off some of the supplies. The kids at the shelter were so welcoming and excited when we arrived. Considering the children we saw on the streets, I was surprised at how happy and well adjusted the kids at the orphanage were.
That evening, we needed a distraction to stay awake and get acclimated to Cebu time. Therefore, we climbed into our hired Jeepneys and headed for the mall. Jeepneys are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. They are made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and are known for their flamboyant colors and crowded seating. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the two Jeepneys we used during our 11 days in the Philippines:
The pollution was so bad that when we rode in the open air Jeepneys, I got dots on my glasses and, in the evening, when I wiped my face with an astringent pad, it was black. From the first day of the trip to the last, I had problems with my eyes. By the end of the trip, my eyes felt like sandpaper and I could barely keep them open.
Our trip to the mall was an opportunity for us to get some good old American fast food. But when Rachael and I approached the Pizza Hut, we had to step back trying not to cringe from the smell. It seems they use goat cheese on their pizzas. Therefore, we ended up going to the good old reliable food chain — McDonalds.
tutored them on the computers, played games, and did crafts. The kids loved the attention and learned quickly. Here are photos of Jessica and Rachael with some of the kids:
In addition to the orphanage, we worked with the local churches to reach out to families in the squatter’s villages. Wikipedia defines squatters as: “extensive slums or shanty towns consisting of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission. There is no sewage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap, and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.”
That night we went out by twos among the shanties to hand out fliers and invite the people to a gathering the following evening.
In my journal I wrote: “The children, stray cats and dogs, roosters leashed to poles, and mothers cooking over open fires were just like the pictures I’ve seen on TV.”
There was one particular girl who captured my heart because she reminded me so much of myself. She was a young teen intently watching everything we did and with a trail of the little ones behind her. Her name is Michelle. Here is a picture of her standing behind the pole:
The hardest thing about a trip like this is that we left part of our hearts with the kids. Michelle is still a part of my memories. Unfortunately, I will never know where she is or what she is doing now but I am thankful that I can trust God with my prayers for her.
After our morning with the kids at the children’s shelter, we went back to the Cebu Alliance Church in the squatter’s village. One hundred children responded to the fliers we distributed the day before.
They were awed by the puppet show so much so that even the adults watched with their mouths hanging open. We each brought a relational activity to help us interact with the kids which included butterfly gliders, bubbles, balloons, wipe boards, jacks, jump ropes, and beaded bracelets.
Around dinner time, we lined up the kids and sent them home with care packages that we had brought from the States. The packages contained rice, soap, a wash rag, candy and other things donated by the church.
As this happened, more people came out from the shanties. It was difficult to stop the distribution but we had only 85 packages to hand out to this group. We had to save the remaining 200 packages for the other three villages that we would visit over the next seven days.
After the children left to bring their packages home and invite their parents out for the evening video, we rested and enjoyed our dinner from Jolli-Bees which consisted of two pieces of chicken (the chicken in the Philippines is much leaner and less meaty than that of the United States), a mound of rice, container of gravy, mango pie, and coke.
It was standing room only so our team had to wait outside. While their parents watched the Jesus video, we entertained the children with nothing but our bodies serving as monkey bars and entertainment for two hours. Here is a photo from that night:
By the end of that evening, we had pushed ourselves to stay up late again and we were 30 very tired, crabby people still suffering from jet lag. However, to remind us of the importance of what we were doing, we noticed that some of the kids were digging through the garbage and eating any leftover chicken they could find from our evening meal. Therefore, it feels like an oxymoron to say that this was one of the most fulfilling nights of my life. We had served (as many as we were capable of reaching) the orphans, physically ministered to and fed the poor, and ended the evening by providing for their spiritual needs.
After a morning at the shelter, an afternoon of socializing and ministering with a group of college students, and riding on man powered tricycles back to the guest house,
we went to the Cebu Evangelical Free Church to help them reach out to the squatter’s in their area.
No one arrived for the 7pm start time so our team once again walked the streets and invited people to come see the Jesus video. By the time our team returned, people were streaming in, we started singing, and we were able to start the video at 8pm. Here are some of those kids:
During the movie, I had a conversation with young man named Angelo who believed his ancestors and tradition would get him to heaven. After some discussion, however, he was very interested in the fact that he could actually talk directly to God himself. That evening Angelo prayed and asked Jesus to be his savior and we gave him a Bible. Afterwards, Angelo looked as though he could use some refreshments but the kids had already taken all the juice and snacks. Thank goodness I had a bottle of Gatorade in my backpack so I could give that to him. After assuring him it was okay to accept it, he downed the entire bottle faster than I had ever seen anyone do before.
As I write this and reflect on the fact that I kept saying in my journal “the Filipinos are very friendly and eager to become friends,” I wondered if that observation was real or just my perception because I was experiencing gratitude from the people we were serving.
Then I think about the Filipinos I have met, and worked with, here in the States. I can confidently say that the Filipinos are naturally friendly and hospitable. That being said, however, I have to admit that we encountered a few people who did throw brief angry comments and attitude our way. We were told that some of that was coming as a result of “unwanted Americans from the nearby naval base.” However, these encounters were far and few between.
This trip was so moving and life changing that it pains me to leave out so many details but it would just take too long to describe everything here. However, I would like to invite other team members to help out by posting their experiences and comments as well.
Since this account is already getting so long, I will post the second week of stories about visiting the school and other squatter villages in my next post.
01 Feb 2012 4 Comments
Over and over again people tell me they are waiting for God to do something significant in their lives and most of them are usually dreaming and hoping for something specific. It breaks my heart when they do not see how God is already working through the everyday circumstances of their lives and all they need to do is join in.
We sometimes look and pray so hard for God to do something big through our lives that we do not see what He is currently doing through the people and circumstances around us. I have come to realize in my own life that God was preparing me for what I am doing now and I can only assume He is still preparing me for what He wants me to do in the future.
I also had a dream and prayed hard for it. It was to work in ministry full time. I was tired of working for the perpetual business dollar. However, no matter how many jobs I applied for in the church and with other nonprofits, I could not seem to get an interview. I ended up working at the Star Tribune for twelve years and those who knew me best were the first to say I did not fit in.
I kept busy by working through eight jobs during those twelve years and focused on doing the best work possible. While I continued to pray, all I could do was live my values, serve unconditionally and wait for that ministry opportunity. When I became discouraged or frustrated during times of inequities, I reminded myself to focus on doing the job as if I were serving God — not man (Colossians 3:23). I painfully had to make decisions based on my values instead of what would help me gain favor in other people’s eyes or get that next promotion.
I remember one instance when I was applying for a supervisory position but the hiring manager was confused when I told him I had a servant leadership managerial style. Needless to say, I did not get the job.
On November 30, 1993, I wrote in my journal: “I need to be content in whatever situation I am in rather than always looking for God’s Will in something else. Instead of looking elsewhere, I need to look around at what I’ve already got. Where I am now IS God’s Will. God put me here.”
In the meantime, to ease that discontented feeling, God provided ways for me to serve Him in the church and on overseas mission trips. Although I did not realize it at the time, God used those years of experience in business and volunteer work to prepare me for the job I have now. He even provided a situation where I could finish my Bachelor’s degree and the only thing I had to pay for were my books.
It was June 2007 when the Star Tribune offered their first voluntary buy-outs. I did not accept it at first but woke up the following Sunday to the realization that God had provided the opportunity for me to get out of the trap I had been in. I did not recognize it at first because I had assumed it would come in the form of a new job offer. This open door required me to step out in faith. It meant that I had to quit my current job before acquiring another one.
One week after accepting the buy-out, I received an interview at Northwestern College and within one month, I was working at KTIS meeting with donors, listening to their stories, getting their feedback, answering their questions and making sure their needs are met. God had been waiting for me to let go and then He provided the opportunity.
I, like most people, knew I had finally landed my dream job. It is much easier now that my work matches my values and I can openly live out my faith. Only months after I had started, when I ran across former Star Tribune colleagues, they commented that I looked happier and they could tell that I had finally found the place that was “a good fit for me.” At the same time, I soon found that there are expectations and responsibilities that come with full time ministry. Now, more than ever, I need to strengthen my knowledge of the scriptures. In other words, I need to read more and serve deeper than I ever had before. However, this is not rigorous work. It is who I am so it fits my life and I can live it 24/7.
Every person I meet and every concert I attend challenges me in my faith and understanding. For instance, here are photos from “The Story” Christmas concert this past year with Stephen Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Selah and Natalie Grant. This is one of those times when pictures cannot begin to describe how inspirational it was.
When I think about my previous post regarding simplicity and this subject of contentment, I cannot help but think about the people I have met during the foreign mission trips I participated in during the past 10 years. I have personally seen that our ability to provide for our own basic needs and buy those things that make us comfortable (give us temporary happiness), are among America’s biggest distractions that keep us from seeking and depending on God’s activity in our lives. In third world countries, they depend on God for their basic needs. In most situations, it is their next meal. But yet, they have a faith that is so strong it has brought me to tears on several occasions. They want to be like us but I want to be like them!
It is time for me to write about my life changing mission trips to the Philippines, Mexico and Africa. I will begin those with my next post.
22 Jan 2012 1 Comment
It started out simple and what I thought was harmless. I told myself: “As long as I am home with my kids, why not do daycare and earn some extra money to make life a little easier? Besides,” I reasoned, “I would also be providing playmates for my kids.”
Then, after about four years of doing daycare, I decided I needed just a little more money and some adult interaction. So, I decided to sell Tupperware “just a couple nights a week.” I figured I would do paperwork during the day when all the kids were in school and hold a couple parties in the evenings. However, little did I realize that I would end up working around the clock – doing daycare and paperwork during the day and running the kids around to activities and doing more Tupperware parties at night than I had expected. I, of course, was following the carrot – the more parties I held, the more money I made. I got caught in a trap and lost my way. I was working so hard that I even earned a free van.
I finally came to a point in my journal where I said: “all I do now is fight for time, complain, worry about what people are going to do, and cringe every time the phone rings. I’m suffocating. I need to get out of the hole I’ve been sucked into.” I desperately wanted time to sit and talk with my husband and read to my children at night. I finally realized that I had to simplify my life. I quit Tupperware and started meditating on:
1) Trusting God to provide and learning to not worry so much (Matthew 6:25-34)
2) Watching out for greed and having to buy stuff I did not need (Luke 12:15)
3) Focusing on what is important. In the long run, I knew I would never feel as though I had enough money and I knew money would never satisfy me (Matthew 6:19-24)
One month later, I wrote: “I am so thankful for the time I have with my children now that I’m not doing parties, recruiting, training and interviewing. Simplicity took a load off my shoulders. It gave me freedom from worry and anxiety – my beliefs and values are finally in line with what I am doing.”
Because of these principles, we never moved out of our starter home into a bigger house. Therefore, we were able to build equity and were not affected by the housing collapse. Since we had the equity and have always wanted a cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota, we decided to look at what was available and see if God would provide. We found the most affordable area and called a realtor. It took only two weekends of riding around with the realtor to find the perfect place for us. Since it did not have electricity, it was the only property we looked at, in our price range, that already had a cabin on it. It was exactly the adventurous getaway we were looking for. Having a place like this was a step toward simplification for us. I knew from visits to my grandmother’s cabin as a child that sitting in the middle of nature with no city noise or TV blaring would be relaxing and a great reminder of the important basics of life. Time and time again, I am in awe that God provided this place where we can detoxify from the stresses of life and sit back and marvel as His creation. This picture gives a small glimpse into its tranquility:
Over time, I came to realize that God provided during those times when I trusted Him and when I was not busy getting in the way. I have learned that I make better decisions when I stop, pray and wait for clear direction. As I outlined in my History posts, God has always provided what I “needed.” I may not see it right away but it becomes clear later down the road. Hindsight has also shown me that what I wanted is not always what I needed.
This wasn’t the end of my struggle to find simplicity. However, it was a great start because I had identified and acknowledged the fact that it was a problem so I can now face it head-on whenever busyness once again tries to invade what is more important.
Now that I have identified my worth in God and the need to trust that He will provide, next week I will talk about my journey towards contentment.