Mission work is like gardening!

Posted by Brad

Worship from Brad Clark on Vimeo.

We have been back from Guatemala for two weeks.  Each man has re-entered American life, and began to process all that God did on our trip.  Gale, Rick and Dan have shared their closing thoughts from the trip.  I highly encourage you to read their posts.

Mission work is kind of like gardening.  You have to start with good seed.  Then, you have to plant the right way.  You must faithfully water.  It seems to take a lot of time to see any growth.  When you do see something, it is very tiny.  There can be severe weather and damage to the crop.  Weeds are a never-ending threat.  Will there ever be a harvest?

Over the years, we have been able to look back and see productivity in Guatemala.  Many people have been clothed, received new homes and gotten a good education.  But, what about what “really” matters?  What about changed lives, changed relationships and changed souls?  Each year has given a little clearer reflection, but nothing profound.  Has there been a harvest?  It makes me think of what Jesus said:

“The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields. (Luke 10:2)

Many years ago, Scott Graves and I had to decide how best to invest our time and efforts in Guatemala.  We loved working with Bethel Ministries International.  They worked in so many great places in Guatemala.  But, we did not want to bounce around, helping here and there.  We asked Chris if we could work in Tecpan, where Pastor Juan had a small, but amazing church.  It was not normal for a group to want to do this.  Many want to keep moving.  But, it is difficult to ever look back to see whether you are actually making an impact.  We knew that the risk was we could look back and not see success, and possibly feel that our efforts were in vain.  But, we ultimately knew that it was not “our efforts”…it was God’s.  Nothing rested “on us”…it all rested “in Him”.

In America, we are really good at scattering our efforts, but never putting down roots.  We have a lot of good intentions, but we fizzle pretty fast.  If we can’t see fruit from our efforts in a fairly short time period, we move on.  We want it NOW.  Ever watch late night TV?  All the fad diets, get rich quick schemes?  They promise maximum success with minimal effort.  We want the diet that allows us to eat with no restriction, the workout with no sweat and the wealth with no investment.  Unfortunately, we often times do mission work the same way.  Let’s reach as many people as we can, as quickly as we can; get them to make any kind of commitment, count them as reached and then move on to the next place.  Real relationships take time.  The reality is that sharing life together can get complicated and messy.  We can enjoy success, but there will definitely be major setbacks.  We knew that working in Guatemala would be the same way.

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This year was one of the smallest teams we have had.  I was a little concerned about fundraising.  For much of the build-up to the trip, it was only Rick and I doing the fundraising.  God has always been faithful, but I must admit it seemed pretty insurmountable.  We had more projects planned than ever, which means the largest fundraising need.  I did the only thing I could do…place all my faith in the fact that God would provide.  Rick and I laid our financial needs before our friends, family and co-workers.  It truly was a miracle.  So many people opened their hearts, and financially supported us. Many of you have supported us every year.  Thank you for your faithfulness.  The success we enjoyed this year clearly allowed me to see that our “faithfulness produces fruit.”

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We try to leave on a Saturday because it allows us to go to church on Sunday.  It is our first chance to see the people we have been investing our lives with.  Who will still be there?  How are their lives?  Is there fruit?  Pastor Juan often asks us to stand up and say hello to the congregation during the service.  When it was my turn, I looked out and saw something that made my heart happy.  I saw the fruit of our efforts, and beginnings of a harvest.  I told them how happy I was to see “family”.  These are my brothers and sisters.  It was a cool way to start the week.

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But, as with gardening, there are setbacks.  At times, there are “weeds”.  My heart broke when I discovered that two of the teenage girls in a family we have grown close to, now have little babies of their own.  I shared in another post how I grieve for them.  It seems that girls grow up faster than they need to (just like in America).  Many men have rebelled against the responsibility God has squarely placed on their shoulders (just like in America).  The path that seems easy and feels good is the one that is chosen (just like in America).  Choices have consequences.  These two girls now see that.  I love them like daughters.  I pray they see that God can use this in their lives in a way that will make them stronger.  They have a difficult path ahead of them. But, in the midst of brokenness, God proves most faithful.

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Over they years, I have developed an appreciation for the house building process.  I do not allow myself to get lost in the “building” and miss the “knowing”.  I am intentional in spending some time with the family, talking to them and asking questions.  It was a joy to build a house for Etelvina’s family.  Even though their lives have been fractured by abandonment, they remain strong.  Their faith in God’s provision sustains them.  They knew the blessing of the house came from God.  They joyfully worked side-by-side with us both days.  They sang a song of faithfulness at the dedication ceremony.  They read some words of hope from the Bible.  They know that all things are “from Him, through Him and to Him”.  For the first time in their lives, they had a dry roof over their heads, cooked inside with a good stove and slept warmly in a soft bed under warm blankets.  I look forward to visiting them next year to see how they are doing.

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The chicken coups have been a mixed blessing.  At the peak, Viviana’s chicken business was thriving.  She had begun to sell other items as well.  But, despite our warnings, she had not saved money to ensure she had enough food to properly feed them.  Her desire was there, but she needed direction and encouragement.  We gave her more money to buy the proper chicken food and more items to sell.  We now have safeguards in place and supervision to make sure she understands and follows through with what is necessary to keep her business healthy. She is a special woman with sweet children.  While she is from a very broken marriage marred by spousal abuse caused by drug addiction, she remains faithful in her devotion to God.  What she has to offer God is her heart and voice.  She sings at Juan’s church and is devoted to the One who cares for her.

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We installed stoves in several homes.  We went to the home of one mom whose husband drank himself to death many years ago.  She has two mute daughters.  They make a living weaving clothes.  While installing a stove should only take about 45 minutes, we spent about two hours talking.  We spend a lot of time getting to know her situation.  We tried to find a way to build their business.  In the midst of this, we met Reina.  She is a very bright and sweet young girl who has an amazing sense for business.  What she did not have was a relationship with Christ.  She had a sister who wanted the hope brought about by an education, but also did not know Jesus.  Chris and Pastor Juan spent much time sharing the Gospel with these young girls.  You could see God working in Reina’s heart.  While she already had young men trying to date her, Chris told her to put her faith in Christ, not the promise of young love from a teenage boy.  At that point, I could only imagine what the young man must have thought when he heard of Chris’s advice!  I did not know what kind of fruit to expect from our time with them.  Only time would tell.

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We also met a couple named Odilio and Maria.  Both sets of their parents died early in their lives.  They have had a troubled and rocky life.  But, you can see the spark in Odilio’s eyes.  He desperately wants to be the husband and dad God wants him to be.  He is working hard to provide for his family.  We invited him to church and also our men’s Bible study.  We were so excited when he showed up.  Even more amazing is that Odilio can’t read.  But, that didn’t stop him.  He still showed up and listened.  How many excuses have we all made in life to not go study the Bible.  “It’s too early”, “It’s too far away”, “I’m too busy”, “They don’t provide snacks”!  This man can’t read!  He still came!!!

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We also hosted a wheelchair distribution where 31 people received the gift of mobility.  Bethel is primarily a wheelchair organization that collects used equipment from volunteers in the US and Canada, then refurbishes it in their shop in Chimaltenango.  They employ several disabled Guatemalan men and women who take each chair, and get them into “like-new” condition.  They have a network of volunteers in Guatemala who identify people who need mobility.  We raised the funds to help 31 people.  Rick and I have been collecting chairs for quite a while.  It is so encouraging to meet some of the people who receive the chairs we collect.  Each person has a unique story on how they get to that point.  It truly blesses us to see their lives changed in such a short period of time.

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We got to spend a little time with Juana.  My life has been blessed simply knowing her.  I count her as a friend.  We have laughed, cried and made tortillas together.  I have heard Juana pray for God’s salvation in her life.  She is my sister in Christ.  I know God has much planned for her life.

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We are seeing much success in the life of Johanna as well.  We have seen her come so far in her life and education.  She is graduating this year from high school and hoping to move on to college to be a lawyer.  Also, her older brother Tulio is in aircraft mechanic school.  He is doing great as well.  The future is bright for both of them.

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The men’s Bible study is where we saw much fruit and progress.  Men don’t usually get together and study the Bible.  There are a host of reasons.  But, God has brought a core group of men who are willing and excited to meet together in Juan’s church to study the Bible in two languages with us each year.  They are also beginning to meet even after we leave.  That is really encouraging!  The most amazing moment for me was when the Guatemalan men opened the meeting by singing in Spanish.  It was like the sound of men worshiping God in Heaven.  I have put the song within the video at the top of this page so you can hear it.  We were not expecting them to sing, so it really caught me off guard.  These men were worshiping with passion.  I still listen to them singing almost every day.

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Our final night in Guatemala was spent the same way it began…worshiping at Juan’s church.  The greatest joy for me was looking out at the faces in the crowd.  There were so many old friends such as Blanca, Juan, Viviana, Naomi, David, Esdras, Danny, Anna, Paula, Sandra; and so many more.  But, the cool part was all of the new faces as well.  There was Etelvina and her kids, the mom and her mute daughters, Reina and her sister (also the young, awkward boyfriends who must have been cursing us), Odilio and Maria, and one woman who said she never goes to church.  Right in front of us, a garden in full view at every maturity level.  There were seeds and soil.  There were weeds and thorns.  I could see sunshine and rain.  There were sprouting plants that needed tender care, and mature fruit ready to be harvested.  It has taken a lot of time, sweat, tears and prayer.  But, it has totally been worth it.

I also saw two new workers in the garden (Dan and Gale), and two old faithful hands (Chris and Rick).  I am fortunate to have served with them during the week.

I always like to end with a challenge: “Where are you in this process?”

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?  Do you believe that He is your only hope…your only way of being made right with God?  And, have you willingly submitted your life into His hands?  If not, please do not let another day go by in your life without making this choice.  Not too long ago, I was talking with another pilot I was flying with.  I talked about the joy of “being born again”.  In all genuineness, he asked me what that really meant in someone’s life.  It was a wonderful opportunity.  If your heart is just now opening to this truth, but you need to hear more, I would gladly meet over a cup of coffee and share this hope.

If you have made this confession, and salvation is a reality in your life, then where are you in the “gardening process”?  Are you even on the field?  Are you sowing seed?  Are you helping harvest?  If not, I would love to have you go to Guatemala with me.  It is the most rewarding week.  Seeds will be planted in your own heart as well.  One day, you will be able to look back and see the harvest in your own life.

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Thank you again to all of the people who donated this year.  Thank you for helping.  I can already tell you that we need your help again next year.   The fruit from this trip would not be possible without your faithfulness!

Gardening is good!  God is Great!  It’s all in His Name…it’s all for His Glory!

Until next year!

Brad

Gale – Closing thoughts

Posted by Gale

A New Perspective

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This was my first mission trip, something that has been on my heart for some time. Rick invited me to participate, and honestly, I don’t know how it could have been more rewarding. The week was very challenging physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I wrongly thought that somehow we could be a blessing to the people of Guatemala. It was just the opposite. The people of Guatemala blessed me infinitely more. And now I have been spending the past week reflecting. I have sifted through the pictures and videos and am so stirred. Even the people I share highlights of the trip with are moved to tears.

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The week gave me a completely new perspective as I get back into my routine. I saw an empty wheel chair at the airport recently – something that happens every time I travel. But now it means something different. It reminds me of the people of the world that need wheel chairs and the incredible wheel chair ministry of Chris Mooney and Bethel Ministries. And I think of all the work Rick and the other team members are doing to help collect wheelchairs. I will never forget the wheelchair distribution and the people that received them during our visit. Many times during the course of a day, I see something like a new house, etc. and immediately think of Guatemala. These are just a few examples. My prayer is that I do not lose this perspective; that I will not become less mindful of the blessings in my life six months from now.

Our pastor recently started a series in 2 Timothy. He preached on 2 Timothy 1 this week. As he read verse 4, it reminded me of our week in Guatemala: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy”. The context is different, but I could not stop thinking of our week in Guatemala.

And it was great to be part of the team. Brad and Rick had previous experiences in Guatemala. Dan participated in other mission trips. But this was my first – it was great to be with some experienced guys. Our days were filled with laughter, crying, working, prayer, and worship – now that’s a full day! Brad led us in a way that not only allowed us to serve, but also balanced this with devotion, worship, and prayer. Wow! And I am amazed at how the Spirit transcends language. Bonds were not only formed with team members, but also with people that spoke little or no English in ways only the Spirit can enable. This was so evident with Pastor Juan and his family and some of the people we served.

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Thank you for all the prayers. And please continue to lift up Chris Mooney and Pastor Juan – for their continued strength, passion, and zeal to deliver the gospel and minister to the people of Guatemala; seeing unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus.

Dios te Bendiga,

Gale

Rick – Closing thoughts

Another amazing opportunity to serve in Tecpan is now behind us.   Time flies so fast.

Thank you to all who were praying for our trip.   I know I had many specifically praying for the team to have good health.   I know it worked, because NONE of us had any of the much-feared intestinal issues!

This was my second “January J127 Mens trip”.    You really can’t compare experiences, but this one was truly phenomenal.   Each day we were amazed at what God had in store for us.

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The team gelled together perfectly.

Gale – Gale’s contributions at morning devotions were ALWAYS spot on!   It was almost as if his morning reading in Charles Spurgeon’s  “ Morning and Evening” (edited by the pastor of Gale’s church  “Allistar Begg”) was written specifically for our day that was ahead of us!  Gale had such insight and humility.    I was especially moved by his words addressing the church our last night.   He referred to Revelations 7:9-12…noting that there was a great multitude from another nation (Guatemala)……………….he said to the families that he didn’t know if it were in God’s plan for him to come back, but he knew that he would meet them again ONE day!

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Dan – Another new team member added great flavor to the trip.  Our resident horticulturist,  always delighted in seeing the familiar trees and flowers.    We even adjusted placement of one of the stoves to lessen smoke damage to an overhanging peach tree!     Dan’s building skills were a definite blessing!   He and Juanito had a great day in constructing the base for the Bano!    At one point they both were singing praise songs, in Spanish!

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Brad – What a great team leader!    From his planning to the daily porch time with the families to uncover their needs, to wrapping up each day with “debriefing” to compare notes on what we experienced…his heart for Tecpan is enormous!    It is so moving to be a part of “Brad’s Tecpan-team”.    Reinvesting in this community and church is a blessing to the community AND the team-members!    Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this team!  TWICE!!!

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There were too many amazing moments to list.    To me one of the biggest highlights, Brad referred to in his post “Iliana”.  This family, who scraped to get by, took in an orphaned baby.   The sisters worked while in school to help pay for the little “brother’s” school, and to put food on the table.   Selfless!   Truly, James 1:27 in it’s purest form!    “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you”.  It was an absolute blessing to meet this family!

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The other image that will never leave me is seeing Chris pick up the woman who was crawling to the wheelchair distribution!    He was truly the “Hands and Feet” at that moment!

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The final night at church was both the best night of the week, and the worst.    It was the worst, because we had to say goodbye to our large new Family!    The amazing blessing that made it the best was that ALL the families we helped during the week that lived in the area were at church that evening.    We found ourselves on the receiving end of countless hugs and tearful whisperings of “Dios te Bendiga”.  (God bless you).   What a fantastic finale to the week!

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Pastor Juan (Juanito)  – An amazing man of God!     He serves his community and his church in such awesome ways!     We would work hard in the day, and each night he would lead his church with such passion and enthusiasm.   It is truly inspiring!     I am so honored to be able to call him “Hermano”  (brother).     His family is such a strong core of God-Loving people!   He is a Blessed man!

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It was truly a blessing to again serve alongside Chris Moony.   I often wonder if it is POSSIBLE for other missionaries to truly LOVE the people they serve as much as Chris.    He is always in the trenches with these families uncovering their needs.   He also isn’t afraid to challenge them with the issues they deal with.  But it is done with such LOVE!    The “porch time” we spent with the families this week was unforgettable!

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As I am back home again,  in the routine daily life, a large part of my heart remains in Guatemala!  How can you walk away from experiences like this and NOT be changed.   It is always a reminder to me how we should be more THANKFUL for what we are blessed with.    It puts it in perspective for me when we give a family in a ramshackle shack a bag of food (rice, beans and tortillas) and they Praise God for 5 minutes.   How many times have we unloaded the trunk with $100 (or more) worth of groceries and simply put them in the cupboard.    Most of us take our comforts for granted.    I need to work on that!

Dios te Bendiga,

Ricardo

Dan – Closing thoughts

Posted by Dan

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Most of the people we came in contact with while in Guatemala were very poor. A lot of their homes were in such poor condition that we in the states would probably tear them down because of not meeting insurance standards, or simply being eye sores. Although this was the case, people were not complaining about their circumstances. We fail to thank God for simple things like having a place to go to the bathroom, or being able to get a clean glass of water. We should be constantly quoting and living by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”

The people we came in contact with showed a lot of gratitude towards us for helping them. Some felt they needed to give or share gifts with us. That was very touching. They were different then people here at home. I’m not sure how Pastor Juan got in contact with some of them, but it didn’t seem like they were looking for a handout. People here seem to think they are entitled to receive help, and many don’t want to do anything to assist themselves.

Family seems to be an important part of many of their lives. Although MANY of the men are not in the picture, mothers make sacrifices for their children. Children help their siblings to receive a good education by giving up their own. When we were doing the wheelchair distribution, there were a lot of family members there to assist loved ones.

God was able to use the people in Guatemala to leave an impression on my heart of thanksgiving, even when it may seem like ordinary day to day things.

Dan

My prayer for the last day

Posted by Brad

Well, we all made it home.  Gale flew through Houston and Rick, Dan and I went through Dallas.

I have a quick compliment to make.  I like to give credit when it is due.  Normally, the U.S. Immigration lines are enormous.  It’s kind of like getting to the Post Office to mail Christmas packages moments AFTER a tour bus full of people arrived before you.  Long lines…always!  Well, I have to give credit to the people at the DFW airport. We walked off the airplane and made our way down the long halls.  To my surprise, the lines were short.  In fact, you don’t even need to fill out a blue customs card anymore.  They have a new computer system.  With a few presses on a touch screen, you answer all the questions you used to check on a form.  Rick and I passed through easily, but the officials obviously realized how shifty Dan is, as they picked him off to have his bags screened.  Shifty I tell you!   No, actually, they told him they have quotas to keep of people they select.  Dan just happened to be the lucky winner.  Some people have all the fun.  We had one last lunch together at the DFW airport.  I wish Gale could have been with us, but he was fortunate enough to fly out a couple of hours earlier than us.

Speaking of home, while we are all very happy to be home with our families, we are at the same time sad to leave our old and new friends in Guatemala.  It is amazing how deep a place a group of people can make in your heart in such a short time.  The need is so immense in Guatemala.  There are so many people in a life and death struggle each and every day.  Moms struggling to be the sole provider, helplessly watching as their children are sick and going hungry; generations of men who continually fail to be responsible in their actions and unwilling, or unable to be the physical and spiritual leaders God designed and commanded them to be.   There is an easily correctible lack of education for the children, and men and women perishing from a lack of knowledge about the Man, Christ Jesus, who died to set them free from sin and death.  As we leave, the question is before us all, what can be done?  Is there any hope?  Can anyone really make a difference?  The answer is a resounding “YES”!!!  I am so thankful to have gone many years ago on a mission trip to Guatemala with Robbie and Lori Wheeler.  It was my introduction to missions in Guatemala.  It was also my introduction to the man I consider to be one of my closest friends…Chris Mooney.  Every day, Chris and the wonderful people of Bethel Ministries International, take the Hope of Christ to the people.  They take people like you and me, involve them in taking help to people in need.  They provide food, clothing and shelter.  They find disabled people who need the gift of mobility; people who are hidden away in homes around the country.  They find caring people in the USA and around the world who are willing to sacrificially give part of their material blessings to allow a child to go to school in order to break the cycle of poverty.  They take volunteers into the homes of single moms to provide food, encouragement and a hug.  Even more importantly, they tell them about the Hope that is only found in Christ, a hope that will transform their hearts and lives.

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One cool thing that happened on our last night was that the little girl from last year who thought Chris was “Michaelito” showed up to see him.  She and her brother sat with our group through the entire service.  She was the same adorable little girl.  Just looked up at him and smiled.  There are so many children in Guatemala that are without a dad.  You can read about her here.

As we re-enter life in America, I am reminded of the words my good friend Ronnie once prayed after we returned from the trip with the Wheelers, “Now that we have seen the need, may our hearts never be the same again”.  That is my prayer for the men who went on this journey over the past week.  It is my prayer for all who read this blog.  The other night, I saw Etelvina at church.  She is the mom who we built the house for.  I asked her what she thought of the house now that she has been in it for a couple of days.  Know what she said?  “For the first time, we were not cold last night when we slept”.  Look at the pictures I have included.  One is of their old bed.  Another is of the wall in their old house.  Notice how the wind would just blow through.  No wonder they were cold.  When was the last time that was a concern for you and your children?

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As we all go to sleep tonight (me included), may we think of all the people around the world who will not be able to say the same thing.  We know about the need.  We cannot look the other way.  We cannot pretend it does not exist.  We have the resources to solve the physical needs.  We have been commanded to help spread the Gospel to solve the spiritual need.  Do we have the will and resolve to do anything about it?

Quite honestly, it takes time to decompress after returning.  I challenged each man to reflect on what happened in their hearts over the last week.  And if possible, write about what occurred from their viewpoint.  I will share those insights as they provide them in the next week or so.  After they give input, I will make one final blog entry to summarize the trip.  The best way to keep track, is to click on the bottom right of the computer screen and “follow” the blog.  You will be automatically notified as we post entries.

Thanks to everyone who helped us reach the people of Tecpan.  Your financial and spiritual support has meant so much.  Thank you to all who have emailed and commented.  It does make a difference.

Dios te Bendiga,

Brad