Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Basketball in Guanabano

One of my favorite nights in the Dominican Republic was Friday night. That was the night our team split up to take advantage of two ministry opportunities.

Most of the team went to church in Hoya Grande and they told us it was an awesome service with several students stepping up in big ways.

Six members of our team, and one translator, went to the Multi-Uso, a covered basketball court in the town of Guanabano (see picture above). We played an organized game against a group of guys from the town as a pre-game show for a city tournament game.

There is a man named Victor in Guanabano who has sacrificed greatly to become the organizer/coach/mentor to all the men and boys who like to play basketball in that town. And in a small town like Guanabano that has two very nice basketball courts, there is no shortage of
interest from the men and boys!

Victor set up the game for us and even played against us. He was so excited to have us there. We played pretty well and won our game, but the most important part of the night came after our
game was over.

As our game was ending and the two city teams were warming up
for their tournament game, more and more people began pouring into the gym. Almost all of our team quickly found people to talk with and scattered throughout the gym. I ended up sitting with our trip leader Sam for a while and he explained how basketball is a huge part of life for much of this town.

But with basketball comes a somewhat destructive lifestyle for the men and boys involved in it. Their main influence in the basketball world is the NBA. I'm not against the NBA but the lifestyle it often portrays is one that most people will never be able to achieve - lots of money, lots of women and little responsibility. You can see this influence in many of the men in Guanabano. It's not overt, but it's definitely there.

That's why a guy like Victor (pictured right) has such an amazing opportunity. As far as we know, Victor is
Catholic. In the Dominican Republic, being Catholic is the norm but it's not based on a relationship with Jesus Christ. Victor seems like an amazing man, but I long for him to know Jesus personally and to pursue Him wholeheartedly. I also long for him to use his position in the community to share the love of Jesus with all the men and boys he spends so much time with.

I ask you to pray for Victor. First, pray that he would meet Jesus in a real way and accept Him as his savior. Then, pray that Victor's position and place in the community will only be strengthened through his pursuit of Christ so that he can help the men and boys of Guanabano take steps toward Jesus for themselves!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leader Meetings!

One interesting dynamic of our IMPACT team that went to the Dominican Republic was the makeup of the leadership.

My wife Katie and I were the oldest leaders but we had no experience leading a team like this. Kory (back row, second from right) and Alison (front row, far right) Lantz are young but have plenty of experience, which made them strong leaders. Jessica Noelle (front row, middle) is a natural leader but was on her first mission trip overseas.

When we arrived in the Dominican Republic, we met our trip leaders. Sam Borg (back row, second from left) is in his late 20s and has been leading trips since he was 16 years old. He was definitely the go-to guy when any of us had questions. He brought along three great leaders - David Hair (back row, middle), Ryan Bozarth (back row, far right) and Andy Martin (not pictured) - to help our team find its way in a foreign country. Sam, David and Andy also served us as translators, so that was a huge blessing.

The leadership team was able to bond pretty quickly and we each found our roles quite naturally. One thing that helped with this process was our leader meetings. Each night at dinner we would gather to discuss future plans, what we had seen each day and any issues that were arising. Fortunately for us, this team had very few issues so we were able to focus on plans and encouraging each other.

As we got closer and closer, we all started hoping for more leader meetings whenever we had a chance. The students probably got sick of us gathering so much, but it was too much fun and such a huge blessing to be with the other leaders. Our meetings were always filled with laughter, stories and prayer. We prayed for each other. We prayed for the students. We prayed for the people we met in the DR.

Leader meetings were a life-giving and uplifting time for all of us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


A major theme that defined our trip to the Dominican Republic was victory. Sam Borg, our trip leader, spoke to us one night about hating what is evil and capturing Jesus' warrior spirit to gain victory over those things we hate.

At the end of Sam's message, our students stood up, shouted from the rooftop (literally) how much they hate sin and the way Satan invades our lives. They called themselves warriors and, in doing so, began to see victory in their lives over the things they hate.

This new found Warrior Spirit gave our students a boost of energy, boldness and eagerness for the tough days of ministry ahead. It helped me, too, because it was the next day when I was asked to preach in a church service.

When the students had finished their response to Sam's message, I prayed over them and one thing I said in my prayer was, "How hard is it for a Warrior to tell someone about Jesus?" Sometimes I think God lets me think I'm praying for others when I'm actually praying for myself. I needed to hear that because I was heading into a scenario that would normally scare me to death.

But as I wrote in the last post, when the time came for me to preach, I had this very unexpected sense of calm and confidence.

I wasn't the only one who was scared by some of the situations put in front of them. Doing street evangelism in a foreign country with people who speak a different language can be incredibly frightening, but our students claimed victory in Jesus and did a fantastic job of showing His love to the people they met.

I know that screaming at the end of a moving message doesn't constitute a lifelong change, but I think it's a pretty awesome place to start!

A Picture of My Week in the DR

That's me jumping off a 25-foot rock into about 6 feet of water. The jump lasted just a few seconds and was really fun, but the process of getting to the jump was a lot longer and not nearly as fun.

Our final two days in the Dominican Republic were spent in a place called Jarabacoa, which is in the mountains. We went there to reflect on our experiences of the past week, listen for God's voice leading us into our next steps and figure out how to take what we've seen, tasted, smelled and felt back home.

One of the best parts of those two days in Jarabacoa was a trip to a waterfall. We walked for about 5 minutes down a trail and arrived at a 50 or 60-foot waterfall. The water below was cool, but very refreshing and not too deep. We swam in and out of the waterfall for a while. Several of us were hoping we could climb the rocks on one side of the falls so that we could jump off into a deeper area. Finally, one of our students found a way to the top of a 25-foot rock that was above a safe place to jump from.

The climb up to that rock appeared difficult, even for the most fit members of our team. I watched students climb, cheered them on and celebrated with them after they jumped. Inside, I wanted to climb the rock and jump into the water but I didn't think I would be able to do it. I was very unsure of my ability to climb. I figured I would be able to jump pretty easily if I could get to the top, I just didn't think I could get up there. Also, I didn't want to attempt it and fail, having to retreat down the rock, or worse, fall and injure myself.

As I watched several students climb and jump I finally decided that I had to at least give it a try. I was still hesitant as I looked at the face of the rock and didn't see many places to get a good grip. But as I began to climb, it got easier and easier. In fact, the spot where most people were getting stuck ended up being pretty easy for me. Soon I found myself at the top and staring down a 25-foot jump to the water.

Again I hesitated, worrying about my safety and my ability to push off far enough so I didn't hit any rocks on the way down. But then someone behind me yelled, "You're a warrior!" (which will be the subject of another blog post soon) and I knew I just had to jump. Finally, my feet left the rock and it was an amazing feeling. Hitting the water was incredible and coming up out of it was even better. I did it!

One day later, on the way home, God showed me how that experience at the waterfall was a good picture of my week in the Dominican Republic.

I have always been good at supporting and encouraging people. I naturally gravitate to the behind-the-scenes stuff (watching others climb, cheering them on and celebrating with them). Early in the week I found myself doing that again. I encouraged, took pictures, prayed for and celebrated with our team. None of that stuff is bad, but sometimes it is only a part of what God wants from me.

During our first church service in Guanabano, I was asked if I was ready to share something from the stage. I flinched. In fact, I shrank back from the opportunity and said I wasn't ready (doubting my ability to climb, worrying about failure).

As the week went on I continued to do my behind-the-scenes stuff, but I kept feeling God's gentle nudge toward things that are uncomfortable for me. I even found myself desiring those things but still unsure of my ability (wanting to jump from the rock but unsure of climbing).

Finally, Sunday morning was my time to do something really uncomfortable - preach in a church service! Yikes! I don't know why but public speaking is one of my biggest fears. However, I knew I had to do it (finally deciding to at least try climbing the rock).

So I got up on the stage and was a little nervous at first (looking for footholds on the rock) but then I prayed and just started speaking (climbing). God gave me an incredible sense of calm and comfort (climbing easily, even through the tough spots).

Toward the end of my message I felt like God wanted me to remind the people of His love for them and the free gift of salvation that He offers (jump from the rock). Here's where the analogy breaks down because I didn't hesitate at all. I obeyed and jumped! I ended the message with a prayer of blessing for my new friends in Guanabano and left the stage feeling like I did OK.

Later in the day someone told me that a woman came forward after the service was over and felt challenged by my message to receive Jesus as her savior! I didn't get to pray for her but knowing that God used my obedience to draw someone to Himself was way better than jumping off a 25-foot rock into the water.

There are many lessons in these experiences for me, but I think the most important are obedience, boldness, faith and love. Without these things, our efforts are worthless. Our Heavenly Father wants to use us, we just have to let Him do it!

Pure Worship

During our trip to the Dominican Republic, our IMPACT team was given an amazing opportunity to test/exercise our faith in God. We were told of a young man named Jonathan who had become very sick and nobody could figure out what was wrong with him. His last medical hope was to have bloodwork done in the United States, but this was too expensive for his family.

As a team of mostly teenagers, we weren't prepared to offer a donation to the family, but we were more than ready to spend time in prayer for him. The team spent a few minutes listening for God's direction on who the right people were to go visit Jonathan and who should stay behind at the church in Guanabano and pray for him. We sent several students on the visit and the rest of us began what was probably the longest stretch of prayer most of us have ever experienced.

We sat in a circle most of the time, pleading with God to heal Jonathan. Some people read scripture. Some sang songs. Many were on their knees and even flat on the floor crying out for a miracle.

We had no idea how much time it would take for the group to return from visiting Jonathan, but we didn't really care either.

At what turned out to be about halfway through our prayer time, the prayers began to change. We started sensing a strong desire for Jonathan to give his life to Christ. We were confident that physical healing had taken place and now we began asking for spiritual healing.

I still don't know how long we were in there, but the time went quickly and at some point we started worshiping Jesus with songs. In the middle of one of our songs, the rest of our team walked back into the church with the most amazing smiles I've ever seen. They confirmed what we were already confident of - Jonathan had been healed!

Then, as if they knew exactly what we had been praying for, they told us that he had also accepted Jesus as his savior!

It was an overwhelming experience and all we could do was worship more. So, the photo at the top of this post is a look at pure worship. Worship that's not part of a church service. Worship that's not planned or scripted. It's worship that happened because it felt like the only thing we could possibly do.

I long for more times of pure worship. I long for more answered prayer. I long for more miracles.

God longs for those things too, I'm sure.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

God Gave us Victory in the Dominican Republic!

Katie and I returned from 11 days in the Dominican Republic last Friday. We helped lead a team of 20 senior high students and recent graduates on a mission trip in the city of Moca. It was an incredible experience and I'll try to share some stories in the next few days.

For now, here's a quick wrap-up of our trip:

Our travel was fairly easy, at least as easy as taking a group of 25 to another country can be! We worked with a pastor in the city of Moca named Quena. She is a woman in her 60s and her husband runs a chicken and plantain farm outside the city. She has started 5 churches in towns outside of Moca and we worked in 3 of them - Guanabano, Hoya Grande and Naranjal.

We split our team up into 3 groups to do VBS at each of the churches Wednesday-Friday. Many children were presented with the Gospel. We have no way of knowing how many accepted Christ but we pray that the seeds planted will grown into lifelong relationships with Him.

Saturday we spent several hours at a park in Guanabano just striking up conversations with the people in the park and sharing our faith and praying for them. This was an incredible day to watch our students get out of their comfort zones (and sometimes reach a new comfort zone) so they could talk with complete strangers and eventually share their faith with them. We had 5 translators on hand and many students relied on their own Spanish to talk with people. They showed great obedience and compassion throughout the day.

Saturday night was what we are all calling Warrior Night. Sam Borg, our trip leader who has been visiting the DR for 15+ years, spoke to us about hating sin, embracing Jesus' Warrior Spirit and defeating Satan so we can have victory in our lives. It was a powerful night of gaining perspective and victory in our lives.

The victory we gained Saturday night carried over to Sunday morning and God graciously gave us a lot of fruit for our labor. A woman from the church in Guanabano was saved in the morning. In the afternoon the team split up again - this time for some to go pray with a very sick young man and the rest to intercede for him. After about 2 hours the teams reunited and we all rejoiced that the young man was healed and that he began a relationship with Jesus! In the evening after church we stopped at another man's house and prayed for him. He too accepted Jesus! It was an amazing day of victory for our team and those people who were born again.

Monday was a fun day at a water park. We were able to spend time with many of the church volunteers we worked with all week at VBS and in the park. We also visited Quena's farm. Satan attacked us with overwhelming fatigue that evening (we sort of expected it) but once again Jesus fought the battle for us and allowed us to have one more powerful evening of victory. Many students drove stakes in the ground and declared their desire to live radically for Christ.

Finally, we spent the last two days at a resort in the mountain village of Jarabacoa. It wasn't just two days of pleasure - we used this time to capture our experiences, listen for God's direction on our next steps and encourage each other.