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Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

Harriet Tubman

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut.  Seriously, the thought of blasting into space and exploring the “final frontier” was an amazing dream I had for a few years.  Now, I’m quite content to have my feet firmly on the surface of the earth.

Over the years, I’ve had many other dreams.  I’ve dreamed about the possibility of writing a book (a dream that came true with my first book – On Track).  I’ve dreamed about the possibility of going to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona (a dream that did not come true).

I think there is something positive about having dreams and desires for our lives.  These dreams give us reasons to live intentionally.  They give us an avenue to escape from some of the realities we face in our everyday existence.  Dreams can give us hope for what is yet to come.

Sometimes our dreams and desires get twisted and tangled.  Maybe we let the dreams of our parents become our dreams.  Or maybe we look at the “perfect” world of those on television or in the movies thinking our lives would be better if we were just like them.  And sometimes we simply chase after the wrong things.

One of the things I love about going on a short-term missions trip is that they always seem to have a way of recalibrating my dreams and desires.  Besides expanding your community and changing your perspective, they have a tendency to adjust the way you think about the future.

For example, my dream of building 100 houses in Guatemala for widows and their families didn’t just appear suddenly while I was working at my job in Blue Bell, PA.  This dream and desire came about as a result of spending time in Guatemala serving widows and orphans.  My short-term missions trip experience in Guatemala allowed me to see the impact a house could have on a family, and I wanted to replicate that for other families.

Last year while our family was coming home from Guatemala, Leanne and I made a decision to sell our house, so we could live more, save more, and give more.  After an unsuccessful attempt at selling our house this spring, we remain committed to seeing how this plays out in the coming year.  We believe the dream and desire to downsize was not placed on our hearts by accident, and our trips to Guatemala for short-term missions were instrumental in recalibrating our dreams and desires in this way.

When you go on a short-term missions trip, you open yourself up to the possibility of new dreams and desires that go way beyond your wildest expectations.  And they go way beyond your self-centered, normal way of thinking.

If you like to dream but need to dream bigger, you should consider going on a short-term missions trip.

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
Colin Powell

How has the practice of serving others impacted your dreams and desires?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

“I just want people to take a step back, take a deep breath and actually look at something with a different perspective. But most people will never do that.”

Brian McKnight

When you always look at something from the same angle, you almost always see the same thing.  When you look at something from a different vantage point, you see something different.

Going on a short-term mission trip gives you the opportunity to see things from a totally different angle.  The different angle will cause a change in your perspective.

For many people, this idea can be quite terrifying.  “I’m too scared to see life from a different angle.”  “I might not like what I see.”  “I might even be convicted to change things in the comfortable life I live everyday.”

For many other people, this idea can be downright unnecessary.  “Why do I even need a different perspective.  After all, my perspective is the correct perspective.”

Regardless of where you are in life – your age, your economic status, your employment condition, your health, whatever, you need the perspective provided by putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

One of the reasons I value my short-term mission trips is that I always come home with an adjusted perspective.  For one, I have learned to appreciate the material blessings in my life, and I’ve learned to hang on to them much more loosely.  This comes from seeing how many people live on so little.  Secondly, I’ve learned that contentment in life can truly come without the hurried pace of life that seems to exist in many parts of the United States.  The mission trips I have experienced have also taught me that I actually have more to give.  Life is not just about me.  It’s about giving; it’s about sharing; it’s about spreading God’s love through words and actions.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve found it easy to slip back into the rat race of life.  One of the reasons I write so frequently about short-term missions and about my experiences in Guatemala is to make sure the perspective changes stick.  I do not want the positive perspective changes that have come as a result of going on a short-term missions trip to be a short-term thing in my life.

A short-term missions trip can change your long-term perspective if you let it.

“Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy.”
Henri Nouwen

How has your perspective changed as a result of serving someone?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about short-term missions.  They ask me why I think mission trips are important.  And sometimes they even tell me I’m crazy for thinking short-term mission trips are worthwhile at all.  This week, I’ll share with you some of the reasons I believe short-term mission trips are worthwhile and important.

Before I start, I think it’s important for you to know my history with short-term mission trips.  I’ve been on more than a few trips.  When I was in high school, I went on five mission trips with my high school youth group.  We went to Bellefonte (Pennsylvania), Cherryfield (Maine), Coatesville (Pennsylvania), Rochester (New York), and Syracuse (New York).  Each of these trips gave me the opportunity to serve with my fellow students building houses and doing other handyman projects.  As I look back on these trips, I remember how much we accomplished, and I also remember the fun we had together working hard and playing.

When I was a college at Grove City College, I had the privilege of going on two Inner City Outreach (ICO) trips to Chicago where we worked with Habitat for Humanity providing housing to people in need in the Irving Park area of Chicago.  I’ll always remember playing softball across the street from the Irving Park Methodist Church with Hunter Boyd, Erik Anderson, and Mike Black.  These trips gave me an unbelievable opportunity to bond with students from Grove City College while we served during our Easter break.

More recently, I’ve been to Guatemala five times in the past six years where I’ve had opportunities to serve in the villages of Santo Domingo Xenacoj and San Raymundo.  These trips have included house construction, feeding programs, and ministry to orphans and widows.

I’ve helped to plan several of these trips, and I’ve attended as a participant.  The experiences have all been very valuable.  I share this to let you know that I’ve gone on multiple mission trips (and I hope to go on many more).  While I still have a lot to learn about short-term missions, I believe I have some experience that has served me well and will hopefully cause you to think about going on a short-term missions trip of your own.

Short term missions provide an incredible opportunity to expand your community.

On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by putting you in a foreign place.  Whether you serve overseas or domestically, you are likely to find yourself outside your normal community.  Thanks to my short-term mission trips, I’ve connected with people from across the country and around the world that I normally would not have met – people like German Espana in Santo Domingo, Guatemala.  He’s a man who had tried to provide for his family by working in the United States.  His heart for widows and orphans expanded when he moved back to his own village and deepened his relationship with Jesus.  I also count as blessings the families we have served – people like Lydia, Betty, Angela, Maria, Dolores, and Carmen.  These women and their stories have touched my heart and expanded my understanding of community.

On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by drawing you closer to your team members.  This summer when I traveled to Guatemala with a group of 33 people from my church, my community expanded tremendously as I connected with each of the team members and learned many of their stories.  The trip gave us an intense and intentional time together where we were able to share together, pray together, eat together, serve together, and even play together.  I laughed, cried, and huddled with people I may never have really known outside the missions trip.

On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by opening your eyes to what others are doing to serve.  I have connected with so many great people from organizations like Casas por Cristo, Habitat for Humanity, Adventures in Missions (AIM), and GO Ministries as a result of these trips.  My community expanded to include people like Tyler Miller (Casas por Cristo), Pete Dockery (Casas por Cristo), Joshua Crabbs (Casas por Cristo), Dave Sgro (GO Ministries), and Seth Barnes (AIM).  I’m thankful for these ministries and missionaries who have showed me what it looks like to expand your community with the intention of sharing God’s love.

You and I were meant for community.

That community should be happening right where you live, but it doesn’t have to stop there.  Now is a great time to consider expanding your community outside your neighborhood through a short-term missions trip.

How has your community expanded as a result of a short-term missions experience?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

8 WAYS TOMAKE MISSIONS PART OF YOUR LIFE

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.

Mahatma Gandhi

I’m on a mission!

Are you on a mission?

What’s your mission?

I’m on a mission to help others STRETCH.  I’m on a mission to glorify God.  And I’m on a mission to point others to Christ.  I have a lot of missions in my life.

A mission is a job or task that we have to do.

If you call yourself a Christ-follower, you are on a mission whether you realize it or not.  We are tasked by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

You are a missionary!

Now what?

How do we make missions part of our lives?

The missionary journey that I am on will most likely look a little different from your missionary journey.  We have different gifts and passions which will cause us to serve others from a unique perspective.  If you are struggling to make missions part of your life, today’s post will get you started.

8 Ways To Make Missions Part Of Your Life

  1. Get to know other missionaries.  Thanks to the internet, you can plug into missionaries all over the world.  Take time to connect with one or two of these missionaries and learn more about their story and their ministry.
  2. Find ways to serve in your own community.  You don’t have to go overseas to be on mission.  Their are needs right in your own community.  If you’re afraid to go alone, grab a friend and go serve at a local food pantry, shelter, or nursing home.  Serving others in your community is such a great way to share the message of your mission.
  3. Learn to define missions differently.  When people think of missions, they often think of someone going to Africa or another foreign country.  They put missions in a box.  Learn to be creative in how you serve others.  Being on a mission starts through your conversations and actions with those where you work and live.
  4. Make missions part of your schedule.  If you aren’t intentional, you will overlook missions opportunities.  Our family serves with our H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Everywhere) group twice a month.  We also have a date on our calendar for returning to Guatemala this summer.
  5. Go somewhere foreign.  I am often asked this question: “Why do you go overseas when there are needs right in our own country and community.”  For one, the Great Commission instructs us to go into ALL nations.  Secondly, a believe a foreign mission trip or missionary journey can actually alter our perspective when we return home.  A foreign missions trip can be a catalyst for creating a mission mindset at home.  If you live in the country or suburbs, go into the inner-city to serve.  If you live in the city, go into the country to serve.  Serving in different places opens are eyes to the needs in and around us throughout the world and close to home.
  6. Give.  Don’t underestimate the value and importance of giving when it comes to missions.  If you want to make missions part of your life, find a way to give your time, your money, your gifts, and your other resources.
  7. Pray.  Ask God to show you how to make missions part of your life.  Ask God to work through the missionaries and ministries on your radar.  Prayer is an effective way to make missions part of your life.
  8. Share.  Your story is powerful.  Share your story of missions with others.  You will inspire others to make missions part of their life when you tell your missions story.  This year, my family will be heading back to Guatemala for two weeks to serve in the village of Xenacoj.  You can be certain, I’ll be sharing more about this trip right here.

How have you made missions part of your life?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

What profession, career, or adventure did you dream of following?

I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  I wanted to be firefighter.  I wanted to be an actor.  I wanted to be a pharmacist.

I thought – even dreamed – of becoming a missionary when I was younger.  I remember hearing the stories of missionaries as they visited our church.  They inspired me and captured my thoughts for days as I processed the possibility of this becoming a reality for me when I became an adult.

Those thoughts and dreams died – or at least lay dormant for a long time.  The responsibilities of raising a family and paying the bills got in the way.  The distractions of pursuing the American Dream diluted my childhood dreams to the point I forget my earlier hopes.

Maybe it’s time to rekindle those aspirations.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Act on your dreams!

What’s holding you back?  What dreams do you need to reawaken?  What is one step you can take to pursue your childhood dreams?

John R. W. Stott Quote

February 26, 2015 — 10 Comments

“Why is it that some Christians cross land and sea, continents and cultures, as missionaries? What on earth impels them? It is not in order to commend a civilization, an institution or an ideology, but rather a person, Jesus Christ, whom they believe to be unique. ”
― John R.W. Stott

John_stott

Why do you think people become missionaries?

Have you ever dared to chase after one of your crazy ideas?

Buy This Land is a memoir that tells the story of a Spanish-speaking Chinese lawyer from Seattle, and his pursuit to provide dignity and hope to the rural poor in Guatemala and other Central American countries.  It’s the story of a man dared to chase after a crazy idea.

My shared connection to Guatemala made this book especially interesting to me as I could envision the places and people the author shares throughout the pages of this real-life story.  Chi-Dooh (Skip) Li provides a vivid and detail description of his own childhood and early career which lead him to establish Agros International, an organization recognized for combating the root causes of poverty.

In America, we take for granted our ability to purchase our own land.  This is a privilege often unreachable for the poor in countries like Guatemala.  Li’s passion to provide hope and a stepping stone for those in need propels him to create Agros as a way to help the poor purchase their own land.

Buy This Land recounts the many early struggles encountered in setting up the organization, and it goes on to explain the early challenges and successes that went into setting up the first few Agros communities.

Buy This Land is a worthwhile read, and it will give you a different perspective on the challenges faced by the poor in Central America.  I think this book will also give you a deeper look into Guatemala, the place and people who captured my heart.

Do you own or rent your place of living?  Why do you think land ownership is such a big deal?

(Please note:  I received a copy of Buy This Land for free from the author.  I was not required to provide a favorable review.  I truly believe this book will open your eyes and challenge you to chase after your own crazy ideas.

Also to note:  There are affiliate links in this post.  Should you purchase Buy This Land by clicking one of these links, I receive a small percentage of the purchase.  These funds are used to support The Stretched Blog and to extend ministry and missions to Guatemala.  Thank you!)

Taught To Teach

October 28, 2014 — 9 Comments

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If you don’t have a teacher you can’t have a disciple.
Dallas Willard

It’s hard to be an effective missionary if we are unwilling to be taught.

Let me explain.

The Great Commission instructs us to go into all the world and make disciples.  (You can look it up here.)

Teaching is one of our primary responsibilities as Christ followers and missionaries.  But teaching does not happen very well if we are not willing to be taught or discipled first.  If you want to have a mission mindset, you must have a willingness to learn.

Who is investing in your life?  How are you learning and growing to become a disciple of Christ?

He [Jesus Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

I John 2:2

More than anything, this is the significance of Christ’s life to us and to the world.

Today’s culture has watered down this message.  We talk very little about sin.  “What’s okay for him is okay for him.”

Sin is real.  And it ultimately leads to death (“the wages of sin is death”) and separation from eternity with Christ.

But there is a remedy.

Christ died for our sins.  He sacrificed His life so we might have the opportunity for eternal life.  (John 3:16)

This is the crux of the missionary message.  In order to have a mission mindset, we must recognize Christ’s role in dealing with our sins, and we must find ways to carry this message to a lost and broken world.

What is your perspective on sin?

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Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.
St. Augustine

We want to be people to be people of action.

We want to be part of things being accomplished.  When we go on a short-term missions trip or when we chose to serve in our community, this typically means we want to get our hands dirty.  We want to build houses.  We want to feed hungry children.  We want to help widows.  These actions are important, and I believe they are part of every Christ followers calling.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:26-27

But what if we are missing out on the key action we must take to truly move from just having a mission mindset to actually going on a mission?

The action we can easily overlook involves getting our knees dirty instead of our hands.  Yes.  Prayer is the action we must take if we want to be the most effective missionaries.

 “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:38

  • Prayer keeps us connected to God.
  • Prayer humbles us.
  • Prayer gives us appropriate perspective.
  • Prayer reminds us who is in charge.
  • Prayer works.
  • Prayer is effective.
  • Prayer is an action.

Let’s not forget about prayer!

How is your prayer life?  What is so hard about praying?  How has prayer changed your life?  How do you think your life would be different if prayer became a larger part of your life?