Archives For missions

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.

It’s been nearly a week since I returned home from Guatemala, and I’m still in recovery.

The other day, I mentioned that I might have a case of post mission trip depression.  A good friend said that was a real thing.  I’m not sure if I’m all together depressed, but I’m definitely dealing with some feelings I don’t normally have.  My stomach has been a little unsettled that past few days which could be a result of a couple of meals I tried toward the end of my visit – namely the street side tacos from San Raymundo or the meal I enjoyed at the house dedication.  Beyond that, I’ve missed the team we spent the week with in Guatemala.  I’ve also been pondering the next moves in building more homes for widows.  And I’m feeling the realities of being thrust back into a high pressure, fast paced world after being in a low pressure, slower paced Guatemala.  I’m confident things will improve in the coming days, but these feelings got me thinking that I’m probably not alone.

Today, I want to give you some advice on how to overcome a case of post mission trip depression.  (And by the way, I’m writing this for myself too.)

8 Ways to Overcome Post Mission Trip Depression

  1. Find a way to serve in your local community.  Serving around the world in places like Guatemala is important, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be serving right in our own communities.  When we serve others, it uplifts the people we are serving and us.
  2. Share your story with others.  Don’t let your mission trip story fade into the past.  By sharing your story, you may inspire others to serve others, and you get the benefit of reliving your experience.
  3. Get some sleep.  Typically, a missions trip throws your internal clock for a loop.  It’s important to get appropriate sleep to help you return to the “normalcy” of your typical routine.
  4. Schedule time to get together with your team.  If you served with a group of people, you should consider setting time aside to get together with the team.  Maybe it starts with dinner out with some of the friends you just met.  It would also be a good idea to schedule a “reunion gathering” for your team to share pictures, stories, and general feedback on the return to home.
  5. Don’t forget to eat.  Food is often the key ingredient to keeping us emotionally stable.  Make sure you take time to eat.
  6. Get some exercise.  Even a walk in the park can do wonders for our emotional health.  Make sure you get out and exercise when you come home from a mission trip.
  7. Read a good book about missions trips or about serving other people.  This fall, I’ll be releasing my next book, Rooftop Reflections – Missional Thoughts of an Ordinary Guy from an Extraordinary Place.  I’ll share more about this in the coming weeks.  This kind of book can keep your brain on the right wavelength as you try to remember your experience and as you try to find ways to apply it in your everyday world.
  8. Start planning your next mission trip.  Why wait until next year to sign up for a trip?  Start fundraising now.  Start collecting donations to give to the widows, the orphans, and the poor you might be serving in the future.  Take an active role in getting ready for another trip to serve others.

I’m already feeling a little bit better just thinking about taking these actions.

How have you handled your thoughts and feelings upon returning home from a missions trip or life-changing experience?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Psalm 121:1-2

The year, we build with Casas por Cristo.  Casas is a fantastic organization, and I learned a lot through our experience this year that will be helpful as I pursue building 100+ houses in Guatemala.

Today, I’ll give you a glimpse into the building process.  Our large team split into two smaller teams, and we both completed our houses in 2 1/2 days.  The actual construction may have gone fast, but there were other steps before our build that paved the way for our visit.

Applying to Get a Home

In order to get a house, the pastor of a family in need must complete an application.  Through this process, the pastor and associated church commit to coming around the family in an effort to disciple them and help them with their ongoing needs.  The families selected make an average of $60 per week, and they typically live in huts made of cardboard, cornstalks, or bamboo.

Preparing the Site

The job site is prepared in advance of our arrival.  In our case, the church community dug dirt out of the hill in an effort to level the site for the house, and they carried all the wood, stone, concrete, sand, and other building supplies down a huge hill to the job site.

Building the Forms and Leveling the Ground

When we arrived at the site, we gathered to meet the family and pray before the fun began.  It didn’t take long to set up the cutting station and build the forms for the concrete foundation.  Making sure the ground was as level as possible was critical to the next step.

Pouring the Concrete

Next we mixed the concrete with two mixers.  Each batch of concrete included just the right mixture of sand, stone, concrete, and water.  Before lunch on the first day, we had completed the concrete slab.  This was a critical step, and we were reminded of the importance of having a firm foundation in our own lives to withstand the storms of life.

Building the Walls

Wall construction started on Monday afternoon and rolled into Tuesday.  We build the walls on the ground before lifting them up onto the slab.  Once the walls were square and attached appropriately to the concrete floor, we began the process of installing the exterior tongue and groove panels.

Installing the Roof

While the exterior walls were being covered, a few members of our team climbed to the top of the house and began installing the roof.  The roof consisted of wooden beams which supported the metal roofing material.  By the end of the second day, the roof was installed and the exterior walls were mostly complete.

The Finishing Touches

Wednesday morning, we arrived on site, and we quickly worked on finishing the house.  The exterior panels were completed.  The front door and windows were installed.  The interior walls were covered.  The electrical was installed and tested, and the trim work was completed.

Dedicating the House

This was my favorite part!  After completing the house in the morning.  Lydia and other ladies from her community cooked us all lunch (chicken, rice, corn tortillas, and a delicious red sauce).  Our team sat down at a long makeshift table in front of the house, and we enjoyed the meal before a quick rainstorm interrupted things.  When the rain died down, we all gathered in front of the house.  Lydia received a Bible and a set of keys for her house.  And we nailed a “Casas por Cristo” plate above her front door.  After a time of sharing, we laid hands on Lydia’s house and prayed for Lydia, her new home, and her family.  Listening to her pastor pray was one of the most moving experiences of the trip.  He wept as he prayed aloud.

Missionaries from Casas por Cristo will head back over to Lydia’s house in a few months to see how she and the house are doing.  And the pastor will continue to keep an eye on her as well.

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

Maya Angelou

In Guatemala last week, we had the opportunity to impact a woman and her family by blessing her with a new home.  I’ll get into more details on the building process tomorrow, but I wanted to give you a glimpse into this remarkable young woman and into the importance of this house in her life.
Lydia’s husband left her 3 or 4 years ago.  From what I can gather, he probably migrated north to the United States with the hope of finding better work and the promise of sending money back to Lydia.  Lydia hasn’t seen her husband since his departure, and she certainly hasn’t reaped any financial benefit from his departure.
Lydia is essentially a widow.  She is a single woman left to raise her four children in a place where work is hard to find and doesn’t pay enough to meet the needs of her family.

This is Lydia

Lydia and her family have been living with her father (or father-in-law – I’m unclear on this detail).  He tries to help, but his health is failing.  His desire is to make sure Lydia and his grandchildren are safe and secure with a roof over their heads.

This is Lydia’s father

Lydia has four children.  She has three boys and one daughter.  Her oldest son, Eddie, is eleven years old.  They are a beautiful family.

This is Lydia’s family (or most of it)

A house represents security, shelter, and stability.  As a result of this new home, Lydia and her kids will have protection from the rain, protection from potential abductors, and a place to rest.  A house provides hope and a springboard to sustainability for her family.

This is Lydia’s new house

We all need a fresh start from time to time.  For Lydia, this house provides the fresh start she needs.  It’s an opportunity for her to practically experience God’s provision in her life, and it’s a great way to connect her with her community and with us – the team who helped this become a reality in her life.  It was such an honor and privilege for our team to be part of this new beginning for Lydia.

This is Lydia’s new beginning

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25-34-40

We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.

Dorothy Day

We arrived home from Guatemala very early Saturday morning.  I still feel like I am in a haze.  Part of me is still in Guatemala.  In fact, I kind of wondering if I might be suffering from a little case of post-Guatemala depression.  It’s hard to get back into the routine of life at home in the United States after such an amazing and life-changing experience in Guatemala.

One of the things that made this year so different from my previous trips to Guatemala is that we went with a multi-generational team from my church (Christ’s Church of the Valley).  When we climbed on the bus last Sunday afternoon to head to the Newark airport, I only knew a few people on the bus.  As the bus began it’s journey to Northern New Jersey, Leanne and I began the process of getting to know some of the people on our team for the week ahead.

By the time, we arrived back at the church early Saturday morning, it felt like we were getting off the bus with 31 family members.

There is amazing power in spending time with others for a week of service.  Together we built two homes and hopefully changed the lives of two families.  While we may have had an impact on these two families who received these homes, the trip had an amazing on each one of us on the team.  We went from knowing very little about each other to knowing quite a bit about each other.  I would go so far to say that we made life-long friends on our trip to Guatemala this year.

We went from a team of unknowns to a family.

I’m so thankful for the chance to serve with others from our church this year in Guatemala.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

rooftop-reflections-tuesday-july-19-2016

I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

Here is the ninth installment:

rooftop-reflections-monday-july-18-2016

I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

Here is the eighth installment:

rooftop-reflections-sunday-july-17-2016

I spent two weeks in Guatemala in July.  Each morning, I woke up before anyone else in our house, and I climbed up the steps to the roof of our house in Santo Domingo Xenacoj.  This is where I started my day with prayer, reading, and rooftop reflections.

Each morning, I recorded a video documenting my “Rooftop Reflections.”  I initially posted these on Facebook, but I realize many of my readers aren’t connected with me on Facebook.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll release these videos to you here on the blog.  These videos provide another glimpse into my experiences in Guatemala.

Here is the seventh installment: