Many of you may remember that last year’s combined Thanksgiving and Christmas offering was designated to help build fresh water wells in villages in the country of Cambodia by partnering with Samaritan’s Purse. We had set a goal of raising $20,000 for these wells.
Not only did we meet our goal, but we surpassed it! In the end, we raised $60,000 for the fresh water well projects. Wow!
Many of you have been asking, “What happened? Did they build the wells? Is there an update?” I have good news! Last week, I received an update from Samaritan’s Purse, and it included a video from the village!
Over the last 12 months, the staff and personnel with Samaritan’s Purse have been actively working to build and complete the wells in three villages in Cambodia. Below is a video from one of the project leaders thanking Grace Point personally for our generosity in helping to build these wells, and bring much needed fresh water to these people.
Thank you for your generosity and for helping to bring fresh water to the 300 families (1,500 people) in three villages of Banteay Meanchey, Cambodia.
Thank you for praying for our FOCUS Survey trips! We had a great trip to Lebanon and now we look ahead to our Thailand Survey trip. Here’s how you can pray for our team!
Prayer Requests for Grace Point Survey Trips Thailand Trip / August 21-28
Pray for the FOCUS Selection Team as they get better acquainted with the ministry of Converge in Thailand. Pray for the director of the Thai Buddhist Initiative, Rick Berry.
Pray for the spiritual preparation of the survey team going to Thailand: Steve Weir, Dave Wolf, Denise Nichols, and Ellen Livingood. Ask God to give them spiritual discernment, clean hearts, and minds yielded to the Lord. Pray for good health and safety before, during, and after the trip. The weather will be hot and humid, so pray for endurance during long days.
Pray for each of the missionaries and national Thai pastors and leaders with whom the GP team will meet. Ask God to use the GPers to encourage and be a blessing to these men and women. Pray that each conversation will help to give a clear picture of what God is doing and how partnership might contribute.
The team will leave on Wednesday morning, August 21, for Newark airport and a non-stop, 16-hour flight to Hong Kong. After a 2½ -hour layover, there will be another three-hour flight into Bangkok, arriving Thursday evening at 11:30. Pray that each person can get some quality sleep on this long trip.
Pray for stamina for the team on Friday, August 23, as they spend the day seeing English centers with Converge missionary Steve Cable and then attend a church service in the evening. Ask God to give each person the ability to focus and absorb lots of new information despite jetlag. Pray that the GPers will be guided to ask insightful questions.
On Saturday, August 24, the team will meet with leaders of the ministry that is teaching English to women who have been caught in the sex trade. Ask God to give the team the ability to understand some of the complexity of ministry to women caught in this vast evil that unfortunately is a trademark of Bangkok. Pray that our Grace Pointers can be an encouragement to those who work with these women.
On Sunday, August 25, the team will take a short flight to Udon to see a training ministry that Converge is involved with there. Pray that our GPers can begin to understand the leadership needs for the new house churches that God is raising up all across this land and what the opportunities are like to be a part of serving church leaders in training.
On Monday, August 26, the team will spend the day learning about the background of Thai culture and Buddhist religious beliefs and practices. Pray that they will be able to see the implications for ministry in this nation where only an estimated ½ of 1 percent are evangelical believers.
On Tuesday, August 27, the team will spend a portion of the day meeting with local Thai leaders. Pray for good translation and clear communication. Ask God to help GPers grasp the big picture as they are exposed to so much new information.
Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, August 27, Steve, Dave, and Denise will start their journey home. Pray for the connection in Hong Kong and for rest on the long journey. Ellen will take a short flight to Singapore where she will spend the next three days doing training with a number of sending-base leaders, board members, and volunteers who serve with the mission agency World Outreach. Pray that each of these sessions will be highly valuable to these people who are mobilizing sending churches in places as different as South Africa, the Netherlands, and Malaysia.
This past weekend our headlines were again filled with reports of violence and tragedy and our hearts were saddened and heavy at the news of more lives lost. We struggle to find answers and are unable in the midst of these senseless acts.
Scott Ridout, president of Converge, has written the following response that I find helpful and full of reminders in the midst of these tragedies.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity (Col. 4:5).
Lisa and I were looking forward to quiet first weekend of August. We had experienced a busy summer of travel, including ministry trips to Minnesota, Canada, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and a great time with our missionaries from Europe and Africa in Germany, followed by a week of vacation in Virginia. It was good to finally be home. Our only responsibilities this weekend were serving at church and helping prepare for our first “Back to School” event – a “drive-in” movie (kids make cars out of cardboard and watch a movie in the car – yeah, you can steal that one!).
On Saturday morning, I had a small window of time to do work on the roof before the rain came…again (I live in the “Sunshine State” – which to me is more of an aspiration than reality in the summer here).
It was Lisa’s birthday weekend, so we went out to dinner to celebrate and went home to relax.
That’s when I heard the news…
“Twenty people were killed and dozens more injured on Saturday morning in a massacre at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that was packed with back-to-school shoppers, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.”*
It was discovered later that the shooter had written a personal manifesto. He later told investigators he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible.
I never know what to think when I hear things like that.
“Who thinks like that?”
“Why would you want to shoot someone based on their country of origin?”
“Are people really that sick?”
I thought about all my friends from Mexico and Texas. I thought about my church and our sister congregation, Harvest in Español, and made a mental note to talk with the pastor, Ramon Garcia, to get his perspective. Being truly vulnerable, I was a little upset with myself that I was not more broken up by the news. Yet it has happened so often recently, it has begun to feel like a new normal – unacceptable, but normal.
Later Saturday evening I got the chance to watch a little of the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I turned on the set when Champ Bailey was talking. I had great respect for him as a player and I loved watching him play. My heart sank as I heard him give an impassioned plea:
“The first thing people see when they look at me is not a Pro Football Hall of Famer or a husband or a father. They view me first as a black man. So, on behalf of all the black men that I mentioned tonight, and many more out there who’ve had the same experiences that I’ve had in my lifetime, we say this to all of our white friends: When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen. When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color of our skin, please listen. And please don’t get caught up in how the message is delivered.”
I found myself tearing up as I heard him speak. I realize that while it is impossible for me to feel the fullness of the pain of his personal journey, but my hope is that I am becoming more aware and compassionate toward the challenges to people of color and minority cultures in our country. I was also grateful for the journey that God has our movement of churches on in this area. No doubt, we have a long way go…I have a long way to go…but we are willing to go on the journey.
Sunday morning, I woke up to the news: “In a second mass shooting in less than 14 hours, at least nine people are dead and more than two dozen were wounded early on Sunday after someone opened fire in downtown Dayton, Ohio.”*
Again? Two times in one weekend? What is going on?
I began to reflect in my mind… Columbine, Redlake, Virginia Tech, Foot Hood, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, D.C. Navy Yard, Charleston, San Bernardino, Pulse, Dallas, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Tree of Life, Thousand Oaks… and now this. And, yeah, I know there are dozens more that aren’t top of mind and don’t even include the ones that came to mind from around the world.
I grieve over so many common ground issues in these scenarios. Deranged thinking. Devaluation because of color, class and culture. Senseless actions. Helpless victims. Tragic loss. Ripple effects for generations. Families and communities full of grief, pain and fear.
No doubt we will have outrage, posturing and blame-casting in the political arena. Hopefully we will have robust discussion that results in needed change and meaningful preventative action in the local arena. I ask you to pray that God will lead our leaders to live on the “solution side” of these issues and make godly, right judgments resulting in meaningful progress.
But you do realize that the only lasting hope for our world is the gospel of Jesus Christ, right?
When the gospel is planted in the life of a new believer, it is joined by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of the word of God and surrounded by the encouragement of God’s people. As more and more individuals are changed by the gospel, it transforms communities. As communities are transformed, it transforms regions. As regions are transformed, so are countries…and so on.
Transforming the country seems too big a task for any one of us to take on. But throughout the centuries God has been transforming the world…one life at a time. And he asks us to join him in this work.
In our country, the Back to School season is one of the most likely times for people to consider visiting a local church. Many are getting back into their life routine after a restful but less than routine summer schedule. Wouldn’t it be great if church became a part of their new routine?
We as believers recognize that the work of the church is absolutely essential in our world. Hope, help and healing come from Jesus – Jesus changes everything! He is the one who transform people. And the church (the people, not the programs) is God’s means to get the message of Jesus to those who so desperately need it. Every individual in our communities deserves to hear about and needs to experience the transforming power of the gospel.
I have four things that God has put on my heart to do with what happened this weekend. I’d love for you to join me in taking next steps in these areas:
Take a moment and pray for our country, our communities and our churches. Commit to keep them in prayer on a regular basis in prayer.
Think of a few people outside the faith and commit to invest in friendship to model the hope of Christ in their lives in hope that they would one day meet Jesus.
Invite someone who doesn’t have a church home to join you next weekend at your house of worship.
Take the next step to get deeply involved BOTH in the life of your community and your church. Serve with your time, talent and treasure in our local congregation. If possible, reach across a racial, ethnic or cultural divide in your community to listen, learn, lament and love.
I sense that these are the first steps we need to take to keep our hearts soft and our lives and churches on mission. I pray that this might be a very fruitful season of ministry in your personal circle of concern as well as your community. May we be prayerful in our hearts, joyful in our posture, winsome in our witness, engaging in our connections, hopeful with our words, bold in our invitations, God-honoring in our lives and effective in our mission to help people meet, know and follow Jesus as we start and strengthen churches together worldwide.
* News reports from ABC News
CONVERGE IS A MOVEMENT OF MORE THAN 1300 CHURCHES WORKING TO HELP PEOPLE MEET, KNOW AND FOLLOW JESUS. WE DO THIS BY STARTING AND STRENGTHENING CHURCHES TOGETHER WORLDWIDE.
As we look ahead to our FOCUS Survey trips, we invite and need you to pray for our teams and for God’s leading in the FOCUS process.
Prayer Requests for Grace Point Survey Trips Lebanon Trip / July 25-August 1
Pray for the FOCUS Selection Team as they meet on Wednesday, July 10, to prepare and to get better acquainted with the ministry of Kinship and its partners in the Middle East: Horizons International (HI) and Ananias House (AH). Pray for an expanded understanding of the complexity of the context as well as the exciting ministry opportunities.
Pray for the spiritual preparation of the survey team going to Lebanon: Steve Weir, Amie Kiryluk, Denise Nichols, and Ellen Livingood. Ask God to give them spiritual discernment, clean hearts, and minds yielded to the Lord.
Pray for the staff of the Kinship partners in Lebanon as they prepare to host our survey team, specifically Christine, the HI visit coordinator; Khalil, in charge of developing church partnerships across Lebanon for HI; Louis, HI’s director of expat ministry in the Middle East, and Maggie, onsite AH ministry coordinator.
Pray for good health and safety before and during the trip. The weather will be quite hot, so pray for endurance during long days. Pray that the team can stay focused despite jet lag and weariness.
Pray for good translators and clear communication everywhere the team goes. Pray for good communication within the GP team too. Ask God to help them be discerning as they are exposed to so much and to encourage each other all along the way.
Pray for each of the pastors in Lebanon with whom the GP team will meet. Ask God to use the GPers to encourage and be a blessing to these leaders who are always stretched thin by the demands of their congregation as well as the immense physical and spiritual needs around them. Pray that each conversation will give a clear picture of the church’s vision, the current ministry, the potential for partnership, and concrete ways GP might contribute.
Pray for the day trips that GP will make to tent camps in the Beqaa Valley and to children’s camp ministry in the Tyre area. Pray for a good understanding of the diversity of ministry that is based on the diversity of needs and opportunities.
Pray that the GP team will be able to enjoy worship with Arab brothers and sisters, sensing the joy of their spiritual life that is deeper than the daily problems they face.
Pray the team will be able to gain an understanding even of ministries that they will not have the opportunity to see firsthand. For instance, the School of Hope that provides an education for dozens of very poor refugee children will be on summer vacation.
Pray for the time the team spends with two church leaders who will be coming out of Sy_a to meet with them. Pray that these men’s hearts will be encouraged by the interest of the GP team. Pray for the ability for the GP team to grasp the difficulties and the opportunities that describe the situation inside this war-torn country today.
At Grace Point we have a stellar group of ladies who work tirelessly to advance the Gospel in very tangible ways. Our Women’s Outreach & Fellowship group has been working over the last 12-18 months creating, quilting, collecting and assembling thousands of items that are given out and used by local, regional, and global ministries.
Here’s a snapshot of their work in 2018-19.
Child Evangelism Fellowship (C.E.F.)
2000 “wordless” key chains
14 Baby quilts (Florida fire)
9 Flannel sheets (Florida fire)
6 Blankets (Florida fire)
3 Comforters (Florida fire)
18 Knitted blankets (Christmas)
59 Small toys/stuffed animals (awards)
Converge Panama City ~ Nate/Jendi Korpi
12 Bookmarks: Walk By Faith
17 C.O.F.F.E.E. hangings
Esperanza Medical Center
820 Christmas ornaments: small nativity, foam crosses, JESUS stockings on magnets
16 Foam nativity scenes (Christmas)
215 Sheep: Trust in the Lord
630 Easter crosses
175 Hearts: Jesus Loves Me
112 C.O.F.F.E.E. with John 3:16
22 Travel toiletry packs made
11 Knitted baby blankets
11 Pair knitted baby booties
20 Knitted baby hats
22 Baby quilts
256 Children’s books donated to their library
2 Large coloring books
Toured facilities (Tara Mothersbaugh)
989 Children’s books (Collected from GP’s VBS Kids)
$474 donated by VBS kids (Collected from GP’s VBS Kids)
Good Shepherd Ministry (Christmas Cheer)
50 Coffee cans filled with cookies
50 Candy favors
25 Sunshine bags
7 Walker bags
29 Lap robes
17 Knitted slippers
3 Knitted shoulder wraps
22 Men’s white tube socks
131 Assorted Sunshine Bag articles: shampoos, soap, wash cloths
19 Toys/games/stuffed animals
773 Christmas cards/envelopes (new)
Philadelphia Bible Clubs
275 Bell Christmas party favors
55 Jewelry in boxes
6 Assorted Christmas decorations
105 Misc. household gifts/ornaments
24 Baskets of travel/cosmetics/gifts
19 Sets of knitted matching hats/scarves (Beverly Weir)
1 Box assorted snacks for volunteers
Grace Point Related Ministries
On Eagles’ Wings
38 Fall favors (foam)
30 Christmas favors (foam nativity)
30 Winter favors: snowmen
26 Easter cross favors
31 Summer patriotic favors
17 Summer favors (foam strawberries w/tea bags)
75 Quilts for kids
1 Crochet baby blanket
29 Handmade stuffed animals
32 Crocheted baby booties
35 Crocheted baby hats
Vacation Bible School
1200 Bible verses cut/holes punched (2018)
120 Pac Man decorations cut (2019)
310 “Ghosts” decorations cut (2019)
One Winter Night
24 Rolls of ribbon cut into 12” pieces
Young At Heart (Valentine’s Dinner/Evening)
40 Valentine table decorations
$62 collected and given in memory of Pearl Fulton to Good Shepherd Ministry
Love Gifts Given ($350 total)
Abby S. (GP Missionary)
Eileen and Allison Sarver (Panera Gift Card)
9 Meetings/36 hours
1 Summer Party/4 hours of fun!
8 Quilting workshops/32 hours
Countless hours of homework and sewing at home!
Total Items: 9,629 made or collected
Thank you to Lori Wilson and our Women’s Outreach & Fellowship team! They do amazing work and bless countless others through their ministry!
Thank you to the many folks who have been praying for the FOCUS process! It has been an exciting journey seeing God work and lead us over the last several months. A lot has been happening behind-the-scenes and it’s time for an update!
First, I thought I should give you a brief overview of the FOCUS process and what we hope it will accomplish for our church. We hope and pray that the FOCUS process will allow us as a church to bring some clarity and focus to our missions efforts, and address how we can engage in missions – locally, regionally, and globally.
FOCUS is an acronym that stands for:
F – First Priority – The selected FOCUS project and/or initiative will be the missions project that we talk about the most – whether that is from the stage on Sunday mornings or in our regular publications. When it comes to mission-related opportunities, we’ll consider our FOCUS first, then look at other ideas. This will include short-term mission trips, potential new missionary candidates, special offerings and other opportunities.
O – Objectives Oriented – The FOCUS will be based on specific objectives that are established by our global partner(s) and/or missionaries. A major aspect of a FOCUS is to come alongside them and help them accomplish their ministry goals and objectives.
C – Collaborative – We will select and work closely with ministry partners to help them accomplish their goals and determine what we can learn from them in true partnership. There is much we can learn from this process as well.
U – Unleashed Potential – We have many people within our church family who are highly-skilled and gifted in a number of areas. We hope that our FOCUS will provide multiple opportunities to engage and mobilize our people for significant missions impact using their gifts, skills and expertise. That may include you!
S – Strategic – We don’t ever want to engage in any missions project without a strategy. Our FOCUS will have a determined strategic emphasis that will help us all to stay on task and prayerfully focused on what God would have us to learn and accomplish through this process.
The FOCUS process began last fall, and in January the FOCUS Selection Team was assembled with the specific task of selecting GP’s next missions FOCUS project. Over the last several months, the FOCUS Selection Team wrestled with a number ideas and issues, attempted to map our missions DNA as a church, conducted research and narrowed our many, many options down to two.
While there were many worthy missions projects from which to select and with which to engage, we had to evaluate multiple factors and make a decision based on what we believe would be a good fit for Grace Point at this time. It was not an easy task!
The FOCUS Selection Team has narrowed the potential projects down to the following:
Lebanon – working with the Kinship Network to equip church leaders and reach refugees and Muslims from both Lebanon and Syria.
Thailand – working with Converge International missionaries in Bangkok to help start and support English schools – each of which are tied to a local church. Other opportunities may include assisting with a ministry that helps victims and those rescued from the sex trafficking industry.
Personally, I’m praying that our FOCUS will engage our entire church in meaningful and impactful ways – so much so that all of us become more missions-minded to reach our friends and neighbors and to help us accomplish our FOCUS, and live out our vision of building bridges for life change through Christ.
The next step in the FOCUS process is to send survey teams to each country with the goal to evaluate things on the ground, meet with the national leaders, identify national facilitators, and gain a clearer understanding of what God is already doing in their ministries. We will be sending two small teams made up of members from the FOCUS Selection Team this summer. While some logistics are not confirmed at this time, we have the dates for our trips.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is exciting! I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made and look forward to what God has in store for us as a church!
Lastly, I’d like share our appreciation for Ellen Livingood, who has led our FOCUS Selection Team and really helped us prayerfully wrestle with the key ideas and issues related to missions. Ellen is a tremendous asset to us as a church and many other churches through her ministry. You can learn more about Ellen’s work with Catalyst Services on their website here: https://catalystservices.org/
Thank you, again, for praying! More details to come!
The world is slowly shifting once again from gray-brown to Technicolor! I love Spring! As life begins to burst around us, we are reminded of our Savior bursting free from the tomb. I hope you will join us in these opportunities to celebrate:
Pray and Invite
Pray for neighbors, friends, and co-workers you might invite to join us at Grace Point on Resurrection Day – that they will witness our worship, have ears to hear the Good News of Christ, and respond to God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
Passport to the Cross: Your Guide to Understanding Good Friday
On Good Friday, April 19, beginning at 6:00 pm, we will host a new experience to help us appreciate more deeply the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. As groups we will visit three stations that remind us of key events of Passion week, culminating in a time of reflection together in the Commons. Help your children experience the meaning of Good Friday for the first time, or come for your own refresher. Childcare is available for children under four years old. Register at http://gracepointpa.org/events for this unique experience.
Celebrate Resurrection Day
On Sunday, April 21, 9:00 and 10:30 am, we will celebrate Christ’s victory over death with powerful music and a continuation of our sermon series called “Crushed for Us, Raised for Us.” If you are bringing guests on Easter, please attend the service with them and help them feel welcome. Because we expect a large crowd, we will also provide overflow rooms for both services to make room in the Commons for guests. Children’s programs (Nursery through 6th Grade) will be available in each service.
Support our FOCUS Process
This year our Easter offering will fund survey trips for our GP FOCUS Process. I am excited to see where God directs us for greater impact as we endeavor to work together on a church-wide missions project. To learn more about the FOCUS process and the survey trips, please refer to this document. Please consider contributing financially toward the trips, and continue to pray for this important decision. I encourage you to continue pursuing steady stewardship with your tithes to our General Fund, and consider this an “above and beyond” gift demonstrating gutsy generosity. (When donating online or via check, be sure to mark your gift “Easter.”)
May you be filled with hopeful expectation, as we look to Christ for new life in this special season!
I find myself avoiding the news lately. I get tired of hearing of the violence, division, hatred, and injustice that seem to fill the screen.
In contrast, my eight year old son, Reilly, loves to watch the news and see what is happening in the world – both good and bad. When he does see/hear of some of the awful things happening in our world, he often says things like, “Daddy, don’t they know that’s not right?” Or, “Why don’t people love other people? Don’t they know that God loves them?” Often, “We should do something and tell them about Jesus.”
He’s right. God does love them. People do need Jesus. And, we should do something.
Scott Ridout, the president of Converge and Dr. Harold Lewis, Converge’s VP of Biblical Diversity recently shared from Micah about what our response should be to last week’s synagogue shooting and other violence in the news. Below is a short excerpt from a recent blog post.
Last week’s news was filled with injustice. Saturday’s massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pittsburgh area left 11 dead and many more wounded. On Friday, it was announced that the suspected pipe-bomber who sent packages to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN, and other political and thought leaders was arrested. On Wednesday, a man tried to break into a predominantly black church in Kentucky. When he was unsuccessful, he drove to the local Kroger and killed two African-Americans based solely on the color of their skin.
These stories, though seemingly completely disconnected, are not. All were driven by hate and fear fueled by the ever-increasing divisions we see in our country around race, ethnicity, culture, politics, pride and fear. Divisive rifts are growing in our country as more and more people self-identify around what they are against and ignore the commonalities that could draw us together.
Social media is fast becoming a bastion of hate, emboldening negative talk under the banner of free speech and self-expression. With polls soon to be open, political campaigns seem to have reached a new low in the all-out strategy of character assassination of opponents. There seems to be little or no conversation about the issues of everyday life. The media has also done its part, adding to the feeding frenzy with perhaps less-than-fully objective angles on stories that our itching ears want to hear (2 Tm. 4:3).
While general agreement about such events being evil is common, meaningful action in response to such things is rare. “General agreement” is often the enemy of true change. General agreement is the idea that we all agree that something should be done or could be done. But we do nothing because just agreeing seems to satisfy our souls.
Divisive leadership will always result in divided culture. Words are worthless to address mortal wounds. Moments of silence will not muffle the screams of those who lost loved ones. Flags at half-mast will not change half-hearted efforts. Political elections are not the answer for personal character flaws. Committees can’t heal our country of this cancer…only Christ can. This present time calls for action from the church.
We must lead the way. While I agree that it would be wise for all of us to look at our church security protocols, I pray for a more robust response from the church that goes beyond taking care of ourselves. We must respond to our communities.
Last month Dr. Harold Lewis joined our team as the Vice President of Biblical Diversity. Our hope is that we can work together to find solutions that empower our local churches to lead the way in tangible, gospel-centered, God-honoring responses that result in changed hearts and impacted communities.
Over the course of eight days our team experienced something truly miraculous. Twenty-six of us boarded a bus in the wee hours in Newtown, PA to travel to one of the poorest communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We left with a singular purpose – to bless the children and families of two Child Development Centers (Unidos en Cristo and Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica Marquina).
You can find summaries of our trip in our two-part series here and here.
Little did we know that it would be us who would be blessed beyond measure. Words cannot describe the feelings and love that we have for the Bolivian people. They possess a joy and a contentment that is not based on material possessions, luxuries, Starbucks, or everyday stuff. The joy these people have is based in the Lord and His divine provision for their needs.
Over the course of the week we saw God “show up” more times than we could count. From little unplanned encounters to a few encouraging words that were perfectly timed by God, our team has been forever changed by this trip.
My heart is forever changed
Each evening we would have a “debrief meeting” at which time I would ask each of our team members to reflect on something that God taught them that day or something they experienced. But, they had to do it in 3-5 words. Some words that were shared included, “My heart is forever changed”, “God bless the translators”, “You guys get it”, “Miraculous divine appointments.”
Early Tuesday morning we caught a fight from our beloved city of Cochabamba to the busy city life of Santa Cruz. The two cities are like night and day, but both still lovely. Once we arrived to our hotel, we enjoyed lunch with some special guests. One of our teammates, Stacey, had an opportunity to meet her 4 year-old sponsor child in addition to his 17 year-old mother. They joined us for lunch and a sight-seeing tour in Santa Cruz. Having had a full schedule all week of work at the Centers, church, VBS, home visits, and all the emotions with it, it was nice to have a bit of a “slow day” – even if it would end up being the longest day with travel.
It was clear that despite having a good night’s rest into Tuesday, our team was tired. Tired from ministry. Tired from the emotional rollercoasters of meeting new beloved friends and then saying goodbye. Tired from the wear and tear of a full schedule. But, it was good tired. The opportunity to see firsthand the impact that our love and sponsorship has for these children was incredible.
The journey home was to be a long one. Our 2:30 AM flight from Santa Cruz to Panama City was smooth, or at least it seemed that way – most of us were able to get some sleep, even if it wasn’t restful. With a three-hour layover in Panama, we were reminded of God’s work in our lives and our team. Many of us, again, shared stories and pictures from our phones about our experiences and the various “God sightings.”
What seemed like the longest day ever, Tuesday/Wednesday (whatever day it was) was a day of reflection and contemplation. What will we do differently once we return home?
Will we continue with life “as is?” Or will we see our worlds differently? Some have already said that we “live with too much in Pennsylvania.” Some have shared that they will get more involved in missions or global endeavors, whether at church or elsewhere. Some have shared that they will start now to train and educate their own children about life in another culture, how blessed we are, and how much we take for granted.
What will we do differently once we return home?
Some have already made an impact as a result of our trip. At least four additional children have been sponsored by our team alone. I can tell you that this team is passionate about what they experienced. Informal recruitment for future trips has already begun. Regardless of whether or not you sponsor a child through Compassion, this trip and trips like this one are life-changing and God can/will use these trips to open your eyes to what life outside of our bubbles is really like.
We’ve all seen that sponsoring a child is one simple step, though an important one. It is the building and nurturing of a relationship with your child and their family that can last a lifetime.
My experience this week, and I’ve been to Bolivia before, was such that I came away with a bigger heart for God’s work and what He’s doing. Bolivia has become like my home away from home.
One of our fantastic translators, Jacob, made an endearing observation on Saturday when spending time with me and my sponsored kiddos. He said, “You have two boys in America, and you now have two daughters in Bolivia.” While I hadn’t made that realization myself, I knew instantly that it was true. Our Dayana is so special to us, she has become like a daughter to me and our family. Visiting her home, having fun together on Saturday, seeing her at church on Sunday, then VBS on Sunday, this guy’s heart is full.
Then to meet Deysi, a young teenager who is sponsored by the Grace Point staff. Joan, Chuck and I got to meet Deysi at her home, spend fun day with her on Saturday, worship with her on Sunday, and then party at VBS. I quickly learned that there was more genuine love to go around. Being the Missions Pastor, and most likely the guy who will write most of the letters to her, I found that Deysi, just as Jacob observed, quickly became like a daughter to me. I don’t know that I’ll be able to easily share the letter writing responsibility with the other staff. Deysi is a dear young lady who I’m certain will grow to be a strong woman of God.
At that evening’s debrief meeting, my 3-5 words were simply, “two sons and two daughters” – a phrase that even now causes my eyes to tear up.
Is there more to share? Absolutely. Is there more work to be done in Cochabamba? Absolutely. Do we have an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child, in a church, in the surrounding community, and in the country of Bolivia? Absolutely. And it is humbling.
It is our turn to step forward and answer the call of Jesus. To minister and love the poor, to step out of our comfort zones and make an impact in the life of a child. How will you respond and what will be your 3-5 words?
This is Part Two of our Bolivia Team Blog update. To catch up, read Part One.
Day 4 – Saturday
Today was our fun day and it lived up to its name. We woke up (a little later than the past few days!) to rain and a forecast that did not permit us to go to the amusement park we had planned, but in God’s grace, Plan B was even better!
Through connections of one of our Compassion Staff, we were able to go to a retreat center that was much more intimate and because of this we could all see and even interact with each other throughout the day. It was very cool here today but the rains stayed away (Praise God) and we could be outdoors playing volleyball, parachute games, soccer, frisbee, and just hanging out.
Each of us who had a sponsor child were able to spend the day together with the total purpose of having fun and building bonds. The children’s tutors were with them and many of our children brought along members of their family as well. It was really special!
We received a bagged lunch from Chicken Kingdom with french fries and yummy sauces. All of this is such a treat to many of these families and the atmosphere was very relaxed.
Later this afternoon we had a few hours before dinner to rest or shop and then we walked to a local steak restaurant called Paprika where we were served an awesome dinner and dessert. It was a nice treat to be outside of the hotel and experience some local flavor.
One of our teammates description of the day was very appropriate and resonated with each of us: “church picnic/family reunion!”
Day 5 – Sunday
Another amazing day in Bolivia! We boarded two separate buses—going to two different churches—for worship this morning. Grace Point headed to Unidos en Cristo while Restoration Church headed to Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica Marquina.
We were warmly welcomed by the congregation at Unidos en Cristo and as the worship music began to play, the church started to fill. With a God-inspired message, Steve Weir shared from the heart to trust God in and with ALL things. There were special musical performances by the dear women of the church and the youth. And yet another special, impromptu musical performance by our team when asked/told, “Grace Point, don’t you want to sing us a song or something?” Sure we do! And we did. To end the service, all 16 of us were asked to stand in front of the church to receive a heartfelt prayer from Pastor Angel and a beautiful, colorful vest as a gift, as well as kisses, hugs and handshakes from the entire congregation.
Restoration folks had a similar experience today as we visited the Marquina church. This is the first time that a team has ever visited this center and church. The smiles, hugs and kisses, tears of joy, and overwhelming warmth of welcome was something that I will truly never forget. We had the opportunity to listen to Pastor Jhonny [different from the Pastor Jhonny at Unidos en Cristo] preach from God’s Word as well as play the guitar during worship (remind you of anyone we know at RC?!). Our entire team was greeted by every member of the congregation – from the smallest babies to the kindest little old ladies you have ever seen. Our entire team was so blessed to be a part of this church this morning.
We enjoyed a delicious and filling lunch with the pastors and leaders of both churches before we headed off to visit the Cristo de la Concordia statue. The views of this beautiful city were absolutely stunning and it is certainly a scene that will never leave our memories.
This evening our team continued to prepare for the two sessions of VBS tomorrow. We are so excited to share God’s love with the children – sharing the message that “When you worry… Jesus rescues!”
Day 6 – Monday
What an amazing last day in Bolivia! We showed God’s love through a day of VBS at Unidos en Cristo. We broke into four stations – Music, Bible, Crafts and Games – in a morning and an afternoon session. There were about 40-45 children in the morning, ages 6-9, and the afternoon session had about 80-90 children ages 6-12.
The Music Team taught a Bible verse in Spanish, Psalm 34:19, which says in the kid-friendly version: “The Lord comes to the rescue each time.” They also taught two songs with motions. The theme for today was: When We Worry, Jesus Rescues.
The Bible Team taught a lesson about Mary and Martha. Katie Beth was able to deliver the story in Spanish. The Craft Team made a toucan out of foam and feathers. This was the Bible Buddy for the day. The Games Team was able to use the beautiful turf field a block away from the Project. The kids enjoyed playing dodge ball with multiple beach balls.
We gathered back as a large group to perform the songs together and create a rainstorm using only our hands. And then it was time to say goodbye to sponsored children and new friends.
The team traveled back to the hotel in our two trusty buses and some tears were shed as we said goodbye to some of our beloved translators: Jacob, Evelin, and Peter.
Thirty minutes later, we headed to the hotel restaurant and enjoyed our final dinner in Cochabamba with Pastor Angel, Pastor Jhonny and their families. One of the Compassion translators, José, created a highlight reel of our time here in Cochabamba. It included almost everything we did, everywhere we went, and every cheek kiss we received! This video reminded us of all the ways that God is at work here. Yes, there were a few tears as we relived our experiences in a place that we will hold forever close to our hearts.
The evening also included comments and prayers by Pastor Jhonny, Pastor Angel, Pastor Angel’s wife Dina, and Steve Weir. Each one expressed their gratitude and appreciation for our mutual love for the children and service to the Lord.
Day 7 – Tuesday
Tuesday morning we headed to the airport to begin the first leg of our journey home. After a short flight from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, we ate lunch at our hotel and headed out for some sight-seeing and souvenir shopping. It was quite the experience to learn about the rich history and architecture of Santa Cruz, and to get to try on some traditional Bolivian attire. After a fun-filled dinner out, we headed back to the hotel for the last remaining hours in our beloved Bolivia.
Twenty-four hours before our final bus delivered our team to the Grace Point entrance, two Bolivian buses left with our team members heading for the Santa Cruz airport. Every connection on this trip was smooth, every passport and visa in order, all of the means of transportation on time (or very close—our bus was delayed at the beginning on July 17) until the very end. We had some delays in customs upon our return to the U.S. (it seemed that most of the airplane-riding world converged on Dulles at the moment that our plane landed) and then the “monsoon” weather in the DC area led to flooded roads and accident-related delays.
So, ultimately, we arrived at Grace Point at 11:00 pm, which was a few hours later than we had hoped for. Having traveled over 4,000 miles in the past 24 hours, we were all ready to be climb into our own beds and get some much-needed rest.
You could say that the trip is over and that our arrival home is the last of this tribe of very close sisters and brothers. But that would be wrong. We are already planning get-togethers and reports to our sending churches, Restoration Church and Grace Point. And I can tell you from being a part of this Spirit-unified, cohesive team that we are going to be looking for fruit of transformation that will come from the seeds that have been planted in two relatively small churches perched on the sides of the hills surrounding Cochabamba, Bolivia…and in the hearts of each of our team members in the process of serving Jesus faithfully.