Monday, June 27, 2011

Miss Indiana Is Part of the Blue Crew

A big congratulations to Jackie Jerlecki for winning the Miss Indiana pageant this past Saturday night.  Her family is a part of Grace Community.   Great job, Jackie and we'll be pulling for Miss Indiana!  Above is Jackie and her parents Matt and Natalie.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Final Nicaragua Update

I've had a few days to recover and process our mission trip to Nicaragua.  A few of my thoughts below ...

I was reminded once again that our "struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  (Ephesians 6:12).  I seriously felt like this trip was some of the most intense spiritual warfare I've experienced.  From the very beginning of the trip, there were things happening that were really trying to get us discouraged and unfocused ... a delayed flight, missing our connection, missing an entire day of ministry, luggage never arriving, a robbery, sickness.  It was intense and I kept challenging our kids to pray and pray hard.  I was also reminded of one of the Bible verses we had students memorize this summer:  2 Timothy 1:6 "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."  There was a battle, but we have the secret weapon ... the Holy Spirit!  I saw the Holy Spirit work in my life and the lives of our kids.  It was awesome to see.

Last year on our trip there were definite "God moments"  (which you can read about here).  They were very clear "whispers" that I truly felt like God was speaking to me.  I didn't hear God in that sense this year, but I felt just an overwhelming urge to pray, encourage our kids to always stay positive, and to just give back and serve in every way I could.  While they weren't "whispers" like last year, I felt like those three things were an overall "theme" that God was laying on my heart.  I just felt like those were the things He was really wanting me to focus on while there. 

I was also reminded of how the importance of allowing myself and the kids in our youth ministry to see poverty.  It needs to bother us.  If we don't see it, it won't bother us.  I wanted them to be as hands on as possible ... so they cut up the raw chicken, they made the meals, the smelled the dump, the held the kids, they used the same bathrooms.  It's easy to ignore it if we don't see it, if we don't experience it.  But, stuff like that really needs to bother us ... it needs to stir up a holy anger inside of us until we get to a point where we say "I've just got to do something!" 

By the way, the girl that I'm sitting next too .... 24 years old.  No joke!  Living in a garbage dump will cause things like that to happen.

One of the challenges our kids had was that they often felt bad about only being in a place for a short period of time.  So, we'd often go to a place for a couple of hours, serve, play, etc ... and then we'd have to leave.  Our team was feeling a tension ... what's better ... to stay longer in one place or to hit several areas for a shorter period of time.  I don't know if I necessarily have a good answer to that.  Honestly, on our trip we did both.  But, I was just reminded that no matter where we're at or how long we're there if we love people the way Jesus did, it's always a success!  My challenge to our team was, yes, there are going to be times when we are only at a place for a short period of time ... what are you going to do with that time?  Make the most of it.   Honestly, in the big picture, we're only on this earth for a short period of time.  How are we making the most of our time here? 

I love teenagers!  I love seeing what they can do.  I love seeing them do things they don't think they can do and then have a huge smile on their face after they do it.  Youth ministry (as any ministry) is not easy.  I, like probably every other youth pastor on the planet, at times get frustrated, discouraged, tired, angry.  I sometimes wonder if what I'm doing is having any impact.  And, in my deepest, darkest moments I will sometimes ask myself "Why bother?"  But, it's trips like this that remind me why I'm in youth ministry.  They remind me of how much teenagers have to offer.  They remind me of how amazing teenagers can really be.  They remind me of how much I actually learn from teenagers.  They also remind me of how fun teenagers are.  I had such a blast with our team!  Seriously, laughed and laughed and laughed.  They will often make me feel old and help me feel young at the same time.  But, I've certainly come back refreshed for ministry with teenagers.

Again, thank you for all of the prayers.  They were certainly needed and felt.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Auto-Reply While In Nicaragua

Thanks for your email. I'm unable to respond though because I'm out of the office for one of the following reasons:

1) After the Osama bin Laden mission, the US governement has hired me again.

2) I'm turning my flabby white thighs in to flabby tan thighs.

3) I'm learning to bowl over-hand

4) I'm taking a group of wonderful teenagers on a mission trip to Nicaragua. I'd appreciate your prayers.

I will be back in the office Wednesday, 6/22.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nicaragua Update # 6 ... My Own Dad Fest

Today was our last full day in Nicaragua and I believe our kids gave their best today.  We started out our day by going back to a church that meets near the orphanage.  There were both orphanage and community kids at the church ... probably close to 80 children.  We helped with the Sunday School and it was so much fun!  We sang, we played games, we joined in on small group times.  It was just a blast.  For me personally I was moved to tears trying to sing along with the kids music that was in Spanish.  It was just an incredible reminder that there is so much more out there than American Christianity.  It was such a worshipful experience even though I didn't understand a word of it.

After a nearly 2 hour ... yes, I said 2 hour Sunday School, we played games with the kids.  I played catch with some Nicaraguan kids and over an hour and loved it!  Catch is one of my favorite things to do.  I've always enjoyed it and love doing it with my own kids as well.  After a quick lunch we made our way to an outdoor sports complex where we met kids from the orphanage for an afternoon of playing in the park.  We played volleyball, soccer, basketball, and played on swing sets.  It was a hot afternoon and that, combined with playing with kids on a very hot morning meant we were all pretty tired after about an hour.  We passed out some drinks and snacks and then said our goodbyes to the orphans.  Very hard to do.

Morgan giving one of the girls a HUGE hug good-bye.

Becca playing with sidewalk chalk with one of the girls before Sunday School.

Playing some basketball at the park.

Cody saying goodbye to an orphan boy named Michael.

This is Juan Carlos.  He's 18 years old and, if I'm not mistaken, has been at the orphanage for 10 years.  He has had a wonderful place to stay, received Jesus as His Lord and Savior, received a great education, learned English, and is currently learning the trade of being a tour guide.  Notice which one is used to the hot weather and which one is not.  :)

Today is Father's Day and I'm missing my family terribly.  I've been away from them for 11 days now and am pretty much going crazy.  I'm in love with my wife and kids and simply cannot imagine life without them, so missing Father's Day is tough.  Our church also had our annual Dad Fest and I was not able to be a part of that and really missed it.  But, I went in to this day telling myself that I can try to be a dad to the orphan kids that we were going to spend time with today.  It really gave a fresh meaning to Father's Day for me and if I couldn't be with my own family today, I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to be here in Nicaragua with kids from the orphanage.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  We leave tomorrow afternoon and it's going to be a long day of traveling.  Pray that we continue to be on mission all day tomorrow.  Pray for good travel.  And, please pray that our kids will not forget what they have seen and learned on this trip and that it will continue to shape them and make them more like Jesus.  Thanks!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nicaragua Update # 5 ... The Dump and The Orphans

Another great day on our mission trip in Nicaragua.  We actually were able to take the morning off (which was well needed, especially with some of the health issues going on right now ... 3 of us are having some stomach problems).  Anyway, we spent a low key morning at the market doing some shopping.  It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours and our kids were learning how to barter with the best of them!  I don't think any of them paid full price for anything.  :)

After that, we headed to La Chureca.  La Chureca is literally a garbage dump where people call home.  We drove in, were overwhelmed with the smell, and saw many people rummaging through the garbage to find items to sell or things to possibly eat.  We were there to meet with Maria who runs a church and a school in the dump.  We spent an hour there with kids, were able to feed them and spend time playing with them.

After that we headed back to the orphanage to spend the afternoon in English class with the kids.  We broke up in to groups and just talked through some different assignments they had.  I personally spent time with two of the teenagers (Michael and Joseling) and was just amazed at how they wanted to soak up everything I said.  They had such a desire to learn English!

We spent an hour in class and then had "recess" which consisted of soccer and basektball ... on the same court at the same time.  Made things interesting.  But, what made things more interesting was when a HUGE rainstorm hit.  It rained so hard for about 40 minutes and nobody stopped playing.  The court was flooded with water and it just made things more fun.   The smiles on our kids' faces and on the orphans faces was priceless.  Watching everyone run and play and throw water on each other and just ... well ... bond was just great.

Some homes we saw at the dump. 

Laramie holding a 5 month old baby girl who lives in the dump.  She was such a cutie!

The kids from the dump were so loving and just wanted to be held.  Our guys and girls nearly spent the entire time just holding kids.  They simply did not want to be put down.

In English class at the orphanage.  This was such a fun experience ... just sitting across from the kids and helping them learn English.

Hannah in the middle of the incredible rain storm that hit in the afternoon.  Our kids were soaked!

We have one more fully day left.  Tomorrow we will spend the entire day at the orphanage and every one of our kids is really excited to go back.  Please pray for us as we help lead a Sunday School and as we help with some sports programs in the afternoon.  Also, please pray for some of the health issues on the team.  Nothing serious, but a few of us have been hit with ... well ... diarrhea and nausea.  Pray that we'll all be feeling better by tomorrow and that no one else gets sick.  Also pray that we'll really try to make the most of our last day here.  Our kids are learning so much and being challenged in so many ways and I have just been so impressed with them.  I shared with them this morning that I had expectations of what I wanted to see them do and they have far exceeded any of my expectations.  You would be so proud of them!

Nicaragua Update # 4 ... Hard Work Does a Body Good

Today was much different than our past days in Nicaragua.  We spent most of our morning and a good part of the afternoon doing some pretty intense physical labor.  We visited an orphanage and part of what they are doing is starting gardens, not only so they can grow food but also so they can teach the kids how to garden.  It's really cool.  So, we spent our day digging up ground, throwing away stone blocks, putting together raised garden beds, and filling those beds with dirt.  It's the end of the day here and I'm beat.  It was good, hard work.  Our kids did amazing, once again.  It was at least 95 degrees outside and the humidity was really bad, but they worked hard all day, got filthy, and loved every minute of it.  One of our teens told me that when she works like this at her job, even though she gets paid she just doesn't enjoy it.  But, today she felt good the entire day working hard because she knew it was for the kids. 

After our work, we toured the orphanage which hosts approximately 45 kids.  We then went back to where we are staying, cleaned up, had dinner, and then went back to the orphanage for a "talent" show.  All in all, a great day!  I told our kids that at the end of every day they should feel beat because of giving their all on the trip.  Well, I don't think we'll have any problem feeling beat tonight.

The kids LOVED being hauled in the wheel barrows!  I had just hauled about 30 loads of dirt in incredible heat in a wheel barrow that was broken.  But, these kids wanted a ride and I was glad to give it to them. 

Again, our kids just did amazing today.  I was so proud of them for working so hard.  They were so dirty at the end of the day ... mainly because of me throwing dirt on them trying to keep things upbeat.  :)

Not sure who Katy was thinking of when she was swinging that sledge hammer, but she was swinging with some authority!

The orphans at the talent show. 

I'm certainly not fluent in Spanish, but think I understood what this meant.  I love the actual picture ... just in case you weren't sure what to use those things for. 

Our church supports Asia's Hope orphanages.  Those are our kids.  I've never been able to go on a trip to Asia's Hope and certainly hope to be able to do so at some point.  But, being at this orphanage was probably as close as it could get to actually seeing our kids at Asia's Hope.  When leaving I was tearing up just thinking of these kids who have no parents, no family.  My heart broke for them, but at the same time I was so happy for them because the people at this orphange really cared for the kids and had a specific plan for each child that comes in to the orphanage.  It was so great to hear about what they try to do with each child.  And, the pastor that runs the orphanage looked at these kids in the same way that our pastor and church looks at Asia's Hope ... they were his kids.  I loved the experience today and am so thankful that God allowed me to be there. 

Please continue to pray for our trip.  3 of our kids STILL do not have their bags!  I'm dealing with a bit of a stomach issue at the moment.  And, we still have 2 full days of ministry ahead of us.  Pray for strength, continued amazing attitudes, and that we'll just be a clear picture of Jesus to every person we come in contact with.  Thanks!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nicaragua Update # 3 ... Bumps, Bruises, and a Kick in the Groin. But So Worth It!

Today was just awesome!  Thanks so much to those of you who spent time praying for our team.  Your prayers made an impact.  Today was, by far, our best day of ministry ... and the most exhausting.  After an entire day spent with kids, our team incured several scrapes, a few cuts, some bruises, and I received a shot to the groin that hurt so bad all I could do was just sit there and laugh.  Thankfully, that was not caught on tape!  I believe my voice is an octive higher now too. 

Anyway, we spent our day on a mountain called Pochocuape.  It's a mountain full of tin shacks that peope here call home.  We walked the mountain and invited kids to the school early to play some games with us.  We had so much fun playing with chalk, playing tag, playing soccer, and just loving on kids.  Our teenagers did absolutely amazing, and, I'll say it again ... I am so proud of them. 

After a morning spent playing games, we went to one of the local homes and the family made lunch for us.  Any meal in this area is not small ordeal.  It's all cooked over an open fire so getting everything ready is a challenge and takes quite a while, but it's every day life for the people here.  I was amazed at the hospitality in this small, incredibly humble home.  And, the meal of rice, plantains, and vegetables was amazing!

After lunch we got a meal ready for the kids at the school, took the meal to the school, and played more games with the kids.  We also fed them, what probably was their best meal of the day.  It was hot!  We were soaked with sweat.  Many of us received a few minor scrapes and bruises.  And, we were pretty tired at the end of the day ... but what a day it was!  I felt like our kids really gave their best today and our debrief time afterwards was incredibly powerful as our kids were faced with poverty on levels their had never seen and as their hearts just broke for these children.  Again, your prayers were answered!

The team at the end of our day.  What you can't really see in this picture is how dirty were really were ... and you definitely do not have an appreciation for the smell.

Leah with one of the girls at the school.

Hannah with a few boys from the school.  I think they had a crush on her.

Several of our kids getting food ready at a home.

This is outside the home where we had lunch. 

Your continued prayers would be appreciated as we spend an entire day at an orphanage tomorrow. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nicaragua Update # 2 ... A Great Day and Another Challenge

Today was our first full day in Nicaragua and what a day it was.  After breakfast we started our day looking at 1 John 4 and what it means to love one another.  Then, with much anticipation we headed out to do our first day of ministry.  We went to a feeding program.  So, the chicken and vegetables we bought at the market yesterday were cut up and mixed with some Feed My Starving Children "Manna Packs" and we were able to feed kids what was probably their only good meal of the day.  We also spent time playing with the 50 or so kids that were there and sang some songs for them. 

Some of our kids cutting up chicken to be boiled up and mixed with rice and vegetables.

Katy was an excellent stirrer.

The first two kids that arrived.  They loved getting their picture taken.

Each kid would bring their own bowl and spoon.  We would then take their bowl and fill it up for them and take it to them where they were sitting.  Each of us felt so honored to be able to help out and it felt good knowing we were giving kids a good meal and, more importantly, trying to be Jesus to them.

We took about 10 minutes to sing some songs to the kids that were their.  They had so much fun and loved laughing at us when we tried to do some dance moves.  It was such a fun experience and our kids did amazing!

After about 2 1/2 hours with that group of kids, we headed out to grab some lunch before we were off to our next feeding program.  We needed to stop at the market and get some more chicken, so we decided to eat lunch at the market (at a fast food chicken place similiar to KFC) and then we were going to be on our way.  But, one thing I've learned on this trip is that the enemy is throwing challenge after challenge at us and really trying to disrupt our mission.  Anyway, while waiting for lunch, my sister-in-law (who is the contact person for our mission trip in Nicaragua) was sitting at the outdoor table with the rest of us when she felt something "brush" her leg.  She didn't think anything of it until about a minute later when she looked down and noticed her bag was missing.  That "brush" was someone swiping her bag from her that literally had EVERYTHING in it ...  her passport, her phone, her driver's lisence, and money that was going to be used to pay some of the teachers at the "dump" we were going to visit next.  There were several teachers and they were getting paid a six month salary, so there was a couple thousand dollars in her bag ... gone.  So, needless to say, that threw the rest of the afternoon off schedule.  We had to contact the police, fill out a report, the police actually had 3 suspects in custody but nothing turned up.  It was about a 3 hour ordeal for us.  I felt so awful for my sister-in-law!  Our team spent time praying over the situation. 

I remember talking to our team yesterday evening and just sharing with them how important it is to pray about what we are doing.  I just felt in my heart that we really needed to pray and pray hard for our trip and I shared that with our kids. I still feel that way.  The enemy is doing much to try to distract us.  Some bad stuff has happened, but honestly our kids are still focused and more focused now that I've seen them the entire trip.  Their attitudes, again, have been amazing and I am just so proud of them for being so flexible, understanding, and still on mission.  A few of them even mentioned in our debrief time tonight how they knew that they were told that they really needed to be praying, but some of them just weren't taking that incredibly seriously.  Well, they are now and I feel like everything that has happened has really caused our kids to become more focused and more intent on praying, serving, and helping.  Maybe that's what our team needed.

If you think of it, I'd really appreciate your prayer covering as well.  Ask for spiritual protection.  Ask for wisdom.  Ask for continued good attitudes (our kids still have not received their bags).  Pray that God will use us to do incredible things for Him.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nicaragua Update # 1 ... There's Always a Challenge

We arrived safely in Nicaragua at just before noon Nicaragua time today ... finally!  We are having a great time so far, but have already been faced with several challenges for our team.  Before we left I met with our team a couple of times.  One of the things we talked through was the importance of being flexible AND our "no complaining" rule.  We take what comes at us and we stay positive throughout.  Well, our kids are doing AMAZING with those two things right now. 

Our initial flight from Chicago was delayed because of mechancial problems.  We were on the plan for an hour.  The took us off.  We were in the airport for over another two hours waiting in line and trying to find out how we were going to get to Nicaragua.  By the time our flight took off, we had already missed our connecting flight in Atlanta and there were no other flights to Nicaragua that day.  So, we got to Atlanta and after another nearly 2 hours waiting in line, we received hotel and food vouchers.  Through it all, our kids' attitudes were stellar!  I was so proud of them. 

We boarded our flight to Nicaragua this morning at 10am.  The flight was great.  Everything was fine ... until we got to baggage claim.  Six of our kids did not receive their bags.  Keep in mind we've all been in the same clothes nearly two days now.  All of us were ready for some deoderant and some fresh clothes, so when we found out that 6 members of our team didn't receive their bags, it was a blow.  But, again, through it all, they stayed positive and upbeat and made the most of every situation.  I am so proud of them! 

I remember talking to our kids about the fact that when we step our and serve and share the love of Jesus with people, generally something will happen that will challenge our attitudes and the enemy will often throw stuff at us to try to distract us and get us focused on other things.  I definitely feel like that's been happening but, we are here.  The bags are supposed to be here by 1:30pm tomorrow.  And, we are all ready to start serving.  Again, I could not be prouder of how our kids are handling the things thrown at them and tackling everything with prayer.

Our team before we left for the airport.

"Cross-eyed" pictures are the "in" thing with this group. So funny.

We spent some time at the market today buying food for kids that we'll be serving the next few days.  The meat part of the market is definintely an experience!

This evening we had some fun doing "cheer" stuff.  We have a few cheerleaders on the team and they wanted to teach everyone how to do some stands and jumps.  Fun, fun!  If you're a cheerleader you'll understand a term I learned this evening ... "Pinch a penny in your butt!"

We sorted all of the food we bought and got it ready for the kids.  Some of our team had a little too much fun with the food.

Your continued prayers would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

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