Our youth group just got back from one of my favorite places in the world – Meridian State Park. We spent 4 days just lounging around the shelters down by the lake and hanging out up on Bee’s Ledge at night. We had some amazing times up there, and it’s always a joy to share the story about how I became a Christian in the “group camping area.” We took a hike around the lake and a few of our youth got poisen ivy – Oops, but all in all, it was great! One of our students, Katie Walzel has been studying Astronomy, and she was able to tell us all about the stars/formations we were looking at – cool stuff. It was also really cool to be able to take my son, Kasen, there for the first time. I plan on taking him back over and over throughout his lifetime, but this was his first trip – unless you count when he went last year inside Miranda’s tummy.
Here’s some pics of us on Bee’s Ledge one night and another of Kasen’s first watermelon experience.
Our mission trip to Arizona was amazing!!! We took 28 people to the Tohono Oodham Reservation to work with children doing VBS. Our youth had to learn to give their testimonies and present the gospel in order to attend. Once we arrived on the reservation we were split into 3 different groups who each traveled to separate villages to do ministry. My team went to the village of PiaOik (sounds like Bee-oik). Anyway, this village was abandoned by the Catholic church about 15 years ago and we were the first people to do any sort of official ministry in the village since that time. That means that some of the children we worked with had never heard the name of Jesus. Some had heard through their families, but unfortuantely, much of what they knew was a mixture of Catholicism and native tradition. Anyway, it was truly a pleasure to get to know these kids and to tell them about Jesus.
For me, one of the biggest experiences happened the last day we were there. Well, it started the first day, with a little girl (3 yrs old) named Sadie peeking around the door of her house at these strange white people who were inviting her to VBS the next day. It was obvious that she was a little scared of us, but interested. The last day, as our van drove around the curve of the road, we could see Sadie, literally jumping up and down waving at us as we arrived. The transformation we saw in Sadie was a beautiful hint that we had certainly won her over and I feel confident that we had an impact on her. Sadie’s transformation was duplicated in each of the kids we worked with. Chelyssa, Listen, Jayden, Brent, Sidney, and Colin.
Life on the reservation was also very eye-opening. The average income is just under $7,000/year. (Lake Jackson FUMC averages $100,000/year) Most people didn’t have running water and still used outhouses. The kids only go to school 120 days a year (as opposed to our 180) which means that the few who graduate will still only have an 8th grade education. Many don’t graduate ’cause it’s sometimes a 2 hour bus ride to get to school. When they do graduate, they struggle at a college ’cause they’re so far behind academically and so most end up coming back to the reservation to live. The reservation is the largest crossing point for drug traffic and mexican illegals and so Border Patrol presence was everywhere. We also met the gang task force leader on the reservation. Because of the environment in which they live, gang activity is rampant. He has a staff of 4 in a huge area which has more gang activity than most states. The native religion worships a god called I’Itoi. He is believed to have led the Tohono people into this world from the underworld and when someone dies, he leads them back from the light into darkness. They use a symbol of a man in a maze to depict it.
God is Sovereign
Interestingly enough, the grandfathers also speak of a time when their people worshipped the “Creator God.” They say that in those days (less than 100 years ago) the land was much more fertile – even describing walking through grasses that were waist deep. Today, however it’s just desert – dry, dusty, nothing but cactus. Anyway, they have a legend that says that when the Tohono people go back to worshipping the “Creator God” there will be “Streams in the Desert.” Isaiah 43:19 also speaks of Streams in the Desert when Jesus returns. It’s amazing to me that two totally different cultures are saying the same thing. God reveals Himself all the time in so many ways if we’ll just listen.
Anyway, all this is to say, that it was a great trip! We got to learn alot about the Tohono Oodham culture, and we got to tell them about Jesus. Our group also had the chance to bring a slip-n-slide to PiaOik the last day. The kids had a blast on it. In the desert, there was no grass so we slid across the concrete bastball court. We also had fun watchin fireworks on the fourth of July which were lit by hand about 50 yards from us – I kept wondering what would happen if someone accidentally knocked one over in our direction. We also had “Hampster Races” on a T.O. ranch one night. You’ll have to ask someone about that one.
I just got back from the Jr High Breakthru retreat this weekend. I missed my bride and child, but it was a pretty good weekend. I got to see my old friend Scott Crenshaw who was speaking at the camp. We had a chance Friday night to hang out a bit and catch up. We talked a lot about fatherhood and he was telling me that I would have more illustrations than I could ever imagine. It’s already true! I am watching Kasen and seeing how my love for him looks similar (but not even close in reality) to the love that God must have for us. Anyway, it was a good weekend. I also had a chance to get some reading done for school.
I went on a retreat for men last weekend called Emmaus. The weekend is based on the Scripture (beginning in Luke 24:13) about two men who were traveling to Emmaus. They met Jesus and were talking to Him without even knowing it. When Jesus finally reveals Himself to them, he disappears. The idea is that we would travel together down this same road and Jesus would reveal Himself to us.
Anyway, it was a great retreat. It was really awkward at first being with a bunch of people you don’t know, but it doesn’t take long to begin getting into the routine. Some of the best parts of the experience are supposed to be surprises so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but those were certainly the most memorable moments for me. I have worked in youth ministry for over 20 years now and have been a part of putting things like this together, but it’s been a really long time since I was a participant – since I was just able to sit back and listen and receive from the Lord. It was a refreshing change of pace. Someone asked to sponsor me for Emmaus about 15 years ago and it never seemed to work out as far as a date. I also never made it much of a priority because I had heard about the life-changing experiences that others were having. I knew that I had already given my life to Christ and was already living out my faith, and so I was afraid my experience wouldn’t live up to what they wanted it to be for me. Anyway, after all these years, I have now had the Emmaus experience. I was right – it wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it was certainly a good experience which allowed me to just focus on Him a bit. How could that ever be a bad experience?
The other part I really enjoyed was the discussions around the table. I sat with a bunch of really creative and fun guys. (David, Everett, Scott, Mike, and JJ) I was able to see God in new ways through their eyes and gained perspectives that I would never have seen before. We also had quite a bit of fun with the creative parts of the weekend (posters, skits, and songs). It was encouraging to hear how these guys (who were mostly my own age) were living out their faith and how God was working through their struggles with them. In my own church I have missed having guys my own age around – the good news is that He is bringing more and more of them to us and we’ve found a great small group to be involved with.
There were definitely some parts of the weekend that I did not enjoy too, but it was kinda cool to see God working in spite of it all. Here’s what I mean: On Friday afternoon, we were singing and I started noticing these guys behind me arm in arm swaying back and forth while they sung. Soon more men joined them and eventually it was me and a couple of other guys who were not involved. I felt a certain pressure to join them, but it was way out of my comfort zone – can you say awkward? JJ, one of the guys at my table, called it “Manlove.” Anyway, as I thought about it I realized that there is no place in American culture where this sort of thing happens with men (well, straight men). There is nothing about this behavior that men would really get excited about. As for a retreat and setting the stage for men to interact with God, it shouldn’t work. BUT when you factor God into the whole thing, “All bets are off.” God did move among us. He made His presence known, and in spite of this sort of counter-intuitive approach, God used the efforts of the Emmaus team.
Lord, thank you for the work of the Emmaus team and my fellow walkers – for their servanthood, teachings, discussions, and expressions of love. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to leave my job for a few days to focus on You and for protecting my family while I was away. Allow me to be the man you’ve called me to be at my home, at my job, and in my church, and everywhere I go. Lord, as You did on the road to Emmaus, continue to reveal Yourself and Your ways to me so I can become more like You.
1. We were priviledged to have God use us to bring hope to hurricane victims. NOAH = New Orleans Area Hope
2. We met some new friends from Baton Rouge.
3. Our own Mardi Gras Parade!
4. We saw Dawn Delany in New Orleans.
5. We heard about all the cool stuff God is doing to bring people together in that area. Dawn’s neighborhood was the murder capital of the country and she had a BBQ last week with lots of different races of people.
6. I got to hang out and work with my sister.
7. Some of our youth got to meet my sister.
8. The sunset on Lake Ponchatrain.
9. John from Baton Rouge was a true inspiration – I mean this blind guy snow skis and skydives.
10. Name that Tune!
11. Ms. Claudia.
12. The donuts Ms. Claudia brought us one morning.
13. Nail Guns!!!! Yes!!!
14. My friend Dustan says “If I didn’t sweat, I didn’t worship.” We “worshipped” alot on that roof.
15. Finally feeling like we were able to actually “do” something about the feelings we had when the hurricane hit.
Ichthus was a great experience. There were so many places that I saw God at work. Here’s a short list (They aren’t in any particular order – I mean how could you rate God’s work anyway?):
1 – The church vans
2 – Our church family helping us pay for gas
3 – Edith and John (Our hosts in Germantown)
4 – Our adult sponsors – and new ones too – it was sure fun getting to know them
5 – The youth – not even one fight all week long – nothing but smiles, inside jokes, and shared experiences, and maybe a few shared smells too
6 – Our cooking teams (we ate pretty well all week)
7 – All kinds of denominations worshipping under the one name of Jesus
8 – The bands – every style from 95 thesis, twelve guage valentine, to chris tomlin, reliant k, and david crowder
9 – The speakers – justin lookadoo, efrem smith, and even the xxxchurch guys
10 – watching youth spend time with God reading His word each day without me telling them to do it
11 – wagon riding, ultimate frisbee, and lightning bugs
12 – rearranging tents
13 – rolling down hills
14 – water for a dry throat
15 – prayers of people in our church
16 – communion for that many people all at once
17 – Sunsets during worship
18 – specific things God is teaching me through some of our experiences (want to know more? check my other posts)
God worked all over the place. We’ll never even recognize all the places until maybe one day in heaven when God reveals it all to us. Thank you God for it all! We don’t deserve the incredible gift You have given us in these experiences – thank you for loving us like You do.