Do you know the “Great Commission” – those words Jesus said to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

I have often heard preachers and teachers comment on that pesky word “go,” as in, “go and make disciples.” In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “go” is a participle, like our English words “going” or “walking” or “reading.” A participle indicates some kind of action, but it is not the main verb of the sentence. In the quote above, “make disciples” is the main verb, and it is an imperative, a command. The general feel of this sentence, then, shouldn’t be the two-fold command “go and make disciples,” but rather something more like “as you are going, make disciples.”

The reason people explain it this way is to suggest that making disciples is the most important work that we have as followers of Jesus. I think that’s true. And it’s to emphasize that you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere – to an overseas mission field, for instance – in order to make disciples. The danger, though, is that we can separate the intentionality of “going” from the activity of “making disciples.” That is, we can relax and lay back, waiting for the next opportunity to show up for us to make a new disciple. “As you are going,” you know, when you get around to it. Continue reading

“You know, it’s like I always said… the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

These were the final words spoken in my favorite television series of all time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After seven years of stories, conflicts, battles, and drama, the space station called “Deep Space Nine” comes to a place of peace and stability. The local bartender (a Ferengi named Quark) finds himself tending to his shop there once again as he had done for many years. And as the final episode draws to a close, Quark speaks the above words, which has become a favorite quote of mine over the years.

Life is full of transitions and adjustments. We leave one place or situation in life, and we move on to other challenges. One relationship ends, and another begins. Sometimes, when we’re experiencing many changes, we can feel a little out of sorts – as if the world is somehow unstable or unpredictable. For some people, this kind of unpredictability can be invigorating and exciting. For others (like me), big changes are a bit stressful. Continue reading

A FREE DAY! Our trip had a strange twist: we could not find reasonable airline tickets out of any city in Michigan. However, God answered prayer, and we flew out of Chicago which meant a 7-hour trip to the airport from Midland. Our flight home was a red-eye out of Guatemala City late on a Saturday night, which resulted in a blessing: we did not have to pay for another night in our hotel, and we had an extra full day in Guatemala. It did mean we traveled at night and didn’t get home until Sunday evening, but it worked out. The 2016 trip was indebted to Jim Sirks, Youth Pastor from the North Avenue Church of God in Battle Creek. Jim drove their big bus and transported us to and from O’Hare. Thank you Jim! Continue reading

LAST DAY AT THE TRACKS! Today was going to be our last day of working at the Tracks. Over the years this has been an emotionally tough day with many tears and hugs. In my travels here during the past nine years, I have learned it is all about the attitude and how we think about our work and friendships that have been made. My approach now is one of celebration; we know we will probably return at another time to renew our friendships and see the progress the community has made over the years. Its fun now because kids we met when they were 7 or 8 years old are now 15 or 16, growing up right in front our eyes. This brings us to our devotion for the day: the green paper is for growing in the Lord” (2 Peter 3:18). But grow in the special favor and knowledge of the Lord. I think back over the past nine years and the life experiences and growth in the Lord we have experienced throughout those years. And its the same with the Guatemalan people: they are maturing in their faith, and their community has had constant change and growth. So as we leave each year, we prefer to say “Te amo,” “Salud!” and “Hasta la vista amigo.”

Josh and his mural with Lucy and her children
Josh and his mural with Lucy and her children

We were tying up loose ends today as we sought out the people we wanted to see. Our groups artist, Josh, painted a beautiful mural on the wall of Lucy’s daughters’ bedroom. We finished the installation of the stairs at Sonya’s house. We took lots of pictures of friends, our group, and the blessings of the Tracks we wanted to remember. Some of us we knew it was the last time they would visit; others knew they would return later. Some knew they would be moving to Guatemala in July. Fortunately, with the advent of Facebook, our communication and interaction with the people of the Tracks has increased tenfold, and we feel much closer than we have ever been. We felt excitement, satisfaction, blessings, and so many feelings as we said good-bye to the Tracks.

Continue reading

Our 4th day was an opportunity to reach out beyond the Tracks and serve elsewhere in the country of Guatemala. As we traveled a scenic pathway, we saw the culture and beauty of Guatemala. It’s a country of volcanoes, vast vegetation, architecture, and rural life. On past missions we had visited small and large orphanages, friends of David, feeding centers, small towns, Lake Atitlan (considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world) and even the black sands along the Pacific Ocean.

serving lunch in San Antonio La Paz
serving lunch in San Antonio La Paz

Today we went to the village of San Antonio La Paz to visit a lady and her husband who have spent their lives serving the Lord and providing food for local children during lunchtime encounters. They had pots boiling and a feast prepared for the young children. Our job was to set up the dining area, serve the meals and interact with the children. That act seemed very small on our part, but it was perhaps the only meal they received for the day. Children always bring smiles and it’s very touching to see how they always, it seems, want to take home food for their families. We also met a young lady, Karla, and her son who live right there on the property. David and one of his mission teams had built a house for Karla in the past. Small things always make a big difference, and it is heart-warming how the giving of a home and the serving of meals for hungry children make the world a little better place.

Continue reading

TUESDAY was a great day at the TRACKS with lots of preparation taking place. We were all allocated to our roles as we prepared for upcoming days. Dawn was well into her hair cutting, some where shopping for wood and designing a set of stairs, the ladies were preparing for the clothing give-away up at a church along the tracks, paint was being chosen and bought for the painting of a house, and lots of relationships were being caught up on and developed. A busy day.

Today we received a red sheet of devotions to reveal the Gospel story. The RED paper is for the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. We were blessed with possibly the most quoted and well known portion of scripture: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This is the promise of scripture that people have held on to for centuries.

It was the type of day that went with our thoughts and reflections of a day such as this. We looked to scripture to exemplify our theme, Shaped For Serving God, that would define our work. 1 Corinthians 12:6 says, God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all.” This year’s team was different in that only one person had not been to Guatemala before on a mission. We were a variety of people: a little girl, a couple of high school kids, some graduates, some college kids, some adults with younger families, a family planning on the mission field, a couple of pastors, and finally a few of us older folks who were living out our God-given mission in our retirement years. We were a diverse group with a variety of skills and talents. The quote that equipped us was this: We will be the most effective when we use our SPIRITUAL GIFTS and ABILITIES in the area of our HEART’S DESIRE, and in a way that best expresses our PERSONALITY and EXPERIENCES. Of course, these capitalized words spelled out the shape of our preparation for the mission that God had in store for us.

packing hygeine kits for our Guatemalan friends
packing hygeine kits for our Guatemalan friends

All of God’s people are given spiritual gifts as they accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Some of us have known these gifts for years, and sometimes they have even changed; some have a grasp of their gifts and several in group were still seeking the gifts that Jesus had given them. God gives every believer gifts to be used in ministry. This mission definitely expressed all the various types of gifts God had given and they were used to bring Him glory. Probably one of the most evident shape witnessed within the group was our HEART. For many, this was the second, third, fourth or even ninth excursion in Guatemala so the passion and heart of this appointment was extremely evident. Serve the Lord with all your HEART and have PASSION! The Guatemalan mission has always been fun and fulfilling; however, our team felt new passion and love once again. It gets into your heart, and you just want to go back. It’s hard to explain, but God has definitely placed the mission upon our hearts.

It’s amazing every year how God constructs a team that meets the needs of the people. Every year we have a variety of ABILITIES that shape the trip. This year we had hair cutters, singers, builders, painters, strong bodies, organizers, salesman, preachers, givers, leaders, artists, Spanish speakers, people persons, etc. And over the years we have also been blessed with seamstresses, teachers, nurses, masons, electricians and the list goes on. All our ABILITIES come from God and are to be used for God’s glory. As I said, it is always amazing how God puts together a team that is just right for the mission experience we are on. To God be the Glory!!

PERSONALITY – We are all unique! The personality of a mission team is always unique. With personality, comes humanity – good, difficult, positive, negative, optimistic, worried, reflective, flippant, God-honoring, and so on. Fortunately, my experiences have given me the wisdom that teams must be focus on one thing: God. When you have eight full days together with people other than your family, there has to be a lot of give and take. That’s true of all groups, and, yes, even Christian teams. We have to practice what we have preached. There are many hours of discussion, working together, free time, times we are tired. People agree on things, people disagree, and God gives us plenty of practice in thinking of others. When we are focused on God, it drives us the right way, helps us think less of ourselves and eventually brings glory to God. And that’s what is all about. It’s not Mt. Haley’s trip, not yours, not mine, but God’s. So with our personalities, does God shine through? Are we Loving God, Loving People and Living It? That is an every day thought that continues every day of the year.

Our last piece of our shape is EXPERIENCES. We have been shaped by the EXPERIENCES in our life. God has blessed Connie and me with many experiences through our 40 years of ministry. I have been on dozens of work missions, conventions, retreats and opportunities to serve God. Every one has helped me for the next one and yet each is unique and special. Past experiences teach you many things, but they are all about God and bringing Him glory. Even when an experience doesn’t work, we ask, “What did we learn and how can we improve?” I leave you with this scripture: “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.” (1 Peter 4:10)

As is always the case, we worked through our Key Questions and had a lively and blessed discussion on Tuesday evening as we shared with each other the many ways that God had touched our lives that day. Our thoughts for the day left us with a couple of reflections: To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart. Our shapes divinely helped to fill us with joy today and we knew we were in the right place at this time. Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. Thank you Lord for letting us share in your kingdom today and may you receive glory in our efforts to make a difference in your Kingdom. Glory to God!!

NEXT: The 4th Day of Our Guatemalan Spiritual Journey

TIRED! Our journey began on Saturday around 1:00 AM in the Fellowship Hall of Mt. Haley as we gathered to take our four-part journey to Guatemala. We loaded in our church van and the Adams’s SUV, which pulled a trailer with our luggage. We drove to the North Avenue Church of God in Battle Creek where we met up with Pastor Jim Sirks, who drove us in their church bus to O’Hare in Chicago. Chicago was our departure destination because God blessed us with cheaper tickets from there, saving our group almost $6,000. Incredible! Our flight out of Chicago was delayed, but we were able to arrive in Washington DC in time to make our flight to Guatemala. We made it into Guatemala after midnight and had a short night of rest. Tomorrow was a BIG day because it was church at the Tracks!

airplaneA huge blessing we had each and every day was breakfast and dinner at the home of our missionary, David Beam. Meals always included Guatemalan dishes and plenty of food. However, because of church and our short night, we got to eat at McDonald’s on Sunday morning. Prior to that everyone received his or her first installment of the devotion notes for our day, which were entitled “What is my PURPOSE for the Mission Trip?” Everyone on the mission received their devotion first thing in the morning, as a way of focusing their thoughts and preparing them spiritually for what the day brought. They were to read it, pray about it and process it throughout the day. We then shared together in our nightly devotions which immediately followed our evening meal at David Beam’s house. A Guatemalan meal, devotions and then a special dessert were our agenda for each evening of the trip.

A pivotal ingredient of each devotion time was the discussion of some key questions we had each day. The first question was always “What were your GOD SIGHTINGS for the day?” God sightings were examples of seeing God working in His kingdom during the day. Often, we are so engrossed in our activities that we miss the common workings of God as he interacts with people and his world. We had discussed this a lot in our preparation meetings and hopefully we were keen on watching how God really does proclaim his presence in His Kingdom on a daily basis. From there we moved to the question “What BLESSINGS did you receive from the Lord today?” We were personally involved because our God sightings touched us emotionally, and we felt God’s inner glow as we witnessed his sightings. Blessings are strange things; we are so blessed and should be filled with gratitude, but life can take us away from the ways God really restores our soul.

Our third question took a completely different direction as we gazed upon the reality around us. Culture is always different as we travel to other environments outside of our own. We view different climates, different housing, different people and customs and, most often on a mission trip, the poverty that is the reality of the area we are in. Looking into the eyes of hungry children, much like our own, and what appear to be unhealthy living conditions, we ask the question “What BROKE your heart today?” We are grateful for our own living conditions, but the blessing is that these people are happy and grateful also for what God has provided. Although it may break our heart, they are God’s people living in his Kingdom. And from there we asked, “What did you LEARN in your walk with the Lord today?” The lessons we learned each day were amazing as we worked and lived among the people for one short week. They taught us about sharing, love, service to one another, friendship, gratitude and Jesus himself. If you don’t learn something about others, yourself and Jesus on a mission trip, you have missed many blessings.

During the preparation meetings and devotions, we surrounded ourselves with scriptures from the Word of God. From that came the question “Were any SCRIPTURES fulfilled in your life today?” It’s amazing how scriptures that are so familiar or casually read became very real in the situations we encountered with people. Often these scriptures connected with our next question, “How did you interact in COMMUNITY today?” We learned that we all live in the Kingdom of God and we share in the same Word of God; we are only separated by miles, cultures and family. Community and relationships are core aspects of any mission trip and everything else is secondary after our common belief in our Savior Jesus Christ.

The last question we asked each day was “What are you GRATEFUL for today?” God has blessed us in incredible ways, and he has blessed the Guatemalan people in incredible ways also. However, we do come from different cultures that we can be grateful for and we serve the same risen Christ! For that we can be grateful and hopefully give God the glory in all that we do.

So, after the first day we did not discuss the significance of each question. However, we did ask the questions, and God opened up a world of reflection shared by everyone in the group.

What is the purpose of a mission trip? There are several aspects: We want people to participate in something that’s bigger than ourselves, to realize and understand the world is bigger than our hometowns. We need to be good neighbors and practice the Golden Rule with people from around the world. We need to walk through an environment with the eyes and ears of God, knowing that although their culture is different than ours, it is very much the same.

People are people everywhere, and our friendships should extend to all people as we express the love of Jesus to a world that truly needs Jesus.

Our first day ended with a reading of Matthew 25:34-40, and we went to sleep and prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.

Coming soon: The 2nd Day of our Guatemalan Spiritual Journey.