Tuesday, August 13, 2013

La Romana, Dominican Republic Mission Trip Report

I want to begin by saying that I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to go on this trip to La Romana, Dominican Republic, and would like to say thanks to everyone who helped make it possible with your prayers and contributions.

Growing up at First Baptist, Ive been privileged to go on many short-term mission trips over the summers. This most recent one to the Dominican Republic, I can say, was like no other trip I have ever been on. One reason I think, is that there were a lot of firsts for me on this trip. For me, it was the first time I had: been overseas, even been out of the country, been in an environment where most everyone spoke a different language than me, been in a community where my ethnicity was in the minority by a large margin, gotten to see and swim in the Caribbean Ocean, flown in a passenger plane since I was about two years old, and the first time I had seen real poverty. I dont mean American poverty where the poor have cell phones, and cable playing on flat-screen TVs. I mean, no hot water, not even clean drinking water, no electricity poverty.

The reason for this trip was to help spread the love of Jesus to those in other parts of the world. So each day, after breakfast, we would divide into two groups. One group would help with the construction workers in building a concrete retaining wall around a local church we were working with. The other group would go to different bateys or barrios each day and host a type of backyard bible club (or VBS) with the kids there. A batey is a small town, owned by a company, where the sugar cane field workers lived. A barrio is pretty much a neighborhood just outside the city.

Typically on these trips, I like to help mostly with the construction. I like the type of work, getting to build things or make repairs. I love working with Jason (a leader of the construction crew from our church), and I always learn a few tricks of the trade to put under my belt. Also, by the end of the week you can step back and see the finished product of what you have been laboring over the whole week. You feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing all the hard work that went into the project. This was not the typical mission trip for me though. Each morning, I would ask God to show me what He wanted me to do each day. We would split into the two groups by a show of hands each morning, and I would judge by the number of people that wanted to do each task. Whichever group had the least amount of people, I would take that as a sign as to where He wanted me to go that day. So for the first 3 days, I had the honor of being part of the group that went into the bateys to help lead the VBS.

I was a little nervous at first seeing as 1) I dont speak any Spanish, so I had no clue what to even say to the kids. 2) The typical thing for me to do on these trips is the construction, so VBS was something I'm not use to working. 3) I like to claim that Im not the best with kids. But with all that against me, I believed it was what God wanted me to do that day. So, I began to gain confidence in that, and by believing He was with us.

 Each day when we would get off the bus at the different bateys or barrios, we would be swarmed by the kids there. By communicating with hand motions and very few Spanish words, we would begin play games with the kids. We would play games like kickball, jump rope, frisbee, baseball, and a game best described as Dominican hot potato. We played that game alone for about an hour. The kids were happy to play just about anything.

After playing a while with the kids, we would bring them into the community church to sing songs and show a puppet skit about the good Samaritan (that was translated in Spanish). We would then send them home to break for lunch. After lunch, the kids would come back to the church, and we would make faith bead bracelets with the older kids. With the younger kids, we would color coloring pages of a cross, or a scene from the good Samaritan. When we finished with that, we would hand out snacks and juice, and play with the kids for another hour or so. We would finally leave and head back to the mission house around 2 in the afternoon.

Some afternoons we would come back to the mission house just to relax, hang out, or spend some quiet time and read over the devotions David or Natalie (student minister and his intern) would hand out each day. One afternoon, we went to a girls orphanage and got to tour the building and visit with the kids there for a few hours. It's amazing how God opened our hearts to be able make connections with the kids there in just a couple of hours.

If you want to know what it was like in the city of La Romana, I havent been to a place in America like it to compare. So, I will try my best to describe the area we were in. The buildings were very close together, most werent much taller than 2 stories. The streets looked as if they hadn't been repaved since they were first out there. The traffic consisted mostly of motorbikes, mopeds, and a few cars. The air in the city streets smelled of exhaust from all the motorbikes. There were rain showers most every night we were there. The temperature was about in its 80s, and the humidity level was high. None of the buildings we went in had air conditioning, aside from the Jumbo (pronounced Joombo, which was like a Super Target or Walmart) and a frozen yogurt shop. There was almost always a breeze outside to cool everything off. The windows in most of the churches were metal shutters that opened and closed to let air flow through. The churches in the city had ceiling fans running to cool everyone off. There were frequent blackouts in the city right around midnight. A few of the buildings in the city, including the mission house, had their own backup generators. The bateys we went to were a little different at each site. They all seemed to have a church building. The houses looked like shacks built with cinder blocks that had metal roofs. The walkways or roads all around the houses were made of dirt and gravel. Some of the water sources came from either a water tower that stored all the water, or a well with a faucet. The bathrooms were outhouses, some made of wood, others out of cinder blocks.

The people we encountered were typically very nice. Most everyone appeared African or Haitian and spoke mostly Spanish. The children in the bateys were so happy to just throw a ball back a forth. All the workers at the mission house acted as family and seemed very happy to cook meals for us and take care of us while we were there. God was very present where we were. On the last couple of days, I was at the construction site and a kid named Tony asked me if I knew Jesus. I said, Si! I asked if he did too. He said he did, and he loves Jesus very much.  During the worship services you could feel the presence of God with us, through the songs and speaking (even though we couldnt understand what they were saying). Through all the poverty, there was what seemed to be joy and peace.  I can imagine this only being possible with God.

There are definitely still needs there. According to wikipedia their average salary is $5,000 a year. If you went to stores like the Jumbo, prices werent much different than in America. You can get cheaper foods from the local shops and market but the quality wouldn't be up to our standards. For example, the butcher shops we saw didnt seem to have A/C and were open to the streets. They would have meat laying out on counters, and hanging out in the open. So, it wouldnt be very sanitary for us if you were to buy the cheaper produce. The kids there mostly wore flip flops or no shoes at all, and were running around on rocks and gravel. Babies had no diapers. You could see that some of the children had ringworms from unclean water sources. There is a need there, and they live in poverty. But you wouldnt be able to tell just from talking to the people or playing with the kids. There was a sense that God was taking care of them, and they knew that.

Of all these things I witnessed, and the many things I experienced and learned, one thing stuck out to me, and its this: Persistence with a pure heart comes blessing. By that I mean, when we pray persistently with a pure heart about something and give it to God, He blesses us for it. There is a parable in Luke 18 about the persistent widow. She brought her problems before the judge continually and wouldnt give up. The judge in this parable is said to be unfair, and yet even he still granted her request in the end. We know that our God is just and fair, and by this parable we learn how much more God will grant our pleas and request if we are persistent. I said persistence with a pure heart, because this does not mean our God is a genie. We dont give him our Christmas and birthday wish list, full of stuff. Our motives must be pure and not greedy, focused on Gods will and not being selfish.

For a couple of months before the trip, I would pray about God preparing the way for us at the Dominican, and softening our hearts for the people there. At my work logging into the computer, and performing some other functions, requires a password. I changed my password to Dominican13 (which has changed again, so you can't sneak in and use it) so that every time I had to type it, I would be reminded to pray for the trip. Every time I used that password, I would pray the same prayer right at that moment so that I wouldnt forget. I feel I was prepared more for this trip than any of the others I have been on. Not prepared by anything that I studied or knew, because I still didnt speak a lick of Spanish. But, I was prepared because God opened me to be willing to do whatever He would have me do that day, and I knew that God was with us the whole time, guiding us, and preparing the way. God definitely blessed us all on this trip, and anyone who went would agree.

We were blessed: to see the kids smiling faces, to see them so content and happy just passing around a ball in a circle with complete strangers who looked different than them, to be taken care of by the people at the mission house where they cooked breakfast lunch and dinner for us every day, to see how the churches worshiped for hours at a time each night through the blackouts and without A/C, and to see Gods beautiful creation at the ocean or the hills in the distance of the sugar cane fields. God willing, these memories will be with me for the rest of my life.

God softened my heart for the people there, and prepared the way for us. Jesus said we will receive what we ask for if we are persistent in Luke 18. That parable proved true for me, and I have experienced it first hand from this trip.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jesus Christ is the Same Yesterday and Today and Forever.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." -Hebrews 13:8

If you believe this is true, then would you say this command below from Matthew still applies today?

"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 28:19-20

And if you believe the above two Scriptures are true, do you think this still applies today?

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”- Acts 1:8

At what point do we start taking promises and commands from Jesus in our own hands, choosing to believe in them or not? Is there evidence from the Scriptures that tell us these above statements don't apply to us anymore? When did the gift of the Spirit merely become your conscience, or guide? If the gifts of the Spirit are to further spread the gospel and the love of Christ, why would they be taken away from us? Some may argue that the signs and wonders that were performed by the disciples were just for that time, and that Jesus was talking to them specifically for that passage. If that is what you believe, then what do you say to the Matthew 28 passage about spreading the gospel? Jesus was talking to them specifically then too.

We may just be afraid of what the Holy Spirit might do, therefore pushing away the idea that He is more than just a guide. So then, if the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God are a Holy Trinity being one, what are we afraid of? Are we afraid of how our Creator may use us to further His kingdom? If we believe that the resurrection of Jesus gives us eternal life in Heaven, then what fear should we have on this Earth? The same Giver of eternal life wants to use us to build His kingdom, and sent the Holy Spirit so that we may be able to effectively accomplish this task. How did so many people begin to believe in Jesus during His ministry? And how are others to know that we follow the same Lord as that of the early Christians? By our kind deeds to others, and lifestyles?

"Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles." - Acts 2:43

"This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." -Hebrews 2: 3b-4

Or according to Paul:
"I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ." -Romans 15:18-19

I believe that if Jesus (being one with God and the Holy Spirit) is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that He promised us the Holy Spirit enable us to do things even greater than He.

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." - John 14:12-13

So what are we afraid of? May we submit to the Holy Spirit each day, and allow Him to lead us to live lives worthy of the cross. Who knows, maybe we will see God use us to bring 3,000 to believe in Him in one day!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Daily Bread

Simply put, this blog is about reading the Bible. In the past year I have been convicted by the Holy Spirit for going about my life and not reading the Bible as often as I should. Therefore in the past year, I try to do everything I can to read something from the Scriptures every single day, and have a quiet time with God. This has helped me tremendously in my faith and my relationship with God. In this blog I will tell my view on how reading the Bible daily has sustained me, and ways that it may help you!

Jesus prays to our Father in Matthew 6:11 about receiving daily bread. We need bread or food to eat daily to maintain physical strength. I believe we also need spiritual bread. I believe we receive our spiritual bread from reading the Scriptures. The Scriptures feed us and nurture us to remain full and healthy in our faith. One of the most important things we can do to remain focused on Christ and what He did for us is to read the Scriptures. The Scriptures are real testimonies, experiences, or stories of our ancestors, and show us how God has been present and worked through their lives. In this world full of evil desires and sin, we must immerse ourselves in the Word to remain a light in the darkness. There are so many distractions that surround us daily. Satan works efficiently through distractions. Satan tries whatever he can to deceive us and interrupt our personal relationship with Christ. Keeping us distracted is the easiest way, and possibly the most effective way that he works. That is why we must continually stay focused on our purpose in life. Staying focused on the Word is one of the easiest, and possibly the most effective ways to stay on track and not get distracted. It works to fight against what Satan is trying to do. I find that when I read the Bible each day, my heart is continually being renewed and my passion for God becomes greater and greater.

The Word protects our hearts for when we are tested for our faith. The more we read the Scriptures, the more we will be able to recite passages and verses that can, and will help guide us when we are being tempted and tried. When troubles arise, verses will start coming to mind; and parables that Jesus taught will begin to take a part in our lives and have more meaning. Also, when we are having to defend our faith to non-believers, we will have the Word with us if we come to the point of memorizing Scripture. This comes in time, and the more we read the more we will learn. Jesus was able to quote Scripture when He was tempted by Satan, as we see in the beginning of Matthew and Luke. Satan would tempt Jesus with Scripture, but Jesus would resist temptation with the truth! How great it would be for us to be able to quote Scriptures in truth for when we are being tempted or tried! Continually reading the Word every day helps us to see the truth in the passages.

Here are some tips on what has helped me for when I read the Bible. First, you should pray that God guides you and points out the truths of each passage you read. You may desire to take from the Scriptures what you want them to say, but God may want to show you the truth in the passage. If I have time, it has been good for me to get a mix of about three different sections of the Bible. The first section would be one of the gospels ( Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), or the epistles (the letters of Peter, Paul, or John). This is where we see the teachings of Jesus and begin to have a personal relationship with Christ. This is what guides our faith of Christianity, by reading the parables and about the life of Jesus. If you are low on time, I would say the gospels and the epistles are the most important passages to read each day. The epistles are where we see applications for the teachings of Jesus, and instructions for how we should apply His teachings to our lives. The second section would be something from either Psalms or Proverbs. These are songs of praise and words of wisdom. These are good to meditate on; a lot of the Psalms are good for praying and worship to God. The third would be the stories of the Old Testament. These are good to read because they teach us about who our God is, and show us the origins of our faith. They also show signs of Christ's coming and give more depth to His purpose. You can read these sections in any particular order. If have enough time I will usually start off with a passage from the Old Testament, then go on to a Psalm, and then one of the gospels or an epistle. Otherwise, I will just be sure to read the gospels or one of the epistles.

In order to get the full context, you have to ask yourself a few things about each passage: Who wrote it? Who is it written to? And why was it written? These questions will help you be able to focus on the meaning or purpose of each passage, and give you a base of understanding of what you are reading. Reading the Scriptures make Christ alive in us, and give us a new purpose to our lives. Going through the Bible together with a few others is a great way to hear different truths that each of you may have found in a passage. There are usually many truths to one passage that we each might  see differently. I urge you to stay in the Word, and pray that the Holy Spirit transforms your heart to be open to what it has to say, so that you may have a closer relationship with God our creator, and Jesus Christ our Lord!