Category Archives: church

two ways of viewing long-term partnership for short-term missions

had another wonderful day in jamaica yesterday, visiting with a few local pastors served by teams who come with Praying Pelican Missions, and visiting teams in action.

and i realized i’d only been communicating one of the two (equally valid and beneficial) meanings of talking about the value of long-term partnerships in short-term missions. i’ve written many times about how one of the things i really love about PPM (and one of the values and practices that sets them apart) is their commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leaders (in this case, jamaican pastors), and exercising a no-exceptions policy of only doing work requested by these pastors. it’s a significant way they are able to stay away from activities that aren’t culturally appropriate, or are tainted by anything like corruption, or are merely bad missiology and american-savior colonialism.

i saw this in PPM’s work in haiti two years ago; i saw it in belize last year; and i’m seeing it again here. but, while the Cartel does have a partnership with PPM, i still feel a pretty strong obligation to represent my youth ministry tribe. so i check this value/practice with every pastor i meet on these trips, asking them about their vision, asking about how PPM treats them, asking if they feel served or used. i make it clear that i’m a third-party, and usually get a bit of alone time with them. and so far, that value/practice has been proved in 100% of these conversations.

but there’s another way to think of long-term partnership in short-term missions. it’s the value of you and your church establishing a long-term partnership with a church and community somewhere else. i was reminded today that this is the ideal that PPM longs to see.

but, honestly, few groups do this. and i think the primary reason (though i’m sure there are others) is that many of us still have ‘tourism’ in the mix, at least a little bit, when we think of a location for short-term missions (particularly when it’s international). as a middle school pastor, i wasn’t convinced it was good stewardship to take young teens on a foreign missions trip other than to a mexico border town (which, for the last 25 years of my life, has been within 2 hours of home). and, honestly, i sometimes got a little jealous of the high school ministry heading off to exotic locations when my group was heading back to the border again.

but i’ve seen the impact of long-term consistency, since my own church has had a church-to-church partnership with a single church (and community) in haiti for about four years now. the benefits multiply for both the recipients of ministry and for those traveling to do ministry.

for the recipients, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it removes the dance of not knowing the visiting group, and wondering what their motives actually are
  • it removes (or at least lessens) the feeling that recipients are ‘less than’ or begging
  • it increases the joy of working together, since the visiting team begins to feel like family
  • it allows the recipients to play a more active reciprocal role of ministering to the visiting group, praying for them and in some ways participating in communion with one another

for the visiting team, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it decreases our temptation to see ourselves as little saviors. we’re going to visit (and serve) people we know and love, not faceless foreigners who need our generosity and pity
  • it takes the guesswork out of the relationship, building confidence in serving alongside (with a confidence in knowing how the serving fits in with the vision of the church and pastor)
  • it decreases any pressure we might feel to slip into unhelpful (and even damaging) stereotypes, like some already mentioned
  • and it builds momentum, healthy tradition, and expectation in your group and church

heck, i’ve even seen, in my own church, how our long-term partnership has re-shaped the worldview of our whole congregation. prior to that partnership, we had a somewhat myopic vision focused almost exclusively on our local impact. now, a short three or four years later, local and international serving has exponentially grown at my church, with a much greater sense that we are playing an active role in God’s redemptive work in the whole world.

so it’s obvious: i think youth workers should consider returning to the same location for multiple years, building a relationship with a church or ministry you learn to know, love and trust. you and they will both benefit greatly. really, in my mind, i see the best-case-scenario as a triangle: a three-way partnership (including an organization like PPM to both find the right partnership and handle logistics).

oh, and as a wonderful corrective to anyone who might, even for a second, think something like “we’re bringing the gospel to jamaica;” i took this photo of the cornerstone of one of the churches we were at today. yup, jesus has been here a very, very long time.

  


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blessing a school so a local church wins

a number of years ago, i started volunteering as a lunch-room monitor at three local middle schools. i’d met with principals, and they’d told me this was help they needed. there were four significant positive benefits: i got to see kids from my group at school; i got to meet their friends; i got to build trust with the school; and i got to hang out with the vice-principal and principal on a fairly regular basis, chatting about this and that.

somewhere along the way, after i’d built some trust, one of the principals share with me–in passing–how he was frustrated because, with budget cuts, he just couldn’t afford to bring in special speakers for all-school assemblies anymore. i quickly offered: i could bring speakers in for you.

we usually brought in top-notch communicators a couple times a year–once for a retreat, and once for our biggest outreach event. so, for two years, i would bring those speakers in a day early, and they would do a non-evangelistic, non-religious talk (critical for keeping trust!) at the three schools. the principals LOVED it, and it built massive bridges, opened all kinds of other doors in the community, and reflected really well on our church and its commitment to the community.

then i got fired. so there’s that. different story, though.

but my successor called me about a year later to ask for input. he said, “i have these three principals calling me asking for assembly speakers, and wondering if i’d like to come by and get to know each other. can you tell me what’s going on here?”

here’s why i share this today. as you might know, i’m in jamaica, observing the work of Praying Pelican Missions. i very much dig (and approve of) the all-too-unique approach of this organization: their stringent commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leadership, then serving the vision of those leaders. i know plenty of other organizations who say or imply that they do this; but as someone who’s been on more missions trips than i can count, with lots of organizations, i can honestly write that i skepticism keeps being undone with PPM.

IMG_7136this morning, i found out the american youth groups i was going to see were doing work in schools. my skepticism instantly kicked in. i instantly imagined reluctant school administrators, tolerating the imposing gringos. and i instantly started to question my PPM host, almost as if i was going to finally find out the truth of this organization, that they were only committed to working under the leadership of the indigenous local church leadership when it was convenient.

i was wrong.

the local church leadership WANTS PPM teams to work in public schools (btw, the teams are doing work with children in the classrooms in the morning–both jesus-y stuff, and math and spelling reviews–and doing service projects in the afternoon, some at schools, some in other locations). in fact, PPM was skeptical when church leaders asked for this. but the church leaders explained: we are on these school boards. we want to bless our communities. but we need help. and if (this is where it started to remind me of the benefits of my partnership with principals all those years ago) the school and community are blessed because of the church, that’s enough for us right there. but it also has a significant positive impact on the community’s view of our church, which helps in plenty of other ways.

i sat with three different jamaican principals today also. in each case, they honestly shared (i could tell they were being authentic with me) how the visiting teams were a win for everyone, including their students.

ok. i stand corrected. i’ll put my skepticism back in it’s storage container (i have a neat little pocket for it in my new travel backpack).

oh, and here’s a pic of my and sister norma. she’s a PPM staffer here in jamaica, after a lifetime of being a teacher and principal herself.

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why i’m in jamaica

when i was a little kid, i was proud of the things i collected: rocks, coins, pennants. these days, if i’m honest, i collect experiences. there’s no question that’s one of the reasons i so love traveling internationally–grabbing up unique sights, sounds, views and memories. i have this little personal agenda that i hope to add a new country to my list each year (this is a banner year, btw, as i’m adding three: italy, jamaica, and spain, in addition to my two returns to new zealand).

nothing wrong with tourism.

but tourism and missions make extremely awkward, even destructive, relationship partners.

i think that’s why i added a couple days of low-key tourism onto the front end of this jamaican missions trip: to get the tourism out of the way. i’ve been staying, since sunday afternoon, in a budget-level all-inclusive resort in montego bay. the rooms are fine and the food sucks (for a resort). it feels a little like the place the wal-mart crowd vacations. but i’ve holed up in my room, or out on a beach chair, and read books (halfway through my third one today). so this bit of palm-tree-ocean-view-don’t-set-an-alarm-clock jamaican warmth has been good for me.

jamaicaflagbut now it’s time to change hats. or, change shirts, since i have a few ugly-but-breathable shirts i pretty much only wear on missions trips, and i put one of them on this morning.

i think i’ll write more about this later this week: but i think there are two particular things that are done very poorly or very well in youth ministry. those are: presenting the gospel, and short term missions.

in the last couple years, i’ve had the chance to get to know Praying Pelican Missions. two years ago, my son max and i traveled to haiti to see their work there (and max, having already been gifted with an indescribable call to the country and people of haiti had that calling solidified, and is now unstoppable in his commitment to haiti, returning for a month each summer). last year, i traveled on my own to see PPM’s work in the country where they launched: belize. and what i’ve seen, the deeper i dig, is an approach to short-term missions that dismantles my skepticism and reminds me that a few organizations do this in a way that’s theologically, missiologically, and culturally sound (and clarifies for me that many don’t).

these last two years’ trips gave me more of a 30,000 foot view of PPM’s work: traveling around haiti and belize, meeting with national church leaders and learning about how PPM serves them. this year i’m doing something different: i’m hanging out for four days with one american church youth group (a huge one, honestly, with something like 150 participants). i won’t be traveling around, seeing work all over jamaica. instead, i’ll be observing (somewhat like a fly on the wall, actually — i don’t know the youth group and they don’t know me) what things really look like for a team coming here to serve.

i get picked up in a couple hours to put my ‘missions trip shirt’ into action. i’ll be reporting and blogging more as the week unfolds!


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We We Published This: Hypotherables

this, my friends, is #4 in a little series explaining why The Youth Cartel chose to publish the five products we’re releasing this week. first up was gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. then i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. yesterday i wrote about Sam Halverson’s new book One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church, a book that is 100% timely and 100% helpful. today, it’s on to jake bouma and erik ullestad’s…

Hypotherables
The questions are hypothetical. The conversations are real.

hypotherablesjake and erik approached me a long time ago about a different product, one that we ended up shelving for reasons that had nothing to do with jake and erik. but i’d seen enough to know: these guys have the ability to offer some truly unique, creative and helpful tools for youth workers. so in a move that’s fairly rare for us, i told them: we want you to write for the Cartel. get back to me with ideas and we’ll pick one.

when they got back to me sometime later, Hypotherables was on the list.

and let me say this: as a old curriculum writer who knows that there’s very little that’s truly unique and inventive in youth ministry curriculum (or any sort of church ministry curriculum for that matter), Hypotherables is like nothing you have ever seen. it’s that creativity, along with their depth, that caused dr. andrew root (author of some of the most insightful and important youth ministry books in the last decade) to say, about Hypotherables: I’m happy to say, of this curriculum, I’m a BIG FAN.

Hypotherable is a made-up mash-up word, combining ‘hypothetical’ and ‘parable.’ this resource is a collection of inventive stories (with multiple means of sharing them) that are specifically designed to get teenagers talking about moral and ethical issues.

here’s the official description:

What if there were a resource that not only made expressing an opinion less intimidating, but actually made it fun for people to explore and expand theological concepts in community?

Hypotherables is a radical new spin on youth ministry curriculum that uses original, compelling stories to stimulate spirited group discussions about a range of spiritual topics. Everyday faith issues like evangelism, honesty, temptation, and grace are reframed in the form of captivating stories culminating in a HYPOTHEtical question for the group to discuss—free from the fear of “wrong” answers. And because each story is an imaginative modern paRABLE—full of twists, turns, drama, and comedy—leaders can easily take the conversation even deeper. The informative sidebar commentary and convenient discussion guides make it nearly effortless to draw out rich biblical truths from the layers of metaphor embedded within each story.

This product is a digital download containing 10 one-of-a-kind hypotherables. Each session comes with:

• A high-definition narrated video of the hypotherable
• A slide presentation (in both Keynote and PowerPoint formats) for leaders who wish to narrate the story in their own voice and style
• A Script + Commentary with the story, slide change cues, and informational remarks
• A Conversation Catalyst with follow–up questions, thematic talking points, relevant Scripture references, and a closing prayer

It’s draining to be constantly creating or seeking out fresh new ways to spark meaningful faith conversations with your group. But it doesn’t have to be. With Hypotherables, the questions are hypothetical, but the conversations are real.

and here’s what a few pretty freaking sharp people are saying about it:

Every teenager is different, and many learn better when they experience something on their own. Hypotherables gives students a chance to interact with hypothetical situations in the real world—with peers and leaders they trust. I love the idea of creating a safe space where there are no wrong answers…of building a space where teens can find the right answers for their unique situations on their own. I can’t wait to use this resource with our students.

The videos, scripts, questions, helps, and fun facts put the students in a unique learning experience where they get to “what if” about “what could be.” They get to use their imaginations and ideas to activate their own faith in the future. With Hypotherables, Jake and Erik are bringing something incredible to the youth ministry world.
Brooklyn Lindsey, Justice Advocate, Nazarene Youth International

With very little exception, I’ve never been a big fan of curricula. As a youth worker I found them restrictive, as a theologian I encountered them as theologically thin. This was true until Hypotherables. I’m happy to say, of this curriculum, I’m a BIG FAN. In this curriculum you’ll discover freedom and depth that promises to leave a lasting impact on your young people. Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad are two of the most creative young leaders I know, and in Hypotherables you’ll see both their passion and talent in technicolor.
Andrew Root, PhD, Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry, Luther Seminary; Author of Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker (Baker Academic, 2014)

In my fifteen years of working with youth, more and more I’ve realized that youth don’t want, or need, to hear any more lectures or youth group talks. Rather, they need opportunities to be engaged in meaningful and creative conversations and discussions that allow them to practice and experiment with their developing faith. With the release of Hypotherables, Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad have provided youth workers with a tool that will help create space for just those kinds of transformational discussions.
Rev. Adam Walker Cleaveland, PC(USA) Minister and Blogger

Hypotherables is a download-only resource. check out a free sample session here, or get the whole shootin’ match.

Why We Published This: One Body

this, my friends, is #3 in a little series explaining why The Youth Cartel chose to publish the five products we’re releasing this week. first up was gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. and yesterday i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. today, we’re on to Sam Halverson’s…

One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church

9780991005086-frontfirst, a bit about why i wanted to publish sam. i got to know sam a couple years ago when he participated in the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program. sam was already a veteran youth worker with about 20 years of experience. but he’s committed to growth, and YMCP proved to be a significant year for him. one of the many results is that sam made the move to becoming the youth ministry dude (not his official title!) for the north georgia conference of the united methodist church. but during that year, i also saw deeply into sam’s heart and mind. he’s a gifted and insightful youth worker. and we found that we shared a passion for spurring youth workers to consider breaking down their youth ministry ghettos, their silos that keep teenagers isolated from the rest of the church.

about a year ago, april diaz wrote Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker for us. it’s a “manifesto of integration” (which is the subtitle). sam and i started talking about him writing a bit of a “sequel” or expansion of april’s book. while april’s book is a shot across the bow, sam book is deeper and wider, and gets into more pragmatic implications (this was by design–april’s book was intended to be short and go for the jugular).

this is a critically important subject for youth workers. and, really, it’s a bit of an identity crisis for us. we often have this broken-but-symbiotic relationship with our churches: they want to hire pied pipers, and we’re happy to take the money and run a silo’d youth ministry. integration is messy, full of complications and resistances, and feels counter-intuitive as it is–to a small degree–working our way out of parts of our job.

sam does a great job of setting up the problem, unpacking solutions, and providing a raft of ideas.

here’s the back cover copy from the book:

Most youth groups function like a parasite within the body of the church: a separate organism that relies on its host for resources, but isn’t integrated into the whole. Strong language? Sure. But it’s accurate. And if left untreated, this parasitic relationship will lead to unhealthy results for both youth ministries and churches.

One Body addresses how even the most active youth ministries can unknowingly hinder the development of their adolescents by preventing them from being integrated into the body of Christ. It also reveals practices that hinder growth within the body and suggests some exciting ways to connect the stories and lives of the youth and adults in your church.

Let’s get teenagers out of their ministry silos—their youth group ghettos—and start building relationships beyond the youth room. Let’s dream together of moving our congregations toward a better understanding of their biblical call to disciple and be One Body with youth.

and here’s what others are saying about sam’s book:

Our churches have become silos, and in this thought-provoking yet practical book, Sam Halverson calls us to do something about it. One Body is a necessary read for all who believe that people and relationships are more important than programs.
Chanon Ross, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Youth Ministry, Princeton Theological Seminary

It’s now almost universally agreed in the world of youth ministry that we’ve got to stop isolating our teenagers from the rest of the church. Isolation hurts teenagers and hamstrings the church. But up to this point, we’ve had few prototypes for making that seismic shift. With One Body, Sam helps us imagine a church without generational isolation and makes a compelling, practical case that integrating teenagers into our congregations really can happen. I can’t think of a single church that won’t benefit from this book.
Mark DeVries is the author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, the founder of Ministry Architects, and served 28 years as a youth pastor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sam Halverson offers biblically grounded, theologically rich arguments for why churches must move away from the silo model of ministry that perpetuates the isolation and alienation of youth from the church, while providing compelling examples and ideas to show us how this can be done. Anyone committed to building a church alive with the energy and prophetic insight of young people should read this…and then show it to every leader in their congregation.
Dr. Elizabeth Corrie, Assistant Professor in the Practice of Youth Education and Peacebuilding and Director of the Youth Theological Initiative at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

download a free sample of sam’s book, or buy the whole thing on The Youth Cartel site.
or, get the kindle version or physical copy from amazon.

photo in need of a caption, hoopin’ j-man edition

i opened my blog this morning and thought, “today feels like a photo in need of a caption day.” maybe that was a prompting from the holy spirit; or maybe it was the carnitas i had for dinner last night.

either way: this gem is begging for captioning. best caption wins your choice of 6 new products The Youth Cartel is releasing in the next couple weeks:

whatcha got?

one on one with the lord

CONTENDERS

chunkypbj
Jesus Christ Superstar

Bethany Butterfield
Cleveland says, “Nevermind, LeBron.”

Cash
Jesus’ biggest foe on the court is Peter. Every time he drives to the hole, he gets DENIED!

AND THE WINNER IS…
close call between cash and bethany; but the scales just barely tipped to bethany. nice one, mrs. butterfield. i’ll contact you about your prize!

in defense of short term missions (with pictures!)

short term missions in youth ministry has been taking quite a bit of hits recently. and, honestly, i agree with a good bit of the criticism. but i think much of the criticism misses a few extremely important points and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

take, for instance, this huffpo blog post i read last week (but was posted earlier this year), called The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism. the author recalls the savior complex she brought to her orphanage visit, and the horrendous construction work done by her group of teenage girls that required local men to come during the night and completely undo and redo the work. based on her experience with a poorly executed trip, the author suggests:

It turns out that I, a little white girl, am good at a lot of things. I am good at raising money, training volunteers, collecting items, coordinating programs, and telling stories. I am flexible, creative, and able to think on my feet. On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be.

I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5′ 4″ white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.

and her “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” final conclusion:

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip.

this, i believe, is unfortunately misinformed. i completely agree that there are some missions trip that are ill-conceived, poorly executed, and focused almost exclusively on giving the american participants a warm fuzzy feeling. i completely agree that you shouldn’t take your youth group on a trip like this.

but the correction doesn’t have to have only the two options the author (and so many others) suggest: either have a useful skill, or don’t go. instead, there are other very helpful (essential!) ways to ensure that your trip isn’t voluntourism. they boil down to these issues:

  1. work with an organization that is imbedded in the local culture.
  2. work with an organization that ruthlessly cultivates long term local relationships of trust from an unflinching commitment to serving the vision of local, indigenous leaders.
  3. prep your team effectively, so they come to serve, rather than to be either “saviors” or tourists.

here’s what i saw again this past week in belize, during my time here with Praying Pelican Missions:

people like this decide what needs to get done (the guy on the left, that is). that’s pastor henry, pastor of sand hill baptist church and a national leader in the belize baptist church. HE decides, not the visiting groups or PPM.
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skilled laborers are employed for construction projects, like this construction worker on a site i visited this week:
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but no particular skill is needed to mix cement and do other grunt work. in this case, the visiting group of teenagers and some teens from the church worked side-by-side on the non-skilled grunt work.
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kids min doesn’t focus on conversions. in this fantastic case, belizians led parts of the kids min (they’re the up front people during this time of singing), and visiting americans help where they’re helpful (running games, doing crafts).
kids min

and when an orphanage with wonderful leadership says “we’re short-staffed, and the children don’t get as much touch and play as we would like them to have,” well, it doesn’t take much skill to be present to a child who’s not experiencing much of childhood.
IMG_4785

so, yes, let’s absolutely be thoughtful and super cautious. let’s stay away from voluntourism and colonialism and savior complexes and helping that hurts. if your trips include any shade of those mindsets, repent, and find a new missions trip provider. but even if you wouldn’t think of knowingly taking your youth group on “bad” trip, don’t allow your good and healthy aversion to those sins keep you from helping teenagers participate in kingdom work in the world. just make sure you and the organization you work with or through is ruthlessly committed to (and has a track record of living out) the values i’ve suggested here.


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Aaron and Hur were onto something

I spent the day Saturday with Pastor Ed and Pastor Rosaura, both passionate and visionary church leaders in Belize. No question about it, they stirred up my faith, challenged my half-hearted commitment, and embodied the true definition of the word “pastor” in ways most of us rarely encounter.

Pastor Ed was the leader of a small, struggling church. He and his wife felt called to intentionally and proactively launch a community children’s ministry. But when they sought the input of their church leadership, the vision was voted down. They took it to their denominational leadership and received the same negative response. Not able to shake their sense of calling, they stepped down from their church and launched a children’s ministry with no safety net, no support systems.

Now, a few years later, Pastor Ed and his wife lead Koinonia ministries–a revolutionary children’s ministry in their town of Orange Walk, Belize. Ed told me that in Belize, children begin taking on significant responsibilities at about age 5, and rarely get a chance to be children. So a big part of their ministries is just to allow kids to be kids. Their ministry might not look revolutionary to American church leaders who see robust and well-financed children’s ministry all the time; but in Belize, hardly anyone is doing stuff like this.

I happened to be in Orange Walk on one of three Saturdays in the year when Koinonia holds their “children’s fair.” At the fair, kids brought in little play money they had “earned” in a variety of ways over the last few months. Then they used the “money” to play carnival games where they won school supplies (there are no free schools in Belize, and both the cost of school and the cost of school supplies is a significant hurdle for many families).

Check out the joy on these kids’ faces:

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Oh, and as the parents of these hundreds of kids started to hang around, many of them began asking for a church. Koinonia church now has about 80 people (large for a Belizian church) meeting under an awning on the side of Ed’s house.

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And Ed has a vision for training children’s workers all over Belize and Central America. He now has about 200 children’s ministry leaders from all denominations (ministries across denominational lines is extremely rare in Belize), including Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and even Old Order Mennonite, coming to Koinonia three times a year for training. Next week, Ed and some of his young leaders are traveling to Guatemala and Honduras to lead children’s ministry training sessions.

Ed and his wife have basically given up everything to follow this calling; but he is clearly living the fullness of life in a way that most people never realize.

Then Ed took me to meet Pastor Rosaura. Honestly, I found her little village of Caledonia a bit depressing. Or, at least, let’s say it would be a tough place to minister. Isolated and small (2000 people), with all the societal challenges that come with being a poor, isolated village. Rosaura and her church leadership team greeted us warmly and shared with passion about their very, very local commitment. This woman has a love for her village that is palpable.

Two years ago, she was deeply discouraged. Her tiny church was struggling, and none of her vision for her village was being realized. But through an introduction from Pastor Ed, Praying Pelican Missions showed up and asked if they could bring groups to help her. Hearing her tell the story of these past few years, and how things have very much turned around for this little (but growing) church, she was full of hope. And what was clear to me was that it wasn’t really about the projects that the visiting PPM groups did; it was that someone saw them, that the groups who were willing to come to Caledonia were a clear indicator to Rosaura that God had not forgotten them.

One of the best stories Rosaura told me was how she and her church leaders felt called to “anoint” their village. But they weren’t sure how to do it in a way that didn’t create friction or alienation. So after praying about it for a while, they collected hundreds of pebbles. They put the pebbles in a large bag and coated them with oil, praying over them. Then, in the middle of the night, they prayer-walked through the entire village and dropped a pebble in each yard.

Here’s what struck me about Pastor Ed and Pastor Rosaura: they need Aarons and Hurs to hold up their arms (just like Aaron and Hur did for Moses when his arms grew tired while the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on their way out of captivity). Sure, they could use funding and resources. And, yes, the PPM teams that come and work with them are absolutely helpful. But these two leaders are not short of vision, not short of passion, and deeply know a God who is not short of meeting any need. What they DO need is people who say, “We believe in you, and we believe in your vision; and however we can help you, we’re committed to encouraging you with our presence.”


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“You think the gospel is boring? Come live with me for a week.”

Yesterday my Praying Pelican Missions (PPM) host drove me an hour west of Belize City to spend a few hours in the town of San Ignacio. I couldn’t help but think of Ignatius (the town’s namesake), the saint who instituted the Prayer of Examen, which calls us to reflect on where we saw God in both the life-giving and life-draining moments of our day. My middle school guys small group practices our own little version of this each week called “happy/crappy.”

And although life in San Ignacio is “crappy” by most American standards, I was almost overwhelmed by the quantity of “happy.” And I’m not just talking about a smiley feeling; I’m referring to the abundance of truly life-giving activity happening in and around San Ignacio. Much of this is due to a larger-than-life dynamo named Pastor Elizabeth and her family.

Pastor Elizabeth is exactly the sort of local church leader that PPM is laser focused on finding, then serving.

We drove to San Ignacio with Paula, Pastor Elizabeth’s 19 year-old daughter. This young woman has more maturity, drive and skill than most people a decade her senior. She leads trips for PPM, leads leadership development for Pastor Elizabeth’s church, and is responsible in one way or another for a myriad of creative outreach, community development, and leadership development initiatives.

IMG_4726We started with lunch at Pastor Elizabeth’s home (then ventured out to see many of their ministry initiatives). There were an extra half dozen people living in her very small and humble home at the time (not an uncommon occurrence, i came to discover), as people had need and she took them in. She served us a tasty meal and gushed energy and stories and life and Kingdom theology and embodied gospel like a freakin’ firehose for an hour, non-stop. Rarely in my life have I met an embodiment of living the gospel to the extent that I saw in Elizabeth.

Just a few of their ministries (most of which, visiting PPM groups sometimes help with, at Elizabeth’s request):

  • They found that many of the children coming to Sunday school on Sunday mornings were critically hungry (food scarcity is a significant problem in Belize). And even when the children do get meals, they are mostly starches and sugars. Elizabeth said to me, “When a child walks to church four miles for Sunday school and says “I’m hungry,” you can’t just say “Here’s a banana, I’ll pray for you.” So they started a feeding program for the children, which has grown to feeding 120 – 150 children each week. Elizabeth said she usually doesn’t know where the food will come from, but it’s always there, somehow.
  • At some point, they felt they needed a more dependable influx of protein. So they began a brilliant community development initiative. They build chicken coops for people (PPM teams often do this work), and stock them with 50 baby chicks (a particular chicken bred for meat), and give the family enough chicken feed for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, the chickens are ready to be eaten. 10 of the chickens go to the family who raised them; 10 of the chickens go to the church’s feeding program; and the remaining 30 chickens are sold to provide funding for additional coops and starter-chickens. All of this is slowly building to the goal of providing financial resources to families in need, and food provisions for the feeding program (which they’re hoping to expand to a daily meal).
  • Similarly, they’ve started community gardens to grow vegetables (there is a surprising shortage of vegetables in Belize).
  • A nearby community was desperately in need of clean water. Women and children were walking miles to get water from other sources, often not clean. So Elizabeth’s church (with the help of a PPM team) designed and installed a rainwater collection system in multiple locations with an expectation that the water would be shared with anyone who needed it.
  • Paula leads an outreach and discipleship ministry that might seem interesting in the American church, but is unheard of here in Belize. They start cell groups around affinities of people in the community: sewing (which is actually a skill-training cell group, leading to work options for the women), sports, music, and others. They find that people are very willing to join one of these cell groups, even if they would never step into church. These groups become leadership development for the young adults who lead them, and outreach and discipleship for those who attend.

Elizabeth told me a story: “I was preparing a meal for a group of people from our neighborhood. There were 20 people, and I only had 2 small chickens. I had no idea how the food was going to be enough; but I prepared it and served it, praying that Jesus would do something amazing. I don’t know why everyone seemed to want drumsticks that day, but way too many of them specifically asked for a drumstick. And I kept serving them drumsticks. At the end of the meal, I said, ‘Now, wait a minute. How many of you ate a drumstick?’ And too many hands went up. I said, ‘Leave the drumstick bones–I want to see them.’ I went around and counted 13 drumsticks. And these were not some sort of weird chickens!”

She hit me with “Miracles don’t happen if we just sit there. We have to step out.” And she drove home the point with, “I tell people, ‘You think the gospel is boring? Come live with me for a week.'”


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Belize in the Lord with all your heart

today i’m flying to belize, a small country in central america. for some reason, not fully understood by me, i’ve always been curious about Belize. maybe it’s because it’s the only country in central america that has english as its official language. belize is on the gulf of mexico, with mexico to the north, and guatemala (a country i’ve been to a dozen times) to the west and south.

i’m not going on vacation. i’m going to see the work of Praying Pelican Missions. honestly, even though i’ve been in youth ministry since just after ronald reagan took office, i’d really not heard of PPM until a couple years ago. i mean, there sure are a lot of short term missions groups to choose from these days.

but after adam and i went to haiti with PPM last summer (see my posts from that trip here, here, here, here, and here), they have become my number one recommendation for youth groups doing international missions trips. i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done well. and i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done poorly. and i can truly say that i don’t know how i would improve on PPM’s approach. they form long-term relationships with existing ministries led by indigenous leaders. then they work to serve the vision and needs of those indigenous leaders, careful to not replace local workers, careful not to make the trip about the visiting americans, careful not to manipulate or mislead or run some version of ogling feel-good tourism. really, i was SO completely impressed by their work in haiti (and by the haitian leaders they serve and support).

belize welcomebelize is PPM’s oldest field. and while adam went to guatemala with PPM a month ago to see their newest work, i’m excited to see the work in a place where PPM has had relationships for a very long time. i’ll be meeting many belizian ministry leaders and pastors, and will be joining with a youth group on their own trip for a few days.

at the end of my time, i’m going to spend 24 hours out on caye caulker, by myself, resting, collecting my thoughts, and processing what i’ve experienced (and maybe snorkeling, since caye caulker has the second largest barrier reef in the world).

so, pray for me, primarily that i will really see what god wants me to see (including that i’ll see god at work). i’ll be blogging a few times while i’m there, so you can check back to read my impressions and thoughts and stirrings.


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