Yesterday I wrote about things I am going to miss once Lee and I move to the Dominican Republic. Tonight’s post is kinda’ the opposite, but not entirely.
To say my music family has changed my life is a dramatic understatement. When you follow the dominoes that have fallen, it’s very clear Lee and I would not be preparing for this move into full-time mission work if not for our music family. We ended up at Relevant Church as a result of being invited by our friend whom we met through our music family. Our introduction to Advocates of Love came as a result of my best friend whom – again – I met through our music family. Being introduced to that community of friends back in 2006 has been life-changing.
Part of this music family experience had been The Rock Boat, a floating music festival that is the best vacation you’ll barely remember. Lee and I have had the pleasure of taking part of seven TRB’s, and each one has been uniquely special. From our first in 2007 to our last in 2015 (we missed a couple of years here and there), thinking back on TRB memories makes my heart smile.
I say “last” one because we sailed on TRB XV a day after returning from our first ever mission trip in January 2015. Even though we had a good time, there was something off about that boat. For Lee and me, it was not the go-for-broke party atmosphere we’d enjoyed on previous cruises. Rather, there was an almost somber undercurrent, a whisper from God telling us TRB XV was our last hurrah.
He was preparing us for our next steps.
So here I am, on the sail away day for TRB XVIII, seeing the Facebook posts from literally hundreds of my friends who set sail for five excellent days of music, sun, fun, and killer hangovers. And it’s interesting how The Boat is no longer a priority in my life. Instead, I am filling my days with process steps I need to complete in order to move to a foreign country and serve God with the work my wife and I do.
Just like with old computers when you’d run a defrag command in order to re-order the hard drive, God performs a spiritual defrag in us according to His will. Things we once thought were important are moved out of the way in order to make more room for Him.
Would I like to be on a music cruise with my friends right now? Of course! Is it where I need to be right now? Not even close. Where I need to be is here, prepping my house so I can sell it, reaching out to other ministry organizations seeking partnership opportunities, and praying everything for which we’re hoping comes to fruition.
So instead of pining away about a ship that has already set sail (literally), I’ll close out with a nostalgic look back at what used to be. Enjoy.
We spent more time at the children’s home today, and since they were out of school (teacher’s workday), we got there early and filled our morning with games and smiles and hugs. Around noon, Lee and I trekked out into Samaná proper to check out what that port town looks and feels like. We wanted the opportunity to know what to expect in terms of the municipality itself should God confirm this missionary opportunity for us.
We drove the thirty minutes to the city, and we were accompanied by Dairon, a volunteer at the children’s home and brother to Hellen Jimenez, one of the board members of the Dominican NGO. We came across a little restaurant the serves mostly seafood and has a nice view of the bay. What we discovered is a potential ‘date night’ spot should Lee and I end up moving to the D.R.
To say the food was amazing is an understatement, and when we received the bill, we were pleasantly surprised to find it to be less than half what we expected to pay for the equivalent meal in the U.S. I looked at Lee and said, “I think we may be coming here quite often.”
All in all, I think it was yet another instance of God winking at us and reaffirming that by acting out of obedience, blessings will follow.
Our first day at the children’s home in Samaná was amazing. It was so great to see the kids I’d met last December once again, and also to see how they responded and reacted to Lee. It’s been my experience on previous mission trips to the D.R. that once I start speaking Spanish, natural barriers people tend to put up start coming down. So I was curious as to how the kids at the Advocates of Love home would respond to Lee, a blonde-haired and blue-eyed woman who doesn’t speak an ounce of Spanish.
Needless to say, the loved her. Those kids are so full of joy, they threw themselves at her, wrapping their little arms around her as if they’d known her and loved her all their lives. It was heartwarming and endearing to see the reaction on Lee’s face as she withstood the avalanche of attention and affection from the kids at the home.
Having the kids like you is the easy part, but the real reason we were there was to make sure Pastor Elias and his wife Hellen, both board members of the Dominican NGO that was set up in order to establish the children’s home, deemed us capable and appropriately committed for the role of missionaries to run the children’s home. It was, in essence, an interview so Hellen and Elias could get to know us and understand how we came to be called to this opportunity.
Although having a conversation among four people were only two people are bilingual can be tricky, the overall meeting went very well. We sat in rocking chairs on the porch of Casa Rosa, the new dormitory house for the girls under the care of Advocates of Love, and discussed a wide variety of topics and issues pertaining to the role Lee and I seek to fill. We concluded the two-hour conversation with very positive feelings and increased aspirations of being able to make the transition to full-time mission work as soon as possible.
As with all things, however, there’s a process, and for now the process calls for us to wait. We’ll have to wait until the respective boards (both in the U.S. and the D.R.) can meet, discuss, and decide to select us to be the Directors of the home. As antsy as that makes me, I know that God’s timing is always perfect.
So excited to be traveling to the Dominican Republic for a site visit to the children’s home in Samaná. God willing, we’ll be able to return from this trip as fully approved and commissioned missionaries for Advocates of Love. But for now, it’s one more flight (Puerto Rico to the D.R.), then 2.5 hour drive to Samaná. The adventure is only beginning.
I was near my former elementary school this afternoon, and I was surprised to learn the Alapattah neighborhood of Miami is home to Little Santo Domingo. Miami has been a melting pot of Latin culture for over half a century, but I was not aware of exactly how pronounced of a Dominican community it possesses. Perhaps this is yet another wink from God to reinforce our call to serve.
Last night, Lee’s sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and his fiancé made the drive from Dothan, Alabama, to our house. They wanted to be here early in the morning so we could get started on packing up Patsy’s belongings into a truck and then make the six-hour drive back to ‘Bama. We spent the morning moving boxes, loading furniture, and getting creative with how best to fill the sixteen-foot Penske truck. My hat’s off to Lee’s nephew Hunter who Tetris’d the inside of that vehicle and made it all fit.
We said our goodbye’s at noon and off they went.
After a brief rest, Lee and I went out for a bite. As we sat at the restaurant exhausted, and while recapping the managed chaos that was the morning, the reality of the situation seemed to hit us both at the same time.
“I can’t believe we got it all to fit.”
“Mostly all of it.”
“True, but at least all the essentials are in the truck.”
*pregnant pause as we looked each other in the eyes*
“There’s no turning back now.”
And there it was, like a ton of bricks on our table. We knew for a month this day would come. We’d been discussing Patsy’s move for several years. Yet it felt almost surreal to be in the conscious understanding of the situation and having a, “Wow! This really happened,” moment.
As I mentioned yesterday, having my mother-in-law live with us was actually quite great. And although we were sad she was gone, the more pressing feeling at that moment was how we’d passed a proverbial point of no return. It was a tangible feeling of commitment to our call to move into full-time mission work.
Whether or not the opportunity in the Dominican Republic works out (we are very confident it will), the fact remains there’s no deviating from our plan to sell the house. Our next step is in ministry, and our next step does not involve our current home.
Yes, it can be a bit intimidating. If you let it, the anxiety can be overwhelming. But Lee and I have been operating from a place of obedience since we prayerfully decided to heed God’s call and go. And acting out of obedience means placing our full faith in God.
Coincidentally, we came across an ad for MyIntent.org, a site from which you can order bracelets and other items with your special, intentional word. For me, that word is Surrender. For Lee, her word is Brave. I think both words perfectly summarize our situation. We have the courage to move into the unknown because we surrender our fears to God.
Why would we ever want to turn back from that?
“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT
“It appears God is speaking to us through a big, bright neon sign, and I don’t think we can ignore it.”
Those were words spoken to me by my wife. Those are words that have become the bedrock of what appears to be the next chapter in our lives. Those are the words I hope serve as the foundation for God to one day look me in the eyes and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Shortly after moving to Tampa in July of 1996, I picked up a job at an internal helpdesk for GTE Data Services. I started out as a consultant (employed by a staffing company), and in August of 1997 I was hired by GTE to work directly for them. In the twenty years since, I’ve seen GTE become Verizon, held varying positions with differing responsibilities, and was able to create new opportunities for myself along the way. In November of this year, my manager informed me my position at Verizon was eliminated.
My first thought was job search. Even though I’d remain on the Verizon payroll through the end of the calendar year, and even though my severance package will provide a cushion that should last through the summer, I knew I had to get my resume in order and start networking. In a nutshell, my skillsets are very transferable but often difficult to quantify. I feel I’m an excellent manager, but how do you illustrate that on a C.V.? I am quite adept at process and project management, but every organization does things a little differently, and the metrics of my Verizon world may not necessarily translate to the world of a new employer (especially if the new employer is not in IT).
I promptly sent an email to my network of friends, family, and coworkers, and it was humbling to receive such supportive responses. I knew wherever I would land the opportunity would present itself as a result of who I know.
My best friend Jeff is a dentist and has been wanting to do some form of a dental mission trip for as long as I’ve known him. He’d been invited to take part in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic by an acquaintance of his named Mike who started an organization called Advocates of Love (AOL). AOL runs an orphanage in the Samaná province of the D.R., and Mike asked Jeff to join him on his next trip so he could learn about the facility, meet the kids at the orphanage, and see what could be done going forward regarding dental missions.
Having no experience with mission work, Jeff asked if I would accompany him on this trip. I said yes, our mutual friend – also named Jeff – said yes as well, and the three of us coordinated our plans to travel with Mike and Pedro, another member of AOL, to the D.R.
Bright and early on November 30, we boarded our flight for the first leg of the journey to Santo Domingo, and my world has not been the same since.
Our first leg was from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale. From there we boarded a flight to Santo Domingo, and I was able to sit next to Mike on that flight. I was eager to pick his brains about how and why he started the organization, the history of the orphanage, and what type of work we could expect to do once we arrived. Mike was more than happy to share his God-appointed story with me, and I was just left speechless at how time and time again God showed up in Mike’s life to make all these things happen.
I explained to Mike my wife and I have been tracking to move into mission work or ministry work full time, but not until after my son graduates from high school in May of 2019. I am very much a planner, and I like having a plan of attack for the next five years of my life. As I was telling Mike about my plans, I am pretty sure I heard God chuckle.
Me: “So Lee and I would like to be missionaries one day.”
Mike: “That’s interesting because we need a director for our orphanage in Samaná.”
Me: “Did I mention I just got laid off?”
What began as a tongue-in-cheek joke on the plane turned out to be God pressing on my heart and opening a new door for me. Over the next four days, I would spend time loving on kids, painting walls, cleaning up around a construction site, understanding what AOL does for the children and surrounding community, and praying. Lots and lots of praying.
I also spent lots of time on the phone with Lee, at first telling her what I was feeling. The conversations then grew into a discussion of, “I’m willing if you are.” Lee was supportive – actually downright enthusiastic – about the idea of running this orphanage in the D.R. The more she and I discussed it, the more it seemed to all make sense. Then we hit the, “what about…” questions. Through it all, we were blessed to have God reveal to us many answers to our concerns.
Mission work and ministry have been on my heart since Lee and I returned from our first mission trip to the Dominican Republic in January of 2015. As we arrived at the airport in Santo Domingo preparing to return home, we both shared a glance that confirmed to each other we’d be back. As time passed and we became more involved with mission work in our church – Lee and I are currently the mission team coordinators for Relevant Church – we both knew that when the time was right, we’d leave it all to become full-time missionaries. I even enrolled at Trinity College of Florida to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry. I completed my final class this past October.
What I didn’t know is that God’s will would supersede my plan. Theologically I knew that, but practically I was convinced my plan was a good one if not God ordained. But as the saying goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” From the moment I met Lee, I told her my vocation in life was to be the best dad I could be to my kids, and for me, that meant being available to them through high school graduation. June 2019 had become our target date for Gil and Lee 3.0
In all that time and through all the conversations, I ignored God’s nudging and His whispers. I justified such disobedience by pointing back to my plan and resting on the notion of being very comfortable with my job, one that allowed me to work from home and earn six figures. Life was good, and when I was ready, we’d make the move into mission work.
The funny thing is that God makes us move whether we’re ready or not. There is truth to the adage, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” In my case, He removed the barriers I created that, for me, were excuses for not making a move sooner.
“What about my job?”
“Don’t worry. I’m taking that away from you.”
“Okay, but what about this debt I’ve created?”
“Don’t worry. Here’s a severance package to help you with that.”
“But what am I going to do next? I need some form of income, and I don’t have time to fundraise.”
“Don’t worry. This is a salaried position.”
Every question I threw God’s way, He came back with an answer. He came back with the same assertive, almost trash-talking confidence we see in Malachi 3:10.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (NIV)
It’s as if God responded to each of my inquiries with, “Boom! Whatchu got?” To not listen and follow God would make me like the man in the ‘God Will Save Me’ joke.
There’s a song by Imagine Dragons called Whatever It Takes, and this recent experience has me perfectly identifying with the lyrics of that song.
Run me like a racehorse
Pull me like a ripcord
Break me down and build me up
Over the last month, God has broken me down and built me back up. He’s opened my eyes to what it means to step out in faith and in obedience. He’s made me understand what the meaning of the Abraham story is. I’d never been able to wrap my brain around Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son out of obedience to God, but I get it now. I better understand Elisha’s action of burning his plow when Elijah placed his mantle on him. I see more clearly now what Jesus means in the story of the rich man who was righteous but did not want to part with his possessions.
So loooooooong story short, Lee and I are moving to the D.R. More accurately, we’re praying the AOL board of directors formally approves us to be the next directors of the orphanage in Samaná, and we work out the transition and move details in January. Even if that should fall through, I know my next step is in ministry. The days of corporate America are over for me, and it’s time for me to work out of service to the Lord.
My friend and mentor Mickey Bane summarized the situation succinctly upon my return from my recent D.R. trip. He told me, “It’s not a matter of whether or not God is calling you to go. That’s obvious. The question is whether or not He’s calling you to stay; to stay in your nine-to-five, handcuffed to a career that doesn’t fulfill you.” To hear Mickey put it like that brought everything into clarity for Lee and me.
THE NEXT STEPS
There is still a lot to be done before Lee and I are drinking café under palm trees in Samaná. The first thing is prayer. As I mentioned earlier, we need the AOL board to extend us an offer for the position, and I believe the more people are praying for this opportunity to come to fruition, the better. We have to sell our house and downsize, and by downsize I mean sell just about EVERYTHING! We also must work out the logistical details that will come with moving to either another country, another state, or just a small apartment in Tampa.
Whatever God has in store for us, I know it will be perfect. Wherever He sends us, I know we will go. Like Elwood Blues would say, we’re on a mission from God
… a mission that is just getting started.