Pivot

Pivot

Following our resignation from Advocates of Love, Lee and I knew we’d remain committed to working in service for the Lord. Be it mission work or some other form of ministry, there is no going back to the corporate nine-to-five life we left earlier this year. We don’t know what the future holds for us, but we do know change will be a constant (in the near term, at least).

With that come the requisite cosmetic changes to our social media presence. Our Facebook and Instagram pages have been renamed to reflect our new direction. We look forward to continuing to share with you our experiences that come as a result of working for God.

Our foreseeable future involves AirBNBs, the occasional hotel, and probably more drive-thru meals than one would consider to be healthful. Still, we welcome the uncertainty with a sense of wonder and adventure, and we know that in surrendering our lives to the Lord, His provision is all we need.

We must, however, do our part and be diligent in seeking out our next ministry opportunity. Selling all we had to move to the Dominican Republic has been a complete blessing.  As a result, Lee and I have the flexibility to go anywhere the Lord directs us. So if you know of any churches that may be adding staff, please let us know. If you’re aware of any mission organizations needing individuals to serve, please drop us a note. If your neighbor is looking to sell her SUV at a great price, definitely send us the info. If your relative has an empty house that needs to be rented, we may be interested.

We pray that having such a supportive network of family and friends will allow us to step into what God has in store for us next. We also ask you to keep us in your prayers as we turn the page into this new chapter of our lives.

Thank you again for the continued support and the outpouring of love. I look forward to keeping everyone abreast of what happens next.

Mission Initiated

Mission Initiated

“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.”

Oh My, God

THE BACKDROP

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.

THE TRIP

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.

THE CONVERSATION

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.

THE PATH

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.

THE RESOLVE

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.

Whip, whip
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.

 

****UPDATE******

A picture I took of the beach area that is just a 5-minute walk from the orphanage.

Beacon

I’ve been with my employer for over seventeen years now. I interviewed for my first job with them back in 1997 (I started out as a contractor in ’96), and have since moved on to different positions in different departments. What is interesting is that as I moved from group to group, I never interviewed for the positions in those groups. Rather, through varying circumstances and specifics, I was selected to move into new positions along the way.

The one position in which I learned and grew the most – managing production database administrators for almost ten years – came about because of a hallway conversation. I was with a peer of mine walking the hallways on our way back from lunch. Her friend (my eventual boss) was walking in the opposite direction and stopped to talk to her. I kept going to my desk, and my coworker joined me there about ten minutes later.

“Gary is going to be calling you to see if you’re interested in a position on his team.”

“Who?”

“Gary. The man I was speaking to in the hall.”

“Why is he going to call me? How does he even know who I am?”

“He says he’s been in a couple of proposal meetings with you, and he likes what he’s seen, and thinks you’d be a good fit for his team.”

Long story short, Gary ended up adding me to his team. After some time working for him, I asked him about that fateful afternoon. He summarized it this way. “Although you may not realize it, you’re always interviewing for your next job.”

***

Lee and I started a new small group this morning at our church. The group meets at 6:00 AM, but that’s not the crazy part. What is really eye-opening, to me at least, is the group is entitled, “30 Days to Understanding the Bible.” Lee and I have done many small groups before, but they’ve always focused around a book we’d all read and discuss together. It was more book club and very much less Bible study. The group we’re in this semester, however, is full-on Bible study.

As we dove into the the book (written by Max Anders), one phrase caught my attention. “We are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners.” That’s a powerful statement, and one that paints a picture, to me at least, of everyone in the water trying not to drown. Some are able to tread water better than others, their faith and obedience support them and help keep them better afloat. Others drown under the weight of their sinful nature. Still others struggle, often finding calm, often finding panic, always in need of life line.

Lifeline

And that is what Jesus is for us, the life line. He is the ultimate life saver. We need to remember that no one is in the boat. No matter how holy, spiritual, or religious a person may be, we’re all sinners in need of the Lord’s redemptive salvation. But the experience that is a faith journey does not end once we catch the ring that will keep us from drowning. Instead, that moment is one in which we’re called – better yet, compelled – to turn around and cast that life saver to someone else who needs it.

As Christ followers, we are all called to be ministers of His love and grace. I used to think ministry was about being extremely well versed in the Bible. I used to believe I needed higher education or time in a seminary in order to move in a direction of ministry. Instead I’ve learned that through our actions to and for others, as well as our witnessing to others about our faith, we are ministering. Oftentimes, we’re better suited to evangelize His word as individuals with titles like Analyst or Banker or Program Manager than we are if we had the title of Pastor or Deacon or Priest, simply because others may be more inclined to listen to what we have to say, as opposed to immediately putting up a defensive front to the “religious person.”

And you never know whose life you will impact with your words and actions. You never know who may have an “a ha” moment with regards to giving their life to Christ simply because you chose to share your story with them. We are called to be beacons of light to those who are living in darkness. We are called to take our drowning neighbor’s hand and help them grasp the life line. We are called to give to others what God has so graciously given to us.

And although you may not know it, you’re always ministering to the next follower.

Beacon of Light

“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” – 2 Timothy 4:5

Feet on the Ground

There are so many things that come to mind when I think about the word Mission. I think of an elite group of soldiers making their way through a South American jungle, en route to a specific location. I think of wordy statements corporations place on their websites, most of which go ignored by the companies’ employees. I think of a style of architecture popular in the Southwest.

…and yes, I think of Ethan Hunt precariously dangling from a cable in a sound and temperature sensitive computer room.

You've got the theme song stuck in your head now, don't you?
You’ve got the theme song stuck in your head now, don’t you?

But for the purpose of this particular post, my mission is to set you on a mission to help us take part in a mission trip.

In January, my wife and I will be joining other members of our church family in the Dominican Republic as part of a faith mission trip through Relevant Church. We’ve always wanted to be a part of a mission team, helping others in need, and Kingdom building here on Earth. Now we have a chance to do it, to be ‘feet on the ground’, and the part of something so much greater than we could offer as individuals.

But we need your help to get there.

We have a very modest goal of $2000. This will provide for the both of us to take part in the mission trip, and also covers our travel to the Dominican Republic and accommodations while we’re there.

If you’re interested in sponsoring us, Lee and I have set up a GoFundMe fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/gileeDR. Please note all donations made through our GFM page go directly to Relevant Church (we don’t hold any funds). If you prefer, you can donate directly through Relevant Church at bit.ly/Relevant_DR. And if you consider yourself old school, you can send a check, made payable to Relevant Church, to 1704 N. 16th St. Tampa, FL 33605. (Please be sure to include a note stating the donation is for Gil and Lee).

If you’re in a position where you can’t support us financially, you can still help us out by keeping us in your prayers. Additionally, you can share this post with your friends, as well as online via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Lee and I are blessed to have such a wonderful network of family, friends, and peers, and even if a small percentage of that network donated just $5 each, we’d easily reach our goal.

We want to thank you in advance for your time, generosity, and prayers. We hope we can be a reflection of your love and inspiration to those most in need in the Dominican Republic.

DR Mission Trip
Please help us reach our goal so we can be a part of something great for His Kingdom and His glory.

Jesus Was A Badass

Earlier this month I was blessed to be able to get out of our old SUV and into a new car. Modernized technology, better fuel economy, working air conditioner: it was really nice to be ‘out with the old and in with the new’. After many hours finalizing everything at the dealership, Lee and I sat in the car ready to drive it home.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man waving at us in the dealership’s parking lot. Still focusing on getting the mirrors adjusted and the seat just right, I simply assumed it was someone from the dealership that needed to tell us one last thing about the car. I opened the window, and the young man asked me a question. With a saddened and distressed look in his eyes, he asked if I would call the police because he was seriously thinking of killing himself.

We did call the police*. Our sales rep at the dealership came over and spoke with him (and he was great with the man, BTW). I simply stood in the background, motionless and quiet. I can’t explain why, but I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do nor what to say. I allowed perceptions and ill-conceived notions to cloud my head, and on my way home, I cried because I was ashamed. In a moment of ministry, I slinked into a corner and let others do the work.

If I claim to be a Christ follower, why was it that in that very moment, I did the exact opposite of what Jesus himself would have done? Jesus would have reached out to that man in compassion. I thought only of myself and held back. Jesus would have offered love and understanding. I offered skepticism and cautious hesitation. Jesus would have been fearless (as he always was). I let fear divert me from what He was calling me to do.

We don’t often think of Jesus as fearless. We don’t think of Him as the guy who didn’t concern himself with the opinions of others. You never hear anyone refer to Christ as a badass. But think about it. He really was. He challenged the status quo. He compelled others to think beyond their human limitations, and to act out of love and service for others. He tactfully turned the manipulation of those who opposed him into learning experiences for all. Jesus’ deft way about Him was truly badass.

This morning I was walking into Starbucks, my eyes cloudy and groggy from not getting enough sleep. A man at a table outside the store looked at me and said, “Good morning.” I don’t think I acknowledged him. I remember my first (and selfish) thought being, “I don’t have time for this right now.”

I went inside, ordered my coffee, and waited. Your typical Starbucks routine. As I waited, the image of the man from the car dealership popped in my head. I remembered the redness in his eyes from the crying he’d been doing. I remembered his body language, full of pain and yearning. I heard a voice in my head say, “You DO have time for this.”

The barista called my name. I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

“You DO have time for this.”

I turned to the man outside and wished him a good morning. I sat at the table with him and just started talking. I asked him if he’d had breakfast yet (he hadn’t). I then let him speak to me about his recent troubles. We chit-chatted for a while. His name is Ron. He an Italian-German former truck driver who’s apparently traversed Pinellas and Hillsborough counties by foot. He went on to tell me he is a disciple of God. I told him I like to think of myself as one too. Then, as if by instinct, I reached out, grabbed his arm, and we prayed.

Others were walking in and out of the store. I could feel their glances. I could almost hear them think to themselves, “What the hell?” But in that moment, I didn’t care. In that moment, I was obedient to His calling and what it was He wanted me to do. In that moment, I followed Jesus’ example and reached out to a brother in need. I like to think it made a difference for Ron, but I honestly will never know. I can, however, tell you it made a difference for me.

This morning’s experience with Ron was uplifting. It was also personally rewarding. And in many ways, it was very badass.

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

Acts 20:24 NLT

No Fear

*Lee followed up the next morning with the Pasco County Sheriff’s office and was able to confirm the man had been Baker-acted and taken to a hospital.