That was the day Lee, myself, and the rest of the team from Relevant Church in Tampa embarked on our first-ever mission trip. We traveled to the Dominican Republic and lived so much in the short time we were there. It was life-changing for Lee and me in more ways than one.
The trip was made possible by coordination with SCORE, International. SCORE is a mission organization that uses sports, primarily baseball, to minister and kingdom-build around the world. They partner with churches, schools, athletic teams, and others through short-term mission trips to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.
My time with Relevant Church and my experience with SCORE (I participated in nine domestic and international trips in just under three years) is the foundation of my heart for ministry. God used that experience to prepare Lee and me to move to the Dominican Republic as full-time missionaries.
Although that experience ended prematurely, I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t think about the children and staff family we left in Samaná or the wonderful things we were able to accomplish in the short time we were there.
So when Lee told me about a mission trip with SCORE to Honduras to help with disaster relief following Eta, my curiosity was peaked. I have the time, the financial commitment is manageable, and the idea of getting dirty for Jesus is always exciting to me.
I reached out to my friend at SCORE – Lee and I served with him on one of our trips to Cuba – and he gave me all the details. It was simple: pay for the trip, book a flight, and let’s go.
Turns out it wasn’t so simple.
I’ve never seen this before. Flights to Honduras were all in the four-figure range. When I realized the least expensive flight is $1700 (with two connections, BTW), I chuckled to myself, “Perhaps God just doesn’t want me to go.” But I persisted and tried other search sites and varying combinations of departure cities – Am I REALLY willing to drive back to Miami just to make this trip work? – but to no avail. The flight component was just cost-prohibitive.
I stepped away from my laptop, took my dog for a walk, and had a conversation with God. “If it’s your will, God, it’s your bill.” My pastor in Tampa taught me that one.
I came back and jumped into flight searches again. But before the page for Kayak could load, I saw a news alert about ANOTHER storm in the Caribbean, this one heading to Central America again! The forecast for the storm has it over Honduras on the day before we would arrive in Tegucigalpa.
“You’re not going on this trip!”
God’s voice was loud and clear. This was no whisper. It was an emphatic ‘No!’
Given the new chapter in my life right now, I really wanted this trip to happen. I really wanted it to work out. But I know there is providence in the fact it didn’t, and perhaps God is protecting me by keeping me at home.
In my experience with mission work, I liked to say there are people who serve as boots on the ground and there are people who provide the financial resources for the people who are boots on the ground. God may be telling me to sit this one out, but He is also reminding me of the blessing and provision He’s provided in our lives. We are going to support our friends at SCORE and their relief efforts in Honduras. If you’re inclined to do so, I invite you to do the same.
But it doesn’t have to be SCORE and it doesn’t have to be Honduras. Find a cause that speaks to your heart and let your feelings of thanksgiving manifest in the form of your generosity. It’s by giving and living generously that we give back to God and emphatically say ‘Yes’ to Him.
A year ago today was my last full day of work with Verizon. After twenty-one years with the company, God had decided it was time for me to go in a new direction. And what a completely different direction it was!
But then things went proverbially sideways with our mission life in the D.R., and after much soul-searching and wrestling with God, we made the decision to resign and come home.
It was four weeks ago today we boarded a flight to come back to the States. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least, since we’ve returned. Reconnecting with family and friends has been good for our souls, and there is the deilghtful, romantic notion of living like gypsies, bouncing among AirBNB’s and guest rooms at friends’ homes. But my heart still hurts from experiencing a dream die and having to say goodbye to so many people that I came to love so much.
I keep mentioning in conversations with others that Lee and I failed as missionaries. Even though we did a lot of good work in the five brief months we lived in Samaná, the fact we are no longer there is, in my opinion, indicative of the fact we did not succeed in realizing our dream. Yet I know we can only grow from this experience and use what we’ve learned to do bigger and better things in the next chapter of our lives. I am very much leaning on the wise words of Ray Dalio:
Everyone fails. Anyone you see succeeding is only succeeding at the things you’re paying attention to—I guarantee they are also failing at lots of other things. The people I respect most are those who fail well. I respect them even more than those who succeed. pic.twitter.com/hGmQwehXSv
Having stepped out in obedience by selling everything and going into the mission field has us now in a very unique place to be very flexible for whatever – and wherever – God has in store for us. We don’t know what that is. Lee and I are praying an opportunity in ministry will present itself, but as of right now we remain proverbially homeless and unemployed.
Still, we know God will provide as He did through every day and every event of this past year. We are not worried. We are not panicked. We are confident because we worship a faithful and loving God. And as I mentioned in the closing of my Facebook post from last year: God is Great!
“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” – Romans 12:12 NLT
Never pray for patience, because when you do, God is more than happy to put you in situations where you need patience. Ever since Lee and I moved here to the Dominican Republic, I think I’ve prayed for patience on a daily basis. I know what you’re thinking, but you should know that living in the D.R. and being put in situations where you need patience are redundant.
::whispering:: Be the church. Be the church. Be the church.
The second thing I think of is the chorus of perhaps my favorite Guns N’ Roses song called Patience. Although the song is about a relationship between a man and a woman, the lyrics of the chorus are applicable in any stressful, p.i.t.a. situation.
::singing in my head:: ♫ All we need is just a little patience. ♫
Today we completed some back to school shopping for some of the kids, and the scene inside the store we visited can be best described as chaotic. For reasons I can’t really explain (yet I understand because I grew up in Miami), the people here seem to be very impatient. Don’t get me wrong; Dominicans are sweet and friendly and inviting and generous, but they are absolutely not zen-like. Just spend a minute driving on the roads and you’ll understand.
So when there are nine people in line and there is only one person at the cash register, the vocal opinions start flying. Comments about how there should be other registers open abounded. People began looking to cut in line because they only had one item to buy. The atmosphere grew toxic quickly.
::singing in my head:: ♫ All we need is just a little patience. ♫
It’s important to note the store was not air-conditioned, the outside temperature was about 90 degrees, and it had just finished raining, so humidity was at a million percent. It was hot, sticky, crowded, noisy, the lady behind me was jabbing my ribs with her shopping basket, and there was a man in the corner that kept looking at me funny.
::singing in my head:: ♫ You and I just use a little patience. ♫
In looking at the lady working the register, you can see her counting the minutes in her head until closing time. She was being berated by customers, sometimes verbally, almost always visually. I stepped up to pay for my items, Axl Rose’s whistling still playing in my head.
I said hello and I wished her a good day. Startled, she looked up from her register as if in shock anyone would offer her a gesture of kindness. I smiled at her and she smiled back, I think more out of instinct than out of genuine reciprocation. We completed the transaction and I thanked her for her help. She looked at me and thanked me with her eyes. It was only a split second, but I can see it was a moment of relief she was able to experience before diving once again head first into the hornet’s nest.
::whispering:: Be the church.
Now I know this post smacks of humble-brag, but what I want to share is this: goodness begets goodness. In this particular case, patience begat kindness. For me, it became apparent all my prayers for patience were not for my benefit but rather for the benefit of others. All my hours in the proverbial furnace were not so I could appreciate the splendor of the refinement. They were so the woman at the register could have a tiny moment of joy in an otherwise joyless situation.
God does not work on us for our sake alone. God works on us for the betterment of His kingdom. And the thought of being an instrument for His glory is music to my ears.
I would not be where I am today if not for the wonderful friends I’ve made as a result of the band Sister Hazel. I refer to them as my music family, and I’ve met these individuals either directly or as a result of my being a music fan.
Lee and I are living in the pool house of our friends Jeff and Lindsey. We met Lindsey back in 2006 at a music event. She and I even jumped out of a plane together one year later. We’re living in their pool house because we’re selling our house in Tampa so that we can transition to mission work in the Dominican Republic. Our introduction to Advocates of Love, the non-profit through which we’ll be working, was through my other friend Jeff whom we met – again – through a music event. We were even introduced to our church in Tampa through a friend we made via our music community.
To me, these people with whom I share my life are more than just friends. They’re family. They’re inner-circle confidants whom I trust with any struggle I may be facing. They are individuals I can call at any hour of the day should I need help. They are people with whom I have traveled for vacations, concerts, and religious retreats. They are my Framily.
It was great to have one of our framily members stop by this evening as she’s on her way to be with her daughter who is expecting. Lee and I first met Michelle back in 2006, and we’ve shared a wonderful friendship over the years. It still baffles me to think her daughter Chloe, who was eleven years old when we met her, is now married and on the verge of being a mother.
To share time and experiences with those close to you is what life is all about. To see children become adults and to be a resource to them as they continue to mature is a basic version of what discipleship is. I love my framily, and I love how they’ve been there for me every step of the way on my journey. And I love we got to savor that again to tonight.
This evening, Lee and I joined Jeff and Lindsey for their LIfe Group through CrossPointe Church. It was hosted by Jeanie and Larry, and Charlie lead the discussion. I wish I could remember their last names, but the thing is we met so many people this evening, many of the names are a blur. I was taken aback by the turnout. It was truly remarkable.
Lee and I have been taking part in life groups with our church since 2009, and I know I would not be where I am today if not for the learning and shared experience of those weekly get-togethers with other members of my church. Life groups were, if you will, the prerequisites I needed in order to make the move to Bible college.
Still, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a group with such a healthy turnout as the one we saw tonight. It was so heartwarming to not only see so many members of CrossPointe make it to their life group, we also were received with such open and hospitable arms. Although we were guests, we were immediately made to feel as part of this church family.
Jeff and Lindsey are our spiritual advisors, and we sharpen each other with regards to matters of life and faith. I am so happy they’ve found such a vibrant and encouraging church home in CrossPointe.
Where you worship matters, and with whom you share your faith matters. God did not design us to do life by ourselves, and I greatly encourage you to plug into a life group (growth group, e-group, small group) should your church offer such a program. We grow in Christ when we celebrate our faith through fellowship with others.
As we continue to get everything ready to move temporarily to Georgia and then permanently to the Dominican Republic, one of the items of concern was how to get all my tools down to the D.R. I have a hodge-podge collection of tools, some I’ve purchased, most I inherited from my father. They’re all gathered among several toolboxes and tool bags, with no sense of order or organization whatsoever. For someone like me who embraces his O-C-D, this chaos drives me a bit crazy.
Since we made the commitment to become full-time missionaries, Lee has been searching for the perfect ‘every day’ bag, something in which she can carry her Bibles, tablet, materials, etc. Late last month, she came across Better Life Bags and fell in love with one of their items. Even though these bags are handmade and cause driven, the price was a little on the cost-prohibitive side.
That moment you find the perfect bag….the one you’ve been searching for over the past 2 months…and I mean the PERFECT bag to carry around my ‘missionary’ supplies once we get to the DR (bible, Chromebook, journal, etc)….only to realize it is $252. Doesn’t exactly scream missionary now does it?!? Haha
As it turns out, Lee’s friends decided to bless her with the bag, so Yay God for the gift and the support from those close to Lee.
I have a messenger bag I used for my classes at Trinity College which will work perfectly for me in the same capacity, but I can really use something to consolidate my tools. Well, this evening Lee decided to bless me with a new toolbox set, one with which I can both organize my tools AND transport them down to the D.R.
I was going to go with a smaller and much more affordable solution by Stanley, but the unit felt VERY plastic and I just knew it would not survive a flight to the D.R. By contrast, I’ve seen this model of Ridgid boxes make it to the D.R. on more than one occasion given it’s what my friend Amanda used to take down her tools for our mission trips through Relevant Church.
So a world of thanks to my wife and Yay God for the continued blessings in this transition experience. And for the record, my new toy is still half the cost of her new bag. #justsayn
It was a strange and almost surreal experience, standing up in front of the congregation while my Pastor spoke loving, kind, and supportive words about me and the faith journey I am on. It was all part of the process of being ordained through my church and carrying with me the fully certified and recognized authority that comes with the title.
My new faith journey began in June of 2009 when my wife and I attended Relevant Church for the first time. Since then, Lee and I plugged into service ministry, small groups, volunteer efforts, and mission trips. I feel our spirituality has grown exponentially since we discovered: faith is about a relationship and not religion, faith is meant to be done in community, and that through our individual faith in God we are stronger together as a couple.
So as Pastor Paul completed the presentation of the certificate of ordination, I felt Lee’s name deserved to be on that certificate as much as mine. I would not be the man of Christ I am today if not for her guidance, direction, and support. I would not be on the cusp of moving to the Dominican Republic if not for her shared enthusiasm and determination to do God’s work. I may have attended the classes at Trinity College of Florida, but Lee was with me every step of the way.
It is an honor and a blessing to be able to celebrate this milestone in my life, and I owe a world of thanks to everyone who also helped make it possible along the way. I feel I am a reflection of the collective love and support I’ve received from my friends and family, and I hope I will continue to be a positive representative of this loving community in the years to come.
On a completely separate tangent, I sent a photo of me to our Technical Director Jarrett asking him if it could be included in the service. It was a picture from my First Communion, and no, it did not end up as part of the service. Although Jarrett wanted to use the pic, Pastor Paul was not on the same page.
Those in attendance at Relevant may have been deprived of this glorious artistry, but you won’t be. So please, enjoy!
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.
“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.
I was once in a management training program at work. The class was asked the question, “What is the difference between a manager and a leader?” The class was silent. I raised my hand and said with a half-chuckle, “a leader will take you to the top of the mountain. A manager will take the credit for getting there.” The instructor was amused – I think – and asked me where I learned that. Without hesitation I replied, “here.”
I’ve been in the corporate world since I graduated from college in 1994. In those 20+ years I’ve seen and worked with a wide variety of bosses, managers, and leaders. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the person who is an effective manager and also a natural leader is the exception to the norm. More rare than that are the servant leaders, those who are in positions of leadership and authority who also have no problem rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty with the people she or he leads.
Today I am thankful for the Paul Wirth, the pastor of Relevant Church. Paul is a servant leader. Paul is not only willing, he is eager to get in and ‘do’ with the other members of the congregation. Paul leads by example. Paul is MY pastor.
I had an assignment for school regarding evangelism and discipleship, and how much of the annual budget is designated for such programs. Paul was willing to meet me this evening to discuss the assignment. We met at a Starbucks – Paul and I share an affinity for lattes – and after initial chit chat and mutual coffee sipping, we tackled the assignment.
I thought the discussion would be mostly in the realm of finances, with me perusing spreadsheets and other planning documents used by Relevant. Instead, Paul took a deep breath and proceeded to explain. “Everything a church does has something to do with evangelism and discipleship, because that is why the church exists,” he said. He went on to further outline how every ministry within Relevant is aligned with evangelism and discipleship in some shape, way, or form. Everything Relevant Church does has to do with sharing the Gospel and having people take their next steps in relationship with Christ.
Having been a member of Relevant since 2009, I can attest how true his words are. Relevant, in all it does, is aligned with Paul’s vision of teaching every person to love Christ with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Not only am I thankful for Paul and his willingness to take time out of his day to meet with me, I am so grateful for being able to be a part of Relevant Church. Relevant is my spiritual home, and the people with whom I get to share my Jesus journey are my family. It truly is a blessing to do life with them.