A Cycle of Thanksgiving

A Cycle of Thanksgiving

When Lee and I were in the Dominican Republic, doing laundry was a bit of an event. Not only did we have to wake up early to ensure we got at least one load done before the daily brown-out would occur (the electric company would shut off power to the area daily, usually around 10:00 o’clock ), we also had to make sure the forecast called for no rain. It was a blessing having a washing machine at our apartment complex, something about which we were reminded every time we saw people washing their clothes by hand down at the creek. Having clotheslines on which to hang our laundry was also a blessing but did make for quite a challenge for a first-worlder like me still working to acclimate to the environment.

Now that we are back in the States, Lee and I have a heightened sense of gratitude for the little things we took for granted before we left. Screens on windows, potable water from the faucet, the ability to flush toilet paper (that’s another blog for another day); all these things about which we didn’t think twice before we moved to Samaná are things we see now with a new sense of appreciation and thankfulness.

As I awoke this morning and got myself ready to kick off my day, I looked at the pile of dirty laundry in the hamper. I actually had to take a moment to counter-argue the initial thought in my head of, “It’s overcast today. I guess laundry will have to wait.” Then I remembered the AirBNB in which we’re staying has a washer AND a dryer!! And it’s not like we haven’t already done laundry since we’ve been here. We have. But given it’s only been a month since we’ve been back, there is still some re-acclimating we’re going through.

I miss our life in the D.R. I miss the children we served and the team we had that made it possible to serve. I miss the views from our apartment and our land-lady who was a proxy mom for me while I was there. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to have gone and for the experience we had, just as I am grateful to be back home with family and for the next opportunity God has in store for us.

And I am grateful for the freshly washed (and dried) laundry I have this morning. Yay God!

 

2018 – What a Year

2018 – What a Year

This is where I start.

Screenshot_20181226-094009

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!

In quick summary, we made the decision to go into the mission field, helped my mother-in-law move from our house to her new place in Alabama, visited the children’s home we’d be serving, got our house ready to be listed for sale, got rid of the last of our furniture, moved to Georgia, I almost died (slight hyperbole), I completed a solo site visit to the D.R., we finally sold our house, we spent most of June saying goodbye to everyone, and we moved to the D.R. in July. (A recap of our first two months in D.R. can be found here.)

2018 also saw me be ordained by my home church (Relevant Church) in Tampa, and had me mourning the passing of my aunt in Miami and my uncle in Puebla, Mexico. Lee and I were also blessed to be able to come home in September for her nephew’s wedding and to catch up with family and friends.

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:

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

Draft Dodger

Draft Dodger

I completed my travel arrangements today for my trip next week to the Dominican Republic. I am excited to get back to Samana and to those amazing smiles of the kids at the Advocates of Love orphanage.

But it dawned on me I’ll be travelling on Thursday, April 26 ….. the first night of the NFL Draft. I know it’s not a big deal, but how I do enjoy the pageantry and theatre that is the draft.

Still, when I think about the kids I’ll be see (all #1 picks in Jesus’ heart), it’s so worth it.

A Taste of Things to Come

A Taste of Things to Come

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.

The Process

The Process

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.

“I hope they let us know soon. I can bearly stand not knowing.”

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.