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.
There’s something healthy and heartwarming about taking time to look back and reflect on the recent moments of our life. As the year draws to a close, I, too, will take part in the unofficial tradition of recapping the year that was. This may be all over the place, so thank you in advance for your patience with my lack of cohesive thinking.
Kicking it Off Lee and I rang in the New Year with our dear friends Jeff and Lindsey. It wasn’t a crazy, NYE bash. It wasn’t a bunch of people reciting resolutions and singing Auld Lang Syne. Instead it was just the four of us, sitting in their lanai, talking about everything, and, as we always do, growing closer in Christ and community. Jeff and Lindsey are one of the couples with which we can openly discuss our faith journey, and they make us stronger because we share the same walk with Christ; four individuals growing closer to Him by sharing in fellowship and family. There was also that part where we shopped to make supply bags for the homeless and took the boat out on January 1st. I also had the opportunity to preach at a special worship service at my church.
The life changer – literally – came in the third week of the month when Lee and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to take part in the first ever mission trip for Relevant Church. The trip was very beta (we didn’t know what we needed to know), but it was eye-opening, informational, and just flat-out awesome. Partnering with SCORE International, we visited several villages in the vast sugar cane fields of Juan Dolio, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a house for women rescued from the nightmare of human trafficking.
It was all so amazing, and I wrote about my experiences while on the trip. The take-away, however, was what God would take away from my wife and me. As we returned home, our hearts were broken for Him and His will. Gone were the more material ambitions Lee and I shared for empty-nest life once my youngest graduates high school and goes off to college (2019). We had talked about downsizing and moving into a condo, perhaps in St. Petersburg. Instead, we left the D.R. feeling called to make the mission field the next chapter in our lives.
Lee and I decided to put things in motion to transition from 9-5 as we know it to full time missionaries in mid to late 2019. There was no doubt and no hesitation. We both knew it before we boarded the plane to come home that we’d be back, year after year, training and preparing to making serving others our new vocation.
God’s Take Away
As I mentioned above, God made room in our heart for His calling by taking other ‘stuff’ out of the equation. This was immediately visible to us as we came home from our mission trip and literally boarded a cruise ship the next day for the floating music festival that is The Rock Boat. We love The Rock Boat. Not only is the music amazing, it’s also our chance to connect with friends we get to see only once per year. Our music family is such a big part of our lives, and TRB is the annual family reunion. For Lee and me, TRB XV was our seventh Rock Boat. It was also our last.
From the moment we stepped on the ship, we knew this chapter in our lives was coming to a close. Our bodies were on the Norwegian Pearl, but our hearts were still in the D.R. Instead of thoroughly enjoying the performance by Bare Naked Ladies on the Lido Deck, all I could think of was how for what I paid for the bucket of beer at my feet, I could feed a family of four for a week back in Juan Dolio. For the most part, the entire trip was a reminder of that, – and perhaps it’s not a good idea to get on cruise immediately after a mission trip – but louder than the amazing music was God’s calling that it was time to make more room for Him by saying goodbye to one of things we love so much.
The Rest of January
Yes, there’s more for the month (and thank you for sticking with me this long). Coming back from TRB, we crashed at my friend’s house in Miami for a couple of days. This culminated in a fun Super Bowl party at his house and an impromptu drive to the Florida Keys. Lee had never made the drive to the Keys, and although we didn’t make it all the way down to Key West, the excursion was a new adventure for both of us to share, and we caught an amazing sunset in Key Largo.
In February we took in the State Fair (can you say ‘deep fried everything’?), and were fortunate to attend a fund raiser for John and Katie Zeller (Executive Director of SCORE International and his wife), at which we met the legendary Lou Piniella.
In March we did something completely different and took some time off to attend the 12 Hours of Sebring. Again partnering with our cohorts Jeff and Lindsey, we camped for four days next to the track in an RV, drank way too much beer, and just had a fantastic experience.
April and May saw us celebrate a milestone birthday for our close friend Ashley, another successful home rehab project through our church (be sure to check out the video), and my daughter’s soccer team winning a state title.
In June we we had the wonderful fortune to take my daughter to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was an amazing trip, and we fell in love with both cities. From museums to aquariums to stadiums and our first every Uber experience, the trip to the Pacific Northwest was once in a lifetime. We took in three World Cup matches, as well as a Seattle Sounders game. We got to see Abby Wambach play in her final World Cup, visited the original Starbucks, and went to the top of the Space Needle. It was an early 16th birthday gift for my daughter, and it created memories that will last a lifetime.
We celebrated the 4th of July on the East coast with Jeff and Lindsey, and our other dear friends Jeff and Ellen, who also share with us the same journey in Christ. Throw into the mix Nikki and David, Daryl and Kristi, a couple of boats, fun time on the water, and an excellent fireworks show, and it was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations of recent years. July also saw Lee travel to Eutaw, Alabama, to take part in a domestic mission trip organized by SCORE International.
We wrapped up the year with a couple of concerts, a great Q&A with Kevin Smith at the Improv in Tampa, and a camp experience with our favorite band Sister Hazel. Being able to take part in Camp Hazelnut with so many of our close friends was a great way to kickoff the Fall, and it allowed me to (partially) conquer my fear of heights as I made it to the top of the climbing tower.
I went back to school at Trinity College to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry, and we got to share Christmas services with Jeff and Ellen at both our church and their church. Being with loved ones during the holidays really made the season that much more memorable.
A Painful Passage 2015 was not without its hardships. In addition to her love for music, my wife has an incredible affinity for all things cats. We started the year sharing our household with four fur-babies (as my wife would call them). Unfortunately, we lost three of them in the span of three months, two of them in the same week.
In March we had to put our little Monkey to sleep after she developed a growth in her abdomen. At the beginning of June, after treating him for lethargy and lack of appetite, we had to do the same for our beloved Peppy. This was extremely gut-wrenching given Peppy was Lee’s special Angel-kitty, and he would always comfort her whenever she was not feeling well. Not more than five days after putting Peppy to sleep, we came home from dinner to find Boo in distress and agony (exactly what we wanted to avoid with Peppy). After a trip to the after-hour veterinarian, the only humane option was to put Boo down as well.
Devastating is such an understatement for what we experienced, and I know Lee put on a brave face in the weeks that followed. She battled every day to overcome the feelings of depression as well as the broken heart she was carrying, but I do know the experience brought her closer to God. As we search for answers to the things that make us cry, we inevitably turn to Him with our questions and burdens. The experience was a reminder that God works according to His timetable, our faith in Him does not remove us from the pains of this world, and we’re called to grow in Him when times are tough.
On the human side, we had more doctor’s visits in 2015 than we care to admit. Daniel broke his finger and required surgery and rehab, Natalie sprained the MCL in her right knee and also required rehab, and Lee had surgery to fuse her L5 and S1 vertebrae. Even I, as a result of a sudden (and temporary) loss of hearing in my left ear, required an MRI of my head and several follow-ups.
We blew through our flexible spending account half-way through the year, but the moral of the story is the blessing of having an FSA to begin with, and having the resources in healthcare to tend to our family’s issues as they occurred. The blessing is paying only $25 per office visit as opposed to the alternative. In looking at the bill for my son’s surgery and comparing it to the amount for which we were responsible, I was flabbergasted to think how people go through life without any health insurance.
365 days ago, as I was ready to ring in 2015, I had no idea of how differently my life would be in one, short year. There were several other low and painful moments in the year, as well as tons of super-awesome moments I’ve failed to mention in this recap. Life is like that; ebb and flow, up and down, hot and cold. Yet through it all, the one constant in all our lives is the love God has for us. We meander on earth while He remains steadfast and faithful in Heaven.
In looking back at the tough times, I am able to see the blessings. In reliving the good times, I am able to feel His love for me. In looking ahead at the goals and dreams I pray align with His will, I do so without fear and in the confidence He will provide no matter what.
2015 was filled to the brim with blessings. These blessings, in turn, lead to surrender. Surrender, coupled with obedience and discipline, leads anew to continued blessings from God. And in that cycle is exactly where I want to be heading into 2016.
Thank you for enduring this verbose year-in-review, and I pray you have a joyous, happy, and safe new year. May God’s grace guide you in all you do.
Their smiles melted my heart. The warmth of their hands moved my soul.
Our first full day of ministry began with a visit to a sugar cane village. Abject poverty, malnourished children, and of course – because we’re in the Dominican Republic – a baseball field. The eyes of the children opened wide as they saw our bus pull into their village. We all quickly broke out into games, throwing Frisbees and kicking a ball around. The males in our group became horses, carrying one, two, and even three kids on our backs, all the while running around like the kids we once were.
As I sat with a young girl and spoke to her about Christ, I stepped through my evangecube, an educational tool that is used for visually sharing the gospel. I was surprised at how well versed she was with who Jesus is and how He sacrificed Himself for our sins. I then began thinking about why this child of God lives in an environment in which she has to make do without shoes.
In the afternoon, we visited a living facility for the elderly. Whereas the village of children made me take a step back, the living facility wrecked my heart. To say it’s a facility is a misnomer. It’s a one-story building with rooms with beds. It’s a home to a forgotten generation of individuals, each beautiful and longing for validation, wanted to be reminded they are people too and not simply someone else’s burden.
The thoughts were overwhelming. The “Why’s” were without end.
At both places I got lost in my own mind, my thoughts cascading over what it is we need to do to fix the problem. But how do you fix poverty? How do you fix generations of inequity? How do you fix the influence of Satan in the thieves and the policy makers, both whom prey on the weak in their own way?
I don’t have an answer to that. My mind loves if-then process flows that lead to clean and neat solutions. Perhaps that’s why I’m so exhausted after dwelling on a systematic problem for which there may not exist an answer.
What I do know is that for those living in darkness, light is most important. For those living in loneliness, nothing is greater than love.
Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and God is love (1 John 4:8). God reminded me today that my mission was not to solve the problems of the boys and girls at La Balsa village. It was not to provide a permanent solution to the women and men at La Esperanza home. My mission, the task to which God appointed me, was to love.
Love in the form of a smile. Love in the form of a hug. Love in the sharing of His good news. Love in the form of piggybacks and high fives and coloring books. Love in the form of serving soda with cookies and pushing a wheelchair and praying over someone.
These people I met today are overlooked and they have been forgotten, but not by God. Rather, it is we who have conveniently tucked them away into the unseen and marginalized them so that our lives may be a little easier.
I believe God has a plan for us all, but I struggle greatly in trying to understand God’s plan for these people; people who love Him and praise His name yet have their days filled with wanting, emptiness, and pain. Although it’s God’s privilege to conceal His plan from us (Proverbs 25:2), I think maybe His plan for them is actually quite simple: to help us grow in our faith.
I came to the Dominican Republic expecting to serve people, but today I found beautiful people ministering to me. People who have little about which to be happy, but still have a joy in their heart; a joy given to them by God.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5