Halloween and Trunk Treats

Halloween night was an amazing opportunity to provide for the needs of the community directly surrounding the church building.  The evening started with people waiting to enter into the worship center where there was an MC, and entertainment.  As people were waiting to gain entrance into the building an Illusionist, Ron, was telling the gospel through his feats.

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Once people were in the building they were grouped in sections of 50 people.  Keesh, a local rapper, MC’d the event and did a fantastic job.  He grabbed the kids attention and had fun with give aways, presenting his music, and overseeing the entertainment portion of the evening.  The Puppets were decked out in bright colors and black lights, and everyone was captivated by them.

From the worship center people were guided to a spot where I was able to present the gospel in 90 seconds using the Life Conversation Guide or 3 Circles.  Everyone who came through the building heard the gospel, which is a huge win.

From there the groups were given trunk treat bags and ushered outside where the candy awaited them.  30 cars, and their owners met them in the parking lot.  Trunks were decorated and looked amazing.  As I watched the kids bags fill with candy I realized that each child was getting a hug haul of candy.  At the end of our trunks the city of Ferguson had a booth and was also giving out candy.

The take aways from the night:

  1. 1,100 plus people heard the gospel
  2. 1,100 kids and adults had a safe evening with their families
  3. The church provided a great service to the community, and everyone had a great time.

Thanks to all who served from illusions, to puppets, to trunk decorating.  It was an incredible night.

Stay Focused

“Go therefore and make disciples…”  Matthew 28:19

It has been a whirlwind as I settle into the church replant.  There are some many issues to speak to, and areas of ministry to become aware of.  I absolutely love what God has called me to be apart of, but too often I find myself getting distracted from the main thing.

I was rereading a few of the posts from my trip to El Salvador, and it hit me square between the eyes.  I am not focused on the main thing.  I am being pulled at by many things that are good things, but they are not the best thing for me, nor are they the main thing my life is to be about.

What is the chief end of man?  Say it another way, “Why am I here?”

I have been created to enjoy God by loving Him forever.  My primary mission is to lift high the name of Jesus.  My primary focus is Jesus.  As I think about that primary mission and focus, my mind drifted to the Great Commission.  In the Great Commission it says as you go, make disciples.  As I go to work…as I go through my daily activities.  It is my joy to tell others what God has done through Jesus and what God is doing in my life currently.

In replanting a church and having two cultures collide, often preferences are made the priority.  We should do music this way or that way is a common struggle.  Other people have different view points on how to handle bible studies, and children, and building usage, and the list goes on and on.  It is easy to become distracted by things that are good, but are not the main thing or the best thing to be focused on.

I am writing this to remind myself, and others to stay focused on the mission Jesus has left us because of the mission He accomplished through His life, death, burial, and resurrection.  May our prayer be, “Lord, what would make you happiest in this moment.”

Day 7-El Salvador Mission Trip, October 9th

What a great nights sleep…the rains last night made going to bed a joy.  This morning I was able to connect with a gentleman from the states in the weight room.  He is hear on business but was glad to hear why I had take the trip to El Salvador.  After that I headed to the room to get ready for the day.  At breakfast I spent time talking with the head chef, Louis.  Louis went to school in the U.S. and received a degree from a culinary school.  We see him every time we are in El Salvador.  After an amazing omelet and time with our group, we headed to devotions.

Devotions this morning were led by Steve Kern the director of Good News In Action.  We read Acts 8 and Acts 11:19ff.  The emphasis was on nobody’s doing great things, like starting churches all over the world due to persecution that Saul (Paul) was spear heading at the time.  Some of the keys we talked through in this Acts 11 passage are as follows.  The people went…Steve called this point GO.  They preached where they were to those who were not like them.  The Jews in Antioch reached out to Hellenists or Gentiles.  They were not like the rest of the Jews scattered, but special attention is drawn to them going to people not like them in background and customs.  The second thing is that the people were GROWING.  The hand of God was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  God’s hand was on them…how often do we look for the hand of God working in our own midst?  But because the hand of the Lord was with them, the church grew, men and women came to faith in Christ.  The last point of the devotion was that the Church had a GLOW.  Because of what the church was doing in Antioch, they were first called Christians.  The unbelieving people saw what was happening and had no better term for these people than to try and make fun of them by mocking them.  In essence they were saying, “Oh look at you…Are you Jesus.”  Several things struck me due to this devotion.  1. What am I known for?  2. How is the hand of the Lord on me?  3. Sharing the good news is primary…not just doing good things like serving people, and meeting needs, and praying with people…but sharing the good news of Jesus.  I, we, have to get serious about sharing who God is, what He has done, and the salvation offered in Jesus.

For our morning trip we headed to another public school, but this day was different.  We arrived at a local school to find out it was parents day.  So the kids and parents were in the rooms this day.  We had the opportunity to share with families…talk about exciting.  We played two truths and a lie with them as an ice breaker.  Then the story of Sampson was shared.  Marshall, a sweet 85 years young man, shared his testimony of nearly losing his leg as a teenager and how that woke him up to the gospel.  I want to emphasize Marshall is 85 and will probably be back next year.  I was privileged to share the gospel once again.  I was able to really connect with parents and kids.  I used the disobedience of children and the duty of parents to train them and make things right as a springboard into what God has done for us in Jesus.  God blessed and 8 parents gave their lives to Jesus and are being followed up with by the church.

After the school we headed to lunch, and a group of us took our bus driver, Guillermo who is also a pastor at the church, to Chinese Food.  He shared through a translator how grateful he was and we in turn shared thoughts with him.  On a side note, the restaurant we went to is the only Chinese place North Americans have found that tastes like United States Chinese food.  After lunch I walked to the local super market to pick up a few things as treats for the kids.

After that quick trip Mark, Amy, Alicia, and myself walked to the home of a missionary who works with Vida Nueve.  Ryan and his family are from Kansas city and live a block and a half from the hotel we stayed at.  We got to have Costa Rican Coffee and visit for some time.

After that it was back on the bus to head to Apopa for the evening family festival.  On the way rain began to fall from the sky, which we had been praying wouldn’t happen.  Once we arrived at the neighborhood, we quickly got out and hit the streets.  We went door to door sharing about the festival and sharing the gospel.  As people got off buses and were walking about the neighborhood we were able to simply walk up and start a conversation.  The amazing thing about El Salvador is the respect that people show to each other as we walk about the streets.  I was able to joke with kids, giving them stickers and telling them about my kiddos.  Most of the people I came across already knew the gospel and we grateful we were there.  As we were ending our allotted time to be out the rains picked back up.  And in El Salvador when it begins to sprinkle people stay inside.  While we were not able to have the festival, we were able to share the gospel with many and 34 people prayed to receive Jesus and will be followed up with.

After getting back to the hotel we headed to Florence for a chance to eat dinner and unwind.  Four of our translators came with us and we were able to spoil them by buying their meal.  All in all it was a great week, and while I am tired, I cannot wait to get back and share what God did.  I also am more than a little excited to share with my family what God did and see my wife and kids.

Thanks for you prayers this week, and for those who reached out to my family I am indebted to your kindness.

Check back for more stories and thoughts in the coming days…this blog will become a regular thing.

Day 6-El Salvador Mission Trip, October 8th

This morning I woke up well before my alarm and quickly grabbed a shower.  We had to meet earlier today for deviations than normal due to the distance we had to drive to get to the public school.  Breakfast was packed, so many people that had stayed overnight due to a University Party.  Our group had the joy of talking with a lady from Boston traveling on vacation with a guided tour through central america.  She was not open to the gospel, but willing listened to stories of why we were there and what we were doing.

Julio Contreras lead devotions for us.  He is a native to El Salvador and one of the Lead Pastors for the church.  He posed the question, “What is the cause we press on for?”  He gave examples of how some find their children to be their main cause for living…for others it is politics, some may find it is church or mission trips.  He then read 1 Kings 8:59-60, “59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.”  The cause God has given us all is that the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God, nothing else.  This brings us to a point of evaluation.  Is my/our focus to present the Lord God and His gospel so that all people’s may know He is God?  When is the last time we spoke the name of Jesus and what He has done to those who are lost and dying?

After devotions we loaded up on the bus and headed to a rural school.  We spent time sharing stories from the bible, playing games, and presenting the gospel.  What made today different was the presence of parents.  Many of the families at this school were receiving clothes that were brought down by FBC Gulf Shores.  We gave 50-70 kids clothes.  One little girl who was 9 told us that we gave her the first dress she had ever owned.  We prayed with them, and spent more time with the families getting clothes.  I taught as many kids as possible how to give high fives and regular fives.  An interesting fact about this school is that when students start attending the school they have to teach them to use a toilet because they have never used one.  Let that sink in…

Lunch today was a pizza hut were we treated our interpreters to lunch.  We give them shirts, and free food and spend time talking.  My four ladies (Carolina, Nicole, and Sharon, and Valaria) told the waiter it was my birthday.  So in the middle of a nice lunch with everyone, I get called out and sung to.  Absolutely crazy…and there was no free dessert…oh well.

I then left to grab a few t-shirts because we ran short for the interpreters, and the couple of people who drove me around in their car took me to their favorite ice cream spot, the vanilla spoon.  It was fantastic.  I had Nutella favored ice cream.

We rushed back to the hotel, to find we didn’t have much time before leaving for the evening.  We headed to Apopa, a city north of El Salvador.  It wasn’t the safest place to be, but staying in groups and relying on God to protect we reached out the hundreds of people.  We invited them to the party and shared the gospel.  When the festival was to begin, it began to rain.  Most people headed home and we were forced to shorten the family festival.  No movie, no drama, no preaching, but we were able to share the gospel as a group with hundreds and the church campus in Apopa has 51 decisions to follow up with and get those families connected.

With things ending early we headed back to the hotel and grabbed dinner.  Off to bed to get a little extra rest before a long last day.  It is storming outside, which is going to make for a great night of sleep.  If you have read this far, pray for my wife and youngest son…they are sick today.  Can’t wait to get home and share in person.

Day 4, El Salvador Mission Trip, October 7th

For the third day in a row, I woke up before my alarm…which should shock my wife.  The sunny was warm as it cascaded into the room.  I got up and headed out for a quick workout, and then grabbed a shower before breakfast.  This morning I sat by myself so I could spend time working through my bible reading.  After I finished I sat with people from Alabama, and Louisiana, and St. Louis making small talk.

Devotions this morning were amazing.  Steve Kern the Director of God News In Action went through the three main temptations that we face and how Jesus faced them.  There is hedonism, materialism, and….I can’t remember the third…but I will soon and fill it back in.  Steve’s main point was that we are called to die to self, and live to Christ.  We are called to forsake what we want that we might reach others.  As Paul became all things to all men that he might win some…we must do this too.  Paul’s need was to preach the gospel…and his glory, his joy was to do it at not cost to anyone.  Think about it he never asked for anything but made his way selling tents.  What an example for us to die to self and truly live for him.

We headed out to another public school today and I was in a classroom full of 12 and 13 year olds.  We played an ice breaker game, and told the story of Samson.  Then a testimony was shared about not pursing God with all your heart.  It was my privilege to share the gospel today.  And like I have been doing I shared the whole story of the bible in four words.  The amazing thing was that as I shared the kids payed attention, they locked in and really wanted to hear what was being shared.  At the end of the sharing of the gospel, the teacher accepted Christ and about eight of the students.  I cannot tell you how humbling it is to see God move inspire of what you are saying and doing.  Salvation comes from the Lord, not from us and our clever presentations.

I was able to head to lunch afterwards and grab some pollo compero finally.  It is fried chicken the way KFC used to do it in the good old days.  After that it was off to the gringo market (the north american market) to buy souvenirs for the kiddos.

This evening the team headed out to host a family festival in Lourdes, a town just outside of San Salvador.  This location is a nicer part of town, and it showed by the quality of the park we were in, the soccer field had grass….which is never the case.  We canvased the area, and had a great turn out for the event.  What made tonight incredible for me was I was asked to preach the gospel after the youth group drama.  It was amazing.  I felt right at home, with kids playing and screaming as I spoke.  It felt like preaching in the cafeteria this summer in St. Louis.  God was good, I was able to connect with parents through the kids in my short sermon.  The response was incredible.  Vide Nueve now has 67 names to follow up with.

I have become convinced that we as Christians in the U.S. need to share the gospel, and live it.  A simple presentation and an invitation to trust Jesus is not difficult.  Sharing the story of the bible and walking through questions people have is what we are called to do.  Like the devotion reminded me this morning, our joy is to be sharing the gospel freely.  Every hour 120,000 people die in the world and it is estimated conservatively that 20% of them are Christians…Regardless of the number of Christians it actually is, there are hundreds of thousands of people dying everyday and ending up in hell.  Like Charles Spurgeon said, “If people are going to hell they should be tripping, stumbling, and running into Christians the whole way.”  That’s the Joe paraphrase.

I am now back at the hotel, working on my sermon and enjoying some down time before tomorrow comes.  Please keep praying for the team and me.

Day 3-El Salvador Mission Trip, October 6th

This morning was warm and sunny, a beautiful 70 degrees outside.  I woke up early and headed to the weight room for a bit.  After a shower, and a change of clothes I headed to breakfast.  Spent time with the crew from St. Louis and others sharing stories of what we all had experienced the night before.  After breakfast I headed back to the room from some bible reading.  I am currently working through Professor Horner’s Plan on the YouVersion App.

We all met at 8:30 for group devotions.  Geuerimo, the discipleship pastor at Vide Nueve, led devotions in Spanish with a translator.  He walked us through Psalm 9 emphasizing how much we have to be thankful for.  After a prayer in Spanish and English, we headed out to a public school.  Our presences there was the first time the gospel would be shared on the grounds from an outside group.  I was in a classroom with 21 boys and girls who were about 12 years old.  I spent about 15 minutes sharing the gospel after they had heard the bible story of Samson, and another North American share his testimony.  I walked through Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Restoration trying to make connections with stories from my family and my life.  It was an amazing time!  Playing games, handing out candy, giving stickers away, and as is my personality joking around with the kids.

The gospel presentation went well.  Several kids said that they were interested in following Jesus and learning what Christianity is all about.  I love working with Vide Nueve because while God does amazing things in people’s lives, I know that each kid who claims to have made a decision for Jesus will be followed up with and trained on how to follow Jesus.

After spending time in the classroom, we headed to the courtyard where we could play soccer or basketball with the students.  I showed them a greatly diminished set of basketball skills.  The saving grace for me was the fact that five foot eleven inches is nearly a giant in El Salvador.

We then headed to lunch at State Diner.  This was North American food and portions.  This particular restaurant was started to train orphans job skills before they reached the age of eighteen.  Once a child reaches the age of eighteen in El Salvador they are removed from all government care and systems and sent out to fend for themselves.  This restaurant was created by an orphanage owner to prepare young people for the real world.  It was a pleasure being served by a young lady named Alejandra.  Oh, and for the record I had the chicken and waffles with fried pickles.  Man were they amazing.

After that it was back to the hotel for coffee, rest, and some reading/sermon preparations.

For the evening our group loaded up and headed an hour west.  We went to the capital of El Salvador, Arminia.  We pulled into the center of town to find a local park, with hundreds of people constantly coming and going.  The governor of the city had made an announcement throughout town earlier in the week that we were coming to put on a Family Festival.  After praying together, North Americans headed out with translators to share the gospel and to invite the people to the Festival.

I had the privilege to share the gospel to small groups five times before we had to be back at the park for the festival.  The most memorable experience for me was sharing with two ladies in a shoe store.  I was able to cover Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Restoration and give them the books of John and Romans to read on their way home via bus that evening.  The best part of the evening was knowing that I glorified God by planting seeds.  No one that God brought across my path tonight repented and believed in Jesus, but they did walk away with the gospel, an overview of the bible, and two books of the bible to read for themselves.

At the festival there were dramas, songs, inflatables, kids games, a Jesus movie, and preaching.  When all the activities were done, and people of the town of Arminia were given the opportunity to respond, God moved in a mighty way.  I was privileged to be apart of a man named Douglas confess his sins, and claim Christ as his Savior.  I am resting easy tonight knowing that he will be followed up with in the coming days and invited into a discipling relationship.

After cleaning up, and loading up, we headed home.  The hour drive was exhilarating.  The fresh cool air, the buzz over the 108 people that repented, and need to be followed up with, and the sense of peace among us all made the trip home seem quicker than it actually was.

The highlight of my day apart from sharing the gospel was getting the help a local business make Papusas.  Check facebook for pictures.

Please Pray for us still…and check back for more updates.

Day5 Two-El Salvador Mission Trip, October 5

This morning I was awoken by the alarm around 6.  Instead of warm sunshine cascading into the room, there was a ominous sense of drama dreary rain.  I made my way to the hotel restaurant, and sat down with a cup of coffee and an omelet.  I began reading my bible plan and was quickly joined by fellow team members.  I put away my iPad and joined in conversation.  Everyone was extremely excited to enter the public schools today and share the gospel.

The entire group met for morning devotions led by Steve Kern.  Steve is the Director or head of Good News in Action, the missionary group we team up with.  He is also one of the Pastors at Vida Nueve.  We discussed typology in Exodus 17, and in Numbers.  Typology is seeing images of Christ in the Old Testament. It is looking through the New Testament and seeing how the Old Testament is handled and the meanings Paul and others give to Old Testament texts.  We looked at how Moses struck the rock and water poured out providing for the grumbling people of Israel.  In the text God stood before Moses at the rock, so Moses when He struck the rock, struck God and it was God who provided for the people once he was “struck.”  IN the same way Jesus was crushed for our sin, and as he was pierced blood and water poured from his side.  The application of the devotion was that we must die to self, and literally be willing to die.

After devotions we headed to the bus and made our way to a local public school.  While at the school we divided up into seven teams and went into seven classes to share the positive message of time management.  The application of our lesson is that we all fail to use our time appropriately and need the redeeming blood of Jesus to rescue us from sin, and that same gospel to help us redeem the time.  As Christians we are not our own, we belong to Jesus, a slave to Christ.  With that we were able to spend time sharing our testimonies and give out small gifts to the kids.  We also were allowed to play games during what looked like their recess period.  It was a great morning…

Once we returned to the Hotel, six of us headed over to grab lunch.  We ate at a local hispanic restaurant.  The amazing part of lunch was hearing the life and story of a man named Gary who is battling cancer and is spending as much of his time as possible doing things like this trip, what an example!  On a much lesser note, the fried ice cream we all split was amazing.

The early afternoon was spent on reading a book called “Total Church” by Time Chester and Steve Timmis.  I also spent time on sermon preparations and chatting with the family.

Around 3:30 I headed to the lobby to load up for the evening community project.  We headed over an hour north of San Salvador to through a family festival or party for a new church plant that is associated with Good News In Action and Vida Nueve.

Once we arrived everyone unloaded the buses, and we got to work dividing up with our translators, and praying for God to use the efforts for His glory.  I went out with two translators named Nicole and Caroline, but they say their names way different that we do.  We talked with several families in this town, giving stickers to the kids, and simple plans of salvation to the parents.  We also made our way through a park and in the process I was cornered by four men asking for money.  They were harmless but still not necessarily a fun time.  In St. Louis it is much easier for me to read a situation, but in El Salvador, I am not as keen to social cues.  I spent the rest of the evening have 4 or 5 conversations at a local Papusaria.  People kept coming in and out, so I stayed there sharing the Gospel.

When I share the gospel in a cold call type situation I rely heavily on four words that sum up the bible.  Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Restoration.  I share that God created everything and everyone to glorify Him, giving all things value and worth.  Then I explain that Adam and Eve rebelled against God by disobeying the one rule they were given to follow.  And we, like them, disobey God following the pattern of willing disobedience we to follow.  I then explain that a perfect sacrifice had to be made in order to restore the broken relationship created by our disobedience against God.  It is there that Jesus comes down from heaven, to live perfectly in our place and die in our place that we might be forgiven, and adopted into His family.  All that is required is repentance and faith in Jesus.  And then we can endure whatever this life brings because soon all things will be restored to perfection at the second coming of Jesus.

I want to point out that obviously I spend more time explaining and giving scriptures and examples, but I thought a brief summary of my approach might be helpful for those wondering how to share the gospel.

The family party started with a short movie, while kids activities were provided.  Then a skit showing how Jesus rescues us, followed by one of the best gospel presentations I have heard in open air preaching.  The church planter in the city was there to be introduced to the people, and he now has 53 people to follow up with who either made known that they wanted to trust in Jesus or made known that they wanted more info.  Praise God for what He did in our midst.

I am know in the hotel after nearly and hour and a half ride back from the city we were in.  I am excited for what tomorrow holds…until then…Good Night, and keep praying for the mission team down in El Salvador.