Joni & Friends 2019

I just got back from a mission trip to Joni & Friends Family Retreat in Shawnee, Ohio. Our team consisted of 18 people with a mix of high school students and adult leaders. Once there, we joined dozens of other volunteers to help serve people with disabilities and their families.

Trip Details

To start, I’ll just say the week was both incredibly tiring and rewarding. The two can’t be separated. I’ve been on a decent amount of mission trips now and this was probably the most physically and emotionally demanding. Yet, at the same time, I have to say it was also the most impactful. I’m really proud of our team for persevering and showing God’s love all throughout the week even though it was not easy.

The first day and a half was spent training and getting ready for the families to come. The first day, we arrived around three in the afternoon and were going nonstop until around 10 at night. Joni & Friends does a good job of getting new people ready for learning how to serve people affected by all sorts of disabilities. They take you through training stations with knowledgeable leaders who have been doing it for a long time. One of the more helpful (and eye-opening) parts of the training was during our first meal together. Everyone is paired with someone and one person in the pair is “given” a disability they have to “live with” for the duration of the meal. The other person then helped their partner get their food and eat all while trying to do the same themselves. Some examples of the disabilities were blindness, autism (high-functioning and low-functioning), cerebral palsy, and down syndrome.

Moving forward, the second morning we were given our assignments for the week. Many of us were paired with a child or adult with a disability, while others were paired with a “typical” sibling of someone with a disability. Some people had other roles as well, but everyone from our team had one of those two. Once given your assignment, the rest of the week you essentially are to stick with that person at all times. Be their friend, be their helper, be whatever they need you to be. The only exceptions were a two hour break time from 4:30-6:30. The rest of the time, meals included, you were with that person. This is designed so each person has someone who is helping them and loving them, but also so the parents can feel safe to go and relax/do activities without having to watch over their children like they have to do most of their lives.

It was beautiful to see our people (and all the others) jump at the chance to serve one individual with all they have for an entire week. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but from what I saw our team didn’t hesitate to love a stranger like Jesus loves them.

Throughout the week, the camp had many activities and things to do both for the campers and for their families. Each STM (short-term-missionary, that’s what we were called) was told to just do whatever their camper wanted- it wasn’t about us. So, some people swam for literally hours every day. Some people, like me, never swam but sat poolside or walked around most of the day. It really just depended on who your camper was, their age and personality, their disability, and what they wanted to do. It wasn’t about us.

For me, I was paired with a twenty year old who has autism and is nonverbal. Since he is what they call a “runner,” I was one of four people with him and we took shifts running (really, speed-walking) around the lodge throughout the week. He had his routes he would do over and over while he made pit stops at places like the stairs, the elevator, a couch in the dining room so he could watch the kitchen staff work, and his favorite- sitting by the pool. Apparently in other years he swam a lot himself, but this year he never wanted to get in. So, we watched people swim. A lot. To be honest, it was hard figuring out how to love and communicate with a person who can’t speak back. I don’t think I was great at it, but I kept trying and developed so much compassion for this individual. Just by being with him for a week and doing what he likes to do, I learned how he communicates (little noises, hitting your hand away, “laughing,” head movements, etc) and what he likes (lots and lots of bacon, sausage is okay, french fries, fruit snacks). There were times where he didn’t like anything for a meal so he literally just didn’t eat. That was hard on his mom and us STM’s with him.

We got to know his mom a lot, too. I won’t share a lot of that, but a big part of the trip is forming relationships with both the people with disabilities and their families. It’s hard to fathom the difficulties they face on a daily basis but it was beautiful to see the courage, vulnerability, and faith they expressed.

One example of an awesome event during the week was the talent show. People signed up throughout the week, and once the event hit it was an instant success. I think the coolest part of it was how transparent and excited the campers were about getting to participate. So often we (or me, at least) put up walls and fronts and can’t let our guards down. These guys and girls did not have that problem, and were just willing to simply enjoy life in the moment. I seriously learned so much from them. Many tears were shed that night.

I think the hardest part of the trip was leaving. Many of the campers had a really difficult time getting in the car because they felt so loved the whole week. Personally, I felt the same way. Even though it was a tiring week, it was seriously sad saying goodbye. As cliche as it sounds, the place was a taste of heaven.

What I learned

I’m not sure enough time has passed to fully comprehend what God was showing me this week. However, below are some things I’ve seen so far and I don’t want to forget them.

God’s love at its core is expressed through people. Sounds simple, sure. But I believe the reason Joni & Friends is so effective at showing God’s love is because each camper is given an STM for the whole week. It is daunting to look out at the whole world and figure out how we can make a difference at all. Shoot, it was even hard just seeing all the families arrive and thinking “how can we possibly love all these people?” BUT, it was not so incomprehensible to imagine loving one person- your one person. Many of us had a hard time doing so, especially with the campers who couldn’t give much back. Yet still, God’s love was shown and it was shown through His people. The body of Christ’s element was huge, too- and that cannot be discounted. But I saw the brunt force of God’s love being poured out through the individual, close relationships we formed.

You don’t have to know everything. I didn’t know much about my camper’s disability. Sure, I learned some beforehand and picked up things along the way, but I definitely didn’t know even a fraction of the things I could have. But I could still love him by being present and willing to be there with him no matter what that looked like.

Decide ahead of time. I think one of the reasons everyone was so willing and able to love their individual camper was because that was the reason we were there. We decided we wanted to be there ahead of time and therefore were willing to do whatever was needed to “be there” for our person. A big part of being effective in loving others is deciding we are going to be present, willing, and engaged ahead of time. God’s love is active, not passive. It is intentional, not just “go with the flow.”

God’s love is shown through families. A huge portion of the STM’s at the camp were families. Some of these servants had been coming to the same camp, year after year, for over 20 years. I was lucky enough to be paired with a man in his 50’s who had been there almost ten times, and the relationships he had formed there blew me away. He knew these people and cared about them. Not only that, but his wife and two kids were there as well. His dad was there, who he helped lead to Christ. His mom, who passed away this past year, also used to come and was beloved by so many. This got me excited about the potential of Elli and I becoming a family who decides ahead of time that we want our family to be about loving others. That one family impacted so many, and there were countless others who did the same.

There is much else I would like to say, but overall God’s love for people is breathtaking. Having the chance to play a role in that is better than anything else in this world.

Matthew 16:24-25, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

A Brief Guide to “Evidence Unseen”

Many of us by now have heard of James Rochford’s website “Evidence Unseen.” If you’re like me, you’ve used the Columbus Xenos Elder’s website (or book) in the past for articles/sections like apologetics, comparing world religions, the Case for Christianity, or Theology questions. These are all great resources that I highly recommend.

However, the point of me writing this short guide is due to a different area of the website. I was stumbling along his website recently and found an entire section I had never seen before. So, let’s get to it. First, click on the tab Bible Difficulties. The home page of this section itself explains in detail 10 principles of Hermeneutics, or how to study and interpret the Bible.

There is also a section in the “Bible Difficulties” tab for both Old Testament and New Testament difficulties. These sections are full of numerous, specific common questions we may ask when reading through God’s Word. Not only that, but each question is a link you can click and find a succinct, Biblical answer to said question! For example, in the NT Difficulties section, under “Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians,” scroll down to Romans 5:12, 14. If you click that link, you will find a detailed answer to the question: “How can God judge all men for Adam’s sin, when it wasn’t their fault?” This is just one of many, but I wanted to highlight how specific the website gets and how useful it can be for all the questions we or others may have.

Moving on, if you go back to the top of the website and hover over the “Bible Difficulties” tab again (top right) you will see two sections titled “Old Testament Survey” and “New Testament Survey.” This is the section that got me really excited. Rochford wrote a guide for using these sections: 

“Before studying each book, read these short articles that give an introduction and background. In each article, the reader will find information regarding authorship, historical background, theological themes, and a teaching rotation. Additionally, the reader will find a series of discovery questions that are helpful for teaching and leading discussion.”

In other words, these sections are essentially free and fairly exhaustive commentaries on every single book of the Bible. At the top of each book’s page, for example, Acts, there is a detailed explanation of the book itself (covering authorship, date, historical background, theological themes, emphases, etc). Then, if you scroll down (get used to scrolling on his website- each page is long), you will find a verse-by-verse commentary for the book. Not only that, but at the end of most chapter’s commentary he either has a section on Application or Discussion Questions. These sections are awesome for just thinking through a passage in depth or for preparing to teach.

There is probably a lot more to Evidence Unseen’s website than I have detailed here, but it would take days upon days to read through just the Old Testament and New Testament Survey sections alone. This website could be so useful for getting into the Word, answering questions, and helping other people do the same. After buying many costly commentaries myself, I am amazed that this resource is so exhaustive, relevant, detailed, and best of all- FREE! Use it!

*Also, feel free to comment on here if you have found other helpful resources on Rochford’s website or elsewhere!

South Dakota: Pt. 3

The last two days have been awesome and overwhelming.

Yesterday we started all of the manual labor that we’re here to help with. Well, before that Tyler (the youth pastor here and the one who has been guiding us the whole time) led a morning devotional, which was cool. Then, he explained all of the projects that need done this week and we split into teams. It’s really cool getting to help with all of it because it’s obvious they need it. We literally work all day… there’s a lot to be done here. Some of the jobs are painting and mudding, putting in a wood (ish) floor, making the youth room more presentable, and putting insulation in upstairs. Oh yeah, Corey is also doing some sort of metal work to help stabilize the building. Max, Sarah L., Shayne, and myself have been on insulation (and none of us have ever done it before, ha). So, my group started by cutting a hole in the ceiling to get up there. Then, we broke into twos- one pair feeding the machine and another up in the attic spreading it out. Yesterday it was so hot in there that my feet were all wrinkly from all the sweat. I know, gross. But the awesome part about it was getting to talk with each other while doing the work. Sarah and I talked about some sweet things probably more than we have ever in the past, and I also got to hear Shayne’s testimony (he’s from the Columbus group) and that was awesome. So many of these Columbus people are amazing servants (and incredibly fun).

Then, we had “Teen Night.” Tyler took a few of our people with him on their big school bus to pick up the kids. I’ll touch on that later, because I got to ride with him today. But, then Max and Corey taught on 1 John and did really well. They did this tag-team approach and really complimented one another well. Then, the rest of the night we hung out with the teenagers and one another. The unity within our group is already out of this world, which is wild because a lot of us didn’t know everyone before coming. God is so cool like that.

Today we did the same morning and daytime routine. We all got a lot more accomplished than yesterday because we knew more what we were doing. My crew actually finished the whole insulation job (2,000 square feet!) by 5pm. I wish I had some pictures of how messy everyone was.

After that, it was time for Oyate Concern’s main church meeting. For that, the adults and teenagers go into one area for church and the younger kids go into another room for a teaching for them. Some of the girls from Columbus led that. Bryan and I had the opportunity to teach their church, which was so fun and hard. Leading up to it we decided to change up our approach and outline just a few hours before. It was nerve-wracking because we don’t have the best understanding of the people here, especially when compared to teaching people back home who we know and see every week. It really led us to have to just trust God with it and pray something sticks. We taught on Ephesians 5, which in short says to not do things like sleep around and get drunk but instead be filled by the spirit. It was intimidating because there is a huge problem with alcohol on the reservation. Bryan mainly taught on the negative effects of such things and shared his testimony and I taught on the awesome things God wants to show us/do through us if we actively live in the spirit. God doesn’t want to stop our fun or something, he’s actually trying to show us a better way that is, well, better.

Anyway, it was hard knowing what impact it had. There were also a lot of crying babies during my part, but I think it went alright. I counted 33 people (not including ours) who were there. On top of that, there were probably 50 young kids in the other room. Afterward, we all hung out, talked, played basketball, and other things with everyone. Then, Bryan and I went with some others and rode the bus to take the kids home. It was seriously crazy. Kids were running around, fighting, yelling, but also obviously wanting the attention of the adults. I have no idea how Tyler does it, but he does it well (he drives the bus, too). Seeing all of the poverty as we drove through the area was really sad. Probably the coolest part was talking with one of the girls who sat next to me (about ten different kids filtered in and out), Chloe. She’s 8. A lot of the trip she was really silly, pulling my hair and stuff and fighting with other kids. But, at the end, I felt I had to say something about Jesus since I’d probably never see her again. So, I told her that Jesus loves her. She said, “what?” so I got closer and told her. The first thing she said is that my breath smells, which was kind of funny and probably true. But, then she straight up asked me who Jesus is. I was kind of blown away because I’ve never been asked that, I don’t think. I said, “You’ve never heard of him” and she said she has. I was confused and prodded, and she said she has heard of him but doesn’t know who he is. So, I told her all about him and how he died and rose for her because he loves her. I have no idea what got through, but I hope something did. I don’t even know if she was messing with me or not, but it really didn’t seem like it. It was the most serious she was the whole half hour ride. Sorry to go on and on about her, but it was really cool and sad and eye-opening.

Since then, we’ve been hanging out more with the people and each other. Collin and I are upstairs right now talking as I’m writing this, actually. It has been so cool to see him have fun this week and work hard with a great attitude. He’s also really good with kids, though he thinks the opposite. It’s kinda crazy all the change God has done in his life. Thankful to get to witness that, too.

Tomorrow is somehow already our last full day on the reservation. We’re going to finish up our work and do another Blow Out (kids night).

Here’s a picture of the area where we’re staying and working. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some overall convictions and burdens next time. Thanks for all the support/prayers.



South Dakota Pt. 2

Read these two blogs to get an update on what happened today. A lot of our people all decided to write about our trip as well and I seriously think that’s awesome. I feel like they did really well so I don’t want to just repeat. Here are Sarah’s and Corey’s:

There are a few things I’d like to add, though.

  • Corey and Sarah already addressed the immense poverty and barriers the people here face. Seriously, check out what they said about it. It’s heart-wrenching in the worst way. But, this made me think about life back home. Someone in our car said something like, “how can that company have a fancy, graphic-infused sign when there is such poverty all around?” and then it got me thinking- how can we ourselves live like we do when people are in such conditions? The distance doesn’t change anything. Similar feelings to when I was India surfaced, really. I don’t know what to do about any of it, but I’d like to have a conviction that lasts and leads to a change to live more in reality with what’s going on (however far) around me.
  • We’ve only been here less than a day, but some scripture is already sounding different to me. An example (one of my favorite that I’m going to use in my teaching), Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
    • This passage usally convicts me, but driving through the reservation made it all seem so much more urgent. There is just no reason to waver in whatver silliness that usually weights us down when there is a chance to help spread the only love that leads to real change. I’m not trying to stand on some high horse or something, because I’m no saint in such things, but the idea has a hold on me right now.
  • Doubts are easy right now. Well, actually, after hanging out with a bunch of the dudes on the reservation tonight (playing basketball) and meeting a few of the workers at Oyate Concern it did give me a lot more hope. But the drive leading to here when we were reading the stats about the reservation and praying for the people just made me question a lot. How can this be okay? 80% unemployment and skyrocketing suicide rates? I know God cares so much about these people, but it’s hard to see in a messed up world sometimes. Praying together helped a lot. Hopefully we don’t get caught up in the vast amount of problems around us and instead see the need and let God use us to be one of the people to fight against it.
  • Contrast. This part reminded me of India the most. Abandoned houses. Houses that look abandoned but aren’t. Then, right beyond said houses, BEAUTIFUL hills and clouds and landscape like I’ve never seen. It reminds me of the contrast between God’s love and overall goodness and what we as people have done with it because of the underlying lack of concern we have toward one another.

I hope that’s not too depressing, but that’s what’s going on right now. Again, once we got to Oyate Concern the whole tone in my mind and of the people in my car changed. You can tell God is really working through the people here and I’m excited to finally start helping out tomorrow.

Lastly, pray for Max and Corey teaching the Teen Night tomorrow night. B and I are teaching the adult group next day.

Here’s a picture of the Badlands from this afternoon.



An Introduction to South Dakota

Today we are leaving for our mission trip to South Dakota. I figured I’d write this short post so people know what’s going on, who is going, and what to pray for.

What’s Going On

Columbus Xenos is putting on this trip, but they are letting some of us from NeoXenos join. This happened because my best friend from high school (since 4th grade, actually) (also the guy who brought me around & helped lead me to Christ), Max, invited me half-jokingly months back and now here we are. Him and another Columbus guy, Ryan, have planned the whole trip. We’ll be gone for about a week.

We’re going to be helping out at the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. The group we’re going to help is called Oyate Concern. There are about 40,000 Lakota Sioux living there. It’s also in one of the poorest counties in the United States, Shannon County.

We’ll be helping paint a youth area as well as doing some trimming and some other manual labor to help make their location more inviting. We’ll also be helping teaching three meetings- two youth and one adult. Max and Corey are doing the high school teaching. Bryan and I are doing the adult one. (Some girls who I have yet to meet are teaching the other youth meeting). I also hear the kids there love basketball, so we can’t wait for that. To be honest, I don’t know everything else that will happen and how we’ll help. We’re trying to go in with a willing attitude to help however we can.

Who is Going

Northeast Ohio Xenos-

Bryan, Collin, Tommy, Corey, Sarah F., Sarah L., and myself.

All of us are in High Life homechurch, except for Corey. He’s in the homechurch that somehow still goes by the name “HAM” (sorry, still bitter).

Columbus Xenos-

Max and 12 other people from Columbus (I would list them all but I don’t know most of them. I can’t wait to change that, though).

What to Pray for

  • Energy… the work days are going to be long, from what I hear
  • Unity, especially since we have people from not just two cities/ministries but also people from numerous, different homechurches within those cities
  • Understanding, since we are going to a completely different people group that a lot of us don’t know too much about. Also pray for sensitivity and compassion toward these people
  • For the gospel to both get out and get out clearly, since there will probably be a lot of barriers
  • The teachings
  • A burden, both when we are there and for when we come back


Can’t wait.

Philly Trip: Part 3

Here we are on the last night of our Philly trip. It’s getting pretty late and we’re all getting ready for bed since we have to be out of here early tomorrow. I wanted to make sure to write this now while it’s all so fresh, though.

I just want to start and simply say that the last two days have been awesome. Probably the best we’ve had.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we did the normal morning routine (Henry and Trey led the guys’ morning devotional, Jeri and Georgia led the group teaching), then we went back out to Express Church. This time around there were no tornado scares or rainstorms, so we got a full day’s work in. We were a little bit dispersed this time since we had a few different things going on. Most of the people kept working on the skate park, but two teams went out and passed out flyers for our “block party” and a few of us spent a good portion of the day filling in gravel roads in the camp portion of the Y. I did that with two of the pastor’s sons and Shawn and Theo. It was a lot of work but it was really fun relating with his sons (Stephen and Josiah). One thing our whole group has been praying for continuously is that we could encourage those two, since they don’t have many other people their age following the Lord around them (and we are a big group of just that). We really hope that maybe they could get a group going in their school someday. Oh yeah, just as an aside, those two are seriously some of the hardest working high schoolers I’ve been around (and so much fun, too). Another cool part of the day was getting to talk with Justin some. I asked him what his views on the importance of seminary and he said he thinks it’s an awesome thing but not necessary to be a solid worker. He’s over halfway done with his M.Div but said he probably won’t finish unless it’s holding him back in ministry. I like that attitude. He also got his four year degree in something related to the Bible after he was in the Navy.

Anyway, after that we went to the park for the block party. Laura, Jess and some of the girls went and picked up a bunch of pretzels (they’re famous around here) to give out at the party and ended up having a sweet talk with the cashier. You’ll have to ask them more, but he straight up asked them why they were here and also how someone gets to heaven. Crazy. At the party, we had probably ten to fifteen people show up throughout. Most lived in the neighborhood, but one family came from seeing the flyer hanging up at the Y which is pretty cool. It was awesome seeing a lot of our people being so willing to initiate with random people there and show them love. Two people (that I know of) from the party ended up saying they are going to check out Express Church, which is awesome. We obviously wished we’d been able to be a bridge for more people but it was still so sweet having a fun time with Justin’s family and all the people that stopped by. He told us all a bunch of stories and encouragement, too. He even said that our group has been the most mature/helpful he’s had, which honestly surprised me. But, in the same breath, our people really have been so serving.

Today (Thursday), we decided to skip the morning portion of the P2 schedule so we could get to Express Church as early as possible and get the work done we needed to. So, we left after breakfast and the morning devotional (Mat and Nate did ours- it was nice because they shared, we prayed, then we wrote down convictions from the week) and got to Phoenixville between 9 and 10. We went right back at the skatepark again as well as finished up some gravel work. It was pretty amazing because by noon or so we were all done (except for putting all the wood in dumpsters, since we didn’t have a new one yet). So, we were able to go swimming and then had some pizza for lunch. It was really nice of Justin and them because they straight up bought it for us. It was also cool because a lot of our people donated some to give back, too. Anyway, after that we went on down to the bleachers and did our last “group devotional” aka teaching/discussion. Laura seriously did an awesome job with that and it was sweet having Justin and his family (as well as another lady in the church) sit in with us and share as well. Our people shared and participated well as always, too. Then, as Laura was still wrapping up her teaching, a big truck came and replaced the full dumpster with a new, empty one. It was pretty funny with her and everyone who was sharing having to essentially yell to be heard over the noise. It all worked out, though, and then we went back to work and finished the job. That probably took us a little over an hour (you should’ve seen our dumpster work, by the way… it was like a Tetris player’s dream). I was so happy it came in time so we didn’t have to leave them with any extra work to do. Afterward, since Justin was already telling some stories (he likes to talk/encourage/share- which I love), we asked if we could interview him on camera so our people back home can get an idea of what his vision and church is like as well as so we can pray for him. He was down and it was sweet hearing what he had to share. Then, he reached into his pocket and gave all of us a piece of a chain in order to symbolize how we all are a link for people to Christ. The way he shared about that left us all inspired, seriously.

Lastly, we went and had communion in the park before we had to say our goodbyes. I felt it was a fitting end since our group overall as well as with Express Church has become so unified in thsi trip- and that’s all because of Jesus. I did a mini-teaching before we did it as well as explained the purpose and reason for doing communion. It was so sweet hearing everyone’s prayers of thanks but maybe even sweeter afterward. It felt like some sort of family reunion hanging out with them and saying bye. None of us wanted to leave but are excited to pray for these guys as we head out.

Tonight has also been fun since then, with everyone from the different churches staying at the school hanging out and fellowshipping. I keep hearing most of our people saying how they don’t want to leave but at the same time can’t wait to see everyone back home. I feel that. This trip has been a blast but I hope we can all take some real convictions back from it and move forward with them back in our day to day lives. We had a lot of scary and hard times here, but the hardest may be reflecting what He has shown us back home. It’s awesome thinking of what the ripple effects could be if each of us end up doing so, though.

So, some final thoughts:

  • Pray for workers for Express Church. We asked Justin a million times what to pray for and that was his number one answer every time. Oh yeah, I also loved how we said he’s not a church planter but a disciple maker. Very cool.
  • Some of the convictions I have so far
    • The crazy amount of life-changing ability one small conversation can have
    • God is really big, Satan is active- stay alert
    • You can’t plan everything. Sometimes tornado warnings happen and you can either stress or roll with it
    • Jesus really does unify people… we have felt literally at home being with Express Church (as well as being in a different city but at home because we all are together), and that’s all because of Him
      • How sad it is that so many people out in the world don’t have that. See, our group here is awesome and beautiful and all of that, but most people are “without hope in the world.” That’s what convicted me during communion. I went over Acts 2 and how close-knit in love the early church was during it, which I see in both our and their groups. But, at the same time, most people are so far from that and hardly getting by. We have the ability to present them with such a “living hope”
    • The importance of prayer. We have prayed a LOT on this trip, which I’m sure led to some of the sweet things that happened. I don’t do that enough back home
    • This may be the biggest one… how the number one thing God is looking for is availability. Express Church is happening because a few people were willing to go all out for it. These high schoolers who did so much good did so because they love Him and presented themselves as available. A guy like Nick, who has only been a believer for half a year, helped us lead this group and did an amazing job. It really isn’t about head-knowledge, it’s about if you want to trust Him to use you or not.
    • Going out of your comfort zone for God is worth it every time (and a complete joy). I don’t regret talking to that one lady at all. I do regret not talking to this group of teenagers who were kind of trying to talk to Shawn and I at Mcdonald’s. You get the idea).

Well, I think that’s all I have. I’m so glad I got to be a part of this trip and can’t wait to see what’ll happen because of it.

I’ll have to leave you with probably the most foundational verse of the week:

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and even o the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Here’s us in front of our kill (what used to be a skate park).


Philly Trip: Part 2

The last two days here in Philly have went by quick. Yesterday (Monday) started the schedule for the weekdays. During the weekdays we wake up at 7 for breakfast, have a small devotional time at 8, get together for the “P2 Show” at 9:30, have our group devotions at 10:30, lunch at 12, and then finally go out to our church planter for the rest of the day afterward. I like that we get to spend the afternoon and beginning of evenings over there.

Yesterday Shawn (spelled it right this time) and Jaret did the guys’ devotional. Then, later Jess and Lynsey taught the group one. They all did well. I think the main thing that has been awesome is how into sharing everyone has been this trip. We essentially have to cut comments off each time because we’re running out of time. Then we went to Express Church (our church plant) and started the process of tearing down the skate park of the Y that hosts the church. I never thought I’d be tearing down a skate park, let alone with 22 of my friends. Nick and I were a few minutes late and it was both hilarious and awesome how hard people were already going when we got there. I think my favorite part was seeing Mistie, from afar, slamming away at a half-pipe with a sledge hammer as I walked up. The thing that did suck was that Lynsey and Jeri stepped on some nails and had to go make sure they had all the shots they needed. They are okay and in good spirits, thankfully. Anyway, it was a long day of tearing down and throwing weirdly shaped pieces of wood in a big dumpster. We went at it for about six hours. It turns out that skate park demolition is a pretty good “team-building exercise.” I was seriously amazed at the lack of complaining and fun had on the high schoolers’ part. These students came to serve and are doing sweet at it.

One of the best parts of the whole skatepark process yesterday was how involved the pastor, Justin was. He was out there all day with us leading the charge, as well as three of his sons. Throughout the day he also told us stories of how their church is going as well as encouraging us to have an outward, missional focus as we grow. He’s all about not building up huge churches, but continuing to move out and plant more where the need is. I like that and his words challenged me. It was also so cool because he told Laura and I that some lady came up to him in the morning and said she met some people from Ohio that said they were with him for the week. He said she said good things and that it could be a good bridge to get her to come out to a meeting. I showed him the video of the lady I talked about in my last blog that Mat and I interviewed, and it was the same lady! I was amazed at how God is already using that small conversation we had in the park the other day. It blew me away, in all honesty.

When we got back, Jaret and Shelba shared in front of the rest of the people at P2 about what’s going on in Express Church so far. After that it was sweet seeing a lot of our people mixing it up with some of the students of other churches. Some of them stayed up way too late playing cards and talking, but that’s par for the course. I’m glad everyone is having such a good time.

Today (Tuesday), we did the same kind of thing in the morning. This time, Tyler and Theo shared the devotional for the guys and then Nick and Graphs taught the group devotional. I love how into playing a part everyone has been this week. I rarely have seen a more clear vision of how all the different gifts of the body of Christ work together.

Once we got to our site, we started right at the skate park again. Justin was only there for an hour, but we got a lot of work done in that time. Right when he left, though, we were told of a tornado warning and had to go inside of the Y. The next few hours were spent in the gym playing basketball and different games, with some of our people going off and doing various serving things for the Y when need. Some of us felt a little discouraged that the weather (there were also thunderstorms) was keeping us from doing what we came to do. Pretty much everything we had planned was for the outdoors. However, people kept their spirits up for the most part and we had fun. It was also cool being able to build in with the pastor’s wife, since she was with us that whole time.

After the storm passed, we took everyone down to this local park. Katie and some other girls had an idea to do a slip n’ slide as an outreach event, and we were going to do that at said park tomorrow. However, that’s not going to work out but we are going to do kickball and other games (we’re calling it a block party) and hopefully combine it with a mini teaching and testimony sharing. It’ll all depend on who comes out, so we’ll see. We might pass out some flyers and stuff. Anyway, we went there to eat our dinner and to pray for the event tomorrow. If you read this before 5pm tomorrow (Wednesday), please pray for that. After we ate, we hung around the park and played around. A lot of people also met and talked to others who were hanging out at the park, too. I know at least three people said they were going to come to the event tomorrow, including one guy who was playing his guitar and singing songs while some of our people were talking with him.

That may be a lot of unnecessary detail, but hopefully it’ll be cool to see how this whole thing progresses over time.  I’m excited to see how God is going to use this trip as we move forward to the last couple of days.

The last thing I want to say is how crazy it is what a difference one small conversation can have. I hope I take more of such opportunities in the future. Really, I guess it just comes down to caring about people even when it gets you out of your comfort zone. That’s hard, but worth it.

Isaiah 6:8

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am, send me!’”

Here’s a picture of us at lunch yesterday.


Philly Trip: Part 1

So, I’m in Philadelphia right now helping lead a high school mission trip. We’re with an organization called P2 Missions who sets groups like us up with a local church planter. Ours is this guy named Justin who started Express Church, which meets in Phoenixevlle, PA (a suburb of Philly).

Above is the basic information, like what I would tell you if I had to send a little informational report or something. But, here I would like to just write some thoughts and insights gathered along our week-long journey. I’m guessing my writing won’t be the best, it’s pretty late (everyone is trying to sleep right now) and we’re at the end of our second day here. I’m with all the guys in the gym of this school and the people here said the emergency lights for the gym never turn off, so we sleep in the light. It was weird getting used to that last night, so us guys were a bit tired today.

Anyway, I’ll give you a short rundown of what has went down so far. Last night around 5 we all got to our “home base” at the school. Well, a lot of people were late because of the weather. But, once most of us were here and settled in, we went to what they call the “P2 Show,” which I guess the best way to describe is just a time to pray, get into the Word a little, and “worship” (sing songs). That part has been interesting for us from Xenos, since we aren’t used to it. Most of our people have done a good job of going with the flow, though. After that, they had a dedicated time of prayer. I liked that a lot, though (again) it was a bit more manufactured than I’m used to. Regardless, it got us all talking to the Lord and that’s never a bad thing. Then, we had a little break and then were able to gather with just our people. Laura and I thought it’d be good to have small teachings each day during the “group devotional time” they set out for us, so we’re doing a series on witnessing. I did the first one last night and it was really sweet to hear everyone’s convictions and excitement about the week. Then it was bedtime and “lights out” that doesn’t mean lights out and all that so, yeah, ha.

Today (Sunday, June 28th, 2015 to be exact), was our first full day. After breakfast we had devotional time. We’re having our guys and girls split up for that. Today we talked about prayer from a passage in Luke 18. The rest of the days the high school guys are going to pair up and lead those. Then, after some more sing-song stuff I won’t belabour you with, we finally got to go out and meet our church planter. We got there just in time for their Sunday meeting to start, which was awesome. They meet right in the lobby of a local YMCA, since the church does not have a building (something we’re all about). Right when we came in one of their leaders asked us if we had some people who would want to share testimonies (we had told them we did previously, but didn’t know the timing of it or anything). So, that was exciting. Jaret did a good job of being the first one to share his, which got the ball rolling and then Maggie, Mistie, and Trey did as well. They all did really well and the pastor (Justin) even referenced a few of their stories in his teaching. He taught over Jesus healing the paralytic man by the water. I liked his message and style of teaching. He also has a crazy mustache, plenty of tattoos, had a shirt that said “Jesus Freak” on it, and said he used to be an alcoholic. After the meeting, they actually gave us lunch and stayed and talked to us for a while. It was sweet hearing all the stories of how the church has gotten on its feet. When him and I were talking afterward, Justin kept pointing around the room and explaining how a different person received Christ. For example, the dude who now plays the keyboard for them is a fitness instructor at the Y and just checked out their meeting one day and now knows Jesus.

After that the people at Express Church had some things to do so we took our people down a free streets to see what kind of area we’re working with. We ended up at in a baseball dugout and did some praying for the people there and for the week in general. During our prayer the Lord must’ve been answering because I briefly mentioned how I am trying to put together a little documentary of the trip together (with Ian’s help, for the film fest we’re having next month) and then Laura came and asked me if I thought it’d be a good idea to go and interview people in Phonexville right then and there. We happened to have an extra two hours on our hands, so we gave each car an “assignment” to interview two people on camera in regards to something spiritual. Then, we were off.

At first, our car had some trouble finding people. Sean and Jaret asked some people at that park, but were rejected. Then, we went to another park and played some basketball hoping that could be a lead in, but no luck. Finally, we stumbled upon one final park and got out. Nick, Jaret and Sean went off and got an interview with a Christian girl, which was cool. Mat and I, since we were just kind of standing around, reluctantly went up to this group of three people. At first, one lady kept saying that she thought we were messing with her (she used harsher language, actually) and said we didn’t look like Jesus people but more like we should be in an emo band together. We laughed and kept going. That person never let us inteview her on camera, but did keep coming back wanting to talk about things. The real story was her friend, though. She said she doesn’t know what she believes, but that her real hang up is that her husband passed away less than a year ago and she also lost a child a few years back. It was heartbreaking to hear this poor woman talk, but nice to be able to tell her some of the words of the only one who can actually offer her rest. What was so crazy about the whole thing is that when I asked her if she goes to the Y she said she does and that some guy with a mustache keeps trying to get her to come to his church! She already knows Justin! After our talk, she said she is going to think about checking it out now. I don’t know if she will or not, but I hope so and really think God put us in that situation for some reason.

The (spontaneously planned) interview session really sparked some excitement in our people. It was so sweet hearing all the other cars’ stories. Afterward we had some training on church planting and evangelism, which I won’t get into because I’m already going way too long here. But, it was good. During that, though, it was sad because two of our people have to leave tomorrow morning because a family member is about to pass away. I won’t get much into that either, but we’re going to keep praying for them and theirs.

Lastly, after dinner, they took us down to downtown Philly for a prayer walk around the city. I had never done such a thing, but we just went around some different areas and prayed for the people there. I liked it, and we also got to see some of the sights around there. I actually had my good old friend Terique, who only lives half an hour away, come by and join us for that. It was really sweet catching up with him for sure (and nice to have him there to be our unofficial tour guide, ha).

I should end it here, it’s getting pretty late. But, I do want to relay one conversation we had that stuck out to me. Today, when we were at the dugout praying, a worker (I’m assuming) came up to Paul and starting asking questions. I was curious so went over, and she said she just wants to know “Who are you and why are you here?” I thought that was a fairly blunt question, and she just replied and said she had never seen anyone doing what we’re doing. We told her we were praying and she seemed surprised but let us be and left. What stuck out to me was that question of hers, though.

“Who are you and why are you here?”

I’m not sure if there are many more important questions than that right there.

“Who are you and why are you here?”

If we are going to have any significant impact, I know all of us will need to continually remember the answer to both of those questions.

Kendrick Lamar and a Homeless Jesus

Scenario 1: Pulling onto the highway exit ramp, I notice a “homeless” man asking for change. “There’s no way he’s actually homeless,” I think to myself, sparing no judgment while making sure my doors are locked.

Scenario 2: My roommate’s car broke down and now he’s asking to borrow mine. What a loser. Does he think I exist solely to meet his needs?

Scenario 3: A friend comes to me for help with a personal issue. Does he not see I have my own things to worry about? I mean, he didn’t even ask if I had time to talk.

Common denominator: All three of these people could be Jesus in disguise.

I know that sounds really weird. But, according to both Kendrick Lamar and Jesus Himself that may very well be the case.

Kendrick Lamar’s song, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” off his new album, To Pimp a Butterfly, directly expounds upon this very issue.

In the song, Kendrick tells about an encounter with a homeless man at a gas station in South Africa. The man asks Kendrick for the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, but Kendrick refuses, saying that it is not his job to take care of every bum on the street. Kendrick goes on to elaborate angrily, stating how he thinks the homeless man will use the money for drugs.

The lyrics below show this moment:

He’s starin’ at me in disbelief
My temper is buildin’, he’s starin’ at me, I grab my key
He’s starin’ at me, I started the car, then I tried to leave
And somethin’ told me to keep it in park until I could see
The reason why he was mad at a stranger
Like I was supposed to save him
Like I’m the reason he’s homeless and askin’ me for a favor
He’s starin’ at me, his eyes followed me with no laser
He’s starin’ at me, I notice that his stare is contagious
Cause now I’m starin’ back at him, feelin’ some type of disrespect
If I could throw a bat at him, it’d be aimin’ at his neck
I never understood someone beggin’ for goods
Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could 

I especially like the tension shown with the two staring at one another. Kendrick gets so mad at the homeless man that he even fantasizes about hitting him with a bat.

Are we ever that honest with ourselves?

Anyway, as the song goes on Kendrick continues to get angry at the man and starts to rationalize his lack of giving with the following:

I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless
My selfishness is what got me here, who the fuck I’m kiddin’?
So I’mma tell you like I told the last bum
Crumbs and pennies, I need all of mines
And I recognize this type of panhandlin’ all the time
I got better judgement, I know when nigga’s hustlin’, keep in mind
When I was strugglin’, I did compromise, now I comprehend

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to this type of thinking. How am I supposed to help others (especially when it inconveniences me) when I need to worry about all the million issues in my own life? Besides, most people are probably just trying to take, anyway.

The song really gets interesting, though, once the homeless man reveals who he actually is:

He looked at me and said, “Know the truth, it’ll set you free
You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power
The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit
The nerve of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost

The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God”

What in the world? He’s God? I didn’t see that one coming…

Turns out, this is a pretty clear reference to Matthew 25, where Jesus says:

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

In short, He is saying that how we treat people in need directly correlates with how we “treat” Jesus. Being a follower of Him is not merely academic, rather it should result in an outpouring of love to those around us.

Overall, I love the level of honesty Kendrick displays when tackling such a tough issue. It’s so easy to say that we “want to love” other people, but man is it difficult. On the first level, it’s hard because we are so wildly selfish when it comes down to it. If we get past that, though, it tends to get complicated when there are so many different options pulling for our attention. I mean, just go to a website like GoFundMe and you’ll quickly become overwhelmed with all the areas of need.

Still, Jesus simply states that “when you did (or didn’t) do it (serve/love/etc.) to one of the least of these… you were doing it (or weren’t) to me.”

It’s a high calling, one that Kendrick notices deeply.

He starts the last stanza with:

I wash my hands, I said my grace
What more do you want from me?

Here Kendrick is probably referencing Pontius Pilate, who famously “washed his hands” of Jesus when He was on trial before His crucifixion. Like Pilate, Kendrick is trying to escape some blame. Pilate did this by saying it wasn’t his fault that Jesus would be killed, since the crowd urged him to make the sentence. Kendrick, too, is saying he’s not directly responsible for the man’s homelessness.

However, the last few lines tell his final state of mind:

Tears of a clown, guess I’m not all what is meant to be
Shades of grey will never change if I condone
Turn this page, help me change, so right my wrongs

Finally, he asks God to help him change. Kendrick does not offer any other grandiose conclusion about the problem of pain or suffering, but rather simply asks for help to start viewing and acting toward others with compassion.

Will we do the same?



Persecution is on the Rise; Don’t Remain Silent

If you follow the news at all, chances are you know about ISIS. The Middle Eastern terrorist group goes by a few names, the main ones being the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL). The exact numbers are hard to know, but to date ISIS has killed thousands.

While ISIS goes after any group or person who will not convert to Islam, many of their attacks have been on Christians.

About a month and a half ago, on April 20, 2015, ISIS operatives produced a video of the beheading and shooting of 30 Ethiopian Christians. These Christians were given the choice to either renounce their faith or be killed, according to CNN.

Not only is ISIS, and other groups for that matter, persecuting and killing Christians, but also they are purposely advertising the atrocities through videos and social media campaigns.

A similar event took place in February, when 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt were taped being executed on a Libyan Beach.

That video was called A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross, obviously pointing to ISIS’ aspiration to target Christians worldwide.

According to the Christian Post, “ISIS has often targeted Christians in its attacks, and has told them to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed for their faith in the cities it has captured.”

These are just two of the numerous attacks Christians overseas have been facing as of late.

According to a recent Forbes magazine article, Religious Persecution and Hostility on the Rise, “about 5.5 billion people (77 percent of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from… 68 percent as of 2007.”

A 2014 BBC article, Growing Religious Persecution ‘a Threat to Everyone,’ states, “Religious freedom was at risk in 60% of the world’s countries and (has) entered a period of serious decline.” The article goes on to say how a Pew Research Study report shows “the rising tide of anti-Christian persecution in several parts of the world (is) ‘catastrophic,’ pointing out that Christians remain the most persecuted religious minority, due partly to their geographic spread and high relative numbers.”

According to those studies and statistics, persecution in our world is on the rapid rise and Christians are taking the most casualties.

Some of this may sound surprising to you, the reader. Did you know that Christians are being persecuted at such high levels?

Whether this is new information or not, such findings should raise an alarm in our minds and call us to action. Instead, most of us apathetically sit back in our modern, comfortable world while our brothers and sisters overseas are being persecuted and sometimes killed for the very faith we share.

How can we help?

Most of us probably will not go overseas. Many of us do not have much money. However, what we do have is prayer and we should employ it with vigor.

An article called “How to Pray for the Persecuted Church” is up on Cru’s website and is helpful. It suggests we pray for the persecuted believers in the following ways:

  • “Please pray persecuted believers would know the hope God gives (Ephesians 1:18).
  • Pray the Holy Spirit would strengthen them (Ephesians 3:16).
  • Please pray persecuted believers would know how much God loves them (Ephesians 3:17)
  • Pray they would know how to share the gospel (Ephesians 6:19).
  • Please pray persecuted believers would fearlessly tell others about Jesus (Ephesians 6:20).”

However you decide to pray, please do. It is so easy in the comfort of our Western world to forget about what is going on elsewhere. Instead, let’s band together and cry out for those who need it.

Note: This was originally written for our fellowship’s weekly brochure we give out at our main meetings.