What to do after a short-term mission trip

So you did it and now you are finally back home. You left your comfort zone and ventured out to preach the gospel and serve the poor in a foreign land. The worn and withered hands and blistered feet of the poor have left a permanent mark on your heart and mind. The adrenaline rush of journeying from small town to small town preaching the gospel has reignited a spiritual corner of your soul that you thought was dead long ago. And now you find yourself back into the day-to-day mundane of reality in America. What in the world did I just experience and how does this relate to my life as a whole? what do I do now?

My family and I have been blessed to lead several short-term mission trips in the last couple of years and Lacy and I would like to offer a few simple steps on returning back home and making the most of your short-term mission experience.

 First things first

What you experienced was real and was indeed part of the life of the Church. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. In fact what you experienced is the very lifeblood of the church- the very mission of the Church. The church exists to evangelize, and you just spent an uninterrupted period of time doing so. Jesus himself commands us to Go into the WHOLE world and preach the gospel and you did just that (emphasis mine). Too often we settle and buy into the lie that Jesus only wants us to preach the gospel and make disciples in our own backyard. The sad reality is that lines like these are never found in the gospel. Indeed, we need to make disciples in our homes and neighborhoods, but we also need to open our ears anew to Jesus’ words in the great commission: Go into the whole world!

If we all just stayed in our own backyards making disciples then the close to three billion people in this world who do not know Jesus will not receive the gospel of Christ. How devastating. If we all just stayed in our own backyards making disciples then underserved countries with little resources in their churches will dry up and falter. Most churches in the world do not have an excess of resources for various ministries. Where we live in rural Central America there are two priests in charge of over 50 churches. This is not a rare reality across the world. We have so many resources in our American Churches while so many churches across the world have so little. When you Go you will always bless those you serve as long as you preach the gospel wholeheartedly in season and out of season.

Can my presence there really make a difference?

Once while in Mexico my wife and I learned that she had miscarried. It was a tear-filled and exhausting day. We were scheduled to go out into one of the small surrounding villages that night to share testimonies and preach the gospel; namely, my wife was set to share a teaching that night. She spent most of the day resting and mourning and trying to decide whether or not she would stay back that evening or go to the village. Something deep within her told her she needed to go and preach the gospel as she had planned, and so we went. As Lacy finished sharing, a lady in the back of the old, dark church in the middle of the Mexican desert stood up and joyfully exclaimed  “because of your testimony I now believe in Jesus!”
Sometimes the things we take for granted, a simple testimony or a song in church are the very things people in the developing world are thirsting for. Testimonies are rarely shared in forgotten villages of the developing world, so never doubt the power of your witness among these people. YES, your presence can and will make a great difference.

Should I stay or should I go?

“I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the churches energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer of Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” – Pope Saint  John Paul the Great (RM 3)

A question I often field is “well surely God doesn’t want all of us to become foreign missionaries does he?” To which I often reply, “Well why not?”
Three years ago in my hometown of Lafayette , LA we experienced a horrendous flood, whereby thousands of people lost their homes and possessions. Quickly everyone sprung into action helping their neighbor out  and bringing hope into an otherwise abysmal situation. It was a thing of beauty. Our goal was to reach every single person who was in need of help. But, imagine for a second if we wandered upon a flooded neighborhood with 100 flooded homes and we only helped the first 10 we could reach; completely ignoring the remaining 90 families in need…No one in their right mind would allow this to happen.

So, how and why can we be content with this happening in our world when it comes to spreading the gospel? We have literally billions of people who have never heard the gospel, yet often we take no personal consideration in bringing the good news to them. So, should we all be foreign missionaries? Probably not. Are more of us called to be foreign missionaries? Absolutely!  We are also all called to prayerfully consider and listen to the voice of God in regards to obeying the great commission to go and make disciples of the whole world. This is after all a command for all Christians directly from the mouth of Jesus himself. Remember that by virtue of our baptism we are all called to be missionary disciples.

Moving Forward

I would like to offer a few practical steps moving forward in the weeks just after a short-term mission trip:
– Spend at least 30 minutes in prayer with the gospels. Quiet, uninterrupted time in scripture is irreplaceable. this is where and when God will speak and we have the opportunity to listen and obey.

-In prayer don’t be afraid to ask questions and make statements like “Holy spirit, command me to do your holy will” and “Lord, what do you want to make of this experience in my life?” and “Lord, are you calling me to take the gospel to other nations?”

-Frequent the sacraments as often as possible (namely reconciliation and the Eucharist).

-Find sincere opportunities to pray in the holy spirit with other people.

-Find ways to preach the gospel and serve the poor in your hometown.

-Consider reading the following books: Mission of the Redeemer by Pope John Paul II, Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis, Happy Are You Poor by Fr. Thomas Dubay, Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, Radical by David Platt, Go You Are Sent by Genie Summers

Finally, if you sense God is calling you into full time missions, count your blessings, find a solid spiritual director who is in tune with the church’s mission to evangelize, and GO!!! Life is short and is passing us by each day. Now is the time to make disciples of all nations.

If you are interested in attending a short-term mission trip, please visit the following http://www.familymissionscompany.com/mission-trips or email me for discussion or questions.

Daniel and the God of second chances

     Jesus has so much to say regarding the poor, and has a deep love and even preference for them. First off, In Matthew 25, he boldly tells us we will be held accountable in how we treat them.  In Luke 7: 22-23, He also tells us that the good news must be preached to the poor (emphasis mine).

     Not long after we moved into Coopevega I encountered the local pack of drunk men who were always wandering the streets. Daniel seemed to be the ring leader. He was a known borracho (drunk) in our small town. “Don’t help him, we have all been burned by Daniel!” they would warn me as they saw me speaking with him. Daniel’s story was no different than most people with a drinking or drug problem. He had burned basically every bridge and opportunity he had. His family wouldn’t let him back inside their home cause he was always drunk or high, he couldn’t keep steady employment because employment is sparse here and he is often drinking.

     But when he is sober he is a different guy. His thoughts are lucid and his heart is huge. He used to work in tourism along Costa Rica’s coast so he has some great social skills and can speak some English and French. When we met we seemed to hit it off. He always seemed to find me and always seemed to be hungry. So, we started to feed him. He would just come over hungry, almost always after he drank his earnings away and had slept in the graveyard or a mountain for the night. He had no home, car, or anything really. He had this book sack he would carry around with him and that’s all. He wore the crosses we gave him, my old t-shirts, and a nice pair of Nikes he somehow convinced me to give him. Daniel was always speaking of his desire to kick his addiction, at this stage of his life it was manifested most in alcohol. He knew it was a real demon and he longed to be freed from it. Often, I despised when he came over because it was the same thing over and over again. “Give me some food please, I’m drunk again, I have no place to live, please pray with me to change.” But this was Jesus. Daniel was Jesus at my doorstep, I just had to have the eyes to see him.
But, how should we serve the poor?

     I don’t know about you but I am tired of hearing from people other than Jesus about how I should treat people like Daniel. “Don’t give him anything; he doesn’t deserve it.” “Its best that you don’t feed him or else he will keep coming back into our neighborhood” or “You have better things to do than talk to drunk men.” Jesus never said these things about the poor. I think in our imaginations we believe that the poor Jesus is referring to are these perfect unfortunate humans who by some horrible twist of fate have become poor. But they happen to be as sweet as our grandmother and as sanitized as a new born baby in a hospital. That’s never the case. The poor are dirty, they often stink, and they are most times more than inconvenient. If we reach out to the poor they will drain us of our time, they will take advantage of our talents, and they will convince us to spend our money on them. And that’s OK. How else are we to embrace them as Jesus is calling us to do so?

      I also believe we need to change our approach with how we treat the poor. Sure, it is good and holy to want to better their situation in life, but sometimes all Jesus is asking us to do is to serve them in that moment. We are usually not called to “fix” their life. God can do that.  The clear majority of the time we are not being called to changed their economic well-being or their financial status, we are just called to love them and loving them often means simply responding to their most immediate need. Is this not the heart of Matthew 25? Feed me, clothe me, visit me. How hard can that be? But too often we ask “well does he really need this food or clothes or is he taking advantage of me?” Who cares! Jesus just asks for us to do these things not necessarily to fully understand them.  But we must be convinced that Jesus is in the poor and that is hard. I challenge myself to reread Matthew 25 often because, now that I am away from my nice neighborhood in America the poor are all around and they are always asking for something.

Finally, a second chance

     One day when Daniel had been sober and reading his Bible for about a month he expressed to me how bad he wanted to sleep inside a house. He had been working hard and wanted to find a place to rent and he wanted to know if I would help him find a place. “For sure, Daniel! Anything for my brother.” Lacy and I even thought we would pay his first month’s rent. We live in an extremely small town so our options were very limited especially since he had burned just about every landlord in town. Our plan was for him to stay in my van and I would get out and ask each landlord if I could rent the place. I emphasized to Daniel how important it was for him to remain in the van at least while I got the conversation going. One by one each landlord seemed eager to rent to me. “Yes, the house is available, but how will your entire family fit into this small house?” and that’s when I would bring up my man Daniel. “Well you see I am renting the place for a dear friend of mine” I would say. “Oh, that’s so kind of you” they would respond. To which I would respond “Well let me go and get him, he’s in the van.” And out would pop Daniel with a smile like he was in some gameshow behind a curtain. Turns out our plan was a bit short sighted as one by one each landlord turned us down. Daniel chuckled at our first denial, explaining to the lady how he had been sober for almost a month and that he had been reading his Bible and wanted to changed. He frowned at our next denial, and then was in tears by the third one. Real, grown man tears. He knew he had wasted his life and burned bridges. He knew people in town were afraid of him, but his heart still hurt.

     We were both determined and eventually I convinced a sweet lady with doubt in her eyes to let us rent from him. She warned me how this would end and I assured her that I agreed it would probably end with my paying his last month’s rent and repairing some damages he would make along the way. I simply begged her to take a chance on Daniel because he was worth it. Even if this was his 15th chance. He was still worth it right?

      I think sometimes we view the poor and needy as people who are only warranted one chance, but we would give ourselves 15 chances in one day. If Jesus is truly the poor person at our feet then we must give them all the chances he asks us to give him. We have to live and love the poor like our chance with them is the only one they have. I was naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

A grand celebration

        We did it big for Daniel’s move in. He was so proud when his landlord handed him over the keys. He actually gave me a copy and told me this was our place. I almost teared up at his excitement and hospitality. I thought for about thirty seconds how insane it would have been to live with Daniel even for just a week, but declined his offer telling him that this was his place and he was to be responsible and care for the place like it was his own. Plus, my wife expected me to live with her. We took a picture with him holding the keys that I will forever cherish in my memory. Behind his second or third hand hooters t-shirt, and my Nike shoes was an enormous smile and sense of pride that I will always remember. He had been given an opportunity. He had been treated like a human being, with dignity. It was a thing of beauty. 

     All his friends were stoked that he finally had his own place and he told them that no one was to drink in his home and that it would be a sacred place. He came over to my house the next day and asked if we could start an AA meeting in his (“our” as he kept referring to it as) new living room. He said we could read the bible and pray with one another and all his buracho friends for strength to overcome their disease. I was floored and humbled. The next night we met and there were close to twenty people there. I cooked a meal and Daniel welcomed everyone in. We prayed over one another, we ate, and read the bible. Real men shed real man tears as they confessed how far they had fallen from grace but how much they longed to change. The poor and unwanted of this small town gathered around one another and cared for one another. They saw Christ in one another. It was beautiful.

Maria’s beautiful soul

“ There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all she had. Yet she was not helped and only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be healed.’” – Matthew 5:25-28

Maria is a beautiful shining soul in a dark and desperate relationship. Her beautiful smile is sometimes masked by shame and doubt. Her skin is rough and weathered, exposed from a lifetime of suffering. She and her husband of many years were both alcoholics. Well he still is, but she has turned and left it all behind. You can still find him sitting on his porch drunk yelling at every passerby.
One day she saw Jesus walking along the muddy road in front of her house. He came into clear view in form of the Word of God, and suddenly, like the touch of the woman with a twelve-year hemorrhage it all changed. Healing and hope entered her heart. The spirit of God invaded her soul; her old life had come and gone. She quickly tossed out the bottles of vodka she used to stumble upon for so many years, and she humbly touched the cloak of Jesus. Just a touch, just a taste of Jesus and she was satisfied. Eternal satisfaction, one that didn’t leave her so empty the next morning. She now glows brightly and her Bible is her only medicine.

There are times in my life when I lack Maria’s courage and faith; times when I sit back and watch Jesus pass me by. Oh, to have her faith. Teach me, Lord that you are all I need. Each time we visit Maria she joyfully asks for prayer and scripture; because since she reached out in faith it is all she needs.

Today we buried a  beautiful woman. There were no flowers, no hearses, no instruments for music. No eloquent eulogies or photo slide shows. There was a cheap fur covered coffin, carried by men in rubber boots. There were people following in the rain and mud. There was our family van carrying her beautiful body, filling the inside with a hard to bear odor, driving down to the cemetery – with grass and weeds tall as our knees. There were people gathered, scattered wherever a patch of less soggy ground could be found – some unknowingly on top of graves marked by two sticks fastened into a cross, slanting and falling over. There were children snapping their flip flops in sticky mud while handing to the crying family the colorful weeds they’d picked along the way. There were men lowering the coffin with yellow rope into the deep hole… there was slipping of the rope and falling of the coffin, toppling and slanting … causing our beautiful friend to fall out into the mud. There were scuffles and scrambling for a ladder but none to be found. There was the daughter weeping and running away to the other side of the cemetery not able to watch any longer. There were men jumping way down into the deep hole to help her themselves. There were two shovels…only two shovels. Borrowed from a friend. Two scoops of dirt at a time falling down onto the fur, one after the other as men took turn after turn, pausing to wipe away sweat, 45 minutes until the hole was filled. There was mourning and weeping and tears. And there was dancing and rejoicing in Heaven where there is no more poverty and not one minute of suffering or loneliness or darkness. Only beauty. Only goodness. Only gazing upon the one who is Love. And who makes all things new.
– Lacy

The Faithful Shepherd

Last Sunday marked the deadliest day in Nicaragua since the government protests and violence heated up in the spring. Reports of 38 deaths in one day seem to be flying under the radar for some reason. 38 deaths in one day. We live roughly 15 kilometers from the Nicaragua border and dating back to the late 1900s Coopevega de Cutris, Costa Rica has long been a gathering place of refuge for Nicaraguans fleeing oppression, violence, and turmoil. Many people seem to be arriving here weekly just searching for peace and a better life. 
God promises us all the refuge and security we need in his word. 
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
-Psalm 46:1
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior ; you save me from violence.” 
-2 Samuel 22:3

He is all I need /There is nothing I lack
This afternoon we visited with two young  families all living under one small roof who arrived here just eight days ago. No running water, minimal lights, and just trying to catch their breathe. Their children’s schools have been shut down and their neighborhoods are quickly emptying from the violence.  The men are searching for honest labor each day to no avail. 
My wife and I looked at each other and realized we didn’t have much to give them but God’s word and his promises. We simply gathered around the center of the dark room and read Psalm 23 aloud with them. A peace filled the room. A hopeful silence seemed to have been ushered into their hearts. We have a faithful shepherd. God indeed is our shepherd and with him there is truly nothing we lack, even if we lack everything. 

Please pray for the beautiful people of Nicaragua. Pray for peace and a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pray for those fleeing violence and death daily.

World Mission Sunday 2017: A Personal Reflection

Today the Catholic Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. Praise God! Please join me in praying that our family’s simple and humble witness would be enough for the people we serve in rural, Central America, Costa Rica. We have been blessed far beyond any measure by God and by the beautiful people of Costa Rica. Often times, our many shortcomings are on display as well and we pray that through our weaknesses we would be made strong and that we could have the grace and courage to boast in Christ and in Him alone. Below is a brief, honest, and broken reflection on the Church’s Mission, the Great Commission.
Over 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ, the God that so many of us reading this article profess as Lord and King proclaimed these words to his closest followers,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of time.”
(Matthew 28: 16-20)
The Church does not take these words of Jesus lightly at all as she has always boldly proclaimed that the mission of the Church is summed up in these final words of Jesus. Put simply, if we are not adhering to the great commission then we are not the Church. When we stop following this command of Jesus we stop following Jesus and we are lifeless.  Saint Pope John Paul II states it best when he says, “For in the Church’s history, missionary drive has always been a sign of vitality, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith.” (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 2). Therefore, if we don’t go, proclaim, baptize, make disciples, and teach then we are nothing more than self-seeking Christians. And what is a self-seeking Christian?
These eleven men would then proceed to make the UNBELIEVABLE achievement of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ across the then known world. I bold the word UNBELIEVABLE because that is what it is: an UNBELIEVABLE result. Perhaps taking a moment to focus on the end of these men’s lives will help us understand how such a rugged group of misfits carried out the master’s command so faithfully.
Peter was crucified under the persecutions of Nero in the year 67, upside down.
Philip was crucified upside down as well in the year 62.
Andrew was crucified but preached the gospel for two days tied to the cross, dying in the year 61.
James was beheaded in the year 42
Thomas was stabbed to death in India in the year 74
John was the only apostle not martyred. He died at 95 being imprisoned and heavily persecuted.
Matthew was martyred in the year 65.
Simon was crucified in the year 67.
Jude was clubbed to death in the year 67.
James the less was cast off his pulpit as he preached and then was clubbed to death in the year 62.
Bartholomew was martyred by being skinned alive in the year 72.

Life and Blood

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”
“He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”
-Jim Elliot
The only secret to evangelism that these eleven men held are found in Jesus’ criteria to become a disciple, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). And these words are no secret at all, yet often times they are deeply hidden in our proclamation of the gospel. How often we spin our wheels as Christians trying to present the good news of Jesus Christ. Churches (Catholic, Protestant, Non-denominational, etc) in America and most developed nations have budgets stacked up upon budgets for ministries and programs and sub programs to reach those in their cities. How are we doing? Are we creating true disciples? Are we creating men and women here in America who would drop their nets (I should mention that fishing was not mere recreation for these men, it was occupational) at the sound of the voice of God to come and follow the master into unknown lands? What type of Christian are we creating? Are we creating men and women who forsake worldly gain for the treasures found only upon the eternal shore, or are we creating Christians who long to make a permanent home here on earth? Make no doubt about it, the eleven men above had no desire to remain here permanently once their hearts had been so stirred by the example of their friend and teacher Jesus. And after the Holy Spirit invaded every single fiber of their being, these men were going to spread the love, truth, and power of their master Jesus Christ- even if it meant their death. And for them it did.  Is it mere coincidence that each of these men suffered so greatly in delivering the command of Jesus Christ to the nations in such a short time? The gospel spread so quickly because of the radical witness of these eleven men and because of the radical witness of the Early Church. The apostles of Jesus Christ actually thought that the end of time was literally just around the corner, so they pursued their quest accordingly. For them, there was no tomorrow or no “next generation” to carry out the task. For them, there was no “Plan B”. They did not stop until they finished or died. And turns out, they did both. When you glance upon that list of eleven men, recall that they were men and women just like you and me. Flesh and blood, one faith, one baptism.
So what about you and me? Where do we stand? Are we so consumed by Jesus that we could actually take the words of the great commission to heart as the apostles did, or even with a fraction of passion as the apostles did?  Where does our passion and treasure lie? Is it hidden it the alluring promises of riches and security that will abandon us at the moment of our death?
Jim Elliot and his four friends understood Jesus’ great command in the great commission as they abandoned all and boarded a plane to spread the gospel with the Huaoroni people in Ecuador in 1956. It was the deep desire of Jesus burning within him that led Jim Elliot upon that plane. It was his zeal for a people with no hope, a people with no knowledge of Jesus Christ, his love, his mercy. As a spear traveled through his body separating it from his soul and ending his life, an unbeliever would have believed that his life was a waste. This man abandoned his wife and a new child to die alone in a jungle in Ecuador.  What a fool. However, the fruit and truth was about to be full on the vine. Elliot’s lovely wife, Elisabeth then returned to the island to evangelize many members of the tribe and even the men who took her husband’s life. Because, the mercy of God knows no bounds! There is absolutely no corner of the earth where God cannot find us and save us! Furthermore, hundreds, even thousands of missionaries have now claimed an honorable allegiance to Jim Elliot, claiming his witness and willingness to die for the gospel as a catalyst for their missionary vocations. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church. Blood has never failed and it will never fail.

What does it matter?
               Some would say that the days of the Church’s call to evangelize the nations has come and gone. This statement could not be farther from the truth. Saint Pope John Paul II reminds us of the importance of evangelizing the nations as he states “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes” (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 3). To date there are people (millions, even billions), Christians and non-Christians alike who lack physical and spiritual resources, thus weakening their access and even desire to enter into a life giving relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. You and I own many of those resources, physically and spiritually, but far too often we chose to keep them to ourselves. Most of our formation as Christians fails to challenge us to see our world like this. It fails to challenge us to see our brother in a foreign country as someone we should assist, as someone God is asking us to assist. For the price I spend on my latte at Starbucks I could feed a brother or sister physically and spiritually for a very long time.
               It matters because as of today there are over Three Billion human beings who do not know Jesus Christ. Think about that fact for a brief moment. Almost half of the world’s population does not know Jesus and we often fail to see that statistic as something that should drive the plans and prayers of our day. These people are referred to as “unreached” and they are broken down by many Christians by “people groups”. To date there are over 6,000 people groups who do not know Jesus. These people are unreached for a reason. Far too often a fear of their intolerant and oppressive governments keep many Christians far away from these people groups. They are very hard to reach, impossible. Well, impossible for us, but with God it is possible to reach these people with the loving and saving truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, our programs and plans often fall short. What is needed is a faith of the apostles, a willingness to cancel our own plans and alter the direction of our lives. What is needed are saints. Saints who are willing to die to self and get on a plane and do any and everything to reach even just one of the “unreached”. Is there any higher or supreme calling in life than to bring another man or woman into the life of Jesus Christ?
Now is the Time
               Today our Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. Today is a chance for us to realize that our Church is enormous, our Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Our brothers and sisters are comprised of those 2.2 Billion Christians across the globe. Wow! How can we better serve those within our Church who know Jesus? There are so many ways for us to help. Some of us find that God has called us to proclaim and make disciples at home, while God calls others abroad to serve  The truth is that we must all be involved in making disciples of the nations. 
World Mission Sunday also calls our attention to the billions who still do not know the one who has set you and me free. For many of these people the bondage of sin and the darkness of its consequences have yet to be fully realized. Please join me in prayer for these billions- the unreached, those who need you and me the most. Also, please join me in prayer for those thousands of missionaries who have selflessly “given up home, family, brother, and sister” in hopes to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to these unreached. Many are victims of persecution and thousands per year are martyred for their faith. Finally, please join me in prayer asking the Lord of the harvest, Jesus to send more laborers into the vineyard so that as he states in Mark 13:10 “The gospel will be preached first to all the nations”.
Now is the time!

Am I saving or losing my life?

A slum or a sacred place?
An amazing thing occurred in my life yesterday. I decided to run to perhaps Costa Rica’s worst slum, La Carpio. I saw a group of people extremely removed from the rest of the Costa Rican country. After about 3/4 mile of nothing but a worn down and poorly built asphalt road lies La Carpio. Population of about 35,000 people within a very small gridlock of metal and scrap material homes. I am told that many of the people are illegal immigrants who have fled violence and war in Nicaragua within the last forty years. It is eerily set aside and tucked away from the rest of society. Almost like a people in hiding or cut off from the rest of us. Only one road in and one road out. It lies between two rivers and sits next to San Jose’s largest garbage site. Armed guards stood at the entrance of the trash heap which confused me. As I ran through I certainly felt my heart, body, and mind clutch a bit. They clutched over my own safety, for my own preservation, and comfort. Eyes instantly darted to me as clearly I was out of place from a standpoint of race, class, and culture. I have read and heard stories of great crime and disease and how we should stay out of this place for fear of our own safety. Once my nerves settled a bit I stopped running and simply walked the streets observing. I walked thru this piece-milled village trying to see its inhabitants as equals but man it was tough.

How do they live like this? How do they make it? Children just wandering the streets, the smells were God awful in some spots. Finally I felt a welcoming gaze by a family who stood on the second floor of a dilapidated structure. They greeted me and we talked for a while about family and the area. Once they realized I was a missionary they smiled with great joy and one of the women (about 65 years old) exclaimed “Oh great! We need missionaries here! We only have one priest who comes in on the weekends and there are roughly 35,000 of us here.”
I tried to explain to her that I was just passing through San Jose and that we actually lived and served in a small, rural town about 5-6 hours away from here. She clearly heard me, but once again she smiled and firmly stated ” That’s beautiful that you and your family are missionaries, but Oh we need missionaries here!”

My Takeaway
And that exactly was my great takeaway from La Carpio: “WE NEED HELP! WE NEED JESUS! La Carpio is just one of the many slums scattered across the globe and there are many. But I did not observe many lines of people waiting to get in La Carpio and bring the good and saving news of Jesus. It takes RISK to serve in a place like La Carpio. Great RISK. It takes faith and a radical trust in God the Father to serve in a place like La Carpio. You have to completely place your trust, your well being, health and safety into the hands of God to serve in a place like La Carpio. Every day. Serving and living in a slum is not safe and it is not easy. As I understand it disease and crime threatens you around many of La Carpio’s darkest corners.

Safety and unreached people
Most of the world’s darkest corners are dark for a reason. Most of the world’s unreached people are unreached for one reason: It is not safe to go in there and reach them. That is all. Whether it is one of the 6,000 plus people groups or “nations” that make up the billions of people who have yet to hear the saving news of Jesus Christ or the destitute and poor living in a slum like La Carpio- it is not safe at all to go in and reach these people. If it were safe then more people would be doing it.

So my desire for safety will keep these people from the Good News of Jesus Christ?
If you are still reading this article, please allow me to issue a challenge to you (and myself). What is your Christian Faith all about? Are you a disciple of Jesus? Why do you follow Jesus?
Do you follow Jesus because He makes you comfortable and safe and because He leads you to your comfort zone? Or because He constantly introduces you into deeper safety and seclusion from the crazy world outside?

The Great Risk of following JESUS
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever lose his life for my sake will find it”  -Matthew 6:24-25

Jesus asks us to deny ourselves and follow him. “Denying ourselves” has some extremely practical applications to it. Like perhaps leaving the comforts and safety of the bubble of life around me. “Follow me” has some extremely practical applications to it. Like perhaps “follow me”  into the slums where I am most needed or “follow me” into an unreached nation or people group to share the gospel. Is this not where Jesus is and longs for us to be when he states that he has come for the sick who need a physician in Matthew 5:31-32?  And could Jesus have been any more direct with us in Matthew 16: 25 regarding what we are to do with our lives? We are to lose them. He states this so directly. To reach the lost and unreached we will have to RISK losing our safety, security, and quite possibly our lives. He says this himself.

But that is crazy!
If all of this seems insane and crazy its because it is. It is crazy to follow a man who lists demands such as these to be his follower or disciple. But with his grace it is indeed possible and the scriptures and the history of the Church is lined with men and women who have done so.

So where is your La Carpio? How is God calling you outside of yourself? How is He calling you to lose your life? Or are we just content with saving our life?

Teach me, Father, with your grace to stop trying to save my life at every corner and show me what it means to lose for my for your sake and for the sake of those people who need you the most. 

Important Note: As for now our family has been called to serve in Coopevega, Costa Rica. That is our La Carpio for now. It is where God has placed us. I have no clue if God will ever ask us to serve in La Carpio, but I would like to acknowledge those who do serve in this destitute area of Costa Rica. I have heard of great stories of individuals, Churches, and groups who lose their lives in many ways to serve Jesus and the people of La Carpio. Although I have not met many of them I would like to acknowledge them. 

My Proverbs 31 Wife

Lacy, Norah, and other missionaries praying with a lady in need in Mexico

This is a simple blog post about my wonderful and beautiful wife Lacy Linda Brupbacher. She has been the most amazing wife and mother to our children and I felt it prudent to share some wonderful highlights of her time here in missions in Coopevega.

Lacy has found a niche in welcoming women at our home. They simply knock and come in and sit and visit with her. It is a thing of beauty.

Lacy and her friend Yamilet who is a young single mom. On this afternoon Yamilet knocked on our door and asked Lacy to teach her how to cook a smothered chicken.

Lacy usually listens to these women and spends time with them- lots of time. She plays with their children and encourages them and usually will ask them if they need prayer for anything before they leave.

Lacy and Jodi. Jodi is Yamilet’s son.
Lacy and Eleezer the day before his baptism. Eleezer and his brother Lionel were both baptized recently and we were honored to be the Godparents.

Often times these women who visit Lacy have a deeper desire to follow Jesus or they hear that she is a missionary and it seems as if the Holy Spirit simply brings them together.

Dorisel and Lionel – parents of Eleezer and Lionel just before the baptism.

Eleezer’s baptism- such a grace filled occasion.

One of the things we try to do once or twice a week is to go and visit some of the friends we have made in their homes. The people here are so welcoming. we generally will bring a Bible to read with them and something for their children along with a weeks worth of food for the family.

While visiting our friends Connie and Luz Anna their bird pooped and peed on Lacy.  I took this photo just after. as you can see Lacy was thrilled.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of life in missions so far is seeing my beautiful bride raise our children out here. Life is never dull as we are still learning the language and culture and there seems to be an new adventure each day.

Now we are spending a few weeks in San Jose,  the capital city of Costa Rica as Lacy is preparing to deliver our newest addition in just a few weeks. We need to be here because our home in Coopevega is very far from adequate medical care, which is needed for Lacy’s high blood pressure. So we are waiting and watching her blood pressure. I have been challenged each day by her complete trust in God’s will as I do not think I would be brave enough to deliver a baby in a foreign country, but here we are awaiting his birth and I am blown away by her trust.

Please keep her in prayer as we await the baby here in San Jose. Please pray for her blood pressure to remain low and for a healthy baby and a safe delivery.

And in case you needed a refresher on Proverbs 31:10-12

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil all the days of her life.”

Lacy and her dad the day we left the U.S.
Can’t quite explain this one

Lacy and the girls in a tree in Mexico
Lacy doing anything she can to keep Lily quiet on the plane

Lacy, Norah, and our sweet niece Alexandra last Christmas

Running in Costa Rica

“Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

This past fall while at Intake ( our 4 month missionary training ) I was challenged by some friends to consider running a marathon. We found ourselves running basically every morning and our distances kept increasing… I’ve always enjoyed running but always needed a little push- even since my fourth grade PE days at Our Lady of Fatima school (shout out to fellow 4th grade 100 mile clubbers D.J Ashy and Paul Crochet… ), but up to that point in my life I had never run more than probably 7 miles in one outing.
So I rose to the challenge and continued to train for one of my bucket list events. I lost weight and eventually most feeling in my knees and barely crossed the finish line in a December marathon in Dallas, TX. My children looked at me like I was a 90 year old hobbling around the streets of Dallas after my race, but I felt great.

Like most first time finishers I went home and googled things like “how to not die in your next marathon” or “how to fix your knees before your next marathon and shave off time.” In short, I wanted to run more! I had no clue what God had in store for me in terms of running.

In Coopevega, Costa Rica we are surrounded by miles and miles and miles of dirt and rock roads leading to the some 50 small communities we have been asked to serve. In the dry season the dust and heat create a desert like environment. Dust on eyebrows, in the ears, dust everywhere. Heat so hot I can’t figure out if I am in Louisiana or if this place is hotter than a Louisiana July.

These 50 communities make up what I call a “forgotten” people. They are forgotten because most of them don’t own a vehicle, or a home, or a bike or even a horse to ride. Many of them live extremely remote lives and are afar from the modern conveniences I have so quickly become accustomed to: vehicles, stores, churches, refrigerators, iPads, entertainment, etc. Very few people go out to their communities to see them because there is essentially no draw for anyone to venture out there… except for themselves. They are the only draw out there. Theirs are lives of simplicity, hard work, sincere faith, and poverty. They are a beautiful draw and one so worth venturing out to meet and see. A people well worth RUNNING out to see.

Sometimes I hear Gods voice in Mass, in the Eucharist and every morning in Scripture. Often times I hear His voice in my simple daily desires.
I want to run!

Click below for an extremely inspirational video on running by John Piper 

So I started to run. With my camel pack full of water and a banana, a pocket knife, and a few colones (Costa Rican currency) .
“Where are you running to?” Lacy would ask
“To meet some people in a new community” is often my response.

When we first arrived here I felt a need to meet so many people in such a short time and a desire to run. So I am doing both. In doing so I am finding such greatness in the “forgotten” people. Many of them are literally waiting for someone to visit them and many have been waiting for years for a visitor. You can imagine their faces when a sweaty gringo arrives at their door speaking horrible Spanish and reminding them of the love of Jesus. We have a family card with our family picture on it that I hand out and tell them that my army of gringos is coming back to visit soon to pray with them. I am logging plenty of miles – back and forth in these narrow and rocky roads.

The other day while running back from a small community my legs were aching and I was feeling all of my age of 37. I noticed that my water supply was running low and that I still had a good 5 or 6 miles to go. I usually try to ration my water supply and at the end of most runs I find that I have a good bit of water left. Water that is eventually wasted.
It dawned on me that when I die I do not want to have any water left in my tank. I do not want to have anything left in my tank. I pray that I will have given it all and not saved up a bunch for days that won’t ever come. I pray that I die having given it all.

Did I give and love freely or did I save up unnecessarily for myself? Did my wife and children know my love was unconditional or was there a doubt in their hearts? Did the poor truly know my name or did I simply see right through them? Did I speak the name of Jesus with my mouth and deeds or did my pride cripple me? Did I eat with the hungry or did I simply fill my own belly? In the end will my tank be empty or will I still have so much that I failed to give to God and my neighbor?

Now the seasons are changing here in Costa Rica and we are experiencing great downpours of rain. The dust is gone and the mud is here . The once dry and predictable roads are now tricky and tough to navigate. Time to run.

” Do you not know that all the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? RUN SO AS TO WIN.”
1 Corinthians 9:24

Dinner with Jesus

Like most men who sincerely struggle with the baggage of an addiction, Manuel has good days and bad days. Some days are filled with great sights and sounds, the warm embraces and smiles of his local coastal town. While some days are filled with nothingness…

I can clearly recall my first and second encounter with Manuel- first: him begging me for change outside of an ATM with his surroundings littered with trash and empty alcohol bottles and spare small coins. It was dusk and it appeared as though he had been there for quite some time. He was barely awake but had enough energy and sobriety to take off his croc and show me his two deformed feet… as if to say, “Look at me! I deserve some help here!”
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And the next time him begging me for change outside of a store clean across town. The first encounter I declined him while the next I sat with him a few moments and spoke choppy Spanish ( Spanglish ) with him. 
“All I have on me, Manuel is this change but can I pray with you ? Can I pray that Jesus would be truly present with you today?”
A sheepish and shameful half grin and a “yes my friend” was all I got.
My next encounter was on a Thursday evening with my entire family. We were leaving  church and had planned to grab something to eat as a family  for the evening. There he was- this time with a friend named Pedro-  they were sitting  at his post (outside of the ATM booth – which is a fairly genius post for a beggar to sit, in my opinion).
This time he recognized me- as a person… and I recognized him – as a person…
” Felipe, my friend!” He called out 
“Hola Manuel ! Como estas?!” ( that was about the extent of my Spanish)
He acknowledged my beautiful wife and children  and asked if they were all mine…
“Si. Es mi esposa y mi familia, Manuel.”
A huge smile lit up His face
“Ah muy Bonita Felipe ! Muy Bonita!”
In extremely choppy Spanish I said ” look we are headed to grab some dinner and would love for you and your friend to join us. Will you join us?”
His face lit up even more. Almost like a child finding out his dad had skipped work for the day and  was taking him camping or something .
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That night we prayed as a family at the dinner table  ( Manuel and his buddy Pedro there with us  as well. Pedro also struggles with alcoholism)
I invited them to order what they wanted and to enjoy a meal with us. They ordered beer (and food) because that’s what they are used to doing. We  attempted to converse in Spanish and essentially got nowhere so we ended up simply looking and smiling at one another over a meal for the most part…
Quite awkward at times but as they went their own way and my family went our way I asked my children what they thought the requirements were for us to go to heaven one day.
“We know dad… the golden rule…love God with all your heart, and mind,soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself… you and mom have already taught us that” 🙌🏼 
“Bingo but listen to this” and I paraphrased the passage below

Matthew 25:31-46The Judgment of the Nations.*31f “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,32g and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35h For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’37Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’41* j Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42k For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’44* Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’46l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I have often encountered Jesus in folks like Manuel. Folks I often assume I don’t have time or energy for. I often move in another direction to safeguard my time and my energy and I am ashamed to type that. I often view the poor, addicted, overwhelmed, and the beggar as someone who is not on an equal ground as me. How far from reality I am.
Were Jesus’ words above sincere? Did he mean what he so firmly stated? Perhaps the poor, addicted, overwhelmed beggar in this scene is actually me? Thankfully my shortcomings and addictions have yet to
Place me outside of an ATM begging for money. Thankfully I have family and friends who would probably rescue me instead of selfishly walking by if I ever found myself there. Thankfully I was born with two working feet. And thankfully on and on and on…

But if Jesus’ words are actually sincere then yes indeed my family and I were indeed the ones receiving that night- even more so than Manuel received from me. 
We sat with Jesus and dined that evening. Think about that for a moment. We sat with Jesus and dined that night. Think about that for a moment the next time you see someone in need , in addiction- someone requiring you to selflessly redirect your plans or energy.

I pray that Manuel will be freed of his addictions one day. I pray a prayer of thanksgiving for his brokenness and willingness to beg out of desperation as it indeed brought us closer to JESUS


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