Friday, November 11, 2011

The Kingdom

I just finished 2nd Chronicles this afternoon. For anyone familiar with 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles it can become a little redundant. "So-and-so was the king after so-and-so and he was wicked in the eyes of the Lord." or "So-and-so was the king after so-and-so and he was righeous in the eyes of the Lord, doing good like his father David had done."

The state of these kings really seems determined by one major thing: idolatry. The wicked kings seem to not worship God and set up asherah poles (whatever those are) and other shrines to foreign gods. The righteous, good kings smash down these altars and shrines. Hezekiah and Joash both remember the passover and invite all of Judah into that special festival in remembrance of God's deliverance. Good kings worship YHWH, evil kings forgot all about him and worshipped the same things as everyone else.

It makes me pause. From a bird's eye view, I would say my life is one in which I worship YHWH and give him all. But, honestly, the closer we get, the more we zoom in, the hairy things get. Maybe I'm a good king with a penchant for watching to much football? Perhaps I'm someones that smashes idols but just loves reality tv?

I don't know. I have trouble with things found either in the black or in the white. I tend to think real life is a lot more gray.

But I'm determined to my utmost to make this life a white one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Race

Paul loved race analogies. I wonder, though, if Paul was ever actually in a race.

1 Corinthians 9:24 - "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."

and there are more.

I said I've wondered if he has actually been in a race; I think I should qualify that to say, I wonder if he has actually been in a 13.1 or 26.2 mile race.

I ran the Columbus half-marathon this past Sunday. It was 2 hours of grueling, mental anguish, as all races of that length are. Distance running is just something that is hard to put into a category because it is just a battle on so many fronts, the least of them is often the physcial one.

But run the race to win? To win? Has Paul seen these others runners? They're like gazelles skipping down the pavement while I plod along in pain. And I'm supposed to run this race, and train for it, as one running to win?

Then, Paul says this later, in 2 Timothy 4:7 - "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Distance running is all about not quitting, and continuing to push on despite any mental, emotional, or even physical desire to do so. It's just a war against yourself. Will I keep going? Do I even care? Just stop! Finish strong!
I actually think Paul got this. Run your life of faith as one running to win. Will you win? Well, that's no guarantee, and even Paul at the end doesn't make that claim. But did he leave his all out there on the course? You bet. He finished the race.

As I'm typing this I think I've changed my mind. I think maybe Paul actually was a runner and of course he has run races.

Am I the best, or even an average runner? Nope. And I'm not sure I could even say I ran that half-marathon to win. For me it was more like I just wanted to enjoy myself and my surroundings; I wanted to take it all in. In some ways, I gave in to the pain and just took it easy.

I never, ever want to say that about my faith. If running has taught me anything it's taught me what it feels like to quit or to cave in. I know that feeling of "I just can't push anymore, I just can't go on, it's time to walk." And I can see signs of it in other areas of life as well. I want to run this race of the faith to win. No way am I stopping for some "cramp" or some setback. My life is all for Jesus, bring on the hurt.

Join me?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Noah just turned three in September and I can hardly believe it. Time really does go fast. He is definitely having his toddler-tantrums fairly regularly, but at the same time I think we can honestly say we can see him growing and maturing. He seems to understand to care for Leah and just generally likes being around her. Step by step, eh?

Campus life is crazy, as is normal this time of year. Our schedules have now been mostly finalized and we're getting into a little bit of a routine, which can be refreshing in a way. Both Melissa and I work more efficiently if we actually have tracks to go on, rather than setting our own tracks. That's not to say we don't like the idea of laying down tracks for others to run on, just to say that we seem to feel as though we get more accomplished with clearly understood schedules.

Discipleship has been really fun thus far. As I'll talk about in our ministry update, the majority of it has been a return to loads and loads of evangelism. Every few people we meet with though, just need time to slow down and be with Jesus. Sometimes it seems like our job on campus (and in life for that matter) is simply a matter of making sure and helping people walk with their Risen Lord. My goto question is usually, "How is your relationship with God?"

I'm running the Columbus half-marathon this weekend, so that should be fun. I'll be able to finish for sure, but I'm definitely not expecting to set any course record or anything. Since school started, my running has gone in the tank. All the hoopla of race day is sure to make Sunday a fun one for us.

Thank you for your prayers and concern for our family and our ministry. Feel free to leave a comment telling us about how you're doing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The madness begins!

School has officially started, and in many ways that means craziness reigns.

Trying to coordinate with a large staff team and trying to make sure the 150 or so small group leaders we have are up to the minute with the latest news is sometimes a daunting thing. What did Christian workers in the past do without texting and facebook?

This time of year is exciting for lots of reasons. We are meeting new students that will be the leaders of our movement and the kingdom of God at OSU for the next few years. We are reconnecting with students after their summers. We are reconnecting with other staff members and living out ministry together. In short, we are riding a wave of momentum to faithful service to Jesus.

Our schedules are packed and I like that. Sometimes I lose focus and drive when things are unscheduled or unplanned. I can tend to get stagnant.

My brother-in-law commented on not wanting to go to work Monday. "Yeah?" I said. "Of course, do you want to go to work?" "Actually yes! Man my job tomorrow consists of waking up to study the word, leading a staff prayer meeting, meeting with 3 different students for an hour or so each, and then chatting about evangelism with 65-70 students at night. It'll be a long day, but man it's fun." I meant it too. This is a long and trying period of the year in ministry but in many ways the most life-giving and enjoyable. Would you pray that Melissa and I would continue to be faithful and bold in proclaiming the gospel on campus? Could you pray for continued joy in Christ and in ministry?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Movement Summit

Our movement summit is tonight. What is the movement summit? It's a time when all of the students in our movement gather together for the first time before school starts. It's ripe with energy, excitement and just reconnection.

Would you pray for the summit and our movement tonight? This event can be a catalyst toward great things at OSU this year, or, without God's grace and hand on the move, it could be just another thing we do.

I look forward to dreaming with these south campus students about how we can see God move this year. I said it last post, and I'll say it again; I love my job!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Something about camping

Men have some interesting ways of connecting. Sure it's a broad generalization, but mostly women connect by spending time face to face in conversation. Men, on the other hand, seem to just need something to do together; we don't even have to talk.

Me and 13 other guys from south campus took a camping trip this past weekend. This was a time of refreshment, refocus on the Lord and his beauty, and just general fun. It really lived up to that.

These guys are great, and quite frankly I have to do very little to refocus their attention on ministry for this coming year. We talked a bit about what it means to be "ministers of reconciliation" and "ambassors for Christ" but these are things these guys already live out.

Honestly, that's what struck me most from the weekend. See, I knew most of these guys before they were like that. Before they had dreams of the gospel saturating and reaching every student on south campus they had quite other dreams--those much like your typical 19-20 year old male would dream about. Now, almost across the board, these guys have been reoriented to dream gospel dreams. To think and plan and talk about the way in which the kingdom of God can advance and the love of Christ can penetrate every sphere of life and culture.

I love these guys, and I'm humbled. God is good. I love my job.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Name Change

You may have heard some recent criticism of Campus Crusade for Christ changing its name. We have not changed our corporate name. We have changed the way we introduce ourselves to an audience. We are going to call ourselves CRU.

This was done for reasons to make us more able to reach the lost.

A ministry that is reaching into the whole world, especially the Islamic world with the gospel is not helped by having Crusade in its name.

A ministry that has better than 40 ministries besides the campus ministry needs a name that isn’t confusing or limiting.

Our leaders shared research which showed what most of us have known for a while -- very powerful evidence that the name "Campus Crusade" induces negative responses from many diverse populations, while this research showed that CRU produces positive responses.

We are every bit as committed to Jesus as we have ever been. Our mission has not changed. We long to take the gospel of our precious Lord to as many people as we can.

We share this with you trusting you will understand the heart behind the change. Also we hope you will help correct the wrong information that is coming in the news.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

A former staff member at OSU, Brian Metzer, posted about his own thoughts about the name change. His words were so true of my heart. I agree and "Amen!" everything he says here:

Thanks, Brian, for being able to articulate so clearly what many of us were feeling.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tony's story

The following is from a guy in the small group I lead at OSU named Tony Plouck. This was his favorite story/memory from Venezuela. Enjoy!

"Perhaps not the bst story of my summer. insofar as I don't play that large of a part in it, but certainly my favorite story of the Gospel's effect in Valencia is that of Rafa. Rafael became a believer this spring, he's a younger student, but already is stepping up as a leader in Vida Estudiantil's movement at Universidad de Caribobo. Talking to this kid was a treat, he loves the lord a whole lot, but even greater that that is his understanding of God's love for the world, and the cross' evidence of that. Things that I saw Rafa do in my six weeks with him; trust the lord to raise support to go evangelize in a nearby state, translate for a friend and I as we shared with a whole class of his peers (he invited us), share with three students the Gospel and introduce them through prayer to a personal relationship with his father and Lord Jesus Christ who gives life, and lead a large group meeting of UC students at Vida's Friday meeting, and a whole lot more. This is an example of what the gospel is doing all over the world, changing the lives of people through the impacting of their hearts, the result being people who can't help but share that life change, that heart change with others. It is my prayer and heartfelt desire that stories like this would be found in all corners of the world, and it is the hope of Venezuela!"

Tony and Rafa

Friday, August 12, 2011

So, to wrap up our summer

Guys in my small group at OSU. Man I love these men.

This summer was tough for us. But honestly, it was that kind of tough that you often look back on fondly. That sort of tough time in which you know God was being especially good to you and teaching you significant things. I think that's the way we'll always look back on Venezuela.

I learned a lot about the way I like to do ministry and how our family thrives the most. The idea of being lone-ranger pioneers for Jesus sounds really good in my head, but I think this summer God taught me that I just love working on a team of people dedicated to the same mission. I think we've both been learning a lot about that this entire last year, really. We need you, friends. We need partners to motivate and help. We need friends to cry with us and be in our lives. We need family to remain dedicated to us no matter what. And we need people that are honest and care enough about us to tell us things that we wouldn't necessarily be excited to hear.

We are so grateful for our friends and family. We're learning to cherish and honor those that think differently quite a bit more. We learning to love working with people that aren't like us. In short, I think, we're learning to love the body of Christ more. Thank you, Father.

And thank you, partners, for your investment in our mission. Thank you that you will meet nearly a hundred Venezuelans around the throne of Heaven that you had an investment in. Thank you for your faithfulness and care for us and our family. We love you very much.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Venezuelan impact

I am very, and this is putting is rather mildly, very skeptical of statistics. Far to often, they are used to manipulate and coerce people into some sort of action. Consider this, from a book I'm reading, Upside by Bradley Wright.

"Some of the worst statistics are flat-out made up--as factual as fairy tales.... Joel Best nominate this one as one of the worst social statistics ever. Professor Best was reading a student's dissertation prospectus that started with this attention-grabbing line: 'Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled.' The student drew this statistic from a 1995 article published in an academic journal. What's the problem with this number? Doubling numbers adds up really fast. As best calculated, if only one American child was murdered in 1950, then it would be two in 1951, four in 1952, eight in 1953, and so on. By 1960, it would be 1,024 murders, and by 1970 it would be one million kids murdered. In 1980 there would be 1 billion children murdered in the United States, and in 1995, the time of the article, the estimate would be 35 trillion children murdered. Wow! Now that would be a problem."

That said, here are the statistics from our summer. As a group of 24 students and 5 staff we:

-Initiated spiritual conversations with 1,261 students.

-Shared the gospel with 860 students!

-Saw 90 people choose to make Jesus the Lord and Savior of their lives!

-Had a "How to walk in the Holy Spirit" conversation with 64 students!

-Went through follow-up materials with 75 students!

-And, as a bonus, we had 2 or 3 group presentations (to an entire class of 30 or so) in which the Christian student organization we are with was the focus, and we got to see first time Bible studies begin on parts of campus that we've never seen before!

It was crazy. Just crazy. God did some truly remarkable things. But, as the opening could lead one to think, statistics can be misleading. But, I think, what they are good indicators of, (if they are honest as least) in this realm, is effort and faithfulness to the mission. We really showed up this summer to see God do some great things, and He did. We pushed ourselves to the limit that the gospel would be proclaimed.

Would you join with me to pray for the continued faithfulness of the church in Venezuela? And would you pray for Vida Estudiantil (CCC in Valencia) with me?

Monday, August 08, 2011

We're back, part 6

The following is written by Justin Mayer. He is a guy that is in the small group I lead on campus, and was a student on project with us in Venezuela.

"A story that sticks out to me the most was when Bart and I went sharing together. Neither of us knew spanish so we just go up to students and ask them if they knew english. We walked up to this one student and asked if he knew english. He said yes and we sat down with him. This is the story about a Venezuelan student named David.
We started initiating conversations with David and we found it was very hard to communicate with him. Through his broken spanish he said he could read english, so he took a notebook out of his bad and started writing questions. Bart and I would answer them, then ask more questions. It was really cool. The spirit really gave us patience and next thing I know we were having a conversation about the gospel on paper.
Even though it was really cool communicating with David through a paper conversation it was really hard so I texted Adoniel for help with translating for us. Wherever he was he dropped everthing and literally ran to the medicine building. When he arrived he was sweating bullets. God really used Adoniel. He went on a rampage, allowing God to move through him. David's face started to light up. He started to smile and take every word spoken into his heart. At the end of our conversation we prayed with him and asked God that he would draw David near to him.
A couple days later Bart and I checked our facebooks and there in the inbox messages was a letter from David. In his broken english he said he wanted to follow our religion. I can't express the overwhelming joy that flooded my heart. God had answered our prayers.

Adoniel, Heath and I followed-up with David and told him about how he had just made the greatest decision he will ever make in his entire life. Throughout our time period in Venezuela David started to come out to Bible studies, both at medicine campus and FACES (humanities). Adoniel is going to take David under him and disciple him.
I will never forget this moment when I saw a kids face light up when he heard about the love of Christ. This is why the Gospel is worth it."

Saturday, August 06, 2011

We're back, part 5

Clay Acer, the other staff guy on project.

Sometimes in ministry it can be tough to believe that God is actually using you to accomplish anything at all. It can seem, at times, as though the forest is nowhere to be seen because of all the trees in the way. When people are working through real life issues we can often get bogged down with them and begin to believe that our job and our work is accomplishing very little.

I had one moment on project specifically blow that sort've thinking out of the water for me. It became impossible for me to entertain thoughts like that after Brian and I's encounter with Josue.

For a little backstory: Brian entered school at Ohio State very nominally religious. So he tried the party scene and whatever else he could find, but he found them lacking. At some point in his first quarter I (Bart) got lunch with him. We chatted for a while and then got down to the gospel. See, Brian grew up quasi-churched so he knew the right answers but things just never clicked for him. When I told him that he had a decision to make about Jesus Christ he was a bit taken aback.

He asked, "wait, so I have to choose one way or another? I have to choose to give my life to Jesus or to remain separated from God?"
"Yep, you sure do," I responded.
He looked frazzled. "I never knew that!" He paused, then, "so this is probably the biggest and most important decision people could make."
"Sure is."
Brian said, "I think I'd like to go home and think about this tonight."

Brian went home that night 3 years ago and prayed to give his life to Jesus. He has been in my small group bible study ever since.

So here Brian and I are in Venezuela and we approach a student at the Engineering school named Josue (pronounced Joe-sway). It turns out Josue's dad died in a car accident exactly one year ago and it really hurt him a lot. He had been reaching out to God with his mother quite a bit, trying to find meaning and purpose. He wanted something to make sense of life.

So, he knew all the right answers, and he said all the right things (just like Brian) but what he didn't quite get was the decision to accept Christ.

Josue said, "So, when someone makes a decision to give their life to Jesus they are given new lief and a new hope in life?"
"Yep, they sure are," we replied.

At this point I started to feel like I heard the twilight zone theme song in my head.

Josue continued, "So this is pretty much the most important decision in my life?"
Brian replied that it most certainly was and then proceeded to tell him his story of giving his life to Jesus.
Josue then said, "I think I'd like to go home and think about this decision." I smiled.

Josue went home that night and prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He immediately got involved in the small group bible study on campus.

I love Jesus. I love him because of who He is and what He has accomplished for the world. Unlike some, we are not on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru now, more on that later) because we are motivated by some fruit or happiness that comes from ministry but by a deep loyalty and passion for Christ alone. In other words, for us, fruit is awfully nice when it comes along, but we aren't demanding it or even expecting it in great amounts. But boy, it sure is nice to have moments like that to hang our hats on.

Thank you, Jesus, for using us to change lives.

Monday, August 01, 2011

We're back, part 4

And actually, finally, we're home for a couple weeks now. We've had weddings the last two weeks and been in hotels for both of them. Noah was not happy at all to be sleeping in a hotel and I sure don't blame him.

The truth is we love weddings. And we love being around people. Honestly, I think Melissa and I were both mostly introverts heading into the summer but found ourselves constantly rejuvenated and refreshed by the community. If anything, we realized that maybe we're more extroverts than we originally thought.

But we had many times (me far more) in which we felt like modeling Jesus and running away to some countryside to be alone. It wasn't the people we were around, because we love and enjoy them an awful lot, it was just that it was nonstop. The hardest part though, was pressure I (Bart, by the way) was putting on myself to always be "on." I felt like I had to constantly offer sage advice and be the rock of our team. I felt like I had to constantly be modeling everything perfectly: evangelism on campus, initiative relationally, service in the home, service on the team, complete family man, and lead and cast vision for others to do all those as well. I just felt like I never got a break.

I don't think I put the pressure on myself because of some high standard I was trying to live up to or some excellent model I was following, but really because I cared about our project and our team and my family so much that I just wanted to give them my best. I wanted to be perfect for them. I wanted Jesus to penetrate every single little aspect of our project and reclaim it for himself.

This is a heavy desire, and the weight of it became to much to handle halfway through the summer. I crashed and hit a major wall. I got sick and just withdrew for a couple days. I felt as though I had been trusting God to have his way with our project the first few weeks of project, afterall that was why I was trying so hard; but I think the last few weeks was when I truly surrounded it to him. It turned, in my heart, from Bart and Melissa and Claire's project into God's project. See, he didn't need me. He can do whatever he pleases with or without me. I think that was finally starting to hit the depths of my heart.

But that is a really hard thing to learn. Though at the same time, it's very freeing and life-giving. Our last two posts reviewing our summer will be some more life-giving moments.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gone for the weekend

We've been out of town for the weekend, so thus the lack of blogging. Currently I'm sitting on the floor of our Econolodge hotel room while the kids begin to stir.

A few random tidbits:

-Noah was the cutest ring-bearer ever yesterday. I (Bart) sat up front with my arms open and he ran down the aisle to me and jumped in my arms. The cutest part might've been that he stuck the ring pillow in his mouth while he ran. It was a pretty cool moment for me.

-I bowled a 212 on Thursday night. I didn't leave a single pin up, all spares and strikes. I was pretty pumped.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're back (part 3)

Our Monday and Thursday Project Meeting

Just a few minutes ago, I read a little book from the apocrypha called "Bel and the Dragon." The gist of it is that Daniel (the same Daniel from the OT) is with Cyrus, the Persian King. Much in the same way Daniel is tested with Nebuchanezer (sp?) to worship other gods, Daniel is entreated to worship Bel (a persian idol/god) and then the dragon. Of course he refuses to do either and is vindicated by God. After refusing to worship the dragon Daniel is thrown into the lions den (again?) and fed by Habbakuk. He is then freed after 7 days while the pagan worshippers are tossed in and devoured by the lions.

What's the point? Why am I bringing this up?

Well, at quite a few times this summer, I (Bart) was at the end of my rope. I am no super-introvert (though I lean that way) but perhaps the most difficult thing about the summer was having absolutely zero time to myself. See, we had, for most of the summer, the only washer and dryer; so even during the times in which we had no project agenda students would come over to do their laundry. Often in pairs. And most often they would want to talk.

At first we loved this. It gave us such a great opportunity to get to know our students better, and really pour our lives into them. It gave us extra time to love on them and just be there for them. But after a few weeks--mind you, a few weeks with a kid going through his terrible twos and a fussy 1 year old because she's out of her comfort zome--we really just needed time alone. I began to miss time with my wife dearly, and I began to miss the extra time with the Lord that our job often affords; so I began to run on empty.

One Thursday the food team was coming over early. Thursdays was my day with the kids. This was at a particular point in the summer in which the kids were just really tired; they had not been napping well and were waking each other up early every morning. So they really, really needed their naps. Well a couple people from the food team decided to ring the doorbell to announce their arrival. This woke up Leah, who proceeded to scream for 15 minutes or so. Finally, I thought, She can get some sleep and maybe I could get a breather as well. Well, as those thoughts entered my head another member of the food team arrived, again ringing the doorbell. This woke Leah up again. She was losing it. This woke Noah up, who came out've his room to see what was the matter. It is not good when two tired kids cannot take good naps--not good at all. Well 30 minutes later Leah is finally asleep, and Noah is back in his room when the last member of the food team came home, again ringing the doorbell. Leah and Noah both woke up again.

I was going to lose it. Not because I was mad at the food team for now knowing better than to ring the doorbell (who would even think of that unless you already have babies?), I was more frustrated that nobody in our family could get a break. I laid Leah down and she fussed and cried for 20 minutes. I sat outside her door and cried. I thought, God is this really why you wanted us to come to Venezuela? Is this really necessary at all?

Like Daniel from Bel and the Dragon we felt tested and strained. I often felt like bowing down and worshipping the gods of this age (comfort, money etc) and that frankly seemed a much better option than following Christ around the world.

Again, just to balance this post, this is a series of 4 (or more) posts about our entire summer. Please don't read this post and think we had a terrible time--the good stuff is coming. One thing we definitely learned from this though, is that following Christ does often involve a cross of sorts. If we were to truly care for Venezuela, and our project, we needed to make some sacrifices. This was one that in hindsight we would gleefully give up again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We're Back, part 2

Venezuela was pretty tough for us. Thinking through even how to process the summer is a bit frightening for me because it means I'll have to conjure up those thoughts and feeling that were not so pleasant.

Henri Nouwen said this, which struck me this morning:
"To go back to that place is hard, because you are confronted there with your wounds as well as with your powerlessness to heal yourself.... Your instinct for survival makes you run away and go looking for something else that can give you a sense of at-homeness, even though you know full well that it can't be found out in the world."

We're tired. Emotionally, spiritually, and even physcially we are drained. So we've spent the last couple days trying to recover and process what just happened the last two months. We're finding a struggle (well, I am finding a struggle maybe I shouldn't invite my wife into this) to rest well because resting well means processing and being with Jesus amidst our fatigue. It's so much easier just to go into a quasi-vegetable state and watch movie and movie or catch up on tv show after tv show. But we know that ultimately that won't help. What our soul longs for, above all, is to find peace and rest and comfort in God's embrace.

So, to that I go now.

Before that, one quick disclosure: over the next four posts I think I'll use the first two to discuss what was difficult for us on project. Then the final two will be all the breathtaking ways we felt God showed up and did some awesome things both in ourselves and through our project. So keep an eye out for that.

Monday, July 25, 2011

We've returned

I'm thinking this'll probably be a series of blogs as we sort've try to recap and review how were doing and what the last couple weeks were like. It'll be random, and it'll probably be a bit of out-loud processing with disjointed thoughts and stories. You've been warned.

I've made the 200 meter trek to the Mcdonalds by our house twice already since we've been back. Seeing as how we've only been back for maybe 4 meals that isn't a very good ratio if we want to live past 35. Needless to say, we missed American food--yes, even the greasy stuff that Mcdonalds tries to pass off as "food."
Our first meal back home was Bob Evans' Wildfire Chicken Salad. We're both nutso for that salad and started talking about it a few weeks ago.

Leah is into this pointing thing now. She just points at everything, it's super cute. Just in the last week she also decided to start talking! Her vocab is up to "Mama, Papa, Bye-Bye, and Baby."

We took our project pictures on the beach at debrief. We all wore white T-shirts but I didn't have one so I borrowed one from one of the girls. I was also in a bit of a silly mood so a series of Yoga-poses entailed. You can't see it, but the shirt showed off my belly, it was quite attractive.

In the last 8 days we have slept in 6 different places. In our pre-kid days that actually sounds like a whirlwind adventure of fun-ness, but now not so much--it sounds rather like torture. Our kiddos have been pretty remarkable with the rotating sleep location though.

Which brings to mind one thing we have been utterly grateful for and has been becoming ever more evident in our lives--God's provision. Often we talk about God being the provider and taking care of us, but we really feel as though we have and are experiencing a summer of special grace. God has just been really good to us. Our kids could've went completely bonkers but for the most part they have been just great. Either one of Melissa or I were susceptible to a complete breakdown being overseas and leading a group this big, but again God was truly our rock and our guide. We really needed God to show up at various times and in various places this summer, and he truly has. He has provided rest when we needed the rest, he has given us the will, energy, and drive to continue to be faithful when all around us seemed to be going awry, he has been the light and truly the desires of our hearts when often it felt like all we could do just to keep the boat afloat, and he has allowed us to minister to others well throughout the entire process.

Some people thought we were a bit crazy for taking our kids to Venezuela for the summer. I can see where they are coming from. But let's just suffice it to say that because of God's provision and grace on us these last two months our heart and desire to take our entire family overseas for multiple years has grown tremendously.

Monday, July 11, 2011

So much to be thankful for

As we look back over our time in Venezuela, it's hard to believe our time is almost over. We leave around 2:30 am on Sunday morning to fly to Margarita Island where we will have our team debrief. Although it's been a whole month, it feels so much longer. We've experienced so much. It has definitely been hard. There is no doubt about that. Yet at times it has been almost easy to be here with 2 young children. There have been times where we've said we want to go home. There are times that we wouldn't mind staying longer. It's been such an emotional roller coaster.

One of the hardest things has been that we as a couple haven't been able to experience a ton of project together. Sure we get dinner with the team and Melissa sometimes goes to the nightly meetings. But we never get to go on campus together, or go to the orphanage together, or even go to church together (unless we assign someone to "nursery" duty). But somehow in the midst of that, this summer project has gone really well. We haven't been able to touch base on a heart level much, but we're in it together. Our marriage has grown as a result of this experience. Our kids have learned how to be more flexible. They've had to. We've learned how to be more flexible. We've had to.

We've really enjoyed getting to know people on this project. In fact, I think we're going to be sad that we can't see all of these students on a more regular basis all the time. Luckily a lot of the students go to OSU, so we can track them down and make them hang out with us. Or just cook, and invite the guys over. That always works for college men. At the same time, our hearts ache that we haven't had more opportunities to be more involved in the lives of Vida (the movement here) students. We've realized that is just a reality to having a family. We can't do everything. Yet, we feel so blessed by them. Everyone here loves gringo kids, so they have loved on Noah and Leah so well. And for that, we are grateful.

We've been stretched in so many directions this summer. It is so reassuring that the Lord knows what he's doing. He wants to refine our character and shape us into people like Jesus. Even yesterday, the men decided to bless the women by getting them all a rose and a chocolate bar and handing a personal encouragement note. Oh how these men have grown, especially in the face of adversity. What, you ask? Well, the women have been on a pranking rampage. And for all of you men out there, you know how competitive men can be. But they've chosen to love the women well, by even walking the ladies home after dark. By the way, none of the ladies can go anywhere unless they are in pairs. The women have been so gracious in respecting these rules for everyone's safety. And the men have served them well.

This video is pretty dark, but we can give you the gist of it. We told everyone that we were going to have a water balloon toss game. We said to make it fair, we would have guy girl teams. The guys fell for it. They tossed the balloons to the girls and then the girls wailed on them with the balloons. One more reason why these guys are especially incredible.....they were stoked to win the competition and were pretty mad that they "lost." They ended up laughing in the end, but it was a challenge at first. But this sums up parts of this summer. We've just really enjoyed each other well!

We want to make the last week on campus a good one. We want people to really go after it hard and rest a bit at debrief. It's important that we follow up people, get contact information and just love Venezuelans this last week. Would you pray that we can close up our week on campus well? Would you pray that students would have energy this last week? We're excited to share more stories of what God has done this summer at the Universidad de Carabobo!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

What happened to the past week?

It's been a blur. Even though we've had a couple extra days off this week, it hasn't really felt that way. It almost feels as though it's been busier. We've had a couple of play dates with Julieta and Lucas. They were giving each other hugs the other night and this was the best picture I could get. Standards are pretty low when it comes to taking pictures of 2 year olds.We're still not used to the fact that it rains every day here. It sometimes rains 2 or 3 times every day. The other day we needed to go somewhere and had to wing it on keeping the kids dry. This was our solution. Noah was fine with it. E.T. phone home.
On Sunday we had a bowling outreach where we invited students to come bowling. It was a little strange though because we were all spread out so it made it hard to talk to people. I, of course, didn't do well....but I actually didn't bowl. Noah and Lucas took turns bowling as me. Unfortunately they didn't have the bumpers, so there were quite a few gutter balls. But I think they enjoyed it regardless.
Last night, we had our own little fireworks show. Monday evening we had our weekly meeting, so we didn't really have time to do it but last night we had pizza and a pool party as a team for our family fun night, so it was perfect to do it then. The students were all pretty excited. The staff had kept it a surprise that we had fireworks for them. When Clay and I went to buy them, it was pretty fun. They had tons of stuff and Clay was like a kid in a candy store. We got some sparklers and roman candles and then actual legitimate fireworks. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised to be able to experience fireworks in Venezuela.
Leah still isn't walking. She's not at all in a hurry to when she knows she can crawl pretty quickly wherever she needs to go. Her newest thing is climbing on everything. She's figured out that she can climb the chairs, couch and the coffee table. She hasn't mastered getting down yet, but she sure does enjoy just being up on things. One of the guys made a bet with me that she's going to start walking in the 2 weeks after we return home. If that's true, I have to buy an ice cream cake to split with him. If it's after 2 weeks that she starts walking, then he'll split it with us. I'm not sure how either way we end up buying an ice cream cake, but I'm not going to be too disappointed in that purchase!
I'm posting pictures to facebook, so there will be more on there of other things. It's been really fun to see the kids get more and more comfortable here. I think they consider this home now. Noah thinks our apartment is Venezuela, so I've been trying to explain to him that it's the whole place. Ahh, he's 2 so I'm not getting too worked up about it.

It's pretty crazy to see what God has been doing on our project. We've all been stretched in different ways. Some of the staff are having a hard time being here. Some of the students are getting to the point of wanting to go home. Everyone is being faithful in sharing their faith on campus. There hasn't been a ton of sickness in the group, which has been a huge answer to prayer. It's hard to believe that we only have a week and a half left on campus and then next Sunday we leave for debrief.

Will you pray for our group as we slowly begin the transition of going back to the States? Even as we have conversations with students, it's apparent that some people will have a hard time going back. Will you also pray that Venezuelan students that we've had conversations with will stick around and be a part of the movement here? Often it's easy for students to fall through the cracks after the summer project people leave, and we don't want that to happen. We want everyone to get plugged in and we want to build the movement that already exists. Would you please pray for the students who are already involved, that they would grab these other students and take them under their wing?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy birthday baby girl!

Leah is the big 1 today! We celebrated Venezuelan style with a cake and ice cream. She loved having everyone sing to her.
She devoured the cake. We weren't even paying attention. We look over after cutting some cake and serving it to people and she's going crazy. No one had to tell her what to do with it!
We needed a quick little shower (no baths even if we wanted to, only showers here) after all of this. She wasn't too bad though.
Noah didn't mind the cake either.

As a little treat for the kids, we went to McDonalds today. It's about a 10 or 15 minute walk so we went there, since Noah loves it and they have a little play place. That's surprising to us considering a lot of McDonalds in the States don't even have those. They really enjoyed it for many reasons. They love getting out of the apartment in general, so that was a bonus to get to play somewhere else too.

Sweet Julieta (she Venezuelan and her and her husband, Christian, are on staff here with their son Lucas) took me and Noah to get Leah some cake and ice cream. I knew where to get ice cream but the bakeries here can be a little complicated. I really appreciated her help. And the stinters and Christian and Julieta and Lucas came to celebrate with all of us. It was absolute chaos (oh and the a/c stopped working because they cut the power last night to conserve electricity). So imagine 85+ degree weather with no a/c with 35+ people all in one room. :) It's Venezuela!! Anyways, it was a lot of fun to celebrate with everyone. Leah had a great day and Noah can now say she is 1 instead of 0.

More pictures of life here to come. We just wanted to celebrate our baby girl today!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The weekend, and a recap

A good chunk of the weekend was a much needed reprieve. We had all day Friday off, except for a fun social dinner and ice-cream later that evening. And then with the exception of a trip to the orphanage on Saturday from 1-5 and a home-church meeting from 1030-1130, we had the rest of the time together as a family.

Let me tell you, this was big for us; let's hope it helped our kids enough to carry them through this week. To this point, life in our apartment has just not been much fun. Leah has been cranky, sick, not sleeping well at all, and just generally upset for about a week now. So she cries and whimpers often. Noah has been those same things but his crankiness manifests itself in just general disobedience and lashing out. He is nearing his third birthday in a few months so part of this is to be expected, but it hasn't been pretty since we've arrived. Not a fun time.

With that said though, in total honesty Melissa and I are doing fairly well. We were able to have a few significant conversations together and really connect this weekend. And the culture shock that usually comes along a week or so into a trip like this hasn't been an issue at all. We're pretty sure this is because of how similar Venezuela can be to Azerbaijan--often we feel like we're back on Stint again, only with two little ones. So, spiritually and physically we are both doing rather well--trusting God with our lives and our project. But our emotions are sometimes off, which is to be expected with two constantly cranky kids.

The project has been incredibly fruitful. We have seen many come to Christ and have already shared the gospel with 391 Venezuelan students! Our students have really been faithful and have been going for it on campus. Alex Hill, one of the guys on our project, got to see 11 students receive Christ as their Lord over the course of three days last week! And both Melissa and I have really loved being on campus as well. The students here just seem to be generally more welcoming and willing to engage in conversation--even conversations in which they are told that their entire thinking about spiritual things could be wrong! It's just really refreshing.

Just about every conversation I've had here has been fruitful. The first few days a student involved in Campus Crusade for Christ here in Valencia and I went out to go sharing. We approached a group of three and began to chat. During the conversation I began to paint a picture of everything God wants to do in the world--that he wants to remove our guilt as far as the east is from the west, that in Jesus he has begun a new Kingdom and a renewed people to be loving and comforting and gracious, that God wants to heal every broken heart and wipe away every tear, that it is his desire for every person to be whole and not fractured and broken relationally, physically. One of the girls in the group began to tear up. We could tell this was what she wanted; she wanted to be made whole again, and for all her pain and sorrow to be washed away. God was working in her heart. Ultimately she did not decide to make a decision to give her life to Jesus (I think perhaps the pressure was a bit much for her with her two friends there), but we have planted a seed.
She finally heard the best story in the world, and that she could be a part of it.

Prayer for us would be much appreciated. For our kids and our continued faithfulness on campus.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The beach

So this past Saturday we all went to the beach with Venezuelan students. It was an hourish drive and then we took a boat for 15-20 minutes. It was pretty interesting. Honestly, there were moments we thought maybe we weren't going to make it on the boat. There were around 10 people on each of the below boats and they do not "drive" slowly regardless of the conditions of the water. The kids handled it pretty well.Once we got there, they both loved the sand. Leah would find all kinds of corral and put it in her mouth. Great. At least she wasn't eating handfuls of sand.
Noah didn't really want to go in the water. The guys tried to talk him in to it, but he didn't like the waves. Can't really blame him. They almost took him out a few times.
But he went in with Tony. And Tony took good care of him. Some of the students even built a sand wall for him so he could just sit and the water would come up but not get him because he was behind the wall. They were really good to him all day.
Leah passed out a little while after we got there. She started to fall asleep on the boat but then it got pretty rough. Bart didn't mind. He doesn't like sand anyways, so he got to take a nap with her. And then burnt the tops of his feet because they were sticking out past the umbrella. Whoops!
I feel like I just had to take this picture. I looked up and this was my view. Come on buddy. Put some more clothes on! It's ok though. I would probably rather see that than all the women walking around in their bikini thongs. Yuck. Seriously. Noah definitely loved playing in the sand and even contributed to burying Kristin. But he didn't really understand why. Matter of fact, I don't really understand why either....
He was loving just dumping sand all over himself. He looked like a little albino child since he was covered in sand.
Then the little man passed out on the boat ride back. I have no idea how but he must have been pretty tired.
And on the van ride back, they both passed out. Bart started to also, but probably would've dropped the baby, so he stayed awake. The kids were pretty worn out but they had fun. And we did too. However, the beach isn't nearly as much fun when you get to clean sand out of 2 kids' cracks and crevices.
More to come soon. We're pretty tired but starting to feel like we're catching up and getting a little more energy. We feel like project has been go go go, but it's great for motivating people. We're just getting old so it's harder for us. :)

And as a little side note from the beach, yesterday on campus I saw a girl named Cristal accept Christ! It was pretty amazing! She is 21, has been married for 5 years and has a 4 year old. In the past year, she has lost her mother and other family members (extended family) and her father has been sick so she has felt the burden of taking care of him because she's the oldest. She has 4 younger brothers and I think 2 younger sisters, so she was at a point of needing to really rely on the Lord and allow him to provide peace and rest for her. We're excited to get to follow up with her and we told her she should go home and share with her husband and son. I'm praying that the stresses of life don't keep her from getting involved and growing in her new faith. Will you please pray with us for that? What an awesome opportunity we have to present the love of Jesus to the people of Venezuela!!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Some VZ pictures

These are not in any kind of order....but here's our kitchen with totally open cupboards (great for babies and toddlers) and the bottles of alcohol on top of the cupboards.Around 30 people crammed in our living/dining room for dinner 3 nights a week. Not really sure what Clay and Justin are laughing at, but probably Noah.
Noah passed out on our Pooh blanket. He pretty much always naps in our room now so they can both get decent naps. It's working ok for us.
And the airplane ride. Noah definitely wasn't a fan of taking off but then he did fine. He didn't like the 2nd flight nearly as much, probably because it was 4 hours and felt really long. Leah did really well considering she was a lap child and couldn't really go anywhere.
The weekend was a combination of tiring and relaxing. On Saturday we decided to go to the beach. That meant leaving at 7:45 and getting back around 6:00. It was a long day but the kids had fun. We'll post more pictures soon. We have to download more of them. Plus, we don't want to overwhelm.....

Oh and the Venezuelan Pentecost (we've adapted this from the Azeri Pentecost as we used to call it on Stint) has arrived. Not really. We've just all had a little bit of the runs. It might have been some of the veggies we ate with dinner last night. They had soaked in a vinegar solution but maybe that didn't work? We're not feeling bad though, so that's pretty amazing considering how bad it could be. We're praying we don't get any of that nasty stuff. The kids have colds but they're handling it pretty well. So sad to have a cold in a really hot place, but I'm sure their bodies are adjusting to a lot here.

Please pray for sleep, energy, health and that we would rely on the Lord. Last week was great and we're hoping it continues to be great and that we and the students don't get sick and/or burnt out. Oh and pray for some of the guys on the project. Some decided to not be wise and apply sunscreen at the beach and they are very much paying the consequence for it (one guy is blistering). They would appreciate the prayers as they try to recover.

Until next they say in Venezuela: chow (good-bye)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The first few days

From my (Melissa's) perspective:
Well, with almost a day of travel and all of us not going to bed until 4 am on the morning we arrived, we thought it would be good to get up, take a shower, have some breakfast and then get the ball rolling. Nope, no water. Wasn't planning on that. Actually, we did have water at 6 am when I randomly woke up and thought I had a good night's sleep only to find out I slept for 2 hours and it was super bright outside. But I choose to go back to bed, and then wake up at 8 to now water. Whoops!

Most of our first day here we didn't have water. That kind of makes for a small challenge with kids. We went out to eat for lunch and dinner with the team since no one had any sort of food other than breakfast (the stint team that is hear graciously got us all breakfast food for the first few days we were here). So that was nice not to have to run to the grocery store right away. Problem is, I still don't totally know where to get groceries. I mean, Christian, a Venezuelan staff guy took me the other night because we were barely getting by on what we had, but it was a 10 minute drive and, let's be honest, I'll probably get lost if I try to go there again. Oh well. I think there are some small places close by. I have a few weeks to figure it out. :)

The kids have been doing ok. Leah is a super trooper. She's been sleeping really well and eating pretty well here. I haven't been able to give them much fruits or vegetables since we got here since I forgot to buy vinegar at the store, but they're surviving off of bananas and other things. Noah has had a pretty hard transition. He understands that this is weird and he doesn't understand why we live with 2 other people (we're sharing a 3 bedroom apartment with the other 2 staff women on the project, so there are 6 of us in the apartment). He likes them both, so enjoys playing with them or asking where they are. Luckily our apartment complex has a little playground type area that we can go to when both kids are awake. There's a pool too, but we're not sure if we can actually use it. Noah is pretty excited about it though. It even has a kiddy area.

I'm feeling pretty disconnected from the project. Our apartment is far enough away from everyone else that it makes it pretty hard to be involved with 2 kids. But 3 nights a week, everyone will be at our place for dinner, so that is good. And I'll get on campus to meet with students at least once a week. And we have a family night where we go out and do something fun, so I'll be able to touch base with people here and there. Sometimes I just feel like there's not much purpose in me being here. Though I am in charge of all the money, so it's probably good for Bart and Claire (and the students) to not have to worry about all of that stuff.

Julieta, Christian's wife, and I have been able to touch base a little. They have a 2 year old and a baby due in August so it's nice to be able to connect with someone who is in a similar life stage. I'm really looking forward to being able to spend time with her.

I honestly haven't seen Bart much. It's pretty strange. I feel like I just need to get out and explore but Bart doesn't like that very much. He worries that it's not safe. It is, at least during the day. I went out by myself with the kids the other day to meet up with everyone for dinner and a few people kind of freaked out. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Stay cooped up in the apartment all day long every day? No way!

Oh and the apartment. Let's just say, bachelor pad. Gross. This is how dirty it was. Leah is crawling and the tops of her feet and her knees where constantly black. DISgusting. So we (I) decided that I would pay someone to come clean the place on the 2nd day we were hear cause I just straight up could not handle it. It's better now. And it's such a strange apartment. The guy has enough toilet paper to last like a year. Sweet. Don't have to buy toilet paper. He has like 20 tooth brushes between 2 bathrooms. He has 2 plants, 1 of which is looking pretty bad, but the other 1 looks perfect. He has a strange porcelain doll type thing sitting between the plants. I'll take pictures and post this stuff. Don't worry. Oh and he has like 20 empty bottles of alcohol sitting on the high shelf in the kitchen. And that's not mentioning the numerous pictures/figures of Mary/Jesus or something of the like. He also has a tv in every room and an empty fish tank which Noah got pretty excited about cause there was a car in it. So weird.

Oh, and he had a dog. Dog hair everywhere. I'm used to it already. There isn't a vacuum here so what can you do? There is absolutely nothing childproof about this place. We have to lay the stroller in the kitchen area so Leah can't get in to everything because there are no cupboard doors or anything. And there are knives, spoons, tools, pots, pans and many other things she could get into. Hoy da. We do have hot water though and air conditioning. Both are pretty darn amazing. So it could definitely be worse. Oh and the blanket on our bed.....Pooh. One big gigantic Pooh. Noah loves it. This place screams bachelor pad, yet not at all at the same time. I really don't get it. But we're here and it's working for us. And I kind of have to laugh even as I type this. The joys of living in another country.

So this has been a book. Sorry. It's been a lot of what I expected and yet a lot of what I haven't expected. But we're making it work. Noah is picking up a little Spanish and everyone that sees our little gringo kids either smile or say something in Spanish. Most of the time I just smile cause I have no idea what they're saying. I think there will be a lot of that this summer. Me just not knowing half of what people are saying. That's ok. As long as I know where home, food and the bathroom are, I'm probably good.

Out like trout.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We're in Venezuela!

Or as Noah likes to call it, Wenezuela.

Traveling wasn't a blast, but we figured it wouldn't be. The thing about our kids is that they have a hard time sleeping anywhere but in their bed/crib; Leah in particular. Noah actually did a pretty good job, considering.

We left from Capital City Church in Columbus about noon on Sunday for the airport. Our flight left at 3ish so we felt we had plenty of time, but we didn't account very well for the chaos that results from traveling with 30 people. Some people checked in but forgot to grab their boarding passes from the self check-in. Others were a bit frantic over their bags and the like. Others were just downright scared or anxious leaving the states for a month and a half. Eventually we made it, but with little time to eat. Our family scarfed down some chicken and fries in about 10 minutes while everyone else boarded and eventually we all made it.

They did pretty good the first flight--but having a lap child is not very much fun. What is especially not fun is that Leah is at that curious-I-want-to-crawl-everwhere-and-stick-everything-in-my-mouth stage so sitting on a plane with us holding here is not her idea of fun.

We arrived in Atlanta with everything and everyone we needed. We didn't have a long layover, only an hour, so we walked quickly to the next gate. The Atlanta flight was not so much fun. Noah decided it was a good time for his potty skills to completely evaporate and twice he peed in his pants. Changing entire outfits twice is not a fun thing on an airplane, especially with a whimpering, crying 2-year old. Towards the end of the 4+ hour flight, Noah just wanted to get off. "I want to be done with airplane." Leah was fussy for a while until she eventually fell asleep with Melissa holding her. It, of course, wasn't a restful sleep and she awoke every so often to let the people on the plane know she wasn't a very happy camper. We let Noah watch Cars on our computer just for sanity.

We trudged through the Caracas airport. As is pretty common in Venezuela, the bus that was coming to pick us up was about 30 minutes late so I think we boarded the bus and left around 1130 or so. The bus ride was ok, actually. Noah slept on me and Leah on Melissa and we each got a bit of sleep as well. Upon arrival in Valencia we dropped the girls apartment off first--but that was a bigger task then we thought. We had to make sure they were situated and comfortable and all that before we boarded the bus again to drop off the rest of the project at the hotel. The long wait was that the hotel clerk had to enter all 18 people staying there into the hotel with their passport info. That took quite a while with Melissa and the kids and Clay hanging on the bus the entire time. The kids were troopers really; it could have been much worse.

We eventually made it to our apartment and got our stuff situated. Leah was not ready to just be laid down after all that holding so she let us know all about her tough day. Even that, though, wasn't for very long--maybe 10 minutes. They got some sleep and we did as well. We awoke to the beginning of summer project in Valencia!

We'll post about our first few days soon, stay tuned for updates!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

update coming

Pardon our cyber dust. I will blog soon. In the meantime, enjoy a few pictures!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nutso last month

I'll take a shot at recapping our whirlwind December/early January.

Until December 20th we had a good bit of down time. We visited Cosi 3 or 4 times and just generally had a lot of fun. This is really one of the only times of the year where we feel like our jobs allow us the freedom to relax a little bit, so we took those 10 days or so and did just that.

Then we went off to Waynesfield to be with Melissa's family. Fun times. Melissa's parents were super gracious and watched the kids which allowed Melissa and I to go out for a couple dates while we were there. Great times. The one thing about having kids this young is that I just never feel like I have enough quality time with Melissa; it feels like the time we do have together is when one if not both of us are dead tired and it doesn't lead to stimulating conversation. Anyways, good time seeing the family, Bart got lots of books and Melissa lots of gift cards for Christmas.

Then off to Canton on the 24th to hang with my family. My brother and his wife just had a baby boy so we were pumped to be able to see him. Christmas day was interesting because Noah decided he didn't really want to open presents with the rest of us, and Leah wasn't super happy either. Eventually they came around, but I think all the new stuff/people was starting to wear on them.

Back to columbus on the 26th to pack and crash.

Then off to Indianapolis on the 27th through the 1st for IndyCC, which is our annual conference of 2000ish students from the great lakes region. The traveling is really starting to wear on us, to be honest. It was fine when we were married without kids but everything just gets so much crazier when you have two kids and they need naps/food/diaper changes/whatever else.

Then back to Columbus for a few days until we flew to Dallas from the 6th-11th. We were there for summer project directors training (we're directing in Venezuela). We took Leah and Noah went to live with Grandma and Grandpa for those 6 days. Really good conference; we feel like we learned a lot and are a bit more prepared/excited about the summer.

Finally we're all at home and can catch our breath. Bummer is we're in week 3 of the quarter and ministry is definitely underway so we don't have much time at all to relax. If you could pray we wouldn't start working on fumes that would be great.