2018 Pastor’s Conference

2018 Pastor’s Conference

On January 9, I returned from an amazing event! The annual ICDM Pastor’s Conference had convened the previous week and I was more than impressed by the outcome. Three things in particular caught my attention. The first were the growing relationships I experienced. Relationships between myself and a number of Haitian leaders, but also the relationships I witnessed between these leaders. Coming from all over the nation of Haiti, these men and women gathered for days of learning, inspiration, and encouragement. And that is just what they experienced! But most of all friendships were built and strengthened! Abraham Vilsaint, Jean-Noel Preval, Nanette Pierre, Chiff, Gina, and many more! I have learned to love them and to listen to their stories. Each year my friendships grow with them and I feel that much more a part of their ministries and mission.

The second thing I witnessed at this year’s conference was the sense of purpose and hope among the participants. Pastors and leaders in Haiti often face challenges that leaders in the USA can barely comprehend. More than being preachers and teachers, they are often community developers, activists and advocates, and business leaders as well. Yet, in spite of the challenges, they are joyful! Whether it is n our worship together or just conversations in the courtyard, there conversation and communication is permeated with joy! These men and women see the reality of Haiti as it is now, but they also have a vision of change and transformation. This hope, deeply grounded in the Christian gospel or Good News, shapes their work, inspires their efforts, and energizes their creativity. And their joy is also contagious! No matter what is happening in my life and ministry, I always come away from these meetings with a new outlook! Energy renewed, vision expanded, and heart inspired, I come back to the USA stronger and more joyful!

Finally, I think this year’s conference came at a critical time for both the leaders of the sessions and the participants. While the conference was going on, ICDM was working on a home for a family in Bayonnais. Right after the conference a team from New Jersey came and finished up this construction. Construction on ICDM’s new clinic is getting started. A record number of children are enrolled in the school. New leaders are being trained and commissioned. All of these things seem to bring a sense of strength and possibility to everyone’s mind. It is as if the entire mission has reached a point of great momentum. As each new idea becomes a reality it sparks more new ideas, inspires new leaders to take charge of these initiatives, and these in turn spark even more ideas and visions. Such momentum is awesome to observe! It is even more powerful when you are even a small part of such momentum!

For anyone who reads my thoughts posted here, I invite you again to visit this wonderful country with me! Post your interest here and I will send you more detailed information.

Overdue Update

Overdue Update

It has been a while since I blogged any news about our work in Haiti, but there are some exciting happenings which you need to know! First, our clinic project is off the ground and going great! Tom Puderbaugh has raised enough funds to get our construction started. What is more, a meeting with medical professionals in Jacksonville, FL has led to the possibility of equipment and supplies for the clinic. Tom felt led to spearhead this project just a little less than a year ago. Since then he has made tremendous progress in making this project a reality in Bayonnais, Haiti.

Second, several partners of ICDM have teamed up to feed the children at the Institut de Henri Christophe, our primary school in Bayonnais. Through increasing child sponsorship and raising direct funds to feed the children, we are hoping to complete our promise to feed them daily as part of their education, equipping, and empowerment.

Finally, our Annual Pastor’s Conference for 2018 is about to commence! Pastors and church leaders from all over the nation of Haiti will gather with instructors and ICDM staff for five days of inspiration, education, and equipping for the work of ministry and service. The theme this year is Tent-Making Ministry, based around the work Paul the Apostle did when he took up his trade of tent-making to support his missionary work. In the economy of Haiti, it is a given that most pastors and community developers will need to support themselves and their families as they serve in ministry. In our conference we will be exploring the biblical basis for being tent-makers, as well as the practical aspects of working within and for the communities we serve.

Please be in prayer for the workers, participants, and staff during the first week of January! Pray for traveling mercies for those gathering at the conference and for the events of the conference itself! I will post more news at the end of the conference when I return to the USA!

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

My adventure with Haiti has been spread over many years, most of them before I ever bothered to visit the country itself. When he was in first grade, my son Hunter raised money on his own to support the Church of God orphanage, the House of Blessing, in Petionville, Haiti. This was the start of my friendship with the nation and people of Haiti. Along the way I have learned some important lessons and I am sure I will continue to learn with each trip (by the way, this is one of the most important reasons for short-term mission trips: learning!). Here are a few lessons that came to my attention as I prepared our Haitian dinner last night at church.

First, God will send you helpers of all kinds. Welcome them, accept anything they can do. Then celebrate with them the accomplishments. As I began cooking yesterday, one of my wife’s teacher friends asked if she could help. All afternoon her and my wife helped me cook, chop peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and then get all the food to the church and the tables setup for dinner. Stephanie is a young teacher who made friends with my wife last year at the school where they both taught. She has come to be as close to me as a sister and although I did not expect her help yesterday, I think God sent her to be there when the work would have probably overwhelmed me. When I visited Haiti several weeks ago, I met some people who had simply been available at the right time when Yvan Pierre needed them. In any ministry, but especially in mission work, the ability to build a team from those who are available rather than those who are qualified is essential!

Second, real ministry is a relational and community event, not the work of just one person. Even when one person is the visionary and the leader of what happens, they are powerless to create anything meaningful. Partners are essential! Not just workers and far more than mere supporters. Partners capture the vision of what is going on and can discern their own contribution to that larger vision. The shared contributions of many people make the ministry or mission far more successful than one-man shows or single focus programs.

Third, sometimes the discernment of a call is not a single datable event, like God calling Samuel, but more of a progressive unfolding of God’s will for you. I think God usually has to work this second route with me! If he had showed me at 16 what I know now, I would have probably run like Jonah!Instead, God has led me step by step into my current ministry. My current ministry activity is thrilling in both the emotional and spiritual sense, it is challenging in so many ways! Only my life experience has prepared me for these challenges. So I have learned to be faithful wherever I find myself in ministry and not only perform well in that position, but also look for what God might be trying to teach me through the phases of my life.

On my most recent visit to Haiti, I spent a lot of mornings and evenings in prayer. One thing God revealed to me is that my essential calling is still to be a pastor. Although now I am more of a pastor to pastors, the nature of what I am and what I do is unchanged from my initial calling. With this in mind, I am learning to not only submit to God’s leading but also to submit to the human leaders he places in my life. God has sent me “Apostles” who can expose me to new pastoral opportunities and help me discern specific tasks. Just as I trust God, I must trust that in placing me under the authority of these individuals, he is placing me right where I need to be to accomplish his will through me.

Missions and Partners

From the very first time I spoke with Yvan Pierre about International Christian Development Missions, he talked about “partnering with ICDM.” I thought I understood his idea until I began working more closely with him in the mission. Having just returned from eight days in Bayonnais, I think I am finally understanding what Yvan really means. On this most recent trip, I got to sit down and talk with Yvan about his history and the vision God gave him. To see the way God used Yvan and spoke to him through the years is itself a wonderful experience. However, the things that come through almost every sentence he shared with me are the names of people who “partnered” with him and made the present mission possible. What was special about this narrative was the fact that this was not so much about partners and supporters here in the USA, but about the people of Haiti who helped him, guided him as he planned and worked, and opened doors when they needed to be opened. Yvan even spoke of the many people he had met across Haiti who helped him accomplish what God had called him to do in Bayonnais.

I even got to meet one of these early partners, Francois! This distinguished man was one of the first if not the first person to whom Yvan shared his dream and vision. Because of the influence God had given Francois in the community, the Institute Henri Christophe, our primary school, was able to open its doors to the children of Bayonnais. Francois himself has a wonderful testimony of how God led him to faith. As we sat and he shared his story with me, hos humility and graciousness were clear. He was so amazed at all God had done through the years without bragging the least about how God had used him, Francois, to make it all happen.

We also had a big visiting team there the first few days. Business men and women, housewives, and even some teen ladies. There partnership was profound both in terms of the contribution they made to our projects but also what they experienced on this trip. But they also became my friend!

What I learned from all this is that missions is not about one person or group traveling to another country and doing something for or to others. Rather, real missions is about building relationships with people and working together to bring to life a vision that is bigger than all of us could imagine. When we get to know people and when we see in them the gifts and calling of God, we can then work with them in creative and powerful ways. Partnership means relationship, and Christian missions must first of all be relational!

Answer the Call

Answer the Call

For almost as long as I have know him, my friend, Yvan Pierre, has tried to teach  me that when God calls, God provides. Being the hard-headed learner I am, I nod my head but really don’t get it. However, Yvan’s teaching is very biblical and is certainly the directions God gives to his followers. When Jesus sent out the disciples (Matthew 10:5014):

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts–no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Mat 10:5-14 NIV)

This lesson does not come easy to me or to many others it seems. As a pastor and leader, I have often been in the position of sharing a Godly vision only to be asked by church leaders, “How will we pay for it?” When I find myself asking the same question in response to God’s call and direction on my own life, I have to share a guilty smile! You see, this is fundamentally the wrong question! We should not be asking, ‘How will I/we pay for it?” but rather, “How can I best answer this call and trust God in my response?”

I a previous post I discussed the provision of a lens set for the Optometrist in Haiti. I was so busy trying to provide for this need, I missed the very real fact that God was providing. My job was to ask, seek, and knock until the door opened. I did not need to raise the money, make the purchase, or even shop for what was needed. Through Marie Claude’s request, God had called me to present the need. Even though I had to ask many times, seek in several places, and knock on as many doors, so to speak, God was providing in his own way and his perfect timing.

This leaves us with the clear direction to simply answer God’s call. Rather than worry about the funding or the supply, we need to just move forward. It is interesting to read the response of the Twelve when the returned from their assignment. They were amazed that people were healed and that even the demons withdrew at their command. They were provided for along the way, as they went, and as they answered the call and command of their Lord. This is a matter of trust! Since I struggle with this, I want to end this post with a prayer:

Lord Jesus, help me to simply respond when you call; to answer when you lead; and to move when you direct. Let my heart trust in you even as my feet, hands and voice work at your command. I ask it all in your precious name, Amen!

June Team Returns Home

About a year ago, I started pushing a former student of mine to come to Haiti with me. At the time I just wanted Steve to experience this island nation and see for himself why I loved Haiti and Haitians so much. Steve is a high school coach at Ed White High School and a pastor at Vision Baptist Church. In December of 2017, I met Linda Klumpp, who ran a ministry here in Jacksonville called HappyPeriodJax. This ministry provides feminine hygiene supplies for homeless women and women in our local shelters. Almost immediately, she started talking about working with me in Haiti. Shortly after we met, she passed her board exams for her Medical Doctor license. These two were the first two I thought of bringing to Haiti in the summer of 2018.

I also wanted my wife to go with me. Although we have both been on several short-term mission trips, we had only been on one together. This would give me the chance to share my work in Haiti with her and allow her to see all the people and places I was always talking about. Now we had the team up to four people counting me. Then one Sunday my nephew, Mike, said he would like to go with me sometime. I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to add him to this team. He said yes.

A couple other people had expressed an interest, but as the date began approaching, these four and myself became the only ones committed to this trip. Two pastors, one who was also a coach and the other who had experience as a mechanic and cabinet maker. A school music teacher (my wife), a businessman and author (my nephew, Mike), and a newly certified physician.

On June 16 we left for Haiti. Steve preached Sunday morning at the local church in Bayonnais. Monday thru Friday, “Dr. Linda” worked in the clinic with our school nurse, Marc, and our midwife, Zebetee. This was a very interesting dynamic as typically in Haitian culture physicians are male and nurses and midwives are female. This week, the physician was a female and both the nurse and midwife were males. Mike and Steve spent a lot of time playing with the kids. I worked on the solar inverter and got power back on to the guest house. Ron Fink, another ICDM partner, and I worked with Mike and Steve and a few of the local men to remove a refrigerated box from a truck and turn it into a walk-in fridge/freezer for the compound. Some of the team painted the upstairs bathrooms. And all week, Joi did a Vacation Bible School with Rosemond Pierre. Sometimes it did not seem like we were accomplishing very much. However, after I returned home and thought about it, I realized these five people had accomplished much. But it was more than just the tasks we performed.

Steve got to spend some time with Ron’s daughter talking, laughing, and working together. Joi got to know some of the children and work with them in VBS. Mike got so popular with the kids he could not walk through the village without the kids crying out “Mike, Mike, Mike!” Dr. Linda became so popular the women started asking for her specifically. This is really what short-term missions is all about. We think we go to do some task or work on some project. But what really matters are the conversations we share, the meals we eat together, and the relationships we build. Every one of us came back home with new friends in our hearts and that matters more than any work we accomplish while there.

Why do I say this? Because when you know someone by name and have heard their story, it is hard to ever forget either them or the place where they live. This is why partnership is the goal!

Knowing God’s Will

Knowing God’s Will

The major part of my professional and vocational life right now is the teaching I do online. This teaching includes a number of subjects from basic Bible survey courses to graduate courses in practical ministry. Whatever the level of learning among my students, there is one question I am asked more frequently than any other: “How can I know the will of God for my life?” For some this is very general, but for others it may have to do with their specific calling into vocational ministry. Here are some thoughts I have on discerning the will of God.

Our first and most consistent guide to God’s will is of course God’s word. The Bible is our primary source for knowing what God has revealed to humanity. What is more, God will never contradict himself, so anything which is contrary to the Scripture cannot and will not be God’s will for us. Of course, my assumption and belief is that the Bible is God’s word and authoritative for the life of the believer. If one does not accept such authority from Scripture, then this guide will be meaningless. However, for the believer, our faith in  the written word of God must lead us to trust his guidance there.

A second way to determine God’s will is to ask a different question: What is God doing in the world and how do I participate in it? This is the question which led me to initially work in Haiti. Many things since have confirmed my choice, but by looking at Haiti seeing what God was doing and how I could participate in it has been the major determinant in how I perceived God’s will for me.

A third way we can discern God’s will is what I call the “open door guidance.” If God wants you to move in a certain direction, he will open doors for you towards that goal. However, this cannot be blind movement. We must also ask, “who is opening this door?” “Should I walk through this door, at this time?” Open doors can be helpful but they are also like the signs Gideon sought: they can be ambiguous and unreliable.

One of the fourth ways to discern God’s will is to practice humility and calmness. As I write this my own heart wants to say, “What do you mean, ‘humility and calmness? This decision is disrupting my whole life! How can I be humble and calm?” Marva Dawn (2000) claims, “God’s purposes will fulfilled whether you participate or not, but perhaps this is exactly why you are in the position you are in” (p. 171). By cultivating the humility that God does not need me, yet God still calls me, we are more likely to understand his calling and our free choice in the process. What is more, we are more likely to sense the moving of God in calmness (Be still and know that I am God), than if we are constantly worried, anxious, or excited. This attitude points to a willingness to be patient in the meantime. As we wait for God’s leading to become clear, we can avoid panic and through patience and prayer we can wait on God/

Finally, one of the most often neglected means for discerning God’s will is within the counsel of the faith community. The Christian life is distinctly communal and when we try to determine God’s will in isolation from others, then we are missing the most important element, next to the Bible, in determining God’s will and purpose. Sometimes it is because the saints know us better than we know ourselves. Sometimes it is because they want what is best for us and can perceive this “best” when we cannot. At other times, the questions and input offered by the community help us think and act more clearly in decisive moments.

So, we should seek to know God’s will through all these methods. But above all, we need to follow God in obedience and joy.

God is on the Move!

God is on the Move!

Got some pictures this morning on Facebook. The Clinic project in Bayonnais Haiti is literally off the ground! The foundation stones and footers have been laid out and poured (see photos) and construction is moving ahead very quickly. Funds are in place and teams are coordinating with local workers to complete the building. This is truly Good News!

As I have worked on the history of ICDM, I have had the chance to hear about children meeting under the trees for their classes and how gradually new buildings were added. Today, we have the Center for Hope, the Guest House, the dining hall, the church sanctuary, and a staff housing building. Now, the new Clinic is going up across the road from the school. This one clinic will provide daily access to health care, midwifery, eye care, and dental care for a rural community that is an hour away from the nearest health care and hospitals. This is a critical part of community development, providing quality healthcare for people who currently have little or no access to such care.

However, this is more than merely a healthcare facility for the locals! In addition to the care of nurses, physicians, and other professionals, this clinic is also to become a training ground for Haitian nurses and doctors. By partnering with physicians and nurses from other parts of the world we can train indigenous doctors and nurses with advanced skills and techniques. Such partnerships also build the community in a truly international sense.

Want to do something crazy? Why not come to Haiti and help us build the Clinic! Skill is not necessary! Just a desire to see God’s work move forward and to be a personal part of all God is doing!

Leading fromVictory

Been doing a lot of reading lately. That is pretty much my habit to read, but I have been particularly focused on reading about the spiritual. Not just random spirituality but Christian spirituality. And one thing that intrigues me in my reading is Jonathan Welton’s view on spiritual warfare. I have grown up through the 1960’s and 70’s heading about the Devil this and the Devil that. People talked about and wrote about spiritual warfare as if Christians needed to walk around with our guns (spiritual) drawn and ready to shoot at the first hint of evil. But is the really the position Christians should take? Welton says no!

His point is that we face the enemy in victory! Christ has already defeated Satan and we do not need to “battle” him at all! Instead, the Apostle Paul tells us to “triumph” over Satan. This term is not a battle term but a victory term. In the ancient Roman world, after a general had defeated his enemies, he was allowed to parade his army through Rome with his enemies, the kings and officers,in chains behind him. These enemies would be paraded through the street bound, naked, and humiliated behind the army of those who had already been victorious over them!

In missions, I have often been tempted to see the task ahead of me as a battle that must be won. Whether raising money for the mission or overcoming an obstacle in my plans, I have always seen it as a struggle. But the fact is, Jesus has already been victorious, over the need, over the circumstances, and over the obstacles. I need to walk in and believe in the victory that is already mine in Christ Jesus. The battle was (notice the past tense here) his to win. Now it is my place to march in triumph with him and show the world his victory!

Listen and Learn

My father used to always tell me that I did not listen! He was right! My attention was almost always somewhere else. But as I have matured I have learned the value of really listening! It is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.

First, you have to still your own thoughts and focus on the other person or persons. I cannot be planning my answer and listening to the other’s thoughts at the same time. Usually my mind is so prepared to answer that I cannot hear. But when I push aside my own need to answer, I find that my ears and mind can pay more attention to what the other person is trying to say. I also find that I am more attentive to the contextual clues in their communication, body language and tone of voice. This has become especially important in my communication in Haiti because of the language barrier. When I am speaking with another through an interpreter, I find I must be attentive to both the speaker and the translator.

Second, I need to enter every conversation with the expectation that the other person has something to teach me. Whether it is a deep spiritual truth or just a detail of their life, they have something to give me if I will slow down long enough to receive it. This is where I think social media has spoiled us. We no longer spend time in conversation, we only throw words at each other. In one of the online classes I teach we experienced this text-based communication problem just this week. I said something to one student, but she heard something completely different. She then communicated what she thought I said to another student who went complaining to his advisor that I was giving them two different directions for the assignment! Because so many communication clues were missing a small misunderstanding became a big one very quickly. Real conversation takes time and effort. We must commit ourselves to the process and put aside distractions if we are to listen and learn.

And third, we need to weigh our words and temper our attitudes. Something else my dad taught me was to “count to ten” before responding in anger. Anger is not the only emotion that can hinder our listening. Communication requires us to trust one another with the ideas and thoughts we are sharing. If these ideas or worse our words are shared through our wounds, hurts, negative expectations, or anger, then communication ceases. If we allow words to trigger the worst of our emotions, then we stop communicating and end up only venting our emotions.

Dad, if you are paying attention to what I am doing now, I want you to see, I am learning to listen, so maybe I will listen and learn!

A Word On Teams

Yesterday was a day of sorrow as I received the news that several friends of mine were in a serious auto accident. But there is a subtle message within the news of these events that I think is very important. These men were my friends primarily due to the mission work we had shared together in Haiti. Building homes, pouring the foundations for a new guest house, and adding an addition to the Center for Hope at Institute Henri Christophe. This shared work and travel bonded us together in ways that have lasted many years and which transcend the distances now between us. I like another word for teams: community.

The men and women I have worked with in missions have become an intimate and life-bringing part of my family. They are my sisters and brothers in Christ, but more than that they continue to share life with me in all the ups and downs I experience. Just as it was my privilege to pray for and lift the three men up who were injured, they too have prayed for me, offered me friendship and counsel, occasionally kicked my behind when  I needed correction, and laughed both with me and at me! These are men and women who are only a phone call or a text message away.

When the news came to me yesterday it was a member of our first team who shared it with me. And the first persons I shared it with were other team members. Within a matter of minutes over 100 people who have worked together in Haiti at one time or another heard this news of these men’s tragedy. By the end of the day hundred’s more were aware of the death and injuries and were praying and having their own faith communities focus their prayers on these needs.

Communities or teams are essential to our life. They should be both intimate emotionally and creative in their activity. I have the honor of being part of several teams or communities which have extended into all areas of my life. From the church where I serve, to the mission teams I have worked with, all of these people are close to my heart and available in my deepest needs. Today it is my chance to lift up these men and their families.

Who stands with you? To whom will you turn in moments of joy or sorrow? These are the ones who will share life with you and with whom you will multiply your memories.