Tag: Leadership

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 inĀ  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.

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.

Adventure Continues

On September 23, I will again be traveling to Bayonnais, Haiti. This trip was originally scheduled for earlier this month but was cancelled by Hurricane Irma. This is an unusual trip for me because I do not know what all I am going to be doing. Some of the people I was supposed to meet are not available now because of my altered schedule. Other efforts have been delayed and may be impossible this time. Someone asked me this morning, “then why are you going?” Because I need to go!

Only a portion of short term missions is about the nation and people we are visiting. Certainly that is the main motive and reason for going. However, Haiti does things to me and in me that can happen no where else! These include physical, mental, and spiritual changes.

Physically, I am more active in Haiti. That may not seem like much to some, but for me it is both challenging and healthy. Being on my feet, in the heat, and without the need to sit behind this computer all day, I actually lose weight when I am there (in spite of Marie Claude’s awesome cooking!). I get exercise and breath fresh air. This in itself is small, but is certainly an asset to me.

Mentally, my visits to Haiti clear my mind. Forced to leave behind the worries and anxieties of life here, not to mention the mere pace of life in the US, I am able to focus more on what is important in my mind and thoughts. I am free to think about my family, my work, my friends, and all the tasks to which I am too close when I am stateside. Haiti gives me mental perspective, inspiration, and opens my mind to imagine and create new possibilities.

Spiritually, Haiti simply transforms me! I feel closer to God, more excited about what God is doing, and less distracted in my prayers. Living more simply in Haiti allows me more time with God alone, even while I am engaging others more actively. My devotions seem sweeter, my prayers more effective, and my soul is refreshed and made whole when I visit my second country!

Yes, my main goal is to work with Haitians to educate, equip, and empower them. However, I always feel like I get as much from them as they receive from me! Haiti, from the Taino word, ayiti, which means “mountainous place,” is for me a place of rest!

A Man, a Ministry, a Mission

A Man, a Ministry, a Mission

The church is often hesitant to focus on a person or personality out of fear that by doing so we diminish the emphasis on Jesus the Christ. It is at least partially true that we should fear this tendency, but at the same time, the history of the church is replete with persons and personalities that have shaped, renewed, or revolutionized the life of the church. From Paul the Apostle in the book of Acts, to folks like Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mother Teresa and so many more. These men and and women are significant for what they did, but more importantly for who they were.

I write a lot about ICDM, the mission group I work with, but this mission is the dream and work of a very profound young man. This post is about him. I do not want to make him into a hero, but rather to highlight how much God can do through one person when we dare to listen and respond to God’s call.

Yvan Pierre is a trim, even small, man physically. At my height and size, I often feel like I am towering over him. But in his spirit, Yvan is a giant! Growing up in a Christian home in Bayonnais, Haiti, Yvan was taught early to seek God and to follow his leading at all costs. Almost three decades ago, Yvan had a vision of educating, equipping, and empowering the people of his community and his nation. Out of his vision has emerged the Institute Henri Christophe, the Portable Bible School, the School of Evangelism, a Pure Water project, ongoing programs to support pastors and their families,and even classes in Permaculture that help local farmers get the most out of their farms and resources. Now we have an emerging medical clinic and we are even working toward a trade school.

Why is Yvan so important to all these projects and programs? First, because Yvan let God use him to dream and imagine impossible things. There is nothing more powerful than someone who dares the impossible trusting God to provide and guide! My brother Yvan is just such a person!

Second, Yvan dares all of those who work for him to be just as visionary and just as trusting in God’s goodness to succeed. In my own life, I am working and living way beyond where I ever imagined because Yvan dared me to trust God to provide and dream big for the future.

Beyond vision, Yvan also is an encourager and cheerleader. In any venture that is moving this fast and growing this big there are many setbacks that discourage and dismay us. But at the very lowest times in our work, Yvan comes in with encouragement, hope, and a reminder that the outcome is in God’s hands, not ours.

Finally, Yvan is an awesome mentor and director to me because he does not seek or ask for the credit for what has happened. In fact, Yvan will probably be disturbed by what I am writing here. To him, all the glory and credit go to the Lord Jesus Christ! This alone makes him a man worthy of my loyalty.

I invite you all to come and meet my brother in Christ, Yvan Pierre. But more than meeting him, I invite you to come and see all that God has done through him and his team! You will be amazed, people will be blessed, and God will be glorified!

Mission, Ministry, and Open Eyes

Mission, Ministry, and Open Eyes

This past April marked seven years since my first trip to Haiti. As I have reflected on my journeys to Haiti, one of the biggest changes I have noticed has been in my own perceptions. This seems to be the story of my professional life, but maybe that is OK. Having our perceptions changed and our assumptions challenged is the only way we can grow spiritually, mentally, and even emotionally. So here are some things I used to believe and the things that changed my mind.

First, I grew up in a pretty middle-class, working family in the USA. Nothing wrong with this, but the heritage of our Puritan ancestors still shapes our perceptions of wealth and poverty. We tend to think that if you work hard, you will get ahead. But another belief consequent of this is that if people are not getting ahead, they must not be working. I will admit that much of my view of those in poverty was shaped, at least unconsciously, by this belief. Believing that poverty is due to laziness or a lack of effort was the first belief that was challenged when I visited Haiti.

What are the facts? Well, if you belief Haiti is poor because her people are lazy or unmotivated, you are in for a surprise. People in Haiti work hard and for much longer hours than we are used to in the US. I have heard and seen women up at 3-3:30 in the morning getting ready and going to market. They load baskets and buckets in their head that weigh 40-50 pounds and then walk miles to the market in order to sell what they have, but what they need, and then turn around and head back home in the late evening. When we poured the first floor ceiling on the Center for Hope, we watched some of the local men mix concrete by hand on a sheet of plywood and carry five-gallon buckets up a ladder to complete the pour. No trucks or mixers, just hard work in a near tropical sun from sunup that morning until after dark that night. When we were taking breaks to catch our breath, they kept right on working! See this level of motivation and hard work, I had to change my mind about what caused poverty! It is not a lac k of hard work!

Second, I expected Haiti to be an ugly country. Although there are places that are dusty and unclean by American standards, the country is actually VERY beautiful! From green and blue vistas of the Caribbean ocean to the mountains that give Haiti her name, there is scenic beauty everywhere. But more than simple seeing beauty, I found the hearts and minds of the Haitian people to be beautiful as well! They are proud of their country and though they are painfully aware of what is missing in their nation, they want you to see it for yourself and know them as people. Every time I go I awake to the view of rich green mountains and the noise of people heading out to start their day. The smells of cooking fires as women start morning meals. And above all the sounds of the children gathering for school. Smiles, laughter, singing, and the glorious scents of the blooming flowers and trees!

Finally, I believed that Haitians were very different from me. There are some unique differences, but not the ones I imagined and nothing that should keep us separated! Haitians and Americans have both fought down a European power to gain their independence so we have a common heritage of liberty and independence. That alone was, and remains, a revelation to me! You see, we fought off the British while we were a prosperous collection of colonies who were well-education and already well-armed for our own defense. The Haitians fought off French rule as slaves with no education and few of the typical weapons their oppressors possessed. This battle for liberty continues in Haiti as they seek the recognition and equality of their neighbors. However, the pride they feel in their heritage is as strong as our own and should be celebrated with them!

What am I trying to say? Don’t go with preconceived ideas about what Haiti is and what you can do for them. Go instead with open eyes and be ready to experience a nation and a people who will astound you with their strength and beauty! Be willing to listen to them, walk with them, and see for yourself that they do not need you to do anything FOR them, but they would live to do everything WITH you!