Tag: schools

Mission at Home

Somewhere along the way many congregations in the USA began to see “missions” as what we did overseas, while “evangelism” or “discipleship” was what we did at home or in our own community. This division of ideas does not exist in the New Testament. We are called to “make disciples of all nations,” and in Acts, Luke quotes Jesus more specifically as us “being witnesses, first in Jerusalem then Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” The task is not divided between what we do at home and what we do overseas. It is one single mission and what we do here is intimately involved with what we do there (regardless of where “there” might be).

I am learning this lesson in my new ministry in Dubois, WY. This is definitely small-town USA! Less than a thousand people in the town limits with maybe 1500-2000 in the surrounding area. Most people are prosperous, but there remains many needs that the church can and should address: An aging population as most young adults leave never to come back; Too few jobs and opportunities for those young adults which leads them to abandon the town; A struggling business community that is so geared to summer tourists, it has nothing to offer the rest of the year.

But we do have some advantages! First, the oil boom left behind an excellent school and school system. With only 130 students (total) in grades k-12, this is unusual. However, we have the school now and the opportunity to train young people for both professional and trade careers. We also have a very active church community. Granted, they are kind of divided between the Evangelical and Social Justice camps, but the fact is they are already engaged with the community and have the potential to create a lot of positive change. We also have a very beautiful environment! Surrounded by the Absaroka and Wind River Mountains, we are on the main southern pathway into Yellowstone and the valley of Jackson Hole. This beauty is not just a characteristic of our scenery. Rather it is probably one of our most attractive assets. We have four seasons of sports and the potential to be a major visitor destination.

As far as spiritual needs, most of the folks who are interested in church are in church somewhere. But the unchurched seem so apathetic as to be almost impossible to reach with the Gospel. Many within the churches are very secular and church-hopping seems to be a favorite pastime here.

So, just like the mission fields of Haiti or Ecuador or anywhere else, we need not only the Good News, we need community and business development; some church discipleship to mature the folks we already have, and some form of economic stimulus to foster growth in jobs and opportunities. Sounds like real mission work! Maybe the ideas we use over there will help over here and the opportunities we try here to reach our community just might help us over there.

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.

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!

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Having made trips to China, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and now Haiti, I am often asked, “Do these short term trips really accomplish anything?” Or I am asked, “It costs so much for you to take a team to Haiti (or wherever). Why not just raise the money you raise and then send that to Haiti?” I want to try and answer these two questions because I think they actually miss the point about why we do this.

First of all, yes, these trips do accomplish a great deal. The team that Tony Geinotta takes from Cape May county in New Jersey have made seven trips and are scheduled to be there again this coming October. Each time they complete a measurable task in terms of building. On my last trip with them in 2012, we completed the framework for the forms that allowed the next team to pour the entire ceiling for the first floor of the Center of Hope. This is how the teams work: One group may dig and pour only the foundations; The next assembles the walls using concrete block. Another team like ours, sets the forms and the last team pours the ceiling, which then  becomes the floor for the next level. Some might protest that it would be cheaper to just send the money and pay Haitians to do the work! This is true, but it would not accomplish the full task of these teams.

You see, the goal is not just to build a building or clear new farm land or even teach pastors and church leaders (something I usually do). This is only a part of the task and often not even the most important one. On all of these trips, we work right alongside Haitians. We get to know them, share some meals with them, even laugh and play with them (I learned on my first visit not to challenge the Haitians to a Dominoes tournament!). A team traveling to Bayonnais, where ICDM has their main campus, is likely to meet and play games with students from Institute Henri Christophe. We will meet and sometimes even help the teachers there. Our cooks are all Haitian as well. What happens by the end of one of these trips is that we have made friends with many of the Haitians. When the team returns home their vision of the world is changed because they now see these people as real, as human, and as friends. Although their attitude on the first trip may be, “I am going to do something for Haiti,” after their first trip it usually becomes, “I am going to do something with Haitians!” This may seem like a subtle difference in attitude, but it is an important difference. Now that they know these people, the reasons behind their work all change. Even the reasons for fund-raising will change. I remember the first trip with Tony’s team, we saw fund raising as primarily to pay for our trip. After that first trip, fund-raising was more about what was going to be done and who we were going to help on our next trip. The actual going leads to people coming home like the disciples after Jesus sent them out: Praising God and proclaiming, ‘even the demons obey our word.’ This goal of making friends and partners in Haiti is easily more important then the work we actually accomplish, although both are the result. However, there is still another reason to go.

When I took this team from New Jersey, there were numerous complaints by church leaders. Some thought we should be working directly on a United Methodist project and ICDM holds no denominational affiliation. Others felt that our fund raising would diminish the money given for current mission projects of the church. Still others thought that we needed to work at home before we went overseas to do missions. Here is why I still say we should go: 1) ICDM does not hold a denominational affiliation and this has given them the ability to work across many denominational and theological boundaries. In fact it allows them to work with (that “with” word again) other mission organizations and churches with far more flexibility and influence; 2) Instead of diminishing church funding for missions, this group actually increased the giving for missions supported by the church. This happened two ways. First, the persons who had gone on the trip found themselves more sensitive to and responsive to mission needs, whether local or overseas. Second, the group shifted their fund-raising to the community rather then from the church and then tithed all they raised to the church’s mission fund; 3) When Jesus said “go” it was to the whole world. Whether you read the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:4-8, the command is to go to the whole world, not in some sequential steps (home first, then the nations next door, and then the ends of the earth), but rather to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth, all at the same time.

In conclusion, I think every leader, particularly every pastor, should go on at least one foreign mission trip. We need to see the world through a wider lens and make friends with those whom we would help. My first trip to Haiti changed the direction of my life. Once I saw these people as God’s children, abused by their neighbors, ignored by the world, and yet joyful in their existence, I could not accept the idea that I could do nothing. So I keep going and taking new people with me. They come back transformed and as often as not lead transformation in their church back home. So who will go? Will you?

How God Provides!

How God Provides!

I learned a lesson today in how God works behind the scenes to provide everything we need! One of the dearest ladies I know in Haiti, Marie Claude, asked me several years ago to find her a lens set for finding eyeglass prescriptions. I had no idea what one of these sets cost, but God had laid her request on my heart and I have worked ever since to respond. Several times people promised me a set, but then failed to deliver. I simply kept asking and kept hoping.

Two weeks ago, I had my annual eye exam with Dr. Schmidt. I mentioned the need and he said he would look into it. Due to the fact that my eyes had already been dilated, he could not get an accurate refraction so I had to go back today and see him again. After checking my eyes and writing my lens prescription, he said, “Wait here a minute and I will get you checked out.” A moment later he came into the exam room carrying a small suitcase size aluminum case. It was a brand new lens set with everything Marie Claude needs! He had mentioned my request to his wife, who is also an Optometrist, and she said, “Let’s just buy a set and give it to him.”

This made my day! I was disappointed that no one had met this need before and was discouraged that I would ever be able to provide for Marie Claude’s needs. You see, she too is an Optometrist and she cares for the eyes of all the children in the ICDM school as well as trying to do eye care in the community where she lives. With this set, she can determine accurate eyeglass prescriptions, plus it is portable enough for her to carry it anywhere and use. All the time I was waiting, God was working! When I was discouraged and ready to give up, he had the right person, the right tools, and the right timing to bring it all together. What a great God we serve!

Good Economics of Mission Giving

Good Economics of Mission Giving

I was originally going to post something about the need to give and support missions, which I think is critically important. Then while researching some other issues, I figured out that giving to missions actually makes sound economic sense. I live in Jacksonville, FL a city consolidated with Duval County to the point where the two are virtually one municipality. The cost of educating one public school student in this county is approximately $9,089. At ICDM’s Ecole Henri Christophe in Bayonnais, Haiti, we can educate a single child for about $480. What is more, this $480 includes not only the cost of their teachers and school, but also their uniforms, materials, and a daily meal. For this modest cost, the elementary school student will learn reading and writing (in French and English), math, science, and history. What is more, all of the their education is rooted in strong Christian teaching and discipleship.

Although there is probably much that could be improved in our educational systems here in the US, that is not my point. What I am trying to say is that our donations and giving dollars can accomplish much in a place like Haiti! Even more important is that fact there is no public school system in Haiti and without the mission schools and private schools, their would be little if any elementary or secondary education. Haiti is trying to build a strong educational system, but for now, these schools are an essential tool in educating, equipping, and empowering new generations of leaders and workers.

If you would like to sponsor a child, check out http://www.icdm.us and click on the “Sponsorship” link!