Category Archives: Ministry

I have been busy organizing another intergenerational mission trip to Ensenada BC Mexico for College Avenue Baptist Church this summer. We’re calling it MexiGO! 2014 and once again, we’ll be working with YUGO Ministries out of their Ensenada Outreach Center. We’ll build homes for families who live in poverty and we’ll give neighborhood children a fun week of games, crafts and Bible stories as we conduct Vacation Bible School at the local iglesia. The date is August 3-8, 2014 (Sunday through Friday) and we’d love for you to consider going with us. You don’t have to speak Spanish, you don’t have to know anything about construction and you don’t have to be a member of CABC. I’m encouraging families in our church to consider trading their usual vacation week at the resort or amusement park for a week of ministry in Mexico.

For more than 20 years, I have conducted ministry trips to Mexico for youth groups (teenagers) but these intergenerational trips (adults and kids together) are the best by far. It’s such an amazing thing to watch parents and kids, young and old people working side-by-side and discovering together how rewarding it is to serve Christ by serving others. If you want to pass your faith and values on to your kids, this is a great way to do it.

Here’s a short promo video for the trip:

One of the students appearing in the video, 13-year old Sarah Ziegler, wrote a paper about her Mexico experience and gave me permission to reprint it here:

More Powerful Than Montezuma’s Revenge
Sarah Ziegler

Lifting the beanbag toss game off the ground, I hurried my way past the swarming children to the monstrous white van and loaded the game into the trunk. Then shepherding the kids, missionaries and Mexicans alike, I plopped myself down with an exhausted sigh. A young boy around six years old snuggled into my lap and joyfully poured Ensenada’s russet dirt on my old, tattered jeans. I listened intently to a familiar story spoken in a foreign language. Behind me, the sounds of saws and hammers informed me that the tiny house was nearly finished. That meant the week was almost over, too.

The Sunday beginning this special week, my family and I packed and traveled to Ensenada, Mexico with our church. We arrived and settled in for a one-week stay. I felt like I had traveled to a new planet. For example, driving to our destination, bright pink, orange, red, and green mansions loomed over the van in one neighborhood. In the next, cardboard boxes and tarps provided a roof over many families’ heads.

Finally finished with our long journey, we exhaustedly passed through the courtyard of the Ensenada Outreach Center, our headquarters for the week. A team of interns at the center enthusiastically greeted us. After unpacking in our rooms, we returned to the courtyard where we received many hugs from the family for whom we would construct a house. The family included a mother, father, and two sweet little boys, Eloy, 4, and Alexander, 1. Their current “house” consisted of a broken garage door for one wall, a bent up cardboard box for the other two, a tarp for the roof, and no door. The family’s things were jammed into the tiny “house”. It only took a day or two to realize how right I was about living in a different world. In the mornings, instead of waking up on a spacious bed in a spacious room, I found myself waking up in a room, smaller than my room back home, with my whole family sleeping therein. Instead of surveying a big closet filled with numerous clothes, I pulled out the same pair of jeans and t-shirt from a tiny suitcase and slipped them on. Throughout the day, a little girl or boy would ask me a question that I couldn’t translate. I would give the best answer I could, earning strange looks and laughter from the kids. The fake smile would appear on my face as I felt my face turning almost as red as the soil. Annoying as it is, Americans can’t drink Mexican water without disposing of it in a way I’d rather not mention. Consequently, showering and brushing teeth require lots more work. No singing in the shower aloud if you don’t want to get Montezuma’s Revenge. Brushing teeth had to be done with bottled water.

Completely opposite to my American mode, I never caught myself feeling bored, yet the only entertainment at EOC was ping pong. Oh yeah, foosball was always available, too. And there were always friends to spend time with in person, not on a text app. I’ll not even mention that we didn’t get to do this all until after dinner. Instead of occupying myself with online games, texting, and playing with friends and on electronics all the time, I did a lot of enjoyable work and spent great time with friends who care about me. Although I really enjoyed it, I didn’t quite realize all this until I found myself sitting on the red soil of Mexico, half-listening to Roberto’s lively story. I had been shaking off the dirt, trying to keep a smile on my face while the youngster laughed as he quickly restocked my pants with dust.

Suddenly, something struck my indignant little brain. Here I sat with the gifts God gave me of precious children He loved and a simple week to escape the distracting lifestyle at home. He gave them to me out of love, but I took a long while to appreciate it. I was focused on the filthy, dirt-covered clothes I wore for the fourth time as well as on avoiding Montezuma’s Revenge from the water. The kids laughed at me sometimes, sure. But they still loved me, and everyone else on the team, for bringing some joy into their lives of hardships. I had an opportunity to love them back in that genuine love God offers. At the same time that I stopped thinking about the hardships and started thinking about the amazing gift of God’s love for this little child and the others surrounding us, my leg stilled and allowed the redness to heap up. I realized how much love I felt for the kids, despite the giggles at my poor Spanish and the awkward conversations. God loves these kids so much, I thanked God for them and said I’d try to show them a bit of the love He intended to give.

The little boy looked up into my eyes and smiled a huge smile, almost too large for his darling little face. For the first time today, I returned him a smile just as genuine.

Sarah is going with her family again this summer and you can go too! If you would like more information just contact me and I’ll send you all the details.


Last week I led a group of 20 people from CABC (College Avenue Baptist Church) to Ensenada, Mexico for an intergenerational short-term mission trip. Once again, we stayed at YUGO Ministries’ Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) and worked with their staff to build a home for a family living in poverty and also to conduct a VBS program for neighborhood children. We have partnered the past few years with a small church in the community of Salitral called “Fuego de Dios” (Fire of God). Pastor Nicolas Gallegos shepherds a small flock there and does a remarkable job of reaching out to this little community. YUGO’s “Houses of Hope” program helps local churches serve families in the neighborhood in a very tangible and practical way. Families who receive new homes feel a special connection to their local church long after the house is built, and the ministry continues.

We built a home for a family of six who were living in a one-room house that was built for them by another ministry (Amor, perhaps) many years ago, probably when the family was much smaller. The new three-room house that we built was right next to the old one, so the family can now use both. Their kitchen, which was outside, can now be moved inside. The children will now have beds of their own rather than all sharing a common one.

We also conducted a Vacation Bible School program at Pastor Nicolas’ church each morning for about 35 children. Along with games, crafts and Bible stories, we did a puppet show each day. I built a portable puppet show stage made of PVC pipe and curtains and I purchased some pre-recorded puppet show scripts that were in Spanish, so our puppeteers only had to move the mouths of the puppets in sync with the dialogue. They worked great, although on the first day, one of the children began crying hysterically when the puppets started to talk. Apparently the little guy had never seen puppets before and they scared him to death. You can imagine what a small child would think upon seeing such odd-looking creatures come to life. He seemed to like (or at least to tolerate) the puppets the rest of the week.

It was a good week of ministry. Although our Mexico team was smaller this year than last, we had a good mix of people who worked hard and accomplished much. Chuck and Shannon Fisher, with their kids Jon, Sara and Chris, are old pros—this was their third year in a row. Bill and Debbie Gossett, with their two sons Joe and John, came out all of the way from Minnesota. Laura Morales, a single mom, brought her two children Roy and Victoria. Sara Fisher invited two of her friends (Tori and Maddie) and made up the puppet team. Bob and Luanne Holaday, longtime members of CABC, joined me as senior members of the team. Esther Tejada and Oscar Miramontes served as our interpreters. Bryce Klabunde, CABC’s Pastor of Soul Care, also came for the third year in a row and helped immensely on the construction team.

This was my fifth year doing a family mission trip to Mexico and my third with CABC. In my view, these trips perfectly accomplish my ministry goals as “Pastor to Generations” at CABC. It’s my favorite week of ministry of the year. Hardly anything else comes even close as a vehicle for passing faith from one generation to the next.

A week in Mexico is a complete immersion experience in intergenerational discipleship. Parents and children serve Christ together, working side by side for five days. They engage in extended conversations about faith and values. They participate in doing something together that is truly remarkable and very significant as they impact the lifestyle of a family much like their own. They worship together and receive biblical input each day from the YUGO leadership who help them process and learn from what they are experiencing during the week. They have a fun, positive family experience which rivals any family vacation or family camp. And with Mexico being so close to us in San Diego, it’s not expensive and easily accessible. All that’s needed is a passport and an appetite for some of the best street tacos on the world.

Hopefully we’ll be doing it again next year. Let me know if you’d like to go with us.

 


With so many graduations going on this month, it occurred to me recently that I graduated from high school FIFTY years ago. Yep, a half-century ago, I marched with the Camarillo High School class of ’63.

More significantly, it also occurred to me that it was fifty years ago that I started doing youth ministry. I wrote about it briefly in my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]:

My call to youth ministry came in the form of an actual phone call.

After I graduated from high school in 1963, I went to work for the architectural firm that gave me a job after I won the drafting contest. After several weeks working for the architectural firm I was absolutely bored to death. On top of that, I noticed how bored (and boring) everyone else there seemed to be. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to become an architect after all.

A few weeks later Don Goehner, the executive director of Ventura County Youth For Christ, called me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working part-time for YFC as a club director. My responsibilities would include running one of the high school clubs, helping out with Saturday night rallies and doing some graphic design work. He also wanted me to help start a new junior high club program. The pay would be $50 a month.

I was stunned and absolutely overjoyed. It took me all of five seconds to say yes to Don. I definitely wanted that job. The pay didn’t matter. I was only seventeen years old, and gas was only thirty-five cents a gallon. What mattered was that I got to do something I really wanted to do, what I believed God was calling me to do.

Me on the left; Don Goehner on the right. 1963.

While there have certainly been times when I’ve wondered what my life might have been like had Don Goehner never made that phone call (Would I have become a world famous architect, designing impressive buildings and making millions of dollars …?), I have no regrets whatsoever. Youth ministry has provided for me a very rewarding and fruitful life. I met my wife in youth ministry. I learned how to preach, teach, write and play music in youth ministry. I made a lot of dumb mistakes and learned valuable lessons and leadership skills in youth ministry (as my old friend Bill Wennerholm was fond of saying, “Learn to run a junior high group and you can rule the world.”) I got to work alongside a lot of amazing and inspiring people in youth ministry. And I learned to follow, serve, trust and love Jesus more authentically in youth ministry.

So here I am, fifty years later, Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Am I still in youth ministry? Of course I am. It really doesn’t matter what your job description is. Once you’ve been called into youth ministry, you’re in it for life.


Our church (College Avenue Baptist Church) recently held it’s first-ever intergenerational, all-church retreat at Pine Valley Christian Camp, about 30 minutes out of San Diego. It turned out to be the coldest weekend San Diego county has had in quite a few years. Temperatures dropped into the teens at night (we even got some snow) but during the day, sunny blue skies in the mid-50’s. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for a winter retreat. About 200 people attended, about a third of our Sunday morning crowd.

Our theme was community-building. I presented three seminar-style messages on the topic over the course of the weekend and since all ages were together, I had the challenge of engaging all the children who were there (as well as the adults). A few word-games and puzzles based on the theme seemed to do the trick. The feedback we’ve had from the retreat has been very positive so far. Whether or not we will actually see more unity in our congregation, more relationship-building between the generations and more disciples being made remains to be seen but I think we achieved what we set out to do.

One of the highlights of the weekend was our Saturday night talent show. At first I wasn’t sure we’ve have any talent at all (folks were a little hesitant to sign up in advance) but after we got there, the talent emerged and we had about 15 acts competing for the “CABBY” award, a trophy that was created especially for the occasion. Our winner was a 15-month old little girl named Karis who danced while her father played the guitar and sang. I emceed the show, or should I say “Buck Stud” emceed the show, an alter-ego of mine from Youth Specialties days who you might say is a cross between Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Swaggert. There’s a brief shot of Buck in the video clip. Buck did a Christian version of “New York, New York” called “New Jerusalem..” After the talent show, one of our older ladies at the retreat asked, “Who was that man who emceed the talent show, anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before.” Ha. I guess I was disguised pretty well.

CABC@PineValley turned out to be a very successful and fun intergenerational event that included children, youth, college students, families and seniors. We played together, roomed together, laughed together, learned together, worshipped together and came back energized and excited about what our church can ultimately become. It’s a slow process of change, but I think it’s happening. To all the Generations team at CABC, I say job well done. Let’s do it again next year.


Actually, I wrote these tips about twenty years ago but they were recently reprinted in HomeWord’s January 2013 Parent Newsletter. Here they are for a whole new generation of parents:

Parenting adolescents can be a scary prospect, as kids get older and begin to create some distance between them and us. Still, it doesn’t have to be as scary as it may seem. There are some simple, yet powerful steps we can take in order to ensure our influence level remains high. Here are twelve tips you can use right away that will make your responsibilities as a parent a bit easier to manage.

  1. When your teenager comes home from school today, smile when he or she walks through the door. Do that several days in a row and your kid will actually look forward to coming home!
  2. Next time your teenager tries to be funny … laugh.
  3. Make a list of all the things your teenager does that makes you mad. Now, go through the list and cross off all the stuff that doesn’t really matter. Save your anger only for those things which have lasting moral consequences.
  4. Take your teenager out for breakfast or lunch once a week. Promise yourself that you won’t use that time to lecture or nag. Just listen and talk about good stuff.
  5. Invite your teenager’s friends to your house for pizza, soft drinks and a movie rental. Extra points if you can secure a big-screen TV or video projector.
  6. Ask your teenager to play his/her favorite music on your stereo. Listen and discuss the music with him or her. Find out why he/she likes it so much. Try to avoid criticism.
  7. Think of something positive you can say to your teenager today … and say it.
  8. Put a love note (from you) in your teenager’s backpack or lunch sack.
  9. Before you criticize your teenager’s behavior, try remembering your own teenage years. Chances are it will help you communicate better.
  10. Love your spouse. A strong family provides security for teenagers.
  11. Respect your teenager’s privacy. Snooping without a legitimate reason is a no-no.
  12. Communicate your plans to your teenager frequently. Let him/her know where you are, when you’ll be home, what you’re doing. This sets a good example that will encourage them to do the same thing for you.
Bonus tips:
  1. Be patient with your kids. Growing up takes time … but they will grow up.
  2. Learn to trust your kids more. The more trust you give them, the more opportunities they will have to prove themselves trustworthy.
  3. Keep your sense of humor. Healthy families are laughing families!
  4. Pray daily for your kids. Remember, God loves them even more than you do!

Do you think they still hold up after all these years? Any other tips that need to be added to this list?


Category: Ministry, Parenting

After being assured that receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award doesn’t necessarily mean your lifetime is over, I was pleased to accept a LAW from Youth Specialties at their recent San Diego National Youth Workers Convention. From what I hear, this was the first of many that will be given to individuals who have contributed in some significant way to field of youth ministry. In my case, I co-founded the organization giving out the award, so I suppose that’s the secret to getting the first one! Regardless, it was a very special night for me and I am very grateful to the staff of Youth Specialties and all who contributed to making it happen. The presentation was captured on video and posted by Youth Specialties on YouTube as well as their web site.

After the presentation, several people said they were surprised to hear that I gave up a promising career in music to pursue youth ministry. Actually, that’s not quite true. I tried to explain it in the interview but I’m not sure I explained it very well. So let me explain it a little better here.

First, I was in youth ministry before I ever started playing music. In fact, it was youth ministry that prompted me to take up music in the first place. As a Youth for Christ staff member in the 60′s, I was trying to figure out how to reach kids for Christ. Folk music was pretty popular at the time, so several of us learned to play guitars and banjos and we formed folk groups. Our YFC rallies became “hootenannies” and believe it or not, they were pretty cool.

My first group was a folk trio with my wife Marci and another YFC staff member Dave Sheffel called “The Accidents.” That was in 1966. I played bass. Later, I learned banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers and wife Marci called The Rice Kryspies. We recorded a couple of albums and played for churches, youth groups and two summers at Forest Home Christian camp. I really got into bluegrass music and my obsession with the banjo kept growing, but it was a hobby, a part-time thing while I was working for YFC and doing youth ministry in my church.

I was still playing with the Rice Kryspies AND doing youth ministry when Mike Yaconelli and I started Youth Specialties in 1968.

Then, in 1972, my wife Marci contracted pregnancy and she had to quit playing bass with The Rice Kryspies. My brothers and I continued along with two new members of the band, Ken Munds and Dave Rose. We changed the name of the band to Brush Arbor. After winning a local radio station talent contest, we were signed by Capitol Records and before long we were hearing our music played on country radio stations. One thing led to another and we ended up on the Grand Ole Opry, doing some network TV shows, touring with people like Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins (my favorite) and then winning a couple of country music awards including Vocal Group of the Year (Academy of Country Music). We had a manager by then and a booking agent, both of whom were expecting us to become the next big thing in country music. Capitol Records called us “The Voice of the New Country.”

All this happened very quickly and I have to admit, it was a whole lot of fun. But in December of ’73, while taping an NBC TV Special with Johnny Cash at Rockefeller Plaza in New York (on the same stage that later became the home of Saturday Night Live), I realized that I just couldn’t keep on playing with Brush Arbor. Our booking agent was telling us that he was going to put us on the road for over 300 dates per year. Youth Specialties was just getting some traction. My son Nathan was two years old and needed a daddy at home. I was torn between too many things and putting too much stress on my wife and partners in ministry. So I quit the band in New York. Our manager told us (while we were in New York) that he had booked us on the Hee Haw TV show and wanted us to fly to Nashville immediately to tape three shows. But I just couldn’t go. I had already made plans to go from New York to Atlanta to meet up with Mike Yaconelli and Denny Rydberg for a YS event.

So, I told the band I didn’t want to hold them back and they would need to replace me, which they eventually did. I played out a string of dates in Las Vegas in early 1974 but that was the end of my music career. Brush Arbor ended up going through a few more personnel changes after I left and while they never became the next big thing in country music, they had a good run and ended up being a top Christian country band. My brother Jim kept it going for quite a few years and they made some really good records.

I never felt like I gave up anything to do youth ministry because (1) youth ministry was what I had been called to do all along and (2) I was a very mediocre banjo player. I knew I would never make it as a professional musician. I would have starved to death.

But the time I spent with Brush Arbor (and since then, playing with other bands and doing my radio show) has been wonderful. I’m very blessed and thankful to God for all the opportunities that he has given me to do what I love to do.


Every 5th Sunday at College Avenue Baptist, we cancel all of our childrens programming during the morning worship hour so that families can worship together all in the same place. Our services are intergenerational in the sense that our youth and adults worship together, but normally our children (K through 5th grade) have a “children’s church” which they can attend if they choose to do so. Some children remain with their parents in “big church” but not all of them. To prepare parents for last Sundays inclusive service, Pastor Carlton Harris sent out the following email to our congregation, providing his excellent suggestions and insights on how to take your kids to “big church.”

At CABC we want to make more and better disciples from among the nations who honor God by worshiping Him! This Sunday, our worship service is a 5th Sunday Family Service. We will welcome our kindergarteners through 5th graders. The worship service has been planned with them in mind. We will be singing songs that they regularly sing during their group worship time on Sunday mornings. May I encourage all of you to sit as close to the front as possible (especially if your children will be worshiping with you)?

As some of you know, I began my journey as a father in 1983. God kindly gifted us with two daughters and a son within a time span of five years and four months. From the time our children were school-aged they joined us in our worship services. Wasn’t that a stressful decision? How did we do it? A better question is how did my wife do it without my help? I was preaching and leading in most of the worship services my children participated in between the start of kindergarten and the conclusion of high school. Here is some of what I remember from that season of our life together as a family:

Before Worship

  • We would read the sermon text for the coming Sunday during the week. Our children would perk up when they heard familiar words during the sermon.
  • We gave our children their own age-appropriate Bibles. They would bring them to the worship service each Sunday. They would also bring pens/pencils and paper to draw the sermon, the environment, or take sermon notes as they grew. They also watched their mother take sermon notes.
  • Preparation for worship was done on Saturday night in order to reduce chaos and distractions on Sunday morning. We would select and prepare the clothes and shoes that we would be wearing to worship. We would get our Bibles and offering money ready. When our children were infants and toddlers, we would pack the diaper bag on Saturday night as well.
  • Before we entered the worship service, they would use the rest room if needed so that they would not have to unnecessarily leave the worship service.

During Worship

  • We desired and expected our children to be respectful toward God and other worshipers around us.
  • Our children would take a worship folder. Before the worship service began, my wife might point to the different elements in the order of worship, such as songs that they knew and liked. If there was something for which they needed to be prepared such as a responsive reading, she would point it out to our children who were old enough to participate.
  • We would all participate as worshipers by sitting, standing, singing, closing our eyes, turning in the Bible, etc. with the rest of our church family. My wife and I wanted our children to see us sing praise to God with joy on our faces, or tears trickling down our cheeks, or hands clapping. We wanted our children to see her listen hungrily to God’s Word and watch me preach it passionately. In short, we wanted our children to feel our hearts meeting the living God during worship. We sought to model looking at the worship leader(s). So, we sat as close to the front as possible – usually on the first or second row – to reduce distractions like people-watching or clock watching. We wanted our children to see the front as well as possible. My wife would share worship folders, hymnals, and Bibles with our young children because those things are important tools for worship. We did not bring other books to the worship service for our children to read because we wanted their focus to be on worship. They could look at the pictures in their Bibles.
  • When younger, our children would draw pictures of what they heard in the sermon. Individual words or names triggered individual pictures. As our children grew, their notes would involve concepts. Always remember that not everything in a worship service or sermon goes over the heads of our children!

After Worship

  • We would process the sermon together and the implications on how we live life in response to the Word of God.
  • We would talk about unique aspects of the worship service such as a missionary speaker from a country we had been praying for.

There were times when one of our children was restless or noisy, despite our best efforts. In those times all you can do is pray for the understanding of the people around you, and try to deal with the problem discreetly. If the child is “having one of those days” and will not sit still or be quiet, you may have to take him or her out of the service. Use it as a teaching opportunity for parental training. Then decide whether you’ll reenter the worship service or not. At CABC, we have an infant cry room (with video feed) for mothers and their babies. During our worship services, we attempt to keep the foyer as a place for parents with young children who need to leave the worship service. We have video feed in the foyer during our worship services. You can help protect the foyer space for parents by not loitering or talking in the foyer during the worship service.

One of my great desires as a father has been to see my children fall in love with the worship of God both individually in private as well as corporately in public together with the body of Christ. I feel that my most important job as a parent was and is to fall in love with the worship of God and model that for my children. Why? Because worshiping God is the most valuable thing I can do in life.


Just returned from our second mission trip to Mexico this summer and it was a very special one.  I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about this trip because most of our July team were newbies and we didn’t have a lot of Bob-the-Builder types. But they certainly rose to the occasion after we got there, and were a fun bunch to be around to boot. Again, our team was made up mostly of families from College Avenue Baptist—the King family (Dave, Debbie, Trevor and Holly), the Klabunde family (Bryce, Jolene, Kayla and Amie), Susan Wayne with her two grandsons Austin and Gavin, Barbara and Sarah Darby (mom and daughter), Matt and Craig Ebersole (college-age brothers), two excellent interpreters (thank you Esther Tejada and Rebecca Harver), Chris Curtin (college student), Noah Stern (recent high school graduate) and me—for a total of 20.

Like our trip in June, our objective was to build a house for a needy family and to conduct VBS (Vacation Bible School) for neighborhood children at a local Mexican church. YUGO handles the logistics and provides the infrastructure to make it all happen. We stay at their Ensenada Outreach Center, a place I’ve watched grow and improve over the past 15 years. The EOC staff is helpful and very good at what they do yet they appear to stay as invisible as possible to allow visiting teams of short-term missionaries to feel like it’s all up to them. Even though the house we built pretty much went up on its own thanks to YUGO, we were certainly proud of how it all turned out at the end of the week.

We built the house for a single mom whose name is Yelni. She has an 8 year-old daughter named Regina. They had been living with Yelni’s parents which was not only a cramped environment but a hostile one for Yelni, a recently-converted Christian. Yelni wanted a place of her own where she could freely raise her daughter up in the faith. Yelni told us that on Sunday, Regina said, “Tomorrow I get to meet Jesus!” Yelni asked Regina what she meant by that and her daughter replied, “Jesus is coming to build us a new house!” Wow.

YUGO works with local pastors to help identify families who need homes and to help them acquire the land they need. We discovered that Yelni’s home was being built on property adjacent to her sister’s house in an agricultural area south of Ensenada. There are no utilities there (running water, electricity, plumbing or sewer systems.) We provided Yelni with an outhouse and a propane cook stove.

On Monday afternoon , after the house was framed and the siding went up on the outside walls, Yelni took her Bible and began copying verses on the back of the siding between the studs. I shot a few pictures. Even though the drywall would soon cover up all this scripture-on-the-walls,
Yelni wanted to be surrounded by the Word of God in her little home. I’ve built a lot of houses in Mexico for poor families but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.

Each morning, half of our team went to the church to conduct a VBS program for children. The church is called “Fuego del Dios” which means “Fire of God.” This little church seats about 50 people and has no electricity. In order to hold church services at night or plug in a guitar amp, Pastor Nicolas has to power up the church by starting up a small generator sitting outside the church.

The first morning when we arrived at the church, we didn’t see too many kids. But Pastor Nicolas wasn’t worried. He jumped in our van and directed us to a migrant farm camp a couple of miles from the church. We returned with 33 children stuffed inside our 15-passenger van. The next day, we not only had a van full of kids, but I picked up another couple dozen in my pickup truck. I had 12 kids inside the cab of my truck and another dozen in the back. Not too safe, but we didn’t have to get out on the highway. Mostly dirt roads.

Our VBS team did a great job preparing Gospel lessons for the children and our interpreters put them into words they could mostly understand, although some of them didn’t speak Spanish. They come from Oaxaca (Wahaca) and speak a dialect called mixteca. They are beautiful, lovable children who live with extreme hardship every single day. It was fun to watch them play our games and win candy and prizes. One day we took pictures of all the kids and let them decorate picture frames. The next day, we had glossy photos for them to take home. Some of those children had never seen a photo of themselves before.

I led the children in a few gospel songs in Spanish that I have learned over the years (like “Yo Tengo Gozo”). After that, the Bible story and lesson is taught. One morning, Jolene Klabunde, who was teaching the lesson, asked the youngsters if they were ready to receive Jesus into their hearts. She asked them to respond by getting up and going outside to be counseled. At once, every single child (about 50 of them) got up and went outside.  It took two or three times explaining to the children what their “decision” was all about. Pastor Nicolas said that he attended a VBS just like ours when he was a child. The seeds of faith were planted there, he said. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure that the children understand what they need to know about Jesus.

We finished the house in three days, finishing on Thursday. We furnished it with a number of amenities that we brought with us—bookshelves, rugs, linens, cooking utensils and the like. We also built a front porch for Yelni, using some lumber that we had used at VBS in an object lesson to depict the Cross. So she had scripture verses on her walls and a cross in her doorstep. The dedication ceremony was very moving as the group passed around the keys in front of the house and offered a few words of encouragement and blessing for Yelni and Regina. Dave King, who led our construction crew presented the keys and the celebration began. Yelni fixed a nice meal for us (which she had prepared earlier in the day) which was delicious. Some kind of Mexican soup with corn, chicken, onions, peppers, tortillas …

Well, I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. We came home on Friday after a couple hours of being tourists at “La Bufadora,” the Mexican “Spouting Horn” a few miles south of Ensenada. We also made one more stop at our favorite street taco shop. Dave King commented that one of the best things about the trip was getting to know a bunch of people from our church he didn’t previously know. I agree. I especially enjoyed getting to know the Kings better and working closely with Bryce Klabunde, one of our pastors who really worked hard preparing the VBS program for this trip, as well as his family. A lot of good things happened in Mexico including a new realization for me that God is charge, not us. Despite all our best-laid plans and expectations, God always surprises us with all kinds of miracles and blessings that just can’t be predicted or described. Thanks to all who supported and prayed for us.

 

 


Dedicating the new house

I just got back from a week in Mexico with a group of families from my church, the first of two trips that we are doing this summer. Thirty-three moms, dads and their kids spent July 17-20 at YUGO’s Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC), a terrific base for short term missions in Baja. I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years or so with both youth groups and family groups and YUGO’s staff is always helpful and accommodating.

I have to admit that on the first day of the week, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the week. Normally, my wife Marci goes with me and we arrange to get a private room at EOC rather than sleeping in the dorm rooms. Marci had back surgery the week before the trip so she couldn’t go on this one. So I stayed in the dorm room with all the other guys (16 of them) on a corner bunk in the back of the room. It brought back memories of being a cabin counselor at junior high camp, except there was a little more snoring from the adult campers. But as the week progressed, I got used to it and really enjoyed the time bunking down with all the other guys.

In just four days, our team built a beautiful new home for the Aparicio-Lopez family (mom, dad and two kids) who had previously lived in a borrowed home of one room and a trailer. They had no furniture, so we outfitted the home with three beds (a double and two singles), linens, a table and chairs, rugs, curtains and shelves filled with dishes, pots and pans and other cooking utensils. Our dedication ceremony and presentation of the keys to the house to the family was a powerful experience for all of us. “This is our dream come true,” they said as they entered their new home. As one of our team members commented afterwards, “We built them a house, but it became a home very quickly.” One of the children, a teen girl, jumped up on her bunk bed and just stayed there for the longest time. She couldn’t believe she now had her own bed.

While half of our team built a house, the other half conducted VBS programs in two locations near the construction site. I spent most of my time with the VBS team. I’ve done this many times and over the years I’ve built several carnival-type games which are always a hit with the Mexican children. They love to win dulce (candy) and play juegos (games.). About 80 children came to our programs and memorized key Bible verses in Spanish. They also heard Bible stories about Jesus. Our team did a great job of presenting the Gospel in a very clear way and almost all of the children prayed to receive Christ as Savior on the final day of VBS. They heard Good News and they wanted it right then and there.

On Wednesday night, we visited a small Mexican church, the home church of the Aparicio-Lopez family. The pastor preached a short sermon on John 4 (the woman at the well) and during his sermon pointed out that he was about 10 years old when he found Christ at a VBS just like the one we conducted. He came for the candy, he said, but found Jesus also.

I played my banjo for the church and they loved it. I called it a “bano” and got a few laughs.

I am always deeply touched by these mission trips. Since moving from youth mission trips to family mission trips, I am even more deeply committed to them. It is a powerful thing to watch families serve God together on the mission field. Rather than having kids go home and try to explain what they did to their parents (which they almost never do very well), the family has a shared experience which powerfully impacts their family for years to come. This is our second year doing this at CABC and almost all of the families who went last year came again this year. And we have another trip planned for July, made up of entirely new families. Last year we took 25 people; this year we have 50. I’m hoping that this momentum continues.

I was very happy that this year, nobody got sick. Last year, there was quite a bit of illness which spread through the camp. But last year, a group from Memphis Tennessee was in the camp and we believe that they imported the illness from Tennessee. We called it the “Y’all flu.” The only mishap this year was the breakdown of one of our vehicles in Tijuana on the trip home. But they made it across the border and everyone got home safe and sound.

If you want more information about our family mission trips at CABC, contact me anytime.

 



Pastor Carlton Harris (College Avenue Baptist Church) just completed a powerful series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins. One of my takeaways from the series was that the Seven Deadly Sins are particularly troublesome for Christians, for those who are inside, not outside the flock. In other words, they are the sins of the church. Truth is, they originated not from the Bible but from the church fathers, most of whom lived in monasteries with other monks. While monks weren’t likely to kill, steal, tell lies or commit adultery, they apparently struggled quite a bit with anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. And I have been reminded by Pastor Carlton that I do too.

What strikes me as unique about these sins is that they are all more or less acceptable. They seem rather benign on the surface. Take anger. Who doesn’t relate to that line in Broadcast News “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” We don’t really consider anger a sin. We think of it more as a natural and sometimes necessary response to disruptive events in our lives which deserve to be called out. Anger doesn’t need forgiveness, it needs management.

But why stop at seven? Seems to me there are other sins which produce just as many sinister consequences as the classic list of seven. Some have suggested these:

  • Fear
  • Intolerance
  • Hypocrisy
  • Anxiety
  • Exploitation
  • Stupidity
  • Procrastination
  • Chocolate
  • Leaving the Toilet Seat Up

Personally, I’d like to nominate Busyness as the Eighth Deadly Sin. It’s one that I deal with every day and I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat addicted to busyness. I don’t like being NOT busy. I really don’t know what I would do with myself if I weren’t busy. I like doing things, creating things, solving things, running things, um, writing things. I sometimes brag to people that I am not retired. “But you’re getting up there in years, aren’t you?” they think to themselves. “Well, it’s not biblical to retire,” I assure them as if I’m not being sinful but obedient.

Busyness is a sin, no question. Certainly the consequences of busyness are pretty much the same as the other seven. When you’re too busy you experience anxiety, shame, aloneness, guilt, broken relationships including one’s relationship with God. Maybe Busyness didn’t make the original list of seven because monks by definition lived a disciplined, unhurried life. They didn’t deal with the demands of modern life that we have to contend with in today’s fast-paced world. Well, the probably did, in their own medieval kind of way. But apparently they didn’t see any real harm in it.

My old pal Jim Burns is fond of saying “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That sure sounds like a sin to me. Busyness is a sin for which we need forgiveness, healing and the power of Christ to overcome. I myself have been way too busy these last two years while serving on a church staff. The problem for me is that most people don’t see my busyness as a sin at all. They simply cheer me on and admire all that I’m doing for the Kingdom. This is not their fault or the church’s fault. I was already busy when I accepted the call to CABC. I had plenty to do even without the ministry that God called me to do at the church. Fortunately our senior pastor is one who knows the danger of busyness and has urged me to be very careful with my schedule, to set limits and priorities on my time, to erect fences around my soul so that the Devil won’t gain a foothold. I have found it hard to follow his advice (it is so counterintuitive to me) but I am taking steps … slowly but surely … to un-busy myself. I want more than anything to be fruitful for God and to please him in all that I say and do but I can’t do that if I’m just too busy.

How about you?

 


Category: Ministry, Personal