Ready, Set, Go!

FULL is the only word to describe the past 6 weeks: four untimely deaths, four opportunities to preach, two weeks away from home (family camp and a funeral), two giant events, and two big steps forward in my ministry here.  PHEW!  Allow me to breathe for a moment…

The end of March brought the deaths of two very dear friends – a grandfather-figure in Ohio, and the following day, my spiritual father in Rosarito.  The hardest part, as many of you may understand, was not being there.  Thankfully, I was able to attend the funeral of Rod, my spiritual father, and even had the opportunity to share.  It was only fitting as all of the ministry I am participating in here is a direct result of what God did in my life through Rod’s ministry.  The only thing bigger than the hole Rod left behind is the basket needed to hold all the fruits of his labors!

In loving memory of Rod Hoople, my spiritual father, whose funeral was held April 22, 2017, at Calvary Chapel Rosarito

Family Camp was a huge blessing to me and Sammy as we were officially integrated into the church family here.  It feels good to have family so far from home.  Besides that personal blessing, we were blessed to see several families restored and several people give their lives to Christ – a very fitting way to spend Easter week.

Family Camp, Movitour Culiacán Concert by Horizonte Ensenada, and CCC’s Día del Niño event

At the end of April, we hosted two large events – our church’s Día del Niño celebration and a city-wide concert put on by missionaries.  Thursday night, we received the missionaries.  Friday we helped them prepare, then served at the concert that night.  Saturday morning, we sent them off to their next stop and began the preparations for that afternoon’s party.  It was a crazy weekend full of activities and blessings, and once again, many changed lives.

God has also given me many opportunities to preach and share.  I have taught the children of La Invasión, preached twice at our Wednesday night women’s ministry, and shared my testimony at the women’s breakfast outreach.  God is bringing much fruit out of these opportunities.  I thank Him for using me in this way, but it appears that the “real” work is only just beginning…

Preaching at Calvary Chapel Culiacán Women’s Ministry Breakfast/Outreach and service

One Monday night, I stood in my doorway begging God for a way to reach this city.  The love He has given me for these people I don’t even know is tremendous, and I was desperate for a way to make a bigger impact.  God not only heard my prayer, He sent the answer less than 10 hours later.  Pastor Hugo asked me to lead the Missions and Evangelism ministry!  With the help of people who DO know this city, we can plan outreaches and events that can significantly impact the city of Culiacán.  I am very excited for this opportunity and appreciate your prayers over the next 10 days as we get that team together, start planning, and begin to impact this city.

The need for change was underscored by the events of the past few days.  A woman in our church, who has prayed unceasingly for her unsaved adult children, had a son murdered this weekend for his involvement in the drug cartels.  The following day, another family in our church lost a 6 year old to food poisoning, while corrupt politicians interfered in her medical care to protect the company responsible.  Her 3 year old sister, Angela, survived, but remains in intensive care.  I ask you to join us in prayer for these families, and especially for Angela, as she fights for her life.

Prayers for Culiacán, the victims of the drug cartels, and Jenifer and Angela’s  family

Through it all, God has been faithful to me and I’m sure He will be faithful to the people of Culiacán as well.  The battle is fierce, but God’s love for these people is stronger, and ultimately, He will have the victory here!  Thank you for your continued prayers for me, for the people of Culiacán, and for the work God is doing here!  God bless you all!

The Journey of a Missionary

Calling.  Confirmation.  Preparation.  Arrival.  Reality Check!  This is the universal reality of every missionary’s journey.

My calling to missions came at age 16, and my calling to Culiacán in April 2015.  A missionary’s initial calling always falls somewhere between “Wow!” and “What?!?”  Mine was no exception.  “Really, God?  That’s awesome!  … but Culiacán???”

Then comes that intense phase of praying and seeking God’s will.  Did I really hear right?  That phase of my journey was filled with amazing answered prayers.  It was a faith-building time of wonder as God laid all the details before me and lined them up perfectly.

Preparation.  Fund-raising.  Logistics.  YUCK!  Throughout that time, God showered me with miracles and blessings and grew me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be grown!  I truly felt ready for the adventure ahead.

Arrival: that highly anticipated moment you’ve dreamed of for so long!  After months (or years) of preparation, the arduous hard work, prayers, and tears, you just know that everything is going to be in place and ready to go when you arrive.  Let the dream begin!

This is what we’re all secretly expecting… (left image)

 … and this is what we find.  (right image)

That was my arrival in Culiacán – the romantic arrival at the airport, reuniting with people I’d come to know and love, riding through town, picturing the ministry and changed lives… followed by our arrival at a tiny, empty apartment.  My new home.

The first week, I was overwhelmed with logistical details – waiting for the broken-down moving truck, grocery shopping with no car and no way to cook, fixing the apartment, hooking up internet and utilities…  Not the romantic scene I had pictured.

Our second week brought more order.  I got back to work with my online teaching job.  Sammy and I got settled into our tiny, but comfortable apartment.  We established a routine at church, made a few new friends, and talked with the pastor.

Sammy sought out a little guy that couldn’t walk as we ministered to the rest of the kids.

Then, BAM!  Week 3 brought the first tastes of ministry.  Through my sharing in the women’s meetings, many ladies have caught the vision of Celebrate Recovery.  While the program will not be starting for quite some time yet, God is opening doors for me to minister to ladies individually who could likely become my women’s ministry team once the program starts.  Our first visit to the breakfast club in La Invasion de la Esperanza, (translated, The Invasion of Hope – what an awesome name!), has opened doors for me to take over the children’s teaching ministry and to potentially take Celebrate Recovery to the moms.  My participation in the church’s Preaching and Evangelism training class is also producing fruit, opening doors for me to begin preaching in the women’s groups at the church.

The pot pictured above was a seed Sammy planted the day we went to La Invasion de la Esperanza.  On the fourth day, we found this:

1 Corinthians 3:6 says, “I planted the seed… but God made it grow.”

As tiny as it may be, Sammy’s seed has sprouted!  During those first 3 days, I had my doubts, but God brought life out of that tiny seed.  In the same way, I had doubts during my first 3 weeks here in Culiacán, but God has caused all of the tiny seeds I’ve been planting to sprout.  1 Corinthians 3:6 says, “I planted the seed… but God made it grow.”

Please pray with me that God will continue to grow all of these tiny seeds – the moms and children of La Invasion de la Esperanza, the women of my church, and the beginnings of Celebrate Recovery at Capilla Calvario Culiacán – and begin to bring that beautiful harvest I’ve been dreaming of for so long.

God’s Got It Figured Out!

I love looking back on old journal entries (or blog posts) to see what God’s been up to.  It’s always a snapshot of God’s message in Isaiah 61:3: “ to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness… that He might be glorified.”  When we humbly seek Him, God takes our chaos and turns it into something beautiful.  Last month was spent desperately searching for God’s plan in the chaos; this month, I rejoice in the order and purpose God has brought through the chaos.

First of all, “normal” has been reestablished.  Sammy and I successfully completed our move on September 14, and within a week, all tension was replaced with peace.  With no car and limited mobility, we are thankful for a library, a park, and many other nearby diversions as well as rides to church.  The contrast to our former situation is stark!  God had it all figured out… go figure!

"Normal" Reestablsihed - Loving the peaceful life while preparing for Culiacán

“Normal” Reestablsihed – Loving the peaceful life while preparing for Culiacán

The week of the move, I asked God for three things: a ride to Celebrate Recovery, a date for my move to Culiacán (which I felt God gently pushing toward the New Year), and a purpose for my time here.  The following day, God answered all of them!  Jeremy, a friend at Celebrate Recovery, lives just 5 minutes from me and offered me a ride every week.  He also told me he felt God wanted me to help him start a new Celebrate Recovery program.  It clicked!  A ride, a date, and a purpose!  Celebrate Recovery’s start-up plan is a 90-day process, which will take us right up to the New Year, and in the meantime, I will be actively serving in CR and gaining hands on experience for Culiacán.  God had it all figured out… go figure!

Celebrating my Recovery while preparing to help others celebrate theirs!

Celebrating my Recovery while preparing to help others celebrate theirs!

On October 1, I attended a Celebrate Recovery one-day seminar that deepened my desire to work with CR, while further equipping me to start one.  As a result, Jeremy and I were able to start planning.  This weekend, we will be discussing our plans and getting started.  I’m excited to see what God is going to do.  The location of this new CR is just minutes away from my ladies’ Bible study group (who want to participate) and another friend who just asked me for information about the program.  God had it all figured out… go figure!

Most of us are familiar with Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God….” but forget what stillness is.  Exodus 14:13-14 says, “Do not be afraid.  Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you… The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  Stillness is not restrained; it’s resting in God, knowing that He’s got this.  And that is the story of September for me.

God always brings beauty out of the ashes!

God always brings beauty out of the ashes!

The Road to Culiacan

WOW!  This has been a long and eventful summer!  As we move into fall, here’s what’s going on…

First, I have come to agree with my new pastor in Culiacán:  I need to settle down and reestablish “normal” before heading down into full-time ministry.  Since my July re-arrival in Ohio, good things are happening.  Following my traumatic experiences in May/June, my panic attacks have now stopped, and my fears are under control again.  I’ve rediscovered how to fully trust in God, ceding control to Him, and He’s working out everything for my good (Romans 8:28 – one of my favorite verses).

At CR Summit West 2016 with my Rosarito CR leadership team

At CR Summit West 2016 conference “Celebrating 25 Years!” with my Rosarito CR leadership team

The second newsworthy item was the Celebrate Recovery Summit in California, August 10-12.  In the midst of settling down, I made a trip back to the West Coast for a 3 day conference.  It was absolutely incredible!  My hope was simply to glean new tips and confidence for starting a Celebrate Recovery program once I move to Culiacán.  While I did get that, God also worked in my life personally and did an amazing new thing in me.  I left not only professionally equipped, but personally restored!  Celebrate Recovery is a never-ending journey toward being like Jesus… and this conference helped me take one more giant step closer.

Over 3,500 people gathered to Celebrate Jesus and their Recovery in Him

Over 3,500 people gathered to Celebrate Jesus and their Recovery in Him

At the same time, however, my living arrangements grew unstable.  Arriving from the conference, I was given a move-out date.  As a result, my move to Culiacán will also be delayed a few months more.  I need to find peace, serving contentedly for a while, before making the big move.  And as always, God is faithful, and has provided new living arrangements for me.  We moved on September 14 (6th time in 6 months, and hopefully the last before Culiacán!).

Through all the “chaos,” God is bringing order.  I not only found a Celebrate Recovery group here in Ohio, but one that accepted me readily into their leadership and is preparing me to start my own program.  In addition, my home church wants to start a Celebrate Recovery program, and it looks like I’ll get to help!  I will probably be leading a Celebrate Recovery step study soon, and participating in “The Journey Continues,” a second step study for those who have completed the first.

Even though I’m not WHERE God has ultimately called me, I’m definitely on the right road.  He’s got plenty for me to do while I’m here… and all of it is strengthening, restoring, and perfectly preparing me for my work in Culiacán.  God is good!  To Him be all the glory!

Still on the road to Culiacán!

Still on the road to Culiacán!