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.

New Year; New Home!

Christmas with Santa and the family

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of my family and friends.  As I look back over 2016, I see lots of growth, change, and victory, but my life over the past six months can be summed up in three verses:

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

1 Corinthians 14:40 “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Back in February, when God “officially” called me to be a missionary, I “knew” it would happen quickly, because that’s the way God works.  Right?  By late March, all of the dangling loose ends had been wrapped up.  By late April, I had more than 80% of my funds raised.  In May, I was back In Culiacán, ready to stay.  It was all so miraculous.  I just “knew” it was God’s timing.

When the pastor told me we would need to plan things better, I balked.  Was the pastor not hearing from God?  Was Satan interfering?   When everything blew up in my personal life the following month, I was more convinced than ever that the enemy was trying to thwart God’s plans.  By mid-July, I was back in Ohio, and by late-August, I had lost two of my donors.  “God, what is going on here?” I asked in frustration.

Enjoying a frigid, Ohio winter before heading off to the Culiacán heat

In August, God began to lead me down a new path – not away from Culiacán, but toward my own healing and restoration – exactly what the pastor had advised me to focus on.  That healing process led me down roads I had never travelled before, roads I didn’t even know existed!  I had thought myself “recovered” and ready to take God’s healing message to others, but by early November, God had revealed just how broken I really was.  God led me deeper into Celebrate Recovery, deeper into my relationship with my sponsor, and deeper into the Word.  As a result, God revealed the roots of the last of my character flaws, roots so deeply embedded in me that I had never noticed them.

As God gave me the tools to rip out those ugly roots, He placed me in yet another position I had never foreseen: in charge of a support group for women with addictions!  Not only has this journey brought me personal healing, it has prepared me for the work I will be doing in Culiacán – a city full of addictions of every kind!  Who but God could bring about my healing and my training all in one glorious and unlikely process?

Going back to my verses, God’s ways were definitely not mine.  They were, in fact, MUCH higher than mine!  There was an order that needed to be followed.  I had no idea what that order was, but God did, and He graciously led me down the right path.  And as a result, I have seen that He who called me was faithful and has made it happen!  I will officially begin my ministry in Culiacán on February 21, 2017.  Praise the Lord for His faithfulness!


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 Culiacán

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 will be moving 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!

Culiacán Bound!

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Let me tell you about the incredible new ministry God is calling me to in Culiacán, Sinaloa!

In February, Sammy and I went on a mission trip to Culiacán, a beautiful city in western Mexico.  Former headquarters of Mexico’s drug cartels, the city was turned upside down in January when the head of operations, El Chapo, was arrested and his son killed.  Since nearly everyone in the city is connected to the cartels in some way, either directly or by association, the void of leadership resulting from these events has caused much unrest.  Culiacán is a lost city, but the people know that, and they are looking for answers.

As Christians, we have those answers!  Capilla Calvario Culiacán (CCC), my new church-home and base of operations, opened its doors in November 2015.  By February, it had already outgrown two buildings with 100+ active members, 30 of whom were taking evangelism and preaching classes so that they, too, might advance the Gospel.  And the growth continues!

Capilla Calvario Culiacan moved into its 3rd building in less than 6 months
Capilla Calvario Culiacan moved into its 3rd building in less than 6 months!

My ministry focus will be two-fold: starting a Celebrate Recovery program and working with a Breakfast Club ministry.

Celebrate Recovery is an intense, Christian recovery program designed to help people find freedom from their hurts, hang-ups, and habits through the healing power of Jesus Christ.  It ministers to addicts, aggressors, codependents, victims, and everyone in between.  I love the program, because it fulfills a dream God planted in my heart 10 years ago while working at a battered women’s shelter.  I wanted to lead those women from darkness to victory, to the abundant life Christ desires for them.  Celebrate Recovery offers that hope.  I know this personally, because as a two-time survivor of domestic violence, Celebrate Recovery led me to freedom and victory!  Due to its demographics and history, the people of Culiacán need Celebrate Recovery!

On our February trip, we launched a Breakfast Club for the children of La Invasión de la Esperanza (translated, “The Invasion of Hope”), an impoverished community.  We filled the children’s stomachs with a hearty meal and their hungry hearts with a generous portion of the Word.  Many received Christ as their Savior, including 7 moms!  As a result, the “children’s” Breakfast Club has grown into a family event with physical and spiritual food for everyone.  On May 14, I continued to advance this vision by delivering “Boxes of Blessings,” boxes of Bibles, school supplies, hygiene items, treats, and more!

At the first Breakfast Club event in "La Invasion de la Esperanza," The Invasion of Hope!
At the first Breakfast Club event in “La Invasion de la Esperanza,” The Invasion of Hope!

In Luke 10:2 Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  There is a lot of work to be done in Culiacán, and here’s one worker who can’t wait to get started!  

Clowning Around in Culiacan at the Breakfast Club at the Boxes of Blessings event
Clowning Around in Culiacan at the Breakfast Club at the Boxes of Blessings event

Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few…" Luke 10:2