Saturday, April 25, 2015

"I'm {worried} I'll {regret} this..." -- Two thoughts you can quit today.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

As we move through life we experience change, new opportunities, big and small decisions, alike. We wonder if we’re supposed to help this person, take that job, buy this home, or move to another state. There are so many “should I” questions and “what if” muses of reflection. Sometimes we find ourselves dwelling over past decisions, wondering if we’ve done or said the right thing. We also worry over the future—wondering what might happen, not happen, and how we’ll respond to these things that haven’t even happened yet. God has a simple (but not easy) remedy for this.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we find our answer—God’s will and purpose for our lives. It says we should rejoice always. We can rejoice every day knowing God has blessed us with another chance at life, starting with a morning sunrise. We are instructed to pray continually—be in constant communion with God. Lastly, we are encouraged to give thanks in all circumstances—if we search hard enough, there is always at least one thing we can be thankful for each day. If we follow these guidelines for living in God’s will, we won’t need to dwell on the past or worry over the future. We can rejoice in this moment, pray our worries away, and give thanks for all of God’s blessings in our lives. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

2/20/14 "I don't know what You're doing, but I know who You are."--JJ Heller

Erika Padilla painting the nails of a resident at the local nursing home in San Marcos.

Pastor Mark Wood doing some reading during a break at the nursing home. 
Sherry with a resident at the nursing home (photo from Sherry).

Phyllis cleaning away! :) 

Mark Wood putting his mopping skills to good use! :)

February 20, 2014

Hello, family! Today was, by far, the busiest day for our team and the members of Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire. We started early with breakfast and a devotional by Sandy. Sandy did a wonderful job! She spoke on the fruits of the Spirit, specifically joy. She explained that there were many ways to develop or seek these fruits in our lives. She listed some different things that bring her joy in her own life. She mentioned things like family, church family, and being here. She ended explaining that she promised Rhonda she would dedicate her devotion to her; that Rhonda would be with us all while we’re here. She explained that Rhonda brings her so much joy and in so many ways—a great Sunday school teacher, a friend, and an inspiration for Sandy’s own spiritual journey.

After breakfast and devotional time, we split off into two groups. One group (Phyllis, Larry, Deanna, Sandy, Pastor Mark Wood, and Sherry) went to the same nursing home we visited last year. They had a blast! They spent time doing make-up, painting nails, dancing and playing games. Several of our team members got out of their comfort zone and danced along with the residents there. They also played a game involving balloons up the front of their shirts. I hear it was hilarious and a great time! Pastor Mark Wood delivered a sermon while they were at the nursing home. He did a wonderful job, and I know everyone there was blessed by his words. During snack time for the residents, our team took a moment to clean up the grounds. Several people washed windows and others mopped floors. Sherry said she didn’t realize until that moment that Mark Wood (her husband) knew how to hold a mop! I think she has big plans for him when they return to Oak Hill. J

While group one was spending time at the nursing home, there were two other groups working at a school. One group (Mark H., Roger L., and Juan) was painting the outer wall of the school. They did an amazing job! These men are true professionals! While they were painting, the rest of us (Maddy, Lisa, Kenny, Roger T., Meredith, Pastor Roldolfo, Rodolfo, Otoniel, and Tony and Erika—our awesome translators) were putting on a puppet show. After a couple of complications with speakers and language, the show seemed to be a great success! We went classroom by classroom giving a small 3-4 minute puppet presentation on integrity to each class. Erika (our translator) did a wonderful job driving the point home at the end of the show. Each of the puppeteers took turns speaking to the classes about integrity, loving your neighbor because Jesus loved us first, and bullying. The students seemed to enjoy the show, the messages, and the visit! J

“Group two” left the school and made their way over to the nursing home to share lunch with the entire group. After that, it was back to Skylark to freshen up for a few minutes before the next adventure.

Shortly after, the group split up into two different groups, again. Group one (Lisa, Deanna, Phyllis, Larry, Mark W., Sherry…) joined several of our members from Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire at the church grounds to work on beautification and cleanup. It was reported that several bags of trash were gathered and the area surrounding the church is much more beautiful and much safer for young children to run around.

Group two (Maddy, Roger T., Kenny, Mark H., Roger L., Meredith, Pastor Rodolfo, Marcos, and Erika and Tony—again, our amazing translators!) went to a high school to talk to the students about several things such as: purity, the difficulty of being a Christian in high school, seeking God, His love. The story of Marissa Miller was also shared thousands of miles away in Nicaragua. It was emphasized that we are never promised tomorrow. Following the talk about Marissa’s story, Marcos brought the point home, discussing the urgency in knowing Christ, because so often students feel that they have all the time in the world. They don’t think they need to accept Christ now; they can wait until they’ve “lived a little.” Next, Marcos asked if anyone would like to accept Christ or rededicate his or her life to Christ. Every hand in the room shot up (approximately 30, in all). What an amazing moment. We took time to pray the prayer of salvation together… and we left a room filled with new and rededicated followers of Christ. Amen. God is good.

During the classroom talks, an earthquake shook San Marcos (approximately 4.5 magnitude—thanks, Kenny!). Mark H. was convinced it was because they were praying at the same time. J

Next up, it was time for dinner and immediately following we left for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in San Marcos. Almost as soon as we arrived and settled in, the electricity on the whole block went out. It was pitch black. Several people were holding up their phones and others were trying to light a few candles to bring light to the room. By the time the meeting started, it felt like we were sitting in on candle light service in February. What an awesome experience. We listened to testimony after testimony of different NA members and members from our own group, as well. Mark Houser and Roger Ledbetter both spoke at different points throughout the meeting. They gave their own testimony and offered inspiration and encouragement to everyone in attendance. By the time the meeting ended, the lights flickered back on. Perfect timing! J

By the time we made it back to Skylark we were all “properly exhausted” from such an amazing day. The internet still has not been working. I’m currently typing this blog update in a Word document in hopes of uploading soon! Tomorrow we will be visiting the volcano in Masaya, visiting the local market there, and a few other fun things on our day of relaxation.

We love you all! We love our 28 and our family of families praying for us at home. Your prayers are felt so strongly—they even caused an earthquake! J  

God bless!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Broken Hallelujahs

{Note: We were a bit exhausted by the time we made it back home... more pictures from today and tonight to be posted tomorrow! :) Much love!}

I’m not completely sure how to explain or convey the events of today. I will do my very best to try!

We started out our day with a devotional from Larry and Phyllis. They spoke on John 15:1-8:

[1] I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…[5] I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. –John 15:1,5

Larry explained that we can do nothing without God. We have to always look to him for strength, provision, guidance. We have to determine if we’ll be the “dead limb” or the limb that produces fruit. Which do you choose for your life? Phyllis closed with a thoughtful prayer.

After breakfast, the majority of the team separated for some alone time of reading, journaling, rest, and devotion. It was much needed recharging to fuel us through the rest of the week’s schedule. (As I’m sure you know) When you are serving God (whether busy at home with typical schedules and routines, or busy here with mission projects and outreach) it is imperative that you spend time with God. That was a huge part of today—devoted time connecting with God and recharging. 

Afterward, several members of the team participated in the Nicaragua Temple Challenge. Maddy was an amazing trainer! She started everyone out with a few laps around the gymnasium. An ab workout and a three-on-three basketball game followed!

Then, it was time for lunch and a meeting with Pastor Rudolfo. Pastor Rudolfo took time to explain the progress his church has experienced over the past year. He also mentioned future ministry projects he hopes to see in the coming year. Listening to Pastor Rudolfo reminds me of the beginnings of our own church at Lubeck Community Baptist Church. Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire is a church plant, as well, and they are growing, thriving, and passionate about serving God as a family in the Body of Christ in Nicaragua. We look for amazing things to happen in 2014!

Next, it was time for the Wednesday evening service. Tonight Pastor Mark Houser delivered the sermon. I wish I could use words to explain the intensity of the night, the prayers that took place, the worship that rocked San Marcos, and the people that accepted Christ into their lives. Neither words nor pictures could truly do justice to the night of worship that took place at Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire. It seemed to me that, at one point or another, everyone in attendance went up front to accept prayer, to pray for another, or to accept Christ into their hearts. It was truly moving to see so many moved by God in one evening. But, numbers aren’t the most important part of worship. Each person has a story and God cares deeply about each story. One story in particular belongs to Nora (a Deaconess in the church) and her son. Her son is the same young man that Pastor Mark Wood and Sherry Wood asked to come to church during their home visit (mentioned in the “home visit” blog). The young man did attend church tonight…and it was absolutely meant to be. He walked up front toward the end of the service to accept Christ into his life. It was a beautiful and emotional moment that came after a final word by Pastor Mark Wood. He stayed up front praying, crying, and experiencing a full embrace with Pastor Rudolfo, his mother, Nora, and Pastor Mark Wood. What a great night. God is good.

As I said, words can’t fully explain what an amazing evening we had at Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire. As always, we absolutely love our 28 and our family of families in Lubeck and Oak Hill. We love you all and your prayers shook up San Marcos tonight!

God bless you all! 

Better late than never.... :)

Pastor Mark H. praying for pastors at the morning convention.

Pastor Rudolfo praying with another pastor at the convention.

Juan, Mark H., Pastor Rudolfo, Mark W., and Roger L. together at the alter after the Pastor's convention.

The women of Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yireh VBS 2014! :)

The lovely ladies, Candida and Sandy, serving pollo con arroz (chicken and rice) to the students at the VBS closing ceremony--180 children in all!!

Maddy handing out a school packet (notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc.) to Wilber, a student at VBS.

Phyllis handing out a school packet to another sweet boy from VBS.

Agusto with his two gorgeous twin sons! 
(Agusto is our driver who was saved last year on our first day in San Marcos. He is our driver again this year, and he and his family are still a part of Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yireh.)

Roger L. enjoying a song with the "little guys" at VBS!

Sandy with her helper, Blanca, and some children from their VBS class. 

Hello, family! I apologize for the (very) late post! I hope you all didn't worry about us too much. :) 

Yesterday started out as usual with a devotion and breakfast. Deanna did the devotional for the day. She focused on Romans 15:13:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

She elaborated on the scripture by discussing our need to trust in God. She re-emphasized Kenny's original devotion: "If God brings you to it, He'll get you through it." 

Next, we loaded the bus and left for the Pastor's Conference at Four-Square Church. There were about 30-40 pastors in attendance. After an initial worship time, Pastor Mark Wood discussed the "21 Characteristics of a Leader" according to Paul's life and ministry. He did a wonderful job teaching these essential principles of leadership. Pastor Wood truly shines when he has an open Bible, a mic in hand, and an opportunity to share some of God's wisdom. What a blessing to hear his message! 

After Pastor Wood, Paster Mark Houser spoke on the responsibility of leadership for those accepting the call to be a Pastor. He explained the challenges, the commitments, and the responsibility to the congregation. He likened the position of Pastor to a shepherd that watches over his flock. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and they follow. It is important that the pastor does not lead the flock astray, and that he takes every measure to ensure the well-being of his congregation. Pastor Mark H. concluded by saying that the ultimate shepherd is not the pastor... and it's not the pastor's church. Jesus Christ is the true Shepherd and it is His church. Again, what an inspiration! Pastor Mark Houser did a wonderful job and was a breath of fresh air for everyone in attendance. 

Following the talks and worship, Pastor Rudolfo lead a time of prayer that may have lasted anywhere from 20, to 30, or 35 minutes. Pastor Rudolfo, Juan Aragon, Mark W., and Mark H. circulated the room, praying for each pastor. Praying for each ministry, each church, each family, and each burden. The whole mission team walked up and surrounded the group of pastors, praying, worshiping, and thanking God as the prayer time continued. It was a beautiful moment, and you can see a bit of what went on in the pictures above. 

The whole team, all of the pastors, and several members of Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire stayed for lunch at the Four Square Church. 

Afterward, we were on our way to the final day of VBS. It was an absolute blessing to be around so many beautiful, shining faces! As we pulled in to VBS, there were smiles and more hugs than we could imagine waiting for our arrival.  To begin the VBS ceremony, Marcos asked a few of the men and a few of the women to come to the front for a dance-off! In case anyone is curious...the women took the gold! :D Maybe next time, gentlemen. Next up was game time with Reyna! She did a great job coordinating a couple of high energy games to entertain the children. In one game, the children were at opposite ends of the room from the volunteer adults (Lisa, Kenny, Roger T., and Sherry). When the music played everyone danced; when the music stopped, the children had to run and jump on (a.k.a. tackle) their partner on the other end. It was an experience, to say the least. A few of our adult volunteers decided it would be wise to remove jewelry and glasses for safety reasons. Sherry and her partner were the victors of that particular game. Great job, Sherry! :)

After worship, dancing, and games, it was time to eat! There were many more children in attendance today than the previous two days. By the time we were done handing out meals, approximately 180 children were served. About 3/4 of the way through serving, the team was worried we may not have enough food. Pastor Mark Wood said we needed 40 more servings. Pastor Mark Houser counted exactly 40 juices left. After serving all of the meals, we only had one bowl of rice left. God is good. God provides.

To conclude the program, all children received a packet of school supplies or an infant package (with milk, cereal, etc.). All of the packets were distributed. It was estimated that with 180 children served, this could potentially impact anywhere from 250-350 parents (depending on the family). It is Iglesia Bautista's hope to maintain at least 100 of those children through Sunday school classes and outreach. 

After an exciting day, we returned to Skylark, ate, and crashed. It was a wonderful day and we were so blessed to be a part of God's plan. 

As always, we absolutely adore our 28, our church family of families, and the prayers that are so deeply felt throughout each and every day. 

Another post coming this evening at the normal time (10 pm-1 am). :)

We love you all! God bless! 

1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, February 17, 2014

A day in the life--Home visits & VBS

Vacation Bible School, Day 2
(Teaching: Phyllis, Larry, and Roger T.)

Lisa, Reyna, and Maddy with some of the students and volunteers of VBS.

Wilbur, Reyna, and Reyna's son David enjoying the puppets!

Temple Challenge in Nicaragua!!! (Stacy--mark it down for Lisa, Roger T., Kenny, Maddy, and Mere :)

Several of the children from VBS. You can see a few of the kids here with their new glasses. :)

A few of us after the home visits this morning.
(Larry, Tony, Sandy, Erika, Maddy, Meredith, and Phyllis)

One home visit where the matron of the home (pictured above) accepted Christ!

Kenny is driving in Nicaragua! ... but he was passed on the inside by a van and passed on the outside by a bicycle. He may be losing his touch. :)

Oto, Kenny, Juan, and Roger during a home visit. 

Sandy, Phyllis, and Larry during a home visit.

Some beautiful ladies dressed up for the day! :)
(Phyllis, Deanna, Sandy, and Sherry)

Hello, family! Today was an awesome day filled with too many amazing moments to mention here. I will do my best to hit some highlights. 

Our day started with a devotion by Roger T. He did an amazing job. He reflected on his own spiritual journey--people who made an impact in his life, family, friends, mentors, and "God moments." He quoted Philippians 2:1-2:

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind."

What a great couple of verses and excellent advice for the Church today. Roger T. explained he feels this verse reflects his experience in Nicaragua so far--the unity, the love, and the joy that has been present during this trip and in our family of families at home. 

After breakfast and devotion time, we set off for our home visits. During home visits, we separated into small groups and visited 1-3 homes each. The families we visited were families that have attended "cell groups" or "small groups" but have not attended church or have not yet accepted Christ. During the home visits today five individuals were saved as each one accepted Christ into their hearts and lives. One of the five returned to the church after the home visit. She did not accept Christ during the home visit... however, after the team departed, she learned that her nephew had just attempted suicide. She returned to the church seeking help, comfort, and prayer for her nephew and family. After praying with some church members and Pastor Rudolfo, she accepted Christ and seemed to carry a sense of peace. If you would like to pray for her, her nephew, and her family, feel free to pray for Gladys. 

We also learned today that God knows when and how to use each of us. Today, Sherry stepped up and shared a powerful witness during her home visit. Her awareness of God's direction and her powerful word encouraged a young man to agree to attend church this Wednesday evening. Prayers that God he will be moved by the sermon and, more importantly, by the Spirit at church Wednesday night. 

In any event, God was with us all today, and He was surely with those who accepted His good news and grace. 

Following an emotional and exciting morning, we met for lunch at Skylark. At 1:40 we left for another day of Vacation Bible School. Today we had even more children in attendance. I don't currently have exact numbers, but I do know we gained at least 15-20 more VBS students. The teachers did an awesome job! We had a puppet show, a lesson, and more crafts and snacks. 

A story from VBS you might enjoy... I (Meredith) was helping with the 2-6 year-old group. A little girl of about 3 or 4 years old, Stefani, was coloring a picture of Peter from the book of Acts. I meant to ask her in Spanish, "who is he," but I accidentally asked her, "where is he?" Assuming the man in the picture was Jesus, she put her hand over her heart and said, "En mi corazon (in my heart)." What a humbling experience... I think my own heart melted in that moment. Amen. 

Following VBS, we returned to Skylark for the evening. A few of the "dedicated" Temple Challenge participants worked out before dinner. Some walked, some ran, some did both, and others even did some ab exercises and yoga! Your body is a temple! :) 

After dinner, we had a time of reflection where we shared the events of the day--in general and also on a more personal level. It's amazing to hear how God worked in and through each person. He is good. 

Now, we are a bit tired, but ever-so-thankful for such an awesome day! We pray God was glorified through it all. As always, we are so appreciative of our 28 and our prayerful family of families at home. We love you all so dearly and we can feel the power of your prayer here. Tomorrow will be a day in need of even more prayer as we conduct a clinic for local pastors and participate in the final day of VBS. 

Blessings and love from all of us! :)

***Note: In the previous post one of Pastor Mark's lifelong dreams was finally fulfilled--he was referred to as kenny, the famous race car/Nicaraguan bus driver. Kenny was also very pleased to know he was mistaken for one who is "muy guapo!" :) My apologies for the mistaken identity in the previous post's pictures. 

1 Cor. 13:13

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"God's Plan is simple.... " -Pastor M. Wood

Vacation Bible School Day 1

A happy recipient of a new pair of glasses! :)

Glasses being distributed after the church service.

Maddy, the amazing Bible School teacher!

Roger T. and Kenny praying with Mark Wood before his sermon.

Mark Wood delivering the sermon--translated by our new friend, Melvin.

Pastor Mark Houser with Erika Padilla at the dedication of her baby boy, Nikael (2 months old).

Roger L. and "little" Rodolfo playing it cool. 

Hello, again, from San Marcos! We had a busy day today. We started our day today with a devotional from Meredith (me). She spoke about "God moments" and how He speaks to us daily if we will only seek him first.

Following breakfast and devotional we went to Bible School at Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire. It was fun-filled day with puppets shows, music, dancing, singing, Bible studies, and crafts. Approximately 100 students between the ages of 3-15 showed up to learn about Jesus and His love for each of them. Praise God! 

Then, it was back to Skylark for lunch with the Bonilla-Giovanetti missionary family, Marlon, and Agusto. We enjoyed their company so much! It is always a blessing to spend time with those who dedicate their lives to serving God. We also received great news! The Bonilla-Giovanetti family will be visiting us in West Virginia sometime in August (around Labor Day). So be prepared to welcome new family members at LCBC! :)

Following lunch, we went back to the church for an evening service. Pastor Mark Wood did an amazing job delivering the sermon. He spoke on the "simplicity of the Gospel." He emphasized that we cannot achieve salvation, but can only receive it through Jesus Christ. Following his sermon, two lives were dedicated to Christ. Pastor Rodolfo affirmed that if these two lives were the only product of this mission trip, then it was well worth the sacrifices and cost. 

Tonight was also a special night for our great friend, Erika Padilla, and her husband, Salvador, as they dedicated their newborn baby at the end of the service. It was wonderful to be a part of such a touching ceremony. 

We ended the night in food, fellowship, and reflection. We look forward to another day of Bible school tomorrow. We will also be doing home visits in small groups. More to come on that tomorrow night. 

As always, God bless you all! We are so very thankful for our 28 and for our church family that is praying for us so faithfully in Lubeck and Oak Hill, WV. Your prayers are surely felt! :)

Love you, goodnight, and God bless!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 1: Miracles do happen!

Hello, family! We had a busy first day in San Marcos. We started out with breakfast and a devotional by kenny. He did a wonderful job and spoke on God's ability to bring us through life's trials and tribulations referencing 2 Corinthians 12:9. His main idea was, "if God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it." 

Next, we were blessed by a visit from our San Marcos family, Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire and our missionary friends, Carlos, Mayra, Alberto, Carolina, and Daniela Bonilla-Giovanetti. We spent a fairly emotional 2 hours reuniting and reflecting on what God has done for each of us, our family, and the church over the past year. The uniting themes of the meeting were a sense of love we felt for one another and the joy of sharing company once again. 

Following the meeting we witnessed a true miracle--and on day one!! Kenny was really struggling through lunch. We noticed he seemed distressed and anxious. He avoided eye contact and seemed somewhat agitated. We were worried about his stress level as he left to refill his third glass of water. Upon his return something truly miraculous happened--Kenny ate a tomato. 

Why is this a miracle, you ask? Well, kenny is not an adventurous eater by any means, but in Nicaragua he spreads his wings and tries new things! Daniela Bonilla-Giovenetti challenged Kenny to a "man vs. food" challenge! Daniela (once again) was triumphant as she cleaned her plate. The loser (Kenny) had to then hold up his end of the deal and stomach an entire, gigantic slice of tomato. You can see above in the pictures he was not excited about the endeavor. However, he did receive a good hug and kiss (in sportsmanship) from the winner, Daniela. 

Following the miracle, we left for Sports Ministry Day. We played futbol (soccer), basketball, cornhole, and the young children enjoyed the parachute with Lisa and Maddy. Unfortunately our U.S. basketball team did not bring home a championship trophy, but our Nicaraguan winners accepted the trophy graciously, referring to us as brothers and sisters in their acceptance speech. Our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters will also be playing in a semi-professional soccer match tomorrow at 3:00 pm. We wish them good luck and are cheering them on for a win! 

Following the games and fun, I (Meredith) gave my testimony. It was a witness of my own life experience of how God will reveal Himself. 

We made it back to Skylard, once again, to a wonderful meal, good fellowship, and preparation for tomorrow. Tomorrow we will be leading VBS and attending church at Iglesia Bautista Jehova Yire where Pastor Mark Wood will be delivering the sermon. 

More to come tomorrow! As always, thank you (genuinely) for your prayers, love, and support! We love our 28 and our church family as you are supporting us and lifting us up during our week here! 

Blessings! :)