I have some questions…

This is a story of a man named Jose and a woman named Carmen. Jose and Carmen got married at a young age somewhere in Madrid. They soon started their own family and Carmen gave birth to a beautiful little son named Francisco. Now, Jose and Carmen took Francisco to church every Sunday. Jose and Carmen loved Jesus and raised Francisco going to church and reading the bible, even praying that he would grow up loving Jesus too. Francisco grew up and somewhere in his twenties simply stopped going to church. Francisco eventually married a young woman named Isabella and they soon had two boys of their own – Sergio and Juan. But Sergio and Juan weren’t raised going to church. Every so often they Francisco and Isabella would take their family to church on Easter because their grandparents wanted them to, but that was it. Sergio and Juan eventually grew up, married and had children of their own – both Sergio and Juan and their spouses raised their children outside of the church, and in turn those children did the same. And their children’s children did the same. Now 4 or even 5 generations removed from Jose and Carmen – how much do you think those kids grew up knowing about Jesus?

I think it’s safe to say they’d know nothing, absolutely nothing about Jesus…

And that’s the spiritual climate in Spain today. They are now 4-5 generations removed from families faithfully even going to church – that’s not even to say that they were faithful Jesus followers – just faithful church goers. The numbers for Spain aren’t great. In fact, they’re pretty grim. 1% of Spain is Evangelical Christian. 1%. And only 3% of all Spain even considers religion to be an important part of their lives. Among those 30 and under in Spain – the church has zero influence. ZERO. Add to that the staggering unemployment rate for those 30 and under that fluctuates somewhere between 55% and 60% and you have a recipe for hopelessness.

Talk to almost any young person (30 and under) for a period of time and the same things tend to crop up in conversation. Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? Where am I going? What am I here for? Questions of meaning and purpose tend to permeate so so many of those conversations that I have with young people everywhere I go. While we were in Spain this past year on our visioning trip we had the opportunity to sit down with young a man named Jorge. Jorge was one of the few who actually grew up in the church. His family actually took him to church as a child. Jorge soon found himself in that awkward transitionary period between high school and university. As he left “youth ministry,” he soon found himself hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling.” His desire to serve and invest in the church was met with a firm – “there’s no place for you” response. This response led him down a long journey of: “well, if there’s no place for me here, perhaps there’s no place for me in the church, and maybe there’s not even place for me in Christianity.” At such a crucial point of his life, a time of searching and trying to discover who he was and who God’s made him to be – he found the church to be a closed and even cold place to engage this season of discovery. As he shared his journey with us you could feel the heartbreak in his voice. He began to look for answers to these life shaping questions everywhere except the church. In fact, he left the church entirely, and still hasn’t really returned.

People like Jorge are the people our hearts break for. The reality is that young people in their twenties are asking questions of faith, value, calling, and of life meaning and are doing it everywhere else – except the church. As we prepare to transition over to ministry in a context devoid of Jesus we are thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to train and learn how to create safe places for young leaders like Jorge to wrestle with those questions and engage those questions at deep and meaningful levels with Jesus always being the aim. We want to see young leaders learn how to do the same with their peers, with their neighbors, with their communities. We desire to see lasting legacies of entire generations following after Jesus pointing those who are to come after them in the same direction.

The truth is that if we, as the Church, don’t provide those safe spaces for young people to ask those tough questions of faith and purpose we’ll continue see entire generations grow up with the same perspective as Jorge. “If there’s no place for me here, maybe there’s no place for me in Christianity.” So how can we provide that space?

Here’s a couple things we’ve learned over the course of this past year:

Recognize that you don’t have to have all the answers – so often young people need a sounding board, a place to process. They don’t simply need the answer to the solution, but rather, need a safe place to process through whatever questions they have, which means I need to ask better questions. In fact most of their lives they’ve been told what to think and believe, helping them process things with the ability to reserve judgment will take you farther and deeper into a relationship than you could know.

Be consistent – investing in young people takes a tremendous amount of patience and faithfulness. Though they are sometimes really flaky, they appreciate someone who is faithful and consistently there for them. Honestly, this takes a lot of humility and grace as it can sometimes be really frustrating when you’re set up for a meeting and they cancel for “that other thing that just came up.” But as I show grace and the ability to be flexible (within reason) it really goes a long way to build trust and a place of safety.

Understand that I don’t have to beat them over the head with Jesus – this is sometimes the hardest thing for me to come to grips with. There’s a difference between pointing one to Jesus and punching them in the face with Jesus. When we’re dealing with life questions it’s important to point people to Jesus and what He says about given life circumstances, but I don’t always have to immediately go there, in fact often times I find it better to be patient and let them connect Jesus to said situation themselves. The reality is that people I engage with almost always already know my heart and passion for Jesus – when I’m patient and let the Spirit lead I find time and time again that Jesus bubbles out of whatever we are talking about, and God opens up the opportunities to engage those “Jesus moments.”

There’s a lot more that could be said on this…but just typing these things reminds me of how I need to be a better listener and my first response should be one of grace, love and truth, especially as I engage my neighbors…

Moving forward I am overwhelmed with excitement as we prepare to be people who provide space for young Spaniards to ask questions of faith, life, and how the two intersect and I pray they meet Jesus! It is our prayer that as we go, as invest ourselves in the lives of young Spaniards that a new generation of Jesus followers would come forth and birth fresh expressions of the Church in Spain that would leave a legacy of many many generations to come of faithful Jesus followers. The reality is that whether we are in Spain or anywhere else for that matter – as Christians our heart is for people to meet Jesus. That they would connect with the Creator of the Universe and understand why He matters to their life. If we can’t be a people who create safe spaces to help our neighbors explore those things we’ve missed a significant opportunity to be salt and light to our world.

Vision Statements and HeArt Projects

Crazy: tonight marks the final night of our apprenticeship here in San Diego. We are no longer apprentices, but now staff members with CRM. This year has been a year of clarity, of joy, and of learning. We have had an entire year to serve and learn alongside of many who have been serving faithfully on mission here in San Diego for a long time. With the end of the apprenticeship brings much excitement that is surely bittersweet as we prepare to launch a new missional community in Spain this new year and leave our community here.


Part of our process as apprentices this year was to begin to build our very own life vision statements. As we prayed for clarity, we journeyed through our past, our giftings, our personality; reflecting on how God has specially shaped each one of us for a specific role in His kingdom. It was an extremely clarifying time that left both Jenifer and I with a greater understanding of how God has shaped us and what our kingdom contribution could be and should be! With that being said I wanted to share those vision statements with you:

Jenifer’s vision statement:
I desire to see lives transformed by the gospel and will affirm and care for women and children as they journey deeper into the presence of God.  I will create friendships that provide calm stability, inviting gentleness, and deep caring.  I will join them in unraveling their gifts, passions, and unique calling so they can create beauty and order in the midst of chaos. Through my unique gifts of breaking down steps, enduring listening, and ordering paths forward I will provide clarity for them to see themselves as a beautiful image bearers of God.

Jeff’s vision statement:

I will clear new trails and create spaces where young leaders can be deeply formed by God’s truth, love and power. I will labor together with these leaders to clear these trails and I will walk side by side with them teaching them to love, trust, hope, live and thrive in their unique callings. I will find others who will go farther, deeper, and harder into the jungles of life than I will ever be able to – I will teach them how to clear paths for others and free them to be sent deeper into the jungle leaving legacies of faithful pioneers to do the same. There will be moments when we come across trails that have been overrun and are in need of being rebuilt, I will make those trails clear again and more fruitful than ever before. There will be parts of the trail that are steeped in darkness and full of danger; though many will want to turn back: I will forge ahead with those whom God provides.

As we reflected on these vision statements, we were struck at the way God has uniquely shaped us and prepared us for ministry in Spain. It is incredible to think that our giftings, our passions, our very lives are being placed squarely in a context where we can put them to use so well. 

One of the final projects we were asked to put together as apprentices was to create a “HeArt Project.” The very premise of this project was to create something that expresses and/or represented what God had done in our hearts over this past year. This was a difficult, time consuming, and such a rewarding process that we wanted to share it with you. Here is how we both felt God worked in our hearts over this past year.

Here’s a picture (let’s just say a picture doesn’t do it justice) of Jenifer’s HeArt Project followed by her artist statement:


“Luminous” 

Soft Pastels on Paper

This year has been a sweet year of clarity.  I’ve developed a better understanding of how God has created me and how I can be used in the Missio Dei, but what has been most life changing is my ability to discern the voice of God.  What has always been there, used to be fuzzy, dark, and usually realized too late; but now is clear, bright,and radiant . . .luminous.  The morning sunlight covering the nights’ darkness and illuminating a new day was the perfect metaphor for me to describe my understanding of how God speaks to me.  Working with soft pastels was new to me and brought a challenge that was both thrilling and therapeutic.  This medium allowed me to create with creamy rich color while allowing me grace as a new artist.

And here is Jeff’s HeArt Project followed by his artist statement:


Heart Project from Jeff Ott on Vimeo.

“Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”

Stop-Motion Animation

For me stop-motion represents a very child-like art medium. It brings me back to the days of my childhood. There is an innocence and joy in the medium. I remember as a very little child praying “the Lord my soul to keep.” Though I didn’t know what that meant then, God was faithful to answer that prayer. This piece represents years of prayers coming to fruition; prayers I prayed even in my youth that were not forgotten by God. Even though I myself may have forgotten most of the prayers I’ve prayed over those years – God has not forgotten a single thing I’ve asked. God has treasured every little prayer I’ve ever prayed and is still in the process of weaving those fulfillments. That realization has pushed me deeper into trusting in His faithfulness than I ever could have imagined.


We are so thankful for this past year and all that God has done in our lives and through the lives of those around us here in Golden Hill…we look forward with great anticipation to seeing what God will do in us and through us as we serve Him in Malaga, Spain. We have seen over and over again God’s faithfulness shine through in this past year. We are grateful for those who have journeyed with us and look forward to the journey ahead!!

Silly little peas

“You silly little pickle, you tiny little peas, to think that walking ’round this wall will bring this city to it’s knees.”

I grew up watching Josh and the Big Wall. The story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho is one of the, shall we say, more popular Sunday School lessons. Really, a big city that comes crashing down because some people went in a circle, blew some horns and yelled…pretty awesome – makes sense why it teaches so well in Sunday School.  

I have always been a fan of the french peas in that cinematic masterpiece Josh and Big Wall…they were always witty and honestly they said what everyone else is thinking – “you’re crazy.” In Joshua 5, Joshua is greeted by the commander of the Lord’s Army. The very name, “commander of the Lord’s Army” sounds like a big deal. This angel of the Lord tells Joshua “the plan” – “Walk around the city of Jericho one time a day for six days and on those days take with you seven priests with seven trumpets. On the seventh day, walk around seven times, have the priests blow the horns, and shout really loud – the city will then crumble so you can take it.” I’m not gonna lie…if I were in Joshua’s shoes…I’m singing with the french pea and drinking his slushy. At the outset it sounds crazy…while they’re doing it, it probably feels crazy, but then something happens – the walls actually come down. The biblical lesson as per Veggie Tales was all about obedience. I think that’s pretty spot on, but I think it’s also about faithfulness. As Bob tells Junior at the end, God’s ways may not always make sense, but His way of doing things is always the best. We’re called to be obedient, God is absolutely faithful as we are obedient.


It’s funny how a silly little computer animated film can so easily and simply cut to the core of biblical truth. Over the past couple of years Jenifer and I have certainly had our share of those “God’s ways may not always make sense” moments. Whether it was our initial move from the midwest to Washington without jobs and knowing no one, or our move south to San Diego and our subsequent journey into the world of support raising, and even now our exciting foray into overseas ministry in Spain. We have encountered a number of instances where we knew we were supposed to do what God had called us to and yet, we heard those french peas. “You’re crazy, that doesn’t make any sense, why would you do that.” Sometimes we heard those very things from people around us, sometimes we battled those thoughts in our own heads, but like clockwork they would come and creep in as we stepped into God’s direction for our lives. But as we cut through those lies, we saw God’s faithfulness shine through.

The thing about the Jericho narrative is that it’s almost always connected in sermons, books, and studies, to what is God calling you to that’s so huge, so crazy, so massive that you simply have to trust him in. While I think that is certainly a big part of that narrative what I think gets overlooked is the day to day. Here’s what I mean: in a lot of ways it’s easier to pinpoint those momentous times in our lives where we’re asked to follow God and we simply have to really trust him in our obedience. But I’ve been noticing more and more that those “God’s ways may not always make sense” moments pop up day in and day out…a lot of times we’re too busy or too distracted to realize it. In fact the more and more I interact with neighbors, friends, and partners in ministry I’m reminded of how real this is. Countless times I’ve talked to people who have felt they were supposed to start doing something and they let those french peas and their sticky slushies get in the way. Or, they we’re supposed to say something to a stranger or friend that they never did because they were too scared. Or, they were supposed to apply for a job that they were just sure they’d never get.

I’m convinced that too often we let fear get in the way of what God has for us each and every day…not just in the big things. The fear of being viewed as the weird one. The fear of being dead wrong. The fear of falling flat on our faces. You name it…all of us have faced it. 


A couple of months ago while we were in Spain prayer walking through the neighborhood we’ll be moving into, I felt like God was saying that we needed to stop and talk to one of the local store owners. I almost didn’t say anything to my friend as we walked…the inner monologue began, “was that really God’s nudge?” “We already walked past the place, maybe next time” “What would I even say?” “You don’t speak much Spanish.” …but I did say something to my friend and so we walked back towards the store. As we interacted with the store owner we quickly realized he wasn’t interested in engaging us at all. We spoke briefly with him and went on our way. I look back at that interaction and think…”What was the point?” “Was that God really nudging me to go in that store?” I don’t know…but I trust God does…and regardless, I am beginning to realize that it’s far more damaging to not follow God’s lead than it is to step into something I feel God is calling me to and seemingly have nothing happen. More on that in a minute.

Just recently I was headed out to the beach at Coronado for some early morning quiet time. As I got out of my car to head down to the beach I crossed paths with an older woman, we exchanged polite “good mornings” and went on our separate ways. Except as I walked further down toward the beach I continually felt God saying, “go back and talk to her.” Everything within me wanted to just sit on the beach read my bible and pray. And so I began the process of trying to shove that initial encounter and subsequent word from God down into the deepest depths of my inner being so I didn’t have to actually do it. And wouldn’t you know it, it just so happened that I came to Joshua 5 and 6 for my morning reading…God’s got a great sense of humor…As I sat at the edge of water and began reading and praying I couldn’t shake it. And so I began reasoning with God…”well if she’s still there when I’m done.” “What do I even say?” But I knew what I had to do…blow past the fear of failure, the fear of being wrong, the fear of rejection and just simply trust God for whatever was going to occur. So I began the walk back toward the car where she was sitting on a bench. The whole walk back was an internal battle and prayer. I got up to the car and even did a walk past covered up by my “need” to put the blanket away before I talked to her. And then I went for it. And for the next 30 minutes I heard a story of someone trying to faithfully walk with God through tragedy, frustration, and a whole lot of battles. I simply listened for the better part of 30 minutes to God’s story in her life and how he was changing her and shaping her, and what a struggle it’s all been. I had an opportunity to speak words of encouragement, blessing, and truth into her life in only a few short sentences as she did most the talking…but as we left, she gave me a hug and said a couple of times…God really did have us cross paths today, thanks for listening… And that was it. Nothing momentous, nothing revolutionary; but simple obedience that led to an opportunity to listen and encourage someone who needed encouraging. 

I would have never done that on my own, that’s just not my personality…but God’s ways aren’t my own. And what I’ve begun to learn more and more is that sometimes I think God is simply asking us to be faithful, whether its the little or big things. I think he simply wants us to be faithful. I am thankful that part of the process of hearing God clearly is making mistakes, it’s stepping into things that God isn’t necessarily calling us into (maybe that was the case in Spain, maybe not), but that even in that we learn how to better discern His voice and we certainly get better at discerning the voices that come from the french peas and recognizing them as lies. As we’ve been here in San Diego, we’ve seen countless times God has asked us to step out in faith, both big and small. My prayer is that as I sense God leading us I would be faithful like Joshua was faithful…I’m reminded of the battle cry of the book of Joshua…“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” 

If that’s true…I must step with confidence and trust God for the results…worrying more about being faithful than what others think of me…that and I must throw all those slushies back in the french peas’ faces.

More lessons on listening.

A little over two weeks ago we had the opportunity to participate in “The Coaching Workshop.” It was an entire weekend dedicated to learning how to coach people toward solving problems, reaching goals and developing them as leaders. Something both Jenifer and I desire to do long term! To say it was a lot crammed into one weekend is a vast understatement. The entire process of life-coaching (within a Christian context) revolves around two main premises:

1) My job as a coach is to simply ask questions and to refrain from giving my opinion or insight.
2) Trust that the Holy Spirit is working in the coachee’s heart and mind to draw them to the answers and steps they need to take to accomplish whatever they are seeking to be coached on.

Ask questions and trust the Spirit; in other words – just listen. 

Listening is one of those gifts that some people have, but most have to really really work at. I’m good at giving my opinion. I’m really good at fixing people’s problems. Well…fixing them the way I think they should be fixed. We had a lot of time over that weekend of training to practice coaching one another and one thing that kept coming up again and again for many of us was the difficulty we had to simply ask questions that helped the coachee work through their issues themselves without leading them or giving them answers. It’s tough. I want to give my opinion; I feel like I need to. I’m learning more and more…I don’t. If I’m honest with myself most days I’m a poor listener. But one thing that seems to continually come up through the apprenticeship here in San Diego is that in order to really be effective as ministers of the gospel we need to be people who listen well. In our world today, especially our own culture good listening is a rarity. Throughout our coaching workshop I was continually reminded of two passages: James 1:19 and Proverbs 17:27.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19 ESV)

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27 ESV)

Throughout this past year, I have been challenged to listen better and to simply keep my mouth shut. It’s funny to me that both Proverbs and James attest to the importance of seeking wisdom. Both seem pretty clear: wherever wisdom is the goal, hearing will be a first virtue. Inherent in that statement seems to be the reality that often times our speaking can come from a place of self interest. That’s certainly true in my life. What was so powerful for us as we practiced the new coaching insights we were learning was really how effective powerful questions and intentional listening can be. When I trusted the process, God’s Spirit provided the results, I was simply there to help the coachee hear the Spirit more clearly and help them to respond well. I believe that’s where the wisdom lies. 
Throughout that weekend I was challenged to be a better listener not simply in a coaching arena but in all areas of my life. Countless times I have found myself trying to fix my wife’s situations when all she wants is for me to hear her out and empathize with her. And there are those times when friends or coworkers have asked me for advice on issues. Let me assure you, a lot of the time I’m quick to jump in with my “awesome” insight that’s sure to do the trick when I should probably have listened better and asked more questions. How quickly do I assume I know what’s going on in a given situation in my neighborhood or ministry context without delving deeper by asking more questions and suspending judgment? If I’m honest…I do it without blinking an eye. Pride has a funny way of playing itself out…A lot of times I don’t listen because I think I have the answer someone needs. 
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been challenged to trust the process. What that’s meant for me is on a broader level than just coaching: do I trust that God’s Spirit is at work in the midst of those around me? If I answer yes than that ought to affect the way I interact with those people. I don’t need to go around and give my advice and insight all the time. What I need to do is to simply listen and ask more questions. I want to be someone who helps others discern the Spirit’s work in their lives, not try to usurp the Spirit’s role. That means I need to be slow to speak. I want to help people see where God is at work in their life and encourage them to live into that reality. 
Thankfully God is gracious and the countless times I’ve jumped the gun or butted right into a conversation I didn’t need to, I believe God is able to still use. But I want to live more into the truth that God’s Spirit is at work in the lives of others – that requires me to be in tune with His Spirit myself – which actually means I should probably listen to Him first and foremost. And hearing God’s Spirit takes practice; lots of practice and lots of patience. Now sometimes I believe we are asked to give insight and speak into a situation and that needs to happen, but I’d argue that my first posture should be one of listening rather than speaking. And when I listen well, I believe I have a better platform from which to speak into the lives of others. I have found that to be true over and over in my relationships and instances where I have listened first.

For both Jenifer and I our hearts desire is to hear God’s Spirit well so that out of that hearing we may be effective hearers and then doers of God’s Word. As we learn to be better coaches we hope to have countless opportunities to raise up new leaders to influence their neighborhoods and world for Jesus. We are both thankful for this year of challenge and growth here in San Diego as we prepare to be sent out.

A Quick Update from Malaga.

I was hoping to update a couple more times whilst here in Spain, but our schedule has been full and our time has been filled with joy, excitement, and new experiences. Thank you for praying for us. This trip has been huge for us. God has been at work, that much is clear. We have spent a lot of time praying, exploring Malaga, and having critical conversations that have gone a long way for us in the discernment process. I will update more when we return next week. But until then here are a couple of things that we’ve experienced whilst here.

Overlooking the neighborhood of Pedragalejo in Malaga. This was taken while we prayer walked the neighborhood. This is the neighborhood we could potentially move into.

This is a picture of a vineyard in the Malaga Botanical Gardens. Here we each went our own way, spending time with God praying and reading Scripture while enjoying the beauty all around us.

A cafe in Pedragalejo with Deric Moen and Shaun Sheehan. The coffee here is nice and strong.

La Cala Church in East Malaga. Sunday gathering for one of the very few Protestant churches in the area. 

Our first time in the Mediterranean Sea with Shaun and Maria Sheehan. Beautiful!!

Thanks again for all your prayers. I’ll write much more when we return. We are so thankful to be here and thankful for God’s guidance and wisdom as we seek to follow Him. Malaga is a beautiful city with so much history. We’re thankful for the hospitality of the Moen’s and the many conversations we’ve had with them about this site here and the vision for ministry here in Spain.

Emerson just turned 1!!

This past Friday we celebrated our son Emerson’s 1st birthday. It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by. As a general rule we don’t post too many pics of our son on the ol’ information superhighway, but many have asked that we share some pics of him from this past year. Here are a couple of him from this past year. We are so thankful for our little guy. What an amazing blessing he’s been to our family. God’s taught us a lot from Emerson even in this year and we know there’s much more to learn. Anyways, without further adieu. Here’s a couple pics from his first year of life!

April 5, 2012 

About 3 and half months

His first Christmas!
10 months
11 months – loving his food!

Easter in San Diego

Happy Birthday Cupcake

What a year it’s been! We’re so thankful for this guy. Love him tons! Thanks for keeping all of us in your prayers!!

Things I’ve Learned as a Starbucks Barista

I apologize for the lack of updates here on the ol’ blog…I’ve been sickly for about 3 weeks now and I’m just starting to come out of the fog that was sinus troubles, at any rate, this one’s been…wait for it…”percolating” for some time (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

So this past December I picked up a part time job at Starbucks. I picked up the job for two reasons. One, as we continue to be in the process of raising support, we needed to supplement some of our income from another job of some sorts. And two, I wanted to work in a job that kept me in and connected to our neighborhood. Enter Starbucks…it’s literally two blocks from our house and has been an amazing place to put the things we are learning in our apprenticeship into action. God’s been teaching me quite a bit through this little part time job.

Our neighborhood Starbucks

A couple of months ago, while working an early morning shift, I was asked a question by a co-worker whom I had only ever worked with once or twice before. Out of nowhere, she had said that she and our manager were talking about me and wondering if I meditated. She said, “Jeff do you meditate? Because it seems like you are always calm, cool and collected; no matter what’s going on, you’re pretty laid back.” I was a bit surprised by her question. “No,” I said, “I don’t meditate, but I do pray. And I think what you see in me is Jesus. I’m not always calm, cool and collected, but I do try my best to love people, regardless of what’s happening and how I’m treated, cause that’s what Jesus’ does with me.” “Hmm…,” she responded,”I need to learn from you. I have a hard time dealing with a lot of people.” And just like that the conversation was over. As I’ve reflected on that time, and that question, I’m more and more aware of the reality that people are always watching us. The way I respond to others, the words I use, the actions that I take with others are being watched. My desire is to point those I come in contact with towards Jesus both in words and actions. I am reminded that even when I working, I am called to be on mission for Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus means I am on mission wherever I go; work, home, throughout my neighborhood; I’m to live out the realities of God’s kingdom. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be able to live this out day to day in the midst of so many different neighbors, friends and coworkers at Starbucks. But it’s not always easy.

One thing that working as a coffee barista teaches you is patience. I’ve been learning through my experiences at Starbucks how to be patient and loving to those who are really difficult. Spend any time in a coffee shop and you know what can happen. That one patron in front of you who can’t decide what they want to order, and so they take their good old sweet time, while the line behind them continues to build all the way to the door. Or that patron who has the craziest and most intricate little drink that you make for them but it doesn’t taste quite right, and so you make it again…and again…until you get it just perfect…and then there’s not even a thank you at the end, they just huff and puff out of there, frustrated that you didn’t get their drink right the first time. Some days can be tough at Starbucks. Some days are filled with non-stop “go-go-go” busyness, others are filled with ungrateful and terribly rude customers, and still others are filled with coworkers who are having bad days that tend to spill over to everyone around them. Those days can often times challenge you. Let’s face it, it’s not always easy to love those who aren’t nice to you, or those who don’t treat you with sincerity and patience. In fact, it’s a lot of those situations where I find myself struggling so hard to show love, patience and kindness. It’s in those situations where it can be difficult to find joy. But what I began to notice on those days is that my joy was tied up in how my work days went. When I had a “good” day, I would find myself in a “good” mood. However when my day was particularly trying I found myself frustrated and would classify it as a “bad” day. At the beginning I found there were a lot of frustrating days replete with frustrating people and situations. I decided to begin praying specifically that I’d find joy day in and day out regardless of what was happening around me. Now, it didn’t necessarily happen over night, but over time I began to see that as I turned my focus on Jesus and my call to serve, love, and show grace as He himself does, my joy shifted, from joy based on circumstances to joy based on Jesus regardless of circumstances. This was a huge shift for me. When I find my joy in Jesus, I am joyful regardless of what’s happening around me. Huge. And so I continue to pray and ask Jesus to be my joy each early morning as I walk to work. And as I do that, God is so faithful to help me find joy sometimes even in the smallest things.

One thing I continue to be reminded of when I interact with my customers, coworkers, and neighbors is that we (ALL OF US) are needy and broken and want to be loved and accepted for who we are. What a joy it is to be in a position to remind people of the reality that they are indeed loved and cared for, even if it’s just with a smile, or a free cup of coffee when they’re having a rough day, or a word of encouragement when they’re struggling to even get words out of their own mouths. I can rejoice with my coworkers when they succeed in their lives and their studies. I can mourn with my coworkers as they lose parents or struggle to find who they are in life. I can pray for my coworkers and regulars as I see them each day. I can work and serve with excellence even when I don’t feel like it, because I’m not just working for my Starbucks manager but for God himself. I can remind others of reasons to find joy even when they struggle to do so themselves. The reality is people matter to God and therefore they must matter to me. Pointing people to Jesus, through words and actions is a joy. When we live with an understanding of the gospel, we will serve selflessly, because that’s what Jesus did. We will love, even when it’s really hard to do so, because that’s what Jesus did. We will point others to God, because that’s what Jesus did. When my life is focused on doing that, I find true joy and peace. What a privilege we have to serve others. I don’t know about you but I need to continually be reminded of my call to be on mission wherever I am at. And I’m thankful for a job that is seemingly inconsequential on our culture’s scale, but has unbelievable opportunities and value on God’s Kingdom scale. Whatever we’re doing, wherever we find ourselves, we represent God to those around us and that’s a big deal!

I’m not gonna lie; getting free coffee is kind of sweet too!!

Jot it down…before it gets lost.

Today I had the opportunity to head over to the Mission Basilica, San Diego’s Misison for some prayer and reflection. Walking the grounds of the Mission is always an amazing time of connecting with God. Few places do I feel the presence of God more palpably. To think that the spaces of that Mission have been filled with prayer for over 250 years blows me away.

As I sat and prayed, I pulled out my journal, a journal I first received back in 2008 by two very dear friends as we were embarking on our first trip (as a couple) abroad. We were headed to Kathmandu. I opened the first page and was blessed to read the note written in it.

In case there is no electronic medium available when your senses are alive with what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting – jot it down in here before it gets lost.

Wow…I teared up a little bit reading that little note. That was July of 2008…It’s amazing to see where God has taken us over the course of these past five years. And yet, I felt the weight of that little note and its importance even today as we experience, sense, and learn new things…we can’t lose them.

I thumbed through some of the entries and came across one that stopped me in my tracks. I felt like I should share it.

8-3-08
I am sitting in some coffee shop in Kathmandu; who would have ever thought. It is amazing to me that six months ago the very idea of Nepal wasn’t even on our radar. God has a funny way of working things out. The things you often least expect, God can use. I must say I do like it here. There are so many things to take in; it is still hard to wrap our heads around what is happening. I am still not sure why God has brought us here. I pray that God continues to unravel that mystery for us. Is he  leading or preparing us for missions? Is he simply calling us to step out of on faith? One thing I do know is that God is faithful and that we are where we are supposed to be. We can rest in that. Kathmandu is very different than home; but that’s ok, it’s a good different. It is so good to see another part of the world. What a joy it has been to meet so many wonderful people. I trust God will use this experience in a mighty way as he already has. The thing is, I can’t help but think that God is continually moving us towards bigger steps of faith. I feel like we will end up on the mission field. I don’t where or when, but I just feel like the next time will be a big step. I have every bit of confidence that God will prepare us and move us where we need to be. It excites me. This kind of work excites me. Building relationships and serving God’s people excites me. Father, move us like we’ve never been moved. May our hearts be tuned to your voice. It is my heart’s desire to serve you and glorify you in all that I do. Amen.

As I sat in the Mission’s sanctuary and reflected on something I’d written five years ago, I was overwhelmed with the reality of how faithful God has been in using our time in Kathmandu to shape the rest of our lives. We are in San Diego right now, because God used that time in our lives. We are headed to Spain for a vision trip in April, because God used that time in our lives. We have answered God’s call for us to be full time missionaries, because of that time. And so here we are in a new season of life, preparing, learning, and seeking after God, knowing He has, and will continue to shape our lives as missionaries for years to come. It’s funny, I feel like I could have written that journal entry today…

God doesn’t waste experiences, even when we have no clue what he’s doing, I am thankful for the reality that God is using our experiences to make us more like Jesus. I need to be reminded of that: what I experience, see, taste, hear, sense, each and every day – God is using.

Spain in the springtime

It’s been a little while since our last post. We were blessed to be able to spend a couple of weeks in Chicago visiting family over the holidays. It truly was a blessing and we were grateful for the opportunity to be able to go home! We returned back to San Diego refreshed and ready to go. This past month we’ve been able to have our neighbors over for dinner, we’ve met and begun to build new relationships with people through the local Starbucks and have begun to get a little clearer picture of what is next for us beyond this apprenticing year.

Almost two years ago now God connected us with a couple: Deric and Amber Moen who had just moved to Spain with CRM. They serve with NieuCommunities and have done so for about 6 years now. Through many skype calls, much prayer, and countless conversations with others we began to sense God leading us to move in to ministry with NieuCommunities and to further explore ministry overseas in Spain with the Moens. It has certainly been a process. For us, moving to San Diego to join the apprenticeship was a first step to see whether ministry with NieuCommunities was what God was leading us into. Over the past 4 months both Jenifer and I have become even more confident than before that NieuCommunities is where we are supposed to be. We are thrilled to be a part of such an exciting ministry that really is making a difference in communities throughout the world for Jesus – and we want to continue to be a part of this ministry long term. We are thankful that God has really confirmed and affirmed these passions in our heart.

Malaga, Spain

And with that, we sense God calling us to take another step towards Spain. This spring (mid April) we will be heading out to Spain on a vision trip. This trip is designed to help us further discern whether or not we are truly supposed to be in Spain. While there we will have time to really see where we would be living and ministering as well as spend time praying, asking questions and dreaming with the Moens. We are very excited to see what God has for us as we pray, go, and explore. It’s been really neat to see God begin to bring a team of people together to birth this new Spain community and we are thrilled to be able to head out there this spring to see if we might join the team.

Would you pray for us as we go?
Here are some specific ways you could pray for us in the next couple of months:

1) Pray for the ability to hear well the Spirit as we try to discern whether this is in fact where we are to be.

2) Pray for the team God is forming, that he would place this team exactly where they need to be. (The Moens along with others are in the process of discerning where they want to officially launch this community. They have been in the outskirts of Malaga for the past two years but are praying and exploring options in other places as well)

3) Pray that while we know we are not going to be in San Diego long term that we’d be faithful to serve our neighbors and community well while we are here.

4) Pray that God would continue to use us in the lives of our new friends and neighbors here in San Diego, pray that they might find Jesus.

Humbled by eggs and sausage

One of the requirements for the apprenticeship that Jenifer and I are apart of here in San Diego is that we go around to some specific places in town and just listen and take in what is happening here. As we go we are to ask ourselves some questions regarding what we are experiencing. We were to ask ourselves:

  • What do you see, smell, and hear in this place?
  • How does walking through this environment make you feel and what are some of the first thoughts and emotions that came to you when you entered this space?
  • How has the story of this place affected the story and identity of San Diego?
  • What kinds of people are here?
  • Do you feel comfortable in this environment?  And Why?
  • What role does this place play in the current narrative of our city?
  • What kind of story is this place telling?

A little over two weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit one of the homeless food kitchens here in San Diego. It is planted in one of the “roughest” parts of town. My initial thought was, “ok, I’ve done this before, we’ll probably just go and serve some food for breakfast.” But then, I was corrected; nope, we’re going to partake in a meal at the kitchen. Needless to say for both Jenifer and I discomfort really set in and we both were kind of nervous about the whole thing. And so, I wanted to share with you Jenifer’s reflection of our experience at God’s Extended Hand:

“What a stretch outside of our comfort zone this was. Overall the experience was both sweet and uncomfortable. We were definitely feeling the apprehension of going to place that “isn’t for us” and intruding on what feels like a completely different culture. After we parked and walked into this new space, we immediately felt out of place and uncertain about how to navigate the room we had just entered.  Whilst stepping deeper into the room, we were soon greeted by friendly faces gushing over Emerson.  We talked babies and the impending arrival of a couple’s son, due just 19 days from now. It was almost a relief to have a conversation so quickly in this new environment.  After we found our seats, we found ourselves sitting among several single men who were all very quiet, but they too also seemed to enjoy watching Emerson. We soon learned that there would be a “service” before breakfast would be served, which gave us even more time to soak in this space. It was a warm and inviting place but it was also clear that there were rules to follow and an order to how this place flowed. There was much prayer, clapping in appreciation both for the cooks and for all that God has done for us, and several ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ shared during the service time. It was evident that Jesus was in this place. The meal was mostly quiet around us but Jeff did have a great conversation with two young men, Cliff and Gary. Gary shared how tolerant and positive San Diego is of the homeless and how he felt responsible to conduct himself well in response to the kindness shown him. Twice the family we had first met when we walked in reached out to take care of me, first making sure I was served a plate since I had a child and second, giving me a baby snack that was being handed out. We felt very blessed and even cared for in the midst of being in such a different place.  Not once were we treated differently or like we didn’t belong. We were welcomed and embraced and our host even invited us back this afternoon.”

It’s funny to me (Jeff) how easily we set up preconceived borders, boundaries, and ideas of the way things are without even an afterthought. What I mean by that is, I myself, and I think “we” had thought that this homeless food kitchen would be a certain way; that we wouldn’t belong there or that we don’t actually “need” anything, or even thinking that we aren’t “like” that group of people. When the reality is we were more accepted and more invited into that space than many other places we often find ourselves in. It reminds me of Colossians 3 and how Paul so well reminds the Colossians and us that in God’s kingdom there are no distinctions – we are all loved, cherished and accepted by the King. God taught us a valuable lesson that day and reminded us just how precious the reality is that we live out each day in this world as image bearers. As image bearers of God himself, we have value and a great deal at that! I need to see people as image bearers, not as rich and poor, nice or mean, Caucasian or Latino. We were accepted as is, no questions asked, the awkwardness was on our part – not theirs. If we are going to live lives on mission it has to start by seeing people as God sees them…no questions asked. That’s a heart issue we need to deal with. How do I see people and how do I love them well? We were really thankful for that humbling experience that Saturday morning at God’s Extended Hand.