Dio è Amore

The past few months we’ve spent a great deal of time connecting with people and sharing our story and vision for ministry in Italy. As we prepare to launch this October one thing we continue to realize is, for most, when it comes to overseas missions, Italy, and western Europe in general, rarely come up in conversation. Most people think of Italy only as pasta, pizza, the Colosseum, the leaning tower and good wine. Few people ever think of Italy as place that is desperately in need of the gospel and the hope that it brings.

The reality, as it relates to ministry in Italy, is that less than 1% of Italy’s 60 million people are evangelical Christians. The majority of that 0.5% are in the southern regions, leaving an estimated 0.1% in the north. And while Catholicism is the predominant religion in Italy, many are leaving the church all together, searching for answers and largely turning to atheism, agnosticism and the occult.

There are over 100,000 licensed witches in Italy – that’s more witches than there are priests.

Italy, in all of its history, has never seen a spiritual revival.

Surprisingly, the Evangelical community has, in the past, faced much persecution and has been viewed as a cult. For the most part its been widely misunderstood by the religious culture of a predominantly Catholic nation.

In Italy, many missionaries will tell you, there seem to be three main challenges:

(1) Identity, (2) Unity, and (3) Training.

Evangelicals in Italy are (and have been) in a struggling minority situation. Christian identity has been largely defined not by who they are but by who they are not (e.g., not religiously Roman Catholic, not theologically liberal, not culturally secular). The overall perception has been that evangelicals are a cult. There is a huge need for Italian evangelicals to better grasp their evangelical identity based on gospel distinctives rather than what they are against.

Disunity has been sewn into the very fabric of this complex land since before the inception of Rome. This fighting and warfare has found its way into the church and marks many of the cities throughout the country. This reality means that very few local churches ever work together but rather, more often than not, work against each other.

Lastly there’s training. In struggling and small churches (which are most Italian churches), formation hasn’t been viewed as a priority. Most leaders are self-taught and self-trained. Cultural engagement is often shallow at best. There is a tremendous need for proper training and support. If leaders don’t emerge who are better equipped for ministry and better prepared for how to be faithful and missional in their vocations then little will ever change.


We believe God is doing a new work in the hearts and lives of Italians.

We believe a new generation of leaders is being raised up to bring renewal, reconciliation and hope to a country mired in despair.

We believe God is preparing the hearts of Italians who will birth long lasting legacies of faithful Jesus followers, and whom will be sent out to create fresh expressions of church, church planting movements, and other missional communities in Italy and throughout all of Europe.

We believe that when Italians walk in the ways of Jesus, and discover the unique areas God is calling them to serve, generations will be transformed. Leaders will be birthed. Italians will walk intimately connected to God, know themselves 
as His children, and live into their unique Kingdom contribution.

This is what we want to be about. This is God’s invitation for us. We can’t wait to enter into what God has in store for this great nation. But there is a lot of work to be done. And we believe, it starts with prayer.


Would you join with us and pray for Italy.

When you have pizza – pray for Italy.
When you have pasta – pray for Italy.
When you are drinking your cappuccino – pray for Italy.
When you open a bottle of wine – pray for Italy.

Here are a few specific ways you could pray for Italy:

  1. Lord, I pray that you raise up a grass roots prayer movement in Italy.
  2. Lord, I pray that you raise up strong spiritual leaders in the churches of Italy.
  3. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will build and empower the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Italy.
  4. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will encourage every believer in Italy to be a bold witness for Jesus.
  5. Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit will draw thousands of people in Italy to Christ.
  6. Lord, I pray that the youth of Italy would embrace Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
  7. Lord, I am believing you for spiritual revival in Italy.

Prossimi passi

Our trip to Italy was extremely clarifying. We certainly felt God’s presence and direction at every turn. We spent time with pastors, missionaries, and neighbors throughout Pescara, Perugia and Rome. We have come away from this trip with a deeper sense of call, a clearer sense of the way forward, and a renewed sense of urgency. We saw time and time again that God is doing an incredible work in this country. We are thrilled to be a part of what He’s already doing.  As we walked the streets of these cities we began to see that Perugia was the best landing spot for our family. We are committed to doing everything we can to get back as soon as possible! And we look forward with great anticipation for what God has in store for our family there. Until then, here are a couple of highlights from our trip.

Pescara:

Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy

Exploring Pescara with two of our incredible CRM leaders.

Pescara is an ancient fishing village on the Adriatic Sea.

Pescara is an ancient fishing village on the Adriatic Sea.

The Ciccone Family. We had the privilege of staying with this incredible family in Pescara. Giacomo serves as the President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance and is committed to seeing churches expand their reach in this gospel starved country.

The Ciccone Family. We had the privilege of staying with this incredible family in Pescara. Giacomo serves as the President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance and is committed to seeing churches expand their reach in this gospel starved country.

Abruzzi Rooftops

Abruzzi Rooftops

This is the "Christian Bookstore" owned by the Italian Evangelical Alliance in Pescara. It's called Controcorrente - "Against the current."

This is the “Christian Bookstore” owned by the Italian Evangelical Alliance in Pescara. It’s called Controcorrente – “Against the current.”


Perugia:

The Seal of Perugia - The Griffin

The Seal of Perugia – The Griffin

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

The Streets of Perugia

Università per Stranieri di Perugia - This is the school that we will attend for language.

Università per Stranieri di Perugia – This is the school that we will attend for language.

Sunset in Perugia

Sunset in Perugia


Rome:

This small hill - The Palatine Hill - is said to be the birthplace of Rome.

This small hill – The Palatine Hill – is said to be the birthplace of Rome.

General Audience with Pope Francis

General Audience with Pope Francis


Italian missionaries often say to us, “Italy is an incredible place to visit, but a hard place to live.” What we’re finding is that that statement sums Italy up well. Italy is an extremely complex country. We love its beauty, its charm, its people; but we know the road ahead is going to be challenging and we’re grateful for the many ways you’ve walked with us already on this journey. God’s doing a new work in us, and we pray that He’s also working through us. We’re so excited for what lies ahead. Andiamo.

When God takes you the long way…

The Long Way

I love efficiency. I love when things are streamlined with as little resistance as possible. I love when things fall into place with very little effort. Really, we all do. If there’s an easier way, we’ll take it. If there’s a way we can cut down the time it takes to get something done, we’ll try it. Our culture celebrates efficiency. In fact, we tend to grow irritated when someone asks us to slow down or to take the long way.

So what happens when our values for efficiency rub up against God’s plans?

Well, if you’re like me, it probably leads to frustration and maybe even anger. But as I read through Scripture, I’m reminded that I’m in pretty good company.

A couple of weeks ago we shared our story here in Atlanta with some new friends. We shared how we had moved from Tacoma to San Diego so that we could prepare to help launch a ministry in Spain. It was a pretty straight forward plan as far as we could tell. God however, had other plans. Support raising didn’t go as we thought it would. We ended up doing much more ministry in San Diego than we had originally planned. Our timelines didn’t line up the way we thought they would. And to top it all off, God shifted our family and ministry toward Italy instead of Spain.

As we shared our story, our friends looked at us, sensing our weariness and confusion as to what the past few years had been and simply said, “sounds like what God did to the Israelites when they left Egypt. They had a pretty straightforward road to the ‘promised land’ and God took them the long way – on purpose – for their own good.”

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)

Over the past year, many people have said to us, “God wastes nothing.” In our heads, we know that’s true. And yet, for some reason, on that day with our friends, it hit us differently. God knew if the Israelites had gone the “efficient way,” that the first sign of trouble would have put them on the express train back to Egypt. God purposefully took them on an epic journey of preparation to build His people’s trust and faith in Him.

If you look on a map, the distance between the two paths is pretty dramatic. Clearly God’s not in the business of efficiency. If he were, he’d have taken the Israelites as quickly as possible to the promised land. But, what we see throughout Scripture is that God is actually all about intentionally developing His people’s hearts for the long haul.

When you look at the Israelites journey, you see that God did some pretty incredible things while they were going the “long way.”

God fed them with manna from heaven every day they were in the wilderness.

God provided water for them out of a rock.

God protected them from the heat of day and the cold of night.

God kept their clothing, shoes and tents from wearing out.

God gave them victory over enemy after enemy.

God did these incredible things along the way to grow and develop His people and their trust in Him. It was far from easy. It was anything but efficient. But it was entirely on purpose. In fact, “the long way” would serve as the back drop by which generation after generation would reflect on and point back to God’s faithfulness.

As we ourselves continue to step forward toward Italy, we have seen God’s intentionality in so much of what we’ve encountered. If I’m honest, some days I’m grateful for God’s process in taking us the long way, other days not so much. One thing is for sure, we are grateful to have already been able to see God’s faithfulness throughout our journey. God has been using the long way to intentionally grow our faith and trust in Him and prepare us for what lies ahead in Italy. It’s our prayer that when we look back on the “long way,” we’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude for all God’s done, and our whole family will be able to point back to God’s faithfulness for generations to come.

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

God actually brings people through the desert. On purpose. Because He loves them.

Let that sit for a bit.

The desert.

You know, that place where you’re all alone. That place where there’s absolutely nothing around for miles. That place where wild animals are looking for their next meal. That place where your deepest fears and insecurities seep up from the depths of your soul because you’re left alone with them.

That place where no matter what you do, you don’t feel God’s presence and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That place where you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do in the past: pray, read your Bible, listen to hymns about God, go to church and it just doesn’t work.

That place is where I’ve found myself wandering throughout this past year. To say that it’s been exhausting, emotional, and just plain hard would be an understatement.

And yet, being led into the desert was God’s purposeful and loving path for me to be formed in the ways of Jesus. And through it, I’ve learned a lot.

1) God cares more about my heart than He does about the results of my “ministry”

God used the desert to show me the places in my life where I didn’t love Him. He began to strip away any semblance of productivity and success. God made it clear: more than the number of people I lead to Jesus, more than the leaders I’ve trained and developed, more than the partnerships I’ve forged, He cares about my heart being surrendered to Him.

2) Often times I live like I’m a Christian Moralist

When I didn’t see the results and “fruit” of all my hard work I felt guilty and shameful. In order to cover those feelings up, I worked harder. But what God began to show me was that it’s not my job to take away guilty and shame. That’s Jesus’ job. That’s why He died. God began to show me what was in my heart. Spiritual pride. “I can do it myself.” Instead God pointed me to a place of love and humility; the way of Jesus.

3) You can’t read and pray your way out of the desert

Scripture is full of verses that talk about “waiting on the Lord.” We often think that that the longer we’ve been walking with Jesus, the more “experiences” we’d have with Him. We’re often told that we’re supposed to “feel” God’s presence all the time. And so it’s confusing, we often think that the more character/maturity we have in Christ, the deeper the experience of God we should have. When we stop having the “feeling,” often our response is to go back to what we know. “But, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed, I’ve gone to church…why does God still seem so distant?” What I began to understand is that God’s desire is to take us to real places of growth. Thats the purpose of the desert, to expose one’s heart. God strips us of what’s worked before to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. God brings us to places where all we can do is pull up a chair and sit down while we wait for Him to form us, grow us, and lead us out of the desert.

4) God desires for us to be vulnerable with Him

I was raised as a good Baptist.  I could never imagine telling God I was angry at Him. I mean, I probably told God I didn’t like something once or twice, but never dared to express my anger towards Him for putting me in a specific situation. And yet, this past year I’ve spent more time reading Psalms and Lamentations than ever before. Let’s be very clear: David and the writer of Lamentations were extremely honest with how they felt about their subsequent situations. They held nothing back. As I began to share the anger, frustration, sadness, and brokenness that was in the depths of my heart, I in turn experienced the invitation of God to draw near to Him in love and comfort. He loved me despite the smorgasbord of genuinely negative feelings I had towards Him. Allowing yourself to feel emotions in the midst of your situations and offering them up to God who in turn responds with love is a recipe for heart change. And that’s what began to happen.

5) We need community to point us to Jesus when we can’t find the way ourselves

The desert is disorienting, exhausting, and grueling. When you’re in the middle of the desert it’s hard to tell which way is up. I’m grateful that in the middle of one the hardest seasons of my life, God graciously surrounded me with people who knew which way was up. When I couldn’t hear God’s voice, they listened on my behalf. When I couldn’t “feel” God’s love for me, they showed me the love of God. When I couldn’t see God’s faithfulness they pointed out God’s gracious provision. They prayed faithfully for me, listened intently to the cries of my heart, and sat with me when I needed friendship and comfort. They pointed me to Jesus when I couldn’t find my way through the desert. A community that reflects the person and work of Jesus transforms neighborhoods and lives. That’s why community is so important.

 

God’s At Work in Italy

Thank you for your prayers and support through this exciting time of transition. As you know, I (Jeff) had the privilege of spending over a week in Italy with two other :Beta: leaders. As we spent time on the ground, we met with so many incredible leaders who have a heart to see Italy transformed by the Gospel of Christ. What we experienced and saw was that the need is HUGE. Very few cities have much of an evangelical presence. While the country is overshadowed by the power and influence of the Vatican, and most are at least culturally Catholic, there is very little knowledge of and interaction with Jesus. And yet, we clearly saw God at work; we heard the stories of those who have faithfully served and are praying for a movement of God to sweep the land. We desire to be a part of this movement and are thrilled to see how God may use us in the months and years ahead in this incredibly complicated ministry context. Below are a few pictures from the trip.

Rome’s city center is an intersection between ancient history and modern.

Italy’s history is rife with war and violence. Many people lost their lives in the wake of Rome’s continued desire to expand it’s empire.

The Vatican’s power and influence both politically and economically in Italy is far reaching. In Rome alone, the church owns over 50% of the real estate. In Italy, due to the Vatican’s power, evangelicals are still fighting for religious freedom, something most of the West takes for granted.

In Rome there are over 900 churches, sadly today most are nothing more than museums.

We had the privilege of praying for Giosue, an Italian in Florence using film as a medium to bring the gospel to light in a dark city.

We had the privilege of meeting with and praying for Giosue, an Italian in Florence using film as a medium to bring the gospel to light in a dark city.

This incredible group of young people is led by one woman who has a deep heart for her city. In Manfredonia there is no evangelical church and yet Angela disciples, teaches, and leads these young people by faithfully living out and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

This incredible group of young people is led by one woman who has a deep heart for her city. In Manfredonia there is no evangelical church and yet Angela disciples, teaches, and leads these young people by faithfully living out and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

Sharing a meal in Italy is a sacred time. Food in Italy is something special and taken so seriously. We were grateful to be invited by our dear friend's family to their home for dinner. It was incredible.

Sharing a meal in Italy is a sacred time. Food in Italy is something special and taken so seriously. We were grateful to be invited by our dear friend’s family to their home for dinner. It was incredible.

An unexpected excursion took us to a city called Pescara on the Adriatic Sea. This city was incredible. All three of us sensed God's purposeful redirection to take us through this city - excited to see what could come of our connections there.

An unexpected excursion took us to a city called Pescara on the Adriatic Sea. This city was incredible. All three of us sensed God’s purposeful redirection to take us through this city – we’re excited to see what could come of our connections there.

Please continue to pray for us in this exciting season. God continues to connect us with more and more people in this country. We absolutely feel God’s hand leading us to pioneer something new in this incredible country. May we continue to step as God directs our path.

And Who Is My Neighbor?

Vacations are great…

Often times, they give us the opportunity to see new things, try new things, and simply get out of what can become the monotony of life. When you travel, your mindset changes a bit doesn’t it? On vacation you become a tourist. You are simply there for pleasure. On vacation you want to separate yourself from your everyday reality. You want to get away. And it feels good to get away; to escape and simply be free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You simply step into a different place and engage your surroundings as you please.  As a tourist you can freely float from one experience to the other.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on this idea of being on vacation versus the way I sometimes engage my own place or neighborhood. If I’m honest there are times when I engage my own neighbors and neighborhood much like I tourist. I come in and out of my neighborhood as I please, separating myself from the realities of life that are all around me. Rather than being present to my surroundings, I move from experience to experience simply using my home as a hotel bed to sleep in. Leonard Hjalmarson in his book “No Place Like Home” looks at this phenomenon.

He writes:

“There is a certain approach to life, a particular posture, that dominates in our culture: it’s the posture of the tourist. The challenge we face as followers of the Incarnate One is to move from the posture of tourist, to the posture of pilgrims. Tourists are escaping life; pilgrims are embracing it. Tourists are trying to forget; pilgrims are trying to remember. Tourists are looking for bargains, and aren’t really SEEING at all. They are like technicians, cataloging reality as if it can be accrued in a bank balance. And they hate to be surprised. Pilgrims love to be surprised, and are looking to see, to connect with something larger, something other than themselves. Charles Foster comments that, ‘What sets the pilgrim apart [from the tourist] is that he hopes, and at some level believes, that someone will hear his footsteps coming from afar … and that from inside will come music that he has heard somewhere before.’”

This is a powerful reminder that as followers of Jesus we are actually invited to move beyond the perspective of a tourist and actual take the posture of a pilgrim right in our own neighborhoods. As a tourist simply view my neighborhood from the pane of a window and never actually enter into the lived story of my place. When I take the posture of pilgrim I’m actually invited to enter into the stories that shape my community. I’m invited to move from consumer to actual participant in the lives of those around me.

That means, I purposefully live my life in the midst of those around me. That means I actually learn who my neighbors are and allow my life to intersect with theirs. I not only learn their stories, but I share my own and invite others to join me. To be a pilgrim means that I am constantly learning and engaging with my surroundings. Each life, each space, is sacred – because it reflects the beauty of our creator. So, who are your neighbors? What are their names? What do they do for a living? How old are their children? What do they like to do as a family? What are their fears or their dreams?

When I’m on vacation I’m focused on “the experience” and rarely pay attention to the locals, unless they hinder my ability to enjoy my vacation.

As a pilgrim, I have stake in my place, in my journey, and those who are a part of it. If we believe that our God is a God who took on flesh, we must also acknowledge that God cares about place, about the particulars and intricacies of life – And Christ beckons us to do the same.

Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m an ENTJ

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon, if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves.” Thomas Merton

Hi, my name is Jeff, I’m an ENTJ, enneagram 8 wing 7, and an “Analyst/Prioritizer/Captain.

Fact: The easiest way to connect with someone is by asking them questions about themselves. Facebook is littered with quizzes and memes telling the world what city you should live in, or what Princess Bride character you are, or even what pizza topping you are. You’re lying to yourself if you say you’ve never taken one of those quizzes. We all have, because we all love to be known – we all love to talk about ourselves. All of us. Deep within us is this desire for us to be labeled and known. I would argue that that innate desire is to both know and be known by something greater than ourselves; and furthermore to have significance.

Our community has spent a lot of time exploring the world of both Meyers Briggs and Enneagram and the “types” of things those personality “theories” communicate about us. It’s a fascinating world of theory that can bring both clarity and sometimes frustration.

“That IS me!!”

“I don’t really do that, do I?”

“I don’t experience you that way…”

These “personality” tests really can dissect and help us better understand the intricacies of who we are and how we function. Each one of us has personality – each of us desires for our personality to somehow “fit” into this crazy world – and to matter. Personality is simply the collection of our conditioned reactions, emotions, fears, ways of behaving and believing that makes us unique from each other. And that’s the beauty of it, we all are unique. No two ENFJ’s are the same, no two Enneagram 7’s are the same. And we all have the opportunity to uniquely shape our world. Certainly these personality tests and systems help us in that discovery process, but they’re not the end all.

As we’ve been here in San Diego, we’ve seen so many neighbors and friends searching desperately for significance and trying to live out their lives with a hopeful futility. Many of our neighbors simply punch in and out of work and seek to make the time in between a little more enjoyable. Many of these neighbors, if asked about themselves, will talk endlessly of their “real” passions and their dreams. And that’s just it, so many of us come alive when we share “the real us” and are known and understood.

It’s in those spaces of listening and really hearing others well that we give our neighbors a taste of the Kingdom. The reality is that when we take time to listen, encourage, and know others we are revealing the heart of our Father who loves and knows each of us with a depth we can’t even fully grasp. As we’ve served with :Beta: we’ve had the privilege of walking with countless men and women in the process of self discovery and help them step into their dreams and passions. We’ve seen our neighbors and apprentices come alive before our very eyes. I think that’s simply because when we know ourselves well, then we are able to make an authentic contribution to our world. 

No matter what our personality profile says we are – we have all been created for significance and for an authentic kingdom contribution much greater than we could ever imagine.

I Feel So Bad For You

Support Raising. The very words elicit so many other words. Challenging. Difficult. Hard. Lots of waiting. These are all words I have used and heard to describe what support raising is like. I don’t think I’ve ever heard support raising described as beautiful, rewarding, or encouraging. But the longer God has placed us in this season of support raising the more I actually would use those words. You see, as long and difficult as this process has been, I wouldn’t change any of it.

What I have learned and experienced throughout this process would not have happened without the difficulty, the challenge or even hardship and for that, I am so thankful.  I don’t know how many times I prayed that I would be transformed, changed, and stretched by God.  And well, we know that God is a God who listens and answers prayer – so He did. He answered those prayers in amazing ways. And by amazing I mean both beautiful and uncomfortable, sweet and painful, and surprising and frustrating.

One of the surprises to me has been just how much ministry we’ve gotten to do within the support raising process. We are support raising so that we can go to Spain to make disciples of Jesus. As we go, we are called simply to be faithful to the process and share the gospel – we ourselves can’t make someone choose to follow Jesus – that’s God’s part. In the same way, within the process of support raising we also can’t make someone join our partnership team – we are simply called to faithfully share our story and invite people to join with us in what God’s already doing. And what has often times come out of those conversations has been incredibly beautiful. We have had the honor of hearing so many people’s stories. We have been trusted to listen to tender prayer requests, passionate hearts, and sweet stories of what God has done and gifted with an opportunity to respond. We have gotten to affirm, empathize, and celebrate what God has done in and through these wonderful lives! That’s not a bad deal!

Another surprise along this journey has been getting to hear things like “I’m so sorry” or “ this must be so hard” or “I feel so bad for you.” And actually, I love those comments too. I love them because its been an invitation to share from a deeper place the ways I’ve been able to connect with God because of this experience. I have been forced to question how much I actually trust God, which then of course leads to so many other questions and truths about God. Is God really in control of this process? Is God actually going to provide? Is God going to do what He said He would do? Wrestling with God and these questions has given me so many tender moments with God. It has driven me to be completely honest about who I believe God is and what is actually in my heart. Through that process I’ve felt the presence of the Holy Spirit stand with me in my fears and brokenness. He has cared for me, listened to me, and gently pruned my heart along the way, and for that I am so grateful. So when I hear “I’m so sorry” in reference to support raising, I actually am grateful – and not sorry at all and don’t want others to be either. This process has taught me so much. The conversations we’ve had about the support raising process have so often been beautiful invitations to share just how good, faithful, and gracious God is and has been. It’s been hard – for sure – but I wouldn’t trade it – because it’s deepened my faith and understanding of who God is in ways that I would have never imagined.

When hard work doesn’t equal results.

“To go to a place you do not know, you must be led down a path you do not understand.” – John of the Cross

What do you do when all your hard week seems to feel like it leads nowhere? For the past year and half my wife and I have been working tirelessly connecting with churches and individuals sharing our story and vision for ministry in Spain. Few times in life can I remember working so hard round the clock. Partnership development is a long, laborious, and yet beautiful process that requires a monumental amount of time, energy and heart. 

For much of my life things have come easy. School, relationships, jobs – all of these things I’ve been able to do well and with relative ease. For as long as I can remember I had functioned from a place of expectation – do the work and you’ll get the results. And in a way, I liked that – people saw me as successful, able, and a hard worker. I took pride in that.

Naturally as we began the process of support raising for ministry in Spain, that very line of thinking undoubtedly followed me. Surely this would be the same. As long as we work hard, we’ll get the results, and get to Spain. Sure I knew the stats on the length of time it’s taken most missionaries to get over there. Talk to just about any missionary who’s gone to Spain and they’ll tell you – it took FAR longer and was MUCH harder than they’d ever expected just to get there. But I knew, if I do the work, I’ll get the results. 

So we worked. Hard. A couple months in and we saw minimal results. To say we saw nothing would be untrue – but my “do the work and you’ll get the results” had not fully been realized – we’d be doing the work, but not really seeing the results (well, the results I wanted). I began to become frustrated and disappointed. In my mind I figured, we just need to work harder, pray more, be more diligent. That’s what I’d done before. And so that’s what I did again. But this time, it didn’t work.

“Huh?! How could that be? I don’t understand!?!” We’d done all the work – but were still seeing only minimal results. My frustration and disappointment began to turn to anger. 

“God, what the heck?!?! Why is this not working? What are we doing? Are we still supposed to go Spain? I don’t understand!! We’re doing what you told us to do!?!? What are people going to think? I’m failing! I’m trying so hard, but I better try harder. I can do better. I’ll do better.” Questions swirled, frustrations grew, impatience and disappointment clouded a lot of my thoughts. It’s funny how quickly and easily your heart shifts when things don’t go the way YOU thought they would. Confused and even a bit disoriented, I started letting God have it. 

“He’s the one who got us into this mess in the first place right? It’s His fault this isn’t working. I’m doing the work, I’m being ‘faithful.’ God’s not holding up His end of the bargain.” A good friend of mine reminded me of all the passages of Scripture that talk about how when we’re faithful we see God’s faithfulness. It’s all over Scripture, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the list goes on and on. Great!! That’s exactly what I had needed to hear, I’d been faithful, I’d done the work – so let’s move on.

“Wait…what? They all had to wait a LONG time to see God’s faithfulness?! A. Really. Long. Time.” (Insert the sound of a deflating ballon) The problem for me was I felt as if we didn’t have a long time. We’ve been waiting a long time already. Plus, people are partnering with us as we prepare for Spain – they’re expecting us to get there and get there soon! I figured, God has to know that, so what could possibly be the hold up?

Day after day I’d walk around our neighborhood with our dog Satchmo offering God my prayers of lament. It felt like my prayers were on repeat. I wrestled with God – still uncertain as to why we haven’t already moved and why we’ve not seen the results that we wanted to see. And slowly I began to hear His voice.

God’s Spirit, in such a gentle way, began to reveal my true heart. I wanted God to work like a coin operated machine; I do my work (partnership development) and God would do His (bring the partners onto our team). When I failed to see this play out I quickly turned my attention to what I’d done before – just try more. That had always worked in the past. But funny thing about that line of thinking, it’s all about me.

I was more concerned about how I was being perceived by others rather than paying attention to the ways God was moving and shifting my heart. I was struggling to believe that God truly was in control and knew what He was doing. I began to doubt what God was inviting us into and the truth that God always provides for those He invites into places of ministry. In fact, time and time again God reminded me that He was in control and would provide. And yet, my response tended to always be about what I needed to do get the results.

Partnership development moved my heart and mind to a place of chaos that I wasn’t necessarily wanting to enter into. The way I found myself responding to this chaos began to be a mirror to what was really going on in my heart. The funny thing was, God was using it to let me in on something – how filled I was with my self, and how preoccupied I was with myself – He wanted to take me into a place of humility. And for me, the spiritual pride was saying, “what’s going on? What did I do wrong?” My coin-operated view of God was nothing more than spiritual pride – I was choosing to believe that God was only showing up and “working” because I was working hard. But instead what was really happening was God was taking me on a journey out of His deep love for me. 

God in His gentleness was reminding me, “its always been me who’s been at work. I want to show you places where you don’t love me. Those are the places where I want to love and teach you.” The irony of the season of chaos was that God brought me into it not because of my actions of pride but rather because of His love for me and purposes for me. In other words, this season was, and actually still is, a gift from God. 

Now, I’d love to say that I’ve learned and grown and now view this season we’re in as a gift – always. That’s simply untrue. We’re still hard at work sharing our story and building new partnerships with churches and individuals. But I’m continuing to learn that our results are not indicative of our work ethic or abilities, but rather God’s complete control and timing in moving us to Spain. Some days I fall back on my pride and get angry we’re still not in Spain, since we’ve worked so hard and all 😉 But more days look like us trusting God’s provision and timing and remembering that we are called to be faithful and yet still put our faith in Him for the results. 

And so, we cling to 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Semana Santa

“Penitentes carrying torches in hopes that Jesus will forgive their sins from the previous year”

As we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week – we’re reminded that all around the world communities stop and reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Malaga, and Spain, this week is a huge deal – a sacred week – Semana Santa. It is a week filled with processionals and pageantry all meant to remember and reflect upon the suffering of Christ. All throughout Spain these processionals are taking place.

Each afternoon/evening during the week, 17th century floats bearing imagenes of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, emerge from the old churches and process through the streets for hours and hours until finally snaking their way back to the church from which they came. Costaleros bear the weight of these enormous floats, while penitentes, both large and small, lead and follow the float bearing traditional capirotes and candles. The eerie and sorrowful flamenco hymns, written in minor keys, are played by the Semana Santa bands to set the desparing tone of these processions. The hymns of the band, the wailing singers, and the cries of the pregoneros who bring the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, can be heard from miles away.

For the entire week pageantry, beauty, and grandiosity grips communities in Spain with such wonder and awe. And yet still, when all is said and done, when the week is over, and the costumes return to storage, the floats go back from whence they came – life in Spain returns to normal. Reflections of Christ become nothing but images in the rear view mirror.

As Jenifer and I look forward to and prepare to engage this beautiful context in ministry; this week especially, reminds us of how we all can at times be prone to production and grandeur to the point that we sometimes lose sight of Jesus. This is certainly the case in Spain as pageantry and religion clearly overshadows conviction and actual belief. But, at the same time, I can’t help and think of how easy it is for me to sit comfortably as an evangelical and point the finger toward a culture or cultures whose images convey grand religiosity devoid of Jesus when I myself can at times easily do the same.

As we somberly sit in this holy week and reflect upon the suffering of Christ and at the same time prepare for our celebration of His resurrection –  My prayer is that I/we would not get caught up in all of  our grand plans for celebration and at the end of the day forget Jesus. May we celebrate well and then allow that celebration to set the tone for lives that are lived well in light of that celebration – Jesus suffered and died, was buried, but rose again in triumph so that we too would live resurrection lives, lives impacted, shaped, and directed by His resurrection.

“The walk of penitence in Andalucia”