Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Celebration and Loss

On August 28 we will board an airplane for Bolivia. For months we have been holding off on purchasing tickets (see our last post), so we are celebrating the fact that we have a move date! But at the same time we are grieving a great deal of loss—loss of relationships, belongings, opportunities, and pretty much everything that is familiar to us.

The last six months have been good, but difficult. We have had great times of fun and fellowship with friends and family and visited churches that have encouraged and supported us on this journey. Unexpectedly, we had a great deal of time with my brother's family, and our children really enjoyed their “cousin time”. We've enjoyed many of our favorite places in Ohio, and shared those experiences with people we love. But we've also had to say goodbye to those same people. We've had to sort through everything we own and part with belongings that are important to us, or that are attached to special memories. This process has taken longer and been more difficult than we expected.

There are lots of books, tools, and insights to help missionaries (or anyone moving cross-culturally) cope with the transition to life in a new, unfamiliar place. We’ve taken advantage of some of these helpful resources, but also missed out on some potential opportunities. We want to be well-equipped, but it’s our conviction that no matter how prepared we are we won’t make a successful transition unless we are walking with the Lord, relying daily on His Spirit and meditating on the truth of God’s Word. This is not to downplay the importance of preparing for the future, but is a recognition that we can never be fully prepared, and that only God’s grace can sustain us through unforeseen trials and difficulties.

I didn’t anticipate that, after seven years of preparation, this would be the hardest moment yet—the time when I would be most tempted to give up and retreat to the comforts of suburban America. We've persevered through resigning from a good job, raising financial support, leaving three homes behind, years of training—even an airplane crash! But the thought of quitting has never seemed so appealing. So we daily trust in the Lord, knowing that He will sustain us day by day, looking not to our ever-changing circumstances and feelings for comfort and peace, but to a loving and unchanging Savior who carries us each step of the journey.

Surely there will be more difficult times to come, and we appreciate your prayers for our family as we face this transition and the many challenges yet to come. We will continue to grieve the losses we are experiencing, but celebrate the future that the Lord has prepared for us. We want to trust that the best days for our family are yet to come! The future may or may not be what we envision, but in all things let us cling to Jesus, trusting in His love and goodness, having our eyes set on the hope we have in Him!

Friday, August 2, 2019

We're moving this month!

As evidenced by the long gap between posts, it's been a challenge to write updates lately. Not because nothing is happening, but because I either struggle to find a moment to sit down at my computer, or I'm not sure how to communicate what's happening in a way that you will find interesting. During this transitional time, we are staying in Perrysburg, Ohio but have travelled several thousand miles already. As we prepare for our move to Bolivia, we have been visiting family, friends and churches in Ohio, South Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. We are so grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many people, and for the ways in which God is using the Church to provide for our needs as we get ready to begin serving in Bolivia.

Lord-willing, we will be moving to Bolivia at the end of this month! We leave for a church visit today, but next week it will be time to shop for plane tickets! We had originally planned to move a few weeks earlier, but when our nephew's open-heart surgery was scheduled for July 31 we decided to postpone our move. Praise the Lord the surgery went well, and we continue to pray for Bowen's recovery, and for his body to adjust to the changes that were made to his cardiovascular system. If you don't know Bowen, you can read his story at BowensHeart.com or watch the video below.

I realize this short post isn't very informative, but we just want you to know we are still here and still excited about the work that God is doing in Bolivia through ITM. We can't wait to get there, and are trusting the Lord to provide all that we need for this transition by the end of August. Thank you for your love and support!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

We have a house in Bolivia!

Moving to another country is not easy. There are many difficulties, but one aspect of this move that the kids have struggled with is this: not knowing where we will live when we get to Bolivia. This is certainly an opportunity for them to learn to walk by faith in God, trusting Him to provide. But we also know that they have a legitimate need for security. And I think a basic component of feeling secure is knowing that you have a safe place to lay your head at night.

Until this week, we didn't know where we would settle in Bolivia. Yes, we knew we would live in Cochabamba, and that the mission house would be temporarily available for us. But we had no long-term housing arranged. That was okay with Tara and me, but this idea was more difficult for the kids (and for one child in particular, who will go unnamed). We planned to move into the mission home until we could find a more permanent place in Cochabamba, then move a second time into that house.

Well, earlier this week we received a pleasant surprise. ITM has decided to rent a different place to serve as the mission house, and Tony called to ask if we'd like to rent the current mission house. It didn't take long to come to a consensus, and our answer was a resounding, "Yes!" It's a huge relief to know that we have a place to settle in to when we arrive in Bolivia. Not only that, but the kids have actually stayed in this house, so it's a place that's familiar to them. It has sufficient bedrooms for our family, room for an office and/or music room, and space for guests to stay—all things that are lacking in our current house. What a blessing!

It's exciting to see the Lord providing for our needs as we prepare for this move. There's still a lot to do, and we feel overwhelmed at times, but we have confidence that God will provide what we need when we need it!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Time of Refining

It's hard to believe it's been so long since I've posted, but to be honest we've been a bit overwhelmed with everything going on in our lives recently. The past several weeks have been filled with organizing, packing, sorting, as well as saying goodbye to people and places, and experiencing many "lasts" here in North Carolina: the last day of school at BCA for Ian and Ella, their last middle school tennis match, their last field trips, last award ceremonies, and final goodbyes to many of their classmates.

There have been difficult moments, especially as the kids ended the school year. While all of their friends are looking forward to next year (especially Ian's classmates, who will be starting high school), our children are leaving everything they know to move to an unfamiliar place. Not only are they leaving people they care about; they are also having to sort through all of their earthly possessions and select the few things that will "make the cut" and go to Bolivia with us. Some things can be stored, but many have to be given away. There are certainly good lessons to be learned in this process, but that doesn't mean it is always easy.

Even though it's hard to say goodbye, we are thankful for the time we've spent here in North Carolina. We know that we have great things to look forward to, and that many of the people we've come to know will be life-long friends.

The process of purging our material goods has made me hyper-aware of the consumerism that is so pervasive in the American culture. I've also been reminded of how easy it is to develop an unhealthy attachment to things, and have made significant progress in breaking that attachment. I'm proud of our kids, who have been learning to do the same thing. There are still several boxes of valuable or sentimental items that will go into storage, but they are learning the value of blessing others with the useful items they no longer need, rather than letting those things gather dust (or worse) in storage. Even though it's hard to let some things go, there is joy in blessing others by giving them away.

As I write this I'm realizing there's a theme here: a tension we are wrestling with throughout these weeks and months of transition. Letting go of the old, yet holding on to those things that matter. Saying goodbye to people and places, but anticipating the good things to come. Filtering out the things that distract and detract from what's really important, while cherishing that which is truly valuable.

Come to think of it, this is not unlike the refining process that God is doing in us. He is always refining us, purging us of old thoughts and habits, and making us more like Jesus. We have desires and habits that distract us, and sins that hinder our relationship with God and others.  These need to be gotten rid of so there is room for new attitudes, habits, and practices that strengthen those relationships. This process is not always fun, but in the end there is great joy! My prayer is that as our family navigates this season of evaluation and purging, the Lord will also be working in us, purifying and refining us to be more like Christ. When we look back at this period of time in our lives, my hope is that we will see the hand of God at work, strengthening us and growing us into faithful disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Why Church Planting?

There are many organizations that have current needs for missionary pilot/mechanics. Some of them focus on medical care and relief work. Others focus on Bible translation or church planting, and some do commercial flying to subsidize "ministry" flights. So why am I excited about the idea of serving with an organization that focuses on church planting and discipleship? I'll answer that question, but take the long way around.

The term "Body of Christ" is often used to refer to the Church. There's good reason for that, since the phrase is used in the Bible (1 Corinthians 12:27, for example). I always thought of the word "body" according to this definition:
5 : a group of persons or things: such as
b : a group of individuals organized for some purpose
a legislative body
the university's student body
This makes sense, doesn't it? The verse I referenced above says, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." The body of Christ certainly is a group of individuals organized for some purpose. But there is another sense in which the Church operates as Christ's body:
2a : the organized physical substance of an animal or plant...
For about thirty years Jesus physically walked the earth, but as He prepared to leave this world, he made it clear to his disciples that their mission was to carry on His mission. As Jesus' present-day disciples, we are the physical presence of Jesus in the world! For most students of the Bible this isn't really a new revelation. But if we really believed this and lived it out, it would be revolutionary!

Jesus' actions during the few short years of his public ministry included preaching and teaching, but also healing the sick, raising the dead, and advocating for the poor and oppressed. But these were not just random acts of kindness. They were accompanied by a call to reject and repent from sin, and to newness of life in Christ. Jesus was intentional about "seeking and saving the lost" (Luke 19:10). He demonstrated mercy and compassion, and broke bread with the despised and outcast. Yet he never failed to call people out of the bondage of sin and brokenness, and into His Kingdom.

So how does this relate to our excitement about church planting? If the Church is growing and truly acting as the Body of Christ, then we will naturally and organically see an increase in acts of love and compassion to the world around us. So it's not an either/or proposition; we don't need to choose church planting or compassion ministry. It's a both/and scenario! By focusing on the church—bringing people to Christ and then continuing to nurture them as disciples of Jesus—we will also see the Body of Christ responding to the needs in our communities, loving them as Christ loved the world.

My intent is not to downplay the need for compassion ministry. Rather, I want to affirm that it is important. Our desire would be for local believers to come to Jesus, and then to reach and serve the world around them according to their individual gifts and passions. The Church is God's chosen instrument for carrying on His work in the world until Jesus returns, and I'm excited to support the building up of the Body of Christ through the tool of missionary aviation.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Family Visit to Bolivia

It's hard to believe it's been seven years since we began the journey toward serving in missionary aviation! With much training and preparation behind us, we are now getting close to moving overseas to serve on our first field assignment as a missionary pilot/mechanic family! For the past couple years we have been corresponding with several missionary organizations that we are interested in. There is one ministry in particular that has resonated strongly with us, and that we have been thinking and praying about. Finally, in December, the timing worked out for us to make a visit with our entire family.

We began our trip on a Thursday morning when we started driving toward Miami. After 11 hours we decided to call it a day and stop for the night in Titusville, Florida. Aliza did amazingly well on the drive down, and the big kids helped out a lot, keeping her happy and well-fed. But after all those hours she was glad to be out of her car seat. Her big smiles won her lots of friends at Cracker Barrel! 🙂 We are thankful for everyone who prayed for us during the long car ride.

Aliza did amazingly well on the long car ride!
We started driving again Friday morning with the intention of stopping to see the ocean before continuing to the Miami Airport. But after contending with the crazy traffic coming into Miami we decided to play it safe and head straight to the parking lot where we’d catch an airport shuttle. Interestingly, the shuttle driver was from Peru and made sure to tell us how much we would love Bolivia.

We got to the airport around 4:15 for a 10:30pm flight, which meant lots of waiting at the airport. Unfortunately our flight was delayed twice, but by 1:00am on Saturday we were finally airborne. After a long drive and more than eight hours in the airport we were ready to get some sleep in the dark aircraft cabin. All was well until they decided to turn on the lights and serve us dinner around two o’clock in the morning. Who needs dinner at that hour? Not me, but I suppose someone would have complained about not getting the meatballs they’d paid for. I would have gladly given my meatballs to that guy in exchange for an hour of sleep.

Happy to finally be en route to Bolivia!
Finally, around 8am on Saturday, we touched down in Bolivia and the kids set foot on foreign soil for the first time! Fortunately our connecting flight was waiting for us (and more importantly for some crew members), so we made it to Cochabamba late morning. Immigration and customs went quickly, and Tony was there to meet us and drive us back to the mission house. It’s a really nice place, and we get a floor to ourselves. It was only the fourth floor, but at 8500’ elevation we noticed those flights of stairs!

Saturday was a rest day, and Sunday we visited the “International Church”. I put that in quotes because the church has evolved from a mostly English-speaking church to a church comprised mostly of Bolivians and other Spanish speakers. A few songs were done in English, but the rest of the service was in Spanish. I was pleasantly surprised that I could understand a majority of what was said, so that was encouraging. After church we had lunch, rested for a while, and went for a walk around the neighborhood.

After a couple days of settling in and learning about ITM's ministry, I had the opportunity to fly out to one of the villages where we would pick up a team that had been serving there for a couple weeks. The morning started early, when I rolled out of bed at 3:30. Cristian, one of the ITM staff, arrived to pick me up at 4:15. That was the first of three stops he was making around the city, and by 5:00 the truck was pulling into the airport, crammed full of adults, children, and cargo.

Getting ready for an early morning departure.
Before the sun had risen, we were taxiing to the other side of the field where we would file our flight plan and completely unload the airplane to be inspected by the anti-narcotic branch of the police. After the inspection we re-packed the airplane and waited to get a report that the weather was clear at our destination. By 7:15 our flight plan had expired and the weather had not cleared, meaning it was time to go through the whole process again. Apparently nothing is easy in Bolivia when it comes to paperwork and bureaucracy!

To make a long story short, the weather didn’t clear and we cancelled the flight. That’s just part of flying in Bolivia during the rainy season. It seems that the old saying is true: “Time to spare? Go by air!” That being said, the airplane is still—without a doubt—the best way to get out to the tribes.

Later in the day, our family had lunch with several families and individuals that serve with ITM in Cochabamba. It was encouraging to hear about the church planting and discipleship that is happening in many small villages in the highlands near Cochabamba. There is also a great need for more laborers to disciple believers in these young churches. We had an opportunity to share about our journey, and our time together concluded by praying for one another. It was a very encouraging afternoon!

Finally, we drove out to see Cristo de la Concordia—the giant statue of Jesus that overlooks the city. By the time we got there it was pouring rain, so we didn’t spend much time there. At the base of the statue is a sculpture of an open Bible with the text of John 14:6; yet there are so many people in this region who haven’t heard about Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Cristo de la Concordia
Thursday morning, the weather was looking good, so we tried again for the flight out to the village of Oromomo. This time we were able to make it out of Cochabamba on top of a sea of clouds. As we approached the village the clouds were breaking up, but there was still a low cloud layer that Tony was able to duck under and make a landing in Oromomo. While Tony shuttled the team to a nearby village I stayed in Oromomo where I got a tour from Tito, the pastor of the church in the village. He also explained to me the need for more laborers to reach the many unreached settlements around Oromomo. After seeing the village, I enjoyed a cup of coffee (and a taste of mate) and conversation with Tito and Ramon, one of the team members who had been serving in Oromomo.

One of the things we love about the ministry of ITM is that the staff is multicultural, and most of the church planting and discipleship is being done by Bolivian nationals. There are even short-term teams that come to serve from other parts of the country. As expats, we would be supporting and working alongside Bolivians that are reaching people within their own borders with the Gospel.

Flying to Oromomo at about 14,000 feet.

At the airstrip in Oromomo
Since we had come all the way to Bolivia, I felt that it would be very helpful for our whole family (not just me) to fly out to one of the remote "front-line" ministry locations. On Friday we flew to the village of San Lorenzo to meet some of the Bolivian ITM missionaries, and to see the radio station and Bible school that is being constructed to train tribal church leaders. On of my goals for that visit was for Ian and Ella to get a glimpse of the work that we would be supporting, and simply to see what life is like in the more remote parts of Bolivia. While walking around San Lorenzo and talking with Tony, they also got an idea of how they could participate in the work that God is doing here, especially helping to support teams that come to serve in the tribal areas.

During our visit to the radio station, we had a few moments to sit and talk with Ivan and Cendy, the staff members who run the station in addition to other responsibilities. They were so encouraging to us, and especially to the kids. After we talked for a while they shared some Scripture and prayed for our family. We felt very blessed by them, and would be excited to help support these Bolivian missionaries who have made significant sacrifices to serve in remote parts of their own country.

At the airstrip in San Lorenzo

Walking down one of the main roads in San Lorenzo.

The radio station and one of the Bible school buildings.

We came back very excited about the possibility of serving in Bolivia with ITM. It's not the easiest place to serve, and there would be some challenges. But we know that the Lord will be with us wherever He calls us. We're not making any big announcements quite yet, but we are excited about what lies ahead for our family.

From the window of the mission house in Cochabamba we could see the outstretched arms of a giant Jesus statue. That was pretty neat, but we are thankful that there is a real Jesus who actually holds and sustains all things, and we continue to trust Him to direct our steps, desiring His will to be done in us! Thanks again for walking alongside us on this journey!