Wednesday, December 25, 2013

New Year Resolutions

Can you believe that 2014 is upon us!? Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by now? It feels strange as we go deeper into this millennium and leave the 20th century behind us. Who knows what the rest of the 2000s will hold for us as a nation, as a community, as the Church.

One thing I'm always reminded of as we celebrate the new year is Christ's promise to make all things new. Revelation 21:4-7 says:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

We know that this world is not the way it is supposed to be. Just reflect over the pain and suffering over the last year whether in your own life or in the life of our nation. We look forward not only to a new year, but a new world where the "old order of things has passed away." This new order doesn't come instantaneously but through process. Jesus says "I am making all things new". The earth was cleansed in the flood and made anew, this took time and was part of a process. The pattern in Scripture is of rebirth, not of instantaneous action. Jesus himself is resurrected and exists in a new way, yet he retains his body and even eats with his disciples. So also with us, we are made new through process, sometimes through cleansing waters, sometimes through cleansing fire. We don't, like many in our culture, try to completely forget the past year and our worries through excessive party making, but rather use our past as part of the process in being made new. We have the strength by the power of the Holy Spirit to be conquerors not forgetters and look forward to the day we are glorified when God in perfect fellowship with us says "I will be their God and they will be my children."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Activities!

This is a great time of year to engage with your community! There are many activities and opportunities to get out and join in with others as the natural rhythm of our culture intersects the sacred rhythm of our faith celebrations. Here are just a few that I know of, feel free to post below of other activities that our faith community may have interest in.

The Bethlehem Walk is a great event to go to, particularly if you have children. It's basically a short walk through characters, and displays that help tell the story of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. There are even some live animals that you can touch. Be careful the goat was a bit ornery last year! There isn't a charge for this and can help inspire conversations about the story of Jesus birth.

Candy Cane Lane, also known as the Satellite Beach cul-de sac Verbenia Court, does a wonderful light display every year. They even have a Santa come by on Christmas Eve. Again, there is no cost, this is just a neighborhood showing their Christmas cheer. There is a place where you can give donation to a Multiple Sclerosis non-profit. Here's a link to a Florida Today Article that highlights Candy Cane Lane.

Another free activity, is volunteering at a local mission partner like Daily Bread. Our God is a giving God and as we are created in his image, we actually are designed to give of ourselves to others. When you do give you follow in the steps of Jesus who gave himself for us. As in the past few years, Daily Bread is having a sign-up sheet and taking volunteers at large for the week of December 22nd through the 28th. They are encouraging all who would like to serve to sign up by calling Daily Bread, 723-9046, and let them know that you're wanting to sign up. They have all sorts of positions: food line servers, table busing, food prep, dish washers, and front door greeter. These positions are filled on a first come basis, so commit now to serving others this Christmas season.

If you see this blog in time, of course don't forget the free Christmas concert offered here at Trinity! Offered at both 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM on Sunday December 15th on our campus, the participants really go all out in preparing for this yearly event. Our choir as well as an orchestra do an incredible job with this. This year part of the proceeds will go towards our mission partner His Place Ministries which operates not only as a cold night shelter, but also offers a street life ministry, a chemical addiction program, classes open to the public, counseling, and Sunday morning worship services.

Pastor Michael wrote about the joy of caroling in his last blog post. Maybe you know of some caroling opportunties you could post below? Covenant Partners Robin and Clint Braswell are going caroling with others on Friday December 20th:

Robin and I are doing our annual Christmas caroling next Friday night (Dec 20th) and would love to have you join us!  If you haven’t done this in a while you are missing out on a lot of fun and a great way to take in some TRUE Christmas spirit.  We will meet at our house at 6:30.  After hitting a few houses in the neighborhood we will end up on Verbenia Court in Satellite Beach.  If you aren’t familiar with Verbenia Court it’s a lavishly decorated street and a very popular place during Christmas time. The past two years we have ended up here, in Sally Davis’ driveway (a  school teacher many of you may know) to help her raise money for MS.

And please bring your kids!  They are what makes this evening such a blessing!

If you wish to join us please let me know you will be coming so I can make sure I have enough song books.  If singing isn’t your thing, no worries.  We will have plenty of voices to cover for you :)

With God’s Blessings... Clint and Robin

Again, feel free to share more opportunities in the comments below as we celebrate the Advent, the Coming, of the One, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus our Lord!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Start a House Church

A few Sundays ago, the Session, Vision Team, and pastors shared what God had led us to share as our faith communities core values, new vision, and name. Part of our new vision that I was able to share during that time is that we will be a "missional movement: transforming culture by equipping its people to live as missionaries and form creative expressions of church." Here's a recap of what I shared about what exactly a "creative expression" might be:

"These creative expressions are basically forms of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church. Every creative expression of church is different. Some are in rural areas and others are in the suburbs. Some are in housing projects while others are on college campuses. Some are primarily for youth, children, or young adults just beginning their careers. Others are based in schools and some in homes. We envision that creative forms of our faith community will meet in other parts of our region.  Perhaps the Lord will send some of us to form missional communities in areas where we don’t attract visitors.  Or some from among us will start house-churches.  Some will gather worshipping communities where our current mission partners serve the community. Others may one day start satellite campuses that could become separate congregations. Our vision is to participate in the larger vision of our denomination. ECO is “committed to growing and planting flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.” As we are each equipped and called to participate in seeing God’s kingdom come, some of us will find ourselves changing our lifestyles dramatically, perhaps even moving as we feel called to reach different groups of people. Each creative expression is a new adventure for the gospel that brings the kingdom closer to people who might not otherwise experience the need for church."

Hopefully, like myself, this vision is an exciting call to see the gospel take root and blossom in new contexts and new communities. The hope is not that we would see new expressions for the sake of being inwardly focused but rather in reaching those whom Jesus came and to whom we are sent - "For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost"!!! (Luke 19:10). At the same time, you may be asking, how do we actually do this! Here are some simple guidelines to starting one type of creative expression, a house church:

1.) Read the book of Acts. This is a great place to start to gain an understanding of how simple the early Church was immediately following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The early church model that thrived in the context of the Roman empire, is becoming more and more viable in our own postmodern context here in the United States. The early church didn't have official buildings, established clergy, or even formalized Scripture, they began with people committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

2.) How many people do we need? Scripture teaches that wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, that Christ is present (Matthew 18:20). Christ is the head of the church, His body. So don't worry about reaching a particular number. Wherever Christ's people gather together, there His Church is, because we are the Church!

3.) Where and when can we meet? Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the time is coming when people will worship God in Spirit and in Truth, not in the high places of Samaria or even in the Temple at Jerusalem. God's Spirit inhabits us as believers so we can gather together anywhere to worship God because we are the Church!

4.) What do we do? Acts 2:42 says "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer." One simple way to remember what we "do" as the body of Christ is Up, In, and Out. We explore our vertical connection with God (Up) through discipleship, prayer, learning from God's Word and Worship. We love one another (In) through fellowship, discussion, and bearing one another's burdens. We love and serve others (Out) through serving, sharing the gospel, and being missionaries to a particular people group.

5.) Designate a leader. In Acts 14:23, its clear that even in the earliest forms of church leadership was established. It's important that someone take this key position. Where possible share leadership responsibilities. From the very beginning, also plan for multiplication. Jesus commands us to make spiritual children, making disciples of all nations and that can only happen if we multiply. Therefore consider not only who will be in a place of leadership, but also who your apprentice(s) will be.

6.) Get Connected!  Our desire is that "these creative expressions of church will share our vision and values." Practically that means being connected with our faith community through training, encouragement, and accountability. As you take these steps make sure you connect with the resources and leadership available to you! These are some basic thoughts to get you started on thinking about how to start a house church or a different creative expression. If you feel God is leading you in this way and want to talk more please don't hesitate to comment below or email me at to set up a time to talk.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Remembering The Dead

As I write this blog, many are preparing for this evening to take their children around and participate in the candy feast that is Halloween. Of course, many of our celebrations are a result of pagan holidays being "taken over" by Christians. The birth of our savior is celebrated on the winter equinox. Easter falls during a time when pagans celebrated spring and new life. Halloween, being no different, was a pagan celebration of the fall harvest that Christians took over and called it All Hallows Eve dedicating the time to remember the saints(hallows) and all those brothers and sisters in Christ who have passed.

Christians have reacted differently to this particular holiday. While most Christians seem to have no problem that Christmas and Easter fall on the backs of ancient pagan celebrations, the reaction to Halloween has been more pronounced. Some participating in "trunk or treat" events, while others have boycotted the holiday in its entirety. The question is one that is often debated in theological circles. What is the Christian approach to culture?  Do we fight against culture by creating our own Christian ghettos that we hope will be more attractive than the world? Do we give in completely and just participate in the culture that we find ourselves in? Do we transform culture as the Christians did in the past, embracing these pagan dates and giving them a deeper Christian meaning?

As we seek to become more missional, also consider what kind of opportunity these cultural activities present. If you were a missionary to India, would you lock yourself indoors during the festival of colors?YOU ARE A MISSIONARY! How can you use these natural cultural moments to make relationships? Just as a missionary pays special attention to the rhythms of their communities, so also must we. I encourage you to consider how God may be calling you to go, to your own neighborhoods to see His kingdom come to every area of life, even fall, even Halloween.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Our Denomination

As many of you know we are organically connected to other Presbyterian churches through our denomination, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. It's a mouthful but each word has a significance and meaning that helps identify who we are as we work together with other churches to see the kingdom of God come and God's will be done one earth as it is in heaven.

At one of the initial gatherings the leaders of ECO described the denomination as being a three legged stool (of course I prefer triangles) of missional congregations, covenant order, and common theological language. If you haven't noticed, Trinity is not only mission minded but purposely adapting to the new context and culture by becoming more missional (you may remember our last churchwide study, The Tangible Kingdom). We also believe in a connectional form of church government, being in a covenant order. In ECO our pastors are required to meet regularly in groups with pastors from other churches, and also the ruling councils of each church (Session) are required to be in affinity groups with other churches for the purposes of sharing life, accountability, and learning from one another. Finally, ECO has a document of essential tenets, or the essentials of the Reformed faith derived from our historic confessions that all deacons, elders, and pastors must hold so that we have a common theological language and core. I'm hopeful to examine some of these core beliefs in upcoming blog posts but in the meantime this denominational commitment is one of the reasons Pastor Michael and I are teaching a course on Reformed Theology for the next 10 weeks on The French Confession. We hope you'll consider joining us, if even just for one or two sessions. You can sign up and see the documents and course topic schedule by following this link, using the password "trinity", and locating the Pastor's Fall 2013 Class.

It truly is exciting to partnered with other churches and gatherings of Christ followers. On October 11th and 12th we will welcome many of our Florida ECO pastors and elders to our own campus. We hope you'll be able to attend, maybe even volunteer, but most importantly participate with us in the larger body of Christ.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How do you Serve?

One of the most exciting things about serving at Trinity is being a part of a church family that loves one another and extends that love outside the walls into the surrounding community, over the causeway, and in some cases over the oceans! I hear stories all the time of people helping each other, serving with our mission partners, and being missional on their own initiative.

As we kick-off our life groups for the fall, it's exciting to check and see some of the things these groups have been up to. Some have been making lunches for our Project Light outreach team, others have gone and served at our local neighborhood school, Sea Park Elementary. Of course a huge blessing to my own family is when life groups came and moved my entire family from one town-home to another while I was in Haiti!

It's great to hear these reports because they are an encouragement to the entire church family. They help those in leadership see the heart and the calling of our people. They help guide our decisions about Trinity's mission partnerships. It's also great to know where we're involved so that as new people join our community they can be connected with those already serving in particular areas.

I encourage you to share your outreach, whether it's making soup for someone in your own group, or going to volunteer at The DOCK's afterschool program.

Please take a moment and Click Here to share that information with us! It's vitally important!!! Share if you've done one or two things. Share if you have a person, location, or organization that you serve at on a regular basis.

If you lead a life group, or are the outreach coordinator for your life group, you can report your outreach efforts by Clicking Here and typing "genesis" as the password, find your group, and click Edit, and then Outreach.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and for encouraging your church family by keeping us informed and connected with our service as the body of Christ. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians "[E]ncourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taking a Spiritual Perspective

One of my professors in seminary, Dr. John Frame, introduced me to a concept he called triperspectivalism. Dr. Frame is a very intelligent fellow who focuses on theology and philosophy so if the word "triperspectivalism" seems a mouthful at first, you're not alone! It took me a number of years, including one as Dr. Frame's teaching assistant, in seminary and then a couple of years teaching bible before I think this philosophical concept sunk down deep enough for me to really get it. Once I "got it" this became a great tool to help me in all areas of life, so I hope you find it helpful as well.

Triperspectivalism is basically looking at things from three, hence the "Tri" like in "Tri-angle", perspectives or views. When we typically approach a subject, a person, or ideas we have one perspective based on our history, our own views, or experience. However, as we all know, it's helpful to approach objects from different angles to get a complete view. This three-viewed approach is a good starting point to help us consider multiple views, or angles, from which a topic or situation can be evaluated. Since there are three perspectives, or views, graphically this type of approach can be represented with triangles.

The basic format for any of these triangles is as follows: Normative, Situational, and Existential. You place the topic of focus in the center of the triangle and then you consider the topic from these three different views or angles. The Normative approach is the "normal" approach which includes the dogmatic or usual approach. The normative considers the topic from the view of whatever our ultimate authority is. The Situational approach is to consider the external circumstances, or the topic within the context of the world, while the Existential approach is from a more internalized place. Here are a few examples of how this practically plays out:

Our God is a triangle God. He is three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet also they are all one substance, being God. In our triangle the topic, God, is placed in the center of the triangle and the we examine the three perspectives. Our normative or normal understanding of God, the dogmatic approach to God, is God the Father. He is the primary perspective considered in the Old Testament and He is from whom the Son and the Spirit proceed. Our situational understanding of God is God the Son. Jesus is God in our situation. He is sent by the Father out into the world, and into our context. Our existential approach to God is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the internal experience of God, the Spirit that resides within us, empowers us, and guides us in all wisdom. Clearly these understandings have a degree of overlappedness (the triangle is connected) and yet each perspective is distinct just as each person of the trinity is distinct yet the same God (traditionally stated 3 persons, one substance).

Another great theological example is Jesus and his offices. So in this case the topic is Jesus, particularly the roles of Jesus. Jesus functions as Prophet, Priest, and King, these are often called his offices. There are people in the bible who fulfill these offices at different places in redemptive history but only Jesus fulfills them all. The existential approach views Jesus as Priest. He is the one who cares for the people, the individuals, and ministers to them by being the mediator between them and God. He is able to be our High Priest because He fully shares our humanity with us and has suffered temptation as we have (see Hebrews). Situationally, Jesus has an effect on the world. He functions as King and Lord, who sees his Kingdom come in tangible ways to all nations. Normatively, Jesus is Prophet. He came from God bringing the Gospel, the good news from His Father.

This prophet, priest, and king structure is the theological basis for our form of Presbyterian government made of shared leadership between teaching elders, also called pastors, (prophet), ruling elders (king), and deacons (priest).

This three pronged approach to viewing ideas isn't limited to theology. How should I consider raising my children? Normatively I should be concerned about their physical health and well being, situationally I should consider how they will function emotionally and socially in the world, and existentially I should consider their spiritual health. How about hiring someone? Normatively do they meet the requirements for this job, situationally how will they preform, and existentially what is the spiritual and personal dimension? What should my life group do? Normatively we should study the bible or do other studies, but situationally how are we affecting the world, are we going out in any way, and then existentially are we collectively praying for each other, doing soul care and fellowshipping?

I hope this makes sense and can help you as it has helped me take multiple perspectives on circumstances and decisions. At the very least it will help you consider things not only from a material perspective but a spiritual one as well. I'd be excited for any other triangles you might come up with! You can click here to see an example of how a triperspectival approach to the gospel helps give a fuller view of the gospel.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Scott's Story of Haiti

I agree with so much of what my teammates have shared in their portions of the Blog. But it’s probably no surprise that I want to focus on worship. Of the many powerful and moving experiences I had in Haiti the one that comes to mind was one of the first experiences I had. On Sunday morning we left the CODEP compound and rode 40 minutes up the mountain to an Episcopal church for worship (see John’s Blog for more on the church we visited). As a worship leader I was interested to see what the differences and similarities of a worship service in Haiti and back home would be. Of course we stood out from the rest of the worshippers for obvious reasons: we were blancs (creole for white) in a group of dark skinned Haitians, and we didn’t understand creole. But the worship service was still very moving. I knew several of the melodies to the hymns that were sung and could even manage to recall the English words as I hummed along.  So I could join in praise to God while not being able to actually sing along. I could recognize the Apostle’s Creed by the timing and meter of how it was recited, and again tried to recall the words in English as it was spoken in creole. While their service length was something I don’t think most Americans would warm to very quickly (3 hours); there were two parts of the service that spoke to me in a particular way. During their “Greeting” time each and everyone one of the 200 plus worshippers greeted everyone else who were in attendance; including the 8 “blancs” sitting on the middle of the right side. We were welcomed and touched or embraced by everyone who was there for worship that morning. The other thing that really spoke to me was during the offering time. Our mission partners had given each of us one Haitian Gourde (the Haitian currency. 1 US dollar = 43 Haitian Gourdes) to give during the offering time. (Kind of felt like I was nine years old and back in Sunday school with the quarter my mother had given me for the offering). Instead of passing a plate or basket, worshippers bring their offering forward and place in on the altar. Since we were pretty close to the front we were some of the first folks to take our offerings and tithes forward. As I turned to return to my seat I noted the hundreds of worshippers who were behind us almost running forward to give their offering.  With great joy on their faces they came and I had to dodge quit a few folks who in their excitement to bring their offering forward, almost ran right over me. I prayed; “Lord give me that kind of joy to give back to You what is already Yours”!

I was blessed by many other things as the week progressed. To have the opportunity to come along side our Haitian brothers and sisters as they build a better life for their families and generations to come.  And I have paused every Sunday since returning and thought, “I wonder what they are hearing or singing in that church in Haiti right now”. As I remember them I thank God that we have fellow believers all over the world worshipping the one true God and the same time we are here at home.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Other Stories from Haiti

I shared a little of my own perceptions of our recent Vision Trip to Haiti in a previous blog article.Since then more of our team has been able to put down something about how they felt about the trip from their perspective. I encourage you to follow the links below and listen to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ describe their experience in Haiti.

 Tricia Jordan

Lila's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

The next time you begin to plan a memorable vacation, I urge you to consider Haiti. You can start by visiting your church’s mission department. You simply do not want to miss the opportunity to visit a county that albeit a nation of poverty… a nation full of life. The people I saw and met clearly were filled with the Holy Spirit! God’s presence was unmistakable. Haiti was a vacation for me as our work in Haiti would be some of the easiest work I would ever complete, except for the mountain climbing. Don’t let that scare you, for most of you it would be a cakewalk. What I perceived and insisted was a ten-mile hike, my “MacGyver” teammates joyfully revealed to me that I had barely hiked a mile! I’m not really camping material and for those who know me, know exactly what I’m talking about. The breath taking mountain views and all that I would experience was certainly worth the “ten-mile” hikes. I treasure the seven days of being told where to be, what to do and when to be at the dinner table! Moms know that family vacations full of fun things to see and do don’t just magically happen. 

Our devotion time was an incredible learning experience for me. Samuel was clearly born to teach! He is oh so wise for such a young fellow! Admittedly, when the opportunity to be part of this team was presented to me I was nervous. So many of us allow the black cloud that looms over Haiti to keep us from what could be the experience of a lifetime. Reasons...aka excuses to back out of the trip crossed my mind until I received the email from Samuel that the tickets were purchased. Arriving at the CODEP compound and settling in I found myself obsessing over why God had led me to Haiti. I forced myself to stop and just enjoy the time with my new friends, besides God would reveal to me when the time was right and as always when I least expect it. 

Our work in Haiti was not what I initially expected. We were not going to build a Ti Kay (house) or build a school for children. We were there to build relationships with the Haitians and walk with them, not for them. Sounded pretty simple until I tried to understand and speak Creole. Thankfully, a smile is a smile and that was how I did most of my communicating. Throughout the years I have returned from a vacation or trip with thoughts that I would never forget that trip. I do remember the trips but I don’t always remember the people I’ve met, until Haiti. Trinity is blessed with incredible covenant partners and I’m grateful beyond words to have been given the opportunity to form closer friendships with Samuel, John, Katherine, Scott, Trisha, Tom and Brian. They are indeed a dynamic group to have as brothers and sisters in Christ! While at the CODEP compound we were blessed with wonderful hosts Jesse and Cassie, whose leadership was priceless and of course we all enjoyed spending time with Maria (our Zanmi) from Costa Rica. The Haitian children (my new friends or Zanmi) who stood at the compound gate calling my name will forever be with me. I will see their faces for a long time and if I start to lose their image, I can pull up the photos and view once again the sweetest faces I’ve ever seen. 

That black cloud that looms over Haiti is such an injustice to the Haitians for so many reasons. The media floods us with so many sad images of Haitians. I would like to share with you the happy images. I have never seen so many beautiful men, women and children. No make-up, no fancy hairstyles just flawless beautiful skin…natural-born beauty everywhere! I was equally astounded by the pride they displayed with their clothing. People everywhere were dressed in clean, crisp, beautiful clothing.  Not what I expected due to preconceived ideas. Haiti living conditions are indeed troubling yet their love for God is inspiring. There is so much more to write about and I look forward to sharing my experience with as many who will listen. I am happy to tell you that while dressing for church this morning and quite unexpectedly, God indeed revealed to me one reason I spent time in Haiti. That’s it, time! God helped me understand that like him I too, desire a deep, personal relationship with him. Learning to walk stronger with him so I too, can become a better teacher while serving him. My time was all I really had to share with the Haitians, especially the children and that was all they desired from me! Our time is the greatest gift we can give. God gives us what we need all in good time. There it is again…that word time, it’s everywhere! I will certainly take the time to strengthen my personal relationship with God and in time I will know what to do! It was so simple, I sure didn’t need to obsess about it!

Tom's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

As time passes the strongest memory of my trip to visit the CODEP project and the people of Haiti will be the way I emotionally responded to the Haitian community, starting with trepidation and remorse then changing to love, joy and hope by the weeks end.

Landing in Haiti and driving out of the city was an overload of sensory and emotional input.   The heat and smell of body odor in the crowded airport gave way to seemly endless views down narrow allies of trash and rubble filled streets lined with tents.  The rivers we crossed every 5 minutes are filled with trash and people bathing, there is no sanitation infrastructure, how can this be?   As we drove further towards our destination the city gave way to rural areas and small towns, less crowded, but still very poor, the town streets lined with simple vendors selling one or two items, such as a bowl of mangoes and some handmade brooms.     As a few days passed and I learned about the history and spirit of the Haitian people I began to push myself to open up to them, learn their language and engage in communication- however flawed or simple.  Doing this and spending time alongside the Haitian working or learning about their projects it became very obvious how joyful the people are, even in their lifestyle of living hand to mouth.  I was additionally drawn to the symbiotic relationship they had with their land, although through deforestation much damage has been done, the Haitians had a purpose for almost every plant, eating its fruit, using the flowers as a medicine or the wood and fronds to make homes.  I think this is what God intended. I felt a deep sense of joy after working and hiking in the mountains of Haiti especially while riding in the truck back towards our bunk house each day, with views of the mountains and simple farms in all directions.

Ultimately as the week drew to a close I had grown relatively comfortable initiating conversation with Haitians in the country, I shared simple facts about my family and life back home and even some advice to one young man about attending trade school in the US.  Leaving Haiti I shared hugs and honest thanks for getting to know the few young men who escorted us each day.   Flying home I sat next to an elderly Haitian lady who could not fill out her US customs card.   With hand gestures and a couple Creole words I offered to help her, something I wouldn’t have done the previous week. 

Brian's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

Our family returned from a short vacation on Thursday afternoon and my wife and kids unpacked, repacked and then set out for the North Carolina mountains around 4 pm on Friday.  After they left I began the task of unpacking my bags and started focusing on a task I haven't done in nearly ten years, pack my own clothes.  As I thought about what I should bring for the week long adventure to Haiti, that started bright and early the next morning, my mind began to fill with several "what if" scenarios.  What if the worn out "play clothes" I laid out on the bed weren't the right clothes to bring on this trip? Should I pack a few of my Columbia shirts?  I wanted to be as prepared as possible for the unknown so I quickly typed "what to wear on a Haiti mission trip" into the Google search bar, surely there would be several adequate articles to choose from that would tell me all I needed to know so that I wouldn't offend the Haitian people or misrepresent our group.  I found an article written by a long-term missionary that sharply pointed out several of the mistakes we "Westerners" make when visiting Haiti. After laughing through the article, I quickly unpacked my Columbia shirts and a few other items and stuck to the basics making sure I brought something dressy for the church service.  

The book When Helping Hurts was our assigned reading before we arrived in Haiti. Admittedly, I am not much of a reader so I downloaded the audio version and "read" away.  It wasn't until we reached the ticket lines at the Miami airport that I looked around and realized the truth in not only that book but also the blog I had read the night before.  There were several other mission groups/teams headed to other countries all around us; they completely stuck out in their "missional uniforms".  I wondered if their good intensions were going to make a significant impact or if they would just complete a few tasks from the "to do" list and head back home.  I was thankful for having been exposed to When Helping Hurts, it changed my perspective on what being missional means, how to be effective and to be conscience of any impact, intended or not, resulting from my actions.  

While in Haiti, we came across a construction site. There was a man using a very rudimentary tool to bend steel rebar; from what I witnessed it was extremely labor intensive and time consuming.  I noticed that there was a tool laying near the man that was specifically made to bend rebar.  Through a series of hand gestures I asked him why he wasn't using that tool. He returned the waving arm and hand gestures to me in a way that said "Oh yeah? Show me how to use it." So we began by placing one stick of the rebar into the tool and successfully bent the bar.  We did this a couple more times to show him how it was done. The smile on his face, and those of the other surrounding workers, encouraged me to try bending two bars at once. Once I did that I looked up and everyone was watching me bend these bars.  Then I remembered the book we had read and realized I shouldn't be doing the work for them.  I quickly stepped aside and gestured for the man to give the tool a try.  He complied and seemed genuinely happy that he could complete the bending of the stack of bars himself (and much more quickly).

One of my bigger realizations was how similar our countries were. I noticed we have both impoverished communities that suffer from the same struggles. Although not usually  to the extreme as what we witnessed in Port Au Prince. Our countries also have much beauty too. Haiti had an abundance  of smiling faces and beautiful scenery. There was a since of community there that I would not have noticed had it not been for my readings. It was evident that they had community because it was a central requirement  to the success of their rebuilding efforts. I have a much better since of the importance of community and the community of Gods people. Its apparent  that even in the worst conditions, unshaken faith, community efforts, and working for Gods glory, can over time, accomplish (positive results). 

Friday, July 26, 2013

John's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

We serve an awesome Lord!  We, the mission group, arrived in Haiti late Saturday afternoon, July 13, 2013.  The next morning we were up early, loaded on the CODEP truck and transported for 1 & 1/2 hours to a local church up in the mountains.  I asked my Lord, "Why am I here, what could I possibly learn from this experience"?  The entire service was presented in Creole.  I did not speak the language and the local parishioners did not speak nor understand English.  The church was tin roofed, pole side structure in the open.  It filled to capacity by the start of the service and even though I could not understand the language, I experienced an awesome, profound and humbling learning experience.  The melody of a number of the hymns were recognizable but I could not sing the words as they were in Creole.  Then my eyes were opened to a congregation of devout, happy, friendly people.  Poor in worldly goods, but rich in their belief and worship of our Lord and God!  This was all apparent in their body language, their eyes and their smiles.  When the congregation greeting was performed, everyone mingled through the entire church, front to back, extending greetings to all.  Especially noticeable was the effort, by all, to shake the hands of each of our mission group!

That morning, I leaned that our gracious Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ loves everything and everyone he created.  In that structure everyone was the same.  We witnessed the joy in the eyes and actions of the Haitians.  One can be poor in worldly goods, but our Lord loves us all the same.  I am greatly appreciative for this opportunity to visit Haiti with this fantastic mission group with the dynamic leader we went with.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back from Haiti!

I just returned from a week long "Vision Trip" to Haiti and it was an amazing experience! We call this type of trip a "Vision Trip" rather than a "Mission Trip" because our focus is not on a short term mission or objective but rather a long term vision and partnership that comes through experiential learning. If you haven't read about the difference between relief and development, I encourage you to read the same book we did in preparing for this trip, When Helping Hurts. I also encourage you that while I will share some of our experiences here in this blog to reach out to those who recently went on this trip and ask them to share with you their stories, experiences, and thoughts. This year the team was Scott and Tricia Jordan, Tom Campbell, Brian Saunders, Katherine Finnell, Lila Buescher, and John Juarez. Click on a team member's name to read one of their stories during the trip that was impactful to them.

While we have three mission partners in Haiti, CODEP is perhaps the one that encompasses long term redevelopment and self-sustainability the best. When CODEP was founded 23 years ago, the work began by recruiting Haitians with the promise of long term help. Rather than giving handouts that create dependency, CODEP devised a plan of incenitives which the Haitians could work towards. The Haitians were allowed into the program once they planted and began to take care of 500 trees. As they continued to care for these burgeoning forests they earned points towards incentives like cisterns and homes. Those initial trees eventually turned into lush forests that provide shade for other growth and prevent flooding. As the Haitians began growing enough food to survive on, for the first time in their lives they began to think about what it would mean to leave something for their children. Today, CODEP has worked so well that those first groups have surpluses of self sustainable farms which they can sell and use to send their children to school. So many other Haitians have seen this being successful that another group, CODEP 2, has been formed, this time with an entirely Haitian board of directors from the first CODEP group. We had the opportunity to hike in and see the result of one of these initial forests that has become a model of what Haiti can become and once was - the Jewel of the Caribbean. As this forest grew, one of the most amazing moments for the Haitians was when they heard the first sounds of birds. As the land had been stripped of all trees in the past, the birds and their songs had left, but now with this restoration their songs and new life can be heard again. Listen for the birds in the background of this video:

One of the other initiatives of CODEP is teaching the Haitian people how to do agriculture and aquaculture. The shade provided by the new forests allows for new growth of trees and produce that can't stand the full sun, and prevents flooding that would normally wash away these crops. These farms produce coffee, cocoa, mangos, bananas, avocados, potatoes, peanuts, pumpkins, and corn to name a few. There is also an effort to raise fish to increase the protein in the Haitian diet done through Tilapia farms. Here's a video as we transferred some new fish into their home for the next 3 months while they grow to an edible size:

While we were there we did have the opportunity to work with the Haitians who are a part of CODEP. We spent some time working in the guest compound and model garden which is used in hosting teams and teaching agricultural techniques. We also had the chance to hike up the mountain and paint a home (a Ti-chi) that a Haitian family had earned through years of consistent work and reforestation.

The hospitality of this family was amazing! Though they had very little we were blown away that we were provided with a delicious cinnamon coffee and bread at the beginning of our work and then a wonderful meal served on the best plates gathered from around the local community. A woman even hiked out a mile or so so that us Americans could have sodas! While we were able to do some manual labor, I can promise you that every team member will agree, that we gained so much throughout our trip that what we contributed pales in comparison.

As a reminder, you can support this partner through regular prayer. Pray specifically for the leadership of CODEP as the Haitians begin to take more and more control of CODEP. The goal is by 2017 for CODEP to be completely self sustainable and run by the Haitian people. Pray also for CODEP 2 as it begins new forests in new regions of Haiti. CODEP in general is very low on funding so those in CODEP 2 are working for free with the hope that one day, years from now, they will see results from their efforts and perhaps some of the incentives like homes, cisterns, and fish ponds that the original CODEP has enjoyed. We support CODEP through our General Fund, but if you'd like to give beyond your regular offering you can always designate funds specifically for this or any other mission partner.

The greatest part of the trip for me was reconnecting to the Haitians of CODEP. I was able to see familiar faces again and continue our relationships that had began last year, and that began with Trinity years ago. I hope that we can continue this relationship and these "Vision Trips" to CODEP. If you have any interest at all in going next summer, let me know! You can comment below, email, call, Facebook, or even talk to me in person! Due to logistics we have only 10 spots available each year, so don't hesitate if you feel called to this.

You can check out more photos of our trip here!

Katherine's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

In the first pre-Haiti trip meeting I met the seven people who were going to be my trip companions. After some chatting we realized that all of us regularly attended the 9 am service at Trinity. Some had been coming for many years and some were fairly new. At the time I had not realized how sad it was that we were meeting each other for the first time under these conditions. We met twice more to get to know each other and to learn more about the trip we were about to take. 

We were thoroughly under prepared for the devastating poverty we faced moments after landing in Port-Au-Prince. Children were running down the lanes of tent cities that stretched for far longer than I was comfortable watching. The roadways were packed with people, goats, crazy drivers, and were poorly maintained. It was extremely unsafe. Any standing concrete structures were abandoned and roofless. Haiti's government offers little to no medical care, job opportunities, or public schooling for its people. All of this was quite difficult to stomach.

My teammates and I were in the same van experiencing this despair at the same time. Throughout the week we came together for lunch, for small chats, and for a devotional. We worked through our understanding of such extreme poverty and what it meant to be a wealthy Christian among these people. 

My companions and I had the opportunity to sit and eat lunch with a Haitian family of a Ti Kay (small home) recipient. Venus and his family had earned this Ti Kay from years of work at a co-op call CODEP. His wife cooked all day and graciously fed us large portions of coffee, bread, beans, rice, and a soda. She had neighbors bring in fancy plates and silverware and had them stay for lunch too. We could barely communicate but we bonded just by sitting and being in the moment. They shared joy and peace with us in a magnitude that I had not previously experienced. They shared all they had with us and their neighbors generously. I truly understood the "love your neighbor as yourself" clearly at that moment. We live hundreds of miles away and they gave us everything they had. 

When my team got back to the compound where we were living that week I realized what a true tragedy it was that I barely knew any of my travel companions. I felt loved by strangers I could not speak to in an impoverished country more so than in my 9 am church service. Worse than that, I scarcely share love to my neighbors and network of people. I have not taken the time or effort to bond and cherish the people in my home community. 

I now deeply feel that God has called us to come together and worship him as a community not as individuals. Not merely sitting in the same room at the same time, but deeply bonding with each other. Loving one another as if our lives depended on it.         

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fostering Neighborhood Community

Over Memorial Day weekend we had some visitors from Australia at Kaleidoscope Church who spoke to us about how they missionally live their lives out for the gospel in a context where more and more people won't come on Church campuses but rather we must go or be sent out to them! Pastor Michael shared in that sermon (click here to listen to it) a text from Jeremiah about how Israel was called to seek the welfare of the city that they had been taken off to in exile (Jeremiah 29:4-7):

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." 

Of course during our whole Tangible Kingdom Study we learned together about being missional and recently I shared a blog post about the importance of investing in our neighborhoods. Well, I wanted to share with you an online tool that seems to be effective at helping build community in neighborhoods called NextDoor.

NextDoor is a private social network for your neighborhood. In other words, its an online version of your local neighborhood community. It helps facilitate conversations between neighbors that might never have happened before and unlike Facebook it's simpler, just for your neighborhood and meant to help foster real interactions between neighbors. I recently tried using it in the neighborhood I'm living in right now and so far I've been impressed to see the community already becoming closer. Just the other day I was able to loan a box fan to a mom who was having a crisis as she couldn't keep her carpets dry from a leak! A couple who have attended Trinity occasionally has been leading neighborhood beautification days and connecting with not only other Trinity attenders but the entire community. We had a neighborhood garage sale day and there are even neighbors who are helping Pastor Benita out with our move down the street while I'm in Haiti on July 17th!!! This is all within the first couple of months of experimenting with NextDoor. I hope in the future to host some neighborhood parties or even a neighborhood bible study through NextDoor and the relationships it has helped create. At this point there are over 80 neighbors in my neighborhood who are communicating more, working together, and getting to know each other!

As we seek to be missional, to connect to others, and create authentic relationships within our communities I commend this tool to you! Try it out and let me know if you have similar successes! Click this link to get started. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ezra's Baptism

We're having trouble accepting that it has already been just about four months since our son Ezra was born. Time truly goes by so fast!!! We're looking forward to celebrating Ezra's baptism at the end of this month. On June 30th we'll welcome Ezra into the covenantal family of God during the 10:30 am service.

This is a great time to remember our own baptisms as we celebrate this sacrament and also to reflect on what baptism signifies. Baptism is one of the two sacraments or mysteries that Jesus commanded his followers to do, the other of course is the Lord's Supper. He said "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:18). Baptism has many meanings that can be tied to this mystery like the faithfulness of God, the washing away of sin, rebirth, putting on the fresh garment of Christ, being sealed by God's Spirit, or the resurrection and illumination in Christ. While all these elements are in operation, the primary function of baptism is the adoption of an individual into the covenant family of the Church. It is a sign and seal of incorporation into Christ - being made a part of his body, the Church. Paul writes "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." Just as the Lord's Supper celebrates our continued oneness or communion with each other and Christ through the Spirit, baptism is the initial joining to this body.

Some churches choose to do a baby dedication, rather than a baptism. A dedication means that the family has decided to dedicate this child to God. They are dedicated to raising them in the Lord with the hope that one day they will choose for themselves to enter into the family of God. Until that day however, they aren't really a part of their Church family or the body of Christ. They are outsiders to the family!

Those who practice infant baptism, on the other hand, believe that our children are a part of God's covenant family. We welcome children into the covenant family without any undue delay following the example of Jesus as he said "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10:14). Jesus, and the Jewish people, had a very familial understanding of being God's people. Paul compares the Exodus to baptism in 1 Corinthians 10 when he says "I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ." The Israelites didn't leave their children behind and cross through the Red Sea without them. No! The call to be in relationship with God, to be part of God's family was for entire families, all of Israel, not just individuals. God's covenantal family continues in the New Testament as well as the call to entire families and peoples, especially in Acts where there are multiple examples of whole households and families being baptized. Peter says in Acts 2:39 "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call."

We're so excited that Ezra, as a part of our family, is called by God to be a part of our Church family, the body of Christ. As our denomination, ECO, expresses in the Essential Tenets of our faith: "We confess our confidence in God's gracious initiative, that a baby who cannot turn to God is nonetheless claimed as a member of the covenant community, a child of God, cleansed by grace and sealed in the Spirit." We truly believe that he is fully included in God's covenant promises and that he is completely a part of our church family, the family of God. We thank you so much for being our brothers and sisters in Christ and for being fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers in Christ to our son as he joins this wonderful and loving covenant family through baptism.