Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lessons - Becky

Tomorrow (Thursday, December 29) we will have been here in Jinotega, Nicaragua for three months. That's a whole season. In some ways it feels like we have been here a long time. We are fairly comfortable getting around town, and our Spanish is getting better all the time. We have already made friends with many people locally. But, in other ways it's like we just got here. We're still not in a house, and we're still figuring out how our daily life needs to flow to accomplish the goals we have set. We do have friends, but we don't know enough Spanish yet to have really deep relationships. I guess we're in an "in between" stage right now, which puts me in the mood for reflection and introspection. Before I get started afresh on various projects, I want to share with you some things I have learned so far while being here:

Lesson 1 - Moving to a different country does not automatically make me a different person.

Yes, I am always changing as a person and growing as a Christian, which led to my coming here. However, I find that I have followed myself here. My habits (good and bad), preferences, and corny sense of humor are all still present. My personality hasn't changed, though it does sometimes play out differently in the different situations I find myself in. I still have the same pet sins (darn it!). I still have the same coping mechanisms for stress. But, I also have the same God. It is very comforting to know that He followed me here too. (Or, rather, I followed Him.)

Lesson 2 - Life can be very draining, and it is important to recharge.

So far our experience has been that it takes more effort and energy to do even simple, everyday things. The language barrier plays into this, obviously, as well as not always knowing how to go about doing things in this location and culture. Anytime we need to go anywhere, we have to take the time and effort to figure out how we're going to get there. (Is there a mission vehicle available? Do we have money for a taxi? Is it close enough just to walk? Etc.) There are almost always lots of people around, and even though that can be a good thing, it takes its toll on us introverts. There are all sorts of little "life" things I could add to this list that wear us out bit by bit every day. Things that we took for granted before are all just slightly harder here, so our "baseline" stress level is higher. Because of that, it is so important for us take the time to gain back that energy. Whether we do that through the obvious things like sleeping, eating, praying, etc. or by vegging for a time on the Internet, those times of being refilled are crucial. Many times we feel like we should always be "doing" something, but to do that would leave us without anything left to give. There has to be a balance.

Lesson 3 - However, sometimes we just have to suck it up and "do" things anyway.

Life is rarely ideal, and it seems so far like things are even less ideal here. Communication is always an issue. Planning (whether too much or too little) is always an issue. Often those two come together and we find that there was a plan, but it was not communicated. In those moments, we just have to ignore how low our energy is at the time, pray for strength and wisdom, and do whatever needs to be done. There is a sign in the dining room at the mission which says, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape." We find ourselves needing to live by this quote every single day.

Lesson 4 - In order to be transformed into better, more Christ-like people, our old self has to die.

There is an awful lot I could say about this, and most of you are probably already well-acquainted with the truth of this statement. But, this concept is fresh in my mind as I have been reading "Mere Christianity" (by C.S. Lewis) and thinking about some of the stresses I have been dealing with lately. To sum up Lewis' words, when Jesus says to "be perfect as [he] is perfect," he is serious. However, that perfection comes from him (Jesus, not Lewis). In fact, what he offers us is perfection and nothing less. When we choose to live a life in Christ, we are choosing to allow him to work in us in order to present us perfect to God. We certainly can't be perfect on our own, so he has to do it. But, giving him free reign of our entire being is so hard because we know that doing so will bring our imperfections to light. Right now I definitely feel like many of my imperfections are being brought to light, and I don't like it. I know, though, that going through this process is ultimately bringing me closer to God, which makes it make sense. I recently read John chapter 16, and the last verse (v. 33) was very comforting to me:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Lesson 5 - I think I would like life on a ship.

Okay, I'll have to explain this one a little more. Most of you probably know that I am into Science Fiction. I like Star Trek and Star Wars and most shows that have something to do with living in space. I realized a while back (before moving here) that one of the main things that appeals to me about those shows is that, usually, there is some sort of ship or space station or something where all of the people are living and working together. They don't have "houses"--or even "rooms"--but "quarters." The reason the people are there together is because they have some objective that they are working toward, whether it be fighting the enemy or simply exploring. The characters have relationships with each other that are both personal and professional. It occurred to me one day that I longed for that type of situation, and on many levels I think I have now achieved it. I am living in "unknown territory" with a team of people who I both work and play with to accomplish a set purpose. We are exploring more of this place all the time, and new "characters" are being introduced into our lives. We are constantly up against spiritual enemies who would seek to undermine our work, but we already know that we win at the end of the story. Alright, maybe this metaphor is incredibly dramatic and cheesy to you, but it helps me to stay on track. :)

Wow, well, I hope all of my "lessons" didn't depress you. I realize it may sound like life here is so hard and stressful all the time. Really, overall we are very happy to be here. The thing is, life is hard, regardless of where you are. The things I said (mostly) could apply to anyone at any time in any place. As I think of these things as a whole, I guess the bottom line to me is that I keep seeing God at work in my life. To try to take Him out of the equation doesn't even compute with me. While it's easy for it to get convoluted, I know that my life has a purpose, and instead of feeling pressure and guilt at not always knowing how to fulfill that purpose, I can rejoice that God is the one leading the way and that He knows what He's doing.

Blessings,
-Becky

Friday, December 23, 2011

Feliz Navidad - Becky

Merry Christmas, everyone! The mission where we are working and (currently) living is closed for the holidays (all in all, the last two weeks of December), so we are enjoying some time "off" until the New Year. In that time, though, our Hope for Life team has been meeting to discuss our goals and strategies for 2012. We talked about what we want to accomplish as a group, as well as what people hope to do individually. Right now those lists are pretty long, so we're excited to see what God has us do in the New Year.

Other than meeting with our team, Tommy and I have been trying to do what we can to experience Christmas in spite of being away from home and our family. Apparently, we waited too long to go looking for a tree (the only ones that would have been available are fake trees, but those were all gone), so we ended up making one by draping a cardboard frame with green cloth. I think it came out pretty good, considering. We also put up some lights, garland, and a few decorations we brought from home. We're not really able to exchange gifts with our family this year, but our group is planning a "White Elephant" party Christmas Eve after we all go out for dinner together.

Speaking of dinner, something that has been really nice for me is that, with the mission closed right now, Tommy and I have free reign in the kitchen. I am at a place in my "culture shock" cycle where I really need a break from the local food. It has been so nice to bring back food from the grocery store and cook our own meals. Once we get in our house* that should be the norm, but until then I am enjoying this window of time where I don't have to share the kitchen. If all goes well, I hope to make some Christmas cookies this afternoon.

It has been weird not being home in Charleston during this holiday time, and we miss our family very much. It has been interesting trying to evaluate what really makes it "Christmas" to us, and so much of that involves our family and things that we do in Charleston with them. Of course, Christmas is all about Christ and about giving to others, but we're in a life situation where we're supposed to be focusing on Christ and on trying to love others every single day. I can honestly say that I do think of those things (and on a practical level) more now than I ever have. That doesn't mean that I always act on them like I should (I try!), but working with Misión para Cristo (Mission for Christ), I hear about Jesus all the time. (This is a good thing.) I have read various blogs and statuses on facebook talking about how we need to keep Christ is Christmas, but I struggle with how to do that in my current situation, how to make Christmas different from any other time. Well, I guess that's a good problem to have.

Anyway, I hope that each of you has a very wonderful Christmas and that the New Year brings awesome opportunities for you and your family.

Love in Christ,
-Becky & Tommy

*Update on our House situation: We have decided not to go with Oscar's house because he is not ready to part with it yet (and that's okay because the Hennigers have really enjoyed having him for a neighbor). However, Joel, Oscar's brother and the Hennigers' landlord, has another house on the other side of town (about a mile and a half from the Hennigers) that he has gutted and is rebuilding. Taking that house will leave our group spread out around the town, which we think is better so that we can impact more of the community. (Of course, the whole city is only 2 miles long anyway.) This house should have good space for visitors, and it has enough of a "backyard" that we can experiment with some gardening and composting. The only thing is that it isn't finished being built yet. We have been checking on it every week and progress is being made, but we're still waiting. Meanwhile, we're very thankful to Benny and Donner Baker for letting us continue to stay at the mission.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nicaragua Top 10

Hello, y'all! We have been keeping ourselves busy here in Nicaragua. I am working on our Fall Newsletter and hope to have a longer blog post for you soon. Meanwhile, here is my Top 10 List of things that are "special" to me about Nicarauga: :)

10. Being able to walk to most places I need to go in town.

9. Really good coffee.

8. Riding standing up in the backs of trucks.

7. Laughing with the Nicaraguans at the little ironies of life. (There are a lot of those here.)

6. The enthusiasm with which even the adults sing the "fun" songs in church.

5. The impressed looks on their faces when I properly use Spanish slang.

4. Random animals everywhere.

3. Gallo pinto (rice and beans), pollo (chicken), and tortillas. Every. Single. Day. (Well, almost.)

2. Not flushing toilet paper.

and

1. The ability to wear skinny jeans, not because I am skinnier (only slightly so far) but because no one here cares how fat you are.


Have a great day, everyone,
-Becky

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So Far So Good! - Tommy

Hey there everybody! Becky and I have been in Nicaragua since September 29th. So far things have been going very well. Neither of us have gotten sick or hurt or anything like that. We are currently living at Mision Para Cristo (www.misionparacristo.com) in the city of Jinotega. We are partnering with Mision Para Cristo to implement our goat ministry projects and to assist them with their ongoing work in the region. Below are some highlights thus far...

- Tuesday, October 4th - David, Chris and myself work with our Nicaraguan brothers to transport fence post for the construction of a new church building in the city of Pantasma. Check out the video here...

http://thegoatlife.smugmug.com/Other/Nicaragua-Videos-October-2011/19319513_MzJTm3#1527770104_WhvwDh9

- All three families (Browns, Counts, Hennigers) have been looking for houses to rent in the city of Jinotega. Living at the mission is a temporary situation and we are all wanting to rent our own houses. Check out some videos here...

http://thegoatlife.smugmug.com/Other/Nicaragua-Videos-October-2011/19319513_MzJTm3#1519784554_NVdkkTG

- We have all been studying Spanish with our Nicaraguan tutor, Tania. She has been an invaluable help to us as we struggle to speak a new language.

- The local church here in Jinotega is AWESOME! The brothers and sisters here have been so loving and welcoming towards us. We have service Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Tuesday evening and Thursday evening. Right from the get go all the guys have been asked to lead prayers and serve on the Lord's table. I was even asked when I was going to preach! Being a part of the body of Christ here in Jinotega has been a HUGE blessing to us!

- David and Chris and I went over to Matagalpa (a city about an hour away) and met with a man who owns a farm where he raises pure bred goats! We were all very excited about this since up until that time we had only seen scraggly looking native bred goats that did not seem suitable for our projects. Check out the video here...

http://thegoatlife.smugmug.com/Other/Nicaragua-Videos-October-2011/19319513_MzJTm3#1549243306_6CzmTDB

- We had a group of six from Grapevine church in Texas join us for the last week of October. They worked to rebuild an old run down school house that wasn't being used. They also rebuilt the swing set at the school and administered anti-parasite medicine to the children at the school at the other children and adults in the community. Check out some pictures of their work here...

http://thegoatlife.smugmug.com/Travel/Nicaragua/Nicaragua-Photos/19963112_KprkhX#1572187380_T3gZCPx

- During that same week we had Jonathan and Sheila Holland with the Site for Sore Eyes Foundation visiting with us as well. They went to several schools and an army base and used special equipment that they brought with them to check children's eyesight. Any child that needed glasses was fitted for and given a new set of eyeglasses. The adult teachers at the schools and other adults in the community were also able to benefit from their work. Check out some pictures of their work here...

http://photos.misionparacristo.com/MisionParaCristo2011/Sight-To-Sore-Eyes-102611/19762714_pB9g2x#1552462152_Bh6RQz7

- Also that week I went with some of the Nicaraguan brothers to a town called Nueva Segovia to distibute food to folks stricken from flood waters brought on by three weeks of non stop rain here in Nicaragua. I rode in the back of a box truck for 14 hours roundtrip which was an adventure in itself but it was certainly worth the opportunity to serve the residents of Nueva Segovia. All food was distributed through the local church in order to help them build better relationships with the people in that city. You can see some pictures from that day here...

http://photos.misionparacristo.com/MisionParaCristo2011/Food-Relief-To-Residents-of/19759309_8SGHmn#1552043923_Mqs4S7z

- Immediatley following that very busy week, we all headed down to Costa Rica for the Pan American Lecturship series. We stayed four nights in downtown San Jose and three nights near La Fortuna at the Arenal Hotel Manoa at the base of an active volcano! It was a great time to meet with other folks who are working for Christ in Central and South America and also with brothers and sisters from the States who support mission work.

Now we are back home in Jinotega Nicaragua and trying to organize ourselves to be able to tackle more work. We are ready to take the next step with our goat ministry projects and the Hennigers just got the keys to their rental house and are moving out of the mission tomorrow.

Please pray for us all as we work to learn Spanish and seek housing in Jinotega. Becky and I are still in need of partners who will help support us financially on a monthly basis. If you or someone you know would like to help out with that just go to our website, www.thegoatlife.com and click on the "donate now" button.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oscar

I want to share with you all an experience we had yesterday. Tommy and I were walking around Jinotega and decided to go see (the front of) a house we are interested in renting (since it was relatively nearby). Our thought was that it would be good to know how long it would take to walk back to the mission from the house, and it was also good to get more of a feel for the "neighborhood." We had previously seen the inside of this house and really liked it. At that time we had our translator with us while the owner, Oscar, showed us around. Well, when we got to the house yesterday, while we were staring at the outside, the door popped open and, lo and behold, there was Oscar. This was especially awkward at first because 1) he didn't know we were going to be there and 2) we didn't have our translator with us. We tried to explain (in Spanish) that we had just been in the area, and I guess he understood, though he did ask where our translator was. So, we stood there and chatted for a while using what Spanish we knew. At one point Tommy was joking about how he needs to drink more water instead of Coke here in Nicaragua to lessen his gut, and Oscar went and got each of us a glass of water to drink. Normally we wouldn't drink water unless we knew exactly where it came from, but in this situation we really couldn't NOT drink it. But, it was cool and tasted good, and our guts seem to be pretty much fine. After we had stood outside for a solid amount of time, Oscar invited us in to sit in the living room. He ended up turning on the TV, so the three of us sat and watched the news (apparently there are interesting things happening in Venezuela) and chatted. He told us about his family and we about ours. We talked about the weather (it has been very cold and rainy the past few days). He offered us bananas to eat. It was very cool because, even though we didn't have a translator, we felt very comfortable talking with him. Actually, he reminds both of us very much of our friend Jason Knight. Oscar and Jason have the same laid back--though particular about certain things--demeanor. Oscar is an electrician, and, like with Jason, you can look at him and tell that he has been doing hard work. We were able to get our Nica friend (who is also our translator) to call him today and set up a meeting for Monday to see about making arrangements to rent the house. There are things about the house that we would like to see updated, and there are other things we may just have to live with, but "randomly" running into Oscar was confirmation that we should do business with this guy. Interestingly, Oscar's brother owns the house that the Hennigers are in the process of trying to rent, and he is known to be a good Christian guy. I am very thankful that God is making clear paths for us here and that we are forming good relationships with the locals. One of the main things we loved about Nicaragua when we visited in January was the people. I'm very glad to say that is still true.

-Becky

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Making Progress

We have now been here 12 days (Thursday will be 2 weeks), and just today we were able to set up our computers in a spot where we don't constantly have to get them out and put them away. We went to Managua yesterday where we shopped at PriceSmart (Costco) and bought two small folding tables so that we could set up our "office" in our temporary room at the mission. Hopefully it will be easier now to post updates, and we finally have our Magic Jack phone set up to receive calls all the time. For those who may not have seen Tommy's facebook status, our number is 843-647-1626. Calling this number (price-wise) is just like calling Charleston, SC. If we don't answer, you can leave a voice-mail message that gets sent to Tommy's e-mail. Our Internet access is somewhat sketchy (our network tends to drop off periodically and then come right back on), but at least our room is close enough to the wireless router that we can get 2 to 3 bars of service. Tommy finally figured out how to get his videos to load, so be checking facebook and our website for those.

Our Spanish is getting better. We have two ladies who give us personal Spanish lessons, although if we have something significant going on in a particular day--which happens a lot--we end up either skipping our lessons or bringing our teachers with us so that we can ask them questions along the way. I can tell that it is easier to understand what is being said at church and in our morning devotionals. We're learning more of the hymns too. It's starting to get hard at this point, though, because our brains are so exhausted from learning and experiencing so many things. It's also getting tricky to remember correct English (ha!). Overall, communication with Nicaraguans is pretty good, though we certainly have a lot of room for improvement.

Today we saw a house that we are 99% sure we want to rent. Tommy shot video of it, so I won't try to describe it now. The cool thing is that it is on the same block as the house the Hennigers want to rent. We really like that "our" house has a lot of room, plenty of space for friends and family to come visit (*hint*hint*). :) However, the house still needs a lot of work before we could move into it. I'm not sure how muck time that will take. We'll see. It's just exciting to have an image in my mind of what my house will look like.

Well, that's about all my brain can come up with right now. We have been pretty busy doing stuff, and when we aren't doing stuff we're so exhausted that we just sit and don't do anything. Now that I have easier access to my computer, I'll try to post more often and tell you about the things that we have been doing.

Hasta luego,
-Becky

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Acclimating - Becky

Well, we're here! After a very long day of traveling on Thursday we finally arrived here in Jinotega late that afternoon. After dinner that night and a few phone calls home we went to bed for some much needed sleep. We slept in to about 8 AM on Friday. We ate lunch out at a place called Papa Gayo (sp?) that serves both Mexican and Italian food. (BTW, the food here is not really like Mexican food that you get at a Mexican restaurant in the States. It is much simpler and less spicy, but we can explain more about that another day.) For my drink I ordered a "limonade," which I expected to be a regular lemonade, but we all had an awkward moment when the waitress presented something that looked to be a fancy mixed drink. Upon further inspection, I think they just put regular lemonade stuff (water, lemon juice, sugar) in a blender with some salt to make it all frothy, but as we're definitely in a "no alcohol" situation, it was pretty funny. That afternoon we were supposed to go look at a rental property, but the owner was not available. Instead, we went to a cellular phone store so that David Henniger could get a local cell phone, and then to Pali, one of the grocery store chains here. Along the way we purchased some plastic clothes hangers from a street vendor. That night our team had a devotional. Today we had breakfast at a coffee shop, and then we walked around and checked out various stores. We also got to check out a new grocery store on the other end of town, which we all thought was a little nicer than Pali. For dinner tonight we will be having chicken (purchased at Pali yesterday), and rice and beans and fruit (purchased at the street market this morning). This will be our first chance to have rice and beans here, which is surprising considering how often we had it on our trip here in January. After I finish this post, I hope to organize our "stuff" that is currently haphazardly strewn around our room and in our travel crates.

Time is different here. While the U.S. is still in Daylight Savings Time, there is a 2 hour time difference (after you "Fall Back" the difference will only be 1 hour). However, Sunrise and Sunset are about 2 hours earlier here, so when you are experiencing 7 AM there, our 5 AM feels like your 7 AM. We awake to many birds chirping, buses hoking, and market vendors advertising their wares, as well as random Latin music (and sometimes the odd song from the U.S.). Side Note: I find that certain styles of music here, such as rap and dance music, don't bother me like they would in the U.S. because I can't yet understand what they are saying. Thank the Lord for small blessings. :) Anyway, there is a lot of activity here (on the streets, which we can hear perfectly well here at the mission) in the morning, and it really doesn't stop until around 5 to 5:30 PM when the sun goes down. As for our own activities, we have learned that it is best not to expect too much. It is enough to pick one goal for the day that we're in, and if that goal doesn't work out (which is apt to happen), we just pick another goal and move on. It really is a "one day at a time" culture. Planning too far ahead can lead to disappointment. That is fine, though, as it is good to have time just to get used to things here. The best analogy I can think of is of wood planks you might use to put together a hard wood floor. The planks need a certain amount of time to sit in your house and acclimate before you can install them. So, right now we're just "acclimating" to our new situation. It is a bit of an emotional ride, but overall things have been good. Like I said before, we just have to think about one day at a time (sometimes it's more like one hour at a time). Well, that's about all I've got right now. Feel free to comment with any questions you might have about Nicaragua.

Until later,
-Becky

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Hour Is Upon Us...

Well, it's 2:30 am and I think we are ready to go. The flight leaves at 6:00 am so we need to leave here to go to the airport at 4:30 am. I hope that we remembered to do all the little things that needed to be done. I hope that we have packed everything that we need. I pray that our hearts have been made ready for this journey.

It's been a very long summer, lot's of good times but also some of the most difficult times I have experienced in my life. It's been great to travel and visit with brothers and sisters in different places, we have been encouraged so much lately!

It's hard to express how real God has become to us over the course of the last year. It's hard to express everything that is in my head and my heart right now, I am very tired. Life has becoming more and more surreal each and every day. It feels like God has taken the fabric of my life and unwoven it back down to the individual fibers so that He can craft it again into something new.

Days of the week just don't really mean much anymore, so many of the signposts that usually guide me through the days and the weeks and the months and the years are gone now. The passage of time has become some what of a blur. It seems kind of crazy that I am sitting here now ready to go. I can still remember when we first made the decision to move to Nicaragua.

I really don't know what the future holds for us down there (well duh...nobody knows the future!) but I pray that Becky and I along with the Counts and the Hennigers will be used in a mighty way for God to be glorified and for many to come to salvation in Christ Jesus.

Thanks to all of you who have been and will continue to be praying for us and thanks to everyone who has supported us financially, it has been very humbling to receive so much love from everybody! I hope that you will continue to keep an eye on us here at this blog and also at our website, www.thegoatlife.com.

God bless you all, next stop Nicaragua!

Tommy

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

T Minus 1 Week! - Becky

It was brought to our attention tonight that we need to do a better job of posting regularly, so I thought I would take this opportunity to update you on what we're feeling right now. Sorry if it's kind of jumbled; I'm tired, but I want to get this up here tonight because I know tomorrow will be busy.

We are now a week away from being in Nicaragua. Our flight leaves at around 6:00 AM next Thursday, September 29, so we should arrive in Managua around 11:20 AM (Nica time). As soon as we leave the plane, we should be greeted by the smiling faces of our friends who are already there. We are definitely excited about going, but the idea of leaving in just a week does feel a little weird. I don't know if it has truly sunk in yet that the loved ones we see so casually now are about to be out of reach for so long. The time is close enough now that it has, sadly, become apparent that there are things we really don't have time to do and people we really don't have time to see before we go.

However, there are a lot of things we have gotten to do and people we have gotten to see this summer. We have been so blessed by the friends we have had the privilege of spending time with. I know I have keenly felt the sinews holding the body of Christ together regardless of time and space. As we have dealt with the stress from various issues this summer, the support of these people has been invaluable. It's crazy that "the Body" seems to have a lot of shared frustrations right now. It's clear to me that God is working on and through a lot of people right now. We certainly live in an interesting age. (Yes, I know that God is always working in our lives, but He seems to be especially stirring the pot right now.)

Speaking of God working in our lives, just when we were thinking we would have no choice but to do a short sale of our house, we got a renter! It's crazy, I had a feeling all along that God would take care of everything, and so far He has. But, we were sweatin' it there for a few months, especially in the last weeks. I believe we had 19 sales showings and around 11 rental showings before we finally got our renter. Now we just need to find a good home to rent in Nicaragua. Our friends who are already there in Jinotega are still looking for good properties. Hopefully it will be easier for us since we don't have any children to consider.

It has been pretty cool getting to Skype with our team members since they got there. Seeing their familiar faces against familiar backdrops makes us even more eager to join them. We have been encouraged by reports of interest from the locals in our projects. So far I'm seeing open doors and fertile ground, though there are distinct challenges as well. I'm very curious to get there and to speak with the Nicaraguans myself (in Spanish! - well, soon). There is actually a woman who works for the mission who has recently become the language teacher. She has already been working with our friends, and I am anxious to see what she can do for us too. Learning Spanish is extremely important to us, so I'm happy to know that I'll have one-on-one time with my own personal teacher.

Well, it isn't quite time to pack our stuff yet, but I'm sure we will begin doing that in the next few days. We've actually been doing a lot of packing for all of the trips we have taken lately, so now that we're home for a week until we go for real, it is good to just "be" for a little bit. We are starting to go a little crazy, though, trying to balance getting the last minute stuff done with just enjoying the last of our time here. In some ways we wish it were already time to go, as hanging around here waiting for Thursday does make us feel anxious. Prayers are appreciated for us and especially for our family members. We are going to miss everyone dearly.

-Becky

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Helping People - Becky

From the time I was a little kid in VBS to when I was baptized as a 13-year-old to now, I have done a lot of growing.  I have gone through various stages where I have thought different things and acted in different ways.  At the best of times I have legitimately tried to do what God wanted me to do; at the worst I have striven for my own interests.  But, I'd like to think that I have generally been open to new and better ideas, or at least deeper levels to good ideas I already had.  Even now, though I believe that what I believe is right, I have no doubt that something will happen to make me throw out something I currently think for something better.  This is not to say that I am fickle or wishy-washy; I carefully examine a new thought before I accept it.  Nonetheless, I am open to accepting new thoughts.  (Of course, it helps that I have a standard, the Word of God, by which to judge things.)

Something that has recently become a new thought to me is the idea of helping people.  Okay, I knew that it was good to be nice to people and to help someone pick up their books if they drop them, but I have not always been willing to do the extra, uncomfortable things like visiting people in the hospital and talking to "weird" people.  (Not that I haven't done these things at all, but I haven't always had the best attitude about doing them.)  I guess I always thought that it was nice to be helpful, but that doing so was not actually a requirement of Christianity.  After all, we are saved by grace, not by works.  While this is still true, my eyes have been opened to the reality that the world's problems are my problems.  The thing is that, if something is important to God, it should be important to me.  I know that I can't single-handedly save the world, but if Christ is in the business of saving the world, and I am part of His body, I have a part in saving the world.  I shouldn't be interested in helping people to gain my own salvation; my salvation has already been gained, so I should act accordingly.

Many Christians act like their "correct" opinions will be what gain them entry into heaven.  However, Jesus speaks differently:

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of [or serve] You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

—Mathew 25:34-46 (NASB)


People may have different thoughts about when this conversation with the King takes place, but the point is that God is interested in having people help people. Here is another example:

18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” 21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

—Luke 18:18-23 (NASB)


Again, we could quibble about whether or not Jesus wanted this man, or us, literally to sell all of his, or our, possessions, but we would be missing the point. The important thing to note here (besides the fact that what Jesus was asking is impossible and that only God can make it possible, as is shown in the rest of the passage) is that simply following rules is not enough to please God.  He wants us to give everything for him... AND Jesus is concerned about poor people.

If you read enough about Jesus and his disciples, it looks highly likely that giving to the poor was something they used the money in their treasury for.  When the woman anointed Jesus' feet with perfume and the statement was made about how the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus says something along the lines of, "You will always have the poor to help whenever you want to, but you will not always have me."  I have heard this statement used as a reason not to bother with poor people.  However, Jesus didn't say not to help poor people; he said that poor people would always be around for the disciples to help whenever they felt like it.  When Judas went away to betray Jesus, the other disciples assumed that he was going off to give money to the poor.  There are multiple verses (fulfilled prophecies, in fact) about Jesus preaching the good news to the poor.  If you are really interested, put the keyword, "poor" into a Bible search engine and see what pops up.  It will become obvious that God's people helping poor people is important to God.

Of course, there are other ways of being helpful besides giving to the poor. James talks about true religion being that of helping orphans and widows in their distress.  In the book of Acts there is mention of the early Church distributing food to widows daily.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about giving to those who ask and going the extra mile.  Again, the Bible is full of charges like this.  Like I said before, I know that a person alone can't fix the whole world, but if Christ helped people during his time as a human, those of us who make up the body of Christ should be carrying on his work.

Now, how do we actually go about doing this?  When you start looking into all of the different ministry methods, it can become quite overwhelming.  There are many different schools of thought as to the best way to go about helping people, and I totally respect that.  I think it is even possible to hurt people while you are trying to help them, so it is really good to know what you're doing before you start handing out stuff on the street.  However, don't allow confusion over the form to keep you from performing the function.  I cautioned against handing out stuff on the street.  Well, truth be told, I myself have gone and done exactly that.  Reevaluating the situation, I may or may not have done the same thing if I had realized then what I realize now.  It's possible that I was simply enabling the people I was trying to help.  BUT, at the time, it was very important for me spiritually to have done what I did.  It was a milestone in my faith journey.  I probably wouldn't use that same method again for helping people, but the experience was very valuable in that I learned that helping people is not as hard or as scary as I thought it would be.  I learned that poor, homeless people can be very nice and grateful and that they don't necessarily want to kill me.  I learned that making connections with people I would otherwise never interact with can be exhilarating.  If I had hesitated to act on the Spirit's prodding (and that's what I believe it was) and had waited until I knew all of the ins and outs of ministering to the homeless, I never would have learned those lessons.  It is possible that I made a mistake in my method, but my heart and my spirit were right on.

If we are to do what God wants us to do, we have to be willing to make mistakes.  We certainly don't make them on purpose, but it is our mistakes that help us to learn and to do better next time.  I started out this post talking about how I have grown throughout my life.  We need to realize that ministries can (and should) grow too.  We should always be looking to find better ways of doing things, but, in order to do that, we need to have started doing something in the first place.  God wants His people to help other people.  It it so easy to make excuses not to do this, but I think it is clear that this is what we will be judged upon when we die.  All of our other sins just serve to make us "unproductive and ineffective," keeping us from doing the "good works" which God "prepared in advance for us to do."  The Bible talks about sin being something that "easily entangles" us, in the sense that it keeps us from moving forward with what we should be doing.  If you look at sin that way, with a goal in mind of doing God's work, it is harder to justify doing it.  Anyway, again, as members of the body of Christ, the work we should be doing is trying to help people.  We should expect to make mistakes and to grow in our thinking along the way, but the biggest mistake of all would be not even to begin.

-BB

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Oklahoma!

Becky and I just got back from ten days in Oklahoma! We visited with Ben, Crystal and Caitlin Martin in Edmond for the first few days then finished up our time with Keith, Shelia, Sarah, Tim and Emily Bowman in Mustang (both areas are suburbs of Oklahoma City).

We had a great time relaxing, eating, sleeping, playing Wii golf, Apples to Apples, Rock Band, Band Hero and Back Words. I also got the chance to shoot rifles, shotguns and a pistol with Ben and his friend Britton and Britton's wife Carie. It was a true Oklahoma experience!

We also enjoyed three trips to Braum's for ice cream and chicken fingers. Other fine dining experiences included Slim Chicken's, Chicken Express, Steak n Shake, Flat Tire Burgers, The Mantel and Cattlemen's.

We were able to fly for free since I had $800 in flight vouchers that I got last year for bumping off of a flight out of Chicago to Charleston! I always love to travel and travelling for free is even better! I just remember feeling like God was telling me to get off that plane last October; I'm really glad that I did! We were extremely blessed to bask in the fellowship of our friends for the week.

I have added a few pictures from our trip below.

Enjoy!













Monday, August 1, 2011

What's Brown and Dirty and Crawling with Worms and Small Bugs?

Compost!

A couple of weeks ago Becky and I buried a pile of leftover food scraps, used coffee grounds, filters and melon rinds in a hole in the ground that we dug in my Dad's backyard. We are very interested in using composting as part of a sustainable/high yield agriculture approach in Nicaragua over the next five years.

I read Composting for Dummies which said that it could take 6 months to a year to get usable compost. I was a little dismayed to think that it would take that long. Enter Nurse Karen Thompson! She is a composting authority (recognize her authoritaaay!) and she assured me that it wouldn't take nearly that long. The conversation went something like this (emphasis on the word something)

Me: "But Karen, Composting for Dummies said that it would take 6 months to a year to produce usable compost..."

Nurse Karen Thompson: "You don't need no stiiiiinking book, (insert swarthy Mexican accent here) but you are a dummy so I agree with the book on that point...

Me: "So you don't think it will take 6 to 12 months for organic material to break down to the point that it can be used in a garden?"

Nurse Karen Thompson: "Honey, dig you a hole, put some food scraps in it, cover it with dirt and dig it up again in two weeks..."

Me: "Two weeks! Wow! That's a lot shorter than what the book said...

Nurse Karen Thompson: "Trust me."

Me: "Ok."

Well, for the record she was right! Becky and I went over to Mom and Dad's house this afternoon, two weeks from the day that we put the food scraps in the ground and sure enough we had compost! In fact, we thought that maybe we weren't digging in the right place because I was pretty sure that we would be able to identify the food mixed in with the dirt. WRONG! We finally found one piece of an eggshell so we knew that we had found our spot. We were both amazed, two weeks was all it took.

We are going to do another turbo composting experiment starting later this month and we will be taking pictures and measuring the pH of the soil on a regular basis over the course of about three weeks. I will post on that once we get it rolling!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eye of the Tiger

Becky and I went to Clemson, SC this weekend to visit with our friends Jay and Anita Wood and to speak at the Clemson Church of Christ this morning. We were really looking forward to this trip as many of our friends from Palmetto Bible Camp worship at the church in Clemson. In fact, our friend Danny Vaden is the preacher there and Matt Fields is the Youth Minister.

We ran into some pretty gnarly traffic coming into Columbia and my car has an issue with a loose belt that occasionally makes the engine overheat and the air conditioner not work. What this all means is that we ended up sitting still on I-26 with all the windows down and the heat on full blast to keep the engine from going supernova on us. Oh yeah, and it's already like 110 degrees outside to start with. Thank you God for GPS! (seriously, I'm not joking) We got off at the next exit and let the GPS on my Droid phone guide us about 10 miles around whatever was causing the congestion and we ended up right back on I-26 in the middle of Columbia with no traffic what so ever! Being able to get the car moving always seems to make that belt connect again and drive the components that turn the radiator fan and the compressor on the air conditioner. As long we are moving we're fine; if we sit too long we overheat. I really need to replace that belt...tomorrow...

Same thing happened on I-85 just outside of Anderson and once again the GPS did a great job in guiding us around the problem and right to Jay and Anita's front door.

We had a great time Saturday night hanging out with the Woods! Anita made pork chops (awesome!) and we did a lot of talking while working on a puzzle together at the dining room table. Anita displayed that she is a lot smarter than Jay, Becky and I by going to bed at a reasonable hour. The rest of us stayed up till 2:30 in the morning talking and searching for just one more piece of the puzzle that would fill that annoyingly empty spot on the table. Anita is originally from Ecuador and was very gracious and helpful to Becky and I by answering all of our questions about the Spanish language; now we are fluent! (not really but that would be great)

This morning we got up and enjoyed this really good hot, gooey, cinnamon roll bun thing that Anita made for breakfast. In fact she wrapped up the half we didn't eat and we brought it home with us (yum).

The Clemson church was really cool. They are a close knit group of believers who obviously love and care for one another very much. I made a short presentation before Danny Vaden preached a great sermon and I think we were all blessed to be there. Many thanks to Danny, the Elders and all the Brothers and Sisters at Clemson Church of Christ for making us feel very loved and welcomed.

Oh yeah, how could I forget? Danny is doing a series of fasts this year and right now he is fasting from sound; which means he walks around with a pair of large earmuffs on his head that are designed for shooting guns without losing your hearing. I can't lie; he looks really funny with those things on but I love what he is doing. Check out his blog at...

http://www.yearoffasting.blogspot/ .com.

After service we all went right down the street to have lunch at the Mellow Mushroom (pizza joint) which was really good. Becky and I split a large mighty meat pizza and a chef's salad. Afterwards we went back to the Wood's house and took a much needed nap before hitting the road for home. We ran into a lot of rain on the way home and got some Lenny Kravitz song stuck in our heads (which was really weird because we never had the radio on at all and still can't figure out where that came from).

Now we are home, unpacked and ready for bed. We had such a good time! It was very relaxing and fulfilling. What a blessing to be able to travel and enjoy worship and fellowship with the family of God in different places.

Thank you so much Jay and Anita and thanks so much also to the Clemson Church of Christ. May you all be richly blessed in Jesus Christ!

Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Sign the Lease

Well, we thought we had some renters lined up to rent our house. We thought that all of our house disposal problems were over (at least for the next year that these people were going to rent our house for). You may have seen on Facebook or on thegoatlife.com that our troubles were over... But alas, they are not.

Our renters had given a verbal commitment to rent our house and had passed an income level check and a credit check, but one minor detail had not yet occurred...

They hadn't signed the lease.

They had until last Thursday (July the 28th) to do so and we just assumed that they would, but they didn't. They instead decided that they wanted to rent a condo rather than a house. That's cool, no problem, no hard feelings. In fact after mowing my almost half acre lot for two summers I sometimes wish we had rented a condo instead of buying a house.

But the moral of the story is that God is really, really good and if He wants us to live in Nicaragua He will take care of this issue and every other one that we will face. Me jumping the gun out of excitement and then having to make a great big sandwich out of my words does not in any way nullify His faithfulness.

Please join us in praying for faith and patience as we wait to see how He will handle this.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Psalm 119 - Becky

I want to share with you some thoughts about my random Bible reading for today.  I used to try to follow along with a Daily Bible or at least to go in chronological or some other order, but I have found that it works better for me right now to read bigger, "stand alone" sections every few days instead of reading smaller bits of a continuing story every single day.  Don't worry; I do try to read a big enough chunk each time to get the full context.  Actually, for things like the "Pauline Epistles" (especially, say, Galatians or Ephesians) I highly recommend reading entire books in single sittings to achieve greater understanding.  Anyway, this morning I randomly opened up to Psalm 119, and, to be honest, I was not so thrilled about it.  For one thing, I knew I needed to read the entire Psalm (which is long) to get the big picture.  Also, the whole thing is about following God's law (which can be a major guilt trip if taken the wrong way).  However, in reading it this time I was intrigued, encouraged, and challenged.  Below are just some of the ideas and questions I gleaned from it.  For those of you who have studied it too, I welcome your thoughts as well.

One of the first things that caught my mind was in verse 41: "May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise."  Those of us who read this now through the lens of Christ might pass this over because we are so used to hearing about salvation and the fulfillment of God's promises.  However, when David wrote this, Christ had not yet died, and I'm not sure what God had told David about the whole salvation thing.  I'm very interested to know what David was talking about here (and in the numerous other places in the Psalm where he mentions salvation).  The quick answer that comes to my brain is that David was referring to the promises God gave to Abraham and Moses, particularly the stuff in Deuteronomy about the blessings the Israelites would receive for following God's laws.  I get the feeling from various accounts of David that he took this stuff very seriously.  I just wonder what he actually knew about the salvation that would come through Christ's sacrifice.  When we read Psalm 119, which type of "salvation" should we be thinking about?  Like I said, we are accustomed to thinking of salvation through Christ, but is there some other level of salvation from God that David knew before Christ even came?  (I certainly don't believe in salvation apart from Christ, but is Christ's salvation a part of some bigger, general kind of salvation?)

Another thought I had that partially answers this question is that there is benefit simply from following the laws themselves.  In verse 45, David says, "I walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts."  In general, we tend not to associate laws with a word like "freedom."  Again, this makes sense in light of Christ sacrifice, but that hadn't happened yet.  I propose that these laws (or "precepts" or whatever) are not so much devices to control us and to keep us from doing what we want (i.e. experiencing "freedom") but are statements about the way the world works.  (C.S. Lewis talks about this in "Mere Christianity," which we are studying in our Sunday AM class, but this idea has been rolling around in my brain for a while now.)  These moral, spiritual laws are, in my opinion, akin to laws of science like Gravity and Relativity.  Verse 152 says, "Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever."  As long as there is a physical world, things that go up will always come down again.  In the same way, it is always a good idea to treat people with the love in which you would have them treat you, and there will never be a situation in which you should cheat on your spouse.  What I wonder is, if gravity can be observed scientifically and even measured, can the same be done with spiritual laws?  Well, I know that we can observe them, but it would be interesting to see if they can be tested and analyzed scientifically.  Maybe it doesn't work that way; I don't know.  I guess maybe that's what the Pharisees tried to do, breaking the laws down into formulas.  Still, it would be encouraging to have everyone agree that, yes, this is how the world works and so we should live accordingly.

I say that, feeling frustrated that the world just doesn't "get it," even though God's laws really are as obvious as gravity.  However, I myself don't follow these laws perfectly (far from it), even though I know how good and true they are.  The third thing I noticed in this Psalm was David's cry for help from God so that he would be able to follow the laws.  He uses phrases like "do not let me stray from your commands," "turn my heart toward your statutes," "let no sin rule over me," etc.  Over and over again he asks God to come in and control him.  On the surface, that looks even less like "freedom," but if you think about it in terms of freedom from sin, it makes a lot of sense.  I have had numerous discussions with people about free will versus God's control over our lives (though I really don't wish to get into that here), and many people have brought up that God doesn't micro-manage our lives.  However, I say that the absolute best thing for us would be to have God micro-manage our lives.  We know from experience that, despite our best intentions, we simply can't follow God's laws perfectly on our own.  What a relief it would be to have God swoop in and make us do everything we're supposed to do!  (I understand that would affect the love element on our part, but I am talking about God controlling people who have already decided to love Him.)  I love verse 109: "Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law."  I know I live this way all the time, doing things that are stupid even though I haven't forgotten what I should be doing.  What I really want is for my life to be in God's "hands."  Thankfully, we do have salvation, and we live in a time when we do know about Christ.  We don't have to be plagued by guilt all the time, so I can read this Psalm without breaking down in shame.

If anyone has any thoughts to add, especially if you have any more information about the context of this Psalm, please share.

-Becky

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Update From Tommy

Just wanted to give you all some updated information on what is going on with us.

I was laid off from my job a few weeks ago. I know that sounds like a bad thing but it has really been a blessing.

We are leaving the United States on September 29th. We have our flights booked and are making final preparations for departure.

That being said, we are still fundraising and have not reached our goals yet. If you have joined us as a monthly sponsor or made a one time donation...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

If you haven't, we really need your help. Our monthly budget is going to be revised down to around $2000 a month so that's just 200 people helping us out by giving $10 a month. If you are able and willing to give more then that's fine too. I just don't want anyone to think that $10 a month won't matter in the grand scheme of things. It will.

Our house is still for sale and is also now on the rental market for $1300 a month through Carolina One Real Estate here in Charleston. Other than fundraising this is the last big visible hurdle that we need to get over. Please pray for this particular issue. I have cashed out my 401k and the longer it takes to get something done with the house the more of that money we are going to have to burn through making mortgage payments.

All of this is really small potatoes in light of who our God is. We are being constantly blessed and sustained in this work. Please don't hesitate to give God everything you have and serve Him with all your heart.

He is worth it!

Tommy

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Frijoles Negros - Becky

When Tommy and I took our trip to Nicaragua in January, there was a dish that was served to us on a regular basis (seriously, we saw this at breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day) called gallo pinto.  Actually, that's just a fancy name for rice and beans.  It literally means painted (or speckled) chicken.  The joke in Central American countries is that, for breakfast, they have rice and beans; for lunch, they have beans and rice; and, for dinner, they have gallo pinto.  Granted, gallo pinto may have some extra things in it like onions or peppers, hot sauce, or sour cream (yes, sour cream).  Still, rice and beansthough joked about in the U.S. as what we may have to resort to eating in a crisisare staples in Nicaragua (and much of the world, really).  And, at least as they were served to me, they taste good.

Well, after we got home from our trip, I decided to try to replicate this dish.  I looked on the Internet for recipes, but, even though the recipes were plentiful, I was not able to recreate the taste and texture I was going for.  In the process, however, I discovered something else.  I had been under the impression that the beans used in gallo pinto were black beans (frijoles negros)though I think now that the correct beans would be pinto beansso I went looking for a good way to cook them.  I came across a recipe for cooking dried black beans in the crock pot.  Every other recipe I saw involved a lot of soaking and re-soaking, but this one is so easy that I have been using it over and over again (and I have even simplified it for my own convenience).

I wish that I could remember the actual site where I found it so that I could give the proper credit.  Anyway, it is sufficient that I didn't make it up.  Okay, are you ready for the recipe (this is my simplified version)?  Here goes:  Combine 1 cup of dry beans with 4 cups of water in the crock pot.  Cook on high for 3 1/2* hours.  Drain and serve.  That's it.  (What?  Were you expecting to have to pre-soak the beans?  I can assure you that you don't have to do that.)  If it makes you feel better to rinse and sort the beans first, you can do that, but I don't even bother doing it anymore because I can't tell that it makes any difference.  It works out well to store the beans in 2 old mayonnaise or peanut butter jars.  Once you get to the beans at the bottom of the jar, there may be some residual bean sludge that you can simply rinse away with water.  I like to cook my beans into my omelet for breakfast in the morning.  They are a little bland by themselves, but with a pinch of salt (or parmesan cheese; sounds weird but is quite good), they are a snack that is high in protein and fiber.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been eating black beans from a can (I was going to eat them at camp, but that never happened), and, I have to say, I can't wait for them to be gone so that I can cook some more of my dried beans.  Not only are the dried beans cheaper, they taste so much better.  Also, in case anyone was wondering, with the dried beans I have not experienced the, um, windbreaking problem that tends to come with beans.  Though it is true that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world**, I would take a hill of beans any day.  Any bean counter could tell you that beans are an affordable addition (or replacement) to any menu.  I hope you try them.  (If you can't tell, I am so excited that I just had to spill the beans.)

-Becky

*Individual crock pots may vary.  The original recipe called for 4 hours, but that made the beans a little too mushy for me.  At 3 hours the beans were just a little underdone but still edible.  At 3 1/2 hours they seemed just right.

**Twenty cool points to anyone under the age of 25 who can tell me what this line is from (without googling it).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When We All Get to Heaven - Becky

NOTE before reading:  This post is intended to spark discussion and thankful feelings towards God.  If you think I am way off on any of this, I will say upfront that I don't pretend to have everything all figured out.  Please feel free to leave any constructive comments that may lead me closer to the truth.

As I sat in chapel one evening during camp last week, I was struck with a thought.  It suddenly occurred to me that those people—the people with whom I was singing praises and who I will miss terribly next year—would be the same people with whom I will be in Heaven for eternity.  Up to this point, my experience with "camp people" has been that we see each other once a year (or twice if we manage to make it to a retreat), and only in the last few years have we been able to keep in touch through blogs and facebook.  For the most part, "camp people" are the people you love dearly and intensely for that one special week of the year... and then you go back to regular life and all of your regular friends.*  Fortunately, the Internet has made it much easier to stay in touch with these people, but there is still an element of separation going on because they are not physically there.  Lately, I have been very sad about the fact that I will be separated even further from my camp friends (and other friends and family), but the thought I had that night during worship gave me a lot of comfort.

Think about it.  If Heaven is even a little bit as I understand it, we will all be praising God together.  But, we won't have bodies with faulty vocal cords to produce sour notes.  We will have been purified and made "perfect," meaning that we won't have any physical hindrances to keep us from perfectly expressing God's glory.  We can try as hard as we can now (on earth in our physical bodies) to give God the praise he deserves, but we fall short every time.  After all, right now we can't even understand him fully.  I believe that in Heaven, we will have not only the capacity to understand God in all his fullness but to reflect it back on him with 100% accuracy.  (And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. —2 Corinthians 3:18.)  I think that's pretty cool.

There's something else that's cool about the whole thing that, I admit, is speculation on my part.  I have not studied this enough to be sure about the scriptures to back this up and their individual contexts.  But, my general feeling is that since we won't, like I said, be contained any longer by physical bodies, there will be nothing to keep our souls from, well, "mingling" with each other.  My personal guess is that, just like Eve was formed from a piece of Adam (specifically, his rib), men and women were formed from "pieces"** of God.  I will even go as far as to say that I think that God (who is light, which is energy) himself is in us physically in the sense that he keeps all of our electrons spinning.  In other words, God holds together Adam's atoms.  (Okay, I'll go ahead and throw these out here:  'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' —Acts 17:28; He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. —Colossians 1:17.  I'm open to feedback on these verses.)  If I am right, we and everything in creation*** are constructed of bits of God that long to re-join each other:
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
     22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
—Romans 8:18-23 (Again, let me know if I am wrongly using this passage.)

Coming back to what this will mean for us in Heaven, I speculate that we will no longer be frustrated by the bounds of our physical bodies.  More specifically, it won't matter that you live in Greenville, SC and your friend lives in Paducah, KY.  It won't matter that, even if you manage to see your friend in person, the best you can do is to look them in the eye and to give them a hug (I'm trying to keep it clean here).  When you're in Heaven, I theorize that you and your friend will actually be one.  Actually, you and me and Moses and everyone who is there will all be one.  (I do think that we will all retain our personalities—and they will all fit together perfectly to make sense somehow—but this part really is just a wild guess.)

The two commands Jesus (well, God) gave us that trump everything else are to love God and to love others.****  We try so hard to do these two things, but the truth is that, as long as we are hindered by the flesh, we cannot do them perfectly.  Even when we aren't specifically thinking of doing these things to fulfill our Christian duty, we long to be fulfilled through interactions with people.  Why else do we spend hours and hours on facebook?  We all want the warm fuzzies.  Unfortunately, our desires for intimacy often lead to going about trying to get it in the wrong ways.  The good news is (if I am thinking correctly) that we will experience that intimacy in an infinite, perfect sort of way in Heaven.  As I view the prospect of going physically far, far away from people I love very, very much, this kind of thought is what keeps me from breaking down.  I have to let go of what is temporary and embrace what is eternal.

So, am I crazy?  How would you say my points hold up as compared to the Bible (or, for fun, to, perhaps, C.S. Lewis, Rob Bell, or Francis Chan)?

In anticipation of what is to come, both soon and far away,
-Becky

*I admit that there are some "camp people" I have seen more often than thatand I do still love and think about my camp friends when they're not aroundbut that doesn't negate my point.

**However, since God is infinite, taking something "out" of him would not result in there being any less of him.

***No, I do not believe that rocks and trees and things are gods themselves.  That is just stupid.  I worship the Creator, not the creation.  Rocks and trees exist in the physical world; therefore, they "have being" (physically) and require some form of energy to hold them together.  However, simply existing does not require having consciousness or will or power.

****Yes, I know that there is a huge difference between "loving" God/people through selfless actions and "loving" God/people emotionally.  My point is just that we are wired to be made complete in God and other people.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Becky's Post-Camp Post

Wow.  Tommy and I are back from our annual, week-long trip to Palmetto Bible Camp, and I am attempting to process the very emotional and spiritual (and physical) experience.  Camp is normally a very mental experience for me too, but I was graciously let off the hook for much of that this year.  Since we plan to stay in Nicaragua during camp time next year and aren't sure of what our involvement will be after that, Tommy and I had much more relaxed roles this year.  Instead of spending many hours and brain cells in pre-camp planning, including writing production scripts and solving various logistical issues, we were able simply to show up and spend time with campers in Bible class, team activities, free time, etc.  At times I felt more like a camper myself than like a staff member, which is funny to me because I'm sure I appreciated the "camper" experience this week more so than when I actually was one and couldn't wait to be on staff.  I'm very thankful for the chance I had this year to participate in everything I did and, for the most part, to relax.  (I really needed the break from all of the work I've been doing getting ready for Nicaragua.)  However, I can't say that a part of me didn't ache to dive back headfirst into my usual role and to engage in the same creative challenges and camper/staff interactions of previous years.  I did, though, enjoy brainstorming for the morning news skits, despite (or, maybe, because of) the fact that the majority of the effort exerted was spent on jokes meant only for staff (but don't tell anybody).

What I lacked head-wise, however, I certainly made up for in my heart.  This week was especially emotional for me.  As it was my last year for a while, the people were of much greater importance to me than the program.  There is a whole handful of campers that I have witnessed growing up, and it hurts to think that facebook stalking will have to suffice to fill in the gap next year.  I have to say that the group of campers we had this year was one of the very best I've known (rivaled only by last year's campers, but most of those made it back).  The staff was pretty phenomenal too.  We were definitely missing people I would have liked to see, but the dynamic among the people who were there was particularly positive.  I am really going to miss everyone, though as much as and even more than I am brought low inside, I feel lifted up by these people.  My nephew asked on the way home what one word would describe the week.  The word that flashed boldest and brightest in my mind was "Love."

Finishing this last year of camp with my family who attend with me each year was a significant and bittersweet milestone on our way to Nicaragua.  It has been remarkably special to share this time of "getting ready" with our family because, even though they are not moving out of the country, they are in the middle of their own spiritual epiphanies.  We sang the song "We Are Not Afraid" (which I had never heard before) and my sister-in-law and I completely lost it.  As I said, this was a very emotional week for me, and I tended to get weepy at anything that reminded me either of how much I will miss people or of the spiritual commitment I have made (though, if you know me well, you know that I am generally not a weepy person).  As it happened, I had plenty of opportunity to encounter both of those situations.

Every year it seems that going to camp is the litmus test of my spiritual life at the time.  I was pleased that I could tell a notable difference in my spiritual experience this time.  For many years I showed up at camp expecting to have the spirit spoon fed to me, which I suppose was better than the years when I was downright closed minded and arrogant.  This year felt like I may have actually brought the spirit there with me.  I was even more pleased that it seemed I wasn't the only one in that boat.  Each and every one of the chapel speakers spoke such truth that reinforced my new way of thinking and challenged me to keep on growing.  Things were said on stage and in conversations that everyone desperately needs to hear.  More than ever, I feel convicted to share our story with others.  I did get to speak to one of the girls' cabins, and that experience really pumped me up to talk to even more people about what we're doing (and, more importantly, why we're doing it).  I am seeing more and more how necessary it is for Christians to talk to each other about their spiritual walks because it is so easy to lose what has already been gained.  I praise God that there was a lot of that kind of talking at camp this week.

This year may not have boasted a gigantic Bible production, and I did have certain emotional struggles to deal with.  However, I could see God at work in a mightier way than I have seen before.  This may have been my best year of camp ever.  It will be very hard to be away next year, but I think my love bank has been filled up enough to last me for quite a while.

-Becky

P.S. - Tommy is still in the process of getting photos and videos from our January trip ready to post.  Be looking for more of that content soon...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nicaragua Trip Day 2

So the second day of our week long trip to Nicaragua was a travel day. We woke up early in Orlando, flew to Miami and then flew to Managua. Since we arrived in Managua after dark we needed to stay one night at the Best Western hotel which is located directly across from the airport. Traveling by car from one city to another after sundown is not advised in Nicaragua. It was a great day as I love to travel and enjoy flying and airports and layovers and all that kind of stuff. It was extra exciting to be on our way out of the country, something I hadn't done in over ten years and something that Becky had never done before at all. We were both pretty amazed that we were on our way to check out a place that we were going to be living in for the next five years. We had gone from dreaming out loud in the kitchen to really going to see a foreign country. I know I keep saying that we were excited, but we were, really. Check out the video below for a few highlights of the day. video

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

www.thegoatlife.com

Yes, we are still here and we are still moving to Nicaragua! Our website is now online and ready for you to view. Check it out at www.thegoatlife.com. You can read all about us and our goal to live in Nicaragua for five years teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and helping to fight poverty through sustainable agriculture techniques and goat breeding. There are photos and videos for you to see and we will be updating the website often with new content. We will also be updating this blog a lot more often so check back for new posts here soon. Thanks for keeping up with us and God bless! Below are some photos of the Steed boys (human kids hanging out with goat kids) wearing very awesome Hope For Life t-shirts!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nicaragua Trip Day 1

Hey everybody! It has been way too long since I last posted something here but now I am ready! Our trip to Jinotega, Nicaragua started on Friday, January 21st. Becky and I spent most of the day packing and getting ready to leave. Jill picked us up at our house around 7:30pm. We drove to Orlando and arrived at 1:30am Saturday morning. I love travelling at night when there aren't as many cars out on the interstate. We had a great time talking, listening to music and stopping for the occasional gas station snack. I'm always up for a road trip; the chance to get away from the routine is irresistable! This road trip was especially exciting since it was the beginning of a trip outside of the United States for both of us. I hadn't been outside the country for over ten years and Becky had never travelled outside the US before. I was very excited for her to have that experience. It was great having 6 hours to talk with Jill. She was very kind to go with us and acted as our guide. Since she had been in Jinotega before she was well prepared to show us the ropes. For those of you who don't know; Jill Counts, her husband Chris and their children Zach and Maggie are one of the two other families that are moving to Jinotega with us this September Lord willing. The other family is David Henniger, his wife Caryn and their two sons, Issac and Levi. Both the Henniger and Counts families had been in Jinotega before but since Becky and I had never been we decided that it was important for the two of us to do a little recon and get a feel for Jinotega and Nicaragua. God blessed us with three cheap round trip airline tickets that came from some friends of ours at church. They had bought them when fares were low hoping to be able to use them in the near future for a Nicaragua trip of their own. When that didn't work out they were contacted about our trip and were excited to be able to help us and recoup their cost at the same time; a blessing for everyone involved. Coincidence? I think not. Below is a short video that I put together using some clips that I shot on Friday the 21st. Enjoy and feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment section; we would love to hear from you! -Tommy and Becky
video

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Update: More Content Coming Soon

Hey everybody! It's been a little while since my last post so I needed to jump on here and let you all know what has been going on. The biggest happenning since last post has been our trip to Nicaragua. We had a totally awesome time! God blessed us in so many ways during the week that we were in Jinotega. Jinotega is the capital city of the Jinotega department (sort of like our counties). The city of Jinotega is located northeast of the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Right now I am working on editing some of the many pictures and videos that I took while we were there and I will start posting a day by day recap of our trip very soon. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for us! We continue to seek God's will and pray that He will bring us back to Nicaragua in September!

Por La Gloria de Jesus,
-Tommy

Saturday, January 8, 2011

God the Provider - Tommy

Hey everybody! I just wanted to throw in my two cents on something really cool that God did for us this week. As most of you maybe know, Becky and I are taking a nine day trip to Nicaragua at the end of this month to take a look around and do some research in preparation for moving down there this September. As we were budgeting for the trip and planning for how many dollars it was going to take we had an unexpected expense related to the excursion throw into the mix. It was a rather significant sum but we had the money and it wasn't a huge deal, but still it didn't exactly make me really happy.

At the end of the day I sucked it up and chose to believe that God would take care of it since He has a pretty good track record for that kind of thing. Well sure enough He did! I got a call from some friends who told me that they wanted to help with our trip and was going to write us a check for guess how much? That's right, the EXACT amount of our unexpected expense! Neither Becky nor I had said anything to anyone about this at all. God strikes again!

Thank you Lord for filling the hearts of your people with so much love and concern and kindness for each other and thanks to our friends who have been there in so many ways big and small for a very long time. God is good and He will provide. We are so out on a limb for Him right now (at least by our standards) but I have never felt as secure in His will and provision as I do right now.

-Tommy

Thursday, January 6, 2011

God the Provider - Becky

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Today I just want to share with you something that reinforces our faith in God's provision.  In our endeavor to get to Nicaragua, we have obstacles to overcome.  One of the most obvious challenges is for us to get enough money for travel and for our living expenses while in Nicaragua.  A few weeks from now we plan to take a trip down there to check things out, and though we have been blessed to get cheaper airfare (thanks to a friend for jumping on a discount when she saw it), there have been some other expenses involved that we didn't expect.  It was one of those situations where we did have the money, but there were other things we wanted to use it for.  Well, we found out today that someone has offered to donate that exact amount of money to our cause—and they knew nothing about our needing that sum.  I am amazed, once again, at how God provides for us.  We really have no cause to worry about anything.

The money thing was a pretty "big" thing that happened, but there have been "smaller" things too.  (But, who are we to judge what is big or small in God's eyes?)  I realized today that I was missing an essential component for a creative project I am working on, and as soon as I thought through the specifics of what I needed, I found that I did, in fact, have exactly what I needed.  At camp a few years ago, Tommy and I were working on a play about Samson that involved two different actors playing a young and an older version of him.  I vaguely thought that we should make sure to get two wigs for our actors, but then I sort of forgot about it and didn't say anything to anyone.  When we showed up at the camp, one of our friends told me that she had something left over from Halloween that she thought we might be able to use.  It was a wig, and we already had another one in our storage closet.  I hadn't worried about the situation at all, and God totally provided without even being asked.  We have even more reason to trust in Him when we do ask.

Things like these keep happening to us, and I pray that they continue to happen and in greater measure.  I am so excited to think what the possibilities of that could be.

-Becky

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Journey Begins - Tommy

Hey everybody; Happy New Year!  This is Tommy and I just wanted to jot down a few things to go along with Becky's post.  We hope to use this blog as a way for you to join with us as we travel down this new road that we believe God has put in front of us.  I know that sounds rather clichéd and I really don't like canned Christian speak but I honestly can't think of another way to say that right now. 

Our lives have taken a drastic turn in the last 4-6 months and we are fully convinced that this is from God and that it will be for the better.  More than anything else I want you all to understand that we are not specifically pursuing goat breeding, sustainable agriculture or foreign missions; we are pursuing God.  Teaching goat breeding and sustainable agriculture techniques in Nicaragua is the opportunity that we believe God has placed in front of us right now and we are dedicated to pursue that goal until we either land in Nicaragua to live or God shows us something else that He wants us to do. 

Stay tuned to this blog to be caught up on the whole story and to follow along with us as we try to follow God in a deeper way than we ever have before. 

I want to leave you for now with this thought...

In this new year I don't want or need any more house, cars, money, clothing, TV, movies, video games, guitars, amplifiers, (you know, all the vain things that charm me most )*

I just want and need more Jesus!

-Tommy


* When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - a post for later...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Journey Begins

Happy New Year, everyone! Since I last wrote, Tommy and I have solidified some of our plans, so now I am more at liberty to speak of them in detail. Our main decision was made months ago, but it has taken us quite a while to tell all of our family members and other people who needed to be told personally. It is only now that our "secret" is officially "out."

So... I guess I'll just jump in and tell you (if you don't already know). Tommy and I have decided to move to Nicaragua to teach the people there about goat farming (and about Jesus, of course). The main goal is to glorify God by loving other people. Obviously, there are countless ways of fulfilling this goal, but we really feel that God is calling us to take the opportunity that is in front of us right now. Our hope is that actually leaving the country and putting our focus on the lives of other people will put us in a better position to do God's will. (Important Note: This is not to say that one has to go into foreign missions to do God's will. I don't believe that at all. This is something that God has put on our hearts specifically, so please don't mistake our enthusiasm for this calling for any judgement against anyone else.)  Our lifestyle will change drastically, but we are excited to have the chance to minister to this group of people.

Most Nicaraguans live on less than $2/day.  We hope to use sustainable living techniques like goat farming (like I said) and gardening to provide the people of the Jinotega region with a way to sustain their own livelihoods instead of leaving them to rely indefinitely on the charity of others.  (This is already being done with great success in the Philippines. In fact, that is where we got the idea.) While we work with the people, our hope is that we will develop real relationships with them—showing them genuine, Christ-like love—that will allow us the opportunity to share our faith with them.  However, many of the people we will be working with are already Christians, church leaders who are struggling with whether to move into the city where there are jobs—or to stay at the rural church and starve.  Our work with these people will be done through the local mission that is already established in Jinotega (Misión para Cristo).  (Our group (Hope for Life) will be another branch of what they already have going on down there.)

Each of the families involved has different talents and abilities to bring to the table.  Between the two of us, Tommy and I hope to add the skills of photography, videography, grapic design, and creation/maintenance of multi-media that we can use to garner support for our project and to keep our friends, family, and supporters in the loop about our progress.  (We will, of course, spend much of our time in Nicaragua working with goats, plants, and people, but we may spend as much time, if not more, on the computer.)  We are excited to see what God does with our particular mix of individuals.

There is so much more I could say about our current goals (and I intend to), but I have already written too much for an introductory post.  If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask and we will try to answer them.  Meanwhile, we appreciate your prayers.

In Anticipation of What 2011 Holds,
-Becky