Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reflections on Palm Sunday

(Guest Blogger Tom shares his reflections on Palm Sunday with words and pictures--he has a great way with both. th2hombre.com

I am such a knuckle-dragging Christian.  I revere Easter, and know that as night precedes the dawn, Palm Sunday precedes Easter by exactly one week.   But somehow or other this morning, I went to church clueless that today is Palm Sunday.  The day the Jesus entered Jerusalem astride a donkey, proceeding over branches and palm leaves, fulfilling the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. This is the beginning of Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish.   

This morning's realization that this is Palm Sunday overtook me like a
blessed breakthrough in the clouds,
a fresh and gathering tailwind,
a bouquet of sweet chaparral along a rough hilly trail.
I've had a glow inside me ever since.  

And in the bargain, I've been chrono-transported to a Palm Sunday I relished four years back on a Cirrus getaway trip we took to Alamos, in mainland Mexico.  My wife and daughter were sleeping in, and while they reposed, I struck out on my own meandering the byways of the small Spanish colonial pueblo, a town from Mexico's silver mining past. You may well recall seeing these images before, but they are ever appropriate to this day.

This is hilly country, and from a bluff along the edge of town, you can look down on the community, including its lovely stone iglesia, or church, adjoining the zocalo, or central square.  I wish to call your attention to a small door, at ground level, near the far lefthand edge of the church, below another overhead door higher up on the wall, and all of this to the left of the lower white dome.  To the right, in front of the bell tower are the trees of the zocalo.  




Zocalos are important parts of the cultural life of these small Mexican pueblos—areas of congregation and socializing.  It's where young teens ambulate, circulating around the square, boys and girls walking in opposite directions to check each other out, and older folks congregate to talk, parents allow young children to safely run and play.  

This picture is early morning, and as I strode from our splendid lodging toward the zocalo, I came to the side door, referred to above, and here was a young child in her vestments, dancing to her own internal song, joyously savoring another gorgeous Spring morning.  I managed to take her photo just as she realized she was not alone.

Centuries' old bells waiting to call the faithful to the morning's special service. And the padre, intoning "La palabra de Dios." Crowds gathering on the raised court surrounding the church, palm fronds held high, about to initiate the processional into the sanctuary.


And during all this time, two young lads—and all—hand crafting crosses out of palm fronds. Spiderman shirt, "See, if you twist and tie it like this, you get this really cool cross..."



A smile to warm the hearts of the most jaded or cynical.  


zocalo replete with a wonderful gazebo.












By now, you must know how gaga I am over color.Tropical Mexico is vibrant with nature's color, and that of the people.  Their joy of life, and the colors of their homes, their clothing, their music, their food.  


Palms and color, and, of course, the cross. The symbol of Rome's gruesome power, and Jesus' horrific death, turned symbol of eternal life.




And days come to an end, replaced by an afterglow leading to stars and moonlight.  If you're one of my pilot friends, this is just a few hours south of the border.  If you are not, well, it's a bit more of a travel odyssey, but well worth the visit. I wish you all the best throughout this Holy Week. 

The Surprise of Love

Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends... Love one another as I have loved you." John 15:13, 34

"There's a surprise inside," Amy said as she slipped the ring on my finger. Later, on the way to the reception I read "John" and wondered if they got the wrong name... Then I realized Amy had picked a verse for us, one that would challenge us for the rest of our lives.


Lay down your life... 


That verse has become more and more real to me as the essence of marriage, and the essence of life as a follower of Jesus. It's not a sentimental or sappy love, it's sacrificial. It's costly. It's not about me, but it's about living like Jesus.

As I have loved you...

Work hard to love each other, and love like Jesus? It's sacrificial, blessing, giving up something special, humble. It's building a bridge of friendship, compassion, hope.

For a church, it means caring for each, encouraging, listening, praying, submitting, forgiving, and welcoming each other. 

It means getting out of our four walls and making a difference, entering the world of poverty and injustice, building a house in Mexico, practicing hospitality, or showing up because it's important to the other. 

It's going across the globe, the border, the street. It's crossing into the discomfort zone where I don't know what's next or what to say.

Important? Essential

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Mark 8:34

Going to the cross this week, Jesus invites us along to love in very simple ways. And along the way our lives, relationships, and churches look more like Jesus. 

A few weeks ago I met the mayor of Encinitas over a coffee. I wanted to share with her about our serve day in February when our church closed down our services in the Sanctuary and served the county in 80 places, including 20 sites in her city. 

"I know," she said. "You washed my dad's windows." 

What a great surprise.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Building for the Next Generation

Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. Nehemiah 4:17–18  
Sunday we dedicated our new Children's Ministry Center, part of a three year project to remodel and rebuild the buildings and spaces on our entire seven acre campus. "The Story" text aligned beautifully for the day-- "Rebuilding the Walls" gave me the opportunity to connect the lessons of the ancient text with our current experience. 

Nehemiah's project was to rebuild broken down walls that left those returning from exile vulnerable to the attacks of enemy neighbors. As they were rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem, they were threatened by those neighbors and therefore carried weapons in one hand and their tools in the other. It's quite a picture: hammer or trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. 

It made me ask the question: I know what we are building, but what are we defending?

We are defending our ministry to children. God has called us to be a growing community, which leads us to share with children and their families the faith passed down from generation to generation. In one of the letters to the churches in Revelation Jesus warns, "Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from it's place." (Revelation 2:5)

What did we do at the first? Our very first commitment as a church was to children. More than seventy years we gathered children to teach about Jesus as the first church in Solana Beach. Almost fifty years ago we started a preschool, and replacing outdated and declining buildings was necessary to keep our commitment fresh and growing. 


We are also defending the vision of our church to be a growing community, beyond just surviving or maintaining the institution of the church. We want to be part of what God is doing for generations to come, and that requires we are united in spirit and purpose. It takes all of us giving, serving, praying toward that vision. We defend against the disunity of the evil one who comes to lie, steel and destroy. 

The lampstand in Revelation was the presence and blessing of God among his people who are called to make disciples of all nations, to demonstrate the kingdom of God, to become more and more like Christ for the sake of others. If we don't stay vigilent in our calling, the blessing of God can be removed and we'll no longer be part of what God is doing in our community. 

Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilt walls around the rebuilt temple and rebuilt faith in the people. They held up the word of God and the people wept in repentance and joy, they worshipped God and gave thanks for the space and protection to worship God and know his word in community.

We aren't building walls, but spaces where God's word is known and lived in community. May we build and rebuild faith in God (which is eternal) as we build and rebuild buildings (which are temporary). 

Here's the prayer to dedicate our Children's Ministry Building (adapted from an Anglican prayer):


Father in heaven, 
We dedicate these buildings and spaces which are temporary,
to be used in service to share your life which is everlasting.
May this campus be like a city set upon a hill,
bright with the glory of your presence
and echoing through the prayers of the generations.

In this place
may your word be proclaimed with boldness,
may the waters of baptism cleanse and renew us, 
may we celebrate Christ’s risen presence,
may prayer resound through heaven and earth.

On this day
we bless generations past who laid the foundation of our faithfulness. 
we bless children present and generations to come,
we bless parents pointing their children to Jesus,
we bless leaders who mentor and guide and love.

From this place
may we be equipped to be a people who are sent, 
may we dedicate our lives to loving and serving our community,
may we work for the restoration of your creation,
may we join you as you are at work in our world.

Help us to remember your faithfulness to generations past,
to follow your leading for what is ahead.
to be your church in the present.

Through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Coming Home Empty and Full (8 of 8)


I’m on the longest leg of our 8,000 mile journey home—a nine hour United flight from Tokyo to San Francisco. Before our short sample sake and eat sushi stop in Tokyo we enjoyed a wonderful five dish lunch on ANA Airlines—soba noodles with a little package sauce, wasabi and sprinkled seaweed; cubed fruit salad with a fresh mint leaf; teriyaki beef with grilled vegetables and sticky rice; simple salad with Japanese cucumber, cherry tomato and a little turkey roll with something inside; and sort of sweet creamed spinach. It was all so neatly presented with chopsticks, covered dishes and a warm towel.

We are wrapping up a unique twelve day experience with Compassion International in the Philippines that also included some great components to make a full meal: Hawaiian Island Ministries Conferences, Medical Mission, Community Service Team, Compassion site visits and lots of time for fellowship, Filipino hospitality and meals.

Our conference team of twenty was a diverse group of pastors, dancers and lay leaders who brought their own unique calling: returning with passion for the Philippine, a desire to say yes and be used, wide eyed first timers and child sponsors connecting with their children. God used all of us and God used us all. We leave as new friends and partners in ministry.

Both in Manila and Puerto Princesa our team gave workshops on topics like God’s will, studying the bible, marriage, prayer, serving with spiritual gifts and finding a mate, and we presented six plenary messages focused around the theme of encouragement. In addition, we had large group games, meals together, and the beautiful ministry of the Halau Dancers from Inspire Church on Oahu.

Our desire was to have fellowship, inspiration and teaching. Last fall the Philippines was hit with Hurricane Yolanda, destroying homes, taking  thousands of lives and leaving thousands still homeless. Compassion was on the ground Day 1 and continues to help in the rebuilding. Regardless if you were in its path or spared, Yolanda rocked the psyche and faith of Filipinos.

What could we say or do to connect? Personally Amy and I dug deep into my heart and transparently shared our stories through our workshops and my plenary. People are people, and although we have different kinds of loss, we all know grief and disappointment, and we all want to trust God in whatever circumstances we found ourselves.

We talked about our own struggles in marriage, and our desire to love sacrificially, intimately and faithfully in order to bless others through our lives together. We encouraged the discovery of spiritual gifts, heartfelt passion, abilities, personality and past experience, which informs our personal, unique design for marriage.

I wrapped up the conferences with my plenary talk, “What Every Leader Needs to Know about God.” It’s actually what I need to know: God is always present, God is always at work, and God is always making things new.  I shared my skydiving story and our attachment to the Holy Spirit—like my guide who fastened himself to me as we jumped out of a plane two miles high.

I also shared about the new thing God is doing in my heart as I grow as a grandfather. Aidan calls me Papa, the same word Eugene Peterson uses for Abba in Romans 8:15, with hearts that cry out, “What’s next Papa?” My relationship of trust and safety and adventure with my grandson informs and shapes my relationship with God as my Papa.  I can trust him as my Father in heaven to be there, to provide, and to transform me and others I minister to.

After each night of the conference we invited prayer with our team. At the Life Church we prayed for an hour with hundreds who waited in line to pray with us.

Life Church is a dynamic ministry led by Pastor Ancho Buenaventura: 30 church plants, thousands meet in their church and the coliseum down the street, everyone organized in life groups—groups that are open, evangelistic, family and accountable. Each person is encouraged to invite their friends, and then start their own group within nine months.

Life Church’s media is sophisticated—check them out on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter—and their worship is energetic, with smoke, stage lights, video announcements and dance. Pastor Ancho clearly has gifts of leadership, hospitality and evangelism. Even for Ancho, this time of prayer is a relatively rare thing, and we are all open to what God has in store for us.

This is one those times of feeling totally inadequate. I don’t have the gift of healing or intercession. I do have a pastor’s heart, some wisdom and the love of a father I can share. 

In the Philippines something like 40% of children live without their parents because they are working elsewhere in the country or abroad in places like Dubai. So we prayed for their sense of abandonment. Filipinos, despite the government efforts, are unemployed and underpaid, so we prayed for the stress in families that often leads to physical and emotional abuse. Many of the students and young adults come to church without their parents, so we prayed for their parents to come to faith. Healthcare is not accessible to everyone, so we prayed for children whose parents died young and are grieving.

More than praying a prayer that would fix their lives; I searched for a word of truth or encouragement to be a blessing to each person. You are God’s beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made. God is your Father in heaven who will never leave you or forsake you. You are not alone, God promises to attach him to you. God loves your parents as much as you do, and is pursuing them.

Maybe the most poignant prayer time was the young adult woman who came forward with a teenage disciple from her life group. She had been abused as a child, which made her wonder how she could be a good leader for her girls.

Fortunately Amy had finished her line and I asked her to join us. We prayed for her heart to be healed, for her to see herself as God does: It wasn’t your fault, you are white as snow, you are beautiful in his sight, you are his beloved and God is using you to lead others.

Disciples and discipleship are very important at Life Church. Everyone, from the pastor down, is asked to be discipled in a life group of twelve, and to form their own life group of twelve. So it was a big deal that she came forward with her disciple in this very vulnerable prayer request.

After we prayed I asked her disciple,
“What do you think of her story?”
“I am inspired by her story.  Many of us have also been abused.”
“Are you ashamed or embarrassed of her story?”
 Incredulous, she answered, “No.”
“How do you feel about her being your small group leader?”
“Blessed. Lucky.”

Then I turned to the leader and asked, “Can you hear God’s blessing through her? You are modeling vulnerability to your small group in a beautiful way and God is using you. We feel privileged to hear your story and pray for the healing of your heart.”

It’s almost eleven and we’re exhausted; empty yet filled. As we left the church a few of us were invited into a four on four pick-up game.  Of course we were and we played to five. 

God is always present.
God is always at work.
God is always making things new.



For information on making a difference through sponsorship: http://www.compassion.com/solanapres

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It's Not as Hard as Pulling Teeth or I'd Rather Have a Root Canal (7 of 8)


The Aloha Medical Mission team is amazing to watch. They set up a basic surgery unit, pediatric and adult checkups, as well as a dental clinic yesterday in the jungle village, and today in a large meeting hall of the provincial Capitol building in the center of town. Since sponsored children in the program receive dental and medical checkups twice a year, this is an opportunity to reach out to their siblings, parents and grandparents who have no access to healthcare.

Today we will serve three to four hundred people from morning till late afternoon. The doctors don’t take a break. The mothers and daughters and grandparents keep filling up the plastic chairs by the dozens. Each of these patients will see a highly trained professional who is there to treat their bodies and to tell them we care because God cares.  

I asked Judy the pediatrician from Honolulu about the woman and child she was treating. “She has nine children, and this one is three years old—blind and she cannot walk.”  She’s three but she is held limp by her mother, her eyes rolling back and forth. Judy grabbed a bag of vitamins, nine toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste. “There’s nothing I can do for her.”

Amy and I have no skills for this work, but Amy learned how to reload the syringes.  I grabbed a toy to give the children as they exited the dental clinic.  I got up every once and a while to greet the visitors with a smile, hello, your child is beautiful, I’m so glad you came. Thank you, Sir Mike.

I watched a seven day old infant receive her first check up. The mother was beaming over her first daughter and we were marveling at the baby’s dark full head of hair and tiny body. It made me think of my own grandsons the day they were born. Like me they were born in a beautiful, well equipped, safe hospital, with every test available, funded by insurance and surrounded by abundant opportunities. I wondered what the next few years of this baby’s life will be like now that the mother has received good counsel and is surrounded by Compassion’s staff and resources.

Andy is a general surgeon and the leader of the medical team. He’s a member of First Pres Honolulu and began this partnership with Aloha and Compassion here in the Philippines a few years ago. I watched as he treated each person with dignity, assessing their needs and then treating them. One 67 year old man complained of a painful infection below his knee cap that hasn’t healed in a year.  He was able to come because his ten year old grandson is a sponsored child. “You’re proud of your grandson?” I asked. He nodded with a slight smile.

I was dealing with my own fears of being too close to blood, but I wanted to see it up close. Amy encouraged me to put my hand on the man’s shoulder and comfort him. Andy walked me through the procedure—numbing the area with Lidocaine, cutting open the wound and allowing the infection to drain properly. His wife watched on with great interest. “We’ve been married seven years; I’m his second wife.” I motioned with my finger as if to say, “But you’re his best wife.” She smiled.

Andy removed the culprit of the infection: a half inch piece of bamboo that looked like a slivered almond. How did it get there? He can’t remember. Andy gave the man and his wife instructions: Clean this twice a day with water, not river water, but clean water. Change the bandage and it should heal up in ten to twelve days.  The way God created the human body is amazing.

Lynn quitting her job as a dental hygienist six months ago gave her the opportunity to come on her first mission trip. “This is the most life-changing experience of my life,” she shared with me. I watched as she injected the Lidocaine in the mouths of adults and children, and then confidently extracted teeth. She and the other doctors used camping headlamps for light, tables for examinations, and donated meds as prescriptions.

Like Lynn, not all the dentists were actually dentists. An anesthesiologist learned to pull teeth his first day--how to numb the nerve and use instruments to test and extract teeth.

Children fall to sleep with candy in their mouths. Soda and brushing once or twice a week and bad nutrition lead to rotten teeth. It’s a shame to see these beautiful young children lose their permanent teeth because they don’t know how basic hygiene.  I know my hygienist wants to know if I floss, but I would never expect not flossing resulting in pulling a tooth.

A beautiful eight year old girl comes into the make-shift clinic to see a dentist for maybe the first time in her life.  She lays on a table, her grandmother by her side, a nurse gently caressing her head, a volunteer holding down her legs. The grandmother looks back at me and smiles. This will be okay.

The dentist injects her gums and then begins to pull out her permanent molar. Tears well up in her eyes, and then she begins to scream a loud plaintiff cry of pain and fear. The dentist is having a hard time pulling out the root. She continues to cry. I don’t want to watch too closely.

She’s a brave little girl. This amazing dentist from Honolulu and this nurse from Palawan are professionals caring for her, reminding her she is loved, affirming her dignity, and getting her through this painful experience.

As she gets off the table all I can do is give her a toy, remind her God loves her, and pray a short blessing. 

It’s not as hard as I thought it would be to get close to the action. I’m reminded how most of the world lives, we are blessed in so many ways and that God is at work in places of poverty through these generous and tangible acts of kindness.

For information on making a difference through sponsorship: http://www.compassion.com/solanapres


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jungle Love (6 of 8)


The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor... freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free. Luke 4:18

We drove two hours this morning to a remote village in the jungle to the north of Puerto Princesa and set up a medical mission in partnership with life Church iReach. This area is known for military insurgency and we were assured they were cleared out for our visit. A few marines were on the grounds with semiautomatic guns to protect us. 

For the second day, doctors, pharmacists, nurses and a dentist saw hundreds of patients (500?), removed teeth (200?) and taught children to brush their teeth.

Amy and I helped repackage vitamins and medications. We realize we have limited skills, but the medical professionals realize they are limited as well. The most long term impact is the tangible love of God demonstrated in the jungle as an extension of the local church. Although this is not a Compassion project, it's the beginning of LIfe Church's sustained ministry. This outreach could result in a church plant, which might lead to education, better public health practices like clean water, sanitation and nutrition. 


Yesterday we saw the three stages of knowing, protecting, and loving children to release them from poverty. The Child Survival Program includes moms' prenatal care, learning to care for their infants and toddlers, and learning skills like weaving to raise money. What we saw was women treated with respect who are learning to love their children differently. In the process they make lifelong friends with other moms. 


We talked with young teenagers who are in the Child Development Sponsorship Program. We saw their records, and many on our trip whose children are from this program were able to read through their health and education records, sponsor letters, and spiritual development.

On home visits we entered into the real lives of poverty: two dollars a day income, squatting in a home built on stilts with thatched roof patched with cardboard, and children playing in dirt with chickens, dogs, and turkeys.


But in the homes there was also hope that their children are dreaming dreams, learning about God, incorporated into the life of a church.


Mayra was home alone, her children at school, her husband working six hours away and only visits a few days a month. Her shack was spotless. After she greeted us she turned on her oscillating fan so that we were comfortable. She beamed with pride showing us her children's school awards, pictures, and sponsor letters. (It so happens her son Edgardo's sponsor is a member of First Pres Honolulu!) 


Not all the children of the neighborhood were as fortunate. Without money they have no education, no health check ups, no dreams to dream. But they let us take their picture--eight and nine years old, barefoot, likely to perpetuate the poverty of their parents and grandparents. 

Finally, last night we celebrated the capstone of the long term ministry: college students leadership development program. We heard the stories of students who have been sponsored since four years old. They shared with tears what their sponsor letters meant to them--inspiration, encouragement and of course financial support.


We prayed for these cream of the crop students whose majors include social work, petroleum engineering and mass communication. These are the next leaders of their country and the world. 

There are times when we don't quite understand God's love. Who is cared for, who dies, who has a drug addict abusive father, and who has the opportunity to dream dreams. It's like jungle love, driving me mad, making me crazy.


And then it's a surprise and privilege to see firsthand the impact of God's life changing love in individual lives. 


For information on making a difference through sponsorship: http://www.compassion.com/solanapres

Monday, February 17, 2014

Showing Up (5 of 8)



And let us consider how we may spur each other on toward love and good deeds... encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:24-25

Saturday morning we wrapped up our conference with the Philippines Compassion staff. Dan ended the conference by asking us all to sit in a large circle and share what this conference meant to the Compassion staff. Overwhelmingly they were touched that we came. 

They thanked us for our generosity of time and topics that related so closely to their life situations. Pastor Noel, the national director for Compassion, asked the HIM team to stand in the middle of the room and for the next five minutes we were showered with gratitude, blessings and hugs. 

I know God used our words in our workshops and talks, but maybe more importantly, God used us to listen, to pray, to be present with staff who are exhausted from typhoon relief from the outside and a staff reorganization on the inside, not to mention the tremendous work of releasing children from poverty. We made new friends across thousands of miles and a huge ocean.  


Amazing what can happen in just a few days. 


Once we were out of the air conditioned conference center, the whole day felt heavier: the traffic and smog of Manila, the lingering jet lag, the cigarette smoke leaking out of the smoking room at the airport, the frustration of spotty or no wi-fi in the airport, the tight seats on our flight from Manila... (Wah, wah, wah.)

We took our ninety minute flight from Manila southwest to the island of Palawan. We landed at the Puerto Princesa Airport, walked down the stairs to the tarmac and felt the breeze. 

We walked through the small terminal and were greeted by sponsored children with bright green t-shirts and happy alohaaaas. Pastor Ancho from Life Church was among the kids with a wide smile and a warm handshake. 

This morning Amy and I took a tricycle (a motorcycle with a cage/sidecar for passengers) to the Life Church service held at the Coliseum.

I was struck by how young the people were, the number of visitors brought by members, and the positive culture that permeates the video announcements, the call to follow Christ, and the greeting: "Tell someone next to you they are beautiful." 

Two years ago, Ancho told us at lunch, they shifted from event-based ministry to relationship-based ministry. He meets with 12 men, who each have a small group of 12, who lead a small group of 12. "I've never had more free time for my family and for rest in my 30 years of ministry than I've had in the past two years. Now I don't have to sustain the big events, people are getting connected to each other, and we have grown."

Right after the service people met in huddle groups to network with each other and incorporate visitors. There is immediate connection. A visitor not only knows the friend who brought her, but the network of friends they are attached to. 

Dan preached his message on encouragement, telling the story of Saul, Ananias and Barnabbas. We need someone who sees in us what we don't see in ourselves. We need someone who will walk alongside us in difficult times. We need someone in our lives who speaks to us, as if God were speaking to us. We need someone who will step out, even when we are afraid or it is difficult, to encourage us. 


Amazlng what can happen in just a few days. 


For information on making a difference through sponsorship: http://www.compassion.com/solanapres

Friday, February 14, 2014

Encouraging Hearts (4 of 8)

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

Day 1 we visited a local church Compassion project and that afternoon began a three day conference with 75 Compassion staff who serve in the Manila office or in the field to support 330 projects.

Working to release children from poverty is hard work. Those in the office support the mission through administrative roles like translating letters and accounting, and others in the field as project specialists, working with local churches to develop partnerships with Compassion. 

The Philippines are made up of 2,000 inhabited islands, so churches are spread out in long distances, which means staff are away from their families for sometimes a week at a time, then return for church on Sunday, where they often have responsibilities in ministry.

In addition to the challenges of their daily work, they are engaged with the aftermath, clean up and rebuilding in the wake of the typhoon last November. It was all hands on deck last November loading planes with supplies, visiting the devastated villages to support the church, removing the debris, and now rebuilding homes and churches.

The elements of the conference are FIT: fun together, inspiration, and training.  This is a fun group of staff who enjoy to laugh, don’t take each other too seriously and are fiercely competitive at indoor beachball volleyball, man-gun-gorilla, outdoor dodgeball, paintball and karaoke!

The inspiration comes from band-led worship, videos, and teaching by the Hawaiian Island Ministries team. Our goal is to give encouragement and build up the staff during this difficult season. 

Dan Chun kicked us off with The Power of Encouragement, focusing on the impact of Ananias and Barnabbas on Saul, the future Paul. Tim Shaw asked What is Your Name? in a message emphasizing Jacob’s wrestling with God for a blessing. Laura Boyer, lay leader of prayer ministry at First Pres Honolulu talked about the Healing Prayer from the gospels, inviting us all to trust Jesus to heal us and bring us wholeness. 

Last night Tex Texiera, pastor on the big island of Hawaii, shared about being strong in the lord, like David and Paul, desiring to know God and gain strength from his strength. This morning Bob Davis, fellow San Diego pastor, will share about seeing God at work in little miracles in our lives. 

I am the last speaker of the conference, wrapping up with three things every leader needs to know about God: God is always present (event when I feel alone), God is always at work (it’s not all up to me, so I can rest), and God is always making things new (in the people I serve and even my own heart).

The teaching has been in the form of hour long seminars, ranging from themes of friendship, healing prayer, intimacy with God, how to choose a mate, and healing prayer. Amy and I did two seminars.

"Growing your marriage" was full with about 30 people--not all of them were there with their spouses. We emphasized time alone with your spouse to grow in your intimacy--taking a Sabbath to invest in your marriage and family.

One woman told Amy she was considering quitting her job with Compassion because she's apart from her husband for two months at a time because he's starting a new business elsewhere. She was thinking divorce was the only option, but now she believes God is asking her to sacrifice her work for her marriage.

Another woman told Amy she was inspired to love her husband differently, and appreciated the Amy loved me and what I we do to make time for our marriage. We had dinner with a couple who struggles with time: he’s in the field away from home six days a week. He loves his work, but he comes home exhausted. His wife and 13 year old daughter need his attention, but he’s been talking and traveling all week long.

We also gave a workshop called Serving with Purpose and Passion, helping them to see their identity as loved children of God, their calling by God to serve, and their spiritual gifts, heartfelt passion, abilities, personality and experience (SHAPE) helps them to understand God’s unique design of their lives.  

We broke them into pairs to share with each other each aspect of their SHAPE, then we asked them to share their Heartfelt Passion one at a time for the whole group. It was inspiring to hear them share aloud their heartfelt passion to change the world:  release children from poverty, the unity of the church, helping youth have dreams, children coming to know Christ, the Philippines reached for Christ, and as each person I had chills. God has placed in each of their hearts a piece of his own heart for a broken world, and they have committed their lives to making it happen.

After the evening session last night there was an opportunity for prayer and the team made ourselves available. Amy and I had the privilege of praying as a couple with others. 

Last night was Valentine’s Day and a couple asked us to pray for them. They were married in November and pregnant with a honeymoon baby. They wanted us to pray for them because "we want to be just like you--get old together and really love each other." We prayed for the safety of their baby and their new family together. What an honor and humbling privilege.

We prayed with a woman who grew up a sponsored child, worked at her church project for and now is in the field overseeing 12 churches. She was on the ground on the first day of the typhoon last November and saw all the devastation. 

It's exhausting, stressful to be out in remote churches, sometimes in dangerous areas, dealing with applications, money, pastors, grieving congregations and families being served. She described back pain because she carries a backpack everywhere she goes and sits for 6 hours straight traveling to another church. Compassion has helped remove all the debris and how they are in the reconstruction phase. I prayed the Lord would lighten her load of her backpack filled with fear, anxiety and fatigue. She loves children, she wants to give back. This is hard work.

Yesterday was a full day. We are building relationships, hearing stories, encouraging hearts, praying together for God’s strength in their lives.  As I share with them this morning, I pray we would all believe this simple affirmation about God:

God is always present.
God is always at work.
God is always making things new.

For information on making a difference through sponsorship: http://www.compassion.com/solanapres