Good to be home

I can’t believe it’s been a week or more (with some of you) that I was in the U.S. sharing the work of Uno Mas. I appreciate your hospitality and graciousness and always
Ok forward to seeing old friends.

I think I shared with some of you that we have two weather seasons here in Nicaragua….. hot …. and hot and rainy. Well, we are into the rainy season now … with that comes the normal trials of out area. Flooding is probably our biggest issue. He have been able to gather some Nicaraguan volunteers to help in the clean up. The area pictured below is Malacatoya, it is an area east of Managua. They really need our prayers rights now so please help us out there.

We were able to get the feeding programs back already so it’s been a good week. Be watching next week on the blog post and Facebook page. We are hoping to get a lot of pictures.

Thanks again for all you done and will do for Uno Mas. Please keep me in your prayers as I do you daily.

Dios te bediga ….. Pastor Jeff

Coming to the U.S

Even though I’m sitting on a bus heading to Liberia, Costa Rica, where tomorrow I’ll fly back to the United States… I wanted to take a minute and send you a little update.

I feel the same mixed emotions today that I will feel on October 13th when I get on another plane for my return to Nicaragua. I will miss family, I will miss friends, I will miss friends who are as dear to me as family. That is how I feel today.

All this week I have had students hugging and crying and saying that they will miss me. It is a great feeling. But I also have to admit a great amount of anticipation as I look forward to seeing all of my friends in the States.

Please pray tomorrow (Saturday, September 22). I’ll be leaving Liberia Costa Rica at 2:55 pm and getting to St. Louis around midnight. Looking forward to seeing you all. And to those who I left behind…..”hasta pronto.”

Dios te bendiga

I’ll see you soon

For those of you who regularly read my blog or receive a report, this of course is not news to you. It I am happy to say that I will be able to see many of you very soon. I will be returning to the states on Saturday September 22 (actually Sunday the 23rd 12:15 in the morning.) That means that those of you who go to the Sunday morning service at Joy, I will be there to say hi.

I am leaving town to see family Thursday and won’t return until late September 30th. Before that I’ll be be at church at the bar the 26th as well. Then I’ll have two weeks in O’Fallon before I return October 13th return to Nicaragua.

The reason I say this, is that if any any of you want to schedule a time where we can talk about the work of UnoMas one on one….. please check with Kevin Gambill or Dave Rispoli. Most of the time I am in the US I speak to larger groups in churches or meetings. But I really would love to get one on one time with those who have been interested in knowing about the great work we together are doing here in Granada. If you already support the work, be prepared to receive a phone call from Kevin or me…. I really want to share some great things going on here.

Just as an example, we are still holding classes and preaching regularly. The resources you share with me go directly to the folks we work with here in town. Last month alone, we were able to help 30 families with rice and beans and other staples. Last I shared how the number of poor is grow substantially because of the lack of tourism. That means I have given beyond the $200 ministry resources you so generously provide. So I have cut into my stipend to help. I don’t say that to say “poor Jeff” or even receive any praise. I tell you that because the need is so great and we are so rich by comparison, it is impossible to have an ounce of compassion and not be compelled to help. So if you feel an ounce of sadness for me …. please don’t waste it. Think about the hundreds of families we could be helping. This is a difficult time for Nicaragua and we can make an impact. We have made an impact. And we can make an even greater impact if we band together.

Thank you so much for your support and prayer. I think of you always and I am looking forward to seeing many of you in a little more than a week.

Until then. Dios te bedinga

Pastor Jeff.

A different Granada….what’s new, what’s different

How does one describe the two Nicaraguas I see from my front door. I am perplexed everyday that the streets here are are safer and returning to the “normal” state I found them when I arrived almost 3 years ago. Folks are scurrying around cleaning their stoops, greeting each other, hurrying off to the market. So in many ways life has all the appearances of Granada of old.

There is, however, something missing. What is different? What has changed? Then suddenly it hits me. Nobody looks like me. The tourist center of Nicaragua is missing its number one industry. I walk down the main tourist street and am reminded of this all too obvious fact when I realize half of the hotels and restaurants are closed. The ones thy remain are sparsely filled with local folks celebrating a birthday or anniversary. The bustle is gone.

Why do I bring this up? Why am I concerned? Well very simply, it is because at one point some 40% of the workforce had jobs inside the tourism sector. Conservatively another 10 – 20% had jobs indirectly connected to that same industry. Plumbers, electricians, pool maintenance, grocers, street vendors, and the like now have far less ability to ply their professions.

The good news in all of this is that when times are tough, people turn to God. We know have 27 classes that UnoMas teaches every week. Six months ago we had more classes but most of them were English classes where the gospel was shared. Now folks don’t care if they learn English. Nearly all of my classes are bible studies where folks bring hard questions about life to the table. They are searching for real answers, real solutions, real reasons to place their faith in God .

I am preaching an average of 3 times a week and every church has seen and increase in folks who would normally never darken the door of a service. Now some are there to ask for money. Word gets around when an U.S. missionary is somewhere and the hope of course is that I can subsidize the in some way. I do, of course, what I can but cannot help everyone.

There is a tremendous amount of work to do here in Granada. If you notice, I have not said anything about the political situation. There is a reason…. foreigners are being deported for involving themselves in the politics of Nicaragua. I hope that is enough explanation for now. I will be in the U.S. in a few weeks. I will be free to have all the conversations you want about such things, so please get with pastors Rispoli and Gambill if you want to setup a time to have a meeting during the time I am home.

Bottom line, we need more resources. We budget $200 every month for ministry items. I try not to give out more than $20 at a time to maximize the number of folks I can help. I accept no fees for any preaching. If offered (which is infrequent), I ask the pastors to distribute the money to neediest of the families in their congregations.

God has amazing opportunities here in Granada for us. I have had doors open that have been closed for 3 years. Your faithfulness and willingness to support our ministry is too great for me to sufficiently express my gratitude.

May God richly bless you as he has UnoMas in these turbulent times here in Nicaragua.

As always, I miss you all and Dios te bendiga.

Pastor Jeff

Divine Appointments II

I think about divine appointments all the time. I know many of you have heard me drone on about what I believe to be God’s everyday appearance in our lives. Those moments when you have had some activity planned and scheduled and then something different occurs. Something extraordinary. Something totally out of sync with your concept of how the day was progressing. When God shows up and makes your attempts at order seem totally futile.

That happened to me this week.

As many of you know I was traveling home to Nicaragua from a whirlwind visit to the U.S. last Tuesday and my entire schedule was interrupted by mechanical failure on the airplane I was to take back to Liberia, Costa Rica. From there I was to grab a bus across the border to Granada. All good, decent, well thought out plans “ruined” by a loose bolt, a computer chip, some sheet metal, or whatever it was that delayed my flight.

Let me first take you back to the week before. I was a missions conference in northern Indiana. I had been invited by a dear old college friend, Jerry. I was scheduled to share the work of Uno Mas and was given the opportunity to preach as well. There were many folks there and I was housed with another missionary named Kevin. To my knowledge we had not met before and I was looking forward to understanding his work and gaining any insight that might help out here in Nicaragua.

Come to find out …. He had been in his earlier days a missionary to Central America. Coincidence…sure but not that far fetched. Then we found out that we might very well have met before … in HIGH SCHOOL!!! While a very large high school on the west side of Indianapolis…we both had similar interests and friends in common …. So it is entirety within reason that that we had at the very least interacted in a cursory way many years ago. Again with the coincidences. Then he told me about some of his current work, which in part involves working with Muslim refugees in Indianapolis. Ok, so no big deal there… I have never been specifically called to that work, but I am so glad he is. It just proves how the body of Christ works… Different callings …. Different interests … Different gifts … one kingdom.

Now fast forward to my ill timed flight. Long story short I was delayed long enough that I missed my connecting buses to Nicaragua and had to travel the next day. For some reason, our bus was delayed for almost 3 hours at the border. There I made a discovery. I noticed that there were several folks in a huge holding area in no man’s land between the borders. I had been through this crossing several times in the last year and a half, yet never noticed this encampment before. It appeared to be filled with hundreds of people.

Of course my curious nature overrode my common sense and I went to see if I could talk to anyone from that camp. Why am I telling you this? Well, I found out that these were northern African refugees attempting to ultimately seek exile in the U.S.. But here they were…. Waiting … In limbo …. Not here nor there … No home …. No destination… losing hope quickly.

My heart was wrenched. I still do not feel called to that ministry. I still believe I am here in Nicaragua for a reason different than helping Muslim refugees on the border. But I told them that I would get their story out as best I could. Now I am asking that all of you please pray that someone hears God’s call to these folks. I am going to be praying and researching and recruiting folks to this ministry. Please join me in praying for these hundreds of folks without a home … without hope … without Christ.

Let me tie all of this up in a bow for you. If I had not been invited to a conference, I would have never been reconnected/connected with my new old friend Kevin. Had I not reconnected with him, my eyes for the great work God wants to do with muslims who are in a state of flux because of wars and struggles in their home countries would still have been closed. Had Southwest Airlines not had a mechanical problem with the original flight 491 from Houston to Liberia, I would not have been late for my original bus. Had I not been late for my original bus, I would have passed through the border after dark and probably not noticed the camp in no man’s land. But all of those events occurred. Every one of them putting a nail in the coffin of my original scheme. Each devised to put new faces in front of me. New people who need hope. New people who need encouragement. New people who need Jesus.

So here we go…join me in three prayers today.

God please send workers into the harvest. Call people who have a heart for those without a country between the borders of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
God please continue to bless the work here in Nicaragua as we try to reach “uno mas” for you everyday.
Open our eyes to your divine appointments. Don’t allow us to be so caught up in our wisdom that we look past your more perfect plan.

I love you all so very much…thank you for all of your prayers…I covet them greatly.

Dos los bendiga.

Jeff

Roll Tide … and War Eagle, too

I know that to many it is sacrilege to use those cries in the same title, but bear with me, I think you will understand.

Let me start out by saying that there seems to be a growing prejudice among some of my friends and colleagues as to the state of our collective futures regarding the next generation of young people who are growing up around us. Because of a few anecdotal incidents I have heard, disparaging remarks seem to be easy and often warranted given the stories the remarks are based upon. I want to tell you something today that will give you hope.

I had the opportunity last week to work with three young ladies who all go to school in the state of Alabama (two at the university of Alabama and one at Auburn university). They are pre-med and pre-dental students embarking on the early stages of health care careers. They are from different parts of the country (Alabama, Michigan, and Massachusetts) and had different family backgrounds. Yet they came to Nicaragua for one purpose….to help the people in Granada.

Our first day was spent going house to house taking general health censuses, talking to people, and seeing where these folks lived. They viewed the conditions in which they were raising their families. They did a lot of listening. Gleaning insight into the day to day lives of these folks who are so dear to me and you.

The next few days, we had free clinics at the church with pastor Guillermo and his family. Working through heat, poorly lit facilities, and a language barrier, these women showed poise, maturity, and grace well beyond their physical ages (I told one of the translators that I was wearing a pair of socks that were older than these girls). Every moment of every day, I came to cherish and respect what these ladies were doing more and more.

With their help of a local doctor and dentist who were by our side, we helped dozens of folk, supplied pounds of medicine, fixed oral issues, and in the case of a couple of patients with severely high glucose count, probably saved lives. The whole trip led by Pavel and his team (Massiel and William) was an historic success.

More than anything, I saw the passion and compassion in these soon to be doctor’s eyes. They came to personify the perfect combination of analytical skill and heartfelt caring. I want you to know that if Samira, Leah, and Sandy are representative of the future (and I believe they are),  then we are going to be just fine. If any of their parents, family, friends, or professors come to read this, I just want to thank you on behalf of Nicaragua for lending them to us. You should be very proud of them. They represent the best and the brightest and we will be forever grateful. And ladies, I want to personally let you know the impact you have had on my life. You are all now part of the Uno Mas team and I will never forget what you did for our community. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Of course it goes without saying, you are welcome back anytime.

Until next time, Dios los bendiga.

Jeff

A Prayer Request

While working here in Nicaragua it is easy to get caught up in the busyness of service. I find myself going and coming and going again to the point where it seems I spend most of my day on my motorcycle running down the streets of Granada to my next appointment. But then moments like yesterday happen….

I received an email from home where I was told a dear friend of mine… a fellow sojourner in this world … a brother … found out some news about his wife. She has lung cancer. Not sure what stage, not sure of much right now, but the word alone is enough to knock you down for the count.

I could write for paragraphs about my friend. I could say how he is maybe the greatest relationship evangelist I have ever met. I could tell you that when I read Bill Hybels’s book, “Just walk across the room”, I thought it could be a biography of my friend. I could tell you that other than God, and in concert with many others, if I had to pick the people who have made my being in Nicaragua possible, his name would be at or near the top of the list. I could say so much more about my friend, I will not. I want to say something about his wife.

She is, what we used to say in the old days, a fireball. She is quite literally the straw that stirs my friend’s drink. Her love, her compassion, and her insight are not easily paralleled. I would love to give you examples of her… people you might know who are somewhat analogous to her… someone she reminds me of. But I have to say that she is utterly, uncompromisingly, unabashedly, unique. She somehow knows how to encourage at exactly the right moment. She can offer criticism and make you want to thank her for it. Then she will give you a hug to comfort and encourage you. She stands by her man like few others, yet never loses her own wonderful self. Fun, vivacious, intelligent, and wise, She is beyond description and she defies categorization. She is quite simply one of the best women I have been blessed to meet. I could go on but I won’t.

All I can ask today is that you pray. Pray that she be spared the horrific consequences of battling this disease. Pray for her total and complete healing. Pray for the strength to withstand all that may pass in front of her. Pray that she can ” grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” in this challenging time. And pray that she can grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of me and countless others who’s lives she has touched, is touching, and will continue to touch for many years. Pray for her husband, my fellow laborer in the harvest fields, my friend. Please pray.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Except…I love you both.

God bless… Dios los bendiga

Jeff

Not without Jesus

I have had many experiences in my life. Some good bad, some not. I have met people who have effected me in many ways. What happened last Thursday was unique. Unprecedented. In over thirty-five years of ministry, I have had the opportunity to sit with many saints as they took their last breath on earth. While it is not something that I look forward to, it nevertheless is something that many folks have experienced in their life time. I have even tried to answer the questions that naturally come when one is knowingly entering their last phase of this journey. I have seen crises of faith, examples of hope, and even heard decrees of defiance.

What I have not seen, at least until last Thursday was a singularly amazing picture of submission in the face of apparent demise. Let me tell you the whole story.

As many of you are aware, several missionaries go to the local holding jail just outside of Granada. Think of it like a county jail. The place where those who have had a momentary lapse of judgement and those who are hardened criminals intersect. Some have just completed their initial processing and are awaiting their trial. Others have been convicted, sentenced, and held until moving into the prison system in Masaya. While still others might be serving out their less extensive time there at the jail. There are several different areas in the jail and we (all the missionaries and local church folk who come with us) all split up into those sections for ministry.

Typically, we sing a few songs, have a bible study, and distribute some food and coffee. Thursday was no different. Jesse, three short term missionaries, a local pastor, and my self went into one of the cell areas. Think of a concrete room about the size of a U.S. two car garage with anywhere from 25-40 men crammed into that small space. Cardboard boxes flattened on the ground substituting as beds and five gallon paint buckets in the corner as toilets.

For some reason, we didn’t do much of a verse by verse bible study, as we usually do. But all of us shared from our own experiences about our love for Jesus and how amazing it was that He loved us back and in spite of our mistakes, He longed for a relationship with us. Then of course, we told them how he longed for a relationship with them as well. While we always give an opportunity for the men to accept Christ’s offer of salvation and lordship, we often bring it as the last item after the study. Not in anyway an afterthought, but not always the thrust of the entire visit. Jesse was the last to speak. I could hear that he was winding up his remarks when I spied out of the corner of my eye someone who was intently looking at Jesse. I did not recognize this guy, so he must have been new. Then the question was asked…. “does anyone want to give their heart to Jesus today?” This guy’s hand shot straight up. Immediately. Determinedly.

Then something happened. The moment he was recognized and we said, “let’s pray together”, he clutched his chest. Believe me when I say, I have seen that look. I have even felt that pain. We all knew immediately what was happening. This inmate was having a heart attack. We asked for him to lay down and we summoned the guards. His cell mates were frantic. Yelling, screaming, even cursing at the guards to come to this poor fellow’s aid. The young man was on his knees, grabbing at his chest and telling us over and over and over again two things. “I am going to die.” And, “I don’t want to die without Jesus.” The guards were at the door by this time. Obviously worried. Whether it was genuine concern or the fact they didn’t want to lose a charge of theirs. I believe most of them were concerned. But this man kept repeating, “not before we pray”. Of course we prayed with him. He asked for Jesus to be lord of his life. He briefly smiled and then winced in agony once more.

The guards took him outside. He began to convulse. Scott, one of the other missionaries who happens to have a truck took our new brother to the hospital along with one of the guards. The last word we got was that he made it. Don’t know anything more. Will let you when I get more information.

But it got me thinking. I am just like that inmate. While I hope it is 25-30 years from now, there is one thing that is certain. I am going to die. If Christ tarries, there is no other way out of this planet. I don’t like talking about it. I don’t want it to be soon. But the reality is that we all will cross that doorstep to eternity. The good news is that just like my friend in the hospital, I am not going without Jesus. He understood it. He got it. He knew he couldn’t live or die without a relationship with God through His son, Jesus.

I hope you know that too.

Dios los bendiga

Jeff

Divine Appointments

This story isn’t even about me. But it does involve our ministry together here in Nicaragua and I hope encourages you to look every day for the divine appointments God has prepared for you.

First, what do I mean by divine appointments? I am really not sure who came up with the term, as I know I didn’t. But a divine appointment, as I define it, is a person who comes into your path as a part of your normal activity, with whom God has supernaturally put there for a reason. I truly believe that God has folks come into our lives that He knows we can either help in their spiritual walk or contrarily can help us. It maybe the checkout person at the store, your mechanic, or your boss. But at that place and at that time God has placed that person on your path for a purpose.

Let me tell you about one such appointment. Here in Granada we have a small fellowship of English speaking believers that meet every week for worship. They some time ago asked me to function as their pastor. So I preach, pray, and love on them like any other pastor in any other church. We have all been talking about different outreach opportunities here in the city. While they were already aware of most, I talked about our discipleship classes, about the jail ministry led by another missionary, and yet another group that has an extensive feeding and children’s education program. While that was all fine and good, they were interested in helping an established local church if at all possible.

One of the “gringos” got into a taxi one day with a Nicaraguan guy who speaks English well. This fellow helps my friend with the construction oversight of the new house he is building. Now you have to know my friend owns a vehicle. I am not sure if his wife was using it or exactly what the circumstances were that caused him to use a taxi. But on this ride he became acutely aware that the driver was a Christian. After a bit of conversation it was revealed that this driver’s church had been damaged in the wind storm a few weeks ago. So my friend invited him to our church service and suggested that we could talk to him afterwards about possibly helping his congregation.

On Sunday, the driver not only showed up…but over 30 members of the congregation came along as well. The worshipped with us, we did makeshift translation of the sermon, and we opened up our prayer time as we usually do. These folks began to form a line at the front of the church. I guess it is there tradition to come forward and make their prayer requests known.

I have to tell you, I was expecting a big “ask” from them. Petitioning us for funds to help rebuild their building. But was I wrong! They began to give testimonies. Simple, heartfelt, genuine testimonies of how God had provided in their lives. There was laughter and some tears and we could all really sense the presence of God. This group of folks really touched the hearts of the people who were there. It was blessing for everyone at the service.

I will keep you posted on how we are going to move forward, but I just wanted to share with you what a divine appointment looks like. What would have happened if my friend had missed that opportunity to invite those folks to service? What if, as he truly is, felt he was too busy to talk to this taxi driver? Now because of one “accidental” encounter, at one “chance” location, with one “random” guy, God is preparing a great friendship between our people.

Don’t let these “happenstance” moments pass you by. Don’t allow yourself to be so self absorbed that we miss these encounters. God has something or someone right around the corner that he wants you to grab onto in order to more palpably experience His work in your life. Are you ready for some divine appointments? I am!

God bless. Jeff

Back Home!

I arrived at my casita about 7:30 in the evening after starting the day around 3:30 that morning. The moment I reached Nicaragua I turned on my local phone and the texts began appearing. Friends who were asking when I would be there, ministry folks asking about my next steps, even a student wondering about resumption of classes. The overwhelming sense of home spread about me. I miss all of my friends in the U.S. and as Paul said, I thank God for every remembrance of you. While I would never compare myself to him, I get where he was coming from. The time spent with family and friends was so great, but now it is time to get back to the main thing.

God has blessed me with such a great opportunity to share his love. I am honored and humbled by the fact he chose this “clay jar” (2 Cor. 4:7) as part of his plan. I want to remind you all of what I said Sunday at Joy… I go to Nicaragua and you are with me, you are sharing, you are spreading this wonderful good news. So “When I go…you go!” Just remember that you are going somewhere too. Whether it is the work, or school, or to the store, you are just a “sent” as I am sent. So when you go… I am going with you as well. It doesn’t matter where we have been sent… a barrio in Nicaragua, a jungle in Africa, or a mall in Missouri… we are all a part of the amazing, crazy, illogical, plan that God has of redeeming the world back to Him. I take you with me everywhere I go. You are in every hug I give, every bible that is handed out, every message preached. And I am with you when you do the same.

I don’t have much of an update on the work here as it has been really only one day back in the saddle…but keep watching here for new blog entries. I will try to get them out every Saturday. Thank you again for all of your support… both in prayers and partnering with me in our projects. I can’t wait to see you all again, but in the mean time…. Dios los bendiga.