Saying Goodbye to New Friends: NOLA Mission Trip Day 7

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It is amazing to me how close we have come to feel with the staff of ReachGlobal Crisis Response and the other volunteers that we have served alongside this past week.  Doing intensive ministry and sweating like crazy has a way of bonding you to other believers at a very deep level in a short amount of time.  We will miss our new friends and we pray for their ongoing efforts to rebuild New Orleans by rebuilding homes and sharing the love of Christ. 

Friday morning we spent time debriefing the week talking about what God did in and through us this week.  Then, we headed off to the job sites for half a day of work before returning to the Warehouse where we have been staying to clean up.  After cleaning up we headed back into the city to spend some time together as a team experiencing the Lower 9th Ward and the French Quarter.  We were blessed to be led by Arielle, one of the relational ministry staff members of ReachGlobal Crisis Response who lives in and loves on the city of New Orleans.  We had an enjoyable time together as a team, though it was a late night.  Now, it is 6:54am on Saturday and I am about to wake the guys so we can get packed up and clean the Warehouse and begin our 2 day journey back to Barron County, WI. 

I hope to share a few more updates next week once we are back home, so stay tuned.  Thanks again to all of you who supported us in prayer and financially.  We believe God used us not only to help move forward the long-term work going on here, but He also used us to bless the staff of ReachGlobal Crisis Response.  I know God did some things in my own heart as well and I trust that everyone on the team was impacted by this time of ministry.  May God receive all the glory and may we become more and more passionate about sharing the greatest news of all time: though we were dead in our sin, God rescued us through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. 

Do You Really Know Your Neighbors?: NOLA Mission Trip Day 6

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If I gave you a map of your neighborhood or block (or square mile around your home for those outside of town), how many of your neighbors would you be able to give me names for?  Could you tell me their story?  Could you tell me what they do for a living or where they grew up or what their favorite foods are?  Perhaps most importantly, could you tell me where they are at in their own spiritual journey?  When was the last time each of your neighbors were in your home?  When was the last time you shared a meal together?  When was the last time you were in their home?  As we have been working in three different neighborhoods this week in New Orleans, we have daily taken time to walk the neighborhood and pray on our own and with people who are open to it.  As we travel each day from Covington into the heart of the city and back again, we have time to talk about life and get to know the staff and other volunteers we are working with.

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One of the joys of this mission trip for me has been seeing the youth step out of their comfort zones and do things they may not have done before.  One of those things has been helping lead devotionals each morning.  We broke up into three groups of three and I am proud of the effort the youth have put into preparing and sharing a devotional message for not only our team, but the Crisis Response staff  and other volunteers who join us each morning for breakfast.

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Moms and dads, you would be proud.  This morning the devotional was on how to respond to emotional pain and suffering in a biblical manner and how to minister to people more effectively having been through suffering or pain ourselves.  We talked about extending Christian hospitality to those in our neighborhoods back home and what that might look like.  Ideas were discussed of block parties where neighbors can get to know each other better and be more intentional about doing life together.

As  we wrap up our work on the job sites tomorrow (Friday), pray that we will not only have developed a heart for the neighborhoods we are serving, but that we will take home with us a desire to get to know our neighbors more deeply and to minister to them and encourage them in their spiritual journey as we do life together with them.

Prayer, Presence and People: NOLA Mission Trip Day 5

So some of you may be wondering, what in the world does NOLA stand for.  Don’t worry, it took me a while to figure out, too.  For those of you that figured it out right away, just keep quiet – we don’t need to be reminded of how smart you are.  : ) For those of you that are still needing help, NOLA stands for New Orleans, LA (Louisiana).

Today is Wednesday, June 26th and it is the 5th day of our mission trip.  On behalf of the team, thank you to all the individuals and families that have supported us financially and are lifting us up in prayers.  I think we all woke this morning feeling very tired and a bit sore from the physical work of the previous two days.  6:30am breakfast 3 days in a row takes it’s toll on those who typically prefer to never see the sun rise.Image

It seemed today that for some of the team members the excitement of the first couple days is wearing off.  The lack of sleep combined with the heat and humidity and weariness of the work makes it more challenging to have a positive attitude.  Expectations for what this trip would look like may not have been accurate and are leading to frustration and disappointment.  For those of you in ministry, perhaps this sounds all to familiar.  We press on and encourage one another to set aside our expectations and to pray for God to work in and through us.  Please pray for our team in this regard as we head down the home stretch of this ministry opportunity.

Wednesdays are the day of the week when the volunteers try to connect more with the homeowners we are serving.  We had the opportunity to visit with the homeowners this afternoon and then we took them out to dinner along with some of the ReachGlobal staff at a local favorite: Ms. Hyster’s Bar-B-Que.

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When we connected earlier in the afternoon, I asked our homeowners (Bobby and Belinda) the same question I had previously asked some of the youth: “If you were sent into an area where there was no church and given the task of starting a church from scratch, what would you do and why?”  In discussing this question with the youth, a theme was connecting with people and building relationships.  So how did Bobby and Belinda respond to the question since that is basically what they are doing – being used by God to start a church from scratch?  Three things: Prayer, Presence and People.

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Prayer establishes our dependency on God and helps us remember that “we” are not the ones building the Church, God is building His church and He will continue to build His kingdom here on earth.  Bobby and Belinda seek to be sensitive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit as they come to Him continually in prayer.

Presence is another important component to planting churches.  Bobby and Belinda talked about the importance of being physically present with people – loving on them, getting to know them, connecting with their children and demonstrating the love and compassion of Christ consistently to neighbors and their families. For Bobby and Belinda, part of this involves having a home in the community where they can host Bible studies and have a Rec Room for youth to come and hang out at.  Bobby explained that they have learned that it is important to invite others into their lives and to be willing to enter into the lives of others as well when God opens doors.

Churches would not exist without People and it is building those relationships with people that God uses to build His Church.  Bobby and Belinda have a heart for people, especially people who do not yet know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Pray that God would allow them to get into the home we have been working on in the neighborhood of Broadmoor in New Orleans.

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Faces of New Orleans: NOLA Mission Trip Day 4

We followed a similar schedule today (Tuesday) and continued working on the three different job sites we have been assigned to as well as spending time prayer walking through the neighborhoods and talking with people and praying with them.  Part of our team had the opportunity today to spend some time at a memorial in the Lower Ninth Ward. 

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The Lower Ninth Ward experienced some of the worst devastation occurred as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  In that neighborhood, there are many vacant lots where homes used to be.  Now, all that remains on many of these lots is the concrete slab where the house once stood or the front porch.

Barton, Chris and Kurt have been working on removing old siding and installing new siding on a house in the city.  They also met a few people in the community yesterday and today and prayed with them.  One was a man spreading soil to make a yard for his children to play in.  Two women were hanging out on the porch of another home.

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Melinda and Kayla have been working on hanging sheetrock at a different job site and prayer walking that neighborhood.

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Lexi, Rachel, Kent, and I have been hanging sheetrock and mudding at a church planter’s future home.  We met a man today in the neighborhood that was pushing a lawnmower looking for work.  He seemed to be a Christian and was blessed to visit with us and actually led our time of prayer together.  Though he has not been able to find a job recently, he has maintained a positive attitude trusting in God while also getting out and finding odd jobs to earn some money. 

There are many different faces and many different homes.  The condition of some homes appears fine from the outside.  Some homes are even beautiful on the outside with lush vegetation and bright colored paint and unique architecture. 

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Yet, other homes are boarded up, abandoned, broken down, and overgrown. 

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Personally, I was reminded today by Lois that the people in the nice homes need Jesus just as much as those in the broken down homes.  We have a tendency to want to be like the colorful, beautiful homes or at least appear to others this way.  But, sadly, we sometimes are more like the broken down homes on the inside – feeling abandoned, or boarded up so nobody can get in, overgrown with pride or self-dependence.  May God not only break our hearts for the lost, but may God also rebuild our souls and heal our wounds and make us whole again so we may experience the joy of our salvation and be prepared in season and out of season to give others a reason for the hope we have in Jesus, whether in New Orleans or in Barron County or anywhere else.

A Small Part of a Big Mission: NOLA Mission Trip Day 3

It is 11:50pm on Monday as I sit down to update the world (or the three of you reading this) about the great mission of God our team is privileged to play a small part in and what God is doing in our hearts through it.  We just finished having a late night discussion in response to a great question by Chris Gruber about how ReachGlobal selects the families it does work for.  It brings joy to my heart to have a serious conversation about things that matter with a small group of young men as they are wrestling with what God is teaching them through this experience.

The morning alarm clock disrupted our sleep at 6:00am.  Breakfast was at 6:30 with a devotional following that was led by Bud Riska (the construction project manager guy).  Bud reminded us to set aside our expectations and prioritize relationships.  We were given permission to focus on building relationships with the homeowners we would be working for and with people in the community we might meet.  This meant the construction projects on the homes in the neighborhoods were to play second fiddle to the construction projects on the hearts in the neighborhoods.  Great reminder for those of us who have a desire to “get stuff done”.  

After loading up tools and getting organized and broke into 3 teams we departed from the Warehouse near Trinity Church in Covington to cross the world’s longest continuous bridge over water (The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway) which spans nearly 24 miles.  ImageWe entered the city of New Orleans and traveled separately to three different job sites.  In future posts, I will share more about the various homeowners we are assisting and part of their stories.  Some groups took time immediately upon arrival at the job site to walk through the neighborhood and pray for and with the people.  The group I was with worked through the morning and after lunch took some time to walk and pray for the community.  We met Darlene who is mental health care worker who was visiting some patients, particularly a woman whose 11-year old daughter had just arrived home on Friday following two months in the hospital due to brain surgery.  We prayed together with Darlene and the mother and for her daughter.  We walked past numerous homes that were boarded up and abandoned, though most in this particular neighborhood appeared alright from the outside. 

ImageImageTwo of our groups spent the day hanging sheetrock while the third group enjoyed being outside in the 90 degree plus heat and sun and humidity siding the house they were working on. ImageImage

ImageOn the return drive, I asked the question to those in our van what they would do if they were given the task to go to a community where there is no church at all and work to start a church.  We discussed the value of making relationships and connecting with people.  I was particularly blessed by the conversation we had with Blair and Joan who do missionary work in the jungles of Peru sharing the Gospel and planting churches that are led by the indigenous people.  What a blessing to learn from a couple that has a heart for reaching the unreached – sharing the Word of God with people who have never before heard about the good news that, though we are sinners, God has made a way for us to be forgiven!

We all returned to the Warehouse tired and dirty and hungry.  Praise God for showers and good food and fellowship (and tough guys with soft hearts)ImageFollowing supper we watched a short video about urban ministry that challenged us to think carefully about how we think about our role in what God is doing.  This was a good reminder for me.  I must set aside my desire to make a HUGE impact in New Orleans, and instead accept the rather minor role we are playing in something so much BIGGER than us.  God is at work in New Orleans and God is at work in Barron County, WI.  He has gone before us and we simply have the privilege of joining Him in the work on redemption He is presently doing in and around us.  What a JOY to know that it is not about US, but it is about HIM.  As my buddy JTB once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  May we be faithful in pointing people to HIM! 

Rain, Roads, and ReachGlobal: NOLA Mission Trip Day 1 & 2

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We departed from Maranatha Saturday morning at 7:26 (only 26 minutes behind our goal, which is practically “early” for Pastor Tony). It was raining when we left and it rained almost the entire drive. Roads, roads, and more roads. Rain, rain and more rain. Fifteen hours together in a tightly packed van served well in helping our team bond closer together. Kayla Kuhrt won both our travel competitions. She won the MES Award (Most Embarrassing Story) and had the closest guess to how much it would cost to fill up the van with gas. However, Barton Bjugstad’s experience Saturday being accused of stealing a man’s wallet in the restroom at a wayside rest during one of our stops provided the team with many laughs. After a long day of driving, we praised God for allowing us to arrive safely at our Saturday evening destination: an EFCA church in Memphis TN called Community of Grace. We arrived at about 10:30pm and were graciously greeted by Timothy and Sharron who opened the building for us.

We slept on pews and the floor before waking Sunday morning and re-packing the van. After a team devotional and breakfast we joined the Community of Grace for their regular 40 minute prayer time prior to their worship and teaching time. Worshiping with our brothers and sisters at Community of Grace was very different from our normal experience which provided a good opportunity for discussion in the van ride that followed. There were youth very involved in leading the worship service at Community of Grace, which was encouraging to see. We were invited up front to be prayed over before we continued on our journey. Image

More roads. Less rain. We departed from Memphis at 11:15am and arrived at our final destination tonight (Sunday) just after 6pm. We unloaded the van, were given a tour of the ministry center where we will be staying and then joined the ReachGlobal team and some others we will be serving with for orientation and then a rich time of prayer and worship. Presently, it is mostly quiet in what they call “the dorm” aside from some periodic squeaking from the bunk beds we are sleeping on and the clickety-clack of my typing.

It is a joy and privilege to be here with this team and we deeply thank all of you who supported us financially and those who are lifting us up in your prayers. Pray for sweet rest tonight before our 6:30 breakfast and training and day of ministry. Pray that our hearts would be soft and that we all would be responsive to the work God desires to do in our hearts. Pray that we would be conduits of God’s love for the city of New Orleans and that we could play our part (though small) in the transforming work that is going on through the Evangelical Free Church’s ReachGlobal crises response ministry. Pray especially that this ministry experience would be a turning point for some of these students so that they will take ownership of their faith, if they have not done so already. Thanks!

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