Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hearts of Servants

Over these last two Wednesdays we have been taking our youth to serve at the Unity Shoppe of Santa Barbara ( Unity Shoppe is a place where low-income families are served in a dignified manner. It includes an actual store where families can choose items they want and need.

Our youth go over to show the love of Christ through helping to stock shelves, take families through the store and serve in whatever ways we are needed.

These are some of the moments that remind me why I still love being a youth pastor. To serve alongside students who are happy to volunteer and love people because Christ first loved them brings rewards that trump the more challenging times.

This time of year we are reminded God came to live among us. In this generation I see people who are ready to go out and love others. They bring us all great hope for the future of the church and for the many who will be led by them to Christ.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Following my sermon on 11/30 I have had some interesting conversations. It seems many people really connected with the idea of quieting their lives and letting God speak to them in the stillness and quietness of His voice. People are growing weary of programmed lives filled with too many activities, tasks to be completed and not enough time to "be." This used to be more of phenomenon among adults and college students but now I'm seeing it among High School and even Jr. High students. Advanced Placement classes, Club sports, performing arts, the pressure to get in the best college and more are all pressing on the lives of youth with increasing intensity. While the things I listed are not necessarily bad they are, in many cases, being abused.

In succeeding years we will begin to experience the consequences of this hectic culture in the form of more stress-related illnesses, competitive anger and any number of other symptoms. What will it take for us to "be still and know that He is God?"

In some of my conversations I have had some well-meaning people imply I am going through a "simplify" phase. While I was thankful for their encouragement I was struck by the observation that this might some type of program. Listening to God in the quiet is not a task to be accomplished and it certainly cannot be a fad. It will be a life-time process shaped by keeping Christ at the center, loving my family and receiving the support of others who are seeking to journey this same road.

The other day I stepped out into the hallway of our house and caught our Dachsund, Laney, laying in the sun. In the winter the Southern California sun is low enough to come directly in the hallway. Laney loves to nap in the sun and takes advantage of this comfortable setting. It is here she finds her best rest. I get relaxed just watching her rest!

In this season where we talk so much about light and see so many lights, where do you find your place of rest? When you see the light of God's warmth do you take the time to rest in it?

See you in the sun!

Sunday, November 30, 2008


The following is from a sermon I presented this morning in all three worship services:

I heard myself say it. It was the last day of our mission’s trip to Costa Rica this last summer. I asked each of our team members to write down, in their journals, at least 1-3 action points they were going to take home with them after such a powerful experience. After leading trips like this over the past 20 years it would be easy for me to give other people this assignment being comfortable with the stack of action points I had collected from many trips past. I heard myself say it, gave team members the appropriate amount of time and then I started thinking about all the details to our trip home.

A day later at 32,000 feet flying somewhere over Central America on Taca Airlines God spoke to me. He clearly gave me the assignment of coming up with my own action points. I shuffled for a piece of paper, pulled down the tray table, turned on the little light, fought off sleep and wrote down two things: 1) Be with more people; 2) Simplify

As soon as I scribbled the second point I remember thinking, “Huh?” It wasn’t as if God moved my pen for me. There weren’t angels singing. I did wonder exactly what God meant by that little word. He quickly took me back over the previous 11 days and then over the years before. In the 11 days he showed me the plain and effective ministry in the quiet little town of Esterillos. No building, no major programming, no strategic task force meetings, no smoke, no lights just be with the people and live out the gospel. I had this same feeling on numerous trips to Latin America. I still recall a Mexican pastor’s office with nothing but a typewriter and I remember being envious.

I had a polite little argument with God, “Simplify, really? I can see that in Latin America. I can see it in the little beach town of Esterillos where relationships come first but how does that work back in Santa Barbara where people walk fast, drivers get mad, people are tired and the list of things to do becomes a badge of honor? How do I accomplish this?”

It was then God gave me another assignment: “Doug (I am paraphrasing what God really said!) try simplifying for three months and if you are still living it and feeling it at the end of that time then you can officially say, ‘I am simplifying.’” When I heard this I got it. I have doctorate in “Camp High.” “Camp High” (or “Vacation High” or “Victory High”) are what we experience after coming off a great event in our lives. During those great experiences we are “living the dream” and we come home determined to hold onto the feeling. We are determined to make changes or tell everybody else they’re doing it wrong. A short time later the feeling is gone and the great event is just another memory.

Three months . . . that seemed like plenty of time to know how serious I was about simplifying (even though I didn’t know what it meant). So . . . July 10 at 3:30am when I departed the Santa Barbara airbus in our church parking lot began the test of my second action point. It has now been 5 months and 10 days after the beginning of reality. What happened? What did God teach me? What does this have to do with you? How could this lesson affect the beginning of our church year we call Advent?

Look at 1 Kings 19: 9 – 13. Elijah had been running for his life when we pick up this story:
And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

Studying this passage we can make four observations:
1) GOD ASKS THE QUESTIONS: Perhaps this is the question we should be asking ourselves this morning, “What are we doing here?” Elijah been passionate for the Lord to the point of burnout and so God asks him the question. He says, “So what is your purpose? Is this is how you want to be? Is this where you want to head?” I had been asking these questions. God does not want us to be alone in finding our life goal.
2) GOD LISTENS TO OUR ANSWERS: Elijah tells God about his life situation. He is overwhelmed, he is feeling alone. God lets him vent.
3) GOD PREPARES US FOR HIS ANSWER: You can almost hear God say to Elijah, “Okay, I asked the question, you gave me your answer and now go put on your seatbelt because I have an answer. Strap in!”
4) GOD RESPONDS IN THE QUIET: Elijah waits for the answer and first God sends the wind. The mountains tear apart and the rocks split. What was Elijah holding on to in that cave? Sounds like a category 5 hurricane to me! God did not answer in the wind.
Second God sends an earthquake but his answer was not there.
Thirdly God sends a fire. Was Elijah in California? God was not in the fire.
It was then Elijah heard the gentle whisper of God.
I like excitement. I can appreciate a good show with smoke, lights and special effects. God prefers the quiet.

On October 10 my three month probation of living a simplified life came to a close. I still liked the idea, I was still seeking to live it. God’s gentle whisper was getting through to me.
I am still working on what this means for me in the long haul. At present it is primarily an attitude. It is a quiet response to a noisy world. It is slowing down when I walk, it is making more room for more people, it is not packing my schedule so full there are not margins for the unexpected, it is not feeling guilty about finishing a to-do list, it is giving space for God to speak to me in the stillness. Do I have it down, am I perfect with it? No . . . not close, but I’m on the road. What are you doing here? How do you answer that question? If your life is defined by busyness and noise what is God saying to you in a whisper? Maybe your schedule is slow already. Are you hearing God? How can you help somebody else be still?

Monday, November 24, 2008


Last Wednesday night at FRONTLINE YOUTH we spent over an hour thanking God for His goodness through music, words from the Bible, prayer and words from the youth. As a part of the experience I shared 10 things for which I am thankful:

1) I have hope - As a youth pastor I walk with young people and their families through many situations. I have seen great joy and great pain. I have experienced both on a personal level. I can't imagine living this life without hope in Christ. The joy of the Lord is my strength

2) I have food - While so much of the world starves I have all the food I need and more. I am thankful everyday for the simple pleasures of food, good and bad.

3) I have a place to live - In my last post I talked about my dear friends who lost their house in a fire. Quickly they had options to live at least 6-10 places. Many places in the world people have no roof to cover their heads and those who have a roof are barely covered.

4) I have medical help - Tomorrow I will go to a dentist who helps me keep my teeth and prevent infection. In two weeks I go for a medical with my doctor who supports me in living a healthy life. Many in our world are lucky to see a doctor for a few times in their life and some may never see a dentist.

5) I have money and resources - I am blessed to work in a church where I am justly paid and supported. My basic needs and the needs of my family are supplied.

6)I live in a peaceful country - Our youth ministry supports four children: one in Ecuador, two in Ethiopia and one in the Congo. Our little boy in the Congo daily faces the threat of war and violence around him. I do not have that fear in the U.S. thanks to those who bravely protect us.

7) I live in a free country - Yesterday our church had a big outdoor Thanksgiving dinner and time of worship without fear of the police coming to shut us down and haul the pastors to jail. Last week I watched our President and President-Elect from two different parties peacefully sit down together.

8) I have a church family who loves me - After 24 years as pastor in the same church I am still overwhelmed by the love and care of this congregation for me and my family. I never take this for granted.

9) I have a family who loves me - My home is my castle. It is the place I can always count on for unconditional love. Through the gift of technology my home spreads to two college student children in Seattle and Boston. Their calls and encouragement add to the love of my high school daughter and wife.

10) I have a God who loves me so much He sent Jesus - I could never give enough thanks for the love, grace and mercy of God in my life to give His own Son so that I would receive the gift of eternal life.

What are your ten things?

Sunday, November 16, 2008


On Sunday, November 9, our family spent the evening with our dear friends, the Elliotts, at the home of our dear friends Russell, Allison and Travis Smelley. We enjoyed a meal together and shared our lives as we have so often done over the years. On Thursday night November 13, around 6pm, a vicious firestorm ripped through their neighborhood. Though Russell, Allison and Travis survived, their house did not. Everything but the few things they could quickly gather was destroyed.
In the days since I have thought about all the things I have known in their house over the years. I could describe to you the set up in great detail. Those things are now only memories. Possessions collected through a lifetime have succumbed to fire and floated as ashes.

Sadness and a sense of tragedy have rolled over me. The "pause button" has been pushed on my life and I am once again taking stock of what really matters. I do have lots of wonderful things I would be sad to lose. Would I rather have them or my life with my family? You know the answer.

The Smelley family may have lost their house but their "home" continues to live. One thing we can count on: we will one day part with all we possess but we are lovingly owned by God and in Him we always have a home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thanks to My Favorite Veterans

Lately I have been thinking a lot about people who have greatly influenced my life, beyond my parents (who have provided the greatest influence). In my work with youth I often ask them to identify people who are having the greatest impact in their own lives. It's good for me answer the question as well.

On this Veterans Day it is a fitting time for me to thank two more people who served our country faithfully and who have loved and invested in me, even at a distance: my grandpa ("Pa") and my uncle Jim.

While Pa died many years ago his influence continues in my life. He was a World War 2 veteran who survived a deadly attack on his platoon and then imprisonment by the Germans. It was not until years after his death, following my first viewing of the film, "Saving Private Ryan" that I really began to appreciate what he had sacrificed in the horror of war and captivity. As a Grandpa he lovingly played with me, made things for me, sang with me and showed me how to enjoy the simple things of life. Thank you, Pa, for showing me love and happiness in spite of the hate and sadness you experienced.

My uncle Jim is still very much alive. He is Pa's son and so when we made the long car trip from Maryland to Ohio, as a kid, I looked forward to an uncle who loved to play, laugh and tickle me until I cried. In later years we competed in sports and had long talks from time to time. In the late '60s he was drafted in the army and served a few years in Vietnam before finally retiring as a Lt. Colonel. In the army God gave him the opportunity to mentor and train many men who were no doubt influenced by his Godly character and witness. My respect continued to grow over the years as I followed his career in the army and then into ministry. Even today, I wanted to call him, but he is in Nepal, still in ministry, spreading the love of Christ. Thank you, Uncle Jim, for sharing your love and wisdom with me. I am honored to be your nephew.

Honoring these two men, I must ask, who I am influencing today through the love of God?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


In 1977 I graduated high school in Rockville, Maryland. It was at that time I felt God calling me to consider full-time youth ministry. I had no idea what youth ministry would look like for me over the years but I knew God was leading me. About the same time a man in Santa Barbara, California was beginning his full-time youth ministry. Little did I know that our paths would intersect and he would become a mentor to me in long-term youth pastoring.

After graduating college, then seminary, Nancy and I surprisingly moved the entire length of the country and settled in this coastal town for my first full-time ministry assignment. In September of 1984 I attended my first Santa Barbara area youth leaders network meeting. It was there, for the first time, I met Dennis Santos. He had started paid youth ministry later in life but had loved youth many years before. Here began an enduring relationship between a Catholic youth director and Protestant youth pastor. Over the years we did activities together, ate many lunches and prayed for one another. On Saturday, October 25, 2008 I had the honor of attending Dennis' retirement party . . . from youth ministry!

Dennis "finished well" and I know he is still not finished. We'll have many more lunches. This man of God who has impacted hundreds and thousands of youth will continue to love, pray for, care for, teach youth and care for me. Thank you, Dennis, for all you have taught me and for the inspiration you give to finish strong and finish well. I'm right behind you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I just finished a great book entitled, TRANSLATION NATION: DEFINING A NEW AMERICAN IDENTITY IN THE SPANISH-SPEAKING UNITED STATES. It is written by Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning jounalist. Hector went around the U.S. and several countries interviewing Latin Americans who have come to our country. He gives us an insightful picture of how our country has changed with the flow of immigration from Spanish-speaking countries.
In the last twenty years I have had the privelege of spending time in Mexico, Ecuador, Antigua and most recently Costa Rica. I have grown to more deeply appreciate the culture and values of Latin America. God has taught me much about myself and His love through my experiences. Their strong sense of family, rest and commitment has influenced me for the better.

When I first moved to Santa Barbara in 1984 it seemed there were just a few pockets of Spanish-speaking people in our country. Now they can be found in Alabama, Indiana, Montana and more. Latin America has come to us and we can be thankful.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Generation

For the last twenty-four hours I have been hosting several Free Methodist youth pastors and a few interns from our churches in the Los Angeles area. They arrived here noon on Thursday and will leave about 1pm on Friday. Thanks to the generosity of our denomination their hotel and meals have been covered during this time.

In our time together we have had the opportunity to talk about life as a youth pastor with all its joys and challenges. I am humbled and honored to shepherd and mentor a new generation of youth pastors who are coming behind me with fresh insights and new energy for serving Christ.

Our focus has been on our character in Christ. From that flows everything we do for Him. The passion they exhibit in loving youth is inspiring, the challenges they face in time, finances and team support border on discouraging. One thing is consistent: together we are committed to investing in the lives of teenagers so they may grow into the people God has created them to be!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This morning I was busy preparing for an upcoming Youth Pastor's retreat I will be leading. In the midst of my work I was skimming a book I plan to use as a part of the content. The title of the book is THE REST OF GOD by Mark Buchanan. One particular quote looked huge especially in a day when we don't know where our world is headed. It read: "Sabbath is preparedness training of sorts. It gets us ready for a time, a time we can anticipate but can’t predict, when the world as we know it will fall to pieces. It trains us in practical wisdom, clear judgment, skillful response. It slows us down enough to notice what truly matters." (p.59)

Ponder that for a few seconds, minutes or the rest of the day. Being a pastor I have had to re-train myself in taking a sabbath. Sunday is when I work. I confess I'm not always great at resting and trusting God who really is in control.
Busyness is now adversely affecting adults, youth and children. I see people with very little time to rest, be quiet and enjoy the life God created them to live. Getting more done is not the answer.
How would you describe your Sabbath?

Sunday, October 5, 2008


No, I am not changing my name. This morning I had the opportunity to teach our youth from Luke 5:27-28. I had intended to use more verses but discovered these words said plenty. You might remember it is the story of Jesus stopping by Levi (Matthew)'s booth. He said,"Follow me" and Levi did just what he was told. While there were several applications to these verses I was impressed that if Jesus could and would call Levi he would and could call anyone.

He spoke to me late in my senior year and asked me to consider being a youth pastor after years of thinking I was going to be on the high seas studying the ocean and hanging out with the Cousteau family. It was a simple and non-dramatic invitation. I had grown up in a ministry family but not seriously considered that as a career. Jesus showed me differently.

This morning I had the opportunity to tell a room full of students how God can use them no matter what their career choice may be. I also encouraged them to count being a youth pastor, missionary, pastor or other ministry leadership position as a valid choice among the options. It certainly was for me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Green with Envy

This past few days I have been at our FREE METHODIST SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA pastors LEARNING COMMUNITY EVENT. Yes, that is a mouthful but we learned together and from each other. It was practical, it was challenging.

One of our speakers was Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of the book SERVE GOD SAVE THE PLANET. It's easy to believe the whole care-for-the-environment push is a political deal. Start reading the Bible, underlining or highlighting in green all the references to God's earth, especially in the Psalms, and you may change your perspective. God thought of this a long time before Al Gore or any other politician or environmentalist.

Check out this link and challenge yourself to see green:

Also you might note his daughter just authored a book, IT'S EASY BEING GREEN. Check it out here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Long Ago and Far Away

Beginning sometime in 1976 I had the opportunity of traveling around in a singing group with approximately 30 other high school students and adults. We all came from different churches but banded together under the leadership of a pastor who had a big heart for youth who were yet to realize their potential.

I was a typical girl-crazy high school guy who valued his faith but held it loosely. Traveling with a bunch of girls, getting to be a "rock star" and singing Christian music with a soundtrack seemed like a great deal.
Throughout the spring and early summer we traveled on weekends to different churches. The guys wore their leisure suits and the girls their bright, pastel colored dresses. We memorized words and threw in choreography. We thought we were pretty cool.

By late summer our director had organized a 10 day tour and off we went in our vans and motorhomes. It was a time I will never forget as we learned to live in close community and serve Christ in a variety of settings.

I give eternal thanks to George, Charlotte, Bob, Bill, Rhonda, Dan, Pam and Sidena who let the Lord lead them while they were leading us. Their unconditional love and care catapulted me into a calling toward full time youth ministry from which I have never turned. The effect of adults who live with Christ at the center and invest in the lives of young people can never be underestimated. I am humbled and honored to now be that person for the youth I love.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Church is Cool

Eugene Peterson, in his book, THE JESUS WAY, says, "We live at a time when there is a lot of anti-institutionalism in the air. 'I love Jesus but I hate the church' is a theme that keeps reappearing with variations in many settings." (p.230)

He goes on to say, "Jesus said, 'Follow me,' then regularly led his followers into the two primary religious institutional structures of his day: the synagogue and the temple."

Jesus knew the church was not perfect but he also knew what it could be. I am thankful to be a part of a church that, while it is not perfect, knows what it could be. Church can be cool. I wouldn't want to live the Christian life alone. Would you?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bad Decisions

I mentioned this yesterday at FRONTLINE SUNDAY . . . if you have been following the news of last week and the activity of Hurricane Ike you might be aware that thousands were told to leave the Galveston Island area or face "certain death." According to the news many foolishly chose to ignore this mandatory evacuation and called 9-1-1, in a panic, at the height of the storm. They were told by rescuers to find someway to survive as no one was able to now save them.

It was later reported that lifesaving crews were angry and frustrated, with good reason, at those who stubbornly thought they could beat this massive storm. Thankfully for them the storm surge was not quite as large as predicted.

I found myself thinking about how stupid it was, for whatever reason, to stay behind and ride out a hurricane of that size. I would like to think my decision-making would have been more wise.

I then was reminded our relationship with God is often this way. It is easy to believe we don't need God; our way is better. We make bad decisions, willfully disobey and suffer destructive consequences. God, in His infinite love, mercy, grace and forgiveness still stands ready to save us even though we don't deserve it.

Choose God, choose life

Monday, September 8, 2008


Election season is here and I am sad. I am sad to hear how people treat others. I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard a talk show host say John McCain is not even human. Has it come to this? Is this the best we can do when we don't agree with a candidate's views? We don't have to vote for them but God certainly doesn't love them any less than He loves us. Let's bring back respect and honor for all of God's people.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Last Wednesday I began my 25th year of youth ministry in the Pacific coast city of Santa Barbara, California. I arrived here as a 25 year old and so I guess you could say I have been here half of my life. Not exactly something I could have predicted.

Born in Pennsylvania, grew up in Maryland, college in Illinois, graduate school in Kentucky and then a surprise move to California that only God could have known. Add having a daughter in Seattle and a son in Boston for college and I would say this has been quite an adventure.

Who knew what God had planned? I could never have guessed this and I cannot pretend to forecast what the next 25 years will bring. I do know God has led the entire way and I, for one, will continue to follow.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From There to Here . . .

At 3:36am this morning the Costa Rica team arrived back in Santa Barbara. The journey home began in Esterillos. The two rental vans chugged up steep mountain terrain on rainy roads, stopping for souvenirs and lunch, to the airport in San Jose. After an uneventful flight we took the final leg home on Santa Barbara Airbus.

We are thankful for God's protection over our travels and throughout the entire ten days. We thank Him even more for allowing us to be His humble servants. Though we miss each other, the sights/sounds/smells, the people whom we loved and loved us in return, our hearts are full of God's reminder that this is his ministry and work.

Pray for us as we make the transition back to life in the U.S. We come home with mixed feelings and a desire to apply what we have learned to the ministry we have in our own community. Pray for our wisdom in sorting these feelings and resting in God's love.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Packing Up

After 6 months of anticipation and 10 days of being here this is the day that came too quickly . . . our last full day with our great friends and the wonderful people of Esterillos. We had originally planned to go 1 hour south to Manuel Antonio Park. This is a fun beach with white sand and the opportunity to snorkel. After taking a poll we decided to stick around. All the kids of Esterillos are on vacation and we didn't want to leave them behind on this last full day.

Instead we went to the beach early in the morning, hung out at the house, had lunch, a team meeting, a big beach soccer game and finally dinner tonight with many guests to join us.

Of course the other thing we had to face today was the reality of packing. You will notice in the picture we were well on our way to being ready!

We have also been making a pile of clothes (including our team t-shirts . . . we'll make more) for the kids and youth. Our hearts have grown bigger in compassion and we feel this is the least we can do.
John Perry has had fun putting his surfboard shaping skills to work with all the locals. He has repaired many boards and built great connections with the surf crowd. It is rewarding to see God use his skills in that way.

Tomorrow we will leave the house around noon to head toward the airport. Originally we were going to participate in the lunch program at the Alejuela Free Methodist church but the kids are now out of school so the program is closed temporarily. The pastor still wanted to meet us and so will meet us at the airport!! We are blessed to have one more opportunity to encourage a fellow teammate in ministry.

For those of you who need to know . . . we are on flight 604 Taca Airlines and due to arrive in LAX at 12:20am assuming all is on time. After customs and loading up the bus it may be anywhere from 2:30 - 3:30am before we arrive in the church parking lot. If you need any more information call my cell phone, 805-252-3216. I will check all voice mails once I reach LAX.

Pray for our safe travel and healthy transition back to life in the United States.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Field Trip to the Falls

Today was a field trip day for our team and . . . we took along 15 kids from the town. This was a big treat for them as we took them to a waterfall about 15 minutes south and 30 minutes east. Our emphasis throughout the trip has been on relational ministry so we have been doing this from a 6 in the morning surf session, to a special Costa Rican breakfast hosted by a local family, to the field trip, to shopping in Parrito, to a houseload of kids in the house tonight for dinner and even hosting another pastor and family traveling. They are staying the night the night with us! One big happy campout.

No rain again tonight but it is hot and humid.

Thanks again for your love, encouragement and prayers. We are blessed and humbled.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On the Seventh Day . . .

. . . we rested.
A few went for an early morning surf and then at 9am we all walked to church on the other side of town. We took the shortest route possible, on the beach! We were warmly welcomed, Dennis translated for his brother Henry and the end of the service we sang happy birthday to the brothers (born four days apart) and to Lindsey Appleton who also had her birthday this week.

After a great lunch hosted by the church we had a brief team meeting and spent 30 minutes in solo time with the Lord. We have practiced this discipline daily in making our own spiritual walk a priority.

The remainder of the day was spent relaxing at the beach with many of the people of the town and the church we have met. The kids are loving the surf boards we have brought. They have become people magnets.

Tonight we will eat some sandwiches and welcome anyone who walks through the door (which on a daily basis is many!!).

Your prayers and encouragement strengthen and support us. Thanks!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Beach Bash

Saturday began early for some of us as we rode over to Jaco with one of the young surfers Dennis has been discipling. He was going over there to participate in a surf contest partially sponsored by Christian Surfers Association. There are a few other kids from Esterillos who are also participating. Tomorrow afternoon we will go cheer them on in their competition.

After our team meeting and solo time we loaded up the van and headed to the beach in front of the elementary school. We had spontaneously invited kids from our Kids Club to a "special beach edition" from 11am - 1pm. At first their were four kids and by the time we finished there were at least 40 not including moms, dads, teenagers and even two policemen who took home craft projects for their kids.

Activities for the time included crafts (soccer ball bags), a treasure hunt in the sand, beach soccer, tug of war, water balloon fight, swimming and more. We were moved by the simplicity and sponaeity of the event coupled with the huge smiles of children experiencing the love and care of a church to come. It doesn't get much better.

For lunch today we enjoyed the famous Costa Rican chicharones (deep fried pork) at the home of Dennis' brother, Henry. This was in honor of both their birthdays which were this week.

Late afternoon we enjoyed playing in the ocean.

It gets consistently dark by 5:15pm every evening so we are now settling in the for the night with another full night of rain expected.

Thanks for all your wonderful encouraging comments. It is good to hear from you and know you are praying. God is doing a great work and He has only just begun.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Flying High

This morning several of us made the decision to go on an early morning Canopy tour. Canopy tours use zip lines to transport participants from one "tree house" to the next, hundreds of feet above the jungle floor. Our particular tour was only 15 minutes from the house and was an outfit where Dennis actually worked for two years. His great relationship with the owner and guides helped us to a nice discount and a memorable experience!

This afternoon we finished up our Kids Club in the rain. There is a myth among some Costa Ricans that children who go out in the rain will get sick. Even so we had a great turnout and the children responded more to the message and songs. You would be proud of our youth and leaders as they reached out to these children and their families.

We have many opportunities all day long in this little town to be a witness for Christ and promote the great love of God through Pura Vida church.

Pray for us tomorrow as set up a beach day for kids in the late morning.

We love you and miss you. Thanks for your prayers!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

When the Monkeys Came to Town

This morning we awoke to another beautiful after a full night of hard rain. In Santa Barbara this much rain would mean "Storm Watch." In Costa Rica it is part of the plan and the next morning there are very signs of abundant precipitation.
After a breakfast of cold cereal, mangos, papayas and some of the best bananas I have tasted we went for a few hours to the beach (7-9:30am). Yes, you read it right. High School students will get up early for the beach!!
When the beach time was over we came back for team meeting, worship, prayer and solo time. The team meeting, worship and prayer time was meaningful as we asked the standard question, "What did God teach you today?"
I sent the team off for their daily 30 minute quiet time but 2 minutes in we were invaded by four monkeys in the tree outside the Leon home. Needless to say, quiet time ended as we stood amazed to see live monkeys in the wild! God has created a world of variety and we experienced another piece today.

After a great lunch in the homes of our local friends Vacation Bible School set up began. We saw new kids, taught many of them "Jesus Loves Me" for the first time and had the opportunity to share the love of Christ with them. Between lots of water fights, soccer, crafts and parrots flying in among us we cared for and blessed the children.

We are all healthy and happy to serve the Lord. Thanks for your love and prayers that sustain us moment by moment.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Half the Town

We had another great day . . . which actually is not done. We are just home from our first day of Kids Club (VBS), cleaning up, grabbing some sandwiches and then we will travel to Jaco to be with the Christian Surfers group there. Also we will take a look at this town where one of our Free Methodist churches will be started.

This morning were up at 6:30am enjoying a little beach time, breakfast and then team meeting at 9:30am. After a good time of prayer, Bible study, quiet time and sharing we cleaned the house and went off to lunches hosted by three different families in Esterillos. We were blessed by their great cooking and hospitality.

In the afternoon we packed the vans, went across town and set up for Kids Club at the local elementary soccer field. As predicted by Dennis we not only had children (almost 50!) but all their families sitting in the bleachers. It is possible we had almost one half of the town watching our activity.
The team was great with their leadership in music, crafts, games and welcoming the children. As Dennis said, "Pura Vida Church has begun."

Thanks for your prayers and love. We feel them!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bringing home groceries and a missionary

Tonight really is a dark and stormy night. It is 7:00pm and we have just finished our evening meal of chicken with rice and beet potato salad. There is lightning and thunder off in the distance with a steady rain hitting the roof.

It has been another good day and a great night of sleep. Some of the surfers were up early to try a few waves, some went for a swim, some slept in. For the early risers Costa Rican coffee was available and even I (for those of you who know me) had a straight, black cup of coffee! I now have a few more hairs on my chest.

Following breakfast we had our first team meeting, spent time in prayer, solo time and journaling.

Late in the morning Dennis, Kyle and I drove up to Orontina (halfway to San Jose) where we had the opportunity to meet, for the first time, our Free Methodist missionary to Costa Rica. This was a fruitful meeting and it provided a great setup for the work to come next year when the Leons begin full time ministry. We invited Patrick to come back with us and he decided to come. Our happy faces are in the picture. You get to decide which of the two pictures depict our meeting most accurately!

On the way home we bought some great fruit and other food for the next days.

The afternoon ended with a soccer game on the beach. The locals came out to show us how it is really done.

Following the game we paraded through town to view our Vacation Bible school venue, stop at houses and invite people come.

Thanks for your love and prayers.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica

At 3:30pm Costa Rica time (slow time) two vans and a truck pulled into the driveway of great little house in the small little town of Esterillos. Everybody is well, happy and anxious to settle in. An ice cream and a dip in the ocean roaring outside our windows may be the ticket.

The flight was smooth and the rental vans are fine. We are tired, pray for a good nights rest as we adjust to new surroundings and patterns.

More tomorrow and hopefully a few pictures. Thanks for your prayers and love.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


In just 24 hours 5 adults, 2 college students, 11 high school students and a child will be meeting in the church parking lot to begin our mission to Costa Rica. From this time forward we will say, "This time tomorrow . . . " In 24 hours all the planning will be done, the bags will be packed and the goodbyes will have been said. We are going away for 10 days. I wonder what this feels like for a career missionary who will be moving to a foreign country for many years? What is going inside their head for the last 24 hours?

I may be thinking about last minute details or one more thing to pack or how it will really be with these people for this many days but God keeps calling me back to Him. He says, "Show up in the parking lot, be available, be faithful, be teachable, be responsive and be flexible." This is in His hands, on His timetable and at the core of all we do: God's love for us and His people. Bring on the 24 and away we go . . .

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sixty Hours

In just two and a half days our Costa Rica team will finally come together in the church parking lot, sort out our luggage, wait for the shuttle bus, pray and the adventure will begin.

Every once in awhile someone will make a comment in jest, "Wow, must be rough. Youth pastors have the life: camps, conferences, trips to Water parks, Six Flags, mission trips to other countries, etc." I always find that to be an interesting statement. It is sometimes said to fill in "dead air" and sometimes said out of the assumption that the Youth pastor is on one long vacation, one great experience after another. It sure could appear that way.

The reality? Not one of these events is a vacation for me. They can be fun, they provide great opportunities to have extended time with youth, they are rewarding as we love others in Christ and I do enjoy leading and participating in these trips but I would not define them as a vacation. I am ultimately responsible for all the details and more importantly the people who go.

Am I being defensive on a Friday morning? Naaahhh! I am just trying to give you a better picture of how you can pray for me as I care for eighteen other people far from home. I am incredibly excited to go but also very aware of the huge responsibility I will have for almost eleven days. Pray I will have God's wisdom, patience, love, strength, vision and peace. Also, pray for my flexibility. For six months I have been challenging our team to be flexible . . . now I have to live it too!

God goes before us! I rest in Him.

P.S. If you want to know how to specifically pray for us check out my earlier blog with the prayer guide.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Four Days and Counting

Check the passports, start laying out the clothes, this shirt or that shirt, what do I really need? Six months of planning is now narrowed down to 96 hours. Sunday night we leave to serve God in Costa Rica. So many our praying, so many are asking about us. We humbly go to represent Christ, we will faithfully do what He has called us to do.

I pray for good rest, health, clear memory and total dependence upon God. Without Him we can do nothing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Three Weeks From Today

On June 30 we will be landing in San Jose, Costa Rica with 13 youth, 5 adults and 1 child to begin a 10 day mission trip in the Pacific Coast town of Esterillos. We will be there to help Dennis and Kyle Leon continue to build a foundation for beginning Free Methodist churches (Pura Vida Church) in Esterillos, Jaco and beyond. Below is a prayer guide you can use to support our team:

June 29 – July 9, 2008

Sunday, June 29
At 8pm tonight we depart the church parking lot for LAX. Our flight leaves the airport at 2:20am on June 30! Would you like to come and wave goodbye?! Pray for safe travel and smooth check-in with paperwork and luggage.

Monday, June 30
We arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica around 9am. We will pass through immigration and load into two rental vans for the two hour trip to Esterillos. We praise God for the help of Dennis’ friend to haul our luggage in his truck. Pray for a safe and “car-sick free” ride down the mountain to the coast.

We will arrive mid-afternoon and get settled. Pray for our team’s rest and adjustment to their new surroundings.

Tuesday, July 1
Today we will make new friends, meet together as a team and get an overview of our ministry strategy for the next few days. We will spend time inviting children to Vacation Bible School and make final preparations. Pray for our acclimation to new foods, sleeping facilities and cultural expectations.

Wednesday, July 2
We will begin our day, as we have every day, with a team meeting. These meetings will include a time of worship, prayer and debriefing. In the afternoon we begin Vacation Bible School and in the evening we will meet with the Jaco Christian surfers

Thursday, July 3
Today we will continue our Vacation Bible School Ministry. Pray for our energy, enthusiasm and love for the children and families we meet.

Friday, July 4
While you celebrate Independence Day in the U.S. remember to pray for us on our final day of Vacation Bible School. Pray for us as we share the good news of Christ with the children. Pray for our times in the evening when many children and youth come to hang out at our house. Pray for us as we break through the language barrier.

Saturday, July 5
Today we will be hosting a Beach Festival from 10am-4pm for all the families of VBS and anybody else who may come. We will also spend time cleaning up the beach as a service to the community and an act of love in the name of Christ. Pray for more opportunities to build relationships, share the good news of Christ and spread the word about Pura Vida church beginning on 2009.

Sunday, July 6
We will worship with our brothers and sisters in Esterillos followed by doing what we are supposed to be doing on the Sabbath: rest!! Pray for our rest and continued health.

Monday, July 7
Today we will continue building relationships with the people of the Esterillos area and take a little time to visit one of Dennis’ favorite waterfalls. Later in the afternoon we will do another beach clean-up. Pray for our readiness to be used by God in whatever ways He may call us.

Tuesday, July 8
This is our last full day in the Esterillos area. We will be packing and preparing to leave. Part of the day will find us at Manuel Antonio beach park for a hike and exploring God’s beautiful creation. In the evening we will do more packing and spend final moments with the people we come to love. Pray for God’s continued witness of love after we leave.

Wednesday, July 9
At 9:30am we will depart Esterillos for San Jose. We will connect with the Alejuela Free Methodist Church and help serve lunch in their program to feed hungry children (our own church has helped to support this). Pray that we will be an encouragement and help to the people there in our short visit.

By mid-afternoon we will head to the airport. Pray again for a smooth check-in and safe flight home. We will arrive in Los Angeles around midnight.

Thursday, July 10
Today nineteen people will wake up in a weary state. Pray for us as we re-adjust to Santa Barbara life. It is not uncommon for people who travel on missions trip to feel sadness or physically sick after arriving home. Pray that we will let God minister to all the feelings we will experience and for effective life-application of the principles we learned in our everyday world.

A New Beginning

We are finally entering the blogging world. There are so many ways to communicate with youth and parents it seems overwhelming to add one more. Yet . . . this is a place where many could check for ideas, find information, offer an opinion, discover a new vision about God where we live. Welcome! Let the fun begin.