Thursday, December 29, 2011


Over the last several days the abundance of happiness has enveloped our home while all five of our family are under the same roof. With older kids these moments are not taken lightly. We have enjoyed being together but this time next week will find us once again going our separate ways.

Many years ago when Nancy and I first made the move to Southern California from the eastern part of the United States I would often feel the sting of sin at the airport as we said “good-bye” to our parents and extended family. I was reminded in the Bible in heaven there will be no more separation. When we are together with those we love we experience a little slice of heaven.

In my continued reading of THE PASTOR by Eugene Peterson he describes a new revelation he had on the profile of the church, “It had taken me a long time, with considerable help from wise Christians, both dead and alive, to come to this understanding of church: a colony of heaven in the country of death; a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God.” (p. 110).

The church SHOULD be a place where we can experience the belonging of community, the prayers of those who care, the teaching to equip us for life and the attitude of generosity. This is the gift of togetherness at its finest. Eternity has already begun!

Today I count myself blessed to pastor in this “colony of heaven” found in Santa Barbara, California, U.S.A. It is here I see those who not only care for each other but long to bring life to the “country of death” and despair around them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

WHAT I DON’T KNOW: Another Look at God’s Blessings

Here is what I know . . .

*My God loves me

*He sent His son to die for me

*I am forgiven

*My immediate and extended family loves me

*I have friends who love me

What I don’t know (a partial list) . . .

*Why I was born in the United States of America

*Why I was born to two parents who loved me, provided for me and have remained faithful to each other all of their marriage.

*Why I had the opportunity to attend elementary/secondary schools, college and graduate school.

*Why I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful woman to whom I have been married for 30 years.

*Why we have three great children who have chosen to put Christ at the center of their lives and live for him in amazing ways.

*Why I have had the honor to be an associate pastor in a healthy church with a nurturing Senior Pastor/staff and invest in the lives of youth for over 30 years.

*Why I live in a place where I can see the awesome creation of God through the mighty Pacific ocean and majestic mountains every day.

My life has had its share of ups and downs but when I look back at the “highlights” I am astonished to see all the gifts placed in my lap. I have not “deserved” any of these. I could have been born anywhere else in the world in a war-torn, impoverished country to a single mom with little to no resources, no home, little opportunity to ever attend school, all without the benefit of hearing God’s great news and experiencing it in the ways it has been modeled to me over all these years.

God loves all his creation. Why I landed in this wonderful situation I cannot reasonably explain but I can thank God for this blessing. He has blessed me with a gift I did not earn but a gift I will humbly and happily accept.

What has He given you?

Friday, December 2, 2011


Yesterday our office administrator called and said she had someone on the phone for me. She said the person had some “spiritual questions.” As I talked to the lady on the other end of the line it was clear she had less than great experiences with pastors who only smiled, greeted people at the door, ran meetings and preached sermons. After asking me a series of other very specific questions she inquired if I really knew the people in our church. Did I know their needs, did I know where they work and did I visit them outside the four walls of the church?

When I answered “yes” to the lady’s question she was shocked. She said she had never experienced that in any other church. My heart grew heavy, my compassion expanded and I expressed my sadness on how she had never received the love and care God would want her to have in the community of faith.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Pastor: A Memoir, quoted a pastor/mentor as saying this: “What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday? . . . For two hours ever Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I walk through the neighborhood and make home visits. There is no way I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about.”

These words should be convicting for any person in any type of ministry whether volunteer or paid. Our words ring hollow if we have not taken the time to know and love the people we teach.

I have high regard for excellent teaching and preaching. It requires research and preparation but when this part of ministry becomes more important than me walking with people in their lives it ceases to be effective and I lose the right to be heard.

As the lady asked her pointed question I was immediately thankful for all those mentors over the years who modeled for me the importance of preaching the word AND loving the people. The mentors include my own dad, a pastor, who spent many afternoons visiting his people and the three wonderful senior pastors with whom I have worked and who have tirelessly celebrated and comforted their “flocks.” What they did became a natural part of my life and ministry.

I have heard it said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” All we seek to offer can look good on our computer screen. When we bring real lives into the picture those plans often look differently.

Planning events, preparing for sermons, working on creative teaching experiences are worthy work but only a piece of what we are called to do. In what ways are you too easily letting the “events” more easily define your ministry than knowing and caring for the people you serve? It’s a question I’m asking myself today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I love big things. I enjoy a big view of the ocean every day, I like going to big events, I like a big sound, I even take note of “big guys” (football/basketball size men who I am happy to not compete against!) and most of all I love the bigness of God who is far bigger than any big I could imagine.

I also love it when our BIG God makes things small. Today I had the opportunity to think small in my world of bigness. Here is where it began . . .

Many years ago, as a youth pastor, I had a seventh grader named Alissa show up to our ministry.

She came for awhile but decided her way was better than God’s.

Somewhere in those years my own daughter, Kelly, was born

Just before Kelly showed up in our youth ministry Alissa decided to make a change and attend Seattle Pacific University.

At SPU, Alissa’s heart softened and she decided to put her trust in God.

With eyes open to the big things of God she went on a missions trip to Madagascar with a guy named Jamie.

After awhile they fell in love and decided to spend the rest of their lives together serving God . . . in Madagascar.

We celebrated their wedding and their preparation began.

Not long after, Kelly began her college career at Seattle Pacific.

While there she began attending QUEST church, pastored by Eugene Cho.

Jamie and Alissa, were nearing the end of their schooling and began their fundraising to be missionaries with WORLD VENTURE and heavily supported by the people of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara.

In this same time period they were approached by EDEN REFORESTATION, a Free Methodist ministry founded to plant trees in deforested areas so the environment would be healed, people employed, churches started and lives saved. EDEN was ready to partner with them in re-planting trees in Madagascar.

Two years ago, Eugene Cho, the pastor of Kelly’s church began a non-profit called ONE DAY’S WAGES, a ministry described as this: “One day's wages is about 0.4% of your annual income. Simply donate one day's wages or another amount you want to invest.” With this money many partner organizations have been helped.

Jamie, Alissa and their three children left for Madagascar. Through the work of EDEN REFORESTATION over 25 million trees have already been planted there since 2006.

Today ONE DAY’S WAGES announced their partnership in MADAGASCAR with EDEN REFORESTATION. Now even more trees will be planted, hiring more people and saving more lives.

Two girls, two in-direct but significant connections, two successful organizations joining hands across the miles, doing something better together, making this world a little smaller and God a lot bigger.

By the way, those t-shirts on the kids? They came from Cliff Drive Care Center, FMCSB’s own ministry to the children of this community. Just another small world, big thing in our life with God.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I don’t like having enemies but, then, most other people don’t either. Thankfully, throughout my life I have had relatively few I can identify.

In leadership, I recognize, there may be more potential for inviting enemies into one’s life. When we lead, we occasionally, make decisions unpopular to those who follow.

When faced with enemies we want them to go away or “come over to our side.” On our most “human” days we may even wish they would experience a “challenge” or two!

In Chapter 11 of Eugene Peterson’s book, THE PASTOR, he directs us to ponder the contrast found in Psalm 108. The first half is filled with an expression of confidence in the God whose “glory shines over all the earth.”

The second half questions if God will really rescue the people from their enemies, specifically Edom: “Who will bring me into the fortified city? Who will bring me victory over Edom? Have you rejected us, O God? Will you no longer march with our armies? Oh, please help us against our enemies, for human help is useless. With God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes. (Psalm 108:13, New Living Translation).

Peterson comments on this passage by saying he had to learn how to “re-frame” the Edoms in his life: “Edom is not the enemy that I curse or shake mu fist at or avoid or dismiss. Edom is the enemy whom I, with God’s grace and help, am led to visit and embrace.” (p. 78)

He further answers, “So what do I do with Edom? I ask God to bring me to Edom. And God does. Over and over and over again. The person, the task, the threat, the frustration, the circumstance to which my first impulse is to curse – ‘damn Edomites!’ – becomes, through the patient praying of Psalm 108, an occasion for recycling my swords into plowshares.” (p. 79)

Who or what are my Edoms? What about you? Am I really ready to embrace them?

Friday, November 11, 2011


Eugene Peterson, in his book, THE PASTOR, tells the story of a grade-school bully. He relates how he had grown up learning to forgive and to love his enemies. This made sense until the school bully turned his attention to Eugene and began to make him a target. He tells of the day when he could take it no more. “That’s when it happened. Totally uncalculated. Totally out of character. Something snapped within me,” says Peterson. He grabbed the bully, found he was stronger and beat him up.

Reflecting on this “Pastor Pete” says, ‘Garrison Johns (the bully) was my introduction into the world, the “world that is not my home.’ He was also my introduction to how effortlessly that same ‘world’ could get into me, making itself perfectly at home under cover of my Christian language and ‘righteous’ emotions.” (p.48)

It is difficult to escape conviction after reading this last statement. The world does get into us. It is relentless. We cannot afford to believe we are impervious to the invasion of compromised values that ever so slightly move us toward a destructive lifestyle.

Our best defense is choosing moment by moment to walk with our Father, following the example of Jesus and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. I have seen those who would outwardly appear to be good Christians be some of the meanest people I know. Why? In their effort to live for God they chose to live by their own rules rather than in live in relationship with our God who invites us to love Him, ourselves and others.

In what ways is the world “making itself perfectly at home,” in you? It’s a question I’m asking myself today.

Monday, November 7, 2011


In chapter 4 of Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor: A Memoir he talks about his father’s butcher shop as the place where he first learned the importance of treating people special. He said, “The people who came into our shop were not just customers. Something else defined them. It always seemed more like a congregation than a store.” (p.39). He went on to explain how his father knew his customers by name and knew many of their stories as well. Peterson shares, “He gave people dignity by the tone and manner of his greetings.”

One would think this is a “no-brainer” philosophy for any pastor but I have run into a surprising number of people in ministry who are more consumed with their ability to craft a fine sermon or build an exciting program or take care of their facilities than they are to know the names, hear the stories and walk alongside the people God has given them.

It has been said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” When people enter the equation of our planning and daily work, what once looked good on paper now includes unpredictable twists and challenges our ability to be flexible. Loving and shepherding God's people defines the profile of a pastor.

One of my favorite Henri Nouwen (from OUT OF SOLITUDE) quotes explains this well, “A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame, Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny wrinkle in his eyes: “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck , our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then ‘fate’ can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.”

It’s all about the direction of our attention. Pastors, like anybody, else must love God first and out of this relationship will flow the healthy care of the people in our ministries. Peterson concludes, “My ‘work’ assignment was to pay more attention to what God does than what I do, and then to find, and guide others to find, the daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that would get this awareness into our bones.” (p.45)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I had the blessing of growing up in a pastor’s home. My dad was a pastor of four different churches from birth through high school. During those days I observed the highs and lows of a pastor’s life in the midst of everyday ministry.

Across the street from one of our churches was an auto garage. My dad be-friended the mechanics who worked there. One day they said to him, “We know you work on Sunday but really, what do you do the rest of the week? Play tennis?”

Most of the world sees a pastor on Sundays, and maybe once during the middle of the week, especially in youth ministry. Over the years I have had students call my house during the week thinking I work only on Sundays, Wednesday nights and special events. They assumed the rest of the week I was hanging out watching movies and taking naps.

Eugene Peterson takes a look at this picture by comparing our experience with John of Patmos. John, as you remember, was exiled for his commitment to following Christ. He was caring for seven different congregations but was now separated from them. During his exile he wrote letters to them and was given the words and pictures we find in the book of Revelation. Peterson reminds us when we define ministry only in the “events” we have exiled ourselves.

He puts this all in perspective by stating, “The only hour of the week that had any predictable, uninterrupted order to it was Sunday morning, when the story of creation and covenant was told and the prayers of confession and praise were said and sung. I was learning that for a pastor, the rest of the week was spent getting that story and those prayers heard and prayed in the personal and unique particulars of these people. I had just spent an hour of worship with them but now was mixing it up with them in a world dragons and whores, blood flowing as high as a horse’s bridle, and the news headlines trumpeting catastrophic disasters.” (p.22, THE PASTOR: A MEMOIR, Eugene Peterson).

The life of ministry and shepherding is being in the life of those for which we care, knowing their joys and sorrows, walking with them through life in the good and the bad. Who are the people God is inviting you to know and love outside your Sunday?

Friday, October 28, 2011


After last night’s unbelievable World Series Game 6 I am taking a break from my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s book to comment on an interesting insight I heard after the game.

During the post game show they interviewed Lance Berkman, right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. The reporter asked him the typical inane question, “Before you hit that single to tie the game in 10th, what were you thinking, what was going through your head?” Berkman responded (my paraphrase), “Nothing and that was the key. Sometimes it’s better not to think. If I think too much I might be more tight. My goal was to make the best of this at-bat.”

This was one of the more unique answers I have ever heard to this question. In addition to thinking about the excitement of the game I keep pondering his point. At the risk of over-thinking the situation he chose to “be” in the moment, rely on his set of skills and to have peace in what he already knew.

I am all for thinking. I love to learn, I have a graduate degree and as a pastor I want to be faithful in offering our youth/adults the skills to critically think through their faith. This being said, Berkman is right. There is a time to quit thinking and act on what we know, being confident and bold in whom God has created to be. Being in the moment, trusting in God and moving forward in faith is where we are called to be.

During the game, as Lance Berkman came to the plate, I remember thinking how glad I was to not be him. Nobody wants to make the last out of the World Series. He re-framed the whole situation.

I have a lot of “at-bats” left in my life. I will try to take them one at a time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Rule #1: Everyone has a “to-do” list.

Rule #2: For those of you who think you do not have nor need a “to-do” list . . . please see rule #1.

Whether it’s on paper or in our head (a dangerous place to be!) we all have a running task list. No matter what our role in life on any given day there are things that could to be done.

In the introduction of his book, THE PASTOR: A Memoir, Eugene Peterson briefly addresses the topic of getting things done. He talks about how many pastors have become “disappointed or disillusioned” with their work and “defect” after a few years. Peterson proposes there may be an assumption at the heart of this defection. The assumption is: “all leaders are people who ‘get things done,’ and ‘make things happen.’” He goes on to say, “But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who ‘gets things done’ but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God.” (p.5)

My “to do” list will never be done. Your list will never be done. This is true of all professions and roles in life. I know too many in ministry who never take days off because there is too much to do. They will very likely sprint for awhile but fall far short of finishing well.

We are placed to “pay attention and call attention to what is going on right now.” What is going on right now in our relationship with God, our relationships with spouses, children, our friends, with those for whom we are called to care and shepherd?

In ministry, whether paid or volunteer, our priority is relationships. The “to-do” list can wait.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Step By Step

Thanks to the generous gift of Seattle Pacific University I am now reading, along with many others in the SPU community, the latest book by Eugene Peterson entitled, THE PASTOR: A MEMOIR. I have read through about one-third and already know I will be sad when it is done!

“Pastor Pete” sets out to show us, the reader, how he came to be a child of God and a pastor of people. I am realizing, quickly, this book is not just for pastors. It is for anyone who seeks to follow Christ into a world full of opportunities and challenges to be transformed and be His servant in the life-change of others.

Over the next several blogs I will be reflecting on his writings as they relate to my life. Peterson quotes one line of a poem by Denise Leverov where she uses the phrase, “every step an arrival.” He says, “I recognized in her phrase a metaphor for my own formation as a pastor: every step along the way – becoming the pastor I didn’t know I was becoming, and the person I now am, an essential component that was silently and slowly being integrated into a coherent life and vocation – an arrival.”

I have had many steps and many arrivals. I pray my reflections will cause you to look at your own steps and arrivals to where you are today and see the possibilities for where God will take you.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Yesterday I received an encouraging word from one of the public school teachers in our church. Recently she was meeting with other teachers and talked to one at another Jr. High in town. This teacher asked her where she went to church. She said, “I go to Free Methodist church.” The other teacher responded enthusiastically by saying how much she was impressed with the character and witness of so many students she had encountered over the years.

Hearing this was a humble reminder of how easily and effectively God works when we let Him. For many years our leaders have been faithful in challenging our Jr. High/High School students to view school as their "mission field." We want it to be a place where they do excellently in their school work, pray for their classmates and teachers, and live a life of integrity, compassion and care for others. It seems they are living up to the challenge!!

Several years ago one of our high school teachers became a Christian through the witness and example of a few guys who were simply and faithfully living Godly lives not only at Youth group but throughout the week.

1 Timothy 4:12 says, "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity."

FRONTLINE Youth are not the church of the future. They are the church now. I am honored to walk with them!

Friday, July 29, 2011


If you are looking for one subject about which everyone has an opinion choose music. Musical talent is not required to give one’s judgment on their favorite style.

As one who has experienced many years with music in the life of the church I have regularly received the input of many members both young and old stating their belief on what type of music we should be singing.

Several years ago I visited with my grandmother in Ohio. I remember asking her if they had started doing contemporary worship in her church. She said they had and it wasn’t her favorite music but she “had her time and now it was the younger people’s turn.”

Just last week I had the pleasure of visiting my 81-year-old mother-in-law’s church. In recent years this church has been re-defining itself. The former pastor who had lovingly shepherded a growing church retired and handed off the baton to a mid-30-year-old pastor. With the younger mindset came style changes in many ministries including the worship. Admittedly there were some who left the church but yet it continued to grow and my “cool” and flexible mother-in-law was one who stayed.

I came away from the service liking it for myself but thinking about how very different this was from what she had known and even preferred. What keeps her there? She hears great teaching, experiences inspiring worship (even though it is not her style) and sees a church with a heart for the community and the world. She belongs to a great seniors group and another outside fellowship where they sing her music speaking to her heart and mind. She still belongs, she still feels loved and respected.

Reflecting on this I too must ask if I can see the bigger picture of God’s kingdom as I grow older. I can’t totally eliminate my biases but I can, with the Lord’s help, learn to be flexible and recognize the essentials of worship and ministry in the midst of styles not my own. I am inspired to ponder how all generations young and old can see through the preferences of our own while allowing all of God’s family to joyfully express and receive the love of God in all the creative means possible.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One week later

A week ago today we pulled into the church parking lot at 2am with the glow of a great missions trip to Costa Rica on our faces. After some restful hours of sleep we all awoke to June gloom (fog) in Santa Barbara and the accompanying sadness of missing our new friends in the land we left.

In the midst of the sadness there was joy in knowing we had faithfully followed the God who led us to that place and the God who will lead us on from there.

A week later what am I feeling?

*the few remaining bug bites on my ankles
*the honor of leading an exceptional group of high school youth
*the reward of being blessed and being a blessing in Costa Rica
*the desire to have a big plate of gallo pinto with eggs
*a greater respect (if that's possible) for the loving ministry of Dennis and Kyle Leon among the people of their country
*the pleasure of having served with two wonderful adults who sacrificed vacation and money to love kids with me. Thanks Mike and Carri!
*the loss of a slower paced life
*the joy of what God has next for me, the people of our team, the people we loved and love in Costa Rica

God once again gave me the unbelievable gift of living and serving in community during the days of June 5-15, 2011. It is a gift I will never receive in the same form again but it is a gift that will eternally keep giving as we all move ahead to where God is leading.

What are you feeling?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Down to Earth

Yesterday I talked about what our team would feel upon re-entering our own culture after serving God and loving people in Costa Rica. Today we look at some of the tips I gave our team on experiencing a healthy return to life here:

1) Rest - We are physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually weary. We have gained much but given more. Extra sleep is okay!!
2) Pray - We may be back home but God still has more to say about our experience. He comforts us in the sadness of the trip's end, He reminds us of the lessons learned and blessings received. We will only hear these as we speak and listen to God.
3) Spend time with God - It is God who led us on this trip in the first place and it is He who will ultimately lead us home to Him. Spending time in the Bible and the quietness of His presence feeds us and strengthens us for what is next.
4) Talk - It is good to talk about our experiences. Some people really want to hear everything, some want to hear a few paragraphs and some are interested in a few sentences. Give your listeners what they want to hear and hear again what God has been teaching you!
5) Create action points - We learn so much on trips like this therefore it is important to break it down to a few clear and measurable ways you will allow your experience to impact the rest of your life. I have my three. What are yours?
6) Give yourself permission - Don't just move on. Allow yourself the time and freedom to do all of the above. It takes time. God walks with you.

May these tips be ways you can pray for our team and may they be helpful to you in future experiences of re-entry to the life God has called you to live.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Flaming Re-entry

Very early this morning, 2:30am to be exact, most of us arrived home to sleep in our beds after ten nights in Costa Rica. Though the bed and conveniences of home felt good the challenge of re-entering our own culture is now upon us.

I spent part of yesterday’s team meeting talking about the tough pieces of coming home after days of serving God, loving people and immersing ourselves in the rich culture of a Central American country.

Just as space shuttles produce exterior flames upon entering the earth’s atmosphere so we too feel the tension of re-entering the “earth" we know and love.

I broke down my comments in two categories to our team members on this topic. May it be helpful to you as you pray for us.

The first category is “What We Will Feel:”

1) Tired – Though we have slept well we have given much. Serving and loving others can be draining. We may feel "out of it" for a few days.

2) Digestive issues – We have eaten lots of great food but not the same we eat at home. There may be challenges related to this transition. We'll do our best to ease back into our routine here.

3) Impatience with self-absorbed people – After being with people who have so little and coming back to those who have so much we may feel a little frustrated with those who complain about what they lack.

4) Indifference towards things we once thought were important – Trips like this have a way of re-aligning our priorities. It is our desire to care more about what is eternally important.

5) The loss of Costa Rica pace – Life in Costa Rica like so many other Latin American countries is slower. Life for us is often hurried and busy. We want the life that stops and listens more. We want to be more still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10)

6) Mood swings of happiness and sadness – We are richer for having been with the people and churches of this beautiful country. We feel great sadness in leaving them behind. Over the next many days we will likely display both of these emotions prominently. Be patient with us as we work through the feelings and embrace the tremendous gift God has given us.

Next blog: “Time Tested Tips for Re-Entry”

P.S. I unintentionally left out the profile of one of our team members: Ally Shiras. So . . . last but certainly not least, here is what you should know about her:

Ally is a recent graduate of San Marcos High School. This fall she will begin studies at the University of San Francisco in filmmaking. Her love for life and joy in the Lord fill any room. She loves to sing, play guitar, take pictures, shoot films, create artistic designs and happily dance. These all were great blessings to our team. Pray for her as she makes the transition back to life here and prepares for college in the fall.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pura Vida People

It has been an active couple of days since we landed in Esterillos. Dennis Leon, our host, encouraged us to focus more on being than doing in this phase of the trip. To "do" the "being" requires placing ourselves in the middle of people (not hard in this seaside rural village where everybody knows everybody's name!). As we have focused on relationships God has opened doors for the outreach ministry of Pura Vida Church to go forward. We have made friends through card games, soccer games on the field, watching soccer games, eating in people's homes, soccer games on the beach, helping run a community fundraiser carnival so the local school could be funded, helping to lead worship on Sunday with the church (see pictures of church above) and more. Through all this it has been our desire to extend the good name of this ministry in the town and beyond and open the doors for a more healthy and sustainable ministry. God continues to lead us.

Though we have seen God's handiwork in the beautiful creation we find in Costa Rica we would all agree the people we have met have made our lives richer and we trust God has used us to do the same.

Every day we have had a team meeting where we talked about the good, the challenging and the silly things we have experienced each day. You would have loved sitting in the circle last evening to hear the great things God has been teaching each of us. I am asking team members to write down the one big thing God has been teaching them. You will be encouraged to see what they shared when I present those in a future blog. I was reminded again of another important reason we sacrifice so much money, time and talent on these trips. God reaches in teaches each of us in areas we could have never previously imagined. It is my prayer that some of these team members will be on future missions teams, lead future missions teams and maybe follow God into full-time ministry!

Tomorrow is our last full day. In the afternoon we will be taking the kids of Esterillos on a field trip to the waterfall. This is a treat for them and another way we can show the love of Christ. Pray for us as we do this event together.

We are grateful for good health throughout the trip. The team has gotten along well and been a joy for me to lead. Thanks to all of you who have invested in their character and spiritual lives. They are a blessing.

On Wednesday we will leave Esterillos about 11am California time and will ultimately depart San Jose around 6pm arriving at LAX around 11:30p. After customs and packing the bus we should be on the road by about 12:30am with final arrival in Santa Barbara by about 2 or 2:30am.

This will be my last blog until we return. Thanks for your prayers which have sustained us. Pray for us as we re-enter our own culture. This will be a challenge for all of us. Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding. Thanks for your faithful encouragement and love.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To the Top of the Hill

We are now in our fourth day of being with the wonderful people of Costa Rica. The team is doing well. You would be proud of them. We thank God for health and youth who love to serve.

Our work in Tilaran is coming to a close. The roof of the parsonage was completed yesterday. Not only did our money provide for protection from the rain but it also employed several people for a couple of days. In addition we had a surplus of supplies that were returned for the option of buying interior ceiling tiles. The Lord took our giving and multiplied it!! This is something we have seen several times since we have been here.

We have been blessed with good eating. Everyday at the lunch many people from the church come in and provide us with a full cooked meal. In the evening we split up into four groups and go to different houses for dinner. We are hosted by the same family each evening so it has been fun getting to know them better and having lively "span-glish" conversations together. All team members are doing great with attempting to speak.

After preparing songs and dramas for the night time outreach in the park we took some free time and went on a hike up a very steep hill to a cross overlooking the town. Once we reached the top, hiking through bushes and thick grass, we saw an amazing view. While there we took the time to face the town and pray for it. It was a moving moment in our trip. We know Jesus died for all the people of this beautiful little town and we are humbled to serve Him in telling the good news.

Our day finished partnering with the church to present an outreach at the city park. In the midst of heavy rain we went around town to hand out invitations and then offered our songs and dramas. The church people also presented drama and dance.

Tomorrow we pack up and head to Esterillos! Pray for our traveling safety, continued health and faithfully following God's lead in all we do. Thanks for your love and prayers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Aqui en Costa Rica

It's Tuesday morning, I am sitting at a laptop in the Iglesia Metodist Libre de Tilaran with a glow on my face, from happiness and humidity. We had a smooth trip arriving here having flown all night Sunday, jumping into our rental vans around 11:30am. We traveled north and west out of San Jose along curvy and hilly roads passing through many small towns while marveling at the diverse and lush scenery before us.

After lunch we stopped at some hot springs fueled by a not too distant volcano. It was there we had an orientation meeting with Dennis and Kyle Leon to get a picture of our plan over the next days.

In another two hours we stopped at a little restaurant at the foot of the volcano and were hosted by a man who knew Dennis (surprise, surprise!). After a delicious and extended meal (Costa Rica time) we finished our trip to Tilaran with one more 1.5 hour drive.

Mattresses hit the church floor as did tired team members. The lack of sleep Sunday night resulted in a good night of sleep on Monday.

Today we will be assisting paid workers (hired by money we raised) to replace a leaky roof on the parsonage damaged by acid rain from the volcano. We will enjoy two meals hosted by local families and church members. We will be fed, they will be fed also by money we worked hard to raise. Tonight and every night we are here will end with church services where we will participate with music and drama presentations.

Pray for our continued help and that we will continue to be a blessing in our words, actions and attitudes. Thanks so much for your support!

p.s. This blog may only appear every few days due to internet connections. Facebookers will see something every day!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


As I write this only 24 hours separates our team from meeting in the church parking lot for our departure. The bags are mostly packed and the packing list is being given the "once-over." "Road Runner" shuttle called to confirm they are coming and promptly charged my credit card. Tomorrow morning our team will be in all three morning services where our congregation will lay hands on us and commission us for service. We will also have a quick 30 minute meeting, spend the afternoon with family and friends before coming back to the church with all our gear.

For you who have been following this blog you are now reading the closing homeland post. When the next post will appear is anyone's guess. I turn the "flexibility" switch "on" beginning at 7:30pm tomorrow night. God is going before us and so we'll see what that means. I will make smaller posts on Facebook and write here as internet is available.

Thanks so much for your prayers, support and encouraging words. We are honored to serve Christ, love His people and humbled to know you are also on the team.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Nine and Final

If there are phases of thinking before one leaves on a missions trip then I suppose I must be in the "wow-are-we-really-doing this phase?!" Our team has been preparing for this moment since October and now it is almost here. I'm pulling out the suitcase today and putting the puzzle together of things to take.

Here is the fourteenth and final profile of our team members . . .

KOLE t'Sas . . . Kole just finished his freshman year at Santa Barbara High School and can now proudly call himself a sophomore. In addition to classes this last year he spent a lot of time on the baseball field playing for the freshman team. Kole has a cool last name but more importantly he is one of the friendliest guys you'll ever meet. He loves people, loves God and is really looking forward to this trip where he will meet a whole new group of people a world away. Pray for Kole as he relaxes a little, packs a little and prepares a lot for the journey ahead.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Eight

Flight reservations all re-confirmed, credit card notified, all paperwork in place, praying to remember any big things I'm forgetting.

Another team member for your prayer list . . .

CARRI SVOBODA . . . Carri is another of our wonderful adults who is sacrificing valuable vacation time to go serve with our high schoolers. During the school year you will find Carri teaching Jr. High English at Santa Barbara Christian school. This is the international missions trip for Carri who last traveled on a team led by me, as a college student, to Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico. That would have been many years ago! In addition she has also been to Costa Rica for a previous trip. Carri brings a wonderful sense of humor, great organizational skills, a love for kids and will keep us sharp in our drama ministry. Pray for her as she finishes up the school year, directs the eighth grade promotion and then finally gets to fully focus on the trip.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Seven

I think the trip has already started for me. I had a small anxiety dream last night that I was in the church parking lot waiting for the shuttle to take us to LAX. Everybody else was hanging out, Nancy was asking me questions about home stuff and all I could think about was the shuttle bus being late! I made contact with them today. They are planning to be on time!

Here is another team member for your prayer list . . .

TRAVIS SMELLEY . . . Travis is finishing his freshman year at San Marcos High school where this year he participated in the State champion marching band, competed in the national championships for drumline in Ohio, sang in the men's chorus and pole-vaulted. Yes, he did school work too! This will be Travis' first mission trip. Though he brings many strengths to this team his greatest one just may be His joy in the Lord. Already in his short life he has experienced the loss of his sister to cancer and the destruction of his house in a wild fire. Even so he walks with Christ, has a heart of compassion for people and knows how to enjoy his days. Pray for him that this opportunity to share the joy of living for God in another culture will not only make an impact on others but in Travis' life too.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part 6

Thank you for your prayers so far. We appreciate your support. Here is another team member you can add to your list . . .

EDEN SCHMIDT . . . Eden is completing her sophomore year at Bishop Diego High School and is no stranger to Costa Rica. She and her family have spent extensive time in the country. Eden's sister, Kyle and husband, Dennis are missionaries for the Free Methodist church in this beautiful place. When Eden was very young it was there that Kyle met Dennis, fell in love, married here in Santa Barbara and together went into full-time ministry. Eden's work ethic, gentleness, love for people, love for Christ and happy spirit add so much to our team. Her quiet confidence will be contagious. Pray for her as she finishes up her school work and prepares for the trip. She will go down with us and stay on with her sister and family for most of the summer!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Five

Next week at this time we will have completed our first day in Costa Rica. Today we pray for another team member ( I happen to know her very well!) . . .

ELISE RANCK . . . Elise was a member of Team Costa Rica in 2008 and very happy to be joining us again. She is now in the final days of her junior year at San Marcos High School. She will be happy when it is over! Elise's love for life, sense of humor and big heart of compassion will be a wonderful part of our team. She is looking forward to seeing many of the friends she made on the first trip. Pray for her as she completes several assignments and then turns her attention toward final trip preparations. Pray for her perseverance and peace throughout this week.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Four

One week from tonight and two more team member profiles (I know one very well!) . . .

MIKE PARK . . . Mike has been a faithful volunteer youth ministry leader for tons of years. I've actually lost count. His loyalty, consistency and love for God have been a tremendous blessing to the youth and the ministry overall. This is Mike's first missions trip and he is excited to go. His calm and confident presence will add depth to our leadership and care for the team. Pray for him throughout this week as he continues in his full-time job at the Santa Barbara News-Press and prepares to leave his wife and jr. high daughter behind to join us in ministry.

DOUG RANCK . . . Since 1988 I have been leading international missions teams to Mexico (Santa Ana, Tecate, Ensenada and Los Mochis), Ecuador, Antigua West Indies and now for the second time to Costa Rica. Though I have led almost 20 missions teams each one presents a new challenge and further dependence upon God. I am excited about the quality of this team and the potential for our small but effective impact. Pray for me as I think through the massive check list and make all the necessary decisions to ensure our safe and successful time in Costa Rica. Pray that I will lean fully upon Christ for wisdom and strength.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Three

Seven and a half days to go until our departure, two more people for whom you can pray . . .

PATRICK KNOWLES . . . Patrick is almost finished his freshman year at San Marcos High School. This year he sang in the men's group, "Royal Knights" and threw discus/shotput for the track and field team. In addition he regularly played guitar, and sang, with the youth worship band. Patrick's experience with the Boy Scouts and his love for God give him a strong "can-do" attitude. His insights and heart of compassion will be an asset to the team. Pray for him as he finishes up all the remaining school work and readies himself for the trip.

NATASHA NARANG . . . Natasha is another Free Methodist "lifer." She has grown up in her church and has known many of the team members from an early age. She is completing her junior year at San Marcos High School and has participating on the award winning dance team, "Marquettes" and female vocal group, "Enchante." Natasha's calm and pleasant personality will bring a definite strength to our group. Her growing relationship with the Lord will also keep our focus in the right direction. Pray for Natasha as she tackles tests/projects on these final days of school and gets ready to board the plane with us!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part Two

Today I am offering the opportunity to pray for two more of our team members as we get ready to leave for Costa Rica, eleven days from now . . .

JENNA GUTIERREZ . . . Jenna has known missions from early age having spent one year with her parents in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia while they helped to develop a "Study Center" for children without the resources to attend school. Jenna's upbringing in the church and this experience has given her a joy for the Lord and a big heart for missions. Her enthusiasm and vocal musical talent will be an asset to the team. Pray for her as she finishes out her freshman year at San Marcos High and prepares her heart, soul, strength and mind to be with us.

JACLYN HORTON . . . Jaclyn has also been with our church since birth. Last year she was promoted from eighth grade at La Colina Jr. High. This year she has been attending her freshman year at a boarding school in Austin, Texas. We have missed her but been grateful we have been able to stay in contact through email, cell phones, texting and even SKYPE. Jaclyn has a big smile and a big heart for missions. Last year she and her family visited Esterillos Oeste and her second cousin Kyle so she has done some good "scouting." Pray for Jaclyn as she finishes school in the next few days and flies out to join us!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Profiles of a Team, Part One

Over the days leading up to our departure I will be profiling each of our TEAM COSTA RICA members (alphabetically) so you can better know them and how to pray for them. We will do two today!

KIERSTIN BROWN . . . Kierstin is a sophomore at Dos Pueblos High school and has grown up in our church. Her vibrant personality is infectious and it has long been her dream to travel on a missions team. Presently she is exploring the possibility of full-time ministry and often you will find her leading worship with our youth ministry or proposing a new idea for our programming. Pray for her as she finishes up her school year and prepares to help in the leadership of our children's ministry in Costa Rica.

JAKE ELLIOTT . . . Jake is a senior at San Marcos High School, has grown up in our church and next fall plans to attend Westmont College. He brings many talents and a great love for people to our team and ministry. Jake has done almost everything musically possible from a very early age and has been an active member of our worship team in the youth ministry and the church at large. This is Jake's first missions trip so he would appreciate your prayers as he finishes up the school year, celebrates graduation and gets ready use his musical abilities on our ministry in Costa Rica.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Two and a half weeks from today our team will meet in the church parking lot to depart for Los Angeles International airport and an all-night flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. The time is short but the days will be littered with plenty of distractions. Students will be finishing projects, taking tests, doing final concerts, athletic events. Adults will be working on full-time and handling school year end projects.

All this amounts to little time for actually thinking about the trip and considering the many different ways we all can be ready. Our team has been meeting monthly since October but it’s amazing in how many different directions we have all been pulled between meetings. Life goes on and can be relentless in robbing us not only time to focus on the mission ahead but our time to just “be.”

Lately I have been keeping my focus on finishing a few other things ahead of time to allow “margins” over the next two weeks. These quiet spaces will make available time for the unexpected and last minute tasks while reducing potential distractions.

Pray our team will do well at battling the distractions and caring for ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically in these last 18 days. Your support will mean much.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Countdown to Costa Rica

There are now less than 27 days until our team leaves for Costa Rica. After leading over 20 trips like this I believe it would be possible for me, if I took the time, to chart some of the stages or even phases a leader experiences in the preparation for such an adventure. For the moment I will say I am in the middle of the "I-can't-believe-the-trip-is-actually-this-close" stage. Since September of last year I have been preparing for this trip and started meeting with our team back in October. As always it is fun to anticipate and share life with those who are also anticipating the same thing. Now it is almost here and the reality of final details is settling into place. Thankfully the final part of the task list is almost complete and we seem to be in great shape.

I believe God has put together a great team and I am grateful to travel with these students and leaders. We have a plan for the trip but I know God has an even better one. Pray we all will keep walking with Him and letting Him lead us to the most important work.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Homestretch to Costa Rica

It's been almost a year since I lasted posted. Life in ministry and other projects swept over leaving little time to add entries.

Now it's back and now we are going back . . . to Costa Rica.

In less than a month I will be leading a team of 3 adults and 11 high school students to work with our Free Methodist teammates in Tilaran and Esterillos Oeste, Costa Rica. We have been meeting since last October to prepare for this trip, June 5-15, 2011. While there we will be doing community service, ministry with children and families, being an encouragement and loving/showing Christ's love through our words, actions and attitudes.

We invite you to tag along with us over the days before the trip and during the trip (as the internet connection allows). I will plan to post short entries updating you on our progress and ways you can pray for us.

Thanks for being on the team! More to come!