Sunday, January 30, 2011

Into the Unknown

Abundant across this world we live in is the variety of cultures, tribes, and languages. Almost 17,000 total groups in the world. Here in Costa Rica, which is about the size of the state of West Virginia, many cultures blend together to form this nation. There is a part of Costa Rican civilization that is mysterious to even the locals here. A people group that is far from the city and global technology lives far into the mountains. Most of the Costa Rican’s know simply of their existence but with limited knowledge of who they are. It is an indigenous people group called the Cabecar Indian Tribe located in the hard to reach mountain range with a population of about 9,000. Their native tongue sounds like nothing I have ever heard or even know how to describe. So disconnected from modern society, they don’t have electricity and don’t even live in community groups. Honestly, my knowledge of who they are and their customs are limited besides the small amount of information Wil and I have found on the internet. More we are sure to learn since we are visiting them this week.

Monday we are driving 5 hours across Costa Rica and as deep we can go into the mountainous jungle. That evening we are staying at an outpost on the border of the Reservation. The next day, Tuesday, starting at 5am, we are beginning a hike to reach these people high in elevation and deep into the thick of lush jungle. The chief is meeting us at the bottom of the trail and leading us to his natives. Wil asked, “How long is the hike, so we know how to prepare.” The man replied back with, “I don’t know. Sometimes seven hours, sometimes nine.” We figure that if the native Cabecar Indian can reach his destination through the jungle after seven or nine hours, our gringo selves will probably get us there in ten or eleven. We will see.

I don’t know what to even ask for specifically, but please be praying for our journey into the jungle to have an opportunity to learn from and minister to these people. We don’t fully know what to expect, but we are praying that God truly moves in a miraculous way, even if that is simply opening our eyes to the diversity and need of His children. Your prayer is desperately needed. Pray that someway, somehow, whatever direction God desires, that the name of Jesus be glorified.

Romans 15:20

Friday, January 28, 2011

Work and Play

Occasionally, when I sit in front of this computer screen thinking of how to best describe the latest experience, I sit, and then when I think more, I sit more, and eventually after a long time of sitting and thinking, come up with absolutely nothing. I don’t know if amateur bloggers can get writer’s block, but I am pretty sure I can sometimes be diagnosed with ABB. Amateur blogger’s block frustrates me beyond words. Literally. Fortunately, this is not one of those times.  I could probably write novels of what has happened over the last week and the new, somewhat different, experiences I have encountered. Many firsts, and hopefully not lasts.

Let me preface this blog with an update on our work site. This past week moved very well. Above is the building we are adding a second story. The team from North Carolina worked very hard getting a great deal of work done. The old roof was completely removed. The tin from the roof was restored, painted, and can now be reused. The new concrete foundations were set and poured. The giant support beams were coated in rustoleum, welded together and successfully set in the foundations as columns. On the final day, we were able to lift the trusses, which run horizontally on top of the steel columns, to the second story. These steel beams had to have weighed 400 to 500 pounds each, which is why it took about ten men to lift them up to the second floor. I thought to myself… “Isn’t this what they use cranes for?” Each person on the team would have to remove a sweat drenched t-shirt and shower before dinner each night. There were a few cuts and bandages but overall no major injury. I don’t have other weeks to compare it to, but from my perspective, it was a great first week. We were even able worship with the Costa Rican’s once during a powerful Tuesday night service. We prayed prayer for this broken city that God restores hope through the works He has called us to do.

These next stories still make me laugh to myself when I think about them. Hopefully I can write them just as they unfolded. They are in order of greatness on the story scale, not necessarily chronologically. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did, but I don’t know if that is possible though.

Again, after a LONG week of work in the hot Costa Rica sun, Wil, My new amigo Pedro, and I went out to Playa Hermosa, a beach off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, to learn how to surf. January 20th and I am surfing in the Pacific Ocean. I never would have dreamed. We grabbed our boards, waxed them down, walked like we knew what we were doing, and went out in to the ocean. Waves were crashing far out from shore. We fought our way past the currents and small waves to get to ones we could really surf. I would watch each one reach its peak right before it crashed down causing chaos in the surrounding waters. I grew up going to the beach in the Gulf of Mexico along the Panhandle. These are no panhandle waves. The only words I know for these waves are “mucho grande.” I had also grown up doing water sports on Smith Lake all my life so I assumed surfing I could just pick up. Just after completing that thought, I saw it... In the distance rolled a mountain like wave that had my name all over it. It is as if this triumphant event of my first surf was all in slow motion. I climbed on my board with mounting anticipation, paddled my heart out, and began to feel the lift of the wave. This was it. Hopefully there is a film crew and pro surfing scout in the area because I knew they were about to be amazed. Just as I attempted to pop up on the board and coast into shore to meet surfing contracts, surfer girls, and surfing endorsement requests, the nose of my board touched the rushing water. Crash and burn would be an understatement of what unfolded next. After my pride was completely destroyed it felt as if someone shoved me into a salt-water washing machine. My toe smashed into the hard ocean floor and the surfboard I once befriended plowed into the back of my head. I have a purple toe and knot on my head to show for it. Sand made its way into every area of my body as I resurfaced gasping for air and dignity. I found the air. Thankfully after a few falls, I figured it out. I had a few good surfs and finally was able to stand up and coast into shore. I am hooked. A few more times I got brave enough to face the Goliath water wall but again I was put back in my place quickly. No sponsorship contracts this time, but a message to the surfing world… I’m not done yet.

                                                                       Learn to Surf:  

If learning to surf was the least great of the stories, these others are pretty good. I don’t want to downplay the surfing experience because it was incredible, but these other two are just so unique.

 Entertainment will never be the same to me. After you have reached the summit of the mountain, you never fully appreciate the base again. I think I may have just peaked. That is what I concluded after going to The Sanisidro, Costa Rica Fair. Spanish music filled the air, carnival games were everywhere, and vendors everyplace you could walk were selling everything from fried food to flip-flops. If this was not enough, the Fair Rodeo was the icing on the cake. When they told me rodeo, I pictured lassos, barrel racing, and maybe some bucking broncos. No. Costa Rican’s really know how to Ro De O. It crossed the line into loco. Fan filled bleachers circled the wooden walled, dirt floored rodeo ring. Dust and the smell of farm animals drifted through the air. Walking vendors with shaved iced, potato chips, and sticks of meat circled the stands yelling their sales pitch to hungry fans. A man with a microphone spoke Spanish as quick as an auctioneer announcing the specs on the next event. The anticipation mounted. Then, just when I thought it was going to get good, what happened next made good relate to pony rides. It got great. People from the audience began to climb in the ring. To validate my confusion, I glanced around. No one but me seemed alarmed. More and more men climbed down inside the dirt arena. “What are they doing!?” I proclaimed to Wil. Knowing what I didn’t know he sat in silence and let me find out for myself. The Spanish man’s voice that I couldn’t understand built with excitement, louder and faster. There were now nearly one hundred men inside this wooden framed circle of sand and dirt. A buzzer rang through the speakers as two mean swung open a side gate. The gate unveiled a huge bull that looked like someone just threatened to make him to a steer. I could feel the bull’s rage. This giant bull came bucking in the ring mounted by a small Spaniard that was hanging on for his life. One hand was wailing in the air as this huge animal tossed him like a rag doll across the ring. He hung on for longer than I thought he could actually. Once the brave Spaniard dismounted, the bull proceeded through the crowds of people in the ring. They would climb up the rails to dodge his charging horns. The bull would stand intently with his eyes, ears, and gorging devices pointed directly toward his targets as he shoved his front hoof into the sand and threw it over his back. A few brave, more than a few adult beverage consumers, would run up towards him to taunt him into action. Action they received. He would charge like a rhino at a safari bus of tourists. Once, the bull’s head and horns met a brave man’s back and threw him to the ground. The man had had enough but the bull felt otherwise and lingered in the victory by plowing his head into the man as if he was trying to put him six feet under in front of us all. Somehow the man walked away and then they continued as if they didn't get the message the bull was sending. Honestly, at first I felt bad for not being able to stop laughing. I asked Wil, “Is it bad that part of me wants that bull to throw one of those guys thirty feet in the air?” With a grin he replied back with, “No… everyone here wants the same thing.” My conscience was relieved and my attention was focused. It was like I was a kid watching an action film, knowing that if I turn away for even a second I may miss something good. The word good does not do justice.

                                                                Run From Bulls: Not yet…

This last story topped them all.

Last Wednesday on the worksite, I noticed my new amigo Pedro shaving these thin steel bars into sharp points. I thought it was interesting because it didn’t look like something to add support to a building. Pedro, no habla ingles and I don’t speak Spanish, so I was curious but wasn’t able to ask what he was doing. That night, Pedro and Harold asked Wil and I and a few guys out of the team if we wanting to go fishing. I would never turn down a fishing trip, but it seemed odd that it was nearly 10 o’clock at night. Again, my curiosity and desire for adventure spurred me on. Adventure it proved to be. We drove fifteen miles away into thick jungle. When I say jungle… I’m talking huge trees hundreds of feet tall, roots above ground, boa constrictors, water falls, man eating vines type of jungle. It was legitimate jungle. So here we are… tromping through the jungle about to wade in the jungle river in pitch-black darkness with all the jungle spiders and jungle snakes hunting the jungle fish and jungle shrimp. I thought to myself, “This is usually how either a really great story starts… or a horror movie.” It looked like the set of Anaconda. Once we made it to the river, we waded in about waste deep and walked upstream searching for the sweet spot to fish. I knew any minute that one of our team would go down splashing and fighting never to resurface. It was pitch black so we could only see the rock in front of us by flashlight. I brought my headlamp, which at the time I thought was a good decision. I glanced across the shoreline and saw hundreds of what looked like shining jewels strewn about the rocks. I walked up to one to see what was shining back at me and to my surprise, with no exaggeration, they were reflective eyes of spiders the size of my hand! I then decided to keep my eyes on the water. In the distance a howler monkey let out a yell. What am I doing? I can hear it now, “Up next on Travelers Worst Nightmares… missionaries are found (fill in the blank) because of the hungry jungle river (fill in the blank). Then I reasoned, I am already out here, why not soak up this experience. When is the next time I will have a chance to spear fish in the middle of a jungle in a foreign country? Maybe never. “Pedro, let me give this a shot.” I put on the diving mask, grasped the flashlight in one hand and the homemade spear in the other, and dove in. Again, I thought to myself, “What am I doing? And how in the world do I ever expect to spear anything?” Just then, I saw a fish on the bottom between two rocks swimming in the current. This is it. Don’t mess this up. I thrust the spear through the water. It streamed towards my target, and to my surprise… I successfully speared a fish! Then another, then another. It formed into an addiction that I had no desire to quit. Once during our journey, We made it to a decent sized pool and Wil equipped himself with the gear but this time had a snorkel. After a few minutes of silence and concentration, suddenly I heard Wil’s muffled yell of victory through his snorkel.  Still completely submerged in the water, he trashed in battle with his catch. Judging by his muffled cheer and body language, this one had to be good. He pulled up a shrimp that looked more like a lobster. Probably 12 inches long from claws to tail and we decided he landed the trophy shrimp of the day. That night was so much fun, we  went again last night and brought home a large grocery bag full of fish and shrimp. The two times we have been now we returned home with enough fish and shrimp to feed the group dinner on Thursday night. We all walked a little taller.

                                              Spearfish in a Jungle of a Foreign Country: 

The past few weeks have been full of fun and hard work. We have spent many hours on the roof scorched by the hot Costa Rican sun. God has really done many great things through the teams that have been here. It is such a blessing to be able to work right next to the church in action. That is what church is right? The church is not the walls we worship in, or even the walls we are now constructing. The church are the men and women who are pouring sweat right next to me serving God and the body of Christ. It is refreshing to see people get that.

God has truly opened my eyes to so many things while I have been here. Not just the new experiences, but also the Truth in his Word and things He wants me to learn. It is refreshing to hear his voice. The new experiences are fun but nothing compares to being in God’s presence.

                                                Psalm 34:7-8

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pura Vida

“Pura Vida” is a phrase used by locals here in Costa Rica. They say it as they come. They say it as they go. “Pura Vida!” they shout across the street and interject into conversations. Costa Rican’s use Pura Vida as Hawaiian’s use Aloha. Pura Vida is Spanish for “Pure Life.” Honestly, that is about all I understand. Well, that and “Aguilla de guerra?” (Look it up). Often I feel like a lost foreign kid on his first day of middle school. The language barrier here is far worse than it is in Uganda. I speak more Spanish than I do Luganda, but Ugandans at least speak some English. Costa Rican’s, not so much. I try to fit in but the likelihood of that is far down the road. They look at me and rattle off a mouthful of words and I respond with wide eyes, a blank stare and sometimes a nod. I figure if I just say yes to everything they will at least think I am a pretty easygoing guy.

The week has been busy and full of work and new experiences. The beginning of the week we pushed around dirt with a backhoe to level out a soccer field Wil’s friend is building. 48 hours after stepping foot in Costa Rica Wil said, “We’re going on a ride over the mountain to the coast to prepare for the team.” Just as I was turning to respond he tosses me the keys to his Ford F-250 truck and calmly states, “follow me.” With some apprehension and falsely portrayed confidence I jumped in and drove this monster of a truck through the mountains of Costa Rica. It is the same side of the road and same side of the car that I am used to in the States, but the roads are sometimes half the size. The truck is twice the size. The math wasn’t adding up. Thankfully the huge imported Ford truck makes the typical car here look like a Prius, so I had slight comfort knowing that if I accidentally went into head to head battle with oncoming traffic, I would probably win. I didn’t want to test my luck though. That day while we were gone, someone broke into the house and so the next few days we worked on welding steel gates to shield the windows as security men installed more motion sensors. Now we are sleeping inside a structure resembling a fort.

One day around dusk, Wil, Yolanda, and I went to Playa Dominical, a beach off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We had put in a day moving mattresses and decided to unwind watching the last few hours of sunlight slowly fall below the horizon. It was picturesque. (I just looked that word up for those of you that know the limits of my vocabulary.) It was truly breathtaking. Take the best sunset postcard you see out of the nearest gift shop, multiply its beauty by being in person, and it won’t even come close to what we watched. This country is gorgeous. What a wonderful Maker.

A team from North Carolina came in on Friday night and we made it out to the work site. The team is great. They are friendly, fun, hard workers and the team even includes one ’59 Auburn grad who said he tutored the QB, RB, and TE from the first National Championship Team. I joked, “So, you take a little credit for the title in ’57?” He popped back with, “I take all the credit.” One thing I have realized quickly this is no come paint a house or clean a church type of mission. We are working on a small town church.  It is serious work adding on a second floor to a building on the church grounds. This past year, the floods did great damage to this town and in the church they have no higher place to retreat to. The highest place to store things during floods is the sanctuary stage, while sending up prayers that the water will fall. That problem we are here to fix. The next few months will be dedicated to adding on the second level to this building so now they have living quarters above the floods highest levels. It involves giant support beams, welding, building rebar grids, pouring concrete foundations, applying rustoleum, and unloading trucks of hardy board and rock. Lots of measuring, cutting, carrying, loading, lifting, unloading and sweating.   

Down the street from the church there is an old swimming hole that branches off a nearby river. Costa Ricans had swam it in forever until the floods came this past year. Riding the tide of the flood were alligators enjoying some new scenery. Many large, and I mean really large alligators. Probably over twenty gators now call this swimming hole home. Hopefully the locals realized the new resident’s presence before the neighborhood jumped in for the traditional Sunday swim. It amazes me the number of cats and dogs you still see roaming the streets. You would think mr. and mrs. teeth would minimize the population. (Just kidding mom. I can seriously hear her say “aww” as she reads this.) Thinking of that, another thing I think is so strange here is that out of all the dogs I see walking stray up and down the roads, an abnormally high percentage of them are Chihuahuas. That seemed cliché. I feel like any second one of them may strike a glance my way and rattle out a Spanish phrase. So far that hasn’t been the case, but then again I haven’t been walking the streets with bags of tacos…

I have noticed there are many similarities and differences between the U.S., Uganda, and Costa Rica. There is however many parallels between Uganda and Costa Rica that I have grown to love. If I had a bottle that could capture culture, there is one thing Costa Rica and Uganda share that I would gather, enclose with a cork, and ship boatloads of back to the United States. I would bring back suitcases full and give it out to all my friends and family, spread it through our city, and store up a large portion for myself and have years of supply. It isn’t any hand made commodity or beautiful sunset. It isn’t the sand or the year round heat, but the trait that is unique to both of these cultures is their pure-hearted love. Costa Rican’s care about each other. They live a life that is focused on relationships. A lot of them live a life that is centered on Christ. Their priorities are God, their family, and their friends. Work matters but it is not what defines their life. For example, our builder, Hugo, that overseas the projects we are doing at the church, isn’t here for the first few days of construction. His full time job is building with Wil’s teams and managing every measurement and design on the worksite. I found that surprising and slightly alarming that we are building structures without chief supervisor’s supervision, but when I found out why he couldn’t be here it all made sense. When I asked, Wil looked at me and said, “He can’t be here these few days. Hugo and his son volunteer with the youth group at our church and they have a youth conference in San Jose this week.” I was amazed. Then I questioned myself, why am I so amazed? Shouldn’t that be how it is? I am so guilty of mismanaging my priorities. Why do we so easily put ourselves in a schedule that only allows God to just fall in the cracks when we aren’t busy? Why do we put our strongest relationships second priority to a demanding job?... I do it. Sometimes I make myself so busy with ministry mission work, I forget those that God has placed right in front of me. Why do we dedicate the majority of our lives serving this world seeking bigger and better and never slow down to spend time with our Creator, and our closest relationships? Why do we so often define ourselves by our salary and not our Savior? I heard a pastor say once, “We don’t need to prioritize our schedules, we need to schedule our priorities.” It is something to think about. I’m going to check out eBay for culture capturing containers and I’ll keep you posted but until then I am going to surrender it to God trusting him to change that in me.

God is doing big things in Costa Rica. Costa Rica Mission Projects ( runs an incredible ministry and truly develops community. The pastor, his two children, their spouses and their children, and others from the surrounding community are all working right next to us this entire time. Generations are sowing ownership into this church. Please be praying for Wil, Yolanda, and this ministry God has given them and that He blesses it in amazing ways. Also be praying that God will direct Sozo all across the world where He desires and reveals opportunities and partnerships to care for His children that are in desperate need. Great news, Sozo Montana just received three new Native American children to care for today.  Pray for courage to take the steps of faith God calls us to and be obedient to the things He puts in front of us. To Him be the glory.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Over the Mountain of Death Wearing Flip Flops in January

Early this morning my alarm clock blared with excitement, yelling at me to get moving. Today is the day. A plane departs at 6:30am bound for Costa Rica and it won’t wait on me to get there. Bags were packed and loaded and before the sun shot its rays into the sky the engines of the jet were roaring with anticipation to get in the air.

I felt almost as if my entire family came with me on my first leg from BHM to ATL. The beautiful colors of orange and blue were strewn about the concourse. After we located our seats the captain greeted us over the intercom. (Bing!)“Good morning and WAR EAGLE!” Even at 6am a crowd erupts from the sound of those words. It was nice that the Auburn family decided to join me, even though really they were headed toward the big game and I was in route to another piece of the world. 

In the Atlanta terminal the friendly voice from the ceiling began to call us to board. “All medallion, first class, elite, awesome passengers please board the plane now.” She stated. I glanced up slowly, threw own my backpack, and rose to my feet. I felt as if it were in slow motion while triumphant O’ Fortuna was playing in the background of my mind. For once in my life, she was talking to me. Disclaimer** Let me make it clear I am not spending missionary donations on first class international tickets, fortunately I had frequent flyer miles donated to me for my ticket round trip… first class. (Thanks Pops.) As I walked across the medallion member rug laid out for across the carpet specifically for elite passengers, a sense of guilt overcame me. About six minutes later... it left. I soaked in first class with gratitude. I lounged in my luxurious seat, ate filet mignon and shrimp, and realized they wouldn’t let my cup of steaming coffee reach the bottom. It was nice. 

The wheels screeched against the runway and the plane jolted to a stop. I made it; Costa Rica. Lush green trees overcame lush green trees. Thick jungle was painted up the side of a dormant volcano. The vibrant colors of the culture filled my eyes as they tried to adjust to the differences. The low murmur of Spanish was all around me. Wil and his mother picked me up and we began the drive over the Mountain of Death.
That is really what it is called. A huge mountain labeled the Mountain of Death because of so many travelers back in the day would not make it to their destination after beginning the trek. I sure am glad they told me on the accent up and didn’t decide to break that news after completing the journey safely. (If that statement were bread and sarcasm were butter, you wouldn’t want to eat those words.)
We went all the way to the top, gazed up beautiful landscapes, and began the trip down. Joining us in the altitude were the clouds causing it difficult to see at times. We made down and to our destination after a few hours of weaving turns. I don’t know words to describe the amazing beauty of this place. I have realized again that God is such a great God with creativity that we cannot fathom. Seeing magnificent volcanoes with their tips peaking through clouds clearly illustrated the beauty of our Creator. Earlier, as my plane flew over the Caribbean, I could see the coastline of the Florida’s tip topped by the Keys, and I could almost hear God’s voice hovering over the waters saying, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let dry ground appear.” (Gen. 1)

This morning I write this from a hammock on Wil’s deck that overlooks Costa Rica’s verdant countryside. A hot cup of Costa Rican coffee is steaming at my side, cool air breezing around me as I can hear the rooster’s crow and songs of tropical birds. I can imagine most reading this awoke this morning to put on layer over layer over layer to face the frigid temperatures and shovel snow from the ice storm the south has been panicking about. One snowflake and Birmingham shuts down. After getting out of bed, I slipped on my flip flops…

It has been nice flying first class and lounging in hammocks, but the rest of the week we are preparing for the team coming on Thursday. Busyness will hit and the grind will begin.  We will spend many hours with teams callusing our hands. I pray that Christ uses my hands to show his love and blesses this ministry that he has created through Wil.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

God of This City

This week I got to be a part of experiencing God’s biggest movements across the world. It is a student conference called Passion. Once a year Passion comes to Atlanta and brings the biggest names in the Christian media. John Piper, Francis Chan, David Crowder, Hillsong United, Beth Moore, Chris Tomlin, are some of the few incredible servants of God that inspire this generation to live for the One true reason to live. The amazing thing about the week is it isn’t about the names, speakers, or artists. It is all about Jesus. It is a movement that is only experienced and explained by the power of God. 25,000 college students from across the country come together for this four-day event to worship our Limitless Creator and ended up giving over one million dollars to ministries across the world. Awesomely powerful is a drastic understatement. During this conference last year is when I truly began to feel God pull me towards international missions. I finally realized that God never wanted me to have all of this life and his “will” figured out, he just wanted my “Yes.” I realized that if I truly believed what I said I believed I had to obey God’s call and go. I spoke the “yes” of my heart towards heaven, and since then, what an incredible journey he has taken me on. He has blessed me with an incredible testimony of His love, grace, protection, and peace that all points back to Him. It has been a year full of excitement, sorrow, joy, stress, trials larger than I have ever faced, and peace that surpasses all understanding. A testimony we feel responsible to share that illustrates miracle after miracle. All glory from every word to God.

The entire time during my last trip to Uganda I fought the strange combination of desire and fear to return to the restaurant we were at the night of July 11th. I may talk about this too much, but I feel like it is a story we must share. The experience so strongly impacted my life so the story alone I pray ripples impact to those that hear it. It was the night that forever changed our lives. It was a night where many people lost their lives. It was the night bomb blasts rang through Kampala. The final day of my trip back to Uganda I overcame the fear and fulfilled the desire to return to the Ethiopian Village restaurant. My expectations of just walking in and taking pictures were far exceeded during the chilling experience of being in the same spot we treaded through the most horrific scene only months ago.

Let me retrace those steps…

The day was normal. We went to church, had chicken and sodas for lunch just like every other Sunday. In hindsight the only thing slightly abnormal about the morning was that I vividly remember the pastor asking, “What would you do different if Jesus was coming back tonight?” If I can be completely honest, most times a good question like that is brought up, I consider it, appreciate it, put some thought into it, but when church ends it leaves my memory. This one didn’t. The afternoon of July 11th I sat on the balcony of the orphanage and wrote down everything I would do differently that day if I knew I would meet Jesus that night. I still don’t do it to the fullest, but one example is I know that I would live for Him without reservations filled with boldness and courage and tell everyone about the Grace filled life I have found and the life Jesus has to offer them.

As I was scribbling my heart out on paper, I was getting excited about the game. We had been waiting on this final match of the World Cup for a long time even though the U.S. got knocked out just a few weeks prior. We watched the U.S. games at Ethiopian Village before and had a great time. Jay and I thought and talked about that we should go back there.

These next steps and decisions that seemed so small and insignificant are what saved our lives. It has opened my eyes to realize how involved God is in our every thought and step. I am amazed how the Lord dances all around us while we never hear a sound. I wonder how many other disasters God has steered our lives away from without us even realizing it has happened? This one, God allowed us to be in the middle of the disaster, watching the evil take place, but without harm falling upon our bodies. I know I still ask God and myself why I was not number 77?  I don’t think I will every fully know the answer until I stand before Him. If I don’t have immediate understanding the day I walk through the gates, I will ask.

As we sat on the steel framed beds and foam pad mattresses in the orphanage, Catherine and I went back and forth in a conversation. We didn’t realize the full ramifications of our words.
“We have to get there early,” I suggested, “at least an hour and a half”
Catherine responded with a well respected, “I agree, I really want good seats.”
The light bulb above my head illuminated as I thought and said, “Lets just eat there! They have decent food and that way we can guarantee spots and save the table until gametime.” In my mind it would work just as we do at home for big football games.
Catherine toyed with the idea even though she didn’t like the food.
“That might work, but I don’t think the whole group likes the Ethiopian.”
As I was secretly wanting the rest of the group to tough it out and just eat it, Carrie walked in overhearing our conversation.
“No!” she protested, “I don’t want that food and we promised Jill and Katrina we would meet them at Café Roma tonight for dinner.”
After Carrie’s opinion was clearly stated I knew I lost Catherine’s support as well.
“Fine. You win. I lose. Café Roma it is.”

We loaded up in the van with our driver Kenneth, who we often call Kenny G (I don’t think he has any idea who that is). Destination: Café Roma, then Ethiopian Village for the game. On the way we had to pick up Jonathan Lenning, at the time one of Catherine’s close friends. We got stopped in traffic because of a campaign march. We ran late for many reasons and finally made it to Café Roma. I ate my pizza as if it were trying to escape off my plate, and called Kenny G as quick as possible. Game time is only 45 minutes away. If we want to get to watch the huge screen we better hurry.

Kenny G is late again! Getting our checks is taking forever. I knew it. We should have gone with my plan. My impatience built.

We piled in the van again and made the short drive to Ethiopian Village. There was nowhere to park so we just jumped out in the road. What I was hoping wouldn’t happen, happened. People everywhere. The view from the parking lot told us there were no seats in site.

 The hostess led us up through the crowd to the room on the right you see in this above picture. It is obvious judging by the size of this TV screen the inner male in each of us flocked to the best view in town. Tables with beer ad tablecloths surrounded by plastic lawn chairs were everywhere. Each one of them filled. It was dark and Ugandans packed the place out. I could see an average number of American foreigners standing out in the night amongst the crowd. Average is usually only few in a large crowd. They must have thought ahead and got here early. Game time is in 15 minutes. I hoped I could get a cold dew before the whistle.

As we realized where the hostess was taking us, disappointment filled our group (mainly the guys). I thought to myself, “This side room!? There must be another place. We have to watch that TV!? It is so small compared to the monstrous screen right here. I know I have been spoiled to huge HD flat screens but anything but this one.” The room still opened up the main crowd all having the giant projection screen to watch the action. Even this room was crowded. To the left, tables were open. The only tables in the entire place were waiting for us. People that looked like they got there just before us and took the last remaining seats still in view of the screen already occupied the right side of this room.

I sat down on the far left of this room just inside the door with my left shoulder on the window with the curtain. Our group formed a crescent shape watching the small TV in the top left corner. The backs of Jay, Catherine, Tori, and Mason now faced the outdoor area. The big screen and projector were only feet on the other side of this wall to the left in this picture. I could hear the crowd and would occasionally peak through the curtain to watch and be envious of the people who actually got to watch the screen we came for.

“Told you Catherine.” I sarcastically stabbed not knowing how much I would eat those words.

The picture below shows the distance of our surroundings well. These chairs we occupied were just inside this L-shaped wall that kept us from seeing the screen, which we realized later that also kept us from seeing death. We think the blast came from just to the right of this yellow table.

The game was quickly losing my interest. It was hot. The TV was disappointing. The air felt humid and stuffy as if we were crammed in an attic on a hot summer day. As halftime approached, I decided to beat the bathroom line and go ahead and go. I went and as I returned, brushed shoulders with many people with absolutely no idea that one could have had explosives lining their pockets. As we sat and watched soccer and enjoyed each others company, none of us realized the evil that was taking place as a terrorist thought his final thoughts as he buttoned his shirt over a vest of death.

As I sat down, Jay was standing up to make the same trip. I wasn’t seated for more than a few seconds when the world instantly turned black. I have failed many attempts at trying to describe the noise. It was an eruption of sound carrying a booming bass that instantly blew our hearing. It was more than just a sound, but a tidal wave of energy that rushed over our bodies and hurled us to the floor. This seemingly normal day instantly turned into a bloody nightmare. At once, our time of fellowship turned to a crime scene you only see in movies or the news. What just happened? What was happening? My ears consumed muffled screams and chaos. Amidst the turmoil, we grabbed the girls and all took cover the furthest place and cried out to Jesus.

Victims lay lifeless all around this area as others struggled to get to their feet or find their family. Blood was everywhere… literally everwhere.  Shards of glass swam through the red pool that now covered the floor of our room. Losing a shoe during the blast, I was walking barefoot across it. This picture above is the perspective from the direction the bomb blew. The L-shaped green wall shielded us while the ones sitting just across the room on the right side were lying limp in their chairs. Fear overcame us as we realized the severity of this tragedy. Are we hurt? Would there be more?

Jay led the way as we stepped through blood covered debris and people. Mason and Jay attempted to return to the chaos to offer help, but quickly realized there was nothing that could be done. No help could be offered. We tried to console a man on the street that lost his brother. We prayed. It was the most heartfelt, honest, genuinely terrified prayer pleading God for direction and thanking him for the breath we realized we were still breathing.

We walked out untouched. I did not have a single scratch on my foot that tread across bloody glass. The wall shielded us from the blast as the curtain shielded us from the imploding glass. We found refuge under the wings of our God and we were shielded by His faithfulness. (Psalm 91)

Many questions will continue to circulate in my mind for as long as I live. This side of heaven, we will never know the answers in full. I will rely on trusting God and leaning on His understanding and not my own. I don’t know why I was spared. Jonathan often says a wise comment that takes deep thought to understand, “God is not faithful because he protected us, He protected us because He is faithful.” The hardest thing to come to grips with is this; what if my group was not here to tell the story? What if my hands couldn’t type the steps we took? What if the only testimony was a police report describing our last steps or memories from the last phone calls we made to friends and family? A lot would be different. That was obviously not God’s plan and not our time. I know he has plans for every person in my group just by the fact that he spared our lives while allowing us to witness pure evil stealing the existence of innocent lives. I have thought through the scenarios that if one step was different, timing was off, or I received what I desired in the simple act of watching a soccer game and being there early, we most likely wouldn’t be here today. It has taken me time, but I can type this now in truth. If my life was taken that night, then ALL glory be to God for He is ALWAYS faithful and he is ALWAYS good.

Obviously our vapor on earth has yet to diffuse, but if it did… then praise God. That may not make sense to all, but we have seen that if we are here on earth, then our purpose is to love and share Christ and love others, and if God decides to bring us home, then we go home. We walk the streets of heaven with the Creator that designed the miracle of life. We begin true life in eternity. We break our brokenness by walking through the gates. What is the downfall in that!? Either way or either outcome all glory, honor, and praise to God and God alone. Philippians 1:21. When he is ready to take me home I will be ready. I haven’t always been, but now I am ready. I know my purpose here. I know why I exist. It is to make much of God and to tell the world how we can have a relationship with Him and make Him the center of our lives and the foundation of our desires. It is to show the world the full life he has to offer now and later and the redemption that took place on the cross to forgive us and bring us back in union with a holy God. When God is ready to call me home, I will go rejoicing, but until then I want to use everyday to change the world through the power of Jesus.

Don’t miss it. Don’t miss your purpose on this earth. Don’t miss what God has to offer. We can so easily miss it. Don’t trade the ultimate for the immediate. I almost missed it and nearly traded it for some quick satisfaction in the past thinking that something in this world could gratify my deepest desires. Even then, God sits at the table of life and lays out an offering of Grace, His Son on the cross, and says to us, “I love you. I am faithful. I want you to know me. I want to redeem you to me. It is finished. The price has been paid. Return to me.”

That night, still functioning off adrenaline and fear, we made it back to the orphanage. In the middle of the night our seventeen beautiful Ugandan children slept peacefully as Jay, Carrie, Jonathan, Tori, Catherine, Mason, and I sat in a circle, prayed and worshiped Jesus. Jonathan picked up my guitar and began to pick the strings as our voices slowly raised to an anthem….

You're the God of this City 

You're the King of these people 

You're the Lord of this nation 

You are

You're the Light in this darkness 

You're the Hope to the hopeless 

You're the Peace to the restless 

You are

There is no one like our God 

There is no one like our God

For greater things have yet to come 

And greater things are still to be done in this City 

Greater thing have yet to come 

And greater things are still to be done in this City

Picture taken day after the bombing (from news station)

Monument constructed to remember those lives lost.

We will never forget. Psalm 91 and Scripture has come alive in a new way. The seven of us that walked out together unharmed that night all have a unexplainable bond and common understanding of God's physical hand of protection

I depart on my next God led journey on January 9th to Costa Rica. Thank you for all your support and prayers.