Blank Pages

DSC05405Tomorrow…Brazil! It’s my fifth mission trip to that beautiful country. Our fifth chapel to build. Fifth 9-hour flight south.

Although these trips have similarities, each is unique. We travel with open hearts and open minds. Full of expectancy but empty of expectations. The overall vision is the same: build a chapel, build relationships, and share the good news. The details differ every year. This year there won’t be a Roberto or Renato. We won’t see the warm smiles of Ivan, Paula, and Vivi. No Douglas, Dani, Regicleide, or Pablo.

That’s okay, though. Those marvelous memories are past. The future is a blank page, aching to be filled with new stories.

I journal as I go. Each page slowly fills with miracles and reflections. Times of wonder and times of insight. It is a time of refining…painfully burning away pride and assumptions to reveal a deeper truth. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is necessary.

Clearing away clutter allows growth.

It’s a time of renewal…pushing away from the safety of the comfort zone opens up space to spiritually reconnect and refuel.IMG_1728

The journal mirrors the journey. Not just the journey to Brazil, but the journey of life. The future is full of blank pages yearning to be filled.

It’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to get complacent. We surround ourselves with people who look and think like us. We turn off our brain as we fill our eyes with the latest distraction, leaving those blank journal pages empty. We miss the significance of life. We miss out on life’s meaning.

These annual trips are reminders to stretch…to push away from life’s ordinary routines. Joy isn’t found in the middle of comfort.  It can be found by fearlessly venturing forward, into the blank pages of the future.

The Verse

Renato

Renato

Often people will contact me and say, “I saw the picture.” Even though I typically take 1,000 pictures a month, I always know which one is “The Picture.” Renato. I still love the picture, the man, and the story. Seriously… if you haven’t read the story, go do it now. This page will be here when you return.

As part of my fundraising efforts last year, I added a verse to “The Picture” and gave prints away to donors. The story behind the verse is pretty miraculous, too.

For the past four years, we’ve built chapels in Brazil. We hand-build the trusses out of wood. Before the “all-hands” call to lift them into place, we all write our favorite verses on them. It’s our way of covering the chapel in scripture, ensuring that the Word of God is above all else in the church. It’s symbolic but significant.

In 2013, we were in the lovely town of Queluz. It was nestled between a couple of small mountains, with a river cutting through the middle. Since it was my second trip, I knew we would be called upon to write scripture on the trusses again. Being the non-conformist person that I am, I decided my sub-mission would be to find a verse that nobody else would ever pick. I had recently been through a few studies on Habakkuk. It’s a short book, so I decided to start there. Right there in the first chapter, I found it. That obscure verse that would be perfect for this situation:

“Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5

I scrawled it on a truss and then moved on with my day.

cropped-hab_1_5_large.jpgLater in the week, it was time to lift them into place. Tony Gray, our missions host who has been in Brazil for 20(ish) years, was about to lift the rafter in place above where the pulpit would be. He glanced down and then shouted, “Who wrote this? Who was it? Who wrote this scripture from Habakkuk?”

“Uhhhhhhh……..  wellllll…….  it was me.”

I was afraid I did something wrong. I knew I was going to get kicked out of Brazil and probably excommunicated (that’s still a thing, right?). As I moseyed over (I’m Oklahoman after all), he called for his wife to come over. As Karen approached, he said “Look at this! It’s our verse!”

He shared that this was a verse that he and Karen prayed together. When they had doubt, when they were uncertain, when they needed a miracle, this was one of their “go-to” verses, and had been for years. Decades, I think. And here it was going up over the pulpit in the tiny town of Queluz. For them it was affirmation. For me, it was another example of God using me for reasons that will never be quite clear but are always humbling.

But it was an honor. And it was a miracle.


 

Once again, it’s fundraising season. This year, both Christy and I are hoping to return to Brazil. This will be our 5th chapel-build with Pioneer Missions. If you would like to help us out financially you have a few options: Mail a check to our church, hand us money next time you see us, or donate online here. As always, we appreciate your generosity, prayers, and willing ears. We both love to tell stories of the amazing things we’ve seen God do with us, in us, and through us.

Oh, shoot! One Thousand Words. (#31days)

I didn’t meet these men. While balancing my camera on my knee, I popped open the LCD. As my wife chatted with some new friends in Brazil, I sat next to her on the front porch. I lined up the shot and zoomed in from across the street. I wanted to capture the moment without disrupting it, so I shot sideways and backward. Caught it.

But I still wonder what their story is. With the story unknown–untold–our mind is free to wander a number of potential storylines.IMG_8470

Deck your walls, build a dream

I’ve had a few people ask about the best way to get prints of a few of my recent photos. If you fall into that category, I’ve got some cool news. While I do already have a few available here, but for a very limited time I’m going to offer a few of my recent favorites in a new way. And it’s for a good cause! Many of these aren’t available anywhere else, and some won’t be offered again later.

My good friend Randy is working on launching a new enterprise. He is building a community based around big dreams and mutual cooperation. For example…if your dream has been to start a new business, you can go to this community to get practical advice from experienced experts that have already done it. If you’d like to write a book, start a blog, or become a photographer…you can find practical answers and genuine encouragement here. If you need to crowd-fund a new invention, you’ll find the resources you need. If it’s time for some personal fitness, become debt-free, or you’re looking for marriage or parenting help, this community will have the answers you’re looking for. This site is all about changing lives. I love that.

Sounds awesome, right? So what’s the catch? The site will be free to you and I. But… some seed money is needed to get the project off the ground. This is where we can help.

I’m offering up prints of the photos below. If you contribute at least $25 to the NEXTworkHQ Indiegogo campaign, I’ll send you a print of the photo of your choice. And my offer scales… $50 gets you 2, $75 gets you three, and so on. That’s in addition to the other cool incentives on the page (check out the coffee mug at the $40 level and the LibbyDoodle at $75).

But wait, there’s more. For $100 you can get prints of all 5 of the sunsets. For $150, you can get all 8 pictures in the State Fair series. I’ll let you do to math on those, but they’re a good deal.

The Fair:

Sunsets:

Travels:

This prints will all be poster-sized. Most will be 13×19. The pictures that aren’t the aspect ratio to be 13×19 will be slightly smaller, but will still be a beautiful, high-quality poster.

I’m sure if you’ve read this far, you’re screaming: “But Dave! How can I take advantage of this incredible, limited time deal?!?!??!?!??”  Here’s the fine print:

  • Head over to this site: NEXTworkHQ and contribute the amount of your choice.
  • Contact me with a copy of your receipt, the names of pictures you’d like, and your shipping address. All the pictures have captions to make it easy.
  • Help me spread the news… share this deal with your friends.
  • This offer begins now and is good until midnight Pacific time, October 2, 2014 or until I’ve given away 20 prints.
  • $25 for one print, $100 for ALL 5 in the Sunset gallery, $150 for ALL 8 in the Fair gallery.

Hands

I built a church in a week. 

Twelve of us traveled to Brazil together. We arrived on a Saturday evening. All that was there was a foundation. The following Friday night, we held a celebration service in one of the most beautiful chapels on the planet. God couldn’t have done it without the twelve of us! 

Pride can lead our thoughts down some crazy roads. Greater minds than mine have said that pride is the ultimate root of all sin. It isolates us from God.

As I reflect on and process the incredible ten days I had in Brazil this year, one verse keeps echoing in my mind. Really, it’s only half of one verse. Esther 4:14. It’s a critical moment in Esther’s life. Her people are about to be destroyed. It looks like their only hope is for her to approach the king–her husband–at great risk to her own life. It’s a dangerous move for her, so she’s talking to her uncle about it. She’s questioning her role in all this. Maybe she should just play it safe?

Sitting on the plane I reflected on the time I spent walking the streets of Campo Grande, helping with construction, and taking pictures. I tried to figure out what my part of the whole “Brazil” experience was this year. Usually Esther 4:14 is remembered for the second part of the verse, where Mordecai tells Esther, “who knows? Maybe THIS time and THIS place and THIS situation is what God DESIGNED you to do.” (very paraphrased by me)

That’s a verse people like me can cling to. God has a purpose and a plan for my life. These mission trips are part of that. When He is doing incredible things all around me, it’s evidence I’m doing what He called me to do. Sounds like it’s all about me again, though. Pride.

I landed on the other half of that verse. Before he gave Esther that encouragement, Mordecai told her “you can step into risky, radical faith and boldly serve God. Or not. But God’s plan will not be thwarted.” (once again, very, very paraphrased). And that’s it. That’s the key. God loves for us to be part of His story, but we aren’t the center.

As I stood outside the chapel on Friday night taking pictures through the back Looking Inwindow I got a glimpse at the master craftsman’s hand. So many stories were intersecting at this one, miraculous time and place! Pastor Maciel and his congregation have been praying over this land for four years. They only recently purchased it. Four years! I’ve only known about Campo Grande a few months. Maciel told the story of miracle after miracle that led up to Friday night. They acquired the land. They were given money for the foundation. They worked tirelessly to prepare. Each of the twelve of us have miracle Pastor Macielstories as well. None would’ve been able to make the trip without at least one crazy miracle. During the week there was construction, VBS, house visits, social gatherings, giveaways of sunglasses, visits to other churches, times of worship, and a thousand other things. Lives were changed. Eternities were changed. The miracles never ceased. But it wasn’t because of twelve “americanos loucos.

God had a plan. None of us were indispensable. If I hadn’t made it, pictures would’ve still been taken. If our church hadn’t boldly and generously given, another would have. If Pioneer Missions hadn’t partnered with Pastor Maciel, a chapel would still have been built. If Pastor Maciel had stepped away from his calling, someone else would’ve stepped up. That’s the truth I saw Friday night. None of this is about us. It’s all about Him. This was Him demonstrating His power, His sovereignty, and His love to us. And for us.

So why go at all? It’s terribly inconvenient. And expensive. It doesn’t make sense.

The truth is, there’s nothing on this earth that compares to being right in the middle of where God is working. I’ve IMG_5858heard it said repeatedly “I wish I knew God’s plan for my life!” People young and old seek it. I’ve learned the power and beauty of forgetting about plans for our own lives. Instead, figure out what God’s plan is and try and position yourself to be right in the middle of it. He’ll find something incredible for you to do. Beyond your wildest plans and dreams. There’s nothing in the world like having your hands be His hands.

Immeasurably More

Mission Trip Funds

What did I do to deserve this?

I’ve been asking myself that for two weeks. I’ve been blessed “above and beyond” (to quote Ephesians 3:20). But let me back up a minute…

Less than a month ago I kicked off a mission trip fundraising campaign. [original post here] What I didn’t mention in that post was the urgency. When I posted, I was $1,000 short of the deposit. I was $2,400 short for the entire trip. The deposit was due a week and a half from the date of that post.

In the next week I raised a total of $57 by selling pictures. I also learned a lot about my own heart. I don’t like asking for money (which I knew). I also don’t like selling stuff. Even to people that I know, even to people that have expressed an interest. I also can get discouraged about it pretty quickly. I’ve never been so close to a deadline with so little hope for making it. That wasn’t a good feeling. I’m often quick to doubt — even God — even knowing all the amazing things He has already done in my life. I was there. Fully.

On February 12th, something changed. I realized what was going on in my own heart. I was trying to control the situation instead of letting God work. I was almost becoming possessive about the pictures. At church that night I ran into a dear friend who always encourages me. He prays for me fervently, particularly while I’m on these trips. I gave him a photo. I didn’t even mention that I was fundraising. Then I gave another one to my pastor. Then another to a fellow missionary. I felt a weight lift. As I drove home, “The Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns played. It was the first time I had truly heard it. I was almost shedding tears of joy.

The next day I shared all this with a friend. This guy is one of my absolute best friends. I can tell him anything, even unbelievable God stories. I hadn’t told him I was raising money, though. On that day, I wasn’t really sharing about that, only about the breakthrough. Only about the voice of truth and how I was finally listening to it. But he heard about the money. He knew I was still $943 short of the deposit that was due in three days. Later that day, he sent me a message. “David. This year you’ve got to trust a little deeper into the forest.” That’s kind of our code for “God’s got your back, just keep on trusting.”  “Yep, I know. He’s got this. Thanks!”

He is light, breaking through

The next day I got an email from the church. Someone had anonymously donated money for my trip. Exceedingly and abundantly. More than I ever expected to happen. Just like that, my entire deposit was covered. I was blown away. I was completely at a loss for words. God is so good. So are His people. But the story doesn’t stop there…

Sunday at church, a dear friend handed me a check. Once again, I was humbled and in awe. The next week, I told my friend from the forest about what happened. He seemed a little nervous at first but loved the story. At the end he asked how much I had left to pay for the trip. I told him I had no idea. He said, “whatever it is, I’m covering it.”   What? After he told me to trust deeper into the forest, God told him to do the same thing. He didn’t know if the amount would be $2,400 or $400 (and he didn’t know how he’d cover either amount) but he said yes to God, in faith.

In a span of 6 days I went from “maybe I’m not supposed to go this year” to “Wow, this trip is fully funded.” That’s a pretty amazing feeling. Yes, I feel humbled. Incredibly. A part of me wants to hide, knowing that I don’t deserve all this. But a much bigger part of me feels thankful and loved. I’m thankful that God shows his love for me in so many ways. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the incredible people he has woven into my life that continue to invest in me. Once again, not just in money, but in prayers, speaking truth, and faithful encouragement.

So is the fundraising over? No. I’d like my friend to pay as little as possible, of course. I’d love for his faith to be rewarded with his own “Paid in Full” experience. Plus, our church has committed to funding the construction of the new church. Also, we have quite a few other missionaries going with us that are still raising money. Once my trip is completely paid for, any additional money that comes in will either be distributed to the other missionaries or go to the construction costs of the new church.

Brazil!

Brazil, here I come!

What did I do to deserve this? Since I’ve found Christ that question comes up again and again. What did I do to even deserve His love? His companionship? Nothing.

None of this is about me.

It’s all about Him. I know I didn’t earn this. I know I couldn’t earn this. But I also know that God loves me immeasurably more than I could imagine, and this was one of the ways He has shown His heart to me.

One more thing…I’m going back to Brazil!