In Spite of Everything…

I spent 2008 interning for a Christian ministry in South Africa. Going to Africa had been my dream my entire life. To finally get out there and live it and see it was incredible. My ministry, Thrive Africa, was young and small compared to most, but it was vibrant and strong in the vision and work it was doing. In many ways the positive strength that exuded from Thrive became personified for me in one man, the co-founder. He had founded the ministry with his eventual wife 10 years previously. He was a big, smart, white South African. If God hadn’t got to him he probably could have played rugby or at least been a strong farmer like so many Afrikaans people are. He was without a doubt, a born leader.

To be honest it took me a few months to warm up to him. I was a small, shy American; he was the leader of an entire ministry. I worried I might say something wrong or stupid to him. I was afraid to engage him in casual conversation. A trip to Botswana a few months into our year however brought us together in fairly close quarters. I finally got to the point where I didn’t feel nervous around him. I could ask him questions, make jokes. I felt like on some level I connected with him better than almost anyone else on our missions base. Because of all this I began to soak in every word I could from him.

There were a lot of words. He taught us a class on leadership every week. He almost always preached at the church we had each week. He led a Bible study for the men on base during the winter months. I listened, I pondered, and I retained everything I could. At the time, he was in many ways the ideal Christian leader in my mind. Strong, but humble. Logical, but in touch with the spirit. Blunt, but caring. I still today quote things regularly that he told me. I even picked up one of his phrases he always said and now say it myself.

I returned home at the end of my year full of joy with all that had happened. However a few days later I got an email. The leader I had nearly idolized during the year had been cheating on his wife with one of the missionary staff. His wife had finally gotten him to admit to it. A few months later it was revealed that in spite of his wife’s wiliness to reconcile, to seek therapy, to make it work, he was pursuing a divorce. Everything was now up in the air.

Thrive, in the last couple years, has done an unbelievable job trying to move on and continue with their ministry. However their efforts were not enough to keep Thrive on sound enough financial footing. Today it was publicly announced on their website that Thrive is closing. I cannot tell you how shocked and dismayed I am by all of this.

I had the incredible opportunity to return to Thrive this past summer to see the ministry in action once more. I went out to dinner with the then director and some missionary staff who were nice enough to answer any questions I had about the situation of the ministry. Unsurprisingly, HE came up. And the director said something which unexpectedly stuck with me.

“His actions do not undo the truth of the things he told you.”

This entry is not being written to cast blame. It is meant to show that in spite of everything, God is good. Thrive was an active, flourishing ministry for 13 years. It impacted the lives of thousands of South Africans and North Americans who served under them, including myself. Even now a new ministry is being formed to continue much of the vital work that Thrive has done. Today is without a doubt a sad day, a day I will join in with many in mourning the end of a fantastic ministry. However life, work, and ministry continue unabated all over the world and the actions of no one can hope to stem the flow of the love of Christ on this lost and hurting world.

I finish this entry with a Bible verse that sums up things better than I could ever hope to.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 8:38-39

 

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Camp Sandy Cove

After my week at Sandy Cove Ministries I was able to drive down to the summer camp it runs in West Virginia.  It’s a basic sleep away camp for kids but it is distinctive by its fun and its focus on Jesus. I have worked all or part of four previous summers there as a counselor and was returning this time to help out for two weeks. I ended up taking care of a cabin of boys each of the weeks I was there.

Returning was fantastic if also a bit weird. The last time I was on staff was in 2007. I knew camp well but many of the new staff had no idea who I was. Of course there was a good number of staff still there who I  knew and that made meeting many of the others that much easier. I was happily surprised that by my first day off on Thursday I was having a blast with people I hadn’t known the week earlier.

Camp is a hard place to work. It is busy, tiresome and sweaty. There is lots of food but no air conditioning. You are responsible for your kids essentially all the time besides your day off. The schedule can quickly become burdensome. And yet I and many others keep coming back. Giving up camp completely just isn’t an option, at least not yet.

Even amidst all the difficulties I love camp. More than probably any other place, camp is a place where I can just relax and be myself; a slightly crazier, sillier version of myself to be sure, but me nonetheless. Kids are kids, they don’t judge you; they just want to have a good time and to feel loved. Working together with other staff in the same chaotic conditions garners a commitment to each other that I have experienced in few other places. Tying is all together is a collective belief and practice of Christianity which is simply refreshing. I have been to some great churches in my life but few things beat a Vespers service with 200+ hyperactive kids singing worship songs.

Camp has had an indelible impact on my life and development since I was kid. I’m so thank ful for being able to return and will surely return again.

Sandy Cove Awesomeness

I returned home from just over a year abroad on July 18th. I was supremely blessed to find myself (again) at a place as awesome as Sandy Cove Ministries a mere week after my return.

Sandy Cove is a Christian Conference center in Maryland that at least one member of my family has been going to every summer since 1989. Over twenty years, crazy right? But it is just that super. Amongst many, many things it offers it specializes in week long family vacation packages during the summer. Adults and parents come for good speakers, worship and childcare. The kids (including me over 10 years ago) enjoy the massive amount of activities available including: swimming, boating, mini golf, softball, zip line, soccer, basketball, tennis and many more. We also get to hang out with other kids our age and learn a bit about the Bible as well. All around Sandy Cove offers an excellecent package deal for a fun and impactful break from life.

This year was a bit different. I haven’t been here as a “vacationer” in over 5 years. But amazingly the dates worked out so I could be here all week with my Mom, sister, brother-in-law and my beautiful 5-month old niece who I just got to meet this past Sunday. I wasn’t young enough for the kids programs and don’t have my own family just yet but it was still great. I played mini-golf and Disc-golf. I did some stand-up at the talent show. I parasailed. I got some great insights from the speaker I can use this fall as I begin coaching. It was a huge blessing to be back here.

I highly recommend looking up Sandy Cove if you get a chance. They are a great ministry offering rest and reflection for all.

In Africa

The World Cup, friends in Johannesburg, and the ministry I was with in 2008 has offered the perfect trifecta of excuses to make a very big detour on my way home from the Czech Republic. I’m here for 17 days and will fly home on the 17th but I have been loving every minute so far. And just so we are all clear: no I haven’t gotten to a game but it has been awesome nonetheless.

Simply put, I love Africa generally and South Africa specifically. People who know me well will know I don’t use the following language lightly but I really feel that Africa as a whole is something that God has literally put on my heart. I have spent most of my life wanting to come here. Studying, reading, thinking and writing about the place is simply what I do. Spending a year here in 2008 was fantastic and now having the opportunity to return has been better than I could have imagined.

I wasn’t sure how coming back would feel. A lot can (and has) change(d) in a year and a half. However even amidst the culture shock I am reaffirming how much I love this place. I have reconnected with people and friends I haven’t seen for more than a year. I’m meeting new people who are here for the first time. It is chilly but beautiful. I am surprised about just how ecstatic I am to be here.

Many people have understandably raised the idea that if I love it so much why don’t I just return permanently? Good question. Many variables are in my life right now. Beyond this fall I have no clue what will happen. But I’m so thankful that God has allowed me to come back even for only a few weeks and simply sear South Africa into my heart, this time for good. I may not return permanently, I may not return for a year or more. But I will come back, that much is assured. And it will be fantastic in a way I am unfit to describe.

I saw Fulham!…and London too…

So this is my last night in London and as I should be horribly tired and busy with travel and school until probably Wednesday I thought I should give a recap while it’s fresh in my mind.

I ended my trip by going to my favorite English soccer team, Fulham Football Club (they play in London). As an American it’s hard to follow and get into European soccer but this is where the best players play and so a few years ago I picked Fulham as my favorite, most because they seemed interesting and had around five Americans at the time (they still have one). I been learning and following ever since. Going to this game today was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. Fulham didn’t play great but they won and it was a great experience as a fan to be able to watch them.

Why was it so great? One word: atmosphere. British soccer just has it. In American sports, you have jumbo-trons, cheerleaders, time outs, distracting music. Often you’re so faraway from the action it doesn’t even matter. Here in Britain it is different. It’s just the fans and the soccer. Fulham’s stadium fits just over 25,000 people. The stands go right up to the field, you are so close to the action and players. No big screen, just a scoreboard with the clock. The fans know exactly when to cheer, clap and chant, it was awesome. I must also say the away fans were fantastic. One entire block of stands behind one goal was filled with fans of the other team and you couldn’t help but feel their presence. They chanted, jumped, jeered. They were magificent. I’m glad they went home sad but thanks for the effort guys.

So here in short are a few other things I did in London.

  • Went to British Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone.
  • Went to Tower of London and saw crown jewels and lots of cool, old stuff.
  • Went to a Church service in Wesminster Abbey. Very cool.
  • Saw Buckingham Palace and walked around a lot of London.
  • Met up with a few friends and had lunch and hung out in a London Pub.

So now I fly back tomorrow just in time to start teaching again come Monday morning. But it was a great trip and I’m sure after a few days I’ll be readjusted back to the lovely land of the Czechs.

2009? Where you go…?

So I suppose it’s late enough in the year to write an entry looking back on 2009. It’s been an interesting year and a bit strange too. Over half of it was spent at home or in the states but a good chunk has been in Europe. Rather than just banter on about my life here are some highlights.

January 11th- Ran my first ever full Marathon at Walt Disney World in Florida. Ran 3 hours, 7 minutes and 34 seconds. Qualified for the Boston Marathon in April. It was pretty awesome.

January 16th- Started my job at “Honey Farms” a local convenience store for the next six months. Not really a highlight but it provided some much needed income into my bank account.

April 20th- Ran the second marathon of my life, at Boston. Major life accomplishment, check. Bested my January time by just over a minute 3 hours, 6 minutes, 29 seconds. Pretty awesome.

April 24th-26th- Visited my camp to help with their spring camper weekend. Saw many good friends and relived camp for a few days. It was nice.

May 7th or 8th- Visited Wheaton (my college) to see friends right before they graduated. Saw what my commencement would have been like if it had been sunny as well as many good friends. It was fun.

July 6th- Worked my last shift at Honey Farms!

July 8th-Left Massachusetts after being there 7 months for a year. Head to New Mexico and California.

July 19th- Started training with Teachoverseas in Pasadena.

August 20th- Flew to the Czech Republic to start Teaching.

October 28th-30th- Visit Hungary for the first time. See teacher friends, explore Budapest. It’s fun.

December 22nd- Head to London for my first visit ever. Still there now. It’s cool

So that was my 2009. It was pretty cool. I’m looking forward to 2010 and all it has for me!