A New Year, a Cup of Coffee, a Box, and a Mission

Last year at this time my wife, Gail, and I decided to take a trip to Blowing Rock, NC and we spent New Years Eve and New Years Day there.  It was a special time for us to get away and plan for the coming year.  I had no idea what it would bring, but […]

hemlockinnLast year at this time my wife, Gail, and I decided to take a trip to Blowing Rock, NC and we spent New Years Eve and New Years Day there.  It was a special time for us to get away and plan for the coming year.  I had no idea what it would bring, but it has been an absolutely amazing year.

The trip to Blowing Rock was one of those pivot point moments in life where things could go in one direction or another. It takes very little to get started, but once it’s in motion there is no stopping the train.

We’d just had dinner and it was getting late so we decided we should stay the night and make an extended date out of it.  We drove around a bit looking for an inn.  Gail went into several and checked for a vacancy while I waited in the car.  The first two hotels had no vacancies and the likelihood of us finding a room were slim at best. However, the second inn keeper made a quick call, and found out that an inn just down the street had just had a cancellation. My wife confirmed the room and off to the Hemlock Inn we went.20161230_202708.jpg

It was a pleasant night out, cold and brisk, but not cold enough to make it uncomfortable. The Inn’s gazebo had a neat little fire pit and everything was lit with Christmas lights, the kind that project onto the trees, parking lot and building. Although it was New Years Eve the town was quiet and pleasant.  It was a beautiful romantic setting and finally with our arrival the town was sold out.

That evening we found ourselves in a warm and cozy room with a country mountain decor.  The hardwood floors were cool to the touch, but the bed was warm.  There on the table stood a coffee maker and I thought, well maybe I’ll try a cup in the morning and see if my tastes have changed.

The next day we awoke and I decided to try a cup of coffee.  I am 48 years old and though I’d tried coffee many times in my life, I just never developed a taste for it.  It just seemed too bitter for me and it always burned my tongue.

This morning was different.  It felt right.  There was something about this place that was spiritual, like God was blessing the moment, but I couldn’t have told you this at the time. The best way I can describe the moment is to say that I was happy.  I was at peace and there was joy in my heart.  Our date lasted until the morning and Gail I spent time planning this past year as we dreamed of all the things we’d be doing together.

Fast forward a few weeks and it’s now February.  I’d just had my 49th birthday and I had decided to have a cup of coffee.  It was around 9pm in the evening.  Lots of people drink coffee before bed right?

My wife shared her wisdom, “You’ll be up all night if you drink that stuff.”  Unfortunately, I have a bit of a stubborn streak handed down from my mother’s side of the family and sometimes sage wisdom comes at me like a challenge. It’s not one of my best traits.  I drank the coffee.

That night when I laid down to sleep I rested my head on the pillow and gazed up at the ceiling.  I wasn’t the least bit sleepy and my mind was racing like a cheetah chasing a gazelle.  I just couldn’t slow it down and with things in motion, there was nothing to do but wait for the outcome.

I began to pray and my heart landed on the FCA Tecate Mission Trip and the 2nd Nazarene Church in Tecate.  The past several years I’ve participated in a mission to go there and serve the community and church there along side friends with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

The first year I went, changed my life.  I was heading down a path in my life that would have eventually led to a very sad ending.  But my friend and former youth pastor, Joey Potter, reached out to me on Facebook and asked me if I wanted to go on this mission trip with him.  I had no idea why he was asking me.  We hadn’t spoken in years. But because it was him asking and I knew the place I was in, I accepted.  With the decision I committed myself to going on this trip against my family’s wishes, not knowing what I’d face, and believing that anything could happen.

I went on that mission and there I met Jesus face to face.  Not physically, but in spirit.  I found God in a way I’d never found him before. I suppose you could say that I finally understood grace and forgiveness, found acceptance and a different kind of love.

All my life, I’d tried to hold onto myself and keep a part of myself separate from God.  I wanted to have it both ways, his will and mine.  In the end, I realized that the only way I could be truly happy was to give in to his will.  This trip was a test of faith that was laid out to me in surrendering to him.

Fast forward a few years, and here I am, laying in bed, my mind totally alert from the caffeine praying to God about my friends in Mexico.  I prayed for hours asking God to show us a way to minister to them and with them.  We serve with the 2nd Nazarene Church in Tecate.  Over the past 27 years it has grown to become one of the largest Nazarene churches in all of Mexico and the mission that Joey sponsors through the FCA has been a part of it for the past 20.  Although we go to serve the church, an orphanage and the community, God uses the people there to bless us as well.  He works through the love that they share to reach out to us as much as we reach out to them.

It’s so easy for Americans with our national pride (or national arrogance) to go places and say that we’re saving the world.  The truth is, though we call ourselves a Christian nation, we are often the ones that need saving.  We have become trapped by our worldly possessions, position, power and greed.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. — 2 Ti 3:1-7

God works through all his children and I have seen God working through the people at the 2nd Nazarene Church in Tecate in a powerful and loving way every time I’ve visited them and I am honored to call them my brothers and sisters and to be able to serve along side of them when we go there.

As I continued to pray for them, I asked God to show us a way to demonstrate his love for them. “It’s the 20th year and it should be something special,” I tell him.  We’ve partnered together in this mission for so long that it should be a special year.  I prayed asking if there was something we could do that would open doors for the ministry there and support the work of the church, orphanage, and community.  By this point it’s 2:30 – 3:00am in the morning and I’m still awake, but in a bit of a daze off and on and an a flood of ideas come to me.  We could fill a box with things that they can use for their ministry and use each item to in some way be symbolic of our mission together.

We’ll make things with our hands the way Jesus might have and we’ll build the message around the life of Jesus with a each gift representing something of Jesus and his ministry.  We’ll share a story about his life with each gift.  The church could use these things in their ministry.  They could be used for every day use, given to a person in need at the right time, or auctioned off to help the church in a time of need.  We’d give them a Bible and share a scripture that means something to us.  We would even invite others in the community too share in the project too, artisans – or anyone – who would be willing to share of their talents and resources to show support for this mission.  We would ask each person who contributes to this to pray for the team, the mission, and the people.  Finally my mind rested and I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning as I woke and was getting dressed.  My mind landed on the events of the previous night and I wondered what I was supposed to do about the dreams.  So I prayed.  I asked God if this was just a crazy idea or if I should put this into action.  I was hoping I hadn’t fallen completely off my rocker.

A few minutes later, I was in my closet reaching up on the top rack for a shirt and the closet rail broke and came down on me.  Without thinking I quickly grabbed it and was able to steady it and fix it in place.  When I looked down I saw a little white box.

I didn’t remember at the time where it came from or why it was on the shelf, but I picked it up and opened it.  In that box was a coffee mug.  It said Trust with a cross. Things just don’t line up like this randomly.  God was speaking through the circumstances.

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After a few weeks I remembered that I’d received the coffee mug as a gift from my church when I joined the First Impressions team.

I wrote to Joey and shared my story.  We talked and decided this was something that God was leading us to do.  So I began a journey that would take place over the next several months and I believe has led me into a new ministry.

I spent many weekends picking out the plans for the box, getting the rough cut lumber and figuring out how it would go together.  There were many hours of prayer spoken over that box as each piece was milled, sawed and shaped.

At the same time, I was reaching out to the team and others I knew to fill the box with items the church could use.  There were so many blessings shared and so many prayers that were spoken to God asking that his blessings would follow these gifts, I can’t even begin to tell you all of them.

The journey of creating the box, led me to a different place in my walk with Jesus.  I found a peace, as if he were working along side of me the whole time.  I could feel his presence in my shop and him guiding my hands and decisions along the way.  I’d never undertaken anything this ambitious in my woodworking, but he was with me every step of the way.

For me, this was one of the most rewarding things I’d ever undertaken in my walk of faith, even more so than the mission trips, retreats, and conferences I’ve been to, and it happened in my own home on my own time, alone with God.  I believe that God blessed our time together during this build because every moment was spent as an act of worship to him, trusting him, and letting him work through the moment.

As the work progressed and the months passed things were coming together, but we had to get all this stuff to Mexico.  This meant shipping all the way across country and getting it across the border.  Time was very short.  I didn’t think I could fly the box so I went to a shipping store and was told that they would not ship it, so I took it home packaged it and ended up with three roughly 70 lb boxes.

In addition, we were collecting shoes, clothes and school supplies for the orphanage and baggage loads were going to be heavy.  One of my team members flew in a couple bags that I was to take with me and I was adding shoes donated by friends.

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This included artwork that my church had donated.  I had framed them using extra walnut from the box.  Everything had to be shipped in pieces and the final assembly completed after the drive into Mexico. Also included were some very beautiful hand crafted pottery made by a local potter (God’s Country Pottery) and a hand made hammock along with candy and clown faces for the kids donated by a lady in our church.  I’d also prepared a video for the presentation and included the song Te Bendeciré  by Ingrid Rosario. Her husband Tony was very gracious in granting us permission to use it.  This was blessing that we were able to share with the congregation during the offering presentation.

There were three of us flying from Charlotte so I ask my other team members to travel with just carry ons so we could check the shoes and the boxes. Through another one of God’s blessings, we were able to fly 1st class.  This meant we could travel with 3 bags each plus 1 carry on and 1 personal item on the plane.  Even with this one of the bags was over weight and two others were over sized.  I was really stressing over the baggage because I didn’t really have fund to cover the costs beyond what I’d already given to the project.

When we arrived at the airport, we decided to curb check then the drop the car before heading through security.  When I reached the sky cap, he looked at my bags and asked where we were heading.  I told him we’re heading via San Diego to Mexico on a mission.  He looked up at me and then down again at the bags and proceeded to weigh them.  In the end, we only had to pay extra for one of the six bags, about what it would have costs to ship them.  He smiled and said to me as we left, “God bless the work your doing.”

I had to hold back the emotions when I heard those words because I knew at that moment God was working and clearing the path ahead of us.  His blessing was going with us to Mexico.

When we arrived in San Diego, Joey was a bit surprised by the load, but he’s a professional at this and knew exactly how to handle it. However, when we arrived in Mexico, I was informed that we wouldn’t have time to put the box together for the Sunday service.  I needed about two hours for final assembly.  This included pinning the mortise and tenon joints, glue up and the final finishing, and placing all of the other gifts that were part of the project.

That Saturday evening the group decided to go to the bakery.  I told Joey that I’d stay behind at the church and finish the final assembly and he agreed to pick me up in about 45 minutes or so, ready or not.  I rushed upstairs, working as fast as I could, and tore the cardboard boxes apart. It was a massive scramble to get everything assembled.  (God provided two very special people that night from Tecate to help.)  It seemed strange that after two hours my team hadn’t returned, but we were able to get everything assembled and ready.

That night, our vans were robbed and some of our belongings were stolen out of them, but God used this situation to allow us time to finish the assembly and get everything ready.  Just as I was about to call Joey for the ride he drove up in the van.  The timing couldn’t have been executed any better.  We had just what we needed, not a minute more.

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The Sunday presentation was stressful.  I’d felt so guided by God in the process I just had to share it, but I was very sensitive to the fact that we’d never done anything like this before.  We didn’t want the gifts to be presented in an ostentatious manner, or for us to receive any credit, but to be viewed as a blessing to the church.  We just wanted to be instruments used by God to deliver this blessing to our friends in Tecate and demonstrate the love that we know God shares for all of us and to share a message of Jesus with them.  He has so blessed this ministry over the many years and has used the church, the orphanage, and the FCA to reach many with the life changing message of Jesus.

Would you join this year’s Tecate Gift project, the FCA mission or contribute to it’s ongoing support and be a blessing to others?

It’s simple. Donate an item for the orphanage, make something we can take (legally) across the boarder, something useful for the people, the church, or the community there.  Pray for God’s blessing on the team, the mission and the people while you are making it and while the team is on mission.  Then get it to us.  We’ll put it in the box and donate it on your behalf, or if God is leading you on a mission, join our group and hand deliver it.  (Comment or send me a message if you’d like to join us in some way or if you’ve got questions.)

If this doesn’t work, make a donation to Joey & Cathy Potter – Fellowship of Christian Athletes to support the work that they do.  Joey runs one of the tightest ships I know and he’ll put the funds to use where they are most needed to support his work.

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