Thursday, August 06, 2009

Back to School: 2009-10

Summer was great... but it's over and time to head back to school. New uniforms... new backpacks... new teachers & classmates... new responsibilities. It was an exciting day! Even the few homework assignments that came home at the end of the day didn't dampen their spirits.
  • Pray for Krysten as she embarks on her high school career... we're sure 9th grade will bring more challenges as well as more opportunities for her personal growth.
  • Pray for Betsy as she enjoys having a "man teacher" this year for 4th grade. She is still confident that the girls will rule the classroom as they outnumber the boys 5 to 3!
  • Pray for David as he is a full-time "Instructional Assistant" at the school this year. He has a full schedule, helping in a couple classrooms in the morning then working with the elementary & middle school PE program for the rest of the day. He also gets to help with lunch & recess duty. :)
Betsy with other 4th grade girls... great buddies!

Krysten with old & new friends

Seeds Sprouted After

Ride a jeepney two hours into the beautiful green-clad mountains outside Butuan City, and you'll reach a covered basketball court that serves as the community center for a small village. A group of medical missionaries were holding a clinic in the middle of the concrete pavilion one morning in late June. They had been welcomed that morning by the village captain and his assistant, who said, “I have lived here all my life, and this is the first time a medical clinic has come to our village.” Jordan and Sam, two college students, took temperatures and blood pressure, then gave everyone a number and sent them to some benches to wait until they were called.

Pastor Antonio leaned on a table near the benches. He was a brown-skinned Filipino with a thick and powerful build, and deep grooves that time had etched into his face. He had once been in the rebel army, but now his hardened face had a sublime tranquility in it as he taught the people sitting on the benches about the Gospel. Behind Antonio was a large banner with pictures illustrating Bible stories that outlined the Gospel, the Gospel that changed his life and took him from military to ministry. He pointed to the box that depicted a cross on a hill, and addressed the small crowd in deep-voiced Cebuano. I knew what he was saying.

A few minutes later, Pastor Antonio called me over. “I want you to share your testimony,” he said. There was a new group of patients waiting at the benches. I agreed, excited at the opportunity and a little nervous. I told my story, about how I had been raised in the church, how I had wrestled with my father's atheism, how I had fallen into secret sins that taught me God's patient love, how I had resolved to hold no part of my life back from my King, how Christ was my only good. Pastor Antonio translated after every few sentences, so I had plenty of pauses to think about what to say. The mothers and children looked at my intently as I urged them to seek God and find Him good, as I had. I prayed, and it was over. We passed out some tracts, smiling at the families.

I repeated my testimony to two or three other groups of patients. At three o'clock, the medical mission wrapped up, and we took the bone-rattling jeepney ride back down the mountain road. “Lord,” I prayed, “I've been faithful to tell who you are to me. I've done all I can, but no one responded openly. Please bring fruit out of it in your own time.”

Pastor Antonio had a daughter who had just given birth and was in the hospital with complications. She was taking heavy antibiotics to fight infection. About a week after the medical clinic, I went to the hospital in Butuan City to visit Antonio and his daughter, marveling at dank corridors that would have appalled most medical professionals back home. As I sat beside his daughter's hospital bed and talked with him and our friend Rudy, Antonio pointed a finger at me and said something in Cebuano. I didn't quite catch it, but Rudy translated.

“He says God used your testimony to bring people to salvation. Three people from the medical clinic last week came to Pastor Antonio here in the hospital and asked how to join our church.”

“Wait, they came here?” I asked. The trip to Butuan City was not something casually done for most rural residents.

“Yes, they sought him out in the hospital. There were two women and a man,” said Rudy.

“Praise God!” I said, unable to keep back a smile. Are you serious God? Thank you so much!

Antonio had referred the three villagers to Pastor Allen, a pastor in a neighboring area who came to the village to do social work. He was the closest permanent minister to them, so we put the task of follow-up with these people in his hands – and in God's.

I walked away from the hospital reeling in delight. God had surely used what I had said, together with what Pastor Antonio had spoken, to stir the hearts of those people. I was sure their faith was genuine. They had gone to such great lengths to find Antonio, a symbol of their search for the Truth.

God had used me, the media guy who took pictures, to be part of communicating the life-changing message of the gospel to these people. God had altered eternal souls, and he had done it through me. Even days after I had left the field, seeds sprouted. Praise be to God, who stirs hearts beyond our sight or knowledge.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Kids Korner

A lot has happened since our last update... the biggest event being David's graduation from Faith Academy Manila. It seems just like yesterday when we put him on the plane to go to Manila to begin high school. His future plans include college but he has chosen to stay at home for this next year. He'll be a full-time volunteer at Faith Academy Mindanao (school where Krysten & Betsy attend) this school year, helping with the PE and sports program. He's enjoying spending time with friends and playing lots of basketball.

Krysten "graduated" from 8th grade and is excited about high school. She's also enjoying spending time with friends this summer. She decided she wanted to learn to play the flute over the summer so is taking weekly lessons. She continues to develop her piano skills and singing... I'm sure our neighbors wonder sometimes what type of concerts we hold in our living room! She had a great time with the team from FBCFP this past month. Connecting with friends and being a part of their ministry made for a great week.

Betsy finished 3rd grade and is looking forward to 4th! She loves spending time with her dog, Bravo, and playing with our neighbor, Jessica. She's enjoying sleepovers with friends, swimming, and some trips to the beach- she & Jess are snorkeling buddies! Betsy is also taking piano lessons and is doing great! She asked me the other day if it was okay if she practiced twice a day instead of just once... of course!!

This has turned into a summer of visitors. Not only the friends who came with FBC Ft. Payne, but also family. Wendy's sister, Jeanna, and a friend surprised the kids when they showed up for end of the school year activities. It was a great surprise for the kids and made some great memories! They were able to attend Krysten's closing program, go with Betsy on a field trip to the beach, and attend David's graduation. They also stayed with the girls while Jess & Wendy went to Manila early for other graduation events. It was great to have Jeanna here!

A couple of days before David's graduation, niece Kate Vincent arrived. Kate is a recent graduate of the University of Louisville and will be with us until the end of August. She has jumped right in and been involved in whatever was going on. She's also spent some time with several of the Nehemiah Teams, getting involved in their on-going ministries.
With the team from FBCFP arrived nephew Luke Jennings. It was great to see him & David play ball together for the week. Although he didn't get to visit where we live now, he did get to see where the kids lived while we were in the Butuan City area, meeting some of David & Krysten's childhood friends.

But that's not the last one, Kate's younger brother, Josh arrives this Sunday! He'll be here through the end of the month. We're looking forward to showing him the sights of Davao City. Kate is excited to have him here too!

It has been great to have the entire family involved in several aspects of ministry this summer. David was in charge of "transportation" at our Nehemiah Teams orientation at the beginning of June. Coordinating the arrival & pick-up of almost 100 participants went off without a hitch! David, Krysten, & Kate were also a big help during orientation with "office type" tasks. David also helped set up the "adventure rec" courses used for team building.

Again during the week of ministry with the team from Ft. Payne... David coordinating the basketball games, Krysten being in drama presentations & helping with the dental presentations... while both of them begin able to serve as translators and guides as needed. What about Betsy? Her love of playing and making new friends is always an instant draw. She isn't shy to acquaint herself with other children and involve them in games to gather them together. She also acted as score keeper for a couple of the games.

The end of July we'll all head back to Manila for de-brief with the teams. Again, each of us will have our responsibilities to make sure everything runs smoothly. The body at work!
  • Pray for us as we have this next year together as a complete family.
  • Pray for David as he continues to seek where the Lord would have him for college. Pray for God's timing in his decision making.
  • Pray for Krysten as she begins high school. It's our desire that the Lord will mold her into the young lady He desires.
  • Pray for Betsy to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit working in her heart.

Sonlight 2009

It's always great when friends come to visit!! A team of 18 youth & adults from our home church, First Baptist Church of Fort Payne, Alabama, spent 10 days in the Agusan River Valley working with the local association. Actually 2 teams in 1, these 18 were joined by Nehemiah Teams members and local believers to complete a vast array of ministries. You can see pictures and read updates from their ministry on our personal blog:

Ministry started out with a half-day work day with the Nehemiah Teams Habitat for Humanity team. The guys helped build the walls for the house while the gals painted roofing supports. The ride to the worksite in a dump truck gave the team a quick introduction to Butuan City... they were kinda like an impromptu parade going down the road! After lunch, the youth team headed out for an overnight associational youth fellowship. While the association planned the logistics for the event, the FBCFP team led the program which consisted of games, food, worship, & just having fun together. The next day, the team was divided into groups of 3-4 and went for an overnight "homestay." Hosted by local churches & families, the team members spent the night in the Filipino homes, experiencing a day, and night, living as they lived. The next day was Sunday and most members were involved in local worship services- sharing testimonies, singing, "preaching", and being an encouragement to local believers. Other, including the medical team, attended a local wedding and got to experience this part of local culture.

The medical arm of the team, led by Dr. Mike Story and Dra. Glee Dacanay-Velenzona conducted free medical clinics in 6 sites with a total of 1319 patients. As families came through the clinic they experienced Christ's love through meeting their physical needs as well as hearing the gospel shared through scripture and personal testimonies.

The youth team, led by Student Minister Jeff Ford, focused on local elementary & high schools. In 4 different villages, they visited the elementary schools in the morning, presenting a short dental hygiene program in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. The program ended with a gospel presentation and the distribution of toothbrushes to the kids. After a sack lunch (lots of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches!), they spent the afternoon at the high schools playing games with the students and sharing one on one with students using tracts and storytelling (salvation) bracelets.

Another component of the week's ministry were late afternoon basketball games. Organized by our son, David, "Team USA" (composed of David, cousin Luke Jennings, Doug Mackey, and several Nehemiah Teams members) played local village teams in exhibition games. During half time of each of the games, the youth team shared testimonies & drama followed by a clear verbal explanation of the gospel. The team also distributed tracts to many watching the games.

Some stats from the week:
Tracts distributed: 1800
Story-telling (salvation) bracelets shared: 750
Basketball games: 5
Total attendance at games: 2000
Schools visited: 4
Dental hygiene presentations: Done 12 times for around 400 children, preschool-3rd grade

Korean Nehemiah Teams

This is the third year in the development of Korean Nehemiah Teams. A team of four Korean students (mainly seminary students) have been in the Philippines since mid-June. This team has been working with a Korean Foreign Mission Board missionary in Davao City for the past several weeks. This week they are working alongside the American Habitat for Humanity team in Butuan City.
  • Pray for these students as they complete their ministry and return to Korea on July 19th.
  • Pray as they continue their studies in preparation to be fulltime cross-cultural workers.

American Nehemiah Teams

American Nehemiah Teams have now been on the field for a little over a month. 40 teams in 8 countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Argentina, & others! It has been exciting for us to visit teams on the field, talk to team leaders on the phone, hear reports through local supervisors, and read about their adventures on the blog. ( All I can say is that the bar has been raised this summer and students are rising to the challenge. They are acting like adults! Churches are being started! Children are being rescued! Prostitutes are hearing the Good News. Orphans are being loved. Homes are being built. People are receiving clean drinking water. The gospel is penetrating into some hard places.

However, half-way through a task can sometimes be tough. Nehemiah and his volunteers almost quit from threats, exhaustion and discouragement. For our volunteers, things are no different. The adventure has worn off. Sickness has visited some of the team members. Floors are now very hard. Rice is now very bland. The language barrier is now a nuisance, not a novelty.

We covet your prayers for the teams as they continue their ministry for these last few weeks.
  • Pray for continued unity among team members.
  • Pray for good health.
  • Pray for new opportunities & places to open up for sharing the gospel.
  • Pray for the persons of peace that they have found... pray for fruit to be produced.. fruit that will last!
  • As they prepare to say good-bye to national partners, pray for all to be encouraged that they have been a part of kingdom work
  • As teams gather for debrief on July 26th, pray for the Lord to speak to them in unique ways about their next steps as a World Christian.
Read about their ministries and see pictures of them in action on our blog. You can also see links on the right side of the blog for the other blogs being maintained by media team members in other countries.
  • As we are developing job requests for summer 2010, pray that we will be led to the right partners to enable teams to be present in strategic places.

Filipino Nehemiah Teams: Reporting what God has done

April & May saw 13 teams with a total of 80+ Filipino members going to 11 areas of the Philippines to share the Good News among the unreached and hard to reach. These teams spent 3-5 weeks going door-to-door distributing almost 2500 tracts, 300 New Testaments, and 80+ evangelistic DVD's. But more important than these stats are the lives that were changed by having an opportunity to respond to the Gospel that was shared. Over 500 indicated a decision to follow Christ and 40 were baptized. 30 VBS/Health Camps were conducted with over 1200 children enrolled. Other outreach ministries included: drama, community/home film showings, community cleaning, teaching moral values in local schools, sports programs, True Love Waits, jail ministry, hospital visitation, and free medical services.
  • Pray for the follow up in each of the areas where the teams ministered.
  • Pray for national partners who will disciple the new believers.
  • As the new believers grow in their new faith, pray for encouragers to come into their lives.
  • Pray for the franchise leaders as they have begun planning and setting up for 2010 teams.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Story bracelets and sports help the Sonlight team share Christ

It’s 3:15 pm in the Philippines (that’s 4:15 am U.S. Central) and I’m sitting under the pavilion at the high school in Lingayao. Jeff is playing “Shout to the Lord” on the guitar and singing along with Thea, Melanie, and a group of children. Nearby Christy is telling the gospel through multicolored “story bracelets” as Wendy translates.

“This is called a story bracelet. It has no power—it’s just a reminder. Yellow means heaven, where Jesus lives. Do you know heaven? Do you want to go there? The black represents me and you, the sin in our lives, the bad things we do.”

Doug is handing out purple and black tracts with the title “Ang Gasa” (The Gift) and Roger is playing ping-pong with a teenaged Filipino as Christy continues.

“But Jesus died on the cross, for my and your sins, and the red represents the blood. When you accept Christ in your heart, it becomes white, and you are wiped clean.”

Laura, Sarah, Debra, Kate and Tammy are playing volleyball in the grassy field in front of the classroom buildings. The girls on the other side of the net wear green-and-white gingham skirts—part of the universal school uniform of the Philippines.

“Once you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, then green means you grow in learning more about Jesus. You grow by reading your Bible, going to church, sharing with other believers, and sharing the story of Jesus.”

Sharing the story is exactly what the Sonlight team from First Baptist Church of Ft. Payne is doing. A few moments later, the children are now in a frenzy around the table receiving the story bracelets and stickers, as well as writing their names down for a drawing for a basketball prize.
The Filipinos are an eager and open audience, both young and old.

“It’s been an extraordinary trip,” said Melanie as their last day of ministry came to a close. “They’ve been very welcoming.”

The team was welcomed into many different barangays on the island of Mindanao this past week, playing basketball and doing toothbrushing demonstrations at elementary schools (while incorporating the gospel into both). During the school visit, the team talks about how to have not just clean teeth but how Jesus cleans your heart “and you only need to do that once!” Then, during the game halftime, they perform dramas and share their testimony to audiences numbering usually over a hundred.

The team has been welcomed by Filipino believers too. “The Philippine Nehemiah Team members, Jetter, for example, have been so helpful, so encouraging,” said Thea. “They’ve encouraged me in my faith by their day-to-day testimony. They remind me of what the early church must have been like.”

“Wow,” said Tammy, “I’m not ready for it to be over. I’m ready to come back again.”


The basketball teams after the game.

Story bracelets and tracts!

Roger plays table tennis

The team with teachers from the elementary school where they did the toothbrushing presentation.

The girls' volleyball game - Filipina side

Onlookers during the toothbrushing presentation. The eagerness of people in the Philippines to hear the message the team was saying means many people heard the gospel.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wednesday update pictures

Teacher Melanie signing autographs!


Team USA & the opposing team- Philippine National Police

Drama during halftime

Medical Crusade Offers “Abundant Life”—Physical and Spiritual

“Number sixty!” calls the man on the platform, and another mother and child step up and join Dr. Mike and his translator for consultation. Two roosters are crowing in the background behind the hum of the crowd gathered around the registration table. It’s all part of the Abundant Life Medical Crusade in the covered basketball court/pavilion that serves as a community hub for the village. The team is helping people who rarely receive medical attention by offering consultations, checkups, and basic medicine. After Jordan and Sam (summer medical interns with the Nehemiah Teams) take the patients’ temperature, blood pressure and weight, they go to a waiting area until their number is called by the doctors. In the waiting area they hear the gospel presented by local Pastor Antonio. Antonio uses a large cartoon-boxed banner that illustrates “God’s Way” vs. “Man’s Way,” and the Good News coloring book to communicate the message of sin and redemption in a way people of varying literacy can understand.

The medical mission team was welcomed with open arms by the village this morning. They were introduced one by one to the community by the Barangay Captain himself. The captain’s assistant also spoke: “In behalf of the barangay officials, we are very thankful for you coming here. Our barangay is very far from the city. I have been living here since birth, and this is the first time our barangay has had visitors like you to do a medical mission.” The lady who spoke these words later heard me (Ben) share my testimony at the evangelism table, translated by Pastor Antonio; at the end of the day she said that she was open to attending a Baptist church if one was nearby, and asked how one went about converting from the Catholic church.

This first-of-its-kind team is mostly from First Baptist Church of Ft. Payne, Alabama, joined by Jordan and Sam and Filipino partners including Bong, Lang Lang, Pastor Antonio, Pastor Allen, and others. They have visited five barangays since they started last Friday, helping over 960 families become both physically and spiritually healthy.

A Winning Day at the American-Filipino Friendship Game

The Sonlight mission team joined forces with Teams to bring the American-Filipino Friendship Basketball Game to village of Florida yesterday. Players from the church joined college summer missionaries in a showdown against the barangay all-star team – a group of irregularly tall and astoundingly athletic Filipinos. The Filipinos took the win after much sweat and hustle on both sides, but the team wearing the USA. custom jerseys still won. How? The Sonlight team, mostly from FBC Ft. Payne, accomplished their true mission – building relationships with the rural residents of Butuan City and sharing the Good News of Christ!

Sonlight members delivered two testimonies and two skits during halftime. The audience crowded around every meter of the basketball court inside the concrete pavilion. An estimated 200 heard the gospel in the course of watching the friendship game; many eager children also took the “Ang Gasa” (The Gift) tract. The game was a witness even on the court. For example, the teams prayed before the start of the game.

The day was repleat with ministry leading up to the game. Around 1:30 the team presented drama/health education at a nearby elementary school. About 100 children lined up neatly in rows and cheered in unison as Ms. Melanie talked about “clean teeth and a clean heart.” “Brush your teeth three times a day,” she said as Buffy put another visual on the board. Later she said, “You only need to clean your heart once, by asking Jesus to clean it for you.”

The team also played volleyball against the local high school, girls vs. girls and guys vs. guys. (A loss and win, respectively.) The girls on the team brought out bubbles, balloon animals and a drawing for a basketball before the game started. A line of eager children quickly formed for the balloon animals.

After the game it was a 2-hour boat ride down the Agusan River and a tricycle ride to McDonalds, where everyone celebrated a full and fruitful day of serving the Lord. Youth Pastor/Team Leader Jeff summed up their experiences on Tuesday:

“We’ve been working for 4-5 days now and the variety of things feels like many weeks. Our students have been amazing with the sharing of their testimonies. There’s a sense of accomplished purpose, a sense that God’s directing our steps and giving us opportunities to share in many ways. Our team is great because they never complain. It’s our missions motto – “be flexible”—and I’ve seen our team be so flexible. The most thrilling part has been transportation—motorcycles, boats, and tricycles. The most rewarding aspect—the attitude of the people, because we’ve been so embraced. …I thought I was almost exaggerating the challenges when I was preparing, but I wasn’t—you just have to experience it. You can’t get what it’s like riding four on a motorcycle until you do it. We’re all doing things we never imagined we’d be doing. The importance, the urgency of sharing our faith is a real lesson we’ve learned.”