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Trust Without Borders

Hillsong is a very popular worship band.  Even here in Uganda there are some that know of Hillsong and their worship music.  A lyric from a recently released song has been on my mind this week;

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

 

In America this song rolls of our tongues as another great melody of worship.  I sang it from my heart in a genuine attitude of worship and exultation at the Hillsong concert just a few weeks ago in Tampa.  But being here in Jinja, Uganda gives this lyric a much heavier perspective.  My time here has made it much more difficult to actually sing…

We have been on the grind since landing here in Jinja; meeting Pastors, teaching, meeting with ministry partners and learning this culture.  There are not enough words to describe what this place is like and what God is doing here.

Today I went to a slum called Masese just outside of the city.  Heartbreaking does not even begin to describe the scene there. From naked children and mud huts to dirty water and hopeless faces; this is the most difficult place I have ever seen.  The smell alone is indescribable.  As we walked through the village, saying hello and waving to different people I saw a naked child defecating on the floor of her home.  Yes, her home is a mud hut, but regardless, it is her home. There are no neat and tidy platitudes to offer.  No simple catchphrase to help us feel better.  This is just a place of great need; a place where the only hope to be had is in the name of Jesus.  As I reflect on my time spent there in the slum, my first response is to give money away or start helping medically or begin building programs for housing and churches.  But as I pray and reflect I have come across Psalm 46:10;

 

                                        “Be still, and know that I am God.
                                                 I will be exalted among the nations,
                                                     I will be exalted in the earth!”

 

I believe, I have to believe that God is in control.  God knows the plight of these people and the what they need.  I must simply be obedient to however God calls me to respond.  I must simply trust God for his direction.  This brings us back to the lyric from Hillsong;  I have been praying that God would lead to a place ‘where my trust is without borders,’ and to ‘take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,’ and now I am here.  So what will I do?  Stop trusting that God is the answer?  No!  This experience only confirms my trust in God, that He is moving and will continue to work through me to glorify Him through these people and this place this summer.

If you are considering coming with us in July I would encourage you pray hard and pray carefully.  If you ask God to expand your trust… He just might.

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-Rob Jr.

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Her Face

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Today I saw a face I will never forget.  I met woman infected with HIV.  Her name was Scovia and she had been abandoned by her family, her kids taken from her, alone and left for dead.  As she was lost and alone God called her to make her way to the local church.  She was so sick and frail that it took her 8 hours to laboriously walk the half mile to church… but she made it.  And she heard the good news of the gospel!

 
Fast forward 2 years later, as I sat on the floor of Scovia’s mud hut with her, Pastor Kelly and a translator in a village unlike anything I have even seen, she shared her impactful story. Pastor Kelly asked her this question, “How have you overcome, what has set you free?”  She responded in a sweet small voice in her native tongue, “My personal relationship with Jesus.”  So simple, so authentic.  Then she did something I have never seen, she eagerly broke into song to express her heart in the purest way she knew how.  Fighting back tears, she sang in a language even the translator did not know, so we just sat there listening, watching and understanding not the words she was saying but the message she was conveying. We knew that Jesus had changed her heart.  She didn’t have to say it, she didn’t even have to sing it; we saw it in her in face.  A face that was worn but free. Heavy but without burden.  A face that should have seen the same hut I saw and felt hopeless, but a face that couldn’t see anything but the one true hope of Jesus.

 
Why do I go on mission?

Because Jesus is my only hope too…

 

 

-Rob Jr.

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Why Do I Go #OnMission

 

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As I prepare to leave for Uganda, Africa I cannot help but ask myself, ‘Why am I going?’  Why leave the comforts of home?  Why leave my beautiful wife and daughter?  Especially when I think about the disenfranchised, the lost and lonely just a few miles from where we live right here in Tampa…  Why go halfway around the world?

Though there are many opinions and thoughts as to short-term mission trips and ideas that impact how churches and individuals handle the responsibility of missions, here are the 5 simple reasons I settled on.   Here are my answers…

  1. I believe in the call of the Great commissionMatt 28: 9 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  While opportunity certainly exists to spread the hope of Jesus right where we live it cannot be the only place that I am called to share it.  The word ‘nations’ in the verse above quantifies all the world.  Therefore I am called to go beyond my own geographical context to spread the hope and love of Jesus.  It cannot be a matter of either/or but both/and!
  2.  I believe that opportunity created by God leads to greater opportunity for God.  This opportunity to go to Africa is drenched in the fact that I am getting to experience Africa for my first time with an experienced and well-respected leader in Kelly Green.  What an opportunity to learn from Kelly, meet his network and partner with him to further our reach for the gospel.
  3.  Practice what we preach. Go hard.  John Piper has a quote about missions that I love, ‘Go, Send or Disobey.’  Simple, direct and to the point.  Too often we, as American Christians, treat missions as an ‘extra’ or a ‘bonus’ to the rest of the Christian life.  In reading the New Testament it is easy to see this is simply not the case.  Missions is not an add on it is the both the core and outworking of our faith.   Being #onmission serves to remind and encourage a missional attitude in my own heart and I do not want to be disobedient.
  4. Stop Navel Dwelling. Often we talk about the need for perspective but too often we stay stuck looking at our problems.  I call this navel dwelling; consistently looking at our own navels.  When we can get out of the selfish mode of our own lives and be exposed to the life and needs of others it helps give us perspective.  The moments reshape us and this exposure to other cultures, needs and problems shapes our faith in Jesus.  Rather than focusing inward, we are challenged to look past our problems and look to Jesus.  I would even go as far as to say that I hope God changed my perspectives more than He solves my problems.
  5. ‘What starts as an insignificant assignment, often leads to your most significant moment.” This quote, from Steven Furtick, reveals a hard truth.  Though the idea of just another mission trip or just another trip you’re spending money on may seem monotonous and ritualistic more than revelatory;  it is trips like these than can change our worldviews forever.  Ultimately, regardless of whether or not you ‘want’ to go, if God is calling you to do you simply need to obey.  Your moment is waiting… my moment is waiting.

 

Why do I go on mission?

Because God has called me to.  My moment awaits.

 
Rob Jr.

 

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God is Good

God is good. Relationships are being built. Kids at Light of the Village are smiling. And smiles seem simple; but with the life situation that these children are facing; seeing them smile and laugh is simply the best sight I’ve seen all week.

Of the homes in Prichard, Alabama 30% of them do not have electricity or running water!! Homes are half burnt and dilapidated. There are even barriers at the end of some of the roads to prevent this neighborhood from ‘spreading.’ Words truly cannot express the condition of Prichard. But in this same way, words cannot express some of the joy shared here at Light of the Village. Jesus brings hope…

Our students have been taking daily shifts loving and playing with the children here while still other students have been on our ‘work crew.’ Weeds are being pulled. Gardens being planted and it has been a beautiful picture of restoration.

Without trying to over-spiritualize this trip; I have been reminded of the Old Testament prophet Ezra when he returned, with some of his people, to Jerusalem. Here is what the bible says in Ezra 9 just as the prophet sees the temple in ruins:

But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. (Ezra 9:8 ESV)

In the midst of difficulty and strife, brokenness and hardship and apparent hopelessness; the prophet sees the ‘remnant’ of God’s grace. He does not see the rumble, the hopelessness but rather God’s grace. This place, Light of the Village, truly is a remnant, growing and brightening lives around the name of Jesus. God’s grace is being imparted in this place and I am just thankful to be a part. God is good.

-Rob Jr.

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God Lightens our Darkness

Day Two is coming to a close.  As I sit and write this our students are a room over worshipping their hearts out!  Its amazing the simple truth that serving God leads to authentic worship of God.

Today was the first day of the actual Bible Camp at Light of the Village and it was an AWESOME first day.  As we pulled up we had a simple orientation as to what the day would hold and the roles that we would all play as the children came from the neighborhood.  And wow!! the children came, and came and came.  Everywhere I looked there were children of all ages playing games, running, singing, dancing and even braiding hair.  I cant describe what it felt like to see these children smile…   Just the day before we found out that some of these children didnt even have running water in their homes and yet today they were laughing and smiling like they didnt have a care in the world.  Even those children who were shy to begin the day were clinging on to us as they said good bye.  It was hard to say good bye.  I’m just glad we get to go back tomorrow.  I cant wait to go back tomorrow…

Our students worked hard whether it was playing games, making crafts or pulling weeds, our students stepped up and served.  Really though, at a place like Light of the Village, its almost easy to serve.  I want to pour out everything I have to these children and families and our students demonstrated this same call to serve.

Tonight we will continue to worship the God who made all of this; we will hear a testimony from Tim Ebright and then later, before we all go to bed, we will have a time of sharing and affirming.  It has already been an incredible time of hearing God work in peoples’ lives.  It gives a different, more personal meaning to our theme verse for the week – Psalm 18:28:

For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

I am excited to see what God does next; where His light shines next.

Below: Pastor Kelly with Louis from LA Homeboys and Far Below: the morning session with all our students and the children from LOV

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On the Ground in Mobile

Just got into Mobile, Alabama and it looks just as you would imagine a southern town to look. Old, low hanging trees; new businesses sandwiched among the seasoned establishment and Spanish moss hanging on every branch. The Alabama south is easy to identify; a church on every corner and the words ‘roll tide’ everywhere I look. Even the guy I got our rental car from was an Alabama graduate. And. Of course I found a giant deer…

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But its behind or, perhaps within, this southern facade that I find such a striking contradiction. Here in Southern Alabama we find one of the most neglected, poor, drug-filled, violence-ridden, frustratingly sad neighborhoods in all of the Southeastern United States. It really is like the place that time forgot; Old homes, windows boarded, uncut grass, unruly tree roots coming up through the poorly paved roads, Spanish moss – but not the picturesque postcard type – the type that could swallow up a small car and hide it for a decade. This is Prichard…

It is here in this place that we will serve and make much of Jesus this week. The Bible says this in the gospel of John;

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46 ESV)

We want to carry this mantle of the light of Jesus into Prichard, Alabama this week. We will see poverty, sadness, brokenness and hopelessness and we will combat it with the hopeFULLness of Jesus Christ. The answer for the people here is the same answer to brokenness in our homes and in homes around the world- Jesus.

The challenge I will present to our students tonight is this:

Dependent – We must be dependent on God this week. While we may be able to fulfill the temporal needs of those we come in contact with; only Jesus can satisfy eternal need.
Grateful – While we will and should demonstrate and express great empathy for the people we encounter this week; our time here should also help us understand, in a deeper and fuller way, our own level of undeserved blessing and grace in our personal lives. Jonathan Edwards wrote, ‘how far less [are] the greatest afflictions that we meet with in this world… Than we have deserved.’
This week should serve as a stark reminder of the Gospel – our sinned converted with God’s grace. We deserve God’s grace no more than anyone else Ian’s other place and understanding this truth in a new way this week will lead to…
Worshipful – The Bible tells is that the earth displays God’s glory and if we do not also, as His creation, proclaim His glory that the rocks will cry out (Luke 19:40). There will be no rocks crying out this week; WE WILL worship God this week. We will worship God is for no other reason than this opportunity and ability to sacrifice for God’s plan and His Gospel.

Please keep praying with us as we proclaim Jesus here in Prichard, Alabama.

If you would like to know more about our partner organization, Light of the village, click HERE.

#onmission
-Rob Jr.

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SWO ’13 The Gospel

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As I sit here and try to make this a coherent and dazzling blog I am coming up woefully short.  All I can manage are a few simple statements of truth; so here they are:

  • The Camp experience has come and gone but the truth we learned while we were there stands firm for eternity.
  • The Gospel is the only hope for all humanity.
  • Relationships with God are initiated and sustained by God; we have much to be thankful for.
  • We must either receive or reject the Gospel; there is no grey area.
  • Being used by God to lead someone to faith in Christ never gets old! What a humbling privilege – and I had this privilege this week at camp.
  • Just like a stream flows from a place unseen; God’s plans for us have a starting point far beyond what we see or even know.
  • Time does not heal all wounds; but Jesus does.
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  • The best is yet to come.
  • Our God is a God who saves…
  • God is not done with you; He has a plan for you for your joy and His glory.

 

As we readjust back to ‘normal’ life here in Tampa I want to challenge both parents and students:

STUDENTS: Do not forget what God did in your life this past week; take time to remember and be thankful.  Learn from your experience – God has a plan for you.

PARENTS: Do not let your student get away with not talking to you about camp.  Make it a priority to get in the right setting to discuss with them what God taught them or what challenged them about Camp.  It could be a bit difficult to get the conversation started so I would encourage you to ask open ended questions to get them warmed up.

God moved at camp and the best is yet to come.  This Sunday night at EPIC we will be having our annual Camp Reflection and Share time where we encourage students to share what God taught them at camp.  It usually turns into a very authentic and worshipful night.  ALL are invited – 6:30 at DI.

 

-Rob Jr.

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SWO ’13 Cabin Fever

One of the most common questions I get from parents before we leave for camp is; ‘What are the accommodations like?’ Well here is a great picture of the cabins that we live in while at camp:

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The cabins are actually nicer than one would expect. But what are even more impactful are the ‘spiritual accommodations’ of Camp SWO. This is a place where God is made much of; where He is honored above all else and our students are truly responding to that truth this year. In the last two nights we have had four guys surrender their lives to Christ. How AWESOME is that??! And while God is bringing hearts to Him in salvation He is also remolding the hearts of those students who are already Christ followers. Just last night I had the privilege to sit down with a young man who is struggling to give his all to God. He doesn’t know how he can completely turn away from his selfish desires and pursue Christ completely. Jen Schepps, one of our awesome EPIC volunteers and a leader on this trip also had great conversations with some girls last night about how to put Christ on the throne of their lives and not look to boys for their happiness. These are just a taste of the conversations that take place at Camp.

One of the truths that we repeatedly drive home with the students is the fact that they are not here by accident; God providentially designated them to be right here, right now- and from where I sit, it is so easy and so joy-filling to see the beauty in this truth. God is good. And I truly believe God is not done working in the hearts and minds of these students here at Camp. Please keep praying with us.

When parents ask me the above question from now on, this will be my default answer: The accommodations are good enough to help facilitate God moving.

-Rob Jr.

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SWO ’13 Cold Water

We’re on Day 3 – and camp is really getting good!! Last night we had a phenomenal service time. The Camp Pastor, Brody Holloway, really laid out the truth of the Gospel and challenged the students that they cannot stay neutral about the truth of Jesus Christ. There is no gray area, we must either receive or reject Jesus. And many of our students were challenged and moved closer to making their own personal Decisions about Jesus. I actually had the privilege to talk with four students who are very close to surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ- please be praying for them; that God would keep working and moving in their lives and many other students’ lives. There was a
student who did give his life to Christ last night and it is so encouraging and affirming to us as leaders and many of the students. God is working!

Last night also included the Dunk Contest and Student Block Party. Our students had a blast and our very own Antuan Applin won the dunk camp-wide dunk contest for the second year in a row!! Today our entire group heads down the river as we get crazy with some white water rafting! For many of us this is the highlight of the rec aspect of camp.

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Please keep praying form the SWO staff and our leaders. Our leader include; John Cooper, Scott Averitt, Jessie Waycaser, Sara Watson, Jenn Schepps, David Nyugen, Shannon Conley, Antuan Applin, Shea Vosler and myself. Pray for strength, wisdom, discernment and patience. It truly is a privilege to have this front row seat to see God work and move!

Enjoy the pictures and keep praying.

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SWO ’13 Riding High

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We are here, we are safe and God is already working. The ride up was was long to say the least. Sleeping in a bus always presents challenges but it was a great time of talking and anticipation for what was coming at camp. The ride up culminates with our stop at Stone Mountain. We trek up a relatively easy side of the mountain about a half a mile up to a big clearing:

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It is an awesome time to get to know all the students and leaders on the trip, especially those students who have yet to directly connect with EPIC Student Ministry. And it is a great time of spiritual preparation as we do our first daily devotion of the week there spread across the mountain rock-face. Then we have the students and leaders pair up with another person they do not know and spend some time connecting beyond their own social circle. Remember one of the ultimate goals of camp is to get students connected beyond this week. Students need consistency and we believe that relationships create retention!

As we arrived at camp yesterday, students went through orientation, unpacked, signed up for rec and had dinner all in a giant whirlwind. The first camp service began at 9:15pm and it was a strong spiritual launch point for the week.

We haven’t had any serious accidents yet and other than the average quarrels that can be attributed to extreme fatigue from the bus ride, we have had a great start to the week.

This morning students are in break out sessions learning now to read the bible on their own and how to grow in their faith. And this afternoon will be the first day of rec and the students will be doing all kinds of things from canoeing, skeet shooting, river-rafting, puddle jumping and even horseback riding and mountain biking. Please continue to pray for safety and for God to continue to impact and break down the students.

SWOtrece has officially begun.

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