Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Martha Project

This is a story about a woman, her two children, and an opportunity for you to change their lives forever!

I approached the small shack of a house in search of Martha. I was a little concerned because I hadn't seen her, or her two children for over a month. Molly and I had almost decided that she had moved away. I lightly knocked on the door, fearing the rickety structure might collapse if I knocked any harder.

I heard scuffling behind the door and soon the door opened. A broken shell of a woman emerged from the darkness. Was this Martha? Could this be the strong and bright woman that was always seemed to be smiling? I immediately wondered what had happened? I asked "How are you?", she looked away unwilling to look me in the eyes. I slowly placed my arm around her and asked her again..."How are you?". She immediately buried her face in my chest and started to cry. She explained that she didn't know what to do. She was tired, hungry, and afraid. Her neighbors neighborhood were threatening her and her children. They wanted her to leave, and were determined to make her life miserable until she did. Often times she was afraid for any of them to leave the house. She needed work, but didn't feel it was safe to leave her children home alone anymore. She was broken and could not find the strength to hope or dream for anything better.

Not really knowing what to say, I hugged her and explained that God loved her and so did I. She smiled at this and tried to dry her eyes. "You are the only ones." was her reply. We left with promises to return later with some food for her family.

Later as reflected on my encounter with Martha, it was if God was speaking to my heart. He was asking me "Spencer, Do you really love Martha? Do you love her like I do? Do you love her with more than words? What if this was your daughter, Alexis? What would you do then? Martha is my you love her like I do?" I felt challenged to do something...but what?

I had an idea...while there isn't much Molly and I can do alone, but what if God used all of us together? What if we all came together to help our sister in need. I'm praying that together we can raise $5,000 for Martha! Molly and I are going to start by giving the first $100. That leaves $4,900 for the rest of our 6:8 Ministries friends and family. If each person receiving this email gives an average of $15 we should meet this goal.

After all it is Christmas, the season of giving! Instead of giving someone something they don't really need...what if we all pulled together to give this family something they will never forget! We can give them hope, peace, joy and love! What if we did something radical to renew Martha's faith in Christ! What if we gave her Jesus for Christmas? Isn't that exactly what we are supposed to be celebrating?

Here's the thought, we use the $5,000 to rent Martha a house for a year, buy her children some food and clothing, and purchase a commercial grade sewing machine. This will allow her to set-up a micro-business out of her home making t-shirts and clothing! While $5,000 is a lot for one person, $15 isn't all that much. That's the beauty of the body of Christ working together.

Would you prayerfully consider making a donation to the Martha Project? It wouldn't take much, and together we can change a life. Can you imagine her testimony if we raise the funds to do this for her? In her darkest hour, the shining light of Christ came to her rescue! I know that is exactly what He did for me.
Love in Christ,


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ramblings - Amazed!

I'm amazed, completely amazed! I don't think any other word could capture what I'm feeling right now...allow me explain why.

I went to visit and pray for Jose Antonio today. To my surprise he was walking! Not completely on his own, but he would hold my finger and walk around the room with me. He would let go, get his balance, and then grab hold again for another lap!

For those of you who don't know Jose Antonio's story, let me explain why this is so incredible.
Two years ago, when we were first introduced to Jose Antonio, he couldn't get out of bed. He was weak, emaciated, and very sick. His house was full of darkness and despair.

Jose Antonio was suffering due to complications at birth that left him both mentally and physically handicapped. The doctors said there wasn't much hope. Basically, resign to the idea that he will be lame and mute for life.

I started visiting and praying for Jose Antonio on a regular basis. I saw a little improvement, so I started taking the mission teams and local pastors down to pray for him with me.

Slowly, his health improved. He began to sit up, crawl, and play. The light of Christ had started to invade the home, and with it came an indescribable hope and love.

While the doctors were surprised with his improving health, they still didn't expect for him to get any better. They knew they couldn't help him, so they told his mother that there wasn't really any reason to bring him back for a year. Basically, go home and don't expect much improvement...see ya next year.

What they didn't know was that God wasn't finished with Jose Antonio. He wanted to show us all that we worship a God that can still make the lame walk and mute talk! Want proof...Jose is getting better, and he is WALKING, and there is no other explanation!

I can't explain the incredible joy I felt today as I watched Jose Antonio walking for the first time. Everyone laughed and smiled. There was so much hope and joy in the room. As you can imagine, his mother is thrilled! If you ask her, she will say that the prayers are the reason her son is walking!

In closing I want to thank all of you who have been praying for Jose Antonio. I also want to encourage you to's working! If you're not praying for him...please start. I hope for a day that Jose Antonio will walk and talk. A day that he will walk the earth, and tell the world of his amazing God that healed him.

Matthew 15:31
The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Simply Amazed,


Monday, November 24, 2008

A Tico thanksGIVING...

Costa Ricans normally don't celebrate Thanksgiving. Why would they? What do they care about the first harvest feast between the American Indians and the English settlers? They don't watch much American Football, and they don't eat the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. In Costa Rica it's just another day. However, one man is trying to bring Thanksgiving to Costa Rica.
His name is Rob, and he loves Jesus. Actually, he loves Jesus so much, that he's really starting to look like Him. Not in the physical sense. His strongest resemblance is his love and compassion for the poor.
Rob is the mission director at Mason Community Church. He had a radical idea to raise money to feed the poor of Alajuelita. He explained that in view of God's blessing they have received, they wanted to show their gratitude by sharing part of thier bounty with those in need. Wow, what a concept! Sounds just like something Jesus would do.
Rob presented the idea to the church, and God blessed it. The church was able to raise over $1,200 in only two weeks! Did I mention that Mason Community Church is a chuch body of about 200 people, and that Mason Community Church is in Michigan? One of the states hit hardest by our current economic situation. God is truely awesome!
Rob brought the money that was raised, and God seemed to multiply their offering. They were able to purchase almost half a ton of food. That is a lot of rice and beans!
He systematically divided the food for delivery to some of the poorest of Alajuelita.
As we delivered the food to hungry families, the Ticos were overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness. Many smiled though teary eyes, while other were just in shock. God was using Rob to answer many of their prayers!
I'm thankful to God for using Rob to help me understand thanksGIVING in a new way. We are all very thankful for God's blessing and provision. However, rather than just saying thank you, let's show it. I find it a little strange that on the day we set aside to show our gratitude for what we have received, we often aren't compelled to give. We typically say thank you, and then sit around and stuff ourselves!
As your family prepares to celebrate God's blessing this year, maybe you can try something radical in your own neighborhood. This year, let's make it a thanksGIVING. Find someone in need with whom you can share some of your blessings from God. I believe that if we can learn to share what God has given us freely, God will use it to change the world!

Medicines, Missions, and Magic...

Last week we had the awesome privilege of hosting our first ever medical mission team. The team of medical professionals sacrificed their time and money for an opportunity to bless others.
The team came prepared with basic medical equipment and several trunks stuffed full of vitamins and prescription medications. The plan was to spend some time on the front end doing house calls, and then open free clinics in the local churches. Over the course of the week God allowed the team to treat over 550 patients!
It was incredible to watch God work through the team. They compassionately used their skills to treat the people's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It seemed that every patient was prayed for at least once, which led to several of the patients praying to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Out of all the incredible stories, some tragically sad and others full of joy, one story stands out to me the most. It was the team's very last day, we had closed the clinic and were ready to walk out the door to go home. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. As I opened the door, I recognized the elderly woman standing in front of me. It was Maria. She lives in a small shack down by the river, and had the reputation of being a practicing witch.
MariaYes, I said a witch, as in black magic, casting hexes, and brewing potions. She came asking for physical healing, but had no any idea what she was about to receive. I quickly explained the situation regarding her reputation of being a witch to the mission team. They embraced the challenge.
As she limped up the steps, and the mission team sprang into action. One of the doctors took her into the closest bathroom, which was suddenly transformed into an exam room. The rest of the team started to pray for this woman. They laid hands on the walls of the examine room, they prayed over the new socks they were about to give her. As they bathed the situation in prayer, God answered! Before long this woman was sitting in a chair surrounded by the mission team. They engulfed her with the love of Christ, and she responded by praying and committing her life to God!Since the incident, we have visited her, and given her food and prayer. She is full of smiles, and praises God for sending the missionaries. I don't know what kind of magic or sorcery Maria practiced in the past, but now she has the awesome power of the love of Jesus Christ in her. Although it's not really magic, it almost always feels magical.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fight the Good Fight

I'm sitting in the Orlando Airport reflecting over the past few weeks. As I type this, I'm riding an emotional rollercoaster. I realize that I'm physically very tired, which is probably adding to the waves of heavy sadness that keep crashing over me. I'm fighting off the attacks through forcing myself to remember the exciting ministry God has waiting for us in Costa Rica. The pain diminishes as I'm motivated by God's calling, my strength and joy return, but I fear this is only temporary as I can feel waves building on the horizon.

Our trip to the Untied States was a whirlwind of preaching, meetings, visits, and events. God allowed our time to be very fruitful for His Kingdom. During our stay, Cross Creek Church committed to fund the Children's Feeding Center Ministry for another year. God allowed us to find sponsors for almost all of the children currently in the Child Sponsorship Ministry. We officially announced and celebrated the ministry expansion to Guatemala, and as if that wasn't enough...Celebration Church has committed to start a church plant in Alajuelita! What a great God we serve!

While it's extremely exciting to be used by God in this capacity, it can also be very challenging. The pressure and responsibility of leading can be very burdensome. Part of me would like to stay in Jacksonville, and never have to leave again. However, I know that is the desire of my flesh and not my heart.

This is an ongoing battle between my flesh and my heart. My flesh longs and seeks physical comfort. My flesh believes that my personal pursuit for happiness is the most important thing. I can hear the lie, "it's all about me, I deserve it!" My flesh would rather be first, and it desires the praise of men. My flesh believes the lies of the world that claim that joy is found in physical wealth and beauty. However, in direct contrast my heart knows that my life is not my own, and it's all about Him. I need to strive to put God and others first, and greatness is found though serving. In my heart I know that joy is found in following the call of Christ; even if He is calling you to leave your comfortable life, friends, and family. I know He is calling me to get on the plane and return to Costa Rica.

Isn't that the battle everyday? I don't know about your experience, but I suspect it's the same as mine. The Christian walk is a fight, and most of the time we are our own worst enemy. In the New Testament, Paul exhorts Timothy on a couple occasions to "fight the good fight". This is what I need to remember, I need to be challenged to fight the good fight. Paul realized that we are in a battle, and the fight can be incredibly difficult at times. Sadly, sometimes we forget we are in a battle and simply stop fighting. We give up and start living out the desires of the flesh. Often times it's nothing all that sinister, just subtle changes that change our heart and we become ineffective and discouraged.

I don't think I'll ever understand why God called me to lead His ministry, but I'm humbled and honored by the calling. I know that He likes to choose the weak, foolish, and lowly things, so I know I'm more than qualified. However, it's my prayer that though His grace and power in my life that some day I can claim, as Paul did, that I fought the good fight.

Thank you all for the faithful love and support you have shown to my family and God's ministry here. Please pray that He will continue to use us to bear much fruit and that He will give the strength and faith to keep on fighting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Guatemala or Bust

I would like to take a minute to share a little more of our vision to expand 6:8 Ministries into Guatemala. The first question to answer is why? Why would we expend our limited resources to risk an expansion into Guatemala? We recognize that It would be much easier to continue to operate at the current level. We could just sit back in our satisfaction and maintain the current ministry.

The challenge is that God has richly blessed the mission model and the operational philosophy of 6:8 Ministries so much that it has created an interesting challenge. We have already reserved twenty mission teams for 2009, and unfortunately I've had to turn away several churches. This is tragic, especially since many have explained they can't afford to use other mission organizations. Proof to us that cost is the number one deterrent for individuals participating in short-term missions. So you have a large number of people willing and ready to serve, but aren't given the opportunity. This expansion will allow us to give these willing participants another option for affordable, high quality mission experiences.

The other issue to consider is the impact this expansion will have on the people of Guatemala. In keeping with our current philosophy we will be targeting areas where there is currently little or no missionary presence. We are planning to provide tangible ways to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of the local people in powerful ways.

Why Guatemala? It's a simple matter of need and opportunity. God has already provided staff and facilities. These are normally two of the largest obstacles to overcome. The Johnson family was strongly considering a move to Costa Rica, but God intervened. They did not know "why Guatemala", they simply heard God's voice and obeyed. Since their arrival in Guatemala, God has been at work in powerful ways. God has broken their hearts for the poor communities, connected them with a local pastor who has a heart for assisting with mission teams, and a team house. God has already provided churches from the United States that are ready to start sending teams! Why Guatemala? Because God is at work in Guatemala, and we want to be part of it.

Growth and Expansion

Growth is one of the words I would use to describe how God has blessed His ministry over the past year. We originally set a goal to successfully host eight teams in 2008. God obviously had a different plan. He's allowed us to host twenty-eight teams so far this year. God has also grown the ministry's resources through providing a ministry vehicle and additional facilities. However, the most exciting part about this growth is that God is using it to impact and positively change even more lives through His ministry.

Expansion is one of the words I would use to describe what we anticipate God to do in His ministry in 2009. He is expanding His ministry, His staff, and hopefully His impact through 6:8 Ministries.

I'm excited to share two ways we believe God is going to expand His Ministry in 2009. The first is His calling Dave and Leisa DeVaney to serve full-time in Costa Rica. Dave and Leisa have accepted the call and are currently making the necessary preparations.

The second is that God is allowing to expand His ministry to start operations in Guatemala. We are currently planning the expansion project and hope to start hosting short-term mission teams in Guatemala in early 2009!

In closing, I want you to share in the excitement of what God is doing in and though His ministry. It may sound like we are boasting, but we boast only in the Lord! He is the one causing His ministry to grow and expand. So please share in my excitement! God is on the move, and we are blessed and privileged that He wants 6:8 Ministries to be part of it!

Excited by Him,


Monday, September 29, 2008

Rambling - Divine Dependency

I love serving in the mission field! It's incredibly rewarding to be used by God to accomplish His will. However, it's the way He uses my daily experiences to allow me to better understand His truth that causes me to cherish my calling.

One of my latest revelations is how completely dependent on God I really am. I suppose some of you may be thinking that's an obvious theological truth, and it shouldn't have taken two years in the foreign mission field to discover. Sadly, for me that is exactly what it has taken. Prior to our move to Costa Rica I would have agreed that I was dependent on God, but it surely wasn't something that was lived out everyday.

I think the primary reasons it wasn't lived it out everyday, is that I had structured my life in such a way, that I didn't feel like I needed to live by faith at all. I didn't feel all that dependent on God's daily provision. Almost every area of my life was under control, or at least that was the illusion I had created. I had a secure and steady job, with a secure and steady paycheck, and lived in a secure and steady part of town. I had insurances in place to help mange any problem that may arise.

However, here in Costa Rica, I'm learning to embrace and celebrate my complete and utter dependency on God. Being that I'm a recovering control freak it's been a difficult spiritual truth to accept and embrace, but now more than ever I realize how completely dependent I am on God.

So what happened to help reveal this truth to me? It's been a combination of many things. However, I'm only going to take the time to share three. The most tangible way is our family's monthly financial support. I know it's stupid, but sometimes I worry about our support. I start to get concerned that God isn't going to provide for us. Keep in mind that He has never let us down in the past, and has sometimes worked though miraculous circumstances to show that He will provide. Even still, sometimes the doubts overcome me and I worry. Sometimes, during my times of worry I think to myself that it would be a lot easier to return to the United States and get a steady job, with a steady salary. Then He reminds me, that He called us here, and He is going to provide for us. Then I realize this is the best job security you can have.

Another area is His calling me to lead and direct His ministry. Directing 6:8 Ministries is a lot of work and an awesome responsibility. To make matters worse, I can't think of anyone less qualified than me to do the job. I have no previous experience or formal training in leading or directing a mission organization. Then He reminds me that He wants to use me in spite of all my weaknesses. He is doing great things through His ministry to change lives in powerful ways. He's causing His ministry to grow in ways I would have never imagined. I'm certain that none of the success we have experienced would have happened apart from Him. Almost daily I ask Him to help me lead His ministry in a way that would honor Him.

The final area is my family's physical safety. We live in a dangerous area, and the potential for harm is always present. There are frequent robberies and shootings. I hear about assaults and burglaries on a weekly basis. I sometimes find myself senselessly worrying about our personal safety. We try to be cautious and wise, but we will not live in fear. In the two years of living here we have never been personally victimized, and we are learning to trust God to go before us and protect us.

In closing I'm thankful that my daily life is full of uncertainty. It's causing me to recognize my complete dependence on God, and in turn strengthening my faith. I don't ever want to go back to safe and secure, if it means compromising or losing touch with my new found dependency.

Depending on Him,

Friday, August 22, 2008

Greater Things

The theme song for several of the teams this summer was "God of this City". It a song form the latest Passion album of the same title. If you are not familiar with the song, part of the chorus is "Greater things are yet to come; greater things are still to be done in this city". We believe that is true here in Alajuelita, however we would like to share just a few of the things that God accomplished through the mission teams over the past few weeks.

God used the mission teams to...

...remodel the house of two crack addicts. These guys have been addicted to crack and begging in the streets for over twelve years. They totally didn't deserve the love shown by the mission team from River City Church in Jacksonville, Florida. They came to repair the home and provide a clean, safe and secure place to sleep. The team also prayed and shared the gospel with them. Sadly, they are still addicted to crack, but I can see Jesus slowly breaking through. They have managed to keep their home clean and in good repair; and still ask me to thank the gringos God sent to help them every time they see me.

...purchase and build a home for Pastor Raphael and his family. Pastor Raphael, lives with his wife and two daughters in one of the most dangerous areas of Alajuelita. He is the pastor of a small church with big needs. God uses this church to reach some of the poorest of the poor, because of that the Pastor was living in a small shack of a house behind the church. Faithfully serving and never complaining. He never asked us for a house, but admitted that he had been praying for God to help in some way. That is when God sent a team from Wade Baptist Church in Mississippi, to purchase and build the house. We were told that it normally takes six weeks to construct the house. Well... God allowed this hard working team to do it in five days! God then sent a few teams to come and do some of the finishing touches.

...painted school. God sent s team from Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida to paint one of the local schools. They also taught English and were able to openly talk and teach about Jesus in the classrooms!

We could go on, and on, and on...and still leave something out. The point is that God is amazing and He is using His people to do amazing things, and for that we are eternally grateful.

Sowing Seeds

Wow what a summer! God continues to work in and through His ministry in mighty ways! He allowed us to host fifteen mission teams, over a fifteen week period. If you combine team members with individual participants the total is two hundred and forty-one people, from twenty-two different churches in five different states.

Please allow me to explain why those numbers are so exciting to us. It confirms to us that God is using His ministry to strengthen His church on a global level. He is using 6:8 Ministries to change lives, and in-turn strengthen churches back home.

We realize that we can't control what each individual will take away from their experience here; that is up to God, and God alone. However, we strive to place each team member in a position to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in a tangible way. This summer provided a lot of opportunities for Him to plant a lot of seeds, that in time He will use to bring a lot of fruit; and for that we are incredibly excited and grateful. We are humbled by the fact that He would allow us to be part of His ministry. It's amazing that He can use the likes of us to accomplish anything, let alone things that have eternal value. To God be the glory for the great things He has done, is doing, and is expected to do!

In Christ,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ramblings - Work

God is at work, and changing lives here in Alajuelita. He's not just busy meeting the spiritual and emotional needs; but He is also meeting the physical needs as well. It's been amazing to watch Him work though the missions teams over the past month. I want to share a few ways that He's been meeting the physical need through 6:8 Ministries over the past month.

His name is Wyner, he is in his late twenties, he has steady work, but only makes enough to pay for food and clothing. He has a wife and two small children. What he didn't have is a home. His family was living in a small room off the back of his mother's house. They all slept on the floor together, because there wasn't enough room for beds. However, that all changed when God sent a mission team to build him a home a few weeks ago.

His name is Walter, and he is the director of the largest elementary school in Alajuelita. He is responsible for 1,800 students. The school had projects to be done, but no money to do them. However, that changed when God sent a mission team to build a dining area, and a concrete slab that will be used as a playground.

His name is Boris, he is sixteen, and he makes excellent grades in high school. He is very smart and speaks English well. He has a lot going for him, except that he's never had his own bedroom. He has been sleeping in the same bed as the rest of his family. However, that all changed when God sent a mission team to build him a small bedroom a couple weeks ago.

His name is Raphael, he is ninety years old, and he is dying of cancer. He spends his days lying in bed, in horrible pain, praying that it doesn't rain. Why? Because his roof leaks and the rain water pours directly into his bed. However, that all changed when God sent a mission team to repair his roof last week.

His name is Jesus, He died a horrible death at thirty-three years of age, but is alive and working though His people today. He is the reason that we can love others as ourselves. He is the only reason we can have hope and peace during times of despair; and He is the only one who gets the glory for what is happening in and through His ministry here. I'm overwhelmed by God's goodness and provision. I'm humbled that He has allowed me to be part of what He's doing here in Costa Rica. I'm also amazed how He works all things together for good.
Finally, I'm incredibly thankful for each of you. I recognize that we could not be here without all of your prayers and support.
Amazed by Him,

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Luce's Funeral

A bright yellow sun is shining in a completely blue sky today. It's the first we've seen of either of them in several days due to Tropical Storm Alma.

Yesterday was a different day, because yesterday we attended the funeral service of a dear friend. It was the night before last that we learned of the death of Lucia. She is better known as "Luce" to many of you. She was almost ninety-five years old, and suffered terribly during her last days.

Her death was a blessing for all who had been praying for her suffering to end, but was even a greater blessing for Luce, who is now no longer in pain, but is now experiencing the peace, joy and love that comes from being fully in the presence of God.

The interaction between 6:8 Ministries, including all the "gringos" God sent to pray for Luce over the past few years, has been a blessing to Luce, and her family; and being with them on the day of Luce's funeral strengthened our relationship with them as well.

From ten in the morning to three in the afternoon we visited with about one hundred of Luce's friends and family in the Juan Pablo Community Center. Luce's body was there in the center of the room, but her spirit was in heaven. Pastor Miguel from Mt. Sinai Church in Aurora preached a message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At three we departed the community center and followed the hearse to a nearby cemetery for Luce's internment. We walked slowly through the city under the pounding rain of tropical storm Alma.

Interestingly, there is a superstition here in Costa Rica. They say they if it rains on the day of a persons funeral, that it means that person didn't want to go just yet. The local news reported that it was the most severe rainfall Costa Rica has experienced in almost a hundred years! This certainly seemed to be a true reflection of Luce tenaciously hanging on to life her last few years. Luce valued life, she loved her family, and wanted to experience it until the end...and so should we.

Our life is not our own, it's a gift given for us to do God's will. Our life should be about serving others, and living for Him. Often Luce made us wonder why she didn't just give up and die. However, sometimes I wonder if God is wondering why we don't live more for Him.

Living today!


Friday, May 2, 2008

Ramblings - Investing

It's always great to have friends come to visit, and this past week was no exception. We had the privilege of hosting Alex, Chad, and Josh (Chad's nine year old son). They came with no set plans, except to see how they might be able to serve those in need. Thankfully, here in Alajuelita, we are never short on opportunities to serve.

Chad and Alex are both successful businessmen, and like most businessmen they are always looking for a good investment. So it really didn't make much sense for them to travel a thousand miles, to spend their valuable time, and hard earned money on people they had never met. However, I guess it all depends on how you measure the return on your investment. If you measure the return by the amount of hope and love it generates; they had a greater return than any of us could have ever imagined!

We started our week by passing out food, medicine, and prayer to those in need. It was really cool to hear Josh pray for a ninety year old woman with gallstones. When we had finished praying we bought her the medicine she couldn't afford, $14 well spent. We also prayed with Luce, the old woman who is slowly dying a painful death. She has stopped eating, but complains of hunger, she needed some Ensure drink mix. So after we finished praying we bought her the needed Ensure, $22 well spent. Finally we walked though Aurora and visited Jose Antonio, the little boy with a severe heart condition. They needed food, Pedisure, and diapers, $40 well spent.

The next morning while in Juan Pablo we were introduced to Dora and Alehandro. Dora is handicapped and has trouble walking. Her husband, Alehandro, is an auto mechanic when he can find work. We were told that this is family was in greater need than most in Juan Pablo. They live in a small two room house where we saw two immediate needs. The first was the front supporting wall of the house was eaten away by termites, and what wood was left was rotting away. This was incredibly unsafe, as it looked as though the whole house might collapse in the next storm. The second was a need to build a ramp, because of Dora's handicap it was very difficult for her to navigate the climb to leave her house.

We decided to help this couple and it was an amazing experience. Chad and Alex bought all the materials, but it didn't end there. They could have just paid somebody to fix it, but they wanted to put their own time and sweat into the project. They cut and welded the new, stronger metal supports. Josh even got in on some of the welding action! They mixed and poured concrete, they painted and picked up trash. They even put in a window, which was way more than anyone expected. Soon it was one of the nicest looking, two-room houses in Juan Pablo; and Alehandro and Dora's pride and hope had been restored. It was neat to watch them hang curtains and set-up house. Construction project, $550 well spent.

Then there was Christian, the handicapped young man who didn't have a working wheelchair. He used his arms to pull himself around the house. Not only was he physically handicapped, but he was also struggling in his relationship with his father. It was cool to watch God go to work. Alex, who speaks fluent Spanish was able to talk with Christian in a way I never could. Not just the language barrier, but as it turns out Alex and Christian have a lot in common! They have shared some of the same difficulties in life. Alex had even spent some time in a wheelchair after a car wreck that almost killed him. Alex restored hope and encouraged forgiveness. He also bought Christian a new wheelchair, $200 well spent.

I could go on and on, but this "rambling" is already too long. I don't tell these stories to boast about Alex, Chad or Josh. Actually, I'm guessing they are probably a little embarrassed by the attention. However, the reason I wanted to share this is so that it could serve as an encouragement and reminder as well.

While serving others, even what the world would call the least of these, they brought comfort, hope, healing, and love. Their investment will have huge returns for a long time to come, and though they came focused on giving, they are the ones that left with everything. Empty hands, but full hearts! What a way to travel, what a way to live! When you follow Christ and invest in will always have guaranteed return, and that is good new for any investor!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ramblings - Childlike Faith

What an incredible week. It's been exhilarating to watch God work through the Mason Community Church mission team. They came to serve the people of Alajuelita, but what made this group so special is they used children to do it!

That's right! The group brought seventeen children ranging in ages from five years to fifteen years old. When Merilyn, the children's director at Mason Community Church, first mentioned the idea I was hesitant. I think my hesitations were based on the fact that to my knowledge no one else does it. There must be a reason why you don't hear about foreign mission trips for children. I mean seriously, taking a group of children into a foreign country to serve as missionaries, what a ridiculous idea! Well, often what we think is ridiculous, God makes miraculous.

Watching the children serve others was inspiring and encouraging. They appeared to gleam of innocence as they were transformed into the hands and feet of Jesus. It was a nice change because they didn't seem share the same inhibitions, preconceptions or preoccupations of other mission teams. Children often see the world more clearly, the way God intended us all to see it. Some may call it naive, but maybe it's just a purer childlike faith.

I've learned a lot from watching the children serve, and have many memories that will stay with me for a long time. One such memory happened on a rainy afternoon. The group was standing in the drizzling rain waiting for the bus to take us to Aurora. We were scheduled to conduct a prayer walk in Aurora, but God had a different plan. Soon the light drizzle became a heavy sprinkle, which grew into a steady downpour. We quickly moved to seek shelter in the church downtown.

I was last to cross the street, because I stopped to direct traffic. I looked up and saw Adrian running back towards me. Adrian is a nine year old boy that God was about to use to remind me to open my spiritual eyes. He ran up to me in the rain and said "Mr. Spencer, I want to help that man". "What man?" I questioned. "The man at the door needs our help".

As we approached the church I saw a man standing in the doorway begging for change. He was scruffy looking, wearing shabby pants, and a dirty old trench coat over his half buttoned shirt. On top of his tangled matted head rested a bright red Santa Clause hat. He also had a half-smoked unlit cigarette protruding from his bushy mustache and beard.

I looked at the man, and then back down at Adrian. "How would you like to help him?" I asked. "I don't know. Maybe we could pray for him or something." I explained to the man that Adrian wanted to pray for him. He gave a smile and nodded his head. Right there, in front of the church, Adrian prayed for the man. It was a simple prayer. "God please help this man, and help him know about Jesus. Amen." I gave Adrian a few coins to drop in the man's cup and we walked into the church.

Reflecting on the experience has showed me that I need to have more of a childlike faith. Not a childish or immature faith, but a faith that sees things through the eyes of a child. I saw rain, he saw puddles to jump in. I saw a begging bum. (Who is quite possibly insane and potentially dangerous. To be honest, the santa hat kind of freaked me out a little bit). Adrian saw a child of God that needed help. I saw a problem way too big for me to solve. Adrian saw a chance to ask his Father in heaven for help, through a simple prayer.

In closing I want to encourage you to try and tap into that childlike faith. A faith that sees things more clearly. A faith that realizes our incredible need and dependence on God. A faith that still believes simple prayers can make a huge differences.

Thanks for all the prayers and support and please keep them coming! God is using them to amazing ways!

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hope for the Hopeless

We recently had the opportunity to host a mission team from Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida. They came and left a wake of love, joy, peace, and hope, everywhere they went. One of the team members was a gentleman named Johnnie. Johnnie is one of those guys who is really easy to love. He has great stories of his travels around the world, and even greater stories of how God is working in and though him everywhere he goes.
Johnnie and I spent some of our time together looking at various construction projects for future mission trips. I knew of a family that needed to build an addition on their home to provide some much needed space. However, I was a little hesitant to suggest the project because it was the home of Carlos.
Carlos lives in Juan Pablo with his wife, five children, and four grandchildren. They all live together in a small three bedroom house. Carlos is a crack addict, and his addiction is destroying his family, and his faith.
To be honest, I had all but given up on Carlos. Like many of the crack addicts I know, it seems impossible for him to ever escape the death grip of crack addiction. However, as I was about to be reminded, God never gives up, and nothing is impossible for Him.
As we approached the house I explained to Johnnie that this family has fallen onto hard times. They come by the mission house looking for food and clothing from time to time. We have also provided help through the 6:8 Child Sponsorship Program. God has provided sponsors for his youngest son, and two of his grandchildren. Carlos is the primary bread winner, but his crack addiction has left him unemployed. They have no food or money, and not really any means to get them. The only income his family has is a measly government pension they receive for his oldest son, Christian, who was born with a severe handicap.
Shortly after we knocked on the door we were greeted by Carlos. Surprisingly, he appeared sober, and happy to see us. He welcomed us into his home. We explained that we came to look at the project on his house, and he quickly led us to the site where he wanted to build the addition. As we were planning the potential construction project, God was working on a different type of reconstruction. The conversation that started about building an addition slowly became a conversation about how God wanted to rebuild his family and his faith. Soon I was only translating as Johnnie and Carlos, two brothers that had never met, speaking different languages, were united by the life changing power found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Soon Carlos was crying as he explained, "I know God is good, and that God never forgets; but I feel forgotten". He told us about his dream of having all of his children, and grandchildren, living happily together in one house. He had great plans for his daughters, and both are unemployed and have children out of wedlock. He thought God would heal his son, but he is still handicapped.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this!" he said as tears rolled down his face.
At one point during our conversation, he used the illustration that he felt like he was drowning in a sea of hopelessness and despair. He laid his index finger along his bottom lip, and explained that waters were rising, and that he was scared. He was scared it would completely swallow him. He admitted that he started using crack to escape reality. It worked for a little while; but now everything is worse than it was before, and now he doesn't have the strength to quit, even though he sincerely wants to.
We explained that we felt God had sent us to try to help rebuild his house, his family, and his life. In the end we prayed for Carlos and his family. We left believing that God had used us to bring a glimmer of hope into his hopeless existence.
The next day Duke, Candy, and I delivered some groceries, a Spanish Bible, and a pair of reading glasses. As we presented the gifts and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He put on his new reading glasses, opened his new Bible and exclaimed "EXCELLENTE!" We prayed for the family and left full of joy and excitement. Since my encounter I've been thinking of the best ways to help Carlos. I realize these are the first steps on the long, hard road of recovery; but I'm determined not to let him walk it alone. I'm looking into a drug rehab center that is not far from here. I'm going to pay regular visits, and I'm going to continue to pray for Carlos and his family. I'm also going to see that he gets the addition he needs on his house. I can't help but believe that God is going to complete the work He started in Carlos, and that He is calling me to be part of the process. God has not given up on Carlos, so neither should I.
In closing, this experience has taught me something. I realize that I've become calloused by my environment. I see the power and destruction of crack addiction everyday. It's part of the way of life here in Alajuelita. I've started to buy into the lies of the world - there is no hope, they are lost and incapable of change. The truth is that if there is no hope for crack addicts, there is no hope for me. The same gospel that rescued me is powerful enough to rescue them. Ultimately, Carlos needs the same thing we all do. He needs the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring change, hope, peace, and freedom.
Thank you for all the prayers and support. We realize that we couldn't be here doing this if God didn't provide people like you. We are awed by His provision, and in His ability to use us in such a powerful way.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ramblings - The Market

Saturday mornings are one of my favorite times of the week. It's not what you might think, it has nothing to do with sleeping-in or taking a day off, it's because it's market day! On Saturday morning a few blocks of downtown Alajuelita are transformed into an open-air farmer's market. It's quite an amazing experience! Vendors come from near and far to set-up their booths containing fruits, veggies, eggs, cheese, meats, and more. Fresh produce at a fraction of what we are used to paying in the States. It's a vegetarians dream come true!

About a month ago my wife and I went to the market with our friends, Dave and Leisa. Dave and Leisa, were down visiting for a week and wanted to experience the market. Leisurely, we made my way through the market, sampling cheeses, squeezing tomatoes, and thumping melons. I was having a great market day strolling around sipping on some fresh squeezed orange juice and bumping into friends from around town. Then my friend Dave had to go and ruin it all! He pointed out one of the most disturbing things I've seen since I've been living here in Alajuelita

She looked to be about six years old, and was dressed in raggedy, slightly over-sized clothes. Her hair was a tangled mess, and her hands and face were dirty. Though, beneath all the grime I could tell she was one of the cutest little girls I have ever seen.

She scurried through the market systematically stopping at each vendor stand. She carried a clear plastic bag that she was filling with the scrap vegetable pieces that had fallen to the ground. Her little bag was full of pieces of lettuce and cabbage. Clearly she was collecting food to eat!

As quickly as we noticed her she seemed to disappear into the crowd. We were shocked and didn't know what to think. Though she left our sight, in a lot of ways she stayed with us. We talked about it for days and prayed for this little girl we didn't know.

The next week we returned to the market with Duke and Candy, Dave and Leisa had returned home to Michigan. While shopping, I told Duke that I was going to go look for the little girl we had seen the previous week. Walking off I whispered a one sentence prayer, "God help me find her". I didn't walk more than fifty meters before I felt a hug around my waist. I looked down and it was her! All I could think was "God, you are so cool!"

Looking down I saw her big brown eyes, and smiling face pressed up against my hip. I didn't recognize her, but she obviously recognized me. We spoke for a few minutes, and I gathered some important information. Her name was Wendy, and she lived on the street with her mother. I found out that her mother was in the market, so I asked Wendy to take me to her mother.

She led me though the crowd, and soon we were headed toward a woman I recognized. She is a local drug addict that lives in the street. She comes by the mission house for food and clothing. As we approached this woman, I whispered another prayer, "God, please don't let her be Wendy's mother". We stopped directly in front of her, and Wendy said "This is my mommy."

I offered to buy them some food, and they accepted. I explained that I would give her $10 to spend anyway she wanted. We walked though the market together stopping at venders. They spent it all on fruit and veggies. It was almost more than they could carry! At one point Wendy asked her mother for a snow-cone and her mother denied her request. Being a sucker, I took Wendy over to the snow-cone guy to buy her one. The snow-cone guy informed me that Wendy's mother is a bad woman, she lives in the park, and does unspeakable things to get money to support her drug habit, and Wendy gets caught in the middle.

It's at times like this that I want to scream! Why God! Why would you allow this to happen? Don't you see this little girl needs your help! She is growing up on the streets of Alajuelita, and being exposed to all kinds of unthinkable things. Please do something! Then I remember God is good. He knows Wendy's situation perfectly, and He uses people like me and you to send rescue.

Part of me wants to take Wendy into our home, and become part of our family. Provide her with a stable, loving environment. Shower her with love, and tell her that she is a precious daughter of God, and that God loves her more than she will ever know.

When we were finished, they left with bags full of food; and smiling faces. Gifts of food are good, but it's not what she really needs. She needs Jesus, she needs the gospel, and she needs rescue. It's frustrating as I have given her gospel tracts, I have given her prayer, I have given her the gospel, but I am weak and powerless when it comes to changing someone's heart.

Well, I'm heading out the door for my weekly trip to the market. I hope I run into Wendy and her mother. I haven't seen either of them for a couple weeks, and I can't help but think the worst. So I'm praying that today God will allow us to find Wendy and her mother. I'm praying that today is the day! That we will reflect Christ in such a way they would welcome His Rescue.
Please remember to pray our family. Pray that God gives us the endurance we need to deal with all the heartbreaks and trouble here in Alajueltia. Pray that God gives us the wisdom, grace, and love we need to be effective for Him.

Finally, thank you, a thousand times, thank you! Thank you for all your prayers and support. We realize that without God using each of you, we couldn't be here doing what we are doing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Gift

His name is Marquis. He is a homeless drug addict, and he is my friend. He is only 21 years old, but the past six years of life on the streets makes him look much older. Like many of the others, he came to the mission house looking for food, clothing, soap, toothbrush, and anything else we have to give him.

He arrived shortly after the mission team left; actually we were all still cleaning-up. Lil’ Victor noticed him sitting on the steps outside the team house, and came to get me. He gave me a hug and we spoke for a moment. I asked if he was hungry. His eyes grew wide with excitement as he grinned. He explained that he hadn’t eaten in two days.

I went to get a plate of food from the kitchen. I returned and handed him the plate of food, and he ferociously started to consume everything! I don’t even think he was chewing, only swallowing. Victor and I smiled at each other, and we were both laughing on the inside. I was actually thinking “I hope this guy doesn’t choke”. Partly, because I’m a very sensitive a caring guy…yeah right! It was more the fact…that I didn’t want to have to do CPR on this guy!

Probably not wanting to have to do CPR either, Victor pointed out the gift. Someone on the mission team had left an unopened bottle of Coke, inconspicuously sitting on the steps in front of the mission house; somehow unnoticed, hidden in plane sight. A note was attached to the top of the bottle with a rubber-band. It was a small gift that God was going to use to make a big way.

We explained that the gringo missionaries had left him the coke as a gift. The chewing stopped. I could tell his mind was racing. He was wondering how this could happen. No one on knew he was coming by the mission how could they know to leave him a gift?

He slowly opened the note and written in English - Thank you for taking this, we love you and God loves you. He slowly handed it to me so I could read it to him. As I read it his eyes began to swell with tears. I handed the note back to him, and he carefully folded it and slipped it into his front pocket.

When he had finished eating, Victor and I prayed with him, and for him. He explained that he used to know God was there, but lately he was starting to doubt. Then he explained that last night he had prayed to God for some sort of sign…and today he got this letter.

Through this experience I learned to never underestimate how God is going to use random simple acts of love. He is the one who is busy working all things together for good. He takes our small and seeming insignificant gifts, multiplies them and uses them in mighty ways.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008