God Is An Artist

It must take a special person to be an entomologist. They have a fascinating life, circulating around the globe in search of . . . BUGS! Most people do everything in their power to avoid getting near the things that Robert Gallardo is passionate about. Gallardo is a world renowned entomologist who resides in Copan, Honduras. While he studies all types of bugs, Gallardo is particularly passionate about butterflies. His study in the field of butterflies or mariposas as they are known in the Spanish speaking world has led him to the remote jungles of Honduras’ Mosquito Coast in search of new butterflies. Gallardo’s work has been featured in National Geographic Magazine, The Discovery Channel, and numerous television shows.

Just before I left for Central America my wife Cyndi said, “Brian, if you could get me one thing in Central America this year, I’d like a butterfly.” You see, Jeremy, our third child has become somewhat of a junior entomologist himself. Jeremy’s idea of the perfect day would involve catching butterflies. And, with the help of mom, Jeremy puts the butterfly on a specimen board that now houses several beautiful butterflies. Cyndi and Jeremy love this new hobby. When I left the United States I was determined to find a butterfly and get it home for the two of them.

My attempts at catching butterflies have been rather futile. With no net, a busy schedule, and hands that are usually attached to video cameras or digital cameras the best I’ve been able to do is capture digital images of the beautiful creatures. When we entered Honduras, our team ate lunch at the hotel that would house us several days later. A couple of English language travel magazines were available for the general public to have, and the June, 2006 edition of Revue magazine immediately caught my attention. There in front of my eyes was a magazine with a beautiful butterfly gracing the cover. Inside was an article about Robert Gallardo’s Enchanted Wings Butterfly Sanctuary. It turns out that Gallardo has discovered over 30 different types of butterflies previously unknown in Honduras, and two types previously unknown to science. Gallardo proudly raises these in his butterfly sanctuary. I asked Jaime, our Guatemalan missionary if he’d take me to the sanctuary on our return visit to Copan. He assured me that he would.

When we arrived at Enchanted Wings, both Jaime and I were struck by the beautiful butterflies that surrounded us. Hoping to purchase some butterflies that were preserved, Jaime and I were not disappointed when we saw a beautiful collection of butterflies for sale. They were presented beautifully in glass surrounded by wood frames that come from a wood co-operative in Honduras. We each looked for the butterflies that we would take home to our family. As we waited for our treasures to be wrapped in protective paper, Jaime said to me in his wonderful accent, “Brian, des is proof dat God ees an arteest.” Yes, Jaime, you’re right. God is an artist. The greatest artist of all time.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4

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I love it when . . .

I´m writing this entry from an internet cafe in Campur, Guatemala. If ever there was a city that an internet cafe just didn´t quite look like it fits it is Campur. Campur just got electricity five years ago, and now this. How cool!

We are having a tremendous ministry here. I love this city. There is something so special about it. I love it when suburban high school students, who for the most part are very affluent, come to a region like this and realize that there is more to this life than what we own, or what we´d like to own next.

I love it when students who have worked very hard all day, take even more hours out of their day to love kids during their non-official ministry team hours. For instance, yesterday . . .

Jordan Lilienthal spent hours playing with children, letting them braid her hair, tossing a frisbee, and just blowing bubbles long after her children´s team had returned from four presentations.

Patrick Mennefee was tossing a baseball with one solitary local boy. The boy loved the attention that Patrick gave him. His eyes were huge as he watched Patrick throw him the ball, and the smile that the boy had was unforgettable.

Josh Patil and Derek Schell walked through town practicing their Spanish on anyone who would listen. The people laughed, joked, and loved it.

Today, as I walked to the Internet Cafe, I passed . . .

Students building a home, and loving the children in it. I watch high schoolers like Brittany Murphy, Annika Johnson, Rachel Patil and Jill Tebbe manning a pharmacy, mixing prescriptions with the delicate care of any pharmacist in the U.S.A. I watched as Natalia Hart, Katelyn Hatmaker, Laura Wollan and Michelle Olson took the vital stats (bloos presures and temperatures) so delicately with the patients that were waiting. I watched Kelsey Bohleen, Stephanie Snyder and Lindsay Nicholson provide patients with much needed health education.

Can I tell you how much I love it when high schoolers allow themselves to be stretched beyond their wildest imaginations?

Oh, and I love it when today, a group of basketball players decided to play at the local park, since there was no game scheduled. Why? So, that they could reach out to kids. The kids came in swarms, and believed it when Bret Fox told them that they were training for the Olympics.

God is good, and He is blessing this team. Keep us in your prayers.

When Fathers Pray

I had the chance to witness one of the most precious things last night. It was during the send-off service for our Operation Central America trip. Each team had a chance to share their prayer requests and then all of the parents and supporters of the teams came up to lay hands on the teams and commission them. The commissioning involved a time of prayer. What I heard was awesome. One dad prayed, with tears in his eyes and voice quivering for his son. He thanked the Lord for the incredible opportunity that his son had to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. I loved hearing the passion in the voice of that dad. He communicated love in a way that his son will never understand until he is a dad too. Another dad prayed passionately in Spanish. His son went as a student last year, and goes as a leader this year. The dad made sure that his son grew up to know other languages, and was so proud of what his son was doing. He gave a dignified and most appropriate gift to us when he prayed in the native tongue of the land where we not stay. Thanks to all of the parents and supporters who made this trip possible, and who showed love in such tangible ways last night. Keep praying for us!

We Made It!

You know, we really serve an incredible God.

I am writing from a computer room in a seminary in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Our plane landed about three hours ago, and it has been a long, but very good day. All 59 of us have our bags, our ministry bags, and great attitudes. I could not have been more proud of our students today. They had great attitudes, made God look good wherever they went, and all seem very excited about what lies ahead.

I was not really sure I would be feeling this good about twelve hours ago. We were supposed to leave from door number five at Wooddale Church at 12:45. I was finishing up a few last minute things in my office and got to the door right at 12:45. I found 58 people ready to leave, over 100 parents, and no bus. We had triple checked everything with our bus company to make sure that the bus would be at Wooddale at 12:30, but there was no bus there. I phoned the bus company and they could not find our driver. God was good. We had enough parents present, with vehicles to drive the entire team to the aiport. We had more than enough time to board the plane, and my wife Cyndi reminded me that maybe God had something important planned for the money that we would have spent on the bus to take us to the airport. Our eyes will be open.

We flew from Minneapolis to Houston, and then from Houston to Guatemala City. We had one student who had never flown. It was fun to watch his reaction to the flights.

We will be leaving early tomorrow morning for the six hour ride to the rain forest of Campur, Guatemala, where we will have no access to cell phones or the internet. So, my next entry will be on Thursday, at the earliest. The weather here is rainy. It has been raining for the past week, and they do not expect it to let up. If you pray, please pray for safety for us, especially the service team as they hike to their construction locations. Pray for team health, for team unity, for strength, and pray for the church services that will be taking place this week. I will be preaching in Campur tomorrow night. The sermon will be translated from English to Spanish, and from Spanish to Queche Mayan. The total time of the service will be near three hours. Pray that our students will have enough energy to make it through, and that they will have enough energy to use the gifts that God has given them to be a blessing to others.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the safe trip that you have given us. Protect us. Use us as your hands and feet in this land. Teach our students through the beautiful people of Guatemala and Honduras. Help our students to understand and know You better because of the time that they spend here. Help them to be more like Jesus every day. In the precious name of Jesus, amen.

48 Hours

In 48 hours I’ll be with 58 other wonderful people at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport waiting to board our plane for Houston, and then Guatemala City. I can’t wait.

There is something so special about taking groups of students on foreign mission trips. The way that God works in their hearts. The way that students see the world around them in a different light. The way that God continually shows that He is faithful. The way that God allows just enough tests to keep our hand firmly clenched in His, and just enough joy to keep us coming back again and again.

Over the next 48 hours I’ll be packing my personal items, spending time with my family, going to a few graduation open houses, packing with our entire Operation Central America team, participating in a team send-off service, and going to church on Sunday morning where we will have a very special ten:fifteen class that is devoted to mission trips. We’ll attend church together as a team at 11:30, and then we’ll board a bus. In all of that preparation it could be easy to leave God out of this thing — to be so busy getting ready to do stuff for God, that we forget that He wants to do it with us. Please pray that we’ll be ready to see God work.

In my last post I put information about our official Operation Central America blog. You can access it at http://operationcentralamerica.blogspot.com. One of our incredible students also has a blog that she has been working on for the trip for a few months. You can find her’s at http://operationca.blogspot.com.

I’ll close with my favorite verse in the Bible when it comes to mission trips. It’s two verses that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, and is always the prayer of my heart before these trips:

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Romans 1:11-12

Operation Central America

In ten days 59 of our students and staff will be taking off for Operation Central America. Sarah Bancroft has created a blog for this trip. You can access it at http://operationcentralamerica.blogspot.com. Check it out.

Here is a little bit of information about where we are going, and what we’ll be doing.
About Our Ministry Locations

Campur, Guatemala – Campur, Guatemala is a community of 65,000 people located in the rainforest of Guatemala, about 1 ½ hours away from Coban, Guatemala. The Coban region is famous for its coffee. German settlers began large coffee plantations in Coban in the 1800s, and evacuated the area during World War 2. Campur is a Mayan community. The indigenous people are mostly farmers, growing cardamom, a spice that is exported to the Middle East and Scandinavia, corn, which is used for their famous tortillas, and coffee which is exported around the world. The farmers work in co-ops in order to gain the greatest income for their crops. Wooddale’s relationship with Campur began in 2004. We work with Viva Abundante Church, which is pastored by a woman named Isabelle. Isabelle is known around Campur for her heart for the people, and her sacrificial commitment to them. In the past two years OGES teams have built four homes, installed water filtration systems, provided solar powered lighting and ministered in a variety of ways amongst these beautiful people.

Siguatepeque, Honduras – Located about 40 kilometers from the famous Mayan ruins of Copan, Honduras, Siguatepeque is a thriving community of around 75,000 people. The towns around Siguatepeque are not so fortunate. Poverty rules the outlying rural areas. This year’s Operation Central America team will help construct a church building for Ministerio Christiana Canaan. This church is located in Via Cruz Grande, a community that is full of children who are too poor to go to school and many times do not have enough food to eat. Pastor Kolmar hopes that after the church has been constructed, a school can also be started and that the church can begin a strategic partnership with Compassion International. This will allow the children of the village to be fed, educated, and to hear about Christ. The church already ministers to 250 children and 90 adults on a weekly basis. This is the only church in the community. We will also be working alongside Iglesia Bethel, an established church in Siguatepeque with a strong school and long term ministry in the area. Pastor Hugo Tobar shepherds this congregation. Finally, we will be constructing bunk beds and painting a home for missionaries and pastors to use.

Copan, Honduras – This year’s R & R will take place in Copan, Honduras. We will stay at a beautiful resort with a water park, horseback riding, athletic fields, restaurants, game room, and a beautiful chapel that we’ll use for team devotions. Copan is most famous for its 1,500-year-old Mayan ruins. We’ll take a tour of the ruins and learn about the Mayan people, an amazing culture whose descendants we will be working with throughout the trip. On the tour you’ll learn about 18 Rabbits, Smoking Rabbit, Smoking Jaguar, and the other kings who ruled this Mayan community. Be prepared to be absolutely blown away!

Huehuetenango, Guatemala – Located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, Huehuetenango is another new ministry location for the Operation Central America team. We will be partnering together with Willie Peralta, a Sepal missionary who is passionate about seeing the Mayan tribes in the area come to faith in Jesus Christ. Willie will bring together three churches to house our team and partner with us in our different ministries. Willie is actively working with Bible translators to see the Mayan people be able to have the Bible in their own language. At least six Bible translations are being worked on right now for the people in the villages that surround Huehuetenango, because each Mayan tribe speaks a unique language. The city of Huehuetenango is made up of around 75,000 people, with thousands more living in the outlying communities where many of the Mayan tribes call home. Huehuetenango is home to another set of ancient Mayan ruins, known as the Zaculeu ruins.

Antigua, Guatemala – Once the capital of all of Central America, Antigua, Guatemala is now known as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It is unique for its well preserved Colonial architecture. The city is a menagerie of colors with each building on a street a differing shade of pastel hues. You’ll enjoy a night at the beautiful Hotel Antigua and a day of shopping for traditional Central American goods. Antigua is surrounded by dormant volcanoes and is absolutely breathtaking. You’ll meet fellow tourists from all over the world during your stay in one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere.