Hope is a powerful thing.

This is unfamiliar territory. It’s somewhat hard to get my bearings​. Things are different here in Mexico. It’s important to recognize that. 

In town, things are actually very similar to home, but out in the neighborhoods, outside the city, is a whole other world. No one is walking along, staring at their cell phone like a zombie, oblivious to the world around them. There are no homeowners associations leaving notes on the door about keeping your lawn mowed. There are no Tesla electric cars, or Porsche SUVs cruising through. No street signs. No pavement. No running water.

I was on a mission with Operation Restore Hope. We were down in Rosarito, Mexico building a home for a family in need. ORH is a program operating under Q Missions, with the goal of bringing veterans to the mission field, in hopes of finding healing of their wounds of war. “Healing through service.” This time we were building a house for Marcos and his family. They were living in a humble wood structure with a dirt floor. When it rained, the water would run right through the house, and their roof leaked badly.

As our team was there building the house, I noticed another small wood structure in the next area over. It had a make-shift barbed wire fence around it. 


I thought, “What is it there for?”

Was it some kind of animal pen? For a goat, maybe? I didn’t see any animals around there, except some skinny dogs. Was it even part of the property we were building on? I didn’t see anyone else living around it. I asked around if anyone knew what it was there for. Someone thought it might be an outhouse. That kind of made sense, because there wasn’t a bathroom around there either. By the second day I found out what it was. It was a playhouse for the children. As I walked around to the other side, there was an opening in the fence, and I could see some dirty toys inside the small playhouse. In a neighborhood without green grass, or city parks, this playhouse stood as a refuge from the hardship of life. A small, dirty place of joy where only fun exists, and the cares of the world disappear.

This kind of thing gives me perspective.

By building this family a home, we weren’t just keeping the rain off of their shoulders. We were giving them refuge. We were giving them a ray of hope in a world that is so cold. I’m not trying to overstate what we accomplished. We were just a small part of the process, partnering with a large organization, YWAM, and Hopes of Hope. They have been building homes in Mexico for 25 years. They also invest in their spiritual situation, teaching people about Jesus, meeting their physical and spiritual needs, and providing important follow up with the families, to make sure that they stay on a positive track.

I reflect on when I was at Marine Corps Boot Camp. The pace was relentless. The Drill Instructors were unyielding. There was one ray of hope to look forward to during the week. Church on Sundays. The air was cool inside, and the room was quiet. It was the one place I could just breathe… and sometimes cry. I remember how it felt to march back to the barracks after church, the warm air, the cadence of the D.I. I was ready to face another week.

I think about returning from the emergency call. The tones ring out in the fire station. Someone needs our help. We go racing out the door to respond to who knows what. Sometimes life, sometimes death. Either way, I know it will end soon. We work quickly. Then when the fire engine returns to the station, I will stay in the officer’s seat for a few moments more. I take a breath, and collect my thoughts. Soon we will have to run again.

I always sit in the front row, center, when I am at church service. I wonder if the faithful at Faith and Victory Church ever wonder why. Do they think I feel entitled? Do they even care where I sit? No one ever sits in my seat. With all the work to be done on a Sunday morning, it’s nice to not see the distractions. With all the broken lives and ruined weeks that my brothers and sisters have dealt with, it’s nice to find a moment for peace amongst all the chaos. For that hour and a half, I can clear my head, and focus on my good good Father. I have a place of rest in the front row. It’s just me and Jesus… and usually my loving wife. I need that time.

Psalms 10:17“Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.”

Hope is a powerful thing. I think that we all need it. It doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you have, or what hardship has found you in your life. I know I need it. I find it in my place of refuge. I also find hope on the mission field. I find joy in helping my fellow man find refuge in the Lord too.

There is something familiar about finding rest in Jesus. Even in Mexico. Even where the roads have no name. Playhouse, or God’s house, where do you find rest? Where does your hope come from?

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It’s not just dirt.

Dirt. Light brown dirt everywhere, but not enough of it.

When I was in Cambodia earlier this year, I noticed a common theme in their construction. Everything was built on top of dirt. The roads were dirt, or pavement laid on top of the dirt. Houses and businesses were built on dirt. I saw what looked to me like a commercial building being built as we drove down the freeway, and it was being built on top of a big, level pile of fresh dirt. This was everywhere. But what was also interesting to me was that the dirt wasn’t there to begin with. It was brought in from somewhere else. Apparently a lot of it comes from just across the border in Vietnam.

I was on the mission field with Q Missions. We were supporting local missionaries Tim and Mel who run The Children at Risk Project. The plan was to build a house and a playground structure on their newly acquired land. The land was just like what we saw in most areas, rice patty fields. There was a dirt road (hauled in from somewhere) leading to their land, with sunken fields on either side. There is a slightly raised walking path that outlines each field. Most of the fields that I could see had cattle grazing on them, or rice growing in them. On the job site, there was a long path of fresh dirt about 20 feet wide and 150 feet long, with a T at the end. Each end of the T had a place to build. The house would go on one end, and the playground would be on the other. The rest of the property was a low land field. The missionaries had paid to have over one hundred truckloads of dirt brought in to build this path. This area would be where the children could play, and the missionaries could live.


When the stormy, rainy season arrives, the rest of the property will fill up with water, and be unusable.


This property will be a hub for the village. A missionary couple will live there. Kids will come from the whole area to enjoy the playground (which unfortunately was held up at the border crossing, and wasn’t released or built until after we had left Cambodia). By the end of the build, there must have been 30-40 kids there, waiting to play with us. I didn’t see another play structure the whole time I was in country. Eventually there will be an educational center built there to train young woman how to cook and sew, with the effort to keep them out of the sex trafficking or predatory garment industries, both being horrible future prospects for them. As you can imagine, considering the size of the property, this didn’t leave much room to work in, live in, or develop for future needs.

This fresh dirt was an important part of what the mission would be doing there. Without it, they could not do the work God has placed before them. Our team saw this need and asked Tim how much it costs to bring that much dirt in? The number was attainable, so we gathered our resources and bought them one hundred more truckloads of dirt to begin filling in the field, and creating usable space for ministry. It was a little surprising to me how important this dirt was. It was vital to their survival and well-being. Without this dirt, nothing could be built here. That’s when I realized, it’s not just dirt; it’s a foundation.


This is a real life illustration of a spiritual principle.


A foundation must be laid before anything can be built on top of it. Psalms 118:22 says, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” This describes the Messiah, Jesus, and is prophecy telling of how people will reject Him. Although people rejected Jesus, he has actually become the “cornerstone”. The cornerstone is the first stone that a builder sets in place when building a structure. It must be level, straight, and perfect, because every stone after it will be leveled to the cornerstone. The entire building will be squared or skewed based on the first stone that was placed when building it. Jesus is the cornerstone of our ministry, our mission, or anything we do in the name of Lord, for the benefit of the Kingdom. He will be the standard by which all of our efforts will be measured. If what you are building is not on the foundation of Jesus, then it will not stand.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, Paul says, “Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expect builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have- Jesus Christ.”

As missionaries in the field, we must build on the foundation that the missionaries who came before, like the Apostle Paul, established for us. We are building a house, or a well, or relationships, but the foundation we are building on must be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sharing the gospel, showing his love, serving his people. If these things aren’t present in our efforts, then anything we build will not last through the storms of life.

Dirt. I think we could all use a little more of it in our lives.

Just a quick pastoral visit.

I just go home from a mission trip to Rongai, Kenya. This was a Q Missions adventure, but only with a small scouting team to check out the area and people who we’d be serving. The team was Aaron, the founder of Q Missions. Kevin, who grew up in Kenya and speaks Swahili and Kikuyu. And me, the chaplain. The pastor of the church we ministered with was Pastor Allan. He is a great pastor and loves his people very much.

Pastor Allan said we needed to do a quick pastoral visit with an elderly woman who hasn’t been able to make it to church because her legs don’t work very well. He visits her regularly.

It will take 10 minutes.

I was up for anything, but didn’t really know what to expect. He drove up the road then slowed down to navigate the ditch as he took us off of the road and into what looks like a small field. As we reach the edge of the field and got out, I saw a gate in a make shift fence. This must be the place. Pastor Allan led us through the gate and up to the house. 

There are chickens in the bare dirt yard, and coming in and out of the house at will. There is a puppy too, who seems to have the run of the place. The house is small and wrapped in corrugated tin, with rust on the roof. There was a man sitting beside the door in a white plastic chair. He smiled as we approached, stood up and welcomed us in. His name is Thomas, and he is the 97 year old husband of the 91 year old woman, Leah, we had come to see.

We went inside and sat down quietly on the humble mismatched furniture, waiting for the pastor to minister to her. Kevin sat close to Leah, and Aaron and I sat adjacent. On the other side of the room was a pot cooking over a small stove. Possibly food for their dinner. A woman named Grace was there too. She was a close friend of Leah’s; like family. They spent time weekly praying and fasting, and seeking the Lord together. Leah was a faithful woman. Pastor Allan describes her as “his pastor”. She often ministers to him, and brings him encouragement. She had planted the first 12 churches in this area back in the 60’s. She is a strong and faithful woman of God. Pastor Allan introduced us to them as his friends, who just wanted to come pray with her.

Leah’s primary language is Kikuyu, and she didn’t speak English, but since this is also Kevin’s tribal language he was able to translate for her very well. He speaks better Kikuyu than he does Swahili. A lot can be lost in the subtlety of a language, so this was  amazing, and I knew we would get the most understanding of what she had to say. I wasn’t prepared to interact much. We had already spent several days here preaching and teaching. I have to admit I was a little weary, but I figured that Pastor Allan would do all the work.

I would just have to sit there and smile and nod.

I wasn’t paying too close of attention at this point. Kevin was translating, Leah was rocking and wiping her eyes as she began speaking. I heard Kevin translate, “She has a verse for you that is very important to her. Her life verse, and what gives her encouragement, and keeps her going every day.” I heard “Matthew 25:40 something” and I recognized it right away. It was an important verse for Aaron too, and I knew it! I looked over at him and elbowed him, as if to say, “Are you hearing this right now?!”

Leah looks right at Aaron and continues, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…” She was quoting Matthew 25:31-46 to us. This was amazing because this verse is also Aaron’s anchor verse for Q Missions. It’s even on the Operation Restore Hope logo. This verse is why Aaron takes teams onto the mission field. Aaron looked stunned. Leah was quiet. I tried to wait for him to speak but I couldn’t. I told Kevin, “Tell her that is Aaron’s anchor verse too! It is what his whole mission is founded on. That’s why we are here!”

Now I can see that she isn’t just wiping her eyes, she is wiping away tears.

She is getting emotional. Finally Aaron speaks. He says, “That verse is the reason for my whole ministry. It’s on the logo. I didn’t know why God had called me to Kenya. I’m having trouble connecting to this place. I didn’t know why I was here until this moment. You are why I was brought here.”

Leah became quiet for a moment, then began to get very emotional. She shares with us that two weeks before, she had a vision. A vision that two Mzungu (white foreigners) would come to pray with her, and bring her encouragement. And they would say the exact thing that Aaron had said! I was tearing up as I heard Kevin translating these amazing words. We all just sat quietly, trying to figure out what just happened, and wrap our minds around it. Your brain tries to steal the moment and rationalize it. It’s got to be a coincidence. How was this possible? She doesn’t have a TV. She doesn’t have a phone. Pastor Allan didn’t tell her we were coming. She wasn’t at church on Sunday, so she didn’t even know we were in town. Before my mind could rob me of the Holy Spirit’s blessing, Aaron begins to speak quietly to Kevin.

Aaron asked Kevin if it would be culturally appropriate if he asked to wash her feet. Would that be okay? Kevin said it would be okay, and Leah agreed too. Aaron, being obedient to the Holy Spirit, knelt down at Leah’s feet, and with a water bottle and the Cambodian scarf from around his neck, he washed her feet right there in that small living room. Leah put her hand over her face and cried tears of joy.

We all sat there quietly. I don’t know how long it lasted. It was like time was standing still. I was reflecting on how Aaron almost didn’t wear the scarf that day. He had asked me in the morning if he should, as he hemmed and hawed about it. I said, “Go ahead. It will be fine.” Little did we know how that decision would play into our future. He didn’t mean to bring his water in either, and tried to hide it behind his leg while we were there, not wanting to be rude.

This all was so overwhelming. I did not expect this all to happen, and it caught me off guard. I think at that point Aaron and I stood up, said good bye, and walked out of the house. We just looked at each other, not really knowing where to start. I said to him, holding up my fingers, “Two Mzungu. Two!” then suddenly we got called back into the house. Leah had called us back and said that we can’t go. We forgot to give her our names. We all sat back down, and Aaron sat next to Leah. We all said our names and repeated them. She said that she would remember our names in her prayers, and asked that we would remember to pray for her too. Her great granddaughter (I think) came in with tea for everyone. We all sat and drank tea, and talked about the goodness of the Lord. Leah was encouraged, and felt blessed that God had showed her a vision, and it had come to pass. It was beautiful.

It was hard for my mind to focus. It was full. Leah talked about Joseph from the bible, and how today’s youth are a lost generation. She has seen many generations in her life, and this one troubles her the most of any of them. She said, “Just pray for them. Just pray!” She was worried about the young people, and how far from the Lord they are.

Then she said something that sobered me.

She said that everything the bible said would come to pass has happened. The only thing left is for Jesus to come back. I have heard this before, and I believe it, but in light of what I had experienced over the last hour or so, it seemed more powerful. More real than before. We stood up, held hands in a circle, and prayed for each other. Then we left.

As we drove back through the ditch, and back onto the dirt road, I was trying to get a grasp on the moment. Here we were, halfway around the world, in the humble home of who turns out to be the spiritual forerunner of this whole area. A missionary and church planter. Because she planted the church, we had a connection here, and a reason to come. She spoke the very verse that is the catalyst for the mission organization that brought us here. She had a vision that we unknowingly fulfilled by being willing and obedient. Two Mzungu. Aaron had tried tirelessly to get a forth to go with us on this trip. He asked several solid people, and I was honestly disappointed when I found out that they couldn’t go. Two weeks before we left, Aaron tells me that he is giving up on finding a forth. I guess that God wants it to be just the three of us. Aaron now washing the feet that brought the Good News to the area 50 years before. The feet that no longer work. How beautiful are the feet that bring the Good News!

 Kevin, Aaron, and I talked it over for a while, marveling at what had occurred. We decided that we could not do this justice by a simple Facebook post. There was no way to capture the moment in words without robbing it of its power. So we waited. We decided to each tell the story from our own perspective. Then we would put them together and hopefully capture the great thing that God had done for us on that day. This is what you find on the mission field. Away from the distractions and temptations of your everyday lives. Out where you are relying on God and not yourself.

I don’t know if any of this even makes sense. Some stories you can’t really tell, you have to experience them. Asante  sana Yesu for this moment in time. It was exactly the encouragement I needed.

Beautiful are the feet that bring the good news.

How do I bring this home with me?

There are many special things found in Mexico, but some are harder to fit in a suitcase. Some are much harder to get across the border. How do I bring the thing I want the most, home with me?

Last May I participated in another Operation Restore Hope mission trip, to build a house for a family in Mexico. We travelled down there with a group of veterans; some looking for hope, some for purpose, some for peace, and some for reasons they didn’t even know they had. The reason why ORH brings veterans to the mission field is to give them a chance to serve again, in a place like ones they have served in before. Only this time it will be a rewarding and joyful experience. A lot of veterans have told me that rural Mexico is “just like Iraq”. The poverty, the smells of hot garbage and raw sewage, and even the taste of the dust. The shack houses and rutted dirt road, along with piles of debris, are all eerily familiar to them. 

This awakening of the senses can bring back bad memories of the awful things a veteran saw and did when in combat.

This doesn’t happen to me. Quite the opposite actually. Being here in Tijuana and Rosarito only have positive memories for me. I love the Pacific Ocean, and the cool refreshing breeze on my sun baked skin. I love the colorful tiles, and how every house is different, no angles are square, and everything feels uniquely artistic. I feel at peace here. I feel safe.

None of my hard things follow me here. They can’t find me here. There are no bad memories, or victims, or tragedy, or trauma here. I mean, there are, but not for me. For me there is only the here and now. Not my pain of the past. Not the failures of my future. Just the right here, right now. Coming down here to build a house helps me to refocus, gain perspective, and get ready to dive back into life.

When I travel down here with the veterans, they gather knowledge from the classes we present on the first day. They experience the house building, and find hope and healing through serving others. They get some new bonds of friendship with their brothers in arms that they served with down here. They bring that all home with them. This will help them continue to grow and heal after they get home.

This weekend I asked myself, “What am I taking home with me?”

I love the people down here. I love all the missionary kids on base, with their sun bleached hair, and their carefree clothes. They have tan skin, and their eyes have joy in them. The children out on the job site too. Black hair and brown skin. Smiling from ear to ear as they play with whatever toys they have. I like it when I catch the young children staring at my tattoos, then when I see them, they quickly look away and hide their smiles. It makes me feel special. The kids are empirically cute, yes, but there is something more to them. They are carefree, joyful, trusting in God and his provision. Like the birds of the field, they don’t worry about clothes or food, because the Lord God provides for them. How do I take that home with me?

If a veteran comes down to Mexico to find healing, and reassign joy to an experience that used to bring pain. Then maybe I can bring this safe place home, in my mind, and unleash joy over the things that cause me stress and pain here at home.

Yes! I think I can. I will!

I will bring that peace and joy home with me. I can serve my local brothers and sisters just as I served my Mexican ones. I can be carefree and less concerned with what I wear or what I eat. I can stop worrying so much about how people see me, or if they understand me. I can be myself. I can be the person God created, and no have fear or worry about the things that don’t really matter. My people know me and love me. I don’t have to bring that home because it is already here, but I can remember it now, while I am at home.

I want to bring all of this home with me. Tan skin, yes. Carefree clothes, yes. A colorful blanket or two, yes. But mostly I want to bring back emotional healing through Jesus. I want to serve people, and live out my faith. I want to know God and make him known.

That’s what I brought home with me, and I brought home enough for everyone else too.

Am I really making a difference?

Relevance.

It’s something that I struggle with sometimes. Everyone wants to believe that their life matters. That the pain and sacrifices they have endured was not for nothing. At times though, it seems as if the strategy of our fellow man is not to live a life of meaning, but to simply devalue the impact of the people around them. It leaves me with the question, “Am I really making a difference?”

I have always had low self-esteem. My plan when I graduated high school was to live in a van next to the community pool. I worked there part time and thought that it would make for an easy commute. I didn’t believe that I could do more. I ended up working a couple of jobs and living at my parent’s house for a while. I soon met my future bride and realized that I could not make my wife live in a van. I could not raise a family on a part time job. I had to grow up, but how? That’s when I walked into the Marine Corps recruiting office. Why the Marines? Because they are the best. I knew they could make something out of me.

I didn’t want to waste my time any longer with just okay.

I knew I would learn what I wanted to do with my life, or what I didn’t want to do. Either way, I would be moving forward. I became a Marine, and soon after landing at my first duty station I married my bride and started a family. I served during a time of peace. I was never deployed, and never saw the battlefield. I’m lucky, I know, but part of me felt like my 4 years of service was without value.

A couple years after leaving the Corps, I was hired by the Fire Department. I have worked there for 14 years now, and have made many sacrifices, the cost of which is the subject for a different blog on another day. I have been part of a great team that has saved many lives, and has the highest out-of-hospital cardiac arrest save rates in the entire world. I have helped extinguish house fires in the middle of the night. I have cut people out of their cars, standing on the freeway in the pouring rain, while the Paramedics prepare to transport them to Harborview with lights and sirens.

Here is the harsh reality. They can do all of this without me. They do it every day.

When I was 41 I left the country for the first time (except for Canada, that doesn’t count). I was invited by Sgt. Q to go on a mission trip to Mexico to build a house. This was the inaugural Operation Restore Hope trip, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I was reluctant and nervous. I didn’t know what I was doing. None of that mattered. I had a great experience. I met a family, and helped them build their home. They were gracious and appreciative. The home was something that no one I know would want to live in, but it changed their family’s life.

When I returned home I was excited, and shared my story with everyone I talked to. There were a lot of people that were excited right along with me. There were also many people who questioned our team’s impact. “Why not just send money? They don’t need you to be there. When you leave them, how are their lives any better? Do you think that anything you are doing is really making a difference for anyone but yourself?”

I have to be honest, it stole some of my joy. It also made me think and reflect on what we did, and if it really made a difference. There is a lot of back and forth on the value of short term mission trips. In fact, there are whole books written about the subject. I know the “numbers”, but I don’t think they tell the “story”.

Somewhere beyond the numbers, and books, and theories, there is something more important. People.

I was listening to some Spoken Word by Micah Bournes the other day, and he shared this story. His friend Dave Rogers was doing a radio interview, talking about his mission organization Operation Ransom. Their goal is to help rescue girls from child prostitution.

The host said, “You know Dave, isn’t it true that every time you ‘rescue’ a girl from prostitution, the bad guys simply abduct another child, and she’s replaced?” And Dave said, “Well, yes sir, in most cases that’s true.” So the host said, “Well, you’re not really making a difference at all, are you? Or let me rephrase that. Do you really think you’re making a difference?” And Dave said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I’m not qualified to answer that.” The host got upset and said, “What do you mean, you’re not qualified to answer that?! You’re the founder of this organization!”

Dave said, “Sir, you are going to have to ask one of the girls that we rescued from prostitution if we are making a difference.”

Here is where the rubber meets the road.

A family is warm and dry in Mexico, today. Someone is drinking clean water in Cambodia, today. I’m proud to be a tiny part of what God is doing in the world. This is important and impactful, and needed. I am also well aware that I can go and build houses in Mexico, or go to Cambodia and dig wells, but the house will eventually fall, and well will someday dry up. If I only help people survive, but never share the way to salvation, then I might as well throw them a life ring with no rope attached to it.

The “house” is the life ring. The “rope” is Jesus. When I go on the mission field, my real impact is being able to share Jesus with people. My presence shows them God’s love. My service shows them God’s hands. My sacrifice shows them that they are valuable to God, and that they are valuable to me. I want Jesus to be known through the sacrifice of his children. I want people to know that Jesus loves them, and died for them that they might live. I realize that there are millions of Christians around the world that are doing mission work, and much greater things than I will ever do.

My impact is only worth a grain of sand on the beach. But that sand is the path for the boy to reach the starfish, so that he can throw them back into the ocean, one at a time. Am I making a difference? You’re going to have to ask one of the wonderful families that I have met, and had the privilege to serve around the world, but I think I know what their answer would be.


Yes I am.


Different, but the Same.

We were half way around the world, but I felt like I was right at home!

We had finished with the house Q Missions was building for the missionaries that work with The Children at Risk Project, in Cambodia, right next to the Vietnam border. It was Sunday, and time to go to church. I had no idea what to expect, but being a pastor, I was hopeful for a memorable, spirit-filled experience.

The Q Missions team drove out to the church which was in a different village, on the other side of town. The van turned down a dirt road and drove for about 15 more minutes. Then we stopped and got out. There was a small building, or maybe it was a house, and I thought, “This must be it.” It wasn’t it. We all started walking down a narrow path, single file, that led into the trees maybe 500 feet, and opened up into a small clearing with a couple of houses and a small humble shack. This was the church. There were around 20 plastic chairs set up in rows outside of the corrugated tin structure.

The people were waiting for us and welcomed us with smiles and open arms. They were so excited that we were there! I almost expected one of them to hand me a yellow bag, like they would for a visitor at my home church, Faith and Victory Church. As the service began, they sat us in the front row, and I, of course, sat in the middle on the right, like I would at home.

It felt like home.

The man we built the house for, Bonah, opened the service and introduced us. He challenged the congregation (which numbered about 20 adults and 15 children, not including our team) to try and remember our names as we stood up and told them who we were. They did well, and called out 3 or 4 of our names when we had finished. He then introduced the church leadership team, and gave our team a chance to remember their names. I’m a little embarrassed to say that we couldn’t remember more than a couple. Old and young, men and women, teachers and farmers. They all served the church with gladness. Someone’s cell phone went off during the service. Classic! The pastor did not call them out on it though. The worship time began. I could not understand the words, but I could tell that they were not just singing, they were worshipping! At about the 3rd song in I felt the Holy Spirit come down.

I teared up and raised my hands.

Jesus was there with us in the trees and bamboo. After worship, we were surprised by the children who had prepared a special traditional welcome dance for us. They danced with purpose and all did well, but on girl stood out from the rest. She was obviously the example that the other girls were to look to. At the end of the dance the children tossed small handfuls of flowers on us. It was special to know that they had been preparing this for several weeks, just to bless us on our arrival. It was a blessing.

Hymnals, Bibles, a guitar, and encouraging words. 

Although there was a language barrier, and our missionary friend, Tim, did his best to translate for us, it was all so familiar. I may have not have understood all the words, but I definitely could understand the spirit of the words. I saw an open bible and had to take a picture of it. It was all written in Khmer, and it was well used. The owner had even used a highlighter to mark the verses that spoke to them. So similar, but so different.

Now it was time for the “special guest speaker”. I had never preached when I needed a translator, and I was a little nervous about it, but I know that the Lord will speak to his people what he wants them to hear, and it wasn’t dependent on my abilities. He is the Lord of all, and His word never comes back void. I preached a message about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel 3:11-18. I talked about how they would not worship the King’s idols, and stayed true to God alone, even under persecution and the threat of death.

 They trusted God to rescue them, but even if he doesn’t, they will still worship the Lord.

God did not deliver them from their hard situation, but he protected them, and walked though it with them. Tim was translating, and the congregation gave me good feedback. After I was done speaking the pastor came up and reinforced my words, and encouraged the people to take it to heart. Tim told me later that the pastor and the people loved the message. It really spoke to them, and was a timely word for the church. Praise God that he gave me the words, and blessed me with this experience! I loved church so much that day!

Through all the amazing and unique experiences I had on our mission trip to Cambodia, I can easily say that the best part of all was the people. They were kind and forgiving. They treated us like family. Church felt like home because the people were welcoming, and authentic. They were truly glad to see us arrive, and sad when we had to leave. They shared their lives with us, and that is more valuable than any monument, or souvenir that anyone could buy anywhere in the world. I hope to see them again one day, and see how their lives have grown in the Lord. But even if I don’t, I know I will see them again in heaven.

Oh, the people you’ll meet!

In February, I had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia with Q missions. Q missions is a non-profit organization focused on bringing veterans to the mission field in an effort to help them heal from the emotional wounds of war. “Healing through service.” I serve as Chaplain for Q Missions and I’m a Marine Corps veteran. I am blessed to be part of this team. We were working in the Svay Rieng Province, about 2 or 3 miles from the Vietnam border. It is one of the poorest Provinces of Cambodia. We were there to support some local missionaries that are running​ the Children at Risk Project. The goal of Children at Risk is to give young women some education and job skills to prevent them from getting caught up in the predatory garment industry or sex trafficking. Among other things, we built a house for some of the local missionaries who will be living there on site, and overseeing the project.

While we were there and having dinner with a family in the village, Tim, who is one of the founders of the mission there, began to tell me the story of his father. This was the land that his father grew up in, and the place where Tim was born. The brief story Tim had told me over dinner was fascinating and I had to find out more. 
Tim’s father is Chan. Chan is probably in his seventies, but he doesn’t act like it. He is gentle and patient, and has a quiet confidence. He has joy in his face, and his countenance is intriguing. Chan worked right alongside our team, building the house and building relationships. As he was working beside me, day after day, he would tell me a little more of his story each time.

Chan told me amazing stories of his life. He was a soldier in the army, fighting against Vietnam. He was shot in the leg while he was plowing in these very rice fields. One of the jobs he had as a soldier was to clear the battle field of the dead, and bury their bodies, every single day. He had to dig large holes to put the dead soldiers in, right there in these very rice fields. 

Looking towards the horizon, it was a sobering feeling as I heard the history of this place, and humbling to be standing next to the man who lived through it all. 

He told me another story of when he was too close to a Vietnamese tank. He pantomimed how he walked next to the tank, crouched and hold his rifle, using the enemy tank for cover, when an American plane flew over and drop “a bomb” onto it. He showed me the shrapnel scars in his arm. 

At one point, he and a fellow soldier were captured by the enemy. His friend was killed. They stripped Chan, and blindfolded him. They bound his hands and put him on his knees. They mercilessly beat him in the head with a stick that was similar to a baseball bat. They were trying to kill him too. He showed me the scars on the front and the back his head. They stabbed him three times; in the neck, the chest, and the side. Blood poured out of Chan’s body. With one final blow to the forehead he fell unconscious into the grave that his tormentors had made him dig for himself.  Chan did not die. He woke up, and knew it was morning because he heard the rooster crow. The blood had pooled in his eyes so he couldn’t see. He dragged himself out of the grave and into a muddy puddle nearby. He laid there bleeding and unable to move for a whole day. The next day he crawled to the road and a passing truck picked him up, put him in the back, and drove him to the hospital. 

The whole time all he could think was, “Why am I still alive?”

He experienced immense pain. Over the next several years, Chan went back to the hospital for the treatment of his many injuries. One day, the nurse who was caring for him, handed him a small tract telling him about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was quiet, and never spoke of it because Christianity was heavily persecuted at the time. Chan said he read it, and saw that in Genesis 1:1 it said, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, before anything else existed, was God. When he read that, he believe it, and believed in the God of the Bible. He told me that he could feel his heart healing inside of him at that very moment. Chan’s physical body was still broken though for many years after that, and he couldn’t understand​ why. If God is good, then why would He not heal his body? 

Then one day, Chan said to God, “If you heal my body, good. If you don’t heal my body, good. I will still love you.” From that moment, God begin to heal his body, to match his healed heart and spirit. 

In 1981, Chan laid an open Bible on the table in front of his wife and children, and by candlelight he led them to Jesus. Chan is well know in this village, and has lead many people and families to Jesus Christ. He lives as a man who has been truly changed by God. His attitude and service to others are inspiring.

Chan was drafted into the army, and did his best to serve with honor. He experienced great pain and trauma that has affected him deeply. Through the bold and rebellious actions of a nurse, he found Jesus who healed his heart and his body. Chan has created a legacy for the Kingdom, by leading his family and community to the Lord. His son is now a missionary in the same village, also leading others to Jesus. 

Jesus healed Chan’s wounds of war. 

This is exactly what Q Missions and  Operation Restore Hope are doing, by bringing veterans into the mission field, so that they can start “healing through service” from their wounds of war. The healing ultimately begins when we understand salvation through Jesus Christ. He is the great healer of hearts and minds. Jesus can heal your wounds of war too.

 Chan and I come from different cultures. Different Wars. Different generations. Different people. But we share one Mighty God. This was a divine appointment. I felt like this is why I was there. His stories moved me to tears, and they must be told in person to experience their true value. Maybe one day I will walk with him again. But, I know if don’t see him again in this life, I will surely walk beside him again in the next, for eternity.

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