Sunday, October 24, 2010

You have a voice; use it!

We’ve all heard the philosophical riddle “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” To be honest I’ve never given it much thought, as I doubt many of you have either. However, for the sake of this blog I decided to read a little bit more into this riddle. Here is what I discovered at “The most immediate philosophical topic that the riddle introduces involves the existence of the tree (and the sound it produces) outside of human perception. If no one is around to see, hear, touch or smell the tree, how could it be said to exist? Perhaps the most important topic the riddle offers is the division between perception of an object and how an object really is. If a tree exists outside of perception then there is no way for us to know that the tree exists.” The real question is what is the difference between perception and reality? I actually did my doctoral dissertation on perception vs. reality. Trust me; you don’t want me to go into great detail of this 300 page sleep aid!

Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of information. Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be. Confused? I am. I’ll do you a favor, just forget all that. It really means nothing, not even to my argument. I hope you will give me just a second to defend myself. You see, the other day I was reading an amazing blog from Todd Agnew entitled “Erasing James 1:27.” Here is a snippet:

“Most of us who have spent any time in church have heard the verse James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” We preach on it. We agree with it. We make banners and t-shirts. But I went to an adoption conference this weekend and it opened my eyes and my heart. Dave Gibbons asked us the question: if you were the devil and needed a plan to paralyze the church, what would it be? Maybe it’s not a huge direct opposition. Maybe it’s not a war. Maybe it’s simply sowing the illusion that we’re doing something when we’re actually doing nothing.”

So my question to you is this: “If a child cries out for help and no one is there to hear, do they really exist?” I hope you don’t even have to think about this question for one second. I promise they do. Been there. Done that. Read the book. Saw the movie. Blah, blah, blah. They do. My fear, however, is that if they are beat down to the point they no longer have a voice we will no longer listen for their cry. Or, as Agnew feared, maybe their silence will lead us to believe something is being done that actually is not. So how do you give a voice to someone that does not have a voice? My in-laws are notorious for their numerous Labrador dogs. They’ve had so many that it almost always seems that there is something wrong with one of them. A few years ago they had a dog that ended-up being blind. They cared so much for the dog that they put bells on another one of their dogs so he could lead the blind dog along. There are 140 plus million orphans in the world. Sadly these statistics seem to get worse every year. If we are truly going to make a difference we must start by giving these children a voice. Make sure they are heard. Like my in-laws dog we must go to great lengths to make sure they are heard. They have a story to tell. We know there are plenty of places to tell the story. We even know there are plenty of people willing to hear the story. What we lack are people willing to TELL the story. Common’ people let’s TELL THE STORY. Use your voice. Aspire to new heights.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Better answers for bitter times

I’ve asked my good friend and ministry partner Ovidiu Patrick to right this week’s blog. Ovidiu is the pastor of Susani Baptist Church. He and his wife Adina have sacrificed greatly the last few years to remain in Susani in an effort to reach the future leaders of Romania, the youth of Susani and the surrounding villages. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by those around them and hundreds of Americans. God blessed Ovidiu and Adina with a vision for the House of Joy, a community center that we are in the process of building. This community center will not only serve Susani but also a number of villages surrounding Susani. Within a 25 mile radius there is an estimated 30 villages with approximately 2,500 youth under the age of 18. Red Page Ministries is honored to partner with Ovidiu and Adina in an effort to complete the HOJ pilot project, a project we pray will one day stamp out rural poverty in Romania.

When God says “No” it does not mean that He doesn’t love the person that receives this answer, it only means that He has a better plan. With God everything is better in life. I have received that answer from God in the year of 2000 when I was applying for the US visa to travel to America. But I was denied by the US Embassy in Bucharest. Then I tried again. And then again. And again…until I reached nine applications. I went from anger to joy and through all the feelings in-between. Then I let God give me the answer that I was waiting to receive for more than ten years. When I applied for the first time for the US visa I tried to go to an American Seminary and God’s answer was negative. He had something better. He opened the door for me to go to a Romanian Seminary. I do not mean that Romanian schools are better than the American ones; in my case it was better because there I met my wife Adina and that was definitely better! (By the way, tomorrow on October 19 we celebrate our 7th anniversary.)

What a great gift from God through our friends to be able to visit America in a month. That is another example of a good answer with good timing. But leading up to this time the number of our US friends increased greatly and now He has surrounded us with an army of loyal friends that pray for us, love us, support us, and dream big with us when we await even better answers. We were denied 9 times by the US Embassy. Now I love the “coincidence” about our trip to America: we will be in 9 cities in America, all cities where we have friends that we would not have had 9 years ago! Did you notice how God works? When you think your present circumstances are bitter, wait for God patiently and He will sweeten it with His plans (which I have found are always better than my plans) and answers to your prayers.

We will be in America for three weeks visiting with friends, preaching, celebrating Thanksgiving Day, shopping for Christmas, and attending a mission conference. We will have the opportunity to meet new people, talking about Red Page Ministries and the House of Joy Association. We are so excited to present our ministry in Romania to friends both old and new.

I know we will see many of you in person. However, I wanted to give you a quick update on the House of Joy. For more than a month and a half the construction site has been on standby. Though we are eager to see construction start back soon we are thrilled that the walls of the first floor are finished (ahead of schedule). Our desire is to add the concrete platform over the walls of the first floor. This has not taken place yet primarily due to timing and resources. But we are excited about 2011. We pray next year we will be able to complete the exterior of the first floor, dry it in and possibly start working on the interior. We continue to dream of the chance to dedicate the building in 2012 and ask you join us in praying for this miracle.

Though construction has probably ended for the remainder of 2010 we hope we can finish the year strong. Our desire is to show our appreciation to the construction company for allowing us to use credit for a portion of the construction costs by paying them back before the end of the year. We also hope to drill a water well before the end of the year and to connect the House of Joy property to electricity. Please join us in praying for a great finish to 2010. Our ministry continues to help people both spiritually and physically. Every weekend we bring the teenagers in many villages around Susani to be part of our activities, to be equipped with the Word of God or to hear the Word of God through our programs. This fall we identified several poor families with many children that will receive our help along with the Gospel. Adina is doing a great job as a social worker in this area. People love her and she loves the people.

In everything we do here we try to show people Christ’s love and to give them His truth in love. Thank you for all your prayers. God continues to work in Romania and to answer our prayers. His answers are always better than what we expected.

As you process this wonderful update from Ovidiu we hope you will consider joining Red Page Ministries in completing the construction of the House of Joy. If you have any interest in supporting this ministry financially or if you have an interest in travelling to Romania feel free to shoot me an email at Aspire to new heights, Jon, Ovidiu, and the entire Red Page family.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Most Influential People in the World

When you think of an influential person who do you think of? Does your opinion change if I ask you who has had the greatest influence on you? What if you consider the world’s standards rather than your own? Driving down the road yesterday I heard the latest list of most influential people of 2010. Any guesses as to who they are? If you guessed either of the Obamas you’d be guessing right. Also included on the list were Lady Gaga, Sarah Palin, Conan O’Brien, Oprah, Taylor Swift, and Bill Clinton. At least they didn’t include Tiger this year. I’m not going to debate the presence of any of these people on the list. I don’t write that kind of blog. However, I was confined to my car for close to 12 hours yesterday so I had some time to reflect upon who has had the greatest influence on me in my life.

My answer? Well my Sunday School answer would be my parents and grandparents. And they have. I’ll admit I’m who I am because of so many wonderful things they have taught me over the year. If they had not chose to adopt a child I have no idea where I would be today. I also can think of a number of teachers and professors that invested a great deal in my life. In this chapter of my life my wife and children have a great deal of influence on me. And yes you can learn a lot from a child. My father-in-law has even impacted me the past 12 months (even for the positive!).

But when I sit down and think long and hard about those that influenced my life to the point that I am who I am today the list is narrow. Engrained in my mind I envision pictures of a select few orphans that hold a special place in my heart. There are two groups of orphans that helped set the stage for who I have become. Both sets came on my first trip to Romania and Russia. One orphanage was in Romania and the other was in Russia. The details of our visit are not relevant to my point but I will carry the images to my grave. The second group of orphans to push me further to the point I’m at today were those that attended Camp Lapusna in Romania the summer of 2000. Inevitably it was young siblings Cosmin and Ioana that stole my wife’s heart while we lived in Romania and consequently stole mine as well. But probably more than any other orphan there were two that I still pray for each night almost five years since they changed my life: Janis and Andrei.

Janis and Andrei lived in a remote country orphanage in Latvia. I was honored to take a team to their orphanage where we spent an entire week living in the orphanage. No doubt this 24/7 presence had a huge impact on everyone. My relationship with Janis and Andrei was solidified almost upon arrival as we hit the hardwoods and played some basketball. It was a simple game of two-on-two and the language barrier was somewhat present. However, we seemed to play for hours. What resulted was an immediate trust. I’m not going to go into extensive details of our week but two stories still haunt me each night. The first is the 15 year old Janis asking me to rock him to sleep like a baby our last night at the orphanage. We concluded the night with his request that I pray for him by name which was immediately followed by him praying for me by name. The second was the 18 year old Andrei clinging to me as he wept like a child upon our departure. Andrei knew he was only months away from having to leave the orphanage due to his age. He’d never opened up to anyone before and he didn’t want me to leave.

These are the people that truly posses the ability to impact our lives for eternity; not someone that has a weekly T.V. show, not someone that can crush a golf ball 300 plus yards, and definitely not someone that spends all her time singing about her “poker face.”

I hope you will take a few minutes to think about the people that you would consider most impactful in your life. If an at-risk child or orphan does not come to mind I challenge you to add a line to your bucket list: Impact the life of an at-risk child or orphan. I promise you will discover they will impact your life more than you will ever be able to impact theirs. Aspire to new heights.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pack Rat

I almost always keep my golf clubs in the trunk of my car, for easy access and convenience, of course! A few weeks ago I took my clubs out of the car and put them in the garage to make room for a trip to Kansas. A few weeks later I grabbed my clubs, threw them in the car, and ran to the course for an early morning tee time. Just before we were to tee off I threw my flip flops off and my golf shoes on. I grabbed the laces of the first shoe only to discover they had been cut into ten plus tinny pieces. The first thing that crossed my mind was: mouse. I replaced the laces and headed for the course. As I walked to the first tee box I grabbed my glove, or what turned out to be the remnants of a glove. Living in the country I didn’t think much of my situation other than we needed to eradicate the problem before the remainder of our stuff was destroyed.

Day 1 of the great mice hunt I placed 20 poison blocks in the garage. Day 2 and all the poison was gone. Again I didn’t think much other than we had a lot of mice. Day 3 I placed 25 small sacks of poison in the garage. Day 4 and all the poison was gone again but no dead mice. At that point I knew we either had a small infestation of mice or we had something entirely different, a pack rat. You see, pack rats gather all the poison and take it with them to their nest. They will actually not eat the poison until winter comes along. I’ll save you the remainder of the details but I purchased the appropriate equipment to take care of the problem. Once I was certain the problem had been taken care of and I gained enough courage to sift through the garage, I discovered a large nest in one corner made up of tree bark, grass, hay, a destroyed phone book, and my golf head covers. Within this nest I also discovered all of my poison, light bulbs, screws, tools, and a variety of other things I was missing.

As I researched Pack Rats I discovered several interesting factoids about the hoarding little creature. First, the obvious is that Pack Rats love to collect as many things as possible to form their nest. They can move things of rather large size to start their nest. Second, Pack Rats are attracted to shinny things like tools! Third, Pack Rats have a short attention span. They will be in the process of moving one thing towards their nest only to abandon it for something they like better. Finally, I discovered that Pack Rats can be extremely vocal, sounding at times as though a fight is taking place!

Many of you are probably wondering where I’m going with this. Some, if not all, may think I’m off my rocker! But come on; look at the things you can learn from Pack Rat.
  1. Like a Pack Rat we collect tons of things (both spiritually and physically) that we never put to use. We just use these things to make a “nest” of sorts. We probably have enough stuff under our bed and in the far corners of our closest to feed a child in Africa for a year! Think of the spiritual gifts we’ve been blessed with that we never use. What a shame. What a Pack Rat.
  2. Like a Pack Rat, we too are attracted to shinny things. We are all about the bling; whether it’s the fancy cars, fancy houses, or fancy clothes. Even in missions we are all about the touchy feely things. Very rarely are we willing to get in the trenches, behind the scenes, and get our hands and feet dirty.
  3. This one is easy. Like a Pat Rat our attention span is so short. If you don’t believe me, I’ve been working on this blog for three hours. I’ve finished watching a NASCAR race, I’ve watched football, I’ve played hide and go seek with the kids. We are somewhat the same way with missions. How rare it is for both individuals and groups to commit to something long term. What’s even long term anymore? Two years? Four years? Seems like the first time we come across another “shinny” opportunity we lose our focus.
  4. We are in a fight. So, like a Pack Rat why don’t we use our voice? We might not have the financial ability to make a huge impact. We may not have the flexibility to actually go or do anything. However, we do have a voice and there are millions of stories we can share.

Sadly I must tell you my Pack Rat friend has moved on to greener pastures. But he didn’t move on before he left a big impression on me! Now it’s time to take those lessons and go to work. Thanks my fuzzy little friend. Aspire to new heights.