Hebrews 12:1-2

"..let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." - Hebrews 12:1-2

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Today was a long day filled with ministering to people. From 8-9am, the "Isle of Dreams" ministered our weekly service at the St. Louis Avenue Nursing home near downtown St. Louis. After that service, we drove to North County to attend and sing at Jubilee Worship Center. Michael presented the message and it was a great service.

I arrived home to eat lunch and spend about 2 hours with Lisa and then I was off again. Once again, the "Isle of Dreams" cast met up and caravaned down to Bonne Terre, Missouri to minister at the East Regional Correctional Facility - an all male prison facility. This was my first time in a prison other than the local jail and it was very impressive. The amount of security and checks that you have to pass through just to visit with the inmates is quite daunting. We gathered at their designated Chapel area, which is a room in their Recreation building.

There was a huge turnout of 108 men - the largest Chapel gathering to date we have been told. The service started with the Praise band (comprised of inmates) leading worship for about 25 minutes. It was an awesome experience to stand in a room with strangers and particpate in worshipping our God together. It was a sweet sound lifted to God despite the surroundings. We then sang a few songs, interspersed with testimonies. Michael started with his testimony, then we sang "Listen to the Rain". Ruth then shared her story and sang "Rocky Road". Rolanda then spoke of how God is keeping her alive in spite of having AIDS and then she sang "If You Had Been Here". Michael then asked me to speak (which I did) and then I sang "Everybody is God's Child". We closed out the service with "Revelation" and "He Shall Reign".

Afterwards the men came forward to greet us and talk to us. It gave us an opportunity to individually share our love with them and to encourage them to keep following hard after Christ. The men seemed to be genuinely thankful that we had come and I know that we were truly thankful to have had the opportunity to be there with them.

It's wonderful how God allows us to not only minister to people in tough places, but also how He uses the people in tough places to minister to us...

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Personal Relationships
The previous post was all about the construction activites we performed while down in the Gulf Coast Region. This post will reflect on the people I worked with and met while on this trip.

I arrived at the St. Louis Family church to meet up with 5 strangers to travel down to the Biloxi, MS area for a weeklong mission/service trip. From the Family Church there was Mike and his wife Charlie(Charlotte) and Mary(former Catholic nun and SI trip alumnus). There was Patti (a nurse who was currently unemployed and searching for what God wanted her to do next) and Jen(the youngest of our group-who was also seeking God's direction in Missions).

Upon arriving at Cedar Creek Methodist Church, we were greeted by Pastor Ed of the Family Church who is acting as coordinator on the ground in Biloxi for SI. We were introduced to Mike and Dave, who are also SI employees, acting as the construction foremen. We quickly found ourselves surrounded by a group of people speaking with a very thick southern drawl. This group from eastern Kentucky consisted of Pastor James and his wife Debbi, Janet and her husband AJ and Nancy and her husband Wade.

As dinner was laid out buffet style, we were introduced to the family group from Kansas City, MO. Chris and Tricia Tayrien and their children Tanner and Tatum as well as family friend Nikki Mereghetti. A silent group that seemed to stay off to themselves a bit, this group seemed kind of out of place in a room filled with boisterous, loud and very outgoing people. Like it usually happens, I found out why things were the way they were the next day.

In a conversation the following day, I learned that the Tayrien family was on this trip to celebrate the life of their eldest son, Tylor, who had died in a car accident on Dec 3, 2004. So this family, along with Tylor's close friend were spending the anniversary of his death helping other people. I cannot tell you how much I treasure my conversations with Chris and Tricia as well as with Nikki, limited though they may have been. God allowed me to give them some words of encouragement and He continues to allow me the ability to lift them up in my prayers often. If you have a moment, please visit www.remembertylor.org and suppot all that they are doing in the KC area.

In the evenings after dinner, we played card games for most of the night. With interspersed conversations heer and there, our group of total strangers became incredibly close in a very short time span. To work alongside of people all day long (while helping other people) and then come back to the same place and eat and sleep under the same roof is an experience that cannot be replaced by another.

I officially adopted Janet (of the KY crew) as my mother while I was there, as we hit it off right away and she took care of me when I wasn't feeling well a couple of days. Pastor James and I had a couple of great conversations regarding the mysteries of God and the Bible and how the Church is commanded to reach out to others and treat its own members. I played a lot of card games with Wade and AJ and I watched them worked tirelessly on hanging sheetrock in the garage at the parsonage. They truly are two men of silent demeanor but huge men of action and love.

Mike and Charlie were the Newlyweds of the group, having been married for a year or so. I watched and listened to Mike in how he worked during construction and how he took time for his wife throughout and am a better man because of it. Jen and Patti were that refreshing blast of air to remind me of how I once was passionately striving for what God wanted in my life and that I should get back to that point.

Everyone in the group played their role perfectly. We did the jobs we were assigned to the best of our ability and had as much fun as possible while doing it. We were transparent with one another in our faults and shortcoming and thorugh it all I believe we all became so much stronger for it. Our daily devotional time was a wonderful bonding experience in the Lord and proved to be the perfect way to start every day.

Late Friday morning, the Kentucky crew was ready to head home. They packed up their van and came over to visit us at the parsonage on their way out. I think Mike said it best when, after they had finally disappeared around the bend in the road beyond sight "It feels like saying goodbye to your family and not knowing if you will ever see them again." Yeah. And the grout in that last bathroom has some tears mixed in with it to prove the point...

At dinner time on Friday, the next group of 40 came in and started unloading. We helped welcome them, showed them around the place and generally talked about what we had seen, heard and accomplished while we had been there. After dinner the KC crew packed up to leave. While the new group finished eating and sat around and talked, our group met on the parking lot to say goodbye to some more of our family. Tears flowed freely in that space and it was refreshing and heart-rending all at the same time. Those of us remaining came back in and sat down at the tables. I unashamedly cried right along with Jen and Patti and remained silent for quite a long time.

The relationships forged during that one week were amazing. And then, in the end, you have to say goodbye to all of those people, not knowing if you will ever see them again. All you can do is leave them in the hands of God and thank Him for allowing you to know such wonderful people...
Construction Activities
For the week I was in the Gulf Coast region, I spent the majority of my time working in the parsonage of the church that was housing all of the SI volunteers. The ranch style house had been gutted after the storm, because it had been flooded almost to the 8 foot ceiling. All of the drywall was ripped out and the studs were sprayed with disinfectant and mold-killer and then the repair work had started.

When our group arrived, all of the walls had been replaced and painted and a brand new wood/linoleum floor had just been installed 2 days before. I was paired to work with a gentleman named Mike Liston, who has a vast amount of refinishing experience. We were assigned the task of installing the kitchen cabinets that we had brought down with us as well as the vanities for the bathrooms. Mike took the time to explain to me what we doing every step of the way and was patient to allow me to stumble through the process with him. By the end of day 2 we had all of the kitchen cabinets installed as well as the counter top mounted.

Our third day we began laying tile in the master bathroom. Actually, Mike did all of the measuring and laying, I did the tile cutting. I have never seen a tile saw in person, let alone operated one. Add to this fact that Mike and I had to assemble the brand new saw before we could use it and it was altogether intimidating. Mike showed me what to do and gave me some tips and then left me outside to do the cutting. The morning started off cold outside and by 10am I was quite wet from the saw and my fingers were almost completely numb. We finished the bathroom and closet and moved on to tile the laundry room (which we almost finished the same day).

Day four Mike showed me how to grout tile and left me to grout the bathroom, closet and laundry room while he worked on tiling the one remaining bathroom. I ended up doing all of the tile cutting for him as well as the grouting I was assigned. A

The last day Mike and I installed the final vanity in the last bathroom. I spent the remainder of the morning grouting the last bathroom and sweeping the house clean of dirt and dust. The afternoon was spent getting all the tools back where they belonged and preparing the church for incoming group of 40 people for the next week.