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

Friday, March 31, 2006

I returned last Thursday from 6 days of being back down in Mississippi with Service International. SI has swiched their base of operations to a large church facility in Long Beach (as opposed to the church we stayed in at Cedar Lake). Back on our trip in December, SI was praying for a new location and we joined them in that prayer. Let me confirm that God has provided a wonderful location and facility for them to work out of and it makes it easier to accomodate much larger groups than previously was possible.

I went down with 2 other guys(Luke and Kurt) from my Sunday School class at church and we had a really great time. This time I worked on the demolition team for two days (our team of 12 completely gutted a 1100 sq ft house of its ceilings, walls and floors in one day, and completed about 60% of another house the second day). The third day we had to call of finishing the second house, so I ended up with the landscaping team doing various yard projects. Through a twist of events, I ended up stripping vinyl tile off of a kitchen floor during the middle of the day and back at a house for yard work just down the road from the church we stayed in previously. It had been a long, weird day, but I felt good about what had been accomplished. This person's house was almost complete, with the tile floors being grouted and the doors being installed. The yard surrounding this house was clean, mowed, trimmed and was in line to have some plants and flowers to be placed in the coming days.

I sat in the truck ready to leave and was talking to Darrell (one of the SI crew that is down there now) about how nice the house was coming along. He told me that it was going to be featured on an upcoming Joyce Meyers program. Evidently, Joyce is going to come down to the area and fillm interviews with the residents who have lived through the aftermath and had their homes rebuilt by SI. Throughout our conversation, the homeowner had been walking around inside marveling at her house and how it looked. I hadn't met her, nor did I need to, to know that she was a wonderful person. Everyone on the crew that had been working there for two days had told me about how nice she was. Well, it was time to leave and as our little group pulled out of the driveway to head abck to the church, the lady turned around to wave goodbye to us. And that's when I realized that this was one of the homes that our group had worked in. In fact, this was the home that the Kansas City group had working in tearing it apart. This wonderful lady was the one who came to eat dinner with us and spend time with us. (My memory is failing me at the moment, but I believe her name was Jean.) It was an amazing moment to realize that I had in some form or fashion been a part of this woman's rebuilding from the beginning to the end. I love how God does stuff like that for us.

It's a great feeling knowing that Jean has a fabulous house to live in. SI is buying her all new furniture and they had an interior decorator come down to make sure it is done just right. Thanks to our efforts, and hundreds of others like us, one more person now has a place to call home that they can live in and be proud of. (I don't know when the Joyce Meyer program is supposed to air, but if I find out I will let you all know.)

As a general comment, most of the piles of trash and debris along the beach highway(hwy 90) have been cleared. You can now see over three blocks inland from the road, where the neighborhoods once stood. Downtown Biloxi is starting to look a bit more normal as they have begun tearing down some of the barely standing structures. The MGM/Grand Hotel and Casino is under repair and looks like it will reopen this summer. Everywhere you look you can see the progress that has been made. And yet, everywhere you look you can see how much there is still left to do.

Although the roads have been cleaned up, houses are still damaged beyond being liveable. People are still waiting to get into a FEMA trailer so they can start working on teraing apart their houses to fix them. If you venture off into the side neighborhoods, you can see that most homes still do not have permanent roofs on them and a lot of people are still living in their homes depsite the serious mold conditions from all of the water. Katrina's Kitchen, a local food distribution center set up along the beach highway after we were there, still feed hundreds of residents a day that cannot afford food anywhere else.

Do not be deceived by news reports that might make things sound like they are almost back to normal. Do not allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the majority of the work is completed. As you all can imagine, things are not always as they appear on tv and sometimes they are much worse. Continue praying that God will send people to serve in the area. SI has the all the funding they need to continue operating in the area until late fall, but they lack volunteers to do the work. If you know of a church seeking a missions opportunity, a youth group wanting to go on a trip or just an individual who has expressed interest in helping in some way, please encourage them to serve in the area!

I cannot express how awesome God has been to me in my adventures while serving in Mississippi. He has introduced me to so many wonderful people and has allowed me to participate in so many ways toward building His Kingdom... It's phenomenal!

Please continue praying along with me for the people living in the region and the volunteers working there. If we can do nothing else, the absolute best thing we can do is pray.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lisa and I travelled up to Champaign, IL on Saturday with the "Isle of Dreams" to perform at Smith Hall on the UIUC campus. We left Michael's house at 10am with James and Yvette also in our car. We arrived at the theatre by 3, with the performance starting at 8pm.

The theatre is a gorgeous building, built in 1917 (I think), with wood carving and ornamentation everywhere. Standing at center stage in the empty theatre, I could sing at regular medium voice and clearly hear the reverberation in the room. It was amazing.

As the doors opened at 7:15, we were growing a bit antsy with excitement and anticipation. (After all, this is only the second actual theatre we have been in the past year, the other being at Rolla). We had been looking forward to our return to Champaign, since our last performance was so well received (this trip included hitting the deer on the way back). We knew that there had been several churches in the area promoting the vent and we were ready for whoever might show up.

As the time grew closer, we found ourselves facing a much different reality than what we had hoped or expected. With 10 minutes to curtain, we could only see a handful of people from the side stage area. Naturally, this is confusing to encounter and almost altogether puzzling. We talked about it backstage. [I'd like to take a moment to emphasize that we perform in front of audiences of all shapes and sizes at any miscellaneous venue, expecting God to send whomever He wants to be there. We sing for His Glory, not anyone else's, so the crowd size is merely a physical aspect of our surroundings. However, like all performers, we love to have as many people as possible at every performance.]

Just before taking the stage, we gathered in the wings and prayed for the performance, thanking God for allowing us the priviledge to serve Him and for the people He had brought. And then we stepped out into the theatre as the music began.

As I entered stage right to the front portion of the stage, my eyes caught their first glimpse of what our human audience for the evening would be. For a brief moment, I felt betrayed by the limited number of eyes that watched me. It's a difficult thing to explain to someone who has never taken a stage in front of an audience before. After having put so much time and energy already into this performance alone, practicing for hours to get to this performance, singing for hours to hit the right notes, blocking the scenes to best portray the events - it's easy to feel let down when a crowd is not large or is seemingly unenthused about being there. I quickly regained my focus. After all, I am not singing for fame or fortune but for the Glory of God...

Returning backstage after the opening, I took my place in the side room, accompanied by Tony (who is usually planted in the theatre, but couldn't be for this performance). We immediately talked about how this was going to be a performace that everyone was going to have to push through. With such a small crowd, participation can be expected to be low. Not to mention that it's just harder to give everything you have to a couple dozen patrons in a 500+ seat theatre. I prayed for the group as they began Act I, that they would give God all that He deserved and let the people disappear in front of them.

I entered to sing everybody is God's Child and felt pretty good about how it went. Everybody ws singing their songs and singing them really well. By the time we ended Act I with "The King", there was an excitment off stage to get back on. Vocally, things were going really well.

Act II picked up right where we left off, witht he cast doing a great job bringing life vocally to their characters. As with every performance, there are a few things that I would like to do differently next time, but overall I was pleased with the performance. I think everyone felt pretty good about how things went. We packed up the production and Lisa and I were on the road to our hotel by 11:30(which we had rented because we didn't want to have to drive the 3 hours back that late). We checked in right at midnight and fell asleep fairly quickly.

We slept in and showered, taking our time and checking out at 11. We headed across the street to the Amishland Buffet(Tuscola, IL) which is open on Sundays(Amish?). The food was really good and they had an enormous amount of desserts (pies, cookies, puddings, cakes, brownies, etc). We took our time walking around looking at the Amishland shops(not open on Sundays) with all of their amazing wood furniture. It was a nice relaxing way to start the day.

We made it home in time to go to Lisa's parents house for St. Patrick's Day/Birthday Dinner. After cornbeef and cabbage, we had key-lime pie and Deb opened the presents for her birthday. We then played the card game Golf, which is pretty fun (even though I had a terribly game).

Lisa and I made it home by 10, exhausted yet totally relaxed. It was a good weekend...