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Archive for the ‘Missions’ Category

Just Three Words

29 Sep

Twitter gives you 140 characters.

I’m giving you three words.

Know.  Live.  Give.

What I know impacts how I live.

How I live impacts what I have to give.

What I give has the potential to impact others around me – for good for for bad.

These three words are helping us define Delaware Grace – our church here in central Ohio.  It’s what we are all about, and a clear way to explain what we do.  We know God.  We live for God.  We give God to those around us.

Know.  Live.  Give.

Behind the scenes, our leadership teams (Staff and Elders) spent a great deal of time discussing, researching, praying about how to simplify, clarify, and guide what we do and how we do it.  We aren’t perfect, but we are given tremendous opportunities to know, to live, and to give.

Let’s know Jesus and help others know Jesus.

Let’s live like Jesus and for Jesus as we practice “being” his people.

Let’s give Jesus – and the tremendous truth of the Gospel – to everyone we know.

Let’s know, live, and give!

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The Invitation…

17 Oct

Follow Me LogoWhen I decided to trust Jesus, I knew very little about the path we’d travel on together.  No clue about the speed bumps.  Couldn’t foresee the forks in the road.

And how could I?  I was six years old.  My parents loved me, and so I believed them.  Jesus was a real Person, a heroic Savior, and He would take me to Heaven one day.

Sign me up!  As a child – or with a child-like heart full of trust and hope – the step of “believing in Jesus” came pretty easy for me.  Call me gullible, or call me hopeful.  But at age six, I made a big boy decision about God and accepted Jesus as my Savior.

At age 6 or 66, we can’t really know what the rest of life with God is supposed to look like.  As Gary Haugen wrote, “How can the object of transformation be the one in charge of the process?”  We can’t.  I couldn’t.

But Jesus invites you and me to follow Him.  Just like His arms-wide-open announcement to all who would believe, Jesus is looking for people who would “come, follow me” (Mark 1).

Some people follow and others fight.  Some follow the crowd, and others just follow their heart.  God made each of us in His image, and there’s only one place – one relationship – where we’ll find the kind of fulfillment that we long for.

Relationships and sex can’t fulfill you.  Money, success, career direction, and achievements won’t satisfy your soul.  Hobbies, toys, memories, and a million Facebook friends can’t sustain or produce a healthy heart.

That’s a lesson I first learned at 15, and continue to re-learn ever since.  Though I believed in Jesus, I had foolishly built my life and identity around sports, girls, good grades, and rap music.  Yeah, boyeee!  God was cool too, but He was merely an add-on in my Gary Underwood fan club.   I believed in Jesus but followed the crowd.

By God’s grace, He broke into my life at age 15 life-transforming ways.  He broke my heart.  He broke my knee.  He broke my pride.  He shattered some of my closest friendships.  For nearly a year, it seemed like my whole future was in transition – my identity and soul was at stake.  It truly was.

In those moments, as I recall, Jesus saying it in a personal way – “Gary, I want you to follow me.  It doesn’t matter what your friends do or what Michael Jordan does.  I want you to follow me.”

I started reading the Bible, as if God might actually have something of value to say to me.  He spoke – so it seemed – louder than ever!

I connected with others who seemed to have more passion and awareness of God in their lives.  God brought me some mentors and peers that encouraged, mentored, and inspired me to keep following Jesus.

After a while, I sensed something strange happening.  My heart began to change.  I began to prefer eternal things over earthly things.  I began to confess sinful thoughts or actions and truly desire to change who I was.  My passions and affections for the old life started to fade, and God’s Spirit filled me with a new life.  Don’t get me wrong – I still liked sports, girls, good grades, and rap music, but those things became servants of one singular calling and passion.

To follow Jesus.

And for the last twenty-four years, I’ve tried.  And God’s been patient and showered me with grace.  He’s blessed me far beyond what I deserve.  I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, and that’s no surprise – no disciple is perfect.  But we follow the One who is.

His invitation is still as real here at age… well, whatever age I am.  Jesus invites me to lay down things of the past.  To surrender to His leadership and make Him my first passion.  Give God the controls, as if He isn’t already driving.  For His glory and for my own experience in the abundant life, I’m at my best when I hear His invitation…

Come, follow me.”

 

 

 

 
 

Back to El Salvador – April 24-May 1, 2012

21 Feb

Wilson is one of the young adult leaders in our partner church in El Salvador!

Last April’s visit to El Salvador made an impression on me that I didn’t expect.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, actually!  With our church’s “Hand in Hand” schools in Africa, I experienced a world of emotions and observations about the impact of physical and spiritual poverty on our world.

Too often, my North American eyes are insulated from the kind of suffering that people are facing today.  The Central African Republic has a powerful grip on my heart, and I thank God that our church has been able to partner with Project Hope & Charite’ for several years there.

With the new “Church-to-Church” partnership in El Salvador, we hope to connect many more of our people with this kind of experience, this kind of friendship, and this kind of compassionate work of God.  In Eastern El Salvador, our partner church faces challenges regarding economic hardship, gangs and drugs, and even extreme weather.  Just a few months ago, thousands of people were literally chased out of their homes due to many days of flooding rain.

In April, our church will send twelve people on a missions and discovery trip to El Salvador.  I couldn’t be more thrilled with the team God is putting together here.  Led by Dave and Esther Pacheco, our team also includes RC & Deana Arsenau, Jordan Emmons, Shelly Ward, Jami Hinson, Fred Durant, Kim Mengerink, Billie Lang, Derek Hunt, and um, me.   If you’re interested in following the partnership we’re building with the Church of God, Springs of Eternal Life in El Salvador, check out our blog – grace2es.wordpress.com!

 

To Russia, with love!

15 Sep

My first real overseas trip was a short-term missions team to Russia and Ukraine.

Simply unforgettable, so why not blog about it?

Yeah, I know it was 19.5 years ago.  1992.  Right after the fall of Communism.  Russia was very open and interested in America’s culture and faith and resources.

So I joined a team at The Chapel called “Operation Doulos.”  We planned and prayed.  We learned some basic Russian.  I watched Rocky IV again.  LOL.  We did some basic training on serving and helping in cross-cultural settings.  We raised support for the costs of the trip.

For about 8 days or so, my friends and I were in Russia and Ukraine.

I’ll never forget our first day, passing out hundreds of Bibles in Red Square.  For a country that once (and sometimes still) opposed Christianity, it was crazy to see literally hundreds of people asking for Bibles or literature from America.

I’ll never forget our last day, saying emotional goodbyes to wonderful families and believers we met in Ukraine, who opened up their homes, churches, and lives to us in so many ways.

I’ll never forget Ginnadey Medvedev, the father in my host home, who was a retired communist soldier now serving as a full-time deacon at his church while running a small business.

I’ll never forget Tom and Marcia Bennardo, Tony and Dolores Kijanko, and Dave and Guida Sweitzer.  The amazing adult leaders who carried the burden of coaching, encouraging, and protecting us on that remarkable journey.

So here’s to Russia – a blast from the past when we didn’t have blogs or even the Internet.

And if you get the chance to travel to a faraway place as part of a team that wants to encourage others and make a difference somewhere else in the world, don’t you dare pass that up!

 

Discover El Salvador

20 Apr

From April 6-12, 2011, I was able to spend a week in El Salvador. It was a tremendous experience and I enjoyed meeting some wonderful new friends who are doing great things for people in their home country with great needs.  Here are some FAQ’s (Frequently-Asked Questions) regarding the trip…

Q: Why did you go on this trip to El Salvador?

A: As a pastor from our church, I was invited by Compassion International to represent our church at the beginning stages of their “Church-t0-Church” partnership program.  This was called a “Discovery Trip” to meet leaders of churches in El Salvador and see the good work they are doing in their communities with the help of Compassion’s ministry.

Q: Did anyone go with you?

A: Yes, it was a thrill to have Dave and Esther Pacheco along from our church.  Dave is our youth pastor (junior & senior high).  We were also joined by pastors and church leaders from Washington, North Carolina, and Texas.  The team was led and trained by Mark Gehri, Compassion’s director over the C2C Church Partnership Program.

Q: How did you afford to go on such a trip?

A: Actually, Compassion paid for much of this trip, with help from an anonymous missions donation to our church.  We agreed (with enthusiasm) in hopes that God would guide this process and allow us to meet a church partner and help us build some meaningful opportunities to “team up” for missions work.

Q: What do you mean by “church partner?”

A: Compassion wants to match churches in the USA with churches in El Salvador (or other underdeveloped countries) to get to know one another and serve God together in some way.  The best I can do is ask you to read this article if you’re really interested.

Q: So, how was the trip?

A: It was a jam-packed five-days, full of meetings, tours, introductions, and events.  We spent our first day in the town of La Libertad, visiting a church and Compassion project there.  On our second day, we went to a church in Plan del Pino, not far from San Salvador.  On Friday and Saturday, several of us traveled three hours East (near San Miguel) to connect with a church in the rural village of Tongolona.  We were delighted to spend nearly 2.5 days with Pastor Jose Angel Rivera and his family and his church.  It was wonderful to get to know them and to see what God is doing in their church and community.

Q: What, exactly, would you say God is doing there in this church and community?

A: Well, their church is called Iglesia de Dios Manantiales de Vida Eterna.

Q: Can you put that in English?

A: Yes.  It’s “Church of God, Springs of Eternal Life.”  It’s a church of 100+ adults and nearly 100 kids.  They have a Child Development Center that teaches kids to read, write, and work with numbers.  They also learn trade skills like sewing, farming, crafts, and playing music.  The church also hosts a Child Survival Program (CSP) for newborn babies and young mothers, helping teach the moms how to feed, love, care for, and train their little ones.  Overall, the church reaches nearly 205 more children in their community through these projects!

Q: That’s great!  But do they have a radio station?

A: Funny you should ask!  Their pastor is in his second year of directing a Christian radio station that broadcasts to much of the country of El Salvador, and has an online streaming website for their radio!

Q: Really?  You mean we can listen to it online?  Here?

A: Yes.  For real.  Just click here – Rains of Blessing!

Q: So, what are the next steps (if any) in your partnership with this church in El Salvador.

A: Well, we’re in the “relationship building” stage, and really want to keep getting to know them.  We will connect with their leaders and people via E-Mail and Facebook.  I hope to talk with Pastor Angel on Skype.  We will talk about sending another team of people from our church sometime early next year.  There are many potential ways to work together and to get to know them.  For now, I’m grateful for the opportunity and excited to see how God directs this partnership.

Q: So, why El Salvador and not somewhere else?

A: For one, El Salvador is a place of great need and poverty.  Compassion International reaches nearly 40,000 children in this country alone.  Compassion staff also works well with these local churches to help us have “solid ground” when we are able to get involved.  They can help with translation, travel arrangements, cultural challenges, and safety issues.  They can also help train our teams to be effective servants to God and others when we go there.

Q: What was one highlight of your trip?

Alberto Jurado

A: Hmm.  That’s tough.  One afternoon, we had the privilege of visiting the home of Alberto Jurado – the boy that my wife and I sponsor through Compassion International.  To see his home, the living conditions, the floor he sleeps on, and the difference in lifestyles… that was challenging and affirming… affirming that – though the resources are poor, the people are precious, and we have the opportunity to help… first with relationships and support… and sometimes with resources as well.

Our team from Delaware meeting leaders from the El Salvador Church - Pastor Angel is on the far right.

Q: How can we pray for the church in El Salvador?

A: Pray for the leaders, including the group here on the right – Pedro (far left), Ulysses (next on left), and Pastor Angel on the far right.  Pray for their safety and for their families.  Pray for God to provide a bridge to span the river that divides their town.  Pray for the young people who are so often tempted or forced to join gangs in this country.  Pray for their Compassion center, reaching 200+ kids each week.  Thanks for your partnership through praying for the brothers and sisters in El Salvador!

Q: How do I as a church member (who will probably never go on a mission trip) partipate in this relationship?

A: Sponsor a child (through Compassion International) who is part of this church’s ministry. Your monthly support for that child ($38), your prayers and your letters will change the child’s live…and yours!  Don’t be surprised if God does call you to go on a missions trip to our church and to hug your sponsored child in your own arms!

 

Back to School – Africa style!

09 Dec

In February 2011, I get the distinct thrill and privilege of representing Delaware Grace on a short-term trip to the Central African Republic.  Our church sponsors four schools for orphans in the villages of Sakpa, Bossembele, and Bossangoa.

Each of those villages has a thriving and passionate church full of people who want to make a difference in their world.  Take Girard (the teacher on the right side of the picture) for example – he’s barely 21 years old, and he’s teaching 35-50 children every day.  He helps them learn to read and write, learn basic math, and learn powerful truths about God and Jesus.  His father is the pastor at Bossembele (named Joel), and they are one of many families that want to help their neighbors find survival and joy in this life and the next.

These are some of my heroes, and I can’t wait to see them again.

I can’t wait to see Emmanuel Bouyete, the Hand-in-Hand school coordinator who logs hundreds of miles a month on his motor scooter.  He travels to encourage the churches, supervise and train teachers, and follow up with support needs.  He’s a pastor-on-the-road full-time with Hand in Hand, and he’s got his own amazing testimony of how God has changed his life.

I can’t wait to see Ursulla, the now 6-year old girl that our family has sponsored for two years now.  She’s an orphan in one of the densely-populated villages in the capital city of Bangui.

I can’t wait to see Pastor Tizokoe from Sakpa.  He and his wife have NINE kids and he pastors a church of more than 300 people.  Sakpa Church started their second school for orphans this Fall, and it will be a thrill to see both classes in action in February.

I can’t wait to see Tim & Ginger Hock, full-time missionaries in Bangui with Project Hope & Charite.  They do an amazing job of loving people, understanding the real and long-term needs, and inviting Christians in the U.S. to help out in meaningful ways.

I can’t wait to return.  Jennie and I will be going together, along with David and Billie Lang from our church and two other leaders from a church in Lititz, PA.  If you’d like to check out a travel-blog dedicated to our short-term trip in February, click here. I’m sure to update some things on this blog as well.

For now, we are scheduling immunization shots, starting to discover details and needs for our trip, and raising financial support as well.  If you’re interested in helping in any way, please email me at garyunderwood@mac.com!

 

Making Sense of Halloween…

26 Oct

This Sunday is Halloween.  October 31.

As a kid, all this meant was a chance to get enormous amounts of free candy.  I got to run around the neighborhood with my friends and be silly.  We got to dump out our candy and trade favorites.  We rejoiced with the Snickers and mourned over the Mallow Cups.  Every year, some house gave out apples or unknown bags of stuff that swiftly found their way to the trash.

As a side note, we always liked the houses that gave out “name” candy.  Don’t try to be original and give out Charleston Chew or Bit-O-Honeys.  Nobody wants that.

Every neighborhood has a family (or ten) that goes “all out” for Halloween.  I mean, they really get into the scary aspect of it all.  They try to scare kids.  They play haunting music.  They dress up like witches and spook people.  Their costumes involve blood.  They remind us that this “holiday” has an evil side, a darker history, and a spiritual battle at play.

As a believer in God and Jesus Christ, I always want to be aware of the spiritual realities.

Good and evil – that’s a real battle.

Angels and demons – they really do exist.

The devil?  Yep, he’s real and he’s the true enemy of God and of all mankind.

And here is October 31st, placed spiritually and on the calendar – in the midst of a battle.

Since it’s very beginning, there has been a battle, back-and-forth, about how and why to celebrate this fall holiday.  To some, it was indeed a “holy day” to honor the saints.  To others, it has been about worshiping false gods and casting spells and celebrating evil spirits.

The History Channel posts a solid, thorough article about the history of Halloween.  I’d encourage you to read it – think it through – why and how you “celebrate” this upcoming Halloween.

A few things I can say for sure…

(1) Jesus isn’t scared or threatened by evil, Satan, ghosts, spells, witches, or the like.  When he walked this earth, the demons trembled and cried out to Jesus for mercy.  He cast out demons and offered help to the spiritually-oppressed.  He brought light into a world of darkness, and offered help to people in the midst of spiritual battle.

(2) If Jesus isn’t scared by these things, then neither am I.  Nothing can separate us – believers – from the love of God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection has rendered the evil powers as helpless against Him.  Yes, they try to intimidate, steal, kill, destroy, and “haunt,” but it is all a part of their demise in a battle that they know they are losing.

(3) That being said, do not mess around with the evil side of Halloween.  It’s not “just a game.”  At any level, a concern, curiosity, or pursuit of spiritual darkness is a bad idea.  If you invite demonic ideas into your mind, your house, your family, your neighborhood – at best, that’s a horrible decision.  The Bible says that if you resist the devil, he will flee… but if you invite him over, he has ways of wrecking a life, a child, a marriage, a family, a faith, a career – this is not a game.

(4) Kids need protection, guidance, and encouragement toward the “good”! – My first Halloween costume was as “Superman.”  Rather than hide our kids from the realities here… I suppose my choice is to teach them right from wrong, guide them in the discovery of truth and the love of God, and protect them from others who “aren’t quite there yet.”  In other words, our family is choosing to participate in the “fun and good side” of Halloween, dressing up in a fun costume and getting free candy and seeing our neighbors as they all come out on Sunday night.

Protection – Obviously, we’ll walk around the neighborhood with our kids.  Every year, some teenagers (and younger) wear bloody or violent costumes, and I’m not letting them intimidate my children.  At the same time, I know that the kids in those scary costumes are NOT the enemy, and that they NEED to see families that are safe and not intimidated by their “shenanigans.”

Guidance – Naturally, our kids will ask about witches, ghosts, goblins, evil spells, and (gasp) spiders!  They do that all year, let alone on October 31.  They do that when we read about Satan or demons in the Bible.  Some snake starts talking in Genesis 3, folks!  We dare not shelter our kids from the realities of life… and we dare not miss the opportunities to process, explain, talk with them about the disturbing things we see or hear.  Obviously, all within reason and pray for wisdom as parents, but we’re not just going to let our kids run the neighborhood without our care, direction, presence, and involvement.

Encouragement – Yes.  We’ll encourage our kids to love the good and avoid the bad.  More than this, we’ll require it.  We haven’t had any issues with this yet, but of course one day the peer pressure and all that.  I think it’s great that some parents choose to do “alternatives” to Halloween like fall events at the nursing home, church, or Christian schools.  Especially to be in environments where they are encouraged to seek the good, to be good, to focus on the good… you know.

Rabbit-trail Alert – At the very least, it’s bad form to let your kids devour candy at a record pace.  Bad for their teeth, their stomachs, their metabolism – you name it!  It’s probably a good parenting “technique” to set some boundaries in the area of sugar.  Okay, now back to the majors…

(5) Jesus calls me to love my neighbors.  I know that for sure.  I also know that there’s ONE NIGHT a year when all of my neighbors – and their families – are out in the streets, walking around, and even passing through our driveway.  For me, turning off the porch light and locking the front door, that’s not an option.

I’ve got no interest or responsibility to “judge” my neighbor.  But I do have interest and responsibility to love them.

I want to be like the man who came to save sinners like us.  Who had dinner with the “sinners” in public.  Who was always approachable.  Who didn’t run and hide, even from the demon-possessed.

(6) Do what you want on Halloween – As long as you’ve thought it through (and even prayed it through…), you’re going to do what you want to do.  Just be aware of the issues, the people, the ideas and dangers involved.

But as for me and my house… we will serve the Lord.  Christ has given us victory over sin, death, evil, and fear.  He is the Light of the world!

He also wants us to shine His Light in our world… even on “dark nights” like Halloween!

 

Why the blog?

17 Feb

A lot of people write blogs.

Pastors.  Sports fans.  Fathers.  Friends.  Tourists.  Techies.  Extroverts. Missionaries.

In some ways, I’m a bit of all of those.

In 2003, I started a blog to post pics of our family and keep in touch with friends.  In 2004, I wrote a blog about faith and ministry and such.  In 2007 and 2009, I started blogs for missions trips (short-term) in Argentina and in the Central African Republic.

I know some pastors who are doing a great job of encouraging, teaching, and connecting with people through their blogs.  Love that idea.  In fact, I found a pretty thoughtful article about “5 Reasons Why Pastors should Blog,” and agree with some of the thoughts and potential shared there.

At times, I love having the outlet and opportunity to write.  Ever since my fourth-grade publication of the literary classic known as “the Unidentified Flying Eyeball,” I have loved to write.  Naturally, a blog is a great way to keep doing that and somehow get better at it.

Two weeks ago, I decided to try this blogging thing again.

I hope to continue this blog for a variety of purposes…  so here goes:

(1) To focus my heart and mind on writing on a regular basis.  Sometimes daily.

(2) To have the opportunity to share things I’m learning and hopefully encourage some friends and readers along the way.

(3) To dare to be myself in a way that isn’t self-centered.  I’ll write about God, family, and ministry – and those should be big.  However, as you can tell, I’m going to dabble in areas that I have always loved, which include sports, sports, and sports.  You might even see the occasional blog post about a movie, television, technology, or reading.  I’ll “tag” each post with separate categories.  If you don’t like sports, don’t read it.

(4) To consolidate my blog collection into one blog.  As I started this one, I “dumped” the blogs about family, ministry, Africa, Argentina… all into this blog.  Why write five blogs?  Am I five different people?  Nope.

(5) To interact with whomever feels like interacting.  We’ll see where it goes.  But I’m going to be myself, and I’m not going to apologize for that.  If I confuse you or offend you, let me know.  I don’t intend to.  It probably won’t happen, but I’m just saying…

So here we go.  I love to write.  This is my blog.

 

Thoughts from Africa…

08 Jan

First of all, forgive me for not posting about Africa since the trip!

Not a day goes by, though, that I am not seized by thoughts, impressions, memories, and lessons I’ve experienced in Africa.

This picture (left) is from our last full day in Bangui, when I got to spend much of the morning in Sakpa village.  Pastor Tizokoe and his wife are on right, and then the previous pastor’s wife on the right end in yellow.  Hortence, our school teacher, is on the left in the picture.

If you want to hear the fresh memories and passion from my trip, I’d love for you to listen to the sermon I preached just two days after landing in Columbus.  Click here to listen.

I may continue to use this blog as a journal… just sharing some random thoughts (and not-so-random ones) about what God’s doing in my life and in the world.

If you aren’t currently involved in some way of helping people who are physically and spiritually poor, you are missing out, big time.  It’s a great opportunity to really BE a follower of Christ… and a desperately-needed contribution to anyone in need.

America is mostly financially blessed.  We have too much, and we hoard too much.

Kids, parents, and grandparents really do suffer and die around the world because they can’t get clean water, they can’t get basic medications, or they can’t get one good meal.  In my mind, I had heard that stuff before.  In my Africa journey, I came face to face with some of those people… some of those situations… some of those needs.

One day, I believe we will all give account to God for how we lived our lives. What did we do with all the resources we’ve been given?

Can we really be called a “Christian nation” when we’ve obsessed over our own freedoms and rights and happiness, while at least THREE BILLION people in the world live at or below the poverty level?

Yeah, Africa has messed me up good.  I really hope to make some sort of difference…

 

Meeting Ursulla Dewensse…

22 Nov

On Wednesday afternoon, I finally got to meet Ursulla.

Our family “sponsors” her as an orphan child through a ministry called Vision Trust – very similar to the ministry of Project Hope and Charite’ toward orphans – helping her get food, clothing, and basic life needs met… while also helping her learn about the great love and salvation God offers through Jesus Christ.

I got to spend about an hour with her.  They think she is between 4-6 years old.  She lives with her mother in a house with lots of kids.  Her mother works all day, trying to sell peanuts and other things to be able to get food.

Ursulla was sweet, trusting, and a little bit shy during our visit.  I shared some gifts with her, including the yellow stuffed bunny that she absolutely loved.  With the help of the translator, I was able to tell her about my family and how much we love her and pray for her.  I played a sound clip of Allie and Luke saying hi to Ursulla.

We went for a little walk, took lots of pictures, and sat together on a swing.  I didn’t want to overwhelm her, but I did want to communicate that I was a safe person and that I care for her.  Our family has been praying for her for months and months now.

The whole “helping orphans in Africa” thing just became a thousand times more personal, more urgent, and more in-my-face REAL when I got the chance to meet kids and hear their stories and witness the needs in their lives.

Multiply that by the investment of time, prayer, and money that our family is making… and the chance to meet this precious little girl who was born into a life without hope…

Then, to think that God may have blessed me with the opportunity, the responsibility, and the means to be an “agent of hope” in the life of a child on the other side of the world?

All thanks and credit to God, and praise and prayers for the work he’s doing in Ursulla’s life… and the work he’s doing in mine.