Saturday, June 30, 2007

Maria Rut Espinoza Campos

Several months ago God put it on my heart for my family to sponsor a child through Compassion International, but to be honest, I wasn't very obedient initially. It wasn't for lack of desire. I simply kept talking myself out of doing it because, while God has always been faithful to take care of my family financially, we don't have a lot of expendable income. Several weeks ago at Student Life @ the Beach Emily and I were once again confronted with an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the life of a child who is far less fortunate than our girls. What I love about Student Life is that they are challenging students in a practical way to share the gift of wealth that God has given them. This only reminded me of what God has been saying to me for months, so we decided to sponsor a child.

We had some criteria in the selection. We wanted to choose a little girl since we have two girls. We wanted a girl the same age as Emeline. And we wanted a girl that we could potentially take our girls to visit in the near future. Though we seriously considered adopting a child in Indonesia (because of David and Mindy Rainer) and Uganda (because of the AIDS epidemic and child soldiers tragedy), we eventually landed on the country of Peru for several reasons: (1) I recently visited Peru and God has placed this country on my heart. I hope that we can revisit discussions within our church to adopt an unreached people group in Peru; (2) Peru is close enough that it wouldn't be as much of a strain financially to fly my family to Peru to visit our sponsored child.

Two weeks ago we got a photo and information about our newest little girl. Her name is Maria Rut Espinoza Campos. She is almost 4 years old and shares the same birthday as Cameron Alysse (July 11). She has two siblings. She has been waiting for a sponsorship for more than 6 months. She lives in the coastal community of Jose Galvez, which is south of Lima (3/4 of Peruvians live in cities), consisting mostly of the ethnic group Mestee. Most adults in this community are unemployed, but some work as petty traders and earn the equivalent of $86/mo. It is unbelievable that people live off of this much a month. I will spend that much in food and gas this week!

Maybe you are reading this and wondering what you can do without so that someone in the world can be provided with Bible teaching, medical exams, nutritious food, hygiene education, social events, developmental activities and educational classes. Compassion International isn't a perfect organization, but they provide a way for each of us to touch the lives of the poor and disenfranchised in the world - two groups of people that Jesus cares about very much.


It has been almost 3 weeks exactly since I last posted. I'm sorry. I know the blog-o-sphere hasn't been quite the same in my silence, but I'm officially back. I guess it would be appropriate to tell you why I've been gone for so long. I took the students at Concord to Student Life @ the Beach June 11-15 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and then once I got back I had one week before Adventure Camp.

What is Adventure Camp?

It was our attempt to move away from the gluttony and overload of thematic VBS' and engage the children in our community with an active, God-centered, exciting day camp. Concord is an average size church and we've had minimal success engaging our community with the gospel even though this desire is deeply embedded in the heart of our staff and leadership. When I came to CBC we still had the typical VBS. A lot of effort, creativity, organizing, planning and energy went into an event that produced only minimal results. All in all, we typically had about 3/4 of our church kids and a few visitors - most of whom had previously attended another VBS at another church with the same theme one week prior. In other words, we found ourselves baby-sitting.

For the past two years we took VBS on the "go" with mobileVBS. I think the idea behind this concept was great. Take small groups of people into the community, secure a locale such as an apartment complex, and set up shop for the week. Meet unbelievers on their turf rather than expecting them to come to us. But once again we were met, not only with some resistance in the community, but less participation by our own church famiilies, and with very little success.

Our desire this year was to move away from the typical VBS altogether. While we originally planned for Adventure Camp to meet in the evening, we chucked that idea in favor of a day camp (well, a 1/2 day). While we intitially we met with some resistance even among our volunteers, people eventually bought into the idea. We planned a registration weekend and the preliminary results weren't promising. Only 13 children registered that weekend. However, the camp slowly began building momentum after about 1800 flyers, yard signs, road signs, radio announcements and free newspaper publications. We maxed out our camp. We eventually registered 87 children for Adventure Camp, 12 for MiniAdventure, and 8 in the nursery for a total of 107 children! The frustrating reality for us is that we could have registered more (I would estimate about 130 just in Adventure Camp) if we had more volunteers. It was painful turning people away.

We called this week Amazing Adventure Camp and it lived up to its name. Not only was it a blessing having so many children and having the opportunity to share the gospel with them, but to see God's hand over the 80+ volunteers was equally encouraging. To my knowledge this was the largest assembly of volunteers for any event at Concord in my 5 years. Our youngest volunteer was 13 and our oldest 81. It was so humbling seeing God take hours of conversations, planning and organization and lead us, by the Spirit, to ask precisely the right people to serve in their particular capacity during the week. Not only were volunteers doing what they were asked to do with very little supervision - but they were doing it very well! This week was exactly the kind of liminal experience that I believe our congregation needed.

So what did we do this week? Each day was filled with music; bible study that focused on the purpose of our existance - which is to worship God; daily Footpath Encounters were children took hikes and met historical Christian figures, ordinary people whom God used in extraordinary ways (Gladys Alyward, Sheldon Jackson, Corrie Ten Boom, Eric Liddell); "adventures" including a giant maze (which the kids LOVED), wacky Olympics, an Amazing Race, a rock-climbing wall, capture the flag, water games, and being ambushed by super-soaker wielding bandits; we ended the week with a Pinewood Derby that was awesome.

I don't know the full impact of the seeds of God's Word scattered this week, but we are praying that the Spirit would take our efforts and begin drawing children to Christ. We are praying for a meaningful connection with families in the E Brainerd area. We are praying that God would be pleased to allow us to be a part of the harvest of our labors. But we are also full of gratitude for God's bountiful provision and care for us this week. He was SO good to us in so many ways.

Maybe you have a favorite Adventure Camp memory or something to give thanks to God for. I'd love to hear that that might be. Thanks be to God for a wonderful week. Now it's time to sleep because that has been a scarce blessing for the past 2-3 weeks.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Silence Is Over...For Now

I need to apologize to my 8 readers, which has likely dwindled to 3-4 in my prolonged absence. The blogosphere has undoubtedly suffered through my silence. Unfortunately, after this post I'll have to retreat again for a week or so. There's just been too much going on in my world, but there is much for which to give thanks for God. For example, the past two years our church has abandoned the traditional VBS format for a more unconventional approach to ministry - which has been a welcome change for me because our culture is over-saturated with creative, entertaining, but biblically supine, anemic children's curriculum. For the past two years we attempted what we called mobileVBS. This was an attempt to engage children in the culture on their turf, near their homes and apartment complexes, with the purpose of building relationships for the sake of the gospel. We were met with marginal success. This year we've planned an adventure day camp for children (well, half-day) and God has been pleased to give us great success to date. I said from the outset if we have 50 children (25 from the community) it would be a success. As of today we have 75 registered children (with only 25 from our church) and will likely close out registration early next week even though we set June 20 as the final day to register. This event has taken up a huge portion of my time and attention, thus explaining my absence.

I thought I'd share some suggested books to read that I've been reading recently:

This is an excellent book. While it is targeted to parents, it would be a helpful resource for all believers to read. It details a gospel-centered approach to conversation - particularly to instruction, that wonderfully points to the benefits of the impact that speaking the gospel daily has on our individual and family lives.

If you have children you must add this to your child's reading library. Even if you don't have children this book has been a wonderful reminder to me how we need a Christological approach to how we read the Old Testament. I read through this with Emeline recently and it was a wonderful reminder of God's pursuing, redeeming love through His Son Jesus.

This is yet another outstanding biographical work from John Piper in The Swans Are Not Silent book series. If you aren't a big reader but want to see how God has been at work in the lives of men of faith from the past, this series is a helpful resource. Piper writes about Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen.

This is a strategic book for those wrestling with church health issues - which I believe is perhaps the most pressing issue among Southern Baptist churches today. It is a very practical approach to church structure that refuses to separate theology from corporate life. Without reluctance, Mark Dever calls us away from pragmatic ministry and a unity at all costs congregational life mentality toward a more faithful obedience to what Scripture has to say about congregational government and church life.

I'll be back after Student Life @ the Beach with the students.