On a not so common Saturday night Connie and I touched down, along with two very good friends (Kip and Kristi), at the Santiago International airport in the Dominican Republic. It was the 3rd such occasion for me and the first for Connie. Although this was not my first trip to the Dominican, it would prove to be an experience like none other. We had arrived in the country to spend a few days with Brian Berman helping out the ministry that God laid on his heart a few years back, Project Manana. If you’re not familiar with this ministry you should be. Take some time to check out their website: www.projectmanana.org. God is doing amazing things through a willingness to serve shown daily by Brian and his wife Carolina.
On Sunday morning we made our way through the city in route to Villa Gonzalez where we’d be spending much of the next several days. On this day we were on our way to attend the weekly Sunday morning Church service. That morning we listened to songs, attempted to sing along, and tried to follow along as Pastor Jose shared a sermon (with Brian translating in the background of course) out of the book of Joel. Although in a language mostly foreign to me, the service was very familiar. We participated in communion and received hugs from every congregation member once the service ended. I left the village that morning happy to have had the worshipful experience and pleased the trip had started on such a positive note.
Later that day after an outstanding Dominican lunch at Brian’s house we headed out to La Yaguita de Pastor, a suburb of Santiago, to visit our sponsored children. We met the children at a local residence belonging to a very nice family who warmly welcomed us as we arrived. After entering the home I noticed an open Bible lying on the table of the “salon de estar”. Curious, I walked over to check it out and noticed that it was open to the same passage that Pastor Jose had preached from that morning, Joel. I suppose it’s important to point out that La Yaguita de Pastor and Villa Gonzalez are 20Km from each other and, no, the service from earlier that day was not streamed over the Internet. In other words there was no normal connection between the two. Of all the possible pages that book could have been open to, why this one? I’m not sure I realized at that moment, but this was a figurative thump in the forehead from God saying: “Pay attention”! I read the short book that night and even though I was looking for direction, I found myself thinking: “what do locusts tearing up the country side have to do with me”?
At this point let me back up in the story just a bit. Before heading to the Dominican Republic we had chosen to sponsor a 14 year old girl, Yuberkis, from Project Manana’s website and were pleased to find out this was actually an answer to prayer. Brian and team could tell she was longing for a sponsor relationship (although she never said anything) and had been praying for her to be sponsored. She is a leader in the local Church, regularly helps out with the feeding center, and had been delivering packages to other children from their sponsors. On Monday morning we headed back out to Villa Gonzalez to meet her as well as Kip and Kristi’s sponsored children and to spend some time in the community. We found, upon arrival, that her whole family consists of some of the sweetest people we’ve ever met. She has 2 brothers and her parents have taken in at least 1 other child that needed a home. We found that one of her brothers, Errison, has special needs that must be addressed on a monthly basis. Connie and I both felt led to make a financial commitment to help Errison each month although we had no idea where the funds would come from. I don’t want to skim past this and minimize what happened here. The commitment was not astronomical but was enough that it should have made us a little uncomfortable. I’d like to point out that my wife and I are what you might call “opposite personalities” so when we immediately agree on something it’s something that calls for further investigation. I have come to realize that when both of us are given an undeniable peace about doing something like this, occasionally, it turns out to be direction from God. It turns out that our “hunch” was correct because after returning home from the trip we received unexpected funds that allowed us to pay off a debt that freed up the exact amount of monthly income that we committed to provide for Errison. Yes I agree with you, God is awesome! We could leave it at that or see this for what it is, God saying: “Just trust me, I will provide”. We spent the rest of the trip playing with kids, doing some light construction, sharing a Bible stories (or maybe I should say providing moral support while Kristi shared Bible stories), and even made it out to the beach to see some of the beauty that the Dominican Republic has to offer. To say that it was an amazing trip would be a complete understatement. So many answered prayers, so much direction from God packed into such a short amount of time leading up to the trip, during the trip, and after the trip is actually a bit overwhelming. On the other side of the trip, we again have an undeniable peace that God is sending a much bigger message through all of this. We could see each one of these incidents as just a cool experience or see it for what God truly intends it to be, a realization that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.
I could go on for pages about what God did and what we saw during this trip, and I do hope to do that over time. However, let me get back to Joel. I have spent a fair amount of time reading and praying since my return and here is what I know:
1) When God speaks we should listen. I’m thankful that God doesn’t always feel the need to send a locust plague to get our attention, but he does speak to us and call us in ways that are tangible and real. When we are obedient it has the potential to affect generations. On the flip side, our disobedience has real consequences. [Joel 1-2:12].
2) When God speaks he doesn’t want us to keep it to ourselves. We are to share the message with as many people as we can. Remember, God doesn’t expect us to stand alone. We should share the message with the appropriate motivation and with a clean heart. This is exactly why I’m writing this right now. [Joel 2:13-17]
3) God will provide for us. This is a tough one for nearly every American to swallow, but it’s true! God WILL provide for our needs. Just as God provided the means for us to sponsor Errison, He will provide for me and for you. [Joel 2:18-27]
4) God will give us guidance. He doesn’t expect us to wander aimlessly with the hope that we occasionally get it right. Again, God speaks to us. It may not be an audible voice but with a clean heart and a willingness to hear the guidance is there for us through the Holy Spirit. He’s not going to lay it all out there at once. It’s a journey, one day at a time. [Joel 2:28 – 32]
5) God will protect us. He will make a way for us to do what He’s called us to do, period! Sometimes this comes in the form of someone pulling up beside you to let you know that God wants you to change your tire before heading over the mountain J [Joel 3:1-9]
6) Why does God do all this? He speaks, provides, protects, and guides so that we can pick up our God given talents on a daily basis and find a way to use those tools to serve Him. [Joel 3:10-13]
7) Pay close attention here. This is the one that brings it all together, and the verse that puts a knot in my throat every time I read it: Thousands upon thousands are waiting in the valley of decision. [Joel 3:14] Don’t miss that! Let it sink in. We are to serve God so that others may know Him as well. The act without the message is pointless. Thousands need Him. Thousands are waiting for me and for you to share Him so they too can make the most important decision of their existence.
8) God will pour out His blessings. When we dwell within the will of God, He will bless us in tangible and intangible ways. God is awesome and so are His blessings! [Joel 3:17-21]
Throughout the past several years I have professed that Hebrews 4:12 is a verse that I live by and use as guidance (another story for another day). I am now faced with an undeniable question: Do I actually believe these words?
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12
This is either just a cool verse that talks about power and sharp swords or it’s something that I will allow to guide me through my time on Earth. I truly believe that God uses His Word to reveal His direction for our lives. His Word IS alive, it IS powerful, and it DOES discern our innermost thoughts and desires! I haven’t always followed or even looked for that guidance, but this time the message is one that’s unavoidable. I must believe and draw comfort from the fact that God is using this timeless message to call my family and me into action. I don’t have many answers at this point, but am willing to follow that guidance. In this moment Connie and I are living by the following:
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our next steps. Proverbs 16:9
We will continue to share our story with those of you that care to follow. I believe this is what God wants and as long as that is the case I will continue to share.
–Nick and Connie