Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hello from New Braunfels, TX—yes that’s NORTH of Seguin…ha, ha, ha

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Friday (2/23) took us to the campus of Texas Lutheran University (The picture is the lab where Andrew works for Dr. Squires)! By the time we saw Andrew at Chapel, he had called the newspaper (a reporter showed up to interview us after chapel) and made an appointment for us to meet with the director of missions at T Bar M. He has such a servant’s heart. He listens to what your needs are and then does something about it! We were both pretty impressed with how well Andrew has things together. I don’t think I’ve met anyone his age like him, yet he still knows how to have a good time with his friends. The service was really good…talking about Lent and remembering what Jesus did for us. They even sang a song about being on a journey with the Lord from page 326. (3/26…that’s our anniversary!!) After the service, we met the campus pastor, Greg and the speaker from that day, Pastor Ann. (In the picture...l to r: CE, Pastor Ann, Pastor Greg, RE, Bill, & Andrew) She told us about a Border Ministry through the Lutheran church. She sent us to the synod office on campus to learn a little more. The ladies we met there—Janet, Susie, and Carrie—were all very helpful. They gave us Pastor Bill’s e-mail address and told us that they would be adding us to their prayer list!

Andrew took us to lunch with his mom at a little Mexican restaurant in New Braunfels. (We saw even more of how Andrew takes care of people. His mom’s car was in the shop so when it was ready, he rode with the man to go get it and let him mom stay and eat with us.) Since it was really close to the time we were supposed to meet Keith at T Bar M, Mrs. Traeger gave us a ride back to the camp. Keith wasn’t immediately available, so Chris and I walked around the little camp store. Mr. Turpin (apparently that’s what the T in T Bar M stands for) and his daughter, Ashley stopped us because Chris looked familiar. We noticed that they both had their tennis gear, so we asked if they were going to play. Ashley’s 16, and her father told her that she’s one of the best in the state in her age group. Pretty impressive…then we saw her hit…then we were really impressed. She has such a sweet spirit…very humble…Her dad is very proud of her and all of her achievements. Just last week she was selected for a national sportsmanship award. The day that she’ll receive it, Pete Sampras will be inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame, so there’s a good chance she’ll get to meet him.

After watching Ashley practice for a while, Keith came in. He took us on a tour of the camp and told us about the different programs that they have. The property is actually a resort, conference center, and Christian camp all in one location. In the back, there’s also a neighborhood with private residences. During the summer, they operate two camps—T Bar M camp and Camp Travis—and about 5,000 kids go through the program over the course of that time. They have a day camp for young children, a sports camp for ages 7-11 (They share the Gospel through sports.), and a Christian camp for 12-18 year olds. During the rest of the year, they host retreats and leadership training using high & low ropes courses. In addition to all of this, they carry kids on 6-8 mission trips per year. The trips normally include very extreme conditions and visiting remote villages that other short-term missionaries don’t go to. This year they are going/have been to Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru. We absolutely enjoyed learning about all that they have to offer here!

The best part was their Tim Team…it’s short for Timothy. It’s a group of 10 young adults (21-25 years-old this year) who are involved in a year-long discipleship program. (In the picture clockwise starting on the left: Don, Levi, Katie (one of their supervisors), Robby, Ellen, Staci, Valerie, Chip, Natalie, AC, Jared) They are the ones who run the high & low ropes courses and work the retreats year round. (during the summer there’s an additional 280 people helping them) By working in this way, they “earn their keep” so to speak. Keith dropped us off with them at 3:30 so that we could get to know them. They just got back from Nicaragua, so we swapped God stories with them. It was incredible just to hear about what God is using them to do, how they are growing, and about their love for our Savior!! They also invited a former Tim Teamer over to meet us—Sarah Rinn (pictured with RE). She just got back from the World Race in November. Adventure in Missions began a spin-off of the Amazing Race last year. The teams would race from country to country and then share the Gospel and do outreach for a couple of weeks when they got there. Then they’d race to another country. They went around the world in 11 months!! We had a ton of fun hearing some of her stories too. All of them were full of helpful tips about travel including contacts in a few countries!! Sarah even told us about this phone service called Skype which is over the internet (the second time we’ve heard about it…I guess it’s time to investigate!!).

We left the Tim Team house to go see what Andrew was up to…he had invited his newly-married friends—Nicolas & Kathleen—over for supper. Kathleen has also done quite a bit of mission work…she spent 2 months in Haiti and 2 months in Malawi with a group called Teen Missions International. I enjoyed chatting with her and learning about a missionary family that they support in Guadalajara, Mexico. (God continues to go before us!!) Mrs. Traeger also stopped by for a bit while she was waiting on Stephen, Andrew’s younger brother. He was at a school-sponsored party, and she didn’t want to drive all the way home just to turn around and drive all the way back.

Saturday…Andrew had to go to Austin to study for the GRE, so Chris & I had a date day!! Friday was the end of week 21—day 147, so we celebrated by taking a little run (He ran with me which is a big sacrifice because I run a lot slower than him!) and eating lunch together. We enjoyed some alone time!! By mid-afternoon, we went looking for the Tim Team. We hung out with them a little more and picked their brains about their program…what was good, what they’d like to change, and about some ideas that Chris and I had. Sarah bought a headset for us to use for Skype (again…God provides our needs.) Then we went over to their house and helped cook supper…continuing to fellowship (and have a little fun...the guys decided that Valerie needed to be duct taped to the soccer goal and the girls tried to help her, but to no avail) until they had to go back to work at 8:30.

Sunday morning, Andrew invited us to go to church with his family at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Before Mass, Andrew introduced us to Father Tony, and we met several of the deacons. We got an e-mail Sunday morning from Pastor Bill (of the Lutheran Border Ministry) telling us that he would be leaving San Antonio on Monday afternoon to go to Eagle Pass, TX (That’s the town where we think that we’ll cross the border.) So Chris & I began praying about what we should do…go to San Antonio and see if a ride worked out or just walk it out through the wilderness. Well, wouldn’t you know it…the message that morning was on being in the wilderness. Although we probably wouldn’t choose those times, some times the Spirit leads us there (as He did Jesus just after His baptism). In the wilderness we learn to rely on the Lord…we have to send our faith down deep to reach the Living Water which is our Source of life. So we kept praying, but we were pretty sure we knew what we were supposed to do. Father Tony recognized us at the end of Mass, so several families stopped us to ask about our journey. Elaine stopped us because her boys—James & Jonathan had some questions for us. We were able to meet her other children Lauren and Anastazia as well! One of the deacons also came to talk with us, and he & his wife prayed over us—for safety and for soft hearts along the way…that people would be receptive to God’s Word. Right before we were going to walk out, another family stopped us…Blas, Mica, and Noah Espinosa are from the Charismatic Catholic Center in Houston. They work with the young adults there. We were interested in talking to them because we continue to hear about this movement within the Catholic Church. Mica offered to send us some more information, so that we could read about it and know a little more about it.

The Traegers wanted to take us to their favorite restaurant for lunch, so we went to the Huisache Grill. We were able to meet Stephen and chat with him a bit. Mrs. Traeger spoke with the principal at Stephen’s school, New Braunfels Christian Academy, on Friday night after the party. He invited us to come on Monday to speak to the Bible classes. Stephen told us about it and asked if we would at least come to his class to share our story. (more confirmation that it wasn’t time to go) We told him that we probably would, but that we’d get back to him. After lunch, Andrew showed us around New Braunfels…what a beautiful town. I know I’ve said it a million times, but God did a really awesome job laying out the landscape of our country!! There’s a spring feed river that runs through the town…perfect for tubing. One of the world’s most famous water parks is here as well… Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort. Then we went to historic Gruene…it’s an old town which is now part of New Braunfels. The dance hall there is the oldest know dance hall in Texas!!

When we got back to camp, the Tim Team invited us to church with them at the Austin Stone…when he’s not on tour, Chris Tomlin is the worship leader there. (On our way to church, we drove by the capitol building which is the largest capitol building in the country…even bigger than the one in Washington DC.) Although it wasn’t Chris Tomlin, the worship leader did a great job leading us into the presence of the Lord! The message was right on time too! They are doing a series on marriage, so Chris and I both learned a lot. Since we spend almost ever second of every day together, sometimes we get a little frustrated with each other. We’ve also learned that guys and girls are very different, and that’s a good thing!! The speaker offered some good ideas to open the lines of communication and reminded us all that anytime there is conflict in marriage, it’s the devil. Our fight as Christians “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”—Ephesians 6:12 He also encouraged couples to dig into the Word to define a godly marriage. Then to make a plan with actions not just ideals to work towards a marriage that is pleasing to God. Finally he told us to encourage each other and to vocalize your joy and love for each other openly and often. From church, we went to a little restaurant called Magnolia CafĂ©…you could order just about anything you could think of to eat and the food was tasty! We met Joey, a friend of one of the Tim Team members, and spent more time fellowshipping (clockwise: RE, Ellen, Joey, Valerie, AC, and Natalie)!

On Monday, we did go to Stephen’s school, New Braunfels Christian Academy, to speak to his class. We enjoyed as did the teacher, Mr. Houk (also a pastor of a local church). He invited us to stay and speak to all of his classes!! We talked to two 10th grade classes (the first of which was Stephen's--also pictured 1st) and one 9th grade class (their class has two pictures). They were all attentive and asked good questions!!

Since you are finally getting to read the blog, you can guess what I did on Monday afternoon, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday!! We’ve been working hard to catch up on recording what God’s been doing! Andrew has been a gracious host!! T Bar M has lots of deer, so Chris went out to find them yesterday...he came across 22 of them all in one place!! Apparently one of the ladies in the neighborhood feeds them every night. We are planning on riding with Andrew to his class in San Antonio this afternoon (Wednesday 2/28) and getting back on the road from there.

We ask for your prayers especially in the next few weeks as we cross the South Texas desert and head into Mexico. We’re soooo excited to see what God is going to do!! We’d love to hear from you! God bless you, and we love you!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gonzales, TX to Seguin, TX—God’s timing and plan, not ours!

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Monday morning…we actually slept in…I’m not sure if we’ve been as busy as we were last week at any other point on this journey! I’m not even sure if we’ve ever experienced anything like it before at all! So we were expecting things to slow down and for it to be time to go, but God definitely did not indicate that it was His plan for us to move on. We were able to rest a bit and catch up on some writing before things really got going on Monday. I went to supper with Ranee from Emmanuel Fellowship to learn a little more about the ministry God is starting through her. She’s still praying about it a lot right now, but she wants to help people by starting a business and using the proceeds to meet needs in the community. She’s still working on the product—a new kind of building material. While she is doing that on the side, God has given her a really good, full-time job at Cal-Maine.

While I was with Ranee, Chris went to the men’s Bible study out at Ricky Lester’s camp house. They barbequed…in Texas that’s a way you cook the meat and what you call the meat when you are going to eat it, but it’s not barbeque like Chris and I know it. It’s very tasty though…made from beef instead of pork and it’s not cut up into fine pieces either. They enjoyed a good time around the fire talking and then they spent some time in God’s Word.

On Tuesday, we went to the Gonzales Youth Center. They have an after-school program for 6th-8th graders to help with homework and to give the youth of the community something to do after school. They have several computer labs, as well as basketball and football. We spoke to the entire group and to several individuals after we finished our testimony. Jonacia and Brittany (pictured) were two of girls who stayed after to ask a few questions and to share with us. We were also able to talk to the director, Pat Anders, and one of the teachers, Marilyn Viator, for an extended amount of time. They told us that many of the churches in the community supported the Center, and a lot of the high school students who had been through the program often came back to help. We also learned that they have a paid staff to supervise the different areas and to provide support for the participants.

From the Youth Center, we went to the Country Fellowship (Cowboy Church). It was more than we expected. We sang several songs—all played on guitars and fiddles. Then a local man brought a simple salvation message. It was a down-to-earth and heart-felt service!! After the service, we talked to lots of people, and we ate fajitas—the meat was so tender it melted in your mouth!!! The steer roping started after the meal…we were mesmerized to see the men and women at work. One roped the horns and the other the hooves…we couldn’t believe how hard it was!! Wow! We also met Pastor Pete and his wife, Abby. He’s the pastor of the Cowboy Fellowship in Pleasanton, TX. (The Country Fellowship is a church plant from the Cowboy Fellowship.) The church in Pleasanton has grown from a once/month service to a thriving church with 700-900 in attendance each Sunday. We were interested in learning more…and if the Lord leads us in that direction, we may stop by the Cowboy Fellowship?!

Then came the time Chris had been waiting for…Loni agreed to give him his 2nd riding lesson. Chris rode Lady so hard that she was sweating…he smiled the entire time he was on that horse though!! I thought that he’d be sore, but NO…I think I might have married a cowboy after all!! He decided to give Lady a little break, so I could ride her. I had to keep making her go slower because she was used to running around with Chris!! It was so funny…I liked just weaving her in and out of the poles and going around the ring. Chris got back on and rode her hard again (If you look close enough at the picture, you can see the dust at the horses hooves.), so he learned about walking a horse around and letting it cool down after a good work out! He had sooo much fun!

While we were riding outside, we met M. L. whose love for the Lord was incredibly apparent as we talked. Then we met Dennis & DC Kaspar. I was intrigued by DC’s shirt because it was in Spanish & English and it said Panama. I asked him about it, and he told me that he had gone on an extreme mission trip with T Bar M (in New Braunfels, TX). They flew in to Panama, but they canoed several hours and hiked several hours before they reached the remote village that they were going to minister in. I was really interested, but I didn’t think we’d get to visit the camp or find out much more information since it was north of where we were. I just stored away the information for later.

Wednesday was another eventful day! We went to FCA to speak at lunch…Chris and I didn’t really know what to say because we’ve never spoken a 2nd time at the same place, so we prayed a ton. We ended up encouraging them to step out on faith in their own school and community—to trust that God would work through them right where He has planted them!!

From FCA, we went to North Avenue Intermediate School (5th-6th grade) to speak. We taught the kids about where Peru is and the countries we’d go through, we showed them our packs and supplies, and we answered tons of questions. Again, we saw God’s hand at work because students asked things like “How do you hear God’s voice?” and “How do you know what God wants you to do?” among the common questions like “Where do you sleep?” and “How do you take a shower?” We were all too happy to answer ALL of their questions!! We also saw several of the students that we’d met in the previous week—Angela, Camden, Vanna, along with several of the girls from the Youth Center. One of the girls we met at Country Fellowship, Calli, has an amazing story of healing. She fell off of her horse when she was barrel racing, and the doctors didn’t believe she would live. Today she’s healthy and happy and without any sign of a problem…she even barrel races!! After the students left, we met two more miracles…one of the boys was struck by lightening and lived to tell about it and his friend, Christian, came to meet us as well. Both boys love the Lord so much. The principal, Anne Boothe, invited us to work on her computer and offered to take us to supper. She’s obviously a kind and caring women…and she’s doing a great job at the school.

From North Avenue, we went to the Wilson’s house. We rode with Ki and the boys (Camden & Brevin) to the basketball game. The girls and John had invited us to share scripture and to pray with them again before the game. We shared from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” We talked to them about playing as a team and again inviting God into their game. He’s not just for Sunday or when you are at church but for every aspect of your life. The game went to overtime, and Chris & I just kept praying, “Lord, may you receive all of the glory!” When the Gonzales girls won the game, they pointed up to give God the glory. They circled up at mid-court and they gave Him thanks. The score? Yeah, He left His mark again…49 to 57... (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12…5+7 is 12) They were beginning to see His hand and to realize He’s part of everything if we surrender to Him and allow Him to be in control!! The girls really wanted us to come to their next game, but we knew and they knew it was time for one of them to step up and share the scripture and pray before the next game. We said our good-byes and took pictures of everyone. They are such a special group of girls who are talented in so many ways!

While we were in Gonzales, we heard a lot of stories and learned a lot of lessons. One story that we are anxiously awaiting to hear the end of is about the message on the parable of the talents. A little over a month ago, Pastor Travis at First Baptist Gonzales, preached a message on the parable of talents, but he stopped right at the part where the master gave the servants the money. Then he offered anyone who was willing $5. They were to be stewards of that money, and at the end of February, give back to the Lord what they had left of the $5. Some people mowed lawns, a few cooked, others sewed, one sang…and tons of other things that we haven’t even heard about yet. Mrs. Carol baked bread…she spent the initial $5 on supplies and made a profit, so she bought supplies one more time. She turned in $260 on Sunday along with her story of baking bread and taking care of a couple of walking missionaries!

Thursday was pretty uneventful to start with…we just washed clothes and got ready to head out of town. We prayed and debated between Seguin and Stockdale and finally decided on Seguin. John Wilson called to see if we were absolutely sure we were leaving—he wanted us to go to the basketball game. We told him we were leaving and that we were going on to Seguin. He immediately told us that he was going through there that night on his way to scout the team they would play on Friday. He wanted to give us a ride. (A little confirmation that we had chosen the right city!) We accepted his offer, and met him that afternoon. Little did we know that he had a good friend in Seguin, and John had no intention of dropping us off “just anywhere.” We arrived at the wellness center where Dane, John’s friend, worked only to meet Dr. Bill Squires (Dane’s former professor from Texas Lutheran University and current teaching partner for one class at TLU) and his Uncle Ray. Dane (pictured with Ray) called Bill to see if we could stay the night with him. Chris and I were a little stunned at how fast it all happened without our knowing that any of it was going on… I had hoped to see the campus of TLU, but to actually meet a professor from there and get the inside scoop…I was shocked…almost speechless!

Bill and Ray (who was also a professor...of art) quickly took us to the grocery story and then to Bill’s condo to fix supper. We had a great Vietnamese style stir-fry…then (as if that wasn’t enough) Bill called one of his students, Andrew Traeger. He’s majoring in Biology, headed to grad school next year, then on to med school. Bill assured us that Andrew would also be a senator or the president someday. (Chris and I initially wondered at such a statement, but that was before we met Andrew!) When Andrew arrived, he talked with us and learned about what we were doing. (In the picture...l to r: CE, Dr. "Bill" Squires, Andrew, & Ray) He explained that he lived in New Braunfels at a place called T Bar M and that they did a lot with missions and sharing Christ through sports. (I stared in disbelief…this was the same place that the Kaspars told us about in Gonzales.) After chatting for a bit, Andrew stepped outside. (I thought he left but NO! Andrew was making phone calls.) He came back in to tell us that he felt sure that someone at T Bar M would like to meet with us on Friday and then he’d drive us to Stockdale or whatever town that we wanted to go to. I’m telling you…Chris & I felt like we were in a daze…we couldn’t believe how things were coming together. We agreed to meet Andrew the next day (Friday 2/23) at chapel and let him know what we planned to do from there.

Pictured below...Brian with his curling broom...we'd never met anyone who played, and we'd never even seen the sport except for on the we learned a little bit!!