Yesterday was my hubby’s birthday. His day. His choice of how he wanted to spend it. He decided he wanted to go on a long motorcycle ride together. It was a beautiful Colorado day so it sounded good to me.

It’s amazing how much thinking you can get in on the back of a motorcycle all day. There were no distractions, just the gentle breeze of the warm air as I leaned back and held on. No music was piped into my helmet and there was no way for me to constantly check my cell phone. At first I just took a deep breath and allowed myself to take in the beauty that surrounded me in the canyon as we headed to the hills. But then I found myself recounting the last few months. The ministry and life ups and downs reminded me of the constant curves we were encountering on the road.

May began with a trip to California to join dozens of other friends and co-laborers for the Youth Ministry Executive Council. The event didn’t disappoint. It was filled with great connections and fellowship. It inspired and refreshed me. Then, two days later I found out that a friend that I just shared a meal with there, Rebecca Long, had died in a tragic accident. She was 32 years old. What in the world? I still think about Rebecca a lot, praying for her family almost daily. I can’t even fathom their pain.

Next stop in May was a trip to Daytona Beach, FL to train trainers for the Assemblies of God. After years of talking about partnership and building a strong relational foundation, the dream of training trainers with D2S content to energize and equip exponentially was finally here. It went even better than expected and paved the way for a much needed week of vacation with my hubby. Still reflecting on Rebecca’s death, Rick and I headed out to sea.

June and July brought even more partnership “high’s” as we collaborated with Sonlife on their Muve events in Chicago and Portland and announced a full training partnership that includes multiple levels of cooperation in order to accelerate the vision for 30,000 Gospel Advancing Ministries by 2025. But right on the heels of that, I received news that my aunt has stage 4 bone cancer. Another hairpin curve. Does she know Jesus as her personal Savior? Will God provide a way for her to hear His redeeming message of hope through His Son? Am I to be the messenger that she needs? I find myself praying through these questions, waiting for His Spirit to lead me to answers.

Our own Lead THE Cause University went into its third year this summer with a brand new program, the addition of Core Trainers, and a soft launch to the youth leaders in attendance of the values of Gospel Advancing Ministries. It went great! There were a lot of moving parts, but I can honestly say all of the hard work paid off! Yet, there was one looming black cloud that kept that experience from being picture perfect. One of our hand-picked, solid, in-the-trenches-getting-it-done youth leaders fell morally. When the news came it hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. The wind still escapes me as I think about it and it eventually leads to a knot in my gut that makes me want to wrench, but then I remember that God is in control of ALL things and He doesn’t need my help.

I just returned from Columbus last week. It was a real blessing to see the folks we trained in May (affectionately known as “YAM’s” – Youth Alive Missionaries), training students to share their faith. Even more fun was experiencing the hunger for evangelism that is was so apparent in the 9,000+ students and youth leaders there. Many of the AG practices are well outside my comfort zone, but I still felt like I was truly among family. Then this morning, right before we left for our ride, I received a disappointing email. Another curve. I’d been working pretty hard on something that didn’t work out. At first it throws me off. But as I climb on the back of the bike and take a deep breath, I realize that this too, is just another curve.

It was a great day and I enjoyed the birthday ride with my hubby. I am so thankful for our strong marriage. Today, my son turns 30 years old! Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for even in the midst of the twists and turns!

I’m sure you’ve read the Biblical story about Moses taking on too much (Exodus 18:13). I think every leader can relate to his situation at some point in their career. It doesn’t take long for the issues to stack up in a growing ministry/business. Before you know it, you are surrounded “from morning til evening” just like Moses. I too have heard the figurative voice of Jethro in my head saying, “what you are doing is not good” and it has led to an intentional delegation and leadership development strategy.

However, effective delegation is just the beginning of this leadership challenge. As soon as you begin to feel comfortable delegating, you are then faced with another dilemma: in addition to dealing with escalated issues from those you have given authority, you also need to discern how best to spend the remainder of your time.

In his bestselling book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber states,

A true business opportunity is the one that an entrepreneur invents to grow him or herself. Not to work in, but to work on.

Mr. Gerber is obviously talking to the entrepreneur, but I truly believe that the opportunity exists for every senior leader in any organization as well. Gerber talks about how we need to wear three different ” hats ” in order to be successful and grow our business: that of technician, entrepreneur, and finally manager. Spend too much time wearing any one hat and it’s a recipe for disaster.

So, with that in mind, how much time should we spend “in” versus “on”?

First, it’s important to identify those activities that fall into each category. I recommend literally making a list. If the result of a task is a product or service that your organization provides for it’s constituents, then you should consider it an “in” activity. Any time spent thinking about what to do (as opposed to how) or building, planning, strategizing, or developing relationships other than your direct staff, can be considered “on” activities.

Chances are your list will surprise you. I know mine did. The “in” activities are typically our sweet spot. They allow us to demonstrate our gifting and work within our strengths. For this reason, those activities are super important. But if you are a business owner, ministry founder, or senior leader, I would encourage you to spend the majority of your time on average working on your “on” activities. Why? Because if you don’t it won’t be long before you will lose sight of the bigger picture and become caught up in what you are doing instead of your long-term vision.

Decide for yourself what ratio of in vs. on works for you. Maybe start with a 60/40 approach and see how it goes. Reevaluate after a month and see if you can push it to 70/30. Spending more time on vs. in is sure to pay off.

Jack is my nephew. He is the 14-year-old son of my youngest brother, Darin. He’ just about as tall as I am and has beautiful red hair. I remember rocking him in the backyard swing of my parent’s mountain home when he was a baby, singing softly to him to settle his crying when nothing else seemed to help. It was then that I knew something was wrong. My brother and his wife did everything they could to figure it out until finally he was diagnosed. Jack is autistic.

Although Jack cannot communicate verbally, it’s easy to tell when something makes him happy. He loves music and dancing and things that light up. Over the years I have enjoyed watching him grow and develop, in spite of the autism. Spending time with him reminds me that life is precious and helps me remember that simple things can bring joy.

Last February my brother made the 3-hour trek from Steamboat Springs to Loveland with Jack and his daughter Alex (then 15) to attend the Dare 2 Share conference. Both of us were uncertain of how Jack would respond to the large event and were concerned that the large event with thousands of teenagers would be too much for him. But, as Jack often does, he surprised us. Not only did he do okay, he seemed to be attentively listening to each and every word – for the entire two days! At to our amazement, he began to worship. Even though he had never even attended church before, Jack read the words on the screen and caught on quick to the melody, singing to the best of his ability. It moved me in ways I will never forget. Darin and I began to wonder if God had drawn Jack to Him. We had no way of knowing for sure.

It’s now a year later and Darin once again brought both teens to the Dare 2 Share conference, this time held in downtown Denver. One year older, Jack once again soaked up everything happening on stage. But then something happened during the prayer meeting finale Saturday night that blew all of us away. As the entire arena of 3,000 went down to their knees to pray to their God, Jack was right there with them. And this young man who can barely utter a please, thank you, or hello, proceeded to pray to His God for his mother and to “ask forgiveness for his memories.” As Darin and Alex overheard him praying they raised their heads and looked up startlingly at each other. Was Jack forming sentences? Was Jack talking with ease to God? Yes!

The next thing I knew Darin was pulling me into the aisle to tell me what was happening. We sat on the stairs and held each other and wept. Jack and the family had been through so much the last few weeks. As I gained some composure I turned my head to look down the aisle at Jack. There he was still head bowed, eyes closed, hands together, praying out loud to the Heavenly Father.

As we closed the prayer time with the song “The Great I Am”, Jack was as passionate as any other worshipper – it was obvious that he and The Great I Am had just had a connection. What an amazing God!

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Maybe you saw the movie. Or maybe you have seen the latest trend about this on Facebook. Whatever the case, this is more than just a cool phrase. It’s a way to express Christ’s love and be blessed at the same time. Yes, paying it forward isn’t just about the person you are blessing at the moment, it’s also about YOU. Let me explain…

Let’s face it, life is busy. It’s a day in and day out journey without a whole lot of “stop and smell the roses” moments. And even if you are lucky enough to get some margin for a pause, how quickly does the brain snap back to your to-do list?

Me? I feel like I could get an award for this lifestyle choice at times. I’m an activator, a doer, a “suck-it-up-and-get-it-done” type gal. Sometimes I even feel guilty if I’m not multi-tasking. I know, sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I know I need to change. At the depths of my heart I realize that I need to pay attention to what is going on around me and not be so consumed with my own agenda. So when I see examples of others “paying it forward” it jolts me out of my obsession for activity and checkmarks and reminds me that there are people out there waiting for some love.

In early January I had a one day trip scheduled to Springfield, MO for some very important meetings. You remember the crazy weather across the country at that time that was causing all sorts of havoc for air travel. Well, this “quick” trip quickly spiraled out of control and I found myself alone in the small, isolated Springfield airport after Midnight. The hotel shuttle wasn’t running because of the sub-zero temperatures and the only taxi company had just a few cars running. They were grumpy and backlogged and could only promise another 45 minute wait. That’s when I met David. He was on the same flight as me and needed a taxi too. We commiserated and ended up walking the airport (short walk) looking for options together. Nothing. So, we decided to wait. As we were talking an older looking gentleman approached us and asked if we were waiting on a taxi. It seemed like this guy just came out of nowhere. He told us he had a cab coming in just a few minutes and offered to share it with both of us. As we stood and waited together I found out that he was a doctor for at-risk babies. We had an interesting few minutes all sharing about what we did for a living before the taxi showed up. Dr. Jeffrey quickly explained to the taxi driver that I needed to be dropped off first because “I had important work to do.” Apparently he had resonated with my explanation of the ministry I was involved and wanted to take care of me. Wow! When we pulled up to my hotel, Dr. Jeffrey immediately told me to not worry about the fare and to just pray for him and David. What a blessing! Of course I would be honored to pray for both of them. We exchanged cards and I was on my way. In my room that night (morning) I thanked God for these men. It’s been about six weeks since I met them and I am still praying for them consistently.

A major example of living a “pay it forward” life is my husband. He’s the strong, silent type but don’t let that fool you. Underneath that tough guy exterior is a man who is well aware of the hurting around him and he quietly will be looking for ways to bless and serve. Any recognition for these small gestures and he quickly fades into the background. You get the impression that he just wants a subtle acknowledgement and then hopes that others will do the same. For instance, just the other day he noticed a senior eating breakfast all alone at our favorite restaurant. He called our waiter over and told him to get us his bill but not to let him know who was taking care of it. I’ve seen him do this many times, so I wasn’t surprised at all. It’s one of the things I admire about him and, like I said, it provokes me to think about paying more attention to things outside my own “world.” Normally this is handled quietly and there isn’t much hoopla. But not this time. The wait staff, most of which we know by name, were so impressed they kept coming by and commenting about it to Rick. This made him incredibly uncomfortable but it made me think about how this one small act was also affecting all of them. Not only was this man blessed, but the dozen or so staff there that day were blessed and so was I.

If you think about it, do something for someone around you who needs a hand. And if you can, do it when no one is watching.

I first heard about this concept a year or so ago but just recently have given it some major attention. As I headed toward the end of a pretty tumultuous year I was ready to hit the reset button in a big way. It wasn’t that I was filled with regret. It was just that it was a hard year, that’s all. So I wondered about the best way to make a fresh start and I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of developing a set of “resolutions”.

Then right before the flurry of Christmas activity I read a blog about the One Word concept and it jogged my memory. So I looked a little closer and decided to go for it. You can find out more by going to http://www.getoneword.com. My goal for this blog is to give you a little bit of background as to why I chose the word I chose, not to sell you on the one word concept.

My word for 2014 is… PRAYER.

Now, it may seem like a no-brainer to you but I want you to know it took me a bit to commit to it. The idea is to choose one word that will transform your life and that’s a pretty daunting challenge. I thought about it for a long time and then really asked God to give me the word that would really transform me.

Maybe this word is so appropriate because of the difficult year I’ve had, I’m not sure. It is definitely the right word for me for 2014 though, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s not that I’ve been struggling with prayer – I absolutely love to pray and find myself uttering little mini-prayers to God all day long. I’ve also began trying to implement something the whole staff at Dare 2 Share is doing – The Daniel Challenge – praying 3x a day on your knees for revival among teens. I would say that prayer is currently a big part of my life.

The one thing that stood out as I was searching for just ONE word was that it needed to be a word that, if I truly focused on it all year long, would make me a different person when I looked back a year from now. From the bottom of my being, I honestly believe that prayer will do this. It’s going to be a great year!

By the way, if you haven’t read The Spiritual Secret about the life and ministry of Hudson Taylor, you should pick it up and put it on your 2014 reading list. It’s well worth the time.

It’s that time of year. The Colorado weather is constantly changing and it’s impossible to keep the outside of the car clean. So I stocked up on that helpful blue liquid that squirts on to the windshield from some secret place under the hood just to be sure that I can push a button and magically be able to see where I’m going. Yep, seeing where I’m going is pretty stinking important.

But sometimes the magic blue liquid just isn’t enough. The two semi-circle openings clear the way for me to see okay, but there comes a point when I just need to completely clean the entire surface in order to get a clearer picture of where I am headed. That’s how life can be at times too. Especially over the holiday season. I have been rushing from one thing to the next, clearing the way for me to just see through.

But now it’s time to clean off the entire pane of glass and gain some perspective. It’s 2014 and I believe that God has some great adventures in store for me. I just need to stop for a minute and clean the windshield.

Good Enough. Does this phrase evoke a strong opinion from you or does it simply state how you live your life? I remember the first time I had to really confront this phrase professionally. My husband and I were living in the Silicon Valley and were both employed by high-tech firms. The organization that employed him had gone through several RIF’s (Reduction In Force) and the CEO brought together the remainder of the global staff for the infamous “all hands” gathering that follows these happenings. His speech began with the usual… the state of the economy and the market… blah, blah, blah. But then he proceeded to declare that the company’s mantra for the future was to be, yep you guessed it, “Good Enough.” My husband was confused and perplexed. Was the CEO asking him and the remaining employees to produce sub-standard work? Or was the leader of this worldwide technology firm trying to justify their additional workload?

That was over 20 years ago. Since then I have had to wrestle with this phrase and the meaning of it many, many times. As a perfectionist, just typing the words make me cringe. Deep down inside my gut tells me that the extra effort it takes to get to perfection is worth every second. But through experience I have seen the devastating results of striving to achieve this standard, especially as a leader. I have pushed hard and expected the same from my team. This expectation has caused resentment and burnout. I have lost quality team members because they felt like they could never live up.

In response, I tried to lighten up a little. But just when I thought I was closing in on mastering my perfectionist tendencies, I was confronted with members of the team who won’t accept “good enough” either! This little phrase raises havoc with their work ethic and their commitment to produce only the best. So I find myself trying to explain something I’m not even sure I’ve fully bought into. Now I know how that CEO felt!
It was time for some serious soul-searching. What exactly did I expect of myself and my team? Here’s what my reflection time revealed:

Quality Does Count – producing excellent work is not only something to strive for, it’s something to be proud of as well. Start every project as if it were your last and ask God to navigate you through the details of what to hold on to and what to let go of as design, develop, and deliver.

Excellence is NOT Perfection – choices, choices, choices. Pushing for perfection could not only kill your people, it can also kill your project. It’s a proven fact that it takes 80% of the effort to product that last 20% to reach this standard. Learn how to recognize excellent work and focus on the major aspects of the project, not the minor details. The ability to recognize the difference will be a major sign of strong leadership. It will help you retain your quality team and will keep your project on deadline.

Just Start Already – don’t over think it. How often have you missed an opportunity because you were waiting to make sure you had all of your “ducks in a row.” Gather as much data as you can, make sure you have a clear vision for the final, and then dig in. You don’t want to waste your time or anyone else’s, but chances are that you really do know what you need to know by just trusting your instinct. Remember the quote from George S. Patton, “A good plan violently executed today is better than the perfect plan next week.”

Be Flexible – almost always the project ends up looking slightly different at the end of the day. The only way to allow creative improvements is to create space within the timeline to evaluate and adapt.

It’s crazy to think that two simple little words can cause so much trouble. But honestly, figuring out what is “good enough” and when and how to address this with your team, is a huge leadership hurdle. If you don’t believe me, check out these wise words from one of the best: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/12/no-one-reads-a-comic-because-its-drawn-well.html

For the last two decades, I have been responsible for developing healthy partnerships for the ministry I serve, Dare 2 Share. During that time I have experienced more than my share of missteps and misunderstandings. It’s probably one of the most difficult areas of my role to navigate – yet, I love it! I love the creativity it requires to build a win/win for both sides of the relationship and I take on the challenge of communicating expectations with a smile because of the opportunity it provides to cultivate deep, lasting friendships along the way.

These years of experience have also served as a ‘refining fire’ of what to do and what not to do in the area of partnerships and I’m hoping that these lessons help you and save you some time:

Lots of friends, but only a few partners – There is a difference between an endorsement and a partnership. An endorsement is a strong recommendation for a person, product, place, company, etc. Most often an endorsement is spontaneous and unsolicited. Exchanging reciprocal endorsements does not constitute a partnership. It implies that you are friends and that you have a mutual respect for each other. My neighbor is my friend. He has a great lawn, can give you tips on how to garden and will lend you a power tool in a pinch. My husband is my partner. He and I are in it for the long haul and we don’t just live in the same house, we are building a home together. I encourage you to have a lot of friends but to choose your partners carefully and prayerfully.

Do something together that you can’t do alone – Look at the marriage metaphor again. Without my husband, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the vision for building a home that both he and I share. Neither one of us could do it alone. When you choose a partner, create a vision to do something together that leverages what both of you are great at in order to forge a new thing that couldn’t be done without each other. And if you can’t build something new together, than make sure that you make each other better in a way that makes sense. In ministry, a strong partnership also advances the Kingdom in exponential ways. Ask questions like, “Will the partnership help both ministries advance the Kingdom faster and further?” “Does this relationship add value to my offer or accelerate its success? If the answer is yes, then you have the beginning of a great partnership.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver – Be clear about what you bring to the table. Don’t offer to promote the other everywhere if you aren’t willing to do that every time you open your mouth. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this. I’ve actually had to tell the prospective partner that I “wasn’t interested” because of how quickly they offered to “include us in everything they do”. Seriously? How can you promise that? Either you should be working for me instead of XYZ, or you are setting me up for some heavy-duty disappointment. Just refuse to go there. Believe me, it’s worth it. Force the potential partner to qualify and quantify and then put it all on paper. And do the same for them. Then, over deliver. No one ever complains if you do more than you planned and it goes a long way toward a long-term relationship.

Identify the KPI – Determine a set of mutually agreed upon key performance indicators. It’s best if these are measurable markers of whatever you are building together, but they don’t all have to be completely quantifiable. Just make sure that you have at least one absolutely objective indicator and then feel free to add one or two more that you both feel good about. Just keep in mind that the more subjective, the more you will need to define. Ask questions early in the negotiating like, “What does success really look like?”

Switch sides – Just like in volleyball, you gain a different perspective when you cross over to the other side. Switch sides and see if you both still agree it’s a win/win. If there’s any doubt at all, make suggestions to make it equitable. Remember a win/lose for you is even worse than a lose/lose so don’t try to get the upper hand. No sustainable partnership is built that way.
Check-in early and often – This builds relational equity and provides space for adaptation. Are you making amazing progress toward that vision that you defined together? Sometimes circumstances change and you realize there is a better way to get there. Often, you learn a few things early as you are working together and you need to fold some of those learnings into the plan. Either way, take the lead. Ask questions and listen earnestly. I’ve never had a time when this was not reciprocated.

Honest transparency– Partners don’t need to know your dirty laundry or be included on your confidential correspondence, but they do need to know enough ‘insider information’ in order to serve you. If you’ve done your homework beforehand and chosen the partner carefully, you know you can trust them. They should be on the top of the list of disclosure – right after your team members. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage discretion. But be honest and explain the good, the bad, and the ugly. Chances are they can help and if nothing else, will offer support and prayer.

Clarify, clarify, clarify – From the very first conversation and at every step along the way, clarify. Look for clues that acknowledge your intent in communicating both verbally and in writing. Do the same for them. Repeat their expectations back to them. If you don’t get a response that looks a lot like, “Wow, you really understand what I’m saying!” then try again. Even if it feels absurd. Clarity is worth fighting for.

Don’t be afraid to pull the plug – Even great beginnings must have an end. If you sense things are winding down, work together with the partner to develop an exit strategy. Ideally, you both are sensing the timing is right and it’s time to move on. But frankly, this rarely happens. I don’t want to be Debbie downer, but because we all as human beings naturally avoid perceived ‘pain’ this usually doesn’t get going until after it’s too late. So what do you do? My advice would be to keep your ‘radar’ on and if you’re really on top of the above principles you may, if you’re lucky, handle this seamlessly. But in any case, you HAVE to be able to say when. If you’re someone who can’t handle pulling the plug, then you aren’t the right person to manage partnerships.

Well, that’s just about everything I know. I truly hope it’s helpful. One last caution… I’ve found that the word ‘partner’ means a lot of things to a lot of people. I haven’t looked it up for a number if official definitions but I’m certain that there are more than a handful. Use the term sparingly and you will protect yourself (and whoever you represent) from a lot of misunderstandings. And remember, very often, two really are better than one.

 For over a decade, representatives from our close ministry partner, Compassion International, have been asking me to join them to visit one of their projects in the field. I consistently turned down their generous offer again and again because I felt like I couldn’t be more convinced that the work they were doing was necessary and productive for the Kingdom. I truly believed that there wasn’t any reason for me to personally experience their work – I was already “in.” But I was wrong. I’ll explain why in this and the next few blog posts.

 Every year I work closely with Compassion to develop a compelling presentation for our student training conferences. This year a young lady named Katie Payne is joining our tour to tell her story. Katie’s testimony, along with her infectious personality and passion for those less fortunate, provided a new and fresh perspective for presenting Compassion at the conferences. And it just so happened that one of Katies’s sponsored children lived in Guatemala. So that’s how I ended up deciding to travel with the team to Santa Avelina.

 Compassion took care of all the logistics for a short trip (Sunday-Friday) to this remote mountainous town to capture on film Katie and Norma’s first meeting. My unofficial role was to accompany Katie and provide support and encouragement throughout the 6 days. That seemed easy enough. I still didn’t think the trip was a necessity for me but I did have a sense that God was preparing me for a new friendship with Katie and I was really looking forward to sharing this experience with her.

 The preparations for the trip were more than I anticipated and as it turned out the timing wasn’t great either. Several projects were still in process at home and at work as the departure date approached so I found myself a bit stressed about leaving. But as soon as my flight out of Denver left the ground, a I had a strong sense of peace knowing that there was a team of folks praying. I was really excited to see what God had in store.

 When I arrived in Houston to meet the rest of the team I found out quickly that two of our small group of five were delayed due to airplane mechanical problems. Neither one of them would be able to get in to Guatemala City until the next day. We were on a tight travel schedule but it was looking like we would have to try to make up for the half day delay somewhere else in the itinerary. So Katie, me, and Tim our Compassion rep went on ahead and arrived in Guatemala about 9:30 Sunday evening.

 We were met by Myra, our in country liaison for the trip. I couldn’t help but like Myra right from the moment I met her. She was so welcoming and loving right from the start. And even though we were travel weary, she made sure that we had everything we needed and knew everything we needed to know. Even crazy little details like, “we don’t flush our toilet paper here so there will be a basket next to the toilet for you to put it in” and “you need to use the bottled water we provide for you to brush your teeth.”  Compassion knew what they were doing, and Myra represented them well. She instructed us that we should have a leisurely morning the next day since we needed to wait for the rest of the team. She agreed to meet us for breakfast and then we would stop and visit the country office before heading to the airport.

 Our hotel that evening was amazingly beautiful, a 5-star location with all the luxuries you’d expect plus a unique Central American charm with candlelit gardens and expansive decor. I was impressed and was looking forward to a good night’s rest in our more than comfortable surroundings.

 The next day we did exactly what we were told – we took our time, had a wonderful breakfast, and then headed out on the mini-bus. We knew that this was not going to be the pace of the rest of the trip because we were already behind schedule and also had to plan a new driving route because a major road had been severely damaged by a mud slide, adding hours to our already long bus ride.

 The country office was educational and it was great to meet the many people behind the scenes to ensure that the 187 Compassion projects in the country were well managed. We learn that Compassion only partners with local churches in their projects. I love the strategy behind the ministry. It truly is brilliant. I was humbled by the offices practical setup and blessed by the people we met. The security system was extreme, bullet-proof doors with a fingerprint requirement for entry, reminding me of the danger they faced day in and day out just coming to the office to do ministry. I take so much for granted in my cozy corner in suburbia!

 It’s easy to recognize that there is a crime problem in the city as men with machine guns are standing outside of every retail establishment – something business owners invest in themselves for protection Myra tells me. The traffic is chaotic and loud as hundreds of motorcycles buzz like bees around every other vehicle trying to push its way to its destination. I see Policia all over the place but wonder how effective they really are in light of the situation. I was excited to get out of the city.

 At the airport we encounter yet another challenge, one of the equipment bags is MIA. As we brainstorm solutions it finally shows up and we load up and head out, just a few more hours behind.

 The delays have created another challenge as well since the roads are too dangerous to travel at night. We will have to find another place to stay along the way. Myra works closely with Sandra at the country office and we end up in a small mountain town with some crazy long name I couldn’t even think about pronuncing. The guys plan for dinner but Katie and I decide to settle for a Cliff bar and some girl talk since we had a great breakfast (crepes with caramel and Nutella) and a late and filling lunch (local fare with tortilla making at a cavern-type restaurant along the way).

 Now our second night as roommates we’ve settled into our routine. Katie and I quickly bonded and were able to share stories as well a few laughs. What a wonderful friend for life! Yes, this was going to be a great trip!

 The next day was the first of many bright and early mornings (although I don’t think we realized that at the time). You really do learn a lot about people when you encounter them at “unGodly hours” (as Katie says). That, along with our many, many hours on the bus, gave each of us some remarkable insights about each other. I’d give examples but I’d be breaking our bond if I shared those with outsiders. I will give away a few of our made-up nicknames for each other though…

 Inspired by the seven dwarfs:

 Sleepy – Mark because he has tha uncanny ability to sleep anytime, anywhere.

 Doc – Tim, chosen for his “take charge” personality.

 Sneezy – Katie who has the most understated sneeze in the world.

 Happy – Nic because he goofing around even when he’s sleep-deprived.

 Dopey – that would be me… I always seemed to be “stepping in something”.

 The next portion of our journey through the mountains of Quiche (pronounced kee-chay) proved to be just as exciting. Twists, curves, switchbacks, bumpy roads due to mud…. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t car sick! The scenery is beautiful as the mountains are green and lush and it’s surprising how the people have planted maize anywhere there is soil, even on the steepest of inclines.

 The people of the region are poor and without modern transportation so I quickly become accustomed to seeing old men with piles of timber tied to their backs and women in Mayan costumes with baskets balancing on their heads walking on the side of the road. And it wasn’t unusual at all to see super young children roadside unsupervised. You would never see this in the States. Omar tells me that the different colors and patterns of the Mayan skirts and blouses identify the many different dialects, but I still don’t understand why it’s only the women and children who wear the traditional clothing.

 We pass through several small mountain towns that offer a glimpse of life there. They remind me of some of the depressed towns I have seen in Mexico. The people are curious about the bus, but busy with their everyday chores so not paying too much attention to us. Katie enjoys waving to them and they seem to enjoy waving back at her. There are homeless dogs all over the place that no one pays any attention to – they just run around and stay out of the way of traffic.

 The last 45 minutes we are on a one lane dirt road, heading deep into the woods. Finally, we reach the small village of Santa Avelina. The bus pulls up to the project and Nic (our videographer) jumps off the bus to be sure he captures Katie and Norma’s first encounter. I wasn’t quite prepared for what was to happen next…

  The bus was met by a crowd of locals, all dressed in their best and super excited to see us. The project had never been visited before, either because it was a relatively new project or because of how remote they were, but either way this was a very special time for them and we could tell.

 Katie takes no more than one step off the bus and Norma is right there to meet her. She looks so happy and beautiful and Katie is absolutely beaming with joy as she hugs the little girl that she’s been sponsoring since May. Although I was taking pictures, it’s hard not to be moved by the moment. This is something I am never going to forget and I am so excited for Katie! The entire team is ushered in quickly to the church since we arrived many hours later than they had expected. What I notice immediately is that Mark and Tim are completely surprised by the elaborate decorations in the church. They look at me and tell me that this is very unusual and as I look around I can understand why.

 The entire floor of the church is covered with fresh pine needles. There are dozens of palm branches literally stapled to the walls. Twine is strung from corner to corner and flowers and greenery are hanging about every 6 inches. There is a giant homemade banner of greeting in front of the modest stage and it seems as though the entire village is here. Myra motions for us to quickly take a seat and leans over and whispers that this is the first time she has ever seen anything like this. Pine needles on the ground is done for Christmas, but that’s about it.

 What follows next was such a blessing it’s hard to describe it in words. The children, including Norma, all dressed in white, have memorized a presentation of praise and dance with special homemade candles and props. Myra interprets some of the lyrics and I realize how much these children authentically love their Lord. As if that wasn’t enough, one of the staff there named Isaias, who lived in the US for a few years, joins the women and they sing “Lord, I lift Your Name On High” in both Spanish and English. Another very special moment since I know many of these women only speak the local dialect, Ixil. This is followed by an inspiring sermon by the local pastor based on the parable of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. There’s something very authentic and joyful about this pastor and my heart is moved by his words.

 The next activity is a celebration lunch for us with the staff and Norma and her family. We head upstairs to find six small classrooms, a common area, a small office that also doubles as a pantry and food prep area and a teeny, tiny room that serves as their “kitchen.” There is a large cement basin in the corner of the common area that has a faucet as well. I am asked if I want to help serve and I immediately jump in to help.

 In the office there is a woman sitting on the floor in front of a large alumni bucket filled with what looks like tamales wrapped in twine. She begins handing them to us and we unwrap the leaves and find pieces of chicken and spices inside. The leaves are spread out on to the plastic dishes and the leaves are trimmed with shears. It’s quite a messy ordeal, but everyone waits patiently in the common room. After the chicken is squash flower soup, rice and vegetables, all served on small Styrofoam plates. I can sense this is a feast for them. I choose to sit with the women teachers and a translator and they tell me more about what they do there. They were so loving and caring, I truly admire their dedication to teach the children.

 The children arrive soon and we get to spend some time watching them in their classrooms. I can tell that they love to learn and that the teachers there are committed to teaching solid Bible content. I am impressed with the way that they are able to do so much with so little. The rooms are so small that the children’s desks are literally squeezed in right next to each other but they don’t seem to mind, they are fully engaged in what’s happening. The walls are very thin and the roof is just a sparse tin roof so the teacher’s practically have to yell in order to be heard over the noise of the other classrooms. It just doesn’t matter though – the kids are so enthusiastic!

 As we question the staff we learn that their limited space has kept them from opening up more opportunities for more children. They have already received a lot of help and building materials from the community and are trying to get more. Compassion rarely helps with building space, dedicating the majority of the funds to assist the children directly, so the staff have their work cut out for them. As I leave the project I pray for God’s provision.

 It’s late afternoon and the team wants to take the 20-minute hike to the waterfall that provides the village its water supply in order to capture some more film footage. So we head out with a few of our new friends, along with Norma’s whole family, to visit the waterfall.

 The hike begins easy enough. There is a narrow, but well traveled trail on the side of the mountain that doesn’t seem to be terribly steep. But about 10-minutes into the trek, the trail becomes steeper and muddier. Okay, I think to myself, no big deal, just follow the rest of these folks. And Norma’s mother has a skirt on with cheap plastic sandals, so surely it can’t get too bad.

 It soon starts to rain and the already muddy trail starts getting muddier. My tennis shoes are soaked and coated with mud. Norma’s mother climbs the trail without effort and doesn’t have any problem with her footing, even in sandals. We get to the waterfall and it’s all worth it. It’s breathtaking! A few minutes are spent capturing the moment with Katie and Norma and then we turn to head back.

 One of the locals decides to try a different route and it’s so steep that I keep having to stop to get my breath. This holds up everyone behind me but they are all gracious. I begin to wonder if I am going to have a heart attack and die – right there on the side of a mountain in Guatemala.

 The trail leads us to the village cemetery and then it begins to not just rain, but POUR. We rush to find cover and end up standing in an open half-finished cinderblock structure. I’m glad to be out of the rain but have no idea where we are.

 I quickly find out that we are in the home of Isaias. His English is good so he explains to us that he went to Florida for seven years to make enough money to come back and build a home of his entire family. He is 23 years old. He points to a tight little stairwell and we follow him down to see his current living space. We meet his parents, his brother and sister-in-law and their three children, all of whom live there with him. Back upstairs we see an old table saw and stacks of wood that he will use to finish the space. I am so impressed with this young man. His heart is so genuine and he works so hard. Along with working on his house he is also a translator for Compassion and the bookkeeper at the project.

 We finally return to the project and say our goodbyes. We are wet and tired and it’s been an emotionally draining day but we are glad we get to return tomorrow.