Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Newsletter and big updates!

Hello everyone!  I want to share an experience that I recently had in Aikido that related directly and very heavily with my faith, but it requires a bit of background information to make sense in context.  As such, please bear with me and read to the end of this update (I also have some big news later in it)!

Back in January, I took my nidan (or second degree black belt) test in Aikido.  In our association, it takes many years to be ready for such a test; I had been training around 12 to 13 years at the point I took mine.  Testing is done at national headquarters in front of the Chief Instructor of our association (Toyoda Sensei) and several other high-ranking individuals.  The test itself involves using Aikido self-defense techniques against whatever attacker they pick at the time (they’ll pick several different ones to execute different attacks) at full speed—showing not only clean techniques but a large variety and an ability to adapt to the strength, speed, and size of whoever is attacking you.  It also involves disarming an armed attacker from several different attacks,  defending oneself on one’s knees against multiple standing (unarmed) attackers, and defending oneself against multiple standing attackers (while standing oneself) at the very end.  They usually last between 25 and 45 minutes and has very few, if any, pauses to catch one’s breath.

The day of my test, I had a lightly injured knee and wrist (I found out later that I had some slight ligament and tendon tears; they have since healed), but I wasn’t really nervous in my mind or heart.  However, the morning of my test I could tell that either my subconscious or my body was nervous, because I awoke early and tense in my cot, unable to go back to sleep.  I headed out to a nearby 24-hour restaurant (around 5AM local time) and sat down, ordering a good full breakfast as my body would need resources later in the day.  At the table, I began my daily prayer/centering/meditation time after placing my order.  It took initial effort, but as I prayed I began to relax into awareness of God’s presence more and more.  During my prayer, I felt that I needed to be in my ‘Sabbath’ mindset and very present in each moment during the day as it occurred, so I started attempting that.
By way of explanation, my “Sabbath’ mindset is the attitude and perspective that I seek to embody during my weekly Sabbath.  It is way of thinking that tries to be relaxed and unworried, appreciating all of the little things around me that I frequently ignore or miss in the busy-ness of a regular work day.  For instance, I daily eat eggs and often have a coffee in the morning, but I’m usually multi-tasking by thinking about the day, talking with Tella (my wife), doing dishes while the eggs are cooking, etc.  During my Sabbath, I try to relax and just enjoy the little things—the smell of the coffee as it brews, the heat of it in the mug in my hands, the cool little wisps of steam rising off it.  I also really love the taste of coffee, so I enjoy it, and I thank God for all of the little things I’m often unaware of and the little ways He blesses me daily.  It’s attempting to embody that perspective and thankfulness over the course of the day. 

As I sought to do this the day of my exam, I had a lot of things that I was able to appreciate.  It also opened up some conversation options and opportunities to love others/serve the Kingdom of God that I might have missed; for instance, at a cultural event that morning we were making mochi (pounded rice desserts), and I was able to chat with a new intern at the Japanese cultural center for nearly an hour about her life, goals, dreams, and faith.  I was also able to share some of mine and get into a decent faith discussion, too.  It may or may not have had a lasting impact on her in any way (I don’t know that it did), but it is an opportunity that I would have completely missed if I had been inwardly focused on the exam and stressing out about the future that was a few hours away yet.  As I was aware of this, I reflected that sometimes stress and worry seek to steal our ‘present’ now in addition to affecting us at the actual moment we’re worried about, and that as a Christian I shouldn’t allow that.  There’s a reason the Bible says to ‘worry not about anything’ but instead ‘pray in everything’.  It turns a potential for darkness to steal our ability to serve God and be at peace in the now into an opportunity to sink into God and His peace and connect to Him as we deal with it and grow.  What a blessing, huh?

Anyway, I was able to better and better be in the now and in peace—seeking to find opportunities to love others (I had a chance to call my wife and listen to what was happening with her, help make things run smoother in our group, and do other things because I was just in the now). 
As the moment approached and we were in our second hour of practice on the mats at the dojo, I felt stress begin to rise and I prayed.  As I did, something internally changed.  I usually have several perspectives that I know intellectually aren’t true but that emotionally I cannot help but feel.  Some of these include feeling like my Aikido does not work the same at national headquarters as it does elsewhere, feeling that the Aikido at national headquarters is somehow different and much better than my own (even though they’ve taught me mine and it’s very similar), feeling stressed about being evaluated by my superiors and unable to be free in my true Aikido, but instead being stuck in a performance mode that is self-evaluating and strategizing and trying to look as good as I can.  All of these things heavily get in the way of being free on the mat and of demonstrating where I really am—there’s also a fear that I’ll be unable to demonstrate where I really am.  As these things began to rise within me and I prayed, it was kind of like the peace of our dojo (training location in Hays) fell into this place.  I feel God’s presence heavily at the dojo at home (partly because I pray there often as do others, which lends a peace to the place, partly because it has students I love and care about in it, partly because when I practice there I’m trying to embody Christ and Aikido principles in everything).  As my peace from home seemed to invade Tenshinkan (the national headquarters training hall), I felt like I was finally able to be myself there—that it was just another location, and more importantly that my usual spiritual connection that I have to God that can be disrupted when I am putting all of my energy to performing correctly (which makes me perform incorrectly) was strong and intact for the first time ever in Tenshinkan.  As I prepared to test, I felt close to God without worry breaking that—I felt the ability to listen to others and be aware of others and love others like I often do in my ministry work.  As the test began, I was free to be the actual me—connected to my very core in Christ—and in the moment that was in front of me (the one person attacking me) not worried about my endurance, stamina, strategy, variety, performance, or even the test itself overall.  I just listened spiritually to the person in front of me, stayed connected to myself, and was free to be my usual Aikido/Christian self.  It was excellent.

It was also strange, because at the end I had no idea how I’d done overall.  Usually I am gauging my performance as I go—in this instance, I just was (or one could say I just was me).  I noted when things didn’t go as I wished, but I adapted and moved on leaving it behind.  I noted when things went well, but when they were in the past they were already done, and they had not hold on me in the present.  It was very disconcerting to have no idea of how I did at the end and also to have a ton of excess energy.  In the little sprints in the test I’d become fatigued, but my training style recently had lent to a very large overarching stamina (as long as I get just a short recovery break—a minute or two at most), so though I’d been exhausted in a couple of sections, overall I still felt like I could go for quite awhile. 

Standing there in that place, I let go of the reflections that I had no control over and tried to calm my physically exhausted body while moving back into the present and being connected to God and those around me (near the end, I had lost connection a bit—just due to physical exhaustion, not due to stress as would usually have been the case). 

It doesn’t leave with a big triumphant moment or crazy testimonial—except that I was truly free during that test.  Technically there are things that I may or may not have liked, but it may always be my favorite test because of how free I was under what is often tremendous pressure.  That state of freedom is what truly embodying Aikido is all about, and it’s what truly embodying CHRIST is all about.  We may not be physically attacked in life frequently, but life itself hits us with stresses, pain, bad situations, and ‘attacks’ all the time.  I find when I am able to be free in Christ like I was on the mat, those negative things lose their power to impact me as much and an opportunity arises for God to turn the situation to good in some way (my growth or the growth of others, or the chance to see a window to love someone else).  I wanted to share this story to encourage you all—please pray and see where you may be letting worry or stresses or circumstances hold you down, and please ask God to help you let go and turn those things over to Him so you can be free—both for yourself (it is much more peaceful even if things still hurt) and for the Kingdom (it’s one of the MAIN PLACES we can grow in and help love others/help them grow).  I know that I’m still praying that I can accomplish that myself!

Speaking of which, I received a chance to practice embodying those same principles again a couple weeks later when I found out that I had been accepted to be a live-in Aikido student of Kobayashi Shihan (one of the older living students—80 years old—of the founder of Aikido).  He’s very impressive—not only is he still technically astute at 80—he throws his students and takes falls from his students—but he very much embodies doing Aikido with joy and life and energy (which is a very big passion of mine, if you can’t tell).  It’s a rare opportunity that not everyone gets, and in addition I had the chance to do it with less expense than is usual due to some other circumstance.  Coupled with the fact that he may retire any year and that it may be my only chance to train under him (and that I could potentially make it work at this point in life but probably could not later), it was quite an impressive opportunity.   As such, Tella and I had been praying over it heavily for some months before I applied in October.  You see, if I was accepted (not many people get to train under him that way), I essentially must accept it—so the application itself was really about praying over whether to do it or not as my acceptance would mean I was doing it.  Then the news came that I had been accepted!

This left me just a few short weeks to outsource all of my ministry work, dojo work, and work at The Gamers Guild for a 7-week trip that would have me mostly living East of Tokyo and travelling between Aikido schools to train under him (between 20-30 hours a week of training, sometimes more, in addition to likely 40-60 hours of cleaning, cultural classes, other classes and duties, etc.).  The stress of outsourcing all of my work was tremendous, so I had to re-embody the principles that I’d been learning—especially this last week as I neared my departure date and things kept piling onto each other more and more (such as the need to do my taxes now instead of in March when I usually would).  There are several times that I succeeded and a few that I at least partially failed, but I was able to keep training at resting, centering into God’s peace and the Holy Spirit in the now, keeping Kingdom priorities top over the urgent, and living as I prepared.  Ultimately, I was able to leave Hays with most everything that was critical done and the rest do-able over the Internet during the very early part of my stay.  I’m typing this now from an airplane that has departed the U.S. and is on its way to Narita airport in Japan (though I’ll likely edit this and actually send it out once I land and have wifi access, and my epically awesome, loving wife will be helping by printing  off physical copies and mailing them to you). 

As I embark on this journey, I wanted to ask you, my ministry supporters, to please pray for me and especially for Tella,  Not only is this the longest that we’ve been physically apart in marriage, but it also is extra work for her and (in a nontraditional sense) a sabbatical for me.  It’s also a growth opportunity for everyone whom I’ve left behind in charge of various dojo, ministry, and Guild tasks (and I hope and pray that they do get to grow while I’m gone—much of my preparations involved setting things up so they could take over for a time and so that they’d have the best chance of growing and gaining from doing so while I was gone).  Please pray that Tella and I have peace, hear the Holy Spirit, and grow and advance Kingdom ministry wherever we are at and that those who are behind grow and advance Kingdom ministry, too (whether they realize they are or not).  I’d also request prayer for clarity for both of us—part of the idea of this trip now is that we both will be in prayer to better hear God’s voice and direction when it comes to some larger ministry and life decisions we have to make.  In 9 years of ministry, I have not had such a long break from having to handle the day-to-day.  Though I will be VERY busy in Japan, I will also be separated from much of what is going on back home and able to pray, listen, and reflect more clearly.  I’ll also have a lot of reflection time due to all the cleaning and duties involved in living here (when I’m able to mentally focus on praying and listening).  Please pray that this time is fruitful for God’s work and for us, and thank you for your support in prayer, and for some of you in financially supporting the ministry. 
If you want to follow my journey while I’m here, you can read my updates at this website (  I will be posting some of my experiences and reflections on it (along with photos of life in Japan).  The main point of that website is to keep Tella updated and connected with me as I journey over here and she is the main audience, but I’m also fine with friends, family, and those I love (or whomever they feel the desire to share it with) also joining in and reading them, if they wish.  Though they are written for just a few people, I’m fine with God using them however He does.

One final small note—if any of you has free storage available or know of someone who does, one of the homeless guys who is connected to our ministry is looking to store some items there.  Keep in mind that it may be very long term but that it also would help him out.
Thanks again for your prayers, and remember to stay free and open in Christ to Kingdom opportunities that may be right in front of you.  Don’t let stress steal your present, but live in peace and joy in the moment, loving others and serving with Christ in the Kingdom.  I love you all, but He loves you even more and better; thanks for being connected to me and all believers through Him!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


I noticed something small and strange the other day that encouraged me.  I'd been feeling like the Unite Free Store had not been getting much usage in the previous month, but then I noticed the gloves.  A store nearby had too many of too many wrong sizes and had given them to us to distribute.  Even though less than  a month had gone by, instead of two Wal-Mart bags full of gloves, we had only two pairs left.  That's a lot of people--more than I realized--in a very short amount of time.  Thank God for using circumstances for the good of many and for helping me realize how frequently he used something right in front of my face without me knowing it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

God's Timing

Sometimes time seems to work out in inexplicably good ways.  I don't always attribute that to God; I'm pretty sure sometimes it's just coincidence.  Sometimes, though, I suspect God may have a hand in things timing out just right.

The other day was a great example.  I was in the middle of a very busy set of errands; it was Aikido camp week, and I teach a little over 6 hours most days with the usual duties of running a ministry and The Gamers Guild in between.  Near the tail end of my set of errands with only a couple more to do before I had to be back to teach, a fellow was walking up the sidewalk.  This fellow was previously homeless, but a different individual in ministry had helped him find an apartment.  He'd been looking for jobs for awhile and was in a small group that I lead.  I waved while carrying boxes from UPS into the Aikido of Northwest Kansas door, figuring he was just passing by and wouldn't swing in since The Guild, Free Store, and Dojo were all closed at that hour.  As I was cutting the boxes open, I heard the bell jingle at the door and he stepped in.

I asked how he was doing, and he said well and not well.  I could tell by his face that he was quite upset by something.  It turns out that he'd gotten a job interview, which was great, but that he'd also just gotten an eviction notice several minutes before and had gone out walking afterwards due to being so upset.  The property manager had included a sticky note on the eviction notice that said if he wasn't out by Monday and if he hadn't paid rent by then that the sheriff would be by to make sure he was out.  That put us on a pretty good time crunch as it was already Friday afternoon and many aid agencies closed shortly.  There was also no way for me to help him Monday as I was leaving for Chicago Sunday night.

I talked through the facts with him and found out that he didn't have a copy of his contract--it was supposed to be dropped by but never was; it also turned out that he didn't know where he was supposed to pay or how since he'd never received the contract.  He just knew the amount.  As I pieced more and more together, we headed over to First Call for Help--a local ministry that sometimes provides rent assistance.  We found out that he was ineligible for any type of assistance since he'd been helped in November with a bus ticket to the Salina homeless shelter.  The policy at First Call due to its limited funding is to only provide help once a year to individuals.  They did give info for a couple other places we could catch.  We went to Catholic Charities next, and as we arrived we found out they were closing in a couple of minutes.  Fortunately, two of the employees there were generous enough to help out anyway once they found out about this individual's situation.  Their policy was to pay up to $150, but only if the remainder was already paid down to that amount.  The rent was $250, and I just happened to have the register deposit for The Gamers Guild in my right pocket since the bank was my next errand for the day.  With enough money there to pay his rent down by $100, Catholic Charities agreed to cover the rest.  They tried calling the owner (we'd tried that earlier) only to get the same voicemail we had received.  They decided to get in touch with him Monday since it was so late, but they had at least committed to cover the remainder of his rent.  Now we just had to figure out where to pay that rent.

After several more phone calls (one to the sheriff to see if they really were going to be by--they weren't: the property manager was just bluffing to try and scare the tenant out if they weren't going to pay), we got in touch with the property manager who had left the eviction notice.  This was accomplished without a phone number or any other contact method for the property manager--it was also God's providence that we got in touch with them, but that would be a longer story.  I was able to broker peace between her and the tenant (she'd had a few frustrations with the tenant, as well), and everything got taken care of.  One of my senior Aikido students walked in at that point, and then I had to go get suited up for class.

While the story itself is interesting, the seemingly perfect timing is what really sticks out to me.  It was perfect timing for him to catch me at Aikido of Northwest Kansas--there was only a couple minute window.  We got to Catholic Charities a couple minutes before they closed.  I just happened to have $100 in my right pocket due to the errands I'd been running.  We got in touch with the owner and property manager afterwards--once groups had committed to pay for rent--which smoothed that process over.  We likely couldn't have gotten to Catholic Charities in time if we'd gotten in touch with the owner when we first attempted it.  We also got this individual a copy of his rental agreement, helped the property manager get more comfortable with him, and alleviated the (false) stress of him worrying whether the sheriff would be by.  All of this happened just in time for me to switch gears to teach, and it was all fully resolved (which is good since I couldn't help Monday).  Considering how much came together at just the right time, I thank God for the perfect timing of it all.  One of those things might have been coincidence, but with all of them adding up, I think He was involved with helping this fellow out and answering prayers.

Thank you for reading and for praying!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Opportunities Amidst the Busy-ness

Last night was busy--we were doing a triple work day event with the the dojo, the ministry free store/coffee house, and The Gamers Guild.  In the midst of coordinating a bunch of projects, a cold young teenager came in looking to warm up.  Apparently he'd walked a friend home and was now returning to his home--he was looking to heat up and possibly get gloves from the Free Store.  I helped him find a hat and a single glove--we didn't have a partner for it yet, but I showed him where it was likely resting (in a pile being sorted)--and then told him to warm up as I continued on one of the many work projects I was overseeing.  As I was walking across the dojo to put something up and prepare something for someone else to do, it hit me--I had a Kingdom opportunity here to show extra love: not just the love of a place that gives what is needed, but Christ's love that actively goes out to what is really needed.  The teenager had almost headed out, but I caught up to him and offered to give him a ride.  

It was a simple thing, and I was glad I was able to do it.  It likely didn't cause any life-changing moment in and of itself, but each little interaction like that in which we believers can actually love (with action), is a small advancement for the Kingdom of God.  In my busy-ness of a work day that ultimately serves Kingdom ministry, I almost missed this small opportunity to really reach out.  I pray that God helps those of us who seek to follow Christ to be attentive to listening to the Holy Spirit and looking for opportunities to love others.  

Last night I also had the pleasure of seeing someone who is actively looking for opportunities to love others.  It was the birthday of an anonymous individual, and rather than eat out with family, she chose to use the money for items for the free store, which she and her family brought in and loaded up onto the shelves--food, a crockpot, a griddle, and a host of other needed items...  all from the money she could have used for her birthday meal.  This took a potential blessing of a good time with the family and turned it into a different good time with her family that also taught her children about real, active loving for Christ.  I was very honored to get to watch that as it played out, and I was also encouraged by it.  

I hope these little happenings from last night encourage you, as well, and that you have a chance to look for extra ways to love others today.  Merry After-Christmas, and may the gift of Christ encourage you to bless others as we prepare for a New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Recent Encouragement

I have been spiritually encouraged the last few days by a number of new individuals attending our small group Bible studies.  This time of year, those studies are usually fraught with attendance challenges as people take special trips, college dismisses for a month, and even I have special events that meet during small group times that cause the small groups to be shifted or meet without me.

During this typical time of decline, one of my more Spirit-led dojo students joined us after I invited them last Saturday.  It ended up just being two of us and her, but the discussion based of the Bible readings and based off life happenings were very legitimate and spiritually stirring.  I was very encouraged that she opted to join, and I hope to see her more often.  She could easily add a fresh burst of energy that the Saturday afternoon group could use, and I think the group would be a blessing back to her, as well.

Our Saturday morning small group also saw two new people.  A couple weeks ago while I was heading to the basement of Breathe coffee house for our small group, I noticed a fellow that I'd previously met through some ministry contacts drinking coffee by himself.  This gentleman had originally come to Hays through some difficulty; when he arrived in Hays, he was homeless and without income, but he now has a place and is aggressively looking for work.  I chatted with him briefly and mentioned that we had a small group Bible study meeting downstairs--I told him he was welcome to join, and to my surprise he left what he'd been reading and joined right away.  Due to his challenges and seeking the Lord in them, he also had some great, spiritually mature things to share as we discussed happenings in our lives and read the Bible.  Such spiritually mature wisdom, gained by the rough experience of living through situations it applies in, is always a powerful factor in small groups like ours--it helps weigh discussions directly to reality and the life applications that are much more difficult to do than discuss.  I was, yet again, encouraged that it seemed like The Holy Spirit had set up a cool new meeting (I could be wrong on that, but it had that type of feeling).

The following Saturday (this last weekend) when I arrived at small group, our new fellow was back, and he had a friend with him from the church he's currently attending.  His friend is feeling led to full time ministry in some fashion, and we were able to share some things from our lives (and he from his) that were, I think, encouraging to everyone in the group.  The discussion bounced around quite a bit as we read the Bible and talked about what we were reading, but the tangents were good ones, and I feel the Spirit used them for benefit.  In truth, I am used to our small groups often getting on tangents--some of our best discussions come from them.  The challenge is being alert enough in the spirit to listen and know when and how to direct them back (or if to just let them stay off topic--some mornings everyone just needs to relax and share fellowship--but doing that all the time can lead to complacency in spiritual matters; the balance really requires listening to The Holy Spirit for direction in each time we meet).

Feel free to keep our small groups in your prayers, and to those of you praying with us, I sincerely thank you!  It's neat to see God moving at unexpected times--which, in my experience, is exactly when it seems God does move.  Thanks again for reading and praying!

Monday, December 18, 2017

December Prayer Requests and Update

Hello everyone—it's been too long since I've reached out with prayer requests for our ministry and update information; I do apologize for that delay. Your prayers are very important to us.
Currently, we could use prayer for an avenue to open up for us to find a new building for the Unite Free Store, Aikido of Northwest Kansas, and The Gamers Guild in either the immediate future or in the long term—or for some other change (decreasing cost, an alternate location for the free store, some other answer etc.). The Free Store keeps getting more donations, and along with that it gets more use; we are already capped on space, so we need some kind of change there. We also have been dealing with escalating rent, which has gotten to the point that it's soon to be an almost identical cost to simply buying a building and paying everything that goes with building ownership and maintenance. We have a few potentials in front of us, but no clear path yet.

Beyond that, we could use prayers that we stay sensitive for opportunities to connect with individuals in the right way at the right time. Recent months have been very active when it comes to deep, quality relationships and spiritual conversations with a few people, even though we’ve also had some larger ministry projects. As an example, one of my Aikido students who was a non-believer joined one of our small group bible studies with Unite several months ago—shortly thereafter his girlfriend was in a traumatic accident, and we were able to be with him and pray with him through it. She is now mostly recuperated (thank God), and he is continuing to grow and explore his faith. We've also gotten to better know a local homeless fellow who frequently hangs out at The Gamers Guild and the Free Store in the evenings. He takes some of the donations we get in and gives them out to other homeless individuals or others in need in the area, and he also shares time and stories with those playing in The Gamers Guild/hanging out.

More recently, I've gotten to build a deep friendship with an individual who had formerly attended the youth group I help with; we have had some excellent spiritual conversations, and it has very much been a mutual blessing/encouragement; I personally find it deeply satisfying to grow together in faith with others as we share experiences that we’ve had with God in our lives. In line with deep friendships, I’ve also been praying and talking with a fellow who had taught at our Aikido school and who now lives on the East Coast. He’s gone through some very large challenges, but thanks to prayer and the Holy Spirit he and his family are now on a much better path. Please keep them in your prayers—that things continue to go well with them.

There are more stories besides those—just last week, I began making religious visits to a fellow in jail here based on his request and a connection through another minister. So far the conversations on spiritual subjects have been very good, and I’m looking forward to more of those. I’ve also been blessed to develop some regional friendships in Aikido that have also placed me in contact with some people going through faith challenges who have finally opened up and begun talking about them. Unfortunately, in all of these very excellent Kingdom opportunities, I’m not able to share many details with you—our prayer partners in ministry—due to the confidentiality involved with those I’m meeting/chatting with. It is often like that in our ministry—as such, I’d ask you to pray for any of those individuals who stick out to you when you read the brief highlight. Every one of them is an awesome person, and each situation could use prayer.

As far as larger ministry projects go—we have been distributing laptops and desktop computers to those in need from the large supply that were donated by HaysMed. They were donated without hard drives, which we have now purchased; over time, volunteers and a few of us who are regularly involved in some of the ministry projects put them back together, install and update the software, and troubleshoot any problems before we give them out. We’ve also continued distributing federal food every two months both regionally (we are the distribution hub for several counties) and locally (we are one of the local distribution sites in Hays, too).

Most of the other continuing projects are still going well—our small group Bible studies are slightly intermittent as finals approach for a lot of college students, but they are still very strong when the meet, and those involved seem sincerely to enjoy them. The Friday Night Game Night continues at The Gamers Guild (pretty much every night up there is a game night for someone—it is quite successful at being a community hangout place that people feel comfortable coming in to play games and meet others). Thankfully we DO have some volunteers there who will keep it running late after I need to head home and go to bed. Just this very weekend, I came back to The Gamers Guild at 6:30am to grab a jump drive on my way out of town, and one of the volunteers whom I’d left at 2:00am was still there playing board games with some of the guys. I remember having that type of energy in college, but now it is a little much for me to get that little of sleep very often. ;)

As we wrap up this 2017 year later this month and prepare for a new year, I want to sincerely thank you for your prayers and/or financial support. Many of the things that happen through my ministry work are hard to discuss or can’t even be mentioned due to confidentiality of those involved, but I will say that The Holy Spirit has been obviously visible over this last year and that The Kingdom of God continues to advance here and elsewhere. Thank you for taking the time to pray with us and think about us (and read these updates). It is very important that we all move forward in our own areas of Kingdom work together in the Spirit and in love, as scripture tells us to do. As such, if you have any prayer requests yourself, please send them back to me, and I’ll take the time to pray with you as we wrap up the year. Keep serving with Christ this year and next year!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Big News

Thanks to those who took the time to pray when we sent out our email requesting prayer a short time ago. The prayer request was for an offer we were making on a local building to house all of our ministry endeavors. The offer was not accepted, which is fine as it seems that is a very clear-cut answer to prayer over that specific building at this time. As to the reason we made the offer, I want to go ahead and update you on some recent happenings and request your help.

Almost a year ago, our landlord raised rent unexpectedly. It pushed us to the brink of financial survival, since when it comes to financial earnings, none of our ministry endeavors pull in a lot of money. The Gamers Guild is primarily a safe hangout spot—while we do sell board and card games to pay rent, we only do that approximately ten hours a week, whereas we are open more than forty hours a week for people to hang out and play board games, card games, chat, be involved in one of our small group Bible Studies, or use the free store’s services. The free store itself, obviously, makes no money (everything there is free for people to take, trade for, or donate to—there are no financial incomes). Aikido of Northwest Kansas gives training scholarships to almost ten students who couldn’t afford to train otherwise, so it generally just breaks even with expenses. Through God’s providence, we made ends meet between the two that do bring in some money and that provide a rent-free shelter for the Free Store, which does not bring in money.

At the time, I began praying to figure out if we should stay or move, and I felt that moving was due to fear of future escalations in rent, and fear is not a good motivator for Christians in Kingdom ministry. We should move due to God’s direction or due to opportunities to love or serve more. During that time of discernment, the free store became increasingly heavily used. We restarted serving free meals to the community on the second and fourth Sunday of every month, more people in financial need were hearing about our existence and coming to obtain items that they needed, the Federal food distributions that we run through that place have increased from quarterly to once every other month, and several low-income and homeless individuals have started hanging out at The Gamers Guild just to socialize with others. Due to the increases in use (and people wanting to donate bigger things to the free store but us not having space to put them), it became obvious that the free store could best serve the Kingdom by having an expanded space and physical presence. That, I felt, was a good motivator to begin looking at other locations. It also seemed financially wise as our rent was high enough that we could be making an equivalent mortgage payment on a building, instead. Then, while we were still praying and asking God whether it would be wise to look to expand or move locations, our landlord further raised rent through an escalation clause in our contract. As of today, we are paying approximately six hundred dollars more per month than we were last year at this time, and we have been told to expect further escalations during our negotiations in April for our rental contract for the next year (which would begin the last day of May).

Between the need to expand to serve the Kingdom more and the drastic increase in rent, we are praying for God’s guidance and direction in this situation—it could be that we need to renegotiate for a lower rent, even though our landlord wants to charge us even more. It could be that we do need another location but just haven’t found the right one yet. It could also mean other things—ultimately, we are just praying for guidance and walking forward, seeking to serve the Kingdom daily.

At this time, there has really only been one thing I feel that I've heard in prayer (beyond being prodded to move forward with that building offer earlier). I do feel that I need to let the Christian community know what God is doing here and to ask for their help and involvement. Whether we move locations or stay, I do feel that this is an opportunity to further involve the body of believers in serving locally, which ultimately helps both local believers and those who we would seek to love and serve. If we move, local believers may be able to help through direct work on a new physical structure, financial donations, prayer, or involvement in our outreach ministries. If we stay, it may be just be through awareness and participation in the ministry with us, or somewhere down the road using connections to help us find a new place longer term. This is where you come in. Please being thinking and praying, and please feel free to ask questions on our behalf. Do you know someone who is looking to invest financially in a ministry or give time and talents? Do you know someone in Hays with property for sale or lease? Do you see a solution for us that we are unaware of, or maybe do you see a group we should work together with in one of our existing endeavors (use their ministry site for the free store, etc.)? In my humanity, I am looking for a space that would hold all three ministries—so probably at least 3500 square feet—but it could be that God wants to split them out into different locations, so nothing is out of bounds at this point. I’m just praying to see how God will provide directly and through His body of believers—you. Please join us in prayer and also in action with this. I thank you in advance for your help.

While I am asking, I would also ask if any of you has, or know of someone who has, a very rough, cheap vehicle that they would be willing to give to a local individual to use for in-town transit. Such a need has arisen in one of our ministries for a local family, and I figured I could put out the word and see how God might answer this while everyone is praying over the other issue, as well. If you hear anything on either front, please feel free to call or text me at 785-259-2539, or even to leave me an email.

In closing, I want to encourage you with a strange answer to prayer. You may remember how some time ago we expressed a need for Christian volunteers to hang out at The Gamers Guild and Common Grounds Coffee House to have conversations and play games with some of the people who hang out there. One of the local homeless men in Hays has taken to hanging out there due to frequent use of the free store, and he, himself, is a very evangelistic Christian man. In a show of God's answers through unexpected places, I find myself listening to him chat with local gamers and others about Christ and experiences he has had following Him. Just yesterday, while listening, it struck me that, while I haven't had much volunteer response through the newsletter, God had provided a person in His body of believers just the same. I don't know what will happen in these next few months, but I am confident that God's Kingdom ministry will go on in some form or other. Thank you for any help and for your prayers!

Friday, November 4, 2016

This last week or two have been fairly compact.  Hastings (a chain that sells books, games, videos, and more) and a local ministry thrift shop, The Bargain Hut, had announced that they were closing their doors in pretty short order.  This was both sad, and a moment of opportunity to turn something unfortunate into something beneficial for The Kingdom and local ministry.  We were able to work with both entities to get some new shelving units, office items, and some direct items that went onto the free store shelves (coats, shoes, clothes, a microwave and more).  To accomplish that, we had to work around their closing schedules, dates, and times while continuing to do the ministry that we already do (and neither week had much wiggle room to accommodate our attending bankruptcy sales for Hastings or sifting through some of the items that were free to nonprofits at The Bargain Hut—though they were very friendly and helpful once they knew who we were and what we were looking for).  One particular challenge was that things finally came back together for us to offer free, monthly community meals at our ministry location—and the first relaunch was right in the middle of this.  (Photos below).

Thankfully, as He usually does, God provided the right people at the right time to make it work.  First I have to thank God for answered prayers as He provided contacts through Breathe Coffee House who could oversee the food preparation portion of our meal, and other contacts with the FHSU social work club who volunteered to serve at it (and to help set up for it and put the place back in order after it).  These contacts came through First Call For Help due to some of our efforts to feed the hungry and the inquiries the club had been making.  In addition, a couple members of one FHSU fraternity were present so that even the Common Grounds Coffee House was up and running during the meal.  Not only were a little over forty people served warm meals at the relaunch of the community meals, but dozens of different contacts and networks came together to accomplish it, and all seemed pretty pleased with the results and willing to continue with it.  For those of you who have been in longer-term ministry, you know how hard that part of the equation can be!

As all of this launches, other things are afoot.  We have quite a few—on the order of almost one hundred—computers donated from a hospital.  All had to have the hard drives removed to prevent any risk of patient data being passed on. Previously, computers from this facility (which are nicer/newer than mine) had been melted down entirely to prevent such data loss.  Now, the hospital let us have them for nonprofit use (minus the hard drives).  We are currently putting together some volunteers to sit down and pop in new hard drives (after we obtain some) flashed with legal operating systems so that, after an investment of around $1,000 in hard drives (which would normally buy up to three computers of the caliber we have received), we hope to have almost 100 ready to give out to families who need them.  All of this is a work in progress, but I am excited that it has literally fallen into our lap.

Also encouraging is that the Common Grounds Coffee House is finally running semi-frequently again thanks to a new wave of barrista volunteers.  It does my heart quite a bit of good to see something that has seemed largely dead so long flowing with life and blessing people.  Thank God for answering prayers there.  It kind of feels like rain on a long-barren field or fresh wind after a much-too-long summer.  Please pray that He keeps that growing healthily.  I want to share a quote from one of those new barristas that left me feeling blessed to serve God here when I asked Him why he was currently volunteering at our small nonprofit.

“I try to look and see where God is moving and then go there myself.  I see that in your ministry and what you do; that’s why I’m here now.”

That was a strong and needed encouragement for me, personally.  Though I have been very busily engaged in ministry the last few months, I, like any human, occasionally look around and want to make sure that I’m moving in the right direction.  It is very important to me, personally, to move with God and not for God—I have learned the hard way that moving apart from Him often hurts instead of helps both others and me, even if I’ve done it with good intent.  Though signs of progress may not always be what we think (Paul’s encouragement for sharing the good news was often to get stoned), sometimes we can see God’s movement or providence in little encouraging ways that we, somehow, know are from Him.  This was one of those things, and my soul was very glad.

Anyway, as you read this newsletter, I thank you for your interest in the Kingdom work here and request that you keep us in your prayers.  Lord knows I/we need it.  It’s so very hard to balance resting on the Sabbath, loving one’s spouse, and taking care of the important Kingdom work (real life conversations with people who matter—and updates like this one since you all matter greatly) while still getting the grinding minutia of the work done.  When my rest is insufficient, or when I am sick (as I currently am while writing this), sometimes I can feel that exhaustion keenly.  However, I know truly that with a short bit of time sitting, listening/resting in God’s presence around all of us, I will be recharged and my perspective will be renewed.  It seems I have to let go to be renewed, but in so doing, all of the stresses and worries drop away, and I again see an open ground in front of me—ripe with opportunities to love someone, bring hope or light or laughter to someone, or just to be with someone.  Thank God for the opportunity to be His servants in this era.  We are truly blessed, my friends—Go with God!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Welcoming Event

For those who were praying for our 'Welcoming Event' on September 1st on FHSU campus--thank you! Even though less churches and college ministries attended than on average, we had more numeric conversations with students and better quality conversations with students. A few stuck around our booth for over an hour, and between 100 and 300 came by (we didn't keep count, but we gave out 60 doughnuts and a large amount of freezer pops). North Oak Community Church gave out 150 meals in under an hour, Liberty Foursquare gave out over 150 items (largely laundry care kits), and Breathe Coffee House was out of coffee in under an hour. Next year, we look to do a better job of getting the word out to college ministries and churches AND encouraging each entity to bring more to give. Again, the core value of this event is welcoming students to Hays in the name of Christ with something tangible to show love--many of these students are not believers and some are hostile towards faith. Welcoming them in love, though, with no ulterior motive other than love and a sincere desire to welcome them to our community, is a great thing. Thanks again for your prayers!

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Yesterday was a bit of a spiritual jump start for me; the last few weeks have been a blur--to augment income and help support the ministry, I teach swimming lesson instructors and certify lifeguards for about one month and a half each year.  This means that my days start VERY early in the morning as I drive up to a few hours away to teach classes, then I come back to Hays and teach Aikido, see people at The Guild, and have ministry meetings and small groups etc.. and then repeat.  That schedule ended last week, with my last WSI class.

This week started out normally, which means that it felt very slow to me compared to what I have been experiencing.  I was catching up on things back here Monday and, somewhat, on Tuesday.  All the while I was looking forward to Wednesday, my first Sabbath day in some time.  It was very exciting.

The day started with a haircut, and then I met a missionary friend of mine who speaks little English for breakfast.  We had a very engaging talk that covered many subjects, but which centered on 'how does a person know if they are truly a Christian, when believers and non-believers alike will stumble and fall'.  It would take a long time to relate, but it ultimately made me relive experiences in my faith walk, journey down mental pathways that I hadn't used in a long time, and it stretched my brain a bit since it was all in Spanish.  Several times I understood what my friend meant, even if I didn't understand the exact words.  We had to use both languages to clarify that culpability for sin comes from the Holy Spirit but guilt, that which separates, does not.  We also had to clarify other points--that discipline from God shows He loves us and that we are walking with Him, that people who profess to be believers but who don't live it in any way (and who really are not disciples or followers of Christ that only have the same intellectual assent to Him that the demons have) are worse off than those who profess not to be believers but live godlier lives, and that God loves all and hollers at all of us to turn sin and separation--even when we choose not to hear.  It ranged into many other subjects, but ultimately it had the effect of getting my mind back on some good, concrete Christian discussions.

After that, I had a nice lunch meeting with another friend, a chiropractic appointment, and then a coffee meeting with yet someone else.  That coffee meeting was also very spiritual, and I greatly enjoyed my time in it.  I could feel the Holy Spirit moving in this person's life, and I felt Him moving in my own during parts of our discussion.  It came back to some similar subjects from the morning, but ranged into many other subjects, as well.  All in all, it had the impact of further centering my mind and spirit in Godly things.  That evening I spent with my wife and then with some friends on the Internet, but today I feel the results.  My focus is much greater towards Godly things; I am more open to that which He may have for me in my day--even if it disrupts other work that 'needs' to get done.  It left me available to sit for 20 minutes with an Aikido scholarship student this morning after our meeting to help her begin the path of doing important things now instead of when she's got enough other things out of the way to get to them.  We also had some very important, and even spiritual discussions about how she perceives herself and her higher worth and value.  This was also a Godly time.

Overall, I sincerely thank God for the last two days--I feel more spiritually centered than I have in a long time.  I also thank God for the last three nights of actually getting the amount of sleep my body needs.  It's a good start to a good week!  (there's still Aikido kids' class, adult class, meditation, and a small group Bible study to look forward to tonight!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Good Friday--Good Night!

Good Friday is a huge day—it commemorates the death of Christ, the payment for sin, and sets in motion the cycle for the resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  People nationally and internationally focus in on remembrance and new life.

My Good Friday was straight up crazy.  The day started out normally enough—though I was a bit tired and behind in preparations for the evening.  We had two tournaments/events at The Gamers Guild, the Dojo didn’t have classes, but we did have a reflection we were going to set up that people could go through on their own to meditate on what Christ had gone through and how it impacted their lives, and some people were coming up to serve Root Beer floats out of Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store to anyone who might want some as a Good Friday act of generosity.  The Gamers Guild was a mess—we had cards all over all the tables as we were sorting the collection as part of our project to make the ‘common and uncommon’ cards in The Gamers Guild free (kind of like our free store).  The idea is that the community can help itself by trading with the collection, donating to it, or taking from it—much like the early church in Acts helped itself by sharing what it owned.  If a kid wants to build a Pokemon deck, he or she can do so for free now—and older players can quickly find cards they need due to the organization system.  Plus, anyone can donate extra cards into the collection to help others out or trade cards that they don’t want for ones that they do.  It’s also completely opposite to the way that any card store runs, so I hope that the concept itself helps people ask about why we do what we do and helps them see Christ.  (It already has, by the way).  Suffice it to say, with several thousand cards stacked out on all of our tables, we had a LOT of cleaning to do.

Early in the day, I met with a friend who manages a local radio station, and we got to work on the back room to get things out and ready for the reflection (and for the tournaments).  It was a pretty monumental task, but we made good progress.  Our progress was further helped by a volunteer who has begun assisting at the Free Store who began to tear into some boxes of donations that were in the way and that needed processed prior to the evening.  By about 4PM we had two more volunteers up there helping get the cards where they needed to go, and about 5PM, when we open to doors for Pokemon League, the place was in tolerable, though still rough shape.  My wife had been helping organize, but she was having a rough day, so I spent some time chatting with her.  While I was comforting her, one of the other volunteers indicated that he REALLY needed to talk; I needed to be a few places at once by now, so I finished talking with my wife, then I headed outside to hear him share.  His situation was complex and private—and too much to put into this entry.  However, it involved several complications that were ultimately going to result in someone calling the ministry that evening for an emergency ride out of a neighboring town to a safe house in Hays.  While we were talking outside The Gamers Guild, he was sharing about how he had been reading the Bible and praying for the first time in his life, and about how things were going well there.  At that point, the two Mormon missionaries who have been attending my Monday morning Aikido classes showed up and said hello—they were meeting with an individual who had requested they talk with him about faith inside The Gamers Guild.  Once they had passed, my friend who was sharing about how he was growing with God looked up at the sky and said something like ‘Quit messing with me, man!’, which cracked me up.  Then another guy came up needing to talk.  Once I’d finished with the first I headed in and talked with him.  Meanwhile, our small group Bible study had showed up and wanted to know if they could help out—I told them it would really help if they could assist with sorting the Free Store donation boxes while I finished setting up the Christ reflection in the Dojo.  As I finished there, the Mormon missionaries came up and asked about it.  One of them was very touched by the reflection and went through it himself; the other thought it was interesting and read several of the reflection stations.  Both also asked if they could join our small group Bible study for the evening, to which I replied—sure.

The first volunteer who had been helping with the Free Store boxes also joined our small group Bible study, as did the father of a kid from Pokemon League AND the second guy who wanted to chat with me.  Soon, we had no less than five new people in our Good Friday small group.  We started late, and it was a bit awkward with so many new people, but (thank God for answered prayers), the conversation soon started flowing naturally.  It got better and better as we went, and we ended on a good prayer; when I looked up, our two volunteers to serve Root Beer floats were there.  We got them set up, and I heard them have several excellent life and faith conversations with some of our regulars at our Unite Game Night.  While this was all happening, I got the expected phone call that someone from a nearby town needed a ride to a safe house.  My wife was very gracious in that she covered The Gamers Guild while I stepped out to pick this individual up (along with a relative of the individual who went with me to pick them up), and I started on a further interesting journey.  I enjoyed getting to know this person a little better on the ride to pick their family member up, and I also found an interesting coincidence in the fact that we were picking up an individual from a bad situation on the anniversary of the day Jesus died to pay for all of our sins.  Letting that thought fall aside, I continued to chat with this individual; we then, picked up their relative and started the ride back to Hays.

The ride was very strange—I could sense that the person I picked up was lying to me about multiple details, but I wasn’t sure what they were or why.  It was spiritually almost oppressive, but they did need a safe ride to a safe house, so at the end of the ride when I dropped them off, I felt like it was still the right thing to do.  At that point, I was utterly drained in almost every way—and I was extremely famished.  I returned to The Gamers Guild and took over for my wife—working late into the evening.  Eventually our friends serving floats headed home after more good conversations and after they led several people through the reflection.  After that, my wife and I got some food and continued working.  Near the end of the night I was finally able to do something that I’d wanted to all night—I went through the reflection myself. 

The time in the candlelight reflecting on Christ was time very well spent.  It brought a variety of good thoughts to mind, and it also provided me some rest after a crazy day.  While I was reflecting, I got a kick out of all of the faith-based things that had happened that Good Friday.  Several volunteers got to help us out, and I got to know them all better.  One man had shared with me how much Christ was helping him grow, while at the same time two Mormon missionaries were having a loud and somewhat awkward set of faith discussions in The Gamers Guild.  Several people—including the two missionaries and a guy whose faith was undecided had experienced a small group Bible study.  Several individuals who are not usually served received free Root Beer floats and caring conversations—some of which included a faith component.  A woman had gotten out of a bad situation to a safe house.  My wife had been (briefly) comforted.  Several kids had gone through a Christ reflection, and at least one Mormon missionary was surprised by how heavily we reflect on Christ…. and more—even more had happened that night.  It led me to think about the phrase “Good Friday, Good Night!” because both meanings of that phrase were true.  It was an excellent night—I wouldn’t have traded it for anything—so many people were blessed and blessed others.  It also was extremely exhausting—more exhausting than any such holiday in recent memory for me—which made me feel like saying ‘Good Night!’  It had been so crazy that I felt like I didn’t have anything left and just needed to sleep.  Still, there in the candlelight at the end of the day, I felt peace, and I knew that it had truly been a ‘good’ Friday, in every sense of the word.  Thank God for such a hectic, yet blessed day.

A Long Sunday

My Sunday on April 10th started early—I normally teach Spanish after church service to a few friends who may one day join us on a Mexico mission trip, but Sunday we did it at 9AM before second service since the Dojo quarterly party was after service.  We had a European breakfast—toast, meat and cheese, and hard-boiled eggs—and some excellent conversation.  My wife and I then left right away to pick up a college student friend (and student at the Dojo) to go to service with us; afterwards, I saw that I had two missed texts and a voicemail.  In the 45 minutes that we had to get our potluck crockpot meal prepared, a gentleman from out of town wanted to meet me to pick up some things at The Gamers Guild, Vin (the previously homeless fellow that we’ve been helping from my previous newsletter) had left a message that he urgently needed food after returning from a brief stay in prison, and a friend who attends The Gamers Guild messaged me that he urgently needed to talk before 5PM.

I chuckled to myself and told my wife what was up.  Some days like Sunday feel like God is really moving.  She said she could prepare the crockpot recipe and start the Dojo cleaning at the beginning of the party if I was a bit late, so I took her up on it and headed to pick up Vin.  We caught up a bit while I took him up to the Unite Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store.  We had a recent food donation from North Oak Community Church, so we were well stocked—we also had extra commodities from the Federal food distribution the week prior—as such, we got him a large crate of food.  The other fellow who needed to pick up items met me there while I was helping Vin out, and we got him his things.  Then I dropped Vin off and headed to chat with my friend at his job.  Once there, I waited until he could take a break, and then we chatted about some very serious things happening with a roommate of his; he wanted advice, but more than that, I think he just needed someone who genuinely cared about him and his roommate to listen.  I was glad to do that, and he said things were better after even just sharing some.  This, to me, was one of the most important parts of my day.  After being there for him, I picked up a Salted Nut Roll from his place of work (I figured I should buy something since I was in there, even if I was just talking to an employee on break) to split with Tella, since neither of us had eaten lunch, and I headed to the Dojo.  Cleaning was already underway, and we had a great meeting afterwards and an enjoyable party.  By the end of the night, everyone had fun, and the Dojo had grown as a community.

After the Dojo party, we briefly met with some friends at our house to celebrate a birthday and a recently attained job.  This, too, was very good.  After everyone had departed, my wife and I collapsed in our chairs and rested—it had been an excellent, but very LONG day.

As I reflected on the day, it did make me smile—so many excellent things had been accomplished in such a short day, and I do think that some of them involved God directly.  It also had the kind of crazy air about it that sometimes indicates His involvement to me.  Such things are greatly reassuring to me—to know that He still accomplishes His will through me and with me despite all of my flaws and all of my failings.  I don’t know how much, or how little what I do accomplishes in the long run—but I do know that I dearly love every person in my life and want to see every last one of them after the resurrection.  I also know that God loves them even more than I do and wants to lose not one; as such, I do very sincerely want to be available for whatever He may have for me.  I also hope that sharing about some of what He does encourages others to be open for God to use, as well.  You, yourself, have connections and relationships that can reach some people in ways that no one else can—may God help you be sensitive to the opportunities that you possess to love someone with God and to help further His Kingdom on earth!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God's Movement and Timing... And a Couch

I have lately been reflecting on how God and The Holy Spirit's movement are much like the wind: according to Jesus, The Holy Spirit is like the wind in the sense that you see Him by His effects--not by directly seeing Him.  I often see God in leftover signs in creation--the complex organization of life: very highly structured, interwoven, and more specific than random chance could allow for (along with the sheer beauty of nature).  He also shows in that science now indicates that there was a beginning and will be an end--unlike the steady-state universe theory that presided for a long time in opposition to a worldview that has a creator and a beginning and an end.  He even more clearly shows in answered prayers, lifestyles and personalities attuned to Him, and the simplicity and accuracy of the truth of The Way preached by Jesus; all of these and more are indirect signs that indicate a direct presence.

Now I may later in life (probably the next one, not this one) find out that I was wrong, but I felt a bit of that last Wednesday with a couch.  My wife and I were driving to The Gamers Guild, where I was going to relax on my Sabbath and play a game online with some friends who live a distance away.  For some unknown reason, I felt like our route should first stop by two friends of ours to pick up some cleaning supplies (they have recent twins and don't want certain harsh chemicals around their house) and THEN, secondarily, to grab food and head to The Gamers Guild.  On the way to The Gamers Guild with food, one of my Aikido students called about a couch that was sitting in their neighbors lawn with a free sign on it--she wanted to know if we wanted it for Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store.  Now it just so happens that this was something that we wanted and needed--we were actively in the process of replacing a very broken, and somewhat dangerous couch.  Once we realized that we could snag it on the way there and still be more or less on time, I also realized that we were exactly one block away from where this couch was since my choice of stops left us driving on a road that we normally wouldn't be anywhere near on our way to The Gamers Guild.  Weirdly enough, that let me continue the conversation without a break and arrive to inspect the couch as I hung up.  We found it, she offered her pickup to haul it, and we had it outside its new home in a matter of minutes.  From there, we ran into some trouble getting it through the door, but we got it to fit after some substantial manipulation and a lot of heavy pushing--this delayed me a few extra minutes, which means I was about seven minutes late logging onto Skype to talk with my friends.  As I was logging on one, then immediately a second friend texted to indicate that they were all running just a bit late.  I ended up being the first one there--and the others joined within minutes.  At the end of the whole brief adventure, it timed out perfectly so that I was seated, eating, and ready to chat and hang out with good friends and minimal interruption to my Sabbath/day of rest, all with a new couch fixing a needed ministry problem.  It was a lot of great timing and good coincidences.  So for that, I thank God.  ;)

Deafness and Quiet

Last week, I had an unsettling conversation at The Gamers Guild; one of the players asked me to stay and listen while he talked.  He had some problems he wanted advice on.  It was tough to hear some of the broken family relationships, and it was actually hard to follow some of the family tree due to the complexities of how many times it had been broken and re-made, but I followed most of it and was able to let him vent, which was the most of what he needed (though he had said he wanted advice--he really just needed someone to listen to him).  It was a little unsettling seeing the reverse side of the coin of the adoption process--this individual's kids had been seized and others had adopted them; I actually knew one of the missionary couples who has one of his biological kids.  I usually know the coin from that side--the people who have adopted a kid out of a rough home; as such, I tend to understand how they don't want the biological parents to have too much to do with the kid to prevent confusion and continued negative influences.  It was strange instead to hear the anguish it called a biological father to not be able to refer to himself as a child's father if/when he ran into them, and of kids who didn't yet know they had ever even been adopted or that someone else might be their parent.

What was really unsettling, though, was how unable this individual was to listen.  Though they said they wanted advice and really needed some advice, even the simplest advice couldn't be heard.  They physically heard it, but it didn't process with them or sink in.  They were too drowned in their own perceptions of the problems and their own internal drama to even be able to consider any other advice, worldview, or perspective.  It was somewhat dumbfounding.  Though I said several simple things that should have been very logical and greatly solved 95% of some of the problems, they wouldn't sink in--couldn't sink in.  He was completely unable to hear.  After awhile, I realized that no matter what I said or how firmly, clearly, bluntly or obviously, nothing was going to get through and be heard in any way that would likely make positive life change.  This individual was actually too self-absorbed to hear it, understand it, or really to even care what I was saying because he'd already figured out that his problems were insurmountable--except maybe by extreme efforts that he'd already considered.  He wanted to see himself as the victim and as the hero, beating his insurmountable challenges...  and that's what he was going to do.  Whatever I said was just some quiet outside whisper unrelated to what he was suffering.

It was really fascinating--and disheartening.  I hope that this individual did hear some of what I said, and that he may even be able to one day hear God Himself on bigger/better levels than he currently does, but I could feel in the conversation that he won't likely be able to hear Him or listen unless God does a great miracle or continues to work on him for decades.  Maybe, just maybe, way later in life he'll finally be in a position to hear something from somebody--and hopefully from God.  This gave me great comfort in God's patient, enduring love (I'm confident that God will continue to slowly work on Him).  It also made me wonder how deaf I often am to God and how much I still clearly don't hear.  Thankfully, God is patient and loving and will continue to help me in my deafness.  I know that I hear more than I once did--but who knows how much like this young man I may still be if one takes a bigger, more Godly perspective on it.  In sincere, honest reflection of my own sinful nature and of the Holy Spirit as He refines me, I can see that I am still often deaf--that, though saved and though I possess better knowledge--that I still frequently screw up and am, in effect, partially 'deaf' to hearing God's voice or shutting out my sinful nature.  It may be that I am more like this young man than I know, though at least God continues to show me how much more I need to hear and how very much I daily need to walk with Him to be able to live for The Kingdom and true life.

Hopefully this will help me walk more humbly with God--Lord knows I need to be reminded how truly humble I should be due to all He's done and still does.  I guess, though unsettling, that the conversation ultimately left me ending with the sensation of a still small voice, loving, and working, and eroding at deafness in this young man, me, and all of us.  It also left me with a more obvious sense of the very powerful, and often quiet way that God loves.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


During the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance meeting yesterday, we all gave out prayer requests and prayed for each other, as usual.  One prayer request, however, caught me by complete surprise.  Opal--an elderly lady who represents her small rural church while it waits for an intern pastor--requested prayers for a man across the counter at a local convenience station who had surprised her by asking for prayers out of the blue.  Based on the request, I was shocked to realize that the individual must be the fellow I wrote about in my previous blog entry 'Ride Along'.

It was a slightly electrifying moment for me to realize that God was working with him on several different levels; not only has he lately begun praying for the first time and reading some of the Bible, but now he made a random prayer request that made it back to the ministerial alliance; it reminded me that, though I am in this man's life pretty heavily representing Christ, it really is God and the Holy Spirit doing all the work with him.  God's movements are real, active, and often more intricate and involved than I realize.  It is a heavy reassurance to simply remember that He is moving and that He is the active head of the body of believers, His church.  I don't have to worry too much about the bigger picture when it comes to this young man or others I love, because God loves them even more and is already working on things--I just have to enjoy working with Him as a part of the body of believers.  Happenings like this also remind me of His great love for each person out there--to see that so many parts of the body of believers and the Holy Spirit directly are working on this one man with a good heart.  It reassures me of His love for others and for me.  Thank God for who He is!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Today was an excellent--though very long--day.  I had a good time this morning in prayer and reflection; I had some very important conversations and good opportunities to love people in my life, and I got a lot of work accomplished.  At the end of evening Aikido, I was in The Gamers Guild handling some final sales prior to the small group Bible study that I usually lead in Common Grounds Coffee House and Free Store (in between Aikido of Northwest Kansas and The Gamers Guild).  One of the members was going to be late as he was caring for his new twin girls, and three people were sitting around very bored.  My wife also wanted me to play a game with her.  I knew I had quite a few things to do work-wise, but there are ALWAYS things to do work-wise, and it felt like God's Kingdom priority would lean more towards loving my wife and helping these bored college students feel engaged and have fun.  So, I suggested we play a short board game.  The short board game went long, and the individual who showed up late for small group was even able to join in, but it was actually tremendously fun.  The game we played, Coup, was a newer game at The Gamers Guild, and three of the players hadn't ever played before.  Soon everyone was smiling, joking, and spending good time together.  At the end, we started small group late and had great discussion and prayer.

Later tonight, as we were driving home, my wife told me how very much playing that game meant to her.  She said that moments like that don't happen often enough at The Gamers Guild, but that those types of moments are one of the things that she loves the most--when we can engage people who are there because they are bored, help them learn a new game and have fun, and help them feel connected to other people.  I agree with my wife--that is one of the most important things we can do up there--and I hope to be able to do that more and more often as I continue to prayerfully change things there so that I can more easily be free to walk around and start games and conversations.  Thank God for great opportunities with good people--the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few.  We can, even today, pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers.  If YOU might be one of those people who would enjoy hanging out with (primarily) college-aged kids playing games and having conversations, feel free to contact me and let me know.  We'd love to have you there, too!

Easy to Forget

Sometimes it is easy for me to forget how much of an honor it is to be able to get to do what I get to do.  One of our Aikido youth's family told me that they were moving away.  They very nicely thanked me for my patience and work with their daughter and explained that they didn't know if they'd move back later or not.

During our final class with her, some of the usual students didn't show up, so it was just her and me.  We spent the time playing many of her favorite games and doing drills that she enjoyed; she is a very shy girl and also very quiet, but with just me there, she spoke up and answered questions that she normally wouldn't answer at all or volunteered opinions that she would often not voice.  Watching her play the games, I was amazed at just how far she has come both socially and physically.  Her improvement in comfortably interacting with me was leaps and bounds ahead of where it started--and I was honored and touched that she'd grown to trust me that much.  Her coordination was also light years ahead of where she started.  Some of the games that she was doing well now she couldn't have even attempted when she started.

As we were playing and she was smiling and I was reflecting on this growth, I was very humbled that God had placed me in a position of impact in this young girl's life.  I'm not sure how many of our moral lessons she'll remember, or how many of the physical skills, but to get to see so much positive social progress and coordination development alone made me very happy.  It also highlighted how often I can overlook the value and potential benefit that teaching kids classes can have.  Though I know in my head that each lesson can impact youth in positive ways, it is important for me to remember in my busy days just how big of a statement that is and how much more I can focus in on teaching--and enjoying teaching--my kids classes at the Dojo.  Near the end of class, some other students showed up for the second class, and I asked them to join the mats for her final request (since it required more people).  One of the new kids tried to influence this young girl to change her decision on how the last game was to be played; normally this student can influence her to do whatever this student wants.  I was again surprised--and quite proud--when she audibly, and loudly said 'no', she would do it the way she'd originally picked.  Her confidence and ability to stick to her guns was a final blessing to be able to see.  Thank God for a chance to see some fruit in a harvest field that I often can forget is even there!  It is a field that has more impact that I may even know.

Ride Along

Last week I accompanied a fellow from The Gamers Guild on a journey to try and exchange some items with his fiance who had left him.  I have been an arbiter before with couples when they can't find some other neutral party to help them resolve things peacefully, and he was concerned that he'd get too hot under the collar without me there.  On the way, he prayed one of the most interesting and honest prayers--it involved giving him the strength to not harm her and for her to see the righteous anger in his eyes based on his love and hurt.  I found the prayer to be very deep and moving because it was so heartfelt and sincere, but also because it mirrored the Old Testament and God's explained relationship with Israel.

God frequently compares Israel to a loose woman who goes off and commits adultery with other Gods, and he explains both His righteous anger and His continuing love for her.  This is very much the situation that my young friend from The Gamers Guild is in--the woman he's with has made a habit of leaving everyone she's been in relationship with previously, coming back to them, leaving, coming back to them, leaving, coming back to them, and occasionally rotating among a few guys.  For good or for ill, this gentleman had fallen for her, and though she had left him and come back twice, he felt that with a ring on her finger, things would change.  Now that she'd run off again (back to an old boyfriend), he was no longer sad and broken, but angry--and still in love.

It was a very strange experience to see his emotions so raw and real and to see how much that mimicked the emotions that God describes in the Old Testament towards Israel; you see, I've always found it somewhat hard to understand the balance between His anger and His continuing love; it seemed to rock either to harsh or too complacent--but in the attitudes and actions of this young man, I  saw the balance and understood how real and accurate that explanation is.  In fact, I feel that it helped me better understand God--and appreciate how deeply great His love for us is--even to the point that He both still loves us and is angry when we hurt ourselves or others through our sins.  Thank God for His mercy and continued love!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February Newsletter/Prayer Requests

First, I’ve very recently begun using our prayer blog/website more aggressively to share what is happening in our ministry and for prayer requests.  You are also always invited to call me, email me, or swing by and chat with me anytime.  We’d love to have you share directly in the ministry work with us.

I received a phone call about a month ago from a man—we’ll call him Vin for anonymity—he was homeless in Hays and had been given our ministry’s number by another homeless man who had told him we might be able to help him.  I was a little hesitant off the bat as the person who had given him our number had used us as much as he could before it became obvious that we were happy to help him to a long-term solution at the Salina rescue mission but could no longer provide him places to stay locally.  We had been getting more and more phone calls from homeless individuals or individuals in distress since we were the fifth ministry down on the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance web page and First Call for Help, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities (the big three that provide assistance in Hays) are not able to help everyone who comes to them.  Due to budget decreases and other restrictions, many people are falling through the cracks. 

When we met Vin, I was struck by how honest he was.  Unlike several of the other individuals we have worked with, he would always tell the truth—if he needed money for cigarettes he wouldn’t lie and say he needed money for food.  When he said he had paperwork from Social Security and a check coming, he really did.  He was going through hard times for several reasons—his wife had died awhile back and his son and him had sold the trailer they shared in Nebraska.  After living off that money for awhile, he was called to Hays to stand trial for failure to appear in court over a bounced check.  Now on probation, he was unable to move to the Salina Rescue Mission because he was ordered to stay in Hays.  Without enough money to pay for first month’s rent AND the security deposit for an apartment, he had been homeless.  As cold as it was, he was primarily surviving by panhandling for money for rooms at the cheapest hotel in town.

Once we had a feel for him and for his honesty, we connected him with a local landlord who had a VERY rough apartment that Vin could move into right away without a full month’s rent (as Vin had no money) provided that Vin could help clean and repair it.  The landlord was very generous as this room would not be ready for a month for general rent due to its condition, but Vin had nowhere else to sleep that night.  I helped Vin get food and clothes from our free store, apply to a few ministries in town for additional assistance, and I bought him a radio from the ARC since he had requested a radio a few different times.  He also snagged a Bible from our Free Store shelf for reading material.  Things seemed to be looking up for Vin that week, then Vin disappeared.

One week later I got a call.  I’m uncertain whether Vin tried to actually kill himself or if it was an attempt to hurt himself to get into Larned State Hospital where his room was paid and he had three solid meals a day.  He obviously thought about it in advance by the way he spread out plastic bags on the floor to catch his blood so he wouldn’t stain the carpet.  He also had a lot of reasons to be legitimately depressed—he had no money, no plan, no local friends, and he was very lonely even though he now had a home.  Regardless, he was in Larned now.  When he was released, we worked with him and the landlord, and he was able to resume living in the apartment while cleaning it up.  Things seemed to be going up for him a second time, but then he disappeared again.

One week and two days later, I was overseeing The Emergency Federal Assistance Program’s government food distribution, a new project that Unite has taken over, in which we line up cars from surrounding counties down at the Armory on Main Street, use a forklift donated by Heartland Building to
unload pallets of government surplus food,  and then manually load cases of food off the pallets into the cars to go to community food banks throughout Northwest Kansas.  In the middle of this logistical challenge, I get a call from Vin.  He’s at a local church and needs help.  His liver had started failing two weeks ago, and he had been rushed from HaysMed ER to Kansas City; on the trip, he nearly died—they pulled 13 pounds of fluid off him in Kansas City’s ICU.  Luckily, he’d lived through the ordeal.  Now, fresh out of the ICU with stitches and a satchel full of confusing medicines, they’d loaded him onto a Greyhound bus and sent him back to Hays, where he lived.  He didn’t have his cellphone, wallet, IDs, or clothes—all had been mistakenly kept at HaysMed.  Instead, he was alone in donated sweats from a charity in Kansas City.  I told him that I’d hurry down and help him as soon as we were done.

Upon meeting him there, we started to work on his immediate needs.  First, he needed his check from Social Security to pay rent.  The landlord wrote the necessary eviction notice proving an urgent need for the check, then I took him and the notice to the Social Security office on 27th.  There, he was able to get his check—it appears that he also had another check on backorder due to confusion about his address; he had been living in the hotel so it had gone there instead of his new apartment.  We figured that out, but we were unable to cash Vin’s check for him to use to pay rent since he had no ID—even though he had enough pertinent personal information to get Social Security to issue him his check on the spot.  As such, we took him to HaysMed to get his wallet, clothes, and birth certificate—all of which had been mistakenly left there.  After he had that, we still couldn’t find a place to cash his check since he owned no photo ID—he only had his birth certificate.  With some convoluted work, we were able to work with my bank to cash his check—but only because I banked there and had the right connections.  With his money in hand, I helped him pay rent and got him back to his place; there I found out that he had only two chairs for furniture and a concrete floor to sleep on—even though he had fresh stitches.

With additional work and God’s providence (and a story longer than I can fit in this newsletter), the next day we were able to get a trailer and help and give him a sleeper sofa from The Gamers Guild that actually had a nice bed inside of it until a real bed could arrive in a few days.  Thank God, he could now sleep on a bed instead of a concrete floor.  He also gained two very nice connections with Christians who would follow up on him and care about him.  With further work, we got him a TV for his entertainment while he was home and some places he could go socially if he needed.

I share this story because first, it was astounding for me to learn how hard it is for someone who is homeless and has legitimate social security to draw upon to access it functionally without Internet, a cell phone, a legal place of residence, and a ton of identification and knowledge of the system.  Many ministries in town STILL can’t help Vin since he doesn’t have proof of local residence for another week when his bills come back with his name and address and PAID marked on them.  If I didn’t work with these ministries for a living, I couldn’t even help him get help.  Second--when we came back with the sofa for Vin, he was sitting alone in his room with the little clock radio I had purchased him playing.  For me it had almost been an afterthought to get him the radio with all of his other pressing needs for food and shelter and my need to hurry back to other urgent things, but to him it had been a constant companion and it was a critical need for his mind to be distracted.  It was obvious in that bare room how important it was to him.  In my desire to help him and hurry to meet his obvious needs, I hadn’t taken enough time to slow down and really listen to him to see how critical some of his other needs were—to really love him.

When you see someone panhandling or meet someone in need, I want to encourage you to stop and take time to really listen to them.  Hear what they have to say in the same way that God, who greatly loves them, hears them.  See how you can come alongside them and help them or connect them with help directly.  It may be that your resources will be needed for them to get through the assistance agencies and get actual help.  Quite possibly the one that Christ sent to answer their prayers is none other than you.