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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

God's Humor (Bromas de Dios)

The last few weeks have been a cresting wave of ministry and invested time; I was often up until 2AM and back up at 6AM.  It was spiritually and emotionally energizing--the types of deep, sincere spiritual discussions I was having late at night and the types of aid we were giving to those in need were the type of things that amp a person up and give me energy.  On the other hand, it was very physically exhausting to my body, and I critically needed sleep when it was all said and done (and during it, too).

During a tiny lull between two very heavy stretches of time, a little series of events occurred that I want to share.  To me, it was a tiny glimpse of what I perceive to be God's humor (it could also be coincidence, but I find it pretty funny either way and it seems to ring of God's humor). 

Last Thursday, I received a text from some ministry supporters who live a distance away.  They wanted to bring in some items for the free store and would be in Hays.  I told them when I would be up at The dojo/The Gamers Guild/The Free Store, and I planned to show them where they could unload.

It turned out that they arrived right during the first kid's class at the dojo, but Tella was willing to start the class so I could help direct them where to unload.  This particular kids class was the day after our 6-day Aikido camp, so only one student was present (the others were pretty exhausted from all the training the week prior or were out of town this particular day).  As we were unloading, I found out that the couple had received quite a few items from an auction--many of them were the types of items that local families need, including blankets and bedding materials.  They also had brought some nutrition bars and vitamins--I originally thought they were also from the auction as a gift to the food pantry, but later found out they were intended as a gift to me and Tella, which was very generous of the couple (and we've already been putting them to good use).  Anyway, I hurried a bit so I could get back to class as Tella's expression was telling me to hurry up and get on the mats to teach.  I thanked the couple, and then I taught two kids classes back to back like usual.

During one of the adult classes that evening, my students started joking about me teaching in Spanish--some wanted such a class to practice the language and some wanted it to have to pay extreme attention to what was happening as they wouldn't understand the words.  One student said they shouldn't joke about it or I might do it (since I've done it before).  They were right.

Thirty minutes into the class (during which I spoke only Spanish and Japanese), I was having fun using a bunch of Spanish vocabulary about body movement that I don't normally use.  About that exact time, three Hispanic families all came into the free store together.  One of the families occasionally comes in (about once a month or once every two or three months).  They had brought along two other families.  The adults only spoke Spanish for the most part, though the kids mostly only spoke English.  They asked me some questions in Spanish, and because I'd been using the language for the last 30 minutes my replies were natural and fluid.  Also, some of the items that had just been brought in that afternoon were exactly what these (and other patrons that evening) needed.

After I had helped them a few different times with questions (between teaching on the mat), they left got everything they needed and left, and my students laughed about the strange coincidence that we'd done a Spanish class and then had three Spanish families come in as we were talking in Spanish on the mats.  They didn't know the further coincidence that some of the needed items had just arrived that day, nor did they know how infrequently these families came into the Free Store to really appreciate how unlikely it was that it would be on a day we did Spanish class (which almost never happens).  It made me smile and laugh a bit on the inside as it felt a bit like the humor that God often seems to show as He helps things fall together in the right place and the right time.  It was also a great pick-me-up as I finished the big wave of ministry that coincided with the Aikido Camp I'd been teaching and prepared to hit the follow-up wave of the Prerelease weekend at The Gamers Guild (along with some further ministry opportunities and the wedding of one of my Aikido students that same weekend).

Thanks for your continued prayers and support--please feel free to come on out and work with us or talk to me over a coffee if you want to know what else is going on (though my upcoming newsletter will detail some of it).  Vaya con Dios!  (Old Spanish blessing--Go with God)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

God's Faithfulness

God recurrently surprises me by showing me prayers that He's answered that I've forgotten I'd even made.  One of the best examples of that occurred to me this last week.  As I was walking into Dillons, one of the employees (who often goes to The Gamers Guild) stopped me and asked me if I'd be willing to do his wedding vow renewals.  We had a bit of a conversation, because I needed to know what both he and his wife were wanting.  First, they often have different desires and don't always communicate well, and I didn't want to step into a minefield.  Second, I wasn't sure if they wanted this to be a Christian ceremony, and I needed to know those details before I decided if I'd be willing to proceed.  We ended up agreeing that he and his wife would meet with me the following day or the day after (they were doing the renewals in three days, and I wanted to let them know yes or no at least a day in advance--preferably much earlier).

They ended up showing up at The Gamers Guild to discuss what they wanted the night before their ceremony.  It took a fairly long discussion as they did want a Christian ceremony but hadn't laid out how the event should look.  They did know some songs they wanted, but there was no sound person or sound system, just a laptop with loud speakers and a cell phone.  They also knew some of the things they wanted to happen, but they didn't have an order or timing set out.  We worked through all of those details and more (I was glad I'd done a wedding once before), and then we set a time to do a rehearsal in advance.

The day of the event, I was mostly present to be a peacemaker and keep everything running smoothly.  I hadn't had much time to prepare a message, but I trusted the Holy Spirit to give me the needed words at the time and had at least some ideas laid out.  I'd be happy to share the details of the day and the ceremony in person at any time, but that's not really the heart of the story here.

The heart of the story is that when I first met these two almost four years ago at The Gamers Guild, they'd walked in as a group of four.  The husband had a girlfriend on his shoulder, and the wife had a boyfriend.  They man introduced himself and his 'soon-to-be-x-wife', in his words, and the woman introduced herself and her 'soon-to-be-x-husband', in her words.  They also introduced their significant others.  Needless to say, I wasn't sure exactly how to respond.  I kept it polite, and I introduced them to what they could do in The Gamers Guild.  I also got to know both of them and listened to their stories.

Over time, I watched them interact with each other and wasn't sure if they should stay together or not, but I turned it over to God in prayer--praying for the best outcome for them and the people with them.  Over the next few months they went through ups and downs, but they were ultimately separate and living with others.  Fast forward to a few years later, and they are back together--not only that, but they are generally treating each other better and are moving slowly towards a healthier relationship.  I'd forgotten about the prayer I'd made on their behalf long ago, and then, out of the blue, I'm asked to renew their vows.

That's when I remembered their true history and also when I remembered what I'd prayed.  It struck me pretty hard--how could I have forgotten those prayers years ago?  How much work had God incrementally done to slowly help these two get to where they were now?  What an amazing series of events must have slowly been occurring that answered a prayer that I'd forgotten I'd even made.

I felt humbled, embarrassed, and thankful all at once.  It was an interesting moment for me, and it was one that I'm still reflecting on today.  How often has God done major things to answer my prayers only for me to no even notice all of the hard work He and The Holy Spirit have been doing in others' lives?  Isn't it crazy that He could be lovingly, painstakingly answering a sincere prayer that I made so long ago that I forgot it?  How amazing is His great love?

Thank God for his patience, forgiveness, and most of all, for His love for all of us...

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Unexpected Kingdom Work Proverbs 3:5-6

This morning had a rough plan--it's my day to get more work done for The Gamers Guild side of the outreach work we do, and I had to get a fair bit done.  Our monthly schedule switches to summer schedule in a couple of weeks, and I need to lock down the hours that we'll change to for the summer along with several big upcoming events (and make sure they fit with direct ministry events, Aikido events, and other happenings).  This involves a couple to a few hours of direct scheduling work, then double-checking them with my wife, uploading them to two websites and four facebook pages, and printing them off to distribute at the Dojo and The Guild.  I had just finished getting around and was running to Dillons to pick up some needed items when I got a call from a local fellow who is getting very involved with several ministries (and who has a building that he wants to use for ministry that may be a long-term fit for us or may be something he'll use for his own ministry initiatives--for now he's working on his own things, which is how it should be at this time).  After making sure it was ok with my wife (the mornings are also our time to be together before she's at work since I work until midnight), I ran the errand at Dillons and headed down to First Call for Help.

Once there, I chatted with this fellow and a guy who's on First Call for Help's board of directors.  Both are idea guys who will follow through, which is great, but it can lead to conflict if visions aren't 100% in line.  The fellow with the building was urging the board member to consider renting out the back of First Call for Help to us (for the Dojo or Guild) and buy the house next door for their high efficiency apartments (instead of using the back we were standing in for the apartments, which is the current plan).  He had a few good reasons, including the fact that our money could go to First Call for Help instead of some local landlord, which I wholeheartedly agree with.  However, the building they bought was bought with intention to turn the back into the apartments, and they do already own the building and are already in process of looking to do that.  Also, the space would maybe work for the Dojo but not for the Guild or free store as it is too small and doesn't have enough parking.  The ceilings are too low for a Dojo, so we couldn't use weapons inside, but in an emergency we could look at renting a space like this one.  Right now at this time, though, it's not a good fit for us.  At this time, as First Call for Help waits on drawings from an architect for the apartments and costs, it's also not a good fit for them.  In future if things fall through, though, it's good to be aware of this option.

I made sure to chat with both men to a fair degree as I could sense the visions butting heads, but I also know both men to be powerfully kingdom-driven and hard working, so a conflict is in no one's best interests.  I also wanted to make sure neither lost drive by their idea not happening--they both do good Kingdom work, and letting them become discouraged is not good for the Kingdom.  Overall, I think it went relatively well--I got a good handle on the situation and I think it opened us all up to options if things change at First Call for Help without overly discouraging anyone; it did end up taking almost two hours, though (I stayed to talk with the board member about this and other things).  After that discussion, I had a very beneficial talk with the director for First Call for Help, which took up another hour or so.  Again, this talk was highly beneficial as it let us catch up, clarified a few cases we are both working on, and it also got us on the same page with this particular idea and a few others.  I was also able to pick up some items for the free store from their back room of extra items.

Afterwards, it was already after noon, and I ran by Breathe to pick up a coffee drink to give to my wife at work.  I wasn't able to chat with her long due to how much work we both had, but it was good to still spend ten to fifteen minutes getting on the same daily page, encouraging each other, and seeing each other.  I also caught the station director--I wasn't sure if he and I were grabbing coffee at 1PM or not--we had tentatively said we might since last week didn't work out.  He said it would work for him if I wasn't overwhelmed, and I felt it would be good to do for both of us and for the Kingdom, so I agreed to meet him.  This left me 40 minutes to get home, get a few quick things done (including eating breakfast at 12:35PM), and then get back.  We proceeded to have a great chat, which lasted until about 2:15PM, which was beneficial to both of us and to some ministry things we're both doing, and then I headed home.  Once home, I had to take care of a few urgent things, and then it was time to pray and center for the day (normally something I do in the morning--now I was doing it about 3:00PM, and I have to head to the Dojo around 4:15PM, so there was no way I was going to get the schedule done anymore, much less several other items on my list for the day).  During that time, I prayed that God help me 'seek first the Kingdom in all I do', which is something I usually pray, and something interesting stuck out to me: He had already answered that prayer in my day today up to this point, and I should have realized He would do so.  In Proverbs 3:5-6 it says 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do, and He will make your paths straight.'  Had I done my usual day in my understanding, which would have been helpful to ministry, as well, I would have likely missed out on most or all of these things I'd experienced.  Other good things would have happened, but it was seeking God's will in each moment, not relying on my own understanding of how things should go (which would have involved me staying at home to do my usual morning routine etc.), that allowed my day to fall into place in such a beneficial way to myself and Kingdom work.  Seeking His will in each truly small thing in my day, even if it deviates from what I expect I should do, is really the best way to allow me to follow Him so He'll make my path straight--according to scripture but also to life experience (both now and previous). 

Anyway, after my reflection I hopped on here to share it (after getting some water and coffee).  One other thing that I've been adding to my life (almost daily) is to share how God's working and/or write (not necessarily on here), so I figured I'd share a bit of the ministry day today before I head out to the Dojo on my bicycle with my wife in the next five minutes.  I'm looking forward to seeing what else God has in our day, and I'm not worrying about how each little detail will shake out (though I am trying to make sure to get things done that need done in each moment as I go--right now I need to make time at some point to complete this month's schedule as soon as I can, though it may be tomorrow, and I need to make time to iron out the final details of some lifeguard classes I'm teaching later in the month).  The key, though, comes back to not worrying about what I can't control, being present in each moment, and in that moment seeking Christ.  Even now I prepare to hop on a bike and chat about the schedule with my wife on the way, but then I'll fully be in the Dojo mode, thinking of how I can teach the young ones both physical Aikido and Godly principles (humility, respect, love) in the lesson that will shortly occur.  Each phase of my night will be that way--just focused on the phase in front of me, not on what I have to do in the background.  In that way, seeking the Kingdom in each thing, I trust that He'll make my paths straight, and I thank God that He will do so.  I hope you, too, can be focused in your day and can seek first the Kingdom in all you do in each moment; I know that it can be tough when other things pull at us, but I know it will have the greatest result for all of us if we can succeed in doing it.  Go with God and keep serving/loving; thanks for reading and sharing part of your life/time with me!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Adventures and Spiritual Growth in Japan

By the way, if you want to know what happened in my 7 weeks travelling (most of it spent as a live-in Aikido student in Japan) along with some of the things that I grew in spiritually, please feel free to check out my blog relating those occurrences here: (https://uchideshiexperience.blogspot.com).  Not all of the entries talk about spiritual things, but many of them do, and all of them have potential to be interesting if you have never been a live-in martial arts student in a foreign country before (and even if you have).  ;)  Enjoy!

The Small Things

Though we all arrived a little bit late to this morning's small group (that we hold in Breathe coffee house) due to a local walk-for-a-cancer-cure event cordoning off the major streets near the coffee house (and directly in front of it), we all seemed genuinely happy to be sitting down to small group again.  While I was gone in Japan, it sounds like attendance was intermittent, but some of that was due to local events (including a blizzard at one point).  Now at least a few of us are regularly meeting, and more will likely rejoin once semester finals are over.  

For my part, I was glad to see the guys again and hear how life had been treating them.  One of them had gone through several relatively major life events, and the other was primarily focusing on his family and some things his youngest child was going through.  Both were happy to share and to listen, and I really enjoyed hearing what they had been learning about life and spirituality (while that was the main encouraging point for me, you'll have to come to a small group yourself if you want to know what they were learning, as discussions in small group are private).

We didn't get to much Bible study, and we never normally do when someone makes it back after a long absence, but it was still energizing finding out how we could pray together and simply being together after such a long absence.  There are some things you don't realize that you miss until you are back in them, and this time was definitely one of those things.  Though some of our small group times I'm exhausted, all of us (including me) are distractable, or topics range far enough away that it may not be obviously beneficial, many other times we share powerfully as we learn through reading the Bible and discussing it and/or sharing what we've been learning in our own personal, spiritual walks.  This time is invaluable and encouraging in ways I don't always see, so I was very blessed to be able to spend it with some fellow brothers in Christ this morning as I then rolled on into my day (which involved five minutes later selling an Aikido student a wooden weapon and talking about the challenges of raising and teaching children--especially of teaching them morality--and relating that back to our own personal growth in Christ and patience, then running to the bank to make change for The Gamers Guild for tonight and proceeding home to get breakfast and do office work).

Often-times its the small things in my day that end up setting the tone for everything else to go well.  Thanks to God for that opportunity this morning.  

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 (uchideshiexperience.blogspot.com).  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

Gloves

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!
Brandon

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

Re-Centering

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!