Monday, July 24, 2017

Christian Challenge Peru Pre-Trip Update 2017!

It's finally here and boy, are we stoked! July 25th-August 8th, we'll be on mission in Peru! Though we've had an extremely busy summer, our mission trip to Peru with Climbing for Christ has always been on our mind. With all the training we've done for the trip, it's good to keep the mission on our mind to get us through the difficult workouts. When you remember you're doing it for God, you can endure a lot more. And you need that reminder when you're running 7.5 miles every other day for training...because running is awful.

It's really cool how God directed our footsteps with this trip. If you remember from past newsletters, last fall we talked about how we had three options for the summer. One of the options was that we were invited to a wedding in Croatia of a childhood friend of Rachel's from that area. With Rachel growing up a third-culture kid, she needed closure from her childhood growing up in Eastern Europe. TCKs are always encouraged to revisit where they grew up so that they can find that closure. Going to the wedding would have allowed Rachel to find that closure.

We also had been asked to go on a mission trip to the Philippines by a good friend of mine from high school. For years, we've been praying that God would bring us together on a mission trip and give us an opportunity to serve together. After already doing two mission trips to the Philippines, we have a heart to get back there someday. The mission trip would have also given us a chance to hop on over to Japan to visit some of our former students there and encourage them.

Our last option was the Peru trip. Now obviously, we wanted to do everything and would have if it had been God's will but as time went on, it was clear that the finances would only be there for one trip. By winter, we felt like Peru was where God was calling us. Then in April, Rachel's childhood friend surprised us by visiting us in Durango. And with that, Rachel got enough closure for the time being. A month or two later, I found out that the Philippines trip had actually fallen thru and been moved to another country. Looking back, we really feel like God answered our prayers and gave us direction towards Peru before things even unfolded.

This will be my third trip to Peru and Rachel's second. During past trips, our team traveled to the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Huayhuash of the Andes. This year, we will be focused exclusively on the Blanca. We will return to areas we have been working in and push deeper into unreached areas of the Blanca. There is still a lot of uncovered ground. There's a lot of work to be done for the Gospel.

The people group we will be reaching are the Quechua people. They live in many different areas of South America but ours specifically live and work high in the Andes Mountains at elevations of around 9,000-16,000 feet.

Religiously, there are many different beliefs amongst the people. Some believe in Jesus. Some worship animistic spirits. Many worship both Jesus and the spirits. Still, there are others who only know of a creator. They know nothing about Him because no one has ever shared, and they've never seen a Bible. They are so remote, that no one has ever told them about Jesus.

Despite the differences of beliefs, the common thing amongst almost all the people is that they don't have Bibles. So like last two trips, our goal is to distribute as many Bibles as possible. Though we will be ministering in many towns, a lot of the people we reach will be literally too far from any church to attend it and get fed spiritually with God's Truth. They need Bibles in their hands to learn that Truth and protect themselves from being deceived.

Along with giving out as many Bibles as we can backpack in, we will be putting on church services, encouraging those who are already believers and seeking out divine appointments to share the Gospel with those who need to hear it.

During past trips, God brought divine appointment after divine appointment in our path. It was amazing. I've never seen soil so ready for the Gospel. I truly can't wait to get back and see what God is going to do this year. I can't wait to see how God has grown the seeds that were planted in years past. We saw a lot of people come to Christ. I'm stoked to see where God has brought them since we were last there.

I'm also stoked for our team this year. I will have served on C4C missions with all but two of them.

Jordan Rowley is back for another go. Jordan works for C4C at their headquarters in Rochester, NY. Another Rochester local, Gary Fallesen, will also be on the trip. Gary is the president and founder of Climbing for Christ. He's done many trips to Peru and was also on my first two trips to the Himalayas.

Then, of course my beautiful wife, Rachel, will be going again this year. It's always blessing when I get the chance to serve alongside my wife in the mission field.

This year, we also have Aaron Hemphill and his son, Ronen, joining the team. Aaron founded AustriAlpin, a climbing gear company out of the Calgary, Alberta area. Aaron was on my first trip to the Himalayas.

And of course, I can't forget one of our students, Lexi Hooper. Lexi is a student at Fort Lewis and came to us from Austin, Texas. She joined our Christian Challenge mission team that went down to Juarez, Mexico over spring break.

Rounding the team out will be Peruvians Jaime Jesus Servat and Edwin Milla. Jaime is our local missionary on the ground there. He is the one who returns to each area we visit to followup and disciple those God connects us with. Edwin is a professional climber, missionary, and our guide for the trip.

Feel free to click on each underlined named for more info on the team member.

You can also keep up-to-date with the trip as we go! We'll try and get daily updates up online about what is happening and what God is doing on the trip. You can follow online by clicking this link: Dispatches!

If you'd like to see what God has done on our past trips to Peru, get caught up on past trip reports. It's truly amazing what God did and worth the read! Click here: Peru 2014/Peru 2015!

Thank you for all the support and encouragement you give! We are super thankful for that! Check out our prayer requests below and keep us in your prayers! #Pray4Peru #Pray4FLC

Cheers and God Bless,
Mike and Rachel

If the Lord is leading you to give, follow this link to our giving options:

Prayer Requests:

- Sleep is always a hard thing to come by on these trips yet it's extremely important. Last trip, we lost power for twelve hours or so if I remember right the night before we were to fly out early in the morning. I ended up having to pull an all-nighter due to that. It wasn't a good way to start the trip and set me back for the rest of the trip health-wise. I'd pull two more all-nighters before the trip was over. That said, it's important the whole team gets good sleep so that we can be in good spirits and good health. Pray we would have energy, be in good spirits, and get good sleep during the trip.

- Spiritual attacks on these trips are always something we need people to pray against. On past trips, it always seemed like God would do something huge one day and the next day would follow with a big spiritual attack on the team. In talking with other missionaries in Peru, it seems to be what happens in the country. Not to be dramatic but it can be life and near death stuff as we've seen on past trips. It can also just be illness or injury...even in the lead up to the trip. Rachel has recently been getting bad headaches. Two days ago, I could barely get out of bed or breathe deeply due to back pain. Thankfully, that looks to be clearing up just before we leave after a lot of prayer. Keep praying for us and our team that God would protect us on this trip from any spiritual attacks. Pray that God would give us the strength to endure whatever comes our way. Also pray for everyone praying for our team because when you pray for our team, you're stepping into the battle as well.

- We fully expect God to change many lives on this trip. Pray that He would open doors for the Gospel to be received and understood. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be working on the hearts and minds of the people we are going to meet.

- On trips like this, there is always the chance of a rolled ankle while hiking or food poisoning at some point in the trip. Pray that God would keep our team safe and healthy from all those sorts of things.

- We trust God to provide for the ministry we do but would appreciate you praying as well that the funding needs of the mission trip and the ministry we do on campus would be met. If you would like to give toward the ministry or even the mission trip, there is still time. Go to: Give Now.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Christian Challenge June Update 2017!

Greetings!  Hope you are doing well!  Things are going well here other than being a little (or maybe very) exhausted.  We've been going strong since classes got out.  God has been doing a lot and there's much to cover in this update.

So before we go further, just wanted to let you know that our online giving options have changed.  It's a much shorter link now, and hopefully, it will be easier for everyone going forward.  If you ever want to give toward the ministry online, you can now just click here:  Let us know if you have any questions.

Anyway, things have been busy around here this summer.  We started with our state directors' meetings up in Colorado Springs.  Though the meetings were really long hours, it's always encouraging to get around other collegiate ministers who are also so passionate about reaching the college campuses of Colorado for Christ.

There, some big news was announced.  Our state director, Max Barnett, is stepping down after years of guiding the ship.  I'd say he was retiring but Max will never retire from ministry.  His passion for Christ and discipleship just won't let him.  Bobby Pruett, who was the Christian Challenge director at CU Boulder, will be stepping into Max's position.  Definitely be praying for that transition.

After the director's meetings, Rachel and I hiked up to an old forest fire lookout for a night to get away and refresh.  It was pretty amazing.

We had views of Mt. Evans, Longs Peak, and the lights of Denver 6,000 feet below us.

Well, we at least had those views when we weren't socked in by the storm.

We then headed back down into the Springs to spend some time with family.  It was quick because we had to get back to Durango for our Durango Christian Challenge staff meetings.  We got a lot of planning done for the next year which was great.  After those meetings, Rikako, one of our Japanese students who got saved last fall, moved in while taking a summer class.  She is a student Rachel disciples so it was great for them to get a lot of good quality time together before Rikako heads back to Japan.

During that time, we also had a wedding to be at.  That was seven hours away in Rangely, CO.  Two of our students, William and Chelsea who had just graduated were getting married.  William is a guy I had been discipling since his freshman year.  I met him originally thru our time leading FCA as he was one of our cross-country runners who was coming.  We met Chelsea when she arrived on campus a year later.  She eventually became our Christian Challenge student president.  William, being a new graduate and newly married, is currently looking for an engineering job if anyone hears of any openings.

After the wedding, we had Rikako for a few more days before she flew out.  Soon after, Jack Dody and Joel Ramsey come down from Colorado Springs to help us put in a water system.  Jack runs a ministry called Abundiculture which helps people, specifically missionaries, live in a sustainable way in whatever location God may place them.

When all is said and done, we should have not only enough water to run a normal household but also water clean enough to drink.  No more maroon-colored water.  It is stretching us a lot financially to make it happen but it was needed if we were going to continue to use our house for ministry.  Getting it done for just under $2,000 is sure better than the $17,000 a new well would have cost us.  Obviously, we're extremely thankful.

After that, Rachel and I got one last overnight getaway camping up north of town.  It was well needed.

We climbed Grayrock Peak the next day.  You can see it from Purgatory Resort and after years of ski instructing there, it's been on my list of mountains I've wanted to climb.  It ended up being amazing and just what we needed.  There were no other souls out there.

It was just us, a lot of snow and a lot of wind.  The wind was sustained at 50 mph with gusts to 70 mph.  It was enough to knock us over a few times. 

That makes climbing a little sketchy feeling like you'll get blown off the mountain but that just adds to the adventure and an adventure was just what we needed.

So that's a taste of what's been going on since graduation but there is so much more to catch you up on.  God has been doing so much!  It's hard to know where to start.

When we last updated you, Rikako had just gotten saved.  My plan was to do a salvation or baptism per newsletter but then students stated getting saved and baptized left and right.  It was amazing!  I think we ended the school year with seven students getting saved and nine baptisms total.

Lane was the first to get saved and baptized after Rikako.  If you remember, Lane started coming to our group years ago.  He was a staunch atheist.  He told us he thought Christianity was a load of...garbage.  He used another word but you get the picture.  Over the years, we kept pouring into him and praying for him.  Eventually last summer at one of our game nights, he asked, "So if a guy were to want to check out a church, where would he go?"  Then in January, he decided to follow Christ.

When he was asked what the biggest thing was in him finding salvation in Christ, it wasn't us having an answer for all of his spiritual questions.  That was still important but the biggest clincher was that he saw the love of Christ in Christian Challenge.  When he hung out with us, he felt that love.  Soon after his salvation, he got baptized.  It was amazing to see how God changed Lane's heart over the years.  There were certainly a lot of prayers for Lane.  We didn't give up on Lane and neither did God.

Soon, spring break was upon us.  That was a big week for the ministry.  We sent a team of twenty-three down to a missionary-run school down in Juarez, Mexico to fix up the school and build additions so that they can take in more students.  Rachel was part of that trip.

It was the biggest group we've sent down there in the history of the ministry.  We typically send less than ten but this year the trip exploded in size.  With all of the students who went, the ministry was able to get so much more work and ministry done.  They were covering in a day what would typically take the whole week.

During the time there, God was also ministering in the hearts of our students and changing lives.  All in all, it was a hugely successful trip.  Check out the video Josh put together of the trip here: Juarez Video!  The school is always looking for volunteers to help out so if you're interested, they'd love to have you down there.

With the group heading to Mexico, I stayed behind.  We had a big group of our past Japanese students coming in town.  Ryo, who I mentioned in our last update that he was a big influence in Rikako coming to Fort Lewis, came in town first.  He is dating a Christian back in Japan which opened the door to a lot of good spiritual conversation and questions while he was here.

After he headed back to Japan, more past Japanese students came in.  We finished up their time with a family dinner for them.  It was one of their birthdays as well so we celebrated that too.  It was awesome to get to catch up with all of them.

I even got to have a conversation about Jesus with one of the students who seemed totally closed off the first time he was in Durango.  This time around, he was open to it.  It was awesome!

Over spring break, God was working in Juarez and Durango...and Peru too.  That's right.  One of our students just happened to get saved in Peru over spring break.  We had been pouring into and praying for Yuko, one of our Japanese students, since the beginning of the school year.  My first memory of her is waterfall jumping with us.  She was one of the first to jump and had no fear.  Needless to say, she's an adventurous one.

She was worried that other Japanese students would think she was getting brainwashed if she went to Juarez with the group so instead, she decided to go to Peru by herself.  Well, as she traveled thru the country and thought about all she had learned about Jesus and who He claimed to be, she realized that she actually believed it, that she was actually a Christian.  After returning to Durango, she quickly wanted to get baptized and even asked if she could give her testimony in front of all of our students at one of our discussion nights.

And then, I think it was within a day of us hearing about Yuko's decision, another student got saved.  We met Bailey on our first night hike.  She also came on our camping trip to Ice Lakes where she really connected with a group of our students.  Following those events, she started going to our Bible studies and meeting with our staff weekly.  After all of that and reading thru the Bible we had given her, she decided it was time to become a Christian.  Bailey then ended up getting baptized with Yuko.

We followed those baptisms up with one of our sophomore (soon to be junior) students, Ryan R., getting baptized.  Ryan has been discipled by William for the past two years.  We hope to have Ryan discipling a student this coming year.

But God still wasn't done.  Joycelin, who was the secretary of the LGBT club on campus and whom Chelsea was meeting with got saved and baptized.

When she started reading the Bible, she said a peace like she had never felt would just come over her.  She was a student who had a lot of real questions and Challenge allowed her to ask those questions in a safe place.

Just before graduation, Nina, Rachel's childhood friend from Croatia, visited us.  Nina is the one who invited us to her wedding in Croatia this summer.

It was really awesome for Rachel having Nina here.  Rachel had needed closure with being a third-culture kid and while it wasn't revisiting Croatia and Serbia to get that closure, talking and hanging out with Nina was enough closure for now.  It was really great to see how God worked thru that visit.

Somewhere in there, we fit in some hikes as well.  Crader Ridge was a fun one with a lot of deep spiritual discussions. 

My favorite was our night snowshoeing trip.  It was an amazing night snowshoeing up in the mountains to have an Easter Eve service around the campfire complete with a short sermon...and Peeps s'mores of course.  It's always a highlight for a lot of our students too.

Before we knew it, graduation was upon us.  We watched a lot of our core students walk across that stage into their next season of life.  Some weren't sure where God was going to take them next.  Others did.  Blythe Crow, who started a ministry rescuing girls out of sex-slavery in Kenya, will be joining Challenge staff at Colorado Mesa University while continuing her ministry in Africa.  Ryan Evanyo will be joining staff with us next fall.

It's been amazing to see how God worked in the lives of our students and staff this year!  We've been really blessed with such a fruitful year!  We definitely praise God for that!  Check out the end of the year video Josh put together of all God did these past two semesters.  There are student interviews and pictures.  You get bonus points if you can find the spelling mistakes.  Watch the video here: End of the Year Challenge Video!

Over the past year, there has been a lot of prayer covering our students and our staff.  God is answering those prayers.  We know that you play a big part in that so keep praying.  I challenged everyone in past newsletters to really be praying for the ministry and campus, to set at least 5-10 minutes a day aside to do that.  We have really seen fruit from that, maybe more fruit than we've ever seen.  I don't believe that's a coincidence.  So please, keep praying.  Don't stop just because it is summer.  God is moving thru your prayers!

Thank you for all the support and encouragement you give! We are super thankful for that!  As always, keep us, the ministry, and the FLC campus in your prayers! #Pray4FLC

Cheers and God Bless,
Mike and Rachel

If the Lord is leading you to give, please follow this link to our giving options:

Prayer Requests:

- Pray that God would continue blessing us with awesome student-leaders. We are losing a lot of our solid student-leaders to graduation so we'll need current students to step up into that role.

- Pray for our students that God would continue growing them and keeping them strong in their faith over the summer. Summer can be a tough time on students. It's easy to fall back into old ways when you don't have the structure and the support base they have in with the ministry on campus.

- Over the last couple of months, I've been researching churches in Japan. I've been in contact with a few pastors over there and looking at church websites. It's not easy to find churches there, let alone good churches. It's not that there aren't good churches. It's just hard to know which churches are good when you don't speak Japanese. We've made a few connections there but we may need to, at some point, go there to check things out for ourselves so that we can know where to refer students who find Jesus here and then head back to Japan. All that said, be praying for Rikako and Yuko that they would have the discernment to find a good church they can plug into and continue growing their faith.

- With as many things as the ministry does, it's easy to take on way too much and get burnt-out. Most of the time, it's all good things that lead us down that path. Summer is supposed to be more of a time of rest for us between keeping up with students, mission trips, and support raising but that rest can easily be neglected or just plain disappear. And here we are midway thru summer without rest pretty maxed-out and burnt-out. Pray that we would find time for rest, and that people would understand and respect the need for a little space so that we can recover from the burn-out we're currently in. We need that time to recover before the coming mission trip and before the new semester which will be here before we know it.

- Being Christians, we are in a spiritual battle. When you do ministry, you become a bigger target in that battle. Keep praying for us and our team that God would protect us from any spiritual attacks. Pray that God would give us the strength and encouragement to endure. Also pray for everyone praying for our ministry because when you pray for the ministry, you become a bigger target as well.

- Over the years, our staff has had a lot of health issues that can really be a discouragement. Right now, we're actually pretty healthy as a staff. Josh is doing pretty good, though there is always the worry about his heart and possible future strokes. Rachel Horton's migraines have become much less often. The rest of the staff has been pretty good other than Rachel and me. Rachel has been under the weather the past few days since getting back from a camping trip. Thankfully, she seems to be getting better. I had my wrist blown up playing hockey in early April and then played three more games on it before figuring out what was wrong with it: torn cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. Thankfully, surgery as of now isn't needed or wouldn't help much. It's healing but healing slowly. I've also got another biopsy coming up for the nodule on my thyroid. Pray that God would heal and keep our staff safe and healthy.

- Our staff has meshed pretty well over the last year. It's a huge answered prayer. I think it's one of the reasons why the ministry has been so fruitful. Keep praying for our team that it would continue to mesh well.

- Our Peru mission trip is coming up next month. The dates of it are July 25th-August 8th. It's less than a month away. I'll get an update out on what we'll be doing there before we leave. Be praying for our training and preparations, for us and our team, as we get ready for the trip, that it would all go smoothly. Be praying that God would be preparing hearts of the people we will be coming in contact with down there. Also pray that God would provide all the funding that we need for the mission to Peru.

- With all the work that was happening with the new water system, we had more mice come inside and start chewing thru things. Pray that God would keep those pest problems under control.

- So we now have a water system in place with filters and everything! Now we just need rain. Pray that God would bring us that rain. We haven't seen measurable rain since we put the system in but hopefully, the monsoons should be kicking in soon.

- As I write this, there is currently a forest fire (started on the property of where Rachel and I lived before we moved into our current cabin) just a mile or two west of Durango and moving toward town. Pray for rain (without lightning) for the entire area. Pray that God would keep everyone safe including the firefighters fighting the blaze.

- Pray that Rachel and I would not neglect the ministry that is our marriage. We can be much more successful in our college ministry if our marriage is in a good place but it's easy to put that on the back burner when things get busy.

- Rachel and I trust God to provide for us and the ministry but we'd appreciate you praying as well that the funding needs would be met. If you would like to give for the on-going ministry happening at Fort Lewis or towards our Peru mission trip, please go to: Give Now.

- With as fruitful as the ministry has been, I want to end this section on a high note. We're so thankful for what God is doing on campus! Praise God for the fruit we are seeing at FLC and pray that He continues to bless the ministry and campus with that fruit.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Change in Giving Options

Just a quick but important update for all of those who support what we do with the ministry.  Our giving options have changed.  More specifically, our online giving website has changed.  It is now  Hopefully, this will make things easier going forward in the future.

And just a reminder but we are still raising funds for our coming Peru mission trip.  You can give to that thru the new link.

Stay tuned for a new update coming out soon covering the past semester.  There is a lot of cover since God has been doing a lot so be prepared for a longer update.  As always, thanks for the prayer and financial support!  We couldn't do this without you being part of the team!


Friday, June 2, 2017

Everest and Faith

Well, it's nearing the end of Everest climbing season quickly.  There's only a small window in the spring when the weather is nice enough to climb the great mountain.  Nice is actually a poor word of choice.  It's too...nice.  A better phrase would be...less awful.  That less awful weather allows climbers an opportunity to trudge to the top and hope the window doesn't close on them.

I've loved Everest and its mystique ever since the day I learned of it when I was much younger.  I watched every TV show and movie on it I could get my hands on.  I went onto reading Into thin Air and The Last Climb.  Both are excellent books.  I'm fascinated by Everest.  For a long time, I even wanted to climb it.  That's changed over the years though.  I truly think I could with enough training but it's so expensive to wage an ascent on it.  I've grown way too thrifty for that.  Plus I have a wife and she'd kill me if I died trying to climb Everest.  Getting to base camp, though, is still on my bucket list.

With us being in the age of the internet, I'm now able to live vicariously thru others.  Every year, I follow multiple climbing teams' dispatches from the mountain.  I love the near real-time updates.  In 2016, I followed the Russel Brice's Himex team and the USX team of American soldiers bringing awareness for soldiers with PTSD.  I followed Jeff Evans as he worked with the Life Flight helicopter that rescued climbers who were sick or injured on the mountain and saved many lives.  They all provided great storylines to follow over a month or two.

Another storyline that was always interesting to me was Erik

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Adressing Durango's Homeless Issue

I was in a coffee shop today waiting for a meeting scrolling thru Facebook when I came across an article addressing Durango's huge homeless issue.  It's been a discussion in town for years but has really become prominent as Durango and Colorado has given out more and more entitlements and legalized marijuana.

Homelessness in Durango seems a bit different than what is seen across most of America.  Living in this town will leave you jaded the the homeless issue across the rest of this nation.  Back when I lived in Kansas City, we'd go down to places where we knew there was a homeless population.  We'd try to help them out by buying them dinner.  We'd sit and hear their story.  These were guys who didn't want to be homeless but due to different circumstances in their life and sometimes poor choices they had made in their past, they had no other choice but to be homeless.

Homelessness in Durango is different.  Most are homeless due to entitlement and laziness.  They don't want to work and feel entitled to live in one of the wealthiest/expensive small towns in America.  When I've volunteered at the soup kitchen, I've come across people with teaching degrees, engineering degrees, etc.  They have stated that they were just tired of working and didn't feel like they needed to do it anymore.  But still they felt they had the right to live in Durango and have people take care of them.

In reality, being homeless in Durango is pretty easy.  There's a soup kitchen where you can get fed.  There's a shelter for when it gets cold outside. It doesn't get that cold even in the winter time.  An old army surplus sleeping bag will get you thru just fine.  Oh, and their is free healthcare in Colorado for poor people as well.  That's a nice perk.  Throw in some food stamps and life is pretty good.  It's so good that other towns now bus their homeless to Durango because they know once the homeless get here and get on the handout gravy train, they'll never come back to where they were bused in from.

Throw in that marijuana is now legal and that adds to the amount of homeless coming here because they can spend their money on that instead of things like food, shelter, and healthcare.  Those things are mostly taken care of.

Now, I have no problem with someone wants to be homeless by choice.  I get the appeal of living up in the forest and just feeling free.  I lived out of my old jeep for two years in this town when I was in college.  I prefer to look at it as long-term camping.  Never once did I beg, get government assistance, or visit the soup kitchen for a free meal.  I lived off of breakfast shakes, Pop-tarts, and Spaghetti-O's.  It wasn't much and probably not very healthy but it was what I could afford with what I was making at my job.  I spent about $1.25 on food a day.  I'd park in a forested area down by the river for the night to sleep.  That's right.  I lived in a jeep down by the river.  Shout out to Chris Farley, God rest his soul.

But seriously, being homeless for those two years was great.  It was a great learning experience for me.  It really matured me and grew my faith.  I truly think everyone should be homeless for six months of their lives.  It can make you realize what is really important in life.

So if someone wants to be homeless up in the forest, be my long as you're doing it legally, not trashing the place, and not harassing people expecting them to take care of you.  And there in lies one of the problems with homelessness in Durango.  It's not that we have a lot of homeless people.  We do but that's not the real problem.  It's that many are sleeping in places illegally and trashing the places they stay for the night.  It's easy to know when you've come upon a homeless camp because they tend to leave trash everywhere.  Living green and environmentally-friendly has rarely ever been high on the priority list for the poor people of the world.

During my two years of long-term camping, I tried to be different though.  Littering has always been one of the biggest things that makes my blood boil.  When I was living out of my jeep, I'd leave no trace that I was there.  I'd sleep there at night and be gone during the day.  After I left for the day, no one would ever had known I'd been their the night before.  To this day, you'd never know I had been there.

The other homelessness issue that is now getting a lot of chatter is the panhandling that has flooded the sidewalks and parking lots of our tourist and grocery store areas.  I seriously feel at times as if I'm in a third-world country when I walk down Main St. or go to the grocery store there are so many people begging.  It's not just begging but being aggressive and harassing people if they don't feed their laziness, entitlement, and/or love of drugs or alcohol.  Quite frankly, there is no reason to beg or harass people with all the handouts this town has.  So you have to ask where that extra money would be going?

I've personally been harassed at all hours of the day and night.  Nothing like having a homeless guy harass you at night in an empty and dark parking lot.  It gets to the point where people stop going to those places.  It kills business.  These are businesses of people who are actually willing to work and their customers are being scared away by people who think the world owes them something.

Clearly, there is a big issue here.  It's one that needs to be fixed.  I've listened to a lot of people's opinions on this.  Some people say build them housing but that seems to make it that much easier for them to stay on the path they are on.  Some say, write them fines or take them to jail.  In talking to some of the cops around town, they don't believe that works.  Jail just gives them a bunch of free meals and a roof over their head.  Fines never get paid.  My wife has mentioned only giving helping those who were born in Durango.  Neither my wife or I were born here so that would exclude us from getting help.

So what's the answer?  I think one, we need to stop giving to the beggers.  If we dry up their cash flow for alcohol and drugs, they will be more likely to move on or find a job that will provide cash flow for their wants if it is important enough to them.  I always try to direct them to the soup kitchen when approached.  Last I checked, the soup kitchen has recently installed a system where when you work or help the soup kitchen, you can earn extra food or showers.  It's helping people work for the help they get and hopefully, that might create a good habit.

The next thing I'd do is to make people who are going to beg in certain areas like business areas get a permit to beg.  Make it maybe $500.  It's pricey but that's the point.  If you don't have the permit, you can't beg outside of places of business.

If you think that's harsh, then you'll really think this is harsh.  Anyone who breaks that law gets a month in jail.  Ouch, I know.  It sounds bad but hear me out.  During that month in jail, the first thing they would get is court-ordered counseling.  Not everyone is homeless because they are entitled and lazy.  This would allow those with mental illness or addictions to get real help for an extended time.

Those arrested will also be forced to do manual labor.  I'm thinking chain-gang style.  We have plenty of jobs around town they could do.  Make them shovel snow in the winter time.  Having them clearing mountain bike and hiking trails of debris during the spring, summer, and fall.  The big thing here is the manual labor.  It's forcing them to do the thing they were completely trying to avoid.  Make that known publicly and I'm sure it would be a huge deterrent.  You break the law, we'll make you work.  It might take some time to catch on but after awhile, I'm sure we'd have almost no problems with aggressive begging.  These people will be forced to change and be productive citizens of society or will simply move on to other places more friendly to their entitled and lazy lifestyle.

Lastly, maybe build on my wife's suggestion.  Now, I wouldn't exclude everyone except Durango natives from help from the local government or shelter and soup kitchen.  But maybe legislate that you have to be a resident of Durango for a certain time period before you can apply for help.  In a college town like this, anywhere from three to six years of residency makes sense to me.  Hopefully, that would encourage people to move back to their hometowns (which are probably much cheaper places to live anyway) when they hit hard times.  Of course, their would be special exceptions for situations like the battered wife escaping an abusive husband or the family whose house just burned down.

I'm sure a lot of people would tell me I have no compassion.  They'd tell me that I'm a terrible Christian.  "Jesus told us to take care of the poor, you hypocrite!"  Of course He did but is feeding someone's addiction to drugs and/or their mental illness of entitlement really helping them?  I see it helping much more if instead of giving a man a fish, we teach a man to fish.  It's much more helpful to their life if we give stern encouragements to provide for themselves instead of relying on others to provide for them.

We have to remember that the poor back in the time of Jesus for the most part were not lazy people but orphans, widows, and those physically disabled.  The Bible states that if you don't work, you don't eat.  That leaves lazy people not eating.  It's amazing what a motivator hunger is.  Once you get hungry enough, you'll be more than encouraged to work for food.  Even when the Israelites were commanded to leave a bit of food in the fields for the poor traveler or outsider passing thru, that outsider still had to work to harvest that food.  It wasn't a free handout.

Homelessness in Durango is certainly complex issue because you're dealing with human beings.  We want to love them and have compassion and we still can while solving this problem.  We might just have to be willing to take the hard and sometimes what seems like harsh steps on the surface to make it happen.  Sometimes, the hard things are the most loving and compassionate things you can do.  I'm not saying I have all the answers or that this is the kindest way to handle the situation but I do see these ideas as possible solutions.  And now, Durango is at a point in time where we desperately need some real solutions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Christian Challenge February 2017 Update!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Wait, it's already February. Guess that would have been a better opening when I started writing this update back in December. It's amazing how time flies when things are busy. Anyway, hope you had a great day celebrating our Savior's birth!

Rachel and I went up to Colorado Springs to spend some time with her family. Then we came back to Durango to celebrate Christmas with my mother. We had one of our Japanese students, Ayane, join us for our church's candlelight service which we followed up with dinner afterwards.

After hearing our pastor preach, Ayane was filled with so many great questions that we got to answer. It was an awesome night.

We then headed back up to Colorado Springs to take our students to Life Impact, a conference with 350 other college students from all over the nation.

It was an amazing time up there for our students filled with great speakers (Rachel's dad even got to lead a couple of sessions) and a lot of spiritual growth. And of course, we took our rap album cover picture which has somehow become a tradition.

We had two of our Japanese students attend it with us. One of those from what we understand said that she now believes everything in the Bible including what it claims about Jesus. Though she is not yet ready to call herself a Christian. I think the biggest obstacle is the worry of if there will be support for her to continue to walk with Jesus when she gets back to Japan. It seems she doesn't want to commit to something if she can't follow thru. We've assured her that we can connect her with people to encourage her over there but it may just take some time for it to actually sink in. The Holy Spirit is certainly working though!  And also working in the life of the other Japanese student who was there as well but you'll have to keep reading to find out more about that.

After Life Impact was over, getting back to Durango was interesting. It started with a night of extremely little sleep. Then, we had to deal with multiple mountain passes closing. We'd head in one direction, they'd close the pass. Then head in another, and they'd close that road. It turned what should have been a six-hour trip into a fourteen-hour trip.

And to cap off the trip, after dropping off the students on campus, I hit a deer. It was so ridiculous, I couldn't help but laugh. I managed to avoid the deer until it got spooked by an oncoming truck and darted back into my lane. Thankfully, I was in our Xterra which is made really well. The deer couldn't have hit in a better place. It only did $100 or so in damage as far as we know breaking off the plastic grill. We're thankful because it could have been much worse.

We finished up the last couple of days before the semester started with shoveling three feet of snow. Or was it wet concrete? The snow this year has just kept coming and been extremely heavy. We surpassed our normal peak two months early. We've probably already received around 160 inches so far.

Our original plan was to pay someone to plow it right before we got home from Life Impact. We started calling plow drivers three weeks early but none of them would call us back. Thankfully, for one of the storms, a guy from our church came out and plowed our 60-yard driveway after our pastor put in a word for us.

A few storms later, our neighbor brought his snowblower over and surprised us by clearing our driveway while we were away at church. His wife told us that she was really making an effort to practice random acts of she sent her husband over to do the snowblowing. Both kind acts of clearing our driveway were huge blessings and saved our backs from shoveling at least a couple of times...which saved us from a couple of chiropractor visits.

Despite being on break, we still pour a lot of time into students.

Part of our time in between semesters this year was having one of our Japanese students, Rikako, join us for our trips to Colorado Springs.

I'll preface this by saying that over the summer, I'd been praying a lot for my wife and the ministry God was doing thru her. Ministry can be a very discouraging place sometimes. It's not all fun and games. Discipleship is messy. It can be heavy and wear on a person. At the time, I felt like my wife really needed a season of encouragement. In sports terms, she needed a win. Whether she needed it or not, that's what I wanted for her because I wanted her to be blessed in that and encouraged. So that's what I prayed for. And God answered.

We first met Rikako at our first international night of the year. She immediately connected with Rachel. Over the next months, Rachel was really able pour into her. One night, Rikako spent the night with us at our cabin. The plan was to watch Christmas movies and go to church the next morning. Rikako wrote this on her Facebook page that Sunday night:

      Stayed at Rachel and Mike's house❤ I made chocolate cookies (with too much sugar and a whole butter lol) and Japanese curry for them!!! They like it and I'm so glad!!! We talked a lot and watched Home alone and Last holiday!! I love both movies!! Everybody, I'm getting ready to spend Christmas!! haha. And today's morning, I went to church and prayed for God. I want to go there every Sunday!!

That afternoon, I was talking with a good friend of mine from high school, Jimmy Arcisz. He was a youth pastor for years and now takes young adults around the world to do mission work. We started following Jesus around the same time back in the day and have been sharpening each other ever since. He's just a super encouraging dude. Anyway, we spent an hour catching up over the phone, sharing ministry stories of what God's doing, and then prayed together to finish it up. Part of that prayer was for Rikako that she would get saved. When I got home, I found out she accepted Christ. Rachel and I are so stoked for her and praise God for that!

Rikako followed up that first post with another Facebook post:

      Happy Thanksgiving!! I am thankful for this studying abroad!! After coming America, many people help me!!! Especially I want to say thank you to Christian Challenge!! They gave me a chance to be a Christian to me!! My God, Christian Challenge staffs and my friends. I love you

Of course, the next step was getting baptized. Despite us offering to do it indoors, she was set on doing it in the river:

     At the pretty snowy day, I was baptized in the animas river!! You know I was freezing. lol However, I'm so glad to do that!!!!! SUPER EXCITED!!! Thank you very much for God and Christian Challenge members!!

We got it in just before the blizzard came in. Praise the Lord for her baptism...and that she didn't get hypothermia!

Rikako then followed that up with this on Facebook not too long after:

      I want to share my story. For almost all Japanese people, to believe some religions is strange thing. So many Japanese don't have their religions. Actually though, I have some friends who is Christian and they went to church every Sunday and read bible. I couldn't understand why do they trust God so deeply? Why do they try to build up relationship with God? It was a big question. But I know now. God is super cool guy and awesome!!!! I want to know about you more. I know some people think I am so crazy but thanks for God we are here and this world is satisfied with Happiness!!! I believe you. I trust you. I follow you forever. Because I love you. Thank you for celebrating everyone❤ I love you guys, too!!

Now, this would be a really amazing story just in of itself but it's even more amazing when you see what God was doing behind the scenes.

Rikako's first experience with God was when she was younger. Long story short, she saw someone in need and helped them out. After doing that, she said that she felt something like a higher power smiling upon her. Having no background in Christianity, she couldn't put a name to that presence she felt but she knew it was good and that there was something more out there.

And then when she was in high school, Rikako came across a friend who was a Christian from South Korea. Now, as far as we understand it, it wasn't the complete Gospel but this friend was planting seeds when they'd have conversations.

Fast forward to when Rikako went to college, she had a professor who is a Christian. This guy and his wife are actually missionaries in Japan and use being a professor as a way to open doors to share Christ. Soon after Rikako was baptized, he tracked us down on Facebook and sent us this message:

      I am sending this message to let you know that I am rejoicing with you about Rikako becoming a believer. I was moved to tears watching her baptism video. You see, she was a student in my English class during her freshman year at the University of Kitakyushu.

      I will continue to pray for her. It's very encouraging to know that the church body there will help her grow in knowledge of the Lord.

      One of the most difficult things for Japanese believers after they return to Japan is connecting with other believers. It is especially challenging for someone like Rikako who lives in a somewhat rural location because the number of churches are very very small.

      Having said that, let me share something that can only be explained as God's provision. Rikako's hometown is about 40 minutes from her university. It so happens that my family live in the very same town! We have a vibrant church, a mix of old and young people. So she is welcome to fellowship with us. We would be happy to connect her with other Japanese believers that are her age.

      Thank you again for the partnership of the gospel. It is very encouraging to pray and watch God answering prayers, both there and here.

So how did Rikako even find Fort Lewis College from halfway around the world? Let me remind you of a student we had named Ryo. Awesome guy. He was a guy who bonded with us almost immediately. Even though he wasn't a Christian, he was very missions-minded. He'd help us brainstorm ways to reach the other Japanese students. Even when he went back to Japan, he told all of his friends who were going to study abroad to get involved with Christian Challenge. He even "Likes" Facebook posts about when our students get saved. God is definitely working there. Side note: Ryo is actually going to visit us this month which we are excited about.

Alright, so anyway, Ryo and Rikako didn't know each other. They weren't friends really beforehand. They didn't go to the same university or anything like that. No, they met at a seminar Ryo spoke at about studying abroad. After the seminar, the two spoke briefly. He told her to go to Fort Lewis. Out of all the places she could have gone across the world to study abroad, she came to the Fort. God blessed us to be able to connect with Ryo and plant seeds. Those seeds produced fruit when Ryo connected with Rikako and sent her our way. Isn't God amazing! My mind is still blown by how He orchestrated it all! Just incredible!

For years, our ministry towards our Japanese students has been one of planting seeds. We have those students for such a short time, we rarely see if those seeds are growing while they are in America. We don't always see much immediate fruit and that can be discouraging. We just have to hope and pray that God will use those seeds that we were able to plant some day in the future. Rikako is proof that God does that, only God had been using people to plant seeds in her before she even arrived in Durango. We were able to be on the receiving end of seeing the fruit happen right before our eyes. It's extremely encouraging. When you look at how God is growing her, it's awesome. When she reads her Bible, she actually does what it says. Because in her mind, why wouldn't she? That thinking alone is a breath of fresh air. She has embraced the mission of reaching other Japanese students at Fort Lewis. She holds dinners for them so that she can tell them about Jesus. She wants to start up Christian Challenge when she gets back to Japan so she can reach people there.

This is what we have always prayed for. We've been praying for it since we started the ministry. God is answering those prayers. We know that you play a big part in that so keep praying. I challenged everyone in past newsletters to really be praying for the ministry and campus, to set at least 5-10 minutes a day aside to do that. We have really seen fruit from that, maybe more fruit that we've ever seen. I don't believe that's a coincidence. So please, keep praying. Don't stop. God is moving thru your prayers!

Thank you for all the support and encouragement you give! We are super thankful for that! As always, keep us, the ministry, and the FLC campus in your prayers! #Pray4FLC

Cheers and God Bless,
Mike and Rachel

If the Lord is leading you to give, please follow this link to our giving options:

Prayer Requests:

- Pray that God would continue blessing us with awesome student-leaders. Lord-willing, one of those student-leaders, Ryan Evanyo, will be coming on staff with us next fall.

- When semesters get busy, it's easy to neglect things big and small. We get so focused on ministry that we lose track of the things that help keep us going. We lose track of taking care of ourselves. Pray we have energy and get good sleep as the school year continues.

- With as many things as the ministry does, it's easy to take on way too much and get burnt-out. Most of our staff really didn't get much downtime, if any at all, between semesters. And now, we are in our busiest month of the winter with the ministry. Pray that we would be good stewards with our time so that we don't fall into burn-out.

- Throughout the year, the semester can wear on a person in college ministry, and it can be easy to find yourself discouraged at times. It happens in just about any ministry at one point or another. Pray that God would keep us and our staff encouraged throughout the year.

- Being Christians, we are in a spiritual battle. When you do ministry, you become a bigger target in that battle. Keep praying for us and our team that God would protect us from any spiritual attacks. Pray that God would give us the strength and encouragement to endure. Also pray for everyone praying for our ministry because when you pray for the ministry, you become a bigger target as well.

- Atheism is a big belief system at FLC. On any given year, about half of the students we work with are atheists or non-believers. Pray that God would open doors for the Gospel to be received and understood. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be working on the hearts and minds of those students on campus.

- Over the years, our staff has had a lot of health issues that can really be a discouragement. Right now, our staff is a mess in the health department. Josh had an issue with his medication over break and ended up in the ER. With that, the doctors think he may have had another stroke or seizure. His meds make him tired a lot but he's been even more tired since that episode. Rachel Horton is having debilitating migraines throughout the day. Aleksandr and Anna seem to be fighting off the tail end of the bronchitis that was going around last semester. I caught a illness at Life Impact. After a week of being home, I got over that but then got a splinter in my eyeball. Between that and the meds they put me on, I couldn't read for a week. Thankfully, my wife is pretty healthy right now other than being a bit sore from falling on the ice the other night. She does tend to catch whatever the students end up getting though so we pray that doesn't happen. Now, all of these health issues may just be a coincidence but with as fruitful as the last five months have been with the ministry, they may not be. I suspect the enemy may really be trying to discourage us. Pray that God would heal us up and keep our staff safe and healthy.

- Our staff has meshed pretty well over the last five months. It's a huge answered prayer. I think it's one of the reasons why the ministry has been so fruitful. Keep praying for our new staff members and our team that it would continue to mesh well.

- In our last letter, we asked you to pray for discernment for us concerning our summer mission trips. After a lot of prayer, we feel the Lord leading us back to Peru. One of our goals with the ministry we do has always been to get students involved in overseas missions. We feel it gives them a chance to be exposed to serving the Lord overseas in possibly a longer-term fashion and also gives them a chance to put their faith into action. This year, we had a lot of interest from students in the Peru trip. Unfortunately, with there only being so much funding to go around, that means we won't be able to do the other trips unless God miraculously brings in extra funding. We still hope to get Rachel back to where she grew up in Eastern Europe for closure in the next few years. We also hope to get back to the Philippines to do mission work while also stopping over in Japan to visit our students in the next few years as well. Be praying that we can get to those places in the coming years, and also that funding will come in for us this year for our mission trip back to Peru.

- With the recent warm temperatures that we have had, the mice are coming out of hibernation. I recently heard some mice already scurrying in our walls. Pray that God would keep those pest problems under control.

- For our water situation, we are still praying for hopefully, a coming solution but we've got some good news in the short-term. Miraculously, our water truck guy made it up to our place just as our water cistern was nearly empty. Our roads up to our place weren't good but I guess they were good enough that he didn't get stuck. So we got our water just in time. And more good news, the crazy amounts of snow that we've gotten this winter have melted a bit sending water into our well a bit early. It probably sounds strange but I got really excited when I saw the murky water come thru our bathtub faucet instead of clear water. It means our cistern is filling up with well water. It certainly won't last especially as the temperature cools back off but we are thankful while we have it! Pray that we continue to have water, and that we can find a long-term solution.

- During spring break, March 4th-12th, Rachel and our other staff will be taking up to 25 students down to Juarez, Mexico on a mission trip. They will be working with a school down there that our ministry has worked with before. The team will stay at the school compound which is pretty safe but nonetheless, be praying for the team's safety. We will have many non-Christian students on the team as well so be praying that this trip would open their eyes to the Gospel. Also be praying that God would work thru the team and be glorified.

- Over spring break, we also have a bunch of our former Japanese students coming back to Durango to visit us. I am staying in Durango for the break and will be able to catch up with them. Pray that God opens the door for more seeds to be planted and for the Holy Spirit to be at work on those former students' hearts.

- Often when ministries are fruitful, the enemy will try and cause division in an attempt to discourage and stifle God's work. Pray that God would protect the ministry from any division.

- Rachel and I trust God to provide for us and the ministry but we'd appreciate you praying as well that the funding needs would be met. If you would like to give for the on-going ministry happening at Fort Lewis or towards our Peru mission trip, please go to: Give Now.

- With as fruitful as the ministry has been, I want to end this section on a high note. We're so thankful for what God is doing on campus! Praise God for the fruit we are seeing at FLC and pray that He continues to bless the ministry and campus with that fruit.