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.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Attack of the News Media and Social Media

I had hoped that the false narratives, fearmongering, bullying, hate, and extremely divisive rhetoric would end on both political sides with the election over. But sadly, it is only getting worse and the dire consequences of it will be very real.

Manipulation, disinformation, false context, hypocrisy, and flat out lying is what the news media and social media now thrive on. The news media driven no longer by truth but by political agenda is now feeding social media.

So let's step back and take a deep breath. Look at issues from as many angles as you can to get better perspective. We as the people of this nation often struggle to see the big picture. We tend to not see the forest for the trees. We've stopped thinking critically in many instances only to follow herd (or mob) mentality. Social media makes that mentality spread like wildfire. And really, this is not just an American problem but a human problem worldwide if you study history and what's going on elsewhere in the world right now.

There are many politicians who think the American people are stupid. They think the American people are easily manipulated and use that to their advantage.

Prove them wrong and figure out where you may be getting played. Truly examine your thoughts and investigate if you might be getting manipulated. Always stand up for what God says is right but also know the devil is waiting and scheming ways to take advantage of that goodness in order to divide us and destroy us. He strives to pervert all that is good. He preys not only on our weaknesses but also our strengths.

So be on guard. This isn't a game. Don't underestimate the situation. The devil wars against us and against this nation. There is a reason why God tells us to put on spiritual armor. We are to guard ourselves...while at the same time loving the way God does. It's not one or the other but both at the same time. It takes effort and much prayer but it's worth it. The future of this nation and our own futures depend on it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Christian Challenge November Update 2016!

Happy Thanksgiving!  Hope everyone is having a great holiday and safe travels.  I also wanted to say thank you for all the birthday emails and cards.  Definitely feeling the love getting those.

So with the election craziness finally in the rearview mirror, I thought it was time to get our update out.  Something more positive and encouraging than all the political mail and emails.  It's time to share about what God's doing at Fort Lewis!

Before we get started, I just want to remind our friends and family who do end of the year giving, that the time is coming soon if you’re wanting to get that giving in for 2016 tax purposes.  And look at that just so happens to be #GivingTuesday this coming Tuesday...wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  It's the day set aside after Black Friday (and all those other shopping days I can't remember) for charitable giving across the nation.

We are hoping that we can use this time and opportunity to not only raise funds for what God is doing in Durango but to also raise enough for mission work opportunities overseas this summer.  Obviously, those mission fields are something very dear to our hearts and something we're very passionate about.  Know that we definitely appreciate that support for the ministry God is doing on campus and around the world!  You can give by clicking on this link: Give Now.

Alright, so what exactly has God been doing on campus this semester?  A whole lot of things!  But let's start with some quick facts.  Fort Lewis normally has around 4,000 students enrolled.  This year, we have around 3,500 students.  That said, this has been one of our biggest years for the ministry yet.  It's also been one of our most fruitful!

This has also been an extremely small year for our Japanese students.  There are literally only around 10 on campus this year due to changes in credits and how classes transfer.  That said, this has still been a very successful year connecting with the Japanese.

They are a very adventurous group this year and very active with us.  Not only are they going to our weekend adventures, many are also going to the Christian Challenge Bible studies we have on campus.  One of them has really connected with Rachel and I've got some great news about that but I'm going to save that for our next newsletter.

Our discussions have been going really well.  We've worked in more student led discussions.  This semester, we've tackled discussions like mental health and politics.  We're not shying away from tough topics.

We actually were even asked by the LGBT club on campus to lead a discussion on what the Bible says about homosexuality.  In that, we got to share the Gospel too!  It might surprise some but the discussion was very civil and respectful from everyone who attended which opened the door for Jesus.  That's a miracle in and of itself with as much of a sensitive topic "homosexuality and the Bible's stance on it" is in our culture.  God is really opening doors for His Gospel to be shared on campus!

The events we've been able to do have gone great as well.  We had over 300 students at our pizza party on campus the first month.

We had around 55 students on our night hike up Smelter Mountain.  It was a little like herding the dark.

Our next hike was up to Ice Lakes where we had around 30 students.  It was cold and snowy but everyone made it.

We also headed up to Adrenaline Falls to take our students, about 25 of them, waterfall jumping.

They all had a blast...except the one who face-planted in the water from 35 feet up.  She was fine but now knows why we tell students to not try to dive or do any flips.  In some strange way, it really bonded her to the rest of the students who thought it was pretty awesome that she even had the guts to try a flip.  God can even work thru a face-plant.

There was also our Telluride trip that went great.  It was another trip that really helped build friendships and create bonds with our students.

I could keep going about all of our weekend events.  We've had so many.  We've had an event pretty much every weekend since the end of August up until Thanksgiving Break.  That's a lot more than in years past but God is using them so we'll keep making them happen.

Two of those weekends, we had retreats.  The first one was on relationships and how the 10 commandments can be applied to that.

Our second retreat was on discipleship, spiritual gifts, and how to apply them in Challenge and in the local church.

Speaking of that, one of the students Rachel is meeting with is now helping lead a local church youth group with one of our upperclassmen.  That upperclassmen not only runs a local youth group but she also runs a ministry in Africa that rescues girls out of sex-slavery.

In other exciting news, William, a guy I've been discipling since he arrived at FLC, and his girlfriend, Chelsea, got engaged.  It's been great seeing God work thru them and their relationship to bring others to Christ.  William was one of our first cross-country runners who really helped open the door to the rest of the team.  Chelsea has been a big part of our ministry helping disciple other girls and leading them to Christ.

The exciting news continues with already having two baptisms this year.

We also had one of our freshmen who Rachel is discipling lead another student to Christ after going out with a group of students to share their faith.  And to go with that, we've had two of our other students come to Christ!

Some of you might remember me talking about Kelly in past newsletters.  She was one of the two girls from Alaska Aleksandr met when he was an RA.  Her and her roommate, Audrey, were looking for something positive to do so he recommended they check out Challenge.  Long story short, Audrey got saved and baptized last spring.

Kelly went home for the summer and came back to the Fort really wanting nothing to do with God even though she was so close to getting saved before going back home.  We didn't give up on her and God didn't either.  One of our student Bible studies even started praying for her salvation.  Then one night, she was talking to her brother.  After getting advice from him, she came away from that conversation knowing that she needed to figure out some way to change things up because what she was doing wasn't working for her.  Well, God had been tugging on her heart for a long while, and she knew exactly what she needed to do.  She needed to accept Christ so she did it.  We praise God for that!

Along with everything else God is doing, we're also seeing bunch of our returning students discipling other students.  It's such an exciting year seeing God work on campus and thru our students!

Our goal has always been to disciple students and turn them into disciple makers sharing Christ wherever God leads them in life.  Recently, a filmmaker came to Fort Lewis to create a short video on that.  We didn't really know the guy but somehow, he heard about what God was doing on the campus and the discipleship that was happening.  He followed our ministry around for a few days, got footage, and did interviews.  Check out the short video he did here: Challenge at FLC.

Speaking of good press, a short article was recently published in Missions Mosaics Magazine on the ministry that is happening at the Fort.  It was basically a missionary spotlight on me and the ministry.  I was interviewed for it over the summer but the article didn't come out until just before my birthday.  Unfortunately, I don't have a link to it online.

Though the videos and articles are nice and fun, that spotlight is wasted if we're not using it to help grow the Kingdom.  Thankfully, we've heard a lot of good feedback from across the nation on the video and article so that's really encouraging for us.  I'm glad to see it encourage people to not be afraid to share their faith and to hear how encouraged people are by what God is doing here on campus.

It's not lost on us that a lot of that has to do with the time you guys put into praying for us and the campus.  I challenged everyone in the last newsletter 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.  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:

- Last year, we had a great group of solid students and leaders in the ministry. It was a big answered prayer. Pray that God would continue blessing us with awesome student-leaders.

- 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. I'm pretty sure most of the staff is pretty close to being burnt-out by this point if not already there. Thankfully, Christmas break is on the horizon where things will slow down a bit until our conference for students after the new year in Colorado Springs. It's easy to be even busier over break catching up on everything and everyone that we didn't have time for during the semester. Pray that we would be good stewards with our time so that we don't fall into burn-out. You never want to start the new semester already burnt-out.

- Throughout the year, the semester can wear on you, 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. Our most successful years have been when we have good health. Half of our staff this semester ended up getting bronchitis/pneumonia, me included. I haven't had that since high school. I've been fighting bronchitis off since the middle of September. I've also been fighting off a brown recluse spider bite (the second of my life) since that same week of September. Pray that God would heal us up and keep our staff safe and healthy.

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

- Pray for discernment about our summer mission trip plans. At the moment, we have three opportunities we are praying about. Our first option is going back to Peru. That would be in late July to early August. We really have a strong desire to get back there after our last trip being the most fruitful trip Climbing for Christ has ever had to that area of Peru. Our second option is another trip to the Philippines in early to mid-June. We've been asked by one of my best friends from high school to join his mission team there for a couple of weeks. We've been praying for years for God to open the door for us to do a trip and serve together. We'd be in a different region than the past trips we've done there but it would still allow to us connect and encourage our friends we met there on the first two trips. The Philippines trip would also allow us to hop over to Japan afterwards to visit and encourage all of our past and current Japanese students which is something we really feel like we need to do in the near future. Our last option would be going to where my wife grew up, in Serbia and Croatia in late June. Though we would do mission work on this trip and possibly open the door to bring students over on future mission trips, it would also be a trip to help bring my wife closure. It was something she never really got when she had to move to the States. It may not seem like a big deal to most but it's something that really weighs on her heart. There is a term for people like her in the mission world. She is a third-culture kid. Basically, she grew up in two different cultures but was never fully part of either of them hence being part of a third culture. Even as an adult, for many former missionary kids, they never feel like they have a home when they are back in the States. One of the things that is suggested is that they revisit where they grew up. It helps bring closure and healing. This is a trip we've been praying about for years. Recently, it's really been on my wife's heart. Funny enough, then we got a wedding invite from a really close childhood friend of hers in Serbia. Obviously, one of our goals is to take students with us on mission trips but that wouldn't be an option with this one. We do already have students interested in the Peru and Philippines trips. My prayer is that if we took my wife back to Eastern Europe, we'd still be able to do one of the other mission trips with our students. We realize that it's obviously a big ask though financially. So please be praying that God would guide us in our decision making and bring in the funds where He is leading.

- So you've heard me talk about our pest issue. For now, I can say it's under control. We put up bee catchers and caught probably 300 bees. I also had an idea to put up a couple of box traps which can catch up to 30 mice. I put them under the cabin hoping the mice would think they could nest in there for winter, and it actually worked. Now they can't get out to destroy our cabin. So at the moment, we don't have a pest issue for the first time since we moved here two years ago. Praise God for that and pray that God would keep those pest problems from returning.

- Some of you have been asking about our water issues. It is still an issue. We tried all summer and fall to find someone to put up a rain capture system for us but no one seems to want the one or two-day job. We have people look, say they'll do it, and then back out before ever giving us an estimate. At least we do know it's going to be cheaper than the $17,000 it would take to drill a new well. We just have to find someone to put up the gutters and heat strips. But yeah, it's been disappointing especially after hearing that our water truck guy put his truck in a tree again the other day in the snow. Needless to say, we're not very hopeful about having water this winter. I'd love to install the system myself but unfortunately, I'm not good on ladders which would be required. Having a bigger ministry and having more students over, we use a lot more water. So be praying that God would provide us with that water one way or another whether it be by getting the rain capture system of by our water truck guy being able to deliver. Also be praying for our water truck guy that he stays safe and on the road when he's just trying to help his customers out because that's no good for him or his business if he's ending up in ditches or trees.

- This semester has been a tough one at times for our staff. Three of us have lost people close to us to suicide. For me, one of my roommates and best friends from my freshman year at college passed away in Kansas City in late September. He was a John Doe initially as I understand it so no one, including his family, found out until a month later. He had struggled for years with mental illness, having extreme paranoia and having heard voices. That caused him to eventually go off the grid which made it really hard to get him help. I found out toward the end of October a week or so after we had done our mental illness discussion. It was weird timing for sure. Be praying for his family and friends. Keep our staff in your prayers as well. Pray for comfort and peace. Ministry can be very heavy at times already and adding the suicide of someone close to you can be a lot for one person to handle at one time. Personally speaking, I'm doing alright but I know everyone processes things differently.

- This fall has been a stretch for us financially as the ministry grows and with that, ministry expenses increase. We trust God to provide but would appreciate you praying as well that the funding needs would be met. If you would like to give for the end of this semester or the coming winter semester, 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.