Saturday, June 22, 2019

Challenge Trip Update 2019

The Peru update is finally here!  There is a lot to update: from the trip, to the end of the semester, to what our next trip is shaping up to be.  I'll start it out with the end of the semester but try to keep it short.  Or at least shorter than it could be.


It was a busy finish to the end of the semester.  Our two busiest weekends of the semester tend to be Easter weekend and graduation weekend.  Those, this year, just happened to follow each other.

For Easter, we helped out with a Good Friday service at the chapel on campus.  It was a joint effort between a local church, Challenge, and two other ministries on campus.  I didn't get an official count but my rough guess is that we easily had over 50 students there.  Part of the night was breaking up into discussion groups.  At the end of the night, one of the guys in my discussion group asked if I'd be open to discipling him.  Of course, I said, "Absolutely!"  That was really encouraging for sure.

The next night, we had our Easter Eve snowshoeing trip where we snowshoed up to a frozen lake at almost 11,000 feet in elevation as the sun set.

There, we built a campfire, roasted hot dogs for dinner, roasted up some Peeps s'mores for dessert, and shared an Easter message with the students.

We had a great spiritual discussion.  And nobody froze to death so that's always a positive too.

We followed our snowshoeing trip up with Easter Sunday.  We joined students at church in the morning, and then a family from another local church had all of our students over for lunch.  We had a lot of new students at that.  After lunch, Rachel and I had dinner with our local family that night.

After the busy weekend, our staff had meetings planning for the next semester.  That week, we also worked in our last discipleship meetings with our students before they headed home for the summer.  We finished up the semester that next weekend with five of our students graduating and all the graduation parties that followed.  And then that Sunday, we were off to Colorado Springs for our state staff meetings.

So ministry has been really good but really busy.  Things are starting to slow down though now where I can refocus on support raising and training for the next mission trip.

On a sad note, Ryan Evanyo will be moving on from our staff.  He committed to serving for two years after he graduated and his two years are up.

We were hoping he would stay on with us but he felt God leading him in a new direction.  We'll definitely miss him going forward but we're excited to see where God is going to use him in the future.

Personal Life:

I'm doing pretty well.  Just trying to recover and recharge a bit.  Just before the end of the semester, my hockey team won its second championship in a row.

I had a pretty good season as one of the leading scorers averaging just under a goal a game.

As a 36 year-old with painful torn cartilage in his hip, it's nice to know I can still compete against these youngins in their early to mid-20s that fill the league.

It's been a great ministry opportunity with the team this year and also keeps me in shape for summer mission trips so that I don't put on too much winter insulation after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Rachel is slowly working her way back from sabbatical.  She's been meeting with a mentor from church, meeting with a counselor who is specialized in third-culture kids (TCKs), and going to physical therapy for pain she has in her neck and back that she's had for years but just toughed it out.  She's had scoliosis her whole life and broke her back when she was in high school which has set her up for pain issues.  So we're praying the PT helps with that.  All in all, she's moving in a good direction.

When she comes back officially this fall, her role with Challenge will look a little different to fit her strengths and giftings.  In a way, she'll be more in the assistant role for me which she is looking forward to.  For her, weekly staff meetings will be cut out as well as some other things to free her up to do other things in the ministry.

She'll focus on encouraging and building up our female staff.  She'll also be focusing on meeting with and building up former students that are still in town.  (It tends to be really hard for them in this town to find Christian community amongst those their age.  It's easy for them to become stagnant in their faith if they struggle to find places to get poured into.)  Obviously, Rachel will also use her encouragement gifting to encourage and build up our current students.  With the restructuring of her role, she's also hoping to have more energy to reach out to our many neighbors that God has opened doors with.  We're excited to see how God is going to use her in this shift of roles.


Anyway, onto Peru!  It certainly was an amazing trip!  We were able to venture into the Cordillera Huayhuash with Climbing for Christ and minister to the people who live and work in the remotest regions of the high Andes Mountains.  God did so many amazing things!

I could talk or write about what He did for hours, and if you want to hear more after this update, I'd love to share more about those amazing things.  Let me know.  Until then, check out the video I put together on the trip: Mission Peru 2018!  I actually took a lot of video this year so it's more that just a slideshow this time around.  Click the link above and check it out!  It will give you a better look at what the trip was like and how God worked.

Now that you're back from watching the video, I'll give you some stories behind the video.

The night before we headed out of Durango, I was having a quiet time getting into the Word.  It just so happened to be on the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to find the one.  It was perfect timing.  That's what our trip would be all about.  If our campus ministry is like the 99, then the people we were going to in the mountains of Peru were the one.

You don't find huge pockets of people in the mountains we go to like you would find in cities.  These were a small group of people living in very remote mountainous regions.  There might be just one family living in an entire valley and that would mean crossing many high mountain passes to reach them.

But someone has to reach them.  They are worth seeking out and sharing the Gospel with.  They are worth finding and encouraging them toward Jesus.  This parable of the lost sheep would be a theme throughout our journey.

The trek would be physically exhausting with long days on the trail backpacking up over 16,400 feet in elevation as we crossed many passes.

We would travel up to ten miles a day.

But God sustained us...even as team members dealt with illness along the way.

Rachel and I started out the journey with our students, Lexi, Aurora, and Ava.

We left Durango and after a couple of connections, we were in Lima, Peru waiting for the rest of our team to arrive.

We found our Peruvian team members thru the crowd at the airport.  We had plenty of time for introductions and catching up waiting for our team to arrive.  Eventually, Jordan and Jesse showed up from New York.  Being that it was really late, we headed to the hotel for a short night's sleep.

We left early the next morning and had a day's drive up into the mountains.

We arrived in Huaraz late that afternoon.

Being that we'd be up to 16,400 feet over the next two weeks while deep in the mountains, Huaraz at 10,000 feet in elevation was a nice place to acclimatize especially for our New Yorkers who were coming from basically sea level.

We'd spend the next two days on acclimatization hikes: the first hike just above the city and the second hike up to a lake much higher in elevation.

Each day, we averaged around ten miles of hiking.

It was a pretty good warmup for what we had in front of us.

Before the trip, a route was figured out by Edwin, our guide.  At the last minute, due to road closures, our route changed.  We'd no longer be able to exit the mountain range where we were wanting to.  It wasn't really a big deal.  We trusted God to get us wherever He wanted us.  On past trips to Peru, He'd always steer us thru a team member getting sick.  I had my suspicions He might work in the same way this trip.

And I was right.  Ava came into the the trip with a cold.  Before leaving Durango, she had just gotten back from taking teenagers to a Young Life camp with hundreds of other teenagers from all over the country.  She left camp with a nice souvenir, a pretty bad cold.  We hoped that it would remedy itself before we hit the mountains.  Once you're in the mountains, you normally don't heal due to the elevation and lack of oxygen.  But Ava had plenty of time to get better.  She'd be at least two weeks out from when her symptoms first came on.  Plenty of time to get better.

Unfortunately, she didn't get better in time.  But we kept praying over her hoping that God would heal her up as we headed into the mountains.  She was willing to tough it out and as long as she didn't get worse, she'd be okay.  We'd monitor her vitals throughout the day just to make sure.

As we progressed deep into the mountains and ministered as we went, Ava wasn't getting better.  Eventually, we had a day where we were in snow, sleet, and rain for hours on end while on the trek.  It soaked us thru to the core.  Unfortunately, there's typically nowhere to take shelter when you're that high up in the mountains.  You just have to tough it out and push thru till you get to the next camp.

When you're sick at high elevation, getting stuck in that kind of weather is the last thing you need.  It really did a number on Ava.  From there, as the rest of our team trekked, we put her on horseback to help her conserve her energy.

Even after that and putting her on some medications that we hoped would help her recover, her vitals kept getting worse.

After a lot of prayer, we finally had to make the call to evacuate her.  Her vitals were getting into a range I didn't feel comfortable with.  It was time to get her back to Huaraz where she could drop elevation and heal up.  Typically, a drop of 3,000 feet in elevation will make a world of difference.

My wife would accompany her back to civilization so that she wasn't alone.  After sitting next to Ava on the plane and sharing a tent with her, my wife was also starting to come down with what Ava had.  So it wasn't a bad idea for Rachel to head back and have some time to rest up as well.

Jaime, our translator and local missionary, would join them to make sure they could communicate if any issue should arise.

Our next step would be to figure out how to get them out.  How do we get them to a truck to extract them?

After looking at different maps, we found a way to get a truck in.  It wasn't really a road but it was enough to get Ava and Rachel out.

It was good news but that would mean our team's route would change again.  It would take an extra day to get the ladies to the extraction point.  The change would no longer leave us with enough time to make our extraction point days down the road.  We'd now have to find another way out.

It just so happened that the road that had been closed, which originally changed our plans, was now back open.  Our way out was jumping back on our original route.  I guess that's the route God wanted us on all along.  He was orchestrating a perfect path and perfect timing so that we could bump into specific families to share the Gospel with and give New Testaments to.

Even the fact that the ladies' extraction driver showed up in the wrong location, and much later than was planned, played a part in reaching a family on our way back to our day's route.  We saw two of them get saved and handed out five New Testaments to members of the family that had never had the Word.  These are people we would have never come across had the timing not been perfect, and had God not steered us in their direction.  I see God do that a lot on mission trips and every time, it still amazes me.

I could tell you a lot of stories about the amazing things God did but I'll leave you with two last stories: my favorite and Rachel's favorite.

For my story, we have to go back to my first trip years ago in the Huayhuash.  It was just after our team had split into two due to illness.  One team would take our sick team member back to civilization hoping that a drop in elevation would help in the healing process.  I'd take my team deeper into the mountains and carry on with our original route.

Upon arriving at our next camp, which wasn't supposed to have people living nearby, we saw a white building off in the distance.  We thought that we might as well hike down to it just in case there happened to be people living there.  From camp, it was about 30-45 minutes of hiking to get to it.

Once we arrived, we found it to be empty.  There was no one there, and it was all locked up.  As I looked around somewhat bummed out, I noticed a small homestead down valley off in the distance.  Then, I also observed some movement around the homestead.  There were people there.  I'd never have seen them had we not hiked down to the empty white building.

We hiked another 30 minutes or so out to the homestead.  A mother and her two young kids were living there.  They were fairly surprised that we stopped by.  We were able to pray with them and give them New Testaments.

They shared that nobody had ever stopped by their homestead: no trekkers, no missionaries, no pastors or even priests.  They were too far off the beaten path and hidden from the main trail.  Though they were believers, they were all alone out there.  So they were pretty encouraged that God would send us to visit them.  Before we left, the mother told us to stop back by if we were ever in the area again.  I didn't know if God would ever bring us back there but I told her if we could, we would.  If God brought us back someday, we'd love to visit again.

As we trekked thru the mountains on our latest trip, that story certainly wasn't in the forefront of my mind.  On our first day of trekking, my mind was more so on the exciting weather we were experiencing.  The weather nerd in me was shining thru with a big smile on my face.

I was loving the rain, snow, and sleet.  I think I was the only one on the team enjoying the weather.

We eventually took cover from the heavy weather when we finally found some shelter.

As I looked around, I noticed a white structure.

Immediately, my memories came flooding back.  I had been here before.  I knew exactly where we were.  Despite our camp still being 30 minutes away, I knew I needed to make it back to my old friends.

The weather wasn't going to make that easy.  The question was: do we go right away or do we make it to camp, get some soup and tea in us to warm up and then head back out?  Being that a lot of the team was struggling with the cold and wet weather, we decided to head to camp to warm up.  We'd send a small group of us back out in a bit.

While waiting under the shelter, we ran into a man named Edmundo taking shelter as well.  He was a local who had a heart to reach his area for Jesus.  When he found out what we were doing there, he seemed pretty excited.

He followed us the last bit of the way to our camp.  There, I felt the Lord lead me to give him five New Testaments.  I knew it would help him not just share the Gospel with the people living near him but also disciple them as well.  He was extremely thankful to have God's Word to minister to those in his area.

After getting some soup and hot tea in us, the ladies on the trip headed to their tents to continue warming up.  The guys on the team began to prepare for the long, cold, and wet journey ahead of us.  We layered up and filled our Nalgenes up with boiling water.  Those Nalgenes stuffed in a jacket will keep you warm for hours.

Lastly, we knew we should definitely pray for our journey.  We met up in the dining tent to keep dry while we prayed.  We each prayed, one after another, for a weather window for our journey.  We basically prayed the same thing but in our own words.  Each time we prayed, the precipitation would lighten up more and more.

Finally, our last guy arrived in the tent.  We told him that he should also pray for a good weather window.  He did and the rain, snow, and sleet completely stopped.  All I wanted was to have good weather to get to my old friends down valley...and God was answering our prayers and calming the storm.  It was like God was parting it around us.

We set out under cloudy weather but good weather.  Maybe 45 minutes to an hour later, we reached the first homestead where Edmundo and his wife, Justine, were sitting outside.  We asked how we could pray for them, and Justine mentioned that she needed healing for her head, neck, back, and legs.  Edmundo was in tears praising God as we prayed.

After praying, I asked about the family I had once met.  They should have been living right next to Edmundo and Justine.  The small rock house I remember the family living out of looked abandoned and really run down.  Edmundo informed us that the family had moved into the nearest town a little while ago.  I was saddened that I wouldn't get to see them on this visit.

After praying for Justine, our intention was to continue further down the valley.  We had heard that there was a man who struggled with alcoholism.  Edmundo told us that he had tried to get thru to the guy but he wouldn't listen.  We thought that since we're in the area, we might as well stop by and talk with the guy.  It would only be another hour and a half down the valley.

When we mentioned that we still wanted to see the guy, Edmundo became worried.  He warned us how far it was.  He worried that it would soon be dark and the weather could turn on us at any moment.  He didn't want us to get lost in the dark in bad weather with no shelter.  Despite the possible dangers, our team wasn't too worried.  Personally, I was excited for the adventure.  Anytime you get to have an adventure while sharing Jesus, well, that's a good time in my book.

As we left Edmundo and Justine's homestead, our window for good weather was seemingly closing.  It seemed like the further we went down valley towards the man we were looking for, the worse the weather got.  It was almost like the enemy was trying to discourage us or stop us from reaching this man's homestead.

The rain, sleet, and snow turned quickly to all snow.  Temperatures were hovering just above freezing but it was cold enough to stick to the ground and start accumulating.  I don't remember the exact quote but one of the guys on the team basically equated it to being trapped in a slushy machine.  A little bad weather wasn't going to discourage us.  We were men on a mission.  If this guy was home, we were going to find him.

As we hiked down valley in search of the guy, we came across many homesteads.  We'd check them for our guy but each one was abandoned.  There are hundreds if not thousands of years of history in the area.  In that, there are a lot of ruins still standing.  From afar, it's hard to tell what is still being lived in and what has been abandoned.  So that added a little time to our hike.

Eventually, we came across a house with smoke coming out of a stove pipe.  Our first sight of human life.  Someone was home.  We hollered toward the house, and a woman came out.  Then, she waved at her husband to come out.  This was the guy we had been looking for.  Apparently, he also has a wife.

According to them, both were Christians but neither had a Bible so we gave them both New Testaments.  After talking with them a bit, we prayed over them, and then it was time to head back.

Team members were frozen due to the weather, and darkness was coming quickly.  Thankfully, a new weather window was opening for us.  It was cold but little to no heavy precipitation.  It's a little interesting that the closer we got to this couples homestead, the worse the weather got.  Then, once our mission of reaching and sharing with them was accomplished, the weather was good again.

I look back and laugh at how God was using the weather.  If we had not had that first weather window, Justine would have been forced inside, and we would have walked right past her never knowing she needed prayer.  Had that weather window not closed as we hiked closer and closer to the couple down valley, they probably would have still been out with their animals away from their homestead.  We may have never connected.  We probably would have just kept walking further down the valley.  The enemy may have thought he was using it to keep us away but God was using it for His perfect timing.

As we hiked back, it was difficult trail-finding.  We had cloud cover, no moon, and high mountains blocking out any other light.  It was about as black as night can be.  It felt like we were deep in a cave, it was so dark.

When you have no trails, or have trails shooting off in different directions with creeks to avoid or cross, it's easy to get lost in the darkness.  It's easy to lose the way.

But then, a distant light shown in the darkness.  It was clear it wasn't a natural light.  It was manmade.  So we started following it.  I actually thought it might be people from our camp trying to guide us back.  (We had to do something like that at night the first trip to Peru when we were given poor directions, and day quickly turned to night.)  We had no idea how far the light was from us but we were just going to have to trust that it would guide us back to camp.

Finally, we reached the source of the light.  It was actually Edmundo.  He had been watching for us to return and when we didn't, his worry grew.  He grabbed his high-powered flashlight and began signaling for us.  He stayed out for hours signaling, making sure we were safe and could find our way back.  He was a light in the darkness.  It was a picture of what he is to his area.  He is a guy who has a deep desire to see his area come to know Jesus and isn't afraid to share with people.

When we reached him, we weren't quite back to camp.  He'd lead us the 30 or so minutes back to camp.  During that time, I just felt super blessed...and still do.  Whenever a person goes on mission trips, they want to be a blessing to the people they go to but I feel like we were blessed way more by Edmundo.  The fact that he cared enough to brave the storm and cold to make sure we had a safe return, it was amazing.

The next morning, we woke up, and Edmundo was already in the camp.  He brought us a wheel of cheese he had made.  He went around shaking our hands saying "Gracias, gracias."  I replied, "De nada." while thinking it should really be us thanking him again.  Then Jaime shared that Edmundo was actually thanking us for praying over his wife.  She had been healed of everything she was dealing with.  She woke up completely pain-free.  Talk about a day where God was just answering our prayers left and right.  It was awesome to see and extremely encouraging, an experience I'll always remember.

My wife also had one of those experiences on the trip.  I'll let her share her story in her own words.

Since our first trip to Peru, I had been hoping to visit some locals in their home because it gives you a deeper glimpse into their culture.  Most people we encounter are along the trail or in their fields tending to their flocks.  When we set up our camp that afternoon, just across the creek was a home.

Later that evening, we were invited to join the family living there.  Catalino, one of our donkey drivers, carried a lantern to light the way and held his hand out to help us cross the creek.

We arrived and were warmly welcomed.  The evening was freezing cold but their wood (or most likely dung) stove had warmed the place, and it had a wonderful smokey smell.  The family of five, the matriarch mom and her four adult children, were hanging out waiting for us.  We were given spots to sit on sheep skins lining a rock shelf that went around the perimeter of the inside of the home.

Jamie quickly introduced us and why we were there: to let them know God loves them.  He asked if they knew who Jesus was, and 4 of the 5 said they believed in Him but also their mountain folk religion.  Jaime engaged in a tense discussion regarding how God is the only God.

Something shifted and the son I was sitting next to started chanting under his breath.  I started praying for a spiritual breakthrough.  Within minutes the mood shifted, and one of the daughters said she understood.  She then asked if we could pray for her mother.  We laid hands on and prayed for healing.

Then Armando, the oldest son, said he had never believed in Jesus, and that he had been an alcoholic his whole life but if Jesus would take him, he wanted in.  Such a powerful moment seeing a 50+ year-old man wondering if God would want him, and the excitement that it could be true.  As we then prayed over him, the Holy Spirit took over.  It was powerful, bold, truth being proclaimed over him and that dark valley.

We spent more time talking, sharing scripture and blessings with this family.  They were very grateful, and we said our goodbyes.  I wish we could have stayed all night.  During our visit, Catalino had stood in the doorway the whole time listening to the discussion taking it all in.  He was not a Christian but the Holy Spirit was using the discussion to work on his heart.  Two days later, he gave his life to Christ!

Looking back, it was a pretty great mission trip.  We saw God do a lot of things on it.  The trip was filled with divine appointments, salvations, healings, and getting another 100 New Testaments into the area.

Despite the exhaustion and tough physical aspects of the trip, God moved and did huge things.  As we've found Him to do on these Peru trips, He used illness to steer our journey and line up divine appointments along the trail.  He put people in our path as we were hiking and brought them into our camps.  We would have never run into many of the people if it weren't for the illnesses our team members dealt with.  But God was working and even using that for His glory!

By the time we arrived back at the airport in Lima, it was clear how much God had blessed our team during our time in Peru.  It was a successful mission trip.  We had accomplished our purpose and our goals.

Our goals were simple:  To go where others haven't, to go where others can't, and to take the Gospel wherever the Lord leads us.  And this trip, that meant going to places just as remote as past trips.

As a missionary, it is said that often part of your goal is to work yourself out of a job.  You go into a place and build up the local people so that they can eventually take over for you freeing you to take the Gospel to new areas.

Looking at the work we've been doing in Peru over the many years we've been there, we are at that point.  The church building we'd been building in Chalhua has been turned over fully to the locals.

The two mountain ranges we've been working in are now pretty much fully reached with the Gospel.  We've backpacked with the Gospel into just about every valley in those ranges people live in and distributed hundreds of New Testaments.

It's now time for the locals to take a bigger role ministering and discipling their neighbors.

That doesn't mean we're never going back.  I hope to someday get back there to check in and encourage those we've connected with.  But that won't be this summer or even next summer.  It's time to let God water the seeds that were planted and see what grows.  We'll miss our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, down there dearly but Lord willing, we'll see them again one day.

With all God did, this trip wouldn't have been possible without you guys.  We want to thank you for all the support and encouragement you have given and continue to give! We are super thankful for that!  Check out our prayer requests below to find out where and when, Lord willing, our next mission trip will be and keep us and Peru in your prayers!

Cheers and God Bless,
Mike and Rachel

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

Prayer Requests

For Peru:
Pray for protection over those that accepted Christ on our trip, and that God would grow them in their faith.

- This was an extremely tough trip physically.  We couldn't have done it without God providing us with the strength to complete it.  Praise God for the strength He gave us to fulfill what He was calling us to do in Peru.

- God changed many lives while we were down there.  Praise God for lives changed.  Also pray that He would continue to open doors for the Gospel to be received and understood as Jaime revisits the people we met and follows up with them.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would be working on the hearts and minds of the people we met.

Praise God for getting our team home safely.

Pray for Jaime's health. Over the years, he has dealt with different medical issues.  I know it can be discouraging when it gets in the way of doing ministry. Just recently, he had to leave the field to focus on getting healthy.  I know he probably can't wait to get back out there and share Jesus with the people out in the mountains.

Back Home:

Pray that God would keep growing our students in their faith over the summer. Going back home for the summer, we often see students backslide when they are away from their routine and support systems they have in Durango.  We hope and pray that students come back excited to continue growing in their faith and helping others do the same.

- We lost a lot of student-leaders to graduation this spring.  Pray that God would give us another group of student-leaders strong in their faith and ready to reach the campus with the Gospel.

- Over the summer, we'll be planning out what the worship night is going to look like in the fall.  We'll be brainstorming topics to cover and laying out an outline for the semester.  Pray that God would guide us in our planning of the worship night and provide us with ideas to teach on.  Also that we would fit our leadership into roles where they can best use their giftings for the Kingdom.

Be praying for Ryan Evanyo as he figures out what his next step is in following what God has called him to do.

- As most of you know, our staff has had many health issues over the years.  Pray that God would keep us all healthy over the summer so that we can be ready to go for the fall.

- In ministry, it's easy to get busy and neglect our marriage.  Pray that we would not neglect the important ministry that God calls us to within our marriage.

- In our last update, we mentioned the struggles we have had trying to have children.  Pray that God would give us wisdom on how to move forward with that, and that He would provide us with doctors that wouldn't just blow us off but actually listen to our concerns.

Pray that we would find time for training for the future mission trip, and that we would stay safe trail running and hiking.

- So the next trip... well, as I mentioned above, we won't be returning to Peru for awhile but we've had another opportunity open up possibly in the Himalayas.  Please be praying for the trip that God would guide us in our planning and keep our team safe while we're there.  Pray that the trip would be extremely fruitful as well.

We live trusting God to provide financially for us and the ministry.  We would appreciate you praying that God would provide.  If you would like to give toward the trip or the ministry we work with at Fort Lewis, please go to: Give Now.