Sunday, July 14, 2013

True Joy (Lessons Learned as a Missionary in Nicaragua [Part 2])

Earlier, I attempted to share my experience as a missionary in Nicaragua, only to discover how very much there is to share! I only got far enough to tell of how God got Kaitlin and I to Nicaragua, I didn't even begin to tell of our time actually spent there. If you haven't already read it and are interested in how God provided for our journey to Nicaragua despite great difficulties, check out my previous post.

On June 9th (2013), Kaitlin and I, along with our team members, boarded a Delta flight to Managua, Nicaragua. Before I dive any further, it's important to know a little background information about Nicaragua and its people. Nicaragua suffers from terrible poverty, with over half of the population unemployed or underemployed, and a fourth of the country without safe drinking water. A quarter of a million children in Nicaragua are illegally employed to supplement the bare survival income of their families, and a third of all children suffer some degree of chronic malnutrition. The poor have little to no access to health care, and child mortality rates are six times worse than the United States. 

Our time in Nicaragua was the first in which we had ever witnessed extreme poverty first-hand. Facing that degree of poverty was hard, but also different from what we expected. Most of the people we met with (especially those who already knew the LORD) were joyous, happy people. They may have had lives that were much simpler than ours, lacking the resources we take for granted, but they appreciated what they had and didn't let anything affect their joy. They were normal people, just like you and I. They didn't seem to want to be pitied or bombarded with aide. They just wanted to get to know us and let us build a relationship with their community. It didn't take long at all for God to start teaching re-teaching me another lesson or two...

True joy doesn't come from stuff, it only comes from Jesus. 
Alternatively, We don't need stuff, we only need Jesus.

Perhaps the perfect example of this that we witnessed was an elderly woman named Santita. She was very sick the day that we met her, but still full of the joy of God. She asked us if we would let her sing to us! Of course, we said we would love that. After praying for her singing to glorify the Lord, she blessed us a song, which I was able to get a clip of:

Her love of the Lord is so evident, and we were so grateful to have met her. Despite living in poverty and facing sickness so great that she felt as though she would not live very much longer, she had reasons to sing to the Lord. Her last words in the song were prayers of "Glory to God," and "Praise the Lord." We were all so encouraged by her faith and love for God, and I pray that if Kaitlin and I get the chance to return next year, we will have the opportunity to visit her again. Will you join me in prayer for her? Please pray for her health, and that she would be a light in her community. Pray for her village to come closer to the Lord and be protected from illness and the Enemy.

Santita was not the only one. The villages were full of wonderful people that we fell in love with. They lived simple lives, but were okay with it. I'm not talking about neglecting essential needs. These people need clean water and adequate food, and we did take time during the week to hand those essentials out and meet their needs. The book of James is clear on faith being dead without works, and that there is no sense in telling people that Jesus loves them if we were not going to love on them through meeting their needs. However, you don't see sophisticated living structures, big fancy meals, any cars at all, gadgets/gizmos, etc. They live on the bare minimum. Their lives are simple. But, no matter what my idea of "living standards" and "comforts" were, God quickly changed my heart from an attitude that thought my purpose was to make their lives "better" to one that knew that all they really need is Jesus.

Am I making any sense? I almost felt a little envious of how simply they lived. I get so used to the noise and busyness of the United States, that being in a place away from it all was quite refreshing. I was able to feel God's spirit so much better. I was able to sleep sounder and wake up with much more energy. My spirit desperately needed that break from the noise, and I am so grateful for it.

I think we have gotten too used to welfare culture, and it seeps into the way we look at missions. If our missions were solely based around taking resources to needy communities and giving stuff out, we would not really doing the people a service. All we would be doing would be setting up a welfare system that the people can become dependent on. Our mission host family even discouraged us from giving stuff away to the children, because none of the families want to feel like we pity them. They want to be treated like normal people. We didn't neglect their basic needs, but didn't focus on it the entire week. The focus was sharing the gospel, getting to know them, and praying for them.

There were several instances where the people would even give something of theirs to us, even though they had little. Kaitlin was especially touched by a girl named Kim, who gave her a bow after a church service: 

I'm so glad I was able to capture that moment. For the average American, that would be a small gift. Coming from this girl who had so little, though, it was very special.

We live in a culture that holds on to things. We seek more and more things to satisfy our itches and obtain comfort or happiness. A 2010 Princeton study even stated that Americans believe happiness peaks at a salary of $75,0001. Nicaraguans like Santita probably won't see that kind of money in their entire life, but live life with a joy so complete that none can compare.

Jesus says in John 10:10 that he came so that we "may have life to the fullest." Other versions use the phrase "live abundantly." He also says in John 15:10, "I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy."

Life and joy to the fullest does not come from things or a certain salary, but from Christ alone. I am so glad God chose such an incredible experience to reaffirm this truth in my life. 

- Zack

1. Data taken from an article in Time, "Do We Need $75,000 a Year to Be Happy?" -,9171,2019628,00.html

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lessons Learned as a Missionary in Nicaragua [Part 1]

Goodnight1... it's been a while since I've updated this thing! Writing/blogging is something that I really enjoy, but spare-time seems to have evaded me recently. If I ever do come across free time, I like to spend it with my wife anyway, so the blog unfortunately gets shoved to the back-burner. It didn't help that until yesterday my computer hasn't worked reliably, either. My shift at the bakery shifted back to the early morning (5am - 1pm), and I reformatted my laptop, which worked like a charm! Long story short, I now have the time and the laptop to dust off this blog and crank out some posts**. Here goes nothing...

As the title suggests, I have done some missionary work in Nicaragua since my last update. I might as well shut this thing down if I don't share that journey on here! God rocked my life so much that week that if it doesn't inspire me to write, nothing will. Kaitlin and I (yes, we BOTH got to go! It was our first time as missionaries serving together. Awesome! Just awesome. Anyway, this parenthetical situation is getting a little out of hand...) served in Nicaragua during the week of June 9th, but our journey getting there began about a year earlier, when God started putting a strong yearning in our hearts to find a mission trip to go on together. Later that year, our church, West Rome Baptist, announced several mission trips taking place during the summer. We just knew God had a place on one of those trips for us. We decided together that day that we would go on one of them, but had no idea of the obstacles in store for us. This brings me to the first lesson God taught re-taught me:

If God calls you somewhere, He'll make sure He gets you there.

In December of that year (2012), two car accidents less than two weeks apart totaled both of our cars. The second accident sent me to the hospital with a broken leg, and put me out of work for nearly three months. The driver at fault in the second accident was driving under the influence of alcohol, and had no insurance. Not only did we have to buy two cars, but also carried the responsibility of the hospital bills. He didn't have insurance, and the uninsured motorist policy on my wife's car did not include medical payments. We were on vacation, and lost the amount we paid in advance for the remaining three nights there. Needless to say, it was a hard situation to soak in. At this point, with all the unexpected expenditures and lost income, saving up for a $2800 mission trip seemed way way out of the picture.

However, God doesn't really care about any "picture" we conjure up in our minds. He doesn't see things the way we do.

Our insurance company didn't budge on covering the medical bills. We couldn't blame them, though. We didn't have the coverage. If you are reading this and are unsure if your uninsured motorist policy covers medical payments, FIND OUT ASAP! It's definitely worth the extra $20 per six months, and the percentage of people who drive without insurance is getting pretty ridiculous. In the United States, 14.29% of drivers are uninsured. That comes to about one in seven drivers! In Georgia, that percentage is about 16% and in Tennessee (where my accident took place), it spikes to 24% (ranking third in the nation!)2. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more likely that the person who hits you on the road has no insurance, so please, I encourage you to get as much coverage as you can afford.

Our insurance company was very generous, however, in reimbursing us for our totaled vehicles and letting us use rental cars for as long as we needed. We were given more than the cars were worth, and were able to quickly use that money on new cars and medical bills. My agent even listened as I vented about the situation when it was going on, and we were able to carry a great conversation. He followed up and showed he truly cared! If anyone out there is looking for some great, affordable coverage, Liberty Mutual insurance is where it's at! My agent is Crawford Adam. You should look him up! I don't usually advertise or anything like that, but my insurance company took care of me when I needed it the most, and that says alot!

About a month after the accident, our growth group3 at West Rome Baptist got together to fellowship. Ever since the accident, members from our group showered us with love. They took turns bringing us dinner, prayed for us constantly, and never stopped encouraging and caring. We didn't think any group of fellow believers could ever match the faithfulness and love of ours, until we went to that night of fellowship. There they presented Kaitlin and me a check. It was for $2300. Yeah, that's $2300, not $230. Two zeros! We were overwhelmed by their generosity and sacrifice. They collected money within the group without us knowing, and were able to bless us far more than they would ever know!

Not too long after that, I got a phone call that turned things around for us even more. At the time of the call, I was helping my friend Marigrace make her wedding invitations. Being out of work and bedridden drove me insane; it was a blessing every chance I got to get out of the house, and I was very grateful for her family, who not only offered to let me stay with them during the day, but picked me up and gave me a ride whenever I needed one. I was sitting at their table, taping pictures to cards, when I got a call from my wife, who told me that her boss wanted me to work at her school until I went back to my usual job. Her boss, Mrs. Shemi Kumar of the Montessori School of Rome, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a year prior and was cancer free, but still finishing up treatment. She had to leave for a while as she recovered so she hired me as her substitute. The very next day, I was grading papers and teaching anatomy to a classroom full of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. The unexpected income was definitely an answered prayer! Sharing the commute to work with my wonderful wife was an added bonus =]. In no time at all, the doctor cleared me to go back to work, and I returned to my job at Great Harvest Bread Company. My boss was so gracious to hold my position, and I am very grateful for her for that.

Needless to say, God provided for us during our time of greatest need. We knew in our hearts that He was calling us to missions in the summer, and that He would provide for the costs of that as well. There were two trips, one to Mexico and one to Nicaragua. After days of praying, God broke our hearts for the people and nation of Nicaragua. I put in my request off from work, turned in our applications, and paid our deposit. We had NO idea how God was going to provide for the remaining $2500 balance, but we knew He would!

While I was still working at the Montessori School of Rome, Kaitlin and I were contacted by a man who we house-sat and pet-sat for last year. He wanted us to watch his house and animals for two weeks in May and offered to pay us over $1000. Is God not amazing? Our family also provided very generously for our trip, and with a little sacrifice on our part, we brought our balance to zero with weeks to spare before our flight.

Sure, there were setbacks. Major setbacks. Accidents, loss of income. Hospital bills4. I left out the part where we found out that tax increases (and increases in our income) caused us to owe over $400 in state and federal taxes this year. Also, the man didn't tell us that one of his three horses is a mustang that takes hours to be caught and put in his stall, while another of his horses founders frequently (and did so on our watch). That last setback wasn't financial, but it still kinda sucked. Throughout the whole journey, though, was God's reassuring voice of promise, His unfailing shower of blessing, and His passion in our hearts for missions. He never let us go, and certainly provided for us in miraculous ways.

God always provides. Even in the face of extreme tribulation and seemingly hopeless situations, God's promises are sure. His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out!

The LORD called us to Nicaragua, and He was faithful to get us there, despite everything the Enemy could through at us. How great is our God?

Taken of a storm coming at Fort Mountain State Park5. The view was so much more beautiful in person. It turned out to be a powerful storm, but watching it coming we couldn't help but be reminded of the power of our Creator. Even in the midst of a storm, His greatness, power, and beauty is evident. 

To be continued...


**Blog posts subject to change. Mostly grammar corrections, which I usually make as I catch them, which can happen suddenly without notice, perhaps in the time it takes you to read this. If you see changes, do not be alarmed. You are not crazy. This has been a public service announcement.

1. Meant as an exclamation, not a greeting. I am writing this in the afternoon, not first thing in the morning. I have to be at work at 5am, and I am doing good if I get up in time to eat something and get dressed. A 5am blog post would be incoherent, silly, and pretty much impossible. Also, I am not ignorant and know that reading my blog isn't the first thing you do when you wake up either.

2. Insurance Research Council data from 2009. That was four years ago. I am far too lazy to find current data. Does that make me a lazy blogger? Probably.

3. Fancy word my church uses for Sunday School. We do, however, experience a ton of growth together.

4. We still haven't seen even the tip of the iceberg of those, even 7 months later. But we know God will provide! He is so good!

5. Fort Mountain State Park is located in Georgia, not in Nicaragua. Just for the record.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

National Freedom Day Eve: Easy Ways YOU Can Help Fight Slavery

On February 1st, 1865, Abraham Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States constitution. It reads:

"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The ratification of this amendment began a long overdue journey in this country to abolish slavery and give all citizens the chance to experience freedom. To honor the signing of the Thirteenth Amendment, we celebrate Freedom Day on February 1st. Though we have come a long way with regards to abolishing slavery, let us not stop the fight. It is estimated that there are still 27 million slaves in this world.

Some of them work for you in factories & quarries thousands of miles away... and you don't even know it. Slaves who contribute to the shirts you wear, the diamonds on your jewelry, the seafood in your plate, the smartphones you can't leave the house without, the coffee you can't wake up without.

An organization called Slavery Footprint has a survey online that shows you just how connected you are to slaves. It's really easy and takes no time at all. Becoming aware is the first step towards action. Made in a Free World is another organization committed to end forced labor. It doesn't matter where you get plugged in, just do! There are countless more organizations.

In addition to forced labor abroad, many of the 27 million work not far from us in forced prostitution. Atlanta is among the top cities in the country and the world for human trafficking. About 12,400 men purchase sex each month in Georgia alone. Half of those men end up exploiting an adolescent girl. The average age of a child first used in prostitution ranges between 11 and 14, with some as young as 9. I talked about it in an earlier post, so I'll try not to be too repetitive. It is crucial, though, that we are aware of the extent to which this happens daily, and how much these girls need our help.

Wellspring Living is an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to ending sexual slavery, and provides a safe place for those who escape it. In fact, it is the only organization that provides a comprehensive program to meet the needs of these girls. For more information about their history and mission, visit their website. They have called on everyone who is a part of the movement to end slavery to wear white tomorrow for Freedom Day.

That's easy enough, right? Just wear white tomorrow! White symbolizes purity - the restored purity and protection needed by victims of sexual abuse. If you do nothing else, pick something white to wear tomorrow. It's a simple way to show you care and are in this fight.

Another easy way to help out is by voting for Wellspring to receive a technology grant. Milner is giving away $35,000 to the non-profit who receives the most votes. The first round of voting ends TONIGHT (January 31st!). Help make sure Wellspring makes it to the final round! About 200 girls freed from prostitution are on a wait list to get into Wellspring's program. Wellspring is trying to expand to accommodate more girls, and this grant would help tremendously. All you have to do is vote! Go! Cast your vote!

CSEC Lobby Day is a week from today. It's a day when many will gather in Atlanta to talk to our legislators and encourage them to help put an end to sexual slavery. Find out what district you live in and who your legislators are, and send them a note or an email. You don't have to even physically be at Lobby Day, though it is a great opportunity to put all this into action. If you're interested, find out more on Wellspring's blog, or register at StreetGrace.

Most importantly, though, pray. We can do all these things, go through all these actions, spread the word to the ends of the world and back, but we go nowhere if we're not giving it to God. He knows what needs to be done, and He hurts more than we do that people are enslaved. Pray to Him. Pray for the slaves. Pray for the ones oppressing and enslaving. Only God can fully mend the broken hearts of the slaves, and only He can break the hearts of the ones responsible.

Make the issue of slavery a priority. Let's end it!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

In the summer of 2010, my wife, Kaitlin, worked as a camp counselor for Camp Pinnacle in Clayton, Georgia. We had been dating for over two years then, and being apart for nearly a whole summer was hard. She brought her cell phone, but was only allowed to use it one day a week, for a limited time. We appreciated these brief windows, and learned to use them well. It was during that summer that she (and later I) was introduced to a reality that is hard to swallow: that approximately 27 million people worldwide are enslaved. That human trafficking occurs more today than ever in history.

Girls forced into prostitution. Children forced to work in factories... some of which are or were affiliated with companies we buy from everyday. Millions of men, women, and children around the world stripped completely of their freedom. The worst part? It happens not far from our own backyards.

How does one even begin to process that kind of knowledge?

Every other week it seems, you hear on TV or the radio about a rapist or child molester, and it brings forth emotions of sadness, disgust, and anger. The pictures of the accused usually fit the stereotypical look we expect, and all you'll hear about is that one incident for days.

But these are not isolated incidents. This happens every day.

It is estimated that 100 girls are forced to do someone's sexual bidding every night... in Atlanta alone. These men are not the rough looking people you see in the news either. Approximately 23% of adult males in Georgia have purchased sex, half of which will exploit an under-aged girl. Most fit the description of the average Joe: church-going white male, married, has children. People you may see everyday and not suspect a thing.

I wish I was lying, but I'm not. I wish this didn't happen, but it does. So what can we do? We can start by being aware and spreading what we know. I love how Passion 2013 has gotten many people fired up about it, and we need to stay fired up. There are so many organizations founded to combat this issue, and we can help by supporting them. I'm not familiar with all of them, but you can find a list at One organization that I am familiar with is Wellspring Living.

Wellspring Living is an organization that not only raises awareness and actively lobbies for legislation to fight human trafficking, but they also provide safe homes for the girls taken out of sexual abuse and slavery. There program is unique in that they work with girls directly and help them recover, often saving them from being jailed for prostitution.

You can join them in this fight financially, through volunteering, shopping at one of their Wellspring Treasures locations, or by simply spreading the word. You can even help them influence our local representatives by participating in the CSEC Lobby Day on February 7th. Follow the link for details, it is a great opportunity! My wife, Kaitlin, participated last year and we're going to try to go again this year.

This is too great a crime to sit back do nothing.

It is a cause that demands radical urgency.

Millions of people need our help, many of whom are closer to you than you may think.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Authority in Christ

"When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to Jesus, 'Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!'
'Yes,' He told them, 'I saw Satan fall from Heaven like lightning!  Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But do not rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.'"
-Luke 10:17-20

This morning in Sunday School, we were talking about remembering who we are in Christ, and what we have that the Isrealites didn't in the Old Testament. It was briefly mentioned that we have the authority of Christ and are His ambassadors. How often do we think of ourselves like that? The above passage in Luke is one of my favorites, and yet I haven't given it much thought in a while.

Its a power and authority that Satan would love for us to forget about... that He can be silenced by us just by mentioning the Lords name! That through Christ we have power over the Enemy, and not just some power, but complete authority. He cannot harm or touch us. He has to listen to us and obey us whenever we use Christ's name. He has no choice, no power, nothing. Christ defeated him at the cross and let's us share in that victory.

We are quick to forget though. We still fear and worry. Christ tells us here to not be afraid, that we have authority. He tells us that our names are written in Heaven! What a reason to rejoice and to not fear! No matter what happens in this world, Jesus has made a place for us! He has given us victory over the enemy. He has given us redemption, mercy, and grace. He calls us friends, and calls us Holy!
Let us never forget this no matter how we feel!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

By Grace Alone (A New Year Post)

I have started this post over completely so many times. I thought about blogging about Christmas, Thanksgiving, all the things I'm thankful for, random updates that I missed since my last post. Things that other people blog about, and therefore I somehow need to blog about. Nothing that I can think of, though, really compares to how grateful I feel towards God that I'm alive to see 2013 unfold.

On 12/12/12, I feel asleep at the wheel for just a moment, when a tanker merged onto the road I was driving on. I had enough time to brake a little but not enough to avoid impact. I hit the tanker in the side, but hit in just the right place to not get trapped underneath or cause the tanker to combust. I walked away with minor head trauma, and some cuts/bruise.

My car wasn't so lucky, but can be replaced. Ironically, the rental car company my insurance uses was located at 1212 Martha Berry Hwy. I kid you not. Google Enterprise in Rome, Georgia. Fun fact: they not only pick you up, but they drop you off. Which was convenient.

Anyway, just 17 days later, Kaitlin and I were driving back to our getaway cabin from a nice dinner at Bullfish Grill in Pigeon Forge. It was day 3 of 6 of our mini vacation. It was around 8 and snowing; while we enjoyed the snow, we also were eager to get back up the mountain before the snow could collect on the road and make the steep trip nearly impossible for Kaitlin's little Nissan Altima.

I was careful driving, but nothing really on our part could have avoided hitting the car who quickly tried to make a left turn across two lanes of traffic, clearly not noticing us at all. The accident was nearly head-on due to the angle of their turn. By the grace of the LORD, Kaitlin was not seriously injured. It is also by grace alone that I came out with only a broken tibia and fibula. Looking at the pictures, we both know we are lucky and protected by a loving God.

The doctor said it usually takes 3 months to heal, but we're just taking it one day at a time. It's discouraging and frustrating at times, but the LORD is with us. So, we welcome 2013, ready for all it has to offer. Looks like for the next few weeks, I'm going to have a lot of alone time with my God, and that's definitely a good thing. 

God bless you all, and Happy New Years.