Monday, March 19, 2018

Travel log from Ecuador and ministry update

Dear partners in ministry,

I just got back from Ecuador and I want to thank you again for your prayers and financial support! Thanks to your support the entire amount of $1,850 was raised for me to go.
I truly believe that you were an answer to my prayers and that God also answered your prayers for the people in Ecuador. Below is a travel journal which shares the work we did and how we saw God working on this mission trip day by day. Some of you however, may interested in a summary and for you, I have included the following bullet points and definitions below before starting the travel journal. The website ( is a great way also to connect with the ministry we worked with in Ecuador. There you will see additional pictures and info of the ministry. May the grace of our Lord be with you, now and always!


  • Team: 15 people from FBC West Columbia plus 6 from a church in Cypress, Texas
  • Ministry goals: 1) serving the disabled through service and construction, 2) providing discipleship to children through Soccer camps 3) helping the poor, the neglected, in remote places in the name of Jesus.

  • Carlos Gaona - though blind he is the founder and director of a Special-Needs ministry
  • Daniel Arellano - semi-pro soccer player, started the Seed Soccer ministry to children
  • Eduardo Andrade - evangelist, missions facilitator, national director of IMOJ, runs the Meeting Place now that the Beaks have passed away.
  • IMOJ - International Ministry of Jesus
  • Rodrigo - our bus driver for the week, Christian, and friend of Eduardo.
  • The Meeting Place - buildings used as a center base for missions, for missionaries, Christian conferences, and pastor retreats
  • Tom & Joan Beak - retired missionaries, now deceased, who built the Meeting Place and cast the vision for it.

Day 1: Sunday, March 11th, 2018, 7pm

Got up, went to church with my family. The sermon was good. Pastor Ryan talked about “what things are eternal”: God, people, the Word of God. I needed to hear that basing my life on eternal things is what’s going to last.
Lately, I have been discouraged. I look at the bank account and there is not much. I look in the mirror and I see an overweight, balding man. I go to my job and wonder if I make a difference. I think about all my failures and what could have been. It is very easy to get discouraged.
But when I look at Jesus, I have hope. So what if I am not doing well temporarily?—I have life eternal through Him. I will see Him and his kingdom on earth. I will join all the saints who have trusted in Him. Like Job said in Job 19:25-27
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

How forgetful I am about who God is and what He has done in my life! I go to Ecuador to proclaim this Jesus—King of Kings and the only Savior. There are precious people in Ecuador who need to hear of Him. I pray that my words and service this week will point people to Him.

Day 2: Monday, March 12th
view from the balcony at the Meeting Place

Last night was crazy! We arrived in Quito just before midnight, got our bags and drove by bus to the “Meeting Place” in Nanegalito where we are staying. The last 15 minutes of driving in the bus was through a narrow jungle road on the side of a mountain, lurching downhill and uphill, crossing a narrow bridge and arriving at 3am. Rodrigo is our bus driver for the week and he knows every inch of his bus.
Today we got up and met the leaders of the ministries here over breakfast: Eduardo, Daniel, and (later) Carlos. I got to go with Daniel, a 20-something-year-old soccer player who has a ministry to children called Seed Soccer. Today we went out to Carlos’ house to partner with his ministry. Carlos is blind himself and runs a ministry out of his home for the physically and mentally disabled. We drove to his house and played a friendly game of soccer against Carlos and his team—except we played blindfolded! The soccer ball had a bell in it that you could hear as it rolled. The spectators would try to help the players by telling them, “left, right, forward” until they got to the ball. Believe it or not, one team lost 8-0 and it was not the team whose leader is blind. You would have laughed to see us stumbling around, groping with our feet to find the ball. Of course, Carlos had us play this game to be aware of the challenges those with disabilities face. He has a huge heart for caring for people who have been overlooked and neglected.
blindfold soccer. Carlos is on the left with thumbs up.
After the game, Carlos played the keyboard while we helped serve food to the disabled. There was a moment when we were asked to share why we (our mission team) were here this week. Of course we said we were sharing the love of God that He has shown us. I had my testimony prepared in Spanish so I got to stand up and share with 20 or so people how Jesus saved me and how they too could find eternal life in Him. Linda translated to English while I spoke for our group.
I told how I thought I was a Christian growing up because I went to church and read the Bible and tried to be a good person. I also shared how I was prideful, thinking I was better then others, about how in college I realized I was not a good person and I need Jesus to save me from the penalty of my sins and give me a new heart.
Afterwards, we learned about how this group of disabled people made handmade baskets to sell and help themselves. We spent time stripping vines for them to use for weaving baskets.
We took the long journey through the steep mountains back to where we are staying and I saw cloudy mountain tops through the afternoon rain on the forests of tropical plants and banana trees. There is a reason this area is called the “Cloud Forest.”
Cloud Forest

Day 3: Tuesday, March 13th

Today was busy but awesome! I coach soccer in the States and when I got assigned to help with the Seed Soccer camps I was a little disappointed because I am tired of soccer at the end of the high school season. However, the ministry led by Daniel here was refreshing to be a part of today.
One part of our group went to do construction today in the Dos Puentes (Two Bridges) community. They are working on a home for a lady name Carmen who takes care of her 3 brothers. All her brothers are named Luis, and all of them have mental disabilities. Carmen’s husband left her at some point and she struggles to take care of herself and them. She began building her own house though and our construction group last year put a roof on it and windows. This year they are fixing some of the walls and laying tile on the floors. I met Carmen and 2 of the Luises at Carlos’ house on Monday when we played soccer.
My part of the group however left early by bus to go to a remote community called Palmitopamba to give 2 soccer camps—one for kids ages 5-10 in the morning and the other in the afternoon for the older kids (11-15). Daniel is a semi-professional soccer player who began a ministry 6 months ago. He has had to step away from his team though because of the demands of this ministry. This ministry goes to remote communities in the mountains to teach kids soccer once a week.
Palmitopamba kids. Daniel is the one on the right.
Not only do the kids have fun but he teaches the kids to pray by having them repeat after him at the beginning and before eating lunch at the end. We got to help with the drills, games, and also we put on a play about Joseph in Egypt. We told them how God was with José (Joseph) even in difficult times and that God has a plan for the kids’ lives, too. This story was part of a series of Bible stories that Daniel has been teaching the kids called, “Heroes of the Faith.” Daniel organized a soccer game on Friday between this community and another one close by whose kids are also part of his Seed Soccer ministry. He goes 1 time a week to 3 communities on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays to put on the Seed Soccer camp. There the kids are loved, taught, fed, and prayed for. Daniel’s vision is to reach these communities through the children. Many of these rural communities face difficulties. The one we went to today has a high level of alcoholism. Daniel told me that he prays for protection for the kids to not be sexually abused because he has seen how angry they become and closed off to people and God. Please pray for Daniel and the Seed Soccer ministry.
Soccer drill, Collecting Easter Eggs
I got really sunburned today because we are at a high elevation (about 6,000 feet above sea level, or more than a mile.) I don’t care that I got sunburned today because it was a joy to work with the kids and share the love of God with them. Daniel told me that we may be the only friendly faces they see all week.
Bible story time
We returned home late after a good dinner at a local restaurant. I had “trucha” or trout, rice, and lentils and it was excellent.

Day 4: Wednesday, March 14th
Welcome to Urcutambo

Today the weather was beautiful—sunny skies with a cool breeze. We went to do another Seed Soccer camp. This time we went to a village called Urcutambo which has a gorgeous view on the top of a mountain ridge.
Daniel, our leader, has been coming to this community for about 6 months. There were a lot of kids so we divided them into two groups: 9-12 yrs and 13-15 yrs. One cute little boy named Milán tagged along with siblings. He is 4 years old. He was my little buddy today and I helped him with the drills. I also ran the drills for the younger kids while Daniel lead the older group. Our schedule for the soccer camp went something like this:

  1. opening game
    1. drill
    2. water break
    3. Bible story part 1
  2. drills
    1. scrimmage
    2. water break
    3. Bible story part 2
  3. Awards for the best player, best attitude, and best attendance
  4. Lunch

Today it was a joy to play with the kids. Yesterday, I was shy because I didn’t know what we were going to do but today I jumped in to get to know the kids. When we asked questions after the Bible story to see what the kids learned, all of the older kids were sitting, listening, and answering. Milán, the 4 year old, had been wandering about during the story time so I sat by him and gave him a rock to play with to keep him from distracting the others. He began digging in the dirt with it. When Stephanie, who had been telling the Bible story asked the kids, “Where does believing in Jesus lead us?” Milán shouted out the answer “al cielo” first without looking up from digging. “Al cielo” in Spanish means, “to Heaven.”
After practice we visited some families in the community whose kids attend Seed Soccer. After a short visit with them we asked how we could help them and if we could pray for them. They were happy to pray with us. One family gave us a bunch of bananas cut straight from the tree and a packet of sugar cane wrapped in banana leaves.
We returned to the Meeting Place for dinner. After dinner we had our own Bible study and then played games like Uno and Ping Pong late into the night.

Day 5: Thursday, March 15th

Today was another beautiful day of weather with a scenic (but long and bumpy) ride on the bus. This time we went to the village of Vista Hermosa to put on a soccer camp for kids ages 5-8. We drove through the mountains past banana trees, corn, aloe plants, yucca, and sugar canes. Chickens were pecking and scratching near the houses we passed. Men on motorcycles (usually dirt bikes) sped by at alarming rates on the narrow mountain roads.
When we arrived there were 29 kids that were waiting for us! I took the 7-8 year olds on one field for drills while Daniel worked with the 5-6 year olds on the other beside it. We had them play soccer games like Wolves & Lambs and Collect the Easter Eggs.
It was fun to play with the kids and give them lots of smiles, hugs, and encouragement. They got sweaty quickly and we took a water break and had them sit for a Bible story. We followed the same schedule as before.
Again there was a little boy named “Smith” who was 4. In Spanish his name sounds like “Eh-smit.” He worked hard to keep up with the others. Many parents came out today to watch the practice. They sat above us on the edge of the hill that the soccer field was carved out of. There are not many flat places where we were. However, the parents go to hear the kids pray out loud. Daniel had them repeat a simple prayer at the beginning asking God to keep them safe, to help their bodies grow, and to learn more about the God who loves them. At the end he also had them pray after him to thank God for the day and the food they were about to eat.
Tomorrow (Friday) 2 teams of the older kids from this community (Vista Hermosa) and Palmitopamba will play each other in the stadium. Both teams are the ones Daniel has been training and ministering to through the Seed Soccer program.
I am amazed at how a 25-year-old soccer player like Daniel has started a ministry that disciples so many kids in neglected areas. He is also trying to reach the parents with the love of Christ. Please pray for him and Seed Soccer. He has a few financial supporters from the States but honestly I don’t know how he does so much with so little.
At the end of the day we went to a place to eat which also had ziplines through the top of trees. The view was beautiful but the climb to get to the pulleys and cables was difficult. I’m still sunburned and sore, but happy.

Day 6: Friday, March 16th

Today was the big day of the soccer game! The older kids from the Palmitopamba and Vista Hermosa were to play each other in the large soccer stadium. Of course, these are the same kids that my group and Daniel worked with earlier in the week.
The Big Game
These kids, some of who come from poor and difficult circumstances, were beaming with happiness when they received their new soccer jerseys for the game.
Both teams played well and I think the final score was 6-4. I enjoyed helping with the warm up drills, chasing balls that went out of bounds during the game, and coaching a little from the sideline.
After the game Daniel shared a soccer story with all the kids (about 30 in all) which related soccer to the greatest story of all—the Good News of Jesus Christ. He urged them all to faith in Jesus and gave them an opportunity to respond in faith and pray. Many prayed quietly during this time. A few of the kids have already professed faith in Christ and they are bold about their faith. They answer first in the Bible story time and lead out with their attitude, sportsmanship, and kindness to the other players. Both groups need our prayers though because God only knows how He is working in their lives.
After the story, we fed them lunch and celebrated at the stadium. I played with 3 of the younger boys: Ferné, Elking, and Derek. Ferné is 4 and shows exceptional skill at soccer for a boy of his age.
After saying goodbye to the kids we went to a nearby sugar cane farm. It was 5 minutes from the stadium. We saw men there boiling the cane and cooling it to brown cakes of solid sugar. It smelled strongly of molasses. I could have bought a 5 pound round of sugar for $1.
The Greatest Story
Next our bus went to the Two Bridges community to see the work that our construction team had down on Carmen’s house this week. One of the Luises was sitting right outside the house jabbing our men with a stick. It was a fun game for him this week to try to catch our guys off guard and poke them. One time, Kevin Cox, a youth leader at our church, was doing chin ups on a bar when Luis snuck over and started beating him like a piñata. They tell me that last year, this same Luis had a spear! Despite the mental disability he has, Luis is always smiling and has a great sense of humor. The men (and women like Dina and Ya Ya) worked hard this week mixing concrete, sifting sand, and laying tile in an effort to finish Carmen’s house. She was very appreciative.
Luis trying to get Rodrigo with the stick
We returned to the Meeting Place and had a good meal together. Afterwards we went upstairs to the large upper room and Eduardo asked us what God had taught us this week. We went around the circle to share and after an hour he came to me last. I told the group that I was grateful to be able to show love to the “least of these my brothers” as Jesus says in Matthew 25:40. For example, serving food to the disabled, loving kids, helping the poor—basically people who couldn’t repay me. But saying that they couldn’t repay me is not entirely true because God blessed me through them. Then I told the group that on a personal note God gave me hope this week. I often feel like my life doesn’t make sense:

  • I never wanted to be a Spanish teacher or a soccer coach but have been doing it for years now.
  • I was a pastor and called to vocational ministry but now I am not.

But this week I spoke Spanish, coached soccer, and testified to Jesus by word and deed. For this reason, I felt that my life made sense, that God was showing His love to me and giving me hope for the future.

Day 7/8: Saturday/Sunday, March 17-18th

Believe it or not we had to be packed and ready to go by breakfast because we would not be returning to the Meeting Place. Our flight leaves at midnight Saturday and we would spend the day in Quito before being dropped off at the airport.
Even though we have been here for only a week it was hard to say goodbye to Eduardo and his wife. Eduardo is an evangelist, a godly Christian leader, and full of wisdom and joy. His lovely wife, María, served us food each morning and night and made us feel at home. She is an excellent hostess. Eduardo had to stay behind while we went to Quito to prepare for the next mission team which is arriving at the same time we are leaving.
Daniel and Samuel (the photographer for the week) spent the day with us in Quito since they live there and go home on the weekends. It was hard for me to say goodbye to Daniel because I saw God working in this young man’s life and ministry and I wanted to stay and help.
I also talked to Rodrigo, our bus driver for this week quite a bit. He is a Christian about my age and he has worked for Eduardo about 6 years. We had to speak Spanish because, unlike Eduardo and Daniel, he is not bilingual. Rodrigo is good-natured though—smiling, laughing, joking. We got along very well and I will miss him.
Our trusty bus, parked at Two Bridges. Ain't no mountain this baby can't climb!
Rodrigo took our group to Quito in the morning where we stopped at a huge crater—a flat, green valley surrounded by mountains. The view was breathtaking! There was a small gift shop where I haggled for some souvenirs. If you have never haggled it’s like shopping but a lot more fun!
the Crater
Next, we went to a museum on the equator that’s right at 0° 0° 0° latitude. The outdoor exhibit told us the history of Ecuador and showed us some neat properties of standing on the equator—like balancing an egg on the head of a nail or weighing less and having your balance thrown off.
One of the Equator markers
Being Americans abroad we stopped at Burger King for lunch.
Next we went to a Basilica in Quito which is a large, ornate Catholic church. In my opinion though, it was not worth the $2 admission. Finally, we went to an open-air market to haggle some more. There were so many booths of indigenous hand-crafted articles: ponchos, beads, shirts, bracelets, hats, figurines, swords, shrunken heads, spears, canes, and much, much more.
the outdoor market in Quito
I bought a Panama hat. Did you know that what we call a “Panama” hat is actually from Ecuador? They have always been from Ecuador. American workers on the Panama canal bought these straw hats and thought they were local but they had been imported from Ecuador and the name stuck.
After shopping we drove 40 minutes to the airport. Quito is large and the traffic is horrible! Seriously, you are always on the edge of having a wreck because they drive like maniacs. And the pedestrians, which are many, cross the roads whenever and wherever.
So here I sit in the airport waiting for the red-eye flight. We leave around midnight, arrive in Houston after 5am Sunday morning, drive from the airport, and most likely arrive home around 8am. I plan to go to church tomorrow but I will probably be a total wreck. God is so good though and worthy of all my praise and energy. Whether I am sleeping at home tomorrow during church time or attending I will be resting in the grace of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

Update: I did make it to church. I was the only one from our team that did. Pastor Ryan preached on how we haven’t arrived, that we are a work in progress. I bowed my head to pray halfway through the sermon and fell asleep. I barely realized what was going on when we stood to sing the final song.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Rent is Due

"It's the first of the month, rent is due." said the wife.

"I know! I'm on it." snapped the husband without looking up from typing on the laptop.

"Well, are you going to pay it then?" asked the wife.

"Yeah..." said the husband quietly.

"When?" the wife persisted.

"We have a couple of days of a grace period before they charge a late fee. I'll get it in tomorrow or the day after." said the annoyed husband. The annoyance was more of a cover up for other feelings such as shame and fear. It was hard for him to face the fact that his family did not have much money. "Why couldn't he earn more and save more?"--shame. "What would happen in the future?"--fear. This was not the first time he and his wife had had this conversation. It had played out at the first of every month for maybe a year now, (maybe two?)

"When can we go shopping for groceries?" asked the wife. "We're getting really low on food."

"Can we make it a week more?" asked the husband.

"I guess." she replied with a sigh. "But you need to pick up some milk and bread soon."

"OK, I will tomorrow morning then, before work." he said.

"What are you working on now?" asked the wife.

"It's my latest story. I am having trouble getting started." said the husband.

"Do you think anybody will buy your stories?" asked the wife.

"I pray that they do. It's all I can think to do to earn extra money. If I could just get a penny per word we would be rich." he said.

"Well, I'll go pick up some laundry," said the wife smiling, "while you pick up pennies."

The husband sat and stared at the start of his latest story.
Dusty Mangum spat in the dirt and looked at the mule train stretching out in front of him. "Five hundred more miles to go across this god-forsaken land while eating the dust that these smelly animals kick up." he thought.
He quickly erased what he had written. "Nobody wants to read a corny western."

"What is the purpose of telling a story?" thought the husband. "Is it to simply entertain, to distract the reader from the misery and trouble of life...?"

He was beginning to believe so. After all, it wasn't just the rent that was due that was troubling him. There was the water heater that was about to go out. It had been making a distinctive knocking sound after every shower and he had repaired it twice already to save money on a plumber.

 "And what about the car?" thought the husband. "Where will we get the money to fix it when it starts breaking down?"

"No," he thought. Somewhere inside he knew that a story was more than a distraction. It was meant to transport its audience beyond the mundane, beyond the difficult--not to distract but to lift above the noise. And being lifted the audience could see the truth ahead.

"I have a life, a wife, and a God who loves me. It's enough." thought the husband. "All good, all good, nothing but good ahead of me no matter what." he said out loud.

And being lifted to see the gifts he had received he began to type.

A ball of thick spit hit the dirt behind the mule train that Dusty Mangum drove. He had been here before: no water for the last day, no food for two, and five hundred more miles to go.
"God," said Mangum above the noise, "I thank ye for keeping me above the ground rather than below it. You fed the chil'ren of Israel in the desert and you can take care of ol' Dusty too. Favor me, Lord with your grace and git me 'cross this desert to the good woman that is waiting for me. But Jesus, if you let these bones o' mine fall here in the sun to be bleached and dried, I'll meet you on the other side. As it says in the Good Book, You is the resurrection an' the life an' he what believes in you though he die he shall live. I believe it, Lord...

The husband wrote on.

Sometime later, Fifty Mules and Five Hundred Miles was published and the pennies rolled in. But a greater story played out in the life of the husband and wife, one told by an Author writing the story of history.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Chapter 3: Water Fight

Note: This story is written by a guest, my son Reuben, who is 9. (Click to read chapter 2.)

Reuben was driving his car wearing his alert watch that alerts him when something bad happens. Suddenly, his alarm went off! He stopped so fast that the person behind him almost crashed into him. Reuben looked at his watch. It said the police station is being attacked by a band of robbers. Reuben turned around and headed for the police station.

When he got to the police station he saw the jail was broken and empty. The police said the robbers escaped with the robber in the jail. Reuben went home and got a tracking device. He tracked the robbers. They were under water but the river was 20 miles away! He had some real catching up to do.

He went outside to his car. All of a sudden he heard a tornado warning. At the same time there was a hurricane warning. The tornado was coming from the north. The hurricane was coming from the south. East was a mountain range and west was the desert. The robbers were past the tornado because they had started before the tornado formed.

He transformed his car into an airplane. He tried to drive the airplane past the tornado. He started to get sucked in. He pushed on the controls with all his might. That got him out of the tornado. He saw the river up ahead. He carefully lowered his plane until it hit the river. Then he transformed his plane into a submarine.

He went underwater. There he saw five other submarines. He fired and exploded one submarine. He put the robber he caught in the jail in the back of the submarine. One of the robbers fired at Reuben's submarine. Reuben steered his submarine to the side. That made his submarine dodge the bullet. He shot two more submarines down and he put them with the other robber.

One of them tried crashing his submarine into Reuben's. Reuben steered his submarine to dodge the attack. The robber crashed into a rock. Reuben put him in jail with the others. But he didn't see the fifth one!

All of a sudden, his submarine exploded! The robber had snuck up behind him and shot a bullet. Reuben felt helpless, but all of sudden, he noticed something he hadn't before. His watch had a button that had an "E" on it. He pressed the button, then letters appeared, and his watch said, "What vehicle do you want?" He typed, "submarine." When he pressed that his watch turned into a submarine.

The robber was on land right now and heading for his car. But Reuben had other problems. He rescued the other robbers, put them in handcuffs, and then drove his submarine out of the water. He put the handcuffed robbers by a tree. Then he chased after the other robber.

He grabbed him and handcuffed him before he could get to his car. He handed over the five handcuffed robbers to the police. Reuben had saved the day! But barely...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chapter 2: The Robber Escapes

Note: This story is written by a guest, my son Reuben, who is 9. (Click to read chapter 1.)

Reuben was talking to the police at the police station. All of a sudden he heard the alarm ring and the jail was open. The robber was gone. Then they heard a shout. A man reported that the museum was being robbed. Reuben sped into action.

He hurried toward the museum to find people screaming and running out of the museum because the museum was on fire! Reuben couldn't believe his eyes—a fire for the second time! Luckily, he found a garden hose by the nearest house. He put out the fire but the robber was gone again.

He went home and got onto his computer. The robber was in a car heading out of town! He had to hurry to catch up with him. So he got in his car and hit the road with all of his speed. But there was traffic on the bridge. He didn't have time for traffic. So he drove right off the bridge! But he had a trick under his sleeve. He transformed his car into a submarine and he drove down the river. That gave him a big boost to catch up with the robber. He saw the robber ahead. He boofed the robber's car. It broke.

But the robber jumped out of the car window. The robber threw a bomb at Reuben's car. It exploded. Reuben jumped out of his car, grabbed the robber, and handcuffed him and called the police. They took him back to jail again. Once again Reuben was the hero of the day.

And that is the story of "the Robber Escapes."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chapter 1: The Big Fire

Note: This story is written by a guest, my son Reuben, who is 9. 

One day Reuben was walking with his sword strapped to his belt. All of a sudden he smelled smoke and he heard a cry for help. He turned around and he saw a building on fire and a woman crying for help with her baby up in a high window.

He tried to open the door but it was locked. He hacked it down with his sword. When he got inside he saw a robber with jewels in one hand and matches in the other. He was lighting stuff on fire with his matches.

Reuben drew his sword. Unfortunately he had a sword too so they had a duel. Reuben won the duel by slashing his legs. Now he had to go save the woman and her baby.

He hurried upstairs and he saw the woman and her baby trapped in a ring of fire. He whipped the fire with his jacket which created a part where they could get out.

"Come with me," said Reuben and the woman and the baby hurried out of the house with Reuben.

Reuben grabbed a garden hose and put out the fire. Then he called the police and they took the robber. He was the hero of the day!

That is the story of the big fire.
(Click to read Chapter 2.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jack, the Giant, and the Dragon

Once there was a small boy who lived in a small hut in a small village. His name was Jack. He was very skinny for he ate very little. Like all boys Jack loved to eat but there was nothing for him except a few small potatoes from a meager garden by the hut. At dinner his step-father would eat most of the potatoes and even the bread. Then Step-father would leave the rest on his plate for Jack's mother. "Here," he said loudly, "I am finished with this tasteless food." Jack's mother would take the scraps and try to hand them to Jack secretly.

"No, Mother." Jack whispered. "You must eat."

"Nonsense," said Mother. "I ate yesterday and besides you are growing. I want you to grow tall like your father."

Yes... Father. Father had been dead for two winters but Jack remembered well his smiling face and tickly beard. Father was a tall, skinny woodcutter who worked long days. Because of those long days Jack and his mother had wood to keep the fire going during the coldest days of winter. There was always plenty to eat as well from the profit of the extra wood that Father sold. One night as Father worked alone, a tall tree fell on him and pinned him to the ground. The evening wolves arrived as he lay there and Father never came home.

Jack remembered seeing his mother cry and saying "With your father gone I do not know what we will eat." But then Thomas came to the door and said to Mother "I need a wife to cook and clean. I have a hut and food, but only enough food for you and me, not that little runt!" Mother told Jack they would have a new home with her new husband. She would share her food with Jack. The small boy had no choice. He quickly learned to be scared of Thomas and only said, "Yes, Step-father." when addressed by him.

"What are you whispering about?" thundered Step-father. "Runt, leave your mother's food alone and go to bed!"

"Yes, Step-father." said Jack. As Jack walked toward his bed, Step-father slapped him on the back of the head. "If you do not go to sleep soon I will knock you out myself!"

Jack cried quietly and fell asleep.

The next morning Jack awoke to rumbling sounds outside and people shouting. Jack rubbed his eyes and looked around. "What is happening, Mother?" Jack said.

"Do not go outside, Jack, it is too dangerous!" said Mother. "Your step-father has gone to grab food from burning houses."

"Burning houses!" cried Jack and he jumped up and ran outside. There Jack saw a giant--a man who was taller than any of the village huts. The giant had dark eyes and blood running from the corner of his mouth.

Jack could not believe his eyes for he also saw a dragon, a green one with a long curved neck and fire coming out of its mouth. The giant punched the dragon with his meaty hand and the dragon bit the giant's arm.

The giant yelled, "Go away dragon! This is MY village. I am going to eat these people."

The dragon hissed back, "Stupid giant, I will eat these people and then eat YOU!"

Jack had heard about the giant and the dragon before from travelers who came to town. The giant would go from village to village scooping up people and eating them. The dragon also roamed the countryside killing people with his fire and eating their hearts out. Both of them would turn the earth brown and kill crops by their dark magic. Now they had come to Jack's village and were fighting each other.

All the villagers watched as the dragon and the giant fought. "Oh well," said Sam the Butcher "they will kill each other." Then Sam walked back to his hut. "Perhaps we should go to another village." said a farmer calmly. "I will pretend I did not see this." said John the Baker.

"Wait," cried Jack, "someone must stop the giant and dragon!" But no one listened. All the people muttered to themselves and walked off. Glenda the old maid grabbed Jack by the wrist and said, "If you have any sense you will go hide yourself or they will find you. And if they find you, they will kill you. The taylor's family has already been burned alive in their hut."

Jack rubbed his wrist and walked toward the giant and dragon who were still fighting. He walked past the smoking taylor's hut. He saw a burned body on the ground outside. It was Step-father. He had a large hole in his chest where the dragon had eaten out his heart.

Jack shuddered and almost burst into tears. "Someone must stop the giant and dragon!" he thought. Jack pictured his mother frightened inside their hut waiting to be burned and eaten. Jack pictured his father pinned helplessly beneath a tree and being attacked by wolves.

Jack ran toward the giant and dragon. He got so close he could feel the wind from the giant's punches and the heat from the dragon's fire.

Jack squeaked with all his might, "Go AWAY you wicked beasts! LEAVE!"

Jack trembled as the giant and dragon turned to look at him and braced himself to be eaten.

"ANT!" thundered the giant "I will crush you."
"How DARE you speak to me, boy!" hissed the dragon "I will turn you to ashes."

Their evil and might were too much for him. Jack sobbed and fell to his knees.

Suddenly, the elf-king on his large white stallion appeared. His crown was shining gold, his beard was the darkest red and he carried a lance so long and straight it looked like the trunk of a tall tree. Without a word, the elf-king charged his horse at the dragon with blinding speed. The magical lance sunk deep into the body of the dragon. It burned away all flesh it touched and turned the tough hide to smoke. The dragon writhed then collapsed into ash.

The giant, seeing that the dragon was dead, smiled with a wicked grin and swung his huge fist at the elf-king. From his hip the elf-king drew a sword that shone like the sun and in a flash cut off the giant's fist in mid-swing.

The giant howled in pain and raised his bloody arm which now had no hand. "I have killed a thousand lesser men than you, Elf, and you will die too!" cried the giant.

Then the giant leaped at the elf-king with all his weight. With a loud crack he landed belly first on the ground trying to crush the elf-king. But the elf-king atop his stallion was quicker than the wind. He was not under the giant when he landed. Instead, the elf-king appeared by the giant's head.

Leaping from the saddle the elf-king struck with the brilliant sword like a woodcutter splitting wood. The giant's enormous head rolled off like the wheel of a cart. It came to rest near Jack who stared into the whites of the giant's rolled-back eyes.

Jack dared not rise from his knees in the presence of one so great as the elf-king but suddenly the elf-king stood in front of him and raised his tiny chin with his strong hand. "Jack, you may be small, but you spoke the truth. Well done."

Then the elf-king smiled and mounted his stallion. He galloped triumphantly. As he rode, the ground beneath the horse's hooves turned a lush green color.

Jack ran home to his hut. He could not believe his eyes. Their meager garden was now a beautiful orchard with full fruit trees. In fact, everywhere Jack looked, there were beautiful flowers and vegetation. The land was healed. The door opened and Jack's mother ran to him and kissed him and hugged him.

"Oh, Jack," she said while crying with joy, "you are alive!"
"I AM alive, Mother." said Jack. "And we will never have to worry about food again."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Beaten to Life

Unfeeling, unseeing, dark and dead, I lay in the bottom of a mountain, surrounded by dirt. I could not move, breath, or speak. I had no color; no shape.

How long did I languish in the dark? I do not know. I have no recollection of a beginning—only darkness.

Then one day a pinpoint of light appeared. It spread into a blinding light as a blow from behind it knocked it apart. Rock clattered and fell aside like the opening of an ancient tomb, but for me it was the exit of a womb.

A miner stood in the light, sweating, covered in dirt from his descent down into the muck. His pick was slung across his shoulders like someone carrying a cross beam.

With joy on his face, he looked right at me. "I found you." he said. With that he reached out and plucked me from the dirt.

Now the joy was mine. Air! Light! Color! Shape! Thoughts flooded me faster than I could comprehend them. It was a new world for me outside of the mountain. Was I ever really alive before?

Up in the light, the miner gently washed me. Now I had weight and form.

I had just met the miner but I loved him. I loved the one who had rescued me.

Just when I thought I could contain my joy no longer, I was taken to the furnace. The miner placed me in the bowl of a crucible and then into the fire.

An intense fire! I felt that I could not take the heat. I melted and feared that there would be nothing left of me. Yet, as I looked through the opening of the kiln, I saw the miner carefully watching me and controlling the temperature. If too hot; I would vaporize. If too cold; I would stay mixed with the lifeless and dull lead. But neither happened. He used a bellows to blow off the impurities into the fire.

The miner drew me out and I emerged as pure, liquid gold. Shiny and precious, my surface was now a mirror for the miner's smiling face.

As I cooled into a lump my faith in the miner solidified as well. No matter what fires may come I knew now that I could trust the miner's good purposes.

So when he took me and placed me on the anvil, I was ready. The hammer fell on me again, and again. Ringing out, it beat me, flattened me, shaped me. I had no idea of what the miner was making me into.

It did not matter though, I only wished to be used by the miner. I hoped I could be useful to him.

Slowly, he added jewels to the outside of my circlet. I was placed as a crown at the foot of a king. As I looked at the king I saw the same blinding light that shone on me in the depths of the mountain, and the same smiling face that found me. It was the miner as he really was—a king. As for me, I was finally home.

1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.