Be Radical in 2018!

Transitioning back to the States from a developing country is an eyeopening experience. As I am in the midst of it, there are things that stand out drastically in the “culture shock” of life in the United States. Driving around the US makes me sad. It is difficult for me to drive past huge mansions, overwhelming church buildings, Lexus’ in church parking lots, and other such images of obscene abundance. Having lived internationally and domestically, it is difficult for me to rationalize the excessive consumerism with the overwhelming poverty that is present in much of the developing world.

While it is easy to judge the careless spending in the US (or globally depending on where you are), this is not a post to write about how the US has it wrong and the global south has it right, this is a post to wake us up to the reality of what Jesus called us into. The reality is Jesus talked about money in the New Testament than heaven and hell. Why? Because what we do with our money matters. Unfortunately, the culture in the United States does little to challenge us to live radically generous. As I missionary who raises funds I have had my fair share of conversations surrounding money, and one thing I try to make clear when I raise funds is that my goal is not for anyone to give to me. My goal when I have any conversation about fundraising is to challenge people to think critically about where their money goes and give generously wherever God leads them to give.

The western world has unprecedented access to capital that can be used intentionally to further the kingdom of God. However, I believe, in having that access we are given a huge burden to be good stewards and live radically and utilize that which we have to further the Kingdom. Unfortunately, all to often, that has been used to build bigger buildings, expand already sufficient church buildings, build bigger auditoriums to house more congregants instead of planting new churches, and build bigger houses to “be hospitable” when we may host in our “formal dining rooms” eight times a year.

Living radically means we are generous when it hurts, we are charitable when we don’t have enough ourselves, we share what we have to stretch it further, we don’t buy more when there isn’t a need, we provide for people when they don’t have the means, we feed people when they don’t have food, and we live in such a way that puts Jesus on display everyday showing the world that there is something so much better than the status quo.

This is an area what we can learn greatly from in the developing world. I have had meals in sugar cane villages, where people makes less than $1 a day, yet when you eat at their houses its like they cooked for Christmas dinner. I have seen families kill their goats and chickens (livelihood) to feed those who are visiting for the day. I have seen people live radically generously on $1 a day, and I believe similar to Mark 12:41-44 where Jesus commends the poor widow saying, “but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on.” (vs. 44), this is what we are called to emulate. Live radically, radically generous and out of radical faith that God will provide what we need if we are faithful with our generosity.

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The Christianization of Latin America

I have decided in the wake of my time in the Dominican Republic, and with time spent up to this point studying and learning about the modern missions movement and the state that we are in, to begin to blog about some of what I have seen and experienced in a hope to bring about a larger understanding to the state of missions in our current time.

As we embarked on this journey years ago, in seminary, prepping for our move to the Dominican Republic, and our years spent in the Dominican Republic, I have gained a lot of life experience when it comes to Latin America (or the Caribbean more specifically), the Spanish-speaking world, and the state of the church and the movement of “missions” in our day and age.

One can just google Latin America and Christianity and come up with overwhelming statistics about the health of the Gospel in Latin America. While the demographics have been changing, Latin America has been home to one of the largest Roman Catholic populations on the face of the earth, with roughly 80% of the world’s Roman Catholics coming from Latin America. In this NY Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/upshot/latin-america-is-losing-its-catholic-identity.html) they state that previous statistics identified roughly 90% of Latin American adults would identify with Roman Catholicism.

My point here is not to pin Roman Catholicism against Evangelicalism, but rather, to show, what many have said, that Latin America is supuestamente Christian. It is very difficult in Latin America to come across someone who does not at the least hold some kind of ideology surrounding God as Creator and Jesus as His Son. However, would that mean that Latin America is Christianized?

As Jairo Namúm states in his article in on The Gospel Coalition, “But more and more evangelism has turned into an effort to preach the gospel to those who ascribe to some kind of prosperity gospel, showing them how Jesus is so much better than the riches of this world.” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/stirrings-of-revival-in-latin-america/). In my time in the Dominican Republic I have heard some of the most off-the-wall things being backed up by obscure “proof texting” trying to make claims about what the Bible says. Through these conversations, and the experiences I have had, I can honestly question the true salvation, or at least basic understanding of the Gospel, of many of the people I have met that are pastoring churches in the Dominican Republic. While statisticians and polls might say one thing, my experience and conversations say something very different. While I understand my on the ground experience is in the eastern portion of the Dominican Republic, what I have heard and conversed about with fellow missionaries and national leaders is that my experiences are not an anomaly when it comes to the Spanish speaking world. An identification with is not an understanding of the Gospel.

The lack of healthy Bible believing churches is painful and the amount of people that are confused about what the Gospel actually means is sad. The evangelism efforts that take place with little to no emphasis on the Cross or on grace is mind boggling and unfortunately, I do not see anyone leading the charge in changing this dynamic. Most of the people I have encountered in the evangelical world come out of an unhealthy Pentecostalism that fails to truly portray the Gospel and the roll of the believer. The modern missions movement is failing because of a lack of Theological education and Gospel-centered discipleship. Bill Hybles said, “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right – it’s the hope of the world”, and I truly believe this is the case. What I have witnessed and experienced is a major failing of the local church. A failure of pastors shepherding their flocks and leading them in truth. I am encouraged by a few splattering of individuals who understand and adhere to the truth, but as a whole I am discouraged because their voices are squashed in the overwhelming presence of an unhealthy evangelicalism.

 

 

 

Man Up and Go

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In April 2016 we (FCA DR)  partnered with Man Up and Go (MUG) and hosted an Authentic Masculinity conference in Boca Chica with coaches and pastors connected to the ministry of FCA DR. Again in April 2017 we hosted our second event in Santo Domingo, again with coaches known and ministered to by our staff in Santo Domingo.

During that second trip Jeff Ford (CEO MUG)  and Shane Scott (MUG Board Member) stayed at our house in San Pedro for a night and we connected over food and ministry. Moving forward I stayed in touch with Jeff and others on the MUG Board as well as traveling to Tampa as they hosted a fundraiser to help support our family and FCA DR.

Over time Abbie and I started feeling the nudging that our time with FCA DR was coming to a close. We were encouraged by our staff, what was happening in the ministry, and were feeling that the need for our presence was becoming less apparent. As well we were at a point where our finances were rough, and we were realizing a change was a necessity.

In that period of time as Abbie and I were praying and thinking about what God had next for our family, I had a phone call with Jeff, a normal catch up kind of conversation and I mentioned to him that we were thinking about a change and asked about the direction they were going as a ministry and what their long range ministry and hiring goals were. At that point he voiced to me the need for additional man power with MUG and the direction they were heading.

I had always been interested in MUG (not from a job sense but more from a ministry sense) for a few reasons: 1. My capstone work in seminary was on authentic masculinity specifically in a Latin American context and have always been drawn to this type of work; 2. They were working in Community Development and holistic ministry, which is a strong passion of mine and where much of my seminary work was focused. 3. They were working in the developing world, partnering with local in-country ministries and finding people doing good work.

Over the next few months of praying and seeing where God was leading things (both Jeff, the MUG board, and our family) we are excited to announce that we have officially taken a position with Man Up and Go as the Director of Operations. This will be a big change for our family as we will be relocating to Tampa, FL. While much of us is struggling with the thought of moving back to the States, we are also fully at peace and are excited to be able to move into a very multicultural area as well as be working in the developing world. As the Director of Operations I will be assisting in both domestic and international programing, of which there is a lot, and helping MUG focus their development and compassion projects, as well as help develop and implement the mens development program which will have pieces of Biblical discipleship, fatherhood and husbandhood, as well as an entrepreneurial and business development piece with microfinance parts.

We will be finishing up our time with FCA through the end of 2017, and are encouraged about where FCA DR is currently and where it is heading. I truly believe FCA DR will be better in six months than it is with us here. Our staff here in the DR is ready for the challenge and will be excellent in continuing to move forward with the vision and mission of FCA DR. While it is difficult leaving friends who have become family, we are encouraged that this will not be goodbye for good, but as well with my role with MUG I will be very connected to FCA DR and our staff.

Please be in prayer for our family, our transition, and our funding. This roll will as well have a fundraising component so for those of you that are currently supporting our work here, we ask that you prayerfully consider continuing to fund our ministry with FCA until we finish up, and check out http://www.manupandgo.org to find out more about the organization and talk with us about whether you feel led to continue supporting our family.

Hiroshima Carp

Sometimes you don’t know how God is going to use certain decisions or experiences. A little over a month ago, one Saturday, instead of taking Isaiah to his normal program for baseball here in San Pedro, I took him to Boca Chica and he played with Jesus (Willie’s son) in his program in downtown Boca Chica.

That day I was helping to organize the kids into teams with another dad whose kid was there. Him and I started talking and it turns out he coaches for the Hiroshima Carp, the only Japanese Academy in the Dominican, which also happens to be directly next to my house in San Pedro.

Him and I got to talking about what I did, and he asked if I would be interested in doing some chaplaincy with the players and coaches with the Carp. That next week I visited one of there practices, where via a translator (who is also a coach) I was able to talk with the manager of the team about the ministry. The manager only speaks Japanese, and the coach Spanish and Japonese. I also sat down and had coffee with the administrator of the academy, a very kind young Japanese man who speaks Spanish to talk about how to get involved in ministry at the academy.

Now for the past month I have been able to serve as the chaplain at the academy. Every Thursday morning I am there and pre-practice we are walking through Scripture towards the Gospel.

The reason I included languages and cultures in this post is twofold. First, the language of baseball can supersede literal language. Every person in the conversation can be united via the game, whereas in most other contexts those relationships would not take place. Second, Japan is a place largely opposed to the Gospel. Via the game of baseball people are being united on a small island in the Caribbean around a game, with the possibility of eternal ramifications across the globe.

The final exciting piece of the puzzle is Will Thompson. Will and I met in the Dominican a few years ago, and Will and his wife Kimberly serve with FCA in Tokyo. I was also able to reconnect with Will in Thailand in February. I look forward to the day when one of these young Dominican kids in the academy comes to a real encounter with the living God, goes to Japan to play, gets connected with Will and we see people in Japan coming to faith! Pray with me towards this end!

The Story of a coach

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“Moreno” in the Blue LA hat with Victor Sanchez

The first time I met Alfredo Gotier Guerrero, or “Moreno” as he is lovingly called, he was sharing a devotional with his players before the start of practice. When I arrived he called me over and asked if I would like to jump in, and together we talked about the Gospel and the sacrifice of Christ. This was over a year ago now, and I have spent other times with Moreno and his players at his field behind the local friend chicken joint in downtown San Pedro de Macoris.

Over the past number of years Moreno, a 51 year old coach, has had his life impacted by Jesus Christ through the ministry of presence and discipleship of Victor Sanchez, one of our staff members in San Pedro. Moreno grew up in San Pedro, playing around the outskirts of the city in different brutally impoverished sugar cane villages called “Bateys”  before being selected nationally to play for the country when he was 16 years old. He never signed professionally and instead started coaching and training players in 1996 as a way to make a living. Over the course of his career he has had 23 of his players sign professional contracts, and one rising all the way to the Major League level, but that is not the important stuff, what Jesus has done in his life is what counts.

Victor started playing for Moreno years ago, when Moreno was chasing women and alcohol. Victor specifically remembers times that women would come to the field, in fits of anger, looking for Moreno while Moreno was hiding and having his players or other coaches tell the women that he was not at the field that day. But on the 22 of October 2009 at 11:45 am that changed. Moreno gave his life to Jesus, and nothing has been the same since.

Moreno recognized Victor’s calling spiritually before Victor. Even telling Victor on multiple occasions that God was going to use him in a mighty way. Now years later, Victor and Moreno’s relationship has transformed, from player and coach, to “hermanos en Cristo” with Victor now spending time in the Word with Moreno at the field where they used to train together.

Moreno credits his time with Victor and their discipling relationship with his change as a man and as a coach. Moreno shared with me this morning, that where he used to be a perverse and angry man, the Lord has changed his attitude and his character as he seeks intimacy with the King.

Now at this little field in San Pedro, every day before practice Moreno is leading his team in discipleship time and prayer, telling me that he is much more concerned that their names are written in the Book of Life than on a professional contract. As well, Victor and Moreno are making Jesus famous as they engage in Bible studies with other coaches, sharing with them the change that Jesus has made in their lives.

As I finished up my time with Moreno and Victor this morning, I looked over and next to the dugout, with rocks, Moreno has spelled out “Cristo Salva” (Christ Saves) as a reminder for his players every time they step on the field.

 

School is Starting!

Many of you have played a huge role on our homeschool journey so I wanted to update you on what our plans are for this year and where we are headed! First I wanted to remind you all that we are SO thankful for your contributions this last school year as many of you helped buy us books and shared so much wisdom about homeschooling!

We ‘started’ our first day of school this Monday, I say ‘started’ for two reason, one being I’m learning that this schooling journey doesn’t really have to stop over the summer (at this age anyway!). The other reason because Monday was terrible! My expectations were much to high and Isaiah was not much in the mood to sit for any reading or write in the least! So Tuesday morning before the kids were up I backed tracked and reevaluated my heart, my homeschool goals and our purpose.

This year our goals are:

  1. Scripture memorization
  2. Read good children’s literature
  3. Learn more bible stories
  4. Gain more confidence in counting and writing 1-100.
  5. Writing our letters and starting to read short stories.
  6. Play with other kids on a (almost) daily basis and learn more Spanish through play.

While I haven’t chosen a specific curriculum to work from this year, I have compiled a list of good books from Five in a Row, some of Sarah Clarkson’s recommended childrens books, K12 Classics for Young Readers (Volume A), and The Children’s Book of Virtue (which is a reread from last year but we love it!). We read one story from the Jesus Storybook Bible everyday as well as are working on memorizing a bible verse each week. I have thought about doing the ABC Scripture Memory cards too. Numbers are usually reviewed on the go, when I need him to count out things for me at the grocery store, share legos with his brother, play hide and seek, etc. I say we do this everyday, but sometimes we miss a day because we have a team or we are all to grumpy. Sometimes we pack up and just go to the beach or the park instead.

Each week I pick one story from our list of books, then each day of that week we reread it. We talk about a different subject each day like science, math, bible, art, or geography, etc (this idea is from Five in a Row). For example, this week we are doing The Legend of the Dipper,  from the Classics for Young Children. On Monday we learned about droughts around the globe, Tuesday we talked about humility from Philippians 2, and Wednesday we learned all about constellations. Today we will look at water conservation and set up some buckets to collect rainwater. Tomorrow I’ll have him draw his own dipper and we will take about the art form used in our story.

Being a bit dyslexic myself, I get so anxious about reading! I doubt my ability to teach and worry if i’m not doing enough/doing to much often. So far Isaiah has almost memorized all of his letters and sounds, but refuses to put them together into words. Instead of pushing him, which I was totally doing during the summer, we are working through this part 2 of Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool.

I WAY overcomplicated this whole idea before I started school last year.  I quickly realized that more then the right curriculum, a strict schedule, or hours of planned activities  I want our family to create a culture of learning, a desire to adventure (through stories and reading), a knowledge of the Word of God,  serving others around us, and provide rhythms to help cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ (daily Scripture reading and prayer). I also love that we can really do this anywhere and that this isn’t just for our Zay but Eli can be a part of it too!

From the Orioles to the sandlot and all levels in between!

Mulling over the past few weeks, it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between doing ministry within the game of baseball. I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Rochester, NY with the Rochester Ridgemen, one of the Athletes in Action teams in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. During those two weeks I walked through scripture with the team, teaching on theology, Spiritual life, work of the Holy Spirit, life of Christ, etc. while trying to lead the guys through seeing spiritual life through the lens of the game. Articulating spiritual truths in a way that baseball players understand and connect with, illustrating the depths of Scripture with the game of baseball.

Now we are back in the DR. Wednesday spending a few hours in the Orioles academy, with 17-23 year old professional players, connecting the game of baseball with the power of the Gospel and this morning being spent on a sandlot field in Boca Chica with kids ranging from 4-12 trying once again to articulate spiritual truths by illustrating with the game of baseball. Sure, the language (Spanish and English) changes, the context changes (beautiful turf fields to trash filled cow pasture), but the game and the Gospel remain the same. There are still four bases and a mound and Jesus is still the redeemer of souls and the giver of life. The Gospel has power on the sandlot, the Orioles academy and in the NYCBL. Jesus is God in all, and can use a trivial game to bring Himself glory.

Stateside Adventures

Hello from Team Sawyer in Naples, FL. We left the Dominican on the 14th of June for an adventurous month of travel around the United States.

Our adventure started in Atlanta with Abbie and the boys traveling on one flight and me traveling separately on a flight that left 30 minutes later (to and from the same Airport). We arrived in Atlanta safely however all of our bags did not. Thankfully within a day the airline located our bag with my suit for a wedding and all of Abbie and my clothes!

We were able to celebrate the wedding of Thomas and Ashley Floyd outside of Atlanta and spend time with friends and family in the area. It as well was great to have a board meeting for FCA DR coincide with our time in the States as I was able to sit on the meeting in person and not on the phone like normal.

We were so blessed by those who housed us, fed us, allowed us to use vehicles, and treated our family to special things!

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At the Floyd Wedding

 

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Thanks to the Shaheen we were able to enjoy Suntrust Park, the new home of the Braves!
We are now in Naples, FL for the next week with my (Luke’s) family for some much needed down time. We are blessed by my grandfather owning a beach home that we are able to utilize. We just completed the 10 hour drive from Atlanta to Naples yesterday!

At the end of the month we will be traveling up to Rochester, NY to do two weeks of the discipleship program with the Rochester Ridgemen, the Athletes in Action team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. Updates to come!

FCA Houston and Man-Up

The last two weeks have been a blur in the Sawyer house. We were blessed to host 12 people from FCA Houston along with Eric Anderson who is the Regional International Coordinator for the area. This was a great opportunity for us to get some cross-pollination between our staff in the states and our staff overseas. We spent the week together, did ministry together, ate together, and played team building games together, with the goal of building relationships between our staff and the staff in our “Super Region” with FCA.

Arriving the next week we had “Man-Up and Go” a great organization that we started a partnership with this past year. Man-Up holds Biblical Masculinity conferences around the world. As an organization we have a similar heartbeat and it is great to be able to partner with them and train men on how to be men. We hosted this years conference in Santo Domingo at the Olympic Center and had around 25 coaches in the two-day event. We were blessed to see coaches rededicate themselves to loving their wives and children as well as see one coach come to faith for the first time. It is an honor to be able to walk with men through this journey!

A different kind of life.

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Its strange when you hit a point where you semi forget that you live overseas. The differences start to become new normals and you forget that this wasn’t what you grew up with your whole life. I have never been one to blog a lot about life here, but maybe the occasional post is good, so that if anyone is reading it they can get a little enjoyment out of the things that we get to experience.

Some things that have happened recently that are normal here; but have not always been normal:

  1. a man was walking his pig through our neighborhood, the neighbors rotweiller who roams the streets attacked said pig while it was on the leash.
  2. I watched a man on a motorcycle drive through downtown San Pedro at rush hour with a horse running behind him attached to a rope that was attached to his motorcycle.
  3. The phone company does not believe that I am me because on my passport it says Luke Andrew on one line, and Sawyer on the other. Thus my first and last names must be Luke Andrew which doest not match my drivers license which says Luke Sawyer….
  4. I can not pay my internet bill on the internet…

One thing that I will forever cherish about Dominican living is the things that I never dreamed I would ever experience are now things I take for granted and can’t really imagine life without them. It is amazing to look back on life while in the present and see the difference between the two. So glad I get to experience life in the Dominican (expect when I have to go to the phone company)!