Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 6, 2013 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! I hope all is well at home, and that everyone is enjoying this holiday season with family and friends. Things are not near as hectic here during this season, and it is a lot easier to focus on the meaning of the season from abroad, and to ponder the greatest miracle of all-the incarnation of Christ. Pastor José told me the other day that he heard a lady in New York was killed in a stampede on Black Friday as one of the stores opened. I told him it happened every year (which it does), and he was baffled. To people who have never had the means to go shopping for anything but the bare essentials (and many times not even that), it is hard to comprehend the madness. I had to admit the total lack of priority most in the good ‘ol U.S. of A have, and shake my head along with him.

But not to make it sound like those who have less, somehow as a result have their act together either, I want to tell you in the remainder of this newsletter of a recent event that happened the days prior to our Thanksgiving. For months, I had been seeing a “3 Days of Miracles” poster hung up all over the town of Esperanza, but gave little thought to it...until those three days were upon us, and 8-10 thousand people (I’d have to say that 1/2 to 3/4 of the city) went every night to watch this “Pastor” from the United States perform “miracles” and preach on wealth and prosperity.

I remember Wednesday night, as we were having prayer service (with low numbers), looking behind me and seeing the streets filled with people, all walking to the event. Tony and I drove by it after the service and were blown away at all the people. The message was typical– health and wealth if you give. But what we were not expecting, was to see people from our church (who had skipped our service) there. A sad, heavy weight (that I am accustomed to feeling here) once again fell upon me as I drove home. How could everyone be so blind, and how could those we have been teaching for so long be fooled?

Well, its times like those, that you feel like throwing in the towel. When you look at all the street preaching of the true gospel we’ve done, the witnessing, the teaching, and all the praying, but then see the whole city, and even many within the camp dazzled by Satan and his false gospel, it just makes you lose heart a little, and second guess things. But like David often did, after he got done lamenting, I want to end with praising God. A little talk with my dad, and especially the Word of God (2 Cor. 2:12-17) lifted my spirits. I read again where Paul learned of churches he had labored for with blood and sweat, only months later, embracing false teachers, and I saw how despite his anguish, he was strengthened afresh in the knowledge of Christ as Victor! We are here to serve Christ, by serving others with the gospel that can change lives, but oh how being here is changing us as well!                                              
—Gracias y Dios los bendiga,  Jared and Celia

Monday, March 25, 2013

Piedra Gorda

This post is part 3/3 of a short series I wrote on the three places we minister to.

I saved Piedra Gorda for last because it is the furthest out from us, and is also the hardest place to write about. In fact, I've not really looked forward to writing this. I'm going to be flat-out honest in this post. Usually, that gets me in trouble, but what's the gain in sugar-coating things.

Arianna walking the dusty streets of PG
Piedra Gorda-as some of you know- is poor. I mean, pooooooooor. I don't say that light-heartedly either. Every time I go there, I look around and just wonder how people can live like they do. In that respect, I have a lot of admiration for them. I remember when Carmen (you can read about her on some of my facebook posts) was sick, they even had a hard time finding her water. Could you imagine having difficulty attaining water. As a side note, this is why I am very excited what Pastor Shane of South Carolina is attempting to do-and that is to get running water to Piedra Gorda (please pray for these attempts).

So, when you walk up to Piedra Gorda, an immediate sense of gloom overcomes you (well, at least me). I've not yet not had that feeling. Kids constantly having to be taken to the hospital, a new story of woe every time we get there, and just looking around at the homes and people wipe me out. And then I have to teach! I remember one time (after and not before I taught thank the Lord), we visited Carmen when she was sick. I still shutter at the thought of feeling the way she did and having to live where she does. Dusty floors, multiple old dirty mattresses (3 in one room), cracks and holes all in the walls, no electricity, musky smell, and a lot more. I tried to picture myself in her shoes, and I think it was the first time I could identify with what it meant to "go crazy."

But I want to return to the sentence, "...And then I have to teach!" Because, even though it is hard to teach after seeing everything-sometimes I have to pray a lot to be able to- once I begin opening up the Word of God, the words of God give me great comfort. And I can only hope they give great comfort to the listeners. They give me comfort because they speak of eternity and a life with Christ that "momentary afflictions" only make all the greater (2 Cor. 4:17).

However, there is a greater problem than all this. Yes, if the physical was all that was the matter, I'd be stricken by it for sure, but could take comfort in the spiritual. I know some who are reading this are thinking, "didn't he just say that he takes comfort when he opens up the bible?" And I did, but I can explain. I do take comfort for I know the truth of God's word. I know that these people of Piedra Gorda (PG) can and will experience the joy of Christ now, and have the type of life that could produce an exceedingly great reward...if they would but turn to Christ and drink from the Living Water. But, that little word "if" is a mighty word indeed. Somehow, someway, it seems that the multitude here are more interested in the things of this world! I can understand that to be true in America (even though that still shows an extremely foolish and short-sighted manner of thinking), but not in PG where dust and heat are your greatest companions! So, though I take comfort and know that there is hope for these people-I doubt many of them know that yet (or at least truly believe it), and it is this that creates a weighty burden that presses far more upon us than the physical one. I shudder at the fact of many of them living a life as they are, only to open their eyes upon their last breath to the Judge of the Universe-Who will show no mercy to them at that time, and will rather, usher them into their new abode-a place that makes Piedra Gorda look appealing.

I think and hope there is a tiny remnant Christ has redeemed. Perhaps, there are a few who have bowed in heart to the Lord Jesus. But this remnant is very small, primarily illiterate, and still ignorant of many ways they differ from the entanglement of Catholic roots that surround them. In fact, it is difficult to determine their true spiritual state. And I've been wondering how those true Christians will grow in Christ when they can't even read. I want to arrange a time they meet for a public Bible reading with one who can read and is a Christian there, but I'm not too sure that there is even a desire for that. I think they think they are fine with our two times a week teaching. But they are starving!!! and I don't even think they know it, which does make me wonder if there is truly a knowledge of Christ there at all.

Can you see why PG can be a difficult place to minister to? Poverty abounds, both physically and spiritually. Sometimes, I want to grab them, shake them and yell, "Wake up!!!" but that would do no more good than grabbing a corpse and telling it to awake. And so I have learned that what the Bible says in Ephesians 2 is true. Man is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1) and only God can make them alive (Eph. 2:5). Some men lay in their coffin with a nicer suit, better make-up, more trinkets, a nicer-smelling rose, and others lay in their naked, without a ring, without a watch, without a suit...but still dead. I once thought that it would be easier to reach the people here because they did not have as many things as we do back home to trust in and take pleasure in. That makes sense, but I should have read my Bible better. Men are dead, and only an act of God can awaken them.

Don't get me wrong, these people are nice. They'd probably give you the shirt off their back, but then realize they didn't even have one to begin with. But nice isn't going to get you into heaven. If there is not a spiritual awakening here, then PG is going to hell. That may sound brutal, that may sound blunt, even sound uncaring. And I'd agree with the first two descriptions, but not the last-not "uncaring." Guys, we see these people every week, they are part of our lives week-in and week-out so it breaks my heart to say that. The most loving, caring thing I (or anyone) could do for them (or anyone) is to face reality and then figure out what we can do to change it...still realizing that only God can change it but that He can use us in the way He has directed in His word. Some would say, "just love on them", others would say "just keep preaching the Word" and still others would say "only prayer will avail." And I could find scriptures to support all three, so that means that no one of those alone will necessarily suffice. For example, if all you do is pray (still, in my opinion the most important) and never share the gospel or demonstrate love, (which John 13:35 says is the way others will know that you are a disciple of Christ) you might as well stop praying!

Oh, how I have a great burden for them (as well as all the churches here). Please do not cease in bringing them before the Lord. Since you can only pray, please pray for our gospel, and Bible teaching to be with the power of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:4), please pray for us to demonstrate the love of Christ that John 13:35 speaks of. Please pray for wisdom for us (Jas. 1:5) to better determine how we can spend more time with them (it is difficult because they are the furthest out and we have two other places we minister to) because I don't think the two times a week is enough right now, especially when both of those times are given solely to teaching. And above all, pray for God to send His Spirit to go before us and prepare hearts, to fill us as we minister, and to remain after us convicting of sin and leading to the cross.

Thank you! I only wish you knew how your prayers are being heard. I will write a post soon containing many of these blessings. If God get's a hold of PG, I'll be sure to add that to the list. It would be the most magnificent one by far. In fact, if God sent a revival there...I think I might turn into an animal for Him! I would not only know God can do all things because I read it, I will have seen it displayed in front of my eyes and will be in awe (as I hope you will be). Like I said, I think I would turn into an animal...though that sentence only convicts me as to why I wouldn't be otherwise...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


This is the second part of our three part series on the local churches here that we minister to. Last time, we discussed the church at Esperanza-the town we live in. Today, we move on to the church at Boruco-an exciting and growing home church, where God seems to me moving.

Pull out of the dusty, crowded streets of Esperanza, heading south and you'll soon come to some breath-taking views of fields, mountains, plátanos (plantains) and gorgeous sunsets (this is where Celia took pictures of the sunset we placed on facebook). Though beautiful, it is a foreign looking land-something out of Jurassic Park. Every time we pass this way, I have expect to see a T-Rex jump out from behind a palm tree and start chasing us. Eventually (15 minutes), you will come to a small town called Amina. This is where we plan on doing VBS this summer.

The road will dead-end, and you take a left to head to Boruco. Not even ten minutes later, you'll be there. One of our VBS success stories, is the one we did at Boruco. I remember seeing a picture-shortly after we left there that summer (the summer that Celia and I felt called to missions here)- of José and five people or so sitting on cinder blocks worshiping God with their Bibles open- due to everyone's efforts in that town. Shortly after, there were 50, then over 100. The growth had a lot to do with a man by the name of Freddy (maybe its Fredi), opening up his home and yard for a place to worship.

Looking down from where I often pray in Boruco. Freddy's home is the red and grey tin roof
I remember my first trip to his house. We walked and walked up a hill. Soon, I realized we were climbing a mountain! You'd have to think the church is faithful for them to endure that climb every time (ok, its really not that bad...). Finally, we reached the top, and man, was it worth it. What a view! Esperanza in the distance, the adjacent mountain range protruding overhead, and all the palm trees and homes below. We mainly go there at night, so I started missing the view. But then, there was a full moon one night and it lit up every thing. I climbed the short distance from Freddy's house to the top of the hill/mountain and was blown away again. This time- stars, the city lights, the glistening palm trees, the burning fires here and there, and the church just below in Freddy's house.

Freddy saying a few words
Speaking of Freddy, he and his family were baptized this past summer in front of the missionaries who came on the Ocala trip (I had the privileged of baptizing one of his sons). I've seen a lot of baptisms since I've been here, and I've seen a lot of those same people no longer interested in God-so I was cautious about this one as well. But you could tell there was something different about Freddy-he was the real deal. He was a leader. And most important of all, you could tell he wanted more of Jesus. Oh, that more of us would want more of Jesus!

I soon learned that Freddy was taking it upon himself to visit families-inviting them to church, praying for them, and just loving on them. I also heard that he had been given money as a demonstration of thanks for his work. He used it to buy food and refreshments for the church. This is the kind of man Freddy is. Another time, he was offered a good paying job, in which he turned down because it would have prohibited him from serving God as much as he does. A good paying job is a rare, and coveted thing here. We are making plans to begin discipling Freddy soon. I am hopeful that he could one day pastor the church at Boruco. This will not be for some time, and has not been discussed too much as of yet, so keep him in your prayers, as well as us for wisdom in this area.

Like Freddy, there are quite a few others there who seem hungry. I am teaching a class on the attributes of God, and I give out homework. Many do it faithfully. Throughout the week, Freddy and Teresa go to different homes to help those who need it complete their homework.  That being said, there is still a great lack of knowledge of the Word. I'm just starting to get used to this. Its so different than back home. Sometimes, questions are asked and comments made that reveal profound misunderstandings-even regarding issues that we've covered many times. For sure, everything we do here will be a process. While that may be viewed as a downside, there are upsides as well. Imagine teaching on the Passover, or the bronze serpent, or some of the parables of Jesus (these come to mind), and having people hear them for the first time. Seeing them understand the connection of OT events and Christ, and the teachings of Jesus becoming clear. It's fabulous. I'm smiling as I write this.

But as I alluded to, there are concerns. The attendance has dropped of late (I think a few were coming for a while because it was the only thing in town to do), it is hard to know just how much is being learned and applied yet, and we still have to (and perhaps will always) struggle with helping people overcome behaviors that seem to be normal to them, but are a sin against God. For example, a gentleman, who seems to be eager in learning, came to me just the other day and asked me if I would help him tell an American girl that he "likes" her. I asked if she was a Christian, and he said matter of factually, "no." I then told him hat I would not help him say that because he should not be involved with her. He just smiled and be-bopped down the road like nothing happened. My initial thought was, "What is he thinking asking a missionary that?" But, as I reflected, I thanked God because it revealed to me just how far we still have to go. Like I mentioned- a process, a marathon.

Please join us in praying for the church at Boruco. Please pray that the hunger and thirst of those exhibiting it, rubs off on others. Pray that their spark starts a fire. Pray that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation, having the eyes of their hearts enlightened to know Him more (Eph. 1:17-18). Also, pray for Freddy, Teresa, and their kids. They are a target for Satan. He wants to destroy them, and hates them for their work and love for Christ. Reach across the United States, the Caribbean, and into the D.R. to a little mountain with your prayers. Lift them up with these prayers so that they might learn that He Who is in them, is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).

Thank you and God bless. Next time, we will talk about the church in Piedra Gorda.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I want to start a series of blogs that highlight the three assemblies or local churches that we minister to here. I will start with the first established of the three, and the one closest to us, Esperanza. We live in Esperanza. It is a highly populated city that is not very large in terms of square-footage. So in other words, it is dense. Crowded, rough, dusty streets, on which a never ending parade of "motors" (motorcycles) and "pasolas" (scooters) zip by, marks this area (as many others). Among the busy streets, you will always find children playing with homemade kites (which can be quite impressive), or throwing rocks (one has already hit my windshield). At all times of the day, you will find students walking to or home from school. There are so many kids that they have to stagger-start the times in which they attend.

If you walk long enough in any direction, you are bound to come upon a park of some sorts, though there is usually one main one in each town. They are spots where many come to rest under the shade during the heat of the day, and to "hang-out" on a Friday or Saturday night. They are spots where we hope to preach the gospel in the near future. And sadly enough, if you walk in either direction long enough, you will probably also pass a Jehovah Witness or a Mormon. We live smack-dab between a newly built Mormon temple, and a Kingdom Hall (both among the nicest buildings here in the city).

A couple of blocks East of where we live is the main Avenue. I pray each time before I pull out onto this street. There really aren't lanes, and motors have the right-away....ALWAYS! One ran into Tony a while back because he didn't let them pass him on his left side before he turned left! Often, there will be three lanes (though there's supposed to be only two) and only inches separate you from the other vehicles. And when you see a huge truck carrying tons of rice, barreling down the road, it doesn't make things "pleasant!" However stressful and difficult it may be, the Lord has seen us through every time so far. I don't "knock on wood," I just pray harder! If you take the Avenue North a few more blocks, and then turn right and head a few more blocks East again, you will come to a little corner that houses a small building being rented. This is where the church at Esperanza congregates.

Pastor Jose praying before I preach and Tony translates
As we know, the church is the believers, so let me describe the believers here to you. Now that us missionaries are here, we are a mixture of three cultures: Dominican, Haitian, and American. Though there is a lot of racism between the Dominicans and Haitians in the D.R., we have the God-given joy of all worshiping together. I believe the church is growing-and I'm talking about what matters-in terms of spiritual growth, not numbers. Though, it appears we might be growing in numbers as well. The last 4 or 5 services have not afforded more than 3 or 4 empty chairs. It was in great timing that God enabled us to rent a larger building right next-door to ours. We plan on putting a doorway in the wall to connect the two and use the existing place for a Sunday-school room.

In mentioning the growth, I can only measure in what I see by way of passion. Not yet can I carry on a in-depth conversation, though I long for that day. So, I do not have the ability to gather too much from them yet  by simply conversing. However, when I preach or teach, I try to have a keen eye on the visible marks of the Holy Spirit moving. I observe as well, when Jose and Tony preach or teach. I have noticed more of a "leaning into" the speaker, more of a flicker in the eye as well. Also, many ask questions and want to comment during the teaching times. The crowd on Wednesday nights is as large or larger than Sunday mornings usually. Some have shown great interest in going with us to the other churches, and in helping us minister there. As well, there is a small group of young men, ranging from 12 to 20-something, who have invited us into their homes to answer questions, and want us to come back to do it regularly. So, there seems to be some positive signs of the Holy Spirit moving.

Celia and Tony singing a Spanish!
Yet, I cannot honestly say that I am satisfied. Perhaps, no matter how much the Spirit brought the church along and brought others to Christ, I'd still not be satisfied. And I am OK with that as long as it is just a man wanting more and more of God- wanting Him to mature His church more and more, and wanting Him to always save more. But, I know there is a loooooong way to go for Esperanza. There is still little knowledge of the Holy. We are trying to help (and praying for) that to change because the one thing we are to boast in is that we KNOW the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24). And the more you know Jesus, the more you love God. Not just mere facts that cause a big head (1 Cor. 8:1), but an intimate relational knowledge that leads to change. And though I mentioned the services are packed, one is not..the most important -prayer service. As well, the day we corporately go out to witness in the streets yields one, maybe two followers. That's quite pitiful, and it reveals one major weakness to me-quite honestly, a crippling weakness. It means that Christ is not special enough to you that you want to make Him known to others.

And if I am correct in that deduction, then the church at Esperanza still has to mature a lot. I think if that statement is true, there are a lot of us (everywhere) who have to mature in our love for Christ a lot. Just because it is not mainstream or popular these days for Christianity to be about evangelizing, does not mean that it is not a major problem. Yet, I'm afraid that it is very difficult to share the good news of Jesus, when so many of us do not experience the good news in our lives. Sure, we can always say at least He saved us-and that would be enough-except for the fact that He promised more. He promised to live in us! Why so much defeat then? I believe it is because though we may have died unto life once-we are forgetting to continue to die unto self, and though we might have drunk the waters of life once (Jn. 4:14), the verb is written in the present tense, telling us to keep on drinking unto life. Not to become saved again (for the Bible speaks nothing of being born again...and again), but to grow in Christ. Brothers and sisters, we have to crucify the flesh! It is our life-long privilege now until we enter into Glory and no longer have the flesh to contend with.

In saying all that and sort of addressing everyone, I guess I am saying that Esperanza struggles like us Ocala, like Dunnellon, or like Trenton does. Just like the Villages, or Yankeetown, or Fallbranch, or wherever you may be reading this. However, the scriptures promise hope. In fact, Esperanza is translated "hope." The scriptures tell me that our Sovereign Lord WILL bring about the sanctification of His bride (Phil. 1:6 and many others). And mysteriously, even though God works His good pleasure through us, we are responsible as well (Phil. 2:12-13). And so I ask for your prayers for Esperanza. She is the "hub" for the other churches at the current time. But more than a strategic importance, she is made of people. Real, live, brothers and sisters in Christ. God has ordained them to good works (Eph. 2:10), so please ask God, on our behalf, to make good on His promise. We can only ask this because He has bound Himself to His Word; and far from being impudent, it pleases God for us to come boldly before Him in this manner (Heb. 4:16).

God bless to all who are reading this. May grace and peace be yours in Christ Jesus. Next time, I will write on the church at Boruco. A few years ago, it was about 5 strong. Now it ranges from 50- sometimes over 100.

The church at Esperanza

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


This blog began as a newsletter (NL), but ended up being too long. That is where it is handy having a blog! This post was to make good on a promise I made in my December 16th NL, in which I said I would explain why our efforts to build the church, and reach lost souls depend on the earnest prayers of the folks back home.

To begin with, everything we hope to accomplish in the name of the Lord, in every place, and in every time depends on prayer (Eph 6:18), so our situation is no different than any other. None the less, looking at our situation-consider this: In our area, I’d estimate there is under 1% evangelical Christian. Everywhere you look, darkness abounds. At times, it can be overwhelming, especially considering the fact that there is only one other (Christian) English speaking family here. One day while driving to Pierda Gorda, I burst into tears thinking upon the fact that the dozens of people we were passing on the road here and there (all just going about their lives-scraping by to merely exist), were going to live out their difficult lives just to open their eyes upon their last breath to see the King of Kings and Lord of Lords pronounce judgment on them due to their sin against our Holy God, and thus be cast into a Christ-less eternity.

Also, consider this: One might think (as I did) that hearts would be more soft when there is not a lot of materialistic “things” to take pleasure in as we have in America. I was wrong. I knew about the depravity of man because the Scriptures teach it (Ro. 3; Eph. 2), but now I've seen it first hand. We have witnessed to dozens of people in our 2 months time here. Many will not even admit they've sinned against God. More will, but think they are merely backslidden, and have no need of repentance (sounds like folks back home). And then there are the ones who come to admit they are sinners and guilty before God, only to say they will “repent” another day. Four times, I've heard that already. Three times with indifference, and once with a genuine admittance that they just can’t. They just don’t see the glorious light of the gospel-Satan has blinded them (2 Cor. 4:4-6). What a death-grip he has- even on those who are not wallowing in abundance! How they throw eternity to the wind! Like Jesus, I want to say “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting,” in reference to the enemy’s influence (Mat. 17:21).

And speaking of the enemy-there are the cults and false religions. Many are stronger Catholics then I’d believed. The Mormons and JW’s, out number us 2 or 3:1 at least (and in sharing their faith, 10:1). We are just another “choice” to choose from here, another flavor. 

And then lastly, there is the church-the bride of Christ. God is doing a work in me in caring more for His bride, in loving her more and wanting the best for her. She is the bride of our Christ by the way, and I thank God that He is putting this love in me for her. But she has such a long way to go here, and my growing care for her growth creates within me a great burden. In teaching, preaching, and ministering to the church in 3 towns, we've seen so many ups and downs that I stay a bit numb. Just when I think the there is no passion, I'm surprised; and often when I'm excited because I think God is moving, something happens to undermine that hope. I'm sure many can relate to this.

I think the bottom line is this: the work is too great for us. I thought it might be like this, but I hoped it wouldn't.  Now, I’m glad it is. Let me explain: Only God can do it. Nothing or no one else can. God has made that abundantly clear to us. If there is a work of God in this place, if there is a blowing of the Spirit-please know that no man, nor group of men can deserve credit. Only God, Himself, could reach down through this darkness and bring light. I don’t want credit. I’ll never deserve it, and I don’t want it. I pray for a pouring out of the Spirit of God here. I pray that there will a time when others ask, “What did you do for God to do such a work?” because I want to respond ONLY with these two words, “We prayed.” Oh, we’ll have done all we could, but no effort, no program, no creative act, no man-made system will prevail...just God. To Him alone be the glory! I want to be a part of something that can only be explained by the hand of God!

Oh, how I want all the glory to go to God. Any way other than prayer is not a way at all. Only God can fix this "mess" here, and He will do it through prayer-and much of it at that. We need to plead to God to strip us of anything and everything that smacks of self-reliance, and trust Him alone! Church back home-please pray, and then pray some more. I will not let a widow merely seeking vengeance on her adversary out beg me...will you? (Lk. 18)! Souls by the thousands all around us need to hear God’s voice, and they never will without the asking of His saints. Join me in this prayer (or one similar) if you would: “Father, for the glory due your name, and because of the grace you take delight in, pour out Your Spirit in this place to overcome stony hearts, and melt them before your gospel.”  

Thank you and God bless you in the name of Christ.