Dear friends and family,
I hope and pray this letter finds you well and full of joy and peace and the transforming grace of our Mighty Lord and precious Savior, Jesus Christ.
The following events took place from August 8 to 24, during the time that we spent at the Caribou Adventist Fellowship, the Northern Maine Camp meeting, and in transit to and from the same.
It is difficult to develop a complete picture with text: words are only effective when they manage to capture and transmit action while painting enough of the setting to provide context. I pray that the following stories will savor of the joy and blessings that come through service for our heavenly King and country.
“I want to experience God’s love” Wed. morning, Aug 15.
When he slides into one of the pine benches of the youth chapel during our first meeting, everything about him spells trouble. His whole bench is soon astir, and I am quite certain he is the chief instigator. When he sees me looking his way he feigns seriousness, but the mirth gurgles out the moment he thinks I’m not looking. So when it is time for the prayer activity, I approach him and the buddy next to him and ask if we can pray together. They agree somewhat sheepishly. His name is Giovanni, but he goes by Gio “Yeah, you know, like Geography” he shrugs. His parents are from Haiti, and he hasn’t lost a wit of the bombastic Caribbean enthusiasm. His friend’s name is David. The prayer is called the Teaspoon prayer: T for “Thank you,” S for “Sorry,” and P for “please”. David is a cello player and he’s thankful for music. Gio is thankful for life. We keep our “sorry” section personal, but when we share our petitions, Gio surprises me.
“I want to experience God’s love this week” he says. “I feel like I’ve never actually seen it. I mean, I know my parents love me, but they don’t really know how to show it right” he says. “I want God to show me His love is real.”
The prayers that follow are heartfelt, and I know God will do something special for Gio this weekend. I pray that he won’t miss it while joking around with his friends.
Thunder and hail for the love of God. Wed. afternoon Aug 15.
“You’re going to do my wood? Who’s idea was this?” Mr. Ted exclaims with a gruff grandpa voice, but his eyes sparkle with joy, and his laughter lines are tickled pinker than usual. This is one of three community service project outings with the youth for our first day of camp meeting. The idea is that camp meetings should be evangelistic in nature, not just a big church family reunion. The other idea is that the youth don’t need to be entertained to enjoy themselves.
On our way to stack Mr. Ted’s supply of wood for the winter I am alone with the unconsecrated clique. Somehow all the well-behaved children and their parents in our service group ended up in the other van with Dean. I’m not sure why these kids picked my van. Maybe they take me for a pushover. The thought rather disturbs me, but not as much as the vain and worldly tenor of their conversation. They rave about music and movies and who is dating who. I try to change the subject, and ask them questions about their local churches. Only Danica responds.
“Our church is boring” she complains. “There’s nothing for the youth.”
I try to encourage her and her friends to start something themselves, and give them a few ideas. It seems the whole group is listening, but the only feedback they offer is an uncomfortable and palpable silence. Danica at least answers and says that the transportation is their main problem.
“None of us can drive yet, and our parents don’t want to be hauling us around all the time.”
“Maybe it depends on what it’s for?” I venture. “Have you asked them?” I glance in the mirror. She has an incredulous little smile that seems to say “yeah right!” so I don’t push the matter further, and the group resumes their drivel. I just pray. Suddenly one interesting comment catches my attention:
“Hey, we’re missing Gio!” Hadassah exclaims.
“Yeah, I wish he were here with us!” David chimes in.
Thank-you Lord that he’s not with us! I rejoice inwardly. Now he’ll have a better chance of not missing what You want to show him this week, just like I prayed this morning! But what about these kids? How can I help them catch a different vision of life? My prayers continue.
Meanwhile, a bank of thick clouds blackens the horizon ahead of us. Moments later, the tempest is all around us. Lightening connects earth and heaven, and the thunder is louder than all the kids combined. Their previous conversations are abandoned before the fury of the elements. One bolt discharges in the field directly to our left.
“Wow! Did you see that?” Nathan exclaims. “I’ve never seen lightening that close!” The thick torrent of rain begins to turn to hail, and we are forced to stop on the side of the road and wait for the squall to blow over.
“Why don’t we have a prayer?” I suggest. There are no objections, so I pour out my heart to God. I feel like He has given me this opportunity and I better make it count. I ask for safety, and also that the rain will stop so we can get Mr. Ted’s wood in. A few minutes later, the worst of the storm has passed, and we drive on. The rain continues however until we park in Mr. Ted’s driveway. The kids don’t want to get out of the van. No one is dressed for rain. I decide to go have a look at the woodpile. By the time I’ve cased out our job, the rain has stopped!
We form a human chain and pass the wood from the woodpile to the basement staircase where we slide it down a makeshift board ramp down to the team of waiting stackers, who happen to be the unconsecrated clique. They have no breath to spare for vain conversation as they hurry to pick up a few wedges while dodging the incoming firewood, but they seem to be enjoying the work in spite of themselves. When they get behind, I climb down into the basement and catch the incoming wood and pass it on for them to stack.
“Can we do this again tomorrow?” one of them asks while on the drive back to camp. That’s about the only tangible evidence I get of any positive impact on the unconsecrated clique, as the rest of their conversation reverts to vain banter. I can only trust that today’s events are fixed in their memories, and that God will make them sprout into some real longing for something better.
Community Service Surveys and Unsung Heroes. Thurs. Aug 16.
Today Jeff decides to take the unconsecrated clique to stack some more wood. In keeping with our chosen theme “Forgotten Heroes,” Keren, Lyli and Fawna lead a group to take gift packages to the unsung heroes of the community: the hospital janitors, the country road crew, the librarians, and the city police. The gift packages contain a copy of Steps to Christ, a piece of chocolate cake that Fawna made, and an invitation to a Friday night dinner at the Caribou Adventist church next week.
My team is going to knock on doors and take a community survey to find people interested in cooking schools, gardening, prophecy, and marriage seminars, and personal Bible studies. This time my group has a lot more interest in spiritual things! We make some neat contacts.
“Thanks so much for doing this with us! This is the first time we’ve ever had activities for the youth, this has been awesome! Can you come again next year?” Exclaims Jasmine an energetic tomboyish girl with red-hair and freckles on our ride back to the campground.
“I’m going to make sure Mr. John and the other organizers know how much we’ve enjoyed the youth program! Last year we asked them to plan something for the youth next time and they really listened!”
At the next youth meeting the kids share their experiences.
“I went into an office that I thought was part of the police station and gave the lady the gift package and started to thank her for all that she does.” One of the youth relates.
“‘What exactly do you think I do anyway?’ the lady asked me. ‘I guess I don’t really know!’ I had to admit. ‘I collect people’s taxes!’ she replied. I guess tax collectors are still hated by a lot of people the same way Zacchaeus was, so she was very surprised and happy for the gift. I hope she will receive Jesus too, just like Zacchaeus!”
Ten miles of river evangelism? Fri. Aug 17.
River evangelism may sound like the Amazon, not northern Maine, but don’t over-trust your instincts, especially when it comes to perceiving the power of God to turn hearts toward Him. Bible meetings and mission work aren’t the only ways to help the youth fall in love with Jesus. The right wilderness experience can do a lot for the soul.
That said, a canoe and kayak trip with almost 40 young people ages 10-20 sounded pretty crazy to me. It was definitely not my idea, and I was nervous about it from the get-go. It doesn’t help that I am not an experienced canoeist myself, and I don’t know the rivers around here. Thankfully, the church brethren have pitched in and picked out a stretch on the Aroostook River, and even hired a river guide to accompany us. All I have to do is manage the sign-up sheet, load the paddles and life jackets that the camp loaned us, drive one of the vans to the launching point, and help keep track of everyone on the river. Simple right?
At the launch point over 20 kayaks and canoes line the beach. A short chubby chap needs someone to go in a canoe with him. His name is Noah, and he is ten years old.
“Am I your new friend now? You’re my friend” Noah asserts without waiting for my answer as we launch the canoe.
“Guess what? My dad just got a Chevy truck. Guess what year it is?”
“I don’t know… a 2012?” I take a stab.
“No? No way, not a 2018?”
“Yes!” Noah is ecstatic.
I soon discover that Noah’s words flow better than the river does, as he doesn’t stop talking even when I have to get out of the canoe several times to drag it through the shallow spots.
“Do you like macaroni and cheese? I love macaroni and cheese. Oh, and pizza! Pizza is soooo good! Is pizza your favorite food?” Noah finally exhausts his list of favorite foods, and I decide his passion for cuisine is matched only by his sedentary ways, as he has yet to make use of his paddle.
“That lady in the other canoe is my grandma,” he points out an elderly woman in the canoe just ahead of us. “She is the one who brought me to camp. My older brother didn’t want to come. He thinks he’s too cool.”
I learn that Noah’s parent’s are divorced, and his grandma is the only connection he has to the church.
“You are a nice guy! And you’re a calm kind of guy. Not like my dad. He gets mad a lot.”
Noah’s sudden comment takes me by surprise, and any temptation I had to be annoyed with the little fellow melts away. Who knows what this kid has been through? He’s just looking for some love. This is a chance for Noah to see the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, and I sure don’t want to blow it!
“Well, you can thank God for that!” I answer aloud. “He’s the only One who can make people nice.”
“Hey, what’s your name?” Noah calls out to the nearest canoe for the third time. He has the vocal stamina of a good preacher.
“I’m Miguel” comes the answer. “What’s your name?”
“Oh, you should know something about boats then!” the Bible worker from Connecticut responds with a grin.
Yeah, but only boats without oars! I want to shout back, but think better of it, even though Noah has yet to make more than six consecutive strokes with his paddle despite my attempts to engage his efforts.
After a long time we reach a bridge, and stop to rest and let the kids swim. The guide tells us we are at the halfway point. Honestly, I would have been okay if it were the end of our journey. I pull out a bag of pretzels from my backpack and share them with Noah while we wait.
“Hey, these are good!” He enthuses. I get the idea he just plain likes to eat.
When the last straggling canoe arrives, we continue downriver. It is getting late and there is still a long ways to go.
“How much farther is it?” Noah asks for the third time in as many minutes, not long after leaving the bridge.
“I don’t know, probably another 4 and a half miles.”
“I think it’s another two miles!” he declares hopefully. “Do those guys know how far it is?” He points at the canoe ahead of us.
“I don’t think they know any more than we do.”
“Hey guys! Guys! How far is it ‘til we get there?” He shouts anyway.
“If you would paddle as much as you talk we’d get there a lot sooner!” I venture.
“Okay.” He sighs resignedly, and rows for about 10 seconds.
“Am I helping?” he pauses and turns.
“Yes! Don’t stop! You are helping a lot!” I try to encourage him. But the positive reinforcement only gets me another four or five strokes before he drops the paddle.
“I’m getting hungry!” He announces.
“I don’t have any more food with me, but if you help paddle we will get back sooner,” I try to motivate him again. It’s good for five more seconds of paddling.
“It’s getting cold” he notes.
“If you paddle more it will help you warm up!” I encourage. It’s nice that paddling is a good solution for all of Noah’s problems so far! Unfortunately he just doesn’t have the endurance or attention span to stick with it.
I am pretty tired myself, and the seat is getting more uncomfortable all the time. I decide to stand and paddle like a native, but first I give careful instructions to Noah to sit still and not make any rash movements. He is happy to oblige as to him that means no paddling. My oar is pretty long, and serves to push off the shallow bottom at times. I take off my life jacket and give it to Noah to sit on. Finally we see another bridge in the distance and the end is in sight! Thank God!
Afterward I wish I had taken advantage of the long voyage to talk to Noah more about Jesus. As it was, he did most of the talking while I paddled. But I know God can impress a lot on a young heart over ten miles of river winding through the woods of northern Maine.
Waiting to fly home. Wed. Aug 22.
The plan was to finish fixing the plane Sunday night and Monday and fly home Tuesday. But removing the boot from the leading edge on the left wing took longer than we hoped. The boot was damaged by lightening while captain Sutton navigated around a storm cell on his flight north from Colombia last July. Initially, the only damage seemed to be a tiny hole toward the top of the rubber boot. But after the first leg of this trip north, and after tanking the plane for our flight to Maine, Jeff noticed that the wing was leaking fuel. Turns out the lightening hole was more than skin deep, allowing jet fuel to run out of the tank into the boot, which wrinkled up like a prune. So the plane stayed parked at the hangar in Collegedale, and we drove the 46-hour round trip to northern Maine, arriving back in Tennessee on Sunday the 19th. Jeff had ordered the new boot and other needed parts,
On Wednesday we are actually on the runway ready to take off, when one of the flight instruments starts acting up. When Jeff had checked it in the hangar, it worked like a charm. I suppose it is still working like a charm when I think about it, because charms are treacherous things. They seem like they work, but when it comes right down to it, they really don’t.
So it’s back to the hangar, to get this charming business sorted out. That evening we decide to leave the plane packed and take out only the essentials to spend one more night in Collegedale. Lyli and I sleep on top of the bed so as not to soil the clean sheets that she had washed that morning. She had already cleaned the bathroom too, so we take care not to foul it up too much. The next morning we wake up ready to go. Will today be the day?
It occurs to me that this waiting for departure in the mission plane is a lot like waiting for the Second Coming. Despite unexpected delays, one must live with everything cleaned and in order; ready to go whenever the Captain gives the word.
Oh, and the time passes a lot faster when I help the pilot with his work. It’s much more than just staying busy or passing the time. It’s about doing something meaningful to hasten our departure. When I work alongside the pilot my understanding of our true situation and actual proximity to take-off improves dramatically. But while the work is beneficial and enjoyable, it cannot be accomplished without personal sacrifice. There are plenty of new sights and experiences to be had in the Chattanooga area (read, this present world), but the importance of our mission trumps all personal convenience and pleasure. We need to get home, folks.
Are you working with your Pilot and Captain, Jesus Christ today?
It is preparation day, bright and clear, and we are finally airborne and bound for Belize. Off the coast of Alabama, over the Gulf of Mexico we watch the sky and sea meld into a bottomless blue. Only an occasional ship signals there is something more under us than the pure heavens. Our friend Keren seems happy to be flying home, as she sings cheerily to herself, her voice just audible above the drone of the twin engines.
“I think I can sing higher up here!” she suddenly remarks. At 28,000 feet, how could it be any other way?I smile at the irony.
May the song of our lives pitch a little higher today. By God’s grace may the tone of our characters rise a note closer to our home with Him beyond the blue.
Currently we are two weeks deep into our second 3 month session for 2018. We have seventeen students this time. Some time I hope to share some of their stories with you. I know God has brought them here for a special purpose, and it is amazing to hear their testimonies of how God has been at work in their lives and brought them to the point of deciding to dedicate their lives to his service.
Kody & Lyli Kostenko
Mission stories: http://www.boliviamission.blogspot.com/