Friday, December 31, 2010

Stuff the Markhams will be doing

Our 37 day mission to Costa Rica is really a short time, but one we look forward to with great joy!

We'll be staying at Apartotel Obelisco ( Best as I can tell from my friend that gave us an eyewitness account, it is 20 townhouse-like dwellings located around a central swimming pool. We have a full kitchen, a master bedroom and bath, another bedroom with two twin beds, and a sofabed in the living room. The girls will share a room, while Brad will have to make do with the sofabed, or perhaps we will buy an Aerobed if we can find one. The establishment also features maid service every day, Costa Rican breakfast each morning, and laundry service for $50/month (what a deal!)

We'll be tutored by a lady named Nidia each day from 8-10 am. The kids will go from 8-9 then Vickie and I from 9-10. She received high praise from friends of ours that were tutored by her last year. We hope to come back much more able to converse in Spanish!

We'll work each day at La Palabra de Vida in the library, supporting the staff, or whatever we are asked to do. We are 100% flexible and looking forward to the variety of activities required to make this institution work so well.

We're taking 300 Spanish language K-6 library books with us in 5 extra suitcases. Although US Airways charges baggage fees, it really was the cheapest and safest way to bring the books. When we get them to the school, it will be fun to see how the K-6 area of the library will shape up.

Thanks to all of our wonderful supporters who blessed us with gifts, we have $6000 remaining that we will use for additional resources on this project.

We plan to spend our evenings and weekends immersing ourselves in the city of San Jose and the surrounding areas. We have a trip planned to Poas, an active volcano and national park. I'm sure we'll find more opportunities to enjoy this beautiful country.

We are going to rent a 7 passenger Mitsubishi Montero for our stay. Unfortunately, anyone coming to Costa Rica has to pay the Collision Damage Waiver for car rentals, which added up to quite a large amount over 37 days.

My sister, Anne, will visit us from January 12-19. She is a career educator and fluent in Spanish and French. She will work with us at the school and we are looking forward to her time down there.

I can't wait to go! Today was my last day at work and I will be back at Byron Generating Plant in the middle of February.

God's blessings. Bill

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit and Truth

The Coen brothers remake of True Grit has resulted in a variety of reactions in the media and from friends... as one might expect when tinkering with a John Wayne classic. The New York Times Stanley Fish labeled it "a rare thing, a truly religious movie.". The narrative includes Mattie's line, lifted directly from Charles Portis's novel on which the movie was based, "You must pay for everything in this world one way or another. There is nothing free with the exception of God's grace."

Although clear to the believer, Fish rightly points out that something that is free can be distributed freely or distributed with a method or intent. One conclusion is that God's grace is given freely to only those who deserve it. Absent the clarification of scripture, as is the case in this film, we easily agree. One must surely do something to earn God's grace, God's approval, and even God's love.

Portis's third sentence, left out of the film, state clearly what is right. "You cannot earn that grace or deserve it."

Mattie follows up with a keen observation, "This is a hard doctrine running contrary to the earthly ideals of fair play."

If fair play, determined by appointed arbiters of fairness, determined our destiny, it's likely not many would remain passionate about an impotent God who idly sat by, observing the fates of any and all being judged under this system of fairness.

Yet, so many people far from God, judge their own performance in this way, basing their conclusion about standing with God on an arbitrary standard placed in their minds by the well-intentioned...or not.

I'm glad that God sees me as a child of righteousness cleansed from all sin by the death of Jesus on a cross. I'm glad my wife and children see things this way also.

Citizens of our country and Costa Rica alike play this precarious game every day. They ask, maybe not out loud, but most definitely in their own minds..have I done enough to please God? We must never forget that it's our task to convince them otherwise. God's love is freely extended to all those who ask for it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Leaving for Costa Rica in 8 days, heading north today.

Five Oaks Community Church is home to us. We began attending there 9 years ago when we moved to Minnesota and our children were raised there. Vickie and I have both grown tremendously in our faith through the ministries of our church, and we believe our children have learned the importance of living out faith in practical ways.

Since we moved to Byron, IL, we have been attending First Baptist Church here in Byron. We have grown very fond of this little small town church and folks that will bend over backwards to help a neighbor or a stranger. It's a church of about 150 or so folks whose roots run deep in this town of 4,000. Generations upon generations of families have attended here, but we felt welcomed by many and we call this our home now, for as long as we live here.

Yesterday in the service, Pastor Randy asked us to come up front and talk about our plans for our mission trip to Costa Rica and then he announced that a special offering will be taken up for us next Sunday, January 2. The whole church prayed for us. It is reassuring to know that friends in Minnesota, Illinois, and other states around this great nation are praying for our trip, our effectiveness, and that the Lord's work will be accomplished.

But, before we head south, we're heading north to Wisconsin Rapids to visit Vickie's Mom and Dad and the rest of her family. It's a time for Norweigan delicacies such as lefse, pickled herring, lutefisk, and other once a year items. Lefse, I could eat every day...lutefisk, on the other hand, have plenty of butter and salt handy, and choke it down.

I like the way our finances have worked out for this mission. We're covering all our own costs, and 100% of the money that has been donated to us, goes to the K-6 library project and other needs at La Palabra de Vida. Praises to God for allowing us to accomplish our goals and His work!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bobby Knight - Help Side Defense

He's a large man, and an accomplished athlete in his own right. He's a super teacher, a basketball analyst without equal, and a coach whose record few can match. He's also displayed an uncontrollable temper on occasion, a poor sense of judgment, and an inability to measure his words carefully. 25 years ago, I read Season on the Brink by John Feinstein, and got an insight into Coach Bobby Knight, that no one had seen before. Perhaps, Dan Dakich (Indiana 1981-1985), summed it up best when he put it this way, "If Coach Knight calls you an @$%#%$#@, don't listen. When he tells you why you're an @$%#%$#@, that's when you need to listen."

So, I started thinking about Coach Knight's help side defense. A help side defense (and this is a layman's explanation) is a man-to-man defense in which the help side defender sags and zones in order to help his team when players enter the power zone. In other words, the help side defender must not only cover his own man but also be prepared to leave his man in order to defend a player that has beat one of his teammates. It's a WE team instead of a ME team.

What's the takeaway for me?

In the Christian life, we should be looking out for our families and those closest to us, while keeping a sharp eye out for others who need help. This includes helping other Christians minister to those who need help the most.

American Christians should honestly evaluate their help side defense. I have no doubt that many, if not most, the Christians I know do a fantastic job caring for their families and close friends. I'm not so sure that the have a sharp eye out for others, outside their immediate circle who also are looking for help.

Developing this kind of eye heals broken hearts, wins lost souls, and helps children to understand their significance to God, when they may not be significant to anyone this side of heaven. It's allowed us to understand our place in God's kingdom, and to make a significant impact in the lives of many. Will you join us?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The game of Life

When we play the game of Life with our children, their beautiful minds and untainted perspectives are fun to watch. Adults attempt to figure out how to get the best job, the biggest house, and the most money. Our kids like different colors, collecting the little pink and blue pegs that represent their families, and the volunteer opportunities available on the board.

Now you might say that adults have an appreciation for reality that children don't. And I might say that our reality kept us from accomplishing the really important things that the Lord has for us.

You see, we knew we were supposed to be more directly involved in missions in March of 1994. That's when Vickie and I were engaged. We knew it on our wedding day, we knew it when each of our three children were born. We knew it when, through job changes, we moved from Texas to Wisconsin to Texas, and then finally to Minnesota.

We just didn't obey. So what happened? I was steadily promoted to positions of more responsibility in my career. We steadily saved money for our retirement. We served in numerous ministries in our churches wherever we lived. We raised our children in home school and in church. Period. As time went by, the idea of long term or even short term missions just slowly disappeared like a sandcastle at low tide. Now what I described above may be obedience for some, but for us, it was not where the Lord wanted us to be.

To get to where we are today, we had to do three things. We had to decide, first of all, that our children will thrive when they are challenged with the unknown. Under the right circumstances, and with the right parental involvement, there lives will be made more meaningful by our Costa Rica trip and those in the future. Second, we had to set aside monetary goals for retirement, in order to invest in the Lord's work today. I'm not saying that we cleaned out our bank accounts to take this trip, but we did have to shift gears in terms of retirement savings, emergency funds, and all the other things Christians are told they need by church financial planners. Third, we had to come to terms with the fact that when we moved from Minnesota to Illinois, our lives would never be the same again. We would not have the tradition of raising our children in familiar surroundings for all their years at home. We would never think about our lives in terms of thirty years of employment, raising our children and sending them off to college, and looking forward to the retirement years. We would be different.

All this is a little scary to us, but we are comforted by the fact that we know we are doing right. Right by God, and right by those He has sent us to serve.

For most of you, you are made for and are probably perfectly content with your lives just as they are today. For the few of you that feel as if something is missing, chase your dreams, plan an adventure with your family, and take off. You'll never regret it. By the way, if you're thinking about taking an adventure, chasing a dream, or doing something crazy, read Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I loved it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Seeing and helping.

Vickie and I have often thought about our place in this scripture:

Romans 10:14-15 But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That's why Scripture exclaims, A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!

I guess that the way it was explained to me made it hard to see how I could ever "fit in" to God's special plan for my life, as I was told He had!

I'm not particularly good or experienced at telling people of the One who can be trusted. I know how to do it, I sense when I should do it, but I'll have to admit, the times I have shared my faith with others have been rare. I suspect I have plenty of company.

When I read this verse in The Message, a couple of things jumped out at me that helped. First, there are those calling for help. Second, there are those who are good at telling. Third, and most importantly, Vickie and I (especially Vickie), are good at knowing who needs help, and we are becoming good at helping those who are good at telling.

And that my friends, pretty much sums up what we're doing for 37 days. You have helped to send us. Matt and Lisa Befus have established a great school where those who need help are told the things they need to hear. Yes, they learn mathematics, science, spelling, art, and all those other things. They also learn the tender, everlasting, incredible love of the hero, Jesus Christ.

We're just here to help. We see needs and we have prepared ourselves, with your help, to meet a lot of them. And we're pretty good at that. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why are we going to Costa Rica for 37 days?

That's a great question. We originally prayed through this and decided on 3 months at the end of 2010. After work next year was factored in and further prayer about the time frame, 37 days seemed just about right. Plus, my employer really wanted me to come back by the middle of February!

But back to the great question. Vickie and I have been very active in every church we've attended. Sometimes hyperactive. We like teaching, helping, cleaning, preaching, moving furniture, blowing up balloons, praying, singing, and loving on the those far from God. In the middle of everything, we've always felt a yearning to go overseas to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. Busy, productive, in God's will. But not exactly.

We really believe there are three things that are compelling us to serve in Costa Rica, and then consider further overseas ministry in the coming years.

First, we believe that God has specifically called our entire family to minister in this way. Not just Bill going to Mexico or Vickie serving in the Karen Refugee ministry, but all of us working side by side in a meaningful way.

Second, we feel God has given us an opportunity to serve Him in an educational setting. Vickie and I both have taught in various settings for over 25 years and we are excited about putting our experience to use at La Palabra de Vida.

Third, we believe that going and serving is the best way for our children to understand the sacrifice that the Lord speaks so prominently about in scripture. We want to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, even if it is only for a short time, and in an idyllic setting!

Does this mean that all families should do something like this? Absolutely not. I would say that many families should sit down and assess exactly what their Christian lives mean to them and where they should serve. Not doing anything at all is not one of the options I read about in scripture.

We were so blessed to attend Five Oaks Community Church for nearly nine years. At Five Oaks, the culture of the church was one of service to others, and we were given meaningful opportunites to serve at every turn. We were so blessed by our time there, and really developed our desire to take this trip as a result of the blessing this church has been in our lives. Thanks Dana, Henry, Jeni, Jim, Jerry, Jennifer, and all the others who have inspired us!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wow! 15 days till Costa Rica, 6 days till Christmas.

I can't believe that we're leaving for Costa Rica in 15 days. I'm thinking that time will fly by with Christmas coming, friends and family, and all the goodbyes. We're only going to be gone for 37 days, but it seems like we've been praying and preparing for this trip forever.

It was so much fun to welcome Josh and Christy Meyer and their wonderful family back to Illinois yesterday. Josh and Christy just returned from 3 years in Costa Rica serving at La Palabra de Vida. Their family is adjusting to the cold weather, I'm sure! They have been so helpful as we've prepared to leave the United States for only a short time compared to their 3 years, but a long time for us!

For Vickie, it's been hard to picture exactly what each day will look like with home school, a Spanish tutor five days a week, and the La Palabra de Vida library project. We recently received 300 Spanish language library books to take with us and we have been carefully packing them in suitcases and bubble wrap.

For me, it's funny not having a job for more than a month. I have worked nearly continuously since I was 10 years old, throwing papers was my first job. I know I'm dating myself, as very few papers are thrown anymore, and they're definitely not thrown by 10 year old boys at 5 in the morning. The good news is that the fine people at Byron Generating Station have invited me back for 2011 to teach operators beginning in mid-February. Praise the Lord for this great company and their collection of well run nuclear power plants!

For our kids, they are excited and nervous at the same time about the unknown. Being away from the familiar and the normal is an experience many children never have, and we are praying that they thrive during our time down South.

Fundraising has been such a blessing to us! Our friends have blessed us so richly! We are so thrilled at God's provision for this school in Costa Rica! You have helped us bless a very deserving school and staff and will enable them to do their jobs better in the future.

Some tidbits we've learned. San Jose (the Costa Rican capital city) has all the comforts of home and a large expatriate population. Apartotel Obelisco, our home away from home for 37 days, has a Costa Rican breakfast every morning, and laundry service for fifty bucks a month (I know, I had to ask twice, also!). We are looking forward to visiting the Pacific coast, and the active volcanos in the country.

We'll take lots of pictures and do our best to keep you informed. In the meantime, the Eagles just defeated the astonished Giants, it's 17 degrees F in Byron today, and our Small Group Christmas party is tonight at our house.