Saturday, December 21, 2013

Do I seek fairness as much for others as I do for myself?

Many of my friends believe Phil Robertson has been treated unfairly. Perhaps.  Truth be told, when you are a well-known representative of a company, a brand, an idea, or an organization, there is a cost to words that do not reflect the stance of your employer.  This is not a "free speech" issue.  For example, the chairman of Exxon could not make a public statement calling for a ban on all offshore drilling.  That statement is in utter conflict with his company's position.  He soon would be on It is easy to imagine other speech from prominent figures that would not be well accepted.  The president of PETA could not make a commercial for Whataburger.

Anyway.  Is it sad that biblical principles are not well accepted in our culture?  Of course it is.  Is this all a big scam to make more money for Duck Commander and for A&E?  Perhaps.  But I see a more fundamental problem with American Christianity from this episode.

We quickly rush to causes when there is not cost to us.  We are alarmed at unfairness...but, many times, only when it affects us personally or only when we can show outrage, but once again, it's when the remedy does not include money.  Others notice our self-centeredness, and the message of Christ is not well received if we act as His representatives.

A sense of fairness, researchers say, is peculiar to people.  Animals don't make sure smaller animals have enough food.  A big dog may hog a whole bowl and leave some of his little ones drooling and hungry.  But people, when witnessing unfairness feel something deep inside of them that says...this is wrong.

Biblically, we are told consistently to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.  Isaiah 1:17 says this...Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

If we examine this list and be honest with its contents, we can conclude several things.  One, God's heart is troubled by oppression.  We, as Christ-followers are to defend the oppressed.  Two, God's heart goes out to the helpless.  We are to help those who cannot help themselves. Three, God expects us to LEARN.  We won't naturally do right, we have to learn to do right by observing others who do right, and passionately studying God's word.

With all these activities, there is a cost.  A cost of money and a cost of time.  In fact, there are entire organizations defending these causes with tens of millions of dollars a year.  But they can't do that much.  It's up to us as Christian individuals to fill the gap.  And than means our money, our time, our energy, and our passion.

Here's the test for you.  Do I seek fairness as much for others as I do for myself?  When I speak of fairness, is it always in the abstract, or is it on a personal level with another human being we know?  Is my fairness only on Facebook or is it face-to-face with a person from Isaiah 1:17.

You be the judge.  Have a great weekend.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My family at TacoBar, Jaco Beach, Costa Rica.  Great swings for seats
My family is pretty cool.  Much more so than me.  They love to work for God and they like to play a little bit too.  They're not scared to try new things or live outside the country.  They eat the local food, drink the local water, and enjoy the scenery.  They're always looking for a new adventure for Christ, be it in Costa Rica, Texas, Minnesota, Mexico, or Illinois.  I'm proud of my family, it gives me great pleasure to spend time with them in this place.  We love coming here, we love working with our school, learning more about the language and the Costa Rican people, praying for the lost, and helping those in need.

When we take short vacations during our time in Costa Rica, sometimes we shut down a little bit.  It's human nature.  And that's why I'm writing this today.  Let me tell you what happened.

Before we snapped this photo, we took to the ziplines at Jaco Canopy Tour where our guide was Patrick.  Patrick was a long-time expat who makes his home in Jaco.  He inquired of our comings and goings in Costa Rica, and we explained what we do.  Patrick then told us of his faith in Christ, and mentioned that he attended Horizon Church.  As part of his life, he served homeless people in Jaco on Friday nights.  I looked at our bearded, heavily tattooed guide, and thanked God that there were people like him.  Because even in what Americans call paradise, there are the hurting, the lonely, the homeless, the addicted, and the suffering.

Following our short zipline tour, we stopped for lunch at a famous local place called TacoBar.  The kids enjoyed the swings, while Vickie and I did not.  As we ate, an aging woman, toothless and limping, came into the restaurant asking for money.  The woman appeared to have cognitive issues and had trouble talking.  She carried her possessions in two plastic bags from the local grocery store.

Here's the thing.  I'm not sure whether she needed money, food, clothes, a bed, or a hug.  I'm not sure whether she had an empty purse or a handful of twenties.  I am sure of this, however.  She needed Jesus Christ in her life.

And I'm glad there are Christ-followers like Patrick, who instead of partying away Fridays in paradise, look out for the least of these.

Lord, help us always be vigilant to those in need, whether we're in church, at home, on the street, or in a restaurant.  Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

To care for others is to live for Christ

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. - Stephen Vincent Benet

I was taken with this little quote that's repeated by the pastor at the conclusion of the Sunday evening service at Escazu Christian Fellowship.  Life can be lost by dying, but for those who have crossed the line of faith and have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior, that part is settled.  It's our eighty or so years we spend here of which we have a choice.

I've met many who claim Christ.  And I've met many who care deeply about their own families.  In fact, it's quite rare that a man or woman does not care about their family.   As a society, we still judge that to be sinful.  

I've met quite a few who care deeply about injustice, hunger, oppression, and violence.  Some of those are deeply involved in attempting to right those wrongs.

I've met a few who care about lost souls.  They suffer internally when they consider the fate of those far from God, and they go and do something about it.  In their home, first of all, in their neighborhoods, businesses, restaurants, and parks.

But, unfortunately, my friends, the vast majority of those who claim Christ have not seen the beautiful, life changing nature of caring deeply.  The busy nature of an American family's schedule and plans have left little time for caring about anyone except those that are closest to them.  Christian families do a wonderful job of letting those closest to them know they are loved.  But the subtle trap of a busy schedule deprives most of us from the most fundamental command that Christ gave to us.  Love one another.  And this love is supposed to break down the walls of the home, the workplace, and the church.  It's supposed to reach the community and the world with a love that's never ending and kind.

If we are the hands and feet of Jesus, then we are clearly without callouses and blisters.

So, today, read this little quote from Benet, and then begin to care.  You will change someone else's life, and you may even change your own, too.  Here's a few of my family and friends who care for the lost in Costa Rica.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The fear of heights

At Pico Blanco near Escazu, Costa Rica, December 7, 2013.  From front to back: Danielle Markham, Katrina Befus, Lynnea Befus, Kristin Markham, Bradley Markham
In 1990, as part of an inspection process, I climbed to the top of the South Texas Unit 2 Reactor Containment Building to get a close up look at a ring header containing numerous flow nozzles. The trek to the top of the 225' building included a section of a rung ladder that was not enclosed in a cage.  I became a little nervous, but completed the climb up to the very top section which was quite well protected.  After we had inspected the header, we made our way down, and once again I experienced the nervousness that had accompanied the climb to the top. From that moment forward, I developed a rather healthy fear of heights that made it difficult for me to drive over high bridges or climb up exposed stairs or ladders.  To sum it up, if I was up high and there was a observable risk of falling, I was had.  As an example, when we visited Colorado Springs a few years ago, I could not make the drive up Pike's Peak.  I had to cry out "Vickie, take the wheel!"

Over the years, my fear has waned and today it rests at about ten percent of what it used to be. Near San Jose, there are lovely mountains overlooking the city.  Pico Blanco, the highest of these peaks, is a common destination for teams visiting La Palabra de Vida.  I'm happy to say that we climbed to the top two years ago, and I had little trouble navigating some parts of the path that did pose danger.  Two of my children, Bradley and Kristin, accompanied me, along with about twenty others. Danielle, my youngest daughter, twisted her ankle, and was sorely disappointed at the missed opportunity.

This year, we prayed away injuries, and we all made the trek to the top of the 6700' peak in record time...well, for us, anyway.  The younger ones in my family and some teachers from the school led the way, and I lagged a little behind, as my leg strength waned quickly during parts of the climb.  Along the way, I decided that I would not burden my children with assuming they should be petrified of heights also, and this picture is a result.  They do not possess a fear of height, and they decided that the danger to climb to the top of this little craggy outcrop was not great.  They were right.  You will notice, however, that I am nowhere to be found in this photograph.

Matt Befus, the director of the La Palabra de Vida foundation, led us in three devotionals during our journey, and each one praised God for the magnificence of his creation, is care and concern for his children, and his lovingkindness when we are at our worst.

I would only add this.  Acknowledging that you have a fear is the beginning to overcoming it.       Like many of you, I suspect, I feared leaving the United States with my family for several weeks, I feared using a large portion of our savings for the Lord's work, and I feared not having a job for over a month.  I confessed those fears to the Lord, and He has guided and directed my path and the path of my family each time we have trusted Him.  This year, we have trusted Him more than ever, and our time has been well spent.  Surprise, surprise. :)

Have a wonderful Lord's day!  Bill

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Three crosses in Tamarindo (Christ to the nations)

The next two weeks, our family will be teaching a "leveling class" to several children who are at La Palabra de Vida.  It's one part ESL, one part curriculum introduction, and one part Jesus.  La Palabra de Vida proudly declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and salvation through Him is available for all who ask.  While we teach, we cannot help but intertwine our faith with the English language.  La Palabra de Vida does a great job at raising up young Christian leaders for Costa Rica.

Following the conclusion of this course, my family, in keeping with our tradition during our three trips to Costa Rica, will take a short vacation to the Pacific Coast.  This year we're going to the Guanacaste region, and expect to end up somewhere near the town of Tamarindo.  Famous for surfing, sunsets, and secluded beaches, Tamarindo is appealing to us as it's a few minutes away from the nightlife and festive atmosphere of Jaco Beach.  We're looking at a nice place at Playa Grande, only a ten minute walk from Tamarindo.

Many of us, in the U.S. and elsewhere, have been saddened in the dramatic deterioration of America culture in the United States and the movement away from Christianity.  Although a recent bestseller suggested that 77% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, we know by simple observation, that the vast majority of our neighbors and friends do not have a relationship that is meaningful enough to cause them to worship on a Saturday or a Sunday.

This is especially disheartening, considering the urgency that American Christians have traditionally felt to deliver the gospel to their homeland and many, many points far away.  I've even heard that America is the largest area that Brazilian missionaries are sent to, because it qualifies as an "unchurched country."

In the midst of the darkness, however, let me provide a glimmer of hope.

In Tamarindo, a town of only a few thousand, where people no doubt come to relax, swim, dine, party, and rest, the hope of Jesus is carried by Americans who believe that they are responsible for carrying Jesus Christ to the nations.  When we considered Tamarindo, I did a Google search for Tamarindo churches and came up with only three.  Let me introduce these churches and their leaders to you. 

Tamarindo Church - - Pastor Lyle Watson - From Virginia.  Served and was blessed by Young Life in Virginia Beach.  Graduated from Princeton.

Salty Chuch - Lead Pastor - Robbie O'Brien from Florida

Calvary Chapel Villareal - Senior Pastor Phil McKay - Former United States Marine, from Southern California.

 Be encouraged, my friends.  And let that encouragement take you to places you have never been before in the name of Jesus Christ.  Matthew 28:18-20

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The imperfect team functions perfectly with God's help. We honor you.

When we traveled to Costa Rica this year, we purchased travel medical insurance.  It was about four hundred bucks and covered everything imaginable with a few stipulations...up to two million bucks.  In Costa Rica, the national health care system attempts to take care of all Costa Rican citizens with somewhat mixed results.  The privileged class can afford the private health care that is now available in Costa Rica, while those less fortunate use the national system.  

A friend recently had a surgery but pain medicine was not included in the discharge.  We received a call and were able to purchase some mild pain medicine from a pharmacy near our home and deliver them to the homebound patient that evening (almost any drug in Costa Rica is available over the counter, barring opiates and antibiotics).  With some of the pain relieved, recovery was enhanced, and today our friend was looking and feeling much better.

Before you think I'm a self-righteous blowhard, I want to let you know why I told you this.

We went to a sick person's home the last two days and delivered medicine and prayers.  This is how Jesus instructed us to serve in His kingdom.  

We were able to do this because of the perfect, beautiful, and lovely functioning of the body of Christ.  Let me explain.

Several dozen of you provided financial support for our mission activities this year, including visiting the sick and feeding the hungry.

Many of you graciously pray when asked, and several of you committed to pray everyday during our 37 days here.

Two extremely gracious families have agreed to care for our gregarious Shih-Tzu Katy while we are here.

One family is watching our home to ensure safety is maintained.

One family gave us a very early ride to the airport in Houston, and then made special arrangements to store our vehicle for our entire mission trip.

A group of teenage Christ-followers enthusiastically agreed to mow and trim our yard twice while we're gone.  Yes, my Minnesota and Illinois friends, in Lake Jackson we mow in the winter. :)

The Lord provided employment for me when my family returns from Costa Rica.

Our church in Lake Jackson, Hope Fellowship, commissioned us for ministry, laid hands on us in prayer, and continues to pray for us daily.

Our church in Minnesota supported us and prays for us regularly.

Our small groups are praying for us regularly.

Many people respond to our blog entries and Facebook posts with prayers and encouraging words.

Friends from several states where we've lived supported us financially, and pray for us regularly.

You see, Christ-followers, this is the body of Christ.  Everybody has equally important roles in the eyes of the Lord.  We are here, but we would NOT be here without you.  

Thank you.  Bill and Vickie, Bradley, Kristin, and Danielle

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The simplicity of love

I love a well-conceived and a well-executed plan.  It's what I do.  I enjoy considering every detail, drawing on other's experiences, thinking through each day, examining logistics and support, and then critiquing the performance at the end.  These types of plans have been a significant part of my life at work for the past fifteen years.

But here's the rub.  This time in Costa Rica, I have become increasingly aware that my love for "plan the work and work the plan," has slowed my growth as a Christ-follower.  The truth in the Christian life that I've missed is this...

Flexibility is the key to suitability.

Here's what I mean.  I am, and most of my friends in the U.S are, professional working, suburb living, church attending Christians.  We're busy in our lives with our children, our jobs, our hobbies, and our other pursuits.  We LIVE by schedules and plans.  When someone asks us to deviate from our plan, we absolutely hate to do so.  We were a slave to our Blackberries, we ARE a slave to our IPhones.  And in doing so, you will find that the truth I've discovered is lurking in the shadows waiting to be found by each one of you reading this today.

For you see, flexibility is the key to suitability.  If you are inflexible in your life, you will be largely unsuitable for service and personal growth in the Christian life.

Once you've crossed the line of faith and become a Christ follower, we are commanded to go.  Where?  That's between you and God.  But the command is clear.  We need to go.  We need to make disciples, we need to baptize, and we need to teach them to obey.  This takes time and it takes flexibility.

Making disciples begins with loving those who aren't.  In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that true Christians have certain characteristics.  When people are in prison, we go to visit.  When folks are hungry, we feed them.  When children need clothes, we make sure they are clothed.  When a thirsty soul strolls in our path, we give them a drink.  When a man or woman is sick and hurting, we go to comfort them.  And the list goes on.  It is only as short as your imagination is.  

The trouble is...People aren't hungry on your schedule.  Prison visits may be the same time as your tee time.  A child getting dressed for school on the other side of town may very well coincide with your quiet time.  Sickness does not afflict at times when your kids do not have soccer practice.

Our quest for the perfect life may very well result in an empty life.

On our trip this year, we went to Costa Rica with no real plan for service and no projects to manage, participate in, and critique.  At the most basic level, it was very difficult for me, the master of inflexibility.

Through prayer and counsel, I have come to learn that we are here to love.  We are here to help the helpless, to comfort the afflicted, and to encourage the downtrodden.  We are here to pray for the hopeless, to sense discomfort, to notice pain.  But in all these things, there is no plan, no project, and no schedule.

There is a simplicity in love.  It boils down to this...

We are available.

Are you available to love?

Have a great day.  Bill

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Christian life - Pray specifically, work doggedly, venture willingly, love passionately

As has been our tradition during our three family missions in Costa Rica, we usually end our day with a reading of a chapter from a missionary biography.  This year, Vickie brought "Hudson Taylor."

We've done a night-time family devotional since Bradley was very little, and we've continued up to the present day.  During these years, I can't say that all the devotionals have been listened to intently.  Drowsiness, a late hour, a grumpy leader (me) :), and bad attitudes from time to time have diminished their effectiveness.  However, I can say that all our family members have enjoyed these missionary stories, and have gained inspiration for what we're doing with the life of our family.

In the three chapters we've read so far, Hudson Taylor has crossed the line of faith and become a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.  He has learned the importance of having a friend in ministry (his sister).  He has received his mission (inland China) through a consistent prayer life.  He has come to understand the difficulty of what he has been given (the Opium Wars has left the Chinese filled with hate against the "white barbarians" as they called the British.  He has begun to prepare himself for his mission by working passionately to a) learn Chinese, b) improve his physical fitness for the journey to China and the terrain in China, c) learn the Chinese culture by voraciously reading everything he could get his hands on, d) praying regularly for God to lead Him.

What can my family and I learn from Hudson Taylor?

1)  Amazing is defined as causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing. Our family is not amazing.  We are generally speaking, an average family. We must work doggedly to accomplish anything of value for the Lord.

2)  We are to be grateful for the opportunity to be involved in ministry with family.  To have partners in ministry is one thing, to be with family is a rich blessing.

3) We must understand that the world despises the Christian message.  This manifests itself in dismissal, denial, and sometimes, hate.  We must respond to dismissal, denial, and hate, with love, love, and love.

4) We must pray regularly for God's leading in Costa Rica and also back home in the United States.  God has a plan for our lives, but we must make ourselves ready to carry out that plan.

5) We must be fit, alert, and well-studied to accomplish what we need to in God's kingdom.  Laziness and ignorance only bring shame to the Lord.

Now, I pose the question to you?  What can you learn, not from me, but from Hudson Taylor?

Have a great week!  

(Here is a picture of my children having some agua de coco with a friend in a fruit and vegetable market in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Served, heard, and helped - the context changes everything

As Christians, at least where I have lived, our distorted view of our importance and our worth has dramatically altered the purpose of churches and missions.

The Bible is very clear about our value to the Lord.   We are treasured above all creation, we are loved so highly that the Lord Himself laid down His life for us.  We have a Father who is intimately involved in our coming and going.  Most importantly, that value is not earned.  It is a free gift through Jesus Christ.  To receive the gift, we must humble ourselves, admit our sinfulness, and receive His everlasting love.

Grace and mercy aside, in this world, we all must learn to make our own way, to become responsible contributors to whatever is in store for us.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, schools and organizations decided that the finest way to help a child become a responsible adult was to praise them highly, to affirm them in who they are, rather than in what they do.  I know this is a vague generalization, but I have seen the results in the organizations in which I've worked.

In families, this is appropriate and right.  Our children are special to us because, they are ours.  They are part of our family.  We're interested in them and we love them because of who they are NOT what they do.

I can't tell you how discouraging it is to meet young people in the workplace who have a mistaken notion of their value to the organization. They believe that if they show up for work they should be rewarded, when in actuality, the organization is looking for performance.  Companies are cruel teachers to those who have led coddled existences.

In religious circles, many churches are designed around the needs that are felt by the members and attenders.  I don't see how a church whose growth depends upon attracting people by providing programs for their needs, can then turn around and ask these same people to be humble servants.  I'm sure there's a small percentage that leaps this chasm, but many will sit back and soak in the attention and never make the transition from "served" to "servant."

Which leads me to my thought for today...mission trips.  

If you are going to go on a mission trip, please think on these things.  

You are going to serve, not to be served.  Purpose yourself never to whine about your room, the bathrooms, your food, your schedule, your team, or your leaders.

You are going to hear, not to be heard.  You have little to offer the ones who have dedicated their lives to the local people and the local church. However, they might want to be heard.  Hear their words, encourage them, and pray mightily for the Lord to use your prayers to aid their mission.

You are going to help, not be helped.  Don't act in such a way, that attention is drawn to you and not to those who work in the area full time. Behave responsibly so that when you leave, the missionaries say "That man or woman was such a blessing."

For some, this might be the first time that you are not close to the center of attention.  Relish the experience, it is pleasing to the Lord, and will be helpful to you as you grow in your life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Would you like some whine with that cheese? Not at this place.

My friend Matt has every right to be angry.  Or sad, or maybe clinically depressed.  Why?  Because the property that they've dedicated their lives to is shrinking.  But before I tell you that story, let me introduce my friends, Matt and Lisa.

They both come from missionary traditions.  Matt's wife Lisa grew up in Columbia, where her parents served with bible translation teams for decades.  Matt's father blended a missions background with business smarts and purchases a beautiful little fruit farm near San Jose, Costa Rica about thirty years ago.  From this property came another kind of fruit, a bible college that has slowly grown into a Christian bilingual institute called La Palabra de Vida.  This school churns out kids ready to lead companies, ministries, and families in their country, equipped with smarts, languages, and principles of scripture.  My family has been privileged to serve at this school for the last three years, and the blessing has been all ours.  We've painted, sorted, filed, hammered and nailed, wheelbarrowed, cooked and cleaned.   But mostly we've been enriched by being around Matt and Lisa, their family, and their love for this ministry.

Which leads me to the whine and cheese. You see, my friend Matt has a Wisconsin background.  Yes, he's a Packer fan, and sort of an honorary cheesehead.  In fact, we went to PriceMart (the local version of Costco) yesterday, and we bought some Wisconsin Cheddar and Colby-Jack just to impress him. :)  So, as I said earlier, with Matt, there's a lot of cheese, maybe even a few bratwursts, if you can find them, but there's not an ounce of whine anywhere with this couple.  And if anyone has the right to whine from time to time, it would be them.

Recently, Matt was notified that the Costa Rican government was planning to expropriate a sizable portion of their property to construct a   new road between the road the school is on, and the highway near the airport.  If you look at the picture below, you can see  an orange stake in the foreground and one near the little tree near the top of the photograph. These stakes represent the new property line, which is perilously close to both the school and the family home. 

Trouble is, it's not just the property that's the issue, it's the classrooms, the offices, and the activities that will occur very near the new line.  The highway will be below the school property with an embankment leading down to the road.  Directly below the classrooms will be the incessant roar of large trucks, taxicabs, limousines, and thousand of cars and motorcycles.  The noise, without extensive soundproofing, would be deafening during certain times of the day.  

When Matt told me the story, he lamented the fact that changes would have to be considered, but also expressed great hope for the future.  The actual construction could be years away, other concessions could be granted, or the current plan could be shelved for one more beneficial for the school property.  While nothing is certain, the ominous orange stake serves as a reminder each day to this family, their home, and the school, that change is afoot.

If this was my front door that I walked out of each day, I'm sure the stake would cause me a great deal of anger as I traipsed by it each day.  

Why do Matt and Lisa remain calm and hopeful and place their trust in the Lord?  You might say, it's because they don't have any other choice.  But I don't think that's the case. I think it's because they choose to trust.  They choose to be like Job, who said in Job 1:21, 

"When I was born into this world, I was naked and had nothing.  When I die and leave this world, I will be naked and have nothing.  The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

The Lord gave the property, their home, and the school to them.  It's His to do with as He pleases.  His plan is perfect, His plan is holy, and His plan is right.  Many of us say these words, and know them well, but rare are the ones who live it.

I'm glad to have seen the little orange stake and to know the story behind it.  I'll be anxious to see what the future holds.

Fight hard each day for the minds of your children.

The battle has already been won through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, of this there is no doubt.  The battle of the mind, no doubt, is raging every day.  In the mind of the Christ-follower, there can be clarity of thought as we discern the world's advances and setbacks.  However, for our children, and the children of those around us, their worldview is being carefully and powerfully shaped by culture.

Outside the context of Sunday School or your child's bedroom, how do you feel your children would answer this question..."What do you think is our world's biggest problem?"

For Christ-followers, we'd like to think that our children would answer "sin."  In my opinion, in America, Costa Rica, and elsewhere, I'm afraid we'd be sadly mistaken.  The culture is winning, even with churched kids with generations of Christ-followers standing behind them.  As a result, the answer is often "pollution," or "poverty," or "discrimination."

Now you might say that middle school and high school children have not yet developed the depth in thinking skills that would take them to where they need to be, and this may be true.  But it's up to us as Christian parents to help our kids think about THEIR world in terms of THEIR faith.

The world frames problems and defines solutions in a completely secular sense.  Pollution is a problem, it's solution is policy enacted by government to punish those who pollute and reward those who don't.  Poverty is a problem, it's solution is policy enacted by government to transfer wealth to those who don't have it.  Now these solutions may be distasteful to you, but that's not the point.  The problem is, they exist at the surface and they are incomplete.

Our world is a decaying mess, and it's our responsibility to steward its resources and care for its people.  However, the greatest care you can show the people of our world is to carefully, considerately, and consistently showing them the love of Jesus Christ.  Only with this foundation, can a person understand why our world is filled with horrible problems.

I like to tell my children about the "why staircase."  Never ask why only one, ask it at least three times.  This will help them more accurately frame and define problems.

What is a problem in our world?  Poverty?  Why is their poverty?  Because people don't have money?  Why don't people have money?  There may be many reasons such as corruption, greed, laziness, and deceit.  Why does corruption exist?  Because the hearts of the world's people are filled with sin and they are far from God.

It's up to you, Mom and Dad.  The world is filling your children's heads with messages that are incomplete and devoid of the Almighty.  Fight hard for your children's minds every day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hemos llegado in Costa Rica (We have arrived in Costa Rica) Hooray!

Friendly faces, snarled traffic, opportunistic vendors surrounding us at the airport, shoppers walking with grocery bags across highways, large trucks engine braking during our dinner, and a new McDonald's (ugh) only a block away from our location.

Yes, we've arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, safe and sound. God is so good to us! Thank you so much for ALL your prayers. We have never been blanketed in so many prayers. We were prayed over in Lake Jackson this Sunday numerous times, and received notes and e-mails from you that encouraged us so much.

Everything went so well yesterday and we arrived ready to greet our friends and begin our adventure in 2013.  Matt and Lisa Befus, and their daughters, Natalia, Linnea, Katrina, and Lindsey, are missionaries with Latin American Missions here. (  They enthusiastically greeted us along with their extremely large Great Dane (pictures to follow). The Befuses and their dog are gentle souls, which is especially good for the dog, since he is Marmadukian in size!

We are starting a little later tomorrow due to our long day yesterday.  We will be conducting interview with 7th grade students to determine proficiency in subjects at the school. Our children will complete their home school assignments in the morning at the Befus home, then we will regroup for the afternoon.

We love you all and are so appreciative of your prayers and support of our mission.  Because of your generosity, we will be able to bless Matt and Lisa, La Palabra de Vida, and other families during our time here.

Have a great day, Bill

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time flies. We will be in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica next Monday

We are very excited!  Monday the 18th we are driving to George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, boarding a United Airlines flight for San Jose, Costa Rica (only after breakfast at Pappasito's) and beginning Markham Family Missions 2013.  

Our children are anxious to see their friends and we are anxious to get busy supporting Matt and Lisa as they do, direct, and decide so many things at La Palabra de Vida.

Three large boxes of pre-K classroom school supplies, purchased with donations from our loyal supporters, came a few days ago, and we are transporting it to Costa Rica in a few extra suitcases.  It's really the cheapest way to ship, United only charges $40 for each extra bag.

My last day of work is this Thursday, and from then until December 23 we will make our new, temporary home in Costa Rica.  This will be our third time to do this, and we have grown so fond of our Costa Rican friends and teammates.

God is richly gracious and so good to us.  My work schedule, our home school activities, and our trip aligned perfectly.  Our supporters have been so gracious and generous to us this year, and 100% of their donations will go to support the ministries we work with.  Only because of Jesus are we able to go, and only because of Jesus do we have a passion to serve in a small piece of His Great Commission.  We give all the glory and honor to Jesus Christ and God the Father.  To them be all the glory!

Thank you so much!  We will blog regularly from Costa Rica and we are looking forward to seeing you when we return.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

16 days until we leave for Costa Rica!

I am happy to report that God has once again blessed our ministry in a big way!  Why should I be surprised?  We are so excited to be nearly ready for our 6 week mission in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica starting November 18. A few blessings that have come our way:

1.  A couple from our church has graciously volunteered to look after our little dog, Katy, while we are gone.  This is a huge blessing to know that she is in great hands.

2. Our home in Minnesota is now the home of missionaries on furlough from France.  We are excited that they have a place to live and work from during their year in the United States!  We made sure they had a snowblower also!

3.  In great generosity, we have received over $10,000 towards our goal of $17,000 to bless our ministries in Costa Rica and in the United States.  Your money will provide supplies for pre-K children at La Palabra de Vida school, financial support for a family at the school who is without income after a devastating illness, needed repairs and improvements to the school, support to missionaries Matt and Lisa Befus as they prepare for furlough next year in Wheaton, Illinois, and support to other missionaries on furlough in the United States.  La Palabra de Vida is a K-12 Christian Academy in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica.  It ranks among the finest academic schools in Costa Rica, and prepares that nation's children for Christian service and leadership at home.

4.  Friends in Houston have graciously volunteered to provide transportation to the airport and take care of our car for the 6 weeks.

5.  Friends in Lake Jackson have graciously volunteered to keep an eye on our home while we're gone.

I can't tell you how blessed we are to be able to continue God's Great Adventure as a family. We will never forget your prayers, support, and blessing to us.  

If you would like to support us financially, there is still time.  

Make checks out to:  Sieben Family Ministries
Mail checks to:  Markham Family Missions, 113 Frostwood Drive, Lake Jackson, TX 77566
Contribute at  Send money to

All contributions are fully tax deductible.

Have a great weekend.  Bill

Monday, October 14, 2013

36 days until we leave for Costa Rica

A short update on our Costa Rica 2013.  Our travel plans are made, here's a few details.

1)  We're flying United, extra bags are $40!  This is good news since we have some pre-K supplies and an office machine to transport to the school.

2)  We are staying at Apartotel Obelisco, a wonderful place in Costa Rica, that our family loves.  I can already taste the gallo pinto each morning for breakfast.

3)  We even have a car with a GPS and a cell phone this time!  For those of you familiar with Costa Rica, since the roads have no names, it's always an adventure getting anywhere.  I can say I will miss directions like "drive down the big four lane road past the Burger King and turn left where you see a stand that sells yellow piggie banks.  Follow the road up the hill by the big Jesus statue."

4)  We will be assisting the school with interviews and other activities to help improve curriculum.  Additionally, we will be working in the after-school program for the little ones.

5)  We will be helping to arrange and take field trips with other LPDV families.

6)  Our missionary friends have moved into our home in Cottage Grove and are enjoying their time there.  Please pray for them as this will be a busy year of furlough activities.

7)  We will be seeking the will of the Lord each day of our adventure, asking the Holy Spirit to use us in a mighty way to bless these folks who have dedicated their lives to furthering Christ in Costa Rica.

Have a great week!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ten things you might not know about beautiful Costa Rica

1.  Costa Rica's constitution states "human life is inviolable."  The Costa Rican Civil Code interprets this and enforces the meaning as "to 300 days before birth."

2.  Costa Rica eliminated all military forces in 1948.

3.  In one of Costa Rica's only significant military victories, the Costa Rican army defeated William Walker's men, who had taken control of Nicaragua in the 1850's.  William Walker was a Tennessean who had the misguided notion that he could self-direct military expansionism into Central America.  Juan Santamaria, the general whose forces defeated Walker's, is a Costa Rican national hero today.

4.  Today, there are six active volcanoes in Costa Rica.  Poas, Arenal, Tenorio, Turrialba, Irazu, Rincon de la Vieja.

5. The national food of Costa Rica is "gallo pinto," a delicious rice and black bean dish served at every meal, but best for breakfast.

6.  Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, Costa Rica's national soccer stadium in San Jose, was financed and completely constructed by the Chinese government.

7.   Although Costa Rica guarantees freedom of religion, and one can see churches of many different types, Roman Catholicism is the state religion.  It is written into the Costa Rican Constitution as follows, "The Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Religion is the official religion of the Republic."

8.  Auto insurance in Costa Rica is a government monopoly.  Rental car companies in Costa Rica make the collision damage waiver mandatory.

9.  Many Americans settled in Costa Rica 10 to 20 years ago as cheap real estate was plentiful and health care was cheap.  This is no longer the case.  Belize is the new Costa Rica.

10.  Jesus Christ is alive and well and known in the country thanks to dedicated missionaries like our friends Matt and Lisa Befus.  Look them up on Latin American Missions (

11.  And one for the road.  A popular breakfast beverage in Costa Rica for children is "jugo de naranja y zanahoria (carrot and orange juice).  Cheers!

Have a great weekend!  Bill

Monday, September 30, 2013

If foreign missionaries came to your church...

"Imagine a team from France calls your church and says they want to visit. They want to put on VBS (which you have done for years), but the material is in French. They have heard about how the U.S. church has struggled and want to help you fix it. They want to send twenty people, half of them youth. Only two of them speak English. They need a place to stay for free, with cheap food and warm showers if possible. During the trip half of the group's energy will be spent on resolving tension between team members. Two people will get sick. They'd like you to arrange some sightseeing for them on their free day. Do you want them to come?"
                                                                                                                                      - Darren Carlson

During my short-term missionary trips to Mexico, I got an earful from the local missionary about American behaviors.  Bottom line is this:  The questions posed by Carlson are worth considering, because I heard the same ones posed by missionaries in Mexico.  But really?  Are most short term missions teams like this?  Well, it depends a lot upon the leaders, the sending organization, the goals, and the relationships with the local missionaries.

I would say this.  If you want to serve in the mission field, then GO TO SERVE.  Ask the missionaries what they would like you to do.  Stop checking out TripAdvisor to plan your missionary excursions in your country of choice, and start reading your bible about what sacrifice really means.

When we decided to be a repeating, short-term missionary family, we had no idea what we were doing, but here's one thing we did right.  We asked our missionaries this question:  How can we help?  We did not expect them to arrange outings, accompany us to meals to speak the language for us, or change their daily schedule.  We simply were quiet and did what we were told to do.  The result?  A wonderful relationship with many Costa Ricans, because through prayer and the Holy Spirit, we were able to set aside our human desires, and perform useful services to those who were there for the long haul.

This year's no different.  We had a long Skype conversation with Matt and Lisa Befus were they outlined what they would like us to do.  It's an adventure as always, we're trying things we've never tried before, but we love, we absolutely love to serve with these folks at this school.

We're exactly where God wants us to be.  

So, as Jesus said...GO.  But when you do go, leave your electronics in your backpack, leave your American entitlement at home, and be prepared to experience the adventure of a lifetime.  Why?  Because when you come back home, the missionaries you served will say, "I'm glad they we're here."

Friday, September 27, 2013

We're heading south. Costa Rica 2013!

Dear friends and family:

We're heading south.  And Costa Rica's not a bad place to be in the winter.  But you may want to know why we're doing what we're doing.  

That's a great question.  This will be our third lengthy mission trip to Costa Rica.  We have always considered it a true privilege to go to another country on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ as an entire family, not piecemeal.

So why?  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.

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 one of us going to Mexico, or all of us working with kids in our church, but also "going unto all nations."  We take Jesus literally.

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.

So, on November 18, we'll board our flight and head south.  We'll be working to restore a missionary house, developing curriculum to broaden the school's ability to make the Bible come to life, teaching ESL classes, and financing and helping to install improvements in the school's infrastructure.

We can't wait.

We would like to ask you to partner with us. Please commit to pray for this year's adventure, and consider supporting this worthy work financially.  We need to raise $17,000 to help offset the costs of the mission activities.  Here's how:

·     Make checks payable to Sieben Family Ministries
·     Mail checks to Markham Family, 113 Frostwood Drive, Lake Jackson, Texas 77566
·     Donate via PayPal (credit card or checking account)  Send money directly via PayPal to

God's richest blessings,


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dear Friends and Family:

It is our distinct privilege to announce that the Markham family is returning to Costa Rica from November 18 – December 23.  We will be serving at La Palabra de Vida, a Christian academy in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica that is dedicated to providing Christian leaders for Costa Rica’s future.

The twenty-two months between mission trips has been filled with change.  We’ve moved from Byron, Illinois to Lake Jackson, Texas.  My job at Exelon ended, and the Lord provided a new one at the South Texas Project, about fifty miles from Lake Jackson.  Our children are fifteen, thirteen, and twelve years old, and giving us so much joy as they grow up in the Lord.  We are attending a wonderful church in Lake Jackson, Hope Fellowship.  We have no doubt that God is blessing us with His favor and His love each day.

The scope of Markham Family Missions has changed also.  Through prayer and study, the Lord reminded us that all our resources belong to Him.  As a result, our work includes:

·     Missionary Housing:  We are offering our Cottage Grove, Minnesota home to long term missionaries on furlough.  We value these tireless workers for the Lord, and are excited that God has given us the resources to provide this gift.  Lynn and Rose Lindquist, missionaries to France, will make this house their home for one year beginning in October 2013. 

·     Compassion:  A La Palabra de Vida family suffered a complete loss of income when a surgical procedure for this single mother resulted in months of debilitating pain due to mistakes made during the surgery.  We have committed to provide for their rent and their children’s educational costs.

·    Short-Term Missions:   At La Palabra de Vida, we will be continuing our children’s education, assisting this remarkable institution in curriculum development, working in after school care programs, assisting in ongoing construction projects, and providing equipment to further the school’s ministry.

·    Assistance:  Matt and Lisa Befus are long term missionaries to Costa Rica.  Matt is the Executive Director of the La Palabra de Vida Foundation which manages the property and facilities of La Palabra de Vida.  Lisa is a director at La Palabra de Vida and is directly involved in oversight, teaching, and direction.  Their family is planning a one year furlough beginning next July in Wheaton, IL after sixteen years in Costa Rica.  We will be assisting with their furlough costs and other expenses incurred in Costa Rica.

We want you to join us financially and in prayer.  Many of you supported us so graciously three years ago and we are so grateful for each of you.  Because the Lord has directed our resources towards all these efforts, we are asking for help for our short term mission expenses ($5,000), our compassion efforts ($2000), and our assistance of long term missionaries ($10,000) through the use of our home and with financial support.

We have partnered with Sieben Family Ministries, a missions organization located in Bay City, Texas that plants churches and supports pastors in central Mexico.   This will allow you to receive a tax receipt for any contribution that you send.  Please pray about this opportunity and we look forward from hearing from you.

You may send contributions as follows:

·     Make checks payable to Sieben Family Ministries
·     Mail checks to Markham Family, 113 Frostwood Drive, Lake Jackson, Texas 77566
·     Donate via PayPal (credit card or checking account)  Send money directly via PayPal to

This God-directed journey that we’ve been on for the last four years has had twists and turns that have stretched our faith, and bonded our family together in a way that would not be possible if not for His work in our life.  Please contact Bill (651-353-6021) or Vickie (651-353-6022) directly for any questions that you may have.

In service to Jesus Christ,  Bill and Vickie

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Part time help NOT needed

Vickie and I attend a bible study with a few dozen others on Tuesday nights.  We read a little scripture each day during the week, answer some questions, hopefully discuss what was read, and then show up on Tuesday nights. 

It's a routine, and not a bad one to have.

This fall we're reading the book of Mark, which truth be told, is a distant fourth in "gospel popularity."  Most folks I know cannot quote a verse from Mark, and none have studied the book in detail.  It's the Jacksonville Jaguars of the New Testament.  

We're just getting into the first chapter, but I was intrigued by a question that was presented in the material.  It was this.

What does being a follower of Christ mean in today's world?

Does it mean tithing? Church attendance?  Religious Facebook posts?  Does it mean that you read the Bible everyday?  A member of a church?  Of the Republican party?

After I thought about this for a while, I decided that it could not possibly mean less than it did the day that Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

It's a simple response, but one that is rarely if ever seen across the landscape of comfortable American churches. 

He says FOLLOW ME.  We follow.  Let me repeat it for you.  He says FOLLOW ME.  We follow.

That's what these fishermen did.  For when Jesus called them, "they left everything and followed Him immediately.

They didn't stack up retirement funds, vacations, security, and comfort as idols before the Lord.  They cast everything aside and followed him.

In my group, I offered this opinion, and it was soundly rejected.  "We're not all called to full-time Christian service," they said.  "For some, it could mean helping out a neighbor, or simply attending church."

Perhaps, I would say, although somewhat reluctantly.

But let me say this.  I'm only looking for one.  One that I can write about.  I'm just looking for one person in the multitudes of self-proclaimed Christ-followers who have "left everything" to follow Him.  I'm just looking for one who would be willing to go the distance with Christ.  Just show me one.

You can keep your collection plates, Christian aerobics, and potlucks.  I'm looking for a Christ-follower.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Alone. Awkward. Beautiful.

I downloaded Passion 2011 one night in February.  The talent that performs at this Atlanta event is thicker than Comfort Inn oatmeal and much more tasty. 

Passion is a movement in Atlanta, Georgia, that involves the superstars of the faith.  The preachers and the singers amaze.  Francis Chan, John Piper, Kristian Stanfill, Matt Maher, Christy Nockels, and Chris Tomlin are just a few of the incredible worship leaders who bless the crowd of 15,000 and many more when the conference songs and sermons are released via YouTube.

Anyway, the CD made its way to my Mazda pickup last week and I inserted it tonight.  Track 8 caught my ear and I realized quickly that it was Chris Tomlin's performance of a Matt Maher tune named Lord, I Need You.  The artists remade an old hymn into a wondrous worship tune that I enjoyed so much.

Now having listened to this song a few times, I immediately launched into a duet.  Just me and Chris.  A beautiful song, I provided a perfect accompaniment to the multi-million selling Christian worship hero.  Not really.

My voice is not much more than a squeaky Southern annoyance when compared with the musical heroes of my faith.  Still, having memorized the song, I persisted in joining Chris in this beautiful song.

Trouble is, three minutes into the song, this worship leader decided to stop.  Maybe your worship leader has done the same.  Smack dab in the middle of a beautiful song, the man in charge decides to stop the noise and let the congregation be heard.  Truth be told, in this case, the congregation was me, and the congregation was as off-key as one can possibly get. 

Troubled by the sound of my own voice, I quit.  But then, I changed my mind.  I started singing the words again.  At a lower volume, perhaps.  But still singing...

Lord, I need you, oh, I need you.
Every hour I need you.
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need you.

And I realized,  Lord, you love me.  With my broken, sorry voice, you love me.   With my failure to say the words correctly.  With the lack of passion in my voice, you love me.  With the inability to inspire others with my voice, you love me.  As I sing,  as I sing poorly, as I sing ONLY to you, you love me.  And I thank you.  Your love is without judgment, qualification, or requirement.  You love me as I am.  That is why You are who You are.  Perfect love.  For people like me.  Amen.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dear Dad: In heaven, do people argue doctrine with Jesus?

Dear Dad:

A book was published a while after you died.  It was written by a missionary kid named Paul Young, and it was titled The Shack.  It was a best seller for many weeks.  Essentially, it told the story of a guy whose little girl was abducted from a campsite and raped and murdered in a little mountain shack.  The father and mother never really recovered and as a last resort, the guy had an encounter with Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit back up in the mountains where the crime occurred.  They had a day long discussion and quite a few more about what happened, why it happened, how the three big guys think, and lots of other stuff.  Now Young took quite a few liberties with doctrine some folks might say.  But the doggone book was just a novel. And a very good one.  You would have liked it.

A little background.  Young was a missionary kid and was abused and raped at a Christian and Missionary Alliance boarding school in Papau New Guinea along with a whole bunch of other innocent children.  This was a case of those in charge, adult Christian men, not doing what is the most basic thing Christian men should do.  Take care of children.  Anyway, this was his way of dealing with the pain and grief of what happened.  In the book, he ends up understanding forgiveness as an incredibly painful, but worthwhile, process.

I liked the book.

But quicker than an egg cooks on a hot griddle, some of my friends and some who were not, started instructing me on why this book was worthless.  Turns out they were frauds as they actually had not read the book, but just read a review on some wacko Christian website that tells otherwise decent folks how to think.  They took a NOVEL, and dissected it as a theology text. And they weren't even theologians.  They were accountants, ironworkers, engineers, teachers, and who knows what?  Young's not trying to upset your pastor or your statement of faith, he's just writing a book and making a lot of money.  It's the American way...right?

So, anyway, after this disappointing little episode, I started noticing that every time I mentioned a preacher, an author, a blogger (you don't know what the heck that is, but don't worry about it.  Most of 'em aren't worth a Treasury Bill), or anyone else that thinks a little.  Every time I mentioned some book I liked, or sermon that inspired me...some Christian guy would start instructing me on why I shouldn't read this or that, listen to this guy or that guy, or whatever.

You name it, Dad, people argue about it.  Tithing, speaking in tongues, worship songs, Sunday vs. Saturday church, and many others.  You know what I think?  It's the outcome of a whole bunch of content, lazy, rich Christian folks that have forgotten they're supposed to be lifesavers and decided they were kings instead.

You know what I mean, Dad.  Just like the churches back in Tulsa, where rich guys run the show, and think it is more about organization and denomination, than saving souls.

You know what I say?  *&%$ 'em all.  I don't listen anymore.  I talk with my wife, kinda like you did back in good ol' Tulsa, read the Bible, pray for understanding, and make up my own mind.

So, Dad, you're up there with Jesus, God, and the Holy Ghost.  So I wanted to find out a couple of things about the other side.  OK?

Are there jackasses in heaven?  Or does everybody really have a good attitude to go along with their "goodbody?"  Do people hang out with Jesus, God, and the Holy Ghost, and then start a discussion about the nature of the Trinity?  Do folks try to speak in an unknown tongue right in front of the dudes who are omnipotent?  Do men and women walk down the streets of gold and then let the collection plate pass by with hardly a glance?  Do old rich guys try to draft up a Statement of Faith?  Do you still fall asleep the end of the sermon?  WAKE UP , OLD MAN!!!  Do you look around and realize someone close to you is not there, and get sad that they're in hell?

I guess I should tell you, Dad.  My shctick is self deprecation.  I figured that if I can make everybody think they're smarter than me, then maybe they'll listen just to try and correct me.  So I make fun of my Oklahoma roots, my education, and everything else.  Works pretty good, Pops.  Especially in Minnesota, where folks have a very high opinion of their intellect.

But you know what?  You were a smart %$#@$#%%$@##, Dad.  You knew it, and I knew it, too.  So the next time you corner Jesus ask him my questions.  Inquiring minds want to know.

And by the way,  if Mom is there, tell her not to stop worrying about how she looks, everyone is perfect in heaven.  Smile.

Until next time Pops.