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