Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Listening to the Wind....

As I sat on the patio out front of our house, the fussy southeast wind tossed the trees all around...bending the palms in our neighbor's yard, swishing the leaves of our live oak. While I sat there, I began to hear more...the 'little' sounds that the wind was bringing. The laughter of a child three houses up floated down to me. The rattly 'clunk-clunk' of a discarded beer crossing the street came to me. Across the street, a bit of loose Christmas decoration flapped in the wind. In the distance, the siren of first responders rose and fell with the intensity of the wind.

Wind is air moving...and it moves in a particular direction. As I sat there listening to the sounds on the wind, I realized that I was uniquely placed to hear what the wind brought me that evening. The lady who lives on the street behind us heard none of these things. Oh, she heard the wind in the trees—the BIG noise, but I was the one who heard the laughter of that child . The couple who lives six houses east of us would not have heard the can skitter across the asphalt—they were up-wind. The old fellow who always sits out in his carport watching the world go by, some five houses west of us, would not have heard the flapping decoration that caught my ear even though he was down-wind—the noises just weren't loud enough for him to hear. Yes, the wind brought these sounds to me...and I had to hear, reflect and/or act on them....

Jesus teaches us that God's Spirit is a wind...or maybe he was teaching that God's Wind is the Spirit? “Wind” and “Spirit” are the same word in Jesus' Aramaic and the Gospel-writer's Greek. Perhaps God's Spirit-Wind brings 'little' sounds just for you and just for me. Where we stand in life may position us to hear something that no one else is going to hear. Maybe the cry of that child (or teenager or adult) comes only to your ears...maybe that irritating 'flapping' or 'clunk-clunk' of something out of place, of something not right, of something calling for rightness or justice comes only to your ears.... And, you—the only one who hears these small sounds in our roaring world—you are the one who must act.

If the Spirit indeed works this way, much would be explained. How many times has someone—after hearing a sermon or reading a Scripture passage—come away having heard or read something that completely eluded us? Could it be that a particular breeze was blowing in their direction?

This calls me to realize that God's Spirit may speak to us in a way that no one around us hears. When I sit in worship and the pastor calls on the congregation to help feed a village in Malawi, I can no longer say, “Oh, there are plenty of other people 'hearing' this—they'll give.” No, now I realize that God may be blowing a message, a call that only I can hear, that only resonates in my heart. Now I realize that a song that fills me with joy can bring another to broken tears; a sermon that grabs my heart my leave others only curiously interested; the images of a child in Ecuador may call me to open my hands generously but may call a young couple on the next pew to sell it all and move to South America.

Finally, to hear the 'little' sounds in the wind, we have to be in the wind. If I stay in my home with the windows closed up tight and the TV on, the sounds on the wind would pass my by...along with the opportunities to respond. To hear the small sounds, we have to be in the wind...and listening. Even if I sit in a house of worship, I may only hear about the wind or only hear what others have heard...and not really hear the wind for myself. Yes, I need to get outside, sit in the wind, let it surround and caress me...and open my ears to hear what sounds of life and need and opportunity and possibility and purpose are being brought to me, in my particular place and time.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit....

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit....


Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Got a Feelin'...NOT!

I often find myself sitting to write when God has revealed something new to me, when the Spirit has helped me through a hard time, or after I have come to new understanding of an old truth.  Not so today.  I write today because I feel that God is far from me.  The metaphor of the desert—of being in a ‘dry and thirsty land’—is more real to me now than it has been in a long time.

When I pray, I feel I am talking to myself.  When I read the Scriptures, I feel completely disconnected from that world.  When I attend worship, I feel like an outsider.  I hope beyond hope that I’m not the only Christian to feel this way.  And, as I intimated above, it’s not the first time….

But wait.  There IS good news in all of this.  How?  Well, it all comes down to the “I feel…” element of my confessions.  I have often told my students that we simply cannot trust our feelings…that our feelings change more frequently than the weather.  (Oh, feelings aren’t bad; we just tend to put too much emphasis on them.)   How often have we gotten out of bed smiling in the morning, glad for a new day…but leave the house or apartment scowling just an hour later as we head to work?  Or, how often have we been feeling down, beat-up, worn…and a phone call comes—from ‘him’ or ‘her’…and suddenly we’re all happy and smiles and “all is well with the world”?  Fickle—that’s what feelings are. 

How many times have I heard people say upon leaving a worship service, “Well, I just didn’t feel the Spirit there today….”  I’ve heard supposedly “mature” Christians (I’m beginning to think that means they’ve lost their ‘child-like’ faith!) talk about how they “feel the Lord moving them” in this direction or that.  Feelings--don’t trust ‘em. 

I learned long ago not to rely on feelings…and at the same time, I learned the importance of spiritual discipline.  In one of our classes in the seminary in Mexico, my students and I decided to develop a practical, imaginative definition of ‘spiritual discipline,’ and here is what we came up with:  Spiritual discipline is the constant preparation of the spiritual soil—weeding, plowing and hoeing in expectation of the coming rains; it’s putting one’s self in that path or road that Jesus usually walks so as to increase the likelihood of an encounter.  The spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, worship, fasting and the like involve doing what is good and right and necessary to prepare the soil of our lives, to put us in that spiritual place to receive God, to hear God…even to be Christ for others in their moment of need.  It means praying, reading, worshiping, singing, listening—whether we feel like it or not. 

Whether I “feel” God hears me or not, I pray—I speak the words of thanksgiving, of care, of need.  Whether I “feel” a part of the Biblical conversation, I read—I open myself to words of life, words of hope, words of grace and guidance.  Whether I “feel” the Spirit or God’s Presence, or not, I gather with other Christians for worship—I receive communion, I sing the songs (sometimes only softly, under my breath!), I hear the Word read and proclaimed.  And I may walk away from all of these feeling unheard, disconnected or empty.  But, my life of faith is not based on feelings; it is based on what I know.  I have the promises:  And we know that He hears us…I will never leave you or forsake you…I am with you always, to the end of the age…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus….

Meanwhile, I tend the soil…I go through the motions…I do what I know is good and right, I put myself in God-pleasing places—and I await the encounter that will refresh me and perhaps even bring feelings to life again within me. 


(Note:  Attesting to the power and effect of writing…the act of writing, I have found a new sense of faith and purpose for having written this piece!  So, when something troubles you, write about it…and see what happens.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

People of the Book...the Address Book!

In the last few days, I’ve been organizing the address book for our e-mail account.  As I engaged in that tedious project, I came to an interesting realization.  Too often, we are on the receiving end e-mails, and we don’t really realize what we may be a part of....

In our address book, I find friends from high school, college, grad school, seminary and beyond; I find men and women and teenagers and even children.

There are people who live in Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and…Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Ghana, England, Kazakhstan, China, Egypt, Grenada, Dubai and more!

A lot of the folks are Methodists…but there are also Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Quakers…and certainly agnostics (of which a few might even claim to be atheists!) 

Some of the folks in that address book are people I worked with in school…others in churches…still others as part of mission teams. 

There are family members there—parents, siblings, children, cousins, aunts and uncles…and then some. 

Some of the email addresses belong to the very wealthy…and some to the very poor…and many to that broad group called ‘middle class.’

Some are Republicans...some are Democrats...some are Independents...some are other lands and the parties there...and some are "I-don't-know-and-don't-care's!

Some of the people there I have known for over 40 years…some I’ve met only recently, in the last few months. 

Some have helped us by supporting our work in Venezuela and Mexico by sending money…some have helped by sending us encouraging emails…some have helped by praying for us…and some have helped by doing nothing and not saying anything!

The wonderful and amazing thing is that we really do know almost every single one of you who are in our address book.  We’ve met you and know you and you know us.  When I see that there are some 800 names in my address book, I realize that we are truly blessed…and we thank you for keeping up with us, for supporting us in various ways, for tolerating too few or too many e-mails!

When you receive that e-mail from us next time, realize that you are part of a huge, beautiful, multifaceted, international, group of people that somehow share at least one commonality--probably more--and that we are so grateful for you!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Church...Carretto

I found this modern "desert father" about seven or eight years ago.  He just keeps on pushing me to love and to understand and to grow.  Enjoy!  ~Jon~

“How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go? Would I establish another? I would not be able to establish it without the same faults, for they are the same faults I carry in me. And if I did establish another, it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ. I am old enough to know that I am no better than anyone else. …)

The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners! It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith. It brings a message of pure transparency but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world. It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics. It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful.

Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it.

When I was young, I did not understand why Jesus chose Peter as his successor, the first Pope, even though he abandoned Him. Now I am no longer surprised and I understand that by founding his church on the tomb of a traitor(…)He was warning each of us to remain humble, by making us aware of our fragility. (…)

And what are bricks worth anyway? What matters is the promise of Christ, what matters is the cement that unites the bricks, which is the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of building the church with such poorly moulded bricks as are we.

And that is where the mystery lies. This mixture of good and bad, of greatness and misery, of holiness and sin that makes up the church…this in reality am I .(…)

The deep bond between God and His Church, is an intimate part of each one of us. (…)To each of us God says, as he says to his Church, “And I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2,21). But at the same time he reminds us of reality: 'Your lewdness is like rust. I have tried to remove it in vain. There is so much that not even a flame will take it away' (Ezechiel 24, 12).

But then there is even something more beautiful. The Holy Spirit who is Love, sees us as holy, immaculate, beautiful under our guises of thieves and adulterers. (…) It’s as if evil cannot touch the deepest part of mankind.

He re-establishes our virginity no matter how many times we have prostituted our bodies, spirits and hearts. In this, God is truly God, the only one who can ‘make everything new again’. It is not so important that He will renew heaven and earth. What is most important is that He will renew our hearts. This is Christ’s work. This is the divine Spirit of the Church.”
― Carlo Carretto

Found here:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Impact vs. Impact

This week, I had the opportunity to participate in a planning committee for a project that has the potential to affect over 10,000 high school students in our area.  The project is huge, impacting multiple public school districts and their students.  The ultimate impact on the communities of these students is beyond our prophetic abilities, but the data indicates that the impact will be huge.  Being a part of this committee as we plan and plot and move forward is quite exciting, as one might imagine.


Yet, something even more exciting happened this week.  As I sat in my office one morning, I was surprised to hear the shuffle of feet outside my door…and then a light knock.  When I looked up, Raul’s smiling face was peering around the door frame…and Thalia followed him in to my office.  Raul enwrapped me in his huge bear-hug…and Thalia embraced me as well.  The joy of seeing these two former students of mine is beyond words I can pen.  We sat and talked together for half-an-hour.  I listened as they recounted their summer adventures and travels, and I encouraged them as they told me of their dreams and hopes for the months and years to come.  We laughed together remembering times in class last semester.  And, when they left, it was with the promise to come visit again.

After these two experiences, I began to think about “impact” and what it means.  In both my teaching career and in my new administrative position, lives are impacted.  People are changed, bettered.  But, “impact” simply does not mean “impact.” 

Last semester as I taught a writing course on the Weslaco campus of STC, I had 16 students that I met twice a week, every week.  We dug into the excruciatingly painful (for them!) elements of grammar, examined and practiced various modes of writing, learned how to do research both on-line and in the library, and prepared for the exit exam that would come at the end of the semester.  Every week, we sent multiple e-mails as I sent assignments and the students responded with questions.  At the end of the semester, we knew each other—I knew about Raul’s immigration as a child from Nicaragua when his family fled the violence and unrest of the 80’s that were going on in his native country.  I learned about Thalia’s family…her work…and her dreams.  They knew when I got my motorcycle…new my children by name, and which one was studying where.  I had impacted their lives…and they had impacted mine.


The committee that is putting together this up-coming project may ‘impact’ far more than just 16 young adults—it would impact some 10,000+ students in six school districts!  Wow!  That is amazing…and it’s a good thing.  But….

…But, those 10,000 students will never know me…and I’ll never know them.  Lives are ‘impacted’…but in a distant and dispassionate way.

I now know what teachers go through who move up into administration.  We can affect so many more students, we can ‘impact’ so many more lives.  But…. 

Pastors and church leaders go through the same…more often in the growth of the church than by ‘promotion.’  The small, intimate, sharing group of believers grows…excitement builds…outreach happens…then the church builds…and numbers grow…and at the end , the now “successful” pastor finds that he or she is ‘impacting’ so many more lives…but there is a distance, dispassion and disconnect that these kinds of pastors may have a hard time putting their fingers on.

If these pastors and church leaders hope to keep their balance and joy in life and ministry, they are going to have to do something.  In a worst case scenario, the pastor will seek intimacy and impact in the wrong place, in the wrong kind of relationship.  But in a best case scenario, this pastor will seek a small group—a discipleship group (high school, college, young adults), a mission/church plant—where he or she can form again those intimate, life-changing bonds that will leave all involved forever and positively changed…impacted.


So, I’ve moved from being a teacher in our college to being a part of administration.  Thankfully, our college leadership makes administrator participation in the teaching arts a high priority.  Therefore, this Fall, I’ll be in the classroom again—an evening class, two nights a week.  I’m SOOOO excited to be heading back to the classroom, to connecting with students, to pushing them, challenging them…and to their pushing me, their challenging me. 

I’ll stay in administration, thank you—I’m having a blast in my new job.  But, I’m so thankful that I’ll be able to continue to impact the individual lives of young men and women, that I’ll be able to share my life with them, and they with me.  This is where the real ‘impact’ happens.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sweet Relief....

I’m reading Carlo Carretto again (Letters from the Desert), an intimate work that follows Carretto’s feet and mind into the desert of North Africa. 

He had been very active in the Church for many years, and quite suddenly he hears God call him to leave it all behind in his homeland of Italy and follow God into the desert.

At one point towards the beginning of the book, he is contemplating his earnest, dedicated labors and activity in the church back home, his practice of running “continually from one project to another, from one meeting to another, from one city to another”.  While involved in all of that, he had been operating on a worldview that went something like this:  God created the world and then stepped aside to rest; Christ founded the Church and then disappeared in to heaven to let the Church save the world.  Carretto says he imagined that his frenzied life and work were somehow part of the column that was holding everything up and everything together.

I drew back suddenly, as though to fee myself from this weight.  What had happened?  Everything remained in its place, motionless.  Not a movement, not a sound.  After twenty-five years I had realized that nothing was burdening on my shoulders and that the column was my own creation—sham, unreal, the product of my own imagination and my vanity.
I had walked, run, spoken, organized, worked, in the belief that I was supporting something; and in reality I had been holding up absolutely nothing.
The weight of the world was all on Christ Crucified.  I was nothing, absolutely nothing.
What amazing relief…to know that it does not depend on me.  May I never again be suckered into the “sham, unreal…product of my own imagination and vanity.”

(All quotations taken from:  Carretto, Carlos.  “You are Nothing.”  Letters from the Desert. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

To Live by the Sword…?

“Gun control” can be a very divisive topic. Just mention it in a group of 15 or more, and you’re likely to find passionate people of various perspectives. If someone says they favor gun control, some folks jump to the conclusion that one wants to make every kind of firearm illegal…and if someone says they are against gun control, folks imagine that one is fine if you want to park an M-40 tank in your drive and sell AK-47’s out of your trunk on weekends. Yes, the issue is usually one of extremes.

Opinions grow out of how one interprets or applies the second amendment of the US Constitution as found in the Bill of Rights. One problem is that there were at least two versions floated at the time the bill was ratified…Congress ratifying one version and States a slightly different one:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (Congress)

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. (States)

The difference is in the way the sentence is punctuated and how things are capitalized—small but perhaps significant differences. So, part of the problem grows out of how one interprets this amendment.

However, a deeper problem for those of us who profess the Christian faith lies in our inadvertent tendency to confuse Constitution with Scripture. They are not one and the same (obviously). While the Constitution does and should guide our nation, the Scriptures should guide our personal lives if we claim to be Christians.

So, what does Scripture say about this issue? Well, Jesus speaks to it clearly in Matthew 26:32 where He says to his disciple, “…Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (NRSV). If Peter had had a Glock or an AR-15, I think Jesus would say something similar….

Jesus and His 1st Century followers lived in a violent age. Some historians estimate that the average life-span of a male in the Roman Empire at this time was around 26 years. They weren’t all dying of head-colds and athlete’s foot—this was a dangerous and deadly time to live. When Jesus related the parable of the Good Samaritan, the people didn’t respond, “Oh my!! That’s terrible!! Someone beaten and robbed on the Jericho road?!?” They KNEW that this was a common, occurrence…something that happened all the time. And, of course, Jesus missed his great opportunity here—He could have said, “So, since these things happen, I want all my followers to arm themselves…get knives, swords and all kinds of things to keep you safe.” Nope, He really missed the chance to arm His followers.

In fact, when we look at the story of the early Church, we find that they are constantly abused, arrested, beaten, killed…and they don’t fight back. In the Old Testament, we see wars a plenty, but we are New Testament people and followers of Jesus—not followers of Joshua or David. It’s not until Emperor Constantine marries the church to the state (a ‘shotgun wedding,’ no less) that we find Christians arming and literally fighting for the faith. Nowhere in the NT do we find Paul fighting back, pulling swords and practicing any kind of ‘stand your ground.’

Our US Constitution allows us as Americans to “bear arms” (I prefer to do so at the beach…by wearing a tank-top). Personally, I feel we may have been a little broad as a nation in our interpretation (Do I or my neighbors really need to be able to buy AR-15 assault rifles when there is not state of war in our land? Should anyone be able to purchase 6000 rounds of ammo on-line?) While I have ‘rights’ as a citizen of this land that I was born into by chance, as a conscientious, self-decided Christian I must decide--do I really want to “live by the sword”…and teach my children to do the same?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gathering and Remembering

My wife and I head to the coast to celebrate her birthday. As always, it doesn’t take long for our conversation to turn to our children. As we drive, we talk of their many experiences in life as part of a parsonage family…as MK’s (missionary kids) in Venezuela and Mexico…and now living along the US/Mexican border. As is the way of children, they are growing up and leaving home….

Jeanne, my wonderful wife of 22 years, remarks, “I hope they don’t forget all their experiences….”

My brothers, Timothy and Jeph, and I are PK’s (pastor’s kids) and MK’s (having grown up in Guyana, South America and Grenada, West Indies). Whenever we get together—even though we now have our own lives, our careers and our families—we always, ALWAYS, remember our lives and talk about our experiences as PKs and MKs.

We remember the Christmas in Guyana when we left all our toys to the side to have crapo (frog) races in the ‘bottom house.’ We remember Dad sneaking up behind Mom in the lobby of the Polynesian Resort Hotel at Disney World with the “old man” mask on…and kissing her…as she screamed! (Dad was like that…ha,ha.) We remember times around the house, in the jungle, in the Rupununi, on the beaches, at the waterfalls, with visiting mission teams, and on special holidays.

So, I doubt very seriously if our children will forget. They will remember. And, as we ride along, it suddenly becomes very clear to me: we gather to remember. Gathering IS remembering. Whether it’s three MKs, a family reunion…or a Sunday morning worship service, gathering is remembering.

We see the cross at the front of the sanctuary, and we remember what God did for us in Christ Jesus. We see the baptismal font or pool, and we remember that important step of faithfulness. The bread and the cup remind us that God loves us so, so much and has given us life through Jesus (“Do this in remembrance of me…”). A song carries us back to a VBS, a SS class, a revival or a youth-meeting campfire…or just to a difficult time of life that God brought us through. If we have lived well within the community, if we’ve invested our lives in the lives of others, just seeing the faces of others reminds us….

I only have to see Samuel’s face, I am transported back to mission teams and meals shared. Just a glance over at Andres and I’m back at that silly but passionate debate we had three years ago. We laugh about it now. I hear a baby cry, look over, and there is Carolina with little Felipe, and I’m back to the struggles that she and Jose suffered early on in their marriage…and the joy of their coming through it all.

With great wisdom, the author of the book of Hebrews calls and cautions us, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to [gather] together…” (Heb.10:24,25 NRSV). To gather is to remember…and those memories are the glue that holds us together. In fact, no one person holds all the memories. At home and at church, one person starts to tell the story, and everyone jumps in with a detail, something overlooked or forgotten by another. The whole family, the whole community, carries the memories…and the memories carry the community. The only way we forget who we are, how we got here, Whose we are, what we have, and what we have to look forward to is if we don’t gather. If we gather, we remember….

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lost and Found

We are more than what we do,” and “We are not our jobs.” I have taught, preached and passed on these words of wisdom to those who are “trying to find themselves.” Too often, we Americans do wrap ourselves up in what we do, in our vocations. When we do that, we have a crisis of identity if we are forced to change jobs, if we’re laid off or fired…or if we retire. Suddenly, we are no long who we were. In fact, if one or all of those things befalls us, we feel very lost. I know that because I’ve been there….

In the Bible, Luke 15 is a chapter all about ‘lostness’—a lost sheep, a lost coin…and a lost son. For many years, I would read or hear these parables and think, “Yeah, I guess that happens to some folks.” Then, I figured that the lost sheep was forevermore found; the lost coin now securely hidden away, never to be lost again; and, surely, that prodigal son would stay right there at home for the rest of his days. But, I think differently now….

Last year (2011), we moved from Monterrey, Mexico, to the US after having been out of the country for six years. My identity changed. I went from being “missionary” to “college teacher.” That was not too drastic a change because I had been an “educational missionary,” teaching and training church leaders in Venezuela and Mexico. In fact, in Mexico, my main task was teaching at the seminary and teachers’ college. So, the shift was not huge…but it did leave me floundering as I struggled to understand my new identity as “former missionary.”

Then, last month, after having made perfect peace with my identity as a teacher, it happened all over again. I was encouraged to apply for a staff position on the administrative side of things at our college…so I did. And, I was hired! (Now, the whys and wherefores don’t bear pursuing here, so you can e-mail me about it if you’re curious!) I went from being an English teacher to being—are you ready?—to being an “analyst” in the office of institutional effectiveness and assessment. Talk about a change of pace!

Suddenly, I was ‘lost’ again, trying to figure out who I was—Teacher? Analyst? I had wrapped up my identity in my work—doing the very thing I had cautioned so many against! When my work changed very suddenly, I didn’t know who I was. I was lost.

It was in the midst of all these changes that I came to realize that Jesus was not giving us cautionary tales by way of these parables in Luke. These parables simply tell us about how life is…IS. We sheep are often finding ourselves lost. We often misplace our values. We find ourselves far from ‘home’ time and time again. And, the good Shepherd comes to us; like the woman, we go to scouring our lives to find what we’ve lost; like the prodigal, we wander far away while the Father waits for us to come to our senses and come home…where He welcomes us again and again. These parables are not one-time events; these parables are all about how we are, how life IS.

So, if we don’t find our identity in our work, where do we find it? Finding who we are is important, because if we don’t, we’ll just get ‘lost’ all over again when we face those big certain-to-come changes of life.

I believe we begin to find ourselves when we peel back all the roles we play, take off all the hats we wear. There, underneath it all, we find the unchanging aspects of who we really are. For those of us who are Christians, our identities are built on this foundation—we are followers of Jesus, children of God, conduits of God’s Spirit.

Jobs may come and go, families may grow and shrink, friends my leave or stay, money and things are fickle and frail…but who I am—as opposed to what I do—does not change with the prevailing winds of life. When we grasp this, we will truly know that amazing feeling of having our feet “set…upon a rock” (Psalm 40).


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Newsletter - May 2012: Where are they now?

Dear Family, Friends and Partners in Ministry,

We are approaching our first anniversary back here in the US, so we wanted to catch you up on our lives. The house has become home, the once new streets and stores are now all familiar. Life has changed in some ways, but stays the same in others.

Mexico--We continue to minister and serve in Mexico through the Instituto Laurens, the Methodist-affiliated school where both Jon and Jeanne taught (see: El Intituto Laurens ). In April, Jon was asked to come to Monterrey to be a part of a Bilingual Science Teachers Training course. What does Jon know about science?? Ha,ha... Not enough...but his session with these young teachers was all about the practice of teaching, so he brought to them his passion for teaching and 'methods of pedagogy.' Also, science teachers at the college where Jon teaches here in McAllen donated over $3000 worth of books, CDs and DVDs to be given to the student teachers. More recently, Jon was invited to be one of four presenters at their XVI Annual Education Seminar--a gathering of student-teachers and bi-lingual teachers from over a dozen schools in the metro-Monterrey area. Jon's presentation was entitled, "Forming Critical Readers" and he was able to draw from experiences in Venezuela, Mexico and US as he shared with the 60+ educators.

McAllen--Jon has just completed his first year of teaching full-time with South Texas College. It was a wonderful year, and several deep, life-changing relationships were formed with students.

Jesse finished up her semester at Austin Community College with a 4.0 and will begin studies at Texas State University in the Fall as an English/Spanish double major...planning also to seek 8-12 certification for teaching. She is doing great…and is so excited about her upcoming changes. We are so happy, too, that she will spend the better part of the summer at home with us!

Megan finished her last year of high school as a dual-enrollment student at South Texas College. During the Spring semester she was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, received the Valley Scholars' award (a scholarship for future studies), and has been named to the President's Honor Roll for maintaining a 4.0 for two consecutive semesters. In the Fall, she will begin studies towards becoming an R.N. In addition to her academics, Megan is very involved in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship through campus ministries, and has served as a campus Bible-study leader and went to the Yucatan (Mexico) on a mission trip with 30+ students. She was one of the translators!

Andrew has adapted very well to life in the US, especially to school here. In the recent awards ceremony at his school (B.E.T.A.), he received an award for having the highest grade in his pre-A.P. Math class, and he was named to the Honor Roll. Just this week, he was elected to be Vice President for the rising sophomore he is excelling in both academics and socialization!

Jeanne—last, but absolutely not least!--manages to keep all of us on our toes...and at the right places at the right time. She has devoted this first year in the US to setting up our home and to making sure the children got all they needed for the transition to American society. As the children get older and are home less and less, Jeanne has decided to enter the working world (outside the home!) once again, most probably in an educational setting. Please pray that the right doors open for her….

At this time, Jon is on 'voluntary leave of absence' from the NGC-UMC due to Discipline requirements for oversight--while Jon and the family remain in ministry, while we are with The Mission Society as ‘mission affiliates, we do not have a person or entity to whom we report directly or who oversees our work. Until we resolve that administrative issue, Jon has to remain on leave of absence.

And, that is ‘where’ the Herrins are! As Christians, we are light and salt wherever we find ourselves. As we straddle the border and as we straddle religious and secular places of life and service, we understand more than ever how important it is to allow our faith to guide our lives and to shine through our speech, our actions, our reactions—through all aspects of our lives.

With great thanksgiving for your prayers and gifts and concern….
Jon, Jeanne, Jesse, Megan and Andrew

See recent postings on these websites:

Airports or Bus Stations?

While I sit in el Central de Autobuses (the main bus station) in Monterrey, I realize just how different bus stations are from airports. Yes, they are both about transportation…even ‘international’ transportation. One is cool, modern, clean and predictable…and one is hot, aging, dirty and full of life!

When I arrive at the station to wait for the bus that would take me back to McAllen, Texas, on the border, I find a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant whose tables spill out into a large, open area where people are coming and going. A young man named José takes my order (enchiladas suizas and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, thank you)…and I sit back to watch the world go by.

A young lady passes—perhaps 18- or 19-years old—with her long, black hair carefully ‘fixed up’…her ‘nice’ jeans on…and a bouquet of flowers in hand…smile on her face. She walks hurriedly towards the arrival area. A mother passes…with six children in tow, all brightly scrubbed and neatly dressed in clothes that have been washed many, many times. One of the Federales (national police) walks by…and he catches my eye because I saw him the day before at another site in the city—he looks ‘hard’…pock-marked face, eyes that betray a distrust of everyone and everything, hand on his semi-automatic pistol. He walks purposefully through the crowds.

An old cowboy comes strolling through the masses…the real deal; not a pretend cowboy…because his boots are worn and dusty, his pants rumpled and stained, his leathery, cracked skin betrays years of outdoors…and in his hand he carefully cradles a small but beautiful cake—perhaps on his way to a grand-daughter’s birthday or first communion. Three businessmen in their business suits laugh loudly together, slapping each other the back…saying their good-byes as they head for different buses, headed back to their home cities. An indigenous woman passes by, and the look on her face is fierce, defiant…perhaps for all the insults and discriminations suffered in the streets day after day.

The older couple walking past, hand-in-hand, are tourists…Mexican tourists seeing their country by bus, perhaps visiting family in various cities; they walk as if there is not a care in the world. A man in his mid-40’s (looks like he’s 60 already) comes to me and asks for help getting home—he was living in Laredo, Texas, but the ‘migras’ caught him and deported him, and now he wants to go home to San Luis Potosi. I give him some money and wish God’s blessing on him as he journeys. A young lady—18? 20?—sits nearby; she is dressed in “la moda” (she is ‘in style’!)…has her make-up just so…carries a new ‘smart phone’…but the look on her face belies misery, emptiness, sadness.

After I eat, I move to the waiting area where rows of chair back up to and face each other. A man sits there across from me, maybe 34-years-old? He looks worried…his suitcase has a wheel broken off. His guitar case stands in front of him. In his lap, a boy—perhaps 4-years-old?—lies in a deep sleep, sweat running off his forehead. Over the scratchy intercom/sound system, I hear “Stranger in the Night,” instrumental, saxophone…so soothing, so amazingly out of place.

In the bus station I see “life”…life as it really is—the happy and the sad, the light and the heavy, the plenty and poverty, love and love-lost. The smells of the taco stands, the exhausts of the too many cars in a too big city hang in the air, and odors of bathed, perfumed and unbathed all mingle and merge in one place…and as I sit surrounded by this writhing sea of humanity, breathing the same air with them, I feel more alive than I have in a long, long time. Yes, give me a bus station, right here on tierra firme, anytime…over an airport.

El Central de Autobuses is become a microcosm of Monterrey, perhaps of Mexico. As I sit I realize that God has created and even now loves all of these people. And, I realize that many, all too many of this tapestry of people don’t even realize these two truths. I am reminded that we as God’s ambassadors must wade into the smelly, mixed-up, damaged, angry, hurt and wondering lives with Good News that can be an eternal ‘tipping point’ for these loved people.

I smile tentatively at the fellow with the child asleep in his arms and ask him how old his son is….

Jon, May 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012


The morning sun rises to greet the new day.  Gentle winds blow in off the Gulf.  Birds sing, celebrating the new day and joy of life.  All of these work together on my mind and my soul to bring waves of peace and contentment washing over me.  I am so amazingly blessed in this life, yet I have neglected of late to give thanks, to say how grateful I am for all that God gives me.

Thank you, God, for my very life ~ that I may know and experience You and Your Creation;
for my wife ~ my very best friend who is always beside me;
for my children, who bring me so much joy and fill me with hope;
for our home ~ a place of love, laughter and escape;
for work that both allows me to live out my strengths and gifts and challenges me and grows me;
...and for all the other elements of life that You provide through love and livelihood ~ friends, neighbors, co-workers, a car, clothes, maple syrup, education, computers, coffee, cell phone, fans, running water, paper and pen...and every other thing that brings joy to life. 
May my first glimpse of the sun each day remind me to give thanks to You for all the blessings I have received.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Newsletter - March 2012


Dear Family and Friends,
          Yes, it has certainly been too long since we’ve written.  Some of you may have already consigned us to your “Where are they now?” list.  Fair enough.  But, we are still HERE and life goes on.  And, now it’s time to catch you all up on our lives….
         Jon continues to teach at South Texas College—the job that God so graciously provided AFTER we had moved here and settled into life.  He has about 60 students in his various classes…and he so enjoys teaching them college writing.  Of course, he weaves in his own life experiences…and remains ever open to any conversations that students are willing to have (see the latest blog: 

          Besides teaching at the college, ministry and service continues in Monterrey.  The John Wesley Seminary basically maintains an open invitation for whenever Jon can be with them, and the Methodist school/Teachers' College (El Instituto Laurens - LEB) is happy whenever we can both be with them.  Just recently, we received an invitation to spend a weekend at the teachers’ college to help train public, bilingual science teachers.  Now, we're not science teachers, but the director of the program wants us to talk about methods for teaching the English components of a science course.  Okay…we’ll give it a try!! Ha,ha…  Then, Jon was also asked to come a give a presentation at the 15th Annual Education Seminar sponsored by our Methodist school in Monterrey.  This year, the seminar will take place on the campus of the huge public university—la Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León (UANL).

         Jeanne has continued to press on at the home-front making sure that this first year of transition goes well for all of us.  The home is set up now--for the most part--and we are all settling into our lives here.  Until Megan got her license in January, Jeanne was the principal taxi-driver.  Jeanne has been very active in the PSTO (parent, student, teacher organization) at Andrew’s school, and she has been scouring the internet for scholarship opportunities for our children as they attend or move towards college.  And, she manages to keep us so very well fed—not “fat and happy,” but “fed and happy.”  After this summer, Jeanne hopes to find either a full-time or a part-time job—please pray that God reveals the right kind of work and then opens the door for it all to happen!
         Jesse is in Austin, Texas, and will begin her junior year this Fall at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.  She is very excited about this move.  She will be taking a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish with teacher certification in both areas!  The girl aims high...and she has every reason to!  And--selfishly--we are so happy that Jesse can come home every so often for a take a break from school and work.
         Megan is a dual-enrollment student this last year of high school, attending the college where Jon teaches.  She is doing very well in her studies as she takes her first steps towards the RN program.  In fact, she has done so well that she was inducted last week into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society!  Go, Megan!  Besides her studies, she is very active in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship…and even went with ICF on a mission trip to the Yucatan (Mexico) for Spring Break.
         Andrew is doing very well in his first year of American high school.  As of the writing of this letter, he has all A’s!  He is involved in the drama program at the school, and plays the drums in a little band some friends and he have put together.  Andrew is still adjusting to life here.  He still misses his friends in Monterrey, but he and his sister have been able to visit Monterrey by bus…so they get to see old friends every now and then.  Meanwhile, Andrew forms new friendships here…and he seems genuinely happy with life.

          Well, there you have it!  Life is good.  We are finding our way in this new world…and God remains both good and faithful.  We're going to close this letter with the closing paragraph of Jon’s report to the Annual Conference:
  “The first few months back in the US were a time of real soul-searching as I tried to figure out who I was and what I was to do.  I was patient and God is faithful:  for now, it seems that I am to be a local teacher (with amazing opportunities to share my life with the 97% Latino student population) and a missioner to Mexico.  This life and work does not fit the neat holes of conference forms...but when has God limited God's self to our forms?  I thank God for experiences past...and look forward to what God will have for me, for us--my wife and myself--in the days and years to come.”

Thank you all for your prayers and friendship through the years--we would love to hear from you when you get a chance.
May God’s Grace and Peace be yours!
Jon and Jeanne
     Jesse, Megan and Andrew