Inspired to Serve the Lord Around the World

It’s hard to put a finger on any one thing that has inspired me to all but give up comfy fun vacations & go to dirty poverty stricken lands to walk in sewage and play with lice covered children. But here’s a few things that have moved me:

• Obviously Christ Himself. Our King, our Almighty God came down from His ruling throne to live among us as a carpenter, a “nobody” and then sacrifice Himself to bring us back into relationship with Him. Everything about the Gospel inclines me to keep letting go of self gratification and make sure everyone has had a chance to know Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” ~Rom. 10:14. Also if a verse like “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” ~James 1:27 doesn’t move you then you either don’t have the Spirit in you or you haven’t read it. Then there’s of course “The Great Commission” “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” ~ Matt. 28:19.

• One time my friend Arianna [Orr] Krause showed up to my birthday party and gave me “Revolution in World Missions” by K.P. Yohannan. It’s funny because I don’t believe she had read it, but it was one of the most moving books I have ever read. (Interestingly enough it’s really about supporting native missionaries but that’s another topic!) K.P. is so Gospel motivated that he gives his book away for free! Get it here!
Also that book led to my discovery of Gospel for Asia. Founded by K.P. Yohannan, this ministry supports native missionaries mostly in India, but really all over Asia. They also run child sponsorships through their Bridge of Hope.

• Another book that rocked my world was Brucko by Bruce Olsen. An amazing story of true adventure. This book inspired me to reach the farthest corners of the earth with the Gospel. This story will amaze you & grab your heart.

Compassion International. Of all the child sponsorship charities out there, Compassion is at the top of my list because they are first concerned with teaching the kids about Jesus and then helping them out of poverty. Watch their film on ending poverty!

World Vision. Their work around the world has helped people with everything from disaster relief to clean water.

Blood:Water Mission. Started by the band Jars of Clay, these guys really helping villages throughout Africa by building wells, bio-sand filters and more!

Light Gives Heat. Mission: Empowering Africans through the encouragement of economic sustainability and creative endeavors. Motivating people in the west to “be the change they want to see in the world.” Vision: To See Africa rebuilt and renewed from the inside out and to see people in the West living with Hope! Also their documentary film “Moving On”.

• International Justice Mission. They mainly deal with prosecuting criminals who have enslaved people either in child slavery or sex slavery.
….more to come!




Roofs Over Their Heads – Ensenada, Mexico 2007

Homes of Hope, YWAM Baja

A sketch I did from one of Megan [Kenagy] Ralston's photos.
A sketch I did from one of Megan [Kenagy] Ralston’s photos.

A soft chilly breeze prompted me to keep moving; even though my bloated duffel bag was already in the luggage compartment of one of the two charter buses parked in front of Canyon View Vineyard Church at about 6:30 am on March 10, 2007.

The charter buses at the first rest stop on I70. Photo by Josh Norton.

In the previous planning meetings for the trip on which I was about to embark, I learned there were nearly 100 people going and now I watched them arrive and start to realize there wasn’t room on the bus for that much luggage. I had often wondered about the logistics of this many people, ranging from about 6 years old to probably over 50, traveling together.
Tim Nutting, the man heading up the project, was just over 30 years old yet had the details pinned down. He had already divided the group into four teams, team number 4 being headed up by the churche’s Young Adult Coordinator, Nate Ralston. When it was discovered that we would need one of the church’s 15 passenger vans for extra luggage space, Nate was called on to drive. He immediately elected me as his co-pilot because I had previously been approved to drive the church vans.


As I continue writing about this five years later, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot. What I remember most about the drive down was Nate & I listening to Rob Bell and discussing what we thought and then stopping in St. George, Utah. It wasn’t my first time in St. George, but a quick stop at Wal Mart & seeing the Morman merchandise got us to discussing Mormanism for much of trip after that.

When we got near the border in southern California we had to get all 90 something people off the charter buses and into nine 15 passenger vans. Then it was time to cross the border into Tijuana. I remember the first thing we saw was the giant guarded border fence and a little further down the highway was the giant Jesus statue much like the “Chris the Redeemer” of Rio De Jeniro only way smaller.

Christ the Redeemer of the Baja. Photo by Rich Tift.

Some of the other first things I noticed had to do with what seemed to be the contradictions of small bits of affluence in this third world country where we expected nothing but poverty. When we got down to Ensenada we found out there was a shopping center with a Burger King, Home Depot, Costco and Wl Mart!

I was shocked to see an H3 in such a poverty stricken country.
Horses “parked” at wall near the road.

Finally we showed up at the Youth With a Mission base near the beach in Ensenada. As we got out & stretched & began unpacking, I remember being a little afraid of what our living conditions would be like this next week. My first impression was that this place was just very dirty.

Youth With A Mission Baja Base. Photo by Josh Norton.
Everything around the YWAM Base was covered in dust.

The place wasn’t bad & don’t remember having any problem sleeping.

The first day our group was split into 4 teams. My team visited an orphanage that first day. This was my firs taste of seeing what real poverty is. I wasn’t so much struck by the crappy roads & trash everywhere (you see that in bad parts of just about any city in the US). What hit me was the “houses” – little more than scraps of wood tied or nailed together with tarps covering any holes in the roofs. And then there were children everywhere in the streets, barefoot and playing in what we would call the dump.

Children of the Ensenada Slum. Photo by Josh Norton
Children of the Ensenada Slum. Photo by Josh Norton

I noticed immediately something about the children that was different from kids you might see out playing the US. They seemed to have a certain naive or innocent niceness about them. They would flash a huge smile and wave at us strangers.

Inside the gates of the orphanage our team offered the staff any help they needed. Some of the women in our group went into the nursery and held babies. Many of us went out to the playground and just had fun with the kids. The first thing we noticed about the playground is that it was practically *in* the dump that ran the ravine next to the orphanage. We got to work picking out and burning as much garbage as we could. Then a couple of us guys noticed the plastic slide in the playground was broken. We didn’t have any tools but decided that we could probably fix it by piling sand up behind it.

A few of us guys on the team noticed the slide was broken & did what we could to fix it.
A few of us guys on the team noticed the slide was broken & did what we could to fix it. Photo by Lucee [Tangwall] Church
After that we had a good time just playing with the orphan kids.

I asked this little guy "Como se llama?" and he said "Hernando" rolling his "R" perfectly.
I asked this little guy “Como se llama?” and he said “Hernando” rolling his “R” perfectly. Photo by Janelle Keisling

When we were all done at the orphanage we got to go site seeing in the afternoon. We were taken to La  Bufadora which is  a place where the tides from the ocean smash into a certain place in a rocky cliff causing the water to spout straight up into the air.

Getting soaked at La Bufadora.
Getting soaked at La Bufadora. Picture by Lucee [Tangwall] Church
Me, Cesar (one of our translators) and Nate help each other after a a day of souvenir shopping.
Me, Cesar (one of our translators) and Nate help each other after a a day of souvenir shopping. Photo Meagan [Kenagy] Ralston
….to be continued!

“On a Mission from God” [Intro] 10-8-12

I sat restlessly next to my brother on a wooden pew doodling and hoping we would soon be freed from this stuffy prison called Baptist Church. Even if you didn’t grow up in a stuffy Baptist church, you know what I’m talking about because you’ve seen it portrayed in movies. This day was even more boring, as an elderly missionary couple was clicking through a slideshow of their life’s work as missionaries in Africa. What little I heard not only bored me but planted a tiny seed of fear in me; fear that what they were doing was the most Christian thing anyone could do and maybe God wanted me to go to Africa someday.

Over the years of growing up in church I was relieved time and time again when the pastors & youth group leaders would say “You don’t have to go to Africa to serve God. We need to be sharing the Gospel right here at home!” (They always used Africa in their example because it’s perceived as the most distant and poverty stricken continent). I’ve told myself over and over “God gave me talents as an artist, that’s what I’ll always do for Him”. For the most part I really never thought much about missionaries or their work.

My First Mission Trip

In high school our youth pastor organized a week long trip to Piedres Negras in Mexico (a border city that becomes Eagle Pass, Texas). I can’t even remember what made me want to go, but it was probably because “everyone else” was going. I say that because I have no recollection of having a heart for Mexicans as being my driving force. What I remember of the trip has a lot more to do with the long drive from Craig, Colorado, to Denver and then straight south all the way through Texas. I vaguely remember doing “Vacation Bible School” with kids in a backyard and vividly remember the girl in our group I had a crush on and thinking about her the whole trip. I remember one of our youth leaders being terrified of border patrol and possibly getting stuck in Mexico with a bunch of high schoolers.  I remember feeling like we didn’t accomplish much on the trip.

Missions in College

In college I was involved in a group at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) called Master Plan Ministries. The leaders, Kyle and Mich Kostreva began, my sophomore year, taking students to Lake Havasu, Arizona to try and share Jesus with partying college students on Spring Break. I went on this trip two years in a row and the trips are what we like to call in the church “suffering for Jesus” trips, tongue in cheek. It’s a trip where go to a beautiful beach & ride in boats, play music and camp out with the intention of starting conversations with the partying college students. It’s one of the most awkward ways to “witness” but I hope at least a few student’s lives were changed because of our nerdy Frisbees with Ephesians 2:8 & 9 on them.

Dreams of Seeing the World

At some time in our lives I imagine all of us start to dream of “seeing the world” regardless of why or having some purpose behind it. I think I was somewhat late on thinking about that kind of thing. In your single and college years there are many opportunities to travel whether it’s studying abroad, Greenpeace or doing the “backpacking through Europe” thing. I think, through most of college and a few years after, I just didn’t see myself as a traveler (mainly because of the cost!)

Things began to change when my girlfriend in college talked about a three month trip she took to Kenya. She described the sunsets as the largest and most beautiful she’d ever seen. Her bedroom was decorated in an African theme with leopard print and various souvenirs she’d brought back including a Masai spear. She showed me pictures and talked about this “alien world” with such passion and longing. She told me of the host family, a safari and the people. She yearned to one day return. Something in me began to be really curious about Africa and start to see missionaries as these humble unsung heroes out there helping people and spreading the Gospel. And what was I doing? Well…going to college…but nothing really.

All of this sort of settled in the back of my head for years and over time, I would hear things here & there about short term missions. I heard about Paz Japan and thought about how much I loved Japanese culture. I heard a friend telling me she was determined to go on a mission to Africa. I would think things like “One day I will do that” but money was always holding me back. Honestly I was also afraid of going so far away for so long. After one friend went on a six month trip to New Zealand with YWAM and she was “back before we knew it” I started to think, ‘if I’d just go, I’d be back before I knew it!’. Another girl went to Japan for an entire year and I couldn’t believe how fast it went!

Break My Heart for What Breaks Yours

During these years God was (and still is) at work on my heart. He was teaching me to start thinking of others more and less of myself. He began giving me compassion for the sick & poor around the world. Compassion International and World Vision videos would make me cry and I had to ask myself ‘If you’re this moved by this, when are you going to do something about it?’. God was also teaching me to be more generous. Once He changed my mindset, I began to see that I enough money for some short term trips.

I started to hear about a yearly trip led by Tim Nutting at Canyon View Vineyard Church. It was called “Homes of Hope” in conjunction with YWAM. I finally went to one of the informational meetings in late 2006 in which Tim told us the cost (at the time) was only $500 for a week down to Ensenada, Mexico. We would travel down, build a house and even have a day to be tourists before traveling back home. This was it! I was going to jump in and do it! I had vacation time and could let go of $500 for this! I was going to Mexico!

And So the Adventure Begins!

This category of my blog is devoted to all the amazing adventures God has led me on in short term missions and I plan to write highlights from each trip in following blog posts. After that first trip I realized that I could easily combine a desire to see the world on my vacations with God’s call to go & make disciples and to look after widows and orphans. Maybe even every year!  I knew my trips wouldn’t be relaxing vacations and some people told me that’s no way to relax. But my heart and perspective has been changed and I now I see this as the least I can do. I have so many friends and know so many people who have gone for months at time and done so much more than I will ever do…it always makes me feel stupid for talking about anything I’ve done.  And the true heroes to me are those who have given their entire lives to leave the USA and live in strange cultures just because they want people to know Jesus! The greatest examples of this I have seen so far is the Hubers with Paz Japan! (which was birthed out of Project AmaZon) Their lives and stories dwarf anything I could ever possibly do!

Alex, Kellen and I building trusses for a house in Ensenada, Mexico.

I’m writing this with no other hope than to inspire you! I hope that if it’s money holding you back, you’ll see how someone like me could fork over the cash (ask my friends how frugal I am!!), if it’s fear, I hope that you see the adventure in God’s plan to use you! If it’s time, I hope you can see that your vacations will be far more rewarding when you go to help people than if you go to eat lots of food & sit on a beach in the sun! I don’t mean to demean you if you’ve done or do that (I have too). You don’t have to use every vacation either and guess what! On many of these trips I’ve gotten to go to beaches and do fun things anyway!

So here goes. Your mission, should you choose to accept is…..

(start at 1:13)

Also check out this video edited by Megan Wood of our 2009 trip to Uganda (also footage from her 2010 trip) So inspiring!!