Recently, it has become hard to ignore the unusual level of darkness and evil at work in the world. Wherever we turn we see it. For Christians that know and read their Bibles this should come as no surprise though it is still horrific to witness what is being done to people and many times our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
To compound this, the affect of the violence has been disheartening to watch as well. While some have actually joined the violence and seized the moment for themselves, exploiting others or surrendering voluntarily to the influence of the wicked. Others have chosen to remain ignorant, oblivious and unaware in effort to preserve their lives the way they like them for as long as possible. Both responses are tragic although there is another that I fear even more.
In reference to the last days, Jesus once said in Matthew 24:12, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold“. Now I’m no expert on end-times theology, neither do I pretend to be but I do know this: Every day brings us closer to our Lord’s imminent return and the world will get worse before it gets better (Matt. 24:8, Mark 13:8). I believe Jesus tells us here just how easily that can happen–The love of most will grow cold!
I am writing this to encourage my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Christianity is no stranger to violence and persecution; in fact you might say that it’s our native soil. History has proven that Christianity has not only survived persecution but most often it has flourished and spread even more as a result of it. I want to point us back to a right response to the recent events of our world because I believe we need to be together on this and stay with the scriptures. Paul writes in Romans 12:21“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Friends THIS IS OUR RESPONSE. This is our battle plan. We are not doormats that must passively accept whatever the world gives us as if we have no options or no power. Neither are we scared and hiding and hoping to not be found out as Christ followers. We are bold with love for Christ and that is a very active thing. This is our response. Love is precisely the one thing we cannot afford to let grow cold right now and we keep it warm with use, as pumping blood through the veins keeps the body warm. My friends, I do not want to scare anyone with my directness but these recent events do not make me less firm in my convictions, in fact they do the opposite. I hope they do the same in you and in the depth of your conviction and the firmness of your faith you respond with bold love. Love people actively. Love with the Truth of God’s Word and love with the Gospel message. And just like Jesus, may the power of your words of truth coupled with your actions of love be a light for others in these darkening times. Stay close together. Stay close to Christ and let us love more boldly than ever.
“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
A week ago my boys had the day off of school because there was no electricity. This is equal to a “snow day” for them here in Panama and of course they were not too bummed about it. We don’t live far from the ocean now so for fun we took them to a place where Rio Chame and the Pacific come together to explore (Pic. Above). It’s an unusual spot with lots of sandbars, dunes and pools of fish. While we were hiking we came upon something strange.
Lying high on one sandbar was a dead white goat with no head. The body had not been there more than a day and it was clear that no animals had yet touched it. Stranger still however, was that there were no marks at all on this goat. In fact in addition to no head, there was no blood anywhere around it and no footprints either. We hurried the boys passed to continue exploring but I couldn’t get that curious sight out of my head. What was a goat doing on the beach? Where was its head? Why were there no other marks at all around? I knew we were new here in Panama but something didn’t add up.
After researching at home, I came up with a theory. Evidently, similar headless goat scenes (and other animals) have been found before, South Florida is one example. Many times these have had a connection to the religious group known as “Santería” where goats, chickens and other animals are used as sacrifices for purification or spells. I had never heard of them before so I started looking into it. From what I’ve read, Santería is probably best described as a form of Voodoo, cloaked in the terminology and worship of the Catholic Saints. It’s a syncretistic religion with roots to Africa. The history of which can be traced through the slaves that were brought to the Caribbean from Africa years ago but since that time has merged in a way with the Roman Catholicism. I learned it’s not only present here in Panama but it is likely growing! I believe the combination of worshipping the Saints and the widespread Biblical illiteracy here in Panama make this country fertile soil for Santería and cults like it to take root and grow. Just like Hosea 4:6 says, “…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge”.
My concrete confirmation came two nights ago when a man named Felix came to our gate at 11PM asking for shoes. We’re usually careful about handouts from our house but this seemed different. I ended up giving him shoes and also a Bible and we talked for a long time about Christ. As we talked he told me that he had been part of the Santería cult though he no longer was. He was grateful for the Bible. He had never had his own before and asked me where to start reading. I told him John and I believe we will meet again. Please pray for the chance to minister further to Felix but even more pray for the Lord to push back the darkness of false religion with the light of His Word here in Panama. Please pray for our boldness with the Gospel and the fortifying of Christ’s Church to really make disciples for Christ here in this country. And may we all find the darkness and take the light to it!
Well we’ve been here 1 month today. Great! …only 5 more to go before the cycle of “culture shock” gets to the worst part. Right now is supposed to be the “honey moon phase”, though I gotta tell you, if this was my real honey moon, I would have concerns about the marriage. Sure we have enjoyed parts of finally being here in Panama, but we have already had moments where my wife and I have both thought, “Oh no. What have we done!” Prior to this year we had spent a year in Costa Rica to learn Spanish and if you know us, your probably already knew that. That year was vital to our survival here in Panama, because even though we speak on the level of a 1st grader right now, it puts us leaps and bounds ahead with
people around here and of course it affords us more independence as we do life and ministry.
This year will surely be a year of growth, investigation and strategizing. A time for prayer, and listening both to God and to people. We have to perfect the art of question asking as we lay the track for our team coming behind us. We know that we have come to build up the church here in Panama. We know that we want to see the multiplication of healthy, biblical churches that transform people in Panama, one life, one family and one community at a time into who Christ wants them to be. However before we can really succeed we must find out what the people here are thinking, feeling and believing. This is where we get to wear our anthropologist hats and yet assess through the lense of scripture. A great example of what I am
talking about is Paul in Athens. (See Acts 17:16-34). A key verse to note is Acts 7:23, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” This is the careful assessment that I am referring to. I heard a wise man say once that missionaries and pastors must always be students of the “Text” and the “Context”. He was referring to the Bible and those we mean to share its’ truth with and though the balance is hard one to maintain; it is critical to strive for continually. He likened it to a bridge that had to be firmly anchored on both sides to serve its purpose well.
On the home front, we are stressed. I’d like to sound “victorious” but i’m just keeping it real. Please keep us in prayer. I don’t mean to sound alarming or even as if I am complaining. We knew this was part of the process going in, though it doesn’t make navigating the challenges that much easier. We keep wanting stability for our family and yet life only assures us of more change. Please pray for Ethan, Ezra and Eli as they will be starting school this Monday. It is an international school but it is Spanish speaking. This seems like a great school but this will be an adjustment for them from their school in Costa Rica. Please keep them in Prayer for their learning and friendships to go well.
Bianca is amazing. I am undeserving of this women. And no, I am not being humble. Those of you who know us can attest. Over and over again she has displayed a remarkable resolve that quite frankly has me in awe much of the time. Not many women could do what she does and make it all look so easy. She does it and adds even her touch of style and grace to make it complete. We have moved more times than I can count. In fact now we have a 3 year Christmas tradition going of moving to new countries. (I’m eager to break that tradition!) I think we have lived in every kind of house except maybe a teepee or a yurt and yet she finds a way to make anything feel like home. The girl who could win beauty pageants can also
crush cockroaches with her flip flop and thinks geckos inside her house are “cute”. What a women! I thank Jesus for her. If you could solicit prayer for her, I think she would also ask for a feeling of peace from the Lord for a place to stay for a while. However that is accomplished. We don’t want to leave the area of Panama that we are in and change the school the boys are going to attend this year but the house we are in is also for sale and therefore we can’t get too comfortable. Pray for us to find a place to stay for at least a few years, if the Lord would permit it.
For me, I am thinking about lots of stuff. The Lord, life, family, ministry, my team, tools and finances. We miss our family, friends and partners in the U.S. and think of them often. The holidays have made that feeling even more acute for me. If you would pray for me, please pray about my heart being nearer to Christ than ever before. Pray for me to hear his voice as clearly as crystal as we take our first steps here in Panama. We need wisdom with commitments and partnerships. We need His provision for the 2nd van. We are hoping for a 15 Passenger – Toyota Hiace which used would be about $23,000 and at present, we still need at least $13,500 to buy it. This tool would certainly allow us to be able to do more but we are dependent on the Lord’s timing for all these things and everything else. Most of all, I think I need patience, trust and not to fear. I don’t know what will happen in the future and everyday I think about that. Though the possibility of all that could
happen for the glory of God keeps me moving forward. I think often of the phrase “perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf” from the mouth of Jonathan in 1 Sam. 14:6. Its that possibility that I hope in. God is so good and we walk forward into unknown future by remembering what He has made known to us of himself in the past.
Well hopefully this has been a helpful update for all of those “Following the Fowler’s”! I can tell you with confidence that we are so thankful for each person standing beside us. There is a feeling like I cannot explain when you are far from home in a foreign country and often alone, yet sure that people are remembering your family before the Lord and interceding for you routinely. We are part of you and part of your churches and we know it and feel it. We love you and praise the Lord for you and hope to connect with as many of you as possible in the days ahead since we are now finally here in Panama.
If you desire to connect with us our new information is below:
I’m sitting here wishing I could write something that would make people see and feel what I do right now. So much of the journey with my family over the last six years has been spent anticipating. Although, right now as I sit in the Tocumen Airport outside of Panama City, Panama, waiting for my flight to take me back to my family in Costa Rica, I am realizing that the next time I will be here, it will be my home. In just a few days (14 to be exact), we will finally be here in this country, to live and minister.
As I drove around these last few days between appointments and the Panama Pastors Conference, I saw this place differently. I wondered where my kids might play; where I might take walks with Bianca, where we would shop for groceries and even where I would meet people and what their stories might be. I realized more deeply than ever that we are not coming for any other reason beside the fact that the Lord wants us here. He has been preparing us for this moment and he doesn’t waste a single thing. The good, the bad, the enjoyable and the downright horrible and painful are all valuable material to God when it comes to developing us. And however much of each we have received, I know there is more than a healthy dose of all of it waiting for us here in Panama.
Our dreams and fears are right in our face right now. I think of all the optimistic hopes I have for starting churches and working with leaders to strengthen believers that will no doubt be met with tons of challenges and disappointments in the days ahead. I think of all the things that my kids will not get to have or experience because of not living where I grew up in the USA. I think of how hard it could be to watch them struggle making friends here while they labor to learn a second language. I often I wonder if they will see it all as a price they had to pay for there parents decision. I wonder about health issues and security for our home and how we will get help from police that are often corrupt and unmotivated. It really sounds easier sometimes to just stop here and pat ourselves on the back and for having come this far.
BUT. And that’s a BIG BUT… Then I remember why we are doing all of this. Its not because we have been promised we would achieve all our missionary dreams – because God never guaranteed us that; its not because we want to be seen in a certain light by other Christians who admire the notion of being a missionary. As strange as it sounds, it is not even because “the need” is so great. The real reason is that we believe the Lord wants us here-nothing else. We believe and know that he wants us here in Panama to serve Him and build up his church (Capital “C”) and to do anything else would be disobedience. I don’t write this to draw attention to us but actually I want to encourage anyone reading this. Whatever God has told you to do, do it; even if you have to do it scared. Start the habit of saying “Yes” to God and watch what He will do with it. You will find yourself places you never would have guessed you would be and you’ll be wondering, “How did I get here? …And What does God going to do next?” But it’s a grand adventure to be sure and it’s only beginning!
Lastly, I want to acknowledge those who have stood by our side and supported us through all of this. You have blessed us countless ways and your investment has really been with the mindset of blessing the Kingdom of God. We look forward to reporting to you all that the Lord will do with your decisions and prayers in the days ahead. I will end with our current top 3 prayers.
Dios Les Bendiga!!! (God Bless You All)
IN HIS Service,
Here are some things you can pray for us if you like:
1. The details and emotions of our family’s transition to Panama on Dec. 10, 2014. It has been hard for our boys to leave again and think of making friends all over. Pray that they see it as a sacrifice to the Lord.
2. Needed Vehicle Fund. We’re praying for $30,000 for 1 large van or 2 medium ones if possible. At present we have received $1000 and we are hoping to get at least one van for when we arrive. Pray for the Lord’s provision.
3. An ever-deepening Love for God and his people and Wisdom beyond our years. In the midst of all the changes our first love must be our constant anchor. Please pray for our walk(s) with Christ as we move forward and minister out of His love through us.
So I’ll start by stating the obvious…it’s been a while! We have been driving hard at learning Spanish for almost a year now! Costa Rica has been good. This year has been full of the joys and stresses of learning a new culture as well as a new language with all of us being in school full time. It has been intense and we have learned a ton, but as with many things the more you learn the more you realize you still have yet to learn. We are by no means “fluent” after a year of study, but we are able to understand and be understood! We have come a long way from the “Sesame Street” Spanish that we came in with.
But now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel! To be honest, with our move to Panama on the horizon, we have a bad case of “senioritis”. We are so excited about what is to come! God has been moving and we are amazed by His provision over and over again. This past week we went to Panama to look for a place to live and to explore a new school for the boys. We are so grateful to have been able to come back having found both a house to live in and the school that the boys will most likely be attending.
We don’t know all that the Lord has planned for us in Panama, but we are so excited to be moving forward, listening, praying and walking by faith in The One who holds the plans for our future! (Jeremiah 29:11)
Please pray for us as we finish up our time here at school and continue to work out all of the details of our move to Panama.
Many times my kids teach me about my relationship with God and I am sure I am not alone. Oh and yes this might be one of those sappy Dad stories so Reader Beware. Anyway, the other day we picked Eli our youngest son up from Preschool and he was visibly upset. It took him a a few minutes before he could tell us what was wrong but finally he told us that he had lost his new toy (a little plastic dragon). I asked him what happened and he hesitated again and almost didn’t tell me again. Finally he walked me over to a corner of the building to a hole by a drain pipe. He pointed down and said I put it in there! When I bent down and picked up the heavy cement block covering the hole we saw that the dragon was just underneath and really hadn’t gone anywhere. He reached down and snatched it up and his whole attitude immediately changed. He took off with his toy in hand as if he had won a new prize. And then it hit me…
How often do I hesitate to tell my Heavenly Father my problems big or small. Perhaps I am too angry that I have them or I don’t think he can really do anything about them or he won’t want to but even as I write that out I can’t believe those things to be true. God’s Word tells me otherwise. God loves me and God is all powerful and God commands me to pray to Him and he wants to hear all that I will tell him. So why don’t I do it? In truth all of the problems that seem insurmountable to me are as easy to him as just bending down and moving a stone. In fact the solution to my biggest problem problem – My Sin- was uncovered when he moved a stone as well. I am so thankful that I have a loving Heavenly Father who wants me to bring my problems to Him. Pray.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
I know she is going to kill me when she sees this post BUT…I had to do it. You know how it is when you finally win one after several attempts. Thanks for letting me finally score higher than you on a Spanish test Honey!!!!
(And yes a little competitive spirit lives in our marriage!) (:
…The truth is that Bianca has actually been smoking me on these language exams and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is working hard on learning a new language at school while still doing the normal Mom stuff to keep daily life moving on the home front, helping with the Chapel services at school, and of course being my wife…which takes a little extra grace from God (or so I am told). I am so blessed to have a wife like her AND I KNOW IT. Keeping rocking your Español Babe, and thanks for letting me get my first higher score. It helps my confidence. (:
This morning we left together for school at the Spanish Language Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was Eli’s first day of any school and for all of us it was the first time we all have attended school as a family. Bianca and I go to the adult classes on one side of the campus and the boys go to the Children’s classes on the other side. The school is known as “ILE” around here (Pronounced: Eeee-lay”) and it has been around for over 70 years. This trimester there are 55 new adult students and most of them are missionaries planning to serve all over Latin America. In fact this school has Missionary DNA all through it! It was founded by missionaries for missionaries though it serves a lot of different kinds of people in a lot of ways around San Jose. It is such a blessing to be able to study Spanish here for the next year while also knowing our boys are being trained by such caring and capable people as well! The next stop is Panama and we are praying that we all get a strong foundation before we get there!
How much can happen in a week? It’s more like, how much MORE can happen in a week? A different home, a different car, a different pet and a whole lot more that I don’t have space to list. Last Saturday (Nov. 30, 2013) we moved to Costa Rica after 15 months of raising our support and 4 years of seminary before that. We’ve been talking and praying about ministry as missionaries for over 6 years and the step of crossing cultures has finally begun – Praise the Lord!
When we walked out of the airport that afternoon, ReachGlobal Missionaries from the San Jose team greeted us warmly and introduced our boys to their new puppy! We could’ve landed on the moon after that and the boys wouldn’t have even noticed. All they could see was their new puppy! We named him “Benny”; which is short for “bendicione”, and means “blessing” in Spanish –a theme that I would say clearly summarizes this transition. Our first stop was our new home, where we met our landlord from Germany and some of our new Costa Rican neighbors. The whole experience was so surreal. It felt and still feels a lot like going down the white rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland which other missionaries would readily empathize with. Several times so far we have said that it feels as if we are living someone else’s life – though we are thankful and excited for every bit of it.
Practically speaking, most of our week has just been about trying to get our furniture and utilities set up. We have even had a little time to eat meals with other missionaries and do some exploring of the area. We purchased a used car from some missionaries that were leaving Costa Rica before we came and that has helped tremendously. They were actually the previous tenants in the place where we now live and have been one of the many blessings God gave us that we didn’t even know enough to ask for. Over and over again we have thought of how God has cared for his people in the past. Echoing in our minds has been:
Isaiah 52:12 …“But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
Overall we have felt like we have seen the hand of the Lord going before us and coming behind us daily – preparing and protecting. In a new world where you don’t know the dangers or delights you learn pretty quickly to lean on the Lord for all that you know and don’t know. He’s teaching us so much about how faithful He was, is and will be again. Especially as we pursue our new challenges; the biggest of which being mastering the language of Spanish during our year here in Costa Rica. After that we will trust Him for the move to Panama and our work there. In the end we know that He is trustworthy because of who He is, was and will always be. God is the same God today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. We praise Him for whom He is, what He has done and even how He has chosen to do it and that’s where many of you come in because you are part of this too!
God has chosen to do so much of this through His people and we’re aware that we wouldn’t be here without God’s people believing enough to get behind us. I’ve heard it said, “It takes a village to raise a child”. I’d like to add that it takes more than that to raise a missionary family. In our case, it has taken 8 churches and over 100 households to be precise. Surely God could have done it with far less if He had wanted it that way which only leads me to conclude that He wanted particular people connected to this particular work for His particular purposes. That gives us great joy to know that God is so sovereignly working in all of our lives that way every day even when we can’t see or detect it. Thank You Lord for EVERYTHING!!!