Saturday, August 4, 2018

Another Door Opens

So, most people have heard a saying that goes, "when one door closes, another door opens." It sounds so cliche, and almost rude if someone were to say it to your face while in the midst of what feels like a door being closed. BUT, my heart is so full of gratitude and touched by the sweetness of the truth I see in that simple statement when I, after asking questions and struggling with the unknowns of life,  am able to walk through that open door and trust that God is always steps ahead of us, providing a way.

In January, our family was in MN visiting family and supporters, and making plans to begin a big project for our ministry. We were hoping to create an apartment in the upstairs of the new ministry building, in order to move out of our apartment across town, and move on-site... and prepare to take on new students, and open up the store shortly after... it was a big deal. We were already working from the building, as the students were doing some custom work for the owner, and he was pretty relaxed with just a verbal agreement as we were trying to raise funds etc. After some successful fundraising, we were hopeful we would be able to begin the project, starting with a bathroom and kitchen. When we arrived back to Mobay, Paul had a few other commitments already set, so we knew it wouldn't happen immediately.  However, upon reconnecting with the organization that had expressed a desire to partner with us and help with the fundraising for the program, specifically what would make renting the building possible, we learned they would not be able to partner with us after all... SO, this was a game-changer, we thought. We were not going to be able to move forward with a lease for the building without a big source of funding. We were at square 1. We informed the owner of the building. He was super nice, saying we could have some time to do more fundraising, but it felt pretty unrealistic. Not much later, he shared that there was another interested party offering him about 3 times more than we would be paying. He said he was still willing to honor our verbal agreement though, and not to worry about it. But we did worry. We didn't have the financial support at all, and he was being offered a lot of money. We didn't want to be in the way of him making a profitable deal if we wouldn't be able to get it to come together anyways. So we prayed about it and surrendered the whole vision to God. We told the owner to take the deal and we would move on.

So that brought us to a point of evaluation. We knew we felt called to be here. So we wanted to be able to let go of the "big plan" for the program and be content with a downsized vision, slower timeline to allow for growth etc. and really think about how our family could feel more settled in this country living as missionaries.

I felt the urge to just look online for rental properties that might give our family a little more space, and hopefully the option of having a dog, as the kids have so wanted a pet. Anyways, we came across a house that was listed for sale... and it looked so lovely, out in the country, but not too far away (actually in an area where we have built several homes and know many people in the community.) We decided to go look at it, thought it would be really great, and asked if they would be open to renting it to us. They said yes, and even offered us their 2 watchdogs as our foster pets. It was a big relief, and something we could feel excited about!

After we decided to go for the house and let our family try to feel more settled and content, the owner of the ministry building came back to us.  The other party was no longer interested after all, and we could have more time to campaign for program funding.

So that is where we are now, still wanting to do what we can in our power, but also surrendering it all to God, fully trusting that he has it all in his hands. We moved into the house 2 weeks ago. And it is so peaceful and refreshing. Paul and the students are actually still working from the building for now. And we will continue to pray for partners, for wisdom, and ultimately for God's will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We can feel disappointed, frustrated or confused at the way things move slowly or get messed up on earth. Sometimes, we can be pleasantly surprised. We can be completely unsure of how things might go in this life,  but we can also be confident that we have a father who cares for us and is in it with us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wave your Flag, God's Beauty Banner

Oh, sweet Jamaica, land of wood and water, you boast of your beauty: the palm trees, hills and the sea. One look at your landscape, and one cannot help but be love-struck. Yet I am perplexed by the paradox... Picturesque villas and resorts line prime beachfront property... People come for pampering, yet that postcard picture is just that: a snapshot of Beauty. Beauty lives as God's mark on the land, yet that picture doesn't tell the deep complexity that is Jamaica.  A history of people violated, systems failed or corrupted, and sadly the aftermath in which fatherlessness and poverty continue to hold people in bondage.


2.7 million people on a small island, smaller than Minnesota. 1 million are living at or below the poverty line. 1 million of anything is a big number in my mind. This is one million people. People who get hungry just like everyone else. People who get tired just like everyone else.  So, what does that look like?
Where in MN, the minimum wage is over $9 per hour, the Jamaican minimum wage is about $1.25 USD per hour. That is less than $4,000 USD per year for full-time work. And everything is more costly on the island than in the states. A regular gallon of milk costs $10. At nearly a day's wage, a gallon of milk is a luxury. A gallon of gas is $5, so transportation is a hurdle. For some, having to drive or get a cab from any distance to go to work will leave them with maybe just enough for an evening meal.

Where "private poverty" is defined as not having the means to live above a minimum standard, "public poverty" refers to whole communities lacking basic amenities and infrastructure like piped water, toilets, electricity, roads and sanitation. Everyday life filled with more work.  HARD work of getting water and fuel for cooking, solving the problems of eliminating waste, having to trek through the bush to get to the nearest road... to wherever you need that road to take you.

Dr. Alonzo Smith, of the American Counseling Association, recently shared at a Psychology conference at the Northern Caribbean University. He talked about "intergenerational poverty," which stems from a breakdown in family structure and lack of consistent education.    

It is estimated that 80% of children on the island are born out of wedlock. Most live in single female-headed homes without the presence of a father figure. Without the strong Dad hugs, the deep-voiced "I love yous" or whiskery kisses. Without the means Dad would have provided.  Without a partner for Mom, to share her work-load. 60% of kids between ages 9 – 17, have experienced a family member killed. Murder comes as the thief, stealing family members, breaking families, and sometimes snuffing one's will to keep going. So, it isn't a surprise that families find themselves unemployed and homeless. Children find themselves being raised by staff at children's homes.

Staring at my computer screen, numbers invade.
40-50% of kids from children's homes and foster care never graduate. 
66% of those who age out of the system are homeless, in prison or dead 1 year later. Can this be? My eyes are straining from reading. 
I close my eyes.
I don't need to see more numbers, or search out more statistics,  to believe in this phenomena; there is a multiplication of lack, a reproduction of empty and broken. Cycles spin, and the dizzy can't get off this ride. It holds hostage, until dizzy is normal. My heart tells me "open your eyes to see more than yourself."
All those numbers have names. Every name has a story. A real-life, heart-aching and trying-to-survive, trying-to-just-breathe story...  and maybe it's a "What-about-me-God?" story, until they stop talking to God altogether.

"O," who is now an apprentice in our New Life program, remembers he was a child when he heard the news of his dad getting killed. He was sent to live with his grandparents, as his mother grieved and struggled to get work and make money. He did eventually return to live with his mom and younger siblings in her little shack, but the house became completely infested with bugs. While he and his mother both tried to get work, he was limited by his lack of education or training.

Shortly after moving to Mobay, we met a young lady, "S,"  at church. We started inviting her to dinner with our family on Sundays. And over time we heard more of her story. She remembers as a small girl being left on a curb with her brother... LEFT ON A CURB to be found and picked up by anyone who wished. She knows that her father had been murdered, and that her mother left with a man to go to England.  They ended up in a children's home. When she and her brother were about 8 & 9, they were split up; she went into a home for older girls, and he went into a home for boys. After running away, she found herself pregnant at age 15, with her brother already in jail. Neither graduated from high school.

Another young man we met upon first moving to Jamaica was "R." He grew up in a boys home, unable to be adopted as a child, but at age 21 was living with some fellow missionaries on our campus. He was helping Paul set up his woodshop, and wanted to be part of the skills training. As a new Christian himself, he wanted to share with his brother all about his new life. When he made the trip to Kingston to see him, he ended up being shot and killed.
The cycle spins. In four years, the numbers of names grows, the names of those with stories of spinning... The dizzy ones who desperately desire something, someone, to disrupt the multiplication.  Orphans reproducing orphans. Kids are literally aging out of children's homes,  living on the streets with no resources to find their way in life.

For those of us who have experienced the blessings of family and provision, I pray that we would all feel the burden of responsibility to use that privilege to advocate and fight for those who have not. For those of us with time, will we let the clock tick with the ones who wish to tell of losses, and grieve with the broken hearted?  Will we share our knowledge, will we use our skills ... will we spend resources God has given us to give gifts of opportunities? Can we spend our own lives planting seeds of hope? Oh Father, can we break the bondage, can we boldly live to bandage the wounded and weary, with our own broken loving?

Jamaica, land of wood and water, wave your flag, God's beauty banner. All you weary ones, you are not forsaken, not forgotten. We are brothers. It's time to bring the Kingdom.

Psalm 82:3 tells us to "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed."


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Breakfast with the Bartons

Breakfast with the Bartons

Fundraising Event:

Sat. Feb. 10th, 9:30-11:30 am

at the Outpost Center
6053 Hwy 212 E, Chaska

The Barton family responded to a call to serve.  God provided more than they could ask for or imagine.  Now you are invited to be part of this incredible mission.

Empowering the underprivileged youth in Jamaica - come hear what it is all about!

$20,000 Goal
Kids are Welcome
For more info email, or call 612-601-6431
We hope you can join us.  The Barton family heads back to Jamaica just a few days later.

If you can not attend, but would like to donate:
You may make out your tax deductible donations to :
Barton Missions:  19011 Towering Oaks Trail, Prior Lake, MN 55372
Or Youth with a Mission Minneapolis: P.O. Box 268, Rockford MN 55373
Donate online (click the donation tab above, or link below)
612-601-6431, JA 876-596-5421

The New Life Skills Centre was established to:
1) educate and train students in subjects and skills to give them a means to provide for themselves and their families, thus breaking the cycle of poverty, and
2) introduce them to the love of Jesus Christ so that they, by the power of the Holy Spirit, could walk in their God-given purposes with dignity, hope and redemption.   Matt. 28:19-20

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Preparing for the New Year at New Life

I just want to give you all an update here on where things are at with the program and the new building. Big and exciting things.

We are gearing up to take in up to 10 students next year: up to 4 live-in (from boys homes), 4 day programming (from the community), and 2 returning apprentices (Romain & Osanie). We plan to grow our staff with 2 missionary interns (1 admin, 1 instructor,) 1 hired local shop supervisor, 1 lunch cook, and a part-time security guard, as well as a visiting counselor to come in for 1 month of the year.

We are anxious to get renovations and construction underway to move our family into the apartment and prepare for the new students. We have quite the job ahead of us, putting in 2 kitchens, 3 bathrooms, framing in bedrooms, electrical, plumbing... anyone want to come help???

We will be in MN the end of December into January for a big fundraising campaign. We will be sharing with churches, small groups and anyone who wants to hear! February and March will be renovation/construction time. And then we prepare for Spring/Summer Workshop. We plan to invite prospective students for an introductory session to give them an idea of what its all about. And somewhere in there, we need to get a team down here to finish Dell's house.

Please join us in prayer for all that is happening here. We are excited to see how it comes together and who will come together... is God calling you?

Building Opportunity

I don't ever want to take things for granted, the way something can seem like such a coincidence, how something can just land in your lap, or even manage to make it through every imaginable hoop in order to work out. Whatever the circumstances, I know that God is in the business of working things for good. But sometimes, you just have to stop in awe.

Let me share how we came upon a building for the New Life Skills Centre.

The property we are looking at, formerly called Tortuga, was a big rum cake factory with a little coffee and icecream shop. There was a playground outside and we used to walk there occasionally when we lived at YWAM. It was really the only place to walk to where kids could play. Anyways, we were super bummed when the location closed because we loved it. When the property went up for sale a couple years ago, we prayed a very big dreamland kind of prayer that maybe God would let us have the property to run our ministry from...In April, a friend of ours (we will call him Friend 1) mentioned he was looking at that property. Fighting off our own envy, we shared how great we thought the property was. Later, he informed us that he bought it. When Paul asked him what he planned on doing with it, he answered with "I was hoping you would help me figure that out." So, Paul went with him to look at it, where our friend asked Paul if he thought it would work for him. (WHAT?!) Then the next week, we all went to check it out. He is open to us renting it from him... which we thought would be out of the question because the going rental rate would be out of our reach, but he is willing to work with us.

The property has so much potential for our vision of skills training and job creation. The property location is on the outside of Mobay, (by our old neighborhood.) It is on the main road that tourists take out to Negril, so it has a good flow of traffic, and locals already know the spot. The main floor factory part is where training/woodworking would happen, with classrooms, production assembly, finish room, even a break room and showers.  The upper level could be made into an apartment for our family, with enough space to make a dorm room(s) for students and/or some staff. Then the coffee shop building would be a store for the products made, as well as some consignment items from others in the community. (Some of the ladies from the Sew Very Loved ministry at our church may be able to make and sell decorative pillows, bags or jewelry too). We could sell ice cream and coffee to employ more people, and bringing back a playground is a great opportunity to serve and connect with the community and draw people to the store.

Here is another possible piece of the puzzle.  We met with a guy from an organization that advocates for orphans, who has a relationship with CDA and the boys homes on the island, and can help to make our program available to boys aging out of the childrens' homes... which is in line with our vision. We had always hoped to offer housing to students, and this space could make it possible to meet this very big need.

If God is behind this, we want to go after it! Time to pray my friends, because this means growth is coming... A Building opportunity could very well be the bridge to building opportunities.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Trusting the Shepherd

As I write this, I assume most people would know we have returned to the states for a period of time. Typically one would expect some common follow-up questions wen sharing news like that: "Oh, how long are you back for? When are you going back? What are you doing?" etc. This is a polite way of showing interest in someone's life, and in this case, following our ministry as well.

Yet, what I find for many people in missions, you can find yourself in a season where those questions, while they seem fairly simple, are quite difficult to answer. They are the loaded questions, the ones that when you try to answer can leave you feeling like an idiot.  Loaded not because of what is implied by the one asking, but loaded in the sense that it can stir up a lot of emotion.  Loaded with the cultural sense of obligation to have a plan, (We did, of course, have a plan when we set off as missionaries) loaded with the assumption that your plans should make sense, loaded with the personal desire to feel in control, that your decisions will clearly check off steps to reaching the next goal, or objective. That your time will fit into a nicely organized and defined category: time for rest, time for fundraising, connecting with supporters, or staff building, or "active ministry," like teaching, counseling, building houses etc.  And believe me, I love those nice little sense-making categories. I put a lot of effort into shaping those clear-cut boxes and check-lists and schedules.  I want to say "I/we have decided," "I/we will be doing," "Next, we will be going to," etc. But instead, I find myself digging for words to describe how we will "pray for direction," "discern God's timing," "follow open doors," "flow with the prompting of the spirit."  All those nice categories kind of blur together, overlap, rearranging themselves, constantly being revised, in a way that makes those simple questions difficult to answer.

A life in missions can be complex for several reasons. I feel that we come from a culture that is so goal-oriented, it is hard to communicate a goal that is primarily relational in the first place. The programs and work we do are ultimately just avenues to lead to a place of building trust, so we can speak into people's lives. So, we have to be flexible with our goals. Secondly, a career working in ministry is like having several bosses: you are aiming to serve the Lord and his calling according to the scriptures and personal revelation, you have an organization and various people you may need to report to or seek authority from, you have the individuals and community whose needs you want to serve and relate to, and the supporters and/or home-church you receive spiritual and financial covering from. That being said, the focus of time has to be spread among spiritual growth and connecting with God, personal reflection, family transition, relating to people muliculturally and internationally, dealing with the need for finances, all in addition to the "work" or "programs" you want to do.  Then, there is the element of spiritual warfare. Plain and simple, there is an enemy who wants to dismantle all of our efforts. Add in human error, and learning as you go, there is plenty to contribute to a "bump in the road" here and there... change in plans.

But the true wrestle is seeking God's will within ever-changing circumstances and overlapping purposes. Assuming we are responding to God's call according to what the scripture says, and zeroing in more specifically to how he has gifted us to serve, we can certainly set a mission statement, vision and goals. And those things can serve as a sort of compass, or help establish a rough timetable. But what when things go wrong? You don't have enough finances, or someone in authority gives you a 'NO', or health, or emotional issues/heartache slow you down or circumstances seem to indicate danger?

It is comforting to me to follow the apostle Paul's missionary journeys. He had a broad missionary strategy to plant churches, and allowed divine revelation and circumstances to help him prayerfully determine when and where to go. Paul would normally have several options before him, not just one open door. I believe the Lord does give us room to pick and choose from several things that would be within God's will, and he will give us nudges more-so in what to avoid, or how to fine-tune the plan to meet the right people, or help us get support we need. Gary Shogren has noted (about Paul) that:

Aloud or in writing, Paul was comfortable with using language such as “I plan, wish, desire, hope, I have decided, it is my ambition, my prayer.” His changes of plans led some Corinthians to suspect him of waffling (2 Cor. 1:15-2:4, our comments on 1 Corinthians 16:5-7), but Paul responded with careful reasons for the altered timetable. He strikes us as a man who was constantly thinking ahead, moving in optimum fashion and always with prayer.

( Read Shogren's full comments here.)

It is also reassuring to remember the passage in Romans 8:28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

We can wrestle with God over the roadblocks, the mistakes, the worries, the unreached goals. But ultimately he is a sovereign God who loves us. That brings me peace. Even though I want him to show me more of the plan, I want more divine revelation, I want more knowledge of what may lie ahead, I mostly want to be more secure in his love. In his perfect love, there is no room for fear or regret, no need for striving ambition.

When I feel lost, and ask like Thomas did in John 14, "how can we know the way?” Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life..." I don't think this is just an eternity question. Everything comes through trusting him. He is the shepherd. He not only leads; he cares. And that is what makes it okay to simply be a sheep.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

2 years

Amazingly, March 4th marks the date of our move to Jamaica 2 years ago! 2 years can seem so long and so short at the same time. But praise God, for he is so good. Please take a few minutes to allow us to share with you about some of our reflections.
I feel emotional even as I write this. Because in two years, we have witnessed people fall in love with Christ! Yet, so much of this journey has been so much more difficult than we ever thought it would be: going to a 1-vehicle, 1-driver household, not being able to go for walks, not having any parks or malls, trying to keep up on laundry in the rainy season, not being able to go places alone, or after dark, trying to get any government papers in a reasonable amount of time, having to drink milk out of a box, or just living life so far from the comfort of our old friends and family.  Yet, how do you even measure what would make the sacrifices, whether certain inconveniences, cultural clashing, or discomfort, even heartbreak worth it? What if we don’t get to see immediate fruit? What if we don’t see the fruit for ourselves? Is there a magic number of salvations or students that will make my sacrifice worth it, or justify when I can say I have done my job and allow me to go back home to the comforts of my old familiar life? But we keep reminding ourselves of the sacrifice God made for us.  That love, though never earned, is the only motivation to keep us from giving up. Love others, because he first loved us. And we love in response to the opportunities God has set before us, in the context of the unique giftings he gives each of his children within the body of Christ.
God has placed such a desire in us to see people get to experience His love, and restoration. That has not changed. We are thankful that God has opened up so many doors for us to be able to serve him in this way. And thanks be to God that he will wash us in his sweet grace each day, or we would have been disqualified, and would continue to be disqualified, to represent his name at all.
We received some very good advice that we hold onto: Never doubt when you are surrounded in darkness that which you heard God speak in the light.
The reality is we are not exempt from the attacks of the enemy; this is the battleground. And, to speak quite honestly, we feel the fatigue and stress of the battle. The ache in our hearts from living in a place governed by poverty, abandonment and abuse of authority grows heavy. And as we try to make our little dent in this community,  the enemy does not want the plans God has to succeed, so we are the targets: susceptible to discouragement and frustration and sadness. And I can only imagine how God’s own heart aches. I don’t know if we should be asking God to help us be better at giving this burden to Him, like we will be better able to not hold it so close as time goes on, or if we just need to know to take breaks to just cry it all out.  
If you agree that there is hope in Christ, and believe in the New Life vision:
To provide the youth, fatherless, and impoverished with hope and skills to pursue God’s purposes in their lives, won’t you please pray with us? Please pray that we could have the time to debrief and know God’s heart for this ministry as we make decisions for the future, and that we would be able to raise the necessary support to continue this work.