12 Girls with Lice… What an experience

¡Hola amigos!

This is Olivia Nelson, coming to you live from España. It’s Tuesday, and I’ve been craving American food for about 4 days now. All I want is cold milk and more than bread for breakfast (for those of you who know me, you will never hear these words come out of my mouth again. I am a bread lover, but there’s only so much you can take). This trip has been full of unexpected tasks from staying up until at least 1:00 every night to picking lice out of 12 girls’ hair. It’s been a ride so far, but I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings.

Initially, I thought that I would be ok talking to the kids because I had taken 2 years of Spanish. Let me just say one thing: I. am. lost. There’s so much more to a language than just a textbook. Their accent is different in Spain compared to Mexico, where my Spanish teacher was from. It’s harder for me to understand what they are saying, and they seem to talk so fast here. All I can say is, I’m SO glad that we have translators here to help us with the kids. Most of the counselors know a little bit of English so that makes it easier to communicate with them.

Since the camp is only set up to sleep about 75 people, the girls from West Lisbon were lucky enough to get to sleep outside in tents! I was a little frustrated at first because I thought that the guys deserved to sleep in the tents. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As I mentioned above, 12, now 13, girls have lice at the camp. Instead of turning away the kids, some of the counselors do vinegar treatments every night for the girls. Lice is very common in Spain, so it’s not a big deal. The parents know they have them, but don’t have the time to deal with it. God works in mysterious, but great ways.

With only 2 days into the camp, my perspective on how much we take for granted in the United States has totally changed. Warm showers every day, eating whenever we want, air conditioning, and even good cell phone service. I will never take these things for granted again.

This is Olivia Nelson signing out. Have a great day and eat some steak for me. ¡Adios!

Sagrada Familia and Magical Fountains

Before bed, I’d like to share some of our experiences from our first day in Barcelona.

After catching some snacks at the Christian Youth Center, Stephanie led us on a tour of the famous Sagrada Familia or Gaudí Cathedral. I have been in many cathedrals throughout Europe – London, Scotland, Italy’s Duomos, and Greece – but nothing I’ve seen compares to Sagrada Familia. It is stunning. I have pictures for you, but to capture its beauty and vision of Christ, you must see it in all its intricate details.

Team in front of the Nativity facade
Nativity facade of Sagrada Familia
Columns, Arcade, and Towers above the Passion facade; at the peak of the arcade, you’ll notice the X P, which is short for ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Christ.
Scenes from the Passion facade
Work began on the Cathedral in the late 1800s; today’s workers continue to carry out Gaudi’s vision. I believe its expected completion date is 2026.

​We also experienced – with hundreds of other people – the magical fountain of Montjuic. Since there was a nice breeze, we all ended up a little wet!
The fountains and the palace in the top right have been around since the World’s Fair.
 

Tomorrow morning, we get to tour a little more in the late morning and early afternoon before heading an hour or so out of town to the JPC (Juventud Para Cristo) Casa Berea campamento.

Barcelona and Friends!

We made it on the ground and to the Youth Center safely!!! Mark and Stephanie were there to pick us up – so good to see their faces! 

We are staying at the Youth Center in Barcelona tonight. In about an hour, we will tour Gaudi’s world renown Sangrada Familia. Then, we plan to experience the magical fountains with a music and light show before heading back to the Youth Center for a traditional Spanish chicken dinner. 

Some of us were able to sleep on the plane. . . And some were not :-). We’ll rest hard tonight.

Here are some pictures from today!

Mark helping us with currency exchange.
The Dodrills had a snack ready for us upon arrival! The Johnsons prepared us well!

2017 Destination: Spain

We made it to our gate; everyone’s enjoying dinner now :-). Thanks for your prayers! Weather is a little rough outside; please keep this matter in your prayers! See you on the other side of the pond.

Mitch on Mission with YWAM in Vancouver

To the Church of West Lisbon,
Thank you so much to everyone who has been praying for me, my team, the ministries we are working with, and the city of Vancouver over the past month or so. I have been seeing incredible things in my first week and a half here, and I cannot wait to see what else God has in store. Yesterday, the other intern, Beth, and I finished our training for the Mission Adventures program and we will hit the ground running starting Monday when our first youth group comes in.

I’m super excited to be working with the team that we have and to be given the opportunity to show Jesus to the high school youth that come into Vancouver. As a lot of you may already know, I came to have a life changing encounter with Jesus through various youth group involvement during my sophomore year in high school that saw me dedicate my life to God and his will for my life, so I am very excited about having the opportunity to share Jesus with nearly 100 high school students I’ll be meeting over the next four weeks.

​Before I left for this trip, I read a book called Gospel Fluency by a pastor named Jeff Vanderstelt. This book taught me that the key to seeing God work in incredible ways in your life is to believe in the gospel and believing in the gospel more deeply will allow God to work deeper and in more powerful ways in your life. I thought that I had a good understanding of the gospel before I left, and I couldn’t wait to see how God could work in that. During my training, I realized that the gospel is way deeper than anything I can know fully. In other words, as long as life isn’t perfect, God can teach us something new about his love for us, and that can change our lives in a deep way.

​I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve definitely experienced discomfort on this trip. Nothing poor has happened. I love my team. I love the city I’m serving in. I love Tim Horton’s (basically Dunkin Donuts, but way better). There’s just something that has me out of my comfort zone, but that’s okay, because I’ve learned that this is where God grows us the most. I was doing some devotional time this morning, and I was reading Matthew 6 and John 15. Matthew 6 is part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where he encourages us saying that we do not need to worry, because God loves us. John 15 talks about how we cannot do anything beneficial apart from God and that in order to live a life worth living, we need to abide in Him.

​This has definitely been an area in the gospel where God has been growing me over the last week and a half. No matter what the circumstance, no matter where I am or who I’m with, whether I’m in a city like Vancouver or a village like Lisbon, whether I’m in the US or Canada, if I am with God, God is with me and He will produce fruit in me (John 15:4-5). That is a promise from God and something that I can put my hope in. I have nothing to worry about, because God is good. Thank you all so much for your continued prayers and support. I hope to give at least one more update before I am home. I love you all, and I cannot wait to return and tell you all the stories about how incredibly God is working. If you want updated prayer requests, please do not hesitate me to message me on Facebook! I may not get back to you right away, but I will certainly find time to give you prayer requests. Thank you so much for the love you’ve all shown me and your continued support for me in prayer. I love you all! God bless! ​​

-Mitch Friestad

The Torch Race

Lampadedromia

I had the privilege to spend 3 weeks in Athens, Greece last summer as part of a team whose task was to digitize thousands of pages of ancient manuscripts at the National Library in Athens. I was also able to find some time to visit many of the ancient ruins in Athens. I am reminded today of one ancient contest that was popular throughout Greece. You’ll think of the Olympic torch that we continue to watch today in the summer Olympics. Our modern ceremonial (rather than competitive) adaptation, ironically enough, began in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin under Adolf Hitler, who had a fascination with ancient empires and their activities. In ancient times, the torch carrying was actually a ceremony and a competition between the 10 Athenian tribes. Contestants would race with a torch in one hand and many times a shield in the other, from one sacred site to another, at night, as the main event of various festivals. A contestant  or team of contestants, in some cases, won the race by arriving first at the designated finish with the torch still aflame. If the flame were to ever extinguish, then the runner or team disqualified itself. Hence, this is why some of the runners carried a shield—to guard the flame from opposing forces that may extinguish it. By ancient accounts, it was a daring, race. I read in one place that it could be a distance up to two miles. In Greek, the race was called the λαμπαδηδρομία or the “Torch Race.” Lampa meaning torch and dromia from the word for a race circuit or course. So, to win the Torch Race, you had to run hard; you had to run smart; you had to run together; and you had to run to finish.

The Race of Life

One ancient author reflecting near the end of his life wrote, “I have struggled/fought the good/worthy struggle; I have finished the race course; I have guarded the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). This particular writer saw himself as a servant to his particular God, and in the previous context, he wrote that his life was like a drink offering, being poured out in service. Seeing that only drops of life remained, he reflected on his struggle, his race, and his faith. He described his struggle or fight as good, excellent, or useful. Opposition is implied. According to the University of Penn, another fascinating feature of the Torch Race is that if those who had lost the flame of their torch could overtake a runner who still possessed his torch, the torch would have to be surrendered to the prevailing runner. For these runners, the struggle was real. It took great skill and fight to endure.
Author Irving Stone has spent a lifetime studying greatness, writing novelized biographies of such men as Michelangelo and Vincent van Gogh. Stone was once asked if he had found a thread that runs through the lives of these exceptional people. He said,
I write about people who sometime in their life. . . have a vision or dream of something that should be accomplished . . . and they go to work. They are beaten over the head, knocked down, vilified and for years they get nowhere. But every time they’re knocked down they stand up. You cannot destroy these people. And at the end of their lives they’ve accomplished some modest part of what they set out to do. (Crossroads, Issue No. 7, p. 18.)
The author next states that he had finished his race course. It’s interesting to me that he didn’t use any of the possible Greek words that mean “to win” or “to gain victory.” This author demonstrates knowledge of such vocabulary in his other writings, but here he chooses the verb “to finish.” Perhaps, he chooses this word to maintain the metaphor of pouring out his life in service. Winning doesn’t quite fit as well as finishing or completing.
Two men among several traveled 674 miles from Nenana to Nome, Alaska in the 1925 serum run known as the Great Race of Mercy. They aimed to deliver medicine to a large diphtheria epidemic. Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog Togo covered the most hazardous and longest stretch of 91 miles, and the Norwegian, Gunnar Kaasen, and his lead dog Balto arrived on Front Street in Nome on February 2 at 5:30 a.m., just five and a half days later. These teams were trying to finish their race in service to others.
Lastly, the author writes that he has guarded the faith. The Torch Race image of the runner using his shield to guard and protect the flame of his torch. Without a lit torch at the end, a runner could not complete the Torch Race. The faith for this particular author referred to the total body of belief that he held concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faith that he guarded was his most precious, most valuable possession.
He believed that his fight, his race, and his aflame faith would receive a crown from the one who had the true worth and authority to reward contestants. At the end of the Torch Race, the victor received a major award. I read one account where I believe the victor received one bull and 100 drachma ($2500).

Season of Accomplishment

In all seriousness, my hope is that this graduation season encourages you on to more and greater things. No doubt you have fought to get here, and I hope that the struggle has proved useful for the next arena. Many of you reading this have finished and completed several years of school and coursework, and as someone who has spent many years in school, that is always something worth celebrating! I hope too that you have guarded something in your finishing. Like this ancient author, I hope that you too have kept the integrity of your faith aflame. Regardless of your background, I think that we can all agree that there are precious things, like faith, integrity, honesty, hope, peace, and so on, that must accompany us to the finished line in order to make the finish line all that it is meant to be.
So, I pray now that you will endure the struggle ahead—looking for the meaning and the profit of the struggle, determine to finish your race, and figure out the most precious things in life and guard those things as you go. And as you pour out your life, may your reward be blessed.

Abram: Believer, Worshiper, & Proclaimer

The song titled “I’ve Been Everywhere” sparks a connection for most to Johnny Cash. Cash recorded the song in 1996. However, the song has a long history and broad impact. It was originally written by Geoff Mack, an Australian country singer, in 1959 and made popular by Lucky Starr in 1962. In the U.S.A., the song was made popular first by Hank Snow (1962), then Lynn Anderson (1970), long before Johnny Cash gave it a go. In addition to North America and Australia, the song also took flight in New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, parts of Asia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and a number of other places. Literally, the song has been everywhere (Yes, I did use wikipedia for this info ;-)).

In his day, Abram was a globetrotter. His family’s journey to follow the Lord (cf. Josh. 24:2; Gen. 31:53) took them on a +1,000 mile journey from the Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, and eventually into Egypt and back to Canaan. We know that there was a stop at Haran along the way (11:31–32), where Terah spent his final days. In Haran, Abram received the call from the Lord, apparently the God of his father Terah, to leave his familiar land, relatives, and reputation and trust the Lord to give him a new land, a new people, and a new reputation. (12:1–2). The Lord then commanded him to be a blessing, promising that he would bless those who blessed Abram, curse those who took Abram too lightly, and that in him, the Lord would bless all the families of the earth. Later on as Scripture unfolds (cf. Matthew 1; Luke 3; Romans 4; Galatians 3–4), we learn that Jesus Christ is the divine aim of this promise, in whom God would succeed in bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Returning to Genesis 12:4–9, we find an example of obedient faith in Abram, in spite of tremendous obstacles—Sarah’s barrenness (11:30), Abram’s age (12:4), the pagan religion that permeated Canaan (12:6), and later on a forbidding famine (12:9). Not only do we see obedient faith in his leaving and clinging to the new things God promised him, but also we see two expressions of faith as he travels through the land of Canaan.

First, Abram worshiped God in a hostile environment. While he was surrounded by people who worshiped other so-called gods, Abram built altars in their midst as visible markers and expressions of his faith in the Lord. He built altars in 12:7 and in 12:8. The altar he built in Shechem, near the oak of Moreh, is significant for a number of reasons. First, he built it in response to God appearing to him. It marked God’s confirmation of his verbal calling to Abram while he was in Haran. Second, his worship was significant because of what the Lord promised—offspring and land—neither of which Abram had in his possession at that time. Third, his altar was significant because of where he built it. The oak of Moreh was most likely the location of a Canaanite shrine of worship. Abram was expressing his faith in the Lord in a very bold way. Lastly, his worship is significant because this place would not be forgotten by his descendants. His worship became legendary. Joshua would choose this place to call Israel to covenant renewal with the Lord at this same location (Josh. 24). The location of Abram’s second altar—between Bethel and Ai—would also not be far from the Israelite reader’s mind, as they recalled significant events that unfolded in those cities. Bethel, “the house of God,” was where Jacob had his dream (28:10–22) and became a place of covenant renewal for him (35:1–15). Ai recalls the battle that stifled Israel’s confident conquest due to disobedience and led to another time of covenant renewal (Joshua 7–8).

Second, Abram not only worshiped the Lord, but he also proclaimed the name of the Lord. This is most likely the meaning of the phrase “called upon the name of the Lord” in 12:8. Two commentators—Cassuto and Ross—believe that Abram had a history of proselytizing even before this. They understand the phrase “the people that they had acquired” in 12:5 to refer to proselytes, not to slaves or servants, because of the use of the Hebrew word nepes for “people.”

The beginning of Abram’s story is remarkable. It’s no wonder that Israel and the Church look to him as the quintessential father of faith. He left the familiar. He believed in the face of amazing obstacles. God spoke; Abram obeyed. He worshiped openly. He proclaimed so that others knew the Lord. He did all of this in a hostile environment and as he waited for God to accomplish what was yet unseen to him. Saint Augustine is quoted as having said,

God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.

Now, we are not Abram. Abram is a unique, one-of-a-kind figure in Scripture. If you don’t think so, when was the last time God asked you to do what he asked Abram to do in Genesis 22? The answer is never! Nor would he. God was doing something special in and through Abram. Something that you and I benefit from by being found in Christ—the long-awaited “seed of Abraham” (Romans 4; Galatians 3–4). We also benefit from Abram’s example in spiritual living. It is impossible to please God—no matter who you are—without faith. Genuine faith obeys God’s word. Faith many times forces us to leave what is familiar to meet and serve God in something new. It has been said that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of nearly 35 feet in a single bound! Yet these amazing animals can be kept in an enclosure in a zoo with even a short, solid wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. There are always obstacles to trusting God—infertility, age, health, finances, hostile work or family environments, foggy futures, unexpected catastrophes. Abram shows us how to worship and proclaim the name of the Lord by faith, when the solutions and provisions are still distant and haven’t yet taken shape.