Guatemala Mission Trip, Final Day

I am both happy and yet reluctant to say that we made it home safely to Mt. Victory, Ohio and that I am currently writing this from my kitchen table with my trusted sidekick, Sampson, beside me. I really enjoyed this last week by serving the Lord and others in Guatemala. Both Shelby and I have grown to love that country so much in such a little time (coffee and coffee jelly really helped). Last night, Shelby asked me if I could see us living there, and I could (a church on a coffee plantation sounds like a dream come true for me). While I don’t see ourselves being full-time foreign missionaries, it is one place that I would love to serve for a small portion of my year every year.

We finished up our last day in Guatemala by building the beds for the family, setting up a kitchen for them, and building a water filter. We took the kids for popsicles one last time before playing with them for a few hours, which included throwing rocks into a bucket and using Gary and me as a jungle-gym to swing them around. It was such a life-giving opportunity to be the people who put so much joy on these kids’ faces. We ended our time with the family with a dedication ceremony of the house and giving them the keys so that they could enter their house for the first time and call it home (you can see a video of the dedication here).

I think David Platt says it best in his book, Radical, that all people are called to be missionaries and not just domestically, but internationally. I would really encourage you to go serve internationally if you can because it will change your perspective on what is important. Jesus + Nothing = Everything, and I was reminded of that this week. If you want to serve Jesus in an awesome country and just love on these families like Jesus does, we will be going back at the beginning of next year, and I would invite you to come with us.

While I must now turn my attention back to my own flock, the people of Guatemala will be in my prayers until I am with them again. I want to say that the people of CRI, especially Fountaine and Edgar, are people of the cross who serve out of their love for Jesus and for the people of Guatemala. Thank y’all so much for having us, and I can’t wait to be back next year!

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

P.S. We didn’t have to worry about a crosswind when landing, because the wind would never dare cross Gary Brill.

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Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 6

Well it’s Sunday, which means it’s the Lord’s Day here in Guatemala. I began my Sunday a little differently than most weeks since I didn’t have to preach today. Instead, I got to sleep in for a little longer than I normally do on Sundays. Once I finally crawled out of bed, I spent time in prayer for both Steve and my churches as they headed into worship today. As for our worship, we worshipped at the local church on the CRI compound, known as Iglesias Acceso. While I had the Sunday off, Shelby was asked to lead the music part of worship today, and it sounded amazing. I am really proud of how much my wife has grown in the last year. Coming to Mt. Victory and Ridgeway has been one of the biggest blessings in our lives, which has caused us to grow stronger both personally and as a couple. The sermon was preached in Spanish, but we had a translator speaking into an ear piece so that we could understand the message. It was a message on doubt and staying connected to the Father; preached out of Psalm 13, which is a beautiful text that I would love to come back to and preach on myself. 

After Church, we headed off to eat lunch at Burger King and pick up another group that was arriving at the airport today. Are initial plans were to pick them up and head to Antigua for shopping, site-seeing, dinner and desert; however, the other group had to stop by the compound first, unpack, and have a meeting. So instead, Edger took us four to Antigua for the afternoon. We started off by going to see a massive cross that overlooks the whole city. It was a marvelous site really, but also a really steep hill to climb. After seeing the beautiful scenery, Edger took us to the market place where we shopped and bartered for about two hours getting souvenirs. We then traveled to an old monestary that was active from 1547-1997, but was closed do to damage sustained by 3 different earthquakes. The monestary is now a fancy hotel that “many famous” people have stayed in. It was a georgious place to go and see. Ancient architecture never cease to amaze me. Even where the old sanctuary used to be, the alter remained and they have made it into a beautiful semi-outdoor space for mass and weddings. 

After the monestary tour, we went and ate at a Texan BBQ place, and I must say that it was fantastic. The best part was the BBQ sauce was made with coffee! Someone needs to find me that recipe. We then finished the night with desert at a crepe place with coffee. We got the luna moka crepe, which was filled with chocolate and had vanilla and coffee ice cream on top. We stopped on the way out of town to see a beautiful cathedral and made our trip home in the dark. 

It was a great day that I got to spend with my beautiful bride and friends, deepening our relationship. I am very thankful that this trip has happened. God never ceases to amaze me. We have one day left, and while I enjoy a day off from preaching every now and then, I can’t wait to get back in the pulpit and share God’s Word with the people I love to serve!

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

P.S. No Gary Brill joke today. Even he has to take a rest on the Lord’s Day 🙂

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 5

I’m sorry I didn’t post last night. Shelby had to use my iPad for band practice last night because she is leading worship this morning. We woke up nice and early yesterday to make sure we could see the sun rise over the mountains; however, it was really hazey and cloudy, and so we were unable to see it. So we took off on a day full of adventures. After getting stuck in traffic for awhile and stopping off at a superstore, we may our way to the coffee plantation of Cafe Azotea.

This was a dream come true for me. As many of you know, I am a huge coffee fanatic! I was finally able to see how the process of coffee from seed to cup happens. Our guide talked us through the history of coffee, the varieties of coffee, how different regions affect the flavor of coffee, and finally how they process it. After a history lesson, we were able to go outside and see the beans drying. Not only were we able to see them, WE WERE ABLE TO TOUCH THEM, HANDLE THEM, AND THROUGH THEM IN THE AIR!!! It was so much fun. It took everything in me not to start rolling around in the beans. After playing in the beans, we went over and watached the fermentation and washing process. We then were able to try the different roast of beans they had (by eating them, not drinking), and we also tried some local cocoa. We then traveled through the plantation to see the coffee cherries growing on the trees. It was such a beautiful scenery. Shelby has plenty of photos that I’m sure she will allow me to share. We finished the tour with a coffee tasting, and it was a great cup of coffee (Shelby even said it tasted good black). Shelby and I bought a bag of medium roast coffee, a jar of coffee jelly, and of course Shelby got her routine mug (I think she’s more obsessed with mugs than I am with coffee). What I am most excited about is the green coffee I bought! I am so excited to start roasting, and if it turns out well, I would be glad to share with y’all. 

After leaving the plantation we drove towards the volcano of Pacaya. We stopped of to eat some of the famous Pollo Compraro for lunch. We had been hearing about how good the chicken was all week, and it didn’t disappoint. We then embarked to the top of the volcano. We drove up as high as we could before embarking on horse back. Here’s a Gary Brill joke for you: “Gary Brill doesn’t ride a horse; He carries the horse between his legs.” But seriously, Gary hates horses and only made it about 40 minutes riding the horse before opting to walk the rest of the way up and down. However, I enjoyed riding the horse because it made me reminisce about how John Wesley rode thousands of miles praying, reading, and writing on the back of a horse. As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, it was a really cloudy and hazey day. The top of the volcano was covered in a cloud. We were literally riding horses up an active volcano in a cloud. It was so dense in some parts that I couldn’t see the person 10 feet away from me, at best they were a shadowy figure. It was also chilly and wet (we were in a cloud). In my mind I was picturing us going to Camelot or a scene in Lord of the Rings. It was eerily exhilarating. When we got to the top of the volcano, we stopped at the Lava Store, which has been featured and advertised by National Geographic. Everything they sell is made by local artist and encorporates lava rocks within the jewelry. We then went further into the volcano and roasted marshmallows and made s’mores over hot rocks. We didn’t get to see actual lava flowing because of the cloudiness, but it was an amazing experience. To pick up rocks that are hot or finding pockets of hot air all around the top of the volcano was intriguing in and of itself.

I am very thankful that Edger and Fountain spent their day taking us two these two amazing places, and I’m also thankful that Gary and Jeannie allowed us to do this. I can cross of 1 1/2 things of my bucket list (I still want to see flowing lava). I will soon be able to cross off another when I start roasting coffee. What a great God that we have! 

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you! 

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 4

It was another rough start to the day as we found out that Keegan McKee, a senior from Ridgemont, passed away from a car accident. It is hard being a pastor of a community that is in pain and being so far away. I want to be there with y’all, and pray with you, and mourn with you, and cry with you, and minister to you. I hope the Ridgemont community knows that my heart greives for you and that I am praying for you. If I can provide three source that can help you while I’m gone these would be it:

1. Shane & Shane – Though You Slay Me

2. Timothy Keller – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

3. John Piper – Where is God?

I believe all three of these engage the questions we have when we are in pain and suffering, and all three answer these questions with the hope of the Gospel. I found myself listening to Piper’s sermon earlier this week, and the thing I love most about Piper is that in the midst of tragety, he never fails to preach the Gospel. I hope these resources can help comfort you and minister to you while I am away. I long to be home with the community that I love and serve. 

Apart from the tragic news that we received this morning, we arrived at the work site surprised to see the roof already on. It was nice that we didn’t have to fuss with it or worry about anyone cutting themselves on the metal. So Gary and I began our day by leveling out some dirt and putting down stone for a walkway, while the girls began to stain the house. Now, let me tell you about this stain. It was water mixed with powder that we we’re trying to put on wood that still had sap on it. The stain didn’t go on very well, and it ran and flung everywhere. The group told us that last year Gary got more on him than on the house…well the same was true today. Gary was flinging it every where and just slapping it on the building. Although, he was definitely putting it on the fastest. But by the end of the day, Gary didn’t have a spot on him that wasn’t covered by brown stain. That man is one of the hardest workers I have ever met in my life, and it has been a joy to see him work this week. Here is a Gary Brill joke for you: “Gary Brill doesn’t put on sun block; the sun puts on Gary Brill block.” (Okay, that one was cheesy). 

After staining the house and taking a lunch break, Shelby and Andy, our translator, took kids down for ice cream. They began with only 10 kids, and Shelby said that just more and more kept coming as they walked to the ice cream shop. By the time they arrived they had to buy ice cream for 20 kids. Seeing the kids light up over such a little thing really puts your life into perspective. In America, we are bombarded with consumerism. “You need this, and you need that to make your life complete.” While these kids down here are completely content with ice cream and playing soccer with some Americans. These kids faces light up when you give them a high-five or just say, “hello, how are you?” While I know building the house is important, it’s the moments that we have had with these kids, building relationship, walking to get them ice cream, playing soccer and jump-rope with them that have really made me fall in love with the Gospel all over again. While there is a language barrier (sorry Ms. Smith I’m not fluent in Spanish anymore), we have this connection of Gospel-driven joy. I want to pray for these kids, and I want to love them like Jesus does for as long as I am here. I’m really proud to serve a church that comes here and serves people they don’t know and love those people like Jesus does. 

We finished the house by putting in the door and windows, and I must say we built a pretty good-looking house. As the girls took the kids for ice cream, Gary tightened up the frame of the house and cleaned out the inside with Ever, while Carlos and I built a stone stove. Y’all, I built a stove today! Carlos taught me how to do masonry work, and it was actually both hard and enjoyable, but I think I’ll stick with wood working. With the completion of the stove, we were completely finished with the house. We took pictures with the kids and the family after we were done. We will dedicate the house on Monday, when we will give the keys to the family, and they will unlock the house and enter their new home for the first time. I’m so excited for this moment. 

As for tomorrow, since we are done building the house, we have a free day. So tomorrow we will be crossing off two of my bucket-list items. First, we will be going to a Coffee Plantation, and as all of you know, I am a HUGE coffee fan! Shelby has already agreed to allow me to get into the roasting business! So I’ll be bringing greens back and roasting them. Hopefully, if I am successful, I will sell some roasted coffee to raise funds for youth mission trips and other church functions. After the coffee plantation, we are going to ride horses up to the top of an active volcano! We also made a new friend tonight named Jenny. She is a missionary teacher here in Guatemala from Troy, Ohio. We had a great conversation at dinner sharing each other’s stories. Then we found out that she is a coffee lover too! So she invited us over for some cold brew at here house and had a long conversation about coffee. Shelby and I invited her to come with us tomorrow, and so we added another friend to share in our adventures. God has really been moving this week, and it has been such a blessing. 

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 3

Well today didn’t start out well for me. I woke up at midnight running a fever, and I had to wake up to put sweats on and sleep under 3 blankets. I woke up this morning still feeling horrible and skipped breakfast. One of the highlights of this morning was that it was finally clear skies and we were able to see the active volcano. After finally dragging myself out of bed and seeing the volcano, we left for our second day of construction on the house. 

We had a bit of a rough start with a piece of wood jamming up the miter saw, which actually became a blessing. I had to use the hand saw to cut the siding for the house, which actually made the process go fast than the miter saw. We flew through siding up the house as I cut the boards and Gary, Shelby, and Jeannie all nailed the boards to the frame. Here’s a Gary Brill joke for y’all: “Gary Brill doesn’t hammer in nails; the nails run away from his hammer.” We all worked hard to finish up the siding of the house before lunch time. 

After lunch, we decided to have a little fun and get to know the children a little better. We asked their moms if we could take them down for popcicles. So we traveled down a massive hill to a shop where we bought popcicles for everyone. The problem was that as we were walking down and while we were in the store more kids began to show up and the shop ran out of popsicles. So we traveled up the hill to another house that sold them and bough the rest of the group popsicles. It was such a great privelage to see the joy on these kids’ faces and know we were the ones who put them there. 

The fun continued after lunch as all the kids wanted to play soccer. While Gary and I continued working on the house, Shelby and Jeannie continued to put smiles on the faces of these sweet little children (who were finally coming out of their shells; sugar rush maybe?). As we were finishing up the inside of the house, Jeannie came and asked if i could square off 4 pieces of 2×2 so that they could make seats for the kids. Soon I found myself on the ground cutting wood for these seats for the next 30 minutes. My initial reaction was: Jesus, please make them stop! But then I remembered the saying of Jesus: 

“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” – ‭Mark‬ ‭10:13-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I was able to find the joy in that moment, where we were putting smiles on the faces of these little children. I am super excited to say that we are building a house for a family in need, but it fills my heart with joy to be able to see the joy on these kids’ faces.

We finished the day with the house’s frame and siding completely done, along with the rafters for the roof. We should finish building tomorrow with putting on the roof, staining the wood, and putting in the windows and doors. We will also be building a stove for them. While I’m excited to finish, I am really looking forward to seeing these kids again tomorrow. Mission trips are always ironic in the fact that we come to be a blessing to others, but it is often the people who we’re helping that are the biggest blessings to us. Until tomorrow…

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

Guatemala Mission Trip, Arrival & 1st Work Day

After two quick flights, we arrived in Guatemala City yesterday and met Fountaine and Edger of CRI. They picked us up from the airport and took us to a genuine Guatemalan restaurant, McDonalds. It was actually nice to ease into the Guatamalan culture by eating something from home. We then arrived at the CRI compound and were shown our rooms. The compound is probably one of the nicer places I have stayed for a mission trip, which is nice because it’ll keep us lively each day to build the house. The compound is actually sitting next to an active volcano that was apparently spewing lava the night before we arrived. We haven’t been able to see it so far since it has been hazie, but I am hoping to soon. There is also another active volcano by our work site. Our first night here, CRI took us and another group to a genuine Guatamalan restaurant where we had pinnapple pork tacos. We finished our first night with coffee, cake, and learning about the history of CRI in Guatemala. 

We woke up early this morning to good coffee and breakfast, and left for our work site a little after 8 a.m. We drove for about an hour to the village where we began to build the house. The four of us along with a few Guatamalans from CRI began cutting and framing out the house. I spent most of my time on the miter saw measuring and cutting the wood. While Jeannie worked hard sorting out the lumber to make sure we were cutting the right pieces and had enough material to finish the house. Gary was a one man wrecking crew on framing out the house; he didn’t disappoint in living into the legend of Gary Brill. Shelby also learned how to use the miter saw, and so we worked together as a couple throughout the day. We only worked for about 6 hours today with a lunch break, and we built about half of the house. We have it completely framed out, along with all of the inner walls framed and boarded up. We also have two of the four outter walls sided. 

The design of the house is pretty basic, but it is definitely efficient. The frame is built out of the 2x2s on a 20’x20′ concrete slab. It is a three room home that will host a family with four children. While today was more focused on building the house, we also began to build relationships with both the workers and the family. I’m really excited to take more time and get to know the family better and learn their story. 

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!