My wife Ginger, my nine year old daughter Reagan, my six year old daughter Madison aka “Madi”, and our 15 year old foreign exchange student from Germany Luise all went on a mission trip to Jamaica called “Cruise with a Cause “on May 30th to June 4th,,, 2011. The trip was an amazing experience. I had the privilege of being a part of the largest mission trip ever as 3,000 people at the invitation of the Jamaican government boarded a ship in Miami and headed for Jamaica to share the Gospel with the people on the island of Jamaica in their schools, prisons, and streets. While on the trip I had the privilege of explaining the gospel to Luise and she made the decision to place her trust in Christ. I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with many other people while on the island of Jamaica and seeing them make decisions to place their trust in Christ. I had the privilege of watching my daughter, Reagan and Madi pray with others and fearlessly share their faith even thought they are only six and nine years old. I had the privilege of seeing our “adopted daughter” Luise from Germany pray with others and share her new faith with the people in Jamaica. I had the privilege of seeing my best friend and wife with her beautiful smile share the love of Christ with others. I had the opportunity to make new friends and get to know current friends better. As amazing as this trip was, it did not start out so well.
On the day before our trip until we finally boarded the ship, a number of events occurred that I allowed to affect my attitude. I had to work the day before we left, and while I was at work, my wife called me to tell me one of our dogs died. The loss of our dog was a real downer and set the stage for a series of minor aggravations that accumulated and continued to worsen my mood. I knew that once I got off work, I still had to pack, and I was hoping to mow the grass before we left for our trip. When I got off work at 6:30 that evening, I knew I only had a little time to mow before it got dark. I started mowing the grass when I got home and sulked about our dog dying.
Before I could finish mowing the grass, I noticed that a pool of water had collected near the foundation at the back of our house. As I inspected the water puddle, I realized that I most likely had a slow leaking pipe somewhere that would have to be dealt with. Not knowing for sure if the leaking pipe was in the wall, ground, or foundation, I knew that it was too late to try and fix before leaving early the next morning for our trip. I thought the best temporary solution would be to turn off the water and deal with it when we returned from our trip. I then began a quest to find the water shut off valve. Searching for the water shut off valve was no easy task. I looked in all the places I thought it would be with no success. Finally I found a water valve box in our flower bed, but when I looked in it, all I saw was dirt. At this point, it had already gotten dark outside and I could barely see. I knew I would have to dig the box out to see if a shut off valve was buried inside. The box was too small for a shovel to fit in so I would have to dig it out by hand with a small gardening tool. I dug into the box until I finally found a pipe. I found out that this was not the shut off valve I was looking for. It was really starting to get late now and I still had to pack. Since I couldn’t find a shut off valve at the house, I decided I would look for a shut off valve near where the water meter is at the end of the driveway. We live in the country and our house is at least ¼ of a mile from the end of the driveway and I wasn’t exactly sure where the service meter was. I made the trek to the end of our driveway and found the service meter. I opened the lid and it was full of bugs. It reminded me of a scene off of an Indiana Jones movie. It was so full of bugs that the shut off valve was buried somewhere underneath the bugs. Since I really wasn’t too eager to start scooping the bugs out with my bare hands I decided to go back to the house and get the small gardening tool to scoop out the bugs. After getting the gardening tool I went back to the front of the driveway and scooped out enough bugs so that I could see the shut off valve. I didn’t have the right tool to turn off the valve but finally managed to get it done with a pair of vice-grips. I decided I would turn the water back on so we could shower and I would turn the water off again as we left in the morning.
Not having water to the house presented a new issue that would have to be dealt with before we left. We have cows and I had them in a pasture that I was using an automatic watering system for their water tank. Since I would be turning off the water in the morning, I knew I would have to move them to a pasture with a pond so that they would have water while we were gone. Knowing that cows don’t always do exactly what I want them to do when I want them to do it, I wasn’t looking forward to moving them to a different pasture in the dark. As I was getting ready to move them, I thought to myself for the first time. “I wonder if this is one of those spiritual warfare types of experiences that I’ve heard other missionaries speak about.” Whether it was or not, I knew that it was important to not let my attitude sour over all these mounting aggravations. I thought to myself, “I can’t control all of these circumstances, but I can control my attitude.” I said a little prayer and asked God to help me maintain a good attitude even though at this point my attitude was already getting pretty sour. I proceeded to move the cows to a different pasture and the entire ordeal went much easier than expected. Being that I was mostly focusing on all that went wrong that day, I really didn’t give too much thought to this small victory. I finally went in the house, took a shower and packed. I made it to bed at 12:30 a.m.
The alarm came way too soon and I got up three hours later and prepared to leave. I was tired and as much as I wanted to be in a good mood, I was still aggravated at all the previous day’s events. We left the house at 4 a.m. I drove to the end of the driveway and prepared to turn the water off in the dark. The vice-grips I used to turn off the valve slipped and I busted my thumb on the metal rim of the water meter and cut my thumb. So now with blood and mud on my hand and a new dose of aggravation, I finished turning off the water and thought that the start of the day was just a continuation of the previous day’s aggravations. We started driving to the airport. On the way, we were tired and no one spoke. I figured the girls were asleep in the back seat. At one point on the way to the airport the silence of the early morning drive was broken with Madi’s sweet laughter coming from the back seat. I realized then that she was awake and was watching a cartoon in the backseat with her head phones on. Her laughter was like a shot of joy that went through my body. The laughter of my children always brings me joy and for a moment I forgot my aggravations and smiled. Finally we got to the airport and as we went through all the inconveniences of airport security some of my aggravations were returning. Finally we boarded the plane and I got a little rest.
We arrived in Miami, got our bags and caught a cab to the port. Once at the port it was another continuation of long lines, security, and more aggravation. Once we finally made it through all the lines and security, I went to an automated kiosk so that we could check in prior to boarding the ship. While checking in I got a message on the automated kiosk when I tried to process Luise’s passport. The message directed me to speak with an attendant. I went and spoke with one of the attendants to find out what was the problem. When we began to check in with an attendant, we were informed that our exchange student, Luise, needed more paperwork than just her passport. Now I was really getting aggravated. Since Luise is an exchange student, I wanted to prevent any potential issues with her documentation before we left, so I called the cruise line, e-mailed the passport office, and called the consulate before we left to find out exactly what she would need. I was assured that all she would need was her passport. Now the day we were supposed to board, we were told she needs a document that none of us had heard of in addition to her passport. Of course she did not have this additional document and she was now upset and crying. We were all escorted to a room where we were informed that we would need someone to fax the document or we would not be able to board the ship. Being that the ship would be leaving in about an hour and half and it was Memorial Day when most offices are closed, I knew the chances of getting this document were not good. My wife and I started making phone calls to her exchange program coordination office and as we suspected it was closed due to the holiday. We finally managed to get in touch with someone who was on call through their emergency number. We were told that they most likely would not be able to fax the document because the offices were closed. Realizing that we probably weren’t going to get to board the ship I inquired whether or not we would be able to get a refund if we didn’t get to board. We were told that we would not get a refund. This just continued to add to my aggravations because now I was thinking about the thousands of dollars we were about to lose for a trip we weren’t going to get to take. At this point it is safe to say I had a bad attitude. I again thought to myself, “is this Spiritual Warfare that I’ve heard others speak about?” I prayed a little prayer to God and acknowledged that this situation was out of my control. I prayed that if God wanted us to go on this trip then he would need to intervene, because there was nothing else I could do. I looked at my daughter’s Reagan and Madi. They had managed to occupy their time with some little game they made up as we sat in the room and waited. Both of them were happy and smiling. For a moment I was happy and was thankful that even though several things had gone wrong they were happy and smiling and seemed oblivious to all the obstacles. Shortly thereafter, we had an answer to prayer! The person we were speaking with through Luise’s exchange program office called us back and said that someone would drive into their office and fax the document. About 45 minutes to an hour later we received the required document and we were escorted back to the check-in line. At this point all the lines were gone and practically everyone had boarded the ship. Once again, I was focused on all that had gone wrong and was so focused on my own inconveniences and self-centeredness that I did not take a moment to thank God or to acknowledge the answer to prayer. As I stood at the desk waiting to get checked in so we could finally board the ship, I told my wife “this will be the last cruise I ever go on.”
Finally we boarded the ship. At this point it was almost 4 p.m. and we were all hungry. We found our rooms and then went to go get something to eat. I was glad we were finally on the ship but I was very tired and though I was trying hard to hide it, I was pretty aggravated about all that had occurred. I realized that my bad attitude would be a big hindrance from being able to minister to the people in Jamaica. Even though I realized this, I just couldn’t seem to get over the funk of my bad attitude. The next day on the ship after a good night’s rest, I felt much better, but there was still that lingering funk that I hadn’t managed to distance myself from. I decided I need to find someplace quiet where I could be alone and pray.
I went to the gym on board the ship and went to the sauna. No one was in there so I went inside and prayed. I told God that I knew my attitude was not right, and I knew all the previous events should not be aggravating me but I was aggravated and I was not able to change my bad attitude alone. I asked God to help me change my bad attitude. After praying I felt a little better, but my attitude was still pretty sour.
A few minutes later someone else entered the sauna. We struck up a small conversation. During the conversation I asked him if he was involved with a particular ministry. He told me he was and he began to share a little about himself. His name was Siran Stacy. He shared how he and his wife had began to get involved doing prison ministry several years ago. He told me that he started doing ministry full time in 2008. Prior to getting involved in full time ministry, Siran shared with me how one night he and his family were hit by a drunk driver. During the accident, Siran’s wife and four of his five children were killed in the accident.
I cannot fathom that type of loss and suffering. I don’t want to fathom that type of loss and suffering. Siran has experienced and lived through my greatest fear on earth. I can’t fathom the loss of my wife or one of my kids. Siran lost his wife and four of his five kids at the same time. Through this tragedy God is using Siran for His glory. I know God used Siran that day as an answer to my prayer about my bad attitude. After talking to Siran, my bad attitude was immediately gone. God used Siran to remind me of the proper perspective I should have. I had been focusing too much on me and my own personal inconveniences. I was reminded that it’s not about me. My aggravations and my burdens are so light when compared to what someone like Job suffered through in the Bible or Siran in recent times has suffered through. When listening to Siran, I first thought to myself why do things like this happen. Then I am reminded that we live in a broken sinful world and that is why these things happen. God did not cause Siran’s wife and kids to die that night, the sins of a drunken driver caused it. But God is and was there for Siran to help him continue on. Prior to sin entering the world there was no death.
During the conversation with Siran he told me he would be speaking later on during the cruise. I had other obligations with the Prayer Stop ministry and was not able to be there for Siran’s entire speech, but I was able to catch the end of Siran speaking. While he was speaking he talked about the pain, and how he had contemplated suicide after the loss of his wife and kids. He talked about how he finally isolated himself in his house one day and in his words “had it out with God.” He began to look at life and death in an entirely different way. He realized that his wife and kids are alive in heaven. He said that weekend alone with God that instead of choosing death, he decided to “choose life."
While reflecting on the conversation I had with Siran and having the opportunity to listen to the last part of his speech, I am reminded how we have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23). I am reminded how the punishment for our sin deserves eternal death and separation from God (Romans 6:23). I am reminded that in my self-centeredness and so many other sins that I’m guilty of, that God loves me and the rest of us so much that even while we are sinners he allowed His one and only Son to take the punishment for our sins and die in our place (Romans 5:8). Because of what Christ did for us on the cross, we too have the opportunity to “choose life.” If we confess with our mouths and truly believe and trust that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins and rose from the grave then we will have eternal life (Romans 10:9). It’s not about “being a good person” because we’ve all fallen short. It’s about realizing that our sin deserves death and realizing that Christ suffered that death in our place, all we have to do is accept what he did for us and “choose life.”