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Mike Stokes

Mike Stokes

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Video shared by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2013

We had a great week building the church in Mucho Lote.  A local crew was in charge of putting the roof on, and they didn't get done before we finished on Saturday, but it won't be long.

The video below is a photo every 30 minutes except for Monday afternoon when there was a camera issue.  The location of the camera had to change a couple of times to accommodate the construction, but hopefully you still can appreciate the progress.  You may want to view it a few times to see how different elements - the concrete columns and footers, block walls, and floor for instance - progress over the 6 days we worked.

Click here to view the link in YouTube.

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Posted by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2013

Just got back from the Friday night crusade in Mucho Lote, one block from the church that we are building. It was a night for reuniting in that I got to see families from the church we helped build two years ago and families from the church we helped build last year....all at the crusade tonight. It filled my heart to be here so far away and have people waving at me from across a field to come run and hug my neck. And the service was awesome. We estimate around 1,200 people were there and The pic below doesn't do justice to the overflowing altar of folks who responded to Pastor Dial's "Are You Born Again?" message. It was, as always, a special night that I am very thankful to have been part of.

 

 

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I had the honor of sharing the morning devotion for our construction team this morning and thought I would share it with you guys as well.

What was on my heart is a little of an explanation about what has been going on with me for the last four or so years which involves the answer to the question above: why spend the money and time to go to Ecuador?

It isn't only a question for me, but maybe you also. Some of my friends ask me this. And my family. And even a few at College Park. And their reasons for asking are all valid: yes, there are plenty of needy in the states. Yes, it is a lot of money. Yes, short term missions can sometimes do more harm than good. Yes, it's like trying to dip the ocean dry with a tablespoon. Yes....yes.....yes.....to all those valid points. It is easy to find reasons not to do something. It was easy for me to find those reasons also. So what changed for me? Well, I could cite a lot of scriptures that helped adjust my life goals, but a key one was the following:

"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the most holy place by the high priest as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that He might sanctify the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come. Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name. Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. (Hebrews 13:11-16 HCSB)

It had been some time since Christ's resurrection, and some of the believers were falling back into the legalism and cloistered world of Judaism. So here the author reminds them that Jesus lived his life as a temple outcast just like the leftovers from the sacrifices - spent, unworthy, and separated from "normal" society. He spent His life loving and ministering to those who had also been deemed unworthy of being "within the gates" - the lepers, prostitutes, criminals, physically infirm, adulterers, demon possessed, and other outcasts. Despite being born to a well respected theological man, having gainful employment, and basically being from a typical Jewish family, He cast all that aside to take love and the Gospel to those who He had been sent to reach.

So a few years ago I began asking myself, "Who have I been sent to reach?".

See, while the author of Hebrews remains a matter of debate, most believe that it was basically a Hebrew writing to Hebrews telling them to quit acting like Hebrews. When I sit back and read scriptures like these, I often leave them feeling like God would say the same thing to me today: you need to stop acting like what you think a Christian is and follow Me outside the gate. Cause we all stay inside the comfort, security, acceptance, and prosperity of our own "gates" a lot of the time, right? Our families that have to accept us anyway, our friends that think like us, our church that is full of folks who act and believe like we do, our coworkers that are focused on what we are, etc. So in all of that, what am I supposed to be doing for God? If I make sure that I am surrounded by familiarity and stability and equate blessing with lack of want, how am I ever going to be blessed with His true provision in my life?

And that is why these trips to Ecuador are important to me. Of course God uses all of us when we obey and put ourselves here: the pastor leading the church we are building has been praying for a church to be stood up in this neighborhood FOR TWENTY YEARS! If we hadn't obeyed to become part of the answer to his prayers, God would have used someone else and we would have missed the blessing of being a part of it. But even more important for me personally, these trips remind me how many people I am surrounded with every day at home that are "outside the gate" of my usual day that I should be sharing His love and the gospel with. I absolutely believe that God has a mission for me in every day if I will just be in relationship with Him enough to focus on being in the yoke with Him instead of all the other things in my life that society believes I should be focusing on.

It is often hard to remind myself of that in the midst of everyday, "normal" life. It is a lot easier when I spend a week way "outside my gate" only focusing on Him and how He would have me use my life. And THAT's the answer to, "Why A Short Term Mission Trip to Ecuador?".

 

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Meet pastor Ortiz (white shirt), his wife Gabriella (pink shirt). Their son and daughter were also there and helping, along with several other members. However, we are very fortunate this year to be building in a safer and more blessed community than anyone on the construction team....even the veterans....can remember. Pastor pointed out where several members live, although they were at work. All the people in the community are very, very, nice to us.

The picture below is how the day began. This site is about 20 feet by 80 feet and one of the most prepared sites for us to start on that any of the veterans remember. The white lines are where the column, floor, and wall footers must be dug, formed, and poured with concrete. All the stuff stacked on the left is concrete mix, lumber, bamboo scaffolding, and tools. Along the right wall you can see all the rebar we will have to cut, bend, and tie laying on the ground.

The construction team members from CP included Mike and Cole Rickles, Josh Salmon, Josh Peterson, Greg Bigbee, and myself. There are only 17 on the construction team this year, so nobody's time is going to waste. The following pics give you a feel for what everyone was doing today. Please not that Mike Rickles is to thank for taking all these photos, and as a result, he isn't in them. But bum leg and all, he worked smart but very hard - digging, cutting rebar, tying metal - he pitched in everywhere like always and was a real value.

The young guys drew most of the digging duty, and below you can see Cole and Josh Peterson digging one of the eight column footers that had to be dug.

Greg bent and cut dozens if not hundreds of pieces of 90cm long rebar to be used to build rebar boxes for footers and columns. This is a tough job and he stayed ahead, always having more material ready than was needed.

Josh Salmon and I spent all day making forms for the footers (stacked in the background) using some old barrels as saw horses. Wood is hard to come by, so everything is made, used, then apart, and remade multiple times for other things.

And this is more or less what we got done today...a ton of work. All the footers dug, all 8 rebar columns made and 7 of them set, three of the eight footers formed and ready for concrete, and some of the backfill already begun. In this photo, Ryan (an awesome young man from Cary) and the pastor's sister in law are pictured.

Finally, we began the day pretty alone on the site but, as usual, we're covered with neighbors and their kids by mid-afternoon. The little girl below is named Angelise and is the daughter of the woman across the street who is letting us use her restroom and store all our tools in her house at night so they will be safe.

We got to the job site about 745am and left about 715pm. I wish I had adequate photos of the worship time we began the day with and some of all the singing and having fun during the day. I think it's safe to say these locals aren't sure what to make of how hard we work and how much we sing and have fun all at the same time. As always, it is a blessing to be here helping and loving these people in Christ's name.

 

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Most of our group from CP attended church this morning at the church we worked on last year. It has come a long way and they have great music and preaching. We left them three cases of Spanish children' new testaments and it was good we had them because there were a ton of children there.

Above, Josh is unloading the suitcase full of Bibles we brought for the Ecuadorian director of missions, Pastor Mendoza, and Pastor Julio of the church here in Bastion Popular.

Everyone spoke, and Pastor Dial gave a great and encouraging message about everyone being made to worship and part of a royal priesthood and chosen people that are called to make disciples.

Three girls of the youth group and Sunday school classes performed a really neat worship dance.

This is the outside of the church here. Not only has it thrived, but another church in this area that we observed as abandoned for some time when we were here last year was reopened in the wake of the two crusades held here last year to accommodate all the new believers.

Finally, I look up and see this little guy running toward me down the street. His name is Jefferson. After "playing" with us construction workers all week last year (he works pretty hard also) he now participates in the children's church activities here at the church. I really enjoyed spending time with him last year and seeing him again.

 

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Now that we are all back in the U.S., I wanted my last blog post about construction to give you a glimpse into the awesomeness of what was going on last week and hopefully encourage you to participate in our Ecuador activities in the future.

The first kind of building we did is summarized in the video above.  It doesn't look like much to you if you weren't there, but digging and pouring 16 piers, 13 columns, about 270 feet of footer, 200 feet of nine foot block wall, and all the form carpentry, re-bar bending/tying, block laying, and stump/dirt moving to make it happen is quite a lot.  Especially w/ 16 guys, 5 1/2 days, and only basic hand tools.  Anyway, the church went from a bamboo hut to having block walls everywhere except the doorway, complete with even windows and a "fellowship hall" like courtyard during our Ecuador tenure.  The pastor and his local help should be able to knock out the rest - pouring the floor and resetting the roof - pretty quick.  They had service there this morning and we all wish we could have been there.

The second kind of building we did is summarized in the second picture above - a group shot of most of our construction team, the local construction boss (who is also a church of God pastor/leader), the pastor of the church we were working on, and some of their family members.  There was an amazing spirit between the men and locals that came together to accomplish all that we did....a spirit that can only be supernatural and that you really have to experience to comprehend.  Only our Lord could bring together so many strong personalities together in such a submissive way to work together and under each other in so much.  It reminded me that sometimes we have said "I can do anything for a week" to describe how to approach this trip, but my experience with these men reminded me that "this week" can be every week.  If Christ can give me the ability to forgive even before it happens, to be completely submissive and flexible to His plan, and maintain a kingdom focus in harmony with other believers for a week, why can't He do that every week?

The final kind of building I think we did is summarized by the last photo above, and in my opinion, the most important.  I didn't take this picture - actually only my arm is pictured in it - but it is representative of how we are trying to life Jesus up in this community.  Each day we had a devotional, that always ends in singing.  Each day we tried to pray and praise and seek Christ in our physical and spiritual work.  Saturday we worked a half day, showing up at 7:45am to get started.  With no devotional planned, the floor was opened for people to speak and church basically broke out until about 8:30am as we shared, worshiped, and prayed.  Our time Saturday ended in prayer after Nixon, a local that lives in Trinitaria (one of the shanty squatter communities we visited last year) shared with us how God's love had inspired him to try and meet the needs of needy people in his community.  This guy supports himself, his wife, and their five children via odd jobs however he can while trying to keep them safe in an almost impossible living situation.....and he is sharing with us (through an interpreter) the burden God has put on his heart to share the gospel with and help the needy.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  God's love indeed.  Above all, Jesus was lifted up this week.

Anyway, we built a church, we built relationships, and we built up our Lord between ourselves and to all who would witness.  I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be obedient and go to Ecuador this year.  I sure hope you will consider joining us in 2013!

Mike

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Posted by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2012

 

Before I get to the "So....why?" thing, take a look at the pics above.  The first is the church we are building in a community called "Bastion Popular".  It is basically a squatters community about an hour north of where we are staying.  Dirt roads, open sewers in the street, bamboo houses, and actually a little sporty from a safety perspective (we have to leave every night by 5pm because they are worried about kidnapping, etc.).  The medical and evangelism teams have also spent quite a bit of time in this area.  The bamboo building on the right side of the 1st picture with the blue sign (that reads "Church of God, Jehovah is Our Refuge" is the church we are trying to move from bamboo walls w/ a dirt floor to concrete block walls with a concrete floor.  The second pic is of Greg Bigbee being his usual useful self.  The guy works and works hard.  The last is a victory photo of Josh with some guys from the team after they spent almost two hours yanking this 300 lb stump from it's home of decades because it was in the way of where we wanted to pour a concrete pier foundation.  Bottom line, the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs stretch for miles here, so here we are trying to submit and be used.

As for the "So...why?" part, I've gotten this question a few times from folks in the church and out.  It mostly comes in the form of folks wondering if this would be a "better" use of their charitable giving than what they might be currently doing or they wonder, if I'm gonna go someplace, why don't I go someplace in the states that is racked with the needy.  Those are good questions.  I wanted to use this post to communicate a more thoughtful answer than what I'm usually able to provide real time.

Let me take what I think is the easier one first - why out of the country?  My thinking here comes down to making a distinction about the level of need.  In our country, many of the poorest have cell phones, utilities, access to some kind of assistance, and at least have someone, somewhere in their family with access to some kind of resources they could call on if they absolutely needed to.  And if not, there are churches on every corner and a multitude of faith-based organizations available to them.  They mostly also live in safety.  I recognize there are groups of exceptions to those generalizations, but all I'm saying is that, in general, America is still a pretty safe and blessed place to live.  My exposure - personally and through talking with others and research - is that the difference between being "needy" in the US and being "needy" in a place like Ecuador is more like the difference between "comfortable" and "Bill Gates comfortable" in the US.  As Pastor Dial recently said, these kids have no hope.  Most are pregnant or kidnapped by their early teens as girls, or hooked on sniffing glue or in jail if they are boys.  Unless somebody shows up and tells them that God loves them, introduces them to a pastor, and invites them to a church built for them to take refuge or worship in, how is tht gonna change?  So that is my reason for thinking outside the US about this stuff.

Now for the charitable giving thing.  This is harder because it obviously involves very personal decisions about priorities.  So, I wll just share my thoughts for you to take as you will.  I came to quite a while ago where I began asking myself, given that God owns everything I have, am I doing what is scriptural with what is His?  My job, my resources, my house, my truck, even my family, etc., and surely my time.  He has made me a steward of those things and I'm responsible for what I do with them.  Matter of fact, all of God's resources on earth are in the hands of people - all the money, experience, knowledge, time, and even the gospel message of his love (somewhat) is at the mercy of human beings and their free will decisions.  Some people are very blessed and/or know Jesus, some are very needy and may not know Jesus.  So, how does God get His resources and the gospel message of His love, which we steward, to people in need?  The answer that is still coming clear to me, the answer that draws me to Manna House and Ecuador and things like that, is that ultimately all those things are dependent on people.  Somebody has to take money donated for Ecuador trips and actually do something with it.  Somebody has to actually be at Manna House to give out all the stuff people donate.  Most people are led to Christ by somebody who went to where they were at and actively shared Christ with them.  I could go on and on....hopefully you get what I mean....all the things made possible by the donations of believers are at the mercy of somebody actually doing something.  So, for me, the question became, "Why not me?".  If I look at Christ's example of going "outside the gate", into the country, to share resources, healing, prayer, and the message of salvation with those who were unsaved, how am I not responsible to do the same?  My seeking brought me to believe that these are responsibilities of every believer.  So then the question became what I was going to do about it.  So that is the simple version of how I ended up in Ecuador typing a blog about it :-).

Speaking of Ecuador, it is amazing.  Dozens led to Christ every day, miracles, a woman delivered from a demon (as told by a pastor who is, by his own admission, as just as much the "chief among skeptics" as Paul was the "chief among sinners).  I'm sure the experience varies person to person, but as pastor Dial said tonight, it is real kingdom building stuff that would not be happening if real people had not left their comfortable jobs and comfortable environments and spent their own money to come here and be Christ's hands, feet, and mouth.  And at the base of it all, that is "why".

Love you all and appreciate your prayers,

Mike

 

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Posted by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2012

...with 150+ other folks from all over the eastern US to try and share God's love to those in need.  As I watch all these folks work through a 20 hour travel day to just show up, it amazes me and reminds me how Jesus himself just.....WENT.  There are almost countless ways that a believer from a modern country can reflect God's love much further than they think.  Many people reading this "went" by sending clothes, glasses, prayers, or money.  We would have loved to share this with you firsthand, but short of that, we really appreciate all the help and support that will enable many in this area to see God's love in action.

Talk to you soon,

Mike

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Posted by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2011

Here is the finished product.....our "Iglesia de Dios" in the heart of southern Guayaquil.

When I first posted the "before" picture of the church construction site at the first of the week, most if not all our time naively hoped that we could finish before we left Ecuador.  The objective was to have the entire building done with no more work required.  But as Josh and I sat on the street curb eating our sandwich for lunch on Wednesday, we talked about how we obviously wouldn't get "done".

But we also talked about how "being done" was never really the goal.  The goal was simply to get as much of the work done that we could and let the completion work itself out.

Even then it struck me that our Christian lives SHOULD be that way, but maybe over time we have come to see it differently.  Let me explain.

It seems to me that often times we demonstrate roughly three phases of Christianity: the first where we are ready and willing to work for God, the second where we are actively seeking to sacrifice, serve, and do God's work, and a third where we kind of think we have done our part and are somewhat "finished".  And the phases seem to me to be independent of age or longevity as a Christian but may be dependent more on how effective we are being as Christians.  The more work we are doing for God, the more the enemy will work against us.  And the attacks of the enemy are usually far more subtle than we expect.  He absolutely uses addiction or moral failure or other frontal assaults, but I believe the majority of his attacks just use our own weight against us.

If we are busily involved with our children's endeavors, he will tempt us to embrace that we are too busy to volunteer or work at or through the church.  If we don't see our family much due to travel or other obligations, he will tempt us to embrace that we need time for our families first.  If we have an issue with someone in the church or with something about the church, he will tempt us to focus on seeing it resolved before extending ourselves any further.  If we are challenged financially, he will convince us that we must see to it that our families' needs are met before giving to God.

The enemy doesn't come straight at us like a boxer.  Like a sumo wrestler, he uses our own weight of commitment to our families, commitment to our jobs, commitment to our finances, and commitment to our own sense of rightness in the church against us and against God.  He takes what is precious to us and uses it to make us work against our savior.

But the enemy is a liar.  More, he is the father of lies and the truth is never in him.

But the truth is in the Word, and it told us to "be His witnesses....to the ends of the earth".  That commission is as valid for you and I the last breath we take as it was the first breath we took as a believer.  Just like we were never intended to "finish" our work on this humble house of worship in Guayaquil, we are never intended to finish our work for Jesus until He calls us to our eternal home.

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Posted by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2011

The "Inglesia de Dios" that we are building is coming along.  In the photo you can see all the concrete posts we have poured, block we have laid, and all the material we are using sitting in piles in what is their sanctuary.  Josh, myself, Allen, and Blake are having a blast on the team and I think all of us feel like we have made fast friends.  It is an amazing amount of pure physical labor - a sawz-all, circular saw, and cordless drill are the extent of our powered equipment.

The construction team starts every day with a devotion and I was asked to provide it this morning.  I shared the same thoughts I had shared the previous night with the men on the mission trip - thoughts from Malachi 3:8-11.  What keeps coming to my mind here in Ecuador is "sacrifice".  Not ours for being here, but the fact that we are so far removed from real sacrifice in our own lives because of our comforts that I have really been convicted in the last two years to clearly define......DAILY.......how is God's kingdom advanced because of me that day?  How has the eternal life He has given me in order that I may life Him up and proclaim His name benefited anyone but myself?  What difference does Jesus' death on the cross make in my life every day?

My thoughts on Malachi 3:8-11 were that the Israelites were suffering from the same problem.  They had become lazy in their comfort and stopped giving their best to God.  They were blessed, so blessed that they had started giving God the leftovers out of their abundance...and HE called them on it.  He tells them that they are ROBBING HIM and that He would rather someone lock the doors to the temple so they WOULDN'T KINDLE THEIR USELESS FIRE ON HIS ALTER.

The fact with our savior and Lord is that something is NOT better than nothing.  He wants, and deserves it all and will judge us by that standard.  We can't continue to try and find His will by trying to pull Him into what we think we want.  We must abandon what we think we want and find ourselves in His will and remain there.  Our salvation is for others, not ourselves.  It is for the work of His kingdom, proclaiming Him Lord and taking the message of the gospel to everyone we can.  God wants the best of us, but He absolutely requires our obedience first.  Not in giving Him what we think He wants or is best, but seeking His face in the Spirit to be led into what His will is for our lives.

God causes or allows all, but we better believe He lets us languish in the consequences of our disobedience decisions.  If we want to change ourselves, our families, our peers, our body, our community, and beyond, we must seek His face for the will He has for us and obey.

A "useless" fire.  That is what God called the offerings of the Israelites.  As individuals, as families, and even as a body....I often wonder what He thinks of ours.

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Future Church Home

Well here it is.  The future home of the church plant Cary is sponsoring here in Ecuador.  This is about a 16 foot by 100 foot alley behind an existing, but not useable, church front in one of the Guayquil "red zones" (i.e. high crime/drugs/etc.).  There are about 30 of us on the construction team.  We had church services this morning....in the street in front of the church front....with the local community this morning.  They were very nice and welcoming to us.  The goal for the week is for this pile of rubble and set of holes you see above to be "dried in" and useable for worship by the time we leave.  Keep us in your prayers.

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Posted by on in Ecuador Mission Trip 2011

Well, it's getting close.  Two weeks from tomorrow.  Melissa and I are going to get our Hep A/B shots today.  We should have already done so but just haven't gotten around to it.  I think I will be ready physically after the shots.  I'm not sure if I'm emotionally ready to be away from MY kids for a whole week that far away and see so many OTHER kids in so much need.  I probably can't really get ready for that.  I know I'm still preparing spiritually.  I am prayerfully hopeful that God will use me to minister to some folks in a real way on this trip.  I'm also praying that the experience changes me.

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