Friday, May 31, 2013 | By: Jake

The Quiet Voice

I slowly climb up the ladder, reaching my foot around to step on the unsteady roof. The can of sealant paint in one hand, and an old brush in another.

I cautiously cross across the hot clay roof, searching for cracks and sealing paint over bolts to prevent leaks. The sun is beating down on my neck and back, and I can't help but think that I will be bright red tonight. A group of people sing in the distance, and although I can't make out the words, something tells me that it's a church group. 

Two nuns walk by, followed by a man carrying a wheelbarrow to the house next door. Across the street, a child is helping his father fix a window, and in the yard down by the house, the children are outside playing. 

My feet are burning from the hot roof, and my forehead drips sweat...

I rely on God to give me Joy through this work, thinking back to Mother Theresa saying that she could not go 30 seconds without praying. I think of all the good that this work will something as small as sealing a roof can have so grand of an our small actions can produce huge results with the help of the Creator.

The quiet voice of my Theology professor from the fall gently nudges my conscience..."I absolutely love doing's one of the few things I do where I can see the results of my work." And as I look back across the roof, I notice all the work that I've done so far...the numerous bolts covered in a thick black coat. I remember the class when I told her, "We need to find Joy in the little progress that we make instead of waiting for the huge progress."

And I have Peace. I have Joy. I have Gratitude...

...until I come to a bolt that has been previously sealed, yet still has holes in it. Someone has done this before and their work did not prove fruitful. And I begin to question whether my results will have any results.

And the response of that same woman of God pierces straight through my doubt: "Yes, Jake, but what if there is no progress at all? What if our actions don't have any positive results? We need to find Joy in the action itself, not in the results."

And as I continue to seal the roof, as I look out and see all the other people working, a smile gleams across my face, for if we can find Joy in the action itself, than all work will be fruitful. 

And now, two hours later, as I sit on the couch, l hear the pouring rain and thunder, and that same smile comes back across my face.

And the work continues to produce Joy, Peace, and Gratitude.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | By: Jake

One Day

I awake this morning to the wonderful sound of rain. I woke up for morning prayer at 5am, and surprisingly, I wasn't tired at all, which I'm assuming is because of my excitement at getting to actually meet all the kids. I'm a big fan of morning prayer being so early. It forces us to pray so early that we're doing it before pretty much anything else, like brushing our teeth, changing out of our pajamas, etc.

After prayer, everyone left the living room to get the day started, but considering it was my first day, I didn't really have any actual assigned tasks. I sat on the couch checking my email, when not five minutes later, a little five year old boy (who I now know as Frankie) walked out of a bedroom attached to the Iiving room. He immediately invited me inside and gave me a piece of we were pretty much instant friends. Within about ten minutes, the other five year old boy was up, we were playing hide and seek, and they were climbing all over me. They also kept pulling up my shirt and giving me raspberries, which I guess is just their thing...

After about 30 minutes of all of that, we sat in the couches in the living room as I read them a few books, which was just perfect. I went back to my room to change out of my pajamas and then ate with the two five year olds and the other younger orphans for breakfast. We had cream mixed with baked beans, which was a little different because I'm pretty sure that I had never had baked beans before today...but they weren't too bad, and I'm pretty sure that it would be impossible to have a bad breakfast while eating with those kids. 

After breakfast, the kids went off to preschool, and I went to the primary school to help Josh, the other summer volunteer, teach English to some 5th graders. The students are all great, and they are so influential in helping me get back into speaking Spanish...I'm obviously a lot more comfortable speaking Spanish in front of 5th graders in contrast with adults. 

Class went by pretty fast, and the next period was recess so I decided to play basketball with the 5th graders...I had some time before I had to help Josh teach English 1 for the secondary school. I'm pretty sure that playing basketball with the kids got me on their good side (sadly, school is closed for the next two days for Nicaraguan-wide teacher conferences, so I won't see them again until Monday!).

The secondary class wasn't as much fun...the kids aren't as excited to learn it, but I have high hopes for the coming months. In Nicaragua, we are right in the heart of the school season, so the kids wil be in school the entire time that I am down here. 

After secondary school, we went to go eat lunch with the people at the orphanage, including the preschoolers that I met earlier in the morning. Although there a 13 orphans, there are only seven of them in the preschool...the others attend the primary or secondary school. All seven of them are absolutely wonderful, loving, funny, and of course, a little mischievous. After lunch, we had nap time, and that took a while to get the kids down, but after they were sleeping, it was nice to have some time to relax.

After naps, school was over, and it was pretty much just hang out and play time for the rest of the night. I hung out a lot with Frankie, who is in love with his cars, and as soon as he saw that I had an iPad, he wanted to take a bunch of pictures. 

Eventually, the other kids came out to play, and we went all around the soccer field playing "crocodile hunting", which pretty much means that everyone grasps on to me for "protection" as we hunt for the crocodiles...until one of them suddenly turns into a crocodile. When this happens, they all turn into crocodiles, except me of course, and then I just get tackled to the ground by five kids...

We went inside to hang out for a little while longer until dinner was ready...I don't know what we ate, but it was delicious...looked kind of like a friend taco? Haha I don't know my food names, and I'm more concerned with how it tastes than with what it is actually called. :)

After dinner, we all hung out in the living room, singing worship songs, having a small devotional, and just messing around...

We ended the night by having the teenagers teach us more Spanish, which they do an amazing job at, followed by us watching August Rush. I went back to my room (Josh and I are switching off the weeks that we sleep with Frankie and Leito, the two boys...this week, I'm sleeping in our room while Josh sleeps with them) in the lightly pouring rain, realizing how truly blessed I am to be at this place.

I have gotten such a insight into the terrible stories if many of these kids' pasts...pasts that have been washed away and replaced by loving and loving-love kids. I'm surprised by how long the day has a good way. And mostly, I'm shocked by how well I'm picking up Spanish again.

And I've only been here for one day...


Two days ago, while laying in bed, I had somewhat of a panic attack...

Realizing that I was going to be away from my home--far away from my home--for a full two months...that I was giving up an internship. I had talked about the trip that it almost seemed like that's all it would ever be: just talk. But two days ago, I lay in bed, eyes wide open, staring up at the ceiling and breathing heavily. Realizing that this was no longer talk about some distant trip after finals and all that stuff---because two days ago, I realized I had only two more nights in my bed at home.

The ceiling fan continued making noise, my little brother lay next to me breathing, the television in the other room playing, the dog walking around...there was too much noise and I couldn't handle it with all of my thoughts. 

So I turned on my phone, plugged in my headphones and listened to the sounds of a rain storm, attempting to break out all the other noise, and more out of mental exhaustion than self will, I fell asleep.

And now here I lay in a small bed in Nicaragua...thunder, rain, lightning going absolutely insane outside. I'm alone in a dark room, and I'm far from home.

But there are no feelings of anxiety, no feelings of despair, exhaustion, doubt. 

There is just peace, and I know that I am where I am supposed to be.

Thank you for your prayers.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | By: Jake

An Adrenaline Rush

Within a few short hours, I'll be starting my missions trip to Nicaragua. For 65 days, I will be down in El Crucero, Nicaragua, just outside of Managua (Nicaragua's Capital). I will be working at New Hope Children's Foundation, which manages a school with more than 300 students from the community, an orphanage that has eleven girls and two boys, and a feeding center.

While I'm down in Nicaragua, although I will mainly just be a helping hand for whoever needs some help, I will be helping teach English and Mathematics at the Foundation's school.

I'm not quite sure what I'm feeling at the moment, on my way to the airport....realizing that this will be my first time going on a plane on my own. I wouldn't really say that I'm nervous, but more of an adrenaline rush

Yet maybe even an adrenaline rush is a bad thing to have right now, so I lift that up to God...all nerves, anxiety, worry, and fear of the unknown, and thanking Him for this wonderful opportunity to which I have been called, delighting in the many who helped support me on this coming journey, both spiritually and financially, sending up Gratitude for every single moment that I experience, knowing that He has a plan, I humbly ask for the peace that surpasses all understanding.

For I can do all things through God who strengthens me..

I humbly ask for your prayers over the next two months, that I find gratitude in every moment, that even if it's not what I experience, I will experience what God has in store for me, that I maintain a spiritual discipline, that I put myself second to all, especially Christ, and that I serve the Kingdom.

I would not be making this journey without God, and more importantly, I could not have made this journey without God, and I entrust Him with everything.

All Glory, All Honor, All Praise to Him!

Sunday, May 26, 2013 | By: Jake

Three Seconds

After morning prayer, we traveled on towards the Checkpoint to get into Bethlehem. I was impressed that the Checkpoint into Bethlehem is no more than a two-minute walk from Tantur Institute. I was pleasantly surprised that Notre Dame was able to get such prime real estate. The Checkpoint seemed to be the most talked about location that we'd be going to. Again and again, we were told to be extremely cautious when going through the checkpoint. No photographs. No jokes. No trying to be a "social justice activist" and stand up for the people being treated unfairly. If we were in the back of a line and were told that we could skip to the front, we were to warmly accept the invitation. This pilgrimage was not a time for us to live in solidarity with victims of oppression.

I'm one of those people that like to take's really a problem. My mom is probably singing praises of "Alleluia" right now because I'm admitting this. Anyway, I tend to be the person that leads the group, that walks to the front of the group...even when I'm in a different country for the first time. I guess I can also blame this on my fast-walking.

Anyway, I quickly travelled to the front of our pack and headed through the first gate at the checkpoint. I had no idea that you were supposed to stop and show the soldiers your passport and stop for questioning. As I travelled through, one of the leaders of the pilgrimage called my name, implying that I should turn around and show the guard my passport. However, the guard motioned me forward, implying that I didn't have to show my passport--I guess there are a lot of benefits to being a blonde-haired white kid that doesn't know what he's doing. On the one hand, I was delighted that I could easily walk through, but on the other hand, I was getting a privilege that many people were denied. 

What usually took up to two hours for some Palestinians (literally two hours), took me a matter of three seconds.

The rest of the pilgrimage group followed through, but as I continued on down the path only to bet by about thirty taxi drivers all fighting to be our cab driver. About this time, my "need to lead" simmered down a bit and we followed behind Hannah, one of the pilgrimage leaders who also runs the Notre Dame Jerusalem Program. Twenty clueless and ignorant people following someone that clearly knew where she was going---I'm pretty sure it was clear as day that we were Americans.

The roads of Bethlehem were not exactly what I thought they would be like. I guess I was expecting dirt roads, people with head coverings, really old buildings, etc. Something like this...

But in reality, it was pretty modern. I mean, it definitely wasn't a city like Chicago, but it kind of looked like a run-down once-urban city...there were some nice buildings, there were stories everywhere, people dressed in jeans were walking around...more like this...

And aside from the giant checkpoint wall that made the city look more like a jail from the outside and aside from the Palestinian guards at some corners stationed with their firearms, it really didn't look anything like I was expecting. 

We quickly walked through the streets, hurrying to get to Mass on time....

Friday, May 17, 2013 | By: Jake

Seeking that Personal Prayer

We arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel in the middle of the night and took a long bus ride to Tantur Institute. I was pleasantly surprised by how much different Israel was than how I had originally thought that it would be. It seemed so much more modern than I thought it would be, yet still much more ancient than I thought it would be, which doesn't really make sense....but that's what I felt.

Tantur is right outside of Bethlehem, up on a hill. Expecting some small building, I was amazed to find a fairly large campus. However, with only having about three hours before we had to wake up for Mass the following morning, I didn't really have the time to explore yet.

I awoke to my early morning alarm, thankfully free of jet lag, most likely due to the excitement of the day. I was given a single to stay at while rooming at Tantur, and the bright sun shone through the curtains.

I opened up the back porch window, stepping out into the 80°F weather...coming from South Bend's 30°F weather, this was absolutely wonderful. After a quick shower and a delightful breakfast, we stepped into the front courtyard at Tantur for morning prayer. We only had a short time before we had to walk over to Bethlehem for mass, but praying with Bethlehem in the background was quite an experience.

Morning prayer was not something that I was used to...even attending a Catholic grade school, morning prayer was never something that I have experienced. Coming from a faith community on campus that usually doesn't practice pre-written prayer, I had to make quite an adjustment. I found myself desperately seeking the time to pray what I was feeling at the moment.

As we took turns reciting different parts out of our prayer books, I looked out on the giant wall separating Israel and Palestine beyond the wall of Tantur. In the same light, I felt this wall between God and I when praying morning prayer.

Even surrounded by devoted Christians who I looked up to, I struggled to make that connection. Even with this spiritual community, even with this pilgrimage group, my heart desired personal prayer.

Last night, I went out to Steak N Shake with a few friends from ISI, and before our meal, we joined our hands in prayer, thanking God for the wonderful time together this past year and our many blessings...but I still found myself seeking that personal prayer. I didn't want to stop praying, didn't want to stop communicating with God...I wanted to talk about everything else that was going on.

Instead of thinking that the prayer was too short, that the prayer is pre-written and not personal, that only one person in the group is praying...I think I need to look more inwardly and realize that prayer in these settings is meant to be communal. Our faith lives, although personal, are also meant to be experienced in community, in relationship with one another...even God is in constant relationship with Himself.

I should be seeing this as a conviction of a need for more personal prayer, of more personal time with Christ.  In communal prayer, we're uniting together under one prayer, whether pre-written or spoken with one person, and regardless of how long the prayer is, we are communicating with Christ.

Both personal and communal prayer are necessary for a vibrant faith life, and for me, the prior is definitely lacking. I'm currently going through Bill Hybels's Too Busy Not to Pray, and so far, it's bearing some great fruit in my life. Sometimes I so easily forget that we can approach God alone, but we can. And awesome.
Monday, May 13, 2013 | By: Jake

Unconditional Love Sucks

Finals are officially over and the semester has ended! I'm still on campus for Senior Week, as I'll be singing with the gospel choir for Commencement this weekend. Then, I'll be home for a short seven days, followed by my 65-day trip to Nicaragua!

So many wonderful blessings have been poured out on me over the past two weeks...and while I usually talk about how hard it is to praise God in the midst of suffering and pain, I feel like we overlook how hard it is thank God in the midst of so many blessings.

With a brand new job with Campus Ministry for next year, finishing the semester with all As and Bs, and receiving a sizable service scholarship from the University, sometimes it's easy to attribute these blessings to myself, to forget how much God helped me.

I've been talking with some friends recently about why God's unconditional love sucks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful for it, but if I'm being blatantly honest, God's unconditional love pisses me off at times....

Some of you may disagree with me...the fact that we don't have to work for our salvation, that we receive this amazing and infinite gift, how could I not love that?

Well...there's this funny little thing called pride...

I like glory...I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy being the center of attention, receiving recognition, honor, gratitude, praise...anything that makes me feel like I worked for something, earned something, deserved something.

Life, especially in America, sometimes seems like one big rat race...we're all chasing after the American Dream, all trying to be the best, competing with each other. I've worked hard to get good grades, to do so much community service, join so many extracurricular activities. And I'm obviously not alone...millions of students have worked their way up the social ladder, desperate to get to the top. Suzy Lee Weiss sums it all up in her WSJ post.

For me, it's why God's unconditional love angers me at time. We want to feel entitled to something. I can never declare that I have earned God's grace, that I deserve eternal salvation. All of that is open to absolutely everyone, and there is nothing I can do to prove myself worthy. Christ is the only one who can make us worthy.

I recently heard All Sons and Daughter's "All Praise to You" on Pandora, as they repeatedly declare:
"All Glory, All Honor, All Praise to You"
We're not saying "Glory and Honor and Praise to God", we're saying "All Glory, All Honor, All Praise to God"....meaning all that glory that I want? That all has to go to Him.

When we attribute our works to Christ, our achievements, our victories, our accomplishments, we're giving up our thoughts of entitlement, which is a hard thing to do. I completely understand that.


When we give up that entitlement, we start finding more gratitude, and as I've been so often read, gratitude is what leads to true Joy. So be thankful for unconditional love...even if we didn't earn it, we still get true Joy from it.