Czech Republic 2017 - Our Return

Flight. Flight. Bus. Train. Train. We arrive in the small town of Frýdlant nad Ostravicí. Our team rolls their luggage from the train station to the small bed & breakfast we’re staying in for the week. It’s dark outside, and we head to bed knowing the next morning we begin classes at BMA, (Beskydy Mountain Academy) the Christian school we have come to serve.

Our train races from Prague to Ostravicí as the sun begins to set

 

Our team preps for the first flight from Chicago to Prague

Out team rolls luggage through one of two trains

Noah & Bri  (And distantly Ryan) pose as we switch trains

Our team rolls single file into the B&B after more than 20 hours of travel

Our program for the week centers around the idea of experiential learning. During each class, we split students into small groups of 6-8 and begin with a game. Afterwards, we spend the remainder of our hour debriefing our experience. As group leaders, we use metaphors to connect that experience with reality. Perhaps in one game, the experience we share centers around trust. During our debrief, we might explore what role trust plays in our lives. Who do you choose to trust/distrust? How is trust built? How does trust change a situation or experience? Experiential learning is all about the moment where learning connects with life.

Filled with caffeine, our team carries supplies into BMA for our first day of classes 

Bobby presents to our first class of the week, explaining who we are, and why we're visiting

Picture with me, a group of students standing in a circle, all holding tightly to a circular rope. They are told as a group to take one step in, and lean back, trusting each other (and the rope) to hold them from falling into the somewhat muddy ground below.  

Students laugh, some raise eyebrows… Then, they each lean back, trusting the rope, and the rest of the circle to support them...

This action is perhaps the reason we enjoy this program, and the students at BMA so much. Sure, for a few moments you are strangers playing a game together, but then there is this moment where everything changes. Suddenly, you are sharing an experience, barriers come down, cultures fade. From a distance, this group might appear crazy, but inside this experience, there is belonging.

This to me is a wonderful representation of the Gospel. We begin as strangers to grace. We look on as outsiders and see a faith that (if we’re being honest) looks a little crazy, but then there is this moment where we understand. We experience this grace, freely given, and we belong. Walls come down, cultures fade, healing begins. As members of God’s family, we belong.

A whole grade of students hold tight to a much-bigger version of our rope as Bobby directs from the center

Ryan and Tyńa, a Czech Student-Leader, lean back with the rest of their group

Jim & Ransom listen as one of their students shares an experience with the group

Two Czechs struggle to find a solution and escape our rope "handcuffs" together

Brianna, Noah, & Amie lead a discussion with students after a game

Making a decision to follow Christ in Czech is different than here in America. Here, there is a “moment” of decision, where we choose to enter into a relationship with Jesus. Maybe you have a date written in the front of your bible, or you can recall a conversation where you made a decision. There, entering into a relationship with Christ is less “decision” and more “journey.” Most students who end up becoming Christians go through a process of asking and seeking out what faith really means first. That process takes work, thought, and time; sometimes years. This “seeking” of the truth, on the part of Czech students we have met, is perhaps the most refreshing part of relationships that we have formed there.

Brianna & my mom Ami hug as we cross the main river in town on our way to dinner

Noah teaches a group of Czechs a new game in the school's backyard

Our team bowls (poorly) at a local restaurant with our Czech friends

Sure, we may sometimes disagree on matters of religion, faith, or worldview, but each of us come to the table having spent the time to think through our viewpoint. “Seeking” is not limited to the process of coming to faith either. Those students who have made commitments of faith are active within their communities and within conversations with other students.

For this reason, the word we would use to describe our time in Czech is refreshing. Sure, after 20 hours of travel, and hopping between different small groups each day, the prevailing feeling amongst the team was exhaustion, but watching students care, and take ownership of faith so real carries our hearts beyond exhaustion and into hope.

Our program and our American lives are shared for but a week in the life of a BMA student, but the belonging formed in each experience we shared together, sets the stage for conversations, and the truth of the Gospel to continue.

Part of our team waits for the train that will take us back to Prague

Bri & Noah prepare for adventure

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR TRIP:

  • Brand new school program  “What’s There In Your Hair” written for use in Czech and in the US.

  • Concepts of experiential learning, our school program, and our recovery program shared with over 200 Czech teachers in partnership with Josiah Venture.

  • Student leaders from advanced years trained as small group leaders.

  • Original school program “Voices & Choices” entirely translated (and designed) into Czech.

  • Encouraging results from the launch of our pain & addictions program “Regroup” within BMA by one of our ministry partners.

  • Encouraging time spent building previously formed relationships by repeat-members of our team.

  • Multiple students at BMA telling us about decisions of faith since our visit last spring

  • A great week spent serving together as husband & wife!

Bri looking beautiful as our team ventures through old-town on the way to dinner

Our team crosses into "old town" in search of adventure 

This is just a door. It might be the most beautiful door I've ever seen. 

A beautiful view as our team visits the Jewish Holocaust memrial in Prague

Our team travels through the streets of Prague

Noah stands guard

Bri stunning the passers-by as she poses next to the "hey look at that cool door" we found

Ryan overlooking Prague

"Look at those guns"

Our team and Czech friends together in Prague


Friends, Family, Financial Partners; Thank you for supporting us! Because of your generosity and time, our relationships continue, new friendships are formed,  and the Gospel continues to be shared. - Evan & Bri


 

PHOTOS THAT DIDN'T MAKE IT IN ABOVE

Czech Republic 2017

HELLO FRIENDS & FAMILY!

The past few months of our lives have been filled with a lot of change. In late July of last year, fresh off of three months of travel (including my trip to Czech) and both of us starting new jobs, I got down on one knee and asked Brianna to be my wife. Just four months later, I stood shaking as she walked down the isle and joined me in marriage. After moving in, and spending the last month figuring out how to fit my belongings into our tiny apartment, things have finally settled down. 

A VISION FOR 2017

Two months ago, Bri and I decided that against logic, finances, and time, God was calling us to go to the Czech Republic together. Our trip last year was a huge success, and the thought had crossed my mind to return, but with getting married, a super tight newlywed budget, and the changes that we are going through, I had pushed the idea aside.“It’s just too much” was my prevailing feeling.God had different plans. We decided to pray about the opportunity, and we walked away with a new desire placed in our hearts.

As a couple, we believe in going where God leads us, and God has clearly given both of us a directive to be on this team. That decision is not without fear. We are walking into this trip without even the means to support ourselves financially during the week we are gone. Though God has repeatedly blessed and provided for us this year (ask me), things are still tight. The cost of us both going is our sole responsibility (no bailouts), so in choosing to go, we are taking a big risk. If you were at our wedding, you’ll know that our pastor shared about a treasure we have received. That treasure is the gift of new life, purchased at great cost through the blood of our Savior.

We want to bring that gift to Czech, not because we know the answers, and not because we have things figured out, but because our cultures and our world is united in brokenness that may only be healed In Christ. Together, our hearts ache with desire to share this message, so our (small) risk is far worth it! We’re asking that you join us by supporting us financially and in prayer. If things are tight for you too right now, we understand. Know that we realize it may seem presumptuous to ask for your support just months after many of you blessed us with gifts at our wedding, but let that showcase all the more our determination to follow this calling.  


THREE GOALS FOR OUR TEAM

The thing about short-term misions is that oftentimes they are exactly that; short term, but what we are seeking to build here is something much more than short term. This is real. This is exciting. I have experienced God moving and blessing this program as it has literally exploded in growth over the past few years. I cannot wait to share this program, but much more importantly, the gospel to the students in the Czech Republic in a new way.

GOAL 1: BUILD BRIDGES

The beauty of the program we run here in the US is that is provides a bridge for us to build relationships quickly. Because we believe that the best way to share the Gospel is through relational ministry, this provides us a platform to share our faith with authenticity and transparency. As we run this program a second time in Czech, our goal is to continue building those relationships with students and educators.

GOAL 2: OBSERVE & DEBRIEF PROGRAMS

Our primary goal last year was to equip BMA and Josiah Venture to use experiential learning as a bridge for sharing the Gospel. We hope to use our learned experience to help refine and support similar programs  (including one of ours, launched last month at BMA). 

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GOAL 3: FOSTER STUDENT LEADERSHIP

One thing that we have seen cause growth within our programs within the US is equipping students to run the programs they participate in. One of our most-requested serving opportunities within schools in our area is leadership team-building. We’ve been asked to assist BMA as they attempt to create something similar in Czech. For us, this means running a few leader training sessions that focus on equipping these students to lead their communities well. 


PRAYER & FUNDRAISING NEEDS

$4000 is the total cost of the trip for both Bri and myself. You don't need to give big to be a part of our mission.

Anything helps! If everyone we know gave just $5, this mission would be funded in just a few minutes! All donations are

tax-deductible! Thank you! We are so excited to share what God does through our team! 


JOIN OUR TEAM IN PRAYER:

JOIN OUR TEAM FINANCIALLY:

 

Evan & Bri say "I DO"

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Final Mailed Invitations

An engagement photo taken by our friend Alex

 

In the sight of The LORD, before these witnesses, I,_____ take you ____ to be my husband/wife, promising through God’s grace, to be loving and faithful to you from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. I promise to treat you with respect, forgive you as I have been forgiven, build you up, listen, and keep Christ the foundation of my heart until death do us part.

 

Czech Republic 2016

I am so excited to write this, because the mission behind this request is something I have personally worked on, prayed for, and watched God use throughout the past 5 years. I am thrilled to tell you about it, and even more thrilled to see it expand to a new place.  Let's jump in! 
 

THE PROGRAM ------------------------------------------------------

The program began with a need. A public school administrator reached out to our church, saying that she felt like the moral foundation of her school was eroding. She asked our church, Christ Community, if we would be willing to put something together for them. Bobby Jackson, our Hub (student center) Director, and a mentor of mine, began a program that sought to meet the need the school expressed. He and a team of hastily gathered voluneers ran the first event for the entire freshman class (650+ students) in our facility that fall. The next year, I was asked by Bobby to be on the Hub team, and I’ve been a part of almost every event since. 

The program at its core seeks to build a srong moral and social/emotional framework through the use of experiential learning. What that really means, is that we teach biblical truths about how to live life well, and relate with others in a way that students enjoy and remember far beyond our events. Because of the separation of church and state in America, we are not able to openly speak the gospel at these events, but we are able to share our testimonies, quote scripture (without calling it scripture), and answer any questions that students have about life and faith, all within our actual church building, on a school day! This is unheard of across the U.S., and since the program began, we have expanded from one school, to around 17 last fall. In those few years we have also expanded our program to include middle schools, and this year, elementary schools. Last fall alone, we reached over 3500 students in our area with this program, and we expect this fall to hold much more. 

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THE MISSION ------------------------------------------------------

Just a short time ago, the Hub team was presented with a very unique opportunity; bring the Hub School Program to the Czech Republic! The Czech Republic is the most Atheistic country in Europe, and the third most atheistic in the world. Christianity has historically been the largest religion in the country but throughout the course of two world wars and a communist regime, now less than 1% of the country is considered protestant Christians. That compares to almost 50% of Americans who consider themselves protestant Christians.

We have partnered with Josiah Venture (josiahventure.com), a missions organization in eastern Europe, and we will be sending a fairly lean team  of both students (including my brother!) and adults who have been involved in this program over to a local school, and a pastoral community. 
 
The purpose of our trip is two-fold; minister to the students at this particular school during our weeklong stay, and equip the church to run this program for themselves. Perhaps the thing that excites me most is that within the Czech Republic, we are allowed to speak freely about our faith within the school system! This brings a whole new level to what we have already seen God blessing here in our backyard

 

BE A PART OF THIS ------------------------------------------------------

 The thing about short-term misions is that oftentimes they are exactly that; short term, but what we are seeking to build here is something much more than short term. This is real. This is exciting. I have experienced God moving and blessing this program as it has literally exploded in growth over the past few years. I cannot wait to share this program, but much more importantly, the gospel to the students in the Czech Republic in a new way.

Consider partnering with my team both prayerfully and financially. The Gospel that we spread will change lives, will change hearts, and will impact the students of the Czech Republic eternally.  

Lastly, I would love to speak to you about this. I would love the chance to allow my passion for youth in this world, and in our community to spill out as we talk, so give me a call, send me an email, message me, social media me, or (best) grab coffee with me!

 

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JOIN MY TEAM IN PRAYER:

JOIN MY TEAM FINANCIALLY:

This box takes you to an electronic donation link where you can select my name!

Brazil 2015

AN ADVENTURE TOLD FROM BEHIND THE LENS

As I looked out the window of our plane, 30,000 feet above what looks to be complete darkness, I asked myself "what am I doing here?" The passengers, some of which were friends, some I had never met, were all fast asleep around me. I was awake. This was about to be my third time landing in the city of Manaus, Brazil. I had actually been on this same trip twice before, both times as a student, traveling with my church, Christ Community. This trip was different, because this time, I was being asked to film the adventures of 25 students, as they traveled from their homes in Chicago, to the Amazon.

To be honest, I was scared. Not of the plane, swiftly making it's way through the night, but of the thing that anyone behind the camera always fears; missing the moment. No matter how experienced you are, no matter how frequently you hold a camera, the photographer, or in my case, the videographer, will always be chained to the moment of time you need to capture. 

I looked out my window again, deciding not to dwell on the trepidation quietly murmuring in the back of my mind. I looked up, noticing how the stars seemed brighter than I had ever seen, and how they seemed to meet the earth in a sharp line of pitch blackness. It seemed that even the moon, obscured by the clouds, did not want to shed light on the jungle below. Every so often, a little anthill of lights would pass underneath, some small village or town, but there were no roads to be seen. 

 In the distance, you can see how the city ends, and the jungle blackness begins so suddenly.

In the distance, you can see how the city ends, and the jungle blackness begins so suddenly.

Then, without much notice, the plane turns and Manaus sweeps into my frame of view. The city is bright, almost blindingly so after my view a few seconds before. To me, this view is worth staying up to see. What strikes me every time is just now sharp the divide between jungle and city is. There are no suburbs, no little neighborhoods, just jungle, and then city. It's beautiful, and in many ways captures the feelings I have about Manaus, a city nestled along the riverbanks of the Rio Negro (the black river), and the Amazon.

We land, the plane doing a little jump as we touch down, and our team disembarks into the airport, which looks remarkably nicer than the last time I saw it. Hosting a couple games of the World Cup, which is far bigger than the Olympics for Brazilians, must have brought with it some upgrades. 

I look down at my phone, and notice it's around 1 am. The timezone is only an hour different than home, but it feels like I could fall asleep standing up. A welcoming group from our Brazilian church partner, IPM, cheers for each member of our team as they pass through customs. I know a few of the people there, and greet them happily, but my tiredness shows, and our team makes it's way towards the airport doors, where a bus is waiting to take us to our hotel.

As I walk through the sliding doors outside the airport, I am hit with the deep humid air I remember so well. It reminds me of the air after a long hot shower, when the condensation begins to run down the mirror. This is when it really hits me.

I am in Brazil.

 A sunrise from the roof of our hotel.

A sunrise from the roof of our hotel.

MANAUS: THE CITY

Somewhere I read that sunsets are more beautiful because light hitting the evaporated water in the air shows us more color. Here in Brazil, where the humidity is thick, even at night, the sunrise looks just as beautiful as any sunset I've ever seen. The light is warm in color, orange, and sharp lines of light have already begun to make their way across the floor. It's morning, and today, our team is facilitating testing for the students who will attend the English camp we are here for later in the week. 

Our hotel (Hotel Monaco) is much nicer on the inside than the outside. One thing that I've always found funny is that each room is different, the layouts almost never match, furniture is different, and each room seems to have a different "theme". I've always liked this, wondering why hotels in the states don't show more creativity in what they design. 

The city of Manaus in many ways is like our hotel. When you walk along the sidewalk, the tile in front of each business changes, both in pattern, and in color. Each address on the street has a different style. Sometimes architecture is modern, with long flat lines and big windows, and other times is very simplistic, with concrete painted walls, and barred windows. Looking down the street near our hotel feels like times square, only smaller. Brightly colored signs shout for your attention and telephone/electric lines hang low, making the street feel cluttered. 

Filming in the street is another challenge altogether. Our translator Ricardo (spoken Hicardo) informs me that it probably isn't the best idea to have my camera out for the world to see. It seems that while the streets seem nice enough, things aren't always as they seem. For the moment, I opt for filming with a go-pro secured on a hand-hold and follow the team from behind. 

 The Amazon Theatre, with the Rio Negro in the background

The Amazon Theatre, with the Rio Negro in the background

The city of Manaus has a few things that stand out above the rest. Every so often, a large ornate and beautiful building showcases the deep history of the area. Around these buildings are usually beautiful city parks, with lots of well kept trees and beautiful tile. The city's crown jewel, The Amazon Theatre, is an opera house finished in 1892. When I ask to hear about it, our guide Gi's eyes light up. He tells me about how the materials used to build the theatre were imported from Italy, Scotland, Germany, and France. He also mentions that the "Jewel of the Amazon" was like a jump start for their city, with infrastructure and population following it's construction. From many places in the city, you can see it's signature tiled dome, decorated with the colors of the Brazilian flag, peeking out from behind buildings.  

 Kevin, my roommate for the week, looks out over Manaus from the gated roof of the hotel.

Kevin, my roommate for the week, looks out over Manaus from the gated roof of the hotel.

 Team members walk down a crowded street near the city marketplace.

Team members walk down a crowded street near the city marketplace.

 A beautiful ornate building along a street we traveled.

A beautiful ornate building along a street we traveled.

 A city park with a fountain that talks about the imported goods used to build the Amazon Theatre.

A city park with a fountain that talks about the imported goods used to build the Amazon Theatre.

 Team members crowd together as Pastor Djard introduces them to the Brazilian students.

Team members crowd together as Pastor Djard introduces them to the Brazilian students.

IPM: THE CHURCH 

If you read any books on foreign culture, you will find that many cultures are often identified as "warm" or "cold". I have often found that in Chicago, temperatures aren't the only things that get sub-zero, so entering into a culture where the people are warm and generally happy is a really exciting experience.

Inside the church, our team walks down the isle of a large auditorium, and up unto the stage. Our main contact in Manaus, Pastor Djard Moraes, introduces our team and talks about the English Camp the church will be putting on in the coming week. The crowd is made up of students. They range in age, some are parents, but most are in high school or college. 

For a couple members of our team, this is a reunion. People they haven't seen since last year's camp, or friends they've never met in person, but have talked to online are there in the church, waiting to say hello. One thing I learned quickly after my first visit here is that Brazilians love Facebook. I have over 200 friends from Brazil, and after every trip the advertisements on the side of my news feed turn from english to Portuguese for a while. Every so often, I'll get messages asking how I am, how my life is going, and when I'm coming back.

 A team member talks with a Brazilian student during testing.

A team member talks with a Brazilian student during testing.

The church service ends, and everyone gets ushered into the numerous classrooms downstairs to begin testing. Students get graded on how well they can speak english, which helps the Americans to place them in the right class. 

Students are incredibly friendly, and even when they don’t know how to communicate in english, they smile widely at you and pretend you understand anyway. Thats the thing about being there, everyone wants you to be their friend. Anyone will grab you to include you in their discussion, or tell you about what game they are playing, lunch they are eating, and what their group is laughing about. Its constant, and I love every second of it.  

 IPM's larger city campus. The head pastor is on the stage giving a blessing. 

IPM's larger city campus. The head pastor is on the stage giving a blessing. 

 One of our team leading worship at IPM

One of our team leading worship at IPM

After the testing, we are bussed across the city to the church's main campus. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the inside of the building. Our church back home is a bit larger in size than this one, but in the middle of the city, a building this large is a surprise. There is something also to be said about seeing hundreds of Brazilians gathered together praising God in a different tongue, but with the same heart. 

 Speeding down the backroads near the camp in our bus. 

Speeding down the backroads near the camp in our bus. 

MONTE SIÃO: THE CAMP 

Early the next morning, we are ushered unto busses, luggage and all, and we begin the drive out to Monte Siáo, the church’s camp. The trip is about 4 hours, so a lot of the team sleeps, but after awhile, I get up to film a little of the ride and talk. Just a few hours outside the city, the countryside of Brazil takes on a new landscape. Jungle is nowhere to be seen, and vast hilly plains stretch out, many times covered in short crops and sparse farmland. The land looks dry, but the air is still thick with humidity. 

As we get nearer to the camp, the foliage begins to take root again, and where there are plains, they are usually dense with grasses. Villages pop up every few miles, always with a few Brazilians milling about outside. On occasion, a motorcycle will zip by our bus, sometimes carrying 3 people clinging tightly to the back. 

 Part of the surrounding tributary, as captured by drone

Part of the surrounding tributary, as captured by drone

The camp itself is located on a peninsula. The river stretches around it in a sort of rough U shape with dense jungle on all sides of a massive clearing. The camp sits within the clearing which is covered in rough cut grass and palms.

As we pull up, it suddenly begins to rain as it often does here in the right season. The rain comes down in thick marble sized droplets, almost as if you are taking a shower. Anyone outside for more than a few seconds is soaked, but it’s a nice change from the hot sun. A few of our team members play around and allow me to record slow motion droplets hitting their faces.  

Shortly after we arrive, 5 or so large busses pull up the long stone driveway, each filled with Brazilian students. The students unload and within the hour people are zipping through the sky on the zip-line cables and backflipping while playing soap soccer. 

 Brazilian countryside

Brazilian countryside

 A small tree shakes off water droplets following the rain.

A small tree shakes off water droplets following the rain.

 A team-member talks about sports with a Brazilian. 

A team-member talks about sports with a Brazilian. 

 A team-member shares her testimony before breakfast begins

A team-member shares her testimony before breakfast begins

After class, there's lunch, usually a pasta with a side of chicken or beef. The Brazilians light up at mealtime, each table loudly proclaiming it's worth to the rest in the hall. Brazilians are very competitive it turns out, and they are also competitive over people they know. The Americans are pulled one by one into a different table, and when you look down the long line of the open-air dining hall, every so often you see an American face peeking through the tables. Often, the face that I glimpse upon my team members is a mix between confusion and delight. They aren't quite sure what is happening in front of them, but it's always funny, and it's always interesting. 

Each day at the camp begins with a student testimony. Several of our team members stood in front of the long dining hall and shared about their faith journey before the camp. After breakfast, which consists of fresh fruit, bread, and scrambled eggs of some kind, the students break off into their English groups to learn for the morning. Each group plays a number of games, sounds out different words and practices speaking together. This camp is called an "english immersion" meaning that hardly any Portuguese is spoken from stage, and when there is, it is always accompanied by an English translator. 

 Team-members lead an english class at the top of the four story tower

Team-members lead an english class at the top of the four story tower

  A student I talked with in one English class daily.

 A student I talked with in one English class daily.

 Students crowd around a table during english lessons

Students crowd around a table during english lessons

Each afternoon, the camp goes wild. Games begin everywhere, and everywhere you turn something exciting is going on. The camp has a 300 ft waterslide fashioned out of incredibly long tarps, running into the Amazon river tributary that surrounds the camp. Soccer and Volleyball games begin, and those who are not playing are usually watching or cheering for their team. Tug-Of-War games begin over giant mud patches, and friends sit in chairs together talking and watching the fun. Every so often a student will zip across the giant clearing, hundreds of feet above the ground, and bystanders will laugh or point. 

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If all that isn't enough, each afternoon the church hosts one giant game or activity. Tournaments are held between opposing teams, and winners collect points that give their team a chance to beat the rest.

The afternoons are hot. That's really the only way to say it. Even in the blazing sun, your shirt seems sticky with sweat or humidity. Cold water can be found at the dining hall or a 10 minute walk down the road to the American dorm (an open air building with 4 rooms). The camera gear around my neck and back means that I can't partake of the usual water-drenching activities the students use to keep cool, so I find myself drenching my shirt in ice water every chance I get. I walk between different activities, strapping go-pro's unto students, and filming from a safe distance while soccer balls fly and water gets sprayed in all directions. I love it. 

 Students cheer as they prepare for the annual camp picture

Students cheer as they prepare for the annual camp picture

Around 4, a strange lull occurs. The camp momentarily clears out and only a few championship games take place throughout the clearing. Students head back to their dorms to shower up and change for dinner, which usually consists of pasta, a large amount of rice, and some meat, which is always good. Everything here is delicious (unless you're gluten free) and dinner is relaxing.

 I film from the side of a swift boat on the Amazon tributary that surrounds the camp

I film from the side of a swift boat on the Amazon tributary that surrounds the camp

 The sun sets over the camp near the chapel and english dorm

The sun sets over the camp near the chapel and english dorm

 Students worship energetically during a nighttime chapel session

Students worship energetically during a nighttime chapel session

After dinner, is where the real fun happens though. Over 350 students and volunteers pack into a cone shaped chapel, lining the edges and filling the pews on the cement floor. The American-led band begins to play and the room erupts into a sea of people worshiping and praising God together. Brazilians jump, swing hands, and sing loudly as the familiar English lyrics echo off the rafters above.

A Brazilian or American shares a testimony, and then Josh launches into his message, assisted by his translator Gui. The messages are centered around a theme, but always pointedly proclaim the gospel.  In the past few years, over 350 people have surrendered before Christ at this very camp, and this year, over 70 students made that decision. Outside the chapel, Americans and Brazilian translators wait to pray with the students that emerge, sometimes crying, sometimes just following the feeling they cannot ignore inside their hearts. The scene outside is amazing, students praying in groups with my team members. I try to film for a few minutes, but end up getting sucked in and praying with a few groups. Each night, this repeats itself, new students making a decision, God working in the hearts of those who are here.

Truth be told, I found it hard to be out of the action. As someone who lives and feels my heart constantly pulled toward ministry, I found it difficult not to be swept up into the action every time I saw God working. This year I have felt that emotion often, many times feeling as if I was watching from a distance as others moved ahead, or took action. The thing that I never considered about this vantage point is that you get to see what God is doing more clearly. I got to see God work through each of our high school team members, and in the hearts of the Brazilians they came to serve.  

 Students and team-members pack into the youth center for our celebration/goodbye service

Students and team-members pack into the youth center for our celebration/goodbye service

GOODBYE: THE INEVITABLE END OF A SHORT-TERM TRIP. 

I have been to Brazil now three times. Each time I have gone, it has been for the same trip. Each time I am there there is has been one moment that stands out to me most, and that is the moment you have to say goodbye. I am amazed each time just how connected you can feel from such a short period of time spent with others who share your faith. When I look at the picture above, each face looks familiar. My teammates making faces at one another, the students in the background talking and laughing. 

 Team- Members lead the church in worship during our celebration service

Team- Members lead the church in worship during our celebration service

 A student worships during our celebration service

A student worships during our celebration service

This is at our celebration/goodbye service. Our team leads worship, and we offer up an opportunity for students to share how this camp has impacted them between songs. A number of students share how their hearts have been changed. A young boy comes up and tells about how he has accepted Christ, his father cries proudly from the second row. We worship God together, happily, knowing that what comes next is inevitable but also significant. 

So many hugs. All around me, I try to capture as many as I can, but I keep getting interrupted. Everyone wants to take a picture, everyone wants to say goodbye. The best friends give you a real hug, the kind you give when you won't see someone for a long time. The room feels full, and not just of people, of emotion, of spirit. When I interview a student the next morning, he reads the letters he has been given by his friends and cries as he attempts to explain how he feels.

We head to a catch a late flight home, with a stopover in Miami. The next morning, boarding our plane home to Chicago, emotions, and patriotism run high. There is just something unexplainable about the feeling of pride I feel going through customs. I think I'm not the only one, but if I am, that's ok too. My teammates joke between the rows. It's been a good trip, and everyone is ready to see the skyline of Chicago appear through their sunny windows. We touch down without an issue, and after our shuttle home, family and friends greet us warmly. I watch students experience a new reality, one changed by their experiences, and I hope their excitement will last. 

 Our appropriately patriotic plane back to Chicago

Our appropriately patriotic plane back to Chicago

 Team members preparing for take off

Team members preparing for take off

FINISHED VIDEO: 6 MONTHS LATER

I'm not going to exaggerate. This video was a lot of work. Evidentially, when you are a little worried you may not get enough footage, you end up with more than you could ever use. That being said, I am really proud of this. I enjoyed re-living every moment of the trip that I had captured, and it was incredible being able to show and share my experience with others. 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Perhaps a short-term mission trip will always be just that, short term, but the inevitable end of such trips is just the beginning of a lifelong ambition and appreciation for outreach for those involved. Looking back, now 6 months removed, I have watched and at times have had the pleasure of leading these same students into our own community. As I see the same motivation and understanding in their hearts as I hold within my own, I cannot help but be excited and overjoyed at where God may lead them. 

Thank you for reading, and may God bless you richly as He works within and through you.

-Evan

Thanks to Christ Community Church, Seth Deming, and IPM for the opportunity to make this happen!

Dirty Kanza 200

200 MILES. 1600 RIDERS. GRAVEL. MUD. KANSAS.

Kansas is beautiful. The horizon seems bigger, the land seems to stretch into infinity anywhere you turn. It turns out, in places like this, there are some (slightly crazy) people who really enjoy riding through miles and miles of difficult terrain for sport! These riders shun the highway, and instead turn to the gravel filled backroads. You will find them all over the United States, but here in Kansas is the mother of all "gravel grinding" events, the Dirty Kanza.

The DK is a 200 mile race through the toughest terrain the state has to offer. Claylike mud clings to the riders bikes and shoes, flinging up from their wheels unto their backs, chest, and face in globs. Riders will frequently stop and slowly pick the mud from inside their bikes and around their tires, just so that they can continue. 

When riders aren't being slowed by quicksand-like mud, they are speeding along gravel roads, up and down steep (and sometimes long) inclines. They must carry all their gear on them, no outside help is permitted. If they break down along the way, (which is virtually impossible to avoid) they fix the problem or drop out. 

You may ask why I, of all people am writing about such an event. Simple, I work part-time with my friend Seth, (anomalyvideo.com) and we were hired to film it! We partnered with a few biking companies, (BrooksSalsaMoots, and H2) and got started. 

DAY ONE 

Seth and I got an early start, beginning from Chicagoland at around 4 AM. We arrived in Emporia right about 2PM and began getting accustomed to the town. We decided that it would be advantageous to explore the course a little, so we headed north. We discovered that just a mile out of town felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

 Wheat slowly waves along a roadside stop.

Wheat slowly waves along a roadside stop.

 Gravel stretches off into the distance on an easier part of the course.

Gravel stretches off into the distance on an easier part of the course.

 We review the 200 mile map and the shortcuts we could take.

We review the 200 mile map and the shortcuts we could take.

DAY TWO 

Day two started out wet. Normal backroads were turned into swamps, and as the downtown Kanza promoters began to setup, we set a game plan for the day. Because the race started early the next morning, we wanted to get close-up shots of our riders. The rain finally began to clear up around noon, and after some great Mexican food, we headed out! 

 Seth shoots out our van door as the riders prep their bikes.

Seth shoots out our van door as the riders prep their bikes.

 Riders split and speed past Seth on a turn.

Riders split and speed past Seth on a turn.

After scouting for awhile, we headed back into town to meet our riders and plan for the days ahead. Thanks to some advice from Jason and Eric, we were able to get an idea of what the race would look like for us logistically. 

One problem we were tasked with solving was to create adequate rain-protection for our camera gear. We found a great guide online showing how to make a DIY rain cover, and gave it a shot! 

 Seth testing our improvised rain-cover.

Seth testing our improvised rain-cover.

Seth began filming from a van-side door, while I chauffeured. The guys from Axletree and Brooks began their short ride, and we followed alongside, at times shouting out instructions for them to follow. The shots were awesome, and the roads weren't too muddy... yet.

After we got the shots we wanted, we headed back into town to let the guys clean off their bikes and get some rest. Seth and I headed out to shoot some time-lapses before dark! The cows on the roadside were curious to say the least, and groups of 30 or so would slowly gather and approach from the sides of the road. 

 Curious bovines wander closer and closer.

Curious bovines wander closer and closer.

 The open plains are home to a number of cattle. Green stretches as far as you can see until it meets the blue sky.

The open plains are home to a number of cattle. Green stretches as far as you can see until it meets the blue sky.

 Seth preparing a sunset timelapse on our slider. The trunk of our car acts as as a second tripod.

Seth preparing a sunset timelapse on our slider. The trunk of our car acts as as a second tripod.

 Riders prepare and chat before the race begins.

Riders prepare and chat before the race begins.

DAY THREE 

RACE DAY. The race began at 6 AM, so we were up at 4:30. We grouped up with our riders, and got up on top of a local theatre's awning. As 6:00 approached, the riders began to gather at the start line. The street was filled with color, each rider's jersey blending into a sea of cyclists. 

As the countdown ended, a wave of bikes and riders washed forward upon the course. We followed the wave for the first mile in our jeep, then set out to intercept them at the 13 mile mark.

 Some roads like this one were easier on the riders, others were brutal like the one below.

Some roads like this one were easier on the riders, others were brutal like the one below.

As we drove, we began to realize just how bad conditions were. There was a slight misty rain, cold morning air, and a strong driving wind. Combined with the disastrous state the previous day’s rain had left the roads in, we were shocked to see riders bravely traversing the muddy hills of the first leg. Around the 13th mile we stopped to film, and caught riders at a most difficult point. The mud was deep enough that many riders were carrying their bikes along the path, some even running. A few had mechanical failures and called it quits right then and there. 

 Riders carry their bikes through the mud. Some attempt to ride through, but are only bogged down and spend more time cleaning their bikes than the others.

Riders carry their bikes through the mud. Some attempt to ride through, but are only bogged down and spend more time cleaning their bikes than the others.

 Plains stretch on into eternity. 

Plains stretch on into eternity. 

As cold and unforgiving as the conditions were, I could not help but continually marvel at the landscape. The plains of Kansas seem to stretch on into eternity. I continually attempted to take photos that would capture what I was seeing, but was unable to. The photo above is almost 360 Degrees wide, yet looks almost like a normal photograph. 

As the race continued, we watched our riders traverse obstacles we thought impossible to pass. 4 of our crew dropped out due to mechanical failure, but two remained to endure. At points along the trail, you could look out and see for miles with nothing but the grass and sky to focus on. The landscape seemed to continue forever, and the soft mist forced a chilling feeling upon both the riders and ourselves. 

The day wearing on, we decided to break from our filming on the course, and head back into town to catch the first riders at the finish line. We arrived just in time. Shortly after 7:00 the first and second pro-racers completed the course, their time around 13 hours total.

 Panorama of the top of the theatre who generously allowed us to use it's balcony

Panorama of the top of the theatre who generously allowed us to use it's balcony

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As they rode into town, a massive crowd greeted them with cheers, cowbells and shouts. Every few minutes, another rider would arrive, each greeted with the same welcome. The first riders aside, many riders took much longer to reach the finish line, stretching from 10 all the way until 3am. Our riders continued through the now dark and wet courses, traversing dangerous hills and pathways with only their small headlamps to guide them. When they finally rolled in at around 2am, the rest of our crew was there to cheer them on.


FINAL VIDEO:


 Day 1: Dry gravel road

Day 1: Dry gravel road

 Day 2: Wet morning street

Day 2: Wet morning street

 Day 3: Vintage bulb overlooks the finish line. 

Day 3: Vintage bulb overlooks the finish line. 

Our two riders looked as if energy would never return to their bodies, but somehow they found it in them to celebrate with a beer. Our day over, we headed back for some needed rest. 

To think that these guys went nearly half the distance between our location and Chicago is absolutely insane, but crazy is what you have to be (at least a little bit) to attempt a feat like this. I am so glad that I got to be a part of cheering these guys on, and I am incredibly excited to see this video come together. Thanks for reading! -Evan

Our 4th Anniversary

FOUR YEARS AGO, I ASKED A GIRL "WANNA MAYBE TRY THAT OUT WITH ME?"

It wasn't the best way of saying what I meant, nor did she fully understand in the moment what I was asking, but in time she would, and in time she would understand that what we had was something special. 

Each year, on our anniversary, I do my best to think of something out-of-the-box and unexpected.

THIS YEAR, I DECIDED TO SEND BRI ON A TREASURE HUNT.


STEP 1&2: A CASE AND A RIDE

Every good mystery begins with an unexpected package.

I came across this sweet aged briefcase some time ago, and kept it for just such an occasion.

The insides were stuffed with anything she would need to complete her journey!

 

After receiving the case, and solving the first clue, Bri was led down a trail that we

regularly take walks on, to a bridge where we always stop and talk. Another clue was placed on top of the bridge.

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 Part of Bri's Inventory

Part of Bri's Inventory


STEPS 3&4: COFFEE AND LUNCH

The clue on the bridge led Bri to meet her younger sister at Starbucks for coffee, and a subsequent clue (involving a book cypher) brought Bri up to Panera for some hot soup with me! As we finished eating, I slipped her a note, and headed to our next location.

 
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STEP 5: PHOTOSHOOT

The note under the table guided Bri to use the map she had found in the case earlier. The map was to a nearby park (Leroy Oaks), and when she arrived, I was waiting with our friend Catherine for a photoshoot! Afterwards, I had intended to string up a hammock, but we decided to sit and talk for a while instead, as it looked like rain was approaching.

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STEP 6: A DIVERSION, AND SOME FRIENDS

I needed to buy some time between our activities in the park, and my plans for the rest of the day, so I send Bri on a quest for another clue, and arranged for her friend Nina to deliver the clue by hand! Bri's friend Reagan happened to be there at the same time too! I instructed them to have Bri change into nice clothes, and once they solved the last clue together, Bri left for the final piece of my puzzle.

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STEP 7: A CANDLELIT DINNER

By the time Bri pulled up, I had dinner set up, and my friend Jesse had helped me get food for the night ready. On the menu? Bri's favorite foods, and some strawberries+ice cream for desert. Thanks to Bobby for letting us use his now-empty home!

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If you'd like to read about what I've learned from 4 years of dating Bri, check out my post below!

 
 

Double Camping Date

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JAMES & ANDI // BRI & EVAN

We packed up early, and headed out for the weekend! The weather was hot the first day, but after we setup camp, things got cooler. We spent day two exploring downtown, playing cards, and eating deep dish pizza. On day three, we got up early, and went kayaking on the lake, followed by a picnic, spike-ball on the beach and ice cream! 

Bro-Road Trip 2015

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SOME SAY THAT THE JOURNEY IS BETTER THAN THE DESTINATION.

WE AGREE WITH THEM.

There is something about the idea of a road trip that connects with each of us. Something about an open road, miles before you, miles behind you, equates with the journey of life. There is a freedom on the road, an excitement not knowing what is around the next corner, over the next hill.

This trip started with an idea. To go on an adventure. Three guys decided that this was the time in life to make memories, ones that would last. This was the time to do something crazy, have an adventure. So thats what we did. 

What did I learn from it all? A few things. First, camping is not about staying warm or dry. It's about troubleshooting every little thing that could go wrong when it does go wrong. Camping is about maintaining sanity though the night, and then laughing about it when you remember how many things went wrong. Camping can be horrible in the moment, but is always great in retrospect. 

Second, trips are more fun when you don't have strict goals to meet. I know it's a typical "college" thing to do, and I can see how an older person may value comfort over a sense of adventure, but to me it seems that the more structured a trip is, the more pressure we have on us to make it "great" instead of fun. 

Our society centers around what is "best" we google everything from the best movies to the best floss to use, because we don't want to waste time discovering them for ourselves. Did I learn some lessons about how to stay dry in a tent? Yeah! But I didn't learn them from google, I learned them from being wet. I think there is some value in that, and definitely some stories that I will carry with me for a very long time. 

Go, and have an adventure. 

Go do something crazy, and un-thought-out, because there is a lot of lessons and a lot of fun in figuring things out on the fly. Do that with things that don't matter, like stops on a trip, or new foods, so when the things that do matter come along, you'll have a better grasp on who you are. 

Pictures, and video from the trip are below. If you'd like to see a more chronological approach to them, then check out our twitter feed from the trip, located HERE