Saturday, November 28, 2009

Elsay Lynne McDade - Thanksgiving and so forth...

I have heard the public outcry for more photos of Elsa, so without further ado, here they are!

Meeting Uncle Britt and Aunt Candace for the first time...

The long-awaited meeting of her uncle...

Hanging out at 3 a.m.

Morning family fun time.

This simple rattle is one of her two favorite toys, as you can see by the look on her face.

Snoozin' with Uncle Britt.

Getting ready to cruise the Angelopolis mall.

Me with my bro, a.k.a. Uncle Britt.

Erin with Aunt Candace.

Elsa with what's left of a tasty lunch of cemitas, sopa azteca, and chalupas.


Having a snack just a few benches down from where she had her first bottle ever.

Showing the newly-discovered grip. Dropping this one here because it was her right hand. Elsa is definitely a lefty up till this point in her life. The left is the much stronger grip, more active hand, go-to hand for sucking, etc.

Gripping her socks.

Gripping her new little rattle.

More rattling.

Group photo in front of our house.

Lucho and Candace learning to coexist.

Bath time. With so many hands on deck Elsa must feel like a car getting the deluxe cleaning.

Bath time.

Bath time.

All bundled up at daddy's flag football game. She slept right through Uncle Britt dislocating his collar bone on the second play of the game.

Cutting the trip a day short due to an out-of-place clavicle. Bummer.

Ready for the UGA game in the outfit her aunt and uncle brought her.

Go Jackets!

The spread. Saturday, staff-only Thanksgiving dinner.

Alas, the GT gear didn't help our boys get a win.

Hanging out with Karen a.k.a. K.K. Be sure to pronounce that in English.

Much love from Puebla - we are so THANKFUL for all of you!

Friday, November 27, 2009

End of the Semester - En Vivo #13 and Thanksgiving Pozomida

[The main event of our week here at El Pozo is what we call El Pozo “En Vivo” (which means El Pozo “Live!”), our Tuesday night all-community Bible study. It typically comes complete with preaching, music, videos, skits, free food, the whole deal. After each En Vivo, I hope to blog briefly about the night – what we taught, how it went, etc. Enjoy.]

["Pozomida" is our weekly Thursday lunch, complete with a free three-course meal for the students, a short devotional talk, and a fun game.]

Tuesday, November 24th:

For the final En Vivo of the semester, we wanted to tell the Christmas story. We always end our weekly events during the last week of classes (followed by lots of informal hanging out, wrapping up small groups, free food for a study break, etc. during the two weeks of final exams), which is typically in late November. So due to the calendar we’ve never really taught very close to Christmas, and thus there’s never been an En Vivo about the Christmas story! This year we decided to decorate the campus house early and make the final En Vivo about Christmas. It was also time for a change of pace, plus everyone is stressed out and tired at the end of a long semester; so the result was “Story Time with Grandpa Nate”. By way of a creative sketch / intro to the talk, I was able to work in the great scene from Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby prefers to pray to the baby Jesus (cutting it off when they say “Amen!” and before the scene takes a turn for the worse when the kids start cursing at their granddad). Then I dressed up like an old man, walked in with a cane, sat in a rocking chair, and just told some stories. Once again, I would be remiss not to shout out to the folks at Mountain CC. Most of my stories came from their Born Identity series, which led up to Christmas last year. The basic points that I hope the students left with were God loves us (Check out this creative story called “The Visited Planet”…), God is with us (Check out this video; I pretended this was a friend of mine from the old folks’ home…), the coming of Jesus teaches leaves us with a method and not just a message (Check out the story of Father Damien in John Ortberg’s excellent book “God is Closer than you Think”. I’m also reminded here of “the other great commission” – John 20:21: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (italics mine)), and Jesus demands a decision (He is not like the package that just gets left on your doorstep; he is like the package that you have to sign for in order to receive…). The talk was short and sweet. I challenged the students to read their Bibles, to truly experience the real meaning of Christmas this year, and to face up to the decision that each of us faces with regard to the man Jesus. Have you stepped up and put your name on the line or not? Because to always delay the decision is in fact to decide… I also hope that a secondary effect of this talk will be the lesson that time is precious, and that our students will go into the holidays with an extra appreciation of their grandparents and older, wiser folks with life experience and perspective. Too often our culture fails to appreciate that. It was really fun to get into character and speak from a grandfather’s perspective. I was able to cut to the chase, speak directly, and speak with lots of love. It was a fun night, and I think the message was delivered. Perhaps we will even see recurring appearances by Grandpa Nate or other such characters in future En Vivos…

Thursday, November 26th - Thanksgiving Day:

Our final big event of the semester was yesterday’s Thanksgiving Pozomida. We had – are you ready? – an El Pozo record attendance of 130 people!!! It was a wonderful time. We started by setting the lona area up end-of-the-year-banquet-style, with photos all around (available for the students to take with them at the end of the event) and long banquet tables. As they arrived, there were instructions on the tables for how to make “turkey hands”, along with the materials to do so. As the hands got made and cut out, they then made their way to a tree on the back wall, each “leaf” filled with words of thanksgiving. Whenever we do something like this we are amazed by the creativity of our students. Before serving lunch (which later received one of the most impressive ovations I’ve ever heard at El Pozo) of turkey/dressing casserole, mashed potatoes, pineapple casserole, sweet carrots, green beans, bread, etc., I said a few words about what Thanksgiving is and why we were celebrating it. Yes, Thanksgiving is a totally gringo holiday – Mexicans don’t celebrate it. No, we are not here to convert people into gringos. We embrace Thanksgiving as a part of the El Pozo culture not because most of the staff is from the USA, but because we are Christians. The message of gratitude to God for our many blessings is one that needs to be shared! And it transcends culture. With that, plus a few jokes and fun facts (E.g. Did you know that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the USA’s national bird? It’s true.), we served the food. After everyone had a nice plate in front of them, I shared a little more about gratitude, including 1. my own personal list of things (some big and serious, some small and silly) for which I am thankful this year, 2. something I repeat over and over to these guys: The secret to happiness is GRATITUDE. (one of Donovan’s famous “Significant Seven” rules to live by), and 3. some words from Paul that also capture our desires for our students:

Colossians 3:15-17:
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Three verses, three mentions of the importance of gratitude!

Then we passed the microphone around and let anyone who so desired share what they were thankful for. Many kind words were spoken, and some tears shed, which served to encourage me a great deal and remind us that El Pozo is indeed making a huge impact in many young lives. (We ministers/missionaries really need to hear that stuff every now and then, and when we do, it energizes and refocuses us to fight the next round of the good fight.) Then, at the end of this time, I reminded everyone that when we are thankful, we are thankful to SOMEONE. To the God of love, the Giver of all good things. As a take-home illustration for Thanksgiving 2009, I used the old adage of the turtle on the fencepost – he didn’t get there without a lot of help. As talented, richly blessed young people, I challenged our students not to react with pride (Look at me! I’m the greatest turtle around!) but instead with appropriate GRATITUDE – thanksgiving – toward those who have helped them to get to where they are today and, most importantly, to God. I left the students with a couple of quotes that I really like on the topic of thanksgiving:

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” ~Meister Eckhart

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

My hope and prayer for each of the 130 people at lunch yesterday – and for myself! – is that Thanksgiving not just be a day, but a lifestyle. That our very lives would be acts of thanksgiving, living sacrifices flowing from gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do for us.

Be sure to check out El Pozo’s facebook page for photos of these and other events!

Praise God for a wonderful semester!!! I am looking forward to the coming weeks spend hanging out with students, tying up loose ends, catching up on some tasks, being with family and friends, celebrating the season, listening to Christmas music, watching football and basketball, reading a lot, and RESTING a little bit before we crank it all back up in January.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What is Family? (and Baby Elsa Update - 20 November 2009)

I’m sitting here working on my talk for next Tuesday, laboring over exactly which angle to take in teaching the Christmas message to the students of El Pozo since it’s our last En Vivo of the semester … but I can’t concentrate. I am too excited about the arrival of my brother, Britt, and his wife, Candace, later tonight. They are coming to visit for a few days and I am giddy. I can’t wait to eat tacos and catch up on life with my bro. I can’t wait for him to see how this ministry, which he helped found and has continued to support in many ways, has grown. And of course more than anything I can’t wait to see Britt and Candace hold and hug and kiss and fall in love with their first niece!!! After Erin and me and tied with the grandparents, these are the two people who love little Elsa Lynne more than anyone else on Earth, and take the most responsibility for her well-being. The imminent arrival of my brother and sister-in-law along with two other recent events have conspired to fill my mind today with thoughts of FAMILY…

What exactly is “family”? By the strictest definition, it means people with whom I am blood related. But I think this definition is weak. Too limited. I will explain, but first, the two events I mentioned a second ago…

Event number one: Last Saturday was the annual Fall cookout at my brother’s house known as “The Bo Bo Bash”. It has become a McDade family tradition, on the short list of best days of the year for dozens of people. Erin and Elsa and I, sadly, were unable to attend. But we heard stories and saw lots of photos. A couple of people wrote to let us know that we would be missed, and we really appreciated that. Other than a handful of folks who were under the weather or recovering from surgery (We are praying for your speedy and full recovery, Uncle Bill!), all of my relatives on the McDade side were there. Aunts, uncles, cousins, distant cousins… Many even brought their dogs. Babies everywhere. But you know what else I noticed? There were many other people there with whom I have zero blood relation but whom I totally consider my family. There were friends and former classmates and roommates and teammates who have been lovingly adopted into the McDade clan, some of them twenty-some years ago, some of them much more recently. There were girlfriends and boyfriends and in-laws and neighbors and more. It looked like, as always, everyone had a great time and ate lots of great food. A beautiful, fun-filled day spent among FAMILY…

Event number two: Yesterday morning, Carter and Emerson Cooper, children of our teammates Clay and Amanda (and nephew and niece of our other teammates, Heath and Karen), had a big presentation with all of the other kids from their school. It was called “Grandparents’ Day” – which their school has a tradition of celebrating in November, even though actual Grandparents’ Day is in August. They do this so that the kids have time to get a presentation together. This year’s theme was musicals. Carter’s class did a rendition from “High School Musical”, complete with basketball dribbling and dancing. Emerson’s group did a piece from “The Sound of Music”. Then the whole crew did some singing and instrument playing at the end. It was adorable and very entertaining. And Erin and I were in attendance because we were graciously invited to attend as aunt and uncle, since Carter and Emerson’s grandparents are all far away in Tennessee. We were extremely honored, and we got dressed up and smiled and laughed and took photos and swelled with pride alongside Clay, Amanda, Heath, and Karen in spite of the fact that no Cooper blood that we know of runs through our veins. Heck, I don’t know if anyone in my family has ever even owned a barrel, much less made one. But there we were, Carter and Emerson’s FAMILY in what is, to me, a very real sense…

One of my favorite literary characters of all time is Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. One of the things that Atticus teaches his precocious daughter, Scout, is that people – especially in the South – tend to be way to preoccupied with blood relations. In the words of Scout: “I never understood the preoccupation with heredity.” And: “Atticus told me one time that most of this Old Family stuff’s foolishness because everybody’s family’s just as old as everybody else’s.” I totally agree.

My favorite definition of “family” ever comes from the wise sage Dr. LeRoy Lawson, a man who in addition to biological children has had many “Velcro kids”, as he calls them. These are the ones who, when taken in for a short time by the Lawsons, “just stuck” … and ended up becoming family. Some of the kids offered shelter and love by the Lawsons, on the other hand, rejected it. And this wealth of experience led LeRoy to come up with this definition of family:

*** “Family” is people who have made and kept promises to each other. ***

You see, at the end of the day, blood relations do not bind us together. They might make us look alike. They might make us act alike. They might force us into each other’s company on certain occasions. But they do not draw us back into each other’s company. Blood relations might be reasons we must tolerate each other at an obligatory Thanksgiving dinner, but they do not lead us to create, anticipate, and thoroughly enjoy extra events like The Bo Bo Bash (or the Crawfish Boil, or the Dam Party, or the men's golf weekend, or vacations together, or…). I know too many people who have little or no contact with their blood family. Some of them are not bothered by this in the least. Some find it tragic. In my life, I have blood relatives I know I cannot count on, and people of different races and bloodlines on whom I know I can depend until the day I die. Blood relations, in and of themselves, are neither good nor evil. They bring us all a mixed bag of traditions and tendencies both blessed and cursed. Where I have strained relationships with blood family members, I realize that the cause is broken promises. Where I see relationships growing deeper, I observe people who are faithful and forgiving to each other.

As I think about the McDade clan, I realize that what holds us together is not blood, but love. Love that forgives when hurtful words are said. Love that loads the kids up in the car and drives halfway across a state when there’s a chance to be together. Love that agrees to disagree. Truth spoken in love. Love that prays for each other and takes care of each other when illness strikes. Love that remembers birthdays and takes an active interest in each other’s lives. Love that buys a webcam and figures out how to use Skype so that faces and voices can travel the miles when bodies are unable.

As I think about my teammates; and Carter and Emerson; and Elsa Lynne who will knows Abril and Bego and Yuyo better than she knows Kim and Lynne and Britt; and my friend James who is based in Atlanta but has siblings in London, Wisconsin, California, and New York; and this global village we live in; and the holidays that are around the corner, I realize that what binds us simply cannot, must not, be the randomness of blood ties. It has to be something more, something deeper, something we can choose to embrace or reject, work at or neglect.

As I gain more and more understanding of the words of Scripture, I see a God who has a bigger, fuller view of family, too. A God who invites Jew and Gentile alike into the fold. A God who opens His banquet table to the riff raff and the outcast. A God who is a wide-open door for EVERYONE in all cultures and nations and generations into relationship through His son, Jesus.

My Granny and (late) Granddaddy McDade are legendary because, as I have heard SO MANY people express down through the years, anyone who enters their house immediately becomes family. Many of you reading this have been to Granny’s house and know exactly what I’m talking about! These days, I know of no one who carries on this legacy better than my brother. Everyone who comes into his presence is invited into the fold, showered in love and acceptance. And this is the way Erin and I, as we begin our little "family", are trying to live our lives as well. May our lives daily be an invitation, in word and deed, into the abundant life of the family of God! It is, after all, the only family that really matters in the final analysis.

It’s not about the blood. It’s not about the DNA.

It’s about the hospitality. It’s about the sacrificial love. It’s about the open arms, open doors, and open hearts. It’s about the making and keeping of promises.


Can’t wait to see my bro and his better half in just a few hours!!! Here are a couple of (blurry) photos of Carter and Emerson’s presentation, and the latest photos of Elsa. Enjoy!

Being "tios" at Carter and Emerson's presentation.

"The Sound of Music" in all its glory. Emerson is the one who looks like Smurfette.

Dancing it up. At one point, out of boredom, I thought Emerson was about to fight the entire green team. She would have won.

Carter k-k-keeps his head in the game. He is not afraid to shoot the outside J.

How long did it take you to spot the Cooper kid? 1 second? 0.5 second? 0.001 second?

The whole crew. I have to get a better camera before Elsa starts doing stuff like this...

Elsa attends her first ultimate Frisbee tournament. This one was in the nearby small city of Apizaco, near Tlaxcala and at the foot of la Malinche. Nice setup, no?

Hanging out with Mommy.



Learning about farming with Baby Einstein. She loves these videos.

Striking a thumb-sucking pose. She pretty much sucks whichever part of her hand arrives at her mouth first, so it's serendipity when it happens to be the thumb.

Enjoying the musical. No way of knowing for sure, but I think her favorite song was the "Hard Knock Life" Little Orphan Annie remix...

Much love to all of our friends and FAMILY out there!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

McDade eNewsletter - November 2009

Here's the text from our latest supporter newsletter. Warning - this is loooooooong. It's kind of an update of three months' worth of ministry because we have not sent a newsletter out in quite a while. Let me know if you would like to get on our newsletter list and receive these updates, formatted and complete with pretty photos, in your email inbox...

Greetings to all and thanks for taking time to read this long overdue – and just plain long – newsletter! We pray that it finds you all well. We have been quite busy between ministry and the new parent gig – and we’re still loving them both. Both are tiring! But worth it. If you would like to see photos and updates on the life and times of Elsa Lynne McDade (along with weekly updates on our Tuesday night Bible studies and random other musings from yours truly), please check out my blog at Or if it’s only photos you want, befriend me and/or El Pozo on facebook and look for photos there. Okay, on to the mega-update, which should get you thoroughly caught up on our life and ministry…

Needless to say, in many ways our life sort of revolves around Elsa right now. She is the center of our little family’s universe and will be for several more months before we make the necessary shift at age 1.5 or so and begin to teach her that our marriage, in fact, is the center of our family. But again, for now, she’s it! And we are loving every minute of it. I cannot put into words, and won’t attempt to, just how head-over-heels in love we are with her, and how this grows every day. Every little new thing she does is such a joy to be a part of. And she’s growing so fast! It’s hard to believe that she’s already nearly three months old and two feet tall and weighs twice as much as she did when she was born. She’s smiling and “talking” a lot these days, and we would love so much to understand what she’s trying to communicate to us! We are sometimes tired, sometimes frustrated, sometimes confused, but mostly just overjoyed.

One thing that has been very helpful to us during this learning process is a little book that was given to us by a friend. It’s called “Why I Need You”, written by a fellow metro-Atlantan named Gregory E. Lang, and it gives 100 reasons, written from a newborn baby’s perspective, why the baby needs the parents. It has been very helpful for us in terms of putting ourselves in Elsa’s mindset and seeing things from her perspective. It’s a simple and sweet yet profound little book that helps to foster growing love and much-needed patience on the part of the parents. And as I read it I couldn’t help but notice that, in addition to being good advice for new parents, most of these little lessons have direct parallels with our daily work as campus ministers. That said, I will now share with you several of these “I need you…” quotes from Lang’s book, along with some related thoughts on the latest goings-on at El Pozo. I hope you enjoy.

I need you…

…to remember that I am watching everything you do.
We love campus ministry because, even though the statistics say that the overwhelming majority of people have made their long-term faith choices by the end of high school, we know that the cement is still very wet during these university years. We have experienced directly in our lives and second-hand through the stories of hundreds of our own friends the life-changing power of a Christ-centered community that’s present day and night during the college experience. Which is why we do what we do.

…to set an example for me as I grow up.
One of the most important aspects of our ministry here is “the ministry of marriage”. Many of our students come from broken homes and have no clue what a Christian marriage should look like. We have the great opportunity and responsibility to model that, with integrity, on a daily basis.

…to help me learn how to count.
At El Pozo we don’t just do Bible studies and prayer meetings – we also teach a lot of practical stuff along the way! Two such examples are time-management and how to handle one’s personal finances. In fact, it’s probably accurate to say that most of the “ministry” that we do happens in informal settings, over meals or driving in cars or shooting some hoops, just talking about life with our friends/students.

…to sing my favorite songs with me.
The source of perhaps both our greatest joy and greatest frustration during the past year or two has been our worship band. We are blessed with an incredibly talented group of students who are learning – slowly but surely – about accountability and responsibility and teamwork and the true meaning of worship. I love these guys dearly and am so thankful for what they give to El Pozo and what we (hopefully) are contributing to their lives as well.

…to teach me all that you know.
“Mentoring” is a big part of what we do. In fact, most of the small groups that Erin and I lead are as small as they can get – two people. Sometimes we study the Bible, or the Habitudes, or some other devotional or leadership-related material. Other times, we just chit chat and try to share some light and truth along the way. Fun story: The other day one of our most energetic young student leaders asked me this question: “Nate, have you ever had a disciple?” I laughed and said I’d be glad to meet up once a week and serve as a mentor to help this young leader be a better disciple of JESUS!

…to make time to play with me every day.
Intramural sports are a huge part of our ministry. And they double as the way that I try to stay in some kind of decent shape. A huge percentage of our community right now has come through our relationship with the flag football league on campus (Three cheers for Courtney Wilson, outreach machine!), and we’ve also been enjoying the attendance of virtually the entire men’s and women’s basketball teams from another (not UDLA) local university this semester. They seem to be really loving El Pozo. Also, speaking of games, I don’t know what campus ministry would be without video games, foosball, ping pong, Frisbees, and board games. Pretty much any afternoon you can find someone playing some sort of game in the Casa Verde, which we love because it means that they really are finding a second home here.

…to understand that for a while things aren’t going to be as neat and orderly as they once were.
Ministry is messy! And I’m not really talking about the sloppy, shirt-staining stuff that you might typically associate with campus ministry. Actually, Mexicans don’t really go for the gross-out humor – yet another thing I love about this country. The “messiness” around here has more to do with being comfortable with ambiguity, and realizing that we are all in process. Every day, our staff tries to be like Jesus in the sense of meeting students exactly where they are and starting from that place to earn their trust, shower them with grace, and spur them onward toward a better and more God-honoring life. You know, kind of like Jesus did with the woman at the POZO in John chapter 4…

…to always be ready to catch me if I fall.
…to pick me up when I reach for you.

24/7. When we get a call from a student late at night, sometimes the only feelings that are stronger than the feelings of frustration at losing precious sleep and never truly being able to “clock out” are the feelings of honor and joy and responsibility in knowing that he/she chose to call us when in need of help.

…to make sure I don’t eat too much candy.
Twice a week we serve free (or, in the words of Neal Baker, “not free, but at no cost to them”) meals to any and all comers. This semester we’ve been averaging in the mid-80s on Tuesdays (dinner) and the mid-90s on Thursdays (lunch). We have bought more tables and chairs and dishes and silverware. And the budgets are going up! These are good problems to have. **Let us know if you are ever interested in going above and beyond your current level of $upport and sponsoring an “En Vivo” dinner or a Pozomida lunch!!!** It would be a huge help!

…to introduce me to our family traditions.
One cool thing about having been here since the beginning is that we’ve been able to see El Pozo develop some of its own traditions. Many are borrowed, but some are truly El Pozo originals! Here are a couple of my favorites: 1. I love our monthly worship event, which we call Lunada. We always have these four things: Scripture, praise music, prayer, and the Lord’s supper. And beyond that, whoever is in charge can be as creative as he/she would like. It’s an unapologetically non-seeker-friendly event – we’re coming together to praise and remember Jesus. I’m not sure why, but I always tend to go into Lunada with low expectations and without fail I leave refilled, refreshed, and re-focused on Christ. 2. Perhaps it’s not quite as “spiritual” in nature, but we have an awesome tradition that happens at every El Pozo retreat around the campfire; the marshmallow war! It started spontaneously at the beach a couple of years ago with leftover s’mores supplies, and it stuck. We now intentionally spend a few extra bucks on more marshmallows than we could possibly eat. This year we kicked off the war by targeting the interns. Good times. Those are just a couple of my favorite El Pozo traditions.

…to remember that sometimes the simplest pleasures are the most fun.
In these tough economic times, we (along with every other ministry) are being challenged to do as much ministry as possible for less money. Sometimes what appear to be setbacks or challenges actually turn out to be blessings! We’ve learned some great lessons during the past year and we’re thankful to be forced to be more and more creative and accountable and disciplined as a ministry.

…to make sure that I have lots of playmates.
Our strategy is this: Create a Christ-centered community; get them into the community; watch God change their lives. So, in many ways, the key word is FRIENDSHIP. In other words, in many ways our playing is just as important and spiritual as our praying. One of the most fun moments of every week is the game that immediately follows lunch on Thursdays. Table versus table for all the marbles (a.k.a. a candy bar if you come back next week). Recent editions have included a massive game of musical chairs in the front yard (resulting in only one broken chair and zero injuries – thank God), a pumpkin-decorating competition, trivia, saying tongue twisters with ever-increasing quantities of marshmallows stuffed in one’s mouth, and various games in which one person tries to knock the other off balance or make them laugh or … well, you get the picture.

…to praise me when I do something the right way.
…to reassure me that you are glad I am here.

Back in the summer at our all-Globalscope gathering, the great Dr. Leroy Lawson shared with us about “the company of Barnabas”. The key word was ENCOURAGEMENT, and just being a positive and encouraging voice in these students’ lives on a daily basis is a huge part of what we do.

…to read to me often.
Although nearly all of these students grew up with some type of connection to the Church, and most would call themselves “Catholic”, very few of them actually read Scripture, know much about the Bible, or even own their own Bible. For this reason we teach from the Scriptures every Tuesday and Thursday, give away Bibles to anyone who wants one, and always encourage our students to go deeper by joining or starting a small group.

…to make sure I learn good manners.
…to help me understand why I can’t always have my way.

So many of our students are basically spoiled rotten. They have always gotten their way and many still live completely off of the money mommy and daddy send them every week or month. Many have never learned basic manners. So part of what we do each week is explain and model things like why you should wait for everyone else to eat before going back for seconds, why you should wash dishes rather than just leave them for someone else to handle, why you should treat security guards and cleaning ladies and other service industry workers with respect and dignity, how to be a gentleman, etc., etc., etc. Teaching good manners not for good manners’ sake but as an inroad into teaching the values and example of Jesus is yet another part of what we do here at El Pozo on a daily basis.

…to understand that I cannot tell time. To me everything is “now.”
Just f.y.i., we’ve been here five years and we’re still not used to or comfortable with the total disregard for punctuality. Actually, half of the Mexicans I know hate this as well. To a baby, everything is “now”. To many of our students, everything is “ahorita”, a.k.a. maybe in five minutes, maybe in 20 minutes, maybe in three hours, maybe never. Frustrating!

…to comfort me when I am afraid.
Recently our friend Betito had his second kidney transplant surgery, and many students and staff of El Pozo were in frequent contact with him. Though he is far away (back home in Tabasco) and we haven’t seen him in many months, I smile at knowing that this community has played a huge role in this process and helped Betito to have peace and confidence through what must be a very scary and stressful process. We have also recently had the opportunity to help comfort a very terrified mom-to-be (wife of a former student), and of course university life is always full of all kinds of academic and relational and future-related fears. Assuaging fears and teaching dependence on God is a daily part of our work here.

…to keep me clean and smelling fresh
Okay, our job with the college students is quite the opposite – we try to teach them to get their hands DIRTY! This semester we’ve begun a relationship with a local after school program for under-resourced kids. They feed them, look after them, and tutor them in the afternoons. Every Monday and Friday, El Pozo takes a group of students to help. Helping these mostly privileged college students connect with some real folks outside of the UDLA bubble is a very important part of our job. Please pray for this aspect of El Pozo’s ministry to grow as we seek to get more of our students involved, sponsor these kids’ Christmas gifts, and build relationships with other local organizations.

…to take me outside and explore the world with me.
We do retreats each semester to remind our students of the importance of stepping outside of the daily grind and seeing the bigger picture. For these same reasons we also push our students to do missions. Right now we are so proud to have one of our own serving for one year at our sister ministry in Bangkok, Thailand. Ely Cruz is a wonderful young lady who was one of our student leaders before graduating last year. She decided to step out on faith and raise money and go to work in Thailand for a year, and reports back from The Grapevine there tell us that she’s doing a great job and growing a ton in her relationship with Christ. Pray for more and more of our students to show interest in doing mission trips and summer internships and such, because those experiences are like pressing fast-forward on their spiritual growth.

…to avoid giving me an embarrassing nickname.
Once again – we do the opposite. Nicknames are a big part of campus ministry. I would share some here, but they’re all probably either embarrassing or don’t make any sense in English.

…to remember that I like things to be predictable.
…to remember that I like fun surprises.

With regard to our En Vivo (Tuesday night) teaching, we continue to search for the balance between consistency and outside-the-box craziness. With regard to the speaker, right now it’s basically me. And praise God that I’m really enjoying, being challenged by, and growing in this role of preacher on a weekly basis. With regard to the “flow” or structure of the night, we’ve kind of decided that the consistency is good, with a major curveball thrown in there every four to six weeks where we do things TOTALLY differently than usual. Thus the week when we ripped up the carpet and wrote prayers and scriptures on the floor, or the week when we all went to a local halfway house, or the week when we all spent 20 minutes in complete silence. Praise God for a great semester of En Vivos and please pray for continued creativity and the appropriate balance between “normal/predictable” and “what the???”.

…to make sure I don’t skip my naps.
Sabbath and balance and the rhythm of Jesus’ life are things that we strive to teach here. It’s funny because in order to teach our students about Sabbath, we have to mostly avoid them once a week! And then follow up and pray a lot that they’re getting the right message. We have to sometimes say “no” to going out with them in order to be at home with our families. Lately I’ve been thinking that it’s hard to “model” Sabbath to the masses – they don’t see my morning quiet time or my Sunday afternoon nap. It’s something that we just have to DO (or not do, as it were), then teach about occasionally and explain mostly on a person-by-person basis the rest of the time.

…to learn my language until I can speak yours.
I was recently reminded that becoming a Christian is much like learning a new language, and we have to be willing to both speak the language of the students while also teaching them the new language of Christ. It’s a sometimes messy process with the end result being transformed people who can be the kind of “in the world but not of it” disciples that Jesus is looking for.

…to understand that sometimes all I know how to do is cry.
And that’s okay. Sometimes our job description is to just shut up and provide a shoulder to cry on.

…to understand that while you might be tired of it, I’m thrilled to do it again. And again. And again.
The grind. As campus ministers we sometimes need reminding that while we do these things over and over, it’s a new and different group of students every single time. So what’s sometimes repetitive for us is usually not so for them. We go about our business over and over again for love of students.

…to resist taking embarrassing photographs of me.
…to resist dressing me in weird outfits.

Again, we do the opposite of these two whenever possible! The more embarrassing photos and weird outfits the better. Another of my favorite El Pozo traditions is that we put a fresh batch of photos on the back wall every week, then take them down and put them into family photo albums, which stay in the campus house and provide a pictorial history of the ministry.

…to forgive me for the stress I am sure to cause you from time to time.
…to love me the most when I don’t seem to love you at all.

These two quotes from the baby gook remind me of the difficult ones – those students who take take take, who never say “thank you”, who complain constantly, who distract others who are trying to learn, who mock our Spanish, who just don’t seem to get it. Yet we give thanks every time we see them, and we are persistent in prayer, because most of us realize that at one time or another, we were “that guy”. And we know that God’s love is the same for us all. I was reminded recently by author/pastor John Burke that when we invest in someone like crazy and risk ourselves in relationship and yet they never change, and we are rejected, even abused, in return … that’s okay, because we’re being like Jesus!

…to believe that one day I will be able to thank you for all that you have done for me.
It’s certainly not why we do it, and mostly I think we’ll never know this side of heaven what kind of impact our work here is having, but man oh man the stories, emails, phone calls, wedding invitations, and other forms of encouragement mean so much to us. It seems to always happen juuuuuust when we need it; God allows us to hear from someone whose life has been impacted by our ministry and it’s enough to keep us going for another day.

…to take good care of yourself so that you’ll have enough energy to keep up with me.
…to make sure to save some time for yourself.

Here’s that balance/Sabbath/rhythm of life stuff again. One thing that our bosses at CMF/Globalscope have instituted recently has been required monthly “personal spiritual development days” for every member of our staff. One work day (M-F) per month, each member of my team is required to basically disappear and spend the day doing things that fill his/her spiritual tank. This could involve reading, sleeping, exercising, talking on the phone to a friend, whatever. The point is to reconnect with God. I typically grab a couple of books and my journal and head to one of my favorite breakfast spots, followed by a trip downtown to watch people in the zocalo or visit the cathedral or just sit and read at a café, followed by a nap. This month I’ll spend my PSD day with my brother while he’s in town visiting us. These days have been GREAT for our team, and I recommend something like them for everyone.

…to make sure our home is safe for me.
The Casa Verde continues to be a huge blessing and weapon for ministry. It has been and continues to be a refuge and a second home for so many. We are dreaming big dreams for its future – expanding? Purchasing? Long-term lease? Who knows? A lot of it depends on our landlords’ desires, so please please please pray about this along with us!

…to teach me how to do the things I will one day need to do for myself.
Part of our mantra as a staff is “making disciples by BEING disciples”. We believe that we teach what we know but ultimately we reproduce what we are. As campus ministers we only get a short time to influence and impact these young people. Please pray that we make the most of it!

…to understand that people in costumes might scare me.
This one made me think of authenticity. Young people can detect fakeness a mile away. Pray for us as we seek to lead lives of integrity and authenticity among these guys and gals who are watching our every move, often just looking for something to criticize, some small hypocrisy with which they might write off Christ and his Church completely.

…to always remember that I am only a child.
…to understand that some things have changed since you were my age.

We live and work in a world of constant change. In order to be good ministers, we must be constantly learning and evolving. Technology alone offers myriad challenges. I’m now 11 years older than this years freshmen. Please pray not just that we keep up, but that we know how and when to appropriately leverage technology and change and adjust in ways that are redemptive and that glorify God and bless people.

I need you because without you I don’t know what I’d do.
In a way, this is our job – to be here for these young people in a way that no one else is, but really we don’t want them to be lost without us; we want to awaken them to the fact that they are lost without Jesus. Help us, in all we do, to point them toward the Lover of their souls.

Yesterday I was asking one of our exchange students what he’s learned this semester, and he said the main thing he’s learned is that everything is ministry. Back home, he said, it was easy to think about spiritual things and reaching out to his friends if they came to the campus house. But here he’s learned that his Christianity also applies when he’s playing video games or eating lunch, whether he’s in the dorm or in the Casa Verde. And in a nutshell that’s what we’re here to do – to be “little Christs”, to be salt and light, at all times and in many places, wherever college students might be found.

Thanks once again for all of the prayers, dollars, and words of encouragement that you all send out in order to make ministry happen here in Puebla!

Nathan for the McDades

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

En Vivo #12 – Shhhhhhhhhh… – Tues. Nov. 12, 2009

[The main event of our week here at El Pozo is what we call El Pozo “En Vivo” (which means El Pozo “Live!”), our Tuesday night all-community Bible study. It typically comes complete with preaching, music, videos, skits, free food, the whole deal. After each En Vivo, I hope to blog briefly about the night – what we taught, how it went, etc. Enjoy.]

So as a preacher/teacher, I have lots of ideas. Some I recognize as bad ideas two seconds after they occur to me. Many are very weird ideas. The trick there is to be in tune with God’s Spirit enough to distinguish between “good weird” and “bad weird”, between “this will help them learn something in a fun and creative way weird” and “this will freak people out or make people angry or go right over their heads weird”.

Two weekends ago, I was trying to figure out what to teach at En Vivo #12. It was Friday, and Erin and I couldn’t get wireless signal in our house. We turned on the TV and it wasn’t working either, signifying that it was definitely a cable problem. We checked with some neighbors and determined that the problem was limited to our house, so we put a call in and they said they’d be out to take a look at it in three days or so. Which mean that we’d be spending the weekend without TV or Internet. (Full disclosure, I did later “borrow” some Internet signal from the neighbors for some email and football score checking. I’m of the opinion that if you choose not to password protect your wireless signal, you are basically inviting others to partake…) My initial reaction to the loss of cable services was what one might expect – frustration! I love to watch the NFL and snuggle with Elsa Lynne on Sunday afternoons. I love to follow college games and my fantasy sports leagues on the Internet. We watch NCIS on Saturday nights. Etc. Now, all of those things would no longer be options for us. Frustrating. But then, shortly after this initial reaction, a funny thing happened…

It was very nice! It was quiet! We didn’t even put on music; instead we just enjoyed the rare and precious quietness that suddenly surrounded us. And I don’t just mean lack of noise – I mean we still had kids running around the neighborhood in front of our house and birds on top of it and loud buses and the “El Gas” truck going by behind it. What I’m talking about was more of a freedom from the slavery to checking email, checking facebook, reading the news, and turning on the TV just to have it on or to see what’s on. It was more of a true Sabbath than we usually experience. And we liked it. And it gave me an idea for En Vivo #12 – SILENCE. SOLITUDE. SABBATH. And my idea was a little weird. But after some prayer and reflection, and bouncing it off my teammates, who approved, I decided that it was indeed “good weird”.

So here’s how last night went: First of all, it was a very different night for many reasons. This is the last big week of tests before finals (which begin three weeks from now), so many of our core students who hardly ever miss an En Vivo had already warned us that they would be absent this week. We totally understand when this is the case, and don’t want our regulars to be feeling guilty the few times that they miss! So we anticipated, and indeed had, a much smaller crowd than usual – only about 60 people. And while we always hope to pack the house, these nights with slimmer crowds to offer a certain advantage in terms of “intimacy”. It’s a different vibe which, if we are aware of it and prayerful about it, can be turned into a very positive thing. The night was also different than usual because it was downright chilly outside! For us, the weather these past two weeks has been wonderful – just like crisp Fall weather back home. But for the locals, and somewhat for us as we get more and more accustomed to living here, it was shockingly cold! But nice! So the coffee that we provide tasted extra good, and the general environment in the house felt more warm and “homey” than usual. Like those of us who not only decided to take a break from studying but also braved the cold to arrive were bonded together in a special way just by being present. Again, a nice vibe. The third thing that made the night a little different was the presence of several special guests. We frequently have students bring their parents to check out what they’ve been talking about (and see that it’s not a cult!), but last night THREE people brought their moms with them. Praise God for overwhelmingly positive responses to our ministry by parents and professors and other such adult visitors over the past five years! In addition to the mom’s we have to GTCCF interns visiting this week. So it was quite a different “onda” (vibe) last night than usual, but it turned out to be great!

We changed things up by doing no worship songs at the beginning. We usually have two sets, but tonight we saved all of the singing for the end. We started with a jam song, an informal welcome, and then straight into a video to introduce the mini-talk, which if you’ll remember I called “Shhh…” Here’s the video, which I used because it made me laugh and because it illustrates my life. Too often my life is just NOISY. I talked about this and how it’s a result of both others’ actions and my own. I mentioned the power of taming the tongue, and the need for silence and solitude. I basically made three very quick points about why silence/solitude is important and what these terms mean from a biblical perspective. And before I go any further, let me just say that if you are a Christ-follower and you’ve yet to read “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster, just drop what you’re doing and purchase or borrow or steal it and read it NOW. Amazing book; I try to re-read it at least every three years or so.

1. It’s important not to just empty ourselves, but to FILL ourselves up with God’s Spirit. Buddhism, for example, is ultimately about emptying and escaping and disconnecting, but that is not enough. I shared the story from Matthew 12 and Luke 11 in which the evil spirit cast out from a man leaves, finds no new home, and comes back with six even more evil buddy spirits to occupy the same soul that he left, now swept clean and even more ready to play host. The point of silence is not lack of noise. The point of silence is HEARING from God, seeing more clearly, more self-control.

2. Silence and solitude were an integral part of the RHYTHM of Jesus’ life. I fear that we the leaders of El Pozo probably do, generally speaking, a crappy job of teaching this. We work hard and always strive to do the best activities and serve the students so much and so well, that we often forget to teach them the value of Sabbath and silence. We push community and togetherness so much that we often neglect the value of solitude. Even when we are living balanced and restful lives, our students probably don’t see it as much as they should. How do you model Sabbath when Sabbath means, to an extent, avoiding the people you’re trying to teach? I pray that the fact that they don’t see me much on weekends sometimes will somehow translate into an understanding of the reason for that – and that God shows us more and more how to teach this. Anyway, last night I read a paragraph from Foster’s book in which he points out how Jesus frequently escaped to lonely, solitary, quiet places – especially before and after crucial events in his life and ministry – and taught his followers to do the same. And if our goal is to live like Jesus, we can’t ignore this important aspect of his life and teaching.

3. Silence and solitude are really about FAITH. They are bout trusting our loving Father. To illustrate this point, I passed along a story from my friend and pastor in Johnson City, Aaron Wymer. Here it is in his words (Meghan is his daughter, another friend of ours who is graduating high school this year):
“You have probably heard me say that I think one of my greatest moments of insight into silence was when Meghan was little and feeling talkative. I knew to appreciate that chatter, but I don't naturally take to it. Then one day she just walked into the room, without saying a word, and climbed up on my lap and rested her head my chest. The bonding of that moment was completely silent, and richer than any words we've ever spoken to each other.”
This, I explained to the students, is what silence is really all about. Yes, God loves to hear from us. He loves our chatter. But it is also important, and perhaps even more profound, to just climb up in His lap on a regular basis and just BE with Him.

So at this point we all did an experiment. I passed out earplugs and a piece of paper to everyone, we spread out around the campus house, and I started the timer on 19 minutes and 12 seconds of COMPLETE SILENCE. Why 19:12? In honor of 1 Kings 19:12. On the paper I handed out was a quote from a U2 song (“Hear me, cease to speak that I [God] may speak. Shush now.” – U2, from “Unknown Caller”), followed by 1 Kings 19:1-18, followed by several examples (taken from the aforementioned paragraph by Foster) of times when Jesus went away to silent, solitary places before and after key moments in his life and ministry (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 6:12, Matthew 14:13, Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Mark 6:31, Luke 5:16, Matthew 17:1-9, Matthew 26:36-46).

It was a great experience – a gift, really – to just sit and be silent. Even more so during a time of exams and stress as people see the light at the end of the semester tunnel and, for many of them, realize that it’s a train.

Next week: Talking about the revolution of Jesus and a rebel named Paul in honor of Mexico’s Día de la Revolución.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Elsa Lynne Update - 14 November 2009

Pretty much just posting new photos here, but I'll also mention that Elsa is doing great, growing like a weed. She got another vaccination the other day - last one for six weeks or so - and cried hard, but for less than a minute. Just rubbed some dirt on it (Not literally - it's a figure of speech. Calm down, Mom...) and went on about her day. Also, she now weighs 6.4 kilos (14 pounds), a.k.a. nearly double her birth weight. The books say babies double in weight at around six months on average... Uuuuuuuh, we just hit 11 weeks. She's also now officially over two feet tall (63 cm), which is a big milestone in everyone's life, I guess. Well everyone except my friends Laurita and Giggio and my Aunt Mary Louise! Badum-ching! HAHA! Short joke. Just kidding, ladies! Much love to ya.

In all seriousness, thanks to everyone out there who is praying for Elsa and for all of the nice compliments. Can't wait for you all to meet her. Come visit us!

"Bath time? Yes, please!!!"

Rocking the hat and scarf that grandma knitted for her...

The scarf and hat have come in handy with the chilly weather we've been having around here.

Family fun in the front yard.

Exercising with Mommy.

A Sunday afternoon scene at the McDade house. Good times!

Flying around the living room.

"Superelsita" with Liz, who gave her the cape.

Checking out her socks, maybe? Hanging out on Daddy's belly.

Trying to show you guys the little hairs that stand straight up from Elsa's cowlick. So cute!

Another blurry attempt.

Flying around upstairs. And yes I know my hair is awesome in this photo.

Swinging (and grabbing the chain all by herself!) with Amanda and Mommy.

Elsa Lynne at 11 weeks and one day.

Blurry but shows her "Oh Mommy you are so hilarious!" face. Her smile just melts us every time.