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 cafĂ©, 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

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