Perceptions Vary

The looks on their faces said it all that October morning many years ago. My young Vietnamese students were shocked to see how their teacher was dressed. It was a typical mid October morning where I live. It was 35F/1.6C but would warm up to 65f/18c in the afternoon.

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My young friends were wearing coats and gloves. One even had a scarf and winter hat. They saw me walking in shorts and a sweatshirt. They could not believe their eyes. They were worried and asked, “teacher aren’t you cold?”

A similar scenario occurred in July 2015 in Brazil. When it is summer in the USA, it is ‘winter’ in Brazil. I found their winter to be quite comfortable and nothing like a Midwest USA winter. One afternoon I walked into the university I was teaching at wearing pants and a short sleeve shirt. It was a nice afternoon for me of 65f/18c. I walked past the office for the young women working in the media/internet department. They waved for me to come in the office. They were wearing coats. They asked me, “voce nao esta frio?” Aren’t you cold?

Perceptions vary. One person’s nice day is another person’s cold day.

Perception is why I need to spend time reading God’s word. At times my perception of my circumstances is that they are too difficult. I need the reminder that nothing is difficult for God. Then I can look to him in prayer to ask for help.

Do you like cool days? What would you think if on a morning of 35f/1.6c, you saw me walking outside wearing shorts and a sweatshirt?

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Becoming A Pastor- Part 8- 2 Sides of Me Interwoven

This is the second to the last post in this series. Part 1 is A Decision and A Book. Part 2 is A Discover and Downfall Begins. Part 3 is The Valley of Death. Part 4 is Recovering and Remembering That Book. Part 5 is Romania. Part 6 is Many Cultures and Beginning to Teach English. Part 7 is Ministry Begins and Grows.

In 2007, I found out that my denomination was shifting focus from whole countries to cities in Europe. That meant Romania would not have the same focus as it did before. As I wrestled with what Jesus was calling me to do, I read a book by a Catholic woman from Rwanda, Let to Tell, sharing her experience of surviving the Rwandan genocide. As I read her book, I thought about the refugees I had encountered in my city and God gave me peace to stay in my home city and to continue my ministry and work.

Not long after that on a Saturday afternoon I went into a library and saw one of my former students from Vietnam in an ELL study room with three teenage boys. I asked what they were doing. She told me they were her cousins and she was trying to help them with some English before they started school in the fall. The three boys were new to America.

I offered to come the next day and be a native English speaker, but with the idea she would do the lesson. They quickly agreed with the idea. The next day I went to the library and found the boys were there waiting for me but she was not there. I quickly prayed in my spirit and Jesus let me know they were my students now.

Those lessons grew to over 20 young people from Vietnam with an average attendance of 14 to 15 for a while. We had to change to my church to have a room big enough. They were either high school students or had just aged out of high school without graduating but had a diploma from Vietnam. I helped them with English, ACT Test prep, TOEFL Test prep, scholarship applications and more. I got used to being called Mr. Matt.

Our group met in my church. When there were special events in my church such as a Christmas program, they came with me. My church helped me put on a Lunar New Year lunch for them and some friends from church participated in it.

When it was time for the first ones to go to New Student Enrollment at the university in my city, their parents lack of English caused them to not go and some had to work as well. My young Vietnamese friends asked me to go with them as their parent.

My experience with my young Vietnamese friends shifted my paradigm of thought from only focusing on teaching adults to wanting to find a way to help families. The thought that parents did not go with their children to something as important as New Student Enrollment due to language barriers really bothered me.

So when a program called Family Literacy began in my city, I jumped on the chance to teach one of the classes. Family Literacy is a program that empowers parents to help their children. The classes meet in the school where the children go and meets in the morning or afternoon while the children are in school. We connect the English the parents are learning with their child’s education.

Ministry and Education have seemed to be interwoven for me for years. When I reflect on it, I remember a puzzled counselor looking at the results of my personality test during career counseling years before my journey began. The results were 98% match for ministry, 97% match for teacher, and 97% match for Jet Fighter Pilot which was the one she couldn’t figure out. It makes sense to me. I love traveling to other countries, the excitement of meeting a people group new to my city no one knows much about, being in the classroom and sharing the love of Jesus.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Oh What A Sunday :)

It finally happened. I finally went to church Sunday morning in person not online for the first time since March.

It was beautiful weather for me in the 40s with sunshine when I went and in the 50s with sunshine after. It was so wonderful to see people live in person not online. I spoke with some of the pastors and with others. What a huge boost!!!

After church, I met a friend for lunch. She is from Vietnam and came to my weekend groups before moving to Houston. She was back for a visit and wanted to have lunch with me. She bought the old guy some lunch.

As we were eating, a table some feet away, a family was having lunch. A beautiful family of all adopted children of various ethnicities. For some reason the children noticed me and we might have exchanged funny faces. Having felt so blessed the past several months by friends helping me during a down time, I walked over and asked the father if I could give him a little money to buy his kids ice cream after lunch. He accepted and I said- it’s from Jesus.

Such a Sunday was normal for me before the pandemic started, but it was so special to me this time because it was like experiencing it for the first time. It has been so long- 7 months.

How was your weekend?

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Blessed by Seeing Others Reach Goals

Ten years ago a 16 year old girl from Vietnam joined my weekend study groups. It was obvious from the start that she was an intelligent girl. A year later after only studying English for one year, she was enrolled in Advanced Placement classes at her high school.

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It was a joy to help her with English and prepare for the ACT Test. A few moments I will never forget are the time she was upset because she got a Health Sciences Scholarship to cover all of her college expenses for four years but not the scholarship her friends got. It took a little explaining to help her understand that for her goal of becoming a doctor, the one she got was better for her.

The other moment was when I was in Brazil in 2015. One morning I was cooking some eggs and checked my Facebook. She asked me to read her essay for her Medical School application. We chatted for about 45 minutes. When we finished, I remembered I was cooking eggs. They burned real badly.

She is near the end of Medical School and is applying for Residency in Family Medicine. She wants to be a Family Physician. Through Google Docs we went over her personal statement for the application. She did not really need my help, but it was a blessing to interact with her again. She mostly just need reassurance from her old teacher and a reminder that Jesus knew she would be applying for a Residency before she came to America.

As a teacher one of my greatest blessings is to see former student achieve in life. My friend from Vietnam is certainly achieving.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Story Time- A Memorial Day Cookout with Teens from Vietnam

One Memorial Day ten years ago, some young people I mentored and taught in my weekend groups invited me to join them for their Memorial Day cookout in a park. I went wondering what it would be like.

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The reason is the December before they asked if we could have a Christmas party instead of studying on a Saturday. I agreed. Then they told me they would bring all of the food. Well the food ended up being chips, candy, and soda.

When I got to the park and joined them, I was pleasantly surprised that they had brought meat to grill. They were happy to share with me and gave me a plate. I cut open the meat and quickly shouted- “Don’t eat this yet. Put it back on the grill.”

They asked me why. I explained to them that pork has to be cooked thoroughly so no pink or blood is showing. They had cooked it like they would a steak they way they liked steak- medium rare.

I explained that if pork is not cooked all of the way that they could get worms. When they heard that, they made sure the meat was cooked completely.

I always had a watchful eye for my young Vietnamese friends. They were and still are important to me. At times I would anticipate their needs such as when they would need to fill out financial aid forms.

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God always has a watchful eye on us to look out for us, protect us, guide us, and let us know he is there for us.

Jesus talked about how much God cares about us in Matthew 6:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life”

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Q and A with me- Good Questions and My Responses

I enjoyed receiving some good questions in my post The K Club: Thank to My Followers and Q and A with me, and today I would like the share the questions and my answers.

I think I got all of the questions. If I missed yours, please let me know in the comment section.

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Lydia of asked:

How has blogging helped you in your life?Did you ever think you would make it to the # of followers you have now?What advice do you have for a first time blogger?

Blogging has helped me connect with people around the world. I have learned from my fellow bloggers. It has given me a creative outlet as well. I never thought I would reach 1,000 followers, but when I hit 800 I thought I might.

Advice for a first time blogger- give yourself time to grow. Don’t give up in the beginning. 2 years ago I had 30 followers and would get excited if I had 10 views. Also remember to interact with other bloggers with meaningful comments. Comments like “great post” don’t get my attention. Learn from other bloggers by seeing how they write and seeing if you want to incorporate ideas, but be yourself. Remember why you want to blog.

I would like to invite other bloggers to share ideas in the comment section 🙂

Dawn of asked- Being that you interact with so many different people (often from different countries), what advice can you give related to sharing your faith with others?

Be authentic, actually care about the other person, take time to get to know the person. By doing these things you can build friendship. PRAYER is key. Don’t worry about method. Share the love of Jesus and what he means to you.

Pallavi of asked- how are you dealing with all of this Covid-19 fright? I will be honest, it’s starting to get me and now I am looking for ways to stay calm and positive in all of this.

It is definitely a stressful time and one that I have never seen before in my life. For the fear, my relationship with Jesus helps me the most. He has helped me through many difficult times in my life. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I know nothing can separate me from Jesus.

I have to admit being single and living alone makes the self isolation thing rough because I am a people person. I love to be with people. I am trying to stay in contact with others via social media.

Beverley of– I admire your strength and your positiveness during all of this worldwide drama and I recognized that you are able to stay calm because of your strong faith in God. My question to you is this: Do you think that another reason why you are not fearful of this virus outbreak is because your struggles with chronic illness have made you more resilient and strong?

Yes I do think my struggles with chronic illness and living through them with Jesus helping me has made me resilient. I will never forget my first major struggle in 1993 to 1995 and how I was almost at death’s door in July 1995. One night I thought I was going to die and prayed to Jesus saying, “there are more people who need help and more people who need to hear about you.” The presence of Jesus filled my room. It gave me a tiny taste of being in his presence but enough of one that I know he is so real and he is on the other side of death waiting for us to come home in his time.

Brenda of asked- How many mission trips have you been on? Which made the most impact on your life? Would you consider yourself a missionary?

I have been on 11 missions trips and hope to go on more. My first trip to Romania in 1997 had a huge impact on me. It was during that trip I realized there was something special about the connections God has given me with other cultures. It was my 3rd trip to Romania in 1999 that I realized God was calling me to teach English as a way to connect with people from other cultures.

Yes I consider myself to be a missionary- a missionary to the many people groups living in my city.

Rene of asked- What has been your greatest teaching moment as a teacher and as a Christian in your church, and/or in your life, in general? Or what has been the greatest teaching moment that maybe God has taught/or shown you personally?

Oh my so many wonderful teaching moments I do not know which to choose. I think my study groups with young people from Vietnam over a period of 7 years was meaningful to me because I watched them go from high school students, and a few out of high school but needing more English, to graduating college and going on to grad school. My times with them taught me a lot about myself as well.

Another wonderful time was teaching English in Rio do Sul a small city in Southern Brazil. I taught for a small university there. I was the only American in the city most of the time, so I got immersed in the culture. My Portuguese improved a lot. I spent a lot of time with my students outside of class too.

Herry of asked –  What advice would you give your twenty something year old self? Anything you would have loved to do differently

So many things I would tell 20 year old me such as pour yourself into language learning because God has given you ability with languages. Biggest thing would be focus on Jesus.

Big Sky asked – How does your teaching fill up your emotional tank?

Teaching fills me up in many ways. The interaction with students energizes me. When I am teaching, it is when I feel I am fulfilling what God has called me to do. Seeing my students succeed in life and experience milestones such as becoming a citizen, graduating college or high school, starting and having a career, encourages me a lot.

Blessed by Small Moments

Sunday Morning I woke up feeling fatigued which is normal in my life. I made myself get ready, so I could go to church. On such mornings it is a temptation to stay home all day in my sweat clothes and relax or just stay in bed.

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But I had a very important thing to do.

My young friend from Vietnam, who has come to my Sunday morning group since last summer, will move to Texas this Wednesday. Sunday morning was time to say goodbye. We prayed for her at the end and after we finished praying she cried. It was a poignant moment.

Then as I went to worship service, I saw my friends from Rwanda. I always enjoy greeting them in French and welcoming them. I like to joke with them by asking if they had any tests and if they did I congratulate them.

Before I went into worship service, a friend from Brazil introduced me to a new family from Brazil. We spoke in Portuguese which was fun. While we were talking, one of the pastors came by to introduce me to a woman from Mexico. I spoke with her in Spanish and shared with her about my Sunday morning class.

If I had given in to the fatigue and pain, I would have missed out on those wonderful moments. Moments of sharing Christ’s love with people from four different countries.

Small moments of blessing are too easily overlooked by us especially if we are only looking for the big moments.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

A Hassle That Led to A Blessing

It seemed like a hassle to me at first. I tried to use my Pro Air Asthma Inhaler, but it did not work. For some reason lately, Pro Air Abuterol inhalers are not dependable when they get down to the last 20 doses. I was supposed to have 12 left, but when I tried to use it yesterday- NOTHING.

So I called the pharmacy for a refill. It meant driving there between classes I teach in the late afternoon as in driving across town from where I teach.

When I got to the pharmacy, I noticed that she was the pharmacist. She is one of the young people from Vietnam that I helped when I had a group of young Vietnamese people that I helped. She graduated from the university in my city and went on to pharmacy school in a nearby city. She graduated and passed her tests and is now a registered pharmacist.

I felt SO PROUD of her. I know how hard she worked and to see her working as the pharmacist filled me with the pride of a dad watching his daughter succeed and achieve her dreams.

She even bought me some ice cream- Chocolate Ice Cream 🙂

Do you know who is thrilled when we achieve more than we thought we could? God. God loves us. He is heavenly father. When we depend on God and reach higher than we thought possible, he is cheering us on. God delights in his children. He empowers us through his Holy Spirit.

I am so thankful that Jesus called me to the work and ministry of helping refugees and immigrants because it gives me a whole new appreciation of what Jesus said in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”

Jesus has blessed me with sharing his love and the love of God the Father with people from many cultures.

For me caring about someone means caring about the whole person, so when they achieve their dreams and I could help in some small way, it is a huge blessing for me.

I am proud of all of the young Vietnamese people from that time. Yesterday was a wonderful reminder for me.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Friday Evening Focus

When I was younger, Friday evening was prime time for weekend fun to kick off the weekend. That was before 25 years of living with chronic illness. Now Friday evenings are for resting to have energy for the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are important days in my ministry with refugees and immigrants.

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This morning I will meet with some Vietnamese immigrants to help them practice conversational English before they go to work. After that I will meet my friend from Bosnia. He would like to start a Master’s Degree program. Then it will be lunch with him and his wife.

Sunday morning will be my bible study group for internationals, worship service, lunch with friends, and in the evening teaching citizenship class at El Centro de las Americas.

Christmas for me lately has been mostly about going to church on Christmas Eve and waiting for it all to pass and life to get back to normal. So I decided to make a change.

Last night, I watched Christmas Worship music on YouTube. I did so for a few reasons.

First of all to focus intentionally on Jesus and his birth. I loved one video that showed a baby and a roaring lion. Yes, Jesus was born as a baby. But he is the King of Kings. He is the Lion of Judah who has a ll power.

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I also did so because I want to be refreshed spiritually before a weekend of teaching and ministry.

So this morning I am rested and ready to go. I would like to share one video I watched by Hillsong. It is Drummer Boy and Oh Come All Ye Faithful. I loved the drums for Drummer Boy.

Join me this Christmas is truly focusing on the real meaning of Christmas which that the Creator of all things, the King of Kings, humbled himself to become a human baby for the purpose of dying for our sins a short 33 years or so after his birth.

Thank you for reading. God Bless..

Sharing Firsts With My Students

Last week we had our first snow in my city while I was teaching my morning class. It wasn’t much and didn’t accumulate, but when I noticed it was snowing, I opened the blinds so the students could see.

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For one of my students, it was her first time to ever see snow. She is from a country that never has snow. She was excited to see the snow, so she came over to the window. We stood there as she looked at the snow and asked me questions about it.

Things that are commonplace for anyone in their home city are often a new experience others find fascinating.

In January 2017, I helped with a group of students who came from Brazil to study English for three months. Out of all of the things I showed them during their time here, the thing they took the most pictures of was walking on a frozen lake. It was such a novelty for them to see a frozen lake especially that they could walk on it.

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Earlier this year, I was studying with a student from Vietnam at a library. The study room has windows. A squirrel ran across the grass. She was surprised and excitedly asked me what kind of animal it was.

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Such moments are a fun part of what the Lord has called me to do, which is to teach, help, and share his love with people from all over the world living in my city.

When I experience such moments through their eyes, it helps me to keep a sense of wonder about the world God created for us to live in. Even in our fallen world, there is much beauty to appreciate.

I am grateful that I can experience my city and life here through the eyes of my international friends. It keeps life interesting for me and helps me to not take commonplace things for granted. After my friend marveled at seeing a squirrel, I see them differently now.

So today I want to thank God for his creation and seeing it through the eyes of others.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.