2014 Tour Photoblog #6

 

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Diversity That Blossoms From One Heart

Reflecting on Venture’s theme of “community” in Thailand

By Rebekah Jacobson

Community is so essential in the Body of Christ. Without it, unity cannot exist, which hinders the growth of the Church.

The church in Acts gives us a beautiful description of community in Christ. These people worshipped together, prayed together, ate together, and served together. Their lives were interconnected for the sole purpose of glorifying God and sharing the Gospel.

What sets the church in Acts apart from many other communities of believers is that the community operated out of one heart and one vision. The people were unified together to do the work of Christ.

A lady at a prayer meeting I met last week gave a metaphor that describes the impact of community so well. She said individual believers are like fireflies that go out into the world on their own and flicker their light in the dark. Yet, when the fireflies come together in a jar, the light is so much brighter because their light feeds off of each other. Also, their light doesn’t fade away like it did when they were each on their own.

The jar of fireflies’ metaphor emphasizes that when believers come together, their impact strengthens. They can go out on their own and be effective for a while, but eventually their wick will run dry. Community sustains us as Christians, and more importantly, builds the Kingdom of God.

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In addition to physical sacrifice, community is another theme that Venture Expeditions focuses on.

In America, Venture has built a strong community of staff, tour participants, alumni and donors who all partner together to support Venture’s work. However, in Thailand, the community looks a little different.

Firstly, the community here is smaller than the community in America. Currently, there are three full-time Venture missionary couples living in the Chiang Mai area, along with Pae, a Karen-Thai who coordinates the HOSEA Center.

The Venture community also changes a lot. Although there is currently five long-term staff here, the Venture community receives short-term volunteers from time to time. These short-term volunteers can be helpful, but the Venture community would like to expand its base of long-term workers here. Longevity is so important when building relationships in ministry, especially if it involves learning a new language.

Secondly, the community here is involved with a variety of different ministries. Not only do Venture Expeditions missionaries work at the HOSEA Center and with the Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) feeding project on the Thai-Burmese border, but they also work with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and at Grace International School (GIS).

I want to dispel the popular belief that to be apart of the Venture community in Thailand means to only teach English and the Bible to village kids. Although Venture’s initial presence in Thailand was at the HOSEA Center, it is expanding its territory into other ministries. It’s all about being obedient to what God calls you to – no more and no less.

Although the Venture community in Thailand is small now, it is diverse. What draws the people here together is Venture’s passion for biblical justice, and they actively want to be part of fulfilling that, whether it be through distributing meals to refugees on the Thai-Burmese border or discipling missionary kids at an international school.

Like one of the Venture missionaries said here, the Venture community strives to live within a “Jesus culture” here. They don’t want to conform to American culture or even the Thai culture that surrounds them, but a culture whose identity is found in the Body of Christ, which includes every tribe, every tongue, and every nation.

The Venture community in Thailand is still growing and being shaped, but the hearts behind are eager to see the future of it. They agree that prayer and discipleship are the two means that will cause the community to flourish.

Please pray against disunity in the Thailand Venture community and pray for more discipleship within the ministries that the Thailand Venture community is working in.

100 miles. 100 days. $100.

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“I would love to go on a Venture tour, but I can’t take off work”, “A 10-day tour sounds like a lot of fun, but who will watch my kids?”, “I’ve never ran more than a 5K, how could I run across the state”? These are just a few of the questions that go through someone’s mind when they hear about a Venture tour.

For many, the commitment is overwhelming. The time, the training, the details of how to make it work seem impossible. In return, little thought is given to the opportunity and in that moment, getting involved with Venture does not seem like an attainable option. It is attainable for the college student who doesn’t have a full-time job, for the single adult or couple with no kids, or for the exceptional athlete who has run a marathon. Right?

At Venture, we don’t agree with that train of thought, so we started Venture Local.  

Signing up to become a Venture Local participant means that no matter what town you live in, how old you are, how many kids you have, or job you work at, you can be involved with Venture.

And that is how the 100 Mile Challenge was inspired.  

The ask was for 100 people, via social media, to commit to being 1 of 100 to run 100 miles in 100 days and give $100 from July 11 – October 18, 2014. This is our first attempt at appealing to a broad audience, and the response has been incredible.

Our goal was 100 runners, but nearly 150 have signed up for the challenge. That’s $15,000 and 150,000 meals for refugees on the Thai/Burmese border. And this is not just a challenge for local Minnesotans. There are participants representing 16 states and 3 countries.

This group of people has become an online community overnight, thanks to our group Facebook page, posting about the long and short runs, running with strollers, with spouses, running in the excessive heat and in the rain. It has been one big party of encouragement and support, all because there was an opportunity that was attainable, and a cause that was compelling.

It’s simple. Refugees need food. We can do something about it. So we run and we give.

If you would like to become a Venture Local participant and/or join the 100 Mile Challenge (or start a 100 Mile Challenge in your community), please email Candace Hurckman at churckman@ventureexpeditions.org.

2014 Tour Photoblog #5

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Physical Sacrifice Doesn’t Always Involve Sweat

Reflecting on Venture’s theme of “physical sacrifice” in Thailand

By Rebekah Jacobson

When I think of physical sacrifice, I think of blood, sweat, and tears being shed. I think of the human body suffering — even dying — for another person’s life.

In the Bible, I think of Moses sacrificing his son Isaac on the altar. I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stepping into the fiery furnace instead of bowing down to the golden idol. I think of Stephen preaching the Gospel and being stoned on the street, and I think of Paul doing the same and being thrown into jail multiple times.

I also think of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for our sins. I think about the whipping, the spears thrust into him, the nails that were pierced into his wrists and feet, and the crown of thorns laid on his head. Jesus willingly endured all of this – including the massive weight of all humankind’s sin – just so we could have eternal life.

Physical sacrifice is a theme that is rampant throughout the Bible from cover to cover. Especially if God sent his Son down to earth to become human for the purpose of suffering to give eternal life, then I think physical sacrifice is a pretty big deal.

In fact, I think physical sacrifice is something that God wants each of us to incorporate into our lives.

Venture Expeditions has taken the theme of physical sacrifice and made it one of the main focuses of the organization. Every summer, hundreds of people sign up to bike, run, and hike across America to raise money for those who are oppressed in Thailand.

Yet, physical sacrifice does not always take the form of a body physically draining itself. Physical sacrifice goes a lot further than that.

I think physical sacrifice is best summed up in this quote in the documentary, The Road To Resistance, by a man working to deliver food to refugees in Burma: “I never let comfort or fear inform my decisions – only obedience to God.”

Physical sacrifice is really just obedience to God. It’s simple in definition, although it expresses itself in various ways.

For some people, God asks them to donate their time and resources to a nonprofit. For others, God asks them to give up two months of their summer to bike across America and fundraise for Venture’s projects in Thailand. And for a few others, God asks them to dedicate their lives on the mission field.

No act of physical sacrifice is the same, yet God doesn’t view one as less or better than the other. He just asks us to do what he has called us to do – no more and no less.

For those that are serving God in Thailand right now with Venture, physical sacrifice is no stranger to them. These people have given up their American dream to serve God in a nation that is less than 1% Christian and over 95% Buddhist, and left their family and friends back home.

That is absolutely physical sacrifice. But, it also goes beyond that into the tasks and choices in everyday life.

Physical sacrifice involves placing family above ministry, enduring sickness when it comes, teaching English to kids, praying for the nation of Thailand, and wholeheartedly investing into everything else that God has called them to in Thailand.

Currently, there are three full-time Venture missionary couples living in the Chiang Mai area, along with Pae, a Karen-Thai who coordinates the HOSEA Center. These seven make up the core of Venture’s presence in Thailand.

Their work varies from partnering with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) to teaching physical education at GIS (Grace International School) to teaching English at Watkeerekate School. Although they all have different duties, they are all working towards one common goal: to bring biblical justice to the oppressed in Thailand.

And I think that’s what physical sacrifice needs to do. If physical sacrifice is done for any other reason than to spread the love of Christ to those who are broken, then it is worth nothing.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Jesus told us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. I think he included strength for the very purpose of loving him with our physical body, whether that’s in the physical labor of our job or exercise.

All that matters is that we obey God, and enter into his will – whether that’s biking from Minneapolis to Chicago (Midwest Tour, you guys rock!), donating $100 to a nonprofit, or saying goodbye to America to live in Thailand as a missionary.

Let me end with this quote by V. Raymond Edman, an American author and a former president of Wheaton College. It’s long, but I think it truly captures what it means to physically sacrifice for God.

“I had utterly abandoned myself to Him. Could any choice be as wonderful as His will? Could any place be safer than the center of His will? Did not He assure me by His very presence that His thoughts toward us are good, and not evil? Death to my own plans and desires was almost deliriously delightful. Everything was laid at His nail-scarred feet, life or death, health or illness, appreciation by others or misunderstanding, success or failure as measured by human standards. Only He Himself mattered.”

And that’s what physical sacrifice is all about: obedience to God, despite fear or comfort, or anything else that might get in the way.

2014 Tour Photoblog #4

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Venture’s Work In Chiang Mai

By Rebekah Jacobson

After being in Thailand for a month-and-a-half, I have been able to see or participate in all that Venture Expeditions is doing here. I’ve taught English at the HOSEA Center and Watkereekate School, and three weeks ago I traveled along the Thai-Burmese border with a team to visit Venture’s project sites.

(Read about that trip here: Part 1, Part 2)

I want to tell you more about Venture’s work strictly in the Chiang Mai area, because not many people know what happens on a day-to-day basis.

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Venture operates the HOSEA Center, known to the community as the Venture Human Development Foundation. The center is located in Ban Pong, a village on the edge of the mountains about 10 miles southwest of Chiang Mai. The center is open on Tuesdays to Fridays after school, and on Saturdays during the day.

The HOSEA Center coordinator, Pae, works at the center every day it is open. She does paperwork in the afternoon, and when the kids come, she enjoys playing games with them or teaching them guitar. Currently, the center also has three other part-time staff. Steve and Jenna volunteer three days a week, and I volunteer four days a week.

During the week, kids come bustling down the road – with snacks such as bubble tea, papaya salad, or chips usually in-hand – from Ban Pong School once the bell rings at 4 p.m. Once they arrive, the kids usually start playing badminton, Uno, Domino’s, Ping-Pong, volleyball, basketball or the Memory Game.

After 30 minutes of free time, we begin to teach English lessons. Grade 1 to Grade 6 students are taught on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Grade 7 to Grade 12 students are taught on Tuesdays and Fridays. There are 14 younger students and eight older students who typically come to the center during the week, but not all of them come every day.

The English lessons that we teach are very casual and interactive. Since the kids have been sitting in class all day, we want to make our lessons fun, so we usually spend a majority of our time with a game or activity that corresponds to the vocabulary words taught.

On Saturdays, six to 10 other kids come to the center, so there are usually between 20 and 30 kids. And instead of teaching English, we teach a story from the Bible and do a game, craft, or other activity along with it. Pae also cooks a delicious homemade Thai lunch for all of the kids to eat at noon. Some of the kids leave after lunch, but many of them stay to play games. A cell group from a church in Chiang Mai also comes once or twice a month to lead a Bible study with the kids in the afternoon.

The HOSEA Center is a good place for kids in the Ban Pong community to spend their time because it offers a safe, positive environment for fun and learning. Many families in the community view it this way too (although it wasn’t always like this), as they want their children to learn English to give them a brighter future. However, some kids don’t want to come because they are afraid they will become a Christian if they do come.

Although the HOSEA Center is not registered as a Christian organization, it strives to share Christ’s love with each kid that enters its doors. Currently, there are eight Christian kids who attend the center, two of who just became Christians within the last two months.

Besides operating the HOSEA Center, Venture Expeditions also sends volunteers to Watkeerekate School to teach English. The school is located two miles further down the road from Ban Pong.

Unlike Ban Pong School, which has an English teacher and substantial funding from the government, Watkeerekate School has neither of these. And that’s exactly why Venture Expeditions partnered with the school.

Currently, Pae and I co-teach three days a week for two hours in the morning. We teach Grade 2 to Grade 6, with each class receiving one to two hours of English teaching every week.

Our teaching at Watkeerekate School is a lot more structured since it’s during the school day. We write the vocabulary words in English and Thai on the chalkboard, and then the students write them down in their notebooks. We then recite the words in English and ask questions whose answers use the vocabulary words. We spend the rest of class time playing games that incorporate the vocabulary words.

It is so good that Venture Expeditions has the opportunity to teach at Watkeerekate School, because honestly, the students’ education is not a priority of the teachers. Many times Pae and I walk into a classroom with the kids playing games or running around. Although the teachers are very kind and care for the students, the reality is that they put meetings or personal tasks above the students’ education.

So, that’s what Venture Expeditions is doing in the Chiang Mai area. Although English teaching is the main means of service to the community, so much else is given along with it. Friendships are built, and the love of Christ is emanated to each student that Venture volunteers work with.

And these both chime in to Venture’s main goal: for the Gospel to be shared in a largely Buddhist community.

Please pray for Venture Expeditions in Chiang Mai as they continue to serve at the HOSEA Center and Watkeerekate School.

Hungry for Justice

By Nathan Hirsh

Justus was hungry for gogurt that day in the Venture offices. That’s not a typo or a metaphor, that’s Justus Hurckman, son of Paul and Candace Hurckman, and he really wanted a snack.  So did his big sister, Lola, and with a nod from their mother, Lola pulled gogurt tubes  from the lunches Candace had packed for  them that day and started to suck away.

After giving them permission and watching for a moment to make sure the rest of their lunches were saved for later, Candace turned back to me. We were sitting in Paul’s office talking over some information about my internship, discussing the 4th of July weekend, and waiting on a running team that was making its way to the Venture offices as we spoke.

Paul peeked his head into the office and let us know the staff meeting would be starting in just a moment. We stood, and I waved bye to Justus, a glob of purple yogurt on his shirt, while Lola set up a movie for them to watch.

I sat around a table with the Venture staff and listened to Paul go over wins and news from the previous week, watched a slideshow fly by of tour participants and children at Venture’s care sites in Thailand, and read over an itinerary for the festivities this 4th of July weekend.

Phones were out, everyone waiting for updates on the runners. It was a group of girls led by Jessica Bell, social media guru for Venture and curator of the fine blog you’re reading now. They are right now coming to the end of their 100 mile Minnesota run, but then they were still finishing mile 20, day 1.

Meanwhile, Ryan Skoog, Venture’s President , gave us a different kind of news.

He told us about our team in Thailand,  how they had found their way to a town near Ventures care site in a place called Masat. The town was a site for black market trading, the kind of place where the very children Venture now cares for might have been bought and sold as slaves.

Paul chimed in with his own news. The U.S. Department of State releases it’s Traffic in Person’s Report this year and downgraded Thailand from a tier 2 to a tier 3 country. As a tier 2 country, Thailand was already failing to meet the minimum standards necessary for protecting victims of human trafficking, but it was downgraded down to tier 3 after not only maintaining it’s tier 2 status for 5 years, but also in response to a myriad of reports detailing abuses in Thailand’s seafood industry that are tantamount to outright slavery.

With the reality of Venture’s mission stuck in our minds, we received word that the girls would be arriving soon. We stepped outside, and Candace grabbed Justus and Lola from Paul’s office. There was a herd of other children, Ryan and Rachel’s kids, and the Hurckman’s running in the lobby. They opened umbrellas and made their way out into a rainy June day, chasing each other in the damp grass, while their parents waited.

Before long, they threw their umbrella’s aside, smiles on their faces, and started running ragged in the rain. They were soaking wet in moments, but I suppose that was the goal.  I miss the days when I could get so much joy out of a thunderstorm instead of worrying about having to drive in it.

I watched from inside, half my attention on the France vs Nigeria game playing on the lobby television. George Carr, Venture’s accountant and soon to be it’s latest father, watched quietly while Ryan stood next to me extolling the virtues of Chelsea and the British Premier League. He offered me Chelsea gear and pancakes if I’d give my loyalty to the Blues, an offer that I am very much still considering, though that’s a debate for another day.

Suddenly there was a commotion on the sidewalk. We all stepped outside to see the girls finally arrive, tired but grinning as they caught their breath in front of us. They made their way out of the rain, and gatorades were handed out. A few ate fruit and cliff bars until Jess opened up a pack of mini donuts that the girls quickly tore into.

We congratulated them, the kids still running behind us. Not only had they completed day 1, but before the girls had even taken their first step that morning, their entire 5000 dollar fundraising goal had been raised and then some. Congratulations were made, pictures were taken, and the mood couldn’t have been higher.

To the Venture staff, this is just another day in the life. Candace jumps from administering Venture Local to admonishing children without skipping a beat. Ryan can in one minute lead us in prayer, seeking redemption for Thailand, and in the next invite me into his home to cheer for Chelsea. Paul can make a wise crack about me giving the entire Across America Tour massages and then quote statistics about socio political status of Southeast Asia without skipping a beat.

What’s extraordinary is that their actions aren’t the result of some fevered sermon. This isn’t a group of crazed activists. These are normal people living normal lives, except instead of working for a paycheck, they work for justice, and look at the result.

It leads to a group of girls who have just run 20 miles, the longest distance any of them has ever run, describing themselves as “not athletic.” and saying that “none of us are runners”, even though they’ll all be setting new personal bests the next day running the twin cities marathon route.

Lisa Dahlberg, an old friend and one of the girls running that day said it best.

“We’re every day women running for every day women. We’re not running ultra marathons, it’s just 20 miles.”

Now to the metaphor. Justice is hungry, and gogurt doesn’t do the trick. What feeds justice the most is making it an every day part of the dinner table, the office, of playing in the rain. It is fed by every day people showing every day people that the fight for justice is not futile. It’s fed by families raising children in an environment where instead of just watching cartoons and preschool, they might overhear words like black market, and trafficking. It’s an environment where those same children  have men and women who see crossing states and countries propelled by nothing but their own sweat as no big deal as role models.

Justice is fed by the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people, and as long as organizations like Venture exist to keep making the impossible a part of snack time, I have hope for the fight for justice in this world.

 

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