Civil Conversations Project Continues Aug. 2

Civil Conversations Project Continues Aug. 2

We expected last night’s attendance at The Civil Conversations Project to be one of our smaller meetings due to the July 4th holiday.

It was one of our largest groups of attendees to date.

We expected to be able to hear the pre-selected “On Being” podcast segments meant to guide our discussion.

Multiple technological issues resulted in our instead building our discussion far more around each attendee’s philosophies and experiences.

We expected that, following The Portico Café’s 7 p.m. closing time, our discussion would take place in an environment of peace and quiet.

A fierce thunderstorm and The Portico’s (10-minute false) fire alarm meant altering our expectations yet again.

We persevered. Quiet was restored. The conversation carried on. And the voices of both new and regular attendees were heard.

While we all agreed on a major overarching point or two regarding “The Evolution of the Science – Religion Debate,” we each had different perspectives and experiences to offer with regard to our individual beliefs. This included sharing on and noting the impact each of our own upbringings, work, and life experiences has had on how we think today.

We listened to, heard, and learned from each other with dignity, grace, and mutual respect.

It was a wholly imperfect, yet perfectly made, evening.

The Civil Conversations Project continues 6:30 – 8 p.m Wednesday, Aug. 2. in The Portico Cafe meeting room. The podcast we will be discussing can be accessed here. All are welcome to join us with or without listening in advance.

For more information, please contact Michelle Schumacher (813.363.3970).

Lessons from the Bucket

Lessons from the Bucket

The following story was provided by Melissa Torres, Assistant Director for Children’s Ministries, Preschool.


A few weeks ago The Rev. Magrey deVega challenged us all to take and fill a bucket for UMCOR. My family took our empty bucket home…and it sat on my side table. It was in the way at times, it became a base for me to pile other things onto and it got lost in the rhythm of our week. During the time it sat on that table, there were countless mentions of “don’t forget, we have to fill the bucket!”

So finally, we did. We went to the store and took our time finding the exact right ingredients. Something we thought would be a great family project quickly turned into another chore. We couldn’t find the exact ounces of one thing, we could find a package of 4 but not 7…was close enough okay or did it need to be exact?

We got frustrated with filling our bucket. We got frustrated with each other. We lost sight of why were doing this in the first place; to help others who were in need and to teach our daughter about serving.

But Hannah was not frustrated. She carried our list, carefully explaining what we needed and checking off each item as we found it.

There was a particularly trying moment where I found 42 oz and 64 oz of laundry detergent but not the 25 oz or 50 oz that was requested. I went back and forth on what to do and Hannah said, “This is for people who don’t have any right now. Give them the bigger one.” At another moment we had scoured every aisle for the right kind of gloves with no luck. So Hannah said, “That’s ok, we’ll just go to another store.”

After we found all the supplies (from 2 different stores) we went back home and put the bags on the floor in front of the bucket. Where they stayed, with the bucket, untouched.

Sunday morning came and it was time to bring the bucket back to church. I don’t know what Sunday mornings look like at your house, but mine are a bit chaotic. As we rushed around getting ready I kept thinking, don’t forget about the bucket!

When it was time to leave, I looked at the table, where the bucket had sat for 2 weeks, expecting to start the unwrapping and packing process. But there were no bags around the bucket.

The supplies had been packed carefully inside exactly as the directions had asked for and Hannah had a big smile on her face. She took pride in packing her bucket, in giving back, in showing love to others in this tangible way. We put the bucket in the car and when we parked at church and Junior started to carry the bucket, Hannah said, “Can I help?” and took the other side of the handle.

I just watched for a moment as my daughter taught me the lesson about serving that I thought I was going to be teaching her. She clothed herself in selflessness and embraced this opportunity to share God’s love to those in need.

Love God. Love others. It really is that simple. And if you are like me and KNOW that, but sometimes forget to actually DO it, give your children and opportunity to serve and watch them teach you too.
What lessons have your children taught you? Share your stories with us!

An Interview with the Busbee Family – Nicaragua

An Interview with the Busbee Family – Nicaragua

This is your first trip to Nicaragua and your first mission trip as a family. So, let’s start with what  surprised you most about Nicaragua and it’s people:

Stephen: The unending happiness of everyone here.

Cadence: How poor it is.

Valynnda: That even though they have less things, their lives are really wonderful and full of joy!

Vendela: How happy the people are even though they don’t have much.

Whitt: They are happy with so little.

Mission trips will bring a lot of surprises, including surprises about yourself and how you feel about what you see and what you do. What surprised you most about yourself on this trip? 

Valynnda: That I had a certain amount of envy for their simple, uncluttered lives.

Stephen: How I connected with the little children when we could not understand each other at all.

Cadence: That the little girls liked me.

Whitt: That I have more than I need.

Vendela: That I caught onto some Spanish. It was pretty cool! I could understand the words they were saying.

If you were to use one phrase to describe your trip, what would it be:

Stephen: Heart opening, mind blowing, life altering trip!

Valynnda: Life changing adventure.

Vendela: Crazy, insane, out-of-the-ordinary vacation.

So Trevor Martin has suggested that we can’t have transformation and change in our lives, without reflecting on the experiences that we have had. And this trip was certainly full of experiences that will give time for reflection for many months or years. When you think about your time here, what comes to mind first?

Whitt: Kindness & contentment.

Valynnda: Beautiful country, beautiful people.

Stephen: Everyone needs to make an effort to come here and help these thankful people.

What makes you smile most?

Cadence: Elisa not leaving my side.

Valynnda: Definitely the children! I have never been around such happy, playful kids.

Vendela: All the kids and how they all want to play whether it be soccer or baseball or just wrestling.

Stephen: The huge laughs from the children over anything & everything.

Whitt: The nica kids laughing!

What has been your best experience overall?

Stephen: Feeling the love from everyone we visited and helped.

Valynnda: Learning about the people and the Nicaraguan culture.

Vendela: Meeting friends that I will remember for a long time like Stehin and Grendy.

Whitt: Doing the dedication of the cocina that we built.

Each night we all sat down together to share our “wow!” moments of the day. This special time of reflection was key to our growing together as a team. So, when you look back over the week, what was your Wow! moment of the week?

Stephen: When I gave my sunglasses to Alvarado (working on the house addition) and he told me that God and him loved me all the way to the heavens and introduced me to his family.

Cadence: On Thursday, when I met Elisa and she was so happy when she had so little.

Valynnda: When Stephen stood up and spoke during the church service.

Vendela: When Grendy and I played tag together around the pretty courtyard (at the El Ayudante after school program).

Whitt: Visiting Mt. Sinai for the first time.

Did you notice the theme running through their responses? Joy! Laughter! Play! and Love! despite the lack of physical or tangible “THINGS”, the Nicaraguan people are filled to overflowing with love and generosity. The children are always laughing and playing and giggling. The first thing they do when they meet you is high fives and tickles. Given our complex, overscheduled, overworked lives, is it any wonder we feel a little envy for their simplicity? And we can only hope that our recognition that we have more than we need and our desire to simplify and focus on our abundance will last.

What did we do today? We almost finished and dedicated the addition to the house.  It has a lovely coat of paint on the bricks, a clean concrete floor and only needs the final walls in place. The family doubled their living space and the children will have a room for sleeping. We distributed Tampa Bay Ray’s gear to all of the children and then played a family baseball game with them. We visited the beach where the sand is black from the volcano and the waves are awe-inspiring. The dinner out was a great time to relax and swim (in the pool – not the life-threatening surf!) and to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

Superheroes in The Bible – Nicaragua

Superheroes in The Bible – Nicaragua

“Dios me dia el poder!” screamed the children.  God gives me the power! The power to be brave! The power to be obedient! The power to be faithful! This was the theme of our Vacation Bible School lessons on the superheroes in the Bible.

And while the children learned about the superheroes of the Bible and how they braved the giants, the fiery furnace, the ridicule of others, the risk of genocide, and a military defeat – we learned about the super love and generous spirit of the families in Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai is located about 30 minutes from the El Ayudante campus, down crowded roads, teeming with industrial workers, and bumpy dirt roads navigated with great care by our skilled bus drivers.  The contrast of semi-trucks and factory complexes that share the road with pigs and chickens and satellite dishes on one or two room homes without indoor plumbing can be disconcerting. But the love and openness of the people is unwavering and delightful.

Each day we start by inviting the children in the community to come into the open air church to learn about the superheroes in the Bible. On Monday, they decorated their own capes and learned about the bravery of David (played by a local youngster) in defeating Goliath (played by our own Stephen Busbee) because he trusted God. They also learned about how Esther risked her own inclusion in the genocide of Isreal by bravely trusted God.  On Tuesday, they made their masks and learned about Meschach, Shadrach, and Abednego surviving the fiery furnace through their faithfulness to God. They also heard about how Mary faithfully accepted the shame that her neighbors would have for her, in order to be obedient to God’s calling. On Wednesday, they made their cuffs and learned how Noah trusted God to save his family and rebuild the world and how Joshua humbled his military skill to accept God’s solution to defeat Jericho. And now  that their superhero outfits are  complete, they can rely on God to give them the power to be superheroes for God!

Nothing can quite describe the exuberance and sheer delight these children take in everything they do! And watching our Hyde Park team draw and dance and sing with them was inspiring! Say what you want about today’s youth, but Hyde Park kids are amazing witnesses of God’s love in action!

And for a special treat today, we watched Tommy and our translator, the amazing Cynthia, dance Gangnum Style  – much to the giggling delight of the children. In addition, most of the Isel family joined in to Whip the Na Na with Cynthia. The laughter for this demonstration almost drowned out the music.

Our Hyde Park kids also found great delight in getting to know the new puppies and in feeding the pigs. No wasted food after our lunch breaks on this trip!

While the VBS was ongoing, other team members were working tremendously hard at building a kitchen for one of the families. Digging ditches, mixing and pouring cement, laying bricks, tamping dirt, and many other jobs had to be done before Gladys and her family will have their indoor kitchen (making a fire there – no stove, no water, no plumbing, just a roof & floor). Despite the heat and humidity, our faithful team members worked daily with the local team and on Wednesday the project was on its way to being completed hopefully tomorrow.

Each night, our team reflects on the “Wow!” moments of the day. And for me, one of the biggest “Wow!” moments of this week is just how quickly friendships form over baseball and soccer. By day three, our team and the Nicaraguan kids were fast friends and truly connecting while they tossed and batted balls. Boys and girls alike just came alive when the balls came out. No language is needed. Minimal equipment is needed. No uniforms are needed. All they need is a smile and a ball and sometimes a bat. Friendships formed so deep that one young boy walked (or biked) many miles just to come see his friends from last year (he was now at a school much further from the community) each day. God’s love reaches across the miles, the lack of language, the lack of resources, the disconnected cultures and joins two boys, two mothers, two workers with bonds that endure many years. It’s powerful and moving!

And to emphasize that what we have done really matters to the children, as we drove out of town today, down the road from the church, we were greeted by three youngsters, dressed in their superhero capes, masks on and cuffs cheering us home! They must have ran with superhero speed to beat us there and their smiles made it all come together in one giant WOW! moment of the week.

Familiar Faces – Nicaragua

Familiar Faces – Nicaragua

As our Monday is winding down in Nicaragua, we look back fondly on everything we’ve already done and all that still lies ahead.  Our morning began with a trip to familiar Mt. Sinai where we were greeted by familiar faces.  It was hard to tell who was more excited to see whom, but there were plenty of hugs and handshakes to go around.


Greetings done, VBS started.  First with just a few Mt. Sinai children but, as word spread, more began to appear.  The story of David and Goliath as told by Isaiah Isel and starring Stephen Busbee as the giant and a local boy starring as the hero started off the week’s theme of God’s Superheros.


While VBS was going on, less than 50 yards up the street, dirt was being dug and the first cement volcano was mixed as the supports went up for the kitchen we are building on to an existing house.  As some watched the cement dry, a pick-up baseball game broke out at the end of the street.


After lunch, we went to Maranol, the community where we worshiped yesterday.  El Ayudante has only recently partnered with the community and, as with Mt. Sinai, is both in need of and grateful for El Ayudante’s helping hand.  We delivered bags filled with hygiene items (toilet paper, soap, and toothbrushes) and they were as grateful to receive them we were honored to provide them. Then, as is becoming a theme of its own, baseballs and soccer balls appeared.  People who had never met before began playing and talking and connecting as if they had been friends for years.


After a short ride back to El Ayudante, we spent time with the HCN kids, even sharing a 10th year birthday celebration for Grendys.

Dinner,  devotional and conversation and games closed out our busy day.  We are all tired after a busy day, but anxious for the ways we hope to make God’s love real when the roosters start crowing, the birds start singing, the coffee starts brewing and the call to breakfast at 7 starts another blessed day in Nicaragua.

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