Naked you come…and naked you go.

       Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? Or a wood chipper?   PC: Drew Johnson

The year was 2001.  The phone rang.  I was the only one in the office so I answered.  A low, gruff voice on the other end said, “I need to speak with the person in charge of your chapter at Princess Anne High School.”  Uh oh.  These calls could be trouble.  I was on staff with a non-profit organization that worked with high school students and we never knew what to expect, often receiving calls from parents worried about their kids. I responded saying that person was me and asked how I could help.  “We need to have a meeting” the bellowing voice said.  “OK, may I ask what it is in reference to?” was my reply.  “I want to know how I can help you” the deep, gravelly voice said back.  Whew!  Dodged a bullet.  The next week I would meet a man who would forever change my life.  His name was Jack Birsch.  When we met, he was well over 300 pounds and had a shiny, bald head and smoking a big cigar. At noon. In a Holiday Inn restaurant (one of the few places left in Virginia Beach you could smoke).  Thus, began a friendship which would change me forever.

We started meeting every couple of weeks, then every week for an hour, then it became two hours.  He had a twinkle in his eye and a way with words.  Jack was big on grace.  Jack was big on love.  Jack had a big personality.  After we had met several times, he asked me a question in his booming voice that would become a splinter in my mind:

Jack:  Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul?

Me:  No.

Jack:  Of course you haven’t, because naked you come, and naked you go. So you better find out what matters in this life and give yourself to it wholeheartedly.

Jack continued to ask me that question every few weeks until it became engrained on my heart.  I asked myself what really mattered?  As I got to know him, I realized the impact of his life was still echoing all over Virginia Beach and all over the world.  It seemed like almost every day I would meet someone who would say: “Oh Jack?  He was a huge influence in my life. He showed up when I needed him most.”


Take a minute to think about your funeral.  Pleasant, I know.  But close your eyes and imagine what it would be like.  Who will be there and what will they say?  If you passed away tonight, how would you be remembered?  Would people be sad or indifferent?  Who would be there saying you made an impact on them?  Have you made a difference in this world?

Unsettling, isn’t it?  Morbid? Sobering?  Yes, it is. We all think we are going to live forever.  But there is bad news:  The death rate is holding steady at one per person.  You will die.  It’s just a matter of when and how.

We are temporary stewards of everything in our life.  This is bad news in one sense but good news in another.  It is freeing.  No possessions last forever, nor are they meant to. Dead people can’t enjoy their stuff.   If we figure out what matters, we can have a life well-lived.

Stephen Covey says that we should begin with the end result in mind.  He lists this principle as one in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  Most people want to have a very meaningful life…but most don’t.  Most people want to have a difference-making life…but most don’t.  Most people want to make a huge impact in their life…but most don’t.  What are you after? Who do you want to be?  A meaningful life and a life well-lived will not just happen.  You don’t get to have significance by watching Netflix.  No one ever drifts into greatness.  No one ever drifts into making a difference.  You need intentionality.

What is important to you?  What do you stand for? With what is happening in our nation and our world, we need men and women of strong fortitude and character who know the difference between right and wrong. And people who know what matters.



An incredible adventure comes to a close…

El Amal school camp group pic


This is a guest post from JMU student Anna Hornberger.  We are leaving at 5am tomorrow morning so thanks for going on this adventure with us.  It’s all real and it’s all true.


Marhaba! (That’s “hello” in Arabic). As this is our final day of Young Life camp, our hearts are full of love, our minds are full of biblical knowledge, and our stomachs are full of pita.

Two days ago, we said goodbye to our Capernaum friends, and almost immediately welcomed a new Young Life camp from El-Amal (meaning “Hope”), a Palestinian school for grades 7-12. Honestly, we had so much love for our previous group that I wasn’t sure how we would have space in our hearts (not to mention energy) to love 50+ new kids! Thankfully, our love is not our own, but rooted in Jesus. As the day progressed, local leaders from Zababdeh came to lead the campers, and together we welcomed them with open arms. Our new campers spent the day relaxing by the pool, and later were ushered into club to hear a wonderful talk by our own Matt Craig (translated by Hiba, a Zababdeh leader). We finished off the day with an obstacle course, which naturally ended with everyone getting pelted by water balloons mixed with flour (which, by the way, is still not out of my hair).

Yesterday, our JMU group ended our tour where it all began — the Shepherd’s Field and Church of the Nativity (traditional place of Jesus’ birth)—both in Bethlehem. Here, we learned that God chose to share the good news of Christ’s birth first to some of the most despised and lowly people in society — shepherds. We also learned that Jesus’ genealogy included people from different ethnicities, genders, occupations, and societal status — many of whom were outsiders. The point? God’s kingdom is for EVERYONE. All are welcome — from the lowly shepherd, to the prostitute, to the king. God’s kingdom is for the disabled, for the angsty teenagers, and it’s for you, too.

It has been so incredible to learn more about Jesus and how we can glorify Him in all things that we do, wherever we are. I’ll speak for all of us in saying that it’s bittersweet to be leaving the Holy Land, but we’re looking forward to sharing all we’ve learned about God’s love (and half-learned Arabic pop song lyrics) with our loved ones.

“…to the ends of the earth.”  Micah 5:4



Special needs? More like special gifts!

Hiba sharing the good news at Capernaum club. (notice Taryn with Doha in the front row on the right)

This is a guest post by James Madison University student Rayah Martin.  And the next to last post of our trip.  We have 2 days left.

This week we had the privilege of working and serving at a Capernaum Camp! I am a Capernaum leader in the states, so you can imagine how excited I was. Day 1 was filled with joy and laughter as we welcomed campers into the Murad Hotel where camp would take place. The day consisted of field games, pool time, meal times together, and club. The joy and freedom of these friends with disabilities was a true testament to the joy and freedom that Christ offers us when we walk alongside him. Our team served many different roles throughout the day, but our biggest goal as a team was to love the campers well – sometimes physically helping campers who were blind get from A to B, sometimes just dancing with a camper during club.

A highlight from Day 1 was getting to watch a camper named Mira steal the show at club as she danced up front during every game, every song, and even helped translate the club talk. She was hilarious and fun to be around, and she also reminded me of how fun life can be if we don’t take ourselves too seriously. She challenged me to live freely and authentically and be the woman that Christ has created me to be.

Day 2 of Capernaum Camp was equally as crazy as we got to start the day off with club, have lots more pool time, more meals, and a second club, PLUS a late night dance party! Our speaker, Hiba, gave the club talks in Arabic. It was emotional for me as I realized that the God that I pray to and follow is a God of all nations and all languages. Hiba was telling our Capernaum friends the same stories about Jesus in a totally different language – how great is our God that he is a God of all people! For people with disabilities and for people without special needs, for people who speak English and people who speak Arabic! Another highlight of Day 2 was watching my friend Taryn (part of the JMU team) lovingly care for a little girl with Down Syndrome as we swam in the pool, her name was Doha. Doha wanted to swim the entire 4 hours of free time but she couldn’t on her own, so Taryn held on to her and played with her through the whole afternoon (even sometimes getting slapped in the face). It was an incredible picture of Jesus’ patience and selflessness! Shout out to Taryn. (you can see her in the front row holding Doha in her lap in the picture above)

These past few days working with high schoolers with disabilities was powerful because in this part of the world, people with special needs are often especially forgotten. Many of these kids have been rejected by both of their parents and currently live in a group home. So having the opportunity to share God’s love with them was so beautiful. Thank you all for continuing to pray through our last few days here in Palestine. We are thankful and grateful!


Up to Jerusalem!

Picture from inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Note: grave was still empty!)

This is a guest post by JMU student Alex Gerkin:

Our adventure continues in the Holy Land. We began Day 7 at the Mount of Temptation. As we stood on the mountain side where Satan tempted Jesus and attacked Jesus’s identity we challenged ourselves to look inward at our high risk places. Asking ourselves where are the high risk areas in our lives where we don’t allow God to reign above all else? Then we traveled onward to En Gedi, a place where Saul, a prideful ruler, collided with David, a ruler who is considered more broken and flawed in worldly standards, but is called a man after God’s own heart. As we stood in a cave, one just as Saul and David had, asking ourselves what kind of leader will we be in this world? Will I be a broken or a proud leader? Our journey continued at Masada, one of Herod’s fortresses that had been seized by the Jewish rebels, but then recaptured by the Romans. We ended our day with camel rides through the Judean desert, in awe of the vast desert and the love our God has for each of us.

Day 8 began with our exploration of the city of Jerusalem. We visited the Western Wall. Then we went to Caiaphas’s house, the high priest during Jesus’s time. As we sat in a place Jesus had possibly been held as a prisoner before his crucifixion and near where one of his best friends would deny him, we were reminded that our God has experienced loneliness and suffering, not because he was forced, but because he loves us so deeply. We were purchased at a cost, Jesus went forward as a volunteer, not a victim. Our final stop of the day was the Garden Tomb, a site that is believed to possibly be Jesus’ tomb. We found refuge in knowing that even if the exact tomb location is disputed, He did not stay in a tomb. As the angels asked the women at the tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The next day we continued throughout Jerusalem. We went to the Mount of Olives, then walked down to to the Garden of Gethsemane; the place the war was truly won. Jesus pressed on, crying out to the Father, “not my will, but yours, will be done.” This is a crucial point for you and for me. Sin entered the world in a garden, but brokenness, suffering, and pain was conquered in this garden. We continued to follow in Jesus’s footsteps leading up to his death as we visited the Upper Room, Tomb of David, and Antonia Fortress. Here Jesus ate his last meal with his best friends and disciples and was sent to Pilate’s judgement hall. We ended our day at the Pool of Bethesda, a pool that had been believed to have healing powers. Jesus asked a paralyzed man who had been waiting to be healed by the pool for 38 years, do you want to get well? And as I look back on these last 3 days of our tour in the Holy Land, as I have gotten to follow so closely the footsteps of Jesus, I too ask myself: Do I want to get well? I so deeply believe that following Jesus is the way to life. The only way.


40 Days in the Desert (OK jk just 1!)

                      This was Fergie the camel that helped us get through hump day.

This is from a rising junior at JMU Katie “KT” Taylor:

The last few days here have held more adventure than my mind or heart can fathom! We swam (floated) in the Dead Sea, rode Jeeps around the Judean Desert, rode camels around the Judean Wilderness, got baptized in The Jordan River, and have continued to learn more about the heart and history of our sweet Jesus.

We saw Jacob’s Well, where a Samaritan woman encountered Jesus in her striving and thirsting for satisfaction. We saw Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found because of the people’s commitment to write, learn, and memorize scripture. We saw the Mount of Temptation where the devil tried to pierce right at Jesus’s identity and authority. We saw En Gedi where we learned that David was a man after God’s own heart. Finally, we saw Masada, a place that reminded us of the truth that living is Christ, and dying is gain.

The theme that stood out to me throughout these locations is that memorizing scripture is vital. Whether it is thirsting for satisfaction from the world, having your identity being probed at, being tempted by the devil, or anything in between – Scripture needs to be the leather that covers our whole being, and that comes to mind in every response or situation. We learned this from Jesus who responded to the devil with Scripture every time. If we don’t know the scriptures deep down in our hearts, how will we respond and defend our faith when our identity is being questioned and attacked? In the same way, if scripture is our armor, who can win the battle against us? No one. We are pondering how committed to the scripture we are, and whether or not we are letting it sink deep down in our hearts, versus twisting the words to read what we want. How freeing the Truth is. Again, it is all real and it is all true!