A letter to my son about rocks.

Little buddy,
I know how much you love rocks. Since you were a toddler, you’ve been picking them up, feeling them, putting them in your mouth (ugh, glad those days are gone), studying them, collecting them and admiring them.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize. I want to apologize for hurrying you. I want to apologize for throwing back some (many) of the rocks you find. I want to apologize for thinking these are unacceptable toys. There are so many times (seriously, so many) that we were on our way somewhere and you find a rock. I’ve dragged you through parking lots, fields and streets with you crying or upset that we don’t have enough time to pick up every single rock. Your mother and I have pulled rocks out of the washer and dryer and (occasionally) we catch them before they even make it that far.
Here’s the thing, I’m actually really fascinated by what interests you. Geologists get excited when they find a rare fossil in a rock, preserved for thousands of years. You get equally excited when you find a rock from the parking lot. You don’t see the thousands of rocks around you. Instead, you see the one rock that caught your eye. I love that about you.
I want to make you some promises.
  1. I promise not to stifle your exploration of the world. There is so much out there and I want to show it all to you. I want to slow down and be able to look at all the rocks, the trees, the stars, whatever it is. I want us to see it all.
  2. I promise to join you as you learn. Together, let’s read books about rocks. Let’s study the differences between metamorphic and igneous rocks. Let’s go find some examples of each. Whatever it is that drives you, I’ll be by your side.
  3. I promise to tolerate whatever it is that you collect. I collected weird stuff as a kid. For a while, I collected beer bottle tops. I didn’t care at all about what was inside the bottle, I just thought the logos and designs were really cool. My mom tolerated that phase and she even dusted my desk around where they all were kept, organized by brand or color or font or however I had them organized that week.
As I write this, I’m on a personal sabbath – a time for spiritual retreat and renewal with the Lord. I spent time walking around a lake tonight and I found a rock for you. It’s not a spectacular rock, but it’s your rock and I’ve got some thoughts about it for you.
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  1. One side of the rock is bright white. Let this be a reminder of the purity of our savior, Jesus Christ. Through his blood, we are washed clean. Our sins are forgiven and for that, we should be eternally grateful. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” I found this rock because it was in the middle of a patch of dark leaves and soil. The whiteness of it stood out amongst the darkness behind it. The contrast drew me in. Be that light. Show the world, your friends, your classmates, girls you might one day date (a loooong time from now) that you are different because you are in Christ.
  2. One side of the rock has been darkened and stained by the earth. Let this be a reminder of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” At one time, this entire rock was all the same pure color. But, over time and exposure to the earth, dirt and red clay from the ground, part of the rock was made impure. It’s unlikely that me, or anyone else, would have picked up this rock for the beauty of the stained side if it were facing up. If I asked you if this rock were clean or dirty, you’d probably answer that this rock were dirty because one of the sides was dirty. That’s just like we are. Because there is even one ounce of sin within us, we are tainted and stained in God’s eyes. But, the good news is that we do not have to remain that way. I can bleach this rock and make it as white as snow. And Jesus does that for us.
  3. This rock can be used for good. Along with thousands of other rocks, this one can make a walkway or path to a lake or resting spot. It could be stacked on top of others to form a wall or shelter. It can hold down papers when it gets windy. It can be studied and appreciated. Let your life have function. Let your life be used for good. By itself, this rock doesn’t do much. But, when added to many other rocks, it has potential. Sitting next to a lake, this rock has no influence over the water. But, if you exert some effort and throw the rock in the lake, the ripples would be great and they would extend farther than the eye can see. Be a ripple-maker for the Lord. Be a leader. Be a teacher. Be a listener. Be an explorer.
  4. This rock can be used for evil. This rock, though small, could break a window on a car or house with enough force. It could be deadly if thrown at someone with enough force.  This stray walk on an otherwise solid ground could cause someone to roll their ankle or trip. Don’t be that rock. Be thoughtful of your actions. People are going to follow you. I’ve seen it in you already. But, will they follow you for good, or will they follow you into mischief? Align your will with God’s and your path will be straight.
  5. This rock is solid. It would take an immense amount of force to break it. Know that your family is just as solid. I love your mother with all my heart, but I love Jesus more and your mother is okay with that. Your mother loves me (even when I don’t deserve it), but she loves Jesus more, and I’m perfectly fine with that. We both love and adore you and your sister. Our family is rooted in the Lord, therefore we are strong. The Lord is our strong tower, our refuge and our strength. Our love for you and your sister will not falter, even though your actions and obedience might. We will always be waiting for you. Patiently. Lovingly.
  6. This rock sparkles. There are specks of minerals and crystals in this ordinary rock that sparkle and shine. I hope you know how special you are. There are special pieces inside you that sparkle and shine as well. You are so creative. You love to design, build, draw and create. I can see your heart. Not figuratively, but I can see how compassionate and caring you are. I can’t describe it, but I can see my heart in you. The things that make you tick are the same things that make me tick. It’s in the way you look at things. It’s in the way you interact with your stuffed animals. It’s in the way you want to help. But, I know that one day you’ll do things far greater and inspire far more people than I ever could.
As a son, I thought I understood the intricacies of a father/son relationship. Now, as a father, I realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface. I am so proud of you. I am praying for you. I look forward to our adventures together. I will dream about the rocks we’ll find together and the ripples we will make. I love you, little buddy.
Thumbs up,
Daddy
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Disc golf with Jesus

Today, by the graciousness of my family and staff, I’m at a conference center out of town having a personal sabbath. A day of rest. A day of reflection. A day of refuge.

Over the past couple months, I’ve seen God do some pretty incredible things. Between large-scale projects, international mission trips, a growing and thriving ministry and personal struggles, this season of my life has been…well, busy. I’ve felt distant from the Lord and I needed to reconnect. The times when I am most involved in my own life are always the times when I am furthest from Jesus.

So, this morning after I dropped my son off at school, I headed out of town. I spent the first couple hours here in prayer for the circles of people closest to me; my family, the pastoral staff around me, the leaders on my team and my small group. I spent time in Scripture which was a cooling balm for my weary soul. Following a very simple plan, I started reading through Psalm. Today is the first day of the month, so I read Psalm 1 and added 30 to it reading Psalm 31, 61, 91 and 121. I quickly found myself becoming refreshed as I prayed with the Psalmist, “into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord; faithful God,” (Psalm 31:5).

After lunch, I headed out to play a nine-hole disc golf course. I’m not very good at disc golf, but I enjoy it. The course is par-3 throughout and I’ve played it several times over the last few years. As I walked, I spent time in prayer, in meditation and reflection of the lessons God wanted to teach me during this time of sabbath. Hole-by-hole, I started to find parallels between the game and life. For anyone who finds themselves disconnected and astray from the Lord, here are a few reflections from my round of disc golf with Jesus.

Hole 1: On this first hole, my drive took the flight I wanted it to, bending around a group of trees to the left and landing a few yards from the hole.

The first thing I did this morning was confess my sins and shortcomings. All the pride and selfishness and gunk. All the personal, dark and rotten things. I had to get them off my chest. I had to start this time with God with a good approach. “Lord, be gracious to me,” (Psalm 31:9).

Score: 2, (-1 for the round)

Hole 2: My first shot went off the fairway (a dirt path in the woods) and ricocheted off a tree. I thought for sure this happy start was quickly going to be ruined. Where I landed was great, but it certainly was better than I anticipated. Once I arrived at the problem, I found that it wasn’t really as bad as I thought it was. Even though I was behind a group of trees, I simply bent down and found an opening.

I’m an emotional person, I act quickly, but deliberately. I pray for wisdom and have faith that I’m moving in the right direction. But, admittedly, there are times when I see a problem and it seems much larger from a distance. I’ve got to remember that even when my shot smashes in to a tree and I think there’s no way around it, I just need to look at it from a different perspective. Just like my shot behind the trees, creativity and perspective often lead to an effective solution. “Lord, make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love,” (Psalm 31:16).

Score: 3, (-1 for the round)

Hole 3: Oh, how I hate this hole. As I mentioned, I’ve played this course several times before and I know exactly what’s going to happen. The fairway is a dogleg to the right (which I can never do with a disc) and there’s a huge 6′ ditch to the left of the hole. Of course, as always, my second shot went straight into the ditch.

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That yellow thing at the bottom of the ditch of doom is my disc.

I had to hold on to some trees in order to climb in the ditch and a couple shots later, I finally ended the pain by landing my disc in the basket.

So often I find my life being just like this hole. I know the dangers. I know the hazards. I know my habits. I know my tendencies. But, still, despite recognizing those things, I still end up in the same situation. For some it might be an addiction, a certain sin, a specific vice. For me, most times, it’s busyness. I’m only around for a short time and I want to serve the Lord with all my heart. I want to lead my ministry to do things that we’ve never done. I want to push the envelope for what missions means in the scope of the Church. I want to be the best dad, the most dedicated husband. I have goals as an artist, a writer, an adventurer and an athlete. But, not all those things go together at the same time and I know that I need to reign those things in. “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction,” (Psalm 31:7).

Score: 5 (+1 for the round)

Hole 4: I love the woods and the outdoors. I do not love spiders. They are creepy and horrible creatures and I just about walked in to several of them. I couldn’t finish this hole fast enough.

The things we fear are all around us. Whether it’s inadequacy, anxiety, immaturity, depression, sense of worth, risk of failure – any of our fears – they are right around us all the time, just like those spiders. So, what do we do? We can freeze and wait for someone to come kill the spider (typically my wife’s job around our house, though I’m getting better) or we can find a stick and move the problem in order to move on to the goal. “Rescue me from the hand of my enemies and my persecutors,” (Psalm 31:15).

Score: 3 (+1 for the round)

Hole 5: This tee is at the bottom of a hill and you can’t see the basket without running up the hill. Because I’ve played this course before, I could visualize where the goal was in relation to the tee. I took a breath and let the disc go. It soared. It cleared the trees overhead and avoided a large pine at the mouth of the trail. I ran up to see the disc land at a reasonable distance from the basket.

That’s faith. Faith is not being able to see the goal, but aiming for it anyway, trusting it’s there. I can’t see heaven. All I have is John’s description from the book of Revelation and promises about heaven throughout Scripture. But, I trust that’s where I will be because God is faithful. So with my life, I will aim and go. “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God,'” (Psalm 31:14)

Score: 3 (+1 for the round)

Hole 6: This tee is at the top of the hill just in front of the basket for hole 5. There is a wide open fairway, the widest of the course. Today, there was a soft breeze that cooled me on a warm day. There were no obstacles, no ditches and no awful spiders between me and the goal. My drive was low, firm and level. (And far!) It landed right next to the goal. I couldn’t have done that again if I tried (trust me, I did). From a technical standpoint, I have no idea why that shot was different than the rest. Maybe the wind was just right. Maybe I adjusted my grip. I could tell when I let it go that it just felt…different.

Recently, I helped create an outreach project in my town that got a lot of attention and went viral online. Tens of thousands of people (maybe more) were reading articles about it online and people from all over the world emailed me about it. Everyone wanted to be a part of it or ask me how they could do the project in their city. “What made it work?” they asked. “How did you get all the media involved?” others wanted to know. “Where did the idea come from?” people inquired. The idea came from God. He gave it to me. He helped it grow. He guided my hand. I just released it and he directed it, level and far. When the project started, I just knew that it felt…different. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness,” (Psalm 31:19).

Score 2: (Even for the round)

Hole 7: This one took me a while to get started. I couldn’t find the tee marker anywhere. I knew roughly where it used to be, but I just couldn’t spot it. I had just about decided to estimate where it was and begin my drive, but then I saw the faded yellow paint from the top of it poking out from some pine needles. Evidently, after years of being out in the woods, it rotted and fell over.

Sometimes, we’re lost. We don’t know which way to go. We don’t know if the decision we’re about to make is productive or destructive. But, with some time, reflection and patience, we will see the way. “You are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me,” (Psalm 31:3).

Score: 3 (Even for the round)

Hole 8: Another great drive, followed up my a terrible second shot. I was about 10 yards from the basket, but I overshot and it veered to the left, blowing a decent chance at a birdie. With my third shot, I corrected my mistake and nailed the shot.

There are very few things in life you get one shot at. Making mistakes is just part of life. Luckily, my wife and children are very forgiving people. Lord, help me to correct when I overshoot and keep my eyes on the goal. “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily!” (Psalm 31:2).

Score: 3 (Even for the round)

Hole 9: A long hole, but straight as it parallels a road. I feel good about the round I’ve played, but I haven’t added up my score. I usually shoot in the low 30s when I play and I think my best was 29 (I said I wasn’t very good). My drive was strong, though it headed into some trees. It’s funny, in disc golf, sometimes the trees can be your friend as much as they can hinder you. In this case, the shot hit a tree and bounced back towards the goal. The shot was within reach, but I was just off and parred the hole.

I started with momentum and had a strong first approach. Now, it was time to finish strong. I was the only one out there and I wasn’t playing for any prizes or competing with anyone. But, I really didn’t want to end on a bogey – and if I did, there goes the idea for this blog post. As a kid, I’d play basketball for hours by myself before and after dinner and during any other block of time I could. Before I’d go inside, I had to make my last shot. It was a rule I had; a commitment to myself. I was going to end with success. I want my time on this earth and my walk with the Lord to be the same. I want to end farther than I was yesterday and leading other people for tomorrow. I want Jesus to see my efforts and be proud.

I want to have evidence and an answer at any point of my life of what God is doing in me, through me and around me. I remember one time helping a student with his job interview skills. One employer (a Christian sports ministry) asked him, “what is God doing in your life?” He didn’t have an answer. He hadn’t considered it. He had not taken the time to reflect on what God was using him for and it caused him not to finish the interview strong and ultimately, he didn’t get the job.

I want to finish strong. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! (Psalm 31:24).

Score: 3 (Par for the round)

Oh…by the way. I went back and played another round of nine holes. Remember that hole #3 with the ditch? Finished it in three shots.

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Harry & Joe

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” – John 14:6

Recently, I joined 19 others on a sports trip to East Asia. The team started most days by prayer walking in city parks and college campuses where we would play basketball later in the afternoon.

In eight previous trips, just like this one, we have focused our prayer walking time on petitioning God to provide divine appointments, spiritual conversations and new friends when we return to a busy basketball court just a few hours later. We would pray for safety on the court – that our team and our opponents would not have any injuries. We would pray for the people walking around us. I would venture to say that most of the hundreds of people around us had likely never been prayed for, so we would take time to do so.

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But, on this trip, something different happened. It happened not just once, but nearly every time we went prayer walking. God did not wait for us to come back later in the day to show us people who needed to hear the Gospel. He provided opportunities right in front of us. He took a time that, historically, has been one of prayer and preparation and made it in to a time of participation and presentation.

One morning at a city park, I was praying over the basketball court where I broke my ankle several years ago. (I always spend a few extra minutes praying for safety there!) After praying, I walked towards the sound of a basketball bouncing and found two teammates talking to a boy named Harry. He was in eighth grade and spoke English very well. His father, Joe (well, I called him Joe because he didn’t have an English name as many people typically give themselves), did not speak any English.

Our conversation turned into a spiritual one as we talked about the Easter holiday we just celebrated. After some questioning, Harry and Joe said that they had not heard anything about Jesus, other than he was maybe the Son of God. Over the next 30 minutes, I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with Harry and Joe. I paused often so Harry could translate for Joe. At times, Joe asked for clarification and Harry explained things to him. When I finished, I asked if they believed what I said was true.

“Yes, I believe they are true,” said Harry. I asked about his father. “My father says that he feels many things inside and that he needs to think about them.”

Before we parted, they both shook my hand. Joe gripped a little tighter, looked me in the eyes and said, “thank you” in broken English. As I walked away, I thought about how the only way I was able to get to Joe, the father, was through his son, Harry. And, how the only way Harry and Joe would be able to get to God, the Father, is through the Son, Jesus. And now they knew that, too.

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4-year-old: Arkansas will win it all

My son correctly picked #14 UAB to beat #3 Iowa State.

The whiz kid also picked #14 Georgia State to upset #3 Baylor.

He’s 4.

OK, 4 1/2 to his credit.

He also doesn’t care a thing about the NCAA Tournament.

I sat down with my son to fill out his own bracket. I read him the names of each game and asked him to pick the winners. After one day of the tournament, the little twerp is destroying me. He actually went 12-4 and if he were in my online league (in retrospect, I should have made an online bracket for him), he would be tied for first. Meanwhile, I’m in last.

What he got right:

  • The aforementioned #14 over #3 upsets. Not only did he pick UAB and Georgia State, but he also correctly picked their opponents in the next round UCLA and Xavier.
  • He wisely selected Cincinnati to beat Purdue, which was a very close game.
  • He was not phased by the potential of a #12 over #5 upset. He correctly chose Arkansas and Utah to win.

What he got wrong:

  • He got a little ambitious and selected both Duke and Wisconsin, both #1 seeds, to fall in the first round. As a Winthrop alumni and Coastal Carolina hater, I’m particularly concerned about his confidence in the team to be Wisconsin.
  • Despite picking Louisville to win two games, he completely butchered the name of the school.
  • He showed his allegiance to Wyoming (knowing that we’re driving there this summer) and picked them to win their opening game. As of this writing, they have not yet won, but it seems like a stretch.
  • He doesn’t think much of #2 seeds. He predicted Kansas, Arizona and Gonzaga all to fall in the first round. He only has faith that Virginia will make it out to the Final Four.

His Final Four:

Buffalo vs. Arkansas

Virginia vs. “Easter” Washington

Champion: Arkansas Razorbacks

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There it is folks.

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Mission trip packing manifesto

The two most common questions I get about mission trips are how to pack and how to raise support. I’ll address the first one in this post.

I’ve been on a lot of trips and I learn something new every single time. I come across a new gadget, packing hack, strategy or just something I wish I had brought all the time. Packing for mission trips, or any international travel, is about packing smart for comfort and convenience.

Some background. For nearly a decade, I traveled domestically for overnight to week-long business trips. Now, I travel internationally multiple times each year to a variety of countries, climates and cultures for mission trips.

On my first trip, not only did I max out my suitcase with the weight (something I seem to do every single time), but I also brought the largest backpack possible crammed with all my photo equipment, laptop accessories and about anything else I could possibly want. As a result, I was uncomfortable and inconvenienced. The bag itself weighed over 35 pounds which was certainly not fun lugging around airports. It didn’t fit it the overhead on smaller planes and barely fit under the seat in front of me. Those days are over.

I’ll break down the items I rely on into several categories. I’ll also provide some links to certain products for you to check out for more details.

Four things to consider before reading further:

1) These are my preferences. There is no perfect way to pack. Everyone has their own strategy. What you will see are some favorite items and best practices I’ve learned over years of domestic and international travel. Adapt to your own style.

2) The only wrong way to pack is to not plan. Over-packing, under-packing and last-minute packing are great ways to be a frustrated traveler.

3) You don’t have to go buy all these things. It’s taken a lot of trial and error and building up over the years gradually to get to where I’m comfortable packing with these items.

4) This list is not exhaustive, nor is it a checklist. These are important items. Some you may care more about than others.

The Suitcase

The suitcase can be an item of great anxiety or great convenience. Your bag preference will largely be determined by where you are going. If you will be in a metro city with paved roads and easy transportation from airport to hotel, traditional suitcases may work just fine. To save strain on your body and bag, you might look in to a spinner bag like this one from Samsonite. It has multi-directional wheels and rolls upright so you don’t have to pull it behind you. Instead, you can comfortably roll it beside you.

If you are going to be in a place with dirt roads, it may be best to pack in a duffle or a hiking pack. I currently use the rolling duffle below and you can find it online here. I bought it at Costco for $99. It’s waterproof, has rugged zippers and comes with a smaller waterproof carry-on bag. I can use the straps if I need to carry it much easier than a suitcase and it squishes in cabs, vans or buses. I trust Samsonite. They have a great warranty and the product is worth the extra money. I go through at least one suitcase every 18-24 months because they get abused in transit. These bags tend to last a lot longer than the cheaper ones. Tip: Take a photo or scan in your receipt and warranty of Samsonite products in case you misplace your originals.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 10.38.26 AM

How to pack

  • Spread out everything you want to bring.
  • Put 1/3 of it back. You won’t need it all.
  • Roll your clothes. Here’s a pretty good instructional video if you’ve never done it before.  Rolling saves space and cuts down on wrinkles. I’ve never cared to use rubber bands as the guy in the video. A tight roll is good enough.
  • Bundle your clothes. I’ve only moderately attempted this. It’s helpful to prevent wrinkles for business travel, but can be inconvenient if you want something in the middle. Check out this how-to video for details. 
  • Pack your shoes toe-to-opening (the way you buy them in a shoebox) in plastic bags. You won’t want the germs from the public bathroom on your clothes. Some places sell fancy shoe bags, but I prefer a grocery store bag. I’ve also heard people even use the free shower caps you get from some hotels.
  • Cram as much into your shoes as possible. This includes your rolled socks, underwear, bandanas, or anything else small. Use every inch of space you can.
  • Limit your shoes. These take up the most space and weigh the most.
  • Wear your heaviest shoes if you think you are concerned about the weight of your bag.
  • Space Bags are great for consolidating your space. It makes your suitcase or pack so much easier to carry without it busting at the seams. space-bag-three-large-bef-after-vacuum-seal-from-9_99
  • Packing cubes are a hot, new item. They look convenient for keeping your clothes organized and easy to find in your bag. I bought a set from Bago and will try them out for the first time in a couple weeks. My order came with four sizes, a document protector and a VIP membership to get coupons and other travel tips.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 3.40.06 PM
  • Tip: Pack a dryer sheet or two in your bag. It will keep your clothes (and your bag) smelling fresh. I keep one in my compression bag, especially one the way home!
  • Bring a laundry bag. I put my dirty clothes in one bag to keep them separate from my clean clothes if I’m living out of the suitcase and can’t unpack somewhere. If I’ve packed right, I won’t have much to co-mingle with clean/dirty by the time I head home.

Clothing

  • Check the weather. It sounds so basic, but I’ve been stuck several times wearing short sleeves in the cold and wearing absorbent sweatshirts in the rain. Take 2 minutes and look at the 10-day forecast for wherever you’re going.
  • Know your itinerary. Again, another no-brainer, but it has to be said. If you’re digging a water well, plan on bringing old shoes and clothes that you can throw away, leave behind or bring home dirty and not complain that they are ruined.
  • Plan for the highs and lows. Just because it might be 80 during the day doesn’t mean you should leave the jacket behind.
  • Plan on layers. You’ll be miserable if you have one massive coat in moderate weather instead of layers you can easily shed.
  • For warm weather, don’t pack a lot of cotton shirts. Cotton will absorb your sweat and start to stink. Your favorite tee might not be appropriate. Be willing to leave it behind.
  • For warm weather, do pack dry-wicking shirts. These pull the moisture off of your body, dry quickly and don’t smell near as bad as cotton. You can spend $$$ on name brands, or $ on a suitable off-brand.
  • Ditch the jeans. Yes, you can wear jeans for several days. That is a glorious thing. But, limit yourself to one pair. Instead, bring light weight material that is versatile and comfortable. I splurged a bit on my favorite new pants, REI Igneo cargo pants. These have a four-way stretch and feel like you’re not wearing any pants at all.

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  • Quick dry underwear. Again, nothing cotton. As a guy, I love the Boxerjock boxer briefs by Under Armour. These roll up quite small, are polyester, wick sweat and dry quickly. This is all I wear regardless of whether I’m at home or on the road. Unfortunately, that’s not me modeling them in the link provided.
  • Hats. For hot weather, bring a baseball hat or bucket hat to keep the sun off you. I’d rather have a big, floppy, goofy-looking hat than a sunburn. For cold weather, a beanie is a must.
  • Shoes. Last year I destroyed my feet. After walking 5-10 miles each day and playing sports for several hours, my toes were all blistered and I was miserable. I had old running shoes that just didn’t get the job done. This year, I followed a recommendation and bought a pair of Nike Wild Trail shoes.
    Nike Wild TrailIf these are good enough for uneven ground and trail running, they had better be good for me in an urban context or rural village! I also added some performance running socks that have padded arch support. I’ve worn these a couple times already and absolutely love them.IMG_2546
  • For comfort while flying I’ll wear some slip on shoes. They are easy to get through airport security and I can wear socks with them to keep my feet warm at 30,000 feet.
  • For warm climates, flip flops area a must. I also love Keen footwear for hiking, water activities, rainy weather and walking. They dry fast, have closed-toes and great grip.
  • Also for flying, I typically wear long pants so I don’t get cold, or I keep a pair of athletic pants in my backpack to slip on over some light shorts. Wearing pants also allows me to wear some compression socks for extra leg comfort.

Hygiene

  • If you’re a rookie traveler, make sure you follow the 3-ounce regulation for anything you bring in your carry-on.
  • You don’t need an entire can of shave cream or bottle of hair spray even if it’s packed in your checked bag. Find the travel aisle at Target. Select Bed, Bath & Beyond stores have expanded travel aisles that are loaded with small size containers of your favorite products.
  • For your favorite lotions, shampoos or conditioners, you may want to invest in a Go Tube. These guarantee you bring the right amount and avoid leakage. If you want to bring your own bottles, another way to avoid leaks is to put plastic wrap between the cap and bottle.go_tube
  • Hand sanitizer. Other countries don’t value soap and water the same way you might! Tuck away a small bottle in multiple places.
  • Wash cloth. Many international hotels don’t keep wash cloths in your bathroom. Tip: Wrap your bar soap with your wash cloth for easy packing.
  • Use a binder clip to cover your razor to avoid cuts.

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  • Deodorant. I usually keep one in my toiletries bag and one in my backpack. Long flights and long days usually call for some backup. Axe or Old Spice body sprays are great as well.
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste. Keep a travel toothbrush and small toothpaste with you. Again, after a long flight, some clean teeth and fresh breath make you feel like a person again.
  • Chapstick. Bring a backup. Someone always seems to lose theirs.
  • Travel towel. This is new for me, but I found times that I wish I had one in the past. I went with the Shandali Travel Towel. It dries fast and doesn’t take up much space.shandali-travel-towel-720x600

Your backpack

I would argue that this is one of the most crucial items you might bring. Your backpack/daypack is what you will probably have with you the most on your trip. Whether it’s to keep your comfort items for planes or store your camera and valuables in the city, your backpack is important.

Choosing the right bag is hard. You want something spacious, convenient, light and unassuming. If you’re in the market for having your bag stolen, have a brightly colored camera bag or expensive leather sack around.

I’m a backpack freak. I love getting a new bag. After 7 years of my reliable Victorinox bag, I’ve invested in a new one. After much scrutiny, my new bag is a Power Pack 3.0 by Outdoor Products.  I can’t wait to fill it up and start using it. Did you see that is has a secret retractable slider for documents? How cool is that?

For small outings in the mission field where I might be sight-seeing or just taking a couple things with me, I like to pack a small draw string bag that folds up.

In my main pack, I keep the following while traveling. I strip this down considerably once I get to my destination.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Carabiner clipped to the outside. I use this all the time for attaching a variety of items to my bag.
  • Extra change of clothes (in case your suitcase gets lost). I’ve had the same extra (unused) pair of boxers in my bag for 7 years. It’s my own superstition, I suppose. I just know the minute I take them out is the minute I’ll need them!
  • Gum/mints
  • iPad/Kindle/tablet/e-reader
  • Neck pillow (inflatables are good for space, but not always the most comfortable). I substitute the inflatable for one that I can clip on the outside of my bag so it doesn’t take up valuable inside space.
  • Light jacket or pullover
  • Chargers for tablets and phones
  • Travel wallet. This year I’m going with the Victorinox Travel Organizer. I have a smaller wallet that I will use around town, but this is substantial enough for my passport, American and foreign currency, cards and more. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 4.48.41 PM
  • Medications
  • Headphones. I bring a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones for long plane rides and also a small pair of earbuds for daily use while I’m prayer walking, traveling through town or having a devotional time. I’ve been on one or two flights recently that require a two-pronged adapter for you to use your own headphones, otherwise, you’re stuck using the standard airline ones (and you might have to pay for them.) You could also bring a splitter so you can share with a friend.
  • Bible. I struggle with my Bible format on every mission trip. Book or app? App or book? I still like to have a hardcopy of God’s word with me, but if you leave that home in lieu of an app, there’s nothing wrong with that. I bring a smaller, paperback copy. Make sure you download the translation you want so you can read it offline when you’re not around wifi.
  • Journal. On a mission trip, even if you aren’t someone who journals by nature, you’ll want to have something to record the events that happen, people you meet and ways God worked.
  • Pilot G-2. It’s my favorite pen. I usually have a Sharpie with me as well.
  • Laptop. I’m going without it for the first time on a long trip soon, but if you have work to do or need files, bring it along. Make sure you have quick access to it going through airport security.
  • Sunglasses, case & cleaning cloth. I wear my shades from sun up to sundown. I make sure I’ve got my accessories so they are well taken care of.
  • Tile & Tile App. Another new product for me this year. I will be clipping this on the inside of my backpack in case it gets lost or stolen. Track the bag with your own search party by using the app and put out an all-call to the Tile community to help find it.tile-large
  • Passport & passport copy. I’ll use the secret compartment on my backpack for my passport some of the time and I’ll be locking it up in my room once I’m at my destination. I keep a copy with me at all times and have it stored on my Evernote phone app also.
  • Cash. Spread the wealth. Keep some cash on you, in your bag, in your room, on your buddy. Don’t put it all in one place.

Electronics

  • I’ve already covered laptops and tablets, but as a reminder, make sure you bring the necessary cables and chargers. Those can get expensive on the road if you lose or forget one.
  • Camera. I’m a photographer so I bring my DSLR. But, I have stripped down to only bring one extra lens. If you have a small point-and-shoot, those work great. If you are just wanting some memories for your social media pages, your iPhone will due just fine.
  • GoPro video camera. These are pricey, but awesome for the mission field. They are durable, small and high quality.

Miscellaneous

  • Bring extra bags. I always keep extra Ziplocs or grocery store bags. They are great for dirty laundry, garbage, wet clothes or countless other things. I play sports on a lot of trips and there are times where I might be working outside in the heat on a construction site. I like to bring a roll of scented diaper bags like these below to put my sweaty clothes in if I change into dry clothes on the go. It protects my bag from stains and smells. scented_bags
  • Camping toilet paper rolls are a lifesaver. You can get them at outdoor stores like REI or Academy Sports or order here. I don’t want to be caught without it. I keep a roll in my backpack at all times. You can also take a regular roll of your favorite household toilet paper (much more comfortable), take the cardboard roll out of the middle and fit it in a Ziploc to stay dry.
  • Duct tape. There should always be a roll handy on your trip.
  • Hand sanitizer. I’ve already mentioned this once, but it’s worth stating again. Keep one in your day pack and one in your room as a backup.
  • Wet Ones. I keep these handy to freshen up my hands, face, neck, etc. They should fit in a side pocket of your backpack easily.
  • Insect repellant and sunscreen.
  • International plug adapter. This one has a couple USB ports for charging your phone or tablet. adapter
  • Crisp cash. Some places are really picky about accepting marked, wrinkled or ripped currency. Ask your bank for the newest bills they have.
  • A spork. I love eating with chopsticks, but I also love watching my friends who don’t! Keep a plastic camping spork around for your meals.
  • Card games. These are great for layovers, downtime and socializing with new friends. They don’t take up a lot of space and many people can play at once. Bring a regular deck of cards, UNO, Phase 10 or Five Crowns.
  • Tide packs. I bring a couple packs of single use Tide packs to do laundry in the sink. Knowing that I can do this cuts down on the clothes I need to pack.Tide travel
  • Clothesline. Get an inexpensive travel clothesline (I recently picked one up for a few bucks on Amazon. This is new for me this year. I always wish I had one because I can never find enough places in my room to hang all the things I wash midweek. Now, those dry fit shirts and shorts will dry in no time.
  • Water bottle. You might want to bring your own water bottle to refill. Make sure it’s empty when you go through airport security and refill it on the other side. Personally, I don’t mind picking up a bottle of water from the grocery store and reusing that for a week in another country. I’ll grab a gallon or two or fresh water and keep it in my room for refilling, brushing my teeth and drinking.
  • Translated cards of places you’ll visit complete with address. I go to one particular city every year. I don’t speak the local language and I visit the same places each year. I have a carabiner with laminated cards on it with those places translated into the local language. All I have to do is show the right card to the cab driver and off we go.

Snacks

These are important for both nourishment and comfort. If you’re going to be on a long, international trip with lots of food you aren’t used to, you’ll want to have a little something you love along with you.

  • Sour Patch Kids. My favorite, so it makes the list. I stuff a bag or two in my suitcase :).
  • Peanut butter. I like to bring a few single-serving packs of Jif To Go. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve just had bread for breakfast. Having this around adds some great flavor and protein.
  • For nourishment while traveling on airplanes, buses or subways, or just a break on the job site, I like to snack on granola bars. This also saves a lot of money. Pack ones without chocolate so they don’t melt and make a mess. I prefer something like Nature Valley or the white chocolate macadamia nut flavor of Clif bar. If I don’t think I’ll melt the chocolate, I love to snack on this from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe's Trek chocolate almonds cashews
  • Flavor packets for water will give you a nice break from plain bottled water. Pick out your favorite flavors and keep the packets in a dry spot or Ziploc until you’re ready to use them. Dump them in your water bottle and shake.

Apps (I’m an iPhone user, so these links are largely from the iTunes App Store).

  • Units Plus – Free converter for every unit you would need. I use the currency converter the most frequently.
  • Google Translate or My Language Pro for translating. You will want to be connected to wifi to use free versions like these.
  • Transportation apps like Fly Delta will help you keep your itinerary and account on hand. Uber will help you find a ride. Hipmunk can help you plan your travel.
  • Evernote – My favorite app of all time. Evernote is your ultimate notepad. It syncs from your cell, tablet, laptop, etc. Tip: Scan in a copy of your passports, driver’s license, insurance docs, itinerary and hotel confirmations so they are at your fingertips and don’t require copious amounts of paper.
  • WhatsApp for text messaging and Skype for voice/video calls. Skype-to-Skype is free and Skype-to-mobile/landlines are very inexpensive.

Meds

  • First and foremost, check out the CDC website for updates on vaccines you might need based on the country you are traveling to. Some countries require documentation for vaccinations, like yellow fever. Plan ahead so you get the shots in plenty of time and so your pharmacy does not run out. I’ve seen this happen before with malaria medicines that certain places might have to order.
  • You’ll want to have the basic over the counter meds for your trip such as ibuprofen or aspirin for pain or headaches, Pepto or Immodium for an upset stomach, Dramamine, Sea Bands or ginger for motion sickness and maybe something to help you sleep like Tylenol PM or melatonin.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription medicine for traveler’s diarrhea and nausea or Ambien for sleep. I can’t sleep on planes, so in order for me to get rest, I need a little something extra.
  • Tip: Everyone on your trip does not need to bring these things. Pool resources and money. If you are allergic to certain medications, make sure your team leader knows about them.

Before you go

  • Call your bank. Let them know if you will be using your credit/debit cards in another country. You will need to provide the dates and countries you will be going to.
  • Check out your phone policy. I bring my phone for the simple purpose of using wifi. I don’t ever call from my cell phone. Calling is expensive and texting adds up quickly. You may want to have your plan in tact in case you don’t have wifi access. If you’re a trip leader, you may want to consult your missionary or agency partner about having a local phone or buying one in town with a local SIM card. See the apps section about WhatsApp and Skype.
  • Stop your mail. If everyone who lives at your home will be on this trip, you’ll want to stop your mail while you’re gone so it doesn’t pile up or make your home a target for theft.
  • Pay your bills. Yeah, I’ve been out of the country and missed a mortgage payment. Consult your online banking to schedule a bill pay service in advance.
  • Say goodbye to your mama. Don’t forget to tell your family goodbye before you leave!

Prayer

Most importantly, before you go on any mission trip, local or international, you need to cover the trip in prayer. As much preparation as you spend packing, studying, reading, researching and planning, you need to spend on your knees in prayer. Pray for:

  • Opportunities to share the Gospel
  • Open hearts
  • Salvation
  • Boldness
  • Safety & health
  • Closeness with God
  • The missionaries you will work with
  • Discipleship for new believers
  • Encouragement for local believers
  • Rejuvenation of your soul

You may want to plan a daily devotion leading up to your trip and also a daily Scripture reading plan while you’re on the ground at your destination. The best quiet times I’ve had were on the mission field. May God bless you on your trip! Do good work!

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