Friday, December 26, 2008

MTI, part 2

About a week ago we completed our training at MTI, and it proved to be an invaluable experience for us. Since our last update, we covered more significant areas of life and ministry in a cross cultural situation, including sabbath keeping, rest, understanding and dealing with different cultural worldviews, and how to say, "Goodbye," well (a surprisingly important aspect of missionary life). Our time at MTI closed with times of reflection, sharing about our respective future ministries, and prayer for each family present at the trainings. We formed what we believe will be some lifelong friendships (as you can see in the group photo above), and it's hard to believe that the training is over and it's the day after Christmas already! Here are some more photos of our time there:

Us with Hans & Jen Anderson during our time to share about Spain and to be prayed for.

Rachel role-playing in a skit about missionaries in a cross-cultural ethical dilemma.

B.J. with his growth group that met several times a week for Bible study, discussion, prayer, encouragement, and a lot of laughter.

We took a weekend excursion to Albuquerque, where we were able to visit the Myers family, who served as church planting missionaries in Spain with Rachel's family in the 80's and 90's.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MTI, part 1

We've hit the mid-point of our missions training at MTI (Mission Training International) here in Colorado. So what is a part of our training here at MTI? Here are a few things we've covered:
  • Who We Are Under Stress (complete with an overseas hostage simulation)
  • Conflict Resolution Styles
  • Personal and Cultural Values
  • Cultural Differences
  • The Greatest Discipleship & Evangelism Tool: our love for one another as Christians (in families and other relationships)
  • Self-Awareness (know who we are and where we're from as we enter our new culture)

God has been showing us tons about ourselves and who He is during our training. Below are a few photos from our time here at MTI:

Us with fellow ECMI missionary candidates to Spain, Hans & Jennifer Anderson (no relation)--it's been good getting to know each other better through this training.

Pikes Peak from a distance...

Pikes Peak at the summit, where the air is quite frigid and thin!

A beautiful view of the sunset that Rachel caught just outside of MTI.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Week in Pictures

A week ago we officially became homeless...sort of. We moved out of our house on Sat., Nov. 22, spoke in Easton, PA on Sunday, and immediately began driving westward to spend time with friends and family for Thanksgiving week, ultimately to arrive in Colorado for our cross-cultural training. So here are some highlights from the past week in pictures:

We visited B.J.'s grandparents in western KY for the first time in a long time.

Wednesday evening afforded us the occasion for dinner with some good friends from college. Matt (center) was B.J.'s college roommate and, along with his wife Rachel, hosted us for our week in Wilmore, KY.

We simply couldn't visit Wilmore without retracing some of our steps at our alma mater, Asbury College...oh, the nostalgia.

Thanksgiving was spent with B.J.'s sister, Ashleigh, and her growing family. Liam (the cool guy in the middle) has a little sibling on the way!

We arrived in Denver on Friday evening and were greeted by some lovely snowfall! We're staying with Rachel's uncle, aunt, and cousins as we await our cross-cultural training a little south of here Dec. 1-19.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NYC Visa Trip!

On Monday (Nov. 10) we made a little trip to Spain...the Spanish Consulate in New York City, that is, which actually is property of Spain. We were able to apply for our residence visas (it has to be done in person at the Consulate), which has been a huge answer to prayer. Let us tell you more.

Last Tues. (Nov. 4), we knew that we wanted to apply by the end of November, so B.J. checked the availability of appointments at the Consulate (we figured that there would be plenty of open appointments for the end of the month). To our grim dismay, nothing was open until the middle of December! We will be in Colorado for our cross-cultural training most of December and then with family for the holidays, which meant that we wouldn't be able to apply until the end of December or beginning of January. Needless to say, we were a bit frazzled and disappointed, since we knew it would take at least 2 months to receive the visas after we applied; as far as we could see, this wrecked our schedule to be in Spain by sometime in January. So we decided to pray (funny how that came after frazzlement and fretting), asking God to work out what He wanted in His time...

After a night of election coverage and sleep, B.J. checked again for appointments on Wed. morning, wondering if anything could possibly have opened up before the end of this month. Lo and behold, a 15 minute appointment for Mon., Nov. 10th was available, and we saw God's hand at work on our behalf! So we made triple copies of all of our certified documents (killed a few trees in the process, we think) and headed off to the Big Apple, thankful for the open appointment but afraid that we might not have everything we needed (which could have meant that we would have to make another visa appointment--we had lots of people praying for us at this point). After a train ride from New Jersey, a short subway trip uptown, and a brief elevator ride up 30 stories, we arrived at the Spanish Consulate with plenty of time for our 10:15 appointment. Our interviewer, Hector, was super kind, and everything went better than we could have expected!

Now we simply have to wait for the Spanish government to process our paperwork, and hopefully we'll have our visas in hand sometime in January. Praise God for His goodness to us over the past couple weeks!

Below are a few shots from our day in the city:

Us in front of the building where the Spanish Consulate is located.

We found a Spanish restaurant where we had a lunch of ensalada (salad), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), and bocadillo de jamón serrano (Spanish cured ham sandwich).
One of Rachel's high school classmates from Spain works as a sous-chef in Manhattan, and we got to visit him for a few minutes during his break.
The New Year's Eve ball was on display at Macy's on 34th St...we were actually a bit disappointed because it looks so much bigger on TV!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ordination & Commissioning Weekend!

Above you'll find a slideshow of a few photos taken throughout our ordination and commissioning weekend. In a word, our time was amazing. We had family in from Spain, South Carolina, Missouri, Ohio and Illinois, and many more local friends and loved ones joined us for our big day. We are humbled and privileged that our church and our loved ones have acknowledged our gifting and calling to serve as church planting missionaries in Spain. Most of all, we are grateful to God for giving us life, our calling, and for meeting with us in a profound way on Sunday afternoon. There's more to come, so we'll simply let the photos share some of the highlights from the weekend.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What a Whirlwind!

Well, this weekend was full! We thought we'd let you see the quick version in pictures:
Saturday we spent a couple hours at the E.C. WorldFest Pennsylvania, which was great for us since it was only a 3 minute walk from our house at Evangelical Theological Seminary. The folks there were excited as we spoke of God's faithfulness in supplying 92% of our needed monthly support thus far!
Sunday morning we headed to Peoples E.C. in Lehighton, PA, up towards the Poconos where the leaves are beginning to hit their peak fall colors. The folks at Peoples were greatly encouraging as we shared our story and calling with them.

After leaving Lehighton, we headed down to eastern Berks County to Christ Lutheran Church, which is in the countryside of Barto, PA. I (B.J.) had met many of their members during the summer at PACE Workcamp where I spoke, so they invited us to come, preach at their afternoon worship service and share about Spain at their fellowshp meal afterwards. Above is one of their sanctuary's stunning stained glass windows which we felt is something we're learning about right now: Jesus truly is our Good Shepherd in these great days of transition!

Monday, October 6, 2008

P.M. Roots

Well, it's been another long but good weekend for the Whitakers. This weekend we had the opportunity to retrace some of Rachel's Primitive Methodist roots. On Saturday we were the keynote missionary speakers at the P.M. Pittsburgh District Missions Rally...interestingly, the event wasn't in Pittsburgh (as one might think) but in Youngstown, OH. As an Anderson, Youngstown is a pretty important place for Rachel. It's the hometown of Rachel's grandpa and, therefore, the site of the family's home church--Glenwood Christian Fellowship (a P.M. church). Youngstown is also where Rachel's dad graduated from high school (even though most of his childhood and youth was spent in Guatemala). So everyone at the rally knew Rachel from birth, reminding her of how she was when she was just a wee little lass.

So after the missions rally, we spent the evening with Pastor Tom and Heather Snyir who lead the Merritt P.M. Church in Buena Vista, PA, near Pittsburgh (note the photo above). God has really renewed the vision and ministry of this church in recent years, and, as a former youth pastor, I was thrilled to see a number of teens participating in the worship service. The congregation was quite welcoming to us, and of course they knew of Rachel's grandparents and parents. All in all, it was a good weekend, though we're now trying to rest a bit before we start a new work week. Only about a month of the normal 8-5 routine for Rachel left--more on that later!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Euro

After nearly a year of gaining value against the weak American dollar, last month the euro actually devalued against the dollar! This is very good news for American missionaries heading to or currently ministering in Europe, as our paychecks rise and fall with the exchange rate.

Without going into the deep ins and outs of it (mainly because I really don't understand the intricacies of international trade), this increase in the dollar's value is quite significant. At the weakest point, the exchange rate was 1 to $1.60 or so; to put this into perspective, if you were to buy a used car (as we will in several months) for about 5000 €, it would have actually cost you $8000. At the current exchange rate of 1 € to $1.42, that 5000 € would be about $7100--a pretty significant savings!

So if you want to know how to pray for us, pray for God's provision for us in the midst of somewhat unstable world markets (we have 77% of our monthly needs met!); perhaps more importantly, pray that God will continue to teach us how to trust Him through this transition; but most importantly, pray that even now God will be softening Spaniards hearts to the Good News of Jesus, so that they will come into a real relationship with Him.

Monday, September 1, 2008

7,200 Towns

A couple of posts ago, we wrote about the letter from our Spain field leader, Francis Arjona, requesting our arrival to Spain by January 2009. Within that letter Francis showed us that we have been making a huge error in our presentations, including our video. We had been sharing that there are over 700 towns of 5,000 people or more that have no clear witness to the Gospel, which seemed like a lot of towns and people who need to know Christ. But Francis reminded--and corrected--us that there are 7,200 towns of 5,000 people or more that have no evangelical witness to Christ! We were off by a mere 6,500!

Seeing this staggering number of towns and people who desperately need someone to show them Christ through their lives and words has further confirmed our burden to get to Spain ASAP. Even though we know that we won't be the ones to share Christ, His truth, and His love with every Spaniard, we know that we are a part of a team that is seeking that end. So please pray with us that the bonds of spiritual blindness and apathy will be broken in Spain and in Spaniards' lives and that we will be able to get there by January to begin the transition that will enable us to share Christ's light with those living in deep darkness.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Boring Missionaries?

So we have officially been "missionary candidates" for one year, speaking in churches, retreats, camps, conferences and anywhere else we've been invited. Throughout all of our experiences this past year, we've learned something mildly disturbing: missionaries have a bad reputation for being incredibly boring! We've learned that some people skip church worship services on the days we've been invited to come and speak because they don't want to be bored by the missionaries. We've been told straightforwardly by pastors and congregants alike that they were a bit concerned before having us speak because of the boring reputation missionaries carry, but they were later relieved that we were actually passionate and engaging.

This is not at all to pat ourselves on the back but only to say that it is a great shame that missionaries have such a bad rap in some circles. We think part of our goal as missionaries right now is to curb this reputation since, after all, we love what God is calling and leading us to in Spain. People, especially today's generation, don't merely want to hear about our calling or about the spiritual needs of the Spaniard; they need to sense our deep conviction as we share with them the mission God has laid out before us.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Request Letter!

Just a couple weeks ago, we received an official acceptance letter from the ECMI Spain team leader, Francis Arjona. More exciting than the simple fact of receiving this letter was the request contained in it: that the Whitakers arrive in Spain by January 2009! Of course, for that request to become reality, we still need 1/3 of our monthly support to be committed and begin coming in. Even so, with 2/3 of our support rolling in and the official request that we are wanted and needed by the ECMI Spain team, the dreams and hopes that we've been speaking about for the past year or so are beginning to become reality. Praise God!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Herndon Campmeeting!

During the 10 days of July 18-27, we had the opportunity to serve as "Missionaries in Residence" at Herndon Campmeeting about an hour northwest of home. Above you can see the cross and the sign above the front of the tabernacle--it's kind of a throw-back to campmeetings gone by.

So what do missionaries in residence do at a campmeeting? Well, this is what we did. During each of the evening worship services, we had a five minute "missions moment" to share about ourselves, Spain, and our potential ministry. One evening B.J. shared with the children's program about how Spaniards need Christ. Throughout the weekdays, while Rachel returned home to work, B.J. spent time with the teenagers in their Bible studies, games, and other activities. Outside of being the "official missionaries," we spent significant time building relationships with people, which happened a good bit around our meal times (B.J.'s on a diet now to recover his former figure). It was a great opportunity both to minister and to be ministered to!
The Teenagers at Herndon 2008:

B.J. shares a "Missions Moment":

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Good Samaritan Rehab Center

Here's a bit of exciting news regarding ECMI's rehabilitation work in Spain's Cordoba province, as it was conveyed to us by Rachel's dad, Ron Anderson:

The Good Samaritan Association was awarded the "Encina del valle de los Pedroches" award this past week. This award, according to Francis Arjona (the founder of the Good Samaritan Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation Center), is the most prestigious award that is given in the Pedroches Valley. The Valley, located in the northern section of the Cordoba province of Spain, is populated with 17 municipalities. The award was received by Francis, who represented the Association and the faithful team of workers and missionaries connected with it. The ceremony started in the town hall and ended up in a public ceremony in the famous bull ring. The Good Sam. Association was only one of several recipients who received an award that evening. The event was well attended by mayors, dignitaries, local citizens, etc. The media was represented by a TV station, 5 radio stations and newspaper reporters. Francis said, "I never dreamed that one day we would get this award and that it would give us the opportunity to tell everyone in the entire area why we had come to the Pedroches Valley to serve as we do." In his acceptance speech, Francis said. “We are here as modern day Samaritans… We are not better than anyone else by doing this…We only intend to peach and live a life which reflects God’s love... We have a relationship with God and not a mere religion.” One of the initial outcomes of the event has been that a very prestigious local poet and writer, which also received an award, accepted Francis’s invitation to "talk further about these things". The ECM vision for Cordoba continues to be very much alive. As Francis puts it. "Our vision is to see a church planted in each of the towns of over 5000 population." It sure is nice to get such a prestigious award that lifts the level of awareness of who we are so that we are not rejected as people before we have a chance to share the message of Hope. To God be the Glory.

To learn more about the Center, check out or (in Spanish).

The award ceremony at the bull ring

Francis receives the award

Right to Left: Raul Vazquez (Director of the Center), Mayor, Francis Arjona

Monday, July 7, 2008

PEI Getaway

This is a few weeks late, but we thought we would share a few of our photos from our Prince Edward Island anniversary getaway. It was a much-needed time of relaxation and enjoyment for us, and it was a dream come true for Rachel, who had always wanted to visit PEI because of her love for the Anne of Green Gables stories by L.M. Montgomery, the most famous native of PEI. Click above to see a handful of our photos!

Monday, June 30, 2008

PACE Workcamp!

Sorry we haven't written in a while for those of you who regularly check out the blog--it's been a busy month! We've been to Canada and back, celebrated our 6th anniversary, celebrated Rachel's birthday, and I just returned from a week at Pennsylvania Christian Endeavor's youth workcamp in Findlay, OH.

It was a great week. I believe we had about 160 people total there, mostly teenagers (pictured above), to continue the recovery efforts for those in Findlay effected by the floods of last August and this February. A lot of work was accomplished through the youth and their adult leaders! The homeowners were quite appreciative, and even the mayor came to our evening worship service on Thursday to extend the city council's appreciation for PACE and the youth. So why was the Beej there? I had the great privilege of sharing the messages at each of our evening worship services as we focused on the Beattitudes of Matt. 5:3-12 and how those reveal how we can be salt and light to our dark and tasteless world. God met us during the worship times, but He also accomplished a lot through His servants, the workcampers. Below is a picture of the staff for the week: Chrissy, the summer intern; me; Mark, the Work Coordinator; Dave, the director of PACE; and Ben, Dave's son. What a blessing to serve Christ and others with such amazing people!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

TEACH International

This week I (B.J.) was able to participate in something called TEACH International; it's the E.C. denomination's gathering of our international leaders to hear what God is doing in their national churches and what their needs and growth areas are. It was truly amazing to hear the stories of rapid, dynamic growth in India, the faithful endurance of believers in Japan, the courage (and even martyrdom) of our brothers and sisters in Liberia, and the joy and energy of the Mexicans and Costa Ricans. It was encouraging to us American delegates to see how the E.C. Church is an international denomination and how God is moving in all the nations; in many ways, it was challenging for us as we so often grow complacent or weary in our culture of luxury and self-gratification. Above you can see a photo of all the delegates involved in the conference; below are photos of a couple new friends.

This is Dennis Henry, the only delegate out of five from Liberia who was granted a visa to leave their country for the conference. Liberia is a nation torn by civil war from about 1993-2003; many church buildings were destroyed and believers martyred during the war. It was impressive to hear Dennis's heart for his people and nation; God is at work there slowly restoring order and peace, not through the UN or the government, necessarily, but through His people, the Church.

This is Elias Martinez, one of our Mexican delegates. I had some broken conversations with him, and I think we more or less understood each other. He is the energetic leader of a Bible institute in Mexico that trains pastors and church leaders for ministry, not to mention that he's quite a character!

Monday, June 2, 2008


Over the past few weeks, we have been extremely busy. Moving into a new house (only a block away but still quite a chore!), the E.C. National Conference, working, speaking in churches, and the like. But as I reflect, I have a few things to mention that I'm thankful to God for:

I'm thankful for Jesus, His Presence with us, and His work in and through us. It was really good to celebrate the Lord's Supper at the E.C. National Conference last week.

I'm grateful to God for Godly leadership in our denomination. Our new bishop was consecrated last week at Conference, and we have commented over and over how thankful to God we are that the Godliness of our denomination's leadership is hardly a question for us.

My car. It's not much to look at, the paint's flaking off, and the head gasket is leaking. But God has kept the Neon going well beyond our expectancy for it, and it got me to and from Conference safely and without incident.

A washer and dryer. As we moved into our new temporary house, we knew it lacked laundry facilities, and we thought we would be buying a washer and dryer for a few months' use. But our need was mentioned to the pastor at one of the churches we visited--Dennis Snyder--and he happened to have a spare washer and dryer. God provided one of our needs (or conveniences) through Dennis, and we are deeply grateful for His provision.

Last, and certainly not least, second to Christ I'm most thankful for a beautiful, faithful, strong even in weakness, amazing wife. She has been an incredible instrument of God's love, correction, and salvation in my life.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Last Saturday closed a four year chapter in our life: I graduated from seminary! It was a great time of celebration for us, especially as my parents came up from Missouri and my sister and nephew came from Kentucky. We are grateful for the work that God has done in us and through us here, but we are also eager to move on to the ministry He's prepared us for. Above is a picture presentation of a few photos from graduation.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Muslim Jesus

Well, I handed in the final paper of my seminary career on Saturday--quite relieving and bewildering all at the same time. Anyhow, the paper was for my Islam course, and I wrote on the Muslim view of Jesus, or 'Isa, as He is known to Muslims. It was quite an interesting study. According to the Qur'an, Jesus was born of a virgin but not divine, not the Savior, and was rescued by Allah before being crucified on the cross (Allah could not allow one of his prophets to be shamed so deeply). Instead, Muslims see Jesus as a great prophet who came to teach and lead his people back to the straight path of Allah. The Qur'an even goes so far as to call Jesus the "Word of God," the "Masih" (Messiah, though it doesn't mean the same thing for Muslims) and an "Apostle from God," but he could never be the Son of God; such thinking is blasphemous. He is not the suffering Savior of the world because the problem of humanity is not really sin and relational separation from our Creator for Muslims; we are simply ignorant and sometimes led astray, which is why we only need prophets to guide us back to the right ways from time to time.

As I reflect upon my study, I have just one observation: the Muslim 'Isa pales in comparison to the Jesus of the Gospels. The Gospels give such profound, rich insight into Jesus' humanity and divinity that the Qur'an hardly alludes to (the divinity of Christ, of course, is attacked by Muhammad). Literally, the Muslim 'Isa is paler than the Biblical Jesus, as well; Muslim tradition says that 'Isa was fair skinned and had red hair and freckles. An Iranian movie of the Muslim Jesus, called "The Messiah," is coming out in Iran sometime this year (a poster for it is above). It should be interesting to see what the reaction or response to it will be, as well as if and how God uses it to draw people to Himself through His Son Jesus.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wasps and Chili

So there I stood during the worship service at Seneca E.C. Church watching a wasp hover a few feet above the pulpit, hoping that God would miraculously strike it dead or that it would just fly away. Neither happened. So as I got up to preach on Sunday morning, I warned the people that I'm a bit of a sissy when it comes to large flying bugs with stingers and that I may be moving around a bit to avoid the thing. After about 5 minutes of buzzing around the pulpit area and distracting everyone, the wasp took a couple of swoops through the first few rows and met its crushing demise between a bulletin and a window! With the distraction gone, the worship service continued, I preached, and the folks at Seneca laid hands on me and prayed for us. It was great to spend some time with Josh and Rachel Reinders who are in pastoral leadership there--they're good Midwesterners like myself!
After averting a bee sting, Sunday afternoon I headed off to Cottage Grove E.C. Church just outside of Akron, OH to spend a couple days with the folks there. Perhaps just as important as me speaking there was that they were having their 6th annual Missions Chili Cookoff! Yes, I had the special privilege of being a judge and trying all 13 kinds of chili, which, surprisingly, had no negative effects on my digestive tract! It was great to reconnect with Bob Shuey, the pastor there and a former seminary classmate of mine, as well as Robert and Bettina Schaeffer, an amazing couple whom God is using mightily to deliver people around NYC from the homosexual lifestyle. They're the ones pictured with me below.