The Faith of the Presidents (NEW Book Available!)

Not everyone gets remembered in history books. Those who do, however, have typically lived a life of great influence, whether for good or for ill. In American history, few people have outpaced the presidents in terms of notoriety. And thus, it is crucial to know the details behind these consequential politicians.

Published in 2021, The Faith of the Presidents is an up to date compilation of biographical essays devoted to each president of the United States, from George Washington to Joe Biden. Utilizing primary and secondary sources, John M. Wiley delves into the lives of these presidents on the deepest of levels–unveiling their faith. Not all presidents were religious, and while some laid everything out to be known, some were more reserved in their ponderings about God, the Bible, and the place of religion in the United States. But there is arguably no greater driving force behind America’s presidents than their faith (or lack thereof).

While there are other works that have been composed regarding the religious perspectives of most of America’s presidents, there are no other known books to date that have surveyed all the presidents with the goal of helping Christian readers specifically to spiritually engage with the faith of these presidents. In a way, this book is a cross between a history book and a Christian theology/Christian living genre. The Faith of the Presidents offers thoughtful Christians an opportunity to refine their faith and discerningly learn about the religious views of America’s most powerful statesmen.

Click here to purchase the paperback.

Click here to purchase the Kindle version.

Book Review: “A History of Evangelism in North America” by Thomas P. Johnston, ed.

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Throughout several years of Bible college, seminary work, pastoral ministry, and Bible teaching I’ve gone through many different books on evangelism–usually, they are “how to” kinds of books. Likewise, I’ve tried to read just about any church history book I’ve been able to touch. But I was a bit struck not too long ago when I first heard of this book, “A History of Evangelism in North America,” edited by Thomas P. Johnston. I had never even heard of a book that deals with the history of evangelism (in any continent), unless one counts books on the history of missions. Thus, there is a great deal of uniqueness to this recent volume by Kregel Academic. For those less familiar with church history, there are some chapters on the big names like Jonathan Edwards, Francis Asbury, and Billy Graham. But there are also quite a few lesser studied figures, such as J. Wilbur Chapman, John Mason Peck, Henrietta Mears, and Dawson Trotman. For Christian leaders interested in getting some inspiration from the past (or even the very recent past, as the last few chapters deal with the twenty-first century), as well as for the historically-minded Christian (whether as a lay learner or teacher/professor), “A History of Evangelism in North America” is a nice contribution to the evangelical-reading world.

The one noteworthy critique I would highlight is that this book reads more like a collection of chapter-length mini-biographies (with a few exceptions). As editor, Thomas P. Johnston had a rather difficult task of trying to cohesively weave multiple chapters into a text that surveys evangelism in North America. Although there is some continuity, such as a multiple-chapter analysis of figures from the First Great Awakening, at times this book reads a little choppier than I had anticipated. I definitely believe I received a good overview of the different figures presented, but the book isn’t titled, “A History of Evangelists in North America,” but is rather about “evangelism” as a phenomenon. Thus, I think one of the drawbacks, in my opinion, is the discontinuity at times that results from highlighting individuals more prominently over movements (although granted, some of the chapters do try to divert some attention to broader movements). Personally, I was hoping to learn a little more about the personal evangelism that (I assume?) existed in times of a more Christianized North America from the 19th and 20th centuries.

That critique aside, I do think this is a valuable text for Christian leaders to obtain. These stories are captivating, inspiring, and motivating to the 21st century believer, even though many of them precede the present generation by decades. This is another type of “great cloud of witnesses” for us to consider. The authors all tended to likewise show why their spiritual impact is significant–in other words, it wasn’t a dry, academic textbook. This is definitely marketed for evangelical Christians. And having delved into it, I would recommend others to consider its contents for their historical and spiritual enrichment.

Note: A review copy of this book was provided to me for free by Kregel Academic. All opinions were my own.

Book Review: “John: Through Old Testament Eyes” by Karen H. Jobes

I was first introduced to the works of Karen Jobes from her excellent work, Invitation to the Septuagint. A lot of biblical Greek work today is, understandably, on New Testament Greek. So, Jobes is already an accomplished LXX scholar in her own right. But this commentary from Kregel Academic takes some of her Old Testament expertise and merges that into the fourth gospel of the New Testament. This is an interesting integration since we would typically think of Matthew as the most Old Testament-centric (or fulfilling) book among the four gospels. John is more often seen as a gospel written to the Gentiles as much as it was to the Jews. Still, there is much of the Old Testament to draw from in the Gospel of John, as Jobes shows again and again in her commentary.

I think the top sub-heading for this Kregel series says it well, “A Background and Application Commentary.” I was teaching through a couple of passages from the gospel of John recently, and found Jobes work to be very help and also unique. That’s the value in this commentary, is that while there are some noticeable teachings “through Old Testament eyes,” a lot of the helpful material (for me at least) was found in her exegetical work and application.

There are scores of commentaries available to pastors, teachers, and laymen–and a ton on John’s gospel–so much that it is hard to narrow down one’s choices to preferred commentaries. This one is among the more unique ones that I’ve read, so I think it holds its value quite well. Jobes is a well-learned scholar, and does incorporate plenty of exegetical points, but she isn’t particularly difficult to understand either, which makes this volume accessible.

Many thanks to Kregel Academic for providing this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: “40 Questions about Pastoral Ministry” by Phil A. Newton

Pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart, which makes it even more important for young and newer pastors to glean from the wisdom of pastors who have many years of experience in this vocation. Phil A. Newton certainly has the wisdom and experience, and his book, 40 Questions about Pastoral Ministry, is definitely a resource that I can recommend.

Though there are 40 questions, there are more than 40 answers to be sure. The topics that he covers are both philosophical and practical. Theologically, Newton is more on the conservative side of the spectrum of doctrinal convictions, which suits me, but some may be more on the egalitarian persuasion. But in terms of pastoral heart, Newton is especially encouraging to pastors who are dealing with anxieties and strains of pastoral ministry. Similar to my own senior pastor’s encouragement to me, Newton strongly urges ministers to stay long in their roles, despite opposition that is, unfortunately, inevitable.

When I first thought about a book on just 40 questions in pastoral ministry, I wondered if it would keep my attention and seem logical in the way it would be laid out. Thankfully, it is a well-edited and nicely-written work packed with biblical counsel for pastors. I would think the audience is quite narrow to almost entirely pastors, so the market is likely thin for this book. But I would encourage pastoral studies professors to consider this work by Newton as a helpful textbook for a Bible college or seminary course.

Consider this: it’s rare to get the opportunity to hear from a pastor with multiple decades of experience. It’s even rarer to do so from a gifted writer. But that’s what you can expect from 40 Questions about Pastoral Ministry.

Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions were my own.

FREE Power Point Lessons for the Book of Acts

the coliseum

Photo by Diego Muñoz Suárez on

I recently just finished teaching through the entire book of Acts with my Sunday school class. What a big accomplishment that was, and quite a large amount of great lessons in truth found along the way. Here are my Power Points, divided in four units, that I used while teaching. I highly recommend John Polhill’s commentary on Acts. Otherwise, I used a variety of language sources and a couple of technical commentaries to arrive at conclusions. Please download and use freely!

Acts 1-7 Power Point

Acts 8-14 Power Point

Acts 15-21 Power Point

Acts 22-28 Power Point

Romans 11 and the Destiny of Israel: A Comparative Study


Photo Credit: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs


There is no shortage of biblical scholarship pertaining to the destiny of Israel in Romans 11. Amillennialists and premillennialists alike have posited heavily researched articles and books that attempt to place Romans 11 in the context of the Apostle Paul’s letter. Both have also tediously endeavored to correctly analyze the grammar and syntax of this controversial yet important chapter in God’s Word. Despite such painstaking efforts, it is doubtful that simply the exegetical arguments presented by the amillennialist will convince the premillennialist, and vice versa. The reason being has virtually nothing to do with intelligence or close-mindedness, but rather with one’s theological method. Therefore, in this research, the views espoused within amillennialism and premillennialism must be first considered as stated by their proponents. Subsequently, several exegetical observations will be addressed to identify where the differences are between amillennialism and premillennialism, but most specifically in regards to the destiny of Israel, namely, whether or not a mass conversion awaits national Israel in the future. Based on a comparison between the views, it will be contended that the premillennial perspective provides the most natural and normal interpretation of the data, which is based on a literal hermeneutic that seeks to understand the text of Scripture without basing assertions largely on theological presuppositions.

Amillennial Views of the Destiny of Israel in Romans 11

John Calvin is a Christian thinker heavily respected by men and women who adhere to both amillennial and premillennial positions of eschatology. While Calvin’s soteriology might be more broadly shared between the two views, his eschatology favors the amillennial view. According to Calvin, “The Israel of God is what [the Apostle Paul] calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles.”[1] Therefore, when Romans 11:26 speaks of how “all Israel will be saved,” Calvin’s interpretation, which is shared by many amillennialists, would indicate that Israel has no ethnic purpose in this context, but is equated with the universal Church. The amount of diversity in opinion from amillennialists alone, however, is notable. Charles Hodge has explained the opposite opinion of Calvin in regards to the ethnic ramifications of Romans 11: “Israel, here, from the context, must mean the Jewish people, and all Israel, the whole nation. The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew.”[2] Calvin and Hodge are two renowned Reformed thinkers who would share similar beliefs about eschatology, but Romans 11 is a passage that can divide amillennialists.

One of the reasons why amillennialists have trouble finding common ground with fellow proponents of their eschatological system is the interpretive question of how to understand the time length involved in “Israel’s” salvation. Some believe that the timeframe is “synchronic,” which refers only to “Israel” at the end of the time of the “fullness of the Gentiles,” while others take the “diachronic” view, which requires “all Israel” to be referring to ethnic Jews, and specifically to believing Jews of all times.[3] There are amillennialists who take the synchronic view that would only consider “all Israel” as referring to the elect believers who are ethnically Jewish, and that number could be quite minimal. Charles M. Horne argues, “[W]hen Paul states that ‘all Israel shall be saved’ he means to refer to the full number of elect Jews whom it pleases God to bring into his kingdom throughout the ages until the very day when the full number of the Gentiles also shall have been brought in. In keeping with the context, ‘all Israel’ means ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’ (11:5), not the nation in its entirety.”[4] There are even some amillennialists who think that there will be some type of mass conversion prior to the return of Christ.[5] But Horne has adamantly insisted, “If Paul is speaking in 11:26 of a future mass conversion of the nation of Israel, then he is destroying the entire development of his argument in chaps. 9-11.”[6] Thus, the synchronic view of the timeframe noted in Romans 11 is an open discussion within amillennialism.

The diachronic view is also a thoroughly defended theory within amillennialism that must be evaluated. Regarding the timeframe of the fullness of the Gentiles and the relevancy of “Israel” being saved, Ben Merkle has written, “This phrase is essentially terminative in its significance, implying the end of something. Yet, only the context can determine where the emphasis lies after the termination. Often the phrase is used in an eschatological context, where the termination envisioned contains a finalization aspect that makes questions concerning the reversal of the circumstance irrelevant.”[7] Merkle compared the construction of ἄχρι οὗ (translated “until”) with First Corinthians 11:16, referring to partaking of the Lord’s Super “until” he comes.[8] N.T. Wright holds a similar view as Merkle, viewing Jews who are saved in the present age as composing “Israel,” that is, elect believers within the Jewish nation.[9] All of these amillennial views are theoretically plausible, as interpreters have found ways to fit the texts of Romans 11 into a particular conclusion, even though the different views within amillennialism cannot coexist. The question is whether or not the theological method instituted to arrive at such conclusions is most preferable.

Premillennial Views of the Destiny of Israel in Romans 11

Premillennialists likewise have plenty of flexibility among themselves in terms of opinions on matters related to eschatology. Whereas covenant premillennialists consider only one people of God throughout history, dispensational premillennialists distinguish between Israel, which includes saved and unsaved people throughout history, and the Church, which only includes believers, both Jew and Gentile, in the present age. Nevertheless, premillennialists can find some common ground in the meaning of Romans 11. Michael G. Vanlaningham has argued:

Currently beset by a partial spiritual hardening toward God, a significant group of Jews will experience a future repentance and salvation. This will come at some future point in the church, perhaps as one of the series events that will compose Christ’s second coming. Paul adduces proof of this salvation with two quotations from Isaiah. Through this significant passage God’s future program for Israel becomes clearer than before.[10]


Meanwhile, John F. Walvoord, a stalwart defender of dispensational premillennialism would not view the timing of Romans 11 as being during the church age, but during the end of the Tribulation, and preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Walvoord has said, “The contrast throughout the passage is not between the believer and unbeliever, but between Gentiles as such and Israel as a nation. In Romans 11:25, the issue is brought to a head with the revelation that Israel’s present blindness and unbelief will be concluded at the same time that the present Gentile opportunity is ended.”[11] Thereafter, “all Israel” will be saved.

In recent years, premillennial scholars have put forward interpretations of many different aspects of Israel’s future in regards to Romans 11. Four of them are worth considering in this discussion, though more exist. First, while many often attack the discontinuity approach from a premillennial perspective in the understanding of history, Samuel A. Dawson sees both continuity and discontinuity in the plan of God throughout the ages. He has explained:

To forcefully drive this point home Paul uses an olive tree analogy to establish the continuity and discontinuity of God’s plan in dispensing his mercy. And although Paul begins this analogy by emphasizing the one historical root from which God dispenses his mercy to both Jew and Gentile (continuity), he mainly emphasizes the diverse way in which God dispenses his mercy throughout history (discontinuity), which opens up a future salvation for Israel that is in harmony with Old Testament prophecies.[12]


A second important contribution to premillennialism comes from Jim R. Sibley in his work on Romans 11:15. This verse reads in the Greek as follows: “εἰ γὰρ ἡ ἀποβολὴ αὐτῶν καταλλαγὴ κόσμου, τίς ἡ πρόσλημψις εἰ μὴ ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν;” The issue here is whether or not Paul’s question of Israel’s “rejection” is to be rendered as an objective genitive or a subjective. Especially since Paul just insisted that God would never reject His people of Israel, and for a variety of other reasons, Sibley affirms that the phrasing of Romans 11:15 should be understood as Israel rejecting salvation in the present age, not as God rejecting Israel.[13]

David Q. Santos has provided yet another interpretation worth evaluating. His research focused on Romans 11:19-24, though in his article he provided a thorough background of the epistle as a whole. His thesis might be summarized as follows: “Paul’s conclusion regarding Israel is that, while it may be a mystery, Israel does have a future in God’s plan. There will be a time when the blinders will be removed from the nation and Israel will no longer live in unbelief. At that point, those natural branches will be regrafted and all Israel will be saved.”[14] Finally, Matt Waymeyer’s analysis of Romans 11:28 requires some attention:

Romans 11:28 is an often neglected verse that helps in determining which of the views is correct, because the pronoun “they” in v. 28 refers to the same people as the “all Israel” of v. 26. Since context requires that the pronoun “you” in v. 28 refers to Gentiles, the “enemies” and the “they” of v. 28 must be ethnic Jews, thereby eliminating the possibility of “all Israel” being the church. The two clauses in v. 28 describe what is true of ethnic Israel at the same time, not on condition prior to Israel’s salvation and another subsequent to that salvation. That eliminates the view that “all Israel” depicts an elect remnant of believing Jews, because they could hardly be enemies according to the gospel after becoming believers. The view that “all Israel” is the ethnic nation of Israel has v. 28 speaking of Israel’s dual status: simultaneously they are enemies according to the gospel and beloved because of the fathers.[15]


Both amillennialists and premillennialists have put forth countless hours of research to prove that one view is superior to the other in terms of understanding the context of Romans, grammatical observations, and general theological principles. Thus, a conscientious awareness of where the differences are is urgent, requiring a closer look at some exegetical observations from Romans 11.

Exegetical Observations in Romans 11

The first exegetical point requiring focus is the identity of Israel in Romans 11. According to Walvoord, “[T]here is not a single reference in the New Testament to Israel which cannot be taken in its plain meaning. Not a single instance requires the term to include Gentiles.”[16] Amillennialists would surely have a problem with Walvoord’s assertion. The first clause might be challenged in reference to Romans 9:6, which says, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (οὐ γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ, οὗτοι Ἰσραήλ).[17] The NASB added the phrase “descended from,” so the verse could read: “For not all of Israel are Israel.” In the context of Romans 9, it can be readily deduced that Paul is referring to the fact that not all people within the nation of Israel are truly “Israel,” which is to distinguish the “children of the flesh” (national Israelites, but unbelievers) from the “children of the promise” (national Israelites, but believers). Walvoord’s second clause, however, places much more of a burden of proof on amillennialists. In Romans, Paul speaks quite frequently of Israel, and he does distinguish, as Romans 9 indicates, between believing and unbelieving Israelites. However, a literal interpretation of the data requires one to restrict “Israel” to only include Jews, but never Gentiles. In chapter 11, Paul includes the title “Israel” in verses 2, 7, 25, and 26. Clearly, he is referring to national Israel in verses 2 and 7, and there is no indication whatsoever of a change in meaning in verses 25 and 26. Jews and Gentiles share equal privileges in the Church, but in Romans 11 and elsewhere in the epistle, the amillennialist relies on a presupposition that “Israel” can include Gentiles. A much more natural reading of the text would restrict “Israel” to simply Jews, and the context would determine whether or not Paul is speaking of believing or unbelieving Jews.

A second exegetical observation necessitating comment is the meaning of the “fullness of the Gentiles.” Similarly to how Paul had already identified Israel in this context prior to verses 25 and 26, so also has he spoken about Gentiles (verses 11-13). The most natural way to interpret “Gentiles” is to conclude their identity as being non-Israelites. Therefore, when verse 25 speaks of the “fullness of the Gentiles,” the people being identified can be contrasted with national Israelites. Most believers in the present age are indeed Gentiles, but there will be a future moment in which the last Gentile will be redeemed. Furthermore, the Old Testament quotations of Isaiah 27:9 and Jeremiah 31:33-34 are massively significant. Ungodliness will be removed from “Jacob,” which can be understood as Israel since the patriarch, Jacob, had his name changed to Israel, and he is the progenitor from which the twelve tribes of Israel arose. The second passage refers to the New Covenant, which again originally referred to the nation of Israel, but in Jeremiah 31. Although Paul did not include the first clause from Jeremiah 31:34, surely he would not have disregarded its importance, where it says, “‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Jeremiah 31 speaks comprehensively of Israel, which fits the context of Paul’s argument in Romans 11, “and so all Israel will be saved.” The partial hardening will not last forever over the people of Israel, but the fullness of the Gentiles must first come to a completion.


There are a variety of opinions on the meaning of Romans 11 and the destiny of Israel. However, Paul gives no clear signs that he means something different regarding the identity (and thus, the destiny) of Israel in verse 2 compared to verse 26. The fullness of the Gentiles indicates a time in which, according to both the Old and New Testament, all of Israel will be saved. This usage of “Israel” is no different than the Israel Elijah accused of killing God’s prophets and tearing down His altars (Romans 11:3). What is distinct is not the identity of Israel as being composed of something other than Jews, but that the fullness of the Gentiles will have to accomplish its purpose in provoking Jews at the end of their “partial hardening.” Walvoord summarized it well many decades ago, “During the present age a remnant of Israel is saved through the Gospel. The hardening or blindness is ‘in part.’ When Christ returns, the situation will be changed. Instead of a remnant, instead of a small part, Israel as a whole will be saved. It will be a national deliverance.”[18] Marvin Richardson Vincent has rendered “πώρωσις ἀπὸ μέρους” (Romans 11:25) as “Not partial hardening, but hardening extending over a part.”[19] Indeed, a large part of Israel is spiritually blinded from the true Messiah, while there is a remnant composed of believing Jews. The destiny of Israel is based off of the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31. Paul, in Romans 11, differs in no way in describing that future glory, but until the fullness of the Gentiles is completed, Israel remains composed of a remnant of believers and a large portion of unbelievers.



[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprinted 1993), 437.

[2] Quoted in John F. Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” Bibliothecha Sacra 102:408 (October 1945), 411. Italics original.

[3] Ben Merkle, “Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:4 (December 2000), 711.

[4] Charles M. Horne, “The Meaning of the Phrase ‘And Thus All Israel Will Be Saved’ (Romans 11:26),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21:4 (December 1978), 334.

[5] For this discussion, see Lee Irons, “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Nonmillennial Interpretation of Romans 11,” Reformation and Revival 6:2 (Spring 1997), 104.

[6] Horne, “The Meaning of the Phrase ‘And Thus All Israel Will Be Saved’ (Romans 11:26),” 333.

[7] Ben Merkle, “Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel,” 715.

[8] Ibid.

[9] For a critical essay of Wright’s view, see Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” Bibliothecha Sacra 170:678 (April 2013), 189. Vanlaningham says Wright’s “weakest” part of his argument concerns a lack of explanation of ἄχρι οὗ. However, taken under the umbrella of Merkle’s explanation, Wright’s view would likely be little or no different.

[10] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Romans 11:25-27 and the Future of Israel in Paul’s Thought,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 3:2 (Fall 1992), 141.

[11] Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 405.

[12] Samuel A. Dawson, “The Historical Outworking of God’s Plan to Dispense His Mercy Illustrated in the Olive Tree of Romans 11:16-24,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 21 (2016), 107. Italics original.

[13] See especially Jim R. Sibley, “Has the Church Put Israel on the Shelf? The Evidence from Romans 11:15,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58:3 (September 2015), 576-580.

[14] David Q. Santos, “Israel and Her Future: An Exegesis of Romans 11:19-24,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 19:56 (Spring 2015), 84.

[15] Matt Waymeyer, “The Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 16:1 (Spring 2005), 57.

[16] Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 409.

[17] All English translations are from the New American Standard Bible.

[18] Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 410.

[19] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 130.

FREE eBook! “My Missions Trip to Peru”


While all 6 of my journal entries regarding my missions trip to Peru can be readily viewed on this blog, I have compiled all of my musings into one eBook for those that find this format more accessible. It’s in a PDF document, downloadable below. Thanks for your interest!


Peru Missions Journal (Entry 6/6)


July 11, 2018

We were blessed to have a vibrant, sunny day in Urubamba, a noticeable distinction from yesterday’s overcast and drizzly afternoon. Though I must say that witnessing the Andes Mountains being partially swallowed up by dark clouds was a hauntingly beautiful sight to behold. I was very excited to begin the day, as my workload was rather light, simply administering a final exam.

This class has been a good group to teach in these last three weeks. It’s hard to believe that today is indeed the end of Doctrina 1. While nearly all of the experiences were overwhelmingly positive in the classroom, unfortunately two students did not end up completing the coursework, due to various reasons. Both were certainly capable of succeeding, but sadly 2 of the 10 did not make it all the way through.

While it’s easy to focus on the disappointments, the testimonial response from the students was quite encouraging. I asked them if they could share one thing they learned from the class that was most important to them. One of the older students shared how this course really helped him have more confidence in who God is. Another described how this class helped him better understand the Trinity, how God is one God but exists in three Persons. Some highlighted their appreciation in their new awareness of how the Bible was put together over the years. Afterwards, the students began and eventually completed a 180-question test, covering just about all the main points from these last three weeks.

After class was complete, I changed into more casual clothes to go to a café in downtown Urubamba. It was around 11 o’clock, so I wasn’t extremely hungry, but I did get a small hamburger, with cheese and eggs on it. The reason I wanted to go there was to try a specialty-made coffee drink. I went with a cappuccino, which was elegantly put together and exactly what I was crazing. I sipped on the cappuccino while grading some of my exams. Soon, I picked up a couple of cheese empanadas to go (“para llevar”).

I wasn’t on campus too long but for a short Skype call and a couple of other things to much on for the second-half of my lunch. Grace, one of the team members, brought me a couple of extra tomatoes they had—perfect timing! I did just a bit more grading, before making another trek out into the city for some shopping.

I wanted to go back to the Pablo Seminario ceramic and pottery shop for a couple more items as gifts, so that was my first stop. The weather this afternoon was quite literally perfect—sunny, 60 degrees or so, and a few clouds here and there. After getting some of those gifts, I went on towards the market, which is at its largest, I believe, on Wednesdays. I took some time to browse and got a lot of offerings of prices for things I was interested in purchasing. I ended up getting a couple of shirts, one for my wife and one for my son. After the market, I picked up five small bags of coffee as souvenirs for family, and then bought a large cup of some more wonton soup to have these next two days before leaving on Friday.

For the third night in a row, I had a quiet and calm evening. It took me at least a couple of hours to grade the final exams, but I finished them tonight. I also had the opportunity to Skype with my wife and son for a solid hour. Dinner was leftovers, but enjoyable for sure—some wonton soup and pizza from last night. There a sense of accomplishment tonight, having finished not just teaching the class but grading as well. And yet, there was also a bittersweet feeling, realizing that my time in Peru was almost up.

July 12, 2018

Today was a very light and easy morning. Since I finished up my grading yesterday, I didn’t have to rush to get work done today to fulfill my seminary duties. Instead, I packed up as many things as I could ahead of time to get ready for my departure tomorrow. Admittedly, I was a little nervous as to whether or not I would be able to fit everything. It seems when I came down to Peru that I didn’t have much room—now I had souvenirs to bring. But fortunately everything fit just fine.

It was an ideal day to have in Urubamba for one last long walk around the city. While I was in the southern part of the city, along a long and straight street that runs into a gas station as my indicator concerning where I am in the city, a Latino couple was walking the opposite way in my direction. The young man started speaking to me in Spanish/Castellano, asking me a question, one that I actually understood—at least, I hope I did, because I gave him directions on how to get to a vehicle that would take them to Ollataytambo. I must look like I know where I’m going in Urubamba.

For lunch, I went back to El Chorillano. I wanted to play it extra safe today with my flights coming up tomorrow, so I bought a “tortilla” once again, which is basically an omelette with chicken, onions, and peppers, on top of a mound of rice in the middle. I had ordered this “para llevar” (to go) previously; the dine-in option was put together elegantly.

I had an interest in breaking a 20 (soles, that is), so I went to the café I had gone to yesterday for my cappuccino. Today, I bought a manzanilla (chamomile) tea in a to-go cup, and also several “cocadas” (kind of like coconut macaroons) to share with the Americans on campus—I tried one as well, and it was pretty good! With all the free time in the last few days, I managed to finish my entire research paper that I had been working on for a class with Tyndale Theological Seminary (Hurst, Texas). This paper discussed the destiny of Israel as seen in Romans 11. Although it was a little tough getting into the topic with all the busyness of traveling, grading papers, and everything else, once I had time to really focus on it, I thoroughly enjoyed the study. Now, just one more research paper for my class, Book of Romans!

At night, I had the opportunity to attend my last church service in Urubamba. When I first got there, I expected it to be a pretty easy night in the pews, but actually the pianist was late, so I was asked to play the hymns for the evening. I accepted quickly, but then I saw the first song—I didn’t recognize it at all. “Uh oh,” I thought, “this might be rough.” But thankfully I was able to play enough complementary chords in that first song, and the other four were familiar to me. Although the music stand for my hymnal literally fell to the ground after the first hymn, as if to signal a bad omen, I managed to play the other songs with more confidence. What’s the first, second, and third principles of missions? Flexibility! That’s something that can be tough for musicians who are always perfectionistic, but this kind of thing can also lead one to trust in God and reorient our thoughts as to why we play music in the first place—it should be to glorify God rather than self. Overall, the service was worshipful, and one of the team members, Randy, preached a powerful message with several responding in some important way.

July 13, 2018

It was a cloudy morning in Urubamba, but no problem for a day of a travel. We headed to the bus station around 9:30 and I made my way via public transportation to Cusco. There’s not much room on these vans, so my suitcase and carry-on bag were attached to the roof—good thing it’s not rainy season! I was in the very back with three other people, where we were “squished like sardines,” though perhaps there’s a Peruvian analogy that would be just as fitting. Aaron, one of the missionaries in Cusco, with whom I’ve spent every weekend with this trip, met me at the terminal, and we took a taxi to the city’s small airport.

I had been praying that, if at all possible, I could get an earlier flight to Lima since my flight from there to Miami was only about 90 minutes past my expected arrival in the coastal Peruvian city. We got up to the front for check-in and the lady at the counter said there was extra room on a flight leaving at 2:30. It cost $30 to make the change, which was well worth the diminished stress—what a great relief! Apparently, while we were ordering the change, the flight switched from 2:30 to 2:50, which wasn’t a problem of course. And as I was waiting at the projected gate for departure, a lady from LATAM (Latin American Airlines) gave me a voucher for a free “snack”—a free drink and sandwich from a café on the second floor. That worked out well!

We indeed departed right on time and arrived in Lima with several hours before my evening, “red eye” flight to Lima. Unlike last time, my luggage arrived—in fact, it was like the fifth piece of luggage to come through the baggage claim. I had to wait a while until I could check in, so I was in a kind of luggage limbo, with three items to hang onto and not many places to sit down. Once American Airlines opened for their evening flights to check in, I found out that my flight was delayed about 90 minutes, but since my flight from Miami to Charlotte the next day was at 10 a.m., that was still plenty of time. When the clock struck midnight, I was sitting in the airplane, while dozens of others passengers and I anticipated making to Miami in a matter of a little over six hours.

July 14, 2018

I’m not one to sleep in cars, buses, or airplanes. Last night’s overnight flight wasn’t very much different. Every which way I moved around in my seat, I couldn’t find a comfortable form for sleeping very long—though I think I did officially “sleep” for about 20-30 minutes at one point. Looking outside the nearest window around 5:30 a.m., the sky was certainly beautiful. And about an hour later, we arrived back into the United States at the airport in Miami. Going through customs wasn’t that difficult of an experience, though it took a few minutes for them to scrutinize my five bags of salt I purchased in Maras—evidently, they were making sure it wasn’t cocaine or something.

While usually five-hour layovers aren’t desirable, the tardiness from last night’s flight allowed an ideal amount of a timeframe for my 10 a.m. flight to Charlotte. Thanks to a generous giver in Virginia, I had plenty of money to spend at Starbucks for breakfast by gift cards, so I purchased a breakfast sandwich, a banana, and a coffee. My flight to Charlotte went well, which put me in another 5+ hour layover. My first lunch back in the U.S. was an easy choice—salad! I tried a barbecue chicken salad from California Pizza Kitchen. Salad never tasted so good. Later that evening, I had another smooth flight, which was to my final destination of Roanoke. I was so exhausted that I slept from the time we boarded the plane until I was in mid-air. At about 7:15 p.m., the small aircraft we were in landed in the similarly modest-sized airport in Roanoke. My approximately 33-hour journey from the van ride in Urubamba to the small city of Roanoke in southwest Virginia was finally over.

In some ways it felt like I had just been away for one long day; in other ways, it felt like half a lifetime. I believe that I accomplished what I set out to do in seeking God’s will for this missions trip. Primarily, I sought to help train up young men and women by helping them better understand who God is and what is unique about His Word. We encountered many powerful truths, discussed some difficult questions, and learned a lot in class. I enjoyed being able to minister in other ways, whether it was on campus or off. I played piano twice in Sunday morning services in Cusco and once for a Thursday evening service in Urubamba. I preached once in Cusco and once for a chapel service. Many tracts in Spanish were dispersed throughout the time and in different pockets of Peru.

It can sometimes be hard to gauge the “success” of a missions trip, but having had the opportunity to work directly with ten students, as well as local Christian leaders and missionaries, I have a network of people that I can hopefully find out how and where God will lead these whom I have influenced in the last few weeks. Like Paul to Timothy in the early church, I have the desire to train others so that they can “teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). It is my prayer that these students will go on to serve in missions, pastoring, teaching, church planting, and evangelism, whether in Peru, the United States, Latin America, or the uttermost parts of the world. I am extraordinarily thankful for the opportunity I was given to spend these three weeks in Peru, and if God allows, I would like to return again in the future.