June 2017 Prayer Letter


Give my greetings to all the Christians there. The brothers who are with me here send you their greetings… May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philippians 4:21-23)


Greetings from Kent! It’s summer time! Are you doing anything special to celebrate this season? A fun vacation? A return to a seasonal hobby, like gardening or camping? Or even just an especially-enjoyable blockbuster at the movie theater?

Speaking of movies, I sometimes think about life moments in terms of scenes from Jim Henson’s Muppet movies. And as strange as that may sound, I mention this to help describe the experience of a summer in collegiate ministry. To me, it feels remarkably similar to the middle part of The Muppets Take Manhattan. In the film, the Muppets decide to try make it big on Broadway, in New York City, after an idealistic college experience that culminated in a successful Senior Variety Show. When the road to fame and fortune proves more difficult than they had expected, however, they are forced to say good-bye and scatter for a season. Kermit stays in the city, in a continued attempt to sell the show. But everyone else spreads out across the country, keeping in touch by writing letters until circumstances allow for a reunion on Broadway. Fozzie writes updates from a cave somewhere in the wilderness. Doctor Teeth and his band write in between gigs at a polka hall in Pittsburgh. And Gonzo, of course, has the most interesting summer — performing daredevil stunts on water skis at an “Aquacade” in Michigan. Again, I know it’s silly to think about life in terms of the Muppets — but these strange, surreal, fictional scenarios resonate with this season of ministry.

Many of our Staff and students have scattered, though some remain: working at the proverbial diner and doing the legwork required to “get the show ready for Broadway.” We continue to make plans for outreach at the beginning of the next school year. Meanwhile, the church maintains weekly rhythms for “House Church” on Sunday evenings, meeting in living rooms around town, since we can’t reserve our normal rooms on campus and since our congregation shrinks to about twenty percent of its school-year size. It’s definitely different, but it’s actually a season of deeper fellowship for everyone here in Kent: slow, informal, and relational.

For everyone else, though, we just get periodic glimpses through text messages and e-mails… Through posts on social media… Occasionally even through a handwritten note, just like the Muppets! But regardless what form the updates may be, they all feel very much like news from the proverbial caves, polka halls, and aquacades across the country and around the world.

Nick is back in the Dayton area, raising support for a paid internship with H2O through his senior year at Kent State; he hopes to parlay that experience into a transition onto our Staff team directly following graduation next May. We keep in touch by phone calls and text messages… Rebecca recently posted a picture to Instagram from a spot called Bible Point, at Estes Park Leadership Training, writing: “So blessed to be living, working, and worshipping God this summer in this beautiful place!”… Tommy and Kairie are in the Canton area, getting ready for a wedding next summer, and Marci and I are hoping to meet up with them again sometime soon to provide some pre-marital counseling… Kaylyn regularly posts photos, reports, and prayer requests to her Facebook page from all her summer abroad experience with Kent State University’s extension site in Florence, Italy… Cam uses Snapchat to share pictures of him eating Chipotle with his girlfriend or swinging in a hammock… A couple of different group chats on the GroupMe app keep me smiling with the latest information from all the different people in our Life Group from last year.

Isn’t it amazing to realize all the lives that are touched through collegiate ministry?!? The people of H2O come from so many different backgrounds, and they’re on their way to so many different futures. For some, the summer is a very encouraging season of growth and development; for others, it’s a dry and lonely time. For some, they need regular accountability and encouragement; for others, they just need a general sense of blessing and continued prayer. Could you please pray with me for all these “Muppets” who are scattered for the summer?

Please pray for our family, too. Our June is filled with a good bit of travel. This week I get the privilege of visiting our network’s Leadership Training program in Estes Park, Colorado, and then spend three days in the mountains planning, preparing, and praying for next school year, in our annual Pastors Retreat. Ministry Team Development (support-raising) will also be an ongoing focus for this month, as well as the rest of the summer, so we’d appreciate your prayer for that. And at the end of this month, we’re also going to get some much-anticipated family vacation time. Thanks, as always, for your partnership in the Gospel! We’ll be in touch…

Posted in H2O Kent, Ministry, Prayer Letters | Comments Off on June 2017 Prayer Letter

Hocking Hills

My first foray journey through the caves and waterfalls of Ohio’s Hocking Hills happened hand-in-hand with a girl. She was 19 years old, and we were in love.

My second journey through the caves and waterfalls of Ohio’s Hocking Hills happened hand-in-hand with the same girl. This time we went there to celebrate our marriage that’s now 19 years old, and we are still very much in love.

The first time around, we had just endured a year of long-distance relationship — maintained by sending three or four letters a week to each other through the U.S. Postal Service — so we relished every opportunity to be together: looking into each other’s eyes… holding hands… sharing experiences, and not just writing about them… Honestly, I think we would have been happy to spend time with each other in a dentist’s office; still, the pristine natural beauty of Hocking Hills only amplified our enjoyment of each other. We explored the caves in the State Park with her sister and her Mom (who also functioned somewhat as chaperones). We roasted marshmallows and chatted around the campfire. We looked up at the stars in the black night sky.

The second time around, we needed to recover from her first year of graduate school and our oldest son’s first year of high school (in addition to lots of other moving parts in our family of five). At times throughout the frenetic school year, it felt like it might have been helpful to send letters to keep in touch — though weekly lunch dates and family dinners fulfilled a similar function — still, we really needed time to be together: sipping coffee and soaking in the hot tub on the back deck of our cabin… taking naps in the middle of the afternoon… hunting for antiques and good barbecue… We’ve had years, especially about a third of the way into our marriage, where we were tempted to the break tradition of an anniversary getaway because of the expense or the trouble involved with making sure our kids had proper care — but we have since recognized the vital importance of this annual rhythm for spending time together.

Hocking Hills was a great spot for enjoying each other, even after all these years. We explored some of the same caves we visited all those years ago (without chaperones!), but we also branched out to try new trails. Kind of a metaphor for life and love, I think: Some familiarity, but also some untapped adventure.

It’s an honor to journey through life with my girl. Our relationship has spanned many delightful decades, still I hope the best is yet to come.

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Henry Wahner’s

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It’s hidden in plain sight, less than a quarter of a mile from the northeast corner of the Kent State University campus. Thousands and thousands of college students pass the place every day — on their way between campus and the closest grocery stores, laundromats, restaurants, gas stations, and a handful of entertainment options — but almost none of them would recognize the establishment by sight or by name: Henry Wahner’s Restaurant and Lounge.

Even if you know that it’s there, however, Henry Wahner’s appearance would never suggest that it’s a hidden treasure.

It’s concealed within an ugly, barnlike structure. The exterior and interior are decorated in shades of beige, brown, and yellow. There are some hints of Bavaria about the place: shutters with cut-out heart shapes on the outside, a wall hanging that appears to depict the Neuschwanstein Castle on the inside… But the appeals to the old German Fatherland don’t quite pull off the “classic” or “timeless” look. In fact, it looks quite dated. I’d guess something like 1972.

Nothing much about the place seems to have changed since the early 1970s. After one finds the entrance, the visitor to Henry Wahner’s is ushered into the swanky lounge. The walls are covered with wood paneling and tin advertisements for St. Pauli Girl Beer. A mountain of cascading bottles, encircled by a silver railed bar, fills the middle of the lounge. Dim lighting betrays a few grey-haired, overweight townies tucked into vinyl-upholstered booths along the perimeter of the room. They glance up from their drinks with quiet suspicion to size up every visitor, but they don’t make much fuss even on the rare occasion when a group of college students stumble in.

There’s a hallway to the left of the lounge, which leads the way through a dining room to the hostess station. A bouquet of artificial flowers sits on the counter beneath a sign that reads, “ALL MEMBERS OF YOUR PARTY MUST BE PRESENT TO BE SEATED,” and the staff is serious about this rule even when the crowds are sparse. Patrons are encouraged to wait in a corner between the three dining rooms, from which vantage point the rest of the restaurant can be observed. The walls are decked out with wood paneling of the sort favored by my grandparents. Decorative spindles, spaced six inches apart, separate the dining spaces and the kitchen area. The tables are all covered in vinyl cloths and paper placemats. Everything from the furniture to the carpet to the wall hangings echo the hues of beige, yellow, and brown, to the point that it feels almost as if one is looking at a sepia-toned photograph from the earliest days of the establishment. The hostess station is the main exception, with the artificial flowers and a large red pegboard listing the rules of engagement for the Henry Wahner’s dining experience:

WELCOME TO HENRY WAHNER’S

CARRY-OUT ORDERS AVAILABLE
EARLY BIRD DINNERS 400 — 600

NO CREDIT CARDS
PERSONAL CHECKS
CASH ONLY

THANK YOU

First-time visitors might be inclined to bolt at this point (especially if they didn’t bring any cash) — so many strange signals seeping out from the surroundings — but the best part of the Henry Wahner’s experience is yet to come.

Upon being seated and opening up the menu, one is greeted with a sizable listing of imported beers and authentic German meals: Saurbraten with Potato Pancakes… Kassler Rippchen with sauerkraut and Bratkartoeffers… Schniztel with Spätzles (my personal favorite). The servers have been practicing for decades to provide explanations of what goes into each of these dishes, so they can help to interpret the German dishes. But there are American specialties as well: Prime Rib… Porterhouse Steak… Lamb Chops. The service is efficient, but it takes awhile to prepare the orders. Cold beverages, warm bread rolls, and salads occupy the interim.

In one part of the dining room, an electric “fireplace” waves and glows. In another part of the room, there hangs a curious, large mural of dogs, dressed in party clothes, enjoying drinks at a bar. The effect is almost medieval, something of a hearth and a tapestry, but more a low-budget 1970s film production of Germany in the Middle Ages. It’s weird, but wonderful. To truly enjoy Henry Wahner’s, one must embrace the surreal setting.

When the food comes to the table, though, any residual awkwardness fades away. Henry Wahner’s portions are enormous. Large cuts of meat hang off the edge of the plate. The food is seasoned and cooked to perfection. It’s so good and so plentiful that I never end up having any room for dessert, though there are a number of tempting offerings (both German and American) on the menu. I’ve taken numerous people out to eat at Henry Wahner’s over the past several years, and no one has ever been disappointed by the food.

The prices and calorie counts are such that most people couldn’t afford to eat there every day. And the ambience is unusual enough that it’s probably not a good place to visit for an important business meeting or a couple’s first date. But it’s definitely worth a visit, for a special occasion of its own. Especially if graduation is just around the corner. It would be a shame for someone to spend several years and tens of thousands of dollars on their college experience without a single meal at the most unique, most secret, most swanky spot in town.

Posted in Culture, Culture Shock, Food, Kent, Recommendations, Recreation | Comments Off on Henry Wahner’s

Bicycling as Transportation

“Are you some kind of die-hard?”

I get variations on this question all the time, as I’m locking or unlocking my bicycle around town. It just seems weird, in this part of the world, for a person to be riding a bicycle if there’s any variance in weather conditions outside of sunshine and temperatures in the 60°s.

I’ll admit: I like being distinctive. “Weird” is not necessarily an insult, in my book. And if I can come across as “die-hard” or “bad-Asp” — so much the better.

Even so, I reject the premise that one must be a fanatic in order to choose the bicycle as one’s mode of transportation in less-than-ideal weather conditions. It’s really not as revolutionary as a lot of Americans seem to think it is. But even if that’s how it’s going to be — I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — Join the revolution! Bicycling is far more healthy, more economical, and more environmentally-friendly than most other forms of transport. So even if bicycling is going to be perceived as making a statement, I’m comfortable with making that statement.

Still, I wonder: Why does it have to be a revolution? Why does it have to be a statement?

For all my “Join the Revolution!” talk, it’s really not a big deal to ride a bicycle. It doesn’t take much more energy or time to take the bicycle instead of the car (a lot of times, it can even save time and energy, when you factor in parking and traffic). Of course the cold and the rain can be hassles, but they’re hassles with other forms of transportation, too. In the same way that they make windshield wipers and heating- and cooling systems for cars, they make jackets, pants, and gloves that mitigate the effects of weather for cyclists.

I don’t mind it if some people like to think about bicycling as “sport” or “hobby” — but, couldn’t we also just talk about bicycling as “transportation?” I’m glad to say that I’ve re-acclimated to American culture in most ways, over the last five years, but this is one of those areas where I’d like to stay “European” in my thinking. Maybe even act as something of a catalyst of contagion for others. Aside from the conspiracy theories put out there about the “Big Three” American automakers re-imagining the national landscape to snuff out all competition and drive up prices for their vehicles, why are people in this country so reluctant to consider bicycle as a legitimate mode of transportation?

When I was looking up the above photo to go along with this point, I found an article in which Brendan Leonard does a good job at dissecting some of the reasons “Why You Should Never Bike to Work,” but it’s still confusing to me why more people don’t give this more careful consideration. Why can bicycling trigger such bewilderment and even anger? Why can’t I wrap my head around this issue as an American, any more? Any other perspective here would be much appreciated!

Posted in Amsterdam, Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, Introspection, The Netherlands, The United States of America | Comments Off on Bicycling as Transportation

May 2017 Prayer Letter


And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)


Greetings from Kent! Can you believe we’re already coming to the end of another school year?!? It’s gone by so quickly! Just as the flowers and trees have been sending out their pollen, we at H2O are also doing a lot of sending these days. We’re graduating another class of seniors and blessing them to enter their careers as nurses… and teachers… and fashion designers all across the country and around the world. We’re commissioning another church plant out of Kent, this time going all the way across the Atlantic to Stockholm, Sweden (there’s a whole other prayer letter waiting to be written about that one!). And we’re celebrating another crop of young men and women having cycled through our internship program.

The interns are on my mind because I took them out for a celebratory meal at a unique restaurant in town last week (you might get a kick out of reading more about this local joint, from a story I posted online at http://www.ericasp.com/2017/05/henry-wahners/). We had some great food and some great conversation that evening, and in the midst of our meal I looked around the table and realized just how amazing the whole arrangement really is. These students work so hard to serve our church, even though this end-of-the-semester meal as the church’s only tangible form of compensation for their labors! Of course, we trust that the experience and equipping they receive through the internship is highly valuable. Still…I’m so thankful when I remember that they’re basically working for peanuts (or schnitzel, as the case may be)!

I’ve loved each group of interns I’ve been privileged to supervise; and even though I recognize there may be some recency bias at play, I have to say that this year’s group of interns was extra-special. We had a total of eight student-interns here in Kent this year. Four of them served for the entire school year, three served for just the Fall Semester, and one served for just the Spring Semester. In addition to that, I supervised one Spring Semester intern from the University of Akron, as well (the leadership team from H2O Akron approached me to mentor this particular intern because of his interest in reaching out to international students).

For our Internship Program, we recruit involvement from any students who are considering a career in full-time ministry (even if it’s only ten percent likelihood of a career in full-time ministry). I work together with each applicant to create a personalized, prioritized proposal for a job description, aiming for 10-15 hours per week. Every internship includes Intern Management and Staff Meetings, plus two to five other points of ministry involvement as areas of focus for the internship. In all of this, we’re basically trying to create an environment in which students can gain exposure to the ins and outs of collegiate ministry, in order to assess (and hopefully stimulate) their interest in long-term career missions.

It’s a win for the students because they receive specialized mentorship and leadership development opportunities. It’s a win for H2O because we get extra feet on the ground and extra hands to help, working directly at the level of those to whom we are reaching out. And it’s a win for Reliant because we gain seasoned, qualified candidates feeding into our team in Kent, as well as other projects and church plants toward which God leads them.

Now, I recognize the way that internships and staff recruitment strategies are more of a “back-end” thing in collegiate ministry, which may not be as easy to appreciate if you’re not in among the interns on a day-to-day basis. Seriously, though, I’ve been awed by everything God has done through our Internship Program over the last several years since I was given oversight of the initiative! When I asked the interns about their experiences from this year, one student said, “I have loved all of the spiritual equipping lessons that we have done throughout the internship (i.e. spiritual pathways, reflective listening, book readings). This has allowed us to grow as beings connected with God and as those who are seeking to serve the church.” Another said, “I enjoy seeing the behind the scenes of collegiate ministry while being challenged in my faith.” I can say with confidence that there has been demonstrable growth in the life of each individual intern, and I’m just thankful to see how God continues to raise up the next generation of spiritual leaders.

Please pray with me for these young men and women: that God would continue to work powerfully in their lives, through the Internship Program and beyond. Pray also for those who are considering Fall Semester internships, as this is a strategic time of the year for turnover. And thank you, in any event, for your involvement in praying and financially supporting our ministry here in Kent, allowing things like this Internship Program to continue! We’ll be in touch…

Posted in H2O Kent, Ministry, Prayer Letters | Comments Off on May 2017 Prayer Letter

Autograph Adventures with Elliot and Cor

Road Trippin' podcast LIVE from Town Hall

More with Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton for a special live edition of the Road Trippin' podcast from Townhall before our Cleveland Cavaliers playoff coverage begins Saturday.

Posted by FOX Sports Ohio on Thursday, April 13, 2017

This evening my kids and I got to visit a live broadcast of one of our favorite podcasts: Road Trippin’ with RJ and Channing — featuring two players from the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers — and there was some extra-special interaction between our family and the stars.

Check out the video from 08:45 to 10:30 for some special love for Cor and Elliot, including Channing’s identification with Cor’s braces, indulging Cor with some special autograph-signing, shooting down Elliot for some special autograph-signing (though they more than made up for it later on), and a surprisingly-lasting impression upon the Fox Sports Ohio reporter who met them at a home game earlier this year.

Elliot also gets to pose a question (and a pretty interesting one at that) to the players on the video, from 19:22 to 20:30. It was a true dream-come-true for the boys.

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Olivia was a good sport through the whole process, so I took her to Mitchell’s Ice Cream (just two storefronts over) during the middle part of the broadcast. That was pretty special for the two of us to enjoy, too.

And we even made it back to Townhall in time for the boys to get some autographs and photographs at the conclusion of the broadcast.

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It was a pretty special night. Totally spontaneous. Totally out-of-the-ordinary. But totally worth it.

Posted in Children, Recommended Listening, Recommended Viewing, Recreation, Sports | Comments Off on Autograph Adventures with Elliot and Cor

In-Ex-plicable

My best friend says I’m wrong.

“You’re not an introvert,” he says, even though I’ve self-identified as such for most of my life. (The most basic definition of an introvert is a person who gains energy from being alone and loses energy in stimulating environments, such as social events). I’ve long recognized that I gravitate toward the middle of the spectrum between introversion and extroversion, but I feel like I’m more typically recharged by time to myself or within a few close relationships.

Still, my friend’s comment makes me wonder.

On the one hand, he can’t possibly know what it feels like to be me. He’s more introverted, himself, so of course I appear further toward the extroverted end of the spectrum in comparison to him — but how does he get off telling me that I’m inaccurately assessing my own personality type? On the other hand, he has known me for twenty years. We’re best friends. We’ve roomed together. We’ve regularly interacted across a wide variety of cultures, situations, social contexts, and professional environments. So he may well be more qualified to make such a judgment than one might think.

I decided to gauge my energy levels this weekend, before and after different kinds of activity or inactivity, trying to figure out what results in gain or loss.

It’s a bit of an unusual weekend in which to experiment and observe because Marci, my life partner and constant companion, is out of town for a linguistics conference — but then again, being the only adult in the house also provides me with opportunities to direct the flow of events to my preferences. “Am I an introvert? Or am I an extrovert? Let’s see…”

Late on Friday afternoon, after finishing my last scheduled activity before the weekend, I start with some time reading in bed. Definitely a check in the “introverted” column. I read some sports news on my smartphone. I flip through the pages of a magazine. I lie on my back and look up through the skylight to the deep blue skies and swaying tree branches. I pick up the phone again to check world news. I finish another article in the magazine. Energy levels are definitely rising.

When my kids end up tromping into the room, though, I’m not disappointed. It doesn’t feel like a break in the reverie. It feels like a welcome diversion. Is this a sign of introversion or extroversion? We talk about Elliot’s autograph collection, Olivia’s choice of outfits for her musical performance the next day. We discuss our plans for the evening and make sure we’ve got all our bases covered for the weekend (knowing that Marci usually plays a critical role in our family juggling act). It’s fun and relaxed. I continue to feel energized. I’m excited about the weekend, even though it will be a more active weekend than usual. Maybe I’m an extrovert after all!

Around 6:00 PM, we all trundle downstairs, find our coats and shoes, and pile into the car for a drive up to Broadview Heights (45 minutes away). I start up a playlist from my smartphone and get lost in the music. Every so often, I’ll interact with the kids in the backseat. We’ll sing a song together. But when John Denver starts singing about the way that “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” I feel a deep agreement. My energy levels continue to rise — which would seem to be a mark of introversion — but I’m also looking forward to the social scene toward which we are driving, which would seem to be a mark of extroversion.

When we get to Broadview Heights, we step into a foreign environment. We meet about ten new people, first thing when we walk in the door. Over the course of the next hour, we meet another hundred, perhaps. The majority of them are from the Middle East. Arabic. After some socialization and an ice-breaker, we receive instruction in how to enjoy a Bedouin feast, using our fingers to eat from the communal dish of rice and chicken in the middle of the mat on the floor. I’m genuinely intrigued to soak up every bit of culture I can get. “What’s the best technique to keep from scattering rice all over myself and my surroundings?” And, “Why do men and women eat separately?” I enjoy hearing the perspectives, traditions, and stories from these new friends. But there are times when I find myself retreating to the perimeter of the room, the classic wallflower: actively observing and listening in on conversations, but clearly different from my Elliot (“The Most Extroverted Man in the World”), who’s always in the thick of things. Elliot is clearly energized by the whole environment. He would gladly stay all night, but I’m secretly grateful when my younger children’s repeated questions of “When are we leaving?” allow me an escape valve. On the drive home from Broadview Heights, I realize that I’m happy and fulfilled from all the night’s activities. But energy has been lost in the course of the evening.

When Saturday dawns, sun-soaked and silent, I’m delighted to wake up slowly, in solitude. The kids sleep in, so I have time to read in bed for awhile, look up through the skylight, rest a bit longer, get up to unload the dishwasher, eat some breakfast, start a load of laundry, and read the Saturday edition of the Akron Beacon Journal — all completely by myself. My energy is completely rebounded from the previous evening, and then some.

I send a text to my best friend, confirming that my kids and I will be coming to the birthday party his family is planning for his daughter. I’m excited about that. Perhaps another check in the “Extrovert” column. It’s genuinely fun for me when my kids wake up, one-by-one, and make their way to the kitchen for some breakfast. I appreciate their company, but I also don’t mind taking a break from them to shave and shower. We all get in the car to drive Elliot to his soccer practice, and then Olivia, Cor, and I head to Panera for our regular Saturday morning ritual. I feel more energized than I’ve felt in weeks.

It’s a slight hit on the energy counter when we linger in the Five and Below shop, Olivia working to pick out a birthday present, and then again when we have to wait ten minutes in the high school gymnasium, as Elliot finishes up his soccer practice.

Still I’m feeling fresh and friendly, as we arrive at the birthday party. It’s fun to catch up with the grown-ups while the kids run around with each other. It seems that my energy levels peak right around the time that we’re eating lunch — and from there, it’s a slow loss of energy through the dessert conversation… through Olivia’s two performances at the Ohio Music Education Association’s Solo and Ensemble event at the local middle school… through taking care of household chores and running Elliot to another birthday party for one of his peers… through making dinner… into the evening hours. I feel like it’s been a good day — a genuinely delightful day off — but I also start to look forward to the kids’ bedtime.

I spend some time at the computer, blogging about the weekend, and it occurs to me that even in this solitary act of introspection I’m validating my “Introvert Identity Card.” I still think I’m somewhat borderline, as I review the ebbs and flows of my weekend. Ultimately, though, I find I’m most refreshed by the intermittent solitude. I actually appreciate the fact that it’s intermittent — but clearly it’s the time alone that fuels the time with people.

I consider calling or texting my best friend to tell him about my conclusions. But I decide against it. “Too much human interaction right now,” I think to myself. I can tell him when I see him tomorrow.

Posted in Introspection, Recreation | Comments Off on In-Ex-plicable

Spring Break ’17

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I’ll never forget the rush of adrenaline and air blowing through the windows of our vehicle, as we hurtled down the Interstate, south toward Florida.

“SPRING BREAK ’97!” We yelled into the night air. It was a battle cry throughout the entire week with three other friends from college. We had so much fun reveling in each other’s company, enjoying good food, tropical temperatures, random encounters with strangers, a spring training baseball game, and a whole bunch of other spontaneous adventures…

“But what will it be like to try this with a wife, three kids, another family of five, and five students from Kent State University?” I wondered as we made the drive through the night last weekend. The fifteen-hour drive allowed for a lot of thought and prayer for Spring Break ’17.

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Just before sunrise on Saturday morning, we took a slight detour from our route to watch the sun rise over the ocean at St. Augustine, Florida. It promotes itself as the oldest city in North America, which was interesting and ironic because we were on our way to Orlando to spend our week with the newest H2O church plant at the University of Central Florida.

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It’s such a beautiful thing to travel a thousand miles away and still find community. Family. Even though most of the members of our two teams had never met each other prior to this week, we quickly became friends. Brothers and sisters, even. A lot of this bonding happened through laboring together: Unloading production equipment at seven o’clock on Sunday morning… Handing out flyers on campus…

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Helping to maintain H2O’s weekly rhythms… Pitching in together for service projects…

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Discussing and developing strategy for ministry, together… Looking back, it’s kind of amazing all that we were able to squeeze into our week there in Orlando!

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But we also had a lot of fun: Eating some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had… Swimming like manatees in crystal clear spring water at the Blue Spring State Park… Laughing and telling stories around the hot tub at the end of a long day… Taking in a baseball game together on a gorgeous spring night…

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It was definitely a week to remember! There is so much potential at the University of Central Florida. It’s currently the largest university in the United States, with 63,000 students roaming around a beautiful campus of concentric circles with all kinds of interesting spaces for people to meet and interact.

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It was an honor to be in on the “ground floor” of this new movement on campus, with H2O. We’re praying for God to multiply their efforts 100-fold in the years to come.

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Regardless of what sprouts from the seeds we scattered behind us at the University of Central Florida, I’m convinced that one of the most meaningful elements of our trip to Florida for Spring Break ’17 was God’s work in the hearts of our team from Kent. I’m so, so proud of the way that Rachel, Kairie, Josh, Scott, and Lindsay (as well as our Staff families) leaned into our objectives for the week. They brought inestimable energy and enthusiasm to H2O and the University of Central Florida. They gained first-hand experience in the weird, wacky, wearying, and wonderful work of collegiate church planting. They forged deep relationships that will carry them through the rest of their college years and beyond — perhaps even continuing to yield spiritual fruit by Spring Break ’37!

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Our Spring Break experience was fantastic — everything it’s supposed to be. We absolutely reveled in each other’s company. We enjoyed some really good food (especially 4 Rivers Barbecue!). The tropical temperatures, with sunshine and highs in the 80s every day, were a delightful break from the cool and rainy conditions in Kent. We made so many new friends: Ashlyn, Agustina, Ethan, Will, Matt, Savannah, Brendon, Arik, Hannah, Joseph, Marlon, Kevin, Jasper, Julio, Nick, Max, Angelica, Rosie, Dennis, Stefan, Own, Greg, Briana, Maddy, Krishannamarie, Bryce, Knightro (to name just a few)… It was epic. (And in case you’re interested, all of my pictures from the week have been been posted in an on-line album).

But I will say that it’s also good to be back in Ohio, getting a bit of a break from our Break before classes start up again and we sprint to the finish of another school year at Kent State University.

Posted in Church, H2O Kent, Photography, Prayer, The Bible, The United States of America, Travel | Tagged | Comments Off on Spring Break ’17

April 2017 Prayer Letter


The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. (Mark 4:26)


Greetings from Kent! This is an exciting season in campus ministry: the sprint from Spring Break to Final Exams. Many students are getting ready to graduate and move onto the next season of life — but that only intensifies the significance of life transformation happening on campus. We’re trusting God for great things in these last weeks of the 2016-17 school year. Please pray with us for strategic ministry opportunities between now and Graduation Day!

Speaking of strategic ministry opportunities, I wanted to update you on last week’s Spring Break, which provided a special opportunity for us to partner with some friends in the Spring Break Capital of the World: Florida! Specifically, fifteen of us from H2O Kent traveled to Orlando to spend a week working with the newest H2O church plant at the University of Central Florida.

The trip was successful in many ways, but I think one of the greatest outcomes was the way in which our team was able to encourage and envision the team there on the ground at UCF. We spent a lot of time laboring together throughout the week: Unloading production equipment at seven o’clock on Sunday morning… Handing out flyers on campus… Helping to maintain the student organization’s weekly rhythms… Pitching in together for service projects… Discussing and developing strategy for ministry, together… Looking back, it’s kind of amazing all that we were able to squeeze into our week there in Orlando! But we also had a lot of fun: Eating some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had… Swimming like manatees in crystal clear spring water at the Blue Spring State Park… Laughing and telling stories around the hot tub at the end of a long day… Taking in a baseball game together on a gorgeous spring night… What a week!

It was an honor to be in on the “seed scattering” phase of this new movement on campus, with H2O. We’re praying for God to multiply their efforts 100-fold in the years to come. Would you please pray with us? There is so much potential at the University of Central Florida. It’s currently the largest university in the United States, with 63,000 students roaming around a beautiful campus with all kinds of interesting spaces for people to meet and interact.

In case you’re interested, I first wrote some of my reflections from the trip on my website, where I included a lot more details and some of the best pictures from our time in Florida. If you would like to see that, go to http://www.ericasp.com/2017/04/spring-break-17/. In any event, though, thank you for your partnership in prayer and financial support that made this trip possible!

Before I wrap up this month’s prayer letter, I want to invite you to join us in Kent for a special “Family Day” celebration with H2O on the 23rd of April. We chose this date because it happens to coincide with a concerted effort by the University to welcome students’ family members. We expect that there may be a number of our students’ parents who will also be in attendance that afternoon, so non-students shouldn’t feel too out of place. Besides: you’re like Family to us, as ministry partners, so it only feels right for you to be there! We understand, of course, that it won’t work out for everyone to be able to join us. But if you could make it work, here’s an itinerary for what you could expect on that Sunday in Kent:

  • 11:00 AM – H2O Worship Gathering On-Campus (133 Bowman Hall / Kent State University). Passionate musical worship, Biblical preaching, and lively fellowship — just like you would see any Sunday, when we have our normal worship gatherings.
  • 12:15 PM – H2O Spring Baptism Celebration (University Esplanade). These celebrations take place immediately outside of Bowman Hall, in the public space right in the middle of the Kent State University campus! These times of celebrating students’ newfound commitment to Christ are always exhilarating!
  • 12:30 PM – On-campus Reception (137 Bowman Hall / Kent State University). This will be together with people from the ministry teams who are helping to support other Staff in Kent and parents of current students as well. Enjoy some refreshments, see some pictures, hear some stories from students, and get the bigger picture of what God is doing through H2O at Kent State University.

It would be so great to have you with us! Please, though: Could you send me an e-mail or give me a call or text message to let me know if you’re planning to be there? We just need to plan refreshments and such accordingly. In any event, thanks for your continued partnership in the Gospel. We’ll be in touch…

Posted in H2O Kent, Ministry, Prayer Letters | Comments Off on April 2017 Prayer Letter

To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 15th Birthday

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Dear Elliot,

I hate to procrastinate, but I didn’t get the chance to sit down and start writing this letter until 11:00 PM on the evening before your birthday (and I didn’t get to finish it until a week later!)! Our Spring “Break” has been filled with interactions, activities, and autograph-chasing, and I just feel like I haven’t been able to catch my breath — much less put thoughts into words — until late at night, in the stillness of a borrowed moment at a borrowed desk, and in scattered moments thereafter.

It’s been that kind of week. It’s been that kind of year.

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Your transition to high school (together with your mother’s transition into graduate school) has felt chaotic at times. How did we ever manage to keep things together through that frenzied fall of soccer games and marching band performances and Expedition Academy excursions?!? It was crazy-making! I don’t do well with that kind of cacophony and chaos.

You, however, thrive under those conditions.

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You seem to grow stronger under siege. You become invigorated by the crush of activities. Your enthusiasm grows through the thousands of conversations with friends (and strangers for that matter!). Your spirit is stirred by action and adventure, not stillness. And as different as your mode of operation may be from my own, I want you to know that I really admire the way you work. I’m proud to call you my son.

There’s a verse in the Bible (Matthew 11:12) which says the kingdom of heaven is advancing forcefully, and forceful men take hold of it. And even though I still sometimes wonder at the meaning of this verse, it’s clear that our world is a tumultuous place. Chaos is far more common than calm — still, God’s Kingdom advances in spite of the challenges, and we play a role in this advance through these tumultuous times. Having seen you in action over the course of the last year — taking the initiative and striking up conversations with people from Boulder to Cleveland to Memphis to Orlando — it really strikes me that you are a man of action, a force of nature, a potentially-key player in these tumultuous times. So I’m praying that God will guide you in the year (and years) to come.

Your forcefulness can be one of your greatest strengths. You’re a natural leader. You won’t just sit idly by, while problems persist; you do something about them. You have a direct approach and boldness that astonishes me — yet people respond remarkably well to that boldness: smiles, high-fives, favors, a shooting sleeve from LeBron James, a signed basketball from Russell Westbrook… Keep up the good work, my son. God wants to use that leadership and boldness for the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 4:18-20) — and as you follow Him, there’s no telling what you may one day accomplish.

At the same time, I just want to remind you that our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses are often closely related.

Thus, it’s good for you to realize that your forcefulness can also be one of your greatest weaknesses. As you grow in your leadership and boldness, you will also do well to grow in your consideration for others. Listen well (James 1:19). Cultivate patience and self-control, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Love whole-heartedly (Matthew 22:37-40). And if you can keep those supplemental skills in mind, going forward: May the force be with you!

I love you, Elliot. More than words could ever convey. I love your creativity, your quirkiness, your intelligence, your spiritual sensitivity, your transparency, your responsibility. And all the intangibles, too. I love you for being you. Your points of distinction from others in your family, or in your classes, or on your sports teams — those differences are delightful! Stay strong in the grace of Christ Jesus, my son (2 Timothy 2:1).

It’s important for you to know that I trust you, too. Even as we get closer to the time when you’re driving cars and going out on dates and getting invited to parties, I genuinely believe you’ll be ready to accept the responsibilities that go along with these privileges, in time. Your mother and I are here for you, as you need us. Still, we’re doing our best to bless you and release you to become the person God has made you to be. We named you after a pioneer, an initiator, a hero… So go! Blaze new trails! Initiate as God leads you! Practice heroism in the big things and small things of everyday life!

Happy Birthday, Elliot. I’m praying that this year will be your best year yet.

Much love and prayer,
Dad

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Posted in Children, Family, Introspection, Prayer, Traditions, Transition | Comments Off on To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 15th Birthday