2011 PCC Family Retreat in Mission Springs

Ummm, yeah. That was a fun weekend and yes, that’s Stephanie and I in the hillbilly outfits. We were the emcees for the weekend and it was awesome. Our church rules.

How Reddit Has Helped Me Become A Stronger Christian

redditalienatheismfinal

A Brief History Of Reddit In My Life

Besides checking my email and using Twitter and Facebook I would say that I don’t have a whole lot of browsing habits when it comes to how I consume information and entertain myself on the Internet. The fact that I am a type of web surfing gypsy traveling from one random website or app to another doesn’t really surprise me much considering that I have never consistently watched a tv show or subscribed to a magazine or newspaper. Maybe it stems from my deep-rooted fear of commitment and any type of structure in my life (which I’ve obviously been dealing with more and more the past few years).

But, somehow despite all this I have somehow developed one of my first habits/addictions when it comes to perusing the Internet. This addiction is Reddit and believe me, I never saw it coming.

Reddit, at least to me, is an awesome community that prides itself on finding the best of the web on a daily (and most of the time hourly) basis. The entire site is one big and super-active online social experiement that has been built up into one of the most visited and most influential places on the entire internet. I know that sounds like a big statement, but it’s true. If you need proof just read the story about how one random post on Reddit quicly turned into Stephen Colbert staging a full-fledged rally in Washington D.C. and over $100,000 being donated to his favorite charity. Yeah, I was pretty impressed, too.

Of course, even when the Reddit community is busy pulling off large-scale, national events they’re still the best source on the web for the most up-to-date, hilarious, shocking and interesting news on the web. That’s what Reddit was built for, it’s their bread and butter and it always will be. This constant flow of interesting news is the main reason why I first started making it a habit to check out Reddit via an app called Reddit Is Fun on my Android phone — multiple times a day. When Stephanie got an Android for Christmas last year she started checking Reddit all of the time, too which sometimes results in both of us browsing it in bed, in complete silence before we crash for the night. Yeah, it’s that’s good.

Reddit And Atheism Go Together Like Peanut Butter And Jelly

Just like with any healthy relationship, Reddit and I have our fair share of ups and downs. Although more times than not I feel like Reddit is a good-hearted community that pulls off some really amazing stuff, the one thing that I could do without is all of the Christian bashing that goes on over there all the time.

Personally, I’m not new to being around non-Christians — a lot of my friends, family and co-workers belong to that way of thinking, but the fact that Redditors can and often take it to a ridiculous level makes me question myself on why I continue to visit the community as much as I do. If you want an example of what I’m talking about you can take a quick browse over their incredibly active Atheism section. You’ll quickly see that nearly every, single post is against Christianity although Atheism is clearly defined as “someone who denies the existence of god”, not as being anti-Christian. Why they choose to focus on Christianity probably has to do with the fact that it’s the major religion in the United States, but it still doesn’t make much sense.

Should Christians Even Read Reddit?

As a Christian I need to constantly analyze where I’m spending my time and sometimes I feel like I should cut Reddit out of my life completely. Even though that might seem a little much considering that Reddit is just another app on my phone that helps me kill time, it was an important thing for me to recognize and has resulted in me spending a lot of time thinking and praying about how I should react to what I see posted on there.

One powerful thing that I’ve realized is that even though it’s a constant struggle to see the types of things that get posted on Reddit, I’m willing to deal with them and it’s actually a healthy way for me to face the more common objections to Christianity. By seeing what most Atheists cling to as their main objections to Christianity it allows me to question my own faith, which then results in me digging more into the Bible and talking with other Christians about it.

Most of the time this leads me to an answer that is aligned with my Christian beliefs, which is great since I’m then armed with something new when speaking to others about my faith. It’s not an easy process and it takes some dedication, but it’s one that I think works for me.

So in other words, being exposed to the anti-Christians on Reddit has actually made me a stronger Christian. Pretty interesting, huh?

Note: initially this was going to be a post about how it was nice to see a video posted by Christian musicians on the front page of Reddit (for a good reason), but I ended going in a different direction. I think this works, too so it’s all good. See the video below.

Our Congo presentation and why we need the Congo more than the Congo needs us

A couple of weeks ago Stephanie and I joined Gary, Anthony and Joan in a presentation about our mission trip to the Congo. It was on a Thursday night and everyone who was interested in hearing about our trip were invited to come out and listen to some of our stories. The presentation was a way for us to share some of the amazing experiences we had while over in the Congo as well as a way to cloose the loop on the entire trip from a church-wide perspective.

What I mean by closing the loop is that by inviting everyone out and allowing them to hear and see what we did while we were in the Congo it lets them get a better feel for why we went, what we did while we were there and how it has affected us. This is a very important thing to do as the church body gives a lot of money each year to support both short and long-term mission trips, so it’s good for them to see where the money goes and how it gets spent. It also brings back a strong sense of being part of a church community that is doing some incredible things (like going to the Congo) in the name of God, which is also very important.

Before the presentation all of us decided that we wanted to tell our story of the Congo in a way that was beyond just listing out our goals for the trip and how we checked each one off of one by one. Instead of talking about how we helped out the people of the Congo with this and that we decided to put more of a focus on the realtionships we built why we were there and how we’ve realized that we need the Congo (and these relationships) much more than the Congo needs us. Each of us chose someone who we had built a strong connection with while being over in the Congo, which ended up being a pretty easy decision for all of us. We felt like by focusing on these relationships we built as opposed to the things that we did everyone would get a much better sense of what truly impacted us while being in the Congo.

Stephanie quickly chose Sarah, who became an amazing friend of ours during the trip. Sarah has one of the most amazing stories of survival that I’ve ever heard and despite the fact that she has been educated in the United States and could get a job with pretty much anyone she wanted, she still chooses to make her home in the Congo where she is making an incredible impact. She’s super awesome and she has a pet monkey. Like I said, awesome.


Sarah gets ready to translate Gary’s sermon to over 2,000 pastors. No pressure.


Sarah strikes a pose in her house

When it was my turn to present I talked about two guys who made a big impact on my trip, Texa and Zubusu. Texa and Zubusu are some of the most loyal and hard-working guys I have ever met. They both live and have families in Kinshasa, but they always seem to be traveling throughout the Congo helping out the church in any way that they can. Texa was our main contact while we were in Kinshasa at the beginning and end of our trip, which meant that he was there to pick us up when we first arrived in the Congo (I was never so happy to see him) and he also made sure that everything went smooth on our way out. Like I said many, many times while being over there — Texa is my homeboy.


Texa poses with his kids and Zubusu’s wife and kids

Zubusu, my other Congolese homeboy, is one of the best dressed guys I’ve ever met and as Gary puts it so perfectly, “is a beautiful man”. Wherever the president of the church was, that’s where Zubusu was, too. Like me, Zubusu has a serious passion for taking photos and video which meant that he was always running around getting great footage of all the people and places he saw each day. If he wasn’t holding a camera he was usually translating Lingala for us and doing other things that helped make us all feel as comfortable as possible. Like Gary said, Zubusu’s a beautiful man.


Zubusu and Gary at the pastor’s conference before the opening service

After the presentations we showed a video that I was asked to put together as a way to highlight some of what we did during the trip. The fact that I was forced to have something ready to show finally motivated me to edit up some of the hours and hours of video we recorded while being there. It wasn’t easy to squeeze 3 weeks of a trip into 3 minutes of video, but I think that it will give you a good sense of what life is like in the Congo and will also show you some of the experiences we were able to have while we were there. You can view the video below or over here.

As you can see, we definitely need the Congo a lot more than the Congo needs us.

We made it to the Congo and my thoughts during the 34+ hours it took us to get here.

2011-01-10_05-55-07_865-small
the Congo crew before takeoff. Me, Stephanie, Joan, Anthony and Gary

The First Flight (San Francisco to Washington, DC)

Right now I’m sitting on a huge United Boeing 767. I’m sitting next to Stephanie and as she is reading over some history of the orphanage in the Congo while listening to an episode of The Office they’re showing on the in-flight TVs. I can’t help but think about how in a couple of flights from now we’ll both be smack dab right in the middle of Kinshasa (The capital of the Congo). Everything that we’ve grown used to and everything that makes us comfortable is about to be stripped away and replaced with about 40lbs of luggage a piece and a few carry-ons
To be honest, I feel great — especially considering the fact that I went to bed last night around midnight and had to wake up after sleeping under 4 hours later (I like to call it napping). Mentally I couldn’t feel  more on point. Stephanie and I woke up at 3:45am, left our place around 4:45am and met Sharon (one of our mission leaders) at my office in Burlingame at 5:30am so that we could be at the airport at 5:45am. Everything went super smooth and we were all checked in for our flight and through security with still enough time to grab some tasty airport food court breakfast. As we said goodbye to our luggage and to Sharon we all prayed together and thanked God for giving us the chance to go on this mission trip and asked that us, along with our luggage makes it all the way across the world. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Physically my arm is still really sore from that last-minute Tetnus shot that I got at Walgreens a couple of nights ago and it’s also given me a little bit of a fever, but hopefully all of that will go away by the time we make it into the Congo. I need to be on top of my game and full of energy so that Stephanie and I can go hang out in Kinshasa the day after we arrive.

Speaking of arriving in Kinshasa, we’re currently flying from San Francisco to Washington D.C., which is about a four and a half hour flight. We’re all supposed to stay awake for this flight, which is why I’m trying to occupy my time with typing this. After we arrive in Washington, D.C. we’ll hop on another flight to Brussels, Belgium which will be a longer seven to eight hour flight. We’re supposed to sleep for the duration of that flight so that when we arrive in Brussels (where it will be morning) we’ll be rested up and ready to stay awake for a while. We’ll then take off from Brussels and will head to Kinshasa, which is our final destination. It will be around 11pm in Kinshasa, so at that point we’ll all crash at a hostel for the night and will wake up the next day for a full day in Kinshasa.

I’m super-excited for this day in the big city and I’m hoping that Stephanie and I will be able to venture out a little bit and soak up some of the local culture. From what I hear it’s pretty safe, but I’m sure it will still freak me out a little bit at first. It usually tales me a couple of days to adapt to a new place, but even before then I really enjoy the rush of being in such a different environment. I’m getting pumped just thinking about it right now.

Up until this point things have been smooth and fairly uneventful, but I’m not going to get used to it. I know that in the upcoming weeks Stephanie and I will be experiencing things that we can’t even imagine at this point, but until then I guess I’ll just sit here on my laptop and enjoy the comforts of the civilized world for just a few more hours. Now, where’s that flight attendant with my oranje juice?

The Third Flight (Brussels to Congo)

It’s now two flights and about 22 hours later and we’re all flying in a Brussels Airlines Airbus A 330. Thanks to Joan we’ve figured out that our entire travel time to Kinshasa is right around 30 hours and we’ve all been trying to sleep just the right amount so that we’re not completely jet-lagged once we get to Kinshasa. The last flight, which was from Washington D.C. to Brussels, Belgium, was the was supposed to provide us with a good nights sleep as we’d be arriving there in the morning. Thanks to their sleep masks and noise cancelling headphones Gary and Anthony were ready to catch as much shut-eye as possible during the 8 hour flight. I crashed out after watching The Social Network and Stephanie and Joan got some quality nap time in as well. The flight ended up leaving D.C. about two hours later than scheduled, which burned through a majority of the three and a half hour layover we were supposed to have in Brussels. There was something wrong with the gas gauges, which I’m guessing are pretty important? We unfortunately had to skip the big Belgium breakfast and head directly to our next flight, but we were just happy to make it there before it took off (there’s only one flight per day to Kinshasa).

Although we didn’t have much time in the Brussels airport I could still tell that the workers there were much nicer and easy going than the ones that I’m used to dealing with at home. The people who were working security all had great attitudes and seemed to be having fun while working a job that most don’t usually enjoy. The flight attendants on this flight are also really fun and we have had a great time talking to them so far. Also, the food that they gave us was ridiculously tasty for an airline meal and included chicken, mashed potatoes, veggies, a wedge of brie, a roll, a bar of chocolate (Stephanie stole mine) and some kind of desert pastry. It’s probably the first time that I’ve ever cleaned my plate during a flight.

In other interesting news I can’t find my wallet (don’t worry, I still have my passport), my contacts are getting really dry and this flight is full of really interesting people. Some of them can’t speak any English which makes common things like asking how someone’s doing much more difficult than usual. I should probably start getting used to it.

UPDATE: I just chatted with my co-worker Jason and he said I left my wallet in the office on the way out. Sweet!

Our next stop is Kinshasa, which is going to be more different and culturally overwhelming than anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m excited and nervous all at the same time and I’m feeling like I need to get myself prepared spiritually for the environment I’m jumping head first into. It’s getting close to game time and I want to be sure that I’m as ready as I can be.

Next stop, Kinshasa.

Arrival In Kinshasa

It’s a little after midnight Congo time and I’m sitting in one of the apartments at the Methodist/Presbyterian Hostel (MPH) which is located in Kinshasa. As far as hostels go this is really a nice place and it’s got good food, hot showers, air conditioning in the rooms, indoor plumbing and a halfway decent wi-fi connection (which we won’t have much of after today). After 34+ hours of travel it’s nice to be able to clean up and get one really good night’s sleep before waking up tomorrow and heading out into Kinshasa.

The rest of the flight from Brussels into Kinshasa was about as smooth as could be and all I kept wondering about was why the rest of the hundred or so people on the plane were heading to the Congo and what their story was. I’m sure they’re all interesting.

I met one guy named Charles who was Canadian, worked for the UN in Norway and was heading to Goma (which is on the East side of the Congo) to find and detain members of the Congolese police and army who commit sexual crimes. This pretty much blew my mind. The guy was sitting behind me playing Angry Birds on his iPad and for the next six months he’s going to be hunting out the men who are raping women, children and other men as a strategic way to instill fear into the people of the Eastern Congo. I can’t even come close to imaging what he sees and deals with on a day-to-day basis working for the UN here in the Congo. He also looked out for us as we made our way through customs and grabbed our luggage. I feel like I met him for a reason and that God was having him watch over us as we made our way through the madness of the airport. We needed all the help we could get.

Speaking of the Kinshasa airport, I have no idea how that thing works. We first walked down a set of stairs off the plane in muggy 75 degree weather and then took a quick bus ride to customs where we all made it through with no problems. I have no idea what the guy who looked over my customs info was saying, but I swear that at one point he asked me for an American dollar. I politely said no, said ‘Merci’ and grabbed my newly stamped passport from him and headed out with the rest of the group to get or luggage.

On the way to the luggage carousel we ran into Mr. Kuwale who was hired by Texa to be our driver. Texa is a local Congolese guy who traveled to California a few years ago to learn English at our church. He’s now involved in all kinds of stuff and is a great friend of ours. Mr. Kuwale helped us with making sure that no one took our luggage and with getting us everywhere we needed to go in and out of the airport. Once we walked out of the airport with our luggage there were dozens of Congolese guys who wanted to help with us out (for a small fee, if course). Texa and Mr. Kuwale did a great job with keeping them away from us for the most part and Texa even paid a few of the guys who were following us around to help pack our luggage into Mr. Kuwale’s white van. As Texa talked to them in French they did what he said and before you know it we were rolling nine people deep through Kinshasa.

Driving through Kinshasa on the way to our hostel was a trip. The roads are terrible, there’s no real separation of lanes and the buses we passed were literally overflowing with people. As Mr. Kuwale drove us around cars, people and potholes like a seasoned verteran Stepahanie and I checked out all of the Congolese people who were out and about in Kinshasa. It was dark out while we were driving and most people in Kinshasa don’t have electricity so we saw lots of people sitting around candles, car lights and any other sort of light source they could find. Most people seemed to be dressed nice, but I’m still not really sure what so many of them were doing out in the city at 10pm. They were all over the place.

I’m starting to get really tired at this point, but I wanted to make sure that I got all of this written out before I crashed for the night because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to an Internet connection again. So far this has already been an amazing trip and God has already showing himself in so many ways and we’re just getting started. Tomorrow we’re going to wake up, eat some breakfast and then head with Texa to the Kinshasa market. Even though it’s usually safe we were told that white people should never go without someone who’s Congolese, which is why Texa’s going with us. I can’t wait to check it out.

Keep on praying for us and I’ll be sure to write up an update again soon with some pictures once we get out and explore. If you have any questions for us along the way, feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

Just call me Professor Hupfer

ekstrand-family-4x6

Over the past  few weeks Stephanie and I have been introduced to several people who we’ll be hanging with while we’re in the Congo. Two of these people are Pete and Cindy Ekstrand (who are pictured above). I don’t know a whole lot about Pete and Cindy, but I do know that they’re full-time missionaries in the Congo, have 3 adult children who all live in the United States and that they write an amazing blog about all of the day-to-day stuff they’re doing and experiencing over in Africa. They’ve dedicated their lives to God by serving Him though serving the people of the Congo and I think that’s pretty awesome. Talk about being different and living out what Christians are called to do — wow.

Anyways, I’ve been emailing back and forth with Pete about what all Stephanie and I should be prepared to do while we’re in the Congo and how we can be the most effective with the time that we have. He’s been in the Congo for several years and has a great relationship with the church leaders over there, so he’s one of the best resources as far as where we can have the biggest impact. It’s been great to chat with him about some of the different projects that have been going on and that are being planned and he’s even looped into several email threads that were started months ago in an effort to get me up to speed on things as quickly as possible.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a little overwhelming, but it’s also been great to have a better idea of what we can help out with so I guess  it’s all good.

One of these projects we’re gong to be involved with is the Ubangi Protestant University (UPU), which is a local college that was started in July of 2008. This university was established to provide local Congolese a college-level education locally so that there was no need to travel out of the country to get a degree. The UPU graduated it’s first class just last August, which was a huge deal and was attended by 1,200 people.

I tell you all about this university because the last email Pete sent told us about how he wants both Stephanie and I to teach a fully accredited course at the college during the short time that we’re in the Congo. I’ll be teaching them about computers and Stephanie will be teaching them English and grammar. We’ll only have about 14 days or so that we can teach, so you can imagine how much  we’re going to have to hustle (which Pete mentions in his email below).

Here’s part of the email that he sent — the man named Mossai he mentions is Mossai Sanguma, the president of the church and the founder of the university (he’s the real deal):

I just talked with Mossai this morning about what he would like you to do when you are in Congo.  Mossai told me that he had talked to Sharon earlier this week and explained some of what I’ll say.  He also talked with Sharon about the English teaching.

Mossai wants you to teach an introduction to computer class at UPU, the Ubangi Protestant University.  As he explained it the class should include these elements:

- Basic intro to computers, how they work, turning on and off, etc.  This is to students who probably have absolutely no knowledge of computers.

- Computer maintenance such as troubleshooting, computer viruses and the importance of an AV program

- Introduction to word processing with either Word of Open Office.  One objective is to prepare the students to be able to use a computer to type their master’s theses.

- Introduction to basic concepts of Excel

Mossai is working to get a copy of the curriculum that someone from Kinshasa taught last year.  When he either gets that or more information about the course I’ll pass that on to you.  The teaching will be in French and the school is arranging for a translator.

We are learning that university courses here have strict requirements about the minimum number of classroom hours and total hours for the block courses.  The requirements are understandable and appropriate.  What it means is that to get in the hours in the time you have available you will all be pushed.  A block course is to have 30 hours; 22 classroom hours and remainder for research time, exams, discussions.  You can work on this schedule with the school director when you’re here.

Sounds like I have my work cut out for me, huh? Just call me professor Hupfer.

—–

Thanks for reading and be sure to keep us both in your prayers! If you feel motivated to help us out by donating some money for the trip, you can do so through our giving page over here or by clicking the widget below.

What does the Congo look like? Here, let me show you some pictures

As I continue tell you all more and more about what Stephanie and I are going to be doing in the Congo during our mission trip, I thought that it might help to show you some pictures of what the area we’ll be staying at looks like.

A couple of years ago another group of missionaries from our church headed over to the Congo and one of them was our pastor Gary who is also going with us on this trip as well. One of the first things that Gary showed us once we said we were in for the trip was his collection of pictures that he took while he was there. I feel like the pictures told a much better story than just reading about the area and the amazing people who live there, so here are a few that I wanted to share with all of you.

I’ll add some more information below each one, but I think that most of them don’t really need captions. You’ll see what I mean.

greeting

This first picture is a little blurry because it was shot from inside the smaller plane that flew Gary into this particular village from Kinshasa, which is the capital city of the Congo. The group of local Congolese were all singing while they were waiting for him to arrive and once he got out of the plane they greeted him like a rockstar. He says that it was very humbling and was so powerful that it literally brought him to tears.

After he was out of the plane he was greeted by nearly every, single of these Congolese who were waiting for him. Not a bad way to start out the trip, huh?

garykids

Some of the Congolese kids struck a pose with Gary after he arrived. The little kid on the left might be one of the cutest things that I’ve ever seen. It’s like he’s on a photo shoot or something.

You can tell by what they’re wearing that their clothes are mostly donated by the United States and other countries. Some of the little boys are wearing women’s clothing (like the kid in the pink shirt that I think is actually a nightgown). I can’t wait to meet these kids and I know Stephanie is super excited to meet them, too.

photo

This is the church that everyone in the village goes to. Nearly 80% of the Congolese are Christians and when they have a service they go all out.

church

This is what the inside of the Church looks like during a service. The girls in the white hats in the front row parade into the service and do different dances during the musical sections. I’m hoping that I can dance right along with them while I’m there.

paulcarlson1

This is Paul Carlson’s gravestone. Paul Carlson was a missionary doctor back in the 1960’s and was killed by Congolese rebels after they captured him for being an American spy. After his death his widow created the Paul Carlson Partnership, which is focused on raising money and ministering for the medical needs of the Congolese people who Paul gave his life for while serving.

Since the 1960’s the white missionaries have been evacuated from the area that we’re visiting a few different times due to political unrest, but it seems to be much more stable now.

hospitaltable

This is a hospital bed that’s used for delivering babies. Enough said.

mosquitonets

mosquitonets2

This is where Stephanie and I will be sleeping while we’re in the Congo. The mosquito nets are needed as the bugs are a little out of control in the jungles of Africa (as you can probably imagine).

Joan, a woman who has been in the Congo before and who is also traveling there with us this time around told me that some of the bugs “sound like helicopters flying around the room” and are so loud they’ll wake you up in the middle of the night. Can’t wait for that.

solarproject

All of the electricity in the Congo comes from generators, which makes it really expensive. This is why on any given day the generators are only ran for about 4-5 hours.

This picture is of a solar power project that will hopefully help with this problem by creating a more sustainable energy source. All of our work is all about creating sustainability — we don’t want to create a situation where the Congolese are always relying on us for help.

class

This is a class of local Congolese pastors who were taught English by our church missionaries. Helping educate the local people is a major focus for our trip and I’ve learned in the past day or so that both Stephanie and I will be teaching over 20 hours of classes while we’re in the Congo. I’m going to be teaching computer basics (Microsoft Word, Excel, basic functionality and hardware) and Stephanie is going to be teaching English.

The native language of the Congolese is French, so we’ll have translators who will be helping us out. Should be an interesting experience, don’t you think?

drivingthrough

This gives you a good idea of what the local marketplace looks like. We’ll be doing quite a bit of driving during our time in the Congo, including a 2-day trip from the Northwest side to the Southwest. Not really sure what to expect during this part of our trip, so I’m trusting God with that one.

garypraying

This is Gary praying with some of the local Congolese kids. What a powerful picture, huh?

The one thing that Gary continues to tell us over and over about our upcoming trip is that we might be rich in resources, but the Congolese are richer than we could even imagine in spirit and faith. Stephanie and I are both looking forward to experiencing this for ourselves.

Well, I hope that this has given you all a better idea of where we’re headed here in about 10 days. Be sure to keep us both in your prayers and if you feel motivated to help us out by donating some money for the trip, you can do so through our giving page over here or by clicking the widget below.

Also, I wanted to give a HUGE thanks to Molly Zigovits and Kristen Burtch for giving us our first $100 of online donations!

kristen

Kristen and her hubby Alex just had their own trip to Kenya over Christmas.

zigs

Molly (Zigs) is a friend from Indy who now lives near us in Northern California and goes to our church. She’s also an amazing photographer.

Boo yah! We just launched online giving for our Congo trip

indiegogoscreenshot

Let me ask you a question: is all of that new Christmas cash burning a hole in your pocket? Are you looking for a great place to spend all of the money Santa stuffed into your stocking?

Well why not help the Hupfer’s go to the Congo? We just launched our IndieGoGo giving page so that you can give us your cash via PayPal or credit card — it’s completely up to you. Our online giving goal is set for $4,000 which will cover our plane tickets to the Congo (and we thought tickets to Indiana were expensive). You only have until January 10th to shell out some dough, so head on over there as soon as you can!

To donate, you can click on this link or on the widget below and you’ll be taken to our giving page.

Thanks to everyone who has already given, who is planning to give online and who is praying for us. Stephanie and I need all of your help in order to make this trip a safe and effective success. We’ve been running around like crazy since we’ve been home for Christmas, but we’ll be sure to keep you all updated as we get closer to when we take off. Have an awesome new years and we’ll be in touch soon!

The Hupfer’s are heading to the Congo!

cg-flag

Now that’s a headline, huh? We’re heading to the Congo!

(Well, The Democratic Republic of the Congo if you want to get specific.)

It’s still hard for me to even believe that Stephanie and I will be heading there in less than a month, but I can now officially say with full confidence that we will both, in fact, be heading over to the Congo for a mission trip on January 10th of 2011 (assuming, of course, that our temporary tourist visas will be approved). To all of you who were hoping we were having a baby, we’re sorry to disappoint.

I know that this news is probably a bit of a shock to a lot of you (well, some of more than others I’m sure), but to be completely honest we’re still a little shocked at this point, too. But, more than anything we’re over-the-top excited to have such an awesome opportunity to travel to the Congo to serve and love on some people who haven’t ever had much of either in their lives.

We haven’t really talked much about how we’ve both been on fire for missions lately, but it’s been something that we’ve prayed about, talked to our church leaders about and have kept an open heart for ever since we got the initial itch about two years ago. So, when God threw a new opportunity in our faces a couple of months ago and yanked us towards going we quickly made a decision and now it’s happening. Just like (*snap*) that (*snap*) Stephanie and I went from thinking about how awesome it would be to go on a mission trip to going all in for traveling to the Congo. A little crazy, but hey - I guess that’s how we roll.

I don’t want to make this first post too long and we’ll be sure to add more details about what all we’re doing to prepare for the trip, but I thought that I would first answer a few of the more common questions that some of our friends and family have asked us about our decision to travel to a place like the Congo. Also, from here on out you can check out all things Congo over on this page that we’ve set up: hupandsteph.com/congo.

1. Where is the Congo?

The Congo is the third largest country in Africa and used to be called Zaire. In terms of annual per capita GDP it’s the second poorest country in the world (behind another African country Zimbabwe).

democratic_republic_congo

2. Is it safe over there?

This is a tough question to answer. Compared to most countries the Congo is definitely considered dangerous. We’ll be in the northwest section of the country most of the time, which is much safer than the eastern border near Sudan, where there is constant war and violence.

3. Why are you guys specifically going to the Congo for a mission trip?

The main reason we’re going is to show God’s love to a group of people who need it and to receive a lot of love right back. If you Google the Congo you’re going to read a lot about a group of people who have been taken advantage of for decades and a country that has been through a lot of changes over the past couple of years. For some reason God has decided that we should be a part building them up, so who are we to say no?

Also, our church has a great relationship with some specific villages in the Congo. We’re very involved with helping them create some financial, medical and educational sustainability and trips like these help lay down the plans and groundwork for how we continue to help them in the future.

More specifically, I’ll be focusing on improving their technology and Stephanie will be teaching English and helping out with an orphanage.

4. Aren’t you going to need some vaccinations before you head over there?

For our safety’s sake we definitely needed to get shot up with our fair share of vaccinations before traveling to the Congo. Last week we went to the medical clinic in the San Francisco airport and were given four different vaccinations all at once. The four vaccinations were Yellow Fever, Cholera, Hepatitis A and Polio. They put two in each of our arms and even though they didn’t hurt right of the bat, our arms were super sore later that night. The one that hurt the most was Yellow Fever, which is a required vaccination if you’re traveling to the Congo.

2010-12-10_10-40-16_656

2010-12-10_10-47-38_872

5. Is there any way that we can we help you out with this?

Of course there is. There are two main things that we need from our family and friends and those are:

1. Lots of prayer for us before and during our trip. This is the most important thing by far and something that will ensure that our mission trip is an overwhelming success.

2. Some money to cover our costs of the trip (for both us and our church). It’s not cheap to fly into a jungle all the way on the other side of the world, but it’s a cost that’s well worth spending. If you feel like you want to get involved with our mission trip by giving, we would be very grateful for whatever you could give. I don’t want to pitch you now, but I’ll have a way for you to give to our mission in a later post so keep an eye out.

6. If something unfortunately happens to you both while you’re in the Congo, can I have Frank?

Come on now, this isn’t even funny. Ok, it actually is pretty funny, but only because it’s true.

We have yet to decide on a benefactor for Frank, but once we figure it out I’ll be sure to let you know. Until then, thanks for being so concerned.

That’s enough for now, but there’s a lot more where this came from.

Why we only have 65 cents in our bank account

The big news from the Hupfers today is the fact that our bank account has been totally wiped out by some people who somehow stole a bunch of credit card numbers, created counterfeit credit cards and went on a Target gift certificate shopping spree. This means that a majority of my day today was spent calling my bank to see what the dealio was and what all I needed to do as far as due diligence goes to make sure that the money that was taken out is eventually returned.

To my surprise, this is what I saw in my pending transactions when I logged into my Union Bank account this morning after getting an email alert that my balance had dropped below $1,000 (which I set up in my alert settings — I would highly suggest doing the same if you can).

pendingtransactions

If you’re not great at spotting patterns let me help you out — there are multiple $275 transactions that are just sitting there, waiting to hit my checking account. They’re practically laughing in my face. I have to admit that these transactions freaked me out a bit when I first saw them, but after talking to the people at Union Bank (who were super awesome) and the people at Target (who I think were outsourced and weren’t so awesome) it sounds like everything will be A-OK. They told me that stuff like this happens all of the time, but this time it somehow decided to happen to yours truly. How awesome is that?

Now that I have talked to my bank about it I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on as far as how this happened and what the next steps with be with taking care of this whole credit card fraud bizznass. Here’s what the dealio is as far as I can tell:

So, hopefully all of this works out and all of the money gets sent back into our account where it belongs, but if not I guess we’ll deal with it. The timing of this whole thing is kind of funny considering that we’ve been talking about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in church over the past few weeks, which includes passages about how storing up treasures on Earth is foolish as they will eventually decay or will be stolen by thieves. Instead, we should be storing up treasures in heaven by loving others and living the way that Jesus lived.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-24

Seems pretty relevant, don’t you think? :)

Has anything like this ever happened to you? If it has, feel free to let me know how it all turned out in the comments below.

What Hup and Steph spend their money on each month in San Francisco

To start this post off, let me drop some quick knowledge on you. There’s a verse in the Bible (Matthew 6:19-21 to be exact) that tells some truth about all of us as human beings and especially about us as human beings who live in the United States. The verse goes a little something like this:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I won’t go too deep into this verse, but basically it’s trying to get across two very simple points about money and other tangible stuff that we tend to focus on in our day-to-day lives:

1. We shouldn’t be focusing too much on accumulating stuff, such as money, houses, every version of the iPhone and other earthly possessions. These are all very temporary things and will stay here on earth after you’re long gone. I’m sorry, but you can’t take any carry-ons with you to heaven.

2. Where you spend your money and focus your time says a lot about where your heart is. Your bank account transactions can tell an eye-opening story about who you are and what you’re focused on most in life.

Stephanie and I both totally agree on the truth in these two points, but unfortunately we’re also usually horrible about setting budgets and seeing where we’re spending our money each month. To get a better insight into our spending and now that this month is nearly over I thought that it would be a fun and insightful exercise for me to dig into our bank accounts for the past 30 days and see what stories it tells about us.

With all of the super-easy ways to spend our money these days I think that it’s always good to have a good handle on where it’s all going and what it’s being spent on. Who knows, you might be surprised about some of the things you find. I know I was.

Check out the graphs below to see some interesting information about where Stephanie and I spend our money on any given month, what percentage goes where and what our spending habits are like while we’re living in San Francisco.

sanfranciscospending

This first graph shows an overall split of where Stephanie and I are spending our money each month while living in San Francisco. Keep in mind that these graphs only include data from October of 2010, but overall I feel like October was a fairly average month as far as our spending goes. In other words, we didn’t end up spending any significant amount of extra money on multiple plane tickets for Wheel of Fortune auditions or something like that.

We split up this graph into a few main sections:

Shelter: Any living costs such as rent and utilities.
Self Care: Gym memberships, health/hygiene products, prescriptions.
Food: Any type of purchased food from grocerie stores and restaurants.
Entertainment: Movies, events, Starbucks, video games, bars and cabs.
Clothing: Clothes and shoes.
Transportation: Gas, auto insurance, car lease payments and parking tickets.
Charitable Giving: Giving to our church and other non-profits.
Phone: Cell phone bills.

This graph represents all of the money that both Stephanie and I spent in the month of October 2010. The most obvious thing that I noticed right off the bat was that we spend the most money on rent each month by a pretty hefty margin, which shouldn’t surprise anyone else who lives in the Bay Area.

Another thing that I noticed was that there are four other sections that we spend about the same amount of money on each month. Food, entrainment, transportation and charitable giving are all hovering right around 10-15%.

You can also see that we don’t spend much on clothing each month. I hate shopping and Stephanie doesn’t have a ton of time to hit up the malls around here, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. If you asked her I’m sure she would have a different opinion.

sanfranciscodisposableincome1

This graph shows the ratio between the things that we are guaranteed to spend our money on each month (car, rent, giving, cable, etc.) and how much disposable income we have left over to spend on other stuff. Due to the variation of how we spend our money on food, entertainment and other miscellaneous things, I lumped them all into the disposable income amount. Of course, if we want to save any money month to month that would come out of the disposable piece of the pie as well.

sanfranciscoeatingoutvseatingin

As you all know, the way you budget your meals each month can have a huge impact on anyone’s monthly bottom line. I thought that this was an interesting way to view how much we spent last month on eating in (buying groceries) vs. eating out (buying from a restaurant). With how much we run around during the week it didn’t surprise me that we spend two-thirds of our food budget on eating out, although I also think that this is a place where we can save a ton of money by making more dinners at home. We’re going to experiment with this one this month and see how it goes.

Also, I thought that it was good to point out that on average we spend $30 per day on food as a couple (so $15 each, every day). We’re going to see if we can take that down a notch or two this month.

sanfranciscoentertainment

Where we spend our entertainment dollars each month varies quite a bit and I think that this graph tells that story clearly. The big Las Vegas trip chunk is from when I went out there for a conference and thought that I could win some money gambling (which I obviously didn’t).

The SF Giants bar tab was a pretty big piece of the pie last month, too. Apparently we were a little too loose with the credit card.

The Hup’s Web Stuff is me buying up domain names for new ideas and for other random expenses that have to do with me experimenting with things online.

The rest of the 40% other section was made up of things like cab rides, wine nights and other more typical one-off types of purchases.

Well, that’s about all that I have for you to check out right now. If you have any questions about what I’ve posted up or if you would like more details on why or how I did this, feel free to let me know in the comments. Also, if you’d like to give this a shot with your October spending it would be awesome to hear some of the more interesting things you noticed while going through your monthly transactions. If nothing else, it will give you a better handle on your personal finances, which is one of the most important things you can stay on top of.

Next Page →