Money Master: How to Become Debt-Free

After college, I racked up over $35,000 of student loan debt. While making minimum payments, I only cleared $15,000 of it in 4 years.

Last year, I was determined to move to a new city. But worried that would mean it’d take an insane amount of time before I ever paid off my debt—which would put a dent in my plans to enjoy the new city, travel, and eat out all the time ($$$).

Dave Ramsey & Napoleon Hill

So I started listening to The Dave Ramsey Show again to get “gazelle intense” about paying off my debt. I also read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, which refocused my thinking to chase after one DEFINITE DESIRE—which became to slaughter my debt.

In one of the episodes, Dave mentioned his team was doing a ton of hiring. I had a lightbulb moment. What better way to pay off my debt FASTER than to WORK for a company that is determined to help the world get (and stay) out of debt?

From $15k in 4 Years to $20k in 1 Year

Long story short, I now have the honor of working for Ramsey Solutions. Being surrounded by my team and all our debt-free teachings helped me stay focused so that it only took 12 months to pay off the other $20,000 of my student loan.

That’s right—it took me 4 years to pay off $15,000 doing it my way. And it took 1 year to pay off $20,000 doing it the Ramsey way. This stuff works.

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Money Master

To celebrate, here’s a story created by an 8-year-old boy in his 2nd-grade classroom. This brilliant kid somehow subconsciously crafted a Giant metaphor for Debt. ;)

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Mission Trip: The Vacation Bible School

As promised, here’s a look at what the second half of our days were like after each soccer program.

Christian Stuff like Vacation Bible School

Each afternoon, we rode our bus to a very small schoolhouse (3 classrooms) to run a VBS (vacation bible school… Basically a 5-day, 3-hour church camp for kids). The schoolhouse was located in a nearby rural area, Subiditas (until this, I didn’t realize that Santiago is considered an “urban” area).

 From Motels & Bars to Dirt Roads & Scattered Shacks

To get there, we turned off the smooth paved roads of Santiago and onto a long bumpy dirt road. Scenery instantly switched from gas stations, motels, bars, and auto shops to open fields, trees, scattered shacks, and minuscule signs of life.

Grouping 100 Panamanians

Around 3 pm, about 100 Panamanian kids met our team at the schoolhouse. With the help of Spanish translators, we split them up into four age groups and lead them to the first of four activity stations (my group included about 20 or so niños, age 13-17).

My group started with a pickup soccer game, rotated to snack time, a bible story, a Jesus-related craft, and then ended with worship music.

Asking Girls If They’re Men

During snack on the first day I asked some of the girls in my group, “Tu tienes hombre?” (“Are you hungry”?… or so I thought). They widened their eyes at me, then laughed at each other (the first of many recurring occasions). Later I found out “hombre” is man and “hambre” is hungry). A great way to build trust is to ask girls if they’re men. Try it sometime.  

Christian Stuff like Testimonies

We ended each VBS with a testimony from a member of our group. Christians use the word “testimony” to refer to the story on how they became convinced of their sin, asked for divine forgiveness, and committed to pursue a spiritually refining relationship with Jesus.

 How to Become a Christian

Students and teachers from the Penfield Charles Finney School, along with adults from my church,  all shared their testimonies throughout the week. Afterwards, we asked the Panamanians (kids and parents), who were convinced of their sin, to accept Jesus’ execution as their own punishment, and to start a new pursuit of divine obedience through use of his sinless life.

 Not Excited About New Christians

These invitations often leave me wondering if those who say they do really do become Christians. Many Christians get very excited about those who respond to these invitations, but I usually don’t. It’s hard for me to be instantly excited because Jesus taught that a true believer will naturally produce evidence of their new decision (John 15:1-8). And I believe this evidence may take time.

 Excited About Cleaned Hearts

So I didn’t get very excited when many of the Panamanians showed they wanted to become Christians. But I am excited when I see Panamanians like Yorniel who responded to Jesus last year.

Our first year, Yorniel made a joke of our program and kept teasing others about masturbation and homosexuality. But after responding to Jesus, I haven’t heared him make any more dirty jokes. Instead, he’s always smiling and patting others on the back.

This year, Yorniel brought his friends and biked nearly 2 hours outside of his hometown to come and support our VBS. Instead of crude jokes, he made quick friends with anyone there. It’s like his heart has been cleaned.

Mission Trip: The Soccer Camp

Here’s a rundown of what our days are like now that our 5-day soccer camp is in full swing at Santiago, Panama (I’ll add what the VBS is like in another post).

From Hotel to Soccer Stadium

We have breakfast in the hotel at 7 am (where we read daily encouraging letters we brought from home). Then we ride a rented bus for less than 5 minutes to a local soccer stadium (Estadio Toco Castillo), and unpack our goalnets, soccer balls, cones, pinnies, sound equipment, and lunch supplies. 

Soccer Field Setup

From 8ish-9 am we setup the field for 3-4 different age-group stations and prepare the sound equipment before camp begins.

Registration for 100 Kids

At 9 am, around 100 kids (sometimes with parents) flood the stadium and signin to receive an orange wristband (which doubles as a voucher for their free lunch). 

Warmups with H.S. Athletes

Next, we split them up into age groups, do warmups, drills, and scrimmages lead by our soccer players, the coach, and president of Finney (an interpreter joins each group to translate our instructions into Spanish).

Speaking Spanish to Kiddos

I’m no soccer player, so I just attempt to communicate with the Panamanian kids. I try to learn their names and practice remembering Spanish phrases by typing them in the Notes app of my iPhone.

For example, this year I mastered “encantado de conocerte” (nice to meet you), “gusto en verte (nice to see you), and “buen trabajo” (good job)… Though, the niños probably wouldn’t agree with me on that.

Some Jesus Time

In between drills and scrimmages, we take a break to share about our belief in Jesus. Each session includes one excerpt from the bible and an explaination on how it has taught our team something valuable about Jesus.

Drinking Mud Water

We try to make this part interactive for the kids through illustrative challenges. For example, the first day we used a cup of clean water to represent what we were like when God created us. Then asked the niños to plop handfuls of dirt into the cup to represent choices like lies, lust, hate, etc. that ruin our original design. We asked if they’d drink the mud water and they shook their heads, “NO”! We explained that once the dirt goes in, we can’t make the water clean by picking out the dirt. We need to filter out the dirt with minerals, just like how we need Jesus to take the punishment for our wrong choices to return to our pure design.

Brown Bag Goodbyes

After soccer, we gather the Panamanians on the bleachers and feed them bagged lunches before it’s time to say “hasta mañana” (see you tomorrow).

Mission Trip Day 1: Advertising in Santiago

Landing in a Foreign Country

We landed in Panama City at around 10 pm Monday night and met up with our missionary contact Terry after customs (where they stamp your passport and make you feel important).

We loaded up a bus with luggage, supplies, and humans and rode to a nearby hotel for the night.

3+-Hour Busride

Tuesday we left the city hotel at 8 am and took a large bus to Santiago. We arrived at the Hotel Grand David by lunchtime.

Missionaries & Pizza

Missionary Terry’s wife Bridgett and their two kids brought us (homeland) Dominoes pizza. After lunch, the construction team went to mix concrete at the site where they’ll build the church.

Visiting Villagers

My team walked from our hotel to a nearby village to handout fliers and personally invite the community to our soccer camp (the missionary kids spoke/translated for us). Before we divided up into smaller “advertising” groups, we asked God to help us be well received and benefit the community with our influence.

Talking to Locals

Even though I don’t speak more then three words of Spanish, talking to the locals is my favorite part. When you’re a foreigner, you get away with socially awkward, or even taboo, types of things. I love that.

Getting Away with Social Awkwardness

My group (about seven of us) stood outside the gates of several hut-shaped houses and yelled “buenas” (a greeting) until someone came out. I handed the missionary’s teen daughter Amber one of the camp fliers as she introduced us “gringos” (Americans who aren’t Hispanic / Latino) and invited the homeowners to our program.

I had no idea what was actually being said, but I pretended like I did. It’s just funny to me that the homeowners are cool with a bunch of strangers hollering at them to come to the door and chat. Everyone we talked to took the flier and seemed to respond positively.

Later in the night I joined my friend Jim (our group’s youth pastor) to “creatively” communicate with the workers at a super market.

American Idiots

Jim wanted to buy a  water bottle/thermos, but we could only find toddler-sized bottles. So we pointed to the small bottle and said, “No niño” (No kid), “Si hombre” (Yes man), with even more clever hand gestures. The lady worker was very kind to us American idiots. She said, “Ah, si. Grande” (Ah, yes. Big), and walked us to the adult-sized water bottles. Sadly, Jim’s new bottle doesn’t work… But that’s another story.

I love being an American idiot.

Christian Stuff like Mission Trips

Sorry for my hiatus, friends. I’ve been taking a break to rethink the purpose of this blog.

While I continue to rethink, I wanted to share with you some insight about Christian stuff.

Mission(s?) Trip

I’m going on my third mission trip (tho many refer to them as”missionS trips” for some reason) with my local church this week.

Our team includes a group of about 30 adults and teens from Living Word AG (Ontario, NY) and the Charles Finney School (Penfield, NY).

From Rochester to Panama

We’ll head from Rochester to Panama City and bus out to join a missionary family (originally from New York) in Santiago, Panama.

How to Church in Another Country

There, some of us will construct a community church, while my group will run a soccer camp and VBS (vacation bible school… Basically a week long Sunday school program full of bible stories, music, games, snacks, and crafts) for the niños (ages from tiny to teens).

This will be our group’s third and final annual trip (as far as we know) doing mission work in Santiago.

I’m most looking forward to see some students I made pals with on the first trip: Yorniel and his sister Yerling. Yorniel’s a joker. The other kids call him “Coco” (crazy).

Too Cool to Sing Jesus Songs

My first year he was “too cool” to sing Jesus songs. My second year he was crying at the alter call.

Weird Things like Alter Calls

For readers unfamiliar with Christianeze, an “alter call” is a common closing to a pastor’s message where he calls listeners to come forward as a physical response to the message or sermon he gave from the bible.

It usually means the person who walks forward has made a decision to believe the gospel and wants to receive Jesus’ atonement for sin and gain a new eternal life.

Spiritual Conversations in Spanish

A translator helped me ask Yorniel why he was crying. He told me the pastor’s words made something inside his heart hurt, and so he came out to the soccer field.

While I’ve had several conversations with nonbelievers about Jesus and Christianity, I’ve never really “lead” anyone to a decision for Christ. So I wasn’t really prepared with much to say to Yorniel.

Jesus Hurts

But then I thought of my own experience and shared with Yorniel that I too hurt when I saw how disgusting my secret self was in comparison to what God created me to be.

Then He Heals

But then I shared that the awesome thing is believing Jesus took the punishment for our wrongness brings healing. It fixes a broken relationship. And then we become friends with the creator of the universe. After our talk, Yorniel gave me a hug.

While Yorniel’s community is not full of a ton of positive Christian influence, I am interested to see where he’s at after last year.

If nothing else, his story reminds me of the heart of redemption and why I believe in Christianity.

“Of Corn Shocks and Rabbits”

Sorry if you’re not a “poem person,” but I took a poetic approach this week. My poem was inspired by Grant Wood’s “January” (that guy who painted those funny farmers in American Gothic).

(Image: Grant Wood’s “January” – 67 x 83 cm, oil on canvas. Created in 1940, Wood was about 49 years old [died at 51 of pancreatic cancer]). 


“Of Corn Shocks and Rabbits”

By Michael B. Colling 

Endless rows of snow-covered corn shocks, frozen
in formation. January’s cold breath blackens the
sky. Yellow stalks twine upwards like nomadic
tepees. And he, and you, and I. We are Nomads.

My layers of corn – stalks of cereal bowls, comic
strips, and yearbooks; husks of hospital visits, haircuts
and hyperthyroid; shucks of sisters-in-law, Christmas, and
crappy cars; strands of careers, laughter and cancer – I bundle

them together. But hoarfrost crippled my corn
shock bones. Beneath pale yellow ribs:
thu-thump, thu-thump. Something inside I fear
to release. And he, and you, and I. We are Afraid.

Corn shock cracks. A rabbit hops onto the belly of snow,
grazes a transcendent terrain. Footprints puncture the frozen
flesh of January. When Nomadic Tent is abandoned,
a Fearless Rabbit trots towards Eternal Hills.

South Korean International Student on Dating, School, and Kimchi

After graduating from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Brockport in 2013, I taught English to 67 freshmen for a 9-week summer semester at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, South Korea.

That’s where I met my student and friend Dahee. After completing the English program at HUFS, Dahee transferred to SUNY Brockport as an international student.

When she’s not visiting NYC, Las Vegas, and other hot spots around the globe, I have her teach me more about South Korean culture.

Watch as Dahee explains 14-hour school days, mandatory military duty, couples dressing alike, and other interesting topics about South Korea.

Drawings and the Journey of Marriage

Today a friend I watched grow up and join the U.S. Navy, Lil’ Inman (Daniel), is marrying the talented writer he introduced to my workplace, Grace.

Daniel raised chickens, shared my affinity for Dragon Ball Z, and was always a chill dude no matter what situation – a true American fit for service. Over the year and a half I worked with his wife-to-be, I also discovered some of Grace’s unique qualities:

  1. She hates frogs
  2. She hates dogs
  3. She thinks TV and movies are boring
  4. She has an unhealthy obsession with ALEX AND ANI bracelets
  5. (And, most importantly,) She supports my drawings

These five traits inspired a comic I drew for Grace’s birthday earlier this year. In honor of their wedding day, I’d like to share it with you. Please join me in celebrating the newlyweds and enjoy “The Journey of Marriage.”

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My Brother Made a Kid

I don’t get babies.

They all look the same with their pudgy, squishy arms and legs, and disproportionate skulls. Yet they drive people wild.

Since the rise of social media, I became aware of the supreme addiction people have for babies. Whenever someone pops out a baby, a hundred thousand photos of the kid are uploaded to Facebook.

I used to think, “Well, we’ve already seen a hundred thousand pudgy squish things a month ago, so people will probably ‘unfollow’ this friend for a while.” But no. Even more likes, shares, and comments explode my newsfeed.

Then I met my nephew.

Ben was the first of my brothers to have a baby. I can’t say my nephew Henri’s pudgy squishiness is much different than other babies, but my eyes did widen when I looked down to meet the tiny, breathing human fathered by someone I used to fight over pizza with.

Henri’s helping me understand babies.

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