Wednesday, August 9, 2017

the prodigal son

i have a private journal.  when i'm really mad... or confused... i write in that one instead of my blog.  my private journal is full of irrational thoughts and bad theology.  it contains a lot of "why God's" and maybe even some complaining and whining.  its also full of grammatical errors and misspellings since it doesn't have spell check and i can't go back and edit it :)

one of its entries came a couple months ago when one of our rhinos quit the academy.  it wasn't just "any rhino."  it was robin.  he's like my son.  if you've ever visited us in guatemala, you know him.  even you follow this blog at all, you know him.  his dad died when he was little.  he's practically lived in our home for the last 7-8 years.

after it all went down i didn't want to talk about it with anyone.  it hurt too bad.  i took it personally.  i was offended.  the way he left was dumb and rebellious, and he wouldn't listen to anyone.  my 4yr old daughter cried for days.  jake was crushed.  kerrie cried too.  so did i.  robin was our son and our brother...

he didn't seem to care.  weeks turned into more than a month and we never heard from him.  people told me he was drinking and smoking in the street.  i wanted to go save him.  but based on the way he left, i knew that wouldn't work.  he needed space.  all we could do was pray.

today my heart is full.  last night, in a reproduction of the story of the prodigal son (luke 15:11-32), robin came home.  humble and broken, he explained that the "street life" only left him sad and miserable.  he said his heart has never been at peace and he feels hopeless all the time.  joyfully (and thankfully!), i told him thats because the spirit of God lives in him, and the holy spirit clashes with sin.  he said that when he prays he feels like God pushes him to come back to the Rhinos, but he's been too embarrassed.

but last night, he finally mustered up the courage.  he was nervous and uncomfortable.  but as he told me he was sorry with tear-filled eyes, and asked if he could come back home... the story of the prodigal son rushed to my mind.  after a long talk, i welcomed robin back with open arms, and we hugged father-son style.  in that moment, all i could think of to tell him was - this is what the grace of Jesus is.  He always forgives us, and always welcomes us back home.

you can imagine my joy when i received the above image from someone who forwarded me robin's facebook post from last night.  if extending him grace makes him thankful for the cross, we're doing our job!


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

our luciana: 4-6 hours to live, psalm 91

not sure where to even start.  how do you know your 4 year old has appendicitis?  even worse, that her appendix has burst?

apparently its almost impossible to know.  after going through the emotions of feeling guilty that we were clueless, kerrie and i have been reading more about appendicitis in young children.  its just almost impossible to know.  in fact, its one one of the most misdiagnosed sicknesses by doctors.  most children under 6 who experience a ruptured appendix have already been treated and sent home by a health professional.

as was the case with us.  here's our story...

last weekend, our 4 year old luciana was experiencing stomach pain.  we live in guatemala: parasites, amoebas, intestinal infections, and diarrhea is simply a part of normal life!

so we did the typical "suck it up" for a couple days... but it didn't go away.  by tuesday we took her to our friend dr. norma. because luci had a UTI back in february, dr. norma assumed it was the same thing.  so while we waited for the stool sample results to come back, we started her on medicine.

wednesday, she was back to her old self.  she had a friend over, and was running around crazy all day. she even had soccer practice that night.

but thursday she woke up in terrible pain.  for a couple of hours straight, she cried and complained of serious pain in her stomach.  it was different... we could tell.  honestly, i could just see it in her face.  something else was wrong.

kerrie called dr. norma again.  she was definitely concerned, asked us to please take luci to get some blood work done.  before we even made it to the car, luci threw up.  on the way, kerrie texted dr. norma to tell her what had happened.  she called right back...  "you need to get to a hospital, it could be her appendix."

there we were...  driving down the road, not sure where to even go.  even though we've lived in guatemala 9 years, and have plenty of doctor friends, we weren't sure where to go in this situation.  we decided to try a new hospital in a shopping center that we go to occasionally.  a good friend of ours had had a good experience there, and it seemed nice...  so thats where we decided to go.

by the time we got there luciana had taken a turn for the worse.  she was on fire (104+).  she had the chills.  she was in and out of consciousness, was breathing super fast, and her heart rate seemed to be racing.

ever have one of those moments where you are "being strong" out of necessity, then you see someone you love and you just lose it?  thats what happened next - when during all the commotion, our friends mark and gina walked into the hospital.  kerrie just started crying.  its so good to have people with you during times like this...

after blood tests, x-rays, and an ultrasound, we were finally told that luci's appendix had burst some time earlier.  the ultrasound showed the liquids from the intestinal contents had spread through her entire stomach, and immediate operation was necessary.  (later on we read more about what happens when an appendix bursts, and realized just how dangerous of a situation luci was in.)

it seems foggy thinking back on it, but i remember when the 2 surgeons approached me to say they were leaving to prepare for the surgery, i asked them if they were christians.  (not that they had to be christians in order for me to let them do the surgery.  i would have trusted whoever God provided!)  it was just simply what came out of my mouth at the time.  they looked awkwardly at each other, and i asked again "do you guys know jesus?  cause you are about to go inside my daughter's stomach and i need to know that you trust jesus."

they graciously said something like "yes, of course we do."  and they were off to prepare for surgery...

then the anesthesiologist came in to explain what was next.  he couldn't even get luci to respond.  she was basically unconscious.  he was so kind and sincere in the way he expressed his concerns.  he quickly told us the dangers in giving a child pain medication when their stomach hurts.  he said it masks the pain, and tricks the child into thinking they are fine.  thats why luci seemed to be fine on wednesday...

just before surgery. we realized later it looks like she is praying!
just a few minutes later, we were standing in the operating room.

they only let me get to a certain point, and i had about 2 minutes alone with luci before they took her off.  i explained what was going on, and prayed with her - asking God to make her the bravest girl in the world.  she then asked me if i'd be there with her during the surgery.  i told her "no baby, but God will be there with you, and he sent this nice men to help you."  she took a big "try not to cry breath" and said "ok."  i kissed her, and a nurse wheeled her off.

before they entered the operating room, i was able to pray with both the anesthesiologist as well as the surgeon.  my heart was racing and my prayers were quick, but i asked God to guide their hands and minds and thanked Him for putting these good men in our life for this exact moment.

then the door closed.  silence.  again, i can't even begin to say how wonderful it is to share these moments with friends.  we prayed, read scripture, and i think even found a way to laugh at one point. the holy spirit was with us as we waited.  i could feel His presence!

i had texted some people asking to spread the word and to please pray with us.  we could feel those prayers as well.  we were nervous, but there was calm and peace as we waited.

i didn't say i was calm...  i was pacing the floor, praying and singing!  for the last half hour of the surgery, i waited outside the operating room doors and read psalm 91 over and over in different versions of both spanish and english.  one version had verses 1-4 written like this:

You can go to God Most High to hide.
    You can go to God All-Powerful for protection.
I say to the Lord, “You are my place of safety, my fortress.
    My God, I trust in you.”
God will save you from hidden dangers
    and from deadly diseases.
You can go to him for protection.
    He will cover you like a bird spreading its wings over its babies.
    You can trust him to surround and protect you like a shield.

the word of God is so perfect.  i had only gone to psalm 91 because we had read it that very morning in our daily devotion with the boys in our house.  coincidence?  of course not.  these are the precious and subtle joys of following Jesus.

finally luci was out of surgery.  dr. salazar said it went well.  he said her appendix was between 2-3 times larger than its original size.  that, based on the size of the hole where it exploded, and the amount of poisonous intestinal fluid in her stomach, led him to think she only had between 4-6 hours to live.

dr. salazar said he believed they had cleaned all of the organs from the fluid that escaped, and he was hopeful that she would not have any complications.  he did, however, warn me that complications are somewhat common and she would need to spend at least 3 days in the hospital to be closely monitored.

that night was one of the most difficult of my life.  we could not control the pain.  luci was miserable - screaming at the top of her lungs "my stomach!" all night long.  just typing those words takes me back to the terrifying way that she was screaming it.

this went on all night.  they upped her pain medication, even gave her an injection.  it helped for about 10 minutes - then back to screaming.  i walked around her bed for hours, praying and claiming the promises from psalm 91.  kerrie tried to comfort her, praying and softly singing in her ear "this we know" by kristian stanfill, and "what a beautiful name" by hillsong.

a couple times during the night i googled stuff like "complications after appendix removal in kids".  that was a mistake!  my mind raced.  there are so many things that can go wrong.  i began fearing the worst.  then God would bring me back, asking me...  "who do you trust?"

i knew from what i was reading, and from what we have literally experienced with several people here in our village, that dying from a burst appendix is a very real possibility.  at one point i actually fell to my knees and promised God that if it is was his will to take my daughter home to be with Him, i would love Him and follow Him just the same.  but then i begged Him not to do it.

one of kerrie and my favorite memories looking back on it all (it actually brings us to tears thinking about) is during this time of miserable pain, luci would sing.  we would put on her favorite song "what a beautiful name" (in the spanish version "hermoso nombre").  as it played in the background, luci would sing as loud as she could while she was crying.  honestly it was one of the those powerful expressions of faith that just rocks you to the core.  i wondered if she had learned that from our friend cesar - who sings out to God with all his heart, while suffering in pain, every single time we see him.

after an entire night of this (around 7 hours), she yelled that she needed to go to the bathroom.  before we could even get the tray to the bed, she had started to go.  she peed, and peed, and peed.  when she finished, she sat up, smiled, and said "wow... that feels soooo good."  

she looked up at us and smiled.  she laid back down and started singing whatever song was playing on my phone.  then she said, again, "ahhh... that feels good."

maybe a little hesitant to "celebrate prematurely" kerrie and i just waited.  after a few minutes, luci sat back up, and asked to look at book.  we finally lost it.  its been a while since I've cried like that...

doc told us later that following the surgery, luci's internal organs just weren't working properly.  her bladder was over-full with unbearable pressure, but her system couldn't do anything about it.  he told us how much that hurts, and praised God with us that eventually her organs responded.  we simply believe God answered our prayers (and so many of yours' who prayed with us).  just like it says in psalm 91, He hid her from deadly diseases, and covered her with His protection...

luci has been recuperating ever since.  she's a little sore from the 3 openings where the surgery was performed.  but she hasn't taken any pain medication since leaving the hospital.  (this seems crazy if you read about kids recovering from appendix surgery.)  but doc said to take the pain medicine "as needed" and luci hasn't needed it so far.

late sunday morning, dr. salazar came by to check on luciana before releasing her from the hospital.  as he was turning to walk out the door, luci yelled out "but i want to give you a hug!"  because luci isn't normally one to do that kind of thing, i looked at kerrie and simultaneously our eyes filled up with tears.

luci and dr. salazar
we believe that luci knew in her heart that God sent dr. salazar to help her.  and since 4 year olds don't say "listen, i want to thank you for all you've done for me.  i truly believe God put you in my life for a reason"...  she just hugged him.   believe me when i say, his face lit up with joy!  i bet luci's hug was the best thank you he had ever received.

just tonight as we were retelling the story to a friend, luci was off to the side listening.  after a couple minutes, she came over to sit in my lap and whispered in my ear "God saved me papi, and he's with me right now."  man, i just know with all my heart that God is going to do amazing things through this girl.

we live in a third world country.  we don't have health insurance.  but we have faith in a mighty God!  part of luciana's testimony will always be that when she was 4 years old God saved her life in a guatemalan hospital after her appendix burst.

i pray God gives her a looooong life so she can use that story (and many more!) as a way to point as many people as possible to His love, faithfulness, and salvation.

team of doctors and nurses who cared for luci for 4 days

Thank you to all of you who prayed for our baby girl in our time of need.  Your prayers, text messages, and emails gave us sweet encouragement.  We love you!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

july 2017: updates in pictures

Life Mission Projects
with the young men who are living with us in our home and participating in the one-year leadership program, we recently did a very special project.  after completing a 6-month bible study we've been doing every morning, each of the boys worked for 2 weeks on their "life mission" project, then presented it to the group.  the project included big themes, such as envisioning your "future self" and sharing who you hope he is (as a man, father, husband)...  choosing and explaining your "life verses"... writing out what you hope might be said about you after you die, or even written on your tombstone, and much more.  it was a very personal project!  each young man presented for about 20 minutes and its fair to say there were plenty of tears shared together :)

Alex & Rosibel
we continue to mentor the marriage of rosibel and alex ("pastor") mendez.  both have been like our own children over the years, and its pretty special to see them as a young married couple and as parents.  like many of us did, they are stumbling through it :) but overall doing great.  this picture is
from their daughter madison's 1st birthday.

Los Rinos
the Rhinos have had a great 11v11 season so far.  we've played in various tournaments all over guatemala.  between several injuries, and some boys leaving the program, we've had to play short-handed, but its been a fantastic opportunity for guys to step up.  we couldn't be happier with how the boys are playing.

as usual, we will always come across teams who may be bigger and more talented, but we rarely find a team that can "run" with us.  full pressure for 90 straight minutes keeps us in a lot of games where we are otherwise outmatched.  RhinoStrong!

we're getting ready to switch to 5v5, which is very popular in guatemala.  we'll be joining some tournaments that typically play every friday night or saturday morning, which is always fun.

Little Rhinos
every wednesday night, mynor (along with axel, allan, nicho, jake, or whoever else can help) coaches our little rhinos.  open to the young kids (ages 4-8) in the village, sometimes we have 4 kids and sometimes 15!  its always a treat to see these little chicos & chicas running around, learning to play soccer, and having a blast.

Cesar & Andrea
our friends cesar and andrea continue fighting the good fight. cesar's condition continues to take away his bodily functions, but nothing ever touches his zeal for life.  always clinging to God's word for his daily strength, he remains an inspiration to all who meet him.  recently we've been able to open up his room with a large sliding glass door so he can see outside... build andrea a washing station outside (to allow more room for him to be carried in and out of the bathroom), fix their drainage system, and upgrade their TV and stereo.  cesar LOVES to listen to worship music.  one of the more powerful representations of joy in suffering you'll ever witness happens daily in florencia park, as at times during the day you can stop to hear the sounds of cesar garcia's voice praising Jesus with all of his might.  God has been so faithful to answer the only "me prayer" I've ever heard cesar pray (and its not really even a "me prayer"):  God, if its your will, please allow me to keep my voice so i can sing your praises until my very last breath.

Style Family Visit
we were recently visited by our friends the style family.  we had a great time together with the rhinos, out in the village, and at lake atitlan in panajachel.  i love how much they desire to be with the boys, get to know them deeper, and be invested in their lives.  such a mixture of laughs and tears when they come to town!  as always - thanks for the visit...

Johnson Family Vacation
we recently returned home from a big family reunion vacation.  my side of the family tries to do something together every 2-3 years... this year we went to riviera maya, mexico!

we had a blast...  swimming, surfing, 4-wheeling in the jungle, swimming in underground caves, and best of all just being together.  big thanks to mimi & papa for making it happen, and for insisting that we do this every few years!  our families are spread out all over the place, and its always so great when we can all come together.

Blanca Suzanna
for those who have been connected with our guatemala ministry since the beginning, you'll remember that name - blanca suzanna.  we met blanca when she was 13 years old.  (please watch this video about her story, made in 2009).  suffering from rape and abuse from a young age, she has now grown into a loving young mother.  today she is 22 years old, and we just recently signed her home and land over from my name into hers.  a very special moment, and a little surreal, as it took us back down memory lane!  i can't help but remember blanca in her beautiful blue quinceñera dress when she turned 15...

Prosthetic leg for Aldo
thanks for our friends at Conpassion Christian Church for sending our friend David Puckett from Savannah, GA.  david spend a few days with us recently and gave his time and expertise to build a prosthetic leg for Aldo.  in just a couple days, he was able to have Aldo up on his feet for the first time.  when Aldo took his first step (and all of erupted in applause) his dad Leonardo was overcome with emotion.  it was a powerful example of a father's love for his boy - and of our Father's love for us.

Fun with the Rhinos
despite tragedies, challenges, and all of the emotional ups and downs that come with this life, we try to "keep things light" as often as we can.  as dirty, mischievous, and full of nonsense that these boys are, they can absolutely light up your day!  today they were trying to tell us they needed to miss the following day in the academy because of dance practice for a school play.  we said they could only miss if they could prove to us that they could dance.  i'll let you decide...


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

aldo is home!

aldo came home yesterday.  it was special to be down in aldo's house, late at night with a bunch of the rhino's, when the truck arrived from the hospital.  about 10 of us lit up the dark path with our cell phone flashlights, yelling and clapping, as aldo's dad, brother in-law, and mynor carried him down the path and into his house.

i think aldo felt pretty special to come home to such a big welcome.

his parents have been amazing.  in a village where so much abuse and family disfunction is the norm, this family is truly unique.  first off, they haven't asked us for a thing.  secondly, aldo's dad has been working overtime to save money for the things he knew aldo would be needing.

he was able to buy a refrigerator to store the medicine, drinks and cold wraps that aldo needs.  he also had aldo's floor TILED in order to help keep it clean and bacteria free!

the family repainted aldo's room and put a big welcome home sign on the wall.  instead of treating aldo like a burden, they wanted him to feel loved and appreciated.  once aldo made it into his room, his dad's words almost brought us all to tears.  he thanked us for all the support.  he told aldo how special he was, and promised him that he can do anything he wants with his life.

finally, after mynor opened up with an encouragement to aldo and his family, all the rhinos began to share.  i stood amazed as they shared their love for aldo, promises from God's word, and assurances that they would be there for him every step of the way.

together with aldo after arriving home from the hospital
i will never forget what aldo's mom told me back when i visited him in the hospital.  she said how thankful she was that aldo had joined the academy right before the accident.  when i asked why, she explained that before aldo became a rhino, he didn't have many friends.  she said "but now he has a big group of friends to help him through this."

aldo lost his right leg and his left arm.  there's no doubt its going to be a long road ahead.

but his mom is right.  aldo is a rhino forever, and he's got a huge group of friends standing beside him all the way.  like it says on our gym wall...  juntos todo es possible 

Friday, July 7, 2017

they're dead. God protected them?

was listening to a john piper sermon from 1985 this morning... titled "ambushing satan with song."  wow.  what an inspiring reminder of the power of worship through music.

jehoshaphat.  david.  paul and silas.  martin luther.  jim elliot.

these aren't stories of people merely singing along with the worship team on sunday mornings.  this is real, true, prayerful, confident, miraculous, proud, unashamed, crying out to our creator God in song.

elizabeth elliot and her daughter valerie living with the Aucas
the 39 year old piper (now 71) ended his message with a beautiful perspective on an event that could easily be considered a "tragedy" if looked at from a worldly standpoint.  its the story of jim elliot and his four buddies who were brutally killed while attempting to take the message of Jesus to the Auca indians of ecuador.

jim and his friends had heard that the Aucas were a violent unreached tribe who had never had contact from the world outside the amazon.  while jim never had the chance to personally share the gospel with the Aucas, his widowed wife and young daughter soon returned to the tribe who killed their husband and dad.  there, along with another one of the widowed wives, they led many in the tribe to a relationship with Jesus, including some of the very men who carried out the violent killings.

here's the end of piper's message on the power of song:

"January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other young missionaries approached the jungle edge where the Auca Indians lived. Their last recorded act according to Jim's wife, Elizabeth Elliot, was to sing a hymn together:
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day thy grace to know,
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
We rest on thee, and in thy name we go!
All five of them were killed that day, before 4:30 in the afternoon. 
And God... protected them.  (5 long seconds of silence)
He protected them from unbelief. 
And cowardice.  And from fear.
And from going home and buying a house in the suburbs...  and from saying 'somebody else can reach the Aucas.'
There was victory on that afternoon, and it has reverberated for 30 years and it will continue right on into eternity.
We have two great weapons in worship: the Word of God and song. So let us give heed to the Word of God and let us sing with all our heart."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

jake committed to play soccer at JU

coach ruiz and marshall talking to jake in the locker room 
when we left for guatemala 9 years ago, Jake had just turned 7.  but even at that young age, we knew he was a gifted athlete.  it actually broke my heart to take him out of basketball and baseball, knowing that he would not be able to play those sports in guatemala! 

not long after living here, he began playing soccer.  it didn't take long for his preferred language to shift to spanish, and his preferred sport to shift to futból.  under the last 7 years of coach Mynor Leiva's training with Los Rinos, he has developed into a great player.  he was recruited by FIFA guatemala's U17 national team as a 14 year old (now shut down because of corruption!), and is currently being recruited by the professional team Los Tigres (U18s).  but Jake wants to go to college before seeing what God has for him next.  and because of limited exposure in the US, we figured he would have to "walk-on" in order to play collegiate soccer.  our hope would be that after his first year he could be awarded a scholarship.

JU athletic departement weight room
sometimes God surprises us with sweet and unexpected blessings.  we were visited a couple years ago in guatemala by a couple that was interested in partnering with us, as their non-profit uses soccer to help young people around the world.  it turned out the husband was a head coach for an NCAA Division 1 soccer program.  after seeing Jake play a couple times as a 15yr old, he offered him a scholarship to come play for him!  even better, since then, the Ruiz's have become great friends.  i was even able to share about Christ at their wedding last year, which was a tremendous honor.

jake with coaches leiva, marshall and ruiz
next fall, Jake will report to training camp (and classes, haha) at Jacksonville University!  we were able to visit the campus recently, and get a personal tour of facilities by head coach Mauricio Ruiz, and assistant coach Armante Marshall.  even more special, Coach Leiva was able to be in jacksonville to share the special day - which also happened to take place on Jake's 16th birthday.  we couldn't be prouder of him - he has truly worked his tail off to get to this point.

he'll live only a few minutes away from his sisters, and not far from his grandparents and other family and friends. we could not feel more blessed.  considering how we thought we were sacrificing Jake's sports career when we moved, this is one of those moments where we praise God for his matthew 6:33 promise: "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."

Monday, July 3, 2017

iraq trip

erbil citadel - less than 50 mi from mosul
recently we were able to visit the country of iraq, where christianity is on the verge of extinction. 

iraq is a country of extreme persecution of christians, where proselytizing or leading a muslim away from islam can lead to the death penalty.  in addition, ISIS and other radical islamic terrorist groups have caused the few remaining iraqi christians to flee the country.  the country of iraq, one of the origins of the christian faith, is in desperate need of the gospel.

while we were in iraq, we were amazed by the work of the christian missionaries we met.  so inspired by their willingness to risk it all in such a hostile place, simply so that one more person may come to faith and freedom in Jesus!  we visited a local christian church, refugee camps full of both syrians and displaced iraqi's, local markets, and local soccer fields.  we're extremely grateful to our friends the lawrence's for hosting us and showing us around.  it was a life changing experience, and we are excited to help share about the hope of Jesus with the iraqi people in the future. 

local christian church in kurdistan
to read a little more about the current state of christianity in iraq, the following is an excerpt from a fox news interview with andrew white from may 2017.  he is the founder of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation Middle East, and is also one of last christian leaders to have openly worked in baghdad.

He is one of the world’s most prominent priests, but Canon Andrew White – known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” – has reached a painstaking conclusion: Christianity is all but over in the land where it all began.
“The time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some stay Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited,” White told Fox News this week. “The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough.”
Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. Numbers have continued to decline as families flee, and today even approximate figures are difficult to obtain.
“If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help,” he said. “And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot – food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”
For decades, Christians endured persecution in Iraq by hardline extremists as infidel “people of the book” – but their fate became significantly more dire in 2014 after ISIS overran Mosul and the many ancient Christian villages surrounding the city. Thousands of families overnight were forced to flee their home, and while some have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish region, many have left the country altogether.
taken from the balcony of the home of one of the christian missionaries we visited.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


please join us in fervent prayer for Aldo and his family.

Aldo is a new rhino.  he came into the program in the end of march.  we knew right away he was different.

we had a couple of open roster spots on our varsity team, so we offered a tryout for anyone 16-17 years old in the village.  mynor and i wondered why we had never met this kid.  Buena Vista is a small place, but Aldo didn't even look familiar.

turns out, Aldo travels to a nearby town (santa lucia) for school.  somehow as he was growing up, we just never met him.  he's a pretty quiet kid, so i'm guessing he didn't bang around on the playground or hang in the street much.

when we later met his family, we were truly impressed with the way his father was committed to sacrificing their family money in order to pay for Aldo to go to a private school in santa lucia.  practically unheard of in our village...

even though we've only had Aldo in the program for 2 months, you get to know someone pretty well when you spend every day with them.  Aldo is kind, respectful, and intelligent.  just a sweet and solid kid.

about 10 days ago, while my family was traveling overseas, a terrible accident happened.  

Aldo had left the academy after practice/tutoring, and wasn't feeling very well.  he went home to rest, but before laying down he went out to get some grass for his cow to eat.  he climbed a tree and started cutting off some brush with his machete.  his little brother was with him...

the machete made contact with some high voltage wires that were running from a nearby cell tower, and in an instant Aldo's body was completely fried.

it is a miracle that he is alive.  by the time he made it to a local hospital, emergency measures were taken to save his life.  his left arm was amputated, and a few days later his right leg.

we were devastated when we heard the news.  we had already been dealing with some very difficult circumstances within our academy, and were on the other side of the world.  the news of Aldo was overwhelming.

back home, mynor and walda were handling things the best they could.  mynor visited the hospital right way and said Aldo was unrecognizable.  he was unresponsive, and being kept alive on a breathing machine.  the doctors did not know whether he would make it or not.

mynor later received a call from Aldo's dad.  at this time, only his arm had been amputated.  his dad said "i have great news!  first, they had to amputate one of my son's legs."  mynor was shocked.  this was not good news at all.  but Aldo's dad went on...  "but they finally took Aldo off the machines, and he is breathing on his own!  he also opened his eyes and recognized me for the first time!"

to give a picture of how unique this is...  in our little village of Buena Vista, if you are disabled in any way (mentally or physically) you are considered an "invalido".  literally, invalid.  even your own family and friends consider you "cursed" - punished by God - and from that point on you become like a town leper.  ignored, made fun of, and cast out.  this is such a brutal place.

which is why the way Aldo's family is handling this is so amazing.  they are rallying around their son, and brother.  they are loving him, encouraging him, praying for him - and celebrating the "bright side" of the situation.  may God bless them!

here with the rhinos, we are doing our best to walk our boys through such a tough time.  it has been a heavy situation for sure.  they are sad and confused.  some of the questions have been:  why Aldo?  why not one of the boys who has left us and stabbed us in the back?  why not someone who is a bad person?  why would God allow this to someone who had so much going for them?

while there are good biblical answers to these questions, the answers make less sense in the context and culture that we live in.  its just hard to explain.  and for now, thats ok.  what we are primarily focussed on is praying for Aldo, and preparing to welcome him home with so much love and joy that it would be impossible for him to feel rejected.  we want him to feel the unconditional love of Jesus through all of us - his team, friends, church, and family. 

would you please join us in praying for Aldo's delicate heart?  right now, his experiences growing up in BV are no doubt leading him to assume the worst about his life going forward.  pray for God to protect his mind and heart from such evil.  pray for him to find his worth in the coming weeks and months in his identity in Christ!  pray for his body.  pray for his family.  pray for all of us going forward...

having had Aldo with us for only a couple months, we aren't sure where exactly he is when it comes to his salvation or his relationship with Jesus.  we are praying that this tragedy would draw him close, not far.  we pray that despite the cruel circumstances, he would come to know how much Jesus loves him.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;  perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken;  struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Thursday, April 13, 2017

refuse to sell-out this easter

don't sell-out this easter.

don't hijack the holiday.

don't fall for the exchange.

the world would have you trade the extravagant love expressed through the bloody, beaten, jesus on the cross...  and the glorious empty tomb that represents victory over death...  for a bunch of nonsense.

i'm not judging you.  its up to every christian what to participate in (and what not to) when it comes to this stuff.  for sure, our family's approach to christian holidays has developed over time.

however, i do plead this of you:  don't sell-out.  don't fall for it.  don't confuse your kids.  don't make this glorious weekend about the easter bunny, easter eggs, new clothes, and horrendous bonnets.

don't give such value to something that doesn't deserve it.

as christians, why can't this weekend be about celebrating jesus and nothing more?  why do we have to add anything else?  why water down the best story in the history of the world?

after (willingly) bearing all of our sin... and (willingly) accepting an inhumane and barbaric death...  a glorious exchange was made.  his perfect and sinless life - for our forgiveness, freedom, and salvation.  3 days later he overcame death, allowing us to be born again to the living hope in Christ Jesus!  1 peter 1:3

amazingly, the book of isaiah (ch 53), written over 700 years before the birth of Jesus, prophesied his death and resurrection in detail.  the fact that, from the very beginning, this was God's plan to save the world is nothing short of astounding.

how he watched his son being crushed, spit on, beaten, and tortured is beyond me.  why was it necessary?  couldn't there have been another way to make an exchange for our sin?  some other way that we could attain forgiveness and salvation?

the fact is- all of us deserve wrath and punishment for our sin.  God in his infinite grace provided a way for his wrath to be avoided; a way for us to be reconciled to him.  the Way?  through the sacrificial death of his son Jesus as the payment for our sins.  it is through faith in him, as the perfect sacrifice, that we can be reconciled to God.  its only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that a sinner deserving of hell can be saved.

the wonderful truth of the gospel is that christians are saved from punishment, not because "we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." 1 john 4:10

and we get more excited about chocolate bunnies??????

lets not get distracted!  our God is a jealous God.  i can't imagine that he'd be pleased when we justify the celebration of his death and resurrection (the most important accomplishment in the history of the world, and the foundation of everything we live for), with easter eggs and new dress clothes.

don't do it.


here's a few resources for celebrating easter:
1. luke 24
2. 1 peter 1:3
3. romans 5:8
4. john 3:16
5. isaiah 53
6. 1 corinthians 11:23-26
1. The Passion of the Christ
2. The Bible Miniseries, Episodes 9&10 (Mark Burnett)
3. The Son of God (Chris Spencer)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

mimi and papa

anyone who knows my folks would describe them as genuine, down to earth, kind, and generous.  but another one of my favorite things about them is how they have always loved my friends as if they were their own kids.  i first started talking notice of it when i was in middle school and high school.

we lived in a deep southern town that was basically 50% black and 50% redneck.  (sorry lake cityans, but its pretty true.)  when i was a kid, i actually saw the kkk march down main street.  we even had people burn crosses in our front yard.  lake city, florida was a tough place in the late 80's - early 90's, and i was right in the middle of the racial conflict.

as one of the only white kids on the basketball team, many of my closest friends were black.  i stayed over at their house, and they came over to mine.  so many great memories.  i loved those guys.

the first time i had a bunch of my friends from the team over to my house to stay the night, i wondered if my parents would be uncomfortable.  after all, we had just moved from dallas, texas where we lived in an area where there were very few black people.  before that, we lived in boise idaho, where, during those days you could go years without seeing a black person!

so i just didn't know how it would go.  soon, my 12 or so buddies were all over the house...  running around, playing basketball, jumping on the trampoline, swimming, diving in the fridge, etc.  i remember waking up around 2 or 3 in the morning to a bunch of noise, and walking downstairs to see what was up.  my dad was playing poker with a few of the guys and they were having so much fun, laughing so hard.  i remember thinking to myself... my pops is a pretty cool guy.

after high school, my dad made a commitment to follow jesus.  the man who was once a hardcore disciplinarian, started to become a softie.  his heart changed.  he loved my mom differently.  when i came home from college he would hug me differently.  everyone in my family knew this change was real.

life has taken all kinds of twists and turns since then.  as i have followed God all over the place, my parents (although sometimes reluctantly!) have been very supportive.  even the year we moved to pennsylvania with the schmidt family and my folks thought we had joined some kind of cult (haha), it wasn't long before they were loving the schmidt's as if they were their own.

they have always welcomed (practically adopted) my friends into the family, no questions asked.  from my black youth basketball team 25 years ago all the way to my 30 guatemalan boys today... and every white, asian, black, and latino friend in between.

my parents & their neighbors with the leivas in florida
recently, some friends of ours here in guatemala, the leivas, went to florida on vacation.  my folks offered their place to stay, stocked up on groceries for them, gave them the keys to their car, took them out to eat, and honestly i don't even know what else.

when mynor came home and was telling me about it, he said to me, "brock, who loves like that?".

another friend of mine told me recently that my mom and dad are like the parents he never had.

some other best friends of ours have spent every easter sunday for the last 10 years at my parents house.  the crazy part about that story is that my own family hasn't been there for the last 9 years!

there are countless more stories.  helping out my friends when things are tight.  supporting their ministries.  giving them a place to stay.  giving them work.  they are 2nd parents and 2nd grandparents to many.  better put, they are simply "mimi and papa" to everyone.

all of my friends say the same thing - how much they love my parents.  but what touches my heart the most, is how much my parents love them.

a couple years ago, we took 15 boys from guatemala to the florida to play in a soccer tournament.  we were going to stay in a hotel, but our budget was too tight.  so we packed into my parents place instead.

we pulled into the driveway to find my parents and sisters waiting on the front porch with open arms.  my mom had bought each boy a bathing suit and a disposable camera.  they had borrowed enough sleeping bags and pillows that each boy had a nice place to sleep.

in charge of all the food, my mom was the first one up and the last one to bed.  before i crashed at the end of each long day, i will never forget what i heard each night as my mom walked back and forth from the kitchen.
bladimir at jax beach 2015

"te amo mimi", over and over, would break the silence of the quiet, dark house.

my mom would loud-whisper "te amo" back, and sometimes "te amo too", which of course would make them laugh.

keep in mind, this is not a group of boys that says "i love you" to their own parents.  nor do they hear it said to them - ever.

as all of the rhinos ran around my parents place, treating it like it was their own house for 6 straight days, i would sometimes just find myself in a daze, thinking about things.

one was how much mimi and papa love to give.  another was how little they care about their stuff, even though their stuff is very nice.

but i also thought about my high school basketball team sleepovers during the years of racial divide in lake city, florida.  i even thought of how my parents allowed me go sleep over at my black friends' homes (on the literal "other side of the tracks"), when i knew that other parents (and even our black head coach!) thought they were crazy.

among many other things, my folks taught me to treat everyone the same.  they taught to me how to love people.  and i am very thankful for that.

so to answer that question - "what kind of love is that?".  i think the way mimi and papa love is kind, patient, unselfish, sacrificial, and unconditional.

which sounds a lot like God's love for each one of us.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

luis: from pain to joy, part I

luis (far right) with his mom (left) and 3 of his siblings
i am starting a "series" on luis...  in prayerful anticipation that a beautiful story of pain-to-joy continues to unfold.  

at only 14 years old, luis has experienced more darkness in his life than you could imagine.

when he was 8 years old, he fell from a tree not far from his house.  he landed on another tree stump that was coming out of the ground, with ragged branches attached to it.  one of the branches pierced his stomach - went all the way through - and came out of his back.  when his mom approached the scene, a crowd had already gathered around luis' motionless body.  his intestines laid on the dirt next him.

an ambulance finally arrived, and the responders told luis' family that he was not going to make it.  somehow, miraculously, he survived.

around that same time, some of our friends who also live here in Buena Vista met luis' family and realized how malnourished the younger kids were.  they started them on a milk program to gain strength, and would regularly make deliveries of large bags of nutritious powdered milk.  

despite much success with other children in the milk program, these children were not gaining weight.  sadly, the baby died due to malnutrition.  it was soon discovered that luis' mom was selling the milk for drugs and/or alcohol.  her selfishness and neglect killed her own child.

luis' dad is quite the character.  he has another woman and other kids, and everyone knows it.  he is an abusive alcoholic, a womanizer, and an all around bad guy.  

when it was brought to light that luis' mom was HIV positive, our friends took her to a center in Antigua that helps underprivileged AIDS patients.  when the people there saw her paperwork, they told her that her husband's name looked familiar.  come to find out, he had been receiving treatment for his own HIV diagnosis for years, without telling his family.  he didn't care one bit that his wife and kids likely had the fatal disease as well.

soon another one of luis' younger siblings would die of AIDS.

in january of this year, when a tall lanky kid from lower Buena Vista made the final cut at tryouts for the Rhinos, i did not realize who he was.  not even a good soccer player, we decided to keep him because of his height - thinking maybe we could mold him into a goal keeper.  it wasn't until a week later that i connected who he was, and what family he was from.

so thats why God compelled us to keep him!

as i have gotten to know luis better over the last 3 months, its clear that he has been living in denial.  like any young man with a troubled past and broken home, he does not like to talk about it, or admit any of it.  he prefers to pretend that all is well.

a couple weeks ago as we were visiting his home, luis was playing tough guy - telling us how everything was great, his family is good, his dad is a great guy, and on an on.  after a while, and some direct pressing, he finally broke.  in front of his mom, and siblings, the truth started coming out.  he cried.  his mom cried.  we all prayed together.  

little by little, the light and truth of holy spirit will soften his heart.

i am so excited to have this young man in our academy.  i trust God brought him to us with specific purpose.  and i am believing the light of Jesus will someday fill his heart, his home, his future home, and his future family.  luis will one day know the God who promises to turn our sorrows into strength, our sadness to joy, and our tears to laughter! 

luis is embarrassed of the scars across his stomach and back, from his accident of 6 years ago.  everyone has told him that when his mom approached his lifeless body, she was drunk out of her mind.  she exploded into a tirade of crying, laughing, screaming, and cursing.  unconscious, luis obviously didn't see or hear any of that...  but he's heard so much about it from others that he feels like he saw it with his own eyes.   

no doubt, his scars are a reminder of his dark past.  of his deadbeat mom - a village addict and floozy whose neglect is basically responsible for the death of his little brother and sister.  without question, his scars represent much pain, brokenness, and sadness he has experienced in his short life.  

but as i told him recently, those scars should also serve as a reminder that JESUS SAVES.  let your scars not only remind you where you came from, but also point to where you are going.  let them remind you that God is Healer and Redeemer, and that he holds your life in his hands!

i told luis to be proud of his scars - show them to everyone!  and if people make fun of you, reminding you of how your mom acted that day...  welcome that conversation!  let it be a pathway to sharing how the whole world can abandon you, but God never does.

for luis and for all of us, let our scars be a bold reminder that God uses our suffering to glorify himself (1 peter 4:12-13), that he holds our future in his hands (jeremiah 29:11), that he never abandons us (deuteronomy 31:8), and that he has a wonderful and specific purpose for our lives (psalm 139:13-16).  

please pray for luis.  ask God to fill his heart, and to draw him to himself!  pray for us too, that we use wisdom and sensitivity as we point this young man to freedom and truth.

stories in pictures: World Sports United

we recently had a visit from our friends from World Sports United.  WSU is an organization that uses a passion for soccer to help meet needs in under privileged countries around the world.  

it was an incredible week! in addition to the obvious blessing that it was from a soccer standpoint (the team included a Division I head coach, current and former Division I players, former professional players, and current professional trainers), it was a special trip in many other was as well.  
here's some stories in pictures...

 after practice with allan and the junior varsity boys

after a full practice, and friendly game against the varsity boys

some close friends of ours recently suffered a great loss.  our friend lazaro (one of the first 12x12 homes we ever built in buena vista) unexpectedly passed away.  he left behind his wife carmen and her 9 kids.  with the WSU team, we were able to bring some encouragement and love to the family.  we painted their house inside and out with bright colors, brought new mattresses for all the beds, 100lbs of beans, 100lbs of corn, and a bunch of fruits, vegetables, pasta, milk, etc.  we also gave carmen a "lady's bag" full of sweet gifts that all women would appreciate, such as soft towels, earrings, slippers, lotions, etc.  despite the tough time they are going through, it was a special day that hopefully allowed them to feel loved by God and not forgotten.

kerrie and milena sharing the ladies gifts, and some laughs, with carmen and her daughters

eddie realized right away how big of a barcelona fan cesar was, and made his day by giving him his barca hat!  it was a very special morning with hermano cesar...

elder, jake, wisman, and cam during a tough workout out in the village.  the workout included a run through the mountains to a neighboring village, a hike up into another mountain, lugging firewood to a family in need, some soccer drills, and much more.  i think all the gringos would agree that everyone gained some respect for the physical condition of our rhinos!

eddie and his group carrying firewood through the village

after an early morning 5v5 game with some the guys...

coach ruiz doing his thing...

cam, jack, mauricio, and milena with our dear friends abuelito juanito and abuela delfina