Thursday, October 12, 2017

welcome fosters; my letter to your boys

first night in guatemala - oct 4, 2017 - welcome fosters!
last week, the fosters arrived on one-way tickets.  they'll spend the next 3 months with us in guatemala, then relocate to honduras early next year with jason and axel.  the next 90 days in guatemala will include an intense missionary training program, 3 hours per day of language school, and lots of rhino futbol for their 2 boys!

something has really struck me being around their family.  its that their boys are the exact same ages that my kids were when we arrived in the mission field in 2008.  jake had just turned 7, brooke was 10, and madi was 11.  in the foster's case, jackson is 7 and alek is 10.

jackson has had a couple tough moments since getting here last week.  nothing crazy, just normal stuff.  its not easy on a kid to leave his friends and family, switch culture's overnight, and have his world turned completely upside down.

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because of the age comparison, i'm going to use jackson (who is currently 7) and jake (who was 7 when we moved to guatemala) as examples in this post.  i could substitute alek, brooke, or madi's names just as easily (i am so proud of my girls)...  or any young kid who is either moving to the mission field, or who grew up in the mission field!

my letter of encouragement to jackson, and any other kid who follows mom and dad to the mission field.

brooke, madi, & jake - august, 2008 - first week in guatemala
dear jackson:

over 9 years ago, my son jake was you.

one day, he was surrounded by family and friends in his comfortable suburban home where he had grown up.  the next day, he woke up in a crazy new place, where no one looked like him or even talked like him.  it was dirty, chaotic, and strange...

his house "back home" was sweet - complete with carpet and air conditioning!  it had a big TV that played american shows in english.  the neighborhood was safe, clean, and even had sidewalks!  just a short jaunt through the community led to a beautiful swimming pool, basketball courts, and a pristine soccer field.  there was an ice-cream place, a pizza place, a publix, and just about everything else you could ask for... right around the corner!  and best of all - mimi, papa, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived just minutes away.

jake knows exactly how you feel, buddy.

when he was 7, we landed in guatemala without a clue what we were doing.  he didn't speak one word of spanish, and didn't know anybody.  we were wanderers.  strangers in a foreign land.

within a few months, jake was thrown into a local school where nobody spoke english.  his crazy parents dropped him and his sisters off every day at 7:30am and didn't come back until 2:30pm!  everyone in his class laughed at him and made fun of him.  back in the states, he was the coolest and funniest.  but here, he felt like a total outcast.

when his teacher made him read out loud, everyone laughed.  when he had to ask a question (like "can i please go to the bathroom?"), he would usually pronounce something wrong- and everyone would make fun of him.  one time, for weeks in a row, a kid kept telling him he was going to beat him up after school - just because he was a "gringo."

sometimes jake would come home and cry.  one time, he said "i don't understand a single word they say.  i feel like all i hear is the sound of bees buzzing...  all day long."

but his parents kept telling him about Jesus.  they showed him how Jesus was made fun of, laughed at, spit on, and ridiculed.  they showed jake in the bible where it says that if we want to be a follower of Jesus, we too have to be willing to be suffer and be made fun of.

God began to show jake that He had sent his son Jesus to earth to help people, but even those people didn't realize it.  they didn't think they needed help.  and that's why they were mean.  so jake was able to see that his job, even as a kid, was to be like Jesus.  he realized that the mean people need Jesus too...  and if he would love them, and have faith, Jesus could change their hearts!

jake also learned to laugh at himself.  he learned how to replace pride (that doesn't like to be made fun of or laughed at) - with humility (that doesn't care if people laugh at you!).  he learned how to be nice to someone who had previously treated him like a total jerk.  he also learned how to spot others who were being made fun of - and be kind to them, encourage them, and become their friends.

another really cool thing that happened is God showed jake that not everybody in the world has an x-box, an iPhone, or even plenty of food.  he began to not really care about those things, God started shaping him into a new person.  he started caring more about helping people than he did about having new stuff for himself.

soon jake learned spanish - even faster (and better) than his parents!  over time, he started to fit in and feel more comfortable.  he got bigger and stronger and became the best soccer player around.  but it wasn't his soccer skills that made jake special.  it was his love.  jake had learned to love Jesus more than anything.  and because of that, he learned how to love the people.

he even loved those who were mean to him.  to be honest, jake began to even teach me (his dad!) that very truth.  one time, i was upset that a kid was being a bully to jake, and i tried to give him some advice.  i told jake to stand up for himself by saying sometime mean back to the kid - out loud so that the rest of the class would hear it.  jake replied "thats pretty funny dad...  but i think i'll just try to be nice to him and see if he changes."

wow!  i was embarrassed!  but at the same time, i was very proud of who my son was becoming.

jackson, here's the best part.

jake now realizes that all of those "blessings" he had back in the american suburbs... they were actually hindering him from knowing Jesus.  the luxuries (toys, games, electronics, etc), safety, security, and comforts - were actually preventing him from experiencing Jesus.

the challenges associated with changing cultures, facing persecution, and being surrounded by poverty, diversity, and insecurity...  led jake straight to Jesus!  and today, as a young man, Jesus is his everything.  jake is not perfect, and (trust me!) he makes plenty of mistakes.  but God used his life in the mission field to humble his heart, simplify his life, give him a new perspective, and mold him into who he is.

jake recently received a scholarship to go play college soccer in the USA.  in 9 months, he'll leave his life in guatemala behind (the only life he really knows), and return to the country where he was born.  its a culture he doesn't know anymore.  his memories there have become faint, and his experiences there have been defined by 1-week visits.

he's nervous!  he doesn't like to read and write in english anymore, and sometimes gets uncomfortable around americans because he doesn't understand some of their phrases and jokes.

jake and jackson - oct 2017
but i know he will shine bright.  and not because he's handsome, funny, athletic, and charming.  he'll shine bright because he has learned how to hear Jesus' voice and obey it.  he will shine bright because he wants people to know Jesus.  he will shine bright because he learned how to love Jesus, and how to love all people, with his whole heart.

jake will be the "different one" again.  people will probably laugh at him.  but he won't care this time.  he will probably embrace it and enjoy it!  he will live totally different than his teammates.  he will love people differently, and he'll share openly about his faith.  he won't care if you are black, white, latino, or asian.  or even christian, muslim, buddhist, or atheist.  he has learned to see all people as people.  people who cry, laugh, and hurt.  people who need a savior.

i can promise you this...  jake doesn't regret his move to the mission field one bit!  he even realizes that he didn't just "follow mom and dad to the mission field."  today, he sees that God put him there with great purpose.  and in fact, he credits growing up in the mission field for the person he is today.
 
so when you're having a bad day, frustrated and angry...  remember jake!
when they are all laughing at you...  remember jake!
when you're mad at your parents and just want to go home...  remember jake!

and when you remember jake, may you be reminded of God's faithfulness, and be filled up with the unconditional love of Jesus.

oh...  and if on any given day you just need some encouragement or advice, don't hesitate to call jake.  i know he would stop everything to take your call :)



Thursday, October 5, 2017

rhino wedding

this past saturday marked a very special highlight in my life.  i had the privilege of marrying one of
our rhino graduates, allan marroquin, in the gym at bvsa.

allan walked into the academy the first day that our doors opened in 2011.  he was a little punk!  and even though he was 13 at the time, he looked like an 8 year old.  he was an angry little fella - not to mention rude and mean.

a couple weeks ago, we had some visitors here at BVSA.  when one of them asked allan why he wanted to get married in the academy, he told them, "this is where i learned about Jesus. it's also where i learned to be a husband, so this is where i want to start being one."

adding to the symbolism of the day... allan's wife glendy grew up in our friends' (the schmidts) ministry - educate BV.  as we were teaching allan about Jesus over the years, glendy was learning about Him as well, right down the street.

all of this is what made the day was so special.  it was a symbol of a new generation of men in our village.  a new generation of dads and husbands and men who love Jesus.  a new generation of marriages centered on Jesus, and willing to do things differently.

to put it simply, this is why BVSA exists!  what a joy it was to host a rhino wedding.

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES FROM THE WEDDING!


Saturday, September 23, 2017

welcome back Aldo

what an amazing experience to finally have Aldo rejoin us in the academy.

it was only 4 months ago when Aldo lost an arm and a leg in a tragic accident - an event that truly rocked our Rhino family and our entire village.  but through it all we've seen God do some incredible things.  he has brought Aldo's family closer together, brought much love and support their way from friends all over the world, and allowed an entire village to witness the love a father has for his son.

the love of a father is not a common experience in our village.

which is why it was such a blessing to have Aldo and his dad Leonardo join us for some home games this week, and even stay for a BBQ afterwards with all the Rhinos.  Leonardo even brought 50 pieces of corn from his own land for all of us as a gift!  it was a great night of laughs, worship, and prayer.

please continue to pray for Aldo.  he has another surgery scheduled in the next couple weeks on his right hand.  and we are waiting for his amputated leg to heal a little bot more before we start getting him up on his new prosthetic leg.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

digging out roots, and introducing the foster's

we are excited to announce the arrival of the foster family to the BVSA team!  jeremy and maria, and their 2 boys alek and jackson, come from their faith communities of trinity fitness and crosswater church in jacksonville, FL.

the long version of this story is so good....  but i'm going to simplify it here.  come see us in guatemala or honduras, and we'll give you the long version over a cup of leiva's coffee :)

HOUSE IN BOXES
earlier this year, almost immediately after the unfortunate circumstances that transpired at our academy in honduras, i received a call from a close friend.  anthony widener, who worked with us in guatemala for a year with his wife denea, was trying to catch his breath and was notably excited.

he proceeded to tell me that he and his wife had just left the home of some friends of theirs, the fosters.  they were packing their house and all of their belongings were in boxes.  when anthony asked what was up, the foster's simply replied "God told us to sell our house and pack up our things -  he's going to call us to something else and he wants us to be ready."  they continued to explain that they were temporarily moving in with friends until God gave further instructions.

i knew i liked these peeps already!

just a couple of days earlier, i had gone to visit my friend cesar.  (if you don't already know who cesar is, read my post from a few days ago.)  i had gone to cesar's house to fill him in on what had happened in honduras.  i was sad and kind of emotional as i explained it all.  with tears in his eyes but a smile on his face, cesar clinched his right hand (the only part of his body he can still move), and said with conviction, "brock, i am so sorry, and i will be praying for their family.  but remember, God is the one who started a church in travesia, honduras, and he did so because travesia needs Jesus!  no human sin is capable of taking down his church, or stopping his plans.  lets start praying NOW for the people who God will send to travesia.  the rhinos there need their church.  lets pray!"

he then prayed - in a way that only cesar can do - for God to bring new missionaries to travesia.  his prayers came across as strangely confident that God had already called someone.  even though we had come to cesar's house dreading having to share the sad news, mynor and i walked out of his house excited and full of energy.  (kind of par for the course after a visit with cesar!)

so here we were, two days later, and anthony was telling me the story of the fosters packing their bags, selling their home, and moving in with friends, because they "heard God tell them to be ready." they hadn't known about honduras.  had never heard of the village of travesia!

THE VISIT
if i've learned anything over the years, its not to mess around when God speaks that clearly!  so only a matter of weeks later, we picked up the fosters at the guatemala airport.  they were wide-eyed and maybe a little naive.  but they were humble and willing.  and they had come.

the next morning around 4:00AM we left guatemala for honduras.  the long, difficult drive was actually a great time to get to know each other.  of course, for me, mynor, jason, and axel, we have done this trip over a dozen times.  so when we arrived in travesia there was nothing new or spectacular.  but for the foster's, i'm sure their hearts were racing.

we spent the first day cleaning the property.  the grass and weeds were like a jungle, and the house was filthy.  it was a long, arduous, sweaty day - especially considering the 8 hour drive to start it off!  after dinner, we were all exhausted and sitting around the kitchen table, when i asked jeremy and maria how they were feeling.  without hesitating, maria responded, "i'm sorry but I don't feel good here. this place seems dark. i just don't feel it. this place has a bad vibe."  i was a little taken aback by her directness, but at the same time appreciated the honesty.  

i decided to not only acknowledge her observation, but to reinforce it.  i shared with them about the darkness in the village, and the stronghold that the enemy has in travesia.  i told them that anyone who is willing to move here to work in this academy better be called by God, because its going to be a brutal job.  without a clear calling - and dependance on the power of the holy spirit - no human strength would be capable of drumming up the endurance to see it through.

thats how the night ended.  it felt like wind that had been pushing the sails over the last weeks had subsided, and left behind a disappointing stillness.  even the excitement that started this trip had been swallowed up by the "dark vibe."


NEW MERCIES EVERY MORNING (Lamentations 3:22-23)
the next morning we were taking a needed break from cutting the grass.  me, mynor, jason, jeremy, and our local travesia friends peter and milton, were looking out over the field that separates the house from the academy.  i mentioned how i always wanted to cut down the massive tree that sits right in the middle of the property.  even though it's beautiful, i always felt that removing it would open up so many possibilities for soccer training.  without it, the property basically accommodates a full soccer field.

i explained how the previous missionaries had insisted on keeping it.  they had told me that the locals considered it a sin to cut down that class of tree, and they felt it was best to not upset the culture.  but peter and milton said that they had never heard that before, and that there is no issue whatsoever with cutting down trees.

i asked peter what it would take to cut it down, and he responded, "one phone call."  i then gave him the go ahead to call his friend... and one hour later we all stood watching the massive tree fall to the ground.  it was quite surreal.

later that day we got together on the back porch to pray.  we were all praying over the village of travesia, the potential calling over the foster family, and the future Rhinos.  

then maria began to pray.  she kept talking about the tree.  she told God that as she watched that tree fall down, she felt like it represented something powerful.  she prayed, "God just like that tree that came down - i ask that you would take down the bondage over this place.  take this darkness and dig out by the roots, just like that tree."


THE MESSENGER
as we were still praying, milton came to the patio and got my attention.  wondering why he would interrupt us, i went to see what he needed, thinking it must be an emergency.  he told me he was sorry, but a very influential man in the community was at the door and asking to speak with us.  he said this is one of the community leaders, highly respected, and he felt we shouldn't keep him waiting...

we wrapped up our prayer about five minutes later and went out to speak with the man.  me, mynor, jason, axel, jeremy and milton were there.  here's my recollection of what he said:

"hi my name is marcio, and i just wanted to come by to tell you something.  we know that the previous family is no longer here.  we don't know exactly what happened, and that doesn't matter now.  but i was so excited to see some activity on the property today.  and when i saw that big tree come down, i knew i had to come speak with you."

we immediately felt Gods presence!  he continued...

"i want you to know that there may be a lot of people in this village that are against you.  but i am not one of them.  i am with you.  i am for you.   you see, there are evil demons in this community and they have been here for generations.  they are deeply rooted beneath the surface,  just like the roots of that tree.  and just like that tree was dug out, these demons need to be dug out." 

we immediately froze in the presence of the holy spirit.  i was in shock.

he looked around at all of us and said, "but digging them out wont be easy - they've been here for generations!  so we're going to need your help."  then, he made eye contact with jeremy.  looking directly at him, and pointing at him, he switched to english, and said "we need YOU".

it was so clear and direct, it almost felt impossible.  like maybe it was a dream?

then marcio switched back to spanish and said "that's all I came to say."  he shook all of our hands and gave some general departure niceties.  then he shook jeremy's hand, switched to english again, and said "i really hope to see you here soon."

if it were written in the sky it would have been less clear.  it was an amazing and outrageous example of God's faithfulness.  when we step out in faith and obey our Father, he shows us the way.  the more radical our obedience, the more clearly he speaks.

and thats exactly what was happening with the fosters.  God had told them to sell their home, pack up all their gear, move in with friends, and be ready.  instead of talking themselves out of it, convincing themselves of a more responsible alternative - they just did it.  and their obedience unlocked the blessing of hearing God's voice in a truly miraculous way.

when this happens, our faith in God increases tenfold.  we see Him as a keeper of his promises.  we long for more of Him.  we become willing to follow Him anywhere!

later on, i was thinking about how there were 3 americans standing there with marcio - yet he knew jeremy was the only one who didn't speak spanish?  why were his words to jeremy so specific and direct?  as if the exact reference to the tree, the roots being dug out, wasn't enough!  

the only explanation, is that God had sent the fosters a messenger.   


OBEDIENCE
i remember telling my wife as i laid in bed that night, "how could they possibly say no after that?!  now its just a question of obedience."

a couple days later we were back in guatemala, hanging out together.  we were talking about our expectations for BVSA missionaries, and i was of course talking in hypotheticals, i.e., "if you were to come, blah, blah, blah...."  maria finally said, "brock you can stop saying that.  how can we not come after what happened with marcio!"  

BVSA honduras team:  jason, jeremy, axel, and maria
since then, things have been moving fast!  the fosters have announced their plans to friends and family, shared with their church communities of trinity and crosswater, resigned from the current jobs, and booked one-way tickets for october 4th!  

they will be spending oct-dec in a missionary training program with us at BVSA guatemala, and if God allows, we'll be re-opening BVSA honduras in early 2018.

the widener's, who have been spiritual mentors to the fosters over the years, describe them as humble and teachable. knowing that God has used people like that throughout history, we're confident they'll be a great fit for us at BVSA!

you can read more about the foster's HERE, and learn how to support their family and/or the honduras academy.

please praise God with us, and join us in welcoming the foster's to the Rhino family!  



Monday, September 11, 2017

@BVSARhinos

i've blogged before, and been honest with anyone who has ever asked me, how i feel about social media.

i believe it can be a bottomless pit of self-love, self-gratification, and need for other's approval.  it can also be a fantasy world that allows you to be somebody you wish you really were.  for many, its an addiction that consumes every free second of their life.  (hint: if you hate sitting on the toilet without your phone, you might have a problem.)

so why in the world are we announcing a social media page for the BVSA Rhinos?

good question!

i've been convinced by some people i respect, that a social media outlet for BVSA would:

1- help keep the Rhino family of supporters and prayer-warriors better connected.

2- publicly celebrate all that God is doing through the Rhinos and the BVSA missionaries.

3- help towards keeping stories of God, faith, love, miracles, and hope, front-and-center in the world of social media.

simply put, i was convinced that more frequent "pings" that point to God's work through BVSA and the lives of the Rhinos can lead to healthier relationships with our supporters...  more prayers and support for the boys, missionaries, and academies...  and most importantly, more glory given to God

so... i can't believe i'm about to say this...

you can follow us on instagram at @BVSARhinos

i don't even know if i said that right.

*please note that i will not be the one managing the page :)


Saturday, September 9, 2017

one more year of life for cesar

"gracias a Dios por un año mas de vida."

that phrase gets repeated so much at birthdays in our village that it basically loses its meaning.  it simply means "we thank God for one more year of life."  at birthday parties where several people stand up to speak, the phrase literally gets repeated by every single person.

it just comes across as meaningless to me when you hear it over and over again.

with one exception:  when it's cesar's birthday!

for cesar, "one more year of life" is truly something to celebrate.  "one more year of life" is nothing short of miraculous.

this man continues to defy the odds and astonish doctors.  by the world's standards (even top medical experts), the last 10+ years are a pure mystery.  how can this man continue living - year after year - if his spine has fused completely together and all of his bodily systems have shut down?   

only God gives and takes life.  even though every one of cesar's breaths is a medical miracle, God is keeping cesar alive for his purposes.  cesar shines God's glory like no one i've ever met before.

if christians are like tools in God's toolbox, cesar must be the old faithful tool that works every time.

if we're plays in God's playbook, cesar must be his go-to play at clutch time. 

the man is truly amazing.

last month we were visiting cesar with some friends who were visiting from jacksonville.  one of the visitors mentioned to cesar that he had been reading colossians, and asked cesar what his favorite passage in colossians was.  cesar replied "probably chapter 2"... and proceeded to recite the entire chapter with fire and passion!

last week at his birthday party, the boys who were with us were telling cesar that we are studying psalm 91 together.  cesar shared with them how much psalm 91 has meant to him over the years, and with great emotion recited the entire psalm!

i can't even tell you how many times this has happened over the years...

cesar garcia is truly a man after God's heart.  more in tune with the holy spirit than anyone i have ever met or ever even heard of.  

prays differently than anyone i've ever known.  

sings more beautifully and honestly than anyone i've ever known.

loves more deeply than anyone i've ever known.

and despite being paralyzed from the neck down for the last 12 years, he is more alive than anyone i've ever known.

in cesar's case, "gracias a Dios por un año mas de vida" is certainly no routine birthday phrase.  for cesar, and everyone who knows him, "one more year of life" is truly a blessing beyond measure.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

the statue that must come down

read an article today that was too good not to share.  you can read it here on Desiring God, or just keep reading below...

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The Monumental Problem
By Greg Morse
We all wish we could have been there. To sit on Rosa’s bus. To listen to Martin’s dream. To rally with Churchill against the Third Reich. To go to war with the women’s suffrage movement. 

We imagine our voices, however small, being engulfed in the sweet harmony of the generations that sang, “Let Freedom Ring!” Our immaculate selves (the ones that we can imagine being in those eras) are so unflinching, so outspoken, so courageous. They are men and women of conviction who have no choice but to be set ablaze by the sparks of oppression and injustice. 
In our imaginings, public opinion wouldn’t stop us, busy lives and daily concerns play no factor — our chief concern is, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Yet, we do not live in those days, we are bound to our own. We do not face their horrors, we face ours. We are not there, we are here. 
With the advent of social media, it is easier than ever to scold the dead for personal gain. Few things are simpler than to opportunistically spit on the graves of others to shine our own social standing. 
It is easier to cry for Robert E. Lee to fall and for Confederate flags to burn (and gain a following in the process) than to decry the politically incorrect evils that are celebrated by our culture. It is easier to join the masses than to stand alone. When the need of the hour requires one to expose their back to the hose of public opinion, the masses take their signs and go home.
Historically, speaking against the spirit of the age has social costs. Past struggles were just that, struggles. Real courage and conviction were required. What was vital to them in their time is now needed of us in ours. The racial monument that must come down in our day is heavier than stone and threatens those who cannot protest. Removing it will involve more sacrifice than hashtag activism. 
Throwing Stones, August 2017
Many are throwing stones. This is not an indictment against all who would do so, because some stones need to be thrown at ideological wolves.
When confronted with the historic enshrinement of Southerners who stood for causes that, among other things, furthered injustice, inequality, and oppression, many grab for smooth stones to hurl at the giant. And this uncircumcised Philistine of racism openly defies the image of God on display in all of Adam’s children. There are not enough voices in America to cry out against racial supremacy. 
But when we consider the elephant in the room, the one who will throw stones back, the one who will reprimand us for our lack of political correctness, the one who, if you fight against her, will lose you Facebook friends and followers on Twitter, we too often opt for silence. We tend toward activism only when it is trending. 
But the world needs a diverse people who stand side by side with one another while holding the book, decrying popular — and unpopular — evils, and pointing to the most popular — and unpopular — figure the world has ever seen: Jesus Christ. 
Take This Monument Down
Without further ado, the monument that must come down is the one hoisted by Margaret Sanger years ago: abortion. 
I used to roll my eyes when someone would post articles about abortion. As a black man, it seemed like a distant problem from me and the community. Then it wasn’t. 
I remember feeling asphyxiated as I read and studied. The institution has millions and millions of racial skeletons in its closet. When Satan’s spell is finally broken, the abortion clinic will be held in the same infamy as lynching ropes, metal shackles, and slave ships. If not in this life, then most certainly in the next.
The blindness staggers. Cries of racism can be heard at every turn and yet a great silence ensues concerning a multimillion dollar company (Planned Parenthood) capitalizing off of dead black babies? Hmm . . .
It has roots in a racist eugenics program called The Negro Project, check. Sanger desired to limit the population of the “feeble minded” and spoke at a KKK rally, check. Most abortion clinics are in disenfranchised, minority communities, check
And new minority skeletons are added every day. 
Around 950 black children — each with ten fingers and ten toes — are devoured every single day. Forty every hour. Villainous men in hoods — or now without hoods — cannot accomplish the level of carnage that men in white coats inflict daily. No days off. No relenting in this evil institution. This historic relic, this monument to racial supremacy and eugenics, needs to fall.
And we must call for it to fall. We detest racial supremacy in all forms — especially against the most vulnerable minority population on the planet. Our Facebook statuses cannot be filled with tons of outrage over a group of whites hating blacks in Charlottesville, while never saying anything about the abortion clinic down the street that dismembers minority children. 
As Ismael Hernandez rightfully said, “Past racists snatched black babies from their mother’s arms and sold them into slavery. Today they snatch them from their mother’s womb and throw them in the garbage.” 
If, knowing the inconvenient truth about abortion, we bury our heads in the sand and pretend the lion isn’t devouring our children, God calls us weak and holds us accountable. Proverbs 24:10–12,
If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work? 
The day of adversity is here — not the yesterday of adversity. We can’t fight their battles, but we can fight our own. We all know what is going on. He who watches our souls knows we know it, and he will hold us accountable. 
This Little Light of Mine
Christians should never have to stand alone against wickedness in culture. They stand as one people.
I pray for the day when the church in the West will mobilize. I pray for the day when those who love God and know his word lead movements of righteousness. A day when jumping on the bandwagon of secular movements will be over, and Christians will stand on their own two feet before the world’s evils and call all men everywhere to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. 
A day when the gospel cannot be mistaken for “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities,” caring only about the soul without regard to the body. A day when people of the text will not survey Twitter feeds to know which evil is okay to fight, but will unleash God’s word amidst Adam’s fallen children who swim in racism, prejudice, and selfishness, passing their days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3). 
A day when the people of God will share Facebook posts denouncing the culture’s darling evils and extend the hope of the gospel to them afterwards. A day when we will stop hijacking the deep wickedness of our day to post things about it to prop up our own righteousness before our virtual friends, rather than bringing the ax of God’s word to bear that men might bow before the cross. 
And the good news is that the church is the body of Christ. His kingdom is spreading and universal righteousness is racing towards us. A day is coming when swamps of bigotry and murder will be flooded with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). 
With two eyes set fully upon that coming day, the glorious King of that day, courageously speak, act, and love as his ambassadors, for we are his body.

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!

THANK YOU JESUS!!

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...

video