Thursday, December 30, 2010

update on recent blog below titled "hope from ashes"


before reading this, please read the post below titled "hope from ashes."

immediately following the posting of that blog, the response was beautiful and immediate. the genuine, loving, generous church of Jesus stepped up bigtime.

a new home was donated. (actually, 3 were donated - two of which will be given to other families in need!) a temporary home until the new one is completed, new clothes, a brand new bicycle, lots of food, blankets, toys, and a new bible have been given. in addition, the loan that daniel's family took out to pay for the 20 days of life support for his baby girl was paid in full.

most importantly, daniel and his family have witnessed the grace and love found in Jesus and his church. new friendships have begun. a process of healing is in motion.

thank you to all of you who gave to, visited, prayed for, and loved this family in a time of great need. through the hands and feet of the living church, daniel and his family are learning what the love of Jesus truly is.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

christmas in poverty brings perspective


i love christmas in guatemala. and not just for the christmas eve midnight fireworks and the delicious tamales and "ponche" (all of which are amazing)!

i love christmas in guatemala because of the perspective it brings. it's a bold reminder of the reality that can escape us all, if we allow it to.

millions celebrate this time of year by excessive shopping and spending, even sleeping in parking lots for the chance to buy the latest items. we celebrate and anticipate a jolly delivery man in a red suit who leaves presents under our trees and fills our stockings with treats.

but living in a third world country, stricken by extreme poverty, does something to shatter what i once considered fun and innocent.

we spent christmas eve hanging out with rosibel's family, among others. rosibel is 13 years old (pictured here with her grandma and little brother). her dad was murdered when she was 9. her mom and older sister have to work full time 6 days a week (5am to 8pm) to keep their family afloat.

as for rosibel - she hikes up a mountain for firewood (twice a day), cooks, cleans, and takes care of her little sisters and brother.

that is her reality every single day. no school, no sports, no sleepovers. a brutally difficult life for a 13 yr old girl.

rosibel did not wait up for santa last night. her sisters viviana (10) and luki (7), and her little brother anderson (2), weren't having a hard time sleeping because of the excitement for what they might open up the next morning.

unfortunately, this christmas eve reality is what dominates the majority of the modern world. if we allow that truth to sink in, it should change us. not just fill us with guilt and lead us to ban christmas presents. that would be missing the point. it should lead us to care more deeply for others. to call those who suffer in poverty our neighbors, and begin loving them as we love ourselves.

as we gave gifts to rosibel's family, we knew that these were the only gifts they would receive for christmas this year. their hugs were longer and tighter than normal. the gratitude in mom's face and the tears in her eyes spoke loudly.

this is our third christmas in guatemala. we continue to learn and grow. we continue to be stretched. i pray that process never stops.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

hope from ashes


Broken, denied, and ready to give up, he knocked on our door.

This morning a young man, 25 yrs. old, knocked on our door for about 30 minutes straight. When we finally answered, there stood Daniel Gonzalez. He nervously explained his situation.

He did not want to come to our house today, but some friends had convinced him that it was his best last chance. He said he was not the type of person to ask for things, so he was sorry for coming. He explained that yesterday he had lost his home in a fire. A husband and father of 2 young kids, they had lost almost everything… house, bed, clothes, TV, food, and belongings - all ashes.

We were his last hope. I am thankful for that much – just being here, able to be that hope for somebody. That hope has a name – Jesus – and it is always amazing to me that we can “be” Jesus…

Now to the frustrating part. Why exactly were we his “last” hope?

Before showing up at our house, Daniel had exhausted his options. Most alarming was the response from his church, from whom he was misled regarding “God’s justice.”

Rewind just 2 months… to when Daniel and his wife Martha lost their 3rd child. Following childbirth, Florcita (little flower) spent 20 days on life support. Born two months premature, she hung on for 3 weeks before letting go. Daniel spent all 20 days & nights in the hospital at his wife’s side, praying for Florcita to pull through.

Following their daughter’s death, they returned to their church. Daniel, who was striving to become a deacon and took seriously his role collecting the weekly offering, was put on “probation” for missing 3 Sunday mornings and several other gatherings. He was told that missing church, for any reason, is a sin and requires discipline from the church authorities.

Now, after losing his house and all his belongings in the fire, the “church authority” explained to Daniel that God is righteous, punishing them for missing a few church services while clinging bedside to their dying daughter. The only effort to bring comfort was a simple reminder of the story of Job, and how God won’t give you more than you can handle.

After being denied by his church for help, they decided to try another church, this one well known for helping the people of his neighborhood. This specific church has been working in his neighborhood for years, even recently completing a new community center to better serve them.

Martha returned home with the news. The church said there is nothing they can do, because they only help families in the community who are members of their church.

Broken, denied, and ready to give up, he knocked on our door.

When we showed up at the site of their house this afternoon, Daniel made small talk for about 5-10 minutes. He was cheerful, seemed thrilled actually, to see us. When he introduced us to his kids, and showed us the extent of their remaining belongings, he got quieter, clearly trying to hide some emotion.

When he shared about the response from the churches, he broke. Confused and hurt, he began sobbing. It wasn’t the loss of his daughter, or his house, that brought on the sobbing. It was the pain inflicted from the “church” that ultimately crushed him.

The very thing that is supposed to bring life, support, love, help, and hope… was killing him.

I wondered to myself if Daniel’s pastor that avoided helping (but reminded Daniel about God’s justice and Job’s sufferings) had forgotten, or ever read, where Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul’s teachings about carrying one another’s burdens also came to mind.

I also wondered how, as members of the same body of Jesus Christ, we could possibly deny help to those who aren’t “members” of our own little private congregations.

But as we prayed, grace and hope started replacing the anger that was raging inside me. As frustrating as the pious, prosperity-blessing, false religion that poisons this culture is, in this moment God was giving us another opportunity to demonstrate His grace.

We prayed that this time of suffering would somehow bring freedom and set them free from the bondage of legalism. I hope that as we love on them they will experience the real Jesus, his grace, and his church.

Praying for hope to rise from these ashes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

commitment without glory


today we are praising God for our monthly donors, who because of their consistency, sustain our monthly expenses to be here on the ground in guatemala.

they receive no glory. there's no feel good video at the end to recognize what they did. no specific house that was built, or surgical operation that was paid for.

the money is just sent, every month. some give $15. others give $100. some give $500. some months a donor doubles their committed norm without even mentioning it. not even a note saying why or for what. usually when this happens, we know exactly why... because something has recently happened or there is a sudden need that came up. God uses his people to meet the needs without any need for fanfare. i love that because only He gets the glory.

obviously we need houses donated, money raised for specific needs and projects. in fact we are very often pleading and praying for it!

but today we are celebrating the ones that send monthly checks that end up covering johnson family groceries, rent, electric bills, school supplies, clothes, gasoline and haircuts.

YOU ALL ARE AMAZING. WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH. YOU'RE GENEROSITY KEEPS US GOING, AND KEEPS ALL OF OUR EFFORTS MOVING ALONG.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

challenging/crazy/strange/cool last few days

its been a CRAZY last few days. to summarize... we found out that obtaining water in Buena Vista is not easy. in fact its a complicated political mess. (if you didn't know, we are currently working on building a house in BV as well as the boys academy.)

we discovered that the "committee" of buena vista men is in charge of deciding if "outsiders" can obtain access to water. we also know of some who have lived there for a couple years and still are fighting to get water access.

after learning this, i went to the head of the committee's house to see what we needed to do. he said the committee meets to discuss the request, then advises the town, then there is a town meeting and a vote.

in all of his much enjoyed authority, he reminded me that he inquired over a year ago for a new home for his nephew and we never did it. i reminded him why... that, by comparison, his nephew's house was not nearly as bad as many others, and we try to base the home ministry on helping those with the greatest need.

he then said "so why should i help you if you've never helped me?". i politely reminded him that we have built almost 40 houses for his community, started businesses, helped with numerous medical needs, and on and on... ultimately he said "yeah but never anything for me."

he closed with saying he has the power to swing the vote and get us our water access if we build a house for his nephew. i told him no thanks, that i don't feel right getting our water by using someone's donation to the 12x12 ministry to fulfill a bribe. i said most of that as i walked away, because i was fighting against a familiar feeling i get when i am about to punch someone in the face. (i know, not very Christ-like.)

so... the committee meets and a meeting is scheduled for sunday at 6pm. we notified some BV friends and asked for support. the turnout was incredible! everyone showed up and voiced opinions in our favor.

but the big man had a wild card up his sleeve. he withdrew the "law book" from his inside jacket pocket, and had someone read a reference that he twisted a bit to mean "if you're not a legal resident of guatemala, and have lived in the town a year, you can't gain the privileges of the town."

he then in a patronizing tone explained that he is sooo sorry, that he really wants to support us, but his hands are tied because the law is the law. what he didn't know was that in God's ever-so-cool-and-perfect timing, i had received my guatemalan citizenship ID card that very week!! he wasn't expecting that.

what does he do? he says "we need to schedule another meeting so that more people can be here to vote. the only people here are your friends and ones that have received benefits from your ministry." so he set another meeting for tuesday at 6.

we were told he spent monday and tuesday inviting people. more people came than i could believe. the place was packed, with more standing outside looking in. lots of faces that i didn't recognize. lots of men that must return from work late at night, because i had never seen them before. there were enough "new faces" to bring some concern.

the floor was opened for the people to speak. one after another came forward in our defense. what made it so amazing was the number of those who spoke that we didn't even know personally. one man spoke for 5-10 minutes about his gratitude for what we do.

he said he didn't know us personally, but he knew about us. he said what makes us unique is that we don't only attempt to meet spiritual needs, nor just physical needs. he went on to say... "some people just go around preaching, telling everyone about God. but what's that help if the people are hungry? then there are others that only meet physical needs, giving shoes and food. that's great, but it doesn't last forever like the truth of God does. but these people are doing both! what a blessing they are to our community! i can't believe we would even consider denying them water! we should be supporting them in all they do!"

one after another came forward with similar statements. it was a 100% vote in our favor.

it was a beautiful night and a big encouragement for me personally. before we left, i asked if i could say something. i wanted them to know that for us, this was more than a request for water. it was a request to be neighbors. to be welcomed into your community. i explained that i know it must be strange for a family of gringos to be moving into town! but also that it isn't exactly easy for us either. i told them that sometimes my kids cry because they miss their grandparents, or their cousins, or their aunts and uncles. but we do what we do because life is about following God. we believe in Jesus. we believe he died on the cross to wash away sin and give us life. and we believe God wants us here in Buena Vista. i thanked them for saying yes to our request to live amongst them.

i don't expect the resistance to go away. when we start teaching boys about respecting women, equality, freedom in christ, etc, it will cut against some small-town-guatemala cultural norms. i expect some challenges along the way, especially from the men.

but right now we are celebrating an encouraging boost of support from our friends and soon to be neighbors.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

who is your neighbor?


Jesus broke down the path to eternal life simply: love God with all you've got, and love your neighbor as yourself. as basic as that sounds, some of us inquisitive types might ask, "yeah, but i wonder what he meant by the word neighbor."

my next door neighbor? those in my neighborhood? my city? county? state? nation?

thankfully, there is no reason to wonder. someone - just like us - once asked Jesus that very question.

remember the story of the Good Samaritan? do you know why Jesus told the story? he told it because someone asked him what he meant by "neighbor."

if you don't know the story, check it out here. the parable teaches more lessons than i can even begin to expound on. but here's a couple quick points:

samaritans and jews were not friends during this time. for Jesus to use a samaritan as the "good guy" was profound and must have been inconceivable to those he was talking to.

the priest and the levite would have likely been traveling back from jerusalem to jericho. jericho was known as a principle residence for priests, and jerusalem was the site of the temple. the samaritan, on the other hand, would have lived near galilee and would never associated himself with jews (john 4:9).

Jesus is making a clear point to show that the samaritan was neither a neighbor in nationality, nor in proximity.

ultimately, the overarching point of the parable hits hard. jesus asks, "so which one was the neighbor?"... and the man responds with "the one who had mercy." to this, Jesus finally responds "now go and do likewise."

your neighbor is anyone, anywhere who is in need.

a child in a third world country is dying... she is your neighbor.
a young man in your city is struggling with addiction... he is your neighbor.
one of your friends has lost a loved one... he/she is your neighbor.
a mother in africa longs for food & water... she is your neighbor.
someone in your office is getting a divorce... he/she is your neighbor.

the boy in this picture is named danilo. he is an orphan in guatemala who is HIV positive. he is your neighbor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

loving this journey...


God put this crazy idea in our hearts to build a gymnasium in the town of Buena Vista, Guatemala. A place to be loved, a place to play. A place to train the boys of the village not only in soccer – but in faith, character, and love. A gymnasium is something a poor rural village like this has never seen before…

So much more than a gym. For us it’s the answer to a question we’ve been asking for more than 2 years. “How can we best change this place over the long term?” We’ve been meeting needs since we got here – and we will always be a needs meeting ministry – but after a while you start longing to go deeper.

When a village is plagued with hopelessness, abuse, addiction, and empty legalism religion, what do you do?

Plant a New Garden
What if it were a garden? Imagine… the plants are lifeless. Nothing is growing. The crops are dead. Everything is dry and brown. For years, nothing has produced.

I think you would prepare the land, then plant new seeds. After you plant them, you would take care of them. They need a combination of water, sun, shade, and attention. Some grow faster, and fuller than others. But eventually, after a lot of hard work, love, and care, you will begin to see a healthy garden.

That’s what God is leading us to do in Buena Vista. It doesn’t mean give up on the adults. Our lives are our ministry, and we’re always available to help anyone at any time. But as far as a daily effort and focus, God told us to zero in on the kids. They are like seeds full of potential - crying out for nourishment.

We have had 2 years of tilling the land. Making friends, earning trust, and developing relationships.

Grow Leaders
Who are the future leaders of Buena Vista? Or, any community for that matter? In large part, they are the boys. Those who will soon become young men. After that, husbands and fathers, responsible for leading their families.

In this community, as is common in Latin American poverty, the men are old school. They are chauvinistic and domineering. They do as they please and expect their needs to be met. Many hit women and children. Most escape from their realities through drunkenness or simply disappearing.

In general, the kids in this village have no direction. Their parents don’t care if they go to school or not, much less about their grades. They don’t bathe. They don’t show respect towards adults. Boys treat girls terribly.

It's not their fault. They have no hope because their parents don’t have any. Neither do their grandparents, uncles, or friends. They’ve never seen it before. How could they know hope if they’ve never heard of it?

Our goal is to bring them hope. To tell them that grace abounds. To show them truth. To bring them Jesus.

We are praying that God will allow us to guide a community of boys into a new generation. A generation of love, service, generosity, and strong character.

We’ll start with 24 boys, and we’ll pour into them. It’s a daily effort. Every day, teaching in areas of faith, discipline, character, love, grace, respect, honor. They will literally hear the stuff every day for 4, 5, 6, 7 consecutive years of their lives.

What could that look like? 24 boys become young men, get married, lead strong families. Different families. Each young man impacts a few of their friends. After all, they’ll have each other… a team of Jesus followers. That will be attractive. Others will join. Love, joy, and goodness, is contagious.

Each have anywhere from 3-8 kids (not uncommon here!). Now a generation of new men are leading strong families… hundreds of lives changing in one generational swing. It’s a new direction of love, freedom, grace, joy… and hope.

And that’s just the beginning. If I have the ability to even imagine this much, who knows how much more our God – the creator of the universe – is planning?

Must Read - Crazy Cool God Stuff
Well, as if we didn’t already know this vision was God’s vision, here are some pretty cool confirmations.

God used a youth group (and a dollar-for-dollar match donor) to raise the first $20,000 for the boys academy. With that, we bought a piece of land that had given us goose bumps ever since we saw it. (It is right next to the playground and basketball courts we fundraised for and built.) The owners actually knocked on our door having no idea we were interested… but that’s a whole other story!

God brought us a contractor and architect who are practically taking on the project pro bono. They are Christian guys who heard the vision and want to help.

After being told we needed $9,000 to get started on phase one, we received a donation the next day from a first time donor for $9,000.

When we ran out of those funds, the contractor told us in order to continue through the next part of phase one, he would need at least $10,000. Two days later, we received a check in the mail from a first time donor. The note said, “please use for the boys academy.” The amount was $10,000.

In 10 days, we will need more funding to continue construction. After meeting with the contractor a couple days ago, he said we need $50,000 to finish the framework, columns, beams, and roof. He said with 40% of that (20k), he could purchase materials and get started. Today we received a donation. You guessed it – $20,000.

I am at a total loss for words. Following Him takes my breath away.

We still have a long way to go. The whole project – land/security border (30), leveling/retention walls (40), gymnasium (160), classrooms, weight room, locker room (50), personal residence with guest rooms (70), and furnishings (20) – will cost around 370k.

Does that sound crazy? It did to me. But I am beginning to think it doesn’t to God.

“That’s too much money,” I thought, “seems excessive.” “Lets pull the plug, do something smaller. Besides, I hate big fundraisers.”

But God worked on me. He checked my heart. He taught me, stretched me. He began showing me that money isn’t the issue. The heart is. It’s always the heart.

The missions pastor from a church that I had never visited recently gave me a call. I knew the guy, but not that well. His son married my little sister, and he had conducted the wedding. The wedding was not long before our family moved to Guatemala. So while we had met, it wasn’t more than a couple times at family get-togethers. I knew he was a missions pastor, but that’s about all.

He called to say he would be traveling to Ecuador soon, and asked if he could stop through Guatemala and give us a visit. Next thing I know, he and another pastor from their church were here staying with us. It was a great visit, albeit only a couple days. We got to know them better, and them us.

Long story short, assuming their own goals are met, they recently committed to give $200,000 towards the boys academy. (That last 20k I mentioned was their first payment towards it, which came earlier than expected.)

“That’s the minimum”, he told me. “We believe in what God is doing here. We want to help more – whatever we can do to support what you’re doing and help free this community from the bondage that poverty has on them.”

Lazarus Raised – Everyone’s Faith Increased
If it’s even possible to sum up my feelings right now, it may be best compared to how Lazarus’ sisters probably felt after Jesus raised him from the dead. Mary and Martha believed that Jesus was the son of God, that He was capable of doing anything. They had already witnessed many miracles.

Yet despite Jesus telling them that their brother’s sickness would not end in death, they doubted. When he came to the place where Lazarus had died, he told them that their brother would rise again. They still doubted.

When Jesus commanded the stone to Lazarus’ tomb be removed so he could raise him from the dead, Martha again objected, concerned of the awful odor that would escape. Finally, Jesus says, “did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Martha and Mary loved, followed, and believed in Jesus. Like most of us, they just lacked a little faith. When he displayed His power right in front of their eyes, I expect their faith must have increased tenfold.

That is how I feel. I doubted, worried, and hesitated. I am still nervous about moving out to Buena Vista. But God has asked me to step in faith and commit everything I have to this vision. He asked that of us well before providing all the resources needed to make it happen. It would require some faith.

Now, as I sit back and watch Him at work, I feel as if he is saying to me with a bit of a sarcastic smirk, “come on dude – didn’t I tell you that if you believed you’d see the glory of God!”

May His glory be seen through this ministry. May His name be lifted high. May many come to know Him. As this poor little village in Guatemala undergoes transformation, may the name of Jesus Christ be made famous!

Monday, October 4, 2010

whirlwind weekend


with our friends the primosch's and jackson's in town this weekend, we squeezed a week into 2 days.

supporters of the boys academy, we first went out to the jobsite. while out there, we played with the buena vista kids, visited several families, read books to kids, and gave out donations.

we then spent some time at the women's baking school. it was the day of the students first exams. all 6 students had to bake a cake, pie, or dessert all by themselves... and we got to taste test all of them! they were all delicious... all passed with flying colors. more special than the desserts themselves were the smiles on the ladies faces. they shared their stories, their dreams, and their gratitude. a few tears were shed... it was a wonderful time together.

then we were invited as guests to the 50th wedding anniversary of one of our 12x12 Love Project employees, Jose Cupertino. you heard right... yes, Cuper is 70 years old and works in construction... on his feet all day, carrying 50lb sacks of concrete and hauling block. this guy is a machine. and his anniversary party was awesome. lots of music, great food, and good people. we arrived late after being at the baking school, but when we walked up, romulo escorted us to the front table where they were holding seats for us! it was a great night...

the next morning we headed to the HIV orphanage. more tears shed. great time with the kids, but even better with the nuns. we brought 15 gift bags to give to the nuns (thanks to martha & tom primosch and all their friends who donated items!) and they were so very thankful. we had a great time laughing and joking with them... the orphanage director summed it up when she said, "listen - everyone always remembers the kids, and we understand that, but this sure is special to be appreciated like this."

from there to antigua for the markets and lunch at monoloco...

returned to buena vista to hang with the family that the jackson's and their youth group donated a home for. a great visit with them, as well as a few other folks there in the village. back home for dinner and hanging out with the leiva family!

at 5:00AM this morning we took them to the airport. as i was sitting here going through pictures from the weekend, this one that i am attaching caught my eye. it reminded me that when things settle down, the running stops, and all is calm... there they are. the kids of guatemala. the faces of buena vista. how precious. they are why we do what we do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

14 crazy years


today kerrie and i celebrate 14 years married, 19 years together.

this is one amazing woman. she loved me even when i was a partying goof-ball in high school and college. she stayed with me when i lost my way and got caught up in the chase of a big career. despite those tough times, unfaithfulness, arrogance, etc (long list), she stayed with me. she prayed. she was faithful.

her prayers were answered when i finally broke and gave it all to Jesus. now i am arguably more out-of-my-mind than i've ever been... and there she is. not just along for the ride, but the encourager, supporter, and leader.

she is my faithful wife. my cheerleader. a crazy faith-seeker, a wonderful mom, a wonderful woman.

better than anything, she loves Jesus more than anyone i know. her love for the Lord and commitment to spending time with Him challenges me.

its been a wild 14 years that i wouldn't trade for the world.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

boys academy update

here's a short video update of where things are on the building of the boys academy facility! for more info go to www.bvboys.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

true missionaries


several weeks back while our friends where here from indy metro, we visited the family of a jose - a boy who attends the local art school that indy metro is partnered with.

as we hung out and asked a lot of questions, we learned that the jose's older sister violeta (18) and his mother matilde have always dreamed of learning to cook. violeta in particular shared how she never finished school, and she feared never being able to do anything with her life.

with the support of indy metro, as well as our friends the moreau's who donated a new stove and baking supplies, God has birthed a baking school. perhaps what made it happen is the passion to help others that pours out of our friends carlos & thelma lopez.

carlos & thelma run a local art school. the time and energy they put into the school does not earn them a living. in fact, they probably lose money on it. yet it takes up more than 50% of their time. so why do it? because they love their community. they love these kids and want to see them grow. they want them to know christ. they are true servants.

the baking school was their brainchild. once they heard about violeta and matilde's dreams, and saw that they had our support, indy metro, and the moreau family, they came up with an idea that could help even more people.

they contacted a friend of theirs, a local housewife named antonietta who is a graduate of culinary school. they spoke with violeta and matilde, as well as 3 other women who they knew had families that were struggling to make ends meet. they developed a program, and launched a baking school.

the dream? to teach local women a trade that can allow them to sell pastries, work in bread stores, or even in restaurants. when they graduate from the one-year program, they will help them find work, and a new group of students will begin. (pictured to the right: thelma & antonietta in the back, the 5 students in the front.)

once again, no material or financial gain for the lopez family. just the joy that comes from giving, and the peace that comes with helping others.

they are missionaries to their own people. shouldn't we all be?

Monday, September 20, 2010

juliana & manuel... and romulo


we celebrated home #36 yesterday, definitely the sweetest so far.

juliana & manuel. the "least of these" without a doubt. both in their 70's, they have no one. no family helping out, no kids taking care of them. their life a constant state of exploitation as they hop around from borrowed home to home, living in tin shacks or worse, in exchange for watching over people's farms or animals.

manuel is blind. he walks a muddy path every day - about 2 miles - to catch a bus to antigua where he begs on street corners for money. juliana stays home and watches over the land owner's property so they can live in a dump, rent free.

spiritual giants, they are known for ability to heal the sick. people speak of them as the ones who sing out their thanks to God all night long... praying and shouting out songs of joy.

when we have come bearing gifts of food, they just fall to their knees praising God for answering their prayers. (story here in other blog)

yesterday we moved them into their new home that was donated by our friends kat and milan. a nice, safe, warm, block home with 2 rooms. no strings attached. their own front door that locks and a window in each room. also donated by our friends at "church on the way", they have a new kitchen, bathroom, bed, and chicken coup.

at the ceremony, me and romulo shared a little bit. this home was extremely special for romulo as he had told me about this couple and his desire to help them several months ago. he's been excited for this day to come for a long time.

before we gave them the keys, i asked if there was anything they'd like to share. their response was as all of ours should be...

they immediately shouted out praise to the heavens, thanking God for being their provider... for never forgetting them and never letting them go... for hearing their prayers.

they sang, jumped, shouted, and cried. they yelled to the top of their lungs "thank you daddy (gracias papito), you love us so much!!!"

they didn't want to stop singing worship songs. manuel even apologized for his singing voice, but just couldn't stop. even through his off-key, loud, stuttering, elderly voice, it was as beautiful and pure as worship can be.

at one point as they prayed and sang i saw romulo crying. my tough guy foreman - the field general of the construction crew who barks out his orders and is no doubt rough around the edges... crying tears of joy as sees, feels, experiences Jesus.

today driving around with romulo he was literally beaming with joy. he thanked me at least 5 times for letting him be a part of the ministries here in guatemala. what God is doing through the 12x12 ministry is changing his life.

romulo is leading a crew that is building a wall around the future boy's academy site. today, as i shared the vision of the academy with the entire construction crew, romulo emotionally shared to all who were present, "right now i want to give thanks to God. he is doing many things here in guatemala, and using our friends from the U.S. to help. it is an honor to be a part of his work. if this ministry helps the boys of buena vista one fraction of how it has helped these 12x12 families, i will give my hands and my heart to it completely. now lets get to work."

kerrie and i looked at each other and smiled, enjoying the depth and beauty of the moment. (romulo is not known for showing his guys his soft side!)

i pray that tonight as juliana and manuel lay in bed, their hearts are full with thankfulness, peace and contentment.

i know ours and romulo's are.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

not going to be easy

i should have expected it. its what the enemy does when God is working... he slips in and tries to discourage.

if you've read my last few blogs, you already know that we have been amazed at all God is doing to build this boys academy. its been life changing for me personally to watch him at work in this. a thrill ride of sorts, just pure awesome to be a part of.

i decided to meet with the men's committee of buena vista, just to share a little bit about what we're doing, and answer some of the questions floating around lately. just the simple fact that there's a huge front loader on the property working has been "the" thing to talk about out there. plus, i wanted to ask their blessing on our moving out there and becoming neighbors.

so... as mynor and i explained a surface level version of the idea, the leader of the committee asked to share a few thoughts. he wanted to make sure we understood that they don't want anyone trying to change the "traditions" and "customs" of their boys.

he said "we believe in our customs. we believe the men have a place in our culture, and the women have their place. we want to make sure it stays that way."

it seems that some of the things we have already shared with the boys has reached the men of the community. maybe some of the teachings about respect and love for women has gotten out and has been taken as a threat of some kind. it was obvious that this was the case... as we did not discuss or imply anything like that in this meeting.

it's not going to be easy. the task of changing generations of a twisted mentality will not come without a struggle. we must have resolve. we must balance truth with grace well. we must pray.

the message of freedom, grace, and love was a threat to the culture over 2,000 years ago, and it still is today.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

surrender


recently i have been enjoying one of those insanely obvious seasons when you know you are part of something that God is doing. there's no other explanation.

not long ago God led us to take a faith step and commit to the Boys Academy vision. pictured to the right are some BV boys playing on the property where the future academy will be. (more info on that here if interested.) after freaking out for a minute, we told God we were in.

we committed. we'll transition our family further out - into the town of Buena Vista. we'll commit however many years it takes to see through a generation of boys to adulthood, and see what God does with that. our kids will likely graduate high school in guatemala.

we bought land (another cool story), met with builders, and broke ground. despite every ounce of practicality in me, we plunged in. my flesh kept crying out, "wait, we need to think about this more... we need to raise funds, go slow, talk to everyone we know...etc, etc."

but God had no time for that. He brought Mynor & Walda, our guatemalan friends who share the passion and are leaving their careers to help. He brought the land to our front door (as well as the funds), and brought us a contractor and architect. we drew up blue prints. we've been dreaming and talking a lot about how it can work. most of all, praying.

we shared the entire vision with the lead contractor and architect. they were excited, especially after visiting Buena Vista and meeting the boys. after we told the contractor "we don't really have the money for this... but we believe God is going to provide it", he shook my hand and said "then lets do this."

so... the machinery is on site and the builders are working. we still haven't made one phone call to raise funds.

since then: a few different groups have contacted us. ALL of them i barely knew, if knew at all. ALL of them i never would have considered contacting. ALL of them, unsolicited, interested in building this facility and making this vision become a reality. ALL of them with giant hearts leaping out of their chests... longing to help people, and heavily drawn to the idea of breaking generational chains of poverty.

in each case, some special people helped connect the dots. people who knew what we are trying to do here and immediately thought of that someone who might connect with the vision. these special friends are the facilitators that make things happen by being in tune with the spirit of God.

God thank you for continuing to amaze! Please etch these moments into my heart and brain so deeply that i never forget them. let them encourage me to continue a life of surrender and letting go. i want to live by faith every day. use all of this, use me, use all of us, to bring glory to yourself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

amazing story of faith, obedience, and healing

Our friends the Moreau’s are in town and we were all hanging with Esbin’s family last night... After hanging out for about an hour, having a great conversation, Felix (Esbin’s dad) told us that about a week ago God woke him up to a dream/vision that Kerrie was sick in bed. He said she was too sick to get up, and God told him to get up and pray for her.

So he woke up his wife Petronila, and they got on their knees and prayed for Kerrie. He prayed that God would touch her body and heal her right then.

What Felix did not know was that Kerrie was very sick. Many of you who are reading this already know that she has been sick for about 2 months. She has been miserable. Unable to eat, and some days unable to get out of bed. She has lost 10 lbs (which is a lot when its 10% of your body weight).

We counted back the days to see if they matched up.

Kerrie had felt a knot move around in her stomach. She told me that something physically touched her and when it stopped she immediately felt healed. She has shared this with several friends and family. Even though she said it seems crazy, she believed God touched her body and healed her.

Come to find out, this was the same day/moment that God woke up Felix and he prayed for her.

We follow such an awesome God.

I have to say, living here in Guatemala, being surrounded by the poor... the ones who need Jesus... who are desperate for Him each day... who pray daily for their food... who aren’t distracted by all the nonsense... It is here that I see God do amazing things. I see prayers answered daily. I see people healed. I witness unspeakable and inspiring acts of faith. I see the Holy Spirit at work.

God help us remove all the distractions and depend on you like so many of our friends here do. Lead us, guide us, use us. We are yours, Jesus! O praise your name! Thank you for healing my precious wife! Thank you for using Felix. Thank you for his obedience and faith.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

in awe....


i am headed to bed, but couldn't crash without journaling about this.

today the construction crew showed up to start the excavation/retaining wall phase of the boys academy. while the contractor and architect have agreed to take on the project pro bono, he contacted me two days ago to say he needed 8-9k to get started. this would buy materials and pay the workers for their time.

having not raised any funds for the project yet (other than for the land which God used a youth group to purchase), i hesitated. i asked if i could have some time and possibly bring the money back from the US when i go in september. he said sure, but we would have to wait to september to start...

that was two days ago. LAST NIGHT i received an email from theresa (who receives our donations stateside). she scanned and emailed a check that we had received from a family for $9,000!

this is not normal at all to get donations this large. additionally, this donation came in from first time givers, completely unexpectedly. (thank you for your obedience in responding to holy spirit!!)

will you give praise to God with me for this?! not only is this crazy cool evidence of God's faithful provision, but it is also a great source of confirmation and encouragement for me... that He desires this vision to become a reality and He is so clearly at work in making it happen.

i just re-read my blog from yesterday. i am in awe and praise of my awesome God tonight. when this Boys Academy comes to pass (and all along the way) MAY GOD RECEIVE ALL THE GLORY!!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

HE is big - why not dream big?

here we are again. it doesn't make perfect sense... it seems crazy... ridiculous actually. but none of that matters to God.

he is the one who uses the foolish to shame the wise. when we say "but that makes no sense... how can we do that without considering X, Y, and Z"... he chuckles at us because, once again, we are forgetting for a moment that he is, after all, GOD.

this idea to change the future (and maybe the current) generation of the village of Buena Vista through the Boys Academy is not just an idea any more. it's happening!

a couple weeks ago we closed on a beautiful hillside acre of land in Buena Vista. tomorrow we break ground on the Boys Academy facility.

you can read all about this vision at www.bvboys.com.

one thing i love about following our God is that no dream is too big for him. and when our dreams match up with his, nothing is impossible.

i was advised by a friend recently as we pursue the Boys Academy dream. he said, "is what you are pursuing so great, so crazy, so incomprehensible, that when it comes to fruition, there will be no other possible explanation than the awesomeness of God?".

i have considered that question for a couple weeks now. talked about it with my wife constantly, and considered it in my prayers. i have come to the conclusion that the answer is an overwhelming "yes". here's a few reason's why:

1. after 2 years living and working in this area, i am yet to find a man from Buena Vista that i would consider a model husband, father, and man of God. our desire is to grow all of the boys in the program into this type of man.

2. to my knowledge, no one has ever graduated high school (much less college) from buena vista. our desire is to get all of the boys in the program sponsored and into high school.

3. we are currently breaking ground on this facility without the funds to pay for the project. in faith we believe that God will provide in his perfect timing. when He does, how could we possibly point to anyone else?

this list could go on and on. it's a big dream. but our God is big. all of it seems like more than i can handle or even comprehend. that's exactly why i am resting in God's bigness tonight.

Monday, August 16, 2010

incredible examples of real faith

today my faith was checked bigtime.

with the roads to Buena Vista blocked due to repair, we have been re-routed through corn fields and back roads to get to the village. the last few days we have passed a house out in the middle of nowhere that simply looks nightmarish.

mark and i have been wanting to stop in and meet whoever lives there. with a group from journey in town today, we stopped by to say hello.

the closer we got, the worse the living conditions became. old rotten pieces of tin, tacked together and barely standing. mud floors. no water, no bathroom.

we were greeted by a 76 year old blind man named manuel, and his 74 year old wife juliana. manuel stumbled out, shouting greetings and introducing us to his wife. the next half hour or so was spent getting to know them.

manuel lost his sight 14 years ago in an accident where he fell off a cliff and landed on his head. they literally have nothing. the land does not belong to them. they borrow it in exchange for watching the owner's property and caring for the pets. it is filthy.

they have no work, therefore they earn no living, therefore they struggle to eat. the have no family that helps them. nobody.

what's amazing (and beautiful) is what we found out next. a friend of ours named nato was with us when we stopped by. he is a local guy that was helping us with a garden micro-business we were working on this morning. as we hung out at this older couple's home, nato began to share more with us about them...

he said he remembers manuel from when he was a little kid. manuel had a candy cart that rolled around town selling candies and ice creams to the kids. nato said everyone bought candies from him.

then he said "i still walk the path in front of their home almost every night and they are always singing out praises to God. they sing so loud you can hear them up and down the path. the sing out their prayers."

i asked him what they sing, and he said "they shout out thanks to God for all they have."

for all they have? i cannot over exaggerate how little they have. no home, no food, no family.

later we asked to pray for them. as my friend chris began praying, his voice was drowned out by the prayers (shouts!) of manuel and juliana. they cried out thanks to God. they cried out prayers for us. that God would bless us, protect us, and overwhelm us with his love. with tears streaming down their faces, they thanked God for our visit and praised Him for the work that we are doing.

i left their home amazed at their faith, and my own having been seriously challenged.

i wonder how much of my faith correlates with good fortune. does my faith fluctuate depending on variables such as good health, paid bills, plenty to eat, family, friends? does basic worldly happiness help me have greater faith? i have so much to learn...

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

HIV orphans


we have some friends who run an orphanage full of children with HIV. their mission: "to serve the poor, and specifically the most desperate among them." but these friends don't only serve the poor, they give their own lives away completely in order to do it.

it is a catholic orphanage. our friends are the 14 nuns that run it. they live there, eat there, they never leave. the only time they see the outside of the facility is when they are taking kids to the hospital. unfortunately, that is frequently.

almost all of the 70 or so kids they care for are HIV positive. most of them were thrown out when they were born. "they were thrown out with the garbage" the director said. a friend of mine responded "this is the most beautiful garbage dump i have ever seen."

suzie is a friend and one of the nuns working at the orphanage. when she was 11 she started going to school there (they are also a private school that accepts students without HIV). as she grew up in that school, she eventually knew she had a calling on her life to take care of these kids.

her heart broke for the HIV kids, and she admired how the nuns sacrificed their lives to care for them.

when she was 18 she changed from "evangelical christian" to catholic (two very distinct camps in guatemalan religious culture), and became a nun in order to work at the home. this change did not come easy for suzie, as her father and brother are pastors at evangelical christian churches.

she has not seen her family since she made the change. (a choice they have made, as the nuns are allowed to have visitors at the HIV home.)

the more i get to know suzie, the more i admire her. along with the other nuns, she is following a biblical model of service that i have never seen lived out with such conviction. truly giving up her life for others, she does it with a smile and with joy.

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." ~Jesus

then i look into the faces of the kids. no parents, no family. son's and daughter's of sexual abuse and prostitutes. sick and diseased, with no value to their family, they were thrown out with the garbage.

like suzie, i am compelled to do more. Jesus said when we look into the eyes of "the least of these" we are looking into His own eyes.

forgotten, betrayed and thrown out... these kids are Jesus.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

no more suffering for Esbin


even though i spent several hours looking at his lifeless body, i know that he is far from dead.

today around 2:00pm, my buddy esbin took his last breath. also at 2:00, he got up and ran for the first time in over 7 years.

those of us left behind... we all cried. but not him. he is finally free from suffering. he is finally out of the bed that he's been in for what seems like forever. he is finally running, jumping, and playing soccer. his dreams have finally come true.

my kids and i just finished sharing together, and we were imagining esbin playing soccer with Jesus. my son jake said he pictured esbin shooting penalty kicks while Jesus played goalie.

surely esbin is happier now than i've ever seen him, happier than anyone has ever seen him.

today i am cherishing the last conversations we had. in the last few weeks we have talked much deeper about Jesus, about grace, love, and faith.

we talked in depth about his illness. big questions of "why me?" and "why do people have to suffer?". i told him God is using his sickness to glorify Himself... and that he must be an amazing kid for God to have so much confidence in him to use him in such a mighty way. kerrie and i both came away from those conversations believing that esbin "got it."

i also think he finally understood that he didn't have to hang on any longer.

his mom told me that this morning esbin told her he was going to die. she said "don't say that" but he said it again. a couple hours later he started to struggle breathing. normally, this is when we would get the call and we'd be there within minutes with Dr. Carlos to go through the routine of stabilization.

but this time esbin cried out to God "please take me home." his mom admittedly didn't want to hear that, but again esbin cried out "God, if you want me, please take me today. I don't want this anymore." minutes later he fell asleep for the last time.

we were in the village with a mission team working on a project. we received word and rushed up to the house.

a few hours later, we watched a father come home from work to find his son dead.

after 20 minutes of weeping and shouting - he finally cried out "thank you Jesus... receive my son... take care of my boy..."

as things calmed down, we were able to have some wonderful and sweet conversations with esbin's family. they thanked us over and over for the support over the last couple years. his dad said "we can never repay you for what you've done." our response, on behalf of ourselves as well as all of you who have gotten to know him, was that esbin has helped us far more than we could have ever helped him.

i was told that esbin's last words, as he looked at his mom, were "tell brock to take care of you."

no worries little buddy. i'll take care of your mom. but you have to score one against Jesus for me...

i miss you.



As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. And the disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he may be born blind?" Jesus answered them, "it was not that this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God may be displayed in him." John 9:1-3

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the truth is: there are tough days

i think i started blogging regularly in 2005. i love to journal, and i use blogging as a way to "log" experiences, feelings, things that i am going through and things that i am learning. i see great value in being able to go back and read them - seeing God's hand in everything that i go through.

i do like that it is also a way for people to follow things that happen here in guatemala, but the thought that people are reading them is not the motivator.

however, i almost didn't write this one simply for that reason.

it crosses my mind at times that i don't want my bloggings to make it seem like i am struggling. i don't want people to read them and ever say "boy, they are really sacrificing." i dont want to come across as having the "poor me's". so sometimes after tough days or frustrating/challenging experiences, i will write about those in a different hand-written journal.

but why? if i am to answer honestly... its because i am concerned with what people think. i don't want people to feel sorry for us. for some reason i don't fully understand, my pride doesn't want to hear friends/family say "i am sorry that happened", or even "hang in there." i think its because i am a problem solver, so i just prefer fixing it and going on. or, if it's not "fixable", i want to put it to rest, forget about it, and start over the next day.

God is teaching me that this is not always a good thing. we were created for community. i need encouragement, edification, opinions/thoughts from others, wisdom, counsel. maybe it's someone who has been through a similar situation that can shed some light, or maybe its the person who sarcastically responds "quit complaining."

i am accepting (with God's grace and patience) the fact that i prefer facing tough times alone for other reasons as well. simply put, i always want people to think we are doing great, that the ministry is thriving, and that every day is productive and amazing.

i am working on it. step one... writing this blog.

the last couple weeks have been strange and hard. many people in this community that i love have seemed darker and upset. lots of dirty looks. i am having to confront guys in the street who are messing with my daughters. drunks (who are normally "happy drunks") have been aggressive and belligerent with us. various people in the village we work have blasted me about how bad we are because of how often we "help others but not them."

one couple recently told kerrie and i that all we do is trap the poor by helping them. she said "maybe they don't all understand but we do." the same couple, mind you, has asked us repeatedly for a new house. we have explained to them before that we don't feel their need for a home compares to the needs of many others.

these types of things have been sprinkled into our lives ever since we moved here. but the last few weeks seems to have been full of them. crime issues have heightened a bit. there is a different mood. i pray it passes.

is missionary work supposed to be hard like this? i think the answer is a clear "yes." serving is hard. unfortunately, for every one that we help, several others are jealous if not angry. part of the deal i guess.

i pray for a steady mind and a pure heart. i struggle. the next guy who gives the up-down stare at my 13 yr old daughter might receive a broken nose. maybe that wouldn't be very missionary like, but that's where i am...

thanks for listening.

Monday, July 12, 2010

my cool kids



give a dad a minute to brag...

this weekend the kids had their first soccer games in a new league they are playing in, in antigua.

madi and brooke haven't played on an organized team since we moved here almost 2 years ago... this after playing softball, basketball and soccer year round when we lived in the states! needless to say they have missed it, but until recently we haven't found any leagues for girls.

anyway, mark & gina's spanish teacher julio found a women's league, and they just had their first game. they are the youngest on the team (most are 20's and 30's). their team won, and they had a blast. madi played midfield and brooke fullback, and they played awesome! they are so excited for the season ahead...

jake also started in a league of boys his age, since the league he was playing in here in magdalena has boys from 6-16 on the same team! they won their first game 5-1 and jake had 3 goals and 2 assists. but even better, i was so proud to see him play so aggressive, flying around the field at 100% the whole game. i am amazed at how good he has gotten at soccer, b/c before we came to guatemala all he wanted to do was basketball and baseball. kerrie was laughing at me as i jumped up and down cheering!

so proud of my kids. not just for playing great soccer games, but for the awesome transition and adjustment they have made.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

statistics on boys/dads


on the plane back from our family reunion in south florida, i was reading a magazine article on absence of fathers. maybe the #s struck me harder since my heart is softer in this area as we pray and prepare to begin an academy for boys.

boys without fathers in the home are:

- 5 times more likely to commit crimes
- 5 times more likely to end up living in poverty
- 9 times more likely to drop out of school
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison

the data is equally as alarming for girls without fathers. girls without fathers in the home are:

- twice as likely to have sex at a young age
- 7 times as likely to get pregnant as an adolescent

the data only supports what we have already felt and seen. that is why we believe that saving the boys saves everything. if a boy can grow up hearing about and seeing Jesus, surrounded by good men who love God, love & respect their wives, and live with integrity... he can lead his family, and his community in a different direction. the cycle can be broken, and future generations will be changed.

while our mission will be to the boys of Buena Vista, Guatemala, the trend is the same no matter where you are. boys need men. they need love. they need example. they need Jesus.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

seasons


i love summer and hate winter. always have. i remember growing up (who am i kidding, i still do it), wishing with frustration that the cold would hurry up and pass so we could enjoy 100 degree days again.

i am learning how our independent journey's with God are like seasons. suffering, blessing, rest, growth, etc, can all be seasons that God gives us at any given time.

there are so many things happening right now...

we leave tomorrow morning for a quick trip to the US - its a johnson family reunion in south florida. super excited to see everyone and relax for a few days.

but when we come back we've got steady back-to-back mission teams through the summer, until the end of august. there is lots to do and we've got some great projects lined up for the teams to help get some work done!

all this while the vision for the boys academy is truly beginning to take shape. we see the coming months closing on land, praying for funds, breaking ground on the facility, planning to move our family to buena vista, praying for more funds...

with so much going on, stress can creep in and be a buzz kill. while there is definitely a temptation to enter freak-out mode, it is pretty cool how God gives peace when you know the "busyness" was instigated by Him alone.

life is made up of seasons. i have had plenty of busy ones. but personally i prefer the simple seasons of life moving slowly, full of relationships and community, with lots of time to read. i can anticipate that the next few months won't be like that, but that's ok.

more important than anything is that we embrace the season that God gives, and seek to bring glory to His name whichever it might be. for now i am buckling up for a crazy next few months. praise God.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

train! milk! carrots!


anyone remember the 80's movie Stand By Me? if so, you'll remember the part when the kids are walking across the bridge and the train comes up behind them. hold that thought for a sec...

today me and my girls, along with our friend carter who is staying with us, went to deliver a food basket to a family. noelia is a single mom with 4 kids (pictured), and they have been sponsored to receive a new home but are still about a month away from their start date.

the sponsor for their home recently sent us some money and asked us to bring them some food. it was enough money for a huge basket of various things - probably a month to 6 weeks worth of food.

when we walked in the house, the mood was somber. it was raining hard outside, and all 4 kids were snugged up together on their only bed - cold and quiet. we talked for a while, then carter and i went out to get the food basket. when we walked back in, the mood changed completely.

with the same passion that the kid in Stand By Me stands up and yells "trrraaaain!", noelia's kids popped up and looked at the basket with bright eyes - one yelling "miiiilk!", another yelling "pineapple!", and another yelling "carrots!".

i successfully fought back my tears.

for the rest of our visit, as i watched my girls play and laugh with their kids, i thought about how excited they were to see food.

i thought about how animated their reactions were. easily as animated as when the kid from Stand By Me yelled "train."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

stolen camera, God's grace

couple hard days working the jobsite. like always, it refreshes the respect that i have for my workers who do the same thing, day in and day out. i am feeling a sore back from digging and throwing shovels of dirt for a couple of days...

interesting thing happened yesterday. i left my camera on the jobsite, sitting on a window seal with a coffee mug. not worried about it, i returned today to find the coffee mug but no camera.

with almost 100% certainty, it turns out the very family we are building a new home for - stole my camera. while i do not think it was the older, widowed woman we are building a home for, it was undoubtedly one of her sons or other family members.

this was a camera my parents gave me for christmas. a great little camera with HD video that i have been using almost every day.

how am i supposed to handle this? i asked all the family members today if they had seen a camera, and of course they all said "no".

my flesh says stop construction until someone returns it. my spirit says explain to them that while i know one of them stole my camera, we will continue to love them anyway.

maybe a way to show them how unimaginable God's grace is towards us, despite our constant sin against him.

Monday, June 21, 2010

pacaya damage - francisco's new home


you may have already seen the pictures mark posted of some of the aftermath of the eruption of volcano pacaya. if not, you can check it out here.

we finally were able to make it up there and build a home for our friend francisco and his family. they lost everything in the disaster. their home was destroyed, along with their beds and practically all of their belongings. he explained that the damage was due to 50lb boulders that shot out from the volcano - where in the center they were filled with lava. the boulders would come down the mountain crashing into homes, and as they broke open the lava would destroy whatever it touched. he described it simply as "amazing."

anyway, along with carl bunso & carter jackson in town, we were able to spend a day in the rain building franciso, his mom, grandma, and one of his brother's (with wife and child) a new 2-bedroom home. they were extremely grateful. we are looking forward to coming back soon with a team to build 2 more homes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

another close call with esbin

yesterday romulo and i were in a widowed lady's home, looking it over as a potential candidate for a 12x12 house. we were interrupted by mildred, esbin's sister, who was frantically explaining that esbin is having trouble breathing.

when we got there, esbin was clearly in trouble. he could not breath, and seemed to be moving in and out of consciousness, with his eyes frequently rolling back into is head. we called for help, and dr. carlos was there within 15 minutes.

according to the doc, we normally breath at 95-100%, and should never dip below 85%. he was breathing at 55%. his lungs are full of mucus and needed to be drained. the next couple of hours was spent doing this...

when we left he was feeling better. please keep him in your prayers. this is the 4th time this has happened in recent months, and the specialist from guatemala city doesn't seem to think he has much more time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

co2 youth group


been a busy week with a youth group from lake city, FL in town. what an amazing week. this group of kids came down with the excitement and energy to pour themselves out in service. they had raised and donated 20k to purchase the land for the future Boys Academy! i was reminded by a friend how cool that is... that a group of "youth" from the US are laying the foundation for a ministry to the "youth" of guatemala! never underestimate what kids can do!

while here, these kids worked on building a home, brought running water to a family that has never had it before, repaired a family's roof, and brought donations, love, and hugs to orphaned kids with HIV. and these are just a few highlights....

you can watch a video from their trip by clicking here.

THANK YOU C02!!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

pacaya & agatha



in the last several days, guatemala has been nailed by 2 different natural disasters. first volcano pacaya erupted, killing several people including a cnn reporter. entire villages were wiped out by lava and avalanches. our friend franciso, who lives in a village on volcano pacaya, lost his house and all his belongings. we've got to do something...

then tropical storm agatha came. so far the storm has killed more than 180 people, with another 100 still missing. last report said over 35,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving approximately 300,000 people homeless.

we almost lost two of our 12x12 love project homes, as the edges of the mountains they were built on washed out right up to their front porches. all in all, our villages got through ok. others, just a few miles away, weren't so fortunate.

join us in prayer for these people.

Friday, May 28, 2010

god speaking to me through romulo


today i was on the jobsite helping work on the current 12x12 home. during lunch break romulo and i were sitting talking (romulo is the foreman for the 12x12 construction ministry.) where we were sitting had us both watching the happenings of a next door neighbors place. as we talked, a drunk guy kept harassing us, shouting about how he wanted a new house. i told him we could talk another day. romulo finally nudged him off.

the neighbor's house we watched had 6 or 7 kids running around. all morning they had been on their own, occasionally walking over to hang out with us. the oldest looked about 14, and the youngest maybe 3. the oldest girl stayed busy sweeping and cleaning, and every once in a while she'd ask some of the others where the little ones were.

i asked romulo if he knew them, he said yes. i asked if the kids are always alone like they are today... again, he said yes. i asked if he knew where their parents are... he told me the mom is in another city, working a vegetable stand, and the dad is the drunk guy who just left us.

i know this guy. he is drunk in the street almost every single day. usually passed out on the sidewalk or street after taking a hard fall.

romulo and i continued to talk about how sad their situation is. he told me he has known their family for years. we talked about how these kids have no hope. they have no example. no one teaching them anything. no one encouraging them, nor disciplining them. no one loving them.

they dont go to school because no one cares if they do or not.

after a couple minutes of silence, romulo asked me "and you know who is guilty?" who, i asked. "the dad."

he went on to tell me that this family has never had a leader. he said these kids have no hope because their dad is their example, and they will likely follow his footsteps.

as i listened to romulo, i thought of our vision that we have been having for the boys of Buena Vista. for over a year now, we have been feeling led to start a ministry devoted to mentoring young boys, with hopes that they may see there is another way, and break the generational patterns they follow.

romulo doesn't know anything about this, yet i felt God was using him to speak to me, to remind me, to push me forward.

thanks for the reminder romulo. thanks for the encouragement God.

Monday, May 24, 2010

candelario


We met Candelario over a year ago. Romulo had recommended we visit his family as a potential candidate for a new home. When we arrived, he wasn't home, but his wife and daughter-in-law's were there.

It was a great visit. His wife was so sweet, and his daughter-in-laws had a similar sweet way about them. His wife told me she thought Candelario was out drinking. A little embarassed, she looked at the ground as she told me.

Since then, we have slowly developed a friendship with Candelario and his family. He is an alcoholic, and he admits it. He knows it is a problem. We intentionally talk openly with him about it (unusual in this culture), and confess our own struggles in an attempt to let him know that we love him all the same, and that God's grace is sufficient.

On Christmas Eve night, 2009, we showed up at Candelario's house with food baskets. The Moreau family was visiting us, and it was something that God had put on Paul's heart to do. We arrived with the food only to find out that they had NOTHING TO EAT on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Candelario's sons (young men) cried as they realized that God knew their hunger, and He had sent us to bring them something to eat.

Finally, in February of 2010 we received sponsors to build Candelario a new home, complete with a bathroom.

One of the challenges was that they have 8 children, 7 of which are adults who have their own families. So 19 people (Candelario, his wife, 6 of their kids with their spouses, and 6 grandkids) all sleep together - packed into a giant tin shack. One of our standard 12x12 Love Project homes would not be enough. So God blessed us with 3 different sponsors to build a home twice the size of our normal houses!

When we delivered the news the family was ecstatic. Candelario was a few drinks into his evening when we arrived, but i honestly think the news sobered him up! They cried and celebrated as we shared the plan to build a house big enough for all of them.

Over the months that followed, genuine friendships developed. Candelario is doing better, and he regularly initiates the conversation about his drinking and how he is improving. The conversation always seems to find a way back to the grace of God... to the cross of Jesus.

The key ceremony was a sweet moment. Candelario emotionally shared that this home is "beyond all of my dreams." He said that he had honestly dreamt about having a block home with doors and windows, that he could pass down to his children, but that it was always just a dream with no possibility of becoming true.

I asked Romulo (the 12x12 Construction Foreman) to give Candelario the keys to his new home. Fighting back tears of his own, Romulo said to his friend since elementary school, "with these keys, your dreams have come true."

I believe Candelario and his family are learning about Jesus. I believe God is using the 12x12 Love Project and it's supporters to open doors of true friendship and discipleship. He is using this ministry as an tool to make known his grace and love.

for lots of pics of the construction process and key ceremony, CLICK HERE

Friday, May 21, 2010

anna's family dry tonight

as i type it is pouring outside and i am thankful. about a month ago, our neighbor anna asked if we could help with her roof, which was full of holes and leaking water. we finished the project this week... and tonight anna & carlos, and their 3 beautiful girls are sleeping dry in the rainstorm. praise God.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

blanca's 15th birthday

here it's called a quinceanera. its the HUGE celebration when a girl turns 15. in latin cultures, its kind of like welcoming the girl into womanhood.

if you're unfamiliar with blanca suzanna, please give a few minutes to watch this video about her life and how we met her before reading on...

about 2 weeks before her 15th birthday, blanca asked me if we could all come to her party ("all the gringos", she said). of course we said yes, and began asking her more about it. there really wasn't anything planned, as normally a quinceanera resembles an all-out wedding bash... and this family has zero resources to throw a party. nonetheless, blanca was determined to have a quinceanera.

we decided to try to make it a little bit more special for her. kerrie and gina spent a day with her shopping for a dress, shoes, etc. they also took blanca out to lunch, which i'm sure was a first time experience for her.

blanca's blue dress was exactly what she wanted, and it fit her perfectly without needing anything done. they also picked up a new dress for blanca's mom.

the morning of the party, kerrie and gina took blanca and her mom to get their hair done. probably another first...

it was a sweet day. blanca cried as people hugged her and told her how beautiful she looked. her mom and family members made chicken, and others chipped in to bring salad, tortillas, and drinks.

considering her life story, blanca sadly gave up a normal childhood long ago. but i hope she always remembers her 15th birthday party.

see all the pics from the event HERE

Sunday, May 16, 2010

no soy doctor

struggling with the new role of doctor, taxi, and ambulance. word has hit the street that we've taken some people to the hospital, helped with medicine, helped some people get surgeries, etc. but it seems like someone made a public announcement in the last 3 days!

yesterday i was asked 4 separate times for help with medical surgeries. each one started "i heard you are taking people to the hospital."

today i was asked another 3-4 times (twice inside a 10 window about an hour ago - 9pm). 2 separate knocks at the door asking for a ride to the hospital. the first was for a 9 month pregnant woman, the 2nd for a baby that her mom thought needed to get to the hospital.

man... talk about difficult to discern. God, help us know what are emergencies and what is not. obviously we can't be a full time medical shuttle to the city.

kerrie and i went and checked on the 2yr old. gave her some fever reducer and some gatorade and we'll see in the morning. as for the pregnant mom, turns out she wasn't even in labor... just wanted to know if we would take here when her labor starts! she thinks it will be tonight or tomorrow...

wheww... it is already impossible to get through the to-do list each day. running around to hospitals on a daily basis doesn't seem possible. sure would appreciate the prayers. needing God's help in discerning...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

cecilia's cancer scare

the child pictured to your right is named elda. she is 6. she thought her mom was dying of cancer.

a month ago cecilia walked into our medical clinic and told jon, one of the doctor's, that she was dying of cancer. she had already been diagnosed and needed a surgery that she couldn't afford. in tears she asked us "who is going to take care of my 5 children?"

the next couple of weeks was spent learning more. doctor's, blood tests, and a cancer treatment center... not to mention long and difficult talks with the family.

as is becoming the case more and more, we are realizing challenges that we never could have foreseen. to make a very long story short, this ordeal has taught us more about:
  • the corruption in the guatemalan health care system, where the poor are exploited and told they need expensive surgeries when they really don't. knowing they cannot research things, go for second opinions, etc, the doctor's know that the poor will return to their villages, borrow money from friends and family, sell their things, and collect the necessary money "so they don't die."
  • the challenge of educating the poor as they receive medical attention. with no education whatsoever, and no ability to read, they simply listen to doctors with no idea what they are saying, and are too intimidated to ask questions. (we discovered cecilia had a surgery that removed a cancerous cyst on her uterus and she didn't even know it)
  • the challenge of educating the poor as to the importance of hygiene. cecilia and her husband do not bathe regularly, and told the doctor it's because of old stories passed down from their grandparents about the danger of water getting inside your body through your private parts.
  • the need for the poor to have a voice - an advocate who can speak for them and defend their rights so they can be taken seriously.
through all of this, the good news is that cecilia is fine. she is cancer free, the infections are cleared up, and she seems to have a healthier life ahead of her.

and elda, who hasn't left her mom's bed (thinking she was dying) can finally return to school knowing that mommy is ok.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"why do they do it?"

a while back some friends (who wished to stay anonymous) donated the funds to build a home for a local family named the Marroquin's. at that time, the Marroquin's lived in a mud and cornstalk home. click here to watch a short 2 min video about them...

ever since then, a friendship has been developing. we love to visit the Marroquin's, hang out with them and their kids, and just sit and visit.

another friend, who had connected with the Marroquin's while he was here visiting, sent money for Christmas gifts for the kids. you can watch that little video here...

not long after that, the same family that donated their home sent birthday gifts to the family. we brought the gifts...color books, toys, etc. there was also a spanish bible included.

recently, the anonymous family also donated bunk-beds and linens to the family, so that the 5 of them no longer had to share the same twin-size bed.

as we were installing the beds, Maria (the mom) told me she had to tell me something. beaming with excitement, she began explaining that on the evening the birthday presents were delivered, her husband Eulalio asked her out of the blue: "why do they do it?".

when she asked what he was talking about, he went on to explain that he didn't understand why the gringos keep blessing them. it did not make sense to him, and he was convinced that there must be some reason. something selfish or self gratifying, he thought.

Maria explained to her husband that she thought it was because "they just love God and they want to help people."

Maria went on to tell me that after a few days had passed, Eulalio said to her, "if that's the only reason they are doing it, than i want to know more about their God."

so she recommended he start reading the bible that was given to them...

he read the bible each night for several weeks (praise God he can read, as most in the village cannot). one evening, to Maria's amazement, he told her while laying in bed, "I think want to follow Jesus." she said they talked all night... and he went on to commit his life to Jesus and was baptized in his local church the following week.

in tears, Maria said their family life has been completely different ever since - "full of joy and peace." still poor... still struggling to get by... but full of joy and peace. she told me that Eulalio is a different person, husband, and father.

she said to me as she wiped her eyes: "i want you to know that it's all because of you guys. you have shown us God's love and you have shown us Jesus. we learned about His love by the way you love us."

for me there is nothing more encouraging than seeing people come to Jesus through seeing Him, feeling Him, and being touched by Him.

i'm sure Eulalio has "heard" about Jesus his entire life. but until recently, he had never been radically loved on in Jesus' name. that's our job as the church.

when asked what is the greatest commandment of all, Jesus said: "love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength... and love your neighbor as yourself."

thank you to everyone who has loved the Marroquin's as themselves. one has been added to God's kingdom as a result.