Saturday, December 7, 2013

don't let the tough-guy fool you... josue has a heart of gold

Celebrating with Josue (left), Axel (center), and Carlos (right)
this was a reason to celebrate.

carlos (18yrs old) recently graduated from a complete year of english school.  this, after struggling midyear and almost quitting.

axel recently passed his driving test and received his license.  the first person in his family to ever do so!

and josue (many of you know him as "abuelo") just graduated from his 8th grade year - at 19 years old.

a little more about josue...

josue has carried a man's load ever since he was a boy.  he finished 6th grade, and started working full-time as a field worker.  his childhood was over.  at the age of 12,  a lifetime of working 10 hour days in the fields had begun.

until june 10, 2011.

that was the day that he showed up for try-outs at the boys academy.

he had heard about it from a friend.  he didn't know what was going on...  in fact, he thought it was just a weekend tournament.  a chance to play some soccer before going back to work on monday.

josue never went back to work.

he made the team, enrolled in the academy, starting taking classes, and coming to weekly devotions.  in his first year in the academy, he learned how to read and write.  (yep, you read that right...  he had gotten through 6th grade and never learned to read and write.)

he quickly became one of our leaders and most trusted students.  this year, he was co-captain of the varisty team (with carlos).

as year 2 in the academy started, after much discussion and prayer, josue started a weekend program that would allow him to get his "basico" degree (the equivalent of jr. high).  we all knew it was going to be hard.  having just learned how to read and write, i was concerned that we were moving too fast, possibly setting him up to fail.

fast-forward to the present day.  we invited these 3 young men - our leaders at the academy - out to dinner.  they weren't sure why, but it was "dinner in the city" so they were all pretty excited!  we went to TGIFridays.  a big-time place for these 3 guys from buena vista!

when we got there, i shared with them what we were celebrating.  they were all thankful, and clearly excited to be being recognized.

thats when it happened.

but before i explain what "it" is, let me tell you one more thing about josue.  on the soccer field, josue is a beast.  he alone is the contagious confidence for our entire team.  he holds this role for several reasons.  my favorite being, that when we show up to play against teams that are twice our size (which is almost always), josue typically puts a guy on his back within the opening minutes - just to let all of our boys know that no one pushes around the rhinos.

josue has saved us from losing more games than i can even count.  he is a defensive machine.  his short, thick, compact physique is intimidating.  he's fast, and he loves - i mean loves - to check you with a body shot.

his undeniable toughness makes what i'm about to share that much more meaningful.

back at Friday's, after i shared why we were celebrating, walda handed josue his final report card for his 8th grade year.  he hadn't seen it yet.  in fact, up until this point, he wasn't even sure if he had passed or failed.

he was going to graduate 8th grade.  more than that - and to his surprise - he passed every single class.

there in Friday's, as he scanned down his report card, josue lost control of his emotions.  our 19 year old tough-guy captain, who has worked a man's job since the age 12, began sobbing tears of joy.

and he didn't just cry...  he wept.  as i watched what was going on, i wondered how many emotions, thoughts, and feelings he was going through.  the tears ran down his face and fell right on to the report card.

in that moment there was much more going on than just being excited about the year's grades.  it was clear that this accomplishment had much more meaning than that.  the scores on the card weren't numbers.  they were statements.  statements that said:

you can do it.
you are smart.
you can do anything you set your mind to.
the sky is the limit.
chase your dreams.

his report card give josue the assurance that he can do anything, and the hope for a brighter future. 

he tried, through his tears, to thank all of us.  we all hugged.  despite growing up in a rough, macho culture, his buddies didn't laugh.  in fact, they shared tears with their friend.  this was one of the most raw, beautiful, and honest moments i have experienced with the boys.

many thanks to walda, kerrie, jessica, and denea for all you have done to prepare josue in the classroom.  and to all the men who have been a part of helping him become a real man.

and to josue...  thanks for being the best example of what it means to be a rhino.  te amo amigo.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

a day of christmas "firsts"

we had the idea several weeks ago.  to give all the boys some spending money, take them shopping, and ask them to spend all of it on another person.

one of the coolest things we've ever done.

we received a donation from some friends in order to make it possible.

we drew names.

we went shopping.

it turned out to be way more special than we had anticipated.  we couldn't have imagined how much the boys would enjoy buying for one another.  they were careful and creative in the items they chose.  they had a blast.

every single one of them that i asked told me that they had never bought a christmas gift for a friend before.  i think thats what made the event so special for me.

then we came back to the academy to decorate a tree and wrap gifts.  another "first" for all the boys.


Friday, November 29, 2013

thank you: bvsa christmas wish-list

THANK YOU for your response to the christmas wish-list email we sent out a couple weeks ago!!  it has been amazing to see the donations come
in!!  such a blessing for all of us here at the academy.

there are still several items not yet sponsored...  so if you are interested in giving a christmas gift to the boys academy this year, check out this link!

attaching the email we sent out below:
we recently asked our ministry team what their "wish list" would be for 2014, in order to do their jobs better, and help the academy run more efficiently.  some items were normal, end-of-year things that we always need, and others were new ideas.  

the ladies all had needs for the classrooms, hector had "wishes" for his job, johanna in the kitchen, and of course for soccer and facilities.  in addition, our teams-hosting ministry has some needs!

if you are interested in sending the boys academy a christmas gift this year, there are still several items yet to be sponsored.  please check out our 2013 BVSA Christmas Wish List!

bvsa is a 501c3 nonprofit, run and operated 100% by donations.  all gifts are fully tax deductible!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

axel can drive!

if you have ever visited the boy's academy since the day we opened, you have met axel.

he graduated from the academy last year, and has been working with us (while studying) ever since.  he says the academy changed his life.  he told me yesterday, "after learning the bible, and how to be a man of integrity from my coaches, my life will never be the same."

he is studying to be a school teacher, and has already received the promise from a close friend and supporter of BVSA to pay his full-time salary with us if he graduates.

all of us at the boy's academy love and trust axel.  he's truly a special young man.

recently, with some help from a sponsor, we were able to put him through driving school.  and yesterday, he received his license!

he told us that he is the first person ever in his family to have a driver's license.  in fact, he said he doesn't even know anyone (other than us) that has ever had a driver's license!

it's a simple thing, but another sign that things are moving forward.

congratulations axel!  (and no, you can't borrow my car yet)

Friday, November 15, 2013

friendship and faithfulness

last weekend we had the pleasure, thanks to a couple generous donations, to host the leiva family (mynor, walda, and noah) to a trip to new york city.

the trip was for my brother's surprise 40th birthday party, who lives just outside of the city.  so we were able to spend a couple days in NYC, and then a couple days with my family at my brother's place.

when we invited mynor and walda, we were unaware that visiting NYC was one of walda's dreams. having grown up in guatemala, a trip to new york would be an unlikely occurrence for both of them, so it was amazing to be a part of it!

we did it all.  we stayed in the heart of Times Square, toured Grand Central, took a boat to Lady Liberty, visited Rockefeller Center, went to the Top of the Rock, saw Empire State, the Chrysler Bldg, the new World Trade Center, Broadway, etc, etc.  and all of that while strolling our 1 year olds!  they had a blast!

even more special than getting to watch them enjoy NYC, was the time we spent together as friends.

i met mynor almost 6 years ago - in april of 2008.  we had just arrived in guatemala, and were staying at another missionary's house in the city on our first night.  our hosts (now good friends of ours) had to run to their kid's school for an event, and we stayed behind at their home.

their instructions:  "don't go outside, and don't answer the door."

a couple hours later, the doorbell rang.  i answered it.  it was mynor.

he was the first guatemalan i ever met!  crazy, right?  in light of where we are today, that still amazes me.

he was there to deliver coffee for the family that we were staying with.  we had a short conversation there on the front porch, but it was enough for us to both sense God at work.  i will never forget going inside and telling my wife "something just happened."

its a long story from there, full of ups and downs, celebrations, tears, and literal miracles.  but above all, its a story of faith and friendship.

in september of 2010, we broke ground on the boys academy.  since then, sharing life with the leivas has been incredible.  we have grown together, worked through issues together, studied God's word together, prayed together, leaned on one another, cried together, laughed together, and parented 30 boys together.

this last trip with the leivas reminded me how important our friendship is.  it is family.  its parenting one another's kids.  its talking through decisions together.  its being there for one another, loving one another through life's ups and downs, and carrying one another's burdens.

today i very deeply and sincerely thank God for this relationship.  i love how obvious it is that God alone orchestrated it!

for my family, it was a long, difficult, stressful, but exciting journey that got us to guatemala.  the most our faith had been stretched to that point in our lives, by far.

but literally only a few hours after our plane landed, God began proving himself faithful.  he knew (before the beginning of time!) that we would be there when mynor knocked on the door.  he knew i would answer.  he knew that through that short conversation, the buena vista boys academy, and a deep friendship, was in the making.

i can only imagine what lies ahead.  but one thing i know is that i am honored to be serving God together, raising these boys together, and doing life together, with such great people.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

dance revolution

its been something we've talked about a lot, and really enjoyed being a part of over the past few years.

its the evolution of the boys' willingness to express themselves freely.

sadly, free expression and wide-open childlike fun is not very acceptable around our village.  in the home, overbearing, addicted, and/or abusive men in the home tend to choke out any chance of that.

besides, if you are over 5 years old, its time to start working.  no time for dancing, full-out laughter, pretending, daydreaming, acting, or singing...

at the boy's academy, while we do run a disciplined and structured program, we work hard to create an environment that encourages the boys to open up, be free, and express themselves.

time and time again, music and dancing has been something that has captivated the boys and encouraged freedom and fun.

WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO that shows some highlights from our living room in the academy house the past few nights...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

kerrie's birthday

kerrie's birthday was tuesday. we had a team in town, so we waited until friday to celebrate. friday is a national holiday here, so the academy is closed and we had a complete day to do whatever kerrie wanted.

i asked her "if we could do anything you want to do, what would it be?"

she said "a bike ride.  but not just a stroll.  a challenging one."

we don't own bikes, so i contacted a friend who referred me to a friend of his who owns an outdoor excursions company in antigua.  gina watched andrea for us, and off we went.

it was a beautiful, challenging, bike ride through the surrounding areas of antigua. normally a 4 hour ride, we took out the rest stops and cut it to 2.5 to make it more difficult.

other than a small panic attack from brooke as we fought a 1.5 mile uphill...  and a near-vomit-attack from madi at one point, we had a blast!!  the trek included off-road trails, cobblestone streets, highway, dirt roads, and lots of hills.

at one of our 60-second rest stops, madi made a comment (while gasping for air): "mom, you're crazy. you have to be the only mom i know who would call this a birthday present."

afterwards we stopped for lunch at a roof-top terrace spot in antigua. we celebrated, joked, and laughed harder than we have in a long time.

just before we fell asleep, kerrie told me that it was a perfect day.

that was great to hear, because no one deserves a perfect day as much as she does.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

from friday's joy to sunday's sorrow

friday night was so special.  (see my last blog, "set me free".)  such a sweet moment for all of us here.

jhoni and his friends at his dad's funeral
the next night, kerrie and i went on a double-date with paul & jess, and we all couldn't stop talking about how amazing it was.  a sign of God at work in the lives of the boys.  a sign of good things to come.

then came sunday, when jhoni's dad killed himself.  

it was a day that was supposed to represent celebration for our village.  it was the conclusion of the weekend's fair festivities, full of little parades and marching bands.  it was also the day of the men's championship game for the local soccer league.

that's where jhoni was, watching the game, when he noticed his brother screaming and crying.  he ran home to find his dad hanging from a rafter in their home with a rope around his neck.

i can't imagine the level of despair that would lead someone to do this.  but the reality is, its all around us.  physical poverty, spiritual poverty, emptiness, and hopelessness - which ultimately lead to premature death, addiction, abuse, and suicide.

jhoni and his family are suffering.  we are suffering with them.  i cant describe the pain i felt personally, while holding a sobbing boy in my arms - a kid that i love as my own - just moments after he saw what he saw. i can't fathom the pain that he, his brother's, sister, and mom are feeling.

i hadn't experienced death much at all before moving to guatemala.  but man...  here in the village it literally seems like every month or so.  this one hurt more than most.  jhoni is unique.  everyone who has ever visited us here knows that.  he is joy.  silly, free, funny, and full of personality. 

he hasn't done anything to deserve the pain that he has already experienced in his life. 

but he's going to break the cycle.  God is changing his heart.  he's going to be a wonderful husband and father.  he will be a man of God - a man of integrity.

there is hope.  good things are happening!  and when good things are happening, there is always an enemy who comes to steal and destroy.  he doesn't like what happened friday night, when the boys shared the gospel publicly with their entire village.  and he doesn't like that jhoni is changing.

i think satan would leave us alone if we weren't doing anything to bother him.  but we are.  so let him come.  we are here.  and "greater is he that is in us than he who is in the world."  (1 john 4:4)

                                                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

a picture that will forever be engraved in my mind happened the next day, when i arrived at jhoni's house to take his dad's casket to the cemetery.  jhoni was in his house crying.  all of the rhinos had caught a ride with me, so they jumped out of the pickup to be with jhoni.

after i turned the truck around, i saw all of the rhinos walking alongside jhoni from his house to the church.  2 rhinos had their arms around him from each side.  i watched them walk - filling the street from one side to the other.
jhoni (holding my daughter andrea) with a few of the rhinos

that's when i noticed the back of jhoni's shirt.

it was the one that says on the front: "alone we are nothing"... and on the back: "together we are rhinos."  there has never been a better situation for that shirt to make sense.

jhoni was not alone.  he will never be alone. 

true friends - rhinos - are always there for each other. during the best of times, like friday, and the worst of times, like sunday.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"set me free"

its october...  which means the Buena Vista Fair is in town here.  its known to be a month of parties, drunkenness, and nonsense in our little village.

a bunch of the Rhinos decided to put together a presentation for the night of "performances" on friday night.  we had nothing to do with it - it was all them.  they asked if we'd come watch it though, so paul, jake, and i went down on friday night to partake in the festivities.  after literally a couple of hours of provocative performances with scantily dressed women, our Rhinos were called up.

what happened next was nothing short of AWESOME.  these are not the same boys we started with 3 years ago!  God is luring them in.  the fact that they did this in front of their entire village, during the fair festivities, is astounding.  their performance was one of the last ones, and there was probably somewhere around 1,000 people watching by that point...

the video tells the rest.


Monday, October 7, 2013

something special about these boys

one thing i love about our boys in the academy is how they don't shy away from hard work.  its why, for our opponents, we're such a tough team to play.  we may be small and not as talented as the city boys... but no one likes playing us because of our style of play.  we don't get tired.  we hold our ground.  we body-check.  the words "hustle" and "scrappy" and "heart" define us.

i'll never forget, when we were a few months into the academy, and mynor said to me "dude, i will take this all day long over what i was coaching before."  mynor came from an elite private missionary school in the city, where he coached american missionary kids, and wealthier guatemalans who enrolled their kids in the school.  while there was more talent for sure, mynor said the difference was that none of the boys here in the village complain about anything.  "no one says they are tired.  no one quits.  i can run them and work them all day - all they want is more.  i can definitely work with this!"

the picture is jhoni and denilson.  last week, they overheard me telling mynor and paul that i needed to find or hire someone to help with a construction project on campus - someone to mix concrete.  a couple minutes later, jhoni and denilson asked me if they could do it.  they said they'll stay after class and work until 5.

a couple weeks ago, all the boys got a new pair of cleats to take home - a donation from some friends.  i noticed after jhoni and nicho finished working, that they were both wearing their new cleats.  filthy and covered in wet concrete, they didn't even care. 

i thought to myself how most kids would have never done that.  there is definitely something special in the hearts of these boys. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

some recent favorite pics - click to enlarge!

it has been a blast watching the boys respond to luci.  she spends every day up in the academy, bouncing back between me and kerrie. sometimes the boys just grab her and go play. joni in particular seems to always snag her.  i love it.

sort of a "where's waldo" pic ("where's gringo") from my son jake's recent independence day celebration at his school.  kerrie is pinning on his "distinguished alumni" banner, for having the best grades in his class.

enrique checking out a jaguar on our last excursion - a jungle safari!

noah smacking andrea on the head with a bouncy ball.  really, they love playing together!!

luci playing at the playground with mom and dad.

vielman ("cheeks") checking out a giraffe from the bus on the safari.

for those of you that know him... yep, that's "dirty bryan" - distinguished alumni for the highest grades in his class!!

my two, beautiful, grown-up daughters - brooke and madi.


Friday, September 6, 2013

sometimes i wish....

more often than not, i love living in guatemala.  especially after i've been in the US for a while.  thats when i really miss home.  i miss the people.  the lack of technology.  less luxuries.  less marketing, commercials, stuff, stuff, stuff...

but i can't lie...sometimes i hate living here. 

the traffic situation is enough to make me want to crash my head into my steering wheel on some days.  with the recent additions, we now have 34 (large) speed-bumps just to get out of the village onto the main road.  add the recent mudslides, maneuvering around 12 chicken buses, 8 tuk-tuk's (mini taxi's), 9 horses, a massive herd of cows (and all the waste they leave behind)...  and it makes every single trip outside of our village a considerable headache.

but that's just scratching the surface.  there are lots of things about guatemala that make me want to go insane on a regular basis.

there are so many amazing moments, though.  so much so, that i feel like i am the most blessed guy in the world.  maybe that doesn't make sense.

here's a few simple examples:

sometimes i wish i could go kill an hour running some errands, like to Home Depot and grabbing a burger at Five Guys...  then i get a text from 16yr old Wilmer at 10:30pm, while he's out in the street with his buddies, saying "i love you dad, thanks for being the only dad i've ever had."

sometimes i wish my wife could just go to the store by herself without worrying that she may get attacked/robbed/kidnapped...  but then i see Melsar, a kid abandoned at birth by his mother and father, sliding across the field on his knees with an ear-to-ear-grin after scoring a goal.

sometimes i wish my daughters could walk through our village without being harassed and yelled at by local men...  then i imagine our village years down the road, when the men are respectful and kind.

sometimes i wish i could see my kids' names on my caller ID and my first thought not be that they've been kidnapped or are in some kind of danger...  but then i see my girls growing in their faith, and loving on the boys in the academy like they are their own brothers.

sometimes i just crave a Dunkin Donuts coffee with hazelnut creamer, the way i always used to get them...  then Denilson tells me he wants to be a pastor so that he can help his community.

sometimes i wish my son Jake was playing little league baseball and basketball...  then i see him for the man of God he is becoming, and dream about what amazing things lie ahead of him in light of all he's given up.

sometimes i want to be able to be in public and not have to be in security mode, scanning everything around me constantly...  then i watch Pato devour his dinner, and ask for seconds in English ("may...I...have...more...please?), like he does every night in our home.

sometime i just want to drive on a smooth road - just once!...  then i think of some of our boys in the Academy who say they want to become engineers, and i imagine them one day working to make guatemala's roads better!
Luciana Andrea with our friend Cesar
sometimes i want to cruise around in our village with my new baby girl without thinking in the back of my mind about the bacterial diseases that are rampant here, as everyone touches and kisses her...then i think of the incredible life - full of experiences - that lies ahead of her.

sometimes i just want to let my wife get away by herself or with a friend like she used to - grab lunch, run some errands, or whatever...  then i watch "joni bravo" - with his classic, confused-looking smile on his face - spend an entire day learning how to swim.
sometimes i want to murder the internet guy, after consecutive weeks of no service and not showing up as promised...  then i witness Julio opening up and confessing a sin in his life to God and to his teammates.

Dirty Bryan
sometimes i want to assume that a policeman is on the good side (they are almost all corrupt here)...  then "Dirty Bryan" says he wants to be a policeman when he grows up, and - despite his nickname being "Dirty" - i am filled with hope!

sometimes i want to be able to "come home" from work and be DONE...  then i walk downstairs to let the dogs out at 10pm and find Alex sitting there, using our computer to work on a project that's due the next day - fighting to graduate from high school (one of the few from our village that has ever gone that far).

yeah, i can't lie... i hate a lot of things about living here.  but if i dwell on those things, just look at what i would miss!  so many things each day that are worth celebrating.

its a daily battle for all of us to remember that life isn't about us!  its about giving all we have to Christ and what he's called us to do.  its about loving and helping people with our time and resources.

in my case, God is reminding me that if i were living for myself, i would have all the things i mentioned above.  little league.  safe malls.  great restaurants.  peace of mind.

but i would be missing out on the great stuff - like Melsar sliding across the field in his Rhino uniform, as happy and free as he's ever been.

John 13:38 - Then Jesus replied, "will you really lay down your life for me?"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

the simplicity of the gospel

death struck our small village of Buena Vista again recently.  this time a young man, 17 years old, fell down and died on his grandfather's porch.  no one knows why, what, or how...

his grandparents are good friends of ours.  when we heard about it, we went down to visit.  we had a team of college age and young adults visiting, so they came along.

when we got there, a dark, sad atmosphere welcomed us.  his mom was silent, sitting on the porch, staring into space.  his grandparents greeted us.  his grandpa told me the story.  he explained that he got home from work to find his grandson on his porch.  "i knew he wasn't sleeping by the way that he was lying there.  i got him up and into the bed.  he was already gone.  please believe me that there was nothing i could do."

the next 20 minutes or so was spent just sitting there, being with them as they mourned.

i couldn't help but notice the setting around me.  the place had been trashed.  one cultural tradition in our village that i really don't like, is what happens after someone dies.  the family of the lost one is expected to feed anyone that comes by for the next 24 hours.  unfortunately, in places of poverty - where people are hungry - people will go to the home of a lost one just for the meal.

this family had been hustling for the last 24hrs to feed hundreds of people who had recently visited.  having just gotten back from burying their son/grandson, the place was completely destroyed.  trash everywhere.  chairs and tents that had been rented to seat everyone.  it was just a mess.

together as a group, we were able to spend the rest of the afternoon helping out.  we swept, picked up trash, broke down tables, disassembled the tents, stacked chairs, etc, etc.  when we left, the place was spotless.  a simple way to show them that we care.

as we left, grandma gave me hug and said "thank you brock.  i dont think any of us had the energy to do that.  it feels so good to know that it is done."

later that night we were talking about the gospel of jesus christ.  as trivial as it may sound, i believe that visiting someone in their time of need, giving hugs, and helping clean up - describes the gospel of jesus christ as well as anything.

when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment of all, his reply was simple.  love God and love your neighbor.  he went as far to say that everything else hangs on those two things.

as we cleaned up the property that day, i noticed that lots of men were standing out in the street watching us.  none offered to help... but none were heckling or laughing either.  it just seemed as if they were looking at us, confused, wondering why we were doing what we were doing.

i feel content knowing that the gospel is that simple.  in such an extremely difficult moment for this particular family,  i didn't have to share any message, or try to explain how God has a purpose for everything.

sometimes simply loving our neighbor and lending a hand is enough. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

carlos & quitting

carlos (left) with josue
carlos is one of our varsity boys who just turned 18.  made possible through a sponsor from the states, he has been studying English on the weekends at a private school.

a couple weeks ago, he told us he was going to quit his English classes.  he said it had gotten too hard, and he was finished.

didn't see that one coming.  he was doing great- speaking english to us every day.  he was passionate about it.  he had dreams associated with it.  an already charismatic kid, he wanted to work in tourism - maybe at a hotel or resort in Antigua.

we heard from other players that he had started hanging with some wrong people who were influencing him.  we sat down to talk with him several times about it all.  no matter what we said, it didn't matter...  he was done.

a couple days ago, we had our final talk about it.  he asked me if i was mad.  i said no, but that i was disappointed.  i told him i thought he was being an idiot for throwing this opportunity in the garbage.

i remember telling him that, while there is nothing wrong with working the fields, that this decision, at age 18, could possibly mean that's where he's headed.  there just aren't a lot of other options for young men in our village without an education.

i told him that when he leaves the academy at the end of the day, the door is closed.  you can't come back in a week - a month - saying "i made a poor decision, can i change my mind?".  i explained that this is a big-boy decision and that he's going to have to live with it.  (there are past experiences that i felt dictated this approach.)

at the end of practice, carlos came up to me.  said that he felt a burning in his chest.  he said he knew it was God, telling him he was making a mistake.  with tear filled eyes, he asked me to forgive him.  "i don't want to quit.  i want to keep going.  the things you told me are true.  i want to do more with my life."

sweet moments such as these are often times the wind in my sail.  there are so many days with no wind.  just seemingly sitting out there, floating along.  but it's working.  little by little...  one conversation at a time...  one day at a time... one boy at a time.

that night, a young man in his twenties who was visiting with a mission group shared his testimony with the all the boys.  raw and beautiful, he shared about his absent father, his struggle with drugs and alcohol, and the death of his little brother.  as he struggled through his words and emotions, he said, "i've had a hard life, made a lot of mistakes, and continue to make a lot of mistakes.  but i will not quit.  i am not a quitter.  with God, i can keep going, i can face anything.  he will always be there for me."

right then, i looked at carlos.  he had tears in his eyes.  the second i saw it, i immediately teared up as well.  i winked at him and he smiled back. 

for now, carlos is not quitting. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

we are Rhinos!

josue riding the big one!
quick follow up from my last blog...

along with some friends in town, we took the boys ziplining at "finca filadelfia".  like i mentioned before, a very high-end coffee plantation resort in antigua.  we had a blast!!

it was incredible watching the excitement on their faces as they raced through the mountains.  i set off on one of the first groups, so i was pretty far ahead from the majority of the team.  at one point, i was standing on a platform and i stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the sounds.  all over the mountain, i could hear the screaming and laughter of all of the boys.  such a sweet sound...

but my favorite part of the day happened at an unexpected moment.  as we prepared for the longest line of the day (only the varsity boys were allowed because you had to meet the weight requirements), something special happened.  josue was having second thoughts.  he and a few others had climbed down from the platform and were standing below us in the forest.  i could hear him saying "i dont think i'm going to do it.  its too far.  i can't do it."

then i heard alex respond, "come on man, we are Rhinos, we can do anything together!  we are Rhinos man!  we are Rhinos!"

i've been thinking about it ever since... 

on the gym wall of the academy there is a giant rhino logo.  below it, it reads: "Together Everything is Possible".  this simple example with alex and josue is an encouragement to me that they are starting to get it.  they are unifying.  encouraging each other, there for one another. 

"being a Rhino" means something to them.

the future is bright.  together, in Christ, they will change this place.

and the best part is that josue did the zipline - that's him pictured above!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

why we do excursions...

rhinos excursion to the beach
we've done this a handful of times now.  taken the rhinos (the 30 boys in the academy) to places where supposedly they don't belong.

we've played in elite soccer academies in wealthy parts of guatemala city.  when we enter the facility its like a "hush" comes over the entire place.  everyone is looking at us. we get asked questions like "where do you guys come from?", and "are these boys indigenous mayan indians?"  (i'm not even kidding on that one)

we've taken the boys to a fancy mall, to the movies, and to a high-end amusement park.

monthly excursions have become a very cool part of our routine.  they're not all over-the-top...  sometimes we just do a movie night in the gym (projector on the wall), and sometimes we go to the park and fly kites.

why do we do them?

first: exposure.  seeing new places, things, ways of life.  it gives the boys a perspective that no one in their village has ever had.  it helps them to be more well-rounded.  it gives them confidence.  simple things like being in a car, eating in a restaurant, using a public restroom, riding an escalator, ordering a meal, leaving a tip ...  all things that they had never done before being in the academy.  while we are careful not to teach them to "strive for wealth", we believe that all these experiences will better prepare them for life, and help them to possibly one day raise their village up out of poverty.

second: learning the appropriate way to work hard and earn something.  we have a point system each day and we use the excursions to reward those who earn enough points at the end of the month.

lastly: why not?  my family goes to the movies.  i take my kids to the beach.  we go out to eat occasionally.  but these kids and their families could NEVER do any of those things.  isn't there just something unfair about that?

luke 14:13...  "the next time you have a nice dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich people, the kind of people that can return the favor...  invite the poor... people who never get to do it...  it will be a blessing...  they won't be able to return the favor, but oh how it will be returned by God in the end!"

next week we're taking the boys ziplining at a ridiculously fancy coffee plantation/resort in antigua.  a friend who works there is hooking us up with a huge discount, and a friend from the states is footing the bill.

at this place, you'll only find BMW's, Hummers, and Mercedes in the parking lot.

i can't wait to roll up in there with my boys.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

post accident thoughts...

the accident (blog post below this one), scripture, a book i'm reading, visiting my friend cesar, and lots of conversations with my wife as well as the davis' - have all left me in a new place spiritually.

i just haven't been able to "shake" the feeling... the closeness i felt to God during the heat of the moment of the accident.  i have been praying about it, thinking about it, studying, reading, and talking...

some of the things that the great apostle paul wrote in scripture have taken on deeper meaning.  my friend cesar - his daily life of joy in suffering - means even more to me.  there is just no denying the fact that God works powerfully through sacrifice, suffering, and moments of desperation. 

after all, we know that God ultimately saved us all, and demonstrated His most outrageous love for us, through the brutal suffering and death of His own son.  before Jesus went to the cross so that God could be glorified through his death, he called us to be willing to do the same, to suffer alongside him.  its a concept that i think deserves more attention than we (as christians) give it.

i was talking with pablo a few days ago.  after recent taking a bullet that almost killed him, i asked him, "would you take it back?  would you trade what happened considering what we experienced?  after seeing God work the way he did?"  his answer was "in a way, i want to say 'yeah' - but in reality there is no way... i wouldn't trade it for anything."

i asked my wife recently if she thought i would be crazy to pray for more suffering if it meant i could feel as close to God if i did that day.  she admitted that the thought makes her nervous, but totally understood. 

we settled in on the thought that we'd pray for a stronger relationship with Him - whatever it means.  whether life is a seemingly mundane daily grind, or whether amazing/ridiculous things are going on - whatever His will may be, whatever sacrifice necessary - help us know you better, connect with you deeper, and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in deeper ways.

in the meantime, i will keep pursuing Jesus.  maybe this experience was preparation for what lies ahead.  life on earth is short.  eternity is forever.  i want God to use my life for His glory - whatever that means

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"God loves it when we need Him"

me and paul- just one week later
the title of this blog is a comment that a friend shared with me after hearing about the events detailed below.  to say that we all needed Him during the story you are about to read is an understatement.

one second we were talking. the next, my friend was an inch away from death. or maybe he reached death and God brought him back. i don't know...  

what i do know, is that when we finally saw the x-rays, it showed that the bullet - which went through the front of his leg and out the back - missed his femoral artery by 1 inch.  had it hit, he would have bled out within 5-10 minutes.  

here's what makes no sense:  the amount of blood that he lost in the first few minutes suggests that a major artery had been hit.

lying on my floor in a huge pool of over 1/3 of his body's blood, he had stopped breathing.  at this rate, extreme blood loss would soon take his life.  

with my heart jumping out of my chest, i remember screaming over and over, "i'm so sorry bro."

the accident was my fault.

from that point on, much of what transpired is a blur, while a lot remains crystal clear in my mind.  i watched him lose more blood than i had ever seen, go unconscious several times, receive CPR, etc. i thought he was gone. i know now that God did a miracle.

sarah, one of paul and jessica's closest friends, was here visiting.  she's a 20+year nurse practitioner with a military and emergency medicine background. she was on it within seconds of the shot. 

later that night, after everything had calmed down, were were all talking.  sarah said that she knew right away that his femoral artery had been hit because of the amount of blood that he lost so quickly. she was amazing and calm in the moment, but told me afterwards that she thought we were going to lose him.  

during the chaos, all i could do was cry (scream) out "God change this please".  prayers are beautifully raw in moments like this.  i found out later others were praying the same way. jessica called a prayer network immediately after the shot and we found out later that within 5 minutes over 1,000 people were on their knees. 

it seemed like forever, but it was probably only a couple minutes before we had him in the car.  flying through the long, curvy road between our village and the next, i managed to call our friend dr. carlos.  we picked him up on the way to the hospital.  sarah had just told me that every second counts, so i was flying...

just minutes later, something changed. dr. carlos screamed out "stop the car". it made no sense.  i didn't understand.  at first his comment aggravated me and i wanted to ignore him.  but something else took over, and i stopped. 

its been a week since the accident now and i haven't stopped thinking about it.  in that moment, i felt several things happening all at once.  adrenaline, anger and confusion immediately transformed into peace.  the loud, utter chaos suddenly turned into a powerful calm.  i know - all of us who were in that car know - that the Holy Spirit of God declared himself present and in control in that moment. 

paul was stable. the bleeding had stopped. i followed dr. carlos' orders to head to his house.  we arrived, carried paul into carlos' clinic/living room, and the rest of a very long day continued from there.... 

paul is recovering amazingly fast.  fully himself, joking, making the best of things, enjoying life as he always does.  amazingly, he is now up on crutches and beginning simple exercises.  he has put the story into his own words on his blog.

something that he doesn't mention though, is one of the more incredible parts of this story. in extreme pain, facing potential death, paul was unexplainably generous and thoughtful.  from the time he got hit, within seconds he was saying loudly and clearly: "brock, this is not your fault. you are fine bro, dont worry about this, this was not your fault."  the entire time, as he came in and out of consciousness, he said the same thing... over, and over, and over. 

i kept thinking that he knew he was dying and wanted to make sure i didn't live with guilt.  the more he said it, the more scared i became. at one point i had a vision flash through my mind of having to tell his daughters that their daddy was gone.  i was wrestling with so many emotions (still am!).  at one point, at carlos' house, i sat down and cried as hard as i can ever remember crying. during that moment, thinking no one could hear me, i heard him yell out: "bro, dont worry - it wasn't your fault, we're all good."  the most amazing display of kindness-toughness-generosity that i have ever seen.

i am still struggling through a lot of mixed feelings, from guilt to praise - and sadness to joy. but one thing that all of us who experienced this accident agree on, is that God did a miracle. otherwise, the "facts" make no sense.  

i keep thinking to myself that he actually was shot in the femoral artery and that God miraculously moved the wound as people cried out to him in desperate prayer.

one more thing this experience has done to me is help me to thank God for some amazing people.
  • i praise God for dr. carlos and his assistant marleni who were amazing under pressure. 
  • for sarah who literally took control of the moment. her knowledge and expertise saved paul's life, and sense of humor kept him talking when his body wanted to shut down. 
  • for jessica, who despite thinking her husband was dying, was encouraging and positive the entire time. 
  • for hector who dove into the blood to help me with no hesitation, and later cleaned the car full of blood without even being asked to. 
  • for ruth and brooke who cleaned up the pools of blood in the house. 
  • for madi and brooke who immediately grabbed lulu (paul and jessica's 4 year old) after the shot, and lovingly distracted her. 
  • for kerrie for handling such a traumatic moment with her typical servant heart.
and finally, to paul and jess, i want to thank you for showing such irrational love and concern for me during one of the most difficult times of my life.

despite the personal things that i am wrestling through, i know that this story is not about me.  it is about a sovereign God who holds all things in his hands.  he uses our sufferings to glorify himself.  in a strange way, i want more of that in my life.  i rarely, if ever, feel as close to Him as i do during times of suffering.

that's when i need Him most.  and God loves it when we need Him.

Monday, June 17, 2013

father's day

happy father's day, dad.  i love you.

i had a great day today with my family.  we went into the city and saw a movie. we had a blast.  i've got awesome kids...

but father's day is an interesting holiday where i live.  its a town without many good fathers.  absence, abuse, addiction...  all destroy families in the village of Buena Vista.  i pray that one day this place is known for its strong men of integrity.

men walking down the street holding their wives hands.
men pouring into the lives of their kids.
men honoring God with their choices.
men cheering their kids on in soccer leagues instead of abandoning their families while they play soccer their entire day off.
men serving their neighbors.
men loving Jesus.

i received a few letters from some of our boys here in the academy - typical father's day-type notes, saying "happy father's day, i love you, thanks for all you do."

i am brought to tears as i realize that one of these was written at school, intended for his real father.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

a different place

"i am so glad tomorrow is my mom's birthday.  i don't think my dad will beat her on her birthday."

that was from a recent note that one of the rhino's wrote in class.  the assignment was simply to write about anything going on in your life right now.

as we visited his mom yesterday, like always, she said she was fine.  rock hard, she smiled and said its all good.  but i dug deeper.  "are you sure?  is there anything we can do to help right now?  how are things with your husband?  with the kids?  life in general?"

she finally broke.  husband is officially gone, only shows up drunk to make noise or pass out - then he leaves again for days/weeks at a time.  to make matters worse, she just lost her job.  and if that's not enough, creditors are coming to her house threatening to take over her property since her husband is in default on a lien against it.

8 kids, no husband, no job, and at risk of losing her home.

welcome to my village - where nightmare stories such as this one are commonplace.

we are here for her.  we will help her, without question. 

but even deeper, by God's grace, we will help her son to become a man who will honor God and love and provide for his family.  and then his kids will follow in his footsteps.  and then....  this will be a different place.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

me me me

just getting back from a short visit to the states. i was invited to share at my high school baccalaureate, which was really cool.  crazy seeing people you  haven't seen in 20 years!  but the trip was even better because i took my 16 year old daughter with me, and we had a ton of time to talk, laugh, and catch up together.

traveling back and forth from a place of extreme poverty to the USA is a tricky thing.  as the years have passed, i think i have gotten less cynical and frustrated though.  i remember after our first year living in guatemala, i want back to the US and just couldn't stand it.  the excess, the abundance of food, the packed malls, all the 50k+ cars, etc, etc.  all while supposedly being in an economical crisis!

while i still notice those things, i have sort of "gotten used to" the transition of going back and forth.  on this trip however, something else grabbed my attention.  my daughter and i tabbed it the "me me me syndrome" as we discussed it throughout the short trip.

we kept noticing how so many people are obsessed with themselves.  constant phone checking, tv watching, eating, shopping, planning schedules, etc, are only a few examples.  its not fair to judge anyone by a single action - or a single day or couple of day's activities - so this is nothing personal towards anyone in particular.  its just an overall feeling that i got while observing...

at one point, we counted 15 consecutive people walking through the airport while literally scrolling their iphones as they walked.  consecutive!  not being a big fan of facebook already, i launched into another stratosphere after watching people continuously check their phones as they are in a live conversation with someone else!

the social media boom has helped us become even more narcissistic than we already were. constantly "posting and checking" keeps us focused on ourselves to a entirely different level.  so hard to be denying ourselves (living for God and others) when we have a facebook/twitter/instagram image to uphold!

i was convicted to return home and meet with my family.  we decided that we want to stay "outward focused".  meaning, we want to be able say - at the end of the day - that most of our day was spent focusing on others.  a simple enough goal, but harder than it sounds.  just think of how much we do "for ourselves" on any given day!

signs of danger, we decided, are constantly planning (or over-contemplating) what we are going to do next.  what's for the next meal?  when is the next meal?  can i play xbox?  can i bake a dessert?  i need new jeans.  i need to upgrade my phone.  i wish i had a better computer.  i need more music on my ipod.  lets run to the market and get a few dvds.  i wonder what my friends are doing.  better check facebook.  i need..... blah, blah, blah.

its a mentality that keeps us in our own little worlds - all the time.

Jesus tells me to love my neighbor as i love myself.  he told me to deny myself, and to lose my life to save my life.  he said to put to death my selfish ways.  he even said to stay away from people who live "idle" lives.  i don't even want to expound on that one!!

my old man had given me a few magazines to take back, so i got them out of my backpack on the plane ride home.  amazingly (at least for me!) the most recent cover of Time magazine was titled "the me me me generation".  the article was great - really drove home a lot of what i had been thinking for the last few days!

i am convicted.  i don't want to live for me.  i don't want my kids to grow up watching me live for me either.  i don't want any part of the "me culture."  God help me be outward.  help me think of you, and others, first.  so, so very hard to do.......

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

a few recent stories from Buena Vista...

painted by Carlos Lopez - the boys academy and the village of BV
walking through the village with some visiting friends from jacksonville, a woman asked if we'd come pray for her husband. when we walked in there house, i realized it was the pastor of one of the local churches here in town.  lots of history there (another story).

as he shared about his sickness, it didn't take long for him to change the subject and tell us about his ill granddaughter, jaime.  she had a serious ear/nose condition that she's been dealing with for years. we surrounded jaime and prayed...

God answered quickly.

the next week, a friend of the davis fam was in town - an ear doctor.  he (mike) went and saw her, and God touched his heart to help out.  through our friend dr. carlos, we got in touch with an ear/nose/throat doc in the city.  paul and mike took jaime to the doc.  he cleaned out her nose and ears, got her started on some medicine, and she is doing great.

it seems so simple...  but a local family from the rural mountains of Buana Vista would never otherwise be able to go see a specialist in the city. too many variables stand in their way - the first being simply the cost. and even if they were given the money, education, lack of confidence, etc, etc, all work against them.

praise God for the specific way that he helped this sweet young girl and her family!

a follow up from previous blogs (click here)...

after passing all of the giant worms (former amoebas) from her body, paula (4yrs old) has a vaginal hernia from all of the pushing.  after a nightmare experience at the local hospital, and being put on a waiting list that would take months, we contacted dr. ruiz- the man that delivered our daughter luciana.

crazy - he does vaginal hernia operations.  through some miracle-timing-from-God donations, we were able to get paula the surgery that she needed right away.  praise God!!  paula is recovering wonderfully and getting right back to her normal spunky self.

another follow up to a past blog (click here)...

candelario is paralyzed from the waist down.  his life changed forever, he sits in his bed all day.

miserable, right?  not exactly...  God is doing so much more.  you see, candelario was an abusive alcoholic. his addiction has been destroying his family for years (he is almost 58 and has been a drunk his entire adult life).  before his accident, his wife was preparing to leave him.  his sons, the youngest of which is with us in the boys academy, couldn't stand him.

through this seemingly awful and tragic situation, God took his addiction away.  he can't abuse his kids anymore.  he has been sober for months.  he is softer, sweeter, and kinder.  his wife stayed.  they seem to be happier together.  his adult sons are helping out, and starting to take care of him.

candelario and his family still have problems. they are poor, struggling to make ends meet, and now have more expenses than they had before.  but there is peace on their home.  there are more smiles.   and there is a husband and father that is getting to know his family for the first time without the influences of drunkenness and abuse.

jake and the local school

a follow up to a previous blog about my son jake starting in the local school.

its been tough. he's had some rough days. the place is dark, full of kids who have never been disciplined or educated at all.  most have no sense of "appropriate" as they have literally raised themselves on the streets.  

at his former school, jake was like a celebrity. him being an american, being "different", was appreciated. he was popular and loved.

but in the local school in the village, he's picked on and made fun of for being different. 

today, jake is sick so he missed practice. during devotions with his team, they all began talking about the way everyone at school treats him.  it started when one player said that some kids tell jake "we wish you'd go pack to your country, we don't want you here." 

then another raised his hand and said that another kid always tells jake "don't you know that we don't want gringos here."  another group of girls, just today, told jake "the reason you're sick is because you're a gringo and gringos get sick easy."

they said other kids just walk by him during the day and say "#@%# gringo."

one after another, the boys raised their hands with stories of how mean everyone treats jake.  tears started to fill my eyes.  i couldn't listen anymore.

i know i'm his dad, but i'm telling you there is no sweeter kid.  he's always positive and in a good mood.  he loves everyone. 

it ruins me just thinking about this.  i dont know what to do.  God, help me.  i think about how he keeps most of it to himself, trying not to make a big deal of it... 

i of course encouraged all the boys to be there for jake, support him, and defend him.  some said they already do, and others promised they would.  i told them that he needs all of them.

i want to take him out of this school and put him back in his old one.  something deeper inside says "no".  i know that's the voice of God.  sometimes i dont like the voice of God. 

please pray for him with us.

update 5/9:
i took jake out for dinner.  we had a guys night.  talked a lot.  he shared a lot of the stories that i mentioned above.  it was overall a great night, definitely what he needed.  my highlight of the night was when i was joking about what we could do to "get even" with some of the bad kids, and he said: "dad, their just immature. i have to be patient and not let it bother me. its hard sometimes, but most of the time it doesn't even phase me.  i have to love on them.  that thats why i am there, to make a difference."  
once again, he leaves me speechless.  


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NBA player comes out

i saw in the news this morning that NBA player jason collins became the first active professional athlete to "come out" and announce that he is gay.

first of all, he's a free agent that has averaged 3 points per game over a 12 year career and may not get picked up again... so the term "active player" is up for debate.  haha...

as always with this topic, i have mixed feelings.

i tend to side with the gays when it comes to the conversation within the christian community.  what i mean by that is, i think most christians deal with the issue very poorly.

to be clear, i do believe that homosexuality is wrong.  but we are all sinners.  we become hypocritical and/or self-righteous when we harp on one sin and single it out as if its worse than our own.  (can you picture in your mind the gluttonous, overweight pastor giving his 40 minute barrage against homosexuality?)

back to jason collins...

on one hand, i think the support he has received is pretty cool.  his teammates are protective of him, and are willing to stand with him despite his differences.  that is honorable.

on the other hand, i am saddened that americans (supposedly over 90% "christian") easily conform to the popular - even when it swings opposite from biblical truth.  it seems that even for christians, hollywood/athletes/etc set the tone for what is acceptable and right - instead of the timeless word of God.

what creates conflict and tension, at least for me, is that many of those who do stand for biblical values do so in a loud, arrogant, obnoxious way.  and in doing so, they make me look like an idiot for being a christian.  that makes me angry.  i want to scream out sometimes:  "don't lump us all in together - we're not all the same!"

if jesus were alive in human form today, i think he'd give jason collins a hug, tell him how much he loves him, and lovingly share the truth with him.  he'd tell him that he was created perfectly - with purposes to unite with a woman, start a family, and serve God together with his wife and kids.  i think he would explain to jason that homosexuality started years ago when people rebelled against God and decided they wanted to do whatever they pleased.  i think he'd remind jason that he is free to make his own decisions, but encourage him to fight against the desires of his flesh, and overcome.

then he'd probably do something supernatural, like a jumpman dunk from half-court, just to let jason know that he is who he says he is.  haha...

the good news is that jesus still is alive.  and he will no doubt speak to jason - as he does all of us - through his followers, his word, and his spirit.  we should love jason collins, and the entire gay community, while encouraging them as believers in God's word.

we should also be careful not to outcast people that we disagree with.  i can hear the christians all over this morning, in response to the jason collins story, talking about the times changing, how the world is going to hell, and how the end times are near.  they'll probably also mention how Obama is still the anti-christ...

before all of that over-reaction, let us not forget that homosexuality is thousands of years old - as are the origins of all of our own sins.

joy vs happiness

there is much talk in this life about pursuing happiness.  but in scripture, there is much about joy.

whats the difference?

happiness is about us.  joy is about others.
happiness comes in spurts.  joy is lasting.
happiness depends on our circumstances.  joy is there in all of our circumstances.
the world defines our happiness.  faith in something greater defines our joy.

my faith in jesus christ is where my joy comes from.  despite whatever situation, suffering, challenge, tragedy, tension, or stress - i take joy in knowing that He is in control, and he cares for me deeply. he knows me. he has prepared a better place for me. he died for me, and in doing so assured me that any hardship that i endure in this life is not in vain.

i am thankful for moments of happiness.  but i seek joy.
seeking happiness will let you down.  joy refuses let you down.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

big tournament for the JV rhinos

Our JV Rhinos recently left their mark on a tournament in Guatemala City. Playing at the Futeca Soccer Academy, our boys staretd slow - seemingly over their head.  Typically playing against teams much bigger than they are, we finished the season with a .500 record, and barely snuck into the playoffs with the last seed.  

But we had grown as a team during the year, getting better week by week.  In the first round of the playoffs, we knocked off the #2 seed to get to the semi finals!  In the semi's we lost to the #1 seed by 1 goal.  A sad loss as we felt we outplayed the other team, but they had a fluke goal bounce in toward the end of the game.   

We played one more game to see who placed #3 and #4 - and won that game convincingly to take the #3 spot.  It was a great day... we received the bronze trophy and each of the kids received medals!

Its fair to say that for our boys - growing up in rural poverty, and most having never even left their village before the boys academy started - this was a moment of a lifetime.  In front of a packed crowd, they were called up on stage to receive their trophy.  A member of the Guatemalan National Team greeted them and gave them their medals.  What a memory for these kids, and what a testament to the hard work they put in every day!  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

reminders / perspective - andrea & cesar

its been an emotional couple weeks.
cesar with luciana andrea

with a team of friends in town, we met a young girl who had a severe problem with her ears and nose. 4 years old, her nose and ear bleeding - completely miserable. sadly, she's been in this situation for years.

we've had boys quit and leave the academy.

we've felt unexplainable tension in general.

we've had health issues in our family.

we've cried numerous times in the last couple weeks with locals who are suffering in different ways.

but amidst all of this, God has been so very faithful.  moments of his sweetness have carried us, filled us with strength.

we were able to help the young girl with the ear/nose infection, and get her to a specialist.  and another young girl that we love to a doctor to discuss surgery options.

we've experienced growth by talking and praying through the issues of tension.

we've grown closer with local friends as we've cried together.

and as always, sitting down with my friend Cesar puts things in perspective.  his entire body fused together, he has a bone disease that should have killed him nearly 8 years ago.  he is in constant pain, yet maintains has a joy in the Lord that is unexplainable.

he adores our daughter Luciana Andrea (named after his wife).  amazingly, every time we bring her to see him, she smiles the most wild, incredible smiles.  this day was no different...

as Cesar recounted the first time he met Luciana Andrea, at 1 week old, he made a simple comment that humbled me and ministered to me deeply.  last year (2012) was the toughest year of his life - he was on the brink of death numerous times.  he said he had been praying fervently throughout the year to allow him to meet Luciana Andrea.

when he saw her for the first time, she was asleep.  we placed her on his chest, and he cradled her in the one arm that he could still move.  in her sleep, she smiled the biggest, most outrageous, intentional smile. it was crazy- we all had goosebumps.

anyway- back to the present day.  as Cesar retold the story, he said that in that very moment, when Luciana Andrea smiled at him at 1 week old, he heard the voice of Jesus through her smile.  the voice said "I love you Cesar- you asked me for this."

humbling.  to think that my family can minister to this man.  he pours himself out every time we see him.  he ministers to every heart that walks through his door.  he is my mentor - a true giant of the faith.  and my family can minister to him?  when he talks of how much love and hope we bring him, it makes me uncomfortable!  i just don't even know what to say.

to think a newborn baby can minister to a man who has been faithful through almost a decade of pain and suffering.  her smile speaks to him in the voice of Jesus.  unreal.

God gives strength during the tough days.  he so often reveals his goodness to me when i am "down."  i am thankful for these reminders. they give me energy and joy. they help me see my selfishness and put things in perspective.

Paul said to us in 2 corinthians 6:  "through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report...dying yet we live on, beaten but not killed, sorrowful yet always rejoicing, poor but making others rich, possessing nothing but having everything..."