Thursday, January 17, 2013

jake's education

jake and dad
on monday, my 11yr old son jake started local school here in the village.  the moment was surreal as he walked up the stairs to head to his class.  because of the way the morning light was coming through the windows, it looked as if he was walking into complete darkness.

spiritually speaking, i believe he was doing just that.
because the public school system in guatemala is an absolute joke, our kids have spent the last 4 years in a private school in a neighboring town.  its a wonderful school.  academically, it is superior.  believe it or not, they are well ahead of where corresponding grades are tracking in the US school system.  in fact, one of the primary goals at this school is to prepare guatemalan kids to go to college in the US.

jake has made countless friends there, and has truly flourished.  while i wouldn't necessarily describe him as an "academic", he has worked hard to the point where he maintains an A average overall (no easy task when studying at that level, and in a different language).
so why on earth would we take him out, and put him in an awful, disaster of an elementary school?  a school that has a teacher for every 50 students (when they even show up).  where many of the teachers aren't even educated themselves.  where kids come and go as if its completely optional.  where you can somehow graduate from the 6th grade without knowing how to read, or even spell your name. 

its a great question.  one that we have wrestled with for months.  prayed over, cried over, and  changed our minds back and forth a hundred times.

we've settled into a decision that is contrary to every rational bone in my body.  it makes no sense.  it seems bizarre and even stupid.  some would even say we are unfairly punishing jake with the decision - robbing him of the potential for a stellar academic career, which could pave the way for so much more.
jake is a unique kid.  we've known it from the time he was little.  sure, this comes from the perspective of a biased father :)  but God has spoken to us through my son more times than i can even recall.  the holy spirit is alive in him.  he knows God, loves God, loves life, and loves people. everything i teach him sticks.  and when i fall short of living up to my own teachings, he lets me know.  if i could only count the times i have said to my wife, "man i wish i was more like jake."

we believe God has a big purpose for jake in this village.  things come naturally to him here.  much more so than for the rest of us.  me, kerrie, and the girls all see it.  when we feel out of place, nervous, or just uncomfortable...  jake always leads by example with his natural "at-ease" way about himself.  the best part is that he doesn't even know it.  he's just being jake.
not long after we had moved into the village, i had to go to several "community meetings".  everything we did - from buying the land to getting access to water - had to be approved by the committee made up of local men.  while i had known many of these men for a couple years, those moments were still some of the most uncomfortable of my life.

tough to describe.  but after every meeting (sometimes a dozen men, sometimes a hundred or so townspeople) i distinctly remember being soaked in sweat.  there is something about being the "only different one", especially when the focus is on you, you're communicating in a different language, and there are always haters present who are loudly opposed to everything that you're trying to accomplish.

fast-forward...  one night, about 6-8 months ago, i had a dream.  i was in one of the committee meetings, only it felt completely different.  i felt respected and appreciated.  it wasn't that everyone was cowering or looking up to me.  it was just an "equal" feeling.  like my suggestions/comments were desired, and even carried a little bit of weight.

i don't remember the details of what the meeting in my dream was about.  but the last part that i remember was one of the men saying something like, "i think we should listen to 'Jacobo', he's been through this before, and he'll know how to get it done."

(jacobo - pronounced "hawkobo", is spanish for jacob.)

it wasn't me in my dream - it was jake.

for weeks i couldn't shake it.  it kept coming back to my mind.  not necessarily in the form of any prophetic message.  but just that feeling of being respected and appreciated.  maybe just "accepted" is the best way to describe it.

in my dream, i (jake) didn't have any of the labels (good or bad) that i often times feel here, such as:
  • "missionary here to help us"
  • "the man to go ask for money, homes, food, or a ride"
  • "soccer coach running the boys academy"
  • "gringo outsider with an agenda" 
i was just one of the guys.  clearly respected in a unique way that i cant exactly explain.  maybe as being more educated, or as having a better understanding for how things work out in the world.  more outside experiences maybe.  but most importantly, i felt accepted as one of them, without any labels or strings.  my motives, and my loyalty to the community was not in question.
over time, both kerrie and i started to sense God working on us.  not only from the experience in my dream, but through several other things as well.  we saw jake growing in the boys academy - how the boys respond to him, follow him, and how he leads so naturally.  his ability to balance being the gringo, the coaches son, etc - without taking advantage of it - is truly amazing.

finally i mentioned the idea to kerrie.  i suggested that part of growing up here, for better or worse, is going to school here.  just think of how much better jake would understand things, know people, and relate with them.  by the time he is a young man in the community, he would be accepted completely, which ultimately gives him street cred, and more influence.

she didn't say anything, but the look she gave me said "absolutely no way."  a few days went by.  she admitted that she had some similar feelings.  we began praying, specifically seeking what God would have us do. we shared it with jake, and he began praying it over as well.

the obvious downside was his education.  but the bigger fears are related to the darkness of the school, and the related risks.  kidnapping is not at all foreign to where we live, and you have to assume that a gringo kid would be considered a good target.  the thought of jake being out of our supervision all day long concerns me.  scares me, actually. 

as kerrie and i walked through this decision process, our fears and our prayers battled one another.  the mind can go crazy and think only the worst if not balanced with prayer and reading scripture.

through his word, God reminded me several times that jake is His son first.  he reminded me that while He has given me the privelege of raising my son, jake belongs to Him, not me.  and that the best way i can parent my kids is by seeking what God wants for them, not what i want for them.

a much easier concept to agree with when there is nothing too serious on the line.

i am reminded of abraham and issac.  in one of the most seemingly bizarre stories in scripture, God is teaching us that he always knows best, and that obedience can often times be irrational.  he is teaching us that he always has bigger purposes.  and no matter what he asks of us, no matter how drastic or crazy or misunderstood it might be, our job is to trust and obey.
during devotions with the rhinos yesterday, something amazing happened.

maybe God did it just for me, i don't know.  i thanked him as if he did, because it brought me immeasurable peace.

my friend and partner at the boys academy, mynor, was sharing with the boys about how jesus didn't come to the world as a wealthy king, respected by all.  while God could have done it that way if he had wanted to, he purposefully did not.  instead, jesus came poor, and humble.  he was one of the common folk.

mynor asked the boys: "why do you think God would have chosen it that way?"

jake raised his hand.  "so he could know the people and understand them better."

no one was looking at me, so no one noticed the tears form.  it hit me instantly.

i silently thanked God for reminding me - in that perfect moment - that we were doing the right thing.  and of all the kids, it came from jake's mouth.  his exact explanation as to why jesus was born in obscurity and lived among the people - was precisely why he was attending local school here in the village. 

so sweet of God to give me that moment.

its not going to be easy, and i am sure the difficult days are ahead.  with almost a week under his belt, jake has already told us a few "dark" stories that make mine and kerrie's collective heart skip a beat.

but we know that God has a purpose for jake's life.  and i believe that by going to school in Buena Vista, he is getting the exact education he needs in order to fulfill that purpose.

learning how to play ball

outsized but not outplayed
we opened up are season last saturday at a private soccer academy in guatemala city.  our jv rhinos are playing a 10 game season in the 11-12yr old bracket.  however, the organizers of the tournament made a mistake and scheduled our first game against a team in the 13-14 bracket.

to put this in perspective, when we play against boys our own age they tower over us.  we are coming into these “city leagues” from a small, poor, indegenous village.  we’re already significantly out-sized.  so to play up an age-bracket creates quite the size disadvantage.

the ref came over to us and explained the problem.  finally, he said “its probably not a good idea.  in fact, the coach of the other team said his boys feel bad playing against you guys because your boys are so small.”

like any good coach, we turned to the boys and said "lets do this."

we went for it, even though the academy agreed to give us an outomatic “W” if we chose not to. 

about 5 minutes in the game their was a clear “oh crap” moment on the faces of the opposing team.  it was like they realized all at the same time that the "little boys" came to play.  it was beautiful.

the first half was tight, we were down 2-3.  but we turned it around in the second, and beat them handedly, 8-5. 

afterwards, a guy who was in the stands, who runs another league in the city, approached us and invited us to play in his tournament. 

our boys are learning how to play ball.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

hello & goodbye

One emotional aspect of running the academy is saying goodbye to the boys who graduate each year.  Its one of those things that you know is coming but is impossible to prepare for.

Imagine spending almost every day with someone for several years - in class, devotions, lunch, practices, games - all the road trips, excursions, movie nights, bbq’s and random impromptu moments.  In all of that, you get to know these kids, who are now around 18 years old, at a deep, family-like, father-son-like level.

Then you say goodbye. 

Sure, we’ll continue to see them here and there.  But not everyday, not the way we used to. 

That’s the point though.  We founded the academy for this very purpose.  An attempt to build young boys into godly men.

We’ve had ample time to prepare them.  We’ve discussed in depth the issues.  Living with integrity.  Loving your neighbor.  Sex, drugs, alcohol.  Marriage and family.  Character, responsibility, and work ethic.  Following Jesus and living for others. 

In theory, they should be ready.

We made it through “graduation night” pretty well, keeping emotions in check.  But the following Monday, when the boys came to clean out their lockers for the last time, the moment seemed to overwhelm us.

There, in front of their coaches and teammates, everyone said their goodbyes.  The boys who were leaving shared.  Axel stopped for complete 1 minute-breaks to compose himself.  As he talked about what the academy meant to him, he broke.  He described the moment he made the team as the “moment that changed his life forever.”  We all fought back tears.

The following weekend, 25 boys tried out for 5 open spots.  Today, those five 10-11 year olds sat in front of us with excited and nervous faces.  They are the future of Buena Vista. 

Because we are a new academy, we only had a couple years with Axel.  With them, God willing, we’ll have 6 or 7.  I cant imagine how hard it will be to say goodbye after 6-7 years of everyday together.

But I think about how prepared they will be.  Young men, stepping into their community equipped to break the chains of poverty, absence, abuse, and addiction that has plagued their village for generations.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

poverty strikes again

our friend Candelario (who we have known for about 4 years) fell off his horse recently.  we didn’t know about it until his daughters came to our house, crying.  they seemed desperate for help, and asked if we could get involved.

the accident had happened that morning, and they said they knocked on our door but we weren’t there.  so they called for an ambulance and had him taken to a public hospital in guatemala city.  this place is a disaster.  patients everywhere.  chaos.  filthy. 

he has been unable to move his legs since the accident.  we were told that he needed surgery on his spine, and that he should eventually get better.  there were over 20 patients needing surgery ahead of him, so he would have to wait until his turn...  about 2 weeks.

we stayed in touch during that time.  one of his sons is in the boys academy, so we sent him there to visit his dad, sent food, etc.  during devotions with the boys we prayed for allan’s dad regularly.

when we picked him up, he told us that the doctor said the surgery was a “success”, but that he will probably never walk again.  what?  come again? 

again, the place was insane – patients everywhere, people everywhere, no doctors to talk to.  a feeling of emptiness and desperation sinks in. 

poverty strikes again.

in the car, we asked Candelario and his family about their plans.  did the doctor mention anything about rehab?  medicine?  second opinions?

his answer:  “we’ll just trust in God and pray and see what happens.”

while poverty is awful and unfair, there is something special about not having any other options except to trust God. 

I was thinking about if I were in his place.  any of us - we would get second opinions, research online, reach out for help, etc, etc.  how much do we depend on God when there are so many more rational steps to take?  looking into medicine, treatment, more doctors, more surgery, more research....

I hate poverty.  but oh how I admire how the poor depend on God.