Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Farm Animals

If you live in or have visited Indiana, chances are you're going to see farm animals, whether by accident or on purpose. Julie and I are fully embracing our life in Indiana, so recently we went to the 4H Fair near us and while we didn't embrace the animals, we did see and appreciate them. We are grateful for farms and farmers. (Oh, and I lost the staring contest with the llama.)

In addition to learning more about farm animals, Julie and I also attended training about Trust Based Relational Intervention, specifically when working with children who have experienced trauma. We also attended coaching training that an be used to coach staff, parents, or whoever we may need to coach. Regarding the Strong Families curriculum, we are beginning the process of converting content into in-class training material. In official terms it's called instructional design. I'm including a link HERE to a Prezi presentation we created for our site directors to update them and describe some of the modules we're creating. (It's 4 minutes or less and has a video.... of us.) We head back to Monterrey and Mazatlan, Mexico for about 3 weeks in Sept/Oct to do more site reviews in preparation for future training.

Nick started his new job in Bloomington, IN last week and starts classes at IU next week. He's excited. Eliza also started a new job at a chiropractic office. She is very interested in holistic and alternative medicine. Nate did extremely well in his first round of pre-nursing classes. He starts his next 9-week cohort next week. 

This month, we're asking you to pray with us for more people to join our support team. We have some ongoing new expenses and other expenses that are far more than we were paying in MX. We know God owns it all and are trusting Him. So we are also inviting you to pray about joining our team if you're not already on it. 

Prayer Opportunities
  • Pray that God will raise up more partners to join our support team.
  • Please continue to pray for Julie's health. She sees another doctor this week.
  • Pray for Eliza and her new job, that it will be fun and fulfilling for her.
  • Pray for Nick not get too stressed out as he starts classes and works.
  • Continue to pray for Julie and I as we move down this path of identifying the best ways to help the children and families we serve and how to roll out global training.
Humbled & Grateful.
erick & julie

Monday, July 9, 2018

Listening, Learning & Writing

Listening, Learning & Writing

One of the many classes and seminars
at the CAFO conference in Dallas

It started in Dallas at the Christian Alliance for Orphans international conference, and ended at our Back2Back site in Monterrey, MX. After two full weeks of seminars, meetings, and interviews, we returned to Indiana with information-overload and ready to process all we'd learned. So now, we are spending time assimilating information, recalling what we learned on the field about family strengthening, and researching best practices about alternative forms of care for at-risk children.
Research is one of Julie's sweet spots. She loves digging and learning what works and what doesn't. I am more of the process person. So I'm developing the processes for how we will roll out training, and how we will determine the readiness of each site for training. Specifically, we are digging deep into foster care programs, Back2Back's Hope Program, transition care for helping young people transition to independent living, and family strengthening (we call it Strong Families).

We are highly motivated to bring best practices and processes to each of the Back2Back sites, but before that happens, we need to do more listening, learning, and writing. 

The big news with Eliza and Nate is that Nate started nursing school. He is in an accelerated program and believes he's found his passion. Nick's big news is that he got a 4.0 his first semester at IUPUI, and in the fall will transfer to Indiana University in Bloomington. He has a job and a house secured in Bloomington and is excited to start a new semester in September. 

Prayer Opportunities
We just celebrated 31 years together!
Nick recently registered for
classes at Indiana University
Bloomington. He's excited!
  • Please continue to pray for Julie's health. While she's stronger, she continues to struggle with consistent good health. 
  • Pray for Nate as he pursues nursing.
  • Pray for Nick's transition to IU Bloomington.
  • Pray for Julie and I as we move down this path of identifying the best ways to help the children and families we serve and how to roll out global training.
  • Pray for our newest site in the Dominican Republic, that God will direct Back2Back to the right partners and and clear vision for how best to make an impact in this country. 
Humbled & Grateful.
erick & julie

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Restored - Renewed - Ready

One week from today, April 23, Julie and I will begin our new assignments with Back2Back as trainers and coaches to all the Back2Back sites in Mexico, Haiti, India, Nigeria, and the Dominican Republic. As we anticipate this next transition, we are reflecting on our sabbatical. We are so grateful to God and Back2Back that we were able to take this extended time for rest, renewal, learning, and to get ready for the next chapter in the story that God is writing with our lives. We have considered it a great privilege to take this time and therefore have worked hard to be intentional with how we used it. We met with two pastors who had taken sabbaticals to ask what they learned, how they used the time, and what they would do differently if/when they receive another sabbatical. This information helped a lot as we planned and prepared.

More than ever, we've come to understand that we are pilgrims - in Spanish, peregrinos - who are on a pilgrimage. We are walking this journey we call life, but we have to remember that it's a long walk.

"When done intentionally, a pilgrimage offers unusual separation and solitude. In turn this gives you a chance to re-focus, re-orient, and take significant strides toward a healthier perspective of self, life, relationships, truth, and God." (Phileena Heuertz)

For the first three weeks of the sabbatical we went to a retreat center in Michigan called Alongside. We received intensive counseling and attended 28 seminars that covered many topics relevant to missionaries and people in ministry. It was very helpful and a good start toward renewal, and learning. We set priorities/goals for our sabbatical so that we didn't squander our time. Our top goal was to do whatever it took to get Julie to a healthier place. As of today, she's met with many different types of doctors (we're grateful for good, albeit expensive medical care) and been diagnosed and treated for a couple things. She is stronger now, but we can't say that she's healed. She's been on many antibiotics and tried many diets. She will continue to pursue natural treatments hoping to, as she says, make her body an unfriendly place for parasites and get her "gut" healthy. Please continue to pray for this process, for her strength, and for patience. A second goal was to love on our kids and family in a way that we haven't been able to for awhile. Suffice it to say we've had many dinners together, attended activities together, and just hung out a lot. This Wednesday we will celebrate Eliza's 25th birthday. We are so so grateful for some very sweet times with family. Another goal we had was to set up our home here in Noblesville. This felt a little foreign to us, having rented apartments in MX for six years. But Julie did an awesome job making a house into a very welcoming and warm home where we look forward to hosting many gatherings with friends and family. In many ways it felt we were newlyweds setting up our first home together. Finally, we both had reading lists. One book that we both read and loved was by Beth Guckenberger (Back2Back Co-Executive Director), called Start With Amen. I highlighted a LOT in this book, but I will only share a few sentences that impacted me. "A prayer that starts with amen lets go. It pivots and feels conviction and makes course corrections. It's an eager student and doesn't care who gets credit. Its highest goal is to put God on display" Wow! That's a challenge. But one I'm taking on. One other aspect of this time was walking. Julie and I walked a lot. We use this time to talk to each other, but also to listen to and talk with God.

Nick was accepted into the Informatics program at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis) in January and has found his academic stride. In addition to a full load, he's been working at a hotel near campus. He bought a bike so he didn't need a car. His grades have been phenomenal. We're so proud of him and grateful that he is living within 30 minutes of us. But he may transfer to IU Bloomington next semester.

Last week Eliza and Nate moved from Upland, IN to Noblesville! They are only 7 minutes from us
and we LOVE it! Nate still works at Habitat for Humanity and Eliza is in between jobs, but has been selling paintings and is excited about the prospects of having her own business. They both have entrepreneurial hearts. (This is one of Eliza's paintings. It was auctioned for over $400.)
  • Please continue to pray for Julie's health. For wisdom for the doctors and us. And ultimately for healing. 
  • Pray for our transition into our new roles, that we will be quick learners and add value to the development at all the sites. We will travel a lot in May in MX and the U.S.
  • Pray for the new directors and staff at the Cancun site. We continue to be grateful for their passion and vision for the site and their love for the families and children they serve. 
  • Pray that God will be on display through our lives and the work that Back2Back is doing around the world. We're grateful to be part of such and amazing organization that God is using to serve orphans and marginalized families in significant ways. 
Humbled & Grateful.
erick & julie

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Letting Go and Saying Goodbye.

In February of 2017 I (Julie) was looking at a piece of land in Bonfil a community where we serve with one of our program managers.  We were considering it as a potential site to build a Back2Back education/community center. As we walked around we came to a tree, and at first I was confused as I looked at the tree. Something about the tree puzzled me but I couldn’t figure out why. Then it struck me. I was looking down at a tree that was completely horizontal - laying on its side. And yet from this fallen tree, there were new trees – saplings - that were growing straight up from the trunk. We all just stood there staring at the tree and the owner of the property told us the tree had fallen over in 2005 during hurricane Wilma.  She said that the tree was her favorite so she just couldn’t cut it down or remove it. And now twelve years later the fallen tree has produced four new trees. When we were standing there looking at the tree I felt God prompting me to take a picture so that I would remember it.
In times like these I sense God is telling me…. “Pay attention to this.” Or “I want you to remember this.” And this experience with the tree was one of those times.  I had no idea how God would use the image of that fallen tree many times over the following months. He used it to change my heart and my mind regarding what He was calling me to, which meant He was calling me away from Cancun. During this same season, I had made a new playlist for the times when I walk.  I call this my “walking with Jesus time.”  It’s when I pour my heart out to God and He helps me process things.  Many of the songs were about:  Trust, Surrender, and Faith.  And it was during one of my walks with Jesus I realized the image of the tree was a picture of surrender….of letting go, of laying down my life and trusting God.  He was asking me a very hard question: Could I let go of everything I held dear here in Cancun and trust Him with His plan?
When Julie shared this story with me, I was challenged as well. For six years, we have put our hearts and souls into the ministry here. Into the lives of the children and families we serve - into the staff we serve with - into the mission teams who came down to serve alongside us. I have told many people that these six years have been the hardest six years of our lives. But they have also been the most transformative and the most fulfilling. And although we didn’t know if we’d be here for 3 years or 30 years, we knew God had called us here to love and serve the marginalized. Frederick Buechner once said: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” I would add to this, that it’s also the place where your heart is broken and restored…. many times over. It is the place where hope reigns supreme, even in the midst of hard things.

So today we are transitioning into the next chapter of the story that God is writing. We know He is the best author. So, while leaving is very hard and we are grieving the losses, we are also very grateful and excited for the next opportunity God has given us to take the Strong Families program, as well as other programs to the other Back2Back sites. We are so thankful for all who support us and ask you to continue with your prayers and financial support.

There are two passages that God has been using to speak to me recently.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance
Psalm 78:2-4

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.

Thanks for reading this. And thanks for continuing to be part of our team as we continue our missionary journey, taking the good news (and the Strong Families program) to other countries. 

erick & julie

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Body of Christ

I (Julie) love when God surprises me with an unexpected beautiful moment and He prompts me to slow down and savor the moment.  During the summer, we can get so busy with the logistics of having so many mission teams in a short period of time that we don’t get to see the normal programming that is happening each day.  We were purchasing all of the food we needed for the soccer week day camp and delivering it to the community center.  I was pretty focused on getting the supplies into the kitchen but as we walked past the palapa I saw Maria….standing up in front of 31 other mom’s reading a Bible.  The sight of her reading made me stop what I was doing because a year and a half ago she admitted to one of our tutors that she couldn’t read very well and wanted to sit in on her children’s tutor time so she could get better at reading.  I paused for a moment and then went back to work unloading the food from the van.  But God had more for me to see that day….more than just the tasks that I had planned.  Ximena, our Tres Reyes Program Manager, came to me to ask if I could help pass out Bibles to the women who have been coming to the weekly Bible Study.  The team from Ohio brought the Bibles down for us from the US office but I couldn’t remember how many we ordered or if we’d have enough for everyone.  While Ximena & I were moving the Bibles out to the palapa I was praying that we’d have enough for every woman.  We got a great discount on the Woman’s Devotional Bible in Spanish and Elizabeth who is the Psychologist, and also teaches the Mom’s Bible study, wanted to make sure each woman had her own Bible.  She was very excited about the devotionals that the women could read on their own within the Bible.  Elizabeth’s enthusiasm rubbed off on the women and they eagerly came to the front table to receive their own Bible.  The women hugged us and were so grateful.  They took the Bible and were clinging to it.  That visual picture will stay with me, and I remember thinking….this is why you brought me here today God…..for this moment.  For me to see how hungry the women are for the WORD of the LORD.   Every woman got a Bible that day all 32 of them.  We didn’t have any extra, but we had just enough! 
32 women with their new Women's Devotional Bibles

For me (Erick), it was a Saturday Bible class with the teens that stopped me in my tracks. When mission teams are here, they typically sit in and help with the Bible classes on Saturdays. And during this time, I usually move around from class to class to observe. On this particular Saturday, one of the teachers invited Julie and I to come to the first part of her class to see three of the teens play their recorders. It was cool to see their pride and confidence as they played and the other 12+ teens watched and listened. But that wasn’t the best part of the class. The lesson for the day was from 1 Corinthians 12:4-29 where Paul is telling of the importance of all parts of the body of Christ. Each member of the body has a unique and valuable role. The teens took turns reading various verses, and when one stumbled on a word, another would help him. I loved seeing that grace and kindness. When they finished reading the verses their assignment was to choose a part of the body, draw it, cut it out, and place it on the Cuerpo de Cristo (Body of Christ). Each teen took the next 15 minutes or so creating their own version of the eyes, the nose, the hands, the feet, the head, the arms, the legs, etc. These human body parts represented their part in the Body of Christ. As they completed their part, they each went up and taped it to the body. As you can see in the picture, their individual renderings of their significant part made for a very unique looking body. And that is the point. They are each unique. And together they each have an important function to play in the Cuerpo de Cristo. After everyone had taped up their part, they each went up and signed their name by their body part, creating a sense of ownership and responsibility for their specific part of this beautiful body. When I went up to sign my name by my part (the intestines), I was moved by the idea that 15 teenagers, Mexican and American, all shared the responsibility of creating this body. And each of them has a duty and privilege to use their unique gifts and talents for the glory of God and for the good of His Kingdom. On this day, we were literally His Hands, His Feet, His Eyes, His Legs, His Arms, and even His intestines. Tears were streaming down my face as I watched these teens, worshiped their Creator, and prayed for their futures.
Teen Bible class in Tres Reyes with mission team members from Ohio
The video below is one of the Mom's saying her Bible memory verse.