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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hope + Hard Work + Faith + Hard Work + Time = Transformation

We need to start this blog with a sincere apology to our support team, and anyone who reads it. After a gentle and timely nudge from a good friend and supporter, we were reminded that we had not posted a new blog for......waaaaaaay to long. This is inconsiderate and irresponsible of us so please accept our apology.

Believe us, the fact that we haven't posted anything recently isn't because there hasn't been a LOT happening or because God has not been moving. On the contrary. It would take 10 computer screens to tell you everything. But we don't want to overwhelm you. So let's see how this goes......

  • In January we increased the number of Strong Families (registered families who receive services from our community centers) from 18 to 64 families. This also means an increase from 41 to 129 children who are now part of our child sponsorship program.
  • The services that Strong Moms receive include: Bible, finance, English, parenting, and life skills classes. They also have access to a Christian counselor and a Christian Psychologist.
  • The services that Strong Children receive include: weekly Bible classes, Creative workshop classes (gymnastics, art, dance, computer instruction, etc.), and tutoring. They also receive healthy snacks and regular physical activity on the soccer field, playground, and basketball court.
And now some snippets of other cool things that God is doing.

  • Our new male tutor and mentor in Bonfil, Ersy, took 10 teens to a Christian drug rehab center so they could hear from adults who shared their stories about how their addictions to drugs and alcohol effected their lives. As a result of hearing these stories, and because of the trust that Ersy has built with these teens, one of the 15 year old boys ("Jorge") voluntarily handed over his drugs to Ersy and asked for help with his drug addition. 
  • Lupita, a Strong Mom in Tres Reyes, who has been in our program for one year, applied for and received a grant from the Mexican government to plant a garden. Recently we visited her home and she proudly showed us her healthy and expanding garden. She also explained that she has plans to grow and sell chickens. She said, "One year ago, I could only imagine myself cleaning houses. Today, I know I can do so much more." We all shed some tears of gratefulness and joy. 
  • Elizabeth, our psychologist, has been leading Bible classes with 30-40 Strong Moms and has seen great commitment and interest from them, to learn more truths.
    Mica & Carlos
  • One of our Strong families in Bonfil, Mica and her four children, had dreams of building a home on the small plot of land she purchased late last year. She began the work herself, clearing the land and buying materials. When we asked her to show us the land and share her dream with us, she didn't hesitate. We helped modify her house plans, and we've now had two mission teams do work on the house to help move the process along. She is always there helping us, and making sure she has "skin in the game." 
  • Two more of our Strong moms recently opened a food stand (tienda) in Tres Reyes where they sell empanadas, sopas, tacos, and other traditional Mexican foods. Like Lupita, they are feeling more empowered and capable to step out and do more than they ever imagined. 
  • Julie started teaching basic budgeting to 40 Strong parents and grandparents. They each received a calculator, notebook, and assignments. Along with fundamental ideas on how and why to save money, Julie had some great discussion about the difference between a "want" and a "need." The moms learned seven tips on what to ask themselves before they make a purchase to help them determine if it's a "want" or a "need."
    Budgeting Class

  • José (6 yrs old) and his family are new to our Strong Families program. Recently he was at church on Sunday, and the teacher introduced the children to the Bible story from Mark 2 where Jesus heals the paralytic man. José quickly raised his hand, recited one of the verses from that story, and then said, "That's the same story we learned at the community center." We love seeing Biblical truths stick!
  • Since January, we have hired four new national staff, and moved three more from part-time contract staff to full-time salaried staff. These positions include: two program teachers, a tutor, a caseworker, a program manager, a volunteer coordinator, and a psychologist. These new staff will help us continue to go deep with the children and families we serve in Tres Reyes, Bonfil, and Cancun. 

Milka's family with some B2B staff
Milca is the mother of two 10-year old twins girls and a 12-year old son. About eight years ago Milca and her husband Juan Carlos, decided that they couldn't take care of all three children so they dropped the twins off at Casa Hogar San Jose (orphanage). She would visit them periodically on the weekends, and sometimes they would go "home" for the weekend. Last year, she said she would like them to move back home, but she couldn't afford it and didn't have space in her home for the two additional children. We've known the twins for 6 years and we are always looking for ways to strengthen families, which includes reunifying children in orphanages with their biological parent(s). In January we assigned one of our Caseworkers to lead the project of re-unifying this family. Among other things, this includes assessing the needs of the physical structure of the home and scheduling regular meetings for the twins and the rest of the family to meet with our psychologist to prepare them for all the changes that will take place emotionally and relationally. So after Milca and Juan Carlos signed our Strong Family Agreement to become our next Cancun Strong Family, we hired some masons to begin work on preparing the house for the twins. Our caseworker and psychologist will continue their work and then in mid-July, before the next school year starts, we will re-unify this family. Of course our work will not be done after July. In fact there will still be a great deal of transition work to do, as the family begins the hard work of living, loving and learning under one roof, how to be a complete and Strong Family. Please pray with us for this family and for our team who will walk with them through this challenging process. 

For our next blog....check out Galatians 6, verses 2 & 5. Specifically, the meaning of "burden" and "load" in these verses. 

Grateful to God and to each of you for believing in us and getting behind what God has called us to with Back2Back.

Erick & Julie